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





Of Robert Henryson, [note] one of the most instructive of our old fabulists, but better known to the English reader as the author of the Testament of Fair Creseide, appended to most of the common editions of Chaucer's [note] Troilus and Creseide, scarcely any biographical particulars are extant. Urry, [note] in his edition of Chaucer, says, “The author of the Testament of Fair Creseide, which might pass for the sixth book of this story, I have been informed by Sir James Erskine, [note] late Earl of Kelly, and divers aged scholars of the Scottish nation, was one Mr. Robert Henderson, (Henryson,) chief schoolmaster of Dunfermline.” Lord Hailes [note] conjectures, that he officiated as preceptor to the Benedictine convent of that place. We find his name among the latest of the poets, whose death is
lamented by Dunbar in his poem on the “Deth of the Makkaris.”

In Denfermling, deth hes tane Broun
With gude Mr. Robert Henrysoun.

He appears, from the opening stanzas of his Testament of Fair Creseide, to have lived to a good old age, and happily not to have been without the comforts which age demands.

I made the fire, and beked me aboute,
Than toke I drink, my spirites to comforte,
And armid me weel fro the cold thereoute.
To cutte the winter night, and make it shorte,
I toke a quere, and lefte al other sporte,
Writin by worthy Chaucer
[note] glorious,
Of faire Creseide and lusty Troilus.

The Testament appears to have been first printed in a quarto form at Edinburgh, by Henry Charters, [note] 1593. In 1611, it was reprinted, in the same form at the same place. In 1508, another tale from Henryson's pen, entitled, Orpheus Kyng, and how he geid to hevyn and to hel to seik his quene, was printed by Chapman and Millar. Bagford, [note] in his manuscript notices relative to Typography, states, that a collection of Fabils, by Henryson, was printed at Edinburgh by Andrew Hart, [note] in the year 1621. Such a collection, but in manuscript, is still preserved in the Harleyan library; and in the Bannatyne MS. [note] Henryson's Fabils also occupy a considerable space. “The Harleyan MS.” says Mr. Pinkerton, [note] “is dated 1571, being collected near a century after Henryson's
death by some admirer of his fables. It is well written and preserved, and has some curious illuminations, though poorly done.” The Harleyan MS. includes four fables, which are not in Bannatyne's, and the Bannatyne three, which are not in the Harleyan.


The Testament of Faire Creseide is the longest of Henryson's productions. “Wittily observing,” says Urry, “that Chaucer, in his fifth book, had related the death of Troilus, but made no mention what became of Creseide, he learnedly takes upon him, in a fine poetical way, to express the punishment and end due to a false inconstant, which commonly ends in extreme misery.” To give a finishing hand to the picture of so great a master was an ambitions attempt; but Henryson has succeeded, in a manner which shews that he possessed much of a kindred inspiration. In richness of description and in skill of narration, he is decidedly inferior to Chaucer; but in ease of versification, in propriety of language, and in incidental brilliancies of thought, he leaves the question of superiority often doubtful. If Chaucer, as Dr. Johnson [note] pronounces, was “the first of our versifiers who wrote poetically,” it must at least be allowed, that there are few who can contest the second place with Henryson. Dr. Irving [note] does him no more than justice when he remarks, that “his verses, if divested of their uncouth orthography, might often be mistaken for those of some poet of the present day.”


It is not, however, in the Supplement to Chaucer's tale of Troilus and Cressida, that Henryson's poetical powers appear to most advantage. His fables are altogether in a much finer vein, it has been objected
to them, that they are, in general, too much protracted; that while the apologues of æsop,
[note] of Phædrus, [note] Poggius, [note] and Abstemius, [note] seldom exceed the bounds of a few lines, those of Henryson are extended over a surface of many pages. The objection, in as far as regards the “moralitie” attached to Henryson's fables, is just; but there is nothing with which the tales themselves are less liable to be charged, than tediousness. In most of them, the interest of the narrative is extremely well sustained; the reflections interspersed are introduced with brevity and ease; and so fully and clearly is the moral to be drawn indicated, that it is no wonder the moralities superadded should be thought to protract the termination, when, in fact, they are altogether superfluous. A reader of Henryson's fables may pass over the moralities entirely without being sensible of the least incompleteness; nor, on retracing his ground, would be be able to discover that any important reflection had escaped him.


The best of all Henryson's fables is that of The Borrowstoun Mous and the Landwart Mous. A similar story had been told before by Horace, [note] and, since Henryson's time, has also employed the pens of a Cowley [note] and Fontaine; [note] but it is doubtful whether any of them have told it better than the Scottish fabulist. We cannot say, of adventures so purely imaginary as those of “thir twa silly mice,” that they are described with fidelity to nature; but in that likeness to possible truth, which is all we look for in this species of writing, few fabulists have shewn a happier conception than Henryson here displays. The tale is a Scottish edition of the common one of the city or burgh mouse and her country cousin in-
terchanging visits, and of the contrast between plain cheer with peace and security, and dainty fare in the midst of danger and tribulation. The changes and substitutions required to suit the story to the local peculiarities of the country are made with infinite skill; nor can one doubt for a moment, (who thinks of doubting on such a subject?) that it is Scottish mouse-life which is presented to his view. Of the Borrowstoun Mous, it is as wittily as appropriately said, that she

Was Gilt-brother, and made a frie burgess,
Tol frie, and without custom mair or less,
And freedom had to gae quhair eir scho list
Amang the cheis and meil in Ark or kist.

