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Significant Scots
Alexander Arbuthnot


ARBUTHNOT, ALEXANDER, an eminent divine of the reign of James VI., son of the laird of Arbuthnot, was born in the year 1538. Having studied languages and philosophy in the University of Aberdeen, and civil law under the famous Cujacius at Bourges in France, he took ecclesiastical orders, and became in his own country a zealous supporter of the Reformation. The period of his entrance into life was 1563, when queen Mary was in possession of the kingdom. His eminent abilities and acquirements pointed him out, young as he was, as a leading man in the church, and accordingly he took a prominent part in several general assemblies. In that of 1568, he was appointed by his brethren to examine a work entitled "The Fall of the Roman Church," which was objected to because it styled the king the head of the church. The result of his deliberations was an order to Basandyne, the printer, not to print any more books till he had expunged this passage, and also taken away a lewd song which he had published at the end of an edition of the Psalms. The assembly also ordered that henceforth no book should be published till licensed by their commission. "Thus," it has been remarked, "the reformed clergy, who owed their emancipation to the right of private judgment, with strange inconsistency obstructed the progress of free inquiry by taking upon themselves the regulation of the press."

Arbuthnot was soon after appointed minister of the parishes of Arbuthnot and Logie-Buchan, and in 1569 he became Principal of the University of Aberdeen. He was a member of the General Assembly held at St Andrews in 1572, in which strenuous opposition was made to a scheme of church-government, called the "Book of Policy," which was invented by certain statesmen, at the head of whom was the Regent Morton, to restore the old titles of the church, and by means of titular incumbents, retain all the temporalities among themselves. In the General Assemblies held at Edinburgh in 1573 and 1577, Arbuthnot was chosen Moderator; and he appears to have been constantly employed, on the part of the church, in the commission for conducting the troublesome and tedious contest with the Regency concerning the plan of ecclesiastical government to be adopted in Scotland. This commission, under the name of the Congregation, at length absorbed so much power, that the Assembly was left little to do but to approve its resolutions. The part which Arbuthnot took in these affairs gave offence to James VI., and the offence was increased by the publication of Buchanan’s History, of which Arbuthnot was the editor. It was therefore resolved to restrain him by an oppressive act of arbitrary power; and a royal order was issued, forbidding him to absent himself from his college at Aberdeen. The clergy, who saw that the design of this order was to deprive them of the benefit of Arbuthnot’s services, remonstrated; the king, however, remained inflexible, and the clergy submitted. This persecution probably affected Arbuthnot’s health and spirits; for, the next year, 1583, he fell into a gradual decline and died. Arbuthnot appears to have possessed much good sense and moderation, and to have been well qualified for public business. His knowledge was various and extensive; he was a patron of learning; and at the same time that he was active in promoting the interests of the Reformed church, he contributed to the revival of a taste for literature in Scotland. The only prose production which he has left, is a learned and elegant Latin work, entitled "Orationes de Origine et Diguitate Juris," – (Orations on the Origin and Dignity of the Law,) which was printed in 4to at Edinburgh in 1572. For some specimens of vernacular poetry, supposed to be his composition, we may refer to Irving’s Lives of the Scottish Poets, and M’Crie’s Life of Andrew Melville. His character has received a lasting eulogy, in the shape of an epitaph, from the pen of his friend Melville. See Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum, ii, p. 120.


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