Robert Chambers.

A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen. With a supplemental volume, continuing the biographies to the present time (Volume 4) online

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Online LibraryRobert ChambersA biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen. With a supplemental volume, continuing the biographies to the present time (Volume 4) → online text (page 1 of 80)
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D A F R L E E N .
























MELVILLE, ANDREW, one of the most illustrious of the Scottish reformers,
whose name stands next to that of Knox in the history of the Reformation, and
is second to none in the erudition of the time, was born on the 1st of August,
1545, at Baldovy or Baldowy, an estate on the banks of the South Esk, near
Montrose, of which his father was proprietor. The form in which the family
name was generally known at that time in Scotland and in foreign countries,
was Melvyne or Melvin. Throughout the interesting correspondence, written in
Latin, between the subject of this memoir and his amiable and accomplished
nephew, whose life is recorded in the next article, the name is uniformly written
Melvinus. In Fifeshire, at the present day, the name is commonly pronounced
Melvin, and at an earlier period it was frequently both pronounced and written
Melin, Mellin, and Melling. The Melvilles of Baldowy were a family of some
note in the middle of the sixteenth century, and near cadets of Melville of Raitb,
who was considered to be the chief of an influential name in the county of Fife.
Melville of Dysart, however, was acknowledged by Andrew Melville to have
been the chief of the Baldowy branch of the family. Andrew was the youngest
of nine sons, and had the misfortune to lose his father, who fell in the battle of
Pinkie, while be was yet only two years of age. The death of his mother, also,
soon afterwards took place, and he was thus left an orphan. The loss of his
parents, however, was in a great measure compensated by the kindness and
tenderness of his eldest brother, and the wife of that individual, both of whom
watched over his infant years with the most anxious affection and assiduity. The
long-tried and unwearied kindness of the latter, in particular, made a strong
impression upon Melville, which lasted during the whole of his life.

His brother, perceiving his early propensity to learning, resolved to encourage
it, and with this view gave him the best education which the country afforded.
He was besides of a weakly habit of body, a consideration which had its weight
in determining the line of life he should pursue. Young Melville was accord-
ingly put to the grammar-school of Montrose, where he acquired the elements
of the Latin language, and, among other accomplishments, a knowledge of
Greek, which was then a rare study in Scotland. When removed, in his
fourteenth year, to the university of St Andrews, he surprised his teachers by
his knowledge of Greek, with \vhich they were wholly unacquainted. He was in-


debted for thii fortunate peculiarity in his education, to a Frenchman of the
name of Marsilliers, who had been established as a teacher of Greek in the
school of Montrose, by John Erskine of Dun.

The great progress which young Melville had made in learning, excited the
astonishment and attracted the attention of the various teachers in the univer-
sity ; particularly Mr John Douglas, the rector, who on one occasion having
Liken the young and weakly boy between his knees, was so delighted with his
replies, when questioned on the subject of his studies, that he exclaimed, " My
silly fatherless and motherless boy, it's ill to wilt [to guess] what God may
make of thee yeL"

The reputation which Melville acquired soon after entering the college, in-
creased with his stay there ; and he left it, on finishing the usual course of
study, with the character of being " the best philosopher, poet, and Grecian, of
any young master in the land." Having acquired all the learning which his
native country afforded, he resolved to proceed to the continent to complete
his education ; and, accordingly, with the consent of his brothers, set out for
France in the autumn of 1564, being still only in the nineteenth year of his
age. At the university of Paris, whither he repaired, he acquired a similar
reputation for general talent, and particularly for his knowledge of Greek,
with that which he had secured at St Andrews. Here he remained for two
years, when he removed to Poictiers. On his arrival at the latter place, such
was the celebrity already attached to his name, he was made regent in the col-
lego of St Man-eon, although yet only twenty-one years of age. From Poic-
tiers, lie went some time afterwards to Geneva, where he was presented with
the humanity chair in the academy, which happened fortunately to be then va-
cant. In 1571, he returned to his native country, after an absence altogether
of ten years. On his arrival at Edinburgh, he was invited by the regent Mor-
ton to enter his family as a domestic instructor, with a promise of advancement
when opportunity should offer. This invitation he declined, alleging that he
preferred an academical life, and that the object of his highest ambition was to
obtain an appointment in one of the universities. He now retired to Baldovy,
where he spent the following three months, enjoying the society of his elder
brother, and amusing himself by superintending the studies of his nephew,
James Melville.

