- There was a family of the name of Chalmers settled in France, who were
barons of Tartas in Normandy. They are said to have been descended from
the ancient family of Chalbers in Scotland by means of Job Chalmers who,
leaving that country, married in France Martha de Cuiglosse, heiress at
Tartas, in the year 1440. The reason of his leaving Scotland was that
seven brethren of the family of Chalmers, of which this Job Chalmers was
supposed to be one, had murdered the baron of Balgonie, and in
consequence were banished the kingdom and their estates confiscated. In
a letter written at Paris the 26th October 1644, by the Abbe
Chalmers, a Scotsman, nominated bishop of Vance in Provence, in answer
to one from Mons. Chalmers, counsellor to the king and
Lieutenant-general Tartas at Tartas, whom he styles his cousin, he says
that the decay of their ancient family in Scotland was “by reason of the
unhappiness of the times, and chiefly by means of the heresy whereof his
great grandfather and grandfather were such furious protectors that they
were known to have ransacked the churches at Aberdeen, whereof their
ancestors were as perpetual governors for five hundred years,” as, he
adds, “may be seen at this day by their magnificent tombs in the said
city.” He also says that the baron of Balgonie was killed by the seven
brethren, “for ane abuse done to their father.” A memorandum sent to
Blaise Chalmers, lieutenant-general of Tartas, by David Chalmers, lord
of Dormont (Ormond), a judge of the court of session, (of whom a notice
follows,) about a hundred years before, states that the baron of
Gadgirth was the chief of the name of Chalmers. The father of this David
Chalmers, as we learn from that document, was Andrew Chalmers of
Strequelin (Strichen), in the county of Aberdeen. Mention is also made
of Peter Chalmers, councillor to the king (of France) and
lieutenant-general of the jurisdiction of Tartas. Of all these parties
the arms were stated to be the same as those of the family of Gadgirth.
Notwithstanding their thus connecting themselves with the Ayrshire
family, we rather think that the branch in France belonged to the house
of Chalmers of Aberdeenshire, which was altogether of distinct origin.
The Family of
Chalmers of Balnacraig, in Aberdeenshire, is considered by all Scottish
genealogists as springing from the clan Cameron, and a totally different
family from that of Gadgirth, although of the same surname. This is
instructed by the difference in their coats of arms, for there is not
one figure in the arms of the one that corresponds with those of the
other; and antiquaries generally allow that the origin and ancient
descent of families are better ascertained by armorial bearings than by
surnames, arms being of greater antiquity. It is supposed that the
ancestors of the family of Balnecraig were settled at an early period in
the north of Scotland, but the first that can be fixed upon with any
certainty was Robert Chalmers of Kintore, who married Helen Garviehaugh
or Garioch, sister of Sir James Garviehaugh, knight, a gentleman of good
descent, who had from Sir Thomas Randolph, the great earl of Moray,
tenant of Duncan earl of Fife in the estate of Lumphanan, a charter of
the lands of Balnacraig, Belode (Beltie), Claychock (Cloak), and
Talanschyn (Tillyching), with their patents, &c. This Robert Chalmers of
Kintore received, jointly with his wife, from her nephew, Andrew
Garviehaugh of Caskieben, the son of the above knight, a charter of the
lands named, dated at Aberdeen, 8th August, 1357, to be
holden of the earl of Moray and his heirs for a pair of white gloves
rendered yearly at the manor of Caskieben if asked for, and became the
founder of a house which flourished for more than four hundred years.
This charter was confirmed by Isabel Randolph, daughter and heiress of
the said earl of Moray, lord of Annandale and Man. Robert and Helen
Chalmers left a son, William Chalmers or de Camera, as the name was then
spelled, who was several times provost of Aberdeen from 1392 until 1404.
He seems to have had a son, or brother, Thomas Chalmers, who was also
provost of that city in 1412. Alexander Chalmers probably his son, was
provost in 1443, and for several different years thereafter, down to
1495, when he is designed of Murthill. In the public registers is a
charter granted by Alexander Chalmers of Balnacraig to Henry Forbes, of
the lands of Thomaston and Fullarton, with an annual rent of five
shillings out of the king’s lands of Kinkell and Dyce, in the thanage of
Kintore and shire of Aberdeen, dated 7th April, and confirmed
at St. Andrews 1st March, 1535. In the eighteenth century the
estate of Balnacraig passed into the possession of the Farquharsons of
Finzean, and Patrick Chalmers, Esq. of Auldbar in Forfarshire, is
believed to be the representative of the Balnacraig family.
IN 1746, while
a party of military were preparing to burn the old mansion-house of
Balnacraig, in the parish of Aboyne, one of the soldiers thrust his head
into a jar of honey, and could only be extricated by a portion of the
mouth of the jar being broken off, which was done amid the jeers of his
comrades. During this scene a counter order to save the house arrived.
The honey-jar, with its broken lip, was in consequence preserved at the
house as the cause of its preservation.
The family of
Chalmers of Cults, in the parish of Tarland, was an early cadet of that
of Balnacraig. Alexander Chalmers, the first of Cults, is supposed to
have been a grandson of the William Chalmers above-named. He married
Lady Agnes Hay, daughter of the earl of Errol. Alexander Chalmers of
Cults, the fifth in descent from the above-named Alexander, the first of
Cults, was provost of Aberdeen in 1567. By his wife, Janet, daughter of
Lumsden of Cushnie, he had two sons, Gilbert his successor, and William,
minister of Boyndie, of whose descendants afterwards. His elder son.
Gilbert Chalmers of Cults, received a charter of confirmation of part of
his paternal estates in November 1601. He seems also to have sold the
greater portion of them to Sir James Gordon of Lesmoir in 1612, among
which were the lands of Cults, which now belong to the duke of Richmond.
By his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Frazer of Dores, he had a son,
Alexander Chalmers, who appears nevertheless to have been designated of
Cults. He married Janet, daughter of James Irvine of Drum, and had a
son, Alexander Chalmers of Cults, who married Marjory, daughter of
Robert Lumsden of Cushnie, advocate, by whom he had an only daughter,
Marjory, the wife of John Urie, of Pitfichy, and their son was Sir John
Urie or Urrie, lieutenant-general in 1643, under the great marquis of
Montrose. In this Alexander Chalmers ended the elder male branch of the
family of Cults.
second son of Alexander Chalmers of Cults, the provost of Aberdeen,
above referred to, was the first protestant minister at the kirk of
Boyndie, in Banffshire, and was planted there in the early part of the
reign of Charles the First. He married Elizabeth, daughter of William
Chalmers of the same family of Cults, minister of Skene, and had four
sons, who were all episcopal clergymen, namely, 1st, William
Chalmers, minister at Fettercarn. After the revolution he was sent to
London by the episcopal clergy of the north of Scotland, to attend to
their affairs at court; and soon after the accession of Queen Anne, he
presented to her an address from his brethren, when her majesty
conferred a pension of a hundred pounds a-year on him. He married
Elizabeth, daughter of Barclay of Towie, and had two sons, William,
minister at Glammis, and James, minister at cullen. 2d, James, parson of
Paisley. He was first one of the professors of philosophy in Marischal
college, Aberdeen, which office he held in 1650, when Charles the Second
was in Scotland; and while at Aberdeen his majesty distinguished him
with particular marks of favour. On one occasion, especially, when he
waited on the king, Charles, in the hearing of all present, saluted him
with these words, “God save you, Mr. Chalmers!” Having entered into holy
orders, he was presented to New Machar, withhin seven miles of Aberdeen,
but soon after was translated to the kirk of Cullen, of which his nephew
James was afterwards incumbent. During his ministry here, preaching once
on Jotham’s parable (Judges, chap. ix.) In the time of Cromwell’s
usurpation, he gave so great offence to a company of soldiers, then
quartered there, that they carried him prisoner to Elgin, where he was
confined for some time. After the establishment of episcopacy in
Scotland in 1662, he was promoted to the kirk of Dumfries, and there is
an act of the lords of secret council in his favour, dated 11th
December that year, registered in the council books, allowing him to
draw the year’s stipend due to the late minister of Dumfries, as well as
his own due from Cullen. It was after this that he became parson of
Paisley. He was nominated by Charles the Second to the bishopric of
Orkney, but died at Edinburgh before he could be consecrated, and was
buried in the Chalmers’ tomb in Greyfriars churchyard of that city. He
married, first, a daughter of William Scroggie, bishop of Argyle, and,
secondly, Elizabeth, sister of Robert Petrie of Portlethen, provost of
Aberdeen from 1664 to 1671, and had two sons, James, minister of
Kirkpatrick-Fleming, and Charles, who was admitted writer to the signet,
16th October 1704, but afterwards entered the army, and was
for some time a captain in the Scots guards, but sold his commission in
1714. He was killed at the battle of Sheriffmuir, on the side of the
Pretender, in 1715. He was twice married, and had two sons, Roderick,
Ross herald and herald painter in Edinburgh, and James, who was also an
artist. 3d, John, minister of Peterhead, and chaplain to John earl of
Middleton, commissioner to the first Scots parliament after the
restoration. He married Mary, daughter of Keith of Whiteriggs, sheriff
of Mearns. 4th, Patrick, succeeded his father as minister of
Boyndie. By his wife, Anne, daughter of James Ogilvie of Raggel in that
parish, he had two sons and a daughter. The elder son was a clergyman of
the Church of England in the county of Essex. The younger died a youth
at Marischal college, Aberdeen. The daughter married George Ogilvy of
was conferred in 1664 on a member of the younger branch of the Cults
family, but the name of the grantee is not known/
title is of Cults, the family had ceased to possess that property, and
gradually fell into decay. About the middle of the last century the
grandson of the first baronet was Sir Charles Chalmers, captain in the
royal regiment of artillery, who died at Pondicherry in the East Indies,
in November 1760, and was succeeded by his brother Sir George Chalmers
of Cults, baronet, who was long resident in India. He died in 1764, and
is supposed to have left a son, Sir George Chalmers, nominally of Cults,
an eminent painter. He was a native of Edinburgh, and the scholar of
Ramsay, but he afterwards studied at Rome. The honours of his family
descended to him without fortune, their estates having been previously
sold, as already related. Sir George was in consequence obliged to make
art his profession. He resided a few years at Hull, where he painted
several portraits, and frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy. He
died in London about the early part of 1791. There is a mezzotinto print
of General Lord Blakeney, after a painting by Chalmers, done in 1755, at
Minorca, when his lordship, who was his particular friend, was governor
of that island. In Bromley’s Catalogue of engraved portraits, mention is
made of a portrait of his relation Roderick Chalmers, Rose Herald and
Painter of Edinburgh, in his Herald’s coat, which was engraved by G.
