Ogilvie, William (DNB00)
OGILVIE, WILLIAM (1736–1819), professor of humanity and advocate of common property in land, born in 1736, was the only son of James Ogilvie, proprietor of the estate of Pittensear, near Elgin. At the age of nineteen he went to King's College, Aberdeen, intending to enter the church, and, after graduating in 1759, was appointed master of the grammar school, Cullen. His name appears in the list of students at Glasgow University in the 1760-1 session, and at Edinburgh University in 1761-2. While attending Edinburgh University he was tutor to a Mr. Graeme, and at the beginning of the session (29 Nov. 1761), by the influence of his relative, Lord Deskford (afterwards sixth earl of Seafield), chancellor of the university, he was appointed assistant to the professor of philosophy at King's College, Aberdeen. By permission of the university court, he finished his studies at Edinburgh, and began work in Aberdeen in the winter of 1762. Two years later he succeeded to the chair of philosophy. In 1766, on a reorganisation of class-work, he exchanged chairs with the professor of humanity, and taught in that capacity until 1817, when, owing to failing health, an assistant was appointed to do his work.
Ogilvie was a learned classical scholar. 'What I remember with most pleasure of Mr. Ogilvie,' says his pupil. Sir James Mackintosh (Memoirs, i. 17), 'were his translations of passages in classical writers.' These translations, which Mackintosh regrets were never published, were well known to Ogilvie's friends and pupils, and highly esteemed by them. He was also an ardent numismatist (Nichols, Illustrations of Lit. Hist. iv. 837), and his collection of Grecian coins is now in the Aberdeen University Museum. He was also devoted to science and the fine arts, and helped in the unsuccessful attempt made to recover for the Aberdeen University a valuable donation of Italian paintings left to it by an old student named Morison, but forfeited by the French government in 1810; and to Ogilvie Aberdeen University owes its Natural History Museum, founded about 1775. His fame spread to America, and in 1793 the Columbia College, New York, conferred on him the honorary degree of S.T.D. His well-known sympathies with the American people may have had some influence with the college. Pryse Gordon (Memoirs, i. 23) writes, 'Ogilvie was esteemed the most elegant scholar in Scotland of his day;' and the 'Times' of 23 Feb. 1819, in an obituary notice, goes so far as to say that 'Ogilvie was one of the most accomplished scholars of the age.'
Ogilvie's connection with Aberdeen University, however, was principally signalised by the part he took in the agitation for the union of King's and Marischal Colleges. These colleges had been founded as separate universities, and there was considerable waste of money and talent in consequence. In 1754 a plan of union was first proposed, and was renewed unsuccessfully in 1770. In 1786 it was again revived, Ogilvie assisting in drawing up the 'Outlines of a Plan for uniting the Universities of Aberdeen.' The 'Plan' led to a long and warm controversy, which lasted for two years in the Aberdeen press. The correspondence was collected by Professor Stuart, and published in Aberdeen in 1787. Although the movement was supported by the leading landlords in the north and by Marischal College, it failed in its purpose, and the two universities were not finally united until 1800. Ogilvie was also one of the pioneers of public libraries, and in May 1704 he published a pamphlet on the subject.
Meanwhile he had been giving considerable attention to the land, hot has a practical agriculturist and as one who was interested in the theoretic politics of his time. In 1772 he sold the Pittensear estate, and in the following year bought for 1,500l. some poor land in Aberdeen to show what could be done by careful cultivation, and thus gave an impetus to the farming industry in the north of Scotland. So successful was he that in 1808 he sold this Aberdeen property for 4,000l. In 1781 he published anonymously in Aberdeen 'An Essay on the Right of Property in Land.' His proposals anticipate much of what has since been done in agrarian legislation, and have much in common with recent theories of land nationalisation. The author differentiates between property in land and property in 'movables,' and considers it to be an indisputable maxim in natural law that every individual has a right to a share in the land. He regards land values as consisting of three elements: the original natural value, the value of improvements, and the potential value. The first and third elements should belong to the community, and from them a land tax should be levied; the second is the legitimate property of the cultivator. To check current evils he proposed an agrarian law that would restore the population to the soil, and advocated the establishment of a land court with power to acquire land for allotments, and to assist the peasantry to buy their own farms. Although published anonymously, the authorship of the book was well known. Ogilvie's 'bold agrarianism attracted some attention during the ferment of speculation occasioned by the French revolution' (Mackintosh, Memoirs, i. 17); and in a letter to the author, dated 7 April 1789, Dr. Thomas Reid, the philosopher, says he had read the book and practically agreed with it. Macculloch, on the other hand, characterises Ogilvie's schemes as 'not impracticable only, but mischievous, and his principles and reasonings as alike false, shallow, and sophistical' (Literature of Political Economy, p. 310). George Washington, who was deeply interested in English agriculture, possessed a copy, which was presented to the British Museum by Henry Stevens of Vermont, the antiquary. The essay was republished in 1891, with introduction and biographical notes by D. C. MacDonald. It contains a portrait of Ogilvie from a miniature by Archibald Binnie. Ogilvie died on 14 Feb. 1819, and is buried in the cathedral, Old Aberdeen.
[Birthright in Land, biographical notes, by D. C. MacDonald; Douglas's Description of the East Coast of Scotland, p. 198; Scottish Notes and Queries, 1889; Columbia College Calendar of Trustees, &c. 1793 list; Brit. Mus. Cat.; King's College Officers and Graduates (New Spalding Club), p. 49.]