Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

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Literary Chronicle
New Monthly Magazine
Monthly Review
Notes and Queries
Gibson and Laing
Halkett and Laing
Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
James the First
Thomas the Rhymer
John Barbour
Andrew Wyntoun
Gavin Douglas
Allan Ramsay
William Meston
John Home
James Beattie
Robert Burns

Part II. (Volume I.)
James the Fifth
William Dunbar
Sir James Inglis
Henry the Minstrel
Sir David Lyndsay
Alexander Barclay
Alexander Montgomerie
William Alexander
William Drummond
James Thomson
John Oswald

Part III. (Volume II.)
James the Sixth
Sir Richard Maitland
Arthur Johnston
Hamilton of Bangour
Hamilton of Gilbertfield
Samuel Colvil
Alexander Ross
John Armstrong
John Ogilvie
James Macpherson
Charles Salmon

Part IV. (Volume II.)
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Robert Henryson
Alexander Scott
Walter Kennedy
John Ogilby
Alexander Pennecuik
Alexander Cunningham
David Mallet
William Falconer
Francis Garden
Robert Blair
James Moor
James Graeme
Caleb Whitefoord
James Grainger
Hector Macneill
John Wilson

Part VI. (Volume III.)
Robert Kerr
Richard Lord Maitland
Thomas Hamilton
Charles Hamilton
Michael Bruce
Thomas Blacklock
John Logan
Andrew Macdonald
James Mercer

Appendix. (Volume III.)
James I
Allan Ramsay
John Home
Robert Burns
William Drummond
Robert Fergusson
Alexander Scott
John Wilson



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.


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.


Already rector, provost, and abbot, at an age when men, now-a-days, are only leaving their alma-mater,

* Not Heriot, as stated in the Biographical Dictionary [note] and other works. A. S.
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.”


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.


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.


In 1517, Douglas, now Bishop of Dunkeld, accom-
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.


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 clatter.” 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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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.


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 language.”


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,
I come hidder to wow.


The jolly day now dawis;

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 magnificent palace
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.”


“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.

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.”


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.


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.
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: “Right
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.”


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.”


The action of the poem then commences, with a stanza of great richness and elegance.

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.”
A. S.

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,
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 Innocence,
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;

* Wild, mad.
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.

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?
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

*—impenitent Remorse,
That juggling fiend which never spoke before,
And cries “I warn'd you,” when the deed is o'er.
Byron's Corsair.
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.
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.


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.

F. M'N.