Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Buchanan, George (1506-1582)
BUCHANAN, GEORGE (1506–1582), historian and scholar, third son of Thomas Buchanan, a son of Buchanan of Drumnakill, a poor laird, and Agnes Heriot, was born at the farm of Mid Leowen, or the Moss, in the parish of Killearn in Stirlingshire, in February 1506. At an early age he lost his father. Giving promise of scholarship, he was at the age of fourteen sent by his uncle, James Heriot, from the parish school of Killearn to Paris, where he studied chiefly Latin. In less than two years he was forced to come home by the death of his uncle and the poverty of his mother. His health was restored by residence in the country, and when only seventeen he served with the French troops brought by Albany to Scotland, and was present at the siege of Werk in October 1523. Campaigning hardships brought on an illness which kept him in bed for the rest of the winter. In 1524 he went to St. Andrews to attend the lectures of John Mair, or Major, a man of acute intellect, who, like Erasmus, did not embrace the reformed doctrine, but prepared the way for it. His pupils did not stop where their master did, and Buchanan ungratefully refers to him in the epigram—
Cum scateat nugis solo cognomine Major,
Nec sit in immenso pagina sana libro,
Non mirum titulis quod se veracibus ornat:
Nec semper mendax fingere Creta solet.
Mair went to Paris in 1525, whither Buchanan, after taking his degree of B.A. at St. Andrews on 3 Oct. of that year, followed him in 1526, and was admitted B.A. in the Scottish College on 10 Oct. 1527. His elegy, ‘Quam misera est conditio docentium literas humaniores Lutetiæ,’ bears the mark of personal experience. He describes the spare diet and frequent fasts, the midnight oil, the shabby dress, the perpetual round of studies. Marriage is forbidden to the scholar who can afford no dowry. Old age comes swiftly and mourns a youth wasted in studies. He ends with a farewell to the muses. In March 1528 he became M.A., and though defeated in a contest for the office of procurator of the German nation by Robert Wauchope, afterwards bishop of Armagh, on 3 June 1529, he was elected to this coveted distinction. About the same time he began to teach grammar in the college of St. Barbe, and became tutor of Gilbert, earl of Cassilis, with whom he remained for five years in Paris and its neighbourhood. While thus engaged he published a Latin version of Linacre's ‘Rudiments of Latin Grammar’ at the press of Robert Stephen, which he inscribed to his pupil, and wrote his poem entitled ‘Somnium,’ an imitation of Dunbar's ‘Visitation of St. Francis,’ directed like it against the Franciscans. Buchanan returned to Scotland in 1536, and various gifts to him as servant (i.e. tutor) to ‘Lord James’ occur in the treasurer's accounts between 16 Feb. 1536 and July 1538. This ‘Lord James’ was not the future regent, but another of King James's natural sons, on whom the pope conferred the abbacies of Melrose and Kelso. About this time the king gave Buchanan a commission to write a sharper satire against the friars, a dangerous task he tried to evade by the ‘Palinodia,’ which pleased neither his patron nor his adversaries. The king having again applied to him he produced his ‘Franciscanus et Fratres.’ Sir David Lindsay appealed to the people in the vernacular; Buchanan addressed the learned, and both struck the Roman sacerdotal system in its most vulnerable point—the morals of the clergy—and hastened the Scottish reformation. But James, who urged the literary attack for political ends, did not embrace the new doctrines, and allowed Cardinal Beaton to persecute those who did so. In 1539 five Scottish reformers were burnt and many driven into exile. Buchanan escaped from a window of his prison at St. Andrews to London, where he found Henry VIII intent on his own ends rather than on the purity of religion, burning, says Buchanan, men of opposite opinions at the same stake. Old habit and the toleration of religion in France drew him to Paris. Here his implacable enemy, Beaton, who had already tried, he says, to purchase his life from James V, was employed in an embassy, and to escape him Buchanan went to Bordeaux on the invitation of Andrew Govea, principal of the college of Guienne. The scholarship of which he gave proof in a poem addressed to Charles V on his visit to that town gained him speedy employment, and he taught Latin in the newly founded college for three years. In Bordeaux he composed four tragedies, ‘Baptistes,’ ‘Medea,’ ‘Jephthes,’ and ‘Alcestis,’ which were acted by the students, whom he desired to withdraw from the allegories then in fashion to classic models. In the ‘Baptistes’ especially the virtue of liberty, the fear of God rather than of man, and the infamy of the tyrant, are the themes. ‘Let each judge for himself,’ he says in the prologue, ‘whether this is an old or a new story.’ Among the pupils who took part in acting these tragedies was Montaigne, in whose essays there are several kindly notices of his old tutor; among his colleagues Govea, Muretus, Tevius, and Tartæus; among his friends the leading lawyers and magistrates of Bordeaux. At Agen, where he and some of his brother professors spent vacation, he gained the friendship of the elder Scaliger. To this period belong his verses, which are open to the censure of a license not excusable in a censor of the morals of the clergy. The Amaryllis of his poem, ‘Desiderium Lutetiæ,’ was Paris, not a lady; but the hard-hearted ‘Neæra’ and the meretricious ‘Leonora,’ names borrowed from classical masters, are realistic, probably real. It is possible that Milton's lines,
