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

VEITCH, JOHN (1829–1894), professor of philosophy and historian of the Scottish border, born at Peebles on 24 Oct. 1829, was son of Sergeant James Veitch, a Peninsular veteran, by his wife, Nancy Ritchie. Both parents, particularly the mother, evinced those high ideals of the value of education characteristic of some of the Scottish peasantry. Till sixteen years of age Veitch was educated successively at Mr. Smith's ‘adventure’ school and at the high school of Peebles. In 1845 he proceeded to Edinburgh University, where he at once gained a bursary or entrance scholarship.

Two years before, at the time of the disruption, Veitch, with his parents, had joined the free church, and, after one session's attendance at Edinburgh university, he entered the New College, just instituted for the benefit of free-church students. Here he first met Professor A. Campbell Fraser, who became his lifelong friend. The year 1848 found him back at the university, hearing the brilliant lectures of Aytoun, of ‘Christopher North,’ and conspicuously of Sir William Hamilton, by whom Veitch was profoundly influenced. Originally destined for the ministry of the free church, he turned his attention to theology in 1850, but was repelled by the dogmatic tendencies of the day. Until 1856 he maintained himself by private tuition.

In 1856 he was appointed assistant to Sir William Hamilton in the chair of logic and metaphysics in the university of Edinburgh. Sir William's death took place in the same year, and was followed by the transference of Campbell Fraser from the professorship of philosophy in New College. Veitch continued in his position as assistant to Professor Fraser till his election in May 1860 to the chair of logic, rhetoric, and metaphysics in the university of St. Andrews. During the same period he aided his chief in the editorial work of the ‘North British Review.’ His duties at St. Andrews required him to teach English literature as well as philosophy, and he began those studies in the literature and antiquities of the Scottish border by which he will be best remembered. At this period his friends included many remarkable men, among others James David Forbes [q. v.], James Frederick Ferrier [q. v.], John Tulloch [q. v.], William Young Sellar [q. v.], and John Campbell Shairp [q. v.]

In the summer of 1864 he was elected to the professorship of logic and rhetoric in the university of Glasgow, which he occupied till his death. Six months of the year were thenceforth spent in Glasgow, and the remainder at Peebles, where he built a residence, and enjoyed unique opportunities of studying the scenery, history, literature, and lore of his native borderland. He took an active part in the leading border associations, in the politics of the county of Peebles, and in various benevolent institutions. In 1872 he received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Edinburgh University. He died at Peebles on 3 Sept. 1894. In June 1862 he married Eliza Hill, only daughter of George Wilson of Dalmarnock and Auchineden, but he had no family by her.

As a thinker Veitch was at odds with the chief movements of his day, and by adopting an extreme, and often contemptuous, attitude of criticism, he baulked himself of formative influence with the thousands of students who came under his care. Those of them who knew him intimately were affected by his personal character, not by his prelections. On the other hand, inborn inclination, extraordinary opportunity, and rare power of observation combined in the production of his work on ‘The History and Poetry of the Scottish Border’ (1893, 2 vols.). The same qualities reveal themselves in the fine volumes on ‘The Feeling for Nature in Scottish Poetry’ (1887, 2 vols.), as well as in the three small books of verse, ‘The Tweed, and other Poems’ (1875), ‘Hillside Rhymes’ (1872), and ‘Merlin and other Poems’ (1889). The poems are less successful than the prose works. Occasionally they reach a high level, but always within a limited range. His pupils and friends have erected monuments to his memory within the main building of the university of Glasgow, in the town of Peebles, and on the top of Cademuir, one of his favourite hills.

Besides those already mentioned, Veitch's principal works were:

  1. ‘Memoir of Dugald Stewart,’ 1857.
  2. ‘Memoir of Sir William Hamilton,’ 1869.
  3. ‘Hamilton’ (Blackwood's Philosophical Classics Series), 1879.
  4. ‘Institutes of Logic,’ 1885.
  5. ‘Knowing and Being,’ 1889.
  6. ‘Dualism and Monism,’ 1895.
  7. ‘Border Essays,’ 1896.

He also edited, in conjunction with Henry Longueville Mansel [q. v.], Sir William Hamilton's ‘Lectures’ on logic and metaphysics (4 vols. 1859–60), and translated, with an introduction, appendix, and notes, Descartes's ‘Method,’ ‘Meditations,’ and selections from his ‘Principles of Philosophy,’ 1879.

[Memoir (1896) by Veitch's niece, Mary R. L. Bryce, and the Introductory Essay to Dualism and Monism by the present writer.]

R. M. W.