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tomed, it seems, to sing to the end of his life, — though Hannah More, who tells us she heard him sing it in his last days, is mistaken in saying that he was then past eighty.
THOMSON was the first Scotsman who won any conspicuous place for himself in English literature. He had been preceded, indeed, in the writing of English by two or three others of his countrymen ; by Drummond of Hawthornden, who has been mentioned in a preceding page, and his contemporaries — the Earl of Stirling, who is the author of several rhyming tragedies and other poems, well versified, but not otherwise of much poetical merit, published between 1603 and 1637, the Earl of Ancrum, by whom we have some sonnets and other short pieces, and Sir Robert Ayton, to whom is commonly attributed the well-known song, “I do confess thou’rt smooth and fair,” and who is also the author of a considerable number of other similar effusions, many of them of superior polish and elegance. At a later date, too, Sir George Mackenzie, as already noticed, had written some English prose; as, indeed, Drummond had also done, besides his poetry. But none of these writers, belonging to the century that followed the union of the crowns, can be considered as having either acquired any high or diffused reputation in his own time, or retained much hold upon posterity. Even Drummond is hardly remembered as anything more than a respectable sonneteer; his most elaborate work, his prose History of the Jameses, has passed into as complete general oblivion as the tragedies and epics of Lord Stirling and the Essays of Sir George Mackenzie. If there be any other writer born in Scotland of earlier date than Thomson, who has still a living and considerable name among English authors, it is Bishop Burnet; but those of his literary performances by which he continues to be chiefly remembered, however important for the facts
1 Large additions have been made to the previously known poetry of this writer by the discovery, some years ago, of a manuscript volume of his compositions, the contents of which have since been given to the world through the press by its possessor, Dr. J. Roger, of Denino, Fifeshire.
they contain, have scarcely any literary value. Leighton, the eloquent archbishop of Glasgow, although of Scotch descent, was himself born in London. The poetry of Thomson was the first produce of the next era, in which the two countries were really made one by their union under one legislature, and English became the literary language of the one part of the island as much as of the other.
The Scottish dialect, however, still continued to be employed in poetry. The great age of Scottish poetry, as we have seen, extends from about the beginning of the fifteenth to about the middle of the sixteenth century, the succession of distinguished names comprehending, among others, those of James I., and Henderson, and Holland, and Henry the Minstrel, and Gawin Douglas, and Dunbar, and Sir David Lyndsay.1 It is remarkable that this space of a hundred and fifty years exactly corresponds to the period of the decay and almost extinction of poetry in England which intervenes between Chaucer and Surrey. On the other hand, with the revival of English poetry in the latter part of the sixteenth century the voice of Scottish song almost died away. The principal names of the writers of Scottish verse that occur for a hundred and fifty years after the death of Lyndsay are those of Alexander Scot, who was Lyndsay's contemporary, but probably survived him, and who is the author of several short amatory compositions, which have procured him from Pinkerton the designation of the Scottish Anacreon ; Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington, who died at a great age in 1586, and is less memorable as a poet than as a collector and preserver of poetry, the two famous manuscript volumes in the Pepysian Library, in which are found the only existing copies of so many curious old pieces, having been compiled under his direction, although his own compositions, which have, with proper piety, been printed by the Maitland Club at Glasgow, are also of some bulk, and are creditable to his good feeling and good sense ; Captain Alexander Montgomery, whose allegory of The Cherry and the Slae, published in 1597, is remarkable for the facility and flow of the language, and long continued a popular favorite, its peculiar metre (which, however, is of earlier origin than this poem) having been on several occasions adopted by Burns; and Alexander Hume, who was a clergyman and died in 1609, having published a volume of Hymns, or Sacred
1 See vol. i. pp. 339-353, and 403-414.
Songs, in his native dialect, in 1599. Other Scottish poets of the sixteenth century, of whom nothing or next to nothing is known except the names, and a few short pieces attributed to some of them, are John Maitland Lord Thirlstane (second son of Sir Richard), Alexander Arbuthnot, who was a clergyman, Clapperton, Flemyng, John Blyth, Moffat, Fethy, Balnavis, Sempil, Norval, Allan Watson, George Bannatyne (the writer of the Bannatyne manuscript in the Advocates' Library), who was a canon of the cathedral of Moray, and Wedderburn, the supposed author of the Compendious Book of Godly and Spiritual Songs, of which the first edition in all probability appeared in the latter part of this century, and also, according to one theory, of The Complaint of Scotland, published in 1548.1 But it is possible that some of these names may belong to a date anterior to that of Lyndsay. King James, also, before his accession to the English throne, published in Edinburgh two collections of Scottish verse by himself: the first, in 1585, entitled The Essays of a Prentice in the Divine Art of Poesy; the other, in 1591, His Majesty's Poetical Exercises at vacant hours ; but the royal inspiration is peculiarly weak and flat.
