Edward Irving


Edward Irving : biography

4 August 1792 – 7 December 1834


At the age of thirteen he entered the University of Edinburgh. In 1809 he graduated M.A.; and in 1810, on the recommendation of Sir John Leslie, he was chosen master of an academy newly established at Haddington, East Lothian, where he became the tutor of Jane Welsh, afterwards famous as Mrs Carlyle, one of the great letter-writers of the nineteenth century.

He became engaged in 1812 to Isabella Martin, whom, in 1823, he married; but it may be at once stated here that meanwhile he gradually fell in love with Jane Welsh, and she with him. He tried to get out of his engagement with Miss Martin, but was prevented by her family. It was Irving, ironically, who in 1821 had introduced Thomas Carlyle, the essayist, to her.

(Confusingly, Irving was also influential in the life of another Scottish Thomas Carlyle, born a few years later, whom he eventually gave a position of some responsibility within his new church.Carlyle Till Marriage 1795 to 1826 by David Alec Wilson, 1923. Available on Google Books , page 42-43.

"As a ‘double-goer’, perplexing strangers in foreign parts as well as at home, the ‘Apostle’ was occasionally an innocent, inadvertent nuisance to ‘our Tom’.")

His appointment at Haddington he exchanged for a similar one at Kirkcaldy, Fife, in 1812. Completing his divinity studies by a series of partial sessions, he was licensed to preach in June 1815, but continued to discharge his scholastic duties for three years. He devoted his leisure, not only to mathematical and physical science, but to a course of reading in English literature, his bias towards the antique in sentiment and style being strengthened by a perusal of the older classics, among whom Richard Hooker was his favorite author. At the same time his love of the marvellous found gratification in the wonders of the Arabian Nights, and it is further characteristically related of him that he used to carry continually in his waistcoat pocket a miniature copy of Ossian, passages from which he frequently recited with sonorous elocution and vehement gesticulation.

In the summer of 1818, he resigned his mastership and, in order to increase the probability of obtaining a permanent appointment in the Church of Scotland, took up his residence in Edinburgh. Although his exceptional method of address seems to have gained him the qualified approval of certain dignitaries of the church, the prospect of his obtaining a settled charge seemed as remote as ever. He was meditating a missionary tour in Persia when his departure was arrested by steps taken by Thomas Chalmers which, after considerable delay, resulted in October 1819 in Irving being appointed his assistant and missionary in St John’s parish, Glasgow.

Except in the case of a select few, Irving’s preaching awakened little interest among the congregation of St John’s. Chalmers himself, with no partiality for its bravuras and flourishes, compared it to Italian music, appreciated only by connoisseurs; but as a missionary among the poorer classes he wielded an influence that was altogether unique. The benediction "Peace be to this house", with which, in accordance with apostolic usage, he greeted every dwelling he entered, was not inappropriate to his figure and aspect, and it is said he took the people’s attention wonderfully, the more especially after the magic of his personality found opportunity to reveal itself in close and homely intercourse.


Edward Irving was born at Annan, Annandale. On his father’s side, who followed the occupation of a tanner, he was descended from a family long known in the district which had ties to French Huguenot refugees. His mother’s side, the Lowthers, were farmers or small proprietors in Annandale. The first stage of his education was passed at a school kept by Peggy Paine, a relation of Thomas Paine of the Age of Reason, after which he entered the Annan Academy taught by Adam Hope, of whom there is a graphic sketch in the Reminiscences of Thomas Carlyle.


There is a statue of Edward Irving in the grounds of Annan Old Parish Church in Dumfriesshire.