Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burgh, James

BURGH, JAMES (1714–1775), political writer, was born at Madderty, Perthshire, where his father was minister of the parish. His mother, Margaret, was sister of William Robertson, father of the historian. James was educated at St. Andrews, with a view to the ministry, but gave it up on account of ill-health, and went into business. Failing in this, he went to London, where he corrected the press for Bowyer, and made indexes. He then became usher in a school at Great Marlow, where he published a pamphlet called ‘Britain's Remembrancer,’ in honour of the suppression of the rebellion of 1745. It went through several editions, and was highly praised. After being usher for a short time at Enfield, he set up an academy at Stoke Newington in 1747. Here he remained till 1771, publishing many works, and making money. He then retired to devote himself to his chief work, ‘Political Disquisitions.’ He suffered severely from stone, and died on 26 Aug. 1775. He had married a widow, Mrs. Harding, in 1751, who survived till 1788.

Burgh's works are:

  1. ‘Thoughts on Education,’ 1747.
  2. ‘Hymn to the Creator of the World, with a Prose Idea of the Creator from his Works,’ 2nd edition, 1750.
  3. ‘A Warning to Dram-drinkers,’ 1751.
  4. ‘The Dignity of Human Nature,’ 1754, 1767, 1794 (four books upon prudence, knowledge, virtue, and revealed religion).
  5. ‘The Art of Speaking,’ 1762, 7th edition, 1792 (a schoolbook, with passages for recitation).
  6. ‘Proposals … for an Association against the iniquitous Practices of Engrossers, Forestallers, Jobbers, &c., and for reducing the Price of Provisions, especially Butchers' Meat,’ 1764.
  7. ‘An Account of the … Cessares, a people of South America,’ in nine letters from Mr. Vander Neck, 1764 (a political utopia after Sir T. More's fashion).
  8. ‘Crito, or Essays on various Subjects,’ 1766 (written to expound his political and educational views, and to explain the origin of evil, after an interview with the Princess Dowager of Wales, Dr. Hales, her clerk of the closet, and apparently Lord Waldegrave, who thought that the world might be improved by an association for a supply of good periodical writing. A second volume appeared in 1767, with more political remarks, and a further explanation of the origin of evil).
  9. ‘Political Disquisitions;’ two volumes in 1774, and a third in 1775. This is an inquiry into public errors, defects, and abuses, and contains a good many statistics as to the state of the representation, taxation, and so forth, which show that Burgh was a strong reformer for his time, in spite of his relations with the princess.

When Dr. Parr was asked whether he had read this book, he said in reply, ‘Have I read my Bible, sir?’ (Nichols, Illustrations, vi. 61). Burgh also published various papers in the newspapers in defence of annual parliaments, a place-bill, and the claims of the American colonists. A little book printed for his pupils was pirated by a bookseller in 1754 as ‘Youth's Friendly Monitor.’

[Biog. Brit. art. by Kippis, from personal knowledge and Burgh's widow's information; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 263, 430]

L. S.