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The Lay of the Last Minstrel.







The Poem, now offered to the Public, is intended to illustrate the customs and manners which anciently prevailed on the Borders of England and Scotland. The inhabitants living in a state partly pastoral and partly warlike, and combining habits of constant depredation with the influence of a rude spirit of chivalry, were often engaged in scenes highly susceptible of poetical ornament. As the description of scenery and manners was more the object of the Author than a combined and regular narrative, the plan of the Ancient Melrical Romance was adopted, which allows greater latitude, in this respect, than would be consistent with the dignity of a regular Poem.1 The same model offered other facilities, as it permits an occasional alteration of measure, which, in some degree, authorises the change of rhythm in the text. The machinery, also, adopted from popular belief, would have secmod puerile in a Poem which did not partake of the rudeness of the old Ballad, or Metrical Romance.

For these reasons, the Poem was put into the mouth of an ancient Minstrel, the last of the race, who, as he is. supdosed to have survived the Revolution, might have caught somewhat of the refinement of modern poetry, without losing the simplicity of his original model. The date of the Tale itself is about the middle of the sixteenth cen tury, when most of the personages actually flourished. The time occupied by the action is Three Nights and Three Days,3


THE way was long, the wind was cold,
The Minstrel was infirm and old;

"The chief excellence of The Lay consists in the beauty of the descriptions of local scenery, and the accurate picture of customs and manners among the Scottish Borderers at the time it refers to. The various exploits and adventures which occur in those half-civilized times, when the bands of government were so loosely twisted, that every man depended for safety more on his own arm, or the prowess of his chief, than on the civil power, may be said to hold a middle rank between history and private anecdote. War is always most picturesque where it is least formed into a science; it has most variety and interest where the prowess and activity of individuals has most play; and the nocturnal expedition of Diomed and Ulysses to seize the chariot and horses of Rhesus, or a raid of the Scotts or the Kerrs to drive cattle, will make a better figure in verse, than all the battles of the great King of Prussia. The sleuthdog, the beacon-fires, the Jedwood-axes, the moss-troopers, the yell of the slogan, and all the irregular warfare of predatory expeditions, or feuds of hereditary vengeance, are far more captivating to the imagination than a park of artillery and battalions of well-drilled soldiers."-Annual Review, 1804.

"It must be observed, that there is this difference between the license of the old romancer, and that assumed by Mr. Scott; the aberrations of the first are usually casual and alight; those of the other premeditated and systematic. The old romancer may be compared to a man who trusts his reins to his horse; his palfrey often blunders, and occasionally breaks his pace, sometimes from vivacity, oftener through indolence. Mr. Scott sets out with the intention of diversifying

His wither'd cheek, and tresses gray,
Seem'd to have known a better day;
The harp, his sole remaining joy,
Was carried by an orphan boy.

his journey by every variety of motion. He is now at a trot,
now at a gallop; nay, he sometimes stops, as if to

'Make graceful caprioles, and prance
Between the pillars.'

A main objection to this plan is to be found in the shock which
the ear receives from violent and abrupt transitions. On the
other hand, it must be allowed, that as different species of
verse are individually better suited to the expression of the
different ideas, sentiments, and passions, which it is the ob-
ject of poetry to convey, the happiest efforts may be produced
by adapting to the subject its most congenial structure of

verse."-Critical Review, 1805.

"From the novelty of its style and subject, and from the spirit of its execution, Mr. Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel kindled a sort of enthusiasm among all classes of readers; and the concurrent voice of the public assigned to it a very exalted rank, which, on more cool and dispassionate examina tion, its numerous essential beauties will enable it to maintain. For vivid richness of colouring and truth of costume, many of its descriptive pictures stand almost unrivalled; it carries us back in imagination to the time of action; and we wander with the poet along Tweedside, or among the wild

glades of Ettrick Forest.”—Monthly Review, May, 1808.

