Adam Ferguson (1723-1816), professor and author

FERGUSON ADAM (1723-1816), professor of philosophy at Edinburgh


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FERGUSON ADAM (1723-1816), professor of philosophy at Edinburgh, was bom on 20 June 1723 at Logierait, Perthshire, the youngest of the numerous family of the exemplary minister of that parish, author of a rather curious fragment of autobiography (see account of him and it in Ediyiburgh Review for January 1867, article 'Adam Ferguson'). Ferguson received his earlier education partly at home, partly at the parish school of Logierait, and afterwards at the grammar school of Perth, where he became a fair Latin scholar and distinguished in composition. In his sixteenth year he was sent to the university of St Andrews where it is said his Latin procured him a bursary He took his MA degree 4 July 1742 with a reputation for proficiency in classics mathematics and metaphysics Intended by his father for the church he entered in the same year the Divinity Hall at St Andrews but not long afterwards he removed to Edinburgh to pursue his divinity studies there and became intimate with John Home and Kobertson among other young men afterwards distinguished According to his son Sir Adam Chambers's Journal for 24 Feb 1855 article A School Friend of Sir Scott he acted in 1742 as private secretary to Lord Milton who managed Scotch affairs for Lord Islay afterwards third of Argyll In 1745 he was appointed deputy chaplain to the Black Watch then the regiment afterwards Stewart i 274 famous 42nd at the instance CABLTLE p 282 of the Dowager Duchess of Atholl whose husband had presented his father to Logierait and who wished Ferguson to exercise over his son Lord John Murray its colonel His chief ostensible qualification for the post was a knowledge of Gaelic which would shortened by two the six years of the Hall required before ordination The assembly forgave him two years more in consideration of his character and testimonials Soon afterwards he became chaplain of regiment with which he was present at battle of Fontenoy 11 May 17 45 According to Sir Walter Scott Quarterly for June 1827 art John Home Miscellaneous Works xix 331 who probably heard the story from his friend Adam son the commanding officer was to see the chaplain at the head of the column with a drawn broadsword in his hand and remarked that his commission did not entitle him to assume such an attitude D n my commission was Ferguson's reply it towards the colonel But by ieneral Stewart ii appendix p liii he is represented as meeting the remonstrance with the reply that he was there not to fight but to succour the wounded and to pray with the dying According to the same authority Ferguson acquired an unbounded ascendency over the soldiers of his regiment He to England in 1745 and in 1746 there published in London A Sermon in the Erse Language to his Majesty's Highland Regiment of Foot commanded Lord JolmM urray on the IHth dayof December 1745 being appointed as a Solemn Fast By the Rev Adum Ferguson chaplain the said regiment and translated by him into English for the use of a lady of quality now in Scotland at whose desire it is now published The lady was the Dowager Duchess of Atholl and the sermon was a vigorous denunciation of the Pretender of popery and of France Ferguson chiefly remained as chaplain with his regiment at home and abroad until about 1754 when partly out of disgust at the seventh Duke of Atholl's refusal to present him to a Perthshire living he abandoned the clerical profession In January 1757 Ferguson succeeded his friend David Hume in the librarianship of the Advocates Library of which the annual salary was 40 and which he did not hold for a year having after settling in Edinburgh undertaken the education of Lord Bute's sons In the probably apocryphal account of the rehearsal of John Home's Douglas by notable Edinburgh amateurs Ferguson is represented as performing the part of Lady Randolph To the Douglas controversy of 1757 he contributed a pamphlet on The Morality of Stage Plays which he defended as indirectly sanctioned in scripture and directly by fathers of the church In the summer of 1758 David Hume entered into a curious and unsuccessful negotiation to effect the resignation of a professor in Edinburgh University one of the results of which would have been to make Ferguson succeed Adam Smith in the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow Small pp 8 9 Bukton ii 45 On the death of the professor of natural philosophy in Edinburgh University Ferguson was appointed to that chair 4 July 1750 The class was to meet in October and in the brief interval Ferguson acquired a sufficient knowledge of physics to discharge his duties satisfactorily a feat which led David Hume to pay him a somewhat ironical compliment on his extraordinary genius He published a pamphlet on the Scottish militia followed by another on the injustice of the refusal of parliament to sanction the establishment of such a force It was written in imitation of Arbuthnot and appearing in 1701 with the title The History of tho Proceedings in the case of Margaret commonly called Peg only sister to John Bull Esq excited a good deal of attention In 1762 Ferguson was one of the founders of a club at first without a name formed to keep astir the movement for the establishment of a Scotch militia and which became famous as the Poker Club a name suggested by Ferguson as having for its members an obvious meaning while to others enigmatic Colonel Ferguson p 137 and note In 1703 he was entrusted with the education of two sons of the Earl of Warwick. In 1764 in a series of professorial changes see of them in Grant ii 315 339 350 Ferguson was appointed to the chair in which he had long coveted that of pneumatics and moral philosophy being used in it s now obsolete sense of philosophy His earnestness and made him a very popular professor and lectures wereattended by many non hearers belonging to the upper ranks