Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tytler, William
TYTLER, WILLIAM (1711–1792), Scottish historian, son of Alexander Tytler, writer in Edinburgh, and Jane, daughter of W. Leslie of Aberdeen, was born on 12 Oct. 1711. He was educated at the high school and university of Edinburgh, and became in 1744 a writer to the signet, the principal corporation of solicitors in Scotland. He was successful in his profession, and acquired the picturesque estate of Woodhouselee on the south of the Pentlands, still possessed by his descendants. Tytler was deeply interested in archæology and history. He joined the Select Society founded by Allan Ramsay (1713–1784) [q. v.], the painter, in 1754, and took part in its debates. Many distinguished men of letters were members of the society, and Tytler formed a close intimacy with them. He for the first time distinguished himself as an author by contributing papers to the ‘Lounger,’ among others one on the ‘Defects of Modern Female Education in teaching the Duties of a Wife’ (No. 16). His first independent work, published in 1759, was ‘The Inquiry, Historical and Critical, into the Evidence against Mary Queen of Scots, and an Examination of the Histories of Dr. Robertson and David Hume with respect to that Evidence.’ Though he had been preceded in 1754 by Walter Goodall (1706?–1766) [q. v.], his work continued, till the publication in 1809 of John Hosack's ‘Mary Queen of Scots and her Accusers,’ the most widely read of the literary productions of Mary's apologists. Tytler's work, which went through four editions, was translated into French in 1772, and again in 1860, and it was reviewed by Dr. Johnson and Smollett. He wrote a supplement on ‘the Bothwell marriage,’ published in the ‘Transactions of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland’ in 1792. In 1783 he published ‘The Poetical Remains of James I, King of Scotland,’ and was the discoverer in a manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford of the ‘Kingis Quair,’ the authorship of which he ascribed on grounds generally accepted to that king. A recent attempt to contest this by Mr. J. T. T. Brown, Glasgow, 1896, though ingenious, is not, it is thought, successful. ‘Christ's Kirk on the Green,’ a comic ballad in a very different style, which Tytler also attributed to James, is now admitted to be of a later date.
Tytler also wrote ‘Observations on the Vision,’ a poem first published in Ramsay's ‘Evergreen,’ in which he defended Ramsay's title to its authorship; and ‘An Account of the Fashionable Amusements and Entertainments of Edinburgh in the Last Century, with the Plan of a grand Concert of Music on St. Cecilia's Day, 1695.’ He was an accomplished player on the harpsichord and on the flute, and was an original member of the Musical Society of Edinburgh. His prescription for a happy old age has been often quoted: ‘short but cheerful meals, music, and a good conscience.’ He died at Woodhouselee on 12 Sept. 1792. His portrait, by Raeburn, now at Woodhouselee, and well known in a mezzotint reproduction, is one of the best by that master. By his marriage to Ann, daughter of James Craig of Costerton, he had eight children, four of whom predeceased him. The survivors were Alexander Fraser Tytler, lord Woodhouselee [q. v.], Colonel Patrick Tytler, and a daughter.[Memoir by his friend, Henry Mackenzie, the Man of Feeling, in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1796; Memoir in the Bee; Burgon's Life of Patrick Fraser Tytler, the historian of Scotland, his grandson, 1859.]