Robertson, William

, a very learned divine, was born in Dublin, Oct. 16, 1705. His father was a native of Scotland, who carried on the linen-manufacture there; and his mother, Diana Allen, was of a very reputable family in the bishopric of Durham, and married to his father in England. From his childhood he was of a very tender and delicate constitution, with great weakness in his eyes till he was twelve years of age, at which period he was sent to school. He had his grammar-education under the celebrated Dr. Francis Hutcheson, who then taught in Dublin, but was afterwards professor of philosophy in the university of Glasgow. He went from Dr. Hutcheson to that university in 1722, where he remained till 1725, and | took the degree of M. A. He had for his tutor Mr. John Lowdon, professor of philosophy; and attended the lectures of Mr Ross, professor of humanity; of Mr. Dunlop, professor of Greek; of Mr. Morthland, professor of the Oriental languages; of Mr. Simpson, professor of mathematics; and of Dr. John Simpson, professor of divinity. In the last-mentioned year, a dispute was revived, which had been often agitated before, between Mr. John Sterling the principal, and the students, about a right to chuse a rector, whose office and power is somewhat like that of the vice-chancellor of Oxford or Cambridge. Mr. Robertson took part with his fellow- students, and was appointed by them, together with William Campbell, esq. son of Campbell of Mamore, whose family has since succeeded to the estates and titles of Argyle, to wait upon the principal with a petition signed by more than threescore matriculated students, praying that he would, on the 1st day of March, according to the statutes, summon an university-meeting for the election of a rector; which petition he rejected with contempt. On this Mr. Campbell, in his own name and in the name of all the petitioners, protested against the principal’s refusal, and all the petitioners went to the house of Hugh Montgomery, esq. the unlawful rector, where Mr. Robertson read aloud the protest against him and his- authority. Mr. Robertson, by these proceedings, became the immediate and indeed the only object of prosecution. He was cited before the faculty, i. e. the principal and the professors of the university, of wbotn the principal was sure of a majority, and, after a trial which lasted several clays, had the sentence of expulsion pronounced against him; of which sentence he demanded a copy, and was so fully persuaded of the justice of his cause, and the propriety of his proceedings, that he openly and strenuously acknowledged and adhered to what he had done. Upon this, Mr. Lowdon, his tutor, and Mr. Dunlop, professor of Greek, wrote letters to Mr. Robertson’s father, acquainting him of what had happened, and assuring him that his son had been expelled, not for any crime or immorality, but for appearing very zealous in a dispute about a matter of right between the principal and the students. These letters Mr. Robertson sent inclosed hi 'one from himself, relating his proceedings and suffer! ngs in the cause of what he thought justice and right. Upon this his father desired him to take every step he might | think proper, to assert and maintain his own and his fellowstudents claims; and accordingly Mr. Robertson went up to London, and presented a memorial to John duke of Argyle, containing the claims of the students of the university of Glasgow, their proceedings in the vindication of them, and his own particular sufferings in the cause. The duke received him very graciously, but said, that “he was little acquainted with things of this sort;” and advised him “to apply to his brother Archibald earl of Hay, who was better versed in such matters than he.” He then waited on lord Hay, who, upon reading the representation of the case, said “he would consider of it.” And, upon consideration of it, he was so affected, that he applied to the king for a commission to visit the university of Glasgow, with full power to examine into and rectify all abuses therein. In the summer of 1726, the earl of Hay with the other visitors repaired to Glasgow, and, upon a full examination into the several injuries and abuses complained of, they restored to the students the right of electing their rector; recovered the right of the university to send two gentlemen, upon plentiful exhibitions, to Baliol college in Oxford; took off the expulsion of Mr. Robertson, and ordered that particularly to be recorded in the proceedings of the commission; annulled the election uf the rector who had been named by the principal; and assembled the students, who immediately chose the master of Ross, son of lord Ross, to be their rector, &c. These things so affected Mr* Sterling, that he died soon after; but the university revived, and has since continued in a most flourishing condition.

Lord Hay had introduced Mn Robertson to bishop Hoadly, who mentioned him to archbishop Wake, and he was entertained with much civility by those great prelates. As he was then too young to be admitted into orders, he employed his time in London in visiting the public libraries, attending lectures, and improving himself as opportunities offered. He had the honour to be introduced to lord-chancellor King, by a very kind letter from Dr. Hort, bishop of Kilmore, and was often with his lordship. In 1727 Dr. John Hoadly, brother to the bishop of Salisbury, was nominated to the united bishoprics of Ferns and Leighlin in Ireland. Mr. Robertson was introduced to him by his brother; and, from a love of the natale solum, was desirous to go thither with him. Mr. Robertson then informed the | archbishop of Canterbury of his design; and his Grace gave him a letter of recommendation to Dr. Goodwin, archbishop of Cashel, who received him in a most friendly manner, but died soon after. The first person whom Dr. Hoadly ordained, after he was consecrated bishop of Ferns, was Mr. Robertson, whose letters of deacon’s orders bear date January 14, 1727; and in February the bishop nominated him to the cure of Tullow in the county of Carlow: and here he continued till he was of age sufficient to be ordained a priest, which was done November 10, 1729; and the next day he was presented by lord Carteret, then lord-lieutenant of Ireland, to the rectory of Ravilly in the county of Carlow, and to the rectory of Kilravelo in the county of Widow; and soon after was collated to the vicarages of the said parishes by the bishop of Ferns. These were the only preferments he had till 1738, when Dr. Synge, bishop of Ferns, collated him to the vicarages of Rathmore and Straboe, and the perpetual cure of Rahil, all in the county of Carlow. These together produced art income of about 200l. a-year. But, as almost the whole lands of these parishes were employed in pasture, the tithes would have amounted to more than twice that sum if the herbage had been paid for black cattle, which was certainly due by law. Several of the clergy of Ireland had,, before him, sued for this herbage in the Court of Exchequer, and obtained decrees in their favour. Mr. Robertson, encouraged by the exhortations and examples of his brethren, commenced some suits in the Exchequer for this herbage, and succeeded in every one of them. But when he had, by this means, doubled the value of his benefices, the House of Commons in Ireland passed several severe resolutions against the clergy who had sued, or would sue, for this “nexv demand,” as they called it, which encouraged the graziers to oppose it so obstinately as to put a period to that demand. This proceeding of the Commons provoked Dean Swift to write “The Legion- Club.” Mr. Robertson soon after published a pamphlet, entitled “A Scheme for utterly abolishing the present heavy and vexatious Tax of Tithe;” the purport of which was, to pay the clergy and impropriators a tax upon the land in lieu of all tithes. This went through several editions: but nothing farther was done in it.

