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Significant Scots
Archibald Bower


BOWER, ARCHIBALD, a learned person, but of dubious fame, was born on the 17th of January, 1686, near Dundee. He was a younger son of a respectable Catholic family, which, for several centuries, had possessed an estate in Forfarshire. In 1702, he was sent to the Scots College at Douay, where he studied for the church. At the end of the year 1706, having completed his first year of philosophy, he went to Rome, and there, December 9, was admitted into the order of Jesus. After his noviciate, he taught classical literature and philosophy, for two years, at Fano, and subsequently he spent three years at Fermo. In 1717, he was recalled to Rome, to study divinity in the Roman College. His last vows were made at Arezzo, in 1722.

Bower’s fame as a teacher was now, according to his own account, spread over all the Italian states, and he had many invitations to reside in different places, to none of which he acceded, till the College of Macerata chose him for their professor. He was now arrived at the mature age of forty; and it was not to have been expected that any sudden change, either in his religious sentiments or in his moral conduct, would take place after that period of life. Probably, however, Bower had never before this time been exposed to any temptation. Being now appointed confessor to the nunnery of St Catherine at Macerata, he is alleged to have commenced a criminal intercourse with a nun of the noble family of Buonacorsi. Alarmed, it is said, for the consequences of his imprudence, he determined upon flying from the dominions of the Pope; a step which involved the greatest danger, as he had previously become connected, in the capacity of counsellor, with the Holy Inquisition, which invariably punished apostasy with death. Bower’s own account of his flight sets forth conscientious scruples on the score of religion, as having alone urged him to take that step; but it is hardly credible that a man in his situation could expose his life to imminent danger from a sudden access of scrupulosity. The circumstances of his flight are given in the following terms by himself:

"To execute that design with some safety, I purposed to beg leave of the Inquisitor to visit the virgin at Loretto, but thirteen miles distant, and to pass a week there, but, in the meantime, to make the best of my way to the country of the Grisons, the nearest country to Macerata out of the reach of the Inquisition. Having, therefore, after many conflicts with myself, asked leave to visit the neighbouring sanctuary, and obtained it, I set out on horseback the very next morning, leaving, as I purposed to keep the horse, his full value with the owner. I took the road to Loretto, but turned out of it at a small distance from Recenati, after a most violent struggle with myself, the attempt appearing to me, at that juncture, quite desperate and impracticable; and the dreadful doom reserved for me, should I miscarry, presenting itself to my mind in the strongest light. But the reflection that I had it in my power to avoid being taken alive, and a persuasion that a man in my situation might lawfully avoid it, when every other means failed him, at the expense of his life, revived my staggering resolution; and all my fears ceasing at once, I steered my course to Calvi in the dukedom of Urbino, and from thence through the Romagna into the Bolognese, keeping the by-roads, and at a good distance from the cities of Fano, Pisaro, Rimini, Forli, Faenza, and Tivola, through which the high road passed. Thus I advanced very slowly, travelling, generally speaking, in very bad roads, and often in places where there was no road at all, to avoid, not only the cities and towns, but even the villages. In the meantime, I seldom had any other support than some coarse provisions, and a very small quantity even of them, that the poor shepherds and wood-cleavers could spare me. My horse fared not better than myself; but, in choosing my sleeping-place, I consulted his convenience as much as my own; passing the night where I found most shelter for myself, and most grass for him. In Italy there are very few solitary farm-houses or cottages, the country people there all living together in villages; and I thought it far safer to lie where I could be any way sheltered, than to venture into any of them. Thus I spent seventeen days before I got out of the ecclesiastical state; and I very narrowly escaped being taken or murdered on the very borders of that state. It happened thus:

