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Significant Scots
James Melville

MELVILLE, JAMES, with whose history are connected many most interesting facts in the ecclesiastical and literary history of Scotland, was born at Baldovy, near Montrose, on the 25th of July, 1556. [In a note on this date in his Diary, he says, "My vncle, Mr Andro, haulds that I was born in An. 1557."] His father was Richard Melville of Baldovy, the friend of Wishart the Martyr, and of John Erskine of Dun, and the elder brother of Andrew Melville. Soon after the Reformation, this gentleman became minister of Mary-Kirk, in the immediate neighbourhood of his property, and continued so till the close of his life. He married Isobel Scrimgeour, sister of the laird of Glasswell, a woman of great "godlines, honestie, vertew, and affection." James Melville was, therefore, to use his own expression, descended "of godlie, faithfull, and honest parents, bathe lightned with the light of the gospell, at the first dawning of the day tharof within Scotland."

The mother of James Melville having died about a year after his birth, he was placed under the care of a nurse, "an evill inclynit woman;" and after being weaned, was lodged in the house of a cotter, from whence, when he was about four or five years old, he was brought home to Baldovy. He and his elder brother David were soon afterwards sent to a school, kept by Mr William Gray, minister of Logie-Montrose, "a guid, lerned, kynd man." This school was broken up, partly by the removal of some of the boys, perhaps to attend the universities, but more immediately by the ravages of the plague at Montrose, from which Logie was only two miles distant. James and his brother, therefore, returned home, after having attended it for about five years. During the following winter, they remained at home, receiving from their father such occasional instruction as his numerous duties permitted him to give them. At this period, Richard Melville seems to have intended that both his sons should be trained to agricultural pursuits, there being no learned profession in which a livelihood, even of a very moderate kind, could be obtained. In the spring, it was resolved that, as the elder brother was sufficiently old to assist in superintending his father’s rural affairs, he should remain at home, and that James should be sent again to school. He accordingly attended a school at Montrose, of which Andrew Milne, afterwards minister of Fetteresso, was master. Here he continued about two years.

Of the whole of this period of his life, James Melville has left a most interesting account; and we only regret that, from the length to which this memoir must otherwise extend, we are unable to give any thing more than a very rapid sketch of this and the subsequent part of his education. He entered on his philosophical course at St Leonard’s college in the university of St Andrews, in November, 1571, under the care of William Collace, one of the regents. At first he found himself unable to understand the Latin prelections, and was so much chagrined that he was frequently found in tears; but the regent took him to lodge at his apartments, and was so much pleased with the sweetness of his disposition, and his anxiety to learn, that he made him the constant object of his care, and had the satisfaction of seeing him leave the university, after having attained its highest honours. During the prescribed period of four years, Melville was taught logic, (including the Aristotelian philosophy,) mathematics, ethics, natural philosophy, and law. At the end of the third year, he, according to the usual custom, took the degree of Bachelor, and, on finishing the fourth, that of Master of Arts. One of the most interesting events recorded by James Melville to have occurred during his residence at St Andrews, was the arrival of John Knox there in 1571; and he alludes with much feeling to the powerful effects produced on his mind by the sermons of the reformer.

After finishing his philosophical education, James Melville returned to his father’s house, where he prosecuted his studies during the summer months. Having finished that part of his education which was necessary for general purposes, it was now requisite that he should determine what profession he should adopt. His father had destined him for that of a lawyer; but although James had studied some parts of that profession, and had attended the consistorial court at St Andrews, his heart "was nocht sett that way." Deference to his father’s wishes had hitherto prevented him offering any decided opposition to his intentions, but he had at this period taken means to show the bent of his mind. Choosing a passage in St John’s Gospel for his text, he composed a sermon, which he put in a book used by his father in preparing his weekly sermons. The MS. was accordingly found, and pleased his father exceedingly. But James was now luckily saved the pain of either opposing the wishes of a kind, but somewhat austere parent, or of applying himself to a profession for the study of which he had no affection, by an unlooked for accident—the arrival of his uncle, Andrew Melville, from the continent. To him his father committed James, "to be a pledge of his love," and they were destined to be for many years companions in labour and in adversity.

James Melville had left the university with the character of a diligent and accomplished student. He had flattered himself that he had exhausted those subjects which had come under his attention, but he was now to be subjected to a severe mortification. When his uncle examined him, he found that he was yet but a mere child in knowledge, and that many years of study were still necessary, before he could arrive at the goal which he had supposed himself to have already reached. James’s mortification did not, however, lead him to sit down in despair. He renewed his studies with the determination to succeed, and revised, under his uncle’s directions, both his classical and philosophical education. "That quarter of yeir," says he, "I thought I gat graitter light in letters nor all my tyme befor . . . . And all this as it wer by cracking and playing, sa that I lernit mikle mair by heiring of him (Andrew Melville) in daylie conversation, bathe that quarter and therefter, nor euer I lernit of anie buik, whowbeit he set me euer to the best authors."

