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Significant Scots
Andrew Melville


MELVILLE, ANDREW, one of the most illustrious of the Scottish reformers, whose name stands next to that of Knox in the history of the Reformation, and is second to none in the erudition of the time, was born on the 1st of August, 1545, at Baldovy or Baldowy, an estate on the banks of the South Esk, near Montrose, of which his father was proprietor. The form in which the family name was generally known at that time in Scotland and in foreign countries, was Melvyne or Melvin. Throughout the interesting correspondence, written in Latin, between the subject of this memoir and his amiable and accomplished nephew, whose life is recorded in the next article, the name is uniformly written Melvinus. In Fifeshire, at the present day, the name is commonly pronounced Melvin, and at an earlier period it was frequently both pronounced and written Melin, Mellin, and Melling. The Melvilles of Baldowy were a family of some note in the middle of the sixteenth century, and near cadets of Melville of Raith, who was considered to be the chief of an influential name in the county of Fife. Melville or Dysart, however, was acknowledged by Andrew Melville to have been the chief of the Baldowy branch of the family. Andrew was the youngest of nine sons, and had the misfortune to lose his father, who fell in the battle of Pinkie, while he was yet only two years of age. The death of his mother, also, soon afterwards took place, and he was thus left an orphan. The loss of his parents, however, was in a great measure compensated by the kindness and tenderness of his eldest brother and the wife of that individual, both of whom watched over his infant years with the most anxious affection and assiduity. The long-tried and unwearied kindness of the latter, in particular, made a strong impression upon Melville, which lasted during the whole of his life.

His brother, perceiving his early propensity to learning, resolved to encourage it, and with this view gave him the best education which the country afforded. He was besides of a weakly habit of body, a consideration which had its weight in determining the line of life he should pursue. Young Melville was accordingly put to the grammar-school of Montrose, where he acquired the elements of the Latin language, and, among other accomplishments, a knowledge of Greek, which was then a rare study in Scotland. When removed, in his fourteenth year, to the university of St Andrews, he surprised his teachers by his knowledge of Greek, with which they were wholly unacquainted. He was indebted for this fortunate peculiarity in his education to a Frenchman of the name of Marsilliers, who had been established as a teacher of Greek in the school of Montrose, by John Erskine of Dun.

The great progress which young Melville had made in learning, excited the astonishment and attracted the attention of the various teachers in the university; particularly Mr John Douglas, the rector, who, on one occasion having taken the young and weakly boy between his knees, was so delighted with his replies, when questioned on the subject of his studies, that he exclaimed, "My silly fatherless and motherless boy, it’s ill to witt (to guess) what God may make of thee yet."

The reputation which Melville acquired soon after entering the college, increased with his stay there; and he left it, on finishing the usual course of study, with the character of being "the best philosopher, poet, and Grecian, of any young master in the land." Having acquired all the learning which his native country afforded, he resolved to proceed to the continent to complete his education; and, accordingly, with the consent of his brothers, set out for France in the autumn of 1564, being still only in the nineteenth year of his age. At the university of Paris, whither he repaired, he acquired a similar reputation for general talent, and particularly for his knowledge of Greek, with that which he had secured at St Andrews. Here he remained for two years, when he removed to Poictiers. On his arrival at the latter place, such was the celebrity already attached to his name, he was made regent in the college of St Marceon, although yet only twenty-one years of age. From Poictiers, he went some time afterwards to Geneva, where he was presented with the humanity chair in the academy, which happened fortunately to be then vacant. In 1574, he returned to his native country, after an absence altogether of ten years. On his arrival at Edinburgh, he was invited by the regent Morton to enter his family as a domestic instructor, with a promise of advancement when opportunity should offer. This invitation he declined, alleging that he preferred an academical life, and that the object of his highest ambition was to obtain an appointment in one of the universities. He now retired to Baldovy, where he spent the following three months, enjoying the society of his elder brother, and amusing himself by superintending the studies of his nephew, James Melville.

