Page images
PDF
EPUB

No classification of the materials has been attempted, as they considered this would have been a disadvantage rather than the contrary. A short essay on the poets of Renfrewshire is however subjoined To this essay, a valuable appendix containing specimens of their poetry in a regular series downward, with some other interesting matta, is now added.

The Harp of Refreshire is nos consigned to its fateto sink or swim, to thrive or fail La bidding it good bye, they comfort themselves by repeating the old Greek distich, thus Englished:

“Heart, take thine ense, men had to please thon hariy maist oftend, Thougte some sperk 1A free, sotse all say better, there's an end. *

ESSAY

ON

THE POETS OF RENFREWSHIRE.

Parva nunc civitas, sed gloria ingens; veterisque famae late vestigia manent!

Tacitus.

THE
THE Poets of Renfrewshire have neither been few in respect

of numbers, nor contemptible in regard to merit. Although none of them have ever risen far above mediocrity, yet their performances have been such as to entitle their names to an honourable place amongst the minor dards of Scotland, and to preserve them from the death of total oblivion. As yet nothing like a compendious account, not even so much as a bare catalogue of these Makers has been given, albeit the same is much wanted to fill up some little chasms in the history as well of our ancient, as our modern, stock of national biography and literature. This essay, hastily thrown together though it be, and notwithstanding it pretends as little to give the former, as it does to set aside completely the necessity of the latter, will, in some measure, supply the deficiency complained of, until something more perfect and abounding in minuter detail find its way to the public. Nor will such a work be long desiderated; for if we may trust report, a gentleman whom we know to be thoroughly qualified for the task, has it at present in contemplation, and, indeed, is considerably advanced in its progress. The full assurance we have of that gentleman's literary talents, local knowledge of this county, its history and antiquities-intimate acquaintance with the vernacular poetry of Scotland, and other qualifications requisite for such a work, had almost dissuaded us from anticipating in any degree the track of enquiry he has chosen. But as an undertaking of this nature must be the result of time and laborious research, we imagine our desultory

remarks and scattered hints will neither supersede its utility nor materially interfere with the range of its speculations, or the classification and order of its topics.

With regard to the older poets of this county, little can be said, for the best of all possible reasons, because little is known. It is likely that the monastery of Paisley had its metrical, as well as, it is known, it had its prose chroniclers. However, if there were any such, none of their legends are now extant, unless the fragments printed in the appendix, (No. 1) subjoined to this essay, be considered as genuine. Admitting that they are so, which we believe to be the fact, we will yet be thrown into some perplexity, while attempting to ascertain two points of vital consequence, viz., The name or names of the author or authors, and the precise æra in which he or they flourished. These we now bequeath as two good marrow-bones for the antiquary, to try the soundness of his teeth and the goodnatured patience of his temper upon withal.

Prior to the reformation of religion we cannot carry our enquiries far ; and even after that event, the dubious light which history affords, is not of itself sufficient, without conjecture, to eke out the meagre and scanty materials on which our narrative must of necessity be raised. In the absence of positive proof, we must therefore be contented with that species of evidence which the nature of circumstances, and the partial and indistinct glimmerings of legitimate history supply, however unsatisfactory, hypothetical, or fruitful of controversy it may chance to be. The human mind is so constituted, that in matters wherewith it is interested, a plausible supposition will be gladly embraced, and all the weight and authority of a sterling truth conceded at once, rather than it should remain longer in a state bordering on absolute ignorance, or be tormented for ever with vague incertitude-ceaseless and inconclusive conjecture.

Of the late poets this Shire has produced enough in all con.science has been written, but whether much to the purpose or not, is a question easier propounded perhaps than conveniently answered.

Those of what may be called the middle period, are scarcely known at all, except by name and the inimitable pieces they have bequeathed to a forgetful and ungrateful posterity. This will be more obvious and more regretted, when we consider that to them we owe Habbie Simpson's Elegy-The Blythsum Bridal-Scho rase and loot me in-Maggy Lawder- TweedsideThere's nae luck about the house, &c., &c., pieces of most sur. passing excellence in their kind, and some of them the choicest songs in our language.

As closely as possible to chronological order, we now proceed to give the names, and what little we know, of the poets of Renfrewshire.

Sir Hugh Montgomerie of Eglinton is the first whom we meet with in this enquiry. He was lineally descended from the Montgomeries of Eagleshame, the parent stock of all that name in Scotland, and is therefore justly entitled to be considered a native of the county. According to Crawford, it was in the person of this Sir Hugh the first foundation was laid of the many honours his posterity have since enjoyed; for in the fourteenth year of the reign of King James the IV. he was, by the favour of that monarch, created Earl of Eglinton, A. D. 1503. In the continuation of Crawfurd's History by Robertson, the date of his creation is stated to be in 1507. None of his poems are extant: and were it not for the incidental mention of his name by William Dunbar, in the Lament for the Death of the Makkaris,the fact of his being a poet would never have been known. That finest of all our Scotish Poets, in the poem alluded to, thus catalogues him as well as many more, whose works have met with the same fate.

The gude Schir Hew of Eglintoun,
Etrik, Heriot, and Wintoun,
He hes tane out of this countrie,
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Of twenty-three poets mentioned by Dunbar-many of whom were his contemporaries—in this poem, the works of no less a number than thirteen, with the exception of one or two fragments, have entirely perished.

When the gude Schir Hew departed this life, the Historiau of Renfrewshire confesses that he is at a loss to say, but his continuator (Robertson) has fixed that event in 1545.

“ His Lordship,” says that writer, “after a life of great activity, and having been in many a rencontre, died quietly in his own bed in June 1545, in the 85th year of his age." This in sooth is a good old age, and will place his birth in 1460. We imagine, however, there must be some mistake in assigning the above as the period of his death; he must have demised before Dun. bar, who, born in 1465, is supposed to have died in 1530. And that poet surely would not deplore the loss of one who to all intents and purposes was still alive, and as likely to live as himself, and peradventure equally long. It may be said that since the time of Dunbar's death, which has not been discovered with any degree of certainty or precision, no contradiction betwixt the age of the Lament and Schir Hew's decease can thence arise. But even allowing that Dunbar may have sur. vived beyond 1530 many years—nay till after 1545, this would make him 80 years of age at least, before the Lament was composed; a fine time of life, indeed, to write, when his fingers, it is believed, could not hold a pen! Dunbar's circumstances, so far as can be learned, were never such as to permit him employing an Adam Scrivener to endyte his poems like as the venerable Chaucer seems to have done.

The next writer of verses that occurs is Alexander Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn, a nobleman better known for stoutly espousing the cause of religious reformation under the banners of that determined and Apostolical Champion of Protestantism, John Knox. To that famed person and his ad. herents, the house of Glencairn was an ever open asylum; and if we may credit report, it was there for the first time in Scotland, that the Sacraments were administered, agreeably to the rituals of the reformed Church. But it was not merely to the influence of his wealth, name, rank, and arms, this nobleman trusted, when he perilled himself and his fortunes in the good cause of the Covenant and Congregation. With his pen he converted to ridicule and held up to contempt, what fell without the chas. tisement and reach of his sword. His “Epistil, derectit from “ the holy Heremite of Allareit, to his brethren the Greye

Freers," is caustic and severe. Knox has preserved it in his “ Historie of the Reformatioun of Religioun within the Realm “ of Scotland, conteining the manner and be quhat persons the Lycht of Chrystes Evangell has bein manifested unto this “Realme, after that horribill and universall Defection from “ the Treuth whiche has come by the means of that Romane Antychrist;" and Sibbald has reprinted it in his Chronicle of

« PreviousContinue »