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

V. The Earliest Scottish Literature



Apart from books on English literature which contain accounts of Scottish literature, the most important works on the whole subject are:

Irving, David. History of Scotish Poetry. Ed. Carlyle, J. A. Edinburgh, 1861. This posthumously published work had been in preparation as early as 1828. Though a work of great learning, it is now out of date.

Henderson, T. F. Scottish Vernacular Literature. Second revised edition 1900.

Millar, J. H. A Literary History of Scotland. 1903.

MSS. of Barbour and Blind Harry

Barbour. The only edition of the Bruce which contains a trustworthy text is that edited for the Early English Text Society by W. W. Skeat, 1870–89 (reprinted, with correction of errata, for the Scottish Text Society, 1893–95). The preface of this edition contains an account of the two MSS., viz. C in the library of St. John’s College, Cambridge (which is the better, but has lost twenty-five leaves), and E in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh. This MS. is in the same volume with the unique MS. of Blind Harry’s Wallace. As the colophons inform us, all three MSS. were written by John Ramsay; C in 1487, E, raptim scriptus, for Simon Lochmalony of Auchtermonsey, Fife, in 1489. The MS. of Wallace was written in 1488. Owing to the longer lines of Wallace, Ramsay used a larger page than he had chosen for C and, proceeding to copy the Bruce on the same paper, found he had room to write E in double columns.

Editions of Barbour

The unique copy of the earliest known edition, which was published about 1570, and seems to have been carefully collated, was No. II in the sale of W. C. van Antwerp’s books at Sotheby’s in March, 1907. Hart’s edition of 1616 contains some lines missing from the existing MSS., and interpolates others. Editions to some extent critical are: Pinkertons, 1790, Jamieson’s, 1820, and Cosmo Innes’s, 1856 (Spalding Club). The last has an interesting historical introduction. J. T. T. Brown (Wallace and Bruce restudied, Bonn, 1900, pp. 85 ff.) argues that Wyntoun does not attribute a Brut to Barbour but quotes from the Latin of Geoffrey of Monmouth. For other matters contained in Brown’s book cf. Athenaeum from Nov. 17 to Dec. 8, 1900.

Anonymous Works sometimes attributed to Barbour

Two of these were first described and assigned to Barbour by Henry Bradshaw in a communication to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in 1866, reprinted in Bradshaw’s Collected Papers, pp. 58 ff. They are (a) fragments of a translation of Guido delle Colonne’s Siege of Troy, (b) the legends of the Saints. Both are printed together (with the exception of the legend of St. Machor already published in Altenglische Legenden, neue Folge, Heilbronn, 1881) in Horstmann’s Barbours des schottischen nationaldichters Legendensammlung nebst den Fragmenten seines Trojanerkrieges, Heilbronn, 1882. The authorship has been disproved by Köppel, E., Die Fragmente von Barbours Trojanerkrieg, Englische Studien, x, 373; and by Buss, P., Sind die von Horstmann herausgegeben schottischen Legenden ein werk Barbere’s, Anglia, IX, 493. See also Skeat’s Barbour, E.E.T.S. pp. x1v ff.

(b) An edition of the legends, with notes and glossary edited by Metcalfe, W. M., has been published by the Scottish Text Society in six parts, 1887–96. The same editor has published separately The Legends of SS. Ninian and Machor, Paisley, 1904. Some of the lives are assigned to Barbour by Neilson, G. (Scottish Antiquary, January, 1897; Athenaeum, 27 February, 1897).

(c) The Buik of the most noble and vail[char]eand Conquerour Alexander the Great. Reprinted from a unique copy of about 1580 by the Bannatyne Club in 1831 but not published till 1834. The language is undoubtedly very close to Barbour’s, though slightly more modern. Either the book is the work of Barbour preserved in a somewhat later form or the author was saturated with Barbour’s diction so that he continually repeats his phrases. The chief difficulty in assigning it to Barbour, as is done by G. Neilson, is that the epilogue of the work, the style of which differs in no respect from the rest, definitely assigns it to the year 1438.

  • Do the gude and haue louing,
  • As quhylum did this nobill King,
  • that zit is prysed for his bounte,
  • the quhether thre hundreth zeir was he,
  • Before the tyme that God was borne,
  • to saue our saullis that was forlorne.
  • Sen syne is past ane thousand zeir,
  • Four hundreth and threttie thair to neir,
  • And aucht and sumdele mare I wis.

