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name, another poet to whom we can lay claim, it must be confessed, on more unexceptionable grounds. Yet, though in supposing Montgomerie to be a cadet of the Eglinton family, is an opinion unsupported by any historical document, and indeed is at variance with some trifling conjectures, hazarded both by Irving and Sibbald; nevertheless, it is one much more plausible than some others, which have been received and adopted regarding him, of a fancifuller nature. This however is a matter of little real importance, and the question is left to be discussed by those who have leisure and opportunity on their hands to do it justice in all its parts and bearings.
The fame of Montgomerie for the most part rests on his Cherrie and the Slae, a fine allegorical poem, which with all its tediousness, obscurities, and occasional lameness, has been, and will ever be read with pleasure. The explication of the allegory, found in the “Opus poematicum de virtutum et vitiorum pugna; sive electio status in adolescentia." of the celebrated Thomas Dempster, and the friend and admirer of Montgomerie, is the same as that given by Dr. Irving; namely, that the paths of virtue, though of the most difficult access, ought to be strenuously preferred to those of vice, however smooth and inviting the latter may appear. Others have supposed it is intended to represent the perplexities and doubts of a lover, but to every person who reads it, the explication already given is undoubiedły the true one.
Notwithstanding this poem has been long and deservedly esteemed, yet there are not wanting some, who, from a silly aff.etation of singularity, have treated it in a very cavalier-like manner. The pettish criticism of Mr. Pinkerton, we consider of this kind. That writer observes, “ It is a very poor production; and yet I know not how, it has been frequently printed, while far superior works have been neglected. The stanza is good for a song, but the worst in the world for a long poem. The allegory is weak and wire drawn; and the whole piece beneath contempt." This wholesale way of pronouncing condemnation, is neither just nor rational, either in regard to persons or things. As applied in the present case, it happens to be the very height of injustice, nay of downright absurdity. Fortunately other men are endowed with understandings and rastes, as well as Mr. Pinkerton, aud have the courage to judge
for themselves in these questions, without implicitly yielding up their opinions to every crude assertion it lists him to make. There be some critics vastly in conceit with themselves, who strain and strive not a little to gain distinction amongst their common-place brethren of mankind, by saying what they are pleased to term smart things. These gentlemen will stretch a far point to avoid repeating any remark that has been uttered before, however true; and shink nothing of occasionally sacrificing truth, sincerity, and principle, for the sake of appearing strikingly original, and marvellously foolish. It need scarcely be asked, if Mr. Pinkertou sometimes falls under this description of writers. Did the limits of these pages admit of detail, it were passing easy to point out beauties in various parts, even of the poor production mentioned above, which we are convinced would please even the very fastidious Mr. Pinkerton; but we have neither time nor leisure at present to buffet every babbler that croaketh dissonance in our path.
Montgomerie was the favourite court poet of his day: the fame he earned amongst his contemporaries has descended to our own times; for of all the other poets of that period, there is not one whose works have been so frequently reprinted, admired, and imitated. Maugre all that Mr. Pinkerton can say, this is a pretty strong proof that they are not mere tinsel and prunello. Many of his amatory effusions and sonnets are in truth exceedingly beautiful and tender, affecting and elegant. His metres are frequently referred to, by our Royal Critic, James VI., in his “ Rewlls and Cautelis for Scottis Poesie," as models of style, and by him we are told, that in “ love materes all kyndis of cuttit and broken verse quhairof newe formes are daylie inventit, according to the poetis pleasour," are right fitting and meet. This cuttit and broken verse is no other than that in which “ The Cherrie and the Slae" is written.
Like William Dunbar, Montgomerie polluted his fine genius by a Flyting with a brother Maker. Flyting, a species of com. position which appears to have been a source of much pleasure to many of our elder poets, at least one in which they often indulged, was the popular name for a poetical invective. Every base calumny, foul reproach, cutting gibe, or filthy image, an unclean mind could engender, formed the body and soul of these scurrilous pieces. And it is a singular fact, that perhaps no tongue on earth is more rich and expressive than the Scotish,
in flyting terms. Its copiousness, nerve, and nastiness withal, are truly astonishing. Skelton and Nashe are mere drivel. lers, compared with Dunbar and Kennedie, Montgomerie and Polwart, which is not surprising, when we know that they handled far blunter tools.
Contemporaneous with Montgomerie, was his friend Robert Sempill, a more voluminous, but by no means so good or so popular a poet. It has been said elsewhere, that this Robert Sempill was a titled personage; but it is right to mention in this place, that Dr. Irving is decidedly hostile to such an opinion, and treats the whole matter as a mere figment of an idle ima. gination. “ One of the most persevering and unsuccessful versifiers of this period, says he, was Robert Sempill, whom a late writer (Sibbald), who amuses himself with perpetual conjectures, ridiculously supposes to have been a Scottish Peer.—The eulogium which Dempster has bestowed on Sempill's genius, is highly extravagant, and must have been conceived without any previous aequaintance with his writings; he represents him as exhibiting the combined excellencies of Propertius, Tibullus, Ovid, and Callimachus. Some pieces of this poetaster are to be found in the Evergreen; and Mr. Dalzell has lately repu. blished others from the original editions. They are equally indecent and unpoetical.” With every mark of deference to the opinions of a writer, who seldom dogmatises rashly, and who has by his labours done so much for the memories of Scotland's poets, we at the same time are compelled to dissent as widely from him in this point, as he seems to do from Sibbald and Dempster.
