1. Arthur Johnston [1577?–1641], a Scottish physician and a Neo-Latin poet rightly much admired in his own time, was born at the castle Caskieben (later bought by the Keiths, who remade and renamed it Keith Hall) near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire. His father was George Johnston, Laird of Johnston, but he seems to have been raised by his eldest brother John who inherited the lairdship (Davidson 164ff.) From a Latin Elegy addressed to his friend Wedderburn (Geddes I, nr. 29), “we learn that he had twice crossed the Alps and had twice visited Rome; that he had travelled in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and England; that he had resided twenty years in France, and had there become a husband and a father; and that two wives, who were of different nations, had borne him thirteen children” (Irving p. 27).
In France he resided mainly in Sedan, at the university founded 1578 by Guillaume Robert de la Marck, Duc de Bouillon; from 1604 he held the chair of Logic and Metaphysics; in 1615, after getting a degree of M. D. at Padua, he became also professor of Physic; at Sedan he became an intimate friend of the exiled Andrew Melville, who was professor there from 1611, though without sharing Melville’s hostility to episcopacy (Robb pp. 287f.). At some time before 1622, perhaps under pressure of the Thirty Years’ War, he returned to Scotland, and “for some time after his return to Scotland we know nothing certain of him. Sir William Geddes conjectures that his poems in support of the Princess Palatine James’s daughter Elizabeth may have proved a passport to courtly circles in London; and thinks that it was about this time he gained his title of Medicus Regius [to Charles I, a post secured through his friendship with Archbishop Laud]. But even if this were so, it is very probable there was nothing to keep him in England. As we know from one of his lighter poems, the title was long an empty one... His circumstances did not permit him to be an idler, so in all probability he soon went north, and there settled on a farm ‘at the back of Benachie.’ None of his biographers refer to this episode of his life; but that there was a farming period is evident from several of his poems.” (Robb pp. 288f., cf. Geddes II.xvii-xxii).
spacer3. About the main events of his life, scarcely more is known, except that he died in 1641 while visiting his daughter at Oxford. About the nature of his verse, here are three passages, that contain I think the most accurate remarks which I have found:

(A) Johnston seldom indulges in the metaphoric brilliancy which characterized the native writers in the language which he chose to use; but he has a considerable portion of their elegance, while much of the poetry is founded on association and domestic feeling, of which he has some exquisitely beautiful traits, which would have been extremely pleasing had he used his vernacular tongue.

Chambers & Thomson p. 265.  All the other old critics agree about the purity of the Latin, and so do I; of the ‘association and domestic feeling’, a good example is the poem on his birthplace quoted below.

(B) There is one perfection in the doctor's version [of the Psalms]... and that is, the admirable talent he has of expressing things which are peculiar to the sacred writings, and never to be met with in classic authors, in the most pure and elegant Latin. This the reader will perceive if he looks into the 83rd and 108th psalms : and still more so upon perusing the Te Deum and the apostles’ Creed. “To thee all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein; To thee cherubim and seraphim continually do cry, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.

Grex sacer auratis qui pervolit aethera pennis
Imperio nutuque tuo; supremaque mundi
Templa, tua caelata manu ; caelique potestas
Omnis, et igne micans acies; et lucidus ordo,
Agminis aligeri princeps, tibi, maxime rerum &c.

How poetically are the angels described by Grex sacer auratis qui pervolat aethera pennis. And in like manner the cherubims and seraphims, who are mentioned witli the powers of heaven: Caelique potestas, &c.

Chambers & Thomson p. 268, quoting an anonymous writer in the Scots Magazine for the year 1741.

(C) The poems of Johnston that are still worth reading relate almost entirely to his life in Scotland, and are not very numerous. The translation of the Psalms may now be regarded as a mere literary tour de force; and much of the secular verse can only reward the curious antiquary. Yet, though few have the qualities of permanent literature, the sum of the lines of those few is quite as large as the residuum of many an unforgotten poet whose work has been sifted by the centuries. A reader who is versed only in modern literature may not think them poetry at all, may say that they are only good talk metred. But in ancient times, and even in the eighteenth century, the functions of verse and prose were not so distinctly differentiated as they have been since. The verse of Johnston that may still rank as literature is good talk, in metre, and satisfies the old definition of poetry.

pp. 289f.

spacer4. Every one of the many passages quoted and translated by T. D. Robb does indeed, I think, deserve to be remembered. In a skeletal introduction such as this, there is space perhaps only for one specimen; I take it from a long poem Apologia Piscatorum about salmon fishing (lines 53 - 62):

With a rush he leaps at the lure. I strike, and a thrill
Tells me his victim is victor, stuck fast in his gill.
A moment's amaze and he’s off. I let the line out,
And the poor wretch flees with it headlong, ever in doubt:
Up the stream, down the stream, now he is dashing across,
Scouring the waters at random, still at a loss.
Now he wheels like a circling storm, till his panic strength
Ebbs; suddenly he gasps, exhauste ; at length
He shakes his gullet empty. The agony o’er,
Slowly we hale the weary hero ashore.

