Abbildungen der Seite

his Master's degree in 1494, he entered the Church, and from the cure of Monymusk in Aberdeenshire was translated to the doubtless more lucrative benefices of East Linton and Prestonkirk in the Lothians. In 1501, he was appointed Provost of the important collegiate Church of St. Giles in Edinburgh, and in the same year he wrote his Police of Honour. We know little of his history during the succeeding years, but it seems not improbable that much of his time was devoted to literature. He is said to have translated Ovid, though no tragment of the work has been preserved, and there are ascribed to him certain " Aureae narrationes "—historical tractates, it would appear—as well as certain sacred dramas, which are equally unknown to posterity. But his King Hart, a characteristic piece of allegory, has survived the chances of time, and so has a short poem alleged to be his, entitled Conscience, the familiar theme of which is the maladministration of patronage in the Kirk.

In July, 1513, appeared Douglas's magnum opus, his translation of the Aeneid, which had occupied him a year and a half in composition. It was his intention, on the completion of this undertaking, to "direct" his "labours evermoir Unto the commonwelth and Goddis gloir"; in other words, to devote himself to politics. The disaster of 1513 opened up what must have seemed to his ambition a most promising avenue. As a Lord of the Council and Provost of St. Giles he was in constant attendance upon the widowed Queen, and it is a very natural supposition that the marriage which she contracted with his nephew, the young Earl of Angus, within a year of Flodden was in part of his contriving. That alliance once cemented, and the power of the Douglases established upon an apparently solid foundation, it must have looked as if the ball were now fairly at his feet. But everything went wrong. The rich Abbey of Arbroath, and the still richer Archbishopric of St. Andrews, were snatched from his very grasp, and conferred upon rivals. Even when he had been appointed to the "Bishopric of fair Dunkeld" in 1515,1 it was not without difficulty that he established himself in the saddle. For a year or so he actually underwent the penalty of imprisonment. It is unnecessary, however, to narrate in detail the broils and intrigues by which this unhappy period of our history is characterised, and in which Douglas played a considerable part. The upshot of it all was that, upon the return to Scotland in 1421 of the Regent Albany, who represented the French or National as opposed to the Douglas or English interest, he retired to London, where he died of the plague in 1522. The last nine years of his life were barren as regards literature; and it cannot but be regretted that one so well qualified to excel in that department should have wasted his talents in a sphere in which he met with almost nothing but failure. The "pride of prelacy" must have been something stronger in his blood, if not in his eye, than Sir Walter Scott represents.

The judgments passed by critics upon Douglas's work have sometimes been distinguished rather by enthusiasm than discretion. It has been customary to hail him as the herald of a new dawn, the precursor of the new movement in poetry which reached its goal in the spacious times of Queen Elizabeth; in brief, as "the earliest literary fruit of the Renaissance in Scotland." 2 This view is supported by the high authority of Mr. Courthope, and it is tempting at first sight to regard the first translator of an ancient poetical masterpiece into English as a pioneer in the return to an intelligent and humane study of the classics. On the other hand, it is forcibly contended that Douglas consistently looked, not forward, but back, and that, in place of giving the signal

'It will thus be seen that when the Bishop appears "with mitre sheen and rocquet white" in canto vi. of Marmion, he had not yet in reality attained that step in the hierarchy.

* History of the House of Douglas, by Sir Herbert Maxwell (2 vols., 1902), i'- P- 55

tor 2 new poetry with a new convention, he was more faithful •Jilt any of his contemporaries to the literary tradition of the titteenth century. The question can only be settled by -cference to the poems themselves, and an apology for giving a «mewhat detailed account of The Police of Honour is the less needed that it is, on the face of it, a good and characteristic specimen of the courtly allegory, in which the allegory of chivalry and the allegory of religion became blended and Mrged. We know that the Court of James IV. was one it which "Tryumphand tournays, justyng, and knychtly sine"1 abounded; and we may be tolerably confident that t was the taste of that Court which the author, consciously or unconsciously, consulted, in composing what must be described s, not merely an instructive, but also, a most interesting piece. The Police of Honour, then, is an allegorical poem of over 2,000 lines, written in stanzas of nine lines, rhymed thus :— mb aab bob. It opens with the familiar description of a May morning in a "garden of plesance," in which the poet tlls asleep and has a vision. He dreams that he is in the midst of a forest, hard by a "hyddeous flude" resembling Cocytus. Presently there appears upon the scene the Queen "t Sapience, the Lady Minerve, attended by a large number of "ladyis fair and gudlie men." Among this band are all the sages of antiquity, sacred and profane, who are duly :numerated :—

