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Dalrymple, David (1726-1792) (DNB00)


DALRYMPLE, Sir DAVID, Lord Hailes (1726–1792), Scottish judge, was the eldest of sixteen children of Sir James Dalrymple, bart., of Hailes, in the county of Haddington, auditor of the exchequer of Scotland, and Lady Christian Hamilton. Alexander Dalrymple [q. v.] was a brother. David was born at Edinburgh on 28 Oct. 1726, and was descended on both sides from the nobility of the Scottish bar. His paternal grandfather, Sir David Dalrymple, was the youngest son of the first Viscount Stair, president of the court of session, and held the office of lord advocate for twelve years. His mother was a daughter of Thomas, sixth earl of Haddington, the lineal descendant of the first earl, who was secretary for Scotland from 1612 to 1616, and president of the court of session from 1616 till his death in 1637.

Dalrymple was sent to Eton to be educated, no doubt on account of the English leanings of a family who were steadfast supporters of the union and the house of Hanover. From Eton, where he acquired a high character for diligence and good conduct, and laid the foundation of his friendship with many of the English clergy, he went to Utrecht to study the civil law. The Dutch school of law had then a great reputation, due to the learning of Vinnius, Huber, Voet, Noodt, Bynkershoeck, Van Eck, and Schulting, and though these eminent civilians were all dead before Dalrymple studied at Utrecht, the influence of their works, especially Voet's, survived. Returning to Scotland at the close of the rebellion in 1746, Dalrymple was admitted to the bar on 23 Feb. 1748. The death of his father two years later put him in possession of a sufficient fortune to enable him to indulge his literary tastes. But he did not neglect professional studies. As an oral pleader he was not successful. A defect in articulation prevented him from speaking fluently, and he was naturally an impartial critic rather than a zealous advocate. Much of the business of litigation in Scotland at this time was conducted, however, by written pleadings, and he gained a solid reputation as a learned and accurate lawyer. There is no better specimen of such pleadings than the case for the Countess of Sutherland in her claim for that peerage in the House of Lords, which was drawn by Hailes as her guardian after he became judge. It won the cause, and is still appealed to by peerage lawyers for the demonstration of the descent of the older Scottish titles to and through females. In 1766 Dalrymple was raised to the bench of the court of session with the title of Lord Hailes, and ten years later he became a judge of the justiciary or criminal court. In the latter capacity he was distinguished for humanity at a time when the criminal bench was disgraced by opposite qualities. The solemnity of his manner in administering oaths and pronouncing sentence specially struck his contemporaries. As a judge in the civil court he was admired for diligence and patience, keeping under restraint his power of sarcasm. In knowledge of the history of law he was surpassed by none of his brethren, though among them were Elchies, Kaimes, and Monboddo.

