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The Burns Encyclopedia
Home | Introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Greenfield, The Rev William (d. 1827)

Professor of Rhetoric and Minister of St Andrew's Church when Burns came to Edinburgh. Three months later he became Blair's associate preacher at the High Church. Burns had a regard for him as a man, and preferred his preaching to that of Blair. In his second Commonplace Book, he said of him:

'Mr Greenfield is of a superior order. The bleedings of humanity, the generous resolve, a manly disregard of the paltry subjects of vanity, virgin modesty, the truest taste, and a very sound judgement, characterise him. His being the first Speaker I ever heard is perhaps half owing to industry. He certainly possesses no small share of poetic abilities; he is a steady, most disinterested friend, without the least affectation, of seeming so; and as a companion, his god sense, his joyous hilarity, his sweetness of manners and modesty, are most engagingly charming.'

Writing to Greenfield in December 1786, Burns unburdened to him his doubts about his sudden fame, and his expectations for the future:

'Never did Saul's armour sit so heavy on David when going to encounter Goliath, as does the encumbering robe of public notice with which the friendship and patronage of some "names dear to fame" have invested me... I am willing to believe that my abilities deserved a better fate than the veriest shades of life; but to be dragged forth, with all my imperfections on my head, to the full glare of learned and polite observation, is what, I am afraid, I shall have bitter reason to repent.... "When proud Fortune's ebbing tide recedes", you may bear me witness when my bubble of fame was at the highest, I stood, unintoxicated, with the inebriating cup in my hand, looking forward, with rueful resolve, to the hastening time when the stroke of envious Calumny, with all the eagerness of vengeful triumph, should dash it to the ground.'

At the height of his career in 1796, Greenfield became Moderator of the General Assembly, and the University of Edinburgh conferred on him the degree of Honorary Doctorate of Divinity.

But 2 years later, for some unknown reason — possibly, Ferguson suggests, because of some sexual scandal — he found himself in such difficulties that he fled to the North of England, stripped of his academic honours by the university, and excommunicated by the Church. He remained in England under the assumed name of Rutherford.

The records of the Presbytery of Edinburgh merely state that because of 'certain flagrant reports concerning his conduct... they laid him under a sentence of excommunication.'

Greenfield thereafter supported himself by teaching and writing. He was the author of several works, the most important being Essays on the Sources of the Pleasures received from Literary Compositions, which he published in 1809. In the same year, Sir Walter Scott introduced him to the publisher, John Murray. Greenfield thereafter contributed to the Quarterly Review under the name of Richardson.

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Complete Burns Songs

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