time he thus derived from the chair an annual income of 300 though the salary attached to it was only 100 a year Letter Adam Smith in Small p 17 In 1766 married Miss Katherine Burnett an Aber donian lady and niece of Joseph Black chemist who was a relative of Ferguson the mother's side Ferguson had completed in 1759 an on refinement which it has been surmised incorporated in his Essay on Civil Society published in 1766 The essay on refinement David Hume praised highly hut recommended the suppression of the Essay on Civil Society Nevertheless he reported faithfully from London the very favourable verdict pronounced on it by Lords Shelburne Mansfield Chesterfield Lyttelton and Bute and by Charles Townshend who had read it five times over Principal Lee in Supplement to En cyelupcedia Britannira Burton ii 385 6 The poet Gray see Works ed Gossc iii 279 80 and note found in it an uncommon strain of eloquence among other merits and Baron dTIolbach lauded it in a letter to Ferguson In the year of its publication the university of Edinburgh conferred on its author the degree of LLP and Lord Shelburne thought of offering to Ferguson the governorship of West Florida It reached a seventh edition in 1814 A French translation of it by Bergier and Meusnier appeared in Paris in 1783 a German by CF J linger at Leipzig in 1768 Ferguson professed himself in it a modest follower of Montesquieu and like his master he viewed the development of society from an historical standpoint discarding Hobbes a and Rousseau's theories of primitive man whose analogue Ferguson found in the Arab elan and North American Indian of the eighteenth century The essay is desultory and inconclusive In 1761 Ferguson had issued a syllabus of his lectures entitled Analysis of Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy for the use of Students in the College of Edinburgh The notes from which he delivered his lectures were more amply reproduced in his Institutes of Moral Philosophy a volume issued in 1772 of which a second edition appeared in 1773 a third edition 1 enlarged in 1785 a new edition at Basel in 1800 a German translation by C Garve at Leipzig in 1772 with an appendix of comments by the translator which Schiller knew by heart Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie art Christian Garve A Russian translation of it is said to have been a text book in Russian universities In 1773 with ft somewhat diminishing income Ferguson accepted an offer made at the recommendation of Adam Smith to travel on the continent with Charles third earl of Chesterfield receiving an allowance of 400 a year during the tour and after it an annuity of 200 for life The Edinburgh town council refused his request to be allowed to appoint a substitute during his temporary absence from his chair and when after the winter session of 1774 he joined his charge on the continent they cancelled his appointment and elected another professor After instituting legal proceedings and being reinstalled Ferguson returned to Edinburgh in 1776 In a letter to Dr Car lyle he gave an entertaining and rather satirical account of a visit to Voltaire at Ferney who he says saluted me with a compliment on a gentleman of my family who had civilised the Russians Voltaire no doubt had in view the career of another and earlier Scotch Ferguson or Fergusson whom in his history of Russia under Peter the Great Euvres ed 1877 85 xvi 460 481 he describes as helping Peter to calculate eclipses and as establishing at Moscow schools of geometry astronomy and navigation In 1776 appeared anonymously and printed at the expense of the government Ferguson's Remarks on a Pamphlet lately published by Dr Price entitled Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty &c Ferguson proposed conciliatory measures though demanding concessions from the colonists In 1778 he accompanied to Philadelphia the new British commissioners sent to negotiate a settlement and soon after their arrival he was appointed their secretary Washington refused him a passport with which to proceed to congress The negotiations coming to nothing he returned home with the commissioners at the end of 1778 and resumed the duties of his chair which during his absence had been discharged by his former pupil Bugald Stewart The company of Ferguson as a man of the world and a highbred gentleman was much sought for according to Dr Carlyle who adds that he conversed fluently but with dignified reserve and that he 1 possessed a boundless vein of humour Conviviality had not injured his health until about his fiftieth year when paralytic symptoms appearing he under Joseph Black's guidance recovered and retained perfect health by becoming virtually a vegetarian and a total abstainer After his attack he rarely dined out except with Black and Ferguson's son Adam was wont to say that it was delightful to see the two philosophers rioting over a turnip Cock burn p 50 An increased sensibility to cold followed his convalescence He regulated the temperature of his room by Fahrenheit and went abroad so warmly clad that he looked like a philosopher from Lapland The details of his malady cure and regimen are given in a paper by Black which is interesting as the only memorial of his medical practice see vii 230 &c of the Medico Chirurgical Transactions published by the Medical and Cliirurgical Society of London 1818 As a highlander and otherwise Ferguson was disposed to believe in the genuineness of Macpherson's Ossian and corresponded with Macpherson on his proposal to use the Greek alphabet in printing Gaelic Small pp 65 6 In 1781 he had an unpleasant controversy with Dean afterwards Bishop Percy who represented him as having when Percy visited him in Edinburgh in 1765 produced a student who recited in Gaelic and as current in the highlands fragments which Ferguson told him were evidently the originals of passages in Macpherson's Ossian To this statement Ferguson gave an unqualified contradiction see Gent Ma for December Januarv 1781 2 and