Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/282

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76 ALEXANDER MURRAY, D.D.

the church, at the same time that he devoted every hour he could spare to the acquisition of general knowledge. In a very short space of time, he found him- self master of the whole of the European languages, and began to make re searches in the more recondite dialects of the east His philological studies were conducted with a careful regard to etymology, and the philosophy of gram- mar ; and it would appear that the design of tracing up all existing languages to one root, and thus penetrating back into the early and unchronicled history of the human race, gradually expanded upon him.

While thus devoting his leisure to one grand pursuit, he did not neglect the graces of the belles lettres. After having for some years contributed mis- cellaneous pieces to the Scots Magazine, he was induced, about the beginning of the present century, to become the editor of that respectable work, then the property of Mr Archibald Constable. He also contributed several able articles to the Edinburgh Review. Having made himself master of the Abyssinian language, and also of the Geez and Amharic tongues, upon which the former is founded, he appeared to Mr Constable as a fit person to superintend a new edition of Bruce's Travels to discover the source of the Nile. For nearly three years subsequent to September 1802, he was engaged with little intermission upon this task, chiefly residing at Kinnaird House, where he had access to the papers left by the illustrious traveller. To the work, which appeared in seven large octavo volumes, he contributed a life of the author, and a mass of notes, containing the most curious and learned discussions on philology, antiquities, and a manifold variety of subjects illustrative of Bruce's narrative. The " Life" he afterwards enlarged and published in a separate volume.

In 1806, Dr Murray for the first time obtained what might be considered a permanent station by being appointed assistant and successor to the Rev. Mr Muirhead, minister of Urr, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright ; at whose death, in 1808, he became the full stipendiary of the parish. In this situation, he displayed, amidst his clerical duties, his usual application to philological pur- suits. His fame as a linguist was now spread abroad by his edition of Bruce, and in 1811, at the suggestion of Mr Salt, envoy to Abyssinia, he was applied to, to use Mr Salt's own words, as " the only person in the British dominions " adequate to the task, to translate a letter written in Geez, from the governor of Tigre to his Britannic majesty. Notwithstanding the obscurity of several pas- sages in this rare document, he was able to acquit himself of his task in the most satisfactory manner.

In 1812, on a vacancy occurring in the chair of Oriental languages in the university of Edinburgh, Dr Murray stood a contest with two other candidates, and gained the situation by a majority of two voices in the city council. He was now for the first time in life placed in a situation suitable to his extraordi- nary faculties ; and yet it was destined that, after all his preliminary labours, his career was now on the point of being for ever closed. His constitution, which had never been strong, broke down under the labours of the first session. Before opening his class, he had published his " Outlines of Oriental Philology," a remarkably clear and intelligible epitome of the grammatical principles of the Hebrew and its cognate dialects. During the winter, the fatigue he encoun- tered in preparing his lectures was very great ; and in February, 1813, a pul- monary ailment, which had previously given him great distress, became so violent as to prevent his attendance in the class-room. To quote the affecting account of his latter days, given by Mr Murray, 1 " he himself entertained hopes of his recovery, and was flattering himself with the prospect of being able to remove to the country ; but his complaints daily assumed a more alarming aspect On ' Literary history of Galloway, second edition, p. 256.