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Introduction by Nicola Royan
As Lyndsay grew older, his poetry grew
darker, and his concern for good government and church
reform became more urgent. There is no clear evidence that
Lyndsay himself was ever a confessed Protestant, but there
is no doubt that he supported some of the aims of the
Protestant movement, such as putting the Bible into the
vernacular, and reforming the clergy. These concerns surface
again in Ane Dialog betwix Experience and ane Courteour.
The Dialog is Lyndsay’s most
serious work, and it castigates the state of the church, the
state of the court and the state of the world. The poem
presents a courtier-narrator discussing his situation with
the figure Experience; as the young courtier accompanying
the papyngo seems to represent the younger Lyndsay, full of
hope and enthusiasm for the new king’s rule, so it is
tempting to read the older courtier in The Dialog as
speaking Lyndsay’s own disappointments and regrets.
Lyndsay’s strength here as in the rest of his poetry is his
combination of a plain register with literary complexity. He
is happy to take earlier forms, such as the dream vision or
the romance, and rewrite them for his own ends. He is also
not afraid to state his mind on government, on religious
practice and spirituality, and to give due attention to
those not perhaps intellectual or powerful. Such are the
features that made Lyndsay a popular writer in his own time;
explored again, he may regain some of that status in ours."
Ane Dialog betwix Experience and ane
OF THE MOST MISERABILL AND MOST
TERRABILL DISTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM
He was the son of David Lyndsay of the Mount, near Cupar,
Fife, and of Garmylton, near Haddington. His place of birth
and education are unknown, but it is thought that he
attended the University of St Andrews, on the books of which
appears an entry "Da Lindesay" for the session 1508-1509. He
was engaged at court, first as an equerry, then as an
"usher" to the future King James V of Scotland. In 1522 he
married Janet Douglas, a court seamstress. His first
heraldic appointment was as Snowdon Herald and in 1529 he
was appointed Lord Lyon King of Arms, and knighted. He was
engaged in diplomatic business (twice on embassies
abroad--to the Netherlands and France), and was, in virtue
of his heraldic office, a general master of ceremonies.
After the death of James V, in 1542, Lyndsay continued to
sit in Parliament of Scotland as commissioner for Cupar,
Fife; and in 1548 he was member of a mission to Denmark
which obtained certain privileges for Scottish merchants.
There is reason to believe that he died in or about 1555.
Most of Lyndsay's literary work, by which he secured great
reputation in his own day and by which he still lives, was
written during the period of prosperity at court. In this
respect he is different from Gavin Douglas, who abandoned
literature to become a politician. The difference is due
partly to the fact that Lyndsay's muse was more occasional
and satirical, and that the time was suitable to the
exercise of his special gifts. It is more difficult to
explain how he enjoyed such unparalleled freedom of speech.
He chastised all classes, from his royal master to the most
simple. There is no evidence that he abjured Catholicism;
yet his leading purpose was the exposure of its errors and
abuses. His aid was readily accepted by the reforming party,
and by their use of his work he shared with their leaders
throughout many generations a reputation which is almost
exclusively political and ecclesiastical.
Lyndsay's longer poems represent, with reasonable
completeness, the range of Lyndsay's literary talent. No
single poem can give him a chief place, though here and
there, especially in the last, he gives hints of the highest
competence. Yet the corporate effect of these pieces is to
secure for him the allowance of more than mere intellectual
vigour and common sense. There is in his craftsmanship, in
his readiness to apply the traditional methods to
contemporary requirements, something of that accomplishment
which makes even the second-rate man of letters interesting.
Lyndsay, the Makar, is not behind his fellow-poets in
acknowledgment to Geoffrey Chaucer. As piously as they, he
reproduces the master's forms; but in him the sentiment and
outlook have suffered change. His nearest approach to
Chaucer is in The Testament of Squyer Meidrum, which recalls
the sketch of the "young squire"; but the reminiscence is
verbal rather than spiritual. Elsewhere his memory serves
him less happily, as when he describes the array of the
lamented Queen Magdalene in the words which Chaucer had
applied to the eyes of his wanton Friar. So too, in the
Dreme, the allegorical tradition survives only in the form.
"Remembrance" conducts the poet over the old-world
itinerary, but only to lead him to speculation on Scotland's
woes and to an “Exhortatioun to the Kingis Grace “ to bring
relief. The tenor is well expressed in the motto from the
Vulgate--"Prophetias nolite spernere. Omnia autem probate:
quod bonum est tenete."
