Anderson, James (1662-1728) (DNB00)

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ANDERSON, JAMES (1662–1728), Scotch genealogist and antiquary, was born at Edinburgh 5 Aug. 1662, being a son of the Rev. Patrick Anderson, a nonjuring clergyman, who was sometime minister of Lamington, in Lanarkshire, and who, during the persecutions in the reign of Charles II, had been incarcerated in the state prison on the Bass Rock. He was educated at the university of Edinburgh, where he was admitted to the degree of M.A. 27 May 1680. Having chosen to adopt the profession of the law, he served his apprenticeship to Sir Hugh Paterson, an eminent member of the Society of Writers to the Signet, and was admitted to the privileges of that body of legal practitioners 6 June 1601. His profession afforded him numerous opportunities to study ancient documents. He soon became fond of antiquarian research, and it appears from his correspondence that at an early period he formed an intimacy with Captain John Slezer, the author of the 'Theatrum Scotiæ,' whose historical investigations and personal disappointments bear so striking a resemblance to his own. It is probable, however, that Anderson might have passed through life in comparative obscurity but for a circumstance which occurred during the excitement consequent upon the proposed union between England and Scotland. In 1704, while feeling ran very high on this subject, an English lawyer named William Atwood, who had been chief-justice of New York, published a pamphlet entitled 'The Superiority and direct Dominion of the lmperial Crown and Kingdom of England over the Crown and Kingdom of Scotland.' The author of this work revived the claims of Edward I to the crown of Scotland, with many insulting sneers at the pretensions of Scottish independence. It curiously happened that Anderson, though altogether unknown to Atwood, was appealed to by him as an eye-witness to vouch for the "trustworthiness of some of the charters and grants by the kings of Scotland. The charters in question are the well-known documents, supposed to have been forged by Harding the chronicler, of which no one now supports the authenticity. Anderson, in consequence of such an appeal, deemed himself bound in duty to his country to publish what he knew of the matter, and to vindicate the memory of some of the best of the Scottish kings, who were accused by Atwood of a base and voluntary surrender of their sovereignty. Accordingly, in 1705, he published 'An Historical Essay, showing that the Crown and Kingdom of Scotland is Imperial and Independent,' Edinb. 1705, 8vo. It is a clear, well-written treatise, and was at the time a conclusive criticism on the forged charters. The work was so acceptable to his country that the Scottish parliament granted him a reward, and ordered thanks to him to be delivered by the lord chancellor in presence of her majesty's high commissioner and the estates. This was done, and at the same time parliament ordered Atwood's book to be burnt at Edinburgh by the hands of the common hangman.

The assurances of support which Anderson received on this occasion tempted him to relinquish his profession, and to embark on his great undertaking — the collection of facsimiles of Scottish charters and other muniments. It appears that before the union he had received a grant of 300l. In the last Scottish parliament held at Edinburgh his claims were brought forward by a committee who reported, on 12 Feb. 1707, that they 'do presume to give it as their humble opinion that the said Mr. James Anderson has made as great advance in the said matter as the time and difficulty in the performance could permit, and that his learned industry in a matter so useful, undertaken on the reccommendation of parliament, deserves further encouragement to enable him to support the charge, and carry on the design uniformly, and with that beauty of execution which will be expected in a work begun by so great authority.' It was found that besides the 300l. voted to him he had spent 590l. in his project. The parliament recommended to the queen the repayment of this sum, and the advance of a thousand guineas to Anderson; and 'in consideration of his good services to his country, and of the loss he suffers by the interruption of his employment in prosecuting the said work, do further recommend him to her majesty as a person meriting her gracious favour in conferring any office of trust upon him.' Mr. John Hill Burton has observed that it was a favourite practice of the Scottish parliament to vote sums of money to public benefactors, leaving them to collect the money as they best could. In Anderson's case, however, there was not even a vote, because the Scottish parliament had met only to cease for ever, and he merely obtained a recommendation to the parliament of Great Britain, by which assembly his peculiar claims were not very likely to be recognised.

