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considered, and a fair length of time being allowed, The usual stanza which was selected as the most it is no wonder that, while the Scottish people retained natural to the language and the sweetest to the ear, their Celtic music, and many of their Celtic customs, after the complex system of the more courtly meatogether with their Celtic dynasty, they should never- sures, used by Thomas of Erceldoune, was laid aside, theless have adopted, throughout the Lowlands, the was that which, when originally introduced, we very Saxon language, while in the Highlands they retained often find arranged in two lines, thus:the Celtic dialect, along with the dress, arms, man
“ Earl Douglas on his milk-white steed, most like a baron ners, and government of their fathers.
bold, There was, for a time, a solemn national recogni- Rode foremost of his company, whose armour shone like sance that the Saxon language and poetry had not gold;" originally been that of the royal family. For, at the but which, after being divided into four, constitutes coronations of the kings of Scotland, previous to Alex- what is now generally called the ballad stanza, ander III., it was a part of the solemnity, that a Celtic bard stepped forth, so soon as the king assumed his " Earl Douglas on his milk-white steed,
Most like a baron bold, seat upon the fated stone, and recited the genealogy
Rode foremost of his company, of the monarch in Celtic verse, setting forth his de
Whose armour shone like gold." scent, and the right which he had by birth to occupy the place of sovereignty. For a time, no doubt, the The breaking of the lines contains a plainer intiCeltic songs and poems remained current in the Low- mation how the stanza ought to be read, than every lands, while any remnant of the language yet lasted. one could gather from the original mode of writing The Gaelic or Irish bards, we are also aware, occa- out the poem, where the position of the cæsura, or insionally strolled into the Lowlands, where their music flection of voice, is left to the individual's own taste. might be received with favour, even after their reci- This was sometimes exchanged for a stanza of six tation was no longer understood. But though these lines, the third and sixth rhyming together. For aboriginal poets showed themselves at festivals and works of more importance and pretension, a more other places of public resort, it does not appear that, complicated versification was still retained, and may as in Homer's time, they were honoured with high be found in the tale of Ralph Coilzear, Adv places at the board, and savoury morsels of the chine; tures of Arthur at the Tarn-Wathelyn, Sir Gawain, but they seem rather to have been accounted fit com- and Sir Gologras, and other scarce romances. A spe. pany for the feigned fools and sturdy beggars, with cimen of this structure of verse has been handed down whom they were ranked by a Scottish statute. to our times in the stanza of Christ Kirk on the Green,
Time was necessary wholly to eradicate one lan- transmitted by King James I., to Allan Ramsay and guage and introduce another ; but it is remarkable to Burns. The excessive passion for alliteration, which that, at the death of Alexander the Third, the last formed a rule of the Saxon poetry, was also retained Scottish king of the pure Celtic race, the popular la- in the Scottish poems of a more elevated character, ment for his death was composed in Scoto-English, though the more ordinary minstrels and ballad-makers and, though closely resembling the modern dialect, is threw off the restraint. the earliest example we have of that language, whe- The varieties of stanza thus adopted for popular ther in prose or poetry. About the same time flou- poetry were not, we may easily suppose, left long un. rished the celebrated Thomas the Rhymer, whose employed. In frontier regions, where men are conpoem, written in English, or Lowland Scottish, with tinually engaged in active enterprise, betwixt the task the most anxious attention both to versification and of defending themselves and annoying their neighalliteration, forms, even as it now exists, a very curious bours, they may be said to live in an atmosphere of specimen of the early romance. Such complicated danger, the excitation of which is peculiarly favourconstruction was greatly too concise for the public able to the encouragement of poetry. Hence, the exear, which is best amused by a looser diction, in which pressions of Lesly the historian, quoted in the follownumerous repetitions, and prolonged descriptions, ing Introduction, 4 in which he paints the delight taken enable the comprehension of the audience to keep up by the Borderers in their peculiar species of music, with the voice of the singer or reciter, and supply the and the rhyming ballads in which they celebrated the gaps which in gerceral must have taken place, either feats of their ancestors, or recorded their own ingenithrough a failure of attention in the hearers, or of ous stratagems in predatory warfare. In the same voice and distinct enunciation on the part of the min- Introduction, the reader will find the reasons alleged strel.