3 "We consider this poem as an attempt to transfer the refinements of modern poetry to the matter and the manner of the ancient metrical romance. The author, enamoured of

The last of all the Bards was he,
Who sung of Border chivalry;
For, welladay! their date was fled,
His tuneful brethren all were dead;
And he, neglected and oppress'd,
Wish'd to be with them, and at rest.'
No more on prancing palfrey borne,
He caroll'd, light as lark at morn;
No longer courted and caress'd,
High placed in hall, a welcome guest,
He pour'd, to lord and lady gay,
The unpremeditated lay:

Old times were changed, old manners gone;
A stranger fill'd the Stuarts' throne;
The bigots of the iron time

Had call'd his harmless art a crime.

A wandering Harper, scorn'd and poor,
He begg'd his bread from door to door.
And tuned, to please a peasant's ear,
The harp, a king had loved to hear.

He pass'd where Newark's stately tower Looks out from Yarrow's birchen bower:

the lofty visions of chivalry, and partial to the strains in which they were formerly embodied, seems to have employed all the resources of his genius in endeavouring to recall them to the favour and admiration of the public, and in adapting to the taste of modern readers a species of poetry which was once the delight of the courtly, but has long ceased to gladden any other eyes than those of the scholar and the antiquary. This is a romance, therefore, composed by a minstrel of the present day; or such a romance as we may suppose would have been written in modern times, if that style of composition had continued to be cultivated, and partakes consequently of the improvements which every branch of literature has received since the time of its desertion."-JEFFREY, April, 1805.

"Turning to the northward, Scott showed us the crags and tower of Smailholme, and behind it the shattered fragment of Erceldoune, and repeated some pretty stanzas ascribed to the last of the real wandering minstrels of this district, by name Burn:

'Sing Erceldoune, and Cowdenkno wes,
Where Homes had ance commanding,
And Drygrange, wi' the milk-white ewes,
'Twixt Tweed and Leader standing.
The bird that flees through Redpath trees
And Gledswood banks each morrow,
May chaunt and sing-Sweet Leader's haughs
And Bonny howms of Yarrow.
But Minstrel Burn cannot assuage
His grief while life endureth,

To see the changes of this age

Which fleeting time procureth;
For mony a place stands in hard case,
Where blythe folks kent nae sorrow,
With Homes that dwelt on Leader side,
And Scotts that dwelt on Yarrow."

Life, vol. vi. p. 78. "This is a massive square tower, now unroofed and ruinous, surrounded by an outward wall, defended by round flanking turrets. It is most beautifully situated, about three miles from Selkirk, upon the banks of the Yarrow, a fierce und precipitous stream, which unites with the Ettricke about a mile beneath the castle.

"Newark Castle was built by James II. The royal arms, with the unicorn, are engraved on a stone in the western side of the tower. There was a much more ancient castle in its

The Minstrel gazed with wishful eye-
No humbler resting-place was nigh,
With hesitating step at last,

The embattled portal arch he pass'd,
Whose ponderous grate and massy bar
Had oft roll'd back the tide of war,
But never closed the iron door
Against the desolate and poor.
The Duchess marked his weary pace,

His timid mien, and reverend face,
And bade her page the menials tell,
That they should tend the old man well:
For she had known adversity,
Though born in such a high degree;
In pride of power, in beauty's bloom,
Had wept o'er Monmouth's bloody tomb!

When kindness had his wants supplied, And the old man was gratified, Began to rise his minstrel pride: And he began to talk anon,