At the end of this period, he was appointed principal of the college of Glasgow by the General Assembly, and immediately proceeded thither to assume the duties of his office. Here the learning and talents of Melville were eminently serviceable, not only to the university over which he presided, but to the whole kingdom. He introduced improvements in teaching and in discipline, which at once procured a high degree of popularity to the college, and greatly promoted the cause of general education throughout Scotland. Melville possessed a considerable share of that intrepidity for which his great predecessor, Knox, was so remarkable. At an interview, on one occasion, with the regent Morton, who was highly displeased with some proceedings of the General Assembly, of which Melville was a member, the former, irritated by what he conceived to be obstinacy in the latter, exclaimed, "There will never be quietness in this country, till half-a-dozen of you be hanged or banished."—"Hark, sir," said Melville, "threaten your courtiers after that manner. It is the same to me, whether I rot in the air or in the ground. The earth is the Lord’s. Patria est ubicunque est bene. I have been ready to give my life where it would not have been half so well wared, (expended) at the pleasure of my God. I have lived out of your country ten years, as well as in it. Let God be glorified: it will not be in your power to hang or exile his truth." It is not said that the regent resented this bold language; but probably his forbearance was as much owing to the circumstance of his resigning the regency, which he did soon after, as to any other cause.

In 1580, Melville was translated to St Andrews, to fill a similar situation with that which he occupied at Glasgow. Here he distinguished himself by the same ability which had acquired him so much reputation in the western university. Besides giving lectures on theology, he taught the Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, and Rabbinical languages, and discovered such an extent of knowledge and superiority of acquirement, that his classes were attended, not only by young students in unusual numbers, but by several of the masters of the other colleges. In 1582, Melville opened, with sermon, an extraordinary meeting of the General Assembly, which had been convoked to take into consideration the dangerous state of the protestant church, from the influence which the earl of Arran, and the lords D’Aubigné and Lennox, exercised over the young king. In this sermon he boldly inveighed against the absolute authority which the court was assuming a right to exercise in ecclesiastical affairs, and alluded to a design on the part of France, of which D’Aubigné was the instrument, to reestablish the catholic religion in the country. The assembly, impressed with similar sentiments, and entertaining similar apprehensions, drew up a spirited remonstrance to the king, and appointed Melville to present it. He accordingly repaired to Perth, where the king then was, and, despite of some alarming reports which reached him, of the personal danger to which he would expose himself from the resentment of the king’s favourites, demanded and obtained access to his majesty. When the remonstrance was read, Arran looked round the apartment, and exclaimed, in a tone of defiance and menace, "Who dares subscribe these treasonable articles?"—"We dare," replied Melville; and, taking a pen from the clerk, he affixed his signature to the document: an example which was immediately followed by the other commissioners who were with him. The cool and dignified intrepidity of Melville, completely silenced the blustering of Arran, who, finding himself at fault by this unexpected opposition, made no further remark; and Lennox, with better policy, having spoken to the commissioners in a conciliatory tone, they were peaceably dismissed. It seems probable, however, from what afterwards ensued, that Arran did not forget the humiliation to which Melville’s boldness had on this occasion subjected him. In less than two years afterwards, Melville was summoned before the privy council, on a charge of high treason, founded upon some expressions which, it was alleged, he had made use of in the pulpit. Whether Arran was the original instigator of the prosecution, does not very distinctly appear; but it is certain that he took an active part in its progress, and expressed an eager anxiety for the conviction of the accused. Failing in establishing any thing to the prejudice of Melville, the council had recourse to an expedient to effect that which they could not accomplish through his indictment. They could not punish him for offences which they could not prove; but they found him guilty of declining the judgment of the council, and of behaving irreverently before them, and condemned him to be imprisoned in the castle of Edinburgh, and to be further punished in person and goods at his majesty’s pleasure. The terms of the sentence, in so far as regarded the place of imprisonment, were afterwards altered by Arran, who substituted "Blackness," where he had a creature of his own as keeper, for Edinburgh. Several hours being allowed to Melville before he was put in ward, he availed himself of the opportunity, and made his escape to England. To this step, being himself in doubt whether he ought not rather to submit to the sentence of the council, he was urged by some of his friends, who, to his request for advice in the matter, replied, with the proverb of the house of Angus, "Loose and living;" which pretty plainly intimates what they conceived would be the result, if he permitted himself to be made "fast." On leaving Edinburgh, Melville first proceeded to Berwick, and thence to London, where he remained till the November of 1585. The indignation of the kingdom having then driven Arran from the court, he returned to Scotland, after an absence of twenty months. The plague, which had raged in the country while he was in England, having dispersed his pupils at St Andrews, and, the college being, from this and other causes, in a state of complete disorganization, he did not immediately resume his duties there, but proceeded to Glasgow, where he remained for some time. In the month of March following, induced by an appearance of more settled times, he returned to St Andrews, and recommenced his lectures and former course of instruction. These, however, were soon again interrupted. In consequence of the active part which he took in the excommunication of archbishop Adamson, who was accused of overthrowing the scriptural government and discipline of the church of Scotland, he was commanded by the king to leave St Andrews, and to confine himself beyond the water of Tay. From this banishment he was soon afterwards recalled; and, having been restored to his majesty’s favour, through the intercession of the dean of faculty and masters of the university, he resumed his academical labours at St Andrews.

