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




Amid the bards whom Scotia holds to fame,
She boasts, nor vainly boasts, her James's name;
And less, sweet bard! a crown thy glory shews,
Than the fair laurel that adorns thy brows.
g. dyer [note]


Few characters in history present greater claims to admiration and sympathy, than James the First, [note] King of Scotland. With a right by birth to supreme rule, he possessed all the qualities by which it is most deservedly, but rarely, acquired. Far advanced beyond the lights of the age in which he lived, in knowledge and refinement; of a creative genius and cultivated taste; of talents fitted equally to charm and to command—to brighten the sunshine of repose, and to rule amid the whirlwind and the tempest; wise, gene-
rous, and beneficent, in all his views; at once, the most learned prince and the most accomplished cavalier of his day; no man was ever better entitled to take the lead of an infant people in the path to glory and prosperity. Yet with all these blossoms of a high and happy destiny, the story of James's life is but one chapter of misfortunes, so severe and so unmerited, that they might fill with tears the sternest eye that ever scanned the ways of heaven to man.


James the First was born in 1393. He was the second son of Robert the Third of Scotland, [note] and the fourth monarch in descent from the renowned Robert Bruce, [note] the restorer of the Scottish monarchy.


James had an elder brother, David, who fell a victim in the dawn of life to the murderous ambition of his uncle, the Duke of Albany, [note] who wished to secure the throne for himself and family. Some emissaries of the duke waylaid the young prince in the neigbourhood of St. Andrew's, and seizing forcibly on his person, conducted him to the Palace of Falkland, where he was shut up in a strong tower and starved to death.


The melancholy fate of his first born filled the Scottish monarch with dismay for the safety of his only remaining boy, James; and, in order to place him beyond the reach of a faithless kindred, until he should attain to the vigour of manhood, he resolved to send him, for the completion of his education, to the court of France, the most ancient and devoted ally of the Kings of Scotland. The young prince, now in his eleventh year, was accordingly embarked, with all possible secrecy, on board of a vessel under the care of the Earl of Orkney; and as a truce sub-
sisted at this time between England and Scotland, which wanted some weeks of its stipulated termination, they left the Scottish shore with the full assurance of crossing the seas, secure from all dangers but those of the winds and waves. When off Flamborough Head, however, they were intercepted by all English squadron, and, in violation of all the laws and usages of nations, carried prisoners to England.


The tidings of this disaster are said, by Buchanan, to have sunk his father with sorrow to the grave. “The news,” he says, “was brought to him while at supper, and did so overwhelm him with grief, that he was almost ready to give up the ghost unto the hands of the servants that attended him. But being carried to his bed-chamber, he abstained from all food, and in three days died of hunger and grief at Rothsay.”


On the death of Robert, James was proclaimed king; but, on account of his minority and absence, the regency of the kingdom devolved on his uncle, the perfidious Albany, [note] who, intoxicated by the sweets of power, instead of making any serious effort for the redemption of his royal nephew, contributed all in his power, by evasive and heartless negociations, to protract the period of his exile.


The first two years of the young prince's captivity were passed in the Tower of London. In 1407, he was removed to Nottingham Castle. In 1413, he was brought back to the Tower, but, in the course of the same year, was transferred to Windsor Castle. In 1414, the English king, Henry IV. [note] took James along with him in his second expedition to France, but, on his return, committed him anew to Windsor Castle, where he remained till his final liberation.


In all these fortresses, his confinement was of the closest description; even at Windsor, though there was “a garden faire fast by the tower's wall,” he appears only to have been allowed the scanty pleasure of gazing on its verdant luxuriance from his chamber-window.


