Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cameron, John (1579?-1625)

CAMERON, JOHN (1579?–1625), Scottish theologian, was born about 1579 in Glasgow, according to Robert Baillie, ‘in our Saltmercat, a few doores from the place of my birth’ (Letters, iii. 402). His father is identified with John Cameron, rector of Dunoon, and the family claimed connection with that of Lochiel, Argyleshire. After studying at Glasgow University, he taught Greek there for a year. In 1600 he went to Bordeaux, and having by his special skill in Greek and Latin greatly impressed two protestant clergymen in that city, one of whom was his countryman, Gilbert Primrose [q. v.], he was on their recommendation appointed to teach the classical languages in the newly founded college of Bergerac. Shortly afterwards the Duke de Bouillon made him professor of philosophy in the university of Sedan; but after two years he resigned his professorship, and, returning to Bordeaux, was in the beginning of 1604 nominated one of the students of divinity maintained at the expense of the protestant church at Bordeaux to prosecute their studies, for four years, in any protestant seminary. He spent one year at Paris, two at Geneva, and one at Heidelberg, acting at the same time as tutor to the two sons of Calignon, chancellor of Navarre. In April 1608 he maintained in Heidelberg a series of theses, ‘De triplici Dei cum Homine Fœdere,’ which have been printed among his works. The same year he was appointed colleague of Primrose in the church of Bordeaux. Having in 1617 attended on two protestant captains condemned to death for piracy, he printed a letter giving an account of their last moments, entitled ‘Constance, Foy et Résolution à la mort des Capitaines Blanquet et Gaillard,’ which was ordered by the parliament of Bordeaux to be burned by the hands of the common executioner. The following year he succeeded Gomarus as professor of divinity in the university of Saumur. In 1620 he engaged in a discussion with Daniel Tilenus on the theological opinions of Arminius, of which an account, under the title ‘Amica Collatio,’ was printed at Leyden in 1621. The civil troubles in France compelled him in 1620 to seek refuge in England, and after reading private lectures on divinity in London, he was in 1622 appointed principal of the university of Glasgow, to succeed Robert Boyd of Trochrig [q. v.], removed on account of his opposition to the ‘Five Articles of Perth.’ In Cameron King James found one of the strongest supporters of his own opinions as to the power and prerogatives of kings (see letter of Cameron to King James, printed in the Miscellany of the Abbotsford Club, i. 115); and Robert Baillie, D.D. [q. v.], who was one of his pupils in Glasgow, states that he drank in from him in his youth the slavish tenet, ‘that all resistance to the supreme magistrate in anie case was simplie unlawful’ (Baillie, Letters and Journals, ii. 189). His appointment to succeed Boyd, necessarily unpopular in itself, was rendered more so by his extreme opinions, and Calderwood mentions ‘that he was so misliked by the people that he was forced not long after to remove out of Glasco’ (History, vii. 567). He therefore returned to Saumur, where, however, he was only permitted to read private lectures, his application in 1623 to the national synod of Charenton to be reinstated in his professorship being refused, owing to the opposition of the king, although the synod indicated its appreciation of his talents by voting him a donation of a thousand livres. In the following year he obtained the professorship of divinity in the university of Montauban, but here again his doctrine of passive obedience excited the indignation even of his own party, and he was one night so severely assaulted in the streets by some unknown person that his health was permanently impaired. He died at Montauban in 1625. He was twice married. By his first wife, Susan Bernard of Tonneins, on the Garonne, whom he married in 1611, he had a son and four daughters, of whom the son and eldest daughter predeceased him; and by his second wife, Susan Thomas, whom he married a few months before his death, he left no issue.

Cameron was held in his day in very high esteem, although he is said to have possessed a considerable share both of irritability and vanity. Sir Thomas Urquhart states that ‘he was commonly designed (because of his universal reading) by the title of the Walking Library’ (Urquhart, Jewel, p. 182); John Dunbar specially refers to the purity with which he spoke the French language (Epigrammata, p. 188); his biographer, Cappel, affirms that he could speak Greek with as much fluency and elegance as another could speak Latin; and Milton, in his ‘Tetrachordon,’ characterises him ‘as an ingenious writer and in high esteem.’ He was the author of: 1. ‘Santangelus, sive Steliteuticus in Eliam Santangelum causidicum,’ La Rochelle, 1616. 2. ‘Traité auquel sont examinez les prejugez de ceux de l'eglise Romaine contre la Religion Reformée,’ La Rochelle, 1617, translated into English under the title, ‘An Examination of those plausible appearances which seem most to commend the Romish church and to prejudice the Reformed,’ Oxford, 1626. 3. ‘Theses de Gratia et Libero Arbitrio,’ Saumur, 1618. 4. ‘Theses XLII. Theol. de Necessitate Satisfactionis Christi pro Peccatis,’ Saumur, 1620. 5. ‘Sept Sermons sur le cap. vi. de l'Evangile de S. Jean,’ Saumur, 1624. After his death there appeared, under the editorship of his pupil, Louis Cappel: 6. ‘Joh. Cameronis, S. Theologiæ in Academia Salmuriensi nuper Professoris, Prælectiones in selectiora quædam N. T. loca Salmurii habitæ,’ Saumur, 1626–8, 3 tom. 7. ‘Myrothecium Evangelicum, in quo aliquot loca Novi Testamenti explicantur: una cum Spicilegio Ludovici Cappelli de eodem argumento cumque 2 Diatribis in Matth. xv. 5 de Voto Jephtæ,’ Geneva, 1632, 4to; another edition, with a different subtitle, Saumur, 1677. 8. ‘Joannis Cameronis, Scoto-Britanni, Theologi eximii, ta sōzomena, sive Opera partim ab auctore ipso edita, partim post ejus obitum vulgata, partim nusquam hactenus publicata, vel e Gallico idiomate nunc primum in Latinam linguam translata: in unum collecta, et variis indicibus instructa,’ Geneva, 1642, with memoir of the author by Cappel prefixed, under the title ‘Joh. Cameronis Icon.’

[Memoir by Cappel; Bayle's Dictionary (English translation), ii. 284–9; Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals, passim; Dempster's Hist. Eccles. Gent. Scot.; Irving's Scottish Writers, i. 333–46; Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, i. 273–5.]

T. F. H.