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Significant Scots
Robert Lindsay


LINDSAY, ROBERT, of Pitscottie, author of the Chronicles of Scotland known by his name, was born about the beginning of the sixteenth century. He was a cadet of the noble family of Lindsay, comprising the earls of Crawford and Lindsay, and the lords Lindsay of Byres. He is now known otherwise than as the author of the Chronicles alluded to, and these have not had the effect of eliciting any information regarding him from his contemporaries, which could be of any avail to a modern biographer. He has, in truth, been scarcely recognized even as a literary man by the chroniclers of Scottish genius, and yet, this is the only ground on which he seems to have any claim to commemoration, there being no other circumstance of any interest in his life but that of his having written the work spoken of above.

As to the Chronicles themselves, it is not perhaps very easy to determine in what language they should be spoken of. They present a strange compound of endless and aimless garrulity, simplicity, credulity, and graphic delineation; the latter, however, evidently the effect not of art or design, but of a total want of them. He describes events with all the circumstantiality of an eyewitness, and with all the prolixity of one who is determined to leave nothing untold, however trifling it may be.

But his credulity, in particular, seems to have been boundless, and is remarkable even for the credulous age in which he lived. He appears to have believed, without question, every thing which was told him; and, believing it, has carefully recorded it. After detailing at some length, and with great gravity, all the circumstances of the mysterious summons of Plotcock, previous to the battle of Flodden Field, "Verily," he says, "the author of this, that caused me write the manner of the summons, was a landed gentleman, who was at that time twenty years of age, and was in the town the time of the said summons; and thereafter, when the field was stricken, he swore to me, there was no man that escaped that was called in this summons, but that one man alone which made his protestation."

The earnest and honest simplicity of the good old chronicler, however, is exceedingly amusing. He aims at nothing beyond a mere record of what he conceived to be facts, and these he goes on detailing, with a great deal of incoherence, and all the unintellectual precision, of an artificial process, neither feeling, passion, nor mind ever appearing to mingle in the slightest degree with his labours. These characteristics of the chronicles of Lindsay have greatly impaired their credibility, and have almost destroyed all confidence in them as authorities.

Where he is corroborated by other historians, or by an association of well known and well established circumstances, he may be trusted, but, where this is not the case, his testimony ought to be received with caution; for, where he does not absolutely create, he is almost sure to exaggerate, and is thus in any event a very unsafe guide.

If Lindsay was but an indifferent chronicler, he was a still worse poet, as will be conceded, it is presumed, after a perusal of the following introductory stanzas of a poetical address to Robert Stewart, bishop of Caithness, prefixed to the Chronicles:

"O little book, pass thou with diligence
To St Andrews that fair city;
Salute that lord with humble reverence,
Beseeking him, of fatherly pity,
With entire heart, and perfect charity,
And that he would on noways offend
To look on thee, one day or two to spend.

And there shew him thy secrets more and less,
From the beginning unto the end:
And also you to come utter and express;
Show him the verity, and make it to him kend—
The martial deeds, and also the fatal end,
Of his noble dainty progenitor,
In Scotland lived sometime in great honour.

The Chronicles begin with James II., 1436, and end with queen Mary, 1565. This latter reign, however, is not completed, being carried down only a little beyond the period at which the marriage of that unfortunate princess with Darnley took place.


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