Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Murdoch, John

MURDOCH, JOHN (1747–1824), miscellaneous writer and friend of Burns, was born at Ayr in 1747. He received a liberal education in that town and finished his studies at Edinburgh. For some time he was assistant at a private academy and was afterward appointed master of Ayr school. Among his pupils was Burns, who is described by Murdoch as being 'very apt,' but his ear was 'remarkably dull and his voice untuneable.' Desiring to extend his knowledge of the world, he left Ayr for London, and spent the night before his departure at the house of Burns's father, reading aloud part of the tragedy of 'Titus Andronicus,' by which the poet was much affected. Several letters subsequently passed between Burns and Murdoch. After a short stay in London Murdoch went on to Paris, where he formed a lifelong intimacy with Colonel Fullarton, secretary to the British embassy. On his return to London Murdoch taught the French and English languages with much success, both at pupils' houses and at his own house in Staple Inn. Talleyrand during his residence 'as an emigrant in this country was taught English by him. Murdoch fell into much distress in old age and was obliged to appeal to the public for support. The 'Gentleman's Magazine' inserted a notice begging for aid for him (1824, pt. i. p. 165). He died on 20 April 1824. His wife, whom he married in 1780, survived him.

Murdoch edited the stereotyped edition of 'Walker's Pronouncing Dictionary.' His own works consist of: 1. 'An Essay on the Revolutions of Literature,' translated from the Italian of Signor C. Denina, 1771. 2. 'A Radical Vocabulary of the French Language,' 1782. 3. 'Pictures of the Hearts,' 1783, a collection of essays, tales, and a drama. 4. 'The Pronunciation and Orthography of the French Language,' 1788. 5. 'The Dictionary of Distinctions,' 1811, to facilitate spelling and pronunciation. In this book 'The Tears of Sensibility' was announced as preparing for publication. It was to contain novels from the French of D'Arnaud, but no copy is to be found in the British Museum Library.

[European Mag., 1783, iii. 130; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xii. 419; Diet, of Living Authors, 1816, p. 245; Gent. Mag., 1824, pt. ii. p. 186; R. Chambers's Life and Works of Burns, 1891, i. 9, 11, 14, 17, ii. 161, iii. Ill, 125.]

M. G. W.