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McCrie, Thomas (1772-1835) (DNB00)


McCRIE, THOMAS. D.D. (1772–1835), Scottish seceding divine and ecclesiastical historian, eldest son of Thomas McCrie, a substantial linen-weaver,by his first wife Mary (Hood), was born at Duns, Berwickshire, in November 1772. After passing through the parish school, he became an elementary teacher in neighbouring schools. In 1788 he entered at the Edinburgh University, but did not graduate. He became in May 1791 teacher of an 'anti-burgher' school at Brechin, Forfarshire. To qualify himself for the ministry, he studied divinity under Archibald Bruce [q.v.] of Whitburn, Linlithgowshire, professor of theology to the 'general associate synod' (anti-burgher). He was licensed in. September 1795 by the associate presbytery of Kelso, and ordained on 26 May 1796 as minister of the second associate congregation in Potterrow, Edinburgh. He early showed both literary and controversial ability.

Since 1747, when the 'general associate synod' seceded from the 'associate synod on the ground of the unlawfulness of the civic oath [see Erskine, Ebenezer, and Gib, Adam], changes had come over the minds of the 'anti-burghers' on the question of the mutual relations of civil and ecclesiastical authority. From the position that the civil power is to exercise itself in church matters under the guidance of ecclesiastical criticism, they had advanced to a view of the complete independence of church and state, and consequent denial of any place for civil authority in church affairs. This change of front was signalized by a 'new testimony,' adopted by the synod in May 1804. Bruce, McCrie, and two other ministers made repeated protests against this 'new testimony' as at variance with the older standards. At length, on 28 Aug. 1806, they formed themselves into a 'constitutonal aasociate presbytery.' The synod deposed them (McCrie on 2 Sept.) from the ministry. A lawsuit resulted (24 Feb. 1809) in McCrie's ejection from the Potterrow meeting-house, when his congregation built new one in Davie Street, out of West Richmond Street. In 1827 the 'constitutional' body, joined by protesting members of the 'burgher' synod, took the name of 'original seceders.'

McCrie was drawn by this conflict about the first principles of ecclesiastical theory to a thorough and searching study of Scottish church history, in its organic connection with the national life, and with the general development of protestant civilisation. The first fruit of his labour was the life of Knox, finished in November 1811, which made its mark at once as a work of genius as well as of erudition, and has permanently placed its author in the front rank of British writers on church history. Its breadth of treatment was something new in ecclesiastical biography. It effected a revolution in the public estimate of its subject, akin to that achieved by Carlyle's 'Cromwell,' though by different means. McCrie is not a showman with a hero on view, but an historian of principles and policy. His biography of Melville (November 1819) pursues the theme of the Scottish national career under the influence of the Reformation. The post-Reformation church history of Scotland he did not treat with the same fulness: his life of Alexander Henderson (1583?-1646) [q. v.], in the 'Christian Instructor,' vol. x., is little more than a personal sketch. Later he broke new ground in his histories of the Italian (1827) and Spanish (1829) movements of evangelical and free opinion at the era of the Reformation; which nothing is more admirable than the fairness of his dealing with schools of thought very different from his own. It is to be lamented that he did not live to execute a projected life of Calvin. 'His literary genius,' says Professor Lorimer, 'was neither wholly historical nor wholly biographical, but found congenial employment in biographical history or historical biography, buying equal delight in the personal traits and minute facts appropriate to the one, and in the broad views and profound principles characteristic of the other. It is not often that biographers make good historians, or that historians are equally great in biography, but be was equally great in both' (Imperial Dict. of Biog. pt. xiii. p. 265).

On 3 Feb. 1813 the Edinburgh University made him D.D., a degree often conferred on English nonconformists, but never before on a Scottish dissenter. After the death of Bruce (1816), McCrie acted till 1818 as his successor in the chair of divinity. Coincidently with his entrance on this office he published in the 'Christian Instructor' (January-March 1817) a powerful critique on Sir Walter Scott's representations of the covenanters (in 'Old Mortality'), in which he proved himself a better antiquary than the great novelist (Scott, Journal, ii. 404 n.) Subsequently he published, either separately in magazines, a number of biographies and reviews of biographies, chiefly Scottish.

McCrie died at Edinburgh on 5 Aug. 1835, and was buried on 12 Aug. in Greyfriars' churchyard; a deputation from the general assembly of the church of Scotland attended funeral. He married, firstly, in 1796, Janet, daughter of William Dickson of Swinton, Berwickshire, by whom he had issue: (1) Thomas [q. v.]; (2) William, merchant in Edinburgh; (3) Jessie, married to Archibald Meikle of Flemington; (4) John, d. October 1837; and (5) George, minister of Ciola, Aberdeenshire. He married, secondly, in 1827, Mary, fourth daughter of Robert Chalmers, minister at Haddington, who survived him and received a pension from government on the ground of her husband's services to literature.

A portrait by Sir John Watson Gordon is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

He published, besides single sermons:

  1. 'The Life of John Knox, containing Illustrations of the History of the Reformation in Scotland,' &c., Edinburgh, 1812, 8vo, 2 vols.; 2nd edit, revised and enlarged, Edinburgh, 1813, 8vo. 2 vols. Of the many subsequent editions, the most important are: Edinburgh, 1840, 8vo (reprinted London. 1854, 8vo), with corrections, notes, and memoir by Andrew Crichton, LL.D. [q.v.]; and Edinburgh, 1865, 8vo, with appended notes by Thomas McCrie, his son, being vol, i. of his' Works.'
  2. 'The Life of Andrew Melville, containing Illustrations of the Ecclesiastical and Literary History of Scotland," &c., Edinburgh, 1819, 8vo, 2 vols.; 2nd edit, revised, Edinburgh, 1623, 8vo; 3rd edit. 1866, 8vo, with appended notes by his son, being vol. ii. of his 'Works.'
  3. 'Memoirs of … William Veitch and George Brysson, written by themselves, with other Narratives illustrative of the History of Scotland … to the Revolution," &c., Edinburgh, 1825, 8vo.
  4. ' History of the Progress and Suppression of the Reformation in Italy,' &c., Edinburgh, 1827, 8vo; 2nd edit, enlarged, 1832, 8vo.
  5. 'History of the Progress and Suppression of the Reformation in Spain,' &c., Edinburgh, 1829, 8vo.

Posthumous was

  1. 'Sermons,' &c., Edinburgh, 1836, 8vo.

A volume of his 'Miscellaneous Writings,' collected and edited by his son, Edinburgh, 1841, 8vo, contains annotated reprints of his biographies of Henderson, Patrick Hamilton [q. v.], F. Lambert, A. Rivet, and J. Murray; his account of the 'Taborites,' his reviews of Milne on presbytery and episcopacy, Simeon on the liturgy, Sismondi's 'Considerations' on Geneva, Scott's 'Tales of my Landlord,' Orme's Owen, and Turner's 'Life and Times,' also three pamphlets on church matters. In 1805 or 1806 he edited the 'Christian Magazine.' He was a contributor to 'Blackwood's Magazine' in its first year (1817). His last publication was an anonymous pamphlet (May 1833) advocating the abolition of church patronage.

[Life, by his son, 1840; Thomson's Historical Sketch of the Secession Church, 1848. pp. 173 eq.; Memoir by Crichton, 1854; Catalogue of Edinburgh Graduates, 1858, p. 251; Grub's Eccl. Hist. of Scotland, 1862. iv. 153, 160 sq., 235; Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1872, ii. 711 sq.]

A. G.