« AnteriorContinuar »
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—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
1 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, seat upon the fated stone, and recited the genealogy
Most like a baron bold,
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, 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. A spepany for the feigned fools and sturdy beggars, with cimen of this structure of verse bas been handed down whom they were ranked by a Scottish statute.' to our times in the stan za 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 uprished 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 favour. construction 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, 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
I 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," (Eden 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. 912
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 We 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 babits, 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,
I "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 1508, 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 “ litil 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 Polume 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 Harlau, 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 same 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 acIn 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
1 See Appendix, Note A.
of Dromore, at the time when he was collecting the materials of the “ Border Minstrelsy."- Ed.
+ See Appendix, Note C.
apprehend to be a tenable 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 were con- that the English language, a mixed speech betwixt stantly in the habit of reciting verse, should not fre- Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French, was of 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 assuredly 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. Aourished 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 wbich 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
I Select Remains of Popular Pieces of Poetry. Edinburgh, 3 The learned editor of Warton's History of English Poe1822.
try, is of opinion that 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 nobleye, 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 pone " Ha! ha! the whyte swan!
have since equalled them.--Warton, edil. 1824, vol. i. p. 183 By Goddis soule I am thy man."