Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

*    *    *    *    *

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





The Reformation in religion, though favorable to the general developement of the national intellect, was extremely inauspicious to the Scottish muse. The Roman Catholic clergy, with the systematic design of averting enquiry into their doctrines or practices, had given peculiar encouragement to every sort of mental exercise, which, by occupying the imaginations of the people, might exclude the calmer workings of reason and reflection. They patronized plays and masques; they recommended the reading of romances in preference to all other works; and even within those walls, sacred to devotion, were not ashamed to manifest a fonder acquaintance with the Tales of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, than with the works of that Divine Master, whose
mission of salvation it was their duty to promulgate.
Barclay, in his Ship of Fools, has thus distinctly marked out these ungodly practices to reprobation.

The battayles done, perchaunce in small Britayne,
In France or Flanders, or to the worlde's ende,
Are told in the quere, of some, in wordes vayne,
In midst of matins, instead of the Legende;
And other gladly to hear the same intende,
Much rather than the service for to heare;
The Rector Chori is made the messenger—
And in the morning, when they come to the quere,
The one beginneth a fable or a historie;
The other leaueth their cares it to heare,
Taking it instead of the invitorie;
Some other taketh response in time and memory;
And all of fables or jestes of Robinhood,
Or other trifles that scantly are so good!

In the same spirit, we find Hoccleve, [note] an author of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, who although no priest, was a candidate for the honors of the priesthood,* deliberately advising Sir John Oldcastle [note] to desist from the study of “holy writ,” and peruse Lancelot de Lake, Vegece or the Siege of Troie or Thebes or, if he be absolutely determined to read the Bible, to confine his studies to Judicum

* “He whilom thought to have been a priest, but now is married, having long waited for a benefice.” Particulars of his history, as collected from his poems, in Art. Hoccleve. Chalmers' Biog. Dict. [note]
Regum Josue, Judith, Paralipoemena, and Machabe, “than which,” he adds,

“More authentic shalt then fynde none
Ne more pertinent to chivalrie.”

Works of romance being thus fostered by the clergy, and highly suited besides to the habits of a rude and martial age, took naturally a strong hold on the minds of the people, and formed their chief sources of mental recreation for several ages. The Reformation, which broke down so many old prejudices, did not, however, spare this among the number. As Mahomet began his mission by proscribing the Persian romances, which were, previously, the delight of the Arabian tribes, so the Reformers, both of Scotland and England, distinguished the commencement of their religious warfare, by an instant proscription of the whole race of fabulous heroes and ideal personages, whose exploits it was the chief province of the antient ballads and songs to hand down to posterity.

Both elrich elfs, and brownies stayed,
And green-gown'd fairies daunc'd and play'd,
When old John Knox
[note] and other some
Began to plott the bags of Rome;
They suddenly took to their heels,
And did no more frequent these fields.

L. Ramsey, [note] in his “Practice of the Divill,” gives the foremost place to the reading of the stories of

* “ Cleland, Lieutenant Colonel of the Camero-
Robinhood and Guy, and Bevis of Southampton.” In like manner, Vaughan, [note] in his Church Militant, exclaims:

Unhappy are those scribes who catch no soules
For Christ, if so they may, by holy scroules;
And much to blame are those of carnal brood,
Who loath to taste of intellectual food,
Yet surfeit on old tales of Robin Hood,
Of Frier's cowles, or of Saint Benet's hood,
Of Patrik's broiles, or of St. George's launce,
Of Errant knights, or of the Fairy daunce;
But yee, who are born of intellectual seed,
Scorn your best part with honey'd gall to feed.

