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William Robertson

Robertson, William (1721–1793). Historian, son of the parish minister of Borthwick, Midlothian, where he was born, received his earlier ed. at Dalkeith, which then had a school of some repute; but his father being translated to Edinburgh, he attended school, and afterwards the University there, studying for the Church. In 1743 he became minister of Gladsmuir, near Prestonpans. In the ‘45 he showed his loyalty by offering himself to Sir J. Cope as a volunteer, a service which was, however, declined. He soon began to take a prominent part in the debates of the General Assembly, of which he rose to be the undisputed leader. In 1758 he became one of the city ministers of Edinburgh, and in the following year published his History of Scotland, which had an extraordinary success, and at once raised him to a foremost place among British historians. Preferment immediately followed: he was made Chaplain of Stirling Castle 1759, King’s Chaplain for Scotland 1760, Principal of the University of Edinburgh 1761, and Historiographer for Scotland 1763. In 1769 appeared the History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V., in 1777 The History of America, and in 1791 Historical Disquisition on Ancient India. In 1780 R. retired from the management of Church affairs, in which he had shown conspicuous ability, and gave himself to study, and the society of his friends, among whom were most of his distinguished contemporaries. As a writer he possessed a finished style, clear, measured, and stately, which carried his well-arranged narrative as on a full and steady stream; he was also cool and sagacious but, like Hume, he was apt to take his facts at second hand, and the vast additional material which has been in course of accumulation since his day has rendered the value of his work more and more literary, and less and less historical.

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