Back to top

Robert Henryson, The Complete Works: Introduction


1 See Patterson, Fables of Power, p. 32.

2 Fox, Poems, p. xiv; Lenaghan, Caxton’s Aesop, p. 27. For Kynaston’s tale, see the Appendix.

3 Laing, ed., Poems and Fables, p. xii; Fox, Poems, p. xiii.

4 Walker, Legal History, pp. 281, 283.

5 Laing, Poems and Fables, pp. xiii–xiv; Fox, Poems, p. xiii.

6 Walker, Legal History, p. 276.

7 Durkan, “Education in the Century of the Reformation,” p. 157; Lyall, “Structure,” p. 91.

8 Edwards and Boffey, "Introduction," pp. 18–21.

9 Gray, Selected Poems Henryson and Dunbar, p. 365.

10 Rutledge, “Henryson’s Orpheus,” p. 407.

11 Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance, p. 194.

12 Fox, Poems, p. xxvii.

13 For comment, see Bawcutt, The Poems of William Dunbar, p. 2:360

14 Stevenson, Pieces from the Makculloch and the Gray MSS, pp. xiv–xv; Borland, Descriptive Catalogue, pp. 291–96; Edwards and Boffey, "Introduction," p. 9n15.

15 Fox, Poems, p. xli.

16 Edwards and Boffey, "Introduction," p. 9.

17 Stevenson, Pieces from the Makculloch and the Gray MSS, pp. xvi–xvii, 39–56.

18 Fein, “Twelve-Line Stanza Forms,” p. 388.

19 Fox, Poems, p. 427.

20 Cunningham, “Asloan Manuscript,” pp. 129–31; Bawcutt, Poems of William Dunbar, 1:5–6.

21 Cunningham, “Asloan Manuscript,” pp. 108–16.

22 Greentree, Reader, p. 99.

23 Fox, Poems, p. xxxix; Cunningham, “Asloan Manuscript,” p. 111.

24 Fox, Poems, p. xcv.

25 Fox, Poems, p. xxxvi.

26 Ritchie, Bannatyne Manuscript, 4:116–261.

27 Bawcutt, Poems of William Dunbar, 1:14; Drexler, “Henryson’s ‘Ane Prayer for the Pest,’” p. 370n8.

28 Knighton, Catalogue of the Pepys Library, pp. xi–xiii; Boffey, “Maitland.”

29 Lynch, Scotland, p. 260; Machan, Textual Criticism, p. 176.

30 Carter and Vervliet, Civilité Types, p. 34; qtd. Fox, Poems, p. li.

31 Davies, “Tale of Two Aesops,” pp. 260, 267.

32 Fox, Poems, p. lii.

33 Fox, Poems, pp. liii–liv.

34 Fox, Poems, p. xcvii.

35 Laing, Poems and Fables, p. 259; Fox, Poems, p. xcv.

36 Mapstone, “Testament,” p. 308.

37 Fox, Poems, pp. lv–lvi.

38 Fox, Poems, p. xcviii.

39 Fox, Poems, p. xcviii.

40 Fox, Poems, pp. 156–58, 434.

41 Aitken and Macafee, “History of Scots to 1700,” §1.1.3 (p. xxxiv).

42 Whyte, Scotland before the Industrial Revolution, pp. 34–35.

43 Aitken and Macafee, “History of Scots to 1700,” §2.3.2 (p. xliv).

44 Fox, Poems, pp. 492–94.

45 Fox, Poems, p. 303n2316.

46 Wheatley, Mastering Aesop, p. 187.

47 Aitken and Macafee, “History of Scots to 1700,” §7.5.1 (p. cvii).

48 Duffell, “Italian Line,” p. 296.

49 J. Smith, “Language of Older Scots Poetry,” p. 200.

50 Fein, “Twelve-Line Stanza Forms,” p. 368.

51 Mooney and Arn, Kingis Quair and Other Prison Poems, pp. 17–18, 22.

52 aabaabbcbC; Saintsbury, History of English Prosody, 1:272.

53 Saintsbury, History of English Prosody, 1.271.

54 Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance, pp. 170–71; Gray, Robert Henryson, p. 83n13.

55 Corbett, “Aureation Revisited,” p. 190; J. Smith, "Language of Older Scots Poetry,” pp. 205–06.

56 Gopen, Moral Fables of Aesop, pp. 218–24.

57 Gray, Robert Henryson, p. 83n13.

58 E.g., Fox, Poems, pp. lxxv–lxxxi.

59 Mehl, “Robert Henryson’s Moral Fables,” p. 88.

60 E.g., Heaney, Testament, p. 9.

61 Bawcutt, Poems of William Dunbar, 1:12, 25n42.

62 Compare Mann, Geoffrey Chaucer, p. lxv–lxvi; Machan, Textual Criticism, p. 63.

Writing in or shortly after 1505, the Scottish poet William Dunbar surveyed the depredations of Death among all classes of mortals, not least among poets, makaris, in Scotland. Near the end of the roll call of the poets Death has taken appears the following couplet:
In Dunfermelyne he has done roune
With maister Robert Henrisoun.
(Timor mortis conturbat me, lines 81–82)     
has finished whispering

Henryson dies from having been whispered to; it is as if Death has appeared to him in the temptingly conspiratorial guise of the fox in more than one fable (e.g., line 3021); or else like the lepers gossiping in undertones while they watch Troilus give gold and jewels to Cresseid (Testament, line 521); or like one of the importunate tale-bearers who swarm around “ane nobill lord” in Against Hasty Credence (line 17). The author of vivid exemplary tales about such whispering, Henryson is now depicted by his poetic successor William Dunbar, a no-less-spirited author of tales about secret confabulations; and Dunbar depicts Henryson, allusively, as a protagonist in the tiny fable of his demise. Dunbar briefly portrays the figure of the older poet’s death in terms of the far more valuable kernel of the works — and thus acknowledges Henryson’s main mode of signification in the Fables.

Henryson’s vision in the Fables of “maister Esope, poet lawriate” (line 1377), gracious, moral, and wise, possibly represents his ideal of the poet in the work; but depictions of both Aesop and Henryson were to decline from such ideals in ensuing generations.1 It is the role of the rough-tongued debunker of women’s lore that Henryson plays in the “merry, though somewhat unsavory” anecdote the seventeenth-century Latin translator of The Testament of Cresseid preserves about the poet’s death. Sir Francis Kynaston’s tale about the aged, sick poet’s rebuffing an old woman’s proffered remedy for diarrhea renders Henryson comparable to other wise fools featured in sixteenth-century “merry tales,” among them “Esope the Phrygian,” the “dyfformed and euylle shapen . . . dombe” churl who “had a grete wytte.”2 The sixteenth-century prints, it might be recalled, give Henryson’s Fables the title Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian.

Dunbar’s lines provide the earliest basis for an association between Henryson and Dunfermline. The later sixteenth-century prints of the Fables amplify Dunbar in styling the author “schoolmaster of Dunfermline.” To judge from the slender evidence, Henryson was a “maister” in two senses: a schoolmaster and a Master of Arts, and therefore a clerk of some standing. Another Scottish poet of the early sixteenth century, Gavin Douglas, refers to “Mastir Robert Hendirson” and his “New Orpheus” (Eneados 1.19, note 13). In his manuscript anthology of poems (discussed below), George Bannatyne regularly precedes “Robert Henrysone” with the title magister. A few generations after Henryson’s death, the appellation has become integral to his authorship.

Henryson’s first modern editor, David Laing, noted that in 1462 a Robert Henryson graduated as Master of Arts and Bachelor of canon law at the newly-founded (1451) University of Glasgow.3 Glasgow had important connections to European centers for legal study, specifically Bologna, Ravenna, and Louvain. As a student in Louvain in the 1430s, William Elphinstone senior (the first dean of the Glasgow Faculty of Arts) had studied civil (Roman) law and its best current scholastic commentaries.4 In the list of those graduating from Elphinstone’s faculty, Henryson was called "venerabilis vir" (“a man of age” is the poet’s wording — see Fables, line 1013n; Testament, line 29n), a conventional phrase indicating seniority. To have been "venerabilis" in 1462, Henryson would certainly have reached seventy by the end of the century — ripe for a quiet confabulation or perhaps a deathbed jest.

Documentary evidence places a Master Robert Henryson as a notary and teacher at Dunfermline in 1477–78: three legal deeds include that name in the list of witnesses.5 In Scotland, the notary public was a figure of some importance in the local administration of the church, one who recorded transactions “in various fields of law,” including resignations, leases, marriages, bonds of alliance, and even “many civil actions.”6 The connection between notary public and “Scolemaister,” as the sixteenth-century prints of the Fables term Henryson, was not unusual in late medieval Scotland.7 Though efforts continue to be made to enlarge the biographical scope by means of extrapolation and surmise, the firmer details remain as Laing presented them in 1865. Relying heavily on the consistencies between the few documentary scraps that may pertain to the poet who wrote the Fables and The Testament of Cresseid and whose death Dunbar lamented, one is left with the faint traces of a biography. Following them, one glimpses a Henryson born about 1430 and dead by about 1500 who was a scholar in the arts and law, who worked as a notary public and schoolmaster in late fifteenth-century Dunfermline, a royal burgh on the north shore of the Firth of Forth. His home was a Scottish town of no great size but nevertheless distinguished by its Benedictine abbey, a resting place of kings and queens, among them Robert the Bruce and St. Margaret of Scotland.

