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Significant Scots
Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood


Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood WELLWOOD, (SIR) HENRY MONCRIEFF, BARONET, D.D., an eminent divine, was born at Blackford, near Stirling, in February, 1750. He was the eldest son of Sir William Moncrieff, Bart., minister of the parish just named; a man of singular merits and virtues, and who possessed an influence over his parishoners, and in the surrounding country, which these alone could bestow.

The subject of this memoir was destined from an early age, as well by his own choice, as the desire of his father, to the clerical profession; and, with this view, he repaired to the university of Glasgow, after completing an initiatory course of education at the parochial school of Blackford. Having given a due attendance on the literary and philosophical classes in the university, Sir Henry entered on the study of theology, in which he made a progress that raised the highest hopes of his future eminence; and these hopes were not disappointed. About this period, he had the misfortune to lose his venerable father, who sank into a premature grave but the esteem in which that good man was held did not die with him. All those who had any influence in the appointment of a successor to his charge, unanimously resolved that his son should be that person; and, further, that, as he had not yet attained the age at which he could, according to the rules of the church, be licensed and ordained, the vacancy should be supplied by an assistant, until that period arrived. On the completion of this arrangement, which took place in 1768, Sir Henry removed to Edinburgh, where he prosecuted his studies to their close, distinguishing himself among his fellow students by the superiority of his talents, and continuing to inspire his friends with the most sanguine hopes of the success of his future ministry.

Having attained the prescribed age, he was licensed to preach the gospel, although he had not yet completed the required term of attendance at the divinity hall; and immediately after, was ordained, 15th August, 1771, to the church of his native parish. The singular talents of the young preacher, however, did not permit of his remaining long in so obscure a charge as that of Blackford. On the occurrence of a vacancy in the extensive and populous parish of St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh, Sir Henry Moncrieff, whose personal worth and extraordinary abilities were already known and appreciated in the capital, was called upon to supply it. Into this charge he was inducted in October, 1775, about four years after his ordination and settlement at Blackford. The subsequent life of Sir Henry Moncrieff, though remarkable for an exemplary and unwearied diligence in the discharge of the laborious duties of his office, and for a continued display, on his part, of every excellence and virtue which can adorn the human character, presents little of which the biographer can avail himself. Holding on the "even tenor of his way," and neither turning to the right nor to the left, but still anxiously promoting the interests of religion by his eloquence, and of morality by his example, Sir Henry Moncrieff was one of those great and good men, who are content to confine the exercise of their talents—of talents which, if they had been directed by ambition, might have procured them a more dazzling fame—to the immediate duties of their calling; and who think that the high intellectual powers with which they have been gifted, cannot be more usefully, or more appropriately employed, than in extending the knowledge and promoting the happiness of those within the immediate sphere of their personal influence. The talents of Sir Henry Moncrieff could easily have procured him, had he chosen it, a wider and a more brilliant reputation than is now attached to his name; but he conceived, and he did so justly and wisely, that the end for which these talents were bestowed on him, was fully and amply attained, by devoting them to the task of instructing those over whose spiritual welfare Providence had called him to preside; and who, as he well knew, must have lost in proportion to what others might have gained by a dissipation of his exertions.

It was not inconsistent, however, with his duties as a minister of the establishment, that he should take an active interest in the business of the church courts. At the period when he entered public life, the moderate party, headed by Drs Robertson and Drysdale, had attained a complete and hardly resisted supremacy in the Scottish church. Sir Henry, however, instead of joining with a party with which his secular rank might have been expected to inspire him with many sympathies, took a decided part on the opposite course; and soon rose, by the force of talent and character, assisted, but in no great degree, by his rank, to the situation of a leader in the more zealous party, over whom he ultimately acquired a control, not more useful to their interests than, as the result of a tacit acknowledgment of his deserts, it was honourable to himself. In 1780, he was proposed as moderator of the General Assembly, in opposition to Dr Spens, of Wemyss; the competition was keen, Dr Spens being elected by a majority of only six votes: but in 1785, Sir Henry, being again a member of the General Assembly, was unanimously chosen moderator. Dr Andrew Thomson, to whom in latter life he yielded much of his influence in the church, has thus spoken, in his funeral sermon, of the public character of Sir Henry:—

"It was in early life that he began to take an active part in the government of our national church. The principles of ecclesiastical polity, which he adopted as soon as he entered on his public career, he adopted from full and firm conviction; and he maintained, and cherished, and avowed them to the very last. They were the very same principles for which our forefathers had contended so nobly, which they at length succeeded in establishing, and which they bequeathed as a sacred and blood-bought legacy to their descendants. But though that circumstance gave a deep and solemn interest to them in his regard, he was attached to them on more rational and enlightened grounds. He viewed them as founded on the word of God, as essential to the rights and liberties of the Christian people, as identified with the prosperity of genuine religion, and with the real welfare and efficiency of the establishment. And, therefore, he embraced every opportunity of inculcating and upholding them; resisted all the attempts that were made to discredit them in theory, or to violate them in practice; rejoiced when they obtained even a partial triumph over the opposition they had to encounter; and clung to them, and struggled for them, long after they were borne down by a system of force and oppression; and when, instead of the numerous and determined host that fought by his side in happier times, few and feeble, comparatively, were those who seconded his manly efforts, and held fast their own confidence: but he lived to see a better spirit returning. This revival cheered and consoled him. Fervently did he long and pray for its continuance and its spread. Nor did he neglect to employ his influence, in order to introduce pastors who would give themselves conscientiously to their Master’s work, preaching to their flocks the truth as it is in Jesus, watching for souls, as those that must give an account; and faithfully and fearlessly performing all the duties incumbent on them, both as ministers, and as rulers in the church."

