Born to a French mother and a Scottish barrister-professor father, John Barclay (BAHR-klee) became a leading Latin poet and satirist of his day. He was probably educated at a French Jesuit college. Although most of his works were published in London, he lived there only about ten years; later, he lived in France and in Rome. In 1605, he married Louise Debonaire, a Latin scholar and poet.
Barclay showed a marked facility in Latin and in 1601 wrote a commentary on Statius’s Thebais. His early poems were first printed in London, in Latin, under the title Sylvae. He is best remembered, however, for his Satyricon, a devastating satire, modeled after Petronius, on the Jesuit order. Another well-known work of his, Argenis, is a long romance with political implications—an elaborate key to topical allusions provided by the author. He completed the manuscript in 1621, just a few days before dying in Rome; the cause of his death is unknown but was attributed to poisoning.
As a neo-Latin author, Barclay is ranked with the best; he was especially deft in satire. His poetry gives few clues to his character. Most of his work reflects an individual who is an antipapist but not a reformist. Although he was said to have been grave, he seems to have been an opportunist, writing always with an eye to money and the patronage of the wealthy. He adhered to Catholicism, even though he disapproved of much Church doctrine. His only son became a priest shortly after his father’s death.