Endowed with such talents and acquirements, it will readily be believed that Andrew Melville was not allowed to remain long idle. He was soon after his return invited to become principal of the university of Glasgow; an appointment which, after a short trial, he agreed to accept. In October, 1574, he left Baldovy to undertake the duties of his office, taking with him his nephew, who was, in the following year, appointed one of the regents. The labours of Andrew Melville at Glasgow, have been already noticed in his life, and we shall, therefore, only extend our inquiries here to the course adopted by the subject of this memoir. For the first year, James Melville taught his class "the Greek grammar, Isocratis Paraenesis ad Demonicum, the first buk of Homers Iliads Phocylides, Hesiods E----, the Dialectic of Ramus, the Thetoric of Taleus, with the practice in Ciceros Catilinars and Paradoxes." "The second year of my regenting," says James Melville, " I teachit the elements of arithmetic and geometrie, out (of) Psellus, for shortnes; the Offices of Cicero; Aristotles Logic in Greek, and Ethic, (and was the first regent that ever did that in Scotland;) also, Platoes Phaedon and Axiochus; and that profession of the mathematiks, logic, and morall philosophie, I keipit (as everie ane of the regents keipit their awin, the schollars ay ascending and passing throw) sa lang as I regented ther, even till I was, with Mr Andro, transported to St Andros." His private hours were devoted to the study of the Hebrew language, and of theology. He had already, upon one occasion, given proof of his talents for public teaching, and he had now an opportunity of continuing his labours. It was a custom that each regent should, for a week in turn, conduct the students to a church near the college, where the citizens also attended, to hear prayers, and one or two chapters of the Scriptures read. The regents had hitherto confined themselves exclusively to these limits, probably from a feeling of their inability to offer any commentary; but James Melville, taking a general view of the passages read, gave them a summary of the doctrines enforced, and accompanied it with an application to the situations of his hearers. "This pleasit and comfortit guid peiple verie mikle."

The routine of academical instruction affords but few materials for biography. James Melville has therefore recorded little relative to himself at this period of his life, except an attack made upon him by one of the students, and the occurrences consequent upon it. But although this affair originated with him, it belongs more properly to the life of Andrew Melville, who as principal of the college, acted the most prominent part in all the subsequent proceedings.

Andrew Melville had now accomplished nearly all that zeal or talent could effect for the university of Glasgow. Its revenues were improved,--its character as a seat of learning raised much above that of any of the other Scottish uriiversities,--the number of students was greatly increased, and its discipline maintained with a degree of firmness, of the necessity of which, however sceptical modern readers may be, the attack to which we have just alluded is a most decided proof. The Assembly which met at Edinburgh therefore ordained that Melville should remove to the new college of St Andrews, "to begin the wark of theologie ther with sic as he thought meit to tak with him for that effect, conform to the leat reformation of that universitie, and the new college therof, giffen be the kirk and past in parliament." Availing himself of the privilege thus granted of nominating his assistants, he requested his nephew to accompany him. James had for some time resolved upon going to France, but he had too much respect for his uncle to refuse his request. They therefore removed together from Glasgow in the month of November, 1580, leaving Thomas Smeton, "a man of singular gifts of learning and godlines," and Patrick Melville, a young gentleman who had lately finished his philosophical studies, as their successors.

In December they entered upon the duties of their respective professions. After his preface, or inaugural discourse, James Melville commenced teaching his students the Hebrew grammar. There were, probably, few young men in the country who, either from their opportunities of acquiring knowledge, or their desire to improve under them, were better qualified to discharge this office well; but his natural diffidence caused him a degree of anxiety, which many less accomplished masters have not experienced. "The grait fear and cear," says he in his Diary, "quhilk was in my heart of my inhabilitie to vndertak and bear out sa grait a charge as to profess theologie and holie tounges amangis ministers and maisters, namelie (especially) in that maist frequent vniuersitie of St Andros, amangs diuers alterit and displacit, and therfor malcontents and mislykers, occupied me sa, that I behovit to forget all, and rin to my God and my buik."

During the earlier period of their residence at St Andrews, Andrew Melville and his nephew had many difficulties to encounter. The former principal and professors annoyed their successors by "pursuit of the compts of the college." The regents of St Leonards, enraged that the philosophy of their almost deified Aristotle should be impugned, raised a commotion; and, to quote the appropriate allusion of James Melville, cried out with one voice, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. The provost and baillies, with the prior and his gentlemen pensioners, were suspected of corrupt proceedings, especially in the provision of a minister for the town, and the opposition and exposures of Andrew Melville thus raised up for him and his fellow labourers another host of enemies. These were all open and avowed opponents, but they had one to deal with, who, as yet wearing the mask of friendship, was secretly plotting their own and the church’s ruin,—this person was archbishop Adamson. Add to all this, that immediately after their settlement at St Andrews, the carelessness of one of the students had nearly been the cause of setting the establishment on fire, and we shall be abundantly persuaded that it required no small energy of mind, such as Andrew Melville indeed possessed, not only to bear up in such a situation, but successively to baffle all the opposition that was offered to him.

But amidst many discouragements which the more sensitive mind of James Melville must have keenly felt, he had also many cheering employments. He was engaged in duties which we have seen had been, from an early period, the objects of his greatest desire,—he was the teacher of some promising young men, who afterwards became shining lights in the church, and he had the gratification of being requested to occupy the pulpit on many occasions, when there was no minister in the town, or when the archbishop happened to be absent.

At the Assembly which met at Edinburgh in December 1582, James Melville was earnestly requested to become minister of Stirling. For himself he felt much inclined to accede to the wishes of the inhabitants, and the more so as he was now on the eve of his marriage; but his uncle, considering the affairs of the college still in too precarious a state to admit of his leaving it, refused his consent, and James Melville did not consider it respectful to urge his own wishes. It was indeed fortunate that he was not permitted at this period to leave the college, for in the very next year his uncle was required to appear before the king and privy council, for certain treasonable speeches alleged to have been uttered in his sermons. When the summons (which ordered him to appear in three days) was served, James Melville was in the shire of Angus, and could not upon so sudden a requisition return to St Andrews in time to accompany him to Edinburgh. He arrived, however, on the second day of his trial, if indeed the proceedings deserved that name. Passing over the minute circumstances of this transaction, our narrative only requires that we should state that Andrew Melville found it necessary to insure his safety by a flight into England.

