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
Alexander Montgomery

MONTGOMERY, ALEXANDER, an early poet of considerable fame, appears to have been a younger son of Montgomery of Hazelhead castle, in Ayrshire, a branch of the noble family of Eglintoune. He flourished in the reign of James VI. but probably wrote verses at an antecedent period, as some of his compositions are transcribed in the Bannatyne Manuscript, which was written in 1568. The date of his birth--further than that it was upon an Easter-day—the place and nature of his education, and the pursuits of his early years, are all involved in obscurity. He is said to have been brought up in the county of Argyle; a fact which seems to gather some confirmation from a passage in Dempster— "eques Montanus vulgo vocatus,"—as if he had acquired some common nickname, such as "the Highland trooper;" for Montgomery never was knighted. There is some reason to suppose that he was at one time a domestic or commander in the guard of the regent Morton. His most familiar title, "Captain Alexander Montgomery," renders it probable that the latter was the nature of his office, for the word captain seems to have been first used in Scotland, in reference to officers in the immediate service of the sovereign. Melville, in his Diary, mentions that when Patrick Adamson was promoted to the archbishopric of St Andrews, (an event which occurred in the year 1577,) there was then at court "captain Montgomery, a good honest man, and the regent’s domestic," who, recollecting a phrase which the new primate had been accustomed to use in his sermons, remarked to some of his companions, "for as often as it was reported by Mr Patrick, the prophet would mean this, I never understood what the prophet meant till now."

Montgomery appears afterwards to have been in the service of king James, who, in his Rewles and Cautelis, published in 1582, quotes some of the poems of the subject of this memoir. His services were acknowledged by a pension of five hundred merks, chargeable upon certain rents of the arch-bishopric of Glasgow, which was confirmed in 1583, and again in 1589. Various places throughout Scotland are pointed out by tradition, as having been the residence of Montgomery, particularly the ruins of Compston Castle, near Kirkcudbright, now involved in the pleasure grounds connected with the modern mansion-house of Dundrennan. In 1586, the poet commenced a tour of the Continent. After his return, he was involved in a tedious and vexatious lawsuit respecting his pension, which drew from him some severe remarks upon the lawyers and judges of that time. Of his principal poem, "The Cherry and the Slae," the first known edition was printed by Robert Waldegrave, in 1607. The poet appears, from a passage in a memoir of Mure of Rowallan, [Lyle’s Ballads, London, 1827.] his nephew, to have died between this date and 1611.

"The poems of Montgomery," says Dr Irving, "display an elegant and lively fancy; and his versification is often distinguished by a degree of harmony, which most of his contemporaries were incapable of attaining. He has attempted a great variety of subjects, as well as of measures, but his chief beauties seem to be of the lyric kind. It is highly probable that his taste was formed by the study of the Italian poets: he has left many sonnets constructed on the regular model, and his quaint conceits seem not unfrequently to betray their Italian origin. The subject of love, which has afforded so fertile a theme to the poets of every age and nation, has furnished Montgomery with the most common and favourite topic for the exercise of his talents . . . . . His most serious effort is, ‘The Cherry and the Slae,’ a poem of considerable length, and certainly of very considerable ingenuity . . . . The images are scattered even with profusion; and almost every stanza displays the vivacity of the author’s mind. In this, as well as in his other productions, Montgomery’s illustrations are very frequently and very happily drawn from the most familiar objects; and he often applies proverbial expressions in a very pointed and pleasing manner . . . . The genuine explanation of the allegory may perhaps be, that virtue, though of very hard attainment, ought to be preferred to vice: virtue is represented by the cherry, a refreshing fruit, growing upon a tall tree, and that tree rising from a formidable precipice; vice is represented by the sloe, a fruit which may easily be plucked, but is bitter to the taste."

"The Cherry and the Slae" has longer retained popularity than any other poetical composition of the reign of James VI. It continued to be occasionally printed, for popular use, till a recent period; and in 1822, this, as well as the other poetical works of Montgomery, appeared in a very handsome edition, under the superintendence of Mr David Laing. Dr Irving contributed to the publication of a biographical preface, from which we have already derived the present memoir.

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