Изображения страниц
[ocr errors]


in part even unconscious. Its value as chronicle set aside, the merits of The Bruce as a poem will not be denied. There are everywhere graphic touches as in the description of Douglas, that he had a lisp in his speech which became him wondrous well, or Bruce's comforting of his men, weary and starved, by reading to them romances of Charlemagne, or the grim tale of the “Douglas larder" of meal, malt, blood, and wine, or the fierce reply of Edward I. on his death-bed, asked what was to be done with the prisoners taken at Kildrummy, when he said, grinning, “ Hang and draw them,” or the description of the Bruce at Bannockburn in a hard leather hat with a crown upon it, or the circumstance that in the battle so desperate was the struggle that the combatants fought in silence, raising no cries. All that can delight the boyhood of the mind, all the elements of romance are contained within the covers of this book-the hairbreadth escapes of the hero, his combats against overwhelming odds, his indomitable courage, ready resource, unceasing cheerfulness and humour, the plots, the warnings and betrayals, the sieges, skirmishes, and flights through the wild hills, the privations and exposures, the marvellous loyalty and endurance of his friends. To these Barbour adds the strain of high seriousness. He is conscious and makes us conscious that all then done and suffered was in the cause of country and for the sake of that freedom he so finely praises.

“A! Fredome is a noble thing!

Fredome maiss man to haif liking:
Fredome all solace to man giffis:
He levis at ease that freely levis!
A noble heart may haif none ease,
Na ellis nocht that may him please,
Gif fredome failye; for free liking
Is yearnit owre all other thing.
Na he, that ay has levit free,
May nocht knaw weil the propertie,
The anger, na the wrechit dome,
That is couplit to foul thyrldome.
Bot gif he had assayit it,
Than all perquer he suld it wit;
And suld think fredome mar to prize
Than all the gold in world that is.
Thus contrar thingis ever-mar

Discoveringis of the tother are." 1 Liking, pleasure, ease; na ellis nocht, nor anything else; yearnit, yearned for; nome, doom; all perquer, by heart.


There is perhaps nothing more characteristic of the noble spirit of Barbour, as there is nothing in itself more engaging, than the magnanimity which permits him to ascribe the most heroic act of any described in The Bruce to an English knight, Sir Giles de Argentine.

“ And when Sir Gelis de Argenté
Saw the king thus and his menie
Shape them to flee so speedily,
He com richt to the king in hy,
And said, 'Sir, sen that it is swa
That ye thusgat your gate will ga,
Haifis gude day! for agane will I;
Yit filed I never siccarly,
And I cheiss here to bide and die
Than till lif here and shamefully flee.'
His bridle than but mair abaid
He turnit, and agane he rade,
And on Sir Edward the Bruce's rout
That was so sturdy and so stout,
As dreid of nakyn thing had he,
He prikit, cryand' Argenté!'
And they with spearis swa him met,
And swa feill spearis on him set,
That he and horse were chargit swa
That baith down to the erd can ga;
And in that place than slain was he.
Of his dede was richt great pitie;
He was the thrid best knicht, perfay,
That men wist liffand in his day.'

[ocr errors]

Defective in construction The Bruce nevertheless achieves if not a perfect yet a certain diffuse unity; lacking in the more subtle qualities of poetry it still commands respect and provides pleasure. Barbour had the honour of inspiring Sir Walter Scott, the greatest man of letters his country ever produced, a service in itself of no mean distinction, and though more than five hundred years have passed since the appearance of his epic, no poem has since been written in Scotland which more profoundly influenced Scottish ideals and Scottish character, or surpassed it in originality and absolute merit.

The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallzeant Campioun Schir William Wallace ? (circa 1460), though it came a hundred

1 Menie, company; hy, haste; swa, so; thusgat, in this manner; haifis, have you; siccarly, of a surety; cheiss, choose; but mair abaid, without more delay; naykn thing, thing of no kind; prikit, spurred; feill, many; erd, earth; dede, death; lifand, living.