Of good Earl Francis, dead and gone,

immediate vicinity, called Auldwark, founded, it is said, by Alexander III. Both were designed for the royal residence when the king was disposed to take his pleasure in the extensive forest of Ettricke. Various grants occur in the records of the Privy Seal, bestowing the keeping of the Castle of Newark upon different barons. There is a popular tradition that it was once seized, and held out by the outlaw Murray, a noted character in song, who only surrendered Newark upon condition of being made hereditary sheriff of the forest. A long ballad, containing an account of this transaction, is preserved in the Border Minstrelsy, (vol. i. p. 369.) Upon the marriage of James IV. with Margaret, sister of Henry VIII., the Castle of Newark, with the whole Forest of Ettricke, was assigned to her as a part of her jointure lands. But of this she could make little advantage; for, after the death of her husband, she is found complaining heavily, that Buccleuch had seized upon these lands. Indeed, the office of keeper was latterly held by the family of Buccleuch, and with so firm a grasp, that when the Forest of Ettricke was disparked, they obtained a grant of the Castle of Newark in property. It was within the court-yard of this castle that Gencral Lesly did military execution upon the prisoners whom he had taken at the battle of Philiphaugh. The castle continued to be an occasional seat of the Buccleuch family for more than a century; and here, it is said, the Duchess of Monmouth and Buccleuch was brought up. For this reason, probably, Mr. Scott has chosen to make it the scene in which the Lay of the Last Minstrel is recited in her presence, and for her amusement."-SCHETKY's Illustrations of the Lay of the Last


It may be added that Bowhill was the favourite residence of Lord and Lady Dalkeith, (afterwards Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch), at the time when the poem was composed; the ruins of Newark are all but included in the park attached to that modern seat of the family; and Sir Walter Scott, no doubt, was influenced in his choice of the locality, by the predilection of the charming lady who suggested the subject of his Lay for the scenery of the Yarrow-a beautiful walk on whose banks, leading from the house to the old castle, is called, in memory of her, the Duchess's Walk.-ED. 3 Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth, representative of the ancient Lords of Buccleuch, and widow of the unfor tunate James, Duke of Monmouth, who was beheaded in 1695. 4 Francis Scott, Earl of Buccleuch, father of the Ducuose

And of Earl Walter, rest him, God!

A braver ne'er to battle rode;
And how full many a tale he knew,
Of the old warriors of Buccleuch :
And, would the noble Duchess deign
To listen to an old man's strain,

Though stiff his hand, his voice though weak,
He thought even yet, the sooth to speak,
That, if she loved the harp to hear,
He could make music to her ear.

The humble boon was soon obtain'd;
The Aged Minstrel audience gain'd.
But, when he reach'd the room of state,
Where she, with all her ladies, sate,
Perchance he wish'd his boon denied:
For, when to tune his harp he tried,
His trembling hand had lost the ease,
Which marks security to please;
And scenes, long past, of joy and pain,
Came wildering o'er his aged brain-
He tried to tune his harp in vain ! 2
The pitying Duchess praised its chime,
And gave him heart, and gave him time,
Till every string's according glee
Was blended into harmony.

And then, he said, he would full fain
Ile could recall an ancient strain,
He never thought to sing again.
It was not framed for village churls,
But for high dames and mighty ear's;
He had play'd it to King Charles the Good,
When he kept court in Holyrood;
And much he wish'd, yet fear'd, to try
The long-forgotten melody.
Amid the strings his fingers stray'd,
And an uncertain warbling made,
And oft he shook his hoary head.
But when he caught the measure wild,
The old man raised his face, and smiled;

And lighten'd up his faded eye,
With all a poet's ecstasy!

In varying cadence, soft or strong,
He swept the sounding chords along:
The present scene, the future lot,
His toils, his wants, were all forgot:
Cold diffidence, and age's frost,
In the full tide of song were lost;
Each blank, in faithless memory void,
The poet's glowing thought supplied;
And, while his harp responsive rung,
'Twas thus the LATEST MINSTREL sung.3

The Lay of the Last Minstrel.



THE feast was over in Branksome tower.4
And the Ladye had gone to her secret bower;
Her bower that was guarded by word and by spell.
Deadly to hear, and deadly to tell-

Jesu Maria, shield us well!

No living wight, save the Ladye alone,
Had dared to cross the threshold stone.


The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all;
Knight, and page, and household squire,
Loiter'd through the lofty hall,

Or crowded round the ample fire:
The stag-hounds, weary with the chase,

Lay stretch'd upon the rushy floor,
And urged, in dreams, the forest race,
From Teviot-stone to Eskdale-moor."

I Walter, Earl of Buccleuch, grandfather of the Duchess, and a celebrated warrior.

