Burnet, Gilbert

Burnet, Gilbert bishop of Salisbury, was born in Edinburgh, Sept. 18, 1643, his father being an Episcopalian, and his mother a Presbyterian. He was educated at Aberdeen, and was licensed to preach in the Scotch Church 1661. After travelling in England, Holland, and France, he returned to Scotland in 1665, and was ordained priest by Wishart, bishop of Edinburgh, and appointed to the parish of Saltoun, where he soon gained the good-will of the people by his faithful labors both as pastor and preacher. Here he published an attack upon the remissness and wrongdoings of the bishops of the Scotch Church, which brought him the ill-will of Archbishop Sharp. In 1669 he was made professor of divinity at Glasgow, and in that year he published his Modest and Free Conference between a Conformist and a Non-conformist. In 1673 Charles II made him his chaplain; but he soon afterward, through the misrepresentations of Lauderdale, fell into disgrace, and his appointment was cancelled, whereupon he resigned his professorship at Glasgow and settled in London, where he was made preacher at the Rolls and lecturer at St. Clement's. In 1675 he published vol. 1 of his History of the Reformation of the Church of England, which was received with much favor, and had the extraordinary honor of the thanks of both houses of Parliament. In 1680 appeared the most carefully prepared: of all his writings, entitled Some Passages in the Life and Death of the Earl of Rochester, being an account of his conversation with that nobleman in his last illness. In 1681 he published vol. 2 of his History of the Reformation, and in 1682 his Life of Sir Matthew Hale. Overtures were now again made to him by the court, and he was offered the bishopric of Chichester by the king "if he would entirely come into his interests." He still, however, remained steady to his principles. About this time also he wrote a celebrated letter to Charles, reproving him in the severest style both for his public misconduct and his private vices. His majesty read it twice over, and then threw it into the fire. At the execution of Lord Russell in 1683, Burnet attended him on the scaffold, immediately after which he was dismissed both from his preachership at the Rolls and his lecture at St. Clement's by order of the king. In 1685 he published his Life of Dr. William Bedell, bishop of Kilmore, in Ireland. In 1685, upon the accession of James II, he passed through France to Rome, where he was at first favorably received by Pope Innocent XI, but was soon afterward ordered to quit the city. Invited by the Prince of Orange, he settled down at the Hague, where he devoted his time chiefly to English politics, and was entirely in the confidence of the Protestant party. In 1688 he accompanied the Prince of Orange to England, and upon his accession to the throne as William I, Burnet was appointed to the bishopric of Salisbury; an appointment which appeared so objectionable to Sancroft, the archbishop of Canterbury, that he refused to consecrate him in person, but authorized his ordination by a commission of bishops, March 31, 1689. In his diocese he was zealous and painstaking; he tended his flock with a diligence and disinterestedness worthy of the purest ages of the Church. Finding the general character of his clergy to be not such as became their high office, he devised the plan of forming a community of young clergymen, whom he clothed and kept at his own expense, and instructed them and prepared them for the exercise of the sacerdotal office. Unhappily, the University of Oxford took offense at this institution, and he was compelled to break it up. He died March 17, 1715. He was a man of great learning, and even violent in his zeal against Romanism. Lowth, who opposed him, accused him of maintaining that bishops and priests hold their jurisdiction from the sovereign as supreme head; that these two orders were originally one; that ordination is simply an edifying ceremony; and that the submission of the first Christians to the apostles was altogether voluntary. The truth and exactness of his great work, the History of the Reformation, has been the subject of many criticisms; but it now stands in higher credit than ever. It was translated into Latin (by Mittelhorzer, fol. Geneva, 1686) and into other languages. His Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles was published in 1699, in folio, and was condemned by the Lower House of Convocation (best ed. Page's, Lond. 1843, 8vo). He also published, among other works, History of the Death of Persecutors (translated from Lactantius): — Memoirs of the Dukes of Hamilton (Lond. 1673, fol.): — Pastoral Care (1692): — Four Discourses to his Clergy (1693): — Sermons (1706:3 vols. 4to): — Exposition of the Church Catechism: — Sermons, and an Essay toward a new book of Homilies (1713). The most remarkable of his works appeared soon after his death, viz. History of his Own Time, from the Restoration of King Charles II to the Conclusion of the Treaty of Peace at Utrecht (2 vols. fol.). It was published by his son Thomas, who prefixed to it an account of his father's life. At the end of subsequent editions there is given "A Chronological and particular Account of Burnet's Works." This list contains 58 published sermons, 13 discourses and tracts in divinity, 18 tracts against popery, 26 tracts polemical, political, and miscellaneous, and 25 historical works and tracts. Burnet's works in general do honor both to his head and heart. He was not, in general, a good writer; but, besides his want of taste, he rarely allowed himself sufficient time either for the collection and examination of his materials, or for their effective arrangement and exposition. Yet, with rarely any thing like elegance, there is a fluency and sometimes a rude strength in his style which make his works, upon the whole, readable enough. Dryden has introduced him in his "Hind and Panther" in the character of King Buzzard, and sketched him personally, morally, and intellectually in some strong lines. The delineation, however, is that of a personal as well as a political enemy. The best editions of the History of the Reformation are those published at Oxford, in 7 vols. 8vo (the index forming the last), in 1829, with a valuable preface by Dr. E. Nares (reprinted, Lond. 1839, 4 vols. 8vo); in 1852 by Dr. Routh, and in 1865 (7 vols.) by Pocock, who has verified the references throughout, and collated the records with their originals. Of the History of his Own Time there is a new ed. (Oxf. 1833, 6 vols. 8vo). Cheap editions: History of the Reformation (N. Y. 3 vols. 8vo): — Exposition of the 39 Articles (N. Y. 8vo). See Macaulay, Hist. of England, 3, 60, 61; English Cyclopcedia.

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