Were it not better done, as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neæra's hair?—
glanced at Buchanan as well as at the classic elegiacs. Between 1544 and 1547 Buchanan returned to Paris and taught in the college of Cardinal le Moine, where the loss of his Bordeaux friends was compensated by the companionship of another circle of scholars, Turnebus, the great Grecian, Charles Stephen, the physician and printer of the family which gave its chief fame to the press of Paris, and Groscollius, and Gelida, less known scholars. Buchanan here became a victim of the gout, which never left him, and aggravated a temper naturally hasty. Govea, the principal at Bordeaux, was a Portuguese, and was summoned by John III of Portugal to preside over the newly founded college at Coimbra. He brought to his aid some of his learned friends, and among them Buchanan and his brother Patrick. John of Portugal, the friend of learning, though not of the Reformation, had already admitted the inquisition into his dominions, and on the death of Govea in 1548 Buchanan was accused of the use of flesh in Lent, of writing against the Franciscans, and of the remark that Augustine would have favoured those whom the Roman church condemned. Two secret witnesses reported that he thought ill of Roman doctrine, and he was immured in a monastery for some months, in the hope that seclusion and the monks might reclaim him. He occupied himself instead with translating the Psalms into Latin. On his release he was invited to remain in Portugal, but sailed for England in 1552. There he remained only a short time, and returned to Paris in the following year. At the solicitation of his friends he composed a poem on the raising of the siege of Metz, though with some reluctance, as Melinde de St. Gelais, a poet of the school of Marot, had already written on the subject. A graceful elegy on his return to France, ‘Adventus in Galliam,’ celebrates its praises in contrast with Portugal. After teaching a short time in the college of Boncourt he was engaged by Maréchal de Brissac, governor of the French territory on the Italian coast, as tutor for his son, Timoléon de Cossé, an office he held for five years, residing partly in Italy and partly in France. He was fortunate in his pupil, who, short as his life was, acquired credit in letters as well as a place among Brantome's great captains of France. Brissac's confidence in Buchanan was so great that he was sometimes admitted to the council of war. During this period several of his works were first published; his ‘Alcestis’ and a specimen of his version of the Psalms, which Henry Stephen brought out without his consent, along with four other versions by scholars of different countries, among whom he gave Buchanan the palm, and his own Greek version. At this time he wrote new poems on the ‘Taking of Calais’ and the ‘Epithalamium of the Dauphin and Mary Stuart.’ He also studied the Bible that he might form an opinion on religious controversies. The date of his return to Scotland is not certain, but he was there in 1562, and in April Randolph writes to Cecil: ‘The queen readeth daily after her dinner, instructed by a learned man, Mr. George Buchanan, somewhat of Lyvie.’ He now openly embraced the doctrines of the reformed church, and at once took part in its government. He was a member of the general assembly at Edinburgh on 25 Dec. 1563, and of a commission for revising the ‘Book of Discipline.’ He sat in the assemblies of 1564–7, and served on their judicial committee. In that of June 1567 he was moderator, one of the few laymen who have held that office. The year before he had been appointed by Moray principal of the college of St. Leonard's, and in that, as well as the following year, his name occurs among the electors, assessors, and deputies of the rector. In the register he receives the epithet already given him by foreign scholars, ‘Hujus sæculi poetarum facile princeps.’ He also appears as auditor of the accounts of the quæstor for the year 1566–7, and as assessor of the dean of the faculty of arts in 1567–9. In the parliament of 1563 Buchanan was appointed one of the commissioners to inquire into the foundations of St. Andrews and other universities. No report of this committee is extant, but a sketch for it, of which a copy exists in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, is credited to Buchanan. It differs from the scheme in the ‘Book of Discipline,’ but, like it, aimed at an organisation of the separate colleges of St. Salvator, St. Leonard, and St. Mary, which overlapped each other. According to his plan there was to be a college of humanity, with a principal, public reader, and six regents, for the teaching of languages on the model of the academy of Geneva; a college for philosophy with a principal, a reader in medicine, and four regents; and a college of divinity, with a principal who was to read Hebrew, and a reader in law. This inadequate scheme, in which languages were given too great preponderance, was much improved by the reform projected and in part effected by Buchanan's pupil, Andrew Melville, under a subsequent commission in 1578. While chiefly engaged in the affairs of the church and education Buchanan was employed by the privy council to translate Spanish state papers for the use of the council. He still continued to exercise his talent for Latin verses, celebrated the marriage of Mary and Darnley in ‘Strenæ et Pompæ,’ dedicated his version of the Psalms to the queen, composed valentines in honour of the ladies Beaton and Fleming, two of the queen's Maries, and the verses spoken by the satyrs in the masque after the baptism of the young prince at Stirling. In reward for these services he received a pension of 500l. a year out of the revenues of the abbey of Crossraguel; but the resistance of the savage Earl of Cassilis, son of his old pupil, made it impossible to obtain payment of this pension, his chief livelihood, without recourse both to the privy council and the courts. Buchanan was probably at St. Andrews in the months between Darnley's murder (10 Feb. 1567) and Bothwell's marriage (15 May); and when he came to Edinburgh for the June assembly (25 June) Mary was a captive in Lochleven, and Bothwell in full flight to the north. The assembly over which Buchanan presided issued a missive summoning the nobility and others to a meeting on 20 July, but transacted no other business of importance. It was only five days before the June assembly that the famous casket with the letters alleged to be written by the queen is said to have been found, and taken possession of by Morton; but there is no proof that Buchanan at this time knew their contents. On 16 Sept. 1568 the casket was delivered by Morton to Moray, who was then preparing to go to the conference at York which Queen Elizabeth had summoned. Buchanan went as the secretary of the commission. At the conference, if not before he left Scotland, he must have become cognisant of the letters. On 27 Sept. the commissioners and Buchanan started for England, with a guard of a hundred horse. Narrowly escaping being waylaid by the Earl of Westmorland, they arrived at York in the beginning of October. The real debate began on 8 Oct., when Mary's commissioners gave in her complaint. On 10 Oct. Lethington, Macgill, Balnavis, and Buchanan were sent to the English commissioners, and protesting they did not appear before them as commissioners, but only for their instruction, exhibited a portion of the contents of the casket. Lethington, who had been her secretary, and Buchanan, who had been her tutor, declared that the letters were written by the queen. It is difficult to believe that either was ignorant as to her handwriting. The result of this disclosure was to lead Elizabeth and Cecil to transfer the conference to Westminster. Buchanan went with the Scottish commissioners. A tortuous diplomacy delayed the production of the proofs, whose existence must now have been known to all the principal parties, but Cecil and Moray desired to use the letters so as to force Mary to a compromise rather than to close the door to it. At last, however, all reluctance was overcome, and on 6 Dec. Moray gave in the ‘Book of Articles,’ in which the charge against Mary was first formulated. This was long supposed to be the same document as the ‘Detection’ which Buchanan afterwards published. A copy recently found among Lord Hopetoun's manuscripts proves it to have been different, though many passages are in almost the same words, and the proof is the same as in the ‘Detection.’ Two days after, with a renewed protest, the casket and a portion of its contents were brought forward. The queen's commissioners lodged in her name an answer to the accusation, charging Moray and his party with being the real authors of the murder. Elizabeth's counsellors now gave their opinion that she ought not to admit Mary to her presence. Finally on 11 Jan. 1568–9 the commissioners on both sides, of whom Buchanan is named as one, met for the last time face to face at Hampton Court, when Mary's commissioners repeated the accusation against Moray, but declined to take the responsibility of it on themselves, and Moray offered to go to Bowton to see whether Mary would stand by her accusation, an offer which her commissioners declined. Elizabeth had already on the 10th stated her decision through Cecil, refusing to condemn either Moray or Mary, and giving the former license to return to Scotland. Mary's commissioners were some weeks later allowed to return. Such was the impotent conclusion of these long conferences. The unfairness to Mary, who was not allowed either personally or by her commissioners to see the principal documents brought forward against her, is palpable. Buchanan must bear his share