Mercer, James

, a major in the army, and a very elegant and accomplished scholar, was the son of a private gentleman in Aberdeenshire, who, having joined the Highland army in the year 1745, retired to France after the battle of Culloden, where he resided till his death. His son, who was born Feb. 27, 1734, was educated at Marischal college, Aberdeen, and afterwards went to reside with his father at Paris. There he spent his time in elegant society, and devoted his leisure hours to the cultivation of letters, and thus acquired those polished manners, and that taste for study, by which he was ever after so highly | distinguished. He possessed, too, a very high degree of elegant and chastised wit and humour, which made his company to be universally sought after by those who had the happiness of his friendship or acquaintance.

On the death of his father, he returned to Scotland, and soon afterwards entered into the army at the commencement of the seven-years war, during the greatest part of which he served in Germany under prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, and was in one of the six British regiments of infantry, that gained such reputation for their gallantry at the memorable battle of Minden. The regiment in which he afterwards served, being reduced at the peace of Paris, he returned to Aberdeen, where he married Miss Katherine Douglas, sister to the present lord Glenbervie, a beautiful and accomplished woman, with whom he lived many years in much happiness. In order to fill up the vacant hours of his then unemployed situation, he devoted his time chiefly to books, and, in particular, recommenced the study of the Greek language (of which he had acquired the rudiments at college) with such assiduity, that his intimate friend, Dr. Beattie, was of opinion there were not six gentlemen in Scotland, at that time, who knew Greek so well as major Mercer. Then it was likewise, that by attention to the purest models of antiquity, he corrected that partiality for French literature, which he had strongly imbibed by his early habits of study at Paris.

Not long after, he again entered into the army, in which he continued to serve till about 1772, when he had arrived at the rank of major; but he then quitted the profession, and only resumed a military character when he held a commission in a regiment of fencibles (militia) during the American war. On the return of peace, he retired with his family to Aberdeen, where he continued chiefly to reside during the rest of his life. An acquaintance had first taken place between him and Dr. Beattie, on his return to Aberdeen after the seven years’ war; and as their taste in books, and their favourite studies, were in some respects entirely similar, a lasting friendship ensued, which proved to both a source of the highest enjoyment. Of this we have many interesting proofs in sir William Forbes’s “Life of Beattie.

Major Mercer’s acquaintance with books, especially of poetry and belles lettres, both ancient and modern, was not only uncommonly extensive, but he himself possessed | a rich and genuine poetical vein, that led him, for his own amusement only, to the composition of some highly finished lyric poems. These he carefully concealed, however, from the knowledge of his most intimate friends; and it was with much difficulty that his brother-in-law, lord Glenbervie, at length could prevail on him to permit a small collection to be printed, first anonymously, afterwards with his name; the latter edition, with the title of “Lyric Poems. Bv James Mercer, esq. Second edition, with some additional poems,1804, 12mo. These beautiful poems possess much original genius, and display a taste formed on the best classic models of Greece aud Rome, whose spirit their author had completely imbibed, especially that of Horace, who seems to have been the model whom he had proposed to himself for his imitation.

In 1802 major Mercer had the misfortune to lose his wife, after a long course of severe indisposition, during which he had attended her with the most anxious assiduity. Of this loss, indeed, he may be said never to have got the better, and he survived her little more than two years. He had long been in a very valetudinary, nervous state, till at last his constitution entirely failed: and he expired without a struggle or a pang, Nov. 18, 1804, in the seventyfirst year of his age. Besides possessing no ordinary share of knowledge both of books and men (for in the course of his military life especially, he had lived much in society of various sorts), and being one of the pleasantest companions, he was a man of much piety, strict in the observance of all the ordinances of religion, and of high honour in every transaction of life. 1


Taken, with little variation, from sir Wm. Forbes’s Life of Dr. Beattie. We had the honour of knowing major Mercer, and at the end of thirty-five years, cherish the tenderest remembrance of his early kindness, his elegant manners, and well-informed mind.