In the year following (1587,) he was chosen moderator of the General Assembly, and appointed one of their commissioners to the ensuing meeting of parliament. A similar honour with the first was conferred upon him in 1589, and again in 1594. In the year following, he was invited to take a part in the ceremonies at the coronation of the queen, which took place in the chapel of Holyrood, on the 17th of May. On this occasion, although he did not know, until only two days before, that he was expected to take a part in the approaching ceremony, he composed and delivered, before a great concourse of noblemen and gentlemen, assembled to witness the coronation, a Latin poem, which, having been printed next day at the earnest solicitation of his majesty, who was much pleased with it, under the title of "Stephaniskion," and circulated throughout Europe, added greatly to the reputation which its author had already acquired. An instance of the generosity of Melville’s disposition, which occurred about this time, cannot be passed over, however brief the sketch of his life may be, without doing an injustice to his memory. Archbishop Adamson, one of his most irreconcilable enemies, having lost the favour of the king, was reduced, by the sequestration of his annuity, which immediately followed, to great pecuniary distress. He applied to Melville for relief, and he did not apply in vain. Melville immediately visited him, and undertook to support himself and his family at his own expense, until some more effective and permanent assistance could be procured for him; and this he did for several months, finally obtaining a contribution for him from his friends in St Andrews. Such instances of benevolence are best left to the reader’s own reflections, and are only injured by comment.

In 1590, he was chosen rector of the university; an office which he continued to hold by re-election for many years, and in which he displayed a firmness and decision of character on several trying occasions, that gives him a claim to something more than a mere literary reputation. Though a loyal subject in the best sense and most genuine acceptation of that term, he frequently addressed king James in language much more remarkable for its plainness than its courtesy. He had no sympathy whatever for the absurdities of that prince, and would neither condescend to humour his foibles nor flatter his vanity. A remarkable instance of this plain dealing with his majesty, occurred in 1596. In that year, Melville formed one of a deputation from the commissioners of the General Assembly, who met at Cupar in Fife, being appointed to wait upon the king at Falkland, for the purpose of exhorting him to prevent the consequences of certain measures inimical to religion, which his council were pursuing. James Melville, nephew of the subject of this memoir, was chosen spokesman of the party, on account of the mildness of his manner and the courteousness of his address. On entering the presence, he accordingly began to state the object and views of the deputation. He had scarcely commenced, however, when the king interrupted him, and in passionate language, denounced the meeting at Cupar as illegal and seditious. James Melville was about to reply with his usual mildness, when his uncle, stepping forward, seized the sleeve of the king’s gown, and calling his sacred majesty "God’s silly vassal," proceeded to lecture him on the impropriety of his conduct, and to point out to him the course which he ought to pursue, particularly in matters of ecclesiastical polity. "Sir," he said, "we will always humbly reverence your majesty in public; but since we have this occasion to be with your majesty in private, and since you are brought in extreme danger both of your life and crown, and, along with you, the country and the church of God are like to go to wreck, for not telling you the truth, and giving you faithful counsel, we must discharge our duty or else be traitors both to Christ and you. Therefore, Sir, as divers times before I have told you, so now again I must tell you, there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is king James, the head of this commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus the king of the church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member." Melville went on in a similar strain with this for a great length of time, notwithstanding repeated attempts, on the part of the king, to stop him. James expressed the strongest repugnance at the outset to listen to him, and endeavoured to frighten him from his purpose by a display of the terrors of offended royalty, but in vain. He was finally compelled to listen quietly and patiently to all that Melville chose to say. At the conclusion of the speech, the king, whose anger, and whose courage also probably, had subsided during its delivery, made every concession which was required; and the deputation returned without any less, apparently, of royal favour. It was not, however, to be expected, that Melville should have gained any ground in the king’s affections by this display of sincerity and zeal; nor were the future interviews which took place between them better calculated for this end. The very next which occurred is thus alluded to in his nephew’s diary: "And ther they (the king and Melville) hecled on, till all the hous and clos bathe hard mikle, of a large houre. In end, the king takes upe and dismissis him favourablie."

