Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lee, Robert (1804-1868)

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LEE, ROBERT (1804–1868), professor at Edinburgh, born at Tweedmouth, Northumberland, 11 Nov. 1804, was educated at Berwick-on-Tweed grammar school, and worked for a time as a boat-builder. In 1824 he proceeded to the university of St. Andrews, where he distinguished himself in classics. In 1833 he was elected minister of the presbyterian chapel of ease at Arbroath, Forfarshire; in 1836 was removed to the parish of Campsie, Stirlingshire, and on 29 Aug. 1848 was appointed minister of the church and parish of the old Greyfriars, Edinburgh, where he remained till his death. On 19 Jan. 1845 his church was burnt down, and, until the opening of the restored church, 14 June 1857, Lee preached in the Assembly Hall. In 1844 the university of St. Andrews conferred on him the degree of D.D. On 30 Jan. 1847 he was installed the first professor of biblical criticism in the university of Edinburgh, and dean of the chapel royal. As a professor he performed his duties most zealously.

Lee's lifelong endeavour was to extend within the church of Scotland freedom of worship and thought, and on the former issue he was successful. Anxious to remove the baldness and ungracefulness of the forms of public worship in Scotland, he introduced in 1857 stained glass into some of the windows of his restored old Greyfriars Church, and for the ten following years resolutely strove to obtain the sanction of the presbytery for written prayers, more suitable postures, and the aid of instrumental music. The first organ used in the service of the national church was introduced into the Greyfriars in April 1864, and in the same year he published ‘The Reform of the Church in Worship, Government, and Doctrine. Part i. Worship.’ On 23 Feb. 1859 Lee was charged with unlawful innovations before the presbytery of Edinburgh, and the case went to the general assembly, which gave a vote in his favour on 24 May. Other proceedings followed in the Edinburgh presbytery in 1864 and in the general assembly in 1865 and 1866. For celebrating on 6 Dec. 1865 in his church the marriage of the Hon. Captain Arbuthnot and Mrs. Ferguson Blair—a ceremony which was not permitted to take place in presbyterian places of worship—he was censured by the presbytery on 14 March 1866, and by the synod on 7 May. The question of distributing printed books of prayers among his congregation came before the general assembly in May 1867, but while it was in progress he was struck with paralysis. He died at Torquay on 14 March 1868, and was buried in the Grange cemetery, Edinburgh, on 20 March. His widow, Isabella Carrick, was granted a civil list pension of 100l. a year on 17 Nov. 1868.

Besides the work already mentioned, Lee's chief publications were: 1. ‘Lectures on the Causes of Departure from the Parochial Economy and the Evils of that Departure, especially in large Towns,’ 1835. 2. ‘The Theses of Erastus touching Excommunication,’ translated, with a preface, 1844. 3. ‘A Handbook of Devotion,’ 1845. 4. ‘The Holy Bible. With the Marginal References revised and improved,’ 1854; another ed. 1855. 5. ‘Prayers for Public Worship, with Extracts from the Psalter and other parts of Scripture,’ 1857; 2nd edit. 1858. 6. ‘Prayers for Family Worship,’ 1861; 3rd edit. 1884. 7. ‘The Family and its Duties, with other Essays and Discourses for Sunday Reading,’ 1863. 8. ‘The Clerical Profession, some of its Difficulties and Hinderances,’ 1866. 9. ‘A Letter to the Members of the General Assembly in reference to a “Finding” of the Assembly respecting Innovations imputed to the Writer,’ 1867. 10. ‘Sermons,’ 1874. Besides addresses, discourses, and single sermons.

[Gent. Mag. May 1868, pp. 680–1; Story's Life of Robert Lee, 1870, 2 vols. with portrait; Grant's University of Edinburgh, 1884, ii. 461–464; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scotic. pt. iii. pp. 55, 303, pt. vi. p. 809.]

G. C. B.