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ill-will in consequence of it against Dunbar, as those scolding matches were carried on in affected anger only and did not disturb the good-fellowship of the literary duellists (cf. the Introduction to 'The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy' in our Edition of The Poems of William Dunbar, Vienna, 1894, 4°, pp. 140 ff.).
On the other hand we need not assume that there was no antagonism at all existing between the two poets.
The mere fact, that Walter Kennedy in company with his cousin Quintene had provoked Dunbar to a poetic contest by their praising one another, proves that he considered himself no unworthy rival to the favourite court-poet of James IV., and the high esteem in which he was held by such eminent contemporary poets as Gavin Douglas, who in his ' Palice of Honour' (1501) calls him 'Greit Kennedy', and Sir David Lyndesay, who in the Prologue to his Complaynt of the Papyngo' (1530) praises his inimitable aureate terms, shows that Kennedy indeed must have ranked among the most eminent
age. “Also from his own words in the 'Flyting', says Laing (Dunbar II, p. 442), it might be argued that he was sufficiently impressed with a sense of his own importance, as he speaks of himself as 'Of Rhetory the Rose' (v. 148) and says (vv. 97—100):
poets of his
I perambulit of Pernaso the montane,
Enspyrit with Mercury fra his goldin speir;
Quhen it wes purefeit with frost, and flowit cleir."
Nor would those parts of the 'Flyting' which belong to Kennedy induce us to believe that his own opinion, or that which his contemporaries held of his importance, was unfounded. For they may be considered, as Laing has stated already, “as equal to Dunbar's for sarcastic and biting raillery, though inferior in ease and happiness of versification”. And even for that charge of faultiness regarding the fluency of the metre, mentioned by Laing, we confess ourselves unable to find any foundation in Kennedy's part of the Flyting', which is undoubtedly in its way a poetic performance showing great mastery as well over the language, as over the metrical form. “But his other poetical remains” says Laing in his edition of Dunbar, vol. II, p. 443, “do not seem to warrant such high praise”. Although this may be true to some extent, it cannot be denied that the writings of a poet, who was considered by his contemporaries, and proved himself to be by one peculiar poem at least, a successful rival of Gavin Douglas and William Dunbar, may claim sufficient interest in themselves from a literary and philological point of view, to be made known to the literary world in extenso, and not by mere extracts only, as was the case in Laing's edition. In his edition of the Poems of William Dunbar, vol. II, he has printed on pp. 89—112 'Poems of Walter Kennedy', but only his four small moral and religious poems entitled: I. 'The Praise of Aige', II. Ane Aigit Manis Invective against Mouth-Thankless', III. Ane Ballet in Praise of our Lady', IV. 'Pious Counsale', in full, and only a few extracts (53 stanzas) from a longer poem, entitled: V. 'The Passioun of Christ, containing 245 stanzas of 7 lines each (rhyme royal). Apart from his share of the * Flyting', this is all that has been preserved to us of Kennedy's poems.
In his ‘Notes to these (ib. pp. 440—450) Laing has also given “some scattered notices of the personal history of this poet, who, as he justly says, “appears to have shared
something of a similar fate with Dunbar, having been equally praised and admired during life, and as much neglected afterwards”.
These notices have been repeated in a condensed form by Sheriff Mackay in the Appendix V to his William Dunbar, A Study in the Poetry and History of Scotland, entitled: "Historical Notices of Persons alluded to in Dunbar's Poems', sub voce Walter Kennedy. We therefore, may be permitted to repeat the more important facts here as well:
"He was born in Ayrshire, probably before 1460; he was third son of Gilbert, first Lord Kennedy, and was educated at Glasgow College. He matriculated there in 1475, and is described in the College Register as a nobleman who had for his tutor James Black, probably a student like himself in the Faculty of Arts. He took the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1476, and that of Licenciate, or Master, in 1478. In November 1481 he was one of the examiners. He appears to have acted as Bailie-Depute of Carrick under David, third Lord Kennedy, in 1491–92"... "The clan of Kennedy was one of the Celtic clans of Carrick, and Gilbert, the father of Walter Kennedy, had a charter dated 13th February 1451, declaring him head of his tribe, and heritable baillie of Carrick. This is alluded to by Dunbar in the Testament of Andro Kennedy', who is made to leave his 'best auchť to the head of his clan as the customary due, called in old Gaelic caupe. Gilbert Kennedy was the son of Sir James Kennedy of Dunure, and Mary, the second daughter of Robert III., and sister of James I., and this connection made Walter Kennedy claim in the 'Flyting' to be of king's kin. His uncle was Bishop Kennedy of St. Andrews, the faithful councillor of James III. The poet was a more staunch adherent of the Church of Rome than Dunbar, as is shown by the denunciation of the Lollards in several of his poems” (viz. Flyting, vv. 172, 196; The Praise of Aige, v. 39).
