Monboddo, James Burnet, Lord

Monboddo, James Burnet, Lord a Scotch writer, noted for his eccentric speculations of primitive history, was born at the family seat of Monboddo, in Kincardineshire, Scotland, in 1714. He was educated at the University of Aberdeen, and at Groningen, Holland. On his return to Scotland in 1737, he was admitted to the bar, and succeeded in gaining considerable practice. In 1767 he was promoted to the judicial bench, and became titled as Lord Monboddo. But he by no means confined himself to the legal profession. He employed his pen in various departments of speculative philosophy, in which he displayed a profound rather than a useful learning. He was thoroughly versed in Greek literature, of which he became such an enthusiastic admirer as almost to scorn modern learning. His great work, Origin and Progress of Languages, first appeared in 1773. In this he affirms, and endeavors to demonstrate, the superiority of his favorite ancients over their present degenerate posterity, and discourses. at large on the honor due the Greek language. This work met with no very marked success, being read more on account of its eccentricities than for its practical utility. Monboddo was in a certain sense, however, the forerunner of the now so well-known English naturalist, Charles Darwin. Like the latter, Monboddo expressed his belief in the theory that men were originally monkeys, and he went even. so far as to insist that a nation still exists possessed of tails. His peculiar views were the subject of much merriment and ridicule by Dr. Johnson, who represents lord Monboddo as asking Sir Joseph Banks, who had made a visit to Botany Bay, whether he had met this strange race in his travels. On receiving a negative answer, he was much disappointed. Lord Moliboddo's pen furnished the public also with a work on Ancient Metaphysics, in 6 vols., the first part of which appeared in 1778. In this he endeavors to dissect the philosophy of Sir Isaac Newton; and, as in the former work, he shows an extravagant fondness for Grecian learning and philosophy. He seems to lack the ability of placing these ideas within the easy grasp of modern thought, though he shows his own thorough knowledge, of Aristotle particularly. In this work he further explains and supports his Darwinian ideas. Sir James Edward Smith draws a pen-picture of this eccentric genius, and represents him as "a plain, elderly man, wearing an ordinary gray coat, leather breeches, and coarse worsted stockings, conversing with great affability about various matters-lamenting the decline of classical learning, and claiming credit for having adopted the Norfolk husbandry." Lord Monboddo resided in Edinburgh until his death, May 26, 1799. See Edinb, Review, 58:45; Cooper, Biog. Dict. s.v.; Alibone, Dict. of British and Anmerican Authors s.v.; Chambers, Cyclopaedia, s.v.; English Encyclop s.v.; Gentleman's Magazine, 1799; Tytler, Life of Lore Karnes. (H.W.T.)

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