Although his body was, in the very spring of its growth, thus cruelly shut up from those grand fountains of life and strength, air and exercise, it is singular enough, that the attention paid to the cultivation of his mind was quite in an inverse degree. Hector Boece [note] tells us, that Henry IV. and V. furnished him with the best of teachers in all the arts and sciences and all historians are agreed in recording, as the fruit of their united efforts, that James became a perfect prodigy of talents and accomplishments. Boece says, “he was a proficient in every branch of polite literature, in grammar, oratory, Latin and English poetry, music, jurisprudence, and the philosophy of the times;” that “in all athletic exercises, particularly in the use of the sword and spear, he was eminently expert;” and that “his dexterity in tilts and tournaments, in wrestling, in archery, and in the sports of the field, was perfectly unrivalled.” Bellenden adds, that he was moreover an “expert mediciner;” Pinkerton [note] speaks of his skill in “miniature painting and horticulture;” and Drummond, more comprehensive than all the rest, says, that “there was nothing wherein the commendation of wit consisted, or any shadow of the liberal arts did appear, that he had not applied his mind to, seeming rather born to letters than instructed.”


It is very probable, that this ample catalogue of
perfections may admit of some abatement. A person who possesses unquestionably many excellencies, is always sure to have some few added at a venture, less from any amiable partiality for his fame, than from that common vice of biography, a weak desire of telling something new. The historians of Scotland, not satisfied with proving James to be the first of Scotsmen, have been ambitious to make him out to be the first of men; and, in doing so, nothing is more likely than that they should, in some degree, have overstepped the modesty of truth. It is certain, at least, that if James really possessed all the perfections which are thus ascribed to him, a considerable proportion of them must have been the attainment of years subsequent to his captivity. Expertness “in all athletic exercises,” “dexterity unrivalled in tilts and tournaments, in archery, and in the sports of the field,” were graces not to be acquired within the narrow walls of a prison; and granting even that they may have belonged to a later and happier period of his life, it is allowing much for zeal in new pursuits to imagine, that such heyday accomplishments could be the ready acquisition of a prince who had been mourned in prison from boyhood till nearly middle age, whom sedentary and secluded habits must have deprived of much of the natural elasticity of youth, and who, on his restoration to the world, had all the cares of a distracted kingdom to occupy his attention.


Whatever deduction a regard to probability may incline us to make from the reputed attainments of James, on account of his long captivity, it will only bring us nearer to a correct estimate of the obligation he was under to the English sovereigns, for the pecu-
liar and somewhat inconsistent degree of attention which they bestowed on his education. The terms in which some writers have expressed themselves on this point are abundantly extravagant. James, we are told, was, on the score of mental improvement, rather a gainer than a loser by his captivity; the English monarchs are even said to have accomplished, in this respect, what went nigh to a full atonement for their unjust and lawless detention of this unfortunate prince. Vain apology! In his infant years, James had for his preceptor one of the brightest ornaments of the Scottish hierarchy of that period, Archbishop of St. Andrew's;
[note] and the youth, who might have continued to enjoy the tuition of a Wardlaw, and such as Wardlaw, could have nothing to gain by being transferred to the care of all the doctors in England. At all events, no service on earth could atone for eighteen years of close and unremitted captivity; years too of youth and of manhood; the whole spring and summer time of a man's brief existence. A regard to appearances; the desire of having, and the vanity of filling up, appointments; may jointly or separately have led to that profusion of instruction with which James was provided; but it would be too much to suppose, that the heart which cared nothing for the life of its victim, could care about any thing else that concerned him.


It is pleasing to find, that those attainments which were most likely to be pursued in the loneliness of captivity are those, of James's excellence in which, there is the least, or rather I should say, no doubt whatever. Philosophy and poetry were the grand sources from which he drew the consolation he so
much needed; and there is ample evidence extant to shew, that he had cultivated them with more than ordinary success. He was an assiduous student, and wrote much; but on these points, let us listen for a moment to the sweet bard himself.

Quhare as in ward full oft I wold bewaille
My dedely lyf, full of peyne and penance,
Saing ryt thus; quhat have I gilt, to faille*
My fredome in this warld and my pleasance?
Sen every wight has thereof suffisance
That I behold, and I a creature
Put from all this, hard is myne adventure!
The bird, the beste, the fisch eke in the sea,
They lyve in fredome everie in his kynd;
And I a man, and lakith libertie.
Quhat sall I seyne, quhat reson may I fynd
That fortune suld do so?    *    *    *
*    *    *    *    *    *    *
The long dayes and the nyghtis eke
I wold bewaille my fortune in this wise
For qwhich again distresse, comfort to seke
My custom was on mornis for to rise
Airly as day, O happy exercise!
*    *    *    *    *    *   *
The long nyt beholding, as I saide,
Myne eyne gan to smert for studying
My boke I schet, and at my head it laide
And down I lay:    *   *    *    *
King's Quair.