This didactic habit is freely exercised in the long Dialog
(sometimes called the Monarche), a universal history of the
medieval type, in which the falls of princes by corruption
supply an object lesson to the unreformed church of his day.
Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis is more direct in
its attack on ecclesiastical abuse; and its dramatic form
permits more lively treatment. This piece is of great
historical interest, being the only extant example of a
complete Scottish morality. It is in respect of literary
quality Lyndsay's best work, and in dramatic construction
and delineation of character it holds a high place in this
genre. The farcical interludes (in places too coarse for
modern taste) supply many touches of genuine comedy; and
throughout the play there are passages, as in the speeches
of Veritie in the First Part and of Dame Chastitie in the
"Interlude of the Sowtar and the Taylor," in which word and
line are happily conceived.
The Testament of the Papyngo (popinjay), drawn in the
familiar medieval manner, is another tract for the time,
full of admonition to court and clergy. Of his shorter
pieces, The Complaynt and Publict Confessions of the Kingis
Auld Hound, callit Bagsche, directit to Bawtie, the Kin gis
best belovil Dog, and his companyconis, and the Answer to
the Kingis Flyting have a like pulpit resonance. The former
is interesting as a forerunnel of Burns's device in the "Twa
Dogs." The Deploratioun of the Death of Queen Magdalene is
in the extravagant style of commemoration illustrated in
Dunbar's Elegy on the Lord Aubigny. The Justing betwix James
Watsoun and Jhone Barbour is a contribution to the popular
taste for boisterous fun, in spirit, if not in form, akin to
the Christis Kirk on the Grene series; and indirectly, with
Dunbar's Turnarnent and Of ane Blak-Moir, a burlesque of the
courtly tourney. Lyndsay approaches Dunbar in his satire The
Supplicatioun in contemptioun of syde laillis ("wide" trains
of the ladies), which recalls the older poet's realistic
lines on the filthy condition of the city streets. In
Lyndsay's Descriptioun of Pedder Coffeis (pedlars) we have
an early example of the studies in vulgar life which are so
plentiful in later Scottish literature. In Kitteis
Confessioun he returns, but in more sprightly mood, to his
attack on the church.
In Lyndsay we have the first literary expression in Scotland
of the Renaissance. His interest lies on the theological
side of the revival; he is in no sense a humanist, and he is
indifferent to the artistic claims of the movement. Still he
appeals to the principle which is fundamental to all. He
demands first-hand impression. He feels that men must get
their lesson direct, not from intermediaries who understand
the originals no more "than they do the ravyng of the rukis."
Hence his persistent plea for the vernacular, nowhere more
directly put than in the Dialog, in the "Exclamatioun to the
Redar, toucheyng the wrytting of the vulgare and maternall
language." Though be is concerned only in the theological
and ecclesiastical application of this, he undoubtedly
stimulated the use of the vernacular in a Scotland which in
all literary matters beyond the concern of the irresponsible
poet still used the lingua franca of Europe.
A complete edition of Lyndsay's poetical works was published
by David Laing in 3 vols. in 1879. The E.E.T.S. issued the
first part of a complete edition in 1865 (ed. F. Hall). Five
parts have appeared, four edited by F. Hall, the fifth by
J.A.H. Murray. For the bibliography see Laing's 3 vol.
edition, u.s. iii. pp. 222 et seq., and the E.E.T.S. edition
passim. See also the editions by Pinkerton (1792), Sibbald
(1803), and George Chalmers (1806); and the critical
accounts in Henderson's Scottish Vernacular Literature
(1898), Gregory Smith's Transition Period (1900), and J.H.
Millar's Literary History of Scotland (1903). A professional
work prepared by Lyndsay in the Lyon Office, entitled the
Register of Scottish Arms (now preserved in manuscript in
the Advocates' Library), was printed in 1821 and reprinted
in 1878. It remains the most authoritative document on
The Dreme (1134 lines)
The Testament and Complaynt of the Papynago (1190 lines)
The Testament of Squyer Meidrum (1859 lines)
Ane Dialog betwix Experience and ane Courteour of the
Miserabyll Estait of the World (6333 lines)
Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis (over 4000 lines).
David Lindsay of the Mount appears as the sympathetic major
character in Nigel Tranter's well-researched James V
trilogy: The Riven Realm (1984), James V, By the Grace of
God (1985), and Rough Wooing (1987).
Lindsay's description of the Tower of Babel in his "dlalog"
(""The shadow of that hyddeous strength [the Tower of Babel]
sax myle and more of it of length") is used as the motto of
the novel "That Hideous Strength" by C.S. Lewis, and the
book's name is also derived from it.