In these discouraging circumstances, James Melville was obliged to return to St Andrews to undertake the mangement of the affairs of the college—with what feelings it may readily be judged. When he considered the magnitude of his charge, and the situation of the church, he was completely overpowered; but the duration of his grief was short in proportion to its violence, and he soon found the truest remedy in applying his whole energies to the performance of his increased duties. He taught divinity from his uncle’s chair, besides continuing his labours in the department which properly belonged to him. Nor was this all: the Economus of the college, finding himself in the service of a party from whom little advantage or promotion could be expected, gave up his office, and thus did the provision of the daily wants of the institution fall to Melville’s lot. In the performance of these duties, so arduous and so varied, he was greatly supported by the masters of the university who attended his lectures, and gave him many encouragements. But his greatest comfort was derived from the society of the afterwards celebrated Robert Bruce of Kinnaird, who, abandoning his attendance on the courts of law, had, with his father’s permission, begun the study of theology at St Andrews.

Harmless, however, as a person whose attention was thus so completely occupied by his own duties must certainly have been, the government did not long permit James Melville to retain his station. The acts of the parliament 1584, by which the presbyterian form of church government was overthrown, were proclaimed at the market cross of Edinburgh, and protested against by Robert Pont and others, in behalf of the church. We have already alluded to the malpractices of archbishop Adamson. About the beginning of May, 1584, Melville had gone to one of the northern counties to collect the revenues of the college. It had, perhaps, been conjectured by the episcopal party, to their no small gratification, that, finding himself unable to comply conscientiously with the late enactments, he had retired, with some of the other ministers, into England. If so, they must have been grievously disappointed by his return. It was certainly not long till the archbishop abundantly manifested his real dispositions; for, on the Sunday immediately following, Melville was informed that a warrant for his apprehension was already in that prelate’s possession, and that he was to proceed immediately to its execution. At the earnest desire of his friends, he was prevailed on to remove to Dundee, where he had no sooner arrived, than he learned that a search had been made for him in every part of the college, and that an indictment had been prepared against him, for holding communication with his uncle, the king’s rebel. But his removal to Dundee could serve only a very temporary purpose, for it must very soon have become known, and would then have ceased to be any security for his liberty. After the most anxious consideration, he resolved to accept an offer made him by one of his cousins, to take him by sea to Berwick. This gentleman, hiring a small boat under the pretext of conveying some of his wines to one of the coast towns in the neighbourhood, took in Melville in the disguise of a shipwrecked seaman; and, after a voyage, not less dangerous from the risk of detection, than from a violent storm which overtook them, landed him safely at Berwick, where he met his uncle and the other ministers who had been obliged to flee.

The suddenness with which James Melville had been obliged to leave St Andrews, prevented him taking his wife along with him; to have done so, would, in fact, have endangered the whole party. But, after arriving at Berwick, he immediately sent back his cousin, Alexander Scrymgeour, with a letter, requesting this lady (a daughter of John Dury, minister of Edinburgh) to join him. This she had very soon an opportunity of doing, by placing herself under the care of a servant of the English ambassador, and she accordingly remained with her husband during the short period of his exile. At Berwick they resided for about a month; and there, as in every other place, James Melville’s amiable and affectionate dispositions procured him many friends. Among these was the lady of Sir Harry Widrington, governor of the town, under lord Hunsdon. In the mean time, he was invited by the earls of Angus and Mar, then at Newcastle, to become their pastor. Being totally ignorant of the characters of these noblemen, and of the cause of their exile, he felt unwilling to connect himself with their party, and therefore replied to their invitation, that he could not comply with it, as he had never qualified himself for performing the ministerial functions; but that, as he had determined upon removing to the south, he should visit them on his way thither. When he arrived at Newcastle, he determined upon immediately securing a passage by sea to London; but John Davidson, one of his former masters at St Andrews, and now minister of Prestonpans, informed him that it was not only his own earnest desire, but that of all their brethren, that he should remain at Newcastle with the exiled lords, whose characters and cause he vindicated. To their wishes, Melville therefore acceded.

Soon after his settlement at Newcastle, Davidson, who had only waited his arrival, departed, and left him to discharge the duties alone. Thinking it proper that, before entering on his labours, the order of their religious observances and their discipline should be determined, he drew up "the order and maner of exercise of the word for instruction, and discipline for correction of maners, used in the companie of those godlie and noble men of Scotland in tyme of thair aboad in Englande, for the guid cause of God’s kirk, thair king and countrey," and prefixed to it an exhortative letter to the noblemen and their followers. This prefatory epistle commences by an acknowledgment that their present calamities were the just chastisements of the Almighty, for their lukewarmness in the work of reformation,—for permitting the character of their sovereign to be formed by the society of worthless and interested courtiers,—for their pursuit of their own aggrandizement, rather than the good of their country,—and for the violation of justice and connivance at many odious and unnatural crimes. But while they had thus rendered themselves the subjects of the Divine vengeance, how great had been the crimes of the court! It had followed the examples of Ahaz and Uzzah, in removing the altar of the Lord,—it had deprived the masters of their livings, and desolated the schools and universities,—it had said to the preachers, "Prophecy no longer to us in the name of the Lord, but speak unto us pleasant things according to our liking,"--it had taken from others the key of knowledgeit entered not in, and those that would enter in, it suffered not: finally, it had threatened the ministers, Gods special messengers, with imprisonment and death, and, following out its wicked designs had compelled them to flee to a foreign land. "Can the Lord suffer these things long," Melville continues with great energy, "and he just in executing of his judgments and pouring out of his plagues upon his cursed enemies? Can the Lord suffer his sanctuary to be defiled, and his own to smart, and be the Father of mercies, God of consolation, and most faithful keeper of his promises? Can the Lord suffer his glory to be given to another? Can he who hath promised to make the enemies of Christ Jesus his footstool, suffer them to tread on his head? Nay, nay, right honourable and dear brethren, he has anointed him King on his holy mountain, he has given him all nations for an inheritance, he has put into his hand a sceptre of iron, to bruise in powder these earthen vessels. When his wrath shall once begin to kindle but a little, he shall make it notoriously known to all the world, that they only are happy who in humility kiss the Lord Jesus, and trust in him." He then concludes by a solemn admonition, that with true repentance, with unfeigned humiliation—with diligent perusal of God’s word,—and with fervent prayer, meditation and zeal, they should prosecute the work of God, under the assurance that their labours should not be in vain. He warns them of the diligence of the enemies of God’s church,--exhorts them to equal diligence in a good cause,--and reminds them that the ministers of Christ shall be witnesses against them if they should be found slumbering at their posts. At the request of Archibald, earl of Angus, Melville also drew up a "list of certain great abuses;" but as it is in many points a recapitulation of the letter just quoted from, no further allusion to it is here necessary.

