Monday, April 27, 2009

John Barclay gets paid by King James


Author John Barclay (1582–1621) was born in France to a Scots father, William Barclay, who was a law teacher resident in the Lorraine. John Barclay was pro-Scots and an ardent booster of James Stuart, though he, apparently, never set foot in Scotland. John Barclay had a Jesuit education, but did not go into the priesthood, and he became a noted critic (carefully, through his satire) of the Jesuit order. Barclay gained early notoriety with his 1605 book, Euphormionis lusinini satyricon. This was a clever jest, modeled on Petronius's Satyricon and written in perfect Renaissance Latin. The book became quite popular and a variety of "guides" were published, each attempting to identify Barclay's characters with real-world persons. Most scholars agree that James Stuart is "Neptune" and "Acignius" personifies the Jesuit mind-set. Euphormionis, published in Europe, carried a dedication to King James. Barclay's efforts to flatter and please King James were thorough and persistent. In 1603 Barclay had published Regi Jacobo Primo, carmen gratulatorium (printed in Paris) congratulating the Stuart King on his rise to the throne of England. In 1606, the Barclay family was physically in England. Barclay published Sylvae (1606), poems to James and his top courtiers. Barclay's "courtship" was facilitated in large part by Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury. Records show payments to Barclay for which Cecil was reimbursed by the treasury. In 1609 John Barclay edited and published a book written by his father, De potestate papae (1609). This tome argued strongly that the Pope should have no political or secular power whatsoever. Controversial, to say the least! Due to to Barclay's courage, availability, and gumption, King James hired him to work on his own 1609 publication, the Apologie... (see blog entry for April 8).

Four hundred years ago today, Barclay got paid. In the Calendar of State papers we find that on April 27, 1609, Barclay was rewarded for his translation work on the "king's book." [CSP dom., 1603–10, 506], which has been deduced to be An Apologie for the Oath of Allegiance, revised and put into English in 1609.

But all this past is merely prologue. Barclay is most famous for his fantasy novel, Argenis. Written while in Rome, Barclay's Argenis saw first publication in Paris in 1621 (just weeks after Barclay had died, perhaps of poisoning). The story focuses on princess Argenis and and her three suitors. This allegorical work has since been subsequently glossed to fit all manner of historical and mythic agendas. But it was a bestseller and is considered a classic. King James requested that Ben Jonson translate Argenis from the Latin into English. It is now debated whether Jonson ever completed this task, including the possibility that Jonson's translation was lost in his famous fire. In any case, an English language Argenis was published in 1625, in such strikingly beautiful prose, that some think that Barclay himself must have left an unpublished English version. --[RSB, April 27, 2009]



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