spacer1. The history of the Scottish Neo-Latin epigram appears to be quite different from that of its English counterpart. In England, there was no great interest in the genre previous to the first edition of Thomas Campion’s collection in 1595, a work which opened the floodgates for a number of similar collections, most notably those by Charles Fitzgeoffrey, John Owen, and Sir John Stradling, all available in The Philological Museum and discussed in somewhat more detail below. It looks as if Campion had been inspired to cultivate this hitherto neglected genre under the influence of the vernacular epigrams of John Heywood, and even more of the considerably more successful ones by Sir John Harington, not published in his lifetime but widely circulating in MS. More broadly speaking, it is tempting to associate this upsurge of interest in the epigram with the so-called Anti-Ciceronian movement that swept over northern Europe in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, in which, by a large and important paradigm shift, Silver Age Roman authors replaced Golden Age ones as objects of study and imitation. Thus writers such as Tacitus, Seneca (considered as a stylist and philosopher as well as a playwright), Lucan, as well as Martial, gained a new prominence and popularity and began to make their impression on the literary landscape.
spacer2. The situation in Scotland was different, for epigrams had already achieved a certain degree of popularity there. Speaking grosso modo and without entering into a consideration of individual writers, surely the reason was that Scottish poets were more open to European (particularly French) influence, and the epigram was already a popular genre on the Continent. NOTE 1 Hence, for example, we find three Books of epigrams in what came to be the canonical and often-reprinted collection of the poetry of George Buchanan {1506 - 1582]. NOTE 2 and by the early seventeenth century Scotland produced such practitioners of the epigram-writing craft as John Leech and Arthur Johnston. NOTE 3
spacer3. Another such poet was John Dunbar [c. 1585 - 1626] who in 1616 published a volume at London entitled Epigrammaton Ioannis Dunbari Megalo-Britanni Centuriae Sex, Decades totidem. As indicated by the title, this volume really contains two separate items, the Centuriae and the Decades. The first consists of six Books that are at least supposed to contain 100 epigrams apiece (because of printer’s errors, one has 99 and another 101, but the mistakes cancel each other out). Books I - III are dedicated to King James, and Book I is prefaced by a lengthy hexameter panegyric of the king. Likewise, Books IV - VI are dedicated to Prince Charles — to call him by a title which was not conferred until after the book came out — with Book IV prefaced by a laudatory ode in Alcaic stanzas. Then, on p. 199, begins a new section entitle I. D. M. Epigrammaton Decades VI. Ad Nobilissimum, nobilissimi ordinis aureae periscelidis Equitem, D. Georgium Villiars, Iacobo Regi, ab intimis Cubiculis et magistrum Equitum, etc., which contains six “decades,” or groupings of ten epigrams, discussed below.
spacer4. What is currently known about Dunbar’s life is largely what he himself tells us in his epigrams and what can reasonably be deduced and inferred from them. NOTE 4 He was a younger son of a well-connected Scottish lairdly (and lordly) family of distinguished ancestry, the Dunbars of Baldoon, a castle just south of Wigtown on the Machars of Galloway; this family was a cadet branch of the Dunbars of Mochrum, also inWigtonshire, but on the opposite coast of the Machars. These families descended through the Dunbars of Westfield from the Dunbar Earls of Moray. The poet’s father was Gavin Dunbar [c. 1536 - 1618, see II.22] and his mother Jonet Cunningham, of an unknown family (III.80), and in the course of his epigrams he mentions four brothers: David (III.16), Gavin (V.48), Archibald (VI.17), and Alexander (VI.78). The exact order of seniority is unknown, but David [b. 1582] was the eldest, and Archibald [b. 1583] followed. Gavin, named for his father, probably came next; the tone of the epigram to Alexander implies that he was younger than the poet. John Dunbar, like his brothers Archibald and Alexander, shared his name with one of the brothers of his father Gavin. See this website , which also claims that John had no fewer than eight brothers and eight sisters: two of the latter, Elspet and Margaret, appear in History of the Lands and Their Owners in Galloway I.385. There is a reference to an Agnes, daughter of Gavin Dunbar of Baldoon, who married a Patrick Hannay of Kirkdale (see the note to VI.12). Given that John would have gone up to university around the age of fifteen, and graduated in 1604 as we shall see, his birth can be placed c. 1590. The job of tracing the Dunbars of Mochrum and Baldoon and their connections by marriage to the other lairdly families of Scotland would provide a genealogist with plenty of work. For our