A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Twenty
THE REVIVAL OF SCOTTISH POETRY

WHILE these things were happening in England, Scottish poetry was following, in the main, an independent course. We observed in Chapter Five that with the removal of the court to London in 1603 Scottish courtly poetry died a natural death. Several Scotsmen-- Drummond of Hawthornden, the Earl of Stirling, the Marquis of Montrose, Sir Robert Ayton--wrote courtly poetry after 1603, but they wrote it in English; popular songs and ballads continued to be made in Scots and transmitted orally; but of written Scots verse there is no trace until, about the middle of the century, we come on Robert Sempill Life and Death of the Piper of Kilbarchan, otherwise The Epitaph of Habbie Simson, a poem which became the model for those humorous elegies in which Ramsay and Fergusson and Burns delighted--"Standart Habby," Ramsay calls it. It is in that strain which we now call the Burns stanza; actually it is much older than either Burns or Sempill. Francis Sempill, Robert's son, wrote The Banishment of Poverty, a dull poem in rime couée, and has been credited with the much livelier Blythsome Wedding. William Hamilton of Gilbertfield followed with The Last Dying Words of Bonnie Heck, a Famous Greyhound, which suggested Burn Poor Mailie's Elegy. Lady Wardlaw Hardyknute imitated the old ballad well enough to deceive Percy at first and delight the childhood of Scott. But the best of all these seventeenth-century poets was Lady Grizel Baillie. Alas! she survives only in one short, tender poem, Werena My Heart Licht, and one idyllic fragment, The Ewebuchting's Bonnie. Though these poets all chose homely subjects, or, in Lady Wardlaw's case, the homely form of the ballad, they all belonged to the class of the nobility or the gentry; the upper classes still spoke Scots familiarly, though they were ceasing to write in it on serious subjects.

The publication of Watson Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scots Poems, in 1706, 1709, and 1711, made something of an

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