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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter I.—The Hamilton Period, a. d. 1515—1543.
Section 3. Sir David Lindsay of the Mount 1528—1531


The preacher's pulpit and the martyr's stake are powerful weapons in the battle of God and truth, and they are the chief arms with which that battle has always been fought and won. But they are not its only artillery. The poet and the painter, the scholar and the dramatist, all played a distinguished part in the great struggle of the Reformation, and were thankfully welcomed to the field by the preachers and theologians. Luther found most effective auxiliaries in the satires and dramas of Ulrich von Hutten and Hans Sachs, and in the paintings and prints of Albert Durer and the two Cranachs; and the Scottish Reformation was powerfully aided by a succession of native poets and dramatists, of whom it produced a larger number, in proportion to the population of the country, than any of the other reformed kingdoms of Europe.

Of all these vernacular Reformation poets, the first in time and in influence was Sir David Lindsay of the Mount. Of aristocratic birth and station, the laurelled poet of a court, an ardent patriot, and an enthusiastic sympathizer with the great intellectual and ecclesiastical movement of the age, he may deserve, in these respects, the name of the Ulrich von Hutten of the Scottish Reformation. But he is also its Hans Sachs, for all his poetry was written in the homely vernacular of the people, and was distinguished for the same popular qualities of broad common sense, plainspoken honesty, and hearty homespun humour, which made the shoemaker-poet of Nuremberg the idol of the multitude.

Lindsay was born at the Mount, a small estate belonging to his family near Cupar, in Fife, about the year 1495. In 1508 he entered the university of St Andrews, along with David Beaton, afterwards the celebrated cardinal; and immediately after the birth of James V. in 1512, he was appointed Gentleman Usher to the infant prince. In this office he continued till 1524, when, by the intrigues of the Queen-mother and the Douglases, her son was " erected " to the nominal government of the kingdom at the absurdly early age of twelve years, and when Lindsay was unjustly ejected from his post, to make way for some one who was more in favour with the ruling faction. This long residence at the court was of the greatest importance in qualifying the poet for his after career. It gave him an intimate knowledge of men and things; it allowed him to take a very near view of the leading minds who ruled public affairs in Church and State; and it secured for him a place in the affections of the young king, to whose amusement and instruction he had devoted the earliest efforts of his genius, from which he could never afterwards be dislodged, and which proved a powerful protection to him from the formidable enemies whom he provoked by his reforming zeal, and goaded to resentment by his pungent satire.

Obliged to wait patiently for better times in the solitude of his "neuk" at the Mount, Lindsay employed several years of study and reflection in furnishing himself for the duties of patriotism and religion which lay before him. He was a great reader, not only of poetry and fiction, but of history, geography, astronomy, and all the other branches of general knowledge which were cultivated in that age; and by these studies he qualified himself to earn the fame of being one of the most learned poets of his time. His attention was also drawn during these years to the doctrines of Luther. The Mount was only a few miles from St. Andrews, where Patrick Hamilton taught and died, and in the very same year in which the bishops succeeded in stifling the testimony of the first reformer, Lindsay came forth with his first poetical invective against the corruptions of the Church.

It was in 1528 that Lindsay wrote and presented to the young king, James V., the earliest of his printed poems, "The Dreme." A few months after Hamilton's martyrdom, the king, who till now had been a mere puppet in the hands of the Douglases, managed by his own unassisted address to effect his escape from the toils of his keepers. In the dead of night he fled on horseback from Falkland to Stirling Castle, and summoning his nobles to attend him with all possible haste, and or bidding by proclamation the Douglases to approach Stirling upon pain of treason, he inaugurated a complete revolution in the administration of the kingdom. This unexpected event had the happiest effect upon Lindsay. It rubbed off at once "the rust of his ingyne;" and before the year was out, he presented to the king a poem of congratulation and advice, which does the highest honour to his genius and patriotism. It opens with " The Epistle to the King's Grace' some interesting lines of which we quote, to show with what tenderness and skill the poet could touch the springs of his young sovereign's early attachment to him, and what advantages that attachment gave him for gaining the royal ear to the earnest words which it was now his wish and purpose to speak.