To turn to the poems themselves is to perceive clearer, fuller indications of persistent values and concerns. Consider, for example, the evidence therein of the circulation and study of books, of which a partial list would include the following: the law (Gratian, Regiam Majestatem); the curriculum of a “song school” offering training in church music and an introduction to the medieval curriculum, principally in grammar and rhetoric (Disticha Catonis; Disciplina clericalis; Aesop, latterly in print; Graecismus); more advanced authors and their commentators (Boethius and Nicholas Trivet); Chaucer and Chaucerians (manuscript transmission of whose works in fifteenth-century Scotland is exemplified by the Kingis Quair manuscript, Bodley Arch. Selden. B. 24);8 alliterative verse; religious and moral lyric along the lines of the Vernon Manuscript. The poems ascribed to Henryson consistently uphold a rhetorical ideal of brevity replete with significance. This ideal is epitomized by the literary excellence ascribed to the eloquent god Mercury in The Testament of Cresseid, who could “In breif sermone ane pregnant sentence wryte” (line 270). Further, his verse consistently maintains a clear metrical regularity with subtly meaningful gradations of stress, the stresses often strengthened with regular, at times almost structural, alliteration. Henryson’s poems involve an ongoing concern with the function of poetry itself as a blend of truth and fiction in a world in which falsehood is the wellspring of corruption; in operation, the figure of the poet may be analogous to the foxes he repeatedly places at the center of his narratives. Hence arises an abiding concern about the abuses of the natural capacity for playful imitation, for selfish ends.

Necessary, delightful, troubling mixtures pervade these poems: the one to which Henryson returns repeatedly is the fundamental connection between body and soul and the conflict between them. Here is the connection that ensures Henryson’s abiding interest in allegory — he is less a humanist “of the philological ‘new learning’ which was beginning to flourish in Italy in his day” than a poet who, “like Chaucer, belongs to an older and wider tradition of ‘medieval humanism,’ which prizes the works of the ancient writers and delights in their sentence and humanitas.”9 But there is something adventurously original about the energy with which allegory is explored in his poems.10 Indeed, the first of the Fables in the earliest extant Scottish prints, The Cock and the Jasp, offers what A. C. Spearing has called an “allegory of allegorical interpretation,” and the phrase, with its indications of parallels expanding out into existence and down into the parts of the literary work, reverberates.11 From this perspective, Dunbar’s miniature fable about Death and the allegorical fabulist takes on the strikingly apposite extended perspective, frame within frame, of a mise en abyme.


1. The Principal Witnesses

Before a preliminary description of each of the main early manuscripts and prints of poems ascribed to Robert Henryson, a few comments may be helpful regarding the presentation of the titles and indications of authorship, as well as the editions and facsimiles on which the present text is based. For the titles as also through the text of the poems, the capitalization is adjusted towards present-day practice, and a consistently light punctuation is provided. The list of manuscripts and prints is arranged chronologically. Though each transcription has been checked against more recent facsimiles and transcriptions, this edition, like Fox’s, is “heavily indebted” to G. Gregory Smith’s standard parallel-text edition, on which most of the following texts are based12; a partial exception to this line of descent involves the readings from the Asloan Manuscript, which Smith was not able to consult directly and for which William A. Craigie’s diplomatic edition, cited below, has been the principal source. An important textual witness not represented in Smith’s edition is the Bassandyne print of the Fables, the source of the form of the text in which the edition of the Fables is presented here.

a. The Chepman and Myllar Prints (Cm)

The so-called Chepman and Myllar Prints comprise the earliest extant products of the Scottish press, following James IV’s charter (1507) granting Walter Chepman and Andro Myllar exclusive rights to print books in his realm. Their earliest extant books are the so-called Chepman and Myllar Prints (1508; Mapstone, ed.). Each of the nine prints is small, barely six inches tall; the longest is no more than twenty-three leaves long. The editors of the National Library of Scotland’s online facsimile of these prints note that “The printing of vernacular texts does not come early in most countries’ printing"; giving priority to relatively short pieces of literature provided the opportunity to rehearse procedures before tackling weightier projects but also anticipated a demand for copies of just such pieces.

i. Heire begynnis the traitie of Orpheus kyng and how he yeid to hewyn and to hel to seik his quene And ane othir ballad in the lattir end. [Edinburgh:] Walterus Chepman [and Andro Myllar, April, 1508.]

Below the title proper is inscribed in a sixteenth-century cursive hand, “Memento homo quod cinis es et in cinerem Reverteris” (“Remember, O man, that thou art ash and into ash shall return”),13 the opening line of a moral ballade by William Dunbar; on the verso of the title leaf, in a more formal hand, appears the single word “Orpheus.” Orpheus (collation: [a6]b6) lacks refinements of presentation: stanzas tend to run across page breaks; no indication of authorship is provided; apart from the indication of the beginning of the Moralitas, no headings are provided; no colophon appears. The “othir ballad” mentioned in the title is “Want of Wise Men” (NIMEV 2139; also in the Bannatyne Manuscript, folio 78r), which some editors ascribe to Henryson by virtue of its inclusion in the Orpheus tract; given the printers’ practice of adding makeweight lyrics at the end of longer works regardless of authorship, this inclusion does not guarantee Henryson’s authorship of “Want of Wise Men.” Accordingly, this “othir ballad” is excluded from this edition.

ii. [“Praise of Age,” beginning thus:] “Wythin a garth, under a rede rosere.”

This is the second item in the fragmentary print of The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie [Edinburgh: Chepman and Myllar, 1508]. Chepman and Myllar provide no indication of authorship.

b. The Makculloch Manuscript, Edinburgh University Library, MS Laing III.149 (Mk)

Texts by Henryson occupy previously empty space in this late fifteenth-century manuscript, which mainly consists of notes in Latin on the subject of logic, by Magnus Makculloch, a Scots student at Louvain in 1477 who subsequently undertook scribal duties.14 Some time after these notes were inscribed, the Prologue to the Fables and The Cock and the Jasp were written on the front flyleaves; less marginal, The Praise of Age appears (fol. 87r) in a small sequence of moral and religious lyrics. The poems are written in a different hand, possibly that of John Purde, a priest whose signature in the manuscript indicates that he was an early owner; a conjectural date for these Henryson texts is “early sixteenth century.”15

c. The Gray Manuscript, National Library of Scotland, Advocates’ MS 34.7.3 (G)

James Gray (d. 1505), secretary to William Schevez (archbishop of St. Andrews; died 1497) was one of the scribes involved in the compilation of this manuscript, which contains the unique copy of The Annunciation, ascribed “quod R. Henrisoun” (fols. 70r–71v). A notary public and Master of Arts, Gray is comparable to Henryson; Edwards and Boffey review his scribal activities.16 Though much of this compilation is in Latin, six poems in Scots and English appear at various points in the sequence;17 with its long stanza, demandingly constrained rhyme, and pervasive alliteration, The Annunciation typifies a stylistic tendency in these vernacular poems.18 Though attempts have been made to narrow the date of this text of The Annunciation, it is probably safest to follow Fox with the approximation 1503–32.19

d. The Asloan Manuscript, National Library of Scotland, MS 16500 (A)

John Asloan was a notary public active in Edinburgh 1499–1530; his scribal activity has been identified in other manuscripts, e.g., Bodleian Library, MS Douce 148, and National Library of Scotland Advocates’ MS 19.2.3. The manuscript bearing his name can be dated 1515–25, though its manner of construction out of more or less independent booklets, or “fascicles,” leaves open the possibility that parts were composed earlier.20 Now consisting of 300 leaves, the Asloan Manuscript is a fraction of its original size, with many leaves lost; the scribe’s Table of Contents lists 71 items, of which 34 no longer exist.21 Among the lost are The Testament of Cresseid, “Master Robert Hendersonnis Dreme On Fut by Forth” (of which no copy survives), and six of the Fables, in the following order: The Paddock and the Mouse, The Preaching of the Swallow, The Lion and the Mouse, The Cock and the Fox, The Fox and the Wolf, and The Trial of the Fox. The one fable that survives in the depleted Asloan Manuscript, The Two Mice, was inscribed five poems after The Trial of the Fox, a fact which suggests that at this stage in the compilation, the scribe was simply adding items as they became available.22 Since Asloan does not usually give authors’ names in this table, it is possible that other poems by Henryson are included among the other lost items. In addition to “The Tale of the Uplandis Mous and the Borowstoun Mous” (The Two Mice; fols. 236r–40r), the Asloan Manuscript contains “The Buke of Schir Orpheus and Erudices” (Orpheus; fols. 247–56). Working in part with the relation between the Chepman and Myllar and Asloan texts of Orpheus, Fox argues that Asloan often copied his texts from printed editions; Chepman and Myllar may conceivably have published editions of the Testament and the Fables.23

e. The Testament of Creseyde. The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newly Printed With Dyvers Workes Whiche Were Never in Print Before, as in the table more playnly dothe appere. Fols. 219r–222v. Ed. William Thynne. London: Godfray, 1532. (T)

Thynne’s is the earliest text of the Testament and thus fundamental to an edition of the poem. In this large, important collection, The Testament of Creseyde follows Troilus and Criseyde, at the end of which appears the following note: “Thus endeth the fyfth and laste booke of Troylus, and here foloweth the pyteful and dolorous testament of fayre Creseyde” (fol. 219r). Thynne’s inclusion of the Testament in his collection of Chaucer seems to have been an afterthought, with the four leaves on which the poem appears having been inserted in place of a cancelled leaf containing on the recto side the last stanzas and colophon of Troilus and on the verso the title of The Legend of Good Women, the work that follows.24 To enhance the smoothness of this cancellation, the text of the Testament has been translated from Scots into English. However, Thynne’s editing is not entirely successful: most glaringly, the stanzas of the “Complaynt of Creseyde” are irregular; the first two stanzas contain nine lines, the third eight, the fourth five, the fifth six, and the sixth and seventh eight. With increasing frequency of error, subsequent English editions of Chaucer’s Works include the Testament; this descent ensures that a distinctively English tradition of reading the Testament as if it were Chaucer’s continues through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

f. The Bannatyne Manuscript, National Library of Scotland Advocates’ 1.1.6 (Bd and B)

