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poets of Scotland belonged to the upper classes, or were reared in the church, which, too, was almost a monopoly of the nobility or their relatives. But when the departure of the court, on the union of the crowns, removed the gravitating centre of Scotland's political life, and the union with England did away with the remainder; when the church, which had latterly become the butt of the poet's satire, but which was formerly the harbour of the muse, was superseded by another, of too stern a mould to become either a butt or a bield; and when the trade capital of the nation was little over a million sterling, it is not to be wondered at if the poets of the class to whom political patronage or countenance was a necessity, became extinct, or followed their patrons over the border. But the beginning of the eighteenth century introduced a new order of poets, to whom the long previous poetical interregnum afforded more scope for originality, and which the political and ecclesiastical changes that took place made more dependent on the muse herself. In England, Pope had made what was then considered a fortune by his translation of Homer; and in Scotland, Allan Ramsay, in a humbler way, showed that the public were the best patrons of the poets.
Alongside of Ramsay, who is properly considered the restorer of the native poetry, stands Thomson, who first led the English muse back to nature, after her long subjection to the prim tutelage and artificial elegancies of the wits of Queen Anne's reign, and with Beattie, Falconer, and Armstrong, vindicated Scotland's right, on her own merits, to a place in English literature. Ramsay has an additional claim to distinction as the first champion of the muse against the austerity of the presbytery, and as the strenuous advocate of the people's right to the enjoyment of harmless amusement untramelled by the dictates of the kirk. In this stage Ferguson and Ross are conspicuous names, but its culmination was in Burns; and though it may not compare, in wealth of imaginative poetry, with what we have called the fourth stage, yet, making every allowance for the disadvantages which the earlier period suffers in the comparison, there can be little doubt that, taking the chief poet of each period, Burns soars as high above Dunbar as a poet, as he does as a man. In both respects, perhaps, the older poet was the most disadvantageously circumstanced; and considering his great genius and keen moral insight, it is difficult to come to any other conclusion than that his unfortunate circumstances degraded both his poetry and his manhood. Scotland, after her political vitality was absorbed in that of
England, showed that she was possessed of wonderful poetical energy. But intensely national as Burns is, he is as distinctively a catholic poet, who, stripped of the accidents of nationality, stands forth an embodiment of poetic elements such as are rarely combined in one individual; and this is the key to the fact, that, almost over all the world, he is the greatest definer and controller of the feelings and passions.
Scott may be taken as the central figure of the last group into which the poets of Scotland can be arranged; and a very distinguished group it is, in which Campbell, Hogg, Wilson, Leyden, Motherwell, and Tennant surround their poetical chief, without being dwarfed by his colossal proportions. The chief characteristic of this school of poetry, as represented by Scott's, is difficult summarily to define. As regards nationality, it cannot be said to be Scotch, in the sense commonly understood by that term, and yet that it is of Scotland is unmistakable. Then as to its classification as poetry, it does not come under any of the standard definitions; to use an architectural term, it is a composite which combines a graceful selection of all the old styles in harmonised proportions. Being largely objective, and full of incident, it pleases the imagination without any great strain on the attention, and is healthy and enjoyable beyond any other poetry except the Odyssey, which of all modern poetry it most resembles.
Tannahill, Lady Nairn, Macneill, and a few other song writers of this period, properly belong to the school of Burns; and though the first two may be said to have written songs which are almost equal to his, yet, to use a simile, they represent the first subsidation of that poetic wave of which he formed the crest.
If the foregoing imperfect survey of the poetry of Scotland be a fair summary of its history, we think that it cannot fairly be considered except as an independent and vigorous growth from its own roots, implanted in the national soil; that instead of being a parasite deriving its sustenance from the grand old oak of England, it is a stately Scotch fir, resounding with the breezes of its native mountains, in tones, if less varied and of smaller compass, yet none the less impressive in the depth of their pathos, and their weird intensity.
SCOTTISH POEMS AND POETS.
