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Significant Scots
Gavin Douglas


DOUGLAS, GAVIN, one of the most eminent of our early poets, was the third and youngest son of Archibald, fifth earl of Angus, by Elizabeth Boyd, only daughter of Robert, lord Boyd, high chamberlain of Scotland. The earls of Angus were a younger branch of the family of Douglas, and helped, in the reign of James II., to depress the enormous power of the main stock; whence it was said, with a reference to the complexions of the two different races, that the red Douglas had put down the black. Archibald, the fifth earl, father to the poet, is noted in our history for his bold conduct respecting the favourites of James III,, at Lauder, which gained him the nickname of Bell-the-cat. His general force of character amidst the mighty transactions in which he was engaged, caused him to be likewise designated "the great earl." According to the family historian, he was every way accomplished, both in body and mind; of stature tall, and strong made; his countenance full of majesty, and such as bred reverence in the beholders; wise, and eloquent of speech; upright and regular in his actions; sober, and moderate in his desires; valiant and courageous; a man of action and undertaking; liberal also; loving and kind to his friends; which made him to be beloved, reverenced, and respected by all men.

Gavin Douglas, the son of such a father, was born about the year 1474, and was brought up for the church. Where his education was commenced, is unknown; but, according to Mr Warton, there is certain evidence that it was finished in the university of Paris. He is supposed, in youth, to have travelled for some time over the continent, in order to make himself acquainted with the manners of other countries. In 1496, when only twenty-two years of age, he was appointed rector of Hawick, a benefice probably in the gift of his family, which has long held large property and high influence in that part of the country. We are informed by the family historian, that in youth he felt the pangs of love, but was soon freed from the tyranny of that unreasonable passion. Probably his better principles proved sufficient to keep in check what his natural feelings, aided by the poetical temperament, would have dictated. However, he appears to have signalized his triumph, by writing a translation of Ovid’s "Remedy of Love." He alludes in a strange manner to this work, in his translation of Virgil; giving the following free reading of the well known passage in the AEneid, where his author speaks of the Bucolics and Georgics, as having been his former compositions:

So thus followand the floure of poetry,
The battellis and the man translate have I,
Quhilk yore ago in myne undauntit youth
Unfructuous idelnes fleand, as I couth,
Of Ovideis Lufe the Remede did translate,
And syne of hie Honour the Palice wrate.

In those days, it does not seem to have been considered the duty of a translator to put himself exactly into the place of the author; he was permitted to substitute modern allusions for the original, and, as this specimen testifies, to alter any personality respecting the author, so as to apply to himself. The translations of the "Remedy of Love," which must have been written before the year 1501, has not been preserved. In the year just mentioned, he wrote his "Palace of Honour," an apologue for the conduct of a king, and which he therefore addressed, very appropriately, to his young sovereign, king James IV. The poet, in a vision, finds himself in a wilderness, where he sees troops of persons travelling towards the palace of honour. He joins himself to the train of the muses, and in their company proceeds to the happy place. At this point of the allegory, his description of one of their resting places is exceedingly beautiful:

Our horses pasturit on mine pleasand plane,
Law at the foot of ane fair grene montane,
Amid ane meid, shaddowit with cedar trees,
Safe fra all heit, thair might we weil remain.
All kind of herbis flouris fruit, and grain,
With every growand tree thair men might cheis,
The beryal streams rinnand ower stanerie greis,
Made sober noise; the shair dinnit again,
For birdis sang, and sounding of the beis.

