Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/240

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


34 JOHN MILLAR.


most simple and universal elements : to resolve almost all that has been ascribed to positive institution, to the spontaneous and irresistible development of cer- tain obvious principles, and to show with how little contrivance or political wisdom the most complicated and apparently artificial schemes of policy might have been erected. This is very nearly the precise definition of what Mr Mil- lar aimed at accomplishing in his lectures and his publications ; and when we find that he attended the lectures of Dr Smith, and lived in the family of lord Kames, we cannot hesitate to ascribe the bent of his genius, and the peculiar tenor of his speculations, to the impressions he must have received from those early occurrences."

Mr Millar was called to the bar in 1760, and was soon looked upon as one of the individuals likely to rise to eminence in his profession ; but having married at this early stage of his career, and finding it improbable that his labours at the bar would for some years be adequate to his support, he was tempted by an opportune vacancy in the chair of civil law in Glasgow college, to apply for that comparatively obscure situation. Having been successful in his object, (1761,) he applied himself with all the ardour of an uncommonly active and sanguine temperament, to the improvement of the class. Heretofore the pro- fessorship of civil law at Glasgow had been in a great measure useless to the community. The students were seldom more than four in number, and some- times even less. The late professor, however, had broken through the estab-" lished usage of lecturing in Latin, and Mr Millar not only persevered in the same popular course, but adopted other means calculated to attract a larger au- dience. Instead of writing his lectures a practice which generally induces the professor to adhere to one train of ideas, and resist the introduction of all pro- gressive improvements, he delivered them extempore, and thus not only took a prompt advantage of every new view that arose in the progress of his science, but enabled himself to introduce familiar and lively illustrations, which were calculated to excite and keep alive the attention of his students to an uncommon degree. Discarding the old academical pomp, he reduced himself to a level with his hearers ; he talked to them, and carefully observed that they under- stood all that he said, and acceded to all his propositions. " His manner," says the Edinburgh Review, 1 " was familiar and animated, approaching more nearly to gaiety than enthusiasm ; and the facts which he had to state, or the elementary positions he had to lay down, were given in the simple, clear, and unembarrassed diction in which a well-bred man would tell a story or deliver an opinion in society. All objections that occurred, were stated in a forcible, clear, and lively manner ; and the answers, which were often thrown into a kind of dramatic form, were delivered with all the simplicity, vivacity, and easy phraseology of good conversation. His illustrations were always familiar, and often amusing ; and while nothing could be more forcible or conclusive than the reasonings which he employed, the tone and style in which they were de- livered gave them an easy and attractive air, and imparted, to a profound and learned discussion, the charms of an animated and interesting conversation. No individual, indeed, ever did more to break down the old and unfortunate distinction between the wisdom of the academician and the wisdom of the man of the world : and as most of the topics which fell under his discussion were of a kind that did not lose their interest beyond the walls of a college, so the views which he took of them, and the language in which they were conveyed, were completely adapted to the actual condition of society ; and prepared those to whom they had been made familiar, to maintain and express them with pre-

1 The article we are now quoting was probably the composition of Mr Jeffrey, who, if we are not mistaken, was a pupil of Mr Millar.