Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Significant Scots
David Lindsay

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 pack,
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 native poet.

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 royalty.

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 Mount
Lyon King of Arms (1871)
Volume 1  |  Volume 2  |  Volume 3

Return to our Significant Scots page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus