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The History of the Kirk of Scotland
By Mr David Calderwood in 7 volumes


The extensive learning and eminent talents of the Rev. David Calderwood, his matured experience in ecclesiastical affairs, and especially in those of his native country, the persecutions he had endured for his beloved Church, and the numerous works he had written in its defence, all qualified him, in the happiest manner, for becoming a Historian of the Kirk of Scotland. Above all, when the narrative was to be one of struggle and suffering, in which the principalities and powers of the earth, as well as those of darkness, were the antagonists, the record of such a conflict fell most aptly into the hands of a man whom a monarch had in vain attempted to brow-beat, and a whole hierarchy to silence. His own heart also appears to have affectionately inclined towards this his most congenial occupation, so that, after his return from exile, he spent many years in collecting and arranging the materials necessary for such an important task. At last, when he had reached his seventy-third year, the General Assembly, for the purpose of enabling him to perfect his work, granted him an annual pension of eight hundred pounds Scots. Calderwood died only two years afterwards; but he had lived to accomplish his purpose of writing the History of our National Church from the commencement of the Reformation to the close of the reign of James the Sixth, in two, if not in three successive and copious revisals.

The Caldervood Manuscripts, which were presented to the British Museum by the Author’s descendants, consist of six volumes. The first three comprise 1117 pages of his largest work, which originally consisted of 3136 pages, so that the greater part is wanting. In this his first History, he has thrown together his immense collection of materials, without any particular anxiety, in many instances, as to their arrangement and connection—seeming to regard it rather as a common-place book of facts and documents, to be afterwards reduced to form, than a regular History in itself. Accordingly, when this part of his labour was completed, and when he found that his life was still continuing to extend into a vigorous and active old age, he addressed himself in earnest to reduce these voluminous facts into order, and express them in a more appropriate style. The result of this undertaking was the last three volumes of the series we have mentioned, and which he has entitled, “The Historic of the Kirk of Scotland, beginning at Mr Patrik Hammiltoun, and ending with the Death of James the Sixt.” At the commencement of the first volume is the following brief prefatory notice, in Caldcrwood’s own hand: “This worke, comprehended in three volumes, or 2013 pnges, is extracted out of a larger; but digested in better order, and wanting nothing of the substance: but out of this is extracted another, comprehended in . . . pages, which the author desireth onlie to be communicat to the use and benefite of others; and this, with the former, to serve onlie for a defence of it, or for a new extract, in case it be lost.” From these words it plainly appears, that he considered this work of 2013 pages as his proper, authentic History of the Church of Scotland; while the larger compilation was merely to serve, with the aid of a smaller, for the materials of a new work, should any accident befal the second. The third and smaller History, of which he also speaks, was unquestionably faithfully given to the public in the well-known folio planted volume, published in 1678.

The indefatigable Dr M'Crie1 has satisfactorily proved, by a quotation from a Letter of Mr John Carstairs to Mr Robert Macward, dated November 30, 1670, that the printed copy was taken from “the third and last curu, and faithfully collated with it.” In a foot-note, Dr M‘Cric observes: “This MS., containing corrections on the margin, in Mr Caldcrwood's hand-writing, is still preserved, and is in the possession of James Douglas, Esq. of Cavers. From that family, distinguished for its adherence to Presbytery, Mr Carstairs most probably obtained the use of it at that time.” The reader is referred to the Letter itself for some interesting details.

The methodised and corrected work of Calderwood, from which this publication is transcribed, is written, as well as the larger, with the authors own hand. But it exhibits a style of caligraphy much superior to that of the other, indicating the higher importance lie attached to it, and the affection with which he regarded it. Indeed, the remarkable precision with which every word is formed, the very few erasures that occur throughout the three volumes, and the laborious neatness with which the heads of the different divisions are written or printed, induced the editor for some time to believe that the author, instead of himself expending so much care upon mere externals, had employed some skilful copyist, that the appearance of the work might correspond with its national importance. But this idea was abandoned on finding a few verbal alterations, such as none but an author himself can make upon his own manuscript, as well as by certain marginal directions, in which the sequence of certain events in the years 1557 and 1558 is ordered to be changed. About the commencement of the last volume of the manuscript, the penmanship indicates that the eyesight of the venerable writer was failing, and his hand becoming feeble and tremulous, so that about the middle he was obliged to avail himself of the occasional aid of an amanuensis. On finishing the work, he had also intended to write a preface; but even this he could not accomplish, as only two blank leaves, headed with these words, “To the Reader,” remain to indicate his purpose. These circumstances, although trivial in themselves, are stated in the belief, that they will be important in the eyes of those who feel that interest in Calderwood’s History to which it is so well entitled. It may be necessary only to add further upon this subject, that the present volume occupies 233 pages of the original manuscript, or about the eighth part of the whole work.

Those who are conversant with the Scotch and English literature of the seventeenth century, are aware of the fluctuating character of the orthography of the period. This was especially the case in Scotland, where, in writing, almost every author formed for himself certain independent rules of spelling according to the sound of the word, and which he was liable to alter according to the change of circumstances. Such is the case in the Calderwood manuscripts, where words, and especially proper names, are not only spelt as they were pronounced, but frequently the same word is given with two or even three variations during the course of the work. These circumstances have generally induced editors to alter the orthography of our ancient authors ; after which they find it equally necessary to change the grammatical construction, and occasionally even the idiom, into a conformity with the principles of modern composition. But it was thought more advisable that the venerable Historian of the Kirk of Scotland should appear in his original costume, and speak with his own Doric intonation. Accordingly, not only has his phraseology been faithfully preserved, but also the peculiarities of his spelling; a circumstance which, we trust, will be deemed more accordant with good taste, than if an ill-judged effort had been made to decorate such a precious and venerable relic of past ages with a modern superficial varnish. Indeed, the only liberty taken with the text has been in the article of punctuation, and the occasional division of paragraphs, without which the meaning would have been often obscure, and sometimes unintelligible. The reader, therefore, who might otherwise be startled with those antiquated peculiarities of language which we have left undisturbed, will console himself with the thought, that they are the necessary consequences of a verbatim life-ratlin edition of a work written in Scotland two hundred years ago.

In publishing so important and voluminous a work, it was thought desirable that it should be prefaced by an introductory chapter, containing a Life of the Author, and an account of those ecclesiastical events in which he was personally engaged. But after long research it was found, that the materials for a biography of Calderwood were so seanty and defective, as to be unfit for any sueh purpose in a satisfactory manner. There is reason to believe, however, that unpublished documents still exist, which may throw additional light upon his personal history; and as a search is being made for them, an Introductory Chapter of this nature will be appended to the last volume of the series. This circumstance will make it advisable for our subscribers not to bind their volumes until the whole work is completed. The last volume will also contain a copious general Table of Contents, independently of the Chronological Indexes prefixed to each volume.

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6
Volume 7

Volume 8

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