1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Vansittart

William Forbes, in Life and Writings of James Beattie (1806) 1:265-66n.



Some circumstances attended the conferring of this degree on Dr. Beattie, which were extremely flattering to him. About fifteen persons were admitted that day to the degree of doctor of laws; among which number was Sir Joshua Reynolds. When it came to Dr. Beattie's turn, the Professor of Civil Law (Dr. Vansittart,) whose business it is to present the graduates to the Chancellor, after mentioning his name and title, of professor of moral philosophy, in the university of Aberdeen, which is all that is usually said on the occasion, to his surprise, went on with a long Latin oration, in his praise, nearly to the following purpose; "whose writings and character are too well-known, to stand in need of any encomium from me. He has had the singular fortune to join together, in the happiest union, the poetical, and philosophical character. He is justly considered as one of the most elegant poets of his time, and his fame, both as a philosopher and poet, will be as permanent as the truth which he as so ably defended." This is but an abridgement of the speech, which was much more elegant in its composition, as well as more extravagant in its compliment. This speech, says Mr. Williamson, who was present in the theatre, and heard it spoken, was much taken notice of at Oxford, on this occasion. He adds, it was certainly unpremeditated, as Dr. Vanisttart did not know, twenty minutes before he spoke it, that Dr. Beattie was among the number of the graduates; and even after he knew it, he was in the middle of a crowd, so that notwithstanding its elegance, it was a temporary effusion, proceeding from the character he had conceived of him from his writings, and which, continues Mr. Williamson, I thought no study could have produced.