Caspar Barlaeus and the Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum

Gesine Manuwald, Member of Academic Advisory Group

Since, obviously, the team working on the Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum (DPS) project cannot edit and translate all the poems included in those two volumes, it rightly prioritizes the works of those poets in this collection whose poems are not easily accessible otherwise. This procedure offers other scholars the opportunity to look at further sections of the DPS and thus to contribute to achieving a better understanding of this anthology and of the role of Latin in Scotland at the time. A key element in this context are the prefatory pieces introducing the DPS, as early modern books of the period generally come with extensive so-called paratextual material. 1 The DPS opens with a letter entitled 'Dedicatio' and a series of short poems called 'Elogia Musarum', both addressed to Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit and written by the Scottish poet Arthur Johnston; these are followed by a poem dedicated to Scot by the Dutch scholar Isaac Gruter and two poems by the Dutch humanist Caspar Barlaeus, one for Scot and one for Johnston. 2

Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit's prominent position is not surprising since he was the person mainly responsible for the project of the DPS. Scot (1585-1670), after attending St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, was appointed as a judge and succeeded to the office of director of chancery. In 1611 he acquired lands in Fife, which he named Scotstarvit. In 1617 he was knighted and made a privy councillor by king James VI. In 1629 Scot became an extraordinary, and in 1632 an ordinary, lord of session. In April 1638 he signed the national covenant; consequently, he later declined to sign the rival king's confession. In the following years he was politically active for Scotland; under the Commonwealth he lost the offices both of judge and director of chancery. Scot then returned to Scotstarvit, where he was active as a writer as well as a patron of other poets and as a collector and editor. 3

That the Scottish poet Arthur Johnston (c. 1579-1641) wrote some of the opening pieces is also understandable since he assisted Scot in producing the DPS (although the precise extent of his contribution is debated). 4 Johnston, regarded as the second great Scottish Neo-Latin poet after George Buchanan (1506-1582), came from Aberdeenshire. He enjoyed an education in Scotland and later on the European Continent, studying and teaching at German, Italian and French universities; he received a medical qualification at Padua in 1610. Upon his return to Britain in the early 1620s, he became one of the royal physicians and, in 1637, rector of King's College Aberdeen. 5

What might be more noteworthy is the fact that the opening material includes poems by well-known Dutch humanists. Since this is likely to provide further insight into the role and assessment of this collection beyond a national level, this feature will look at the pair of poems by Caspar Barlaeus and ask what these can reveal about the respective perception of Sir John Scot and Arthur Johnston in the eyes of an outsider. (Transcriptions of the Latin text of both poems edited in line with the conventions of the project, as well as English translations, are provided below; some annotations of the names and metaphorical concepts used, often based on the Oxford Latin Dictionary, are also included.)

Caspar Barlaeus (Caspar van Baerle) was a Dutch humanist, poet and historian (1548-1648). 6 After studying at the University of Leiden and a short spell as a vicar, he was appointed to Leiden University. Because of his involvement in the religious quarrels between different groups of Protestants, he then lost this position. Therefore, for a time he gave private lessons and trained as a doctor. Later he became a professor at the new university in Amsterdam, run by a different religious group. Barlaeus produced Latin poetry, speeches and geographical works, including an account of the Dutch colonial empire in Brazil.

Several of Barlaeus' works were printed by the Dutch cartographer and publisher Willem Blaeu (1571-1638), who also produced the DPS. Scot contributed to an atlas of Scotland published by Willem Blaeu and corresponded with Dutch scholars. Interestingly, Barlaeus also studied medicine, besides being a poet, like Johnston; they may have attended the same French university.

Because of Scot's close connections with the Dutch humanists, 7 it is not surprising that Barlaeus felt inclined to produce a praise of the DPS. More importantly, since apparently not all liminal material offered was eventually printed and Barlaeus was later asked to write a preface to the atlas, Scot seems to have valued a contribution from him more highly than an assortment of poems from his countrymen. Writing as someone not Scottish and not involved in the project, there were none of the tensions for Barlaeus applying to Johnston. Still, that Barlaeus wrote a poem about Scot and a poem about Johnston and both poems were included in the edition may indicate that Barlaeus recognized that, besides Scot, Johnston played a major role in the enterprise and that Scot acknowledged this. At the same time the different style and structure of the two poems by Barlaeus indicate the different roles and responsibilities of the two Scotsmen. This is already brought out by the titles: the title of the poem to Scot identifies him as the addressee and gives him a honorific appellation, whereas the poem for Johnston is a piece about his poems (though he is equally identified as a royal physician). Johnston is described as a great poet, who has achieved fame in Scotland because of Scot's interest in him.

Like Johnston in his prefatory pieces, in the poem to Scot Barlaeus praises Scot for having done a service to Scotland and the Muses. Barlaeus is far more emphatic and underlines that Scot has made Scottish poetry (and only Scottish poetry) public and brought the Muses from their original seat in classical Greece to Scotland. He goes so far as to claim that this northern country has been turned into their main residence and Greece is now 'barbarian', by reversing the standard juxtaposition of learned Greece surrounded by barbarian countries. Scot himself almost becomes the leader of the Muses and appears as a key instrument in this translatio of culture. These ideas are expressed by learned imagery and (sometimes oblique) allusions to Apollo, the Muses and places traditionally associated with the Muses. Scot's cultural deed is also seen as a service and ornament of his country; he is presented as an honour for his country and the Scottish kingdom, since he works for both the king and the Muses.

