« AnteriorContinuar »
sequently Lyndsay, to denominate its author “the moral Gower;" he is, however, considerably inferior to the author of the Canterbury Tales, in almost all the qualifications of a true poet.
Gower. Mr Warton has happily selected a few passages from Gower, which convey a lively expression of natural feeling, and give a favourable impression of the author. Speaking of the gratification which his passion receives from the sense of hearing, he says, that to hear his lady speak is more delicious than to feast on all the dainties that could be compounded by a cook of Lombardy. These are not so restorative
As bin the wordes of hir mouth ;
Is verily myne hartes leche.?
Full oft time it falleth so
Is then nought so light as I.
(Episode of Raniphele.] (Rosiphele, princess of Armenia, a lady of surpassing beauty, but insensible to the power of love, is represented by the poet as reduced to an obedience to Cupid, by a vision which befell her on a May-day ramble. The opening of this episode is as fole lows :-)
When come was the month of May,
Thus comen they ridand forth. [In the rear of this splendid troop of ladies, the princess beheld one, mounted on a miserable steed, wretchedly adorned in everything excepting the bridle. On questioning this straggler why she was so unlike her companions, the visionary lady replied that the latter were receiving the bright reward of having loved faithfully, and that she herself was suffering punishment for cruelty to her admirers. The reason that the bridle alone resembled those of her companions was, that for the last fortnight she had been sincerely in love, and a change for the better was in consequence beginning to show itself in her accoutrements. The parting words of the dame aro-)
Now have ye heard mine answer ;
And bid them think of my bridle. [It is scarcely necessary to remark, that the hard heart of the princess of Armenia is duly impressed by this lesson.)
1 Few of her women knew of it.
Tho was that other glad enough :
Whereof that other two hath lost. The language at this time used in the lowland districts of Scotland was based, like that of England, in the Teutonic, and it had, like the contemporary English, a Norman admixture. To account for these circumstances, some have supposed that the language of England, in its various shades of improvement, reached the north through the settlers who are known to have flocked thither from England during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. Others suggest that the great body of the Scottish people, apart from the Highlanders, must have been of Teutonic origin, and they point to the very probable theory as to the Picts having been a German race. They further suggest, that a Norman admixture might readily come to the national tongue, through the large intercourse between the two countries during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. Thus, it is presumed, our common language was separately formed in the two countries, and owed its identity to its being constructed of similar materials, by similar gradations, and by nations in the same state of society.'* Whatever might be the cause, there can be no doubt that the language used by the first Scottish vernacular writers in the fourteenth century, greatly resembles that used contemporaneously in England.
JOHN BARBOUR. The first of these writers was JOHN BARBOUR, archdeacon of Aberdeen. The date of his birth is unknown; but he is found exercising the duties of
his sole remaining work, The Bruce, is altogether of that character. It is not unlikely that, in The Brute, Barbour adopted all the fables he could find : in writing The Bruce, he would, in like manner, adopt every tradition respecting his hero, besides searching for more authoritative materials. We must not be surprised that, while the first would be valueless as a history, the second is a most important document. There would be the same wish for truth, and the same inability to distinguish it, in both cases ; but, in the latter, it chanced that the events were of recent occurrence, and therefore came to our metrical historian comparatively undistorted. The Bruce, in reality, is a complete history of the memorable transactions by which King Robert I. asserted the independency of Scotland, and obtained its crown for his family. At the same time, it is far from being destitute of poetical spirit or rhythmical sweetness and harmony. It contains many vividly descriptive passages, and abounds in dignified and even in pathetic sentiment. This poem, which was completed in 1375, is in octo-syllabic lines, forming rhymed couplets, of which there are seven thousand. Barbour died at an advanced age in 1396.
[A postrophe to Freedom.] (Barbour, contemplating the enslaved condition of his country, breaks out into the following animated lines on the blessIngs of liberty.--Ellis.]
A ! fredome is a nobill thing!
