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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 1 - The Scholar and the Author - Part 4


Any one who has pottered among old Continental works of reference—historical, geographical, biographical, and the like—will have noticed how large and respectable a place Scotland, with all her counties, towns, institutions, and celebrities, holds in them. This may be in some measure accounted for by the fervent perseverance with which our countrymen have beaten into the European mind the importance of their mother country; but it also, perhaps, owes something to the vigilance with which Scots scholars have looked after the fame of their country when they found such works in preparation. A sight of that wonderful book, Bleau’s Atlas, is enough to convince any one of the wide and catholic spirit of the Dutch men of letters in the seventeenth century, while it also shows that they looked for support to a large community who filled their libraries with costly books. The ‘Theatrum Scotiae’ fills one of Bleau’s great folios, except a little bit at the end conceded to Ireland. It is in the Dutchman’s maps that country gentlemen look for the condition of their estates in the seventeenth century, and local antiquaries hunt out topographical changes. Many a space now covered with thickly-peopled streets was then bare moorland; and at the same time, what one is less likely to expect, many a mountain district is strewed with names now forgotten, because, as sheep - walks or deer forests, they are emptied of the inhabitants whose dwelling-places were grouped into separate hamlets and granges.

This volume is the result of a conjunction, of fortunate accidents. Robert Pont, renowned in the ecclesiastical polities of the sixteenth century, had a son, Timothy, smitten with a sacred rage for topography. He spent his days wandering over his native country, taking notes and measurements, which, aided by such science as the age afforded, he projected into maps. Those labours, which anticipate the wants of after generations, are of course neglected in their own, if their authors be not even despised and spitefully entreated as monomaniacs. Pont’s maps would have been annihilated by the various forms of enmity to which anything committed to paper is liable, if they had not found a protector in Sir John Scott. He is best remembered by the alliterative title of a very sarcastic little book, known as ‘Scott of Scotstarvet’s Staggering State of Scots Statesmen;’ but in his own day he was known over the leaned world for better things, and he held a close correspondence with the first scholars of the time. He opened communications between the Dutch publisher and Sir Robert Gordon of Straloch, who, with the assistance of his son James, a clergyman, dressed up the topographical drafts of Pont into engraved maps, and accompanied them with a due proportion of Latin letterpress, descriptive and historical.

It has been noticed that Bayle is very full and accurate in all matters relating to Scotsmen and their country. We get readily at the secret of this in a passage of a letter by the Earl of Perth, who was Chancellor of Scotland, and had to take flight at the Revolution, accomplishing his escape with better success than his brother chancellor, Jeffreys. "There is a bookseller in this town—a genteel, well-bred man, who keeps his coach, &c. He’s both very learned and a mighty virtuoso: he is causing make a Dictionnaire Historique, like that of Moreri’s, but it will be incomparibly finer. One Monsieur Baile works hard to have it fine and true. This Mr Baile is a most knowing man; both he and Leers, who is the bookseller, are my friends, and would fain oblige me by giveing an account of my family and those of my nearest relations. I hope you will give me a short one of my Lord Erroll’s, and get my Lord Keith to do as much for him, and it will enrich the book, and do us no dishonour. Pray let this be done, and sent over with the first Scotch fleet, directed for me, either by Mr Thomas Graham, factor, or by Mr Panton, by them to be given to Dr Carny, in the West Wagen Street at Rotterdam. Fail not in this."  So, like many a work that has immortalised its author, the great dictionary was the project of a publisher who knew where to find "a good hand" for his special work. To him fame has been especially unjust, for his name has dropped out of the biographical dictionaries, and in bibliography people are told that the more valuable editions of Bayle are those of Prosper Marchand of Rotterdam and Brandmuller of Basle.

