Robert Blair.

The life of Mr. Robert Blair, minister of St. Andrews, containing his autobiography, from 1593-1636 : with supplement of his life and continuation of the history of the times, to 1680 online

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Online LibraryRobert BlairThe life of Mr. Robert Blair, minister of St. Andrews, containing his autobiography, from 1593-1636 : with supplement of his life and continuation of the history of the times, to 1680 → online text (page 1 of 63)
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FROM 1593 TO 1636,












Preface by Editor,

Life of Robert Blair —

I. The Autobiography,

II. Supplement by William Row, containing the History
of his Life, which may be called the History of
the Times, especially from the year 1643, unto the

DAY of his death, ANNO 1666,

III. The Continuation (by the same Author) of the History
OF THE Times after IVIr Blair's death, Aug, 27. 1666,
TO 1680,




No 1. Continuation of the Life of Robert Blair, by his son,

James Blair, 585

No. 2. Letters of Robert Blair, 596

Index, 599

Facsimile of Blair's handwriting, .... xiii
Woodcut of Blair's Monument in the old church-yard of

Aberdour, . xxii


Tafte 112, line 14, after 1G77, Dr Lee's MS. supplies the blank on this page as fol-
lows, " has on his coat of arms the Moor's head."

„ 228, line 7, dele Unslodyke.

464, line3,/orMr John M'Millan, reac? Mr John M'Michan.

„ 471, last line of foot note, /or author of " Memoirs of Scotland," read author of
" Memoirs of the most material Transactions in England, for the
last hundred years preceding the Revolution in 1688."

" 51 7, 4th line from foot,/OT- apparently in the handwriting of the transcriber, read
in a hand different from that of the transcriber. All the notations
on the margin of Dr Lee's MS. ai"e in the same hand, but different
from that of the copyist.

„ 555, 1st line from foot, for son to Mr William Carstairs, read son to Mr John


In presenting the ample Memoirs of Robert Blair, contained in
this volume, it may appear very unnecessary to prefix any prefa-
tory sketch of his life. Several reasons, however, render this de-
sirable. The reader, before dipping into the volume, may wish to
know something of the character and general career of the man about
whom so much has been written. It is of importance, too, to con-
nect together, in a few sentences, the main facts of his life, the
thread of the narrative being somewhat broken, in consequence of
its having been treated by different hands, each of whom has added
some incidents omitted by the rest. And we have thus an op-
portunity of stating a few additional facts gathered from other
sources, which could not, with so much propriety, have been
thrown into the shape of scattered notes at the foot of the page.

Robert Blair was the youngest of four sons of John Blair, " a
gentleman living in the towm of Irvine, and grandson of Alexan-
der Blair of Windyedge, a brother of the Laird of Blair, the ancient
and honourable family of that ilk."* (Life, p. 112.) His mother
was Bessie Mure, of the equally " ancient and honourable family
of Rowallan."t This venerable relative reached the patriarchal
age of a hundred years. The precise day of his birth has not
been recorded, but he was born in Irvine in the year 1593. He had

* The Blairs of Windyedge were connected with the Blairs of Giffordland, a family
which, Robertson says, " is generally understood to be a cadet of the family of that
ilk." — Mobertsoii's Ayrshire Families, i. 100.

t We have not been able to ti'ace this connection between Blair and the fa-
mily of Rowallan. It appears, however, that the lamilies had intermarriage at an
earlier period. Sir William Mure of Rowallan, who died about 1348, had a daughter
married to the Laird of Blair. — (^Historie and Descent of the House of Hoiralhme, by
Sir William Mure, 41. Glasgow : 1825.) Jean and Hugh, the names of two of Blair's
children, were common in the Rowallan family. His grandson, James, who was pro-
vost of Irvine, had on his coat of arms the Moor's head, which is the crest of the
Mures of Rowallan. (See Life, 112, with the blank supplied in the Errata.)



three brothers, John, James and William, the two eldest of whom
rose to be chief magistrates of Irvine, while William^was first a
regent in the University of Glasgow, and afterwards became the
nihiister of Dumbarton. The early years of Kobert, the subject of
the following memoirs, are graphically described by himself in his
Autobiography. It appears from the records of the University of
Glasgow, that he entered college in the year 1611* that he was
laureated, or took his degree of Master of Arts, in 1614; and that,
after having taught for two years as assistant in a public school, he
succeeded his brother as one of the regents of the college in March