This manuscript, the most celebrated Scottish literary anthology manuscript, was compiled by an amateur scribe, the young George Bannatyne, an Edinburgh merchant in his early twenties. Bannatyne indicates that he wrote the manuscript “in tyme of pest,” 1568; traces of the date “1566" can be detected in the heading to the final section of his vast compilation. The Bannatyne Manuscript in fact consists of two collections. The so-called Draft Manuscript (Bd) of 29 leaves (numbered as 58 pages) includes five shorter poems later editors have attributed to Henryson: The Abbey Walk, The Praise of Age, Ane Prayer for the Pest, The Ressoning betwix Aige and Yowth, and The Ressoning betwix Deth and Man; of these five, only The Praise of Age and The Ressoning betwix Aige and Yowth are explicitly identified as the poet’s. The manuscript proper, a substantial 375 leaves, is organized into five parts, each with its distinct theme: (1) “Godis gloir and ouir salvatioun” (including Ane Prayer for the Pest); (2) “ballatis full of wisdom and moralitie” (including The Abbey Walk, Against Hasty Credence, The Ressoning betwix Aige and Yowth, The Ressoning betwix Deth and Man, The Praise of Age, and — ascribed to Patrick Johnston — The Thre Deid Pollis); (3) “ballettis mirry” (including Sum Practysis of Medecyne); (4) “ballatis of luve” (including The Garmont of Gud Ladeis).25

Bannatyne commences the fifth part of his anthology with the following heading: “Heir follows the fyift pairt of this buik contenyng the Fabillis of Esop with divers uthir fabillis and poeticall workis, maid and compyld be divers lernit men, 156[6]8” (fol. 298r), and diversity is indeed key to the sequence of verse tales following: The Preaching of the Swallow, Sir Richard Holland’s The Buke of the Howlat, The Cock and the Fox, The Fox and the Wolf, The Trial of the Fox, Orpheus, The Bludy Serk, the Prologue to the Fables, The Cock and the Jasp, The Paddock and the Mouse, The Two Mice, The Sheep and the Dog, The Wolf and the Lamb, The Lion and the Mouse, and William Dunbar's The Thistle and the Rose and The Golden Targe.26 Apart from its inclusion of poems by Henryson and others that are not part of the Fables, this sequence is notable for its omission of three fables that feature consistently in the early prints of the work: The Fox, the Wolf, and the Cadger; The Fox, the Wolf, and the Husbandman; and The Wolf and the Wether. Bannatyne’s sequence of the ten fables most firmly associated with Henryson’s work diverges from the order in which they are presented in the early prints and in which they also appear in this edition. Subject to ongoing debate as Bannatyne’s selection and sequence are, the importance of this manuscript as a witness to readings and whole poems nowhere else attested is undeniable. Despite a generally high rate of substitutions — typically synonyms for functional adverbs, prepositions, and determiners — Bannatyne preserves readings that can often be explained as having been less affected by the pressures that the printers complied with, to modernize archaic language and provide Protestant revisions for allusions to religious beliefs and practices discredited by the Reformation.27 One of Bannatyne’s most significant contributions to Henryson’s poems is his preservation of the sole extant texts of several of the shorter poems, Robene and Makyne among them; as well, Bannatyne provides the fullest version of the Moralitas to Orpheus.

g. The Maitland Folio, Cambridge, Pepys Library, Magdalene College, MS 2553 (Mf)

The Maitland Folio Manuscript is a literary anthology, comprising 366 pages (numbered thus), compiled by various scribes 1570–86 in and for the household of the prominent courtier and writer Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington.28 Featuring many poems by Sir Richard himself, the Maitland Folio also includes Henryson’s The Abbey Walk, Against Hasty Credence, The Ressoning betwix Aige and Yowth, and (ascribed here to the poet) The Thre Deid Pollis.

h. The Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian, Compylit in Eloquent, and Ornate Scottis Meter, be Maister Robert Henrisone, Scholemaister of Dunfermeling. . . . Newlie Imprentit at Edinburgh, be Robert Lekprevik, at the Expensis of Henrie Charteris: and ar to be sauld in his Buith, on the North syde of the gait, abone the Throne. Anno Domini MDLXX. [STC 185]. (C)

This is a small quarto edition (A–N4), 52 leaves long (without pagination); the only extant copy is in the British Library. At the end of this volume appears the following colophon, which dates the publication of the book a year earlier: Imprentit at Edinburgh be Robert Lekprevik, at the Expensis of Henrie Charteris, the xvi. day of December, the yeir of God ane thousand, fyve hundreth, thre scoir, nyne yeiris. Lekprevik and Charteris published Henryson’s Fables during a period of civil war in Scotland, the supporters of the exiled former queen Mary Stewart against the Protestants upholding the sovereignty of her young son James. At about the same time, Lekprevik printed Hary’s Wallace (STC 13149), John Barbour’s Bruce (STC 1377.5), and the rowdy romance Rauf Coilyear (STC 5487); with another printer, Charteris reprinted the works of an important early sixteenth-century Scottish poet, Sir David Lyndsay (STC 15659). Civil conflict appears to have stimulated interest in asserting a canon of Scottish literature with a new ideal, evident in the title to this edition, of “textual fixity.”29

i. The Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian, Compylit in Eloquent, and Ornate Scottis Meter, be M. Robert Henrisone, Scolmaister of Dunfermling. Newlie corectit, and Vendicat, fra mony Errouris, whilkis war oversene in the last prenting, quhair baith lynes, and haill Versis war left owt. . . . Edinburgh. Inprinted att Edinburgh be me Thomas Bassandyne, dwelland at the Nether Bow Anno 1571. [STC 185.5]. (Bs)

This is an octavo print (A–G8, H4) of 60 leaves. The unique copy is in the National Library of Scotland; previously it was in the library at York Minster, where it eluded the attention of editors of Henryson before H. Harvey Wood. Two typefaces appear in this edition: roman for the preliminaries and Moralitates; and for the fables proper, an unusual facsimile of cursive handwriting called civilité, designed in 1557 by Robert Granjon, a printer in Lyon, France; the civilité type was associated “with a homely kind of religious and moral instruction, with folk tales, and with books for the young.”30 Bassandyne’s edition includes two illustrations, both derived from Johann Zainer’s widely influential set of woodcuts for Aesop (Ulm, 1476–77);31 one, the representation of a churlish, ugly Aesop that became iconic in the sixteenth-century prints of the Fables; the other, as in the Harleian Manuscript, of what Fox calls “a cock clawing unenthusiastically a very large jewel.”32 As in most editions since Wood’s, the present text of the Fables is based on the form of the Bassandyne print.

j. The Harleian Fables, British Library, Harleian MS 3865 (H)

The title page to this manuscript reads “The Morall Fabillis of Esope Compylit be Maister Robert Henrisoun Scolmaister of Dunfermling; 1571”; this phrasing already indicates the dependence of the ensuing text of the Fables on the Scottish prints of that work, and Fox argues that the Bassandyne print is in fact the source;33 occasionally, however, the Harleian Manuscript provides a reading superior to those attested elsewhere in the print tradition. The text is written in green ink. Two colored illustrations are included, on fol. 3v a drawing of a rooster that resembles the woodcut illustration to The Cock and the Jasp in the Bassandyne print, and on fol. 43v a more original drawing of a preacher, a tree with birds, and a hand holding a bird (the first and third of these motifs resemble ones included in the woodcut on the title page of the Bassandyne print).

k. The Ruthven Manuscript, Edinburgh University Library, MS Dc. 1. 43 (R)

In a text dated 1520–30, Gavin Douglas’ Eneados, his Scots translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, takes up most of this manuscript; following the Eneados is a text of the first three stanzas of The Testament of Cresseid, which Fox considers to be in the hand of Patrick, third Lord Drummond (c. 1550–c. 1602) and which is dateable before 1581.34 This text contributes one reading, gart, to line 6 of the edition.

l. The Testament of Cresseid, Compylit be M. Robert Henrysone, Sculemaister in Dunfermeling. . . . Imprentit at Edinburgh be Henrie Charteris. M.D.XCIII. [STC 13165]. (Ch)

This quarto (A–B4, C2), ten leaves long, presents the earliest extant complete Scottish text of the Testament, printed at least a century after Henryson wrote the poem. The only copy of this edition is in the British Library. The text proper is set almost entirely in black-letter type. No prefatory or concluding comment is provided. Beside each of the stanzas introducing the planetary gods, an early seventeenth-century reader has written the name of the appropriate god, with “Phebus” crossed out and “Sol” written above it, and Cynthia named “Luna.” With the sorts of editorial interference that one might expect of a late sixteenth-century edition of a fifteenth-century poem, the Charteris print is nevertheless the best witness available for the text of The Testament of Cresseid; it provides the form on which the present edition of that work is based.

m. The Morall Fab[illis] of Esope, the Phrygian. Compyled into Eloquent and or [. . .] Meeter, by Robert Henr[. . .] Schoole-[. . .] of Dumfermeline. . . . Newlie Revised and Corrected. . . . Edinb[urgh: Andrew Hart, 1621; STC 186]. (Ht)

In this damaged octavo edition (A–F8) of 48 leaves, the Prologues and Moralitates are set in roman type, while the fables proper are set in black letter. No illustrations are included.

n. The Testament of Cresseid. Compyled by Master Robert Henrison, Schoolemaster of Dumfermeling. Printed in the Year, 1663. [Glasgow: Andrew Anderson, 1663; Wing H1476A]. (An)

Only a single copy of this octavo edition (A8, B4; twelve leaves) survives, in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. It was probably by means of the square of ornaments on the title page that David Laing was able to identify Anderson as the (unnamed) printer.35 The misplacement of four stanzas (lines 302–29) suggested to Fox that Anderson derived his text from an edition in which each page held 28 lines; the Charteris print usually has 33 lines. Heavily anglicized as it is, Anderson’s text thus provides a late witness to readings not present in the Charteris print of the Testament. Most of the text of this print is set in black letter type, with roman used for the titles and proper names.

