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all the times permitted even to a king, the works of Quintilian and Virgil, and the sang-buiks in which he took so much delight; his shooting at the butts with his nobles ; his bandying jokes with his artillerymen; his issuing to the chase or the tournament, from his royal castles of Stirling or Falkland, surrounded by a cavalcade of noble knights and beautiful damsels; his presence at the christening of the Earl of Buchan's son, and the gold piece which he drops into the caudleall are brought before us as graphically as at the moment of their occurrence. And, whilst our interest is heightened and our imagination gratified by the variety and brilliancy of the scenery which is thus called up, we have the satisfaction to know that all is true to nature, and infinitely more authentic than the pages even of a contemporary historian.*
We need scarcely offer any apology for this digression regarding the character of that monarch who was the patron of Dunbar, and the manners of the court in which it was his fortune to pass the greater part of his life. In the extreme paucity of materials for the history of his life, the only sources of information are to be found in his own works, and in the history of the age. to have lived in great familiarity with the king and
* If this be true, how much gratitude do we owe to the learned Mr. Pitcairn, for his admirable Collection of Criminal Trials; and to that able and amiable antiquary, the Rev. Mr. M'Gregor Stirling, whose Manuscript Collections, although less known, have thrown so much useful light on the early history of his country. It is from these last that the above picture of the court and amusements of James IV. has been taken.
his nobles; but at the same time it is easy to see that his poverty was often extreme, subjecting him to the most mortifying repulses from the lowest officers about the court. The pangs of deferred hope, the pride of insulted genius, the bitter repentance that he had devoted himself to so thankless and ill-requited a service, and the biting satire against kings and favourites, by which many of his productions are distinguished, all form a painful but instructive commentary on the history of a man of letters, who has relinquished the more humble walk in which, with a little labour, he might have provided for his own wants, and finds, when it is perhaps too late, that distinction is not synonymous with independence. It seems to have been in one of these moods that he indited his complaint addressed to the king:
* Of wrangis and of great injures
For lawte, love, or long service.” But it is time we should leave these ebullitions of wounded pride, or disappointed ambition, to consider some of the higher efforts of his genius. On the 8th of August, 1503, James IV. espoused to the Princess Margaret of England, an event which it was earnestly hoped would have the most beneficial effects in removing, or at least diluting, the feelings of mutual hostility which had so long and so frequently arrayed the two kingdoms in mortal warfare against each other. The
acquire. * Poems, vol. ii.
ceremony was accompanied with every species of feudal triumph and solemnity; and the event was commemorated by Dunbar, in a poem entitled the “ Thistle and the Rose," which, had he never written another line, is of itself amply sufficient to place him in a high rank of genius. It commences with the following beautiful stanzas :
Quhen Marche wes with variand windis past,
And April hadde, with her silver showris,
And lusty May, that mudder is of flowris,
Had maid the birdes to begin their houris,
Methocht Aurora, with her cristall ene,
And halsit me 3 with visage pale and grene,
Upon whose hand a lark sang fra the splene,
See how the lusty morrow does up spring.
In weid depaynt of mony divers hew,
In brycht atteir4 of flouris forgit new;
Hevinly of colour, quhyt, reid, broun, and blew,
And in my honour somthing thou go write;
To raise up luvaris with comfort and delyt;
Yet noch incressis thy courage to indyte,
Sangis to mak under the levis grene.”
3 saluted me. * bright attire.
glitters. * Poems, vol. i. pp. 3, 4.
With scarce the difference of a word, the whole of this fine description may be read as English poetry, not inferior in the brilliancy of its fancy or the polish of its versification to Spenser:" When March with varying winds had onward past,
And gentle April, with her silver showers,
And lusty May, that mother is of flowers,
Had waked the birds in their melodious bowers,
Whose harmony to hear was great delight.
Aurora, with her eyne as crystal clear,
And me saluted with benignant cheer,
Upon whose hand a lark sang loud and clear,
In weeds depaynt of many divers hue,
In bright attire of flowers all budding new,
And in mine honour something new go write;
Lovers to raise with solace and delight,
And, slumbers yet thy courage to indite,
The poet having excused his slumbers, on the ground of the inclemency of the season and the boisterous blasts of Lord Æolus, which had silenced himself and many other tuneful birds, is reminded by May that he had promised, when her sweet season began, to describe the rose. Now rise, therefore, says she, and do thine observance“ Go see the birdis how they sing and dance,
Illumyt oure with orient skyis brycht,
Annamyletè richly with new azure lycht." He arises, casts his " serk and mantill” over him, and follows the goddess into a lovely garden, redolent with flowers, which are glittering in the morning dew. The sun rises, and, as his first level rays gild the face of nature, a blissful song of welcome bursts from every bush and grove.
The whole description is exquisite:“ The purpour sone, with tendyr bemys reid,
In orient bricht as angell did appeir,
Quhois gilt tressis schone so wondir cleir,
That all the world tuke confort, fer and near,
Doing all sable from the hevynnis chace. “ And as the blessful soune of cherachy,
The fowlis song throw confort of the licht;
luvaris fo, away thou dully Nycht,
In orient bright as angel did appear,
Whose gilded tresses shone so wondrous clear,
That all the world took comfort, far and near,