1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Kames

William Seward, "Lord Kaimes" European Magazine 29 (January 1796) 9-10.



Lord Kaimes appeared one day upon the Scotch Circuit to be rather in a hurry upon the trial of a capital convict, when he was informed that dinner was ready. The criminal being found guilty, he said to a lively and eloquent Advocate, "Come, Harry, let us go to dinner." "Aye, my Lord," replied the Advocate, "and your Lordship shall have a blood-pudding for your dinner." Lord Kaimes was a man of great activity of mind, and indefatigability of pursuit. A gentleman called to see him not many hours before he died, and found him dictating to a secretary. "I am surprized, my Lord," said he, "to find you thus employed in your very feeble state." "Why, mon," replied his Lordship, "would you have me stay with my tongue in my cheek 'till Death comes to fetch me?" — Lord Kaimes was a most universal writer; he wrote on Law, on Morals, on Metaphysics, on Criticism. He was, however, a very good borrower; some parts of his Element of Criticism he took from Blair's Lectures in MS. What he says of the Chinese Gardening and Building, he took from Sir William Chambers's elegant books on those subjects, without making any acknowledgment. He wrote to the ingenious Defendress of Shakespeare to request her to give him some articles of female dress and of decoration for his Elements of Criticism. She did not, however, comply with his request. The present race of Scotch Writers may be properly styled the Literary Wire-drawers; they appear to produce nothing new of their own, but to fine draw, and spin out, the opinions of their predecessors. Hence the deluges of the philosophics of such and such an Art or Science, Histories of the Human Mind, the Essays on such and such matters. Of Dr. Adam Smith's celebrated Essay on the Wealth of Nations, Condorcet says, in his Life of Turgot, that the germ of it is to be found in the "Essai sur les Richesses" of that acute writer and excellent politician. John Bull becomes too rich and too idle to take the pains he used to do, and these useful literary dealers in retail parcel out for him what he thinks it disgraceful perhaps not to know. The late Dr. Johnson was completely of this opinion, for when one day before some Scotch Gentlemen he had launched out into the praises of the celebrated Buchanan, and had styled him the only man of genius that Scotland had ever produced (he seems, however, to have forgotten Lord Napier), the Gentleman said, "Why, Doctor, now, if Buchanan had been an Englishman, what would you then have said of him?" "Why, Sir," replied the Doctor, coolly, "I certainly then should not have said, the 'only' man of genius that England ever produced."