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Nor was their own vernacular tongue neglected by those whose rank or situation destined them for pub. lic affairs. At the æra, more particularly, when Dr. Robertson's History closes, it was so rapidly assuming a more regular form, that, excepting by a different system of orthography, and a few inconsiderable peculiarities of dialect, the epistolary style of some of our Scottish statesmen is hardly distinguishable from that of Queen Elizabeth's ministers.
This æra was followed by a long and melancholy period equally fatal to morals and to refinement; and which had scarcely arrived at its complete termination when Dr. Robertson appeared as an Author; aspiring at once to adorn the monuments of former times, when Scotland was yet a kingdom, and to animate his countrymen by his example, in reviving its literary honours.
Before quitting this first work of Dr. Robertson, I must not omit to mention (what forms the strongest testimony of its excellence) the severe trial it had to undergo in the public judgment, by appearing nearly at the same time with that volume of Mr. Hume's History, which involves an account of Scottish affairs during the reigns of Queen Mary and King James. It is not my intention to attempt a parallel of these two eminent writers : nor, indeed, would the sincerity of their mutual attachment, and the lively recollection of it which still remains with many of their common friends, justify me in stating their respective merits in the way of opposition. Their peculiar excellencies, besides, were of a kind so different, that they might be justly said in the language which a Roman Critic employs in speaking of Livy
and Sallust) to be pares magis quam similes. They divide between them the honour of having supplied an important blank in English literature, by enabling their countrymen to dispute the palm of historical writing with the other nations of Europe. Many have since followed their example, in attempting to bestow interest and ornament on different portions of British story; but the public voice sufficiently acquits me of any partiality, when I say that hitherto they have only been followed at a distance. In this respect, I may with confidence apply to them the panegyric which Quinctilian pronounces on the two great Historians of Ancient Greece; and, perhaps, if I were inclined to characterise the beauties most prominent in each, I might, without much impropriety, avail myself of the contrast with which that panegyric concludes.
“ Historiam multi scripsere, sed nemo dubitat, “ duos longe cæteris præferendos, quorum diversa “ virtus laudem pene est parem consecuta. Densus “ et brevis et semper instans sibi Thucydides. Dul“ cis et candidus et fusus Herodotus. Ille conci“ tatis, hic remissis affectibus melior. Ille vi, hic
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 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 probable 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 mean time, directed to a different object. Soon after the publication of his Scottish 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 foriner 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 himself 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 disposition for writing, it is worth my while, “ even at the hazard of my judgement and my “ knowledge, both of which however are smail
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 Cler
gyman, by directing his studies with my supe“ rior 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
and 6 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 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 know
ledge of men and courts as if he had passed all “ his life in important embassies? In short, Sir, I “ have not power to make you, 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.