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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


182 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. barony of Pitsligo, including the old mansion-house, at that time roofless and deserted, By the death of Mr. Forbes, in 1781, Sir William succeeded as heir to the lower barony also, and thus had his early dreams almost realised. The property he had acquired was extensive, but, from the misfortunes of the family, sadly out of condition. Sir William immediately set about its improvement. He established numbers of poor cottars on the most uncultivated portions of the estate, erected the village of New Pitsligo, and, by the utmost liberality as a land, lord, induced settlers to come from a distance. In the course of a short space of time he had the satisfaction of seeing a thriving population, and ‘‘ several thousand acres smiling with cultivation, which were formerly the abode only of the moorfowl or the curlew.” He also established a spinning-school at New Pitsligo, introduced the linen manufacture, and erected a bleachfield; he built a school-house, a chapel of ease connected with the Established Church, and a chapel for those of the Episcopal persuasion. To the estate of Pitsligo Sir William soon after added, by purchase, those of Pittoullie and Pittindrum, which were contiguous, and from their proximity to the sea-shore afforded excellent facilities of improvement. In 1784 Sir William became a member of the Merchant Company, and was elected Master in 1786, a situation which he was frequently afterwards called upon to fill. He was a warm promoter of the plan adopted by that body for rendering annuities to widows a matter of right, instead of a gift of charity, as formerly. But his attention was by no means confined to local matters: he was one of the committee of merchants appointed to confer with Sir James Montgomery, then Lord Advocate, “on the new Bankrupt Aet introduced in 1772, and many of its most valuable clauses were suggested by his experience;” again, in 1783, on the expiry of the new Act, he was Convener of the Mercantile Committee in Edinburgh, when further improvements were effected in the Bankrupt laws. As we have already mentioned, Sir William was by descent attached to the. Episcopal communion. Under his fostering management the Cowgate chapel was built, “afterwards known as the most popular place of worship in Edinburgh ;” and, in 1800, he was chiefly instrumental in bringing the Rev. Mr. Alison to that chapel, then settled in a remote rectory in Shropshire.‘ Sir William was a gentleman of the most polished and dignified manners ; and although much of his time must necessarily have been occupied in the prosecution of those manifold pursuits which conferred ao much benefit on his native city and the country in general, he still found leisure to indulge in a taste for literature, and to make himself acquainted with the progress of science. 1 Under the influence of that eloquent divine the congregation rapidly increased, both in nunibem and respectability, and was at length enabled, in 1818, through the indefatigable exertions of Lord Medwyn, Sir William’s second son, and hy their own efforts, aided by the liberality of their friends, to erect the present beautiful structure called St. Paul’s Chapel, in York Place ; at the same time the late Sir Willizm Forbw, eldest son of the subject of this memoir, effected, by similar exertions, the completion of St. John’s Chapel, in Princes Street ; and thus, chiefly by the efforts of a singlq family, in less than half a century, waa the Episcopal communion of Edinburgh raised from its humble sites in Blackfriars’ Wynd, and Carrubber’s Close, to occupy two beautiful edifices, on which upwards of E30,OOO had been expeuded.
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 1 83 He was one of the original members Fof the Antiquarian Society, instituted chiefly by the exertions of the Earl of Buchan;’ and so early as 1768 he had spent nearly twelve months in London, in the familyof Sir Robert Herries, where he became a member of the London Literary Club, and formed an acquaintance with the principal literary characters of that period. Among the latter was the celebrated painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who executed two admirable portraits of Sir William Forbes. By such an extended circle of acquaintance, Sir William was led into an interesting and extensive correspondence, for which he evidently had a high relish, although almost the only relic of his talents in composition is an “Account of the Life and Writings of James Beattie, LL.D.,” author of the “Essay on Truth” (in answer to some of the Essays of David Hume, the celebrated philosopher and historian), ‘‘ The Minstrel,” etc. This work was published in 1806, and has passed through three or four editions. It includes many original letters of his early and esteemed friend, and is an excellent specimen of what might have been expected from Sir William’s pen, had not perhaps higher and more important duties engrossed the greater portion of his time. Sir William’s circle of friends, however, was by no means confined to men of professional literary talents, or to those who might benefit by his patronage. He wit~i intimately acquainted with Lord Melville and with Mr. Pitt, who had frequent interviews with Sir William on subjects of finance. In short, his house in Edinburgh was the resort of all ranks; and few foreigners of distinction visited Scotland without having letters of introduction to him. He was frequently offered a seat in Parliament, both for the city of Edinburgh and the county of Aberdeen, but he uniformly declined the honour; in doing so he sacrificed the gratification of a laudable ambition to a sense of duty, which he conceived to be limited to the sphere in which he had already been the promoter of so many benefits. From similar praiseworthy motives he also declined the honour of an Irish Peerage proposed to him by Mr. Pitt in 1799, The health of Sir William began to decline in 1791, at which period he had a severe illness, and in 1802 Lady Forbes died, a circumstance which sensibly affected his spirits. On his return from London in 1806, whither he had been summoned as a witness on Lord Melville’s trial, he began to feel symptoms of decay ; and, after having been confined to the house from the 28th June, he expired on the 12th November 1806, surrounded by his friends, and inspired by every hope which a virtuous and useful life is so capable of affording, Sir William had a large family; besides his eldest son and successor, he left Lord Medwyn, Mr. George Forbes, and five daughters, four of whom are now married-Lady Wood, Mrs. M‘Donnell of Glengarry, Mrs. M‘Kenzie of Portmore, and Mrs. Skene of Rubislaw. His successor, Sir William, was cut off in the middle of his years and usefulness, leaving three sons. The eldest, 1780 t i the period of his demise. 1 Sir William held the situation of Treasurer of the Antiquarian Society, from ita institution in
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