صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

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church, which had latterly become the butt of the poet's satire, but which was formerly the harbour of the muse, was superseded by another, of too stern a mould to become either a butt or a bield; and when the trade capital of the nation was little over a million sterling, it is not to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.




I 250-1707.



The traditional fame of Thomas, His hold on the popular imaginapopularly called the Rhymer, is much tion is not inaptly compared by greater than is warranted by anything Irving to that which Orpheus held in that can now be attributed to him, if the estimation of the Greeks. Scott, we except the romance of Sir Tristrem, as might be expected of one who conwhich, from the solitary reference of tained more romance in his own comDe Brunne, could have no share in position than tradition ascribes to the forming his reputation before its dis- Rhymer, had, very early in his literary covery by Ritson, and its publication career, been attracted by his mystic by Scott in 1804. But for that dis- renown, and to his writings it owes covery, there is little to entitle him to a much of its present interest-perhaps place among the poets of Scotland, its rescue from that oblivion into which notwithstanding his popular name of all fame depending on tradition is desRhymer, which the facts bearing on the tined to pass, when the popular mind point leave somewhat doubtful whether has lost faith in the superstitious legends he owed it to its being given him by his in which it is transmitted. son and heir, in a charter by which he Scott's life of him, prefixed to the grants his estate to the convent of the ballads of Thomas the Rhymer in the Trinity House of Soltra in 1299, as a Minstrelsy of the Border, and that in surname (Rymour); or, as Sir Walter his introduction to Sir Tristrem, are Scott thinks, as an appendage indicating our chief data for the facts of his history. his poetical character. Sir Walter's His designation, Thomas of Erceldoune, conclusion is grounded on the assertion he derives from the village of Erceldoune that surnames were not hereditary at (now Earlston, from having afterwards the time, and the fact that his son de come into possession of the Earls of signates himself simply Thomas of Er- March), in Berwickshire, situated on the celdoune.

river Leader, about two miles from its junction with the Tweed. He is likely is first related by Bower, the continuato have been born here, but at what date tor of Fordun's Chronicle, and is to has not been ascertained ; yet, from his the following effect :having witnessed an undated charter by On the evening before the fatal event, Peter de Haga of Bemersyde, who him- Thomas, who seems to have been on self witnessed another undated charter familiar terms with the Earl of March, is granted by Richard de Morville while jocularly asked by his lordship, as a reputConstable of Scotland, between 1162 ed prophet, what sort of weather it would and 1189, Scott places it about 1219. be on the morrow? when he received That he was alive in 1286, the year of the following answer : “Alas for tothe death of Alexander III., is attested morrow! a day of calamity and misery! by his reputed prophecy of that event ; Before the twelfth hour, shall be heard and that he was dead before 1299, is a blast so vehement, that it shall exceed established by the fact of his son's dispos- all that have yet been heard in Scot. ing of the family estate in that year. land : a blast that shall strike the na

His celebrity as a prophet and a poet tions with amazement; that shall conmight not be sufficient guarantees found those who hear it; that shall for his being a person of much social humble what is lofty ; and that shall importance, did not the other facts lay what is unbending level with the stated necessarily imply as much ; but ground.” The Earl, on receiving this whether he himself assumed the charac- portentous reply, felt some anxiety, ter of a prophet there is no evidence to and on the morrow paid more than show. That his opinions, in what usual attention to the weather indicaever form he may have published them, tions, until about the ninth hour, when, came to be regarded as prophecies seeing no signs of the predicted storm, shortly after his death, if not during he and his attendants began to banter his lifetime, is attested by the refer- Thomas on the value of his prophetic ence to them in Barbour's Bruce and skill. But just as the Earl sat down to Wyntoun's Chronicle, and in almost dinner, and the dial almost told the hour every writer who has had occasion to of noon, a messenger arrived with the treat of Scottish affairs till so late as news of the king's death, which was 1746, when he is referred to by Dougal | immediately recognised as the fulfilment Graham in his metrical history of the of the prophecy of Thomas, under the Rebellion, as having predicted the battle figurative announcement of a storm. of Prestonpans.

John Major in 1521, and Hector Boece Dempster, in his Ecclesiastical His in 1527, have both repeated the same tory of Scotland, in 1627, affirms that he story ; but the former adds the followderived his prophetic knowledge from ing caution : “To this Thomas our Eliza, an inspired nun of Haddington, countrymen have ascribed many predicwho was also distinguished as a poetess. tions, and the common people of Britain His most famous prediction, that in re yield no slight degree of credit to stories ference to the death of Alexander III., of this nature, which I for the most

« السابقةمتابعة »