Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 2


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 413 accordingly, not a few pleasantries were indulged in at the expense of the youthful Principal.’ Time, however, altered the character of the arrangement. Fortunately the Professors of this University possess nothing of the undesirable privilege of patronage, yet they cannot but look with much interest on the choice which the patrons are from time to time called upon to make in filling up vacancies in their fraternity; and their opinions of the candidates when expressed, as they generally are, go far to sway that choice. In this indirect manner, Principal Baird was always observed to act purely for the good of the institution-sometimes very happily for the encouragement of merit, and with great credit to his own courage and discernment. Of this description was the part he took in recommending Dr. Murray to the Chair of Oriental Languages. The wondrous attainments of that scholar were in the strongest contrast to almost everything in his early lot; and, though such a character has within itself a strong principle of ascent in society, there is always much honour due to the befriending hand. Principal Baird‘s exertions in this matter are thus alluded to by the late Sir Henry Moncreiff :- ‘‘ It would be unjust not to mention, with the respect which it deserves, that, in his election to the Professorship, Dr. Murray was most particularly indebted to Dr. Baird, the Principal of the University. He had been uniformly his most zealous friend from his first appearpce in Edinburgh ; and, down to the period of his election aa a professor, seems not to have lost any opportunity of assisting and befriending him. On this occasion he exerted himself most effectually to render his election secure ; and did so, from his conviction of his peculiar qualifications, in opposition both to his personal and his party friends, with a firmness and consistency which certainly did him honour with all impartial men. “Dr. Murray was not a man to forget his obligations to any one individual to whom he had been indebted, and least of all to forget what he owed to Dr. Baird, who had so long and so effectually patronised him. ” The Senatus Acadeinicus of the University is known to number among its offices the duty of maintaining College discipline. It is a duty seldom requisite in its severer aspect. There is, however, one instance of academic authority, which Principal Baird was called upon to exercise, and which is yet remembered in consequence of the distinction of the parties concerned. The offence, we believe, consisted in the circumstance of sending a challenge to one of the Professors. The parties summoned before the Senate to answer for this misdemeanour were Lord Henry Petty (afterwards Marquis of Landsdowne), the late Francis Horner, M.P., and Mr. (afterwards Lord) Brougham. The last only appeared ; and the rebuke was at once so administered and so received, that a friendship ensued which was kept up ever afterwards betwixt the parties. The Principal was of course not aware of the future distinction to be attained by the personage so leniently reproved; but he knew, even then, that the youth was shaping himself after antiquity, and might yet be “un hornme de Plutarch. ” Dr, Baird found leisure to employ himself much in the direction of the 1 Dr. Baird had married a daughter of Provost Elder, who consequently deemed it right to exert his influence in favour of one so nearly related to him. Hence the playful allusion of the artist- “ The Elder shall serve the younger. ”
Volume 9 Page 552
  Enlarge Enlarge  
41+ BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. various charitable institutions of this city; but he latterly began to concentrate his exertions upon a single object of this kind. In 1818, a Parliamentary Commission having been appointed to inquire into the state of education throughout the United Kingdom, the chairman (Lord Brougham) requested the countenance and aid of the General Assembly in obtaining returns from the parochial clergy of Scotland. This was readily acceded to ; and, as convener of the committee nominated by the Assembly, Dr. Baird took an active part in furthering the object of the Commission. Deeply impressed with the statements set forth in the returns, which were in the first instance forwarded to the Principal, and by him transmitted to Lord Brougham, he was led to that enterprise for the education of the Highlanders with which his name will ever be most honourably associated. In 1824 he proposed to the General Assembly a scheme for establishing schools in the Highlands, to be maintained on such funds as the Church might raise by means of parochial collections and otherwise, and to be superintended by a Committee of the General Assembly. The project was well received, and a great and flourishing institution has been the consequence. The General Assembly’s Education Committee has at present an income of about 23000 per annum, with about 210,000 of capital, and an establishment of more than one hundred schools, giving education to upwards of, eight thousand children. Much of the success of this scheme depended on the co-operation of heritors, in furnishing certain requisites of accommodation to the schoolmasters ; and Dr. Baird zealously exerted himself to secure that co-operation by means of frequent personal intercourse. It was with this view he undertook several laborious journeys to the remotest parts of the Highlands and Islands, at a very advanced period of life ; and the appearance of the venerable Principal among their native hills and vales, on such a mission of benevolence, will ever be remembered by the present generation of Highlanders, and will not pass unrecorded to the next. The Principal latterly retired in a great measure from the more active cares and engagements of life ; and valued, as a good man naturally does, the privilege of spending his later days among the remembered scenes of his boyhood: connecting the present with the past in that manner of pleasing retrospect which always argues a well-spent interval. “ The child is father of the man ; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety.” His clerical career was on the whole eminently prosperous ; and he repaid the favours of his fortune by a character of high respectability, and by some distinguished contributions to the public good-his chief exertions taking their direction from the benevolence of his disposition. Among the class of practical philanthropists, he occupied a place scarcely inferior to that of any other individual of his time. This was at Manuel, in the neighbourhood of Linlithgow, whem‘he chiefly resided
Volume 9 Page 553
  Enlarge Enlarge