Nichols Illuttr of Lit vi 567 9 In 1782 he supported Principal Robertson's successful proposal for the establishment of a royal society of Scotland ofwhieli he became a member In the same year he published with a dedicat ion to the King his History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic illustrated with Maps comprising a sketch of the history of the empire to the accession of Caligula His military experience gives some value to parts of his narrative Thomas Carlyle in his rectorial address to the Edin burgh students spoke of Ferguson as particularly well worth reading on Roman history Ferguson's work soon effaced Hooke's compilation A second edition of it revised in 5 vols 8vo appeared in 1799 to which Ferguson prefixed an advertisement containing a list and some account of his authorities and aids ancient and modern Another edition also in 5 vols 8vo was published in 1813 of which the so called new edition of 1825 in 5 vols is simply a reissue with a new title page In 1825 too appeared a convenient edition in 1 vol belonging to Jones's series of University Editions of British Classic Authors A German translation by CD B leek appeared at Leipzig in 1784 6 and at Paris two French translations one by Demeunier and Gibelin 7 vols in 1784 1791 the other by JB Breton 10 vols in 1803 10 Ferguson resigned in 1785 his professorship of moral philosophy and was succeeded by Dugald Stewart who often refers respectfully to his opinions That he might continue to receive a salary the Edinburgh town council appointed him to the chair of mathematics vacated by Dugald Stewart with Playfair as junior and acting professor In 1786 a former and grateful student who had assisted him in the tuition of private pupils and had risen to be governor general of India Sir John Macpherson sent him a remittance towards discharging the embarrassing feu duty on a farm near Currie which soon after marrying Ferguson had begun to cultivate turning a barren heath into beauty apd fertility Principal Lee In the winter of 1786 7 the young Walter Scot t for the first and last time met the poet Burns Lockh art p 37 in Ferguson's house The Sciennes on the north side of the Meadows between Principal Robertson's house and that of Lord Cockburn's father and then so remote that his friends called it Kamtschatka In 1792 appeared in 2 vols 4to his Principles of Moral and Political Science being chiefly a Retrospect of Lectures delivered in the College of Edinburgh Ferguson's political philosophy is that of a whig of the old school Sir William Hamilton speaks of his ethical teaching as an inculcation in great measure of the need of the warrior spirit in the moral life Memoir of Dugald Stewart prefixed to his edition of Stewart's Works x 16 17 An appreciative and exhaustive account of Ferguson's ethical and political philosophy is given in Cousin's Cours d Histoire de la Philosophic Morale au dix huitieme Siocle 1839 40 pt ii F cole Ecossaise AFrench translation of the Principles appeared in Paris in 1821 In 1793 with a view to a second edition of his Roman history Ferguson visited Germany and Italy residing for a short time at liome and was elected an honorary member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences In 1795 he lost his wife and meditating seclusion for his remaining years he received permission from the fourth Duke of Queensberry to take up his abode in Neidpath Castle then being dismantled and falling into decay A winter at Neidpath disenchanted him and he removed to Hallyards in the neighbourhood which he farmed for fourteen vears.  In August 1801 he read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh an interesting paper Minutes of the Life and Character of Joseph Black afterwards published in their Transactions for 1805 vol v pt ii p 101 &c At this time he was in easy circumstances In addition to the Chesterfield life annuity his professorial salary and the profits of his books he is represented as enjoying a government pension of 400 cf Public Characters of 1779 1800 p 434 and Annual Biography and Obituary for 1817 p 251 Scott and Lord Cockburn have given graphic descriptions of Ferguson in old age with silver locks blue eyes ruddy cheeks and firm gait and wearing a costume much resembling that of the Flemish peasant of his time According to Lord Cockburn he was domestically kind but fiery as gunpowder and Principal Lee hints that the inflexibility of his disposition stood in the way of advancement proposed for him in England In his latest years his vitality was supported by the deep interest which he took in the great war and Scott says that the news of Waterloo acted on the aged patriot as a Nunc Dimittis lie was in full possession of his faculties when he died at St Andrews on 22 Feb 1810 His last words addressed from his deathbed to his daughters were There is another world Edinburgh Review He was buried in the grounds of the old cathedral of St Andrews and the elaborate inscription on the monument over his remains was written by Sir Walter Scot t In 1 8 1 7 was published his Biographical Sketch or Memoir of Lieutenant colonel Patrick Ferguson qv originally intended for the British Encyclopaedia ie the Encyclopaedia Britannica from which its length excluded it Biographical Sketch by John Small librarian to the university of Edinburgh 1861 Principal Lee's Memoir in supple merit to the tth 5th and 6th editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica Genoral Stewart of Garth's Sketches of the Characters Manners &c of the Highlands of Scotland 1822 Autobiography of Dr Alexander Carlyle 1860 Lord Cockburn s Memorials of his Time 1860 Sir Walter Scott's Miscellaneous Works vol xix Lockhart's Life of Scott ed 1845 JH Burton's Life and Correspondence of David Hume 1846 Colonel A Ferguson's The Hon Henry Erskino Lord Advocate for Scotland 1882 Sir A Grant's Story of tho University of Edinburgh 1884 Ersch and Griiber's Encyclopedic and Querard's France Litteraire sub nomine authorities cited FK