SIR RICHARD MAITLAND
|POETS — SIR RICHARD MAITLAND.||59|
SIR RICHARD MAITLAND.
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.
Anon. Lines, “In Prayse
William Maitland of Lethington, a descendant of
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. 3
|60||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
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!
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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. 6
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
|62||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
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. 9
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. 10
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.
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| 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. 13
Mr. Pinkerton, to whom Scottish literature is indebted for the
revival of Sir Richard Maitland's
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. 14
|64||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
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. 15
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;
|POETS — SIR RICHARD MAITLAND.||65|
| 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.
|66||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| 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. 19
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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. 20
|68||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
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
Love hes againe, surmounting Death,
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.
|POETS — SIR RICHARD MAITLAND.||69|
| 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.