Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Whyte, Alexander

WHYTE, ALEXANDER (1836–1921), divine, was born at Kirriemuir, Forfarshire, 13 January 1836, of parents who never married. Brought up by his mother, Janet Thomson, who earned her living as a weaver and harvester, the boy owed much to her influence as well as to that of two local ministers and several keenly intelligent artisans. Abandoning the shoemaking trade to which he had served his apprenticeship, Whyte taught for four years in village schools. At the age of twenty-two (1858) he matriculated in King's College, Aberdeen, and, supporting himself mainly by teaching evening classes, succeeded in graduating as M.A. with second-class honours in mental philosophy in 1862. (Sir) William Duguid Geddes and Alexander Bain were the professors who made the deepest impression on him. During this period he became acquainted with the writings of Thomas Goodwin, the elder [q.v.], and Goodwin's influence persisted to the end of his life.

Whyte decided to enter the ministry of the Free Church of Scotland, and four years (1862–1866) devoted to the study of theology at New College, Edinburgh, enabled him to become a licentiate. After serving as colleague at St. John's Free church, Glasgow (1866–1870), he became colleague to Robert Smith Candlish [q.v.] at St. George's Free church, Edinburgh, and, on Candlish's death in 1873, sole minister of the congregation. Alone for the next twenty-two years, and subsequently with the assistance of a colleague, Whyte held this charge till 1916, when he resigned. In 1898 he was elected moderator of the General Assembly, and in 1909 principal of New College, Edinburgh, a position which he held till 1918. The freedom of the city of Edinburgh was presented to him in 1910. The union of 1900, whereby the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland were merged into one communion, was warmly welcomed by him; and the movement, which began some years later, for the union of the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church won his enthusiastic support.

Whyte married in 1881 Jane Elizabeth, daughter of George Freeland Barbour, of Bonskeid, Perthshire, and was survived by her and by three sons and three daughters. He died at Hampstead 6 January 1921. His eldest son, Sir Alexander Frederick Whyte, was member of parliament for Perth in the liberal interest from 1910 to 1918, and afterwards the first president of the legislative assembly of India.

A traditionalist himself, Whyte championed the cause of liberty in Biblical criticism; a Calvinist in theology, he was catholic in his sympathies with exponents of the devotional life. His preaching was distinguished by a rich imagination, with a streak of humour, genial or grim, running through it; by a passion for righteousness which betrayed him at times into exaggerated confessions and attributions of evil motives; and by a mysticism which expressed itself in rapturous and moving eloquence. He was the author of A Commentary on the Shorter Catechism (1882) and a number of biographical studies of Biblical characters and others.

[Whyte's works; G. F. Barbour, Life of Alexander Whyte, D.D., 1923; personal knowledge.]

A. B. M.