However favourably James may have dismissed him, he does not seem to have been unwilling to avail himself of the first opportunity which should offer of getting rid of him. At a royal visitation of the university of St Andrews, which soon afterwards took place, matter of censure against Melville was eagerly sought after, and all who felt disposed to bring any complaint against him, were encouraged to come forward with their accusations. The result was, that a large roll, filled with charges against him, was put into the king’s hands. He was accused of neglecting the pecuniary affairs of the college, and the duties of his office as a teacher, of agitating questions of policy in place of lecturing on divinity, and of inculcating doctrines subversive of the king’s authority and of the peace of the realm. At several strict examinations, he gave such satisfactory explanations of his conduct, and defended himself so effectually against the slanders of those who sought his ruin, that the visitors were left without any ground or pretext on which to proceed against him. They, however, deprived him of the rectorship, on the plea that it was improper that that office should be united with the professorship of theology, the appointment which Melville held in the university.

The accession of James to the English throne, did not abate his desire to assume an absolute control over the affairs of the church of Scotland, and long after his removal to England, he continued to entertain designs hostile to its liberties. The attempts which he had made to obtain this supremacy, while he was yet in Scotland, had been thwarted in a great measure by the exertions of Melville. His intrepidity kept James at bay, and his zeal, activity, and talents, deprived him of all chance of succeeding, by chicanery or cunning. Melville still presented himself as a stumbling-block in his way, should he attempt to approach the Scottish church with inimical designs, and James, therefore, now resolved that he should be entirely removed from the kingdom. To accomplish this, he had recourse to one of those infamous and unprincipled stratagem: which he considered the very essence of "king craft." In May 1606, Melville received a letter from his majesty, commanding him to repair to London before the 15th of September next, that his majesty might consult with him, and others of his learned brethren, regarding ecclesiastical matters, with the view of healing all differences, and securing a good understanding between his majesty and the church. Letters of a similar tenor were received by seven other clergymen, amongst whom was Melville’s nephew.

Though not without some doubts regarding the result of this rather extraordinary invitation, Melville and his brethren set out for London, where they arrived on the 25th of August. The first interview of the Scottish clergymen with the king was sufficiently gracious. He inquired for news from Scotland, and condescended even to be jocular. This, however, did not last long; at the subsequent conferences Melville found himself called upon, by the sentiments which the king expressed regarding church matters, to hold the same bold and plain language to him which he had so often done in Scotland, and this too in the presence of great numbers of his English courtiers, who could not refrain from expressing their admiration of Melville’s boldness, and of the eloquence with which he delivered his sentiments. In the mean time, however, the Scottish ministers were interdicted from returning to Scotland without the special permission of the king. On the 28th September they were required by his majesty to give attendance in the royal chapel on the following day to witness the celebration of the festival of St Michael. The ceremonies and fooleries of the exhibition which took place on this occasion, were so absurd, and so nearly approached those of the Romish church, that they excited in Melville a feeling of the utmost indignation and contempt. This feeling he expressed in a Latin epigram, which he composed on returning to his lodgings. A copy of the lines found its way to his majesty, who was greatly incensed by them, and determined to proceed against their author on the ground that they were treasonable. He was accordingly summoned before the privy council, found guilty of scandalum magnatum, and after a confinement of nearly twelve months, first in the house of the dean of St Paul’s, and afterwards in that of the bishop of Winchester, was committed to the Tower, where he remained a prisoner for four years. The other clergymen who had accompanied Melville to London were allowed to return to Scotland; but they were confined to particular parts of the country, and forbidden to attend any church courts. Melville’s nephew was commanded to leave London within six days, and to repair to Newcastle upon Tyne, and not to go ten miles beyond that town on the pain of rebellion.

