Bassantin, James

, a Scotch astronomer in the sixteenth century, whose writings have deservedly transmitted his memory to posterity, was the son of the laird of Bassantin in the Merse, and born some time in the reign of king James IV. He was sent while young to the university of Glasgow where, instead of applying himself to words, he studied things; and, while other young men of his age were perfecting themselves in style, he arrived at a surprising knowledge, for that time, in almost all branches of the mathematics. In order to improve himself in this science, and to gratify his passion for seeing other countries, he travelled, soon after he quitted the college of | Glasgow, through the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany, fixing himself at last in France, where he taught the mathematics with applause, in the university of Paris. He fell in there with the common notions of the times, and was either credulous enough to entertain a good opinion of judicial astrology, or had so much address as to make the credulity of others useful to him, by supporting an erroneous system, then in too great credit for him to demolish, if he had been disposed, as the humour of believing such kind of predictions never ran so strong as at this time, nor any where stronger than in that country. At last, having a desire to see his relations, and spend his remaining days in his own country, he resolved to quit France, where he had acquired a high reputation, and some fortune, and returned home in the year 1562. It was doubtless to our author that sir James Melvil alludes in his Memoirs, when he says that his brother, sir Robert, while he was using his endeavours to reconcile the two queens, Elizabeth and Mary, met with one Bassantin, a man learned in the high sciences, who told him “that all his travel would be in vain; for, said he, they will never meet together: and next, there will never be anything but dissembling and secret hatred, for a while; and at length, captivity and utter wreck to our queen from England.” He added, “that the kingdom of England at length shall fall, of right, to the crown of Scotland; but it shall cost many bloody battles; and the Spaniards shall be helpers, and take a part to themselves for their labour.A prediction in which Bassantin partly guessed right, which it is likely he was enabled to do from a judicious consideration of probable circumstances and appearances.

It does not at all appear in what manner he spent the remainder of his life after he came back to Scotland; but it is certain he did not survive long, since his decease happened, as those who were well acquainted with him attest, in 1568. As to his learning, we are told by those who admired it most, it lay not in languages, of which, except his mother-tongue, he knew none thoroughly, though he spoke and taught in French, but in a very incorrect manner, and wrote much worse. He had very clear notions in most parts of his writings, and was far from being a contemptible astronomer, though the commendations bestowed on him by some authors very far surpass his deserts. He was too nauch tinctured with the superstition of the times, | not to intermix a vast deal of false, and even ridiculous matter in his writings, on the virtuous aspects, and influences of the planets; yet in other respects he shews much good sense and industry, which render his works worth reading, and ought to secure both them and his memory from oblivion. As to his religion, he is reported to have been a zealous Protestant; and, with regard to his political principles, he is said to have adhered to the famous earl of Murray, then struggling for that power which he afterwards obtained. The works published by our author were: 1. “Astronomia, Jacobi Bassantini Scoti, opus absolutissimum,” &c. in which the observations of the most expert mathematicians on the heavens are digested into order and method, Latin and French, Geneva, 1599, fol. 2. “Paraphrase de l‘Astrolabe, avec une amplification de l’usage de l’astrolabe,Lyons, 1555; and again at Paris, 1617, 8vo. 3. “Super mathematica genethliaca;” i. e. of the calculation of nativities. 4. “Arithmetical” 5. “Musica secundnm Platonem.” 6. “De Mathesi in genere.” The very titles of his works, joined to the age in which he flourished, sufficiently justify his right to a place in this work; and, though he might have foibles, yet, without doubt his practical skill was great, and the pains he took contributed not a little to bring in that accuracy and correctness in observations, which have effectually exploded those superstitions to which, with other great men, he was too much addicted. 1


Biog. Brit. Mackenzie’s Scotch writers, vol. III. p. 81, —Hutton’s Math. Dictionary.