James Crichton, commonly called the "admirable Orichton," born probably in the castle of Cluny, in Scotland, Aug. 19, 1560, died in Mantua, July 3, 1583. His father was lord advocate of Scotland, and his mother a Stuart of the lineage of the reigning family. At the age of 10 he was sent to the university of St. Andrews, then reputed the first school of philosophy in Scotland, where in his 12th year he took the degree of bachelor of arts, and in his 14th that of master; and, though the youngest of all, he was then esteemed the third scholar in the university. Before his 17th year he is said to have mastered the whole circle of science and of physical accomplishments. Soon afterward he went to Paris, where he challenged all learned persons to meet him in public disputation, proclaiming that he would " be ready to answer to what should be propounded to him concerning any science, liberal art, discipline, or faculty, practical or theoretical, not excluding the theological or jurisprudential habits, though grounded but upon the testimonies of God and man, and that in any of these 12 languages: Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, English, Dutch, Flemish, and Slavonian, in either prose or verse, at the discretion of the disputant." On the appointed day he encountered the gravest philosophers and divines in presence of over 3,000 auditors, acquitted himself with marvellous learning during a disputation of nine hours with the most eminent doctors, and was presented by the rector amid the acclamations of the assembly with a diamond ring and a purse full of gold.
From this time he was known by the epithet of "the admirable." On the very next day he entered a tilting match at the Louvre, and bore off the ring from all competitors. After serving two years in the civil wars, he proceeded to Italy, and was in Rome in 1580. There, it is said, he gave another demonstration of his talents, and knowledge in a disputation before the pope and all the highest dignitaries of the church and universities. He soon proceeded to Venice, where he was presented to the doge and the senate, and delivered before them an oration which was applauded for its eloquence and grace. He also disputed on questions of divinity, philosophy, and mathematics, with so much ability that Imperiali says " he was esteemed a prodigy of nature." After residing for four months in Venice, he went in 1581 to Padua, the fame of whose university was then spread throughout Europe. Here a meeting of learned men was convened in his honor. He began his performances with a poem, then held a public disputation for six hours on science, and concluded with an oration in praise of ignorance.
Some one having charged him with being a mere charlatan, he caused a placard to be posted, in which he undertook to refute innumerable fallacies of Aristotle and the schoolmen, and to answer his antagonists on any topic which they might propose, either in the common logical way, or according to the secret doctrine of numbers and mathematical figures, or in any one of a hundred different species of verse. The trial was eminently successful, being styled " a miraculous encounter." He then went to Mantua, where he is said to have fought a famous gladiator, who had foiled the ablest masters of fence in Europe, and had recently slain the three best swordsmen in that city. Crichton, having challenged him, showed such dexterity in the fight that he seemed but to be in play, and at length pierced the heart of his opponent. The duke made him preceptor of his son, a riotous and passionate youth. For the amusement of his patron he composed a comedy, in which he himself represented 15 different characters. This was the last display of his extraordinary talents. On a night of the carnival he was assailed in the street by three armed persons in masks. Turning upon them with his sword, he at length disarmed the principal aggressor, who proved to be his pupil, the son of the duke.
Crichton fell upon his knee and presented his sword to the prince, who pierced him through the body. Such is a summary of the incidents recorded of this youth. It is not improbable that they are greatly exaggerated. Four Latin odes, and a few prose fragments, which are all that remain of his compositions, do not convey an impression of remarkable power; yet there is historical evidence that he made great proficiency in knowledge and accomplishments.