Dunbar, William

, an eminent Scotch poet, was born about the year 1465, and, as it is generally supposed, although without much foundation, at Salton, a village on the delightful coast of the Forth in East Lothian. This is collected from what Kennedy, a contemporary poet, says in one of his satires; who mentions likewise his own wealth, and Dunbar’s poverty. If we are to credit the same author, Dunbar was related to the earls of March; but of this there is no satisfactory evidence. In his youth he seems to have been a travelling noviciate of the Franciscan order; but this mode of life not being agreeable to his inclination, he resigned it, and returned to Scotland, as is supposed, about 1490, when he might be 25 years of age. In his “Thistle and Rose,” which was certainly written in 1503, he speaks of himself as a poet that had already made many songs: and that poem is the composition rather of an experienced writer, than of a novice in the art. It is indeed probable that his tales, “The twa marrit wemen and the wedo;” and, “The freirs of Bervvik,” (if the last be his) were written before his “Thistle and Rose.” However tin’s may have been, Dunbar, after being the author of “The | gold in Terge,” a poem rich in description, and of many small pieces of the highest merit, died in old age about 1530. In his younger years, our poet seems to have had great expectations that his abilities would have recommended him to an ecclesiastical benetice; and in his smaller poems he frequently addresses the king lor that purpose: but there is no reason to believe that he was successful, although it may be thought that the “Thistle and Rose,” which was occasioned by the marriage of James IV. king of Scotland, with Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII. king of England, deserved better treatment at the hands of the young royal pair. Mr. Pinkerton, in his list of Scottish poets, tells us, he has looked in vain over many calendars of the characters, &c. of this period, to find Dunbar’s name; but suspects that it was never written by a lawyer. Mr. Warton, in characterising the Scottish poets of this time, observes that the writers of that nation have adorned the period with a degree of sentiment and spirit, a command of phraseology, and a fertility of imagination, not to be found in any English poet since Chaucer and Lydgate. “He might safely have added,” says Mr. Pinkerton, “not even in Chaucer or Lydgate.” Concerning Dunbar, Mr. Warton says, that the natural complexion of his genius is of the moral and didactic cast. This remark, however, Mr. Pinkerton thinks, must not be taken too strictly. “The goldin Terge,” he adds, “is moral; and so are many of his small pieces: but humour, description, allegory, great poetical genius, and a vast wealth of words, all unite to form the complexion of Dunbar’s poetry. He unites, in himself, and generally surpasses the qualities of the chief old English poets; the morals and satire of Langland; Chaucer’s humour, poetry, and knowledge of life; the allegory of Gower; the description of Lydgate.” This is a very high character, but surely the morality of his poems may be questioned. Several of his compositions contain expressions which appear to us grossly profane and indecent; and one of his addresses to the queen would not now be addressed to a modern courtezan. Even the most sacred observances of the church are converted into topics of ridicule; and its litanies are burlesqued in a parody, the profaneness of which is almost unparalleled. The notes added to the collection published by sir David Daly rm pie in 1770 are peculiarly valuable; for they not only explain and illustrate the particular | expressions and phrases of the pieces in question, but contain several curious anecdotes, and throw considerable light on tl:e manners of the times. 1

1 Biogr. Brit. Warton’s Hist, of Poetry. Pinkerton’s Ancient Scottish Poeti. Ellis’s Specimens. h vine’s Lives of the Scottish Poets.