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Significant Scots
Zachary Boyd

BOYD, ZACHARY, an eminent divine and religious writer of the seventeenth century, was born before the year 1590, and was descended from the family of the Boyds of Pinkell in Carrick (Ayrshire). He was cousin to Mr Andrew Boyd, bishop of Argyle, and Mr Robert Boyd of Trochrig, whose memoirs have already been embodied in this work. He received the rudiments of his education at the school of Kilmarnock, and passed through an academical course in the college of Glasgow. About the year 1607, he had finished his studies in his native country. He then went abroad, and studied at the college of Saumur in France, under his relation Robert Boyd. He was appointed a regent in this University, in 1611, and is said to have been offered the principalship, which he declined. According to his own statement, he spent sixteen years in France, during four of which he was a preacher of the gospel. In consequence of the persecution of the protestants, he was obliged, in 1621, to return to his native country. He relates, in one of his sermons, the following anecdote of the voyage:—"In the time of the French persecution, I came by sea to Flanders, and as I was sailing from Flanders to Scotland, a fearfull tempest arose, which made our mariners reele to and fro, and stagger like drunken men. In the mean time, there was a Scots papist who lay near mee. While the ship gave a great shake, I observed the man, and after the Lord had sent a calme I said to him, ‘Sir, now ye see the weaknesse of your religion; as long as yee are in prosperitie, yee cry to this sainct and that sainct: in our great danger, I heard yee cry often, Lord, Lord; but not a word yee spake of our Lady." On his reaching Scotland, he further informs us that he "remained a space a private man at Edinburgh, with Doctor Sibbald, the glory and honour of all the physitians of our land." Afterwards, he lived successively under the protection of Sir William Scott of Elle, and of the Marquis of Hamilton and his lady at Kinneil; it being then the fashion for pious persons of quality in Scotland, to retain one clergyman at least, as a member of their household. In 1623, he was appointed minister of the large district in the suburbs of Glasgow, styled the Barony Parish, for which the crypts beneath the cathedral church then served as a place of worship; a scene well fitted by its sepulchral gloom, to add to the impressiveness of his Calvinistic eloquence. In this charge he continued all the remainder of his life. In the years 1634-35 and 45, he filled the office of Rector of the University of Glasgow; an office which appears from its constituency to have then been very honourable.

In 1629, Mr Zachary—to use the common mode of designating a clergyman in that age—published his principal prose work, "The Last Battell of the Soule in Death; whereby are shown the diverse skirmishes that are between the soule of man on his death-bed, and the enemies of our salvation, carefully digested for the comfort of the Sicke, by &c. Printed at Edinburgh for the heires of Andro Hart." This is one of the few pious works not of a controversial nature, produced by the Scottish church before a very recent period; and it is by no means the meanest in the list. It is of a dramatic, or at least a conversational form; and the dramatis personae, such as, "Pastour, Sicke Man, Spirituall Friend,Carnal Friend, Sathan, Michael," &c., sustain their parts with such spirit, as to show, in connexion with his other works of the like nature, that he might have excelled in a department of profane literature, for which, no doubt, he entertained the greatest horror, namely, writing for the stage. The first volume of the work is dedicated, in an English address to King Charles I., and then in a French one, to his consort Henrietta Maria. It says much for the dexterity of Mr Zachary, that he inscribes a religious work to a Catholic Princess, without any painful reference to her own unpopular faith. He dedicates the second volume to the Electress Palatine, daughter of James VI., and adds a short piece, which he styles her "Lamentations for the death of her son," who was drowned while crossing in a ferry-boat to Amsterdam. The extravagant grief which he describes in this little work is highly amusing. It strikes him that the Electress must have conceived a violent antipathy to water, in consequence of the mode of her son’s death, and he therefore makes her conclude her lamentations in the following strain:

"O cursed waters! O waters of Marah, full bitter are yee to me! O element which of all others shall be most detestable to my soule, I shall never wash mine hands with thee, but I shall remember what thou hast done to my best beloved sonne, the darling of my soul! I shall for ever be a friend to the fire, which is thy greatest foe. Away rivers! away seas! Let me see you no more. If yee were sensible creatures, my dear brother Charles, Prince of the European seas, should scourge you with his royal ships; with his thundering cannons, he should pierce you to the bottom.

"O seas of sorrowes, O fearfull floodes, O tumbling tempests, O wilfull waves, O swelling surges, O wicked waters, O dooleful deepes, O feartest pooles, O botchful butcher boates, was there no mercy among you for such an hopefull Prince? O that I could refrains from teares, and that because they are salt like yourselves !" &c.

