Journal of the Northern Renaissance

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A Spiritual Community on the Margins: James Melville and William Murray singing of Holy Dying in the East Neuk of Fife

​Jamie Reid Baxter


In the 1590s and 1600s, the East Neuk of Fife, a long way both geographically and ideologically from the seat of royal power in Edinburgh, was home to a strikingly creative spiritual community of clerical and lay Presbyterians. At its centre was the Francophile poet-pastor James Melville (1556-1614), minister of Kilrenny. Melville would be torn from his beloved parish by the Crown for reasons of state in 1606, like several other clerics associated with the East Neuk community. One who survived was Melville’s colleague and neighbour William Murray (fl.1596-1633), minister of Crail. But in 1624, he was deprived of his charge on moral grounds, and fell into near-fatal melancholy. This essay looks at how these two pastors made use of poetry and song in their respective (and related) writings on how to die a Christian death.


​[1]​ This article draws attention to two short early modern devotional works that make considerable use of verse, and were produced by pastors working in neighbouring coastal parishes in the East Neuk of Fife. Ane Fruitful and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death was published in 1597 by James Melville (1556-1614), and in 1631, William Murray (fl.1596-1633), brought out his Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters.​[1]​ Melville was at Kilrenny from 1585 to 1606, and Murray at Crail from 1596 to 1624. At the start of the seventeenth century, both men were active members of a Fife-based, resolutely Presbyterian spiritual community in which poetry was actively cultivated: an initial exploration of this community was published in 2017 (Reid Baxter: 2017b). Melville and Murray’s little books on good dying were born of highly specific personal circumstances, as will be shown, but each exemplifies the way these ministers employed verse and song as integral elements in instructional texts.

​[2]​ The East Neuk was a long way from the seat of royal government in Edinburgh, but St Andrews University was a thriving, international Calvinist metropolis of the intellect and the spirit (Reid 2011; Mason and Reid 2014). Between 1580 and 1606, when James Melville’s uncle, the poet and Presbyterian ideologue Andrew Melville, was principal of St Mary’s College, St Andrews was far from being marginal to Scottish royal thinking and policy (Mason and Reid 2014: Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 5). During that quarter-century, the crown twice sought to establish royal supremacy over a Kirk possessed of energetic and articulate defenders of an autonomous Presbyterian ecclesiastical polity – a polity in which James VI was ‘nocht a king, nor a lord, nor a heid, but a member’, as Andrew Melville famously told him in Falkland Palace in September 1590, while tugging the royal sleeve (Pitcairn 1842: 370).

​[3]​ Intellectual and spiritual life in Fife (and elsewhere) in this period was not limited to academics in university colleges, thanks to the regular ‘exercise’ held week by week in a different parish kirk by each presbytery. Two ministers, ‘according to the order of the roll, delivered each a discourse at the weekly meeting of presbytery. The one explained a passage of Scripture, and the other stated and briefly explained the doctrines which it contained; after which the presbytery gave their opinion of the performances’ (McCrie 1819: I, 339). The listeners at the exercise included interested laity; instruction was thus ‘given to laymen and clergy, and a check was maintained on the abilities and theological direction of presbytery members’ (Smith 1985: xii).

​[4]​ It was in the spirit of the ‘exercise’ that James Melville circulated the manuscript of his catechetical work, A Spirituall Propine of a Pastour to his People (Edinburgh, 1598), amongst his clerical colleagues before putting it to the press. Melville tells us as much in the first lines of his own sonnet ‘to the Reader anent the Commendatorie sonnets’ in the printed volume:

​I pat my papers in sum Pastors hand
To be perus’de and censur’d sikkerlie.
When they returnd, I luike on them and fande
Them weill be-deckt with Sonnets, as you sie.

The seven commendatory poems in question, and Melville’s response to them, are key to the case recently made for the existence of a literary-minded spiritual community of committed Presbyterians in Fife, centred not on the scholarly Andrew Melville at St Mary’s College, but on his exemplarily pastoral nephew James of Kilrenny (Reid Baxter 2017b). Further evidence, not noted in 2017, is to be found in the epistle dedicatory of Melville’s Fruitful and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death, published in 1597, a year before the Propine.​[2]​ The dedicatee was the terminally ill James Lumsden, laird of the large estate of Airdrie near Crail. On his death in 1598, Airdrie passed to his merchant brother Robert and his wife Isobell Cor.​[3]​ After July 1605, Isobell Cor found herself in real and deepening spiritual and material distress.​[4]​ Her sufferings are central to another major argument made in 2017 for the existence of this spiritual community: the fact that in order to provide Cor with suitable comfort and support, the distinguished spiritual poet Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, put together a large manuscript collection of her own verse, which she dedicated to Cor (Reid Baxter 2017a: 66-77).

​[5]​ Elizabeth Melville’s gesture in assembling a long sequence of spiritual poems and dedicating it to a suffering coreligionist by prefacing it with two specially composed lyrics, which embody Cor’s name, is touching evidence of human solidarity. So too is James Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, dedicated to a dying coreligionist, and embodying both the creativity and the warmly personal, humane religious practice of the Presbyterian spiritual community around the minister of Kilrenny. Melville’s own concise Scots-language contribution to the Europe-wide ars moriendi (‘craft of dying’) genre is formulated in easy, almost conversational prose, and is full of accessible, attractive and singable verse. This use of verse to highlight and meditate on specific points within a prose discourse is also found, thirty-odd years later, in William Murray’s Short Treatise. Melville and Murray’s kirks of Kilrenny and Crail respectively are barely four miles distant from each other, and the two men worked together: their names sometimes appear in direct conjunction in the St Andrews Presbytery Minutes and elsewhere.​[5]​

​[6]​ That one tiny rural area should produce not one but two tracts on the subject of good dying is remarkable, for Scotland has a very small indigenously-printed repertory of such writings.​[6]​ It includes two works by English authors. A Fruitfull treatise, full of heauenly consolation, against the feare of death, written by the Tudor Marian martyr John Bradford (?1510-1555) as he awaited burning at the stake for his beliefs, was printed by Andro Hart in 1616 and James Bryson in 1641.​[7]​ There were also three Scottish printings, by Vautrollier (1584), Waldegrave (1600) and Andro Hart (1613), of the English best-seller The Sicke Mannes Salve (1560), by the militantly Protestant cleric and prolific polemicist Thomas Becon (c.1511-1567). This last, written (but not published) in the reign of Edward VI, had by 1631 achieved twenty extant editions in England.[8] In 1970, Nancy Lee Beaty devoted the whole third chapter of her compendious work The Craft of Dying to Becon’s huge volume, and in 2007, Mary Hampson Patterson subjected the Sick Mannes Salve to further lengthy scrutiny (Patterson 2007: 101). In 1980, David Atkinson noted that ‘[w]orks focusing on preparation for death are among the most numerous instructional books produced in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, and in 1992, he illustrated this by publishing a volume of extracts from fourteen selected English publications (Atkinson 1980: 3; Atkinson 1992).[9] Fifty years earlier, Sister Mary Catharine O’Connor’s seminal and eminently comprehensive book, The Art of Dying Well: the Development of the Ars Moriendi (1942) did not name either Melville or Murray.[10] The two little books on good dying produced a few miles apart in the East Neuk have not fared much better since.[11]

​[7]​ John McCallum (2010) discussed the pastoral practice of both Melville and Murray in illuminating detail, but  virtually ignored the Exhortatioun anent Death and the Short Treatise of Death. McCallum warmly acknowledged Melville as ‘an unusually creative and prolific minister’, describing his Spirituall Propine as ‘one of the most fascinating “catechisms” of the period’ and the author as ‘the minister who applied the most creativity to the task of educating the laity’ (2010: 96, 101). McCallum devoted several pages to setting out the first-ever detailed survey and assessment of the contents of the Propine‘s second part, A Poeme for the practise of pietie, in deuotion, faith and Repentance, intituled A Morning Vision, wherein the Lords prayer, Beleefe and Commands, and sa the whole Catechisme, and right vse thereof, is largely exponed. [12] Nearly all the verse in A Morning Vision is explicitly designed for singing, and McCallum has interesting things to say about the rôle of non-liturgical sung texts in the lives of the faithful. [13] Yet Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, which also makes considerable use of verse and indeed music, receives only two sentences (2010: 97). In the first of the two footnotes in which Murray’s Short Treatise of Death makes its only appearances, McCallum adds that the ‘teachings of Fife ministers on death’ are ‘traditional and unsurprising’ (2010: 103, n.34; 110, n.71).

​[8]​ McCallum’s discussion of William Murray is focussed on his other publication of 1631, the compendiously-titled Nyne Songs collected out of Holy Scripture of Old and New Testament: drawne foorth of the pure fountaines of Hebreuu and Greeke. Translated, Paraphrased in prose, Summed, Analysed, notted vpon, grounds for vse and doctrine observed in every one of them, and finally paraphrased in English meeter. McCallum notes that a psalm tune is specified for each of the metrical paraphrases, indicating that Murray, like James Melville, ‘thought there was a chance that people might wish to sing these texts in informal situations’.[14] Murray’s intention in Nyne Songs, McCallum writes, was ‘to introduce some familiar and not-so-familiar biblical texts in a very detailed and logical way, providing paraphrases, summaries and even textual annotations. The paraphrases performed a valuable interpretative function’ (2010: 98; 96-97). McCallum sets out Murray’s systematic approach to explicating Biblical texts by applying logical subdivision, and comments that ‘though no diagram of this is given in Murray’s book, the division and subdivision of material in this way calls to mind Ramism’, adding that ‘reading becomes an almost mathematical exercise’ (2010: 107). Murray’s penchant for logic, numbering and subdivision is evinced in the very title of A Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters, and within those chapters, he punctiliously numbers his points. James Melville’s writing, on the other hand, is never reminiscent of mathematical exercises; his Exhortatioun anent Death features only one enumeration.[15]

​[9]​ The remainder of this essay falls into two halves. The first concerns Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, rather than its comparatively well-known author, whose highly readable 800 page autobiography has been in print for nearly two hundred years.[16] For that reason, biographical detail is eschewed as far as possible, as is reiteration of political and literary material already set out in the present writer’s ‘New Light from Fife’ (2017) and ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘ (2013). The latter part of this article focuses on William Murray’s closely-related but rather different Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters (1631). Since Murray, like his Treatise, has been all but ignored by posterity, the presentation of the Treatise necessarily involves a certain amount of fully referenced biographical material.

1. James Melville: Ane Fruitfull and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death

​[10]​ In its short span, Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death features no fewer than sixteen pieces of poetry, five in Latin and eleven in the vernacular. All of the latter, bar one, are by Melville himself, and several are explicitly designed to be sung. Poetry and music associated with it seem to have come easily to Melville — his Autobiography is full of poems, which arise quite naturally out of the flow of the prose, distilling and intensifying the focus, exactly as they do the Exhortatioun anent Death. For example, speaking of King David ‘in the difficulties of this prison’ of earthly life, and his longing to be with God, Melville writes on page 30:

​But againe, Psal. 17. he sweitlie comforts him selfe in the ende of ane vther Psalme, with an assurance of the jnjoying of the blessed light, as our Poet [George Buchanan] hes expressed the sam in these verses.

—Puritas vitae mihi te tueri […]

The quhilks, for their pleasand comfort, are maire largelie paraphrased in this Dixiane [sic] following.

–Cleanes of life sal mak me to behold,
Thy schyning face, when lousd ar bodies bands […]

Melville’s book, which runs to 112 pages of large print totalling some 21,000 words, begins and ends with verse. On the title-page we read:

Gif thou wald lead a godly life,
–Think daylie thou man die:
Gif thou wald die a blessed dead,
—Liue weill I counsell thee.

This will be echoed by the conclusion of the book’s final postliminary poem, ‘Let this precept be thy preacher plaine, / Liue heir to die, and die to liue againe’. The title-page quatrain is a paraphrase of this couplet:

Pour mourir bien-heureux, à viure faut apprendre
Pour viure bien-heureux, à mourir faut entendre.[18]

Melville had found this printed on the title-page of Excellent discours de la vie et de la mort, a best-seller first published in 1576 by the Huguenot nobleman and lay theologian Philippe de Mornay, seigneur du Plessis-Marly (1549-1623), a close friend of Henri de Navarre, later Henri-Quatre (1553-1610). Mornay’s markedly neo-Stoical Discours was not only frequently reprinted in France, but thrice translated into English, in 1576, 1592 and 1593. The 1592 translation, made by Mary (Sidney) Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1561-1621), was repeatedly reissued. Melville, however, read the Discours in French: the English translations all lack the title-page couplet.

​[11]​ It was Melville’s standard practice to incorporate blocks of borrowed text: his troped verse paraphrase of the Song of Songs incorporates his prose translation of great swathes of Immanuel Tremellius’ Latin edition (Reid Baxter 2015: 216-17). Likewise (though never yet noted in print), considerable stretches of his late manuscript narrative poem The Wandering sheepe, or, Davids tragique fall are direct translations from a Latin sylva (1548; revised text 1569) on the origins of Psalm 51 by Théodore de Bèze, and from the poem that Rémy Belleau based on it, Les Amours de David et Bersabée (1572).[19] Melville read widely in French, though he never lived in (or even visited) France or Geneva, unlike his uncle Andrew and so many other Scottish intellectuals.[20] If no wholesale block-appropriation of material from Mornay’s Discours can be detected in the Exhortatioun anent Death, there are plenty of hints at a diffuse influence. Two examples will suffice. Mornay’s very opening, ‘C’est un cas estrange, & dont ie ne me puis assez esmerueiller’ and what follows, is echoed by Melville on page eight, but far from exactly, in the passage beginning ‘Anent death, there is twa things even amongst Christians to be marueyled at’. Secondly, Mornay’s four pages on the successive ages of man, beginning ‘A peine est-il sorty des mains des nourrices, que le voila entre les mains de quelque maistre d’escole’, find a parallel in Melville’s passage on pages 24-26, beginning ‘[h]owe soone the Infant comes into the world…’.[21]

​[12]​ The Exhortatioun anent Death, its entire tenor explicated by its title-page quatrain, falls into four parts. First, a brief but important and informative epistle dedicatory; second, the ‘exhortatioun’ itself, incorporating several poems; third, a prose account of the death of the Queen of Navarre in 1572; and fourth, a short collection of appropriately ‘comfortable’ postliminary verse, both strengthening and consoling. The epistle dedicatory, a total of 664 words, is dated ‘at Anstruther, 17 December 1596’, and directed ‘TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE AND HIS DEARE Brother in the death of the Lord Iesus, IAMES LVMMISDEN of Airdrie’. By 1596, Lumsden was incurably ill; the title A Fruitful and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death was surely intended as a reminder of John Bradford’s Fruitfull treatise, full of heauenly consolation, against the feare of death, written on the eve of his martyrdom. Melville’s initial spur to reflect on mortality was not Lumsden’s illness, however, but the apparently imminent death of his own beloved wife. Melville wished both to strengthen himself against his impending loss, and to provide the sick woman with consolatory teaching.[22] He had found inspiration in some ‘minutes’ of an earlier sermon, preached ‘in the hearing of ane honourable and frequent Auditorie’ which included both Lumsden and another local Presbyterian landowner, Sir George Douglas (1544-1625) of Helenhill, a property a few miles to the south-east of St Andrews.[23] Lumsden and Douglas had subsequently assured Melville that the preaching of this sermon ‘was the first motion of our coniunction and affection in Christ’.

​[13]​ Melville’s wife recovered, but Melville decided to write up the material he had gathered and shared with her. He tells his dedicatee that:

​because of the estate of your disease, I daylie langed and purposed quhiles ye wer heir at home, to come and spend some peece of time with you, and to bestowe as it suld please the Lord to giue, some spirituall gift by conference, for your strengthning sic in the truth, and that ready resolution to dye in Christ, quhilk I haue often reioyced in sa gude a measure to be graunted vnto you. (sig.2v, 3)​

But since the sick man has now removed to Edinburgh, Melville has created the Exhortatioun anent Death, to make good ‘some part of the inlack of my Christian dewty, in visiting of you’ (ibid). The ‘saide Sermon’ is being presented to Lumsden ‘for a plaine and comfortable example and practise thairof, and all for furthering of that gude wark, where about I wot ye are maist occupied; that is, after a reformed and sanctified life, to make a gude and godlie end’.[24] Melville immediately adds ‘[h]ow farre thir litle things may serue for so great a wark, I remit that to the cheife Master of the warke, the haly Ghaist …It is aneuch for mee, that I haue testified in some sort my affectionat remembrance of you in the tender bowels of his loue, quha hes dyed once for vs, to make vs liue with him for ever’ (sig.3 and 3v).[25]

​[14]​ Melville’s commendation of the dedicatee’s ‘ready resolution to dye in Christ’ indicates that Lumsden was consciously preparing for his death with considerable self-possession, though he would survive for another eighteen months. He died on 23 August 1598, at home in the East Neuk, where he signed some legal documents as late as 15 August (Reid Baxter 2017a: 63). His wall-tomb in Crail kirkyard was decorated with a large amount of inscribed verse in both Scots and Latin, including a pair of Scots sonnets, each with its own panel (Reid Baxter 2017a: 64; Erskine 1893: 134). The striking place occupied by poetry in the design of Lumsden’s tomb and in Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death is typical of the practice of the spiritual community around James Melville.

​[15]​ Verse also features in the second and principal part of Melville’s book, ‘the saide Sermon’ itself, which runs to c.13000 words. The first thirty-six of its seventy-two pages include four passages of Latin poetry, accompanied by Melville’s own Scots paraphrases. Eight lines from George Buchanan’s version of Psalm 144 appear on page nine, a couplet by a so far absolutely unidentifiable ‘learned man’ on page twenty-four, and eight lines taken from the end of Buchanan’s Psalm 17 on page thirty.[26] This last is immediately followed on page thirty-one by the first half of the final stanza of John Hopkins’ metrical paraphrase of Psalm 39, as printed in the Kirk’s psalm-book. The metrical psalter of 1564 was central to the lives of devout Scots, such as James Lumsden, and Melville would have expected his readers to read the half-stanza with its noble tune sounding ‘in their mind’s ear’ at the very least.[27] Finally, between pages thirty-three and thirty-six, the reader reaches no fewer than twenty-six lines from Buchanan’s Psalm 36, paraphrased as fourteen quatrains ‘translated… to the tune of the CX Psalme’, a stirring French melody, as the reader can hear in this stanza describing the music-filled heavenly afterlife:

All want and dolour there ar far exyld,
No man sal mis mair then his hart can wis,
In everie place ar pleasures vndefyld,
Sweet melodie in heavenly ioye and blis.

The ‘sermon’ also contains numerous and occasionally rather substantial prose quotations, mostly taken from Scripture. Melville’s message is that earthly life is a toilsome pilgrimage through a vale of tears, temptations and suffering, towards man’s true, heavenly destination, as he had stated on page twenty-four:

This life to me is death, but death to mee is life but blame: [without]
This life to me is bannishment, but death returns me hame.

As John McCallum wrote, the message is ‘traditional and unsurprising’ – but the epistle dedicatory states that it is based on a sermon, and the book therefore lets us hear how Melville spoke from the pulpit.[28] Blessed indeed were his hearers – this is no mathematically constructed pulpit homily, full of numbered heads and subdivisions.[29] Though a sermon text is ‘given out’ at the outset (Revelation 14:13, ‘Blessed ar [sic] they that die in the Lord, yea sayis the Spirit, for they rest from their labours’), it will be reiterated in full only once, on page twenty-three. Melville had already used the phrase ‘die in the Lord’ in the epistle dedicatory, while the ‘sermon’ proper is permeated by Rev.14:13. Parts of its wording can be found early and late: ‘die in the Lord’ is used twice on page twenty-nine, and on page fifty-six, we encounter the phrase ‘our text, They that dyes in the Lord, are pronounced blessed’. Yet Melville closes his sermon not with his ‘text’, but ‘Come Lord Jesus’, i.e. the final words of Revelation 20:22, immediately followed by an emphatic repetition, ‘Even cum Lord Jesus, hasten Lord and tarrie not’, followed by Numbers 23:10, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my latter end be like his’.[30] Below the word FINIS, the words ‘Come Lord Iesus’ reappear, as the title of six rime couée stanzas beginning

Come Christ our king, come we thee pray,
Withoutin any mair delay
We lang to see thee on that daie
—appeir in maiesty.[31]

​[16]​ The whole poem is shot through with allusions to Revelation, and celebrates the bliss that will be enjoyed by the faithful on that day ‘when all deid, sall thee sie’: the preceding sermon had mentioned the resurrection of the dead no fewer than twenty times, while specific reference had also been made to the Second Coming, the Last Trumpet and the Last Judgement.[32] All these links to the ‘sermon’ notwithstanding, the postliminary ‘Come Lord Jesus’ breaks new ground. The first three stanzas strike a public, polemical note absent from what has gone before, where we had nowhere read of ‘allarums’ to alert Scotland to the threat posed by ‘thy haters hearts’ and the fact that ‘That man of sinne is manifest / That nowe thy Kirk hath long opprest’.[33] The ‘man of sinne’ is the Pope, and this paratextual lyric can in fact be read as rather topical:

in the monethe of August [1596] the King was movit … to decerne the recaveing [sic] haim the excommunicated and forfalted traitoures, apostat Earles, then to make choise of eight persones … quhairof the chieffe were much suspected of Papistrie, called OCTAVIANS, quho schould have the chieffe matters and effaires of the Kingdome haillie concredited to thaim ; and thairwithall the Countesse of Huntly, ane professed obstinat Papist, to be resident at the Court, and haiff the government of the Queine’s persoune … These things effectuat in the moneth of October (Pitcairn 1842: 508).

However, for the East Neuk, there was an additional, more local source of disquiet, namely the king’s desire to punish the St Andrews minister, David Black, for reportedly voicing treasonable sentiments in a sermon. Black and his fellow Presbyterians, not least James and Andrew Melville, denied that the secular arm had any right to censure preachers of the Word, and saw the king’s attitude as essentially caesaro-papal.[34] Melville’s opening stanza pointedly calls Christ ‘our king’, asking Him to ‘appeir in maiestie’, and his third stanza asks ‘Sall aye the proude blaspheme thy name, / And put thy Gospell unto shame’. The doctrine of the ‘twa kingdomes’ adhered to by Andrew Melville and his nephew James distinguished between the earthly civic realm of James VI, and the kingdome of Christ, i.e. the Kirk, whose governors were the clergy, ‘the quhilk na Christian King nor Prince sould controll and discharge, but fortifie and assist’ (Pitcairn 1842: 370).[35]

​[17]​ Melville’s stanzas are ominously prophetic of persecution to come.[36] A few years later, references to persecuted saints and raging tyrants would feature in Lady Culross’s mini-epic of 1603, Ane Godlie Dreame, ‘compylit in Scottis metre at the requeist of her freindes’ – who may well have mostly lived in the East Neuk.[37] Melville dated his epistle dedicatory to James Lumsden ‘the 17. of December. 1596’, and by the time the Exhortatioun anent Death appeared in 1597, the book’s readers would have been keenly aware that the 17 December Edinburgh ‘riot’ against the Octavians had resulted in the flight of four of the capital’s ministers, whom the king blamed for the uproar.[38] Two of them in fact found refuge with James Melville in the East Neuk (Calderwood, v, 521; Pitcairn 1842: 374). From that date onward, the Presbyterian party was on the back foot, and the king and his royal supremacy were in the ascendant.

