A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen/Barclay, Alexander

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BARCLAY, Alexander, a distinguished writer of the English tongue at the beginning of the sixteenth century, is known to have been a native of Scotland only by very obscure evidence. He spent some of his earliest years at Croydon, in Surrey, and it is conjectured that he received his education at one of the English Universities. In the year 1508, he was a prebendary of the collegiate church of St Mary, at Ottery, in Devonshire. He was afterwards a Monk, first of the order of St Benedict at Ely, and latterly of the order of St Francis at Canterbury. While in this situation, and having the degree of Doctor of Divinity, he published an English translation of the "Mirrour of Good Manners," (a treatise compiled in Latin by Dominyke Mancyn,) for the use of the "juvent of England." After the Reformation, Barclay accepted a ministerial charge under the new religion, as vicar of Much-Badew in Essex. In 1546, he was vicar of Wokey in Somersetshire, and in 1552 he was presented by the Dean and Chapter of London to the rectory of Allhallows in Lombard Street. Having reached an advanced age, he died in June this year, at Croydon in Surrey, where he was buried.

Barclay published a great number of books, original and translated, and is allowed by the most intelligent enquirers into early English literature to have done more for the improvement of the language than any of his contemporaries. His chief poetical work is "the Ship of Fooles," which was written in imitation of a German work entitled, "Das Narren Schiff," published in 1494. "The Ship of Fooles," which was first printed in 1509, describes a vessel laden with all sorts of absurd persons, though there seems to have been no end in view but to bring them into one place, so that they might be described, as the beasts were brought before Adam in order to be named. We shall transcribe one passage from this work, as a specimen of the English style of Barclay: it is a curious contemporary character of King James IV. of Scotland.

And, ye Christen princes, whosoever ye be,
 If ye be destitute of a noble captayne,
Take James of Scotland for his audacitie
  And proved manhode, if ye will laude attaine:
  Let him have the forwarde: have ye no disdayne
Nor indignation; for never king was borne
That of ought of waure can shaw the uncorne.

For if that once he take the speare in hand
 Agaynst these Turkes strongly with it to ride,
None shall be able his stroke for to withstande
  Nor before his face so hardy to abide.
  Yet this his manhode increaseth not his pride;
But ever sheweth meeknes and humilitie,
In worde or dede to hye and lowe degree.

Barclay also made a translation of Sallust's History of the Jugurthine war, which was published in 1557, five years after his death, and is one of the earliest specimens of English translation from the classics.