2. Other Texts of Henryson’s Poems

The following texts do not contribute readings to the present edition and thus do not feature in its textual notes.

a. The Book of the Dean of Lismore, National Library of Scotland, Advocates’ MS 72.1.37 (dated 1512–29)

On a leaf inserted into this important anthology of Gaelic poetry appears a stanza from The Testament of Cresseid (lines 561–67) ascribed to “Bochas that wes full gud,” evidently a mistaken ascription to the English version of Giovanni Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium, John Lydgate’s Fall of Princes. The same stanza appeared in another, closely related manuscript, now lost.36 Like those of Lydgate or Chaucer, the more widely distributed poems of Henryson were evidently regarded as a quarry for wise and witty pronouncements on topics of interest to special groups of readers.

b. The Fabulous Tales of Esope the Phrygian, Every tale Moralized most Aptly to this Present Time, Worthy to be Read. . . Compiled Most Eloquently in Scottish Metre by Master Robert Henryson, and Now Lately Englished. . . (London: Richard Smith, 1577; STC 186.5)37

In his introduction to this translation, Richard Smith describes the circumstances in which he discovered Henryson's Fables:
There came unto my hande a Scottishe Pamphlet, of the Fabulous Tales of Esope, a worke, sir as I thinke, in that language wherin it was written, verie eloquent and full of great invention. And no doubt you shall finde some smatch thereof, although very rudely I have obscured the Authour, and having two yeres since turned it into Englishe, I have kept it unpublished, hoping som els of greater skill would not have let it lyen dead. But whether most men have that nation in derision for their hollowe hearts and ungratefull mindes to this countrey alwayes had (a people verie subject to that infection) or thinking scorne of the Authour or first inventer, let it passe, as frivolous and vaine matter: yet in my conceite there is learning for all sorts of people worthy the memorie. (pp. ii–iii)
c. St. John’s College, Cambridge, MS L.1

This manuscript is distinguished by an early fifteenth-century text of Troilus and Criseyde. The early seventeenth-century text of The Testament of Cresseid inscribed into this manuscript is derived from Speght’s edition of Chaucer’s Works (1602).38

d. Bodleian Library MS Add. C.287 (1639), pp. 475–509

Sir Francis Kynaston's Latin translation of The Testament of Cresseid, included stanza by stanza with a transcript of the English text of the poem from Speght’s Chaucer (1598).39 See the Appendix for an edition of Kynaston's introduction to his translation of the Testament.

3. Selected Editions, 1724–1987

This section has been restricted to those editions of particular historical significance which have contributed substantially to the text, reception, and interpretation of Henryson’s poems.

a. Ramsay, Allan, ed. The Ever Green: A Collection of Scots Poems Wrote by the Ingenious before 1600. Edinburgh: Ruddiman, 1724

To Ramsay goes the credit for first reprinting a variety of poems from the Bannatyne Manuscript, including Robene and Makyne, The Garmont of Gud Ladeis, The Two Mice, and The Lion and the Mouse. As his version of the first stanza of The Two Mice, which he followed Bannatyne in entitling The Borrowstoun Mous, and the Landwart Mous, Ramsay emended with an ear for the Scots of his own day and an eye to current political debates:
Easop relates a Tale weil worth Renown,
Of twa wie Myce, and they war Sisters deir,
Of quhom the Elder dwelt in Borrowstoun,
The Yunger scho wond upon Land weil neir,
Richt solitair beneth the Buss and Breir,
Quhyle on the Corns and Wraith of labouring Men,
As Outlaws do, scho maid an easy Fen. (1ine 144)

wee; were; dear
whom; burgh town
     lived in the country very nearby
bush; brier
Sometimes; grain; anger(?)
made; living
It should be noted that Ramsay’s vision had less to do with textual authenticity than with recapturing an ethos: “The Spirit of Freedom that shines throw both the serious and comick Performances of our old Poets, appears of a Piece with that Love of Liberty that our antient Heroes contended for, and maintained Sword in Hand” (1.iv).

b. Dalrymple, David, Lord Hailes, ed. Ancient Scottish Poems Published from the MS. of George Bannatyne, MDLXVIII. Edinburgh: Murray and Cochran for Balfour, 1770. Pp. 124–79

Lord Hailes turned to the Bannatyne Manuscript for his texts of Henryson: Robene and Makyne, The Garmont of Gud Ladeis, The Abbey Walk, The Praise of Age, The Ressoning betwix Deth and Man, Against Hasty Credence, and The Thre Deid Pollis (attributed to Patrick Johnston), The Sheep and the Dog, and The Wolf and the Lamb, and the Moralitates of four more fables. This editor disapproved of Ramsay’s editorial license: “they who look in the Evergreen for the state of language and poetry among us during the sixteenth century, will be misled, or disappointed”; in contrast, in Hailes’ edition, he declared, “no liberties in amending or interpolating have been taken” (p. viii).

c. Laing, David. The Poems and Fables of Robert Henryson. Edinburgh: William Patterson, 1865

Laing’s is the first complete edition and represents an important advance in the modern understanding of the texts, authorship, language, and contexts of Henryson’s poems. Laing achieves an unprecedented command of the documentary sources for the biography of the poet and the text of his works. Towards his edition of The Abbey Walk, for example, Laing includes a transcript of the first stanza of a now-lost print of the poem (Aberdeen: John Forbes, 1686); in the apparatus to his edition of the poem, Fox collates the readings from this transcript, none of which materially affect the text.40

d. Smith, G. Gregory, ed. The Poems of Robert Henryson. 3 vols. STS first series 55, 58, 64. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1906–14

Until Fox, Smith set the standard in scholarship for Henryson studies. Smith presents the texts of each of the principal witnesses: e.g., for Orpheus he gives the Cm and A texts in parallel, followed by the B text. The accuracy of these individual texts has ensured that this edition remains a convenient introduction to the textual analysis of Henryson’s poems.

e. Wood, H. Harvey, ed. The Poems and Fables of Robert Henryson. 1933. Second ed. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1958

For decades the standard introduction to Henryson’s poems, Wood’s edition was the first to make use of the newly rediscovered Bassandyne print of the Fables (1.i, above).

f. Burrow, J. A., ed. English Verse 1300–1500. London: Longman, 1977. (Bu)

In this students’ anthology, Burrow reconsiders Bannatyne’s texts of Henryson’s Preaching of the Swallow and The Two Mice and restores several readings from them, with illuminating comment.

g. Fox, Denton, ed. The Poems of Robert Henryson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981. (F)

This is the standard modern edition, in which the textual evidence is subjected to an exemplary clarity and thoroughness of analysis. Largely conservative in the readings presented in the text proper, this edition features a commentary that provides subsequent editors with a wealth of evidence for further emendation. Fox’s strategy in editing Henryson was to balance alert caution, comprehensive knowledge of the sources and language of the poems, and acumen of emendation.

h. Bawcutt, Priscilla, and Felicity Riddy, eds. Longer Scottish Poems. Vol. 1: 1375–1650. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1987. (Br)

The texts provided here of Henryson’s The Two Mice, The Lion and the Mouse, The Fox, the Wolf, and the Cadger, and The Testament of Cresseid deserve careful study as judicious revaluations of several of the readings in Fox’s edition.


1. Introduction

Henryson wrote in Scots — not Scots Gaelic, the language of western Scotland, especially north of the geographical divide marked by the estuaries of the rivers Forth and Clyde, but the variety of English emerging in the burghs of eastern and southern Scotland that became, in the fifteenth century, the official language of the realm. The language of Henryson’s poems — and the theme of language in those poems — can reveal much about Scots at an important juncture in its history.

In its chronology, Scots does not coincide with English. “Middle English” refers to the phase in the history of the language from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, attested by an increasing wealth of documentary evidence and characterized by dialectalization, reduction of inflections, and a rise in borrowings, especially from French. “Middle Scots,” in contrast, refers to a phase in which Scots, for which the recorded evidence before 1375 is fragmentary, comes into its own as a national standard for public discourse, increasingly consistent in its phonetic, grammatical, and lexical contrasts to English and upheld by a distinct literary canon. The Middle Scots period, for its part, thus coincides historically more with Early Modern than with Middle English. The umbrella term “Older Scots” covers linguistic developments 1375–1700; though “Middle Scots” refers to the last two-and-a-half centuries of this period, it pertains especially to the period of greatest distinctiveness and consistency, 1450–1550.41

A continuous history of the Scots language begins with literature, specifically the Brus, a long historical poem about the deeds of Robert the Bruce and his lieutenants, especially Sir James Douglas, in the climactic phase of the wars against English suzerainty; this initiatory work was written in 1375 by John Barbour, archdeacon of Aberdeen and royal clerk. Barbour’s Early Scots is not as distinct from northern Middle English as Henryson’s Middle Scots. Decisive in the development of Early into Middle Scots is its selection as the language of the statutes of the Scottish Parliament, beginning 1424. Henryson’s poetry thus coincides with and participates in the consolidation of Middle Scots as the official language of the realm of Scotland.

