Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arbuthnot, Alexander (d.1585)

ARBUTHNOT, or ARBUTHNET, ALEXANDER (d. 1585), merchant burgess and printer of Edinburgh, with Thomas Bassandyne, brought out the first Bible issued in Scotland. In March 1675 the two presented a petition to the general assembly requesting permission to print the English Bible. This was given, and it was agreed that 'every bible which they shall receive advancement for shall be sold in albis [sheets] for 4 pound 13 shill. 4 pennies Scottis [=112th English money], keeping the volume and character of the said proofs delivered to the clerk of the assembly' (Lee, Mem. for the Bible Societies of Scotland, p. 29). From the obligatioun for prenting of the Bybill, 18 July 1576 (Register of Privy Council of Scotland, 1878, ii. 544) it appears that the regent Morton caused the 'advancement' spoken of to be made to the printers from the contributions of the parish kirks, collected by the bishops, superintendents, and visitors of the dioceses. An 'authentic copy' from which to print was delivered, and certain persons were appointed to see that the copy, the Genevan edition of 1561, was duly followed. 'Mr. George Young, servant to the abbot of Dunfermline,' corrected the proofs; Robert Pont compiled the kalendar and preliminary tables. License from privy council was obtained 30 June 1576, giving Arbuthnot and Bassandyne the exclusive right of printing and selling for ten years 'Bibillis in the vulgare Inglis toung, in haill or in partis, with ane callindare' at the price mentioned before (Lee, Mem. Appendix No. 5). The name of Bassandyne alone appears on the New Testament, which is dated 1576. The partners seem to have quarrelled. Upon the complaint of Arbuthnot to the privy council, 11 Jan. 1577, of the delay in the publication, Bassandyne was ordered 'to deliver to the said Alexander the said werk of the Bybill ellis prentit, with the prenting hous and necessaris appertening thairto meit for setting furthwart of the said werk, conforme to the said contract' (Register, ii. 583). Basandyne died 18 Oct. 1577. On 1 April 1579 Arbuthnot received license to print, sell, and import psalm books, prayers, and catechism, for the space of seven years. The publication of the Bible was delayed until the completion by Arbuthnot in 1579: 'The Bible and Holy Scriptures conteined in the Olde and Newe Testament … Printed at Edinburgh, be Alexander Arbuthnot, printer to the King's Maiestie, dwelling at ye kirk of feild, 1579,' 2 vols, folio. The British Museum copy contains a facsimile of the eight leaves following the title, reproduced from a copy, in which variations occur, belonging to Mr. Fiy. In spite of the large edition which must have been printed, the book is now extremely scarce, especially in perfect condition. It is a reprint of the second folio edition of the Genevan version (1561), with all the notes, cuts, and maps exactly reproduced. That no effort was made to change the spelling and style to the Scottish usage shows that the southern English was perfectly familiar in the north. The publication was a joint enterprise on the part of the church and the printers, of whom Arbuthnot seems to have been the capitalist and Bassandyne the practical mechanic. The 'Dedication,' which was written by Arbuthnot and revised by the general assembly, is addressed in their name to James VI, and the impression is said to have been intended 'to the end that in euerie paroch kirk there sulde be at leist ane thereof kepit, to be callit the commoun buke of the kirke.' The 'Dedication' is dated 10 July 1579; six weeks later (24 Aug.) Arbuthnot was made king's printer, with right of printing ordinary books and special license to print and sell Bibles 'in the vulgar Inglis, Scottis, and Latein toungis' (Lee, Mem, App. No. 7). An act of parliament was passed in 1579 to compel every gentleman householder and others with 300 marks of yearly rent, and every substantial yeoman or burgess to 'have a bible and psalme buke in vulgar language in thair hous' under penalty of 10l. (Act. Par. Scot. iii. 139). Searchers were appointed to carry the law into effect, and local authorities issued proclamations calling the attention of the citizens to the enactment. The demand for the new Bible seems to have been so great that some delay occurred in supplying copies (Articles of General Assembly, ap. Calderwood's Hist. iii. 467).

A romance poem, 'The Bulk of the most noble and vailzeand Conquerour Alexander the Great,' was printed by the Bannatyne Club in 1831 from the unique copy belonging to Lord Panmure. Two devices (pp. 105-6) indicate that the book came from the press of Arbuthnot about 1580. In 1582 he printed the first edition of Buchanan's 'Rerum Scoticarum Historia,' folio, more remarkable for beauty than correctness. He also issued the acts of parliament for 1584. He died intestate 1 Sept. 1585, as appears from the inventory of his effects 'maid and gevin vp be Agnes Pennycuicke, his relect spous, in name and behalf of Alesone, Agnes, Thomas, George and Johne Arbuthnettis, their lauchfull bairnis' (Bannatyne Miscellany, ii. 207). He left two printing presses with fittings.

[Wodrow's Collections (Maitland Club); M'Crie's Life of Melville; Cotton's Editions of the Bible; Eadie's English Bible.]

H. R. T.