Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Sprott, George Washington

SPROTT, GEORGE WASHINGTON (1829–1909), Scottish divine and liturgical scholar, born at Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia, on 6 March 1829, was eldest of five children of John Sprott, presbyterian minister there, by his third wife, Jane Neilson. Both his parents came from Wigtownshire. After early education in the colony Sprott entered Glasgow College in 1845 (see his John Macleod Memorial Lecture, Edinburgh 1902). One of his fellow students was (Sir) Henry Campbell-Bannerman [q. v. Suppl. II], who consulted him about studying for the ministry. Sprott, besides taking a good place in his classes, and graduating B.A. in 1849, was prominent in the students' societies. He had introductions to the families of Dr. Norman Macleod the younger [q. v.], Dr. A. K. H. Boyd [q. v. Suppl. I], and Dr. Laurence Lockhart, brother of Scott's biographer. Both in Glasgow and in Galloway, where he spent his vacations, he gathered large stores of historical and genealogical information. His father, who had been born in the Church of Scotland, approved of his son's resolve to join that church. Ordained in 1852 by the presbytery of Dunoon, Sprott returned to his native colony to act as assistant at St. Matthew's, Halifax, Nova Scotia. There he served also as chaplain to the 72nd Highlanders, whom he was prevented from accompanying to the Crimea. After visits to Newfoundland and the United States, he returned to Scotland in 1856, and having served short periods as assistant minister at Greenock and Dumfries, he was gazetted to a chaplaincy to the Scottish troops at Kandy. He went out to Ceylon in 1857, and laboured there for seven years among the troops and coffee-planters, and to some extent among the natives. He studied Buddhism ; he wrote a pamphlet on the Dutch Church in the island ; he vigorously asserted the rights and defended the orders of the Church of Scotland as against Anglican claims, and he sought to stem the current drift of Scottish church people to episcopacy, which he attributed partly to the strifes of the disruption period, and partly to the slovenliness of her services. He kept in close touch, accordingly, with the movements beginning in Scotland to mend such defects. In a pamphlet which he wrote in Ceylon on 'The Worship, Rites and Ceremonies of the Church of Scotland,' he propounded the idea which resulted in the formation of the Church Service Society (1865).

In 1865 he left Ceylon and acted for a time as chaplain to the Scots troops at Portsmouth. Next year he was presented to the parish of Chapel of Garioch, Aberdeenshire. There he pursued his liturgical and historical studies, and soon became the most influential member of the editorial committee of the Church Service Society. In 1868 he published a critical edition of the 'Book of Common Order,' commonly called 'John Knox's Liturgy.' In 1871 there appeared Sprott's most learned and original work, 'Scottish Liturgies of James VI.'

Meanwhile Sprott, who opposed the movement for the abolition of patronage in the established church, carried through the Synod of Aberdeen an overture to the general assembly in favour of that celebration of holy communion during the sitting of that body which has since been an established practice. Through a committee of assembly on aids to devotion he was able, with the help of Thomas Leishman [q. v. Suppl. II], to procure a recommendation to use the Apostles' Creed in baptism. As moderator of the Synod in 1873 he preached at its April meeting a sermon on 'The Necessity of a Valid Ordination,' which exercised a powerful influence on the Scottish clergy.

After an unsuccessful application for the chair of church history in Edinburgh University, Sprott, early in 1873, was presented to the parish of North Berwick. He was soon prominent in his new office in presbytery, synod, and assembly. In 1884 he was successful in procuring the erection of a new parish church after a nine years' struggle. In the summer of 1879 the assembly sent him to visit the presbyterian churches of Canada, and also appointed him to a lectureship in pastoral theology. In this capacity he delivered at the four Scottish universities a series of important prelections which appeared as 'Worship and Offices of the Church of Scotland' (1882). In recognition of the merit of those lectures the University of Glasgow conferred on him in 1880 the degree of D.D. But he was disappointed in two further applications for professorships of church history — at Glasgow in 1886 and at Aberdeen in 1889. At the assembly of 1882 Sprott successfully joined Dr. Leishman in the protest against the admission of congregational ministers without presbyterian ordination. He joined on its formation, in 1886, the Aberdeen (now the Scottish) Ecclesiological Society, and showed interest in its work till his death. In 1892 Sprott took a leading part in founding and conducting the Scottish Church Society for the assertion and defence of orthodox doctrine and sound church principles. Another useful society, the Church Law Society, owns him as its founder. Through life an advocate of Church reunion, he cordially welcomed the efforts both of Bishop Charles Wordsworth [q. v.] and Bishop George Howard Wilkinson [q. v. Suppl. II]; of the Scottish Christian Unity Association founded by the latter he became an active member. In 1902 he celebrated his ministerial jubilee, but owing to heart weakness he petitioned the presbytery next year for the appointment of an assistant and successor, and he retired to Edinburgh, where he was able to engage in literary and ecclesiastical work. To this period of his life belong several notable literary productions—his John Macleod Memorial Lecture, 'The Doctrine of Schism in the Church of Scotland' (Edinburgh, 1902), a new edition of 'John Knox's Liturgy' (1901), an edition (1905) of 'The Liturgy of Compromise used in the English Congregation at Frankfort, 1557,' bound up with Mr. H. J. Wotherspoon's 'Second Prayer Book of Edward VI,' and a new edition (1905) of 'Euchologion, a Book of Common Order,' with historical introduction of great value to the student of Scottish worship—all issued by the Church Service Society. He also wrote a delightful account of his father and of Nova Scotian life 'Memorials of the Rev. John Sprott' (Edinburgh, 1906). Sprott died at Edinburgh of heart disease on 27 Oct. 1909, and was buried at North Berwick.

Sprott married in 1856 Mary (d. 1874), daughter of Charles Hill of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Four sons also predeceased their father; a son, Harold, a lawyer in Edinburgh, and four married daughters survived.

Stern in aspect, Sprott was full of warm and deeply religious feeling, and had much wit and humour. Memorials were erected to him in North Berwick church and in St. Oswald's parish church, Edinburgh, where he worshipped in his later years.

In addition to the works mentioned Sprott contributed many notices of Scottish divines to this Dictionary.

[Sprott's diaries and letters; private information from his son and daughters; personal knowledge; notices of his life in his own works; Scotsman, 28 Oct. 1909, and in The Gallovidian (Dumfries, Summer, 1911), written by his son (with portrait); a memoir by the present author is in preparation.]

J. C.