« PreviousContinue »
still remain; and an ancient silver prize-arrow, with several old medallions appended to it, is, as I am informed, still preserved in the town-house of Peebles."*
Our limits will only permit us to give some of the opening stanzas: “ At Beltaned when each body bownis
To Peblis at the Play,
The solace, sooth to say,
They grathit 2 them full gay;
“ All the wenches of the West
Were up ere the cock crew,
For garay: and for glew.4
Then answered Meg, full blue,
Of Peblis to the Play.
Gatherd out thick fold,
The young fools were full bold;
Out of the towns untold ;
There west, To Peblis at the Play." * Dissertation on the Life of James I. Beltane, an ancient festival on the first of May. clothed themselves. preparation. glee.
5 the names of villages on the Tweed.
The late Mr. George Chalmers, in his little work entitled the “ Poetic Remains of the Scottish Kings," has, without assigning any sufficient reasons, reverted to the exploded theory of Tanner and Gibson, and printed “ Christ's Kirk on the Green" amongst the productions of James V. He has also hazarded an assertion, which is completely contradicted by the intrinsic evidence of the work itself. “ He wrote his 'Quhair,' (says he,) when he was yet a prisoner, and while he was young.” Had he read the 6th stanza of the second canto, or the epilogue, he would have found that, in the one he speaks of his captivity or detention in England having endured for eighteen years; and in the other, he commemorates, in strains of high enthusiasm, his happiness subsequent to his marriage; a certain proof that the poem was not completed till after his union with Johanna Beaufort, and his return to his own dominions.
This monarch, however, in addition to his poetical powers, was a person of almost universal accomplishment. He sang beautifully, and not only accompanied himself upon the harp and the organ, but composed various airs and pieces of sacred music, in which there was to be recognized the same original and inventive genius which distinguished him in everything to which he applied his mind. It cannot be doubted, says Mr. Tytler, in his “Dissertation on Scottish Music," that under such a genius in poetry and music as James I., the national music must have greatly improved. One great step towards this was, the introduction of organs by this prince, into the cathedrals and abbeys in Scotland; and, of course, the establish
ment of a choral service of church music. The testimony of Tassoni is still more remarkable. “We may reckon among us moderns,” says he, in his 'Pensiera Diversi,' lib. 10, “James, King of Scotland, who not only composed many sacred pieces of vocal music, but also of himself invented a new kind of music, plaintive and melancholy, different from all other; in which he has been imitated by Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, who, in our age, has improved music with new and admirable inventions."
It says little for the gratitude of Scotland, that, of some of her sweetest poets, whose works have been admired and sought after by future times, little is known but the name. Their life is a mere blank; they have spent it in some remote province, unacknowledged and almost unseen by the world; struggling, perhaps, against the attack of poverty and the iniquity of fortune; yet nursing, amidst this neglect, a mind of superior powers-finding a solace in the cultivation of their intellect and the exercise of their genius, which has more than repaid them; and, from a full, and sometimes weeping heart, pouring out strains which were destined to be as imperishable as the language and literature of the country. Such has been the fate of Robert Henryson, of whom the following passage in Urry, the editor of 'Chaucer,” contains almost the sum of our knowledge:-"The author of the “Testament of Creseide, which might pass for the sixth book of this story, I have been informed by Sir James Erskine, late Earl of Kelly, and divers aged scholars of the Scottish nation, was Robert Henryson, chief schoolmaster of Dum
fermline, a little time before Chaucer was first printed, and dedicated to Henry VIII. by Mr. Thynne, which was near the end of his reign. Mr. Henryson wittily observing, that Chaucer, in his fifth book, had related the death of Troilus, but made no mention what became of Creseide learnedly takes upon him, in a fine poetical way, to express the punishment and end due to a false inconstant woman, which commonly terminates in extreme misery."*
It has been supposed by Lord Hailes, that Henryson officiated as preceptor in the Benedictine Convent at Dumfermline; but as the idea is solely founded on the lines of Dunbar, in his
Complaint on the Death of the Makars,” which simply state that gude Mr. Robert Henrysoun died in that ancient burgh, nothing can be more vague and inconclusive. We know not the exact period of his birth, (which must have been under the reign of James II.;) the time of his death is involved in equal obscurity; and the intermediate period must be abandoned to those whose ingenuity is delighted with wandering in the labyrinths of conjectural biography.
But of the works of this remarkable man it is difficult, when we consider the period in which they were written, to speak in terms of too warm encomium. In strength, and sometimes even in sublimity of painting, in pathos and sweetness, in the variety and beauty of his pictures of natural scenery, in the vein of quiet and playful humour which runs through many of his pieces, and in that fine natural taste, which, rejecting the faults
* Urry's Chaucer,