Though Gaelic was the dominant vernacular language throughout much of medieval Scotland, Scots arose along with the royal initiatives in the establishment of monasteries and especially towns. The long reign (1124–53) of David I began to turn the linguistic tide: son of the devout English princess Margaret (later canonized) and Malcolm III (victor over Macbeth), David founded burghs and monasteries (including, in 1128, Dunfermline Abbey),42 invited noble and bourgeois immigrants from England, France, and Flanders, and introduced feudalism to Scotland. In the southeast, the new royal burghs came to include Roxburgh, Berwick, Haddington, Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Stirling, and in 1322, by a charter of Robert the Bruce, the burgh of Dunfermline on the north shore of the Firth of Forth. Small trading colonies at strategic locations, the burghs were defined by their boundaries and trading rights, but also by the blend of immigrants they attracted.

The burghs played a decisive role in the development of Scotland and the Scots language in particular. The dominant influence upon the urban lingua franca came, with many of the new merchants, from northeastern England. The product of generations of overlay between English and Old Norse, their language had arisen from a long coexistence between Viking settlers and the Northumbrian English. Other immigrants from the Low Countries and northern France brought their languages into the mix; with the number of burghs expanding, internal migration enhanced “the homogeneity of the dialect that spread as a result.”43 Given the polyglot, urban, mercantile origin and development of his language, it is all the more striking that Henryson depicts it as a "mother toung," "hamelie" and "rude" (Fables, lines 31, 36) — and that in the Fables he depicts the courtly aspirations of Middle Scots as delusory and corruptive.

2. Henryson’s Vocabulary

The Middle Scots word-stock which Henryson worked, expanded, and refined had several distinct sources. To survey these offers a practical starting place for the study of Henryson’s language.

a. Northumbrian Old English and northern Middle English

At this level, Henryson’s Scots has much in common with the language of northern Middle English works such as Cursor Mundi or The Awntyrs off Arthure. Examples of this common northern word-stock include barne (child), bud (bribe), daft (foolish), doolie (gloomy), dyke (embankment or ditch), greit (weep), hals (neck), kyith (exhibit), lowe (flame), lug (ear), rax (stretch; DOST rax v.5; OED rax v.), runkillit (wrinkled), thraf caikkis (“tharf-cakes”), thoill, thole (endure), and truker (trickster). Predictably, the root vowels in Scots words of Old English origin differ from those in English, at times confusingly: thus the noun bair is not “bear” but “boar”; bewis is the plural form of beuch, “bough.” In its pattern of retentiveness of words of Old English origin, Scots differs from English: abone (above), lesum (proper), paynchis (entrails as food; compare English paunch), syis (times; the fossilized plural form of sithe), thig (beg), thrawin (twisted); the limits of such retentiveness can be seen in erdfast (“securely founded”), Henryson’s adjective for the country mouse’s home (Fables, line 199), for which the sixteenth-century printers substituted the more common synonym steidfast.

b. Old Norse

So closely interrelated are Old Norse and Northumbrian Old English in the background to Older Scots that it is extremely difficult to apportion many words between these two principal sources. Words of Norse origin are deep-seated in the core vocabulary of Scots, as they are in northern English: ordinal numerals; common adverbs such as thyne (thence) and syne (then, afterwards); the adjectives awin (own), donk (damp, “dank”), hair (hoary), na (no, as in Fables, line 50 “Na mervell is”), tait (energetic), and trig (nimble); verbs such as gar (command; compel), possibly glar (befoul), graith (Henryson’s grathit is the past participle: “arrayed”), ken (know, recognize), and louk (again, Henryson uses the past participle as an adjective, lukkin, “webbed”); nouns such as bir (rush; compare Middle English bere), draf (dregs), possibly dub (puddle), flet (the interior of a house), campis (Old Norse kampr, “beard, moustache”), kirk (compare “church”), mail (rent), sark (shirt), stottis (young oxen), and withgang (free access). Given the proliferation of cognate pairs of virtual synonyms in the overlay of Old Norse upon Old English (the classic example is shirt/skirt), one might suppose that Scots thereby inherits a tendency towards doublets of closely related terms, a tendency frequently apparent in Henryson’s style. In Scots, the word of Old Norse origin sometimes prevails over its Old English cognate: thus stra rather than straw, carl instead of churl, birk for birch, and in verse boun rather than bound (ready ), as well as raik (wander).

c. French

One of the principal means by which Scots achieved distinctiveness was through its borrowings from French. Much of this borrowing draws on the phenomenal influx of French words into English generally in the fourteenth century, but, given the history of feudal and burghal development in Scotland, areas of difference in form or meaning were bound to arise early on: renye (arraign), eschaip (escape), gin (craft, trick; compare “engine”), noter (notary), pley (plea), sonyeis (excuses). The law is one area where Scots drew distinctively on French: air (circuit court), breif (writ), civile (compare civil law), compeir (appear in court), porteous (list of persons indicted). Borrowings from Norman and Central French can enter both Scots and English, but be preserved in different forms and with distinct meanings: abasitlie (abashedly), busteous (compare boisterous), contrufit (compare contrived), corbie (compare corbin, “raven”), demand (ask), dyte (text; compare “ditty”), dour, effeir (business; compare “affair”), flour (flower), hurcheon (hedgehog; compare “urchin”), intermell (compare “intermeddle”), leill (loyal), lever (“louver”), lyart (dappled gray), miching (loitering; compare “mooching”), oblis (compare “oblige”), oursyle (compare Shakespeare’s seel, “to close”), parabole (compare the commoner English form parable), remord (examine; compare “remorse”), weir (war). French idioms take hold in Henryson’s Scots: "makis mentioun" (Fables, line 162), "it cryis ane vengeance" (Fables, line 2761). A distinctive group of French borrowings with eloquent associations come to Henryson via English, often with Chaucerian associations: e.g., dedene (deign), lawriate (laureate), poetre (poetry), polite (polished, refined, “polite”), preclair (bright, magnificent), rhetore (rhetoric).

d. Latin

As in Middle English, Latin borrowings enter Middle Scots largely by way of French; e.g., Henryson’s important words figurall and inventioun, as well as legal terms such as apparitor ("summoner"), declyne ("reject jurisdiction"), indorsat (cognate with "endorsed"). By the mid-fifteenth century, however, Scots is adopting increasing numbers of words directly from Latin; in fact, several latinisms make their earliest appearance in Henryson’s poems: directly from Latin are legalisms such as feriate ("out of session"), fulminait ("censure, censured"), instante ("immediately"), propone ("state a plea"), and repudie ("divorce"); latinisms are also associated with praise and other contexts for eloquence: fontall ("original"), progenitrys ("female progenitor"), and, in a pejorative direction, maculait ("stained"), pungitive ("stinging"), rusticate ("boorish"), toxicate ("poisonous"), and vilipend ("belittle"). In his borrowings from Latin as in other aspects of learned or courtly style, however, Henryson is more restrained than his younger compatriot William Dunbar. It is worth noting that while the past participle of the Latin verb is often the form on which the Scots borrowing is based (fulminait), the form of the present tense may also serve as the source (propone).

e. Middle Dutch

The Scottish economy depended greatly on trade with the Low Countries, which were also an important source for migration into the late medieval burghs. Therefore, Dutch contributed various sorts of words to Scots: pejorative terms (loun, “rogue”; lour, “skulk” — compare Middle English lour, “scowl”), names for coins (including plank; see the Explanatory Note to Fables, line 2270), apparent colloquialisms (nekhering, “blow to the neck”; smoirand, “smothering”), onomatopoeic verbs (swak), and common everyday terms (crag, “neck”; crous “bold”; ming “mix”; pad, “frog”; Henryson’s paddock includes the diminutive suffix -ock).

f. Gaelic

Very few words of Gaelic origin occur in Henryson’s poems, the most memorable being Cresseid’s ochane (Testament, line 541; Gaelic ochan, ochoin, a lamenting interjection); another Gaelic word long established in Scots is peit (Irish pit), which Henryson uses in the topographical term peitpoit (“peat pot”; Fables, line 828). A less familiar Gaelic borrowing may be detected in crufe (Fables, line 2738; Gaelic cró, a sheepfold or hut). Given the development of Older Scots in the late medieval burghs and the related tendency to characterize Gaelic and its speakers as rural, and therefore fixed in distinctive traditions and hence resistant to “improvement,” this topical range, lack of prominence, and paucity of actual items are understandable. For a reading of Lowrence, the name of the fox in the Fables, as a Brythonic Celtic survival, see the Explanatory Note to line 429.

3. Pronouncing Henryson’s Middle Scots

Urban, middle-class, and diverse in its antecedents, Scots emerges as distinctive but never separate from English. The contrasts and continuities are to be noted at every level. For example, the Great Vowel Shift, the development in pronunciation that contributed a new set of diphthongs to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century English, also affects Scots, though to a more limited extent and with different outcomes. The sounds of Middle Scots are thus fundamental indices of the distinctiveness and contingency of Henryson’s language; understanding them helps one to identify the particular achievements of Henryson’s versification. In surveying these sounds and reviewing some important elements of grammar and vocabulary, the following examples are drawn from Henryson’s lexicon as represented in this edition, and especially from the oldest texts with strong evidence for authorship.

