James Beattie (writer)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Professor James Beattie (25 October 1735 – 18 August 1803) was a Scottish scholar and writer.

He was born the son of a shopkeeper and small farmer at Laurencekirk in the Mearns, and educated at Aberdeen University. In 1760, he was appointed Professor of moral philosophy there as a result of the interest of his intimate friend, Robert Arbuthnot of Haddo. In the following year he published a volume of poems, The Judgment of Paris (1765), which attracted attention. The two works, however, which brought him most fame were:

  1. His Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth (1770), intended as an answer to David Hume, which had great immediate success, and led to an introduction to the King, a pension of £200, and the degree of LL.D. from Oxford; and
  2. his poem of The Minstrel, of which the first book was published in 1771 and the second in 1774, and which constitutes his true title to remembrance, winning him the praise of Samuel Johnson. It contains much beautiful descriptive writing.

Beattie was prominent in arguing against the institution of slavery, notably in his Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth and Elements of Moral Science.

Beattie underwent much domestic sorrow in the death of his wife and two promising sons, which broke down his own health and spirits.

A biographical sketch, An Account of the Life of James Beattie, LL.D., was published in 1804 by Alexander Bower.


  • Original Poems and Translations (1760)
  • The Judgement of Paris (1765)
  • Poems on Several Subjects (1766)
  • An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth (1770)
  • The Minstrel; or, The Progress of Genius (1771/2) two volumes
  • Essays, on the nature and immutability of truth in opposition to sophistry and scepticism. On poetry and music as they affect the mind. On laughter and ludicrous composition. On the utility of classical learning (1776)
  • Essays on Poetry (1778)
  • Scoticisms, Arranged in Alphabetical Order, Designed to Correct Improprieties of Speech and Writing (1779)
  • Poems on several occasions (1780)
  • Dissertations Moral and Critical (1783)
  • The Evidence of the Christian Religion Briefly and Plainly Stated (1786) 2 vols.
  • The theory of language. Part I. Of the origin and general nature of speech. Part II. Of universal grammar (1788)
  • Elements of Moral Science (1790-1793) two volumes
  • The Poetical Works of James Beattie (1831) edited by A. Dyce
  • The poetical works of Beattie, Blair, and Falconer (1868) edited by Charles Cowden Clarke
  • James Beattie's Day-Book, 1773-1778 (1948) edited by R. S. Walker
  • James Beattie's Diary (1948) edited by R. S. Walker

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