Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

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Literary Chronicle
New Monthly Magazine
Monthly Review
Notes and Queries
Gibson and Laing
Halkett and Laing
Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
James the First
Thomas the Rhymer
John Barbour
Andrew Wyntoun
Gavin Douglas
Allan Ramsay
William Meston
John Home
James Beattie
Robert Burns

Part II. (Volume I.)
James the Fifth
William Dunbar
Sir James Inglis
Henry the Minstrel
Sir David Lyndsay
Alexander Barclay
Alexander Montgomerie
William Alexander
William Drummond
James Thomson
John Oswald

Part III. (Volume II.)
James the Sixth
Sir Richard Maitland
Arthur Johnston
Hamilton of Bangour
Hamilton of Gilbertfield
Samuel Colvil
Alexander Ross
John Armstrong
John Ogilvie
James Macpherson
Charles Salmon

Part IV. (Volume II.)
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Robert Henryson
Alexander Scott
Walter Kennedy
John Ogilby
Alexander Pennecuik
Alexander Cunningham
David Mallet
William Falconer
Francis Garden
Robert Blair
James Moor
James Graeme
Caleb Whitefoord
James Grainger
Hector Macneill
John Wilson

Part VI. (Volume III.)
Robert Kerr
Richard Lord Maitland
Thomas Hamilton
Charles Hamilton
Michael Bruce
Thomas Blacklock
John Logan
Andrew Macdonald
James Mercer

Appendix. (Volume III.)
James I
Allan Ramsay
John Home
Robert Burns
William Drummond
Robert Fergusson
Alexander Scott
John Wilson



When we find different places contending for the distinction of having given birth to an individual, we need require no better proof to convince that there must have been much in his character, to make affinity with it an honor. Such rivalry is the tribute which we pay to worth and greatness alone; to the first poet of a country, the first founder of an art; to a Homer [note] or to a Guttemberg. [note] *


Mackenzie [note] affirms, that the subject of the present memoir, Alexander Barclay, [note] was a Scotsman, though apparently for no better reason known to him, than that Alexander is a Christian name, peculiarly Scottish. Bale [note] contends, that he is an Englishman, and of the county of Somerset, because there are Barcleys in Somersetshire; on the same principle, that Macedon is like Monmouth, because there is a river in Macedon and a river in Monmouth. Pits [note] thinks, that he was born in Devonshire, on no other ground seemingly, than that his first preferment in the church was in that county. And Mr. Warton [note] is of opinion, that he an probably belonged to Gloucestershire, because it contains a village called Barcley.

* The inventor of printing.

Amid so many empty conjectures, it is pleasant to be able to produce some solid evidence on the subject; and to a Scotsman not the less so, that the evidence is in favor of his country's claim to rank Alexander Barclay among the number of eminent men whom it has produced. The authority which gives Barclay to Scotland ought to be of the greater weight, that it is not that of a Scotsman, but of an Englishman, Dr. William Bulleyn, [note] well known to the learned as a physician and botanist, of great eminence, about the middle of the sixteenth century. Bulleyn was a native of the isle of Ely, and Barclay was a monk of the monastery of Ely, at the period when Bulleyn was a youth. Whether they were personally acquainted or not is uncertain; but from living in the same neighbourhood, Bulleyn had an opportunity of knowing, better than any contemporary whose evidence on the subject is extant, to what country Barclay was, by all about him, reputed to belong. Now to the evidence. In an allegorical description of the early English poets, by Dr. Bulleyn, he states positively, that Barclay was “ born beyond the cold river Tweed.” As the whole passage possesses considerable elegance, and has been so universally overlooked by the critics, the transcription of it here will not probably be deemed out of place.