About a month after the commencement of his ministrations, Melville was joined by Mr Patrick Galloway, who divided the labours with him. His family was now on the increase, and it was considered necessary to remove to Berwick, where he remained as minister of that congregation till the birth of his first child,—a son, whom he named Ephraim, in allusion to his fruitfulness in a strange land. Notwithstanding the stratagems of captain James Stewart, by which lord Hunsdon was induced to forbid them to assemble in the church, the congregation obtained leave, through the kind offices of lady Widrington, to meet in a private house; and Melville mentions that he was never more diligently or more profitably employed, than during that winter. But the pleasure which he derived from the success of his ministrations, was more than counterbalanced by the conduct of some of his brethren at home.

It was about this period that many of the Scottish clergy, led on by the example of John Craig, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, signed a deed, binding themselves to obey the late acts of parliament, as far as "according to the word of God." Melville saw the confusions which the introduction of such an equivocal clause must produce. He accordingly addressed a most affectionate but faithful letter, to the subscribing ministers, in which he exhibited, at great length, the sinfulness of their compliance, and the handle which such a compromise must give to the enemies of religion. This letter, as it encouraged the firm, and confirmed the wavering, was proportionally the object of hatred to the court. Two of the students at St Andrews, being detected copying it for distribution, were compelled to flee; and no means seem to have been omitted to check its circulation, or to weaken the force of its statements.

About the middle of February, 1584-5, the noblemen, finding their present residence too near the borders, determined upon removing farther to the south. James Melville, therefore, prepared to follow. In the beginning of March, he and a few friends embarked for London, where they arrived, after a voyage rendered tedious by contrary winds; and, being joined by their companions in exile, were not a little comforted. Soon after his arrival, Melville resumed his ministerial labours.

Many circumstances, which it is not necessary to detail here, conspired to render their exile much shorter than their fondest wishes could have anticipated. As soon as the noblemen of their party had accommodated their disputes with the king, the brethren received a letter (dated at Stirling, 6th November, 1585) from their fellow ministers, urging them to return with all possible expedition. James Melville, and Robert Dury, one of his most intimate friends, therefore, left London, and, after encountering many dangers during the darkness of the nights, arrived at Linlithgow. There he found his brethren under great depression of mind: they had vainly expected from the parliament, then sitting, the abrogation of the obnoxious acts of 1584; and they had a further cause of grief in the conduct of Craig, the leader of the subscribing ministers. After much expectation, and many fruitless attempts to persuade the king of the impropriety of the acts, they were obliged to dismiss, having previously presented a supplication, earnestly craving that no ultimate decision respecting the church might be adopted, without the admission of free discussion.

During the following winter, James Melville was occupied partly in the arrangement of his family affairs, but principally in re-establishing order in the university. The plague, which had for some time raged with great violence, was now abated, and the people, regaining their former confidence, had begun to return to their ordinary affairs. Taking advantage of this change, the two Melvilles resolved on resuming their labours, and accordingly entered on their respective duties about the middle of March. In the beginning of April the Synod of Fife convened, and it was the duty of James Melville, as moderator at the last meeting, to open their proceedings with a sermon. He chose for his text that part of the twelfth chapter of St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, in which the Christian church is compared to the human body,—composed, like it, of many members, the harmonious operation of which is essential to the health of the whole. After showing by reference to Scripture what was the constitution of the true church,—refuting the doctrine of "the human and devilish bishopric,"—adverting to the purity of the reformed constitution of their church, and proving that the inordinate ambition of a few had been in all ages the destruction of that purity--he turned towards the archbishop, who was sitting with great pomp in the assembly, charged him with the overthrow of the goodly fabric, and exhorted the brethren to cut off so unworthy a member from among them. Notwithstanding the remonstrances and protests of the prelate, the Synod immediately took up the case,—went on, with an inattention to all the forms of decency and some of those of justice which their warmest advocates do not pretend to vindicate, and ordered him to be excommunicated by Andrew Hunter, minister of Carobee. Thus, by the fervour of their zeal, and perhaps goaded on by personal wrongs, did an Assembly, composed, in the main, of worthy men, subject themselves to censure in the case of a man of a character disgraceful to his profession; and whom, had they been content to act with more moderation, nothing but the strong hand of civil power could have screened from their highest censures, while even it could not have defended him from deserved infamy.

But the informality of the Synod’s proceedings gave their enemies an unfortunate hold over them, and was the means of baffling their own ends. By the influence of the king, the General Assembly, which met soon afterwards, annulled their sentence, and the Melvilles, being summoned before the king, were commanded to confine themselves,—Andrew to his native place, and James to his college. Thus did matters continue during that summer. James Melville lectured to a numerous audience on the sacred history, illustrating it by reference to geography and chronology. On each alternate day he read lectures on St Paul’s Epistle to Timothy, in the course of which he took many opportunities of attacking the hated order of bishops.

