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WILLIAM DUNBAR (c. 1460-c. 1520)

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Originally appearing in Volume V08, Page 670 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WILLIAM DUNBAR (c. 1460-c. 1520), Scottish poet, was probably a native of East Lothian. This is assumed from a satirical reference in the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie, where, too, it is hinted that he was a member of the noble house of Dunbar. His name appears in 1477 in the Register of the Faculty of Arts at St Andrews, among the Determinants or Bachelors of Arts, and in 1479 among the masters of the university. Thereafter he joined the order of Observantine Franciscans, at St Andrews or Edinburgh, and proceeded to France as a wandering friar. He spent a few years in Picardy, and was still abroad when, in 1491, Bothwell's mission to secure a bride for the young James IV. reached the French court. There is no direct evidence that he accompanied Blackadder, archbishop of Glasgow, on a similar embassy to Spain in 1495. On the other hand, we know that he proceeded with that prelate to England on his more successful mission in 1501. Dunbar had meanwhile (about 1500) returned to Scotland, and had become a priest at court, and a royal pensioner. His literary life begins with his attachment to James's household. All that is known of him from this date to his death about 1520 is derived from the poems or from entries in the royal registers of payments of pension and grants of livery. He is spoken of as the Rhymer of Scotland in the accounts of the English privy council dealing with the visit of the mission for the hand of Margaret Tudor, rather because he wrote a poem in praise of London,than because, as has been stated, he held the post of laureate at the Scottish court. In 1511 he accompanied the queen to Aberdeen and commemorated her visit in verse. Other pieces such as the Orisoun (" Quhen the Gouernour past in France "), apropos of the setting out of the regent Albany, are of historical interest, but they tell us little more than that Dunbar was alive. The date of his death is uncertain. He is named in Lyndsay's Testament and Complaynt of the Papyngo (1530) with poets then dead, and the reference precedes that to Douglas who had died in 1522. He certainly survived his royal patron. We may not be far out in saying that he died about 1520. Dunbar's reputation among his immediate successors was considerable. By later criticism, stimulated in some measure by Scott's eulogy that he is " unrivalled by any which Scotland has produced," he has held the highest place among the northern makars. The praise, though it has been at times exaggerated, is on the whole just, certainly in respect of variety of work and mastery of form. He belongs, with James I., Henryson and Douglas, to the Scots Chaucerian school. In his allegorical poems reminiscences of the master's style and literary habit are most frequent. Yet, even there, his discipleship shows certain limitations. His wilder humour and greater heat of blood give him opportunities in which the Chaucerian tradition is not helpful, or even possible. His restlessness leads us at times to a comparison with Skelton, not in respect of any parallelism of idea or literary craftsmanship, but in his experimental zeal in turning the diction and tuning the rhythms of the chaotic English which only Chaucer's genius had reduced to order. The comparison must not, however, be pushed too far. Skelton's work carries with it the interest of attempt and failure. Dunbar's command of the medium was more certain. So that while we admire the variety of his work, we also admire the competence of his effort. One hundred and one poems have been ascribed to Dunbar. Of these at least ninety are generally accepted as his: of the eleven attributed to him it would be hard to say that they should not be considered authentic. Most doubt has clung to his verse tale The Freiris of Berwik. Dunbar's chief allegorical poems are The Goldyn Targe and The Thrissil and the Rois. The motif of the former is the poet's futile endeavour, in a dream, £o ward off the arrows of Dame Beautee by Reason's " scheld of gold." When wounded and made prisoner, he discovers the true beauty of the lady: when she leaves him, he is handed over to Heaviness. The noise of the ship's guns, as the company sails off, wakes the poet to the real pleasures of a May morning. Dunbar works on the same theme in a shorter poem, known as Beauty and the Prisoner. The Thrissil and the Rois is a prothalamium in honour of James IV. and Margaret Tudor, in which the heraldic allegory is based on the familiar beast-parliament. The greater part of Dunbar's work is occasional—personal and social satire, complaints (in the style familiar in the minor verse of Chaucer's English successors), orisons and pieces of a humorous character. The last type shows Dunbar at his best, and points the difference between him and Chaucer. The best specimen of this work, of which the outstanding characteristics are sheer whimsicality and topsy-turvy humour, is The Ballad of Kynd Kittok. This strain runs throughout many of the occasional poems, and is not wanting in odd passages in Dunbar's con-temporaries; and it has the additional interest of showing a direct historical relationship with the work of later Scottish poets, and chiefly with that of Robert Burns. Dunbar's satire is never the gentle funning of Chaucer: more often it becomes invective. Examples of this type are The Satire on Edinburgh, The General Satire, the Epitaph on Donald Owre, and the powerful vision of The Dance of the Sevin Deidlie Synnis. In the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie, an outstanding specimen of a favourite northern form, analogous to the continental estrif, or tenzone, he and his rival reach a height of scurrility which is certainly without parallel in English literature. This poem has the additional interest of showing the racial antipathy between the " Inglis "-speaking inhabitants of the Lothians and the " Scots " or Gaelic-speaking folk of the west country. There is little in Dunbar which may be called lyrical, and little of the dramatic. His Interlud of the Droichis [Dwarf's] part of the Play, one of the pieces attributed to him, is supposed to be a fragment of a dramatic composition. It is more interesting as evidence of his turn for whimsicality, already referred to, and may for that reason be safely ascribed to his pen. If further selection be made from the large body of miscellaneous poems, the comic poem on the physician Andro Kennedy may stand out as one of the best contributions to medieval Goliardic literature; The Two Mariit Wemen and the Wedo, as one of the richest and most effective pastiches in the older alliterative style, then used by the Scottish Chaucerians for burlesque purposes; Done is a battell on the Dragon Blak, for religious feeling expressed in melodious verse; and the well-known Lament for the Makaris. The main value of the last is historical, but it too shows Dunbar's mastery of form, even when dealing with lists of poetic predecessors. The chief authorities for the text of Dunbar's poems are:—(a) the Asloan MS. (c. 1515) ; (b) the Chepman and Myllar Prints (1508) preserved in the Advocates' library, Edinburgh; (c) Bannatyne MS. (1568) in the same; (d) the Maitland Folio MS. (c. 157o–159o) in the Pepysian library, Magdalene College, Cambridge. Some of the poems appear in the Makculloch MS. (before 1500) in the library of the university of Edinburgh; in MS. Cotton Vitellius A. xvi., appendix to Royal MSS. No. 58, and Arundel 285, in the British Museum; in the Reidpath MS. in the university library of Cambridge; and in the Aberdeen Register of Sasines. The first complete edition was published by David Laing (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1834) with a supplement (Edinburgh, 1865). This has been superseded by the Scottish Text Society's edition (ed. John Small, Aeneas J. G. Mackay and Walter Gregor, 3 vols., Edinburgh, 1893), and by Dr Schipper's 1 vol. edition (Vienna; Kais. Akad. der Wissenschaften, 1894). The editions by James Paterson (Edinburgh, 186o) and H. B. Baildon( Cambridge, 1907) are of minor value. Selections have been frequently reprinted since Ramsay's Ever-Green (1724) and Hailes's Ancient Scottish Poems (1817). For critical accounts see Irving's History of Scottish Poetry, Henderson's Vernacular Poetry of Scotland, Gregory Smith's Transition Period, J. H. Millar's Literary History of Scotland, and the Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. ii. (1908). Professor Schipper's William Dunbar, sein Leben and seine Gedichte (with German translations of several of the poems), appeared at Berlin in 1884. (G. G. S.) { DUNBAR (Gaelic, " the fort on the point "), a royal, municipal and police burgh, and seaport of Haddingtonshire, Scotland. Pop. (1901) 3581. It is situated on the southern shore of the entrance to the Firth of Forth, 294 M. E. by N. of Edinburgh by the North British railway. Dunbar is said to have the smallest rainfall in Scotland and is a favourite summer resort. The ruins of the castle, and the remains of the Grey Friars' monastery, founded in 1218, at the west end of the town, and Dunbar House in High Street, formerly a mansion of the Lauderdales, but now used as barracks, are of historic interest. The parish church, a fine structure in red sandstone, the massive tower of which, 107 f t. high, is a landmark for sailors, dates only from 1819, but occupies the site of what was probably the first collegiate church in Scotland, and contains the large marble monument to Sir George Home, created earl of Dunbar and March by James VI. in 16o5. Among other public buildings are the town hall, assembly rooms, St Catherine's hall, the Mechanics' institute and library. There°are two harbours,difficult of access owing to the!numberof reefs and sunken rocks. Towards the cost of building the eastern or older harbour Cromwell contributed 300. The western or Victoria harbour is a refuge for vessels between Leith Roads and the Tyne. On the advent of steam the shipping declined, and even the herring fishery, which fostered a large curing trade, has lost much of its prosperity. The industries are chiefly those of agricultural-implement making, rope-making, brewing and distilling, but a considerable business is done in the export of potatoes. Dunbar used to form one of the Haddington district group of parliamentary burghs, but its constituency was merged in that of the county in 1885. About 4 m. S.W. is the village of Biel, where, according to some authorities, William Dunbar the poet was born. One mile to the S.E. of the town is Broxmouth Park (or Brocksmouth House), the first position of the English left wing in the battle of 165o, now belonging to the duke of Roxburghe. The site of Dunbar is so commanding that a castle was built on the cliffs at least as early as 856. In 1070 Malcolm Canmore gave it to Cospatric, earl of Northumberland, ancestor of the earls of Dunbar and March. The fortress was an important bulwark against English invasion, and the town—which was created a royal burgh by David II.