Chalmers, j. He married at Edinburgh, 4th June 1768,
Isabella, daughter of John Alexander, Esq., historical and portrait
painter in that city, and had a son, Sir Robert Chalmers, baronet,
commander of the Alexander Lazaretto, stationed at the Motherbank. He
died at Portsea in 1807. His son, Sir Charles W. Chalmers, an officer in
the royal navy, was the last baronet of whom there is any account.
In the last
century the office of principal of King’s college Old Aberdeen, was held
for nearly sixty years by Dr. John Chalmers, who died 7th May
1800. There was also a William Chalmers, professor of medicine. The
first newspaper begun in the north of Scotland, the Aberdeen Journal,
was originated in 1746 by Mr. James Chalmers, printer in that city; and
his son in 1771 established the Aberdeen Almanack.
distinguished person of this name is Major-general Sir William Chalmers,
knight and C.B., eldest son of William Chalmers, Esq. of Glenricht,
Perthshire, and nephew of Sir Kenneth douglas, baronet, of Glenbervie.
He was born in 1787, and entered the army in 1803. He served in the
whole campaigns of the war with France, chiefly as a staff officer, in
Portugal, in Spain, at Walcheren, in Belgium and France. He was severely
wounded in the assault of the entrenchments at Sarre, and had nine
horses killed or wounded under him in action, three of them at the
battle of Waterloo, where he commanded a wing of the 52d foot; he
received the brevet of major for his services at the Pyrenees, and that
of lieutenant-colonel for Waterloo. He was created a military companion
of the Bath in 1838, a knight commander of the order of Guelphs of
Hanover in 1837, and a knight bachelor by letters patent in 1844. He was
made a major-general in the army in 1846, and a lieutenant-general in
1854. Colonel of 78th foot. He married in 1826 the daughter
of Thomas Page, Esq.
judicially styled Lord Ormond, an historian, priest, and lawyer, was
born in the county of Ross, about 1530, and educated in the university
of Aberdeen. In some biographies his name is erroneously spelled
Chambers, but according to the continuator of Nisbet he belonged to the
family of Chalmers of Strichen, in Aberdeenshire, and his father’s name
was Andrew Chalmers. After taking orders, he proceeded to France and
Italy, where he studied theology and the canon and civil laws, as was
customary in those days. In 1556 he was a pupil of Marianus Sozenus, at
Bologna. On his return to Scotland, he became successively parson of
Suddy, provost of Creichton, and chancellor of the diocese of Ross. On
26th January 1565, he was appointed by Queen Mary one of the
lords of Session on the spiritual side, when he assumed the title of
Lord Ormond. In the letter of presentation he was styled the queen’s
“weil beluffit clerk and familiar servitor,” and he was also named a
privy councillor. In 1566, he was employed, with other legal
functionaries, in compiling and publishing the Acts of the Scottish
parliament. The volume in which these are contained is known by the name
of the “Black Acts,” from being printed in black letter. The same year,
Buchanan says, Queen Mary lived in the Exchequer, “quod in propinquo
diversabatur David Camerius, Bothueli cliens, cujus posticum erat
hortis Reginae vicinum, qua Bothuelius, quoties lubitum esset commearet.”
A curious tale as to the use made of these apartments may be found in
Buchanan’s ‘Detection,’ p. 6. In December of that year, he obtained a
charter of the lands of Castleton and others in the earldom of Ross,
“hir majestie havand respect to the gud, trew, and obedient service done
in all tymes past to hir Majesties honour, will, and comtentment, not
only in this realme, bot in sic foreyn cuntries as it plesit hir hieness
to command him, and that, therethrow, baith he put his persoun in perill
and danger, but alsue gretlie superexpendit himself;’ and this grant was
ratified by parliament, 19th April 1567.
engaged in the conspiracy for murdering the queen’s husband, the
ill-fated Darnley, and in a placard affixed to the door of the Tolbooth
of Edinburgh, on the night of the 16th February, he, with the
earl of Bothwell, Mr. James Balfour, parson of Flisk, and ‘black Mr.
John Spence,’ were publicly denounced as the principal devisers thereof.
Mr. Tytler, however, is mistaken in supposing that his lordship took
guilt to himself by a precipitate flight to France [Tytler’s Craig,
p 95], as he was in the following year, namely on 19th
August 1568, forfeited for his assistance to queen Mary after her escape
from Lochleven, and particularly for being at the field of Langside on
the side of her majesty. When the misfortunes of Queen Mary forced her
to quit the kingdom, Lord Ormond, who continued faithful to her, was
compelled to fly to Spain, where he experienced a gracious reception
from King Philip the Second. He subsequently took refuge in France, and
in 1572 he published at Paris ‘Historie Abregé de tons les Roys de
France, Angleterre, et Ecosse;’ which work he afterwards enlarged with a
history of the popes and emperors, and dedicated to the french king,
Henry the Third. In 1579, he published other two works in the French
language (see following list). Sometime afterwards he returned to
Scotland, and on 4th September 1583, received at Falkland his
“hieness’ pacification,” restoring him to all the lands and offices,
benefices, dignities, honours and privileges, which had formerly
pertained to him. Against this measure the General Assembly of the
church strenuously remonstrated with the king, as Lord Ormond still lay
under the suspicion of having been accessary to the death of his
majesty’s father; in consequence of which, although the remission was
ratified in parliament, 22d May 1584, it was clogged with a proviso that
it should not extend to the “Odious murthers of our soverane Lordis
darrest fader and two Regentis.” He was, however, never brought to trial
for this or any other crime; and on the 21st of June 1586, he
was restored to his seat on the bench. He died in November 1592. His
Abregé de tons les Roys de France, Angleterre, et Ecosse, mise en ordre
par forme d’harmonie; contenant aussi un brief discours de l’ancienne
alliance et mutuel secours entre la France et l’Ecosse: plus, l’Epitome
de l’Historie Romaine des Papes et Empereurs. Paris. 1579, 8vo.
des Singularités les plus remarkables concernant l’Etat d’Ecosse. Paris,
Discours de la
legitime Succession des Femmes aux Possessions de leurs Parens, et du
Gouvernment des Princesses aux Empires et Royaumes. Paris, 1579, 8vo.
a distinguished historical, political, and antiquarian writer, descended
from the family of Chalmers of Pittensear, in the county of Moray, was
born at Fochabers in the end of the year 1742. He received the early
part of his education at the grammar school of his native town, and
afterwards removed to King’s college, Old Aberdeen, where he had as one
of his preceptors the celebrated Dr. Reid, then professor of moral
philosophy. From thence he went to Edinburgh, where he studied law for
several years. In 1763 he sailed to America with an uncle, to assist him
in the recovery of a tract of land of considerable extent in Maryland.
He subsequently settled at Baltimore, where he practised as a lawyer
till the breaking out of the revolutionary war. On his return to Britain
in 1775 he settled in London, where he applied to literary pursuits, and
in 1780 produced his ‘Political Annals of the United Colonies;’ and in
1782 his ‘Estimate of the Comparative Strength of Great Britain during
the Present and four Preceding Reigns.’ These works are said to have
recommended him to the notice of government, and in August 1786 he was
appointed chief clerk of the Committee of Privy Council, for the
consideration of all matters relating to trade and foreign plantations.
