Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robertson, William Bruce

ROBERTSON, WILLIAM BRUCE (1820–1886), divine, third surviving son of John Robertson, factor on the estate of Plean and Auchenbowie, Stirlingshire, by Margaret Bruce, born Kirkwood, was born at Greenhill in St. Ninian's parish, Stirlingshire, on 24 May 1820. He was educated at the village school of Greenhill and at home, under the tutorship of his elder brother, James, who became minister of the united presbyterian church at Newington, Edinburgh. Robertson matriculated at Glasgow University in 1832, and distinguished himself specially in the Greek class under Sir Daniel Keyte Sandford [q. v.]; but, owing to his youth, he studied moral philosophy and natural philosophy at the Andersonian University, Glasgow, instead of completing at once his arts course. In 1836 he became tutor in the family of Captain Aytoun of Glendevon, taking the winter sessions at Glasgow University. From 1837 to 1841 he was a student at the Secession Theological Hall at Edinburgh. While there he became acquainted with De Quincey, by whose advice he went to Germany, entering in 1841 Halle University, where Tholuck was his chief professor. In the following year he travelled through Switzerland and Italy. Returning to Scotland, he was licensed as a preacher in the spring of 1843 by the presbytery of Stirling and Falkirk, and shortly afterwards was called to the secession church in Irvine, Ayrshire. He was ordained in this charge on 26 Dec. 1843, and it was his first and last pastorate. In 1854 he published a collection of hymns for use in his Sunday school, including among others his well-known translation of ‘Dies Iræ.’ Meanwhile, the secession and relief churches were joined in 1847 to form the united presbyterian denomination, and Robertson continued his connection with it. A new church was built for him at Irvine in 1861 and called Trinity church. His health broke down in 1871, and under medical advice he spent a year at Florence and on the Riviera. He returned to Irvine in 1873. But he was compelled to accept the assistance of a colleague in February 1876. After a two years' visit to Florence he resigned his charge. He took up his residence at Bridge of Allan, making tours on the continent in the winter. When the Luther celebrations took place, in November 1883, he again visited Germany. He died at Westfield, Bridge of Allan, on 27 June 1886.

Robertson was more famous as a pulpit orator than as a writer. Several of his sermons have been preserved from shorthand reports, and are published in Guthrie's biography of him; but they give little idea of the magnetic influence he exercised in the pulpit. Three of his lectures—‘Martin Luther,’ ‘German Student Life,’ and ‘Poetry’—were published in one volume in 1892. Numerous poems, hymns, and letters are included in Dr. Brown's ‘Life of Robertson.’

[Dr. James Brown's Life of William B. Robertson, D.D.; McKelvie's Annals and Statistics of the United Presbyterian Church; Dr. John Ker's Scottish Nationality and other Papers; Professor William Graham's Essays, Historical and Biographical; United Presbyterian Magazine, vol. for 1886; Arthur Guthrie's Robertson of Irvine.]

A. H. M.