Page images

The literary labours of Dr. Robertson appear to have been closed in 1791, by the publication of a Historical Disquisition concerning the knowledge which the ancients had of India, and the progress of trade with that country prior to the discovery of the passage by the Cape of Good Hope. The perusal of Major Rennell's memoir for illustrating his map of Hindostan, suggested to Dr. Robertson the design of examining more fully than he had done, in his History of America, into the knowledge which the ancients had of India, and of considering what is certain, what is obscure, and what is fabulous, in their account of that remote country. Of his various performances, this is not that of which the design is the most extensive, or the execution the most elaborate; but we perceive in it the same patience of inquiry, the same accuracy of arrangement, and the same perspicuity and elegance of narrative, which so eminently distinguish his other writings, and which have shed such lustre on the literature of his country.

When we consider the number and the extent of Dr. Robertson's literary labours, the time that must have been employed in collecting his materials, in working them into that regular form which they now assume, and in giving them such a bright polish, we should imagine that it was quite sufficient to have employed him; and that amid such incessant application, little attention could be devoted to his duties as a minister of the Church, or as Principal of the University. Of the manner in which he discharged these, we have the most satisfactory information from those who had the best means of observing his conduct. "For several years before his death," says Dr. Erskine," he seldom wrote his sermons fully, or exactly committed his older sermons to memory, though, had I not learned this from himself, I could not have suspected it; such

was the variety and fitness of his illustrations, the accuracy of his method, and the propriety of his style. His discourses were so plain, that the most illiterate might understand them; and yet so correct that they could not incur their censure, whose taste was more refined. He did not wander from his subject, or handle it superficially, though he often improved incidental occurrences for the purposes of edification. Sometimes he preached on the evidences of Christianity, or some of its peculiar doctrines; but more frequently on the various duties of religion, on their difficulties, and on the helps for performing them. His expository lectures, though they might appear less laboured than his sermons, were perhaps more useful."* Of his attention and punctuality in the discharge of his du ty as Principal of the University, Mr. Stewart gives the following account: "I would willingly enlarge," says he, 66 on his merits in a different department of his professional employment, were I not afraid that my own academical habits might lead me to attach an interest to what would appear of little moment to others. I shall therefore only remark, in general, his assiduous attention, amidst his various occupations, both speculative and active, to the minutest duties of his office as head of the University, duties which nothing but his habits of arrangement, and the severest economy of his time, could have enabled him to discharge with so little appearance of hurry or inconvenience. The valuable accession of books which the public library received while under his administration, was chiefly owing to his prudent and exact application of the very slender funds appropriated to that establishment. The various societies, both literary and medical, which in

* See Erskine's Discourses, vol. i. p. 274.

this place have so long contributed to the improvement of the rising generation, were most of them either planned or formed under his direction and patronage; and if, as a seat of learning, Edinburgh has of late more than formerly attracted the notice of the world, much must be ascribed to the influence of his example, and to the lustre of his name."

His health, which had been more uniformly good than might have been expected, considering his studious habits, began to be shaken in the year 1791, and continued visibly to decline. He died at Grange-House, near Edinburgh, on the 11th of June, 1793, in the 71st year of his age.-In 1751 he married his cousin Miss Mary Nisbet, daughter of the Rev. Mr. Nisbet, one of the ministers of Edinburgh. He left behind him three sons and two daughters. His eldest son is now one of the Judges of the Court of Session; the other two embraced a military life; and one of them distinguished himself under Lord Cornwallis in such a manner as to receive the warmest praise from that illustrious general.

To Dr. Robertson's literary merits, the world has done ample justice; but his claims upon its gratitude and admiration are of no common kind. To enter on a minute description of the excellencies which endear his writings to every reader of taste, would lead us into a field too extensive for the present publication. In the arrangement of his subject, in the exact and perspicuous distribution of its parts, in the deep knowledge he displays of human character, in the accuracy with which he traces effects to their causes, and points out the influence of one event upon another, and in the equal, majestic, and harmonious strain of his composition, Dr. Robertson shews himself the favourite of the historic muse. It is in the delineation of character'

« PreviousContinue »