Page images
PDF
EPUB

else—died, after a long, long reign. Henceforward Poetry rises as the fabled bird from its death-bed, and plumes its golden wings, purified, elate, and full of strength to take new flight, and we hope—even in our own day—to reach the highest Heaven of Song.

[graphic]
[graphic][merged small][merged small]
[graphic]

HE two large islands that lie to the northwest corner of Europe, England and Ireland, are inhabited, as we have every day abundant proof, by a very mixed race, not

perhaps thoroughly fusible, but by the force of many centuries. Two large and simple divisions may be made of these inhabitants—the GermanGothic (whom we call, in a somewhat barbarvus fashion, the Anglo-Saxon), and the Celtic. The larger, more liberal, and stronger race, slower, and more heavily stable, drifted down, by a certain proclivity it has, to the fatter and better parts of the island; while to the corners and top of it the Celtic either retired, or was driven. No doubt these Celts, with their quick wit, broad faces, high cheek-bones, deep feelings of insult and revenge, flashes of intense merriment, but deep residuum of melancholy, wrote some splendid poetry. Some of it, wild and nebulous enough, remains in Ossian's rhapsodies, which is poetic in its expansion, and resembles, in more than one instance, the Romaic and Rouman poetry; and, it seems to us, in tone and matter, imagery and exaggeration, betrays its Eastern origin. Much, too, must remain in a fragmentary state, in snatches of song and legend, in the Welsh and Irish languages. On this we cannot pronounce; but we hear from competent scholars that its character is that of a dying race--sombre, melancholy, and grandiose

. That it ever reached any great polish or height, is more than any one now can say. Of course, the “Ode" of Gray, a magnificent performance, in which he makes the Welsh bards curse King Edward in good round numbers,

Ruin seize thee, ruthless king!

Confusion on thy banners wait! is as far from being anything like that which the bards would have said, as are the excellent disquisitions on marriage and morality, in “Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia,” by Johnson, from the notions of a true barbaric African. Real Irish, Welsh, and Scottish poetry, all Celtic in language and character, is as dead as King Priam, and will never, by any means or miracle, move the heart of a nation again. This is a sad reflection; but change is constant and inevitable. The rocks split and decay. The grand poet, who endures longer than the monuments of nations, lies embalmed in a dead language, and is little known to the mass of those who occupy the land of his birth.

The people of those portions of the island, finding one tongue decay, did their best to preserve high thoughts and noble impulses by embalming them in a provincial dialect like that of Cornwall, of Lancashire, Devonshire, and of the Lowlands of Scotland; and this latter is what we are about to treat of. Day by day it has been becoming less uncouth, less full of early BARBOUR-DRUMMOND.

229

Saxon phrases, (for the Saxons had penetrated into the Lowlands,) and less thickly sown with local and Celtic phrases picked up from the Highlanders. Modified by these circumstances, the tongue has been called Scotch; and, led away by a broad pronunciation, which we opine is actually much more Saxon and true than our modern English, misled by this “manly Doric," the Scots Lowlanders have claimed a literature of their own.

To whatever glory it has, they are welcome. The spirit of Scotch poetry is that of the people -open, manly, free, independent, warm-hearted, full of love and honesty; this, then, is their glory, whatever accident may have modified their a's and o's, or to whatever branch of language theirs may belong. The early Scots poets seem to have burst into

song at the same time which witnessed the wonderful intellectual activity of the English. Contemporary with Chaucer, John Barbour, who is said to have been born in 1320, and to have died in 1395, wrote a metrical life of King Robert Bruce; King James I. of Scotland, born in 1394, wrote “The King's Quhair" in 1424; and Andrew Wyntoun, who is said to have died in 1425, compiled a metrical chronicle of Scotland. But the greatest Scottish poet of that period was Bishop Gawain Douglas, born in 1471, whose “Palace of Honour," and translation of Virgil's “Æneid” still retain a very high rank in Scottish poetry. Then, with the exception of Sir Richard Maitland, a judge, (born in 1496, and died in 1586,) we may reckon that from George Buchanan, the Scottish Ovid, (born in 1506, died in 1582,) to Drummond, of Hawthornden, (born in 1585, died in 1649,) the century from 1550 to 1650 witnessed the greatest galaxy of poets that Scotland

has ever known. It will not be necessary for the student of English literature to make the acquaintance of many of these. These poets and gentlemen have nothing essentially Scottish about them ; indeed, with a little alteration of spelling, they might write now, and in measure and feeling be perfectly English. Take Alexander Scot, (1562,) in his “Rondel of Love," of which we extract the most Scottish verse

Luve is ane fervent fire,

Kindillit without desire,
Short plesour, lang displesour;

Repentence is the hire
Ane pure tresour, without mesour;

Luve is ane fervent fire.

This is very pretty, neat, and sweet, as a love song; but, with the exception of the Norman terminations, the spelling is English, or what we call English, of the day. Take again a most beautiful song, said to be by Sir Robert Ayton, (1570-1638,) who was a friend of Ben Jonson's. This is purely English ; and, says Robert Carruthers, very justly, Burns spoilt it by rendering it into Scotch. We give two verses of it

I do confess thou’rt smooth and fair,

And I might have gone near to love thee;
Had I not found the slightest prayer

That lips could speak had power to move thee:
But I can let thee now alone
As worthy to be loved by none.
I do confess thou’rt sweet, yet find

Thee such an unthrift of thy sweets,
Thy favours are but like the wind,

That kisses everything it meets.
And since thou canst with more than one,

Thou’rt worthy to be kiss'd by none. With George Buchanan and Arthur Johnston, two learned Scotsmen, and the best Latinists of their day,

« PreviousContinue »