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have become very current in Scotland. One copy in English, and another in Latin, were published by Andrew Hart, at Edinburgh, in 1615. The English version was reprinted in 1680, in 1742, and doubtless at subsequent periods, since copies of it are still common among the lower orders in Scotland.
Among the higher order of believers in Thomas's Prophecies, was the learned and pious Bishop Spottiswoode. "Where or how," says the bishop, very gravely, "he had this knowledge, can hardly be affirmed; but sure it is, that he did divine and answer truly of many things to come."
The most celebrated fact, in support of Spottiswoode's assertion, is a reputed prediction respecting the death of Alexander III., which is thus related by Boece, as translated by Bellenden.
"It is said, the day afore the kingis deith, the Erie of Marche demandit ane prophet, namit Thomas Rymour, otherwayis namit Ersiltoun, quhat wedder suld be on the morow? To quhome answerit this Thomas, that on the morow afore noon, sail blow the gretist wynd that ever was hard afore in Scotland. On the morow, quhen it was neir noon, the lift appering loune, but ony din or tempest," the erle send for this prophet, and reprovit him that he prognosticat sic wynd to be and nae appearance thairof. This Thomas maid litel answer, but said, noon is not gane. And incontenent ane man cam to the yet (gate) schawing the king was slane. Than, said the prophet,
* The sky (lift) appearing cloudy, without any noise or tempest.
TART 1.] E
yone is the wynd that sail blaw to the gret calamity
and trable of al Scotland."
The criticism of Mr. Scott on this prophecy supersedes the necessity of any other. "Translated," he says, "from the monkish eloquence of Fordun, the story would run simply;—that Thomas presaged to the Earl of March that the next day would be windy: the weather proved calm; but news arrived of the death of Alexander III., which gave an allegorical turn to the prediction, and saved the credit of the prophet."
One other example of Thomas's alleged prophetic skill shall suffice. In a MS. of the time of Edward I., No. 2253 of the Harleian Collection, preserved in the British Museum, there is a scrap of gossip, which thus begins:
La Countesse de Dunbar demand* a Thomas de Essedoune quant la guere d' Escoce prendreit fyn 1 . Thomas replies, that the war will come to an end when, among other wondrous things, "a Scot shall no more hide himself like a hare in form, that the English may not catch him "when Scots flee so fast, that for want of shipping they drown themselves," &c.
"When shal this be?
Nouther in thyne tyme, ne in myne," &c.
Mr. Scott thinks this prophecy the performance of some person in the English interest. The nationality of the remark is amusing; of its justness little need be said. The prophecy, as it is called, is nothing but a jingle of absurdities, strung together out of irony, and after the fashion of a very common figure of speech, by which the impossibility of one occurrence js illustrated by the still more obvious impossibility of another: Scotland shall be subjugated by England, when Scotchmen run for terror into the sea, &c. It is a prediction, in fact, which has more of a Scotch cast than an English; and is, after all, only deserving of notice, in as far as it helps to shew by what sort of nothings the fame of a prophet could, in the olden time, be acquired.
The truth is, that beyond mere traditional reputation, there is no evidence whatever to justify the ascription of any prophetic power to the bard of Erceldoune; and as to the rational probability of the thing, no argument is necessary. The reverence of the people for a man, extraordinary for his learning and venerable for his years, seems to have been the sole foundation of Thomas's claims to rank among the prophets. The allegories of the poet were converted, as events chanced to suit, into prophecies, of which he never dreamt; and the attributes of a seer being thus once fixed upon him, it is not surprising, that in an age when all history was of a poetic structure, his name and authority should often have been fictitiously employed to throw into the commencement of historic narratives, those "shadows of coming events," of which poetry has made such frequent and happy use, to heighten the curiosity with which we pursue their developement.
At the west end of Earlstoun, part of the house which Thomas inhabited is still standing, called Rhymer's Tower; and, in the front wall of the villagechurch, there is a stone with this inscription on it—
Auld Rymer's race
Lies in this place. A. R.
Among the common people of Scotland, there is not an older and scarcely a greater favourite than Barbour's metrical history of "The Actes and Life of that most Victorious Conquerour, Robert Bruce, King of Scotland: wherein are contained the Martiall Deeds of those Valiant Princes, Edward Bruce, Sir James Douglas, Erie Thomas Randel, Walter Stewart, and sundrie others."
The popularity of this poem is creditable to the taste of our countrymen. The poem, though only second in antiquity to the Sir Tristrem of Thomas Rymour, is one of the finest in the old English language. In clearness and simplicity, it must rank far before either Gower or Chaucer; and in elevation of sentiment, Mr. Pinkerton does not hesitate to prefer it to both Dante and Petrarch. Mr. Warton, than whom there have been few better judges of the comparative merits of our early poets, says, that "Barbour adorned the English language by a strain of versification, expression, and poetical images, far superior to the age." And to these authorities may be added that of Dr. Irving, who pronounces his opinion in the following encomiastic terms. "Barbour seems to have been acquainted with those finer springs of the human heart which elude vulgar observation; he catches the shades of character with a delicate eye, and sometimes presents us with instances of nice dis
crimination. His work is not a mere narrative of events; it contains specimens of that minute and skilful delineation which marks the hand of a poet."
Had the style of the poem been much inferior to what it is, the subject of it is of a nature which could not fail to excite a warm interest in the breasts of the Scottish people. Barbour was the first "to sing to them, in their own language, the exploits of some of the most renowned characters in their history; of a Bruce, who rescued Scotland from the hated dominion of England; and of a Douglas, a Randolph, a Stewart, and other gallant chieftains, who assisted in that glorious enterprise. He was among the first, too, who gave a poetical being to the habits, manners, and feelings, of the Scottish people; interweaving them in the most admirable manner with the texture of his story, and impressing, by means of their peculiarity, a delightful character of nationality to what was indeed a great national poem.
The "Bruce" is styled by its author " a romance:" "The romance now begins here but Dr. Henry, the historian, is of opinion, that " he did not mean that it consisted of fabulous adventures, for he intended it to be, as for the most part it is, a true history of the great actions of the hero." The opinion of Mr. Pinkerton is not at variance with this, but it characterizes the work better. "This romance," he says, "is just such a one as the Iliad; that is, a poem founded on real facts, but embellished in many parts with fiction." That the fictitious parts "embellished" the work, may however be doubted. The achievements of Bruce did not require such a leaf out of Baron Munchausen's book as the following, which