John Barbour

Scottish poet (c.1320 – 1395)

John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen (c. 1330March 13 or 14, 1395) was a poet and churchman, sometimes called the father of Scottish poetry. His The Brus, a verse chronicle on the life of Robert I of Scotland, is the oldest major literary work in the Scots language.

Quotes edit

The Brus edit

Quotations in Modern English are taken from Archibald A. H. Douglas (ed. and trans.) The Bruce (Glasgow: William MacLellan, 1964).

  • Storys to rede ar delatibill
    Suppos that thai be nocht bot fabill,
    Than suld storys that suthfast wer
    And thai war said on gud maner
    Have doubill plesance in heryng.
    The first plesance is the carpyng,
    And the tother the suthfastnes
    That schawys the thing rycht as it wes.
    • A story gives delight to read
      Though it be fabulous indeed.
      Then should a story that is true,
      And told in skilful manner too,
      Give pleasure that is full twofold.
      The first is in the tale as told;
      The second is to know full well
      That all is true the tale may tell.
    • Bk. 1, line 1; p. 45.
  • A! Fredome is a noble thing!
    Fredome mays man to haiff liking.
    Fredome all solace to man giffis,
    He levys at es that frely levys!
    • Freedom is a noble thing!
      Great happiness does freedom bring.
      All solace to a man it gives;
      He lives at ease that freely lives.
    • Bk. 1, line 225; p. 53.
  • Na he that ay has levyt fre
    May nocht knaw weill the propyrte
    The angyr na the wrechyt dome
    That is couplyt to foule thyrldome,
    Bot gyff he had assayit it.
    Than all perquer he suld it wyt,
    And suld think fredome mar to prys
    Than all the gold in warld that is.
    • But he that has been always free
      Can ne'er know the reality,
      The anguish and the wretched fate
      That is a part of thraldom's state.
      A thing, when we experience it,
      Makes evident its opposite.
      If bondage he has ever known,
      Then freedom's blessings he will own,
      And reckon freedom worth in gold
      More than the world will ever hold!
    • Bk. 1, line 233; p. 53.
  • Luff is off sa mekill mycht,
    That it all paynys makis lych.
    • For love is of such potent might
      That of misfortune it makes light.
    • Bk. 2, line 523; p. 80.
  • Thai eyt it with full gud will
    That soucht na nother sals thar-till
    Bot appetyt.
    • With full good will they all fell to,
      And sought no other sauce thereto
      Than appetite.
    • Bk. 3, line 539; p. 99.
  • Na thar may na man fyr sa covyr
    Than low or rek sall it discovyr.
    • Nor can a man a fire so cover
      That smoke or flame shall not discover.
    • Bk. 4, line 123; p. 109

Disputed edit

  • Men suld mak mirrie quhill thay mocht.
    • Men should make merry while they may.
    • The Buik of Alexander, Part 2, line 4879; translation from Bartlett Jere Whiting and Helen Wescott Whiting Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968) p. 380.
    • The attribution of this poem to Barbour is considered doubtful.

Criticism edit

  • Perhaps the editor may be accused of nationality, when he 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…Here indeed the reader will find few of the graces of fine poetry, little of the attic dress of the muse; but here are life and spirit, and ease and plain sense, and pictures of real manners, and perpetual incident and entertainment. The language is remarkably good for the time, and far superior in neatness and elegance even to that of Gawin Douglass, who wrote more than a century after.
    • John Pinkerton, in his edition of The Bruce (London: G. Nicol, 1790) vol. 1, p. x.
  • Scottish literature begins effectively with Archdeacon Barbour's Bruce some sixty years after Bannockburn, and to the Bruce and Blind Harry's Wallace (so staunch is the Scot, and such an antiquary in grain) must be attributed much of the colouring and subsequent tone of Scottish sentiment. The Bruce is the better poem, simple, truthful, noble, stirring, a proper start for the literature of a fighting people.
    • George Gordon The Discipline of Letters (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946) p. 88.
  • The Bruce, with which the Scottish contribution to English literature begins, long held its place as the national epic of Scotland.
    • Kenneth Sisam Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964) p. 108.

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