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Significant Scots
Sir James Inglis


INGLIS, or ENGLISH, (SIR) JAMES, an ingenious writer of the early part of the sixteenth century, is chiefly known as the supposed author of the "Complaynt of Scotland," a very curious political and fanciful work, published originally at St Andrews in 1548 or 1549, and the earliest Scottish prose work in existence.

Of this learned person, Mackenzie has given an account in his Lives of Scottish Writers; but it is so obviously made up of a series of mere conjectures stated as facts, that we must reject it entirely. According to more respectable authority, Inglis was a dignified priest (which accounts for the Sir attached to his name), and appears from authentic documents to have been, in 1515, secretary to queen Margaret, widow of James IV. Care must be taken to distinguish him from his contemporary John Inglis, who served James IV. as a manager of plays and entertainments, and who is stated to have been present with Sir David Lindsay in the church of Linlithgow, when that sovereign was warned by a supposed apparition against his expedition into England. Sir James Inglis was, nevertheless, a writer of plays, being the subject of the following allusion in Sir David Lindsay’s Testament of the Papingo:

"And in the court bin present in thir dayis,
That ballattis brevis lustely, and layis,
Quhilkis to our prince daily thay do present,
Quho can say more than Schir James English says,
In ballattis, farcis, and in pleasaunt plaies;
Redd in cunnyng, in practyck rycht prudent;
But Culross hath made his pen impotent."

It will be observed that Inglis is here indirectly spoken of as one of the poets who haunted the court of James V. Even in the preceding reign, however, he appears to have been on an intimate footing at court, as a man of learning. James IV., whose devotion to alchymy is well known, writes a letter (extant in the "Epistolae Regum Scotorum;") to Mr James Inglis, to the following effect: "We have thankfully received your letter, by which you inform us that you are in possession of the abstruse books of the Sound Philosophy; which, as certain most deserving persons have begged them of you, you with difficulty preserve for our use, having heard that we are addicted to the study of that art." Of the ballads and plays composed by Inglis, not a vestige now remains, unless a poem attributed to him in the Maitland MS. and as such printed by Hailes and Sibbald, entitled "A General Satire," be held as a specimen of one of those kinds of composition, and be really a production of his pen.

In a charter of 19th February, 1527, Inglis is styled chancellor of the royal chapel of Stirling; and he appears to have been soon after raised to the dignity of abbot of Culross, a promotion which, if we may believe his friend Lindsay, spoiled him as a poet. It was eventually attended with still more fatal effects.

Having provoked the wrath of a neighbouring baron, William Blackater of Tulliallan, the abbot of Culross was by that individual cruelly slain, March 1, 1530. The causes of this bloody deed do not appear; but the sensation created by it throughout the community was very great. Sir William Lothian, a priest of the same abbey, who was an accomplice of the principal assassin, was publicly degraded on a scaffold at Edinburgh, in presence of the king and queen, and next day he and the laird of Tulliallan were beheaded.

It would hardly be worth while to advert so minutely to a person, who, whatever was his genius, is not certainly, known as the author of any existing composition, if the name were not conspicuous in works of Scottish literary history, and must therefore continue to be inquired for in such compilations as the present. Inglis, if the same individual as this abbot of Culross, could have no pretensions to the honour put upon him by some writers, of having written the "Complaynt of Scotland;" for that curious specimen of our early literature was undeniably written in 1548, eighteen years after the death of the abbot. In the obscurity, however, which prevails regarding the subject of the present notice, we cannot deny that he may have been a different person, and may have survived even to the date assigned for his death by Mackenzie—1554; in which case he could have been the author of the Complaynt. That a Sir James Inglis existed after 1530, and had some connexion with Culross, appears pretty certain from the passage in the Testament of the Papingo, which is understood to have been written in 1538. But, on the other hand, there is no authority for assigning the authorship of the Complaynt to any Sir James Inglis, except that of Dr Mackenzie, which rests on no known foundation, and, from the general character of that biographical writer, is not entitled to much respect. Some further inquiries into this subject will be found under the head JAMES WEDDERBURN.


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