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THE LITERATURE OF SCOTLAND.
9. The causes which make our roll of eminent English names so short for this period, acted yet more strongly in Scotland ; and the effect was augmented by other circumstances. The most thoughtful and best instructed men concentrated their attention, with constant earnestness, on the theological and ecclesiastical questions of the time ; national dangers and aristocratic feuds distracted the country without ceasing; and Scottish literature, notwithstanding the poetic brilliancy which had recently adorned it, occupied really, in the beginning of this period, a position much less advanced than that which was the starting-point of England.
It is impossible to avoid believing, that literary progress was seriously impeded by the state of the Living Language. Radically identical with that which was spoken in the south, it had yet by this time assumed decisively the character of a separate dialect. It retained much more of the antique than the English did; because it had not received nearly so thorough a development in literature, and wanted especially the cultivation which would have been given by a free use of literary prose. It had also contracted, through the provincial isolation of the country, many peculiarities, which were neither old Saxon nor modern English: and these were now receiving continual accessions. Not only, therefore, was the Scottish dialect a less efficient literary organ than the English, but, likewise, those who wrote and spoke it were not well qualified either for appreciating perfectly, or for dexterously transferring to their own speech, the improvements in style and diction which were going on so actively in England If there was ever to arise in Scotland a vernacular literature worthy of the name, it could be only through the adoption of the one or the other of two courses. The first of these would have consisted in a thorough cultivation, and enrichment and systematizing of the native dialect ; a process which would have placed the two kingdoms of the island in a literary relation .t
Their happy grave within the closëd ground;
Oh, my beloved sou! Oh, my sweet child !
each other, not unlike that which subsists between Spain and Portugal. This was a mode neither desirable nor likely. The other was, the adoption of the English tongue as the vehicle of the standard literature of Scotland. This step, which probably must have been, sooner or later, the issue in any circumstances, was hastened by the union of the two crowns in the beginning of the seventeenth century. From that date, accordingly, the literature of England comprehends that of the sister-country as one of its branches.
The fact last noticed co-operates with others, in making it convenient that this should be the last period in which we take separate account of Scottish literature. It will be in our power to learn all that needs to be known, by looking forward very cursorily to the literary events that occurred in Scotland during the reign of Elizabeth, and the Scottish reign of James. Even with this extension of the period, our review of the northern literature may warrantably be brief
. The importance of the phenomena, in the aspect in which they are here regarded, was far from being commensurate either to the momentous character of the attendant social changes, to the great ability of many of the literary men, or to the extensive erudition that was possessed by some of them.
10. In the annals of Scottish poetry during the sixteenth century, the distinguished poets of its opening years having already been spoken of, there occurs but one name that claims a memorial. The brightness which had lately shone out proved to be that of sunset: and the clouds of moonless night that succeeded, dimmed and hid the few scattered stars..
Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, the youthful d. aft. 1567. S panion of James the Fifth, and afterwards his }
sagacious but unheeded adviser, is one of the most celebrated of Scotsmen, in his native country at least. His fame rests securely on the evidence of natural vigour which his works display, and on our knowledge of the influence which these had in promoting the ecclesiastical changes that began to be contemplated in his day. But very warm national partialities would be required, for enabling us to assign him a high rank as a poet. The chief characteristics of his writings are, their sagacious closeness of observation, their rough business-like common sense, and their formidable and unscrupulous vehemence of sarcastic invective. Living in a licentious court, and under a corrupt church, he attacks, with equal freedom, the follies and vices of the king and his comrades, and the abuses and weaknesses which deformed the ecclesiastical establishment.
His most elaborate work is called “The Satire of the Three Estates," a title which correctly describes it as aimed at a very wide range of victims. It is a drama of huge dimensions, and the earliest work of the kind that exists in the northern dialect. It is not so strictly a Moral-Play as an Interlude, bearing a considerable resemblance to the works of John Heywood. It abounds in such allegoric personages as King Humanity, Flattery, Falsehood, and Good Counsel, Chastity and Sensuality, Spirituality and Temporality, Diligence and Correction, the latter of whom hangs Theft in presence of the spectators. These figures, however, mix familiarly, in the scene, with characters representing directly the classes of the community. Among them is the Friar, who is Flattery in disguise; there is the Doctor, who delivers a pretty long sermon, answered in another, which is recited by Folly; there are the Bishop, Abbot, Parson, Prioress, and Pardoner; and the low comedy of the piece is played chiefly by the Shoemaker and Tailor, and the wives of these two. The date of the composition is conjectured to have been the year 1535, when it was acted at Cupar, in Fife, the native county of the author. The grossness of the humour, in many passages, is not surpassed by any thing in our old literature; and the satirical exposure of corruptions, though mainly made at the expense of the church, (for which, by that time, the rulers probably cared little,) cuts likewise so deeply into political questions, that the toleration of the exhibition by the government is almost as great a riddle as that which was shown to Skelton. It is needless to say that, in the controversial design of Lindsay's drama, we have a parallel to those pieces which were offered to uneducated audiences in England by the venerable Bishop Bale,
Our Scottish poet was certainly not endowed largely, either with poetic imagination or fine susceptibility. The allegorical inventions of the “Satire” have no great originality or beauty. His other large work, " The Monarchy, a Dialogue betwixt Experience and a Courtier,” is a vast historical summary, with very little to relieve its dulness : and his “Squire Meldrum,” in which a contemporary gentleman is promoted to be the hero of a metrical romance, is, besides its gratuitous indecency, conclusive as a proof of the author's inability to rise into the imaginative and romantic sphere. He is much stronger in those smaller pieces which open up to him his favourite field of satire. The most poetical of these is “The Complaint of the Papingo,” in which the king's parrot reads a lesson both to the court and to the clergy.
