Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tytler, Alexander Fraser

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TYTLER, ALEXANDER FRASER, Lord Woodhouselee (1747–1813), eldest son of William Tytler [q. v.] of Woodhouselee, by Ann, daughter of James Craig of Costerton, was born at Edinburgh, 15 Oct. 1747. After attending the high school of Edinburgh, where he became dux of the rector's class, he was sent in 1763 to an academy at Kensington, where he remained two years. Thence in 1765 he entered the university of Edinburgh, and on 23 Jan. 1770 he was called to the Scottish bar. Soon afterwards he began to indicate a literary bent, in which, however, he did not display talent of a more than respectable order. In 1771 he published at Edinburgh ‘Piscatory Eclogues, with other Poetical Miscellanies of Phinehas Fletcher, illustrated with notes, critical and explanatory.’ In 1778 he published a supplementary volume to Lord Kames's ‘Dictionary of Decisions,’ entitled ‘The Decisions of the Court of Session, from its first institution to the present time, abridged and digested under proper heads in form of a dictionary.’ In 1780 he was appointed joint professor with John Pringle of universal history in the university of Edinburgh, and in 1786 he became sole professor. ‘It was,’ says Lord Cockburn, ‘as professor of history that he was chiefly distinguished. His lectures were not marked either by originality of matter or by spirit, but though cold and general they were elegant and judicious.’ For the use of his class he printed in 1783 ‘Plan and Outline of a Course of Lectures on Universal History, Ancient and Modern, delivered in the University of Edinburgh,’ Edinburgh, 1783; and the substance of these lectures was published by him in 1801 in two volumes, under the title ‘Elements of General History, Ancient and Modern; to which is added a Table of Chronology, and a Companion of Ancient and Modern Geography.’ He was a contributor to the ‘Mirror,’ 1779–80 (Nos. 17, 37, 59, 79), and to the ‘Lounger,’ 1785–6 (Nos. 7, 19, 24, 44, 63, 70, 79). In 1787 he compiled a ‘History of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,’ forming part of vol. i. of the ‘Transactions’ of that society; and to vol. ii. of the ‘Transactions’ he contributed a life of Lord-president Dundas. In the same volume he also gave ‘An Account of some extraordinary Structures on the Tops of Hills in the Highlands, with Remarks on the Progress of the Arts among the Ancient Inhabitants of Scotland,’ and to vol. v. (1805) he contributed ‘Remarks on a Mixed Species of Evidence in Matters of History.’ To the edition of the works of Dr. John Gregory [q. v.] published in 1788, he contributed a life of Gregory.

In 1790 Tytler was appointed judge-advocate of Scotland, and in 1792 he succeeded his father in the estate of Woodhouselee. In 1791 he published an ‘Essay on the Principles of Translation,’ of which a third edition appeared in 1813; in 1798 ‘A Critical Examination of Mr. Whitaker's Course of Hannibal over the Alps;’ the same year a new edition of ‘Dr. Derham's Physico-Theology,’ with an ‘Account of the Life and Writings of the Author,’ and a short ‘Dissertation on Final Causes;’ in 1799 ‘Ireland profiting by Example, or the Question considered whether Scotland has gained or lost by the Union;’ in 1800 an ‘Essay on Military Law and the Practice of Courts Martial;’ and the same year ‘Remarks on the Writings and Genius of Ramsay,’ prefixed to a collected edition of Allan Ramsay's ‘Works.’ Tytler assisted, or promised to assist, Burns in seeing the 1793 or 1794 edition of Burns's ‘Poems’ through the press, but how far he is responsible for certain changes of phraseology in the 1794 edition it is impossible to state. Several of Tytler's manuscripts are in the Laing collection in the university of Edinburgh.

In 1802 Tytler was raised to the bench of the court of session, with the title of Lord Woodhouselee, taking his seat on 2 Feb., and on 12 March 1811 he was constituted a lord of justiciary. After his elevation to the bench he did not altogether neglect his literary recreations, publishing in 1807 ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Hon. Henry Home, Lord Kames,’ and in 1810 ‘An Historical and Critical Essay on the Life and Character of Petrarch, with a translation of a few of his sonnets.’ He died at Edinburgh, 5 Jan. 1813, in his sixty-eighth year. His portrait by Raeburn belongs to the family.

By his wife Ann, eldest daughter of William Fraser of Balnain, Inverness-shire, in whose right he became possessed of that estate, he had, with two daughters, four sons, of whom the third, Alexander, was author of ‘Considerations on the Present Political State of India,’ 1815, and the youngest was Patrick Fraser Tytler [q. v.], the historian. Another son, James, was father of James Stuart Fraser Tytler (1820–1891), writer to the signet, and from 1866 till his death professor of conveyancing in the university of Edinburgh. The elder daughter, Ann Fraser Tytler, wrote several books for children, including the well-known ‘Leila on the Island’ (1839), which, with its continuations, ‘Leila in England’ and ‘Leila at Home,’ has passed through numerous editions both in England and in America. The younger daughter, Jane, married James Baillie Fraser [q. v.] ‘Tytler,’ says Lord Cockburn, ‘was unquestionably a person of correct taste, a cultivated mind and literary habits, and very amiable, which excellently graced, and were graced by, the mountain retreat whose name he transferred to the bench. But there is no kindness in insinuating that he was a man of genius, and of public or even social influence, or in describing Woodhouselee as Tusculum.’

[The Life of Tytler, by the Rev. Archibald Alison, published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Lord Cockburn describes as ‘a dream of recollections, in which realities are softened by the illusions of the author's own tenderness.’ See further Lord Cockburn's Memorials of his own Time; Kay's Edinburgh Portraits; Bower's Hist. of the University of Edinburgh; Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice; Encyclopædia Britannica, 8th edit.]

T. F. H.