Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Volusene, Florence

VOLUSENE, FLORENCE (1504?–1547?), scholar and humanist, is called by David Echlin in 1637, in his edition of the ‘De Animi Tranquillitate,’ Wolson or Wolsey, and by modern writers Wilson (for which, however, there is no contemporary or early authority). In his English letters he signs himself ‘Volusene’ and ‘Volusenus.’ According to the scanty references to his early life in his ‘De Animi Tranquillitate,’ he was born and passed his youth on the banks of the Lossie near Elgin, where he had his early education, and had as his schoolfellow and friend John Ogilvie, afterwards rector of Cruden and canon of Aberdeen, with whom he was wont to stroll on the banks of the Lossie reading Horace and discussing his philosophy. From Elgin he proceeded to the university of Aberdeen, and from 1528 to 1535 he was in Paris, at first as one of the tutors of Wolsey's reputed son, Thomas Wynter, dean of Wells, and acting at the same time, and also after Wolsey's fall had deprived him of his tutorship, as a correspondent and agent of Cromwell, giving him information as to political and social matters in Paris (see his letters in the Brit. Mus. and the Record Office; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, ed. Brewer and Gairdner; Bannatyne Miscellany, vol. i. 1827). The earliest letter, dated 1 Oct. 1528, is written from Richmond, where he seems to have been then staying with Wolsey. His letters refer to several visits to London, and show that he was well acquainted with Bishops Gardiner and Fox, and from passages in the ‘De Animi Tranquillitate’ we learn that Bishop Fisher was also among his friends. In a letter written in 1530 or 1531 (Cotton MSS., one of those mutilated in the fire of 1731) Volusene refers to ‘Nicholas Federstone, my procture of Spel[d]hurs[t],’ while George Hampton in a letter to Cromwell of 30 April 1533 refers to Volusene's ‘benefice in Kent;’ it may therefore be inferred that he was rector of Speldhurst, though we have no evidence of his being in holy orders, nor does his name appear in any list of the rectors.

Volusene was in England in 1534, and while walking in the garden of Antonio Bonvisi [q. v.], their common friend Dr. John Starkey praised Carpentras as a place where Volusene might devote himself to the study of philosophy under the patronage of its learned bishop—soon to become a cardinal—Sadolet.

At Paris Volusene enjoyed the patronage of the cardinal of Lorraine, from whom he received a pension until he left Paris, and of Cardinal du Bellay, who in July 1535 was sent by Francis I on an embassy to Rome. Volusene was to have accompanied him, though in what capacity does not appear; but a serious and lengthened illness caused him to remain behind, and it was not until 19 Sept. that he started for Italy ‘to see if I can win my living in some university there,’ as he wrote to Cromwell on that day (Letters and Papers, ix. 131). At Lyons Volusene met Bonvisi, and Starkey's recommendation of Carpentras as a place of study recurred to him. On his way thither he fell sick at Avignon, and was detained by want of money (Sadoleti Epistolæ, 1760, ii. 383). But hearing that Sadolet was in want of a master for his college or school at Carpentras, he proceeded to that city and saw the bishop, who, in one of the most interesting of his letters (ib. ii. 315, to Paul Sadolet), has given an account of the interview. At first desirous only of getting rid of his visitor, whom he assumed to be a beggar or an adventurer, Sadolet soon became interested in his conversation, and delighted with his learning and modesty. He then sent for the magistrates and other influential citizens of Carpentras, and, with their sanction, appointed him to a tutorship or professorship—probably of eloquence (i.e. Latin composition)—at a yearly salary of one hundred gold pieces (seventy crowns Volusene calls it), two-thirds paid by the city, and the remaining third by Sadolet himself. His biographers generally state or imply that he was appointed principal of the school, but this does not seem to have been the case, as we find Jacques Bording held that office (scholæ præfuit) from 1537 to 1540 (Sad. Epistt. iii. 236), and in 1544 Claude Baduel was appointed to it (Gaufrès, Cl. Baduel, 1880, p. 129). Volusene soon returned to Lyons for the purpose of buying books, and again stayed with Bonvisi, and (21 Nov.) wrote an account of his appointment to his friend Starkey (Letters and Papers, ix. 291). At Carpentras he passed the remainder of his life, varied by visits to Paris, Lyons—where he was on friendly terms with several leading citizens of literary tastes—and possibly, as his biographers think, to Italy and Scotland. That he visited Italy is not certain; but a letter to Cruden, written after 1533, implies that he was then in Scotland or preparing to go thither (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 203). His wish had been to devote himself to the study of philosophy, and his letter to Starkey shows a little disappointment that the subjects of his lectures would be Cicero, Virgil, and the rudiments of Greek. He continued to enjoy the esteem and confidence of Sadolet, who had only one fault to find with him—his solitary and taciturn disposition (Sad. Epist. ii. 383).

