Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robertson, James Burton

ROBERTSON, JAMES BURTON (1800–1877), historian, born in London on 15 Nov. 1800, was son of Thomas Robertson, who belonged to the clan of the Robertsons of Strowan, Perthshire. The father was a landed proprietor in the island of Grenada, West Indies, and there Robertson passed his early childhood. In 1809 his mother, who had been left a widow some years previously, brought him to England, and in the following year sent him to the Roman catholic college of St. Edmund, near Ware, which he quitted in 1819. In 1825 he was called to the bar. He made several visits to France, where, under the direction of his friends, the Abbé de la Mennais, and the Abbé (afterwards Monseigneur) Gerbet, he studied literature, philosophy, and the elements of dogmatic theology. After various preliminary essays he published in 1835 a translation in two volumes of Frederick Schlegel's ‘Philosophy of History,’ which passed through many editions, and was included in ‘Bohn's Standard Library’ in 1846. To this translation he prefixed a memoir of the life and writings of the author. Between 1836 and 1854 he was an assiduous contributor to the ‘Dublin Review.’

From 1837 to 1854 he resided with his friends in different parts of Germany and Belgium. During his abode at Würzburg he published his translation of Dr. Möhler's ‘Symbolism; or Exposition of Doctrinal Differences between Catholics and Protestants, as evidenced by their Symbolical Writings,’ 2 vols. London, 1843. To this translation he prefixed a sketch of the state of protestantism and catholicism in Germany during the previous hundred years, as well as a memoir of the life and writings of Dr. Möhler. This work, which went through several editions both in Great Britain and America, made a profound impression on the tractarian party at Oxford.

In 1855 Dr. Newman, then rector of the newly founded catholic university at Dublin, nominated Robertson to the chair of geography and modern history. To the professorship of history he subsequently united that of English literature. Subsequently Robertson published a series of works, which met with much success. The first was a course of ‘Public Lectures delivered before the Catholic University of Ireland on some Subjects of Ancient and Modern History,’ London, 1859, 8vo. This was followed by an epic poem in blank verse, interspersed with lyrics, entitled ‘The Prophet Enoch; or the Sons of God and the Sons of Men,’ London [1860], 12mo; ‘Lectures on some Subjects of Modern History and Biography, delivered at the Catholic University of Ireland,’ Dublin, 1864, 12mo; on the ‘Writings of Chateaubriand, and on the Illuminati, Jacobins, and Socialists;’ ‘Lectures on the Life, Writings, and Times of Edmund Burke,’ London [1869], 8vo; and a translation of Dr. Hergenöther's ‘Anti-Janus,’ London, 1870, 8vo, being a reply to ‘The Pope and the Council, by Janus,’ with an introduction by the translator, giving the history of Gallicanism from the reign of Louis XIV. In 1869 the queen, on the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone, bestowed a pension of 90l. a year on Robertson in recognition of his long services to English literature, and in 1873 Pius IX conferred upon him the title of Doctor in Philosophy. He died in Dublin on 14 Feb. 1877, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery.

[Tablet, 24 Feb. 1877, pp. 240, 244; Men of the Time, 9th edit. p. 849; Dublin Freeman's Journal, 15 Feb. 1877, p. 5.]

T. C.