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cessary for composing such poems are not the portion different nations differs still more widely in the degree of every man in the tribe; that the bard, to reach ex- of excellence which it attains. This must depend in cellence in his art, must possess something more than some measure, no doubt, on the temper and manners a full command of words and phrases, and the knack of the people, or their proximity to those spirit-stirring of arranging them in such form as ancient examples events which are naturally selected as the subject of have fixed upon as the recognised structure of na- poetry, and on the more comprehensive or energetic tional verse. The tribe speedily become sensible, that character of the language spoken by the tribe. But besides this degree of mechanical facility, which (like the progress of the art is far more dependent upon making what are called at school nonsense verses) the rise of some highly gifted individual, possessing in may be attained by dint of memory and practice, much a pre-eminent and uncommon degree the powers de higher qualifications are demanded. A keen and manded, whose talents influence the taste of a whole active power of observation, capable of perceiving at a nation, and entail on their posterity and language a glance the leading circumstances from which the in- character almost indelibly sacred. In this respect cident described derives its character; quick and Homer stands alone and unrivalled, as a light from powerful feelings, to enable the bard to comprehend whose lamp the genius of successive ages, and of disand delineate those of the actors in his piece; and a tant nations, has caught fire and illumination; and command of language, alternately soft and elevated, who, though the early poet of a rude age, has purand suited to express the conceptions which he had chased for the era he has celebrated, so much rever. formed in his mind, are all necessary to eminence in ence, that, not daring to bestow on it the term of the poetical art.
barbarous, we distinguish it as the heroic period. Above all, to attain the highest point of his profes- No other poet (sacred and inspired authors excepted) sion, the poet must have that original power of em- ever did, or ever will, possess the same influence over bodying and detailing circumstances, which can place posterity, in so many distant lands, as has been acbefore the eyes of others a scene which only exists in quired by the blind old man of Chios; yet we are ashis own imagination. This last high and creative sured that his works, collected by the pious care of faculty, namely, that of impressing the mind of the Pisistratus, who caused to be united into their present hearers with scenes and sentiments having no ex- form those divine poems, would otherwise, if preserved istence save through their art, has procured for the at all, have appeared to su ling generations in the bards of Greece the term of Ilonons, which, as it sin- humble state of a collection of detached ballads, congularly happens, is literally translated by the Scottish nected only as referring to the same age, the same geepithet for the same class of persons, whom they termed neral subjects, and the same cycle of heroes, like the the Makers. The French phrase of Trouveurs, or metrical poems of the Cid in Spain,' or of Robin Hood Troubadours, namely, the Finders, or Inventors, has in England. the same reference to the quality of original conception In other countries, less favoured, either in language and invention proper to the poetical art, and without or in picturesque incident, it cannot be supposed that which it can hardly be said to exist to any pleasing or even the genius of Homer could have soared to such useful purpose.
exclusive eminence, since he must at once hare been Themere arrangement of words into poetical rhythm, deprived of the subjects and themes so well adapted or combining them according to a technical rule or for his muse, and of the lofty, melodious, and flexible measure, is so closely connected with the art of music, language in which he recorded them. Other nations, that an alliance between these two fine arts is very during the formation of their ancient poetry, wanted soon closely formed. It is fruitless to enquire which the genius of Homer, as well as his picturesque scenery of them has been first invented, since doubtless the and lofty language. Yet the investigation of the early precedence is accidental ; and it signifies little whether poetry of every nation, even the rudest, carries with it the musician adapts verses to a rude tune, or whether an object of curiosity and interest. It is a chapter in the primitive poet, in reciting his productions, falls the history of the childhood of society, and its resemnaturally into a chant or song. With this additional blance to, or dissimilarity from, the popular rhymes accomplishment, the poet becomes énidos, or the man of other nations in the same stage, must needs illusof song, and his character is complete when the addi- trate the ancient history of states; their slower or tional accompaniment of a lute or harp is added to swifter progress towards civilisation; their gradual or his vocal performance.
more rapid adoption of manners, sentiments, and reHere, therefore, we have the history of early poetry ligion. The study, therefore, of lays rescued from the m all nations. But it is evident that, though poetry gulf of oblivion, must in every case possess considerseems a plant proper to almost all soils, yet not only able interest for the moral philosopher and general is it of various kinds, according to the climate and historian. country in which it has its origin, but the poetry of The historian of an individual nation is equally or
1 The “Poema del Cid" (of which Mr. Frere has translated dently more ancient than the detached ballads on the Advern pome specimens) is, however, considered by every historian tures of the Campeador, which are included in the CancionSpanish literature, as the work of one hand; and is evi
more deeply interested in the researches into popular Such also is the unvaried account of the rose and the poetry, since he must not disdain to gather from the brier, which are said to spring out of the grave of tho tradition conveyed in ancient ditties and ballads, the hero and heroine of these metrical legends, with little information necessary to confirm or correct intelli- effort at a variation of the expressions in which the gence collected from more certain sources. And incident is prescriptively told. The least acquain. although the poets were a fabling race from the very tance with the subject will recall a great number of beginning of time, and so much addicted to exagge- commonplace verses, which each ballad-maker has mtion, that their accounts are seldom to be relied on unceremoniously appropriated to himself; thereby without corroborative evidence, yet instances fre- greatly facilitating his own task, and at the same quently occur where the statements of poetical tra- time degrading his art by his slovenly use of overdition are unexpectedly confirmed.