He contributed from an early period to the ‘World’ and ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’ In one of his papers in the latter journal he showed his acumen by detecting the spuriousness of a miniature of Milton which had deceived Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1753, before he had himself published anything of note, David Hume asked him to revise his ‘Inquiry into the Human Mind;’ but the principles of Dalrymple, who was an earnest believer in christianity, were not such as to promote intercourse with the good-natured sceptical philosopher. With Hume, Adam Smith, and even Principal Robertson, who led the learned society of Edinburgh at that time, he was never intimate. Though a whig and a presbyterian, he preferred the friendship of such men as Johnson and Burke, Warburton, Hurd, Dr. Abernethy, and Drummond, the bishop of Dunkeld. But Hailes was no bigot. Shortly after Hume's death he translated the fragment of his autobiography into Latin as elegant as the original. Perhaps the style as much as the man attracted him. Hailes was one of the curators of the Advocates' Library who censured Hume, then keeper of the library, for purchasing without their approval certain objectionable French works, a censure Hume never forgave, and which led to his retirement from the library. The few references to Hailes in Hume's correspondence are of an ironical character. He had suspected Hailes of being the author of the ‘Philosophical Essays,’ published in 1768, in answer to Kaimes's ‘Essays on Morality and Natural Religion,’ in which there were some severe remarks on himself. When informed of his mistake by his correspondent, Sir Gilbert Elliot, he turned it off by a jest—‘I thought David had been the only christian who could write English on the other side of the Tweed.’ Hailes belonged to the Select Society, the best literary club of the Scottish capital, but living in the country, at his seat of New Hailes, near Inveresk, five miles from Edinburgh, he withdrew himself from general society, devoting himself to his studies and maintaining a correspondence with eminent English scholars and authors. It was from Hailes that Boswell first acquired the desire to know Johnson, and when they became intimate he was the channel through which Hailes sent his ‘Annals of Scotland’ for Johnson's revisal. Johnson in turn asked Hailes's opinion as that best worth having on Scotch law and history. When engaged in the Ossian controversy, he asked eagerly, ‘Is Lord Hailes on our side?’ Among Hailes's correspondents in England were Burke, Horace Walpole, Warton, Dr. Jortin, and James Boswell, and nearly the whole bench of English bishops, who were grateful to him for undertaking to refute Gibbon in his ‘Inquiry into the Secondary Causes which Mr. Gibbon has assigned for the rapid Growth of Christianity.’

Scarcely a year passed without one, and often two or three, publications from the indefatigable pen of Hailes; but many of these are translations, small tracts, or short biographical sketches. His publications, almost without exception, related to the early antiquities of christianity, which he deemed the best defence against the sceptical tendencies of the age, or to the antiquities and history of Scotland, which before his time had been critically examined by scarcely any writer. His most important work is the ‘Annals of Scotland,’ from Malcolm Canmore to Robert I, issued in 1776, and continued in 1779 to the accession of the house of Stuart, with an advertisement stating the author was prepared to have continued the ‘Annals of Scotland’ to the restoration of James I, ‘but there are various and invincible reasons which oblige him to terminate his work at the accession of the house of Stuart.’

The plan of this work was suggested by the ‘Chronological Abridgment of the History of France,’ by the President Hénault, published in 1768; but in this country it was and still remains a unique example of a matter-of-fact history, in which every point is verified by reference to the original source from which it is derived. Few inferences are drawn, still fewer generalisations. Johnson gave it high praise, and contrasts it with the ‘painted histories more to the taste of our age,’ a reflection, no doubt, on Gibbon and Robertson.

One of the few corrections which Johnson made in the ‘Annals’ was substituting, in the account of the war of independence, where Hailes had described his countrymen as ‘a free nation,’ the word ‘brave’ for ‘free,’ to which Hailes demurred that to call them brave only increased the glory of their conquerors. Hailes, when sending the portion of the ‘Annals’ in which Robert Bruce appears, asked Johnson to draw from it a character of Bruce. The doctor replied that it was not necessary, yet there were few things he would not do to oblige Hailes. The ‘Annals’ of Hailes, written with the accuracy of a judge, which far exceeds the accuracy of the historian, has been the text-book of all subsequent writers on the period of Scottish history it covers. The earlier Celtic sources had not in his time been explored, except by Father Innes, and were imperfectly understood. Nor could he have carried on his work much further without encountering political and religious controversies. He was thus enabled to maintain throughout his whole work a conspicuous impartiality.

Only a few of his minor works call for special remark. ‘The Canons of the Church of Scotland,’ drawn up in the provincial councils held at Perth A.D. 1242 and 1269, which were contributed to the ‘Concilia Magnæ Britanniæ’ of Wilkins, but published separately in 1769, with a continuation subsequently issued containing the later canons, showed his consciousness of the fact that Scottish history in the middle ages cannot be understood without reference to its ecclesiastical annals. So little attention did the first of these publications attract that Hailes mentions, for the benefit of those who may be inclined to publish any tracts concerning the antiquities of Scotland, that only twenty-five copies were sold.