​[18]​ The remaining stanzas of Melville’s apocalyptic poem also break new ground, insofar as much of the imagery is furnished by the hitherto uninstanced parable of the Five Wise Virgins, always vigilant and ready to greet the divine Bridegroom at the unknown hour of His arrival.[39] Nonetheless, Melville’s artistic instinct is such that the poem, for all its fresh material, is not entirely unlinked to the ‘sermon’. There are, first, its two references to the heavenly bridegroom of the Song of Songs, who had been cited on page fifty-nine. Secondly, Christ’s ‘shining face’ and ‘countenance that shines sa bright’, echo the statement on page forty-nine that the godly dead will enjoy ‘the fruition of the face and light of the countenance of the God of immortalitie’. The final lines describe heaven filled with music, as in Revelation:[40]

Where thy Redeemd makes melodie,
Thy Martyrs ane sweit harmonie,
Where angels sings continuallie

Thus, the poem’s conclusion chimes with the earlier references to angelic and heavenly music on pages twenty-three and forty-one.

​[19]​ The third part of the Exhortatioun anent Death is entirely in sober prose. It had been announced in the epistle dedicatory; Melville told Lumsden that besides ‘a copy of the saide sermon’ on good dying, he is sending ‘a little historie of the departure of Iean d’Albret, vmquhile mother of this present king of France, for a plaine and comfortable example and practise thairof’ (sig.3). ‘Translated out of French in Scottes’, the 7000 words of the ‘little historie’ of the death of the Queen of Navarre in 1572 occupy pages seventy-three to 109. Melville’s exact source-text is now untraceable, but it was evidently largely identical with the narrative found in the pages of the well-known Genevan pastor, historian and poet Simon Goulart.[41] The fourth and final section of Melville’s book is a little collection of five short postliminary poems, running to seven hundred lines in total. The first, ‘Christianus ego’, one of Andrew Melville’s few purely devotional lyrics, is followed by a translation to which James has appended his initials, as he does to the other three poems. The third and fourth poems are paraphrases of Psalms 23 and 121, designed to send the reader, singing joyfully, out across the book’s threshold back into the world. We saw earlier that Melville had specified the tune of Psalm 110 for the Psalm paraphrase on pages thirty-four to thirty-six. Here, he stipulates that his psalm paraphrases are written ‘to the tune of Solsequium’ — a long, complex, irresistibly joyful and dancing melody.[42]

The Lord most high, I know will be, ane hird to me
I can not long haue stresse, nor stand in neede:
He makes my leare in fields sa feare, that I but ceare
Repose and at my pleasure safely feede.
He sweetely me convoyes, to pleasant springs,
Where na thing me annoyes, but pleasure brings:
He giues my minde, peace in sik kinde
That feare of foes, nor force, cannot me reaue,
By him I am lead, in perfite tread,
And for his name, he will me never leaue.

Melville’s psalm paraphrases are an intertextualist’s paradise.[43] They draw on the Geneva Bible, on the texts in the Scottish and English metrical psalters, and on one of Melville’s favourite resources, Immanuel Tremellius’ lavishly glossed Biblia Sacra, first published between 1575 and 1579. Used by King James when making his version of Psalm 104 and by John Donne when creating his Lamentations of Jeremiah, Tremellius was the ‘New International Version’ of the Protestant Churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

​[20]​ Melville’s choice of Psalm 23 is self-explanatory; the psalm remains a regular feature of funeral services to this day. Anent Psalm 121, however, more needs to be said. Melville’s entire first stanza is not Scriptural paraphrase, but a free invention which takes what at first glance seems an extraordinary slant on the Geneva Bible’s words ‘I will lift my eyes unto the mountaines’ or, in the metrical paraphrase, William Whittinghame’s ‘I lift mine eyes to Sion hill’ — whence, according to the Geneva Bible and the Authorised Version, ‘mine helpe shall come’:

When I behold, These montaines cold,
Can I be bold To take my journey through this wildnernes,
Wherein dois stand, On eyther hand, A bloudie band,
To cut me off with cruell craftines:
Here, subtill Sathans slight, Dois me assaill:
There, his proud warldly might, Thinks to prevaill.
In every place, with pleasant face,
The snares of sinne besets me round about;
With poysone sweete, to slay the spreit,
Conspyrit all to take my life but doubt.

Melville has gone back to the Hebrew, and to what he found in Tremellius:

Attollerem oculos meos ad istos montes?
unde veniret auxilium meum?

‘Should I lift my eyes to these mountains? Whence might my help come?’ Not from the mountains: Tremellius had already stated in his prefatory rubric that in the psalm, King David sets out conflictum animi sui in periculis [the conflict of his spirit amid dangers] and that ad Deum conversa oratione se committit ei et confirmat in fide promissionum ejus [by his prayer directed to God, he commits himself to Him and strengthens himself in his trust in His promises]. Melville, like Tremellius, sees the mountains as dangers — whence no help will come. In the first edition text of 1580, Tremellius’s ‘Annotatio’ glosses the first verse as follows: frustra huc illuc circumspectarem ad consequendam opem: nam rationem habet Cenahanaeae, quae montosa est, [in vain do I look hither and thither all around me, to find succour; for he knows his Canaan, which is mountainous]. Melville has taken over huc illuc with his ‘Here subtill Sathans slight … There his proud wardly might’. Furthermore, in the 1590 and later editions revised by Tremellius’s collaborator Franciscus Junius, we find an inserted comment explaining the interrogatory nature of the two sentences that make up the first verse: quodcunque me convertero, nulla ex parte nisi a Deo salutem consequuturus sum [whithersoever I turn, from nowhere but God shall I obtain safety].[44] The scale of Melville’s poetic extrapolation of the ‘dangers’ represented by the mountains is entirely in keeping with his purpose here: to remind the dying that their faith cannot be shaken by the spiritual enemies, visible and invisible, that are ‘conspyrit all to take my life’, in a reinforcement of his statement in Psalm 23 that ‘feare of foes, nor force, cannot me reave’.

​[21]​ Melville’s book concludes with one of his forty surviving sonnets, this one ‘sounding a warning to die well’.[45] The words of the title recall references to warning sounds mentioned early on in the ‘sermon’ proper, viz. ‘the sound of the Archangels trumpet’ on page twelve and St Jerome’s constantly imagining ‘the hearing of the sound of that Trumpet’ on page fifteen, but in sonic terms, the mind’s ear of the reader will be filled with the sound of the dancing ‘Solsequium’ melody, something which affects the mood in which we read the sonnet. Its lines are shot through with echoes of the closing pages of Mornay’s Excellent discours de la vie et de la mort, where we read of earthly life that ‘Nous ne la deuons point aimer pour ses plaisirs: car c’est sotise & vanité. Mais nous nous en deuons seruir, pour en seruir Dieu‘ (69-70).

Set not thy heart on warldlie vanitie
Whose pleasures are with paine sa dearly bought,
Yet presse to play thy part with honestie
And use this warld as gif thou usde it nought.

The sonnet’s last words, ‘Liue heir to die, and die to liue againe’, clearly allude to the final words of Mornay’s Discours – ‘Mourir pour vivre, & vivre pour mourir‘. In other words, both the Scot and the Frenchman end by echoing the epigram found on their title-pages.

2. William Murray: A Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters. Together with the aenigmatic description of old age and death, writen Ecclesiastes 12 chap. exponed and paraphrased in English meeter

​[22]​ The motto ‘I live to die, that I may die to live’, reminiscent of Mornay and Melville, appears on the title-page of a publication which looms in vast bulk between Melville’s concise and poetic Exhortatioun anent Death and William Murray’s Short Treatise of Death.[46] The book in question, which we shall see William Murray implicitly criticising, is Scotland’s most tremendous and least concise Reformed ars moriendi, the 1270 pages of The Last Battell of the Soul in Death (1628, repr. 1629) by the Glasgow minister Zachary Boyd (1585–1653). It is the only Scottish ars moriendi work to have merited any sort of monograph.[47] The Last Battell has only a tenuous connection with easternmost Fife: Boyd’s ‘To the Reader’ pays grateful tribute to two East Neuk landowners whom he met in Edinburgh, Dr George Sibbald of Giblistoun and Sir William Scot of Elie, both linked to the Melville circle.[48] Nonetheless, The Last Battell, born of Boyd’s experience of protracted, near-fatal illness in 1626, needs to be mentioned here, for whether or not Boyd ever read Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, the sheer scale of his own Last Battell is not unconnected with the brevity of William Murray’s Short Treatise. Boyd states in his preface that after moving from Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1626, he fell ill and ‘was like Epaphroditus, sicke unto deathe’. The result of his recovery, The Last Battell, is modelled on Thomas Becon’s oft-reprinted Sicke Mannes Salve, in which Epaphroditus, ‘sicke nigh unto death’, is visited by his friends for a series of six ‘conferences’ on successive days. In 1970 Nancy Lee Beaty described Becon’s book as ‘a curious blend of Job, the classical dialogue, and perhaps genuine drama as well’: the dying man’s friends ‘quote the Bible, the Fathers, and the Stoics with awesome ease and in overwhelming abundance; and when they do not quote, they paraphrase’.[49]

​[23]​ In the Last Battell, Boyd out-Becons his model, and does so in not six but eight days’ conferences. Interestingly, while Becon’s rabidly anti-Catholic Salve merited little commendation from Sister Mary Catharine O’Connor in 1942, the staunchly Calvinist Last Battell received two pages of wellnigh undiluted praise, inter alia for Boyd’s ‘combination of learning and eloquence and vivid figure’, and the fact that, unlike Becon, ‘never is he the bigot or zealot or pious dreamer or anything other than the good pastor standing by his flock in their last battle with death’.[50] Both impressive and moving, Boyd’s thousand pages deserve better than David Mullan’s 1990 comment that ‘one suspects that if sickness had not finished him [i.e. the dying man], discourse like this must surely have done so’.[51]

​[24]​ William Murray, however, would have loudly applauded Mullan’s condemnation of The Last Battell. Boyd’s and Becon’s vast books were in Murray’s sights, when he tells his dedicateee that his own ‘naturall gift … of vtterance’ was ‘more Laconick than Atticke’, adding that he has striven for ‘shortnesse not only of sentences, but of purpose’, labouring ‘to bee plaine’:

for I think that if either information, or consolation concerning death might be well contryved in as few short aphorismes, as there be letters in an A, B, C: it were the better both for the mynd and memory of the patient in that agonie.[52]

​[25]​ Murray’s entire Short Treatise occupies only forty-seven pages of large print, and amounts to fewer than 8500 words. Murray’s dedicatee was Dame Agnes Murray, ‘Mistresse of Stormonth’. Firstly, he says, because he is her kinsman, secondly because ‘for honour, vertue; viz.Pietie, charitie, sobrietie, I esteem more of your L. than any one of my kinsfolk and surname’, and thirdly because

your L. is not ashamed to professe, I was the man who first taught you the rudiments of religion, to make you thinke of the way how to liue well. Now I pray GOD that the reading, and meditation of this treatise may be a meane to helpe your L. to die well. … I thinke it needlesse to put a longer Epistle before so little a Booke, least the head should bee bigger than the bodie, and so the birth monstrous. So I rest, Your H. Cousine to serue you in the LORD.

Neither Murray nor his Treatise has hitherto garnered interest or comment; in 1925, the twice-published Treatise was so obscure it was not even noted in William Murray’s entry in Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, unlike his Nyne Songs.[53] He was almost entirely overlooked by Scottish historians until 2000.[54] In the great 19th century Wodrow Society editions of no fewer than four major contemporary histories of the period, Murray is actually indexed as his namesake and polar opposite, the royalist-conformist minister of Dysart (whose son William would be created Earl of Dysart by Charles I in 1643).[55]

​[26]​ The minister of Crail came of landowning stock, and by January 1604 was ‘portioner of Ardet’ (modern Airdit), near Balmullo in west Fife.[56] His father, David, originally a ‘pensioner of Brechin’, had bought Ardet in 1584 from his nephew Sir Andrew Murray (d.1590) of Balvaird, head of an important landed family in lowland Perthshire.[57] Murray of Balvaird also owned land at Crail, inter alia.[58] Dame Agnes Murray, Mistresse of Stormonth, was Sir Andrew’s daughter, and William’s words about instructing her in the rudiments of religion suggest that he had some rôle in the Balvaird household after graduation. He began his clerical career in Crail on 12 August 1596, where he assisted the new minister Andrew Duncan, married the widow of the previous incumbent, and was confirmed in the ‘second charge’ in 1600 (Smith 1985: 205).