In 1539 he published at Lyons, through the press of Gryphius, his little known and very scarce ‘Commentatio quædam Theologica quæ eadem precatio est .... in Aphorismos dissecta,’ 8vo, which is little more than brief passages of scripture turned into prayers, and is so rare that his editors and biographers were unable to see a copy, and could only quote its title from the catalogue of the library of De Thou. In 1543, at the same press, he published the work on which his fame rests, ‘De Animi Tranquillitate Dialogus, Lugduni apud Seb. Gryphium, mdxliii,’ 4to, four hundred pages. In form, this work is an imaginary conversation held in a garden on the heights of Fourvières overlooking Lyons, between the author and two friends. In substance it reminds us of the ‘Consolation of Philosophy’ of Boethius. Without being commonplace, it is full of sense, and at once reasonable and Christian. It seems to have had considerable popularity, and brought to its author well-deserved fame. It was reprinted at Leyden in 1637 under the editorship of David Echlin, and reissued with a new title-page, ‘Hagæ Comitis, 1642.’ The subsequent editions are those of Edinburgh, 1707 and 1751, the latter edited by G. Wishart. To the editions of 1637, 1707, and 1751 a brief life is prefixed, anonymous, but written by Thomas Wilson (who also called himself ‘Volusenus’), and is appended to his edition of the ‘Poemata’ of his father-in-law, Archbishop Patrick Adamson [q. v.], 1619–18. An Italian translation was printed at Sienna in 1574.

Gesner met Volusene at Lyons in 1540, and speaks of him as ‘juvenili adhuc ætate; et magnam ab ejus eruditione perventuram ad studiosos utilitatem expectamus’ (Bibl. Univ. 245). Barthélemy Aneau, in the dedication to the Earl of Arran of his French translation of the ‘Emblems of Alciat’ (Lyons, 1549), states that he undertook the work by the advice of ‘M. Florent. Volusen,’ whose virtues and knowledge of the arts, sciences, and the Greek, Latin ‘Escossoise,’ French, Italian, and Spanish languages, he highly extols. Among the epigrams of G. Ducher is one addressed to Volusene (G. Ducheri Epigrammaton lib. ii. 1538, p. 50). In the meantime, though he never left the church of Rome, his opinions seem to have gravitated towards those of the reformers. In a letter to Cromwell, dated 20 June 1536 (Letters and Papers, x. 488), he states that he is writing a short apology for the king on throwing off his submission to Rome, and shall bring it with him, showing that he was then contemplating a visit to Britain, and in his ‘De Animi Tranquillitate’ he speaks with much praise of Ochino, Peter Martyr, and Paul Lacisa.

In 1546 Volusene, then contemplating a return to Scotland, wrote to Sadolet asking his advice as to the course he should adopt in his native land in reference to the religious dissensions. The cardinal's reply is among his letters (Sad. Epist. iii. 433). Soon afterwards he seems to have resigned his appointment at Carpentras, but had hardly commenced his journey to Scotland when he was attacked by illness, and died at Vienne in Dauphiné in 1546 or early in 1547. Buchanan, to whom he was well known, and to whom he had given a copy of Munster's ‘Dictionarium Hebraicum’—now in the library of the university of Edinburgh—commemorated his untimely death in one of the happiest of his epigrams.

Dempster (Hist. Eccl. Gent. Scot. lib. xix.) has not noticed either of the genuine works of Volusene, but has attributed to him two other books, ‘Philosophiæ Aristotelicæ Synopsis’ and ‘De Consolatione.’ No trace of either can be found. It is probable that Dempster confused the ‘Philosophicæ Consolationes’ of Sadolet with the ‘De Animi Tranquillitate.’ Volusene is also credited by several of his biographers with a volume of ‘Poemata,’ London, 1619, 4to; the volume referred to seems, however, to be the ‘Poemata’ of Archbishop Adamson, which includes four Latin poems of Volusene, which appear in the ‘De Animi Tranquillitate,’ and of which three were again printed in the ‘Delitiæ Poetarum Scotorum,’ 1637 (ii. 539–44). The longest of these poems is included in the ‘Epigrammatum libri octo’ of Ninian Paterson (Edinburgh, 1678, 8vo), with an English translation by Paterson. Another translation of this ode appears in at least three editions of Blair's ‘Poems’ (1747, 1802, and 1826), but R. Anderson in his ‘Life of Blair’ prefixed to the edition of 1826 says that ‘all evidence external and internal is against the ascription of this feeble version … to the author of “The Grave.”’ It is not impossible that Volusene was the compiler or editor of a brief anonymous ‘Latinæ Grammatices Epitome,’ printed by Gryphius at Lyons in 1544, to which are prefixed six elegiacs by ‘Floren. Vol.’

[Adamsoni Poemata cum aliis opusculis studio F. Voluseni expolita, 1619–18; Mackenzie's Lives … of … Writers of the Scots Nation, iii. 29; Irving's Lives of Scotish Writers, i. 23; Taylor's Memoir of Florentius Volusenus, read to the Elgin Literary and Scientific Assoc. Elgin, 1861; Rampini in Scottish Review, xiv. 281; Sadoleti Epistolæ; Bannatyne Miscellany, i. 327; A. Pericaud's Florent Wilson, G. Postel et L. Castelvetro, Lyon, 1849; Brewer and Gairdner's Letters and Papers.]

R. C. C.