Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grainger, James
GRAINGER, JAMES, M.D. (1721?–1766), physician and poet, was born probably at Dunse in Berwickshire. The year of his birth is variously given as 1721 and 1724. He was the son, by a second marriage, of John Grainger of Houghton Hall, Cumberland, who, in consequence of some unsuccessful mining speculations, and, it is said, his attachment to the house of Stuart in 1715, was obliged to sell his estate, and take an appointment in the excise at Dunse. On the death of his father, his half-brother, William Grainger of Warriston, a writing-master in Edinburgh, and subsequently clerk in the office of the comptroller of excise, sent him to school at North Berwick. He afterwards attended the medical classes at Edinburgh University for three years, and was apprenticed to George Lauder, surgeon, of that city. Entering the army as a surgeon, he served in Pulteney's regiment of foot during the rebellion of 1745, and in the same regiment in Holland in 1746–8. In his leisure he read the Latin poets. Upon quitting the army after the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, he made the tour of Europe, and, returning to Scotland, graduated M.D. at Edinburgh on 13 March 1753. His inaugural dissertation, ‘De Modo excitandi ptyalismum, et morbis inde pendentibus,’ was reprinted by Haller in the first volume of his ‘Disputationes ad morborum historiam et curationem facientes,’ 1757. In 1753 Grainger also printed ‘Historia febris anomalæ Batavæ annorum 1746, 1747, 1748, &c. Accedunt monita siphylica,’ 2 parts, 8vo, Edinburgh, 1753; another edit., 2 pts., 8vo, Altenburg, 1770. Sir John Pringle's elaborate work on the same subject had appeared a year earlier, and Grainger's effort failed to attract attention. The second part is a reprint of his exercise for the M.D. degree. Settling in London after 1753, he established himself in Bond Court, Walbrook, and became acquainted with Johnson, Shenstone, Armstrong, Glover, and Dodsley. For a while he was friendly with Smollett, and Percy was warmly attached to him. He went at certain times daily to the Temple Exchange Coffee House, near Temple Bar, in quest of practice, and there met Goldsmith, whom he introduced to Percy in 1758. In spite of his reputed ability, Grainger failed to obtain patients, and depended chiefly on his pen for a livelihood. He courted the daughter of a rich city physician, but his poverty brought his suit to nothing. In 1755 appeared his ‘Ode on Solitude’ in Dodsley's ‘Collection’ (vol. iv.), the opening lines of which Johnson thought ‘very noble’ (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill, iii. 197). From May 1756 to May 1758 he wrote about poetry, the drama, and physic in the ‘Monthly Review.’ A list of his principal contributions is given in Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literature’ (vii. 226 n.) Not wholly neglectful of medicine, he published in ‘Essays Physical and Literary,’ 1756 (ii. 257), a paper on ‘An obstinate Case of Dysentery cured by Lime Water.’ With Percy and others he became connected with the ‘Grand Magazine of Universal Intelligence,’ a short-lived journal started in 1758. About the same time he translated ‘Leander to Hero’ and ‘Hero to Leander’ for Percy's projected version of Ovid's ‘Epistles.’ Grainger was admitted a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians on 20 March 1758. In the following November he published a ‘Poetical Translation of the Elegies of Tibullus, and of the Poems of Sulpicia; with the original Text and Notes critical and explanatory,’ 2 vols., 12mo, London (dated 1759), which he had begun while in the army. Percy revised the translation, while another friend, Robert Binnel, rector of Kemberton in Shropshire, furnished most of the notes. The book was unmercifully censured in the ‘Critical Review’ for December, then edited by Smollett. Grainger avenged himself (January 1759) in ‘A Letter to Tobias Smollett, M.D., occasioned by his Criticism upon a late Translation of Tibullus.’ He addressed Smollett throughout as ‘good Dr. Tobias’ and ‘Dr. Toby,’ because Smollett detested his baptismal name. Smollett, in his ‘Review’ for January, contemptuously referred to Grainger as ‘one of the Owls belonging to the proprietor of the “M**thly R****w,”’ and in the ‘Review’ for February Grainger was furiously attacked as a contemptible hack-writer. Reference was made to his having compiled from materials left by the author the second volume of William Maitland's discreditable ‘History and Antiquities of Scotland,’ 1757 (cf. Gent. Mag. 1791, pt. ii. p. 614), and to the failure of his application to write for the ‘Biographia Britannica.’ Grainger did not reply. With many others he assisted Charlotte Lennox with her translation of Pierre Brumoy's ‘Théâtre des Grecs,’ 1759. In April 1759 he began a four years' tour with John Bourryau, a former pupil and heir to property in the West Indies. Grainger was to receive for his attendance a life annuity of 200l. Their first destination was the island of St. Christopher. Soon after their arrival there Grainger married Miss Daniel Mathew Burt, whose mother, widow of a Nevis planter, Grainger attended for small-pox on the voyage out. The lady's brother sneered at Grainger's suit, and Grainger wrote with spirit in his own defence (Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. vii. 271–5). Grainger commenced practising as a physician in the island, and was entrusted by his wife's uncle, Daniel Mathew, with the care of his estates. Want of capital prevented him from becoming, as he wished, a planter himself, and thus indulging in his favourite study of botany. His scanty savings were invested in the purchase of negroes.
