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GEORGE BUCHANAN’S EPISTLE DEDICATORY
TO JAMES THE SIXTH, KING OF THE SCOTS
T my return after four and twenty years absence from my country, I desired nothing more than to review my papers that were dispersed and many ways injured by the iniquity of the times. For I found that the over-officiousness of my friends to precipitate the publication of what was yet unfit to see the light, and that excessive liberty which transcribers take to censure the works of other men, had altered many things, and corrupted others, according to their several humours. But whilst I was endeavouring to remedy these disorders the sudden and unexpected solicitations of my friends broke my measures, all of them, as if they had conspired together, exhorting me to lay aside things of less weight, that rather delight the ear than instruct the mind, and apply myself to write the history of our nation, as a subject not only suitable to my age and sufficient to answer the expectation of my countrymen, but deserving great commendation and most fit to preserve ones memory to succeeding ages. Amongst other reasons, which I omit, they added that though Britain be the most famous island of the world, and every part of its history contain most remarkable things, yet scarce one was to be found in any age who durst attempt so great a work, or had acquitted himself as the subject deserved. Neither was it the least inducement to this undertaking that I hoped my pains herein would not be unfitting for nor unacceptable to you. For it seemed to me absurd and shameful that you, who in this your tender age should have read the histories of all nations, and retain very many of them in your memory, should only be a stranger at home. Besides, an incurable distemper having made me unfit to discharge in person the care of your instruction committed to me, I thought that sort of writing which tends to the information of the mind would best supply the want of my attendance, and resolved to send you faithful counsellors from history, that you might make use of their advice and your deliberations and imitate their virtue in your actions. For there are amongst your ancestors men excellent in every respect, of whom posterity will never be ashamed, and, to omit others, you will hardly find in history any one worthy to be compared with our David. And if the divine Goodness was so liberal to him in those most wretched and wicked times, we may with reason hope that you may be (as the royal Prophet says), a pattern of those excellencies which mothers desire in their children when they give them their best wishes, and that this government, which seems to be hurried on to ruin and destruction, may be supported till the time shall come when, all sublunary things having finished the course appointed them by God’s eternal decree, shall arrive at their designed period. Edinburgh, Aug. 27.
AN EPIGRAM BY ANDREW MELVIN
ON GEORGE BUCHANAN’S DIALOGUE DE IURE REGNI APUD SCOTOS
AND THE RERUM SCOTICARUM HISTORIA WRITTEN BY THE SAME
He who has imposed pious laws on the king, and the bridle of laws on the tyrant, according to the law of nature and God, so that kings might rule justly and savage tyrants might shudder at chains, and cruel rulers at harsh fates, has now more copiously painted on his eternal canvas kings of mild character and cruel tyrants, so that reputation in after days, flying widely abroad, might adorn kings with praise and cover tyrants with shame. Those whom he has bound with justice he now frees from the laws of time, and makes those eternal whom he had previously consigned to death.
THE SAME, TO THE KING
Great lad, while you give laws to the fathers you have summoned and weigh the people’s faults in your equal scales, this Solon of yours, this your Lycurgus, who has given you laws drawn from the pure fountains of equity, seals them with ancestral examples of noble kings, here where you have models of what to shun and what to follow. Happy lad, if you shun what should be shunned and follow what ought to be followed! You and your fathers will be happy with your people.
ANOTHER BY THE SAME, TO G. BUCHANAN
If to have pleased a king is to have displeased a tyrant (who is always displeased by what pleases a king), now his savage might rages as much, Buchanan) as the King rejoices in your act of service.
TO THE SAME
You who have brought Jerusalem to Rome, and all of Rome to your nation, you bestow on the world the affairs of your nation and its chiefs. As much as the great world is larger than Jerusalem and Rome, so much are you now greater than yourself, and your nation than itself.
TO THE SAME
I earnestly beseech Phoebus and the learned Sisters that they grant me the ability to produces verses worthy of your self. But Phoebus turns a deaf ear and the Sisters are mute, and their hearts are hard as ice. Without you, there is no Phoebus, without you, no crew of Sisters. You alone produces verses worthy of yourself.
