Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3


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Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. All Languages. More filters. Sort order. Fawn rated it really liked it Aug 21, It appears from his will that he was still living in , having outlived Chaucer eight years. This will is a curious document. There is no mention of children in the will, and hence the assertion of Edmondson, who, in his genealogical table of the Statenham family, says that Thomas Gower, the governor of the castle of Mans in the times of the Fifth and Sixth Henrys, was the only son of the poet, and that of Glover, who, in his 'Visitation of Yorkshire,' describes Gower as married to a lady named Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Edward Sadbowrughe, Baron of the Exchequer, by whom he had five sons and three daughters, must both fall to the ground.

His body was, according to his own direction, buried in the monastery of St Mary Overies, in Southwark, afterwards the church of St Saviour, where a monument, and an effigies, too, were erected, with the roses of a knight girdling the brow of one who was unquestionably a true, if not a great poet. In the dedication of this latter work to Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, Gower speaks of his blindness and his age. The 'Confessio Amantis' is the only work of Gower's which is printed and in English.

The rest are still slumbering in MS. But the 'Confessio Amantis' is altogether a remarkable production. It is said to have been written at the command of Richard II. It is an English poem, in eight books, and was first printed by Caxton in the year The 'Confessio' is a large unwieldy collection of poetry and prose, superstition and science, love and religion, allegory and historical facts. It is crammed with all varieties of learning, and a perverse but infinite ingenuity is shewn in the arrangement of its heterogeneous materials.

In one book the whole mysteries of the Hermetic philosophy are expounded, and the wonders of alchymy dazzle us in every page. In another, the poet scales the heights and sounds the depths of Aristotelianism. From this we have extracted in the 'Specimens' a glowing account of 'The Chariot of the Sun. These are principally derived from an old book called 'Pantheon; or, Memoriae Seculorum,'--a kind of universal history, more studious of effect than accuracy, in which the author ranges over the whole history of the world, from the creation down to the year This was a specimen of a kind of writing in which the Middle Ages abounded--namely, chronicles, which gradually superseded the monkish legends, and for a time eclipsed the classics themselves; a kind of writing hovering between history and fiction, embracing the widest sweep, written in a barbarous style, and swarming with falsehoods; but exciting, interesting, and often instructive, and tending to kindle curiosity, and create in the minds of their readers a love for literature.

Besides chronicles, Gower had read many romances, and alludes to them in various parts of his works. His 'Confessio Amantis' was apparently written after Chaucer's 'Troilus and Cresseide,' and after 'The Flower and the Leaf,' inasmuch as he speaks of the one and imitates the other in that poem.

That Chaucer had not, however, yet composed his 'Testament of Love,' appears from the epilogue to the 'Confessio,' where Gower is ordered by Venus, who expresses admiration of Chaucer for the early devotion of his muse to her service, to say to him at the close After all, Gower cannot be classed with the greater bards. He sparkles brightly chiefly from the depth of the darkness through which he shines.

He is more remarkable for extent than for depth, for solidity than for splendour, for fuel than for fire, for learning than for genius. Whereof a crystal is that one, Which that corone is set upon: The second is an adamant: The third is noble and evenant, Which cleped is Idriades.

Description:

Lo thus the corone is beset, Whereof it shineth well the bet. And thus the sun is over all The chief planet imperial, Above him and beneath him three. And over that it causeth yet A man to be subtil of wit, To work in gold, and to be wise In everything, which is of prise. And mercy of their king beseech.

For thus it is that, over all Where as I come in special, I may hear of my lady price:[1] I hear one say that she is wise; Another saith that she is good; And some men say of worthy blood That she is come; and is also So fair that nowhere is none so: And some men praise her goodly chere.

The facts known about this Scottish poet are only the following. He seems to have been born about the year , in, probably, the city of Aberdeen. This is stated by Hume of Godscroft, by Dr Mackenzie, and others, but is not thoroughly authenticated. Some think he was the son of one Andrew Barbour, who possessed a tenement in Castle Street, Aberdeen; and others, that he was related to one Robert Barbour, who, in , received a charter of the lands of Craigie, in Forfarshire, from King Robert the Bruce.

These, however, are mere conjectures, founded upon a similarity of name. It is clear, from Barbour's after rank in the Church, that he had received a learned education, but whether in Arbroath or Aberdeen is uncertain. We know, however, that a school of divinity and canon law had existed at Aberdeen since the reign of Alexander II. In the year , he was undoubtedly Archdeacon of Aberdeen, since we find him, under this title, nominated by the Bishop of that diocese, one of the Commissioners appointed to meet in Edinburgh to take measures to liberate King David, who had been captured at the battle of Nevil's Cross, and detained from that date in England.

It seems evident, from the customs of the Roman Catholic Church, that he must have been at least forty when he was created Archdeacon, and this is a good reason for fixing his birth in the year Some years afterwards, in November , he got permission to pass, accompanied by four horsemen, through England, to pursue his studies at the same renowned university. In the year , we find another casual notice of our Scottish bard. A passport has been found giving him permission from the King of England to travel, in company with six horsemen, through that country on their way to St Denis', and other sacred places.

It is evident that this was a religious pilgrimage on the part of Barbour and his companions. A most peripatetic poet; verily, he must have been; for we find another safe-conduct, dated November , granted by Edward to Barbour, permitting him, to pass through England, with two servants and their horses, on his way to France, for the purpose of pursuing his studies there.

