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They were men whose talents might have raised cantos, might remind the reader, at intervals, of them to the highest station in literature, had they the time, place, and circumstances of the recitanot preferred exerting them in their own profes- tion. This species of cadre, or frame, afterwards sion of the law, in which they attained equal pre- afforded the poem its name of "The Lay of the ferment. I was in the habit of consulting them on Last Minstrel." my attempts at composition, having equal confi- The work was subsequently shown to other dence in their sound taste and friendly sincerity.' friends during its progress, and received the imIn this specimen I had, in the phrase of the High- primatur of Mr. Francis Jeffrey, who had been land servant, packed all that was my own at least, already for some time distinguished by his critical for I had also included a line of invocation, a talent. little softened, from Coleridge
The poem, being once licensed by the critics as
fit for the market, was soon finished, proceeding at "Mary, mother, shield as well."
about the rate of a canto per week. There was, As neither of my friends said much to me on the indeed, little occasion for pause or hesitation, when subject of the stanzas I showed them before their a troublesome rhyme might be accomodated by departure, I had no doubt that their disgust had an alteration of the stanza, or where an incorrect been greater than their good-nature chose to ex- measure might be remedied by a variation of the press. Looking upon them, therefore, as a failure, rhyme. It was finally published in 1805, and may I threw the manuscript into the fire, and thought be regarded as the first work in which the writer, as little more as I could of the matter. Some who has been since so voluminous, laid his claim time afterwards, I met one of my two counsellors, to be considered as an original author. who inquired, with considerable appearance of in- The book was published by Longman and Cointerest, about the progress of the romance I had pany, and Archibald Constable and Company. The commenced, and was greatly surprised at learning principal of the latter firm was then commencing its fate. He confessed that neither he nor our that course of bold and liberal industry which was mutual friend had been at first able to give a of so much advantage to his country, and might precise opinion on a poem so much out of the have been so to himself, but for causes which it is common road; but that as they walked home to- needless to enter into here. The work, brought gether to the city, they had talked much on the out on the usual terms of division of profits besubject, and the result was an earnest desire that tween the author and publishers, was not long I would proceed with the composition. He also after purchased by them for £500, to which added, that some sort of prologue might be neces- Messrs. Longman and Company afterwards added sary, to place the mind of the hearers in the situa- £100, in their own unsolicited kindness, in consetion to understand and enjoy the poem, and recom- quence of the uncommon success of the work. It mended the adoption of such quaint mottoes as was handsomely given to supply the loss of a fine Spenser has used to announce the contents of the horse, which broke down suddenly while the auchapters of the Faery Queen, such as
thor was riding with one of the worthy publish"Babe's bloody hands may not be cleansed.
ers." The face of golden Mean :
It would be great affectation not to own Her sisters two, Extremities,
frankly, that the author expected some success Strive her to banish clean.",
from “The Lay of the Last Minstrel." The atI entirely agreed with my friendly critic in the tempt to return to a more simple and natural necessity of having some sort of pitch-pipe, which style of poetry was likely to be welcomed, at a might make readers aware of the object, or rather time when the public had become tired of beroic the tone, of the publication. But I doubted wheth- hexameters, with all the buckram and binding er, in assuming the oracular style of Spenser's which belong to them of later days. But whatmottoes, the interpreter might not be censured as ever might have been his expectations, whether the harder to be understood the two. I there- moderate or unreasonable, the result left then far fore introduced the Old Minstrel, as an appropri- behind, for among those who smiled for the advenate prolocutor, by whom the lay might be sung, or turous Minstrel, were numbered the great names spoken, and the introduction of whom betwixt the of William Pitt and Charles Fox.* Neither was
1 One of these, William Erskine, Esq. (Lord Kinnedder), I have often had occasion to mention; and though I may hardly be thanked for disclosing the name of the other, yet I cannot but state that the second is George Cranstoun, Esq., now a Senator of the College of Jastice, by the title of Lord Core ! honse. 1831.-(Mr. Cranstoun resigned is seat on the Bench in 1839.]
