GRANT, Lewis Alexander (1767-1840), of Castle Grant, Elgin.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1790 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 22 Mar. 1767, 1st s. of Sir James Grant, 8th Bt.*, and bro. of Francis William Grant*. educ. Westminster 1780; Edinburgh Univ. 1784-6; L. Inn 1783; adv. 1789. unm. suc. fa. as 9th Bt. 18 Feb. 1811; cos. James Ogilvy, 7th Earl of Findlater [S], as 5th Earl of Seafield [S] 5 Oct. 1811 and took additional name of Ogilvy.

Offices Held

Provost, Forres 1788.


Grant showed early promise in his legal training, but by his own confession he was ‘by far too great an adept in the art of procrastination’; and his uncle Henry Mackenzie (the ‘Man of Feeling’), who kept a fussy watch on his progress, expressed concern that ‘he has more inclination that I could have wished for philosophy, and less than I could have wished for law’. Late in 1786 another uncle, Alexander Penrose Cumming Gordon*, head of the Moray Association, proposed to Sir James Grant that his son should stand as the independent candidate for Elginshire or Banffshire at the next election, in opposition to Lord Fife, Sir James’s wife’s uncle. Mackenzie not only doubted the feasibility of the plan, but was firmly of opinion that Lewis ought not to be embroiled in politics prematurely:

it is no doubt a very flattering testimony to Louis’s merit ... but I own my favourite view for him ... was that he should push most sedulously and ardently the study of the English law, and gain himself an independent and respectable situation at that bar, which, if attained, would afford him a genteel support in the present, and very flattering prospects for the future. At the same time, it is but candid to say that this object does not occupy his mind in so favourable a way as I could wish ... and I dare not push the remembrance of it harder than I sometimes occasionally do, for fear of rather promoting aversion than prompting desire for the study of it. This disinclination ... will probably be got over at an after period ... The idea of being in Parliament ... seems to rouse and interest him more, tho’, he says, only in conjunction with that of carrying on at the same time his law plan ... now, as far as I know that ground, tho’ the Bar may not be a bad introduction to the House of Commons, yet it is rather a uteron proteron to make the House an introduction to the Bar.

He speculated that if Lord Findlater, Grant’s cousin and ‘natural patron and friend’, who would have to be a party to the Elginshire scheme, could be persuaded ‘frankly and de bon coeur to go into this plan for Louis’s sake’, the project might have some merit; but he warned Sir James not to inflate his son’s expectations, ‘as it always has a tendency to unsettle him in the pursuits and studies, which at all events are material for him to cultivate’. The scheme went little further, but in the arrangement concluded by Henry Dundas for the north east in 1787 it was fixed that Lewis Grant should have a seat at the next general election.1

Later in the year Grant, having promised his father to cease his dabbling in ‘metaphysical study’, made his entrance to London society. In June 1788 he reported to his mother:

I dined the other day with a ministerial party at Mr Dundas’s, and had the superlative honour of being helped to a cheese-cake by the Right Honourable William Pitt, and to cream by Lord Hawkesbury. The distribution of this last dish fate seemed to have assigned with peculiar propriety.

His first appearance at the Scottish bar, 24 Jan. 1789, was a personal triumph. Mackenzie wrote that he spoke with an ‘elegance and animation much superior to the law oratory of modern times’; and the presiding judge, Lord Henderland, told Findlater:

his appearance was so much superior to anything I had ever heard, that I was for some time lost in admiration. His pronunciation so perfectly English, his voice harmonious, his expression correct and elegant, his humour just, his wit pointed, his transitions proper, argument solid, accompanied with such easy fluency and forcible eloquence, that I believe there were none who heard him but must have felt as I did.

The immediate consequences of this brilliant debut disturbed Mackenzie, who told Sir James Grant, 16 Feb., that Lewis ‘is too fêté, and is worn down, as well as kept idle, with perpetual engagements, which he, very naturally, has not always fortitude to resist’. Mackenzie advised him to go to London to keep another term, rather than accept Findlater’s invitation to Cullen; but Grant, a member of the Speculative Society, who claimed to be ‘on an intimate footing with Adam Smith and all the philosophers in Edinburgh’, had different ideas:

Both my reason and my inclination induce me to believe that I may with propriety go north ... and afterwards return to Edinburgh, there to continue the bulk of the vacation ... I shall have perfect time to study law, and ... the principles of commerce and politics. Nothing can be more necessary than the knowledge of these articles in the House of Commons, and I know not when I shall have so good an opportunity of acquiring it, for my head will not then be as it is now, a perfect whirligig with balls, dinners, and suppers, and speeches, and law papers.

