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Introductionspacer

spacer1. The following set of prose paraphrases of George Buchanan’s well-known set of verse paraphrases of the psalms was written by Alexander Yule [d. 1624, he Latinized his surname as Julius], sometime headmaster of the Grammar School at Stirling, a published poet in his own right whose 1606 Gunpowder Plot poem, Descriptio horrendi parricidii et nefariae perduellionis a Papane religionis assertoribus designatae in Iacobum Magnae Britanniae, Galliae et Hiberniae regem serenissimum, in ipsius reginam, regiam sobolem, regnique ordines, et optimates, 5. Novembris 1605, appears elsewhere in The Philological Museum. The Ecphrasis was issued in 1620 by the London printer George Eld under the title Ecphrasis Paraphraseos Georgii Buchanani in Psalmos Davidis ab Alexander Iulio Edinburgeno, in Adolescentiae studiosae gratiam elaborata. The idea of writing a set of prose paraphrases of verse paraphrases of the Psalms might seem strange, but Buchanan’s versified set (also included in The Philological Museum) was quickly adopted as a text for schools, so the need arose for a prose paraphrase to serve as a study aid. To satisfy the requirements of contemporary pedagogical methods, NOTE 1 in later years at least two similar sets of prose paraphrases were published, one included in Andrew Waddel’s G. Buchanan’s Paraphrase of the Psalms of David, Translated into English Prose, as near the Original as the different Idioms of the Latin and English Language will allow (Edinburgh, 1772), and another in the schoolboy edition Geo. Buchanani Paraphrasis Psalmorum Davidis Poetica, also accompanied by the notes of Adam and James Dickson (Edinburgh, 1812). Possibly others exist of which I am unaware.
spacer2. Yule explains the origin of his project in a prefatory dedicatory epistle to addressed Oliver St. John, Lord Deputy of Ireland, telling how, after a tenure of thirty-three years, he resigned his position at Stirling, which he describes as multo magis mihi laborioso quam unquam quaestuoso [“far more toilsome for me than remunerative”], and then wandered the cities of Scotland at loose ends.

Tandem Lethae constiti, ubi erecta bibliotheca, ut cum in otio essem, minus otiosus forem, multum diuque cogitanti quid potissimum suscipendum videretur, cum Georgium Buchananum saepenumero adolescens ipsi adiissem ut obscura mihi illustraret, phrases perplexas expediret, errores meos castigaret, et sic ab eo doctior domum redirem, venit mihi in mentem paraphraseos eius in psalmos Davidis, quam semel et iterum discipulis meis Sterlini accurate praelegeram, cuius dictiones, phrases, et sententias poeticas intellectu difficiliores brevibus scholiis et observationibus in adolescentum studiosorum gratiam illustrare operae pretium duxi…Sed cum illi iam operi summam manum imposuissem, nec mihi in eo genere satisfacere possem, hanc ecphrasin Lethae quidem institutam, postea vero quum (rege domino meo piissimo prius salutato) Novo Foro Londinum rediissem, numinis divini ductu et auspicio in illa celeberrima totius Britanniae metropoli felice exitu conclusi. Huic oneri ferendo alioqui humeris meis impari adiumento fuerunt quae multis abhinc annis ab eodem domino Buchanano extempore dictata in schedas quasdem retuli, et ex musaeo domino Roberti Buchanani pastoris ecclesiae Syressensis discipuli olim mei eadem plane et meis omnino consentanea ad meo ab eo perlata accepi, quae quidem domino Georgio temere dictante calamo Thomae Buchanani praeceptoris quondam mei magna ex parte excepta fuisse, probe memini. Ex quo etiam intellexi dominum Georgium patruum suum vetuisse ne in lucem prodirent, quippe qui exponenda potius quam in apertum proferenda existimasset puerilia illa, quae vocabat, extemporanea, rudia et impolita…Attamen nequid vel temere ab illo in hoc genere prolatum oblivione obrueretur, hic ego, industria nonnulla et diligentia adhibita, puerilia illa quodam modo quasi adulta feci, extemporanea elaboravi, impolita et rudia cultu nonnullo accuratius expolire studui, ac ursae de more libenter occoepi informem lambendo fingere foetum…Iecit ergo Georgius ille Buchananus primum operis huius fundamentum, materiamque rudem et impolitam magna ex parte suffecit, unde haec structurae forma clementer et molliter assurrexit, in qua ne unguem quidem latum ab eius mente et sententia discedere fas esse iudicavi…

