|POETS ALEXANDER HUME.||1|
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
|2||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| 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
| * “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]
|POETS ALEXANDER HUME.||3|
| “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
| 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
| * “|
|4||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| 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, “
|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.”|
|POETS ALEXANDER HUME.||5|
In the following specimens, the words in italics distinguish the “godly and spiritual” deviations from the profane texts.
I.With huntis up, with huntis up,
It is now perfite day;
Jesus our king is gane an hunting,
Quha likes to speed they may.
II.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.
III.Hey! now the day dawis;
Now Christ on us cawis,
Now welth on our wawis
IV.Now the word of God rings,
Whilk is king of all kings,
Now Christis flock sings,
The nicht is neere gone.
V.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.
|6||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
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
| 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:
|POETS ALEXANDER HUME.||7|
| 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,
| ———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.12
|8||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
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 “|
|POETS ALEXANDER HUME.||9|
The aim of
|10||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
|POETS ALEXANDER HUME.||11|
| 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.
|12||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| 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
| 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,
|POETS ALEXANDER HUME.||13|
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 |
|14||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
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 |
|POETS ALEXANDER HUME.||15|
| 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,
|16||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| “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.25
Still, as already observed,
|POETS ALEXANDER HUME.||17|
| 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.
| 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;
|18||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| 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.