why the taste for song was and must have been longer
1 A curious account of the reception of an Irish or Celtic 3 This, and most of the other romances here referred to, bard at a festival, is given in Sir John Holland's Buke of the may be found reprinted in a volume, entitled, “ Select ReHoulat, Bannatyne edition, p. liii.
mains of the Ancient Popular Poetry of Scotland," (Edin. 9 “Whan Alexander our king was ded,
1822. Small 4to.) Edited by Mr. David Laing, and inscribed Wha Scotland led in luve and lee,
to Sir Walter Scott. Away was sons of ale and bred, Of wine and wax, of game and glee," &c.
+ See Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, vol. i. p. 213.
preserved on the Border than in the interior of the of an anonymous editor of three 12mo volumes, which country.
appeared in London, with engravings. These volumes Having thus made some remarks on early poetry came out in various years, in the beginning of the 18th in general, and on that of Scotland in particular, the century,' The editor writes with some flippancy, but Editor's purpose is, to mention the fate of some pre- with the air of a person superior to the ordinary drudvious attempts to collect ballad poetry, and the prin- gery of a mere collector. His work appears to have ciples of selection and publication which have been been got up at considerable expense, and the geneadopted by various editors of learning and informa- ral introductions and historical illustrations which are tion; and although the present work chiefly regards prefixed to the various ballads, are written with an acthe Ballads of Scotland, yet the investigation must curacy of which such a subject had not till then been necessarily include some of the principal collections deemed worthy. The principal part of the collection among the English also.
consists of stall-ballads, neither possessing much poeOf manuscript records of ancient ballads, very few tical merit, nor any particular rarity or curiosity. Still have been yet discovered. It is probable that the this original Miscellany holds a considerable value minstrels, seldom knowing either how to read or amongst collectors; and as the three volumes-being write, trusted to their well-exercised memories. Nor published at different times—are seldom found togewas it a difficult task to acquire a sufficient stock in ther, they sell for a high price when complete. trade for their purpose, since the Editor has not only may now turn our eyes to Scotland, where the known many persons capable of retaining a very large facility of the dialect, which cuts off the consonants in collection of legendary lore of this kind, but there was the termination of the words, so as greatly to simplia period in his own life, when a memory that ought to fy the task of rhyming, and the habits, dispositions, have been charged with more valuable matter, en- and manners of the people, were of old so favourable abled him to recollect as many of these old songs as to the composition of ballad-poetry, that, had the Scotwould have occupied several days in the recitation. tish songs been preserved, there is no doubt a very
The press, however, at length superseded the ne- curious history might have been composed by means of cessity of such exertions of recollection, and sheafs of minstrelsy only, from the reign of Alexander III. in ballads issued from it weekly, for the amusement of 1285, down to the close of the Civil Wars in 1745. the sojourners at the alehouse, and the lovers of poe- That materials for such a collection existed, cannot try in grange and hall, where such of the audience as be disputed, since the Scottish historians often refer could not read, had at least read unto them. These to old ballads as anthorities for general tradition. fugitive leaves, generally printed upon broadsides, or But their regular preservation was not to be hoped in small miscellanies called Garlands, and circulating for or expected. Successive garlands of song sprung, amongst persons of loose and careless habits—so far flourished, faded, and were forgotten, in their turn; as books were concerned—were subject to destruction and the names of a few specimens are only preserved, from many causes ; and as the editions in the early to show us how abundant the display of these wild age of printing were probably much limited, even flowers had been. those published as chap-books in the early part of the Like the natural free gifts of Flora, these poetical 18th century, are rarely met with.