During the same year in which he was appointed regent, he re-
ceived license as a preacher of the gospel. And at this period
of his life the following anecdote is recorded of him by Robert
Fleming, which it is rather strange should have been omitted both
by himself and his biographers : — " Upon his first coming forth
to preach," says Fleming, " he, by a remarkable providence, had
^h Bruce [Kobert Bruce of Edinburgh] to be his hearer ; and
as I heard himself declare, it was his desire to have the judgment
of so great a man upon his discourse, whose censure, he said he
would never forget, it had been so much blessed. It was this :
' I found,' said he, ' your sermon very polished and digested,'
(which was indeed easy to one of his parts), ' but there is one thing
I miss in it, to wit, the spirit of God ; — I found not thatJ This
grave Mr Blair did often speak to others, which then took a deep
impression upon himself, and helped him to see it was something
else to be a minister of Jesus Christ, than to be a knowing and
eloquent preacher." f

* Stevenson, in bis printed Memoirs of Blair, (p. 9,) has, in his blundering way,
ni:i<lc Blair say that he " entered to the College of Glasgow about the year 1608."
The editor of an Irish edition of Stevenson's Memoirs, (Belfast : 1844,) not aware of
this, blames |>oor Blair for what be never wrote : — ■" Blair's memory, in resjiect of
dates, hud failed hiui in his old age, when eompiling these notices of his early life."

t Row states, that he was "laureated, anno 1 613."— (Zf/e, 112.) This must be
a mistake, as we have derived the above facts from the registers, through the kind-
ness (if l)r J. Seaton Keid, Professor of Church History in that university.

J Fullilbn).' , if the Scripture, 377. Ed. 1681.


It does not appear what particular branches he taught while
regent in the Univei sity of Glasgow * ; he usually signed himself
professor of moral philosophy. Of his success in the art of teach-
ing his memoirs aiFord us little opportunity of judging ; but we
have fortunately the grateful testimony of one of his pupils, from
which it may be inferred that it was at this period he laid the
foundation of that high celebrity for learning which he enjoyed
among his contemporaries. Robert Baillie, in dedicating to him
one of his treatises in 1646, testifies, in the following warm and
enthusiastic terms, his obligations to his old tutor and regent :
" When I look back, (as frequently I do, with a delightful remem-
brance) towards those years of my childhood and youth, wherein
1 did sit under your discipline, my heart blesses the goodness of
God, who, in a very rich mei'cy to me, did put almost the white
and razed tablet of my spirit under your hand, after my domestic
instructions which were from mine infancy, to be engraven by
your labours and example, with my first most sensible and remain-
ing impressions, whether of piety or of good letters, or of moral vir-
tue : What little portion in any of these it hath pleased the Lord,
of his high and undeserved favour, to bestow upon me, I were un-
grateful, if I should not acknowledge you, after my parents, the
first and principal instrument thereof. I cannot deny that since
the eleventh year of mine age to this day, in my inmost sense, I
have always found myself more in your debt than in any other
man's upon earth."J

In 1623, having been involved in a dispute with Dr Cameron,
the learned Principal of the university of Glasgow, and " being now
wearied of teaching philosophy," he accepted of a call to the minis-
try at Bangor in Ireland. The particulars connected with this

* Livingstone states, "I was then under the oversight of precioiis Mr Robert Blair,
who, for two years, was my Regent in that college, and having got some ground in
logick and metaphysick, and the subtilties of the schoolmen, ane vain desyre to be
above my equals set me to great pains." — {Life, of John Livingstone. Select Biogra-
phies, edited for Wodrow Society, i. 132.)

t Tabula rasa.

X Dedication to Historical Vindication of the Government of the Church of Scot-
land. London : 1G46.