"Right potent prince, of high imperial blood,
Unto thy Grace, I traist it be weill knawn,
My service done unto thy Celsitude,
Whilk need-is nocht at length for to be schawn.

"When thou was young I bore thee in mine arm
Full tenderly, till thou begouthl to gang,
And in thy bed oft happit thee full warm.
With lute in hand, syne, softly to thee sang.
Sometime, in dancing feirelie* I flang,
And sometime playing farces on the flure,
And sometime on mine office taking cure.8

"And sometime, like ane fiend transfigurate,
And sometime like the grisley ghaist of Guy,
In divers forms ofttimes disfigurate;
And sometimes disaguised full pleasandly;
So sen thy birth I have continually
Been occupied, and aye to thy pleasour,
And sometime Sewar, Cuppar and Carvoiir,

"Thy purse-maister and secret thesaurare,
Thy usher, aye sen thy nativity,
And of thy chalmer chief Cubiculare;
Whilk to this hour has keipit my lawtie,
Loving 8 be to the blessed Trinitie,
That sic ane wretched worm has made so able,
To sic ane Prince to be so agreeable."

"The Dreme, or Marvellous Vision," contains, among many other things, a powerful description of hell, to which the poet imagines himself conducted by Dame Remembrance, a lady "of benign countenance" and "perfect portraiture," who appears to him as he lies asleep in a sea-side cave; and it is in this part of the piece that Lindsay gives the earliest revelation of his opinions respecting the state of the Church. "Get up," quoth the Dame Remembrance:—

"------and gang anon with me,
So were we baith, in twinkling of ane ee

"Down through the earth, in middis of the centre
Or ever I wist into the lowest hell;
And to that careful cove when we did enter,
Yowting and yowling we heard, with mony yell;
In flame of Are right furious and fell
Was crying mony carefulla creature;
Blaspheming God and warying8 nature."

And whom of all the world did the poet see plunged in that dismal Pandemonium?

"There saw we divers popes and emperors,
Without recover mony careful kings;
There saw we mony wrangous conquerors;
The men of kirk lay bunden into bings
There saw we mony careful cardinals,
And archbishops in their pontificals.

"Proud and perverset prelates out of number,
Priors, and abbots, and false flattering friers,
To specify them all it were ane cumber,
Regular canons, churl-monks and chartereres,
Curious clerk-is and priest-is seculeres;
There was some part of ilk religion
In haly kirk that did abusion."

What a startling stroke of satire! to represent churchmen of all ranks and orders as the chief population of hell. But the poet:--------"^ring still.

"Ruling that rout, I saw in caps of brass,
Simon Magus and Bishop Caiaphas,
The Bishop Annas, and the traitor Judas,
And Mahomet, that prophet poisonable;
There Chora, Dathan, and Abiram was,
And heretics we saw innumerable;
It was ane sight right wonder lamentable."

To put Annas and Caiaphas among the bishops, and to make Judas, Simon Magus, and even Mahomet, the rulers of the churchmen's rout in Pandemonium, was an audacity of satire which had never been matched before in the Scottish tongue.

The poet of course is not a little astonished and scandalized at the sight before him, so different from anything commonly imagined in the upper regions; and he demands of Dame Remembrance the cause of the "punition of the prelates." Her reply is a graphic picture of the disorders of the Church:—

"She said the cause of their unhappy chance
Was covetyce, and lust, and ambition;
The whilk now gars them want fruition
Of God—and here eternally man dwell
Into this painful, poisoned pit of hell.

"Als, they did nocht instruct the ignorant,
Provoking them to penitence by preaching,
But servit warldly princes, insolent,
And were promoved by their feigned fleeching,
Nocht for their science, wisdom, nor their teiching,
By simony was their promotion
Mair for deneirs, nor for devotion.

