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Significant Scots
Sir Robert Murray


MURRAY, (SIR) ROBERT, a statesman and natural philosopher, appears to have been born about the commencement of the seventeenth century. He was a son of Sir Robert Murray of Craigie, by a daughter of George Halket of Pitferran. According to his intimate friend, Burnet, he served in the French army, and having found great favour with the all-potent Richelieu, was early promoted to a colonelcy. [Burnet’s Own Times, i. 59.] When the difficulties of Charles I. assumed their most alarming aspect, he returned to Scotland, and raised recruits for the royal army. When the king was with the Scots army at Newcastle, he seems to have attempted an escape, designed by Sir Robert. "The design," says Burnet, "was thus laid: Mr Murray had provided a vessel by Teignmouth, and Sir Robert Murray was to have conveyed the king thither in disguise; and it proceeded so far, that the king put himself in the disguise, and went down the back stairs with Sir Robert Murray. But his majesty, apprehending it was scarce possible to pass through all the guards without being discovered, and judging it hugely indecent to be catched in such a condition, changed his resolution, and went back, as Sir Robert informed the writer." [Mem. Of D. of Hamilton, 307.]About this period, it is probable that he had not received his title, and that he may be identified with "Mr Robert Murray, quarter-master general," who, on the occasion of the town of Berwick (which was ordered to be dismantled at the treaty of the two kingdoms) petitioning to be permitted to keep three pieces of ordnance, and the two gates of the bridge, was "sent to Berwick with his majesty’s recommendation, to take notice what may be the importance of that petition, and report the same to the house." [Balf. An., iii. 337.]After the fall of the royal cause, he appears to have been recommended by the parliament of Scotland to the French government, and to have obtained from Mazarine a continuation of the favours extended to him by Richelieu. On the 22nd May, 1650, two letters from France were read to the parliament of Scotland, one from the young king, the other from the queen regent, in answer to the letter of the parliament in favour of Sir Robert Murray; in which "both did promise, from their respect and love to the Scots nation, they would see their desire performed, so far as possibly the convenience of their affairs would permit, and that he should be paid off his arrears." [Balf. An., iv. 17.]We afterwards find the parliament exhibiting their favour, by sending him a few cargoes of prisoners, to serve in his ranks. Of two hundred and eighty-one soldiers, taken at Kerbester, where the marquis of Montrose was finally defeated, after some disposals to coal mines, &c., the remainder "are given to lord Angus and Sir Robert Murray to recruit their French troops with." [Ib. 18.35, Act. Par., vii. 516.] It is probable that he was an officer in the Scots guards. He continued in the confidence of Charles II., and was connected with the obscure negotiations of Montreville with the independents and presbyterians, for the purpose of procuring their assistance at as cheap a rate as possible to the conscience of the king, or under the form of promise which might admit the easiest and safest infraction on his part. The moderation of Sir Robert in matters connected with the church, evinced in this transaction, may have been the reason why Clarendon termed him "a cunning and a dexterous man;" and accused him of attempting, under the pretext of bringing the king to peace with the Scots, a coalition betwixt the Roman catholics and presbyterians, to the destruction of the church of England.

On the 21st May, 1651, while Charles was in command of the army in Scotland, Sir Robert was appointed justice-clerk; and, on the 6th of June, he was chosen a lord of session, and nominated a privy councillor. [Ib.] But the subversion of the courts by Cromwell prevented him from sitting in judgment. Burnet mentions that he was in great credit with the remains of the king’s army surviving in Scotland, when "lord Glencairn took a strange course to break it, and to ruin him." A letter written by him to William Murray, a low minion, who had risen in the court of Charles I., by the performance of the most despicable offices, was pretended to have been found at Antwerp. "This ill-forged letter gave an account of a bargain Sir Robert had made with Monk for killing the king, which was to be executed by Mr Murray: so he prayed him in his letter to make haste and despatch it. This was brought to the earl of Glencairn: so Sir Robert was severely questioned upon it, and put in arrest: and it was spread about through a rude army that he intended to kill the king, hoping, it seems, that some of these wild people, believing it, would have fallen upon him, without using any forms. Upon this occasion, Sir Robert practised, in a very eminent manner, his true Christian philosophy, without showing so much as a cloud in his whole behaviour." [Own Times, i. 103.]

