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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

V. The Earliest Scottish Literature

§ 14. Fordun and Bower’s Scotichronicon

The next in order of these records is Scotichronicon, the joint work of John of Fordun and his continuator Walter Bower or Bowmaker, abbot of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth. Except for occasional quotations, the work (in fourteen books) is entirely in Latin. The first five books and some part of the sixth were completed by John of Fordun, between 1384 and 1387, for he mentions that he had lately received a genealogy from bishop Wardlaw, cardinal and legate, and we know that bishop Wardlaw held those titles only during those years. Fordun is generally said to have died in 1385, the year in which his continuator tells us he himself was born. Of Fordun, we know nothing save what is told us in various manuscripts of his works. He probably was born at Fordoun, in Kincardineshire, whence he derives his name; and the statement in the Black Book of Paisley, now in the British Museum, that he was capellanus ecclesiae Aberdonensis, which is generally interpreted “a chantry priest in the cathedral of Aberdeen,” is probable enough. If so, he was not only a contemporary but also a fellow citizen of Barbour. Fordun, undoubtedly, took great pains in collecting his materials by visiting monasteries in England and even in Ireland where chronicles were to be found. Unfortunately, he was able to complete his work only as far as the death of David I in 1153. The material with which his continuator worked was largely collected by Fordun. But Bower was a much less competent person than his predecessor. He was engaged upon the chronicle between 1441 and 1449, and brought down the history to the death of James I in 1437. He is garrulous, irrelevant and inaccurate. He interpolates passages into the part completed by Fordun, and he makes every important occurrence an excuse for a long-winded moral discourse. When he has occasion to relate the unfortunate matrimonial experiences of David II, he feels it necessary to discuss the proper method of choosing a wife and to illustrate the problem with at least six passages from the Bible, and several more from Aristotle and the Christian fathers. He is able to fill the next chapter with rules for the proper management of a wife, illustrated by quotations from Solomon, St. Paul, Varro and Valerius Maximus. Nearly two folio pages are required to state the unpleasant things to which a wicked woman is compared. Among these is the serpent, and this leads to an excursus on the serpent, and two more chapters on the wicked woman:

  • Till horsis fote thou never traist,
  • Till hondis tooth, no womans faith.XIV, 32 f.
  • A single shorter chapter exhausts the good qualities of the female sex, and Bower is then able to return to Margaret Logie and the death of king David II. Even that patient age found the taediosa prolixitas of the abbot of Inchcolm more than it could endure, and he and others spent their time in making shorter manuals out of this vast and undigested mass.