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Earl of Buchan, with the spirit of an ancient Baron, took an early opportunity of declaring that he would oblige the Secretary of State, who should insult him with such an application, to wash away the affront with his blood. The practice from that time ceased; and Ministers were obliged to adopt some other less offensive mode of exercising their electioneering influence over the Caledonian Peerage."
Lord Buchan's "Speech, intended to have been spoken at the Meeting of the Peers of Scotland, for the General Election of their Representatives, in which a Plan is proposed for the better Representation of the Peerage of Scotland," was published in 4to., 1780. His Lordship never voted at subsequent elections of representative Peers.
To revert from these political efforts to those scenes where his zealous enthusiasm was more successfully and beneficially exerted, we will again take up the "Public Characters." "The Earl had two very promising brothers (the Chancellor and the witty Henry Erskine); and on their education he earnestly bestowed that care which was to be expected from the kindness and vigilance, not merely of a near relation, but of a prudent and affectionate parent. The fortunes of his family had been, from different causes, not dishonoured, indeed, but impaired so considerably, that they could no longer afford an annual income sufficiently ample to support its dignities with due splendour and to enable him to gratify all the generous wishes of a munificent spirit. Struck with this, he resolutely adopted a plan of economy, admirably fitted to retrieve and re-establish those falling fortunes; and his endeavours (perhaps the most honourable and difficult which a young and liberal-minded nobleman could resolve upon), without subjecting him to the imputation of parsimony, were crowned and rewarded with opulence.
"The High School of Edinburgh is confessedly one of the best seminaries in the kingdom for the initiation of youth in the first principles of the Latin language. By frequent visits to this seminary, the Earl of Buchan has sought every opportunity of recommending to public notice the skill and attention of the teachers, as well as the happy proficiency of their pupils; and a premium, his gift, is annually bestowed at the University of Aberdeen, upon the successful competitor in a trial of excellence among the students."
Of a school for students'of more advanced years, — the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, — the Earl of Buchan may justly be styled the founder. The first meeting preparatory to its formation was held at his house, November l't. 1780; when he explained, in a pertinent discourse (printed that year in octavo), the general plan and intention of the proposed Association. A second meeting assembled at the same place a fortnight after: and at a third, on the i8th of October, the Society was instituted; when the Earl of Bute was elected President, and the Earl of Buchan the first of the five VicePresidents. A few weeks after, it was announced that "the Earl of Buchan has presented to the newly-instituted Society of Antiquaries of Scotland a correct life of the admirable Crichton, written by the Earl himself, in which many falsities relative to this prodigy of human nature are detailed. (This was afterwards employed in the "Biographia Britannica.") His Lordship has likewise deposited with the Society some valuable literary productions of Crichton."
His Lordship's antiquarian pursuits at that period were principally confmed to the collecting of curious missive letters elucidatory of Scottish biography, and in general characteristic letters of illustrious or learned persons. His objects were, first, as leading to a Biographia Scotica; secondly, Biography in general; and, thirdly, the printing of characteristic letters, by centuries, of the most eminent persons in the state, or in literature, since the restoration of letters in Europe.
In a letter to a. London correspondent, in 1783, his Lordship thus speaks of his personal exertions in antiquarian researches: — "I have seen a very good speejmen of parochial history, by Mr. Warton, in that of Kiddington. I wrote one of my parish, (I mean, of that in which I reside,) which is a very small and uninteresting one, as an encouragement to othe rs to proceed on a plan of that sort; and I am glad to find the example has been made useful If I had better
health, and a little more ready money, I could have done more; but I have had much greater success, under all my obstacles, than my most sanguine expectations gave me reason to suppose some years ago. My insatiable thirst of knowledge, and a genius prone to the splendid sciences and the fine arts, lias distracted my attention so much, that the candid must make allowances for me in any one department; but considering myself as a Nobleman, and not a Peer of Parlialiament (a piece of ornamental china as it were), I have been obliged to avail myself of my situation to do as much good as I possibly could without acting in a professional line, from which my rank and my fate excluded me. Our annual publication is gone to the press. The first volume of our Transactions will appear about the 14th of November."
In Dec. 1784, the Earl communicated to Mr. Nichols, the late venerable Editor of the "Gentleman's Magazine," two letters containing some "Remarks on the Progress of the Roman Arms in Scotland during the Sixth Campaign of Agricola," which, with a third by the Reverend Mr. Jamieson, and six plates, were published in 1786, as the 36th Number of the " Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica." The first letter begins in this singular manner, the quotation of which will impart some further idea of his Lordship's political sentiments : —
"Sir, — Next to the united loss of health and character, accompanied by the gnawing torments of an evil conscience, is the misfortune to a good man of surviving the virtue, the glory, and the happiness of his native country. This misfortune is ours; and such has been the accumulation of disgrace and discomfiture that has fallen on us as a people since the last wretched twenty-four years of the British annals, that I turn with aversion from the filthy picture that is before my eyes, and look back for consolation to the times which are past. It was in seeking, Sir, for such opiates to the watchful care of a good citizen in a falling empire that I fell into antiquarian research, and shall give you from time to time the results of it."
On reviewing the memorials of the Scottish nobility, Lord Buchan felt his enthusiastic veneration in a particular manner excited by the science and virtues of the illustrious Napier, the inventor of logarithms, and the most eminent discoverer in philosophy which Scotland could boast. With a generous hand he aspired to crown the memory of his illustrious countryman with due honours; and, in conjunction with Walter Minto, LL.D., published at Edinburgh, in quarto, in 1787, "An Account of the Life, Writings, and Inventions of Napier of Merchiston," as a specimen of biography on a new plan.
In 1787 Lord Buchan, from regard to his health, left Edinburgh, and went to reside at his country mansion of Dryburgh Abbey. His Lordship then applied his energies to the improvement of his ancestral seat; and no tourist who • has visited the south of Scotland will forget the beauties of Dryburgh. The Earl himself communicated to Grose's "Antiquities of Scotland" a description of the place (printed in vol. i. pp. 101—109.), with two views taken in 1787 and 1789; and another description to "The Bee." In 1814 he erected in his grounds a statue of Wallace; and a chain bridge of his formation crosses the Tweed at Dryburgh.
The enthusiasm of Lord Buchan led him to institute an annual festive commemoration of Thomson, at Ednam, the scene of that poet's birth. The following is the eulogy of Thomson delivered by the noble Earl on Ednam Hill, where he crowned the first edition of the "Seasons" with a wreath of bays, on the 22d of September, 1791 : —
"I think myself happy to have this day the honour of endeavouring to do honour to the memory of Thomson, which has been profanely touched by the rude hand of Samuel Johnson, whose fame and reputation indicate the decline of taste in a country that, after having produced an Alfred, a Wallace, a Bacon, a Napier, a Newton, a Buchanan, a Milton, a Hampden, a Fletcher, and a Thomson, can submit to be bullied by an overbearing pedant."
It was on this occasion that Burns composed his beautiful little Address to the shade of the bard of Ednam.
In the following year the Earl pursued the subject in an "Essay on the Lives and Writings of Fletcher of Saltoun, and the Poet Thomson, biographical, critical, and political; with some Pieces of Thomson's never before published," 8vo. In this are found some further specimens of his Lordship's political feelings. He says himself, in the notice in the Peerage which has been twice before quoted, "In his Essay on the Lives of Thomson the Poet, and Fletcher of Saltoun, and in his correspondence with Christopher Wyvill, as chairman of the Yorkshire committee, he has sufficiently explained the political motives by which he has been guided; and his public acts, which have been few, will speak for themselves. Est quodam ire tenus si turn datur ultra."
In the "Gentleman's Magazine" for March, 1792, the Earl of Buchan published proposals for editing the voluminous manuscripts left by the celebrated Nicholas Claudius de Fabry de Pereise, senator of the Parliament of Aix; but the plan does not appear to have led to any result.
It was not till the same year that the first volume of the "Transactions of the Society of Antiquarians of Scotland" was completed at the press. It contained the following articles by the Earl of Buchan: —" Memoirs of the Life of Sir James Steuart Denham, Baronet" .(pp.129—139.); "Account of the Parish of Uphall" (pp. 139—155.). This begins thus : —" Some time ago I threw into a weekly paper, published by Messrs. Ruddiman, some anonymous hints for giving accounts of country parishes in Scotland, suited to the various objects of our institution, and pointed out a few of the many advantages which might arise from the promotion of such communications. Having been lately in a very indifferent state of health, and finding my mind unable to invent, or to range in my favourite fields of science or of the fine arts, I thought my time could not be better employed than in compiling the notes I had formerly made with respect to the country parish where I reside." — His "Account of the Island of Icolmkill," in pp. 234—2H., is accompanied by the before-mentioned etching, executed by himself when at the