Johnston, Arthur (DNB00)
JOHNSTON, ARTHUR, M.D. (1587–1641), writer of Latin verse, fifth son of George Johnston of Johnston and Caskieben, was born in 1587 at Caskieben, Aberdeenshire. His mother was Christian, third daughter of William, seventh lord Forbes (d. 1593). Of his five brothers, John, the eldest, was sheriff of Aberdeen in 1630. William, the youngest, was successively professor of humanity and philosophy at Sedan, and of mathematics in the Marischal College, Aberdeen. Arthur was educated at the burgh school of Kintore, Aberdeenshire, and probably at King's College, Old Aberdeen (Lauder). He may possibly have attended the Marischal College, Aberdeen (Mitchell). In 1608 he went abroad for a further course of medical study, visited Rome twice, and graduated M.D. at Padua in 1610. After extending his travels to the north of Europe, he settled in France at Sedan, the seat of one of the six protestant universities of France, and the place of exile of Andrew Melville [q. v.] from 1611 till his death in 1622. With Melville and with Daniel Tilenus, the colleague, and afterwards the adversary, of Melville, Johnston lived in close intimacy.
His cultivation of Latin verse began at least as early as his residence in Padua. It is even possible that he was laureated for his verses at Paris in his twenty-third year (1609–10). But the statement is doubtful, and a later story, which makes him poet-laureate to Louis XIII from 1612 to 1632, is an absurd amplification of it. Some of his best epigrams were written while he was at Sedan. In 1619 he was practising in Paris as a physician, and in the course of a literary quarrel there with a countryman of his own, George Eglisham, M.D. [q. v.], published in that year his first volume of epigrammatic verse.
Johnston's movements during the next twelve years are obscure. His poems allude to a lawsuit at Malines, in which he was successful. He was probably in London in 1625, when he printed an elegy on James I's death. In 1628 he published at Aberdeen two elegies, one addressed to Bishop Patrick Forbes (1564–1635) [q. v.] on his brother's death. In this publication he describes himself as one of the royal physicians, an honour which had been promised him both by James I and Charles I on the occurrence of a vacancy. An expression in one of his poems, implying that he had lived out of his native land for twenty-four years, has usually been taken as fixing 1632 as the year of his return to Scotland. He published a volume at Aberdeen in that year. But though he did not go to the continent till 1608, he may have left Scotland in 1604 and returned in 1628. His return appears to have been connected with a lawsuit in the court of session at Edinburgh. In 1633 he published in London specimens of Latin versification of poetical parts of scripture, dedicating his version of Solomon's song to Charles I. When Charles visited Edinburgh for his coronation (18 June 1633), Johnston was introduced to Laud, to whom he had dedicated his version of the penitential psalms. Laud, who patronised Johnston in order to make him an effective rival in poetic fame to George Buchanan, encouraged him to complete his version of the psalter.
On 23 June 1637 Johnston was elected rector (not principal, as some of his biographers say) of King's College, Old Aberdeen. In this capacity he took an active part in reorganising the college, and in improving the tutorial machinery. The legality of the ‘new foundation’ was keenly disputed during Johnston's year of office, but the rector was supported by a majority of the teaching staff, though the ‘mediciner’ and the ‘canonist’ stood out for the old arrangements.
Meanwhile Johnston had completed in flowing elegiac verse the metrical Latin psalter, on which his reputation chiefly rests. Laud invited him to London. He went to Oxford on a visit to his daughter, who was wife of a clergyman residing there. After a few days' illness he died of diarrhœa at Oxford in 1641, and was there interred. He was twice married, first to a Frenchwoman, secondly to a native of Brabant, and had thirteen children. A fine portrait of him, by George Jamesone [q. v.], is preserved at King's College, Old Aberdeen, where is also in the library a window with portraits of George Buchanan, Arthur Johnston, and Thomas Ruddiman, as representative Latinists of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. The engravings by Vertue and (two) by Vandergucht are from a bust by Rysbrach, executed for William Benson (1682–1754) [q. v.]
