Hay, George (1729-1811) (DNB00)


HAY, GEORGE, D.D. (1729–1811), catholic bishop of Daulis, and vicar-apostolic of the lowland district of Scotland, born at Edinburgh on 24 Aug. 1729, was the only son of James Hay, a ‘writer in Dalrymple's Office,’ who as a nonjuror and a Jacobite was put in irons and banished in 1715. His mother was Mary Morrison. The father, grandson of Andrew Hay of Inch-noch, was directly descended from Dugald Hay of Linplum, father of George Hay (d. 1588) [q. v.], and his son was the last in the male line of his branch of the house. George Hay attended school in Edinburgh, and at the age of sixteen was bound apprentice to George Lauder, a surgeon there. He was pursuing his medical studies when the highland army under Prince Charles arrived at Edinburgh in September 1745. After the victory at Prestonpans (21 Sept.) his master, Lauder, an ardent Jacobite, became military surgeon to the rebel army, and proceeded to the scene of action with several of his pupils. The house of Colonel Gardiner, near Tranent, was used as a hospital, and Hay tended the wounded there. For the next four months he followed the prince's army, accompanying the highlanders in their march southwards, and in their retreat as far as Ardoch. A severe attack of ague compelled him to return to Edinburgh, where he was detained in the castle. After about three months he was transferred to London, and remained a year there in easy confinement. Among his visitors while a prisoner in London was Meighan, a catholic publisher. From him Hay heard for the first time arguments in support of the doctrines of the Roman church.

After the passing of the Act of Indemnity in June 1747 he was set at liberty and returned to Edinburgh, but to avoid being called as a witness against his late associates he withdrew to Kirktown House, near Kilbride, the seat of his relative, Sir Walter Montgomery. The casual discovery in the library there of Goter's ‘Papist Misrepresented and Represented’ deepened the impression made by Meighan's arguments. On returning to Edinburgh he attended the fencing school of John Gordon of Braes, who introduced him to John Seton the jesuit. Seton, after giving him a regular course of instruction, received him into the catholic church, 21 Dec. 1748. He now resumed his medical studies under Dr. John Rutherford, who had commenced a course of clinical lectures in the Royal Infirmary. On 14 Oct. 1749 he was elected an ordinary member of the Royal Medical Society, and on 2 Dec. following an ‘honorary member by succession’—a class of members which has since fallen into abeyance. Being debarred by the penal laws from graduating and obtaining a diploma, he kept a chemist's shop in Edinburgh for a year. Afterwards he became surgeon on board a ship fitted out by a company of Leith merchants for the Mediterranean trade, but his engagement terminated on his arrival at Marseilles. Before his departure he had been introduced in London to Dr. Richard Challoner [q. v.], vicar-apostolic of the London district, who had persuaded him to embrace the ecclesiastical state, and had written to Bishop Smith at Edinburgh to secure a place for him in the Scots College at Rome. From Marseilles he therefore went to the Scots College at Rome, which he entered 10 Sept. 1751. He was ordained priest by Cardinal Spinelli, 2 April 1758. On 20 April 1759 he left the college for the Scotch mission, in company with the Rev. John Geddes [q. v.] and the Rev. William Guthrie. They reached Edinburgh on 15 Aug.

In November 1759 Hay took up his residence with Bishop James Grant (1706–1778) [q. v.] at Preshome in the Enzie of Banff, where he laboured as a missionary priest till August 1767. He afterwards spent two years in Edinburgh, settling the affairs of Bishop Smith. He was consecrated bishop of Daulis in partibus, and coadjutor cum jure successionis to Bishop Grant at Scalan, 21 May 1769, and continued his services at Edinburgh as procurator for the clergy and pastor of the secular mission there.

On the death of Bishop Grant, 3 Dec. 1778, he became vicar-apostolic of the lowland district of Scotland. In the following year intense excitement prevailed among the protestant population in consequence of the proposal of the government to relax in a slight degree the penal laws against the catholics. The new chapel-house in Chalmers' Close, near Leith Wynd, Edinburgh, was burnt down by the infuriated mob, 2 Feb. 1779, and next day the rabble plundered the chapel-house in Blackfriars Wynd. During these riots the bishop incurred great personal danger. His papers were saved from the fire, but his furniture and a valuable library, formed by three of his predecessors, were partly burnt and partly distributed by public auction among the populace. He came to London to obtain from the government protection for the suffering catholics. Burke interested himself in the matter, and in a letter to Patrick Bowie spoke highly of Hay. The government, after protracted negotiations, refused protection, but compensation was granted for all losses in consequence of the riots, half the amount being paid by the government and half by the city of Edinburgh. Hay returned to Scotland at the end of June, but it was thought prudent for him to avoid Edinburgh. He had petitioned the holy see for a coadjutor, and John Geddes [q. v.] was nominated on 30 Sept. 1779.

In 1781 he went to Rome to lay before the pope a plan for reorganising the Scots College there. The suppression of the jesuits had done the college serious injury. Hay's chief object was to get Scottish superiors appointed; but although he was well received in Rome, where he remained six months, some years elapsed before the whole of his plan was carried out.