part of his history are detailed at length in his Autobiography.
After an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Atlantic, which the
reader of his life will find graphically described, we find hina again
in his native land. He had been invited to become minister of
the Scottish Church at Campvere, but " his averseness, after so
nianie sea-crosses, to accept any charge over sea, made him reject
that motion without farder enquiry," * and he was admitted as
colleague to Mr William xVnnand at Ayr, in July 1 638. After some
scruple as to their commission, he and his Irish brethren were al-
lowed to take their seats in the fiimous General Assembly, which
was held in Glasgow, Nov. 21, of that year ; and there we find him
vindicating himself in what Baillie calls " a brave extemporall ha-
ranii-ue," from insinuations which had been thrown out against his
loyalty, connected with the causes that led to his leaving the Uni-
versity. Here too his feelings were subjected to a severe trial, by
the proposal which was made to translate him to the more influential'
town of St Andrews, " Si)Ottiswood, his arclidean and doctors having
ran away, where there were three colleges very corrupt, and the
body of the town-people addicted to Prelacy and the ceremonies"
(Life, p. 156.) His biographer, "William Eow, has said very little
about this " act for transportation," but it seems to have cost all
the parties concerned in it no little trouble. On the petition
being presented by the Commissioner from St Andrews, Blair was
called on to express his mind, when he said, " I confess I am in
the hands of this Assembly ; but I protest heir, in God's presence,
that / had rather lay down my life than he 'separate from my flock at
Ah\''\ Baillie has preserved the particulars of the case, which we
may give in his own homely but emphatic language : — " There
fell in this day a most pitiful contest ; the toun of St Andrews
supplicat for Mr Robert Blair to be their minister ; the toune of
Aire, with tears, deprecated that oppression : ]\Ir Robert himself
most carnestlic opposed it ; for beside the great burden would fall
on him in that toun, and the fatall unha[)piness of that ministrie,

• Baillie's Letters and Journals, (Rannatyuc edition), i. 31.
t Titi'rkin'b Hecoids of the Kirk of [Scotland, 187.


he was so f'arr engaged in affe(jtion with Aire, by the success of
his ministrie, and the largeness of their charities, as any minister
could be : yet St Andrews' earnestness, and the noblemen of Fife
their importunities, the public good in provyding that seminarie
toun with a good man, militated much against the provest, John
Stewart's tears, and Mr Robert's prayers : It was referred to a
committee that night in my chamber, Cassillis, Lindsay, the
Moderator, (Henderson), and a number of other noblemen and
ministers. However much my heart pitied the case, (and, if it
went through, it was a most dangerous preparative to rent any
man from the flock his soul was bound to and others to him, to be
fastened to the unhappie people of our great tounes,) yet I could
not bot testifie my old experience of Mr Blair's great dexteritie ;
yea, greater than any man I know living, to insinuate the fear of
God in the hearts of young schollars. Thus my testimonie, out
of experience, furthered much, both that night in the committee,
and the morne in the Assemblie, the man's transportation." It
was carried, however, by a narrow majority of four or five votes,
that he should be sent to St Andrews. " It went hardlie," says
Baillie, " for the pitifull complaints of John Stewart, craveing at
leist a delay till Aire might be acquainted with this motion, and
prepared to give in their reasons against it, did move raanie, yet
not the half; so the same Assemblie pleased and grieved exceed-
ingly that toun by taking from them at once two ministers" (An-
nan having been deposed) : " yet they have keeped still Mr Blair,
almost by force ; else, how unwilling soever, he had gone away,
for he makes conscience to obey the Assemblie in all their
commandments."* The people of Ayr succeeded in detaining him
among them till the following year, when he was peremptorily
ordered by the Assembly to go to St Andrews. Here he exer-
cised his ministry with great success, till ejected in 1602.

During this period Blair took an active share in all the public
movements of the day, and contributed largely, by the sagacity of
his counsels, and the moderation of his spirit, to promote the welfare,
* Baillie's Letters and Journals, i. 173.


ami con.^oliaate the peace of the Church, lu 1640 he was sent to
London, ak)ng with Henderson, Baillie, and others, to attend to the
aftlurs of the Church during the formation of the treaty of peace.
After the death of Henderson, in 1646, he was appointed Domestic
Chaplain to the King. " None so fit," says Baillie, " for the educa-
tion of the King's children, both in piety, learning, and good man-
ners. The man is so eminent in piety, wisdom, learning, gravity,
and moderation, that I think his employment would bring a bless-
ing to the royall family and all the kingdome.*" An anecdote
connected with this portion of his history is recorded on the au-
thority of Mr William Vilant of St Andrews, Avho, after stating
" that scarcely did he [ever] know a more rare conjunction of these
thino-s more eminently shining in any one minister, than in JVir
Blair, viz., eminent piety, prudence, and learning, and a most peace-
able, calm temper of spirit," " tells us that in Oliver Cromwell's time,
when he was called before theEnglish Council, they intended to take
his place and pension from him as King's Chaplain ; but he made
such a wise appearance before them, that their preses said to the
rest, * It is well that this man is a minister ; for if he were not a
minister, he might vex us all with his great wisdom and policy ;
therefore let us not take his pension from him, but let him keep it.'
And so they dismissed him with great respect." t