His ‘Examination of some of the Arguments for the High Antiquity of Regiam Majestatem, and an Inquiry into the Authority of the Leges Malcolmi,’ published in the same year, was a proof of his freedom from patriotic prejudice, and an early instance of sound historical criticism. He demonstrated in this short tract the fact that much of the early law of Scotland was borrowed from English sources, as the ‘Regiam Majestatem’ from the treatise of Glanville, and that the foundation of the feudal law of Scotland must be sought, not in the age of Malcolm Mackenneth or Malcolm Canmore, but in the reign of David I. These are cardinal points in the true history of Scotland.

His reply to Gibbon, although it touches only a single point in the work of the greatest English historian, would now be admitted by candid students to be successful. Gibbon almost confessed judgment against himself by abstaining from any rejoinder except the sarcasm that as Lord Hailes ‘was determined to make some flaws in his work, he dared to say that he had found some.’

Lord Hailes was twice married: first, to Anne Brown, daughter of Lord Coalston, a Scotch judge, on whose death, after giving birth to twins, he wrote a pathetic epitaph in Latin, published in the ‘Life of Kames,’ by Lord Woodhouselee; secondly, to Helen, daughter of another judge, Sir James Fergusson, Lord Kilkerran. He was survived by two daughters, one born of each marriage. The younger daughter, Jean, married her first cousin, afterwards Sir James Fergusson, bart., whose grandson, Mr. Charles Dalrymple, M.P., having assumed the name of Dalrymple, now possesses the estate of his great-grandfather, Lord Hailes. His title passed to his nephew, the son of his brother, John Dalrymple, provost of Edinburgh. Another of his brothers was Alexander Dalrymple, the well-known hydrographer and voluminous geographical writer. He died of apoplexy, the result of sedentary habits, on 29 Nov. 1792. Carlyle, the minister of Inveresk, who knew him well, summed up his character in a funeral sermon. The admirable portrait by Kay, the Edinburgh caricaturist, represents Hailes as short and stout, with a thick, short neck, common in persons of apoplectic tendency, and eyes of intelligence and quiet humour, set in a face whose placidity recalls that of his ancestor, Stair. It is more easy to account for this equanimity of temper in Hailes, whose life had been uniformly prosperous, than in Stair, whose career was an example of the vicissitudes of fortune.

His works are: 1. ‘Sacred Poems, Translations, and Paraphrases from the Holy Scriptures,’ by various authors, Edinburgh, 1751. 2. ‘Proposals for carrying on a certain Public Work in the City of Edinburgh,’ a parody of a pamphlet by Lord Minto relative to proposed buildings for the new town of Edinburgh, 1753 or 1754. 3. ‘Select Discourses, by John Smith, late fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge,’ 1756. 4. ‘A Discourse of the Unnatural and Vile Conspiracy attempted by John, earl of Gowry.’ 5. ‘A Sermon, which might have been preached in East Lothian, upon the 25th day of October 1761, on Acts xxviii. 1, 2, ‘The barbarous people showed us no little kindness.’ Occasioned by the country people pillaging the wreck of two vessels, viz. the Betsy Cunningham and the Leith packet Pitcairn, from London to Leith, cast away on the shore between Dunbar and North Berwick. 6. ‘Memorials and Letters relating to the History of Britain in the reign of James I, published from the originals,’ 1762. 7. ‘The Works of the ever memorable Mr. John Hales of Eaton, now first collected together in 3 vols.,’ 1765. 8. ‘A Specimen of a Book entitled Ane Compendious Booke of Godly and Spiritual Sangs,’ 12mo, 1765. 9. ‘Memorials and Letters relating to the History of Britain in the reign of Charles I, published from the originals, 1766. 10. ‘An Account of the Preservation of Charles II after the Battle of Worcester, drawn up by himself; to which are added his Letters to several Persons,’ 1766. 11. ‘The Secret Correspondence between Sir Robert Cecil and James VI,’ 1766. 12. ‘A Catalogue of the Lords of Session, from the Institution of the College of Justice in the year 1532.’ 13. ‘The Private Correspondence of Dr. Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, and his friends in 1725, never before published,’ 1768, 4to. 14. ‘An Examination of some of the Arguments for the High Antiquity of Regiam Majestatem, and an Inquiry into the authenticity of the Leges Malcolmi,’ 1769. 15. ‘Historical Memoirs concerning the Provincial Councils of the Scottish Clergy from the earliest accounts to the era of the Reformation,’ 1769. 16. ‘Ancient Scottish Poems, published from the manuscript of George Bannatyne, 1568,’ 1770. 17. ‘The additional case of Elizabeth, claiming the Title and Dignity of Countess of Sutherland, now Marchioness of Stafford, by her guardians.’ 18. ‘Remarks on the History of Scotland, by Sir David Dalrymple,’ 1773. 19. ‘Huberti Langueti Galli Epistolæ ad Philippum Sydneium Equitem Anglum, accurante D. Dalrymple, de Hailes, equite,’ 1776. 20. ‘Annals of Scotland, from the Accession of Malcolm III, surnamed Canmore, to the Accession of Robert I.’ 21. ‘Annals of Scotland, from the Accession of Robert I, sirnamed Bruce, to the Accession of the House of Stuart.’ 22. ‘Account of the Martyrs of Smyrna and Lyons in the Second Century,’ 12mo, with explanatory notes, 1776. 23. ‘Remains of Christian Antiquity, with explanatory notes,’ vol. ii. 1778, 12mo. 24. ‘Remains of Christian Antiquity,’ vol. iii. 1780. 25. ‘Sermons by that Eminent Divine, Jacobus a Voragine, archbishop of Genoa. Translated from the originals,’ 1779. 26. ‘Octavius, a dialogue by Marcus Minucius Felix,’ 1781. 27. ‘Of the manner in which the Persecutors died; a Treatise by L. C. F. Lactantius,’ 1782. 28. ‘L. C. F. Lactantii Divinarum Institutionum Liber Quintus seu de Justitia.’ 29. ‘Disquisitions concerning the Antiquities of the Christian Church,’ Glasgow, 1783. 30. ‘An Inquiry into the secondary causes which Mr. Gibbon has assigned to the rapid growth of Christianity,’ 1786. 31. ‘Sketch of the Life of John Barclay,’ 1786. 32. ‘Sketch of the Life of John Hamilton, a secular priest, one of the most savage and bigotted adherents of Popery, who lived about A.D. 1600,’ 1786. 33. ‘Sketch of the Life of Sir James Ramsay, a General Officer in the Armies of Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, with a head,’ 1787. 34. ‘Life of George Lesley, an eminent Capuchin Friar in the early part of the seventeenth century,’ 1787. 35. ‘Sketch of the Life of Mark Alexander Boyd,’ 1787. These sketches were early essays towards a Scottish biographical dictionary. 36. ‘The Opinions of Sarah, Duchess Dowager of Marlborough, published from her original manuscripts,’ 1788. 37. ‘The Address of Q. Sept. Tertullian to Scapula Tertullus, Proconsul of Africa, translated,’ 1790. Besides these Hailes printed privately in very few copies: 38. ‘British Songs sacred to Love and Virtue,’ 1756. 39. ‘A Specimen of Notes on the Statute Law of Scotland, James I to James VI,’ 1768. 40. ‘A Specimen of similar Notes during the Reign of Queen Mary,’ n.d. 41. ‘A Specimen of a Glossary of the Scottish Language,’ n.d. 42. ‘Davidis Humii Scoti, summi apud suos philosophi, de vita sua acta liber singularis nunc primum Latine redditus,’ 1787. 43. ‘Adami Smithi ad Gulielmum Strahanum armigerum de rebus novissimis Davidis Humii epistola nunc primum Latine reddita,’ 1788.

[Memoirs prefixed to the later editions of The Inquiry; Scots Magazine; Boswell's Johnson; Brunton and Haig's College of Justice.]

Æ. M.