Barbour, John

, an ancient Scotch poet, was born about 1316, but of his personal history few memorials have been recovered. He was brought up to the church, and in 1357, is styled archdeacon of Aberdeen. Quring | the same year, the bishop of his diocese appointed him one of the commissioners to deliberate concerning the ransom of the captive king o f Scotland, David II. In 1365, he appears to have visited St. Denis, near Paris, in company with six knights, the object of which visit was probably of a religious kind, as the king of England granted them permission to pass through his dominions on their way to St. Denis and other sacred places. About ten years afterwards he was engaged in composing the work upon which his lame now principally rests, “The Bruce.” As a reward of his poetical merit, he is said to have received a pension, but this is doubtful. From some passages in Winton’s Chronicle, it would appear, that Barbour also composed a genealogical history of the kings of Scotland, but no part of this is known to be extant. He died in 1396, of an advanced age, if the date of his birth which we have given be correct, but that is not agreed upon. His celebrated poem, “The Bruce, or the history of Robert I. king of Scotland,” was first published in 1616, 12mo, again in 1648, both at Edinburgh, at Glasgow in 1665, 8vo, and at Edinburgh in 1670, 12mo, and often afterwards in meaner forms but a valuable, and the only genuine edition, as to purity of text, was edited by Mr. Pinkerton, in 1790, 3 vols. 12 mo, from a ms. in the advocate’s library, dated 1489. The learned editor says that “taking the total merits of this work together, he prefers it to the early exertions of even the Italian muse, to the melancholy sublimity of Dante, and the amorous quaintness of Petrarca.” Barbour is not only the first poet, but the earliest historian of Scotland, who has entered into any detail, and from whom any view of the real state and manners of the country can be learned. The obscure and capricious spelling may perhaps, deter some readers from a perusal of “The Bruce,” but it is very remarkable that Barbour, who was contemporary with Gower and Chaucer, is more intelligible to a modern reader than either of these English. Some assert that he was educated at Oxford, but there is no proof of this, and if there were, it would not account for this circumstance. 1


Pinkerton’s edition. Mackenzie’s Scotch writers, vol. I. Ellis’s SpedWens, vol. I. p. 226,~irvine’s Lives of the Scots poets, vol. I