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Dr Jamieson see his 'Life of Barbour' discovers the poet's name in the list of Auditors of the Exchequer. Barbour has himself told us that he commenced his poem in the 'yer of grace, a thousand thre hundyr sevynty and five,' when, of course, he was in his sixtieth year, or, as he says, 'off hys eld sexty. This consisted of a sum of ten pounds Scots from the revenues of the city of Aberdeen, and twenty shillings from the burgh mails. Mr James Bruce, to whose interesting Life of Barbour, in his 'Eminent Men of Aberdeen,' we are indebted for many of the facts in this narrative, says, 'The latter of these sums was granted to him, not merely during his own life, but to his assignees; and the Archdeacon bequeathed it to the dean, canons, the chapter, and other ministers of the Cathedral of Aberdeen, on condition that they should for ever celebrate a yearly mass for his soul.

At the Reformation, when it came to be discovered that masses did no good to souls in the other world, it is probable that this endowment reverted to the Crown. Barbour also wrote a poem under what seems now the strange title, 'The Brute. From this original fable, Barbour is supposed to have wandered on through a hundred succeeding stories of similar value, till he came down to his own day.

There can be little regret felt, therefore, that the book is totally lost. Wynton, in his 'Chronicle,' refers to it in commendatory terms; but it cannot be ascertained from his notices whether it was composed in Scotch or in Latin. Barbour died about the beginning of the year , eighty years of age. Lord Hailes ascertained the time of his death from the Chartulary of Aberdeen, where, under the date of 10th August , mention is made of 'quondam Joh. Barber, Archidiaconus, Aberd.

Pinkerton's edition is in three volumes, and has a preface, notes, and a glossary, all of considerable value. The MS. Pinkerton first divided 'The Bruce' into books. It had previously, like the long works of Naerius and Ennius, the earliest Roman poets, consisted of one entire piece, woven 'from the top to the bottom without seam,' like the ancient simple garments in Jewry. In strict chronology Barbour belongs to an earlier date than Chaucer, having been born and having died a few years before him.

But as the first Scotch poet who has written anything of length, with the exception of the author of the 'Romance of Sir Tristrem,' he claims a conspicuous place in our 'Specimens. With the exception of Wallace, there is no name in Scottish history that even yet calls up prouder associations than that of Robert Bruce. The incidents in his history,--the escape he made from English bondage to rescue his country from the same yoke; his rise refulgent from the stroke which, in the cloisters of the Gray Friars, Dumfries, laid the Red Comyn low; his daring to be crowned at Scone; his frequent defeats; his lion-like retreat to the Hebrides, accompanied by one or two friends, his wife meanwhile having been carried captive, three of his brothers hanged, and himself supposed to be dead; the romantic perils he survived, and the victories he gained amidst the mountains where the deep waters of the river Awe are still telling of his name, and the echoes of Ben Cruachan repeating the immortal sound; his sudden reappearance on the west coast of Scotland, where, as he 'shook his Carrick spear,' his country rose, kindling around him like heather on flame; the awful suspense of the hour when it was announced that Edward I.

Bruce has been fortunate in his laureates, consisting of three of Scotland's greatest poets,--Barbour, Scott, and Burns. The last of these has given us a glimpse of the patriot-king, revealing him on the brow of Bannockburn as by a single flash of lightning. The second has, in 'The Lord of the Isles,' seized and sung a few of the more romantic passages of his history. But Barbour has, with unwearied fidelity and no small force, described the whole incidents of Bruce's career, and reared to his memory, not an insulated column, but a broad and deep-set temple of poetry.

Barbour's poem has always been admired for its strict accuracy of statement, to which Bower, Wynton, Hailes, Pinkerton, Jamieson, and Sir Walter Scott all bear testimony; for the picturesque force of its natural descriptions; for its insight into character, and the lifelike spirit of its individual sketches; for the martial vigour of its battle- pictures; for the enthusiasm which he feels, and makes his reader feel, for the valiant and wise, the sagacious and persevering, the bold, merciful, and religious character of its hero, and for the piety which pervades it, and proves that the author was not merely a churchman in profession, but a Christian at heart.

Its defects of rude rhythm, irregular constructions, and obsolete phraseology, are those of its age; but its beauties, its unflagging interest, and its fine poetic spirit, are characteristic of the writer's own genius. Freedom makes man to have liking! Freedom all solace to man gives: He lives at ease that freely lives! A noble heart may have none ease, Nor nought else that may him please, If freedom fail; for free liking Is yearned o'er all other thing.

Nay, he that aye has lived free, May not know well the property, The anger, nor the wretched doom, That is coupled to foul thirldom. But if he had assayed it, Then all perquier[1] he should it wit: And should think freedom more to prize Than all the gold in world that is. And when the king wist that they were In hale[1] battle, coming so near, His battle gart[2] he well array.

He rode upon a little palfrey, Laughed and jolly, arrayand His battle, with an axe in hand. And on his bassinet he bare A hat of tyre above aye where; And, thereupon, into tok'ning, An high crown, that he was king. And when Gloster and Hereford were With their battle approaching near, Before them all there came ridand, With helm on head and spear in hand, Sir Henry the Bohun, the worthy, That was a wight knight, and a hardy, And to the Earl of Hereford cousin; Armed in armis good and fine; Came on a steed a bowshot near, Before all other that there were: And knew the king, for that he saw Him so range his men on raw,[3] And by the crown that was set Also upon his bassinet.

And toward him he went in hy. And when Sir Henry saw the king Come on, forouten[8] abasing, To him he rode in full great hy. He thought that he should well lightly Win him, and have him at his will, Since he him horsed saw so ill. Sprent they samen into a lyng;[9] Sir Henry miss'd the noble king; And he that in his stirrups stood, With the axe, that was hard and good, With so great main, raucht[10] him a dint, That neither hat nor helm might stint The heavy dush that he him gave, The head near to the harns[11] he clave.

