Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/184

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554. JOHN MAIR.


his history, which, as he acknowledges, was penned in the year 1518, the seventh of king James the fifth's age."-* Mackenzie says-he left Paris immedi- ately on having written his history, and in the year mentioned we know him to have been in Scotland, as he was then incorporated a member of the univer- sity of Glasgow, and bore the titles of Canon of the chapel royal, and vicar or Dunlop, while he is termed " Doctor Parisiensis." 3 In 1521, the same author- ity shows him to have been professor of theology in Glasgow, and one of the " Intrantes " and " Deputati Rectoris ;" probably performing, in the latter capa- city, the duties now performed, or presumed to be performed by the assessors of the rector. During that year his well known work, " De Gestis Scotorum," was published in Paris by Badius Ascensius, the same person who afterwards published the history of Hector Boece. He is said by Bayle to have written " stylo Sor- bonico," a characteristic not intended as a compliment. The Latinity of this work has been censured by scholars ; but the matter which it clothes, if not likely to repay a reader of the present age for the labour of perusal, presents us with much contempt of prejudices common to the age ; considerable knowledge of the grounds of historical truth, and a mass of curious information, sometimes of that petty and domestic nature, which is valuable because it is so generally omitted by others. His notices of the state and value of provisions, and of local customs might be valuable to the political economist and antiquary. He has shown much sound sense in rejecting a mass of the fables narrated by his precursors in his- tory, Wyntoun and Fordun, believing the tale of Gathelus coming from Greece, to have been invented for the purpose of excelling the English who brought their " Brute " or "Brutus" from Troy, the Greeks being, as all history and poetry must testify, a far more respectable source of ancestry than the Trojans. Of the race of kings, amounting to about forty-five, betwixt Fergus I. and Fergus II., now blotted from the list, he mentions, and that but slightly, only three or four. On this subject Dr Mackenzie, who wishes to speak favourably of the subject of his memoir, while he has a still higher respect for the anti- quity of his native land, remarks, in a tone of chagrin, " in his account of our monarchs, of fifteen kings, that he only acknowledges to have been between Fergus I. and II., he mentions not above three or four of them ; and it plainly appears," continues the doctor, drawing the proper deduction, " from the whole tract of his history, that it was not drawn out of ancient and authentic monu- ments, for he cites none of them, but from the historians above quoted." 4 The views of civil liberty inculcated in this work surprise us when we consider the period and state of society at which it was written, and they would certainly at the present juncture be termed philosophically just. If a man of so original a mind as Buchanan may be supposed to have derived his political sentiments from an inferior genius, it is not improbable that the doctrines of kingly power so beautifully illustrated in the dialogue " De Jure Regni apud Scotos " may have been imbibed from the doctrines inculcated by Major, under Avhom Buchanan studied logic. The doctrines of Major are more boldly and broadly, if not justly, laid down than those of Grotius. 5 Although a churchman, lie was

3 Scottish Hist Library, 103.

3 According to the records of the university of Glasgow, in the Notes to Wodrow s Bio- graphical Collection, printed some years ago by the Maitland Club, it is said that in the year 1518 " Egregius virdictus Joannes Majoris, Doctor Parisiensis, ac principalis Re- gens collegii et pedagogii dicti universitatis, Canonicusque capelle regie, ac vicarius de Dunlop, &c." was incorporated along with forty-three others.

  • Mede, Caxton, and Froissart are Major's chief authorities.

s One passage is peculiarly striking, and, had the efi'tct of published opinions been better known at the period, might have brought persecution on the head of the author: " Populus liber primo regi dat robur, cujus potestas a tolo populo dependet, quia aliud jus Fergusiiw primus rex Scotise non habuit: ct ita est ubilibet, et ab orbe condito erat commuiiiter."