  • Neilson’s attempt to explain this away is not satisfactory See his paper, John Barbour, poet and translator (reprinted from the Transactions of the Philological Society), 1900; Herrmann, A., The Forraye of Gadderis, the Vowis, Berlin, 1900. This latter (which I have not seen) includes also extracts from Sir Gilbert Hay’s still unpublished Buik of King Alexander, which dates from 1456, but is often confused with the older work (see Gollancz, Parlement of the Thre Ages, 1897, p. xvii, in which comparative extracts of the two works are given, pp. 140–3). See also A. Herrmann’s Untersuchungen über das schottische Alexanderbuch, Berlin, 1893, and the Taymouth Castle manuscript of Sir Gilbert Hay’s Buik of King Alexander the Conquerour, which contains a summary of the story and extracts (Wissenschaftliche Beilage zum Jahresbericht der zwölften städtischen Realschule zu Berlin, Ostern, 1898). The Buik of 1438 is assigned by J. T. T. Brown to David Rate, Confessor of James I of Scotland, and author of Ratis Raving (Wallace and Bruce restudied, p. 101).

    The death year of Barbour is not quite certain. According to the Registrum Episcopatus Aberdonensis (II, p. 212) he died on 13 March, but the year is given absurdly as M.CC.XC. It has been given here as 1396 because in the accounts of the city of Aberdeen presented at Perth on 5 April, 1395, he is described as Archidiacono Aberdonensi ad presens and as himself receiving his pension of 20s. from the fermes (Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, III, p. 268). Next year, when the accounts are presented on 25 April, his death and the terms of his bequest of his pension to the dean and chapter are recorded and the 20s. are entered as paid to them accordingly (op. cit. p. 395). Now, either the accounts were made up before his decease on 13 March, 1395, or, owing to his illness or to unpunctual payment, the pension for 1395 was not paid at Martinmas (11 Nov.) as it should have been, when, if he died in 1396, he would have been alive to receive it. His other pension of [char]10 from the customs of Aberdeen was paid half yearly at Whitsunday and Martinmas, and, as no payment was made in the year from 3 April, 1395, to 3 April, 1396, it is, perhaps, safer to put his death in 1395.

    Blind Harry

    For Wallace the only good text is that of James Moir for the Scottish Text Society, 1884–9 (The actis and deidis of the illustere and vail[char]eand campioun SCHIR WILLIAM WALLACE Knicht of Ellerslie. By Henry the Minstrel commonly known as Blind Harry). David Laing discovered twenty mutilated leaves of an edition printed with the types of Walter Chepman, and, therefore, assigned by him to somewhere about 1508. The next edition, of which only one copy (in the British Museum) is known, was published in 1570, according to the colophon “Imprentit at Edinburgh be Robert Lekpreuik at the Expensis of Henrie Charteris, & ar to be sauld in his Buith, on the North syde of ye gait abone the Throne.” Jamieson edited Wallace along with Barbour’s Bruce in 1820. For further details see Moir’s edition, introduction, pp. xiii–xviii.

    Blind Harry and John de Ramsay

    Moir in his edition of Harry regarded the praise of Sir John de Ramsay (vii, 890 ff.) as “due to the fact that the scribe who wrote the only existing copy of the manuscript was a John Ramsay.” In The Wallace and the Bruce restudied (Bonner Beiträge zur Anglistik, vi, 1900) J. T. T. Brown argues that Ramsay was the real author of the longer books (iv to xi), the composition being suggested by Blind Harry’s folk-tales, which survive in Books I to III, though elaborated by Ramsay.

    Holland’s Howlat

    Asloan MS. (1515 A.D.), Bannatyne MS. (1568 A.D.). Only one leaf of a black letter edition of about 1520 survives. Editions by (1) Pinkerton, J., in appendix to vol. III of Scotish Poems reprinted from scarce editions, 1792; (2) Laing, D., for Bannatyne Club, 1823, from Asloan MS., reprinted for New Club Series, 1882, by Donaldson, D., with variant readings of Bannatyne MS., itself (3) printed for Hunterian Club, 1880; (4) by Diebler, A., Chemnitz, 1893; (5) by Amours, F. J., in Scottish Alliterative poems, S.T.S. 1891–2, with commentary, glossary and introduction, 1896–7. Cf. also Gutman, Jos., Untersuchungen über das mittelenglische Gedicht “The Buke of the Howlat” (Berliner Beiträge zur germanischen und romanischen Philologie, 1893).

