Jamieson, John (1759-1838) (DNB00)

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JAMIESON, JOHN, D.D. (1759–1838), antiquary and philologist, born in Glasgow in March 1759, was son of an anti-burgher minister. He entered Glasgow University at the age of nine, and after passing through the curriculum and completing the necessary course in theology, he was licensed to preach in 1781, and shortly afterwards appointed minister to a congregation in Forfar. Here he remained sixteen years. His evangelical and polemical writings attracted attention, and he was called to Edinburgh by the Nicolson Street congregation of anti-burghers, becoming their minister in 1797. He became widely known and respected for his scholarship and social worth, and to Sir Walter Scott in particular he was ‘an excellent good man, and full of auld Scottish cracks’ (Life of Scott, vi. 331). He was deeply gratified in 1820 by the union of the closely related sects, the burghers and the anti-burghers, a consummation largely due to his own suggestion and guidance. In 1830 he retired. He died in Edinburgh on 12 July 1838. In recognition of his ability and attainments Jamieson, after replying to Priestley in 1795, received from the college of New Jersey the degree of D.D. His other honours include membership of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh, of the Antiquarian Society of Boston, United States, and of the Copenhagen Society of Northern Literature. He was also a royal associate of the first class of the Literary Society instituted by George IV.

He married at Forfar Charlotte Watson, daughter of Robert Watson of Shielhill, Forfarshire. He outlived his wife and fourteen sons and daughters, his second son dying after brilliant promise at the Scottish bar (Noctes Ambrosianæ, iv. 201).

Jamieson's chief work, the ‘Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language,’ appeared, with an elaborate preliminary dissertation, in 2 vols. 4to, in 1808. While Jamieson was in Forfar an interview with the Danish scholar Thorkelin had suggested this work. His special knowledge and great industry enabled him, with Ruddiman's glossary to ‘Gavin Douglas’ as a basis, to complete it almost single-handed. He prepared a valuable abridgment in 1818 (this was reissued in 1846 with a prefatory memoir by John Johnstone), and by further diligence and perseverance, aided by numerous volunteers, he added two supplementary volumes in 1825. The work (reissued with additions in 1840), while somewhat weak in philology, is generally admirable in definition and illustration, and evinces a rare grasp of folklore and important provincialisms. The introductory dissertation, ingeniously supporting an obsolete theory regarding the Pictish influence on the Scottish language, has now a merely antiquarian interest. The revised edition, 1879–87, by Dr. Longmuir and Mr. Donaldson, with the aid of the most distinguished specialists, has a high philological as well as literary value.

Jamieson's other works were: 1. ‘Socinianism Unmasked,’ 1786. 2. ‘A Poem on Slavery,’ 1789. 3. ‘Sermons on the Heart,’ 2 vols., 1791. 4. ‘Congal and Fenella, a Metrical Tale,’ 1791. 5. ‘Vindication of the Doctrine of Scripture,’ in reply to Priestley's ‘History of Early Opinions,’ 2 vols., 1795, displaying ample knowledge and argumentative skill. 6. ‘A Poem on Eternity,’ 1798. 7. ‘Remarks on Rowland Hill's Journal,’ 1799. 8. ‘The Use of Sacred History,’ 1802, a scholarly and suggestive work. 9. ‘Important Trial in the Court of Conscience,’ 1806. 10. ‘A Treatise on the Ancient Culdees of Iona,’ 1811, published, through Scott's active generosity, by Ballantyne (Life of Scott, ii. 332). 11. ‘Hermes Scythicus,’ 1814, expounding affinities between the Gothic and the classical tongues.

Apart from juvenile efforts Jamieson likewise wrote on such diverse themes as rhetoric, cremation, and the royal palaces of Scotland, besides publishing occasional sermons. In 1820 he issued in two 4to volumes well-edited versions of Barbour's ‘Bruce’ and Blind Harry's ‘Wallace,’ which Scott commended to his friends (Life of Scott, iii. 132). Posthumous ‘Dissertations on the Reality of the Spirit's Influence,’ published in 1844, had only a moderate success. Jamieson prepared extensive autobiographical notes, from which others have drawn, but they have not been published.

[Memoir by John Johnstone prefixed to his edition of the Dict.; Tait's Edinburgh Mag. August 1841; Memoir with posthumous Dissertations; revised Memoir in Dict., vol. i. 1879; Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen.]

T. B.