Wallace, Robert (1697-1771) (DNB00)

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WALLACE, ROBERT (1697–1771), writer on population, was only son, by his wife Margaret Stewart, of Matthew Wallace, parish minister of Kincardine, Perthshire, where he was born on 7 Jan. 1696–7. Educated at Stirling grammar school, he entered Edinburgh University in 1711, and acted for a time (1720) as assistant to James Gregory, the Edinburgh professor of mathematics. He was one of the founders of the Rankenian Club in 1717. On 31 July 1722 he was licensed as a preacher by the presbytery of Dunblane, Perthshire, and he was presented by the Marquis of Annandale to the parish of Moffat, Dumfriesshire, in August 1723. In 1733 he became minister of New Greyfriars, Edinburgh. Here he offended the government of 1736 by declining to read from his pulpit the proclamation against the Porteous rioters, holding that the church was spiritually independent in the celebration of public worship. He thereby rendered himself liable to severe penalties, but no attempt was made to recover them, and on 30 Aug. 1738 he was translated to the New North Church. In 1742, on a change of ministry, he regained ecclesiastical influence, being entrusted for five years with the management of church business and the distribution of ecclesiastical patronage. Utilising a suggestion of John Mathison of the High Church, Edinburgh, Wallace, with the aid of Alexander Webster [q. v.] of the Tolbooth church, Edinburgh, developed the important scheme of the ministers' widows' fund. On 12 May 1743 Wallace was elected moderator of the general assembly which approved the scheme, and in the end of that year he submitted it in London to the lord-advocate, who framed it into a legislative measure and superintended its safe progress into an act (see manuscripts in possession of trustees of the fund). In June 1744 Wallace was appointed a royal chaplain for Scotland and a dean of the Chapel Royal. He received the honorary degree of D.D. from Edinburgh University on 13 March 1759, and died on 29 July 1771. He was married to Helen, daughter of George Turnbull, minister of Tyninghame in Haddingtonshire. She died on 9 Feb. 1776, leaving two sons, Matthew and George, and a daughter, Elizabeth, all of whom died unmarried. Matthew became vicar of Tenterden in Kent, and George is noticed below.

Wallace published in 1753 a ‘Dissertation on the Numbers of Mankind in Ancient and Modern Times,’ an acute and suggestive contribution to economics. One of the points in the work was a vigorous criticism of the chapter on the ‘Populousness of Ancient Nations’ in Hume's ‘Political Discourses.’ Hume's position, however, remained intact; Wallace ‘wholly failed to shake its foundations’ (McCulloch, Literature of Political Economy). The work was translated into French under the supervision of Montesquieu, and it was republished in an English edition with prefatory memoir in 1809. In 1758 appeared his ‘Characteristics of the Present State of Great Britain,’ a work indicative of insight and courage. In ‘Various Prospects of Mankind, Nature, and Providence,’ 1761, a metaphysical, economical, and theologically dogmatic treatise, he recurred to his population theories, and by one passage is believed to have stimulated Malthus (see ‘Mr. Malthus’ in Hazlitt's Spirit of the Age, and Talfourd in Retrospective Review, ii. 185).

His son George Wallace (d. 1805?), admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, on 16 Feb. 1754, was appointed a commissary of Edinburgh in 1792, and died about 1805. Some writers credit him with the memoir prefixed to the 1809 edition of his father's ‘Dissertation’ (Cunningham, Church History of Scotland, ii. 467). George Wallace published:

  1. ‘System of the Principles of the Law of Scotland,’ 1760.
  2. ‘Thoughts on the Origin of Feudal Tenures and the Descent of Ancient Peerages in Scotland,’ 1783, 4to; 2nd edit., ‘Nature and Descent of Ancient Peerages connected with the State of Scotland,’ 1785, 8vo.
  3. ‘Prospects from Hills in Fife,’ 1796; 2nd edit. 1800, a poem embodying respectable descriptive sketches with historical allusions, in blank verse modelled on that of Thomson's ‘Seasons.’

[Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scoticanæ, I. i. 67, 70, ii. 656; Book of Wallace, i. 198–200; Chambers's Biogr. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle, chap. vi.; Gent. Mag. 1849, i. 352; Hill Burton's Life and Correspondence of David Hume; Alison's History of Europe, chap. v.; Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. xliv. n.]

T. B.