    Poems attributed to Huchoun

    (a) Morte Arthure in Thornton MS. of Lincoln cathedral. Editions by (1) Halliwell, J. O., 1847; (2) Perry, G. G., 1865; (3) Brock, E. (a revision of (2) ), 1865, really 1871 (E.E.T.S.); (4) Banks, Mary Macleod, 1900. See also Mennicken, F., Versbau und Sprache in Huchowns Morte Arthure, Bonner Beiträge, v, 1900; Branscheid, P., Die Quellen des Stabreimenden Morte Arthure, Anglia, VIII, Anz. 178–336.

    (b) Gest Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy. MS. in Hunterian Museum, Glasgow. Edition by Panton, G A. and Donaldson, D., 1869, 1874 (E.E.T.S.).

    (c) The Pistill of Susan. There are five MSS. (see Amours, introduction, xlvi ff.). Editions by (1) Laing, D., in Select Remains of the Ancient and Popular Poetry of Scotland, 1822 (reprinted 1884, edited by Small, J., with memorial introduction and additions 1885, rearranged and revised by Hazlitt, W. C., 1895); (2) Horstmann, C., in Anglia, I (1877), pp. 85–101 (Vernon MS., Cottonian and Cheltenham MSS. in Herrig’s Archiv, vols, LXII and LXXIV); (3) Köster, H., Strassburg, 1895; (4) Amours, F. J. (S.T.S. as above).

    (d) The Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyne. MSS. (1) Thornton in the Library of Lincoln cathedral; (2) Douce in Bodleian; (3) Ireland at Hale in Lancashire. Editions by (1) Pinkerton, J., in vol. III of Scotish Poems, 1792, from Douce MS.; (2) Laing, D. (1822, with reprints as above) from Thornton MS.; (3) Madden, Sir F., in Syr Gawayne (Bannatyne Club, 1839), with variants from Douce MS.; (4) Robson, J. (Camden Society, 1842), from Ireland MS.; (5) Amours, F. J. (S.T.S. as above).

    (e) Golagros and Gawane. No MS. authority. There is an entry Ye Buke of Syr Gologruss and Syr Gawane in the old index to the Asloan MS., but the text is lost. Editions by (1) Chepman and Myllar (Edinburgh, 1508); (2) Pinkerton, J., in vol. III of Scotish Poems (1792 as above); (3) Laing, D., in The Knightly Tale of Golagrus and Gawane and other Ancient Poems (1827); (4) Madden, Sir F., in Syr Gawayne (1839); (5) Trautmann, M., in Anglia, II (1879), pp. 395–440; (6) Amours, F. J. (S.T.S. as above).

    The statement in the text as to the origin of this tale requires some further explanation. Sir Frederick Madden in Syr Gawayne (p. 338) identified the theme as occurring in a prose version of the Roman de Perceval first printed in 1530. A prose version of the same tale is printed from the Mons MS. in Potvin’s edition of Chrètien’s Perceval le Gallois. The story is contained in the continuation of Chrètien’s poem, but, according to most authorities, not in the part attributed to Gautier de Doulens, Gaucher de Dourdan or Wauchier de Denain as he is variously called. According to these authorities the author of this part is unknown. The text of Chrètien differs greatly in the MSS. and it is much to be regretted that at present there is no satisfactory edition, Potvin’s MS. being one of the least satisfactory. Much material dealing with the Gawain story will be found in vol. I of Miss J. L. Weston’s Legend of Sir Perceval (1906). Miss Weston is of opinion (p. 214) that Chrètien and his continuators had a literary source in the Gawain episodes. The writer of that part of the continuation (who, according to Miss Weston, was Wauchier), as she points out (p. 241) attributes the tale to a certain Bleheris of Wales whom she identifies in Romania, XXXIII, p. 233, and Percival, p. 289, with the Bledhericus referred to by Giraldus Cambrensis as famosus ille fabulator, and, following Gaston Paris, with the Breri quoted by Thomas as authority for his Tristan. This person she is inclined further to identify with a Bledri who was bishop of Llandaff between 983 and 1023 A.D. For the story, compare also Gaston Paris in Histoire littèraire de France, XXX., 41, and Gröber in Grundriss der romanischen Philologie, II, i, pp. 506 ff.