? Book II. Canto II.
3 Mr. Owen Rees, here alluded to, retired from the house of Longman & Co. at Midsummer, 1837, and died 5th September following, in his 67th year.-Ed.
+ “Through what channel or in what terms Fox made known his opinion of the Lay, I have failed to ascertain. Pitt's praise, as expressed to his niece, Lady Hester Stanhope, within a few
the extent of the sale inferior to the character of deductions from his own merits, in a calm attempt the judges who received the poem with approba- to account for his popularity.' tion. Upwards of thirty thousand copies of the A few additional remarks on the author's literLay were disposed of by the trade; and the au- ary attempts after this period, will be found in thor had to perform a task difficult to human the Introduction to the Poem of Marmion. vanity, when called upon to make the necessary ABBOTSFORD, April, 1830.
weeks after the poem appeared, was repeated by her to Mr. ed, and there followed an octavo impression of 1500; in 1806, William Stewart Rose, who, of course, communicated it forth- two more, one of 2000 copies, another of 2250 ; in 1807, a fifth with to the aathor; and not long after, the Minister, in con- edition of 2000, and a sixth of 3000; in 1808, 3550 ; in 1809, versation with Scott's early friend, the Right Hon. William 3000—a small edition in quarto (the ballads and lyrical pieces Dundas, signified that it would give him pleasure to find some being then annexed to it)-and another octavo edition of opportunity of advancing the fortunes of such a writer. "I 3250 ; in 1811, 3000; in 1812, 3000; in 1816, 3000 ; in 1823, remember," writes this gentleman, " at Mr. Pitt's table in 1000. A fourteenth impression of 2000 foolscap appeared in 1805, the Chancellor asked me about you and your then situa- 1825; and besides all this, before the end of 1836, 11,000 tion, and after I had answered him, Mr. Pitt observed— He copies had gone forth in the collected editions of his poetical can't remain as he is,' and desired me to look to it.'"-works. Thus, nearly forty-four thousand copies had been disLOCKHART. Life of Scott, vol. ii, p. 226.
posed of in this country, and by the legitimate trade alone,
before he superintended the edition of 1830, to which his bio1 “ The poet has underestimated even the patent and tangi- graphical introductions were prefixed. In the history of Britble evidence of his success. The first edition of the Lay was ish Poetry nothing had ever equalled the demand for the Lay a magnificent quarto, 750 copies; but this was soon exhaust- of the Last Minstrel."-Life, vol. ii. p.
The Lay of the Last Minstrel.
CHARLES EARL OF DALKEITH,
THIS POEM IS INSCRIBED BY
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
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 Metrical Romance was adopted, which allows greater latitude, in this respect, than would be consistent with the dignity of a regular Poem. The same model offered other facilities, as it permits an occasional alteration of measure, which, in some degree, authorizes the change of rhythm in the text.' The machinery, also, adopted from popular belief, would have seemed 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 supposed 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 century, when most of the personages actually flourished. The time occupied by the action is Three Nights and Three Days.
INTRODUCTION. The way was long, the wind was cold, The Minstrel was infirm and old;
His wither'd cheek, and tresses gray,
1 “The chief excellence of the Lay consists in the beauty dolence. Mr. Scott sets out with the intention of diversifying of the descriptions of local scenery, and the accurate picture his journey by every variety of motion. He is now at a trot, of customs and manners among the Scottish Borderers at the now at a gallop; nay, he sometimes stops, as if to time it refers to. The various exploits and adventures which occur in those half-civilized times, when the bands of govern
Make graceful caprioles, and prance
Between the pillars.' ment were so loosely twisted, that every man depended for safety more on his own arm, or the prowess of his chief, than A main objection to this plan is to be found in the shock which on the civil power, may be said to hold a middle rank between the ear receives from violent and abrupt transitions. On the history and private anecdote. War is always most picturesque other hand, it must be allowed, that as different species of where it is least formed into a science; it has most variety and verse are individually better suited to the expression of the interest where the prowess and activity of individuals has most different ideas, sentiments, and passions, which it is the object play; and the nocturnal expedition of Diomed and Ulysses to of poetry to convey, the happiest efforts may be produced by seize the chariot and horses of Rhesus, or a raid of the Scotts adapting to the subject its most congenial structure of verse." or the Kerrs to drive cattle, will make a better figure in verse, -Critical Review, 1805. than all the battles of the great King of Prussia. The sleuth- " From the novelty of its style and subject, and from the dog, the beacon-fires, the Jedwood-ares, the moss-troopers, spirit of its execution, Mr. Scott's Lay of the Last Minstre! the yell of the slogan, and all the irregular warfare of preda- kindled a sort of enthusiasm among all classes of readers ; and tory expeditions, or feuds of hereditary vengeance, are far more the concurrent voice of the public assigned to it a very exalted captivating to the imagination than a park of artillery and bat- rank, which, on more cool and dispassionate examination, its talions of well-drilled soldiers."- Annual Revier, 1804.