The hand-axe shaft frushit[12] in two; And he down to the yird[13] 'gan go All flatlings, for him failed might. This was the first stroke of the fight, That was performed doughtily. And when the king's men so stoutly Saw him, right at the first meeting, Forouten doubt or abasing, Have slain a knight so at a straik, Such hardment thereat 'gan they take, That they come on right hardily. When Englishmen saw them so stoutly Come on, they had great abasing; And specially for that the king So smartly that good knight has slain, That they withdrew them everilk ane, And durst not one abide to fight: So dread they for the king his might.

When that the king repaired was, That gart his men all leave the chase, The lordis of his company Blamed him, as they durst, greatumly, That be him put in aventure, To meet so stith[14] a knight, and stour, In such point as he then was seen. For they said, well it might have been Cause of their tynsal[15] everilk ane. The king answer has made them nane, But mainit[16] his hand-axe shaft so Was with the stroke broken in two. It is much inferior to the work of Barbour in poetry, but is full of historical information, anecdote, and legend. The language is often sufficiently prosaic.

Thus the poet begins to describe the return of King David II. Contemporary, or nearly so, with Wyntoun were several other Scottish writers, such as one Hutcheon, of whom we know only that he is designated of the 'Awle Ryall,' or of the Royal Hall or Palace, and that he wrote a metrical romance, of which two cantos remain, called 'The Gest of Arthur;' and another, named Clerk of Tranent, the author of a romance, entitled 'The Adventures of Sir Gawain.

Although not perhaps deserving to have even portions of them extracted, they contain a good deal of poetry. A person, too, of the name of Holland, about whose history we have no information, produced a satirical poem, called 'The Howlate,' written in the allegorical form, and bearing some resemblance to 'Pierce Plowman's Vision.

Although there are diversities of opinion as to the exact time when this blind minstrel flourished, we prefer alluding to him at this point, where he stands in close proximity to Barbour, the author of a poem on a subject so cognate to 'Wallace' as 'Bruce. Another Wandering Willie, see 'Redgauntlet,' he 'passed like night from land to land,' led by his own instincts, and wherever he met with a congenial audience, he proceeded to chant portions of the noble knight's achievements, his eyes the while twinkling, through their sad setting of darkness, with enthusiasm, and often suffused with tears.

In some minds the conception of this blind wandering bard may awaken ludicrous emotions, but to us it suggests a certain sublimity. Blind Harry has powerfully described Wallace standing in the light and shrinking from the ghost of Fawdoun, see the 'Battle of Black- Earnside,' in the 'Specimens,' but Harry himself seems walking in the light of the ghost of Wallace, and it ministers to him, not terror, but inspiration. Entering a cot at night, and asked for a tale, he begins, in low tones, to recite that frightful apparition at Gaskhall, and the aged men and the crones vie with the children in drawing near the 'ingle bleeze,' as if in fire alone lay the refuge from.

Arriving in a village at the hour of morning rest and refreshment, he charms the swains by such words as. As the leaves are rustling down from the ruddy trees of late autumn, he sings to a little circle of wayside wanderers Good Wallace saw the night's messenger, Phoebus had lost his fiery beams so clear; Out of that wood they durst not turn that side For adversours that in their way would hide.


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And while on the verge of the December sky, the wintry sun is trembling and about to set as if for ever, then is the Minstrel's voice heard sobbing amidst the sobs of his hearers, as he tells how his hero's sun went down while it was yet day. There can be little doubt that Blind Harry, during his lifetime, became a favourite, nay, a power in the realm. Wherever he circulated, there circulated the fame of Wallace; there, his deeds were recounted; there, hatred of a foreign foe, and love to their native land, were inculcated as first principles; and long after the Homer of Scotland had breathed his last, and been consigned perhaps to some little kirkyard among the uplands, his lays continued to live; and we know that such a man as Burns who read them in the modern paraphrase of William Hamilton of Gilbertfield, a book which was, till within a somewhat recent period, a household god in the libraries of the Scotch derived from the old singer much of 'that national prejudice which boiled in his breast till the floodgates of life shut in eternal rest.

The interest felt in Wallace is of a deeper and warmer kind than that which we feel in Bruce.

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Bruce was of royal blood; Wallace was from an ancient but not wealthy family. Bruce stained his career by one great crime --great in itself, but greater from the peculiar notions of the age --the murder of Comyn in the sanctuary of Dumfries; on the character of Wallace no similar imputation rests. Wallace initiated that plan of guerilla warfare,--that fighting now on foot and now on the wing, now with beak and now with talons, now with horns and now with hoofs,--which Bruce had only to perfect.

Wallace was unsuccessful, and was besides treated by the King of England with revolting barbarity; while Bruce became victorious: and, as we saw in our remarks on Chaucer, it is the unfortunate brave who stamp themselves most forcibly on a nation's heart, and it is the red letters, which tell of suffering and death, which are with most difficulty erased from a nation's tablets. We have often regretted that Sir Walter Scott, who, after all, has not done full justice to Bruce in that very unequal and incondite poem 'The Lord of the Isles,' had not bent his strength upon the Ulysses bow of Wallace, and filled up that splendid sketch of a part of his history to be found near the beginning of 'The Fair Maid of Perth.

It is necessary to notice that Harry derived, by his own account, many of the facts of his narrative from a work by John Blair, a Benedictine monk from Dundee, who acted as Wallace's chaplain, and seems to have composed a life of him in Latin, which is lost. Besides these, he doubtless mingled in the story a number of traditions--some true, and some false--which he found floating through the country.

