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MINSTRELSY OF THE SCOTTISH BORDER.
Imitations of the Ancient Ballad.
PART FIRST. ANCIENT.
Thomas the Rhymer.
practice of distinguishing the parties, even in for
mal writings, by the epithets which had been be IN THREE PARTS.
stowed on them from personal circumstances, instead of the proper surnames of their families, was common, and indeed necessary, among the Border clans. So early as the end of the thirteenth cen
tury, when surnames were hardly introduced in Few personages are so renowned in tradition as Scotland, this custom must have been universal Thomas of Ercildoune, known by the appellation of There is, therefore, nothing inconsistent in supposThe Rhymer. Uniting, or supposing to unite, in ing our poet's name to have been actually Learhis person, the powers of poetical composition, and mont, although, in this charter, he is distinguished of vaticination, his memory, even after the lapse of by the popular appellation of T'he Rhymer. five hundred years, is regarded with veneration by We are better able to ascertain the period at his countrymen. To give any thing like a certain which Thomas of Ercildoune lived, being the latter history of this remarkable man would be indeed end of the thirteenth century. I am inclined to difficult; but the curious may derive some satis- place his death a little farther back than Mr. Pink faction from the particulars here brought together. erton, who supposes that he was alive in 1300
It is agreed on all hands, that the residence, and (List of Scottish Poets), which is hardly, I think, probably the birthplace, of this ancient bard, was consistent with the charter already quoted, by Ercildoune, a village situated upon the Leader, which his son, in 1299, for himself and his heirs. two miles above its junction with the Tweed.conveys to the convent of the Trinity of Soltra, The ruins of an ancient tower are still pointed out the tenement which he possessed by inheritance as the Rhymer's castle. The uniform tradition (hereditarie) in Ercildoune, with all claim which he bears, that his surname was Lermont, or Learmont; or his predecessors could pretend thereto. From and that the appellation of The Rhymer was con- this we may infer, that the Rhymer was now dead, ferred on him in consequence of his poetical com- since we find the son disposing of the family prop positions. There remains, nevertheless, some doubt erty. Still, however, the argument of the learned upon the subject. In a charter, which is subjoined historian will remain unimpeached as to the time at length,' the son of our poet designed himself of the poet's birth. For if, as we learn from Bar" Thomas of Ercildoun, son and heir of Thomas bour, his prophecies were held in reputation as Rymour of Ercildoun,” which seems to imply that early as 1306, when Bruce slew the Red Cummin, the father did not bear the hereditary name of the sanctity, and (let me add to Mr. Pinkerton's Learmont; or, at least, was better known and dis- words) the uncertainty of antiquity, must have tinguished by the epithet, which he had acquired already involved his character and writings. In by his personal accomplishments
. I must, how- a charter of Peter de Haga de Bemersyde, which ever, remark, that, down to a very late period, the unfortunately wants a date, the Rhymer, a near 1 See Appendix, Note A.
" I hope that Thomas's prophecie,
Of Erceldoan, shall truly be.
2 The lines alluded to are these :
neighbor, and, if we may trust tradition, a friend friends in the Tower of Ercildoune, a person came of the family, appears as a witness.-Chartulary running in, and told, with marks of fear and astonof Melrose.
ishment, that a hart and hind had left the neighIt cannot be doubted, that Thomas of Ercil- boring forest, and were, composedly and slowly, doune was a remarkable and important person in parading the street of the village. The prophet his own time, since, very shortly after his death, instantly arose, left his habitation, and followed we find him celebrated as a prophet and as a poet. the wonderful animals to the forest, whence he Whether he himself made any pretensions to the was never seen to return. According to the popfirst of these characters, or whether it was gra- ular belief, he still “drees his weird" in Fairy tuitously conferred upon him by the credulity of Land, and is one day expected to revisit earth. posterity, it seems difficult to decide. If we may In the mean while, his memory is held in the most believe Mackenzie, Learmont only versified the profound respect. The Eildon Tree, from beneath prophecies delivered by Eliza, an inspired nun of the shade of which he delivered his prophecies, & convent at Haddington. But of this there seems now no longer exists; but the spot is marked by not to be the most distant proof. On the contra- a large stone, called Eildon Tree Stone. A neighry, all ancient authors, who quote the Rhymer's boring rivulet takes the name of the Bogle Burn prophecies, uniformly suppose them to have been (Goblin Brook) from the Rhymer's supernatural visemitted by himself. Thus, in Winton's Chronicle— itants. The veneration paid to his dwelling-place
even attached itself in some degree to a person, “Of this fycht quilom spak Thomas
who, within the memory of man, chose to set up Of Ersyldoune, that sayd in derne,
his residence in the ruins of Learmont's tower. There suld meit stalwartly, starke and sterne. He sayd it in his prophecy;
The name of this man was Murray, a kind of But how he wist it was ferly."
herbalist; who, by dint of some knowledge in simBook viü. chap. 32. ples, the possession of a musical clock, an electrical
machine, and a stuffed alligator, added to a supThere could have been no ferly (marvel) in posed communication with Thomas the Rhymer, Winton's eyes at least, how Thomas came by his lived for many years in very good credit as a knowledge of future events, had he ever heard of wizard. the inspired nun of Haddington, which, it cannot It seemed to the Editor unpardonable to disbe doubted, would have been a solution of the miss a person so important in Border tradition as mystery, much to the taste of the Prior of Loch- the Rhymer, without some farther notice than a leven.'
simple commentary upon the following ballad. It Whatever doubts, however, the learned might | is given from a copy, obtained from a lady residing have, as to the source of the Rhymer's prophetic not far from Ercildoune, corrected and enlarged skill, the vulgar had no hesitation to ascribe the by one in Mrs. Brown's MSS. The former copy, whole to the intercourse between the bard and however, as might be expected, is far more minute the Queen of Faëry. The popular tale bears, that as to local description. To this old tale the Editor Thomas was carried off, at an early age, to the has ventured to add a Second Part, consisting of a Fairy Land, where he acquired all the knowledge, kind of cento, from the printed prophecies vulgarly which made him afterwards so famous. After ascribed to the Rhymer; and a Third Part, enseven years' residence, he was permitted to return tirely modern, founded upon the tradition of his to the earth, to enlighten and astonish his country- baving returned with the hart and hind, to the men by his prophetic powers; still, however, re- Land of Faëry. To make his peace with the maining bound to return to his royal mistress, more severe antiquaries, the Editor has prefixed when she should intimate her pleasure. Accord- to the Second Part some remarks on Learmont's ingly, while Thomas was making merry with his prophecies.
i Henry the Minstrel, who introduces Thomas into the history of Wallace, expresses the same doubt as to the source of his prophetic knowledge :
“ Thomas Rhymer into the faile was than
With the minister, which was a worthy man.
Which happened sooth in many divers case ;
History of Wallace, Book ii.
9 There is a singular resemblance betwixt this tradition, and an incident occurring in the life of Merlin Caledonius, which the reader will find a few pages onwards.
1 Huntly Bank, and the adjoining ravine, called, from immemorial tradition, the Rymer's Glen, were ultimately included in the domain of Abbotsford. The scenery of this glen forms the background of Edwin Landseer's portrait of Sir Walter Scott, painted in 1833.-Ep.
? That weird, &c.- That destiny shall never frighten me.
The traditional commentary upon this ballad informs as, that the apple was the produce of the fatal Tree of Knowledge, and that the garden was the terrestrial paradise. The repurnance of Thomas to be debarred the use of falsehood when he might find it convenient, has a comic effect.
4 See Appendix, Note B.
Thomas the Rhymer.
Ah comen ant gone
from Harl. Lib. 2253, F. 127.
ALTERED FROM ANCIENT PROPHECIES.
As I have never seen the MS. from which Mr.
Pinkerton makes this extract, and as the date of The prophecies, ascribed to Thomas of Ercil- it is fixed by him (certainly one of the most able doune, have been the principal means of securing antiquaries of our age) to the reign of Edward I. to him remembrance "amongst the sons of his or II., it is with great diffidence that I hazard a people.” The author of Sir Tristrem would long contrary opinion. There can, however, I believe, ago have joined, in the vale of oblivion, “ Clerk of be little doubt, that these prophetic verses are a Tranent, who wrote the adventure of Schir Ga- forgery, and not the production of our Thomas the wain,” if, by good hap, the same current of ideas Rhymer. But I am inclined to believe them of a respecting antiquity, which causes Virgil to be later date than the reign of Edward I. or II. regarded as a magician by the Lazzaroni of Na- The gallant defence of the castle of Dunbar, by ples, had not exalted the bard of Ercildoune to the Black Agnes, took place in the year 1337. The prophetic character. Perhaps, indeed, he himself Rhymer died previous to the year 1299 (see the affected it during his life. We know, at least, for charter, by his son, in the Appendix). It seems, certain, that a belief in his supernatural knowledge therefore, very improbable, that the Countess of was current soon after his death. His prophecies Dunbar could ever have an opportunity of consultare alluded to by Barbour, by Winton, and by ing Thomas the Rhymer, since that would infer Henry the Minstrel, or Blind Harry, as he is usu- that she was married, or at least engaged in state ally termed. None of these authors, however, give matters, previous to 1299 ; whereas she is dethe words of any of the Rhymer's vaticinations, scribed as a young, or a middle-aged woman, at but merely narrate, historically, his having pre- the period of her being besieged in the fortress, dicted the events of which they speak. The ear- which she so well defended. If the editor might liest of the prophecies ascribed to him, which is indulge a conjecture, he would suppose, that the now extant, is quoted by Mr. Pinkerton from a prophecy was contrived for the encouragement of MS. It is supposed to be a response from Thomas the English invaders, during the Scottish wars; of Ercildoune to a question from the heroic Count- and that the names of the Countess of Dunbar, ess of March, renowned for the defence of the and of Thomas of Ercildoune, were used for the Castle of Dunbar against the English, and termed, greater credit of the forgery. According to this in the familiar dialect of her time, Black Agnes of hypothesis, it seems likely to have been composed Dunbar. This prophecy is remarkable, in so far after the siege of Dunbar, which had made the as it bears very little resemblance to any verses name of the Countess well known, and consequently published in the printed copy of the Rhymer's in the reign of Edward III. The whole tendency supposed prophecies. The verses are as follows:- of the prophecy is to aver, that there shall be no
end of the Scottish war (concerning which the " La Countesse de Donbar demande a Thomas de Esse
doune quant la guerre d' Escoce prendreit fyn. Eyl la question was proposed), till a final conquest of the repoundy et dyt.
country by England, attended by all the usual seWhen man is mad a kyng of a capped man;
verities of war. “ When the cultivated country When man is levere other mones thyng than his owen ; shall become forest,” says the prophecy ;-"when When londe thouys forest, ant forest is felde ;
the wild animals shall inhabit the abode of men ;When hares kendles o' the her'stane ;
when Scots shall not be able to escape the English, When Wyt and Wille werres togedere; When mon makes stables of kyrkes, and steles castels with
should they crouch as hares in their form”-all stye ;
these denunciations seem to refer to the time of When Rokesboroughe nys no burgh ant market is at Forwy. 'Edward III., upon whose victories the prediction leye ;
was probably founded. The mention of the exWhen Bambourne is donged with dede men ; When men ledes men in ropes to buyen and to sellen ;
change betwixt a colt worth ten marks, and a When a quarter of whaty whete is chaunged for a colt of ten quarter of "whaty [indifferent] wheat,” seems to markes;
allude to the dreadful famine, about the year 1388. When prude (pride) prikes and pees is leyd in prisoun;
The independence of Scotland was, however, as When a Scot ne me hym hude ase hare in forme that the English ne shall hym fynde ;
impregnable to the mines of superstition, as to the When rycht ant wronge astente the togedere ;
steel of our more powerful and more wealthy neigh. When laddcs weddeth lovedies ;
bors. The war of Scotland is, thank God, at an When Scottes flen so faste, that, for faute of shep, hy drown- end; but it is ended without her people having eth hemselve ;
either crouched like hares in their form, or being Nouther in thine tyme ne in mine ;
drowned in their flight, "for faute of ships,"—thank
When shal this be ?
God for that too.— The prophecy, quoted in the tions ascribed to the seer of Ercildoune, which, preceding page, is probably of the same date, and with many other compositions of the same nature, intended for the same purpose.
bearing the names of Bede, Merlin, Gildas, and A minute search of the records of the time other approved soothsayers, are contained in one would, probably, throw additional light upon the small volume, published by Andro Hart, at Edinallusions contained in these ancient legends. | burgh, 1615. Nisbet the herald (who claims the Among various rhymes of prophetic import, which prophet of Ercildoune as a brother-professor of his are at this day current amongst the people of art, founding upon the various allegorical and emTeviotdale, is one, supposed to be pronounced by blematical allusions to heraldry) intimates the esThomas the Rhymer, presaging the destruction of istence of some earlier copy of his prophecies than his habitation and family:
that of Andro Hart, which, however, he does not “ The hare sall kittle [litter) on my hearth stane,
pretend to have seen.' The late excellent Lord And there will never be a Laird Learmont again.”
Hailes made these compositions the subject of a
dissertation, published in his Remarks on the HisThe first of these lines is obviously borrowed from tory of Scotland. His attention is chiefly directed that in the MS. of the Harl. Library.—“When to the celebrated prophecy of our bard, mentioned hares kendles o' the her’stane”—an emphatic im- by Bishop Spottiswoode, bearing that the crowus age of desolation. It is also inaccurately quoted of England and Scotland should be united in the in the prophecy of Waldhave, published by Andro person of a King, son of a French Queen, and reHart, 1613:
lated to the Bruce in the ninth degree. Lord
Hailes plainly proves, that this prophecy is per“ This is a true talking that Thomas of tells,
verted from its original purpose, in order to apply The hare shall hirple on the hard (hearth) stane."
it to the succession of James VI. The groundwork Spottiswoode, an honest, but credulous historian, of the forgery is to be found in the prophecies of seems to have been a firm believer in the authen- Berlington, contained in the same collection, and ticity of the prophetic wares, vended in the name runs thus: of Thomas of Ercildoune. “The prophecies, yet extant in Scottish rhymes, whereupon he was com
" Of Bruce's left side shall spring out a leafe,
As neere as the ninth degree; monly called Thomas the Rhymer, may justly be
And shall be fleemed of faire Scotland, admired; having foretold, so many ages before the In France farre beyond the sea. union of England and Scotland in the ninth degree And then shall come again ryding, of the Bruce's blood, with the succession of Bruce
With eyes that many men may see. himself to the crown, being yet a child, and other
At Aberladie he shall light,
With hempen helteres and horse of tre. divers particulars, which the event hath ratified and made good. Boethius, in his story, relateth However it happen for to fall, his prediction of King Alexander's death, and that The lyon shall be lord of all ;
The French Quen shall bearre the sonne, he did foretel the same to the Earl of March, the
Shall rule all Britainne to the sea ; day before it fell out; saying, “That before the
Ane from the Bruce's blood shal come also, next day at noon, such a tempest should blow, as As neer as the ninth degree. Scotland had not felt for many years before.' The next morning, the day being clear, and no change
Yet shal there come a keene knight over the salt sea,
A keene man of courage and bald man of armes ; appearing in the air, the nobleman did challenge
A duke's son dowbled [i. e. dubbed], a born man in France, Thomas of his saying, calling him an impostor. He That shall our mirths angment, and mend all our harmes ; replied, that noon was not yet passed. About After the date of our Lord 1513, and thrice three thereafter; which time a post came to advertise the earl of
Which shall brooke all the broad isle to himself,
Between thirteen and thrice three the threip shall be ended, the king his sudden death. “Then,' said Thomas,
The Saxons shall never recover after." this is the tempest I foretold; and so it shall prove to Scotland.' Whence, or how, he had this There cannot be any doubt that this prophecy | knowledge, can hardly be affirmed; but sure it is, was intended to excite the confidence of the Scotthat he did divine and answes truly of many things tish nation in the Duke of Albany, regent of Scotto come.”—SPOTTISWOODE, P. 47. Besides that no- land, who arrived from France in 1515, two years table voucher, Master Hector Boece, the good after the death of James IV. in the fatal field of archbishop might, had he been so minded, have Flodden. The Regent was descended of Bruce by referred to Fordun for the prophecy of King Alex- the left, i. e. by the female side, within the ninth ander's death. That historian calls our bard "ru- degree. His mother was daughter of the Earl of 1 ralis ille vates.”—FORDUN, lib. x. cap. 40.
Boulogne, his father banished from his countryWhat Spottiswoode calls “the prophecies extant in Scottish rhyme,” are the metrical produc
1 See Appendix, Note C.