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Significant Scots
George Hill


HILL, (DR) GEORGE, an eminent leader of the church of Scotland, and principal of St Maryís college, St Andrews, was born in that city, in the month of June, 1750. His father, the Rev. John Hill, was one of the ministers of St Andrews; and he went through his whole course of education in the university there. The elements of education he received very early, after which he was sent to the grammar school, then taught by Mr Dick, who afterwards obtained a chair in the university. While he continued at school, he made a rapid progress, and was generally at the head of his class. At the age of nine years, he exhibited so much precocity of talent as to compose a sermon, superior in his fatherís opinion to many sermons he had heard from the pulpit; and the late countess of Buchan was so much pleased with it, that she requested it might be dedicated to her, and carried it to London with her, with the intention of having it printed. The intention, however, without any loss to the world we presume, was never brought into act. He entered upon his academical course in the eleventh year of his age, and in all the different classes maintained a decided superiority. His tasks he performed always with ease; and he was highly respected by all the professors under whom he studied. At fourteen years of age, he had completed his philosophical course, and was made a master of arts; and, having determined to devote himself to the church, entered upon the study of theology in his fifteenth year. During the second session of his theology, the earl of Kinnoul, having been appointed chancellor of the university of St Andrews, gave for the encouragement of learners, a number of prizes, to be bestowed on the most deserving in the various classes. These prizes his lordship distributed to the successful candidates with his own hand; and young Hill, having gained one of them, though he had to contend with many that were greatly his seniors, attracted the particular notice of his lordship, who from that moment took a warm interest in his success in life, giving him directions for his conduct, and aid for the prosecution of his schemes, with the warmth of a parent rather than the cold and stately formality of a patron. During his college vacations, he was in the habit of visiting frequently at Temple, his uncle, Dr MíCormick, the biographer of Carstairs, by whom he was introduced to the metropolitan of the Scottish church, principal Robertson, and by the principal he was recommended as tutor to the eldest son of Pryce Campbell, M. P., and at that time one of the lords of the treasury. In consequence of this appointment, he repaired to London in November, 1767, not having completed his seventeenth year. Such a series of fortunate incidents occurs in the lives of few individuals. "Educated," says his biographer, "in the genuine principles of whiggism, he considered the great design of government to be the promotion of the liberty and the happiness of the people;" but in the close of the very same paragraph this writer introduces the subject of his panegyric saying to his mother, "as I have seen nothing but mobbing and the bad effects of faction since I came to England, I am very moderate, and think it the duty of an honest man to support almost any ministry." Mr Hill was, indeed, a whig of a somewhat odd kind; the man whom he most admired was lord North, and the objects of his aversion and his vituperation were the American colonists, Messrs Beckford, Wilkes, and the other members of the opposition in the house of commons.

