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· If this English origin of Scotch be correct, it sufficiently accounts for the Scottish poets, in the fifteenth century, speaking of Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate, as their masters and models of style, and extolling them as the improvers of a language to which they prefix the word “our,” as if it belonged in common to Scots and English, and even sometimes denominating their own language English.
Yet, in whatever light we are to regard Lowland Scotch, whether merely as northern English, or as having a mingled Gothic origin from the Pictish and Anglo-Saxon, its claims to poetical antiquity are tespectable. The extreme antiquity of the elegy on Alexander III. on which Mr. Ellis rests so much importance, is indeed disputed; but Sir Tristram exhibits an original romance, composed on the north of the Tweed, at a time when there is no proof that southern English contained any work of that species of fiction, that was not translated from the French. In the fourteenth century, Barbour celebrated the greatest royal hero of his country (Bruce), in a versified romance, that is not uninteresting. The next age is prolific in the names of distinguished Scottish “ Makers.” Henry the minstrel, said to have been blind from his birth, rehearsed the exploits of Wallace in strains of fierce though vulgar fire. James I. of Scotland; Henrysoun, the author of Robene and Makyne, the first known pastoral, and one of the best, in a dialect rich with the favours of the pastoral muse; Douglas, the translator of Virgil; Dunbar, Mersar, and others, gave a poetical lustre to Scotland, in the fifteenth century, and fill up a space in the annals of British poetry, after the date of Chau. cer and Lydgate, that is otherwise nearly barren. James the first had an elegant and tender vein, and the ludicrous pieces ascribed to him possess considerable comic humour. Douglas's descriptions of natural scenery are extolled by T. Warton, who has given ample and interpreted specimens of them, in his History of English Poetry. He was certainly a fond painter of nature ; but his imagery is redundant and tediously profuse. His chief original work is the elaborate and quaint allegory of King Hart “. It is full of alliteration, a trick which the Scottish poets might have learnt to avoid from the “ rose of rhetours” (as they call him) Chaucer ; but in which they rival the anapæstics of Langland. • Dunbar is a poet of a higher order. His tale of the Friars of Berwick is quite in the spirit of Chaucer, His Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins through Hell, though it would be absurd to compare it with the beauty and refinement of the celebrated Ode on the Passions, has yet an animated picturesqueness not unlike that of Collins. The effect of both pieces shows how much more potent allegorical figures become, by being made to fleet suddenly before the
1 In which the human heart is personified as a Sovereign in his castle, guarded by the five Senses, made captive by Dame Pleasaunce, a neighbouring potentate, but finally brought back from thraldom by Age and Experience.
imagination, than by being detained in its view by prolonged description. Dunbar, conjures up the personified Sins, as Collins does the Passions, to rise, to strike, and disappear. They “ come like shadows, so depart.”
In the works of those northern makers of the fifteenth century', there is a gay spirit, and an indication of jovial manners, which forms a contrast to the covenanting national character of subsequent times. The frequent coarseness of this poetical gaiety, it would indeed be more easy than agreeable to prove by quotations; and, if we could forget how very gross the humour of Chaucer sometimes is, we might, on a general comparison of the Scotch with the English poets, extol the comparative delicacy of English taste; for Skelton himself, though more burlesque than Sir David Lyndsay in style, is less outrageously indecorous in matter. At a period when James IV. was breaking lances in the lists of chivalry, and when the court, and court poets of Scotland, might be supposed to have possessed ideas of decency, if not of refinement, Dunbar at that period addresses the queen, on the occasion of having danced in her majesty's chamber, with jokes which a beggar wench of the present day would probably consider as an offence to her delicacy.
Sir David Lyndsay was a courtier, a foreign am1 The writings of some of those Scottish poets belong to the sixteenth century; but from the date of their births they are placed under the fifteenth.
probaba beggar wen majesty's chambe occasion of
bassador, and the intimate companion of a prince; for he attended James V. from the first to the last day of that monarch's life. From his rank in society, we might suppose, that he had purposely laid aside the style of a gentleman, and clothed the satirical moralities, which he levelled against popery, in language suited to the taste of the vulgar; if it were easy to conceive the taste of the vulgar to have been, at that period, grosser than that of their superiors. Yet while Lyndsay's satire, in tearing up the depravities of a corrupted church, seems to be polluted with the scandal on which it preys, it is impossible to peruse his writings without confessing the importance of his character to the country in which he lived, and to the cause which he was born to serve. In his tale of Squire Meldrum we lose sight of the reformer. It is a little romance, very amusing as a draught of Scottish chivalrous manners, apparentiy drawn from the life, and blending a sportive and familiar, with an heroic and amatory interest. Nor is its broad, careless diction, perhaps, an unfavourable relief to the romantic spirit of the adventures which it portrays.
JAMES I. OF SCOTLAND.
James I. of Scotland was born in the year 1393, and became heir apparent to the Scottish crown by the death of his brother, Prince David. Taken prisoner at sea by the English, at ten years of age, he received some compensation for his cruel detention by an excellent education. It appears that he accompanied Henry V. into France, and there distinguished himself by his skill and bravery. On his return to his native country he endeavoured, during too short a reign, to strengthen the rights of the crown and people against a tyrannical aristocracy, He was the first who convoked commissioners from the shires, in place of the numerous lesser barons, and he endeavoured to create a house of commons in Scotland, by separating the representatives of the people from the peers; but his nobility foresaw the effects of his scheme, and too successfully resisted it. After clearing the lowlands of Scotland from feudal oppression, he visited the highlands, and crushed several refractory chieftains. Some instances of his justice are recorded, which rather resemble the cruelty of the times in which he lived, than his own personal character; but in such times justice herself wears a horrible aspect. One Mac