purposes we can note that the poet’s great-great-uncle was Gavin Dunbar, the bridge-building Bishop of Aberdeen [d. 1532], who may fairly be called the second founder of the University of Aberdeen (see VI.40 and VI.41), and his great-uncle was another Gavin Dunbar, Archbishop of Glasgow (see VI.39). His grandfather Archibald Dunbar of Baldoon held the position of Provost (i.e., Lord Mayor) of Glasgow for at least two years, NOTE 5 and fell in the disastrous battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547 (III.39). Dunbar’s references to his Mure and Boyd ancestors (see IV.92 and V.54, for example), indicate that he was as genealogy-conscious as most upper-class Scotsmen of the period (including his addressees), and it is no accident that he writes epigrams for the nearby Stewarts of Garlies and to the Wallaces of Craigie (cf. IV.69 and IV.39 respectively).
spacer5. Dunbar’s home town was Wigtown, two miles from Baldoon Castle, but it is not certain where he got his first schooling. It is likely that his schoolmaster was a certain John Douglas, the addressee of VI.30. What is very clear is that he was a proud M.A. of the Tounis College, the original incarnation of the University of Edinburgh, where his Regent was John Adamson (see III.42 with the note ad loc.), and he stood second on the college’s laureation list for 1604. In IV.78 he writes of the college, unde magisterii candida dona mei. He also pays tribute to his time at the College in several other epigrams (see the note to III.61).
spacer6. It should be noted that he addresses no favourable epigrams to any Scot known — in 1616, at any rate — to be an active supporter of the episcopal Kirk polity in Scotland, while several of his addressees, starting with Andrew Melville himself (I.44, I.98), were known to be opponents and indeed victims of episcopalianism. A number of epigrams are addressed to Huguenots and to Scottish Protestants resident in France, including a striking number of members of the Huguenot colony at La Rochelle. The addressee of IV.24 is the Scotsman John Dunbar, described as a professor of philosophy at the college there, and Smith (p. 151) reasonably suggested that this individual “was probably the poet’s kinsman and the cause of his going there.” The only anecdotal evidence our poet provides for his stay in La Rochelle is an epigram, IV.16, praising a local physician named Massiot for rescuing him from a dangerous illness. But there is documentary evidence that Mr John Dunbar of Enterkin in Ayrshire, a relative via the poet’s grandmother, was indeed a regent at the college in 1609, and VI.2 memorializes another relative connected with La Rochelle. We might reasonably suppose that after graduation from Edinburgh in 1604, young John of Baldoon visited France, including Huguenot La Rochelle, in the hope of rescuing himself from the penury attendant upon his status as a younger son — more on this below — in which case the experiment evidently failed. He would certainly have been attracted to La Rochelle because of his own strongly Presbyterian sympathies (it is noticeable that the high-ranking members of the Anglican clergy whom he addresses almost all turn out, on investigation, to be impeccably Calvinist in their theology and pro-Puritan in their sympathies, and one of his more subversive epigrams, II.31 enunciates a frequent Protestant complaint that the Church of England prized learning at the expense of piety).
spacer7. On p. 152 Smith adds “Dunbar does not say what he was doing at La Rochelle nor why he returned, if he did return.” Dunbar did indeed return (to England, not Scotland) no later than 1614, when he married Elizabeth Wallis (Decades V.5), in Plymouth; it is not known whether Dunbar’s friendship with Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Governor of the Fort at Plymouth (of whom more below), preceded Dunbar’s move to that port. With reference to Decades V.5, Smith had concluded that “[Dunbar] when he put together his book was unmarried but attached to a certain ‘E. Walle’.” He went on to assert that three other epigrams are concerned with men of this name, Decades III.5, VI.3, and Centuriae IV.39. This last is in fact addressed to the poet’s distant kinsman Thomas Wallace of Cragie. But it is indeed probable that the two Decades epigrams are addressed to members of Elizabeth Wallis’s family, since both epigrams have the abbreviation L. in their titles, which may stand for the late Latin levir, ”brother-in-law.” Decades IV.5 is dedicated to Dunbar’s father-in-law, Reverend Henry Wallis, minister of St Andrews Church in Plymouth from 1603 to 1633
