Anne Grant


Anne McVicar Grant

Literary Encyclopedia
Famous Americans

Anne McVicar
(21 Feb 1755, Glasgow SCOT)
(7 Nov 1838, Edinburgh SCOT)
+ James Grant (1779, SCOT)
(d: 1800 SCOT)
(daughter of Duncan Macvicar)

12 children

Literary Encyclopedia

Anne Macvicar Grant was born in Glasgow on 21 February 1755, the only child of Duncan Macvicar, an officer in the British army, and his wife, both Highland Scots from Argyllshire. She spent her childhood, from the ages of three to thirteen, in America, where her father had been posted not long after her birth. She and her mother lived mainly in and around Albany, New York; there, the young Anne Macvicar attracted the attention of Catalina Schuyler [Anne mentions Catalina learning the Indian language, but the book is about Margareta Schuyler, Madame Schuyler, the daughter of John Schuyler and wife of John's brother Peter's son Philip], a member of a prominent New York family, who helped to educate her. The Macvicar family received a grant of land in what is now Vermont, but given their loyalist sympathies, they never went back to America after what was intended to be a relatively brief return to Scotland in 1768. Despite continuing efforts over the next thirty years, neither Duncan Macvicar nor his daughter was ever able to receive compensation for the land which was confiscated during the American Revolution. In 1773, Duncan Macvicar was sent to Fort Augustus. During the journey from Glasgow through the Highlands – a journey made just a few months before Johnson's and Boswell's famous tour helped to start a fashion for Highland travels – Anne Macvicar sent her friends in Glasgow detailed letters, full of rapturous accounts of Highland scenery and society that owed a great deal to Ossian. These letters were the beginning of an extensive correspondence with friends and family that she kept up for the rest of her life.

Anne Macvicar remained in Fort Augustus until 1779, when she married James Grant, a minister, and accompanied him to his Highland parish of Laggan. During the twenty-two years of her marriage, Grant had twelve children, three of whom died in infancy or early childhood; a fourth, her eldest son, died at fifteen in 1799, just two months before the youngest child was born. A year and a half later, James Grant died suddenly, leaving Grant a widow with eight children to support on the income from two small pensions, totalling less than £40 per year. Like other women of a literary bent, she decided to supplement her income by writing and in 1803 published by subscription a collection of poems, mainly on Highland subjects. The subscription list gives evidence of both the energy with which Grant and her friends pursued their cause and the sympathy it generated; there are between two and three thousand subscribers, including many members of the great aristocratic families as well as many of the literary and cultural celebrities of the day. Three years later, after moving to first to Stirling and then to Edinburgh and taking in several live-in pupils, Grant collected and published selections of her correspondence from the thirty years between her departure from Glasgow in 1773 and her departure from Laggan in 1803. The book, Letters from the Mountains, was a major success, going into four editions within two years, perhaps in part because its lyrical passages describing Highland scenery and its celebrations of simple domestic pleasures caught the fancy of a generation enraptured by the poetry of Scott and Burns. The attraction of the book may also have been increased by Grant's willingness to include frank revelations of her emotional life; she does not, for example, omit grief-stricken letters lamenting the deaths of her children.

Grant followed up Letters from the Mountains with Memoirs of an American Lady (1808), which combined a biography of Catalina Schuyler with Grant's memories of her own childhood in what she presented as the idyllic – almost Edenic – world of pre-Revolutionary America. In addition to a revised 1806 volume of her poems, she published two other major works: Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders (1811), a collection of what might almost be called ethnographic studies of Highland life, and Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen (1814), a long poem that looks forward to increasing British prosperity in the remainder of the nineteenth century and that is almost certainly a deliberate rejoinder to Anna Laetitia Barbauld's pessimistic and controversial Eighteen Hundred and Eleven.

Once settled in Edinburgh, Grant rapidly seemed to meet everybody and learn everything about the city's cultural life. While she more or less ended her publishing career in 1814, she continued to maintain a voluminous correspondence until shortly before her death nearly a quarter of a century later; many of these letters were edited and published posthumously by her youngest child, John Peter. They provide a lively and valuable source of information about the early nineteenth-century literary scene in Edinburgh as well as a record of Grant's life, which became increasingly troubled after her literary successes in the first decade of the century. Of her eight surviving children, seven predeceased her, many of them after lengthy and debilitating illnesses. The eldest child, who outlived all her siblings except her youngest brother, apparently had a mental breakdown as well as suffering from physical illness; in his journals, Sir Walter Scott refers to her “alienation of mind” (Ed. W.E.K. Anderson, Edinburgh: Canongate, 1998, 27). Grant herself was plagued by ill health and a serious fall in 1820 left her unable to walk without crutches. By 1825, her financial situation was so precarious that several of Edinburgh's leading literary men, including Scott and Francis Jeffrey, joined in a petition to the King to get her a pension of £50 per year. Her correspondence, however, provides evidence of her continuing interest in literary matters despite these problems; letters written during the last years of her life feature animated discussion of such writers as Edmund Burke, Hannah More, and Felicia Hemans. Anne Grant died in Edinburgh on 7 November 1838 and was buried in St. Cuthbert's Cemetery.

