« PreviousContinue »
Pinkerton has declared that this is the only fable of Henryson's worthy of preservation; a clear proof that he had little feeling for true poetry. The “Lion and the Mous" completely refutes his tasteless criticism. It commences with that sweet picture of the rural delights of the leafy month June, which we have already quoted; and, besides the truth and spirit with which the story is given, is curious, from its evident allusion to that treasonable combination of the nobles, which cost James III. his crown and his life:-
“ Thir cruel men that stentit has the net,
In which the lion suddenly was tane,
For hurt men write with steel in marble stane.
Mair till expone as now I let alane;
The figure hereof aftymes has been seen.
Persuade the Kirkmen eyedentlie? to pray
That justice ring and nobles keep their fay
Unto their sovereign lord baith night and day:
1 stretched have the net.
Of this great genius, who has enriched the poetry of his country with a strain of versification superior in power, originality, and sweetness to any of his predecessors, we have to repeat, alas! the same story of unavailing regret, that little is known; and that little, founded on very imperfect evidence. Pinkerton, relying upon a stanza in “Kennedy's Flyting (or Railing) against Dunbar," conjectures that he was born at Salton, a village on the delightful coast of the Forth, in East Lothian; but, unfortunately, the acuteness of a future antiquary discovered that the true reading of the passage was Mount Falcon; a circumstance which gave rise to a new hypothesis, equally vague and unsatisfactory. It seems not improbable, however, that he first saw the light somewhere in Lothian, about the year 1465; and, from his own works a few circumstances may be gleaned, which illustrate his individual history.
He was educated for the church, and, undoubtedly, travelled over England and a part of the Continent, as a noviciate of the order of St. Francis. This is evident from his satirical poem, entitled “The Visitation of St. Francis." The
saint appears to the poet in a vision, shortly before the dawn, and, holding in his hand the habit of his order, commands him to renounce the world and become his servant. Dunbar excuses himself, observing, that he has read of many bishops, but exceeding few friars, who had been admitted to the honour of canonization; but he allows that, in his early years, he had worn the habit:
“Gif ever my fortoun? wes to be a frier,2
For into every lusty town and place
In Derneton Kirk and eke in Canterbury;
In it I past at Dover oure the ferry,
In me wes falset with ilk wight to flatter,
Whilk might be flemito with na haly water; I wes ay reddy all men to beguile." * Where he received his education it is impossible to discover; but from the colophon of one of his poems, it is presumable that he had studied at Oxford; and we may conclude, from his address - To the of the King's Chekkar," that he was in the receipt of an annual pension, which was scarcely sufficient to supply his ordinary wants. " Ye need not,” says he to these grave personages, i fortune. 2 friar.
4 earnestly. i entreated.
6 washed away. * Poems, vol. i. p. 28.
spend your time or tire your thumbs, or consume your ink and paper in the reckoning up my rents or annuities. It is a short story: I got a sum of money from my lord-treasurer, which is all gone. Is not that a sad enough tale, without more labour?"
My Lordis of Chacker, pleis yow to heir
For left is neither cors nor cunyie?
Na for to gar your countaris clink,
Nor paper for to spend nor ink
I can nocht tell yow how it is spendit,
But weill I wat that it is endit:
Now the remaines are eith 6 to turss:
I haiff no preif heir but my purss,
Even when thrown into a modern dress, the spirit does not wholly evaporate :
“ My Lords of Chequer, please you hear
Sans circumstance or theft;
Nor cross nor copper is there left Of all I had within the year. pretence. cross nor coin.
Spend not grave looks, with haws and hums,
And bid your counters clink;
Or drain your reservoirs of ink
I cannot tell how far they went,
Whilst I myself am sorely shent.
It will you tell the selfsame saw.” In the privy seal we find, under the date of August 15, 1500, a grant by King James IV. to Master William Dunbar, of an annual pension of ten pounds, until he be provided with a benefice of forty pounds or more yearly; and from this period the poet became an attendant upon the court of this gay and gallant monarch. James was devoted to his pleasures; and, if we may judge from the account books of the lord high treasurer, which present, in their various items, a curious picture of the manners of the times, large sums of money were lavished, with indiscriminate prodigality, upon idle amusements and unworthy objects. The character of the king, indeed, was inconsistent and almost contradictory. He had many great points about him, which made him deservedly beloved.
His anxiety for the due administration of justice, and the indefatigable activity with which he visited the most remote portions of his kingdom; his attention to