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Significant Scots
Robert Rollock

ROLLOCK, ROBERT, an early and zealous promoter of Scottish literature, was born in the year 1555. He was nearly related through his mother to the noble family of Livingston. Discovering an early aptitude for letters, he was sent by his father, Mr David Rollock, to the grammar school of Stirling, at that time taught by Mr Thomas Buchanan, nephew to the author of the History of Scotland. Under the care of this teacher he continued till he was fit for entering the university, when he was sent to the college of St Salvador, St Andrews. By his docility, modesty, and sweetness of disposition, young Rollock had already engaged the affections of his preceptor, and laid the foundation of a friendship which continued till his death. The possession of these virtues also procured him, in a short time, the particular and favourable notice of the whole university. Having gone through the regular course of four years’ study, which was at that time the prescribed period in all the Scottish colleges, and taken out his degree, he was immediately elected professor of philosophy, being then only in the twenty-third year of his age. Here he continued for four years, discharging the duties of his office with singular diligence, and with a success almost without example in Scottish colleges. It was at this time, and long after this, the practice in the Scottish universities, for the same professor to conduct the studies of the same set of students through the whole course; and the remarkable progress of his pupils, with the public applause he received at their laureation, induced the magistrates of Edinburgh to fix upon Mr Rollock as a fit person to open their university, for which they had obtained a charter from king James the previous year. This invitation Mr Rollock was persuaded to accept, and in the beginning of winter 1583, he entered, with all his accustomed zeal upon his laborious office, being the sole teacher, and in his own person comprising the character of principal and professors to the infant establishment. The fame, however, of so celebrated a teacher as Mr Rollock opening a class for philosophy in the newly erected seminary, operated as a charm, and multitudes from all corners of the kingdom hastened to the capital to take the benefit of his prelections. Having no assistant, Mr Rollock joined all his students at first into one class, which, from the want of preparation on the part of the students, rendered his labours at first of little utility. All the books used, all the lectures delivered, and the whole business of the class was transacted in Latin, without some competent knowledge of which, the student could not possibly make any progress. From a defective knowledge in this respect among the students, Mr Rollock was soon under the necessity of dividing his class into two, with one of which he found it the most profitable mode of proceeding to begin them anew in the rudimental parts of humanity. At the recommendation of Mr Rollock, however, the patrons of the college elected a young man of the name of Duncan Nairn, a second master of the college, who undertook the charge of this first class in the month of November, 1583. Mr Nairn, who was the second professor in the college of Edinburgh, taught his class Latin the first year, Greek the second, there being properly no humanity professor in the university till a number of years after this. The emoluments of office in the new university must have been very moderate, for the students paid no fees, and any funds which had yet been provided were altogether trifling. The town council, however, seem to have been careful of the comfort of the new professors, as they allowed Mr Rollock on the 17th of September, 1583, twenty pounds Scots for his expenses in coming from St Andrews to Edinburgh at the commencement of his regency, and on the 25th of the succeeding month of October, thirty pounds Scots for his services. They also, in the month of November, ordered Robert Rollock, first regent, and Duncan Nairn second, twenty pounds Scots each for boarding till Candlemas, and in the succeeding year a committee was appointed to confer with the former "anent taking up house." It no doubt required all the patronage the city of Edinburgh could bestow, and all the exertions of Rollock and his associate to carry on the seminary successfully with so little means, and in an age of so much ignorance and poverty. Circumstances, too, were greatly against it. In the year 1585, the plague made its appearance in Edinburgh on the fourth day of May, and raged till the succeeding month of January, during which time the city was deserted by all who had the means of leaving it. The university was thus wholly deserted at a time when the students were in the very middle of their course, a circumstance which, considering that it was but the third year of the establishment, must have been highly prejudicial to its interests. The professors, however, returned about the middle of January, and the students, by an order of council, were ordered to be in their places upon the 3d of February. In this same year the national covenant, or confession of faith, was introduced into the college, and tendered to every student. Mr Rollock was also created principal, though he still continued to teach his class. His associate, Duncan Nairn, died the succeeding year, and the council having resolved to have three classes taught, Messrs Adam Colt and Alexander Scrimger were elected in his place.

