James Grainger, M.D., was born about the year 1721, of, as he himself said, (1) a gentleman’s family in Cumberland, and, according to most accounts, at Dunse, a small town in Scotland. He received his medical education at Edinburgh. Entering the army as a surgeon, he served in that capacity during the rebellion of 1745, and in a similar capacity in Pulteney’s regiment of foot in Holland in 1746, 1747, and 1748. He then quitted the army, made the tour of Europe, and; returning to his native country, graduated doctor of medicine at Edinburgh 13th March, 1753 (D.M.I. de Modo excitandi Ptyalismum et Morbis inde pendentibus). He then came to London and established himself in Bond-court, Walbrook. Imbued with a taste for literature, his pen found employment in adding to the income derived from professional labours. In 1755 appeared his Ode on Solitude in Dodsley’s Collection, which possessed merit enough to obtain from Dr. Johnson, whose friendship he had the good fortune to acquire, the term "noble." In May, 1756, he commenced writing in the Monthly Review with a criticism of Mason’s Odes, and during this and the two following years contributed a variety of articles, chiefly on poetry and the drama, to that journal, relinquishing his connection with it 1758. Not wholly neglectful of physic he published in 1757 his—
Historia Febris Intermittentis Anomalæ Batavæ Annorum 1746, 1747, 1748: Accedunt Monita Syphilitica. 8vo. Edinb.
He was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 20th March, 1758. In the autumn of that year he engaged to travel for four years with a Mr. Bourryan, a young man of large West India property, whose studies from an early period had been in part committed to his charge. The resolution to quit London, he writes to Bishop Percy, was not adopted in a hurry, for though "his practice was not exceeded by that of any young physician in London," the proposed leave of absence he believed would not interfere materially with his views, while it promised to add to the number and respectability of his friends. In the spring of 1759 he embarked for the island of St. Christopher in the West Indies; quarrelled soon after reaching it, as is said, with his patron; commenced practising as a physician in the island; and married a lady of good family but small fortune, some of whose friends fancied the union not to her advantage. In the autumn of 1763, he returned to England. His poem the " Sugar Cane," written during his abode in the West Indies, had been previously transmitted home, but, owing to some uncertainty as to the mode of publication, did not appear until after he had sailed in May, 1764, on his return to St. Christopher. His affairs there had become involved during his absence in England, but some property he acquired at this time from the death of a brother in Scotland enabled him in part to meet the difficulties in which he found himself. Unsettled in his plans at this period; speculating on the advantages to be derived from removing to other islands less populous and more open to the enterprise of new settlers; anticipating wealth as well from planting as his profession; and the enjoyment, as he says, of many happy days in England, when that good should be attained: projects conceived with all the warmth of poetry and overthrown with the usual speed and sternness of matter of fact, he was taken ill and died on the 16th December, 1766, in the forty-sixth year of his age. (2)
Dr. Grainger’s claims to the character of a poet were acknowledged by Johnson, who, we are told by Boswell, would repeat with great energy the exordium to his "Ode on Solitude," and add liberal praises of the whole. His " Bryan and Pareene " was printed in his friend Bishop Percy’s " Reliques." Dr. Grainger is best known by the " Sugar Cane," a poem of considerable merit, and by a translation, with copious explanatory notes, of the Elegies of Tibullus. " Grainger," writes Bishop Percy, " was not only a man of genius and learning, but had many excellent virtues; being one of the most generous, friendly, and benevolent men I ever knew." In 1764 there appeared from his pen —
An Essay on the more common West Indian Diseases, and the Remedies which that country itself produces, with Hints for the Management of Negroes. 8vo. Lond.
Post publication addition
Grainger first travelled to the West Indies in 1759 as a companion to a former patient. While there he married Miss Burt whose uncle Daniel Mathew owned estates and enslaved people in St Kitts, Tobago and Antigua. Grainger managed Mathew's St Kitts' estates as well as practising as a physician. Although he never owned an estate, Grainger is reported to have bought enslaved people (3).
[(1) Prior's Life of Goldsmith, vol. i, p. 237, et seq.
(2) Prior's Life of Goldsmith, vol. i, p. 237
(3) https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146661167 Accessed February 2021]