In his last adventure, he seems to allude to the law of celibacy, under which, as a priest, he necessarily lay. The habitation of the honourable ladies (which he describes in gorgeous terms) is surrounded by a deep ditch, over which is a narrow bridge, formed of a single tree; and this is supposed to represent the ceremony of marriage. Upon his attempting to pass over the bridge, he falls into the water, and awakes from his dream. Of this poem, the earliest known edition is one printed at London, in 1553, in quarto. Another appeared at Edinburgh, in 1579, being printed "by Johne Roos, for Henry Charteris:" both are very rare. In the preface, however, to the Edinburgh edition, the printer mentions, that "besides the coppie printed at London, there were copyis of this wark set furth of auld amang ourselfis." These are totally lost to bibliographical research. There is some probability, however, that some of them appeared before 1543, as a work by Florence Wilson, entitled "De Tranquillitate Animi," and printed in that year, is said to be an imitation of the Palace of Honour. Sage, in his life of Douglas, prefixed to the edition of the AEneid, thus speaks of the poem under our notice: "The author’s excellent design is, under the similitude of a vision, to represent the vanity and inconstancy of all worldly pomp and glory; and to show, that a constant and inflexible course of virtue and goodness, is the only way to true honour and felicity, which he allegorically describes, as a magnificent palace, situated on the top of a very high mountain, of a most difficult access. He illustrates the whole with a variety of examples, not only of those noble and heroic souls, whose eminent virtues procured them admission into that blessed place, but also of those wretched creatures, whose vicious lives have fatally excluded them from it for ever, notwithstanding of all their worldly state and grandeur." This critic is of opinion that the poet took his plan from the palace of happiness described in the "Tablet" of Cebes. There is, however, a probability of a still more interesting nature, with which we are impressed. This is, that Bunyan must have adopted his idea of the Pilgrim’s Progress from the "Palace of Honour." In the whole structure of these two works, there is a marked resemblance. Both are dreams, representing a journey towards a place superior to the nature of this world. In the one, the pilgrim of honour, in the other, the pilgrim of christianity, are the heroes; and both are conducted by supernatural beings, on a march represented as somewhat trying to human strength. It is curious, also that while the journey ends, in both cases, at a place full of celestial glories, there is, in both cases, a limbo, or hell, by the way side, a little before the ultimate object is reached.

In all probability, these poems were written at his residence in the town of Hawick, where he was surrounded with scenery in the highest degree calculated to nurse a poetical fancy. In 1509, he was nominated to be provost of the collegiate church of St Giles, at Edinburgh, and it is likely that he then changed his residence to the capital. Some years before, he had contemplated a translation of the AEneid into Scottish verse, as appears from his Palace of Honour, where Venus presents him with a copy of that poem, in the original, and, in virtue of her relation to the hero, requests the poet to give a version of it in his vernacular tongue. In his preface to the work, he thus explains the real earthly reason of his engaging in such a labour:

And that ye knaw at quhais instance I tuke
For to translate this maist excellent buke,
I mene Virgillis volum, maist excellent,
Set this my werk full febill be of rent,
At the request of ane lorde of renowne,
Of ancestry maist nobill, and illustir baroun,
Fadir of bukis, protector to science and lair,
My special gude lord Henry lord Sinclare.
Quhilk with great instance, diverse tymes, sere
Prayit me translate Virgil or Homere,
Quhais plesure soithlie, as I undirstude,
As near conjonit to his lordship in blude;*
So that methocht his request ane command,
Half desparit this werk I take on hand,
Not fully grantand, nor says sayand ye,
Bot only to assay how it micht be.
Quhay micht gainsay a lorde sa gentil and kind,
That ever had ony courtesy in thair mynd?
Quhilk beside his innative policy,
Humanite, courage, freedom, and chevelry,
Bukis to recollect, to reid, and see,
Hes great delyte as ever had Ptolome.

*Henry, first lord Sinclair, was grandson to lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Archibald, fourth earl of Douglas. He fell at Flodden.

At the urgent request of this literary nobleman, which seems to have been necessary to get over the diffidence of the poet himself, Douglas commenced his labours in January, 1511-12, and although he prefaced each book with an original poem, and included the poem written by Mapheus Vigius [A learned Italian of the fifteenth century.]as a thirteenth book, the whole was completed in eighteen months, two of which, he tells us, were spent exclusively in other business. The work was completed on the 22nd of July, 1513. The "AEneid" of Gavin Douglas is a work creditable in the highest degree to Scottish literature, not only from the specific merit of the translation, but because it was the first translation of a Roman classic executed in the English language. [The near affinity of the languages of England and Scotland at this time, renders any circumlocutory mode of expressing this idea unnecessary.] To adopt the criticism of Dr Irving—"Without pronouncing it the best version of this poem that ever was, or ever will be executed, we may at least venture to affirm, that it is the production of a bold and energetic writer, whose knowledge of the language of his original, and prompt command of a copious and variegated phraseology, qualified him for the performance of so arduous a task. And whether we consider the state of British literature at that era, or the rapidity with which he completed the work, he will be found entitled to a high degree of admiration. In either of the sister languages, few translations of classical authors had hitherto been attempted; and the rules of the art were consequently little understood. It has been remarked, that even in English, no metrical version of a classic had yet appeared; except of Boethius, who scarcely merits that appellation. On the destruction of Troy, Caxton had published a kind of prose romance, which he professes to have translated from the French: and the English reader was taught to consider this motley composition as a version of the AEneid. Douglas bestows severe castigation on Caxton, for his presumptuous deviation from the classical story, and affirms that his work no more resembles Virgil, than the devil is like St Austin. He has, however, fallen into one error, which he exposes in his predecessor; proper names are often so transfigured in his translation, that they are not, without much difficulty, recognised. In many instances, he has been guilty of modernizing the notions of his original. The sybil, for example, is converted into a nun, and admonishes AEneas, the Trojan baron, to persist in counting his beads. This plan of reducing every ancient notion to a classical standard, has been adopted by much later writers: many preposterous instances occur in the learned Dr Blackwell’s memoirs of the court of Augustus.

"Of the general principles of translation, however, Douglas appears to have formed no inaccurate notion. For the most part, his version is neither rashly licentious, nor tamely literal. * * * Though the merit of such a performance cannot be ascertained by the inspection of a few detached passages, it may be proper to exhibit a brief specimen:

Facilis descensus Averni,
Noctes atque dies patet atri janua Ditis;
Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras,
Hoc opus, hie labor est; pauci quos aequus amavit
Jupiter, aut ardens evexit ad aethera virtus,
Dis geniti, potuere. Tenant media omnia silvae,
Cocytusque sinu labens circumfluit atro.

VIRGIL.

It is richt facill and eith gate, I the tell,
For to descend and pass on doun to hell:
The black yettis of Pluto and that dirk way
Standis evir open and patent nycht and day:
Bot therefra to return agane on hicht,
And here aboue recouir this airis licht,
That is difficill werk, there laboure lyis.
Full few there bene quhom heich aboue the skyis
Thare ardent vertew has rasit and upheit,
Or yet quhame equale Jupiter deifyit,
Thay quhilkis bene gendrit of goddis, may thidder attane.
All the midway is wildernes vnplane,
Or wilsum forrest; and the laithly flude
Cocytus with his dresy bosum vnrude
Flowis enuiron round about that place.
DOUGLAS."

Mr Warton pronounces for judgment upon Douglas’ AEneid, that it "is executed with equal spirit and fidelity, and is a proof that the Lowland Scotch and English languages were then nearly the same. I mean the style of composition; more especially, in the glaring affectation of Anglicising Latin words." [History of English Poetry, ii. 281.]

It is not, however, in the translation that the chief merit lies. The poet has gained much greater praise for the original poetry scattered through the book. To an ordinary reader, the plan of the work may be best described by a reference to the structure of "Marmion," which is decidedly an imitation of it. To every book is prefixed what Douglas calls a prologue, containing some descriptions or observations of his own, and some of which afford delightful glimpses of his personal character and habits. Those most admired are the prologue to the seventh book, containing a description of winter, that to the twelfth book, containing a description of a summer morning, and that to the thirteenth (supplementary) book, which describes an evening in June. It would appear that the author, in these and other cases, sought to relax himself from the progressive labour of mere translation, by employing his own poetical powers, on what he saw at the time around him. Mr Warton speaks of Milton’s L’Allegro and Il Penseroso as among the earliest descriptive poems produced in England. Whether he be correct or not, we may at least affirm, that Douglas, in his prologues to the books of Virgil, has given Scotland the credit of producing poems of that kind, more than a century earlier.

