Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ferguson, David
FERGUSON, DAVID (d. 1598), Scottish reformer, is stated by Spotiswood to have been born about 1533, but Wodrow more probably supposes the date to have been ten or twenty years earlier, and David Laing thinks it could not have been later than 1525. He is reputed to have been a native of Dundee. The only evidence for this is an entry in the treasurer's accounts of Scotland 7 July 1558 of a summons to him and others within the borough of Dundee to appear before the justices at the Tolbooth on 28 July for disputing upon erroneous opinions and eating flesh during Lent. Wodrow states that he was by trade a glover, but gave up business and ‘went to school,’ in order to fit himself for the duties of a preacher or expounder among the reformers (Analecta, i. 120). The Scottish doctor of the Sorbonne, James Laing, sneers at him as an ignorant cobbler (sutor) and glover (De Vitâ Hæreticorum, p. 36). Though it is doubtful if he ever attended a university, he was undoubtedly well acquainted both with Latin and Greek. He was among the earliest of the preachers of the reformed doctrines, and mentions that he was one of that ‘few number, viz. only six,’ who originally ‘went forward with the work’ (James Melville, Diary, p. 236; Calderwood, History, v. 435). When the first appointment was made of ministers or superintendents to important places in Scotland, he was selected to go to Dunfermline (Calderwood, ii. 11). In 1567 Rosyth was placed under his care, but in 1574 it was excluded, while Cumnock and Beith were added. In 1563 Ferguson published ‘An Answer to ane Epistle written by Renat Benedict, the French doctor, professor of God's word (as the translator of this epistle calleth him) to John Knox and the rest of his brethren, ministers of that word of God made by David Feargusone, minister of this same word at this present Dunfermline.’ The only copy of this known to exist was presented to the University Library, Edinburgh, in 1701 by John Row, but it has been printed in the volume entitled ‘Tracts by David Ferguson,’ edited by David Laing for the Bannatyne Club in 1860. On 13 Jan. 1571–2 he preached a sermon before the regent at the meeting of the assembly in Leith, when a modified episcopacy was established. It was chiefly devoted to a protest against the alienation of the spoils of the church to the private uses of the nobility or to purposes of government, instead of their being applied to the establishment of churches and schools, and to meet the necessities of the poor. It is a remarkable specimen of vigorous composition in the vernacular Scotch. At the assembly held at Perth in August 1572 it was submitted to the revision of five of the most eminent ministers, all of whom gave it their strong approbation, after which it was printed at St. Andrews by Robert Lekprevick, the dedication to the regent Mar bearing the date of 20 Aug. John Knox gave it his recommendation in the following striking terms: ‘John Knox with my dead hand but glad heart, praising God that of his mercy he leaves such light to his kirk in this desolation.’ The only copy known to exist is that in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, but it also has been printed in the volume edited by Laing. Ferguson was chosen moderator of the general assembly which met at Edinburgh on 6 March 1573, and also of that which met on 24 Oct. 1578. He usually had a place on all important commissions, and for many years was chosen one of the assessors to the moderator to prepare matters for the assembly. He was one of the ministers who waited on Morton previous to his execution, 2 June 1581. In 1582 he was appointed by the assembly a commissioner for the ‘west end of Fife to superintend the establishment of kirks and planting of ministers’ (ib. iii. 618). When the assembly wished to bring any matter of importance before the notice of the king, Ferguson was usually one of the deputies chosen to wait on him, and by his tact and ready wit he frequently succeeded in obtaining his end. A notable instance of this is recorded at length by Calderwood (iii. 717–19) when Ferguson formed one of a deputation to wait on him in 1583 to discharge the rather delicate and thankless duty of admonishing him ‘to beware of innovations in court, to try reports before credit was given to them, and to put him in remembrance of Holt, the English jesuit.’ He jocularly told the king that Fergus was the first king of Scotland, and that he was Fergus-son; but recognising that King James had the possession and was ‘an honest man’ he would give him his right. In some points of the discussion considerable warmth was displayed by some of the deputies, but Ferguson succeeded in giving a new turn to the topics at critical points, the result being that as they took their leave ‘the king laid his hands upon every one of them.’ In August of the same year Ferguson and six other ministers were cited by the king to attend a convention at St. Andrews to answer for certain proceedings of the assembly (ib. 722). On 12 May 1596, on the renewal of the covenant by the synod of Fife at Dunfermline, Ferguson gave an interesting address, with reminiscences of his experiences at the early period ‘when there was no name of stipend heard tell of, and scarcely was there a man of name and estimation to take the cause in hand’ (James Melville, Diary, p. 236; Calderwood, History, v. 435). At a meeting of the synod of Fife, held at Cupar in February 1597–8, in regard to a proposal to give ministers a vote in parliament, Ferguson, the eldest minister at that time in Scotland, after relating the difficulties of the church in the past in contending against the efforts to introduce episcopacy, strongly opposed the proposal, which he compared to the ‘busking up of the brave horse’ for the overthrow of Troy (Melville, p. 288; Calderwood, v. 681). He died 13 Aug. 1598.
Spotiswood calls Ferguson ‘a good preacher, wise, and of jocund and pleasant disposition’ (History, i. 129), and Wodrow says that by ‘his pleasant and facetious conversation he often pleased and pacified the king when he was in a fury’ (Analecta, p. 120). The well-known epithet ‘Tulchan’ applied to the bishops (supra, xv. 317) is usually ascribed to him. His humour appears in his reply to a question of the king as to the reason why the master of Gray's house shook during the night: ‘Why should not the devil rock his ain bairns?’ He was famed for his skill in the vernacular language, which is celebrated by John Davidson, then one of the regents at St. Andrews, in Latin verses, quoted in Appendix R R to M'Crie's ‘Life of Knox.’ His love of pithy sayings led him to make a collection of Scottish proverbs, now of almost unique value. They were published in 1641 under the title, ‘Scottish Proverbs gathered together by David Fergusone, sometime minister at Dunfermline, and put ordine alphabetico when he departed this life anno 1598.’ There is a copy of this edition in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, and an imperfect copy in the library of the British Museum. Other editions appeared in 1659, 1675, 1699, and 1706, the latter bearing the title, ‘Nine Hundred and Forty Scottish Proverbs, the greater part of which were first gathered together by David Ferguson, the rest since added.’ He was also the author of ‘Epithalamium Mysticum Solomonis Regis, sive analysis critico-poetica Cantici Canticorum,’ Edinburgh, 1677. He left a diary containing a record of the principal ecclesiastical events of his time, which has been lost, but which probably his son-in-law, John Row (1568–1646) [q. v.], incorporated in his ‘History.’ By his wife, Isabel Durham, he had five sons and four daughters, one of whom, Grizzel, married Row. A portrait of Ferguson, done on timber, of a small oval form, was presented by Row to the university library of Edinburgh; but, owing probably to the careless manner in which the collections of the library have frequently been superintended, it cannot now be traced.
[Histories of Calderwood, Keith, Spotiswood, and Row; Wodrow's Analecta; James Melville's Diary; Booke of the Universal Kirk; m'Crie's Lives of Knox and Melville; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot. vol. ii. pt. ii. 565–6; Laing's Introduction to Tracts by David Ferguson (Bannatyne Club, 1860).]