Robert Wallace (minister)

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Dissertation on the numbers of mankind in antient and modern times, 1753

Robert Wallace (1697–1771) was a minister of the Church of Scotland and writer on population.


He was only son, of Margaret Stewart, wife of Matthew Wallace, parish minister of Kincardine, Perthshire, where he was born on 7 January 1697. 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.[1]

On 31 July 1722 Wallace 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. He offended the government of 1736 by declining to read from his pulpit the proclamation against the Porteous rioters. On 30 August 1738 he was translated to the New North Church. In 1742, on a change of ministry at Westminster, he regained influence, and was entrusted for five years with the management of church business and the distribution of ecclesiastical patronage. From a suggestion of John Mathison of the High Church, Edinburgh, Wallace, with Alexander Webster of the Tolbooth church, Edinburgh, developed the ministers' widows' fund.[1]

On 12 May 1743 Wallace was elected Moderator of the General Assembly. It approved the widows' fund. scheme, and at the end of the year he submitted it in London to Robert Craigie, the Lord Advocate, who saw it into legislation.[1]

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.[1]


Wallace published in 1753 a Dissertation on the Numbers of Mankind in Ancient and Modern Times. It contained criticism of the chapter on the Populousness of Ancient Nations in David Hume's Political Discourses. The work was translated into French under the supervision of Montesquieu, and it was republished in an English edition with a memoir in 1809. In 1758 appeared Wallace's Characteristics of the Present State of Great Britain. In Various Prospects of Mankind, Nature, and Providence (1761), he recurred to his population theories, and was believed (by William Hazlitt and Thomas Noon Talfourd) to have influenced Robert Malthus.[1]


Wallace married 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 (d. 1805?) was known as an advocate and writer.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1899). "Wallace, Robert (1697-1771)". Dictionary of National Biography. 59. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1899). "Wallace, Robert (1697-1771)". Dictionary of National Biography. 59. London: Smith, Elder & Co.