“Witty Chaucer, [note] who sat in chair of gold covered with roses, writing prose and rhyme, accompanied

* It is scarcely necessary to observe, that the orthography, as I find it in the MS. of this memoir, is modernized. A. S.
with the spirits of many kings, knights, and fair ladies, whom he pleasantly besprinkled with the sweet water of the well, consecrated to the muses, named Aganippe. Near also sat old moral Gower,
[note] with pleasant pen in hand, commending honest love without lust, and pleasure without pride; holiness in the clergy without hypocrisy; no tyranny in rulers, no falsehood in lawyers, no busary in merchants, no rebellion in the commons, and unity among the kingdoms, &c. There appeared also Lydgate [note] lamenting among the lilies, with his bald sconce, and a garland of willows about it. Booted he was after St. Burnet's guise; and a black stammel robe, with a monstrous hood, hanging backward; his body stooping forward, bewailing every state with the spirit of Providence; foreseeing the falls of wicked men, and the slippery seats of princes; the ebbing and flowing, the rising and falling of men in authority; how virtue advances the simple, and vice overthrows the most noble of the world. Skelton [note] sat in the corner, with a frosty bitten face, frowning and scarcely yet cooled of the hot burning choler kindled against the cankered Cardinal Wolsey, [note] writing many a sharp disticon with bloody pen against him, which he sent through the infernal Styx, Phlegeton, and Acheron, by the ferryman of hell, called Charon, to the said cardinall. Then Barclay, in a hooping russet long coat, with a pretty hood on his neck, and fine knees upon his girdle, after Francis's tricks. He was born beyond the cold river Tweed; he lodged upon a bed of sweet camomile, under the cinnamon tree; about him many shepherds and sheep, with pleasant pipes, greatly abhorring the life of courtiers.


The certainty with which Bulleyn here speaks of
Barclay, as born beyond the Tweed, is not a little strengthened by the accuracy with which even in allegory he delineates his peculiar characteristics. “He lodged upon a bed of sweet camomile.” What figure could have been more descriptive of that agreeable bitterness, that pleasant irony, which distinguishes the author of the “
Ship of Fools?” “About him many shepherds and sheep with pleasant pipes, greatly abhorring the life of courtiers.” What could have been a plainer paraphrase of the title of Barclay's “Eclogues,” or “Miseries of Courtiers and Courtes, and of all princes in general”? As a minor feature, “the fine knots upon his girdle after Francis's tricks” may also be noticed. Hitherto, the fact of Barclay having been a member of the Franciscan order has been always repeated as a matter of some doubt; “he was a monk of the order of St. Benedict, and afterwards, as some say, a Franciscan,” Bulleyn knows, and mentions, with certainty, what others only speak of as the merest conjecture. In short, every thing tends to show a degree of familiar acquaintance with the man, his habits, and his productions, which entitles the testimony of Bulleyn to the highest credit.


Although the country of Barclay is thus fixed with sufficient certainty, nothing farther respecting his nativity or early youth is known. The first trace we have of him is at Oriel College, Oxford, about 1495, where he was patronized by Thomas Cornish, then provost of that house. After finishing his studies at the university, he travelled through Holland, Germany, Italy, and France. On returning to England, he found his patron, Dr. Cornish, had become Bishop of Tyne, and received from him an appointment to be
chaplain in the college of St. Mary Ottery, in Devonshire, founded by John Grandison, Bishop of Exeter.


It was while resident here, that Barclay wrote his great work, the Ship of Fools; this we learn from the title as it is to be found in Pynson's, [note] the parent edition. “This present boke, named the Shyp of Folys of the Worlde, was translated i' the College of Saynt Mary Ottery, in the Counte of Deuonshyre, out of Laten, Frenche, and Doche, into Englyshe tonge, by Alexander Barclay, Preste; and at that tyme chaplen in the said colledge.”


Some time after this, Barclay entered into monastic orders; first, into that of St. Benedict; next, into that of St. Francis; and, at the dissolution of the monastery of Ely in 1539, we find him among the number of its ejected monks.


Barclay appears not to have been without friends in this emergency. He was appointed successively to the vicarage of St. Matthew, at Wokey in Somersetshire, and to that of Much-Badew or Badew-Magna, in the county of Essex and diocese of London; nor were these, as Wood [note] supposes, his only preferments; for the dean and chapter of London, in April 1552, presented him to the living of Allhallows, Lombard Street. The last appointment, however, he lived to enjoy only a very few weeks; he was now far advanced in years; and, in the month of June, 1552, died at Croydon, in Surrey, in the church of which place his remains were interred.


