Cook, George (DNB00)

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COOK, GEORGE (1772–1845), leader of the ‘moderate’ party in the church of Scotland on the question of the Veto Act, which led to the disruption and the formation of the Free Church by the ‘evangelical’ party, was the second son of the Rev. John Cook, professor of moral philosophy in the university of St. Andrews, and Janet, daughter of the Rev. John Hill, minister of St. Andrews. He was born in December 1772, and entering the United College, St. Andrews, obtained his M.A. degree in 1790. After attending the divinity classes at St. Mary's College he was licensed a preacher of the church of Scotland by the St. Andrews presbytery, 30 April 1795. In the following June he was presented by the principal and masters of St. Mary's College to the living of Laurencekirk, where he was ordained 3 Sept. and remained till 1829. In 1808 he published ‘An Illustration of the General Evidence establishing the Reality of Christ's Resurrection,’ and the same year received the degree of D.D. from St. Andrews University. Subsequently he devoted his leisure specially to the study of the constitution and history of the church of Scotland, and in 1811 published ‘History of the Reformation in Scotland,’ 3 vols., which was followed in 1815 by the ‘History of the Church of Scotland,’ in 3 vols., embracing the period from the regency of Moray to the revolution. His style of narrative is somewhat cold and frigid, but it is generally characterised by lucidity and accuracy. In 1820 he published the ‘Life of Principal Hill,’ who was his maternal uncle, and in 1822 a ‘General and Historical View of Christianity.’

From an early period Cook took a prominent part in the deliberations of the general assembly, and on the death of his uncle, Principal Hill, in 1819, virtually succeeded him as leader of the ‘moderate’ party. Having, however, in opposition to the general views of the party, taken a decided stand against ‘pluralities’ and ‘non-residence’—regarding which he published in 1816 the substance of a speech delivered in the general assembly—he was for some time viewed by many of the party with considerable distrust, and when he was proposed as moderator in 1821 and 1822, he was defeated on both occasions by large majorities. Nevertheless he was unanimously elected in 1825, and from this time was accepted as the unchallenged leader of the party, guiding both privately and publicly their policy in regard to the constitutional questions arising out of the Veto Act of 1834, passed in opposition to his party against intrusion. In 1829 Cook demitted his charge at Laurencekirk on being chosen professor of moral philosophy in the United College, St. Andrews, but this made no change in his relation to the church of Scotland, and he was annually chosen a representative to the general assembly. In 1834 he published ‘A few plain Observations on the Enactments of the General Assembly of 1834 relating to Patronage and Calls,’ and in the ten years' conflict on the subject which followed gave a persistent and strenuous opposition to the policy of the ‘evangelical’ party led by Chalmers. Though unable to cope with Chalmers and others in brilliant or popular oratory, he possessed great readiness of reply, while his calm judgment, clear and logical exposition and accurate knowledge of the laws and constitution of the church enabled him to hold his own, so far as technical argument, apart from appeal to sentiment and popular feelings, was concerned. He did not long survive the disruption of 1843. Shortly after the assembly of 1844 he was attacked by heart disease, and he died suddenly at St. Andrews 13 May 1845. By his marriage to Diana, eldest daughter of the Rev. Alexander Shank, minister of St. Cyrus, he had seven children, of whom four sons and one daughter survived him. His eldest son, John Cook (1807–1874), minister at Haddington, has a separate notice.

[Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot. i. 397, iii. 878–9, 898; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Hanna's Life of Chalmers; Buchanan's Ten Years' Conflict.]

T. F. H.