​[27]​ In 1607, his cousin Sir Andrew Murray (d.1624) of Balvaird, Dame Agnes’s brother, presented him to the first charge, Andrew Duncan having been deported into exile in mainland Europe.[59] Duncan was a perfervid Presbyterian and disciple of Andrew Melville, and from July 1605 until November 1606, he and five other clerics had been imprisoned in Blackness Castle on a charge of high treason, for defending the legitimacy of the abortive General Assembly at Aberdeen on 2 July 1605. Spared the gallows, all six were banished abroad. In 1604, William Murray himself, like James Melville, had been a member of the St Andrews Presbytery delegation sent to Aberdeen to attend a General Assembly scheduled for 31 July, which did not take place (Pitcairn 1842: 561-64).

​[28]​ Murray was likewise amongst the forty-odd ministers who attended the show-trial of Andrew Duncan of Crail and his five fellow-prisoners at Linlithgow in January 1606 (Calderwood vi, 457, 476). Murray’s presence on the eve of the trial was specifically recorded by one of the imprisoned ministers: ‘Mr James Melville came to Blaknes, with Mr John Dikes [his brother-in-law and assistant] and Mr William Murray’ (Forbes 1846: 455). There is a hint that Murray remained a Presbyterian at heart: in February 1620, he was one of several Fife ministers cited before the Court of High Commission ‘to heir and sie themsels deprived for not observing holie dayes, and not ministering the Communion according to the order prescrived at Perth’ (i.e. in keeping with the Five Articles of Perth, and therefore, giving it to kneeling communicants); the ministers refused to conform, but Murray may have done so in due course, since he does not appear to have been deprived.[60]

​[29]​ In 1607, when he took on Duncan’s mantle at Crail, Murray initially had difficulties in obtaining his stipend from those responsible for paying it.[61] But he became an appreciated and diligent pastor of Crail, at least according to liminary verses by an unidentifiable ‘Rob.Crafordus, alias Lunnaeus’ prefixed to Murray’s two publications of 1631. The first of the liminary poems begins:

Bis denos cum laude gregem, & sex insuper annos
Pavisti, illustris praeco, liquore sacro.

[With distinction for twice ten years and another six you nourished
your flock, illustrious preacher, with holy liquor].[62]

​[30]​ The poet addresses Murray as ‘preacher of the Word God amongst the people of Crail’ (verbi divini apud Caralienses praeconem).[63] ‘Minister of Gods Word in Crail’ is how Murray describes himself as on the title page of his second publication of 1631, Nyne Songs, collected out of the Holy Scripture.[64] However, the fact is that on 7 April 1624, after those twenty-six years of illustrious service, the Synod of Fife suspended Murray from his ministry,

pairtlie be his scandalous conversing with Helen Wood, in his awin wyffis lyftym, [sic] and pairtlie be his precipitating his intendit mariage with her soon efter the death of his said wyff, quhairby that suspition hes bien michtelie increased (Kinloch 1824: 100).

The Archbishop and the ‘brethren assemblit’ at the Synod declared that if Murray ‘sal happen at any tym hierefter, to mary sic the said Helen Wood, he sal no wayes be permitted to continow minister at Craill, but salbe depryved theirof’ (ibid 101). Murray appealed against his suspension, and in October 1624, the Synod lifted it, restoring him to the ministry ‘quhairever it sal pleis God to open vnto him a door, excepting only in the kirk and paroche of Craill’ (ibid 204). Other than his publications of 1631, the sole traces of him after this date are found in documents concerning his daughter Margaret, and a mention of him as ‘parson and vicar’ at Eassie and Nevay (in Angus) on 10 December 1633.[65] Since he had been recorded as ‘rector et vicarius’ of Eassie as early as 20 March 1606, it is not clear what, if any, his pastoral connection with the Angus parish actually was.[66]

​[31]​ The epistle dedicatory of Murray’s Short Treatise may end laconically, but it begins in deadly seriousness, and reveals just how personal were the origins of the Treatise:

After that I had receaved some woundes in the house of my friends, I contracted much melancholy, which brought vpon me so great sicknesse and weaknesse, that I receaved in my selfe the sentence of death : In the which estate your L. may easily consider, that such a man as I, both should and would haue deepe meditation of death, and so indeede I had, being resolved to die at that tyme: yet it was the goodwill of GOD to continue my life, which hath continued since that tyme, some sixe yeares or more: therefore I thought it was good for me to make better preparation against the next assault of that enemie.[67]

Murray explains in a marginal note that ‘some woundes in the house of my friends’ is a quotation from Zechariah 13:6. The wounding and ‘melancholy’ (depression) had happened ‘some sixe yeares or more’ earlier, that is, in 1624, the year of his marital misfortunes and loss of his parish. The richness of what Murray is saying by means of the Biblical quotation cannot be better illuminated than by quoting what Calvin wrote about this verse:[68]

Zechariah … says generally, that false teachers … were worthy of death; and that if they were treated more gently they should yet suffer such a punishment, that they would through life be mutilated and ever bear scars as proofs of their shame. We may at the same time gather from the answer what proves true repentance … ‘What mean these wounds in thine hand? Then he will say, I have been stricken by my friends.’ The Prophet shows that those who had previously deceived the people would become new men, so as patiently to bear correction; though it might seem hard when the hands are wounded and pierced, yet he says that the punishment, which was in itself severe, would bee counted mild, for they would be endued with such meekness as willingly to bear to be corrected.[69]

The import of the Zechariah quotation is that Murray now confesses he had been a false teacher, who had betrayed his calling and ‘deceived the people’ by his affair with the woman who became his second wife. The quotation from Corinthians II, 1:9 underlines the suicidal nature of Murray’s depression. Calvin expounded ‘I receaved in my selfe the sentence of death’ thus:

This is as much as to saye, as ‘I determined, and decreed wyth my selfe to dye.’ But he borroweth a similitude of those which being condemned to dye, looke for nothing but for the houre of death. Notwythstanding he sayth, that he receyued the sentence in himselfe, that is, he pronounced the sentence of death against hymselfe, and in his owne conceyt iudged hymselfe to die: lest he myghte seem to have had the same by Revelation from God.[70]

In the light of this, we can hardly be unmoved by what Murray writes at the end of his fifth chapter, entitled ‘Remedies and comforts against the feare of death, which proceedeth from ignorance, infidelitie, or despaire’:

If Sathan or thy owne conscience trouble thee with these doubts and objections following, answere thus.

Object. 1.

My sinne is so great, that it can not bee pardoned.


No sinne in it selfe is so great but it is pardonable, to everie one that can repent: No cryme so great, but GODS mercie is greater: yea, the sinne against the holy Ghost can not bee forgiven, only because these that fall therein, can not repent. Hebr. 6.

​[32]​ Modern readers of the Treatise, comparing it with Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, will be struck by just how frequently the former quotes non-Christian Graeco-Roman sources. But it is Melville, rather than Murray, who is unusual for the time: Early Modern Scottish schooling left its products so steeped in Classical (pagan) literature, that it came to the lips of the clergy as naturally as did the Scriptures.[71] Murray begins the first of his opening chapter’s four tiny sections with the words ‘The oft meditation of death is both necessare, and profitable to make vs liue well, and die well’, whereupon he successively quotes and translates three Romans: Seneca (Thyestes, lines 619-20), Horace, and Martial. Next comes a reference to the famous story (also cited early on in Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death) about Philip of Macedon’s page-boy with his constant reminder ‘Thou art mortall’. Only then do we reach the Treatise‘s first Christian reference, to ‘that holy man Hieronimus’ keeping a skull and hourglass in his study. Murray’s title-page features the skull and hour-glass, yet typically, the words ‘Vive memor lethi, fugit hora’ printed below them come not from St Jerome, but the Roman poet Persius.[72]

​[33]​ The quotations in the second of the chapter’s four sections are all Judaeo-Christian, while those in the third are a mixture, and include, immediately after Ecclesiastes 11:9, the opening lines of an immensely popular anonymous song, devoid of overt religious content, but dismissing all earthly achievement and joy because of their inherent transience.

What if a day, or a month, or a yeare,
Crowne thy delights with a thousand wisht contentings?
Can not the chaunce of a night, or an houre
Crosse thy delights with as many sad tormentings?[73]

Given Murray’s active interest in music, he presumably expected his readers to ‘sing’ these words to their memorable tune (compare James Melville’s quoting of John Hopkins’ Psalm 39). In the final, fourth section of this chapter, Murray cites both the Song of Simeon and the words, ‘into Thy hands I commend my spirit’ (Psalm 31:5), quoted by Christ on the Cross. Good preacher that he was, Murray will reiterate this sentence in his fourth, fifth and sixth chapters.

​[34]​ The second chapter’s opening statement of the three senses in which Death is taken ‘in holy Scripture’ is followed by their systematic exposition. This chapter contains no verse, and the only non-Scriptural quotation is from one of Seneca’s epistles, a favourite resource for the entire Reformed ars moriendi tradition. In the third chapter, ‘Of the feare of death’, Murray not only quotes the Old and New Testaments, but also recites and then paraphrases the Emperor Hadrian’s well-known little poem to his soul, ‘Animula, vagula…’.[74] The chapter had begun by stating that ‘there is a twofold feare of death, wherevnto wee are subject’, and having dealt with the lawful ‘naturall’ feare, he says there is

another kynd of feare of death, which is vnlawfull and sinfull, and therefore to be corrected, striven against, and resisted: this feare of death proceedeth of ignorance, infidelitie, or of despaire. […]

He then, characteristically, proceeds to expound this threefold division.

​[35]​ The start of the fourth chapter on fear of ‘naturall death’ is bracingly direct:

there is no sort of feare of death without paine and trouble to the patient, as witnesseth the Apostle Iohn, (I.Joh.4.18) saying indefinitly or generally of feare, feare hath torment: Therefore consolations and remedies are to bee sought against all sorts of feare of death.

Murray numbers six remedies, illustrated with the help of quotations overwhemingly Scriptural in origin. But he does also cite Menander (‘hee dyeth young whom God loueth’), Cicero, Seneca and Horace’s famous ‘Pallida mors…’, elegantly translated thus:

With equall foote, death knocks at doors
Of poore mens shoppes, and Princes towres.[75]

​[36]​ The fifth chapter, on fear of ‘unnatural death’, is twice as long as any other; after all, Murray was not unacquainted with the reality of that fear. He begins by referring back to Hadrian’s uncertainty as to his soul’s fate. In defence of the immortality of the soul, two couplets from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and a barrage of Scriptural sources are quoted, before Murray returns to the ‘verie Ethnicks’ – Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch and Plato (on the death of Socrates) — and points out that ‘Christians should be ashamed to feare death through ignorance … seing death is inevitable: the feare of it argues want of fortitude’. He then sets out ‘remedies and comforts’ against the fear of death caused by ‘infidelitie or despaire’, stressing that the sufferer must ‘aboue all things studie to know CHRIST, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings’; Christ, Murray writes, calls death ‘a sleepe, to teach vs that the nature of death is changed to those that beleeue in him’, and ‘in the true knowledge of CHRIST is our comfort, both in life and death’. Another barrage of recommended Scripture reading precedes the closing passage, already quoted, listing six ‘doubts and objections’ and giving lapidary answers to them. In his sixth and final chapter, on ‘the desire of death’, Murray deals directly and succinctly with suicidal desires:

GOD hath put vs in a warrefare, and hath appointed everie one of vs a station, which wee should keepe as obedient Souldiers … those Ethnicks who commonly are accounted magnanimus, that for miscontentment slew themselues … are truely to bee accounted verie cowards, that left their station, not keeping their place, vntill hee that had placed them there had called them from it.

