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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 1 - The Scholar and the Author - Part 1


Justice to Ireland and her Monks—John Duns—The Scotists and the Thomists—Hector Boece and the Fabulous Histories—Buchanan---Thomas Dempster—Specimens of the Ardent Nationality of Scots Authors—The effect of this on Scotland’s position in History—John Knox and his Followers—The Writers on the other side—Ecclesiastical Squabbles—A Ramble among Miscellaneous Authors—Scotsmen in Foreign Universities Jurists Medical Men—The Aberdeen School.

A common mistake, against which Ireland protests with justice, but not always with success, induces me, before entering on the history of the Scots who distinguished themselves abroad, to give some preliminary explanations. In the earlier centuries of our era, every Scot or Scotus whom we meet with, either in political or literary history, was an Irishman. For some time the term included both Irishmen and natives of North Britain, but it was not probably until the thirteenth century that the word Scot or Scotsman was exclusively used in its present sense. There are reasons for this as for all other such phenomena, and when dug up and examined, they present themselves in the shape of causes naturally adapted to produce such effects.

It is well known that the inhabitants of the south-western Highlands are of Irish descent. It was in the year 502 that a chief or prince called Fergus Mor Mac Earca, at the head of a band of followers, emigrated from the district in northern Ireland, generally spoken of as the Irish Dalriada. The Venerable Bede, striking the key-note to the tone in which his countrymen afterwards spoke of "the mere Irish," called these emigrants "impudent Irish vagabonds;" at least his expression may admit of a more opprobrious, but it cannot of a milder interpretation. They founded in Argyleshire a colony, which, as it expanded, took the permanent name of Dalriada. It happened that about fifty years after this migration, at a great public meeting of princes, ecclesiastical dignitaries, great bards, and other eminencies of various kinds, the Abbot of Burrow attended, bringing with him his friend and connection, a son of Aodh, King of Connaught. There was a "difficulty" at the time between Aodh and Bermot M’Kerval, lord of the southern Hy Nial, who was at that time the Ardriagh, or President of the Kings of Ireland. The Abbot of Burrow expected that his sanctity would prove a protection to his young friend, even among these enemies; but it did not, and the son of Aodh was put to death. This, of course, cried for vengeance, and the King of Connaught, bringing a host against the Ardriagh, defeated him at the battle of Culdruihm.

The Ardriagh, in his wrath at the Abbot of Burrow for the share he took in this punishment, got him excommunicated by the clergy of the district, and managed to make Ireland too hot for him. Now this affair became of mighty importance, in as far as the Abbot of Burrow was no other than Columba, the founder of lona, the converter of the Picts, and the apostle of the north. It was the wrath of the Ardriagh that drove him to his mission and his subsequent triumphs. He got lona from his relation the chief of the Dalriads of Scotland, and there founded the seat of learning and piety that became so renowned. The Dalriads, though a small colony, had the advantage from the beginning that they were Christians, and in some respects civilised, in the midst of a people who, as heathens and barbarians, were vastly their inferiors. They now had the advantage of being the centre whence Christianity spread over North Britain. New immigrants joined them, and they became a great Celtic race; it is easy to realise the importance of that state which had lona for its ecclesiastical capital.

There was never any nearer approach to a monarch of all Ireland than the Ardriagh, whose superiority over the others was of a very limited and fugitive kind. The country was divided into a number of monarchies or chiefships, ever shifting in extent and power, and perpetually quarrelling with each other. The Dalriada on this side of the water, sometimes called Alba, appears to have become more powerful than any one of them, and to have exercised a high influence in Ireland; and its king at last became so powerful and ambitious, that he formed the design of subduing the petty kings of Ireland, and ruling there supreme. When the term Scot was used for an Irishman, it was extended to Dalriada, and there came thus to be Albathan Scots as well as the Hibernian. We thus have the term legitimately transferred to Scotland, and no more was necessary but accident and custom to make it in the course of ages lose its original hold and take its place there.

There are persons who have heard of Lord Moira the general, and Lord Moira the statesman, who are yet utterly ignorant of the battle of Moyra or Magrath, as it was spelt of old, fought in the district which holds this title in the year 637. It was to Ireland what Bannockburn was to Scotland—the defeat of a powerful invader. The invader was Eochaidh Buidhe, King of Alba, or the Scots Dalriada, who brought with him a vast host, not only of his own Celtic people, but of Picts and Saxons over whom his influence extended. The battle went on, it is said, for seven days, and in the end the invaders were defeated. This was one of the great historical battles for centuries afterwards, but the English invasions blotted out its significance in Irish history. It was important enough, however, to be celebrated in a great epic poem, which has lately come to light under the auspices of the Irish Archeological Society.

