صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

government of the country lead to this subtenants were ordered to quit in the conclusion.

That James was not in advance of his age in his views regarding the freedom of religious opinion, was too plainly | manifested in a law passed by him for the secular punishment of heresy, under which Paul Craw, a Bohemian who had visited Scotland in order to propagate the doctrines of Wickliffe, was committed to the flames. Yet it was in his reign, though during his exile in 1413, and on his application to the Pope, that the first university in Scotland-that of St Andrews-was founded; and in his third parliament at Perth, in March 1425, copies of the laws of the realm were ordered to be supplied to such persons in the different counties as had to do with the administration of justice. Nor was he forgetful of the military organization of the country; and especially did he enforce the practice of archery, in which he was himself one of the most skilful adepts of the age.

Such was the energy of James' administration, and his capacity for details in reference to all the interest of the country -its agriculture, home and foreign trade, manufactures, and fisheries-that his parliaments were almost constantly employed devising measures for their improvement. And in nothing is the benevolent character of the monarch more conspicuous than in his efforts to ameliorate the condition of the lower orders of the people, whose well-being at this time was almost as dependent on the will of their superiors as the lives of the cattle upon their estates; and it often happened, when lands were let to new tenants, that the labourers and

[ocr errors]

most summary and inconsiderate manner. This being in accordance with the law of the land, James was unable to remedy otherwise than by a request to the greater barons and higher clergy to grant a year's grace to the smaller tenants and labourers who were removable without warning; and it is supposed that this recommendation first familiarized the country with the right of tack or lease. In reference also to matters which the wisdom of later times have left to the regulation of public opinion and individual taste, the enactments of James show the monarch's anxiety for the public welfare, by making regulations regarding burgesses and tradesmen-their occupations, their dress, and even their amusements; in fact, drill, discipline, and legislative regulation were to be applied to almost all the relations of society, with a view to the general efficiency and economy of the nation as an industrial and warlike community.

But James' chief difficulty in governing arose from the spirit of insubordination and jealousy which animated the nobility in reference to the prerogatives of the crown. Accustomed as they had been to almost regal power, each in his own district, even to the extent of keeping armed retainers, and waging internecine war upon one another, they resented the monarch's interference with that rude independence which was entirely incompatible, in his view, with the welfare of the kingdom. James, through conciliating the higher clergy and men of business capacity among the lesser nobility, had systematically set himself

to the task of bringing the privileges and rights of the most powerful of the aristocracy into subordination with those of the crown. And the bold and decided measures which he adopted in the case of some of the most dangerous of them was attended with wonderful success; yet the spirit of revenge, so characteristic of semi-barbarous times, became widespread among those who considered | themselves the victims of a stern tyranny.

Although the conspiracy through which the life of this useful and vigorous sovereign was cut short cannot be traced beyond the inspiration of the personal | revenge and ambition of the conspirators, yet the spirit of suppressed mutiny among the nobility was so widespread that it formed an element in favour of their designs, upon which they no doubt calculated. As illustrating the spirit and motives which animated those men, it is of interest to trace the circumstances on which they seemed to justify their proceedings, and rest their hopes of success. The chief actors in the plot were Walter Earl of Athole, his grandson Sir Robert Stewart, chamberlain to the king, and one of his personal favourites; and Sir Robert Graham, uncle to the young Earl of Menteith, who was absent in England as a hostage for the payment of James' ransom. Athole himself was the son of Robert II. by his second wife Euphemia Ross, and the Earl of Menteith was a grandson of David Earl of Strathearn, the eldest son of the same marriage; but the Earl of Menteith does not appear to have been personally aware of the conspiracy. It thus

