Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 03.djvu/160

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
Barbour
Barbour
154

in the following year clerk for the audit of the household of the king. In 1375, as he himself records, he composed the poem of the ‘Brus,’ by which he is best known, as it at once became a national epic, celebrating in short and pithy lines, easy to remember, the story of the war of independence and the deeds of

    King Robert of Scotland
    That hardy was of hert and hand
    And Schir James of Douglas
    That in his tyme sa worthy was.

In 1377 he received from Robert II a sum of ten pounds, and next year a perpetual pension of twenty shillings, to be paid from the ‘king fermes’ or rent of Aberdeen, with power to assign it in mortmain, which is stated in one of the exchequer accounts to have been a reward for his poem. He was again auditor of exchequer in 1382 and 1384, and in 1388 he received a further pension for life of ten pounds from the customs of Aberdeen. It has been conjectured that this may have been a return for a poem, now lost, on the genealogy of the Stuarts, to which Wyntoun refers—

    The Stewartis oryginale
    The Archdekyne has treted hale
    In metyr fayre.
    (Chronykil, viii. 7, 143.)

Another passage of the same author mentions that the genealogy was traced from

    Dardane, Lord de Frygya,
    ......
    Tyl Robert our secound kying
    That Scotland had in governyng.
    (ii. 1, 130.)

Wyntoun also says that Barbour made a genealogy of Brutus (iii. 3, 139), and some editors have supposed this to be the same work as that on the Stuarts, and have even given it the name of the ‘Brute.’ But it appears more probable that the reference here is to the legend of Troy, which Barbour, like other writers of his age, is believed to have treated in a poem, two fragments of which have been recently discovered at Cambridge, and printed by the Early English Text Society. A more important discovery, due like the former to Mr. Henry Bradshaw, is the long poem on the ‘Legends of the Saints,’ which, though without author's name, is proved with reasonable certainty to be Barbour's by the similarity of its metre with that of the ‘Brus,’ of the dialect with the Scottish of his time, and by the inclusion in the saints whose lives are told of Ninian, the primary saint of Scotland, and Machar, a disciple of Columba, the patron saint of Aberdeen. This poem, which has now been published by Horstmann in his ‘Altenglische Legenden,’ contains an interesting notice of its author and allusions to another hitherto unknown work which, assuming it to be of proportionate length with the ‘Legends of the Saints,’ would make him one of the most prolific poets of the middle ages:—

    Tharfor sene I ma nocht work
    As minister of haly Kirke
    For gret elde and feblenes
    Yet for to eschew idlenes,
    I hafe translatit symply
    Sum part as I fand in story
    Of Mary and hir Son Jesu.

From the outline of the contents of this work which follows, it appears to have comprised the whole gospel history with the legend of the Virgin Mary's subsequent life. The ‘Legends of the Saints’ contains 33,533 verses and lives of fifty saints, commencing with those of the apostles and evangelists, which are followed by various martyrs and confessors, both of the eastern and western church, taken for the most part from the ‘Legenda Aurea.’ No English saints are included, and only the two Scottish above mentioned—that of St. Machar, probably taken from the Latin life which was one of the lectures or lessons in the breviary of Aberdeen; and that of St. Ninian, from his life by Ailred of Rievaulx, with the addition of a few miracles wrought in the author's time at Ninian's shrine at Whithorn. One of these, whose subject was John Balormy, ‘a gudeman in Murrefe (i.e. Moray), born in Eglyn,’ of whom the author says, ‘I kend hym weill mony day,’ confirms the attribution of the poem to Barbour. But the style of verse and tone of the poem so well agree with the ‘Brus’ that few persons will doubt the authorship which its German editor, as well as Mr. Bradshaw, assumes as certain. From the expressions as to his age and infirmity a date between 1380 and 1390 has been assigned to it. There are frequent notices of Barbour as a witness to deeds in the ‘Register of Aberdeen’ down to 1392. The payment of his life pension ceased in 1395, and in 1398 he is referred to as deceased in an inquest as to certain lands, the ward of which had been conferred on him by Robert II. This document confirms the date of his death as being in 1395 by the statement that the ward had been held by Alexander Abercromby for rather more than two years and a half since the date of the archdeacon's death.

In 1380, fifteen years before his own death, Barbour mortified his pension of twenty shillings in favour of the cathedral for a mass to be said on his anniversary on behalf of his soul and those of his parents.