land to improve the sterility of the ancient chronicle, Hector Boece produced a singular and not unpleasing medley, resembling the architecture of his age and country, where a Grecian colunin was sometimes employed to sustain a gothic canopy, while forms the most grotesque spouted out water from the tops of flying buttresses, and astonished the spectator by the contrast which they afforded to the truth of proportion exhibited beneath. The neglect into which historical Latinity has been permitted to fall in the present age, is neither creditable to the taste nor erudition of our countrymen; but where philological learning, excepting in one narrow department, is obviously on the decline, it is no matter of wonder that the oblivion which has overspread the great originals should have enveloped the copies. To the gradual disuse, however, of a foreign and ancient idiom may be imputed that high polish which the language of North Britain has received from Hume and Robertson, as well as the universal diffusion of intelligence on a most interesting and important subject, the history of their country, in a struggle which, with some temporary deviations, has moulded the form of its ecclesiastical constitution from that day to the present.

So well known indeed had that period become, such an unwearying topic was it of historical criticism and passionate controversy, and so deformed has it been, under the management of some later hands, by invective and scurrility, that the charm which had been thrown over the reformation in Scotland by the matchless powers of Robertson, had been well nigh dissipated, and delight converted into disgust. Under these impressions we opened the volumes before us. What! more last words of John Knox ? More apologies for Mary, or more invectives against her? Yet, such exclamations might have been spared. It could not be denied that a work of another nature than had yet appeared was wanting on the subject. What prudent man ever placed implicit confidence in the rude railings of Knox, (if indeed they belong to him,) or the classical billingsgate of Buchanan ? Lesley, in the very threshold of his mistress's reign, prudently cut short the thread of his story. Spottiswood, while he carefully relates the turbulent and pertinacions conduct of the kirk, is known to have suppressed the duplicity and tergiversation, the private cabals and correspondence of his master James with the Catholics, which excited all their jealousies. Robertson, who is now generally understood to be right in his leading facts, spared himself the trouble of much research by adopting the theory of Buchanan. But the object of this matchless writer was evidently to adorn his subject, rather than to clear the doubts or remove the difficulties with which it was incumbered: as a teacher of political morality, an elevation

to which, from his ecclesiastical character and profound understanding, he might and ought to have aspired, the historian of Scotland is lamentably defective. His moral sense is abundantly cool; he seems to consider a certain portion of craft and dissimulation as an allowable and alınost indispensible ingredient in the character of men of business : of manly simplicity he appears either to have been ignorant or careless; in short, when we recollect the school in which he was bred, the society with which he mingled, and even the nation to which he belonged, we are led to the irresistible conclusion, that Dr. Robertson was born a Jesuit.

Dr. Cooke, to whom it is now time to advert, is eminently gifted as a moral and political historian; his understanding is clear and discriminating, his researches have been ample, and his industry unwearied. It is impossible not to bestow a double portion of honour on the established clergy of Scotland, when we see them capable under so many disadvantages of producing such works as the present. The general extent of their parishes, their indefatigable exertions in public and private, and that very moderate provision which places few of them above the necessity of a very minute attention to their private concerns, might seem to leave little leisure and perhaps less inclination for elaborate and critical investigations. But to some minds, as well as bodies, change of labour is relaxation. One advantage, however, the minister of Laurence-kirk has enjoyed in the use of an ample parochial library, founded in his parish by a wealthy and liberal judge. But it is not the intellectual power displayed in this work which we are most inclined to applaud; in this respect, some of the author's predecessors in the same department have surpassed, and none perhaps have fallen greatly beneath him ; but there shines in almost every page of the work, a purity, we had almost said, a sanctity of political principle, an impartiality which the prejudices of education and profession can scarcely be perceived to warp, together with a moral sense, originally warm and apprehensive, but improved to the highest degree of acuteness by cultivation and exercise. It is truly edifying to observe the dignity and independence of spirit with which a Presbyterian minister can expose and censure the duplicity occasionally displayed by the founders of his own church, can justify, if not applaud, the conduct of James V. in refusing, at the requirement of Henry VIII. to dissolve the monasteries of Scotland, can speak of episcopacy with respect, and maintain the cause of law and order against the first insurgents of his country in favour of the Reformation. All this, it is true, might have been done by a cool and crafty man on the popular principle of modern indifference; but Dr. Cooke is evidently a


man of feeling and conscience : with all the attachment to his own church and country, which becomes a patriot and a clergyman, he has little of the blind nationality of a Scotsman, and less of the old rigour and sourness of a 'minister.' If there exist in the whole work a vestige of partiality, (unobserved, we are persuaded, by the author himself,) it will be found, not in his representations of his own countrymen, but in his character of Calvin, and in his views of the conduct of Elizabeth.