spacer8. Dunbar married Elizabeth Wallis on 1 November 1614 at St Andrew’s Church, Plymouth. From the Centuriae we get several glimpses of Dunbar in the West Country of England. Decades III.50 and III.51 are addressed to Sir Ferdinando Gorges, builder and commander of Plymouth Fort. He is described as Dunbar’s “Maecenas,” and Decades VI.49 is written for his wife Anne. Its tone implies that Dunbar was genuinely close to the Gorges family. II.16 and II.17 (and possibly also I.8) are addressed to the Oxford-educated Cornish poet Charles Fitzgeoffrey, and suggest that Dunbar was familiar with his collection of epigrams, the 1601 Affaniae. In Fitzgeoffrey, Dunbar was able to meet an established practitioner of his own craft, although, as we see, he rejected the option to follow in Fitzgeoffrey’s steps and preferred to imitate the Welsh epigrammatist John Owen. Additionally, VI.51 is addressed to the cultivated and talented Sir Richard Carew of East Anthony, and VI.26 to John Moyle, a member of a prominent genteel Cornish family. It may be the case that Dunbar visited East Anthony and made the acquaintance of these men and perhaps also met the equally cultured family of Sir Anthony Rouse (the future parliamentarian John Pym was his stepson), which which Fitzgeoffrey had close connections. Alternatively, F. E. Halliday has made the attractive suggestion that Dunbar may have met these educated Cornishmen at the house of his patron Sir Ferdinando Gorges. NOTE 6 It is easy to suppose that, living in Plymouth, Dunbar took great pleasure in the company of the society of educated and sophisticated Cornishmen so vividly delineated by Fitzgeoffrey in his epigrams, and it is not impossible he memorialized this association by naming his son Carye after Sir Richard Carew of East Anthony or some other member of the same family (alternatively, but much less likely, the boy could have been named after Sir Robert Carey, the addressee of Centuriae V.75).
spacer9. Our next sight of Dunbar dates from 1617, when his friend Adam Abernethy (Dunbar’s verses about his daughter’s eyes will be discussed below) published Questiones medicae cathedralitae XI, NOTE 7 a volume of medical theses, at Montpellier, in the hope of gaining the professorship of medicine, having previously lost his senior post because of his religious convictions. The volume is prefaced by the usual gratulatory verses, including a set of eight in Greek signed Ioan. Dunbarus, medicus, Britanniarum regis poeta laureatus. (This subscription is probably a playful expression of what Dunbar wished to be, and need not be taken as an indication that he had already taken his M. D. by 1617. Thomson (p. 73) partially quotes an epigram by the Scottish philosopher Andrew Aidie, the addressee of VI.100, congratulating Dunbar on his receipt of the M. D. from the University of Padua in 1618. Thomson provides no hint of his source, but the Bibliographia Aberdonensis, under 1618, reveals that he had consulted a short book entitled Iohannis Dunbari Megalobritanni Doctoris Medici, et Philosophi Daphnaeum Doctorale in Apollonis & Peneiae Nuptiis siue consensus Nobilissimae, & Florentissimae UNIVERSTITATIS PATAVINAE 12 Kal. Feb. cum amicorum SYNCHARMATIS, printed at Padua in 1618. A copy of this book belonged to the poet William Drummond of Hawthornden (cf. the note on IV.47 and the note on VI.24) and is preserved in the Drummond Collection in the Edinburgh University Library. Dedicated, unsurprisingly, to Dunbar’s patron Sir Ferdinando Gorges, it contains congratulatory epigrams in Greek (Daniel Mauclerc, Frenchman), Latin (two from Robert Giffard, Englishman, for whom see this page, and two from Andrew Aidie, Aberdonian), Italian (Antonio Manfredi), French (Elie Thibault) and English (Robert Giffard). Of these men, only Andrew Aidie had been addressed in the 1616 Centuriae. (On the subject of other published works by Dunbar, incidentally, we should add that James Maidment, Catalogues of Scottish Writers (Εdinburgh, 1833) p. 85, registers an octavo volume entitled Titulum Lacrhymae Infaustum [Obitum] Henrici Quarti Cedem [sic], published at Leiden in 1611. We have not seen a copy of this alleged volume.)
spacer10. Our later information about Dunbar comes mostly from the registers of St Andrew’s Church, Plymouth, where Dunbar's father-in-law Henry Wallis was minister. For reasons unknown, it seems that the poet, recorded as both “Mr.” and Dr.,” started fathering children only in 1619. The first three died young, and Dunbar himself died in July 1626, six months after the birth of his last child, Mary. It is likely that he was a victim of the terrible plague that scourged Plymouth in that year, which killed 1,488 inhabitants of that town, perhaps one-sixth of the total population. His widow Elizabeth Wallis lived until 1679. A son, Carye, had been baptised in January 1622 and presumably survived, since he is not recorded as having died in Plymouth. Another son, John (baptised September 1624), is shown in American records as operating a fishing station in the Isles of Shoals off New England in 1649 - 52; he thereafter disappears from Devonian and American records alike. It is not yet known whether there were any male descendants who carried on the poet's lineage.
spacer11. Dunbar took pride in his pedigree, but was well aware that it did him little good. In epigram VI.48 he wrote:

