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Significant Scots
George Wishart


George Wishart WISHART, or WISEHEART, GEORGE, a learned divine, and educated writer of the seventeenth century, was of the family of Logy in Forfarshire. He is said to have been born in East Lothian in 1609, and to have studied at the university of Edinburgh. Previously to the breaking out of the religious troubles in the reign of Charles I. he was one of the ministers of St Andrews. [Keith in his Catalogue of the Scottish Bishops, says North Leith; but this appears to be a mistake.] Being prepossessed, like the most of the men of family connected with the east coast of Scotland, in favour of episcopacy, he refused to take the covenant, and was accordingly deposed by the Assembly of 1639, in company with his colleague Dr Gladstanes, the celebrated Samuel Rutherford and Mr Robert Blair coming in their places. Having been subsequently detected in a correspondence with the royalists, Wishart was plundered of all his worldly goods, and thrown into a dungeon called the Thieves’ Hole, said to have been the most nauseous part of one of the most nauseous prisons in the world, the old tolbooth of Edinburgh. Wishart himself tells us that, for his attachment to royalty and episcopacy, he thrice suffered spoliation, imprisonment, and exile, before the year 1647. In October, 1644, he was taken by the Scottish army at the surrender of Newcastle, in which town he had officiated professionally. On this occasion, he suffered what appears to have been his third captivity. In January, 1645, he is found petitioning the estates from the tolbooth, for maintenance to himself, his wife, and five children, who otherwise, he says, must starve: [Balfour’s Annals, iii. 261.] the petition was remitted to the Committee of Monies, with what result does not appear. A few months afterwards, when Montrose had swept away the whole military force of the covenanters, and was approaching the capital in triumph, Wishart was one of a deputation of cavalier prisoners, whom the terrified citizens sent to him to implore his clemency. He seems to have remained with the marquis as his chaplain, during the remainder of the campaign, and to have afterwards accompanied him abroad in the same capacity. This connexion suggested to him the composition of an account of the extraordinary adventures of Montrose, which was published in the original Latin at Paris in 1647. His chief object in this work, as he informs us in a modest preface, was to vindicate his patron from the aspersions which had been thrown upon him by his enemies; to clear him from the charges of cruelty and irreligion, which had been brought against him by the covenanters, and show him as the real hero which he was. Whatever might be the reputation of Montrose in Scotland, this work is said to have given it a very enviable character on the continent. "To the memoir," says the publisher of the English translation of 1756, "may be in a great measure ascribed that regard and notice which was had of Montrose, not only in France, where the proscribed queen then held her thin-attended court, and where it was first published, but likewise in Germany, and most of the northern courts of Europe, which he soon after visited. That peculiar elegance of expression, and animated description, with which it abounds, soon attracted the regard of the world, and in a few years carried it through several impressions both in France arid Holland."

Proportioned to the estimation in which the work was held by the persecuting party, was the detestation with which it was regarded by the Scottish covenanters. Those daring and brilliant exploits which formed the subject of its panegyric could never be contemplated by the sufferers in any other light than as inhuman massacres of the Lord’s people; and he whom cardinal de Retz likened to the heroes of Plutarch, was spoken of in his own country in no other terms than as "that bloody and excommunicate traitor." An appropriate opportunity of showing their abhorrence of the book was presented within a very few years after its publication, when Montrose, having fallen into their hands, was ordered to be executed with all possible marks of odium and degradation, Over the gay dress he assumed on that occasion, they hung from his neck the obnoxious volume, together with the declaration he had published on commencing his last and fatal expedition; the one hanging at the right shoulder, and the other at the left, while a cincture, crossing the back and breast, kept them at their proper places. As this ceremonial was made matter for a parliamentary decree, there can be little doubt that the Scottiah presbyterians conceived it to be a not unbecoming mode of expressing contempt for the eulogies of the biographer. Upon Montrose, however, it produced no such effect as they had calculated on. His remark, long since become a part of history, is thus given by Wishart in the sequel to his memoir: "That though it had pleased his majesty to create him a knight of the garter, yet he did not reckon himself more honoured thereby than by the cord and the books which were now hung about his neck, and which he embraced with greater joy and pleasure than he did the golden chain and the garter itself when he first received them."

While his work was receiving this memorable honour, the author remained at the Hague, where a body of commissioners from Scotland were endeavouring to induce the young and exiled king (Charles II.,) to assume the government of that kingdom upon the terms of the covenant. To these personages, Wishart, as might be supposed, was by no means an agreeable object, particularly as he happened to enjoy the royal favour. Clarendon, who was there at the time, relates the following anecdote:—"A learned and worthy Scotch divine, Dr Wishart, being appointed to preach before the king, they (the commissioners) formally besought the king ‘that he would not suffer him to preach before him, nor to come into his presence, because he stood excommunicated by the kirk of Scotland for having refused to take the covenant’ though it was known that the true cause of the displeasure they had against that divine, was, that they knew he was author of that excellent relation of the lord Montrose’s actions in Scotland, which made those of his majesty’s council full of indignation at their insolence; and his majesty himself declared his being offended, by hearing the doctor preach with the more attention."

Dr Wishart subsequently wrote a continuation of the memoirs of Montrose, bringing down his history till his death: this, however, was never published in its original form. The original book was printed oftener than once, and in various places, on the continent. A coarse translation appeared in London in 1652, under the title of "Montrose Redivivus," &c., and was reprinted in 1720, with a translation of the second part, then for the first time given to the world. A superior translation of the whole, with a strong Jacobite preface, was published at Edinburgh by the Ruddimans in 1756, and once more, in the same place, by Archibald Constable and Company in 1819.

After the fall of Montrose, Dr Wishart became chaplain to Elizabeth, the electress-palatine, sister of Charles I.; he accompanied that princess to England in 1660, and being recognized as one ‘who had both done and suffered much in the cause of royalty, was selected as one of the new bishops for the kingdom of Scotland, being appointed to the see of Edinburgh. He had now, therefore, the satisfaction of returning to the scene of his former sufferings, in the most enviable character of which his profession rendered him capable. He was consecrated bishop of Edinburgh, June, 1, 1662. It is recorded of Wishart, that, after the suppression of the ill concerted rising at Pentland, he interested himself to obtain mercy for the captive insurgents; and, remembering his own distresses in the prison which they now occupied, never sat down to a meal till he had sent off the first dish to these unfortunate men. From these anecdotes it may be inferred that whatever were the faults of his character, he possessed a humane disposition. Bishop Wishart died in 1671, when his remains were interred in the abbey church of Holyrood, where a handsome monument, bearing an elaborate panegyrical inscription in Latin to his memory, may yet be seen.

Bishop Keith says of Wishart that he was "a person of great religion." Wodrow speaks of him as a man who could not refrain from profane swearing, even on the public street, and as a known drunkard. "He published somewhat in divinity," says the historian, " but then I find it remarked by a very good hand, his lascivious poems, compared with which the most luscious parts of Ovid de Arte Amandi are modest, gave scandal to all the world." It is not unlikely that Dr Wishart had contracted some rather loose habits among the cavaliers with whom he associated abroad; for both Burnet and Kirkton bear testimony to the licentious manners by which the royalists were too often characterised, more especially during the reckless administration of the earl of Middleton.


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