* What have I done, to lose.

Again, speaking of his determination to write the “King's Quair,”* [note] that chief memorial of his fame, he says:

And in my tyme more ink and paper spent
To lyte effect, I tuke conclusion
Sum new thing to write;    *    *    *

His favorite volume, while in prison, appears to have been Boethius' [note] ethic piece, “de Consolatione Philosophiæ.” [note]

Or ever I stent,† my best was more to loke
Upon the writing of this nobil man.

This work was, indeed, well calculated to tranquilize an elegant mind, suffering from early and long continued bereavements. It was the production of a man, who, from being “the warldis flowre,” had himself drunk deep of the cup of adversity; and with whom “the Latin tongue and the last remains of Roman dignity” are said “to have sunk in the western world.” The book consists of a supposed conference between the author, and a personification of philosophy, who endeavours to comfort him for the various ills of a life of persecution, poverty, and exile. Chaucer [note] has translated this work into English, and Camden [note] informs us, that Queen Elizabeth, [note] after having read it, to assuage a fit of grief, also made an elegant translation of it.


James did not seek the consolations of philosophy in vain. Amid all his bewailings for the singular se-

* “Quair,” quire or book, from cahier. Fr.
† Stretched myself; lay down.
verity of his fate, it is affecting to observe, with how much sweetness and resignation they are mingled. Even when despair began, at last, to shew its haggard front, nothing can be more plaintively tender than the strains in which he indulged.

Bewailling in my chamber thus allone,
Despeired of all joye and remedye;
Fortirit of my thought and wo begone,
And to the wyndow gan I walk in bye,
To see the warld and folk yt went forbye,
As for the tyme though I of mirthis fude
Myt have no more, to luke it did me gude.
Quair, canto ii.

Nearly eighteen years of joyless imprisonment had now passed over his head; and it would have required more than mortal fortitude not to have experienced some abandonment of soul at the dreary prospect of the all of life that remained to him. His uncle, the murderer of his brother, and the accessory to his own captivity, was, indeed, no more, but he had been succeeded in the regency and in all his faithless designs by his son, Murdo; neither the nobles nor the people of Scotland had shewn the least zeal to accomplish his liberation; and, being himself shut up from all opportunity of negociating, the chance of something being done to restore him to the world seemed almost as remote as ever. He was, as he says,

Ane wofull wrache yt to no wight myt spede,
And zit of every lyvis* help had nede.

* Persons.

Happily, however, the day of liberty at length arrived; and, to a prince of his sanguine and romantic cast of mind, it could not come with the less charm, that it was ushered in by the magic wand of female beauty.


The window of his chamber in Windsor Tower looked forth into a small garden, which occupied the place that was once the moat of the keep. It was a sweet embowered spot;

So thick, the beuis and the leves grene
Reschadit all the allyes yt were there,
And myddis every herbere myt be sene
The scharp grene suete junepere
Grouing so fair wt branchis here and there,
That as it semyt to a lyf* wt out
The bewes spred the herbere all about.
And on the small grene twistis† sat
The litil suete nightingale, and song
So loud and clere, the hymnis consecrate
Of lovis use, now soft, now loud among
That all the gardynis and the wallis rong.
Quair, canto ii.

As he was listening on a May-morning to these “hymnis of love,” he cast his eyes downwards, and saw, walking under the tower, “the fairest and the freschest young floure” that he had ever seen. His heart, open and unoccupied, languishing after communion with some kindred nature, was instantly captivated. He caught up, with a rapid and insatiate

* Person. † Twigs.
eye, every feature of grace and beauty about the fair unknown; and, in a few moments, all his feelings were in an ecstacy of commotion.

So farre I falling into lufis dance,
That sodeynly my wit, my countenance,
My hert, my will, my nature, and my mynd,
Was changit clene ryt in ane other kind.

He tenderly adds:

———so much gude
It did my woful heart I zow assure,
That it was to me joye without measure.

The departure of the lady from the garden put an end to this temporary enchantment.