"The oldest extant copy was made in 1488 by John Ramsay..

years later-claimed by some to surpass The Bruce in its mastery of metrical form as it certainly surpassed it in popularity-is far more ambitious but far less noble in spirit, so near indeed to mere rude minstrelsy in sentiment and ideals, so incredible in respect of its matter, that it made its appeal with wholly uncritical audiences. The author of Wallace was undoubtedly acquainted with a wide field of romantic literature, for he borrows freely and with composure from many sources, from Chaucer, Morte Arthur, and more particularly The Bruce itself.1 What is worse, he repays his borrowings by deliberate falsification of history, and by the sacrifice of Bruce to his own hero. We may, however, admit bright, even if filched, patches in his narrative, passages which will always be quoted, as, for example, the description of his hero, or the lament of Wallace over the Graham

"When they him fand, and gude Wallace him saw,
He lichtit doun, and hynt him fra them a'

In armis up; behaldand his pale face,
He kissit him, and cry'd full oft: Alas!
My best brother in warld that ever I had!
My ae fald friend when I was hardest stad!
My hope, my heal, thou was in maist honour!
My faith, my help, strengthiest in stour!
In thee was wit, fredome and hardinesse;
In thee was truth, manheid, and nobleness;
In thee was rule, in thee was governance;
In thee was virtue withouttin variance;
In thee leaute, in thee was great largnas;
In thee gentrice, in thee was steadfastnas.
Thou wast great cause of winning of Scotland."

The Wallace succeeded in placing its hero in the front rank of Scottish worthies, but judge it by the best in that kind produced in any land or in any language, and the most ardent of patriots must acknowledge it of lineage not royal. If poesy be "the clearest light by which they find the soul that seek it," the light shed by The Wallace is somewhat murky. It is not very beautiful. We are spared indeed no feat of physical prowess, but pondering the hero's character one has disturbing reflections. It were

1 See an able paper by Dr. George Neilson On Blind Harry's Wallace in Essays and Studies by members of the English Association. Oxford 1910. Hynt, laid hold of; ae fald, one fold, single-hearted; stad, beset; heal, health; stour, fight.

best cheerfully to allow that the bent of the author's mind was not, as Barbour's, towards the most excellent things and that The Bruce is the true national epic, The Wallace never at any time or in any mood to be named among the poems that remain dear to the hearts of men, which, though they have to do with earth, seem to have been composed in a region serener and more fair, some "garden of the Sun, beyond all seas."




MEN of the Renaissance conceived of the poet's country as already surveyed and mapped by the critics of antiquity. They thought it divisible into provinces or "kinds." Of these

” Aristotle had preferred tragedy to the rest, the Renaissance held that epic was the chief “kind,” the most spacious and noble province. Epic was in a special degree national poetry. Greece had her Homer, Rome her Virgil. As a city could not be deemed complete without a cathedral, to lack its epic was a reproach to any people which aspired to great place in the world's history, without it national literature failed of its crowning ornament. It was Spenser's ambition to do for England what Virgil had done for Rome.

Since the word is one and the kinds many, the discussion of English epic has already taken us far from the original or primitive type. Spenser takes us further. Nowhere on this subject—not even in an account of Greek literature—can we speak without qualification. To escape from the business of sub-division and classification is impossible. Give romantic narrative a place—and how exclude it without excluding the Odyssey ?-and it must be distinguished from heroic. Further, romantic epic is not of one type but many, and includes poems of very various design, inspired by equally various motives. Italy, richly inventive in forms of narrative, has her Pulci, who adopted the style of the popular stories current among the uneducated; her Ariosto, whose exuberant imagination created an ironical wonderland from the Carolingian and Arthurian legends; her Tassoni, who took his material from real history, but assumed the elevated epic style to ridicule by contrast the trivial events and unheroic personages of his own time; her Forteguerri, whose exaggeration of romantic fiction leads to mere burlesque;

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »