BORN at the foot of the Grampians, and educated to begin with at the parish school of Alyth, the future Professor of Oriental Languages entered King's College, Aberdeen, at the age of fifteen, and graduated with first-class honours in Philosophy in 1859. He next studied Divinity at St. Mary's College, St. Andrews, and carried off the Chancellor's Prize, the highest honour open to students of three years' standing. Sent by the Church to Constantinople, he spent two years there, teaching, preaching, and absorbing Oriental ideas and characteristics. Thence he passed to Beyrout, near Lebanon, and as an ordained minister laboured for eleven years, organising schools, preaching, and studying Semitic literature with learned Rabbis. In 1875 he returned to Edinburgh, and was presently chosen minister of Mayfield Church there. Two years later, however, he was unanimously appointed by the University Court to the Chair of Oriental Languages in Glasgow University, as successor to Professor Weir. Here his personal acquaintance with the East and his vast knowledge of Hebrew, Syriac, Talmudic, and Arabic lore, acquired at first hand, have been of the greatest value to the scholarship of Scotland. In 1880 the University of Aberdeen conferred on him the degree of D.D. In the same year Professor Robertson founded in Glasgow University the Oriental Society, an institution whose membership is open to those who have studied two or more Oriental languages. It was also owing to the known scholarship and efficiency of the holder of the chair that the Universities Commission included it in the Faculty of arts as well as in that of Theology.
Besides contributions on eastern subjects to Good Words, the Leisure Hour, and other magazines, Professor Robertson is the author of the introductions to the Pentateuch and historic books of the Old Testament in Virtue's "Illustrated Bible." He was the translator and editor of Müller's Hebrew Syntax, and he is the author of the following works - "The Early Religion of Israel," 1892 (the Baird Lecture for 1889); "The Old Testament and its Contents," 1893, enlarged edition, 1896 (Guild Series of Text Books); "The Poetry and the Religion of the Psalms," 1898 (Croall Lecture); and "The First and Second Books of the Kings," 1902 (Temple Bible).
On 16th April, 1902, a goodly company of students from all parts of the country assembled to congratulate Dr. Robertson on the completion of his twenty-fifth session as a professor, and to present him with substantial proofs of their affection and goodwill. The brochure, "Five and Twenty Years in a Hebrew Chair," which he addressed to his students on that occasion, forms an able summing up of his own attitude towards the critical methods of Biblical study in his time.
In 1906 he was nominated Officier d'Académie by the Minister of Public Instruction in France; and in 1907 he received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the University of St. Andrews. He was offered nomination for the Moderatorship of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for 1908, but did not see his way to accept the honour. He retired from his chair in the University of Glasgow on 30th September, 1907, and is now living in retirement in Edinburgh.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)