These compositions being of such importance in Scottish literature, it seems proper in this place to present a specimen sufficient to enable the reader to judge of their value. It is difficult, however, to pitch upon a passage where the merit of the poetry may be obvious enough to induce the reader to take a little trouble in comprehending the language. [Well do I recollect, in early days, borrowing old Gavin’s translation from a circulating library, in order to steal a sly march upon my class-fellows in version-making. What was my disappointment on finding that the copy was a great deal more unintelligible than the original, and that, in reality, he of St Giles stood more in need of a translator than he of Mantua!]We have with some hesitation pitched upon the following passage from the prologue to the seventh book, which, as descriptive of nature in a certain aspect, in this country, is certainly very faithful and even picturesque:

* * * * *

The firmament owrecast with cludis black:
The ground fadit, and faugh [fallow] wox all the fieldis
Mountane toppis slekit with snaw owre heildis:
On raggit rockis of hard harsh quhyn stane,
With frostyn frontis cald clynty clewis schane:
Bewty was lost, and barrand shew the landis
With frostis hore, owerfret the fieldis standis.
Thick drumly skuggis [shadows]dirkinit so the hevin,
Dim skyis oft furth warpit fearful levin, [lightning]
Flaggis [flakes]of fyre, and mony felloun flaw,
Sharp soppis of sleit and of the swyppand snaw:
The dolly dichis war al douk and wate,
The low vales flodderit all with spate,
The plane stretis and every hie way
Full of fluschis, dubbis, myre, and clay.

* * * *

Owr craggis and the frontis of rockys sere,
Hang gret yse schokkilis, lang as ony spere:
The grund stude barrane, widderit, dosk, and gray
Herbis, flowris, and gersis wallowit away:
Woddis, forrestis, with naket bewis blout,
Stude stripit of their wede in every bout:
So bustouslie Boreas his bugill blew,
The dere full dorne full in the dallis drew:

* * * * *

The watter lynnys routes, and every lynd
Quhistlit and brayit of the southend wynd;
Pure lauboraris and byssy husbandmen,
Went weet and wery draiglit in the fen;
The silly sheep and thare little hird-gromes
Lurkis under lye of bankis, woddis, and bromes;
And utheris dautit greter bestial
Within thare stabill sesit in thare stall.

* * * *

The caller air, penetrative and pure,
Dasing the blude in every creature,
Made seik warm stovis and bene fyris’ hote,
In doubill garment clad, and welecote,
With mychty drink, and metis comfortive,
Aganis the stern winter for to strive.
Repattirit [Well solaced with victuals] wele, and by the chymnay bekit,
At evin betym doun in the bed they strekit,
Warpit my hede, kest on claithis thrynefald,
For to expell the perilous persand cald;
I crossit me, syne bownit for to sleep:

* * * *

Approaching near the breking of the day,
Within my bed I walkynint quhare I lay
So fast declynes Cynthia the mone,
And kayis keklys on the rufe abone,

* * * *

Fast by my chalmer, on hie wisnet treis,
The sary gled quhissilis with mony ane pew,
Quharby the day was dawing wiel I knew;
Bade bete the fyre and the candill alicht,
Syne blessit me, and in my wedis dycht;
Ane schot-windo [A kind of sliding panel in the fronts of old wooden houses.]unschet, ane litel on char,
Persavyt the morning blae, wan, and har,
Wyth cloudy gum and rak owirquhelmyt the air;

* * * *

—Blaiknyt schew the brayis,
With hirstis harsk of waggand wyndil strayis,
The dew-droppis congelit on stibbil and vynd,
And sharp hailstanys mortfundyit of kynd,
Stoppand on the thack, and on the causay by:
The schote I closit, and drew inward in hy;
Cheverand of cald, the sessoun was sa snell,
Schafe with hait flambis to steme the freezing fell.
And as I bounit me to the fire me by,
Baith up and downe the house I did espy;
And secand Virgil on ane letteron [desk]stand,
To wryte anone I eynt my pen in hand,
And as I culd, with ane fald diligence
This nint buke followand of profound science,
Thus has begun in the chill wynter cald,
Quhen frostis dois owir flete baith firth and fald.