His authority in reference to certain disputed matters, such as Wallace's journey to France, and his capture of the Red Rover, Thomas de Longueville, who became his fast friend and fellow-soldier, was not long ago entirely established by certain important documents brought to light by the Maitland Club. It is probable that some other of his supposed misstatements--always excepting his ghost-stories--may yet receive from future researches the confirmation they as yet want. Blind Harry, living about a century and a half after the era of Wallace, and at a time when tradition was the chief literature, was not likely to be able to test the evidence of many of the circumstances which he narrated; but he seems to speak in good faith: and, after all, what Paley says is unquestionably true as a general principle--'Men tell lies about minute circumstantials, but they rarely invent.

Kerlie beheld unto the bold Heroun, Upon Fawdoun as he was looking down, A subtil stroke upward him took that tide, Under the cheeks the grounden sword gart[1] glide, By the mail good, both halse[2] and his craig-bane[3] In sunder strake; thus ended that chieftain, To ground he fell, feil[4] folk about him throng, 'Treason,' they cried, 'traitors are us among. The fray was great, and fast away they yeed,[5] Both toward Earn; thus 'scaped they that dread. Butler for woe of weeping might not stint. Thus recklessly this good knight have they tint.

To Dalwryeth the Butler pass'd but let,[10] At sundry fords the gate[11] they unbeset,[12] To keep the wood while it was day they thought. As Wallace thus in the thick forest sought, For his two men in mind he had great pain, He wist not well if they were ta'en or slain, Or 'scaped haill[13] by any jeopardy. Thirteen were left with him, no more had he; In the Gaskhall their lodging have they ta'en. Fire got they soon, but meat then had they nane; Two sheep they took beside them of a fold, Ordain'd to sup into that seemly hold: Graithed[14] in haste some food for them to dight:[15] So heard they blow rude horns upon height.

Two sent he forth to look what it might be; They 'bode right long, and no tidings heard he, But bousteous[16] noise so bryvely blowing fast; So other two into the wood forth pass'd. None came again, but bousteously can blaw, Into great ire he sent them forth on raw.

Without the door Fawdoun was him beforn, As to his sight, his own head in his hand; A cross he made when he saw him so stand. At Wallace in the head he swakked[19] there, And he in haste soon hint[20] it by the hair, Syne out again at him he could it cast, Into his heart he greatly was aghast. Right well he trow'd that was no sprite of man, It was some devil, that sic[21] malice began. He wist no wale[22] there longer for to bide. Up through the hall thus wight Wallace can glide, To a close stair, the boards they rave[23] in twin,[24] Fifteen foot large he lap out of that inn.

Up the water he suddenly could fare, Again he blink'd what 'pearance he saw there, He thought he saw Fawdoun, that ugly sire, That haill[25] hall he had set into a fire; A great rafter he had into his hand. Wallace as then no longer would he stand. Of his good men full great marvel had he, How they were tint through his feil[26] fantasy.

Trust right well that all this was sooth indeed, Suppose that it no point be of the creed. Power they had with Lucifer that fell, The time when he parted from heaven to hell. By sic mischief if his men might be lost, Drowned or slain among the English host; Or what it was in likeness of Fawdoun, Which brought his men to sudden confusion; Or if the man ended in ill intent, Some wicked sprite again for him present.

When he was won out of that peril fell, Right glad was he that he had 'scaped sa,[27] But for his men great mourning can he ma. He wist not well if that it was God's will; Right or wrong his fortune to fulfil, Had he pleas'd God, he trow'd it might not bo He should him thole[30] in sic perplexity. But great courage in his mind ever drave, Of Englishmen thinking amends to have. As he was thus walking by him alone Upon Earnside, making a piteous moan, Sir John Butler, to watch the fords right, Out from his men of Wallace had a sight; The mist again to the mountains was gone, To him he rode, where that he made his moan.

On loud he speir'd,[31] 'What art thou walks that gate? Above the knee good Wallace has him ta'en, Through thigh and brawn in sunder strake the bane. Wallace the horse soon seized in his hand, An ackward stroke syne took him in that stead, His craig in two; thus was the Butler dead. An Englishman saw their chieftain was slain, A spear in rest he cast with all his main, On Wallace drave, from the horse him to bear; Warily he wrought, as worthy man in weir.

He strake the first, but bade,[39] on the blasoun,[40] Till horse and man both fleet[41] the water down. Another soon down from his horse he bare, Stamped to ground, and drown'd withouten mair. The great power then after him can ride. He saw no waill[44] there longer for to bide. His burnish'd brand braithly[45] in hand he bare, Whom he hit right they follow'd him na mair.

At the Blackford there Wallace down can light, His horse stuffed,[49] for way was deep and lang, A large great mile wightly on foot could gang. Sad[51] men indeed upon him can renew, With returning that night twenty he slew, The fiercest aye rudely rebutted he, Keeped his horse, and right wisely can flee, Till that he came the mirkest[52] muir amang.

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His horse gave over, and would no further gang. On Wednesday the false Southron forth him brought To martyr him, as they before had wrought. With a bold sprite good Wallace blink'd about: A priest he ask'd, for God that died on tree. King Edward then commanded his clergy, And said, 'I charge you, upon loss of life, None be so bold yon tyrant for to shrive. He has reign'd long in contrare my highness.

An[2] thou through force will stop me of this thing, I vow to God, who is my righteous king, That all England I shall her interdict, And make it known thou art a heretic. The sacrament of kirk I shall him give: Syne[3] take thy choice, to starve[4] or let him live. It were more 'vail, in worship of thy crown, To keep such one in life in thy bandoun,[5] Than all the land and good that thou hast reft, But cowardice thee aye from honour dreft.