The richest and surest evidence for the pronunciation of Scots vowels is to be found in Henryson’s rhymes, alliteration, and other prosodic elements. However, the earliest manuscripts and prints containing his poems date well after his lifetime; in the case of the Fables and The Testament of Cresseid, the distance in time expands. During the intervening years, the pronunciation of Scots vowels was changing. As well, the rise of print, the increased prominence of Scots as an official language, and perhaps a rise in literacy were tending to make spellings somewhat more regular than they had been in the fifteenth century. To assist the reader who is beginning to learn Scots, therefore, the following brief, pragmatic, simplified introduction to pronunciation reflects the state of Scots in the later sixteenth century; the ideal is the pronunciation of a reader and copyist of these poems — someone like George Bannatyne in the 1560s — if not quite Henryson himself in the 1480s. For a closely reasoned array of models for various kinds of recitation, see Aitken, “How to Pronounce Older Scots.”

a. Long vowels and diphthongs

Arranged in rhyming pairs, most of the following examples are monosyllabic; where a word of two syllables is given, it is the vowel in the stressed syllable that is being signified.

i. syne / nyne; ire / fyre; child / fyld; write / dite

Considered simply, the sound here is equivalent to the diphthong in the modern nine, ire, child. Length is indicated by a silent e after the subsequent consonant or by a subsequent consonant pair such as ld. Note the variation in spelling, either i or y.

ii. quene / grene; heir / speir; greit / weit; kepe / depe; he / me; frie / hie

Pronounced like the long vowel in the modern queen, spear, greet, free. The length of this vowel can be indicated by a final silent e or by the pair ei. In wepit, the long e is shown by the suffix -it following a single consonant. In a final syllable, the long e can appear alone: the (“thee”), poetre (“poetry”). Note that words like hie and die are pronounced with this vowel: not “high” and “die” but “he” and “dee.” Henryson’s verse provides evidence for the merging in Scots of the long e sounding “ay” as in Chaucer and the long i sounding “ee”; to this change can be adduced some of the so-called “bad rhymes” that occur occasionally in each of his major poems.44

iii. trace / face; name / schame; hair / bair / sair

In Scots, this vowel is moving from a as in father to a as in radio. Length can be indicated, as in vowel ii above, with a silent e after the subsequent consonant or with an i immediately following the vowel. The last two words cited show the Scots and northern Middle English fronting of the Old English / Old Norse back vowel ? (compare southern Middle English bore, soor; present-day boar, sore).

iv. stone / anone; wo / go; dote / note; mold / gold

The long o, equivalent to the English gold, stone, woe, note. Length can be indicated by the same means as with vowels ii and iv; note purpois in line 14 of the Prologue to the Fables.

v. laboure / doloure; ground / sound; swoun / boune

In English, ou, ow tends to become a diphthong (ground, powder, down), but in Middle Scots it remains a long vowel, sounding like the vowel in loose, noon.

vi. flude / stude; rude / understude; sollicitude / gud(e)

Closer to French lune than to the u in modern English June. Length can be indicated, as above, by means of an i or a silent e: thus gud can also be spelled guid or gude. This vowel shows the Scots fronting of the Old English / Old Norse back vowel ?; compare southern Middle English stode, gode (present-day stood, good).

vii. The dipthong oi is equivalent to that in the modern noise.

viii. tauld / wald; snawe / saw

Pronounced similar to modern law, this long vowel is frequently represented in -al- and -aw- contexts. Occasionally in Henryson, the so-called vocalization of the consonant l after this vowel, more commonly reflected in later Middle Scots spellings, can be traced: gaw for gall (Sum Practysis of Medecyne, line 43).

ix. how / argow; soucht / broucht

In essence, this is a dipthong produced by the combination of vowel v, above, with w or u. The spellings for this diphthong are also used for the long u (vi above), which can produce ambiguity.

x. teuch [modern English tough] / aneuch; drewe / grewe; hew / vertewe

Spelling (ew or eu) indicates the pronunciation of this dipthong.

b. Short vowels

The first four of the short vowels are effectively identical with their modern equivalents: i as in bid, e as in elf, a as in fast, o as in sob. The fifth short vowel, u, is consistently pronounced as in present-day put. Of particular significance in comparison to the vowels and hence the meter of Chaucer’s verse (see below), the final -e is generally silent in Middle Scots. Henryson has recourse to a different optional syllable, however: the -is suffix may be pronounced as an unstressed syllable or may simply contribute a final -s, depending on the metrical constraints — whether an unstressed syllable is required or not.

c. Consonants

In this edition, two of the distinctive features of Middle Scots consonants — the use of yogh (3) for consonantal y as well as the interchange of u, v, and w — are normalized in accordance with METS editorial practice. Other consonantal features of Henryson’s Middle Scots have been preserved, a few of which should be noted.

i. thocht, nocht, rycht, teuch

In positions of equivalence to modern English gh (though, nought, right, tough), Middle Scots ch is a fricative pronounced (depending on whether a front vowel like i or a back vowel like o precedes it) as in Bach or, appropriately enough, loch.

ii. schell, schort, scho

The sch spelling is pronounced equivalent to modern sh, as in shell, short, or she. See, for example, schulderis (Fables, line 1355; English shoulders).

iii. quhy, quha, quhome, quhilk

The quh spelling may appear the most troublesome element of Middle Scots spelling, and its capacity to distract readers is increased by its appearance in several common words. Related to Old English hw (Hwæt!) and pronounced accordingly, it is equivalent to modern wh, as in why, who, whom, and which. For an introduction to the grammatical functions of some important words beginning with these sounds, see pages 21–22, below; for a fuller discussion of the pronunciation of quh, see Aitken and Macafee (“History of Scots to 1700,” §6.31.1).

iv. sik, mikill; fedder, wedder, slidder, togidder

In common with northern Middle English, Scots typically gives k and d where one would expect ch and th in standard southern English. For example, the voiced fricative th in most medial contexts (as in English feather; Old English feðer) has a regular contrast in the Scots voiced plosive d (feddir, weddir); however, the th appears sporadically, as in father, mother — elsewhere, fadir, modir.

v. sall, suld

In contrast to the sh in present-day English shall and should, the s (pronounced thus) features in Henryson’s Scots (compare OED shall, v.).

vi. knew, gnaw, wryte

The consonant clusters kn, gn, and wr are pronounced with both consonants sounded, as in Middle English — not with the initial letter silent and only the n or r sounded, as in modern English.

4. Distinctive Elements in the Grammar of Middle Scots

In general, the grammar of Middle Scots corresponds to that of northern late Middle English, a brief introduction to which is provided in Burrow and Turville-Petre’s Book of Middle English (pp. 6, 272). In the Explanatory Notes of this edition, some of Henryson’s rarer constructions are discussed. For the present, however, it might be useful to consider some examples of a few distinctive features.

a. Concord

Concord refers to the system of agreement, principally by means of inflection, between subjects and verbs. Some examples follow in which the person and number of the subject varies. (1) "clerkis sayis" (Fables, line 19): the plural subject clerkis governs the verb in present tense; that is, they both have -is suffixes indicating the third person plural; contrast present-day English “clerks say.” (2) "The cat cummis" (Fables, line 384; “The cat approaches”): the verb takes the -is suffix to agree with the singular third person subject; the -s suffix has become standard in this context in modern English. (3) "thow ganis not for me" (Fables, line 112): here the -is suffix of the verb indicates agreement with the second person singular pronoun that is the subject; compare early modern English “thou gainest.” Some verbs agree only inconsistently with second person singular subjects: for example, hes (has; early modern English hast) in "Thow hes na corne" (Fables, line 99).

Conserving a practice falling out of currency in Middle Scots, Henryson occasionally uses the -is suffix with an imperative verb to indicate that more than one person is being addressed: "Exempill takis be thir jolie flouris" (Fables, line 1653), “Take an example from these pretty flowers.”

b. The past tense

i. -it

Equivalent to -ed in present-day English, the suffix commonly marking the past tense in Middle Scots is -it. For example, "The uther answerit" (Fables, line 318). However, the so-called strong verbs (a larger group than in present-day English) indicate the past tense by a change to the root vowel: "he fand ane jolie jasp" (Fables, line 69; “he found a lovely jasper”); “'Knew ye my father?' quod the cok, and leuch" (Fables, line 446: “‘Did you know my father?’ said the rooster, and laughed”); "So hie scho clam" (Fables, line 338; “So high she climbed”).

ii. can, couth

Henryson also forms the past tense by means of auxiliary verbs, especially can (compare Chaucer’s gan) and its past tense couth: "Apon the burges mous loud can scho cry" (Fables, line 342; “Against the town mouse loudly did she cry”); "Under covert full prevelie couth thay creip" (Fables, line 254: “Under cover very stealthily did they creep”). "As in starklie can reprufe" (Testament, line 280: “[she] brazenly denounces”), the verb can occasionally serves as a metrical filler without indicating the past tense.

c. Verbs of motion

Like other Middle English and Middle Scots writers, Henryson tends to be most idiomatic in handling verbs of motion in the past tense: "Rampand he said, 'Ga furth, ye brybouris baith!' / And thay to ga withowtin tarying" (Fables, lines 999–1000; "Rearing up, he said, 'Get going, you two rascals!' and they set off without delay.” See also line 2158). Likewise, the omission of the verb of motion where the adverb (e.g., up) makes it implicit, is common in vivid, colloquial narrative (DOST up adv. 3; OED up adv. 31): "The burges up with that" (Fables, line 327; “With that, the burgher leapt up”).

d. Past and present participles

i. -it and -in

As well as marking the past tense of many Scots verbs (as -ed does for most English verbs), the -it suffix and its reduced -t equivalent also feature in the past participle of many Scots verbs: "Jowellis are tint . . . and swopit furth" (Fables, lines 75–76; “Jewels are lost and swept out”). However, the past participles of strong verbs are formed differently: "The wolff wes neir weill dungin to the deid" (Fables, line 2196: “The wolf was almost beaten to death”; compare ding, “beat”).