"On the later period of Kennedy's life no satisfactory information has been discovered" says Laing (l. c. 443), who thinks it highly probable that Walter Kennedy might have been appointed about the year 1494 to the office of Provost of Minniboil or Maybole, the patronage of which was vested in the family of the founder, Sir John Kennedy. Of this, however, there is no sufficient proof, although the religious or moral character of the rest of Kennedy's poems make it probable that he may have attained to some church office in the later years of his life.
By what sort of poems he had distinguished himself before he engaged in the 'Flyting' with Dunbar, is not known, unless the religious and moral poems that have been preserved to us, were written in his younger years, which from their whole tenor we do not think probable.
The year of Kennedy's death is likewise unknown. Dunbar in his ‘Lament for the Makaris', written, as we have said before, probably
we have said before, probably about the year 1507, speaks of Kennedy as then lying at the point of death. Whether he really died soon afterwards, is not known.
But from the way in which Sir David Lyndesay speaks of him in December 1530 in the Prologue to his 'Complaynt of the Papyngo', where he says:
Or quha can now the warkis contrefait
we may at least conclude that Kennedy had been dead then for some time.
Of his personal appearance or circumstances nothing is known apart from what we may conclude from the 'Flyting', a poem, however, which must be looked upon as rather an untrustworthy source only. For it lies in the very nature of it that most of the personal allusions, especially those referring to the opponent, are gross exaggerations. On the other hand we may conclude that they must at least to some extent be founded on truth; for otherwise there would be no fun in the exaggerated statements, as they would be either quite unintelligible, or mere slander; and it is equally evident that those passages of the joint poem in which the two poets defend themselves against the accusations or detracting assertions of each other, must also come somewhat nearer the truth than the invectives themselves.
On this basis it may not be void of interest to collect what personal allusions there are with regard to Kennedy in the 'Flyting', leaving it to the reader's own judgment to decide what they are worth.
In v. 34 of the poem, according to our arrangement of it, Kennedy calls Quintene (Schaw), another poet of whom little or nothing is known, his "cousin and his commissar”, who then, according to Dunbar's allusion to him in v. 67, seems to have been in Edinburgh, whereas Kennedy probably, as Dunbar hints in v. 69, lived then in Carrick in Ayrshire, where he had been appointed Depute-Baillie previous to 1492.
In the passage quoted in part above (vv. 97—100), Kennedy says of himself that he had walked on Mount Parnassus, when the fountain of eloquence was purified with frost and flowed clear, whereas Dunbar had come there in March or February and drunk from a muddy pool. This boasting allusion to his own superior poetical talents may have been occasioned by Kennedy's having taken his degree of B. A. in 1475 about the time of St. Nicholas' day, i. e. in the beginning of December, and from it we might conclude also that Dunbar, who took his degree in 1477, may have had it conferred on him in February or March, although we have no further knowledge thereof.
In another passage Kennedy, who, like his whole clan, was of Gaelic nationality, boasts of his Gaelic Language, which, although disliked by Dunbar, he says, should be the language of every true Scotchman.
As Kennedy in the same passage had also called himself 'the ross of rethory (v. 148), Dunbar in a subsequent part of the 'Flyting' (v. 233) sneers at his boastfulness :
Thou callis the rethory with the golden lippis;
then he goes on to say that Kennedy has a sour or discontented look, that he has command over such eloquence only 'as thay in Erschry', i. e. those who speak Gaelic, use, and that he can only blabbar with his Carrick lippis'.
In another passage (vv. 213—216) Dunbar makes a strange accusation against his antagonist by saying:
Thow purpost till vndo the Lord thy cheif
In Paislay, with ane poysone that wes fell,
Pelour, on the I sall it preif my sell.
By the expression 'the Lord thy cheif" either the chief of the clan, to which Kennedy belonged, may be meant, or the king himself, as Dr. Gregor thinks, who says (Notes p. 41) that this passage refers to the rebellion of the Earl of Lennox and Lord Lyle in 1489
and to the presence of King James IV. in Paisley (which place is mentioned here) on that occasion in the same year. He thinks that the rebellion itself is meant by the expression ‘ane poysone that wes fell, and that Dunbar accused Kennedy of having taken part in this rebellion. Contrary to our former opinion, expressed in the note to v. 213 of the poem, where we doubted this suggestion, we now think this explanation to be the right one, which seems to be confirmed by the words of Kennedy in vv. 501-502:
Quhen thow putis poysone to me, I appeill
In the following stanza this charge is explained more fully by Kennedy, who says that Dunbar's kindred should be exiled from Scotland, as they had made homage to Edward Longshanks in former times, whereas he himself boasts of his connection with the royal family which claim, as we have said before, was well founded, his grandfather having married the Princess Mary Stuart, daughter of Robert III. and of his always having been loyal and faithful to the king (vv. 513—520):
I am the kingis blude, his trew speciall clerk,
That never yit imagenit him offence,
Only dependand on his excellence;
Trestand to haif of his magnificence
And on the rattis sal be thy residence.
