Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

*    *    *    *    *

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



Mark Alexander Boyd, [note] an author of considerable note among the Scottish Latin poets of the sixteenth century, was the son of Robert Boyd, of Pinkill, in Ayrshire. He was born on the 13th of January, 1562, and is said to have come with teeth into the world. While yet a child, he lost his father, and came under the care of his uncle, James Boyd, Archbishop of Glasgow. As he grew up in years, he evinced a great aversion to study, and a disposition, restless, fiery, and ungovernable. Quarrelling with his preceptors, he eloped to Edinburgh, in the hope of pushing his way at court, by the force of natural talent alone; but it was not long till he discovered, that fate had made no exception in his favor, from the general necessity of toiling up the steeps of fame. All that he acquired in this stage of his progress, was the blockhead reputation of having fought one duel, and been the hero of numberless broils. Still, however, averse to books, he resolved to follow the profession of arms; and, furnished with a small stock of money, went over to France, with the intention of entering into the service of that country. Shortly after his arrival, he lost all his money at dice; and it would seem, that, with that, his military passion also passed away for the time.


His misfortunes at time gaming table brought on a
fit of reflection, which gave birth to a very wise resolution, of resuming those studies which, in his younger years, he had so foolishly forsaken and despised. At Paris, he studied philosophy with Amboise; eloquence, with Passerat;
[note] and the languages, with Genebrard. [note] Afterwards, he went to the university of Orleans, where Robertus initiated him into the principles of the civil law; but in a short time, he deserted Robertus for his rival, Cujacius, [note] of Bourges, the most celebrated civilian of his time. With Cujacius, Boyd contrived to get into high favor. The old professor had an exceeding admiration for time obsolete style of Ennius, [note] and other Roman poets of the same æra; and Boyd, as a tribute of respect to this good taste, wrote some pieces in imitation of Ennius, which induced Cujacius to pronounce that he was formed by nature for this very species of writing; that is, formed by nature to write in a language and style which were a thousand years dead and gone. Let us hope, that the worthy professor did not, amidst this flow of commendation, forget the means by which old Ennius was inspired to write as he did.

Ennius, ipse pater, nunquam, nisi potus ad arma
Prosiluit dicenda.
Inspir'd with wine old Ennius song, and thought
With the same spirit that his heroes fought.

To a young, and certainly not a wealthy student, a bottle of the professor's Falernian would have been an agreeable compensation for the false direction which his praises served to give to his genius.


Bourges being visited by the plague, Boyd took refuge at Lyons, and the same calamity having followed him thither, he afterwards fled to Italy. He formed here a familiar acquaintance with one Cornelius Varus, a Florentine; to whom, as he used often to declare, he was more indebted in his literary pursuits than to any other person in the world. If extravagant flattery could be admitted to form part of the character of a useful Mentor, there would be no doubt of Varus's claim to the title. In some verses of his which are extant, he asserts, that his friend Boyd surpassed Buchanan, and all other British poets, in a greater degree than Virgil [note] surpassed Lucretius, [note] Catullus, [note] and all other Roman poets! A fit of the ague compelled Boyd, after a short time, to bid adieu to Italy and his Varus, and to return to Lyons.


The civil war breaking out in France, revived in the breast of Boyd, that military ardour which had brought him to the continent, but had till now been suffered to remain dormant. He joined the army which came from Germany to the assistance of the Bourbons, but it was unfortunately destroyed before he had an opportunity of gathering a single laurel. A shot in the ankle, obtained in some bush fighting with the peasantry, was the only mark which he retained of perils past.


Boyd now retired to Thouloose, and resumed the study of the civil law. The faction of the League, however, soon after obtained possession of this place; and Boyd, for his short campaign in the royal cause, was thrown into prison. Through the interposition of some learned friends, he was soon released; went to
Bourdeaux, which he did not like; removed to Rochelle, which be liked worse; and, finally, settled in an agreeable rural retreat on the borders of Poictou, where he gave up his chief attention to the study of polite literature.


Remembrances of home would, however, often intrude on this retirement; and, at length, produced a resolution of returning to Scotland. He arrived there in safety, but did not long survive his return, dying of a slow fever in April, 1601, at Pinkill, the family seat, in the 39th year of his age.