in the discredit of these transactions. What that share is it is not so easy to determine. At best Buchanan's conduct must be regarded as that of a willing agent of Moray's policy. But Mary's vindicators brought against him a much graver charge—the forgery of the documents produced from the casket. His life and character as represented by the closest observers do not warrant this, nor are the best judges inclined to see his style in their composition. A letter written from London, it is supposed at the instigation of Cecil after the publication of Buchanan's ‘Detection,’ expressly says that ‘the book was written by him, not as of himself nor in his own name, but according to the instructions to him given by common conference of the privie counsel of Scotland, by him only for his learning penned, but by them the matter ministered,’ and this, though coming from a source not beyond suspicion, appears probable. As to the letters themselves, the preponderating opinion of impartial writers now is against their genuineness, though Mr. Hosack's ingenious theory suggested by Miss Strickland that some are letters to Darnley is not more than a conjecture. The mystery cannot be said to be solved until the forger is discovered. Assuming their falsity, it is difficult to stop short of the further conclusion, that Buchanan must have shut his eyes to the inquiry which would have produced the necessary knowledge. He returned to Scotland with Moray early in January 1568–9, and at once resumed his position as principal of St. Andrews. Buchanan does not refer either in his ‘Detection’ or in his ‘History’ to the examination at St. Andrews, on 9 and 10 Aug., of Nicholas Huber, commonly called French Paris, which attributes to Mary full knowledge of the conspiracy to murder her husband, and even of the particular mode devised for carrying it out. It cannot, however, be reasonably concluded from the omission that he disbelieved it; for it was not the method of either work to be precise in the citation of authorities, and the Latin edition of the ‘Detection,’ first printed in 1571, was probably written before Paris was examined, as the ‘Book of Articles’ on which it is founded certainly was. Before that publication events occurred which heightened if possible the virulence of the war of parties, both in Scotland and in England. On 23 Jan. 1570 the regent Moray, Buchanan's patron and friend, was shot at Linlithgow by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh. Shortly before this the plot for the marriage of Mary to the Duke of Norfolk, and the rising in the north of England for her liberation, had been discovered, and Norfolk had been sent to the Tower. It was at this juncture that Buchanan produced his only writings in the vernacular. These must be regarded as party pamphlets. One was entitled ‘Ane admonition direct to the tre Lordis Maintenaris of Justice and obedience to the Kingis Grace,’ and the other ‘Chamæleon,’ a satire against Maitland of Lethington, who had now openly gone over to Mary's side. The ‘Admonition’ is an invective against the house of Hamilton, the principal opponents of the late regent, one of whom was his murderer, and an exhortation to the true lords to support the cause of the young king, on which the great issue of protestantism against papacy depended. The ‘Chamæleon’ is a curious sample of the sudden changes of this age of intrigues, as little more than a year before the satirist and the object of his satire had acted together in the accusation of Mary. Shortly after the assassination of Moray, Buchanan, by an act of council dated August 1570 (Lord Haddington's MS., Advocates' Library), was appointed tutor to the king, then in his fourth year; and as it was necessary that he should reside at Stirling, where James was kept under the guardianship of the Earl of Mar, he resigned his office of principal. In the following year the ‘Detection’ was published in London, first in Latin and then in the Scottish dialect. In it the charges against Mary in the ‘Book of Articles,’ in the form of a judicial paper, are reiterated and adapted to the purposes of a polemic. The date of the English edition is fixed by a letter of Cecil of 1 Nov. 1571, which states that it is newly ‘printed in Latin, and I hear is to be translated into English, with many supplements of like condition.’ Next year it was reprinted in Scotch at St. Andrews by Lekprevik, and a French edition was put out, purporting to be printed ‘à Edinburg, ville capitale d'Ecosse, le 13 Fevrier 1572, par moi Thomas Watters,’ a fictitious name, for in reality it was published at Rochelle by a Huguenot editor. After all allowance for party spirit and the well-founded belief of the reformers that Mary was a subtle and a dangerous enemy, the ‘Detection’ must be deemed a calumnious work, which not only sought out doubtful and trivial incidents to blacken her character, but invented others for which there was no warrant. Buchanan charges Mary with an attempt to make Darnley and Moray quarrel, in the hope of ridding herself of both; with encouraging Darnley to seduce Moray's wife; with shameless adultery with Bothwell, both