James Meek

James Meek

:"This article refers to the minister James Meek; for the living British author, see James Meek (author)."

James Meek (1739-1810) was Minister of Cambuslang from 1774 until his death. He was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1795, but is most remembered as the model Enlightenment cleric who wrote the entry for Cambuslang in the First Statistical Account of Scotland. This report is very elegantly written - though no doubt this was in part due to John Sinclair’s excellent editing.

tatistical Account of Scotland 1791

The extensive entry for Cambuslang in the First Statistical Account of Scotland 1791 shows "Dr Meek" to have been a man of wide interests and a meticulous scholar, given to “reasonable” as opposed to “enthusiastic” opinions in religion. His scholarship is evident. He obviously consulted many Parish documents and talked to many parishioners before submitting his report to John Sinclair on the state of Cambuslang in the 1790’s. He gives a very extensive and detailed comparison between life in the Parish in 1750 (that is, about 20 years before he came to the Parish) and the, in his opinion, much improved circumstances of 1791. He gives precise prices of commodities and clear descriptions of the farming and industrial methods used. He did his own academic research. He is obviously familiar with ecclesiastical history and had read some recently published works on local early history - he footnotes some of his comments with reference to these, and comments on (what we now know as) an Iron Age fort. His account of the great revival meetings in Cambuslang in the 1720s draws upon local and documentary (pamphlets, etc) evidence which he seems to have been collected specifically. He is not convinced that the enthusiastic conversions reported were genuine manifestations of something supernatural, though he carefully balances the arguments on both sides. He is familiar with the geological formation of the area and gives an account of it in the scientific parlance of the day. Where appropriate he gives precise measurements - for areas, land values, prices, breadth and depth of the river, etc - and obviously enjoyed scientific measurement himself. He gives meteorological measurements taken (presumably by him, or under his instruction) twice a day at the manse for seven years - and reports them with averages, maxima and minima. (His careful measurements were continually quoted throughout the 19th century - for example in the six-volume "The Gallery of Nature", London 1821, [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HnwSAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA193&dq=Meek+Cambuslang] and in the 26-volume "The London Encyclopaedia" London, 1839 [http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=James_Meek&action=edit&section=1] . These reference books were widely used, so Dr Meek's data were used in many other publications. The data were also used for 20th century histories of weather, one of which - "Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe", H. H. Lamb & Knud Frydendahl, CUP 1991 - refers to "what the Rev James Meek... copied from his correspondents". [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=P4n1z9rOh5MC&pg=PA93&dq=Meek+Cambuslang&sig=spjpFZ3e9lcWAVIBWfK-0_G2fV0] ) He is not above complaining about the state of repair of the church and manse, but is proud of the parish school and the treatment of the poor. He is much moved by what he thinks is the unparalleled view of the Clyde valley, Bothwell Castle and several, extensive well-tended counties to be had from a nearby hill, though he is most moved by the view of the bustling and prosperous city of Glasgow, including its venerable cathedral, College and other church spires. He comes over as well-informed, up-to-date, proud of “modern” improvements and optimistic for the future.

Early life and education

He was born, probably in Fortissat House near Shotts, in 1739. His family were small landowners, or lairds who had held land in the area since at least the 17th century. Several of his ancestors - a "William" and a "James Meek (or Meik)" - had been cautioned, imprisoned and bonded, and finally had their land confiscated, for Covenanting activity during the reign of King James VII. There is a so-called "Covenanters" Stone still at Fortissat, and the Mains Farm still exists. The family lands were restored with the so-called Glorious Revolution, when William of Orange invaded England and drove King James VII from is throne. James had a great deal of pride in his family. His own personal coat-of-arms incorporated the family motto "Jungor ut implear" ("I am joined that I may be complete", or "Unity is Strength") and all the heraldric collours and elements of the family - crescents, duck proper and boar's head. Ironcically, though, James Meek was later to experience great difficulties at the hands of Parishoners who saw themselves as the heirs of the Covenanters - and him as their enemy. His brother William Meek inherited the estates and James carried on a family tradition of going into the Church. (This may have been going on for many centuries. Several of his ancestors got Church lands at the time of the Reformation, so they could have been the priest or monk in possession at the time.)

