|54||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
Among the most distinguished luminaries that marked the restoration
of letters in Scotland, at the commencement of the sixteenth century, was Gavin Douglas, [note] third son of Archibald, “the Great Earl of Angus.” [note] He was born about the end
of the year 1474, or the beginning of 1475. Being designed, by his father, for the church, he
received as liberal an education as Scotland could then furnish, and is supposed to have
afterwards made the tour of the Continent, to acquire a knowledge of the customs and manners of
other nations, and to improve himself by an intimacy with their men of science and literature. 2
On returning to Scotland and entering into holy orders, his first
preferment was to be Provost of the Collegiate Church of Saint Giles, in Edinburgh, a place, at
that time, of great dignity and revenue. To this appointment, his family influence speedily added
the rectory of Hawick* and the abbey of Aberbruthick. When installed into the rectory of Hawick,
(1496,) he was but twenty-two years of age. 3
Already rector, provost, and abbot, at an age when men, now-a-days, are
only leaving their alma-mater,
Douglas is thought to have shewn his fitness for those grave offices,
by the sort of recreation to which he devoted the leisure hours of his priesthood. The first
production of his muse was a translation of Ovid's [note]
Remedy of Love, and this he produced before 1501, within the first five years after his instalment as
rector. He had, as Hume of Godscroft
informs us, felt the effects of love, but “was soon freed from the tyranny of this
unreasonable passion.” 4
| * Not Heriot, as stated in the Biographical Dictionary [note] and other works. A. S.
The Queen Mother, who was Regent of Scotland, during the minority of James V. and had married Douglas's nephew, the Earl of Angus, nominated Douglas, in 1514, to the Archbishopric of St.
Andrew's and, in a letter to the Pope, extolled him for his eminent virtue and great learning, and
earnestly solicited his holiness to confirm her nomination. But instead of acceding to her
request, the Pope granted a bull, appointing Forman, Bishop of
Moray, [note] to the vacant dignity; while, at the same time, the chapter, who approved of
neither Douglas nor Forman, made choice
of John Hepburn, Prior of St. Andrew's. [note]
Douglas gained a step on his rivals, by what is generally considered
a great step in law, obtaining possession. With a considerable body of retainers, he seized on the
castle of St. Andrew's; but Hepburn, with a greater force, soon
succeeded in expelling him, and retained the place till Forman
appeared with the Earl of Home, and ten thousand men at his back,
when he thought it prudent, for an annual consideration, to forego his pretensions, and allow the
papal nominee to enter into undisturbed possession. Douglas, who is
said to have been ashamed of the ungodly contest, made no attempt to revive his claims.
|56||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
The queen mother, to console him for his disappointment, soon afterwards
presented him to the bishopric of Dunkeld; and for this preferment, she obtained, through the
interest of her brother, Henry VIII. of England, a bull from Pope Leo X. But Douglas had again the
misfortune to meet with a powerful competitor in the person of Stewart, brother to the Earl of Athol, who contrived to get himself elected by the chapter, and
to obtain the countenance of the Duke of Albany, [note] who had,
in the meanwhile, superseded the queen in the regency; Douglas was
even imprisoned by the regent for more than a year, on a charge of having acted illegally in
procuring a bull from the Pope. It was, indeed, true, that the Scottish parliament had already
begun to shew their dislike to papal supremacy, by passing a regulatory act, which amounted nearly
to a positive exclusion of the interference of the court of Rome in ecclesiastical appointments
within the realm of Scotland; but the act had never as yet been rigidly acted upon. Douglas succeeded, at last, in making his peace with Albany, the regent, and, being set at liberty, was consecrated Bishop
of Dunkeld. Athol's brother, however, was, by this time, in possession of the episcopal palace,
and it was only by following an example, of which he once affected to be ashamed, and calling an
armed force to his aid, that Douglas was able to force Stewart into a capitulation, similar to that by which Hepburn resigned the see of St. Andrew's. The bishop-elect, it is to be
presumed, found the grapes of Fife sourer than those of Highland Tay. 7
In 1517, Douglas, now Bishop of Dunkeld,
panied the Duke of Albany to Paris, when
that nobleman was sent to renew the antient league between Scotland and France. After his return
to Scotland, he made a short stay at Edinburgh, and then repaired to his diocese, where he applied
himself diligently to the duties of his episcopal office. 8
Not long after, the French king having recalled the
Duke of Albany to France, a contest for power arose between the Earls of Angus and Arran, which threw the whole
kingdom into a violent commotion. A meeting of the contending parties and their friends was agreed
to be held at Edinburgh, for the purpose of a conciliation of differences; but, distrustful of
each other, they repaired to the place of congress as to a field of combat, attended by all the
forces they could respectively muster. Bishop Douglas, who came to
the meeting to assist his nephew, Angus, with his councils, fearful
of the consequences of this hostile array, applied to Archbishop
Beaton, [note] who was the chief adviser of Arran, and earnestly
solicited him, as a minister of peace, to assist in bringing about an amicable accommodation.
