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Significant Scots
Henry Scrimger


SCRIMGER, HENRY, a learned person of the sixteenth century, was the son of Walter Scrimger of Glasswell, who traced his descent from the Scrimgers or Scrimgeours of Dudhope, constables of Dundee, and hereditary standard-bearers of Scotland. The subject of this memoir was born at Dundee in 1506, and received the rudiments of his education in the grammar school of that town, where he made singular proficiency both in the Latin and Greek languages. He afterwards went through a course of philosophy in the university of St Andrews with great applause. From thence he proceeded to Paris to study civil law. He next removed to Bourges, where he studied for some time under Baro and Duaren, who were considered the two greatest lawyers of the age in which they lived. Here he formed an acquaintance with the celebrated Amiot, who at that time filled the Greek chair at Bourges, and through his recommendation was appointed tutor to the children of secretary Boucherel. In this situation, which he filled to the entire satisfaction of his employers, Scrimger became acquainted with Bernard Boenetel, bishop of Rennes, who, on being appointed ambassador from the court of France to some of the states of Italy, made choice of him for his private secretary. With this dignitary he travelled through the greater part of that interesting country, and was introduced to a great many of its most eminent and learned men. While on a visit to Padua, he had an opportunity of seeing the notorious apostate Francis Spira, of whose extraordinary case he wrote a narrative, which was published along with an account of the same case by Petrus Paulus Virgerus, Mattheus Gribaldus, and Sigismundus Gelous, under the following title "The history of Franciscus Spira, who fell into a dreadful state of despair because, having once assumed a profession of evangelical truth, he had afterwards recanted and condemned the same, most faithfully written by four most excellent men, together with prefaces by these illustrious men Caelius S.C. and John Calvin, and an apology by Petrus Paulus Virgerus, in all which, many subjects worthy of examination in these times are most gravely handled. To which is added the judgment of Martinus Borrhaus on the improvement which may be made of Spira’s example and doctrine, 2 Pet. 2. It had been better for them not to have known the way of life," &c. The book is written in Latin, but has neither the name of printer, nor the place, or date of printing. It was, however, probably printed at Basil in the year 1550 or 1551. Deeply affected with the case of Spira, Scrimger determined to sacrifice all the prospects, great as they were, which his present situation held out to him, and to retire into Switzerland, where he could profess the reformed religion without danger. It appears that he shortly after this entertained the idea of returning to Scotland; but, on his arrival in Geneva, he was invited by the syndics and magistrates of the city to set up a profession of philosophy for the instruction of youth, for which they made a suitable provision. Here he continued to teach philosophy for some time. A fire, however, happening in the city, his house was burnt to the ground with all that was in it, and he was in consequence reduced to great straits, though his two noble pupils, the Bucherels, no sooner heard of his misfortune than they sent him a considerable supply of money. Itwas at this time that Ulrich Fugger, a gentleman possessed of a princely fortune, and distinguished alike for his learning and for his virtues, invited him to come and live with him at Augsburg till his affairs could be put in order. This generous invitation Scrimger accepted, and he lived with his benefactor at Augsburg for a number of years, during which he employed himself chiefly in collecting books and manuscripts, many of them exceedingly curious and valuable. Under the patronage of this amiable person he ap pears also to have composed several of his treatises, which he returned to Geneva to have printed. On his arrival, the magistrates of that City importuned him to resume his class for teaching philosophy. With this request he complied, and continued again in Geneva for two years, 1563 and 1564. In the year 1565, he opened a school for teaching civil law, of which he had the honour of being the first professor and founder in Geneva. This class he continued to teach until his death. In the year 1572, Alexander Young, his nephew, was sent to him to Geneva, with letters from the regent Marr, and George Buchanan, with the latter of whom he had been long in terms of intimacy; requesting him to return to his native country, and promising him every encouragement.

