Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/241

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JOHN MILLAR. 35


cision, without running the least risk of an imputation of pedantry or ig- norance.

" It will be admitted to have required no ordinary share of intrepidity and confidence in the substantial merits of his instructions, to have enabled a profes- sor thus to lay aside the shield of academical state li ness, and not only expose his thoughts in the undress of extemporaneous expression, but to exhibit them, without any of the advantages of imposing or authoritative pretences, on the fair level of equal discussion, and with no other recommendations but those of superior expediency or reason." He carried his system, however, even to a more hazardous extreme : at the conclusion of every lecture, he invited his students to gather around him, and in easy conversation to discuss the principles he had been expounding. It has been justly remarked, that no teacher who did not possess an unusually minute and extensive knowledge of his subject could have ventured upon such a practice ; which, however, in his case, was at- tended with the best effects upon his pupils. Such, altogether, was the success which attended his prelections, that the class was speedily increased to about forty, and the professor in the Edinburgh college, after seeing his students pro- portionally diminished, was obliged to abandon the practice of lecturing in Latin, in uhich he had persevered till Mr Millar's reputation as an effective lecturer was completely established.

During the whole time of his connexion with Glasgow college, Mr Millar was a zealous and active member of the Literary Society, a club chiefly formed of the professors, and whose practice it was to meet weekly, and, after hearing an essay read by some member in rotation, to discuss the views which it ad- vanced. The tenor of Mr Millar's life was little marked by events. He spent his time between the college and a small farm called Whitemoss (near Kilbride,) which he took great pleasure in improving. Excepting, indeed, two visits to the metropolis in 1774 and 1792, and the publication of his two books, there is hardly any incident to which we find our notice particularly called.

Amongst his lectures on jurisprudence, those which referred to the subject of government were remarked to possess an unusual interest. In these he de- livered a theoretical history of the progress of society, through the various stages of savage, pastoral, agricultural, and commercial life ; with a view of the insti- tutions and changes which would naturally be suggested in their political and domestic habits by their successive transformation ; illustrating his remarks by an historical review of all the ancient governments, and more particularly by that of Great Britain. The interest which he found they excited, induced him, in 1771, to publish a short treatise on the subject, which was favourably received. Even to cursory readers, it was calculated to afford amusement, by the various views of human nature which it exhibited, and by the singularity of many of the traits of manners, as well as of national characters and institutions, which it traced to their sources. Some years afterwards, Mr Millar was induced, by the prevalence of what he conceived to be erroneous ideas respecting the origin of the English government, to expand his views on that subject, with a view to publication. After a careful preparation, he published, in 1787, his Histori- cal View of the English Government, from the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain, to the Accession of the House of Stewart. By subsequent labour Mr Millar intended to bring down the history to his own time, but he only completed it to the Revolution, and a new and posthumous edition in 1803, in four volumes 8vo, comprised that period. As a writer, Mr Millar retained lit- tle of that vivacity and fertility of illustration, which gave such a charm to his extemporaneous lectures. The style of his compositions is nevertheless forcible and distinct. His Historical View, containing much inquiry into the remote