Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/280

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ALEXANDER MURRAY, DJ>


the limits of regular forms." We shall let Dr Murray narrate his further pro- gress in his own words :

" In 1792, I read portions of Homer, Livy, Sallust, and any other author used in the school. In the winter, 1792-3, I engaged myself' with Thomas Birkmyre, miller, of MinnigatTmill, and taught his children during that season till March, 1793. My wages were only thirty shillings, but my object was to get a residence near Newton Stewart, and to have liberty of going, in the winter forenights, to a school taught by Mr Nathaniel Martin, in Brigend of Cree. Martin had been at Edinburgh, and possessed many new books, such as the Bee, Duncan's Cicero, some of the best English collections, and so forth. From a companion, named John Mackilwraith, I got the loan of Bailie's English Dic- tionary, which I studied, and learnt from it a yast variety of useful matters. I gained from it the Anglo-Saxon alphabet, the Anglo-Saxon paternoster, and many words in that venerable dialect. This enabled me to rend Hicke's Saxon Grammar, without difficulty, after I went to Edinburgh, and led the way to the Visi-Gothic and German. About the end of autumn, 1792, I had procured, from one Jack Roberts, a small Welsh History of Christ and the Apostles. I had seen a translation, or rather the original English, of this book in former years, but I could not get access to it after I had the Welsh in my possession. I mused, however, a good deal on the quotations from Scripture that abound in it, and got acquainted with many Welsh words and sentences. If I had a copy of the Bible in any language of which I knew the alphabet, I could make con- siderable progress in learning it without grammar or dictionary. This is done by minute observation and comparison of words, terminations, and phrases. It is the method dictated by necessity, in the absence of all assistance.

" In 1791, I had the loan of a stray volume of the Ancient Universal History from my neighbour schoolfellows, the Maclurgs, who lived in Glenhoash, below Risque. It contained the history of the ancient Gauls, Germans, Abyssinians, and others. It included a very incorrect copy of the Abyssinian alphabet, which, however, I transcribed, and kept by me for future occasions. I was completely master of the Arabic alphabet, by help of Robertson's Hebrew Grammar, in the end of which (first edition) it is given in the most accurate manner.

" In the autumn of 1792, about the time I went to the mill, I had, in the hour of ignorance and ambition, believed myself capable of writing an epic poem. For two years before, or rather from the time that I had met with Paradise Lost, sublime poetry was my favourite reading. Homer had encourag- ed this taste, and my school-fellow, George Mure, had lent me, in 1791, an edi- tion of Ossian's Fingal, which is, in many passages, a sublime and pathetic per- formance. I copied Fingal, as the book was lent only for four days, and car- ried the MS. about with me. I chose Arthur, general of the Britons, for my hero, and during the winter 1792-3, wrote several thousands of blank verses about his achievements. This was my first attempt in blank verse. In 1790, I had purchased ' The Grave,' a poem by Blair, and committed it almost entirely to memory.

" I passed the summer of 1793 at home, and in long visits to my friends in Newton Stewart, and other parts. During that time I destroyed Arthur and his Britons, and began to translate, from Buchanan's poetical works, his Fratres Franciscani. I made an attempt to obtain Mochrum school ; but Mr Steven, minister of that parish, who received me very kindly, told me that it was pro- mised, and, that my youth would be objected to by the heritors and parish.

" Some time in the same summer, I formed an acquaintance with William Hume, a young lad who intended to become an Antiburgher clergyman, and who kept a private school in Newton Stewart, This friendship procured me