Beaton, with disgraceful duplicity, protested, that he knew
nothing of the intentions of the Hamiltons, as Arran and his
followers were called, and that whatever they were, he had no power to prevent their being carried
into effect. “ By my conscience, ” exclaimed he, striking his hand with vehemence against his breast, “I know nothing of the matter.” The violence of the stroke made a coat of mail, which the crafty prelate had concealed under
his robes, resound, on which Douglas indignantly replied,
“ Your conscience, my lord, is not sound, for I hear it
Beaton, in fact, knew
well, that the Hamiltons were determined on an appeal to arms, and had
come himself prepared to take a disgraceful share in the affray. Douglas
had not been long gone, before the archbishop was uncassocked, and in the streets fighting
with Arran and his men against the followers of
Angus; but, if we may judge by the event, a bishop praying is of more avail to a cause
than a bishop fighting. Gavin Douglas, who is said to have retired to
his closet to supplicate the God of battles in favor of his nephew, had soon the satisfaction of
hearing the Douglas note of triumph swelling on his ear; the Hamiltons had been beaten, and more
than sixty of them slain; Arran, their chief, escaped with great
difficulty; while Beaton, the lamb in wolves' clothing, fled for
shelter behind the high altar of Blackfriars' church, and would have fallen a prey to the fury of
his pursuers, but for the interference of Bishop Douglas, who, hearing of the jeopardy in which
the archbishop was, hastened to his rescue. 9
|58||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
The same conduct which Bishop Douglas pursued
on this occasion, he observed throughout the whole of the dissensions of this period,
“behaving,” as we are told, “with that moderation and
peaceableness which became a wise man and a religions prelate.” 10
Party animosity, however, ran at length so high, that the Bishop found it
prudent to retire to England. After his departure, a prosecution was commenced against him, and he
was publicly proscribed by proclamation, as “having treasonably entered and designed
to reside in England, joining himself to the public enemy of the kingdom after war was
denounced, and that not only without licence and permission, but against the express orders of
the governor.” He was
however, well received in England, and treated with respect. Henry VIII. allowed him a liberal pension, and, freed from the turmoil
of contending factions, he now spent his days in the cultivation of poetry, and other branches of
polite literature. He died of the plague, at London, in 1521 or 1522, and was interred in the
Savoy church, on the left side of the remains of Thomas Helsay,
Bishop of Laghlin in Ireland, from whose tomb-stone a small space has been borrowed, to inscribe a
short memento to the memory of Douglas.
Hume, in his history of the
Douglasses, says, that the bishop “left behind him great admiration of his virtues
and lose of his person in the hearts of all geed morn; for, besides the nobility of his birth,
the dignity and comeliness of his personage, he was learned, temperate, and of singular
moderation of mind, and, in those turbulent times, had always carried himself among the
factions of the nobility equally, and with a mind to make peace, and not to stir up parties;
which qualities were very rare in a clergyman of these days.” 12
As a man of letters, Douglas stands
distinguished as the first poetical translator of the classics in Britain. Besides the translation
before mentioned of Ovid's [note]
De Remedio Amoris, he translated the æneid of Virgil, [note] with the additional thirteenth book of Mapheus Vigius. It was printed at London, in quarto, in the year 1555,
under the following title: “The XIII Bukes of Eneados
of the Famose Poet Virgill. Translatet out of Latyne Verses into Scottish Meter by the
Reverend Father in God, Mayster Gawin
Douglas, Bishop of Dunkel and Unkil to the Erle of Angus. Euery
Buke hauing hys perticular Prolog.”
