« PredošláPokračovať »
dom, carried on, as it was at first, by small bands under separate leaders till they all came together under a leader like Bruce, a much greater amount of individuality and a greater habit of it were created among the Scotch than among the English. Men fought for their own land, and lived in their own way. Every little border chieftain, almost every border farmer was, or felt himself to be, his own master.
The poets would be likely to share in this individual quality, and, in spite of the overpowering influence of Chaucer, to strike out new veins of poetic thought and new methods of poetic expression. And this is what happened. Long before forms of poetry like the short pastoral or the fable had appeared in England, the Scottish poets had started them. They were less docile imitators than the English, but their work in the new forms they started was not so good as the after English work in the same forms.
The first of the Scottish poets, omitting Thomas of Erceldoune, is John BARBOUR, Archdeacon of Aberdeen. His long poem of The Bruce represents the whole of the eager struggle for Scottish freedom against the English which closed at Bannockburn; and the national spirit, which I have mentioned, springs in it, full grown, into life. But it is temperate, it does not pass into the fury against England which is so plain in writers like Blind HARRY, who, about 1461, composed a long poem in the heroic couplet of Chaucer, on the deeds of William Wallace. Barbour was often in England for the sake of study, and his patriotism, though strong, is tolerant of England. The date of his poem is 1375, 7; it never mentions Chaucer, and Barbour is the only early Scottish poet on whom Chaucer had no influence. In the next poet we find the influence of Chaucer, and it is hereafter continuous till the Elizabethan time.
JAMES THE FIRST of Scotland was prisoner in England for nineteen years, till 1422. There he read Chaucer, and fell in love with Lady Jane Beaufort, niece of Henry the Fourth. The
poem which he wrote, The King's Quhair, the quire, or book, is done in imitation of Chaucer, and in Chaucer's seven-lined stanza, which from James's use of it is called Rime Royal. In six cantos, sweeter, tenderer, and purer than any other verse till we come to Spenser, he describes the beginning of his love and its happy end. “I must write,' he says, 'so much, because
“ I have come so from Hell to Heaven.'. Nor did the flower of his love and hers ever fade. She defended him in the last ghastly scene of murder when his kingly life ended. There is something especially pathetic in the lover of Chaucer, in the first poet of sentiment in Scotland's being slain so cruelly. He was no blind imitator of Chaucer. We are conscious at once of an original element in his work. The natural description is more varied, the color is more vivid, and there is a modern self-reflective quality, a touch of spiritual feeling, which does not belong to Chaucer at all. The poems of The Kirk on the Green and Peebles to the Play have been attributed to him. If they are his, he originated a new vein of poetry, which Burns afterwards carried out—the comic and satirical ballad poem. But they are more likely to be by James V.
ROBERT HENRYSON, who died before 1508, a school-master in Dunfermline, was also an imitator of Chaucer, and his Testament of Cresseid continues Chaucer's Troilus. But he set on foot two new forms of poetry. He made poems out of the fables. They differ entirely from the short, neat form in which Gay and La Fontaine treated the fable. They are long stories, full of pleasant dialogue, political allusions, and with elaborate morals attached to them. They have a peculiar Scottish tang, and are full of descriptions of Scotch scenery. He also began the short pastoral in his Robin and Makyne. It is a natural, prettily turned dialogue ; and a subtile Celtic wit, such as charms us in Duncan Grey, runs through it. The individuality which struck out two original lines of poetic work in these poems appears again in his sketch of the graces of womanhood in the Garment of Good Ladies ; a poem of the same type as those thoughtful lyrics which describe what is best in certain phases of professions, or life, such as Sir H. Wotton's Character of a Happy Life, or Wordsworth's Happy Warrior.
But among lesser men, whom we need not mention, the greatest is WILLIAM DUNBAR. He carries the influence of
. Chaucer on to the end of the fifteenth century and into the sixteenth. Few have possessed a more masculine genius, and his work was as varied in its range as it was original. He followed the form and plan of Chancer in his two poems of The Thistle and the Rose, 1503, and The Golden Terge, 1508, the first on the marriage of James IV. to Margaret Tudor, the second an allegory of Love, Beauty, Reason, and the Poet. In both, though they begin with Chaucer's conventional May morning, the natural description becomes Scottish, and in both the national enthusiasm of the poet is strongly marked. But he soon ceased to imitate. The vigorous fun of the satires and of the satirical ballads that he wrote is matched only by their coarseness, a coarseness and a fun that descended to Burns. Perhaps Dunbar's genius is still higher in a wild poem in which he personifies the seven deadly sins, and describes their dance, with a mixture of horror and humor which makes the little thing unique.
