The Palis of Honoure: Introduction

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The Palis of Honoure: Introduction

from: The Palis of Honoure  1992

If he is mentioned at all in studies of late medieval literature, Gavin Douglas tends to appear as the last and least member of a triumvirate of Scots poets, overshadowed by his older compatriots Robert Henryson and William Dunbar. This is unfortunate but understandable. Douglas's major work is Eneados, a Scots verse translation of Virgil's Aeneid; his only other extant poem of substance, The Palis of Honoure, may be regarded as something of a trial run for the larger Virgilian project to come. Still, prejudice against apprentices and translators notwithstanding, Douglas has his own strengths in The Palis, as later in Eneados - descriptive precision and concreteness, pungency of dialogue and versatility of diction generally, vividness of persona, and keenness of critical response to earlier books and writers. The Palis of Honoure may certainly be read for the sense of tradition (literary, but also ethical) which it articulates; and it will continue to impress modern readers by means of its sheer verve and inventiveness.

The Author and the Date of Composition of The Palis of Honoure

Gavin Douglas's life seems to divide neatly into two parts, the events of his youth having passed largely unrecorded, while those of his later maturity are documented in some detail. Although he was a younger son of a powerful family in Scotland (his father being Archibald ``Bell-the-Cat'' Douglas, fifth Earl of Angus), the place and even the date of Douglas's birth are not known: it is likely that he was born at Tantallon Castle in East Lothian (that being the chief residence of the Earl of Angus), probably in 1474 or 1475. Douglas matriculated at St. Andrews University in 1490, and completed his master's degree there in 1494; he may have gone on, as other Scottish students did, to study at Paris. Still, it seems probable that he resided largely in Edinburgh in the later 1490s, during which he was seeking a secure source of income from a Church appointment. After being involved in at least three disputes over the awarding of ecclesiastical offices, Douglas was appointed Provost of the collegiate church of St. Giles, in Edinburgh. This was an office awarded by the king, and Douglas had been installed as Provost by March 1503.

Hardly more than a month before the catastrophic Battle of Flodden (9 September 1513), on 22 July 1513, Douglas completed his translation of the Aeneid, bringing that work to a close with a farewell to poetry. Ahead lay rapid, brilliant advancement. Douglas was uncle of the sixth Earl of Angus, who, eleven months after the death of King James IV at Flodden, married the widowed Queen, Margaret, sister of Henry VIII of England. Douglas gained eminence, becoming Bishop of Dunkeld in 1516. Hard on the heels of his rise came inevitable hostility; then, with the Douglas faction falling from power, came disfavor and, finally, departure to England, where he died in September 1522.

Douglas's poetry is the product of his relatively obscure youth. The Palis of Honoure was completed in 1500 or 1501, during the poet's quest at court for ecclesiastical preferment. (At the end of his Eneados, Douglas states that he had finished The Palis ``weil twelf yheiris'' before.) Addressed as it is to King James IV, The Palis may be seen as an astute display of its author's eloquence. Indeed, writing this ambitious poem would have been an appropriate way for Gavin Douglas to further his candidacy for an office such as the Provostship of St. Giles.

The Sixteenth-Century Prints of The Palis and the Text of this Edition

No contemporary manuscripts of The Palis of Honoure are known to exist. However, there are complete copies extant of two sixteenth-century editions of this poem, along with fragments of a third.

D: Fragments of the first quire (A4) of a quarto edition printed by Thomas Davidson at Edinburgh, c. 1535 (STC 7072.8), the unique copy of which is housed at Edinburgh University Library.

L: A quarto edition (forty leaves, A-K4) entitled thus:
THE / PALIS OF / Honoure Compyled by / Gawyne dowglas Bys- / shope of Dunkyll. / Imprinted at London in / fletstret, at the sygne of / the Rose garland by / wyllyam / Copland. / God saue Quene / Marye.
Given its similarities to Copland's edition of Douglas's translation of the Aeneid (Eneados, printed 1553), this book has been dated c. 1553 (STC 7073). Nine copies survive; facsimiles of the copies housed at the British Library and the Henry E. Huntington Library have been consulted for the present edition. As the Davidson edition would have done in its perfect state, this edition presents twenty-nine lines of verse per page. Copland's text of The Palis is probably derived from a Scottish print similar to Davidson's. A feature of Copland's print is the inclusion of explanatory side-notes, some of which merely name the personage referred to at that juncture in the poem, while others cite a source or provide a gloss. These notes occasionally betray their Scottish origin in their vocabulary and spellings. The more interesting of these notes are included in the Explanatory Notes of the present edition.