All Englishmen said that his desire was right. To Wallace then he raiked[11] in their sight, And sadly heard his confession till an end: Humbly to God his sprite he there commend, Lowly him served with hearty devotion Upon his knees, and said an orison. A psalter-book Wallace had on him ever, From his childhood from it would not dissever; Better he trow'd in voyage[12] for to speed. But then he was despoiled of his weed. He gart a priest it open before him hold, While they till him had done all that they would.

Steadfast he read for ought they did him there; Foil[14] Southrons said that Wallace felt no sair. Here we have a great ascent from our former subject of biography--from Blind Harry to James I. For, even as in the House Beautiful, the weak Ready-to-halt and the timid Much-afraid were as cheerfully received as the strong Honest and the bold Valiant-for-truth; so Poetry has inspired children, and seeming fools, and maniacs, and mendicants with the finest breath of her spirit.

The 'Fable-tree' Fontaine is as immortal as Corneille; Christopher Smart's 'David' shall live as long as Milton's 'Paradise Lost;' and the rude epic of a blind wanderer, whose birth, parentage, and period of death are all alike unknown, shall continue to rank in interest with the productions of one who inherited that kingdom of Scotland, the independence of which was bought by the successive efforts and the blended blood of Wallace and Bruce.

Let us now look for a moment at the history and the writings of this 'Royal Poet. He was created Earl of Carrick; and after the miserable death of the Duke of Rothesay, his elder brother, his father, apprehensive of the further designs of Albany, determined to send James to France, to find an asylum and receive his education in that friendly Court.

On his way, the vessel was captured off Flamborough Head by an English cruiser, the 13th of March , and the young prince, with his attendants, was conveyed to London, and committed to the Tower. As there was a truce between the two nations at the time, this was a flagrant outrage on the law of nations, and has indelibly disgraced the memory of Henry IV.

He was educated, however, highly, according to the fashion of these times, --instructed in the languages, as well as in music, painting, architecture, horticulture, dancing, fencing, poetry, and other accomplishments. Still it must have fretted his high spirit to be passing his young life in prison, while without horses were stamping, plumes glistening, trumpets sounding, tournaments waging, and echoes from the great victories of Henry V.

One sweetener of his solitude, however, he at length enjoyed. Having been transferred from the Tower to Windsor Castle, he beheld one day from its windows that beautiful vision he has described in 'The King's Quhair,' see 'Specimens. She was a lady of great beauty and accomplishments as well as of high rank, and James, even before he knew her name, became deeply enamoured. The passion was returned, and their mutual attachment had by and by an important bearing upon his prospects. In , the Duke of Bedford being now the English Regent, the friends of James renewed negotiations--often attempted before in vain--for his return to his native land, where his father had been long dead, and which, torn by factions and steeped in blood, was sorely needing his presence.

Commissioners from the two kingdoms met at Pontefract on the 12th of May , when, in presence of the young King, and with his consent, matters were arranged. A truce, too, with Scotland was concluded for seven years. All this was settled; and soon after, in the Church of St Mary Overies, Southwark, so often alluded to in the 'Life of Gower,' the happy pair were wed. It seemed a most auspicious event for both countries, and to augur the substitution of permanent peace for casual and temporary truces. To Lady Jane Beaufort it gave a crown, and a noble, gallant, and gifted prince to share it withal.

Attended by a magnificent retinue, the royal pair set out for Scotland. They were met at Durham by three hundred of the principal nobility and gentry, twenty-eight of whom were retained by the English as hostages for the national faith. Arrived on his native soil, James, at Melrose Abbey, gave his solemn assent on the Holy Gospels to the treaty; and seldom have the Eildon Hills returned a louder and more joyous shout of acclamation than now welcomed back to the kingdom of his fathers the 'Royal Poet.

This was in He lived after this only thirteen years; but the period of his reign has always been thought a glorious interlude in the dark early history of Scotland. He passed many useful regulations in reference to the coinage, the constitution, and the commerce of the country.

He suppressed with a strong hand some of the gangs of robbers and 'sorners' which abounded, founding instead the order of Bedesmen or King's Beggars, immortalised since in the character of Edie Ochiltree. He stretched a strong hand over the refractory Highland chieftains. While keeping at first on good terms with the English Court, he turned with a fonder eye to the French as the ancient allies of Scotland, and in gave his daughter Margaret in marriage to the Dauphin.

This step roused the jealousy of his southern neighbours, who tried even to intercept the fleet that was conveying the bride across the Channel, whereupon James, stung to fury, proclaimed war against England, and in August commenced the siege of Roxburgh Castle. The castle, after being environed for fifteen days, was about to fall into his hands, when the Queen suddenly arrived in the camp, and communicated some information, probably referring to a threatened conspiracy of the nobles, which induced him to throw up the siege, disband his army, and return northward in haste.

This unexpected step probably retarded, but could not prevent the dreadful purpose of death which had already been formed against the King. In October , he held his last Parliament in Edinburgh, in which, amidst many other enactments, we find, curiously enough, a prefiguration of the Forbes Mackenzie Act, in a decree that all taverns should be shut at nine o'clock. In the end of the year he determined on retiring to Perth, where in the language of Gibbon, applied to Timour 'he was expected by the Angel of Death.

He betook himself to the convent of the Black Friars, where Christmas was being celebrated with great pomp and splendour. Meanwhile Robert Grahame, and Walter, Earl of Athole, the King's own uncle, actuated, the former by revenge on account of the resumption of some lands improperly granted to his family, and the latter by a desire to succeed to the Crown, had formed a plot against James's life.

