The Progress of the Nation page 11
The principal poems of William Dunbar are "The Golden Terge," or target; "The Thistle and the Hose," a poem in honour of the marriage of Margaret of England with James IV. of Scotland; "The Pained Friar;" the "Lament of the Death of the Makars," that is, poets, and a number of other poems, chiefly lyrical, which display a most versatile genius, comic, satirical, grave, descriptive, and religious, and place him in the very first rank of Scotland's poets, notwithstanding the obsolete character of his language; and not the least of his distinctions is the absence of that grossness which disfigured the writings of the poets of those times. A few lines may denote the music of his versification:
"Be merry, man, and tak nocht far in mynd
The last poet of this period that we must notice is Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount, Lyon King-at-Arms, whom Sir Walter Scott, in "Marmion," has made so familiar to modern readers, predating, however, Sir David's office of Lyon King seventeen years. Sir David was born about 1490, and is supposed to have died about 1567; so that he lived in the reigns of Henry VII. of England and of Elizabeth, through the whole period of Henry VIII., Edward VI., and Mary. His life was cast in times most eventful, and Sir David, as Lyon-Herald of Scotland, occupied a prominent position in the shaping of those events. At the time of the battle of Plodden, 1513, both Pitscottie and Buchanan assure us that he was with. James IV. when the ghost appeared to him in the church at Linlithgow, warning him against the battle. Lyndsay was then only three-and-twenty. He was appointed page to the young king, and continued about him and in his service during the king's life-. In his "Complaynt," addressing the king, he says: -
"How as ane chapman beres his pack,
Lyndsay went to France on embassages of royal marriage; and after the king's early death, under the regency, he was again sent to the Low Countries on a mission to the Emperor Charles Y. In 1548 he went as Lion-King to Denmark, to King Christian, to seek aid against the English, and afterwards lived to see the great struggle betwixt the old Church and the Reformation, the murder of Cardinal Beaton, the return of Knox, and must have died about the time of the murder of Darnley.
Sir David, though bred a courtier, was a thorough Reformer; and his poems abound with the most unrestrained exposures of the corruptions of Courts and of the Church. On the flagitious lives of monks, nuns, and clergy, he pours forth the most trenchant satire and denunciation; and in this respect he may be styled the Chaucer of Scotland. His poems are "The Dreme," "The Complaynt," "The Cornplaynt of Papingo," "The Complaynt of Bagsche," "Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Three Estatis," "The Answer to the King's Fly ting," "Kittie's Confession," "The Tragedie of the Cardinal," "The Historie and Testament of Squire Meldrum," "Monarchie," and "The Epistill Nuncupatorie."
"The Dreme" reminds one of the dreams of former poems, of Chaucer, Dante, Langland, called "the Visions of Pierce Plowman," and those of Douglas and Dunbar. Probably "The Golden Terge" of Dunbar was the immediate suggestor; for as Dunbar goes out, as "the stern of day began to schyne," and lying under a roseir, or arbour of roses, lulled by the songs of birds and the sound of a river, dreams, so does Lyndsay, passing, with Dame Remembrance as his guide, through earth, hell, purgatory, heaven, paradise, and "the planets seven," hearing and seeing all the works of God, and the rewards and punishments of the good and the evil. It has great poetic merit. "The Complaynt" describes the degenerate manners of the Court whilst Lyndsay was banished from it, and the grapes were sour. "The Complaynt of the Papingo," or the king's parrot, deals out the same measure to the hierarchy as Lyndsay had given to the State, in which Cardinal Beaton, and the Pope and clergy in general, are soundly rated. Next comes "The Three Estatis," an actual Morality Play, in which all kinds of emblematical personages, Rex Humanitas, Sensualitie, Chastitie, &c., act their parts. Its scope may be inferred from its being declared to be "in commendation of vertew and vituperation of vyce." This is the great work of Lyndsay, and was acted before the king and queen, who sat out nine mortal hours in its performance, in which they successively heard every order in the State - Court, nobility, Church, and people - severely criticised. Lyndsay's play has the merit of preceding both "Gorboduc" and "Gammer Gurton's Needle;" and it certainly possesses the moral of the former and the wit of the latter. "The Answer to the King's Flyting" is a very curious example of what the indulgence of a professional fool at Court led to: it produced not only the jester but the poet laureate. The king condescended to flyte, or jibe, with his jester; the jester in return became the satirist, and the poet laureate healed all wounds by his eulogies. James Y. flyted with Lyndsay, and Lyndsay answered with interest. In "Kittie's Confession" Lyndsay ridicules auricular confession. In "The Cardinal" he sings a song of triumph over the fall of Beaton. In the "Legend of Squire Meldrum" the poet dresses up the adventures of a domestic of Lord Lyndsay's of that name in the manner of an ancient romance, and it was extremely popular. It has been declared by critics of note to be the best of Lyndsay's poems, and equal to the most polished pieces of Drayton, who lived a century after him.
