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 family of Maitland, to whom we are indebted for the most valuable collection existing of the ancient poetry of Scotland, and which has itself given a poet of some eminence to the country, has long been one of the most distinguished in the south east of Scotland. The name, as anciently written, was Mautalent. The first of the race who gained a place in story was a Sir Richard Maitland, baron or laird of Thirlestane in Haddingtonshire, who lived about the middle of the thirteenth century, and was famous for his valour.

Of auld Sir Richard of that name
We have heard sing and say;
Of his triumphant nobill fame,
And of his auld baird gray,
And of his nobill sonnis three,
Quhilk that tyme had no maik;*
Quhilk made Scotland renounit be,
And all England to quaik.

William Maitland of Lethington, a descendant of

* Equal.
this Sir Richard, was among the number of the Scottish chiefs who fell in the fatal field of Flodden, in 1513. He was married to Martha, daughter of George Lord Seaton,
[note] by whom he left a son and daughter,— Sir Richard Maitland, who became as distinguished in the arts of peace, as the old Sir Richard was in those of war; and Janet, who was afterwards married to Hugh Lord Sommerville. In the person of Sir Richard's grandson, the family was subsequently raised to the peerage by the title of Lauderdale, which it still deservedly enjoys.


Sir Richard Maitland [note] was born in 1496; was educated at St. Andrews; and studied law in France. On his return to Scotland, he became a favorite with James the Fifth, and served the queen of that prince, Mary of Guise, in some office of trust, as appears from a poem which he afterwards addressed to the unfortunate Mary, [note] on her arrival in Scotland, 1561.

Madame, I was true servand to thy mother,
And in her favour stud ay, thankfullie, &c.

From the same poem, we learn, that Sir Richard, now in his sixty-fifth year, had become afflicted with that acutest of the deprivations of age, loss of sight.

And thoch that I to serve be nocht sa abil
As I was wont, becaus I may not see;
Yet in my hairt I sall be ferme and stabil
To thy Hieness with all fidelitie.
Ay, pray and God for thy prosperitie;
And that I heir thy people, with hie voice
And joyful hairtis, cry continuallie
Viva Marie tre nobil reyne d'Ecoss!

Mackenzie [note] says, that as early as 1553, Sir Richard had been appointed an extraordinary Lord of Session; but of this there seems some doubt. It is certain, however, that on the 12th November, 1561, he was appointed one of the ordinary Lords of Session, or as they are otherwise termed, Senators of the College of Justice. Sir Richard assumed, on this elevation, the title of Lord Lethington. On the 20th December, 1562, he was farther promoted to be a Lord of Council and Lord Privy Seal. The latter of these situations he was, in 1567, permitted to resign in favour of John, his second son; but the duties of his other offices he continued to discharge through all the troublesome minority of James the Sixth, till 1584, when, borne down with weight of years, he retired wholly from public life. He survived this event only about two years, dying on the 20th March, 1586, at the advanced age of ninety.


Sir Richard was married to Mary, daughter of Thomas Cranston of Corsly, who appears, by the following couplet, written by their second son, John Lord Thirlstane, to have expired on the same day with her husband.

Unus hymen, mens una: duos mors una diesque
Junxit: ut una caro, sic cinis unus erit.

By this marriage, he left three sons, William, [note] celebrated in history as Secretary Lethington; John, afterwards Lord Thirlestane and chancellor; and Thomas, chiefly known as the prolocutor with Buchanan, in his Treatise De Jure Regni; as also four daughters, all of whom were respectably married, and left a numerous offspring.


Sir Richard possessed among his contemporaries a high character for talents, learning, and moral worth. He is never mentioned by writers but with respect, except by Knox, [note] who rashly charges him with having taken a bribe to prevail on his kinsman, Lord Seaton, [note] in whose castle Cardinal Beaton [note] was confined, to liberate that crafty prelate after the death of James the Fifth. Sir Ralph Sadler, [note] who was much better acquainted than Knox with the secret intrigues of the Scottish court, assures us, that Arran [note] the regent, gave Lord Seaton orders to set the cardinal at liberty, though, to save appearances with England, he affected to throw the blame on Seaton and his relatives.