Among the devices to which the reformed clergy had recourse, to counteract the popular attachment to their old ballads and songs, the first and least ingenuous was that of changing the application of them from carnal to spiritual matters, by means of various adroit substitutions and interpolations. In 1597, there appeared, at Edinburgh, “ A Compendious Book of Godlie and Spiritual Sangis and Ballatis,” (generally attributed to an unknown author of the name of Wedderburn,) the whole of which are

nian regiment, who fell in the battle of Dunkeld, composed a long satirical poem “on the Highland host who came to destroy the western shires in 1678,” which is more angry than witty; and, like the other poems of that author, published in 1697, equally defective in versification and poetical talent.”
merely pious travesties of the profane ballads and songs then most in vogue. The impression which the reading of them produces is like that derived from all serious distortions, less amusing than painful.


In the following specimens, the words in italics distinguish the “godly and spiritual” deviations from the profane texts.

With huntis up, with huntis up,
It is now perfite day;
Jesus our king is gane an hunting,
Quha likes to speed they may.
The wind blawis cauld; furious and bald,
This lang and mony a day;
But Christ's mercie, we mon all die,
Or keep the cald wind away.
Hey! now the day dawis;
Now Christ on us cawis,
Now welth on our wawis
Appeiris none.
Now the word of God rings,
Whilk is king of all kings,
Now Christis flock sings,
The nicht is neere gone.
Till me now and in what wise,
How that I suld my lufe forga,
Baith day and night, ane thousand sighs
Thir tyrans waikens me with wae.

The honor of attempting a purer mode of correcting the popular taste is due to Alexander Hume, [note] minister of Logie, who deserves, for what he has done in this respect, to assume a high station among the poets of his country. Mr. Hume was the second son of Patrick, fifth baron of Polwarth, from whom the present family of Marchmont is lineally descended. He was originally destined for the bar, and, according to the custom of that period, pursued the study of the law, for several years, at one of the universities in France. His professional progress, after his return to Scotland, is thus related by himself, in an “Epistle to Maister Gilbert Montcrief, Mediciner to the King's Majestie, wherein is set down the Inexperience of the Author's Youth.”

Quhen that I had employ'd my youth and paine
Four years in France, and was return'd againe,
I lang'd to learn and curious was to knaw
The consuetudes, the custome, and the law,
Quhairby our native soil was guide aright,
And justice done to everie kind of wight.
To that effect, three yeares, or near that space,
I haunted maist our highest pleading place,
And senate, quhair great causes reason'd war,
My breast was bruisit with leaning on the bar;
My buttons brist, I partly spitted blood,
My ears war deif'd with maissars cryes and din,
Qukilk procutoris and parties callit in.
I daily learnit, but could not pleisit be;
I saw sic things as pitie was to see,
Ane house owerlaid with process sa misguidit,
That sum too late, sum never war decydit:
The puir abusit ane hundredth divers wayes;
Postpon'd, differ'd with shifts and mere delayes,
Consumit in gudes, ourset with greif and paine;
Your advocate maun be refresht with gaine,
Or else he fails to speake or to invent
An, gude defence or weightie argument.
Ye “spill your cause,” ye “trouble him too sair,”
Unless his hand anointed be with mair.

Disgusted with the bar, Mr. Hume sought preferment at court, but met with no success.

———to the court I shortly me addrest,
Believing well to chose it for the best;
But from the rocks of Cyclades, from hand
I struck into Charybdis' sinking sand.

He afterwards candidly confesses:

I little gain deserved, and less I gat.

Some matrimonial speculation appears to have next crossed his wayward fancy.

True Damon's part to play, I would me bind,
But Pythia as kind, yet I could never find.

He, at last, resolved to seek in the bosom of the church for that comfort which he had wasted his youth in pursuing elsewhere; and, entering into orders, was appointed rector or minister of Logie in Fifeshire, the names of ecclesiastical offices then floating between prelacy and presbytery.