James completed his education for the ministry of the Church of Scotland at Glasgow University at a time when many of the great Scottish Enlightenment figures were teaching there, or had recently retired, notably Adam Smith. His intellectual abilities were recognised early, and he served as preacher in the "College Chapel" from 1763 until 1765. Edmund Burke was Lord Rector of the University at that time. Thomas Reid the great Common Sense philosopher had recently taken over from Adam Smith. On 25 September 1766, James was ordained "Minister of Second Charge" (that is, assistant minister) in Lesmahagow, where his preaching also attracted notice.

Disputed calling to Cambuslang

In 1772, Commissioners of Douglas, 8th Duke of Hamilton presented him to the living of the ancient parish of Cambuslang. This was an act of Patronage, dating from an Act of Parliament from Queen Anne’s reign (1712). It is said that only about a dozen parishioners agreed to sign the formal call to the parish, while others lodged objections on theological grounds. These were set out in a pamphlet and later laid before the Presbytery of Hamilton. The objectors were local farmers, coal miners and weavers and show the lingering influence of the "The Cambuslang Wark". In particular, they objected that Mr Meek seemed not to accept that faith alone made one worthy in the face of God or that Man was utterly depraved. Worse, he gave too much weight to reason and suggested that men cooperated with God in their own salvation. Alleged quotes from Mr Meek's sermons were put forward as proof of his heresy. Needless to say, Mr Meek denied all of this, so began a long process through the Courts of the Church. (James Boswell seems to have been advising Dr Meek.)

The charges were

  • "That Mr Meek, when lecturing in his own church on the parable of the labourers, said—"We may see from what has been said that our sincerity is the ground of our acceptance with God"."
  • When preaching at Cambuslang in May, 1772, from John iii. 16, …Mr Meek " "not only neglected to represent that the guilt of Adam's first sin was imputed to his posterity... but on the contrary taught that we have corrupt natures only by imitation and example"."
  • That Mr Meek, when about to dispense the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in his own church at Lesmahagow, in the year 1773, invited the people in Christ's name to come to the Lord's table, "however enormous their crimes had been, if they resolved to do better"."
  • ...on another sacramental occasion at Hamilton, in 1772, he said that "our faith and sincerity or sincere endeavours cooperate with the righteousness of Christ"."
  • Again, on the last mentioned occasion, viz., at Hamilton, he is said to have declared " "that when faith goes above and beyond reason it becomes credulity"."

In 1774, the General Assembly ordered the Presbytery of Hamilton to proceed with Mr Meek's induction. Accordingly, Mr Park, of Old Monkland, served the edict upon the congregation, and summoned them to state what objections they might have to the life and doctrine of the presentee, at a meeting of the Presbytery to be held in the Manse of Cambuslang on the 1st of September, 1774.

The objectors asked the Presbytery "to find that Mr Meek was unworthy of the character of a minister, therefore to depose or lay him aside from preaching; at least, to find that he cannot be settled in Cambuslang, etc., etc"." Many of the ministers in the Presbytery knew Mr Meek and his work, so it dimissed these objections, and even threatened the objectors. They declared some of the objections frivolous and unworthy of notice, others absurd and unintelligible; and all of them irrelevant, and that not a single habile (that is, competent) witness was offered for the proof of them.

An appeal was lodged with the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr. This, on the 12th of October, ordered the Presbytery to investigate the objections thoroughly, which it did by means of a committee. It restated its earlier findings (that the objections were groundless) and issued a lesser form of excommunication on some of the objectors. The objectors appealed again to the Synod, which, in October 1774, overturned the judgement of the Presbytery. It was then referred to the following year's General Assembly. "Mr Meek" had been invited to preach to the Lord High Commissioner, the King's emissary to the Assembly - an indication of the high esteem in which "Mr Meek" continued to be held. He preached from Luke xxiv. 26, and in his sermon repeated some of the doctrines which the objectors had raised. The Assemblly considered the case on the 31st of May, 1775. During the debate, Mr Meek had some heavyweight support, including that of a previous Moderator of the General Assembly, namely the famous historian Principal Robertson, whose nephew John Robertson was to become Mr Meek's assistant and successor. Its judgement was "The General Assembly having reasoned on this affair, did, and hereby do dismiss the process... and sustain Mr James Meek, minister of Cambuslang"." This ended the formal objections to Mr Meek becoming minister at Cambuslang.

Later life

Mr Meek served as Dean of the Faculties at Glasgow University in 1780 -82; 1784-86 (when Edmund Burke was Rector); 1788-90;1792-94 and 1798-1800. In 1781, the University bestowed on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.


