William Leechman

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William Leechman
Born 1706
Dolphinton, Lanarkshire
Died December 1785 (aged 78–79)
Residence Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Occupation Theologian, Professor, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Notable work The Composition of the Ancients
Spouse(s) Bridget Balfour
Theological work
Tradition or movement Church of Scotland

William Leechman (1706–1785) was a Scottish minister, theologian and academic.

Early life and education[edit]

The son of William Leechman, a farmer of Dolphinton, Lanarkshire, he was educated at the parish school; the father had taken down the quarters of Robert Baillie of Jerviswood, which had been exposed after his execution (24 December 1684) on the tolbooth of Lanark. In gratitude for this service the Baillie family helped young Leechman to go to the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated 16 April 1724. He studied divinity there under Professor William Hamilton (1669–1732).

Adulthood and marriage[edit]

He was tutor to James Geddes, and then about 1727 he became tutor to William Mure of Caldwell, a friend of David Hume. The family passed the winters at Glasgow, where he attended the lectures of Francis Hutcheson. In October 1731 he was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Paisley, where Scottish bookseller Andrew Millar's father, Robert Millar, had also been licensed. By 1745, Andrew Millar was selling Leechman's sermons in London.[1]

In 1736 Leechman was ordained minister of Beith in the neighbourhood of Caldwell. He was moderator of a synod at Irvine in 1740, and on 7 April 1741 preached a sermon at Glasgow "on the ... character of a minister of the gospel", which was published, and passed through several editions.

In July 1743 he married Bridget Balfour of the Pilrig family, connecting him to her brothers James Balfour and the bookseller John Balfour, and also Robert Whytt and Gavin Hamilton who had married Bridget's sisters.[2] At the end of the year was elected professor of divinity at the University of Glasgow by the casting vote of the lord rector, in a closely contested election with William Craig and John MacLaurin also candidates.[3][4] He resigned Beith on 3 January 1744 upon his election. The presbytery of Glasgow refused to enrol him, alleging that he had made heretical statements in a sermon published in 1743 "On the Nature, Reasonableness, and Advantages of Prayer". He was accused of laying too little stress upon the merits of the intercession of the Saviour. Hume criticised the sermon in a letter to Leechman's pupil, William Mure, suggesting minute corrections of style, and urging that Leechman really made prayer a mere "rhetorical figure". The synod of Glasgow and Ayr rejected the accusation of the presbytery, and their acquittal was confirmed by the general assembly.

Leechman's lectures were popular, and he followed the example first set by Hutcheson of using English instead of Latin. Wodrow gives a long account of them. They dealt with polemical divinity, the evidences of Christianity, and the composition of sermons. He refused to publish them.

He visited England with his old pupil Geddes in 1744, and made the acquaintance of Richard Price. In 1757 he served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.[5] In 1759 he went to Bristol in ill-health and drank the waters at Clifton. In 1761 he was appointed Principal of the university at Glasgow, but for a time continued to lecture.

He had two paralytic strokes in 1785, and died 3 December in that year.


  1. ^ "The manuscripts, Letter from Andrew Millar to Thomas Cadell, 16 July, 1765.". www.millar-project.ed.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-06-01. 
  2. ^ Mcdougall, Warren, "Balfour, John", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, retrieved 2012-11-04 
  3. ^ Sher, Richard, "MacLaurin, John", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, retrieved 2012-11-04 
  4. ^ Davidson Kennedy, Thomas, "Craig, William", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, retrieved 2012-11-04 
  5. ^ "William Leechman", The University of Glasgow Story, University of Glasgow, retrieved 2012-11-04 



 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Leechman, William". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

Church of Scotland titles
Preceded by
George Reid
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Succeeded by
Thomas Turnbull
Academic offices
Preceded by
Neil Campbell
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
of the University of Glasgow

Succeeded by
Archibald Davidson