In the unhappy quarrel between the Resolutioners and Protesters,
Blair — though, from the " moderation" of his character, inclining to
the general policy of the Resolutioners — adopted a middle course,
and attempted to act as a peace-maker. He and the learned James
Durhamexcrted themselves, unsuccessfully, but Avith themost praise-
worthy zeal, to effect a union between the contending parties. As
too often happens in such cases, his well-meant efforts at reconci-
liation only excited jealousy and misconstruction. To use his own
homely expression on the subject, he was " cuffed upon both haffets
by them." In a letter addi-essed to Baillie, March 23. 1652, after
an (virncst exhortation to peace, and recommending that all former

• Baillie's Letters and Jomiiiils, ii. 414.
t Wodrow's Analcfta, iii. 91.


debates and determinations be quite laid aside, he adds, " If unit-
ing on such terms may be had, they are accursed that would hinder
the same, by seeking satisfaction for what is passed. For my own
part, I think I see evidentlie enough some things amisse utrinque ;
bot I would prefer one act of oblivion herein, lest new debating
exulcerate our sores." * Baillie, who was a violent partisan on the
side of the Resolutioners, seems to have taken this letter in very ill
part. " Worse hardly can be than an accursed man : I groan at
such horrible terms for no cause at all, bot sober dutie in the fear
of God." And, with all his love and veneration for Blair, amount-
ing almost to idolatry, " being sore grieved with this expression,"
he says, " I wrote sharp back to him a long bitter letter." Dur-
ham was equally severe on poor Baillie, for he said, " that who
would be against such a union were not worthie to sitt either in
Presbyterie or Synods." " To this terril:>le reflection," says Baillie,
"I said no more, but simplie. Brother, this requires no answer." f
It has been justly remarked by a late writer, who has done ample
justice to both sides of this sad controversy, that " it is evident
that Blair was cordially united with Durham in the honourable
work of mediation, and that nothing prevented their success but
the obstinate and inveterate animosities of both parties." %

On the restoration of Charles II., the subject of our memoirs,
though he had taken an active part with the friends of the mo-
narchy, and was now in infirm old age, was too honest to his prin-
ciples as a Presbyterian, to be allowed to retain his charge in
peace. He was more especially an eyesore to Sharp, with whose
ultimate designs it did not comport to see a leader of the Presby-
terian Church occupying the town which he hoped soon to call
his archiepiscopal seat. Through the influence of this unhappy
man he was subjected to various annoyances, which issued in his
being obliged to leave St Andrews in September 1661 ; and, after
having been confined, by the orders of Council, first to Mussel-

* Baillie's Letters, iii. 175. t Ibid. iii. 1S3.

X Beattic's Histoiy of the Church of Scotland during the Commonwealth, 251.
Edin. : Whvte & Co. 1842.


biir^Wi, and at'terwiuds to Kirkcaldy, where he spent three years
and a half in comparative quiet, he removed to the Castle of Cous-
ton, in the i)arish of Aberdour, where he died, August 27, 1666,
in the seventy-second year of his age."*

Such is a brief outline of the life of a person w^ho was, by his
contemporaries, " reckoned one of the wisest men in the nation." f
Unfortunately, few or none of his writings appear to have been
committed to the press. It was probably owing to his high repu-
tation for " wisdom," that, " when the General Assembly resolved
upon a new explication of the Holy Bible, among others of the
godly and learned in the ministry, Mr Blair had the books of Pro-
verbs and Ecclesiastes assigned to him for his part." But we are
informed, on the same authority, " he neglected that task till he
was rendered useless for other purposes, and then set about and
finished his Commentary on the Proverbs in 1666." | This is
confirmed by Row, who informs us under the year 1663, that when
lurking in Kirkcaldy, " all this while by-past he was not idle ;
for he was perfecting his Annotations on the Proverbs." {Life,
p. 457.) His Commentary, though completed and prepared for
the press, has, however, never been published : the manusci'ipt may
still be extant, and we would fondly hope that the present publi-
cation may lead to its discovery. (See Life, p. 403.) Baillie,
writing in 1641, speaks of another work undertaken by Blair: —
" Think not we live any of us here to be idle : ]\Ii- Hendersone has
readie now a short treatise, much called for, of our Church Dis-
cipline ; ^Ir Gillespie has the grounds of Presbyterial government
well asserted ; Mi- Blair, a jJertinent answer to Hall's Remonstrance;
all these are readie for the presse." § Henderson's " Government
and Order of the Church of Scotland," and Gillespie's " Assertion
of the Government of the Church of Scotland in the Points of

• " 16GG, Aut,t.— Mr Robert Blair, Icate minister of St Androus, (being deposed
because he did not acquiesce with Epis(!0]iacy), depairted out of this life at Cawston,
in the parish of Aberdowre, being living there for the tyme, and was intciTed Augt.
..... at Aberdowre, in the day-tyrae."— Zawo/ifs Diary, 241.
t Wodrow's Analecta, iii. i)2.