In the Special Collections section of the Library of Glasgow University, there is an extensive, bound manuscript of "An abstract of the proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, from 1560 to approximately the 1630s." (GUL Reference GB 0247 MS Gen 1132). The title page of the manuscript bears the name of Sir William Dunlop, 1699.
Inside is a letter from Dr Meek, which, by order of the Senate of the University in 1792, was to be "“securely”" bound to the manuscript. The letter was to Professor George Jardine, dated 20 December 1791. It provides some information about the manuscript's likely origins. Meek thanks "the Faculty" for allowing him to see the manuscript and states that

"About the year 1699, Mr William Dunlop Principal of the University of Glasgow, got this work transcribed from a copy that seems to have belonged to the General Assembly, which copy was lost, or more probably burnt about two years after... by a fire, 28 Oct [obe] r 1701, in the house of Mr Nicol Spense sub-clerk to the Assembly. This circumstance renders your M.S. more valuable; for notwithstanding its imperfections it ought now perhaps to be considered, as the most authentic Register of the proceedings of the Kirk of Scotland for almost 60 years after the Reformation."
Dr Meek then reports that he has compared the document with the manuscript of David Calderwood’s "History of the Kirk of Scotland" (completed about 1650). Dr Meek is amazed at the “blanks” and “mistakes” and proceeds to list his very extensive corrections in his characteristic small, clear handwriting. In fact it is an extensive corrigendum to this important manuscript, presumably why the University authorities were anxious that it was “securely” bound with the original document. Dr Meek considered that, in general, the language of this manuscript was clearer than that of Calderwood and so, with his corrections, would be a better reference point for settling legal or historical matters. It shows once again Dr Meek as a careful, painstaking scholar, for the work must have involved several months of careful collation.


He himslelf became Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on 21 May 1795, where he tended to favour the Moderates over the Evangelicals.The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in Edinburgh on 21 May 1795. One of its first tasks was to elect a moderator , or chairman. There was only one candidate, Dr Meek, and he was elected unanimously. The Assembly met for nine sessions, ending on Monday 1 June 1795, with a sermon and prayer by Dr Meek. The minutes of these sessions take up 100 pages of closely written manuscript. (GUL Reference GB 0247 MS Gen 1159). The Assembly humbly received King George III’s Commission, which was in Latin, and replied to it loyally and fulsomely. It also received the king’s news that his son, "Prince George" (later, the Prince Regent) was to be married to Princess Caroline of Brunswick. They decided not only to debate this and congratulate the King, but also to send extensive congratulations to the Prince. Most business related to receiving reports from, or setting up committees. One item much debated was the "Religious Education of Youth". It also examined in detail the “probationers” - or trainee ministers - in place throughout the country.
As a court of the church, it dealt with disputes between parishes and ministers - the "Orkney Grievances" was a major issue that year - and various other matters of public morality. One issue, which a previous General Assembly had referred to the Crown Lawyers related to whether the Barbers and Hairdressers of Edinburgh had profaned the Sabbath. Apparently, not technically, or at least, legally, but the Presbytery of Edinburgh was urged to use all persuasive means at its disposal to encourage respect for the Sabbath.


The items from Dr Meek's library now in the National Library of Scotland (see below) show that he was keenly interested in the improvements in roads, canals, etc, taking place all over Britain at the time.. Dr Meek's widow, "Grizel Meek", died five years later, aged 69.