A final prose quotation from Seneca, and then one in verse from that schoolroom standard staple, Disticha Catonis, lead into the final paragraphs, packed with Scripture. The very last of Murray’s quotations, on the subject of how the dying should cope with ‘great paine’, reiterates advice from chapter two: ‘say with the Prophet DAVID, I will hold my tongue O LORD, because thou hast done it: This was Mr. Calvins practise, when hee was dying’.[76] Murray concludes with a simple prayer:

GOD grant we may so liue
that in the houre of death
we may rejoice through

The final consideration of how to deal with ‘great paine’ encapsulates Murray’s ultimately victorious struggle to outface the life-threatening pain of his expulsion — however justified – from the living parish community that had been in his care for two and a half decades. His concentrated, unsentimental and eminently practical Treatise was printed at least twice, which indicates that it found readers at the time.[77]

​[37]​ But, as the latter part of his book’s full title tells us, Murray ends his Treatise with a paratext, namely a brief exposition of ‘the aenigmatick description of old age and death written Ecclesiastes 12’ – a chapter he had thrice quoted in the Treatise proper.[78] The ‘aenigmatick description’ is the famous series of metaphors for old age and death that occupies Ecclesiastes 12: 2 to 7 – a strangely gloomy choice of postliminary material, since while ‘the spirit shall return to God, who gave it’ (verse 7), there is no celebratory promise of the joys of heaven, as there is in Psalm 23, for example. As with the Nyne Songs, Murray provides first a Scriptural text from the Authorised Version (albeit already lightly paraphrased), and then sets out a verse-by-verse prose interpretation of the metaphors, and then forces them into a metrical paraphrase, using the complex ‘solsequium’ song-stanza we encountered earlier in Melville’s psalm-paraphrases of 1597. The choice of this melody in 1631 cannot be a coincidence.

​[38]​ As we have seen, Murray, like James Melville and Lady Culross, appreciated the power of the sung word, even if some of the verses in his psalm-tune equipped Nyne Songs are marred by horrendously contorted syntax (and none of them are outstanding). The tiny verses in the body of the Treatise, however, are competent and sometimes rather appealing. Most of them translate lines from Roman poets, e.g. Horace:

Inter spem, curamque, timores inter & iras,
Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum.

That is to say.

Amidst thy hope, thy care, thy feare, thy wrath,
Thinke everie day thy last, looke for thy death.[79]

​[39]​ But whether read or sung, Murray’s metrical paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 12’s beautiful poetic metaphors is much less agreeable, and indeed rather grotesque. Murray was an intelligent, educated and music-loving man, and paragraphs 44 and 45 below will offer a suggestion as to why he chose to end his Treatise with this distinctly unpoetic song-text. For example, verse 3’s words ‘The grinders cease, because they are few’ become

Our teeth which were, as Milstones faire, gin then to spaire
–As broken, loose, and in part lost their store.[80]

The same verse’s words ‘They that looke out at the window are darkned. | The doores are shut in the streets’ become

—Also our Opticke vaines,
—–That looked throw
—Our eyes broken with paines,
—–Leaue their window.
Then faile[s] our speach, whereby wee teach,
–Our hearers for to vnderstand our minde,
That doore is close where throw came voice,
–And wee of dumbe men made another kynd.

The last four lines quoted above cannot but remind us that the full Scriptural title of Ecclesiastes is actually ‘Ecclesiastes or the Preacher’. Preaching was central to a minister’s calling. The ageing and now silenced preacher of Crail may well have been implicitly lamenting the loss of his pulpit, not as part of the inexorable decay inherent in this sublunary mortal existence, but as the result of his own folly and the intransigence of his archbishop. And at the same time, by publishing his Treatise and his Nyne Songs, he was showing that he had not abandoned his vocation to ‘teach our hearers’.


​[40]​ The East Neuk’s two artes moriendi were composed on opposite sides of a great watershed in Scottish history. Whether or not Melville’s paratextual poem ‘Come Christ our king’ in the Exhortatioun anent Death voices his awareness of the coming persecution, his abundant late poetry, written in English exile between September 1606 and his death, has much to say about the persecution of the church by tyrants. As does his Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ libellus supplex of 1610.[81] These late writings are very different in tone from the Exhortatioun and the Spirituall Propine; and yet, the pastoral motivation behind them remained unchanged. Melville, now prevented from preaching in Kilrenny, was still writing for ‘the Church of Scotland in generall, the people of the paroch of Kilrennie in speciall, and everie faithfull member of the bodie of Jesus Chryst there, or else where in particular’.[82]

​[41]​ Even as the shades of persecution fell in the second half of 1605, the ‘Solsequium’ psalms, which Melville had applied to such comfortingly pastoral and joyous effect in 1596, reappeared in print, now incorporated into a spectacular sequence of fifteen psalms, plus the Song of Simeon and the Doxology, printed anonymously as The Mindes Melodie. Contayning certayne Psalmes of the Kinglie Prophet David, applied to a new pleasant tune, verie comfortable to everie one that is rightlie acquainted therewith. The booklet was a ‘comfortable’ (i.e. strengthening and uplifting) gesture of support for Andrew Duncan of Crail and the five other Presbyterian ministers imprisoned in Blackness Castle under threat of execution, and it was reprinted in 1606.[83] In November 1606, the Blackness prisoners sailed into exile, after Melville and seven leading Presbyterian clerics had already been summoned to London and placed under house-arrest. James Melville never saw Scotland again.

​[42]​ William Murray was a friend and colleague of the sufferers of 1605-1608. In 1631, the year of Murray’s Short Treatise, Charles I tried to impose the new metrical ‘Psalms of King James’ on the Kirk – a foretaste of other liturgical changes and a new Book of Canons to come from London later in the 1630s.[84] Murray’s choice of the ‘Solsequium’ tune and stanza surely alludes to the passing of all the youthful hopes of the 1590s and the combative energy of the 1600s, which he and others had known in the distant days of the flourishing spiritual community of the East Neuk. Murray will not only have known Melville’s Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death, but been personally acquainted with its dedicatee James Lumsden, who died two years after Murray is first recorded as working in Crail. Furthermore, as an active supporter of the six ministers imprisoned in Blackness Castle, Murray must have been familiar with the ‘comfortable’ Scriptural paraphrases of The Mindes Melodie, using the Solsequium stanza and melody. Some at least of Murray’s readers will also have known The Mindes Melodie and its associations with the doomed struggle against King James’s onslaught on the Kirk’s autonomy. The original metaphors that comprise Ecclesiastes 12 are of great beauty, unlike Murray’s prose exposition. His verse paraphrase is positively ugly, so that the poem’s beautiful melody and all its various existing associations are rendered incongruous. (Mutatis mutandis, the jarring effect that Murray has created is not unlike that of the incongruous and often distorted popular melodies and waltz rhythms found in the music of Mahler and Shostakovich.) At the very least, we can suggest that the strange, limping, grotesque song that ends Murray’s Treatise was actually intended as the laconic minister’s idiosyncratic elegy for, and oblique homage to James Melville and the East Neuk’s spiritual community.[85]

​[43]​ Murray’s final stanza may even contain a coded warning to followers of the royal establishment which had persecuted Melville and Murray’s other colleagues:

And that round Wheele, which once did reele, as we now feel
—-Is broken downe, even right aboue the Well:
I meane the head, when wee are dead, stands in no stead,
—-To draw vp foode from livers stell.
——-Earth doth then to earth returne,
———Even man to dust;
——-His Spirit to GOD is borne,
———Who is most iust.

Murray begins by paraphrasing verse seven’s ‘wheel broken at the cistern’, and then the whole of verse 8 is covered in just three lines; whereupon Murray himself adds that, at death, the God to whom the spirit is borne ‘is most just’, the adjective making a deft allusion to the Last Judgement. The poem ends by paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 12:1:

Remember man, thy Maker then,
—When thou art young and strong, before these dayes:
For thou wilt wearie, and cannot tarry,
—To serue thy God, and sorrow for thy sinnes alwayes.

That last line, however, is Murray’s own contribution: ‘Serve thy God’ — rather than thy king, perhaps?

​[44]​ In 1631, Murray could not know whither the policies of King Charles and Archbishop Laud would lead.[86] Nor could he even dream that as early as 1634, his long-dead friend Melville’s voice would be heard again, with the publication (in Holland) of an abbreviated text of the devastating poetic attack on royal tyranny, The Black Bastell, written by the banished pastor of Kilrenny in 1611.[87] Yet even in 1631, William Murray seems still to have retained something of his own early radicalism, writing in Nyne Songs that ‘Kings, Princes and potentates have neede to be exhorted to make the judgements of God upon their Peeres, for pride so blinds their mindes, that they mis-ken both God & man’.[88] Nyne Songs was not reissued, but the Short Treatise was. The original ‘Solsequium’, its subject the perennial impermanence of both night and day, was ‘perhaps the most ubiquitous Montgomerie song’ and ‘also the most ubiquitous of his poems’.[89] Murray’s Ecclesiastes paraphrase, therefore, must have reminded at least some of its readers of the fact that since all things under the sun pass, so too would the episcopal and political order imposed by James VI and reinforced by his son. For, as the Preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes 8:9-12:

There is a time when one man ruleth over another to his own hurt. And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had done so […] Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God.

School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow

Acknowledgements: I would like to voice my thanks to Laura Doak and Rebecca Mason for their extreme patience, to the anonymous readers for their comments, and to the editors of the JNR.


​[1]: English Short Title Catalogue (hereafter ESTC) (2nd ed)/18167 and 18168. I have followed modern practice in using the form ‘Murray’, but his printers spelled his name ‘Morray’, ‘Morrey’ and ‘Moray’, and only under ‘Morray’ can he be found in EEBO (Early English Books Online). In the copy of STC 18167 used for EEBO, a contemporary hand (the author’s own?) has made a dozen small manuscript emendations. These concern marginal references, four tiny textual corrections, and a single rhyme-word in the closing poem (see note 80 below). However, with the exception of ‘in’ for ‘into’ in the second line of the epistle dedicatory, no corrections were made in 1633 for STC 18168, even though the text had been re-set, as both the last page and the orthographical variants show. ​[back to text]​

​[2]: ESTC (2nd ed.)/17815.5.​[back to text]​

[3]: The process of putting Robert in possession of the estate began well before 1598; see Erskine Beveridge. 1893. The Churchyard Memorials of Crail (privately printed: Edinburgh), 132-55, at 149.​[back to text]​

[4]: J Reid Baxter. 2017. ‘New Light from Fife’, The Innes Review, 68:1:38-77, at 65-66 and 73-74. An important, hitherto unnoticed contributory factor to the spiritual malaise afflicting Isobell Cor has subsequently come to light. In The Historical Works of Sir James Balfour of Denmylne, 4 vols. (Edinburgh, 1824), i, 398, we read that in 1596, Isobell’s husband Robert Lumsden, in partnership with his wealthy merchant father-in-law Clement Cor, charged exorbitant prices for a great stock of ‘wictuall of all sortes’ that they had bought up cheap, whereupon ‘the ministers throughe all the shyre pronuncid the cursse of God aganist them, as the grinders of the faces of the poore; wich cursse [sic] too manifestly lighted on them befor ther deathes’ — in the shape of their being utterly bankrupted by their heavy investment in the failed Second Plantation of Lewis, 1605-07.​[back to text]​

[5]: Smith, ‘Presbytery of St Andrews’, passim. See also no’d paragraphs 29 and 30 for their joint-activities in 1604 and 1606.​[back to text]​

[6]: Gordon Raeburn, ‘Rewriting Death and Burial in Early-Modern Scotland’, Reformation & Renaissance Review, 18:3, 254-272, provides a useful list, to which can be added

(a) the earliest Scottish post-Reformation publication concerning good dying, a Scots verse paraphrase of Clément Marot included by Robert Norvell at Edinburgh in 1561 in his book The Meroure of ane Chrstiane [sic], STC 18688: ‘How death doeth answer maike and send: to them that do him vilipend, Translated forth of frainshe’, i.e. a Scots translation of the twenty-one rhyme-royal stanzas headed ‘Comment la mort sur le propos de republicque parle à tous humains’, which constitute the penultimate of the four sections of Marot’s long poem, ‘La déploration de Florimond Robertet’;

