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to Barbour. The most remarkable peculiarity of the more recent form of the Scotish dialect that is not found in Barbour is the abstraction of the final from syllables ending in that consonant preceded by a vowel or diphthong: thus he never has a', fa', fu', or fou', pow, how, for all, fall, full, pole, hole, &c. The subsequent introduction of this habit into the speech of the Scotch is perhaps to be attributed to their imitation of the liquefaction of the 7 in similar circumstances by the French, from whom they have also borrowed a considerable number of their modern vocables, never used in England, and to whose accentuation, both of individual words and of sentences, theirs has much general resemblance, throwing the emphasis, contrary, as already noticed, to the tendency of the English language, upon one of the latter syllables, and also running into the rising in many cases where the English use the falling intonation.
'The Bruce' is a very long poem, comprising between twelve and thirteen thousand lines, in octosyllabic metre, which the two last editors have distributed, Pinkerton into twenty, Jamieson into fourteen Books. It relates the history of Scotland, and especially the fortunes of the great Bruce, from the death of Alexander III. in 1286, or rather, from the competition for the crown, and the announcement of the claims of Edward I. as lord paramount, on that of his daughter, Margaret the maiden of Norway, in 1290-the events of the first fifteen or sixteen years, however, before Bruce came upon the stage, being very succinctly given,--to the death of Bruce (Robert I.) in 1329, and that of his constant associate and brother of chivalry, Lord James Douglas, the bearer of the king's heart to the Holy Land, in the year follow
The 12,500 verses, or thereby, may be said therefore to comprehend the events of about twentyfive years; and Barbour, though he calls his work a "romaunt,” as being a narrative poem, professes to relate nothing but what he believed to be the truth, so that he is to be regarded not only as the earliest poet but also as the earliest historian of his country. Fordun, indeed, was his contemporary, but the Latin chronicle of that writer was probably not published till many years after his death. And to a great extent Barbour's work is and has always been regarded as being an authentic historical monument; it has no doubt some incidents or embellishments which may be set down as fabulous; but these are in general very easily distinguished from the main texture of the narrative, which agrees substantially with the most trustworthy accounts drawn from other sources, and has been received and quoted as good evidence by all subsequent writers and investigators of Scotish history, from Andrew of Wynton to Lord Hailes inclusive. This is Barbour's own introduction of himself to his readers; and the passage, besides explaining the design of his works, affords a fair example of the worthy archdeacon's manly bearing, and forcible and cordial style:
Stories to read are delitable,
Suppose that they be nought but fable;
Barbour's word, like Chaucer's, is than. b Should.
d If they were.
Good. It may perhaps be doubted if the u here, and in other cases, was yet pronounced like the French u.
Have double pleasance in hearing.
Some of the grammatical forms here, it may be ob
1 The narrative, the story. h Was. 1 Agreeable. j Would. m So (probably pronounced sway). Hinder, stop. P Nor cause. ¶ Wholly. Forgotten. Old. * Lived early, formerly.
Peril. Was the ou yet pronounced as in French?
served, are even more modern than those we find in the English poetry of the same age; in particular, Barbour uses our present they, them, and their (or in the old spelling, thai, thaim, and thar), where Chaucer and his countrymen still adhere to the Saxon hey or hi, hem, and hir or her. This may serve, with other considerations, to refute the notion taken up by some modern writers, that Barbour is an imitator of Chaucer: the Bruce, in fact, is an earlier poem than the Canterbury Tales, and, as it was written by Barbour in his old age, the probability is that the Scotish poet was absolutely the predecessor of the English; but at any rate there is no more reason to believe that he imitated Chaucer than that Chaucer imitated him. The one is never mentioned or alluded to by the other, and there is no ground for supposing that they were even acquainted with each other's works. From his habits of locomotion, and frequent journeys to England, a suspicion might arise that Barbour intended to write in the language of that country; but such a supposition is negatived by the dialectic peculiarities which, notwithstanding a general resemblance in other respects, still distinguish his style from that of his English contemporaries. That his language, we may add, has not been modernized by the transcriber upon whom we are dependent for the present text is, to a great extent, proved by several considerable passages of the poem which are quoted by Wynton being found with scarcely any variation in the work of that chronicler, of which we have one manuscript believed to be of as early a date as the year 1430 at the latest, or within little more than a quarter of a century from the time when Barbour lived. Besides, his language, as we have
it, does not differ from that of Wynton, who was his contemporary, though he was born perhaps thirty years later, and although he appears not to have composed his chronicle till after the commencement of the fifteenth century.
Barbour is far from being a poet equal to Chaucer; but there is no other English poet down to a century and a half after their days who can be placed by the side of the one any more than of the other. He has neither Chaucer's delicate feeling of the beautiful, nor his grand inventive imagination, nor his wit or humour; but in mere narrative and description he is, with his clear, strong, direct diction, in a high degree both animated and picturesque, and his poem is pervaded by a glow of generous sentiment, well befitting its subject, and lending grace as well as additional force to the ardent, bounding spirit of life with which it is instinct from beginning to end. The following passage, which occurs near the commencement, has been often quoted (at least in part), but it is too remarkable to be omitted in any exemplification of the characteristics of Barbour's poetry. He is describing the oppressions endured by the Scots during the occupation of their country by the English king, Edward I., after his deposition of his puppet Baliol :—
And gif that ony man them by