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



In the midst of that fine expanse of water, Lochleven, and near to the island which contained the Castle of Lochleven, so celebrated as the prison of the unfortunate Mary, there is a smaller island, called the Inch, or St. Serf's, on which the ruins may yet be traced of a priory which was dedicated to St. Serf, or Servanus. It is said to have been founded by Brudo, the last but one of the Pictish kings; and before the Reformation untenanted its walls, many things occurred within and about it, all of which I should begin to relate to you in minute detail, were it in the power of walls, crumbling to dust, to revise in one the same indefatigable and proper spirit, which centuries ago distinguished those monkish worthies, whose tapers (to use the words of poor Bruce, Lochleven's ill-fated bard)
through the windows beam'd,
And quiver'd on the undulating wave.
The most memorable of these worthies was that venerable chronicler, Andrew Wyntoun, [note] the author of one of the oldest Scottish works known to exist; and, after the admirable example which he has set us in his “Cronykil of Scotland,” of going through the whole history of the world, spiritual and terrestrial, before he comes to that bit of barren space,* the events of

* Which, form'd in haste; was planted in a nook,
But never enter'd in Creation's book.
churchill. [note]
which are the particular objects of his pen, I fear now, that Andrew himself is to be the theme of story, I shall scarcely stand excused for not entertaining you with, at least, 1st. A description of the monastery of Saint Serf, of which Andrew was prior; 2. A description of the island in which was the monastery of which Andrew was the prior; 3. A description of the lake in which was the island in which was the monastery of which, &c.; 4. A description of all the trout (the famous trout*) in the lake in which was the island in which, &c.; 5. A description of the kingdom in which was the lake in which, &c.; 6. A description of the world in which was the kingdom, &c. &c.—Were my powers of narration as great as Andrew's, or even within a hundred leagues of them, I could, indeed, have no hope of being excused for passing over matters of fact so much to the purpose of what I have immediately in view, namely, a faithful account of all that is known of honest Andrew; but being little better than a mere parish-clerk in biography, I trust you will take his “Life, parentage, and adventures,” in such a way as “the parish

* “This lake is remarkable for producing trout of a large size, and with flesh of a pink or reddish colour, approaching nearly to the taste and appearance of salmon. Some of them weigh from two to eight and even ten pounds; but, in general, they are not of such magnitude. They are brought regularly to the Edinburgh market, where they find a ready sale.”
Forsyth. [note]
books” enable me to give them, without judging severely of the narrator, because he does not give you a history of all the world beside.


Andrew Wyntoun was a canon of St. Andrew's, and prior of the monastery of St. Serf in Lochleven.

Of my defaute it is my name
Be baptisme, Andrewe of Wyntowne,
Of Sanct Andrew's a chanoune
Regulare: bot, noocht forthi
Of thaim all the lest worthy.
Bot of thair grace and thair favoure
I wes but* meryt, made prioure
Of the Ynch within Lochlevyne.

Andrew was born and died, nobody can tell where nor when. That he came to this world, and was a man advanced in years, some time or other in the course of the fourteenth century, is abundantly certain. In the chartulary of the priory of St. Andrew's, there are several public instruments by Andrew Wyntoun, as prior of Lochleven, dated between the years 1395 and 1413; and in the last page of his chronicle, according to the copy in the king's library, he makes mention of the Council of Constance, which began 16th November, 1414, and ended 20th May, 1418. Taking it for granted, then, that he brought down his narrative of events to as late a period as he possibly could, his death may reasonably be supposed to have taken place not long after the year 1419.

* Without.

In these few particulars, half certain and half conjectural, you have all that time has left us of the personal history of honest Andrew Wyntoun.


His “Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland,” [note] notwithstanding its great value, both as the oldest Scottish manuscript existing, except Sir Tristrem, [note] * and as the first record of the history of our country, in our own language, was suffered to remain neglected for many centuries. In 1786, Mr. Pinkerton [note] called the attention of the public to the work in strong terms, and appears to have had himself the intention of publishing it; but of this task he was relieved by Mr. David Macpherson, [note] who, in 1795, presented the public with a splendid edition of that part of it which relates more immediately to the affairs of Scotland. Such chapters as those, of Angels, of Men's Creation, &c. he has resigned to more recondite and less national collectors; and it is much to be feared, that now that these parts have lost the chance of coming into the world as outriders of Scottish history, they may be left to slumber in oblivion for ever. Andrew caught this fancy of prefacing with an account of the creation, from Roger of Chester, [note] whose Polychronicon, the first example which we have of this mode of history writing,

* Barbour preceded Wyntoun; but the earliest copy we have of his Bruce [note] is of the year 1489, nearly a century after the period when Wyntoun wrote; in Wyntoun's MS., indeed, there are nearly three hundred lines quoted from Barbour, in a more genuine state than in any manuscript or edition if Barbour's own work. A. S.
appeared about 1339, and had, by the time Wyntoun wrote, become very popular; and it may be some apology for Andrew to mention, that Fordun,
[note] who compiled his Scotichronicon nearly about the same period, though it was not published till long after, appears to have likewise thought, that there was not in all the world a more admirable model of historical composition than Roger of Chester. [note] Fordun sets off with descanting, 1. De Mundo Sensibili; 2. De Ventis Cardinalibus; 3. De Tribus Mundi partibus, &c. And, after all, I am not sure, that, except in length, there is any thing more in these digressive freaks, than what is sanctioned by the high authority of the Jewish legislator and historian, who has prefixed to his account of God's chosen people, the only authentic history which we have of the Creation of the World.


