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Significant Scots
Michael Scott


SCOTT, MICHAEL, a learned person of the thirteenth century, known to the better informed as a philosopher, and to the illiterate, especially of Scotland, as a wizard, or magician, was born about the year 1214. The precise locality of his birthplace is unknown, although that honour has been awarded to Balwearie, in Fife, but on insufficient authority. Neither is there any thing known of his parents, nor of their rank in life; but, judging of the education he received, one of the most liberal and expensive of the times, it may be presumed that they were of some note.

Scott early betook himself to the study of the sciences; but, soon exhausting all the information which his native country afforded in those unlettered times, he repaired to the university of Oxford, then enjoying a very high reputation, and devoted himself, with great eagerness and assiduity, to philosophical pursuits, particularly astronomy and chemistry; in both of which, and in the acquisition of the Latin and Arabic languages, he attained a singular proficiency. At this period, astronomy, if it did not assume entirely the shape of judicial astrology, was yet largely and intimately blended with that fantastic but not unimpressive science; and chemistry was similarly affected by the not less absurd and illusive mysteries of alchymy: and hence arose the imaginary skill and real reputation of Scott as a wizard, or foreteller of events; as, in proportion to his knowledge of the true sciences, was his imputed acquaintance with the false.

On completing his studies at Oxford, he repaired, agreeably to the practice of the times, to the university of Paris. Here he applied himself with such diligence and success to the study of mathematics, that he acquired the academic surname of Michael the Mathematician; but neither his attention nor reputation were confined to this science alone. He made equal progress, and attained equal distinction in sacred letters and divinity; his acquirements in the latter studies being acknowledged, by his having the degree of doctor in theology conferred upon him.

While in Paris, he resumed, in the midst of his other academical avocations, the study of that science on which his popular fame now rests, namely, judicial astrology, and devoted also a farther portion of his time to chemistry and medicine. Having possessed himself of all that he could acquire in his particular pursuits in the French capital, he determined to continue his travels, with the view at once of instructing and of being instructed. In the execution of this project, he visited several foreign countries and learned universities; and amongst the latter, that of the celebrated college at Padua, where he eminently distinguished himself by his essays on judicial astrology. From this period, his fame gradually spread abroad, and the reverence with which his name now began to be associated, was not a little increased by his predictions, which he, for the first time, now began to publish, and which were as firmly believed in, and contemplated with as much awe in Italy, where they were first promulgated, as they were ever at any after period in Scotland.

From Italy he proceeded to Spain, taking up his residence in Toledo, whose university was celebrated for its cultivation of the occult sciences. Here, besides taking an active part, and making a conspicuous figure in the discussions on these sciences, he began and concluded a translation, from the Arabic into Latin, of Aristotle’s nineteen books on the History of Animals. This work procured him the notice, and subsequently the patronage of Frederick II., who invited him to his court, and bestowed on him the office of royal astrologer. While filling this situation, he translated, at the emperor’s desire, the greater part of the works of Aristotle. He wrote, also, at the royal request, an original work, entitled "Liber Introductorius sive Indicia Quaestionum," for the use of young students; and a treatise on physiognomy, entitled "Physiognomia et de Hominis Procreatione;" besides several other works, of which one was on the "Opinions of Astrologers."

After a residence of some years at the court of Frederick, Michael resigned his situation, and betook himself to the study of medicine as a profession, and soon acquired great reputation in this art. Before parting with the emperor, with whom he seems to have lived on a more intimate and familiar footing, than the haughty and warlike disposition of that prince might have been expected to permit, he predicted to him the time, place, and manner of his death; and the prophecy is said to have been exactly fulfilled in every particular. After a residence of some years in Germany, he came over to England, with the view of returning to his native country. On the latter kingdom, he was kindly received and patronized by Edward I.; and, after being retained for some time at his court, was permitted to pass to Scotland, where he arrived shortly after the death of Alexander III. That event rendering it necessary to send ambassadors to Norway, to bring over the young queen, Margaret, or, as she is more poetically called, the Maid of Norway, granddaughter of the deceased monarch, Michael Scott, now styled Sir Michael, although we have no account either of the time or occasion of his being elevated to this dignity, was appointed, with Sir David Weems, to proceed on this important mission, a proof that his reputation as a wizard had not affected his moral respectability. With this last circumstance, the veritable history of Sir Michael terminates; for his name does not again appear in connexion with any public event, nor is there any thing known of his subsequent life. He died in the year 1292, at an advanced age, and was buried, according to some authorities, at Holme Coltrame, in Cumberland; and, according to others, in Melrose abbey.

Although, however, all the principal authenticated incidents in the life of Sir Michael which are known, are comprehended in this brief sketch, it would take volumes to contain all that is told, and to this hour believed, by the peasantry of Scotland, of the terrible necromancer, auld Michael. For some curious specimens of the traditional character of the great magician of other days, the reader may be referred to the notes appended to the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," by the still greater magician of modern times. He will there learn, how Sir Michael, on one occasion, rode through the air to France on a huge black horse; how the devil made an unsuccessful attempt to entrap him by the way; how, on another occasion, when

Maister Michael Scott’s man,
Sought meat, and gat none,

from a niggardly farmer, he threw down a bonnet which his master had previously enchanted, and which, becoming suddenly inflated, began to spin round the house with supernatural speed, and drew, by its magical influence, the whole household after it, man, maid, and mistress, who all continued the goblin chase, until they were worn out with fatigue. It may not, perhaps, be unnecessary to add, that all these cantrips, and a thousand more, were performed by the agency of a "mightly book" of necromancy, which no man, but on peril of soul and body, might open, or peruse, and which was at last buried with its tremendous owner.


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