Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 65 No. XXIX. ALEXANDER CARLYLE, D.D., INVERESK. THIS Print gives a very striking likeness of one of the chief leaders of the Court party in our Church judicatures. From his repeated exertions in favour of the law of patronage, and frequently styling the popular party “ Fanatics,” Kay has given him the curious title at the bottom of the Print. Dr. Carlyle (born January 26, 1722 ; died August 25, 1805) is memorable as a member-though an inactive one-of the brilliant fraternity of literary men who attractedattentionin Scotland during the latter half of the eighteenth century. His father was the minister of Prestonpans. He received his education at the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Leyden. While he attended these schools of learning, his elegant and manly accomplishments gained him admission into the most polished circles, at the same time that the superiority of his understanding and the refinement of his taste introduced him to the particular notice of men of science and literature. At the breaking out of the insurrection of 1745, being only twenty-three years of age, he thought proper to enrol1 himself in a body of volunteers, which was raised at Edinburgh to defend the city. This corps was dissolved on the approach of the Highland army, when he retired to his father’s house at Prestonpans, where the tide of war soon followed him. Sir John Cope having pitched his camp in the immediate neighbourhood of Prestonpans, the Highlanders attacked him early on the morning of the 21st of September, and soon gained a decisive victory; Carlyle was awoke by an account that the armies were engaged, when, in order to have a view of the action, he hurried to the top of the village-steeple, where he arrived only in time to see the regular soldiers flying in all directions to escape the broadswords of the Highlanders. Having gone through the usual exercises prescribed by the Church of Scotland, he was presented, in 1748, to the living of Inveresk, near Edinburgh, which he retained for the long period of fifty-seven years. His talents as P preacher were of the highest order, and contributed much to int.roduce into the Scottish pulpit an elegance of manner and delicacy of taste, to which this part of the United Kingdom had been formerly a stranger, but of which it has since afforded some brilliant examples. In the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dr. Carlyle acted on the moderate side, and, next to Dr, Robertson, was one of the most instrumental members of that party in reducing the government of the Church to the tranquillity which it experienced almost down to our own time. It was owing chiefly to his active exertions, that the clergy of the Church of Scotland, in consideration of their moderate incomes, and of their living in official houses, were exempted from the severe pressure of . K
Volume 8 Page 93
  Enlarge Enlarge  
66 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. the house and window tax. With this object in view he spent some time in London, and was introduced at Court, where the elegance of his manners, and the dignity of his appearance, are said to have excited both surprise and admiration. He succeeded in his efforts, though no clause to that effect was introduced into any Act of Parliament. The ministers were charged annually with the duty, but the collectors received private instructions that no steps should be taken to enforce payment. Public spirit was a conspicuous part of the character of the Doctor. The love of his country seemed to be the most active principle of his heart, and the direction in which it was guided at a period which seriously menaced the good order of society, was productive of incalculable benefit among those over whom his influence extended. He was so fortunate in his early days as to form an acquaintance with all those celebrated men whose names have added splendour to the literary history of the eighteenth century. Smollett, in his “Expedition of Humphry Clinker,” a work in which fact and fiction are curiously blended, mentions that he owed to Dr. Carlyle his introduction to the literary circles of Edinburgh, After mentioning a list of celebrated names, he adds-“ These acquaintances I owe to the friendship of Dr. Carlyle, who wants nothing but inclination to figure with the rest upon paper.” Dr. Carlyle was a particular friend of hlr. Home, the author of Douglas, and that tragedy, if we are not misinformed, was, previous to its being represented, submitted to his revision. It is even stated, although there appears no evidence of the truth of the assertion, that Dr. Carlyle, at a private rehearsal in Mrs. Ward’s lodgings in the Canongate, acted the part of Old Norval, Dr. Robertson performing Lord Eandolph-David Hume, Glenalvon, and Dr. Blair ! ! Anna‘-Lady Randolph being enacted by the author. He exerted, as may be supposed, his utmost efforts to oppose that violent opposition which was raised against Mr. Home by the puritanical spirit, which, though by that time somewhat mitigated, was still far from being extinguished in this country ; ’ and successfully withstood a prosecution before the Church courts for attending the performance of the tragedy of Douglas. Dr. Carlyle rendered an essential service to literature, in the recovery of Collins’ long lost “ Ode on the Superstitions of the Highlands.” The author, on his death-bed, had mentioned it to Dr. Johnson as the best of his poems, but it was not in his possession, and no search had been able to discover a copy. At last, Dr. CarlyIe found it accidentally among his papers, and presented it to See Edinburgh Evening Post, January 31, 1829. Upon occasion of the representation of the tragedy, a variety of squibs, both for and against, issued from the press. In one of them, entitled, “ The First Night’s Audience, an excellent new ballad, to the tune of ‘ A cobbler there was, ’ ” 4t0, pp. 4, occurs the following stanza, applicable to Dr. Carlyle :- ‘‘ Hid close in the green-room some clergymen lay, Good actors themaelves too-ikeir whole Zife a play ; C-lyle with a cudgel and genius rare, With aspect aa stern aa a Hessian hussar. Derry down,” etc.
Volume 8 Page 94
  Enlarge Enlarge