John Barbour Criticism - Essay

W. A. Craigie (essay date 1893)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Barbour and Blind Harry as Literature," The Scottish Review, Vol. XXII, July-October, 1893, pp. 173-201.

[In the following essay, Craigie contends that historical considerations have caused critics to prefer The Bruce over Blind Harry's Wallace and that, judged purely on literary merit, The Bruce is the inferior effort.]

The misguided man who goes so far astray as to compose a historical poem, that is, a poem professing to be a substitute for history, generally 'wirkis sorrow to himsel', as Dunbar says, or at least to his own memory. To begin with, his hearers or readers may be pleased with this vivid and interesting form of bringing...

(The entire section is 10572 words.)

Herbert Maxwell (essay date 1897)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Robert the Bruce and the Struggle for Scottish Independence, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1897, pp. 1-16.

[In the following excerpt, Maxwell maintains that the merits of Barbour's poem are to be found in its narrative and reflection of Scottish society in the fourteenth century, but that it should not be considered a reliable chronicle of history.]

… Turning now to the Scottish side of the account [of the Scottish War of Independence], the most important work dealing with this period is the well-known poem entitled The Brus, by John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen. This writer was born a few years after the battle of Bannockburn, and...

(The entire section is 937 words.)

J. T. T. Brown (essay date 1900)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Of the Bruce," in The "Wallace" and the "Bruce" Restudied, P. Hanstein's Verlag, 1900, pp. 85-155.

[In the following excerpt, Brown argues that The Bruce has been extensively altered by a later editor.]

… John Ramsay's hand in The Bruce.

Do the Cambridge and Edinburgh manuscripts of The Bruce preserve the work of John Barbour in its original form, due allowance being made for fifteenth century orthography of the scribe: or do they exhibit the fourteenth century poem in a form more or less recast, amplified and embellished by an editor in the succeeding century? That question without doubt is of far more...

(The entire section is 12929 words.)

Ian C. Walker (essay date 1964)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Barbour, Blind Harry, and Sir William Craigie," Studies In Scottish Literature, Vol. I, No. 3, January, 1964, pp. 202-06.

[In the following essay, Walker responds to William Craigie's evaluation of The Bruce, contending that Craigie misunderstood Barbour's work.]

There is no doubt that Blind Harry's Wallace has suffered unduly through comparison with Barbour's Bruce, but the late Sir William Craigie,1 in trying to redress the balance, upset it even further in the opposite direction, enhancing the reputation of his favourite only at the expense of denigrating those parts of Barbour's work that are in fact most worthy.


(The entire section is 1805 words.)

Jacqueline Trace (essay date 1968)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Supernatural Element in Barbour's Bruce," Massachusetts Studies in English, Vol. I, No. 3, Spring, 1968, pp. 55-65.

[In the following essay, Trace studies the supernatural and religious devices utilized by Barbour in The Bruce.]

Storyss to rede ar delitabill,
Supposs that thai be nocht bot fabill;
Than suld storyss that suthfast wer,
And thai war said on gud maner,
Hawe doubill plesance in heryng.
The fyrst plesance is the carpyng,
And the tothir the suthfastnes,
That schawys the thing rycht as it wes; …
Now god gyff grace that I may swa
Tret It,...

(The entire section is 4225 words.)

A. M. Kinghorn (essay date 1969)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Scottish Historiography in the 14th Centrury: A New Introduction to Barbour's Bruce," Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. VI, No. 3, January, 1969, pp. 131-45.

[In the following essay, Kinghorn provides an overview of The Bruce in the context of the changing nature of historical writing.]

Barbour's account of Bruce's career is a verse chronicle written in the spirit of a noble romance, and its author managed to impart to it a unity rarely found in a continuous historical record.

Nine years ago the present writer opened the introduction to a volume of selections from Barbour's...

(The entire section is 6016 words.)

Lois A. Ebin (essay date 1972)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "John Barbour's Bruce: Poetry, History, and Propaganda," Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. IX, No. 4, April, 1972, pp. 218-42.

[In the following essay, Ebin asserts that Barbour's purpose in writing his poem was to emphasize the importance of freedom and loyalty for Scotland]

Five years after the accession of Robert Stewart to the throne of Scotland in 1371, John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen, wrote the Bruce, a narrative poem of 13,864 lines which celebrates the deeds of Stewart's grandfather, Robert Bruce. The poem not only won the immediate acclaim of Barbour's contemporaries, but was considered by many chroniclers to be the most elegant...

(The entire section is 10483 words.)

Walter Scheps (essay date 1972)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Barbour's Bruce and Harry's Wallace: The Question of Influence," Tennessee Studies in Literature, Vol. XVII, 1972, pp. 190-24.

