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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
The Rev. Robert Walker, of the High Church


This much esteemed clergyman was for upwards of twenty years a colleague of the celebrated Dr. Blair, whose memoir has already been given.

Mr. Walker was born in the Canongate of Edinburgh in 1716, his father being minister of that parish. He studied at the University of Edinburgh; and, in 1787, was licensed by the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright. In 1738, he received a unanimous call to the parish of Straiton, situated within the bounds of the Presbytery of Ayr, to which he was ordained; and, for nearly eight years, continued zealously to discharge the duties of the pastoral office among the parishioners, by whom he was much beloved and respected. He has been frequently heard to declare, in after life, that he looked back upon the years passed at Straiton as the most happy and satisfactory period of his life.

From Straiton, in 1746, he was called to the second charge in South Leith. Being then in the prime of life, he appeared in the pulpit to great advantage, and became very popular. Here he remained till 1754, when he was appointed to one of the collegiate charges in the High Church, where he continued during the remainder of his life.

Mr. Walker maintained a high character, both as a man and as a preacher. He published two volumes of Sermons, which long retained their popularity, and are yet so much admired by preachers, that, with a few alterations, they are frequently adopted by some in the pulpit as their own ! With his colleague, Dr. Blair, notwithstanding a difference of opinion on some minor points, he lived on terms of the closest friendship and intimacy; and although he did not aspire to the literary fame of that divine, his eloquence as a preacher was not less commanding, nor his local popularity inferior. The celebrity of the one existed principally among the higher classes in the city; while the more evangelical discourses of the other endeared him to the less opulent, yet equally, if not more, devout portion of the community. The congregations of the two incumbents were thus very dissimilar in character. Dr. Blair's was less numerous than that of Mr. "Walker, "but the church-door collections of the former were much greater. Hence the elders were wont to remark, that it took twenty-four of Mr. Walker's hearers to equal one of Dr. Blair's.

In private life, Mr. "Walker was certainly more generally esteemed than his colleague. This probably arose from a familiarity on the part of the one, which was in some measure foreign to the character and manners of the other; and there was at least one virtue—liberality in money matters—which he possessed to a greater extent than his literary colleague. One day, during the repairs of the High Church, while the two ministers were looking on, the workmen importuned Mr. Walker for some money to drink their healths. To this Mr. Walker jocularly replied—" apply to my colleague," whom they knew to be not remarkably generous—at the same time quietly giving them five shillings.

Mr. Walker was highly Calvinistic in his religious views; and, where he conceived it to be his duty, no man could be more firm in denouncing any derelictions of a public or private nature. He was an enemy to many public amusements. During the early part of his incumbency in the High Church, the celebrated case of Home, the author of Douglas, called in an especial manner the attention of the clergy to the stage, and brought down their severest denouncements. On reading the admonition of the Presbytery of Edinburgh from the pulpit, on the 30th of January, 1757, he entered warmly and fearlessly upon the subject of theatrical representations. On another occasion, which caused no inconsiderable degree of excitement in the city, some thirteen years afterwards, he spoke out with equal boldness; and although, at the present day, there may not be many who will coincide to the full in his opinions with respect to the stage, all must admire the manly tone of his sentiments, and the eloquence with which they were expressed. The circumstance to which we allude occurred in 1770, when the comedy of the Minor, under the management of Mr. Foote, was performed on the Saturday evening. The occurrence gave rise to severe remarks in the periodical works of the time; and called forth a sermon from the Rev. Mr. Baine, which he published and dedicated to Mr. Foote. The following account of the affair is from one of the London journals—the article having been forwarded from Edinburgh :—

"On Saturday, November 24, Mr. Foote gave us the Minor; that piece of his which has made so much noise. The play for that night was bespoke by the Lord President of the Court of Session [Robert Dundas of Arniston], in justice to whom, however, it must be observed, that he did not fix on the particular piece that should be acted; and when it was known to be the Minor, a very proper message was sent to Mr. Foote, not to exhibit the ludicrous epilogue. Some of our thoughtless bucks, however, were determined to frustrate the decent and becoming resolution of their superiors; and, having plauted themselves in the pit, they, with much vociferation, roared out for Dr. Squintum. After a pause, to see if the storm would subside, Mr. Foote, who was by this time dressed for the character of Major Sturgeon, came forward, and made an apology, putting the audience in mind of the old proverb—De mortius nil nisi bonum—which ought never to be violated. A distinguished buck cried, 'That won't satisfy us.' 'Sir,' said a noble peer, 'if you have a heart it should satisfy you.' Nothing, however, would do but Mr. Foote's speaking the epilogue— which he accordingly was obliged to do. Next day the Rev. Mr. Walker, one of the ministers of the High Church, having had occasion, in the course of his lecturing on the Scriptures, to mention the doctrine of regeneration, he took an opportunity of censuring what he called the gross profanation in the Theatre the preceding evening. He delivered himself with dignity, propriety, and spirit; and, though we could not go so far as he did in our notions of the stage in general, we could not but admire him for speaking his sentiments with an earnest firmness. He happened on that day to lecture in course on 2 Cor. v. 14—21; and, when he came to verse 17, before expounding it, he said—

"'I cannot read this verse without expressing the just indignation I feel upon hearing, that last night a profane piece of buffoonery was publicly acted, in which, unless it hath undergone very material alterations, this sacred doctrine, and some others connected with it, are introduced to the stage for no other purpose but to gratify the impiety, and to excite the laughter of thoughtless, miserable, dying sinners.

"'I had occasion some years ago to deliver very fully, from this place, my opinion of theatrical entertainments in general—an opinion then supported by the laws of my country. And as my sentiments in that matter were not formed upon such fluctuating things as the humours, or maxims, or decrees, of man, it is impossible that any variation in these can alter them; though perhaps I should not have thought it necessary to remind you of them at present, had not so gross an outrage upon the very passage that occurs this day in my course of lecturing challenged me to it. When I say this, I do not mean to make any sort of apology for using my undoubted privilege to walk with perfect freedom in the King's highway—I mean in the highway of the King of kings. If any jostle me in that road, they, and not I. must answer for the consequences. I here speak upon oath; I am bound to declare the whole counsel of God; and wo is to me if I preach not the gospel. If men are bold enough to act impiety, surely a minister of Christ may at least be equally bold in reproving it; he hath a patent for doing so more valid and authoritative than any theatre can possess, or any power on earth can give.' "

Such is a specimen of Mr. Walker's pulpit oratory, and of the manly independence of his spirit. The Lords of Session, the Barons of the Exchequer, and the Lord Provost and Magistrates, were present ou the occasion.

Mr. Walker possessed a sound constitution, and enjoyed almost uninterrupted good health till 1782, when lie was seized with apoplexy. He recovered so far, however, in the course of the year, as to resume his ministerial labours. On Friday, the 4th of April, 1783, he preached in the forenoon, apparently in his usual health; but on leaving the pulpit he complained of headache, and no sooner reached his own, house, which he did with some difficulty, than he was instantly seized with a stupor, and died in the course of two hours. Funeral sermons were preached, on account of his demise, by the Rev. Dr. Erskine, and by his own colleague, the Rev. Dr. Blair.

Mr. Walker resided at the Castle Hill, nearly opposite the Water Reservoir.


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