Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davidson, Thomas (1747-1827)

DAVIDSON, THOMAS, D.D. (1747–1827), theologian, was born in 1747 at Inchture, Perthshire, where his father, Thomas Randall, was minister. He took the name of Davidson on succeeding to the estate of Muirhouse, near Edinburgh, which had belonged to an uncle. He was educated at Glasgow and at Leyden, where his attention was more particularly directed to biblical criticism. In 1771 he succeeded his father at Inchture; in 1773 he was translated to the outer high church of Glasgow, and from that to Lady Yester's church, and in 1785 to the Tolbooth church, both in Edinburgh.

Davidson did not make any important contribution to theology, but exercised a powerful influence on the community of Edinburgh and the church of Scotland, through the singular elevation of his character, his great diligence in pastoral work, his lively interest in charitable and religious objects, and liberal contributions towards them, and his very special interest in students, especially those of slender means. The writer of his life in Kay's ‘Portraits’ says of him: ‘He was a sound, practical, and zealous preacher; and much as he was esteemed in the pulpit, was no less respected by his congregation and all who knew him for those domestic and private excellences which so much endear their possessor to society. To all the public charities he contributed largely, and was generally among the first to stimulate by his example. … In religious matters, and in the courts connected with the church, he took a sincere interest, but was by no means inclined to push himself before the public. … Only three of his sermons were published, and these were delivered on public occasions.’

Some idea of the impression made by Davidson on his contemporaries may be formed from the singular reverence with which he was spoken of in after years by many who had known him, or heard much of him, in their youth. The late Dr. Guthrie, by way of enforcing the importance of good social manners, as well as higher qualifications, for the ministerial office, used to tell how this holy man would sometimes give an awkward student a guinea to attend a dancing school ‘to teach the lads, as he expressed it, to enter a room properly.’ Dr. Chalmers, in one of his greatest speeches in the general assembly of 1840, had occasion to speak of ‘that venerable christian patriarch, Dr. Davidson of Edinburgh, whose heavenward aspirations, whose very looks of love and grace celestial, apart from language altogether, bespoke the presence of a man who felt himself at the gates of his blissful and everlasting home.’ In Lockhart's ‘Life of Sir Walter Scott’ (i. 108) it is mentioned (in Mr. Mitchell's ‘Recollections’) that the poet's mother, in the absence of Dr. Erskine, used to attend and enjoy the ministry of Davidson. Davidson was twice married, his second wife being a sister of Lord Cockburn. He died in 1827.

[Scott's Fasti; Kay's Portraits; The Pastor of Kilsyth; Funeral Sermon by Rev. Dr. Muirhead, Cramond; private information.]

W. G. B.