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Significant Scots
Robert Johnstone


JOHNSTON, ROBERT, an historian, existed in the earlier part of the seventeenth century. The works of this individual are well known, but he has not achieved personal eminence; and we neither know when he was born, nor the station which he occupied in life. At Amsterdam was printed in 1655, his "Historia Rerum Britannicarum, ut et multarum Gallicarum, Belgicarum, et Germanicarum, tam politicarum, quam ecclesiasticarum, ab anno 1572, ad 1628."

This work was intended as a continuation of Buchanan; and bishop Nicholson, no bestower of heedless praise, appears to think that it nearly equals in style the work which it imitated. [Nicholson’s Scottish Historical Library, 121.] The late lord Woodhouselee, a less scrupulous critic where a Scotsman was concerned, calls it "A work of great merit, whether we consider the judicious structure of the narrative, the sagacity of the reflections, the acute discernment of characters, or the classical tincture of the style. In those passages of his history," says this writer, "where there is room for a display of eloquence, he is often singularly happy in touching those characteristic circumstances which present the picture strongly to the mind of the reader, without a vain parade of words, or artificial refinement of sentiment. We may cite as an example, his description of the death of Mary, queen of Scots, lib. iv. sub anno, 1586: and the circumstances attending the death of Essex, with the author’s reflections on that event, lib. ix. sub anno, 1641." The same author farther mentions that Robert Johnston was one of the executors of George Heriot, the founder of the hospital. [Tytler’s Kames, i. Ap. i.]Johnston, besides this extensive work, wrote "The History of Scotland during the minority of James VI., published at London in 1646. Wodrow mentions an "Epitome Historiae Rerum Britannicarum," published, according to his account, in 12mo, in 1642, some time previously to the appearance of the larger work. [Wodrow’s Catalogues of Scottish Writers, 14.]Sir Robert Sibbald seems to find nothing more remarkable to tell us about Johnston, than that he was on intimate terms with Bruce, baron of Kinloss. "Robertus Jonstonus baroni Killosensi Brusio dum viveret, charus: vir variae lectionis, egregiae eruditionis, limati judicii." He mentions that Johnston is said to have died in 1630, and gives us an epigram on his history from the pen of Joannes Owen. [Sibbald Biblioth. Scot. MS., 221.]There is in the Advocates’ Library a ponderous manuscript History of Scotland, by a person of the name of Johnston, and generally understood to be at least partly written by the subject of our memoir. The manuscript has belonged to lord Fairfax, and at the commencement is the following note in his handwriting:

"Of the gift of Mr David Johnston, burgess of Edinburgh, itt beinge the labour of his late father and grandfather, (the first draught.) A transcript whereof he reserves to himself, (but is not all printed,) nor is ther any coppy therof, but onlye this, beinge for the most part a translation of Bucquhanan, but with very many additions not thought fit to publish. FAIRFAX—20th October, 1655."


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