It is to be observed, that albeit the Doctor contradicts Sibbald, he does not disprove his position, nor even attempt to shake it by any investigation whatever, which might throw more light on the subject matter of dispute. Mere assertions are to be received with extreme caution, when unaccompanied with their proofs. As for our simple selves, we see nothing ridiculous at all in Sibbald's supposition; but on the contrary, every reason to make us believe it perfectly correct. According to Douglas's Peerage and Crawford's History of Renfrewshire, Robert the fourth, Lord Sempill
, succeeded to his Grandfather in 1571, and died at an advanced age in 1611. Sempill the poet wrote all his works, between the years 1565 and 1573:
for in Birrell's diary occurs the following notice: “ 1568 Jan. 18. A play was make by Robert Seinpill, and performed before the Lord Regent, and divers others of the nobility;" which play Sibbald imagines in all likelihood to be Pnilotus; and in Ames' typography of Great Britain, it appears that " The Sege of the Castel of Edenburgh," was “ imprintit be Robert Lepreuick, anno 1573." By Dempster, the death of Sempill is fix. ed in 1598, but this discrepancy is over-ruled by the fact, that this author was at a distance from his native country when he wrote, and could not therefore be very conversant with, or correct in obituaries, and must of necessity have trusted greatly to vague and uncertain rumours, regarding these particulars in the biographies of the celebrated men of his age. Here then we have two individuals bearing the same name, and living at the same period. That these two are one person, we have little hesitation to affirm; and with the simple afhrmation of this fact, we might rest satisfied inasmuch as the Doctor is concerned, because one opinion is quite as good as another, when both happen to be unsupported by any evidence in their favour, and none of them are unplausible in themselves. It is admitted at once, that there is no direct mention made in any writer of Sempill the poet being Lord Sempill, or that that nobleman was the same person with the said poet: and the reason of this is obvious, because none of Sempill's contemporaries were his biographers, and the incidental notices, gleaned from various quarters respecting him, relate to his literary character, not to his lineage and family connections. Moreover, it never hath been the custom to give poets any titles, save those which serve to mark their peculiar excellencies: all other trappings are derogatory to the might and majesty of their simple sirvaine. No one, even in our own days, when speaking in general terms of Byron as a great poet, thinks of saddling his discourse with the epithet Lord. The sirname is enough to let him who bears it be knowil without this puny prefixture of worldly rank. Now if it should so hap. pen, that every thing respecting the birth of this great man were lost, and all the Magazine histories of hiin and other trasli burned to a scroll, and nothing save fragments of liis poems were extant, and a few remarks of some critics contemporary with him upon his genius were all that reached to distant posterity, it is very likely that a long headed wiseacre of that ea
neration, would split his lordship into two halves-- one whereof, to be Lord Byron, son of such a one--and the other, Byron a poet, of whose birth nothing was known.
Such a one might write a very plausible sentence or two, after this fashion. • One of the most celebrated poets of his day, was Byron. His works would appear to have been numerous and excellent, but of them few remnants now survive, and such as I have seen, are so mutilated and imperfect, that it is impossible to say any thing definitive upon their merits or defects. It has been alleged by some, but without any foundation in truth, that Byron was of noble extraction; and others have gone so far as to say, he really was titled, than which nothing can be more ridiculous. True there was a Lord Byron coeval with him, but I find no clue whatever in the history of these times, that can lead me to suppose they were one and the same person. Had they been so, such a circumstance would never have been overlooked by the historian. I therefore hold those who cling to this opinion as fools.” And who would dare to beard or contradict so authoritative a wise one?
What is now assumed with regard to Byron, has happened to Sempill. Surely there is nothing ridiculous in supposing, that a Nobleman night write poems as well as a Squire of low degree. And yet it is with the ridiculousness of this supposition Dr. Irving is at odds. He may know, or at least he ought to do, that with a very few exceptions, none save Noblemen, Courtiers, and Clerical dignitaries, : e the poets, philosophers, historians, and literary factotums of that age. Education then was not, as is the case now, diffused through every rank and condition of society, but confined exclusively to the higher classes or professional orders. Without one having some real or pretended claim to genteel, if not noble birth, it is questioned, if they then would even have been admitted to any terms of familiarity with the great, whatever their talents were, or labours had been. Feudalism to be sure was in that age shaken to its base, but its ramparts were not cast to the ground; and where it appears in any formidable shape, a mortifying distance is always maintained between the magnates of the land and the other members of the body politic.
Although the poetry of Şempill cannot be eulogised to the extent which Dempster has done, neither can it be so far de