To see hir part and folowe I na myt
Methought the day was turnyt into nyt.

He instantly relapsed into that moodiness of despair from which the fair vision had aroused him; his destiny seemed now a hundred times more cruel, more heart-breaking, than ever; the whole of a long day, he spent in “sighing with himself allone;” and, when Phœbus
“Bad go farewele every lef and floure,”
he found himself still lingering at the window, and for “lack of myt and mynd” to stir from the spot, made sacred by the morning's adventure, he laid his head on the cold stone. Falling asleep, he was transported in imagination on a “cloude of crystall, clere and faire,” to the sphere of “blissful Venus;” thence
to the Palace of Minerva, from which, after various good advices, he was sent back to earth on a “journey in quest of Fortune,” with whom he succeeds in obtaining a very encouraging interview. After leading him to her wheel, and bidding him learn to climb, the fickle dame thus sadly alludes to the captive years of her unfortunate suppliant.

Now hald thy grippis, quoth sche, for thy tyme
An hour and more it rynis ouer prime*
To count the whole, the half is near away;
Spend wele therefore the remanant of the day.

The real history of the sequel of this interesting adventure is lost in poetic allegory. More is not known, than that James was happy in his love. The sovereign of his heart proved to be the Lady Jane Beaufort, [note] the daughter of John Duke of Somerset, the grand daughter of John Duke of Gaunt, and, consequently, of the blood royal of England. The Duke of Bedford, then Regent of England, during the minority of Henry V. conceiving that a connection between James and this lady might serve to detach him from the old alliance of his family with France, encouraged their mutual attachment, and ultimately concluded a treaty, which restored the Scottish prince to that liberty of which he had been so long deprived; and gave him for his wife a lady of beauty and virtue, so rare, that could she not have been otherwise wooed and won, a lover of James's

* Past prime of life.
temperament would probably have considered all his years of captivity well lost for such a prize.


In the year 1424, James returned, with his young bride, to Scotland. He was received by the people with a degree of affectionate enthusiasm, which could scarcely have been expected from their former indifference to his welfare, but which a brief glance at the state of the kingdom sufficiently explains, he found disorder and ruin every where; the royal estates alienated; the laws set at nought by an arrogant nobility; the people impoverished and oppressed; trade gone; industry in rags. The Dukes of Albany, father and son, solely anxious to retain their ill-gotten ascendancy, had followed a system of government which existed on concessions alone; to make friends, for the moment, of a rapacious aristocracy, they had gone on, day after day, sacrificing every permanent interest both of the crown and the people. James, though “all unused to rule,” was neither slow in discovering the source of the prevailing evils, nor feeble in applying the fittest remedies. He commenced by making a signal example of the chief surviving actors in the past interregnum of iniquity. The ex-regent Albany, [note] his two sons, and his father-in-law, the Earl of Lennox, were all tried, convicted, executed, and their estates confiscated to the crown. Those who have dwelt with fondness on the cultivated mind and gentle virtues of James, may startle at the record of such deeds of vengeance from such a hand; but, ere we judge severely of the event, let it be remembered, how much there was in the conduct of the regent and his family to exasperate even the mildest of natures; how much of
deep ensanguined crime—of grievous irreparable injury; how necessary it was, at the beginning of a reign, commenced so late in life and with so much to rectify, to set an example which should carry instant dread into the hearts of the many petty despots by whom the country was enthralled, and the stability of the throne endangered. Assuredly so much blood could not have flowed on the scaffold without many a sigh of deep regret from a prince of James's sensibility; and when we see a spirit like his sanctioning punishments of such severity, we may be satisfied that the necessity which called for them must have been extreme.


