Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Christie, Thomas (1761-1796)

CHRISTIE, THOMAS (1761–1796), political writer, was born in 1761 at Montrose, where his father, Alexander Christie (brother of William Christie, unitarian writer [q. v.]), was a merchant, holding for several years the office of provost. Alexander was a man of much intelligence and culture, and extremely popular among his fellow-townsmen, who were indebted to his exertions and liberality, and those of his father (also provost), for the bridge which spans the estuary of the Esk, and for the infirmary and lunatic asylum, the first of the kind established in Scotland. But having occasionally attended the unitarian meeting, the kirk session assembled to deliberate on 'the steps to be taken in this critical emergency,' and the chief magistrate was formally remonstrated with. The result of the remonstrance was the publication by him of 'The Holy Scriptures the only Rule of Faith, and Religious Liberty asserted and maintained in sundry letters to the Kirk Session of Montrose,’ Montrose, 1790, 8vo.' Alexander Christie was also the author of ‘Scripture Truths humbly addressed to the serious consideration of all Christians, particularly such as are candidates for a seat in Parliament and their electors,’ Montrose, 1790, 8vo. Christie was educated at the grammar school, Montrose, and on leaving school was placed by his father in a banking-house. But. his leisure was devoted to literature and science, especially to medicine and natural history, the study of which he pursued with great ardour, and with considerable success. On attaining manhood he gave up commerce, and decidetf to devote himself to medicine as a profession. After some private study he came up to London in 1784, and entered as a pupil in the Westminster General Dispensary, then under the direction of Dr. S. F. Simmons. About the same time he became a frequent correspondent of and contributor to the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine,' and formed an intimate friendship with the editor, John Nichols, F.S.A. His articles, especially those on natural history, show both close and accurate observation and considerable scientific knowledge. Alter attending the medical classes at the university of Edinburgh tbr two sessions, in preparation ‘for the degree of M.D., and spending the winter of 1787-8 at the Westminster Dispensary, he gave up the idea of medicine as a profession, and determined to devote himself entirely to literature. In a six months’ tour, principally on horseback, through Great Britain in 1787, he visited nearly every considerable town, and became acquainted with many persons of more or less literary distinction. At Lichfield he made a most favourable impression on Miss Seward, as appears from her letters, and the two for some time kept up a close correspondence. At Derby he made the acquaintance of Erasmus Darwin ; at Downing, of Pennant; at Birmingham he stayed some days with Priestley. He wrote an account of this tour in a series of letters to Nichols, Dr. Simmons, and the Earl of Buchan, which he intended to publish, but for some reason the project fell through. In 1789 he published, at the desire of Dr. Simmons, in the ‘London Medical Journal,’ the thesis which he had prepared for the purpose of his medical degree. It is intit-uled ‘Observations on Pemphigus,’ and was reprinted in the 'Gentleman’s Magazine,' vol. lxi. His interest in literary history and criticism, his extensive reading, classical, theological, and philosophical, and above all his practice, then unusual in England, of reading the best foreign literary journals, seem to have suggested to him ‘the first outline of a review of books on the analytical plan’ (Nichols), and the idea meeting with the approval of ohnson, the publisher in St. Paul's Churchyard, ‘The Analytical Review’ was the result., which, though not displaying any extraordinary ability, and now utterly forgotten, was a great advance upon anything that had up to that time appeared, and has served as the model of many other periodicals. The preface and many of the articles in the earlier volumes are from the pen of Christie.

In 1789 he published the work by which he is best known, ‘Miscellanies, Philosophical, Medical, and Moral,’ vol. i., containing ‘1. Observations on the Literature of The Primitive Christian Writers ; being an attempt to vindicate them from the imputation of Rousseau and Gibbon that they were enemies to philosophy and human learning. 2. Reflections suggested by the character of Pamphilus of Czesarea. 3. Hints respecting the State and Education of the People. 4. Thoughts on the Origin of Human Knowledge, and on the Antiquity of the World. 5. Remarks on Professor Meiner’s History of Ancient Opinions respectin the Deity. 6. 'Account of Dr. Ellis’s Work on the Origin of Sacred Knowledge,' Though these essays have lost what interest and value they may once have had, they show a wide range of reading-not only in English literature but in French, Latin, and Greek-and much thought and ability. A second volume, though contemplated, was never published.

Towards the end of 1789 Christie crossed the Channel and spent six months in Paris, taking with him introductions from Dr. Price and others to several of the leaders of the constitutional party. His reputation as a man of letters and a sympathiser with the revolution had preceded him, and obtained for him a warm reception. He speedily became intimate with Mirabeau, Sieyes, Necker, and others, and returned to England an enthusiast in the cause, convinced of the infallibility of the political views of the revolutionary leaders, and that the regeneration of the human race was at hand. Immediately on his return to England he published ‘A Sketch of the New Constitution of France,’ in two folio sheets, and the following year, 1791, he entered the lists against Burke in ‘Letters on the Revolution in France and the New Constitution established by the National Assembly. Part l.' Though the book had not the success of the ‘Vindicite’ of his friend Mackintosh, it is yet not without merit. His account of the state of Paris and its general tranquillity during his visit is of real value, forming a strong contrast to the current belief that the city was at that time filled with mobs, riots, and assassinations; but his enthusiasm for the new constitution, his firm belief in its permanence, and, above all, his assurance that the king was the sincere friend of the revolution, and was never before so happy, so popular, or so secure, are amusing when read in the light of the events which shortly followed, and which probably prevented the appearance of the second part, he returned to Paris in 1792, and was employed by the assembly on the English part of their proposed polyglot edition of the new (revised) constitution. This was intended to be in eight languages, but only the English (from the pen of Thomas Christie) and the Italian had appeared (3 vols. 8vo, Paris, 1792), when the assembly made way for the convention, and the republic took the place of the monarchy. In the meantime he had been induced during his first visit to Paris to join a mercantile house in London — it seems as a sleeping partner — but the result was unsatisfactory. In 1792 he dissolved this partnership, and on 9 Sept. of the same year married Miss Thomson, and became a partner with her grandfather, Mr. Moore, an extensive carpet manufacturer in Finsbury Square. In 1790 some business arrangements obliged him to make a voyage to Surinam, where he died in the month of October of the same year. Nichols, in his 'Literary Anecdotes, ix. 866-90, and in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' vol. lxvii. pt. i. pp. 345-6, and Parisot, in the 'Biographie Universelle,' speak most highly of his abilities and his attainments. But in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' vol. lxviii. pt. ii. p. 774, à propos of a notice of him in 'Literary Memoirs of Living Authors,' where his moderation and Christianity had been praised, it is stated: 'His moderation was most violent democratism, and his Christianity socinianism. He possessed considerable merit, but was of a most unsettled disposition.' Many of his letters will be found in Nichols, and others in Miss Seward's 'Correspondence.'

[Nichols's Lit. Anecd.; Gent Mag.; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Biog. Universelle; family papers.]

R. C. C.