At the discussion at Whitehall, on the question of the future established religion in Scotland, Sir Robert Murray, along with Hamilton and Lauderdale, proposed to delay the establishment of episcopacy, until the temper of the people should be ascertained. [Ib. 132.]In the attempt, by means of ballot, to disqualify those who had been favourable to the government of Cromwell from serving under Charles, Sir Robert was one of those whose own fall, along with that of Lauderdale, was particularly aimed at. [Ib. 150.] This association with Lauderdale seems not to have been called for by the previous conduct, the party opinions, or the moral character of Sir Robert. Afterwards Lauderdale’s aversion to so moderate and honest a man, disturbed his councils, and was partly productive of his downfall. He joined the rising administration of Tweeddale; and, having at the Restoration been re-appointed a lord of session, was promoted to be justice-clerk. "The people were pleased and gratified," says Laing, "when a judicial office, so important and dangerous, was conferred on the most upright and accomplished character which the nation produced." [Hist. Ii. 47.] But Sir Robert was made justice-clerk, not to be a judge, but that the salary might induce him to be a partizan. He never sat on the bench, and was probably quite ignorant of law. Meanwhile, in 1662, took place the most important event in his life, and one of the most interesting transactions of the period. He was one of the leaders of that body of naturalists and philosophers, who, with the assistance of lord Brounker and Robert Boyle, procured for the Royal Society the sanction of a charter. The society had existed as a small debating club previous to the republic, at the establishment of which, the members separated. At the Restoration, they re-established themselves, and conducted their meetings and operations on a rather more extensive scale. On the 28th November, 1660, we find Sir Robert present at, probably, the first meeting, where it was proposed "that some course might be thought of to improve this meeting to a more regular way of debating things; and that, according to the manner in other countries, where there were voluntary associations of men into academies for the advancement of various parts of learning, they might do something answerable here for the promoting of experimental philosophy." [Kirch. Hist. R. Soc., i. 3.] Sir Robert undertook to communicate the views of the society to the court, and at next meeting returned an answer, indicative of encouragement from that quarter. [Ib. 4.] After rules for holding meetings, and for the appointment of office-bearers, were established, Sir Robert was successively chosen president during the first and second month of the existence of the society. [Ib. 21.]He was a member of almost all committees and councils, delivered several papers, prepared and exhibited experiments, and gave information in natural history, chiefly relating to the geology of Scotland. The charter was obtained on 15th July, 1662.

This useful and high-minded man died suddenly in June, 1673. Burnett says of this event: "He was the wisest and worthiest man of the age, and was as another father to me. I was sensible how much I lost on so critical a conjuncture, being bereft of the truest and faithfullest friend I had ever known: and so I saw I was in danger of committing great errors for want of so kind a monitor." [Own Times, i. 356.]But the same partial hand, on all occasions graphic and rich in description, has elsewhere excelled its usual power, in drawing the character of Sir Robert Murray. "He was the most universally beloved and esteemed by men of all sides and sorts of any man I have ever known in my whole life. He was a pious man, and, in the midst of armies and courts, he spent many hours a-day in devotion, which was in a most elevating strain. He had gone through the easy parts of mathematics, and knew the history of nature beyond any man I ever yet knew. He had a genius much like Peiriski, as he is described by Gassandi. He was afterwards the first former of the Royal Society, and its first president; and while he lived, he was the life and soul of that body. He had an equality of temper in him, which nothing could alter: and was in practice the only stoic I ever knew. He had a great tincture of one of their principles: for he was much for absolute decrees. He had a most diffused love to all mankind, and delighted in every occasion of doing good, which he managed with great discretion and zeal. He had a superiority of genius and comprehension to most men; and had the plainest, but, withal, the softest way of reproving, chiefly young people, for their faults, that I ever knew of." [Ibid. 59.]


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