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The works of Douglas exhibit specimens of varied excellence. Of literary perfection however, if such a term may be adopted, our notions are not absolute but relative. This eulogy must therefore be understood to bear reference to a particular scale of merit : and a comparative estimate must be formed of the characters of different ages, nations, and languages. Yet after every requisite indulgence is granted, the intrinsic beauty of his compositions will not fail of exciting the admiration of those whom a previous knowledge of the Scotish dialect has constituted judges. His writings present us with constant vestiges of a prolific and even exuberant imagination ; and his very faults are those of superabundance rather than of deficiency. In his descriptive poems, so admirable in many respects, he sometimes distracts the attention by a multi
inter duos famatos viros, Magistrum Gauuinium Douglaiseum, virum non minùs eruditum quàm nobilem, Ecclesiæ Beati Ægidii Edinburgensis Præfectum, et Magistrum Davidem Crenstonem, in Sacra Theosophia Bacculareum, optimè meritum.”—Mair's Commentarius in Quartum Sententiarum is inscribed to Gavin Douglas, and to Robert Cockburn, Bishop of Ross.
Of David Cranston, who was perhaps related to William Cranston, the author of a Dialecticæ Compendium, the following quotation contains a brief account : “ David Cranstoun, raræ probitatis et felicis ingenii, dura et exercitâ juventute laboriosè bonas artes Lutetiæ didicit, ac deinde docuit magnâ famâ. Inter benefactores Collegii Montisacuti reponitur, quod quæcunque ex honestissimo labore professionis illi obvenerant, testamento ejusdem loci pauperibus reliquit. ---Ab eo vidi publicatas Parisiis, Orationes, lib. i. Votum ad Kentigernum, lib. i. Epistolas, lib. i.'' (Dempster. Hist. Ecclesiast. Gent. Scotor: p. 187.) VOL. II.
plicity of objects, and is not sufficiently careful to represent each new circumstance in a definite and appropriate manner. His allegorical sketches are efforts of no common ingenuity : but what chiefly renders his works interesting, is the perpetual occurrence of those picturesque and characteristic touches which can only be produced by a man capable of accurate observation and original thought. He is minute without tediousness, and familiar without impertinence. We are delighted with the writer, and become interested in the man.
The beauties of external nature he seems to have surveyed with the eyes of a poet ; the various aspects of human life with those of a philosopher. Our attention is alternately attracted by picturesque descriptions of material objects, and by pointed observations on the manners and pursuits of mankind.
To his inherent qualifications was superadded the necessary aid of scholastic discipline. He was perhaps the most learned of the early Scotish poets. The intimacy of his acquaintance with ancient literature was in that age rarely paralleled. His favourites among the heathen poets were apparently Virgil and Ovid: and among the Christian fathers his favourite was St Augustin, whom he denominates the chief of clerks. Of the Latin language his knowledge was undoubtedly extensive : and as he has informed us that Lord Sinclair requested him to translate Homer,
we may conclude that he was also acquainted with Greek. At present his secular learning is alone remembered; but Myln has informed . us that he was likewise eminently skilled in theology and in the canon law.
His style is copious and impetuous: but his diction may be considered as deficient in purity. In his translation of Virgil he professes to be scrupulous' in rejecting Anglicisms : and indeed his language is generally remote from that of the English poets. But he has imported many exotic terms from another quarter; his familiarity with the Latin authors betrays itself in almost every page of his writings. His verses, though less smooth and elegant than those of Dunbar, are not unskilfully constructed. With regard to the quantity of syllables he has not displayed the same unbounded licentiousness as sometimes appears in the writings of our ancient poets. In many of his lines deficiencies or redundancies may be discovered; but they are commonly to be imputed to the inaccuracy of transcribers, or to our ignorance of the true mode of pronunciation. What Mr Tyrwhitt has suggested in defence of the versification of Chaucer, may with equal propriety be applied to that of Douglas : “ The great number of verses, sounding complete even to our ears, which is to be found in all the least corrected copies of his works, authorizes us to conclude, that he was not ignorant of the laws of metre. Upon this conclusion it is impossible not to ground a strong presumption, that he intended to observe the same laws in many other verses which seem to us irregular; and if this was really his intention, what reason can be assigned sufficient to account for his having failed so grossly and repeatedly as is generally supposed, in an operation which every ballad-monger in our days, man, woman, or child, is known to perform with the most unerring exactness, and without any extraordinary fatigue $?”
Douglas's King Hart, an allegorical poem of a singular construction, exhibits a most ingenious adumbration of the progress of human life. The heart, being the fountain of vital motion, is
personified as man himself, and conducted through a great variety of adventures. At first the mystical king is presented to our view in all the fervour of youth, and surrounded by Strength, Wantonness, and many other gay companions.
King Hart into his cumlie castell strang,
Closit about with craft and meikill ure,
That he no dout had of misaventure;
So proudlie wes he polist, plaine, and pure,
So fair, so fresche, so liklie to endure,
s Tyrwhitt's Essay on the Language and Versification of Chaucer, P. 91.
For wes he never yit with schouris schot,
Nor yit our run with ronk or ony rayne ;
Na never had experience into payne,
But alway into lyking mocht to layne :
He wes inclynit cleinlie to remane,
Yit was this wourthy wicht king under ward;
For wes he nocht at fredom utterlie :
This gudlie king to governe and to gy;
For so thai kest thair ty me to occupy :
All lustis for to love and underly,
These “inwarde ythand servitouris," are Strength, Wantonness, Jealousy, Gentility, Freedom, Pity, and other personages of the same motley denomination. In order to defend him against treason, five of his vassals, the senses, are placed at the outer-works of his castle. These however are sometimes guilty of betraying their master.
Honour arrives at the gate, and, on being denied admission by these watchmen, forces his passage by means of an engine, and hastily ascends the
great tower :
Honour persewit to the kingis yet :
Thir folk said all thai wald not lat him in ;
With all his lustie servands more and myn,