Several warnings, besides that of the Highland seeress, the King received, but he heeded them not, and, like most of the doomed, was in unnaturally high spirits, as if the winding-sheet far up his breast had been a wedding-robe. It is the evening of the 20th of February James and his nobles and ladies are seated at table till deep into the night, engaged in chess, music, and song. Athole, like another Judas, has supped with them, and gone out at a late hour.

A tremendous knocking is heard at the gate. It is the Highland prophetess, who, having followed the monarch to Perth, is seeking to force her way into the room. The King tells her, through his usher, that he cannot receive her to-night, but will hear her tidings to-morrow. She retires reluctantly, murmuring that they will for ever rue their refusal to admit her into the royal presence.

Sir Robert Stewart, the chamberlain, who is in the confidence of the conspirators, is the last to retire, having previously destroyed the locks and removed the bars of the doors of the royal bed- chamber and the outer room adjoining. A sense of the dread reality bursts on them in an instant. The Queen and the ladies run to secure the door of the chamber, while James, seizing the tongs, wrenches up one of the boards of the floor and takes refuge in a vault beneath. This was wont to have an opening to the outer court, but it had unfortunately been built up of late by his own orders.

There, under the replaced boards, cowers the King, while the Queen and her women seek to barricade the door. One brave young lady, Catherine Douglas, thrusts her beautiful arm into the staple from which the bolt had been removed. The murderers, who had previously killed in the passage one Walter Straiton, a page, rush in, with naked swords, wounding the ladies, striking, and well-nigh killing the Queen, and crying, with frantic imprecations, 'This is but a woman! Where is James? James, who had become wearied of his immurement, and thought the assassins were gone, calls now on one of the ladies to aid him in coming out of his place of concealment.

But while this is being effected, one of the murderers returns. The cry, 'Found, found,' rings through the halls; and after a violent but unarmed resistance, the King is, with circumstances of horrible barbarity, first mangled, then run through the body, and then despatched with daggers. In vain he offers half his kingdom for his life; and when he seeks a confessor from Grahame, the ruffian replies, 'Thou shalt have no confessor but this sword.

We turn with pleasure from King James's life and death to his poetry, although there is so little of it that a sentence or two will suffice. Or are ye very Nature the goddess, That have depainted with your heavenly hand This garden full of flowers as they stand? The first describes the mingled merrymaking and contest common in the old rude marriages of Scotland, and, whether by James or not, is full of burly, picturesque force.

Then traitorously behind his back They hack'd him on the boughs Behind that day.


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  6. As any rose her rude[3] was red-- Her lire[4] like any lillie. But yellow, yellow was her head, And she of love so silly; Though all her kin had sworn her dead, She would have none but Willie, Alone that day. He cherisht her--she bade go chat him-- She counted him not two clocks. So shamefully his short jack[5] set him, His legs were like two rocks, Or rungs that day. Our readers will perceive the resemblance, both in spirit and in form of verse, between this old poem and the 'Holy Fair,' and other productions of Burns.

    James, cut off in the prime of life, may almost be called the abortive Alfred of Scotland. Had he lived, he might have made important contributions to her literature as well as laws, and given her a standing among the nations of Europe, which it took long ages, and even an incorporation with England, to secure. As it is, he stands high on the list of royal authors, and of those kings who, whether authors or not, have felt that nations cannot live on bread alone, and who have sought their intellectual culture as an object not inferior to their physical comfort.

    It is not, perhaps, too much to say, that no man or woman of genius has sate either on the Scotch or English throne since, except Cromwell, to whom, however, the term 'genius,' in its common sense, seems ludicrously inadequate. James V. James VI. Of the rest we need not speak. Seldom has the sceptre become an Aaron's rod, and flourished with the buds and blossoms of song. In our annals there has been one, and but one 'Royal Poet.

    Bewailing in my chamber, thus alone, Despaired of all joy and remedy, For-tired of my thought, and woe begone; And to the window 'gan I walk in hye,[1] To see the world and folk that went forby; As for the time though I of mirthis food Might have no more to look it did me good. Worship, O ye that lovers be, this May! For of your bliss the calends are begun; And sing with us, 'Away! In word, in deed, in shape and countenance, That nature might no more her child advance.

    The first of these is the only versifier that can be assigned to England in the reign of Henry IV. He, in the year , translated Boethius' famous treatise, 'De Consolatione Philosophiae,' into English verse. He is not known to have written anything original. Like Chaucer and Gower, he was a student of municipal law, having attended Chester's Inn, which stood on the site of the present Somerset House; but although he trod in the footsteps of his celebrated predecessors, it was with far feebler powers. His original pieces are contemptible, both in subject and in execution.

    His best production is a translation of 'Egidius De Regimine Principum. But winter returns with redoubled horrors; the clouds condense more formidably than before, and those tender buds and early blossoms which were called forth by the transient gleam of a temporary sunshine, are nipped by frosts and torn by tempests. This copious and versatile writer flourished in the reign of Henry VI.

    Warton affirms that he reached his highest point of eminence in , although some of his poems had appeared before. He was a monk of the Benedictine Abbey at Bury, in Suffolk. He received his education at Oxford; and when it was finished, he travelled through France and Italy, mastering the languages and literature of both countries, and studying their poets, particularly Dante, Boccaccio, and Alain Chartier.

    When he returned, he opened a school in his monastery for teaching the sons of the nobility composition and the art of versification. His acquirements were, for the age, universal. He was a poet, a rhetorician, an astronomer, a mathematician, a public disputant, and a theologian. He was born in , ordained sub-deacon in , deacon in , and priest in The time of his death is uncertain.

