1783 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Kames

James Beattie to Elizabeth Montagu, 30 January 1783; Forbes, Life and Writings of James Beattie (1806) 2:116.



The literary labours of Lord Kaimes have come to an end at last. He was certainly an extraordinary man: and though he cannot be vindicated in every thing, his enemies must allow that his mind was uncommonly active, and his industry indefatigable. He was six-and-fifty years an author; for to a Collection of Decisions, dated in 1726, I have seen a preface of his writing. He retained his good humour to the last. He and I misunderstood one another for several years; but we were thoroughly reconciled long before his death, and he acknowledged, that he had utterly mistaken my character.

I am very happy to find, that my notions, in regard to the origin of language, coincide so exactly with yours. I have, I think, confuted Monboddo's theory; which I look upon as equally absurd and dangerous. He and Lord Kaimes passed a few days last autumn together at Gordon-castle, and gave no little entertainment to the company; for they two were in every thing direct opposites; and they mutually despised each other. Kaimes confessed, that he understood no Greek; and Monboddo told him, that no man who was ignorant of Greek could pretend to write a page of English. Monboddo has many good qualities: but on the subject of Greek and of Aristotle, he is as absurd and pedantic as Don Quixote was on that of chivalry.