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Thomas Dempster

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Dempster, THOMAS, savant, professor, and author; b., as he himself states, at Cliftbog, Scotland, August 23, 1579; d. at Bologna, Italy, September 6, 1625; son of Thomas, Baron of Muresk, Auchterless, and Killesmont, Aberdeenshire, and Jane Leslie, sister to the Baron of Balquhain; educated at the schools of Turriff and Aberdeen. His troublous life began early. On leaving school, aged ten, he went to Cambridge, leaving it shortly for Paris. Illness occasioned his removal to Louvain, whence, having attracted the notice of a representative of the Holy See, he was taken to Rome, and there provided with a pension for his education in a papal seminary. Through failing health he returned northwards to Tournai, but was immediately transferred to Douai, means being forth-coming through royal bounty. On the completion of a three years’ course, he returned to Tournai as professor of humanities. Tournai, however, he forsook for Paris, where, after graduating in canon law, he occupied, at the age of seventeen, a professorial chair in the College de Navarre. He could not remain here either, and, after an interval in Poitou, he became professor of humanities again, this time at Toulouse. Before long, zeal in local dissensions sent him adrift once more. Declining a chair of philosophy at Montpellier, he successfully competed for one of oratory at Nimes. From this he was suspended, a lawsuit following in vindication of his integrity. The post of tutor to the son of the Marechal de Saint-Luc he lost through unfriendly relations with the family of his patron. Once more adrift, he visited Scotland, vainly begged assistance from kith and kin, and, through Protestant intrigue, failed to recover his family estates, which had been parted with by his father. Seven years of professorship followed in Paris, at the end of which he was invited to reside in London in the capacity of historian to James I. He married in England, but only to bring on himself domestic misfortune. Anglican influence having procured royal dismissal, he left for Italy, and occupied under grand-ducal auspices the chair of civil law in Florence.

Further trouble led to his last change. In disgrace with the grand duke, he passed through Bologna, and was there provided with a chair of humanities. Even here he had his troubles, and had to clear himself of a suspicion of unorthodoxy before the Inquisition. He lies buried in the church of St. Dominic, at Bologna.

Dempster’s worth as an autobiographer and historian is much discounted by manifest errors, and by immoderate self-praise and zeal for the exaltation of his country. An unrestrained temper and resentful disposition, added to a harsh exterior, were, in spite of learning and good qualities, the cause of his unpopularity and many misfortunes. The seventeenth-century Irish ecclesiastical historians generally resented Dempster’s dishonest attempts to claim for Scotland many saints and worthies of Irish birth. John Colgan, John Lynch, and Stephen White, all eminent scholars, entered the lists against him (see W. T. Doherty, Inis-Owen and Tirconnell, Dublin, 1895, pp. 108-16).

The chief of his many writings are: “Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Scotorum”; published posthumously at Bologna, 1627; republished by Bannatyne Club, Edinburgh, 1829; “Antiquitatum Romanarum Corpus Absolutissimum” (Paris, 1613, 1743); “De Etruria Regali”, brought out during the Florentine professorship (latest edition, 1723-4); Institutionum Justiniani” (Bologna, 1622), edition of Claudian; annotated edition of Benedetto Accolti’s “De Bello a Christianis contra Barbaros gesto” (Florence, 1623; Groningen, 1731); annotated edition of Aldrovandi’s “Quadrupedum omnium bisulcorum Historia” (Florence, 1623, 1647). His minor works include: tragedies, poems, especially “Musca Recidiva”, thrice reprinted during his life.

JEROME POLLARD-URQUHART


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