In the poem to Johnston too Barlaeus focuses on Scotland: he starts by recalling Johnston's move from France back to Scotland, which he connects with Scot's support for him. The main idea of the poem is based on the conceit that Johnston is both a royal poet and a royal physician: he therefore ensures the survival of the king, by looking after his physical wellbeing and by presenting a portrait for posterity, thus granting him 'a double life'. Unsurprisingly, this poem about Johnston provides more details about his poetry than his own pieces and implicitly defines it as of lasting value. This justifies their inclusion in the collection by their quality, rather than for the purpose of setting off those by others, as Johnston himself suggests modestly.

Although he is not a Scot himself, Caspar Barlaeus praises the two Scotsmen emphatically and highlights their achievements for Scottish poetry; equally, he places these poems and the entire enterprise within a broader political context: in both poems he mentions king Charles I (1600-1649; reigned 1625-1649) and the benefit he receives from the work of the two Scotsmen. Such links are possible since Barlaeus exploits the facts that Sir John Scot had an official position in the royal administration and that the poet Arthur Johnston was also a royal physician. This also relates the the piece to a particular point in time since the relations between Scot and the king changed soon after the publication of the DPS. The reverence for the king may be designed to increase the prestige of the DPS and not only to hail it as a literary achievement, which is beyond doubt for Barlaeus, but also to win official acceptance for it. This reference to the reigning monarch is particularly noteworthy since Johnston in his poems refers to the previous king James (James VI and I, 1566-1625: king of Scotland since 1567, of England since 1603) as a supporter of intellectual life. The enlargement of focus and the emphatic praise of the Scottish editors in Barlaeus' poems are given particular weight by their final position within the sequence of prefatory material.


Nobili magnificoque Viro D. IOANNI SCOTO SCOTO-TARVATIO, Equiti et Regni Scotiæ Cancellario.

SCOTE, Caledonii sidus venerabile regni;
Celsior, hoc dici, quod minus esse putas.
Os Caroli, Borei locuples facundia sceptri,
Quo tria vel possent regna loquente loqui.
Quam tua nunc nostris illuxit gloria terris,
Quam volupe est Batavo te quoque teste legi!
Ecce, renascentes coëunt, ceu federe, Musæ.
Et vario pulchrum carmine surgit opus.
Quod loquitur, natale solum est. tua Scotia Cyrrha est.
Exulat hoc omnis vox peregrina libro.
Per te Parrhasiis Helicon conscenditur oris,
Aoniique faces ordinis Vrsa quatit.
Tu Phoebi delubra moves, tu pectora vatum
Concutis et motu fervidiore rapis.
Permessis se lympha tuis abscondit arenis,
Barbara nec veterem Græcia Delon habet.
Transfers, Scote, Deos, transfers, loca, numina, montes.
Te prope iam Tenedon quærit Apollo suam.
Ac veluti Dictynna vagis prælusitat astris,
Ducis Apollineum Phosphorus ipse chorum.
Quam gaudent se regna regi; cum Regis et uni
Credita Pegasidum cura laborque viro est.


[To the noble and magnificent gentleman, Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit, knight and chancellor of the kingdom of Scotland.

Scot, august star of the Caledonian kingdom, more elevated to be mentioned with respect to what you believe to be less. Mouth of Charles, 8 rich eloquence of the northern 9 sceptre; with that talking even three kingdoms 10 could talk. How your glory has now lit up our lands, 11 how pleasurable is it that you too are read with a Batavian 12 as witness! Look, being reborn, the Muses are coming together, as if by a treaty. And a beautiful work rises up with poems of varied nature. 13 What speaks is the domestic soil. Your Scotland is Cirrha. 14 Every foreign voice is banished from this book. Through you the Helicon 15 is being climbed at Parrhasian coasts, 16 and the Bear 17 shakes the torches of the Aonian class. 18 You move the temples of Phoebus, you excite the hearts of poets, and you rush them along with rather impassioned movement. The water of the spring of Permessus 19 hides itself on your shores, and barbarian Greece does not have old Delos. 20 You are transferring, Scot, the gods, you are transferring places, divinities, mountains. Already Apollo looks for his Tenedos 21 near you. And as Dictynna 22 plays a prelude to the roaming stars, you, as the morning star 23 itself, lead the Apollinean chorus. 24 How the kingdoms enjoy to be governed when care and effort for the king and the Muses are consigned to a single man. 25

Caspar Barlaeus.]


IN POEMATA Clarissimi Viri ARTVURI IONSTONI, Medici Regii.

