Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duchal, James

DUCHAL, JAMES, D.D. (1697–1761), Irish presbyterian divine, is said to have been born in 1697 at Antrim. The year is probably correct, but the place mistaken; his baptism is not recorded in the presbyterian register of Antrim. In the Glasgow matriculation book he describes himself as 'Scoto-Hibernus.' His early education was directed by an uncle, and in his studies for the ministry he was assisted by John Abernethy, M.A. (1680-1740) [q. v.], the leader of the nonsubscribing section of the presbyterians of Ulster. Duchal proceeded to Glasgow College, where he entered the moral philosophy class on 9 March 1710, and subsequently graduated M.A. Early in 1721 he became minister of a congregation (originally independent, but since 1696 presbyterian) in Green Street, Cambridge. The congregation, numbering three hundred people, was subsidised by a grant from the presbyterian board. Duchal had leisure for study, and lived much among books, with the habits of a valetudinarian. In after life he referred to his Cambridge period as the 'most delightful' part of his career. In 1728 he published a small volume of sermons, which show the influence of Francis Hutcheson. Two years later Abernethy was called from Antrim to Dublin, and Duchal became his successor. An entry in the Antrim records states that on 'agwst the 14 1730 Mr. James Dwchhill cam to Antrim and on the 16 of it which was owr commwnion sabath preached and served tw tabels which was his first work with ws.' He was installed on 6 Sept. On 7 Sept. William Holmes was ordained as the first minister of the subscribing section that had seceded from Abernethy's congregation in 1726. Duchal began (anonymously) a controversy with Holmes, and the pamphlets which ensued formed the closing passage in a discussion which had agitated Ulster presbyterianism from 1720. Abernethy's death on 1 Dec. 1740 was followed early in 1741 by the death of Richard Choppin, his senior colleague in the ministry at Wood Street, Dublin. The sole charge as their successor was offered to Thomas Drennan, father of William Drennan, M.D. [q. v.], who declined, and recommended Duchal. Duchal removed to Dublin in 1741. His delicate health and shy disposition kept him out of society; he approves the maxim that 'a man, if possible, should have no enemies, and very few friends' (Sermons, 1762, i. 469). His closest intimates were William Bruce (1702-1765) [q. v.] and Gabriel Cornwall (d. 1786), both his juniors. He was affable to young students, and unwearied in his errands of benevolence (including medical advice) among the poor.

Duchal's studies were classical and philosophical rather than biblical. Late in life he returned to the study of Hebrew, in order to test the positions of the Hutchinsonian system [see Hutchinson, John, 1674-1737], in which he found nothing congenial to his ideas. Duchal was an indefatigable writer of sermons. Like most divines of his age, he was ready to lend his compositions, but never borrowed, and rarely repeated. His eulogist reckons it an extraordinary circumstance that he discarded his Antrim sermons on removing to Dublin; it may be added that he did not use his Cambridge sermons at Antrim. He wrote his discourses in sets, like courses of lectures. A very able series, devoted to 'presumptive arguments' for christianity, gained him when published (1753) the degree of D.D. from Glasgow. He composed aloud, while taking his daily walks, and committed the finished discourse to paper at great speed, in excruciatingly fine crowquill penmanship, with more attention to weight of diction than to grace of style. He left seven hundred sermons as the fruit of his Dublin ministry; a few he had himself designed for the press, others were selected for publication by his friends, but many sets were broken through the unfaithfulness of borrowers.

Duchal's was the most considerable mind among the Irish non-subscribers. He had not the gifts which fitted Abernethy for a popular leader, but his intellect was more progressive, and his equanimity was never disturbed by the ambition of a public career. He never trimmed or turned back. From a robust Calvinistic orthodoxy he passed by degrees to an interpretation of Christianity from which every distinctive trace of orthodoxy had vanished. Archdeacon Blackburne (according to Priestley) questioned 'his belief of the christian revelation,' but for this suspicion there is no ground. Kippis observes that Leechman has plagiarised (1768) the substance and even the treatment of three remarkable sermons by Duchal on the spirit of Christianity (1762).

Duchal is less known as a biographer, but his character portraits of Irish non-subscribing clergy are of great value. The original draft of seven sketches, without names, has been printed (Christian Moderator, April 1827, p. 431) from a copy by Thomas Drennan; the first three are Michael Bruce (1686-1735) [q. v.], Samuel Haliday [q. v.], and Abernethy. They were worked up, with some softening of the criticism, in the funeral sermon for Abernethy, with appended biographies (1741). Witherow quite erroneously assigns these biographies to James Kirkpatrick, D.D. [q. v.]

Duchal was assisted at Wood Street in 1745 by Archibald Maclaine, D.D., the translator of Mosheim, but he had no regular colleague till 1747, when Samuel Bruce (1722-1767), father of William Bruce, D.D. (1757-1841) [q. v.], was appointed. In the opinion of his friends, Duchal's laborious fulfilment of the demands of his calling shortened his days. He died unmarried on 4 May 1761, having completed his sixty-fourth year.

He published:

  1. 'The Practice of Religion,' &c., 1728, 8vo (three sermons; one of these is reprinted in 'The Protestant System,' vol. i. 1758).
  2. 'A Letter from a Gentleman,' &c., Dublin, 1731, 8vo (anon., answered by Holmes, 'Plain Reasons,' &c., Dublin, 1732, 8vo).
  3. 'Remarks upon "Plain Reasons,"' &c., Belfast, 1732, 8vo (anon., answered by Holmes, 'Impartial Reflections,' &c., Belfast, 1732, 8vo).
  4. 'A Sermon on occasion of the … death of … John Abernethy,' &c., Belfast, 1741, 8vo (preached at Antrim 7 Dec. 1740; appended are Duchal's Memoirs of the Revs. T. Shaw, W. Taylor, M. Bruce, and S. Haliday; the publication was edited by Kirkpatrick, who added a 'conclusion').
  5. 'Memoir' (anon.) of Abernethy, prefixed to his posthumous 'Sermons,' 1748, 8vo.
  6. 'Second Thoughts concerning the Sufferings and Death of Christ,' &c., 1748, 8vo (anon.)
  7. 'Presumptive Arguments for the … Christian Religion,' &c., 1753, 8vo (eleven sermons, with explanatory preface).

Also funeral sermons for:

  1. Mrs. Bristow, Belfast, 1736, 8vo;
  2. Rev. Hugh Scot, Belfast, 1736, 8vo;
  3. J. Arbuckle, M.D., Dublin, 1747, 8vo.
  4. Prefatory 'Letter' to Cornwall's Essay on the Character of W. Bruce, 1755, 8vo (dated 25 Aug.) Posthumous were:
    1. 'Sermons,' vol. i., Dublin, 1762, 8vo, vols. ii. iii., Dublin, 1764, 8vo.
    2. 'On the Obligation of Truth, as concerned in Subscriptions to Articles,' &c. (published in 'Theological Repository,' 1770, ii. 191 sq.)
    3. 'Letter to Dr. Taylor on the Doctrine of Atonement' (' Theol. Repos.' 1770, ii. 328 sq.; reprinted in William Graham's 'The Doctrine of Atonement,' 1772).

    Other essays from Duchal's manuscripts sent to Priestley for publication were lost in the passage to Liverpool. Six small volumes, containing forty-seven autograph sermons by Duchal, 1721-40, which on 18 Nov. 1783 were in the possession of William Crawford, D.D. [q. v.], were presented by James Gibson, Q.C., to the library of Magee College, Derry.

    [Essay on the Character of the Author, in a Letter to a Friend (by Gabriel Cornwall), prefixed to Sermons, vol. ii., 1764, partly reprinted in Monthly Review, October 1764, p. 278 sq.; Biog. Brit. (Kippis), 1793, v. 410 sq.; Univ. Theol. Mag., January 1804, p. 9 sq.; Monthly Repository, 1810, p. 626; Christian Moderator, April 1827, p. 431; Armstrong's Appendix to Martineau's Ordination Service, 1829, p. 72; Rutt's Memoirs of Priestley, 1831, i. 105, 120, 122, 135; Hincks's Notices of W. Bruce and Contemporaries, in Christian Teacher, January 1843, p. 77 sq.; Reid's Hist. Presb. Church in Ireland (Killen), 1867, iii. 220, 318; James's Hist. Litig. Presb. Chapels, 1867, p. 652; Witherow's Hist. and Lit. Mem. of Presb. in Ireland, 2nd ser., 1880, p. 15 sq., 22 sq.; Killen's Hist. Cong. Presb. Church in Ireland, 1886, p. 17; Antrim Presbyterian register (manuscript); Glasgow matriculation book.]

    A. G.