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They are however amply replenished with good sense, which Horace justly regards as the foundation of literary excellence. And to this quality, which does not necessarily imply any unusual powers of execution, he unites a liveliness of fancy that often captivates the mind. His satire is pointed and unrestrained. The freedom with which he exposes vice, even when it attaches itself to royalty, has stamped his works with the character of intrepid sincerity. The objection however which has been urged against Juvenal, may with equal propriety be applied to Lindsay: he sometimes exposes vice in the language of the vitious.
Lindsay presents us with many curious prospects of society and manners: and although his delineations may in various instances be regarded as somewhat coarse, they are always faithful or picturesque. In this respect his writings are highly valuable, and ought to be accurately inspected by those who direct their attention more particularly to the civil or ecclesiastical history of Scotland.
In almost every poem which he has composed, we find severe but well-founded reflections on the ignorance and immorality of the Catholic clergy. If therefore the notion be just, that “malevolence to the clergy is seldom at a great distance from irreverence of religion,” Lindsay
Johnson's Lives of English Poets, vol. ii. p. 102.
has perpetually exposed himself to the charge of impiety. But this position of Dr Johnson, as it reduces good and evil to the same standard, may safely be controverted. Among the descendants of Abraham only was the order of priesthood sanctioned by divine approbation:. but a religious establishment in any other nation, whether, with Dr Warburton, we regard it as voluntarily allied to the civil power, or, with others, as a mere appendage or necessary instrument of the latter, cannot be unconditionally venerated by the various members of the state. The ministers of religion are subject to the common infirmities of humanity, and are only respectable in proportion as they are virtuous'.
That Lindsay should have found leisure to acquire the varied knowledge which he evidently possessed, cannot but excite our surprise when we reflect that he led the unquiet life of a courtier. His profound skill in heraldry has often been extolled; and he appears to have been much conversant in history and theology. His acquaintance with Latin authors, ancient as well as modern, was undoubtedly extensive: but to the unpolluted fountains of Grecian literature he
Sed nec me oppedere cælo
seems never to have approached. When 'he mentions a Greek writer, he speaks in the unsatisfactory accents of ignorance. Overlooking Homer, he has denominated Hesiod the sovereign poet of Greece. His critical judgments of the Latin writers are sometimes vague or fortuitous : to Ennius he unhappily applies the epithet ornate.
His versification is easy and agreeable. His style often approaches towards elegance, but, like that of Douglas, is overloaded with extraneous terms. Prepotent, pulchritude, celsitude, condign, dolent, are words which occur in the compass of one short stanza.
“ In the works of Sir David Lindsay,” says Mr Ellis, “ we do not often find, either the splendid diction of Dunbar, or the prolific imagination of Gawin Douglas ; perhaps, indeed, his Dream is the only composition which can be cited as uniformly poetical: but his various learning, his good sense, his perfect knowledge of courts and of the world, the facility of his versification, and, above all, his peculiar talent of adapting himself to readers of all denominations, will continue to secure to him a considerable share of that popularity, for which he was originally indebted to the opinions he professed, no less than to his poetical merit".
m Ellis, Hist. Sketch of English Poetry, vol. ii. p. 21.
His Dialog of the Miserabill Estait of this Warld is not, as it has sometimes been represented, a tedious detail of well-known events, but a work replete with various learning, and enlivened by the pointed remarks of a perspicacious mind. It appears to have been composed during his old age, and may therefore be regarded as comprizing the accumulated maxims of a long life of alternate action and contemplation. It has been unfaithfully characterized as a meagre compendium of universal history. The poet's principal object is not to narrate events, but, by means of the great occurrences recorded in sacred or prophane history, to illustrate general positions: and although in the prosecution of this design he may occasionally appear somewhat tedious, yet for the most part he is so fortunate as to prevent attention from languishing. His pages present us with contributions to the history of manners, with specimens of the learning which was then cultivated, and with prospects of the deplorable state of a tottering church.
Musing on the wretchedness and instability incident to human affairs, the poet early in a summer morning enters a pleasant field, and is there accosted by a venerable old man named Experience. He informs this reverend stranger that he has at length resolved to abandon the court, and to employ the remainder of his life in preparation for death; and he expresses a wish to be instructed in the most practicable method of obtaining tranquillity. The answer returned by Experience has often been found too true: Earthly happiness is a shadow which no man need pursue ; and human life is a state of warfare and tribulation.
This reflection being presented to his mind, he begins to enquire concerning the origin of evil: and the momentous question is discussed in the course of their long conference. But previous to his entering into detail, he offers a sensible apology for writing in his native language ; and thence takes occasion to expose the absurdity of that maxim which prohibits the body of the people from reading the sacred scriptures. Pearls, say the Romanists, must not be cast before swine : children, as well as adults, may experience the benefits of fire and water; and yet their parents must be careful to guard them against those dangerous elements
Having taken a review of the most remarkable events recorded by Moses, and of the progress of the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires, he next proceeds to treat of the spiritual monarchy of the pope. Against the corruptions of the church of Rome he inveighs with wonder
n The decrees of popes and the sentiments of eminent Catholic writers, relative to the expediency of permitting the scriptures to be redd in the vulgar tongues, have been collected by Jacobus Laurentius, in his illiberal animadversions on Grotius. (Laurentii Hugo Grotius Papizans, p. 194. Amst. 1642, 8vo.)