« PreviousContinue »
A vow to God did make,
la tho mauger of doughty Dougles,
Having given this brief account of ballad poetry in geAnd all ibat ever with blm be,"
neral, the purpose of the present prefatory remarks will be Becomes,
accomplished, by shortly noticing the popular poetry of “ The stuul Earl of Northumberland
Scotland, and some of the efforts which have been made to
collect and illustrate it.
It is now generally admitted that the Scols and Picts, From this, and other examples of the same kind, of which
however differing otherwise, were each by descent a Celtic many might be quoted, we must often expect to find the race; that they advanced in a course of victory somewhat
fartber than the present frontier between England and remains of Minstrel poetry, composed originally for the
Scotland, and about the end of the eleventh century subcourts of princes and halls of nobles, disguised in the more
dued and rendered tributary the Britons of Strathcluyd, modern and vulgar dialect in which they have been of late sung to the frequenters of the rustic ale-bench. It is un
who were also a Celtic race like themselves. Excepting, necessary to mention more than one other remarkable and therefore, the provinces of Berwickshire and the Lorbians,
wbich were chiefly inhabited by an Anglo-Saxon population, bumbling instance, printed in the curious collection entitled,
the whole of Scotland was peopled by different tribes of the a Ballad Book, where we find, in the words of the ingenious Editor, ' a stupid ballad printed as it was sung in
same aboriginal race; ---a race passionately addicted to Annandale, founded on the well-known story of the Prince
music, as appears from the kindred Celtic nations of Irish, of Salerno's daughter, but with the uncouth change of Welsh, and Scottish, preserving each to this day a style
and character of music peculiar to their own country, Dysmal for Ghismonda, and Guiscard transformed into a
though all three bear inarks of general resemblance to each greasy kitehen-boy.
other. That of Scotland, in particular, is carly noticed and “To what base uses may we not return!"
extolled by ancient authors, and its remains, to wbich ihe Sometimes a still more material and systematic difference natives are passionately attached, are still found to afford appears between the poems of antiquity, as they were ori- pleasure even to those who cultivate the art upon a more ginally composed, and as they now exist. This occurs in refined and varied system. cases where the longer metrical romances, which were in
This skill in music did not, of course, exist without a fashion during the middle ages, were reduced to shorter corresponding degree of talent for a species of poetry, compositions, in order that they might be cbanted before adapted to the babits of the country, celebrating the vican inferior audience. A ballad, for example, of Thomas tories of triumphant clans, pouring forth lamentations over of Erceldoune, and his intrigues with the Queen of Faery- fallen heroes, and recording such marvellous adventures as Land, is, or has been, long current in Tevioidale, and were calculated to amuse individual families around their other parts of Scotland. Two ancient copies of a poem, or household fires, or the whole tribe when regaling in the ball romance, on the same subject, and containing very often of the chief. It happened, however, singularly enough, the same words and turns of expression, are preserved in that while the music continued to be Celtic in its general the libraries of the Cathedral of Lincoln and Peterborough. measure, the language of Scotland, most commonly spoken, We are left to conjecture whether the originals of such bal-began to be that of their neighbours the English, introduced Jads have been gradually contracted into their modern shape by the multitude of Saxons who thronged to the court of by the impalicace of later audiences, combined with the Malcolm Canmore and his successors; by the crowds of prilack of memory displayed by more modern reciters, or soners of war, whom the repeated ravages of the Scols in whether, in particular cases, some ballad-maker may bave Northumberland carried oll as slaves to their country; by actually set bimself to work to retrench the old details of the influence of the inhabitants of the richest and most pothe minstrels, and regularly and systematically lo mo pulous provinces in Scotland, Berwicksbire, namely, and dernize, and if the phrase be permitted, to balladize, a me the Lothians, over the more mountainous; lastly, by the trical romance. We are assured, however, that “Roswal superiority which a language like the Anglo-Saxon, conand Lilian" was sung through the streets of Edinburgh two siderably refined, long since reduced to writing, and cagenerations since; and we know that the Romance of “Sirpable of expressing the wants, wishes, and sentiments of Eger, Sir Grime, and Sir Greysteil,” bad also its own par- the speakers, must have possessed over the jargon of various ticular chant, or lune. The stall-copies of both these ro tribes of Irish and British origin, limited and contracted in mances, as they now exist, are very much abbreviated, and every varying dialect, and differing, at the same time, from probably exhibit them when they were undergoing, or had each other. This superiority being considered, and a fair nearly undergone, the process of being cut down into ballads. | length of time being allowed, it is no wonder that, while
