Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

which would not have misbecome the boldest and most liberal thinkers among the crew that gathered at Poosie Nancy's. Kennedy seems to have been a free-living physician, and in this Testament he is made to bequeath his soul to "my lordis wyne cellair," and his "corpus ebriosum" to the town of Ayr, to be placed upon a midden where draff is 'in the habit of being deposited. It is unnecessary to enumerate all his other bequests. Suffice it to quote the two concluding verses :—

"In die meae sepulturae

I will nane haif bot our awne gyng;
Et duos rusticos de rure

Berand a barell on a styng;
Drynkand and playand cop out, evin,

Sicut egornet solebam;
Singand and gretand with hie stevin,

Potum meum cum fletu miscebam.

"I will na priestis for me sing,

Dies ilia, Dies irae;
Na yit na bellis for me ring,

Sicut semper solet fieri;
Bot a bagpipe to play a spryng,

Et unum ail wosp ante me;
In stayd of baneris for to bring

Quatuor lagenas ceruisic,
Within the graif to set sic thing,

In modum crucis juxta mc,
To lie the fends, than hardely sing

De terra plasmasti me."'

It would be both unfair and unintelligent to imagine that these are the sentiments of Dunbar himself, though at one time he seems to have been suspected of dabbling in the

'H.97-116. On the singular mixture of the Latin and Scots tongues (which is not, strictly speaking, to be termed "macaronic"), see Mr. Gregor's note in the S. T. S. ed. of Dunbar, iii. p. 99. It seems tolerably clear that the idea of such a medley came from the preacher's habit of quoting the Vulgate and then explaining the passages so quoted in the vernacular.

heresies of the Lollards. The whole piece is essentially a :ramatic soliloquy. But it is a striking illustration of the lengths to which it was possible to go in the direction of " free drinking" in the era before the Reformation.1 A poet who bd ventured upon corresponding deviations from the narrow jath of Protestant orthodoxy during the supremacy of the Saints would have been sorely shent for his pains.

The most abiding impression left upon the mind by a reviewal of Dunbar's poems as a whole is that of his immense resources and of his splendid prodigality in employing them. Never was poet less parsimonious of his means, less troubled *ith care for the morrow. He squanders his treasure with a princely generosity, yet he never reaches the bottom of his purse. To rhyme he adds abundant alliteration, and, when pure alliteration is his choice, he must needs, of his bounty, provide a very superfluity of the device, carrying on the use of the same letter to a second line, and supplying an even larger "umber of alliterating syllables in one line than the rules of the aetre require.2 The more tasks of this nature he sets himself, Me more adequately he performs them; the more formidable Ae obstacles he places in his own path, the more triumphantly be surmounts them; the heavier the fetters with which he i»ds himself, the more graceful and easy becomes his every aovement. His vocabulary is practically inexhaustible.3 In pieces like the Brash of IVowing and the Flyting, he pours out J perfect torrent of words, and leaves you wondering that the 'tream should ever cease. But it is in the command of every

'It will be borne in mind that the Testament was included in Chepman

=d Myllar's volume of 1508.

'For a detailed study of Dunbar's versification, consult Mr. G. P. H'Xeill's learned and elaborate excursus on the subject in the S. T. S. °i- of Dunbar, i. p. clxxii. See also Schipper, AlUnglische Mctrik, Bonn, t882-48, and the same author's Gruutiriss tier Englischcu Mctrik, 1895.

: Lyndsay, in the Prologue to his Papyngo (1. 17) speaks of "Dunbar quhilk language had at large," but he obviously has in mind the " aureate" poems, for he proceeds to cite as an instance the Gohiyn Targe.

[ocr errors]

sort of measure that Dunbar's mastery of his craft is most noteworthy. The extracts which have been already submitted will have enabled the reader to form some notion of his gift in this respect. But to appreciate his astonishing versatility we must go to his collected works. No sort of metre, however difficult —no interweaving of rhymes, however intricate—can appal Dunbar. Here is a verse from Arte ballot of our Lady :

"Hail, sterne supernc! Hail, in eterne,

In Godis sycht to schyne!
Lucerne in derne, for to discerne

Be glory and grace devyne;
Hodiern, modern, sempitern,

Angelicall regyne!
Our tern infern for to dispern,

Helpc rialest rosyne.