    The history and nationality of Huchoun have led to much controversy, and definite conclusions have not yet been reached. (See Athenaeum, 12 Dec., 1900, and many letters between January and June, 1901; G. Neilson’s numerous contributions are summarised in the work mentioned below. See also Gollancz’s paper to the Philological Society, 3 Nov., 1901, on “recent theories concerning Huchoun and other,” summarised in Athenaeum, 23 Nov., 1901). Such as seem probable are given in the text. The opinion here held is that Neilson goes too far in assigning many other poems to Huchoun in Sir Hew of Eglintoun and Huchoun off the Awle Ryale: a biographical calendar and literary estimate (Philosophical Society of Glasgow, 1900–1), and Huchown of the Awle Ryale, the Alliterative Poet: A Historical Criticism of Fourteenth Century Poems ascribed to Sir Hew of Eglintoun (Glasgow, 1902), in which references to other literature will be found. Amours’s introduction is most valuable for all the poems edited by him in the two volumes for the Scottish Text Society.

    Rauf Coil[char]ear

    No MS. authority exists. Though given in the index to the Asloan MS., the text is lost. Editions by (1) Lekpreuik, Robert (Imprentit at Sanctandrois be R. L., Anno, 1572); (2) Laing, D., 1822 (with reprints as above); (3) Herrtage, S. J. (E.E.T.S.), 1882; (4) Tonndorf, M., Berlin, 1894; (5) Amours, F. J. (S.T.S. as above); (6) Browne, W. H. (Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, U.S.A., 1903). Cf. later cognate legends, such as The King and the Barber, etc. (Hazlitt, W. C., Remains of the Early Popular Poetry of Eng.); The King and the Miller of Mansfield, and see also bibliography of Chapters XIII and XIV in Vol. I of the present work.

    Chronicles. (a) Sir Thomas Gray

    Scalacronica. Unique MS., a vellum folio in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The portion from A.D. MLXVI to A.D. MCCCLXII was edited by Joseph Stevenson for the Maitland Club (1836). The reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III have been translated by Sir Herbert Maxwell, Baronet, Glasgow, 1907.

    (b) Fordun and Bower

    Scotichronicon. The MSS. are numerous (see Skene’s edition in Historians of Scotland, vol. I). (1) The complete work edited by Walter Goodall (Joannis de Fordun Scotichronicon cum supplementis et continuatione Walteri Boweri, Insulae Sancti Columbae Abbatis: E codicibus MSS. editum, cum notis et variantibus lectionibus. Praefixa est ad historiam Scotorum introductio brevis cura W. G., Edinburgi, MDCCLIX); (2) Fordun’s part of Scotichronicon and Gesta Annalia for 1153 to 1385 were edited by Skene, W. F., in the Historians of Scotland (vol. I, Latin text, with critical introduction on MSS., etc. Johannis de Fordun Chronica Gentis Scotorum, Edinburgh, 1871; vol. IV in same series contains Historical Introduction by Skene, W. F., and translation of vol. I by Skene, F. J. H.).


    Eight MSS. are known (see Amours’s edition S.T.S. vol. II, pp. v ff.). Editions by (1) Macpherson, David (only of the part concerning Great Britain), 1795; (2) Laing, D. (Historians of Scotland as above, vols. II, III, IX); (3) Amours, F. J., for Scottish Text Society (vols. II, III, IV, V containing the text of books I–VIII, chap. XXIV already published).

    W. A. Craigie shows (Anglia, XX, 1898, p. 368) that there were three recensions of Wyntoun’s chronicle: (1) with seven books and ending with the accession of Robert III in 1390 (Wemyss and Harleian MSS.); (2) with nine books and ending at 1408 (Royal MS., from which Macpherson’s and Laing’s editions are printed); (3) the 8th and 19th chapters of Book IV are rewritten, and the new matter in (2) is better fitted on to the earlier portion by recasting and omitting some lines. The best representatives of (3) are the Cottonian and First Edinburgh MSS. In the S.T.S. edition both the Wemyss and the Cottonian MSS. are printed. (1) and (2) have different rubrics, and the chapters are sometimes differently divided. Craigie corrects here and in the Scottish Review for July, 1897, some serious misstatements of Laing regarding the MSS.