Childish as this language is in spirit, it is perhaps in as good taste as most of the elegies produced either by this or by a later age.

Mr Zachary appears to have been naturally a high loyalist. In 1633, when Charles I. visited his native dominions, to go through the ceremony of his coronation, Mr Zachary met him, the day after that solemnity, in the porch of Holy-rood Palace, and addressed him in a Latin oration couched in the most exalted strains of panegyric and affection. He afterwards testified this feeling under circumstances more apt to test its sincerity. When the attempt to impose the episcopal mode of worship upon Scotland, caused the majority of the people to unite in a covenant for the purpose of maintaining the former system, the whole of the individuals connected with Glasgow college, together with Mr Zachary, set themselves against a document, which, however well-meant and urgently necessary, was certainly apt to become a stumbling-block in the subsequent proceedings of the country. These divines resolved rather to yield a little to the wishes of their sovereign, than fly into open rebellion against him. Mr Robert Baillie paid them a visit, to induce them to subscribe the covenant, but was not successful: "we left them," says he, "resolved to celebrate the Communion on Pasch in the High Church, kneeling." This must have been about a month after the subscription of the covenant had commenced. Soon afterwards, most of these recusants, including Mr Zachary, found it necessary to conform, for where the majority is very powerful or very violent, no minority can exist. Baillie says, in a subsequent letter, "At our townsmen’s desire, Mr Andrew Cant and Mr J. Rutherford were sent by the nobles to preach in the High Kirk, and receive the oaths of that people to the covenant. Lord Eglintoune was appointed to be a witness there. With many a sigh and tear, by all that people the oath was made. Provost, bailies, council, all, except three men, held up their hands; Mr Zackarias, and Mr John Bell younger, has put to their hands. The College, it is thought, will subscribe, and almost all who refined before."

Though Boyd was henceforth a faithful adherent of this famous bond, he did not take the same active share with some of his brethren, in the military proceedings by which it was supported. While Baillie and others followed the army, "as the fashion was, with a sword and pair of Dutch pistols at their saddles," [Baillie’s Letters, i. 174.] he remained at home in the peaceful exercise of his calling, and was content to sympathize in their successes by hearsay. He celebrated the fight at Newburnford, August 28, 1640, by which the Scottish covenanting army gained possession of Newcastle, in a poem of sixteen 8vo. pages, which is written, however, in such a homely style of versification, that we would suppose it to be among the very earliest of his poetical efforts. It opens with a panegyric on the victorious Lesly, and then proceeds to describe the battle.

The Scots cannons powder and ball did spew,
Which with terror the Canterburians slew.
Bals rushed at random, which most fearfully
Menaced to break the portals of the sky.

* * * *

In this conflict, which was both sowre and surly,
Bones, blood, and braines went in a
All was made hodge-podge, &c.

The pistol bullets were almost as bad as the cannon balls. They—

in squadrons came, like fire and thunder,
Men’s hearts and heads both for to pierce and plunder;
Their errand was, (when it was understood,)
To bathe men’s bosoms in a scarlet flood.

At last comes the wail for the fallen—

In this conflict, which was a great pitie,
We lost the son of Sir Patrick Makgie.

In 1643, he published a more useful work in his "Crosses, Comforts, and Councels, needfull to be considered and carefully to be laid up in the hearts of the Godly, in these boysterous broiles, and bloody times." We also find from the titles of many of his manuscript discourses that, with a diligent and affectionate zeal for the spiritual edification of the people under his charge, he had improved the remarkable events of the time as they successively occurred.