Melville was now to obtain what had all along been the object of his highest wishes--a settlement as minister of a parish. In 1583, the charge of the conjunct parishes of Abercrombie, Pittenweem, Anstruther, and Kilrenny, became vacant by the decease of the incumbent, and thus they continued for several years. When the Presbytery of St Andrews resumed their meetings on the return of the banished ministers, commissioners were appointed to visit these parishes, and to bring them, if possible, to the unanimous choice of a minister. James Melville, who had been nominated one of these commissioners, soon gained the affections of the people insomuch that they unanimously requested the Presbytery to send him among them. That court no less warmly urged his acceptance, and he accordingly removed to his charge in July, 1586.

It may be readily conceived, that to perform the duties of four parishes was a tabk far beyond the moral and physical capabilities of any single individual, more especially after they had so long wanted the benefit of a regular ministry. Their conjunction was the result of the mercenary plans of Morton and his friends, but no man was less actuated by such motives than Melville. No sooner did he become acquainted with the state of these parishes than he determined on their disjunction, at whatever pecuniary loss. When this was offected, he willingly resigned the proportions of stipend in favour of the ministers provided for three of the parishes, while he himself undertook the charge of the fourth (Kilrenny),—he obtained an augmentation of stipend, built a manse, purchased the right to the vicarage and teind fish for the support of himself and his successors, paid the salary of a schoolmaster, and maintained an assistant to perform the duties of the parish, as he was frequently engaged in the public affairs of the church. Such instances of disinterested zeal are indeed rare; but even this was not all. Many years afterwards he printed for the use of his people a catechism which cost five hundred merks, of which, in writing his Diary, he mentions that he could never regain more than one fifth part. While he was thus anxiously promoting the moral and religious improvement of the parishioners, he was also distinguished by the exemplification of his principles in the ordinary affairs of life. An instance of his generosity occurred soon after his settlement in his new charge. In the beginning of 1588, rumours were spread through the country of the projected invasion by the Spaniards. Some time before the destruction of the Armada was known, Melville was waited on, early in the morning, by one of the baillies of the town, who stated that a ship filled with Spaniards had entered their harbour in distress, and requested his advice as to the line of conduct to be observed. When the day was further advanced, the officers (the principal of whom is styled general of twenty hulks) were permitted to land, and appear before the minister and principal men of the town. They stated that their division of the squadron had been wrecked on the Fair Isle, where they had been detained many weeks under all the miseries of fatigue and hunger; that they had at length procured the ship which lay in the harbour; and now came before them to crave their forbearance towards them. Melville replied that, although they were the supporters of Christ’s greatest enemy the pope, and although their expedition had been undertaken with the design of desolating the protestant kingdoms of England and Scotland, they should know by their conduct that the people of Scotland were professors of a purer religion. Without entering into all the minute facts of the case, it may be enough to say, that the officers and men were all at length received on shore, and treated with the greatest humanity. "Bot we thanked God with our heartes that we had sein tham amangs ws in that forme," is the quaint conclusion of James Melville, alluding to the difference between the objects of the expedition and the success which had attended it.

But, however disinterested James Melville’s conduct might be, it was not destined to escape the most unjust suspicions. When subscriptions were raised to assist the French protestants and the inhabitants of Geneva, (cir. 1588), he had been appointed collector for Fife, and this appointment was now seized upon by his enemies at court, who surmised that he had given the money thus raised to the earl of Bothwell to enable him to raise forces. The supposition is so absurd that it seems incredible that any one, arguing merely on probabilities, should believe that money intended for Geneva,--the very stronghold of his beloved presbytery,—should be given to an outlaw and a catholic. Luckily Melville was not left to prove his innocence even by the doctrine of probabilities. He had in his hands a discharge for the money granted by those to whom he had paid it over, and it was, besides, matter of notoriety that he had been the most active agent in the suppression of Bothwell’s rebellion. Still, however, his enemies hinted darkly where they durst not make a manly charge, and it was not till 1594, when sent as a commissioner to the king by the Assembly on another mission, that he had an opportunity of vindicating himself. He then demanded that any one who could make a charge against him should stand forward and give him an opportunity of vindicating himself before his sovereign. No one appeared. Melville was admitted to a long interview in the king’s cabinet; and "thus," says he, "I that came to Stirling the traitor, returned to Edinburgh a great courtier, yea a cabinet councillor."

At the opening of the General Assembly in 1590, James Melville preached. After the usual exordium, he insisted on the necessity of maintaining the strictest discipline,—he recalled to the memory of his audience the history of their country since the Reformation, the original purity of the church, and admonished them of its begun decline,—the brethren were warned of the practices of "the belly-god bishops of England;" and the people were exhorted to a more zealous support of the ecclesiastical establishment, and to a more liberal communication of temporal things to their ministers;—lastly, he recommended a supplication to the king, for a free and full assembly, to be held in the royal presence, for the suppression of papists and sacrilegious persons. The activity of Melville, and indeed of the ministers generally, against the catholics, must be considered as one of the least defensible parts of their conduct. We are aware that those who believe religion to be supported by works of man’s device, will find strong palliations for their actions in their peculiar circumstances; and we do not mean to deny, that when the popish lords trafficked with foreign powers for the subversion of the civil and religious institutions of the country, the government did right in bringing them to account. They then became clearly guilty of a civil offence, and were justly amenable for it to the secular courts. But when the catholics were hunted down for the mere profession of their religion, when their attachment to their opinions was considered the mere effect of obstinacy, and thus worthy to be visited with the highest pains,—the protestants reduced themselves to the same inconsistency with which they so justly charged their adversaries. If it be urged in defence, that their religion was in danger, we reply, that the conduct of the catholics, previous to the Reformation, was equally defensible on the very same grounds. In both cases was the church of the parties in imminent hazard; and, if we defend the attempt of one party to support theirs by the civil power, with what justice can we condemn the other? A remarkable passage occurs in the account which friar Ogilvie (a Jesuit, who was executed at Glasgow in 1615) has left of his trial. His examinators accused the kings of France and Spain of exterminating the protestants. Ogilvie immediately replied: Neither has Francis banished, nor Philip burned protestants on account of religion, but on account of heresy, which is not religion but rebellion. Here, then, is the rock upon which both parties split,—that of considering it a crime to hold certain religious opinions. Both parties here in turn equally zealous in propagating their ideas,— both were justifiable in doing so,—and both equally unjustifiable in their absurd attempts to control the workings of the human mind. Truth, which all parties seem convinced is on their side, must and shall prevail, and the intolerant zeal of man can only prove its own folly and its wickedness. We return to the narrative.

