Sunday, September 12, 2010

Patrick Murray, Lord Elibank

Summer is not fully past at this time of year, and on Septermber 12, 1773 Samuel Johnson and James Boswell are touring Scotland's Western Isles.  As recorded in Boswell's "The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D", on this day, the weather provided the travellers an opportunity to sail from Raasay to Skye.  On reaching an inn at Portree, they find letters waiting for them, sent from Edinburgh by Patrick Murray, Lord Elibank. 

Dear Boswell,

I flew to Edinburgh the moment I heard of Mr Johnson's arrival; but so defective was my intelligence, that I came too late. It is but justice to believe, that I could never forgive myself, nor deserve to be forgiven by others, if I was to foil in any mark of respect to that very great genius.--I hold him in the highest veneration: for that very reason I was resolved to take no share in the merit, perhaps guilt, of inticing him to honour this country with a visit.--I could not persuade myself there was any thing in Scotland worthy to have a Summer of Samuel Johnson bestowed on it; but since he has done us that compliment, for heaven's sake inform me of your motions. I will attend them most religiously; and though I should regret to let Mr Johnson go a mile out of his way on my account, old as I am, I shall be glad to go five hundred miles to enjoy a day of his company. Have the charity to send a council-post [Footnote: A term in Scotland for a special messenger, such as was formerly sent with dispatches by the lords of the council.] with intelligence; the post does not suit us in the country. At any rate write to me. I will attend you in the north, when I shall know where to find you.

I am,

My dear Boswell,
Your sincerely
Obedient humble servant,


August 21st, 1773.

The letter to Dr Johnson was in these words:

Dear Sir,

I was to have kissed your hands at Edinburgh, the moment I heard of you; but you were gone. I hope my friend Boswell will inform me of your motions. It will be cruel to deprive me an instant of the honour of attending you. As I value you more than any King in Christendom, I will perform that duty with infinitely greater alacrity than any courtier. I can contribute but little to your entertainment; but, my sincere esteem for you gives me some tide to the opportunity of expressing it.
I dare say you are by this time sensible that things are pretty much the same, as when Buchanan complained of being born solo et seculo inerudito. Let me hear of you, and be persuaded that none of your admirers is more sincerely devoted to you, than,

Dear Sir,
Your most obedient,
And most humble servant,


According to Boswell, Johnson said of Murray: " Lord Elibank has read a great deal. It is true, I can find in books all that he has read; but he has a great deal of what is in books, proved by the test of real life."

Patrick Murray, a figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, died at Ballencrieff Castle on August 3, 1778. Walter Scott did not know him.  Murray was contemporary with, and often associated with David Hume.  Among Murray's written works are: Essays on Paper Money, Banking, etc. (1755) Thoughts on Money, Circulation, and Paper Currency (1758), Inquiry into the Origin and Consequence of the Public Debts (1758/9), Queries Relating to the Proposed Plan for Altering Entails in Scotland (1765), Letter to Lord Hailes on his Remarks on the History of Scotland (1773) and Considerations on the Present State of the Peerage of Scotland (1774).

Sir Walter Scott did know other Elibanks. Patrick himself had no children, and the Elibank title passed to more than one Murray line.  Scott knew Peter Murray, and mentions him in his Journal:

February 26 (1826) ...Peter Murray, son of the clever Lord Elibank, called and sat half-an-hour—an old friend, and who, from the peculiarity and originality of his genius, is one of the most entertaining companions I have ever known. But I must finish Malachi.


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