Mr. Hume appears to have determined on this
change of life, less from worldly motives, than from an awakened sense of the importance of religious truth, and a conviction of the superiority of the gospel calling over all others. He soon gave signal proof both of his zeal and his ability, by the publication of that collection of poems which has procured for him a niche in the Temple of Fame. It was entitled
“Hymnes or Sacred Songs; wherein the right use of poetry may be espied; whereunto are added, the Experience of the Author's Youth, and certain precepts serving to the practice of sanctification.” The work was dedicated to “the faithful and vertuous Lady Elizabeth Melvil,” [note] whom he extols as a successful cultivator of sacred poetry.*


In an address to the Scottish youth, which follows this dedication, the author thus piously deplores the false direction which he conceived the poetic genius of the country had hitherto taken.—“In princes' courts, in the houses of great menn, and the assem-

This lady is by courtesy generally styled Lady Culross. [note] She published “ Ane Godlye Dream compylit in Scottish meter, by M (rs) M (elvill) Gentlewoman in Culross. ” Edin. 1603, 4to. A subsequent edition gives her name in full,— “A Godly Dream, by Elizabeth Melvill, Lady Culros, younger. At the request of a special friend. Aberdeene, imprinted by E. Raban, Laird of Letters, 1644,” 8vo. The work was long popular among the Scottish presbyterians. Armstrong relates, in his Essays, that he recollected having heard it sung by the peasants to a plaintive air. A. S.
bleis of yong gentlemen and yong damesels, the chief pastyme is to sing profayne sonnets and vaine ballatis of love, or to rehears some fabulos faites of Palmerine, Amadis, or other such lyke reveries, and suche as either have the airte or vain poeticke, of force they must shew themselves cunning followeris of the dissolute ethnicke poets, bothe in phrase and substance, or else they sal be had in no reputaunce. Alas! for pitie! Is this the richt use of a Christiane's talent?”—“Some time,” he adds, “I delighted in such fantasies myself, after the manner of riotous young men; and had not the Lord in his mercy pulled me aback and wrought a great repentance in me, I had doubtless run forward and employed my time and study in that profane and unprofitable exercise, to my own perdition.” He then proceeds to reason with his readers as to the possibility of sacred history furnishing a sufficiency of suitable incidents for poetry. “Would thou entreat,” he says, “of prodigious miracles? Look the books of Genesis or Exode, or the works of our Saviour, of the prophets and apostles. Would thou have a subject of valiant deeds of arms? Read the books of Josua and the Judges, and of the Kings of Israel and Judah. Would thou have store of wise sentences? Read the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Would thou have a subject of love? Look the Song of Songs; the love betwixt Christ and his Church. Would thou rejoice or lament—praise or dispraise—comfort or threaten—pray or use imprecation? Imitate the old Hebrew, David, in his psalms, as a pattern of all heavenly poesy.”


The aim of Mr. Hume's own poems, however, is
not so much to exemplify the poetical use which may be made of the treasures of sacred history, as to demonstrate a much more important proposition—namely, that a poet may gather all the materials for the most exalted poetry from the great book of nature alone, without having recourse to either history or fable, and without touching on the “naughtie subject of fleschly and unlawful love,” on which he laments that poetic genius should ever be employed. It is unnecessary, at this time of day, to enter into the question, how far he was correct in this scheme of narrowing the limits of poetry, which, without love and romance, would be like beauty plucked of its roses; but it must be allowed, that, in as far as his example tended to invite the cultivators of poetry to a more familiar acquaintance with the beauties of external nature, as well as to a more habitual reference from “nature to nature's God,” it was an effort as honorable to the good taste as to the piety of the author. Nor was the experiment without the recommendation of a very singular degree of success. The principal of these sacred poems, entitled, by the author,
“the Day Estivall,” is altogether an extraordinary production for the age in which it was produced. It presents the picture of a summer's day from the dawn to the twilight; painted with a fidelity to nature, a liveliness of coloring, and a tasteful selection of circumstances, which mark the hand not only of a master, but of one worthy of being the founder of a school, which was in after ages to boast of a Denham [note] and a Thomson for its disciples. The poem opens with the following appropriate invocation to the Father of Light:

O perfite light! quhilk schaid away,
The darkness from the light,
And set a ruler ou'r the day,
Ane other ou'r the night.
Thy glorie, when the day forth flies,
Mair 'vinely dois appear;
Nor at midday unto our eyes
The shining sun is clear.