In the whole course, we believe, of the seventeenth century not even the name of a Scottish poet or versifier occurs. The next that appeared was Allan Ramsay, who was the contemporary of Thomson, and must be accounted the proper successor of Sir David Lyndsay, after the lapse of more than a century and a half. Ramsay was born in 1686, and lived till 1758. He belongs to the order of self-taught poets, his original profession having been that of a barber; his first published performance, his clever continuation of the old poem of Christ's Kirk on the Green (attributed by some to James I. of Scotland, by others to James V.) appeared in 1712; his Gentle Shepherd, in 1725; and he produced besides numeroụs songs and other shorter pieces from time to time. Ramsay's verse is in general neither very refined nor very imaginative, but it has always more or less in it of true poetic life. His lyrics, with all their frequent coarseness, are many of them full of rustic hilarity and humor; and his well-known pastoral, though its dramatic pretensions otherwise are slender enough, for nature and truth both in the characters and manners may rank with the happiest compositions of its class.
i See vol. i. p. 446,
To this same age of the revival of Scottish poetry also belongs nearly the whole of that remarkable body of national song known as the Jacobite minstrelsy, forming altogether as animated and powerful an expression of the popular feeling, in all its varieties of pathos, humor, indignation, and scorn, as has anywhere else been embodied in verse. It is almost all anonymous, too, as if it had actually sprung from the general heart of the people, or formed itself spontaneously in the air of the land. Probably some of the many other Scottish songs and ballads no authors of which are
have been produced among the peasantry themselves, even during the long interval of the first hundred years after the union of the crowns, to which there belongs no name of a Scottish poet, nor any poetry written or printed in that dialect. It is reasonable to suppose that Allan Ramsay must have had a line of predecessors of his own class, and that in this way the stream of native song flowed as it were underground, or hidden among the herbage, from its disappearance with Lyndsay till it reëmerged in him. But it was the exile of the old royal family, followed by the two successive romantic attempts of their adherents to restore them to the throne, that first blew again into a blaze the fire of poetry that lived in the national heart, and enabled it to break through the rigorous incrustment under which it had been oppressed and all but extinguished ever since the Reformation. This was the first decided revolt of the spirit of poetry against that of presbytery.
And to the earlier part of the last century, too, it would appear, we are in all probability to assign the best and most celebrated of those tragic ballads of Scotland which ever since the publication of Percy's Reliques, in which some of them were inserted, have engaged so much attention, and, more especially since they have been more carefully collected and illustrated by Sir Walter Scott and succeeding editors, have been generally held to constitute the chief glory of the ancient popular minstrelsy of that country. Of one of them, indeed, and that perhaps the most renowned of them all, the ballad of Hardyknute, the alleged antiquity was questioned very early after its first appearance in Percy's work. Even Pinkerton, who reprinted it in his Select Ballads (1781), and is indignant that any one should suppose it to be of more recent origin than the fifteenth century, admits that “ at the same time the language must convince us that many strokes have been bestowed by modern hands.” In our day the genuineness of this production as
a relique of antiquity has been almost universally given up; Scott himself, although he continued to the end of his life to admire it enthusiastically as an imitation, adınits it in the Introduction to his Minstrelsy of the Border to be “evidently modern." But in this case there was positive external evidence of the recent production of the poem.
If doubts were ever expressed in regard to any of the other ballads, they were founded solely on some expressions which were indisputably modern ; and any suspicions thence arising were held to apply only to the particular verses or lines in which the non-antique phraseology occurred. These were corruptions, or possibly interpolations; that was all. But the question has lately been taken up by Mr. Chambers, and placed in quite a new light.1 Mr. Chambers has not only, by a much more thorough examination of the principal ballads than they had ever before been subjected to, shown to how great an extent their language is only an imitation of the antique ; he has further, by comparing them with one another, detected such a similarity, and such a pervading peculiarity of character, in all of them, in respect both of the diction and of the manner in which the subject is treated in each, as goes far to make it probable that they are all the production of one age and even of one and the same author. His conclusion is, that Sir Patrick Spence, Gill Maurice, Young Waters, Fause Foudrage, and others, were in all likelihood composed, either entirely or in some instances, it may be, on the basis of a comparatively rude and slight original, by the same Elizabeth Lady Wardlaw (wife of Sir Henry Wardlaw, Baronet, of Pitreavie, in Fifeshire, and daughter of Sir Charles Halket, Baronet, of Pitfirran, in the same county), to whom it has long been generally acknowledged that we owe Hardyknute, and who died, at the
age so lately as in 1727. Mr. David Laing had, in a note to the reprint of Johnson's Scots' Musical Museum (1839), intimated a suspicion that Hardyknute and Sir Patrick Spence were by the same author. But the newest and perhaps the most striking part of Mr. Chambers's argument is that in which he urges, in confutation of the alleged antiquity of these and the other ballads, not only the traces which they everywhere present of the fashionable poetical phraseology of the early part of the last century, but the remarkable fact that we have not a particle of positive evidence for their existence
1 Edinburgh Papers, by Robert Chambers, F.R. S. E., &c. Scottish Ballads : their Epoch and Authorship. 8vo, Edin. 1859, pp. 46.