Billeder på siden



tarded in Ireland. At a time when England and Scotland had distinguished themselves by their military greatness, and by their exertions in literature and the arts; when England had produced her Chaucer, her Spenser, her Sydney, her Shakspeare, and her Drake and Burleigh, and when Scotland had produced her Drummond, her Knox, and her Buchanan, Ireland was still in a state of deplorable degradation, morally and politically. She had been treated with all the harshness of a conquered country, and her interests had been neglected by her conquerors, with all the haughtiness of superiority. She was not permitted to do any thing for herself, and she found no one willing to do any thing for her. The consequence was, that she remained in that state of humiliation which destroyed within her all desire of greatness, and left her only the inextinguishable love of liberty and independence. Spenser visited Ireland in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, as secretary to Lord Grey of Wilton; and when he returned, he wrote and published "A View of the State of Ireland," which is supposed to be the substance of a dialogue between Eudoxus and Ireneus. As an authentic record of the country and its inhabitants at that period, this production is deserving of high consideration, independently of that value which must attach to it as the composition of Spenser; and, as it is much less known than it ought to be, I shall extract here one or two passages, descriptive of the state of manners and society in that



era. The following description of the Irish bards, and a race of men called Horse-boys, may be considered as interesting.

"There is amongst the Irish a certain kind of people, called Bardes, which are to them instead of poets, whose profession is to set forth the praises or dispraises of men in their poems or rithmes; the which are had in so high regard and estimation amongst them, that none dare dis-. please them for fear to run into a reproach through their offence, and to be made infamous in the mouths of all men. For their verses are taken up with a general applause, and usually sung at all feasts and meetings by certain other persons, whose proper function that is, who also receive for the same great rewards and reputation amongst them.

"Eudox.-Do you blame this in them, which I would otherwise have thought to have been worthy of good account, and rather to have been maintained and augmented amongst them, than to have been disliked: for I have read, that in all ages, poets have been had in special reputation, and that (methinks) not without great cause; for besides their sweet inventions and most witty laycs, they have always used to set forth the praises of the good and virtuous, and to beat down and disgrace the bad and vicious; so that many brave young minds have oftentimes, through hearing the praises and famous eulogies of worthy men sung and reported unto them, been stirred



up to affect the like commendations, and so to strive to the like deserts. So they say that the Lacedemonians were more excited to desire of honour with the excellent verses of the poet Tirtæus, than with all the exhortations of their captains, or authority of their rulers and magistrates.

"Iren. It is most true, that such poets as in their writings do labour to better the manners of men, and through the sweet bait of their numbers to steal into the young spirits a desire of honour and virtue, are worthy to be had in great respect. But these Irish Bardes are for the most part of another mind, and so far from instructing young men in moral discipline, that they themselves do more deserve to be sharply disciplined: for they seldom use to choose unto themselves the doings of good men for the arguments of their poems; but whomsoever they find to be most licentious of life, most bold and lawless in his doings, most dangerous and desperate in all parts of disobedience and rebellious disposition; him they set up and glorify in their rithmes, him they praise to the people, and to young men make an example to follow.

"Eudor.-I marvel what kind of speeches they can find, or what faces they can put on to praise such bad persons as live so lawlessly and licentiously upon stealths and spoyls, as most of them do; or how they can think that any good mind will applaud or approve the same?

[ocr errors]


"Iren.-There is none so bad, Eudoxus, but shall find some to favour his doings; but such licentious parts as these, tending for the most part to the hurt of the English, or the maintenance of their own lewd liberty, they themselves being most desirous thereof, do most allow. Besides this, evil things being decked and attired with the gay attire of goodly words, may easily deceive and carry away the affection of a young mind that is not well stayed, but desirous by some bold adventures to make proof of himself: for being (as they all be) brought up idly, without awe of parents, without precepts of masters, and without fear of offence, not being directed nor employed in any course of life which may carry them to virtue, will easily be drawn to follow such as any shall set before them: for a young man cannot rest; if he be not still busied in some goodness, he will find himself such business, as shall soon busy all about him. In which, if he shall find any to praise him and to give him ́ encouragement, as those Bardes and Rithmers do for little reward, or a share of a stolen cow; then waxeth he most insolent and half mad with the love of himself and his own lewd deeds. And as for words to set forth such lewdness, it is not hard for them to give a goodly and painted shew thereunto, borrowed even from the praises which are proper to virtue itself. As of a most notorious thief and wicked outlaw, which had lived all his lifetime of spoils and robberies, one of their Bardes in his praise will say, that he was none of

[ocr errors]


the idle milk-sops that was brought up by the fireside, but that most of his days he spent in arms and valiant enterprises; that he did never eat his meat before he had won it with his sword; that he lay not all night slugging in a cabin under his mantle; but used commonly to keep others waking to defend their lives: and did light his candle at the flames of their houses, to lead him in the darkness; that the day was his night, and the night his day; that he loved not to be long wooing of wenches to yield to him, but where he came he took by force the spoil of other men's love, and left but lamentation to their lovers; that his music was not the harp nor lays of love, but the cries of people and clashing of armour; and finally, that he died not bewailed of many, but made many wail when he died, that dearly bought his death. Do you not think (Eudoxus) that many of these praises might be applied to men of best deserts, yet are they all yielded to a most notable traitor, and amongst some of the Irish not smally accounted of: for the song, when it was first made and sung to a person of high degree there, was bought (as their manner is) for forty crowns.

"Eudor.-And well worthy sure. But tell me, I pray you, have they any art in their compositions; or be they any thing witty or well savoured, as poems should be?

"Iren.-Yea truly, I have caused divers of them to be translated unto me, that I might understand them and surely they savoured of sweet

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »