Wilson, William Rae (DNB00)

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WILSON, WILLIAM RAE (1772–1849), author of ‘Travels,’ was a member of a Haddington family named Rae, and was born in Paisley on 7 June 1772. He learned law under his uncle, John Wilson, town clerk of Glasgow, and for a time practised as a solicitor before the supreme courts of Scotland. His uncle, who died in 1806, left him his fortune, and he then, by letters patent, added Wilson to his name, and resolved to gratify a taste for travel, specially stimulated at the moment by his wife's premature death. He travelled in Egypt and Palestine, and through most of Europe, preparing as he went minute and interesting records of his experience. As he was in some respects a pioneer, his publications had an immediate popularity, and they retain a certain historical interest. He became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1844 received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the university of Glasgow. In recognition of this academical distinction he bequeathed to the university 300l. to provide an annual prize for an essay on Christ and the benefits of Christianity. An upright man, a writer and a distributor of tracts, he was not of a specially tolerant spirit. One hapless stricture provoked Hood's discursive and pungent ‘Ode to Rae Wilson, Esquire,’ published in 1837 with characteristic prefatory note addressed to the editor of the ‘Athenæum’ (Hood, Poems, edit. 1867, i. 61). Rae Wilson died in London, in South Crescent, Bedford Square, on 2 June 1849, and was buried in Glasgow necropolis, where his grave is marked by a conspicuous monument of oriental design.

In 1811 Rae Wilson married Frances Phillips, daughter of a Glasgow merchant. Her death, eighteen months later, prompted a privately circulated memorial tribute, afterwards published in Gisborne's ‘Christian Female Biography.’ He married, a second time, Miss Cates, who accompanied him in his travels and survived him.

Rae Wilson's publications include:

  1. ‘Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land,’ 1823.
  2. ‘A Journey through Turkey, Greece, the Ionian Isles, Sicily, Spain,’ 1824.
  3. ‘Travels in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Hanover, Germany, Netherlands,’ 1826.
  4. ‘Travels in Russia,’ 1828, 2 vols.
  5. ‘Records of a Route through France and Italy; with Sketches of Catholicism,’ 1835.

The work on Egypt and the Holy Land was very popular, and ran through several editions.

[Chambers's Biogr. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Irving's Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Glasgow University Calendar; Addison's Roll of Glasgow Graduates, 1898.]

T. B.