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Art. IX.- The Works of John Knox.
The Works of John Knox. Collected and Edited by David LAING.
Vols. I. to VI. Edinburgh. 1846—1864.
E have now before us the two last volumes, forming
Parts 1 and 2 of Volume VI., and concluding this splendid edition of the whole Works of John Knox. Some, it is true, might demur to the propriety of this designation. The Works of John Knox, they might urge, are to be seen, not in printed books, but in stern facts and living men. Scotland, with its grand old creed and plain old Church, with its kirks, and manses, and schools, sending forth their relays of eydent and perfervid youths to battle their way through the world,—Scotland and the Scotch, as they are, and have been, since the Reformation-these are the real “works” of Knox—and they “do follow him." Granted; and yet the literary remains of such a man were surely worthy of a better fate than to be scattered about in various shapes, and in various stages of decomposition, some interred in libraries, others “floating rarely in the vast whirlpool” of an old book-shop. To collect these works together, to put them in due order, to link them with the history of the man and his time, to plant around them a rich border of notes, historical, biographical, archæological, and topographical, illustrating every allusion in the text upon which time had thrown doubt or obscurity, and to publish the whole in the most elegant style of modern typography; all this was a task no less arduous than praiseworthy. And such has been the task undertaken, and now happily accomplished, by the present editor. The completion of the undertaking invites us to pay a debt which we have long felt was due to Mr. Laing, but which, while the work was in progress, could not be fully discharged. Upon this edition Mr. Laing has now been employed no less than eighteen years—the first two volumes having appeared in 1846—thus doubling the “norum depromptum in annum” of old Horace's advice. But when we take into view the amount of close and scrupulous (perhaps over-scrupulous) research expended on these volumesthe fruit of brief intervals of leisure snatched from a busy life - the number of dark passages through which he had to grope his way, and the vast quantity of information he has contrived to amass on the life, character, and writings of our Scottish Reformer, the public have no cause to complain of the time that has been spent on such an enterprise.
Meritorious Labours of the Editor.
Certain it is, that to no man living would Scotland have committed such a task with more confidence than to the present editor. To an antiquarian lore, in matters pertaining to Scottish history, unsurpassed by any other,—to a painstaking industry, leading him to hunt for a solitary fact through the cabinets of the curious, the archives of libraries, and charter-chests of families, at home and abroad, -Mr. Laing has brought to his task a clear, unbiassed judgment, an honesty of purpose, and shrewdness of discrimination, enabling him to execute it with trustworthy fidelity; and, above all
, a cordial appreciation of the civil and religious reformation of his country, without which he could never have coped with the difficulties, never have toiled so patiently to the completion of such an undertaking. With all his heart-felt admiration for Knox, which the preparation of these volumes attests, he does not fail to condemn his faults; while his opponents, who, at the hands of the stern Reformer, met with no mercy, are handled here with calm impartiality. When we add that all this has been with Mr. Laing, literally as well as morally, a labour of love, as he “never had any pecuniary interest in the publication,”—a fact which does infinite honour to the editor, but which can only be discovered from a casual hint in a note-(Vol. VI., Pref. lxxx.)—we have said enough to show the amount at once of his services and of our obligations. We regard the work now completed as one of national importance,
What the late Dr. M*Crie did for the life, Mr. Laing has done for the works of John Knox; he has rescued them from oblivion, he has redeemed them from obloquy, and he has constructed out of them a literary monument to our Reformer more lasting than brass or stone, La memorial worthy of “the man and his communication.”
Of volumes so crowded with historical details, it would be clearly impossible to give such a digest as would enable our readers to form any just idea of their contents. All we can attempt is to point to some of the fresh contributions which Mr. Laing has made to what was previously known of Knox's life and writings, and allude to some of the pieces which have for the first time been presented to the modern reader in these volumes. It may be proper to premise that, in a lengthened Preface prefixed to Part 1 of Volume VI., Mr. Laing has given a succinct account of the life of Knox, marking the different epochs of his history, and arranging with great carefulness its leading events under their respective dates. This account does not aim at being a history, but it supplies us with a valuable abstract, exhibiting as in a map the results of the editor's travels, and ratifying or rectifying the discoveries of previous
investigators. In some points, of more or less moment, Mr. Laing has been successful in making new discoveries. Thus, we think he has settled, beyond all further controversy, that Knox was born at Haddington, in the Giffordgate, and not,
was formerly supposed, in the more modern, and at that time unknown, village of Gifford. (Vol. VI., Pref. xvi.) He has likewise established the curious fact that Knox was in priest's orders, and acted as notary public under Papal authority, so late as the year 1543. In the deed attesting this, a facsimile of which is given, and which is written and signed by “ John Knox, Notary,” he styles himself “Ego, Joannes Knox, sacri altaris minister, Sancti Andraeæ dioceseos, auctoritate apostolica, notarius." * Besides this, we have on the margin “ Joannes Knox, Testis per Christum fidelis cai gloria. Amen.” And as if this were not enough, we have discovered even in the flourish with which this attestation is adorned, the name repeated, “Jo. Knox.” Mr. Laing entertains no doubt that this document was of the Reformer's handwriting. It is wonderful how little is known of the early history of Knox. He himself makes no further references to it than that he was then “drowned in ignorance” (VI., p. 483), a confession which seems to indicate that, previous to his conversion, he was a blind follower of the Pope ; and if the document discovered by Mr. Laing was really written by him, it would seem that his full and avowed conversion must have taken place later in life than has been generally supposed. Following Knox into England, we find another curious fact brought out, that his name appears among the chaplains of Edward VI., to whom the Articles of the Church of England were submitted for “consideration," and who “made report of their opinion touching the same, proposing some alterations upon them. (Ib. p. xxx.) In connexion with this, we cannot refrain from quoting the testimony of Bishop Ridley, who writes to Grindall, in reference to the disputes at Frankfort in 1555: “Alas! that our brother Knox could not bear with our Book of Common Prayer! Matters against which although, I grant, a man (as he is) of wit and learning may find to make apparent reasons ; but I suppose he cannot be able soundly to disprove by God's Word. Surely Mr. Knox, in my mind, is a man of much good learning, and of an earnest zeal : the Contents of the Volumes.
