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THREE CENTURIES OF SCOTTISH

LITERATURE.

CHAPTER VII.

RAMSAY TO FERGUSSON.

In an earlier chapter reference has been made to the long and disastrous eclipse under which the native literature, and especially the poetry, of Scotland passed during the seventeenth century. The union of the Crown of Scotland with that of England would in any case have drawn talent from the smaller country; but if it had brought internal peace the loss would soon have been made good, and more than made good. But the Union did not bring peace. In the disturbed annals of Scotland there are periods of more violent commotion than the seventeenth century, but few if any more full of petty quarrels. Not only was the country shaken by the great civil struggle which convulsed England as well, but it was distracted also to a degree which England never experienced by religious differences. The mutual hatred of sects drained the strength of the nation; and on the whole it is little to be wondered at that there were only a few, like the Semples of Beltrees, who kept alive, in occasional compositions, the tradition of vernacular poetry.

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As soon as the Revolution had effected a settlement, and the strong government of William, while justly establishing the Presbyterians as the exponents of the religion of the State, had prohibited the persecution of the now vanquished Episcopalians, literature and art began to revive. Some time had naturally to pass before the fruit of firm government and internal peace ripened ; and the literary revival is chronologically associated rather with the union of the Parliaments than with the Revolution. The removal of the seat of government to Westminster, if not a greater fact than the union of the Crowns, at any rate made a deeper and more permanent impression upon the literature of the smaller country. It was also different in its action.

In the seventeenth century the leading poets, such as Sir William Alexander and Drummond of Hawthornden, Anglicised themselves as completely as they were able, and by doing so lost, to a large extent, their national audience. Vernacular literature seemed to be in danger of extinction. In the eighteenth century, on the contrary, an English and a Scottish school arose and flourished side by side. Further, the Scotchmen of the seventeenth century were almost wholly borrowers from the English ; they contributed no appreciable national element to the strong and healthy English literature of the reign of James I. Three generations later the case was very different. Not only the native school, but the Anglicised writers, taught at least as much as they learnt. They gave to a somewhat jaded literature a fresh impulse and a new vitality. In view of the condition of the literary society of Edinburgh in that age, this statement, as far as concerns the writers in English, may seem questionable. That society

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