"I had passed two whole days without any kind of subsistence whatever, meeting nobody in the by-roads that would supply me with any, and fearing to come near any house. As I was not far from the borders of the dominions of the Pope, I thought I should be able to hold out till I got into the Modenese, where I believed I should be in less danger than while I remained in the papal dominions; but finding myself, about noon of the third day, extremely weak and ready to faint, I came into the high road that leads from Bologna to Florence, at a few miles distance from the former city, and alighted at a post-house that stood quite by itself. Having asked the woman of the house whether she had any victuals ready, and being told that she had, I went to open the door of the only room in the house, (that being a place where gentlemen only stop to change horses,) and saw, to my great surprise, a placard pasted on it, with a most minute description of my whole person, and the promise of a reward of 800 crowns, about 200 English money, for delivering me up alive to the inquisition, being a fugitive from the holy tribunal, and 600 crowns for my head. By the same placard, all persons were forbidden, on pain of the greater excommunication, to receive, harbour, or entertain me, to conceal or to screen me, or to be any way aiding or assisting to me in making my escape. This greatly alarmed me, as the reader may well imagine; but I was still more affrighted when entering the room I saw two fellows drinking there, who, fixing their eyes upon me as soon as I came, continued looking at me very steadfastly. I strove, by wiping my face, by blowing my nose, by looking out at the window, to prevent their having a full view of me. But one of them saying, ‘The gentleman seems afraid to be seen,’ I put up my handkerchief, and turning to the fellow, said boldly, ‘What do you mean, you rascal? Look at me, I am not afraid to be seen.’ He said nothing, but, looking again stedfastly at me, and nodding his head, went out, and his companion immediately followed him. I watched them, and seeing them with two or three more in close conference, and no doubt consulting whether they should apprehend me or not, I walked that moment into the stable, mounted my horse unobserved by them; and, while they were deliberating in the orchard behind the house, rode off at full speed, and in a few hours got into the Modenese, where I refreshed, both with food and rest, as I was there in no immediate danger, my horse and myself. I was indeed surprised that those fellows did not pursue me; nor can I any other way account for it, but by supposing, what is not improbable, that, as they were strangers as well as myself and had all the appearance of banditti or ruffians flying out of the dominions of the pope, the woman of the house did not care to trust them with her horses."

Bower now directed his course through the cantons of Switzerland, and as some of these districts were Catholic, though not under the dominion of the inquisition he had occasionally to resume the mode of travelling above described, in order to avoid being taken. At length, May 1726, he reached the Scots College at Douay, where he threw himself upon the protection of the rector. According to his own narrative, which, however, has been contradicted in many points, he thus proved, that, though he had fled from the horrors of the holy tribunal, and had begun to entertain some doubts upon several parts of the Catholic doctrines, he was not disposed to abandon entirely the profession of faith in which he had been educated. He even describes a correspondence which he entered into with the superior of his order in France, who at length recommended him to make the best of his way to England, in order that he might get fairly beyond the reach of the inquisition. This he did under such circumstances of renewed danger, that he would have been detained at Calais, but for the kindness of an English nobleman, Lord Baltimore, who conveyed him over to Dover in his own yacht. He arrived at London in July or August 1726.

His first friend of any eminence in England was Dr Aspinwall, who, like himself, had formerly belonged to the order of Jesus. His conversations with this gentleman, and with the more celebrated Dr Clarke, and Berkeley bishop of Cloyne, produced, or appeared to produce, such a change in his religious sentiments, that he soon after abjured the Catholic faith. For six years, he continued a protestant, but of no denomination. At length he joined the communion of the church of England, which he professed to consider "as free in her service as any reformed church from the idolatrous practices and superstitions of popery, and less inclined, than many others, to fanaticism and enthusiasm." By his friends he was recommended to Lord Aylmer, who wanted a person to assist him in reading the classics. While thus employed, he conducted a review or magazine, which was started in 1730, under the title "Historia Literaria," and was finished in eight volumes, in 1734. Being little acquainted with the English tongue, he composed the early part of this work in Italian, and had it translated by an English student; but before the work was concluded, he had made himself sufficiently acquainted with English, to dispense with his translator. After its conclusion, he was engaged by the publishers of the Ancient Universal History, for which work he wrote during a space of nine years, contributing, in particular, the article Roman History. It is said that the early part of this production is drawn out to an undue length, considering that there were various other abridgments of that portion of the history of Rome; while the latter part, referring to the Eastern empire, though comparatively novel and valuable, was, from the large space already occupied, cut down into as many paragraphs as it ought to have occupied pages. The second edition of the Universal History was committed for revisal to Mr Bower’s care, and it is said that, though he received 300 from the publishers, he performed his task, involving though it did a very large commercial interest, in the most superficial and unsatisfactory manner. His writings had been so productive before the year 1740, that he then possessed 1100 in South Sea annuities. It is alleged that he now wished to be restored to the bosom of the church, in order that he might share in its bounty as a missionary. In order to conciliate its favour, and attest his sincerity, he is said to have offered to it, through father Shirburn, then provincial of England, the whole of his fortune on loan. The money was received on the conditions stipulated by himself, and was afterwards augmented to 1350, for which, in August 1743, a bond was given, allowing him an annuity equal to seven per cent, upon the principal. He is said to have been so far successful in his object that, in 1744 or 1745, he was re-admitted into, or rather reconciled to the order of Jesus— though it does not appear that he ever received the employment which he expected. In 1747, having been tempted by a considerable offer to write a history of the popes in a style agreeable to protestant feeling, he is alleged to have commenced a correspondence with father Shirburn for the purpose of getting back his money, lest, on breaking again with the church, the whole should be forfeited. He pretended that he had engaged in an illicit intercourse with a lady, to whom the money in reality belonged, and that, in order to disengage himself from a connection which lay heavily upon his conscience, he wished to refund the money. Accordingly, on the 20th of June, 1747, he received it back. If we are to believe himself, he did not lend the money to Shirburn, but to Mr Hill, a Jesuit, who transacted money affairs in his capacity as an attorney. He retracted it, he said, in order to be able to marry. The letters shown as having been written by him to father Shirburn, were, he said, forgeries prepared by catholics in order to destroy his popularity with the protestants. But the literary world has long settled the question against Bower. The letters were published in 1756, by his countryman Dr John Douglas, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, along with a commentary proving their authenticity. The replies of Bower, though ingenious, are by no means satisfactory, and it is obvious that the whole transaction proves him to have been a man who little regarded principle, when he had the prospect of improving his fortune.

