The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

EDWARD J. COWAN


46. Mistress and Mother as Political Abstraction:
The Apostrophic Poetry of James Graham,
Marquis of Montrose, and William Lithgow

The 1630s and 1640s represent two of the most tempestuous decades in all of Scottish history. The period produced two poems by very different men whose lives briefly touched, both effusions providing admirable summations of their respective author’s political philosophies while directly reflecting the calamitous events with which they were confronted. Both, more widely, articulate the views of the social strata to which the poets belonged and the social tensions which were among the main dynamos of the Scottish Revolution. Furthermore, deconstruction of the political metaphor in each case – Montrose’s ‘Address to his Mistress’ and Lithgow’s ‘Scotlands Welcome to Her Native Sonne’—may tell us something about gender relationships in Scotland in the first half of the seventeenth century, a subject which has so far received precious little attention.

To judge from their surviving compositions both Montrose and Lithgow would appear to be assured of distinguished positions in the Scottish branch of the Bad Poets Society, but both could, on the odd occasion, hit the poetic mark. Montrose penned what is surely one of the best known stanzas in Scottish literature:

He either fears his Fate too much,
Or his Deserts are small,
That puts it not unto the Touch,
To win or lose it all.1

On the other hand it was remarkably prescient of William Lithgow, to anticipate one of the luminaries of the twentieth-century Scottish sporting galaxy by asking,

Why should Strangers
Enjoy the profit from fantastick Rangers2

though he failed to mention their great rivals as befitted one who had once attracted the attention of the Inquisition.

John Buchan’s suggestion, that Montrose wrote ‘To His Mistress’ during the summer of 1642 at a particularly confused and difficult period in his life, is quite

1 J.L. Weir (ed.) Poems of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose (London 1938) 19.

2 The Poetical Remains of William Lithgow (ed.) James Maidment (Edinburgh 1863) (facsimile reprint) ‘Scotlands Welcome’ B2v.

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