William Dunbar, a Scottish poet, born in Salton about 1460, died about 1525. He received the degree of master of arts from the university of St. Andrews in 1479, became a Franciscan friar, and travelled over England and France. Returning to Scotland, he was received at the court of James IV., whom he delighted with his poetical compositions, and with the charms of his conversation. His poems show a mastery of almost every kind of verse. Some of them were printed in 1508; many remained for two centuries in manuscript, but their fame has steadily increased since their publication at Edinburgh and Perth in 1770 and 1778. "The Thistle and Rose" was a nuptial song to celebrate the marriage of King James IV. with the princess Margaret of England. "The Dance" is an imaginative poem, in which Mahoun (a name of Satan derived from Mohammed) asks his principal ministers to entertain him with a mummery, whereupon the seven deadly sins present themselves and deliver verses, which are severe criticisms upon the vices of the time. The short poem of " The Merle and Nightingale" is a picture of the contest between earthly and spiritual affections, the merle recommending a lusty life in love's service, and the nightingale declaring that all love is lost but upon God alone. All the poems of Dunbar abound in allegory.
A complete edition was published in Edinburgh in 1824 by David Laing, with a life of the poet.