Soon after the union Anderson removed to London, where for many years he led a most unhappy life, his time being divided between the labours of completing his project and a series of unsuccessful attempts to get his claims attended to by government. George Lockhart of Camwath, in his 'Commentarys,' gives the following curious illustration of Anderson's disappointments : —

'This gentleman, by his application to the subject of antiquities, having neglected his other affairs, and having, in search after antient records, come to London, allmost all the Scots nobility and gentry of note recommended him as a person that highlie deserved to have some beneficiall post bestowed upon him; nay, the queen herself (to whom he had been introduced, and who took great pleasure in viewing the fine seals and charters of the antient records he had collected) told my Lord Oxford she desird something might be done for him ; to all which his lordships usuall answer was that ther was no need of pressing him to take care of that gentleman, for he was thee man he designd, out of regard to his great knowledge, to distinguish in a particular manner. Mr. Anderson being thus putt off from time to time for fourteen or fifteen months, his lordship at length told him that no doubt he had heard that in his fine library he had a collection of the pictures of the learned, both antient and modern, and as he knew none who better deserved a place there than Mr. Anderson, he desired the favour of his picture. As Mr. Anderson took this for a high mark of the treasurer's esteem, and a sure presage of his future favour, away he went and got his picture drawn by one of the best hands in London, which being presented was graciouslie received (and perhaps got its place in the library): but nothing more appeard of his lordships favour to this gentleman, who having hung on and depended for a long time, at length gave himself no furder trouble in trusting to or expecting any favour from him ; from whence, when any one was asked what place such or such a person was to get, the common reply was, "A place in the treasurer's library." '

Matrimonial troubles augmented the difficulties of Anderson's position; for it appears that he left behind him in Scotland a second wife, who was illiterate and ill-tempered, and who had charge of the children of a previous marriage, of whom she gives a very bad report in her letters to their father.

In 1715 he received the appointment of postmaster-general for Scotland, but he only retained it for a year and a half, though he continued to draw the salary of that office — 200l. a year — in the form of a pension. In a memorandum dated 1723 he states that of his outlay before the union 140l. was still uncompensated; and crediting the government with 1,500l. (200l. a year for seven years and a half), he states the balance due to him at 4,202l. He had in the meantime made an attempt, through his friend Sir Richard Steele, to relieve his embarrassments by selling his library to George II, but the negotiation failed. He had been compelled to halt, or at all events to proceed slowly, in his great undertaking, and in 1718 he is found advertising that those who wished to patronise it ‘could see specimens at his house above the post-office in Edinburgh.’ While, however, the great object of his life remained uncompleted, he was enabled to publish ‘Collections relating to the History of Mary Queen of Scotland. Containing a great number of original papers never before printed. Also a few scarce pieces reprinted, taken from the best copies,’ 4 vols., Edinb. 1727–28, 4to. The original documents contained in this volume are invaluable to historical students. George Chalmers, it is true, insinuated that there was reason to question Anderson's honesty as a transcriber, but he failed to mention any specific instance. Such insinuations were a weakness of Chalmers when the facts of a case did not happen to agree with his own prejudices.

Anderson died very suddenly of apoplexy in London on 3 April 1728, having finished the collections for his great work only a few days previously. He had been compelled to pledge the plates of his ‘Diplomata,’ and in 1729 they were sold for 530l. Afterwards they were put into the hands of Thomas Ruddiman, and at length the long-expected work was published under the title of ‘Selectus Diplomatum & Numismatum Scotiæ Thesaurus, in duas partes distributus: Prior Syllogen complectitur veterum Diplomatum sive Chartarum Regum & Procerum Scotiæ, una cum eorum Sigillis, a Duncano II ad Jacobum I, id est ab anno 1094 ad 1412. Adjuncta sunt reliquorum Scotiæ et Magnæ Britanniæ Regum Sigilla, à prædicto Jacobo I ad nuperam duorum regnorum in unum, anno 1707, coalitionem; Item Characteres & Abbreviaturæ in antiquis codicibus MSS. instrumentisque usitatæ Posterior continet Numismata tam aurea quàm argentea singulorum Scotiæ Regum, ab Alexandro I ad supradictam regnorum coalitionem perpetuâ serie deducta; Subnexis quæ reperiri poterant eorundem Regum symbolis heroicis.’ Edinb. 1739, fol. The introduction professes to be the production of Ruddiman, but it is not known how far Anderson left the materials for it among his manuscript papers.

[A Collection made by James Maidment of printed papers and MSS. relating to Anderson, preserved in the British Museum (10854 ff.); John Hill Burton, in Biog. Dict. Soc. D. U. K. ii. 580–582; MS. Addit. 4221 f. 22; Maidment's Analecta Scotica; Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, ed. Thomson, i. 37; Chalmers's Life of Ruddiman, 151 seq.; The Lockhart Papers, i. 371; Anderson's Scottish Nation, i. 125; Notes and Queries, 1st ser., viii. 347, xi. 439; 2nd ser., v. 251, 272, 471, vi. 27, 107, 184, vii. 372, viii. 169, 217, 327, 457, 475; 3rd ser., i. 144, iii. 507, x. 262; Memorials of Dr. Stukeley (Surtees Soc.).]

T. C.