"Ane other cause of the punition
Of thir unhappy prelates, imprudent;
They made nocht equal distribution
Of haly kirk-is patrimony and rent,
But temporally 5 they have it all misspent,
Which should have been triparted into three,
First to uphauld the kirk in honesty;

"The second part to sustain their estates,
The third part to be given to the puris.
But they disponed that geir all other gaits,
On cards and dice, on harlotry and huris—
Thir catives took na compt of their own curis;
Their kirk-is revin, their ladies cleanly cled,
And richly rulit, baith at buird and bed.

"Their bastard bairn-is proudly they provided,
The kirk geir largely they did on them spend;
In their defaults, their subdits 8 were misguided,
And compted nocht their God for till offend;
Whilk gart them want grace at their latter end.

That Lindsay meant all this to apply to the state of the national Church he was careful to indicate to the King, in a subsequent part of the piece, where he introduces "John the Commonweill of Scotland," making a bitter complaint of the disorder and corruption into which all ranks and orders of the realm had fallen, during the long minority of the monarch. In the "hieland," in the "lowland," on the borders, all was in confusion and misery, and nowhere could John find any class or condition of men who would listen to his complaints. As for the clergy, he had as little hope from them, as from any other quarter,—

"For I have sought through all the spiritual state,
Whilk took no compt for to hear me complain;
Their officiars—they held me at disdain.
For symonie he rul-is all that rout,
And covetice, that carle, gart bar me out
Pride has chased far from them humility;
Devotioun is fled unto the freirs;
Sensual plesour has banished chastity;
Lords of religion go like seculeres,
Taking mair compt in telling their deneirs,
Nor they do of their constitution;
Thus are they blinded by ambitioun."

Court-poets have sometimes had no higher aims in using the language of Church Reformers than to amuse their princes at the expense of the clergy, to gratify the resentment or the jealousy of their royal patrons, and to carry off the honours of satirical genius. But Lindsay had no such low aims when he knelt before James to present to him "The Dreme." He was thoroughly in earnest for religious reform when he adopted this ingenious expedient for bringing under the young king's notice the disorders of the Church. Lindsay rejoiced in the freedom from the yoke of a selfish faction which his beloved prince had now achieved for himself; and he was sincerely anxious to see the king's government carried on with wisdom and vigour both in its civil and its ecclesiastical administration. The design of the whole poem was to tender to the young monarch at the outset of his management of affairs the best counsel and advice. The "Exhortation to the King's Grace," with which it ends, is a model of enlightened, affectionate, and free-spoken loyalty.

Lindsay's next piece, "The Complaint," was presented to the king at the close of 1529. It is in part a complaint for himself, that as yet his early services at court had been left without any substantial reward; but the chief stress of the poem is laid upon the as yet uncorrected abuses of the Church. Since his accession to real power the king had redressed many evils in the state; but as yet he had done nothing for the better ordering of the Clergy. Border-robbers and highland "caterans* had been brought to reason or to the gallows, but the bishops, and abbots, and priests were still unreformed. Of this the poet complains in the following homely but vigorous lines, in which at the same time he gives the king a sketch of the needed reforms :—

"So is there nought, I understand,
Without gude order in this land,
Except the spirituality;
Praying thy Grace thereto have ee.
Cause them mak ministratioun,
Conform to their vocatioun;
To preach with unfeinyet intents,
And truly use the sacraments,
After Christ's institutions.
Leaving their vain traditions,
Whilk does the silly sheep illude,
Whom for, Christ Jesus shed his blood;
As superstitious pilgrimages,
Praying to graven images,
Express against the Lord's command;
I do thy Grace to understand,
Gif thou to men-is laws assent
Against the Lord's commandement,
As Jeroboam and mony mo,
Princes of Israel also,
Assentars to idolatrie,
Whilk punished were right piteously,
And from their realms were rooted out,
So sail thou be, withouten doubt"