When the king, in October, 1594, determined on opposing the popish lords in person, he was accompanied at his own request by the two Melvilles and two other ministers. Following the Highland system of warfare, these noblemen retired into their fastnesses; and the royal forces, after doing little more than displaying themselves, were ready to disperse, for want of pay. In this emergency, James Melville was despatched to Edinburgh and the other principal towns, with letters from the king and the ministers, urging a liberal contribution for their assistance. His services on this occasion, and the spirit infused by Andrew Melville into the royal councils, materially contributed to the success of the expedition.

We have mentioned, that at the interview at Stirling, James Melville had regained the favour of the king; but it is probable that that and subsequent exhibitions of the royal confidence were merely intended to gain him, in anticipation of the future designs of the court relative to the church. In the affair of David Black, Melville had used his influence with the earl of Mar, to procure a favourable result; and, although the king did not express disapprobation of his conduct, but, on the contrary, commanded him to declare from the pulpit at St Andrews, the amicable termination of their quarrel, he observed that from that period his favour uniformly declined. Finding, after two years’ trial, that his conduct towards James Melville had not induced him to compromise his principles, the king probably considered all further attempts to gain him quite unnecessary.

In May, 1596, the Covenant was renewed by the synod of Fife, and in the following July by the presbytery of St Andrews; on both which occasions, Melville was appointed "the common mouth." After the last meeting, the barons and gentlemen resolved that he and the laird of Reiras (Rires) should be sent to the king, to inform him of the report of another Spanish invasion, and of the return of the popish lords; but Melville’s interest at court was now on the decline, and his mission met with little encouragement. Returning home, he applied himself assiduously to the duties of his parish. He drew up a "Sum of the Doctrine of the Covenant renewed in the Kirk of Scotland," in the form of question and answer. Upon this the people were catechised during the month of August; and on the first Sunday of September, the Covenant was renewed, and the sacrament administered in the parish of Kilrenny.

During the next ten years, the life of Melville was spent in a course of opposition, as decided as it was fruitless, to the designs of the court for the reestablishment of episcopacy. While some of his most intimate friends yielded, he remained firm. There was but one point which he could be induced to give up. He was urged by the king (1597) to preach at the admission of Gladstanes, the future archbishop, to the church of St Andrews, from which David Black had been ejected; and he did so, in the hope of benefiting some of his distressed friends by the concession; but it afterwards cost him much uncomfortable reflection. In the month of October he visited, along with others appointed for that purpose, the churches in the counties of Aberdeen, Moray, and Ross. He had entered upon this duty under considerable mental depression and bodily suffering; and it may be supposed to have been but little diminished, when he detected, during the journey, the plans of the court for the re-establishment of the episcopal order. Finding that his labours on behalf of the church had been attended with so little success, he would willingly have retired from public life, and shut out all reflection on so unsatisfactory a retrospect in the performance of his numerous parochial duties: but a sense of what he owed to the church and to his friends in adversity induced him to continue his discouraging labour; and, accordingly, till he was ensnared into England, whence he was not allowed to return, he made the most unwearied exertions in behalf of presbytery. Except the gratification the mind receives from marking the continued struggles of a good man against adversity, the reader could feel little interest in a minute detail of circumstances, which, with a few changes of place and date, were often repeated. Vexation of mind and fatigue of body at length brought on an illness in April, 1601, which lasted about a year; but this did not damp his zeal. When he could not appear among his brethren, and subsequent illness not unfrequently compelled him to be absent, he encouraged or warned them by his letters. Every attempt was made to overcome or to gain him. He was offered emoluments and honours, and when these could not shake his resolution, he was threatened with prosecution; but the latter affected him as little. When he was told that the king hated him more than any man in Scotland, "because he crossed all his turns, and was a ringleader," he replied, in the words of the poet,

Nec sperans aliquid, nec extimescens,
Exarmaveris impotentis iram.

His conduct on the first anniversary of the Gowrie conspiracy, did not tend to mitigate his majesty’s wrath. An act of parliament had been passed, ordaining it to be observed as a day of thanksgiving, but as this act had never received the sanction of the church, Melville and others refused to comply with it. They were, therefore, summoned by proclamation to appear before the council, and the king vowed that the offence should be considered capital. They accordingly appeared but his majesty, finding their determination to vindicate their conduct, moderated his wrath and dismissed them after a few words of admonition The conduct of Melville, in relation to the ministers imprisoned for holding the assembly at Aberdeen, was not less decided. A short time before their trial, the earl of Dunbar requested a conference, in which he regretted to him the state of affairs, and promised that, if the warded ministers would appease the king by a few concessions the ambitious courses of the bishops should be checked, and the king and church reconciled. With these proposals, Melville proceeded to Blackness, the place of their confinement, but negotiation was too late, for the very next morning they were awakened by a summons to stand their tiial at Linlithgow. When they were found guilty of treason it was considered a good opportunity to try the resolution of their brethren. To prevent all communication with each other the synods were summoned to meet on one day when five articles relative to the powers of the General Assembly and the bishops, were proposed by the king’s commissioners for their assent. On this occasion Melville was confined by illness, but he wrote an animated letter to the synod of Fife, and had the satisfaction of hearing that they and many others refused to comply. This letter was sent by lord Scone, the commissioner, to the king, but the threat to make it the subject of a prosecution does not appear to have been carried into effect.