In 1788 he took charge of the ecclesiastical seminary at Scalan in the Braes of Glenlivat, but he was recalled in 1793 to resume his former functions, in consequence of Bishop Geddes's failing health. The loss of all the continental establishments belonging to the mission in the French revolutionary war was a severe trial. With very slender means he began and completed a new seminary at Aquhorties, near Inverury, Aberdeenshire, to which the students removed from Scalan, 24 July 1799. Dr. Alexander Cameron [q. v.], principal of the Scots College in Spain, was appointed his coadjutor in Geddes's place, but did not arrive in Scotland till 20 Aug. 1802. Hay's request for permission to resign his episcopal charge entirely was refused by the pope. He accordingly retired to Aquhorties, and devoted all his time to pious reading and prayer, but his mental and bodily infirmities rapidly increased, and his resignation was at length accepted by the holy see. During the last two years of his life his reason failed. He died at Aquhorties on 15 Oct. 1811, and was buried within the walls of a decayed catholic chapel on the banks of the Don, not far from the house of Fetternear. A new chapel has since been erected there, and the grave is now enclosed in the south transept of the building.

Hay was the chief instrument in keeping the catholic religion alive in Scotland during a dismal period of persecution. His piety and virtues gained for him the veneration of his coreligionists, and the respect of the most enlightened of his protestant contemporaries. The popularity of his principal works, notwithstanding their ponderous style, is attested by the numerous editions through which they have passed, and by their translation into several languages. Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) Newman, on joining the Roman church, was recommended by Cardinal Wiseman to study theology in Hay's writings.

His works are: 1. ‘A Detection of the Dangerous Tendency, both for Christianity and Protestancy, of a Sermon said to be preached before an Assembly of Divines by G. C., D.D. … By a Member of the Aletheian Club,’ London, 1771, 8vo; written in reply to a sermon, ‘The Spirit of the Gospel, neither a Spirit of Superstition nor of Enthusiasm,’ by George Campbell (1719–1796) [q. v.] Hay's ‘Detection’ occasioned a lively controversy, in which Dr. William Abernethy Drummond [q. v.] took part. 2. A series of letters on usury, contributed, under the pseudonym of ‘John Simple,’ to the ‘Weekly Magazine, or Edinburgh Amusement,’ in 1772–3. They were reprinted in ‘Letters on Usury and Interest; showing the advantage of Loans for the support of Trade and Commerce,’ London, 1774, 12mo. 3. ‘The Scripture Doctrine of Miracles Displayed, in which their Nature, their Different Kinds, their Possibility, their Ends, Instruments, Authority, Criterion, and Continuation are impartially examined and explained, according to the Light of Revelation and the Principles of Sound Reason,’ 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1775, 12mo. This is his best work. An appendix contained a dialogue on transubstantiation, which elicited a reply from Dr. William Abernethy Drummond. A rejoinder by Hay appeared under the title of 4. ‘Explanatory Remarks on the Dialogue between Philalethes and Benevolus against the Appendix to the Scripture Doctrine of Miracles, in which the strength of the reasoning made use of in that Dialogue against the Appendix is examined and unfolded, and some of its defects pointed out. By a Lover of Truth and Merit,’ Edinburgh, 1776, 12mo. 5. ‘An Answer to Mr. W. A. D.'s Letter to G. H.; in which … the Roman Catholics [are] fully vindicated from the slanderous accusation of thinking it lawful to break faith with Heretics,’ Edinburgh, 1778, 8vo. In answer to a pamphlet written by Drummond, who issued a rejoinder to Hay's answer. 6. A long pastoral letter on the ‘Duties of the Clergy,’ 1780, 12mo, 96 pp. 7. ‘The Sincere Christian instructed in the Faith of Christ from the Written Word,’ 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1781, 2nd edit., 1793; 20th edit., 2 vols., Dublin, 1822, 8vo. 8. ‘The Devout Christian instructed in the Law of Christ,’ Edinburgh, 1783. 9. ‘The Pious Christian instructed in the nature and practice of those exercises of Piety which are used in the Catholic Church,’ Edinburgh, 1786. 10. Manuscript written in shorthand, preserved at Blairs College, and containing, inter alia, a collection of ‘Controversial Songs’ for popular Scottish airs. Whether Hay composed them does not, however, appear. They are all found in ‘A Collection of Spiritual Songs,’ Aberdeen, 1802. 11. ‘An Inquiry whether Salvation can be had without true Faith, and out of the communion of that one only Church established by Christ,’ London and Derby, 1856, 18mo. A reprint of the appendix to the second volume of the ‘Sincere Christian.’

An edition of his ‘Works,’ prepared under the supervision of Bishop Strain, appeared in 5 vols., Edinburgh, 1871. Vols. i. and ii. contain ‘The Sincere Christian;’ vols. iii. and iv. ‘The Devout Christian;’ and vol. v. contains ‘The Pious Christian.’ Two volumes containing ‘The Scripture Doctrine of Miracles,’ were added to this edition in 1873.

A portrait of him by George Watson, P.R.S.A., has been engraved by G. A. Periam. The original is at Blairs College. Another original portrait of him hangs in the rector's room in the Scots College at Rome.

[Life by J. A. Stothert in his Catholic Mission in Scotland, pp. 15–453; Dick's Reasons for Embracing the Catholic Faith, 1848, p. 184; Catholic Magazine and Review, pp. 276–82; Catholic Directory, 1842 (with portrait); London and Dublin Weekly Orthodox Journal, 1837, iv. 84; Brady's Episcopal Succession, iii. 461, 462.]

T. C.