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writes with some flippancy, but with the air of a teenth century. A very fine one, belonging to person superior to the ordinary drudgery of a mere Lord Montagu, perished in the fire which concollector. His work appears to have been got up sumed Ditton House, about twenty years ago. at considerable expense, and the general introduc- James Watson, in 1706, published, at Edinburgh, tions and historical illustrations which are prefixed a miscellaneous collection in three parts, containto the various ballads, are written with an ac- ing some ancient poetry. But the first editor who curacy of which such a subjects had not till then seems to have made a determined effort to prebeen deemed worthy. The principal part of the serve our ancient popular poetry was the wellcollection consists of stall-ballads, neither possess- known Allan Ramsay, in his Evergreen, containing ing much poetical merit, nor any particular rarity chiefly extracts from the ancient Scottish Makers, or curiosity. Still this original Miscellany holds a whose poems have been preserved in the Bannaconsiderable value amongst collectors ; and as the tyne Manuscript, but exhibiting amongst them three volumes being published at different times some popular ballads. Amongst these is the -are seldom found together, they sell for a high Battle of Harlau, apparently from a modernized price when complete.
copy, being probably the most ancient Scottish We may now turn our eyes to Scotland, where historical ballad of any length now in existence. the facility of the dialect, which cuts off the con- He also inserted in the same collection, the genusonants in the termination of the words, so as ine Scottish Border ballad of Johnnie Armstrong, greatly to simplify the task of rhyming, and the copied from the recitation of a descendant of the habits, dispositions, and manners of the people, unfortunate hero, in the sixth generation. This were of old so favorable to the composition of bal-poet also included in the Evergreen, Hardyknute, lad-poetry, that, had the Scottish songs been pre- which, though evidently modern, is a most spirited served, there is no doubt a very curious history and beautiful imitation of the ancient ballad. In might have been composed by means of minstrelsy a subsequent collection of lyrical pieces, called the only, from the reign of Alexander III. in 1285, Tea-Table Miscellany, Allan Ramsay inserted sevdown to the close of the Civil Wars in 1745. That eral old ballads, such as Cruel Barbara Allan, materials for such a collection existed, cannot be The Bonnie Earl of Murray, There came a Ghost disputed, since the Scottish historians often refer to Margaret's door, and two or three others. But to old ballads as authorities for general tradition. his unhappy plan of writing new words to old But their regular preservation was not to be tunes, without at the same time preserving the hoped for or expected. Successive garlands of ancient verses, led him, with the assistance of song sprung, flourished, faded, and were forgotten, some ingenious young gentlemen,” to throw in their turn; and the names of a few specimens aside many originals, the preservation of which are only preserved, to show us how abundant the would have been much more interesting than any display of these wild flowers had been.
thing which has been substituted in their stead." Like the natural free gifts of Flora, these poeti- In fine, the task of collecting and illustrating cal garlands can only be successfully sought for ancient popular poetry, whether in England or where the land is uncultivated; and civilization Scotland, was never executed by a competent and increase of learning are sure to banish them, person, possessing the necessary powers of selecas the plough of the agriculturist bears down the tion and annotation, till it was undertaken by Dr. mountain daisy. Yet it is to be recorded with Percy, afterwards Bishop of Dromore in Ireland. some interest, that the earliest surviving specimen This reverend gentleman, himself a poet, and rankof the Scottish press, is a Miscellany of Millar and ing high among the literati of the day, commandChapman,' which preserves a considerable fund of ing access to the individuals and institutions which Scottish popular poetry, and among other things, could best afford him materials, gave the public no bad specimen of the gests of Robin Hood, “ the the result of his researches in a work entitled English ballad-maker's joy,” and whose renown“ Reliques of Ancient English Poetry," in three seems to have been as freshly preserved in the volumes, published in London 1765, which has north as on the southern shores of the Tweed. since gone through four editions. The taste with There were probably several collections of Scot- which the materials were chosen, the extreme tish ballads and metrical pieces during the seven- felicity with which they were illustrated, the display at once of antiquarian knowledge and classi- bably with justice, that the minstrels were not cal reading which the collection indicated, render necessarily poets, or in the regular habit of comit difficult to imitate, and impossible to excel, a posing the verses which they sung to the harp; work which must always be held among the first and indeed, that the word minstrel, in its ordinary of its class in point of merit, though not actually acceptation, meant no more than musician. the foremost in point of time. But neither the Dr. Percy, from an amended edition of his Essay high character of the work, nor the rank and re- on Minstrelsy, prefixed to the fourth edition of the spectability of the author, could protect him or Reliques of Ancient Poetry, seems to have been, his labors, from the invidious attacks of criticism. to a certain point, convinced by the critic's reason
2 See Appendix, Note A.
: See Appendix, Note B.