We have given thus much notice of the Lyon King-at-Arms, because nowadays he does not enjoy, perhaps, his due fame in comparison with that of our Chaucer and our early dramatists; yet a perusal of his works is necessary to a real knowledge of the times in which he lived. The reader, however, must be warned that in the search after this knowledge he will have to wade through much filth, and language now astonishing for its naked coarseness. On the other hand, he will occasionally find scientific theories of modern pretension quite familiar to our Lyon-King. For instance, Kirwan has claimed the geologic discovery that the currents which broke up the hills in Europe came from the south-west, leaving the diluvial slopes declining to the north-east. But hear Lynsday three hundred years ago: -
"I reid liow clerkis dois conclude,
The present century was nearly as distinguished for its music as its poetry. The censure which has been cast on England in our own time for not being a musical or music-producing nation did not exist then. On the contrary, we stood at the head of Europe in original musical composition. The monarchs of that age, like their most illustrious predecessors from Alfred downwards, were highly educated in music. Henry VIII. was himself a composer of Church music. It must be recollected that Henry, being but the second son of Henry VII., was originally educated for the Church, whose dignities were then princely; and, as a matter of course, he was made familiar with its music, which occupied so prominent a part in its worship. Erasmus bears testimony to the fact of Henry having composed offices for the Church - a fact confirmed by Lord Herbert of Cherbury and Bishop Burnet; and Sir John Hawkins in his history of music, and Boyce, in his "Cathedial Music of English Masters," have preserved specimens of the Royal composition. Boyce gives a fine anthem of Henry's, "O Lord, the Maker of all things." The king's musical establishment for his chapel cost annually upwards of £2,000, consisting of 114 persons, and was continued by Edward. Mary and Elizabeth were equally learned in music, though they do not appear to have patronised it as royally.
Under these circumstances great composers, both of sacred and social music, flourished in the sixteenth century. The names of Tye, Marbeck, Tallis, Bird, Farrant, Dowland, Bennet, Wilbye, Ford, &c., stand in superb array as composers of some of our finest Church music, or of madrigal and part singing.
Tye was so much esteemed by Henry VIII., that he was made music preceptor to Edward VI., and was afterwards organist to Elizabeth. He composed both anthems and madrigals; and his motett, "Laudate nomen Domini," is still famous. Marbeck composed the notes to the Preces and Responses, which, with some alterations, are still in use in all our cathedrals. He was organist at Windsor, and was very nearly losing his life under the ferocious Henry, being found to be the member of a society for religious reformation. He and his three accomplices were condemned to the stake; but Marbeck was saved by his musical genius, Henry observing, on Marbeck's Latin Concordance, on which he had been employed, being shown to him, "Poor Marbeck! it would be well for thine accusers if they employed their time no worse." His fellows were burnt without mercy, though no more guilty than himself.