numerous essential beauties will enable it to maintain. For 9 « It must be observed, that there is this difference between
vivid richness of coloring and truth of costume, many of its the license of the old romancer, and that assumed by Mr. descriptive pictures stand almost unrivalled; it carries us back Scott: the aberrations of the first are usually casual and in imagination to the time of action; and we wander with the slight; those of the other, premeditated and systematic. The poet along Tweedside, or among the wild glades of Ettrick old romancer may be compared to a man who trusts his reins i Forest.”—Monthly Review, May, 1808. to his horse; his palfrey often blunders, and occasionally 3“We consider this poem as an attempt to transfer the rebreaks his pace, sometimes from vivacity, oftener through in- finements of modern poetry to the matter and the manner of
The last of all the Bards was he,
Looks out from Yarrow's birchen bower:
When kindness had his wants supplied,
He pass’d where Newark’s” stately tower
the ancient metrical romance. The author, enamored of the “Newark Castle was built by James II. The royal arms, lofty visions of chivalry, and partial to the strains in which with the unicorn, are engraved on a stone in the western side they were formerly embodied, seems to have employed all the of the tower. There was a much more ancient castle in its resources of his genius in endeavoring to recall them to the immediate vicinity, called Auldwark, founded, it is said, by favor and admiration of the public, and in adapting to the Alexander III. Both were designed for the royal residence taste of modern readers a species of poetry which was once the when the king was disposed to take his pleasure in the extendelight of the courtly, but has long ceased to gladden any other sive forest of Ettricke. Various grants occur in the records eyes than those of the scholar and the antiquary. This is a of the Privy Seal, bestowing the keeping of the Castle of romance, therefore, composed by a minstrel of the present day; Newark upon different barons. There is a popular tradition or such a romance as we may suppose would have been writ- that it was once seized, and held out by the outlaw Murray, ten in modern times, if that style of composition had continued a noted character in song, who only surrendered Newark upon to be cultivated, and partakes consequently of the improve condition of being made hereditary sheriff of the forest. A ments which every branch of literature has received since the long ballad, containing an account of this transaction, is pretime of its desertion."-JEFFREY, April, 1805.
served in the Border Minstrelsy (vol. i. p. 369). Upon the 1 " Turning to the northward, Scott showed us the crags marriage of James IV. with Margaret, sister of Henry VIII., and tower of Smailholme, and behind it the shattered frag- the Castle of Newark, with the whole forest of Ettricke, was ment of Erceldoune, and repeated some pretty stanzas as assigned to her as a part of her jointure lands. But of this she cribed to the last of the real wandering minstrels of this dis- could make little advantage; for, after the death of her hus trict, by name Burn:
band, she is found complaining heavily, that Buccleuch had "Sing Erceldoune, and Cowdenknowes,
seized upon these lands. Indeed, the office of keeper was latWhere Homes had ance commanding,
terly held by the family of Buccleuch, and with so firm a And Drygrange, wi' the milk-white ewes,
grasp, that when the Forest of Ettricke was disparked, they 'Twist Tweed and Leader standing.