In quarters, however, where there is no reason to suppose that the hand of a Scot has actually interfered, it is easy to notice the influence of the determined and persevering nationality. Moreri, Hoffman, Lamartinière, and the other encyclopedists, are very respectful to Scotland, and make way for all relevant matters which concern that nation. In Hoffman’s four ponderous Latin folios you will find all the monarchs, from Fergus downwards— including some forty or fifty who never existed— all chronicled as duly as the Roman emperors.

Among the tiny volumes published by the Elziviers—a series called the ‘Respublica‘—are separate accounts of the various nations of the earth. They are much covetid by collectors when they can be had complete and uniform in old red or blue morocco. In these there is a portion meted to Scotland, in which the full lustre of the ancient kingdom is reflected implicitly from Boece and Buchanan. On the title-page of the ‘Descriptio Scotia’ there is an emblematic figure—a hard-featured trooper, with buff-coat, steel hat, and broadsword—an accurate representation, doubtless, of the Scottish soldier of the Thirty Years’ War.

There came, during the early part of last century, from the French presses, a set of very pleasant books called ‘Delices.’ They might be termed guide-books to the various countries they treated of; but they were both more discursive and more complete than modern guide-books, giving a good deal of history along with such physical geography as their period possessed. Among these are ‘Les Delices de Ia Grand Bretagne et de l’Irlande,’ in eight volumes, of which Scotland has two. These are filled with pictures of towns and public buildings, being in a great measure transcripts, much improved in accuracy of perspective and otherwise, of a set of gaunt clumsy engravings made by a Dutchman called Captain John Slezer. The Frenchman makes some shrewd remarks—among others, that the wind is so unceasing with us that we deserve to be called Le Royaume des Vents. He politely adopts the compliments paid by Boece, Camerarius, and others to the temperance and hardy virtues of their countrymen, but is a little doubtful about the wonderful antiquity of the kingdom.

And now, since this train of printed gossip started with the fabulous historians, it may not be unapt to introduce the man who first broke up their romances, and examined with something like a critical and scientific spirit the foundations of our history; for he comes within the scope of our tattle as a wanderer in foreign parts. This was Father Innes, of the Scots College in Paris, whose ‘Critical Essay on the Early Inhabitants of Scotland’ was published in 1729. Father Innes lived at a time when the law and public opinion in Scotland rendered it unsafe for people of his profession and religion to be conspicuous, and his sceptical inquiries into the early history of Scotland, published in English, were not likely to attract much attention among his fellow-priests in France. Hence, until very lately, there were no accessible means of knowing where he was born, or when he died. Mr Grub, the author of the erudite ‘Ecclesiastical History of Scotland,’ a curious investigator in all matters connected with that and kindred topics, has done good service by tracking the uneventful tenor of Father Innes’s life. He was the son of a northern laird, born in Aberdeenshire in the year 1662, and he died in the Scots College in 1744. The rest is soon told.

"In 1677, Thomas Innes, then fifteen years of age, was sent to Paris, and pursued his studies at the College of Navarre. He entered the Scots College on the 12th of January 1681, but still attended the College of Navarre. On the 26th of May 1684, he received the clerical tonsure, and, on the 10th March 1691, was promoted to the priesthood. After this he went to Notre-Dame des Vertues, a seminary of the Oratorians, near Paris, where he continued for two or three months. Returning to the Scots College in 1692, he assisted the Principal, his elder brother Lewis, in arranging the records of the Church of Glasgow, which had been deposited partly in that College, partly in the Carthusian Monastery at Paris, by Archbishop James Beaton. In 1694, he took the degree of Master of Arts in the University of Paris, and, in the following year, was matriculated in the German nation.

"After officiating as a priest for two years in the parish of Magnay, in the diocese of Paris, he came again to the Scots College in 1697. In the spring of 1698, he returned to his native country, and officiated for three years at Inveravon as a priest of the Scottish Mission. The church at Enyeravon was the prebend of the Chancellor of the diocese of Murray, and he alludes to this circumstance, and to his three years’ residence in that parish, in his dissertation on the reception of the use of Sarum by the Church of Scotland. He again went to Paris in October 1701, and became Prefect of Studies in the Scots College, and mission agent."

