Lee, John (1779-1859) (DNB00)

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LEE, JOHN (1779–1859), principal of Edinburgh University, was born at Torwoodlee-Mains, in the parish of Stow, Midlothian, 22 Nov. 1779. He entered the university of Edinburgh in 1794, where he supported himself by teaching. He graduated M.D. in 1801, and his thesis, 'De viribus animi in corpus agentibus,' was written in very elegant Latin. After serving for a short time in the army hospital service he commenced studying law. But in 1804 he became amanuensis, at Inveresk, to the Rev. Alexander Carlyle [q. v.], 'Jupiter Carlyle.' who entrusted him with the manuscript of his autobiography on his death in 1805. Lee was licensed as a preacher in 1807, and after acting for a few months as pastor of a presbyterian chapel in London was ordained minister of Peebles. In 1812 he became professor of church history at St. Mary's College, St. Andrews, and was there chosen rector of the college. In 1820 he became professor of moral philosophy in King's College, Aberdeen, but his lectures there were chiefly delivered by a deputy. In 1821 he resigned both professorships and accepted a call to the Canongate Church, Edinburgh, when the degree of D.D. was given him by St. Andrews University. In 1825 he was translated from the Canongate to Lady Yester's Church, and was appointed a chaplain in ordinary to the king in 1830. He was made principal clerk of the general assembly in 1827, unsuccessfully contested the moderatorship with Dr. Chalmers in 1832, in 1834 became minister of the old church of St. Giles's, Edinburgh, principal of the United College of St. Andrews in 1837, and dean of the Chapel Royal, Stirling, in 1840. In the last year he was also elected principal of the university of Edinburgh. When the disruption took place in 1843, Lee remained faithful to the established church, undertook to conduct the divinity class, and was shortly afterwards made professor of divinity in succession to Dr. Chalmers. He held the office with the principalship. The general assembly elected him moderator in 1844. He was accomplished in almost every branch of knowledge, and in Scottish literary and ecclesiastical history had accumulated most minute and curious information. He collected a library of twenty thousand volumes, and is described by John Hill Burton in the 'Book Hunter' as Archdeacon Meadows the bibliomaniac, who would buy a book of which he had several copies already, and then, not being able to find any of his copies, would have to borrow the same book from a friend for reference. He died in the university of Edinburgh on 2 May 1859.

Lee's chief works were: 1. Six sermons, 1829. 2. Memorials of the Bible Society in Scotland, 1829. 3. 'Dr. Lee's Refutation of Charges brought against him by the Rev. Dr. Chalmers, in reference to the questions on Church Extension and University Education,' 1837. 4. 'Lectures on the History of the Church of Scotland,' 1860. 5. 'The University of Edinburgh from 1583 to 1839, 1884. Lee also edited tracts by D. Fergusson for the Bannatyne Club in 1860.

[Crombie's Modern Athenians, 1882, pp. 135–137, with portrait; Grant's University of Edinburgh, 1884, pp. 271–4; Scott's Fasti, 1868, vol. i. pt. i. pp. 12, 13, 64; Proc. of Roy. Soc. of Edinb. 1862, iv. 212–17; Scotsman, 7 May 1859, p. 4, by J. H. Burton; Veitch's Sermon on Death of Principal Lee, 1849; Inaugural Addresses by J. Lee, with a Memoir by Lord Neaves, 1861.]

G. C. B.