THE bibliography of the following little tract is extremely obscure. The title-page of the edition of 1815, which we reproduce, gives the date as 1691. Sir Walter Scott says in his Demonology and Witchcraft, (1830, p. 163, note), "It was printed with the author's name in 1691, and reprinted, in 1815, for Longman & Co." But was there really a printed edition of 1691? Scott says that he never met with an example. Research in our great libraries has discovered none, and there is none save that of 1815 at Abbotsford. The reprint, of one hundred copies, was made, as it states, from no printed text, but from "a manuscript copy preserved in the Advocates' Library." On page 45 of the edition of 1815,
at the end of the comments on Lord Tarbott's Letters, there is a "Note by the Transcriber"--that is, the person who wrote out the manuscript in the Advocates' Library: "See the rest in a little manuscript belonging to Coline Kirk." Now Coline or Colin Kirk, Writer to the Signet, was the son of the Rev. Mr. Kirk, author of the tract. If the son had his father's book only in manuscript, it seems very probable that it was not printed in 1691; that the title-page is only the title-page of a manuscript. Till some printed text of 1691 is discovered, we may doubt, then, whether the hundred copies published in 1815, and now somewhat rare, be not the original printed edition. The editor has a copy of 1815, but it is the only one which he has met with for sale.
The Rev. Robert Kirk, the author of The Secret Commonwealth, was a student of theology at St. Andrews: his Master's degree, however, he took at Edinburgh. He was (and this is notable) the youngest and seventh son of Mr. James Kirk, minister of Aberfoyle, the place familiar to all readers of Rob Roy. As a seventh son, he was, no doubt, specially gifted, and in The Secret Commonwealth he lays some stress on
the mystic privileges of such birth. There may be "some secret virtue in the womb of the parent, which increaseth until the seventh son be borne, and decreaseth by the same degree afterwards." It would not surprise us if Mr. Kirk, no less than the Rev. Robert Blair of St. Andrews (1650-60), could heal scrofula by the touch, like royal persons--Charles III. in Italy, for example. As is well known to all, the House of Brunswick has no such powers. However this may have been, Mr. Kirk was probably drawn, by his seventh sonship, to a more careful study of psychical phenomena than most of his brethren bestowed. Little is known of his life. He was minister originally of Balquidder, whence, in 1685, he was transferred to Aberfoyle. This was no Covenanting district, and there is no bigotry in Mr. Kirk's dissertation. He was employed on an "Irish" translation of the Bible, and he published a Psalter in Gaelic (1684). He married, first, Isobel, daughter of Sir Colin Campbell of Mochester, who died in 1680, and, secondly, the daughter of Campbell of Fordy: this lady survived him. From his connection with Campbells, we may misdoubt him for a Whig. By his first wife he
had a son, Colin Kirk, W.S.; by his second wife, a son who was minister of Dornoch. He died (if he did die, which is disputed) in 1692, aged about fifty-one; his tomb was inscribed--
ROBERTUS KIRK, A.M.
Linguæ Hiberniæ Lumen.
The tomb, in Scott's time, was to be seen in the cast end of the churchyard of Aberfoyle; but the ashes of Mr. Kirk are not there. His successor, the Rev. Dr. Grahame, in his Sketches of Picturesque Scenery, informs us that, as Mr. Kirk was walking on a dun-shi, or fairy-hill, in his neighbourhood, he sunk down in a swoon, which was taken for death. " After the ceremony of a seeming funeral," writes Scott (op. cit., p. 105), "the form of the Rev. Robert Kirk appeared to a relation, and commanded him to go to Grahame of Duchray. 'Say to Duchray, who is my cousin as well as your own, that I am not dead, but a captive in Fairyland; and only one chance remains for my liberation. When the posthumous child, of which my wife has been delivered since my disappearance, shall be brought to baptism, I will appear in the room, when, if Duchray shall throw over my
head the knife or dirk which he holds in his hand, I may be restored to society; but if this is neglected, I am lost for ever.'" True to his tryst, Mr. Kirk did appear at the christening and "was visibly seen;" but Duchray was so astonished that he did not throw his dirk over the head of the appearance, and to society Mr. Kirk has not yet been restored. This is extremely to be regretted, as he could now add matter of much importance to his treatise. Neither history nor tradition has more to tell about Mr. Robert Kirk, who seems to have been a man of good family, a student, and, as his book shows, an innocent and learned person.