Mr Rollock continued to teach his private class till the first laureation, which was public, and attended by all the nobility in town. The number graduated, and who of course signed the covenant, was forty eight. As soon as this ceremony was concluded, Mr Rollock resigned his regency, retaining the principalship, to which was now annexed the professorship of theology, for which, and preaching regularly on the Sabbath, he was allowed four hundred marks yearly. It was the practice of Mr Rollock to pray in public with the students every morning, and on one day of the week to explain to them some passage of Scripture, which he never failed to conclude with most pertinent and practical exhortations. With the more advanced students he was particularly careful that they might enter upon the work of the ministry, not only in some measure prepared for, but with a deep feeling of its important duties. With all this diligence among his pupils, he was a faithful and acceptable minister of the gospel. With literary ardour, however, almost boundless, and the warmest piety, Mr Rollock’s simplicity of character degenerated into, or rather originally possessed a natural imbecility, not at all uncommon in minds of this description, which disqualified him from acting a consistent, or a profitable part in the conduct of the public affairs of the church, which at this period were of paramount importance; involving at once the civil, and the religious rights of the community. This facile disposition was at once seen, and appreciated by king James, who, having now matured his plans for reducing the church to an entire dependence upon himself, was sedulously employed in carrying them into effect. For advancing this purpose he had procured a meeting of the clergy at Perth in the month of February, 1597, which by threatenings, flatteries, and bribes, and by preventing some individuals from giving their opinion in the matter, he managed to have set down for a general assembly, whose conclusions were to be considered as binding upon the whole church. Naturally endowed, however, with a more than ordinary share of cunning, he proceeded with the utmost caution. Disclaiming all intention of introducing anything like change in any part of either the worship, government, or discipline of the church, and professing the utmost reverence for religion, and respect for its ministers, he submitted to this assembly only thirteen articles to be reasoned upon; all of them worded in a manner so gentle, and so ambiguous, as to conceal from all but acute and narrow observers their real spirit and true meaning; which was, in the first place, to lay open the present established order of the church to be called in question, though it was supposed to have been set at rest by the solemn oaths of his majesty, his council, his household, and by all who had any concern in the matter; secondly, to circumscribe the liberty of the pulpit, so that no warning might, through that medium, be given to the people of the designs of the king and his courtiers, when they should come to be discovered; and thirdly, that a commission of a few of the most prudent and orderly of the ministers should be appointed to confer with his majesty and council, upon all these or other questions, as opportunity or necessity might call for, subject to the after consideration of a general assembly, to be indicted only by his majesty, which was in the above articles not unequivocally claimed as one of the prerogatives of his crown. With all the diligence he exerted, however, he carried his purpose no very great length; some of his articles being answered doubtfully, some of them disallowed, and some of them not answered at all. Still greater diligence was therefore necessary to prepare matters for the assembly that was to meet at Dundee in the month of May the same year, where there was not only danger of gaining nothing further in his advances towards episcopacy, but of all that had been gained in the last assembly being lost. Care was taken to prevent the regular meeting of the assembly which should have been held at St Andrews in the month of April. Only a very few of the commissioners ventured to appear, who, along with the moderator, made humble confession of their sins, formed, or constituted the assembly, and took protestations for the liberty of the kirk, continuing all summonses, references, and appellations to the assembly following. In the following month, the assembly met at Dundee, but it was in the new fashion; the difference between which and those that had been held previously to that at Perth, of which we have spoken above, is thus stated by a writer of that period of the highest respectability. "1st. Christ by his spiritual office having convocated and appointed times and places before; now timas and places are appointed by the king, claiming this as his only due. 2nd. The moderator and brethren were directed by the word of God, and his Spirit; now and hereafter they are to be directed by the king, his laws, and state policy. 