A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Monboddo, James Burnett, Lord

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Monboddo, James Burnett, Lord (1714-1799). -- Philosopher and philologist, b. at the family seat in Kincardineshire, was ed. at the Univ. of Aberdeen, Edin., and Groningen, and called to the Scottish Bar in 1737. Thirty years later he became a judge with the title of Lord Monboddo. He was a man of great learning and acuteness, but eccentric and fond of paradox. He was the author of two large works alike learned and whimsical, An Essay on the Origin and Progress of Language (6 vols. 1773-92), and Ancient Metaphysics (6 vols. 1779-99). He mooted and supported the theory that men were originally monkeys, and gradually attained to reason, language, and civilisation by the pressure of necessity. His doctrines do not sound so absurd now as they did in his own day. He was visited by Dr. Johnson at Monboddo.