Quid mihi iam prodest quamvis ab utroque parente
spacerStirpibus innumeris nobile stemma traho?
Et pater et mater claro mihi sanguine creti,
spacerSic horum matres, sic etiam patres.
Sic etiam affines demum et genus omne meorum, spacer
spacerVates interea nil nisi pauper ego.

[“What advantage does it give me now that I derive my noble pedigree from countless ancestors on both my father’s and my mother’s sides? Both my father and my mother were born of distinguished stock, as were their mothers, and also their fathers. So too my kinsmen and my entire clan, and yet in the meantime I am nothing but a poverty-stricken poet.”]

His difficulty was that he was a younger son, so the iron law of primogeniture compelled him to live by his own resources. For him, as for many another educated man of his times, writing was largely an exercise in self-advertisement, and a published volume of poetry was a vehicle for displaying one’s talent and erudition, and at the same time one’s loyalty to the crown and religious orthodoxy, in the hope of attracting patronage or a job. This is the reason why this volume is so full of flattering epigrams addressed to those in power. It contains a fairly comprehensive but focused directory of the men to whom any esurient young Scottish Presbyterian poet in search of a patron would apply: King James and the royal family, his courtiers and favorites (particularly the Scots among them), the higher pro-Puritan clergy of the Church of England (but not a single Scottish bishop, naturally), and members of the Scottish peerage, not last those to whom the poet was related, however distantly. And the final portion of the lengthy and obsequious hexameter poem addressed to James that begins Book I is as undisguised a plea for patronage as one could ever hope to encounter.
spacer12. Many aspirants to patronage and position played this game, and, as with any other game, it had its winners and losers. The evidence suggests that Dunbar was one of the latter. The one individual he describes as a Maecenas or patron is Sir Ferdinando Gorges, commander of the fortress at Plymouth (cf. III.50 and III.51, VI.49 is written for his wife Anne). In 1618, the newly laureated doctor of medicine and philosophy would dedicate his Daphnaeum Doctorale to Gorges, in propugnaculo Plimothaeo, but this old soldier invested most of his money in various American colonization schemes, which invariably failed and eventually bankrupted him. From IV.59 it would seem that Thomas Goad, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s domestic chaplain, offered Dunbar some kind of support or encouragement, but the form that this took is unclear and there is no reason to think it put any bread on his table. In his quest for patronage, he faced several obstacles, which combined to frustrate his effort. In the first place, the patronage-hunting game was very competitive. In order to provide all the trained men required to operate the modern English state, a number of surprisingly progressive measures had been taken to swell the ranks of England's educated meritocracy, in the form of reduced tuition fees for members of the lower classes and various scholarship schemes. There is reason for thinking that these measures worked all too well and (a social problem all too familiar in present-day Europe and America) there was an overproduction of university graduates, so that there were more candidates than there were jobs. NOTE 8 The problem was intensified under James, when Scottish aspirants started coming down into England to join in the competition. Another aspect of the problem was that these hungry, and therefore readily manipulable, young university men who published poetry for essentially careerist reasons were easily coopted into writing material which can only be described as propagandistic in nature. When a propaganda Big Push was on (in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot, for example), they served a useful purpose. It was Dunbar’s misfortune not only to be, clearly, less usefully manipulable, due to his distinctly Presbyterian sympathies, but also to have come along at a time when no such need existed. Certainly, as far as the king and Prince Charles were concerned, Dunbar’s clearly Presbyterian stance will have counted very much against him, no matter how much he denounced the Roman Church and the king’s bete noire Cardinal Bellarmine and his assistants. When his volume of epigrams failed to achieve its purpose, Dunbar appears to have more or less abandoned literature and turned to medicine, though he celebrated the career move in the verse of his Daphnaeum Doctorale in Apollonis et Peneiae Nuptiis. We can only hope that in the eight years of life that remained to him, he achieved more success as a physician than he had as a poet.
spacer13. While in a few instances we do not know the reason for Dunbar’s choice of addressee, the metaphorical idea of concentric circles may be of some explanatory use, starting with his immediate family in Baldoon Castle and moving out to embrace his close neighbours (and relatives) in Sorbie, Garlies and Mochrum Castles, and his local minister; then his slightly more distant southwest Scottish fellow-lairds and nobles in Ayrshire to the north and Dumfriesshire; then the Kers of Ancram and Yair in the Jedburgh area of the Middle Marches; then the Edinburgh academics and clerics from his student days; other Scots lairds and academics in Fife, Kincardineshire and the Aberdeen area; Scots at court in London and England in general (who overlap with some of the previous categories); “pro-Puritan” higher Anglican clergy and similarly-inclined English public figures; specific English literati, who are