3rd. Matters were before proposed simply, and the brethren sent to seek light out of the word by reasoning, conference, meditation, and prayer; now means are devised before in the king’s cabinet, to bring his purposes to pass, and heed is taken in public and private what may hinder his course. He that goeth his way is an honest man, a good peaceable minister; those that mean, or reason in the contrary, are seditious, troublesome, coffed, factious! 4th. In reasoning, the word was alleged, the reason weighed, and if of weight yielded unto willingly; now the word is passed by, or posted over and shifted, and if the reason be insisted upon, the reasoner is borne down and put to silence. 5th. The fear of God, the care of the kirk, learning, the power of preaching, motion, and force of prayer, and other gifts shining in those who were present, procured before estimation, reverence, and good order; now the person, presence, and regard to the prince’s favour and purpose swayeth all. If any had a gift, or measure of learning, utterance, zeal, or power in exhortation beyond others, it was employed at these assemblies; now plots are laid how none shall have place, but such as serve for their purpose. 6th. The assemblies of old aimed at the standing of Christ’s kingdom in holiness and freedom; now the aim is how the kirk and religion may be framed conform to the political state of a monarch, and to advance his supreme and absolute authority in all causes. In a word, where Christ ruled before, the court now beginneth to govern. The king’s man may stand at the king’s chair, use what countenance, gesture, or language he pleaseth, but good men must be taunted, checked," &c. Such, according to Calderwood, was the assembly held at Dundee, 1597. According to the same authority, "After exhortation made by the last moderator, the assembly was delayed, and the commissioners wearied till the coming of Mr Robert Rollock, whom the king, and such as were to further his course, intended to have moderator. He was a godly man, but simple in the matters of the church government, credulous, easily led by counsel, and tutored in a manner by his old master, Thomas Buchanan, who was now gained to the king’s course. Many means were used to have him chosen, and the king and his followers prepared him for the purpose. Sir Patrick Murray (brother to the laird of Balvaird, the same who had been his majesty’s agent for corrupting the assembly at Perth,) and such ministers as were already won, travailled with others of chief note, and brought them to be acquaint with the king, which was their exercise morning and evening." Mr Rollock having been appointed moderator, the assembly proceeded to pass several acts strongly tending to support the whole superstructure of episcopacy. This was effected chiefly by a representation of his majesty "anent a solid order to be taken anent a constant, and perpetual provision for the sustentation of the whole ministry within this realme, to the end that they be not, as in time bygone, forced to depend, and await upon the commissioners appointed for modifying of their stipends, and so to absent themselves the most part of the year from their flocks, to the great disgrace of their calling, dishaunting of the congregation, discontentment of his majesty, whose care ever hath been, and earnest desire continueth as yet, that every congregation have a special pastor, honestly sustained for the better awaiting upon his cure, and discharging his dutiful office in the same. Therefore, his majesty desired the brethren to consider, whether it were expedient, that a general commission should be granted to a certain number of the most wise, and discreet of the brethren to convene with his majesty for effectuating of the premises. This, his majesty’s advice, the assembly judged to be necessary and expedient, and therefore gave, and granted their full power and commission to the brethren," &c., &c. These brethren, fourteen in number, seven of whom with his majesty were to be a quorum, were unhappily, with the exception of one or two that were named to save appearances, already captivated with the hopes, some of them with the express promise, of preferment, and the assembly was scarcely risen when they began to display all the arrogancy of a bench of bishops or a high commission court. In the month of June they convened at Falkland, called before them the presbytery of St Andrews, upon a complaint by Mr John Rutherford, who had been deposed from the ministry of Kinnocher by that presbytery, and reduced the sentence. The culprit had purchased the favour of the court by forging calumnies upon Mr David Black, "who was a great eye-sore," says Calderwood, "to negligent, loose, and unfaithful ministers, of which number this Mr John Rutherford was one, but he lived in disgrace ever after, and was condemned by the bishops themselves, because he could serve them to no further use." Proceeding to St Andrews, they cast out Mr Wallace and Mr Black, who had but lately been restored; banishing the latter to Angus, whence they brought Mr George Gladstanes, soon after created a bishop, to fill his place.