His father’s disquiet at his failure to answer a letter drew the following observations from Mackenzie:

From a total want of order and arrangement in his time ... he never does anything at the hour he proposes, does things but half when he does them, and often omits what he ought to do altogether. Some apology may perhaps be made for him at this precise period, from his being a good deal fêté by a fashionable circle here ... but I own I am afraid of the habit ... Let us hope, however, from Lewis’s youth, that these lighter feelings will evaporate, and leave the substantial good behind ... As to his motions, he ... does not wish to go to London, and indeed it is scarce worth his while, in the present uncertainty of matters ... When I talked of his going abroad, it was only on the supposition of his having two or three months he had no other employment for ... I should be as averse as you are to his acquiring ... a French manner ... What I meant as an acquisition for him in manner ... is a well-bred attention to other people, a certain retenue, a guard on what he says both of himself and of others, in which I have sometimes observed him a little deficient ... At present ... he is apt to be too open and familiar; when he means to be attentive and polite, he is sometimes only able to flatter.

In the event he went to London, but returned to Edinburgh in May 1789 to attend the general assembly, where he advanced his reputation with an impressive intervention.2

Grant came in for Elginshire in 1790 and made his debut on the question of the resumption of Hastings’s impeachment, 23 Dec. Essentially a lawyer’s speech, it seems to have excited no particular enthusiasm in the political world, but Sir James Grant told his wife that it had ‘met with attention and applause’. Mackenzie thought the portents were good:

I am happy that he has made this favourable opening, because a long delay would have increased his fear of speaking, and I am sure he only wants that confidence in himself which habit will give to make a much better speaker than many who have got into considerable estimation in that line. The ministerial phalanx is now very thin in the House of Commons, which makes an acquisition to that side of the House the more valuable.

Grant, who dined twice with Pitt, Dundas and Wilberforce in February 1791, made a partisan defence of the government’s conduct over Oczakov, 15 Apr., and, listed ‘doubtful’ beforehand, voted against the relief of Scotsmen from the Test Act, 10 May.3

In the summer of 1791 his health collapsed, and it is unlikely that he ever attended the House again. In December he was at Dumfries undergoing treatment for mental derangement, having become convinced, according to his pastor, that he had been given an annuity of £1,200 by the Duke of Clarence and been offered a secretaryship of state. In Scotland it was given out that he was seeking a warmer climate in Devonshire and plans were made for him to go abroad, but they were set aside. By the autumn of 1794 he had been pronounced incurable, but his seat was not surrendered until 1796. In 1805 Sir James Mackintosh described him as being ‘in the most hopeless state of mental derangement’. When he succeeded his father as chief of the clan and Findlater as Earl of Seafield in 1811 his younger brother became his curator and acting chief.4

While Grant’s was clearly a sad case of promise blighted, it is hard to evaluate the true quality of his talent. It seems unlikely that he would have attained great political heights. Mackintosh, an Edinburgh contemporary and political opponent, wrote that he ‘was a feeble speaker on popular subjects, and accordingly failed in the House of Commons, but he had great powers of invention and discrimination in science, and might have become, I think, no mean philosopher’.5 He died 26 Oct. 1840.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Sir W. Fraser, Chiefs of Grant, i. 467-8; ii. 482, 492-4.
  • 2. Ibid. i. 470-1; ii. 495-6, 498-9, 501-4.
  • 3. Ibid. ii. 507-9.
  • 4. Ibid. i. 472; ii. 416; Macpherson Grant mss 283, Rev. J. Grant to Gen. Grant, 25 Dec. 1791, 11, 25 Jan., 21 Feb. 1792; 344, same to same, 22 Sept. 1794 (NRA [S] 771); SRO GD51/1/198/17/1, 5; NLS mss 1053, f. 48; Mackintosh Mems. i. 27.
  • 5. Mackintosh Mems. i. 27.