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Kay's Originals Vol. 2


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 179 entered into some years before, respecting the religious and moral improvement of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, appointed Dr. Walker to undertake a mission to these remote, parts of the country. This he readily undertook, and performed his arduous task to the entire satisfaction of the Assembly. He was also authorised by the Commissioners for the Annexed Estates to inquire into the natural history and productions-the population-agriculture-and the fisheries of the Highlands and Hebrides. In prosecution of .these important inquiries, he performed in all six journeys ; and, from the mass of useful information collected, a posthumous work, entitled “An Economical History of the Hebrides,” was published in 1808. Not long after his first mission to the Highlands, which tended materially to confirm .the high opinion entertained of his character, Dr. Walker was presented by the Earl of Hopetoun to the church of Moffat, in the Presbytery of Lochmaben, and county of Dumfries. In this extensive parish a new and inviting field presented itself for exploring the vegetable kingdom of nature ; and it is probable that the frequency of his botanising excursions-the utility or propriety of which were not appreciated by his parishioners-procured for him the title of “the mad minister of Mofat.” There was another prominent trait in the demeanour of the Doctor, which no doubt had its due weight in countenancing such an extraordinary soubriquet. This was an extreme degree of nicety in the, arrangement of his dress, especially in the adjustment of his hair, which it is said occupied the village tonsor nearly a couple of hours every day. It is told of the Doctor, that travelling on one occasion from Moffat to the residence of his friend, Sir James Clerk of Pennicuik, he stopped at a country barber’s on the way to have his hair dressed. He was personally unknown to Strap, although the latter had often heard of him. The barber did all in his power to give satisfaction to his customer ; but in vain he curled and uncurled, according to the Doctor’s directions, for nearly three hours. At length, fairly worn out of patience, he exclaimed-(6 In all my life, I have never heard of a man so difficult to please, except ‘ the mad minister of Mofat.’” This scrupulous attention to his hair he continued to observe until advancing years compelled him to adopt a wig. The Doctor himself used to mention that he was one day walking in a gentleman’s park, where he had been collecting insects, with the handles of an insect net projecting from his pocket. Two ladies were walking near, and he heard one of them say-“ No wonder the Doctor has his hair so finely frizzled, for he carries his curling tongs with him.” On the death of Dr. Ramsay, Professor of Natural History in the University of Edinbursh, in 1778, Dr. Walker made application to the Crown for the vacant chair. In this he was successful, and obtained his commission in 1779. At that period no direct judgment of the General Assembly stood recorded with respect to pluralities, but the parishioners of Moffat were alarmed at the circumstance of their minister’s appointment to the professorship, justly conceiving that, distant as they were from Edinburgh upwards of sfty mileu, & waa
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180 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. impossible he could properly attend to his pastoral duties. Several meetings of Presbytery were held on the subject, but the Doctor found ways and means to smooth down the opposition; and he continued for some time to hold both appointments. Owing to the discontent of the people, however, he found his situation extremely irksome and disagreeable. A few years subsequently he was happily rescued from his difficulties by the Earl of Lauderdale, who gave him the church of Colinton, about four miles from Edinburgh; where, from its proximity to the town, he could more easily fulfil the relative duties of his appointments, Dr. Walker may almost be said to have been the founder of Natural History in the University. His predecessor only occasionally delivered lectures ; and these were never well encouraged, owing no doubt to the little intereat generally excited at that time on a subject so important. The want of a proper museum was a radical defect, which the exertions of Dr. Walker were at length in some measure able to rectify. His lectures also proved very attractive, not so much from the eloquence with which they were delivered, as from the vast fund of facts and general information they comprised. Eoth in the pulpit and in lecturing to his classes, the oratory of Dr. Walker was characterised by a degree of stiffness and formality. In 1783, when the Royal Society of Edinburgh was formed, the Professor was one of its earliest and most interested members. The opposition offered to the incorporation of the Antiquarian Society, which principally originated in the objections made to the delivery of a course of lectures on the Philosophy of Natural history by the late Mr. Smellie, has already been alluded to in our sketch of that gentleman. In 1788 Dr. Walker delivered a very excellent course of lectures in the University on agriculture, which is generally supposed to have suggested to Sir William Pulteney the ides of founding a professorship for that important branch of science. In 1792 he published for the use of his students, “Institutes of Natural History ; containing Heads of the Lectures on Natural History delivered in the University of Edinburgh ” Although his talents for literary composition were considerable, it is not known that the Professor ever appeared before the public as the author of any separate work of any extent. With the exception of one or two occasional sermons, and a very curious Treatise on Mineralogy, his contributions were chiefly limited to the various learned societies of which he was a member. For the Statistical Account of Scotland he drew up an account of the parish of Colinton, in a style, and with a degree of accuracy, which fully proved the peculiar talent he possessed for topographical and statistical subjects. He intended at one period to have published a Flora of Scotland, but was anticipated by the Scottish Flora of Lightfoot, Chaplain to the Duchess of Portland, who composed his Flora during his travels in Scotland with Pennant, Dr. Walker’s knowledge of plants was not altogether of a theoretical nature. He made some good experiments on the motion of the sap in trees, which are
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