He also acted as colonial agent for the Bahama islands. A list of the
various works of Mr. Chalmers, who was a member both of the Royal and
Antiquarian Societies, as well as an honorary member of the Antiquaries
of Scotland, and of other learned bodies, is subjoined. His greatest
production is his ‘Caledonia,’ the first volume of which appeared in
1807, and which he himself styled his “standing work.” This truly
national publication was intended to illustrate the antiquities, the
language the history, civil and ecclesiastical, and the agricultural and
commercial state of Scotland from the earliest period, and displays a
vast amount of research and erudition. It was left unfinished, only
three out of four volumes having appeared. He had for many years been
engaged in collecting materials for a ‘History of Scottish Poetry,’ and
‘A History of Printing in Scotland.’ Under the name of Oldys he
published a Life of Thomas Paine. His Life of Ruddiman the grammarian,
throws much light on the state of literature in Scotland during the
earlier part of the eighteenth century, and his Life of Mary, Queen of
Scots, is a work of great labour and research, but it is understood not
to have been entirely original. Mr. Chalmers published various
pamphlets, apologising for those who, like himself, believed in the
authenticity of the Shakspeare manuscripts of Voltigern and Rowena,
forged by Mr. Ireland. He died May 31, 1825, aged 82 years. His
An Answer from
the Electors of Bristol to the letter of Edmund Burke, Esq., on the
affairs of America. London, 1777, 8vo.
of allowing a qualified Export of Wool discussed historically. London,
Introduction to the History of the Revolt of the Colonies, vol. i. only
printed, which was cancelled. London, 1782.
on the Irish Arrangements. Lond. 1785, 8vo.
of Treaties between Great Britain and other Powers. Lond; 1790, 2 vols.
Annals of the present United Colonies, from the Settlement to the Peace
of 1763. Compiled chiefly from Records. Ending at the Revolution, 1688.
Lond. 1780, 4to.
An Estimate of
the comparative strength of Great Britain during the present and four
preceding reigns, and of the Losses of her Trade from every War since
the Revolution. To which is added, An Essay on Population, by Judge
Hale. Lond. 1782, 4to. 1786, 8vo. 1794, 8vo. A new edition corrected,
and continued to 1812, 8vo.
interesting subjects of Public Laws and Commercial Policy, arising from
American Independence. Lond. 1784, 8vo.
Tracts, by Sir John Davies, with a Life of the Author. 1786, 8vo.
Life of Daniel
De Foe. Lond. 1786, 1790, 8vo.
Life of Thomas
Paine, the author of the seditious work entitled Rights of Man (Tenth
edition.) London, 1793, 8vo, published under the assumed name of Francis
Oldys, A.M., of the University of Pennsylvania.
Introduction to Dr. Johnson’s Debates in Parliament. London, 1794, 8vo.
Life of Thomas
Ruddiman, M.A. to which are subjoined, new Anecdotes of Buchanan. Lond.
the Privilege of the People in respect to the Constitutional Right of
Free Discussion; with a Retrospect of various proceedings relative to
the violations of that right. London, 1796, 8vo. (Anonymous.)
the Believers in the Shakspeare Papers which were exhibited in Norfolk
Street. London, 1796, 8vo.
Apology for the Believers of the Shakspeare Papers, being a Reply to Mr.
Malone’s Answer, which was early announced, but never published, with a
Dedication to George Steevens, and a Postscript to T.J. Mathias. London,
the Supplemental Apology; being the Documents for the Opinion that Hugh
Boyd wrote Junius’ Letters. 1800. 8vo.
The Poems of
Allan Ramsay, with a life of the Author. Lond. 1800, 2 vols, 8vo.
on the State of England, in 1696, by Gregory King; with a Life of the
Author, 1804, 8vo.
Life of Sir
David Lindsay of the Mount, Lyon King at Arms under James V. with
Prefatory Dissertations, and a Glossary of his Poetical works. Lond.
1806, 3 vols. 8vo.
an Account, Historical and Topographical, of North Britain, from the
most ancient to the present times, with a Dictionary of Places
Chorographical and Philological. Vol. i. Lond. 1807, 4to. Vol. ii. 1810,
4to. Vol. iii. 1824, 4to.
Chronological Account of Commerce and Coinage in Great Britain, from the
Restoration till 1810. 1810, 8vo.
on Commerce, Bullion and Coin, Circulation and Exchanges. 1811, 8vo.
View of the Domestic Economy of Great Britain and Ireland, frm the
earliest to the present times. New edition of “The Comparative
Estimate,’ corrected and enlarged. Edin. 1812, 8vo.
Eminent Lawyers on various points of English Jurisprudence, chiefly
concerning the Colonies, Fisheries, and Commerce of Great Britain.
London, 1814, 2 vols. 8vo.
privately printed, in answer to Malone’s account of Shakspear’s Tempest.
London, 1815, 8vo.
Views of the State of Great Britain and Ireland before and since the
war. London, 1817, 8vo.
The Author of
Junius ascertained, from a concatenation of circumstances, amounting to
moral demonstration. 1817.
Chips concerning Scotland; being a Collection of his Pieces relative to
that Country; with Historical Notices, and a Life of the Author. London,
Life of Mary
Queen of Scots, drawn from the State Papers, with six subsidiary
Memoirs. London, 1818, 2 vols. 4to. Reprinted in 3 vols. 8vo. From the
preface of this work we learn that the Rev. John Whitaker, the Historian
of Manchester, and the vindicator of the Scottish queen, had left at his
death an unfinished life of Mary. His papers were put into Mr. Chalmer’s
hands by his widow and daughters for publication, but his avocations,
and some years of ill health, had prevented him from executing their
desires, and he had found it necessary ‘to re-write the whole.’
Remains of some of the Scottish Kings, now first collected. London,
Makyne, and the Testament of Cresseid, by Robert Henryson, edited and
presented by Mr. Chalmers as his contribution to the Bannatyne Club.
Edin., 1824, 4to.
A Detection of
the Love Letters lately attributed in Hugh Campbell’s work to Mary Queen
of Scots. London, 1825, 8vo. These fictitious letters purported to be
‘originals’ of love letters from Queen Mary to the earl of Bothwell.
works he had prepared for the press an elaborate History of the Life and
Reign of David I.
In 1812, on
the murder of Mr. Perceval, Chancellor of the Exchequer, a pamphlet
appeared entitled “An Appeal to the generosity of the British nation on
behalf of the family of the unfortunate Bellingham,” with Mr. Chalmers’
name as the author; but is was an impudent forgery, as he knew nothing
of it till it was published. Nevertheless, in Watt’s Bibliotheca
Britannica, it is mentioned among his works.
a biographical and miscellaneous writer, the youngest son of James
Chalmers and Susanna Trail, daughter of the Rev. James Trail, minister
at Montrose, was born at Aberdeen, March 29, 1759. His father was a
printer at Aberdeen, of great classical attainments, who established the
Aberdeen Journal, the first newspaper published in that city. Having
received a classical and medical education, about 1777 he left his
native city, and never returned to it. He had obtained the situation of
surgeon in the West Indies, and had arrived at Portsmouth to join his
ship, when he suddenly changed his mind, and proceeded to the
metropolis, where he soon became connected with the periodical press.
His literary career commenced as editor of the Public Ledger and London
Packet. He also contributed to the other popular journals of the day. In
the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ the property of his friend, Mr. Perry, he for
some years contributed paragraphs, epigrams, and satirical poems. He was
also at one time editor of the ‘Morning Herald.’ Being early connected
in business with Mr. George Robinson, the celebrated publisher in
Peternoster-Row, he assisted him in judging of manuscripts offered for
sale, as well as occasionally fitting the same for publication. He was
also a contributor to the ‘Critical Review,’ then published by Mr.
Robinson, and to the ‘Analytical Review,’ published by Mr. Johnson.
In 1793 he
published a continuation of the ‘History of England,’ in letters, 2
vols., which reached four editions, the fourth being published in 1821.
His publications after this were numerous, and followed each other in
constant succession. A list of them is subjoined. In 1805 he was elected
a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. Besides other works edited by
him in previous years, in 1809 he edited Bolingbroke’s Works, 8 vols.