in Edinburgh and at Jedburgh; with a design to poison Darnley, and with the intention, gradually formed, to murder not only Darnley but her own child. For these charges there is no evidence, and they have been silently dropped even by historians who believe her capable of any wickedness. We cannot wonder that she describes this work, when Elizabeth, with peculiar spite, sent her a copy of the ‘Detection’ instead of the priest she asked for, as ‘a defamatory book by an atheist, Buchanan, the knowledge of whose impiety had made her request a year before that he should not be left near her son, to whom she heard he had been given as preceptor’ (Letter from Sheffield to La Mothe Fénelon, 22 Nov. 1571, Labanoff, iv. 5). The post of tutor suited Buchanan better than that of a political writer, and there can be little doubt that he devoted himself with diligence and zeal to the discharge of his office. Melville writes in his ‘Memoirs’ that Buchanan was one of James's ‘four principal masters,’ and ‘that he held the king in great awe,’ that unlike another of these masters who carried ‘himself warily, as a man who had a mind to his own weal, by keeping of his majesty's favour, Mr. George was a Stoick philosopher, who looked not far before him. A man of notable endowments for his learning and knowledge of Latin poesie. Much honoured in other countries, pleasant in conversation, rehearsing on all occasions moralities short and instructive, whereof he had abundance, inventing where he wanted. He was also of good religion for a poet; but he was easily abused, and so facill that he was led with any company that he haunted for the tym, quhilk maid him factious in his old dayis; for he spoke and writ as they that were about him for the tym informed him; for he was become sliperie and careless, and followed in many things the vulgar oppinions; for he was naturally populair and extreme vengeable against any man that had offendit him, quhilk was his gratest fault.’ James entertained a lively recollection of the discipline of his tutor, and when a person in high office whom he disliked came near him he used to say ‘he trembled at his approach, it reminded him so of his pedagogue.’ Yet his references to Buchanan are not so severe as might have been anticipated. He denounced his ‘History,’ indeed, as well as that of Knox, as an infamous invective, and coins for the authors the epithet ‘Archibellonses of Rebellion.’ But on the ‘De Jure Regni’ he pronounces the curious judgment: ‘Buchanan I reckon and rank among poets, not among divines, classical or common. If the man hath burst out here and there into some traces of excess or speech of bad temper, that must be imputed to the violence of his humour and heat of his spirit, not in any wise to the rules of treu religion rightly by him conceived before.’ In his speech at Stirling to the university of Edinburgh James praised his Latin learning. ‘All the world knows,’ he said, ‘that my master, George Buchanan, was a great master in that faculty. I follow his pronunciation, both of his Latin and Greek, and am sorry that my people of England do not the like; for certainly their pronunciation utterly fails the grace of these two learned languages.’
The retirement of Morton in 1578, and the emancipation of the king from any regency, also emancipated him from his tutors. On 3 May 1578, a new ‘ordour of the keeping of the king’ was framed, to which his own signature is attached. John, earl of Mar, was given the custody of his person, with an injunction that he was not to be removed from the castle of Stirling, and his instruction was still committed to ‘Masteris George Buchanan and Peter Young, his present pedagoguis, or sic as sall be hereafter electit by his Hiness … of his said counsale to that charge, aggreing in religion with the saidis Maisteris George and Peter.’ But though Buchanan still nominally held this office, to which he refers in the dedications of the ‘De Jure Regni’ and of his ‘Historia Scotorum,’ James was allowed to leave Stirling in the following year, and growing age and infirmity prevented Buchanan from acting personally as the king's tutor. His active spirit did not confine itself at any time to the education of the king. He had been rewarded for his services by the post of director of chancery in 1570, which he seems to have held only for a short time, since in the same year he was appointed to the higher office of keeper of the privy seal, which he held till 1578, when he resigned in favour of his nephew Thomas. This office gave him a seat both in the privy council and in parliament, and he acted on commissions for the digest of the laws, for the reform of the universities, and for the compilation of a Latin grammar, over which he presided, and for which he compiled a short prosody, printed in his works. He was also one of the commission appointed by parliament in 1578 to examine a book on the ‘Policy of the Kirk.’ In 1574 the general assembly placed under his revision, along with Peter Young, Andrew Melville, and James Lawson, Adamson's Latin version of the Book of Job, which was to be published if found agreeable to God's Word.
