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The Burns Encyclopedia
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McGill, The Reverend William (1732-1807)

The son of William McGill, who farmed in Wigtonshire, the Reverend McGill was educated at Glasgow University, licensed to preach in 1759, and appointed assistant to the minister of Kilwinning. He was ordained to the second charge of Ayr in 1760 and received a doctorate of divinity from Glasgow in 1785. He was a friend of old William Burnes. Father and son both approved of his New Licht doctrines.

McGill, however, was a timid man for all his liberality, 'a mixture of simplicity and stoicism'. When his essay, The Death of Jesus Christ, published in 1786, was denounced as heterodox by Dr William Peebles of Newton-on-Ayr, McGill published a defence, The Benefits of the Revolution, in 1789. The charge was that, while receiving the privileges of the Church, he was at the same time plunging a dagger into her heart. In May 1789, the General Assembly ordered an inquiry into the affair. The Ayr magistrates published in the press their appreciation of McGill's services. McGill brought the proceedings to a close by offering an apology to the court, and the case was dropped.

An explanation of the timidity of one called by Mrs Dunlop 'a poor little white rabbit', is to be found in the letter Burns wrote to Graham of Fintry, in December 1789:

'I think you must have heard of Dr McGill, one of the clergymen of Ayr, and his heretical book. God help him, poor man ! though he is one of the worthiest as well as one of the ablest, of the whole priesthood of the Kirk of Scotland, in every sense of that ambiguous term, yet for the blasphemous heresies of squaring Religion by the rules of Common Sense, and attempting to give a decent character to Almighty God and a rational account of his proceedings with the Sons of Men, the poor Doctor and his numerous family are in imminent danger of being thrown out to the mercy of the winter winds.'

To John Logan, 7th August 1789, Burns had written: 'If I could be of any service to Dr McGill, I would do it though it should be at a much greater expence than irritating a few bigotted Priests.'

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Robert Burns Store

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Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...


Burns Music & Recordings
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Burns Chess Sets

Burns Chess SetsUnique collectors' pieces based on Burns' life and works. (The ideal gift for your Burns Supper guests!) Click here...

Scotweb Store

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