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Significant Scots
David Wedderburn


WEDDERBURN, DAVID, a poet of considerable eminence, was born probably about the year 1570. Neither the place of his birth nor his parentage has been ascertained. Of the latter all that is known is that his mother was buried in St Nicholas church at Aberdeen in 1635. [Kirk and Bridge Work Accounts of Aberdeen, 1634-1635.] It is highly probable from various circumstances that Wedderburn was educated in the city just named, and that he studied either in King’s, or in the newer institution, Marischal college.

In 1602, a vacancy occurred in the grammar-school of Aberdeen, by the death of Thomas Cargill, a grammarian of great reputation, and author of a treatise on the Gowrie conspiracy, now apparently lost. After an examination which lasted four days and extended to "oratorie, poesie, and compositioun in prois and verss," Wedderburn and Mr Thomas Reid, afterwards the well-known Latin secretary to James VI., were appointed "co-equall and conjunct masters" of the institution, with salaries of 40 yearly, and the quarterly fees of the scholars limited to ten shillings. They were inducted into this office by "delivery to thame of ane grammar buke." [Council Register of Aberdeen, xi. 409, 410.] Early in 1603, Wedderburn appeared before the town council, and stated, that being "urgit and burdenit be the lait provinciall assemblie of ministers, hauldin at this burghe, to accept upon him the function of ane minister of Goddis word, he wes resolvit to enter in the said function and obey God, calling him thairto be the said assemblie, and to leave and desert the said schooll," and concluded by craving leave to demit his office. This the council granted, and accompanied it with a testimonial of his faithful discharge of his duty; but, from what cause is now unknown, Wedderburn in the same year resumed his office. Before he had retained it twelve months, a complaint was lodged against him for making exorbitant claims on the scholars for fees, charity on Sundays, "candle and bent siller." These exactions were repressed by the magistrates, and in 1619, the quarterly fees were advanced from ten shillings to thirteen shillings and fourpence. Several years before this, in 1612, his scholars distinguished themselves by an act of mutiny of the boldest nature. In conjunction with the other scholars of the town, they took possession of the Song or Music school, and fortified themselves within it. Being armed with guns, hagbuts, and pistols, they boldly sallied forth as occasion required, and, attacking the houses of the citizens, broke open the doors and windows, "and maisterfullie away took their foullis, pultrie, breid, and vivaris." They also intercepted the supplies of fuel and provisions intended for the city markets, and continued in this state of open insurrection for two days, when they submitted to the authority of the magistrates, who punished the ringleaders by imprisonment, and banished twenty-one of their associates from all the city schools. [Council Register of Aberdeen, xiv. 858.]

In 1614, on the death of Gilbert Gray, principal of Marieshal college, Wedderburn was appointed to teach "the high class" of the university, probably meaning the class then usually taught by the principal. In 1617, appeared the first of his publications, two poems on the king’s visit to Scotland in that year, the one entitled, "Syneuphranterion in reditu Regis in Scotiam, 1617," and the other "Propempticon Caritatum Abredonensium." Both these poems (along with five others by the author,) were reprinted in the " Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum," and the last of these, composed at the request of the magistrates, procured him a donation of fifty merks. In 1619, he was appointed to teach a lesson in humanity once a-week to the students of Marischal college, from such authors as the magistrates might select, and also to compose in Latin, both in prose and verse, an essay on the common affairs of the city. For this he was to receive a salary of eighty merks per annum. In 1625, he wrote a poem on the death of James VI., which was printed at Aberdeen by Edward Raban, under the title of "Abredonia Atrata sub Obitum Serenissimi et Potentissimi Monarchae Jacobi VI., Abredoniae, 1625," 4to, pp. 12. This was dedicated "Ad Amplissimos Curiae Abredonensis Primatus," and is now so rare as to be priced at two guineas. In 1630, he completed the writing of a new grammar for the use of his pupils, and received from the magistrates a reward of 100 Scots. It was found, however, that this work could "neither be prentit nor publisht for the use of young schollaris, whome the same concernis, unto the tyme the same resaive approbatioune frome the lordis of counsall." In consequence of this, the magistrates "thocht meit and expede, that the said Mr David address himself with the said wark to Edinburgh, in all convenient diligence, for procuring the saidis lordis thair approbatioun thairto, and ordanis the soume of ane hundreth pundis moe to be debursit to him be the tounis thesaurar for making of his expenss in the sudeward." [Council Register, vol. 52. p. 8.] It is unknown whether Wedderburn succeeded in procuring the license of the privy council; but if published no copy of this "gramer newly reformed" seems to have been preserved. In 1635, Wedderburn lost a friend and patron in the learned Patrick Forbes of Corse, bishop of Aberdeen; and among the many distinguished contributors to that prelate’s "Funerals" we find the name of "David Wedderburnus Latinae Scholae in Urbe Nova Abredoniae Praefectus." In 1640, he was so borne down by bodily infirmity that he was allowed to retire from the rectorship of the grammar-school on a pension of two hundred merks annually. The succeeding year he was called on to mourn the death of the celebrated Arthur Johnston, with whom he had lived in the closest friendship. One of the most beautiful of Johnston’s minor poems was addressed "Ad Davidam Wedderburnum, amicum veterem," and drew forth a reply from Wedderburn of equal elegance.

On the death of this valued friend, Wedderburn published six elegies, under the title of "Sub obitum viri clarissimi et carissimi D. Arcturi Jonstoni, Medici Regli, Davidis Wedderburni Suspiria-Abredoniae, 1641." This tract has since been reprinted by Lauder in his "Poetarum Scotorum Musae Sacrae," Edinburgh, 1731. Two years after the publication of his "Suspiria" he published, at Aberdeen, "Meditationum Campestrium, seu Epigrammatum Moralium, Centuriae duae," and in the following year, 1644, appeared "Centuria tertia." Both these works are from the press of Edward Raban, and are of great rarity. It is probable that they were the last compositions of their author which were printed in his lifetime, if we except some commendatory verses to a treatise "De Arte conservando sanitatem," published at Aberdeen in 1651. Though the precise year of Wedderburn’s death has escaped our researches, it may be fixed within a few years from this last date. In 1664, his brother, Alexander, gave to the world "Persius Enucleatus, sive Commentarius exactissimus et maxime perspicuus in Persium, Poetarum omnium difficillimum, studio Davidis Wedderburni, Scoti Abredonensis—opus Posthumum; Amstelodami," 12mo. Besides the works now enumerated, Wedderburn was the author of a great number of commendatory poems and elegiac verses. His learning has been celebrated by Vossius, who styles him "homo eruditissimus beneque promovens de studiis juventutis." His reputation is attested by the terms on which he lived with many of the most eminent persons of his time. His intimacy with Arthur Johnston and, bishop Patrick Forbes, has been already mentioned; the well known secretary Reid was his coadjutor; and he counted among his friends Jameson the painter, William Forbes, bishop of Edinburgh, Gilbertus Jacobaeus, Duncan Liddel, baron Dun, Ramsay, Ross, and many other illustrious individuals. His poems show in every line an intimate acquaintance with the classic writers, and are filled with happy allusions to ancient history and fable. His verses, indeed, are more to be admired for their learning than for their feeling; he has nowhere succeeded in reaching the highest flights of poetry, and has frequently sunk into common-place and bathos. But it is impossible to withhold admiration from the ease and elegance of his latinity, the epigrammatic vivacity of his style, or the riches of classical lore with which he has adorned his pages.


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