8vo, and in this and subsequent years he contributed many of the lives
to the magnificent volumes of the ‘British Gallery of Contemporary
Portraits,’ published by Cadell and Davies. In 1811 he revised through
the press Bishop Hurd’s edition of Addison’s Works, 6 vols. 8vo, and an
edition of Pope’s Works, 8vols, 18mo. In the same year he republished,
with corrections and alterations, a periodical paper, entitled ‘The
Projector,’ 3 vols. 8vo, the essays contained in which were originally
printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine. He had previously written a
periodical paper, called ‘The Triffler,’ in the Aberdeen Magazine; but
the essays under that head were never separately printed. The work on
which Mr. Chalmers’ fame as an author chiefly rests is ‘The General
Biographical Dictionary.’ The first four volumes of this work were
published monthly, commencing May 1812, and then a volume every
alternate month, to the thirty-second and last volume in March 1817, a
period of four years and ten months of incessant labour, and of many
personal privations, as is too commonly the fate of professional
authors. In November 1816 he republished ‘The Lives of Dr. Edward Pocock,
the celebrated orientalist, by Dr. Twells; of Dr. Zachary Pearce, Bishop
of Rochester; and of Dr. Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol, by
themselves; and of the Rev. Philip Skelton, by Mr. Burday,’ in 2 vols.
was a valuable contributor to the Gentleman’s Magazine, to which he was
very partial, finding it of the greatest use in the compilation of his
biographical works. During the last few years of his life, he suffered
much from illness. He died at London, December 10, 1834. He belonged to
various literary clubs of the old school, of which he was nearly the
last surviving member.
His works and
of the ‘History of England,’ in letters. 2 vols. London, 1793, 4th
Shakspeare. London, 1979.
A sketch of
the Isle of Wight. London, 1798.
An edition of
the rev. James Barclay’s complete and Universal English Dictionary.
Essayists, with Prefaces, Historical and Biographical, and a general
Index. 45 vols. London, 1803. This series begins with the Tatler and
ends with the Observer.
An edition of
Shakspeare, 9 vols. 8vo, with an abridgment of the more copious notes of
Steevens, and a life of the great dramatist. London, 1803. Reprinted in
1812, illustrated by plates from designs by Fuseli.
A Life of
Burns, prefixed to his works. London, 1805.
A Life of
Beattie, prefixed to his works. London, 1805.
In 1806 he
edited the following works, namely,
Fielding’s works, 10 vols. 8vo; Dr. Johnson’s works, 12 vols. 8vo;
Warton’s Essays; Bolingbroke’s works, 8 vols. 8vo; The Tatler,
Spectator, and Guardian, 14 vols. 8vo; and in 1807 he assisted the Rev.
W. Lisle Bowles in the publication of Pope’s works, 10 vols. 8vo.
An edition of
Gibbon’s History, with a Life of the Author, 12 vols. 8vo. London, 1807.
Classics (so called from the name of the publisher), a collection,
selected by Mr. Chalmers, with prefaces, 45 vols. London, 1808, and
The works of
the English poets from Chaucer to Cowper, an enlarged edition, including
the series edited, with prefaces, biographical and critical, by Dr.
Johnson, and the most approved translations; the additional lives by Mr.
Chalmers, 21 vols. royal 8vo. London, 1810.
A History of
the Colleges, Halls, and Public Buildings attached to the University of
Oxford, including the Lives of the Founders. London, 1810, 2 vols. 8vo.
A Life of
Alexander Cruden, prefixed to the 6th edition of his
concordance. London, 1812.
Biographical Dictionary, containing an Historical and Critical Account
of the Lives and Writings of the most eminent Persons in every nation,
particularly the British and Irish, from the earliest accounts to the
present time. A new edition revised and enlarged, 32 vols. London,
Biography, 4 numbers. London, 1819.
A Life of Dr.
Paley, prefixed to his works. London, 1819.
the English Language abridged from the Rev. H.H. Todd’s enlarged edition
of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary. 1 vol. 8vo. London, 1820.
of Johnson, ninth edition, edited by Mr. Chalmers. London, 1822.
A new edition
of Shakspeare; also, another edition of Dr. Johnson’s works, London,
Two papers in
the Looker-on, by Mr. Alexander Chalmers, have erroneously been ascribed
to his namesake Mr. George Chalmers, author of ‘Caledonia.’
a distinguished divine and theological writer, was born on the 17th
March 1780, at Austruther, a small seaport town on the east coast of
Fife. His father was a dyer, shipowner, and general merchant, descended
from a family long connected with that part of the country. His
great-grandfather, Mr. James Chalmers, son of John Chalmers, laird of
Pitmedden, was ordained minister of Elie in 1701. In the year after his
ordination he married the daughter of an episcopal clergyman, who, by
the savings of economy, purchased the estate of Radernie, which is still
held by her descendants. Her eldest daughter was married to Mr. T. Kay,
minister of Kilrenny, and it was to Mrs. Kay’s son-in-law, Dr. Adamson
of St. Andrews, that Dr. Chalmers was indebted for the presentation to
Kilmany parish. The eldest son (the eldest brother of Dr. Chalmers’
grandfather) succeeded his father as minister of Elie, and was
afterwards translated to Kilconauhar. Mr. Chalmers’ second son (Dr.
Chalmers’ grandfather) married Barbara Anderson, Easter Anstruther, and
settled in that town as a merchant. He was succeeded in business by his
second son, Mr. John Chalmers (Dr. Chalmers’ father), who married
Elizabeth Hall, daughter of a wine merchant at Crail. They had a
numerous family – consisting of nine sons and five daughters. Dr.
Chalmers was the sixth child, and fourth son. When yet almost an infant,
he was committed to the care of a nurse, “whose cruelty and
deceitfulness haunted his memory through life.” To escape this woman he
went to school when only three years old, but here he was tormented by a
pedantic and irritable schoolmaster, named Bryce, “a sightless tyrant,”
who used to steal behind upon his victims, like a tiger, guided by the
sound of their voices. This man had an assistant named Daniel Ramsay,
who was as easy as his principal was severe, and both were equally
inefficient. In his old age Ramsay fell into a state of destitution, and
was often relived by his old pupil, Dr. Chalmers, who gave him many a
and precepts of the Bible, at a very early period, made an impression on
his mind. When only about three years of age, he was one evening found
pacing up and down the nursery alone, in the dark, excited and absorbed,
repeating “O, my son, Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” It would
appear that as soon as he could form or announce a wish, he declared
that he would be a minister; and the sister of one of his schoolfellows
relates that breaking in one day on her brother and young Chalmers, she
found the future divine standing on a chair, and preaching vigorously to
his single auditor on the text, “Let brotherly love continue!”
1791, whilst not yet twelve years of age. accompanied by his eldest
brother William, he entered as a student the united college of St.
Andrews, and among his fellow students was John Campbell, the son of the
minister of Cupar, who afterwards became Lord Campbell, lord chief
justice of the queen’s bench. At that time he could not write at all
correctly; his letters were full of bad grammar and words mis-spelled.
As in the case of many other great men, his talents did not develope
themselves early. He was volatile and idle in his habits, and paid
little attention to his classes during the first two years of his
college course. He excelled at football, but still more at handball,
owing to his being left handed. His third session at college was his
intellectual birthtime. His physical powers had now been matured, and
science awoke the mental activity and force of will, which never
afterward slumbered. Dr. James Brown, the assistant mathematical
professor, was the means of kindling young Chalmers’ enthusiasm, and a
friendship commenced between the pupil and teacher, which lasted for
many years. In November 1795, when fifteen years old, he was enrolled a
student of divinity. His attainments in theology did not at first
attract much notice, indeed his biographer tells us that theology
occupied very little of his thoughts, but he early discovered a
predilection for mathematics and chemistry. Towards the close of the
session, however, he turned his attention to Edwards on Free Will, and
studied that author so intensely that some were afraid his mind would
lose its balance. At that time the members of the university assembled
daily in the public hall for prayer, which was performed by the
theological students in rotation. When it came to Chalmers to officiate
fo the first time, his prayer was an amplification of the Lord’s Prayer,
so eloquently expressed as to excite wonder; and when the people of St.