James went on, with an active and steady hand, in reforming abuses, in bringing the power of the great barons within the controul of the laws, and in recovering the rights and property of the crown from the hands of those who had usurped them. “James,” says Dr. Robertson, [note] “was too wise a prince to employ open force to correct such inveterate evils. Neither men nor the times would have borne it. He applied the gentler and less offensive remedy of laws and statutes.” The same historian afterwards adds, that “all his acquisitions, however fatal to the nobles, were obtained by decisions of law.” In fact, James was the first monarch who established any thing like a general system of law in Scotland. Previous to his time, the royal jurisdiction was almost entirely confined to the limits of the crown domains, beyond which the king's judges claimed, indeed, much authority, but possessed next to none. The right of judging, in the first instance, belonged to the barons within their respective territories; and, though an appeal lay from
them to the king and his justices, it was easy to find means to defeat the effect of this regulation. The Scottish monarchs had long been sensible of these limitations to the due administration of justice, and bore them with impatience. But it was impossible to overturn in a moment what was so deeply rooted, or to strip the nobles, at once, of privileges which they had held so long, and which were wrought almost into the frame of the feudal constitution. James I. led the way here, as well as in other instances, towards a more regular and perfect police. He made choice, from among the estates of parliament, of a certain number of persons, whom he distinguished by the name of Lords of Session, and appointed them to hold courts three times a year, and forty days at a time, in whatever place he pleased to name, for the determination of all matters of a civil nature; an institution which presented the first approach to an universal jurisdiction in Scotland, and which subsists, with various improvements, unto this day.


Sensible how deficient his long imprisonment had made him in a knowledge of real life, James was most assiduous in his endeavours to make himself acquainted with the character, habits, and pursuits of all classes of his people; he went often in disguise amongst them; visited their firesides; mingled in their sports; and took note of all their wants. He was thus enabled to dictate many excellent laws for the security of the subject, the improvement of morals, and the encouragement of industry; and, by gaining to himself the affections of the people, seemed to have established his throne on a basis which no private hostility could shake.


The fate of James, however, like that of Henry IV. of France, and Gustavus of Sweden, is a striking proof that it is not when most loved, that a prince has least to fear. In proportion as the people, at large, had cause to he grateful to their king, there were a few turbulent barons, who saw in his conduct only cause for resentment and hate; nor is this to be wondered at, when it is considered that almost every thing which James gained for the people was something taken away from the nobility. In the thirteenth year after his return to Scotland, a conspiracy was formed against his life, and, at the head of his deadliest foes, we have again the pain to find one of his own nearest kindred, a second uncle, Walter Earl of Athol. [note] The chief confederates of the earl were his grandson and heir, Robert Stewart, who belonged to the king's household; and Sir Robert Grahame, [note] of Strathern, whom James had mortally offended, by re-annexing to the crown some property of which he had unjustly obtained possession during the regency. The king was, at this time, without any army; he had not even retained a body guard; and was living in unsuspecting security at a Carthusian monastery, which he had founded near Perth. Grahame, who had been for some time at the head of a gang of outlaws in the adjacent mountains, brought down a party of them, under the cloud of night, to the neighbourhood of the monastery, and, unobserved by all but those who were in the plot, quietly gained possession of the outer gates, and even the interior passages. The first intimation which James received of his danger was from his cup-bearer, Walter Straton, who, leaving the chamber in which the king and queen were at supper,
to bring some wine, was astonished by the appearance of some armed strangers in the passage, who answered his cry of alarm by striking him dead on the spot. Catherine Douglas, one of the queen's maids of honour, immediately ran to bolt the outer door of the chamber, but finding, to her dismay, that the bar had been clandestinely removed by some of the parties to the treason, she generously endeavoured to supply its place on the instant, by thrusting her arm into the staple. Unavailing attempt! This slender barrier was soon crushed to pieces by a numerous band of powerful ruffians, who, bursting open the door, rushed sword in hand on the king. Patrick Dunbar, brother of the Earl of March, was killed in attempting to defend the life of his sovereign. The queen, also, threw herself between her husband and the daggers of the assassins; twice she was wounded by blows aimed at his person; and it was not till she was forcibly torn away, that the deed of blood was completed, and the sum of James's woes filled up, by an end as tragic as any recorded in modern story. He was in the forty-fourth year of his age.


æneas Sylvius, [note] afterwards Pope Eugene IV. who was in Scotland, as legate, at the time of this catastrophe, in giving an account of it, said, that he “was at a loss which most to applaud, the universal grief which overspread the nation on the death of the king, or the resentment to which it was roused, and the just vengeance with which his inhuman murderers were pursued; who, being all of them traced and dragged from their lurking retreats, were, by the most lingering tortures that human invention could suggest, put to death. The Earl of Athol, whose ambition had in-
cited him to conspire the king's death, after suffering three days' torture, crowned with a red-hot coronet of iron, with the inscription, ‘King of traitors,’ was beheaded, and his quarters sent to the chief cities of the kingdom.”


