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The Scottish Nation

WODROW, ROBERT, an eminent divine and ecclesiastical historian, was born at Glasgow in 1679. He was the second son of the Rev. James Wodrow, professor of divinity in the university of that city, a faithful and pious minister of the Church of Scotland, whose life, written by his son, the subject of this notice, after remaining long in manuscript, was published at Edinburgh in 1828. His mother’s name was Margaret Hair, daughter of William Hair, proprietor of a small estate in the parish of Kilbarchan, a woman of great strength of mind, discretion, and piety. In 1691 he was entered a student in the university of his native town, and after passing through the usual curriculum of study, he became a student of theology under his father. While attending the divinity class, he was appointed librarian to the university, a situation which he held for four years. The unusual talent which he had early displayed for historical and bibliographical inquiry had recommended him as a person peculiarly qualified for the office, and, while he held it, he prosecuted with ardour his researches into everything connected with the ecclesiastical and literary history and antiquities of his native country. At this period he imbibed also a taste for the study of natural history, then scarcely known in Scotland, and was in habits of friendship and correspondence with many eminent men both in Scotland and England. But all these pursuits were carefully kept subordinate to his principal object, the study of theology and the practical application of its principles.

On leaving college he went to reside for some time in the house of a distant relative of the family, Sir John Maxwell of Nether Pollock, then one of the lords of session; and, while here, was, in March 1703, licensed, by the presbytery of Paisley, to preach the gospel. In the following summer the parish of Eastwood, where Lord Pollock resided, became vacant by the death of Mr. Matthew Crawfurd, author of a History of the Church of Scotland, which we believe yet remains in manuscript. Of this parish, then one of the smallest in the west of Scotland, Mr. Wodrow was ordained minister, October 28, 1703. In this obscure situation he continued all his life, devoting himself to the discharge of his pastoral duties, and prosecuting his favourite studies in church history and antiquities. In 1712 he had an encouraging invitation from Glasgow, and in 1717, and again in 1726, he was solicited by the people of Stirling to remove to that town, but he declined these overtures, preferring to remain at Eastwood. As a preacher he was one of the most popular of that day, and so great was his reputation in the west country, that, on sacramental occasions especially, vast crowds resorted to Eastwood to hear him preach. He was most regular in his attendance on the several church courts, and was frequently chosen a member of the General Assembly.

At the union of the two kingdoms, in 1707, he was nominated one of the committee of presbytery appointed to consult and act with the brethren of the commission at Edinburgh, as to the best means of averting the evils which that measure was supposed to portend to the church and people of Scotland. On the accession of George I. to the throne, he was the principal correspondent and adviser of the five clergymen deputed by the Assembly to go to London, for the purpose of pleading the rights of the church, and particularly to petition for the immediate abolition of the obnoxious law of patronage. The third volume of his manuscript letters contains several long and able statements and reasonings on this and collateral topics. He took a lively interest in all ecclesiastical proceedings, and kept regular notes of all that passed in the church courts, by which he was enabled to preserve, in the manuscript records which he left behind him, the most authentic and interesting details of the whole procedure and history of the church, during his own time, that could have been handed down to us. In questions involving matters either of sound doctrine or of discipline and church government, he was invariably found on the popular side. Yet, although opposed to the law, of patronage, and thoroughly convinced of its “unreasonableness and unscripturality,” he did not think it expedient to resist the execution of that oppressive law, but uniformly inculcated submission to the civil power, and used his best endeavours to promote peace and harmony in cases of disputed settlements.

His principal work, ‘The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution,’ was published in 1721-22, in two volumes folio. This important and laborious undertaking he had designed from an early period of his life, but from 1707 to the time of its publication, he appears to have devoted all his leisure hours to it. The work was approved of and recommended by the General Assembly, and he obtained, in consequence, a most respectable list of subscribers. It was dedicated to George I., and, on its publication, copies of it were presented, by Dr. Fraser, to the king, the queen, and the prince and princess of Wales, and by them all most graciously received. His majesty, by an order on the Exchequer of Scotland, dated April 26, 1725, authorized one hundred guineas sterling to be paid to the author in token of his cordial approbation.

