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Response to Review of Andrew Melville (1545–1622): Writings, Reception, and Reputation

Firstly, I would like to thank Dr Raffe for his careful reading of the collection, which both editors felt summed up neatly the contents of the work. I would also like to thank him for highlighting the significance of the annotated bibliography of Andrew Melville’s works. My main hope in producing it was that it would be of use to scholars embarking on their own study of ‘Melvilliana’.(1a)

It is in response to changing ideas about Melville’s significance and reputation, deserved or not, that I wish to make the only substantive comment on Dr Raffe’s review. However, this is a general one, which is aimed more at those interested in pursuing further study of Melville in the wake of recent scholarship. Dr Raffe expertly sums up the recent contributions (including my own) towards shifts in thinking on this topic, and is right to note that the traditional pillars of Melville’s importance – as party leader, royal mouthpiece, and university reformer – have been dismantled. In relation to the third pillar, I cannot say that I set out with any specific polemic intent to destroy or uphold it – my approach to Melville has always been to look away from the traditional confessional narratives wherever possible, and to use arguably more ‘neutral’ contemporary sources (the records in the universities he managed, the letters that he sent and received, and the writings that he produced) to try and understand him.

That approach does allow for a more objective understanding of his actual achievements, but it still does not address the undeniable fact that for Presbyterian chroniclers like David Calderwood and James Melville, he was a hero (although as John McCallum shows, the extent to which the latter believed in this legend is debateable). It also does not do justice to the evidence of his very unique charisma– an ‘x factor’ if you will – that drew students to attend him in droves at St Andrews, and the assembled ministry to listen to his views frequently and attentively. There is still much scope, and need, for a biographical study of Melville that brings these two sides of him – the human with all his foibles and frustrated ambitions, and the charismatic church doctor of legend – together. In this volume we attempted to begin a more positive revision of sorts of Melville as humanist scholar and ‘literary individual’, because his influence as a writer does seem to comprise one element of this ‘x-factor’, with his poetry winning him adulation from a range of contemporary reporters, including Joseph Scaliger and Isaac Casaubon. The volume’s focus would only be a problem if the intention was to inflate his literary reputation as compensation for the diminution of his stature as a cleric, politician and university reformer. This is not the case – instead, both editors hope that the collection will encourage further study of Melville’s writings, particularly his letters, with a view to one day bringing all these facets together and creating a new (though perhaps more modest) pedestal for Andrew Melville to rest upon.


  1. Though I am all too aware that there will be omissions that need addressed, and modifications required, as research continues. This public forum allows me to make a plea to anyone who finds new texts to contact me with details, as I plan to produce an appendix in the future.Back to (1a)