"Mr. W. Dundas, (see Life of Scott, vol. ii. p. 226,) says, that Pitt repeated the lines, describing the old harper's cmbarrassment when asked to play, and said,-"This is a sort of thing which I might have expected in painting, but could

aever have fancied capable of being given in poetry.'"

8 "In the very first rank of poetical excellence, we are

5 "The ancient romance owes much of its interest to the lively picture which it affords of the times of chivalry, and of those usages, manners, and institutions, which we have been accustomed to associate in our minds, with a certain combination of magnificence with simplicity, and ferocity with romantic honour. The representations contained in thoso performances, however, are, for the most part too rude and

naked to give complete satisfaction. The execution is always extremely unequal; and though the writer sometimes touches upon the appropriate feeling with great effect and felicity, still this appears to be done more by accident than design; and he wanders away immediately into all sorts of ridiculous or uninteresting details, without any apparent consciousness of incongruity. These defects Mr. Scott has corrected with admirable address and judgment in the greater part of the work now before us; and while he has exhibited a very strik

Inclined to place the introductory and concluding lines of every canto, in which the ancient strain is suspended, and the feelings and situation of the minstrel himself described in the words of the author. The elegance and the beauty of this setting, if we may so call it, though entirely of modern workmanship, appears to us to be fully more worthy of admiration than the bolder relief of the antiques which it encloses, and leads us to regret that the author should have wasted, in imita-ing and impressive picture of the old feudal usages and instition and antiquarian researches, so much of those powers which seem fully equal to the task of raising him an independent reputation." JEFFREY.

• See Appendix, Note A.

tutions, he has shown still greater talent in engrafting upon those descriptions all the tender or magnanimous emotions to which the circumstances of the story naturally give rise. Without impairing the antique air of the whole piece, or vio lating the simplicity of the ballad style, he has contrived.


Nine-and-twenty knights of fame

Hung their shields in Branksome-Hall;'
Nine-and-twenty squires of name

Brought them their steeds to bower from stall;
Nine-and-twenty yeomen tall
Waited, duteous, on them all:

They were all knights of mettle true,
Kinsmen to the bold Buccleuch.


Ton of them were sheathed in steel,
With belted sword, and spur on heel:
They quitted not their harness bright,
Neither by day, nor yet by night:

They lay down to rest,
With corslet laced,

Pillow'd on buckler cold and hard;

They carved at the meal

With gloves of steel,

And they drank the red wine through the helmet barr'd.


Ten squires, ten yeomen, mail-clad men,
Waited the beck of the warders ten;
Thirty steeds, both fleet and wight,
Stood saddled in stable day and night,
Barbed with frontlet of steel, I trow,
And with Jedwood-axe at saddlebow ;
A hundred more fed free in stall :-
Such was the custom of Branksome-Hall.


Why do these steeds stand ready dight?
Why watch these warriors, arm'd, by night?—
They watch, to hear the blood-hound baying :
They watch to hear the war-horn braying;
To see St. George's red cross streaming,
To see the midnight beacon gleaming:
They watch, against Southern force and guile,
Lest Scroop, or Howard, or Percy's powers,
Threaten Branksome's lordly towers,
From Warkworth, or Naworth, or merry Car-

this way, to impart a much greater dignity and more powerful interest to his production, than could ever be obtained by the unskilful and unsteady delineations of the old romancers. Nothing, we think, can afford a finer illustration of this remark, than the opening stanzas of the whole poem; they transport us at once into the days of knightly daring and feudal hostility, at the same time that they suggest, in a very interesting way, all those softer sentiments which arise out of some parts of the description.""-JEFFREY.

See Appendix, Note B.

See Appendix, Note C.

See Appendix, Note D, and compare these stanzas with the description of Jamie Telfer's appearance at BranksomeHall, (Border Minstrelsy, vol. ii. p. 5,) to claim the protection of "Auld Buccleuch"-and the ensuing scene, (page 9,)


Such is the custom of Branksome-Hall.—4

Many a valiant knight is here;

But he, the chieftain of them all,

His sword hangs rusting on the wall,
Beside his broken spear.
Bards long shall tell

How Lord Walter fell !5

When startled burghers fled, afar,
The furies of the Border war;
When the streets of high Dunedin
Saw lances gleam, and falchions redden,
And heard the slogan's deadly yell-
Then the Chief of Branksome fell.