That the reluctance of Mr Zachary to join the Covenanters did not arise from timidity of nature, seems to be proved by an incident which occurred at a later period of his life. After the death of Charles I. it is well known that the Scottish presbyterians made a gallant effort to sustain the royal authority against the triumphant party of independents. They invited home the son of the late king, and rendered him at least the limited monarch of Scotland. Cromwell, having crossed the Tweed with an army, overthrew the Scottish forces at Dunbar, September 3, 1650; and gained possession of the southern portion of the country. Glasgow was, of course, exposed to a visit from this unscrupulous adversary. "Cromwell," says Baillie, "with the whole body of his army, comes peaceably to Glasgow. The magistrates and ministers all fled away; I got to the isle of Cumray, with my Lady Montgomery, but left all my family and goods to Cromwell’s courtesy, which indeed was great, for he took such measures with the soldiers, that they did less displeasure at Glasgow than if they had been at London, though Mr Zachary Boyd railed on them all to their very face in the High Church." This was on the 13th of October, and we learn from a manuscript note upon the preacher’s own bible, that the chapter which he expounded on this occasion, was the eighth of the book of Daniel. In this is detailed the vision of the ram with two horns, which is at first powerful, but at length overcome and trampled down by a he-goat; being an allegory of the destruction of the kings of Media and Persia by Alexander of Macedon. It is evident that Mr Zachary endeavoured to extend the parable to existing circumstances, and of course made out Cromwell to be the he-goat. The preacher further chose for a text the following passage in the Psalms. "But I as a deaf man heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs. For in thee, O Lord, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God."—Ps. xxxviii, 13, 14, 15. This sermon was probably by no means faithful to its text, for certainly Mr Zachary was not the man to keep a mouth clear of reproofs when he saw occasion for blame. The exposition, at least, was so full of bitter allusions to the sectarian General, that one of his officers is reported to have whispered into his ear for permission "to pistol the scoundrel." Cromwell had more humanity and good sense than to accede to such a request. "No, no," said he, "we will manage him in another way." He asked Mr Zachary to dine with him, and gained his respect by the fervour of the devotions in which he spent the evening. It is said that they did not finish their mutual exercise till three in the morning. [The accurate editor of a new edition of "The Last Battell of the Soule," (Glasgow, 1831.) from whose memoir of Mr Zachery most of these facts are taken, blames Mr Baillie in my opinion, unjustly, for having fled on this occasion, while Mr Zachery had the superior courage to remain. It should be recollected that Mr Baillie had particular reason to dread the vengeance of Cromwell and his army, having been one of the principal individuals concerned in the bringing home of the King, and consequently in the provocation of the present war.]

Mr Zachary did not long survive this incident. He died about the end of the year, 1653, or the beginning of 1654, when the famous Mr Donald Cargill was appointed his successor. "In the conscientious discharge of his duty as a preacher of God’s word, which he had at the same time exercised with humility, he seems whether in danger or out of it, to have been animated with a heroic firmness. In a mind such as his, so richly stored with the noble examples furnished by sacred history, and with such a deep sense of the responsibility attached to his office, we are prepared to expect the same consistency of principle, and decision of conduct in admonishing men, even of the most exalted rank. * * * We have every reason to suppose that the tenor of his conduct in life became the high office of which he made profession. From the sternness with which he censures manners and customs prevalent in society, the conforming to many of which could incur no moral guilt, it is to be presumed that he was of the most rigid and austere class of divines. * * * We are ignorant of any of the circumstances attending his last moments, a time peculiarly interesting in the life of every man; but from what we know of him, we may venture to say, without the hazard of an erroneous conclusion, that his state of mind, at the trying hour, was that of a firm and cheerful expectation in the belief in the great doctrines of Christianity, which he had so earnestly inculcated, both from the pulpit and the press, with the additional comfort and support of a long and laborious life in his Master’s service. About twenty-five years before his death, he was so near the verge of the grave, that his friends had made the necessary preparation for his winding sheet, which he afterwards found among his books. He seems to have recovered from the disease with a renewed determination to employ the remainder of his life in the cause to which he had been previously devoted: he pursued perseveringly to near its termination, this happy course, and just lived to complete an extensive manuscript work, bearing for its title. ‘The Notable places of the Scripture expounded,’ at the end of which he adds, in a tremulous and indistinct hand-writing, ‘Heere the author was neere his end, and was able to do no more, March 3d, 1653.’ [Life prefixed to new edition of "The Last Battell of the Soule."]

Mr Zachary had been twice married, first, to Elizabeth Fleming, of whom no memorial is preserved, and secondly, to Margaret Mure, third daughter of William Mure of Glanderston, (near Neilston, Renfrewshire.) By neither of his wives had he any offspring. The second wife, surviving him, married for her second husband the celebrated Durham, author of the Commentary on the Revelation—to whom, it would appear, she had betrayed some partiality even in her first husband’s lifetime. There is a traditional anecdote, that, when Mr Zachary was dictating his last will, his spouse made one modest request, namely, that he would bequeath something to Mr Durham. He answered, with a sarcastic reference to herself, "I’ll lea’ him what I canna keep frae him." He seems to have possessed an astonishing quantity of worldly goods for a Scottish clergyman of that period. He had lent eleven thousand merks to Mure of Rowallan, five thousand to the Earl of Glencairn, and six thousand to the Earl of Loudon; which sums, with various others, swelled his whole property in money to 4527 Scots. This, after the deduction of certain expenses, was divided, in terms of his will, between his relict and the college of Glasgow. About 20,000 Scots is said to have been the sum realized by the College, besides his library and manuscript compositions; but it is a mistake that he made any stipulation as to the publication of his writings, or any part of them. To this splendid legacy, we appear to be chiefly indebted for the present elegant buildings of the College, which were mostly erected under the care of Principal Gillespie during the period of the Commonwealth. In gratitude for the munificent gift of Mr Zachary, a bust of his figure was erected over the gateway within the court, with an appropriate inscription. There is also a portrait of him in the Divinity Hall of the College. Nineteen works, chiefly devotional and religious, and none of them of great extent, were published by Mr Zachary during his lifetime; but these bore a small proportion to his manuscript writings, which are no less than eighty-six in number, chiefly comprised within thirteen quarto volumes, written in a very close hand, apparently for the press. Besides those contained in the thirteen volumes, are three others—"Zion’s Flowers, or Christian Poems for Spiritual Edification." 2 vols. 4to. "The English Academie, containing precepts and purpose for the weal both of Soul and Body," I vol. 12mo. and "The Four Evangels in English verse."

"Mr Boyd appears to have been a scholar of very considerable learning. He composed in Latin, and his qualifications in that language may be deemed respectable. His works also bear the evidence of his having been possessed of a critical knowledge of the Greek, Hebrew, and other languages. As a prose writer, he will bear comparison with any of the Scottish divines of the same age. He is superior to Rutherford, and, in general, more grammatically correct than even Baillie himself, who was justly esteemed a very learned man. His style may be considered excellent for the period. Of his characteristics as a writer, his originality of thought is particularly striking. He discusses many of his subjects with spirit and ingenuity, and there is much which must be acknowledged as flowing from a vigorous intellect, and a fervid, and poetical imagination. This latter tendency of his genius is at all times awake, and from which may be inferred his taste for metaphor, and love of colouring, so conspicuous in his writings. He has great fertility of explication, amounting often to diffuseness, and, in many cases, it would have been well had he known where to have paused. With extensive powers of graphic delineation, he is an instructive and interesting writer, though dwelling too much upon minute circumstances. He seems naturally to have been a man of an agreeable temperament, and as a consequence, at times, blends, with the subject on which he dilates, a dash of his own good nature, in some humorous and witty observations. His irony, often well-timed and well-turned, comes down with the force of illustration, and the sneer of sarcastic rebuke. A close observer of mankind and their actions, the judgment he forms respecting them, is that of a shrewd, sagacious, and penetrating mind. Like a skilful master of his profession, he discovers an intimate knowledge of the manifold, and secret workings of the depravity of the human heart; and though some of the disclosures of its wickedness may not be conveyed in the most polished terms, we commend the honesty and simplicity of his heart, who had invariably followed the good old practice of a sincere and wholesome plainness. His prayers breathe the warm and powerful strains of a devotional mind, and a rich vein of feeling and piety runs through the matter of all his meditations. We have now to notice Mr Boyd in the character in which he has hitherto been best known to the world, namely, in that of a poet. One of his most popular attempts to render himself serviceable to his country was in preparing a poetical version of the Book of Psalms for the use of the church. It had been previous to 1646 that he engaged in this, as the Assembly of 1647, when appointing a committee to examine Rous’s version, which had been transmitted to them by the Assembly at Westminster, ‘recommended them to avail themselves of the psalter of Rowallan, and of Mr Zachary Boyd, and of any other poetical writers.’ It is further particularly recommended to Mr Zachary Boyd to translate the other Scriptural Songs in metre, and to report his travails therein to the commission of that Assembly: that after their examination thereof they may send the same to the presbyteries to be there considered until the next General Assembly. (Assembly Acts, Aug. 28, 1647.) Mr Boyd complied with this request, as the Assembly, Aug. 10, 1648, ‘recommends to Mr John Adamson and Mr Thomas Crawfurd to revise the labours of Mr Zachary Boyd upon the other Scripture Songs, and to prepare a report thereof to the said commission for publick affairs,’ who, it is probable, had never given in any ‘report of their labours.’ Of his version, Baillie had not entertained a high opinion, as he says, ‘Our good friend, Mr Zachary Boyd, has put himself to a great deal of pains and charges to make a psalter, but I ever warned him his hopes were groundless to get it received in our churches, yet the flatteries of his unadvised neighbours makes him insist in his fruitless design.’ There seems to have been a party who did not undervalue Mr Boyd’s labours quite so much as Baillie, and who, if possible, were determined to carry their point, as, according to Baillie’s statement, ‘The Psalms were often revised, and sent to presbyteries,’ and, ‘had it not been for some who had more regard than needed to Mr Zachary Boyd’s psalter, I think they (Rous’s version) had passed through in the end of last Assembly; but these, with almost all the references from the former Assemblies, were remitted to the next.’ On 23d November, 1649, Rous’s version, revised and improved, was sanctioned by the commission with authority of the General Assembly, and any other discharged from being used in the churches, or its families. Mr Boyd was thus deprived of the honour to which he aspired with some degree of zeal, and it must have been to himself and friends, a source of considerable disappointment.

