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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

VII. Reformation and Renascence in Scotland

§ 9. The Diary of Mr. James Melville

Of a different order is the work of Sir James Melville of Halhill, who, first as page to queen Mary and, afterwards, as her ambassador, played a subordinate part in the transactions of his time. His Memoirs, in which he records his own observations of what he had seen and heard in the course of his public life, still retain their value as one of the historical sources for the period. Though a protestant in religion, he possessed the confidence of Mary; and his sympathies are with her and not with her rival, Elizabeth. Melville’s point of view is that of the courtier and the diplomatist, and in his decorous and sober pages there is little indication of the seething passions of the time. In the Memorials of Transactions in Scotland (1569–73) of Richard Bannatyne, Knox’s secretary, we have another example of the stimulus given to historical narrative by the events of the reformation. In the form of a diary, Bannatyne records the events that he saw passing before his eyes in those momentous years when the victory of protestantism was definitely assured by the surrender of Edinburgh Castle by the last champions of Mary. But the most memorable passages in the book are those which record the last days of his master, from whose hand there are some entries written in the most vigorous style of his History. Another example of the general interest in contemporary events is the Diary of Mr. James Melville, Minister of Kilrenny in Fife (1566–1601). Of the nature of an autobiography rather than of a diary, this is one of the most delightful books of the kind in the language. In the author himself, we have the most attractive type of the Presbyterian pastor, and his account of his home life and of his education at school and university is of high value as a picture of the life of the time. As a specimen of the Scottish language of the period, and as one of the best known passages in early Scottish literature, his description of Knox preaching at St. Andrews in his last days may hardly be passed over:

  • I saw him everie day go hulie and fear (slowly and warily) with a furring of martricks (martens) about his neck, a staff in the an hand, and guid godly Richart Ballanden [Bannatyne] his servand, holdin upe the other oxter (armpit) from the Abbaye to the paroche Kirk, and be the said Richart and another servent lifted upe to the pulpit, whar he behovit to lean at his first entrie; bot or he haid done with his sermont he was sa active and vigorus, that he was lyk to ding that pulpit in blads (break the pulpit in pieces) and flie out of it.