often also pro-Puritan; the royal family; and then the widest circle of all, that of mainland European Calvinists and their Roman Catholic opponents. The Commentary shows that most of the Scots to whom he addresses epigrams originated in the southwest, i. e. Galloway (particularly Wigtownshire), Dumfries and Ayrshire, and were related to the poet’s family and/or to one another. This region of Scotland was to prove a major source of support for the National Covenant of 1638 and indeed of the later covenanting resistance to Charles II after the Restoration: there is no question that theologically and ecclesiastically, Dunbar was a Presbyterian Calvinist Puritan. It is highly probable that Dunbar actually knew either the individuals to whom he addressed his epigrams, or their families; this is as true of his Scottish addressees as it is of the Franco-Scots and French Huguenots to whom he writes, and it may also apply to not a few of the English addressees as well. Items designed to flatter those in power are of course part of the mix one finds in all other epigram-collections of the period. Another equally familiar category consists of epigrams on literary subjects. These take two forms. The first are ones with titles such as Ad Criticum, Ad Momum, and Ad Zoilum that are designed to disarm or refute actual or at least potential hostile criticism. The second are those written about the contemporary literary scene. Some of Dunbar’s are addressed to the kind of prominent English and foreign writers one would expect to find in any such collection, Englishmen such as William Camden (VI.90 and VI.91) and Ben Jonson (I.55), as well as the Continental writers Cardinal Caesar Baronius (V.63 and V.88), Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (I.28), Isaac Casaubon (I.51 and VI.94, by this time Casaubon was a naturalized British subject), Jacob Gretser (V.63), Justus Lipsius (II.26), Johannes Oecolampadius (V.29), Rabelais (V.11), the scholarly astrologer David Origanus (V.62), Guillaume de Salluste du Bartas (VI.92). Kaspar Schoppe (III.78), and the two Scaligers (III.87 and III.88, VI.51). Other, more minor English figures include Bishop Thomas Bilson (II.40), Sir Robert Dallington (IV.80), John Davies of Hereford (III.20), Bathsua Reginald (before she acquired her married name Makin), II.85 and V.59) Sir Richard Carew (VI.51), Sir Henry Spelman (V.22), Matthew Sutcliffe (II.60), and John Taylor “the Water Poet” (IV.96), as well, of course, as Dunbar’s fellow epigrammists Charles Fitzgeoffrey, as noted above, and John Owen (IV.66 and IV.67 — he betrays no awareness of Campion or Stradling).
spacer14. Considerably more idiosyncratic (and considerably more valuable) is the fact that Dunbar presents us with a kind of catalogue of contemporary Scottish poets, writers, and other intellectuals. One imagines that, like the poetry anthologized in Sir John Scot’s 1637 Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum, his epigrams collectively constitute an important source-document for anyone attempting to study the literary milieu of Scotland in the early seventeenth centuries, and, indeed, one occasionally finds them quoted (for example, here). But far greater use could be made of them. In the pages of the Centuriae one finds epigrams about Adam King (I.35), Andrew Melville (I.44), Walter Quin (I.73), John Barclay (I.87), George Buchanan (II.5 and III.31), Robert Balfour (II.75), Sir Robert Ayton (III.45), Andrew Ramsey (III.74), John Murray (III.75), Sir Thomas Murray (IV.44), Mark Alexander Boyd (IV.76), James Maxwell (V.27), James Crichton (V.83), Andrew Aidie (VI.10), Patrick Hannay (IV.12), Sir William Alexander of Menstry (VI.24), Peter Goldmann (VI.66), Thomas Dempster (VI.67), and David Drummond (VI.85). In comparison with England, the cultural and intellectual life of Scotland in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century remains woefully neglected, and the literature of this period needs to be thoroughly surveyed and investigated. Not the least valuable feature of Dunbar’s set of epigrams is that he provides important clues for how to begin this enterprise. Other than that, the roster of English, Scottish and foreign writers listed here certainly goes to show Dunbar’s cultural awareness and intellectual liveliness.
spacer15. In discussing the early seventeenth century epigram, it is useful to bear in mind that we are really talking about two different things. On the one hand, we have serio-comic collections of miscellaneous short poems, some of which are of the lapidary “sting in the tail” kind, mostly in elegiac couplets, that one tends to associate with Martial, but others are of quite different kind, lengths, and meters. This kind was pioneered by Thomas Campion in his Thomae Campiani Poemata (first printed in 1595), which contains an erotic element quite foreign to Martial, and it may have been inspired by Stephani Forcatuli Iurisconsulti Epigrammata, published at Lyons in 1554 (Campion may have known this because he attended the University of Caen for his medical degree). Campion’s formula found imitations in Charles Fitzgeoffrey’s 1601 Affaniae and Sir John Stradling’s 1607 Epigrammatum Libri Quatuor. A very different understanding of the epigram informed the work of John Owen, who published his first set in 1606, a collection which eventually grew to a canonic twelve Books. Owen severely limited himself to the kind of short and usually humorous poem that most of us today call epigrams stricto sensu. Faced with the choice between a broader definition of the epigram and a narrower one, Dunbar opted for the latter, possibly out of a desire to capitalize on Owen’s popularity. At II.9 he writes:

Praecipue hoc epigramma valet quod distichon aiunt,
spacerPaucis sub verbis si modo multa velis.
Quod sequitur, sibi iure locum tetrastichon optat,
spacerSi fuse mentem vis aperire tuam.
Postremum vero est epigramma hexastichon. Illum
spacerSi numerum excedis, non epigramma facis.

[“The best kind of epigram is the two-liner, if you want to conceal much substance in a few words. The kind that follows, the four-liner, hopes to claim its rightful place, if you want to disclose your thought more profusely. And the six-liner is the final kind. Exceed that number and you are not writing an epigram.”]

He scrupulously follows this prescription: like Owen’s, nearly all of his epigrams are written in six lines or less, and, like his Welsh model, Dunbar writes in very few meters, with the overwhelming majority of them being composed in elegiac couplets. The effect of monotony ultimately produced by this narrow approach makes a striking contrast to the volumes of Campion, Fitzgeoffrey, Stradling, and the Scot John Leech, who present their readers with a interestingly kaleidoscopic variety of poem-types, lengths, and meters, which does much to stave off tedium when their epigrams are read in large numbers. And, in doing so, they more faithfully imitated their ultimate model, Martial. For the short and humorous epigram was only of the many varieties of poems that Martial included in his collection, so that the claim can plausibly be made that Campion and his imitators better understood him, whereas Owen and Dunbar mistook the part for the whole.
spacer16. There appear to be only two studies that take serious notice of Dunbar, those by Thomson and Smith, and they are not in full agreement about the quality of his achievement. Thompson writes of him with respect, although he does observe of his epigrams (p. 74), “their chief weakness is an excessive reliance on word-play.” And yet he immediately qualifies this criticism by adding “Levity of this kind is a feature of the age.” Smith (p. 152) makes the same objection, but in a considerably more dismissive way. Writing of the various grandees to whom the poet addressed epigrams in the transparent hope of gaining a patron, he caustically observed (p.152), “The quality of the epigrams, so many of which turn on a punning etymology of a name, was not such as to turn these strangers into admirers and patrons.” As the Commentary reveals, it is far from certain that many of Dunbar’s addressees were in fact strangers, and how you evaluate Dunbar largely depends on how you react to puns and anagrams, which is, of course, a matter of individual taste. But even if you do not like them yourself, you must admit that plenty of Dunbar’s contemporaries did. Consider the items by Dunbar that will no doubt strike the modern reader as the most frigid and futile, those that are based on an anagram of the addressee’s name. We do not have to go outside the confines of The Philological Museum to see that this flattering tactic enjoyed a certain vogue during the period: William Alabaster’s poems XXIV and XXV employ this same device, and Francis Davison’s Anagramma in Nomina Illustrissimorum Heroum (1603) is an entire volume exclusively made up of poems of this type. Then too, anagrams are not entirely absent from the epigrams of John Owen (in Book I alone one can cite I.38, I.86, and I.119). More broadly, the age was mad for puns, word-plays, and other forms of verbal pyrotechnics, and it is very difficult to come down too hard on Dunbar for catering to this taste when so many other writers, Shakespeare included, did the same. Moreover, it is not impossible that there was a kind of intellectual conviction standing behind Dunbar’s reliance on puns, for he may have been one of those men who believe there is a kind of mystical kinship between like-sounding words and some mysterious import to anagrams, which it is profitable to explore. This, anyway, is suggested by his remark at the beginning of I.62:

Quis sua nominibus cerni mysteria nescit?
spacerQuisve neget vires, o anagramma, tuas?

[“Who does not know that names contain their own mysteries? And who would deny your powers, oh anagram?”]

Dunbar may therefore have believed that probing into puns and anagrams is a way of arriving at some inner truth about somebody or something (in that way, for example, that a stereotypical Frenchman, a Gallus, is as proud and boastful as a rooster, a gallus). In any event, even if Dunbar did overwork these devices, they were by no means of his own invention: rather, this literary vice, if such it was, was commonplace at the time he wrote.

spacer17. Two considerations recommend regarding the Decades that begin on p. 199 of Dunbar’s 1616 volume as a separate work bound together with the Centuriae: they are prefaced by a separate title page, and in his dedicatory epistle to Prince Charles prefacing the fourth Century Dunbar writes Maiestati sacratissimae regis et patri tui semper augusti priores tres epigrammatum meorum centurias consecravi. Nunc quae supersunt tres aliae, has, princeps illustrissime, ad tua etiam sacra humillime affero. Nam cum eas regiis duntaxat personis, forsean nimis ambitiosus, dedicare decreverim... [“I have dedicated the preceding three centuries of my epigrams to the most sacred majesty of our king and your ever-august father. And now, right illustrious prince, I most humbly offer the remaining three to your worship. For since I (perhaps overambitiously) have decided to dedicate them to royal personages alone...”] The Decades are dedicated to the ascending royal favorite George Villiers. This strongly suggest that when Dunbar wrote these at a time when the idea of writing the Decades VI and dedicating it to someone who was not a member of the royal family had not yet occurred to him. The Decades are dedicated to Villiers under the title of Knight of the Garter, a distinction conferred in April 1616, but do not mention his creation as Baron Whaddon and Viscount Villiers, which occurred in late August of the same year, so it would seem that this little collection was assembled, and Dunbar’s volume published, at some time between these two dates (other events that occurred later in the year, most notably Charles’ installation as Prince of Wales in November, are also unmentioned).
spacer18. There is at least one appreciable difference between the Centuriae and the Decades: the markedly more Protestant bias of the latter. Many of the epigrams in the Centuriae are dedicated to pro-Puritan Anglican prelates, and in that collection the anti-Catholic polemics that characterize so much of the literature of James’ reign are relatively muted. In the Decades anti-Catholicism is considerably more prominent, and a number of mostly Continental Calvinist and Lutheran theologians are lionized. This is partially, no doubt, done in the interest of catering to Villiers’ own religious stance — Archbishop Abbot (see the note to III.6) deemed him greatly preferable to the Earl of Somerset, and Villiers was at various times a champion of the Huguenots. But, for reasons explained above, it seems attractive to think that in the Decades Dunbar is giving freer rein to his ownhis own sympathies, more Presbyterian - Calvinist than episcopal, let alone Arminian.

spacer19. Apart from the eight Greek liminary epigrams of 1617 and the 1618 Daphnaeum Doctorale, the only extant poetry by Dunbar not included in his 1616 volume is a playful alternating set of distichs by him and the Scottish poet and anthologist Arthur Johnston [d. 1641], a professor of various subjects at the Huguenot university of Sedan, and an epigrammatist himself, on the subject De oculis Isabellae Abrenathaeae, Adami Abrenethaei filiae [“On the Eyes of Isabella Abernethy, the Daughter of Adam Abernathy.”] This is one of a series of amoebic exchanges co-authored by Johnston and another poet (the word “amoebic” is suggested by the title of the first in the series, Lusus Amoebaei, and of course is meant to recall the similar versification contests one finds in ancient pastoral poetry). In the section of Geddes’ edition devoted to such poetry (II.114 - 139) there are three similar competitions with Daniel Tilen, a professor of Theology at Sedan, the third of which concerns Andrew Melville (for whom see the commentary note on I.44), who assumed a position teaching biblical theology at Sedan in 1611. It would seem that, unless all of this material is preserved by a single MS. or print source, Geddes at least hypothetically grouped the similar exchange with Dunbar with these ones, and (II.114) made the not unreasonable suggestion that they emanated from the same period of Johnston’s life, on the strength of its resemblance to the Tilen ones. Even if Sedan is a long way from La Rochelle, and although corroborative evidence that Dunbar spent any time at Sedan is lacking, it seems plausible that the two men met during Dunbar’s French period. Although he started out teaching philosophy, Johnston obtained a medical degree at Padua in 1610 and henceforth taught medicine, and it scarcely seems impossible that when Dunbar went to the same university for his own medical education, he did so in imitation of Johnston. Geddes (II.136) suggested that the subject of these playful couplets was the daughter of Adam Abernethy, the Protestant professor of medicine at Montpelier mentioned earlier, for whom Dunbar wrote his eight Greek liminary epigrams. Abernethy was a poet in his own right who published, among other things, a Latin Ecloga Regalis (Paris, 1625) celebrating the marriage of King Charles.

spacer20. A serious obstacle to producing an edition of Dunbar’s volume is that the kind of prosopographical resources available for England (biographical works like Fuller’s The Worthies of England and Wood’s Athenae Oxonienses, modern compendia of university records, Royal College of Arms visitation reports and so forth) do not exist for Scotland during this period and extant MS. records are exiguous and lacunous It has therefore simply proved impossible, at least thus far, to identify all of the addressees of these epigrams.
spacer21. Since originally publishing this edition, we have been contacted by Mr. Tom Dunbar of Camden, South Carolina, a student of Dunbar family history, who has supplied much of the information found in paragraphs 6 and 10 above documenting the poet’s marriage to Elizabeth Wallis, existence at Plymouth, and children. We are deeply grateful for this new evidence, which goes far towards illuminating the facts of his life.


spacerNOTE 1 See, for example, the survey article by Daniel Russell, “The genres of epigram and emblem,” in Glyn P. Norton (ed.), The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (Cambridge, 1989) III.278ff.

spacerNOTE 2 Beginning with Georgii Buchanani Scoti, Poetae sui saeculi facile Principis, Poemata quae supersunt omnia (Edinburgh, 1578) pp. 449 - 475. Buchanan’s student and disciple Andrew Melville (I.44) wrote epigrams throughout his life; the most famous of them (sneering at the altar in the Chapel Royal) landed him in the Tower from 1607 to 1611.

spacerNOTE 3 See the survey article by D. F. S. Thomson, “The Latin Epigram in Scotland: the Sixteenth Century,” The Phoenix 11 (1957) 63 - 78. Despite his misleading title, Thomson also looks at Scottish epigrammatists of the early seventeenth century. This article is useful but leaves several subjects unconsidered, which will therefore reward further inquiry: among these are the imitation of Classical models and the influence of Continental writers.

spacerNOTE 4 Besides what Thomson writes about him (pp. 73f.), see the biographical sketch by C. G. Moore Smith, “John Dunbar, Epigrammatist,” Notes and Queries for August 27, 1927, 150 - 153. Smith provides a family tree for Dunbar’s immediate family. See also this genealogical site for clan Dunbar.

spacerNOTE 5 This important information about him was not reported by Smith, but from this list of Glasgow Provosts one sees that he held this office from 1537 until 1539 or even later.

spacerNOTE 6 Sir Richard Carew, The Survey of Cornwall (edited with an Introduction by F. E. Halliday, London, 1953, repr. New York, 1969).

spacerNOTE 7 See Colin Burrow, writing in Charles Martindale and A. B. Taylor (edd.), Shakespeare and the Classics (Cambridge, 2004) p. 17.

spacerNOTE 8 Francisque Michel, Les Ecossais en France, les Français en Écosse (London, 1862) II.256.