The court, backed by the bishops, was now pursuing its intentions with less caution than had formerly been found necessary. An act was passed by the parliament of 1606 recognizing the king as absolute prince, judge, and governor over all persons, estates, and causes, both spiritual and temporal,—restoring the bishops to all their ancient honours, privileges, and emoluments, and reviving the different chapters. Andrew Melville had been appointed by his brethren to be present, and protest against this and another act in prejudice of the church, passed at the same time; but measures were taken to frustrate his purpose. No sooner did he stand up, than an order was given to remove him, which was not effected however until he had made his errand known. The protest was drawn up by Patrick Simson, minister of Stirling, and the reasons for it by James Melville. The latter document, with which alone we are concerned, is written in a firm and manly style, and shows in the clearest manner, that, in appointing bishops, the parliament had in reality committed the whole government of the church to the king, the prelates being necessarily dependent upon him.

Some months previous to the meeting of this parliament, letters were directed to the two Melvilles, and six other ministers, peremptorily desiring them to proceed to London before the 15th of September, to confer with the king on such measures as might promote the peace of the church. Although this was the alleged cause for demanding their presence at the English court, there can be little doubt that the real object of the king was to withdraw them from a scene where they were a constant check upon his designs. Their interviews with the king and his prelates have been already noticed in the life of Andrew Melville, and it is only necessary to state here, that, after many attempts, as paltry as they were unsuccessful, to win them over, to disunite them, and, when both these failed, to lead them into expressions which might afterwards be made the ground-work of a prosecution, Andrew Melville was committed to the Tower of London. At the same time, James was ordered to leave London within six days for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, beyond which he was not to be permitted to go above ten miles, on pain of rebellion. After an unsuccessful attempt to obtain some relaxation of the rigour of his uncle’s confinement, he sailed from London on the 2d of July, 1607. [M’Crie’s Melville, second edition, vol. ii. p. 187. The date attached by Wodrow to Melville’s embarkation, is the 2nd of June, and to his arrival at Newcastle, the 10th of that month.—Wodrow’s Life of James Melville, p. 132.] The confinement of James Melville at Newcastle was attended by circumstances of a peculiarly painful nature. His wife was at this time in her last illness, but notwithstanding the urgency of the case, he could not be allowed the shortest period of absence; he was, therefore compelled to remain in England, with the most perfect knowledge that he must see his nearest earthly relation no more, and without an opportunity of performing the last duties. It was considered a matter of special favour, that he was allowed to go to Anstruther for the arrangement of his family affairs after her death; and even this permission was accompanied by peremptory orders, that he should not preach nor attend any meetings, and that he should return to England at the end of a month.

The opposition of Melville to episcopacy continued as steady during his exile as it had been during the time of his ministry. When public disputations were proposed, in the following year, between the ministers who had yielded to the government and those who remained opposed, he disapproved of the plan, and stated his objections at full length in a letter to Mr John Dykes. He considered such meetings by no means calculated for edification, and he well knew that, were their opponents to be persuaded by argument, abundant opportunities had already been afforded them. When the conferences were appointed to be held at Falkland and other places, he opposed them on the same grounds; but, as the measure had been already determined on, he advised his brethren by letter to take every precaution for the regularity of their proceedings and the safety of their persons. As Melville had anticipated, no good effect was produced; the prelates were now quite independent of the goodness of their arguments for the support of their cause, and felt little inclination to humble themselves so far as to contend with untitled presbyterians.

Notwithstanding the decided conduct of Melville, several attempts were again made, during his residence at Newcastle, to enlist him in the service of the king. In the month of October, immediately following his sentence of banishment, Sir William Anstruther [Wodrow’s Life of James Melville, p. 133. This gentleman is named Sir John Anstruther by Dr M’Crie; Life of Melville, 2nd edit. Vol. ii. p. 234.] waited on him. He was authorized by the king to say that, if Melville would waive his opinions, his majesty would not only receive him into favour, but "advance him beyond any minister in Scotland." Melville replied, that no man was more willing to serve the king in his calling than he, and that his majesty knew very well his affection—what service he had done, and was willing to do in so far as conscience would suffer him; adding that the king found no fault nor ill with him that he knew of, but that he would not be a bishop. "If in my judgment and my conscience," he concluded, after some further remarks, "I thought it would not undo his majesty’s monarchy and the church of Christ within the same, and so bring on a fearful judgment, I could as gladly take a bishopric and serve the king therein as I could keep my breath within me, so far am I from delighting to contradict and oppone to his majesty, as is laid to my charge; for in all things, saving my conscience, his majesty hath found, and shall find me most prompt to his pleasure and service." With this reply the conversation ended.

During his exile various attempts were made by his parishioners to obtain leave for his return. In February, 1608, the elders of the church of Anstruther prepared a petition with that view, to be presented to the commissioners of the General Assembly, and when through stratagem they were prevented from presenting it, another was given in to the Assembly which met at Linlithgow in July, 1609. An application to the king on his behalf was promised; but a reply which he made to a most unprovoked attack on the presbyterians in a sermon by the vicar of Newcastle, afforded the bishops and their friends a ready excuse for the non-fulfilment of this promise. To preserve appearances, the prelates did indeed transmit to court a representation in favour of the banished ministers; but this is now ascertained to have been nothing more than a piece of the vilest hypocrisy. A private letter was transmitted at the same time, discouraging those very representations which in public they advocated, and urging the continuation of their banishment in unabated rigour. Equally unfavourable in their results, although we have less evidence of insincerity, were the fair promises of the earl of Dunbar and of archbishop Spottiswood. [Another representation in behalf of Melville appears to have been presented to the Synod of Fife by his parishioners in 1610. Archbishop Gladstanes, the only authority for this statement, writes thus on the subject to the king: "As for me, I will not advise your majesty any thing in this matter, because I know not what is the man’s humour as yet, but rather wish that, ere any such man get liberty, our turns took setling a while." Life of Gladstanes in Wodrow’s Biographical Collections, (printed for the Maitland Club,) vol. i., pp. 274, 275.. So little confidence, does it appear, had the bishops in the stability of their establishment.]