While they thus broke down the hedge of the church, by thrusting out two of her most faithful ministers, and bringing in Mr Gladstanes without the consent of either presbytery or people, they also interfered with the laws of the university; obliging Andrew Melville to demit his rectorship, and forbidding all professors within the university, especially professors of divinity, to sit in the presbytery upon any matter of discipline. Robert Rollock, moderator of the last assembly, and consequently of the meetings of the commissioners with the king, betrayed, according to Calderwood, "great weakness, which many that loved him before construed to be simplicity." By the aid of Mr Rollock, and his friends the commissioners, however, his majesty was enabled to restore the popish earls of Huntly, Angus, and Errol, with whose assistance he carried in parliament an act for ministers of the gospel to have a place and a vote in that assembly. This act declared, "that such pastors and ministers, within the same, as at any time his majesty shall please to provide to the office, place, title, and dignity of a bishop, abbot, or other prelate, shall at any time hereafter have vote in parliament, siclike and as freely as any other ecclesiastical prelate had at any time bygone. It also declared, that all or whatsoever bishoprics presently vaiking in his majesty’s hands, which are yet undisponed to any person, or which shall happen at any time hereafter to vaik, shall be only disposed by his majesty to actual preachers and ministers in the kirk," &c.

Soon after this, Mr Rollock was seized with an illness, which confined him to his house, and finally terminated his existence. While on his death-bed, he requested two friends, who called upon him, to go from him, as a dying man, to the king, and exhort him to cherish religion and the church, and to protect and comfort its pastors, and to proceed with these good works with an unfaltering step till the last hour of life; and not allow himself to be drawn from it, either by the hope of enlarging his authority, or by the evil advices of wicked macn. To the same persons he added, "You will remember that I was chosen by the assembly at Dundee, to watch for the interest of this church. In this I had the glory of God, and the safety of the church, miserably tossed with tempests and shaking, before mine eyes; and I can now declare, that my conscience does not smite me with any wicked departure from duty, in doubling the number of the ministers of Edinburgh; and particularly, in my activity to bring in two (Messrs Robertson and Stewart) who studied under me, when I thought I saw in them gifts suitable to such a trust, and hoped God would bless their labours. I am so far from repenting any share I had in this, that to this hour it is satisfying to me. I am persuaded the wise Maker of the world has tied the church and state together with a brotherly and adamantine chain; and it hath been my great care to advance the good of both: and yet the love of peace hath not so far bewitched me, that I could not distinguish between genuine and adulterous peace; neither hath my affection to my sovereign carried me that length, that to please him I should submit to the least stain on my conscience. I hope the integrity and candour of my conduct shall appear when I am dead. In a word, brethren, join together with the most intimate love and concord in the work of the Lord. Let me put you in mind to pay every obedience to the king. You live in happy times, and enjoy a singular felicity. You are blessed with a prince who drank in religion with his milk; who hath guarded your doctrine with a right discipline, and covers both the doctrine and discipline of religion with his protection; who hath taken the church so much into his care, as by open and plain unanswerable documents, to make it evident, that he will never desert her while he breathes. Therefore, what you may easily and pleasantly enjoy, it will be folly to seek after by harsh methods. You will, then, take particular care, that the church be not ruined by a fall from such high happiness." Mr Rollock died on the 8th of January, 1598, in the forty-third year of his age. His remains were attended to the place of interment by nearly the whole population of Edinburgh, who considered him as their spiritual father, and regarded his death as a public calamity. The town council had paid his house rent for many years, and they allowed his widow the one half of his salary for five years, and to his posthumous daughter they gave, from the city funds, one thousand merks, by way of dowry. He published several works, chiefly commentaries on parts of Scripture, several of which were printed at Geneva, and obtained the warm approbation of the learned and judicious Beza. These works are still to be met with, and, though tinged with the scholastic theology of the times, discover great natural acuteness, a full acquaintance with his subject, and very extensive learning. His whole life seems, indeed, to have been devoted to literature.

Select Works of Robert Rollock
Principal of the University of Edinburgh, reprinted from the original editions, edited by William M. Gunn, Esq., in two volumes (1849)

Volume 1  |  Volume 2

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