A man almost as remarkable as Dunbar is GAWIN DOUGLAS, Bishop of Dunkeld, who died in 1522, at the Court of Henry VIII., and was buried in the Savoy. He is the author of the first metrical English translation from the original of any Latin book. He translated Ovid's Art of Love, and afterwards, with truth and spirit, the Æneid of Vergil, 1513. To each book of the Æneid he wrote a prologue of his own. And it is chiefly by these that he takes rank among the Scottish poets. Three of them are descriptions of the country in May, in autumn, and in winter. The scenery is altogether Scotch, and the few Chaucerisms that appear seem absurdly
out of place in a picture of nature which is as close as if it had been done by Keats in his early time. The color is superb, the landscape is described with an excessive detail, but the poem is not composed by any art into a whole. Still it astonishes the reader, and it is only by bringing in the Celtic element of love of nature that we can account for the vast distance between work like this and contemporary work in England such as Skelton's. Of Douglas's other original work, one poem, The Palace of Honour, 1501, continues the influence of Chaucer.
There were a number of other Scottish poets belonging to this time who are all remembered and praised by Sir DAVID LYNDSAY, whom it is best to mention in this place, because he still connects Scottish poetry with Chaucer. He was born about 1490 and is the last of the old Scottish school, and the most popular. He is the most popular, because he is not only the Poet but also the Reformer. His poem, The Dreme, 1528, connects him with Chaucer. It is in the manner of the old poet. But its scenery is Scottish, and, instead of the May morning of Chaucer, it opens on a winter's day of wind and sleet. The place is a cave over the sea, whence Lyndsay sees the weltering of the waves. Chaucer goes to sleep over Ovid or Cicero, Lyndsay falls into dream as he thinks of the 'false world's instability' wavering like the sea waves. The difference marks not only the difference of the two countries, but the different natures of the men. Chaucer did not care much for the popular storms, and loved the Court more than the Commonweal. Lyndsay in the Dreme, and in two other poems—the Complaint to the King, and the Testament of the King's Papyngo—is absorbed in the evils and sorrows of the people, and in the desire to reform the abuses of the Church, of the Court, of party, of the nobility.
In 1539 his Satire of the Three Estates, a Morality interspersed with interludes, was represented before James V. at Linlithgow. It was first acted in 1535, and was a daring attack
on the ignorance, profligacy, and exactions of the priesthood, on the vices and flattery of the favorites—'a mocking of abuses used in the country by diverse sorts of estate.' still bolder poem, and one thought so even by himself, is the Monarchie, 1553, his last work. Reformer as he was, he was more a social and political than a religious one. He bears the same relation to Knox as Langland did to Wiclif. When he was sixty-five years old, he saw the fruits of his work. Ecclesiastical councils met to reform the Church. But the reform soon went beyond his temperate wishes. In 1557 the Reformation in Scotland was fairly launched when in December the Congregation signed the Bond of Association. Lyndsay had died three years before; he is as much the reformer as he is the poet, of a transition time. "Still his verse hath charms,' but it was neither sweet nor imaginative. He had genuine satire, great moral breadth, much preaching power in verse, coarse, broad humor in plenty, and more dramatic power and invention than the rest of his fellows, and he lived an active, bold, and brave life in a very stormy time.”
LESSON 16. POETRY IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF CHAUCER. .“ We shall speak in this and in the next two paragraphs only of the poets in England whose work was due to the publication of Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate by Caxton. After a short revival that influence died, and a new one entered from Italy into English verse in the poems of Surrey and Wyatt. The transition period between the one influence and the other is of great interest. We see how the old poets had been neglected by the way in which the new poets speak of them as of something wonderful, and by the indignant reproach a man like Hawes makes when he says that people care for nothing but ballads, and will not read these old books. But the reproach was unwise. It is better for the interests of literature to make a new ballad than to read an