Andrews knew it to be his turn to lead the devotions, they flocked to
the hall, which was open to the public.
cultivation of his talent for composition, he was largely indebted to
debating societies formed among the students. In session 1798-9, he took
as a subject for the debating society connected with the college, “Is
man a free agent?” and defended the negative side. Even then, though but
eighteen years of age, he was a formidable antagonist in debate. It was
about this time that he penned a college essay on religious enthusiasm,
which is said to have been the groundwork of the splendid speech
delivered by him forth years afterwards, in a solemn convocation of four
hundred evangelical ministers, when in November 1842, they met to decide
upon separating from the Church of Scotland, and produced an effect as
overwhelming as anything he ever uttered.
college course was finished, he became tutor in a family who treated him
with great superciliousness. From his private letters at this time it
would appear that he was sadly mortified at the conduct of this family –
even the very servants treating him with marked disrespect. “The whole
combined household,” says his son-in-law and biographer, Dr. Hanna,
“were at war with him. The undaunted tutor resolved nevertheless to act
his part with dignity and effect. Remonstrances were vain. To the
wrong they did him in dismissing him, when company came, to his own
room, they would apply no remedy. He devised therefore a remedy of his
own. – He was living near a town in which, through means of
introductions given him by Fifeshire friends, he had already formed some
acquaintances. Whenever he knew that there was to be a supper from which
he would be excluded, he ordered one in a neighbouring inn, to which he
invited one or more of his own friends. To make his purpose all the more
manifest, he waited till the servant entered with his solitary repast,
when he ordered it away, saying, ‘I sup elsewhere to-night.’ – Such
curiously-timed tutorship suppers were not very likely to be relished by
Mr. — , who charged him with unseemly and unseasonable pride. ‘Sir,’
said he, ‘the very servants are complaining of your haughtiness. You
have far too much pride, sir,’ – ‘There are two kinds of price, sir,’
was the reply. ‘There is that kind of pride which lords it over
inferiors; and there is that pride which rejoices in repressing the
insolence of superiors. The first I have none of – the second I glory
nineteen years of age, he applied for license as a preacher; which was
granted on the plea that he was “a lad o’pregnant pairts.” He was
licensed 31st July 1799, and preached his first sermon in
Chapel-lane Chapel, in Wigan, on 25th August. On the
following Sabbath he preached in Liverpool. His brother James, who heard
him preach, wrote to his father that he thought Thomas more occupied
with his mathematical studies than with his religious, and referred in
proof, to some documents in Thomas’ handwriting, adding, “if you can
read them,” – for even then his handwriting was so bad that his father
is said to have laid aside his letters till he returned home to read
them himself. He subsequently attended for two sessions the classes of
chemistry and natural philosophy at Edinburgh, under Dr. Hope and
Professor Robison. He had also a ticket to Dr. Brown’s class of moral
philosophy. About this period, he became an admirer of the works of
Godwin, and thenceforth the philosophical scepticism which for a time
characterised him commenced. In a letter to his father, he mentioned
that he was getting into a stock of sermons, which would render “the
business abundantly easy,” when he got a church, which he was at that
In 1`801 he
became assistant minister of the parish of Cavers, near Hawick, in
Roxburghshire. At this period of his life he evinced nothing, either in
his mode of preaching or in general ability, to distinguish him from the
ordinary run of young probationers, except perhaps in the positive
character of his habits, and a somewhat self-willed and independent
spirit of abstraction. In 1803, when little more than twenty-two years
of age he was appointed assistant to Professor Vilant, the professor of
mathematics in the university of St. Andrews. This situation was quite
to his taste. “His thirst for literary distinction was intense; to fill
the mathematical chair in one of the universities, the high object of
his ambition; to this the assistantship at St. Andrews might prove a
stepping-stone.” This prospect influenced his literary ardour to the
utmost. His lectures were eloquent, and unusually brilliant, and his
students regarded him with admiration. The old professors, in the true
spirit of all mediocrity, were envious, and tried to disparage him. He
repelled their attempts to injure him with indignation, and maintained
his independence as a man of science. “Under his extraordinary
management,” writes one of his pupils, “the study of mathematics was
felt to be hardly less a play of the fancy, than a labour of the
intellect; the lessons of the day being continually interspersed with
applications and illustrations of the most lively nature, so that he
received, in a singular manner, the confidence and attachment of his
through the influence of his relative, Dr. Adamson, professor of civil
history at St. Andrews, as already stated, he was presented by his
university to the living of Kilmany, a small scattered village in the
county of Fife, situated about midway between Cupar and Dundee, to which
charge he was ordained on the 12th of May in that year. Soon
after this envy deprived him of his assistant professorship. His father,
also, who wished him to attend exclusively to his ministerial duties,
did not approve of his teaching in the university. During the first
session differences arose between him and the professor, so that he was
told that his services would not be required. He resolved to vindicate
his injured honour by opening classes of his own at the very door of the
university, which he did in the session of 1804. His class was most
numerously attended. He also lectured upon chemistry as well as
mathematics. The opening of this private class, in apparent opposition
to the university professor, brought upon him, as well as upon the
students who attended him, the full indignation of the United college.
His presbytery also interfered with him, because he gave so much of his
time to these lectures. But he met them in the same spirit of defiance,
and as they could not being against him any charge of neglect of duty,
he told them that he had as good a right to indulge in this “amusement”
as they had to enjoy themselves in their own favourite pastimes.
So far from
being deterred by the opposition of the professors, on a vacancy
occurring, in 1804, he became a candidate for the natural philosophy
chair in the university of St. Andrews, but was unsuccessful. Finding
the manse of Kilmany old and in wretched repair, he made many efforts to
get it rendered habitable for himself and his two sisters who were to
reside with him. Not content with his labours at St. Andrews, he gave
courses of lectures on chemistry, &c., in various of the neighbouring
towns. It is related that having, by his chemical acquirements, lighted
up his manse of Kilmany with gas, his parishioners were hugely
astonished thereat, as at that period this new lighting power, now
become so common, was almost unknown in this country. Their feelings on
the subject, however, need not be considered matter of surprise, when it
is stated that even Sir Walter Scott at one period scoffed at the idea
of light from gas, and yet lived to introduce it into his house at
Abbotsford, and afterwards became chairman of the Edinburgh Gas Company.
At the time of
the threatened invasion of Great Britain by the French, when the
volunteers were organised, Mr. Chalmers showed his patriotic feelings by
enrolling himself in the St. Andrews corps, holding a double commission
as chaplain and lieutenant. In 1805 he joined the corps at Kirkaldy,
where it was then on permanent duty.
When the chair
of mathematics in the university of Edinburgh became vacant in that year
(1805) by the translation of Professor Playfair to the chair of natural
philosophy, in the same university, Mr. Chalmers was one of the many
candidates, who competed with the late Sir John Leslie for the vacant
professorship. He withdrew, however, at an early period of the
protracted contest which ensued, and in the end Sir John was elected. It
is understood to have been in compliance with the wishes of his father
and nearest relatives, who were anxious that he should remain a
minister, that he retired from the competition, and for a time sat down
quietly in his charge. Nothing but a strong sense of filial obligation
could have induced him thus reluctantly to forego the prospect of
realizing his heart’s warmest desire, and continue to perform in his
village charge the somewhat monotonous though highly honourable and
responsible duties of a country minister. It was on occasion of this
contest that his first publication was called forth. Mr. Playfair, in
his letter to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, from the number of
clergymen who had come forward as candidates, was led to observe that
there were very few Scottish clergymen eminent in mathematics or natural
philosophy, and that the vigorous and successful pursuit of these
sciences was incompatible with clerical duties and habits. Mr. Chalmers
immediately took up his pen, and under the title of ‘Observations on a
Passage in Mr. Playfair’s Letter to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh,
relative to the mathematical pretensions of the Scottish Clergy,’ he
published a tract vindicating the character of his brethren, and
asserting that they had sufficient leisure for literary pursuits. In
that pamphlet he alleged that one weekday was quite enough for the
duties of the parish, and the rest was leisure time. After he changed
his views of the nature of the work of the ministry, he endeavoured to
recall this unfortunate pamphlet.
beginning of 1808, he first commenced authorship in that department in
which he afterwards excelled, namely, political economy. His volume was
entitled ‘An Inquiry into the Extent and Stability of National
Resources,’ and he found some difficulty at first in obtaining a
publisher. The object of this work was chiefly to show that if our
native resources were properly cultivated, and our means duly economised,
there would be no necessity for depending on foreign trade, – a theory
which he was subsequently convinced was not altogether a correct one.
Amidst much that was questionable, the volume inculcated some sound
views in political science; but its vehemence of tone, although at times
lofty and eloquent, prevented it from making any great impression, and
it was in some instances very severely assailed by the Reviewers.
At this period
the mind of this extraordinary man seems to have been more occupied with
subjects of a political and scientific than of a religious nature. For
some years after his settlement at Kilmany, he attracted very little
attention as a preacher beyond the limits of his own parish. Indeed, for
a number of years, from his violent and excited mode of delivery, he was
rather unpopular in the pulpit.
In May, 1809,
he made his maiden speech in the General Assembly, on a question of
augmentation of stipends, and that speech caused a great sensation, and
was published by request. He used to say that ‘Butler’s Analogy,’ which
he commenced to study at an early period, “made him a Christian.” The
deaths of his sister and his uncle, and a long illness which followed,
led him about this time to serious thought, and to a complete change in
his religious views. On 17th March, 1810, he says he had
completed his thirtieth year, and lamented that on a review of the last
fifteen years of his life, at least two-thirds of that time had been
uselessly spent. He became, about this time, greatly fortified in his
belief of Christianity. One day he called on a friend, and said, “Tell
me all you ever heard against Christianity from its enemies – I am more
than able to refute them all. The evidences of our religion are
overwhelming.” He at this time reviewed Dr. Charteris’ Sermons, and
intended the criticism for the Edinburgh Review, but sent it to the Rev.
A. Thomson for the ‘Christian Instructor.’ The latter demurred to it as
a review, but inserted it among the miscellaneous contributions. In a
note Mr. Thomson regretted the absence of the peculiar doctrines of the
cross in the volume under review. About the beginning of 1811 Mr.