appears that James and his infant heir were the only obstacles to the claims of Athole upon the throne, and there was a prediction that he should wear a crown before he died. But the immediate instigator was Graham, who, on behalf of his nephew Menteith, disputed the king's right to assume, as falling to the crown, the earldom of Strathearn. This earldom James seized, on the plea that it was a male fief-an exception to the general law of heredity in Scotland; but as compensation to the dispossessed heir, he made him Earl of Menteith. Sir Robert Graham, however, took such advantage of the transaction as to inspire a party of the nobles with a desire to control the action of the king; and in the royal presence in parliament, went the length of proposing that the sovereign should be subjected to personal restraint. James, with that decision for which he was remarkable, ordered his immediate arrest, and was promptly obeyed. After being imprisoned for some time, he was banished from court, and his estates confiscated. Landless and a fugitive he retired into fastnesses of the Highlands, whence he sent the king a letter renouncing his allegiance, and expressing his determination to slay him wherever he met him. But James, who appeared to treat the matter with indifference, nevertheless issued a proclamation offering a large reward for his head.

The Christmas of 1436 James had resolved to celebrate in Perth ; and it is recorded that when crossing the Forth on his way thither, a Highland woman, who seems to have learned something of the plot that was being hatched by

calculated to serve the aims of men who are ready to sacrifice the public welfare to their own selfish ends.

This summary of James' political career enables us to note those circum

developed a mind which was originally of a superior order; and it has to be acknowledged, that though these may account for what might be construed into slight blemishes in his political dis

the outlawed Graham and the Earl of Athole, attempted to warn the monarch of his danger; but her efforts were frustrated through the carelessness or complicity in the crime of his attendants, and the king soon reached his destina-stances in his life which moulded and tion, and with his court took up his residence in the monastery of the Dominican Friars, a short way from the town. Athole and his grandson were in attendance on the king, while Graham conducted the military pre-position, as regards his literary training parations for the daring and vengeful enterprise in the adjoining Highlands. The night of the 20th February 1437, was that selected for putting it in execution. The court had been unusually gay, and the king sat playing at chess, when the Highland woman, who had already vainly attempted to warn him of his danger, again demanded to be admitted to his presence. On her desire being intimated to the king, he requested her to return to-morrow; but to-morrow found him the mangled victim of the vengeful sword of Graham, who, with a band of three hundred Highlanders, in concert with Athole and his grandson, took such measures as secured their possession of the monastery, and the easy accomplishment of their villanous design, the details of which it is unnecessary here to introduce.

Thus was cut off, in the midst of his usefulness, one of the best, and certainly the most accomplished king that ever ruled in Scotland. Yet it can hardly have escaped observation that, in his assertion of the claims of the crown, his actions naturally excited, on the part of the nobility, those feelings of distrust and insecurity, than which nothing is better

and character, they were such as few monarchs have had the advantage of. By his early instructor, before leaving home, he was grounded in those solid elements of knowledge which his mind was so well calculated to retain; and after his captivity, the leisure of which allowed him the uninterrupted prosecution of his studies, he was equally fortunate in having in Sir John Pelham a governor admirably suited to complete what the sagacious Wardlaw had begun. It is therefore not surprising that we find in James I. the most accomplished scholar, and the most elegant poet of his time. The extent and variety of his accomplishments are recorded by all his biographers, but his memory is mostly indebted to the celebrated antiquary, Tytler of Woodhouselee, and his grandson the historian of Scotland; the former of whom, after the neglect of centuries, introduced the beautiful poem of "The King's Quair" to the notice of the public in 1783. The manuscript in which it is preserved is unique, and from having been presented to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, by Selden, is called the Seldenian MS.

This poem may be best described

as a love song, which, in the ardour of its devotion, and the beauty of the imagery by which it is expressed, may not inappropriately be compared to the Song of Solomon, although as regards the allegorical framework, so to speak, on which it is constructed, it bears little resemblance to that impassioned lay.