1 A facsimile reprint, in black-letter, of the Original Tracts which issued from the press of Walter Chepman and Andro Myllar at Edinburgh, in the year 1508, was published under the title of “ The Knightly Tale of Golagrus and Gawane, and other Ancient Poems," in 1827, 4to. The " litil geste of Robin Hood, referred to in the text, is a fragment of a piece contained in Ritson's Collection.-ED.
* Sir Walter Scott corresponded frequently with the Bishop of Dromore, at the time when he was collecting the materials of the “ Border Minstrelsy."-Ed.
The most formidable of these were directed by | ing; for he has extended the definition impugned Joseph Ritson, a man of acute observation, pro- by Ritson, and the minstrels are thus described found research, and great labor. These valuable as singing verses “composed by themselves or attributes were unhappily combined with an eager others.” This we apprehend to be a tenable posiirritability of temper, which induced him to treat tion ; for, as on the one hand it seems too broad an antiquarian trifles with the same seriousness which averment to say that all minstrels were by promen of the world reserve for matters of import-fession poets, so on the other, it is extravagant to ance, and disposed him to drive controversies into affirm, that men who were constantly in the habit personal quarrels, by neglecting in literary de- of reciting verse, should not frequently have acbate, the courtesies of ordinary society. It ought quired that of composing it, especially when their to be said, however, by one who knew him well, bread depended on giving pleasure; and to have that this irritability of disposition was a constitu- the power of producing novelty, is a great step tional and physical infirmity; and that Ritson's towards that desirable end. No unprejudiced extreme attachment to the severity of truth, cor- reader, therefore, can have any hesitation in adoptresponded to the rigor of his criticisms upon the ing Bishop Percy's definition of the minstrels, and labors of others. He seems to have attacked their occupation, as qualified in the fourth edition Bishop Percy with the greater animosity, as bear of his Essay, implying that they were sometimes ing no good will to the hierarchy, in which that poets, sometimes the mere reciters of the poetry prelate held a distinguished place.
of others. Ritson's criticism, in which there was too much On the critic's second proposition, Dr. Percy suchorse-play, was grounded on two points of accusa- cessfully showed, that at no period of history was tion. The first point regarded Dr. Percy's definition the word minstrel applied to instrumental music of the order and office of minstrels, which Ritson exclusively; and he has produced sufficient eviconsidered as designedly overcharged, for the sake dence, that the talents of the profession were as of giving an undue importance to his subject. The frequently employed in chanting or reciting posecond objection respected the liberties which Dr. etry as in playing the mere tunes. There is apPercy had taken with his materials, in adding to, pearance of distinction being sometimes made beretrenching, and improving them, so as to bring tween minstrel recitations and minstrelsy of music them nearer to the taste of his own period. We alone; and we may add a curious instance, to those will take some brief notice of both topics. quoted by the Bishop. It is from the singular
First, Dr. Percy, in the first edition of his work, ballad respecting Thomas of Erceldoune," which certainly laid himself open to the charge of having announces the proposition, that tongue is chief of given an inaccurate, and somewhat exaggerated minstrelsy. account of the English Minstrels, whom he defined We may also notice, that the word minstrel beto be an “order of men in the middle ages, who ing in fact derived from the Minné-singer of the subsisted by the arts of poetry and music, and Germans, means, in its primary sense, one who sung to the harp the verses which they themselves sings of love, a sense totally inapplicable to a mere composed.” The reverend editor of the Reliques instrumental musician. produced in support of this definition many curious A second general point on which Dr. Percy was quotations, to show that in many instances the fiercely attacked by Mr. Ritson, was also one on persons of these minstrels had been honored and which both the parties might claim a right to sing respected, their performances applauded and re- Te Deum. It respected the rank or status which warded by the great and the courtly, and their was held by the minstrels in society during the craft imitated by princes themselves.
middle ages. On this point the editor of the ReAgainst both these propositions, Ritson made a liques of Ancient Poetry had produced the most determined opposition. He contended, and pro- satisfactory evidence, that, at the courts of the
1 See Appendix, Note C.
: Select Remains of Popular Pieces of Poetry. Edinborgh, 1822.