The habitation of the “Landwart Mous” is

———a semple wane
Of fog and fern; full fecklessly 'twas maid,
A silly sheil, under a eard-fast stane,
Of quhilk the entrie was not hie nor braid.

The “butrie” of the field mouse can boast of nothing daintier than dried beans and peas; while the “spence” or pantry of the free burgess presents “baith cheis and butter,” “fish and flesh,” “pokks full of grotts, barlie, meil, and malt,” with

A candle quhyt———
Instead of spyce, to creish their teith with a'

While thus attentive to the characteristic fitness of every subordinate particular, the author shews himself, in the progress of the tale, to be equally conversant with general nature.


The description of the pantry scene, which forms the catastrophe of the story, will fully justify all that has been said in praise of Henryson's poetical powers.

Thus made they mirry, quhyle they micht nae mair,
And hail Yule! hail! they all cryt upon hie:
But after joy ther aftentimes comes cair,
And trouble after grit prosperitie:
Thus as they sat in all thair solitie,
The Spens* came on them with keis in his hand,
Open't the dore, and them at dinner fand.
They tarriet not to wash, ye may suppose,
But aff they ran, quha micht the foremost win;
The Burgess had a hole, and in schoe gaes;
Her sister had nae place to hyde her in,
To se that silly mous it was grit sin;
Sae disalait, and will of all guile reid
For very feir scho fell in swoun, neir deid.
But as Jove wald, it fell a happy case,
The spensar had nae laisar lang to byde,
Nowthir to force, to seik, nor skar, nor chese,
But on he went and cast the dore upwyde;
This Burgess then this passage weil has spy'd,
Out of her hole sche came, and cryt on hie,
“Ho! sister fair, cry peep! quhair e'er thou be.”
The landwart mous lay flatlings on the ground,
And for the deed schoe was full sair dreidand,
For to her heart strak mony a waefull stound,
As in a fever trymblit scho fute and hand;
And when her sister in sic plight her fand

* Butler.
For very pitie scho began to greit;
Syne comfort gaif, with words as huny sweit.
“Quhy ly ye thus? Ryse up my sister deir,
Cum to your meit, this peril is owre-past;”
The other answert, with a hevy cheir,
“I may not eit, sae sair I am agast,
I lever had this fourtie lang days fast
With water-kail, and gnaw dry beans and peis,
Than haif your feist with this dreid and waneise.”
With tretie fair, at last, scho gart her ryse,
To burde they went, and doun togither sat;
But scantly had they drunken anes or twyce,
Quhen in came Hunter Gib, the jolly cat,
And bad God speid.—The Burgess up scho gat,
And till her hole scho fled, lyk fire frae flint,
But Badrans be the back the ither hint.

The verse which follows is exquisitely natural.

Frae fate to fate, he cast her to and frae,
Quhyls up, quhyls down, als tait as ony kid;
Quhyls wald he let her run beneath the strae,
Quhyls wald he wink and play with her buk-hid;
Thus to the silly mouse grit harm he did,
Till, at the last, throw fair fortune and hap,
Betwixt the dressour and the wall scho crap.
Syne up in haste behind the pannaling
Sae hie scho clam, that Gibby might not get her;
And be the cluks sae craftily can hing
Till he was gane, her cheir was all the better,
Syne down scho lap quhen ther was mine to let her.
Then on the Burgess Mous aloud did cry,
“Sister, farewell! here I thy feist defy.
Were I anes in the cot that I cam frae,
For weil nor wae I sould neir com again.”
With that scho tuke her leif, and forth can gae,
Quhyles throw the riggs of corn, quhyles oure the plain,
Quhen scho was furth and frie, her heart was fain,
And merrylit scho linkit oure the mure;
Needless to tell how afterwart she fure.
But this in schort:—She reicht her eisy den,
As warm as on suppose it was not grit,
Full beinly stuffit it was baith butt and ben,
With peis and nuts, and beins, and ry, and quheit,
When eir scho lykt scho had enouch of meit.
In ease and quiet, without sturt and dreid,
But till her sister's feist nae mair she gied.

Among Henryson's fables, there is improperly classed a piece, called The Bluidy Serk. It is an allegorical ballad, the purpose of which is less to be praised than the manner in which it is executed. The daughter of a mighty monarch has been carried away by a giant, and cast into a pit or dungeon, where she is doomed to remain until some gallant knight shall achieve her deliverance. A worthy prince, at length, appears as her champion, vanquishes the giant, and thrusts him into the loathsome dungeon which he had prepared for others. When he had restored the damsel to her father, he felt that death must speedily be the consequence of the wounds which he had received in the combat. He then bequeaths to her his bluidy
serk, and solemnly enjoins her to contemplate it whenever another lover should happen to present himself. Such is the allegory; the explanation of it shall be given in the author's own words.