It may be thought a matter of course to find James highly extolled by the literary historians of his own country; we shall therefore not from disrespect of their judgment or their impartiality-pass over their remarks on the merits of "The Quair," and give the opinion of an English critic, whose poetical judgment has been largely endorsed by English writers. Mr Ellis, in his Specimens of the Early English Poets, calls it the most elegant poem produced during the early part of the fifteenth century. "It is full of simplicity and feeling, and is not inferior in poetical merit to any similar production of Chaucer." Of a given extract he remarks-"It would, perhaps, be difficult to select, even from Chaucer's most finished works, a long specimen of descriptive poetry so uniformly elegant as this; indeed, some of the verses are so highly finished that they would not disfigure the compositions | of Dryden, Pope, or Gray.' Perhaps the highest compliment to the muse of James is the graceful tribute in which the author of "Anster Fair" conceives of the royal poet as his poetic genius :

"Last night I dreamed that to my dark bedside Came, white with rays, the poet of the 'Quhair'

And drew my curtain silently aside,
And stood and smiled majestically fair;

He to my finger then a ring applied
(It glittered like Aurora's yellow hair),
And gave his royal head a pleasant wag,
And said, Go on, my boy; and celebrate thy
Mag!"

The "Quair" only admitted of the exhibition of a serious vein of poetry; yet James, like Chaucer, was a keen observer of the humorous aspects of life; and his two poems, "Peblis to the Play," and "Christ's Kirk on the Green," have been regarded as the most graphic and faithful, though ludicrous, pictures of rustic manners that exist in the language.

"Peblis to the Play," the scene of which, as the name implies, is the ancient town of Peebles, has been preserved in the Maitland manuscript, without any author's name attached to it; but nearly all our antiquarian writers agree in recognising it as the poem attributed to James I. by Major, the historian, of which he quotes the two first words. It was first introduced to the notice of modern literary historians by Bishop Percy.

"Christ's Kirk on the Green," the most popular, and supposed to be the more modern of the two poems from having the title of the former mentioned in it, has been preserved in both the Maitland and Bannatyne manuscripts. An imperfect version of it, under the title of a Ballad of a Country Wedding, was printed as a broadside in 1660, a copy of which is preserved in the British Museum. The next edition -a more perfect one-was published in 1691, at Oxford, under its present title, by Edmund Gibson, afterwards Bishop of London. But Allan Ramsay's

edition of 1716, to which he added of Leslie, in Fife, not far from Falkland, two cantos of his own composition, is more likely to have presented a first gave it an extensive popularity. scene such as, not far from the same Several places have been suggested as place, centuries afterwards, inspired the the scene of the rustic festivities from poetic pencil of Wilkie. which the royal poet drew his materials It is proper to add that James' title to for this amusing sketch. A village the authorship of this poem is not undisnamed Christ's Kirk, said to have puted; yet the subject involves too many existed in the district of Garioch, Aber- | purely antiquarian considerations to deenshire, is referred to; but the village admit of its being popularly interesting.

THE KING'S QUAIR.

[Complete: the text thoroughly revised, but verbally unaltered.]

CANTO I.
I.

HIGH in the heavenis figure circular

The ruddy sterres' twinkling as the fire: And in Aquary Cynthia the clear,

Rinsed her tresses like the golden wire, That late tofore, in fair and fresh attire, Through Capricorn heavèd her hornis bright,

Of Rome, whilom that was the worldis

flower,

And from estate by fortune a while
Foringit' was, to povert in exile.

IV.

And there to hear this worthy lord and clerk,

His metre sweet full of morality;

North northiward approached the mid His flowered pen so fair he set a werk,

night.

II.

When as I lay in bed alone waking,

New parted out of sleep a lyte tofore,2

Fell me to mind of many diverse thing

Discryving first of his prosperity,

And out of that his infelicity;

And then how he in his poetly report,
In philosophy 'gan him to comfort.

V.

Of this and that, can I not say wherefore, For which thought3 I in purpose, at my But sleep for craft in earth might I no

more;

book,

[began, To borrow a sleep, at thilke4 time For which as though could I no better Or ever I stent,5 my best was more to look wile, Upon the writing of this noble man, But took a book to read upon a while: That in himself the full recover wan

[blocks in formation]
« السابقةمتابعة »