Johnston increased the reputation of his countrymen for classical scholarship by publishing a collection of the choicest pieces by Scottish writers of Latin verse (including contributions of his own), on the model of the ‘Deliciæ’ of the Latin poets of other nations, published at Frankfort between 1608 and 1619. His own poetical merits have perhaps been better recognised by English than by Scottish critics. The endeavours of his injudicious admirers, William Lauder (d. 1771?) [q. v.] and Benson, to prove him at all points the superior of Buchanan, overshot the mark, while the counter-criticisms of John Love (1695–1750) [q. v.] and Thomas Ruddiman led opinion to the other extreme. Dr. Johnson, who when at Aberdeen in 1773 searched two booksellers' shops in vain for a copy of Johnston's poems, thought he had improved on Buchanan in his complimentary epigrams. Hallam does justice to the excellence of his best paraphrases. In his satirical poems, especially when he deals with personal grievances, he overstrains his invective. One of the neatest of his epigrammatic pieces is a very happy condensation of the decalogue into six elegiac lines.
He published: 1. ‘Consilium Collegii Medici Parisiensis de Mania G. Eglishemii,’ &c., Paris, 1619; reprinted same year (? with title ‘Hypermorus Medicaster’) (Bruce). 2. ‘Onopordus Furens,’ &c., Paris, 1620 (Bruce; a second satire on Eglisham). 3. ‘Elegia in Obitum Regis Jacobi,’ &c., London, 1625, 4to. 4. (?) ‘Elegia,’ &c. Aberdeen, 1628 (Bruce). 5. ‘Parerga,’ &c., Aberdeen, 1632, 12mo. 6. ‘Epigrammata,’ &c., Aberdeen, 1632, 12mo. 7. ‘Cantici Salomonis Paraphrasis Poetica,’ &c., London, 1633; reprinted 1709, 8vo, edited by Ruddiman. 8. ‘Musæ Querulæ de Regis in Scotiam Profectione,’ &c., London, 1633, 12mo (with English version, ‘The Muses Complaint,’ &c., by Sir Francis Kinaston [q. v.]). 9. ‘Musæ Aulicæ,’ &c., London, 1635, 12mo (with English version by Kinaston). 10. ‘Psalmorum Davidis Paraphrasis Poetica et Canticorum Evangelicorum,’ &c., Aberdeen, 1637, 12mo; London same year and 1652 and 1657; Amsterdam, 1706; London, 1740, 4to, and 1741, 8vo and 12mo (edited by Benson, with Latin notes on the plan of the Delphin classics), 1743, 4to. 11. ‘Deliciæ Poetarum Scotorum hujus Ævi,’ &c., Amsterdam, 1637, 12mo, 2 vols. His collected ‘Opera’ were published at Middelburg in 1642, edited by William Spang, minister of the Scots church at Campvere, at the expense of Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet. His sacred poems were reissued in Lauder's ‘Poetarum Scotorum Musæ Sacræ,’ &c., Edinburgh, 1759, 8vo, 2 vols. A new edition of the ‘Deliciæ,’ with a biography of Johnston by Principal W. D. Geddes of Aberdeen, is in preparation.
[Lauder's Vita in Poetarum Scotorum Musæ Sacræ, 1739; Benson's Vita prefixed to Psalmi Davidici, 1741; Benson's Prefatory Discourse, 1741 (three parts, the first issued 1740); Ruddiman's Vindication of Mr. George Buchanan's Paraphrase, 1745, and subsequent pamphlets; Fasti Aberdonenses (Spalding Club), pp. 286, 295, 405 sq.; Granger's Biographical Hist. of Engl. 1779, ii. 313 sq.; Chalmers's General Biographical Dict. 1815, xix. 78 sq.; Mitchell's Scotsman's Library, 1825, pp. 611 sq.; Bruce's Eminent Men of Aberdeen, 1841, pp. 171 sq.; m'Crie's Life of Melville, 1856, pp. 332, 378, 456; Boswell's Life of Johnson (Wright), 1859, ii. 248, iv. 96; Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1870, ii. 229 (chiefly from Bruce).]