Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leechman, William

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LEECHMAN, WILLIAM (1706–1785), divine, born in 1706, son of William Leechman, a farmer of Dolphinton, Lanarkshire, was educated at the parish school. The father had taken down the quarters of Robert Baillie (d. 1684) [q. v.] of Jerviswood, which had been exposed after his execution (24 Dec. 1684) on the tolbooth of Lanark. In gratitude for this service the Baillie family helped young Leechman to go to the university at Edinburgh, where he graduated 16 April 1724. He studied divinity there under Professor William Hamilton. He was tutor to James Geddes [q. v.], whose posthumous essay, ‘The Composition of the Ancients,’ he published in 1748. About 1727 he became tutor to William Mure of Caldwell, Ayrshire, a friend of David Hume. The family passed the winters at Glasgow, where he attended the lectures of Francis Hutcheson. In October 1731 he was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Paisley, and in 1736 was ordained minister of Beith in the neighbourhood of Caldwell. He was moderator of a synod at Irvine in 1740, and on 7 April 1741 preached a sermon at Glasgow ‘on the … character of a minister of the gospel,’ which was published, and passed through several editions. In July 1743 he married Bridget Balfour of the Pilrig family; and at the end of the year was elected professor of divinity at Glasgow by the casting vote of the lord rector. He resigned Beith on 3 Jan. 1744 upon his election. The presbytery of Glasgow refused to enrol him, alleging that he had made heretical statements in a sermon published in 1743 ‘On the Nature, Reasonableness, and Advantages of Prayer.’ He was accused of laying too little stress upon the merits of the intercession of the Saviour. Hume criticised the sermon in a letter to Leechman's pupil, William Mure, suggesting minute corrections of style, and urging that Leechman really made prayer a mere ‘rhetorical figure.’ The synod of Glasgow and Ayr rejected the accusation of the presbytery, and their acquittal was confirmed by the general assembly. Leechman's lectures were popular, and he followed the example first set by Hutcheson of using English instead of Latin. Wodrow gives a long account of them. They dealt with polemical divinity, the evidences of Christianity, and the composition of sermons. He refused to publish them. He visited England with his old pupil Geddes in 1744, and made the acquaintance of Dr. Price. He was moderator of the general assembly in 1757. In 1759 he went to Bristol in ill-health and drank the Clifton waters. In 1761 he was appointed principal of the university at Glasgow, but for a time continued to lecture. His health was bad, and his income averaged only 190l. a year; but he is said to have helped poor students through his acquaintance with distinguished people, and he amused himself with a small farm at Achinairn, near Glasgow. He had two paralytic strokes in 1785, and died 3 Dec. in that year. He is described as tall, thin, awkward, and often absent-minded, but kindly and courteous. He prefixed a life of the author to Hutcheson's ‘System of Moral Philosophy’ (1755), and published a few sermons. These with others were collected in two volumes in 1789, with a life by James Wodrow.

[Life by Wodrow, as above; Burton's Hume, i. 162–5; Hew Scott's Fasti, ii. 160; A. Carlyle's Autobiography, 1860, pp. 66–70.]

L. S.