In the year 1724 he came to Scotland, when he was met by Wodrow, the historian of the Covenanters, when both were making researches in the Advocates’ Library in opposite directions. The two men, following to a certain extent the same pursuit, must have felt utterly alien to each other. Wodrow, a thoroughly homespun western Whig of the most rigid order, went no farther back than the two or three generations of the Scottish clergy immediately behind his own, and looked on all things beyond the ecclesiastical circle of the western Presbyterians as idle and unprofitable vanity, unworthy of his research. The Jacobite priest, on the other hand, saw nothing genuine or worthy of a good man’s reflections save in the records of the past, and lived only in the hope that all the existing fabric of heresy and innovation would, after its brief hour of usurpation was fulfilled, fall again to pieces, and open up the good old ways. Each did service in his own way. The Covenanter was a prejudiced, but, in a great measure, a trustworthy narrator of things within the scope of his narrow inquiries; the priest of the Scots College at Paris was far better occupied in the past than the present, and bequeathed to us a noble monument of historical criticism, while his brethren were busily employed in plots and conspiracies to plunge the nation in a civil war. Wodrow, though he had few sympathies with a Romish priest, looked on the scholar with a kindly feeling, and records in his note-book thus, "He is not engaged in politics, as far as can be guessed; and is a monkish bookish person, who meddles with nothing but literature."

This scene recalls the ecclesiastical contests which brought Scotsmen much in contact with foreigners, since the conspicuous men of each party had in turn to take refuge abroad. We have seen something already of the tone and temper of the controversy. I propose now to look a little to the literature of the disputants, prefacing what I have to say with a general remark by Urquhart, containing a good deal of the spirit in which his countrymen, while maintaining their respective sides in the great dispute, could not entirely forget that they were "brother Scots," and must stand up for the dear old country.

"Here nevertheless it is to be understood, that neither these dispersedly-prefered Scots were all of one and the same religion, nor yet any one of them a Presbyterian. Some of them were, and are as yet, Popish prelates, such as the Bishop of Vezon, and Chalmers, Bishop of Neems, and Signor Georgio Con (who wrote likewise some books in Latin) was by his intimacy with Pope Uurban’s nephew Don Francesco Don Antonio, and Don Tadino Barbarini, and for his endeavouring to advance the Catholico-Pontifical interest in Great Britain, to have been dignified with a Cardinal’s hat, which (by all appearance) immediately after his departure from London, he would have obtained as soon as he had come to Rome, had death not prevented him by the way in the city of Genua: but had he returned to this island with it, I doubt it would have proved e’er now as fatal to him, as another such like cap in Queen Maries time had done to his compatriot Cardinal Betoun.

"By this as it is perceivable that all Scots are not Presbyterians, nor yet all Scots Papists: so would not I have the reputation of any learned man of the Scottish nation to be buryed in oblivion, because of his being of this or this, or that or yon, or of that other religion; no more then if we should cease to give learning and moral vertues their due, in the behalf of pregnant and good spirits born and bred in several climates; which to withhold from them (whether Poriscians, Heteroscians, or Amphiscians), would prove very absurd to the humane ingenuity or ingenuos humanity of a true Cosmopolite."