In 1739, lord Cathcart (though Mr. Robertson’s person quite unknown to him) sent him, by captain Prescott, | a very kind message, with a proper qualification under his hand and seal, to be his chaplain.

Mr. Robertson had, in 1723, married Elizabeth, daughter of major William Baxter, who, in his younger years, had been an officer in Ireland in the armies of king Charles II. and James 11.; but was cashiered by the earl of Tyrconnel, James’s lord-lieutenant of Ireland, as a person not to be depended upon in carrying on his and his master’s designs. Captain Baxter upon this repaired to London, and complained of it to the duke of Ormond. His father was at that time steward to the duke’s estate. His grace, who was then joined with other English noblemen in a correspondence with the prince of Orange, recommended him to that prince, who immediately gave him a company in his own forces. In this station he returned to England with the prince at the revolution, and acted his part vigorously in bringing about that great event. While the captain was in Holland, he wrote that remarkable letter to Dr. Burnet, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, which is inserted in the bishop’s life at the end of the “History of his own Times.” By this lady, who was extremely beautiful in her person, but much more so in her mind, Mr. Robertson had one and twenty children. There is a little poem written by him eight years after their marriage, and inscribed to her, upon her needle-work, inserted in the Gent. Mag. 1736. In 1743, Mr. Robertson obtained the bishop’s leave to nominate a curate at Ravilly, and to reside for some time in Dublin, for the education of his children. Here he was immediately invited to the cure of St. Luke’s parish; aud in this he continued five years, and then returned to Ravilly in 1748, the town air not agreeing with him. While he was in the cure of St. Luke’s, he, together with Mr. Kane Percival, then curate of St. Michan’s, formed a scheme to raise a fund for the support of widows and children of clergymen of the diocese of Dublin, which hath since produced very happy effects. In 1758 he lost his wife. In 1759 Dr. Richard Robinson was translated from the see of Killala to that of Ferns; and, in his visitation that year, he took Mr. Robertson aside, and told him, that the primate, Dr. Stone (who had been bishop of Ferns, and had kept up a correspondence with Mr. Robertson), had recommended him to his care and protection, and that he might therefore expect every thing in his power. Accordingly, the first benefice that | became vacant in his lordship’s presentation was offered td him, and he thankfully accepted it. But, before he could be collated to it, he had the “Free and Candid Disquisitions” put into his hands, which he had never seen before. This inspired him with such doubts as made him defer his attendance on the good bishop. His lordship wrote to him again to come immediately for institution. Upon this, Mr. Robertson wrote him the letter which is at the end of a little book that he published some years after, entitled, “An Attempt to explain the words of Reason, Substance, Person, Creeds, Orthodoxy, Catholic Church, Subscription, and Index Expurgatorius;” in which letter Mr. Robertson returned his lordship the most grateful thanks for his kindness, but informed him that he could not comply with the terms required by law to qualify him for such preferment. However, Mr. Robertson continued at Ravilly performing his duty only, thenceforward, he omitted the Athanasian creed, &c. This gave o(Ferice and, therefore, he thought it the honestest course to resign all his benefices together, which he did in 1764; and, in 1766, he published his book by way of apology to his friends for what he had done; and soon after left Ireland, and returned to London. In 1767, Mr. Robertson presented one of his books to his old Alma Mater the university of Glasgow, and received in return a most obliging letter, with the degree of D. D. In 1768 the mastership of the freegrammar school at Wolverhampton in Staffordshire becoming vacant, the company of Merchant-Tailors, the patrons, unanimously conferred it on him. In 1772 he was chosen one of the committee to carry on the business of the society of clergymen, &c. in framing and presenting the famous petition to the House of Commons of Great Britain, praying to be relieved from the obligation of subscribing assent and consent to the thirty-nine articles, and all and every thing contained in the book of common-prayer. After this he lived several years at Wolverhampton, performing the duties of his office, in the greatest harmony with all sorts of people there; and died, of the gout in his stomach, at Wolverhampton, May 20, 1783, in the 79th year of his age; and was buried in the churchyard of the new church there. 1

1 Life from materials furnished by himself in Geut. Maj. for 1783.