Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simpson, James (1781-1853)

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SIMPSON, JAMES (1781–1853), advocate and author, born in Edinburgh in 1781, was the son of William Simpson, minister of the Tron Church, Edinburgh, by his wife Jean Douglas Balderston. His grandfather James, and great-grandfather, John Simpson, were likewise ministers of the Scottish church. James was called to the bar in 1801. In earlier life he was acquainted with Sir Walter Scott, and was one of those to whose criticism ‘Waverley’ was submitted before publication (Lockhart, Life of Scott, ed. 1845, p. 255). In 1815 he visited Waterloo immediately after the defeat of the French, and thence proceeded to Paris, at that time in the hands of the allies. In the same year he published a vivid description of the scenes in the neighbourhood of the battlefield, entitled ‘A Visit to Flanders and the Field of Waterloo,’ Edinburgh, 1815, which rapidly went through nine editions. In 1853 he published an account of his experiences at Paris, under the title ‘Paris after Waterloo,’ which included a tenth edition of his former work. His impressions of Paris are equally fascinating, and include some interesting recollections of Sir Walter Scott. In 1823 Simpson was associated with George Combe [q. v.] and his brother in establishing the ‘Phrenological Journal,’ to which he was a constant contributor till it ceased to appear in 1847.

He took a deep interest in the agitation in favour of better elementary education. He was one of the founders of the Edinburgh modern infant school, in which he endeavoured to solve the problem of religious education by permitting the parents to select the religious instructors themselves. Failing to receive adequate support, however, the school was ultimately sold to the kirk session of New Greyfriars. Simpson continued devoted to the cause of non-sectarian education, and lectured on its behalf in many of the principal towns of England and Scotland. In 1837 he appeared as a witness before the committee of the House of Commons on national education in Ireland, and his examination lasted seven days. He died on 2 Sept. 1853, at his house, 33 Northumberland Avenue, Edinburgh.

Besides the works mentioned Simpson was the author of: 1. ‘Letters to Sir Walter Scott on the Effects of the Visit to Scotland of George IV,’ Edinburgh, 1822, 8vo. 2. ‘Hints on the Principles of a Constitutional Police,’ Edinburgh, 1822, 8vo. 3. ‘The State of the Representation of Edinburgh in Parliament,’ Edinburgh, 1824, 8vo. 4. ‘Necessity of Popular Education as a National Object,’ Edinburgh, 1834, 8vo. 5. ‘The Philosophy of Education,’ Edinburgh, 1836, 12mo. 6. ‘Lectures to the Working Classes,’ Edinburgh, 1844, 8vo. An essay of his ‘On the Means of elevating the Profession of Educator in Public Estimation’ was published in the ‘Educator,’ London, 1839, 12mo, a collection of essays written for a prize offered by the Central Society of Education.

[Hist. of Speculative Soc. p. 220; North's Noctes Ambrosianæ, ed. Mackenzie, i. 279; Scotsman, 15 Sept. 1853; Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scot. I. i. 61.]

E. I. C.