Campbell, George (1719-1796) (DNB00)

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CAMPBELL, GEORGE (1719–1796), divine, was born on 25 Dec. 1719 in Aberdeen, where his father, Colin Campbell (d. 27 Aug. 1728), was a minister. Campbell was educated at the grammar school, and at Marischal College. He was articled to a writer to the signet, but in 1741 began to study divinity in Edinburgh, and afterwards at Aberdeen. He was licensed to preach in 1746, and on 2 June 1748 was ordained minister of Banchory Ternan in Aberdeenshire. There he married Grace Farquharson, whose care prolonged his life in spite of delicate health. He became well known as a preacher, and in June 1757 was chosen one of the ministers of Aberdeen. A philosophical society was formed at the beginning of 1758, of which Campbell, Reid, Gregory, Beattie, and other well-known men were or became members. In 1759 he was appointed principal of Marischal College through the influence of his distant relation, the Duke of Argyll. In 1762 he published his ‘Dissertation on Miracles,’ expanded from a sermon preached before the provincial synod on 9 Oct. 1760. This was one of the chief answers to Hume's famous essay (published in 1748). Campbell's friend, Hugh Blair [q.v.] , showed the sermon to Hume. Some correspondence (published in later editions of the ‘Essay’) passed between Campbell and Hume, who stated that he must adhere to a resolution formed in early life never to reply to an adversary, though he had never felt so ‘violent an inclination to defend himself.’ The courtesy shown by Campbell to Hume in the letters and in his book gave some offence to zealots (Burton, Hume, i. 283, ii. 115–20). The ‘Dissertation’ was generally admired. The most original part is the argument that the highest anterior improbability of an alleged event is counterbalanced by slight direct evidence. Campbell became D.D. in 1764. In June 1771 he was elected professor of divinity in Marischal College. As professor he was also minister of Grey Friars, and resigned his previous charge. He lectured industriously both as principal and professor. He published his ‘Philosophy of Rhetoric’ in 1776, a course of lectures resembling those of Blair, and expounding the critical doctrines of the period. In 1789 he published a ‘Translation of the Gospels,’ with preliminary dissertations and notes, which reached a seventh edition in 1834. His ‘Lectures on Ecclesiastical History’ appeared posthumously in 1800. They contain a defence of presbyterianism, and were attacked by Bishop Skinner of the Scotch episcopal church in ‘Primitive Truth and Order vindicated,’ and by Archdeacon Daubeny in ‘Eight Discourses.’ Campbell also published a few sermons showing his sympathy with the moderate party. A fast sermon in 1776 on the duty of allegiance had a large circulation, but failed to rouse the American colonists to a sense of their duty.

When nearly seventy he learnt German in order to read Luther's translation of the Bible. A severe illness in 1791 impaired his strength. His wife's death (16 Feb. 1792) was hastened by her care of him in this illness. He was much shaken by the loss, and he offered to resign his professorship on condition of being succeeded by one of three gentlemen named by himself. The offer was not accepted, but he soon afterwards resigned the professorship and the ministry of Grey Friars (worth 160l. a year) in favour of William Laurence Brown [q. v.], who had been forced to resign a professorship at Utrecht. He resigned the principalship, in which also Brown succeeded him, on receiving a pension of 300l. a year, but directly afterwards died of a paralytic stroke, 6 April 1796.

[Life by G. S. Keith prefixed to Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, 1800; Hew Scott’s Fasti, iii. 455, 467, 522.]

L. S.