NAPIER, John (1550-1617, inventor of logarithms). Autograph draft letter signed (in the joint names of his father and himself, 'Be your loving parentis S[i]r Ar[chibal]d Nep[er] Jhone Neper') to his half-brothers (Alexander and William, addressed here as 'Sons'), dated 'At Merchistoun this last of November 1600', including a few cancellations and revisions, one page, 305 x 200 mm, annotation in a later hand on verso (slight fraying at edges, some discolouration); and a second draft letter (possibly in the hand of Sir Archibald Napier) to the same, unsigned but similarly subscribed, 30 November 1600, 2 pages, 305 x 250 mm, later annotation in left margin (worn at edges, discoloured), both letters window-mounted.
MURDER AND REVENGE IN THE BORDERS. A powerful appeal to John Napier's much younger half-brothers in reply to their letter threatening to go into exile ('your onorderlie depairting furth of this cuntrie') allegedly because of the refusal of their 'parents' to countenance their plans to avenge the murder of their brother (Archibald), pointing out that they had often before tried to go abroad ('ye heff socht all occasionis, pretextis and causes ye culd to heff departit away'), and sternly reminding them of their duties.
'[We] nather aggrie to ony of your plattis, nather proponis other mair solid coursis of ouris awin for the reveng of the lait horrible murthour of your brother, and that ye can nocht comport, for schame thereof, to remaine in the cuntrie'. 'We wold wisch you, in the feir of God, to behaif yourselfis mair plainlie and obedientlie to us your parantis than to be making sik pretextis to colour your inobediences, quherby ye do that in you lyis, to bring us that are your parentis, to the graif with sorrow, as also to heipe on yourselfis the wratht of God therfor'. Brother and father enjoin them to mend their ways, 'desyring therfor, you, both upon your dewties and sonly obedience both to cast off sik ongodly notions and temptations of rebellione against God and your parentis, and to returne haim to that obediens, that, be the law of God and man, ye ar bund to'.
The letters recall a black episode in the turbulent history of the Scottish Borders. There were three sons of Sir Archhibald Napier's second marriage to Elizabeth Mowbray, Alexander, Archibald and William. All three were described as 'of a restless turbulent disposition', and the present drafts make it plain that Alexander and William had previously sought pretexts to join their wild uncle Francis Mowbray abroad. In August 1600 Archibald, apparently searching for a stolen or straying horse in the Borders, killed a Scott of Bowhill who had ambushed him, and was in revenge horribly murdered by other Scotts of Bowhill on November 8th. Sir Archibald applied to King James for redress and was sympathetically received, while Alexander and William contemplated some violent and dramatic act of retribution, and being dissuaded by their father and elder brother, threatened to go abroad. These events appear to have been little recorded outside the present drafts, which are described, and the text of John Napier's letter published, in Mark Napier's Memorials of John Napier (1834).
John Napier's lasting fame rests on his mathematical discoveries and efforts to systematise the sciences of algebra and arithmetic: he was 'the earliest British writer to make a contribution of commanding value to the progress of mathematics' (DNB). Records of his life are fragmentary, and this is the only document in his hand to have appeared at auction in the last 25 years. (2)