The first volume of his History of the Popes, was published in 1748; and he was soon after, by the interest of Lord Lyttleton, appointed librarian to Queen Caroline. It must be remarked that this irreproachable nobleman remained the friend of Bower, while all the rest of the world turned their backs upon him; and it must be confessed, that such a fact is calculated to stagger the faith of many even in the acuteness of Bishop Douglas. On the 4th of August, 1749, when he had just turned the grand climacteric, he married a niece of Bishop Nicholson, with a fortune of 4000. In 1751, he published his second volume, and, in 1753, his third, which brought down the history to the death of Pope Stephen. This work, partly from the circumstances of the author, appears to have been received with great favour by the dissenters and more devout party of the church. Bower is alleged by his enemies to have kept up the interest of the publication, by stories of the danger in which he lay from the malignity of the Catholics, who, as he gave out, attempted on one occasion to carry him off by water from Greenwich. Lord Lyttleton, in April 1754, appointed him clerk of the buck warrants. It was in 1756, that his personal reputation received its first grand shock from the exposure of Dr Douglas, who next year published a second tract, as fully condemnatory of his literary character. This latter production, entitled, "Bower and Tillemont Compared," showed that a great part of his History of the Popes was nothing more than a translation of the French historian. He endeavourod to repel the attack in three laboured pamphlets; but Dr Douglas, in a reply, confirmed his original statements by unquestionable documents. Before the controversy ended, Bower had issued his fourth volume, and, in 1757, an abridgment of what was published appeared at Amsterdam. The fifth volume appeared in 1761, during which year he also published "Authentic Memoirs concerning the Portuguese Inquisition, in a series of letters to a friend," 8vo. The History of the Popes was finally completed in seven volumes; and on the 3rd of September, 1766, the author died at his house in Bond Street, in the eighty-first year of his age. [A letter written at the request of his widow to notify his death to his nephew in Scotland (which I have seen,) mentions that he bore a final illness in three weeks "in every way suitable to the character of a good Christian."] He was buried in Mary-le-bone church-yard, where there is a monument to him, bearing the following inscription:

"A man exemplary for every social virtue. Justly esteemed by all who knew him for his strict honesty and integrity. A faithful friend and a sincere Christian.

"False witnesses rose up against him, and laid to his charge things that he knew not; they imagined wickedness in their hearts and practised it: their delight is in lies: they conspired together, and laid their net to destroy him guiltless: the very abjects came together against him, they gaped upon him with their mouths, they sharpened their tongues like a serpent, working deceitfully they compassed him about with words of malice, and hated, and fought against him without a cause.

"He endured their reproach with fortitude, suffering wrongfully."

"Unhappy vanity!" exclaims Samuel Ayscough, who preserves the inscription, "thus endeavouring, as it were, to carry on the deception with God, which he was convicted of at the bar of literary justice: how much better would it have been to let his name sink in oblivion, than thus attempt to excite the pity of those only who are unacquainted with time history of his life; and, should it raise a desire in any person to inquire, it must turn their pity into contempt."

In Bower, we contemplate a man of considerable merit in a literary point of view, debased by the peculiar circumstances in which he entered the world. A traitor to his own original profession of faith, he never could become a good subject to any other, his subsequent life was that of an adventurer and a hypocrite; and such at length was the dilemma in which he involved himself by his unworthy practices, that, for the purpose of extricating himself, he was reduced to the awful expedient of denying upon oaths the genuineness of letters which were proved upon incontestible evidence to be his. Even, however, from the evil of such a life, much good may be extracted. The infamy in which his declining years were spent, must inform even those to whom good is not good alone for its own sake, that the straight paths of candour and honour are the only ways to happiness, and that money or respect, momentarily enjoyed at the expense of either, can produce no permanent or effectual benefit.


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