Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/281

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ALEXANDER MURRAY, D.D.


the loan of several new books. I paid a visit to the Rev. Mr Donnan, in Wig- ton, an excellent man and scholar. He examined me on Homer, which I read ad apertnram libri, in a very tolerable, though not very correct manner. He gave me Cicero de Natura Deorum, which I studied with great ardour, though a speculative treatise. I was enthusiastically fond of Cicero, as my dictionary gave me a most affecting account of the merits and fate of that great man. In 179 1, 1 bought for a trifle a MS. volume of the lectures of Arnold Drackenburg, a German professor, on the lives and writings of the Roman authors, from Livius Andronicus to Quintilian. This was a learned work, and I resolved to translate and publish it I remained at home during the winter of 1793-4, and employed myself in that task. My translation was neither elegant nor correct. My taste was improving ; but a knowledge of elegant phraseology and correct diction cannot be acquired without some acquaintance with the world, and with the human character in its polished state. The most obscure and uninteresting parts of the Spectator, World, Guardian, and Pope's Works, were those that described life and manners. The parts of those works which I then read with rapture, were accounts of tragic occurrences, of great but unfortunate men, and poetry that addressed the passions. In spring 1794, I got a reading of Blair's Lectures. The book was lent by Mr Strang, a Relief clergyman, to William Hume, and sublent to me. In 1793, I had seen a volume of an encyclopedia, but found very considerable difficulties in making out the sense of obscure scien- tific terms, with which those books abound.

" Early in 1794, I resolved to go to Dumfries, and present my translation to the booksellers there. As I had doubts respecting the success of a ' History of the Latin Writers,' I likewise composed a number of poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect, and most of them very indifferent. I went to Dumfries in June, 1794, and found that neither of the two booksellers there would under- take to publish my translation ; but I got a number of subscription papers printed, in order to promote the publication of the poems. I collected by my- self and friends four or five hundred subscriptions. At Gatehouse, a merchant there, an old friend, gave me a very curious and large printed copy of the Pen- tateuch, which had belonged to the celebrated Andrew Melville, and the Hebrew Dictionary of Pagninus, a huge folio. During the visit to Dumfries, I was in- troduced to Robert Burns, \\ho treated me with great kindness ; told me, that if I could get out to college without publishing my poems, it would be better, as my taste was young and not formed, and I would be ashamed of my productions when I could write and judge better. I understood this, and resolved to make publication my last resource. In Dumfries I bought six or seven plays of Shakspeare, and never read any thing except Milton, with more rapture and enthusiasm."

The singular acquirements of this Galloway shepherd, had now made some impression in a circle beyond his own limited and remote sphere ; and, in November, 1794, he was invited to Edinburgh, in order to mak an exhibition of his learning before several individuals, who were not only qualified to judge of it, but were inclined to take an interest in the fate of its possessor. He un- derwent an examination before Drs Baird, Finlayson, and Moodie, clergymen of the city ; and so effectually convinced these gentlemen of his qualifications, that they took the means to procure for him a gratuitous education in the university. Dr Baird proved, in particular, a zealous and steady friend, not only in the exertion of his influence, but by contributions to the means of his subsistence during the earlier part of his academic career. At the end of two years, he obtained a bursary, or exhibition, from the city, and soon after was able to sup- port himself, by private teaching. He now commenced the necessary studies for