Græme, John

, a young man of Scotland whose genius and learning have been most injudiciously heightened, was born at Carnwarth, in Lanarkshire, in 1748. He was the youngest of the four sons of a poor farmer, and having discovered an uncommon proficiency in the learning taught at the school of the village, it was resolved to educate him | for the church. At the age of fourteen he was placed at the school of Lanark, where his progress in grammatical learning is said to have been rapid, and, considering his early disadvantages, incredible. In 1766 he was removed to the university of Edinburgh, where, we are likewise told that in classical learning he surpassed the most industrious and accomplished students of his standing, and spoke and composed in Latin with a fluency and elegance that had few examples. And, of mathematics, natural philosophy, and metaphysics, his knowledge was considerable. To this was owing a certain proneness to disputation and metaphysical refinement, for which he was remarkable, and which he often indulged to a degree that subjected him to the imputation of imprudence, and of free-thinking. His turn for elegant composition first appeared in the solution of a philosophic question, proposed as a college-exercise, which he chose to exemplify in the form of a tale, conceived and executed with all the fire and invention of eastern imagination. This happened in 1769; and his first attempts in poetry are of no earlier date.

About this time he was presented to an exhibition (or bursary, as it is called) in the university of St. Andrew, which he accepted, but found reason soon after to decline, upon discovering that it subjected him to repeat a course of languages and philosophy, which the extent of his acquisitions, and the ardour of his ambition, taught him to hold in no great estimation. In 1770, therefore, he resumed his studies at Edinburgh, and, having finished the usual preparatory course, was admitted into the theological class: but the state of his health, which soon after began to decline, did not allow him to deliver any of the exercises usually prescribed to students in that society. In autumn 1771, his ill-health, that had been increasing almost unperceived, terminated in a deep consumption; the complicated distress of which, aggravated by the indigence of his situation, he bore with an heroic composure and magnanimity, and continued at intervals to compose verses, and to correspond with his friends, until after a tedious struggle often months, he expired July 26, 1772, in the 24th year of his age. His poems, consisting of elegies and miscellaneous pieces, were collected, and printed at Edinburgh, 1773, 8vo. There are few of them entitled to superior praise, and certainly none that can justify the length to which the detail of his life and opinions has been | extended. Unfortunately als, these poems were reprinted in a late collection, and among them a specimen of his Latin poetry, called a Sapphic ode, and styled “a correct and manly performance for a boy of fifteen.” But so far from being correct, it is not even a decent attempt, and the lines are formed with such total ignorance of the Sapphic measure, that it has justly been said, “a boy producing such at one of our public schools could only be considered as intending to insult the master.” It seems difficult, therefore, to form any judgment of the illiteracy of those “most industrious and accomplished students of his standing,” whom he surpassed in “classical learning.1


Anderson’s Poets. British Critic, vol. VII.