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the candidate down to a level with his fellow-men, and obliges him to depend on his own native powers for distinction. It is curious, too, to get at the history of a monarch's heart, and to find the simple affections of human nature throbbing under the ermine. But James had learnt to be a poet before he was a king; he was schooled in adversity, and reared in the company of his own thoughts. Monarchs have seldom time to parley with their hearts, or to meditate their minds into poetry; and had James been brought up amidst the adulation and gayety of a court, we should never, in all probability, have had such a poem as the Quair.
I have been particularly interested by those parts of the poem which breathe his immediate thoughts concerning his situation, or which are connected with the apartment in the Tower. They have thus a personal and local charm, and are given with such circumstantial truth, as to make the reader present with the captive in his prison, and the companion of his meditations.
Such is the account which he gives of his weariness of spirit, and of the incident that first suggested the idea of writing the poem. It was the still mid-watch of a clear moonlight night; the stars, he says, were twinkling as the fire in the high vault of heaven, and “ Cynthia rinsing her golden locks in Aquarius”_he lay in bed wakeful and restless, and took a book to beguile the tedious hours. The book he chose was Boetius' Consolations of Philosophy, a work popular among the writers of that day, and which had been
translated by his great prototype Chaucer. From the high eulogium in which he indulges, it is evident this was one of his favourite volumes while in prison ; and indeed, it is an admirable text-book for meditation under adversity. It is the legacy of a noble and enduring spirit, purified by sorrow and suffering, bequeathing to its successors in calamity the maxims of sweet morality, and the trains of eloquent but simple reasoning, by which it was enabled to bear up against the various ills of life. It is a talisman which the unfortunate may treasure up in his bosom, or, like the good King James, lay upon his nightly pillow.
After closing the volume, he turns its contents over in his mind, and gradually falls into a fit of musing on the fickleness of fortune, the vicissitudes of his own life, and the evils that had overtaken him even in his tender youth. Suddenly he hears the bell ringing to matins, but its sound chiming in with his melancholy fancies, seems to him like a voice exhorting him to write his story. In the spirit of poetic errantry, he determines to comply with this intimation; he therefore takes pen in hand, makes with it a sign of the cross, to implore a benediction, and sallies forth into the fairy land of poetry. There is something extremely fanciful in all this, and it is interesting, as furnishing a striking and beautiful instance of the simple manner in which whole trains of poetical thought are sometimes awakened, and literary enterprises suggested to the mind. In the course of his
he more than once bea wails the peculiar hardness of his fate, thus doomed
to lonely and inactive life, and shut up from the freedom and pleasure of the world, in which the meanest animal indulges unrestrained. There is a sweetness, however, in his very complaints ; they are the lamentations of an amiable and social spirit, at being denied the indulgence of its kind and generous propensities; there is nothing in them harsh or exag. gerated; they flow with a natural and touching pathos, and are perhaps rendered more touching by their simple brevity. They contrast finely with those elaborate and iterated repinings which we sometimes meet with in poetry, the effusions of morbid minds, sickening under miseries of their own creating, and venting their bitterness upon an unoffending world, James speaks of his privations with acute sensibility; but having mentioned them, passes on, as if his manly mind disdained to brood over unavoidable calamities. When such a spirit breaks forth into complaint, however brief, we are aware how great must be the suffering that extorts the murmur. We sympathize with James, a romantic, active, and accomplished prince, cut off in the lustihood of youth from all the enterprise, the noble uses and vigorous delights of life, as we do with Milton, alive to all the beauties of nature and glories of art, when he breathes forth brief but deep-toned lamentations over his perpetual blindness.
Had not James evinced a deficiency of poetic artifice, we might almost have suspected that these lowerings of gloomy reflection were meant as preparative to the brightest scene of his story, and to contrast with that effulgence of light and loveliness, that ex
hilarating accompaniment of bird, and song, and foliage, and flower, and all the revel of the year, with which he ushers in the lady of his heart. It is this scene in particular which throws all the magic of romance about the old castle keep. He had risen, he says, at day-break, according to custom, to escape from the dreary meditations of a sleepless pillow. “ Bewailing in his chamber thus alone,” despairing of all joy and remedy, “ for, tired of thought, and wobegone,” he had wandered to the window to indulge the captive's miserable solace, of gazing wistfully upon the world from which he is excluded. The window looked forth upon a small garden which lay at the foot of the tower. It was a quiet, sheltered spot, adorned with arbours and green alleys, and protected from the passing gaze by trees and hawthorn hedges.
Now was there made fast by the tower's walk
A garden faire, and in the corners set,
Railed about, and so with leaves beset
That lyf* was none, walkyng there forbye,
So thick the branches and the leves grene,
Beshaded all the alleys that there were,
The sharpe, grene, swete juniper,
That as it seemed to a lyf without,
* Lyf, persona
And on the small green twistis * set
The lytel swete nyghtingales, and sung
Of lovis use, now soft, now loud among,
Ryght of their song It was the month of May, when every thing was in bloom, and he interprets the song of the nightingale into the language of his enamoured feeling:
Worship all ye that lovers be this May;.
For of your bliss the kalends are begun,
Come, summer, come, the sweet season and sun. As he gazes on the scene, and listens to the notes of the birds, he gradually lapses into one of those tender and undefinable reveries, which fill the youthful bosom in this delicious season. He wonders what this love may be, of which he has so often read, and which thus seems breathed forth in the quickening breath of May, and melting all nature into ecstacy and song. If it really be so great a felicity, and if it be a boon thus generally dispensed to the most insigficant of beings, why is he alone cut off from its enjoyments ?
Oft would I think, O Lord, what may this be,
That love is of such noble myght and kynde?
Is it of him, as we in books do find;
* Twistis, small boughs or twigs. † Setten, incline. Note.--The language of the quotations is generally modernized.