DR. COLVILLE is a native of Leuchars, in Fife, where his
people had been small landholders and craftsmen from time immemorial. The
surroundings among which his early days were spent are pictured in the opening
chapters of Mrs. Oliphant's "Primrose Path." The minister of the parish was a
good classical scholar, who had been at college with Brougham, and the
schoolmaster, a "stickit minister," had been a man of parts; but the boy was
little helped by either, and learned more in studying rural life, or such
reading as he could lay hands on, than he did either at school or kirk. The
suspended animation of Moderatism and public opinion combined to render the
parish a very home of laissez faire. When he was five years old his father had
died, but from the parish school he passed to the Training College at Edinburgh,
where the drill of the rector's class was a good preparation for the university,
much more than for teaching, which was its primary object. At Edinburgh
University itself he got his first real aspirations, Scottish and literary, from
Masson, Blackie, and Sellars; and when he graduated it was with first-class
honours in classics.
Meanwhile he had engaged in tutoring and teaching, for which he had developed a special taste and faculty, and had held posts at Madras College, St. Andrews, and at Merchiston Castle School. He now became senior English master at George Watson's College. There he had for a mathematical colleague the late James Blyth, long professor in the Andersonian College, whose obituary he wrote for the Glasgow Royal Philosophical Society.
During the summer months he went to Germany to read for his doctorate. The degree was open to first-class honours men on writing a thesis. He had closely studied Sanskrit in Edinburgh, and he took for his thesis the fifth-century Maeso-Gothic Gospels as a basis for the study of the Scots vernacular. This aspect of the subject has not yet been taken up by either English or German scholars. This thesis, re-cast and expanded, forms a considerable portion of a volume entitled "Studies in the Scots Vernacular," to be published presently by Messrs. W. Green & Son, Edinburgh.
He had hopes of a post in the British Museum, but found strong English influence necessary to secure it; and he had the offer of a post in London on Once a Week, but was advised by Masson to seek a less precarious means of existence.
He next came to the West of Scotland as English master in Glasgow Academy. Here he was the first, as far as he knows, to teach historical English - Piers Plowman, Chaucer, and a Shakespeare play - critically; also the first to secure for the school the prize of the "Early English Text Society." At the same time a paper which he read before the Educational Institute, protesting that English should be admitted alongside the classics, though before its time, had some effect, through publication in the Educational News, in bringing about a recognition of the claims of the "Modern Side" in secondary schools. His next step professionally was linked with an interesting episode of Glasgow history. As Glasgow Academy had been founded for boys, mainly by Free Church interest, after the Disruption, to compete with the older High School, so the girls' school of the Misses Harley, daughters of the famous William Harley, then at 1 Newton Place, found a rival in the newer seminary founded by Miss Nicholson at 14 Newton Place, and still known as Newton Place School. Dr. Colville had for some time taught the highest English classics here, and when Glasgow Academy removed to Kelvinbridge, he resigned his position in it in order to accept Miss Nicholson's offer to take over Newton Place School, which he has ever since carried on. This school is the only one of its kind in Glasgow, which has changed neither locale nor character for a couple of generations.
Along with his other scholastic work he was the first Examiner in History in Glasgow University. At the same time he had been doing literary work in several fields. First of all, upon the recommendation of Professor Masson, he edited Spalding's "History of English Literature," a well-known text book, which he brought up to date, and to which he added a chapter on the Victorian period. He also wrote a set of school-books for Messrs. Oliver & Boyd. and produced a school edition of Coriolanus, with notes. After coming to Glasgow he formed a connection with the Glasgow Herald, to which he contributed a large number of papers on historical subjects afterwards embodied in his "Byways of Scottish History." The book drew a flattering encomium from Lord Rosebery, and entailed a visit to Dalmeny, as well as Dr. Colville's editing for the Scottish History Society of Cockburn's Letters in 1904, and the Ochtertyre House Book in 1907. In 1907 also appeared his "Old-Fashioned Educationists," the expansion of a college essay on the famous Baconian aphorism as to reading, writing, and conference, the original interpretation of which had attracted the special attention of Professor Masson. The work contains a reconstruction of the old-time grammar-school of Scotland. Also in 1907, by request, he published his "History of Glasgow Golf Club" - an interesting instalment of a "History of Glasgow," which he hopes shortly to bring to completion.
One of his series of papers in the Herald was on "Popular Bird Names," while to the Glasgow Philosophical Society he has read many studies of the social life of former times; and from such sources and others he has planned the production of a History of Culture in Scotland. Following his early thesis, also, he has written and contributed many papers on the Scots vernacular.
Dr. Colville is married, and has a son and two daughters, of whom one is married. His one hobby is golf, varied by antiquarian rambles when holidays offer opportunity.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)