garlands can only be successfully sought for where Some persons, however, seem to have had what the land is uncultivated ; and civilisation and increase their contemporaries probably thought the bizarre of learning are sure to banish them, as the plough of taste of gathering and preserving collections of this the agriculturist bears down the mountain daisy. Yet fugitive poetry. Hence the great body of ballads in it is to be recorded with some interest, that the earthe Pepysian collection at Cambridge, made by that liest surviving specimen of the Scottish press, is a Secretary Pepys, whose Diary is so very amusing ; Miscellany of Millar and Chapman,' which preserves and hence the still more valuable deposit, in three a considerable fund of Scottish popular poetry, and volumes folio, in which the late Duke John of Rox- among other things, no bad specimen of the gests of burghe took so much pleasure, that he was often Robin Hood," the English ballad-maker's joy,” and found enlarging it with fresh acquisitions, which he whose renown seems to have been as freshly preserved pasted in and registered with his own hand.
in the north as on the southern shores of the Tweed. The first attempt, however, to reprint a collection There were probably several collections of Scottish balof ballads for a class of readers distinct from those lads and metrical pieces during the seventeenth cenfor whose use the stall-copies were intended, was that tury. A very fine one, belonging to Lord Montagu,
1 "A Collection of Old Ballads, collected from the best and 2 A facsimile reprint, in black-letter, of the Original Tracts most ancient Copies extant, with Introductions, Historical which issued from the press of Walter Chepman and Andro and Critical, illustrated with copperplates." This anonymous Myllar at Edinburgh, in the year 1.508, was published under collection, first published in 1723, was so well received, that the title of “The Knightly Tale of Golagrus and Gawane, and it soon passed to a second edition, and two more volumes other Ancient Poems," in 1827, 4to. The “ jitil geste" of were added in 1723 and 1725. The third edition of the first Robin Hood, referred to in the text, is a fragment of a piece olume is dated 1727.-ED.
contained in Ritson's Collection.-ED.
perished in the fire which consumed Ditton House, ! The most formidable of these were directed by about twenty years ago.
Joseph Ritson, a man of acute observation, profound James Watson, in 1706, published, at Edinburgh, research, and great labour. These valuable attributes a miscellaneous collection in three parts, containing were unhappily combined with an eager irritability of some ancient poetry. But the first editor who seems temper, which induced him to treat antiquarian trifles to have made a determined effort to preserve our an- with the same seriousness which men of the world recient popular poetry, was the well-known Allan Ram- serve for matters of importance, and disposed him to say, in his Evergreen, containing chiefly extracts from drive controversies into personal quarrels, by neglectthe ancient Scottish Makers, whose poems have been ing, in literary debate, the courtesies of ordinary sociepreserved in the Bannatyne Manuscript, but exhibiting ty.* It ought to be said, however, by one who knew amongst them some popular ballads. Amongst these him well, that this irritability of disposition was a conis the Battle of Harlaw, apparently from a modern stitutional and physical infirmity; and that Ritson's ized copy, being probably the most ancient Scottish his- extreme attachment to the severity of truth, correstorical ballad of any length now in existence. He also ponded to the rigour of his criticisms upon the lainserted in the sanie collection, the genuine Scottish bours of others. He seems to have attacked Bishop Border ballad of Johnnie Armstrong, copied from the Percy with the greater animosity, as bearing no goodrecitation of a descendant of the unfortunate hero, in will to the hierarchy, in which that prelate held a disthe sixth generation. This poet also included in the tinguished place. Evergreen, Hardyknute, which, though evidently mo- Ritson's criticism, in which there was too much dern, is a most spirited and beautiful imitation of the horse-play, was grounded on two points of accusation. ancient ballad. In a subsequent collection of lyrical The first point regarded Dr. Percy's definition of the pieces, called the Tea-Table Miscellany, Allan Ram- order and office of minstrels, which Ritson considered say inserted several old ballads, such as Cruel Bar- as designedly overcharged, for the sake of giving an bara Allan, The Bonnie Earl of Murray, There came a undue importance to his subject. The second objecGhost to Margaret's door, and two or three others. tion respected the liberties which Dr. Percy had taken But his unhappy plan of writing new words to old with his materials, in adding to, retrenching, and imtunes, without at the same time preserving the an- proving them, so as to bring them nearer to the taste cient verses, led him, with the assistance of some of his own period. We will take some brief notice of ingenious young gentlemen,” to throw aside many both topics. originals, the preservation of which would have been First, Dr. Percy, in the first edition of his work, much more interesting than any thing which has been certainly laid himself open to the charge of having substituted in their stead.
