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Significant Scots
Rev Dr John Drysdale


DRYSDALE, REVEREND DR JOHN, was born in Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, on the 29th of April, 1718, being the third son of Mr John Drysdale, minister of that parish, and of Anne, daughter of William Ferguson, provost of the town of Kirkaldy. He received the elements of his classical education at the parish school of Kirkaldy, taught by Mr David Young. While at school, young Drysdale was favourably distinguished: also at that early age he had the good fortune to contract a friendship (which proved lasting), with two of his school-fellows, who afterwards attained very high distinction; one of these was the celebrated Dr Adam Smith, and the other James Oswald, Esq. of Dunnikier – a name well know to all those who are familiar with the history of the leading Scotsmen of the last century. In the year 1732, at the age of fourteen, Drysdale was removed to the university of Edinburgh, where he prosecuted his studies with great success, and early attracted the notice of the professors. Having gone through the preliminary branches of education, he commenced the study of divinity, which he pursued until the year 1740, when he was licensed as a preacher of the gospel by the presbytery of Kirkaldy.

After having officiated as assistant-minister in the college church of Edinburgh for several years, he obtained, through the interest of the earl of Hopeton, a crown presentation to the church of Kirkliston in West Lothian. On entering upon the duties, he met with some opposition from his parishioners, arising from the notion that he was rather what was called a moral than an orthodox divine. He speedily acquired their esteem, however, and is said, by his unwearied benevolence and practical piety, as well as by the good sense which pervaded his discourses, to have effected a visible improvement in the morals of his parishioners, who had been formerly noted for their irregularities and vice. After a faithful discharge of his parochial duties at Kirkliston for fifteen years, he was, through the intercession of his friend Mr Oswald with lord Bute, appointed minister of lady Yester’s, one of the churches of Edinburgh. On his removal to town, the nervous eloquence of his sermons attracted a great concourse of hearers to his church. And so great was his fame as a preacher, that while he was on a visit to London, Mr Strachan, the printer, pressed him much to prepare a volume of his sermons for publication. But although on his return to Scotland, he did begin to select and revise his sermons for that purpose, a natural diffidence induced him first to procrastinate and ultimately to relinquish the undertaking.

Previous to his translation to Edinburgh, Mr Drysdale had taken little concern in the affairs of the church, but the close connection into which he was brought in town, with Dr Robertson the historian, the leader of the moderate party in the church, induced him to give that great man his best assistance and support.

In the year 1765, Mr Drysdale, without solicitation on his part, had the degree of doctor of divinity conferred on him by the university of Aberdeen. The following year, on the death of Dr John Jardine, he was preferred to the collegiate charge of the Tron church, where he had the good fortune to have for his colleague, the much esteemed and eloquent Dr Wishart. On the death of Dr Jardine, Dr Drysdale was also appointed one of his majesty’s chaplains, with one-third of the emoluments of the deanery of the chapel royal. During the years 1773 and 1784 Dr Drysdale was moderator of the general assembly, being the highest mark of respect which the church of Scotland can confer on its members. At the meeting of the general assembly in May, 1788, he was appointed principal clerk to the assembly; but being unable, from the delicacy of his health, to perform the duties, he obtained permission that his son-in-law, professor Dalzell, should assist him. He did not survive long; his health had been for a considerable time very precarious, and early in June 1788, his complaints acquired increased violence, and his constitution being completely worn out, he died on the 16th of June of that year, in the 71st year of his age.

Drysdale was extremely pleasing in his manners and conversation, and seeing to have gained the esteem and affection of his friends by the amiable benevolence of his heart, and the inflexible integrity of his conduct. His house was open at all times to his numerous friends and acquaintance, and was their frequent place of resort. To young men in particular, the cheerful and agreeable conversation which was encouraged in his society held out a peculiar charm. He had a very extensive correspondence with many of the first people of the day and with the clergy in general, who frequently applied to him for advice. His letters were remarkable for a happy facility and elegance of expression. Drysdale was married to the daughter of William Adam, Esq., of Maryburgh, architect.

His only work was two volumes of sermons published after his death by Professor Dalzell. Of these the late Dr Moodie who was one of the ministers of Edinburgh, says "These sermons seem admirably calculated to inspire the mind with high sentiments of piety to God, trust in providence, independence of the world, admiration of virtue, steady and resolute attachment to duty, and contempt of every thing base and dishonourable."


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