A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Burnet, Gilbert

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


Burnet, Gilbert (1643-1715). -- Theologian and historian, s. of a Royalist and Episcopalian lawyer, who became a judge, and of the sister of Johnston of Warristoun, a leader of the Covenanters, was b. in Edin., and ed. at Aberdeen and at Amsterdam, where he studied Hebrew under a Rabbi. Returning to Scotland, he was successively Episcopal minister at Saltoun and Prof. of Divinity in Glasgow (1669), and was then offered, but declined, a Scotch bishopric. His energetic and bustling character led him to take an active part in the controversies of the time, and he endeavoured to bring about a reconciliation between Episcopacy and Presbytery. Going to London he was in some favour with Charles II., from whom he received various preferments. His literary reputation was greatly enhanced by the publication in 1679 of the first vol. of his History of the Reformation of the Church of England, for which he received the thanks of Parliament, and which was completed by other two vols., in 1682 and 1714. On account of a letter of reproof which he ventured to write to the King, he lost favour at Court, and the policy pursued by James II. being very repugnant to him, he betook himself in 1687 to Holland, where he became one of the advisers of the Prince of Orange. Returning to England at the Revolution, he was made Bishop of Salisbury, which office he adorned by liberal views and a zealous discharge of duty. The work by which his fame is chiefly sustained, his History of my Own Times, was, by his direction, not to be pub. until 6 years after his death. It appeared in 1723. It gives a sketch of the history of the Civil Wars and Commonwealth, and a detailed account of the immediately succeeding period down to 1713. While not free from egotism and some party feeling, it is written with a sincere desire for accuracy and fairness, and it has largely the authority of an eye-witness. The style, if somewhat lacking in dignity, is lively and picturesque. Among his other writings are a History of the Dukes of Hamilton, and an Exposition of the 39 Articles.

His principal works have been repeatedly printed. Clarendon Press ed. of My Own Times by Routh (1823 and 1833).