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Significant Scots
Mark Boyd


BOYD, MARK, an extraordinary genius, who assumed the additional name of ALEXANDER, from a desire of assimilating himself to the illustrious hero of Macedon, was a younger son of Robert Boyd of Pinkell in Ayrshire, who was great-grandson to Robert Boyd, great Chamberlain of Scotland. Mark Boyd was born on the 13th of January, 1562. His father having died while he was a child, he was educated under the care of his uncle, James Boyd of Trochrig, titular Archbishop of Glasgow. His headstrong temper showed itself in early youth, in quarrels with his instructors, and before he had finished his academical course, he left the care of his friends, and endeavoured to obtain some notice at court. It affords a dreadful picture of the character of Boyd, that, even in a scene ruled by such a spirit as Stuart, Earl of Arran, he was found too violent: one duel and numberless broils, in which he became engaged, rendered it necessary that he should try his fortune elsewhere. By the advice of his friends, who seem to have given up all hope of his coming to any good in his own country, he travelled to France, in order to assume the profession of arms. While lingering at Paris, he lost his little stock of money at dice. This seems to have revived better feelings in his breast. He began to study under various teachers at Paris; then went to the university of Orleans, and took lessons in civil law from Robertus; lastly, he removed to Bourges, where he was received with kindness by the celebrated Cujacius. This great civilian happening to have a crazy fondness for the writings of the early Latin poets, Boyd gained his entire favour by writing a few poems in the barbarous style of Ennius. The plague breaking out at Bourges, he was obliged to fly to Lyons, whence he was driven by the same pestilence into Italy. After spending some time in this country, he returned to France, and is supposed to have there acted for some time as private tutor to a young gentleman named Dauconet. In 1587, commenced the famous wars of the League. Boyd, though a protestant, or afterwards professing to be so, joined with the Catholic party, in company with his pupil, and for some time led the life of a soldier of fortune. His share in the mishaps of war, consisted of a wound in the ankle. In 1588, the Germans and Swiss being driven out of France, the campaign terminated, and Boyd retired to Thoulouse, where he re-commenced the study of civil law. His studies were here interrupted by a popular insurrection in favour of the Catholic interest, but in which he took no part. Having fallen under some suspicion, probably on account of his country, he was seized by the insurgents, and thrown into prison. By the intercession of some of his learned friends, he was relieved from this peril, and permitted to make his escape to Bourdeaux. He has left a most animated account of the insurrection, from which it may be gathered that the expedients assumed in more recent periods of French history, for protecting cities by barricades, chains, and other devices, were equally familiar in the reign of Henry the Great. For several years, Boyd lived a party-coloured life, alternating between study and war. He had a sincere passion for arms, and entertained a notion that to live entirely without the knowledge and practice of military affairs was only to be half a man. It is to be regretted, that his exertions as a soldier were entirely on the side adverse to his own and his country’s faith; a fact which proves how little he was actuated by principle. In the midst of all the broils of the League, he had advanced considerably in the preparation of a series of lectures on the civil law; but he never found an opportunity of delivering them. He also composed a considerable number of Latin poems, which were published in one volume at Antwerp, in 1592. Having now turned his thoughts homewards, he endeavoured, in this work, to attract the favourable attention of James VI., by a very flattering dedication. But it does not seem to have had any effect. He does not appear to have returned to his native country for some years after this period. In 1595, when his elder brother died, he was still in France. Returning soon after, he is said to have undertaken the duty of travelling preceptor to John, Earl of Cassillis; and when his task was accomplished, he returned once more. He died, of a slow fever, April 10th, 1601, and was buried in the church of Daily.

Mark Alexander Boyd left several compositions behind him, of which a few have been published. The most admired are his "Epistolae Heroidum," and his "Hymni," which are inserted in the "Deliciae Poetarum Scotorum," published at Amsterdam, in 1637. His style in Latin poetry is shown by Lord Hailes to be far from correct, and his ideas are often impure and coarse. Yet when regarded as the effusions of a soaring genius, which seems to have looked upon every ordinary walk of human exertion as beneath it, we may admire the general excellence, while we overlook mean defects. The Tears of Venus on the Death of Adonis, which has been often extracted from his Epistolae, seems to me to be a beautiful specimen of Latin versification, and in impassioned feeling almost rivaling Pope’s Eloise. An exact list of the remainder of his compositions, which still lie in manuscript in the Advocates’ Library, is given in his life by Lord Hailes, which was one of the few tentamina contributed by that great antiquary towards a Scottish Biographical Dictionary. Lord Hailes represents the vanity of Boyd as having been very great; but it is obvious that he could offer a high incense to others as to himself. He has the hardihood to compliment the peaceful James VI. as superior to Pallas or Mars: in another place, he speaks of that monarch as having distinguished himself at battles and sieges. It is well known that neither the praise nor the facts were true; and we can only account for such inordinate flattery, by supposing, what there is really much reason to believe, that panagyric is those days was a matter of course, and not expected to contain any truth, or even vraisemblance. This theory receives some countenance from a circumstance mentioned by Lord Hailes. The dedication, it seems, in which King James was spoken of as a hardy warrior, was originally written for a real warrior; but the name being afterwards changed, it was not thought necessary to alter the praise; and so the good Solomon, who is said to have shrunk from the very sight of cold iron, stands forth as a second Agamemnon.


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