Taking into consideration the various indirect channels the Scottish people retained their Celtic music, and many by wbich ihe popular poetry of our ancestors has been trans of their Celtic customs, together with their Celtic dynasty, mitted to their posterity, it is nothing surprising that it they should nevertheless have adopted, throughout the should reach us io a mutilated and degraded state, and that Lowlands, the Saxon language, wbile in the Highlands it should little correspond with the ideas we are apt to form they retained the Celtic dialect, along with the dress, arms, of the first productions of national genius; nay, it is more manners, and government of their falbers." to be wondered at that we possess so many ballads of con There was, for a time, a solemn national recognisance siderable merit, than that the much greater number of them that the Saxon language and poetry had not originally been which must have once existed, should have perished before that of the royal family. For at the coronations of the our time.
kings of Scotland, previous to Alexander III., it was a part
' (Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Esq. The Ballad-Book was printed in 1$2), and inscribed to Sir Walter Scult; the impression consisting of only thirty copies.)
· [The author seems to bave latterly modified his original opinion on some parts of ibis subject. In his reviewal of Mr. P. F. Tytler's History of Scotland (Quart. Rev. vol. all. p. 328), he says, speakiog of the period of
the foal subjugation of the Picis, “It would appear The Scandinavians had colonies along the fertile shores of Moray, and among the mountains of Sutberland. wbose dame speaks for itself, that it was given by the Norwegians; and probably they had also settlements in Caithness and the Orcades." In this essay, however, he adheres in the main to his Apti-Pinkertoniau doctrine, and treats ibe Picts as Cells. Ep.)
of the solemnity, that a Celtic bard stepped forth, so soon Arthur at the Tarn-Wathelyo, Sir Gawain, and Sir Golo-
the expressions of Lesly the historian, quoted in the follow-
The usual stanza, wbich was selected as the most natural seldom knowing either how to read or write, trusted 10 to the language and the sweetest to the ear, after the com their well-exercised memories. Nor was it a difficult task plex system of the more courtly measures, used by Thomas
to acquire a sufficient stock in trade for their purpose, since of Erceldoune, was laid aside, was that which, when origi the Editor has not only known many persons capable of renally introduced, we very often find arranged in two lines, taining a very large collection of legendary lore of tbis kind, tbus:-
but there was a period in his own life, when a memory that
ought to have been charged with more valuable matter, " Earl Douglas on his milk-white steed, most like a baroo bold, Rode foremost of bis company, wbose armour shone like gold;' enabled him to recollect as many of these old songs as would
have occupied several days in the recitation. but which, after being divided into four, constitutes what is
The press, however, at length superseded the necessity now generally called the ballad stanza, —
of such exertions of recollection, and shears of ballads is"Earl Douglas on his milk-white steed,
sued from it weekly, for the amusement of the sojourners Most like a baroo bold,
at the alebouse, and the lovers of poetry in grange and Rode foreinost of bis company,
hall, where such of the audience as could not read, had at Whose armour shone like gold."
least read unto them. These fugitive leaves, generally The breaking of the lines contains a plainer intimation, printed upon broadsides, or in small miscellanies called how the stanza ought to be read, than every one could ga. Garlands, and circulating amongst persons of loose and ther from the original mode of writing out the poem, where careless habits -- so far as books were concerned -- were the position of the cæsura, or inflection of voice, is left 10 subject to destruction from many causes; and as the editions the individual's own taste. This was sometimes exchanged in the early age of printing were probably much limited, for a stanza of six lines, the third and sixth rhyming toge even those published as chap-books in the early part of the ther, por works of more importance and pretension, a 18th century, are rarely met with. more complicated versification was still retained, and may Some persons, however, seem to have bad what their be found in the tale of Ralph Coilzear, 4 the Adventures of contemporaries probably thought the bizarre taste of ga
| A curious account of the reception of an Irish or Celtic bard ot a festival, is given in Sir Jobn Uolland's Buke of tbe Moulal, Bannatyne edition, p. lili.
