The History of Leith

November 21, 2011

John Home, Patriot, Minister, Dramatist-Part 1

John Home, Patriot, Minister, Dramatist.”
” A man that hath friends must show himself friendly.”
Prov. xviii. 24.
Two centuries ago there lived in Quality Street Alexander Home, Town Clerk of Leith. He was of honourable descent, being a descendant of Sir John Home, with whom came into prominence the family of which the head is the Earl of Home. His son. the subject of our lecture this evening, was always pardonably proud of his family connection. I have not been able to find out anything about the town clerk or his wife which would throw light on the talents of their distinguished son. He attended the Grammar School of Leith, then under the charge of the Session of this ancient church. All that we are told of his schooldays by his biographers is that he had a distinguished course in school and afterwards in the University of Edinburgh. How one would have rejoiced to have some anecdotes of those early days, revealing, as they were bound to have done, in an interesting way that the ” child is father of the man.” The art of biography was not understood in these days. Literary men had not taken to heart the example set for all time by Boswell in his Life of Johnson. If Boswell had applied his gift to the delineation of the men with whom he was familiar in Edinburgh, what a picture of eighteenth century life we would have had ! But as it is, Henry Mackenzie, the ” Man of Feeling,” gives us a sketch of his friend which is a good specimen of the work of the time. Sir Walter Scott and others who dealt with the famous men of the time help to fill in many details^for Home touched the careers of so many that reflections of his genial and friendly nature are to be seen in many diaries and biographies. Fixed in the outer wall of the south aisle of the church many of you have gazed to-day on the simple and unpretentious monument to John Home. It reads thus :
In memory of
Author of the Tragedy of Douglas, etc. etc. etc.
Born 13th September 1722.
Died 4th September 1808.
These dates differ somewhat from those accepted to-day. He is said to have been born on 22nd September and to have died on 5th September. The first date is evidently the Old Style date corrected for the New Style. The ministers of South Leith at that date were Rev. John Shaw in the First Charge, and Rev. James Stevenson, M.A., in the Second Charge. It is only when we come to College days that we come upon traces of the circles in which he moved. Adam Ferguson, William Robertson, and Carlyle, afterwards minister of Inveresk, were among his companions. It is a great thing to have inspiring friends. All through life John Home was fortunate in this respect; of course there must have been something in himself which attracted others. It was more his ability to admire and to see the best in everybody than his intellectual distinction which formed themagnet, although we are told by everybody that he was a student of distinction. Always he exemplified without effort the words—” He that hath friends must show himself friendly.”

source-South Leith Records

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