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BY THOMAS M’CRIE PREFACE The Reformation from popery marks an epoch unquestionably the most important in the history of modern Europe. The effects of the change which it produced, in religion, in manners, in politics, and in literature, continue to be felt at the present day. Nothing, surely, can be more interesting than an investigation of the history of that period, and of those men who were the instruments, under Providence, of accomplishing a revolution which has proved so beneficial to mankind.
Though many able writers have employed their talents in tracing the causes and consequences of the Reformation, and though the leading facts respecting its progress in Scotland have been repeatedly stated, it occurred to me that the subject was by no means exhausted. I was confirmed in this opinion by a more minute examination of the ecclesiastical history of this country, which I began for my own satisfaction several years ago. While I was pleased at finding that there existed such ample materials for illustrating the history of the Scottish Reformation, I could not but regret that no one had undertaken to digest and exhibit the information on this subject which lay hid in manuscripts, and in books which are now little known or consulted. Not presuming, however, that I had the ability or the leisure requisite for executing a task of such difficulty and extent, I formed the design of drawing up memorials of our national Reformer, in which his personal history might be combined with illustrations of the progress of that great undertaking, in the advancement of which he acted so conspicuous a part.
A work of this kind seemed to be wanting. The name of Knox, indeed, often occurs in the general histories of the period, and some of our historians have drawn, with their usual ability, the leading traits of a character with which they could not fail to be struck; but it was foreign to their object to detail the events of his life, and it was not to be expected that they would bestow that minute and critical attention on his history which is necessary to form a complete and accurate idea of his character.
Memoirs of his life have been prefixed to editions of some of his works, and inserted in biographical collections and periodical publications; but in many instances their authors were destitute of proper information, and in others they were precluded, by the limits to which they were confined, from entering into those minute statements, which are so useful for illustrating individual character, and render biography both pleasing and instructive. Nor can it escape observation, that a number of writers have been guilty of great injustice to the memory of our Reformer, and, from prejudice, from ignorance, or from inattention, have exhibited a distorted caricature, instead of a genuine portrait.
I was encouraged to prosecute my design in consequence of my possessing a manuscript volume of Knox’s Letters, which throw considerable light upon his character and history. The advantages which I have derived from this volume will appear in the course of the work.
The other manuscripts which I have chiefly made use of are Calderwood’s large “History of the Church of Scotland”, Row’s “History”, and Wodrow’s “Collections”. Calderwood’s “History”, besides much valuable information respecting the early period of the Reformation, contains a collection of letters written by Knox between 1559 and 1572, which, together with those in my possession, extend over twenty years of the most active period of his life. I have carefully consulted this history as far as it relates to the period of which I write.
Row, in composing the early part of his “History of the Kirk”, had the assistance of memoirs written by David Ferguson, his father-in-law, who was admitted minister of Dunfermline at the establishment of the Reformation. Copies of this “History” seem to have been taken before the author had put the finishing hand to it, which may account for the additional matter to be found in some of them. I have occasionally quoted the copy which belongs to the Divinity Library in Edinburgh, but more frequently one transcribed in 1726, which is more full than any other copy that I have had access to see.
The industrious Wodrow had amassed a valuable collection of manuscripts relating to the ecclesiastical history of Scotland, the greater part of which is now deposited in our public libraries. In the library of the University of Glasgow there are a number of volumes in folio, containing collections which he had made for illustrating the lives of the Scottish Reformers and Divines of the sixteenth century. These have supplied me with some interesting facts.
For the transactions of the General Assembly I have consulted the Register, commonly called the “Book of the Universal Kirk”. There are several copies of this manuscript in the country. That which is followed in this work, and which is the oldest that I have examined, belongs to the Advocates Library.
I have endeavored to avail myself of the printed histories of the period, and of books published in the age of the Reformation, which often incidentally mention facts which are not recorded by historians. In the Advocates Library, which contains an invaluable treasure of information respecting Scottish affairs, I had the opportunity of examining the original editions of most of the Reformer’s works. The rarest of all his tracts is the narrative of his disputation with the Abbot of Crossraguel, which scarcely any writer since Knox’s time seems to have seen. After I had given up all hopes of procuring a sight of this curious tract, I was accidentally informed that a copy of it was in the library of Alexander Boswell, Esq., of Auchinleck, who very politely communicated it to me.
In pointing out the sources which I have consulted, I wish not to be understood as intimating that the reader may expect, in the following work, much information which is absolutely new. Those who engage in researches of this kind must lay their account with finding the result of their discoveries reduced within a small compass, and should be prepared to expect that many of their readers will pass over with a cursory eye what they produced with great, perhaps with unnecessary labor. The principal facts respecting the Reformation and the Reformer are already known. I flatter myself, however, that I have been able to place some of them in a new and more just light, and to bring forward others which have not hitherto been generally known.
No apology, I trust, will be deemed necessary for the freedom with which I have expressed my sentiments on the public questions which naturally occurred in the course of the narrative. Some of these are at variance with opinions which are popular in the present age; but it does not follow from this that they are false, or that they should have been suppressed. I have not become the indiscriminate panegyrist of the Reformer, but neither have I been deterred, by the apprehension of incurring this charge, from vindicating him wherever I considered his conduct to be justifiable, or from apologizing for him against uncandid and exaggerated censures. The attacks which have been made on his character from so many quarters, and the attempts to wound the Reformation through him, must be my excuse for having so often adopted the language of apology.