Andrew Melville

To the king, concerning the History of Buchanan.

Melville contributed five prefatory poems to George Buchanan's Rerum Scoticarum historia, auctore Georgio Buchanano Scoto (Edinburgh, 1582), and helped Buchanan to complete revisions to the text and see it through the press. He even dissuaded the printer, Alexander Arbuthnett, from withdrawing from the project over his fears that the comments on Mary's adulterous relationship with David Riccio were treasonous (see Mason and Smith, pp. xlii-xlv). Three of Melville's epigrams are reproduced in the DPS (this poem and the two that form d2_MelA_034). This poem emphasises the value of the Historia as an example of the 'mirror for princes' genre, advice manuals which were intended to serve as a source of advice and encouragement to royalty (in this case to the young King James VI), while the other two show Melville's high regard for Buchanan's literary abilities. Interestingly, the two poems left out of the DPS both praise the Historia's stark portrayal of examples of tyranny through the ages among the Scottish kings (they begin 'Qui Regi pia iura, et legum frena Tyranno' and 'Si Regi placuisse est discipluisse Tyranno'), perhaps suggesting a conscious effort on the part of the editors to avoid any association with Buchanan's radical views of tyrannicide and elective monarchy, while still showcasing poems that praised his immense talents as a writer. Metre: elegiac couplets.

[115]

Ad Regem de Buchanani Historia

Dum tu, magne puer, patribus das jura vocatis,
et populi pensas crimina lance pari:
iura tibi tuus ille Solon, tuus ille Lycurgus,
quae recti e puris fontibus hausta dedit:
nobilium regum exemplis obsignat avitis
hic ubi quid fugias, quidve sequaris habes.
Faelix si fugias fugienda, sequenda sequaris:
faelix, cum populo, tuque patresque tuo.

[115]

To the king, concerning the History of Buchanan

Great boy, while you give the laws to the assembled fathers, a and you weigh up the crimes of the people impartially: laws that your Solon, that your Lycurgus b gave to you which were drawn out from pure sources of justice: he puts a seal upon the ancestral examples of noble kings here c where you have some examples to flee from, and some examples to follow. You will be happy if you flee from what you should flee, and follow what you should follow: you will be happy, along with the people, and your fathers.

Notes:


Translation

a: The estates in parliament.

b: Solon (c.638 BC-558 BC), Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and poet. He attempted to implement a range of political, economic and moral reforms in ancient Athens, and is credited with being the father of Athenian democracy. Lycurgus (c.820-730 BC?) reformed Spartan society along military lines in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, and wrote the Athenian constitution. Both refer here to Buchanan.

c: In this book.