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458
[LITERATURE
SCOTLAND

rarely they approach Chaucer in sheer accomplishment. The first example of this new style is the Kingis Quair of James I. (q.v.), a dream-poem written in Troilus verse, and reminiscent of Chaucer's translation of the Romance of the Rose. The indebtedness to Chaucer, even when full allowance is made for the young poet's individuality, is direct and clear. The language, like that of the later Lancelot of the Laik and the Quare of Jelousy, represents no spoken dialect. Whether it is to be explained by the deliberate adoption of southern literary forms by the author, which his enthusiasm for Chaucer and the circumstances of his sojourn in England made inevitable, or whether the single text which is extant is a Scottish scribe's rendering of a text purely southern in character, is a nice academic question. The balance of evidence, and the presumption is strongly in favour of the former, which is the traditional view. When the linguistic forms of the other pieces in the Selden MS., presumably by the same scribe, have been carefully examined and compared, it should not be difficult to reach a final settlement.

The later Scots Chaucerian type is less directly derivative in its treatment of allegory and in its tricks of style, and less southern in its linguistic forms; but, though it is more original and natural, it nevertheless retains much of the Chaucerian habit. The greater poets who represent this type are Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, Gavin Douglas, and, to a large extent, Sir David Lyndsay—whose united genius has given high literary reputation to the so-called Golden Age. General opinion has exaggerated the importance of the minor writers who shared in this poetical outburst. There is, of course, some historical significance in the drawing up of such lists as we have in Dunbar's Lament for the Makaris, or in Douglas's Palice of Honour, or in Lyndsay's Testament of the Papyngo, but it is at the same time clear that their critical importance has been exaggerated. Several of the writers named belong to an earlier period; of many of the others we know little or nothing; and of the best known, such as Walter Kennedy (q.v.) and Quintyn Schaw, it would be hard to, say that they are not as uniformly dull as any of Occleve's southern contemporaries.

The greater portion of this Middle Scots “Chaucerian” literature is courtly in character, in the literary sense, that it continues and echoes the sentiment and method of the verse of the cours d'amour type; and in the personal sense, that it was directly associated with the Scottish court and conditioned by it. All the greater writers, with the exception of Robert Henryson, were well born and connected with the Household, or in high office. Hence what is not strictly allegorical after the fashion of the Romaunt of the Rose or Chaucer's exercises in that kind, is for the most part occasional, dealing with courtiers' sorrow and fun, with the conventional plaints on the vanity of the world and with pious ejaculation. Even Henryson, perhaps the most original of these poets, is in his most original pieces strongly “Chaucerian” in method, notably in his remarkable series of Fables, and his Testament of Cresseid, a continuation of the story left untold by Chaucer. In his Robene and Makyne, on the other hand, he breaks away, and follows, if he follows anything, the tradition of the pastourelles. Dunbar often, and at times deliberately, recalls the older verse-habit, even in his vigorous shorter poems; and Douglas, in his Palice of Honour and King Hart, and even in his translation of Virgil, is unequivocally medieval. Still later, amid the satire and Reformation heat of Lyndsay we have the old manner persisting in the Testaments and in the tale of Squyer Meldrum.

There are, as might be expected, points of contact between the work of the greater makars and the more native and “popular” material. It is remarkable that each of these poets has left one example of the old manner, shown in the alliterative romance-poem; but the fact that in each case their purpose is strongly burlesque is significant of the change in literary outlook.

The non-Chaucerian verse of this period is represented by (a) alliterative romance-poems and (b) verse of a rustic, domestic and “popular” character. Of the historical romance-poem there is little or nothing beyond Henry the Minstrel's Wallace (supra). The outstanding type is shown in such pieces as Holland's (q.v.) Buke of the Howlat, and in the anonymous poems Golagros and Gawane, The Awntyrs of Arthur at the Terne Wathelyne, Rauf Coilȝear and The Pistill of Susan. These, however, were already outworn forms, lingering on in a period which had chosen other ideals.

Strong as the Chaucerian influence was, it was too artificial to change the native habit of Scots verse; and though it helps to explain much in the later history of Scots literature, it offers no key to the main process of that literature in succeeding centuries. Our knowledge of this non-Chaucerian material, as of the Chaucerian, is chiefly derived from the MS. collections of Asloan, Bannatyne (q.v.) and Maitland (q.v.), supplemented by the references to “fugitive” and “popular” literature in Dunbar, Douglas, Lyndsay and, in especial, the prose Complaynt of Scotlande. Classification of this literature by traditional subdivision into genres is difficult, and, at the best, unprofitable. The historical student will be mainly interested in discovering anticipations of the later style and purpose of Ramsay, Fergusson and Burns, and in finding therein early evidence of what has been too often treated as the characteristics of later Scotticism. It would not be difficult to show that the reaction in the 18th century against literary and class affectation—however editorial and bookish it was in the choice of subjects and forms—was in reality a re-expression of the old themes in the old ways, which had never been forgotten, even when Middle Scots, Jacobean and early 18th-century verse-fashions were strongest. It is impossible here to do more than to point out the leading elements and to name the leading examples. These elements are, briefly stated, (1) a strong partiality for subjects dealing with humble life, in country and town, with the fun of taverns and village greens, with that domestic life in the rough which goes to the making of the earlier farces in English and French; (2) a whimsical, elfin kind of wit, delighting in extravagance and topsy-turviness; (3) a frank interest in the pleasures of good company and good drink. The reading of 15th- and 16th-century verse in the light of these will bring home the critical error of treating such poems as Burns's Cottar's Saturday Night, the Address to the Deil, and Scotch Drink as entirely expressions of the later poet's personal predilection. Of the more serious, or “ethical” or “theological” mood which counts for so much in the modern estimate of Scottish literature, there is but little evidence in the popular verse of the middle period. Even in the deliberately religious and moral work of the more academic poets this seriousness is never more exclusive or oppressive than it is in any other literature of the time. If it becomes an obsession of many of the post-Reformation writers, it becomes so by the force majeure of special circumstances rather than in the exercise of an old-established habit.

Outstanding examples of this rustic style are Peblis to the Play and Christis Kirk on the Grene, ascribed by some to James V. (q.v.), Sym and his Brudir, a satirical tale of two palmers, The Wyf of Auchtirmuchty and the Wowing of Jok and Jynny. The more imaginative, elfin quality, familiar in Dunbar's Ballad of Kynd Kittok and his Interlude of the Droichis Part appears in such pieces as Gyre Carling (the mother-witch), King Berdok, and Lichtounis Dreme. The convivial verse, at its best in Dunbar's Testament of Mr Andrew Kennedy, may be studied in Quhy sould nocht Allane honorit be, one of the many eulogies of John Barleycorn anticipatory of Burns's well-known piece. In the collections there are few examples of the simple fabliau, the best being the Thrie Priestis of Peblis and The Dumb Wyf, or of the social variety of the same as shown in Rauf Coilȝear and John the Reeve. For the latter Sir David Lyndsay remains the chief exponent. Of historical and patriotic verse there are few specimens, but some of the lyrics and love-songs, more or less medieval in timbre and form, are of importance. Of these, Tayis Bank and The Murning Maiden are perhaps the best.

Vernacular prose was, as might be expected, and especially in Scotland, late in its appearance. The main work continued to be done in Latin, and to better purpose by Hector Boece (q.v.), John Major (q.v.) and George Buchanan (q.v.) than by the earlier annalists Fordun (q.v.) and Bower (q.v.). It is not till the middle