[In the following essay, Scheps argues that Blind Harry's indebtedness to Barbour has been exaggerated and that one purpose of the Wallace is to discredit Bruce.]

John Barbour's Bruce (1375) has often been cited as the most important source of Blind Harry's Wallace (ante 1488). George Neilson, for example, calls the Wallace "a rib out of Bruce's side,"1 and J. T. T. Brown suggests that the scribe of the fifteenth-century manuscript containing both poems has taken elements from the...

(The entire section is 2325 words.)

Anne M. McKim (essay date 1981)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "James Douglas and Barbour's Ideal of Knighthood," Forum for Modern Language Studies, Vol. XVII, No. 2, April, 1981, pp. 167-80.

[In the following essay, McKim concentrates on Barbour's portrayal of James Douglas as an ideal knight.]

The little critical attention which John Barbour's Bruce has received, has tended to concentrate on the figure of Robert Bruce, and on Barbour's treatment of him as the type of the ideal king, national hero and military leader.1 The poem's other hero, James Douglas, has attracted little more than passing comment.2 Yet Barbour himself pointed out that the poem has two heroes: "king Robert of Scotland,...

(The entire section is 7070 words.)

Matthew P. McDiarmid and James A. C. Stevenson (essay date 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Barbour's 'other werk'," in Barbour's Bruce, Vol. I, The Scottish Text Society, 1985, pp. 17-37.

[In the following essay, McDiarmid and Stevenson examine the arguments for Barbour's authorship of works other than The Bruce.]

Barbour's 'othir werk'

… In his Wallace, XII, 1213-14, Hary speaks of Barbour writing other verse than Bruce, and like Andrew Wyntoun and Walter Bower before him he specifies an account of the origin of the Stewarts. One passage in Wyntoun has been understood to attribute to Barbour a 'Brute', a version of Geoffreyof Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. A fifteenth-century MS assigns...

(The entire section is 8530 words.)

Phoebe A. Mainster (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "How to Make a Hero: Barbour's Recipe," Michigan Academician, Vol. XX, No. 2, Spring, 1988, pp. 225-38.

[In the following essay, Mainster asserts that Barbour's account of Scottish history is intended to serve his political purpose, for he suppresses any aspects of character or situation that would reflectnegatively on the House of Stewart.]

John Barbour's fourteenth-century narrative recounts a series of historical events surrounding the Scottish Wars of Independence. Imposing a specific pattern on the historical events, The Bruce cultivates an impression of lasting political unity, dynastic continuity, and heroic fulfillment. Barbour manipulates...

(The entire section is 5949 words.)

Anne M. McKim (essay date 1989)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Get Price Off Chewalry: Barbour's Debt to Fordun," Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. XXIV, 1989, pp. 7-29.

[In the following essay, McKim focuses on the influence of John Fordun's Chronica Gentis Scotorum on Barbour.]

We know very little about the origins of the Scottish literary tradition: the paucity of surviving medieval manuscripts and the dearth of biographical detail about those authors who can be identified make our earliest writers seem curiously isolated from one another. This is strikingly so in the case of John Barbour who composed The Bruce in the vernacular and in verse in the second half of the fourteenth century. We do know that...

(The entire section is 8828 words.)

Grace G. Wilson (essay date 1990)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Barbour's Bruce and Harry's Wallace: Complements, Compensations, and Conventions," Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. XXV, 1990, pp. 189-201.

[In the following essay, Wilson compares and contrasts Blind Harry's Wallace with The Bruce, pointing out differences in historical reliability, time span, tone, and literary quality.]

In 1488 and 1489, John Ramsay copied Hary's Wallace and John Barbour's Bruce into a pair of manuscripts.1 John Jamieson edited them as a pair in 1820.2 Before and after Jamieson, other readers felt a similar inclination to place the two poems side by side.3 This...

(The entire section is 5186 words.)

Liam O. Purdon and Julian N. Wasserman (essay date 1994)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Chivalry and Feudal Obligation in Bar-bour's Bruce," in The Rusted Hauberk: Feudal Ideas of Order and Their Decline, edited by Liam O. Purdon and Cindy L. Vitto, University Press of Florida, 1994, pp. 77-95.

[In the following essay, Purdon and Wasserman discuss Barbour's emphasis on feudal custom as opposed to chivalric ideal in The Bruce.]

Recently, scholars have begun to demonstrate how, in The Bruce, John Barbour manipulates poetic convention and historical fact for the artistic and poetical purpose of creating a rousing pro-Scots account of the early fourteenth-century wars for independence. Interestingly enough, this growing critical...

(The entire section is 6589 words.)