"Whan Alexander our king was ded,
Wha Scotland led in Juve and lee,
Q: wine and wax, of game and glec," olc.)
| See the third part of this collection.) á [ This, and most of the other romances were referred to, may be found reprinted in a volume entitled, “Select Remains of the Ancient Popular l'oetry of Scotland," (edin. 1822. Small 4to. Edited by Mr. David Laing, and iuscribed to Sir Walter Scoil.)
thering and preserving collections of this fugitive poetry. Like the natural free gifts of Flora, these poetical garlands Hence the great body of ballads in the Pepysian collection can only be successfully sought for where the land is unat Cambridge, made by that Secretary Pepys, whose Diary is cultivated; and civilisation and increase of learning are so very amusing; and hence the still more valuable deposil, sure to banish them, as the plough of the agriculturist bears in three volumes folio, in which the late Duke of Roxburghe down the mountain daisy. Yet it is to be recorded with took so much pleasure, that he was often found enlarging some interest, that the earliest surviving specimen of the it with fresh acquisitions, which he pasted in and regis Scottish press, is a Miscellany of Millar and Chapman, tered with his own hand.
which preserves a considerable fund of Scottish popular The first altempt, however, to reprint a collection of poetry, and among other things, no bad specimen of the ballads for a class of readers distinct from those for whose gests of Robin Hood, “the English ballad-maker's joy," use the stall-copies were intended, was that of an anony and whose renown seems to have been as freshly preserved mous editor of three 12mo volumes, which appeared in Lon in the north as on the southern shores of the Tweed. There don, with engravings. These volumes came out in various were probably several collections of Scottish ballads and years, in the beginning of the 18th century. The editor metrical pieces during the seventeenth century. A very writes with some sippancy, but with the air of a person fine one, belonging to Lord Montagu, perished in the fire superior to the ordinary drudgery of a mere collector. His which consumed Ditton House, about twenty years ago. work appears to have been got up at considerable expense, James Watson, in 1706, published, at Edinburgh, a misand the general introductions and historical illustrations cellaneous collection in three parts, containing some ancient which are prefixed to the various ballads, are written with poetry. But the first editor who seems to have made a an accuracy of which such a subject had not till then been determined effort to preserve our ancient popular poetry, deemed worthy. The principal part of the collection con was the well-known Allan Ramsay, in his Evergreen, consists of stall-ballads, neither possessing much poetical merit, taining chiefly extracts from the ancient Scollish Makers, nor any particular rarity or curiosity. Still this original whose poems have been preserved in the Baonatyne MaMiscellany holds a considerable valụe amongst collectors; nuscript, but exbibiting amongst them some popular ballads. and as the three volumes-being published at different times Amongst these is the Battle of Harlaw, apparently from a -are seldom found together, they sell for a high price when modernized copy, being probably the most ancient Scottish complete.
historical ballad of any length now in existence. He also We may now turn our eyes to Scotland, where the faci inserted in the same collection, the genuine Scottish Border lity of the dialect, which cuts of the consonants in the ter ballad of Johnnie Armstrong, copied from the recitalion mination of the words, so as greatly to simplify the task of of a descendant of the unfortunate hero, in the sixth generhyming, and the habits, dispositions, and manners of the ration. This poet also included in the Evergreen, Hardykpeople, were of old so favourable to the composition of nute, which, though evidently modern, is a most spirited ballad-poetry, ibat, had the Scottish songs been preserved, and beautiful imitation of the ancient ballad. In a subsethere is no doubt a very curious bistory might have been quent collection of lyrical pieces, called the Tea - Table composed by means of minstrelsy only, from the reign o Miscellany, Allan Ramsay inserted several old ballads, such Alexander III. in 1285, down to the close of the Civil Wars as Cruel Barbara Allan, The Bonnie Earl of Murray, in 1743. That materials for such a collection existed, cannot There came a Ghost to Margaret's door, and two or three be disputed, since the Scollish historians often refer to old others. But bis unhappy plan of writing new words to ballads as authorities for general tradition. But their re old tunes, without at the same time preserving the ancient gular preservation was not to be hoped for or expected. verses, led him, with the assistance of “some ingenious Successive garlands of song sprung, flourished, faded, and young gentlemen," to throw aside many originals, the prewere forgotten, in their turn; and the names of a few servation of which would have been much more interesting specimens are only preserved, to show us how abundant the than any thing which has been substituted in their stead. display of these wild Nowers had been.
