LINDSAY, (SIR) DAVID, a
celebrated Scottish poet of the sixteenth century, was born about the year
1490. He is distinguished by the title "of the Mount," from the name of his
family seat near Cupar in Fife, and which is presumed, though not certainly
known, to have been also the place of his birth. The early part of his
education he received at Cupar, the after part of it at St Andrews, to which
he removed in 1505. Here he remained till 1509. From this period till 1512,
there is a hiatus in his history, and it is not known how the intermediate
space was employed. In that year, however, he is found to be in attendance
upon the young prince, afterwards James V., who was born on the 10th of
April, 1512. The particular nature of his appointment, on first settling at
court, cannot be ascertained; but it does not appear to have been of a very
dignified description. His attendance on the infant monarch seems also to
have been divided with the royal parent James IV., on whom he is found
waiting as a special servant, on the remarkable occasion of the feigned
spectre's appearance before that prince in the chapel of Linlithgow in 1513.
Lindsay stood close beside the king during the whole of that extraordinary
scene, and according to his namesake, the historian, declared that he, along
with the other servants in attendance, made several ineffectual attempts to
take hold of the ghostly intruder.
The death of James IV., which took place soon after, does not appear to have
affected Lindsay's situation at court. He still continued his attendance on
the young prince, and this in rather a singular capacity, considering the
respectability of his family, although probably it may be thought that there
was no degradation, if indeed it was not a positive honour, to take the
personal charge of an infant king. This, however, he seems to have done
literally, and as is gathered from passages in his own works, much in the
character of a dry nurse. The following are amongst those alluded to. The
lines occur in the dedication of his poem entitled the "Dream" to the king:
Quhen thou was young I bore
thee in my arme,
Full tenderlie till thou begouth to gang;
And in thy bed aft happit thee full warme,
With lute in hand, sine sweitly to thee sang.
And again at an after period,
when complaining of the neglect which he met with at court, he thus reminds
the king of the days of his childhood, and of the playful and tender
kindnesses which then passed between them:
How as ane chapman beiris his
I bure thy grace upon my back;
And sometimes strydlinges on my neck,
Dansand with mony bend and beck.
The first syllabis that thou did mute
Was pa, da syne, upon the lute;
Then playit I twenty springis perquier
Quhilke was great pleasure for to heir;
Fra play thou let me never rest,
Bot Gynkertoun thou luifit ay best.
Lindsay's attendance on the
young king was not dignified by any charge whatever, connected with his
education. His services were entirely of a per-sonal nature, and were only
put in requisition when the royal youth returned from "scule." James's
education was intrusted to Gavin Dunbar, an eminent and learned prelate, so
that, with all Lindsay's genius, he seems not to have been thought competent
to this important and honourable trust. That which he filled, however, such
as it was, he retained till the year 1524, when he was dis-missed from it,
by the intrigues of the queen mother, who, aiming at the sole direction of
the national affairs during the minority of the king, carefully re-moved
from the royal presence all whom she feared might exert an influence over
the young monarch inimical to her own views and interests, anal amongst that
number she seems to have reckoned the poet. His dismissal, however, seems by
no means to have taken place with the king's consent, although it is evident
that he was obliged to submit to it. He was too young to assert his own will
in opposition to that of his mother, but he did the next best thing he could
for the kind companion of his tender years,-he procured a pension to be
bestowed upon him, and took especial care of its punctual payment.
On the king's assuming the reins of government in his own person, and when
his will could be no longer opposed, Lindsay was recalled to court, and
about 1530, was appointed lyon king at arms, and as a necessary
accompani-ment, invested with the honour of knighthood. In the dedication of
the "Dream" to the king, already quoted from, and which was written during
the time of his banishment from court, although he complains of the
treatment which he had received, he not only acquits the king of having any
part in inflicting it, but speaks in terms of the warmest gratitude of the
kindness of his royal master. He seems, indeed, to have formed a strong
personal attachment to the monarch, and there is every reason to believe
that it was reciprocal. Lindsay had now begun to make some figure as a poet.
