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Thomas Urquhart

Thomas UrquhartBorn: 1611
Birthplace: Cromarty, Scotland
Died: 1660
Location of death: Undetermined Location, Europe
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Author, Translator

Nationality: Scotland
Executive summary: Translator of Rabelais

Scottish author and translator of François Rabelais, was the son of Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, the representative of a very ancient family, and of Christian, daughter of the fourth Lord Elphinstone. Sir Thomas was hard pressed by his creditors, and after part of the family estate had been alienated received a "letter of protection" from his creditors from King Charles I in 1637. In the same year, his son Thomas and a younger one were accused of forcibly detaining their father in an upper room, but the matter was settled without further proceedings. Thomas was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, spending his spare time in the pursuit of physical science. On leaving the university he traveled over Europe, succeeded to his embarrassed inheritance, and got together a remarkable library, which, however, fell into the hands of his creditors. All his later life was disturbed by pecuniary and political difficulties. He was an enthusiastic Royalist; and, so far as religious matters went, his principles may be judged from his favorite signature, "C.P.", for Christianus Presbyteromastix. He took part in the "Trot of Turriff" in 1639, and was rewarded by being knighted on 7th April 1641 by the king's own hand at Whitehall. He took occasion by this visit to London to see through the press his first work, a collection of Epigrams of no great merit. Four years later, in 1645, he produced a tract called Trissotetras, a treatise on logarithms, adjusted to a kind of memoria technica, like that of the scholastic logic. In 1649 he was proclaimed a rebel and traitor at the Cross of Edinburgh for taking part in the abortive rising at Inverness on behalf of Charles II in that year; but no active proceedings were taken against him. He took part in the march to Worcester, and was there wounded and taken prisoner. His manuscripts were destroyed after the battle, with the exception of a few pages of the preface to his Universal Language. Urquhart was imprisoned in the Tower of London and at Windsor, but was released by Cromwell's orders in 1651. He published in rapid succession during 1652 and 1653 three tracts with quaint titles and quainter contents. One was an amazing genealogy of the house of Urquhart up to Adam, with the names extemporized for the earlier ages in a kind of gibberish. Another is supposed to be a treatise on the virtues of a jewel found in the streets of Worcester. The jewel is the recovered sheets of his manuscript. The defense of his system for a universal language was supplemented by a eulogy of the Scottish character, as shown in James Crichton ("the Admirable Crichton") and others. Finally, in Logopandecteision he again handled the subject of a universal language. The Translation of Rabelais (Books I. and II.), which Urquhart produced in 1653, is of the highest value as literature, and, by general testimony, one of the great masterpieces of translation. Though by no means a close rendering, it reproduces the spirit of the original with remarkable felicity. The translation was reprinted in 1664; and in 1693 that of the Third Book was added. Next to nothing is known of Urquhart after 1653; it is said that he sought refuge, like other cavaliers, on the continent, and died (1660) of a fit of laughing, brought on by joy at hearing of the Restoration.

    University: King's College, Aberdeen

    Knighthood 7-Apr-1641



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