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Geddes, Alexander

GEDDES, ALEXANDER (1737-1802), Scottish Roman Catholic theologian, was born in Rathven, Banffshire, on the 14th of September 1737. He was trained at the Roman Catholic seminary at Scalan and at the Scottish College in Paris, where he studied biblical philology, school divinity and modern languages. In 1764 he officiated as a priest in Dundee, but in May 1765 accepted an invitation to live with the earl of Traquair; where, with abundance of leisure and the free use of an adequate library, he made further progress in his favourite biblical studies. After a second visit to Paris, which was employed by him in reading and making extracts from rare books and manuscripts, he was appointed in 1769 priest of Auchinhalrig and Preshome in his native county. The freedom with which he fraternized with his Protestant neighbours called forth the rebuke of his bishop (George Hay), and ultimately, for hunting and for occasionally attending the parish church of Cullen, where one of his friends was minister, he was deprived of his charge and forbidden the exercise of ecclesiastical functions within the diocese. This happened in 1779; and in 1780 he went with his friend Lord Traquair to London, where he spent the rest of his life. Before leaving Scotland he had received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the university of Aberdeen, and had been made an honorary member of the Society of Antiquaries, in the institution of which he had taken a very active part. In London Geddes soon received an appointment in connexion with the chapel of the imperial ambassador, and was also helped by Lord Petre in his scheme for a new Catholic version of the Bible. In 1786, supported also by such scholars as Benjamin Kennicott and Robert Lowth, Geddes published a Prospectus of a new Translation of the Holy Bible, a considerable quarto volume, in which the defects of previous translations were fully pointed out, and the means indicated by which these might be removed. It was well received, and led to the publication in 1788 of Proposals for Printing, with a specimen, and in 1790 of a General Answer to Queries, Counsels and Criticisms. The first volume of the translation itself, which was entitled The Holy Bible ... faithfully translated from corrected Texts of the Originals, with various Readings, explanatory Notes and critical Remarks, appeared in 1792, and was the signal for a storm of hostility on the part of both Catholics and Protestants. It was obvious enough - no small offence in the eyes of some - that as a critic Geddes had identified himself with C.F. Houbigant (1686-1783), Kennicott and J.D. Michaelis, but others did not hesitate to stigmatize him as the would-be "corrector of the Holy Ghost." Three of the vicars-apostolic almost immediately warned all the faithful against the "use and reception" of his translation, on the ostensible ground that it had not been examined and approved by due ecclesiastical authority; and by his own bishop (Douglas) he was in 1793 suspended from the exercise of his orders in the London district. The second volume of the translation, completing the historical books, published in 1797, found no more friendly reception; but this circumstance did not discourage him from giving forth in 1800 the volume of Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Scriptures, which presented in a somewhat brusque manner the then novel and startling views of Eichhorn and his school on the primitive history and early records of mankind.

Geddes was engaged on a critical translation of the Psalms (published in 1807) when he was seized with an illness of which he died on the 26th of February 1802. Although under ecclesiastical censures, he had never swerved from a consistent profession of faith as a Catholic; and on his death-bed he duly received the last rites of his communion.

Besides pamphlets on the Catholic and slavery questions, as well as several fugitive jeux d'esprit, and a number of unsigned articles in the Analytical Review, Geddes also published a free metrical version of Select Satires of Horace (1779), and a verbal rendering of the First Book of the Iliad of Homer (1792). The Memoirs of his life and writings by his friend John Mason Good appeared in 1803.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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