At the end of this period, he was appointed principal of the college of Glas-
gow by the General Assembly, and immediately proceeded thither to assume
the duties of his office. Here the learning and talents of Melville were
eminently serviceable, not only to the university over which he presided, but to
the whole kingdom. He introduced improvements in teaching and in disci-
pline, which at once procured a high degree of popularity to the college, ami
greatly promoted the cause of general education throughout Scotland. Melville
possessed a considerable share of that intrepidity for which his great prede-
cessor, Knox, was so remarkable. At an interview, on one occasion, with the re-
gent Morton, who was highly displeased with some proceedings of the General
Assembly, of which Melville was a member, Uie former, irritated by what he
conceived to be obstinacy in the latter,exclaimed, " There will never be quietness
in this country, till half-a-dozen of you be hanged or banished." " Hark, sir,"
said Melville, " threaten your courtiers after that manner. It is the same to
me, whether I rot in the air or in the ground. The earth is the Lord's.
Patria est ubicunque est bene. I have been ready to give my life where it
would not have been half so well wared [expended], at the pleasure of my God.
I have lived out of your country ten years, as well as in it. Let God be glori-
fied : it will not be in your power to hang or exile his truth.-' It is not said


that the regent resented this bold language ; but probably his forbearance was
as much owing to the circumstance of his resigning the regency, which he did
soon after, as to any other cause.

In 1580, Melville was translated to St Andrews, to fill a similar situation
with that which he occupied at Glasgow. Here he distinguished himself by the
same ability which had acquired him so much reputation in the western uni-
versity. Besides giving lectures on theology, he taught the Hebrew, Chaldee,
Syriac, and Rabbinical languages, and discovered such an extent of knowledge
and superiority of acquirement, that his classes were attended, not only by
young' students in unusual numbers, but by several of the masters of the other
colleges. In 1 582, Melville opened, with sermon, an extraordinary meeting of
the General Assembly, which had been convoked to take into consideration the
dangerous state of the protestant church, from the influence which the earl of
Arran, and the lords D'Aubigne and Lennox, exercised over the young king.
In this sermon he boldly inveighed against the absolute authority which the
court was assuming a right to exercise in ecclesiastical affairs, and alluded to a
design on the part of France, of which D'Aubigne was the instrument, to re-
establish the catholic religion in the country. The assembly, impressed with
similar sentiments, and entertaining similar apprehensions, drew up a spirited
remonstrance to the king, and appointed Melville to present it. He accord-
ingly repaired to Perth, where the king then was, and, despite of some alarm-
ing reports which reached him, of the personal danger to which he would ex-
pose himself from the resentment of the king's favourites, demanded and ob-
tained access to his majesty. When the remonstrance was read, Arran looked
round the apartment, and exclaimed, in a tone of defiance and menace, " Who
dares subscribe these treasonable articles ?" " We dare," replied Melville; and,
taking a pen from the clerk, he affixed his signature to the document: an ex-
ample which was immediately followed by the other commissioners who were
with him. The cool and dignified intrepidity of Melville, completely silenced
the blustering of Arran, who, finding himself at fault by this unexpected oppo-
sition, made no further remark ; and Lennox, with better policy, having spoken
to the commissioners in a conciliatory tone, they were peaceably dismissed. It
seems probable, however, from what afterwards ensued, that Arran did not for-
get the humiliation to which Melville's boldness had on this occasion subjected
him. In less than two years afterwards, Melville was summoned before the
privy council, on a charge of high treason, founded upon some expressions
which, it was alleged, he had made use of in the pulpit. Whether Arran was
the original instigator of the prosecution, does not very distinctly appear; but
it is certain that he took an active part in its progress, and expressed an eager
anxiety for the conviction of the accused. Failing in establishing any thing to
the prejudice of Melville, the council had recourse to an expedient to effect
that which they could not accomplish through his indictment They could not
punish him for offences which they could not prove ; but they found him guilty
of declining the judgment of the council, and of behaving irreverently before them,
and condemned him to be imprisoned in the castle of Edinburgh, and to be fur-
ther punished in person and goods at his majesty's pleasure. The terms of the
sentence, in so far as regarded the place of imprisonment, were afterwards altered
by Arran, who substituted " Blackness," where lie had a creature of his own as
keeper, for Edinburgh. Several hours being allowed to Melville before he was
put in ward, he availed himself of the opportunity, and made his escape to Eng-
land. To this step, being himself in doubt whether he ought not rather to
submit to the sentence of the council, he was urged by some of his friends, who,
to his request for advice in the matter, replied, with the proverb of the house of


