Beattie, James

Beattie, James poet and moralist, was the son of a small farmer, and was born at Laurencekirk, in Kincardineshire, October 25, 1735. After pursuing his studies with brilliant success at Marischal College, Aberdeen, he was appointed usher to the Grammar School of that city, 1758, where he enjoyed the society of many distinguished men, by whose aid he was appointed professor of moral philosophy in Marischal College in 1760. In the same year he made his first public appearance as a poet in a volume of original poems and translations. With these poems he was afterward dissatisfied, and he endeavored to suppress them. His Essay on Truth, written avowedly to confute Hume, and published in 1770, became highly popular, and procured him the degree of LL.D. from the University of Oxford, and a private interview and a pension from George III. Solicitations were also made to him to enter the Church of England; but he declined, in the fear that his motives might be misrepresented. In the same year he gave to the world the first book of the Minstrel, and the second look in 1774. This work gained him reputation as a poet. He subsequently produced Dissertations, Moral and Critical (1783, 4to; 1787, 2 vols. 8vo): — Evidences of the Christian Religion (1786; 4th ed. 1795, 2 vols. 12mo): — Elements of Moral Science (3d ed. with Index. 1817, 2 vols. 8vo); and An Account of the Life and Writings of his eldest Son. He died at Aberdeen, Aug. 18, 1803. His Life and Letters, by Sir William Forbes, appeared in 1807 (3 vols. 8vo). It is honorable to Beattie that, long before the abolition of the slave-trade was brought before Parliament, he was active in protesting against that iniquitous traffic; and he introduced the subject into his academical course, with the express hope that such of his pupils as might be called to reside in the West Indies would recollect the lessons of humanity which he inculcated. Of his writings, the Minstrel is that which probably is now most read. It is not a work of any very high order of genius; but it exhibits a strong feeling for the beauties of nature; and it will probably long continue to hold an honorable place in the collections of minor poetry. Beattie's metaphysical writings have the reputation of being clear, lively, and attractive, but not profound. The Essay on Truth was much read and admired at the time of its publication. Engl. Cyclopoedia, s.v.; Allibone, Dict. of Authors, 1, 147.

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