Then Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1910-1911Scroll to "Now" essay

GRANT, ANNE (1755-1838)

GRANT, ANNE (1755-1838), Scottish writer, generally known as Mrs Grant of Laggan, was born in Glasgow, on the 21st of February 1755. Her childhood was spent in America, her father, Duncan MacVicar, being an army officer on service there. In 1768 the family returned to Scotland, and in 1779 Anne married James Grant, an army chaplain, who was also minister of the parish of Laggan, near Fort Augustus, Inverness, where her father was barrack-master. On her husband’s death in 1801 she was left with a large family and a small income. In 1802 she published by subscription a volume of Original Poems, with some Translations from the Gaelic, which was favourably received. In 1806 her Letters from the Mountains, with their spirited description of Highland scenery and legends, awakened much interest. Her other works are Memoirs of an American Lady, with Sketches of Manners and Scenery in America as they existed previous to the Revolution (1808), containing reminiscences of her childhood; Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland (1811); and Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen, a Poem (1814). In 1810 she went to live in Edinburgh. For the last twelve years of her life she received a pension from government. She died on the 7th of November 1838.

See Memoir and Correspondence of Mrs Grant of Laggan, edited by her son J. P. Grant (3 vols., 1844).

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GRANT, Anne (1755-1838) by Kenneth McNeil

Anne Grant’s professional writing career, which began when she was 48, drew largely upon the peripatetic circumstances of her earlier life. Born in Glasgow in 1755, the three-year-old Grant accompanied her British army officer father to North America during the French and Indian War. While he was stationed with his regiment in upstate New York, Grant spent much time among the local Dutch gentry of Albany, where she was taken in by a member of the prominent Schuyler family and acquired some facility with the Dutch. There she also crossed paths with Mohawk and other indigenous peoples for whom she would later express great admiration. The American Revolution wrecked her father’s plans to settle in New York, and the family returned to Scotland, where her father was stationed at Fort Augustus in the Highlands, as part of the general pacification effort in the wake of the attempted Jacobite uprising of 1745. In the Highlands, Grant married a local minister and lived on a glebe farm in the remote parish of Laggan for the next 23 years, where she enculturated herself among the local Gaelic-speaking populace, as one who was, as she described it, not entirely a stranger nor entirely a native.

Anne MacVicar
Bewick, William. Anne MacVicar, Mrs James Grant of Laggan, 1755-1838. Writer. 1824, Creative Commons CC by NC OR National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh Original image

Though Grant had entertained the idea of publishing her writing beforehand, the sudden death of her husband in 1801 provided a powerful impetus to make the work pay. Published in 1803 by subscription, Poems on Various Subjects, which featured The Highlanders along with copious notes on Highland life and lore, met with a fair measure of success. With Poems Grant set the pattern for future publication: providing a sympathetic glimpse into traditional societies coming under pressure from the forces of modernization and Anglicization, derived from her immersive knowledge and firsthand experiences.

In 1806 came Letters from the Mountains, a collection of her missives recounting day-to-day life in the Highlands managing a household and a large family (she had 12 children, only one of whom would outlive her), while also trying to carve out occasional moments to write. Letters was beloved by readers on both sides of the Atlantic for its seemingly unadorned, and therefore authentic, expressions of heartfelt sentiment.

Grant continued writing in the autobiographical vein, publishing in 1808 Memoirs of an American Lady, reminiscences of her early childhood in the form of a homage to Margarita Schuyler, the woman who had treated her as an adopted daughter in New York. Memoirs was prized especially in the United States for its rich, if sometimes inaccurate, evocation of colonial life in the years leading up to the Revolution. Later work included the ambitious Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland in 1811, in which Grant entered the domain of Scottish Enlightenment conjectural historiography and Science of Man to provide a systematic account of Highland folkways. Though the Essays were singled out for praise by Walter Scott in his postscript to Waverley, other critics found the work inappropriate and beyond the skill of a writer who had built her reputation on the artless musings of everyday life. (A reviewer of the manuscript suggested she re-recast the Essays as a series of letters to some distinguished English friends.)

Grant’s last major work was Eight Hundred and Thirteen, published in 1814, a long poem in heroic couplets which, as it heralds the arrival of a post-Napoleonic global Pax Britannia, amounts to a hawkish retort to Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s Eighteen Hundred and Eleven. Grant described the politics of her family as conflicted: her father was the bluest of Whigs, but her mother had always lamented the fate of many of her family members with Jacobite connections. Her own politics as an adult skewed Tory and could be regressive: in the Memoirs she describes with some disdain the everyday racism of the Dutch gentry in New York but would later characterize the abolitionist cause as rash and imprudent. In later life, Grant hosted lively soirees at her Edinburgh home, where she gained a reputation as a bluestocking (though an American visitor acerbically remarked her conversation was limited to the topics of the life and adventures of Anne Grant, the Highlands, and the greatness of the British nation). A petition by several well-known literary men in Edinburgh led to a royal pension for Grant of £50 in 1825. She died in 1838.

Grant is recognized as an early popularizer of primitivism, and more recently as a celebrated memoirist and important figure in a Scottish post-Enlightenment. The transatlantic migrations of her early life allowed her to provide a nuanced picture of life on the peripheries of the British empire, in small and isolated communities in what she described as the infancy of society. Grantʼs work helped draw attention to the transformations of indigenous life on both sides of the Atlantic, all within the context of an unabashed Scoto-British patriotism.

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