David Black (c.1546-1603) matriculated at St Salvator's College, St Andrews, in 1561, and thus would have been at the university as the same time as Melville. On completing his studies he went to England to work as a school-master, but in November 1584 was brought before the high commission for denouncing episcopal hierarchy and Elizabeth's claim to supreme governorship of the church. It is likely that he again made Melville's accquaintance when the latter fled to England in early 1584 following charges of preaching sedition from the pulpit, and in 1590 Black returned to Scotland to take up the ministry in St Andrews. Over the next seven years he played a leading role in enforcing rigorous standards of moral and social discipline in the town through the local kirk session and presbytery. He was also an outspoken critic of James VI and his attempts to exercise magistracy over the ecclesiastical sphere. Following a protracted dispute with the crown over whether it had the right to judge his doctrine in sermons that it deemed seditious, he was forcibly transferred in 1597 to the parish of Abirlot in Forfarshire. Admired by many of the presbyterian party within the kirk, on his death Melville - along with his nephew James and his colleague at St Andrews John Johnston - wrote verses celebrating his life. What follows is Melville's contribution to this elegiac process, where he details the fortitude and joy with which Black greeted the end of his life, and narrates the passing of his final hours, which included prayers with friends and a final celebrating of communion. See James K. Cameron, 'Black, David (c.1546-1603)', ODNB, and JMAD, pp. 293, 308, 310, 323-329, 353-358, 387, 389, 414, 417, 419, 509-10, 516. Metre: hexameter.
De Davidiis Blakii profectione in patriam cœlestem historia vera (1603)
De Davidiis Blakii profectione in patriam cœlestem historia vera
1Vera canam, vos vera aurae aspirate canenti. 1
Tuque, o veri omnis dictator spiritus, aura
alme tua, quod mi mandas, hoc perfice munus: 2
[p82] tu veri interpres, tu veri et fautor, et autor,
5nec sine te veri quicquam est, aut dicitur usquam.
Livor abi, teque ipse tuo depasce veneno.
Blakeus arce sedet summa sublimis, et extra
telorum invidiae jactum, et livoris iniqui.
Blakeus auricomos inter micat aureus ignes,
10candidulasque inter lucet fax candida flammas
et rutilos caeli cives Christique maniplos
inter honoratos. Post duri praelia Martis
aspera, victor ovans de victa morte triumphat,
quemque in vita adeo sitiit, Christum haurit ocellis, 3
15Pascit amore avidos, inhians in te optime, vultus 4
nudius. Ante aevo excessum ex hoc quartus ad undam
Blakaeus, Birlate, tuam, moliminis alti
casto ardore calens, divinae prandia mensae
vitigenumque sacri laticis dum libat honorem, 5
20caelestes epulas animis concordibus. Una
cum grege pastor agit renovato fœdere pacem
Christi pro meritis et caede et sanguine partam.
Quanta per aetherias jaculatus fulmina flammas
fixerit agrestes animos humilique pavore
25straverit in terras mentes sine more superbas,
quas Christi cervice jugum perferre coegit?
Quantaque quam multis lachrymarum flumina rivis
ex oculis, nec non suspiria cordibus imis
excierit lachrymansque gemensque? Et gaudia quanta,
30quantam laetitiam afflictis multumque subactis
mentibus atque animis medicando effuderit aegris?
Cum nuncquam non paene alias tum hoc cardine rerum
non alios velut ante omnes, se at vincere, et ipsum
visus, et aetherias acies aequare tonando, 6
35miscendoque omnem motum affectuque ciendo.
Tantus corde pio flagrabat Numinis ardor.
Hic postquam cœtu in sacro caelum hausit apertum, 7
deliciasque aevi veras largasque perennis,
terrenos quamprimum artus moribundaque membra 8
40exuere, et caeco detentam in carcere mentem
alti animi, vinclis ardebat rite solutis 9
[p83] libertate frui cœlesti in luce serena,
sacratis patriae permistus civibus aulae.
Hoc desiderium patriaeque patrisque videndi
45cœlestis, non uxorem, prolemve, gregemve
sic cœlat, sed dicta illis multa ante salute,
multa Taum juxta flumen divinitus aevi
de meta aerumnosi hujus, vitaque beata
commemorat: necnon hebetatam corpore tardo 10
50effœtoque aciem mentisque animique vigorem
agnoscit vitae et venturae haud inscius auram,
usuramve ultra haud nostrae vi, at numinis una
virtute exiguum ad momentum posse foveri.
Interea, quam cœna brevis, tam lectio longa
55post cœnam et seram in noctem producta, precesque
acres, ardentesque, acris meditatio, et ardens,
singultusque graves inter, suspiria, et alta 11
vox pacem, veniamque petens audita subinde.
Desurgit de mane thoro, sacrisque litatis
60more suo, non ore magis, quam corde cruentam
qui secum hospitibus Christi communicat aram.
Accumbensque levi sacrat solemnia mensae
iejunus, veluti in procinctu ac pene profectus.
Vix sacris finem imposuit, quando illum in iisdem
65corripit extemplo cunctantem frigidus horror. 12
Circumstant rectumque tenent hinc cominus atque hinc 13
unus itemque alter: verum se ipse in genua urget,
sublatis obnixe oculis, manibusque supinis
indefessum orans: placido mox aemula somno, et
70dulcis et alta quies fugientem summovet ore 14
auram animae, pulchrosque artus corpusque relinquit
compositum recte membris vultuque verendum.
