Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Alexander, William Lindsay
ALEXANDER, WILLIAM LINDSAY (1808–1884), congregational divine, eldest son of William Alexander (1781-1866), wine merchant, by his wife, Elizabeth Lindsay (d. 1848), was born at Leith on 24 Aug. 1808. Having attended Leith High School and a boarding-school at East Linton, he entered Edinburgh University in October 1822, and left in 1825. He was a good Latin scholar. The repute of Thomas Chalmers [q. v.] led him to finish his literary course at St. Andrews (1825-27), where he improved his Greek. He often accompanied Chalmers on his rounds of village preaching. His parents were baptists, but on 29 Oct. 1826 he became a member of the congregational church at Leith. In September 1827 he became a student for the ministry at the Glasgow Theological Academy, under Ralph Wardlaw [q. v.] and Greville Ewing [q. v.]; by the end of the year he was appointed classical tutor in the Blackburn Theological Academy, a post which he filled, teaching also Hebrew and all other subjects except theology, till December 1831, when he began the study of medicine at Edinburgh. This not proving to his taste, after some preliminary trials he became minister (October 1832) of Newington independent church, Liverpool. Here he remained till May 1834, but was never formally inducted to the pastorate. After a short visit to Germany, followed by some literary work in London, he was called (1 Nov. 1834) to the pastorate of North College Street congregational church, Edinburgh, and ordained there on 5 Feb. 1835. He was soon recognised as a preacher of power. Rejecting frequent calls to other posts, professorial as well as pastoral, he remained in this charge for over forty years, with undiminished reputation. He was made D.D. of St. Andrews in January 1846. In 1852, on the resignation of John Wilson (1785-1854) [q. v.], he was an unsuccessful candidate for the moral philosophy chair in Edinburgh University. His meeting-house, improved in 1840, when the name was changed to Argyle Square chapel, was bought by the government in 1855. For six years the congregation met in Queen Street Hall. On 8 Nov. 1861 a new building, named Augustine Church, was opened on George IV Bridge, with a sermon by Thomas Guthrie [q. v.]; an organ was added on 23 Oct. 1863. In 1861 the university of St. Andrews made him examiner in mental philosophy. In 1870 Alexander was placed on the company for revision of the Old Testament, In 1871 he was made assessor of the Edinburgh University Court. He resigned his charge on 6 June 1877, and in the same year was made principal of the Theological Hall (he had held the chair of theology from 1854); this office he retained till July 1881. In 1884 he was made LL.D. of Edinburgh University at its tercentenary. He died at Pinkieburn House, near Musselburgh, on 20 Dec. 1884, and was buried on 24 Dec. at Inveresk. He married (24 Aug. 1837) a daughter (d. 15 Oct. 1875) of James Marsden of Liverpool, and had thirteen children, of whom eight survived him. He was of genial temperament, as evidenced by his friendship with Dean Ramsay and his membership in the Hellenic Society, instituted by John Stuart Blackie [q. v.] His habits and tastes were simple. Of most of the learned societies of Edinburgh he was a member. His portrait, by Norman Macbeth [q. v.], is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery; a marble bust by Hutchinson is in the porch of Augustine Church.
He published, besides numerous sermons and pamphlets:
- 'The Connexion and Harmony of the Old and New Testaments' (congregational lecture, 1840), 1841, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1853, 8vo.
- 'Anglo-Catholicism,' Edinburgh, 1843, 8vo.
- 'Switzerland and the Swiss Churches,' Glasgow, 1846, 16mo.
- 'The Ancient British Church' , 16mo; revised edition by S. G. Green, 1889, 8vo.
- 'Christ and Christianity,' Edinburgh, 1854, 8vo.
- 'Lusus Poetici.' 1861, 8vo (privately printed; reprinted, with additions, in Ross's 'Life').
- 'Christian Thought and Work,' Edinburgh, 1862, 8vo.
- 'St. Paul at Athens,' Edinburgh, 1865, 8vo.
- 'Sermons,' Edinburgh, 1875, 8vo.
- 'A System of Biblical Theology,' Edinburgh, 1888, 2 vols. 8vo (edited by James Ross).
He published also memoirs of John Watson (1846), Ralph Wardlaw (1856), and William Alexander (1867); expositions of Deuteronomy ('Pulpit Commentary,' 1882) and Zechariah (1885); and translations of Billroth on Corinthians (1837), Hävernick's Introduction to the Old Testament (1852), and Dorner's 'History of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ,' vol. i. (1864). He edited Kitto's ' Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature' (1870, 3 vols.), and several theological works. His 'Hymns for Christian Worship' reached a third edition in 1866.
To the ' British Quarterly,' the 'British and Foreign Evangelical Review,' 'Good Words,' and other kindred periodicals he frequently contributed; he edited the 'Scottish Congregational Magazine,' 1835-1840 and 1847-51. To the 'Encyclopædia Britannica' (eighth edition) he contributed several articles on topics of theology and philosophy (the publisher, Adam Black [q.v.], was a member of his congregation). His articles on 'Calvin' and 'Channing' raised some controversy, and were improved in the ninth edition. To the 'Imperial Dictionary of Biography' he also contributed.
[Life and Work, 1887 (portrait), by James Boss.]