Barclay had the reputation, among his contemporaries, of being a man of rare wit and learning; and the numerous editions of his works, which have been
since called for, is a proof that his merits were not merely of a temporary description. Mr. Warton,
[note] who in his History of English Poetry has given a full account of Barclay's writings, observes: “All antient satirical writings, even those of an inferior cast, have their merit, and deserve attention, as they transmit pictures of familiar manners, and preserve popular customs. In this light, at least, Barclay's “Ship of Fools,” which is a general satire on the times, will be found entertaining. Nor most it be denied, that his language is more cultivated than that of many of his contemporaries, and that he has contributed his share to the improvement of the English phraseology.”—If this be not to “damn with faint praises” it is something very like it. “His share” is a very large share; larger, perhaps, than that of any other author of the same period. A few extracts, taken from the work at random, will convince any person of this, who is in the least versant with the writers of the beginning of the sixteenth century. It is impossible, indeed, to read some of the stanzas without surprize, at the ease and elegance of diction which they display.


In the introductory part, called “The clamour to the Fooles,” after noticing that the ship is full, and can hold no more, though “there is great number that fayne would aborde,” he says:

But I pray you, readers, have ye no disdayne,
Though Barclay have presumed of audacitie
This ship to rule as chiefe master and captayne,
Though some thinke themselves much worthier than he;
It were great marvell forsoth, sith he hath be
A scholer longe, and that in divers scholes,
But he might he captayne of a ship of fooles.
But if that any one be in such maner case,
That he will chalenge the mastership fro me,
Yet in my ship can I not want a place,
For in every place myselfe I ofte may see:
But this I leave, beseching eche degree
To pardon my youth and too bolde enterprise,
For hard is it duely to speake of every vice.
For if I had tonges an hundred, and wit to fele
All thinges naturall and supernaturall,
A thousand mouthes, and voyce as harde as stele,
And sene all the seven sciences liberall,
Yet coulde I never touche the vices all
And sin of the world, ne their braunches comprehende,
Not though I lived unto the worlde's ende.
But if these vices which mankinde doth incomber
Were cleane expelled, and vertue in their place,
I could not have gathered of fooles so great a number,
Whose folly from them outchaseth God's grace:
But every man that knowes himselfe in that case,
To this rude booke let him gladly intende,
And learn the way his lewdenes to amende.

The following stanzas on the mutability of fortune are of a still higher order of poetry:

We dayly prove, by example and evidence,
That many be made fooles, mad and ignorant,
By the brode worlde, putting trust and confidence
In fortune's wheele, unsure and unconstant;
Some assay the wheele, thinking it pleasaunt;
But, whyle they to climbe up have pleasure and desire,
Their feete them fayleth, so fall they in the mire.
Promote a yeoman, make him a gentleman,
Amd make a bayliffe of a butcher's sonne,
Make of a squire, knight, yet will they, yf they can,
Coveyt, in their minds, higher promotion;
And many in the world have this condition,
In hope of honour, by treason, to conspire,
But oft they slide, and so fall in the mire.
Suche looke so bye, that they forget their fate,
On fortune's wheel, which turneth as a ball,
They seeke degrees, for their small might unmeete,
Their foolish hearts, and, blind, see not their fall.
Some fooles purpose to have a rowme royall,
Or climbe, by fortune's wheele, to an empire,
The wheele then turneth, leaving them in the mire.
O blinde man say, what is thine intent,
To worldly honours so greatly to intende,
Or here to make thee hye, rich and excellent,
Share that, so shortly, thy life must have an ende:
None is so worthy, none can so high ascende,
For nought is so sure, if thou the truth enquire,
But that he may doubt to fall down to the mire.
There is no lorde, duke, king, nor other estate,
But dye they must, and from this world go;
All worldly thinges, which God hath here create,
Shall not aybide, but have an ende also.
What mortall man hath bene promoted so,
In worldly wealth or uncertayne dignitie,
That ever, of life, had houre of certaintie.
In stormy windes, lowest trees are most sure,
And houses surest which are not builded hye,
Whereas hye buildinges may no tempest endure,
Without they be founded sure and stedfastly:
So greatest men have most feare and jeopardie,
Better is povertie though it be hard to beare,
Then is a high degree in jeopardie and feare.
The hills are hye, the valleys are but lowe,
In valleys is corne, the hills are barrayne,
On highest places most gras doth not ay growe:
A mery thing is measure and easy to sustayne,
The hyest in great feare, the lowest live in payne.
Yet better lye on grounde, having no name at all,
Then hye on a cliffering, always to fall.