The author then proceeds with his description, which is divided into four parts—the dawn, morning, mid-day, and evening. The dawn is thus sweetly introduced:

The shaddow of the earth anon
Remooves and drawes by;
Sine in the east, when it is gon,
Appeares a clearer sky.
Quhilk sune perceaves the little larks,
The lapwing, and the snype;
And tunes their sangs, like nature's clarks,
Ou'r meadow, mure, and stryp.

The description of morning presents some equally pleasing passages; the conclusion particularly invites quotation, on account of the free use which a celebrated poet, of a later period, has made of one of the stanzas.

Sa silent is the cessile air,
That everie cry and call
The hills and dales, and forest fair,
Again repeat them all.
The rivers fresh, the callor streames,
Ou'r reeks can saftlie rin;
The water cleare, like crystall seames,
An' maks a pleasan' din.
The fields and earthly superfice
With verdure green is spread,
And naturallie, but artifice
In party colours clad.
The flourishes and fragrant flowres
Through Phœbus' fostering heat,
Refresht with dew and silver showers,
Cast up an odour sweit.
The clogged busy humming bees,
That never think to drown,
On flowers and flourishes of trees
Collect their liquor brown.

No one can doubt, that Ramsay had the second of these verses before him, when he wrote of Habbie's How.

Between twa birks, out o'er a little lin,
The water fa's, and maks a singan din;
A pool breast-deep beneath, as clear as glass,
Kisses with easy whirls the bord'ring grass.

It is singular, that being so well acquainted with this poem, Ramsay did not include it in his “Evergreen.” [note] It had certainly a juster claim to share in that title, than one half of the pieces which it included.


In the description of mid-day, we meet with some interesting traits of the popular habits at the period when the author wrote, which would seem to indicate a state of comfort, vastly superior to any thing we knew of in our own times. The sun has reached its zenith,

Nocht guided be na Phaeton,
Nor chained in a chyre;
But by the high and holy one,
Whilk does allwhere inspire:
*    *    *    *
The labourers that timely raise,
All wearie, faint, and weake,
For heat, hame to their houses gaes,
Noone meate and sleepe to take.
The callour wine in caves is sought,
Mens' brothing breists to cule,
The water cald and cleare is broughte,
And sallads steept in ule.
Some plucks the honie plum, and peare,
The cherrie and the pesche;
Some likes the reamand London beare
The bodie to refresh.

Wine and oil and “London Beer”* are rare things

* The tradition in England is, that there was no malt liquor known by the appellation of beer, as distinguished from the ancient liquor called ale, till the reign of Henry VIII. But had this been the case,
to be found among the comforts of Scottish labourers two centuries ago; and one cannot help suspecting that the reverend author, notwithstanding his systematic exclusion of fiction, must, in this instance, have slightly availed himself of the poetical prerogative. He probably ascribed to the people in common, luxuries which belonged only to the higher orders.


The return of animation and activity with the cool of the evening is thus spiritedly delineated.

Furth fairis the flocks to seek their fude
On everie hill and plaine,
Ilk labourer as he thinks gude
Steppes to his turne againe.
The rayons of the sun we see
Diminish in their strength;
The schade of everie tower and tree
Extended is in length.
Great is the calme, for everie quhair
The wind is sitten downe,
The reik thraws right up in the air,
From everie tower and towne.

“London Beer” could scarcely have become an article of general use in Scotland within fifty years after, when Hume wrote. The fact is, that beer was known in England at a period much anterior to the reign of Henry the Eighth. In Rymer's [note] Fœdera, (12th tome, p. 471) there is mention made of a licence from Henry VII. in 1492, to a Fleming, for exporting fifty tons of ale, called “bere” or “beer.” A. S.
Their firdoning the bony birds,
In banks they do begin,
With pipes of reides the jolie herds
Hald up the merrie din.
The maveis and the philomeen,
The sterling whissiles lowd,
The cuschets on the branches green
Full quietly they crowd.

