Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/279

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ALEXANDER MURRAY, D.D. 73

them on the back of an old wool-card with the end of a burnt heather-stem. When the elements of language had been thus mastered, the catechism was brought forth, and given to the young student as a book of exercises in read- ing. He then got a psalm book, which he liked much better than the cate- chism ; and at length a New Testament, which he liked better still ; and after- wards he discovered an old loose bible, which he carried away piece-meal from the place where it was deposited, and read with all the wonderment natural to a capacious mind, on being first introduced to a kind of knowledge beyond the limited scene in which it had originally been placed. He liked the mournful narratives best, and greatly admired Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Lamentations. In his eighth year, he had acquired so much local fame on account of his acquire- ments in reading, that a wish was generally entertained among his friends to see him sent to some regular school. This would have been impossible for his father was a very poor man if a brother of his mother, by name William Cochrane, had not possessed both the means and the inclination to provide the requisite funds. He was placed, in 1784, at the school of New Galloway, where, though he made a very awkward appearance at first, he soon distanced the most of " the Bible class." He had been but six months at school, when he was seized by an illness, which called him home ; nor did he again attend school for the four ensuing years. During the most of this space of time, he ap- pears to have been employed as a shepherd ; devoting all his leisure, however, to the study of such books as fell in his way. In the winter of 1787-8, he was so far advanced as to be able to teach the children of two neighbouring farmers. Soon after, he began to give irregular attendance at the school of MinnigafT, chiefly for the purpose of improving his arithmetic, as he had now formed a wish to become a merchant's clerk. In 1790, he made his first adventure into the region of languages, by studying French and Latin ; and such was his appli- cation, that in the course of three or four months, he had learned as much as the most of youths acquire in as many years. By extraordinary good fortune, he obtained an old copy of the larger dictionary of Ainsworth, at the low price of eighteen pence, and soon read the volume quite through. Every part of this large book he studied with minute attention, observing the Greek derivations of the words, and occasionally adverting to the Hebrew also ; and thus, about a year after his first acquaintance with the rudiments, he was able to read Ovid, Caesar, and Livy, and to commence lessons in the Iliad. All the books which his school-fellows possessed, both in English and classical literature, were bor- rowed by Murray, and devoured with immense rapidity and eagerness. He had at this time no taste in reading : the boundless field of knowledge was open to him, and he cared not which part he first surveyed, for he was determined apparently to survey it all. He only felt a kind of wild pleasure in whatever was grand, or romantic, or mournful. In perusing the Iliad, he was greatly af- fected by the fate of Hector and Sarpedon. " And no sensation," says he, in his autobiography, "was ever more lively, than what I felt on first reading the passage, which declares that Jupiter rained drops of blood upon the ground, in honour of his son Sarpedon, who was to fall far from his country. My prac- tice," he continues, " was to lay down a new and difficult task, after it had wearied me, to take up another, then a third, and to resume this rotation frequently and laboriously." Dr Murray used to consider himself fortunate in his teacher, Simpson, in as far as the man was of a careless, easy character, and had no scruple in permitting him to advance as fast as he liked, and to step into any class for which he appeared qualified. " Desultory study," says he, " is a bad thing ; but a lad whose ambition never ceases, but stimulates aim incessantly, enlarges his mind and range of thought, by excursions beyond