Abercromby, Patrick (DNB00)
ABERCROMBY, PATRICK (1656–1716?), Scottish antiquary and historical writer, was the third son of Alexander Abercromby of Fetterneir in Aberdeenshire, a branch of the house of Birkenbog in Banffshire, and which again was a migration from Abercromby of Abercromby in Fifeshire. He was born at Forfar in 1656. Like David Abercromby he was born into a Roman catholic family, and accordingly would not attend the parish school, but was probably educated first privately and then abroad (as he himself seems to indicate in the preface to his magnum opus). This probably explains his Roman catholicism and adhesion to James II. He graduated at St. Andrew's University in 1685. It has been alleged that he passed to the university of Paris, and there pursued his studies. His phrase of having ‘spent most of his early years abroad’ points rather to this having preceded his entry at St. Andrew's. On the completion of his professional course he is found practising as a physician in Edinburgh, according to his biographers; his title-pages assure us that he was ‘M.D.;’ he probably therefore gave himself to his professional duties with all fidelity and success, although some confusion with David Abercromby has apparently led his biographers to emphasise disproportionately his career as a doctor. When his brother Francis, eldest son of the family, was created Lord Glassford (or Glasford) on his marriage with Anna, Baroness Sempill, in July 1685, Patrick was appointed physician to James II. But this post he naturally vacated at the revolution.
When, in the reign of Queen Anne, the project of the union between England and Scotland took shape and substance, he rushed into the fray. Two considerable pamphlets by him attest at once his capacity and zeal: ‘Advantage of the Act of Security compared with those of the intended Union’ (Edinburgh, 1707), and ‘A Vindication of the Same against Mr. De Foe’ (Edinburgh, 1707). The logic was with Defoe, but the sentiment—more powerful—was with Abercromby. The disadvantages of union, or, as he held, absorption and extinction, were near at hand, and the advantages remote and contingent on a thousand circumstances and uncertainties. Hence to Lord Belhaven and Allan Ramsay and Abercromby union with mighty England had the look of selling the national birthright of independence and freedom won at Bannockburn.
A minor work of Abercromby was a translation of M. Beaugué's ‘L'Histoire de la Guerre d'Ecosse’ (1556) as follows: ‘The History of the Campagnes, 1548 and 1549; being an exact account of the martial expeditions performed in those days by the Scots and French on the one hand, and the English and their foreign auxiliaries on the other; done in French by Mons. Beaugué, a French gentleman; with an introductory preface by the Translator’ (1707). The ‘Preface’ is well written. The original was reprinted for the Maitland Club by one of its members (Smythe of Methuen), who betrays slight knowledge of either the language or the book, or ability to judge of Abercromby's translation. More recently the Comte de Montalembert edited a reproduction (Bordeaux, 1862, 8vo).
But the work that has kept Abercromby's name alive is his ‘Martial Atchievements of the Scots Nation; being an account of the lives, characters, and memorable actions of such Scotsmen as have signaliz'd themselves by the sword at home and abroad; and a survey of the military transactions wherein Scotland or Scotsmen have been remarkably concern'd, from the first Establishment of the Scots Monarchy to this present Time.’ This extraordinary work occupies two great folios, vol. i. 1711, vol. ii. 1716. The author modestly disclaimed the name of historian in vol. i., but in vol. ii. felt entitled to assume it. There is much of myth and ‘padding,’ but there is indubitably much more of genuine historical and biographical research. It could not have been otherwise; for besides his own untiring exertions he was ably seconded by Sir Thomas Craig, Sir George Mackenzie, Alexander Nisbet, and Thomas Ruddiman—the last his printer (in vol. ii.). With every abatement the ‘Martial Atchievements’ is a book of which Scotland, at least, may well be proud. Singularly enough, the date of his death is still uncertain. It has been assigned to 1715, 1716, 1720, and 1726. It has been alleged that he left a widow in great poverty. In 1716 he must have been living, for Crawfurd, in his ‘Peerage,’ calls him ‘my worthy friend.’ Probably he died in or soon after 1716. A manuscript, entitled ‘Memoirs of the Abercrombies,’ elaborately drawn up by him, seems to have perished.[Works as cited; Anderson's Scottish Nation; A. Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; G. Chalmers's Life of Ruddiman, pp. 58–9; Crawfurd's Peerage (1716), p. 167; art. in Encyc. Brit. 9th ed. by the present writer.]