Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Goldie, John

GOLDIE or GOUDIE, JOHN (1717–1809), essayist, was born in 1717 at Craigmill, in the parish of Galston, Ayr, on the premises where his forefathers had been millers for nearly four hundred years. He had little or no schooling, but after his mother had taught him to read he soon learnt writing, and early displayed much taste for mechanics. Before he was fifteen he constructed a miniature mill, which would grind a boll of peas in the day. Then he began business as a cabinet maker at Kilmarnock, and made a beautifully engraved clock case of mahogany, which was purchased by the Duke of Hamilton, and was placed in Hamilton Palace. He soon made enough money to buy a large wine and spirit shop in the same town, where he carried on a thriving trade. He eagerly studied Euclid and astronomy at the same time, and learnt to calculate mentally in a surprisingly short time the most difficult arithmetical problems.

Goldie had been brought up in the strictest Calvinistic principles, but his views grew moderate and he became almost a deist. He took part in the theological dispute between the adherents of ‘the new and auld licht.’ Burns wrote an ‘epistle’ to him which begins—

O Goudie, terror of the Whigs,
Dread of black coats and reverend wigs,

and tells that enthusiasm and orthodoxy are now at their last gasp, adding—

'Tis you and Taylor are the chief,
Wha are to blame for this mischief.

While condemned by the orthodox, Goldie made many friends in consequence of his sterling honesty and good sense. He was on intimate terms with most of the clergy of the district, and would often argue with them. When Burns was about to emigrate to the West Indies, Goldie, to whom he read some poems in manuscript, encouraged him to stay, and introduced him to several friends, who, with Goldie, became sureties to Wilson for the printing of Burns's first volume (1786). Burns was now almost a daily visitor at Goldie's house, where he corrected the proof-sheets and wrote many letters. After this Goldie engaged largely in coal speculations, by which he lost heavily, and was cheated by his partner. He patriotically set on foot a scheme for connecting Kilmarnock with Troon by a canal, and even made a survey of the line; but the expense proved insuperable. Late in life he was abstracted in manner, and known as ‘the philosopher.’ In 1809 he caught cold by sleeping in a damp bed at Glasgow, and died three weeks afterwards at the age of ninety-two, upholding his own opinions and retaining his faculties to the last. He left many manuscripts and letters from Burns, Lord Kames, and other celebrated men; but they were unfortunately destroyed during his son's absence at sea. Sillar and Turnbull followed the example of Burns in writing poems on him. Goldie was a small but well-made man. His portrait, with a globe behind him, was painted by Whitehead. It is said to have been an admirable likeness, and may be seen engraved in the ‘Contemporaries of Burns.’

Goldie became famous by his ‘Essay on Various Important Subjects, Moral and Divine. Being an attempt to distinguish True from False Religion,’ 1779. This was announced as being in three volumes, but apparently one only was published. The style of all Goldie's works is prolix and laboured, but the essay achieved great popularity as a reaction from the stern Calvinism then reigning in Scotch pulpits. It was known as ‘Goudie's Bible,’ and is now extremely scarce. His criticism is destructive and leads to pure theism; he denounces priestcraft, and is not always free from profanity. On the appearance of the second edition in 1785 Burns wrote his congratulatory epistle. He next wrote ‘The Gospel recovered from its Captive State and restored to its Original Purity,’ 6 vols., London, 1784. These essays treat of prophecy, the resurrection, dialogues between a jewish and a gentile Christian on the gospel, and the like. His last work was ‘A Treatise upon the Evidences of a Deity’ (1809). For the last forty years of his life he devoted himself to astronomy, and prepared a work which was almost ready for the press at his death, in which he is said to have corrected prevailing misapprehensions.

[Goldie's Works; Gent. Mag. vol. lxxix. pt. I. 1809; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iii. 208, 336; Paterson's Contemporaries of Burns, 1840, Appendix, p. 3; A. M'Kay's History of Kilmarnock, 3rd ed. 1864, pp. 161, 165–8.]

M. G. W.