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HE present age is renowned for its research. The
rubbish has been cleared away from buried
cities and the dust from long-neglected libraries. Much has been brought to light that has dispelled darkness from ancient history, and resolved doubts that long perplexed the thoughtful. Niebuhr has, by his learned and antiquarian studies, shown that early Roman history is little else than legend, and that Livy cannot be trusted. Young and Champollion, Wilkinson and Bunsen, have from hieroglyphic stones and forgotten authors, gathered anew the records of Egyptian dynasties; and Botta, Layard, and Rawlinson, have deciphered Assyrian chronicles from the slabs and cylinders which their labours had disentombed. By these unanticipated witnesses the Bible narrative has obtained new evidences of its veracity, and Strauss and others, who endeavoured to carry the principles of Niebuhr into Biblical study, have been confuted by the weapons in which they boasted. Truth has gained immensely, and error suffered irretrievable loss, by the disclosures of sepalchres, and ruins of empires.
The travels of Mr. Stephens, too, have shown that Central America is no modern part of the New World. Cities of many centuries ago, with art and architecture, have astonished those who attributed barbarism and ignorance to the aborigines of the great Western Continent.
As in localities, so has it been in characters. Learned inquiry has changed or modified our views of men of other times. The Epistles of Ignatius and the Books of Hippolytus have cast off their cerements, and by means of Cureton and Bunsen have spoken as by their living words. The research of M‘Crie has vindicated Knox, that of Mignet has condemned Queen Mary, while Archdeacon Hare has triumphantly refuted the oft re-echoed calumnies against Luther. Calvin and Beza have received thorough vindications from the pen of Dr. Cunningham. And the State Paper Office has fully corroborated the testimonies of writers with regard to the sufferings of the Covenanters.
We had lately the happiness of welcoming another contribution to interesting biographical discovery. Professor Lorimer, of London, found original sources of information regarding the "Precursors of Knox,” in Scotland, which had been unheeded for three centuries in the library of Wolfenbüttel. The clue once found, led to other stores; and in the historical biography of Patrick Hamilton, the first preacher and martyr of the Scottish Reformation, we have an instalment of the result. The author, devoted by his academic office to philological and exegetic study, deserves the cordial thanks of all his
readers for the patient research and condensed erudition which he has afforded them in this valuable work in another department than his own.
The period to which Professor Lorimer addressed himself is singularly interesting to all true Protestants, and must prove to patriotic Scotchmen a favourite study. Bonnechose and Ullmann have made us acquainted with Reformers before the Reformation on the Continent; Dr. Vaughan has reproduced the Life of Wickliffe more fully than the reformer's own contemporaries knew it; we have had brief notices of Lollards in England, and Lollards in Kyle; Dr. Jamieson made his countrymen familiar with their venerated Culdees; and the link wanting has now been met by a true and faithful account of the Precursors of the Reformation in Scotland. This is all the more interesting, as it is in advance and independent of the labours of Merle D'Aubigné, whose History of the Reformation, that has done so much to rekindle Protestant zeal and renew acquaintance with the heroes of our faith, yet lacks the volume on Scotland.
PATRICK HAMILTON was a younger son of Sir Patrick Hamilton of Kincavel and Stanehouse in Lanarkshire. His father was one of the last knights of Scottish chivalry. His mother was a grand-daughter of James II. He was thus allied to the noblest families and highest personages in the realm. He was born, it is believed, in 1504. His early life was spent during a stormy period of Scottish history. The battle of Flodden, fought September 9th, 1513, paralyzed the country, bereft it of its best men, and opened the way for a series of internecine contests, which wasted both Church and State during the minority of James V. The offices of the church were frequently the
occasion of bloody contest. The dignitaries who filled them were worldly and scandalous. The mass of the clergy were ignorant and immoral. More than any other country throughout Christendom was Scotland under the tyranny of a godless priesthood. They possessed the best land and the richest spoils. The Church of St. Michael in Linlithgow, for instance, had sixteen altars, which drew among them in varied proportions no fewer than two hundred and twenty-eight annual rents from tenements in the town. Others were equally extortionate.
Patrick Hamilton was designed for the Church, and obtained the Abbacy of Ferne, in Ross-shire, in 1517, and received its revenues even during his minority, and before his ordination.
His studies were prosecuted at the University of Paris, where he graduated in 1520. The old system of education was then being disturbed. Erasmus had introduced the study of the languages into Louvaine, and he had some ardent disciples in the neighbourhood of the Sorbonne. Hamilton caught the infection, and preferred the Erasmian learning to the dialectics of the Schools of Philosophy. For this purpose he visited Louvaine, and there pursued his studies in the sacred languages, by means of which he became familiar with the oracles of God, in the original form in which they came from their Divine author.
In 1523, he returned to Scotland, and resided at St. Andrews University, then in a most flourishing condition. Here he quietly pursued his studies, and grew in acquaintance with Lutheran doctrine, though it was proscribed by an act of the Scottish Parliament. He was admitted to priest's orders about the same time.
“It was probably in the course of the year 1526,” says
Professor Lorimer, " that Hamilton first began to declare openly his new convictions; and it was not long before the report of his heretical opinions was carried to the ears of the archbishop. Early in 1527, Beaton made faithful inquisition, during Lent, into the grounds of the rumour, and found that he was already 'inflamed with heresy, disputing, holding, and maintaining divers heresies of Martin Luther and his followers, repugnant to the faith,' whereupon he proceeded to decern him’ to be formally summoned and accused. Such was Beaton's own language in the following year, when, relying upon the 'inquisition' which he had made in 1527 as well as in 1528, he pronounced him to be clearly convicted of heresy, and worthy of death."
The report of what had been done in Germany by Luther and his confederates, had awakened the suspicions of the bigoted priesthood all over Europe. And it was not likely that in Scotland, where so great superstition and spiritual despotism prevailed, the least scent of heresy would be allowed to escape. The archbishop was a thorough Papist, and sought on all occasions and by all means, to maintain the glory, and to add to the power of Rome and of the Church. Till he rose to the metropolitan see, the vigilance of the bishops had not been so active. They were occupied with contests about preced
But James Beaton at once perceived the new danger, organized anew the Ecclesiastical Courts, and took prompt and rigorous measures to arrest the spread of Lutheran doctrines, and the circulation of Protestant books imported from the Continent. It therefore became very dangerous for Hamilton to carry on the work to which he had devoted his life.