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early Scottish song; being rather recited, rhymes
This, however, is not a very fair objection. We find many popular rhymes in the present day, especially among children, which, though not expressly songs, yet resemble that species of composition in so many respects, that they may almost be held as such. Songs are themselves, in general, extemporaneous effusions of the people, produced under the influence of some particular passion. Recitative rhymes are precisely the same. It is, therefore, to be argued from analogy, that the rhymes given above, though not perhaps uttered with the modulation of a tune, are exactly similar to those compositions, whatever they were, wbich did enjoy an alliance with music.
The prevalence of songs among the common people of Scotland at this period, is proved obliquely by a passage in Barbour's Life of King Robert Bruce.
This historian, in alluding to a victory which Sir John de Soulis, the governor of Eskdale, gained, with fifty men, over a body of English, amounting to three bundred, under Sir Andrew Hercla, forbears to “ reherss the maner” of the fight, because -quhasae likes thai
may her Young women, quhen thai play,
Sing it among them ilk day. Few and scattered as the fragments already given may be considered by the reader, a period now ensues, during which still fewer occur to the enquirer. It may be observed, that we are chiefly indebted for the preservation of the above specimens to English historians the period being one when the history of Scotland fell as much under the observation of these chroniclers as that of their own country. The ensuing century, during which Scotland continued alike unannoyed and unchronicled by England, and during which she did not happen to possess any native historians, is, therefore, a complete blank, so far as the subject of this es
say is concerned. The next trace we find of Scottish song occurs under James I., at the beginning of the fifteenth century.
King James the First one of the most endeared historical names which Scotland possesses—returned, in 1424, from his long captivity in England, accomplished in all the branches of education which any prince could then have commanded in any country, Henry IV., though induced by reasons of state to confine bis person, had by no means constrained his mind. With a wish, it would rather appear, to compensate the injustice of his personal imprisonment, he had taken every measure to enlarge and liberalize the understanding of the young Scottish prince. When James was first brought before him, after being seized by the English fleet, Henry enquired what reason bad induced his father to send him to France ? James answered, that it was to learn French; on which the king remarked with a smile, that he would acquire that accomplish, ment quite as well at the English court; where, as the reader will recollect, this language bad continued to be used ever since the Norman conquest. The English monarch fully proved the truth of this assertion, by causing his captive not only to be instructed in the fashionable language, which he affected a wish to learn, but also in the more solid departments of knowledge. With the usual generosity of the Plantagenets-for never, perhaps, did a nobler race of men exist than this line of monarchs-he resolved, while abstracting the heir of the King of Scots, at least not to mar the scheme which he had formed for the education of his son ; the only loss, he well knew, which would afterwards be perfectly irreparable.
James, then, on being transferred from his English prison to his Scottish throne, was found to be not only acquainted fully with all that could dignify a prince and direct a lawgiver, but also with those minor accomplishments which, while they perhaps belong most
properly to the gentleman or man of taste, are fitted to adorn and alleviate the condition of every rank of
Nature had rendered him a poet and a musician; taste and education had raised him to a degree of perfection in these arts. His contemporary and historian, Joannes de Fordun, has devoted a whole chapter to an account of his many and varied accomplishments : I
here translate the most remarkable passage. “ He excelled in music, and not only in the vocal kind, but also in instrumental, which is the perfection of the art; in tabor and choir, in psalter and organ. Nature, apparently having calculated upon his requiring something more than the ordinary qualifications of men, had implanted in him a force and power of divine genius above all human estimation ; and this genius showed itself most particularly in music. His touch upon the harp produced a sound so utterly sweet, and so truly delightful to the hearers, that he seemed to be born a second Orpheus, or, as it were, the prince and prelate of all harpers."
Jobn Major, writing about twenty or thirty years after the death of King James, speaks still more pointedly of his talents as a poet and musician. “ He was, says this historian, “ à most ingenious composer in his native or vernacular language, and his numerous poems and songs are still held in the highest estimation among the Scottish people. During his captivity, he wrote a very good poem on the lady whom he afterwards made his queen. * There was another, begin. ning Yas sen,t &c.; and another still, a very elaborate and very humorous composition, called At Beltayn. This last some persons at Dalkeith and Gargeil attempted to alter, representing him as confined in
• The Kingis Quair.
† Probably a mistake for “sen yat” (since that], the opening words of a “ Song on Absence,” which is to be found in Siba bald's Chronicle.
Peeblis to the Play.
a castle, or chamber, in which a woman dwelt with her mother.”
James is thus proved, from the records of his own country, to have been a writer of songs in his own language-to have been fond of singing-and to have been a most accomplished instrumental musician. It may not be amiss, in the eyes of some, to add the testimony of a historian, who, being a foreigner, must, of course, be held as beyond the suspicion of prejudice. This foreigner is Alessandro Tassoni, an Italian, the author of a work published more than two hundred years ago, under the title of Pensieri Diversi. In the twenty-third chapter of his tenth book, Tassoni thus distinguishes James I. of Scotland:
“ Noi ancora possiamo connumerar tra nostri, Jacopo Re di Scozia, che non pur cose sacre compose in Canto, ma trova da se stesso una nuova musica, lamentevole e mesta, differente da tutte l'altre. Nel che poi è stato imitato da Carlo Gesualdo Principe di Venosa, che in questa nostra età ha illustrato anch'egli la musica con nuove mirabili invenzioni.”
among us moderns, James, King of Scotland, who not only composed many pieces of sacred music, but also of himself invented a new kind of music, plaintive and melancholy, different from all others; in which he has been imitated by Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, who, in our age, has improved music with many new and admirable inventions."
This passage goes far to prove, moreover, that although every memorial of James's musical talents is now lost in his own country, he was, for nearly two centuries after his death, in enjoyment of a European reputation on that account.
James has been the means of supplying us with one farther historically certain fact regarding Scottish song. It may be recollected by many of my readers, that, after the first five stanzas of Peeblis to the Play, (which five stanzas are occupied by a description of the ga
thering, or confluence, of the people towards the place of sport,) the poet proceeds—
Ane young man stert into that steid,
As cant as ony colt,
With ane bow and ane bolt;
The weather is fair and smolt;
Of Peblis to the Play. Another allusion occurs in the twenty-fifth stanza:
He fippilit like ane fatherless foal,
And said, Be still, my sweit thing.
I may nocht rest for greiting.
To mak her blythe that meiting:
Of Peblis to the Play. It is thus established, that songs were common matters among
the peasantry in the earlier half of the fifteenth century; and also that there were, in particular, two songs, now lost, one beginning, “ There fure ane man to the holt," and another, “ There shall be mirth at our meeting yet.
But by far the most valuable illustration of the state of song about the era of King James, [1424–37,] is to be found in a ludicrous vernacular poem, called Cockelby's Sow, which is known, from internal and external evidence, to have been written before the middle of the fifteenth century, although the earliest copy of it is in the Bannatyne Manuscript, dated only 1568. Cockelby's Sow, in language, and style of description, makes a much nearer approach to the moWent.
+ Wood. b