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James Tytler


c.1747 - 1804

Author, eccentric and radical. Born in Fern (Angus), the son of a clergyman, he studied medicine but was unsuccessful in practice. He became known in Edinburgh as a debt-ridden eccentric and was forced to take refuge in Holyrood Abbey from his debtors during which time he wrote a ballad called The Pleasures of the Abbey. He went on to compile the second and third editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, greatly enlarging it to ten volumes between 1776 and 1784.

In 1784, he became the first in Scotland to make an ascent in a hot-air balloon when the Great Edinburgh Fife Balloon rose from Abbeyhill and travelled a half-mile (1 km) to Restalrig. Unfortunately for Tytler this flight took place early in the morning in front of only a few spectators and when he tried to repeat the feat a few days later in front of a large audience, the balloon rose only briefly and subsequent flights were completely unsuccessful. His exploits brought him the soubriquet Balloon Tytler, but were overshadowed by the highly successful flight of Vincenzo Lunardi (1759 - 1806) the following year. However, Tytler was respected by poet Robert Burns (1759-96), with whom he had collaborated over a collection of songs. Tytler also contributed to magazines, wrote songs and published several works including Essays on the Most Important Subjects of Natural and Revealed Religion (1772) and a System of Geography (1788) together with several medical works.

Politically a radical, he was accused of publishing seditious material and fled to Ireland c.1793 and then to the USA c.1796, where he published a newspaper. He accidentally drowned near Salem (Massachusetts).


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