Henry The Minstrel

, or Blind Harry, are the names given to a Scotch poet who lived in the fifteenth century, but of whom there are few memorials that can be relied on. It is conjectured that he wrote his celebrated “Actis & Deidis of Shyr Willam Wallace,” about 1446, and that he was then an old man. No surname is known; which belonged to Henry, nor is any thing known of his parentage or education. He discovers some knowledge in astronomy, in classical history, in the Latin and French languages, and in divinity; and some think he belonged to one or other of the religious orders, but this in a man blind from his infancy seems very improbable. He was a kind of travelling bard, visited the middle and south partsof Scotland, and probably the court of Scotland, and the great families. Wallace, his hero, was put to death in 1305, and Henry is supposed to have been born half a century later, but not too late for acquiring many particulars proper for his narrative, and it appears that he consulted with the descendants of some of Wallace’s | contecaporaries. Besides this, he informs us that he followed very strictly a hook of great authority, a complete history of Wallace, written in Latin, partly hy John Blair and partly by Thomas Gray, both whom he mentions particularly, but no such work exists, nor can we tell whether he borrowed his many anachronisms and mistakes of persons and places from this work, or whether they were owing to defects in his own memory. Henry was blind from his birth; and that he should have acquired the knowjedge imputed to him, is much more wonderful than that he should be misled by traditionary reports. As he was blind, he fails in the descriptive parts of his poems, but for the same reason his invention is perpetually at work, and for matters of fact, he gives us all the wonders of romance. Many of his events never happened, and those which did are misplaced in point of time, or greatly exaggerated. His admirers are ready to allow that it is now impossible to distinguish between what is true and what is false in many of Henry’s relations but this can only be the case where the relation is all his own where we can appeal to other authorities, we frequently find him more erroneous than can easily be accounted for. A comparison has been formed between Henry’s “Wallace,” and Harbour’s “Bruce,” which terminates decidedly in Barbour’s favour. The “Bruce,” says an elegant critic, “is evidently the work of a politician as well as poet. The characters of the king, of his brother, of Douglas, and of the earl of Moray, are discriminated, and their separate talents always employed with judgment; so that every event is prepared and rendered probable by the means to which it is attributed; whereas the life of Wallace is a mere romance, in which the hero hews down whole squadrons with his single arm, and is indebted for every victory to his own muscular strength. Both poems are filled with descriptions of battles; but in those of Barbour our attention is successively directed to the cool intrepidity of king Robert, to the brilliant rashness of Edward Bruce, or to the enterprizing stratagems of Douglas; while in Henry we find little more than a disgusting picture of revenge, hatred, and blood.” As a poet, however, he has considerable merit, and the numerous editions through which his “Wallace” has passed, affords a sufficient proof of his popularity during all that period, when his language would be understood and the nature of his narrative be acceptable. The only | manuscript known of this poem, and from which all th printed copies have been taken, is now in the Advocates’ library at Edinburgh, and bears date 1488. The first printed edition was that of Edinburgh, 1570; but the best and more correct is that of the Morisons of Perth, 1790, 3 vols. 12mo. 1


Life prefixed to the above edition. Mackenzie’s Scots Writers, vol. I.— Ellis’s Specimens, vol. I. 354.—Irvine’s Lives of the Scotish Poets.