scutched phrases. From the same indolence, the To the lovers and admirers of poetry as an art, it ballad-mongers of most nations have availed themcannot be uninteresting to have a glimpse of the selves of every opportunity of prolonging their pieces, National Muse in her cradle, or to hear her babbling of the same kind, without the labour of actual comthe earliest attempts at the formation of the tuneful position. If a message is to be delivered, the poet sounds with which she was afterwards to charm pos- saves himself a little trouble, by using exactly the terity. And I may venture to add, that among sarne words in which it was originally couched, to poetry, which, however rude, was a gift of Nature's secure its being transmitted to the person for whose first fruits, even a reader of refined taste will find his ear it was intended. The bards of ruder climes, and patience rewarded, by passages in which the rude less favoured languages, may indeed claim the counminstrel rises into sublimity or melts into pathos. tenance of Homer for such repetitions; but whilst, in These were the merits which induced the classical the Father of Poetry, they give the reader an opporAddison to write an elaborate commentary upon tunity to pause, and look back upon the enchanted the ballad of Chevy Chase, and which roused, like the ground over which they have travelled, they afford sound of a trumpet, the heroic blood of Sir Philip nothing to the modern bard, save facilitating the Sidney.?
power of stupifying the audience with stanzas of dull It is true that passages of this high character sel- and tedious iteration. dom occur ; for, during the infancy of the art of Another cause of the flatness and insipidity, which poetry, the bards have been generally satisfied with a is the great imperfection of ballad poetry, is to be rude and careless expression of their sentiments; and ascribed less to the compositions in their original even when a more felicitous expression, or loftier state, when rehearsed by their authors, than to the numbers, have been dictated by the enthusiasm of the ignorance and errors of the reciters or transcribers, composition, the advantage came unsought for, and by whom they have been transmitted to us. The perhaps unnoticed, either by the minstrel or the au- more popular the composition of an ancient poet, or dience.
Maker, became, the greater chance there was of its Another cause contributed to the tenuity of thought being corrupted; for a poem transmitted through a and poverty of expression, by which old ballads are number of reciters, like a book reprinted in a multitoo often distinguished. The apparent simplicity of tude of editions, incurs the risk of impertinent interthe ballad stanza carried with it a strong temptation polations from the conceit of one rehearser, unintellito loose and trivial composition. The collection of gible blunders from the stupidity of another, and rhymes, accumulated by the earliest of the craft ap- omissions equally to be regretted, from the want of pear to have been considered as forming a joint stock memory in a third. This sort of injury is felt very for the common use of the profession; and not mere early, and the reader will find a curious instance in rhymes only, but verses and stanzas, have been used the Introduction to the Romance of Sir Tristrem. as common property, so as to give an appearance of Robert de Brunne there complains, that though the sameness and crudity to the whole series of popular Romance of Sir Tristrem was the best which had poetry. Such, for instance, is the salutation so often ever been made, if it could be recited as composed by repeated,
the author, Thomas of Erceldoune, yet that it was
written in such an ornate style of language, and such " Now Heaven thee save, thou brave young knight, Now Heaven thee save and see."
a difficult strain of versification, as to lose all value
in the mouths of ordinary minstrels, who could And such the usual expression for taking counsel
scarcely repeat one stanza without omitting some with. Rede me, rede me, brother dear,
part of it, and marring, consequently, both the sense My rede shall rise at thee."
and the rhythm of the passage. This deterioration
• See The Spectator, No. 70 and 74.
I never heard the old song of Percie and Douglas, that I found not my heart moved more than with the sound of a trumpet; and yet it is sung but by some blind crowder, with do rougher voice than rude style."-SIDNEY.
3 “That thou may hear in Sir Tristrem:
Over gestes it has the steem,
could not be limited to one author alone; others must of this degrading species of alchymy, by which the ore have suffered from the same cause, in the same or a of antiquity is deteriorated and adulterated. While greater degree. Nay, we are authorised to conclude, Addison, in an age which had never attended to poputhat in proportion to the care bestowed by the author lar poetry, wrote his classical criticism on that ballad, upon any poem, to attain what his age might suppose he naturally took for his text the ordinary stall-copy, to be the highest graces of poetry, the greater was although he might, and ought to have suspected, that the damage which it sustained by the inaccuracy of a ditty couched the language nearly of his own reciters, or their desire to humble both the sense and time, could not be the same with that which Sir Phidiction of the poem to their powers of recollection, lip Sidney, more than one hundred years before, had and the comprehension of a vulgar audience. It can- spoken of, as being “ evil apparelled in the dust and not be expected that compositions subjected in this cobwebs of an uncivilized age.' The venerable Bishop way to mutilation and corruption, should continue to Percy was the first to correct this mistake, by produpresent their original sense or diction ; and the accu-cing a copy of the song, as old at least as the reign of racy of our editions of popular poetry, unless in the Henry VII., bearing the name of the author or tranrare event of recovering original or early copies, is scriber, Richard Sheale. But even the Rev. Editor lessened in proportion.
himself fell der the mistake of supposing the modern But the chance of these corruptions is incalculably Chevy Chase to be a new copy of the original ballad, increased, when we consider that the ballads have expressly modernized by some one later bard. On been, not in one, but innumerable instances of the contrary, the current version is now universally transmission, liable to similar alterations, through a allowed to have been produced by the gradual alteralong course of centuries, during which they have tions of numerous reciters, during two centuries, in been handed from one ignorant reciter to another, the course of which the ballad has been gradually each discarding whatever original words or phrases moulded into a composition bearing only a general time or fashion had, in his opinion, rendered obsolete, resemblance to the original--expressing the same and substituting anachronisms by expressions taken events and sentiments in much smoother language, from the customs of his own day. And here it may and more flowing and easy versification ; but losing be remarked, that the desire of the reciter to be in- in poetical fire and energy, and in the vigour and telligible, however natural and laudable, has been pithiness of the expression, a great deal more than it one of the greatest causes of the deterioration of an- has gained in suavity of diction. Thus :cient poetry. The minstrel who endeavoured to recite
“The Percy owt of Northumberland, with fidelity the words of the author, might indeed
And a vowe to God mayd he, fall into errors of sound and sense, and substitute cor
That he wolde hunte in the mountayns ruptions for words he did not understand. But the
Off Cheviot within dayes thre, ingenuity of a skilful critic could often, in that case,
In the mauger of doughty Dougles, revive and restore the original meaning ; while the
And all that ever with him be," corrupted words became, in such cases, a warrant for
Becomes the authenticity of the whole poem." In general, however, the later reciters appear to
“ The stout Earl of Northumberland have been far less desirous to speak the author's words,
A vow to God did make, than to introduce amendments and new readings of
His pleasure in the Scottish woods
Three summer days to take," &c. their own, which have always produced the effect of modernizing, and usually that of degrading and vul- From this, and other examples of the same kind, garizing, the rugged sense and spirit of the antique of which many might be quoted, we must often exminstrel. Thus, undergoing from age to age a gradual pect to find the remains of Minstrel poetry, composed process of alteration and recomposition, our popular originally for the courts of princes and halls of nobles, and oral minstrelsy has lost, in a great measure, its disguised in the more modern and vulgar dialect in original appearance ; and the strong touches by which which they have been of late sung to the frequenters it had been formerly characterised, have been generally of the rustic ale-bench. It is unnecessary to mention smoothed down and destroyed by a process similar to more than one other remarkable and humbling inthat by which a coin, passing from hand to hand, loses stance, printed in the curious collection entitled, a in circulation all the finer marks of the impress. Ballad-Book, where we find, in the words of the in
The very fine ballad of Chevy Chase is an example genious Editor, a stupid ballad, printed as it was sung
1 An instance occurs in the valuable old ballad, called Aula for casting darts or stones ; the restoration of which reading Maitland. The reciter repeated a verse, descriptive of the gives a precise and clear sense to the lines. defence of a castle, thus:
2 See Percy's Reliques, vol. i. p. 2. “With spring-uall, stanes, and goads of airn Among them fast he threw."
3 Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Esq. The Ballad-Book was
printed in 1823, and inscribed to Sir Walter Scott; the in Spring-wall, is a corruption of springalı, a military engine pression consisting of only thirty copies.
in Annandale, founded on the well-known story of the will be accomplished, by shortly noticing the popular Prince of Salerno's daughter, but with the uncouth poetry of Scotland, and some of the efforts which have change of Dysmal for Ghismonda, and Guiscard trans- been made to collect and illustrate it. formed into a greasy kitchen-boy.
It is now generally admitted that the Scots and Picts,
however differing otherwise, were each by descent a “ To what base uses may we not return !"