Mr Hill, while at St Andrews, had been an ambitious member of those associations generally formed at colleges for the purpose of exercising the talent of speech, and he was not long in London till he found his way into the Robin Hood Debating Society, where he even then consulted his interest by defending the measures of administration. His account of this society gives no very high idea of its members. "Last night I went to the Robin Hood Society and was very highly entertained there. We had speakers of all kinds, shoemakers, weavers, and quakers, whose constant topic was the dearness of provisions. There were one or two who spoke very comically, and with a great deal of humour. But what surprised me much, I heard one of the easiest and most masterly speakers that ever I heard in my life. His dress was rather shabby, but he is a constant attendant and by long practice has greatly improved. I spoke once or twice, and had the honour of being listened to with great attention, which is a compliment in a society of this kind, which is made up of people of all descriptions. It sits on Mondays from eight to ten. A ticket costs six-pence, for which you get a well lighted room and as much porter and lemonade as you choose to drink. There is a subject fixed, and if that fail, the president gives another. I shall be a constant attendant, not only as it is one of the highest entertainments, but as the best substitute for the select clubs which I have left." Ė "I carried," he says in another letter to his mother, "my pupil to the Robin Hood Society, along with Mr Brodie, Mr Campbellís parochial clergyman at Calder, who was on a visit to London. I made a splendid oration, which had the honour of a loud clap, and was very much approved by Mr Brodie. It is a fine exercise for oratorical talents." On another occasion Mr Hill thus expresses himself: "I am obliged to you for your observations on the knowledge of mankind. The true secret certainly for passing through life with comfort, and especially to a person in my situation, is to study the tempers of those about him and to accommodate himself to them. I donít know whether I am possessed of this secret, or whether there is something remarkable in the persons with whom I converse, but I have found every body with whom I have had any connexion since I came to England or Wales, exceedingly agreeable. From all I have met with politeness and attention, and, from many, particular marks of favour and kindness. I may be defective in penetration and sagacity, and in judging of character, but I am sure I am pliable enough, more than I think sometimes quite right. I can laugh or be grave, talk nonsense, or politics, or philosophy, just as it suits my company, and can submit to any mortification to please those with whom I converse. I cannot flatter; but I can listen with attention, and seem pleased with every thing that any body says. By arts like these, which have, perhaps, a little meanness in them, but are so convenient that one does not choose to lay them aside, I have had the good luck to be a favourite in most places." This at eighteen, except perhaps in Scotland, will be looked upon as an amazing instance of precocious worldly sense. In the scramble for the good things of this world, had such a man failed, who could ever hope to succeed?

In a subsequent letter to his mother, referring to the circumstance of a younger brother entering upon his education, he observes, "What is the learning of any one language, but throwing away so much time in getting by heart a parcel of words in one language, and another parcel corresponding to the first in another? It is an odd thing that some more rational and useful employment cannot be found out for boys of his age, and that we should still throw away eight or ten years in learning dead languages, after we have spunged out of them all that is to be found. God certainly never intended that so much of our time should be spent in learning Greek and Latin. The period allotted to us for action is so short that we cannot too soon begin to fit ourselves for appearing upon the stage. Mr Campbell cannot read Greek, and he is a bad Latin scholar; yet he is a philosopher, a divine, and a statesman, because he has improved his natural parts by reading a great deal of English. I am, and perhaps all my life shall continue a close student; but I hate learning. I have no more than is absolutely necessary, and as soon as I can I shall throw that little away." Whatever was his Latinity, Mr Campbellís interest was good and promised still to be better, in consequence of which Mr Hillís friends were instant with him to go into the church of England, where, through the attention of Mr Campbell, he might be much better provided for than he could be in the church of Scotland, to which, notwithstanding, he still professed not only adherence, but a high degree of veneration.

From this temptation he was delivered by the death of Mr Pryce Campbell, who was cut off in the prime of his days, and in the midst of his expectations. Mr Hill, however, was still continued with his pupil, who was now under the protection of his grandfather; and as great part of his estates lay in Scotland, that his education might be corresponding to the duties which, on that account, he might have to perform, young Campbell was sent for two sessions to the university of Edinburgh, and that he might be under the eye of principal Robertson, he was, along with his tutor, boarded in the house of Mrs Syme, the principalís sister. During these two sessions, Mr Hill attended the divinity class and the meetings of the Speculative Society, where he acquired considerable eclat from a speech in praise of the aristocracy. He also waited on the General Assembly, in the debates of which he took so much interest as to express his wish to be returned to it as an elder. With Dr Robertson his intercourse was uninterrupted, and by him he was introduced to the notice of the principal men in and about Edinburgh. By his uncle, Dr MíCormick, he was introduced at Arniston house, and in that family (Dundas) latterly found his most efficient patrons. While he was thus swelling the train of rank and fashion, it was his fortune to meet for the first time, dining at general Abercrombieís, with the celebrated David Hume, of whom he thus wrote immediately after: "I was very glad to be in company with a man about whom the world has talked so much; but I was greatly surprised with his appearance. I never saw a man whose language is more vulgar, or whose manners are more awkward. It is no affectation of rudeness as being a philosopher, but mere clownishness, which is very surprising in one who has been so much in high life, and many of whose writings display so much elegance." During all this time, the progress of his pupil was not commensurate to the expectations of his friends, and the expenses it occasioned; and with the approbation of his patron, lord Kinnoul, Mr Hill resigned his charge. Mr Morton, professor of Greek in the university of St Andrews, at this time wishing to retire on account of the infirmities of age, Mr Hill became a candidate, was elected after some little opposition, and on the 21st of May, 1772, was admitted joint professor of Greek, being yet only in the twenty-second year of his age. He now went to London with his former pupil, and visited Cambridge, where Mr Campbell was to finish his studies; and, having received from lord Kinnoul and Dr Robertson ample testimonials to the ability and faithfulness with which he had discharged his duty while residing in Edinburgh, the family parted with him, expressing their thankfulness, their respect, and regret. Returning to Scotland, he spent some time with his uncle, preparing for meeting with his class, which he did in the end of the year 1772. The duties of this charge did not prevent him from various other pursuits. In the year 1774, Mr Campbell, in order to make the most of his parliamentary interest in the shire of Nairn, gave to a number of his friends votes upon life-rent superiorities, and among others conferred one upon Mr Hill, who, while at Nairn performing his friendly office as one of Mr Campbellís voters, nearly lost his life by sleeping in a room that had been newly plastered. His groans, however, happened to be heard, and a physician being in the house to give immediate assistance, he was soon recovered. The year following, he formed the resolution of entering the church, and having made application to the presbytery of Haddington, with which, through his brother-in-law Mr Murray of North Berwick, he considered himself in some sort connected, he was by that reverend court licensed to preach the gospel on the 3d of May, 1775. He was immediately after this employed as assistant to principal Tullidelph in the parochial church of St Leonardís, which has always been united with the principalty of the college. In this situation, he continued till the death of principal Tullidelph in the year 1777. The same year he was offered the parish of Coldstream by the earl of Fladdington; but he did not think it worth accepting. The following year, on the death of Dr Baillie, professor of theology in the college of Glasgow, principal Robertson desired him to stand candidate for that chair; but he seems to have taken no steps for that purpose, probably from the circumstance of his being only a preacher, which might have operated against him in case of a well supported candidate coming forward. The same year, probably to be ready in case of a similar emergency, he again applied to the presbytery of Haddington, and was by them ordained to the holy ministry. In the year 1779, through the interest of principal Robertson, and his uncle Dr MíCormick, he was offered one of the churches of Edinburgh, with the prospect of a chair in the university in a short time. This also he declined with a view to some contemplated arrangements of lord Kinnoul. In consequence of the death of principal Morison, Dr Gillespie was shortly after removed from the first charge in the city to the principalty of the new college. Dr Adamson, the second minister, was promoted to Dr Gillespieís benefice, and Mr Hill was elected by the town-council successor to Dr Adamson. In consequence of his holding the professorship of Greek, Mr Hillís induction was protested against by a member of the presbytery of St Andrews, and the case was brought before the General Assembly in the year 1780, which dismissed it without ceremony, as it did also overtures on the subject from the synods of Fife, Perth, and Stirling. Mr Hill was, accordingly, with the full concurrence of the congregation, admitted to the church in which his father had officiated, on the 22nd day of June, 1780. Since his settlement at St Andrews as a professor of Greek, he had sat in the General Assembly as an elder; he now appeared in the more weighty character of a minister, and on the retirement of Dr Robertson became the most important member of the house, and confessedly the leader of the moderates.

