Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Caird, John
CAIRD, JOHN (1820–1898), principal of Glasgow University, son of John Caird (d. September 1838) of Messrs. Caird & Co., engineers, Greenock, was born at Greenock on 15 Dec. 1820. Receiving his elementary education in Greenock schools, he entered his father's office at the age of fifteen. Gaining thus a practical knowledge of several departments of engineering, he went to Glasgow University in 1837–8, taking the classes of mathematics and logic, in both of which he became a prizeman. He returned to the engineering in 1838, but closed his active connection with the firm in 1839, when he officiated as superintendent of the chainmakers. From 1840 to 1845 he studied at Glasgow University, gaining a special prize for poetry and another for an essay on 'Secondary Punishments.'
Graduating M.A. at Glasgow University in 1845, when he had completed his studies for the ministry of the church of Scotland, Caird was appointed the same year parish minister of Newton-on-Ayr. In 1847 he was called to Lady Yester's, Edinburgh, where he remained till near the end of 1849. Here, in addition to the ordinary congregation, his rare accomplishments and finished pulpit oratory attracted and retained an intellectual audience, which regularly included many professional men and a body of theological students. The continuous strain of this work induced him to accept as a relief the charge of the country parish of Errol, Perthshire, where he laboured for eight years (1849–57). In those years he closely studied standard divinity. He also learned German in order to get a direct knowledge of German thinkers. In 1857 he preached before the queen at Balmoral a sermon from Romans xii. 11, which, on her majesty's command, he soon afterwards published under the title 'Religion in Common Life.' It sold in enormous numbers, and Dean Stanley considered it 'the greatest single sermon of the century' (memorial article in Scotsman, 1 Aug. 1898). Meanwhile his reputation had been steadily growing, and he was translated to Park Church, Glasgow, where he preached for the first time on the last Sunday of 1857. In 1860 the university of Glasgow conferred on him its honorary degree of D.D.
In 1862 Caird was appointed professor of theology in Glasgow University, and began his work in January 1863. He taught a reasoned and explicit idealism akin to the philosophy of Hegel, and cordially recognised the importance in Christianity of the principle of development. He illustrated the extent of his tolerance when he proposed, in 1868, that the university should confer its honorary D.D. degree upon John McLeod Campbell [q. v.], who had been deposed from the ministry of the church of Scotland in 1831 for advocating universalism in his work on the Atonement. About the same time he largely contributed towards maturing the improved arrangements for granting both B.D. and D.D. degrees, and assisted to promote the erection of the new university buildings on Gilmore Hill at the west end of Glasgow. In 1871, after the new college buildings were occupied, Caird revived the university chapel, preaching frequently himself and securing the services of eminent preachers of all denominations.
In 1873, on the death of Thomas Barclay (1792–1873) [q. v.], principal of Glasgow University, Caird was presented to the post by the crown, his colleagues having unanimously petitioned for his appointment. He displayed rare business capacity, presiding over meetings with tact, urbanity, and judgment; steadily helping forward such important movements as the university education of women and the changes introduced by the universities commissions of 1876 and 1887. His leisure was given to theological study. In 1878–9 he delivered the Croall lecture in Edinburgh. In 1884 he received in Edinburgh the honorary degree of LL.D. on the occasion of the tercentenary celebration of the university. In 1890–1 he was appointed Gifford lecturer at Glasgow, and delivered twelve lectures in the current session. He resumed the course in 1896, and had given eight lectures, when he was laid aside by paralysis. Recovering considerably, he was able for his official duties throughout the following year. In February 1898 he had a serious illness, from which he partially recovered. He then intimated his intention of retiring from the principalship on the following 31 July, and on 30 July 1898 he died at the house of his brother in Greenock. He is buried in the Greenock cemetery.
In June 1858 Caird married Isabella, daughter of William Glover, minister of Greenside parish, Edinburgh. His wife survived him, and there was no family.
Besides a volume of sermons (1858) and one of sermon-essays, reprinted from 'Good Words' (1863), Caird provided two numbers of the famous 'Scotch Sermons,' edited in 1880 by Dr. Robert Wallace. His Croall lectures, revised and enlarged, appeared in 1880 (2nd edit. 1900), under the title 'Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion.' Here, as was said by T. H. Green, the essence of Hegelianism as applicable to the Christian religion is presented by 'a master of style.' Combating materialism, agnosticism, and other negative theories, and working from a reasonable basis along a careful line of evolution, Caird furnishes in this work a substantial system of theism. In the volume on Spinoza, contributed to Blackwood's 'Philosophical Classics' (1888), he gives a specially full and comprehensive statement and discussion of the philosopher's ethics. In 1899 appeared two posthumous volumes, 'University Sermons, 1873-98,' and 'University Addresses.' The Gifford lectures on 'The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity,' with a prefatory memoir by Caird's brother, Dr. Edward Caird, master of Balliol, were published in two volumes in 1900. This work expands, and in some measure popularises, the discussions in the 'Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion,' the author's desire being, in his own words, to show 'that Christianity and Christian ideas are not contrary to reason, but rather in deepest accordance with both the intellectual and moral needs of men.'
[Memoir prefixed to the Fundamental Ideas of Christianity; Glasgow evening papers of 30 July 1898; Scotsman, Glasgow Herald, and other daily papers of 1 Aug., and Spectator of 6 Aug. 1898; Memorial Tribute by Dr. Flint in Life and Work Magazine, January 1899; Mrs. Oliphant's Memoir of Principal Tulloch; A. K. H. Boyd's Twenty-Five Years of St. Andrews.]