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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XI. The Middle Scots Anthologies: Anonymous Verse and Early Prose

§ 10. Convivial Verse

In the bacchanalian quality shown in different ways in these rustic sketches and elfin dream-poems we have a third tradition of Scottish verse. It would, of course, be vain to seek a complete explanation of the eighteenth century convivial muse in the historical evidences of a literary habit—as vain as to estimate the general effect of Burn’s workd as an editorial modification of old material; but the testimony of historical continuity, in theme, in attitude and in techinque, is too strong to be overlooked in a survey of Scottish literature. The more thorough and connected the survey is, the clearer will it appear that the rusticity, the wild humour and the conviviality are not more the idiosyncrasies of Burns and his fellow-poets than the persistent, irrepressible habits of the literature itself. Criticism has been too willing to treat pieces like Burn’s Scothc Drink as mere personal enthusiasm.

The best of all the Middle Scots convivial verse is Dunbar’s Testament of Mr. Andro Kennedy, but some of the anonymous pieces in the collections deserve mention. Quhy sowld nocht Allane honorit be [char]? is a sprightly “ballat” on “Allan-a-Maut,” alias John Barleycorn. By a misreading of the subscription in the MS.—“Quod Allane Matsonis suddartis”—the poem has been given to one Watson. It tells the history of “Allan” from his youth , when he was “cled in grene,” to his powerful manhood.

  • The grittest cowart in this land,
  • Fra he with Allane entir in band,
  • Thocht he may nowdir gang nor stand,
  • [char]it fowrty sall nocht gar him flie:
  • Quhy sowld nocht Allane honorit be?
  • “Allane” too
  • is bening, courtass, and gude,
  • And servis ws of our daly fvde,
  • And that with liberalitie;
  • Quhy sowld nocht Allane honorit be?
  • The theme is familiar in Burn’s John Barleycorn, itself based on an older popular text. Another in the Bannatyne MS., in eleven-lined stanzas, and signed “Allanis subdert,” anathematises the bad brewer and praises the good.
  • Quha hes gud malt, and makis ill drynk,
  • Wa mot be hir werd !
  • I pray to God scho rott and stynk
  • Sevin [char]eir abone the eird.
  • And another piece “I mak it kend, he that will spend,” in the same collection, is, appropriately, given to “John Blyth,” a fellow-reveller with Allan’s jolly-boys.
  • Now lat ws sing with Chrystis blissing,
  • Be glaid and mak gude sound:
  • With an O, and ane I, now or we forder found,
  • Drink thow to me, and I to the,
  • And lat the cop go round.
  • In the foregoing groups we find the representative and historical qualities of the national verse, the timbre of Scottiscism: in the large residue of anonymous pieces in the collections we encounter the familiar fifteenth and sixteenth century southern types.