We have already noticed his acceptance of a life-rent superiority, by which he became a freeholder in the county of Nairn in the year 1774. He continued to stand on the roll of freeholders for that county till the winter of 1784, when a new election came on; but Mr Campbell, from being on the side of the ministry, was now violent on the side of the opposition. In this case, for Mr Hill to have given his vote to Mr Campbellís candidate would have been considered by the ministry as open rebellion against their claims on the church, for which they might have selected another leader, and have, at the same time, withdrawn every mark of their favour from him. They might also have prosecuted him before the justiciary on a charge of perjury, as they had already done some others in similar circumstances. Under this complication of difficulties, Mr Hill as usual had recourse to the earl of Kinnoul, and to his brother-in-law Mr Murray of North Berwick. Lord Kinnoul most ingeniously gave him back his own views; did not, as chancellor of the university think he was warranted to allow him to desert his professional duties for the purpose merely of giving a political vote; and stated, that though he himself could have greatly extended his interest by such votes as Mr Hill possessed, he had never granted one of them. A charge of perjury he admitted, might be brought against any person who received them, and whether it might be well founded or not, it was a charge to which, in his opinion, no minister of the gospel should expose himself. The judgment of his lordship we cannot but approve, though it is probable that if the candidate had been a ministerial one, the Greek class might have been allowed a few holidays without the smallest impropriety. Mr Murray, while he regretted (though he no doubt knew it from the first,) that his friend should ever have accepted such a vote, applauded his purpose of relinquishing it, and of refusing, under all circumstances, to comply with the requisition to attend the election. Mr Hillís biographer labours hard to clear him from any degree of blame in this affair, but without effect: it carries its character full in its face, and holds up a most important lesson to all clergymen, to beware of intermeddling in political intrigues of any kind.

In 1787 Mr Hill was honoured by the university with the title of D.D., and in 1788 was appointed to succeed Dr Spens as professor of divinity in St Maryís college. He had been the previous year appointed dean to the order of the thistle, a place that had been first created to gratify Dr Jardine for his services in support of Dr Robertson, but with no stated salary; the dean only claiming a perquisite of fifty guineas on the installation of every new knight. During Dr Hillís incumbency, no instalment took place, and he of course derived no pecuniary benefit from the situation. He had been little more than three years in the divinity chair, when the situation of principal became vacant by the death of Dr Gillespie, and it was by lord Melville bestowed on Dr Hill. This appointment in his letter of thanks he considered as peculiarly valuable, as being the best proof that lord Melville approved the mode in which he had discharged the duties of the divinity professorship. "I will not attempt, he continues, to express by words the gratitude which I feel; but it shall be the study of my life to persevere as a clergyman in that line of conduct upon which you have generously conferred repeated marks of your approbation." This was the termination of his university preferment; but he was shortly afterwards nominated one of his majestyís chaplains for Scotland, with a salary annexed; and, on the death of his uncle Dr MíCormick, he succeeded him as one of the deans of the chapel royal. The deanery of the thistle already noticed was unproductive; but the above two situations, while they added nothing to his labours, increased his income in a material degree. In his management of the General Assembly Dr Hill copied closely after Dr Robertson; except that the entire satisfaction of himself and his party with the law of patronage as it then stood, was marked by withdrawing from the yearly instructions to the commission, the accustomed order to embrace every opportunity of having it removed, and by still bolder attempts to do away with the form of moderating calls for presentees and to induct them solely upon the footing of presentations. In his progress Dr Hill certainly encountered a more formidable opposition than Dr Robertson latterly had to contend with. In one case, and in one only, he was completely defeated. This was an overture from the presbytery of Jedburgh concerning the imposition of the Test upon members of the established church of Scotland, which it was contended was an infringement of the rights of Scotsmen, and a gross violation of the privileges and independence of the Scottish church. In opposition to the overture it was maintained by the moderates of the assembly that the Test Act was a fundamental article of the treaty of union; and Dr Hill, in particular, remarked that there were no complaints on the subject except from one single presbytery, for was there any ground to complain; for, to a liberal and enlightened mind it could be no hardship to partake of the Lordís Supper according to the mode sanctioned by a church whose views of the nature and design of that ordinance were the same with his own. For once the popular party gained a triumph, and the accomplished and ingenious leader was left in a minority. A series of resolutions moved by Sir Henry Moncrieff were adopted, and by the unanimous voice of the assembly a committee was appointed to follow out the spirit and purpose of these resolutions. Care, however, was taken to render the committee of no avail, and nearly thirty years elapsed without any thing further being done. We cannot enlarge on Dr Hillís administration of the affairs of the church, and it is the less necessary that no particular change was effected under him. Matters generally went on as usual, and the influence of political men in biasing her decisions were, perhaps, fully more conspicuous than under his predecessor. Of his expertness in business, and general powers of management, the very highest sense was entertained by the public, though differences of opinion latterly threatened to divide his supporters.