Aue Maria, gratia plena!

Haile, fresche flour femynyne!
Zerne ws, guberne, wirgin matern,

Of reuth baith rute and ryne."'

Here too is a specimen of the Epitaph on Donald Oure, or Donald Dubh :—

"In vice most vicius he excellis,
That with the vice of tressone mellis;
Thocht he rcmissioun
Haif for prodissioun,
Schame and susspissioun
Ay with him dwellis.

[merged small][ocr errors]

And here are two fragments from the Dregy 1 which sufficiently evince his mastery of the most intractable French models :—

"God and Sanct Jcill heir yow convoy
Baith sone and weill, God and Sanct Jeill
To sonce and seill, solace and joy,
God and Sanct Geill heir yow convoy.
Out of Strivilling [Stirling] panis fell
In Edinburght joy sone mot ye dwell

Cum hame and dwell no moir in Strivilling;
Frome hiddouss hell cum hame and dwell,
Quhair fische to sell is non bot spirling;
Cum hame and dwell no moir in Strivilling."

It may safely be asserted that not one of Dunbar's contemporaries who wrote in the literary dialect of the Southern portion of the island could boast anything like the dexterity and nimbleness with which his fingers swept the keys. Such performance as those just cited may be open to the objection of being mere tours deforce; but, at least, the tours de force are superbly executed.

It is singular that Dunbar's supreme excellence in his art did not prevent his writings from falling for a long period into oblivion. While Sir David Lyndsay's works were reprinted or re-issued several times in the course of the sixteenth century, and while they lingered, at all events as a tradition, in the memory of the people, Dunbar was forgotten, and, but for the labours of George Bannatyne and other diligent scribes, his writings might have perished. No doubt he was unfortunate in not living to see the revival of printing in Scotland— an art of which the practice was all but suspended for twenty years. But it may be suspected also that the populace found more to interest it in the works of Lyndsay than in those of the

'ii. p. 112.

older poet, who had written chiefly for the Court, and it is indisputable that the former supplied much stronger meat than the latter to a generation whose appetite had been sharp set by the vigorous and exhausting controversies ot the Reformation. To Allan Ramsay belongs the enviable honour of having been the first to dkerrer Dunbar; and since 1724 the reputation of the great poet has been satisfactorily and completely rehabilitated, no one having contributed more to that end than Thomas Warton. With such of his work as was printed in The Evergreen and by Lord Hailes, Burns was doubtless familiar, although he does not appear to have been conscious of being specially influenced by it. But the similarity of tone and spirit, and even to some extent of method, between Dunbar and Burns, with nearly three centuries of time to separate them is not the least remarkable phenomenon in Scottish literature, and entirely justifies the contention of those who insist upon the essential indivisibility of the Scottish vernacular school of poetry.1 Though Scott wrote of Dunbar enthusiastically in his later years, there is no trace in his verse of Dunbar's immediate influence; but at a subsequent date in the nineteenth century it emerges in a quarter where its presence might naturally have been looked for, but has perhaps not been generally recognised. On the literary, as on the artistic, side of what is conveniently known as the pre-Raphaelite movement there were manv agencies at work; and no one who is familiar with the first series of Mr. Swinburne's Poems and Ballads can help conjecturing that in his case one of the most potent and stimulating was the work of William Dunbar.

Gavin Douglas 2 (1475-1522), a poet whose fame, curiously enough, has almost equalled that of Dunbar, was a son of Archibald, Earl of Angus, well remembered by his nickname of "Bell-the-Cat." Educated at St Andrews, where he took

1 See Henley, Essay, in Centenary Edition of Burns, vol. iv. p. 265. 'The only complete edition of Douglas's works is that edited by Small, 4 vols., Edin., 1874.

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »