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Progress of Dr Robertson's Literary Plans and Undertakings.
-History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V.
URING the time that the History of Scotland was in the press, Dr Robertson removed with his family from Gladsmuir to Edinburgh, in consequence of a presentation which he had received to one of the churches of that city. His preferments now multiplied rapidly. In 1759, he was appointed Chaplain of Stirling Castle ; in 1761, one of his Majesty's Chaplains in ordinary, for Scotland; and in 1762, he was chosen Principal of this University. Two years afterwards, the office of King's Historiographer for Scotland (with a salary of two hundred pounds a-year) was revived in his favour.
The revenue arising from these different appointments, though far exceeding what had ever been enjoyed before by any Presbyterian Clergyman in Scotland, did not satisfy the zeal of some of Dr Robertson's admirers, who, mortified at the narrow field which this part of the island afforded to his
ambition, wished to open to it the career of the English Church. References to such a project, occur in letters addressed to him about this time by Sir Gilbert Elliot, Mr Hume, and Dr John Blair. What answer he returned to them, I have not been able to learn; but, as the subject is mentioned once only by each of these Gentlemen, it is presumable that his disapprobation was expressed in those decided terms which became the consistency and dignity of his character.
Dr Robertson's own ambition was, in the meantime, directed to a different object. Soon after the publication of his Scotish History, we find him consulting his friends about the choice of another historical subject ;-anxious to add new laurels to those he had already acquired. Dr John Blair urged him strongly on this occasion to write a complete History of England; and mentioned to him, as an inducement, a conversation between Lord Chesterfield and Colonel Irwin, in which the former said, that he would not scruple, if Dr Robertson would undertake such a work, to move, in the House of Peers, that he should have public encouragement to enable him to carry it into execution. But this proposal he was prevented from listening to, by his unwillingness to interfere with Mr Hume; although it coincided with a favourite plan which he bimself had formed at a very early period of his life. The two subjects which appear
to have chiefly divided his choice were, the History of Greece, and that of the Emperor Charles the Fifth. Between these he hesitated long, balancing their comparative advantages and disadvantages, and availing himself of all the lights that his correspondents could impart to him. Mr Walpole and Mr Hume took a more peculiar interest in his deliberations, and discussed the subject with him at length in various letters. I shall extract a few passages from these. The opinions of such Writers upon such a question cannot fail to be generally interesting ; and some of the hints they suggest may perhaps be useful to those who, conscious of their own powers, are disposed to regret that the field of historical composition is exhausted.
The following passages are copied from a letter of Mr Walpole, dated 4th March 1759.
“ If I can throw in any additional temptation to your dis
position for writing, it is worth my while, even at the ha“ zard of my judgment and my knowledge, both of which “ however are small enough to make me tender of them. “ Before I read your History, I should probably have been
glad to dictate to you, and (I will venture to say it-it “ satirizes nobody but myself) should have thought I did “ honour to an obscure Scotch Clergyman, by directing his
studies with my superior lights and abilities. How you
“ have saved me, Sir, from making a ridiculous figure, by
making so great an one yourself! 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 diffi“ dence and modesty of a very middling author, and who,
I was told, had passed his life in a small living near Edin
burgh ; could I suspect that he had not only written what “ all the world now allows 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 ? In short, Sir, I have “ not power to make
what you ought to be, a Minister “ of State-but I will do all I can, I will stimulate you to “ continue writing, and I shall do it without presumption.
“ I should like either of the subjects you mention, and I
can figure one or two others that would shine in your “ hands. In one light the history of Greece seems prefer6 able. You know all the materials for it that can possibly 66 be had. It is concluded; it is clear of all objections ; for
perhaps nobody but I should run wildly into passionate “ fondness for liberty, if I was writing about Greece. It
even might, I think, be made agrecably new, and that by comparing the extreme difference of their manners and
ours, particularly in the article of finances, a system almost “ new in the world.
“ With regard to the History of Charles V., it is a magni“ ficent subject, and worthy of you. It is more : it is fit for you;
youl have shewn that you can write on ticklish subjects with the utmost discretion, and on subjects of re“ ligious party with teinper and impartiality. Besides, by “ what little I have skimmed of History myself, I have seen “ how many mistakes, how many prejudices, may easily be “ detected : and though much has been written on that age,
probably truth still remains to be written of it. Yet I “ have an objection to this subject. Though Charles V. was “ in a manner the Emperor of Europe, yet he was a Ger
man or a Spaniard. Consider, Sir, by what you must “ have found in writing the History of Scotland, how diffi“ cult it would be for the most penetrating genius of another
country to give an adequate idea of Scotish story. So “ much of all transactions must take their rise from, and de
pend on, national laws, customs, and ideas, that I am per“ suaded a native would always discover great mistakes in a
foreign writer. Greece, indeed, is a foreign country; but no Greek is alive to disprove one.
• There are two other subjects which I have sometimes “ had a mind to treat myself; though my naming one of “ them will tell you why I did not. It was the History of
Learning. Perhaps, indeed, it is a work which could not