E: A quarto edition (again, forty leaves, A-K4) entitled thus:
Heir beginnis / ane Treatise callit the PALICE / of HONOVR, Compylit / be M. GAWINE / DOWGLAS / Bischop of /Dunkeld. / Imprentit at Edin- / burgh be Iohne Ros, / for Henrie Charteris.Anno. 1579. / CUM PRIVILEGIO REGALI.
Two copies of this edition survive, one at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, the other at Edinburgh University Library. A microfilm of the former copy has been consulted for the present edition. This copy has one curious feature: in its margins, it contains some emendations inscribed in a sixteenth-century hand, some of which seem to be derived from a text of the poem close to that of Copland's edition. In a brief preface addressed ``To the Reidar,'' however, the publisher Henry Charteris draws attention to the correctness of his text:
Quhen we had sene and considderit the divers impressiones befoir imprentit of this notabill werk, to have bene altogidder faultie and corrupt: not onlie thar quhilk hes bene imprentit at London, bot also the copyis set furth of auld amangis our selfis: we have thocht gude to tak sum panes and trawellis to have the samin mair commodiously and correctly set furth: to the intent, that the benevolent reidar may have the mair delyte and plesure in reiding, and the mair frute in perusing the plesand and delectabill werk.
According to Charteris, then, William Copland's London print is hopelessly unreliable. Comparison of the two texts does not suggest that Charteris's print is substantially better, however. To be sure, Copland's text contains several errors, misprints and even misreadings, as well as the glaring omission of a whole stanza (lines 1711-19); but on the other hand, Charteris seems to have been a more thorough editor of the poem, tidying up (and anglicizing) the spelling to conform with late sixteenth-century Scottish practice, and providing contemporary alternatives to obsolete grammatical forms and words preserved in Copland's print. In short, Copland is sloppy but arguably closer to Douglas's original; in those stanzas for which the fragments of Davidson's print preserve evidence, Copland and Davidson tend to agree against Charteris. Copland presents a text in which spelling and vocabulary may reflect early-sixteenth-century Scottish practice more clearly than does Charteris's more carefully-edited text.

The best case for adopting Copland's print as copy-text over Charteris's is the superiority of its readings. In a significant majority of cases where the two prints differ substantively, Copland's can be shown to have the better reading (lines 99, 111, 132, 144, 157, 372, 456, 518, 617, 716, 772, 786, 833, 836, 869, 943, 948-51, 984, 990, 1016, 1026, 1037, 1040, 1048, 1135, 1280, 1327, 1363, 1368, 1373, 1379, 1380, 1498, 1616, 1794, 1856, 1890, 1966, 1972, 1973, 2097, 2118, and 2122). Still, there are a number of spots where a preference is not easy to state with confidence (3, 39, 342, 486, 534, 644, 882, 905, 1150, 1354, 1598, 1721, 1803, and 1921), and some others where the Edinburgh print is superior (613, 1022, 1705, 1711-19 [the stanza omitted by Copland], 1814, 1856).

The basis for the present edition, then, is Copland's print of c. 1553. Obvious misreadings in that print have been replaced by readings from Charteris's print wherever Charteris offers a clear improvement in sense.

There have been five editions of The Palis of Honoure since the sixteenth century. The first four of these editions all use the Edinburgh print as copy-text. Bawcutt's edition is particularly useful, with its full introduction, accurate presentation of the texts of all three of the sixteenth-century prints, full recording of press variants and emendations, and excellent notes and glossary. Bawcutt gives primacy to the Edinburgh print, editing it as the reading text (with modernized punctuation). Nevertheless, a strong case for adopting the London text as the basis for an edition develops through Bawcutt's comparisons of individual cases of variation, in the Notes to her edition. Thus the most recent edition of an extract from The Palis of Honoure, in Douglas Gray's anthology The Oxford Book of Late Medieval Verse and Prose (1985), uses the London print as copy text, while adopting readings from Edinburgh where these are clearly superior (lines 320-23, 477-78).

Language, Versification, and Style

The Palis of Honoure is written in Older Scots, the linguistic descendant of the language (Northumbrian Old English permeated by Old Norse) spoken by the twelfth-century English immigrants to the burghs of southern and eastern Scotland. By the middle of the fifteenth century, this naturalized variety of English had become the dominant language of secular administration (replacing Latin), and was expanding further west and north as the common speech, edging out Gaelic. ``Older Scots'' refers to the variety of English recorded in Scotland from the earliest occurrences in the twelfth century until the Union of England and Scotland (1707); ``Middle Scots'' refers to the later phases of Older Scots, from its period of highest prestige and integrity as a national language (1450-1550), into a period of increasing conformity of the written and printed standard with that of southern English (1550-1700).

A brief glance at some aspects of Older Scots spelling and grammatical forms may be useful preparation for a first reading of The Palis. Perhaps the most obtrusive feature of Older Scots spelling is the regular occurrence of quh for southern English wh (e.g., quhen for when, quhois for whose; 1, 24); more pervasive is a where o would be expected (e.g., na for no, amang for among, maist for most; 381, 26, 74). See also, for example, ch for gh (e.g., thocht for thought, sycht for sight; 737, 401); s for sh (stonyst for astonished, onabasitly for unabashedly, vincus for vanquish, sall for shall; 1161, 1679, 1685, 168); -is (or -ys) for -s or -es (treis for trees, brekkis for breaks, exemplys for examples; 26, 373, 760); -it (or -yt) for -ed (entrit for entered, alteryt for altered; 7, 744); -and in place of -ing for the present participle of the verb (e.g., rynnand for running, syngand for singing; 140, 1154).

The language of The Palis of Honoure is complicated, however, by stylistic aspirations, this poem being an example of Scots ``courtly verse in the grand manner,'' in which southern English forms may replace Scots ones, often to regulate scansion or rhyme: thus the English o can appear instead of the usual a (e.g., stone for stane, mone for mane; 428, 232); the infinitive and the plural present indicative of the verb are occasionally furnished with the -ing inflection (e.g., obeysyng for obey, rydyng for ride; 1067, 1253). Auxiliary verbs typical of southern English also crop up: most common among these is do, usually a metrical filler or modal intensifier, as is the rarer couth (e.g., 840, 925).

In this sort of poetry, certain classes of words, levels of style, and devices of rhetoric occur frequently. The poem is rich - especially so during passages of laudatory description - in latinisms and gallicisms (e.g., distillant, reparcust, respirature, and also amyable and dulce; 16, 25, 66, 5, 15), as well as courtly terms of native origin (e.g., bewes, garth, meid, glete; 9, 62, 1140, 843). There is some reliance on a courtly repertory of Chaucerisms (e.g., from, morowe, tho, and twane; 265, 33, 92, 231). Sentence structure can approach extremes of complexity, sometimes (as in the opening of the poem) across the stanza break. Sometimes, the verse becomes suffused with ``colors'' of rhetoric: periphrasis, apostrophes, exclamations, and rhetorical questions, often together with anaphora (the repetition over several lines of an initial word or phrase; e.g., 174-81, 627-36, 835-49, 1025-34, 1055-57); also admissions of ignorance or inexpressibility (occupatio; e.g., 387, 1061-62, 1426-27, 1477-80, 1254-66); digression (364-84); antithesis (e.g., 174-81, 601-02); hyperbaton (artificial word-order: e.g., 790-98, 991, 1063-67); and antonomasia (the names of mythological deities - Aurora, Phoebus, Neptune, etc. - given to natural phenomena). These ``colors'' cluster thickly in passages of description (the ``pleasant place''; 1-54, 1144-52, 1413-40) and apology (127-35, 2150-69), as well as in the many catalogues (of lovers, musical terms, poets, rivers and mountains, points of architecture, officers of court, and heroes). The ideal of eloquence tends to be one of abundance.

This does not result in an unrelievedly stiff texture, however. Style grows plainer in passages of moral exhortation or instruction (e.g., 1380-1404, 1963-2015), and becomes markedly vernacular in informal dialogue (e.g., 706-26, 1734-48, 1935-58). There is also scope for sudden shifts in style, in passages concerning unpleasant experiences (e.g., 136-62 and 1315-77).

The versification of The Palis suits the courtly aspirations of the poem. The Prologue and first two Parts are written in a nine-line stanza (aabaabbab5, the stanza of William Dunbar's Goldyn Targe and the Complaint in Chaucer's Anelida and Arcite); in the third book a slightly different rhyme scheme is used (aabaabbcc5; the stanza of Chaucer's Complaint of Mars). Douglas also inserts ``lays'' and ``ballats'' into the poem; two of these are in a ten-line stanza (aabaabbabb5; 607-36; 1015-44; the two which conclude the work return to the rhyme-scheme of the nine-line stanza in Parts One and Two, but complicate it by the addition of rhyme within and across lines. With such demanding rhyme schemes, rhyme-tags (e.g., bedene, with byssy cure, but weir, God wait) offer an inviting way out of tight corners. Throughout the poem, the line sticks closely to an iambic, ten-syllable pattern.

Literary Associations

The Palis of Honoure exemplifies the courtly tradition of Older Scots verse. Like Richard Holland's Buke of the Howlat (c. 1448) or David Lindsay's Dreme (1528), it is an allegorical dream-vision: by describing the education of a not very educable courtier, it presents to a noble personage (in this case, the king himself) a ``mirror'' of proper comportment. A prince's duties, pastimes, sentiments, ideals, and sense of tradition are expounded, with the uncomprehending dreamer serving as foil to the noble reader for whom the poem is intended. Indeed, the catalogues out of which much of The Palis of Honoure is constructed offer the reader lists of entries to a variety of important topics, most significantly, literature, history, and pastime from a courtly perspective (1185-233, 1495-1728); imbedded within The Palis is the skeleton of a rather specialized encyclopedia.

The poem is based upon a distinction between earthly and heavenly, the one changeable and untrustworthy, the other worthwhile and permanent. The dream shows a way to approach the heavenly ideal, ascending from a chaotic and infernal beginning. Thus the impressive but tyrannical deities who dominate the First Part of the poem (Venus, Cupid, and Mars) give place to the genuinely harmonizing influence of the Muses (the ``kingly'' Muse Calliope eminent among them) in the Second Part; then, in the Third Part, a more benevolent Venus is revealed in the precincts of the Palace of Honour, and the god Honour appears to be (among other things) a somewhat moralized version of Mars, the patron of those heroes and heroines who have fought justly.

The identity of this God remains something of a mystery. He bears resemblance to the Christian God, as well as pagan deities such as Apollo, Mars, and Cupid. He judges usurpation and lack of fortitude, which he punishes harshly; he also rewards honorable action with everlasting bliss, but does so for a rather un-Christian congregation of worthy men and women (2017-25). This difficulty is heightened by a peculiar variation in the epithet given him at the moment the dreamer catches a glimpse of him: in L, he is called armypotent; in E, omnipotent. Perhaps it is wiser not to hurry to resolve the balance between Christian and pagan in the person of Honoure; after all, this is the balance on which the whole poem rests.

The Palis of Honoure can be seen in the midst of a complex of literary antecedents and affiliations. Given the wide interest in the acquisition and duration of genuine honor, it is no surprise to find courtly poems on this topic also being written at this time in France and England by such writers as Octovien Saint-Gelais, Jean Lemaire le Belges, Alexander Barclay, Stephen Hawes, and John Skelton. There are of course important English antecedents, such as John Lydgate's Temple of Glass and Complaint of the Black Knight, as well as Chaucer's dream-visions, most notably The House of Fame, which The Palis imitates in a variety of ways. Douglas also owes much to the Roman poets Ovid and Virgil, especially the former, whose Metamorphoses provides many of his mythological references. Intermingled with references to classical history, geography, and myth are many Biblical references, Christian doctrine and pagan lore having been assumed to be complementary. The Palis is a bookish poem, to be sure; but Douglas generally avoids pedantry by maintaining a close relation between reading (and writing) and progress, spatially considered, towards realization (if not possession) of an ideal. This is a work for which distinctions between ``medieval'' and ``Renaissance'' become hard to maintain: the dreamer envisions an invigorating world of learning, but does not seem terribly confident about his own ability to enter and possess it.

A Note on the Presentation of Text in this Edition

The following edition of The Palis of Honoure uses William Copland's print (London, c. 1553) as copy-text. The spelling of this print is reproduced, with the following exceptions: thorn (þ) and yogh (?) are transcribed th and y; and u, v, and w are redistributed according to modern convention, as are i and j. Word-division has been regularized without notice. Capitalization is restricted to proper names, and beginnings of lines and sentences; punctuation is provided according to modern convention; abbreviations are silently expanded.

The text is followed by textual notes which record substantive variants between the sixteenth-century prints. A full collation of Copland's text with those of Davidson and Charteris has resulted in the adoption of some readings from the Charteris print. Press variants in the nine extant copies of Copland's print are not recorded.

Go To The Palis of Honoure
Select Bibliography

D [Fragments of The Palis of Honoure] Edinburgh: Davidson, c. 1535.
E The Palice of Honour. Edinburgh: John Ros, for Henry Charteris, 1579.
L The Palis of Honoure. London: William Copland, c. 1553.
B The Shorter Poems of Gavin Douglas, ed. Priscilla Bawcutt.


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