Elliot, Gilbert (1722-1777) (DNB00)

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ELLIOT, Sir GILBERT, third baronet of Minto (1722–1777), statesman, philosopher, and poet, son of Sir Gilbert Elliot, second baronet and lord of session (1693-1766) [q. v.], by Helen,daughter of Sir Robert Stuart baronet, of Allanbank, and a brother of Jane Elliot [q. v.], was born in September 1722, and after attending Dalkeith grammar school entered the university of Edinburgh and subsequently studied at Leyden. Dr. Thomas Somerviile, who was minister of Minto parish, mentions that he was 'a distinguished classical scholar' (Own Life and Times, p. 120), and he himself states that he 'had read over almost all the classics, both Greek and Latin' (Letter to Hume, 19 Feb. 1751, in Burton's Life, i. 326). He was called to the Scotch bar 18 Dec. 1742. His profession proved uncongenial to him (Letter to Baron Mure, 28 June 1742, in Caldwell Papers, ii. 28). He was appointed the first sheriff-substitute of Roxburghshire, probably through his father's influence. In 1754 he entered parliament as member for Selkirkshire, and he was again chosen for the same county in 1762, but in 1765 he exchanged it for his native county of Roxburgh, which he continued to represent till his death. In 1756 he was named lord of the admiralty, in 1762 treasurer of the chambers, in 1767 keeper of the signet in Scotland, and in 1770 treasurer of the navy. On the death of his father in 1766 he succeeded him in the baronetcy. Horace Walpole characterised Sir Gilbert Elliot as 'one of the ablest members of the House of Commons.' The testimony as to his oratorical gifts, though coloured by national partiality, is undeniable. Robertson the historian told Somerville that no one in the house excelled him in 'acuteness of reasoning and practical information,' and Boswell quotes his elocution as a model for Scotch orators. He particularly distinguished himself in the debate on the proposed extension of the militia to Scotland in 1751, and in the discussions on the expulsion of Wilkes from the House of Commons in 1769. At first he was a supporter of the party of Pitt and the Grenvilles, but afterwards he became an adherent of the party of Lord Bute, whom he endeavoured unsuccessfully to reconcile with Pitt. Latterly he became the special confidant of George III, and if not his adviser and mentor in his political policy, the chief advocate of that policy. On the occasion of the London riots in 1771 he appeared in the House of Commons as the king's special ambassador, and, by an inflammatory speech in regard to the threatened liberties of the house, virtually overruled North and carried a decision to which North was opposed, but to which he could not object. He supported the king in his unhappy policy towards America. When in 1775 a conciliatory motion was introduced to allow the colonies to tax themselves, Elliot, by bringing the royal influence to bear on the Bedford party, secured a large majority against the motion.

Elliot continued to retain his interest in literature and philosophy, and not only enjoyed the acquaintance of the principal literary celebrities of the day in London, but numbered among his special friends the leading members of the literary circle in Edinburgh. He was one of the original members of the Poker Club, instituted in Edinburgh in 1762. Home submitted to him his manuscript of the tragedy of 'Douglas,' Robertson of his 'History of Charles V,' and Hume of his 'Dialogues of Natural Religion.' For these 'Dialogues,' which were written in 1751, Hume wished Elliot to assist him in the part of Cleanthes, which represented to a great extent Elliot's philosophical position. This he declined to do, and on returning the papers wrote a long criticism on the 'Dialogues,' and also of Hume's general theory of impressions and ideas, the rough draft of which was published by Professor Dugald Stewart in the notes to his 'Preliminary Dissertation on the Progress of Philosophy,' contributed to the 'Encyclopædia Britannica,' with the remark that 'this careless fragment exhibits an interesting specimen of the progress made in Scotland among the higher classes seventy years ago, not only in sound philosophy but in purity of style.' It was chiefly on account of Elliot's advice that Hume refrained from publishing the 'Dialogues' during his lifetime. Somerville states that Elliot showed a 'marked disapprobation of the sceptical philosophy.' He was an elder of the kirk of Scotland and a member of the general assembly, though on friendly terms with sceptics. Hume and Baron Mure shared throughout life his special intimacy. In 1764 Hume applied to Elliot to use his influence to secure for him the proper credentials and appointments of secretary to the embassy in Paris

In 1764 he consulted Hume regarding the education of his sons there, who, besides selecting for them a suitable academy, was accustomed to visit them regularly, and write their father detailed accounts of their welfare and progress. Horace Walpole made use of the journal of Elliot in his 'Memoirs of George III.' Elliot is said to have left a manuscript volume of poems, but only a few of his verses have been published. He is sometimes wrongly credited with the authorship of the song 'Shepherd Adonis,' which appeared in Ramsay's 'Tea Table Miscellany' in 1724, when he was only two years of age. Equally erroneous is of course also the statement that he was the first to introduce the German flute into his country in 1725, a remark that has also been made about his father. His fame as a song-writer rests upon 'Amynta,' beginning,

My sheep I neglected, I broke my sheep hook,

styled by Sir Walter Scott 'the beautiful pastoral song. It was printed in the first volume of Yair's 'Charmer,' 1749. In vol. ii. of Johnson's 'Scots Musical Museum' it was, by a mistake of the printer, published under the title 'My Apron Dearie,' that being the name of the tune to which it was set. Elliot's verses on Colonel Gardiner, killed at Prestonpans in 1745, 'Twas at the Hour of Dark Midnight,' were printed in vol. iii. of Johnson's 'Scots Musical Museum' to the tune of 'Sawnie's Pipe.' The 'Fanny' of the song was Colonel Gardiner's daughter Richmond, authoress of 'Anna and Edgar, or Love and Ambition, a Tale,' Edinburgh, 1781. Some stanzas entitled 'Thoughts occasioned by the Funeral of the Earl and Countess of Sutherland in Holyrood House,' published in 'Scots Magazine' 28 Oct. 1766, with the editorial note, 'composed we believe by a person of distinction,' were republished in 'Censura Literaria,' vol. viii., where they are attributed by Sir Edward Bridges to Sir Gilbert Elliot. On account of declining health Elliot went to reside at Marseilles, where he died 11 Jan. 1777. He married in 1746 Agnes, daughter and heiress of Hugh Dalrymple, second son of the first baronet of Hailes, who assumed the additional names of Melgund and Kinnynmound on succeeding to the estates of Molgund in Forfarshire and Kinnynmound in Fife. A sprightly letter of Lady Elliot to Hume is published in Burton's 'Life of Hume' (ii. 446-8). He had six children. His eldest son, Gilbert, first earl of Minto, and his second, Hugh, are separately noticed.

[Life of Gilbert, first earl of Minto, by the Countess of Minto; Burton's Life of Hume; Caldwell Papers (Bannatyne Club); Horace Walpole Letters; Stenhouse's notes to Johnson's Scots Musical Museum; Somerville's Own Life and Times; Jesse's Reign of George III.]

T. F. H.