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George Buchanan, Scholar
by [?]

There he found, he says, “men of both factions being burned on the same day and in the same fire”–a pardonable exaggeration–“by Henry VIII., in his old age more intent on his own safety than on the purity of religion.” So to his beloved France he went again, to find his enemy Beaton ambassador at Paris. The capital was too hot to hold him; and he fled south to Bourdeaux, to Andrea Govea, the Portuguese principal of the College of Gruienne. As Professor of Latin at Bourdeaux, we find him presenting a Latin poem to Charles V.; and indulging that fancy of his for Latin poetry which seems to us now-a-days a childish pedantry; which was then–when Latin was the vernacular tongue of all scholars–a serious, if not altogether a useful, pursuit. Of his tragedies, so famous in their day–the ‘Baptist,’ the ‘Medea,’ the ‘Jephtha,’ and the ‘Alcestis’–there is neither space nor need to speak here, save to notice the bold declamations in the ‘Baptist’ against tyranny and priestcraft; and to notice also that these tragedies gained for the poor Scotsman, in the eyes of the best scholars of Europe, a credit amounting almost to veneration. When he returned to Paris, he found occupation at once; and–as his Scots biographers love to record–“three of the most learned men in the world taught humanity in the same college,” viz., Turnebus, Muretus, and Buchanan.

Then followed a strange episode in his life. A university had been founded at Coimbra, in Portugal, and Andrea Govea had been invited to bring thither what French savans he could collect. Buchanan went to Portugal with his brother Patrick; two more Scotsmen, Dempster and Ramsay: and a goodly company of French scholars, whose names and histories may be read in the erudite pages of Dr. Irving, went likewise. All prospered in the new Temple of the Muses for a year or so. Then its high-priest, Govea, died; and, by a peripeteia too common in those days and countries, Buchanan and two of his friends migrated, unwillingly, from the Temple of the Muses for that of Moloch, and found themselves in the Inquisition.

Buchanan, it seems, had said that St. Augustine was more of a Lutheran than a Catholic on the question of the mass. He and his friends had eaten flesh in Lent; which, he says, almost everyone in Spain did. But he was suspected, and with reason, as a heretic; the Grey Friars formed but one brotherhood throughout Europe; and news among them travelled surely if not fast: so that the story of the satire written in Scotland had reached Portugal. The culprits were imprisoned, examined, bullied–but not tortured–for a year and a half. At the end of that time, the proofs of heresy, it seems, were insufficient; but lest–says Buchanan with honest pride–“they should get the reputation of having vainly tormented a man not altogether unknown,” they sent him for some months to a monastery, to be instructed by the monks. “The men,” he says, “were neither inhuman nor bad, but utterly ignorant of religion;” and Buchanan solaced himself during the intervals of their instructions, by beginning his Latin translation of the Psalms.

At last he got free, and begged leave to return to France; but in vain. Wearied out at last, he got on board a Candian ship at Lisbon, and escaped to England. But England, he says, during the anarchy of Edward VI.’s reign, was not a land which suited him; and he returned to his beloved France, to fulfil the hopes which he had expressed in his charming ‘Desiderium Lutitiae,’ and the still more charming, because more simple, ‘Adventus in Galliam,’ in which he bids farewell, in most melodious verse, to “the hungry moors of wretched Portugal, and her clods fertile in naught but penury.”

Some seven years succeeded of schoolmastering and verse-writing:–The Latin paraphrase of the Psalms; another of the ‘Alcestis’ of Euripides; an Epithalamium on the marriage of poor Mary Stuart, noble and sincere, however fantastic and pedantic, after the manner of the times; “Pomps,” too, for her wedding, and for other public ceremonies, in which all the heathen gods and goddesses figure; epigrams, panegyrics, satires, much of which latter productions he would have consigned to the dust-heap in his old age, had not his too fond friends persuaded him to republish the follies and coarsenesses of his youth. He was now one of the most famous scholars in Europe, and the intimate friend of all the great literary men. Was he to go on to the end, die, and no more? Was he to sink into the mere pedant; or, if he could not do that, into the mere court versifier?