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He was born in Cummertrees, Dumfriesshire, the son of the local minister and brought up in Prestonpans, East Lothian. He was a witness to the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 where he was part of the government Edinburgh militia. He missed the battle as he had been sent to lodge in nearby houses. Carlyle was educated at the University of Edinburgh (M.A. 1743), University of Glasgow and University of Leiden.
From 1748 until his death he was minister at Inveresk in Midlothian, and during this long career rose to high eminence in the Church of Scotland not only as leader of the moderate or "broad" Church section, but as Moderator of the General Assembly 1770 and Dean of the Chapel Royal in 1789. He was associated with Principal Robertson as an ecclesiastical leader.
His striking personal appearance earned him the nickname of Jupiter Carlyle; and his autobiography, which was ed. by Hill Burton, and published 1860, though written in his closing years and not extending beyond the year 1770, is interesting as a picture of Scottish life, social and ecclesiastical, in the 18th century. Carlyle's autobiography recalled the Porteous Riots of 1736, and his friendship with Adam Smith, David Hume, Charles Townshend and John Home, the dramatist, for witnessing the performance of whose tragedy Douglas he was censured in 1757. He was also a member of The Select Society and of the The Poker Club.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
- Autobiography of the Rev. Dr Alexander Carlyle ; containing memorials of the men and events of his time (1861), from Internet Archive