So busy a life probably left little time for correspondence, and few of Buchanan's letters have been preserved; but those of his correspondents are of considerable interest from their various nationalities, and the light they throw on the literary commerce of the sixteenth century. They were the leading scholars who had embraced the reformed doctrines in England and the Low Countries, France, and Switzerland. All express the greatest interest in Buchanan's writings, and request him to publish or revise them. Randolph presses him to write his own life; but all that came of this request was the brief fragment prefixed to his works, written in 1580, which unfortunately stops short at his return to Scotland. Among his friends whose letters have been preserved are Theodore Beza, Elias Vinet, Hubert Languet, Roger Ascham, and Walter Haddon. The greatest name in the list is that of Tycho Brahe, whom Buchanan thanks for his present of his book on the new star, and mentions that ill-health has prevented him from completing his astronomical poem on the Sphere, which was only published after his death. A portrait of Buchanan, presented probably by King James to Brahe, was seen by him when he visited the astronomer at Uranienberg on the occasion of his marriage. In the beginning of 1579 Buchanan published his tract ‘De Jure Regni,’ the most important of his political writings. The contents of this work—in the form of a dialogue between Buchanan and Thomas Maitland, brother of Lethington—are a defence of legitimate or limited monarchy, a statement of the duty of monarchs and subjects to each other, in which he lays stress chiefly on the former, and a plea for the right of popular election of kings, and of the responsibility of bad kings, in treating which he does not shrink from upholding tyrannicide in cases of extreme wickedness. The book had an immense popularity; three editions were published in three years. Similar doctrine was then in the air of Europe. ‘The three great sources of a free spirit in politics,’ remarks Hallam, ‘admiration of antiquity, zeal for religion, and persuasion of positive right, which animated separately La Boétie, Languet, and Hottoman, united their stream to produce the treatise of George Buchanan, a scholar, a protestant, and the subject of a very limited monarchy.’ Suppressed by an act of parliament in 1584, the ‘De Jure Regni’ was a standard work in the hands of the men of the Long parliament, and the writer possesses a copy carefully indexed by Sir Roger Twysden. As might be expected, Buchanan's work was not allowed to pass without criticism. It was answered in his own time by his catholic countrymen, Blackwood, Wynzet, and Barclay; by the lawyers of the Restoration, Craig, Stewart, and Mackenzie; and by Sir James Turner in an unpublished work; but the English writers who have formed the theory of the constitution now accepted, Milton and Sidney, Locke, Hallam, and Mackintosh, acknowledge most of its positions as well founded. Buchanan now addressed himself to his last, and in some respects greatest work, the history of his own country. This had been in his thoughts for more than twenty years, and was mainly composed several years before. His friends had often urged him to complete it, and it was at last published in 1582. He again addressed himself to James in the dedication. ‘An incurable illness having made me unfit,’ he says, ‘to discharge in person the care of your instructions committed to me, I thought that sort of writing which tends to inform the mind would best supply the want of my attendance, and resolved to send to you faithful narratives from history that you might make use of trew advice in your deliberations, and imitate trew virtue in your actions.’ This book was at once translated into the continental languages, and was long the chief, almost the only source from which foreigners knew the history of Scotland. Nineteen editions attest the value which succeeding generations attached to it, but it is significant that the last was published in 1762. Judged by a modern standard, the history of Buchanan is antiquated not merely on account of its Latin, but from the absence of criticism in the examination of authorities. Its different parts are of unequal merit, probably because they were composed at different times. The first three of its twenty books contain its best portions, a description of the physical characteristics of the country, and an erudite collection of passages from Greek and Latin writers relating to Britain. Buchanan proceeds, in the steps of Hector Boece, to narrate the reigns of the eighty-five kings down to Malcolm Canmore, in a manner not more deserving of credit than their portraits, painted to the order of Charles II, which hang in the gallery of Holyrood. But from Malcolm the history improves. The characters of the kings are well drawn, though the publication of the original records has enabled modern historians to present a larger and more exact picture of their reigns. From the middle of the thirteenth book to the close Buchanan's history still retains a certain value. This portion from James V to the death of Lennox, where it somewhat abruptly stops, is practically the work of a contemporary, and though it is that of a partisan who vilifies Mary, panegyrises Moray, hates all the Hamiltons, and dislikes Morton, no future historian can safely neglect the view of Scottish history which impressed such an intellect, and was the popular opinion, not merely in his own time, but for two centuries after. Of literary style Buchanan is an acknowledged master. It has even been rashly contended by his admirers that he surpassed Livy. More important than mere style is the clearness of his narrative, which dispenses with the rhetorical art, though he was capable of using it.