Celtic race ; that they advanced in a course of victory Sometimes a still more material and systematicdiffer- somewhat farther than the present frontier between ence appears between the poems of antiquity, as they England and Scotland, and about the end of the were originally composed, and as they now exist. This eleventh century subdued and rendered tributary the occurs in cases where the longer metrical romances, Britons of Strathcluyd, who were also a Celtic race which were in fashion during the middle ages, were like themselves. Excepting, therefore, the provinces reduced to shorter compositions, in order that they of Berwickshire and the Lothians, which were chiefly might be chanted before an inferior audience. A inhabited by an Anglo-Saxon population, the whole ballad, for example, of Thomas of Erceldoune, and of Scotland was peopled by different tribes of the his intrigues with the Queen of Faery-Land, is, or has same aboriginal race, 2–
2-a race passionately addicted been, long current in Teviotdale, and other parts of to music, as appears from the kindred Celtic nations of Scotland. Two ancient copies of a poem, or romance, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish, preserving each to this on the same subject, and containing very often the day a style and character of music peculiar to their same words and turns of expression, are preserved in own country, though all three bear marks of general the libraries of the Cathedral of Lincoln and Peter- resemblance to each other. That of Scotland, in parborough. We are left to conjecture whether the ticular, is early noticed and extolled by ancient auoriginals of such ballads have been gradually con- thors, and its remains, to which the natives are pastracted into their modern shape by the impatience of sionately attached, are still found to afford pleasure later audiences, combined with the lack of memory even to those who cultivate the art upon a more redisplayed by more modern reciters, or whether, in fined and varied system. particular cases, some ballad-maker may have actually This skill in music did not, of course, exist without set himself to work to retrench the old details of the a corresponding degree of talent for a species of poetry, minstrels, and regularly and systematically to mo- adapted to the habits of the country, celebrating the dernize, and if the phrase be permitted, to balladize, victories of triumphant clans, pouring forth lamentaa metrical romance. We are assured, however, that tions over fallen heroes, and recording such marvel“ Roswal and Lilian” was sung through the streets lous adventures as were calculated to amuse individual of Edinburgh two generations since; and we know families around their household fires, or the whole that the Romance of “ Sir Eger, Sir Grime, and Sir tribe when regaling in the hall of the chief. It hapGreysteil,” had also its own particular chant, or pened, however, singularly enough, that while the tune. The stall-copies of both these romances, as music continued to be Celtic in its general measure, they now exist, are very much abbreviated, and pro- the language of Scotland, most commonly spoken, bebably exhibit them when they were undergoing, or gan to be that of their neighbours, the English, introhad nearly undergone, the process of being cut down duced by the multitude of Saxons who thronged to into ballads.
the court of Malcolm Canmore and his successors; Taking into consideration the various indirect chan- by the crowds of prisoners of war, whom the repeated nels by which the popular poetry of our ancestors has ravages of the Scots in Northumberland carried off as been transmitted to their posterity, it is nothing sur- slaves to their country; by the influence of the inhaprising that it should reach us in a mutilated and de- l bitants of the richest and most populous provinces in graded state, and that it should little correspond with Scotland, Berwickshire, namely, and the Lothians, the ideas we are apt to form of the first productions over the more mountainous; lastly, by the superiority of national genius ; nay, it is more to be wondered at which a language like the Anglo-Saxon, considerably that we possess so many ballads of considerable merit, refined, long since reduced to writing, and capable of than that the much greater number of them which expressing the wants, wishes, and sentiments of the must have once existed, should have perished before speakers, must have possessed over the jargon of vaour time.
rious tribes of Irish and British origin, limited and Having given this brief account of ballad poetry in contracted in every varying dialect, and differing, at general, the purpose of the present prefatory remarks the same time, from each other. This superiority being
· These two ancient Romances are reprinted in a volume tion of the Picts, “ It would appear the Scandinavians had of " Early Metrical Tales," edited by Mr. David Laing, Edin- colonies along the fertile shores of Moray, and among the burgh, 1826. small 8vo. Only 175 copies printed.
mountains of Sutherland, whose name speaks for itself, that 2 The author seems to have latterly modified his original it was given by the Norwegians; and probably they had also opinion on some parts of this subject. In his reviewal of Mr. settlements in Caithness and the Orcades." In this essay, P. F. Tytler's History of Scotland (Quart. Rev. vol. xli. however, he adheres in the main to his Anti-Pinkertonian p. 328,) he says, speaking of the period of the final subjuga. doctrine, and treats the Picts as Celts.-Ed.
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 fection 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, the Advenplaces 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. 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 unrished 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 farourconstruction was greatly too concise for the publicable 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,t 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 general 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," (Edia 2 " 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.
4 See Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, vol. i. p. 213