given an inaccurate, and somewhat exaggerated ac. In fine, the task of collecting and illustrating an- count, of the English Minstrels, whom he defined to cient popular poetry, whether in England or Scot- be an“ order of men in the middle ages, who subsistland, was never executed by a competent person, pos- ed by the arts of poetry and music, and sung to the sessing the necessary powers of selection and annota- harp the verses which they themselves composed.” tion, till it was undertaken by Dr. Percy, afterwards The reverend editor of the Reliques produced in supBishop of Dromore in Ireland. This reverend gen- port of this definition many curious quotations, to show tleman, himself a poet, and ranking high among the that in many instances the persons of these minstrels literati of the day, commanding access to the indivi- had been honoured and respected, their performances duals and institutions which could best afford him applauded and rewarded by the great and the courtmaterials, gave the public the result of his researches ly, and their craft imitated by princes themselves. in a work entitled “ Reliques of Ancient English Poe- Against both these propositions, Ritson made a detry," in three volumes, published in London 1765, termined opposition. He contended, and probably which has since gone through four editions. The with justice, that the minstrels were not necessarily taste with which the materials were chosen, the ex- poets, or in the regular habit of composing the verses treme felicity with which they were illustrated, the which they sung to the harp; and indeed, that the display at once of antiquarian knowledge and classi- word minstrel, in its ordinary acceptation, meant no cal reading which the collection indicated, render it more than musician. difficult to imitate, and impossible to excel, a work Dr. Percy, from an amended edition of his Essay which must always be held among the first of its class on Minstrelsy, prefixed to the fourth edition of the in point of merit, though not actually the foremost in Reliques of Ancient Poetry, seems to have been, to a point of time. But neither the high character of the certain point, convinced by the critic's reasoning ; work, nor the rank and respectability of the author, for he has extended the definition impugned by Ritcould protect him or his labours, from the invidious son, and the minstrels are thus described as singing attacks of criticism.
verses “composed by themselves or others." This we
I See Appendix, Note A.
of Dromore, at the time when he was collecting the materials of the " Border Minstrelsy."-Io.
See Appendix, Note C.
apprehend to be a tenablo position ; for, as on the the distinction betwixt the respectability of the French one hand it seems too broad an averment to say that minstrels, and the degradation of the same class of all minstrels were by profession poets, so on the other, men in England, Mr. Ritson plausibly alleged to be, it is extravagant to affirm, that men who wero con- that the English language, a mixed speech betwist stantly in the habit of reciting verse, should not fre- Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French, was not known quently have acquired that of composing it, especially at the court of the Anglo-Norman kings until the when their bread depended on giving pleasure ; and the reign of Edward III. ;2 and that, therefore, until to have the power of producing novelty, is a great a very late period, and when the lays of minstrelsy step towards that desirable end. No unprejudiced were going out of fashion, English performers in that reader, therefore, can have any hesitation in adopting capacity must have confined the exercise of their Bishop Percy's definition of the minstrels, and their talents to the amusement of the vulgar. Now, as it occupation, as qualified in the fourth edition of his must be conceded to Mr. Ritson, that almost all the Essay, implying that they were sometimes poets, English metrical romances which have been preserved sometimes the mere reciters of the poetry of others. till the present day, are translated from the French,
On the critic's second proposition, Dr. Percy suc- it may also be allowed, that a class of men employed cessfully showed, that at no period of history was the chiefly in rendering into English the works of others, word minstrel applied to instrumental music exclu- could not hold so high a station as those who aspired sively ; and he has produced sufficient evidence, that to original composition ; and so far the critic has the the talents of the profession were as frequently em- best of the dispute. But Mr. Ritson has over-driven ployed in chanting or reciting poetry as in playing his argument, since there was assureally a period in the mere tunes. There is appearance of distinction English history, when the national minstrels, writing being sometimes made between minstrel recitations in the national dialect, were, in proportion to their and minstrelsy of music alone ; and we may add a merit in their calling, held in honour and respect. curious instance, to those quoted by the Bishop. It is Thomas the Rhymer, for example, a minstrel who from the singular ballad respecting Thomas of Ercel- flourished in the end of the twelfth century, was not doune, which announces the proposition, that tongue only a man of talent in his art, but of some rank in is chief of minstrelsy.
