A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen/Anderson, James, of Hermiston

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ANDERSON, James, an agricultural and miscellaneous writer of great merit, was the son of a farmer at Hermiston, in the county of Midlothian, where he was born in the year 1739. His father dying when he was very young, he was educated by his guardian to occupy the farm, which accordingly he begun to manage at the early age of fifteen. It may be supposed that he could not have been intrusted with so important a charge, if he had not already manifested symptoms of superior character and intellect; much less, without such qualifications, could he have discharged it, as he is said to have done, with the approbation of all who had occasion to observe his operations. In reading some agricultural works, to qualify himself for his duties, he had observed that it would be of advantage to study chemistry: he accordingly attended the lectures given in the university of Edinburgh by Dr Cullen, who, although surprised that one so young should have formed this resolution, had soon reason to admire his pupil's laudable curiosity and good sense, and liberally afforded him every encouragement in his power. To chemistry he added the study of certain collateral branches of science; so that, when he entered upon his farm, he was not only able to keep up with his more aged and experienced neighbours, but adopted a number of improvements, suggested by scientific knowledge and native good sense, which were speedily found to be of a most profitable nature. Among his improvements was the introduction of the small two-horse plough, which, since then, has so completely banished the lumbering engine formerly drawn by a string of cattle. Nor did the necessary business of his farm preclude all advancement in knowledge. He still prosecuted his studies with great eagerness, and soon contrived to amass an immense stock of information upon almost all subjects.

His first attempts in literature appeared in the shape of Essays on Planting, in Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine for 1771. In 1777, having previously removed to a large farm in Aberdeenshire, he published these essays in a separate volume. In 1776, appeared his Essay on Chimneys, in which the principle afterwards acted on in the patent Bath stove was first explained. In the same year with his volume on Planting, appeared various pamphlets connected with rural economy, all of which were more or less calculated to gratify the increasing desire of his countrymen for scientific knowledge upon such familiar subjects. The fame of these works procured him a very extensive acquaintance with persons of eminence, who wished to profit by the remarks of so able a practical farmer; and in 1780, the University of Aberdeen acknowledged his merit by conferring upon him the degree of LL.D.

Anderson had been married in 1768; and a desire of educating a very numerous family, together with certain considerations as to the enjoyment of literary society, induced him, in 1783, to remove to Edinburgh, leaving the management of his farm to persons properly qualified. A tract which he had written on the subject of the Fisheries, though not printed, attracted the attention of the government, and he was requested in 1784 to undertake a tour of the western coast of Scotland, for the purpose of obtaining information on this important subject. He readily acquiesced, and performed the task to the high satisfaction of his employers, who, however, never offered him any remuneration. The result of his labours appeared in 1785, as "An Account of the present state of the Hebrides and Western Coasts of Scotland; being the substance of a report to tho Lords of the Treasury."

Passing over some minor works of Dr Anderson, we must make honourable mention of a literary and scientific miscellany which he commenced in 1791, under the title of the Bee. This work was published in weekly numbers at sixpence, and, by its delightful intermixture of useful information with lighter matters of the belles lettres, was eminently calculated for the improvement of the young. It was occasionally embellished with portraits, views, and draughts of scientific objects—in, it is true, a very homely style, but still not much inferior to the taste of the age, and certainly fitted to give the work an increased merit in the eyes of its juvenile purchasers. The work ran from the 22nd of December, 1790, to the 21st of January, 1794, when it was at length reluctantly abandoned, as the ingenious editor informs us, not on account of any failure in its circulation, for that was considerable enough to yield a large apparent profit, but because such a large proportion of the subscribers were remiss in their payments as to induce an absolute loss to the conductor. The cessation of such a meritorious little publication was the more to be regretted, as Anderson had only been able, towards its close, to bring the assistance of his numerous and distant correspondents into full play. The numbers .published form eighteen volumes duodecimo, and throughout the whole of that space, we believe there does not occur one line which can be considered reprehensible for its moral effect.

Among other papers in the Bee was a series of Essays on the Political Progress of Britain. Though only written in what would now be considered a liberal strain, they appeared in the eyes of the sheriff' as calculated to have an injurious tendency at that inflamed period; and the learned Doctor was accordingly summoned to give up the name of the author. This Anderson refused, from peculiar notions as to literary secrecy; he desired to be himself considered as the author. After a second and a third application, he still refused; and when the printers were sent for, and similarly interrogated, he charged them in the face of the magistrates, to preserve his sfecret. All this was the more singular, as his own principles were known to be eminently loyal. Respect for his talents and character induced the magistrates to let the matter drop. The real author, a worthless person named Callender, being afterwards about to quit his country for America, waited upon the authorities, and insinuated that the papers were written by lord Gardenstone, a man to whom he owed many obligations. Immediately on hearing of this infamous conduct, Anderson came forward, and refuted the charge by avowing Callander himself to be the real author. The whole of this affair reflects great credit upon the character of Dr Anderson.

About the year 1797, this ingenious person removed with his family to London, where he undertook various works connected with his favourite study of agriculture. For several years he wrote the articles on this subject in the Monthly Review; and from 1799 to 1802, he conducted a separate miscellany under the title of "Recreations in Agriculture," which was only discontinued on account of some obstructions incident to such a mode of publication. From the last mentioned date, he devoted himself almost entirely to the relaxation which advanced years and severe studies had rendered necessary, and particularly to the cultivation of his garden, which became a miniature of all his past labours. In 1801, he married a second wife, who survived him. He died on the 15th of October, 1808, at the age of sixty-nine.

In his younger days, Dr Anderson was remarkably handsome in his person, of middle stature, and robust make. Extremely moderate in his living, the country exercise animated his cheek with the glow of health; but the overstrained exertion of his mental powers afterwards shook his constitution, and hurried him into old age. He was a man of independent mind; and in the relative duties of husband and father, exhibited a prudential care, mixed with affection, which commanded the admiration of his friends. Of Dr Anderson's abilities, his works exhibit so many proofs that they may be appealed to with perfect confidence. Although a voluminous writer, there is no subject connected with his favourite pursuit, on which he has not thrown new light. But his knowledge was not confined to one science. He exhibited, to give only one instance, very considerable powers of research, when in 1773, he published, in the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, an article under the head Monsoon. In this he clearly predicted the result of captain Cook's first voyage; namely, that there did not exist, nor ever would be found, any continent or large island in the southern hemisphere except New Holland alone; and this was completely verified on captain Cook's return seven months afterwards. Upon the whole, though the name of Dr Anderson is associated with no scientific or literary triumphs of great splendour, his exertions, by their eminent and uniform usefulness, have given him very considerable claims to respect. A minute specification of his works is to be found in the Scots Magazine for 1809.