Fordyce, James (DNB00)
|←Fordyce, George|| Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 19
FORDYCE, JAMES, D.D. (1720-1796), presbyterian divine and poet, third son of George Fordyce of Broadford, merchant and provost of Aberdeen (who had twenty children), was born at Aberdeen in the last quarter of 1720. David Fordyce [q. v.] was his elder brother, Alexander Fordyce [q. v.] and Sir William Fordyce [q. v.] were his younger brothers; George Fordyce, M.D. [q. v.], was his nephew. From the Aberdeen High School Fordyce proceeded to Marischal College, where he was educated for the ministry. On 23 Feb. 1743 he was licensed by the Aberdeen presbytery. In September 1744 he was presented by the crown to the second charge at Brechin, Forfarshire. His admission was delayed, as the parishioners stood out for their right of election; he was ordained at Brechin on 28 Aug. 1745. His position was not comfortable, and he did not get on with his colleague. In 1753 he took his degree of M.A. at Marischal College, and in the same year he received a presentation to Alloa, Clackmannanshire. The parishioners wanted another man; however, Fordyce got a call on 5 June, demitted his charge at Brechin on 29 Aug., and was admitted at Alloa on 12 Oct. 1753. Here he won the affections of his flock, and rapidly acquired reputation as a preacher. He published several sermons; in 1760 his sermon before the general assembly on the 'folly, infamy, and misery of unlawful pleasures ' created a profound impression, and stamped him as a pulpit orator of the first rank. The university of Glasgow made him a D.D.
Already Fordyce had turned his thoughts to London, where several members of his family had established themselves. During a visit to his brother Alexander in 1759 an unsuccessful effort had been made by his friends to procure for him a call to a vacant pastorate in Carter Lane. In 1760 he was chosen as colleague to Samuel Lawrence,D.D., minister of the presbyterian congregation in Monkwell Street. He demitted his charge at Alloa on 30 May, and was released from it on 18 June 1760. Lawrence died on 1 Oct., and Fordyce became sole pastor. He preached only on Sunday afternoons, the morning lecturer being Thomas Toller, Lawrence's son-in-law.
Fordyce's eloquence soon drew crowds to Monkwell Street. He had the natural advantages of a dignified presence and a piercing eye; his delivery and gestures were studied with great care. His topics were didactic, but he freed them from dryness by his powers of imagination and a polish and pomp of his style which satisfied cultured tastes. He forsook generalities, and dealt with the ethics of actual life. Garrick is said to have heard him more than once, and to have spoken highly of his oratory. Boswell speaks of his 'long and uninterrupted social connection' with Johnson; he introduced Johnson to Blair. His sympathetic account (in 'Addresses to the Deity,' 1785) of Johnson's religious character has often been quoted. From this and other passages of his writing it is evident that, while he avoided the position of a party preacher and steered clear of controversy, his moderation had not destroyed his evangelical faith.
Fordyce's popularity lasted for about twelve years. Several causes contributed to its decline. In 1772 the failure of his brother Alexander involved the ruin of some of Fordyce's warmest adherents, and the alienation, of many friends. In 1775 the congregation was rent by a quarrel between Fordyce and Toller; the ground of the ill-feeling is not stated, but may perhaps be gathered from the tone of Toller's funeral sermon for Alexander Fordyce. Fordyce's part in the dispute is not excused by his friends; he procured the dismissal of Toller on 28 Feb. 1775; a large part of the congregation withdrew with Toller to an independent meeting-house in Silver Street. Fordyce now undertook the whole of the duties at Monkwell Street; his audience thinned, and disappointment preyed upon his health. Under medical advice he resigned his office at Christmas 1782. His charge at the ordination of his successor, James Lindsay, D.D., on 21 May 1783, is regarded as his finest effort of pulpit eloquence.
He retired to a country residence near Christchurch, Hampshire, where he was a neighbour of Lord Bute, who gave him the range of his library. Several publications, including a poor volume of poems, were the fruits of his leisure. On the death (1792) of his brother, Sir William Fordyce, he removed to Bath. He was troubled with asthma, and, after much suffering from this cause, died suddenly of syncope on 1 Oct. 1796 in his seventy-sixth year, and was buried in one of the parish churches of Bath. A funeral sermon was preached by Lindsay at Monkwell Street on 16 Oct. He married (1771) Henrietta Cummyng, who died at Bath on 10 Jan. 1823, aged 89. There was no issue of the marriage. He published:
- 'The Eloquence of the Pulpit,' &c., 1752, 8vo (ordination sermon; often reprinted with David Fordyce's ' Theodorus').
- 'The Temple of Virtue,' &c., 1757, 12mo (by David Fordyce; but this edition has additional matter by James Fordyce).
- ' The Folly … of Unlawful Pleasures,' &c., 1760, 8vo; 2nd edit. Edinb. 1768, 8vo.
- 'Sermons to Young Women,' 1765, 2 vols. 12mo, often reprinted.
- 'The Character and Conduct of the Female Sex,' 1776, 8vo.
- 'Addresses to Young Men,' 1777, 2 vols. 8vo.
- 'Addresses to the Deity,' 1785, 8vo.
- 'Poems,' 1786, 8vo.
- 'A Discourse on Pain,' 1791, 8vo (Chalmers refers to a certain 'cure for the cramp' here given, and connects it with a passage from Beaumont and Fletcher).
Also sermon on popery (1754), reprinted 1779; ordination sermon and charge (1755); sermon on Eccles. xi. 1 (1757); funeral sermon for Lawrence (1760); sermon on Prov. viii. 6, 7 (1775); charge at ordination of Lindsay (1783).
[Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot.; Lindsay's Funeral Sermon, 1797; Protestant Dissenting Magazine, 1796 p. 399 sq., 1797 p. 81 sq.; "Wilson's Dissenting Churches, 1808, iii. 114, 209 sq.; Chalmers's Gren. Biog. Diet. 1814, xiv. 470 sq.; Mitchell's Scotsman's Library, 1825, p. 30 sq.; Bogue and Bennett's Hist, of Dissenters, 1833, ii. 606 sq.; Boswell's Johnson (Wright), 1859, ii. 168, viii. 413, x. 155; Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1870, ii. 244 sq. (gives the family pedigree).]