ON THE TRUE REASON AND USE OF HISTORY
A POEM BY ROBERT ROLOCK
God has indulged us with many an illustration of the fragility of happy mortal life, whether he sows fertile seeds for knowledge of Himself within us (if our hard-heartedness presents no obstacle) or spectacles of the great world upheld by His hands, testifying to the divinity of His king, or He shows twofold government, either constant in nature’s fixed order or turning human affairs aside by a blind path. Thus the world’s Creator presents Himself to mortals, thus He has given Himself to be known from the world’s beginning. But at the very outside these things have failed, hapless error has ensued, oblivion has taken hold of the forgetful mind. For the mind is a sewer of evils. But God has renewed His powers, at a fixed time He granted Christ to atone for the people’s sins. And that so many of God’s acts might endure, never to perish, He entrusted them to the protection of writers, and He put two tomes in the hands of men: the one breathes forth the holy worship of Jehovah, a sin to violate. Here alone you should see what you must believe about His godhead, to this alone you should cling, lest wandering error lead you astray. The other tome (begging Scripture’s pardon) indeed contains writings produced by the human brain, but are gifts of God. Here you may see nothing wholly devoid of divinity, and if it does not deal with it wholeheartedly, at least it touches upon the traces of His wondrous works, either plumbing the hidden recesses of nature or of human manners, or even penetrating divine things, its head borne aloft. But in this great collection of human production Jehovah’s counsel does not elsewhere offer itself more assuredly to human eyes for contemplation in its varying government of the world, which by its virtue it now divides this way, now that, than in the pages of history. And just as often impious error has entrusted to them monuments of shifting fortune. Here, as in a mirror, piety discerns Jehovah’s most sure councils, as at one moment the very just man furnishes an example of crime overcome and restrains tyrants, and at another the good man succors the wretched and lifts them on high. Meanwhile (a wonderful thing) goodness bestows itself on all men. From this piety rises up, protected by a double threat: fear of an avenger and reverent love of a father. Equipped with these, it consecrates genuine honors to God, and by different kinds of example it learns to divide itself into various activities, in shunning the bad and pursuing the better. Happy posterity, for whom the deeds of its ancestors live on in pages, painted in living and true colors! Happy that guardian of the realm who follows heeds history as his life’s teacher! For history is the proper subject for kings. And happy you, Scotland, for having such a gift, and happy this guardian of the realm for having such a present! Behold, Buchanan is present for you. He is your teacher, who shaped your tender years and instructs you in your mature ones. The better that of which his body, worn out by the weight of age, will deny you, his intellect will not deny you. This will be present as your companion as you perform every office of life, whether the piety in your mind urges divine honor, whether you guide the people by the same law wherewith you bridle yourself, or whether you prepare the battle-line that you dismiss in sweet peacetime, a pledge worthy of you, such a great prince. Do not be ashamed to have him as an advisor, you possess a man to whom the great world looks up, a world which calls you blessed for having such a preceptor, and this nation blessed for having such an offspring.
AN EPIGRAM OF THE SAME, TO THE KING
Hearken, oh King, and grant our ear: he who is inspired by pious ardor asks which you think dearer, the man who urges what government should endure, or he who urges the yoke of men such as he himself would not suffer? He who urges a government that would long endure, or he who urges methods of rule by which his king would go to ruin? Although many a flatterer makes his noise in your hear, trust me, your Buchanan is your supporter, he who now sees vividly things concerning this realm that lately lay in shadow. In their lengthy succession your ancestors will speak of these things. Behold, they are present, not all of a single face: this one rejoices in law, that one mourns his erstwhile tyranny. Learn that these same things await you to: either the rewards of the just man, or the punishment of the wicked. For God remains the same. Lo, you have the image of the man, as he depicts the images of your forefathers: these things shall hale you to court, should you have done anything amiss. So will you sing your swan-song for the king as you die, Buchanan? Are you singing in death?
ANOTHER OF THE SAME, TO BUCHANAN
I believe the ancients once fancied there were nine Muses because there was no man who was adroit at each art. Had you lived then, Buchanan, there would have been only one Muse, since you would have been the only man adroit at each art. But the one God preferred to decree that for us there would be a single source of good. Farewell, Muse.
THE NATION ADDRESSES ITS KING
I, Scotland, see two scepters with two eyes, and these two eyes and scepters are again changed into one. They yield one scepter to God, and the other to you, the king: the eye of the body sees the one, that of the heart the other. Now, seeing, the nation herself sees her sighted citizens and her king. But this was not granted our forefathers before. With scarce a single eye (for what good are eyes if not conjoined?) I scarcely saw civil laws. But now on my brow I bear God’s sun, which discerns pure divinities, and from this another moon takes its light. Therefore the nation blessed with your scepter, king, and you are blessed with the scepter of Christ, who rules us both, greater than you and than me. Do you believe me? Read Buchanan: he who first tells you of your ancestors’ goings-astray now also shows you the way.
AN EPIGRAM BY JOHN LINDSEY
ON THE HISTORY OF GEORGE BUCHANAN
With you as her guide, Buchanan, the Muse has left Parnassus and come to the far-distant Caledonians. Now you add glory to history, and, brought back to life by you, the deeds of our ancestors and our nation’s origin shine forth. Although once lying antiquity dared create confusion, the entire silly of Egypt and Scotland have gone to perdition as you return us, Celts by origin to our ancient race, which Gaul, fertile in men, provided. Rightly, therefore, an equal honor belongs to you as father of your nation and a second founder of the great sons of Fergus.
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