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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.

X. The Scottish Chaucerians

§ 17. Walter Kennedy

The minor contemporaries of Henryson, Dunbar and Douglas add nothing to our sketch of Middle Scots poetry. What information we have of these forgotten writers is derived from Dunbar’s Lament for the Makaris, Douglas’s Palice of Honour and Lyndsay’s Testament of the Papyngo. Historians have probably exaggerated the extent and importance of this subordinate literature. It is true we know little of the authors or of their works, but what we do know shows that to speak of “nests of singing birds,” or to treat Dunbar as a kind of Shakespearean eminence overtopping a great range of song, is amiable hyperbole. What is extant of this “Chaucerian” material lies in the lower levels of Lydgate’s and Occleve’s work. The subjects are of the familiar fifteenth century types, and, when not concerned with the rougher popular matter, repeat the old plaints on the ways of courts and women and on the vanity of life. Walter Kennedy, Dunbar’s rival in The Flyting, and the most eminent of these minors, has left five poems, The Passioun of christ, Ane Ballat in praise of Our Lady, Pious Counsale, The Prais of Aige and Ane agit Manis invective against Mouth-thankless, His reputation must rest on the Flyting rather than on the other pieces, which are conventional and dull; and there only because of the antiquarian interest of his “billingsgate” and his Celtic sympathies. With Kennedy may be named Quintyne Schaw, who wrote an Advyce to a Courtier.

In a general retrospect of this Chaucerian school it is not difficult to note that the discipleship, though sincere, was by no means blind. If the Scottish poets imitated well, and often caught the sentiment with remarkable felicity, it was because they were not painful devotees. In what they did they showed an appreciation beyond the faculty of Chaucer’s southern admirers; and, though the artistic sense implied in this appreciation was dulled by the century’s craving for a “moral” to every fancy, their individuality saved them from the fate which befel their neighbours. Good as the Testament of Cresseid is, its chief interest to the historical student is that it was written, that Henryson dared to find a sequel to the master’s well-rounded story. Douglas’s protest in the general prologue to his Aeneid, though it fail to prove to us that Vergil was much more to him than Chaucer was, shows an audacity which only an intelligent intimacy with the English poet could allow. The vitality of such appreciation, fat from undoing the Chaucerian tradition, gave it a fresh lease of life before it yielded, inevitably, to the newer fashion.