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fountainhead. Burnet was naturally a man of very
keen passions, of an independent tone of thinking,
and whatever opinion he once espoused, he was
neither ashamed nor afraid to avow it openly. He
dreaded no consequences, neither did he regard the
opinions of others. If he had the authority of Plato
or Aristotle, he was quite satisfied, and, how para-
doxical soever the sentiment might be, or contrary to
what was popular or generally received, he did not
in the least regard. Revolutions of various kinds
were beginning to be introduced into the schools;
but these he either neglected or despised. The
Newtonian philosophy in particular had begun to
attract attention, and public lecturers upon its lead-
ing doctrines had been established in almost all the
British universities; but their very novelty was a suffi-
cient reason for his neglecting them. The laws by
which the material world is regulated were con-
sidered by him as of vastly inferior importance to
what regarded mind, and its diversified operations.
To the contemplation of the latter, therefore, his
chief study was directed.
Having been early designed for the Scottish bar,
he wisely resolved to lay a good foundation, and to
suffer nothing to interfere with what was now to be
the main business of his life. To obtain eminence in
the profession of the law depends less upon contin-
gencies than in any of the other learned professions.
Wealth, splendid connections, and circumstances
merely casual, have brought forward many physicians
and divines, who had nothing else to recommend
them. But though these may be excellent subsidi-
aries, they are not sufficient of themselves to consti-
tute a distinguished lawyer. Besides good natural
abilities, the most severe application, and uncommon
diligence in the acquisition of extensive legal know-
ledge, are absolutely necessary. At every step the
neophyte is obliged to make trial of his strength
with his opponents, and as the public are seldom
in a mistake for any length of time, where their in-
terests are materially concerned, his station is very
soon fixed. The intimate connection that subsists
between the civil or Roman law, and the law of
Scotland, is well known. The one is founded upon
the other. According to the custom of Scotland at
that time, Burnet repaired to Holland, where the
best masters in this study were then settled. At the
university of Groningen he remained for three years,
assiduously attending the lectures on the civil law.
He then returned to his native country so perfectly
accomplished as a civilian, that, during the course
of a long life, his opinions on difficult points of this
law were highly respected.
He happened to arrive in Edinburgh from Holland
on the night of Porteous mob. His lodgings were
in the Lawnmarket, in the vicinity of the Tolbooth,
and hearing a great noise in the street, from a motive
of curiosity he sallied forth to witness the scene.
Some person, however, had recognized him, and it
was currently reported that he was one of the ring-
leaders. He was likely to have been put to some
trouble on this account, had he not been able to
prove that he had just arrived from abroad, and
therefore could know nothing of what was in agita-
tion. He was wont to relate with great spirit the
circumstances that attended this singular transaction.
In 1737 he became a member of the Faculty of
Advocates, and in process of time came into con-
siderable practice. His chief patrons in early life
wereLord justice-clerk Milton, Lord-president Forbes,
and Erskine Lord Tinwald or Alva. The last had
been a professor in the university of Edinburgh, and
being an excellent Greek scholar, knew how to esti-
mate his talents.
During the rebellion of 1745, Burnet went to
London, and prudently declining to take any part
in the politics of that troublous period, he spent the
time chiefly in the company and conversation of his
literary friends. Among these were Thomson the
poet, Lord Littleton, and Dr. Armstrong. When
peace was restored, he returned to Scotland. About
1760 he married a beautiful and accomplished lady,
Miss Farquharson, a relation of Marischal Keith, by
whom he had a son and two daughters. What first
brought him into very prominent notice, was the
share he had in conducting the celebrated Douglas'
cause. No question ever came before a court of law
which interested the public to a greater degree. In
Scotland it became in a manner a national question,
for the whole country was divided, and ranged on
one side or the other. Mr. Burnet was counsel for
Mr. Douglas, and went thrice to France to assist in
leading the proof taken there. This he was well
qualified to do, for, during his studies in Holland,
he had acquired the practice of speaking the French
language with great facility. Such interest did this
cause excite, that the pleadings before the Court of
Session lasted thirty-one days, and the most eminent
lawyers were engaged. It is a curious historical
fact, that almost all the lawyers on both sides were
afterwards raised to the bench. Mr. Burnet was, in
1764, made sheriff of his native county, and on the
12th February, 1767, through the interest of the
Duke of Queensberry, lord justice-general, he suc-
ceeded Lord Milton as a lord of session, under the
title of Lord Monboddo. It is said that he refused
a justiciary gown, being unwilling that his studies
should be interrupted during the vacation by any
additional engagements.
The first work which he published was on The Origin
and Progress of Language. The first volume appeared
in 1771, the second in 1773, and the third in 1776.
This treatise attracted a great deal of attention on
account of the singularity of some of the doctrines
which it advanced. In the first part, he gives a very
learned, elaborate, and abstruse account of the origin
of ideas, according to the metaphysics of Plato and
the commentators on Aristotle, philosophers to whose
writings and theories he was devotedly attached. He
then treats of the origin of human society and of lan-
guage, which he considers as a human invention, with-
out paying the least regard to the scriptural accounts.
He represents men as having originally been, and who
continued for many ages to be, no better than beasts,
and indeed in many respects worse; as destitute of
speech, of reason, of conscience, of social affection,
and of everything that can confer dignity upon a
creature, and possessed of nothing but external sense
and memory, and a capacity of improvement. The
system is not a new one, being borrowed from Lucre-
tius, of whose account of it Horace gives an exact
abridgment in these lines:�Cum prorepserunt primis
animalia terris, mutum et turpe pecus," &c., which
Lord Monboddo takes for his motto, and which, he
said, comprehended in miniature the whole history
of man. In regard to facts that make for his system
he is amazingly credulous, but blind and sceptical in
regard to everything of an opposite tendency. He
asserts with the utmost gravity and confidence, that
the orang-outangs are of the human species�that in
the Bay of Bengal there exists a nation of human
creatures with tails, discovered 130 years before by
a Swedish skipper�that the beavers and sea-cats are
social and political animals, though man, by nature, is
neither social nor political, nor even rational�reason,
reflection, a sense of right and wrong, society, policy,
and even thought, being, in the human species, as
much the effects of art, contrivance, and long experi-

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