William Dunbar

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Dunbar, William

, Scottish poet
Dunbar, William, c.1460–c.1520, Scottish poet. After attending the Univ. of St. Andrews he was attached for some time to the Franciscans, probably as a novice. By 1491 he seems to have been connected with the court of James IV as a poet and minor diplomat. Writing in the traditions of Chaucer and the medieval Scottish poets, Dunbar is notable for the liveliness of his verse, his virtuosity in metrical form, his variety of mood, and his caustic satire. Most of his best poetry seems to have appeared between 1503 and 1508. “The Thistle and the Rose,” celebrating the marriage of James IV and Margaret Tudor, and “The Golden Targe” are richly decorative allegories. “The Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins” combines mordant humor and the grotesque. “The Two Married Women and the Widow” is extravagantly ribald, while “The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie” shows his gift for satiric invective. Other poems, such as “Of the Nativity of Christ,” express genuine religious feeling. One of his best-known poems is the gloomy “Lament for the Makers” with its refrain “Timor mortis conturbat me” [the fear of death throws me into confusion].


See edition of his poems by W. M. Mackenzie (1960); biography by J. W. Baxter (1952); studies by T. Scott (1966) and R. Taylor (1931, repr. 1971).

Dunbar, William

, American scientist
Dunbar, William, 1749–1810, American scientist in the old Southwest, b. near Elgin, Scotland. He came to America in 1771. Commissioned by President Jefferson to investigate the Ouachita and Red River areas, he wrote the first scientific account of the mineral wells at Hot Springs, Ark. Dunbar set up his own private astronomical observatory with instruments imported from Europe; took the first meteorological observations in the Southwest; studied the rise and fall of the Mississippi and explored its delta; and published his findings on these subjects and on the plants, animals, and Native Americans of the region in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society.
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Dunbar, William


Born 1460, in Lothian; died about 1517, in Edinburgh. Scottish poet. Court poet of James IV.

Dunbar was the author of the allegorical poems “The Thistle and the Rose” (1503), about the marriage of James IV, and “The Goldyn Targe” (1503), as well as the satire “The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo.” In the satire “To the Merchants of Edinburgh” he ridiculed the merchant class. In the allegories of the satire “The Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins” (1507), written in the genre of the symbolic medieval “dance of death,” the poet censured the morals of the court. A pessimistic motif on the transitory nature of all earthly things is evident in Dunbar’s elegy “Lament for the Makaris.”


The Poems, vols. 1–3. Edinburgh, 1884–93.
The Poems. Edinburgh [1932].


Istoriia angliiskoi literatury, vol. 1, issue 1, p. 206. Moscow-Leningrad, 1943.
Taylor, R. A. Dunbar: The Poet and His Period. London [1931].
Baxter, I. W. W. Dunbar. Edinburgh, 1952.
Scott, T. Dunbar: A Critical Exposition of the Poems. Edinburgh-London, 1966. (Bibliography pp. 360–85.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Dunbar, William

(1749–1810) planter, scientist; born near Elgin, Scotland. He came to western Florida (1773) and built a plantation near Natchez, Miss. A correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, and the first surveyor general of his area, he undertook explorations of the Ouachita and Red River areas (1804–05) in present-day Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.