Giving promise of scholarship, he was at the age of fourteen sent by his uncle, James Heriot, from the parish school of Killearn to Paris, where he studied chiefly Latin. In less than two years he was forced to come home by the death of his uncle and the poverty of his mother. His health was restored by residence in the country, and when only seventeen he served with the French troops brought by Albany to Scotland, and was present at the siege of Werk in October 1523. Campaigning hardships brought on an illness which kept him in bed for the rest of the winter. In 1524 he went to St. Andrews to attend the lectures of John Mair, or Major, a man of acute intellect, who, like Erasmus, did not embrace the reformed doctrine, but prepared the way for it. His pupils did not stop where their master did, and Buchanan ungratefully refers to him in the epigram—
Cum scateat nugis solo cognomine Major,
Nec sit in immenso pagina sana libro,
Non mirum titulis quod se veracibus ornat:
Nec semper mendax fingere Creta solet.
Mair went to Paris in 1525, whither Buchanan, after taking his degree of B.A. at St. Andrews on 3 Oct. of that year, followed him in 1526, and was admitted B.A. in the Scottish College on 10 Oct. 1527. His elegy, ‘Quam misera est conditio docentium literas humaniores Lutetiæ,’ bears the mark of personal experience. He describes the spare diet and frequent fasts, the midnight oil, the shabby dress, the perpetual round of studies. Marriage is forbidden to the scholar who can afford no dowry. Old age comes swiftly and mourns a youth wasted in studies. He ends with a farewell to the muses. In March 1528 he became M.A., and though defeated in a contest for the office of procurator of the German nation by Robert Wauchope, afterwards bishop of Armagh, on 3 June 1529, he was elected to this coveted distinction. About the same time he began to teach grammar in the college of St. Barbe, and became tutor of Gilbert, earl of Cassilis, with whom he remained for five years in Paris and its neighbourhood. While thus engaged he published a Latin version of Linacre's ‘Rudiments of Latin Grammar’ at the press of Robert Stephen, which he inscribed to his pupil, and wrote his poem entitled ‘Somnium,’ an imitation of Dunbar's ‘Visitation of St. Francis,’ directed like it against the Franciscans. Buchanan returned to Scotland in 1536, and various gifts to him as servant (i.e. tutor) to ‘Lord James’ occur in the treasurer's accounts between 16 Feb. 1536 and July 1538. This ‘Lord James’ was not the future regent, but another of King James's natural sons, on whom the pope conferred the abbacies of Melrose and Kelso. About this time the king gave Buchanan a commission to write a sharper satire against the friars, a dangerous task he tried to evade by the ‘Palinodia,’ which pleased neither his patron nor his adversaries. The king having again applied to him he produced his ‘Franciscanus et Fratres.’ Sir David Lindsay appealed to the people in the vernacular; Buchanan addressed the learned, and both struck the Roman sacerdotal system in its most vulnerable point—the morals of the clergy—and hastened the Scottish reformation. But James, who urged the literary attack for political ends, did not embrace the new doctrines, and allowed Cardinal Beaton to persecute those who did so. In 1539 five Scottish reformers were burnt and many driven into exile. Buchanan escaped from a window of his prison at St. Andrews to London, where he found Henry VIII intent on his own ends rather than on the purity of religion, burning, says Buchanan, men of opposite opinions at the same stake. Old habit and the toleration of religion in France drew him to Paris. Here his implacable enemy, Beaton, who had already tried, he says, to purchase his life from James V, was employed in an embassy, and to escape him Buchanan went to Bordeaux on the invitation of Andrew Govea, principal of the college of Guienne. The scholarship of which he gave proof in a poem addressed to Charles V on his visit to that town gained him speedy employment, and he taught Latin in the newly founded college for three years. In Bordeaux he composed four tragedies, ‘Baptistes,’ ‘Medea,’ ‘Jephthes,’ and ‘Alcestis,’ which were acted by the students, whom he desired to withdraw from the allegories then in fashion to classic models. In the ‘Baptistes’ especially the virtue of liberty, the fear of God rather than of man, and the infamy of the tyrant, are the themes. ‘Let each judge for himself,’ he says in the prologue, ‘whether this is an old or a new story.’ Among the pupils who took part in acting these tragedies was Montaigne, in whose essays there are several kindly notices of his old tutor; among his colleagues Govea, Muretus, Tevius, and Tartæus; among his friends the leading lawyers and magistrates of Bordeaux. At Agen, where he and some of his brother professors spent vacation, he gained the friendship of the elder Scaliger. To this period belong his verses, which are open to the censure of a license not excusable in a censor of the morals of the clergy. The Amaryllis of his poem, ‘Desiderium Lutetiæ,’ was Paris, not a lady; but the hard-hearted ‘Neæra’ and the meretricious ‘Leonora,’