In fine, the task of collecting and illustrating ancient po
( * A Collection of Old Ballads, collected from the best and most ancient Copies extant, with Introductions, Bistorical and Critical, illustrated with copperplates." This anonymous collection, Ørst publisbed in 1723, was so well received, ibat it soon passed a second edition, and two more volumes were added in 1723 and 1725. The tbird edition of the first volume is dated 1727,-ED.)
. [ A facsimile reprint, in black-letter, of the Original Tracts which issued from the press or Walter Chepinon and Andro Myllar at Edinburgh, in the year 1508, was publisbed under the title of " The knightly Tale of Golagrus and Gawane, and oiber Ancient Poems," in 1827, 4to. The "litil geste" of Robin Hood, referred to in the text, is a fragment of a piece contained in Bitson's collection.-Ed.]
3 That tbere wos such an ancient ballad is certain, and the tune, adapted to the bagpipes, was long extremely popular, and, within the remembrance of man, tbe first wbich was played at kirns and other rustic festivals. But lbere is a suspicious phrasc in the ballad as it is published by Allan Ramsay. Wben describing the national confusion, the bard says,
" Sen the days of auld King tarie,
Such slaucbter was not beard or seen." Qaery, who was the “auld King Harie" here meant ? If fenry VIII. be intended, as is most likely, it must bring tbe date of the poem, at least of that Ferse, as low as Queen Mary's time. The ballad is said to have been printed in 1663. A copy of that edition would be a great curiosity.
( see the preface to the reprint of this ballad, in a volume of "Early Metrical Tales." 12mo, Edin. 1826.- Ep.)
* Green be the pillow of honest Allan, at wbose lamp Burus lighted his brilliaal torch! It is without enmity to bis memory that we record his
mistake in this matter. But it is impossible not to regret that such an alfecting tale as that of Bessie Bell and Mary Gray should have fallen into his hands. The southern reader must learn, (for what northern reader is ignorant?) that these two beautiful women were kinsfolk, and so strictly united in friendship, tbat even personal jealousy could not interrupt their union. They were visited by a bandsome and agreeable young man, who was acceptable to them both, but so captivated with their charms, that, while contident of a preference on the part of both, he was unable to make a choice between them. While this singular situation of the three persoas of the tole continued, ibe breaking out of the plague forced the two ladies to take refuge in the beautiful valley of Lynedoch, where they built themselves a bower, in order to avoid human intercourse and the donger of infection. The lover was not included in their renunciation of society Be visited their retirement, brought with him the fatal disease, and unable to return to Perth, wbich was his usual residence, was nursed by the fair friends with all the tenderness of affection. He died, however, having first communicated the infection to bis lovely attendants, They followed him to the grave, lovely in their lives, and undivided in their death. Their burial place, in the vicinity of the bower which they built, is still visible, in the romantic vicinity of Lord Lynedoch's mansion, and proloogs the memory of female friendship, which even rivalry could not dissolve. Two stanzas of the origioal ballad alone survive:
“* Bessie Bell and Mary Gray,
They were twa bonnie lasses ;
And theekit it ower wi' rashes.