Foremost among the champions of the new faith stands, of course, the name of John Knox, and though his fame rests in general on other grounds, he was no mean representative of the scholarship of Scotland in other lands. His first aquaintance with the French was neither of his own seeking nor to his own edification and enjoyment. He was seized in the midst of the piratical band who held the Castle of St Andrews, after the murder of Beaton, and had to endure penal slavery in the galleys. The observations of the great Reformer on the life and manners by which he was surrounded, if he had favoured the world with them, must have been eminently curious and instructive. We can imagine such experiences preparing him with examples of life and conversation which would enable the Scottish preacher to startle his French and Swiss congregations. It is a pity, too, that, for the sake of knowing the extent to which man can injure and degrade his fellow-man, we should not have had some account of his own treatment from so intelligent a galley-slave. The condition of such a being is something which the improvements in prison discipline, and the unrevengeful spirit of the present age, preclude us from realising. We can only darkly guess at its horrors, by considering the structure and other conditions of a galley. There were other persons in it, of course, besides the slaves who pulled the oars—if not passengers of more or less rank, at all events persons in command, and these might be expected for their own sakes to preserve a little decorum and cleanness; but they inhabited raised galleries completely partitioned off, so that the rowers’ benches were unseen. They were separated from the living machinery and its horrors, as the saloon of a steam-vessel is, at this day, from the danger and filth of the machinery and the furnace. Each galley-slave was secured by a chain nailed to the deck, and there he remained, night and day, surrounded by such conditions as the human animal is subject to when he has neither freedom to serve himself nor the services of others. A storm, with its dangers and drenching, was sometimes welcome as a cleanser; but most welcome of all must have been the approach of the death which was to release the worn-out body from the tyranny of his fellow-man, before he pitched it into the set. Who knows how much of the acerbity of Knox’s temperament may have been caught by him in that dreadful ordeal!

How he got his liberty is a mystery—but he was in the galleys altogether for nineteen months. The readiness with which he undertook foreign ministrations is one of the incidents creditable to the general scholarship of the Scots at that period. For reading of the narrative kind, there is none more delightful to be found anywhere than Knox’s ‘History of his own Times.’ It is a racy, vigorous narrative, crowded with pictures in rich and powerful colouring—like a gallery of historical paintings by Rubens. What chiefly, however, fascinates the reader, is the unrivalled potency of its vituperative rhetoric. His scolding is sublime and awful. But throughout there is a sort of noble fairness in it. Of course, all who withstood him and called forth his wrath were in some form or other knaves and ruffians. How could it be otherwise with those who had set themselves against him, the Deity’s representative on earth—the head of the theocracy! But he was not given to the practice so common in his day of assassinating reputations by those vile imputations, the touch of which leaves a taint which all the perfumes of Arabia are insufficient to sweeten out. The tenor of his wrath was ever for a fair stand-up fight; and in his wordy battles he was a champion few would care to join issue with.

But his History has many other things in it besides the brawling of an angry priest. He was a great statesman in his way—a one-sided one, no doubt, without breadth of view or sympathies, but endowed with one of the statesman’s next prime qualities, a sagacity in penetrating the policy and designs of his enemies that looked like inspiration. Its extent is perhaps better known now than it was even by his contemporaries, from the light which the excavatioum of state papers has thrown on the vast designs of the Papal powers of his day, for crushing the new and formidable heresy. From the skilful organisation of the Huguenots, and their ratification of correspondence everywhere, he was fully instructed in facts, and his sagacity enabled him to see the spirit that influenced them. He knew the imminent peril of himself and his Mends from these great combinations, and knew that his own amiable and lovely mistress was deep in all their intricacies, and as hard and resolute in carrying their designs to a conclusion as the sternest despot in beard and mail. When he speaks about these things with his own peculiar uncompromising vehemence, his words might seem the ravings of a monomaniac, were it not that we know them to have been founded on menacing facts.