ii. -and and -ing

The suffix -and usually indicates the present participle used to modify a noun or as part of a progressive verb phrase: "ane cok . . . Seikand his meit" (Fables, line 63: “a cock seeking his food”); "scho wes full sair dredand" (Fables, line 310; “she was very keenly dreading”). The -ing suffix, by contrast, indicates the gerund, a part of the verb functioning as a noun: "in sweping of the hous" (Fables, line 70: “during [the] sweeping of the house”); "Quhilk wan hir fude off spinning on hir rok" (Fables, line 412: “Who earned her sustenance from spinning on her distaff”).

e. Pronouns and articles

Only those elements that distinguish Henryson’s Scots from more general Middle English usage are discussed here.

i. thow and ye

The subtlety of Henryson’s treatment of second person pronouns calls for particular attention. In various passages, gradations of respect are made apparent by means of alternation between the familiar thow and the polite plural ye. In the negotiations between the fox, the wolf, and the husbandman, for example (Fables, lines 2301–70), “the wolf uses the familiar thou in speaking to both the fox and the husbandman; the husbandman uses the respectful ye to both the wolf and the fox; the fox uses ye to the wolf, but thou to the husbandman.”45 Discussing The Paddock and the Mouse as the final part of the Fables, Edward Wheatley notes the attenuation of the audience to a single person, thow; previously, the audience has tended to be addressed as a group, formally (e.g., lines 40, 63, 190, 365, 571, 588, 1208, 1594, 2210).46 This tendency is by no means uniform in the Fables, the reader being occasionally addressed in the familiar singular: for instance, in a rhetorical evocation of a particular social occasion, as if the speaker is an intimate friend (lines 389–91) or a preacher (lines 1115, 1126, 1129; see also 2726, 2735–40, 2763.). Although the last fable, The Paddock and the Mouse, ends with a passing reversion to the formal ye in an imperative construction ("Gif this be trew speir ye at thame that saw," “Ask those who witnessed it if this is true,” line 2909), the intimate singular mode becomes dominant in the final Moralitas, addressed to “My brother” (lines 2910, 2930); the last stanza addresses first “my freind,” “Say thow I left the laif unto the freiris” (line 2971) and then the prayerful “Now Christ . . . as thow art salviour” (lines 2973–74).

ii. thay, thair, thame

In Scots as in northern Middle English, the third person plural forms of the personal pronouns derive from Old Norse forms with th rather than Old English-derived forms with h; contrast southern Middle English hir, hem.

iii. thir

As a demonstrative pronoun equivalent to these, thir also occurs in some northern Middle English texts (OED, thir).

iv. ane

In Middle Scots, the indefinite article (“a”) appears as ane before consonants as well as vowels; “there is no evidence (for instance, from modern dialect speech) that the /n/ was pronounced in this position.”47

f. Quha, quhair, etc.

Once one gets beyond the apparent oddness of the quh for wh, it is possible to trace Henryson’s extension and refinement of these valuably functional words.

i. Quha

The usual modern use of who, the cognate of quha, is as a relative pronoun, as in “The messenger who brought me the news has returned home.” Henryson treats such constructions rather freely: note the looseness of the antecedent in "Schir Corbie Ravin wes maid apparitour / Quha pykit had full mony scheipis ee" (“Sir Carrion Raven was appointed summoner, / Who had plucked out very many a sheep’s eye”; Fables, lines 1160–61). Henryson is much more comfortable with quha as an interrogative, as in "Quha may be hardie, riche, and gratious?" (“Who can be brave, rich, and gracious?”; Fables, line 134). He also often uses this pronoun indefinitely, as one would use “whoever” or “anyone who”: "Quha hes this stane sall have gud hap to speid" (“Whoever has this stone shall have good fortune to succeed”; Fables, line 125).

ii. Quhair

Henryson uses this word adeptly and frequently as an indefinite indicator of place, as in "Than Lourence luikit up quhair he couth ly" (“Then Lawrence looked up from the place where he lay”; Fables, line 625). Shortly after this line, the pronoun reappears used relatively: "Out off the wod unto ane hill he went / Quhair he micht se the twinkling sternis cleir" (“He went out of the forest to a hill / Where he could see the brightly twinkling stars,” Fables, lines 628–29). Finally, the interrogative function is apparent in lines like "Quhair is thy respite?" (“Where is your document of permission?”; Fables, line 1017).

iii. Quhais

The word is rare in Henryson’s language, appearing only twice in the Fables and once in the Testament. It functions as an indefinite indicator, as in the rather elliptical "Full lytill worschip have ye wyn thairfoir / To quhais strenth is na comparisoun" (“Very little honor have you won thereby, / Since to your strength [there] is no comparison”; Fables, lines 1484–85).

iv. Quhat

As an equivalent to what (“They don’t care what we do”), quhat appears in passages like "thay tak na tent / Quhat be thairin swa that the flure be clene" (“they pay no attention / To whatever might be in [the sweepings] so long as the floor [should] be clean”; Fables, lines 73–74). Straightforward for a present-day reader is the interrogative usage in "Quhat plesans is in festis delicate?" (“What pleasure is there in fancy feasts?”; Fables, line 232).

v. Quhen

Like quhair, this word functions smoothly in Henryson’s language as an adverb, in lines like "Quhen rigour sittis in the tribunall, / The equitie off law quha may sustene?" (“When severity sits in the judgement seat, / Who can uphold the equity of law?”; Fables, lines 1472–73).

vi. Quhy

In Henryson’s Scots, idiomatic compounds are emerging to represent abstract relations. Take for example the following: "I may not droun for quhy my oppin gill / Devoidis ay the watter I resaif" (“I cannot drown, because my open gill regularly / Expels the water I take in”; Fables, lines 2816–17). Quhy regularly functions to signal causal relations, as in "the caus quhy that thay first began / Wes to repreif the of thi misleving" (“The reason why they [the ancient fables] were originally instituted / Was to rebuke thee for thy wickedness”; Fables, lines 5–6).

vii. Quhilk, quhilkis

One of Henryson’s especially useful words, quhilk is cognate with which, and functions in many of the same ways. For instance, "His wyfe it span and twynit it into threid / Off quhilk the fowlar nettis maid indeid" (“His wife spun it [the flax] and twisted it into thread, / From which the birdcatcher did indeed make nets”; Fables, lines 1830–31). For the -is form, the following provides an example: "mychtie men haifand aneuch plentie / Quhilkis ar sa gredie and sa covetous / Thay will not thoill in peax ane pureman to be" (“powerful men possessing ample wealth / Who are so greedy and covetous / That they will not allow a poor man to exist in peace”; Fables, lines 2729–31).

5. Versification

If his own versification is anything to go by, Henryson is the most perceptive of fifteenth-century readers of Chaucer's meter, but Chaucer is not his only model. Perhaps the first poet in English or Scots to adapt the iambic pentameter line for use consistently without the pronunciation of final -e, Henryson has occasional recourse to the lyric caesura, the pause after the inversion of the second foot (“Than of jaspis | ane mekill multitude”; Fables, line 96), a feature of late medieval French verse.48 He also tends to employ the suffix -is with flexibility and sensitivity, using it as an unstressed syllable when metrically expedient; likewise, he makes subtle, telling use of contracted forms (e.g. dude for do it; Fables, line 676) to signal a lowering of style into colloquialism. The foremost Scots poem of the late fourteenth century, John Barbour's Brus, may well have helped to train Henryson's ear toward such practices. Whatever the antecedents for Henryson's pentameter, his handling of various line-lengths need not have derived its expressive flexibility solely from the Chaucerian tradition of late medieval verse-making. Henryson knows “the right places” to depart from the regular alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables in order to achieve “poetic foregrounding.”49 For any consideration of possible emendations, this poet's prosodic skill is important to bear in mind.

Alliteration is never far away in Henryson’s verse, whatever the genre or form. In passages of complaint, for example, it amplifies key stresses as a prime technique of foregrounding. Henryson’s penchant for alliteration is rooted in Middle English verse, with the lyrics of British Library MS Harley 2253 indicating that “lyric verse of a high technical standard was being composed in many regions of England in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.”50 The interplay of the pentameter line and extended alliteration can generate considerable force. A decisive element in Henryson’s prosodic technique, alliteration distinguishes his verse from Chaucer’s usual practice and becomes key to his own stylistic legacy for subsequent Scots poets, Dunbar and Douglas prominent among them.

In his handling of stanza forms, Henryson is more of an innovator than has often been recognized. It is much more common to note that he proclaims his affiliation to Chaucer by means of his staple stanza form, rhyme royal, the seven-line stanza rhyming ababbcc that comprises the bulk of the Fables, the Testament, and the narrative proper of Orpheus. An earlier Scottish poet, James I, had already used this Chaucerian stanza, in The Kingis Quair;51 Henryson’s advance is to transform the rhyme royal into a versatile frame for all registers of Middle Scots discourse, from the gnomic to the colloquial to the exclamatory, and from rich description to rapid narration to philosophical exposition. To distinguish inset passages of complaint or moralization, Henryson uses longer stanzas, sometimes with refrain like last lines: the inset Complaints of Orpheus and Cresseid, the former in what George Saintsbury long ago called “quite an extraordinary” ten-line stanza,52 the latter in the nine-line stanza Chaucer used in Anelida and Arcite; the moralizing conclusions to The Two Mice and The Paddock and the Mouse, in the eight-line ballade. But it is in the balance of rich rhetorical potential and tight form of the rhyme royal that Henryson has his greatest prosodic achievements, “a really wonderful sureness” and an “astonishing variety of colour and tone”:53 one stanza can proceed fluently into the next (e.g., Testament, lines 119–20), or a single stanza can stand out as a frame for an inset central line (e.g., Fables, lines 1461–67). Henryson assures the continued centrality of rhyme royal in the Middle Scots poetic tradition.

