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My own life and times, 1741-1814
By Thomas Somerville (1861)


THOMAS SOMERVILLE, D.D., Minister of Jedburgh, the author of the following Memoirs, was, as he himself informs us, born on the 26th of February (old style) 1741. He died on the 16th of May 1830, in the ninetieth year of his age. He had thus lived through the whole of the long and eventful reign of George the Third, having indeed nearly reached manhood at the date of its commencement, and survived its close more than ten years. It was an age not only of great events and great men, but one also characterized—especially in Scotland—by social changes hardly less memorable. Its nearness to our own times has added to the interest, for many reasons, felt by us in whatever relates to the epoch in question. Nor has that interest been lessened, but on the contrary greatly increased,—indeed it has been mainly created,— by the copious illustration which the history, and, above all, the personal and domestic history of the whole period has already received.

With regard to the opportunities of observation enjoyed by the author of the present autobiography, and his claim generally to be heard as a chronicler of his own Life and Times, enough is probably said in the few sentences of introduction, or may be gathered from the work itself. That he was one of the latest survivors of a past generation is the ground on which he himself seems chiefly to assert the privilege of writing these Memoirs. His life, however, was not only greatly prolonged, but, in its comparatively narrow sphere, had been more than usually active and varied. He refers to his frequent, and occasionally intimate, intercourse with many of the best known and some of the most distinguished of his contemporaries. The list included such names as those of Burke, Robertson, Dugald Stewart, Fox, Henry Dundas, Sir Gilbert Elliot, the Duke of Portland, Mr. Pitt, President Blair, Sir Henry Moncreiff and Dr. Erskine, Lord Kames, Henry Mackenzie, Lord Minto, Sir Walter Scott. He had, however, not less ample opportunities of becoming personally acquainted with the middle and the humbler classes of society than—whether as regards rank or intellectual cultivation—with the highest; and perhaps the portions of this autobiography which by many readers will be found the most attractive, are those in which the minister of Jedburgh speaks of the social condition and social usages of his own parishioners, as these had been familiar to him in all their changes during a course of pastoral labours extending over a period of more than sixty years. Dr. Somerville is known as the author of two historical works—the Histories of the Revolution, and of the Reign of Queen Anne—which, besides other acknowledged merits, are distinguished by their fairness and impartiality. The same qualities will, it is believed, be found in this less elaborate performance, and, more especially, great candour and liberality on the author’s part in his judgments of the personal conduct and character of other men, with an absence of anything approaching either to pretension or reticence in his not very frequent or obtrusive allusions to himself and his own affairs.

The work was written in the years 1813 and 1814, and appears to have been revised on more than one occasion afterwards. It was intended for publication; and it may be proper to state, that in allowing an interval of nearly half a century to elapse before making it public, the representatives of the author have, as in now committing it to the press, acted in fulfilment of his own instructions. A few notes have been supplied by the Editor, chiefly for the purpose of identifying the persons whose names are introduced in the course of the work. These annotations will sometimes, perhaps, appear superfluous; but, upon the whole, it has been thought advisable to follow a uniform rule on the occasion of any name being mentioned for the first time.

Some account may be here given of the last years of the author, for the sake of completing the narrative. There is not much to be told. Dr. Somerville concludes his own recollections by expressing his gratitude to God that up to the advanced age of seventy-three, which he had then reached, he had been favoured with uninterrupted good health, and that he was 'still in possession of the capacity of discharging the ordinary duties of his profession, as well as enjoying the many blessings that remained to him. With hardly any qualification, the same language might have been used by him in his ninetieth year, and until within a few days of his death. He never ceased to be able to take delight in the society of his friends; or to find pleasure in his books—to the last,. too, keeping himself abreast with the literature of the day;—or to feel a keen interest in public events and questions; or, above all, to retain that active solicitude for the welfare (both temporal and spiritual) of every individual member of his flock, which, in a very remarkable degree, characterized him throughout his long and useful life. Mr. Lockhart, who, at this period, “ spent many pleasant hours under his hospitable roof with Sir Walter Scott,” speaks of him as “ preserving his faculties quite entire to a great old age,” and says, “We heard him preach an excellent circuit sermon when he was upwards of eighty-two; and at the judge’s dinner afterwards, he was among the gayest of the company.”—(Life of Sir W. Scotty ch. viii.) In the year 1828, a public dinner was given to him by his co-presbyters and some of his other friends, on the occasion of his completing the sixtieth year of his ministry. He was by that 'time the father of the Church of Scotland, having outlived the whole of those of his brethren who were ministers of the Church at the date of his own ordination. On Sunday the 9th of May 1830—to quote an obituary notice in a contemporary newspaper—“he preached and dispensed the Lord’s Supper to his people, with much animation, ability, and feeling, alluding in the close of the service to the probability that it might be the last occasion of the kind on which they might meet together..... He took a solemn leave of them on that Sunday afternoon, and gave them what might be considered his parting admonition and benediction. ‘Yet his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.’ In the course of the same evening he became seriously indisposed, .... and on the evening of the following Sabbath he departed peacefully, rejoicing in the hopes and consolations of the gospel.”

Dr. Somerville is buried in the Lady Chapel of Jedburgh Abbey—a portion of that beautiful ruin, which also goes by the name of “Latiner’s aisle,” having at one time been used as a Grammar School; and, besides a monument erected over the grave by his family, a murial tablet was placed in the parish church a short time after his death by the heritors of Jedburgh, "AS A MEMORIAL OF THEIR HIGH ESTEEM AND RESPECT FOR HIS PUBLIC SERVICES AND PRIVATE WORTH”—esteem and respect which, it may be here added, were largely shared by the whole of his parishioners, without distinction of sect or party, and by a wide circle of personal friends.

W. L.
Roxburgh, 25th March 1861.

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