The work commences with an introductory book, in which the author traces the successive usurpations of popery with a bold and indignant hand. On this subject a Scottish minister is never at a loss. But throughout this discourse we descry more or less of the powerful band of Dr. Campbell, to whose school, as an ecclesiastical historian, the minister of Laurence-kirk evidently belongs. It was specifically on this account, that we selected the History of the Reformation in Scotland, and assigned to it a place in immediate opposition to the last article, in order to confront, to the flimsy sophistry, the misapplied erudition, the servile subjection of understanding, the malignant bigotry displayed in that wretched work, a plain and candid statement of the successive steps by which the Christian world was subdued under that enormous tyranny, and from which, by the blessing of Providence, one half of Europe was, as we hope and trust, finally emancipated from it. Useful, however, as this deduction is, we hesitate not to pronounce it, as specifically applied to the Reformation in Scotland, the least satisfactory portion of the whole work. This ground of complaint is more particularly applicable to the concluding part. Who knows not the last and most audacious corruptions of popery which took place under Leo X.? the profligate exactions of Tetzel and Arcemboldi ? the integrity and intrepidity of Luther? In udo est Mænas et Attin. But even here, whatever is original in our author's work is excellent. It is impossible not to applaud the force and clearness with which he exposes the sophistry of Mr. Hume on the doctrine of indulgences, and the flimsy apologies of Mr. Roscoe for the character of Leo. On the one he bestows an elaborate argument, on the other a slight, but effective stroke; for he knew that he had to encounter two writers immeasurably distant from each other in point of intellect; the poison of the former, though artificially concealed, being drastic and masculine; while that of the latter, like some vegetable bane, is at once feeble and soporific.

Still however it might bave been expected, from the active and inquisitive spirit of Dr. Cooke, that he would have narrowed his views to a point more immediately connected with the following work, that, antecedently to the introduction of the Scriptures or


the writings of the first reformers, and long before the preaching of Hamilton or Wishart, he would have traced, in the changing dispositions of the people, and in the mature depravity of the established religion, the predisposing causes of Reformation in his country. Providence, as he well knows, never employs its external instruments for the overthrow of ancient institutions, whether civil or ecclesiastical, till all is become unsound within. The Scots were always a noble people, bold, free, and, even before they became literate, intelligent and reflecting. Neither were they, like the inhabitants of the southern countries of Europe, either predisposed by voluptuousness and sloth to receive the yoke of popery, or rendered indifferent by gaiety and dissipation to the great interests of religion. The sombre character and complexion of their country had tinctured the constitution of its natives. On the other hand, among a people so sagacious, in the dawn of light and knowledge, every generation would produce individuals competent to discover that religious establishments were constituted for the purposes of religious instruction, an end which the establishment of Scotland had long ceased to answer: that the successors of the apostles were become soldiers, sportsmen, courtiers, or, at best, lay-judges and magistrates ; that the highest stations in the hierarchy were filled without regard to age or merit, by the natural children of the crown, or by the younger branches of the great families; that the benefices of ecclesiastics, which swallowed up almost one third part of the property of the kingdom, were wasted in habits of expense and riot, surpassing those of the great lay nobility ; that the inferior and officiating clergy were scandalously ignorant, not of the Scriptures only, but of their own wretched formularies ; that the few and infrequent instructions delivered from the pulpit and in their vernacular tongue, instead of being devoted to the momentous subjects of pure religion and morality, were wasted on the foolish and lying legends of saints; in short, that the whole of religion consisted in blind obedience to the mandates of a foreign priest, who, at his own good pleasure, adjusted the conditions of entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

Now, though much of this might with truth be affirmed of other nations during the same period, yet we conceive that, either from its remote situation, from the inordinate wealth of its ecclesiastical endowments, or some other cause, the hierarchy of Scotland, as distinct froin that of the court of Rome, and we may perhaps in candour say, as uncurbed by it, had attained to a degree both of profligacy and despotism unknown in the rest of Europe. It had reached that ultimate point of moral depression, from which, in the ceaseless revolution of national character, and the natural ten


dency of enormous evils to remedy themselves, it must begin to reascend. For this purpose a powerful assisting impulse was to be expected in the energetic character of the Scottish people, and this was in fact so violent, that for some time after the subversion of popery, the state of the national religion seemed to oscillate on either side of the point of exaltation, before it became stationary, we will not say how near this point, in a sober and rational establishment of presbytery.

With all our respect for Dr. Cooke, we cannot forbear expressing some degree of disappointment, that, with a perfect and critical knowledge of that period, aided by his own acute and pbilosophical understanding, instead of a general and far from original invective against the universal abuses of the church of Rome at this period, he had not employed himself in tracing more distinctly the steps of its downfal in his own country; the peculiar and characteristic marks of degeneracy, which were daily becoming more conspicuous, the secret ways in which the clergy were providentially led to their own destruction, together with the correspondent changes in public opinion, the great stay by which ancient establishments are upheld, or the great engine by which they are subverted; so far as it was possible to retrieve them from contemporary and popular works. To us it is evident that in that age and the next the prelates and clergy of Scotland, though no contemptible politicians in other matters, with respect to their own peculiar situation, were perfectly dementated. They stood as insensible to their real danger, as a fortress upon a rock already undermined and about to be blown up.

According to Dr. Cooke the period of the Reformation in Scotland extended from the appearance and preaching of Patrick Hamilton in 1528 to the year 1567, when the Protestant religion and Presbyterian discipline, after the most violent struggle which the most interesting of all causes could have produced, were finally established by the legislature. Lamentable, however, as such a protracted scene of violence and suffering must appear in the contemplation of hunanity, it served at least to develope the character of the two parties and of the religions which they severally maintained with so much earnestness. In the dawn of the Reformation, all was violence on the one side, and patient suffering on the other. But the violence of the prelates was accompanied with an ignorance so brutal, a contempt of popular opinion and of common decency so revolting, that it contributed most powerfully to promote the cause which it unskilfully laboured to counteract; while the youth and modesty, the learning and eloquence of the principal sufferers, by exciting the pity and indignation of mankind, operated with no less effect in the same direction; so that


« VorigeDoorgaan »