Nor is the comparative elegance of the style the sole merit of this curious work. Its satire is, generally, as just as it is poignant; and the purpose of the author appears uniformly to be, to do good by his exposures. The work, it is true, claims only to be a compound translation from the Latin, French, and Dutch; but it is a translation, made with great freedom, and enriched with considerable additions of Barclay's own. The ground-work of the translation was a book under the same title, written by Sebastian Brandt, [note] a German, better known as the reputed discoverer of phosphorus.


The “Ship of Fools” was first printed at London, by Richard Pynson, [note] in 1509, in small folio; again, in the same size, in 1519; and in quarto, in 1570. The
parent edition, which is adorned with a variety of curious wood cuts, bears a high price; no less than one hundred guineas, being about ten times more than any of the other old editions sell for. A copious description of it may be found in Dibdin's [note] edition of Ames, [note] vol. ii. p. 431.*


The “Eclogues” of Barclay are ranked, by Warton, as among the earliest pastoral productions in the

* In Messrs. Longman and Co's. Bib. Ang. Poet. [note] the mention of the Ship of Fools is very ingenuously accompanied with the following quotation from the work, which hits with some smartness the folly which confers such an inordinate value on works, merely on account of their antiquity, and not of what they contain.
That in this shyp, the chief place I gouerne,
By this wide sea, with foles wanderinge.
The cause is playne and easy to dyscerne,
Styll am I besy bok assemblynge,
For to have plenty it is a pleasant thynge,
In my conceyt, and to have them ay in hande,
But what they mene do I not understande.
But yet I have them in great reverence
And honoure, savynge them from filth and ordure,
By often brushynge, and moche diligence;
Full goodly bounde in pleasant couverture
Of damas, satyn, or els of velvet pure,
I kepe them sure, feryng lest they shoulde be lost,
For in them is the cunnynge wherein I me boast.
A. S.
English language. They were also translations, freely made; five of them from Mantuanus,
[note] and three from Eneas Silvius. [note]


The “Castle of Labour” was another work, by Barclay, translated from the French; the purpose of which is to shew—

“That Idleness, mother of all adversity,
Her subjects bringeth to extreme poverty.”

At the request of Sir Giles Alyngton, Barclay also translated, from the Latin of Dominicke Mancini, [note] “The Mirrour of Good Manners,” which he styles “a Right Fruitful Treatise” on the four cardinal virtues.


The Duke of Norfolk, another of Barclay's patrons, employed him to make a translation of Sallust's [note] Jugurthine War, which he executed, not only with accuracy, but with considerable elegance.


Barclay was also the author of several “Lives of Saints;” a book, entitled “The figure of our Mother Holy Church oppressed by the French King;” and a Treatise against Skelton, the Poet Laureate, a great enemy to the priesthood, a circumstance which is supposed to have turned his brother satirist's pen against him.*

T. B.

* In consequence of a satire, which Skelton [note] wrote against the “cankered Cardinal Wolsey,” [note] he was obliged to take refuge, from his vengeance, in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. It was a spirited reprobation of the barons of England for their mean compliances with the arrogance of that haughty prelate; and does a degree of honor to the courage of the poet, which the sa-

tire of even so able a writer as Barclay cannot diminish. A few lines will shew the nerve with which it was written.
Our barons are so bold,
Into a mouse-hole, they wold
Run away and creep;
Like as many of sheep;
Dare not look not a door,
For dread of the maistiff cur,
For dread of the butcher's dog,
Would worry them like a hog.
*     *     *     *     *
For all their noble blood,
He plucks them by the hood,
And shakes them by the ear,
And brings them in such fear,
He baiteth them like a bear.
*     *     *     *     *
And, beneath him, they're so stout,
That no man of them dare rout,
Duke, earl, baron, nor lord,
But to his sentence must accord;
Whether he be knight or squire,
All must follow his desire.
A. S.