THOMAS OF ERCELDOUNE.
tion is not inaptly compared by Irving to that which Orpheus held in the estimation of the Greeks. Scott, as might be expected of one who contained more romance in his own composition than tradition ascribes to the Rhymer, had, very early in his literary career, been attracted by his mystic renown, and to his writings it owes much of its present interest-perhaps its rescue from that oblivion into which all fame depending on tradition is destined to pass, when the popular mind has lost faith in the superstitious legends in which it is transmitted.
THE traditional fame of Thomas, His hold on the popular imaginapopularly called the Rhymer, is much greater than is warranted by anything that can now be attributed to him, if we except the romance of Sir Tristrem, which, from the solitary reference of De Brunne, could have no share in forming his reputation before its discovery by Ritson, and its publication by Scott in 1804. But for that discovery, there is little to entitle him to a place among the poets of Scotland, notwithstanding his popular name of Rhymer, which the facts bearing on the point leave somewhat doubtful whether he owed it to its being given him by his son and heir, in a charter by which he grants his estate to the convent of the Trinity House of Soltra in 1299, as a surname (Rymour); or, as Sir Walter Scott thinks, as an appendage indicating his poetical character. Sir Walter's conclusion is grounded on the assertion that surnames were not hereditary at the time, and the fact that his son designates himself simply Thomas of Erceldoune.
Scott's life of him, prefixed to the ballads of Thomas the Rhymer in the Minstrelsy of the Border, and that in his introduction to Sir Tristrem, are our chief data for the facts of his history. His designation, Thomas of Erceldoune, he derives from the village of Erceldoune (now Earlston, from having afterwards come into possession of the Earls of March), in Berwickshire, situated on the river Leader, about two miles from its
junction with the Tweed. He is likely to have been born here, but at what date has not been ascertained; yet, from his having witnessed an undated charter by Peter de Haga of Bemersyde, who himself witnessed another undated charter granted by Richard de Morville while Constable of Scotland, between 1162 and 1189, Scott places it about 1219. That he was alive in 1286, the year of the death of Alexander III., is attested by his reputed prophecy of that event; and that he was dead before 1299, is established by the fact of his son's disposing of the family estate in that year.
His celebrity as a prophet and a poet might not be sufficient guarantees for his being a person of much social importance, did not the other facts stated necessarily imply as much; but whether he himself assumed the character of a prophet there is no evidence to show. That his opinions, in whatever form he may have published them, came to be regarded as prophecies shortly after his death, if not during his lifetime, is attested by the reference to them in Barbour's Bruce and Wyntoun's Chronicle, and in almost every writer who has had occasion to treat of Scottish affairs till so late as 1746, when he is referred to by Dougal Graham in his metrical history of the Rebellion, as having predicted the battle of Prestonpans.
Dempster, in his Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, in 1627, affirms that he derived his prophetic knowledge from Eliza, an inspired nun of Haddington, who was also distinguished as a poetess. His most famous prediction, that in reference to the death of Alexander III.,
is first related by Bower, the continuator of Fordun's Chronicle, and is to the following effect :
On the evening before the fatal event, Thomas, who seems to have been on familiar terms with the Earl of March, is jocularly asked by his lordship, as a reputed prophet, what sort of weather it would be on the morrow? when he received the following answer: "Alas for tomorrow! a day of calamity and misery! Before the twelfth hour, shall be heard a blast so vehement, that it shall exceed all that have yet been heard in Scotland: a blast that shall strike the nations with amazement; that shall confound those who hear it; that shall humble what is lofty; and that shall lay what is unbending level with the ground." The Earl, on receiving this portentous reply, felt some anxiety, and on the morrow paid more than usual attention to the weather indications, until about the ninth hour, when, seeing no signs of the predicted storm, he and his attendants began to banter Thomas on the value of his prophetic skill. But just as the Earl sat down to dinner, and the dial almost told the hour of noon, a messenger arrived with the news of the king's death, which was immediately recognised as the fulfilment of the prophecy of Thomas, under the figurative announcement of a storm.
John Major in 1521, and Hector Boece in 1527, have both repeated the same story; but the former adds the following caution: "To this Thomas our countrymen have ascribed many predictions, and the common people of Britain yield no slight degree of credit to stories of this nature, which I for the most