The twilight, or “gloamin,” at length closes the scene.

The gloamin comes, the day is spent,
The sun goes out of sight,
And painted is the occident
With purpour sanguine bright.
*    *    *    *
O! then it were a seemly sight,
While all is still and calme,
The praise of God to play and sing
With cornet and with shalme.
But now the herds wi' mony schout
Call other be their name,
“Ga Billie, turn our good about,
Now time is to gae hame.”
Wi' belly fu the beasts belive
Are turned fra the corn,
Quhilk soberly they hameward drive,
Wi' pipe and lilting horn.
*    *    *    *
All labourers draw hame at even,
And can to other say,
“Thanks to the Gracious God of Heaven
Quhilk sent this summer day.”

The poem altogether is of an extremely pleasing cast. The author paints to the eye; and with an ease which shews him to have been a fond and diligent observer of nature. At the same time, it is impossible not to perceive marks of deficiency arising from the restraint which he had imposed on himself, with respect to the class of subjects, worthy of being, in his opinion, included within the “right use of poesy.” As if it were only in external nature that the Almighty hand is to be discovered, the affections of the heart have no place in his description; and while almost every other living being is depicted, woman alone is not once mentioned from the beginning to the end of the poem. How differently has Milton [note] sung of the morning!

“When the ploughman near at hand
Whistles o'er the furrow'd land,
And the milk maid singeth blithe,
And the mower whets his scythe;
And every shepherd tells his tale
Under the hawthorn in the dale.”

Who can be insensible to the charm which the last couplet throws over the whole of this passage? But the point will not admit of argument. A “Summer's Day” without “a tale under the hawthorn,” is just as contrary to nature, as a Winter's day without a fire, and a story by the fire-side.


Still, as already observed, Hume deserves praise for setting even the limited example which he did of a
greater attention to nature than had before been general with our poets. His example, it is true, produced no followers; but that is to be ascribed partly so the neglect into which the Scottish tongue and Scottish poetry fell, on the removal of
James the Sixth to England, and partly to the civil and religious dissentions which agitated the country, and “withered the laurels on the brows of her bards.”

In every age which generous spirits bore,
The muse was cherish'd, and had strength to soar;
Disturb'd by civil tumult, she withdrew,
From cities far, and lay conceal'd from view:
So the bright passion flower, in sunshine days
Its varied colour to the light displays;
But when the black'ning sun pours down a storm,
Close folds its leaves, and hides its radiant form;
Nor can the careful florist then behold
Its purple lustre, and its beams of gold.

Beside the “Hymns or Sacred Songs,” Mr. Hume wrote a poem, which has never been published, on the defeat of the Spanish Armada. It is entitled, “The triumph of the Lord after the maner of men,” and delineates a triumphal procession, similar to those of the ancient Romans, in which the spoils of the conquered enemy are exhibited in succession. The opening passage may suffice for a specimen.

Richt as the prynce of day beginnes to spring,
And larkes aloft melodiouslie to sing,
Bring furthe all kynde of instrumentis of weir
To gang befoir, and mak ane noyce cleir;
Gar trumpetis sounde the awful battelis blast,
On dreadful drummes gar stryke alarum fast;
Mak showting shalmes, and peircing phipheris shill
Cleene cleave the cloods, and pierce the hiest hill,
Caus michtelie the weirlie nottis breike,
Or Hieland pipes, Scottes and Hybernicke,
Let heir the shraicks of deadlie clarions,
And syne let off ane volie of cannons.

Leyden, who had an opportunity of seeing the poem, says, that it shews considerable invention, (in combination and arrangement only it is presumed,) and that the versification is vigorous and flowing.

J. H.