Sic placide, sine morsu ullo sensuve doloris,
ad superas faelix migravit Blakeus arces,
75fluctibus e rerum tumidis, dubiisque procellis,
adversoque aestu, undosoque aevi aequoris hujus,
transmissoque freto fati, tranquilla per alta 15
ocyus et ventis ac fulminis ocyus alis, 16
in minimo ceu nictu oculi, ceu momine puncti
80numine in optatum trajecit remige portum. 17
[p84] Ut quondam rapti ignito super aethera curru
sive Eliae instar vatis, seu vatis Enochi:
83qui noxae antiquum scelerisque redarguit orbem.
A true account of David Black's departure to the heavenly fatherland
1 Of true things I shall sing, and you heavens above be favourable as I sing of the truth. And you, o chief inspiration of all truth, you nourishing heavenly breeze, complete this task which you set forth for me: [p82] you, the expounder of the truth, and you the father and maintainer of the truth, there is nothing true without you, nor is anything true ever said. Envy begone, and consume yourself with your own poison. Eminent Black sits atop the highest heights; and is beyond the range of ill-will's missiles, and hostile envy's too. Golden Black sparkles amid the flame-gold stars, and a beautiful torch now shines amid the little white flames and starry citizens of heaven, and amid the decorated soldiery of Christ. After the violent strifes of stern Mars, as victor he parades in triumph over conquered death, and with his eyes he drinks in Christ, for whom he thirsted so greatly in life, and without restraint he fills his eager countenance with your love, in open-mouthed longing for you, greatest one. On the fourth day before his exit from this life, by your water, Abirlot, a Black burns with a virtuous passion for heavenly matters while he dedicates the food of a holy meal, and the vine-produced charms of sacred juice, a heavenly banquet with like-minded souls. The pastor makes his peace with his flock in a renewed convenant, a peace which was first created by the deeds, and death, and blood of Christ. How many thunderbolts did he throw through the heavenly flames as he pierced souls crude with shameful fear, or laid low on the ground minds haughty without regulation, which he compelled to bear the yoke of Christ on their necks? How many floods of tears while grieving and lamenting did he produce in many streams from his eyes, with sighs from his innermost soul? But also how much joy and how much happiness did he provide while healing the sick in soul and minds much overcome by affliction? For I may say that at this turning point, just as before, he seemed to have conquered his mortal self, and he matched the heavenly armies with his roar, both by animating every gesticulation, and in rousing movement. Such was the burning love for the deity raging through his pious soul.
33 After he beheld the opened heavens among his holy gathering, and the true and extensive delights of everlasting life, he instantly and fervently wished to cast off his earthly limbs and dying body, and free the seat of his divine soul which was locked in a dark prison, [p83] and he wished to enjoy heavenly freedom in the clear light, joined with the reverend fellow citizens of the heavenly father's court.
44 Nor did he conceal from his wife, or his children, or his flock his desire to see the heavenly fatherland, but rather alongside the Tay, with salvation already spoken of many times with them, alongside the river Tay he spoke often with divine inspiration about the end of this woeful world and the blessed world: and so, not ignorant of the bright light of the life to come after death, he ackowledged that the sharpness and the vigour of mind and soul is dulled by a sluggish and worn-out body, and that it will not be supported by our own power, but rather can only be sustained by the strength of the divinity. Meanwhile, as brief as the dinner was, so long after dinner did the discussion extend late into the night, and his pointed and passionate prayers, along with his pointed and passionate meditation, and his mighty voice seeking peace and grace, were heard again and again amid the heavy sobbing and sighs. In the morning he rises from his bed, and with holy offerings made in accordance with his regular habit, and no more coming from his mouth, he takes communion himself with his guests on the blood-red altar of Christ. Reclining and not partaking of the food, he dedicates the rites on the stainless table, as if ready for battle and almost raring to set forth. Scarcely did he finish the rites, when a chilly stiffness quickly seized him as he lingered among his friends. Standing close by on his one side and on his other they hold him upright, one in the same manner as the other: however he forces himself to his knees, with eyes obstinately held up, and with hands outstretched defiantly he worships: soon, desirous of pleasant sleep, his sweet and deep rest withholds from his mouth the soul's vital air, and he leaves his beautiful frame and his body which with limbs arranged correctly is to be respected in its appearance. Thus peacefully, without any sense or pang of grief, blessed Black departed to the heavenly citadel, and from the swollen waves of vexing matters, from the uncertain storms, from this age's hostile and mountainous sea of troubles, and having passed over the strait of his destiny through the serene heights, quickly on sails and wings of lightning, as if in the blink of an eye, and the passing of a moment, into his long-hoped-for home port with God as his oarsman. [p84] He is just like the prophet Elijah or Enoch, b who were snatched away on a fiery chariot above the ether: and who found the ancient world guilty of noxious crimes.
1: Virgil, Aeneid IX.525
2: Virgil, Aeneid VI.629
3: cf. Virgil, Aeneid IV.661
4: Lucretius, De Rerum Natura I.36
5: See Lucretius, De Rerum Natura V.15; VI.1072 for the expression.
6: cf. Virgil, Aeneid III.671
7: Virgil, Aeneid X.314;899. This is a Vergilian paraphrase of Vulgate, Revelations XIX.11.
8: Virgil, Aeneid VI.732
9: Virgil, Aeneid VII.5
10: This line reworks Virgil, Aeneid VI.731-2. Melville uses the same passage verbatim 11 lines above.
11: cf. Lucretius, De Rerum Natura VI.1160
12: Virgil, Aeneid VI.211, and III.29
13: Virgil, Aeneid IX.440
14: Virgil, Aeneid VI.522
15: Virgil, Aeneid II.203
16: Virgil, Aeneid V.319
17: Inversion of Virgil, Aeneid IV.588
a: Black's parish from 1597; see introduction.
b: Old Testament prophet and patriarch respectively, both of whom were bodily translated into Heaven rather than suffering death (2 Kings 1-18; Genesis 5:24).