Chalmers took up Wilberforce’s ‘Practical View of Christianity,’ and he
got on in reading it till he felt himself on the eve of a great
revolution in all his opinions about the gospel. He wrote his mother
that he had reached the conclusion that his profession required all his
talents and energy – a change of views, certainly, on this point. So
great an improvement was now observable in his mode of preaching, that
his congregation was equally surprised and delighted; and from this
important era in his life may be dated the commencement of that
distinction to which he was soon after to advance. He had become
intimately acquainted with Dr. (afterwards Sir David) Brewster, and was
engaged by him to write several articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia
conducted by him, and amongst others the paper on ‘Christianity.’ In the
course of the research and investigation into which he was led while
preparing this celebrated article, which he afterwards expanded into his
well-known Treatise on the Evidences, he became deeply impressed with
far more serious and heartfelt views of the great truths of the Gospel,
than he had ever previously entertained; and the result was soon
apparent. From a mere formal preacher, he became a bold, eloquent, and
earnest pulpit orator, upon whose discourses hung enchained thousands of
admiring hearers. He broke through all at once, like the sun from behind
a cloud, and his parishioners were filled with amazement at the sudden
transformation. “It was not long,” says his biographer, “till the whole
aspect of the Sabbath congregations in Kilmany church was changed. The
stupid wonder which used to sit on the countenances of the villagers or
farm servants who attended divine service, was turned into a fixed,
intelligent and devour attention. It was not easy for the dullest to
remain uninformed; for if the preacher sometimes soared too high for the
best trained of his people to follow him, at other times, and much
oftener, he put the matter of his message so as to force for it an
entrance into the most sluggish understanding.” So remarkable, indeed,
was the change that the parish church of Kilmany, which had till then
been attended by a thin and listless auditory, was now thronged, not
only by the inhabitants of the parish, but by crowds of strangers from
the surrounding towns and villages, thousands flocking from St. Andrews,
and even from Dundee, to hear him.
His fame, as a
preacher, soon reached Edinburgh, the capital; where he preached on
several occasions, with great acceptance, and henceforward he was
universally acknowledged to be the most powerful and popular preacher in
the Scottish Church.
1814 he was elected by the Town Council of Glasgow minister of the Tron
church in that city, and was admitted to that charge on the 21st
of the following July. Here he preached those eloquent discourses which
soon raised him to the rank of one of the first preachers in Europe. The
characteristics of his eloquence have often been described. The
provincial Scotch accent, the guttural voice, the heavy blue eye
kindling into fury and the uncouth gestures which distinguished him,
were all forgotten when he spoke. His amazing powers of oratory, and
great command of language, enabled him to triumph over all these
apparent defects. Before leaving Kilmany, he published ‘The Duty of
Giving an Immediate Diligence to the Business of the Christian Life,’
being an address to the inhabitants of that parish. In his farewell
sermon preached July 9, 1815, he affectingly alludes to the change which
had taken place in his views of religious truth since coming among them.
For the greater part of twelve years, he says, his preaching was
attended with little reformation of heart or conduct; and he adds – “Out
of your humble cottages have I gathered a lesson, which, I pray God, I
may be enabled to carry with all its simplicity into a wider theatre,
and to bring with all the power of its subduing efficacy upon the vices
of a more crowded population.”
On the 21st
of February, 1816, the degree of D.D. was conferred on Mr. Chalmers by
the Senatus Academicus of the university of Glasgow. In May 1817 Dr.
Chalmers appeared for the first time in a London pulpit, having on the
14th of that month preached in Surrey chapel, the anniversary
sermon for the London Missionary Society. His reputation had preceded
him, and although the service did not commence till eleven o’clock, “at
seven in the morning the chapel was crowded to excess, and many
thousands went off for want of room.” On the following Thursday he
preached again in the same place on behalf of the Scottish Hospital, and
on the succeeding Sunday in the Scotch church, London Wall, and in the
Scotch church, Swallow Street. Many of the clergy of the Church of
England, peers, and members of parliament, flocked to hear him. Among
the latter were Huskisson, Wilberforce, and Canning, and the latter, on
one occasion, when the preacher paused to take breath, after one of his
electrifying bursts of oratory, was overheard to whisper to a gentleman
beside him: “this is indeed true eloquence. The tartan beats us all.”
The amount of
misery and wretchedness which he found existing among the poorer classes
of Glasgow, filled his heart with sorrow; and to the work of the pastor
was soon added that of the philanthropist. He now devoted much of his
attention to the Christian and civic economy of towns, and laboured
anxiously to introduce an improvement in the mode of maintaining the
poor, with the design of ameliorating their condition, as well as doing
away with compulsory assessment. His sagacity foresaw that our poor-laws
would pauperise Scotland, and that the more given by legal sanction the
more would pauperism be created. Having explained his views to the
magistrates of Glasgow, they were favourably entertained; and he was
translated to the parish of St. John’s, in that city, that he might be
the better enabled to develop his plans. For this purpose, on the 18th
of August 1819, the Town Council unanimously resolved that “Dr. Chalmers
should have a separate, independent, and exclusive management and
distribution of the funds which may be raised by voluntary or charitable
collections at the doors of St. John’s church, for the relief of the
poor resident in said parish.”
In St. John’s,
then containing a population of nearly 12,000 souls, who had been, till
then, much neglected, he laboured with great zeal and success in the
moral and religious education of the poor. In carrying out his great
design of ‘excavating the heathen” – one of his own happy and
significant phrases – he went boldly to the lanes and alleys of his
parish, to compel them “to come in.” His aptitude for familiarising
himself with those he visited, and disarming prejudice and opposition,
is well illustrated by the following incident: – Going the round of his
visitations, he called one day upon a poor cobbler, who was
industriously engaged with awl and ends, fastening sole and upper. The
cobbler kept fast hold of the shoe between his knees, perforating the
stubborn bend, and passing through the bristled ends right and left,
scarcely noticing his clerical visitor; but the glance that he gave
showed evident recognition; then rosining the fibrous lines, he made
them whisk out on either side with increased energy, showing a
disinclination to hold any parley. “I am,” said the Doctor, “visiting my
parishioners at present, and am to have a meeting of those resident in
this locality, in the vestry of St. John’s (on a day which he named)
when I shall be happy to have your presence along with your neighbours.”
The shoemaker kept his spine at the sutor’s angle, and, making the
thread rasp with the force of the pull, coolly remarked, “Ay step your
wa’s ben to the wife and the weans; as for me, I’m a wee in the
deistical line, Doctor.” With that intuitive perception of character and
tact in addressing himself to the variety of dispositions and characters
in society, which distinguished him, he entered into conversation with
the cobbler, asking questions about his profession, and the weekly
amount of his earnings, sympathising with him on the exceedingly limited
amount of his income, compared with the outlay necessary for food,
clothing, house rent, &c. Then taking up one tool after another, he
asked and obtained explanations of their different uses, and, following
up the conversation by a chain of moral reasoning, from cause to effect,
led the cobbler away from his last, and obtained a patient hearing,
which ended in the latter becoming a steady church-goer.
The church of
St. John’s was soon found to be far too small for the eager crowds
anxious to hear him. He not only preached twice every Sunday, but once
on the week-days. His splendid ‘Astronomical Discourses,’ perhaps the
most fascinating of all his works, were part of the fruits of his
week-day preachings. though week-day sermons were by no means popular,
he was attended by crowds of all ranks and classes; and noblemen jostled
with humble tradesmen in the great desire to hear Dr. Chalmers. The same
continued till his last pulpit appearance, wherever and whenever it was
known that he was to preach.
works published by Dr. Chalmers during his residence in Glasgow, were
the following: ‘Thoughts on Universal Peace, a Thanksgiving Sermon,’
1816; ‘The Utility of Missions, a Sermon,’ 1816; ‘A Series of Discourses
on the Christian Revelation, viewed in connection with the Modern
Astronomy,’ 1817; ‘A Sermon delivered at Glasgow, on November 19, 1817,
the day of the Funeral of the Princess Charlotte;’ ‘Sermons Preached in
the Tron church, Glasgow,’ 1819-20; ‘The Importance of Civil Government
to Society; A Sermon,’ 1820; ‘The application of Christianity to the
Common and Ordinary affairs of Life, in a Series of Discourses,’ 1820;
‘The Christian and Civic Economy of Large Towns,’ 2 vols, 1821-1823;
‘Sermons Preached on Public Occasions,’ 1823, and ‘The Evidences of
Christian Revelation,’ 1824. His works became very popular and sold
rapidly; but he preferred devoting himself to his parochial duties, at a
time when his writings would have brought him large remunerating prices
from the publishers.
commencement of his ministry at St. John’s, that he might not be impeded
in his philanthropic schemes in that parish, the whole parochial
arrangements being on his shoulders, and guided and impelled by him by
almost superhuman energy, he had secured the services of the Rev. Edward
Irving, then a licentiate of the church, as an assistant. Mr. Irving
also assisted him in household visitation.