The merits of Boyd are thus depicted by a contemporary, whose manuscript fell into the hands of Sir Robert Sibbald. [note] “In his person, he was tall and well proportioned; he had a handsome, sprightly, and engaging countenance, and in his discourse, aspect, voice, and gesture, there was something singularly noble. He was polite, pleasant, acute, courteous, a ready speaker, and entirely free from envy and avarice. He could easily bear with the boasting of the ignorant, but he disliked the coarse and abusive manner of writing which prevailed among the learned of his time. He thought it unworthy of a Christian, in a literary contest, to throw out any thing which should hurt the reputation of an adversary. In injuries of an atrocious nature, he chose to do himself justice by having recourse to the laws of arms. Among the antients, Xenophon [note] was his favourite as a philosopher, Cæsar [note] as an historian, and Virgil [note] as a poet. So admirably was he skilled in the Greek language, that he could write, dictate, and converse in it, with copiousness and elegance. He despised the centos then much in vogue, and said,
that the authors of them, however learned, were dull and ignorant men. To an excellent genius, he joined a happy memory and an admirable judgement. So lively and extensive were his abilities, that he could dictate to three scribes in as many different languages and upon different subjects. Besides his Epistles, after the manner of Ovid, [note] and his Hymns, he wrote a variety of Latin poems that never saw the light. He was the author of notes upon Pliny, [note] and published an excellent little book, addressed to Lipsius, [note] in defence of Cardinal Bembo [note] and antient eloquence. He translated, likewise, Cæsar's Commentaries into Greek, in the style of Herodotus, [note] but would not permit his translation to be made public. He afterwards applied to the cultivation of poetry in his native language, and attained to such excellence in it, that he deserved to be placed on a level with Petrarch [note] and Ronsard. [note] In all his compositions, he displayed more genius than labour. So great were the elevation of his mind and strength of his ambition, that he always aimed at greater things than he could attain, and hence he neglected several opportunities of being advantageously settled, and led a wandering kind of life abroad during fourteen years.”


There is a good deal of the Varus in this account; but making every allowance for the partiality of friendship, we must still recognize in it many admirable traits of character, combined, however, with habits which furnish some reason to Pinkerton [note] for saying, that Boyd was rather “a rambling literary charlatan, than a man of genius.” Among the manuscripts which he left behind him, the following came into Sir Richard Sibbald's [note] possession. “In Institu-
tiones Imperatoris Commenta,” 1591. “L' Etat du Royaunme d'Escosse à present.” “Politicus, ad Joannem Metellanum, Cancellarium Scotiæ.” “Scriptum de Juris Consulto, ad Franciscum Balduinum.” “Poëta ad Cornelium Varum, Florentinum.” “Poëmata Varia” and “Epistolæ.” The “Epistolæ” and the “Hymni,” (part of the “Poëmata Varia,” ) are inserted in the “Deliciæ Poëtarum Scotorum.” [note] Of his translation of Cæsar's Commentaries into Greek, and the poems in his native tongue, which are said to have placed him “on a level with Petrarch and Ronsard ,” there appears to be no trace. We probably suffer little from the want of the former; but it is a matter of real regret, that such reputed treasures as his Scottish poems should have been lost to the language. The “Excellent little book,” addressed to Lipsius [note] in defence of Bembo, [note] and antient eloquence, is not known among the bibliomaniacs of this country; but may very likely still slumber on the shelves of some continental libraries. Among the unpublished MSS., Dr. Leyden takes notice of one on plants, as “a work of considerable elegance and poetical merit, which deserves to be inserted in any future edition of the “Deliciæ Poëtarum Scotorum.” “This author,” he adds, “has combined the mythological history of plants with their description, but seldom alludes to their medical qualities. The titles of his poems are, 1. Rosa; 2. Viola; 3. Lilium; 4. Hyacinthns; 5. Papaver; 6. Petilius; 7. Nardus; 8. Thymbra; 9. Linum; 10. Calendula; 11. Iris; 12. Crocus.”

* Preface to “the Complaynt of Scotland.”

It may be proper to remark, that the title of “Hymni,” given by Boyd to one branch of his poems, does not imply, as it may seem to do, that they are of a devotional nature. They are on various subjects, and none of them devotional. One of them is addressed to Patrick Sharpe, [note] one of his old preceptors at Glasgow, and in terms of affection and gratitude, which form some atonement for the refractoriness of his youth.

Te duce, si primum Parnassi cornua vidi
Ac Aganippæ perfudi labra liquore,
Non tantum voces, non triti carmen amici,
Nec tenuem florem nee olentis brachia thymbra, et
Accipito, hanc animam, meque intra pictora conde.
A. B.