A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Buchanan, George

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Buchanan, George (1506-1582). — Historian and scholar b. at Killearn, Stirlingshire, of poor parents, was sent in 1519, with the help of an uncle, to the Univ. of Paris, where he first came in contact with the two great influences of the age, the Renaissance and the Reformation. His uncle having died, he had to leave Paris, and after seeing some military service, returned to Scotland, and in 1524 went to St. Andrews, where he studied under John Major (q.v.). Two years later he found means to return to Paris, where he graduated at the Scots Coll. in 1528, and taught grammar in the Coll. of St. Barbe. Returning to Scotland in 1536 with a great reputation for learning he was made by James V. tutor to one of his illegitimate sons, and incited by him to satirise the vices of the clergy, which he did in two Latin poems, Somnium and Franciscanus. This stirred the wrath of the ecclesiastical powers to such a heat that, the King withholding his protection, he was obliged in 1539 to save himself by flight first to England and then to France, where he remained until 1547 teaching Latin at Bordeaux and Paris. In the latter year he was invited to become a prof. at Coimbra, where he was imprisoned by the Inquisition as a heretic from 1549-51, and wrote the greater part of his magnificent translation of the Psalms into Latin verse, which has never been excelled by any modern. He returned to England in 1552, but soon re-crossed to France and taught in the Coll. of Boncourt. In 1561 he came back to his native country, where he remained for the rest of his life. Hitherto, though a supporter of the new learning and a merciless exposer of the vices of the clergy, he had remained in the ancient faith, but he now openly joined the ranks of the Reformers. He held the Principalship of St. Leonard's Coll., St. Andrews, was a supporter of the party of the Regent Moray, produced in 1571 his famous Detectio Mariæ Reginæ, a scathing exposure of the Queen's relations to Darnley and the circumstances leading up to his death, was tutor, 1570-78, to James VI., whom he brought up with great strictness, and to whom he imparted the learning of which the King was afterwards so vain. His chief remaining works were De Jure Regni apud Scotos (1579), against absolutism, and his History of Scotland, which was pub. immediately before his death. Though he had borne so great a part in the affairs of his country, and was the first scholar of his age, he d. so poor that he left no funds to meet the expenses of his interment. His literary masterpiece is his History, which is remarkable for the power and richness of its style. Its matter, however, gave so much offence that a proclamation was issued calling in all copies of it, as well as of the De Jure Regni, that they might be purged of the "offensive and extraordinary matters" which they contained. B. holds his great and unique place in literature not so much for his own writings as for his strong and lasting influence on subsequent writers.