Lest the reader should find that he loses the force of this description through the obscurity of the language, it appears proper that he should have another specimen in a different form. We shall therefore lay before him part of a prose paraphrase executed by Mr Warton, which conveys the same ideas as the original, though in a less pleasing form. The experiment of this version, according to Mr Warton, must serve to show the native excellence of these compositions. Divested of poetic numbers and expression, they still retain their poetry, appearing like Ulysses, still a king and a conqueror, although disguised like a peasant, and lodged in the cottage of the herdsman Eumaeus.—We quote from the description of May, in the twelfth prologue:

" ---- The crystal gates of heaven were thrown open to illuminate the world. The glittering streamers of the orient diffused purple streaks, mingled with gold and azure. The steeds of the sun, in red harness of rubies, of colour brown as a berry, lifted their heads above the sea, to glad our hemisphere: the flames burst from their nostrils: while shortly, apparelled in his luminous array, Phoebus, bearing the blazing torch of day, issued from his royal palace, with a golden crown, glorious visage, curled locks bright as the chrysolite or topaz, and with a radiance intolerable. The fiery sparks, bursting from his eyes, purged the air, and gilded the new verdure. The golden vanes of his throne covered the ocean with a glittering glance, and the broad waters were all in a blaze at the first glimpse of his appearance. It was glorious to see the winds appeased, the sea becalmed, the soft season, the serene firmament, the still air, and the beauty of the watery scene. [The original is here so much more beautiful, that we must be pardoned an extract: The aureate phanis of his trone soverane, With glittering glance owirspred the octiane The large fluids lemand all of licht But with ane blink of his supernale sicht; For to behald it was ane glore to se The stabilyt wyndys, and the calmyt se, The soft sessoun, the firmament serene, The loune illuminate air, and firth amene, &c.] The silver-scaled fishes, on the gravel, gliding hastily, as it were from the heat or sun, through clear streams, with fins shining brown as cinnabar, and chisel tails, darted here and there. The new lustre, enlightening all the land, beamed on the small pebbles on the sides of the rivers, and on the strands, which looked like beryl: while the reflection of the rays played on the banks in variegated gleams; and Flora threw forth her blooms under the feet of the sun’s brilliant horses, the bladed soil was embroidered with various hues. Both wood and forest were darkened with boughs; which, reflected from the ground, gave a shadowy lustre to the red rocks. Towers, turrets, battlements, and high pinnacles of churches, castles, and every fair city, seemed te be painted; and, together with every bastion and story, expressed their own shape on the plains. The glebe, fearless of the northern blasts, spread her broad bosom. The corn crops, and the new-sprung barley, reclothed the earth with a gladsome garment. The variegated vesture of the valley covered the cloven furrow, and the barley lands were diversified with flowery weeds. The meadow was besprinkled with rivulets; and the fresh moisture of the dewy night restored the herbage which the cattle had cropped in the day. The blossoms in the blowing garden trusted their heads to the protection of the young sun. Rank ivy leaves overspread the wall of the rampart. The blooming hawthorn clothed all his thorns in flowers. The budding clusters of the tender vines hung end-long, by their tendrils, from the trellises. The gems of the trees unlocking, expanded themselves into the foliage of nature’s tapestry. There was a soft verdure after balmy showers. The flowers smiled in various colours on the bending stalks. [The loukit buttouns on the gemyt treis Owerspreadand levis of naturis tapestryis, Soft gresy verdure eftir balmy schouris, On curland stalks smiland to thair flouris.] Some red, &c. Others watchet like the blue and wavy sea; speckled with red and white; or bright as gold, the daisy unbraided her little coronet, the grapes stood embattled with banewort. The seeded down flew from the dandelion. Young weeds appeared among the leaves of the strawberries. Gay gilliflowers, &c. The rose buds putting forth, offered their red vernal lips to be kissed; and diffused fragrance from the crisp scarlet that surrounded their golden seeds. Lillies with white curling tops, showed their crests open. The odorous vapour moistened the silver webs that hang from the leaves. The plain was powdered with round dewy pearls. From every bud, scion, herb, and flower, bathed in liquid fragrance, the bee sucked sweet honey. The swans clamoured amidst the rustling weeds, and searched all the lakes and grey rivers where to build their nests. Among the boughs of the twisted olive, the small birds framed their artful nests, or along the thick hedges, or rejoiced with their merry mates on the tall oaks. In the secret nooks, or in the clear windows of glass, the spider full busily wove her sly net, to ensnare the little gnat or fly. Under the boughs that screen the valley, or within the pale enclosed park, the nimble deer trooped in ranks, the harts wandered through the thick woody shaws, and the young fawns followed the dappled does. Kids skipped through the briars after the roes, and in the pastures and leas, the lambs, full tight and trig, went bleating to their dams. Meantime dame nature’s minstrels raise their amorous notes, the ring-dove coos and pitches on the tall copes, the starling whistles her varied descant, the sparrow chirps in the clefted wall, the goldfinch and linnet filled the skies, the cuckoo cried, the quail twittered; while rivers, shaws, and every dale resounded; and the tender branches trembled on the trees, at the song of the birds and the buzzing of the bees."