Tallis was indebted to Marbeck for the notes just mentioned in his compositions for the Church. His entire service, including prayers, responses, Litany, and nearly all of a musical kind, are preserved in Boyce's collections. They became the most celebrated of any of that remarkable age. In conjunction, also, with his pupil, William Bird, he published, in 1575, "Cantiones Sacrae" - perfect chefs-d'oeuvre of their kind; one of them, "O sacrum, convivium," since adapted by Dean Aldrich to the words "I call and cry," still continues to be frequently performed in our cathedrals. The "Cantiones" are remarkable from having been the first things of the kind protected by a patent for twenty-one years, granted by Elizabeth.
Bird was the author of the splendid canon, "Non nobis, Domine," which has been claimed by composers of Italy, Prance, and the Netherlands, but, as sufficiently proved, without any ground. The names of Tallis and Bird are of themselves an ample guarantee to the claim of musical genius by this country. Richard Farrant and Dr. Bull - the first a chorister in Edward VI.'s chapel, and the latter organist to Queen Elizabeth - added greatly to the sacred music of the period. Farrant's compositions especially are remarkable for their deep pathos and devotion. His anthem, still preserved by Boyce, "Lord, for thy tender mercy's sake," is unrivalled. Dr. Bull is now said to have been the original composer of our national air, "God save the Queen," which has long been claimed as foreign.
In social music the poetical Surrey stands conspicuous, having set his own sonnets to music. Madrigals and other part singing - since better known as glee singing - were carried to a brilliant height in this country. The madrigal was originally invented by the Flemings, but glee singing seems to be English, though no doubt derived from the madrigal. Morley's first book of jnadrigals was published in 1594, Weelkes's in 1597, Wilbye's in 1598, Bennet's in 1599, and soon after Ward's and Orlando Gibbons'. Dowland's and Ford's are more properly glees than madrigals; the former appeared in 1597, and the latter in 1607. Morley, one of the gentlemen of Queen Elizabeth's chapel, would seem, like" Dowland, to have studied the works of the great composers abroad; and the harmony and science which he evinces are eminent. His canzonets for two voices are especially lively and pleasing. Dowland not only travelled in France, Italy, and Germany, but, at the request of King Christian IV., who saw him in England, he went to reside in Denmark. Fuller declares that he was the rarest musician of the age. In 1598 Wilbye published thirty madrigals, and a second book, applicable to instrumental as well as vocal music, in 1609, amongst which are, "Lady, when I behold the roses sprouting, "As fair as morn," "Down in a valley," &c.; and in 1599 John Bennet published a set of madrigals, including the admirable ones of "O sleep, fond Fancy!" "Flow, O my tears!" and lastly, John Milton, the father of the poet, who also composed several psalm tunes, was a contributor to "The Triumphs of Oriana," a set of madrigals in praise of Queen Elizabeth. Altogether this century was brilliant in both Church and convivial music; and if we are to judge from some specimens to be found in "The Dancing Master," and "Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book," the popular airs were in many instances of a superior character, amongst which we may mention Bird's "Carman's Whistle," and the "Newe Northern Ditty of Ladye Green Sleeves."
The change which marked religion and literature in this country extended itself as strikingly into architecture. We have no longer to record the rise of new orders of ecclesiastical building, nor to direct the attention of the reader to splendid churches as examples of them. The unity of the Church, which had enabled it to erect such a host of admirable cathedrals and abbeys, was broken up; the wealth which had supplied the material and engaged the skill was dispersed into other hands, and destined not only to produce new orders of society, but new forms of architecture. Churches must give way to palaces and country halls, as full of innovations as the very faith of the country. From this period to our own time the taste for ecclesiastical architecture continued to decline, till the very principles of what are called Gothic were forgotten. Our architects, as Wren and Jones, went back to classic models, so little adapted to the spirit of Christian worship that, spite of the genius expended upon them, they have remained few in number, and from the revival of the knowledge of Anglo-Gothic amongst us, are not likely to increase.
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