It appears, that he had projected this work as early as the year 1501,
but did not actually engage in it till eleven years after, when he completed it in the short space
of eighteen months. 14
No metrical version of a classic had yet appeared in English, except one
of Boëthius, [note] who wrote at so late a period of
Roman declension, as scarcely to deserve the appellation. All that was commonly known of Virgil [note] was through
Caxton's [note] distorted romance on the subject of the æneid. Douglas's
translation, therefore, could not fail of attracting considerable notice; and its merit acquired
it a popularity which it preserved until the close of the last century, when it was superseded by
other versions, probably more elegant, but not more faithful nor more spirited. 15
Douglas's Virgil possessed one excellence, to which no succeeding
translation has any pretension. The Prologues of his own composition, which he has prefixed to the
different books, are such as almost place him on a level with the divine poet he has translated.
Many of them, says Mr. Pinkerton, [note] are “quite
wonderful, particularly that to B. VII. describing winter; that to B. XII. describing a summer
morning; and that to Maffei's B. XIII. a summer evening. Mr.
Warton [note] has put Milton's [note]
L'Allegro and Il Penseroso as the earliest
descriptive poems in English; if so, we have examples in Scottish near a century and a half
before. And what examples! Suffice it to say, that they yield to no descriptive poems in any
It may be a matter of some interest to the lovers of Scottish poetry to
observe, that, in these Prologues, the author has preserved the names or characterizing lines of
several antient Scottish songs, which have been long ago lost. He mentions,
both of which lines have been made the burden of modern adaptations: as also the following;
| The schip sailis over the salt fome |
Will bring thir merchands, and my leman home.
I will be blyth and licht;
My hart is bent upon sa gudly wicht.
Douglas wrote two other works, both of an allegorical character, the one
entitled The Palace of Honour, and the other King Hart.
The Palace of Honour [note] is addressed, as an apologue for
the conduct of a king, to James the Fourth. [note] It was
written prior to 1501, and printed at London in 1553, and at Edinburgh in 1579. Both editions are
extremely rare; and the work, though it appears to have been once well known in Scotland, is now
only read by one in the million. The printer of the Edinburgh edition of 1579 says, in his
preface, that “besides the copy printed at London, there were copyis of this work set
furth of auld amangis our selfis.” The purpose of the allegory is to shew the
insufficiency and instability of worldly pomp, and to prove that a constant and undeviating habit
of virtue is the only way to true Honour and Happiness, who are poetically said to reside in a
situated on the summit of a high and almost inaccessible mountain. The
allegory is illustrated by a variety of examples of illustrious personages, who by a steady
perseverance in noble deeds, have scaled the envied eminence; and of others, who, from debasing
dignity of birth and station by vicious and unmanly practices, have been tumbled to the bottom.
“It is a poem,” says Mr. Warton,
[note] “adorned with many pleasing incidents and adventures, and abounds with genius
and learning.” 20
|62||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
“King Hart” [note] is supposed to have been Douglas's earliest production, but
for no better reason than that some passages in the preserved manuscript copies (for in the
author's time there were no other) are grammatically incorrect. Hew puerile must some of the best
productions of our must celebrated modern authors be considered, if weighed by such a standard!
How puerile, indeed, if judged of, by the contracted, stenographed, blurred, interlined,
under-scored, through-scored, higgledy-piggledy state in which their manuscripts have been
consigned to the vigilant care of these real guardians of the press—ycleped
“Printers' readers!” The truth is, there never was a more idle criticism. The
sentiments of “King Hart” have not one feature of
youth or inexperience about them; they breathe throughout a tried, a chastened, a departing
spirit. As naturally us the young Abbot Douglas sung of the “Remedy of Love,” so did the exiled
bishop, in his declining years, write of these infirmities which “all flesh is heir
to;” and conclude with a poetical legacy, in which
Desire, or, as in the old English it was without it any impure allusion termed, Lust, has the bequest.
| ———at my last end |
Of fantasie ane fostell* fillit fow.