"Among other works, he produced two volumes, under the title of ‘Zion’s flowers, or Christian Poems for Spirituall Edification,’ and it is these which are usually shown as his bible, and have received that designation. These volumes consist of a collection of poems on select subjects in Scripture history, such as that of Josiah, Jephtha, David and Goliah, &c. rendered into the dramatic form, in which various ‘speakers’ are introduced, and ‘where the prominent facts of the Scripture narrative are brought forward, and amplified. We have a pretty close parallel to these poems, in the "Ancient Mysteries" of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and in the sacred dramas of some modern writers."

The preceding criticism and facts which we have taken the liberty to borrow from Mr Neil, [Life of Zachary Boyd, prefixed to the new Edition of his "The Last Battle of the Soule."] form an able and judicious defence of the memory of this distinguished man. As some curiosity, however, may reasonably be entertained respecting compositions which excited so much vulgar and ridiculous misrepresentation, we shall make no apology for introducing some specimens of Mr Boyd’s poetry—both of that kind which seems to have been dictated when his Pegasus was careering through "the highest heaven of invention," and of that other sort which would appear to have been conceived while the sacred charger was cantering upon the mean soil of this nether world, which it sometimes did, I must confess, very much after the manner of the most ordinary beast of burden. The following Morning Hymn for Christ, selected from his work entitled, "The English Academie," will scarcely fail to convey a respectful impression of the writer:—

O Day Spring from on high,
Cause pass away our night;
Clear first our morning sky,
And after shine thou bright.

Of lights thou art the light,
Of righteousness the sun;
Thy beams they are most bright,
Through all the world they run.

The day thou hast begun
Thou wilt it clearer make; 
We hope to see this Sun
High in our Zodiak.

O make thy morning dew
To fall without all cease;
Do thou such favour show
As unto Gideon’s fleece.

O do thou never cease
To make that dew to fall—
The dew of grace and peace,
And joys celestial.

This morning we do call
Upon thy name divine, 
That thou among us all
Cause thine Aurora shine.

Let shadows all decline,
And wholly pass away,
That light which is divine,
May bring to us our day.

A day to shine for aye,
A day that is most bright,
A day that never may
Be followed with a night. 

O, of all lights the light,
The Light that is most true,
Now banish thou our night,
And still our light renew.

Thy face now to us show
O son of God most dear;
O Morning Star, most true,
Make thou our darkness clear.

Nothing at all is here,
That with thee may compare;
O unto us draw near,
And us thy children spare!

Thy mercies they are rare,
If they were understood;
Wrath due to us thou bare,
And for us shed thy blood.

Like beasts they are most rude,
Whom reason cannot move—
Thou most perfytely good,
Entirely for to love.

Us make mind things above,
Even things that most excell;
Of thine untainted love,
Give us the sacred seal.

O that we light could see
That shineth in thy face!
So, at the last, should we
From glory go to grace.

Within thy sacred place
Is only true content,
When God’s seen face to face,
Above the firmainent.

 O that our hours were spent,
Among the sons of men,
To praise the Omnipotent,
Amen, yea, and Amen!

The ludicrous passages are not many in number. The following is one which Pennant first presented to the world; being the soliloquy of Jonah within the whale’s belly; taken from "The Flowers of Zion:" -

Here apprehended I in prison ly;
What goods will ransom my captivity?
What house is this, where’s neither coal nor candle,
Where I nothing but guts of fishes handle?
I and my table are both here within,
Where day neere dawned, where sunne did never shine,
The like of this on earth man never saw,
A living man within a monster’s maw.
Buried under mountains which are high and steep,
Plunged under waters hundreth fathoms deep.
Not so was Noah in his house of tree,
For through a window he the light did see;
Hee sailed above the highest waves—a wonder;
I and my boat are all the waters under;
Hee in his ark might goe and also come,
But I sit still in such a straitened roome
As is most uncouth, head and feet together,
Among such grease as would a thousand smother.
I find no way now for my shrinking hence,
But heere to lie and die for mine offence;
Eight prisoners were in Noah’s hulk together,
Comfortable they were, each one to other.
In all the earth like unto mee is none,
Far from all living, I heere lye alone,
Where I entombed in melancholy sink,
Choakt, suffocat, &c.

And it is strange that, immediately after this grotesque description of his situation, Pegasus again ascends, and Jonah begins a prayer to God, conceived in a fine strain of devotion.

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