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The Scottish Nation

BOECE, HECTOR, a celebrated historian, was born at Dundee about 1465, or, as other accounts say, 1470. He was descended from an ancient family, who had possessed the barony of Panbride, or Balbride, in Forfarshire, since the reign of David the Second. From the place of his birth he had the appellation of Diedonanus, being so styled in the edition of his history published by Ferrerius. After receiving the rudiments of his education in his native town, and studying for some time at Aberdeen, he went to the university of Paris, where he took the degree of bachelor of divinity. Having applied himself to the study of divinity, philosophy, and history, he was in 1497 appointed professor of philosophy in the college of Montagu in that university. Amongst other eminent persons with whom he there became acquainted was Erasmus, who maintained a correspondence with him, and who, in one of his epistles, styles him “a man of an extraordinary happy genius, and of great eloquence.”

      On the erection, in 1500, of King’s College, Aberdeen, by William Elphinstone, bishop of the diocese, Boece was by that prelate invited back to Scotland, and appointed principal of the new university, in which he was also professor of divinity. His sub.-principal, William Hay, also a native of Forfarshire, and his fellow-student at Dundee and Paris, succeeded him as head of the college. His brother, Arthur Boece, chancellor of the cathedral of Brechin, was appointed professor of canon law, and June 22d, 1535, became a judge of the court of session. His talents and high reputation tended very much to the prosperity and success of the institution. Besides being principal of the college, Boece was a canon of Aberdeen, and rector of Tyrie, in the same county. On the death of Bishop Elphinstone, in 1514, Boece wrote his life in Latin, with those of his predecessors in the see of Aberdeen. This work, published, under the title of ‘Episcoporum Murthlacensium et Aberdonensium,’ at Paris in 4to in 1522, has been reprinted by the Bannatyne Club. Murthlack in Banffshire was originally the seat of the bishops, before it was removed to Aberdeen; which accounts for the title of the work. He next wrote, also in Latin, his more celebrated work, the History of Scotland, introduced by a copious geographical description of the country. This work first appeared at Paris in 1526, under the title of ‘Scotorum Historia ab illius Gentis Origine.’ The first edition contained seventeen books, and ended with the death of James the first. Another edition, containing the eighteenth book, and part of the nineteenth, bringing the history down to the reign of James the Third, was published in 1574 by Joannes Ferrerius, a Piedmontese, who had resided several years in Scotland, and who added an appendix of thirty-five pages. It was printed at Lausanne, and published at Paris. Boece’s History was translated into the Scotch language for the benefit of James the Fifth, by John Bellenden, archdeacon of Moray, as already stated in the life of that author. A metrical version of it, containing about seventy thousand lines, done by some one whose name has not been ascertained, is preserved in the library of the university of Cambridge. In 1527 James the Fifth bestowed upon Boece a pension of fifty pounds Scots yearly, to be paid by the sheriff of Aberdeen out of the royal casualties, until the king should promote him to a benefice of a hundred merks Scots of yearly value. This benefice was the rectory of Tyrie, which he held till his death. In 1528 Boece took the degree of D.D. at Aberdeen; and we learn from the Burgh Records of that city, under date 5th September of that year, that on this occasion the magistrates voted him a present of a tun of wine when the new wines should arrive, or the sum of twenty pounds Scots, “to helop to by him bonatis, quhilk of thame he thinkis maist expecient, at his awin plesour. And the said counsail to convein this day efternowne, in the prowest innin, to se and devise quhar this mony sal be esiast gotten.” [Extract from Council Register of Aberdeen published for the Spalding Club, 1398-1570, p. 121.]

      Boece died at Aberdeen, it is supposed, about the year 1536, aged about seventy, and was buried in the chapel of the college, near to the tomb of Bishop Elphinstone. In the front of the chapel is his coat of arms, with ‘H.B. ob. 1536.’ His History of Scotland, considering the age in which he wrote, is remarkable for its elegance and purity of style, but his credulity and fondness for the marvellous detract greatly from its value, and deprive him of all title to be considered an authority. He adopted, without inquiry, and without even seeming to have any doubt of their authenticity, the fables of the monastic chroniclers that preceded him, as well as the no less absurd fictions and traditions of his own age. Some writers accuse him of having invented many details in the earlier part of his history; but from this charge of fabrication he has been vindicated by Mr. Maitland, in his biographical introduction to Bellenden’s translation. It is enough that he has to bear the imputation of having been the great stumbling-block to a truthful history of his own times, for his falsehoods, after having been once and again disproved come up again fresh, as if uncontradicted, to garnish the tales of the novelist, the tale-writer, and the world-be historian. In his private character Boece is described as having been discreet, generous, affable, and courteous.

      Boece’s works are:

      Vitae Episcoporum Murthlacensium et Aberdonensium. Paris, 1522, 4to. He begins at Beanus the first bishop, and ends with Gawin Dunbar. Reprinted for the Bannatyne Club. Edinburgh, 1825, 4to.

      Scotorum Historiae a prima gentis origine. Libri xvii. per Jodocum Badium, Ascensium. Paris, 1526, fol. Scotorum Historiae. Libri xix. cum continuatione Johannis Ferreri Pedemontani. Paris, 1574, fol. a rare edition. The same. Paris, 1575, 1577, fol. In Eng. by B. Hollinshed. Lond. 1587, fol. The same translaatit laitly by Maister Johne Bellenden, Archedene of Murray, Channon of Rosse; at the command of the richt hie richt excellant and noble Prince James V. of that name, King of Scottis; and imprinted in Edinburgh, be Thomas Davidson, without date, fol.; again 1536, 1541, this translation is contained in 17 books, and made from the first edit. of Hector Boethius, at Paris, 1526, fol.

      Explicatio quorundam vocabulorum ad cognitionem dialectices conducensium, et introductio ad logicen Arisotelis. Toleti, 1616, 4to.

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