The poet's complaint personal, could be sooner and more easily redressed than his complaint ecclesiastical. The very next year the king appointed him to the honourable and remunerative office of Lord Lion King-at-arms, or head of the College of Scottish Heralds, a position singularly suitable to Lindsay's tastes, and favourable in a high degree both to the development of his genius, and the diffusion of his influence. Soon after his appointment he produced one of the most ingenious and effective of all his works, "The Complaint of the Papingo," or more fully, "The Testament and Complaint of our Sovereign Lord's Papingo, which lies sore wounded, and may nocht die till every man have heard what she says; wherefore, gentle readers, haste you, that she were out of pain." The papingo is the king's popinjay, or parrot, and a great favourite with the young prince. But royal favourites are fond of climbing, and ambition was the death of poor poll. Nothing would content her, one beautiful summer morning, when the poet took her upon his wrist into the palace garden, but she must mount to the very top of a lofty tree :—

"But Boreas blew a blast or ever she wist,
Which brak the branch, and blew her suddenly
Doun to the ground with many woeful cry.
Upon a stump she lichted, on her breast,
The blude rushed out, and she cried for a priest*'

The papingo, however, has a great deal to say before she dies. Her gifts of wisdom and speech are much above those of an ordinary parrot, and she dictates first an " Epistle to our Sovereign Lord King James the Fifth," which is full of excellent counsel, every way fit for the royal ear. Then a second and much larger epistle to " her brethren of court," in which she shows herself much better able to give advice on the dangers of ambition, than she had been disposed to take such advice herself. Last of all, she gathers up all her remaining strength for a lengthened "communing with her holy executors," to wit, the pye, the raven, and the gled, or kite, who by this time have arrived to receive her dying confession and commands. The pye is a canon regular of St. Austin; the raven is a black monk, benedictine or dominican; and the gled, most rapacious of all, is a friar of the order of St. Francis; and this third part of the poem paints the hypocrisy of the religious orders, their cunning and their sordid greed, to the very life. One after another, the dying papingo's holy executors urge her to make a disposition of her " guids and gear " in favour of their respective orders, and for a time she keeps them all at bay, taxing them all roundly with many shameful vices and corruptions, and lecturing them, with no ordinary powers of satire and sarcasm, upon their flagrant degeneracy from the purity of the holy men who were the founders of their several " rules." In truth, she is as learned a papingo as she is fluent and sarcastic; she knows Church history well, declaims upon the radical error of the Emperor Constantine and Pope Sylvester in divorcing the Church from Poverty, her first spouse, and marrying her to Property, to which alliance she traces up, with as much pertinacity as a modern "Voluntary," all the corruptions and disorders of the Church. At last, however, her fast ebbing strength obliges her to come to the point of making her will, though she tells the pye, the raven, and the gled, that she only consents to make them her executors for want of better and honester men. They beg her instructions, and solemnly assure her of their fidelity and honour. She makes her last testament accordingly. Then follows her "mortal passion;" but no sooner is the breath out of her body than they all fall upon her, and tear her limb from limb without pity or remorse. Her last will and testament is a piece of waste paper; all their holy professions and vows of fidelity go for nothing. They quarrel violently over their booty; the gled will not hear of even the king getting his legacy— the poor papingo's loyal heart; and when the pye and the raven, dreading the pains of law, appeal against the gled's treasonable design to the Pope, the greedy gled takes all three, Pope, king, and law, unceremoniously into his own hand.

"With that the gled the piece claucht in his cluke,
And fled his way, the lave 2 with all their might,
To chase the gled, flew all out of my sight."

Lindsay never wrote anything better than this piece. Its satire is perfect, and its poetical merit, in point of invention, ingenuity, and felicity of conception, is very high. It was the first work, apparently, which he wrote for the public eye, as well as for the eye of the king and court; and not only Scotland but England appreciated its excellence. An edition of it was printed in London as early as 1538; and its circulation in the two kingdoms could not fail to strengthen greatly the hands of those who, with graver though not always more effective weapons, were fighting the same battle of truth, and liberty, and patriotism as our Poet-Reformer—now styled Sir David Lindsay of the Mount.


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