On the whole, Lindsay certainly wanted that creative power of genius, which would have entitled him to the name adopted, in the golden age of Scottish poetry, by the masters of the art. Dunbar and his contemporaries called themselves Makers; and this was also an English use of the term till the close of Elizabeth's reign. The poet of the Reformation in Scotland was not a poetic maker: he was only a man of great robustness, both of thought and will,
who acted powerfully on a rude and fierce generation. 11. Down to the end of the last period in which we examined the intellectual progress
of Scotland, we did not discover any application of the living tongue in the shape of original Prose to uses that can be called literary. This great step was now taken. Still, however, the most distinguished relics of Scottish prose
that belong to the first half of the sixteenth century are not original. They were versions from the Latin by John Bellenden, archdeacon of Moray, who had also contemporary fame as a poet. He translated, with more neatness and variety of phrase than might have been expected, and with evidence of highly competent scholarship, the first Five Books of Livy, and the History of Scotland recently written by Boece. In the year 1548 there was printed, at Saint Andrews, a monument of Scottish prose which is still more curious. This piece, " The Complaint of Scotland,” is a series of satirical reflections on the state of the country, enlivened by a great deal of quaint fancy; and it possesses much value for the antiquary, not only through its minute illustrations of manners and sentiment, but as abounding in characteristically provincial words and phrases. The promise of further progress is held out by the title of a later book, the Chronicles of Scotland, written by Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, and extending from the accession of James the Second to the middle of the reign of Mary. But the literary pretensions of this prolix, credulous, and undigested record, are not higher than those of the poorest English chronicles of the middle ages. There is quoted from it, in one of the notes to Marmion, a passage where the writer relates, with implicit belief, the story of the apparition which, in the church of Linlithgow, warned James the . Fourth before the fatal battle of Flodden.
The few other names which have to be selected from the annals of Scottish prose, belong to the celebrated men who acted in the great struggles of the Reformation ; and the position which these held, requires us to note the state of erudition in the country from the beginning of the century.
Scotland possessed, in this period, two men very eminent in the history of scholastic learning. Probably there was not then in England any speculative philosopher comparable to Major : there was certainly no classical scholar accomplished so variously and so exactly as Buchanan. Yet the general progress of Scottish erudition was slower than in the south ; and its benefits were much less widely diffused. The most learned men were partly or altogether educated abroad.
The honour of having been the first Scotsman who wrote Latin tolerably, has been assigned to Hector Boece, who, about the year 1590, resigned an academical appointment in France to become principal of the college newly founded at Aberdeen. His most famous work, the History of the Scots," is good, though not faultless, as a specimen of Latinity ; the student of antiquity now remembers it only as a receptacle for the wildest of the fables which used to be authoritatively current as the earliest sections in our national annals.
Much inferior to Boece's writings in correctness of Latinity, inB. ab. 1470. deed painfully clumsy and inelegant, are those of John d. ab. 1550. } Mair or Major, who, however, was one of the most vigorous thinkers of his time. Educated in England and Paris, and teaching for some time in France, he became the head of one of the colleges in Saint Andrews. His greatest works are metaphysical : and these, now utterly neglected, like others of their times and kind, fully vindicate the fame which he enjoyed, as one of the most acute and original of those who taught and defended, in its last stages, the scholastic philosophy of the middle ages. His “History of the Nation of the Scots” has little reputation among modern historical students : but, both there and elsewhere, he exhibits an independence and liberality of opinion, which, it has been believed, were not without influence on his most famous pupils. He was the teacher of Knox and Buchanan.
12. The first of these great names is not to be forgotten in the record of Scottish learning and talent. But the stern apostle of the northern Reformation had his mind fixed steadfastly on objects infinitely more sacred than either fame or knowledge: B. 1505. and Knox's few published writings, although plainly ind. 1572. dicating both his force of character and his vigour of intellect, are chiefly valuable in their bearing on the questions of his time. The most elaborate of them, and the only one that can be described as any thing more than a controversial or religious tract, is his “ History of the Reformation of Religion within the Realm of Scotland." Those who now read this interesting chronicle, and who think that its language is peculiarly Scottish, may be amused by knowing, that Knox's style was reproached by one of his controversial opponents with being affectedly and unpatriotically English.