And by the crown that was set Also upon his bassinet. And toward him he went in hy.1 And the king sae apertly 2 Saw him come, forouth all his fears, In hy till him the horse he steers. And when Sir Henry saw the king Come on, foroutin abasing, Till him he rode in great hy. He thought that he should weel lichtly Win him, and have him at his will, Sin' he him horsit saw sae ill. Sprent they samen intill a lyng ;3 Sir Henry missed the noble king; And he that in his stirrups stude, With the ax, that was hard and gude, With sae great main, raucht4 him a dint, That nouther hat nor helm micht stint The heavy dush, that he him gave, That near the head till the harns clave. The hand-ax shaft frushit in tway; And he down to the yird5 gan gae All flatlings, for him failit micht. This was the first straik of the ficht, That was performit douchtily. And when the king's men sae stoutly Saw him, richt at the first meeting, Forouten doubt or abasing, Have slain a knicht sae at a straik, Sic hard’ment thereat gan they tak, That they come on richt hardily. When Englishmen saw them sae stoutly Come on, they had great abasing ; And specially for that the king Sae smartly that gude knicht has slain, That they withdrew them everilk ane, And durst not ane abide to ficht : Sae dreid they for the king's micht. When that the king repairit was, That gart his men all leave the chase, The lordis of his company Blamed him, as they durst, greatumly, That he him put in aventure, To meet sae stith a knicht, and stour, In sic point as he then was seen. For they said weel, it micht have been Cause of their tynsal 6 everilk ane. The king answer has made them nane, But mainit 7 his hand-ax shaft sae Was with the straik broken in tway.
[Death of Sir Henry De Bohun.] [This incident took place on the eve of the Battle of Bannock. burn.)
And when the king wist that they were
thereupon, into takin,
Him sae range his men on raw, 1 Caused, ordered
[The Battle of Bannockburn.] When this was said The Scottismen commonally Kneelit all doun, to God to pray: And a short prayer there made they To God, to help them in that ficht. And when the English king had sicht Of them kneeland, he said, in hy, • Yon folk kneel to ask mercy.' Sir Ingram said, 'Ye say sooth now They ask mercy, but not of you ; For their trespass to God they cry : I tell you a thing sickerly, That yon men will all win or die ; For doubt of deido they sall not flee.' * Now be it sae then !' said the king. And then, but langer delaying, They gart trump till the assembly. On either side men micht then see
* In this and the subsequent extract, the language is as far as possible reduced to modern spelling.
2 Openly, clearly. 3 They sprang forward at once, against each other, in a line. 4 Reached. 5 Earth. 6 Destruction. 7 Lamented 8 Sir Ingram D'Umphraville.
9 Fear of death.
There micht men hear mony a dint,
On them! On them! On them! They fail!'
Mony a wicht man and worthy,
Thus were they bound on either side ;
The gude earli thither took the way,
The Stewart, Walter that then was,
That time thir three battles were
[The appearance of a mock host, composed of the servants of the Scottish camp, completes the panic of the English army: the king flies, and Sir Giles D'Argentine is slain. The narrative then proceeds)
They were, to say sooth, sae aghast,
On ane side, they their faes had,
Micht nane escape that ever came there. 1 Company.
3 Failed, gave way. 5 Rabble. o Slime, mud.
The van of the English army. 9 Edward Bruce. & That were without or out of the battle. * The Earl of Murray. * Lost amidst so great a multitude. 6 Exchanged 7 I promise you.
4 Shut up
St Serf said, 'Gif I sae be,
Where God made Adam, the first man l'
Lochleven. eight-syllabled metre, an Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, including much universal history, and extending down to his own time: it may be considered as a Scottish member of the class of rhymed chronicles. The genius of this author is inferior to that of Barbour; but at least his versification is easy, his language pure, and his style often animated. His chronicle is valuable as a picture of ancient manners, as a repository of historical anecdotes, and as a specimen of the literary attainments of our ancestors.* It contains a considerable number of fabulous legends, such as we may suppose to have been told beside the parlour fire of a monastery of those days, and which convey a curious idea of the credulity of the age. Some of these are included in the following specimens, the first of which alone is in the original spelling :
[St Serf 'st Ram.]
[Interview of St Serf with Sathanas.]
I ken thou art a cunning clerk.' * Dr Irving.
+ St Serf lived in the sixth century, and was the founder of tho monastery of which the author was prior.
[The Return of David II. from Captivity. ] (David II., taken prisoner by the English at the battle of Durham, in 1346, was at length redeemed by his country fo 1357. The following passage from Wyntoun is curious, as illustrating the feelings of men in that age. The morning after his return, when the people who had given so much for their sovereign, were pressing to see or to greet him, he is guilty of a groso outrage against them-which the poet, strange to say, justifies]
Yet in prison was King Davy.