By his calling himself the king's trew special clerk Kennedy probably alludes to the office of Depute Baillie he held in Carrick. But of still greater interest it is, that he also, like his rival Dunbar, expected further guerdon and reward from the king by having a benefice, i. e. a church living, conferred upon himself.
According to our modern views, however, of the moral qualifications of a clergyman Kennedy would have been still less fit for such an office than Dunbar, if there should have been any foundation for the charges this poet raises against his antagonist regarding the life he led at Carrick, which in that case cannot have been of a very reputable character.
For he not only refers to Kennedy's beggarly circumstances, which compelled him to extort barley and oats (v. 69), and to go abegging for kyne and oxen (v. 270) and for meal and shelled grain (v. 275), but he also mentions Kennedy as living in a glen with only a leper men's house to lodge in. He moreover accuses him of having stolen lambs, cocks and hens (vv. 278, 281–284) in company with the woman he is keeping in his house, who is the wife of a souter and helps him in plucking the feathers of the poultry he has stolen. By this statement another passage, wherein Dunbar accuses him of being full of rebaldrie, and says '1 se the haltane in thy harlotrie' (v. 59), receives a peculiar illustration.
Of Kennedy's personal appearance Dunbar likewise gives a by no means flattering description in the next stanzas.
He calls him a Lazarus, an ugly lean corpse, the aspect of whom, with his hollow eyes, his bare cheek-bones and his darkened complexion might be taken as a warning
example by mankind to live in chastity (vv. 289--296). Should the accusations contained in these words not have been entirely unfounded, but only exaggerated, the leper men's house in which the poet was living then, may not have been of his own choice.
In the following stanzas the poet goes still more into details regarding his antagonist's personality, describing his shy, squinting look and his narrow-shouldered frame, with its rattling ribs and backbone.
In two of the next stanzas Dunbar again hints at Kennedy's poverty by saying that he had neither to drink nor to eat, that he never bestrode a horse, but that he always brought his Carrick clay to the High Cross of Edinburgh, hobbling thither on his boots, hard as horn, from which the straw wisps were hanging out (vv. 297—344).
Even if some of these details may possibly be founded on truth, the glorious description at least given by Dunbar in the two following stanzas (XLIV, XLV) of Kennedy's hastened exit from Edinburgh after such visits, is certainly due to the highly dramatic imagination of his famous rival bard himself. Dunbar sees all the boys of Edinburgh swarming out after Kennedy, always crying, 'heir cumis our awn queir clerk’! The Carrick poet then flies as fast as he can, "lyk ane howlat chest with crawis', with all the dogs of the town barking at his heels. The old women cry out: 'Take care of your kerchiefs; there is one running who escaped from the gallows! Others shout, 'He has no shirt on his back! take heed of your
linen! Then the boys and curs at his heels make such a noise, and his own boots rattle so terribly, that the cart horses take fright and run away with their carts behind them, and the fish wives cast down their baskets and tubs and strike at him and throw clods at his ancles.
In Kennedy's equally fierce answer to this violent attack, there are only two other passages referring to himself. The first, wherein he refutes the accusation of having attempted to poison 'the Lord his cheif has been quoted already (p. 4). The second is in stanza 68, wherein he replies to Dunbar's accusation of having stolen hens and lambs :
Quhair as thow said, that I staw henis and lammis,
I lat the wit, I haif landis, stoir and stakkis.
Undir my burde, smoch banis behind doggis bakkis :
Thow hes ane tome purss, I heif steidis and takkis;
On Mont Falcone, abowt thy craig to rax.
From this passage, which has no boasting air about it and simply is stating facts, it seems to be evident that Kennedy did not live at all in straightened circumstances, but was a rather well-to-do land-holder, at least at that period of his life, when he wrote these lines.
Still more details referring to Kennedy's personality might have been gathered from that curious poem called 'The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy'. From those, however, already collected here, it is sufficiently clear that the information to be derived from them is only of such a nature that it is far from being trustworthy, and is even of very little help for conjectural conclusions regarding the life of our poet.