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'Were I into the place that I cam frae,
I cannot tell how afterward sho fure.
But I have heard syne she passit to her den,
Blessed be simple life, withouten dread;
A Summer Morning.
In the midst of June, that jolly sweet season,
Sweet was the smell of flowers white and red,
The roses red arrayed in rorne and ryss,3
Such mirth the mavis and the merle couth ma,*
WILLIAM DUNBAR, 'a poet,' says Sir Walter Scott, 'unrivalled by any that Scotland has ever produced,' flourished at the court of James IV. at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century. Having received his education at the university of St Andrews, where, in 1479, he took the degree of Master of Arts, Dunbar became a friar of the Franciscan order (Gray Friars), in which capacity he travelled for some years, not only in Scotland, but also in England and France, preaching, as was the custom of the order, and living by the alms of the pious-a mode of life which he himself acknowledges to have involved a constant exercise of falsehood, deceit, and flattery. In time, he had the grace, or was enabled by circumstances, to renounce this sordid profession. It is supposed, from various allusions in his writings, that, from about the year 1491 to 1500, he was occasionally employed by the king 1 Radiance. 2 Without. 3 Bush and twig. 4 Could make.
(James IV.) in some subordinate but not unimportant capacity, in connection with various foreign embassies, and that he thus visited Germany, Italy, Spain, and France, besides England and Ireland. He could not, in such a life, fail to acquire much of that knowledge of mankind which forms so important a part of the education of the poet. In 1500, he received from the king a pension of ten pounds, afterwards increased to twenty, and finally to eighty. He is supposed to have been employed by James in some of the negotiations preparatory to his marriage with the Princess Margaret (daughter of Henry VII.), which took place in 1503. For some years ensuing, he seems to have lived at court, regaling his royal master with his poetical compositions, and probably also with his conversation, the charms of which, judging from his writings, must have been very great. He represents himself as a court poet, and occasionally dancing in the queen's chamber, having a penchant for one of the court ladies :
It is sad to relate of one who possessed so buoyant and mirthful a spirit, that his life was not, so far as we can judge, a happy one. He appears to have repined greatly at the servile court-life which he was condemned to lead, and to have longed anxiously for some independent source of income. Among his poems are many containing nothing but expressions of solicitude on this subject. He survived the year 1517, and is supposed to have died about 1520, at the age of sixty; but whether he ultimately succeeded in obtaining preferment, is not known. His writings, with scarcely any exception, remained in the obscurity of manuscript till the beginning of the last century; but his fame had been gradually rising, and it was at length, in 1834, considered sufficient to justify a complete edition of his works, by Mr David Laing.
The poems of Dunbar may be said to be of three classes-the allegorical, the moral, and the comic; besides which there is a vast number of productions composed on occasions affecting himself, and which may therefore be called personal effusions. His allegorical poem, The Thistle and the Rose (a triumphant nuptial-song for the union of James and the Princess Margaret), was finished, as he himself states, on the 9th of May 1503. Langhorne, the English poet, finely says:
In nervous strains Dunbar's bold music flows, And Time yet spares the Thistle and the Rose. But another of Dunbar's allegorical poems, The Golden Terge, was more popular in his own day, and is cited by Sir David Lyndsay as proving
1 His slipper.
that its author had 'language at large.' It is more richly descriptive and rhetorical, but has not more true poetry. The satirical and humorous poems of Dunbar are extremely gross. Perhaps the most remarkable of all his poems is The Dance. It describes a procession of the seven deadly sins in the infernal regions; and for strength and vividness of painting, would stand a comparison with any poem in the language. The most solemn and impressive of the more exclusively moral poems of Dunbar, is one in which he represents a thrush and nightingale taking opposite sides in a debate on earthly and spiritual affections, the thrush ending every speech or stanza with a recommendation of 'a lusty life in Love's service,' and the nightingale with the more melodious declaration : 'All love is lost but upon God alone.' There is, however, something more touching in the less laboured verses in which he moralises on the brevity of existence, the shortness and uncertainty of all ordinary enjoyments, and the wickedness and woes of mankind.
He is, at the same time, by no means disposed habitually to take gloomy or desponding views of He has one poem, of which each stanza ends with 'For to be blyth methink it best. In another, he advises, since life is so uncertain, that the good things of this world should be rationally enjoyed while it is yet possible. 'Thine awn gude spend,' says he, 'while thou has space.' There is yet another, in which these Horatian maxims are still more pointedly enforced; and from this we shall
select a few stanzas.
Be merry, man, and tak not sair in mind
For oft with wise men it has been said aforow
Make thee gude cheer of it that God thee sends,
3 World's trash without health.
2 Snare. 4 Injuries.
Follow on pity, flee trouble and debate,
The philosophy of these lines is excellent.
Dunbar was as great in the comic as in the solemn strain, but not so pure. His Twa Married Women and the Widow is a conversational piece, in which three gay ladies discuss, in no very delicate terms, the merits of their husbands, and the means by which wives may best advance their own interests. There is one piece of peculiar humour, descriptive of an imaginary tournament between a tailor and a shoemaker, in the same region where he places the dance of the seven deadly sins. It is in a style of the broadest farce, and full of very offensive language, yet as droll as anything in Scarron or Rabelais. One of the marvels brought by the king's ships was a black lady, and a great tournament was got up in honour of the sable beauty. Dunbar humorously says:
When she is clad in rich apparel,
She blinks as bright as ane tar-barrel;
When she was born the sun tholed eclipse; The Night wad sure fight in her quarrelThe lady wi' the meikle lips.