In the month of February, 1611, Melville was released from the Tower on the application of the duke of Bouillon, who had solicited his liberty from the king, in order to procure his services as a professor in his university at Sedan in France. Melville, who was now in the 66th year of his age, was exceedingly reluctant to go abroad; but, as this was a condition of his liberty, and as there was no hope of the king’s being prevailed upon to allow him to return to Scotland, he submitted to the expatriation, and sailed for France on the 19th of April.

On his arrival at Paris he was fortunate enough to fall in with one of his scholars then prosecuting his studies there, by whom he was kindly and affectionately received. After spending a few days in the French capital he repaired to Sedan, and was admitted to the place destined for him in the university.

In the year following he removed to Grenoble, to superintend the education of three sons of the treasurer of the parliament of Dauphiny, with a salary of five hundred crowns per annum; but, not finding the situation an agreeable one, he returned within a short time to Sedan, and resumed his former duties. Melville continued to maintain a close correspondence with his numerous friends in Scotland, and particularly with his nephew, James Melville, to whom he was warmly attached. Of him, his best, most constant, and dearest friend, however, he was soon to be deprived. That amiable man, who had adhered to him through good and bad fortune, through storm and sunshine, for a long series of years, died in the beginning of the year 1614. The grief of Melville on receiving the intelligence of his death was deep and poignant. He gave way to no boisterous expression of feeling; but he felt the deprivation with all the keenness which such a calamity is calculated to inflict on an affectionate heart. With his fondest wishes still directed towards his native land, he requested his friends in London to embrace any favourable opportunity which might offer of procuring his restoration; and in 1616, a promise was obtained from his majesty, that he would be relieved from banishment. This, promise, however, like many others of James’s, was never realized. Melville, after all that he had done for his country, was doomed to breathe his last an exile in a foreign land. To compensate in some measure for the misfortunes which clouded his latter days, he was blessed with a more than ordinary share of bodily health, and that to a later period of life than is often to be met with. "Am I not," he says, in a letter to a friend written in the year 1612, "three score and eight years old, unto the which age none of my fourteen brethren came; and, yet I thank God, I eat, I drink, I sleep as well as I did these thirty years bygone, and better than when I was younger—in ipso flore adolescentiae,—only the gravel now and then seasons my mirth with some little pain, which I have felt only since the beginning of March the last year, a month before my deliverance from prison. I feel, thank God, no abatement of the alacrity and ardour of my mind for the propagation of the truth. Neither use I spectacles now more than ever, yea I use none at all nor ever did, and see now to read Hebrew without points, and in the smallest characters." With this good bodily health, he also enjoyed to the close of his life that cheerfulness of disposition and vivacity of imagination for which he was distinguished in earlier years, and in the seventy-fourth year of his age he is found vying with the most sprightly and juvenile of his colleagues in the composition of an epithalamium on the occasion of the marriage of the eldest daughter of his patron the duke of Bouillon.

Years, however, at length undermined a constitution which disease had left untouched until the very close of life. In 1620, his health which had previously been slightly impaired, grew worse, and in the course of the year 1622, he died at Sedan, in the seventy-seventh year of his age.

The benefits which Melville conferred on his country in the department of its literature are thus spoken of by Dr M’Crie: "His arrival imparted a new impulse to the public mind, and his reputation for learning, joined to the enthusiasm with which he pleaded its cause, enabled him to introduce an improved plan of study into all the universities. By his instructions and example, he continued and increased the impulse which he had first given to the minds of his countrymen. In languages, in theology, and in that species of poetical composition which was then most practiced among the learned, his influence was direct and acknowledged." The services which he rendered the civil and religious liberties of his country are recorded by the same able author in still stronger terms. "If the love of pure religion," he says, "rational liberty, and polite letters, forms the basis of national virtue and happiness, I know no individual, after her reformer, from whom Scotland has received greater benefits, and to whom she owes a deeper debt of gratitude and respect, than Andrew Melville."

Andrew Melville
By William Morison (text file)


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