Somerville, Alexander Neil (DNB00)

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SOMERVILLE, ALEXANDER NEIL (1813–1889), Scottish divine, born in Edinburgh on 30 Jan. 1813, was the eldest son of Alexander Somervell by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Major Munro. The family were descended from the second son of James, sixth baron Somerville (d. 1569) [see under Hugh Somerville, fifth Lord Somerville]. It is probable that like other early Scottish baronies, that of Somerville descended to heirs general. If, however, it descended to heirs male, Alexander Neil Somerville became heir in 1870 on the death of Aubrey John, nineteenth lord Somerville. Alexander Neil was educated at Edinburgh high school, where he formed a peculiarly close friendship with Robert Murray McCheyne [q. v.], and was also intimate with Horatius and Andrew Bonar. In November 1827 he matriculated at Edinburgh University, and was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Jedburgh on 9 Dec. 1835. On 30 Nov. 1837 he was ordained minister of Anderston, a quoad sacra parish in Glasgow, but in 1843 he was one of those who left the church of Scotland and formed the free church. His congregation followed, and a new church was built for him in Cadogan Street in February 1844. During the following years he took an important part in organising the free church in various parts of the British Isles. He also interested himself largely in the growth of the reformed church in Spain, visiting that country several times, both before and after the revolution of 1868. In 1870, while at Madrid, he drew up a constitution and confession of faith for the Spanish protestants. In 1874, at the instance of the Rev. John Fordyce, secretary of the Anglo-Indian Christian Union, now the Anglo-Indian Evangelisation Society, he undertook a winter mission to India, visiting, in the course of six months, over twenty cities, including Madras, Calcutta, Allahabad, Agra, Delhi, and Bombay, and addressing not merely the Anglo-Indians, but also the English-speaking natives. Such was the effect of his visit that in 1877, at the request of the Glasgow United Evangelistic Association, with the sanction of the presbytery of Glasgow, he gave up his church in Glasgow and ‘devoted himself to the preaching of Christ wherever the English language is spoken.’ On 2 May of the same year he received the honorary degree of D.D. from Glasgow University. From that time until 1887, except when prevented by ill-health, he journeyed incessantly, visiting Australasia in 1877, Italy in 1880, Germany and Russia in 1881, South Africa in 1882–3, and Greece and Asia Minor in 1885–6. In the latter year he was elected moderator of the free church, and in 1887 passed through various parts of south-eastern Europe, devoting especial attention to the movement towards Christianity among the Jews of Hungary and southern Russia, initiated by the Rabbis Lichtenstein and Rabinowich.

Somerville died in Glasgow on 18 Sept. 1889, and was buried at the western necropolis, Maryhill. ‘No man in modern times,’ says Dr. George Smith, ‘probably ever had so many converts—ministers and missionaries, students and artisans, rich and poor, men, women, and children, of all nationalities and of all lands.’ In 1841 he married Isabella Mirrlees, daughter of James Ewing of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She survived him. By her he had three sons and two daughters.

Somerville's most important works were: 1. ‘Sacred Triads, doctrinal and practical,’ London, 1859, 12mo. 2. ‘A Day in Laodicea,’ London, 1861, 16mo. 3. ‘Evangelization from the World,’ Glasgow, 1886, 8vo. 4. ‘The Churches in Asia,’ ed. W. F. Somerville, Paisley, 1885, 8vo. 5. ‘Precious Seed sown in many Lands,’ London, 1890, 8vo (posthumous).

[A Modern Apostle, by George Smith, C.I.E. 1890; Memoir by William Francis Somerville, prefixed to Precious Seed, 1890; Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scoticanæ ii. i. 43.]

E. I. C.