[“At length I fetched up at Leith, where a library has been founded [or perhaps, with a slight repunctuation, “having set up my library], so that, although I was at leisure, I might be less unoccupied. I pondered at length what project to undertake, and since as a young man I had frequently visited George Buchanan so that he could throw light on obscure points for my benefit, explain difficult passages, and correct my mistakes, with the result that I would return home from him with my education improved, I bethought myself of his paraphrases in the Psalms of David, concerning which I had once or twice read out to my pupils at Sterling, and I deemed it worthwhile to illustrate his choice of words, phraseology, and poetic expressions with short notes and observations for the benefit of studious young men…But after putting the finishing touches on this opus without being able to satisfy myself in this line of work, after paying my respects to my master, our most pious sovereign, I returned to London from Newmarket, and in that must crowded metropolis of all of Britain, by divine guidance and inspiration I brought this project to a happy conclusion. In doing this work (which would otherwise have been too heavy for my shoulders) I was helped by reference to notes I had taken many years ago on Master Buchanan’s extemporaneous dictations. And out of his private library my one-time pupil Master Robert Buchanan, pastor of the church of Ceres, lent me the notes on George’s improvised dictation, taken down by the pen of my former teacher Thomas Buchanan, which pretty much completely agreed with my own. And from Robert I also learned that Thomas’ uncle, Master George, had forbidden their publication, since he thought this fare for children, as he called it, was to be used for explanatory purposes rather than for publication…And yet, lest even something of this kind, even casually tossed off by him, be buried in oblivion, at the cost of no little effort and diligence, I have, so to speak, transformed this this fare for children into fare for grown men, I have elaborated on his improvisations, striving to polish his rough and unpolished workmanship with greater care, and, like the bear, to lick the cub into shape…Thus George Buchanan laid the first foundation for this work, supplying the raw material, for the most part unpolished, from which the form of this structure has elegantly and agreeably arisen, and in it I have thought it wrong to deviate by so much as a fingernail’s breadth from his purpose and intention…”]

spacer3. In introducing Buchanan’s versified paraphrases, I pointed out that both Scottish and continental schoolmasters were quick to fix on them as material suitable for the classroom, and that this accounts both for the very large number of printings to which they were subjected and for their remarkable longevity (in Scotland, they served as classroom grist well into the nineteenth century). We now discover that the very first schoolmaster to employ them for this purpose was Buchanan himself. Although Yule does not explicitly state that the thorny points on which he used to consult Buchanan were in Buchanan’s verse paraphrases, it is likely that they were and that it was in the course of these visits that he took down the notes to which he refers. And, since he reports that his own notes so closely resembled those taken down by Buchanan’s nephew Thomas, NOTE 2 we may suspect that his youthful impression that Buchanan was merely improvising them was mistaken, and that Buchanan was actually reciting from memory prose versions to which he had devoted considerably more thought and energy than he cared to admit.
spacer4. So in one respect Yule’s account of the history of these prose paraphrases of Buchanan’s verse paraphrases of the Psalms may well be incorrect. One would very much like to assess the accuracy of the rest of what he tells us. In this context, it may be worth noting that in another important way Yule misrepresents the true situation. The Catholic Luis de Cruz felt moved to issue his own response to Buchanan’s verse paraphrases, Liber Psalmorum cum poetica interpretatione Latina (Ingolstadt, 1597), and in introducing this work he complained:

…etsi princeps poetarum sui temporis inscribatur.…praeter summam scelus, quo se per haeresim obstrixerit, id egisse videtur ne clarissima notissimaque de Christo opt. max. vaticinia, quae psalmis continentur, suo in carmine apparerent. Quo facto merito piis omnibus displicuisse potuit…

[“…and even if he is called the prince among the poets of his own time, apart from the gravest crime of heresy, he appears to have worked in such a way that the famous prophecies about Christ, which are to be found in the Psalms, fail to emerge in his poetry. In consequence, he managed deservedly to give offence to all men of true religion.”]