(b) William Cowper’s treatise A Defiance to Death. Wherein, besides sundry heauenly instructions for a godly life, we haue strong and notable comforts to vphold vs in death (London, 1610, republished in 1616), STC (2nd ed.) 5917, c.32 500 words written for and dedicated ‘to Sir Thomas Stewart of Gairntilie [i.e. Grandtully] and his vertuous Ladie, Grizzell Mercer’, in the wake of Stewart’s near-fatal illness. Cowper’s treatise expounds 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 (which is quoted complete on page 32 of Melville’s Exhortatioun);

(c) William Struthers’ treatise (so called at the head of its list of contents),  A RESOLVTION FOR DEATH, written vnder the sentence of Death, in the time of a painfull Disease. And now published for their comfort who studie to approue themselues to God: And to assure all that liue the life of the Righteous, that they shall die the death of the Righteous. This is the second, separately paginated part of Struthers’ Christian observations and resolutions, or, The daylie practise of the renewed man, turning all occurrents to spirituall uses, and these uses to his vnion with God I. centurie. First published at Edinburgh in 1628, it was reissued  in 1629 both at Edinburgh and London. Struthers (c.1579-1633), minister of Edinburgh,  had fallen ill in December 1627. His treatise runs to some 14 400 words, and although laid out as sixty-six generally very short numbered sections, is in fact a single impassioned prayer, packed with purely Scriptural allusions and quotations. Its literary quality can be judged from these two paragraphs, in which Struthers is addressing his soul:

[27] Will thou know what is this noyse about thee, it is the hand of thy Lord softlie loosing the pinnes, and slakening the coards of thy Tabernacle, it is the noyse of his Chariots that hee hath sent from Heauen to bring thee to him: Olde Iakob reuiued when he saw Iosephs Chariots to bring him to Egypt, though his posteritie were thereafter in thrall, shall thou not bee glad to goe vp in these Coaches to Heauen, where thou shalt euer bee with Ioseph, and vnder a good King, who knoweth Ioseph, and will neuer die.

[28] This noyse is nothing but the sound of Christs key opening thy prison and fetters: Lift vp thine head and rejoyce, for thy Redemption is at hand, hee that is to come, will come and not delay: Behold hee commeth, and his reward is with him. Thou shall heare in due time the voyce of thy beloued crying, Arise my spouse, my beloued, arise, and come away, for the winter of thy calamitous life is gone, the raines of thine affliction are passed. Cant 2.

​[back to text]​

[7]: STC 3482 and Wing B4104. See under those years in the online National Library of Scotland site Scottish Books 1505-1700 (Aldis Updated). <>.​[back to text]​

[8]: The publication of so furiously anti-Roman a tract in these specific years may reflect Scottish historical circumstances and the Presbyterian belief in the threat of a return to Rome underpinning the establishment of any form of church hierarchy. In 1584, the Huguenot Vautrollier could have been motivated by the Black Acts and the episcopalising Crown’s persecution of Presbyterians, cf. his 1584 publication of Henrie Balnaves’ Confession of Faith. In 1600, the puritan Waldegrave may have been responding to rapidly growing suspicion of James VI’s hierarchising reorganisation of the Kirk. Finally, the Kirk’s problems with Catholics in 1613 may have motivated the Presbyterian stalwart Andro Hart – see Alan R. MacDonald. 1998. The Jacobean Kirk 1567-1625 (London: Routledge), 153.​[back to text]​

[9]: I would like to thank Prof. Atkinson for his kindness in supplying me with the texts of various inaccessible articles.​[back to text]​

[10]: In fact, O’Connor, discussing ‘the England of Elizabeth and the Stuarts’ on page 191, ignores both Melville and the kingdom of James VI, describing the unattributed Exhortatioun as a book of ‘the Elizabethan age’.​[back to text]​

[11]: Margo Todd’s The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland (Yale: Yale University Press, 2002) is not a literary study, and makes no reference to Melville’s or Murray’s treatises.​[back to text]​

[12]: Work on James Melville has been hampered for decades by the fact that A Morning Vision was not photographed for the microfilms underpinning EEBO.​[back to text]​

[13]: McCallum. 2010. Reforming the Scottish Parish, 108-13. For the tunes, see Timothy Duguid. 2014. Metrical Psalmody in Print and Practice: English ‘Singing Psalms’ and Scottish ‘Psalm Buiks’, c.1547-1640 (Farnham: Ashgate), 213-14.​[back to text]​

[14]: McCallum, Reforming the Scottish Parish, 119. With Murray’s book, compare e.g. Dudley Fenner, The Song of Songs, that is, the most excellent song which was Solomons, translated out of the Hebrue into English meeter with as little libertie in departing from the wordes, as any plaine translation in prose can vse: and interpreted by a short commentarie (Middelburg, 1587, reprinted 1594), where each metrical chapter is assigned a psalm-tune. As early as 1543, Clément Marot had published a singing version of the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29–32) that was immediately incorporated into the French Protestant psalter, while the long-lived English metrical paraphrases of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis were first printed as early as 1556 (see Beth Quitslund. 2008. The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopkins and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547-1603 (Aldershot: Ashgate), 279). Theodore Beza assigned psalm tunes to the singing versions of no fewer than seventeen Scriptural cantiques he published in 1595, seven of them paraphrasing texts later found in Murray’s Nyne Songs. By 1631, Scottish metrical psalters included a certain number of canticles and hymns taken from the English Whole Booke of Psalmes, including the 1556 Magnificat and Nunc dimittis texts. Whether these ‘canticles’ were ever sung in kirk is as yet unascertained. From 1615, some Scottish psalters also featured James Melville’s ‘Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32’, to the tune of Psalm 3. Nonetheless, Murray made his own metrical versions of all three of these texts.​[back to text]​

[15]: See pages 17-19, where successive paragraphs begin ‘next’,’thirdly’, ‘fourthlie’, and ‘And last’.​[back to text]​

[16]: See also John McCallum. 2014. ‘”Sone and Servant”: Andrew Melville and his Nephew, James (1556-1614)’, in R. A. Mason and S. J. Reid, eds. Andrew Melville (1545-1622), Writings, Reception and Reputation (Farnham: Ashgate), 201-14. A full bibliography of the exiguous writing on James Melville’s poetry (up to 2016) is given in note 1 to J. Reid Baxter, ‘James Melville and the Releife of the Longing Soule: a Scottish presbyterian Song of Songs?’ in Medievalia et Humanistica no.41 (December, 2015), 209-28.​[back to text]​

[17]: These lines are also found at the end of an eye-witness account of Melville’s death on 19 January 1614, which survives in a copy made in 1649; see National Library of Scotland Adv.MS.34.7.10, pp. 195-207. A transcript was printed in Pitcairn 1842: lvi-lxiv.​[back to text]​

[18]: A translation of the epigram Ut tibi mors felix contingat, vivere disce, / ut felix possis vivere, disce mori by the Ferrarese humanist Celio Calcagnini (1479-1541). Paschal de l’Estocart’s polyphonic settings of the Latin and the French texts, published in Sacrae Cantiones (1582), are tracks 10 and 24 of the CD Deux coeurs aimants RAM0703 (2007).​[back to text]​

[19]: NLS, Adv. MS. 19.2.7, ff.42-58v. The present writer first addressed this discovery in his unpublished paper ‘King David, Charles IX and James VI as tyrants: Beza, Belleau, Melville and the Miserere’ at the University of Kent conference ‘New Perspectives on the Auld Alliance’, 21-22 June 2016, and revisited it in four unpublished presentations on James Melville given at the universities of Glasgow (2016), Aberdeen (2018), Edinburgh (April 2019) and Durham (May 2019).​[back to text]​

[20]: See Sally Mapstone. 2013. ‘James Melville’s Revisions to A Spirituall Propine and A Morning Vision’ in David J. Parkinson, ed. 2013. James VI and I, Literature and Scotland: Tides of Change (Leuven: Peeters), 173-92, at 183-88; see also Melville’s dixain recommending to James VI that he translate Dubartas’ La Sepmaine, in J. Reid Baxter, ‘The Nyne Muses, an unknown Renaissance Sonnet-Sequence John Dykes and the Gowrie Conspiracy’, in K. Dekker and A. A. MacDonald (eds.) 2005. Royalty, Rhetoric and Reality (Leuven: Peeters), 197-218, at 202 and n.17.​[back to text]​

[21]: 1576 edition, 20-24; Mornay reprises the ages of man more concisely on 53-54.​[back to text]​

[22]: Exhortatioun, sig.2v (unnumbered). The page-numbering, however, begins with the title-page itself, since the main text’s second page is numbered 8.​[back to text]​

[23]: Exhortatioun, sig.2v. For Douglas’s active commitment to the ‘Melvillian’ cause in the town in 1593, see Pitcairn 1842: 314.​[back to text]​

[24]: It is worth noting the parallels with William Cowper’s A Defiance to Death. Cowper tells Sir William Stewart that he has offered ‘the Treatis following … partly to testifie my vnfeined affection toward you in the Lord ; for that unfeined and incorrupt loue … ye haue alway carried toward the truth of the Gospell … and partly that ye may be remembered of these instructions concerning life and death : which ye receiued from vs by hearing … and vnto the practise whereo shortly ye must be called, for albeit it is not long, since it pleased the Lord beyond all expectation of man to deliuer you out of the handes of the Sergeants & officers of death [i.e. sickness and disease], which had violently seased vpon you, and threatned to slay you both, your selfe by sickenesse, your Ladie by the sorrow of desolation, more heauie then death vnto her: yet are yea to knowe (and I doubt not, are preparing you for it) that the same battell will shortly be renued against you, wherin both of you must bee diuorced from other, and diuided from your owne bodies’ (sig.A5 rv). As minister of the second charge at Perth since 1595, and until 1608 a militant presbyterian, Cowper may well have known Melville’s Exhortatioun; his senior colleague John Malcolm, minister of the first charge, was a lifelong presbyterian and friend of Andrew Melville. See the liminary verses to Malcolm by Melville and John Johnston in his Commentarius in Apostolorum Acta (Middelburg, 1615).​[back to text]​

[25]: Again, there are parallels at the end of Cowper’s epistle: ‘if these little fruites of my Ministery may serue any way to confirme you in the end, as some way they haue comforted in the iourney: and if for your sake they may bee profitable to others, who constantly keeps with you the same course toward the face of Iesus Christ, it shall be no small comfort vnto me, knowing thereby that I haue not runne, nor laboured in vaine’.​[back to text]​

[26]: Buchanan is never named, but simply described as ‘the prince of Christian poets’ on 9 and ‘our poet’ on 30.​[back to text]​

[27]: That is, the Anglo-Genevan ‘proper tune’ for Psalm 29, appointed for Psalm 39 in 1564, rather than the proper tune for Psalm 15, as suggested in Charteris’ CL Psalmes of 1596. See Timothy Duguid. 2014. Metrical Psalmody, 145. For private as well as public psalm-singing, see ibid., 205-206​[back to text]​

[28]: Exhortatioun, sig.2 and 2v:  ‘I fell upon the minutes of a certaine Sermon… I recognosced the heads of the samin, and fostered a peece of meditatioun upon the pointes thairof’.​[back to text]​

[29]: Melville’s warmly intimate, conversationally flowing pastoral discourse can usefully be contrasted with Ninian Campbell’s stilted, rigidly structured Treatise upon Death first publickly delivered in a funerall sermon, anno Dom. 1630 And since enlarged By N.C. Preacher of Gods word in Scotland at Kilmacolme in the baronie of Renfrew of 1635 (ESTC 2nd ed.) / 4533), on Hebrews 9:27, with a hyperabundance of quotations in Greek and Latin, both Christian and pagan; and indeed with the unstilted and virtually pagan-free, but eminently well signposted, systematic, phrase-by-phrase exposition of 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 that constitutes William Cowper’s A Defiance to Death.​[back to text]​

[30]: William Cowper’s A Defiance to Death of 1610 concludes with the same verse, slightly recast: ‘If our life be the life of the righteous, out of doubte wee shall dye the death of the righteous’ (381); the coincidence, if such it be, is rather striking.​[back to text]​