“The Chronicle of Wyntoun,” [note] says Dr. Irving, [note] “is valuable as a picture of antient manners, as a repository of historical anecdotes, and as a specimen of the literary attainments of our ancestors. With a perseverance of industry which had numerous difficulties to encounter, he has collected and recorded many circumstances that tend to illustrate the history of his native country; nor, rude as the composition may seem, is his work altogether incapable of interesting a reader of the present age of refinement. To those who delight to trace the progress of the human mind, his unpolished production will afford a delicious entertainment.”


In Wyntoun's Chronicle, the historian will find what must, in the absence of more antient records, be now regarded as tire original account, of many important
transactions in Scottish story. Many of these, Wyntoun has related from his own knowledge, or from the reports of eye witnesses; and of the general fidelity of his narrative there is every reason to form the most favorable opinion, from the strict agreement which we find between him and other authorities, where there happens, on any fact, to be other authorities to refer to; such as the
Foedera Angliæ, or the Fragments of the Chartulary of the Priory of St. Andrew's, from which Wyntoun drew largely and literally.


Mr. Ellis, [note] in his Specimens of English Poets, remarks, that Wyntoun's genius is certainly inferior to that of his predecessor, Barbour; but that, at least, his versification is easy, his language pure, and his style often animated.


Mr. Macpherson, [note] to whom we are so much indebted for the publication of the Chronicle, exults in its having “preserved to us a little elegiac song on the death of King Alexander III., [note] which must be near ninety years older than Barbour's work.” “This is alone sufficient,” he says, “with every reader of taste, to stamp a high value on Wyntoun. ” As one of the oldest relics of Scottish song in existence, the trifle alluded to is undoubtedly curious; and, consisting only of a couple of stanzas, I am tempted here to transcribe them.

Quhen Alysandyr oure Kyng wes dede,
Dat Scotland led* in luwe† and le,†
Away wes sons of ale and brede,
Of wyne and wax, of gamyn and gle:

* Ruled. † Love. † Law.
Oure gold wes changyd in-to lede,
Cryst, borne in-to Virgynytè,
Succour Scotland and remede,
Dat stad is in perplexytè.

Mr. Macpherson, [note] in a note on this song, makes the following observations: “ Horace, [note] in an Epistle addressed to his patron Augustus, reflecting on the high value put upon the works of the antient poets, says,

——— Adeo sanctum est vetus omne poëma.

“What he says with an invidious sneer, may surely be applied, in good earnest, to this valuable relique of antient Scottish poetry, which is now, at least, twice as old as any remains of Roman poetry can be supposed to have been in the days of Horace, [note] and is, in all probability, the very earliest composition of the Scottish muse which we shall ever see. Of Thomas Rymour of Erceldoune, no genuine remains are known; and the three or four doggrel rhymes made by the people of Berwick, in derision of King Edward, [note] which we have hitherto had as the earliest specimen of Scottish poetry, or even of Scottish language,* are too much corrupted and too insignificant, though they were prior in time, to be mentioned along with this first of the Songs of Scotland, modernized in Wyntoun's time, according to the general and vicious practice of

* Long beards heartlesse,
Painted hoods witlesse,
Gay coates gracelesse,
Make England thriftlesse.
transcribers. But we have reason to believe, that we possess it with less deviation from the first composition, than there is in the various copies of the verses on the birth of King Edgar
[note] of England, which were said to have been sung by no less personages than angels upon that great event, and are preserved by Robert of Gloucester, [note] (the Wyntoun of England,) and in Latin translations by many of the English writers.”


The recent recovery of Thomas Rymour's romance of Sir Tristrem [note] must of course displace the elegiac song on the death of Alexander III., from the station in antiquity which Mr. Macpherson [note] has here assigned to it; and, although it is certainly a relic as well worth preserving as a thousand things with which our shelves are lumbered, under the name of antiquities, I must confess, that I share little in the exultation with which this ingenious critic contemplates its restoration to the light. I am inclined to think, that its only merit consists in its age; and cannot help marvelling, that time should be so lenient to a trifle like this, when it has committed such havoc on many works, the preservation of which would have been a benefit conferred on mankind.

E. M.