We have already noticed the anxious, though unsuccessful, efforts of Melville in behalf of his uncle. During the whole period of the imprisonment of Andrew Melville, his nephew’s attentions were continued. He supplied his uncle with money and such other necessaries as could be sent him, and received in return the productions of his muse. About this period their correspondence, which they maintained with surprising regularity, took a turn somewhat out of its usual course. James Melville had now been for two years a widower; he had become attached to a lady, the daughter of the vicar of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and he earnestly begged his uncle’s advice. The match was considered unequal in point of year’s, and a long correspondence ensued, from which it became evident, that, while James’s respect for his uncle had led him to request his advice, his feelings had previously become too strongly interested to admit of any doubt as to the decision of the question. Finding his nephew’s happiness so deeply concerned in the result, Andrew Melville yielded, and the marriage accordingly took place. Whatever may have been his fears,, it is but justice to state, that this connexion led to no compromise of principle, and that it was attended with the happiest results.

It would seem that the bishops, not content with separating James Melville from his brethren, still thought themselves insecure if he was allowed to remain at Newcastle. They accordingly obtained an order for his removal to Carlisle, which was afterwards changed by the interest of his friends to Berwick. About this period he was again urged by the earl of Dunbar to accede to the wishes of the king, but with as little success as formerly. That nobleman therefore took him with him to Berwick, where he continued almost to the date of his death. This period of his life seems to have been devoted to a work on the proper execution of which his mind was most anxiously bent—his Apology for the Church of Scotland. This work, which however he did not live to see published, bears the title of "Jacobi Melvini libellus Supplex Ecclesiae Scoticanae Apologeticus." It was printed at London and appeared in 1645.

About the year 1612, Melville appears to have petitioned the king for liberty to return to his native country. He received for answer that he need indulge no hopes but by submitting absolutely to the acts of the General Assembly of 1610. Such conditions he would not of course accept, and he considered his return altogether hopeless. But the very measures which the king and the bishops had been pursuing were the means of carrying his wishes into effect. The prelates had lately assumed a degree of hauteur which the nobility could ill have brooked, even had they felt no jealousy of a class of men, who, raised from comparative obscurity, now formed a powerful opposition to the ancient councillors of the throne. They therefore determined to exert their influence for the return of the ministers, and to second the representations of their congregations and friends. In this even the bishops felt themselves obliged to join, and they at the same time determined upon a last attempt to obtain from the ministers a partial recognition of their authority, but in this they were unsuccessful. James Melville therefore obtained leave to return to Scotland, but it was now too late. His mind had for some time brooded with unceasing melancholy over the unhappy state of the church, and his health declined at the same time. He had proceeded but a short way in his return home, when he was suddenly taken ill, and was with difficulty brought back to Berwick. Notwithstanding the prompt administration of medicine, his complaint soon exhibited fatal symptoms; and, after lingering a few days, during which he retained the most perfect tranquillity, and expressed the firmest convictions of the justice of the cause in which he suffered, he gently expired in the fifty-ninth year of his age, and eighth of his banishment.

The character of Melville is so fully developed in the transactions of his life, that if the present sketch is in any degree complete, all attempt at its further delineation must be unnecessary. A list of his works will be found in the Notes to Dr M’Crie’s Life of Andrew Melville. Of these, one is his Diary, which has been printed as a contribution to the Bannatyne Club, and which has supplied the materials for the present sketch up to 1601, where it concludes. This Diary, combining, as it certainly does, perfect simplicity of style with a thorough knowledge of its principles,—containing the most interesting notices of himself and other public men, while it is perfectly free from egotism,—and, above all, indicating throughout, the best feelings both of a Christian and a gentleman, is one of the most captivating articles in the whole range of autobiographical history. It is no less remarkable than, in our estimation, it is unquestionable, that the most interesting additions to Scottish history, brought to light in our times, are written by persons of the same name. We allude to the Diary of James Melville, and the Memoirs of Sir James Melville, with which it must not be confounded. There is one point, however, in Melville’s Diary, which must forcibly strike every one who is acquainted with its author’s history,—we mean the allusion in many parts of his narrative to whatever evils befell the enemies of the church, as special instances of the Divine vengeance for their opposition to its measures. Its enemies were undoubtedly highly criminal; but this method of pronouncing judgment upon them cannot be defended upon any ground of Scripture or charity.

But while we condemn this theory, in connexion with James Melville’s name, justice requires the admission, that it was by no means a peculiar tenet of his,—it was the doctrine of an age, rather than of an individual. It is, moreover, let it ever be remembered, to such men as Andrew and James Melville, that we owe much of our present liberty; and, but for their firmness in the maintenance of those very principles which we are so apt to condemn, we might still have been acting those bloody scenes which have passed away with the reigns of Charles and of James. They struggled for their children,—for blessings, in the enjoyment of which they could never hope to participate And let not us, who have entered into their labours, in our zeal to exhibit our superior enlightenment, forget or underrate our obligations The days may come when our privileges may be taken away, and how many of those who condemn the zeal and the principles of their forefathers, will be found prepared to hazard so much for conscience’s sake, or to exhibit even a small portion of their courage and self denied patriotism, in the attempt to regain them?

The Diary of Mr. James Melvill 1556-1601 - Volume 1

The Diary of Mr. James Melvill 1596-1610 - Volume 2

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