Anglo-Norman princes, the professors of the gay fined dialect of the English language, used by such science were the favorite solacers of the leisure composers of popular poetry as moved in a higher hours of princes, who did not themselves disdain circle ; and there can be no doubt, that while to share their tuneful labors, and imitate their their productions were held in such high esteem, compositions. Mr. Ritson replied to this with great the authors must have been honored in proportion ingenuity, arguing, that such instances of respect The education bestowed upon James I. of Scotpaid to French minstrels reciting in their native land, when brought up under the charge of Henry language in the court of Norman monarchs, though IV., comprehended both music and the art of verheld in Britain, argued nothing in favor of English nacular poetry; in other words, Minstrelsy in both artists professing the same trade; and of whose branches. That poetry, of which the King left compositions, and not of those existing in the several specimens, was, as is well known, English; French language, Dr. Percy professed to form his nor is it to be supposed that a prince, upon whose collection. The reason of the distinction betwixt education such sedulous care was bestowed, would the respectability of the French minstrels, and the have been instructed in an art which, if we are to degradation of the same class of men in England, believe Mr. Ritson, was degraded to the last deMr. Ritson plausibly alleged to be, that the Eng- gree, and discreditable to its professors. The same lish language, a mixed speech betwixt Anglo- argument is strengthened by the poetical exercises Saxon and Norman-French, was not known at the of the Duke of Orleans, in English, written during court of the Anglo-Norman kings until the reign his captivity after the battle of Agincourt. It of Edward III. ;' and that, therefore, until a very could not be supposed that the noble prisoner was late period, and when the lays of minstrelsy were to solace his hours of imprisonment with a degragoing out of fashion, English performers in that ding and vulgar species of composition. capacity must have confined the exercise of their We could produce other instances to show that talents to the amusement of the vulgar. Now, as this acute critic has carried his argument considit must be conceded to Mr. Ritson, that almost all erably too far. But we prefer taking a general the English metrical romances which have been view of the subject, which seems to explain clearpreserved till the present day, are translated from ly how contradictory evidence should exist on it, the French, it may also be allowed, that a class of and why instances of great personal respect to men employed chiefly in rendering into English individual minstrels, and a high esteem of the art, the works of others, could not hold so high a sta- are quite reconcilable with much contempt thrown tion as those who aspired to original composition; on the order at large. and so far the critic has the best of the dispute. All professors of the fine arts—all those who But Mr. Ritson has over-driven his argument, since contribute, not to the necessities of life, but to the there was assuredly a. period in English history, enjoyments of society, hold their professional rewhen the national minstrels, writing in the nation spectability by the severe tenure of exhibiting exal dialect, were, in proportion to their merit in cellence in their department. We are well enough their calling, held in honor and respect.
satisfied with the tradesman who goes through his Thomas the Rhymer, for example, a minstrel who task in a workmanlike manner, nor are we disposed flourished in the end of the twelfth century, was to look down upon the divine, the lawyer, or the not only a man of talent in his art, but of some physician, unless they display gross ignorance of rank in society; the companion of nobles, and him their profession: we hold it enough, that if they self a man of landed property. He, and his con- do not possess the highest knowledge of their retemporary Kendal, wrote, as we are assured by spective sciences, they can at least instruct us on Robert de Brunne, in a passage already alluded the points we desire to know. But to, a kind of English, which was designed for “ pride
" mediocribus esse poetis and nobleye,"? and not for such inferior persons as Non di, non homines, non concessere columne." Robert himself addressed, and to whose comprehension he avowedly lowered his language and The same is true respecting the professors of ! structure of versification. There existed, there- painting, of sculpture, of music, and the fine arts fore, during the time of this historian, a more re- | in general. If they exhibit paramount excellence,
1 That monarch first used the vernacular English dialect in referred to. De Brunne, according to this author's tert, says i a motto which he displayed on his shield at a celebrated tour of the elder reciters of the metrical romance, nament. The legend which graced the representation of a white
“ They said it for pride and nobleye, swan on the king's buckler, ran thus :
That non were soulk as they;" “ Ha! ha! the whyte swan!
i. e. they recited it in a style so lofty and noble, that none have By Goddis soule I am thy man."
since equalled them. Warton, edit. 184, vol. i. p. 183.-ED. | · The learned editor of Warton's History of English Poetry, 3 See the edition printed by Mr. Watson Taylor, for the is of opinion that Sir Walter Scott misinterpreted the passage Roxburghe Club.
