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Toward her golden hair and rich attire,
And greate balas (a) lemyng (6) as the fire,
With many an emerald and fair saphire,
In her was youth, beauty, with humble aport,
Bounty, richesse, and womanly feature;
Wisdom, largess, estate, and cunning sure,
In every point so guided her measure,
The comic poetry ascribed to King James I. has been ever more popular in Scotland than his romantic and sentimental effusions. Christ's Kirk on the Green is as just, if not so comprehensive, a picture of low-life as any that Chaucer has given. According to Mr Tytler, this prince improved the national music in a very high degree, though others reserve this praise for James V., who was also a poet. To the latter, indeed, some antiquaries ascribe all the humorous poetry which goes under the name of both these princes; and the conjecture appears not improbable.
While the native Muses languished in England
(a) A sort of precious stones (says Urry) brought from Balassia, in India.
throughout several reigns, the annals of Scotland in the fifteenth century were illustrated by some of the brightest names that the early poetry of the island can boast. The chief of the Scottish poets was WILLIAM DUNBAR, born at Salton, in EastLothian, about the year 1465. He became a novi. ciate of the Franciscan order, and travelled into England and to France. The moral vigour and occasional tenderness of Dunbar are even more remarkable than the fertility and beauty of his invention, when the period at which he wrote is considered. His diction far outstrips his age in force and happiness, and his phraseology is singularly copious and free.
The Thistle and the Rose of Dunbar is a beautiful piece of poetic fancy ; but in The Golden Terge the peculiarities of his genius are more strikingly displayed. His Friars of Berwick is an excellent story in the comic style, and not without its moral uses. The philosophy of Dunbar seems to have been of the happiest kind ; and it appears that he needed its consolations. In his solicitations at the court of James IV. for honours or church-preferment, he seems to have experienced Spenser's fate, and felt the bitterness which dictated his memorable lines :
To speed to-day, to be put back to-morrow,
Dunbar died in 1530, the Muse having proved to him her own reward.
The Thistle and the Rose was written to cele. brate the union of James IV. with Margaret of Tudor, daughter of Henry VII. It opens with a fine description of the return of spring. The young May, who is personified with many touches of beauty, stands by the bed of the poet, and com. mands him to rise to sing her praises, as had been his wont in former years. After some farther so. lemnities and hymns to Nature and May, Dame Nature herself comes on the scene, and summons the birds, the beasts, and the flowers, to do her homage on this bright May morn. The lion leads on the beasts, the swallow the birds, the yarrow the flowers, to perform their graceful homage to their sovereign mother. The lion, under whose image the reader is to understand the royal Lion of Scotland, thus comes on the scene :
This awefull beist full terrible was of cheir,
He is appointed by Nature King of the Beasts, and counselled not to let the stronger animals trample on the weaker. The Thistle, under which the King of Scotland is emblemed, is crowned King of the Flowers ; a ruby crown is set amid
the Thistle's bush of spears, and it is gallantly charged:
In fielde go furth and fend the laif.
The Rose, or the Queen, is then delicately recommended to the tenderness and protection of the THISTLE, addressed in some ornate verses, and exalted above the Lily,—a courtly compliment to the House of Tudor at the expense of that of Valois.
THE GOLDEN TERGE, which couches a moral end under an allegorical contest between Love and Reason, and their respective satellites, has some flowery, sweet, but rather diffuse description ; for the early poets adorned Nature, as they ascribed charms to their mistresses, with more exuberance of ornament than discrimination of taste.
The following description, with which the poem commences, is pointed out by Warton, who warmly praises Dunbar. The scene is the fresh dawn of a May-day :
Richte as the starre of day began to schyne,
(a) Rose-tree. (b) Purified. Phebus was dressed in his purple robe.
(c) Cape. Ere
Full angelyk the birdis sang thair houris,
For mirth of May, with skippis and with hoppis,
Down thruch the ryss (g) ane revir ran with stremis
(6) The pearled drops fell from the trees like silver showers. (c) Branches.
(d) Knobs; buds. (e) Besprinkled. (f) Covered with streaks, slips, of silver.
(8) Through the bushes, the trees. Rice, or ris, is properly a long branch. (h) Pleasant. (1) The water blazed like a lamp, and threw about it shadowy gleams of twinkling light. (k) Boughs. (l) The high-raised edges or bank.