Mackintosh, Sir James

Mackintosh, Sir James, one of the most celebrated literary characters of the 19th century, distinguished alike as a philosopher, jurist, statesman, and historian was born at Aldourie, in the county of Inverness, Scotland, October 24, 1765. His early instruction and training fell into the hands of his grandfather, a man of great excellence. In 1783 he entered King's College, Aberdeen, where he formed an intimate acquaintance with the celebrated Robert Hall — a happy association which told upon the whole career of Mackintosh. He himself records the great influence which Hall's society and conversation had on his mind. They lived in the same house, were constantly together, and led each other into controversies on the most abstruse points of theology and metaphysics. By their fellow students they were regarded as the intellectual leaders of the university, and under their auspices a society was formed in King's College, which was commonly designated "The Hall and Mackintosh Club." In 1784 he quitted King's College as IM.A., and removed to Edinburgh. His own inclinations were to the bar; family circumstances, however, obliged him to enter upon the study of medicine. But he by no means confined himself to his professional studies. "He mingled freely with the intellectual society of the place; divided his studious hours between medicine, metaphysics, and politics, intermingling with each excursions into its lighter literature and passing or past controversies, and he became a prominent speaker in the medical, physical, and speculative societies." Three years had been thus pleasantly spent when the time for his examination came, and, with diploma in hand, he turned southwards, and settled at London. It was a season of great political excitement when Mackintosh arrived in the great English metropolis, and, as the political arena was much more to his taste and inclination than walking the wards of a hospital, he improved the opportunity, and determined upon a strictly literary life. He supported himself for a while by writing for the newspapers, at the same time engaged in philosophical studies. In 1791 he finally published his Vindiciae Gallicae, in reply to Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution — a work which, though containing juvenile errors, at once gave him great renown; three editions were sold within the first year of its appearance before the public. "In sober philosophic thought, sound feeling, and common sense, it greatly surpassed the splendid philippic against which it was directed, and was enthusiastically lauded." The leading statesmen of England, among them Fox, Sheridan, and others, sought the author's acquaintance; and when the "Association of the Friends of the People" was formed, he was appointed secretary. Encouraged by this success, he turned to the legal profession in 1789, was called to the bar in 1795, and attained high eminence as a forensic lawyer. In 1799 he delivered a course of lectures on the Law of Nature and of Nations before the benchers of Lincoln's Inn, which were attended by audiences of the most brilliant description. Later he was made recorder of Bombay, and in 1806 was appointed judge of the Admiralty Court. His Indian career was highly creditable to his capacity and honorable to his character. After his return to England he entered Parliament as Whig member for Nairn (1813). In 1818 he accepted the professorship of law in the college of Haileybury, continuing, however, to take an active part in the political affairs of his country, as the representative of Knaresborough in the nation's council. In 1822. and again in 1823, he filled the honorable position of lord-rector of the University of Glasgow. In 1828, his great attainments as a philosopher were acknowledged by his selection to complete Dugald Stewart's unfinished dissertation on the "Progress of Metaphysical, Ethical, and Political Philosophy since the Revival of Letters in Europe" for the Encyclopdedia Britannica. Sir James Mackintosh (he was knighted in 1803) at once set to work, and in 1830 completed his part of the task, entitled Dissert. on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy chiefly during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Unfortunately, however, his professional and other duties, as well as sickness, had prevented him from treating the subject as carefully and completely as he might have desired, and so far curtailed the original plan that a survey of political philosophy and the history of the ethical philosophy of the Continent were left unnoticed. But, "notwithstanding these deficiencies," says our distinguished late countryman, Alexander H. Everett (N. Am. Review, 35:451)," it will be read with deep interest by students of moral science, and by all who take an interest in the higher departments of intellectual research, or enjoy the beauties of elegant language applied to the illustration of divine philosophy.' It gives us, on an important branch of the most important of the sciences, the reflection of one of the few masterminds that are fitted by original capacity and patient study to probe it to the bottom." See the article ETHICS in vol. 3, p. 322 sq. He died May 22, 1832.

We have thus far sketched the life of Sir James Mackintosh somewhat more in detail than the limited space of our Cyclopaedia really warrants, in order to enable our readers fully to appreciate the valuable services of this master-mind in the department of philosophy, not only so far as they were exerted directly, but also indirectly. It is not without reason that his distinguished friend Robert Hall said "that if Sir James Mackintosh had enjoyed leisure, and had exerted himself, he would have completely outdone Jeffrey and Stewart, and all the metaphysical writers of our time" (Works [Gregory's edition, New York, 1833,3 vols. 8vo], 3:80). Neither can we afford to pass hastily by the man whom so eminent an authority as Morell (Hist. and Crit. View of the Speculative Philosophy of Europe in the 19th Century [N. Y. 1849, 8vo], p. 405) points out as one of the most eminent moralists of our day. "The ardor, the depth, and the learning," says Morell, "with which he combated the selfish systems, and pleaded for the authority and sanctity of the moral faculty in man, contributed perhaps more than any single cause, not of a religious nature, to oppose the bold advances of utilitarianism, and infuse a healthier tone into the moral principles of the country. Without signifying our adherence to his peculiar theory respecting conscience [viz. "that conscience, or the moral faculty, is not an original part of our constitution, but a 'secondary formation,' created at a later period of life by the effect of the association of ideas out of a variety of elements existing in the mind" (comp. N. A. Rev. 35:451; also M'Cosh, Intuitions of the Mind, p. 253)], we still regard his thoughts and speculations as taking eminently the right direction, and had he obtained leisure to mature his views, and give them to the world in his own forcible and glowing style, it is the opinion of some best able to judge upon the subject (e.g. Robert Hall and Dr. Chalmers) that he would have placed the whole theory of morals upon a higher and more commanding position than it had ever occupied before in this country [England]." Besides this work on Ethical Philosophy (republished Philad. 1834, 8vo), Mackintosh's chief metaphysical writings were published in the Edinburgqh Review, to which he frequently contributed (for a list of them, see Allibone). His Miscellaneous Works, including the contributions to the Edinburgh Review, were published in 1846, 3 vols. 8vo, and also in a single volume sq. crown 8vo. See Memoirs of the Life of the Right Hon. Sir James Mackintosh, edited by his son, Robert James Mackintosh, Esq. (1835, 2 vols. 8vo); Edinb. Rev. 1835 (Oct.); Brit. Quart. Rev. 1846 (Nov.); North Am. Rev. 1832 (Oct.); and especially the very elaborate and able article in Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Am. Authors, 2:1179-1188. (J. H. W.)

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.