In 1822, he
started on a tour through England, in search of information as to the
state and prospects of its poor-law administration; on which occasion he
again visited London, and had intercourse with Lord Calthorpe, Lord
Teignmouth, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Clarkson, Mr. Malthus, and others.
In 1823, he
was elected professor of moral philosophy in the university of St.
Andrews. Attached to a college life, and believing that his greater
usefulness consisted in teaching, he now saw his wishes in this respect
accomplished, and that in his own alma mater. He accepted the chair in
preference to a pastoral charge in Edinburgh, to several of which he had
been invited. He demitted his charge of St. John’s on the 5th
November, and was installed and delivered his introductory lecture at
St. Andrews, on the 17th of the same month.
professional labours at St. Andrews gave an impulse to that ancient
seminary which, in some measure, tended, for the time, to restore it to
some portion of its former fame, and while he continued there he also
delivered a separate course of lectures on political economy as
connected with the moral philosophy class. But it was a sphere too
limited for his usefulness, and by far too narrow for his genius; and a
larger field, and higher office soon opened to him in the Scottish
metropolis itself, which was destined to become the scene of his
In 1828, on
the divinity chair in the university of Edinburgh becoming vacant, Dr.
Chalmers was unanimously elected to the professorship, by the
magistrates and town council of that city, and he at once accepted the
appointment. He entered on the duties of his new chair by pronouncing an
address of surpassing eloquence and splendour; and, during the fifteen
years that he held it, he was eminently successful in his lectures, and
has left the impress of his original genius, and vast stores of
theological instruction, on the minds of many of the students, who
afterwards became ministers of the gospel.
theological chair in the university of Edinburgh is considered the
highest academical professorship in Scotland, that chair is but poorly
endowed in comparison to the corresponding chair in the university of
Glasgow, and the latter, in consequence of its being richer, is of more
consideration to a man, who like Dr. Chalmers, had a family, whose
disposition was generous in the extreme, and whose benevolence was
unbounded. On the professorship of theology, therefore, becoming vacant
in the university of Glasgow, he offered himself as a candidate, but the
election was vested in the college; and as Chalmers was a leader among
the non-intrusionists – that is, those who were opposed to the exercise
of patronage in appointments to livings in the church, and an
anti-pluralist to boot – he had become obnoxious to the university
authorities, and was rejected.
In 1829 Dr.
Chalmers took an active part in favour of the emancipation of the Roman
Catholics – a concession which, there is reason to believe, he lived to
regret. In 1832 appeared the evidence given by him and the Right Rev. J.
Doyle, before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, on the State
of Ireland. In that year were also published two of his works, namely,
‘On Political Economy in connection with the Moral state and Moral
prospects of Society.’ and ‘The Supreme Importance of a right Moral to a
right Economical State of the Community.’
on ‘The Power and Wisdom and Goodness of God, as manifested in the
adaptation of External Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Constitution
of Man,’ appeared in 1833. This was one of the celebrated Bridgewater
Treatises. The Right Hon. and Rev. Earl of Bridgewater, who died in
1829, left the sum of £8,000, at the disposal of the president of the
Royal Society, as a reward to the author of the best treatise on the
Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God as illustrated in Creation, &c. That
gentleman took the opinions of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the
Bishop of London, as well as of a nobleman, a friend of the deceased
earl, on the best means of carrying out the bequest; and it was very
judiciously resolved that instead of being given to one man, for one
work, the money should be allotted to eight different persons for eight
separate treatises on separate subjects, though all connected with the
same primary theme. Dr. Chalmers was selected as one of the writers, and
in 1833, accordingly, appeared from his pen, in two volumes, the work
already mentioned. His collected works revised by himself, were
published in 1836, in 25 duodecimo volumes. His valuable Lectures on St.
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, were published in 1837.
was called the great voluntary controversy, Dr. Chalmers took a very
active and influential part in support of the obligation of civil rulers
to provide for the religious instruction of the people, and for the
maintenance of a national religion. He delivered a series of valuable
lectures on the Importance of Church Establishments, which made a great
impression at the time. He was also the chief promoter of church
extension in Scotland. For his successful labours in this cause he
repeatedly received the thanks of the General Assembly of the Church of
Scotland. In 1838, he was invited to London to deliver a course of
lectures on the Establishment and Extension of National Churches, which
he did in the Hanover Square rooms, to overflowing audiences. Amongst
his hearers on this occasion were the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of
Cambridge, many of the prelates and clergy of the Church of England, and
the most distinguished members of both houses of parliament. These
lectures were said to be got up at the expense of a nobleman, who
desired to strengthen the existing institutions of the country, and were
designed principally for the higher classes of society.
preached in London, the duke of Wellington, the late Earl of Eldon, the
Duke of Sussex, with several other members of the royal family, and many
among the higher ranks, whom the journalists of the day remarked “they
were not accustomed to elbow at a place of public worship,” were found
among the crowded congregations assembled from all parts to hear him.
None, indeed, ever enjoyed a larger share of popularity – “that thing,”
as he expressed it in his own graphic language, “of stare, and pressure,
and animal heat.”
continued to occupy the chair of divinity in the university of
Edinburgh, till the disruption took place in the Established Church of
Scotland, in May 1843, when, at the head of more than four hundred
ministers, he quitted the Establishment, and immediately founded the
Free Protesting Church of Scotland. As a matter of course, he resigned
his chair in the university, and was elected principal and primarius
professor of theology to the seceding body. Driven by conscience from
the walls of the Establishment, he did not relinquish one jot of his
Establishment principles; and, indeed, what is called the voluntary
doctrine forms no part or portion of the free Church creed. The
fundamental doctrine of the Free Church, as distinguished from the
Established Church, is that the State, while bound to provide for the
interests of religion, and to protect and defend the church, has no
right whatever to interfere, and ought not to be allowed to interfere,
in things pertaining to the spiritual province of the church; that
patronage is a sin and crying grievance, and that no minister should be
“intruded” on any parish or congregation contrary to the will of the
people. Hence the distinctive name, before the disruption, of
Intrusionists and Non-Intrusionists. These principles are very plain and
simple; and yet Dr. Chalmers used to complain that he could never get an
Englishman to understand them.
proceedings of the new church, Dr. Chalmers took a leading part, and was
the principal framer of the scheme of the Sustentation Fund for the
support of the clergy. In 1845, he retired from the management of the
more weighty and important business of the Free Church, and confined his
attention almost entirely to what belonged to the new college. In his
address on the occasion he stated that he had “neither the vigour nor
the alertness of former days;” that he found his strength sufficient
neither for the debates of the Assembly nor the details of committees or
of correspondence; and he therefore resigned “a general care of the
church for a more special and intense care of those students who are to
the church her future guides and guardians.” He planted a church on the
territorial system, in the West Port of Edinburgh, in one of the poorest
and most destitute localities of Scotland’s capital, and in the near
vicinity of the spot where Burke and hare committed their wholesale
murders in 1827; and one of his last appearances in an Edinburgh pulpit
was on opening that humble and obscure place of worship. Three weeks
before his death, he was called to London, to give evidence before the
committee of the House of Commons on the refusal of certain landholders
in Scotland to allow sites for churches on their properties to adherents
of the Free church. While in the metropolis on this his last visit, he
preached three times to crowded congregations, among whom, as usual,
were many of the great and noble of the land; and having finished his
testimony, he returned from London on Friday the 28th of May,
to his own house at Morningside, about two miles from Edinburgh. On the
succeeding Sunday he attended public worship, along with the Rev. Dr.
Cunningham, in Morningside Free Church, and at an early hour that
evening, he retired to rest in his usual health. Next morning, the 31st
of May, 1847, he was found dead in his bed. “It appeared,’ says the
‘Witness’ newspaper, “that he had been sitting erect when overtaken by
the stroke of death, and he still retained in part that position. The
massy head gently reclined on the pillow; The arms were folded
peacefully on the breast. There was a slight air of oppression and
heaviness on the brow, but not a wrinkle or a trace of sorrow or pain
disturbed its smoothness. The countenance wore an attitude of deep
repose; No conflict had preceded dissolution.”
The union in
one person of such zeal and eloquence as Dr. Chalmers displayed, is
exceedingly rare. As a preacher the grandeur of his conceptions, the
novelty and amplitude of his illustrations, and the graphic force and
significancy of his diction, with the irresistible earnestness of his
manner, altogether formed such a combination of qualities as is seldom
found in modern oratory. The celebrated Robert Hall said that Dr.
