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Significant Scots
Henry Scougal


SCOUGAL, HENRY, a theological writer of considerable eminence, was born in the end of June, 1650. He was descended of the family of the Scougals of that ilk, and was the son of Patrick Scougal, bishop of Aberdeen, from 1664 to 1682; a man whose piety and learning have been commemorated by bishop Burnet. His son Henry is said to have early displayed symptoms of those talents for which he was afterwards distinguished. We are told by Dr George Garden, that "he was not taken up with the plays and little diversions of those of his age; but, upon such occasions, did usually retire from them, and that not out of sullenness of humour or dulness of spirit, (the sweetness and serenity of whose temper did even then appear,) but out of a stayedness of mind, going to some privacy, and employing his time in reading, prayer, and such serious thoughts, as that age was capable of." [A Sermon preached at the Funeral of the reverend Henry Scougal, M.A. By G.G. (George Garden), D.D., p. 285.] Tradition has asserted that Scougal was led to the study of theology, in the hopes of finding in it a balm for disappointed affections; and this is in so far countenanced by the tenor of several passages of his writings. Another cause, however, has been assigned, and apparently on better authority. "Being once in a seirous reflection what course of life he should take, he takes up the Bible, to read a portion of it; and though he was always averse to the making a lottery of the Scriptures, yet he could not but take notice of the first words which he cast his eyes upon, and which made no small impression on his spirit: ‘By what means shall a young man learn to purify his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.’" On his father’s election to the see of Aberdeen, Scougal entered as a student at King’s college there, of which university his father was chancellor. He seems to have taken the lead of his fellow students in almost every department of science; and, in addition to the usual branches of knowledge pursued in the university, to have acquired a knowledge of some of the Oriental tongues. Immediately on taking his degree, he was selected to assist one of the regents in the instruction of his class; and the next year, 1669, he was, at the early age of nineteen, appointed a professor. His immature age was probably incapable to preserve order in his class; at all events, tumults and insubordination broke forth among his students, of whom so many were expelled from the college, that he scarce had a class to teach. His office of regent, which was thus inauspiciously commenced, he held but for four years, having at the end of that time accepted the pastoral charge of the parish of Auchterless, in Aberdeen-shire. He retained this charge no longer than a twelvemonth, and, in 1674, was appointed professor of divinity in the King’s college; a chair which had shortly before been filled by the celebrated John Forbes of Corse, and more lately by William Douglas, the learned author of the "Academiarum Vindiciae," and other works. As was customary in that age, Scougal printed a thesis on his accession to the divinity chair: this tract, which is still preserved and highly prized, is entitled, "De Objecto cultus Religiosi."

In 1677, appeared "The Life of God in the Soul of Man, or the Nature and Excellency of the Christian religion." This work, to which Scougal’s modesty would not permit him to prefix his name, was edited by bishop Burnet, who appended to it a tract called "An account of the Spiritual Life," supposed to be written by himself. In the prefatory notice, Burnet states of the author, "that the book is a transcript of those divine impressions that were upon his own heart, and that he has written nothing in it but what he himself did well feel and know." The work passed at once into that extensive popularity and high reputation it has ever since enjoyed. Before 1727, it had gone through five editions, the last under the superintendence of the Society for promoting Christian knowledge. In 1735, it was again reprinted with the addition of "Nine Discourses on Important Subjects," and Dr Garden’s funeral sermon; and in 1740, another edition appeared, with some "Occasional Meditations," not previously published. Since that period editions have multiplied very rapidly. In 1722, it was translated into French, and published at the Hague. Scougal survived the publication of his work for no longer than a twelvemonth. At the early age of twenty-eight, he died on the 13th of June, in the year 1678, and was interred on the north side of the chapel of King’s college, where a tablet of black marble, bearing a simple Latin inscription was erected to his memory. He bequeathed a sum of five thousand merks to augment the salary of the professor of divinity in the university, and left his books to the college library. A portrait of Scougal is preserved in the college hall, and the countenance breathes all that serene composure, benevolence, purity, and kindness which so strikingly mark his writings. Besides the works which have been mentioned, Scougal left behind him in manuscript various juvenile essays, and some Latin tracts, among which are "A short System of Ethics or Moral Philosophy;" "A Preservative against the Artifices of the Romish missionaries," and a fragment "On the Pastoral Cure." This last work was designed for the use of students in divinity and candidates for holy orders. None of the least beautiful or remarkable of his works is "The Morning and Evening Service," which he composed for the Cathedral of Aberdeen, and which is characterized by a spirit of fervid devotion, and a deep and singular elevation of thought, and solemnity of diction.


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