pular poetry, whether in England or Scotland, was never which Dr. Percy had taken with his materials, in adding
regular babit of composing the verses which they sung to
producing novelty, is a great step towards that desirable Ritson's criticism, in which there was too much horse- end. No. unprejudiced reader, therefore, can have any play, was grounded on two points of accusation. The first hesitation in adopting Bishop Percy's definition of the minregarded Dr. Percy's definition of the order and office of strels, and their occupation, as qualified in the fourth ediminstrels, which Ritson considered as designedly over tion of his Essay, implying that they were sometimes poets, charged, for the sake of giving an undue importance to sometimes the mere reciters of the poetry of others. his subject. The second objection respected the liberties On the critic's second proposition, Dr. Percy successfully
Tbey wadna rest in Methvin kirk,
Among thelr gentle kin;
To beek against the sun."
" Oh, Jovel she's like thy Pallas." Another song, of which Ramsay chose a few words for the theme of a rifacimento, seems to have been a curious specimen of minstrel recitation. It was partly verse, partly narrative, and was alternately sung and repeated, The story was the escape of a young gentleman, pursued by a cruel uocle,
desirous of his estate; or a bloody rival, greedy of his Ille; or tbe relentless • father of his lady-love, or some such remorseless character, having sinister
folentions on the person of the fugitive. Tbe object of his rapacily or vengeance being nearly overtaken, a shepherd undertakes to mislead the pursuer, who comes in sight just as the object of his pursuit disappears, and greets the shepherd thus :
And what did much surprise my wit,
And I see, and I see, and I see her yet.
And I see, and I see, and I see ber yet."
*[The Right Honourable William Adam, Lord Chiel Cominissioner of the
[Sir Walter Scott corresponded frequently with the Bishop of Dromore, of the time when he was collecting the materials of the "Border Miastrelsy." -Ev.)
2 For example, in quoting a popular song, well known by the name of Maggie Lauder, the editor of the Reliques bad given a line of the Daine's address to the merry miastrel, thus :
"Gin ye be Rob, I've heard of you,
You dwell upon ibe Border."
" Come ye frae the Border ? "
Good morrow, sbepherd, and my friend,
Saw you a young man this way ridiog;
And I know that I cannot be far behind him ?
TIE SI KPUERD.
Yes, I did sec bim Ibis way rlding,
showed, that at no period of history was the word minstrel kind of English, which was designed for “pride and noapplied to instrumental music exclusively; and he has pro- bleye,” 3 and not for such inferior persons as Robert himduced sufficient evidence, that the talents of the profession self addressed, and to whose comprehension he avowedly were as frequently employed in cbanting or reciting poetry lowered his language and structure of versification. There as in playing the mere tunes. There is appearance of dis- existed, therefore, during the time of this historian, a more tinction being sometimes made between minstrel recitations refined dialect of the Eng nguage, used by such comand minstrelsy of music alone; and we may add a curious posers of popular poetry as moved in a higher circle; and instance, to those quoted by the Bishop. It is from the sin- there can be no doubt, that while their productions were gular ballad respecting Thomas of Erceldoune, ' wbich an held in such high esteem, the authors must have been honounces the proposition, that tongue is chief of minstrelsy. noured in proportion.
We may also notice, that the word minstrel being in fact The education bestowed upon James J. of Scotland, when derived from the Minné-singer of the Germans, means, in brought up under the charge of Henry IV., comprehended its primary sense, one who sings of love, a sense totally both music and the art of vernacular poetry; in other words, inapplicable to a mere instrumental musician.