The original poet concludes with the following fine apostrophe:

Welcum the lord of licht, and lampe of day,
Welcum fosterare of tender herbis grene,
Welcum quickener of flurest flouris schene,
Welcum support of every rute and vane,
Welcum comfort of all kind frute and grane,
Welcum the birdis beild upon the brier,
Welcum maister and ruler of the year,
Welcum wellfare of husbands at the plewis,
Welcum repairer of woddis, treis, and bewls,
Welcum depainter of the blomyt medis,
Welcum the lyf of every thing that spedis,
Welcum storare of all kind bestial,
Welcum be thy bricht beams gladand all!

As a still further expedient for making modern readers acquainted with the beauties of this ancient poet and honour of our country, we have ventured upon the somewhat hazardous experiment of a versified translation; taking for this purpose the description of a June evening, from the prologue to the thirteenth book, and entering before hand the following protest, furnished to our hands by the poet himself:

------ "I set my besy pane,
As that I couth, to mak it brade and plane,
Kepand no Sudroun, bot our awin language,
And speke as I lerned quhen I wes ane page: [boy]
Na yit so clene all Sudroun I refuse,
Bot some words I pronunce as nychboure dois;

Like as in Latine bene Grewe termes sum, [As in Latin there are some Greek terms.]
So me behuffit quhilom or be dum.
From bastard Latine, French, or Inglis ois,
Quhare scant wes Scottis, I had nane uther chois;
Not that our tongue is in the selvin scant,
Bot that I the fouth of language want."

This being prefaced, here follows the modern Anglo-Scottish version:

During the jolly joyous month of June,
When gane was near the day, and supper dune,
I walkit furth to taste the evening air,
Among the fields that were replenish’d fair,
With herbage, corn, and cattle, and fruit trees,
Plenty of store; while birds and busy bees,
O’er emerald meadows flew baith east and west,
Their labour done, to take their evening rest.
As up and down I cast my wandering eye,
All burning red straight grew the western sky
The sun descending on the waters grey,
Deep under earth withdrew his beams away.
The evening star, with lustre near as bright,
Springs up, the gay fore-rider, of the night.
Amid the haughs and every pleasant vale,
The recent dew begins on herbs to skail,
To quench the burning where the sun had shone,
Which to the world beneath had lately gone.
On every pile and pickle of the crops,
This moisture hang, like burning beryl drops,
And on the halesome herbs, and eke the weeds
Like chrystal gems, or little silver beads
The light began to fail, the mists to rise,
And here and there grim shades o’erspread the skies;
The bald and leathorn bat commenced her flight,
The lark descended from her airy height,
Singing her plaintive song, after her wyse,
To take her rest, at matin hour to rise.
Mists sweep the hill before the lazy wind,
And night unfolds her cloak with sable lined,
Swaddling the beauty of the fruitful ground,
With cloth of shade, obscurity profound;
All creatures, wheresoe’er they liked the best,
Then went to take their pleasant nightly rest.
The fowls that lately flew throughout the air,
The drowsy cattle in their sheltered lair,
After the heat and labour of the day,
Unstirring and unstirred in slumber lay.
Each thing that roves the meadow or the wood,
Each thing that flies through air, or dives in flood,
Each thing that nestles in the bosky bank,
Or loves to rustle through the marshes dank
The little midges, [gnats] and the happy flees, [flies]
Laborious emmets, and the busy bees,
All beasts, or wild or tame, or great or small,
God’s peace and blessing rests serene o’er all.

