Robertson, William, Dd

Robertson, William, D.D., often called Principal Robertson, a celebrated Scottish historian, was born at Borthwick, county of Mid-Lothian, Scotland, Sept. 19, 1721. His father, the Rev. William Robertson, was minister at Borthwick when his son was born, and afterwards at the Grey Friars' Church, Edinburgh. After a preparatory course at the school of Dalkeith, and when only twelve years of age, young Robertson obtained admission into the University of Edinburgh, where his subsequent progress in learning was rapid, in proportion to the astonishing acquirements of his childhood. In 1741, before he was twenty years old, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Edinburgh to preach; in 1743 he was appointed minister of Gladsmuir, in Haddingtonshire, where he acquired a high reputation as an eloquent pulpit orator; in 1751 he married, and soon after became leader of the Moderate party in the Church of Scotland, in which capacity he is said to have evinced in the General Assembly a readiness and eloquence in debate which his friend Gibbon might have envied in the House of Commons. In 1759 he first became known as a historian by the publication of his History of Scotland, which benefited his fortune to the extent of £600, and his fame was by one effort placed on an imperishable basis. No first work was ever more successful. It was extolled by Hume, Burke, and other eminent critics. About the same time he removed to Edinburgh, and became chaplain of Stirling Castle; in 1761 he was nominated one of the king's chaplains-in-ordinary for Scotland; in 1762 he was elected principal of the University of Edinburgh, and in 1764 was made historiographer for Scotland, with a salary of £200 per annum. Stimulated by such success, as well as by an ardent devotion to literature, he continued his studies, and in 1769 produced his History of the Reign of Charles V, which raised his then increasing reputation still higher, and which is considered his capital work. The introductory part consists of an able sketch of the political and social state of Europe at the time of the accession of Charles V, a most important period, which forms the connection between the Middle Ages and the history of modern European society and politics. In 1777 he published his History of America, which was followed in 1788 by Additions and Corrections to the former Editions; and in 1791 he published his Historical Disquisition concerning the Knowledge which the Ancients had of India, a slight work, to which he had been led by major Rennel's Memoir of a Map of Hindostan. After spending a life of equal piety, usefulness, and honor, he died, June 11, 1793. His remains were followed to their resting place in Grey Friars' Church yard by a large concourse of the most illustrious magnates of the kingdom, the famous professors of the ancient university, the chiefs of the learned professions, and by many private citizens — all anxious to testify their respect to the memory of one whose intellectual productions cast so bright a lustre on the record of Scottish letters. "A month or two previous to his decease he was removed to Grange House, near Edinburgh, where his friend Dugald Stewart enjoyed those visits which, fortunately for the world, led to the composition of that charming memoir of the principal which has been so often praised and so seldom equalled." Dr. Robertson was a man of dignified and pure personal habits. His conduct as a Christian minister, as a member of society, as a relation, and as a friend was wholly without a stain. Lord Brougham, a relative of his, in his Lives of the Men of Letters of the Time of George III, says, "His affections were warm; they were ever under control, and therefore equal and steady. His conversation was cheerful, and it was varied. Vast information, copious anecdote, perfect appositeness of illustration--narration or description wholly free from pedantry or stiffness, but as felicitous and as striking as might be expected from such a master — great liveliness, and often wit, and often humor, with a full disposition to enjoy the merriment of the hour, but in the most scrupulous absence of everything like coarseness of any description — these formed the staples of his talk." Most of the works of Dr. Robertson relate to that important period when the countries of Europe were beginning to form constitutions and act upon the political systems which were for centuries preserved. His style is elegant, clear, and vigorous, with occasional passages of great beauty. It seems to have completely surprised his contemporaries; and Horace Walpole, in a letter to the author, expresses the feeling with his usual point and vivacity: "But could I suspect that a man I believe much younger, and whose dialect I scarce understood, and who came to me with all the diffidence and modesty of a very middling author, and who, I was told, had passed his life in a small living near Edinburgh — could I then suspect that he had not only written what all the world now allows to be the best modern history, but that he had written it in the purest English, and with as much seeming knowledge of men and courts as if he had passed all his life in important embassies?" Gibbon also has borne ample testimony to his style. In his Memoirs (ch. 5), he says: "The perfect composition, the nervous language, the well turned periods, of Dr. Robertson inflamed me to the ambitious hope that I might one day tread in his footsteps; the calm philosophy, the careless, inimitable beauties, of his friend and rival Hume often forced me to close the volume with a mixed sensation of delight and despair." Robertson is more uniform and measured than Hume. He has few salient points, and no careless beauties. Of grandeur or dignity there is no deficiency; and when the subject awakens a train of lofty or philosophical ideas, the manner of the historian is in fine accordance with his matter. When he sums up the character of a sovereign, or traces the progress of society and the influence of laws and government, we recognize the mind and language of a master of historical composition. There have been, however, various criticisms as to his accuracy in details of fact — the research and import of his histories. We quote from a single critic: "In plain terms, Dr. Robertson appears to have studied grace and dignity more than usefulness. He has chosen those features of every figure which he could best paint, rather than those which were most worthy of the pencil. The charms of Robertson's style, and the full flow of his narration, which is always sufficiently minute for ordinary readers, will render his works immortal in the hands of the bulk of mankind. But the scientific reader requires something more than periods which fill his ear, and general statements which gratify by amusing; he even requires more than a general textbook — a happy arrangement of intricate subjects, which may enable him to pursue them in their details. When we repair to the works of Robertson for the purpose of finding facts, we are instantly carried away by the stream of his narrative, and forget the purpose of our errand to the fountain. As soon as we can stop ourselves, we discover that our search has been vain, and that we must apply to those sources from which he drew and culled his supplies" (Dr. Thomas Brown, in the Edinb. Rev. April, 1803, p. 240, 241). See Brougham, Lives of Men of Letters, etc. (ed. 1855), p. 206, 280-283; Dugald Stewart, Account of the Life and Writings of Robertson (1801 and 1802); Cockburn, Memorials of his Time; Suard, Notice sur la Vie et les Ecrits de Dr. Robertson; Memoirs of Adam Smith, W. Robertson, and Thomas Reid (1811); Chambers, Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors; Mackintosh, Journal, July 13 and 16, 1811; id. Life, vol. 1, ch. 2; vol. 5; Chalmers, Biog. Dict.; Macaulay, Life of Johnson, in the Encyc. Britan. (8th ed.); Europe dursing the Middle Ages; Lardner's Cyclop. 1, 278, 280; Gentleman's Mag. 1836, 2, 19; 1846, 1, 227, n.; 1847, 2, 3, 4, n.; Maitland, Dark Ages, p. 10, 13, 25, 52; Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 13, n.; ch. 31, 49, 58, 61; also Miscell. Works (ed. 1837), p. 373; Green, Diary of a Lover of Literature (1810, 4to), p. 18, 19; Alison, Blackwood's Mag. Dec. 1844; Smyth, Lectures on Modern

History, lect. 1-4, 7-9, 11; Humboldt, Researches in America, 2, 248; Southey, Hist. of Brazil, 1, 639; For. Quar. Rev. No. 17, p. 108-110; Irving, Life and Voyages of Columbus (ed. 1850), 3, 364, 419; Prescott, Conquest of Mexico, vol. 1, pref. 6, p. 37, 103, 320, 333, 335, 348, 365, 376; 2, 64, 95, 112, 203, 204, 222; 3, 304, n., 379; id. Conquest of Peru, vol. 1, pref. 12, p. 17, 338, 423; id. Feridinand and Isabella, 3, 409; Lond. Quar. Rev. Dec. 1843, p. 187, 188; Sept. 1847, p. 317, 318; 12, 369, 370; 76, 91-97; Lond. Athenoeum, 1843, p. 973, 1005; English Cyclop. s.v.; North Amer. Rev. Oct. 1847, p. 370, 371; 61, 405-410; 86, 347; Walpole, Letter to the Countess of Ossory, Nov. 23, 1791; id. Letters (ed. 1861), 9:361; Schlegel, Lectures on the Hist. of Literature (Engl. transl.), lect. 14; Schlosser, Hist. of the 18th Century, p. 664, 917, supra; Shaw, Outlines of English Literature, ch. 15; Edinb. Rev. 2, 245; 56, 220; Menselius, Bibliotheca Historica; Beauties of Dr. Robertson (N.Y. 1810, 8vo); De Chastellux, Essays (Lond. 1790, 2 vols. 8vo); Illustrious Biog. (Edinb. 1808, 12mo); Croker, Boswell's Life of Johnson, years 1756, 1767, 1768, 1772-74, 1777-79, 1781, 1784; Disraeli, Miscell. of Literature (ed. 1855), p. 466. (J.L.S.)

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™.