Can piety the discord heal,

Or stanch the death-feud's enmity?
Can Christian lore, can patriot zeal,
Can love of blessed charity?
No! vainly to each holy shrine,

In mutual pilgrimage, they drew ;
Implored, in vain, the grace divine

For chiefs, their own red falchions slew: While Cessford owns the rule of Carr,

While Ettrick boasts the line of Scott, The slaughter'd chiefs, the mortal jar, The havoc of the feudal war,

Shall never, never be forgot !


In sorrow o'er Lord Walter's bier
The warlike foresters had bent;
And many a flower, and many a tear,

Old Teviot's maids and matrons lent:
But o'er her warrior's bloody bier
The Ladye dropp'd nor flower nor tear !"
Vengeance, deep-brooding o'er the slain,

Had lock'd the source of softer woe; And burning pride, and high disdain, Forbade the rising tear to flow; Until, amid his sorrowing clan,

Her son lisp'd from the nurse's knee"And if I live to be a man,

My father's death revenged shall be !"

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Then fast the mother's tears did seek

To dew the infant's kindling cheek.


All loose her negligent attire,

All loose her golden hair,

Hung Margaret o'er her slaughter'd sire, And wept in wild despair,

But not alone the bitter tear

Had filial grief supplied;

For hopeless love, and anxious fear,
Had lent their mingled tide:
Nor in her mother's alter'd eye
Dared she to look for sympathy.
Her lover, 'gainst her father's clan,
With Carr in arms had stood,1
When Mathouse-burn to Melrose ran,
All purple with their blood;
And well she knew, her mother dread,
Before Lord Cranstoun she should wed,"
Would see her on her dying bed.

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And of his skill, as bards avow,
He taught that Ladye fair,
Till to her bidding she could bow
The viewless forms of air.7
And now she sits in secret bower,
In old Lord David's western tower,
And listens to a heavy sound,
That moans the mossy turrets round.
Is it the roar of Teviot's tide,

That chafes against the scaur's" red side?
Is it the wind that swings the oaks?
Is it the echo from the rocks?
What may it be, the heavy sound,

That moans old Branksome's turrets round?

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And, from the turrets round,

Loud whoops the startled owl. In the hall, both squire and knight Swore that a storm was near, And looked forth to view the night? But the night was still and clear!


From the sound of Teviot's tide,
Chafing with the mountain's side,
From the groan of the wind-swung oak,
From the sullen echo of the rock,
From the voice of the coming storm,

The Ladye knew it well!

It was the Spirit of the Flood that spoke, And he called on the Spirit of the Fell.



"Sleep'st thou, brother?"—


-"Brother, nay

On my hills the moon-beams play.
From Craik-cross to Skelfhill-pen,
By every rill, in every glen,

Merry elves their morris pacing,
To aërial minstrelsy,
Emerald rings on brown heath tracing;

Trip it deft and merrily.

Up, and mark their nimble feet!
Up, and list their music sweet!"—



"Tears of an imprison'd maiden

Mix with my polluted stream; Margaret of Branksome, sorrow-laden, Mourns beneath the moon's pale beam. Tell me, thou, who view'st the stars, When shall cease these feudal jars? What shall be the maiden's fate? Who shall be the maiden's mate ?"—



"Arthur's slow wain his course doth roll,
In utter darkness round the pole;
The Northern Bear lowers black and grim;
Orion's studded belt is dim;
Twinkling faint, and distant far,
Shimmers through mist each planet star;
Ill may I read their high decree!
But no kind influence deign they shower
On Teviot's tide, and Branksome's tower,
Till pride be quell'd, and love be free."

5 First Edition-" St. Kentigerne's hall."-St. Mungo, or Kentigerne, is the patron saint of Glasgow.

6 See Appendix, Note L. 7 See Appendix, Note M.

8 Scaur, a precipitous bank of earth.

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