During his rides to different parts of the island to visit his patients, Grainger composed a poem in four books on the cultivation of the sugar cane. He sent the manuscript to Percy in June 1762 for his and Shenstone's revision. In the autumn of 1763 the death of his brother William recalled him to England. On his arrival he submitted his poem to his friends. Boswell relates, on the authority of Bennet Langton, that the ‘Sugar Cane’ was read in manuscript in Sir Joshua Reynolds's drawing-room, and that the ‘assembled wits’ were much amused by Grainger's bald references to the havoc wrought by rats in the sugar-fields. Boswell adds that the company knew that rats had been substituted for mice in Grainger's original draft. Percy is said to have explained that that part of the subject was treated in mock-heroic style in imitation of Homer's ‘Batrachomyomachia.’ Miss Reynolds doubted Boswell's story on the ground that Grainger and Sir Joshua were not personally acquainted. Johnson told her, however, that Grainger read the poem to him, and that when he came to the line, ‘Say, shall I sing of rats?’ Johnson cried ‘No’ with great vehemence (Boswell, ed. Croker, 1848, p. 834). ‘Percy had a mind,’ said Johnson, ‘to make a great thing of Grainger's rats’ (ib. ed. Hill, ii. 453–4), and was displeased by Johnson's ridicule. The poem was published in quarto in 1764, with copious notes. A pirated duodecimo edition appeared in 1766, with the addition of ‘Beauty, a Poem, by the same author’ (in reality by Robert Shiels). Johnson helped Percy to write a kindly notice in the ‘London Chronicle’ for 5 July 1764, and, as Smollett was now on his travels, sent another favourable article to the ‘Critical Review’ (p. 270); but he censured Grainger for not denouncing the slave-trade, although Grainger recommends throughout a humane treatment of slaves (ib. i. 481–2). Grainger's diction is very poor, and his arguments and episodes ludicrously flat and formal.
Just before the publication of his poem in May 1764, Grainger embarked for St. Christopher. His affairs there had become involved in his absence, but he acquired some property on the death of his brother, and was able in part to meet his difficulties. He expanded the notes of the ‘Sugar Cane’ into an ‘Essay on the more common West India Diseases; and the Remedies which that Country itself produces. To which are added some Hints on the Management, &c., of Negroes. By a Physician in the West Indies,’ 8vo, London, 1764 (2nd edition, ‘with practical notes and a Linnæan index by William Wright, M.D.,’ 8vo, Edinburgh, 1802). He also contributed to the first volume of Percy's ‘Reliques’ (1764) a ballad of West Indian life called ‘Bryan and Pareene.’ Grainger died at St. Christopher on 16 Dec. 1766, a victim to the West Indian fever.‘Grainger was a man,’ said Johnson, ‘who would do any good that was in his power.’ He was the ‘ingenious acquaintance’ whose ‘singular history’ Johnson related (not quite correctly) to Boswell in 1776 (ib. ii. 455). In person he was tall and of ‘a lathy make,’ plain-featured, and deeply marked with the small-pox. Despite a broad provincial accent his conversation was very pleasing. By his wife he left two daughters, Louise Agnes, and Eleanor. The latter was married in 1798 to Thomas Rousell of Wandsworth. A foul attack on Mrs. Grainger, imputing her husband's premature death to grief at the discovery of her immorality, was published during her lifetime in the ‘Westminster Magazine’ for December 1773. Percy sent an indignant denial to the ‘Whitehall Evening Post,’ and threatened legal proceedings, upon which the libel was withdrawn and apologised for in January 1774. Grainger bequeathed his manuscripts to Percy. In accordance with his wish, a complete edition of his poetical works was suggested by Percy to Dr. Robert Anderson in 1798, and was printed in 1801, with the addition of an index of the Linnæan names of plants, &c., by William Wright, M.D. Anderson deferred the publication till Percy supplied him with materials for a life of Grainger, and the book did not make its appearance until 1836 (2 vols. 12mo, Edinburgh). Most of the copies were destroyed, and it is now extremely scarce. It contains, among other miscellaneous pieces, the fragment of a blank-verse tragedy entitled ‘The Fate of Capua.’ Some poems which appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1758 are not included in this edition, and are printed in Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literature’ (vii. 234–40), together with Percy's correspondence with Grainger and Anderson. Grainger's ‘Essay’ and the ‘Sugar Cane’ were, with Colonel Martin's ‘Essay on Plantership,’ reprinted at Jamaica in 1802, under the general title of ‘Three Tracts on West Indian Agriculture.’ [Chalmers's Biog. Dict. xvi. 164–71; Prior's Life of Goldsmith, i. 237–43; Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878, ii. 219–21; Shenstone's Works, iii. 343; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vi. 413; Southey, in Quarterly Review, xi. 489; Allibone's Dict. of Authors, i. 717; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. vol. vii.]