On the character of this unfortunate prince, as a king and legislator, it is not necessary for me to enlarge. The sketch, brief as it is, which I have given of his reign, must be sufficient to shew, that in both these lights, it was with much reason his loss was so universally and deeply bewailed by the Scottish nation. It is as one of the first and greatest of Scottish poets, and, I may almost add, the father of Scottish music, that I more particularly desire to present him to your attention. James was a poet before be exercised the functions of a king; and, had he not been so long kept out of his regal birth-right, he might probably never have acquired “so faire an estate on Parnassus.” He flourished about the same time as Chaucer, [note] the father of English poetry; and is allowed, by some of the best critics, to have been nothing inferior to him in poetical merit. Pinkerton, [note] a writer extremely penurious of encomium, says, that the King's Quair, [note] of the beauties of which the extracts I have made may have given some idea, equals any thing Chaucer has written; and Mr. Ellis, [note] that it is “not inferior in poetical merit to any similar production of Chaucer.” I think one may be justified in venturing even farther. If those parts in the writings of the two poets, which are most analogous, are put in comparison, no person of taste will probably hesitate in awarding the superiority to the Scottish bard. Compare the heroines of the two poets, the Rosial of Chaucer [note] with the Jane of
King James: the one is such a picture, as sensuality might gloat upon; the other, an image of angelic loveliness, which even saints might worship. Or, compare the description of the Court of Love by Chaucer, with the Court of Venus in the King's Quair; although to the one we must assign the superiority in imagination and variety, yet to the other we must award the more important graces of truth and harmony. Of Chaucer it must moreover be added, that he has not one spark of that delicacy which distinguishes every line which is extant from the pen of the Scottish king. In this last respect, indeed, James is without a rival in the age in which he lived. For the sake of any thing that he has written, no critic need interpose a laboured apology for immodesty, or whimsical visionary contend that indecent rhyming “is the most important and valuable of all kinds of writing.”* Neither, while we regret the general obscurity in which the poetical remains of James are veiled, by the antiquity of the language in which they are written, need we tremble to put into the hands of a sister or daughter a glossary to every word they contain. Who can say as much for a Chaucer, [note] for a Gower, [note] or for a Dunbar? With many of their pieces, the obsoleteness of the language is more a matter of consolation than otherwise; nor are the feelings of that man to be envied, who could make it the boast of his erudition to throw light on what the eye of chastity can never look upon. I hope to be deemed neither Goth nor Puritan when I venture to say, that there is much in every one of these poets, as well as in their imme-

* Pinkerton's Anc. Scot. Poems; [note] vol. 2. p. 383.
diate followers, which, though of high poetic excellence, no man, who wishes well to the morals of society, could regret to see consigned to oblivion. I know, indeed, of no British poet, of that remote æra, the whole of whose works a good or an honourable man could desire to put into the hands of a virtuous female, unless it be those of the sweet poet whose merits I have been humbly endeavouring to lay before you. A writer more free from impurities of thought and expression, abounding more in fine and delicate feeling, even modern times cannot shew. To speak of this feature in the poetical character of James as merely remarkable, would shew an insensibility to its value. Considering the rude character of the age in which he wrote, and that Chaucer
[note] and Gower, [note] with whose writings he was well acquainted, and whom, indeed, he acknowledges in one of his stanzas for his masters, were so distinguished for an opposite character; it is, in truth, one of the greatest phenomena in our poetical history.


The subject of the “King's Quair,” as may have been gathered from the story of James's life, was the royal poet's love for his future queen, the fair Lady Jane, [note] with whom he became enamoured while a prisoner in the castle of Windsor. It was for centuries lost to the world, and was, at last, restored to the light, through the curiosity and research of William Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee, [note] who was the means of discovering, in the Bodleian library at Oxford, the only MS. copy of it which is now in existence. An authentic copy was procured, and first presented by his lordship to the public in 1783, accompanied by explanatory notes and a critical dissertation, of much
acuteness and ability. Of its merits, Lord W. speaks with the modesty of a second parent; and yet the restorer of so admirable a poem well deserves to have his opinion of it remembered. He praises it for “the fancy and invention, the genuine simplicity of sentiment, and the glow of descriptive poetry, which run through it.”