Famous Americans

GRANT, Anne, author, born in Glasgow, Scotland, 21 February, 1755; died in Edinburgh, 7 November, 1838. Her father. Duncan MacVicar, was an officer in a Highland regiment, her mother a member of the family of Stewart, of Invernahyle, Argyllshire. In 1758 Mrs. MacVicar and her daughter came to this country, and settled at Claverack on the Hudson, where her husband was stationed with his regiment. Here Anne was taught to read by her mother, and learned to speak Dutch. In 1760 Captain MacVicar conducted his company through the wilderness to Oswego, accompanied by his wife and child.

In the summer of 1762 her talents attracted the attention of Madame Schuyler, with whom she resided in Albany for several years. Soon after the conquest of Canada, MacViear resigned from the army and became a settler in Vermont, where he received a grant of land from the British government, to which he made large additions by purchase from his brother officers. His career of prosperity was interrupted by impaired health and low spirits, and in 1768 he decided to return to his native land. Anne accompanied her parents, and at the age of thirteen left the New World never to see it again.

Unfortunately for MacVicar and " the young American heiress," he took his departure from the country without disposing of his property, which, soon after, upon the beginning of the war, was confiscated by the new republican government. He was. therefore, compelled to depend chiefly pon his limited pay as barrack-master of Fort Augustus in Inverness-shire, to which position he had been appointed in 1773, and his daughter was no longer looked upon as an heiress.

Her residence there terminated in 1779 with her marriage to the Reverend James Grant, the military chaplain and an accomplished scholar, when they removed to the parish of Laggan, to which he had been appointed. Her lines had fallen in pleasant places. In the simple life of a Highland parish, many happy years passed in Laggan. In 1801 Mr. Grant died, leaving his widow with eight children dependent upon her own exertions.

Her poems, written during a series of years, were collected in an octavo volume in 1803, and through the aid of the celebrated Duchess of Gordon three thousand subscribers were obtained. This was followed in 1806 by her " Letters from the Noun-talus." Through the efforts of Miss Lowell, of Boston, and a few other ladies, an American edition of this work was published in that City, and the profits, amounting to three hundred pounds, remitted to Mrs. Grant. Her best-known work, begun at the age of fifty-two, and issued in London in 1808, is entitled "Memoirs of an American Lady." It is a charming picture of New York colonial life, and one that was greatly admired by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Southey, who said the description of the breaking up of the ice in the upper Hudson was "quite Homeric."

A second edition of the memoir of Mrs. Schuyler appeared in 1809, and was reprinted the same year in Boston and New York. Other editions were issued in the latter City in 1836 and 1846, while a third edition was published in London in 1817. The previous American editions being out of print,, another appeared in 1876, accompanied by a fine steel portrait of Mrs. Grant, and a memoir written by her godson, the senior editor of this work, to whom she gave her husband's name.

Mrs. Grant removed in 1810 from Stirling, where she had resided since her husband's death, to Edinburgh, which continued to be her home for twenty-eight years. The year following she published " Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders," a work full of enthusiasm for the people among whom she so long resided. So conspicuous was her pre-eminence in her beautiful translations of Highland poetry and her thorough knowledge of the people, that the earlier volumes of the Waverley novels were frequently attributed to her pen. " Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen," a metrical poem, appeared in 1814, followed by her last literary production, entitled " Popular Models and Impressive Warnings for the Sons and Daughters of Industry," which was published in 1815.

During the interval of twenty-three years between the appearance of her last volume and her death, Mrs. Grant's literary labors were no longer necessary for her support, as she was in receipt of a pension of £100 from the British government, in consideration of her literary talents, which, with the profits of her writ-lugs, the emolument from her pupils, and several legacies from friends, rendered her life free from pecumary cares. Among the latter was one of $5,000, as a mark of affectionate veneration for her character, from John Lowell, Jr., of Boston, who became acquainted with Mrs. Grant during a residence of several years in Edinburgh. Her house in Manor place was frequented by Scott, Francis Jeffrey. Henry Mackenzie, and other magnates of the Scottish literary world; and few Americans of distinction visited Edinburgh without being welcomed by Mrs. Grant, usually designated "of Laggan," to distinguish her from her friend and contemporary, Mrs. Grant of Carron.

To the closing year of her long life she continued to correspond with Mrs. Alexander Hamilton [the daughter of Madame Schuyler's nephew, Major General Philip Schuyler] and many other American friends. She was buried beneath the shadows of the stately castle of Edinburgh, and near her resting-place, in what is known as the Auld West Kirk, is the grave of Thomas De Quincey. Her letters, with a memoir by her only son, John Peter Grant, appeared in 3 vols. (London, 1844; revised edition, 1845 and 1853). Mr. Grant died in 1870, leaving a widow and four children, two of whom are sons, in the service of the British government.

The accompanying portrait is copied from a miniature made at the age of threescore and ten, while an earlier one, painted by Sir John Watson Gordon for Mrs. Douglas Cruger, of New York, was by her heirs presented in 1876 to her daughter-in-law, Mrs. John P. Grant, of Edinburgh. See "The Poets and Poetry of Scotland" (New York, 1876).


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