6. Style

A consideration of Henryson’s style should begin with three points. First, as in the work of other skilled writers, the mode of discourse governs the style, so that narrative of violent action contrasts with ceremonious praise, pithy moralizing, elaborate description, lapidary brevity, plangent lament, or the exposition of abstract ideas. Second, rapid and extreme changes of style typify Henryson’s verse, though style-switching has not yet settled into a mannerism; indeed, this quality can with propriety be seen to correlate with a strong thematic emphasis on the intermingling of joy and sorrow, morality and comedy (e.g., Explanatory Notes to line 26), so much so that this technique may be described as one of Henryson’s particular contributions to the hallmarks of early modern Scottish verse style. Third, the individual poems ascribed to Henryson differ stylistically from each other, to a degree that confounds most attempts to adduce a consistent manner as a hallmark of authorship.

Henryson is expert at briefly indicating colloquial speech: he can underscore or deflate exalted language with a well-chosen idiom or term: “I do it on them” (e.g., Fables, line 1229); the onomatopoeic, almost flippant clink of Orpheus’ harp (Orpheus, line 288). As a formal occasion unwinds into hilarity, the increasing raciness of style is borne out by the rapid exchange of voices in dialogue (e.g., Fables, lines 278–80) — the line between dialogue and narrative comment, it must be noted, is not always distinct (e.g., Fables, lines 1031, 1298). Henryson also has the knack of repeating words and phrases to indicate changed circumstances: for instance, subcharge (Fables, lines 281, 346). An example of this technique is the recurrence of rax and rin(g) (“expand and rule”), a usually pejorative expression for the wrongful extension of power (e.g., Fables, lines 539, 820, 1108), which unexpectedly reappears positively — “Than sall ressoun ryse, rax, and ring” (Fables, line 1116).

Conciseness has been justly called a hallmark of Henryson’s style;54 copiousness, a profusion of apt terms, has been recognized less often. Admittedly, the display of learned, courtly, or moral terms can be rendered ironic by the hypocrisy, deceit, or incomprehension of the speaker: one thinks of the mouth-filling speeches of Lowrence the fox, the fulminations of Chantecleir’s wives, or the tragedy-queen aria of Cresseid in the lepers’ lodge. Still, Henryson does not tend to indulge in combinations of native, French, and Latinate words for the sheer love of copiousness: as well as providing a wealth of synonyms, latinisms “increase semantic range,” introducing new concepts to Scots.55 Henryson’s neologisms are durably packed with significance: figurall, inventioun, radicate, tribunall. Likewise, he has a compendious store of proverbs from scriptural, literary, and popular sources,56 for pithy gravity, ironic characterization, or mock-heroic description. In each of these techniques, Chaucer offers valuable precedents, but Henryson selects and modifies these; to call his style “Chaucerian” is to distort his influences and diminish his achievement. Douglas Gray nicely sums up these aspects: “The concision of Henryson’s style is made possible by the copiousness of his vocabulary, which ranges from the local and humble (slonkis, bollis, fowmart, etc., etc.) to the clerkly (vilipend, contumax, etc.).”57

7. Structure

The question continues to be debated whether the Fables is a structurally and integrated whole, as epitomized in the print tradition,58 or whether that tradition merely bears witness to an editorial digest of groups of fables left discrete by the author. The very richness of Henryson’s inventiveness has been seen as an impediment to structural integration: “each one of the Fables gives the impression of a fresh start, not a repeat performance.”59 Proponents of the latter position see the print tradition as an early modern editor’s tidying of what had come to seem a late medieval mess. Those arguing for the authenticity of the integral Fables point to the tendency among scribes like Asloan and Bannatyne to abridge and select from their sources. Present-day readers also continue to debate the relation between narratives and the morals apparently arbitrarily applied to them, in the Fables but also in Orpheus. Similarly, not all readers have been impressed by the integration of the set-piece description of the planetary gods into the narrative of The Testament of Cresseid.60 So fundamental and far-reaching are these questions that they deserve the consideration of every careful reader of Henryson.


1. The Problems

Richly celebratory but often also irresolvably ironic, Henryson’s depictions of eloquent, learned poets such as Mercury, Aesop, Orpheus, or Chaucer should convey a special lesson for the prospective editor of the Fables, The Testament of Cresseid, Orpheus and Eurydice, and the shorter poems: the recovery of the author’s intention may be an impossible ideal to realize. Of prime significance for any edition of Henryson is the gap in time between the date of their composition and the date of their earliest extant texts. This gap is multiply significant. If the Chepman and Myllar prints are anything to go by, vernacular poems were printed in early sixteenth-century Scotland in small, frail editions, not designed for prestige or permanence: in a short poem introducing his manuscript, Bannatyne refers to working from “copeis awld, mankit, and mutillait” (old, maimed, and mutilated; “The Wryttar to the Reidaris,” line 7). Further, the later copyists were themselves aware of the cultural and linguistic distance at which they stood from the poems they wished to preserve and circulate. A present-day editor may thus serve Henryson’s readers best by providing a clear, consistent representation of an integral text, even when that text is a century later than the poem it conveys.

Such a representation ought to take into account the discrepancies within textual traditions: for the Fables, the manuscripts versus the prints; for the Testament, Thynne’s English text versus the much later Scots text of Charteris; for Orpheus and Eurydice, the incompleteness of the two earliest witnesses. Such discrepancies take various forms. Between the late fifteenth century and the 1570s, the decade of the earliest complete prints of the Fables, the Reformation intervenes in Scotland, with the result that in the printed text, many overt references to late medieval religion are revised away. The late sixteenth-century witnesses — prints and manuscripts — present Henryson’s language in a standardized, modernized garb: spellings follow contemporary practice; obsolete words are often replaced with familiar alternatives.61 Meanwhile, the earlier texts, including those in the Makculloch and Asloan Manuscripts and the Chepman and Myllar Prints, are fragmentary and display a high incidence of variation; it is worth emphasizing that even in these sources, the texts have been produced a few decades later than the composition of the poems — enough time for linguistic changes and textual variation to occur. The gaps between the textual traditions, therefore, produce ample variation line by line.

2. Editorial Practice

In the present edition, each of Henryson’s poems appears in the form of a manuscript or print that has been selected for the completeness and consistency of its text and the clarity of its representation of Middle Scots. This principle results in the selection of late witnesses as base texts: thus the Fables is based on the text of the Bassandyne print (Bs), The Testament of Cresseid on the text of the Charteris print (Ch), Orpheus and Eurydice on the Bannatyne Manuscript’s text, and the shorter poems on the most complete witnesses, with particular reliance perforce on Bannatyne again. An important difference between this edition and many earlier ones is that at times a later witness will be preferred over an earlier one in order to produce edited texts that consistently reflect the language of their bases. Emendations are adopted into this edition when the usual source is demonstrably in error: the meter falters unaccountably;62 a familiar word has been substituted for an unfamiliar one; printers have substituted euphemisms for references to discredited beliefs and practices; or one of various kinds of error in transcription or typesetting has occurred. Of these kinds of error, the first and second are recorded in the Textual Notes, but usually (given the sheer bulk of the potential evidence) only when an emendation is being adopted. An important exception to this practice is to be found in the Textual Notes to Orpheus: since this edition departs from previous ones in using the Bannatyne Manuscript for its base text, the variants are recorded quite fully, though still selectively.

Some adjustments and alterations have been made as consistently as possible with regard to the spelling and punctuation of this edition:

a. The letter i consistently represents a vowel, with j substituted for the consonant; thus iustice is spelled justice.

b. The letter u represents a vowel, and v a consonant; thus vse is spelled use, and ouer is spelled over.

c. Where the letter u appears where w would be expected in the modern English equivalent, w has been substituted: jowell, betwix, saw, swete, etc.

d. When appropriate, the initial v has been substituted with w according to modern practice: thus vont has become wont. The reverse substitution has also been normalized: thus wyle has become vyle.

e. The scribe often writes “off” for the preposition of, and “of” for the adverb or preposition off, though not always. I have normalized the spelling to reflect modern usage.

f. The letter form ß appearing in the manuscripts is given as s unless the grammatical and metrical context makes clear that it indicates the -is suffix: myß becomes mys; courß becomes coursis.

g. In Middle Scots the yogh (3) appears in contexts equivalent to those filled by consonantal y in present-day English; in the later prints, this character begins to appear as z. In such contexts, y appears here: yit instead of 3it.

h. The thorn (þ), which appears sporadically in the manuscripts, is replaced with th.

i. Proper nouns are capitalized according to modern conventions. Where, however, a noun is not explicitly a name, it has tended not to be capitalized.

j. Corresponding to the practice in the principal manuscript and print witnesses, major sections in the poems are marked by a bold initial letter. Such letters indicate the beginning and ending of inset passages, such as Cresseid's complaint (Testament, lines 407, 470); in the case of the acrostic O FICTIO (Testament, lines 57–63), each line involved is thus marked.

k. This edition is punctuated more lightly than were its recent predecessors. The guiding principle of punctuation has been that Henryson’s sentences tend to involve coordination rather than subordination. As an emphasis, greater flexibility of grammatical relationships has been preferred to more explicit hierarchies of meaning, even if some of the sentences begin to look somewhat “run-on” as a result. Dozens of opportunities for colons and semicolons have thus produced commas instead; and many of the commas articulating the text of previous editions have vanished.

Go To Robert Henryson, Fables