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 Scottish poetry of the sixteenth century cannot boast of many productions more elegant and refined, than those of Alexander Scot; [note] but of his personal history, nothing whatever is known beyond what can be gleaned, or rather conjectured, from his writings.


He flourished during the reign of the unfortunate Mary, [note] to whom he addressed “A New Year's Gift, when she came first hame, 1562,” in which he designates himself her “simple servant, Sanders Scot. ” He proves himself, in this address, to have been a friend to the Reformed religion, which he recommends in strong terms to her majesty's protection. That he hoped for favour in the royal sight from this poetical tribute, it is natural to suppose; but there is every reason to believe, that he sung an unrequited strain. We find the name of Scot selected by Montgomery to point a reflection on neglected merit, in one of his sonnets addressed to Robert Hudson.

Ye knaw, ill guyding genders mony gees,
And specially in poets: for example,
Ye can pen out twa cuple an' ye please,
Yourself and I, auld Scot, and
Robert Semple.

But the fact is still more distinctly indicated in a beautiful little fable by Scot himself, entitled, The
Eagle and Robin Redbreast. The royal bird had, according to the poet, invited

To his hie palace, on a rock,
The courtiers of ilk various size,
That swiftly swim in crystal skies.

The party having assembled:

Bow'd first submissive to my lord,
Then took their places at his borde.

The poet proceeds:

Mein tyme whyle feisting on a fawn,
And drinking blude frae lammies drawn,
A tuneful robin, trig and yung,
Hard by upon a bour-tree sung.
He sang the eagle's royal line,
His piercing eye and right divine
To sway out-oure the fetherit thrang,
Wha dreid his martial bill and fang;
His flight sublime and eild renewit,
His mind with clemencie endewit;
In safter notes he sung his love,
Mair hie, his beiring bolts for Jove.
The monarch bird with blythness heard
The chanting litil silvan bard,
Calit up a buzzard, wha was then
His favorite and chamberlaine.
‘Furth to my treasury,’ quod he,
‘And to yon canty robin gie,
As meikle of our currant geir
As may mantain him throw the yeir;
We can weil spair't,—and its his due:’
He bad, and furth the Judas flew
Straight to the brainch whair robin sung,
And, with a wickit lyan tung,
Said, ‘Ah! ye sing, sae dull and rugh,
Ye half deivt our lugs mair than eneugh.
His majesty has a nice eir,
And nae mair of your stuff can beir;
Pok up your pypes, be nae mair sene
At court, I warn you as a frien’.
He spak, whyle robinis swelling breist
And drouping wings his grief exprest;
The teirs ran happing doun his cheik,
Grit grew his hairt, he could nocht speik;
No, for the tinsel of rewaird,
But that his notis met nae regaird;
Straicht to the schaw he spred his wing,
Resolvit again nae mair to sing,
Whair princelie bountie is supprest
By sic whome they are opprest,
Wha cannot beir (because they cannot want it)
That ocht suld be to merit grantit.

There can be little doubt, that, in the fate of the poor robin, the poet sang his own.


It has been supposed, that the place of Scot's residence was Daikeith, because that village is the scene of a Justing, which he has celebrated betwixt William Adamson and John Syme. This is conjecture run wild; a parity of reasoning would give Homer to Troy, and Tasso [note] to Jerusalem. If any thing is to be inferred from the Justing alluded to, with respect to the home of Scot, Edinburgh has a much better
claim to the honor than Dalkeith; for, at the conclusion of the sport, we are told:

Be than the bougil began to blaw,
For nicht had them ouretane:
Allace, said Sym, for faut of law,
That bargin get I nane.
Thus hame, with many a crack and flaw,
They passed every ane,
Syne partit at the Potter Row, *
And sindry gaits are gane,
To rest them within the town that nicht.

The poems by which Scot has established his chief claims to our regard, are of an amatory cast. With a few exceptions, they display a delicacy of sentiment, which was rarely to be met with in this walk of composition at the period when he wrote; and in common with all his productions, an ease of versification not exceeded by any thing produced for half a century after. The best of these amatory pieces are those entitled, “The Flower of Womanheid.” “To his Heart,” and the “Rondel of Love.” The first, which possesses very considerable beauty, is happily brief enough for quotation.

The Flower of Womenheid.
Thou well of virtue, flower of womanheid,
And patron unto patiens,

* One of the southern inlets to Edinburgh.
Lady of lawty, baith in word and deid,
Rycht sobir, sweit, full meik of eloquens,
Baith gude and fair; to your magnificens,
I me commend, as I haif done before,
My sempill heart for new and evermore.
For evermore, I sall you service mak:
Sen of befoir into my mynd I made,
Sen first I knew your ladyship, bot lak
All bewtie, youth and womanheid ye had,
Withouten rest my heart couth not evade.
Thus am I yours, and ay sensyne haif bene
Commandit thereto, by your twa fair ene.
Your twa fair ene maks me aft syis to sing,
Your twa fair ene maks me to sich also,
Your twa fair ene maks me grit comforting,
Your twa fair ene is wyt of all my woe,
Your twa fair ene will not ane heart let go,
But links him fast that gets a sicht of them:
Of every virtue bricht, ye bear the name.
Ye bear the name of gentilness of blude,
Ye bear the name that mony for ye dies,
Ye bear the name, ye are baith fair and gude,
Ye bear the name of every sweit can pleis,
Ye bear the name, fortune and you agreis,
Ye bear the name of lands, of length, and breadth;
The Well of Verteu and Flower of Womanheid!

One verse from the address “To his Heart” will shew, that it is in an equally melodious strain.

Returne thee hameward, Heart! agane,
And byde quhair thuu was wont to be;
Thou art ane fule to suffer pane
For luve of her, that luvis not thee.
My heart! let be sic fantasie:
Luve nane bot as they mak thee cause;
And let her seek ane heart for thee,
For feind a crum of thee scho fawis.

From the specimens which have been given, it will be seen, that Scot had attained to a skill in the use of numbers, far beyond what was common to the writers, either of Scotland or England, in the early part of the sixteenth century. He appears, in fact, to have been one of the earliest of our poets who had a full sense of the important aid which grace and strength of expression may derive from a mere arrangement of cadences; and may be said to have presented some of the first examples of that refinement in versification, which it was left to Drummond to advance towards perfection.


In the Evergreen [note] of Allan Ramsay, and the Collections of Hailes, [note] Sibbald, [note] and Pinkerton, [note] all the best pieces, by Scot, will be found. The Bannatyne MS. [note] contains others which have never been printed; but considering how often that valuable repository has been ransacked by very competent judges, we may conclude, that nothing has been neglected, whose oblivious repose it is worth disturbing.

E. N.