paid to Sir James Grant, the former holder of the office. Sir Walter Scott wrote of these events: ‘Sir John Sinclair has gotten the Golden Fleece at last. Dogberry would not desire a richer reward for having been written down an ass. 6,000l. a year! Good faith, the whole reviews in Britain should rail at me with my free consent, better cheap by at least a cypher’ (Lockhart, Life of Scott, Edinburgh, 1845, p. 215). The acceptance of this office in July 1811 made it necessary for Sinclair to resign his seat in parliament, after being a member for thirty years. Two years later he retired from the presidency of the board of agriculture. Withdrawing into private life, he continued to reside in Edinburgh for the greater part of his time, writing incessantly. He died on 21 Dec. 1835, and was buried on the 30th in Holyrood chapel. He was succeeded in his estates and titles by his son, Sir George Sinclair (1790–1868) [q. v.] Two other sons, John Sinclair (1797–1875) and William (1804–1878), and a daughter Catherine are also separately noticed.
Among other polemics, Sinclair engaged in a literary controversy which attracted wide attention. In 1796 James Macpherson [q. v.] had died, leaving to the Highland Society of London those Gaelic versions of the poems of Ossian, the refusal to produce which had been the chief argument against the genuineness of Macpherson's translation. A committee, under the presidency of Sir John Sinclair, was appointed to superintend their publication (see Letters, i. 327–36). In 1807 they appeared, accompanied by a parallel Latin translation, and by a dissertation in favour of the authenticity of the poems by Sinclair, who claimed to settle the question. As a matter of fact Sinclair's volume left Macpherson's position more dubious than it was before; for Gaelic scholars consider that the Ossianic transcripts which he printed differ in style, versification, and language from such genuine specimens of old Gaelic verse as have been preserved.
Sinclair's successes were chiefly due to his energy and industry. He used to rise at seven in summer and eight in winter, and dictate for two hours to his clerk; then work after breakfast till two or three, and, after dinner and a walk, again till ten. The Abbé Grégoire, formerly bishop of Blois (Mem. i. 191), described him as ‘the most indefatigable man in Britain.’ He seems to have been actuated by a genuine philanthropic desire for rural and financial reform, and many instances of his generous benevolence might be quoted. But, owing to a lack of humour and unbounded self-conceit, he viewed all his achievements with a somewhat ludicrous complacency.
Many portraits of Sinclair are extant, three of which are by Raeburn. In one of these, painted about 1794, Sir John is represented as a man of exceptionally fine features and commanding presence, dressed in his uniform as colonel of the Rothesay and Caithness fencibles. The original is in the possession of the family at Thurso Castle. Engravings of this portrait have appeared in the ‘Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England,’ 1896 (iii. 7), and Chambers's ‘Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen.’ In the second portrait by Raeburn, purchased in 1877 by the trustees of the National Portrait Gallery, he is shown in civilian attire, with a snuff-box in his right hand and papers in his left, surrounded by selections from his works. The third portrait by Raeburn was long in possession of the Raeburn family. Sir John prefixed to his more important writings engravings of his portrait, after Raeburn, Plimer, Lawrence, and Robertson.
Sinclair was a voluminous writer.
- Of ‘The Statistical Account of Scotland,’ the first volume appeared in 1791, two further volumes in 1792, five in 1793, four in 1794, three in 1795, two in 1796, one in 1797, one in 1798, and the last in 1799. The entire work consists of twenty-one octavo volumes, each containing on the average between six and seven hundred pages.
Besides this he wrote:
- ‘Observations on the Scottish Dialect,’ 1782.
- ‘History of the Public Revenue of the British Empire,’ a standard treatise, which was long one of the chief authorities on the subject, 2 vols. 1784; reissued in three parts 1789–90.
- ‘General View of the Agriculture of the Northern Counties and Islands of Scotland,’ 1795.
- ‘Essays on Miscellaneous Subjects,’ 1802.
- ‘Account of the Systems of Husbandry adopted in the more improved Districts of Scotland,’ 2 vols. 1812.
- ‘Dissertation on the Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian,’ 1807.
- ‘Analysis of the Statistical Account of Scotland’ (2 parts), 1825.
Sinclair devoted much of his time in his later years to the composition of what he called the ‘Codean System of Literature,’ in which all knowledge was to be summarised in four departments, comprising agriculture, health, political economy, and religion. The code of health was published in 4 vols. in 1807, and the code of agriculture in 1817; the other two were never completed, though materials were collected and a plan drawn up. The code of agriculture received much praise, especially abroad, but Sinclair's excursion into medicine brought upon him considerable