It remains to be mentioned that the translation of Virgil, being written at a time when printing hardly existed in Scotland, continued in manuscript till long after the death of bishop Douglas, and was first published at London in 1553, at the same time with the ‘Palice of Honour.’ The work bore the following title: "The xiii. bukes of Eneados of the famose poet Virgill Translatet out of Latyne verses into Scottish meter, by the reverend father in God, Mayster Gawin Douglas, bishop of Dunkel, and unkil to the erle of Angus. Euery buke hauing hys particular prologue." A second edition was printed at Edinburgh in 1710, by the celebrated Thomas Ruddiman, with a life by bishop Sage. Even this later impression is now rarely met with.

The earl of Angus was at this time possessed of great influence at court, in virtue of which he filled the office of chief magistrate of the city. Less than two months after Gavin Douglas had finished his translation, the noble provost and all his retainers, accompanied king James on the fatal expedition which terminated in the battle of Flodden. Here the poet’s two elder brothers, the Master of Angus and Sir William Douglas of Glenbervie, fell, with two hundred gentlemen of their name. The earl himself had previously withdrawn from the expedition, on account of an unkind expression used by his imprudent sovereign. He died, however, within a twelvemonth thereafter, of grief, leaving his titles and immense territorial influence to the heir of his eldest deceased son, and who was consequently nephew to the Provost of St Giles. It is curious to find that, on the 30th of September, only three weeks after his country had experienced one of the greatest disasters recorded in her history, and by which himself had lost two brothers and many other friends, the poet was admitted a burgess of Edinburgh. This fact was discovered by Sibbald in the council register, with the phrase added, "pro commune bono villae, gratis." But perhaps there is some mistake as to the date, the register of that period not being original, but apparently a somewhat confused transcript.

The consequences of this fatal battle seemed at first to open up a path of high political influence to Gavin Douglas. His nephew, being as yet very young, fell in some measure under his tutelage, as the nearest surviving relation. The queen, who had been appointed regent for her infant son James V., in less than a year from her husband’s death, was pleased to marry the young earl of Angus, who accordingly seemed likely to become the actual governor of the kingdom. The step, however, was unpopular, and at a convention of the nobles it was resolved, rather than obey so young a member of their own body, to call in the duke of Albany, cousin to the late king. This personage did not realize the expectations which had been formed respecting him; and thus it happened, that for some years the chief power alternated between him and Angus. Sometimes the latter individual enjoyed an influence deputed to him in the queen’s name by the duke, who occasionally found it necessary to retire to France. At other times, both the queen and her husband were obliged to take refuge in England, where, on one of these occasions, was born their only child, Margaret Douglas, destined in future years to be the mother of lord Darnley, the husband of queen Mary.

The fortunes and domestic happiness of our poet appear to have been deeply affected by those of his nephew. Soon after the battle of Flodden, the queen conferred upon him the abbacy of Aberbrothock, vacant by the death of Alexander Stewart, the late king’s natural son. In a letter addressed by her grace to Pope Leo the tenth, she extols Douglas as second to none in learning and virtue, and earnestly requests that he may be confirmed in the possession of this abbacy, till his singular merits should be rewarded with some more ample endowment. Soon after she conferred on him the archbishopric of St Andrews, which, if confirmed, would have placed him at the head of the Scottish church. But the queen and her husband were not powerful or popular enough to secure him in this splendid situation. He was first intruded on by one John Hepburn, who had been appointed by the chapter, and then both he and Hepburn were displaced by the pope, in favour of Forman, the bishop of Moray, a busy and ambitious churchman, who had been legate a latere to pope Julius II. Douglas was at the same time deprived of the abbacy of Aberbrothock. It appears that, although these disputes were carried on by strength of arms on all sides, the poet himself was always averse from hostile measures, and would rather have abandoned his own interest than bring reproach upon his profession. The queen, having hitherto failed to be of any service to him, nominated him, in 1515, to be bishop of Dunkeld, and on this occasion, to make quite sure, confirmation of the gift was, by the influence of her brother Henry the eighth, procured from the pope. In those days, however, a right which would suffice one day might not answer the next; and so it proved with Gavin Douglas. The duke of Albany, who arrived in May, 1515, though he had protected the right of archbishop Forman on the strength of a papal bull, not only found it convenient to dispute that title in the case of Douglas, but actually imprisoned the poet for a year, as a punishment for having committed an act so detrimental to the honour of the Scottish church. In the meantime, one Andrew Stewart, brother to the earl of Athole, and a partizan of Albany, got himself chosen bishop by the chapter, and was determined to hold out the cathedral against all whatsoever. Gavin Douglas, when released, was actually obliged to lay a formal siege to his bishopric before he could obtain possession. Having gone to Dunkeld, and published his bull in the usual form at the altar, he found it necessary to hold the ensuing entertainment in the dean’s house, on account of his palace being garrisoned by the servants of Andrew Stewart. The steeple of the cathedral was also occupied as a fortress by these men, who pretended to be in arms in the name of the governor. Next day, in attempting to go to church, he was hindered by the steeple garrison, who fired briskly at his party: he had therefore to perform service in the dean’s house. To increase his difficulties, Stewart had arrived in person, and put himself at the head of the garrison. His friends, however, soon collected a force in the neighbouring country, with which they forced Stewart to submit. The governor was afterwards prevailed upon to sanction the right of Gavin Douglas, who gratified Stewart by two of the best benefices in the diocese.

