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

GILLESPIE, WILLIAM (1776–1825), poet, was the eldest son of the Rev. John Gillespie (1730–1806), minister of Kells in Galloway. He was baptised 18 Feb. 1776. He attended the parish school, and also received private instruction from the schoolmaster, who lived in the manse. In 1792 he entered Edinburgh University, where he studied theology and also, as a secondary subject, medicine. From early years he had been devoted to painting, poetry, and music. A common print of a view of Kenmure Castle was executed from a drawing made by him when about fourteen years of age. While at Edinburgh he wrote a poem entitled ‘The Progress of Refinement,’ which was not, however, published till some years later. He found subjects for some of the poems (which were published along with it) in a tour through the western highlands, which he took with Alexander Don, to whom he was tutor. At the end of his university course he was licensed as preacher by the presbytery of Kirkcudbright (1 Aug. 1798), and on 7 Aug. 1800 was ordained assistant and successor to his father. On 29 April 1806 his father died, after having been minister of Kells for forty-two years, and he became sole minister. In 1820 he was chaplain to the stewartry of Kircudbright yeomanry cavalry, and the commandant wrote to him, asking whether in his service before the force he would pray for the queen. He returned an evasive answer, but in the prayer for the royal family he inserted the words, ‘Bless also the queen.’ On this the commandant ordered him to consider himself under arrest, that is to say, as was subsequently explained, not at liberty to go out of the county (30 July). Gillespie then published the sermon which he had preached before the yeomanry, with a preface and appendices explaining the circumstances, and proving the illegality of his arrest.

On 26 July 1825 he married Charlotte Hoggan; but while on his wedding tour he was attacked by erysipelas, and died on 15 Oct. in the fiftieth year of his age. He was long remembered in his parish for the refinement of his tastes, his hospitality, and his kindness to students.

Besides contributions to the ‘Scots Magazine’ and other periodicals, his works were: a life of John Lowe, author of ‘Mary's Dream,’ in Cromek's ‘Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song,’ pp. 342–60; ‘The Progress of Refinement, an allegorical poem, with other poems,’ Edinburgh, 1805, 8vo; ‘Consolation, with other poems,’ Edinburgh, 1815, 8vo; ‘The Rebellion of Absalom: a discourse preached at Kirkcudbright on the 30th July last,’ Dumfries, 1820, 8vo.

[Thomas Murray's Literary Hist. of Galloway, 2nd ed. pp. 275–82; private information; Brit. Mus. and Bodleian Library Catalogues; Hew Scott's Fasti, ii. 716.]

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