    His great patron was Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, to whom he complains sometimes of necessitous circumstances, which were, perhaps, produced by indulgence, since he confesses himself to be 'a lover of wine. The great merit of Lydgate is his versatility. This Warton has happily expressed in a few sentences, which we shall quote His hymns and his ballads have the same degree of merit; and whether his subject be the life of a hermit or a hero, of Saint Austin or Guy, Earl of Warwick, ludicrous or legendary, religious or romantic, a history or an allegory, he writes with facility.

    His transitions were rapid, from works of the most serious and laborious kind, to sallies of levity and pieces of popular entertainment. His muse was of universal access; and he was not only the poet of his monastery, but of the world in general. If a disguising was intended by the Company of Goldsmiths, a mask before His Majesty at Eltham, a May game for the sheriffs and aldermen of London, a mumming before the Lord Mayor, a procession of pageants, from the "Creation," for the Festival of Corpus Christi, or a carol for the coronation, Lydgate was consulted, and gave the poetry.

    Lydgate is, so far as we know, the first British bard who wrote for hire. At the request of Whethamstede, the Abbot of St Alban's, he translated a 'Life of St Alban' from Latin into English rhymes, and received for the whole work one hundred shillings. His principal poems, all founded on the works of other authors, are the 'Fall of Princes,' the 'Siege of Thebes,' and the 'Destruction of Troy. Within the hall, neither rich nor yet poor Would do for me ought, although I should die: Which seeing, I gat me out of the door, Where Flemings began on me for to cry, 'Master, what will you copen[1] or buy?

    Fine felt hats? Lay down your silver, and here you may speed. Then to Westminster gate I presently went, When the sun was at high prime: Cooks to me they took good intent,[2] And proffered me bread, with ale and wine, Ribs of beef, both fat and full fine; A fair cloth they 'gan for to spread, But, wanting money, I might not be sped.

    Then unto London I did me hie, Of all the land it beareth the price; 'Hot peascods! Then to the Cheap I 'gan me drawn, Where much people I saw for to stand; One offered me velvet, silk, and lawn, Another he taketh me by the hand, 'Here is Paris thread, the finest in the land! Then I hied me unto East-Cheap, One cries ribs of beef, and many a pie; Pewter pots they clattered on a heap; There was harp, pipe, and minstrelsy; Yea by cock! The taverner took me by the sleeve, 'Sir,' saith he, 'will you our wine assay? John Harding flourished about the year He fought at the battle of Shrewsbury on the Percy side.

    In the reign of the above king we find the first mention of a Poet Laureate. John Kay was appointed by Edward, when he returned from Italy, Poet Laureate to the king, but has, perhaps fortunately for the world, left behind him no poems. Would that the same had been the case with some of his successors in the office! It had long been customary in the universities to crown scholars when they graduated with laurel, and Warton thinks that from these the first poet laureates were selected, less for their general genius than for their skill in Latin verse.

    It was not till after the Reformation had lessened the superstitious veneration for the Latin tongue that the laureates began to write in English. It is almost a pity, we are sometimes disposed to think, that, in reference to such odes as those of Pye, Whitehead, Colley Cibber, and even some of Southey's, the old practice had not continued; since thus, in the first place, we might have had a chance of elegant Latinity, in the absence of poetry and sense; and since, secondly, the deficiencies of the laureate poems would have been disguised, from the general eye at least, under the veil of an unknown tongue.

    It is curious to notice about this period the uprise of two didactic poets, both writing on alchymy, the chemistry of that day, and neither displaying a spark of genius. These are John Norton and George Ripley, both renowned for learning and knowledge of their beloved occult sciences.

    Their poems, that by Norton, entitled 'The Ordinal,' and that by Ripley, entitled 'The Compound of Alchemie,' are dry and rugged treatises, done into indifferent verse. One rather fine fancy occurs in the first of these. It is that of an alchymist who projected a bridge of gold over the Thames, near London, crowned with pinnacles of gold, which, being studded with carbuncles, should diffuse a blaze of light in the dark! Alchymy has had other and nobler singers than Ripley and Norton. It has, as Warton remarks, 'enriched the store- house of Arabian romance with many magnificent imageries.

    Leon' and 'Zanoni. We pass now from this comparatively barren age in the history of English poetry to a cluster of Scottish bards. He was schoolmaster at Dunfermline, and died some time before He is supposed by Lord Hailes to have been preceptor of youth in the Benedictine convent in that place. He is the author of 'Robene and Makyne,' a pastoral ballad of very considerable merit, and of which Campbell says, somewhat too warmly, 'It is the first known pastoral,' he means in the Scottish language of course, 'and one of the best, in a dialect rich with the favours of the pastoral muse.

    One of these, 'The Town and Country Mouse,' tells that old story with considerable spirit and humour. With blithe upcast and merry countenance, The elder sister then spier'd[4] at her guest, If that she thought by reason difference Betwixt that chamber and her sairy[5] nest. To eke the cheer, in plenty forth they brought A plate of groatis and a dish of meal, A threif[7] of cakes, I trow she spared them nought, Abundantly about her for to deal.

    Furmage full fine she brought instead of jeil, A white candle out of a coffer staw,[8] Instead of spice, to creish[9] their teeth witha'. Thus made they merry, till they might nae mair, And, 'Hail, Yule, hail! Thus as they sat in all their jollity, The spencer came with keyis in his hand, Open'd the door, and them at dinner fand. They tarried not to wash, as I suppose, But on to go, who might the foremost win: The burgess had a hole, and in she goes, Her sister had no place to hide her in; To see that silly mouse it was great sin, So desolate and wild of all good rede,[10] For very fear she fell in swoon, near dead.