Wodrow’s fidelity as an ecclesiastical historian gave offence to certain of the nonjuring Episcopalians, and while his book was assailed by the most scurrilous attacks in public, anonymous and threatening letters were sent to himself, to which, however, he paid little attention. One of the boldest attempts to depreciate his labours, and affect his character for truth and impartiality, was made by Mr. Alexander Bruce, advocate, first in an anonymous tract, entitled ‘The Scottish Behemoth Dissected, in a Letter to Mr. Robert Wodrow,’ &c., Edinburgh, 1722, and next in the preface to a Life of Archbishop Sharp, published in 1723. Mr. Bruce, too, in the extreme fervour of his zeal, announced, in 1724, a great work, which was to annihilate Wodrow at a blow, to be entitled ‘An Impartial History of the Affairs in Church and State in Scotland from the Reformation to the Revolution,’ in 2 vols. folio. His death soon after, however, prevented him from making much progress with the work, which was taken up by Bishop Keith, who published only the first volume in 1734, bringing the history down to 1568. “Keith’s History,” says the author of Wodrow’s Life in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “is only important as a collection of materials, for the author was equally destitute of acuteness and liberality.”

In Mr. Fox’s ‘History of the Early Part of the Reign of James II.,’ that celebrated statesman has inserted a high eulogium on the fidelity and impartiality of Wodrow’s work; a second edition of which, in a more convenient form than the first, was published at Glasgow, in 1830, in 4 vols, 8vo. with a Memoir of the Author prefixed by Robert Burns, D.D., one of the ministers of Paisley.

Having designed a series of biographical memoirs of the more eminent ministers and others of the Church of Scotland, Mr. Wodrow completed ten small folio volumes of the work, which, with four quarto volumes of appendix, are preserved in manuscript in the library of the university of Glasgow. A selection from these was made in 1834, and two volumes printed for the members of the Maitland Club, under the title of ‘Collections upon the Lives of the Reformers and most eminent Ministers of the Church of Scotland.’

Besides these Lives, Mr. Wodrow also left behind him six small closely written volumes, under the general name of ‘Analecta,’ being a kind of diary, or note-book, in which he inserted many curious notices regarding the ecclesiastical proceedings and literary intelligence, as well as the ordinary or more remarkable occurrences, of the period. This valuable and interesting record, which comprises an interval of twenty-seven years, namely, from 1705 to 1732, is preserved in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, having become the property of the Faculty of Advocates in June 1828. In 1842 and 1843, Wodrow’s ‘Analecta’ was printed for the Maitland Club, by the earl of Glasgow, then president of the Club, and presented to the members by that nobleman. The entire work extends to four quarto volumes, with a comprehensive index, and suitable illustrations.

Twenty-four volumes of his Correspondence are also preserved in the Advocates’ Library. A portion of his manuscripts, chiefly relating to ecclesiastical history, was, in May 1742, purchased by order of the General Assembly, and now remains the property of the church. Altogether, his labours and researches have proved so peculiarly useful and valuable in illustrating the ecclesiastical history of his country, that the name of Wodrow was adopted as the designation of a Society, modelled after the plan of ‘The Parker Society’ of England. The Wodrow Society was established at Edinburgh, May 1841, for the purpose of printing, from the most authentic sources, the best works, many of which still remain in manuscript, of the original Reformers, fathers, and early writers of the Church of Scotland.

Mr. Wodrow died of a gradual decline, March 21, 1734, in the 55th year of his age, and was buried in the churchyard of Eastwood. He had married, in 1708, Margaret, daughter of the Rev. Patrick Warner, minister of Irvine, and grand-=daughter of William Guthrie, minister of Fenwick, author of the well-known practical treatise, ‘The Trial of a Saving Interest in Christ.’ Of a family of sixteen children, nine, that is, four sons and five daughters, with their mother, survived him. His eldest son succeeded him as minister of Eastwood, but retired from that charge on account of bad health.

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