society; the companion of nobles, and himself a man We may also notice, that the word minstrel being of landed property. He, and his contemporary Kenin fact derived from the Minné-singer of the Ger- dal, wrote, as we are assured by Robert de Brunne, mans, means, in its primary sense, one who sings of in a passage already alluded to, a kind of English, love, a sense totally inapplicable to a mere instrumen- which was designed for “pride and nobleye,” 3 and tal musician.
not for such inferior persons as Robert himself adA second general point on which Dr. Percy was dressed, and to whose comprehension he avowedly fiercely attacked by Mr. Ritson, was also one on which lowered his language and structure of versification. both the parties might claim a right to sing Te Deum. There existed, therefore, during the time of this hisIt respected the rank or status which was held by the torian, a more refined dialect of the English language, minstrels in society during the middle ages. On this used by such composers of popular poetry as moved point the editor of the Reliques of Ancient Poetry in a higher circle ; and there can be no doubt, that had produced the most satisfactory evidence, that, at while their productions were held in such high esteem, the courts of the Anglo-Norman princes, the profes- the authors must have been honoured in proportion. sors of the gay science were the favourite solacers of The education bestowed upon James I. of Scotland, the leisure hours of princes, who did not themselves when brought up under the charge of Henry IV., disdain to share their tuneful labours, and imitate comprehended both music and the art of vernacular their compositions. Mr. Ritson replied to this with poetry; in other words, Minstrelsy in both branches. great ingenuity,arguing, that such instances of respect That poetry, of which the King left several specimens, paid to French minstrels reciting in their native lan- was, as is well known, English ; nor is it to be supguage in the court of Norman monarchs, though held 'posed that a prince, upon whose education such seduin Britain, argued nothing in favour of English artists lous care was bestowed, would have been instructed professing the same trade; and of whose compositions, in an art which, if we are to believe Mr. Ritson, was and not of those existing in the French language, Dr. degraded to the last degree, and discreditable to its Percy professed to form his collection. The reason of professors. The same argument is strengthened by
| Select Remains of Popular Pieces of Poetry. Edinburgh, 3 The learved editor of Warton's History of English Poe1922.
try, is of opinion tit Sir Walter Scott misinterpreted the 2 That monarch first used the vernacular English dialect passage referred to. De Brunne, according to this author's in a motto which he displayed on his shield at a celebrated text, says of the elder reciters of the metrical romance, tournament. The legend which graced the representation of
“ They said it for pride and noblese, a white swan on the king's buckler, ran thus :
That non were soulk as they ;”
i. e. they recited it in a style so lofty and noble, that none “ Ha! ha! the whyte swan!
hare since equalled them.-Warton, pril. 1824, vol. i. p. 183 By Goddis soule I am thy man."