Sir Henry made a more successful opposition, especially towards the end of his life, to the dominant faction in the church, than had been made for upwards of half a century before; and, in more instances than one, he left their leader, principal Hill, in a minority: but it was, in the latter respect, adverted to by Dr A. Thomson, that his efforts were most eminently useful, and were followed with the most beneficial effect. To his efforts, indeed, are to be ascribed, in a great measure, the introduction of evangelical doctrines into parts of the country from which they had for many years been excluded, the preponderance of evangelical ministers and elders in the church courts, and the consequent ascendency of the popular party. Young men of piety and promise were always sure of his assistance and encouragement. In this respect many had reason to bless him; while the church at large has had reason to rejoice in his fidelity and wisdom. In the management of the Widows’ Fund, established by act of parliament in the year 1744, Sir Henry took a deep interest, and acted as its collector for upwards of forty years. He was also one of the original members of the society of the Sons of the Clergy, and, by his influence and his exertions, contributed largely to its success. He was, besides, a warm friend to every reasonably adjusted scheme, that had for its object the amelioration of the moral and physical condition of mankind. In the year 1826, he was bereaved of his wife, (Susan, daughter to Mr James Robertson Barclay, of Keavil, W.S., to whom he had been married in 1773, and who was his cousin;) while his own health, which had been generally good, was also undergoing a decline. In the month of August of the following year, 1827, Sir Henry himself died, after an illness of considerable duration. At the time of his death, he was in the seventy-eighth year of his age, and the fifty-sixth of his ministry.

The personal character of Sir Henry Moncrieff was, in the highest degree, respectable, and his conduct, in every relation of life, most exemplary. He had thoroughly studied the whole scheme of the gospel; and, from full and deliberate conviction, as well as from its experimental application to his own personal need, he threw himself, without pretension and without reserve, upon the peculiar doctrines of the church to which he belonged, as those which could alone insure his eternal interests.

In his ministerial capacity, he but rarely indulged in what is termed the pathetic; yet there was often, particularly towards the close of his life, a tenderness in his modes of expression, as well as in the accents of his voice, which came home to the heart, with the energy of pathos itself. As an author, Sir Henry was well known, and highly esteemed. The works which give him a claim to this title, are, "A Life of Dr John Erskine;" three volumes of sermons, and a small work on the constitution of the church of Scotland, which, as well as one of the volumes of sermous, was published posthumously. The first is an interesting record of the life of a most excellent and public-spirited minister, and contains much valuable information respecting ecclesiastical affairs in Scotland. The sermons abound with luminous expositions and practical applications of divine truth. All of these publications were well received by the public. That Sir Henry was admitted by all parties to be no ordinary man, is sufficiently evinced by the following character of him, drawn up at the unanimous request of the General Assembly of the church of Scotland, by the Rev. Dr Macgill, professor of divinity in the college of Glasgow, their moderator at the time, and inserted in the records of court; an honour which has been bestowed on but few individuals in the Scottish church. Having enjoyed the friendship and the confidence of Sir Henry from his earliest years, as well as from kindred habits of thought and feeling, no man could be better qualified than the reverend doctor to do justice to the subject.

"The Rev. Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood, whose death and character have been brought before the Assembly, was elected to be the general collector of the fund for the widows and children of this church, in 1784, and continued to discharge, till his death, the duties of that important office. During the long period of forty-three years, he received annually the thanks of the General Assembly, for the able, faithful, and affectionate manner in which he fulfilled the trust reposed in him; and never were thanks bestowed more deservedly, and with more full or heartfelt approbation. In the discharge of the difficult, and often delicate duties of his office, he united the highest honour and fidelity, with the most consummate prudence, and the greatest tenderness and forbearance; so that it is stated of him, by those who were connected with him in the trust, and who long and intimately knew him, that his vigour of mind, and the caution with which he deliberated, enabled him to form such decided opinions, as saved them in many cases from much perplexity; that even the minutest details of the management were never regarded by him as unworthy the attention of his powerful mind; that for the period during which he administered the concerns of the fund, not a single instance occurred of any embarrassment being occasioned to them, by any mistake or inadvertency on his part, and on the other hand, so great was the confidence reposed in him, that they never heard of a single complaint of severity in the exercise of the powers with which he was intrusted.