Buchanan had before repeatedly written to him, pressing his return to his native country, in a manner that sufficiently evinced the high esteem he entertained for him. The venerable old scholar, however, could not be prevailed on to leave the peaceful retreat of Geneva, for the stormy scenes which were now exhibiting in his native country; pleading, as an apology, his years and growing infirmities. The letters of Buchanan, however, were the means of awakening the ardour of Andrew Melville, (who was at that time in Geneva, and in the habit of visiting Scrimger, whose sister was married to Melville’s elder brother,) and turning his attention to the state of learning in Scotland, of which, previously to this period, he does not seem to have taken any notice.

Though his life had not passed without some vicissitudes, the latter days of Scrimger appear to have been sufficiently easy as to circumstances. Besides the house which he possessed in the city, he had also a neat villa, which he called the Violet, about a league from the town. At this latter place he spent the most of his time, in his latter years, in the company of his wife and an only daughter. The period of his death seems to be somewhat uncertain. Thuanus says he died at Geneva in the year 1571; but an edition of his novels in the Advocates’ library, with an inscription to his friend, Edward Herrison, dated 1572, is sufficient evidence that this is a mistake. George Buchanan, however, in a letter to Christopher Plaintain, dated at Stirling in the month of November, 1573, speaks of him as certainly dead; so that his death must have happened either in the end of 1572, or the beginning of 1573.

The only work which Scrimger appears to have published, besides the account of Spira, which we have already noticed, was an edition of the Novellae Constitutiones of Justinian, in Greek; a work which was highly prized by the first lawyers of the time. He also enriched the editions of several of the classics, published by Henry Stephens, with various readings and remarks. From his preface to the Greek text of the Novellae, it is evident that Scriniger intended to publish a Latin translation of that work, accompanied with annotations; but, from some unknown cause, that design was never accomplished. Mackenzie informs us, that, though he came with the highest recommendations from Ulrich Fugger to Stephens, who was, like Scrimger, one of Fugger’s pensioners, yet, from an apprehension on the part of Stephens, that Scrimger intended to commence printer himself, there arose such a difference between them, that the republic of letters was deprived of Scrimger’s notes upon Athenaeus, Strabo, Diogenes Laertius, the Basilics, Phornuthus, and Paloephatus; all of which he designed that Stephens should have printed for him. The most of these, according to Stephens, after Scrimger’s death, fell into the hands of Isaac Casaubon, who published many of them as his own. Casaubon, it would appear, obtained the use of his notes on Strabo, and applied for those on Polybius, when he published his editions of these writers. In his letters to Peter Young, who was Scrimger’s nephew, and through whom he appears to have obtained the use of these papers, he speaks in high terms of their great merit; but he has not been candid enough in his printed works, to own the extent of his obligations. Buchanan, in a letter to Christopher Plaintain, informs him, that Scrimger had left notes and observations upon Demosthenes, Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, and many other Greek authors; as likewise upon the philosophical works of Cicero: all which, he informs his correspondent, were in the hands of Scrimger’s nephew, the learned Mr Peter Young; and being well worth the printing, should be sent him, if he would undertake the publication. Plaintain seems to have declined the offer; so that the Novellae and the Account of Spira, are all that remain of the learned labours of Scrimger, of whom it has been said, that no man of his age had a more acute knowledge, not only of the Latin and Greek, but also of the Oriental languages. His library, which was one of the most valuable in Europe, he left by testament to his nephew, Peter Young, who was Buchanan’s assistant in the education of James VI., and it was brought over to Scotland by the testator’s brother, Alexander Scrimger, in the year 1573. Besides many valuable books, this library contained MSS. of great value; but Young was not a very enthusiastic scholar; and as he was more intent upon advancing his personal interests in the world, and aggrandizing his family, than forwarding the progress of knowledge, they probably came to but small account.

The testimonies of Scrimger’s worth and merits, by his contemporaries, are numerous. Thuanus, Casaubon, and Stephens, with many others, mention his name with the highest encomiums. Dempster says he was a man indefatigable in his reading, of a most exquisite judgment, and without the smallest particle of vain-glory. And the great Cujanus was accustomed to say, that he never parted from the company of Henry Scrimger, without having learned something that he never knew before.


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