He is one of the most accurate and honest of narrators. His honesty, indeed, proceeded from a source which put it far above the impartiality which a modern historian may assume upon principle—it had an absolutism in it, for it proceeded of his own infallibility. He was right in all his actions, and therefore courted an inspection of them. The opinion of the world was nothing after his conduct had passed with approval the greatest of human ordeals, his own appreciation. His dialogues with Queen Mary have the stamp of thorough truth. In fact, they show that he had the worst of the contest, though he does not himself see that, his mind being entirely absorbed in the one great object, the uprooting of her idolatry from her heart. He probably fought at disadvantage. Mary had but slight command over her native tongue until some years afterwards. Knox was master of French, and it was likely that the conversation was conducted in that language. But however nearly the two might be thus on a par in command of the language they had leaned it in widely different schools. Knox’s experience of it—besides the galleys—had been in discussions with Huguenot divines, or disputes with Popish enemies. One must needs believe that his opponent was thoroughly accomplished in the Court speech. By the help of Brantome and Ronsard, this was acquiring that subtle finesse which would enable the accomplished beauty, with gentle dexterity, to inflict mortal wounds ‘without appearing to strike.

There is a sort of magnanimity sometimes in his candour, since it brings him in for the support of very questionable acts, to which he could easily have given the go-by. He was not in that ugly affair, Rizzio’s murder; and if he knew that it was to come of he might have shaken his head and kept silence with a good grace. But this was not his way with those who were on his own side. So, in his History, he has some moralising, in which it is pretty easy to see that he laments the sad fate of those who have to live away from their native country, for no other reason than the good service they have done to it by putting the Italian to death. But fearing that he has not made his meaning quite distinct enough, he raises his voice, saying: "And, to lett the world understand in plane terms what we meane, that great abusar of this commoun-wealth, that pultron and vyle knave Davie, was justlie punished, the nynt of Merch, in the year of God lmVc three-score fyve, for abusing of the commoun-wealth, and for his other villany, which we list not to express, by the counsall and handis of James Dowglas, Erle of Morton, Patrik Lord Lyndesay, and the Lord Ruthven, with otheris assistaris in thare cumpany, who all, for thare just act, and most worthy of all praise, ar now unworthely left of thare brethrein, and suffer the bitterness of banishement and exyle. But this is our hope in the mercyes of our God, that this same blynd generatioun, whither it will or nott, shalbe compelled to see that he will have respect to thame that ar injustlye persewed; that he will apardoun thare formar offenses; that he will restore thame to the libertie of there country and commonwealth agane; and that he will punish (in dispyte of man), the head and the tail, that now trubles the just, and manteanes impietie. The head is knawin: the taill hes two branches; the temporall Lordis that manteane hir abhominationis, and hir flattering counsallouris, blasphemous Balfour, now called Clerk of Register, Sinclair Deane of Restalrige and Bischope of Brechin, blynd of ane eie in the body, but of baithe in his soule, upoun whome God schortlie after took vengeance; (John) Leslye, preastis gett, Abbot of Londorse and Bischope of Ross, Symon Preastoun of Craigmyllare, a right epicureane, whose end wilbe, or it be long, according totharewarkis. Butt now to returne to our historye."

The immediate colleague of Knox, John Craig— he whose denunciatory sermons afterwards frightened King James from his propriety—underwent, before he became a minister in Edinburgh, adventures which seem to have been still more marvellous and perilous than those of his leader. It is said, though the story is rather improbable, that he was converted by a perusal of a copy of Calvin’s Institutes in the library of the Dominicans of Bologna, among whom he held an office of high trust. The legend proceeds to say that he avowed his opinions, and was condemned to death at Rome, but that he was released by a general breaking-open of the prisons on the death of Pope Paul IV. The next act of the drama finds him in the hands of a band of robbers, one of whom recognising him, and remembering to have been helped by him when a destitute wanderer at Bologna, induces his companions to aid instead of robbing the wanderer. Compelled to seek refuge in Geneva, he was on his way thither, passing in disguise through bypaths; and, hunger and prostration having overtaken him, he had sat down patiently to await the end, when a dog approached him, and laid a piece of money at his feet. Such were the stories believed of the minister of Edinburgh, who had been so long a wanderer from home, and had so entirely forgotten his native language, that he required to preach in Latin to a select audience in the Magdalen Chapel in the Cowgate, until he found time to acquire a sufficient knowledge of his native tongue.


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