But while the General Assembly thus gratefully record their sense of the public services of Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood in that office to which their attention has been specially directed, it is impossible not also to remember what he was in a higher character, and in the discharge of higher duties. Endowed with great talents for the business of life, he was fitted for rising to high distinction in the secular departments of society; but with a strong attachment, which increased with his years, he devoted himself to the ministry of Christ in the church of Scotland. The church of Scotland was dear to him from his earliest predilections, and these were confirmed by his maturest judgments and long experience and observation of human life. The character of a minister of the gospel he valued above all others, and though of too just an understanding not to estimate the advantages of his hereditary rank, he never forgot, or allowed others to forget, that he held a sacred character, by which it was of chief importance that he should be known and considered. The doctrines of Christ were the objects of his firmest faith and warmest attachment, and to preach them to his people he considered to be his first duty, and highest honour. With a peculiar energy and power he presented them to the minds of his hearers, and made them the principles from which he enforced all the virtues and graces of a holy life; while with fearlessness and freedom, and great discernment of human character, he unfolded and exposed the besetting sins of men of every condition. As a member of the General Assembly he will long be remembered. His knowledge of business, his strong and masculine eloquence, the distinctness and vigour with which he went forward to his subject, and the simplicity and fire with which he stated his sentiments, secured to him at all times the respectful attention of men of every description. Equally distant from flattery and personal invective, he spoke with the freedom of an independent but well regulated mind; nor amidst the collision of sentiment and warmth of discussion did he ever forget the spirit which should be maintained in an assembly met in the name of Christ and to promote his kingdom. His life was devoted to active and general usefulness. He had no taste for frivolous pursuits, and while his judgment led him to devote himself chiefly to those peculiar departments of duty in which he believed he would be most useful, he entered with deep interest into every scheme of public utility, and rejoiced in the success of every well directed plan for promoting the cause of religion and humanity. The young and the friendless he delighted to take under his protection; and as his influence in society was great, so many were the individuals in every department of life, besides those who were within the reach of his private friends, whom he benefited by his active services and by the wisdom of his counsels."

To this eulogium may be added the following estimate of Sir H. Monerieff’s public character, by the late lord Cockburn, in the Life of Francis Jeffrey:—"This eminent person was not merely distinguished among his brethren of the church of Scotland, all of whom leant upon him, but was in other respects one of the most remarkable and admirable men of his age. Small gray eyes, an aquiline nose, vigorous lips, a noble head, and the air of a plain hereditary gentleman, marked the outward man. The prominent qualities of his mind were, strong integrity and nervous sense. There never was a sounder understanding. Many men were more learned, many more cultivated, and some more able. But who could match him in sagacity and mental force? The opinions of Sir Harry Moncrieff might at any time have been adopted with perfect safety, without knowing more about them than that they were his. And he was so experienced in the conduct of affairs, that he had acquired a power of forming his views with what seemed to be instinctive acuteness, and with a decisiveness which raised them above being slightly questioned. Nor was it the unerring judgment alone that the public admired. It venerated the honourable heart still more. A thorough gentleman in his feelings, and immoveably honest in his principles, his whole character was elevated into moral majesty. He was sometimes described as overbearing. And in one sense, to the amusement of his friends, perhaps, he was so. Consulted by every body, and of course provoked by many, and with very undisciplined followers to lead, his superiority gave him the usual confidence of an oracle; and this operating on a little natural dogmatism, made him sometimes seem positive, and even hard: an impression strengthened by his manner. With a peremptory conclusiveness, a shrill defying voice, and a firm concentrated air, he appeared far more absolute than he really was, for he was ever candid and reasonable. But his real gentleness was often not seen; for if his first clear exposition did not convince, he was not unapt to take up a short disdainful refutation; which, however entertaining to the spectator, was not always comfortable to the adversary. But all this was mere manner. His opinions were uniformly liberal and charitable, and, when not under the actual excitement of indignation at wickedness or dangerous folly, his feelings were mild and benignant; and he liberalized his mind by that respectable intercourse with society which improves the good clergyman, and the rational man of the world. I was once walking with him in Queen Street, within the last three years of his life. A person approached who had long been an illiberal opponent of his, and for whom I understood that he had no great regard. I expected them to pass without recognition on either side. But instead of this, Sir Harry, apparently to the man’s own surprise, stopped, and took him by the hand, and spoke kindly to him. When they separated, I said to Sir Harry that I thought he had not liked that person. ‘Oh! no; he’s a foolish, intemperate creature. But to tell you the truth, I dislike a man fewer every day that I live now.’" Lord Cockburn adds that Sir Harry’s "great instrument of usefulness was his public speaking;" that he often rose in the pulpit into "great views and powerful declamation;" was "the noblest deliverer of prayers at striking funerals;" and in debate "a fearful man to grapple with;" that "his writing, though respectable, was feeble;" and that "had he not preferred his church to every other object, there was no public honour to which he might not have fought his way," as counsel, judge, head of public department, or parliamentary leader.


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