"And there is als into yone court gone hence
Clerkis divine with problewmis curius;
As Salomon the well of sapience,
And Aristotell fulfillit of prudence,
Salust, Senek, and Titus Livius,
Pithagoras, Porphyre, Permenydus,
Melysses with his sawis but defence,
Sidrach, Secundus, and Solenyus.

[ocr errors]

Ptholomeus, Ipocras, Socrates,
Empedocles, Neptenabus, Hermes,
Galien, Averroes, and Plato,
Enoch, Lantech, Job, and Diogenes,
The eloquent and prudent Ulisses,
Wise Josephus, and facund Cicero,
Melchisedech, with uther mony mo.
Thair veyage lyis throw out this wildernes,
To the Palice of Honour all thay go."''

The poet is enabled to identify these characters from information imparted to him by Achitophel and Sinon, who farther tell him that the whole party is bound for the Palace of Honour. To Minerva succeeds Actaeon, pursued and destroyed by his own hounds, in whose wake comes Diana with her retinue, embracing Jephthah's daughter, "a lustie lady gent," and Iphigenia. These in turn are succeeded by Venus and her Court, which of course includes Cupid, " the god maist dissavabill." The Goddess arrives in a chariot, drawn by twelve coursers (whose rich trappings are carefully noted, down to the "raw silk brechamis ouir thair halsis"), and the following is the description of her appearance :—

"Amid the chair fulfillit of plesance
Ane lady sat, at quhais obeysance
Was all that rout, and wonder is to hear
Of hir cxcelland lustie countenance,
His hie bewtie quhilk is to avance
Precellis all, thair may be na compeir;
For like Phebus in hiest of his spheir,
Hir bewtie schane castand sa greit an glance,
All fairheid it opprest baith far and neir.

Scho was peirles of schap and portrature,
In hir had nature finischit hir cure,
As for gude havings thair was nane bot scho,
And hir array was sa fine and sa pure,
That quhairof was hir rob I am not sure,

The Palice of Honour, Works, i. p. II.

For nocht bot perle and stanis micht I se,
Of quhome the brightnes of hir hie bewtie
For to behald my sicht micht not indure,
Mair nor the bricht sone may the bakkis ee.

Hir hair as gold or topasis was hevvit,
Quha hir beheld hir bewtie ay renewit.
On heid scho had a crest of dyamantis.
Thair was na wicht that gat a sicht eschewit,
War he never sa constant or weill thewit,
Na he was woundit, and him hir servant grantis.
That hevinlie wicht, hir cristall ene sa dantis,
For blenkis sweit nane passit unpersewit,
Bot gif he wer preservit as thir Sanctis."'

Her followers sing sweet concords,

"Proportions fine with sound celestiall,
Duplat, triplat, diatesseriall,
Sesqui altera, and decupla resortis
Diapason of mony sindrie sortis,"

accompanied by all manner of musical instruments.

After mentioning by name a good many of the goddess's enumerable train, the poet proceeds to relate how he is rash enough to lift up his own voice in a ballad of inconstant love, thereupon he is instantly arrested and brought to trial before toe Court of Venus. He takes exception to the jurisdiction, first, on the ground that " ladyis may be judges in na place," «nd, second, on the ground that he is a spirituall man (though fee modestly professes to be " void of lair "), and ought to be Emitted to his "judge ordinair."

"I yow beseik, Madame, [he goes on] with bissie cure,
Till give ane gratious interlocutoure,
On thir exceptiounis now proponit lait."

But Venus has no difficulty in summarily repelling these objections, and the poet is found guilty. While he is revolving

'The Police Of Honour, Works, i. p. 18.

« ZurückWeiter »