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Robert Henryson

Scottish poet, b. probably 1420-1430; d. about 1500

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Henryson, ROBERT, Scottish poet, b. probably 1420-1430; d. about 1500. His birthplace, parentage, place of education are unknown, but it is conjectured that he may have been at some foreign university, 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, humor, 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 reedited by Gregory Smith, for the Scottish Text Society, in 1906.


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