Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirk, Robert

KIRK, ROBERT (1641?–1692), Gaelic scholar, was youngest son of James Kirk, minister at Aberfoyle, Perthshire, and was born presumably there about 1641. He studied at Edinburgh University (where he graduated M.A. in 1681), and afterwards at St. Andrews. In 1664 he became minister of Balquhidder, Perthshire, and in 1685 appointed to his father's old charge at Aberfoyle, where he continued until his death on 14 May 1692. He was buried near the east end of the church, and his grave is marked by a stone with the inscription, 'Robertus Kirk, A.M., Linguie Hiberniæ Lumen.' He is said to have had a benefice in England (Reid), but this is incorrect. He was twice married, and when his first wife died cut out with his own hands an epitaph for her (ib.), which is still to be seen at Balquhidden His eldest son, Colin, became a writer to the signet, and another, Robert, was appointed minister of Dornoch, Sutherlandshire.

Kirk was an admirable Gaelic scholar, and most of his literary work lay in this direction. He was the author of the first complete translation of the Scottish metrical psalms into Gaelic, published at Edinburgh in 1684 under the title of 'Psalms of Dbarbhidh an Meadrachd,' &c. ('Psalms of David Metre,' &c.) This version bears a grant of 'privilidge' from the lords of the privy council, forbidding any one to print it for eleven years. During its preparation Kirk learned that the synod of Argyle intended to bring out a rival version, and some curious stories are told of the expedients to which he resorted in order to keep himself awake while working almost night and day in order to be first in the field (Reid). Kirk's psalter is extremely rare, but copies are in the British Museum, Advocates' (Edinburgh), and Glasgow University Libraries. In 1689 Kirk was called to London to superintend the printing of the Gaelic Bible prepared under the direction of Bishop Bedell, and published in 1690. To this version he added a short Gaelic vocabulary (6 pp.), which was republished, with additions, ‘by the learned Mr. Ed. Lhuyd,’ in Nicolson's ‘Historical Library’ (8vo, London, 1702). He had a firm belief in fairy superstitions, and wrote a curious work bearing the title of ‘The Secret Commonwealth; or an Essay on the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and for the most part) Invisible People heretofoir going under the name of Faunes and Fairies, or the lyke, among the Low Country Scots, as they are described by those who have the second sight,’ 1691. There have been two reprints: Edinb. 1815, 4to (100 copies), and, with commentary by Andrew Lang, London, 1893, 8vo.

[Reid's Bibliotheca Scoto-Celtica, Glasgow, 1832, p. 21; Nisbet's Heraldry, i. 420; Scott's Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ, ii. pt. ii. 718; Marshall's Historic Scenes in Perthshire, p. 393; New Statistical Account, vols. iii. and x.; Chambers's Domestic Annals; Scott's Demonology and Witchcraft.]

J. C. H.