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James Beattie

(b. Oct. 24, 1735, Laurence Kirk, Kincardineshire, Scotland – d. Aug. 18, 1803, Aberdeen, Scotland )

Gender: M

James Beattie (1735-1803) was a Scottish poet and philosopher. He was the son of a shopkeeper and small farmer at Laurencekirk in Aberdeenshire. In 1760, at the age of 25, he was appointed professor of moral philosophy in Aberdeen. His 1770 work An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, intended as a riposte to David Hume’s religious scepticism, was popular and led to the conferment of a Doctorate of Laws from Oxford University. His poem The Minstrel was published in two volumes in 1771 and 1774, and much admired by Samuel Johnson. Beattie was led to expect a pension from King George III, and his friends expressed anxiety about the delay in his receiving this (See Carter to Montagu 5 June, 12 June, 14 August 1773). He ultimately received £200 in 1773. Elizabeth Montagu was instrumental in obtaining subscribers for a luxury edition of Beattie’s Essays (Edinburgh, William Creech, 1776); she herself took thirty copies, and the list of subscribers includes other Bluestockings, including Frances Boscawen, Elizabeth Carter, Mary Delany, Hannah More and David Garrick, as well as members of their families such as Morris Robinson, Agmondesham Vesey and Thomas Pennington. This was followed in 1783 by a similarly handsome volume of Dissertations Moral and Critical (London, W. Strahan & T. Cadell; Edinburgh, W. Creech). Beattie was a strong supporter of the anti-slavery movement. He married Mary Dun in 1767 and they had two sons, but to Beattie’s great grief both sons died young.

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