To judge by what we heard and saw, there were connected with Edinburgh three great characters who stand out above all others in historic importance - Mary Queen of Scots, John Knox, and Sir Walter Scott; but we thought and read more about John Knox this day than either of the others, possibly because it was Sunday. We attended service in three different churches, and give the following particulars for the information of our clerical and other friends who "search the Scriptures," in the hope that they may find in the reading of the texts food for thought.
In the morning we went to the High Church. Preacher, the Rev. C. Giffin, M.A. Text. 2 Corinthians viii. 13 and to the end.
In the afternoon to the Tron Church. Preacher, the Rev. James McGregor, D.D. Text: Isaiah lvii., the last three verses, and Ephesians ii. and the first clause of verse 14.
In the evening to the Wesleyan Chapel, Nicolson Square. Preacher, the Rev. Dr. James, President of the Wesleyan Conference. Text: I Corinthians ii. 1, 2.
The excellence of the sermons, and the able way in which they had been prepared and were delivered, gave us the impression that rivalry existed between the ministers of the different churches as to which of them could preach the best sermon. They were all fine orations, carefully thought out and elaborated, especially that by Dr. James.
During the intervals between the services we walked about the city, and again passed the splendid monument to Sir Walter Scott with the following remarkable inscription, written by Lord Jeffery, beneath its foundation stone:
This Graven Plate, deposited in the base of a votive building on the fifteenth day of August in the year of Christ 1840, and never likely to see the light again till all the surrounding structures are crumbled to dust by the decay of time, or by human or elemental violence, may then testify to a distant posterity that his countrymen began on that day to raise an effigy and architectural monument to the memory of Sir Walter Scott, Bart., whose admirable writings were then allowed to have given more delight and suggested better feelings to a large class of readers in every rank of society than those of any other author, with the exception of Shakespeare alone, and which were, therefore, thought likely to be remembered long after this act of gratitude on the part of the first generation of his admirers should be forgotten. He was born at Edinburgh 15th August 1771: and died at Abbotsford, 21st September 1832.
We also passed that ancient and picturesque mansion in the High Street known as the "House of John Knox," in which the distinguished reformer died in 1572. Born in the year 1505, it was he who, in the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, stirred Scotland to mighty religious impulses, boldly denouncing Mary as a Papist and a Jezebel. How he escaped being beheaded or burned or assassinated was, considering the nature of the times in which he lived, a mystery almost amounting to a miracle.
Queen Mary sailed from France and landed at Leith, near Edinburgh, on August 19th, 1561, where she was welcomed by the Scots as Dowager of France, Queen of Scotland, and heiress of England, and was "gorgeouslie and magnificentlie" received,according to Scottish ideas, by the lords and ladies who came to meet and accompany her to Edinburgh; but, according to the diary of one of the Queen's ladies, "when they saw them mounted on such wretched little hackneys so wretchedly caparisoned they were greatly disappointed, and thought of the gorgeous pomp and superb palfreys they had been accustomed to in France, and the Queen began to weep." On their arrival at Edinburgh they retired to rest in the Abbey, "a fine building and not at all partaking of that country, but here came under her window a crew of five or six hundred scoundrels from the city, who gave her a serenade with wretched violins and little rebecks of which there are enough in that country, and began to sing Psalms so miserably mis-tuned and mis-timed that nothing could be worse. Alas! what music, and what a night's rest!" What the lady would have written if bagpipes had been included in the serenade we could not imagine, but as these instruments of torture were not named, we concluded they must have been invented at a later period.
Mary had been away in France for about thirteen years, and during that time she had for her companions four young ladies of the same name as her own and of about the same age, Mary Fleming, Mary Bethune, Mary Livingstone, and Mary Seaton, all of whom formed part of her retinue on her return to Scotland, where they were known as the "Queen's Marys."
She was a staunch adherent of the Romish Church, a fact which accounted for many of her trials and mortifications. Mainly owing to the powerful preaching of John Knox, many of the people of Scotland, both of high and low degree, had become fierce opponents of that form of religion, which they considered idolatrous. The first Sunday after her arrival was St. Bartholomew's Day, August 24th, and preparations had been made to celebrate mass in the Chapel Royal, at which the Queen was to be present. But no sooner was this known, than a mob rushed towards the edifice, exclaiming: "Shall the idol be again erected in the land?" and shouting, "The idolatrous priests shall die the death!"
On September 2nd the Queen made her public entry into Edinburgh, and on the same day John Knox had an audience with Mary, who, hearing of a furious sermon he had preached against the Mass on the previous Sunday in St. Giles's Church, thought that a personal interview would mitigate his sternness. The Queen took him to task for his book entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regimen of Women, and his intolerance towards every one who differed from him in opinion, and further requested him to obey the precepts of the Scriptures, a copy of which she perceived in his possession, and urged him to use more meekness in his sermons. Knox in reply, it was said, "knocked so hastily upon her heart," that he made her weep with tears of anguish and indignation, and she said, "My subjects, it would appear, must obey you, and not me; I must be subject to them, and not they to me!" Knox left Holyrood that day convinced that Mary's soul was lost for ever, and that she despised and mocked all exhortation against the Mass.
When Mary attended her first Parliament, accompanied by her ladies, the Duke of Chatelherault carrying the Crown, the Earl of Argyll the Sceptre, and the Earl of Moray the Sword, she appeared so graceful and beautiful that the people who saw her were quite captivated, and many exclaimed, "God save that sweet face!"