Chalmers’ preaching “stopped people’s breath.” The effect he produced,
it has been remarked, was like that of the sage in Rasselas – “when he
spoke, attention watched his lips; when he reasoned, conviction closed
His accent and
his appearance were both against him. The former was broad provincial
Scotch; the latter was dull and heavy, and by no means conveyed any idea
of the wonderful fertility and energy of his mind. In stature he was
about the middle height, stout, large-boned, and muscular, but not at
all approaching to corpulency. His grey eye, which in his ordinary moods
had a placid expression, when excited shone with intense brilliancy; his
forehead was broad and massy, but not particularly lofty; his step was
quick and eager, his accents fast and hurrying, his gesture awkward, and
his delivery monotonous; but yet, when roused from his lethargy, when
fairly within his subject, these drawbacks were all forgotten in the
powerful and rapid stream of his eloquence. He usually commenced
speaking in an undertone; and it was not until he had gone on for some
time that feelings of admiration began to be kindled, at the exhibition
of those wondrous powers which made him the first pulpit orator of the
age. His eloquence, it may be said, did not flow on in a continuous
strain. He allowed himself and his hearers intervals of repose, during
which he uttered nothing very striking. But these pauses, like the
breathings which ever and anon the wind takes in a tempest, or like the
temporary cessation of the thunder when it appears to be collecting all
its force for a new explosion, were succeeded by bursts of the most
electrifying nature, which perfectly enthralled his hearers. Those who
never heard him preach can collect from his published discourses no
adequate conception of the effect which his pulpit addresses produced on
his audiences. “His earnest and massive eloquence,” says one of his
newspaper biographers, “bore down all before it. His accents might at
first appear uncouth; but all this impression speedily disappeared
before a torrent of rapid and brilliant thoughts. He seized on his text,
turned it over and over in a thousand shapes, showed it in a thousand
lights, and never left it till it was written on the hearts of his
hearers. Even the cool and critical Jeffrey said that there was
something remarkable about that man; he reminded him more of what he had
read of Cicero and Demosthenes than any orator he had ever heard.”
thorough Calvinist, deeply imbued with the theology of the great man
whose system he had imbibed, he carefully and faithfully divided the
word of truth. While he was anxious to point out the only ground of a
sinner’s acceptance, no one ever urged so earnestly and eloquently the
“duties and decencies, and respectabilities and charities of life.”
Besides the degree of D.D. which, as already mentioned, he obtained from
the university of Glasgow, he received that of LL.D. from the university
of Oxford. He was also a corresponding member of the Royal Institute of
France, and a fellow of the Royal Society of London. He married in 1812,
Grace, second daughter of Captain Pratt of the 1st royal
veteran battalion. This lady survived him. He also left six daughters,
two of whom were married to Free Church ministers; the one to the Rev.
Mr. Mackenzie of Ratho, and the other to the Rev. Dr. Hanna, formerly of
Skirling, now Edinburgh, at one time editor of the North British Review,
to the pages of which Dr. Chalmers himself regularly contributed, and
author of the Memoirs of Dr. Chalmers, published after his death. His
third daughter was married in November 1852, to William Wood, Esq.,
accountant, Edinburgh, son of the late John Philip Wood, Esq., auditor
of excise and editor of Douglas’ Peerage. – His works are:
relative to the mathematical pretensions of the Scottish Clergy. Edin.
References; designed for the use of parents, teachers, and private
Christians, 3d ed. 8vo.
preached before the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Sick. Edin.
2d ed. 8vo.
The Utility of
Missions, ascertained from Experience; a Sermon, preached before the
Society in Scotland for propagating Christian Knowledge, 2d ed. 8vo.
The Two Great
Instruments appointed for the Propagation of the Gospel; a Sermon,
preached before the Dundee Missionary Society. 3d ed. 8vo.
into the Extent and Stability of national Revenues. Lond. 1808, 8vo.
delivered in the General Assembly, respecting the bill for augmenting
the Stipends of the Clergy of Scotland, 1809, 8vo.
of Bible Societies on the Temporal Necessities of the Poor, 1814, 8vo.
and Authority of the Christian Revelation. Glasgow, 1814, 8vo. 6th
An Address to
the inhabitants of the parish of Kilmany, on the duty of giving an
immediate diligence to the business of the Christian Life. Edin. 1815.
2d edit. 8vo. 1817.
Universal Peace, a Sermon delivered on Thursday, January 18, 1816, the
day of National Thanksgiving. Glasgow, 1816, 8vo, 2d edit.
A Series of
Discourses on the Christian Revelation, viewed in connexion with the
Modern Astronomy. Glasgow, 1817, 8vo. 9th edit. Edin. 1818,
8vo. Numerous editions.
of Christian Charity applied to the cause of religious differences; a
Sermon, preached before the Auxiliary society, Glasgow, to the Hibernian
Society for establishing Schools and circulating the Holy Scriptures in
Ireland. Glasgow, 1818, 8vo.
delivered in the Tron Church, Glasgow, on Wednesday, Nov. 19th,
1817, the day of the Funeral of her Royal Highness the Princess
Charlotte of Wales. Glasgow, 1818, 8vo.
Tracts. New edition, 8vo.
preached in the Tron Church, Glasgow. Glasg. 1819, 8vo.
the application of Christianity to the Commercial and Ordinary Affairs
of Life. 8vo., Glasgow, 1820.
Sermon on the
Importance of Civil Government. Edin. 1820.
and Civic Economy of Large Towns. 3 vols. 8vo. Glasgow, 1821-6.
before the General Assembly Explanatory of the measures which have been
successfully pursued in St. John’s parish, Glasgow, for the extinction
of its compulsory pauperism. Glasgow, 1822, 8vo.
preached in St. John’s, Glasgow. Glasgow, 1823.
On the Use and
Abuse of Ecclesiastical and Literary Endowments. Glasgow, 1827, 8vo.
Economy. Glasgow, 1832, 8vo.
Importance of a right Moral to a right Economical State of the
Community. Edin. 1832.
Letter to the
Royal Commissioners for the visitation of Colleges in Scotland. Glasgow,
On the Power,
Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the adaptation of External
Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Constitution of Man. 2 vols. 8vo.
Bridgewater Treatise, London, 1833.
Ecclesiastical Economy of Large Towns. Edin. 1835, pamphlet.
An Argument on
Chapel Bonds. Edin. 1835, pamphlet.
On the Evils
which the Established church in Edinburgh has suffered, and still
suffers, from the Seat-letting being in the hands of the Magistrates.
Edin. 1835, pamphlet. An answer to the same by Adam Black immediately
of the Evils of the Edinburgh System of Seat-letting. Edin. 1835,
Speech on the
Proceedings of the Church Deputation in London, delivered in the
Commission of the General Assembly. Edin. 1835, pamphlet.
The Cause of
Church Extension. Edin. 1835, pamphlet.
Report of the
committee of the General Assembly on Church Extension. Edin., 1835,
General Assembly on Church Extension for 1837, 1838, and 1839. Pamphlet.
the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Glasgow, 1837-43, 4 vols.
The Cause of
Church Extension, and the Question shortly stated between Churchmen and
Dissenters, in regard to it. Edin., 1835, 16mo.
Cruelty to Animals. Edin. 1826.
on Predestination. London, 1837.
with certain Ministers and Elders on the Subject of the Moderatorship.
Glasgow, 1837, pamphlet.
his late Pamphlet on the Moderatorship. Glasgow, 1837, pamphlet.
the Establishment and Extension of National Churches. Glasgow, 1838,
Substance of a
Speech delivered in the General Assembly respecting the Decision of the
House of Lords on the Auchterarder case. Glasgow, 1839, pamphlet.
On the present
position of the Church of Scotland, occasioned by the Dean of Faculty’s
letter. Glasgow, 1839.
What ought the
church and the People of Scotland to do now? Glasgow, 1840, pamphlet.
Lectures on Butler’s ‘Analogy of Religion,’ delivered in the University
of Edinburgh. London, 1841, 8vo.
the Parochial System without a Poor Rate. Glasg. 1841, 12mo.
to the Free Church on the subject of its Economics. Edin; 1846,
Essay on Christian Union. 1846.
the Evangelical Alliance. 1846.
works as republished by himself, consisting of his Natural Theology,
Evidence of Christianity, Moral and Mental Philosophy, Commercial
Discourses, Astronomical Discourses, Congregational Sermons, Sermons on
Public Occasions, Tracts and Essays, Introductory Essays to Select
Christian Authors, Christian and Economic Polity of a Nation, church and
College Establishments, Church Extension, Political Economy, Sufficiency
of a parochial System, and Lectures on the Romans, &c., have been
re-issued in 25 volumes 12 mo, and his Posthumous Works, in 9 vols. 8vo.
as under. The Memoirs of Dr. Chalmers by his son-in-law Dr. Hanna, are
in four large thick volumes, and include Dr. Chalmers’ diaries.
Works, edited by Dr. Hanna:
Scripture Readings, 3 vols.
Scripture Readings, 2 vols.
1798 to 1847, 2 vol.
Institutes of Theology, 2 vols.
on Butler, Paley, Hill, &c. 1 vol.