Stanza 61. 21
Indeed it is surprising, how, in the face of the many clear
retrospections which the poem contains, such an idea as that of the juvenility of its production
could have been entertained. What can he more positive than the following?
| Deliverance has oft times done me gude, |
Quhen I wes young, and stede in tender age.
Mr. Pinkerton [note] may well say, that “perhaps
after all King Hart was written in his old age.” 23
The name “King Hart” is employed, as we are informed,
in a marginal note which stands in the original MS. opposite to line first, for Cor in corpore humanis, the heart in man's
body; and the poet, in a description of the adventures of this allegorical personage,
endeavours to pourtray the natural progress of a man of virtuous and honorable resolves, who is
nevertheless the slave of his passions. 24
King Hart, on his first appearance in the poem,—
| So semlie wes he set his folk amang |
That he no dout had of misaventure:
So proudly was he polist plaine and pure
With youthheid† and his lustie levis grene;†
| * Vessel. |
† Youthhood, as manhood.
† The “young desire,” of Dryden.
|64||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| So fair, to fresche, so likelie to endure, |
And als so blyth, as bird in summer schone.
Besides an innumerable family of inmates, such as
Wantounes, Wilfulnes, Fulhardenes, &c.
| Fyve servitours this king he had without, |
That teichit war ay tressoun to espy;
Thai watchit ay the wallis round about
Fo innemeis that of hapining come by.
These “fyve servitours” are the five senses, Sight,
Hearing, Tasting, Smelling, Feeling or Touch. The agency of these “servitours”
is thus described, in a stanza which I think has great beauty, but which I might nevertheless have
passed over without particular notice, had it not been for a criticism upon it by Mr. Pinkerton, [note] who styles it “a stanza beyond
redemption, being quite unintelligible as to grammar and arrangement.” The
stanza shall speak for itself.
| Richt as the rose upspringis fro the rute |
In ruby colour reid most ryck of hew;
Nor waindis nocht the levis to out schute,
For schyning of the sone that deis renew.
Thir uther flouris grene, quhyte, and blew,
Quhilk hes na craft to knaw the wynter weit,
Suppois that sommer schane deis thame reskew
That deis thame quhile our haill with snaw and sleit.
How far this stanza deserves to he considered as “beyond
redemption,” because “quite unintelligible,” you will
be able to judge from the following nearly literal version into modern English:
as the rose upsprings from the root, in red ruby colour, most rich
of hue; nor fears aught the leaves to outshoot, as long as the sun shines, which renews every
thing;—so these other flowers, green, white, and blue, which have no skill to
foresee the killing effect of the winter's blasts, suppose that the summer sun will revive those
who are in the meantime overwhelmed with snow and sleet.” 28
The Palace of Queen Pleasure, situated in the neighbourhood of the castle
of King Hart, is next described with “ane legion leill” who “war ay
at hir leding.” 29
The action of the poem then commences, with a stanza of great richness
| Happenit this wourthy Quene upon ane day |
With hir fresche Court arrayit weil at richt,
Hunting to ryd hir, to desport and play
With mony ane lustie ladie fair and bricht,
Hir baner schone, displayit and on hicht
Wes sene abone their heidis quhar thei rayd;
The grene ground was illuminyt of the licht. *
Fresche Bewtie had the Vangarde and wes gyde.
This party of pleasure pass hard by the castle of King Hart; the watchmen
of which, surprized at the
| * Dunbar has an image of the same kind: |
| “So glitterit as the gowd wer thair glorious gilt tresses, |
Quhil all the gressis did gleme of the glad hewis.”