In September 1581, when his work was in the press, Andrew and James Melville, who had been his pupils at St. Andrews, and his cousin Thomas Buchanan, came to see him in Edinburgh. They found him teaching his servant to read, and after they had spoken of his industry he showed them his epistle of dedication to the king. Andrew Melville pointed out some defects in it. ‘Sayes he,’ James Melville writes in his diary, ‘“I may do na mair for thinking on another mater.” “What is that?” sayes Mr. Andro. “To die,” quoth he, “but I leave that and many ma things for you to helpe.” We went from him to the printars' wark hous, whom we fand at the end of the 17 Buik of his Cornicle, at a place quhilk we thought verie hard for the tyme, quhilk might be an occasion of steying the haill werk onent the buriall of Davie. Therefor steying the printer from proceiding, we cam to Mr. George again and fund him bedfast by his custome, and asking him how he did, “Even going the way of weilfare,” says he. Mr. Thomas his cusing schawes him of the hardness of that part of his Storie, that the king wald be offendit with it, and it might stey all the wark. “Tell me man,” sayes he, “giff I have tauld the treuthe?” “Yes,” sayes Mr. Thomas, “sir, I think sa.” “I will byd his fead and all his kins then,” quoth he. “Pray to God for me, and let him direct all.” Sa be the printing of his Cornicle was endit that maist lerned, wyse, and godlie man endit this mortall lyff.”’
The history of Buchanan has not escaped severe criticism, but the most acute of his critics, Father Innes, while successful in impugning the earlier portions as wanting in research and accuracy, fails to establish the point of his attack, that the whole was written to support a republican theory of government. Buchanan did not survive the publication of this work, and the death which he had long calmly anticipated came on 29 Sept. 1582, about five months before his seventy-seventh birthday. He died poor; a sum of 100l. due to him from his pension of Crossraguel is the whole of his means in the inventory of his testament. He was buried in the churchyard of Grey Friars in Edinburgh, but the place of his tomb is unknown. Tradition dating from a short period after his death ascribes to him the skull preserved in the Anatomy Museum of the university, of which there is a print in Irving's life, and which certainly resembles the best authenticated portraits of him which have been preserved, that by Boinard, engraved in Beza's ‘Icones,’ and of which a copy is in the university of Edinburgh. On the continent his name is mentioned with respect for his learning, and the epitaph of the younger Scaliger has been often quoted. When the universities of foreign countries greeted the college founded by his royal pupil at Edinburgh on its three hundredth anniversary, many of them recalled his memory. While his title to learning is thus beyond dispute, the rest of his character has been the subject of vehement controversy. Nor is it a character easy to read. Some points will be generally allowed. With him the love of education was not merely a virtue but a passion, early conceived and never abandoned. But he was not only a professor but a man of the world. The world in which he lived was distracted by the deepest and widest controversy in modern history; between tradition and the new learning, between absolute and constitutional government, between the romanist and the reformed doctrines and discipline. In this controversy, not only in the field of literature, but of action, Buchanan took a prominent part on the side of the reformers. He is still deemed a traitor, a slanderer, and an atheist by some, while to others he is a champion of the cause of liberty and religion, and one of its most honoured names. His character may perhaps be more justly represented as combined of strange contradictions; he was at the same time humane and vindictive, mirthful and morose, cultured and coarse, fond of truth, but full of prejudices. It is these contradictions and his great learning and literary power which make him so striking a figure in the history of Scotland and of literature.[Irving's Life, 2nd edition, 1817, contains one of the best literary histories of the time, and portraits of Buchanan, his contemporaries, and friends. A work of much learning, it needs supplementing from records published since Irving wrote, and is now largely superseded by P. Hume Brown's Biography, 1890. The best editions of the works are those of Ruddiman, 1715, reprinted by Burman, Lugduni Batavorum, 1735, where a full bibliography of Buchanan will be found. Irving gives a list of the chief publications relating to him, p. 427; Chalmers's Life of Ruddiman contains a sketch of some value; the brief fragment of a life by Buchanan himself, often printed, should also be referred to; there is an able, but too favourable sketch of Buchanan in the North British Review, No. xlii., by Hannay; an account of his portraits is given in Drummond's monograph on the Portraits of Knox and Buchanan, 1875.]