Pirie, William Robinson (DNB00)

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PIRIE, WILLIAM ROBINSON (1804–1885), professor of divinity and principal of the university of Aberdeen, second son of George Pirie, D.D., minister of Slains, Aberdeenshire, was born at the manse of Slains on 26 July 1804. He studied at University and King's College, Aberdeen, during sessions 1817–21, but did not graduate. Originally destined for the bar, he spent some time in a lawyer's office in Aberdeen, but ultimately yielded to his father's wish, and attended theological classes during sessions 1821–5. In 1825 he was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Ellon, and in 1830 was presented by Gordon Cumming-Skene to the parish of Dyce, which he held for thirteen years. Pirie entered with keen spirit into the non-intrusion controversy, advocating the moderate views which were opposed to the veto system. His masterly dialectic power and shrewd practical wisdom marked him out as a guide for the church of Scotland in very difficult times. In 1846 he was presented to the Greyfriars' Church by the town council of Aberdeen; but this charge he resigned in the following year, on account of a resolution of the general assembly discouraging pluralities.

Meanwhile in 1843 he was appointed professor of divinity in Marischal College and University, and in the following year received the honorary degree of D.D., both from Marischal College and from his own alma mater, King's College. On the union of the two colleges in 1860 he was assigned the professorship of divinity and church history, and on the death of Principal Campbell, in 1876, he became the resident head of the university, retaining this post until his death.

From 1864, when Pirie was chosen moderator of the general assembly, and the free church celebrated her majority, the established church appeared to take a fresh start. The main object of his ambition and the chief subject of his thoughts for many years had been the procuring of the abolition of that system of patronage which had fettered the church since 1712. In several successive years he brought forward in the assembly a motion against patronage, the principle of which was affirmed by a large majority of that court in 1869, and formed the basis of a bill which received the sanction of parliament in 1874.

Pirie died at Aberdeen on 3 Nov. 1885. He married, on 24 March 1842, Margaret, daughter of Lewis William Forbes, D.D., minister of Boharm, and sister of Archibald Forbes, the war correspondent, by whom he had three sons and four daughters. The eldest son, George, became professor of mathematics in the university of Aberdeen in 1878.

His published works are: 1. ‘The Independent Jurisdiction of the Church vindicated,’ 1838. 2. ‘Letter on the Veto Act and the Non-intrusion of Ministers,’ 1840. 3. ‘Some Notice of the Rev. Andrew Gray, 1840. 4. ‘Account of the Parish of Dyce, (New Stat. Acc.), 1843. 5. ‘An Inquiry into the Constitution, Powers, and Processes of the Human Mind,’ 1858. 6. ‘The Position, Principles, and Duties of the Church of Scotland,’ 1864. 7. ‘An Inquiry into the Fundamental Processes of Religious, Moral, and Political Science,’ 1867. 8. ‘High Churchism,’ 1872. 9. ‘The God of Reason and Revelation’ (posthumous, 1892).

[In Memoriam W. R. Pirie, 1888; Aberdeen Journal, 4 and 9 Nov. and 16 Dec. 1885; Life and Work, December 1885; personal knowledge.]

P. J. A.