Of the other poetical remains of James, the most important is “Christ's Kirk on the Grene.” [note] Some writers have ascribed this poem to King James V. but as Lord W. has shewn, on very erroneous grounds. It is a poem in the burlesque style, and deemed the most ancient of this class in the island. It exhibits, in the frolics of a country fair, a striking picture of the rural manners of the north-east part of Scotland in the 15th century; and displays a degree of acquaintance with their characteristic peculiarities, which could only have been acquired by the habit, in which James so often laudably indulged, of mingling in disguise with the most humble classes of his people. Although short, it is full of wit and drollery. The aim of the poet appears to have been, by the force of ridicule, to shame his subjects into a greater skill in archery, which had fallen much into disuse during his eighteen years of captivity; and of the superiority of the English in which, almost every battle on record, between the two nations, had furnished lamentable proofs. James had already enforced this important object by a solemn act in his first parliament; and, in thus summoning the Muses to his aid, gave a splendid proof of the value of poetry to the very highest purposes of government. A quarrel having taken place among the “wouars” assembled,
one of them bends his bow at his opponent, and lets fly an arrow,

Bot be ane myle it came nocht near him!
With that ane freynd of his cryit Fy!
An up an arrow drew,
He forgeit it so ferslye
The bow in flenders flew.
Sa was the will of God trow I;
For had the tre bene trew
Men said, that kend his archerie,
That he had slane anew
That day
At Christ's Kirk on the Grene.

After describing the feats of the other combatants in a style equally ludicrous, the poet thus concludes:

Quhen all was done, Dic with an ax
Came forth to fell ane futher.
Quoth he, “Quhair ar yon hangit smaiks
'Richt now that hurt my brother?”
His wyf bad him gang hame, gude glaiks;
And sua did Meg his mother,
He turnit and gaif thame bayth thair paiks,
For he durst stryk na uther,
Men said
At Christ's Kirk on the Grene.

“Christ's Kirk on the Grene” stands generally identified with Christ's Kirk, in the parish of Kennethmont and county of Aberdeen, where the ruins of a kirk, encircled by a large green, are still to be traced.


Two other poems of the same kind are ascribed to James, namely, “Peblis to the Play,” [note] and “Falkland on the Grene;” the former, descriptive of the manners of the south of Scotland; and the latter, which is lost, supposed to have been equally illustrative of these of Fifeshire, or the middle of Scotland. From the assignment of these pieces to James, there are, indeed, several dissentients. The most plausible objection which I have met with, is the improbability that two pieces (for we can speak of but two) so similar in structure, style, and design, should have been the production of one individual, and the greater likelihood, that the one was an imitation, by a different hand, of the other. This is an objection of that sort which is best met, by stating a greater to which it gives rise. In the first stanza of “Christ's Kirk the Grene,” which belongs, by nearly universal consent, to James, we are told, that there

Was never in Scotland hard nor sene
Sic dansing nor deray;
Nother in Falkland on the Grene,
No Peblis to the Play.

It is clear from the mention here made of these poems, that they must have existed prior to that of Christ's Kirk the Grene; so that if there was any imitation in the case, James, who was not in the habit, because free from the necessity, of borrowing from any one, must have been the imitator; and the model, an original, of whom no trace whatever exists.