Angus, " Loose and living;" which pretty plainly intimates what they conceived
would be the result, if he permitted himself to be made " fast." On leav-
ing Edinburgh, Melville first proceeded to Berwick, and thence to London,
where he remained till the November of 1585. The indignation of the king-
dom having then driven Arran from the court, he returned to Scotland, after an
absence of twenty months. The plague, which had raged in the country while
he was in England, having dispersed his pupils at St Andrews, and the college
being, from this and other causes, in a state of complete disorganization, he did
not immediately resume his duties there, but proceeded to Glasgow, where he re-
mained for some time. In the month of March following, induced by an appearance
of more settled times, he returned to St Andrews, and recommenced his lectures
and former course of instruction. These, however, were soon again interrupted.
In consequence of the active part which he took in the excommunication of
archbishop Adamson, who was accused of overthrowing the scriptural govern-
ment and discipline of the church of Scotland, he was commanded by the king
to leave St Andrews, and to confine himself beyond the water of Tay. From
this banishment he was soon afterwards recalled; and, having been restored to
his majesty's favour, through the intercession of the dean of faculty and masters
of the university, he resumed his academical labours at St Andrews.

In the year following (1587,) he was chosen moderator of the General As-
sembly, and appointed one of their commissioners to the ensuing meeting of
parliament. A similar honour with the first was conferred upon him in 1589,
and again in 1 594. In the year following, he was invited to take a part in
the ceremonies at the coronation of the queen, which took place in the chapel
of Holyrood, on the 17th of May. On this occasion, although he did not
know, until only two days before, that he was expected to take a part in the
approaching ceremony, he composed and delivered, before a great concourse of
noblemen and gentlemen, assembled to witness the coronation, a Latin poem,
which, having been printed next day at the earnest solicitation of his majesty,
who was much pleased with it, under the title of- " Stephaniskion," and circu-
lated throughout Europe, added greatly to the reputation which its author had
already acquired. An instance of the generosity of Melville's disposition, which
occurred about this time, cannot be passed over, however brief the sketch of
his life may be, without doing an injustice to his memory. Archbishop Adam-
son, one of his most irreconcilable enemies, having lost the favour of the king,
was reduced, by the sequestration of his annuity, which immediately followed,
to great pecuniary distress. He applied to Melville for relief, and he did not
apply in vain. Melville immediately visited him, and undertook to support
himself and his family at his own expense, until some more effective and per-
manent assistance could be procured for him ; and this he did for several months,
finally obtaining a contribution for him from his friends in St Andrews. Sudi
instances of benevolence are best left to the reader's own reflections, and are
only injured by comment