This affair is referred to here merely to render distinct how part of Scotland was virtually a very eminent and influential portion of the Irish community of nations, so that it is by no means wonderful that a term applied to the people of the one should travel to those of the other. So long did the term Scot remain common to both countries, that in the Chronicle of Marianus Scotus, who died immediately before the beginning of the year 1100, when he speaks of himself—mentioning, for instance, that he had to leave his native country on account of religious troubles—he leaves it doubtful whether that country is Ireland or Scotland. There is a page in his Chronicle in which he refers to several Scots. There was Helias the Scot, who died on the 2d of the ides of April, in the year 1042. Next year there was Annuchudus, a monk of Fulda, over whose grave, where a lamp burned, he, Marianus, a Scot, himself a monk in the same monastery, had day by day, for ten years, taken his part in the performance of mass. In the same page is told an event to which literature has given a grander significance than it could have had in history—the death of Duncan, and the accession of Macbeth, and the place where this occurred is called Scotia.

Since, then, Ireland and the western Highlands were inhabited by the same people, known by the same name, why count every distinguished Scot down to the eleventh century as an Irishman? Giving justice, and nothing but justice, to Ireland, should not the Highlands have their share? In lona the Albanian branch of the Scots were rearing an institution as great as the most illustrious of the native monastic colleges, and likely to compete with them as a centre for the radiation of religion and civilisation over the world. The light in Albania, however, was extinguished. Just when Ireland was distributing her most illustrious missionaries over the continent, the Northmen had completed the subjugation of the Albanian Scot; and all but suppressed, if they did not entirely suppress, Christianity among the people. Albania became a Norse kingdom in which the Celts were serfs. We are thus saved the trouble of dividing the great names with an equitable appropriation. Ireland kept them all until the inhabitants of the Scotland of later times made a world of enterprise and fame for themselves.

Probably from its utter antithesis to modern practical associations, one of the most picturesque chapters in the history of the world is that of Christianity and Roman civilisation finding a refuge at the back of the world as it were, during the convulsions which followed the breaking-up of the Empire, and then coming forth to enlighten continental Europe. From this illustrious position have fallen the family of our poor relations to what they now are,—our burden and dragdom, which we speak of as infesting us with poverty, crime, and all kinds of degradation. It is difficult to realise the typical Irish immigrant, with his sinister animal features, and his clothing a thatch of glutinous rags, as the lineal representative of the stately scholar who went forth from the lettered seclusion of his monastic college to carry the light of its learning and the authority of the Church into a barbarous world.

There is more chance of the Highlands having been the birthplace of any of the very earliest distinguished Scots than of those subsequent to the Norse invasions. Adamnan, for instance, the biographer of Columba, and the author of a curious account of the Holy Land, a man of the seventh century, might, from the ordinary features of his life, have been born near Iona, had it not been shown by that inexorable scholar Dr Reeves that he was born in Ireland, and was the son of Ronan, a chief or prince occupying the territory of Tirhugh, in Donegal, whose pedigree can be traced step by step to the royal family of Nial.

The great historian Marianus, already referred to, was undoubtedly an Irishman. Sedulius, the poet, always spoken of as a Scot, was, I doubt not, also an Irishman. He is a person of considerable mark in literature as the author of the earliest hymn-book, and the founder of the peculiar kind of latinity of the choral worship of the Roman Church, though he did not depart quite so far from classical models. It is necessary also to surrender to Ireland the fame of John Scotus, or Erigena, the eminent divine of the ninth century, whose fame reached a high point of eminence in heterodoxy, when, in the middle of the eleventh century, his treatise on the Eucharist was condemned to the fire by the council of Rome. We may also abandon the illustrious geometrician John Rolybush, or Joannes de Sacrobosco, leaving England and Ireland to fight, as they have done, for the possession of his birthplace.

Other celebrated missionary monks, as St Kilian of Wurzburg, and St Gall of that ilk, are identified as sons of Erin. So was the elder Marianus, who founded the great Monastery of St James, at Ratisbon, which has left us those fine specimens of Norman stone-work, in the Kirche des Schotten - Kiosters. From this great establishment ramified a whole network of others, filled with zealous Irish anchorites. The fact is, that those of the monk and eremite were not ways of life in which the Lowland Scot, given more to practice than to dreaming, excelled, and the preponderance of monachism lay decidedly with Ireland, whose race it seems to have suited. Yet the establishment of Ratisbon became afterwards appropriated to British Scotland. It went over just as the name did. The niceties of the etymological process which brought it home to Ireland were too much for the Germans. The Scots built it, and the Scots should have it, and who could be counted Scots save the inhabitants of Scotland? These naturally of course acquiesced in so beneficial a conclusion. But there was not the slightest tinge of duplicity in their doing so. From the fifteenth century down to the other day, every Scotsman devoutly believed that the whole fabric of renown raised by the Scots of Ireland belonged to his own nation; and not only was there no question about the matter among themselves, but it would have been dangerous for any other person to express a doubt of it.