The Twa Marit Women and the Wedo.
sight, hasten to tell their master, and advise him to send out some
scouts, to ascertain what the mean; since, if they are on battle bent,
|66||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| It wer bot schame to feinye cowartlie. |
With that, Youthhood and
Delight start up, and offer their services to go and reconnoitre.
| Youthheid forth past and raid on
Ane mylk quhite steed that ambilit as the wynd,
And fresche Delyte raid on Benevolence,
Throw out the meid that wad nocht byd behind
The beymes bright almost had maid thame blind
That fra fresch Bewtie spred—
While “in ane studie starand still they
stude,” these gentle knights are encountered by one of Queen Hart's maids of honour,
Fair Calling, who
| ———both thair reynes cleikit in hir hands; |
Syn to her castell raid, as she war woide,*
And festinit up thir folkis in Venus' bands.
King Hart sends out two more parties on the same errand; but, these also
being bewitched and led away by the fair invaders, the king himself “up starts in
proper ire and tein,”
| And baldlie bad his folk all with him ryce. |
This “courtlie king” and his “comlie
ost” sally forth;
| And out thai blew with brag and mekle bost, |
That lady and hir lynnage suld he lost.
The contest, however, is but short; King Hart and his host are soon put
to the route.
| Woundit he wais, and quhair that he na wait |
And mony of his folk has tane the flicht.
He said, “I yield me now to your estait,
Fayr Quene! sen to resist I have no micht.”
Through the influence of Compassion, who now
appears as intercessor for the captive king and his followers, they are graciously restored to
liberty; but, captivated by the charms they had beheld in the Castle of Pleasure, they are
ingrates enough to attack it in their turn.—War, however soon gives place to Marriage;
King Hart unites his fortunes with Queen Pleasure, and in her company he spends the rest of the
days of his youth. No sooner, however, has King Hart passed thin meridian of life, than Age
arrives at the palace gate, and insists upon being admitted. The gate is, with great reluctance,
slowly opened; Age turns Youth away, and the king is, with a sorrowful heart, obliged to bid an
everlasting farewell to the gay companion with whom he had spent so many happy hours. Scarcely has
Age taken her station in the castle, than
Conscience scales the walls, and begins to upbraid the king for the manner in which he
had mispent so many precious years of his life. The answer which the king makes to Conscience is
worth quoting; it has been more than once dipped into by modern authors.
|68||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
xxiv. Ye did greit miss, fayr Conscience, be your leif
Gif that ye war of kyn and blude to me,
That sleuthfullie suld let your tyme our sleip,
And come thus lait. How suld ye ask your fe?
The steid is stoun, steik the dure, let se
Quhat may avale, God wait the stall to turne?
And gif that ye be ane counsellor sle
Quhy sold, ye sleuthfullie your tyme forsurne?
xxv. Off all my harme, and drerie indigence,
Gif thair be ocht amys, me think perdè
That ye ar cause verray of my offence;
And suld sustaine the bitter pairt for me.
Mak answer now—Quhat can ye say? Let se!
Yourself excuse and mak you foule or clene.
Ressoun, cum heir; ye sall our juge now be;
And in this calls gif sentens us betwene.*
Reason gives the verdict against him;—the
poor king is driven out of all his shifts; and becomes, in every sense
of the word, Conscience-stricken. Queen Pleasure, offended with the
change produced in the manners and feelings of her royal spouse, and with the austere character of
his new associates, suddenly abandons him. In this deserted situation, Reason and Wisdom strongly
urge the king to return to his own palace, and to spend the remainder of his days according to
their salutary maxims. The king follows their advice, but has not been long in his own castle,
when, in an unlooked-for hour, Deformity inflicts on him a mortal wound, of which, after making
his testament, in which there is a due distribution of all his frailties and foibles, he expires. 38
The reader will see in these lines a happy concentration of the same general ideas; but it
would be unfair to the noble author, to infer any thing more. A. S.
| *—impenitent Remorse, |
That juggling fiend which never spoke before,
And cries “I warn'd you,” when the deed is o'er.
The romance of King Hart [note] was
first published in 1787, from an original manuscript by Mr.
Pinkerton, [note] to whom the fame of the poet is more indebted on this account, than to the
notes he has annexed, which are more remarkable for their ingeniousness, than for any light which
they throw upon the beauties of the poem.