In 1590, he was chosen rector of the university; an office which he conti-
nued to hold by re-election for many years, and in which he displayed a firm-
ness and decision of character on several trying occasions, that gives him a
claim to something more than a mere literary reputation. Though a loyal sub-
ject in the best tense and most genuine acceptation of that term, he frequently
addressed king James in language much more remarkable for its plainness than
its courtesy. He had no sympathy whatever for the absurdities of that prince,
and would neither condescend to humour his foibles nor flatter his vanity. A
remarkable instance of this plain dealing with his majesty, occurred in 1596.
In that year, Melville formed one of a deputation from the' commissioners of the


General Assembly, who met at Cupar in Fife, being appointed to wait upon tho
king at Falkland, for the purpose of exhorting him to prevent the consequences
of certain measures inimical to religion, which his council were pursuing. James
Melville, nephew of the subject of this memoir, was chosen spokesman of the
party, on account of the mildness of his manner and the courteousness of his
address. On entering the presence, he accordingly began to state the object
and views of the deputation. He had scarcely commenced, however, when the
king interrupted him, and in passionate language, denounced the meeting at
Cupar as illegal and seditious. James Melville was about to reply with his usual
mildness, when his uncle, stepping forward, seized the sleeve of the king's
gown, arid calling his sacred majesty "God's silly vassal," proceeded to lecture
him on the impropriety of his conduct, and to point out to him the course
which he ought to pui-sue, particularly in matters of ecclesiastical polity. " Sir,"
he said, " we will always humbly reverence your majesty in public; but since
we have this occasion to be with your majesty in private, and since you are
brought in extreme danger both of your life and crown, and, along with you,
the country and the church of God are like to go to wreck, for not telling you
the truth, and giving you faithful counsel, we must discharge our duty or else
be traitors both to Christ and you. Therefore, Sir, as divers times before I
have told you, so now again I must tell you, there are two kings and two king-
doms in Scotland : there is king James, the head of this commonwealth, and
there is Christ Jesus the king of the church, whose subject James the Sixth is,
and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member."
Melville went on in a similar strain with this for a great length of time, not-
withstanding repeated attempts, on the part of the king, to stop him. James
expressed the strongest repugnance at the outset to listen to him, and endeav-
oured to frighten him from his purpose by a display of the terrors of offended
royalty, but in vain. He was finally compelled to listen quietly and patiently
to all that Melville chose to say. At the conclusion of the speech, the king,
whose anger, and whose courage also probably, had subsided during its delivery,
made every concession which was required ; and the deputation returned with-
out any loss, apparently, of royal favour. It was not, however, to be ex-
pected, that Melville should have gained any ground in the king's affec-
tions by this display of sincerity and zeal ; nor were the future interviews
which took place between them better calculated for this end. ; The very next
which occurred is thus alluded to in his nephew's diary : " And ther they (the
king and Melville) heeled on, till all the hous and clos bathe hard mikle, of a
large houre. In end, the king takes upe and dismissis him favourablie."

However favourably James may have dismissed him, he does not seem to have
been unwilling to avail himself of the first opportunity which should offer of get-
ting rid of him. At a royal visitation of the university of St Andrews, which soon
afterwards took place, matter of censure against Melville was eagerly sought after,
and all who felt disposed to bring any complaint against him, were encouraged
to come forward with their accusations. The result was, that a large roll, filled
with charges against him, was put into the king's hands. He was accused of
neglecting the pecuniary affairs of the college, and the duties of his office as a
teacher, of agitating questions of policy in place of lecturing on divinity, and
of inculcating doctrines subversive of the king's authority and of the peace of
the realm. At several strict examinations, he gave such satisfactory explana-
tions of his conduct, and defended himself so effectually against the slanders of
those who sought his ruin, that the visitors were left without any ground or pre-
text on which to proceed against him. They, however, deprived him of the
rectorship, on the plea that it was improper that that office should be united


