Notes to pages 37-50

p. 37 The quote is from Tytler’s entry for Forfar in the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Tylter’s father, George, was minister at Fern, a small parish to the west of Forfar:

‘Born 1706, son of JohnT., Corsindae, Aberdeenshire, educated at Marschal Collece, Aberdeen, called to Fern 14th February 1745; died 29th July 1785.’ (fasti ecclesiae scotticanae Vol V p. 396)

John T. was married to Barbara Skene, of the Skene family of Aberdeen.  The link between John T. and the branch of the family that produced the renowned Fraser-Tytler’s is disputed, but the two branches seem to have parted towards the end of the 17th century.

Tytler’s mother was Janet Robertson, who died on the 21st July, 1795.John and Janet had five children, Barbara 1735, George, 1737, Mary, 1744, James, 1745 and Henry William, 1753.


p.  38 ‘Even then I had…’:

p. 39 ‘On the Difference between Description and Reality’: As Ben notices, this is takne from the issue of the Weekly Mirror for Jan 26, 1781. A complete run of the Weekly Mirror, bound into one volume, is held in the National Library of Scotland. Either the promise of ‘another story’ was never honoured, or the story has not survived.

‘I became enamoured of the life of a shepherd’: it seems likely that it was Allan Ramsay’s ‘The Gentle Shepherd’ that caused this.

p. 40 ‘Leybourn’s Recreations‘; this curious work was ‘Pleasure with Profit: Consisting of Recreations of divers kinds, viz. Numerical, Geometrical, Mathematical, Astronomical, Arithmetical, Cryptographical, Magnetical, Authentical, Chymical, and Historical. Published to Recreate Ingenious Spirit, and to induce them to make further scrutiny how these (and the like) Sublime Sciences. And to divert them from following such Vices, to which Youth (in this Age) are so much inclin’d. By William Laybourn, Philomathes.

The complete work, published in 1694, is available here:

p. 41 ‘The Lad the Keeps the Cattle’: the notion that Jean sang this song is a fancy; the tune however exists and can be seen in Henry Atkinson’s fiddle manuscript of 1695.

p. 42 ‘those years spent at the College in Aberdeen’; Tytler’s name appears in the matriculation lists of Marischal College for the years 1757-61;
Fasti Academiae Mariscallanae Aberdonensis, selections from the records of the Marischal College and University, MDXClll-MDCCCLX,

marschal college Jac Tytler

p. 42 ‘So up I turn in Edinburgh’: Tytler’s name appears in the Edinburgh University records for the year 1764. It has been a cause of some confusion for biographers that another James Tytler matriculated there a few years before. This james Tytler was the son of William Tytler, Writer to the Signet, and the confusion was to persist, as we shall see.

p. 42 Dr Cullen: for details of the life and work of William Cullen, see

p. 42/3 The Glasites: The Glasite Church in Edinburgh was first at Chalmers Street; the Meeting House in Barony Street was not opened until 1836.  A comprehensive survey of the story of the Glasite Church is at

The notion that the Tytler first encountered Glasite theology at Marischal College is not documented, but Meek knew that something had caused  friction between James and his father which led to him abandoning his studies. An alternative cause for this rupture is considered elsewhere in the book.

p. 43 ‘I met Elizabeth‘: Elizabeth Rattray was the daughter of James Rattray, who was deceased by the time Tytler met her. The family seem to have come from the Perth area, and this James Rattray may have been the ‘Writer’ mentioned as being in Arrol. They also seem to have had strong connections to the Glasite community in Perth. Elizabeth, her sister Ann and their mother moved to Edinburgh when the mother married William Coke in 1758. This William Coke set up as a bookseller in Leith and published the collected works of John Glas; clearly he too had been part of the Glasite Congregation in Perth. There has been some confusion about Elizabeth and a Writer named James Young. In fact it was her sister Ann who married John Young when he was still a merchant. They had  a shop in Tron Parish.

p. 47 The children that Jean mentions here will be dealt with in more detail later.

p.48 ‘… I went whaling’; some biographies mistakenly suggest that Tytler went on two whaing trips; this is not born out by any recorded fact. He was engaged as ship’s surgeon on the Royal Bounty in the summer of 1765. Such a thing was not unusual for students of medicine in Edinburgh at the time. The experience enabled him to later write one of the fullest descriptions of 18th century whaling, under the entry ‘Fisheries’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica, with a shorter version in the New Universal Geography

The Royal Bounty: was one of three Leith whalers wrecked in 1819 ( A watercolour of the ship was painted in 1797 by J Waddell, Scottish artist; it was recently sold for £2000 – image from the Lyon and Turnbull website

The Royal Bounty prosecuting the fishing john waddell
The Royal Bounty prosecuting the fishing J Waddell, 1797

p. 50 ‘ a sect that called themselves Bereans’: the ‘letter’ entitled ‘Letter to Mr. John Barclay, on the doctrine of Assurance‘ can be read online at

p.50 ‘.. that I should open a druggists business’; the only evidence for this, as for so much else in Tytler’s life, comes from Robert Anderson’s brief biography published in Cromek’s Reliques. (Read it here}.

Tytler and Elizabeth Rattray were married in St Cuthbert’s Church in Edinburgh on 27 Oct. 1765; the record of the Banns reads ‘Tytler, James, son to Rev. Mr. George Tytler, minister at Fern, and Elizabeth, d. to deceast James Rattray, writer’.