Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grant, Anne

GRANT, ANNE (1755–1838), miscellaneous writer, was born at Glasgow on 21 Feb. 1755. Her father, Duncan Macvicar, 'a plain, brave, pious man,' according to her own account, was originally engaged in farming, but obtaining a commission in the 77th foot, he sailed for North America in 1757, whither his wife and child followed him the year afterwards. In 1758 Macvicar, being stationed near Albany, won the esteem of the Dutch settlers, rarely bestowed upon British officers; and when he joined the 55th regiment in the disastrous expedition to Ticonderoga he left his wife and daughter at Albany, where the child became a favourite with the Schuylers and other families. Indeed, the little girl was mainly brought up by the Schuylers until her father, who had retired on half-pay in 1765, settled on the banks of the Hudson, having acquired some grants of land in what is now the state of Vermont. In 1768 Macvicar suddenly returned to Scotland, and engaged in business in Glasgow. In 1773 he was made barrack-master of Fort Augustus in Inverness-shire, where six years later his daughter married a clergyman named Grant, who was the garrison chaplain, and also minister of the neighbouring parish of Laggan.

As the wife of the clergyman of a highland parish, Mrs. Grant did her duty nobly. She warmly admired the peasantry, learned Gaelic, studied the 'folklore,' and strove to relieve the distress of the district. An active correspondence with her friends made her known by its vivacity and strong sense. In 1801 Grant died, after a brief illness, leaving his wife and eight children without any provision except the trifling pension accruing to the widow of an army chaplain, for her father's estate in Vermont had been confiscated during the revolution. She had long been in the habit of composing short poems in the artificial style of the day. Their publication was now suggested. Three thousand subscribers were obtained, and the volume was published in 1802. In 1803 Mrs. Grant removed from Laggan to the neighbourhood of Stirling. In order to provide an outfit for her eldest son, who had received a commission in the East India Company's service, she was advised to print a selection from her correspondence, which appeared in 1806 as 'Letters from the Mountains,' in three volumes. The success of the book was immediate. Since the publication of 'Ossian' there had been a growing interest in the highlands, where the disciples of Rousseau supposed they had found an example of a race uncorrupted by the vices of civilisation. Accordingly Mrs. Grant's lively and sympathetic descriptions of her life in Inverness-shire suited the taste of the day. The book speedily passed into a second edition, and secured for the writer several valuable friendships.

In 1808 Mrs. Grant published her 'Memoirs of an American Lady,' namely, the widow of Colonel Philip Schuyler, by whose kindness she had been deeply impressed. The book has still a certain value, though it is a record of the impressions of a child who quitted America at the age of thirteen. It describes an interesting period, when the Indian tribes were still formidable, when the New-England colonists were beginning to intrude upon the Dutch settlers, and when independence was approaching. The book was popular, though the style is more artificial and less vigorous than that of the 'Letters.' De Quincey, who met her soon after the 'Memoirs' appeared, remarks: 'Her kindness to me was particularly flattering, and to this day I retain the impression of the benignity which she—an established wit, and just then receiving incense from all quarters—showed in her manners to me, a person wholly unknown.'

In 1810 Mrs. Grant removed to Edinburgh, and increased her income by receiving young ladies as boarders in her house. Her literary reputation was an introduction to the then distinguished Edinburgh society. Lockhart speaks of her as 'a shrewd and sly observer.' 'Good Mrs. Grant,' said Scott, 'is so very cerulean, and surrounded by so many fetch-and-carry mistresses and missesses, and the maintainer of such an unmerciful correspondence, that though I would gladly do her any kindness in my power, yet I should be afraid to be very intimate with a woman whose tongue and pen are rather overpowering.' This was written when he was annoyed by a report emanating from America that he had confessed to Mrs. Grant his authorship of the 'Waverley Novels,' and he adds: 'She is an excellent person, notwithstanding.' Jeffrey reviewed her books in the 'Edinburgh,' and was induced by their perusal to make a tour to Loch Laggan, carrying with him introductions from Mrs. Grant. Although she admired Jeffrey, she disapproved of his treatment of the Lake poets, and was a staunch Wordsworthian. Indeed, she had very considerable critical discernment.

Though a high tory, Mrs. Grant kept up her American friendships, and received many tourists from the States. Ticknor mentions a visit to her in 1819, and says: 'She is an old lady of such great good nature and such strong good sense, mingled with a natural talent, plain knowledge, and good taste, derived from English reading alone, that when she chooses to be pleasant she can be so to a high degree.' In spite of many domestic trials she was keenly interested in passing events, and at the same time loved to tell amusing stories of old days in the highlands.

In 1826 Scott, Mackenzie, and other friends procured her a pension of 100l., which, with several legacies from old friends and pupils, made her last years comfortable. All her children except one son died before her; but although a severe fall in 1820 rendered her lame for the remainder of her life, and forced her to go about on crutches, her vigorous constitution asserted itself, and she lived till 7 Nov. 1838.

Besides the books mentioned above, Mrs. Grant published in 1811 'Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland,' and in 1814 'Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen: a poem.' Both the 'Letters from the Mountains' and the 'Memoirs of an American Lady' were reprinted in the United States soon after their publication in this country. An excellent edition of the latter, with a memoir of the writer and useful notes by General Grant Wilson, appeared at Albany, U.S., in 1876.

[Mrs. Grant's Memoirs of an American Lady and Letters from the Mountains furnish much information regarding her life down to 1804. After her death her son, Mr. J. P. Grant. published the Memoir and Correspondence of Mrs. Grant of Laggan, 3 vols. 1844. The Memoir consists mainly of a fragment of autobiography, breaking off in 1807. The Letters, which are judiciously selected, are intended to form a supplement to the Letters from the Mountains, begin in 1803, and reach to within a few weeks of the writer's death. A number of Mrs. Grant's manuscripts are preserved in the David Laing collection in the library of the university of Edinburgh; but from the account obligingly furnished to the writer of this biography by Mr. Webster, the librarian, they would seem to be of little biographical value.]

N. McC.