Irving, David (DNB00)

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IRVING, DAVID, LL.D. (1778–1860), biographer and librarian, fourth and youngest son of Janetus Irving of Langholm, Dumfriesshire, by Helen, daughter of Simon Little, was born at Langholm on 5 Dec. 1778. After a sound preliminary education at Langholm, David entered Edinburgh University in 1796, and in 1801 graduated M.A. While a student he was a successful private tutor, and enjoyed the friendship of the veteran critic, Dr. Anderson, to whom in 1799 he ‘gratefully inscribed’ his ‘Life of Robert Fergusson, with a Critique on his Works.’ This puerile and imperfect performance was followed by similar biographies of William Falconer of the ‘Shipwreck,’ and Russell the historian of modern Europe, and the three sketches were republished together in 1800, with a dedication to Andrew Dalzel, the Edinburgh professor of Greek. In 1801 appeared Irving's ‘Elements of English Composition,’ which has been a very popular text-book.

Abandoning his original intention of becoming a clergyman, Irving for a time studied law, but at length settled to literary pursuits. In 1804 he published in two volumes ‘The Lives of the Scotish Poets; with Preliminary Dissertations on the Literary History of Scotland and the Early Scotish Drama.’ This evinced both learning and critical capacity, and it was followed in 1805 by the ‘Life of George Buchanan,’ which amply demonstrated Irving's wide and minute scholarship, exceptional faculty for research, and literary dexterity. Revised and enlarged, the work reappeared in 1817 as ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of George Buchanan.’ In 1808 the university of Aberdeen conferred on Irving the honorary degree of LL.D., and in the same year he was candidate for the chair of classics at Belfast, but withdrew before the election. In 1810 he married the daughter of Dr. Robert Anderson (1750–1830) [q. v.], who died in 1812 after the birth of a son. In 1813 he printed a touching ‘Memorial of Anne Margaret Anderson,’ for private circulation. Up to 1820 Irving devoted himself to literary work, and to the interests of a few university students who boarded with him. His superintendence of their studies led to his printing in 1815 ‘Observations on the Study of the Civil Law,’ which was reprinted in 1820 and 1823, and in 1837 appeared in an enlarged form as ‘An Introduction to the Study of the Civil Law.’

In 1820 Irving became principal librarian of the Faculty of Advocates, passing his first vacation at Göttingen, in accordance with the terms of his appointment. This gained him new friends and valuable experience, and brought him in time the Göttingen degree of doctor of laws. In October of this year he married his cousin, Janet Laing of Canonbie, Dumfriesshire, and for twenty-nine years pursued a quiet, but prosperous and happy career. At the disruption in 1843 he joined the seceders from the church of Scotland, remaining a valued member of the Free church. In 1848 the curators of the library, on account apparently of his advancing years, induced him to resign his post. Thenceforth he lived a retired and studious life, amassing a private library of about seven thousand volumes. He died at Meadow Place, Edinburgh, on 11 May 1860.

Irving published much during his last forty years. In 1821 he edited, with biographical notices, the poems of Alexander Montgomerie, author of ‘The Cherrie and the Sloe.’ For the Bannatyne Club he prepared, in 1828–9, an edition of Dempster's ‘De Scriptoribus Scotis;’ in 1835 a reprint of Robert Charteris's edition of ‘Philotus, a Comedy;’ and, in 1837, the first edited issue of David Buchanan's Lives: ‘Davidis Buchanani de Scriptoribus Scotis Libri Duo.’ For the Maitland Club he edited in 1830 ‘Clariodus, a Metrical Romance,’ from a sixteenth-century manuscript, and in 1832 ‘The Moral Fables of Robert Henryson: reprinted from the edition of Andrew Hart.’ He did not revise Hart's text, but he furnished a valuable preface. Between 1830 and 1842 he contributed to the seventh edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ the articles on Jurisprudence, Canon Law, Civil Law, and Feudal Law, besides numerous important Scottish biographies, many of which were republished, in 1839, in two volumes, entitled ‘Lives of Scotish Writers.’ In 1854 Irving reissued, with enlarged preface and notes, Selden's ‘Table Talk,’ which he had edited in 1819. He likewise progressed with his ‘History of Scotish Poetry,’ which he began in 1828; it appeared posthumously in 1861, edited by Dr. John Carlyle, with a prefatory memoir by Dr. David Laing. Several of the ‘Encyclopædia’ articles—notably those on Barbour, Dunbar, Henryson, and Lindsay—were incorporated in this work. Although it wants revision in the light of researches undertaken since the date of its composition, it remains the standard authority on its subject.

[Laing's Memoir prefixed to Scotish Poetry; Gent. Mag. 1860, i. 645; Dr. Hanna's obituary notice in the Witness.]

T. B.