He had already written the "Dream" and the "Complaynt," both productions of
great merit; but it was his talent for satire, a quality which he had not
yet exhibited, that he was chiefly indebted for the singular degree of
popularity which he afterwards ac-quired. Of the felicity and point with
which he could exercise this dangerous gift, the following curious instance
is related by Dr Irving in his Life of the poet:-"The king being one day
surrounded by a numerous train of nobility and prelates, Lindsay approached
him with due reverence, and began to prefer an humble petition that he would
install him in an office which was then vacant. 'I have,' said he, 'servit
your grace lang, and luik to be rewardit as others are, and now your maister
taylor, at the pleasure of God is departit, wherefore I wald desire of your
Grace to bestow this little benefite upon me.' The king replied, that he was
amazed at such a request from a man who could neither shape nor sew. 'Sir,'
rejoined the poet, 'that maks nae matter, for you have given bishopricks and
benefices to mony standing here about you, and yet they can nouther teach
nor preach, and why not I as well be your taylor, though I can nouther shape
nor sew, seeing teaching and preaching are nae less requisite to their
vocation than shaping and sewing to ane taylor.' The effect of this well
managed jeu d'esprit upon the bystanders, many of whom came within its
range, may be readily conceived. Whatever might be their feelings on the
subject, James himself enjoyed it greatly, and found much amusement in
contem-plating the angry looks which it occasioned."
This and other witticisms at the expense of the clergy, are supposed by
Lindsay's biographers to have been the principal cause of that want of
promotion of which he so frequently complains; but this seems doubtful.
James himself had but little reverence for the clergy, and it is not
therefore likely that he would be displeased with Lindsay for entertaining
similar sentiments. Of the king's opinion of the holy men of his time his
answer to a deputation of them which waited upon him with a list of
protestant peers and chiefs, whom they desired might be brought to
punishment, is sufficiently indicative. "Pack, ye jugglers," said he, "get
ye to your charges and reform your own lives; be not instruments of discord
between my nobility and me; or I vow to God I shall reform you, not as the
king of Denmark by imprisonment, nor as he of England by hanging and
beheading, but yet by most severe punishments, if ever such mo-tion proceed
from you again." It is not, therefore, easy to say, considering the
intimate, nay familiar footing on which Lindsay stood with the king, what
were the causes that afforded him grounds for his frequent complaints, if
indeed, he had any at all that were reasonable, a point by no means made
evident. Whatever might be the emoluments arising from his services, they
were now occasionally of a sufficiently dignified and important nature. In
1531, he was despatched on an embassy to Antwerp to renew an ancient
commercial treaty with the Netherlands, and in 1548, he was sent to the
court of Denmark to solicit ships to protect the Scottish coast against the
English, and to negotiate a free trade in grain for the Scottish merchants.
Besides being a man of genius, Lindsay was also a man of great practical
good sense, if the latter be not indeed a necessary attribute of the former,
and this enabled him to see in a peculiarly strong and clear light the
errors and absurdities, if not inherent in, at least which had been then
engrafted on, the church of Rome, and against these he directed the whole
force of his satirical powers, and with an effect which rendered him at once
extremely formidable to the clergy, and singularly popular with the great
bulk of the people.
Of his talent for ridicule the following exquisitely humorous specimen of
his manner of dealing with the impositions of the Romish church will give a
correct idea. It is the speech of a pardoner-of one who dealt in miracles
and traded in holy relics and absolutions. It occurs in his play entitled
Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis:"
My potent pardonnis ye may se
Cum frae the Can of Tartarie,
Weill seillit with ester schellis.
Thocht ye haif no discretioun,
Ye sall haif full remissioun,
With help of buikis and bellis.
Heir is a rellik lang and braid,
Of Fynmackowll the richt chaft blade,
With teith and all togidder;
Of Collingis Kow heir is a horne,-
For eitting of Makameillis corne
Was slane into Baquhidder;
Heir is the cordis baith grit and lang
Quhilk hangit Johnnie Armistrang,
Of gude hempt saft and sound:
Gude haly pepill, I stand ford,
Quhaeir beis hangit in this cord,
Neidis never to be drowned.
