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Liston, Robert (1742-1836) (DNB00)


LISTON, Sir ROBERT (1742–1836), diplomatist, second son of Patrick Liston of Torbanehill, West Lothian, was born at Overtoun in the parish of Kirkliston 8 Oct. 1742. He studied at Edinburgh University, and when scarcely twenty was selected by Dr. John Drysdale [q. v.] and Professor Dugald Stewart for the post of private tutor to the sons of Sir Gilbert Elliot, bart., of Stobs [see Elliot, Sir Gilbert, 1722–1777]. He was allowed two years ‘to perfect himself in classics, law, and dancing’ (Minto, Life and Letters, i. 31). He then started with his pupils, Gilbert, aged 12, afterwards first Earl of Minto [see Elliot, Sir Gilbert, first Earl of Minto], and Hugh, aged 10 [see Elliot, Hugh], for Paris, where they pursued their studies for several years under the general supervision of the historian, David Hume (1711–1776) [q. v.] Later, when Hugh Elliot adopted a diplomatic career, Liston became his private secretary, and accompanied him on his missions to Munich, Ratisbon, and Berlin [see Elliot, Hugh]. When Lord Mountstewart, afterwards first Marquis of Bute, was sent as ambassador extraordinary to Madrid in March 1783, Liston was appointed secretary of embassy, his first diplomatic appointment. He succeeded Mountstewart as minister plenipotentiary at Madrid on 4 May 1783, and held the post until August 1788. His correspondence with the fifth Duke of Leeds during the period is in Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 28061–6. On 14 May 1785 he was made LL.D. Edinburgh. Liston was envoy extraordinary at Stockholm from 22 Aug. 1788 to 18 May 1793, and ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Constantinople from 25 Sept. 1793 to 16 Feb. 1796. On 17 Feb. 1796 he was appointed ambassador extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at Washington. Soon after his arrival in America a scheme was proposed to him for the seizure of New Orleans by a British naval force concurrently with an attack by the Crees and Cherokees on the Spanish posts in Upper Louisiana. Liston refused to entertain the proposal, on the double ground of the breach of neutrality involved and the inhumanity of thus employing the Indians. The scheme was not countenanced at home (see Correspondance qui dévoile, &c., No. 16). Liston remained at Washington until the peace of Amiens. He was then appointed envoy extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Batavian republic, and remained at the Hague until 14 May 1804, after which he retired upon pension during seven years. On the renewal of diplomatic relations with Turkey in 1811, he was appointed ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Constantinople. He sailed for Gibraltar in the Argo frigate on 8 April 1812, accompanied by Brigadier-general Sir Robert Thomas Wilson [q. v.] as special military commissioner. Wilson's diary of the journey through Sicily, Greece, and Turkey to the Bosphorus forms Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 30160. Liston was admitted to the privy council in 1812, and G.C.B. (civil) on 21 Oct. 1816. He remained as ambassador at Constantinople until 18 Oct. 1821, when he retired on a pension, after thirty and a half years' diplomatic service. He died at his residence, Millburn Tower, near Edinburgh, on 15 July 1836, at the age of ninety-three. He was an accomplished linguist in ten languages, but during the last four years of his life lost the power of articulate speech. He was at his death ‘the father of the diplomatic body throughout Europe’ (Gent. Mag. 1836, ii. 539). Liston married, at Glasgow, on 27 Feb. 1796, Henrietta, daughter of Nathaniel Marchant of Jamaica. She died childless in 1828 (Scots Mag. lviii. 143).

[Life and Letters of the First Earl of Minto, 1751–1806, London, 1874, 8vo; Malmesbury Corresp. London, 1870, vol. i.; Correspondance qui dévoile la Trahison du Senateur Blount (copy in Brit. Mus., cf. Appleton's Encycl. Amer. Biog. under ‘Blount, William’); Private Diary of Sir Robert Thomas Wilson, London, 1861, vol. i. and Appendix to vol. ii.; Amended Return of Diplomatic Pensions in House of Commons Paper 428, 1839; Ann. Reg. 1836, p. 209; H. B. McCall's Some Old Families, 1890, and Dalzel's Hist. Univ. Edinb. 1862; Despatches, under countries and dates, in Foreign Office Papers in Public Record Office, London.]

H. M. C.