Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nicol, James (1769-1819)

NICOL, JAMES (1769–1819), poet, son of Michael Nicol, was born on 28 Sept. 1769 at Innerleithen, Peeblesshire. Receiving his elementary education at the parish school, and originally destined to be a shoemaker, he qualified at Edinburgh University for the ministry of the church of Scotland. After acting as tutor in private families he was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Peebles (25 March 1801); became assistant to John Walker, parish minister of Traquair, near Innerleithen (15 May 1802), and succeeded to the charge, on the death of the incumbent, on 4 Nov. following. In the same year he married Agnes, sister of his predecessor, whose virtues he had previously celebrated in verse. Besides contributing poems to the ‘Edinburgh Magazine,’ Nicol, who was a close student of ecclesiastical history and forms, wrote various articles for the ‘Edinburgh Encyclopædia.’ In matters of law and medicine he was an authority among his parishioners; he regulated their disputes, and a knowledge of medicine acquired at the university enabled him to vaccinate and to prescribe satisfactorily for ordinary ailments. In 1808 he founded the first friendly society at Innerleithen. Owing to changes in his religious views he contemplated resigning his charge, when he died, after a short illness, on 5 Nov. 1819. By his wife, who survived till 19 March 1845, he had three sons and three daughters; his son James became professor of civil and natural history in Marischal College, Aberdeen.

Nicol published at Edinburgh in 1805, in two volumes 12mo, ‘Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,’ and he is represented in Whitelaw's ‘Book of Scottish Song,’ 1844. He has a good grasp of the Scottish idiom; his estimate of character is penetrating, and his idyllic sense is pure. Burns is doubtless responsible for much of his inspiration. ‘An Essay on the Nature and Design of Scripture Sacrifice’ appeared in London in 1823.

[Rogers's Scottish Minstrel; Whitelaw's Book of Scottish Song; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scot. pt. i. p. 258.]

T. B.