no situation in society is too high for them which outcasts of a strolling company, exposed to penury, their manners enable them to fill; if they fall indigence, and persecution according to law.” short of the highest point of aim, they degenerate There was still another and more important into sign-painters, stone-cutters, common crowders, subject of debate between Dr. Percy and his hosdoggerel rhymers, and so forth, the most contempt tile critic. The former, as a poet and a man of ible of mankind. The reason of this is evident. taste, was tempted to take such freedoms with his Men must be satisfied with such a supply of their original ballads as might enable him to please a actual wants as can be obtained in the circum- more critical age than that in which they were stances, and should an individual want a coat, he composed. Words were thus altered, phrases immust employ the village tailor if Stultze is not to proved, and whole verses were inserted or omitbe had. But if he seeks for delight, the case is ted at pleasure. Such freedoms were especially quite different; and he that cannot hear Pasta or taken with the poems published from a folio manSontag, would be little solaced for the absence of uscript in Dr. Percy's own possession, very curious these sirens, by the strains of a crack-voiced bal- from the miscellaneous nature of its contents, but lad-singer. Nay, on the contrary, the offer of such unfortunately having many of the leaves mutilainadequate compensation would only be regarded ted, and injured in other respects, by the gross as an insult, and resented accordingly.
carelessness and ignorance of the transcriber. The theatre affords the most appropriate exam
Anxious to avail himself of the treasures which ple of what we mean. The first circles in society this manuscript contained, the editor of the Reare open to persons eminently distinguished in the liques did not hesitate to repair and renovate the drama; and their rewards are, in proportion to songs which he drew from this corrupted yet cuthose who profess the useful arts, incalculably rious source, and to accommodate them with such higher. But those who lag in the rear of the dra- emendations as might recommend them to the matic art are proportionally poorer and more de- modern taste. graded than those who are the lowest of a useful For these liberties with his subject, Ritson centrade or profession. These instances will enable sured Dr. Percy in the most uncompromising terms, us readily to explain why the greater part of the accused him, in violent language, of interpolation minstrels, practising their profession in scenes of and forgery, and insinuated that there existed no vulgar mirth and debauchery, humbling their art such thing in rerum natura as that folio manuto please the ears of drunken clowns, and living script, so often referred to as the authority of oriwith the dissipation natural to men whose preca-ginals inserted in the Reliques. In this charge, rious subsistence is, according to the ordinary the eagerness of Ritson again betrayed him farphrase, from hand to mouth only, should fall un- ther than judgment and discretion, as well as courder general contempt, while the stars of the pro- tesy, warranted. It is no doubt highly desirable fession, to use a modern phrase, looked down on that the text of ancient poetry should be given them from the distant empyrean, as the planets untouched and uncorrupted. But this is a point do upon those shooting exhalations arising from which did not occur to the editor of the Reliques gross vapors in the nether atmosphere.
in 1765, whose object it was to win the favor of The debate, therefore, resembles the apologue the public, at a period when the great difficulty of the gold and silver shield. Dr. Percy looked was not how to secure the very words of old balon the minstrel in the palmy and exalted state to lads, but how to arrest attention upon the subject which, no doubt, many were elevated by their at all. That great and important service to natalents, like those who possess excellence in the tional literature would probably never have been fine arts in the present day; and Ritson consid- attained without the work of Dr. Percy; a work ered the reverse of the medal, when the poor and which first fixed the consideration of general readwandering glee-man was glad to purchase his bread ers on ancient poetry, and made it worth while to by singing his ballads at the alehouse, wearing a inquire how far its graces were really antique, or fantastic habit, and latterly sinking into a mere how far derived from the taste with which the crowder upon an untuned fiddle, accompanying publication had been superintended and revised. his rude strains with a ruder ditty, the helpless The object of Dr. Percy was certainly intimated associate of drunken revellers, and marvellously in several parts of his work, where he ingenuously afraid of the constable and parish-beadle. The acknowledges, that certain ballads have received difference betwixt those holding the extreme po emendations, and that others are not of pure and sitions of highest and lowest in such a profession, unmixed antiquity; that the beginning of some cannot surely be more marked than that which and end of others have been supplied ; and upon separated David Garrick or John Kemble from the the whole, that he has, in many instances, deco
1 See Appendix, Note D.
2 See Appendix, Note E.
rated the ancient ballads with the graces of a these and other cases; and certainly, at this pe more refined period.