In 1807 Dr Hill had a severe attack, from which it was apprehended he would not recover; contrary to all expectation he did recover, and the following year, on the death of Dr Adamson, he was presented to the first ecclesiastical charge in the city of St Andrews. Eight years after, namely, in 1816, we find him as active in the General Assembly as at any former period of his life. Shortly after this time, however, he was attacked with slight shocks of apoplexy, which impaired his speech, and unfitted him for his accustomed exercises. He was no more heard in the assembly house; but he continued to preach occasionally to his own congregation till the year 1819, when he was laid aside from all public duty. He died on the 19th of December that year, in the seventieth year of his age, and thirty-ninth of his ministry.

Dr Hill married in 1782, Miss Scott, daughter to Mr Scott, a citizen of Edinburgh, who had chosen St Andrews as his place of retirement in his old age, after he had given up business. By this lady, who survived him, Dr Hill had a large family, several of whom are yet alive. His eldest son is Dr Alexander Hill, professor of divinity in the university of Glasgow. In a life of principal Hill, it would be unpardonable to pass over his various publications, some of which possess high excellence. We cannot, however, afford room for criticism, and shall merely notice them in a general way. Single sermons seem to have been his first publications, though they are mentioned by his biographer in a very indistinct manner. One of these, preached before the sons of the clergy, seems to have been sent to the bishop of London, whose commendation it received. Another, from the text, "Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord?" was published in the year 1792, as a sedative to the popular excitement produced by the French revolution. The sermon was an unmeasured panegyric on the existing order of things in Great Britain, and had, for a short time, an immense popularity. "I believe it will be agreeable to you," writes his bookseller, "to inform you that I have had success with respect to your sermon, beyond my most sanguine imagination. I have written a hundred letters upon the subject, and have got all the capital manufacturers in Scotland to enter into my idea. I have printed off ten thousand copies of the coarse, and one thousand copies of the fine. I have got letters of thanks from many capital persons, with proper compliments to you. * * I congratulate you upon the extensive circulation of the sermon, for never was such a number of a sermon sold in this country before, and I flatter myself it will, in a great measure, answer the purpose for which it was intended." The following year he published a third sermon, "Instructions afforded by the present war to the people of Great Britain." In 1795, he published a volume of sermons, which is said to have met with limited success. Several years after, Dr Hill published "Theological Institutes," containing Heads of his Lectures on Divinity, a work which continues to be highly estimated as a theological text-book; "a View of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland;" and "Counsels respecting the duties of the Pastoral Office." This last is an interesting and valuable work. In 1812, he published, "Lectures, upon portions of the Old Testament, intended to illustrate Jewish history and Scripture characters." To this work is prefixed the following dedication: "To the congregation which attends the authorís ministry, this specimen of a Course of Lectures, in which he led them through the Books of the Old Testament, is, with the most grateful sense of their kindness, and the most affectionate wishes for their welfare, respectfully inscribed." There is no mode of publication a minister can adopt so likely to be useful as this. It gives a most pleasing idea of a clergyman when he thus takes, as it were, a last farewell of his people, who cannot fail to peruse a work bequeathed to them under such circumstances, with peculiar interest. These lectures, we doubt not, were regarded among his parishioners more than all his other works. Of Dr Hillís character the reader has been furnished with materials for forming a judgment for himself. His precocious abilities, his talents for adapting himself to the uses of the world, his diligence in all his offices, and his powers of managing public business and popular assemblies, conspire to mark him out as a very extraordinary man. It may only be remarked that, for the most of tastes, his conduct will in general appear too much that of a courtier.


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