the poetical exercises of the Duke of Orleans, ili Eng- greater part of the minstrels, practising their profeslish, written during his captivity after the battle of sion in scenes of vulgar mirth and debauchery, humbAgincourt.' It could not be supposed that the noble ling their art to please the ears of drunken clowns, prisoner was to solace his hours of imprisonment with and living with the dissipation natural to men whose a degrading and vulgar species of composition. precarious subsistence is, according to the ordinary
We could produce other instances to show that this phrase, from hand to mouth only, should fall under acute critic has carried his argument considerably too general contempt, while the stars of the profession, to far. But we prefer taking a general view of the sub- use a modern phrase, looked down on them from the ject, which seems to explain clearly how contradic- distant empyrean, as the planets do upon those shoottory evidence should exist on it, and why instances of ing exhalations arising from gross vapours in the great personal respect to individual minstrels, and a nether atmosphere. high esteem of the art, are quite reconcilable with The debate, therefore, resembles the apologue of the much contempt thrown on the order at large. gold and silver shield. Dr. Percy looked on the min
All professors of the fine arts--all those who con- strel in the palmy and exalted state to which, no tribute, not to the necessities of life, but to the enjoy- doubt, many were elevated by their talents, like those ments of society, hold their professional respectability who possess excellence in the fine arts in the present by the severe tenure of exhibiting excellence in their day; and Ritson considered the reverse of the medal, department. We are well enough satisfied with the when the poor and wandering glee-man was glad to tradesman who goes through his task in a workman- purchase his bread by singing his ballads at the alelike manner, nor are we disposed to look down upon house, wearing a fantastic habit, and latterly sinking the divine, the lawyer, or the physician, unless they into a mere crowder upon an untuned fiddle, accomdisplay gross ignorance of their profession : we hold panying his rude strains with a ruder ditty, the helpit enough, that if they do not possess the highest less associate of drunken revellers, and marvellously knowledge of their respective sciences, they can at afraid of the constable and parish-beadle. The difleast instruct us on the points we desire to know. ference betwixt those holding the extreme positions But
of highest and lowest in such a profession, cannot “ mediocribus esse poetis
surely be more marked than that which separated Non di, non homines, non concessere columnæ."
David Garrick or John Kemble from the outcasts of
a strolling company, exposed to penury, indigence, The same is true respecting the professors of paint and persecution according to law.3 ing, of sculpture, of music, and the fine arts in general. There was still another and more important subject If they exhibit paramount excellence, no situation in of debate between Dr. Percy and his hostile critic. society is too high for them which their manners en- The former, as a poet and a man of taste, was tempted able them to fill; if they fall short of the highest point to take such freedoms with his original ballads as of aim, they degenerate into sign-painters, stone- might enable him to please a more critical age than cutters, common crowders, doggrel rhymers, and so that in which they were composed. Words were forth, the most contemptible of mankind. The reason thus altered, phrases improved, and whole verses of this is evident. Men must be satisfied with such were inserted or omitted at pleasure. Such freedoms a supply of their actual wants as can be obtained in were especially taken with the poems published from the circumstances, and should an individual want a a folio manuscript in Dr. Percy's own possession, very coat, he must employ the village tailor, if Stultze is curious from the miscellaneous nature of its contents, not to be had. But if he seeks for delight, the case but unfortunately having many of the leaves mutilated, is quite different; and he that cannot hear Pasta or and injured in other respects, by the gross carelessSontag, would be little solaced for the absence of ness and ignorance of the transcriber. Anxious to these sirens, by the strains of a crack-voiced ballad-avail himself of the treasures which this manuscript singer. Nay, on the contrary, the offer of such in-contained, the editor of the Reliques did not hesitate adequate compensation would only be regarded as an to repair and renovate the songs which he drew from insult, and resented accordingly.
this corrupted yet curious source, and to accommoThe theatre affords the most appropriate example date them with such emendations as might recomof what we mean. The first circles in society are mend them to the modern taste. open to persons eminently distinguished in the drama; For these liberties with his subject, Ritson censured and their rewards are, in proportion to those who Dr. Percy in the most uncompromising terms, accused profess the useful arts, incalculably higher. But those him, in violent language, of interpolation and forgery, who lag in the rear of the dramatic art are propor- and insinuated that there existed no such thing in tionally poorer and more degraded than those who rerum natura as that folio manuscript, so often referred are the lowest of a useful trade or profession. These to as the authority of originals inserted in the Reliques. instances will enable us readily to explain why the In this charge, the eagerness of Ritson again betrayed
1 See the edition printed by Mr. Watson Taylor, for the Roxburghe Club.
o See Appendix, Note D.