During this short Parliament Knox preached in St. Giles's Church, and argued that they ought to demand from the Queen "that which by God's Word they may justly require, and if she would not agree with them in God, they were not bound to agree with her in the devil!" and concluded with some observations respecting the Queen's rumoured marriage with Don Carlos of Spain, declaring, "Whenever ye consent that an infidel, and all Papists are infidels, shall be our head to our soverane, ye do so far as in ye lieth to banisch Christ Jesus from his realme; ye bring God's vengeance upon this country, a plague upon yourselves, and perchance ye shall do no small discomfirt to your soverane."
Mary heard of this furious attack upon her, which Knox admitted had offended both Papists and Protestants, and he was again summoned to Holyrood. As soon as Mary saw Knox she was greatly excited, and exclaimed: "Never was prince handled as I am." "I have borne with you," she said to Knox, "in all your vigorous manner of speaking, both against myself and my uncles; yea, I have sought your favour by all possible means - I offered unto you presence and audience whenever it pleased you to admonish me, and yet I cannot be quit of you. I vow to God I shall be once avenged."
Knox answered, "True it is, Madam, your Grace and I have been at divers controversies into the which I never perceived your Grace to be offended at me; but when it shall please God to deliver you from that bondage of darkness and error in the which ye have been nourished for the lack of true doctrine, your majesty will find the liberty of my tongue nothing offensive. Without the preaching-place, Madam, I am not master of myself, for I must obey Him who commands me to speak plain, and flatter no flesh upon the face of the earth."
The Queen asked him again, "What have ye to do with my marriage, or what are ye in this commonwealth?" "A subject born within the same, Madam," was the stern reply; "and albeit I be neither Earl, Lord, nor Baron within it, yet has God made me, how abject soever I may be in your eyes, a profitable member within the same."
He was entering into some personal explanations, when the Queen ordered him to leave the Cabinet, and remain in the ante-chamber till her pleasure should be intimated. Here Knox found himself in the company of the Queen's Marys and other ladies, to whom he gave a religious admonition. "Oh, fair ladies," he said, "how pleasing is this life of yours if it would ever abide, and then in the end that you pass to Heaven with all this gay gear! But fie upon the knave Death, that will come whether we will or not, and when he has laid on his arrest, the foul worms will be busy with this flesh, be it never so fair and tender; and the silly soul, I fear, shall be so feeble, that it can neither carry with it gold, garnishing, targetting, pearl nor precious stones."
Several noblemen had accompanied Knox when he went to see the Queen, but only Erskine of Dun was admitted to the Cabinet, and Lord Ochiltree attended Knox in the ante-room while Queen Mary held a consultation with Lord John Stuart and Erskine lasting nearly an hour, at the end of which Erskine appeared and accompanied Knox home. Knox must have been in great danger of losing his life owing to his fearless and determined daring in rebuking those in high places, and indeed his life was afterwards repeatedly aimed at; but Providence foiled all attempts to assassinate him, and in the end he died a peaceful death.
On November 9th, 1572, a fortnight before he died, he preached his farewell sermon, the entire congregation following his tottering footsteps to his home. When the time came for him to die he asked for I Corinthians xv., and after that had been read he remarked: "Is not that a comfortable chapter?" There was also read to him Isaiah liii. Asked if he could hear, he replied: "I hear, I thank God, and understand far better." He afterwards said to his wife, "Read, where I cast my first anchor." Mrs. Knox knew what he meant, and read to him his favourite seventeenth chapter of St. John's Gospel. His friend Bannatyne, seeing that he was just about to depart, and was becoming speechless, drew near to him saying, "Hast thou hope?" and asked him if he heard to give them a sign that he died in peace. Knox pointed upwards with two of his fingers, and thus he died without a struggle. Truly one of the most remarkable men that ever lived in Scotland, and whose end was peace.
A vast concourse of people attended his funeral, the nobility walking in front of the procession, headed by Morton, who had been appointed Regent of Scotland on the very day on which Knox died, and whose panegyric at the grave was: "Here lieth a man who in his life never feared the face of man."
St. Giles's was the first parochial church in Edinburgh, and its history dates from the early part of the twelfth century. John Knox was appointed its minister at the Reformation. When Edinburgh was created a bishopric, the Church of St. Giles became the Cathedral of the diocese. A remarkable incident happened at this church on Sunday, July 23rd, 1639, when King Charles I ordered the English service-book to be used. It was the custom of the people in those days to bring their own seats to church, in the shape of folding-stools, and just as Dean Hanney was about to read the collect for the day, a woman in the congregation named Jenny Geddes, who must have had a strong objection to this innovation, astonished the dean by suddenly throwing her stool at his head. What Jenny's punishment was for this violent offence we did not hear, but her stool was still preserved together with John Knox's pulpit and other relics.
Although three hundred years save one had elapsed since John Knox departed this life, his memory was still greatly revered in Edinburgh, and his spirit still seemed to pervade the whole place and to dwell in the hearts and minds of the people with whom we came in contact. A good illustration of this was the story related by an American visitor. He was being driven round the city, when the coachman pointed out the residence of John Knox. "And who was John Knox?" he asked. The coachman seemed quite shocked that he did not know John Knox, and, looking down on him with an eye of pity, replied, in a tone of great solemnity, "Deed, mawn, an' d'ye no read y'r Beeble!"
As we walked about the crowded streets of Edinburgh that Sunday evening we did not see a single drunken person, a fact which we attributed to the closing of public houses in Scotland on Sundays. We wished that a similar enactment might be passed in England, for there many people might habitually be seen much the worse for liquor on Sunday evenings, to the great annoyance of those returning from their various places of worship.
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