This kyng is lyk the trinitie,
Baith in hevin and heir;
The manis saule to the lady,
The gyant to Lucifer;
The knycht to Chryst that deit on tre,
And coft our sinnis deir;
The pit to hell with panis fell,
The sin to the woweir.
The lady was woed, but scho said nay,
With men that wald hir wed,
Sa suld we wryth all syn away,
That in our breist is bred.
I pray to Jesu Christ verray,
For us his blud that bled,
To be our help on domysday,
Quhair lawis ar stoutly led.
The soule is Goddis dechtir deir,
And eik his handewerk,
That was betrayit with Lucifeir,
Quha sits in hell full merk.
Borrowit with Chrystis angell cleir,
Hend men will ye nocht herk?
For his lufe that bocht us sa deir,
Think on the bluidy serk.

The similitude is doubtless well carried through; but there can perhaps be but one opinion as to the
propriety of illustrating sacred truths by a nursery legend.


The Garment of Gude Ladyis is another allegorical poem by Henryson. Lord Hailes [note] has said of it, with some severity, that “the comparison between female ornaments and female virtues is extruded throughout so many lines, and with so much of a tirewoman's detail, that it becomes somewhat ridiculous.” The reader will scarcely expect, that the comparison “extended throughout so many lines, and with so much of a tirewoman's detail,” only extends altogether to ten verses.


In the Abbay Walk, the Praise of Age, the Ressoning betwixt Deth and Man, and the Ressoning betwixt Aige and Yowth, Henryson has attempted, with some success, the path of moral reflection. His sentiments cannot be expected, at the distance of three centuries, to present much that is striking; but they breathe a spirit of rational piety, which it is always peculiarly pleasing to trace in the productions of remote periods, when the grossest superstition possessed almost universally the minds of men.


The only other production, by Henryson, which claims our particular notice, is a pastoral, entitled Robene and Makyne, the object of which is to illustrate the old proverb.—

The man that will not when he may,
Sall have nocht when he wald.

Dr. Irving [note] says of this poem, “I regard it as superior, in many respects, to the similar attempts of Spenser [note] and Browne. [note] Free from the glaring improprieties which appear in the eclogues of those writers,
it exhibits many genuine strokes of poetical delineation and evinces the author to have been intimately acquainted with human character. Robene's indifference seems, indeed, to be rather suddenly converted into love; but this is perhaps the only misrepresentation of the operations of nature into which the poet has been betrayed. The fable is skilfully conducted; the sentiments and manners are truly pastoral; and the diction possesses wonderful terseness and suavity.” The style of this pastoral is indeed worthy of every commendation but with all deference to Dr. I. we must look elsewhere for proofs of the anther's acquaintance with human nature, than to the skill with which he has pourtrayed the workings of the heart in the story of these rural lovers.


The sudden conversion of Robene's indifference into love cannot be more at variance with the ordinary operations of nature, than is the equally sudden conversion of Makyne's consuming passion into laughing indifference, at the very moment when she beholds the swain, for whom she had been pining, “towmonds twa or three,” a willing slave at her feet. But what is either circumstance, compared to the novel boldness with which “mirry Makyne” is the first to make the advances in this little comedy of love, and to declare, that unless Robene has compassion upon her, she will die of grief? or, to the strangely liberal offers with which she tempts the insensible hind?

Robin, tak tent unto my tale,
And do all as I reid;
And thou sall haif my heart all hale,
And eke    *    *    *    *

Such are not surely either the “manners” or “ sen-
timents” of “truly pastoral” life. The tale is prettily enough told; but, instead of being an example of Henryson's knowledge of the human heart, it ought rather to be quoted as an exception to the good sense and discernment which distinguish the generality of his productions.


Nearly the whole of Henryson's poems bear internal evidence of having been composed in the decline of life. In this, he resembled his model, Chaucer, [note] whose Canterbury Tales, the best of all his works were written when on the verge of three score year and ten. Henryson had not however, like Chaucer, cause to blame a vagrant muse in his dying hours, for any thing in his writings which might pollute to future ages the stream of human morals. His sentiments are uniformly worthy of his years—pure, chastened, and instructive; and whatever share of the poetical art he displays, it is solely employed in giving to the lessons of virtue souse heightening charm, or rendering the ways of vice more odious.*

R. H.

* Wood, [note] in his Annals, informs us, that though Chaucer never repented of his reflections on the clergy, yet that there were licentious parts of his poems which grieved him much on his deathbed “for one that lived shortly after his time maketh report, that when he saw death approaching, he did often cry out, “Woe is me, Woe is me, that I cannot recall and annul those things which I have written;
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but alas! they are now continued from man to man, and I cannot do what I desire.” A. S.