Ramsay, Edward Bannerman (DNB00)
RAMSAY, EDWARD BANNERMAN (1793–1872), dean of Edinburgh, fourth son of Alexander Burnett, advocate sheriff of Kincardineshire, by his second wife, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Sir Alexander Bannerman of Elsick, was born at Aberdeen on 31 Jan. 1793. His father (who was second son of Sir Thomas Burnett, bart., of Leys, by Catherine Ramsay) [see Ramsay, Sir John, (d. 1513)], after his succession in 1806 to the estates of Balmain and Fasque in Kincardineshire, left to him by his uncle, Sir Alexander Ramsay, assumed for himself and his family the name of Ramsay, was made a baronet by Fox (13 May 1806), resigned his sheriffship and lived at Fasque till his death in 1810.
Edward Ramsay spent much of his boyhood with his grand-uncle, Sir Alexander, who lived on his Yorkshire estate. He was sent to the village school at Halsey, after his uncle's death, and in 1806 to the cathedral grammar school at Durham. He completed his education at St. John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1816. In the same year he was ordained to the curacy of Rodden, near Frome in Somerset, and in 1817 became curate also of Buckland Denham in the same county, where the absence of the rector gave him the whole pastoral charge. In the ‘Sunday Magazine’ of January 1865 he wrote ‘Reminiscences of a West of England Curacy,’ in which he describes his life at this period and his intimacy with the Wesleyan methodists among his parishioners. His favourite studies were botany, architecture, and music. He became an accomplished player on the flute, and had a special admiration for Handel. In 1824 he came to Edinburgh as curate of St. George's, York Place, where he remained two years, and after a year's incumbency of St. Paul's, Carrubbers Close, became in 1827 assistant of Bishop Sandford of St. John's Church. Succeeding Sandford in 1830, he remained pastor of that congregation till his own death.
Ramsay's English education had not made him a less patriotic Scot, but it enlarged his view of Scottish patriotism. He advocated consistently, and at last successfully, the removal of the barriers which separated the Scottish episcopal from the English church. In 1841 he was appointed by Bishop Terrot dean of Edinburgh, and, having declined Peel's offer of the bishopric of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and at later periods the bishopric of Glasgow and the coadjutor-bishopric of Edinburgh, he became familiarly known in Scotland as ‘The Dean’ or Dean Ramsay. He was a vice-president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and delivered the opening address in 1861. His only other contribution to the ‘Proceedings’ was a ‘Memoir’ of Dr. Chalmers, a friend for whose genius he had a high admiration. It was largely due to him that the statue of Chalmers was erected in Edinburgh. The ‘Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character’ (1858), which gave the dean his widest reputation, had their origin in ‘Two Lectures on some Changes in Social Life and Habits,’ delivered at Ulbster Hall, Edinburgh, in 1857. These were rewritten and much enlarged in successive editions, of which twenty-one were published during his life; the twenty-second was issued after his death with a notice of his life by Professor Cosmo-Innes. The book has been recognised as the best collection of Scottish stories and one of the best answers to the charge of want of humour made by Sydney Smith against the Scots. It is composed largely of stories and anecdotes furnished by his own recollection or that of his friends of all classes, supplemented by contributions from ministers of the various churches into which Scotland was divided, and others of his countrymen. Those who heard the dean tell Scottish stories maintained that print weakened their flavour, but they were woven together in the ‘Reminiscences’ in an artless personal narrative, which has a charm of its own.
Besides the ‘Reminiscences,’ Ramsay published ‘A Catechism’ (1835), at one time much used; a volume of ‘Advent Sermons’ (1850); a series of lectures on ‘Diversities of Christian Character’ (1858), and another on ‘Faults of Christian Believers,’ subsequently combined in a treatise on ‘The Christian Life’ (1862); two ‘Lectures on Handel’ (1862), delivered at the Philosophical Institution, Edinburgh; and ‘Pulpit Table-Talk’ (1868), as well as single sermons and pamphlets on ecclesiastical subjects. He was the principal founder of the Scottish Episcopal Church Society, now absorbed in the Representative Church Council, a society which improved the still slender emoluments of the clergy of the episcopal church. In theology his sympathy was with the evangelical rather than the high-church party, and in politics with the liberal conservatives. He retained through life a warm friendship for Mr. Gladstone, with whom he was associated in the foundation of Trinity College, Glenalmond. But he was not a man of party, and the epithet unsectarian might have been invented for him. His intercourse with the clergy of other communions and the liberality of his conduct did much to lessen the prejudice with which episcopacy was regarded in Scotland. He supported Dean Stanley when he opened the pulpit of Westminster Abbey to clergy who did not belong to the church of England. He was himself a practical and sympathetic preacher, with a natural persuasive eloquence, aided by a fine voice, which made his reading of the liturgy singularly impressive. He died in Edinburgh on 27 Dec. 1872.
Ramsay married, in 1829, Isabella Cochrane, a Canadian, who predeceased him without children. Her nephews and nieces found a home in his house, where his brother, Admiral Sir W. Ramsay, resided, after retiring from the navy.
A tablet was placed in St. John's Church by his congregation, and an Iona cross in the adjoining burial-ground, facing Prince's Street, was erected to his memory by public subscription. His portrait by Sir John Steell is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.[Memoir by Professor Cosmo-Innes; information from his nephew, Mr. Alexander Burnett, and personal knowledge.]