Neilson, William (DNB00)

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NEILSON, WILLIAM, D.D. (1760?–1821), grammarian, was born in co. Down about 1760, and received his classical education under John Young [q. v.], afterwards professor of Greek at Glasgow. Their friendship continued throughout life. Neilson dedicated one of his books (‘Elementa’) to Young, and Young occasionally gave one of Neilson's books as a prize in his class at Glasgow (James Yates's copy in British Museum). He was ordained in the presbyterian church, and became minister of Dundalk, co. Louth, where he was also master of a school. In 1804 he published at Dundalk, by subscription, ‘Greek Exercises in Syntax, Ellipsis, Dialects, Prosody, and Metaphrasis.’ The subscribers were about three hundred, and the list shows that he was esteemed by the chief landowners of his district, as well as by members of the popular party, such as John Patrick, the patriotic surgeon of Ballymena, so famous for his care of the wounded during the rebellion of 1798. The book was creditably printed by J. Parks in Dundalk, and is dedicated to Dr. John Kearney, provost of Trinity College, Dublin. It shows considerable scholarship, and became popular as a school-book. A second edition appeared at Dundalk in August 1806, a third in April 1809, a fourth in November 1813, a fifth in Edinburgh in March 1818, a sixth in Edinburgh in 1824, a seventh in London in 1824, and the eighth and last in London in 1846. His next work was ‘An Introduction to the Irish Language,’ published in Dublin in 1808. Irish was then the vernacular of a large part of the country people of Down and Louth, and Neilson had had good opportunities of becoming acquainted with it. He was assisted (Introduction to O'Donovan's Grammar, p. 60) by Patrick Lynch, a native of Inch, co. Down, a local scholar and scribe. The book is printed, except two extracts from literature, in Roman type, and is valuable as a faithful representation of Irish as spoken at the period in Down. The power of arrangement and good taste in selection of examples exhibited in the author's Greek books are noticeable in his Irish grammar. The dialogues and familiar phrases which form the second part are a complete guide to the ideas as well as the phrases of the peasantry. Part of the fourth is taken from the dialogues in a rare Irish book called ‘Bolg an tsolair,’ published in Belfast in 1795, but the others are original. The third part was to have contained extracts from literature, of which only a chapter of Proverbs from the Irish Bible and part of the series of stories known as ‘The Sorrows of Storytelling’ were printed. A second edition, altogether in Irish type, was printed at Achill, co. Mayo, in 1843. In 1810 he published in Dublin ‘Greek Idioms exhibited in Select Passages from the best Authors.’ The curious frontispiece, entitled Kebētos pinax, was drawn by his brother, J. A. Neilson, a doctor of physic in Dundalk. Neilson became professor of Greek and Hebrew in ‘Belfast College,’ that is in a training college for presbyterian minsters in connection with the Belfast academical institution in 1817, an office which he held till his death, and which caused him to reside in Belfast. In 1820 he published ‘Elementa Linguæ Græcæ,’ of which a second edition appeared at Edinburgh in 1821. He died during the summer of 1821.

[Works; Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, ed. W. D. Killen, London, 1853, vol. iii.; O'Donovan's Grammar of the Irish Language, Dublin, 1845.]

N. M.