Page images

Not, indeed, until DUNBAR arose in the sister kingdom, had we another instance of the combination

passage of truly redeeming power. Two instances of this kind are quoted by our great lyric poet, of which the second is beyond all praise, and shows how deeply the Monk of Bury could enter into the distresses of love and maternal fondness.

“ Canace, condemned to death by Eolus her father, sends to her guilty brother Macareus the last testimony of her unhappy passion :

“Out of her swoonè when she did abbraide,

Knowing no mean but death in her distresse,
To her brother full piteouslie she said,
'Cause of my sorrowe, roote of my heavinesse,
That whilom were the sourse of my gladnesse ;
When both our joys by wille were so disposed,

Under one key our hearts to be inclosed.“This is mine end, I may it not astarte ;

O brother mine! there is no more to saye;
Lowly beseeching with all mine whole hearte,
For to remember specially, I praye;
If it befall my littel sonne to dye,
That thou mayst after some mynd on us have,
Suffer us both be buried in one grave.

I hold hiin strictly twene my armè's twein,

Thou and natùre laidè on me this charge ;
He, guiltlesse, mustè with me suffer paine :
And sith thou art at freedome, and at large,
Let kindness oure love not so discharge,

of first-rate abilities for humour and comic painting, with an equally powerful command over the higher

But have a minde, wherever that thou be,
Once on a day upon my child and me.

«« On thee and ine dependeth the trespace,

Touching our guilt and our great offence ;
But, welaway! most angelik of face,
Oure childè, young in his pure innocence,
Shall agayn right suffer death's violence,
Tender of limbes, God wote, full guiltèless,
The goodly faire, that lieth here speechless."

«« À mouth he has, but wordès hath he none;

Cannot complaine, alas ! for none outrage,
Nor grutcheth not, but lies here all alone,
Still as a lambe, most meke of his visage.
What heart of stele could do to him damage,
Or suffer him dye, beholding the manere,
And looke benigne of his twein eyen clere ?'

I stop here,” says Gray, “not because there are not great beauties in the remainder of this epistle, but because Lydgate, in the three last stanzas of this extract, has touched the very heart-strings of compassion with so masterly a hand, as to merit a place among the greatest poets. The learned reader will see the resemblance they bear to one of the most admirable remnants of all antiquity, I mean the fragment of Simonides (unhappily it is but a fragment), preserved to us by Dionysius Halicarnassensis; and yet, I believe that no one will imagine that Lydgate had ever seen or heard of it. As to Ovid, from

regions of fiction and imagination. Than The Thistle and the Rose, and The Golden Terge of the Scottish bard, there cannot be two poems of similar length which exhibit greater warmth and luxuriancy of description, or greater skill in the invention and arrangement of the allegorical imagery. They certainly rival in opulence and strength of colouring the most highly finished allegorical pictures of his great master Chaucer, for such he ever acknowledged him to be ; whilst, at the same time, in all that regards preservation of character, felicity of incident, and richness of humour, where, even in the Canterbury Tales, shall we find two pieces superior to The Twa Married Women and the Widow, and the Freirs of Berwick? The latter narrative, more especially, is conducted, both as to its fable and its characters, with a thorough knowledge of human nature, with the most minute fidelity in point of description, and with a pungency

and originality of humour which has seldom, if ever, been surpassed.

whom Boccaccio might borrow many of his ideas in this story, it will be easily seen, upon comparison, how far our poet has surpassed him.” Mathias's WORKS OF GRAY, Vol. ii. p. 66, et seq.

To these four capital pieces, Dunbar has added a multitude of minor productions, chiefly of a lyrical cast, and which are not less remarkable for their ethic and satiric vigour, than for their frequent touches of moral sublimity and bold personification, blended too, às is often the case, with strokes of genuine pathos. Of this description, amongst many others, are the poems entitled “ The Daunce," Lair is vain without Governance," “ On the Warlds Instabilitie," " On Content," " No Treasure without Gladnesse," and the “ Meditatioun, Written in Wynter.” In depicting the passions or fiends who form the Dramatis Personæ in the Daunce, the poet has introduced several features of mingled sublimity and terror, not unworthy even of the genius of Shakspeare; as, for instance, in the prosopopoeia of Anger:

Then Ire came in with sturt and strife,

His hand was ay upon his knife; nor will the reader forbear to admire the sweet moral pathos which has given an undying charm to the beautiful stanzas on Winter.

If we now take a retrospect of our British poetry from the period of Dunbar to the commencement of the nineteenth century, excluding, however, the

drama as a separate and distinct province, and, of course, all consideration of the mighty and diversified genius of Shakspeare, where, it may be asked, shall we find such another concentration of varied talent, such a blending of satire, and humour, and characteristic delineation, with the higher faculties subservient to passion, imagination, and lofty description, as we have just pointed out in the instances of Chaucer and Dunbar ?

Where, I will venture to reply, but in the person of Burns? who it may safely be asserted has rivalled these poets in humour, description, and moral satire, and even surpassed them in the pathetic, the terrible, and the sublime.

Of the merits of a poet so well known, and so deservedly popular as is Robert Burns, it would, in the present day, be altogether superfluous to enter into any formal discussion ; and for the purpose which I have in view, that of a brief comparison of his character and powers as a writer, with those which have been ascribed to Chaucer and Dunbar, little more is required than a classification, under a few distinct heads, of some of his best pieces, which, vividly recollected as they must be by nearly all,

« PreviousContinue »