[31]: Melville’s poem appears to indicate his familiarity with an earlier poem (first printed c.1582) which uses this verse-form to discuss the Last Days at colossally greater length: see J. Reid Baxter ‘James Anderson and His Poem The Winter Night‘ in Luuk Houwen (ed.). 2012. Literature and Religion in Late Medieval and Early Modern Scotland: Essays in Honour of Alasdair A. MacDonald (Leuven: Peeters), 145-165.​[back to text]​

[32]: See Exhortatioun, 12,15, 16, 60 and 61.​[back to text]​

[33]: Melville had earlier used the phrase ‘man of sinne’ in the quite different Pauline sense (Ephesians 4 :22): ‘we sall finde na losse at all, vnlesse thou wald esteeme the losse of thine enemie to be losse: for indeed, that olde man of sinne by death is destroyed, and alluterlie mortified and vndone.’ (48).​[back to text]​

[34]: For Melville’s account and interpretation of ‘the 17 December’, as it became known, see Pitcairn 1842: 516-22.​[back to text]​

[35]: Robert Rollock, friend and former St Andrews colleague of both Andrew and James Melville, had voiced this doctrine in ‘Patria alloquitur Regem suum’, his third liminary epigram to George Buchanan’s Rerum Scotorum Historia (1582). Rollock writes of two sceptres: that of King James rules Scotland, but Christ’s sceptre rules both Scotland and King James.​[back to text]​

[36]: See Thomas Thomson, ed. 1842-49. History of the Kirk of Scotland by David Calderwood, 8 vols (Edinburgh), v, 174, and Reid Baxter, ‘New Light from Fife’, 63-64.​[back to text]​

[37]: Poems of Elizabeth Melville, ed. J. Reid Baxter (Edinburgh, 2010), 72-91, lines 28-48, 386, 425-26. For Lady Culross’s East Neuk friends, see ‘New Light from Fife’, passim.​[back to text]​

[38]: See Julian Goodare. 2008. ‘The Attempted Scottish Coup of December 1596’, in J. Goodare and A. A. MacDonald (eds.) Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch (Brill: Leiden), 311-36.​[back to text]​

[39]: Melville loved this parable. On his deathbed in 1614, ‘Quhen the fyve wyse virgines wer rememberit … he putt his hand to his heart, and chaped thryse on it’ (Pitcairn 1842: lxii).​[back to text]​

[40]: Revelation 4 :8-10, 5 :9-13, 7 :11-12, 14 :2-3, 19 :1-3, 6-7.​[back to text]​

[41]: See Simon Goulart, Mémoires de l’estat sous Charles IX, 3 vols,  Seconde édition […]. Meidelbourg [i.e. Geneva] H. Wolf [i.e. E. Vignon], i, 221-32.  Goulart’s text, identical in all editions of his Mémoires de l’estat,  draws heavily on the anonymous Brief discours sur  la mort de la Royne de Navarre advenue à Paris le IX jour de juin 1572, (np),  but the latter is not Melville’s source either. In the short sample below, the differences from the French are highlighted in bold in the Scots:

Goulart f.225v

Et adiousta ceste similitude, que tout ainsi qu’vn Roy voulant grandement honorer quelq’vn, luy monstroit sa Cour, ses princes, ses estats, ses maisons, & ses ioyaux plus precieux: ainsi, que Dieu vn iour desployeroit sa gloire, & sa Maiesté, voire tous ses thresors à ses fideles & esleus, lors qu’il les auroit attirez à soy, & qu’il les embelliroit, & enrichiroit de lumiere, incorruption & immortalité. Au moyen de quoy, puis qu’ell ne se deuoit beaucoup soucier de quitter ce monde, veu que pour vn Royaume terrien qu’elle delaissoit, elle heritoit le Royaume des cieux, & pour les biens qui ne faisoyent que passer, & s’escrouler, elle iouyroit à tousiours de ceux qui estoyent eternels.  Et ce d’autant qu’elle auoit ferme fiance en nostre Seigneur Iesus Christ, & qu’elle s’asseuroit de son salut par luy. Et sur ce mot, il s’addressa particulierment à elle, luy demandant si elle ne croyoit pas que Iesus Christ fust son sauueur, & que par son sang il eust fait la purgation de tous nos pechez. 

Melville, p.88

There he added therevnto this similitude, that even as a potent and magnifick rich King, willing to honor gretly some stranger, he shewes him his Court, his Princes, his Estates, his store-houses, and his most precious Iewels, he intertaines him delicately, he feedes his eies with pleasant spectacles, his eares with sweet musick, his taste and smelling with fragrant odours, &c. Even so, God wald some day display and laye open his Glory and Majestie; yea, even all his treasures vnto his Elect and Faithfull: even then, when he sall retyre them from this miserie vnto himself, in his heuenlie Kingdome of glory; where he sall highlie honour them, and decore them with Light, incorruption, and immortalitie. Wherefore, seeing that sik was the felicitie of the happie and glorified, shee suld not greatly care to quyte the warld, in sa far, as for ane earthly Realm, quhilk she left, she suld inherit the Kingdome of Heaven: and for goods and ritches corruptible, shee suld enjoye for ever sik, as culd not wither nor passe away: omission  & thereafter he addressed himselfe particularlie to her, demaunding of her, gif she beleeued that Iesus Christ was her Saviour, quha had by his bluid made a purgation for all her sinnes.

​[back to text]​

[42]: See J. Reid Baxter, ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘ in J D McLure and J Hadley Williams (eds.). 2013. Fresche Fontanis: Proceedings of the 13th Triennial Conference on Mediaeval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), 363-73. Melville’s example of how to send the readers of a very serious book away singing cheerfully may well have been Lady Culross’s inspiration to append an equally tuneful postliminary song to the apocalyptic conclusion of Ane Godlie Dreame. See Poems of Elizabeth Melville, 94-95. James Melville’s Psalm 23 is track 16 of the CD Thus spake Apollo myne, GAU 249 (2002).​[back to text]​

[43]: For Melville and intertextuality, see ‘The Releife of the longing soule’, 216-22.​[back to text]​

[44]: See the 1593 London print of the 2nd edition, f.48v of Pars tertia (STC (2nd ed.) / 2061.5; EEBO image 257).​[back to text]​

[45]: See Roderick Lyall. 2005. Alexander Montgomerie: Poetry, Politics and Cultural Change in Jacobean Scotland (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Tempe), 296-98. Most of Melville’s sonnets await scholarly consideration, but see Lyall, ibid., 303-306, and Sarah C. Ross, in ‘Elizabeth Melville and the Religious Sonnet Sequence in England and Scotland’, in Susan J. Wiseman (ed.). 2014. Early Modern Women and the Poem (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 42-59, at 52-55.​[back to text]​

[46]: William Cowper had likewise written near the start of A Defiance of Death: ‘It is therefore a special point of wisdom, so to liue, that by liuing wee may learne to die, that a godly life may prepare the way to a happy death’.​[back to text]​

[47]: David W. Atkinson. 1977. ‘Zachary Boyd and the Ars Moriendi tradition’, Scottish Literary Journal, 4, 5-16.​[back to text]​

[48]: See McCrie, Life of Andrew Melville, ii, 277-78 and 422-23 respectively.​[back to text]​

[49]: Beaty, Craft of Dying, 113, 114.​[back to text]​

[50]: O’Connor, The Art of Dying Well, 205.​[back to text]​

[51]: David George Mullan. 2000. Scottish Puritanism 1590-1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 122. Melville’s Exhortatioun is briefly quoted on the same page and elsewhere, e.g. 41.​[back to text]​

[52]: Short Treatise, second and third pages (unnumbered).​[back to text]​

[53]: Volume V, 192.​[back to text]​

[54]: See the index entries for Murray in Mullan, Scottish Puritanism, and in McCallum, Reforming the Scottish Parish. The earlier lack of serious scholarly interest in Murray is amply demonstrated in the English Short Title Catalogue’s suggested date of ‘1634’ for the Nyne Songs, the only extant title-page having had its date trimmed off. In fact, the book’s dedication and liminary poem conclusively prove that the real date is 1631. The dedicatee of Nyne Songs is the ‘Right Honorable the Vicount [sic] of Stormont, Lord of Scone and of Balwhidder, Stewart of Fife, &c’, who, as Murray says, had been ‘Captaine of the guard’ and was now in ‘old age’. This is David Murray of Gospertie, who would die on 27 August 1631, when he was succeeded by Mungo Murray, hitherto Master of Stormont. Robert Crawford’s liminary poem tells us the author has ‘not long since’ (non ita pridem) published his ‘other’ little book (libellus) ‘de morte’, i.e. A Short Treatise – in which Agnes is addressed not as ‘Lady’ of Stormont, but as ‘Mistresse’ thereof, i.e. her husband was still only the Master (Scots Peerage, Sir James Balfour Paul, Scots Peerage, 9 vols. (Edinburgh, 1904-1914), viii, 191-97). 1631 had been suggested in the standard Scottish bibliographical tool, Harry G. Aldis’ List of Books printed in Scotland before 1700 (1904), twenty years before the creation of the Short Title Catalogue in 1926. But the latter’s attitude to Scottish facts is insouciantly high-handed: James VI, for example, can be found only as ‘James I, King of England, 1566-1625’, while Elizabeth Melville is called ‘Colville’ after her husband, in unscholarly, flat denial of Scottish reality.​[back to text]​

[55]: Calderwood’s History, edited by Thomas Thomson, JMAD, edited by Robert Pitcairn, and An Apologetical Narration … by William Scot, and Certaine Records … by John Forbes (Edinburgh, 1846), edited by David Laing. Laing did distinguish between the two men in his later Original Letters, relating to the ecclesiastical affairs of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1851). See ‘New Light from Fife’, 72, fn.121. For William Murray of Dysart, see Scots Peerage, iii, 398-99.​[back to text]​

[56]: Register of the Great Seal of Scotland [hereinafter RMS], 11 vols. (Edinburgh: General register house, 1882-1914), vi, item 1500.​[back to text]​

[57]: Scots Peerage, viii, 186-97.​[back to text]​

[58]: RMS, v, items nos.661 and 1776.​[back to text]​

[59]: Fasti, v, 192. Duncan was permitted to return to Crail after eight years’ exile (Calderwood, History, vii, 181), only to fall foul of the Court of High Commission in 1619 due to his defiance of the Five Articles of Perth (ibid. 377, 443, 470, 511).​[back to text]​

[60]: Calderwood, History, vii, 413. Contrast the fate of his associate, Andrew Duncan.​[back to text]​

[61]: See the actions raised by Murray and his wife Janet Moncreiff between February and May 1609, NRS, CS 7/242, fol. 29; CS 7/241/165r-167v, 186r-187v, 187v-189r. My thanks to Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich for supplying me with this information.​[back to text]​

[62]: Short Treatise, first page (unnumbered); Crawford’s liminary poem to Nyne Songs affirms that Olim voce gregem pascebas sedulus (Of old you would zealously feed your flock by the spoken word). Translations mine.​[back to text]​

[63]: The second poem, headed ‘to the same, and to the reader’ praises the practical usefulness of the book in the highest terms. The author was one David Maxwell, presumably the Crail notary (and ‘reader’ in the kirk) – see National Archives (London), SP 46/129/fo142, obligation by Andrew Wood, maltman, bgs of Crail, 4 February 1624: ‘David Maxwell notary and writer hereof’. John Durkan. 2013. Scottish Schools and Schoolmasters 1560-1633, (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society), 258, notes that a David Maxwell, notary and ‘reader’, is recorded as schoolmaster in Crail between January 1585 and May 1605.​[back to text]​

[64]: STC (2nd ed.) 18166.​[back to text]​

[65]: Inquisitionum Ad Capellam Domini Regis Retornatarum … Abbrevatio, 4 vols (Edinburgh, 1811- 1816), I, no. 343; RMS, viii, item 1179; Fasti, v, 259.​[back to text]​

[66]: RMS, vi, item no.1726.​[back to text]​

[67]: Short Treatise, first page (unnumbered).​[back to text]​

[68]: We cannot know whether Murray knew this particular commentary, but A Short Treatise, on pages 12 and 41, reveals his familiarity with Calvin’s writings.​[back to text]​

[69]: Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, tr. John Owen, vol.5 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1849), 392-93.​[back to text]​

[70]: A commentarie vpon S. Paules epistles to the Corinthians. Written by M. Iohn Caluin: and translated out of Latine into Englishe by Thomas Timme minister (London, 1577), fol.207 rv.
​[back to text]​

[71]: See J. Reid Baxter. ‘Mr Andrew Boyd (1567-1636), Bishop of Argyll: a Neo-Stoic Bishop of Argyll and his Writings’ in Julian Goodare and Alasdair A. MacDonald, (eds.) Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, 395-426, passim, for the bishop’s love of quoting from Lucian of Samosata and Seneca, amongst others, even in his funeral sermons. Ninian Campbell also lavishly quotes pagan writers in his Treatise upon Death of 1635. However, William Cowper’s A Defiance of Death, packed with quotations from the Church Fathers including St Bernard, rarely mentions Graeco-Roman pagan writers, and this is even truer of Zachary Boyd’s Last Battell, for all its length. William Struthers’ Resolution for Death  eschews non-Scriptural quotations entirely.​[back to text]​

[72]: ‘Live mindful of death: time is flying’, Satire 5, 153.​[back to text]​

[73]: For an attempted Scottish contrafactum sacrum of this song, often wrongly attributed to Campion, see (and hear) paragraphs 12 and 13 here. ​[back to text]​

[74]: William Cowper had quoted this poem in his Defiance to Death, 12, as an instance of how pagan philosophy has no answer to death.​[back to text]​

[75]: Odes, 1.4.13-14; on the fifth (unnumbered) page of the Treatise, lines 9-10 of David Maxwell’s liminary poem had quoted Horace’s original Latin. ‘Doors’ in Scots was pronounced with a long ‘u’ sound, and therefore rhymes perfectly with Scots ‘towres’ (pr. ‘toors’).​[back to text]​

[76]: Psalm 36:9: Treatise, 12, 41​[back to text]​

[77]: ESTC (2nd ed.) / 18168.​[back to text]​

[78]: Melville and Cowper had discussed this passage early on in their respective treatises: Exhortatioun, 15, A Defiance to Death, 38-42. Murray may very well have known Cowper’s Defiance, just as William Struthers may well have known both Murray’s and Cowper’s treatises, but reasons of space preclude any proper investigation of the many parallels and possible influence.​[back to text]​

[79]: Epistularum Liber Primus, IV, 12-13; the Scots rhyme ‘wraith / daith’ is one of several instances of Murray’s use of Scots pronunciation (cf. ‘doores’ and ‘towres’). His usage is inconsistent: the Ecclesiastes 12 paraphrase includes both ‘that doore is close where throw came voice‘ (i.e. ‘voce’), and ‘And then our voice, which made sweete noyse’.​[back to text]​

[80]: The printed rhyme word in both 1631 and 1633 is ‘skaire’, i.e. ‘share’, in the sense of ‘allotted part or rôle’ (see Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue). However, in the 1631 print copy used for EEBO, a contemporary hand has forcefully blacked out ‘skaire’ and added the correct rhyme-word for line 2’s ‘though strong before’, namely ‘store’, in the sense of ‘abundance’ (See Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, acceptation 3). ​[back to text]​

[81]: Published at London in 1645; the far from identical manuscript text of 1610 is in Edinburgh University Library, Melvini Epistolae, MS. Dc6.4, where it is entitled Oratio apologetica vel libellus supplex ad Regem.​[back to text]​

[82]: National Library of Scotland, Adv.Ms.19.2.7, f. 16 For a discussion of the late poetry, see J. Reid Baxter, ‘James Melville and the Releife of the Longing Soule.’​[back to text]​

[83]: ESTC (2nd ed.) / 18051, 18051.3. See ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘, 365-74.​[back to text]​

[84]: For the new psalter of 1631, see Millar Patrick, Four Centuries of Scottish Psalmody (OUP, 1949) 80-88.​[back to text]​

[85]: Murray’s Treatise and Nyne Songs are not the only posthumous tribute to James Melville’s inspiring example. Five years after the former minister of Kilrenny’s death in January 1614, his ghost had been the protagonist of a polemical ‘dialogue’ set in Edinburgh in January 1619: see J. Reid Baxter. 2017. ‘Posthumous Preaching: James Melville’s ghostly advice in Ane Dialogue (1619), with an edition from manuscript’ Studies in Scottish Literature, 43: 1, 41-71,​[back to text]​

[86]: The 1631 first edition actually ends with a visual image that could in fact indicate that Murray hoped things would change, namely, the wheel of fortune, inscribed ‘OMNIA SVBIACENT VICISSITUDINI’ and ‘SOLA VIRTUS CADERE NON POTEST’. Falconer Madan’s The Early Oxford Press (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1895), 289, notes this as a printer’s device known from Oxford prints of 1592-93, 1620 and 1629. The device, however, takes on quite particular significance when juxtaposed with the conclusion of Murray’s Ecclesiastes 12 paraphrase. The 1633 reprint of Murray’s book omits the device, though the page offered the same amount of blank space; perhaps it was felt that this juxtaposition of words and image would be inappropriate in the year of Charles I’s coronation visit, accompanied by Archbishop Laud. The latter’s major rôle in arousing the active opposition of the hitherto passive majority within the Kirk is charted in Leonie James’s ‘This Great Firebrand’: William Laud and Scotland, 1617-1645, reviewed in JNR in April 2019.[back to text]​

[87]: STC (2nd ed.) / 17815, available in EEBO; the anonymous editor has cut Melville’s original 93 stanza dream-vision down to 39 stanzas and anglicised the language. See See McCrie, Life of Andrew Melville, ii, 456-58.​[back to text]​

[88]: Nyne Songs from the Holy Scripture (Edinburgh, 1631), 57, cited by Mullan, Scottish Puritanism, 284.​[back to text]​

[89]: David Parkinson. 2005. ‘Alexander Montgomerie: Scottish Author’ in Sally Mapstone, ed. Older Scots Literature (Edinburgh: John Donald), 493-513, at 508.​[back to text]​



Primary Sources

Edinburgh University Library, Edinburgh
Melvini Epistolae, MS. Dc6.4, where it is entitled Oratio apologetica vel libellus supplex ad Regem

National Archives, London
SP 46/129/fo142

National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh
CS7/242, fol. 29; CS7/241/165r-167v, 186r-187v, 187v-189r

Printed Sources

A commentarie vpon S. Paules epistles to the Corinthians. Written by M. Iohn Caluin: and translated out of Latine into Englishe by Thomas Timme minister (London, 1577)

Dudley Fenner, The Song of Songs, that is, the most excellent song which was Solomons, translated out of the Hebrue into English meeter with as little libertie in departing from the wordes, as any plaine translation in prose can vse: and interpreted by a short commentarie (Middelburg, 1587, reprinted 1594)

Erskine Beveridge. 1893. The Churchyard Memorials of Crail (Edinburgh: privately printed)

Falconer Maden. 1895. The Early Oxford Press, 1468-1640 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press)

Inquisitionum Ad Capellam Domini Regis Retornatarum … Abbrevatio, 4 vols (Edinburgh, 1811- 1816)

Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, 11 vols. (Edinburgh: General register house, 1882-1914)

Robert Pitcairn (ed.). 1842. The Autobiography and Diary of Mr James Melville, Minister of Kilrenny, in Fife, and Professor of Theology in the University of St Andrews. With a Continuation of the Diary. Edited from Manuscripts in the Libraries of the Faculty of Advocates and University (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society)

Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage, 9 vols. (Edinburgh, 1904-1914)

The Historical Works of Sir James Balfour of Denmylne, 1824. 4 vols. (Edinburgh)

William Cowper. 1610. A Defiance to Death. Wherein, besides sundry heauenly instructions for a godly life, we haue strong and notable comforts to vphold vs in death (London, 1610, republished in 1616)

William Murray. 1631. Nyne Songs from the Holy Scripture (Edinburgh)

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Atkinson, David W. 1992. The English ars moriendi (Peter Lang: New York)

_____. 1980. ‘Erasmus on Preparing to Die’, Wascana Review (University of Regina), Fall: 3-21

_____. 1977. ‘Zachary Boyd and the Ars Moriendi tradition’, Scottish Literary Journal, 4: 5-16

Beaty, Nancy Lee. 1970. The Craft of Dying: A Study in the Literary Tradition of the Ars Moriendi in England (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Duguid, Timothy. 2014. Metrical Psalmody in Print and Practice: English ‘Singing Psalms’ and Scottish ‘Psalm Buiks’, c.1547-1640 (Farnham: Ashgate)

Durkan, John. 2013. Scottish Schools and Schoolmasters 1560-1633 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society)

Goodare, Julian. 2008. ‘The Attempted Scottish Coup of December 1596’, in Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, ed. by J. Goodare and A. A. MacDonald (Leiden: Brill), pp. 311-36

James, Leonie. 2017.  ‘This Great Firebrand’: William Laud and Scotland, 1617-1645 (Woodbridge: Boydell)

MacDonald, Alan R. 1998. The Jacobean Kirk 1567-1625 (London: Routledge)

Mason, R. A. and Reid, S. J. (eds.). 2014. Andrew Melville, Humanist and Reformer (Farnham: Ashgate)

McCallum, John. 2010. Reforming the Scottish Parish: The Reformation in Fife, 1560-1640 (Farnham: Ashgate)

_____. 2014. ‘”Sone and Servant”: Andrew Melville and his Nephew, James (1556-1614)’, in Andrew Melville (1545-1622), Writings, Reception and Reputation, ed. by R. A. Mason and S. J. Reid (Farnham: Ashgate), pp. 201-14.

McCrie, Thomas, 1824. Life of Andrew Melville, 2 vols. 2nd edition (Edinburgh : Blackwood)

Mullan, David George. 2000. Scottish Puritanism 1590-1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Parkinson, David. 2005. ‘Alexander Montgomerie: Scottish Author’ in Older Scots Literature, ed. by Sally Mapstone (Edinburgh: John Donald), pp. 493-513.

Patterson, Mary Hampson. 2007. Domesticating the Reformation: Protestant Best Sellers, Private Devotion and the Revolution of English Piety (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Presses)

Quitslund, Beth. 2008. The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopkins and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547-1603 (Aldershot: Ashgate)

Raeburn, Gordon. 2016. ‘Rewriting Death and Burial in Early-Modern Scotland’, Reformation & Renaissance Review, 18.3: 254-272

Reid, Steven J. 2011. Humanism and Calvinism: Andrew Melville and the Universities of Scotland 1560-1625 (Farnham: Ashgate)

Reid Baxter, Jamie. 2017a. ‘Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross: new light from Fife’, The Innes Review, 68.1: 38-77

_____. 2017b. ‘Posthumous Preaching: James Melville’s ghostly advice in Ane Dialogue (1619), with an edition from manuscript’, Studies in Scottish Literature, 43.1: 41-71

_____. 2015. ‘James Melville and the Releife of the Longing Soule: a Scottish presbyterian Song of Songs?’, Medievalia et Humanistica, 41: 209-28

_____. 2013. ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘ in Fresche Fontanis: Proceedings of the 13th Triennial Conference on Mediaeval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, ed. by J D McLure and J Hadley Williams (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), pp. 363-73

_____. 2008. ‘Mr Andrew Boyd (1567-1636), Bishop of Argyll: a Neo-Stoic Bishop of Argyll and his Writings’ in Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, ed. by Julian Goodare and Alasdair A. MacDonald (Brill: Leiden), pp. 395-426

_____. (ed). 2010. Poems of Elizabeth Melville (Edinburgh: Solsequium)

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Online Resources

Dictionary of Older Scottish Tongue, <>

Scottish Books 1505-1700 (Aldis Updated), <>

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