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A plane sentence, which, as I can devise,
The newis glad that blissful bene and sure
That art beside so glad an aventure,
For in the heav'n decretit is thy cure,
How easy do these sweet verses, with scarce any alteration, throw themselves into a modern dress! This lovely bird within her bill did hold,
Of ruddy gilliflowers, with stalkis green,
Pourtray'd most plain, with letters bright and sheen,
A scroll, that to my heart sweet comfort told;
Most gladsome news, that blissful are and sure;
Full soon shalt thou achieve thine adventure,
For heav'n thee favours, and decrees thy cure ! So with meek gesture did she drop the flowers, Then spread her milk-white wings, and sought her airy
bowers. From these extracts the reader may have some idea of the King's Quhair,' the principal work of James I. That it is faultless, nothing but a blinded enthusiasm would affirm ; but whatever may be its defects, it is certainly not inferior in fancy, elegance of diction, and tender delicacy of feeling to any similar work of the same period, produced either in England or in his own country. It has been already remarked that its blemishes are those
rather of the age than of the poet. The rage for allegorical poetry, at best a most insipid invention, was then at its height. It began with the great models of Greece and Rome, although their taste taught them to use it sparingly; it was adopted by the monks of the middle age, was fostered by Chaucer, revelled in the luxuriant fancy of Spenser, and even lingered in the polished elegance of Pope. Strange that these great geniuses should not have felt, what is now acknowledged by almost every reader, that even in those parts where they have produced the highest effect, it is the poetry, not the allegory, that pleases. Another defect in the poem results from the singular, and almost profane mixture of classical mythology and Christian agency; but for this, too, James has to plead the prevailing taste of the times, and we can even find an approximation to it in Milton. The poem
of which we have been speaking is of that serious and plaintive character which necessarily excluded one characteristic feature of the author's genius, his humour. For this we must look to his lesser productions, ' Christ's Kirk on the Green,' and Peebles at the Play. With regard to the first of these excellent pieces of satirical and humorous poetry, some controversy has been raised by antiquarian research, whether it be the genuine production of the first James ; Gibson, Tanner, and the Editor of Douglas's Virgil ascribing it to James V. The absurdity of this hypothesis, however, was very clearly exposed by the excellent author of a · Dissertation on the Life of James the First;' and from this time the learned
world have invariably adopted his opinion, that both poems are the composition of this monarch.
In Christ's Kirk on the Green,' the king appears to have had two objects in view : not only to give a popular, faithful, and humorous picture of those scenes of revelry and rustic enjoyment which took place at this annual fair or wake, but in his descriptions of the awkwardness of the Scottish archers, to employ his wit and ridicule as the means of encouraging amongst his subjects a disposition to emulate the skill of the English in the use of the long bow. He had, as we have seen, made archery the subject of repeated statutory provisions, insisting that from twelve years of age every person should busk or equip himself as an archer, and practise shooting at the bow-marks erected beside the parish churches; and his poem of Christ's Kirk is almost one continued satire upon the awkward management of the bow, and the neglect into which archery had then fallen in Scotland. To make his subjects sensible of the disgrace they incurred by their ignorance of the use of their arms, and to re-establish the discipline of the bow amongst them, were objects worthy the care of this wise and warlike monarch. * The poem opens with great spirit, painting, in a gay and lively measure, the flocking of country lads and lasses, wowers and Kitties, to the play or weaponschawing at Christ's Kirk on the Green, a village of this name traditionally reported to have been situated in the parish of Kennethmont in Aberdeenshire :
* Tytler's Dissertation on the Life of James I., p. 40.
Wes never in Scotland hard nor sene
Sic dansing nor deray',
Nor Peblis at the Play :,
At Christ's Kirk on a day;
In their new kirtles gray,
At Christ Kirk of the Grene that day.
Thir lasses licht of laitis 7;
Thair shune wer of the straits,
Weill prest with mony plaits ;
Sa loud At Christ's Kirk of the Grene that day. From the colloquial antiquity of the language, and the breadth and occasional coarseness of the native humour which runs through this production, it is impossible to present the English reader, as we have attempted in the 'King's Quhair,' with anything like a translation. The picture of the scorn of a rural beauty, the red-cheeked, jimp, or narrow-waisted Gillie, is admirably given:
gloves of the roe-deer skin.
Scho' scornit Jok, and scrapit at him',
And murgeonito him with mokkis;
For all his zellow locks;
Scho compt him not twa clokkis“,
Scho said, At Christ's Kirk on the Grene that day. The attempts of the different archers, and the ludicrous failure with which they are invariably accompanied, are next described with great force and happiness of humour. Lourie's essay with the long-bow is perhaps the best :Than Lourie as ane lyon lap,
And sone ane lane gan fedders;
Thereon to wed a wedder 7.
It buft like ony bledder 8.
And saifit him
He to the eard dusht down 11
And fled out o' the toune,
i mocked him.
a sound like a bladder. 9 leather.
stunned him. 11 fell suddenly down.