Journal and register of the weather

There is a manuscript volume of "Journal and register of the weather, kept at Cambuslang 1st Jan. 1785 to 30th April 1809", bound in leather, kept in Glasgow University Library ("Ref GB 0247 MS Gen 325"). It was donated in 1836 to the University by Dr Meek's daughter Frances (by then, Mrs Stewart, wife of a lawyer and living at 98 West George Street, Glasgow). It is a detailed record of accurate daily notes taken by Dr Meek of barometer and thermometer readings, wind direction, rainfall and remarks about the weather and the conditions for farming. At the end of each month and year there are tabulatd summaries - with averages, maxima and minima - and general remarks on weather in different parts of the country and world, notes of unusual conditions and the effects on crops, harvests, markets, etc. His first remark, for Saturday 1st January 1785 was "Cloudy with some slight showers of snow". His first month summary, January 1785, for example, noted "Fair days 12- rainy or snowy days 19. A pretty good weather month. Not much high wind. Some snow but little rain. Thow was very little ploughed after harvest, & thow have been only 10 or 12 days this month, on which ploughs could go. The rate of the markets of Glasgow - best wheat 19 shil per bol. Best of oatmeal 13 pence per peck, peasemeal 9 1/2 per peck"." He later noted the particularly cold weather - there was skating on the Rhone at Avignon in the south of France. June, though, was very different. "A remarkably warm and pleasant month. In this climate, nobody remembers so many extraordinary warm days in succession. The heat both during the day and night time there was to many almost insupportable".". Dr Meek's small, neat handwriting, with clear tables and summaries continues for every day - including Sundays - for almost 24 years until the year before his death. He is very methodical, at one time remarking "NB The Barometrical Register of the preceding months was kept with a barometer which stood at about two tenths higher than it ought to have done"." Until 1792, he took reading three times a day, at 8am, 10am and 8pm. After 1792, he only took one reading at 10am. The "Journal" continues for 388 pages until 30 April 1809. His summary of that month is short "Dry days 18 - Wet and windy do. 12". He died the following year. This remarkably detailed and scholarly document is still consulted and quoted by modern climate historians, anxious to find evidence of climate change [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=P4n1z9rOh5MC&pg=PA93&lpg=PA93&dq=weather+Meek+Cambuslang&source=web&ots=esu-OPlP-L&sig=l5MrbwGuN6bOrT_-Y4y5vbGaAeA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result] . It also gives a clear picture of a bright brain at work methodically over many years.

Publications owned by Dr Meek

Publications owned by Dr Meek, now in the National Library of Scotland:
* "Act and recommendation of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, appointing a general collection for compleating the bridge over the river North-Esk near Montrose". : At Edinburgh, May 25. 1773. (With Meek's armorial bookplate; Previously owned by George Wishart)
* "Bill for enlarging the term and powers granted by an Act of the twenty-sixth year of the reign of his late Majesty King George the Second, intitled, An act for repairing the roads from Livingston by the Kirk of Shotts to the city of Glasgow, and by the town of Hamilton to the town of Strathaven, and for making the said act more effectual; also for repairing several other roads in the county of Lanark, not mentioned in the said former Act..("With Meek's armorial bookplate)
* James Boswell and Robert Hope "Case of Robert Hope, tenant to the Right Honourable James Montgomery, Esq; of Stanhope, at Minzons, Appellant, from a sentence of the Synod of Lothian and Tweedale, affirming a previous sentence against him by the Presbytery of Peebles"..(With Meek's armorial bookplate)


* Boswell,James, "Parish of Cambuslang : the commissioners of His Grace the Duke of Hamilton ... who has presented the Reverend Mr. James Meek ... to that ... parish; and certain heritors, and a few heads of families ... appellents; all the elders", one hundred heads of families, and certain heritors ... respondents" Church of Scotland 1773
* Frame, James "A narrative of the case of the parish of Cambuslang; containing a true state of the process concerning the settlement of Mr. Meek in that parish; with an account of the foundation and grounds of the opposition to his admission ... together with some ... reflections on the whole". Glasgow 1775 (In Glasgow University Library Special Collections reference Sp Coll Mu2-c.10)
* General Assembly of the Church of Scotland "An abstract of the proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, from 1560 to approximately the 1630s". (In Glasgow University Library Ref GB 0247 MS Gen 1132)
* General Assembly of the Church of Scotland "Register of the actings and proceedings of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. 1793 to 1797" (In Glasgow University Library Ref GB 0247 MS Gen 1159
* Porter, Wm Henry "Cambuslang and its Ministers" (in Mitchell Library - Glasgow Collection, reference GC941.433 CAM 188520 Box 952)
* Wilson, James Alexander OBE, MD "A History of Cambuslang: a Clydesdale parish". Jackson Wylie & Co Glasgow (1929)

External links

* [http://stat-acc-scot.edina.ac.uk/sas/sas.asp/?county=Lanark&monospace=&pagesize=&twoup=&account=1&parish=Cambuslang&session-id=027e873607427ad74c4fd6c8ec02daf1&accountrec=002572&transcript=&navbar=&action=publicdisplay&naecache=3] Dr Meek’s report on Cambuslang, 1791

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