* Beza says that he began to change his opinions about the year 15
and that, being suspected of heresy, he was degraded from the priesthood and fled for his lite to Eastlothian. Mr. Laing, however, considers all this “quite conjectural.”. And it is certainly not likely that, had such things taken place, he would designate himself in 1543 as, “1, John Knox, a minister of the holy altar, of the diocese of St. Andrew, by apostolical authority, notary."
Lord grant him to use them only to His glory.” And to this we might add the following lines in praise of Knox, which the editor has discovered in a rare volume, from the pen of Simon Goulart:
"O Dieu, c'est de ta main qui procede cest heur !
Soit aussi reconnu ce Cnox, qui ton image
We can only advert to the interesting light which Mr. Laing has thrown on the family and descendants of Knox. With regard to the portraits of Knox, considering the abundance of them, we are rather surprised hear our editor expressing his "regret that no authentic portrait, painted from the life, has been discovered. Some of them, exhibited in public galleries, have not a shadow of resemblance. We must, therefore, be content to form our conceptions of his personal appearance from the small woodcut in Beza's Icones,' 1580, and the similar portrait in Verheiden, 1602, of which accurate fac-similes are given.” (Ib. lxxxiv.) We are aware of Mr. Laing's taste and discrimination in such matters; but really, we must say, that between Beza's and Verheiden's rude cuts and some of our best paintings the family likeness is so strong, as to afford evidence that the latter must have been pretty fair copies at least of paintings taken during life.
With regard to the works of Knox in this splendid collection, we need not say that his History, occupying the first two volumes, given from the most authentic manuscript sources, collated with other manuscripts, and enriched with numerous notes and illustrations, is the most important contribution of the whole. Then follow his expositions of Scripture, chiefly practical, and his godly epistles and admonitions to the churches, which are so many sermons, and his letters to Mrs. Bowes, and her daughter Marjory, his future wife, which, sooth to say, are very like sermons too. These are followed with the “ Troubles at Frankfort,” “The Form of Prayers Used by the English at Geneva," " The First Blast
, of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment (Government) of Women,” and “The Appellation” of 1558, interspersed with letters illustrative of the periods. The fifth volume is mainly occupied with Knox's treatise on Predestination, the most elaborate production of the Scottish Reformer, in which, more than in any other of his writings, his shrewd native sense is conspicuous, in combination with a profound knowledge of theology. In Volume VI., Part 1, we have another interesting series of letters, bearing more or
less directly on a subsequent period of the Reformer's lifetime, most of them hitherto unpublished, and comprehending, we verily believe, every shred of coeval manuscript in which the name of Knox can now be discovered. These are followed by “ The Reasoning betwixt the Abbot of Crossraguell and John Knox concerning the Mass, 1562," and the famous Sermon which brought him into sad trouble with Queen Mary, and which is remarkable as the only specimen of his pulpit discourses that has been handed down to us. Volume VI., Part 2, forms, in fact, a goodly volume by itself, and we cannot see for what reason it is not designated as Volume VII. Nearly the half of the volume is filled with a correct transcript of the “Book of Common Order," with other Forms of Prayer and Fasting used in the early Church of Scotland, and generally ascribed to the pen of Knox; then follows his “ Answer to Tyrie the Jesuit;' and the whole concludes with another series of letters during the later period of Knox's life, and Richard Bannatyne's and Smeton's account of his last moments.
It has been justly observed by the editor that "we are not to judge of Knox as an author by any common standard. His works for the most part were hastily prepared, not in the enjoyment of literary ease and retirement, but under the pressure of anxious care or constant and exciting occupation. His was a life of action, not of contemplation.'
" Wonder not,” he says in 1565, when constrained in his own defence to publish his one solitary sermon--"wonder not that of all my study and travel within the Scriptures of God these twenty years, I have set forth nothing in expounding any portion of Scripture-considering myself rather called of my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak, and rebuke the proud, by tongue and lively voice, in these most corrupt days, than to compose books for the age to come.” But the "winged words of such a man, un. premeditated, and uttered on the impusle of the moment, acquire an immortality often denied to the most laboured pieces of composition. Knox was essentially a natural genius, a terse and vigorous thinker. In point of talent, if not in learning, he stood head and shoulders above the men of his time. Next to Calvin, he was by nature a leader of men. Had he remained in France, he might have proved as successful in that country as he did in his own, in "turning the battle to the gate.” Indeed, it was at one time a moot point whether he should continue in France; and if we may judge from what he accomplished at Dieppe, during the brief period of his sojourn there, it is more than probable that, by the sheer force of his straightforward, unbending, dauntless character, he