In 1517, when Albany went to France in order to renew the ancient league between Scotland and that country, he took Douglas and Panter as his secretaries, his object being in the former case to have a hostage for the good behaviour of the earl of Angus during his absence. [This is alleged by Dr Henry. – History of Great Britain.]However, when the negotiation was finished, the bishop of Dunkeld is said to have been sent to Scotland with the news. He certainly returned long before the governor himself. After a short stay at Edinburgh, he repaired to his diocese, where he employed himself for some time in the diligent discharge of his duties. He was a warm promoter of public undertakings, and, in particular, finished a stone bridge over the Tay, (opposite to his own palace,) which had been begun by his predecessor. He spent so much money in this manner, and in charity, that he became somewhat embarrassed with debt. During the absence of the duke of Albany, his nephew Angus maintained a constant struggle with the rival family of Hamilton, then bearing the title of earl of Arran, which formed a great part of the governor’s strength in Scotland. In April, 1520, both parties met in Edinburgh,

determined to try which was most powerful. The bishop of Dunkeld, seeing that bloodshed was threatened, used his influence with archbishop Beaten of Glasgow, who was a partisan of Arran; when that prelate, striking his hand on his breast, asseverated, on his conscience, that he knew nothing of the hostile intentions of his friends. He had in reality assumed armour under his gown, in order to take a personal concern in the fray, and his hand caused the breastplate to make a rattling noise. "Methinks," said Douglas, with admirable sarcasm, "your conscience clatters;" a phrase that might be interpreted either into an allusion to the noise itself, or to what it betrayed of the archbishop’s intentions. Douglas retired to his own chamber to pray, and in the meantime his nephew met and overthrew the forces of the earl of Arran. The bishop afterwards saved Beaten from being slain by the victors, who seized him at the altar of the Blackfriars’ church. Gavin Douglas probably entertained a feeling of gratitude to this dignitary, notwithstanding all his duplicity; for Beaton had ordained him at Glasgow, and borne all the expenses of the ceremony out of his own revenues.

The earl of Angus was now re-established in power, but it was only for a short time. Albany returned next year, and called him and all his retainers to an account for their management of affairs. The earl, with his nephew and others, was obliged to retire to England. The bishop of Dunkeld experienced the most courteous attention at the court of Henry VIII., who, with all his faults, was certainly a patron of literature. We are informed by Holingshed that Douglas received a pension from the English monarch. In London, he contracted a friendship with Polydore Virgil, a learned Italian, who was then engaged in composing a history of England. It is supposed that the bishop assisted him with a little memoir on the origin of the Scottish nation. Here, however, our poet was suddenly cut off by the plague, in 1521, or 1522, and was buried in the Savoy church, where he had an epitaph, inscribed on the adjacent tomb of bishop Halsay. It is painful to think, that in consequence of the intestine divisions of his country, this illustrious and most virtuous person died a denounced traitor in a foreign land.

The only other poem of any extent by Gavin Douglas, is one entitled "King Hart," which was probably written in the latter part of his life, and contains, what Dr Irving styles, "a most ingenious adumbration of the progress of human life." It was first printed in Pinkerton’s collection of "Ancient Scottish Poems," 1786.


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