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LIFE AND CHARACTER.
November 28, 1790.
education, and character of my Son, now deceased. It will innocently, and perhaps not unprofitably, amuse some hours of this melancholy season, when my mind can settle on nothing else; and, whether it be published or not, a circumstance on which I have as yet formed no resolution, it will be an acceptable present to those to whom I may send it. The account, though drawn up by the hand of a friend, will not in any particular be erroneous. In order to convey a favourable notion of the person of whom I speak, I have nothing to do, but to tell the simple truth.
JAMES HAY BEATTIE was born in Aberdeen the sixth of November, in the year one thousand seven hundred and sixty eight. He was baptized James Hay, by permission of JAMES HAY EARL OF ERROL, who had patronized me at an early period of my life, and ever after honoured me with his friendship: a nobleman, who, to a competent knowledge of classical learning, and other accomplishments becoming
his rank, joined uncommon elegance, dignity, and affability of manners; with benevolence unbounded; an exemplary regard to the institutions of religion ; and a spirit of true patriotism, whereof those parts of his country, with which he was connected, do still feel, and it is hoped will long feel, the salutary influence.
To parents, and other near relations, infancy is very interesting; but can hardly supply any thing of narrative. My son's was in no respect remarkable, unless, perhaps, for a mildness and docility of nature, which adhered to him through life. I do not remember that I ever had occasion to reprove him above three or four times: bodily chastisement he never experienced at all. It would indeed have been most unreasonable to apply this mode of discipline to one, whose supreme concern it ever was to know his duty, and to do it.
The first rules of morality I taught him were, to speak truth, and keep a secret; and I never found that in a single instance he transgressed either.
The doctrines of religion I wished to impress on his mind, as soon as it might be prepared to receive them; but I did not see the propriety of making him commit to memory theological sentences, or any sen. tences, which it was not possible for him to understand. And I was desirous to make a trial how far his own reason could go in tracing out with a little direction, the great and first principle of all religion, the being of God. The following fact is mentioned not as a proof of superior sagacity in him (for I have no doubt that most children would in like circumstances think as he did), but merely as a moral or logical experiment.
He had reached his fifth (or sixth] year, knew the alphabet, and could read a little ; but had received no particular information with respect to the Author of his being: because I thought he could not yet understand such information ; and because I had learn. ed from my own experience, that to be made to repeat words not understood is extremely detrimental to the faculties of a young mind. In a corner of a little garden, without informing any person of the circumstance, I wrote in the mould, with my finger, the three initial letters of his name; and, sowing gars den cresses in the furrows, covered up the seed, and smoothed the ground. Ten days after, he came runs ning to me, and with astonishment in his countenance told me, that his name was growing in the garden. I smiled at the report, and seemed inclined to disregard it; but he insisted on my going to see what had happened. Yes, said I carelessly, on coming to the place, I see it is so ; but there is nothing in this worth notice ; it is mere chance : and I went away. He followed me, and, taking hold of my coat, said: with some earnestness, it could not be mere chance; for that some body must have contrived matters so as to produce it. - I pretend not to give his words, or my own, for I have forgotten both; but I give the: substance of what passed between us in such language as we both understood. So you think, I said, that what appears so regular as the letters of your name cannot be by chance. Yes, said he, with firmness, I think so. Look at yourself, I replied, and consider your hands and fingers, your legs and feet, and other limbs ; are they not regular in their appearance, and useful to you.? He said, they were. Came you then hither, said I, by chance ? No, he. answered, that cannot be; something must have made me
And who is that something, I asked. He said, he did not know. (I took particular no. tice, that he did not say, as Rousseau fancies a child in like circumstances would say, that his parents made him.) I had now gained the point I aimed at; and saw, that his reason taught him, (though he could not so express it) that what begins to be must have a cause, and that what is formed with regularity must have an intelligent cause. I therefore told him the name of the Great Being who made him and all the world; concerning whose adorable nature I gave him such information as I thought he could in some measure comprehend. The lesson affected him great. ly, and he never forgot either it, or the circumstance that introduced it.
At home, from his Mother and me, he learned to read and write. His pronunciation was not correct, as may well be supposed: but it was deliberate and significant, free from provincial peculiarities, and such as an Englishman would have understood; and afterwards, when he had passed a few summers in England, it became more elegant than what is commonly heard in North Britain. He was early warned against the use of Scotch words and other similar improprie. ties; and his dislike to them was such, that he soon learned to avoid them; and, after he grew up, could never endure to read what was written in any of the vulgar dialects of Scotland.
When he had compleated his seventh year, being now a good reader, a ready writer, and well acquainted with the catechism published by the pious and learned Dr. Watts, I made him attend the grammár school of Aberdeen ; where he acquired with facility and exactness, the elements of the Latin tongue, and read those parts of the classick authors which are usually taught in our schools. About the same time he studied at home with me some of the best tales in Ovid's Metamorphosis, and several books of Virgil. I was at particular pains to instruct him in certain niceties of the grammatical and critical art, which are not found in the most common grammars, and by little and little to initiate him in the principles of universal or philosophical grammar. This, he told me