It is fortunate for the character of Sir Richard, that it is thus cleared of the only stain attempted to be cast upon it; for the release of Beaton was attended with consequences which might well make it a reproach to any man's memory. No sooner was the cardinal at liberty, than he had the address entirely to defeat a treaty which had just been concluded by the commissioners of England and Scotland, for a marriage betwixt Queen Mary, [note] and Edward Prince of Wales; an auspicious project, which had the wishes of all the wise and good of both countries, and which, had it been accomplished, might possibly have averted a torrent of calamities from both.


The writings of Sir Richard, from which we can now perhaps best estimate his real worth, are such as do him unexceptionable honour. They shew knowledge of the world, a strong sense of virtue, a feeling and generous disposition, in one of his pieces, entitled “On the Malyce of Poetis,” he expresses warmly his detestation of those who make the muses
subservient to purposes of “detractioun and slander;” and adds those precepts by which he appears to have been himself uniformly guided in his poetic lucubrations.

Put not in writ, what God or man may grieve;
All vertew love; and all vices reprieve.
Or mak sum myrrie toy, to gude purpose,
That may the herar and redar bayth rejoyse:
Or sum frutful and gude moralité
Or plesand things, may stand with charrité.
Despyteful poets suld not tholit be
In common weils, or godlie cumpanie,
That sort ar redie ay to sow sedition,
And put gude men into suspitioun.

In the piece from which we have just quoted, there is a couplet remarkable for its similarity in thought to Shakespeare's [note] celebrated passage: “He who steals my purse,” &c.

“To steal ane manis fame is gritter sin
Nor ony gear that is the warld within.”

Mr. Pinkerton [note] remarks, that though the thought is the same, “there was no possibility of Shakespeare seeing these poems;” to which it may, with equal truth, be added, that there is nothing in the sentiment so peculiar, that it might not have occurred to all the world beside. The merit of the passage in Shakespeare turns wholly on the vigour and felicity of the expression.


Mr. Pinkerton, to whom Scottish literature is indebted for the revival of Sir Richard Maitland's poe-
tical remains from a long oblivion, has not deemed more than twenty-seven, out of a much greater number of short pieces extant, deserving of republication; and of these, there are a few which seem to have strong claims to the benefit of his apology, that “he made it a point rather to give three or four pieces that might perhaps have been omitted, than to err on the other side.” Of the whole of them, indeed, considered critically as claiming poetical rank, it must be confessed, that there is little, if any poetry in them. They are sensible moral lessons conveyed in very scholar-like rhymes; but more cannot be said in their praise. Almost the only instance in which he has ventured on a poetic image, (and how can there be poetry without imagery?) occurs in his poem
“On the Folye of Ane Auld Man's Maryand Ane Young Woman,” where the necessity of talking covertly on a subject, which “ane auld man” of eighty had better have let alone, has driven him to make one of the lowest uses of imagery, to which it can be made subservient.


It would be contrary to nature, perhaps, to look for much poetic fancy in a writer who paid his court to the Muses at so late a period of life as Sir Richard Maitland. Pinkerton says, that he does not seem to have written a line of poetry till he had reached his sixtieth year; and though a La Fare [note] commenced poet at the same age, and a Haley [note] not many years earlier; neither of them has been so successful as to make it doubtful whether the sunshine of life is really the season of fruits and flowers.


Two of the best of Sir Richard's pieces are a “Satire on the Age,” and a Supplication “Agains Op-
pressioun of the Comouns.” They present strong pictures of the miseries to which a distracted country was subject at the period when they were written, and breathe the wishes of a true patriot for their redress. The importance of a “bold peasantry” to a state has been more eloquently described by Goldsmith,
[note] but not with greater truth, than in the following lines;

Riche comouns ar richt profitable
Quhan thai, to serve their lord, ar able
Thair native country to defend
Fra thame that hurt it wald pretend
For we will be ouir few a numer
Gif comouns to the weir not wend
Nobils may not beir all the cummir.
Help the comouns, bayth lord and laird!
And God thairfore sall you rewaird.
And gif ye will not thame supplie,
God will you plaig thairfore justlie
And your succession, eftir you
Gif thai sall have na mair petie
On the comouns nor ye have now.