With the sole exception of a mention of Christ at II.4, Buchanan offended Cruz’ sensitivities by failing to interpret the Psalms proleptically as Christian prophecy. But in the prose paraphrases as printed by Yule, this is scarcely the case. Sometimes (as in CX and CXXXIII) explicitly Christian material is imported into the body of the Psalms themselves. More typically, this is achieved in the short notices prefaced to each Psalm, in which the reader is issued instructions on how it is properly to be interpreted, for these notices very frequently state that the Psalm in question has to do with Christ and or with His Church. NOTE 3 We are therefore obliged to select between two choices. The first is that in later life Buchanan himself abandoned his original chaste and scholarly approach eschewing such Christianizing reinterpretation—some readers might prefer the harsher word “hijacking”—of the Psalms. If so, he did so for teaching purposes only, for the improvement of impressionable young minds, for no such interpretation found its way into any of the reprints of his verse paraphrases that were issued during his lifetime. But in the absence of any corroborative evidence that Buchanan ever countenanced any such Christianizing interpretation of his Psalm paraphrases, it seems preferable to think that the theological element was superimposed by Yule. If so, his assertion ne unguem quidem latum ab eius mente et sententia discedere fas esse iudicavi [“I have thought it wrong to deviate by so much as a fingernail’s breadth from his purpose and intention”] is manifestly untrue.
spacer5. Confronted with the discrepancy between what Yule said and what he evidently did regarding the important issue of respecting Buchanan’s own literary intentions, a cynical reader might wonder if he exaggerated the degree of his responsibility for the finished product. How much is to be credited to Buchanan and how much to Yule is entirely unfathomable. NOTE 4 Obviously, this set of prose paraphrases cannot unconditionally be admitted into the canon of Buchanan’s works, and yet it would be equally wrong to exclude it altogether. NOTE 5 The only reasonable solution is to regard the Ecphrasis as one of those collaborative efforts in which the contributions of its individual authors cannot be disentangled. This is why the names of both Buchanan and Yule are placed on the title page of the present edition. And what is true of the Ecphrasis as a whole holds equally good for any given passage in it. That is to say, if some critic or commentator should wish to apply a passage in the Ecphrasis to the reading and interpretation of a given passage in Buchanan’s verse paraphrase, he cannot claim that the prose equivalent is determinative, although it would be very legitimate to cite the prose as possible interpretational evidence, as long as the true situation is recognized and accurately represented.
spacerI should like to thank Dr. Jamie Reid Baxter both for drawing this neglected volume to my attention, and for giving me his highly welcome advice and encouragement as I worked on the project. Since the photographic reproduction available in the Early English Books Online series is not entirely legible, I must also extend my thanks to the Huntington Library of San Marino, California, for granting me access to their copy to complete my transcription.

 

Notes

spacerNOTE 1 It would be condescendingly dismissive to describe this Ecphrasis as a “trot” sharked up for the benefit of weak students (linguistically, it is by no means “dumbed down” for such an audience, as were some later prose paraphrases prepared for the schoolboy market). Rather, one has to understand the prevalent method of teaching at the time. In my younger days, while a visitor at a New Zealand university, I was asked to teach a language class and was taken aback to discover that the method I was expected to follow was simply to stand at the head of the room and read my own translation to the students, with whatever interspersed commentary I cared to include. The students’ role was the entirely passive one of listening to me and taking notes on what I said. I presume that the teaching method employed by both Buchanan and and Yule was the same, since this would serve to explain such crucial words in Yule’s account (see the quoted passage), as praelegeram and dictata. Thus, from a student’s point of view, having a prose paraphrase at his fingertips as he studied would be a near-equivalent to having a schoolmaster standing by and reading out his interpretative translation.

spacerNOTE 2 Thomas was in turn uncle to Yule’s erstwhile pupil Robert, his successor at as pastor of the church at Ceres, in Fife, and inheritor of his books and papers. He also had been Yule's predecessor as Headmaster of the Stirling Grammar School, under whom Yule had studied as a boy when Thomas was co-headmaster of Edinburgh High School.

spacerNOTE 3 In a manner similar to what is found in the Geneva Bible, for example, some other interpretative introductions quite arbitrarily recommend a biographical or historicizing interpretation by identifying each given Psalm’s author as David, a Psalmist (psaltes), the Church speaking collectively, and so forth, or by associating a given Psalm with a particular incident in David’s life or with some other historical event.

spacerNOTE 4 The most radical interpretation would be to ascribe to Yule only the introductions to the individual Psalms and the passages printed in italics (according the theory that in his text, if not his introductory letter, he was being entirely scrupulous in indicating his own contribution), and to regard everything else as Buchanan’s. More realistically, it is tolerably clear that Yule used italics to indicate words, phrases, and even longer passages with no equivalent in Buchanan’s verse paraphrases, usually added because Yule fancied they clarified the syntax or meaning of the passages in which they were inserted (less frequently, they were added to further his Christianizing program). Often, these additions are neither as illuminating nor as necessary as Yule may have imagined. In CXV, for example, they transform Buchanan’s admirably terse writing into something considerably more verbose and flaccid.

spacerNOTE 5 In his Buchanan (London, 1981), pp. 276, Ian McFarlane noted the exsistence of the Ecphrasis and said a few words about it. Yet, rather surprisingly, his interest does not appear to have been aroused by the clear implication of the dedicatory epistle, that to some degree this volume preserves Buchanan's own prose paraphrases (the Ecphrasis is listed in his register of editions of Buchanan’s verse paraphrases in Appendix A, p. 502, but only, it would seem, because the volume also includes the verse originals).