When we come to proved facts, however, it becomes needless to seek for Scotsmen, in the common sense of the term, seeking and obtaining eminence abroad until the period of that unhappy struggle which destroyed their home. Thus we are ever, as the leading influence of all the specialties of the career of our countrymen, led back to the old story of the determination of the Norman kings of England to take Scotland, and the still more absolute determination of the people that their country should not be taken. Among a people never allowed any rest from the contest for bare existence, there was neither time nor opportunity to cultivate the soil on which literature and art would grow; and those who desired those conditions of wealth and security essential to the development and maturity of their studies, had to go elsewhere.

Having cheerfully resigned Scot Erigena to Ireland, I stand up for the retention of a more illustrious name, sometimes confounded with his, John Duns Scotus. Early Continental writers seem never to have doubted his Scottish origin; and Rabelais, to clench one of those monstrous propositions which make one wonder how he escaped the stake, says in profane scorn: "Et celle est l'opinion de Maistre Jehan d’Ecosse." Moreri assigns him to us with a brief distinctness, which leaves nothing to be doubted: "Dit Scot," says this impartial judge of international claims, "payee qu’il etait natif d’Ecosse." Nor is the wide grasp of his capacities less emphatically attested by him who undertook to measure all human merits, and give to each illustrious name its proper meed of fame: "Avoit un marveilleuse facilité a comprendre toutes choses," is his character of Duns Scotus.

The great intellectual gladiators of the day received names descriptive of their predominating characteristics, just as favourites of the ring have been designated at the present day. If it were right to apply such a term to expressions which formed the watchword of literary hosts in the great intellectual contests of the middle ages, they might, for the sake of brevity, be called nicknames. There was the Seraphic doctor, the Divine doctor, the Acute doctor, the Most Orderly doctor, the Irrefragable doctor, the Solemn doctor, and the Solid doctor. According to Moreri, Dune monopolised two characteristics. He was the Subtle doctor, in honour of his acuteness in dealing with metaphysical subtleties; and he was the doctor tres resolutif, from the hardihood with which he advanced bold and original opinions, and resolved them without the aid of authority, and independently of the established methods of reasoning.

We may laugh as we will at these schoolmen and their systems. We may admit, if you please, the sarcastic etymology which derives the English word dunce from the fellow-countryman of whom we are now speaking. But those who led the intellect of mankind for centuries were great among men— overtopping the wide mob of their brethren in intellectual stature. We have no absolute criterion of greatness among us—we can but be measured by our relation to each other. There may be some abstract standard, comprehensible to us when we have shaken off this mortal coil, by which Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Aristotle, and Shakespeare, shall appear very small men; but in this parochial world of ours they are great by comparative eminence.

Had it been the lot of us of the present day to have lived as highly educated men of the fifteenth century, we would have seen two great names looming large in their distant altitude—Thomas Aquinas, the leader of the Thomists, and John Duns Scotus, the leader of the Scotists—and would have been obliged to enrol ourselves with the one or the other; for that man was, in the intellectual wars, a mere straggler, a poor wanderer, unprotected by a leader, and unowned by fellow - combatants, who did not fight beneath the banner of one or other of these illustrious leaders. If we drag down from their eminence, as great in their day and place, all those whose thoughts and actions do not concur with our own views of what is good and true, we shall soon empty the biographical dictionaries. It is the smallest of pedantries to deny the strength and capacity of the conspicuous men of other times or places, because there is something we know that they did not know. To detract from the lustre of Aquinas and Scotus because they were not acquainted with the electric telegraph and photography, were unconscious of statistics, and never thought of the difference between a metallic and a paper currency, is about as rational as to deny the generalship of Hannibal or Caesar, because they had no Congreve rockets or Shrapnel shells.

But it is not fair to consider the mental influence of the great rivals as a thing utterly departed, and belonging only to the history of dead controversies. In some shape or other, Nominalism and Realism still divide between them the empire of thought. They go to the root of the German division into subjective and objective elements. It is true that the ‘In quatuor Sententiaruni libros Questiones subtilissimie’ are not to be found in every circulating library, and are not so extensively read as the latest productions of the prevailing popular divine. But they are perused by those who teach the teachers of the people; and from his inner judgment-seat Duns Scotus still holds sway over the intellect of men, even in this active, conceited, and adventurous age. Could it be maintained that no one opinion promulgated by him is now believed, yet his thoughts are the stages by which we have reached our present position. He who ruled one-half of the intellectual world for centuries, necessarily gave their shape and consistency, not only to the views of those who implicitly followed him, but to those of the later thinkers who superseded him; for there is nothing that more eminently moulds the character of opinions, than the nature of those which they supersede.

But, unfortunately, we are not, in this nineteenth century, beyond the practical grasp of the great schoolman’s intellectual tyranny. The question of the Immaculate Conception has just resounded again throughout Roman Catholic Europe; and those conclusions have been again triumphantly asserted, which, in the year 1307, were triumphantly carried by Duns Scotus in the University of Paris. He demolished, on that occasion, two hundred of the knottiest syllogisms of his adversaries, resolving them, as a bystander said, as easily as Samson unloosed the bands of Delilah. His proposition was made a fundamental law of the great university, and no man dared enter the door without acknowledging its truth. This is getting on delicate ground. One would find his steps still more perilously placed were he to trace other great theological questions in the writings of Duns Scotus. It is sufficient to say, that in questions of liberty and necessity—of election and reprobation—.controversialists of the present day may there find controversial weapons; and in so elementary a work as Sir James Mackintosh’s ‘Dissertation on the History of Ethical Philosophy,’ the opinions of the great Scottish school-man on these subjects are weighed and examined, not as curious relics of a dark age, but as the authorised enunciations of a master whose authority yet lives and influences the thoughts of men. And indeed, on such matters, who can say that we have made progress, and have passed beyond the range of the schoolmen, as the chemists have passed beyond that of the alchemists?

A reputation such as this man’s is not a trifle to be thrown away. There has been no country too great to have proudly recorded such a name in the list of her sons. He began the series of learned Scotsmen who became eminent abroad. He studied at Oxford, while those events which alienated his countrymen from England were yet incomplete. He left Oxford in 1307—just after Bruce had raised the standard. He went to the University of Paris, the chief school where aspiring Scotsmen were thence-forward to seek scholarship and fame. After a short and brilliant career as a lecturer there, he was directed by his superior—he belonged to the Franciscan order—to found the University of Cologne. There he soon afterwards died; and his tomb is still shown to the visitors of the ecclesiastical city. There is a legend—spoken of as if it were a malicious invention of his enemies—that he was buried alive; and that on his grave being subsequently opened, the traces were distinct of the desperate efforts which he had made to get out of his coffin.

It would be easy to set forth a long array of his countrymen—both among his pupils and his impugners—ranked, in short, on either side in the great mental war of the times, were one content with mere names without knowing any significant events or specialties of character by which they can be realised and identified. If we take all the eminences which our biographers have manufactured or have made prey of from other countries, we shall have all our own at least. M’Kenzie, in his ‘Lives and Characters of the most eminent Writers of the Scots Nation,’ gives a long account of John Bassol, a countryman of Duns’, and his favoured pupil. Such a person lived, was a pupil of Duns Scotus, wrote commentaries on the ‘Sentences,’ and earned for himself the title of Doctor Ordonatissimus; but I am aware of no evidence that he was a Scotsman. The most celebrated of the immediate pupils of Duns Scotus, if those may be called pupils who in some measure controverted the doctrines of their master, were Ocean and Bradwardine, both Englishmen. One Scotsman at least, however, became distinguished in Paris as a scholastic writer,—John Mair, or Major, chiefly known as the author of a history of Great Britain, but who also wrote on the ‘Sentences.’ He was a doctor of the Sorbonne, and his style has been sarcastically spoken of as Sorbonnic. Buchanan stands under the accusation of having been educated and fed by his bounty, and of having, when he became illustrious, satirised his benefactor as one whose greatness was nowhere but in his name, Solo cognomine Major. The expression of apparent contempt, however, is of Major’s own selecting; he employs it as a jest which may be safely uttered of himself by one whose fame was so secure as his. And indeed a general notion that all who wrote on scholastic divinity were to be deemed foolish men, could alone have brought people to look on such an author with feelings other than respectful. His small history is full of very valuable matter. He was a bold thinker on subjects both political and ecclesiastical, and from the Sorbonne he wrote in favour of the limitation of the papal power.

This book is a history not of Scotland alone, but of Britain, including England and Scotland. As the author requires to give a distinct narrative of the history of each, he goes on, period after period, conceding with a becoming courtesy at each change the precedence to England as the stranger. An English writer of the same period professing to tell the history of Britain, would have given its tone from England, making the affairs of Scotland a sort of provincial matter, even if he did not insist on the feudal superiority. Mair, speaking from the smaller country, could not take this tone, but he is true to his nationality in giving more of the emphasis and bearing of his narrative to Scotland than to England. So it was that the decorous schoolman, trained in the formal ways of the brethren of the Sorbonne, showed his nationality in a less obtrusive way than some others of his countrymen whom we shall presently make acquaintance with.


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