“The Blind Baron's Comfort,” as Dr. Percy [note] has appropriately named one piece in the collection, is also interesting from the circumstances out of which it arose. It is said, in a note subjoined by Sir Richard, to have been penned “quhain his landis of the baronie of Blythe, in Lawderdaile, was heriet by Rolleyt Foster, Inglisman, Capitane of Wark Castle, with his cumpanye to the number of thre hunder men: quha spulyeit fra the said Schir Richard, and
fra his eldest sone; thair servandis and tennentis; furthe of the said baronie, five thousand scheipe, youngar and elder; twa hundred nowt (cattle); threttie hors and meirs; and insicht (furniture) furth of his hous of Blythe worth ane hundred pound; and the haill tennentis insicht of the haill baronie was fursabil. This spulye was committed the xvi day of Maij, the year mdlxx; and the said Sir Richard was threscore and xiiii yeiris of age, and growin blind; in tyme of peace quhan nane of that cuntrie lippint (laid their account) for sic thing.” The “comfort” which “the Blind Baron” finds for this cruel spoliation, consists in a pleasant ringing of changes on the name of the estate which was laid waste.

Blind man be blythe, altho' that thow be wrangit,
Thoch Blythe be herreit, tak no melancholie
Thou sall be blythe, quhan that they sall be hangit,
That Blythe has spulyeit sa maliciousle.
Be blythe and glaid, &c.

This was but wordy comfort, it must be confessed, for losses of such magnitude as those which the baron enumerates; and Sir Richard seems to have felt so, for in a subsequent piece, entitled “Solace in Age,” he says:

Thoch I be sweir to ryd or gang;
Thair is sumthing, I've wantit lang,
Fane have I wald
Thame punysit that did me wrang;
Thoch I be ald.

It is as a collector of ancient Scottish poetry,
however, rather than as a poet, that Sir Richard Maitland's name will live. The Maitland collections
[note] now deposited in the Pepysian Library, at Magdalen College, Cambridge, consist of two volumes; a folio, begun by Sir Richard, about 1555, and continued till 1586, the year of his death; and a quarto in the hand-writing of Miss Mary Maitland, his third daughter, which appears to have been almost wholly written during the last year of her father's life, and under his direction. Besides correct copies of all Sir Richard's own poems, these volumes contain the most authentic transcripts existing of the productions of many preceding and contemporary poets, of whom, but for this collection, nothing but their names might have survived. These manuscripts remained in the Maitland family, till the Duke of Lauderdale [note] (the only duke of the name) presented them, with other MSS., to Samuel Pepys, [note] Esq. Secretary of the Admiralty to Charles II. [note] and James II. [note] and one of the earliest collectors of rare books in England. Mr. Pepys, dying 26th May, 1703, in his 71st year, ordered, by his will, the Pepysian Library, at Magdalen College, Cambridge, to be founded, in order to preserve his very valuable collection entire. Here the Maitland Collections slumbered almost unnoticed for nearly a century, till the attention of Mr. Pinkerton [note] was directed to them by Dr. Percy; [note] when Mr. P. made a selection from them, which he published, in 1786, in two small 8vo. volumes.


The pieces in the folio manuscript amount to one hundred and seventy-six, of which only forty-seven had been printed previous to Mr. Pinkerton's publication. Of the remaining one hundred and twenty-
nine, five are duplicates, and fifty-two have been deemed by Mr. Pinkerton undeserving of revival. The quarto manuscript comprehends ninety-six pieces, but forty-two of them are duplicates of poems in the folio, and only twenty-eight have been selected as worth publishing.


Among the pieces in Mr. Pinkerton's selection are several epitaphs on Sir Richard Maitland; one by Thomas Hudson; another by Robert Hudson; and two by anonymous hands. One of the last, alluding to the circumstance of Sir Richard and his wife expiring on the same day, closes with a happy couplet.

But yit quhat Death has prest to do, their love so to devyde,
Love hes againe, surmounting Death, defy'd.

But the lines, which, upon the whole, do most justice to the character of the worthy knight, are those of T. Hudson; they are encomiastic, without being either fulsome or ridiculous.

The sliding tyme so slilie slips away,
It reaves from us remembrance of our state,
And, quhil we do the oair of tyme delay,
We tyne* the tide, and so lament too late.
Then to eschew such dangerous debait
Propone for patron, manlie Maitland knycht;
Learne be his lyf to live in sembil raite,†

* Lose.
† In like manner.
With love to God, religion, law, and rycht;
For as he was of vertu lucent lycht,
Of ancient bluid, of nobil sprit and name,
Belov'd of God, and everie gracious wycht,
So died he auld, deserving worthy fame;
A rare example set for us to see
Quhat we have been, now ar, and aucht to be.
A. M.