Minstrelsy in both branches. That poetry, of wbich the A second general point on which Dr. Percy was fiercely | King left several specimens, was, as is well known, Engattacked by Mr. Ritson, was also one on which both the lish; nor is it to be supposed that a prince, upon whose parties might claim a right to sing Te Deum. It respected education such sedulous care was bestowed, would have the rank or status which was held by the minstrels in so been instructed in an art which, if we are to believe Mr. ciety during the middle ages. On this point the editor of Ritson, was degraded to the last degree, and discreditable the Reliques of Ancient Poetry had produced the most sa to its professors. The same argument is strengthened by tisfactory evidence, that, at the courts of the Anglo-Norman the poetical exercises of the Duke of Orleans, in English, princes the professors of the gay science were the favourite written during his captivity after the battle of Agincourt. solaeers of the leisure hours of princes, who did not them. It could not be supposed that the noble prisoner was to selves disdain to share their tuneful labours, and imitate solace his hours of imprisonment with a degrading and their compositions. Mr. Ritson replied to this with great vulgar species of composition. ingenuity, arguing, that such instances of respect paid to We could produce other instances to show that this acute French minstrels reciting in their native language in the critic has carried his argument considerably too far. But court of Norman monarchs though held in Britain, argued we prefer taking a general view of the subject, which seems nothing in favour of English artists professing the same to explain clearly how contradictory evidence should exist trade; and of whose compositions, and not of those existing on it, and why instances of great personal respect to indiin the French language, Dr. Percy professed to form his vidual minstrels, and a high esteem of the art, are quite recollection. The reason of the distinction betwixt the res concilable with much contempt thrown on the order at pectability of the French minstrels, and the degradation of large. the same class of men in England, Mr. Ritson plausibly All professors of the fine arts-all those who contribute, alleged to be, that the English language, a mixed speech not to the necessities of life, but to the enjoyments of sobetwist Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French, was not known ciety, hold their professional respectability by the severe at the court of the Anglo-Norman kings until the reign of tenure of exhibiting excellence in their department. We Edward III. ;. and that, therefore, until a very late period, are well enough satisfied with the tradesman who goes and when the lays of minstrelsy were going out of fashion, through his lask in a workmanlike manner, nor are we English performers in that capacity must have confined the disposed to look down upon the divine, the lawyer, or the exercise of their talents to the amusement of the vulgar. physician, unless they display gross ignorance of their proNow, as it must be conceded to Mr. Ritson, that almost all session : we hold it enough, that if they do not possess the the English metrical romances which have been preserved highest knowledge of their respective sciences, they can at till the present day, are translated from the French, it may least instruct us on the points we desire to know. But also be allowed, that a class of men employed chiefly in
"mediocribus esse poelis rendering into English the works of others, could not hold
Non di, non homines, non concessere columoæ." so high a station as those who aspired to original composition; and so far the critic has the best of the dispute. But The same is true respecting the professors of painting, of Mr. Ritson has over-driven bis argument, since there was sculpture, of music, and the fine arts in general. If they assuredly a period in English history, when the national exbibit paramount excellence, no situation in society is too minstrels, writing in the national dialect, were, in pro- high for them which their manners enable them to fill; if portion to their merit in their calling, held in honour and they fall short of the highest point of aim, they degenerate respect.
into sign-painters, stone-cutters, common crowders, dogThomas the Rhymer, for example, a minstrel who flourish- grel rhymers, and so forth, the most contemptible of maned in the end of the twelfth century, was not only a man kind. The reason of this is evident. Men must be satisfied of talent in bis art, but of some rank in society; the com with such a supply of their actual wants as can be obtained panion of nobles, and himself a man of landed property. in the circumstances, and should an individual want a coat, He, and his contemporary Kendal, wrote, as we are assured he must employ the village tailor, if Stultze is not to be had. by Robert de Brunne, in a passage already alluded to, a But if he seeks for delight, the case is quite different; and
* Select Remains of Popular Pieces of poetry. Edinburgh, 1822.
* Tbat monarch first used the vernacular English dialect in a molto which he displayed on his shield at a celebrated tournament. The legend which graced the representation of a wbite sweo on the king's buckler, ran thus :
“Ha! ba! the whyte swan!
By Goddis soule I am thy man." 3 [The learned editor of Warton's History of English Poetry, is of opioion
tbat Sir Walter Scott misinterpreled the passage referred to. De Brunne, according to this author's test, says of the elder reciters of the metrical romance,
"They said it for pride and nobleye,
That non were soulk as they;" i. e. they recited it in a style so lofty and noble, that none have since equalled them.- Warlon, edit. 1824, vol. I. p. 183.-ED.) See the edition printed by Mr. Watson Taylor, for the Roxburghe Club.