    Then as God would it fell in happy case, The spencer had no leisure for to bide, Neither to force, to seek, nor scare, nor chase, But on he went and cast the door up-wide. This burgess mouse his passage well has spied. Out of her hole she came and cried on high, 'How, fair sister, cry peep, where'er thou be. The rural mouse lay flatlings on the ground, And for the death she was full dreadand, For to her heart struck many woful stound, As in a fever trembling foot and hand; And when her sister in such plight her fand, For very pity she began to greet, Syne[11] comfort gave, with words as honey sweet.

    Rise up, my sister dear, Come to your meat, this peril is o'erpast. Lever[12] I had this forty dayis fast, With water kail, and green beans and peas, Than all your feast with this dread and disease. The burgess up then gat, And to her hole she fled as fire of flint; Bawdrons[13] the other by the back has hent. From foot to foot he cast her to and frae, Whiles up, whiles down, as cant[15] as any kid; Whiles would he let her run under the strae[16] Whiles would he wink and play with her buik-hid;[17] Thus to the silly mouse great harm he did; Till at the last, through fair fortune and hap, Betwixt the dresser and the wall she crap.

    Syne up in haste behind the panelling, So high she clamb, that Gilbert might not get her, And by the cluiks[19] craftily can hing, Till he was gone, her cheer was all the better: Syne down she lap, when there was none to let her; Then on the burgess mouse loud could she cry, 'Farewell, sister, here I thy feast defy. Thy mangery is minget[20] all with care, Thy guise is good, thy gane-full[21] sour as gall; The fashion of thy feris is but fair, So shall thou find hereafterward may fall. I thank yon curtain, and yon parpane[22] wall, Of my defence now from yon cruel beast; Almighty God, keep me from such a feast!

    Were I into the place that I came frae, For weal nor woe I should ne'er come again. When she was forth and free she was right fain, And merrily linkit unto the muir, I cannot tell how afterward she fure. But I heard syne she passed to her den, As warm as wool, suppose it was not grit, Full beinly[24] stuffed was both butt and ben, With peas and nuts, and beans, and rye and wheat; Whene'er she liked, she had enough of meat, In quiet and ease, withouten [any] dread, But to her sister's feast no more she gaed.

    Would my good lady love me best, And work after my will, I should a garment goodliest Gar[1] make her body till. Her sark[5] should be her body next, Of chastity so white: With shame and dread together mixt, The same should be perfite. Her belt should be of benignity, About her middle meet; Her mantle of humility, To thole[11] both wind and weet.

    Her shoes should be of sickerness,[15] In sign that she not slide; Her hose of honesty, I guess, I should for her provide. Would she put on this garment gay, I durst swear by my seill,[16] That she wore never green nor gray That set[17] her half so weel. This was a man of the true and sovereign seed of genius. Foster, in an entry in his journal, we quote from memory, says, 'I have just seen the moon rising, and wish the impression to be eternal. What a look she casts upon earth, like that of a celestial being who loves our planet still, but has given up all hope of ever doing her any good or seeing her become any better--so serene she seems in her settled and unutterable sadness.

    Dunbar was not altogether a Dante, either in melancholy or in power, but his 'Dance' reveals kindred moods, operating at times on a kindred genius. In Dante humour existed too, but ere it could come up from his deep nature to the surface, it must freeze and stiffen into monumental scorn --a laughter that seemed, while mocking at all things else, to mock at its own mockery most of all. Aird speaks in his 'Demoniac,' of a smile upon his hero's brow,. Dante's smile may rather be compared to the RISING of a false and self- detected hope upon the lost brows where it is never to come to dawn, and where, nevertheless, it remains for ever, like a smile carved upon a sepulchre.

    Dunbar has a more joyous disposition than his Italian prototype and master, and he indulges himself to the top of his bent, but in a style particularly in his 'Twa Married Women and the Widow,' and in 'The Friars of Berwick,' which is not, however, quite certainly his too coarse and prurient for the taste of this age. Beautiful is the contest between the two sweet singers as to whether the love of man or the love of God be the nobler, and more beautiful still their reconciliation, when.

    He received his education at St Andrews, and took there the degree of M. He became then a friar of the Franciscan order, Grey Friars, and in the exercise of his profession seems to have rambled over all Scotland, England, and France, preaching, begging, and, according to his own confession, cheating, lying, and cajoling. Yet if this kind of life was not propitious, in his case, to morality, it must have been to the development of the poetic faculty.

    It enabled him to see all varieties of life and of scenery, although here and there, in his verses, you find symptoms of that bitterness which is apt to arise in the heart of a wanderer. He was subsequently employed by James IV. This proves that he was no less a man of business-capacity and habits than a poet. For these services he, in , received from the King a pension of ten pounds, afterwards increased to twenty, and, in fine, to eighty. Seldom has genius so great been placed in a falser position, and this has given a querulous tinge to many of his poems.

    He seems to have died about Even after his death, misfortune pursued him. His works were, with the exception of two or three pieces, locked up in an obscure MS. Since then, however, their fame has been still increasing. Then Ire came in with sturt[19] and strife, His hand was aye upon his knife, He brandish'd like a beir; Boasters, braggers, and barganeris,[20] After him passed into pairis,[21] All bodin in feir of weir.

    Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3
    Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3
    Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3
    Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3
    Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3
    Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3
    Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3
    Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3
    Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3

Related Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets, Volume 3



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