Page images

The arrival of Age is the signal for a change in the pleasant life of poor King Hart. His gay and merry subjects desert him: Youthheid, amongst the first, demands his wages, and is soon followed by Disport and Fresh Delight; whilst Conscience arrives before the gate, and, impatient of delay, breaks in without question or resistance. Dame Pléasance now remonstrates with the king for the loss of some of her pleasantest servants, and the intrusion of very old and disagreeable persons in their stead. To appease her, he somewhat quaintly and abruptly orders supper, and all appears to be made up, wher, on retiring to their chamber, Sadness, an uncomely damsel, intrudes herself, and, approaching the couch, whispers something in the king's ear, who had fallen asleep. Disgusted with this new arrival, the queen loses all patience, and rising suddenly, collects her train and deserts the castle, whilst her royal consort is still asleep. The scene of confusion and misery which ensues may be easily imagined: Jealousy and Disease attack and distract the unhappy monarch, whilst at the last Wisdom raises his voice and solemnly counsels him to return home:“Go to thy place, and there thyself present,

The castel yet is strong enough to hold;
Then Sadness said, Sir King, ye man assent;

What have ye now ado in this waste fald ?”' I The king takes the advice in good part, and, leaving the desolate palace of Queen Pleasance, rides to his own castle, where he meets with but poor comfort, for Languor welcomes him at the yett, and “Strength, who, although faded of his

i deserted fold.

flowers," had still abided with him, “ couris upon his hochis,” and creeps out at the postern :“ Though Strength was now much faded in his flowers,

Still with the aged king he did abide; But at the last upon his houghs he cowers, And privily out at the yett did slide:

Then stole away, and went on wayis wide. Full soon he Youthheid and his fellows found

(Nor miss'd the road, albeit he had no guide)Behind a hill they lay, upon a grassy mound."

The departure of Strength makes way for the arrival of Decrepitude, whose hideous host is descried coming over the “muir," by Wisdom and the King, as they sit conversing together. The description is excellent:“ Right as they two in talk the hours beguild,

A hideous host they saw come o'er the muir: Decrepitude (his banner torn and soild)

Was near at hand, with many a chieftain sture;? A bony steed, full thin, that caitiff bore,

And crooked were his loathly limbs with eld; No smile e'er graced his countenance demure; No fere? dared joke with him—with rigour all he

quell’d.” It is at first determined to defend the castle ; but all efforts are in vain against such a host as Decrepitude brings along with him: the great tower is cast down, the barmekin battered to pieces, and King Hart, mortally wounded, decently prepares himself for death. He remembers, however, that he has not disposed of his treasures, and the poem concludes with his quaint and fanciful testament. He bequeaths his proud palfrey, Unstedfastness, to his fair but faithless consort,

companion. * The above is very slightly altered from the original.




Dame Pleasance; to Chastity, the task of scouring his conscience; to Freedom, his thread-bare cloak; to “ Business that ne'er was wont to tire,

Bear thou this stool, and bid him now sit down; For he has left his master in the mire,

And scorn'd to draw him out, tho' he should drown." Some of King Hart's items are a little coarse ; but there is much of the peculiar satirical humour of the age in his codicil to Reve Supper:“ To Revel Supper, be he amang the route,

Ye me commend he is ane fallow fine: This ugsome stomach that I bear about,

Rug ye it out, then bear it to him syne; For he has hindered me of mony dine,

And often e'en at kirk has gart me sleep; My wits he too has weakened sore with wine,

And made my breast with lustis hot to leap." The legacy of his wounded brow to Foolhardiness, and his broken spear to Dame Danger, conclude King Hart's testament and history: a singular poem, deformed by the faults of the age, but full of the outbreakings of a rich fancy, and no common powers of language and versification. It was Douglas's first work, and, in many places, betrays marks of haste and youth.

Of the “ Palace of Honour,” his next great work, it is impossible, within our limits, and, if possible, it would be tedious, to give anything like a full analysis. Nor is this to be regretted, as the task has been performed by the author of the Lives of the Scottish Poets," with much care and erudition. “ The poet's excellent design,” says

l reve-a steward or butler.

" is to re

Bishop Sage, in his Life of Douglas, present, under the similitude of a vision, the vanity and inconstancy of all worldly pomp and glory; and to show that a constant inflexible course of virtue and goodness is the only true way to honour and felicity, which he allegorically describes as a magnificent palace, situated on a very high mountain, of most difficult access. He illustrates the whole with a variety of examples, not only of those noble and heroic souls whose eminent virtues procured them admittance into that blessed place, but also of those wretched creatures whose vicious lives have fatally excluded them from it for ever, notwithstanding all their worldly state and grandeur. The work is addressed to James. IV., on purpose to inspire that brave prince with just sentiments of true honour and greatness, and incite him to tread in the paths of virtue, which alone could conduct him to it. To make it more agreeable and entertaining, the poet has adorned it with several incident adventures, discovering throughout the whole a vast and comprehensive genius, an exuberant fancy, and extraordinary learning for the time he lived in. He seems to have taken the plan of it from the "Palace of Happiness," described in the picture of Cebes; and it is not improbable that his countryman, Florentius Volusenus, had it in view, and improved his design in his admirable but too little known book, ‘De Tranquillitate Animi.'"*

This praise is somewhat too encomiastic and indiscriminate; for the “ Palace of Honour" can

Sage's Life of Douglas, prefixed to his Virgil, p. 15.

not lay claim either to a high moral tendency or to much unity of composition and effect. It is, on the contrary, confused in its arrangement, often obscure in its transitions, and crowded with persons and scenery of all ages and countries, heaped together “in most admired disorder;" -palaces and princes, landscapes and ladies, groups of Pagan sages and Christian heroes, populous cities and silent solitudes, succeed so rapidly, that we lose ourselves in the profusion of its actors and the unconnected but brilliant variety of its scenery. Yet it is justly characterized as exhibiting, in many places, an exuberant fancy and an extraordinary extent of learning for the age in which it was written. The learning, indeed, is rather ambitiously intruded in many parts, communicating a coldness and tedium to the narrative, and betraying an anxiety in the author to display at once the whole extent of his stores; whilst making every allowance for the obscurities, which are occasioned by a purer Scottish dialect, it is impossible not to feel that the poetry is inferior in genius to Dunbar. There is not that masterly clearness of outline and brilliancy of colouring in his grand groups—that power of keeping under all minor details—the perspective of descriptive poetry, which is necessary for the production of a strong and uniform effect. All is too much of equal size, crowded into the foreground; and the author loses his purpose in the indiscriminate prominence of his details. Yet there are many charming passages. In the month of May, the poet, as is usual with his tuneful brethren of these olden times, rises early, before

« PreviousContinue »