It yet remains for me to speak of James in one point of view, on which we have not the happiness of
meeting with the same uniformity of opinion as with respect to his poetical merit; I allude to his claim to be regarded as the inventor of that exquisite style of music, for which our native country is so justly celebrated and admired. The historical evidence on the subject is certainly not the most ample, nor of the most direct description. He is said by all our ancient chroniclers to have been eminently skilled in music; Walter Bower,
[note] (Scoticron. lib. 16. § 528,) [note] assures us, that “he excelled all mankind in the art, both vocal and instrumental;” but the first writer who speaks of him, as the father of our national music, is Tassoni, [note] an Italian writer, who flourished above a century after the death of James. “We may reckon,” he says,“among us moderns, James, King of Scotland, who not only composed many sacred pieces of vocal music, but also of himself invented a new kind of music, plaintive and melancholy, different from all others, in which he has been imitated by Carlo Gesualdo, [note] Prince of Venosa, who, in our age, has improved music with new and admirable inventions.” (Pensieri Diversi, lib. 10.) From this statement it is plain, that at the time Tassoni wrote, James had the traditional reputation, at least, of being the inventor of “a new kind of music;” and it will also be allowed, that in describing that music as of a character “plaintive and melancholy, different from all others,” the Italian author has seized upon those features which are most distinctly characteristic of by far the greater part of our Scottish airs. Where then lies the objection to the inference which these circumstances seem so well to authorize, that James was mutually entitled to the honor here ascribed to him?
The learned Dr. Burney,
[note] who is the chief dissentient from the popular belief on this subject, thus states the grounds for his difference of opinion:


“This assertion (of Tassoni) greatly encreased our desire to examine works in which so many excellencies were concentred; particularly as we had long been extremely desirous of tracing the peculiarities of the national melodies of Scotland from a higher source than David Rizzio. [note] But in a very attentive perusal of all the several parts of the whole six books of the Prince of Venosa's madrigals, we were utterly unable to discover the least similitude or imitation of Caledonian airs in any one of them; which so far from Scots melodies, seem to contain no melodies at all; nor, when scored, can we discover the least regularity of design, phraseology, rhythm, or, indeed, any thing remarkable in these madrigals, except on principled modulation, and the perpetual embarrassments and inexperience of an amateur, in the arrangement and filling up of the parts.”


Now let us see to what all this reasoning amounts? James was reputed to be the inventor of a new kind of music, of the same character as the national music of Scotland; the Prince of Venosa is said to have imitated James; but on examining the productions of Venosa, they have not the least similitude to Caledonian airs; and therefore it must follow that James did not invent what Venosa has not been able to imitate. Is it necessary to say any thing of the solidity of such a deduction? The similitude of Venosa's madrigals is but a link in a long chain; take it away, and the century of traditional repute must still remain
as unimpaired as when Tassoni first spoiled it by his unfortunate illustration.


The question comes then to be one of traditional probability entirely—how far is it likely that James the First could have been, as he is popularly considered, the inventor of our national style of music? The tradition, it may be worth remarking, has not its origin in any speculative antiquarianism; nor in any feeling of national pride, angry at the idea of making unmerited compensation to the memory of an Italian fidler, cut off by a ruthless assassination: it is a tradition as old as the oldest songs, extant in our country, and as spontaneous in its sources as any tradition that belongs to us.


It has been objected, that national characteristics do not usually spring from so narrow a basis as the influence of any single individual. It rather appears to me, that it is nearly the same in this respect with the polite attainments of a country, as with its vegetable treasures; and that, as a single seed, brought from afar, has been often known to spread a valuable plant over a whole kingdom, so any single individual, inspired by sentiments beyond what are common to his countrymen, may give such a new impulse and direction to their pursuits, as will give a leading feature to their character for ages. James, moreover, was a king, and of kings the adage is old:

Regis ad exemplum totus componitur orbis.

He was a king, too, who appears not from tradition merely, but from contemporary and unquestionable authorities, to have cultivated music with more than
usual ardour; and, under circumstances of long confinement and solitude, singularly calculated to impart to his compositions that “plaintive and melancholy” air which Tassoni tells us was regarded as the characteristic of the kind of music which he invented, and which we know to be the characteristic of the national music of Scotland, as existing from the remotest periods. If we combine with these strong circumstances the fact, that James gave to his country a richer and a purer vein of poetry than it before possessed, and reflect how extremely natural it was, that a poet scientifically skilled in the rules of musical composition, should be fond of singing his own songs to tunes of his own composing, we can scarcely hesitate in coming to the conclusion, that no tradition was ever founded on stronger circumstances of probability, than that which ascribes to the same illustrious prince, who may be said to have given, or at least, restored to us the lyre, a knowledge of the choicest melody to which it might be strung.

J. T.