Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 48.djvu/435

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his favourite daughter, Mrs. Brydone. In 1792 he had the gratification of hearing from his publisher, Strahan, that, ‘if we may judge by the sale of your writings, your literary reputation is daily increasing.’ In the same year he removed from the principal's lodgings to Grange House, near Edinburgh, where his friend Dugald Stewart frequently visited him in his favourite haunt—the orchard—and was led to compose ‘that memoir of the principal which has been so often praised and so seldom equalled.’ He died there of jaundice on 11 June 1793 (Scots Magazine, 1793, p. 308).

Robertson's wife, Mary Nisbet, although a woman of little cultivation, proved an excellent helpmeet. She died on 11 March 1802, leaving issue three sons, William, James, and David, and two daughters: Mary, who married Patrick Brydone, F.R.S. [q. v.], and Eleonora, who married John Russell, clerk to the signet.

The eldest son, William, born 15 Dec. 1753, a member from 1770 to 1799 of the Speculative Society, to which he contributed essays upon ‘Roman History’ and ‘The Effect of Climate upon Nations’ (Hist. of Speculative Society, Edinburgh, p. 101), was admitted advocate on 21 Jan. 1775, chosen procurator of the church of Scotland in 1779, took his seat on the Scottish bench as Lord Robertson on 14 Nov. 1805, resigned in 1826, and died on 20 Nov. 1835 (Brunton and Haig, Senators; Gent. Mag. 1836, pt. i.)

The second son, James, distinguished himself under Lord Cornwallis in the Carnatic, and became a general in the British army.

The third son, David, became a lieutenant-colonel, raised the first Malay regiment in Ceylon, and married in 1799 Margaret, sister of Colonel Donald Macdonald, governor of Tobago, and heiress of Kinloch-Moidart, whereupon he assumed the name of Macdonald.

Robertson exemplified a robust form of Christianity, free from the least suspicion of morbidity. His vigorous hostility in youth to Whitefield (in opposition to his intimate friend John Erskine) was characteristic. While distrustful of enthusiasm, he became an avowed optimist of the eighteenth-century type, and none of his contemporaries philosophised upon defective data with greater dignity or complacency. He had no metaphysical faculty, and little dialectical agility. He was, indeed, a great talker, but in his talk (as to some extent in his writings) he was frequently imitative; and Alexander Carlyle recounts his fondness for skimming his friends' talk and giving it back to them in polished paraphrase.

Robertson's attachment to Hume and his cordial amity with Gibbon do honour to all parties. Gibbon spoke of Robertson as a ‘master artist,’ and his casual allusions to his rival (as when he compares the retirement of Diocletian with that of Charles V) are invariably complimentary. In return, as Stanhope remarks with pained astonishment, Robertson expressed to Gibbon the hope that the ‘Decline and Fall’ would be as successful as it deserved (Stanhope, History of England, vi. 312; cf. Robertson to Gibbon, 30 July 1788, in Gibbon's Misc. Works). In point of style the superficial resemblance between the two historians is considerable, the narrative of both being encumbered by lengthy periods, compact with long Latin words and sonorous antitheses. But Robertson lacked the humour, suggestive cynicism, and commanding sense of perspective which gave Gibbon immortality.

In Robertson's as in Gibbon's domestic life, pomposity was but skin-deep. Cockburn speaks of the happy summer days which he and Robertson's grandson, Jack Russell, spent at the principal's country house. The historian would unbend in order to devise schemes to prevent the escape of the boys' rabbits, and would share with them, in defiance of Mrs. Robertson, the spoils of his orchard. ‘He was a pleasant-looking old man, with an eye of great vivacity and intelligence, a large, projecting chin, a small hearing-trumpet fastened by a black ribbon to a buttonhole of his coat, and a rather large wig, powdered and curled. He struck us boys, even from the side table, as being evidently fond of a good dinner, at which he sat with his chin upon his plate, intent upon the real business of the occasion. This appearance, however, must have been produced partly by his deafness, because when his eye told him that there was something interesting, it was delightful to observe the animation with which he instantly applied his trumpet; when, having caught the scent, he followed it up, and was leader of the pack.’ Brougham adds that the historian, who always wore his cocked hat, even in the country, had a stately gait, a slight guttural accent in his speech, which gave it a peculiar fulness, and he retained some old-fashioned modes of address, using the word ‘madam,’ and adding ‘My humble service to you,’ when he drank wine with any woman. He was very fond of claret, and remonstrated with success on one occasion when Johnson proscribed it.

Of the portraits of the historian, that by Sir Joshua Reynolds is described by Brougham