—grew up under its protection. The castle was taken by Edward I., who defeated Baliol in the neighbourhood in 1296, and it afforded shelter to Edward II. after Bannockburn. In 1336 it was besieged by the English under William, Lord Montacute, afterwards 1st earl of Salisbury, but was successfully defended by Black Agnes of Dunbar, countess of March, a member of the Murray family. Joanna Beaufort, widow of James 1., chose it for her residence, and in 1479, after his daring escape from Edinburgh Castle, the duke of Albany concealed himself within its walls, until he contrived to sail for France. In 1567 Mary made Bothwell keeper of the castle, and sought its shelter herself after the murder of Rizzio and again after her flight from Borthwick Castle. When she surrendered at Carberry Hill the stronghold fell into the hands of the regent Moray, by whom it was dismantled in 1568, but its ruins are still a picturesque object on the hill above the harbour. The BATTLE OF DUNBAR was fought on the 3rd (13th) of September 165o between the English army under Oliver Cromwell and the Scots under David Leslie, afterwards Lord Newark. It took place about 3 M. S.E. of the centre of the town, where between the hills and the sea coast there is a plain about r m. wide, through the middle of which the main road from Dunbar to Berwick runs. The plain and the road are crossed at right angles by the course of the Brocksburn, or Spott Burn, which at first separated the hostile armies. Rising from the right bank of the Brock is Doon Hill (65o ft.), which overlooks the lower course of the stream and indeed the whole field. For the events preceding the battle, see GREAT REBELLION. Cromwell, after a war of manceuvre near Edinburgh, had been compelled by want of supplies to withdraw to Dunbar; Leslie pursued and took up a position on Doon Hill, commanding the English line of retreat on Berwick. The situation was more than difficult for Cromwell. Some officers were for withdrawing by sea, but the general chose to hold his ground, though his army was enfeebled by sickness and would have to fight on unfavourable terrain against odds of two to one. Leslie, however, who was himself in difficulties on his post among the bare hills, and was perhaps subjected to pressure from civil authorities, descended from the heights on the and of Septemter and began to edge towards his right, in order first to confront, and after-wards to surround, his opponent. The cavalry of his left wing stood fast, west of Doon Hill, as a pivot of manoeuvre, the northern face of Doon (where the ground rises from the burn at an average slope of fifteen degrees and is even steeper near the summit) he left unoccupied. The centre of infantry stood on the forward slope of the long spur. which runs east from Doon, and beyond them, practically on the plain, was the bulk of the Scottish cavalry. In the evening Cromwell drew up his army, under 1x,000 effective men, along the ravine, and issued orders to attack the Scots at dawn of the 3rd (13th). The left of the Scots was ineffective, as was a part of their centre of foot on the upper part of the hillside, and the English commander proposed to deal with the remainder. Before dawn the English advanced troops crossed the ravine, attacked Doon, and pinned Leslie's left; under cover of this the o rn Viz.. ,Mile krnery W..Iker v. whole army began its manoeuvre. The artillery was posted on the Dunbar side of the burn, directly opposite and north of Doon, the infantry and cavalry crossed where they could, and formed up gradually in a line south of and roughly parallel to the Berwick road, the extreme left of horse and foot, acting as a reserve, crossed at Brocksmouth House on the outer flank. The Scots were surprised in their bivouacs, but quickly formed up, and at first repulsed both the horse and the foot. But ere long Cromwell himself arrived with his reserve, and the whole English line advanced again. The fresh impulse enabled it to break the Scottish cavalry and repulse the foot, and Leslie's line of battle was gradually rolled up from right to left. In the words of an English officer, " The sun appearing upon the sea, I heard Nol say, ` Now let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered,' and following us as we slowly marched I heard him say, `I profess they run.' " Driven into the broken ground, and penned between Doon Hill and the ravine, the Scots were indeed helpless. " They routed one another after we had done their work on their right wing," says the same officer. Ten thousand men, including almost the whole of the Scottish foot, surrendered, and their killed numbered three thousand. Few of the English were killed. " I do not believe," wrote Cromwell, " that we have lost twenty men." The account of the battle of Dunbar here followed is that of C. H. Firth, for which see his Cromwell, pp. 281 if. and references there given. For other accounts see Carlyle, Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, letter cxl. ; Hoenig, Cromwell ; Baldock, Cromwell as a Soldier ; and Gardiner, Hist. of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, vol. i.
End of Article: WILLIAM DUNBAR (c. 1460-c. 1520)
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