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Significant Scots
James Wedderburn


WEDDERBURN, JAMES, a poet of the sixteenth century, was born in Dundee about the year 1500, and is supposed to have belonged to the family which afterwards produced the earl of Rosslyn. He wrote three poems, beginning respectively with the following lines: "My love was false and full of flatterie," "I think thir men are verie fals and vain," "O man, transformit and unnaturall," which are to be found with his name in the Bannatyne manuscript. Wedderburn appears to have early espoused the cause of the Reformation. In two dramatic compositions, a tragedy on the beheading of John the Baptist, and a comedy called "Dionysius the Tyrant," which were represented at Dundee about the year 1540, he exposed to ridicule and execration the corruptions of the church of Rome: both compositions, however, are now lost. It seems to have been before 1549, that he composed his celebrated "Buike of Godlie and Spiritual Sangs, collected out of sundrie parts of Scripture, wyth sundrie of uther Ballates, changed out of Profane Sangs for avoyding of Sinne and Harlotrie," as, though no edition of it before that of Smyth, in 1599, is in the hands of modern antiquaries, it seems to be denounced in a canon of the provincial council of the clergy held in 1549, and for certain is alluded to in a manuscript "Historie of the Kirk," dated in 1560. The "Buike of Godlie and Spiritual Sangs," though allowed to have been a most effectual instrument in expelling the old and planting the new religion, appears to modern taste as only a tissue of blasphemy and absurdity; the "sangs" being chiefly parodies of the coarse and indecent ballads of the common people, retaining the general structure and music, with much of the very language of the originals, and thus associating the most sacred and the most profane images.

That extraordinary book, the "Complaynt of Scotland," which appeared at St Andrews in 1548, without the name of either author or printer, has been ascribed to Wedderburn in the Harleian Catalogue; nor does it appear that the claims of Mackenzie for Sir James Inglis, or those of Leyden for Sir David Lindsay, can stand for a moment against the probabilities of this supposition. Inglis, it is hardly possible to deny, was murdered in 1530, eighteen years before the composition and publication of the Complaynt; and so little confidence had Leyden himself in the theory which he employed nearly three hundred pages to support, that he candidly confesses, at the close of his dissertation, "he scarcely expects his remarks to produce conviction."

Previously to the introduction of the version of Sternhold and Hopkins into Scotland, in 1564, the reformed congregations sang versions of twenty-one psalms, and paraphrases of the Lord’s prayer, creed, and commandments, which had been executed for that purpose by the subject of this memoir. Two verses of his translation of the 137th psalm may be given as a specimen of his manner:--

At the rivirs of Babylon,
Quhair we dwelt in captivitie,
Quhen we rememberit on Syon,
We weipit al full sorrowfullie.
On the sauch tries our harpes we hang,
Quhen thay requirit us an sang.
They hald us into sic thraldome,
They bad us sing sum psalme or hymme,
That we in Syon sang sum tyme;
To quhome we answerit full sune;

Nocht may we outher play or sing,
The psalmis of our Lord sa sweit,
Intil ane uncouth land or ring. [Kingdom]
My richt hand first sall that forleit.
Or Jerusalem foryettin be;
First to my chaftis my tung sall be
Claspit, or that I it forget,
In my maist gladnes and my game,
I sall remember Jerusalem,
And all my hart upon it set.

Wedderburn is said to have ultimately gone to England, where he died in 1564-5.


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