Riccaltoun, Robert (DNB00)

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RICCALTOUN, ROBERT (1691–1769), Scottish presbyterian divine, and friend of James Thomson, the poet, was born in 1691 at Earlshaugh, near Jedburgh, where his father was a farmer. He was educated at Jedburgh grammar school and Edinburgh University, but owing to his father's death he had to take charge of the farm. At the same time he so diligently pursued theological studies that without going through the divinity hall he was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Kelso in March 1717. After having been for some years assistant to the Rev. Archibald Deans, minister of Bowden, he was in 1725 ordained to the parish of Hopekirk, where he continued till his death, 17 Sept. 1769. In August 1724 he married Anna Scott, who predeceased him, 4 Oct. 1764. A son John succeeded his father in the parish. A daughter Margaret (1731–1786) married William Armstrong, the parish schoolmaster of Hopekirk, and was mother of Adam Armstrong, major-general in the service of Alexander I of Russia, and of Robert Armstrong, lieutenant-general in the same service and director of the imperial mint at St. Petersburg.

Riccaltoun was a man of ability, of fine imaginative power, and extensive learning, and he will be remembered as having befriended and encouraged James Thomson, author of the ‘Seasons.’ Riccaltoun was author of an ode on ‘Winter,’ in fifty-eight lines, which first appeared in Savage's ‘Miscellany’ in 1726, when it was attributed to David Mallet [q. v.] The latter seems at first to have countenanced the illusion, but omitted it from his collected works. In 1740 the ode reappeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ its author being given as ‘a Scots clergyman.’ In 1853 it again appeared in the same publication, with remarks by Peter Cunningham, who found no difficulty in assigning its authorship to Riccaltoun. When James Thomson was engaged in 1725 on his own poem on ‘Winter,’ he fully acknowledged his indebtedness to his early friend, whose ode on the same topic, as he states, ‘first put the design into my head. In it are some masterly strokes that awakened me.’

Two years previous to his settlement at Hopekirk, Riccaltoun published anonymously one of the earliest works on the ‘Marrow controversy,’ entitled ‘A Sober Inquiry into the Grounds of the present Differences in the Church of Scotland’ (1723). Riccaltoun's ‘Works’ appeared posthumously in 3 vols. 8vo, Edinburgh, 1771–2, and ‘Letters to a Friend’ in the ‘Edinburgh Christian Instructor,’ vol. vi. There has been erroneously attributed to him a work by the Rev. Duncan Shaw of Aberdeen, entitled ‘Dissertation on the Conduct of the Jewish Sanhedrim, and Advice offered by Gamaliel,’ 1769.

[Hew Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scot.; Memoirs of Thomson, by Murdoch and Nicolas; Parish Registers; Rich. Savage's Miscellany, 1726; Gent. Mag. 1740, new ser. 1853.]

W. G.