Esther Inglis (1570/71-1624), was born, probably in London, to two French Huguenot refugees, Nicolas Langlois and Marie Presot, who fled to England in 1569. Her family had settled in Edinburgh by 1574, with her father taking a position as master of the French school (a post he held until his death in 1611). Her mother was a talented scribe, and taught Esther the calligraphic skills for which she is famous. Esther married Bartholomew Kello (d.1631) about 1596, who worked in a range of minor capacities as a royal official for James VI and I. The family moved to London by 1604 and from 1607 to 1614 they were in Essex, returning to Edinburgh in 1615. Esther died at Leith on 30 August 1624. Inglis was a phenomenal calligrapher with a mastery of a range of hands and styles of book decoration. Fifty-nine manuscript books written by her survive, which date from 1586 to 1624. Most of them carry dedications to royalty or nobility, and were apparently presented as gifts in the hope of patronage. Melville and his friends John Johnston and Robert Rollock (see d2_MelA_032 and d2_MelA_045) contributed a sequence of encomiastic verses to Inglis' manuscripts between 1599 and 1624, and in Melville's case these consist of the two poems given here, repeated with some alteration or expansion. They first appeared in Inglis' four 'great' manuscripts of 1599 (renderings of the Book of Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes with the Song of Solomon, where borders of each page were painstakingly drawn and decorated by hand), then in four manuscripts from 1601-02 (featuring the same illustrative techniques), two manuscripts from 1606, and a further three from 1624. In the manuscripts from 1599-1602, Melville's verses appear below a portrait of Inglis. See Elspeth Yeo, 'Inglis, Esther (1570/71-1624)', ODNB; A. H. Scott-Elliott and Elspeth Yeo, 'Calligraphic manuscripts of Esther Inglis (1571-1624): a catalogue', in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 84 (1990): pp. 110-86, items 7-10, 16-19, 24-25, 53-55 (items 7 and 10 also include dedicatory verses to Elizabeth I by Melville; item 17, to the Princess de Rohan; and item 19, to the Earl of Argyll, none of which appear elsewhere in Melville's published work). Metre: elegiac couplets.
De Esthera Angla, scite pingente (1599)
De Esthera Angla, scite pingente
Aemula naturae, manus exprimit una figuras
mille, animans pictis signa pusilla notis.
Signa creans animata, polum spirantia signa,
quae picturato margine limbus obit.
Mirum opus, at mage mira manus: mira omnia vincit
mens manui moderans, dum manus urget opus.
Si mihi mens tua quae manus est, ego pingere coner
ingenio tua quae dextera pinxit opus.
[p120] Sed mentem hanc manus haec vincit tua, pingere sola
et mentem manus, et mens queat una manum.
Quod Natura, quod ars, et quod Natura, nec ulla ars,
ambarum victrix, pinxerit ista manus.
On Esther Inglis, as she expertly paints
This single hand, a rival of nature, expresses a thousand figures, animating small symbols with brushstrokes. And it creates living symbols, breathing tokens of heaven, which the edge of the page encounters on the decorated margin. Wonderful work, but the hand is more wonderful; the mind moderating the hand surpasses all wonderful things, while the hand drives on the work.
On the same woman
If I have mind and you have your skilful hand, I should try to depict with my genius what work your right hand has painted. [p120] However, this right hand of yours defeats this mind of mine, for your hand alone could depict the mind, and your mind alone could depict the hand. What both nature and skill could depict, so too can that hand of yours, for nature, and no other skill, is the conqueror of both.