} HdwIc's Scots Worthies; Art, Mr liohert Blair.
§ BaiLiie's Letters and Journals, i. 303.


Ruling Elders," Sic, are well-known treatises ; but of Blair's " per-
tinent Answer," if it was ever published, we have not been able to
obtain any information. The famous " Answer to a Book entituled
an Humble Remonstrance, by Smectymnuus" is known to have
been the joint production of five divines, the initial letters of whose
names compose the above strange noni cle guerre ;* and it is highly
probable that the appearance of that treatise, which was published
in 1641, and led to a protracted controversy between the Smec-
tymnuan divines and Bishop Hall, the author of the Remonstrance,
may have induced Blair first to postpone, and finally to suppress
the Answer which he had prepared. With the exception, there-
fore, of his Autobiography, now for the first time printed as it was
written by himself; a few fugitive pieces of Latin poetry, pre-
served by Row in his Continuation ; and a Preface to the posthu-
mous treatise of Durham on Scandal ; the literary remains of Ro-
bert Blair, once so famous for his wisdom and learning, may be
said to have been lost to posterity.

In personal appearance, Blair is represented as " a man of a not-
able constitution, both of body and mind — of a majestick, awful,
yet amiable countenance." f We are not aware that any portrait
of him exists. The curious reader may be gratified by the follow-
ing specimen of his handwriting, taken from the letter given in
the Appendix, p. 598.

In spirit and in manners, as well as by descent, Robert Blair

* Neal's History of the Pnritans, vol. ii., ch. viii.

t Livingstone's Mem. Characteristics. Select Biogi-aphies of Wodrow Soc. i. 324.


wius, in tlie true sense of the word, a gentleman. Courteous and
polite in hi.s address, calm and moderate in his temper, he took
the fancy of Charles I. at the Conference at Newcastle, in 1646,
while some of his brethren offended the dignity of the monarch by
their nide simplicity. In his later years, he had acquired suffi-
cient wealth to purchase a property of some value in Fife.*
A foolish anecdote has been frequently told of him, by writers
unfriendly to the Presbyterians, which we notice only to contra-
dict. It is alleged that when Charles II. paid him a visit at St
Andrews, during his brief sojourn in Scotland about the year
1650, Mrs Blair being about to hand him a seat, her husband said,
" Hold, my dear, the young man can lift a chair for himself."
This piece of wanton rudeness is so totally at variance with Mr
Blair's character, and his uniform respect for royalty, that the
story bears on its front the evidence of spuriousness. The reader
who doubts of this may consult the scene described in the Life,
pp. 1(S6-188. An imputation much more injurious has been cast
on him by the writer of the Memoirs of Sir Robert Spottlswood,
the Lord President, who was executed for high treason at St An-
drews in 1646. That author charges Blair, " the fanatical minis-
ter of the place," with having incited the provost to prevent Sir
Robert from speaking on the scaffold, and asserts that the Presi-
dent having taunted him, by saying he would not have his
prayers, because " God had sent a lying spirit into the mouth of
the prophets," Blair "grew so extremely in passion, that he coiUd
not forbear scandalous and contumelious language against Sir
Robert's father, [Archbishop Spottiswood], who had been long
dead, and against himself, who was now a-dying, which this mild
gentleman took no notice of, having his mind fixed upon higher
matter8."t The unprejudiced reader will find a very different

• "IGCO.— About Witsonday, Mr Robert Blaire, minister of St Aiidrous, bought

Clcmiont, in Fyfc, from one Robeitsone, eye to the deceassed Robert

Taylour, Bomctimc provcst of St Andrews : it stood him about eghteinc thousande
markus Scots." — Lamont's Diary, 157.

Online LibraryRobert BlairThe life of Mr. Robert Blair, minister of St. Andrews, containing his autobiography, from 1593-1636 : with supplement of his life and continuation of the history of the times, to 1680 → online text (page 1 of 63)