with the professorship of theology, the appointment which Melville held in the

The accession of James to the English throne, did not abate his desire to
assume an absolute control over the affairs of the church of Scotland, mid long
after his removal to England, he continued to entertain designs hostile to its
liberties. The attempts which he had made to obtain this supremacy, uhile he
was yet in Scotland, had been thwarted in a great measure by the exertions of
Melville. His intrepidity kept James at bay, and his zeal, activity, and talents,
deprived him of all chance of succeeding, by chicanery or cunning. Melville
still presented himself as a stumbling-block in his way, should he attempt to
approach the Scottish church with inimical designs, and James, therefore, now
resolved that he should be entirely removed from the kingdom. To accomplish
this, he had recourse to one of those infamous and unprincipled stratagems
which he considered the very essence of " king craft." In May 1606, Mel-
ville received a letter from his majesty, commanding him to repair to London
before the 15th of September next, that his majesty might consult with him,
and others of his learned brethren, regarding ecclesiastical matters, with the
view of healing all differences, and securing a good understanding between his
majesty and the church. Letters of a similar tenor were received by seven
other clergymen, amongst whom was Melville's nephew.

Though not without some doubts regarding the result of this rather extraor-
dinary invitation, Melville and his brethren set out for London, where they ar-
rived on the 25th of August. The first interview of the Scottish clergymen
with the king was sufficiently gracious. He inquired for news from Scotland,
and condescended even to be jocular. This, however, did not last long ; at
the subsequent conferences Melville found himself called upon, by the sentiments
which the king expressed regarding church matters, to hold the same bold and
plain language to him which he had so often done in Scotland, and this too in
the presence of great numbers of his English courtiers, who could not refrain
from expressing their admiration of Melville's boldness, and of the eloquence
with which he delivered his sentiments. In the mean time, however, the Scot-
tish ministers were interdicted from returning to Scotland without the special
permission of the king. On the 28th September they were required by his
majesty to give attendance in the royal chapel on the following day to witness
the celebration of the festival of St 3Iichael. The ceremonies and fooleries of
the exhibition which took place on this occasion, were so absurd, and so nearly
approached those of the Romish church, that they excited in Melville a feeling
of the utmost indignation and contempt. This feeling he expressed in a Latin
epigram, which he composed on returning to his lodgings. A copy of the
lines found its way to his majesty, who was greatly incensed by them, and
ietermined to proceed against their author on the ground that they were trea-
sonable. He was accordingly summoned before the privy council, found guilty
of scandalum magnatum, and after a confinement of nearly twelve months, first in
the house of the dean of St Paul's, and afterwards in that of the bishop of Win-
hester, was committed to the Tower, where he remained a prisoner for four
The other clergymen who had accompanied Melville to London were
allowed to return to Scotland ; but they were confined to particular parU
le country, and forbidden to attend any church courts. Melville's nephew
wa. commanded to leave London within six days, and to repair to Newcastle
upon Tyne, and not to go ten miles beyond that town on the pain of rebellion

In the month of February, 1611, Melville Mas released from the Tower on

the appl.cauon of the duke of Bouillon, who had solicited his liberty from the

;mg, in order to procure his services as a professor in bis university at Sedan


in France. Melville, who was now in the 66th year of his age, was exceed-
ingly reluctant to go abroad ; but, as this was a condition of his liberty, and as
there was no hope of the king's being prevailed upon to allow him to return to
Scotland, he submitted to the expatriation, and sailed for France on the 19th
of April.

On his arrival at Paris he was fortunate enough to fall in with one of his
scholars then prosecuting his studies there, by whom he was kindly and affec-
tionately received. After spending a few days in the French capital he repaired
to Sedan, and was admitted to the place destined for him in the university.

In the year following he removed to Grenoble, to superintend the education
of three sons of the treasurer of the parliament of Dauphiny, with a salary of
five hundred crowns per annum ; but, not finding the situation an agreeable one,
he returned within a short time to Sedan, and resumed his former duties.
Melville continued to maintain a close correspondence with his numerous friends

Online LibraryRobert ChambersA biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen. With a supplemental volume, continuing the biographies to the present time (Volume 4) → online text (page 1 of 80)