Scottish literary critic and historian, born in Aberdeen, and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and at Marischal College, University of Aberdeen. Intending to enter the Church, he proceeded to Edinburgh University, where he studied theology under Dr Thomas Chalmers, with whom he remained friendly until the latter's death in 1847. However, abandoning his aspirations to the ministry, be returned to Aberdeen to undertake the editorship of the Banner, a weekly paper devoted to the advocacy of Free Kirk principles. After two years he resigned this post and went back to Edinburgh to pursue a purely literary career. There he wrote a great deal, contributing to Fraser's Magazine, Dublin University Magazine and other periodicals. In 1847 he went to London, where he found wider scope for his energy and knowledge. He was secretary of the Society of the Friends of Italy. In a famous interview with Elizabeth Barrett Browning at Florence he contested her admiration for Napoleon III. He had known Thomas de Quincey, whose biography he contributed in 1878 to the "English Men of Letters" series, and he was an enthusiastic friend and admirer of Thomas Carlyle. In 1852 he was appointed professor of English literature at University College, London, in succession to A H Clough, and from 1858 to 1865 he edited the newly established Macmillan's Magazine. In 1865 he was selected for the chair of rhetoric and English literature at Edinburgh, and during the early years of his professorship actively promoted the movement for the university education of women. In 1879 he became editor of the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, and in 1893 was appointed Historiographer Royal for Scotland. Two years later he resigned his professorship. In 1896 he was President of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club and gave the Toast to Sir Walter at the club's annual dinner. By 1900 he was Chairman of the Scottish History Society.