Biographia Philsophica

BIOGRAPHIA PHILOSOPHICA. pages 4 - 10 Alexander Campbell Fraser

My father was a minister in the Church of Scotland. I first saw light in 18191, in the manse of Ardchattan, on the shore of the north side of Loch Etive, in the romantic Land of Lome in Argyllshire. Lome is bordered on one side by the Western Sea, and the Grampians guard it on the east a region mostly of green undulating hills of moderate height. Its northern part consists of two peninsulas one the country of Appin and of Jacobite and Nonjuror Stewarts, opening to the east through the awful defile of Glencoe ; the other the peninsula of Benderloch, possessed
by Argyll, Breadalbane, and Cawdor Campbells, separated from Appin by Loch Creran, and from south Lome by Loch Etive. Oban was the local metropolis, eighty years ago a modest sea- side village, now a summer resort of fashion.
Cruachan is the mountain monarch of this historic region.

The manse of Ardchattan in Benderloch, isolated from the world on three sides by the sea, and on the east by pathless mountains, was an ideal home for meditative seclusion. It was circled by hills, varied by valleys and clear streams, with luxuriant vegetation like Westmoreland or Wales.

Early impressions of this sublime panorama, unfolded around the manse, are now more vivid in my imagination than any later experience in this world of sense. Benderloch was full of mythical traditions and historic memories. Pictish myths of regal state at Beregonium, the fabled capital of the Picts, and Ossianic dreams of Uisnach and his sons ; in more credible history, encounters of Bruce with the Lords of Lome ;
later still, tragic incidents in the wars of Montrose ; also relics of mediaeval faith in the ruined priory of Ardchattan, or of feudal life in the castle of Barcaldine. In its insular isolation Benderloch was seldom visited by travellers, although in September 1803 Wordsworth and his sister passed through it in their Scottish tour; and in 1824 MacCulloch described in glowing language the route from Connel to Loch Creran. " Every-thing," he says, " is beautiful on the road between the two lochs. It is but five miles, but it is a day's journey to a wise man ; and the castle of Barcaldine2, with its freshness and its avenue of living trees, carries one back into the past with a startling vividness."

To-day a railway from Connel to Glencoe traverses the two peninsulas of Benderloch and Appin, opening to the world some of the grandest scenery in Britain.

My family inheritance was Celtic. My father traced his descent from a branch of the Frasers of Strichen, who in the seventeenth century pos-sessed a small property at Tyrie in Aberdeen- shire. Ardent support of the House of Stuart was their ruin. Soon after 1715, shattered in fortune, they migrated to Stratherrick on Loch Ness, to the lands of their kinsman, Fraser of Foyers ; and some years before Culloden they had moved to Croy in Strathnairn, where my great-grandfather and grandfather held land on Kilravock. Culloden is in the parish of Croy, and my great - grandfather, lame at the time through an accident, told how he watched the scene, before the battle began, in a shower of sleet which soaked the ground ; how the battle when it came lasted only for a short half hour ; then how he saw the tide turn, the Highland army in retreat to Inverness or to the mountains, and the Prince with a few companions in flight over the moorlands to Stratherrick.

My grandfather, unlike his Jacobite and Non- juror ancestors, was an evangelical prebyterian, although his grandmother was a daughter of John Gordon, the last bishop of Galloway before the Revolution, who was afterwards a convert to Rome, and is still remembered as the subject of the Decision of Pope Clement XI. in 1704, which disallowed Anglican ordination for the Roman communion. The fervid Calvinism of Calder, the good minister of Croy, converted my grandfather to Presbyterianism ; and so it was in the Puritan atmosphere which sheds awful solemnity over human life that my father passed his youth in the last two decades of the eighteenth century.

My mother was a daughter of Alexander Campbell, laird of Barcaldine and Glenure, who was descended from the knights of Kilchurn, and was head of one of the families that divided among them the peninsula of Benderloch. Her granduncle, Colin Campbell of Glenure, a younger son of Barcaldine, and of Lucia, daughter of Sir Ewan Cameron of Lochiel, was the victim in the celebrated Appin murder by gunshot in the wood of Lettermore, in May 1752, which inspired Gleig in his novel of * Allan Breck,' Stevenson in ' Kidnapped,' and Neil Munro in ' Doom Castle.'
The mystery of this murder touched my imagination in those early years. The murdered Campbell was in 1752 factor of estates in Appin forfeited by the Stewarts after Culloden, and was obnoxious as the agent in evictions. James Stewart at Acharn, in Appin, was condemned as a conspirator, and was hung in chains at Ballachulish ; Allan Breck, the reputed actor, escaped to France. In my childhood I knew an aged native who remembered the ghastly spectacle of the skeleton under the moon, on winter nights the terror of her youth. The ' Scots Magazine ' tells that it was blown down in a hurricane three years after the execution, and by order of the court in Edinburgh was again suspended. The end of Allan Breck is told by Scott in the Introduction to ' Rob Roy ' ; but unless Mr Andrew Lang has the key to the mystery, the murder of Glenure is likely to retain a secret for ever.

A more remote maternal relative than Glenure was Colin Campbell, laird of Achnaba, a son of the first laird of Barcaldine, and minister of Ardchattan from 1667 till 1726 ; in repute among contemporary mathematicians, intimate with the Gregories, and a correspondent in Latin of Sir Isaac Newton. He was a metaphysician too. He produced for his own satisfaction a ' Demonstration of the Existence of God/ before Samuel
Clarke's ' Demonstration ' was given to the world ; likewise an 'Essay on the Divine Trinity in Unity.' Both were privately printed a century and a half after his death. They suggest knowledge of Descartes and Spinoza and Locke's ' Essay.' What one of Campbell's correspondents calls his " vicious modesty " has concealed him from fame. I well remember his granddaughter in the summer of 1826, a few months before her death, in the beautiful home of her old age, at Gallanach near Oban. She was then in her hundredth year ; born when George I. was king and Walpole Prime Minister, when Newton and Clarke were still alive, before Berkeley had seen Rhode Island, when Locke and Leibniz were lately dead, and when the romance of the '45 was far in the future. A brother of my venerable friend was killed at Culloden.

Campbell's ' Demonstration ' is not uninteresting in metaphysical theology. It turns in one part on our conception of Power and in another on our conception of Infinity. That everything which had a beginning must have had a producer, or " that there must be something before every-thing that began," is one of his postulates.

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