Another novelty at court was a French quackdoctor, Master John Damian, who appears to have got considerable sums of money from the king for experiments made in the vain hope of extracting gold out of other metals. Damian must have been a simpleton as well as knave, for he made a public attempt to fly with wings which he had constructed. The wings being fastened upon him, fell to the ground and broke his thigh-bone. He he flew off the castle wall of Stirling, but shortly accounted for his failure by the circumstance of there having been some feathers in the wings, which yearned and coveted the midden and not the skies!' The king, with culpable recklessness, presented this quack to the vacant abbacy of Tungland in Galloway. Dunbar happily satirised the quack, representing him as flying in the air, though he never got upon wing, and as assailed by all the indignant birds:
And ever the cushats at him tuggit,
The rooks him rent, the ravens him druggit, The hooded-craws his hair forth rugged, The heaven he might not bruik.
Pinkerton ascribes to Dunbar a comic tale apparently of about the same date as the poet's acknowledged works, entitled The Freirs of Berwick. The argument' of this piece is the merry adventure of two White Friars of Berwick detecting Friar John, superior of the Gray Friars of the same place, in an intrigue with a farmer's wife. The tale is told with great humour and spirit, and the dénouement, the detection and punishment of Friar John, is brought about by a series of highly amusing incidents. There is no authority for assigning this piece to Dunbar, but it is worthy of him or of Chaucer.
And gif that virtue contrar be to vice,
The Nightingale said: Bird, why does thou rave?
The Merle said: Love is cause of honour aye,
The Nightingale said: True is the contrary;
In false vain-glory they so drunken are,
Then said the Merle: Mine error I confess :
Then sang they both with voices loud and clear; The Merle sang: Man, love God that has thee wrought.
The Nightingale sang: Man, love the Lord most dear,
That thee and all this world made of nought.
All love is lost but upon Him alone.
Then flew thir birdis o'er the boughis sheen,
The Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Of Februar the fiftene nicht,
Full lang before the dayis licht,
I lay intill a trance;
And then I saw baith Heaven and Hell: Me thocht, amang the fiendis fell, Mahoun gart cry ane Dance
1 Equivalent to the modern phrase, from the heart.
2 Bound, encircled.
3. Slothful or reluctant.
4 Ta'en; taken.
Whose diligent pleading made my thoughts grane or long for love.
5 His grunt.
4 Gold of every coinage.
9 Quicker of apprehension. 10 Neighing like an entire horse. 11 Corpse (mort, dead).. 12 Their reward, or their desire not
13 No minstrels without doubt-a compliment to the poetical profession: there were no gleemen or minstrels in the infernal regions. 14 Letter of right. 15 Pageant. 16 By the time he had done shouting the coronach or cry of help, the Highlanders speaking Erse or Gaelic gathered about him.
3 A great quantity.
6 Many a lazy glutton.
feel his loss: he was stricken with the plague, and died in London in 1522. Douglas wrote two original poetical works, one entitled The Palace of Honour, an apologue for the conduct of a king, addressed to James IV. The poet represents himself as seeing in a vision a large company travelling towards the Palace of Honour. He joins them, and relates the particulars of the pil
Tidings fra the Session.
A conversation between two rustics, designed to satirise the grimage. His second work, King Hart, presents proceedings in the supreme civil law-court of Scotland.
a metaphorical view of human life. The human heart is personified as a king in his castle, with the five senses around him; he is attacked by Dame Pleasaunce, who has conquered many a king, from Solomon downwards, but at length Age and Experience come to the rescue, and King Hart is set free. Douglas gave an entire translation of the Eneid in the Scottish language, being the first version of a Latin classic into any British tongue. Douglas's translation is in what is called the heroic couplet, ten syllables to the line, the measure which Byron considered to be the best adapted to our language, though his own greatest triumphs were not achieved in it. Thus, in the famous passage of the descent of Æneas to the infernal regions, we read in Douglas:
Thae tarmigants, with tag and tatter,
And roup like raven and rook.1
He smorit them with smoke!
Ane muirland man, of upland mak,
I tell you under this confession, But lately lichtit off my meare,
I come of Edinburgh fra the Session.
What tidings heard you there, I pray you?
Ane common doer of transgression, Of innocent folk preveens a futher :5
Sic tidings heard I at the Session.
Some with his fallow rouns him to please,
That has his mind all on oppression;
Wad look full heigh were not the Session.
GAVIN DOUGLAS, bishop of Dunkeld, was one of the most distinguished and accomplished men of that era. He was born about the year 1474, younger son of Archibald, fifth Earl of Angus, and was educated for the church. He lived, however, in stormy times, and was mixed up with the turbulent scenes of the Douglas faction. When that faction was driven from power, he fled to England, to the court of Henry VIII. He was proscribed as a traitor, and the revenues of his bishopric of Dunkeld sequestrated, but he did not live long to
1 Croaked like ravens and rooks. 2 Deafened. 3 Smothered.
9 Hostility. 19 Carries.
It is right facile and eith [easy] gait, I thee tell,
Though later in point of time than Henryson and Dunbar, Douglas is much less easily read. He was, like Spenser, fond of archaisms, and he resolved, he said, to write wholly in the Scottish language:
And yet, forsooth, I set my busy pain,
His language, however, is far from being pure Scotch, being, according to Mr Skeat, much affected by Anglicisms.' The original poems styled Prologues, which the translator affixes to each book, are esteemed among his happiest efforts. The following is in the original spelling:
Apostrophe to Honour.
O hie honour, sweit heuinlie flour digest!
From a Description of Morning in May, from the
1 Worthy reward.
3 Issued from.
2 Without peer or equal. 4 Opened.