riod, would be only a degree of justice due to his This system is so distinctly intimated, that if memory. there be any critic still of opinion, like poor
Rit- On the whole, we may dismiss the “ Reliques of son, whose morbid temperament led him to such a Ancient Poetry” with the praise and censure conconclusion, that the crime of literary imitation is ferred on it by a gentleman, himself a valuable lequal to that of commercial forgery, he ought to borer in the vineyard of antiquities. “It is the recollect that guilt, in the latter case, does not most elegant compilation of the early poetry that exist without a corresponding charge of uttering has ever appeared in any age or country. But it the forged document, or causing it to be uttered, must be frankly added, that so numerous are the as genuine, without which the mere imitation is alterations and corrections, that the severe antinot culpable, at least not criminally so. This qual- quary, who desires to see the old English ballads ity is totally awanting in the accusation so roughly in a genuine state, must consult a more accurate brought against Dr. Percy, who avowedly indulged edition than this celebrated work.”? in such alterations and improvements upon his Of Ritson's own talents as an editor of ancient materials, as might adapt them to the taste of an poetry, we shall have occasion to speak hereafter. age not otherwise disposed to bestow its attention The first collector who followed the example of on them.
Dr. Percy, was Mr. T. Evans, bookseller, father of We have to add, that, in the fourth edition of the gentleman we have just quoted. His “Old the Reliques, Mr. Thomas Percy of St. John's Col Ballads, historical and narrative, with some of modlege, Oxford, pleading the cause of his uncle with ern date," appeared in two volumes, in 1777, and the most gentlemanlike moderation, and with were eminently successful. In 1784, a second edievery respect to Mr. Ritson's science and talents, tion appeared, extending the work to four volhas combated the critic's opinion, without any at- In this collection, many ballads found actempt to retort his injurious language.
ceptance, which Bishop Percy had not considered as It would be now, no doubt, desirable to have possessing sufficient merit to claim admittance into had some more distinct account of Dr. Percy's folio the Reliques. The 8vo. Miscellany of 1723 yieldmanuscript and its contents; and Mr. Thomas Per- ed a great part of the materials. The collection of cy, accordingly, gives the original of the marriage Evans contained several modern pieces of great of Sir Gawain, and collates it with the copy pub- merit, which are not to be found elsewhere, and lished in a complete state by his uncle, who has which are understood to be the productions of Wilon this occasion given entire rein to his own fancy, liam Julius Mickle, translator of the Lusiad, though though the rude origin of most of his ideas is to be they were never claimed by him, nor received found in the old ballad. There is also given a among his works. Amongst them is the elegiac copy of that elegant metrical tale, “ The Child of poem of Cumnor Hall, which suggested the fictiElle,” as it exists in the folio manuscript, which tious narrative entitled Kenilworth. The Redgoes far to show it has derived all its beauties Cross Knight, also by Mickle, which has furnished from Dr. Percy's poetical powers. Judging from words for a beautiful glee, first occurred in the these two specimens, we can easily conceive why same collection. As Mickle, with a vein of great the Reverend Editor of the “Reliques” should facility, united a power of verbal melody which have declined, by the production of the folio man- might have been envied by bards of much greater uscript, to furnish his severe Aristarch with wea- renown,” he must be considered as very successful pons against him, which he was sure would be un- in these efforts, if the ballads be regarded as sparingly used. Yet it is certain, the manuscript avowedly modern. If they are to be judged of contains much that is really excellent, though mu- as accurate imitations of ancient poetry, they have tilated and sophisticated. A copy of the fine bal- less merit; the deception being only maintained lad of “Sir Caulin” is found in a Scottish shape, by a huge store of double consonants, strewed at under the name of “King Malcolm and Sir Colorar om into ordinary words, resembling the real vin,” in Buchan's North Country Ballads, to be fashion of antiquity as little as the niches, turrets, presently mentioned. It is, therefore, unquestion and tracery of plaster stuck upon a modern front. ably ancient, though possibly retouched, and per- In the year 1810, the four volumes of 1784 were haps with the addition of a second part, of which republished by Mr. R. H. Evans, the son of the the Scottish copy has no vestiges. It would original editor, with very considerable alterations be desirable to know exactly to what extent and additions. In this last edition, the more ordiDr. Percy had used the license of an editor, in nary modern ballads were judiciously retrenched
2 See Appendix, Note F.
1 Introduction to Evans's Ballads, 1810. New edition, enrarged, &c.