Page images


the conduct of the drama unskilful and inartificial. the advertisement prefixed, the author observes, that he is less unwilling to incur the censure of critics, than to strain historical facts. He is apprehensive that the moral reflections may be thought too numerous; but declares, that he considers it as a more pardonable error to exceed, than to be deficient in a decent regard to morality and religion. This regard for morality and religion has induced him to subjoin an after-scene to the catastrophe, for the express purpose of suggesting moral reflections; an amiable purpose, for the sake of which many authors have injured their compositions, without improving their readers. The proper moral of a drama is to excite vivid virtuous emotions in the heart, not to exhibit a demonstration of some abstract principle of morality. In the Dramatic Essay, the characters are neither sufficiently various nor sufficiently marked. Livingston and Chrichton are similar in character and similar in conduct, unprincipled courtiers, twin-brothers in political intrigue. The extreme youth of Earl Douglas, Sir David his brother, and James their sovereign, does not admit of the development of their several characters.

Many of these defects are corrected in 'Earl Douglas, a Tragedy.' The style possesses more dignity and energy, the characters are more strongly marked, the subordinate incidents more skilfully arranged, and the conduct of the whole drama rendered more interesting. The after-scene is judiciously retrenched; but the moral reflections interspersed are still sufficiently numerous. The description of passion is frequently substituted for the expression of genuine feeling. This fault was to be expected in a young writer, practised in descriptive poetry; in which species of composition, the habits of mind which fit a person for excellence, are extremely different from those which enable him to exhibit dramatic char

acters successfully. Earl Douglas, the principal character, displays a lofty spirit of patriotism, blended with ambition and the pride of ancestry; but the part he acts is not sufficiently conspicuous to rouse powerful sympathy; and when he falls, it is rather the sense of injustice, than particular interest in the hero, which excites our indignation against the authors of his fate. Some interesting situations, however, occur, as when the rescue is attempted, and "the march of Douglas" heard at a distance; and in the following passages, the spirit of a young feudal chief is ably portrayed:


This ponderous blade bears deep undoubted signs
Of long hard service to your valiant sires.


Thrice twenty times with this, the good Sir James
Returned triumphant from the glorious field.

At Annand, Halidon, and Otterburn,

And many a field in Britain and in France,
It strewed the plains with heaps of Scotia's foes.
From sires so brave descended, now from me,
It loudly claims the like illustrious deeds

When urged to save his life, by giving his sister in marriage to the Chancellor's son, he replies in the same style,

When men recount the heroes of the name,
The valiant Scholto, and the good Sir James;
William the hardy; William flower of chivalry,
Undaunted Tineman, my unyielding sire;

The daring Douglas, slain at Otterburn,

Whose name, when dead, brought victory from the skies —

In such a list to be designed, the soft

Faint-hearted William, whom soft female tears

Melted to bow before his treacherous foe,

And prostitute his sister

The dastard Douglas, who survived his honour,
The first of all his race who feared to die-

After the reign of Bruce, no Scottish clan ever attained such power as the Douglasses, or acquired such popularity on the marches. They united, in an eminent degree, feudal pomp with martial bravery; and in England and France their fame was as great as in Scotland. A popular proverbial verse, preserved by Hume of Godscroft, runs thus:

So many, so good, as of the Douglasses have been
Of one sirname were ne'er in Scotland seen.

The lofty and daring spirit of the race is well delineated by our author:

-The blood of Douglas

Can only join with heroes of its kind,

Who, to the dance, prefer the painful march;
Deep midnight studies, to the late amour;
And honours torn from foes, to ladies' favours;
Whose manly face becomes the crested helm;
Whose agile limbs in massy armour move,
And fearless as the bold war-horse he rides,
Dares thunder through the iron ranks of war.

The court of Douglas might long have vied in magnificence with that of the kings of Scotland; and the chief enumerated among his vassals many clans that afterwards rose to eminence and power, on the ruins of the family. The passage which delineates the plenitude of this power, exhibits a curious feudal picture :

-The South and West attend Lord Douglas' call.


The grandeur of that lofty house you know;

His strong allies; the chieftains of the name;

His strengths, and wide domains; his daring leagues
With kings abroad, and king-like lords at home;-
His court I viewed; I mingled with his train,
Which swells in thousands for his daily state;
Squires, knights and lords, crowding from every wind,
Conducted him to town. Here splendid rode
The ever-famous Keiths; there mighty Humes.
The graceful Hepburns, and the noble Hays;
The valiant Seton, and the worthy Ker;
The bold Dunbar, with generous Ramsay came,
The potent Scot, and Graham of high descent.


Heavens! what a list of peers-to attend a traitor.


Well, I shall pass the flower of Annandale,
By Johnston led, and those that drink the Nith,
With Maxwell bold, Montgomery, Cunningham,
And Boyd, with westland lords; young Kennedy,
The cousin of our king; the Sommerville,
And Hamilton, with Clydesdale's gallant chiefs.
The brave Carmichael bore the spear he broke
Unhorsing Clarence, on his crest displayed,

When conquering England first stood check'd in France.


Say in a word, the whole of Scottish peers

Attend a rebel boy.


Let me but mark

The mightiest of the name; the sage Dalkeith,
Great Angus, Abercorn, and princely Nithsdale.


Hell! I can hear no more-Douglas is king,
And rebels all our lords, who prop his pride.


Had you but seen their grandeur, as they marched On neighing steeds, which trod the earth with scorn;

And marked what dignity their brows adorned!
O'er all the rest, a daring lofty air

The Douglasses distinguished!-valiant name—
The clan is numerous, daring, true, and steady,

Their chief, young, vigorous, liberal, brave, and popular.

This presents no unfaithful picture of the power and magnificence of Douglas, and characterises happily the spirit of the clan. The fall of Douglas was lamented in rude but energetic strains by his followers. The first verse of one of these, which relates to the subject of this drama, is preserved by Hume of Godscroft in his history of Douglas:

"Edinburgh-castle, town, and tower,
God grant them sink for sin;
And that even for the black dinner
Earl Douglas got therein. (1)

The popularity of the family was not destroyed by this proscription; but their misfortunes seem rather to have endeared their memory to the common people. In their flourishing state, the superiority of their power repressed the feuds of the inferior clans, and presented a formidable front to the incursions of England; and they were recollected only as the preservers of social order, and the defenders of their country. The composition of this drama is one of the latest tributes of popular opinion to the name of Douglas; for the choice of the subject was suggested by the traditions of Clydesdale.

The poem' Clyde' seems to have been the favourite production of our author, and the composition, in the correction of which he bestowed the greatest labour. 'Nethan,' the original sketch which he expanded into 'Clyde,' consists of 626 verses. The versification is gen

(1) Hume of Godscroft's History of Douglas, vol. i. p. 288,


« PreviousContinue »