Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Armstrong, Robert Archibald

ARMSTRONG, ROBERT ARCHIBALD, LL.D. (1788–1867), Gaelic lexicographer, was the eldest son of Mr. Robert Armstrong, of Kenmore, Perthshire, by his wife, Mary McKercher. He was born at Kenmore in 1788, and educated partly by his father, and afterwards at Edinburgh and at St. Andrew's University, here he graduated. Coming to London from St. Andrew's with high commendations for his Greek and Latin acquirements, he engaged in tuition, and kept several high-class schools in succession in different parts of the metropolis. He devoted his leisure to the cultivation of literature and science. Of his humorous articles 'The Three Florists,' in 'Fraser' for January 1838, and 'The Dream of Tom Finiarty, the Cab-driver,' in the 'Athenæum,' are notable examples. His scientific papers appeared chiefly in the 'Arcana of Science and Art' (1837 et seq.),and relate to meteorological matters. But his great work was 'A Gaelic Dictionary, in two parts — I. Gaelic and English, II. English and Gaelic — in which the words, in their different acceptations, are illustrated by quotations from the best Gaelic writers,' London, 1825, 4to, This was the first Gaelic dictionary published, as there previously existed only vocabularies of the language like those of Shaw and others. It is a most meritorious work, the affinities of the Celtic words being traced in most of the languages of ancient and modern times. To it is prefixed a Gaelic grammar, and there is a short historical appendix of ancient names, deduced from the authority of Ossian and other poets. Armstrong's dictionary will always be prized by Gaelic scholars, but it was partially eclipsed, three years after its appearance, by the publication of the still more comprehensive 'Dictionarium Scoto-Celticum,' compiled under the direction of the Highland Society of Scotland (2 vols. 4to, 1828). Mr. Armstrong sank his small fortune in the publication of his three-guinea quarto, and in a pecuniary sense he was a considerable loser by its publication. For about twenty-two years he maintained his family by establishing the South Lambeth Grammar School, and on his retirement from the head-mastership to Richmond in 1852 a representation of his necessitous condition was sent to Lord Palmerston, who obtained for him a civil list pension of 60l. This opportune assistance and a grant from the Literary Fund enabled him to recommence his scholastic business, which, though now of small proportions on account of his great age, he continued till he was struck down by paralysis about a week before he died. In 1826 he had been appointed Gaelic lexicographer in ordinary to the king, but the appointment was honorary and no salary was attached to it. He died in Choumert Road, Peckham Rye, Surrey, 25 May 1867. Lord Derby advised her majesty to cheer the last days of the veteran scholar by a grant of 100l. from the Royal Bounty Fund; and in 1869 the queen, on the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone, granted an annual pension of 50l. to his widow. Dr. Armstrong married, in 1842, Emma, daughter of Mr. Stephen Dungate, by whom he left issue three daughters.

[Private information; Gent. Mag. ccxxiii. 113.]

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