obtained a grant of the Castle of Newark in property. It was The bird that flees through Redpath trees
within the courtyard of this castle that General Lesly did miliAnd Gledswood banks each morrow,
tary execution upon the prisoners whom he had taken at the May chaunt and sing-Sweet Leader's haughs
battle of Philiphaugh. The castle continued to be an occaAnd Bonny howms of Yarrow.
sional seat of the Buccleuch family for more than a century; • Bat Minstrel Burn cannot assuage
and here, it is said, the Duchess of Monmouth and Buccleuch His grief while life endureth,
was brought up. For this reason, probably, Mr. Scott has To see the changes of this age
chosen to make it the scene in which the Lay of the Last MinWhich fleeting time procureth ;
strel is recited in her presence, and for her amusement."'-For mony a place stands in hard case,
SCHETKY's Illustrations of the Lay of the Last Minstrel. Where blythe folks kent nae sorrow,
It may be added that Bowhill was the favorite residence With Homes that dwelt on Leader side,
of Lord and Lady Dalkeith (afterwards Duke and Duchess And Scotts that dwelt on Yarrow.'”
of Buccleuch), at the time when the poem was composed ; the
ruins of Newark are all but included in the park attached to Life, vol. vi. p. 78.
that modern seat of the family; and Sir Walter Scott, no 1 « This is a massive square tower, now unroofed and doubt, was influenced in his choice of the locality, by the ruinous, surrounded by an ontward wall, defended by round predilection of the charming lady who suggested the subject flanking turrets. It is most beautifully situated, about three of his Lay for the scenery of the Yarrow—a beautiful walk on miles from Selkirk, upon the banks of the Yarrow, a fierce whose banks, leading from the house to the old castle, is called, and precipitons stream, which unites with the Ettricke about in memory of her, the Duchess's Walk.-ED. a mile beneath the castle.
* Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth, representa
Of good Earl Francis, dead and gone,
And lighten'd up his faded eye,
The Lay of the Last Minstrel.
The humble boon was soon obtain'd;
Knight, and page, and household squire,
Or crowded round the ample fire;
Lay stretch'd upon the rushy floor,
From Teviot-stone to Eskdale-moor.
tive of the ancient Lords of Buccleuch, and widow of the un- antiquarian researches, so much of those powers which seem fortunate James, Duke of Monmouth, who was beheaded in fully equal to the task of raising him an independent repu1685.
tation."-JEFFREY. 1 Francis Scott, Earl of Buccleuch, father of the Duchess. 5 See Appendix, Note A.
3 Walter, Earl of Buccleuch, grandfather of the Duchess, 6 " The ancient romance owes much of its interest to the and a celebrated warrior.
lively picture which it affords of the times of chivalry, and of 3. Mr. W. Dandas (see Life of Scott, vol. ii. p. 226), says, those usages, manners, and institutions, which we have been that Pitt repeated the lines, describing the old harper's embar- accustomed to associate in our minds, with a certain combinarassment when asked to play, and said, — This is a sort of thing tion of magnificence with simplicity, and ferocity with romanwhich I might have expected in painting, but could never have tic honor. The representations contained in those performfancied capable of being given in poetry.'"
ances, however, are, for the most part, too rade and naked to give 4" In the very first rank of poetical excellence, we are in- complete satisfaction. The execution is always extremely unclined to place the introductory and concluding lines of every equal; and though the writer sometimes touches upon the apcanto, in which the ancient strain is suspended, and the feel- propriate feeling with great effect and felicity, still this appears ings and situation of the minstrel himself described in the words to be done more by accident than design ; and he wanders away of the author. The elegance and the beauty of this setting, immediately into all sorts of ridiculons or uninteresting details, if we may so call it, though entirely of modern workmanship, without any apparent consciousness of incongruity. These appears to us to be fully more worthy of admiration than the defects Mr. Scott has corrected with admirable address and bolder relief of the antiques which it encloses, and leads us to judgment in the greater part of the work now before us; and regret that the author should have wasted, in imitation and while he has exhibited a very striking and impressive picture