GALLIA Ionstono celebris fuit. itur in Arcton,
Grandiaque Arturi nomina Scotus amat.
Crescit virtuti precium. sibi vendicat illum,
Et Tamesis tantum possidet aula virum.
Clarior invictis vates sub regibus audit,
Aoniasque levat purpura crebra Deas.
Nunc CAROLO mens ista vacat; Regisque saluti
Dum studet, incolumi Principe quisque valet.
Sceptra canit sanatque simul. cum fata minantur,
Ille diem regi protrahit, ille decus.
Officium Medicina facit Phoebusque nec ostrum
Funus ab ingrata posteritate timet.
Vita duplex Regi conceditur, una medentis,
Altera, vel CAROLO judice, vatis erit.


[On the poems of the most noble gentleman Arthur Johnston, royal physician.

Gaul was famous because of Johnston. One moves to the north, 26 and Scot loves the grand name of Arthur. Virtue's value increases: it lays claim to him [i.e. Johnston] for itself, and the court of the Thames 27 has so great a man in its possession. A poet is regarded as more famous under unconquered kings, and abundant purple lifts the Heliconian goddesses. 28 Now this mind is free for Charles; and as long as he cares for the king's welfare, each one is well when the prince is well. He celebrates sceptres in verse and heals them at the same time. 29 When the fates threaten, he extends the time for the king, he extends the glory. Medicine and Phoebus 30 provide a job, and royal purple does not fear death from ungrateful posterity. 31 A double life is granted to the king, one will be owing to the healer, the other to the poet, 32 even with Charles as judge.

C. Barlaeus.]


1: On this type of material in a Scottish context, see Jamie Reid-Baxter, 'Liminary Verse: the Paratextual Poetry of Renaissance Scotland', in Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 3 (2008), pp. 70-94.

2: Interestingly, the poems by Barlaeus must have been added to the foliation after the original printing order had been fixed, as the preceding poem by Gruter occupies pages 8 to 11 of volume 1, while the first text of the DPS proper, by Patrick Adamson, begins at page 13 after a blank page. The texts by Barlaeus have been inserted by means of a extra sheet.

3: See David Stevenson, 'Scot, Sir John, of Scotstarvit, Lord Scotstarvit (1585-1670)', ODNB.

4: See Steven J. Reid, '"Quasi Sybillae Divina Folia": the anatomy of the Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum', in Janet Hadley-Williams and J. Derrick McClure (eds.), Fresche Fontanis: Studies in the Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Scotland (Cambridge Scholars, 2013), pp. 397-414; C.A. Upton, 'National Internationalism: Scottish Literature and the European Audience in the Seventeenth Century', in Studies in Scottish Literature, 26/1 (1991), pp. 218-25.

5: Nicola Royan, 'Johnston, Arthur (c.1579-1641)', ODNB.

6: For biography, bibliography and works of Capsar Barlaeus see and

7: Barlaeus produced at least one other poem about Scot: 'In insignia Ioh. Scoti Tarviset, Cancellariae Scotiae directoris salinis insculpta', (accessible at:

8: Charles I (1600-1649), king of England, Scotland and Ireland (1625-1649).

9: Boreus is used for 'northern', from Boreas, 'north wind'.

10: The 'three kingdoms' are perhaps an allusion to the reign of Charles I over England, Scotland and Ireland.

11: In a poem by Barlaeus 'our lands' must be the Netherlands, where the DPS was printed.

12: Batavus is used for 'Dutch', from Batavi, 'a people of Lower Germany'.

13: This describes the DPS as an anthology.

14: Cirrha is the port of Delphi, in poetry often used for Delphi, the seat of Apollo.

15: Helicon is a mountain in Boeotia, sacred to Apollo and the Muses.

16: Parrhasius is also used as a poetic epithet of the constellation Ursa Major or of the neighbouring regions of the heavens; thus it here denotes the northern region of Scotland.

17: The 'Bear' is the constellation of Ursa Major.

18: Aonius is an epithet of Helicon, the mountain of the Muses. The 'Aonian class' are therefore the Muses.

19: Permessus is a river rising on Mount Helicon; Permessis is the nymph of this river or the spring presided over by her.

20: Delos is an island in the Aegean Sea, the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.

21: Tenedos is another island in the Aegean Sea, where Apollo was the chief deity.

22: Dictynna is a Cretan goddess, sometimes identified with Diana, also the goddess of the Moon (Catullus 34).

23: Phosphorus is the 'morning star'.

24: The chorus of Apollo, the god of poetry, are the Muses.

25: 'The single man' is Scot, who is both a public official and publishes Scottish poetry.

26: After a stay on the European Continent, including France (Gaul), Arthur Johnston returned to Scotland, further north. Arctos is the constellation of the Great Bear or the Little Bear and therefore is applied to the lands or peoples of the north.

27: Signifying London as the base of the court under King James VI and I.

28: The 'Heliconian goddesses' are the Muses, named after Mount Helicon.

29: This alludes to Arthur Johnston being a royal physician and a Scottish poet at the same time.

30: Phoebus is an appellation of Apollo, here seen as the god of poetry or poetry itself.

31: 'Purple' metonymically denotes the king and his achievements: they do not need to be afraid of being forgotten by ungrateful posterity, since they have been celebrated in poetry.

32: As a doctor Johnston ensures the king's physical life, and as a poet his afterlife.