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Esq., who was married to Miss Gavin, a niece of the Earl of Lauderdale.
Nearly the whole of the preceding Memoir has been derived from “The Royal Military Calendar.”
WILLIAM STEVENSON, ESQ.
OF THE RECoRDs office, IN THE TREASURY.
The literary and scientific world has sustained a great loss in the death of Mr. Stevenson; a man remarkable for the stores of knowledge which he possessed, and for the modesty and simplicity by which his rare attainments were concealed.
Mr. Stevenson was born on the 26th of November, 1772, at Berwick-upon-Tweed, where his family had long been respectably established. His father was a Captain in the Royal Navy.
He received his classical education at the Grammar-school of Berwick, the master of which, at that time, was the Rev. Joseph Romney, under whom it was a seminary of great repute. In his earlier years he was not remarkable for his love of study. We have before us a letter from his mother, written to his father (whose ship was then stationed off Cork) when William was about eight years of age, in which she says: “The children are all well, and give me no trouble, except William, who hardly ever attends school, and is constantly running about the walls.” Are not this and other instances of a boyhood of apparent idleness, followed by a manhood of real application, calculated to show the advantage of not requiring premature mental efforts from children? It appears that in a short time after this period, the subject of our Memoir began to feel the spur of emulation, and that he greatly distinguished himself, being always at the head of his class.
After having been between eight and nine years at school, he was, in the year 1787, entered as a student for the ministry in the academy at Daventry, then under the direction of the Rev. W. Belsham. In June, 1789, Mr. Belsham having resigned, the academy was transferred to Northampton, and the students were placed under the care of the Rev. John Horsey. Here Mr. Stevenson went through the remainder of his course. The following extract of a letter from one of his friends and contemporaries will show what was the turn of his mind at this period of his life: —
“At Daventry, where I first became acquainted with Mr. Stevenson, who was then commencing his third year there, I well recollect that he associated with those who were reputed the best classical scholars, and who were most distinguished for their knowledge and ability in metaphysical and theological discussions; which at that time, owing to particular circumstances, were much in vogue. Most of Mr. Stevenson's associates left the academy on the resignation of Mr. Belsham; but Mr. Stevenson, with a few others, continued their studies at Northampton, whither the academy was removed. One characteristic which I well remember in Mr. Stevenson was a great disinclination to the active sports generally so much relished at that time of life. Even cricket I never saw him join in ; although few men were so happily formed for exercises requiring strength and activity, as the delight which he took in long and rapid walks has always shown. Often he even refrained from accompanying us to the field; and on returning we have found him in the same posture in which we had left him, with a volume, or even two volumes, of Fielding or Smollet, which had been rapidly perused. Sometimes he seemed to be indulging the musings, not of a wayward fancy, but of a mind which subsequent events proved was richly gifted with the powers of reflection and judgment. In appearance his studies were below par in point of laboriousness; but they were equally above it in efficiency. It may be a dangerous example to hold up; but certainly, in his case, hours apparently unoccupied were employed in
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meditating on and arranging the knowledge which he had almost intuitively acquired; and of which he then, and throughout life, availed himself with such singular correctness and advantage. When it came to his turn to deliver an oration, however it might seem to have been deferred and neglected, and however rapidly it was eventually written, its excellence always demonstrated the skill and care with which it had been digested. In conversation and in discussions, whether on the belles lettres, on metaphysics, or on doctrinal points, his companions had always cause to admire the extent of his attainments, and the talent with which he applied them; and I do not recollect his ever manifesting, in any debate, angry or undue warmth.” Before he had completed the usual course of studies, Mr. Stevenson accepted an invitation to become private tutor in the family of Mr. Edwards of Bruges, with whom he lived some time, and returned to England at the breaking out of the war. On his return he was engaged as classical tutor at the academy at Manchester; and he also preached, for a short time, at Doblane, near that town. Here he met with several friends and fellow-students; particularly the Rev. John Hallard of Bolton, and the Rev. George Wicke of Morton, near Manchester. The latter gentleman, a most amiable and disinterested man, soon afterwards published a pamphlet against the employment of any person as a hired teacher of religion, and practically enforced his own doctrines by resigning his ministerial office, to the great regret of all friends. Mr. Stevenson did the same at Doblane, and also published a very ingenious and remarkably well-written pamphlet on the inferior utility of classical learning, except in the education of persons intended for the learned professions. In after-life, however, he became more favourable to its general diffusion. Upon the resignation of his ministry at Doblane, Mr. Stevenson went as a pupil to a very eminent farmer in East Lothian; and after having devoted considerable attention to agricultural pursuits, so as to fix the theory of agriculture indelibly in his mind, he proceeded, in October, 1797, to a farm which he had taken at Laughton, near Edinburgh. This speculation, however, did not answer; and after four or five years Mr. Stevenson relinquished it. About this period, in consequence, as it was supposed, of his having too frequently eaten at Berwick of salmon out of season, he was attacked by a severe leprous complaint, approaching almost to elephantiasis, the violent operation and long continuance of which completely disfigured a countenance previously handsome. About this trying time, Mr. Stevenson kept a boarding-house for students in Drummond Street, Edinburgh. He was also employed as the Editor of the “Scots' Magazine;” in almost every number of which there appeared an essay of his on some subject of taste, literature, or science, which manifested equally his talents and his acquirements. He likewise contributed largely to the “Edinburgh Review,” and engaged in other literary undertakings. To complete the occupation of his time, he gave instructions to private pupils in the various branches of general education. After several years spent in these multifarious pursuits, Mr. Stevenson happening to be introduced to the Earl of Lauderdale, who had just been appointed by the Government Governor-General of India, was selected by his Lordship to accompany him as his private secretary. But upon repairing to London for the purpose of making the necessary preparations for his voyage, the decided opposition of the East India Company rendered Lord Lauderdale's appointment nugatory. Through the interest of the noble Earl, however, Mr. Stevenson obtained the office of Keeper of the Records to the Treasury. Soon after his entrance upon this office, an event occurred which, although it was unproductive of any worldly advantage, must have been highly gratifying to Mr. Stevenson, as it proved that the knowledge of his character and attainments had spread to other countries. This event was his appointment by the Emperor of Russia to be Professor of Techno