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James Crichton

From Academic Kids

For James Crichton, the recipient of the Victoria Cross, see James Crichton (VC)

James Crichton (the Admirable Crichton) (1560 - 1582) was a significant Scottish scholar.

James Crichton ("the Admirable Crichton") (August 19,1560 - July 3, 1582)

Scottish scholar, soldier and adventurer. Noted for his extraordinary accomplishments in languages, the arts, and sciences.

One of the most astoundingly gifted individuals of the 16th century, James Crichton of Cluny (Perth and Kinross; although some sources maintain his birthplace was Dumfries), was the son of Robert Crichton, Lord-Advocate of Scotland, and Elizabeth Stewart, from whose line James could claim Royal descent.

Educated at St. Andrews University from the ages of ten to fourteen, during which time he completed requirements for both his bachelor's and master's degrees, James was taught by the celebrated Scottish politician and poet George Buchanan (1506-82). It was apparent from his earliest days that James was an unusually gifted prodigy, which may have been due to a gift for perfect recall. By the age of twenty, he was not only fluent in, but could discourse in (both prose and verse) no less than twelve languages, as well as being an accomplished horseman, fencer, singer, musician, orator and debater. Noted for his good looks as well as his refined social graces, some consider him to have come closest to the ideal of the complete man.

Leaving Scotland, Crichton travelled to Paris, where he continued his education at the College de Navarre. It was in the French capital that he first came to prominence by challenging French professors to ask him any question on any science or liberal arts subject in Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, English, Dutch, Flemish or Slavonic. It is said that throughout the course of one extremely long day, French scholars failed to stump Crichton on any question they threw at him, no matter how abstruse.

Thereafter he spent two years as a soldier in the French army before travelling to Italy in 1579, winning acclaim in Genoa, Venice and Padua by repeating his exploit of challenging Italian scholars to intellectual discourse and debate. Once, he is alleged to have bested a professional gladiator in a brutal fencing match.

In Venice in 1580, Crichton befriended the printer Aldus Manutius, who introduced him to the Venetian intellectual community, where the young Scot made an enormous impression on humanist scholars. In Padua in 1581, he clashed with a number of scholars over their interpretation of Aristotle while demonstrating that their mathematics were flawed.

Perhaps tiring of intellectual duels, the following year Crichton entered the service of the Duke of Mantua, and may have become tutor to the Duke's headstrong son Vincenzo Gonzaga (although some sources suggest that Crichton served only as a member of the ducal council, and did not actually teach the prince).

What is beyond dispute is that while in the Duke's employ, Vincenzo Gonzaga became hugely jealous of Crichton, probably from a combination of his father's strong regard for the young prodigy as well as Crichton replacing Vincenzo as the lover of the prince's former mistress.

On the night of July 3, 1582, after leaving this lady's dwelling, Crichton was attacked in the street by a gang of masked ruffians. He bested all but one with his sword until the last man removed his mask to reveal the group's ringleader, Vincenzo Gonzaga. Tradition holds that, on seeing Vincenzo, Crichton instantly dropped to one knee and presented his sword, hilt first, to the prince, his master's son. Vincenzo took the blade and with it stabbed Crichton cruelly through the heart, killing him instantly. James Crichton of Cluny was then in his twenty-second year.

Much of Crichton's posthumous reputation comes from a romantic 1652 account of his life written by Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611-60). A historical novel entitled CRICHTON was published by the English writer William Harrison Ainsworth in 1836. James Crichton's sobriquet "the Admirable Crichton" was later employed by fellow Scot Sir James Barrie as the title of his 1902 satirical play, about a butler whose savoir-faire far exceeds that of his aristocratic employers.

REFERENCES

Sir Thomas Urquhart. THE DISCOVERY OF A MOST EXQUISITE JEWEL. 1652

Francis Douglas. LIFE OF JAMES CRICHTON OF CLUNIE. 1760

Patrick Fraser Tytler. LIFE OF JAMES CRICHTON OF CLUNY. 1819

William Harrison Ainsworth. CRICHTON. 1836

David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace. THE PEOPLE'S ALMANAC. 1975-81

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