The culum of St Bryddis cow,
Thu gruntill of Sanet Antonis sow,
Quhilk bure his haly bell:
Quha evir heiris this bell clink
Gife me a duccat to the drinke,
He sall nevir gang till hell-
Without he be with Belliall borne.
Maisteris, trew ye that this be scorne?
Cum, win this pardon, cum!
Quha luivis thair wyvis not with their hairt
I haif power thame to depairt;
Me think you deif and dum.
Hes nane of you curst wicket wyvis
That haldis you into sturt and stryvis?
Cum take my dispensatioun;
Of that cummer I sall mak you quyt,
Howbeid yourself be in the wyte,
And mak ane fals narratioun.
Cum win the pardone, now let see
For meill, for malt, or for money;
For cok, hen, guse, or gryss.
Of rellikkis heir I haif a hunder,
Quhy cam ye not? This is a wonder;
I trow ye be not wyss.
From this it will be plainly
seen what a dangerous and powerful ene-my the Romish church had to contend
with in the person of Lindsay- infinitely more dangerous and more powerful
than the ablest preacher or the most acute reasoner. The effect, indeed,
aided as it was, by the circumstance of the public mind being already
attuned to such feelings and sentiments regard-ing religious matters, was
altogether irresistible; and there is no doubt that this and similar
productions of the satirist, tended more to the accomplishment of the final
overthrow of popery in Scotland than any other circumstance previous to the
Reformation. Lindsay himself was the Burns of his day. His poems were in
every mouth, and were equally appreciated in the cottage as in the castle.
Among the lower orders he was especially popular. His broad humour delighted
them beyond measure, and there was scarcely one of them but could re-peat
large portions of "Dane Lindsay" from memory. Indeed it is not yet a very
great while since his popularity among this class began to fade. Nor, though
now certainly fast losing ground, is he by any means yet entirely for-gotten
in the country. Many an ancient tiller of the soil, and his equally an-cient
better half-for what remains of his fame is more vigorous in the country
than the town-still cherish and appreciate the merits of their old favourite
The dread and detestation in which Lindsay's satirical poems were held by
the clergy is expressively enough indicated by their having procured an act
to have his "buick" burned during the regency of Mary of Lorraine, when they
had regained a temporary ascendency under that princess, and a wonder arises
that Lindsay himself was not subjected to a similar fate; indeed, that he es-caped
it at all is a circumstance not easily accounted for.
During his lifetime many unfortunate persons were brought to the stake for
heresy, and for contemning the ordinances of the existing religion, and how
it happened that he, incomparably the most dangerous and most notorious
of-fender of them all should have escaped, is a question that may well be
asked; but we suspect it is one which cannot be satisfactorily answered,
otherwise than by supposing that he was protected by the strong arm of
In 1537, Lindsay acted as sort of master of ceremonies on the occasion of
the arrival in Scotland of Mary of Guise, queen of James V. He contrived a
variety of pageants, and prepared orations for the reception of her majesty
at St Andrews, and superintended in person the execution of his designs.
Some of them were absurd and fantastic enough, but they were, of course, in
accordance with the taste of the times.
Of the concluding years of his life nothing is known, nor is it ascertained
when or where he died. Dr Irving states that he survived till the year 1567;
but how long he lived after is unknown. He must, however, from this account,
have been at least upwards of seventy years of age at the time of his death.
Lindsay's merits as a poet are not of the very highest order. Broad humour
was his forte, and the specimen given will sufficiently show, that when he
trusted to this talent he did not trust to a broken reed. His principal
pieces are "The Dreme," "The Complaynt," "The Complaynt of the King's
Papingo," "Satyre on the Thrie Estaitis," "Answer to the King's Flyting,"
and "The Complaynt of Basche the King's Hound."
The Poetical Works of Sir David Lyndsay of the
Lyon King of Arms (1871)
Volume 1 |
Volume 2 |