Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arnot, William

ARNOT, WILLIAM (1808–1875), preacher and theological writer, was born at Scone, where his father was a farmer, 6 Nov. 1808. He early life he was apprenticed to a gardener; but the deep impression made on his mind by the death of a religiously minded brother led him to study for the ministry. In his university career in Glasgow he gained distinction in spite of his poverty, especially in the Greek classes. He had for classfellows two men, whose biographies he afterwards wrote: James Halley, who died quite early, and James Hamilton, afterwards minister of the National Scotch Church in Regent Square, London. Arnot was of an honest, joyous, unconventional, hearty nature, with a dash of originality almost amounting to eccentricity. Writing to his father he revealed the true secret of his character: 'I love, in a greater or less degree, every person whom I know, and also all that I do not know; and this is one giant source of my happiness.'

Soon after completing his theological studies he was called, in 1838, to be minister of St. Peter's Church in Glasgow, one of the new churches built under the extension scheme of Dr. Chalmers. He soon became one of the most popular ministers of the city. His ministry, which after 1843 was carried on in connection with the Free Church, was marked by an intense love of nature, united with a poetical temperament; by sympathy with young men; by ardent advocacy of temperance, and a strong appreciation of ethical Christianity. He strongly sympathised with all movements fitted to advance the welfare of the working class.

In the year 1863, on the appointment of Dr. Rainy to a professorship, Arnot was called to be minister of one of the leading congregations of the Free Church in Edinburgh, where for the last ten years of his life he was a conspicuous figure. During that time he edited a monthly religious magazine, called the 'Family Treasury.' He thrice visited America: in 1845, to render important ministerial service in the dominion of Canada; in 1870 as a delegate from the Free Church of Scotland to congratulate the presbyterian churches in the northern states on their happy reunion; and for the third time, in 1873, as a member of the Evangelical Alliance, to attend its meetings at New York. Having been a steady sympathiser with the northern states and the anti-slavery movement, he was received in the United States with extraordinary cordiality.

The degree of D.D. was virtually offered to Mr. Arnot by the university of Glasgow, and afterwards formally by the university of New York; but for personal reasons he declined to avail himself of it in either case. He died after a short illness at Edinburgh, 3 June 1875.

His chief works were the following:

  1. 'Life of James Halley.'
  2. 'The Race for Riches, and some of the Pits into which the Runners fall: six lectures applying the Word of God to the traffic of man. It had a wide circulation both in this country and America, as following up the principles of Chalmers's 'Commercial Discourses.'
  3. 'The Drunkard's Progress, being a panorama of the overland route from the station of Drouth to the general terminus in the Dead Sea, in a series of thirteen views, drawn and engraved by John Adam, the descriptions given by John Bunyan, junior.'
  4. 'Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth; Illustrations of the Book of Proverbs.' 2 vols. This was one of his most characteristic and successful books, treating of the maxims of Hebrew wisdom viewed from a christian standpoint in the nineteenth century.
  5. 'Roots and Fruits of the Christian Life.'
  6. 'The Parables of our Lord.'
  7. 'Life of James Hamilton, D.D.'
  8. 'This Present World.' Some thoughts on the adaptation of man's home to the tenant.
  9. A posthumous volume of sermons.

[Autobiography, with Memoir by his daughter, 1877.]

W. G. B.