Assilit illicio salmo tirunculus, hamum
spacerMox vorat, et praedae praeda fit ipse suae.
Quid faciat? Se mergit aquis, indultaque lina
spacerInfelix lacero, qua fugit, ore trahit.
Nunc ruit in praeceps, revolat nunc obvius amni,
spacerNunc miser obliquo tramite verrit aquas.
Nunc se turbidulis rotat et luctatur in undis,
spacerNunc hiat, et sero guttura vana quatit.
Mille fatigatus meandris flumina tandem
Linquit, et in sicco littore praeda iacet.

The same poem contains many passages fully as vivid as this, in Latin as impeccable, and as grounded in sunlit reality.
spacer5. But the poem that every critic seems to like best is the little one which we are reprinting here, about the poet's birthplace; and for this we are lucky to possess also a first-rate, though anonymous, much older translation, the English of which is as pure, simple, graceful, and luminous as the Latin. The translator skillfully divides the poem into six sections, so that in each “section” his six-line stanza corresponds to one Latin quatrain -- except that his fourth stanza is expanding a mere couplet (i. e., lines 13f.).

 Brief Bibliography

The best Latin texts of the poems are in Geddes I and II,the most complete biographical discussion in Geddes II, pp. xvi - lvi,the most astute criticism in Chambers-Thomson, and in Robb.

Adams, James W. L., “The Renaissance Poets (2): Latin,” in James Kinsley (ed.), Scottish Poetry: A Critical Survey, London, 1955, 89 - 94 (non vidi)

Benson, William (ed.), Arturi Jonstoni Psalmi Davidici, interpretatione, argumentis, notisque illustrati, in usum Serenissimi Principis, London, 1741, 4to and 8vo

Bradner, Leicester, Musae Anglicanae: A History of Anglo-Latin Poetry, New York, 1940, pp. 172 - 181 (non vidi)

Chalmers, Alexander, The General Biographical Dictionary, A New Edition, London, 1812 - 17, XIX.28f.

Chambers, Robert and Thomas Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen, 4 vols, Edinburgh: Blackie & Son, 1856, III.263 - 269. (Has astute remarks about the worth of J.’s verse, including the Psalms.)

Davidson, John, Inverurie and the Earldom of the Garioch, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, 1878, 164 - 9. (Interesting remarks about Johnston’s early upbringing.)

Geddes, William Duguid (ed.), Musa Latina Aberdonensis. Arthur Johnston, Vol. I: The Parerga of 1637, Aberdeen: Printed for the New Spalding Club, 1892; Vol. II, 1895 (De Loco suo Natali is in I.xixf., II.20f. Facing II.21 is a photograph of “Benachie from Caskieban”).

Irving, David, Lives of Scottish Writers, Edinburgh, 1839, II.26 - 40.

Johnston, Alexander, Geneological Account of the Family of Johnston of that Ilk, Edinburgh, 1832, pp. 36f. and Appendix DD, p. 13

Johnston, William, A Genealogical Account of the Descendants of James Young, Merchant Burgess of Aberdeen and Rachel Cruickshank His Wife, Aberdeen, 1894 pp. 193f. (Historical evidence for J.’s birth date being 1577, not 1587)

Johnston, William, A Short Memoir of James Young, Merchant Burgess of Aberdeen and Rachel Cruickshank His Spouse, Aberdeen, 1860, Appendix U., p. xxxix.

Reid, Steven J., “Quasi Sibyllae folia dispersa: The Anatomy of the Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum (1637),” in Janet Hadley Williams and J. Derrick McClure, Fresche Fontanis: Studies in the Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Scotland (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2013), 395 - 412

Robb, T. D., “Arthur Johnston in his Poems” in The Scottish Historical Review, vol. 10, Glasgow, 1913, p. 287-327. (Excellent accurate praise of the verse, and why it is worth reading still; drab yet good, solid verse translations of many excerpts.)

spacer— “Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum,” in Proceedings of the Royal Philosophical society of Glasgow 39 (1907 - 08) 91 - 120

Tytler, Alexander Fraser, Lord Woodhouselee, Essay on the Principles of Translation, London, 1790, 2nd ed. 1797, p. 44 - 47. (Praise of Johnston’s Psalms.)