Russel, John (DNB00)

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RUSSEL, JOHN (1740?–1817), Scots divine, a native of Moray, was born about 1740. After completing his university education he was appointed parochial teacher at Cromarty, where he remained some years after obtaining license to preach from the presbytery of Chanonry on 21 June 1768. His strictness and severity as a disciplinarian earned for him the name of the ‘hard dominie,’ and, according to Hugh Miller, many of his pupils continued to regard him with ‘dread and hatred’ long after they had become men and women. Hugh Miller relates that a lady, who had experienced his tender mercies in childhood, was so overcome by the sudden appearance of him in a southern pulpit that she fainted away (Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland, p. 411). As a preacher he was, however, even in Cromarty, a favourite of the majority, being especially effective in enforcing the terrors of the law, and depicting the ‘miseries of the wicked in a future state’ (ib. p. 413). On 30 March 1774 he was ordained minister of the chapel-of-ease, now the high church, Kilmarnock. As a clergyman he did not belie the peculiar reputation he had gained as a schoolmaster. One of the most rigid of sabbatarians, he was accustomed on Sundays to go out, staff in hand, and forcibly turn back—being strong as well as determined—any of his parishioners about to indulge in the sin of Sunday walking; and it is said that at the sound of his heavy cudgel in the streets every one disappeared. His stentorian voice, aided by his dark and gloomy countenance, lent such effect to his fanatical denunciations that few even of his most reckless parishioners listened to him unmoved.

Having been called to the second charge of Stirling on 18 Jan. 1800, Russel demitted his charge at Kilmarnock on the 20th. He died at Stirling on 23 Feb. 1817 in his seventy-seventh year. Russel, who expounded a Calvinism of the narrowest and most forbidding type, published a number of sermons. He has gained immortality through the satire of Robert Burns. He is one of the combatants in the ‘Twa Herds, or the Holy Tulzie;’ ‘Black Jock,’ the state physician of ‘Glowrin Superstition’ in the ‘Epistle to John Goudie;’ ‘the Lord's ain trumpet’ in the ‘Holy Fairy;’ the ‘misca'er of common sense’ in the ‘Ordination;’ and ‘Rumble John’ in the ‘Kirk's Alarm.’

By his wife, Catherine Cunningham, he had a son John, who was minister of Muthill, Perthshire, and a daughter Anne, married to the Rev. William Sheriff of St. Ninians. A volume of the son's sermons was published in 1826, with a memoir by Dr. Chalmers.

[Hugh Miller's Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; King's History of Kilmarnock; Works of Robert Burns; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scoticanæ, ii. 177, 681.]

T. F. H.