Sir James Mackintosh, a British author, born at Aldourie, near Inverness, Scotland, Oct, 24, 1765, died in London, May 30, 1832. His father, the proprietor of a small estate, the inheritance of his family for more than two centuries, served 24 years in the army. James was educated with great care by his mother, who lived with her mother and sisters, until at the age of 10 he was sent to school at Fortrose. He was regarded as a prodigy of learning, was employed at school to teach what he knew to the younger boys, and had become a prolific versifier when in 1780 he entered King's college, Aberdeen, where he remained till 1784, and then studied medicine at Edinburgh. Leaving the university in 1787, he arrived in London at a period of intense political excitement. He found debate in political clubs, the eloquence of Burke and Sheridan at the trial of Hastings, and the charms of society, far more congenial to his tastes than the life of a medical practitioner. While his plans were thus undetermined, and he felt the pressure of pecuniary difficulties, he married a young lady without fortune, and found himself at the age of 24 with no prospect of professional settlement, with his property rapidly diminishing, and with a wife.
The malady which attacked the king in 1788, and largely occupied the public attention, led him to advertise a work on insanity, a considerable portion of which was written, but which was never published. During the struggle concerning the regency he made his first public •appearance in politics, the field then most congenial to his thoughts, by writing a pamphlet in support of Mr. Fox. In 1789 he made a tour with his wife through the Netherlands to Brussels, and on his return to London he contributed articles on the affairs of Belgium and France to the "Oracle" newspaper, which led to his superintendence of the foreign department of that journal. From this period dates his resolution to study law and change his profession. Burke's " Reflections on the French Revolution " was generally received with enthusiasm by the educated classes, and with indignation by those who favored the French principles of liberty. Numerous replies were immediately published, and in the Vindicice Gallicce (April, 1791) Mackintosh appeared as the apostle of liberalism, with a beauty of style and illustration which placed him at once in the front rank of his party.
His acquaintance was sought by the most eminent whigs of the day, and upon the formation of the association of the friends of the people he became its secretary, in which semi-official character he defended its principles in a letter to Pitt. He was called to the bar in 1795, and attached himself to the home circuit. But the technicalities of the law were distasteful to his generalizing and philosophical mind, and excursive reading and occasional contributions to periodicals divided his attention, when in 1797 he suffered a severe affliction in the loss of his wife. In 1799 he formed the plan of a series of lectures upon the law of nature and of nations, for which the benchers of Lincoln's Inn granted him the use of their hall. The reputation gained by his lectures favored his professional advancement, and for a few years he was chiefly occupied with legal practice. His forensic reputation was raised to its highest point by his effort as counsel for Peltier (Feb. 21, 1803), accused of libel on the first consul of France. "I perfectly approve of the verdict," wrote Erskine, "but the manner in which you opposed it I shall always consider as one of the most splendid monuments of genius, learning, and eloquence." By the friendly interest of Canning he obtained the recordership of Bombay, and was knighted.
He reached India in May, 1804, and in 1806 received the additional appointment of judge of the admiralty court. At Bombay he founded and was president of the literary society, for the investigation of the philosophy, arts, literature, geography, and history of India. He returned to England, poor and with broken health, in 1812. In 1813 he was returned to parliament in the whig interest for the county of Nairn, and retained his seat successively for Nairn and Knaresborough during the remainder of his life. In 1818 he was appointed professor of law in the college at Haileybury, and discharged the duties till 1824. Under Lord Grey's administration in 1830 he became a member of the board of control, though a seat in the cabinet was generally expected for him. His last great political effort was a speech advocating the reform bill (July 4, 1831). "While in India he planned a history of England from the reign of James II., which was prosecuted from time to time, though ultimately he changed his scheme and wrote a brief but highly esteemed general survey of English history down to the reign of Elizabeth, forming three volumes of Lardner's "Cabinet Cyclopaedia;" a new edition in 2 vols., revised by his son, was published in 1853; the work has also been continued to 1760 by Wallace and Bell (10 vols., London, 1830-'38). Of his larger work only a fragment was posthumously published, containing an account of the revolution of 1688, which Macaulay pronounced decidedly the best history of the reign of James II. Among his works originally written for Lardner's "Cyclopaedia," and afterward published separately, is a "Life of Sir Thomas More" (London, 1844). For the "Encyclopaedia Britannica " he wrote an introductory "Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy," the original outline of which his declining health obliged him to compress.
His miscellaneous works, including his contributions to the "Edinburgh Review," have been collected (3 vols., London, 1846; 1 vol., Philadelphia). The "Memoirs" of his life by his son (2 vols., London, 1835; Boston, 1853) includes also his autobiography, journal correspondence, and many fragments and sketches.