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Robert Henryson

Robert Henryson

Scottish poet, born probably 1420-1430; died about 1500.

His birthplace, parentage, and place of education are unknown, but it is conjectured that he may have been at some foreign university -- perhaps Paris or Louvain.

Little, also, is known of his later life. The earliest extant edition of his Fables (1570) described him on its title-page as "Scholemaister of Dunfermeling". It is probable that he was a master at the Benedictine school of the Abbey of Dunfermline, was in minor orders, and a notary public of that town. In 1462 he seems to have been admitted as a member of the newly-founded University of Glasgow.

The order or the date of composition of his poems is not known. As a poet he belongs to the group of Northern or Scottish Chaucerians, who, at a time when poetry in England was at a very low ebb, were practising the art of verse in a way worthy of the followers of Chaucer. Amongst these poets Henryson stands out as especially original -- perhaps the most truly Chaucerian of them all.

His work shows much variety and consists of two rather long poems, the Testament of Cresseid, and Orpheus and Eurydice, of a collection of Morall Fabillis of Esope, with a prologue attached - and of a number of miscellaneous shorter poems, of which the pastoral dialogue of Robene and Makyne is the best known.

All these poems are remarkable, and sometimes of high poetic power. The Testament of Cresseid, in the well-known rhyme-royal seven line stanza, is a not unworthy tragic sequel to Chaucer's Troylus. The thirteen pastoral Fables, also in rhyme-royal, are told with great freshness, humour, and directness, and the moral of each does not lose by being kept artistically separate from the story. The pastoral Robene and Makyne is, however, generally ranked as his most artistic achievement. Henryson, like all the Scottish Chaucerians, was a true lover of nature, which he describes carefully and vividly.

His Fables were re-edited by Gregory Smith, for the Scottish Text Society, in 1906.


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