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Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy in MtCwill toll f /re, flohhea:
Author of** An Outline of Sir IVilliam HnfniltpVs^J*AJlos/i*fiy^'

" Songs of my native land.

To me how dear!

Songs of my infancy.

Sweet to my ear 1

Entwined with my youthful day*;.

Wi* the bonny banks and braes.

Where the wmding bumie strays,

Murmuring near."

The Baroness Naikne.

3f onboit :
1874. _

f The Right of Translation

ann Pet>roduction ts resm'ed.^ ^ j

~ TKEN"-:.' vnr.K


ASrj", 1>NC X AMD


R ^'1/

• . .' \.* ' LONDON

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The following Essay was awarded a Prize <
the St. Andrew's Society of Glasgow. By
of competition the copyright of the essay
with the author ; and as it was written with
publication, it is now given to the world
alterations and additions as have been sugi
revision. The essay represents the fruit of
which the author has been accustomed to
from severer professional work ; and his obj
publication will be attained, if it afford to h
any of the recreation which its studies hav
to himself, while it may not be without sei
to the student of the literature which it rev:
other necessary information with regard to tl
object and plan of the work will be four

Montreal, March 1874.

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Legendary Ballads and Songs . . .


Social Ballads and Songs

§ I. Love Songs and Ballads . . .
§ 2. Domestic Songs and Ballads . .
§ 3. Lyrics of general Social Relations

Romantic Ballads and Songs . . .


Historical Ballads and Songs . . .

§ I. The War of Independence . . .

§ 2. The Border Feuds

§ 3. The Reformation Period ....
§ 4. The Jacobite Struggle

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Poetical Character 168

of their Popularity 178



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** I knew a very wise man that believed thj
permitted to make all the ballads, he nee
should make the laws of a nation." — Fletch]
in a Letter to the Marquis of Montrose^ etc,

I T is desirable that the reader of the
should notice the precise subject to w
The essay is simply an investigation
which the ballads and songs of Scotlai
to have exerted on the character of th<
It makes no pretension, therefore, to
treatment of these lyrical productioi
aspect. It is impossible, indeed, to dij
these or of any other productions of t
on the development of Scottish chara
dicating more or less definitely the
productions themselves; and, consequ
contains a large number of historical a
vations on the ballads and songs of
extent to which such observations ^

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#-iiiririaf*- fV.^ niaiii question of the essay, will be dif-
lined by different persons ; and possibly
1 would exclude as irrelevant a consider-
oi what is contained in the following
iie reader must meet with disappoint-
ms these pages with the expectation of
n an exhaustive treatment of the Scot-
id songs in general, or in any particular
lan that to which the essay is definitely

pecial inquiry, however, to which we are
raises certain preliminary questions which
urately answered with ease. It involves,
t, an inquiry into the national character of
iople, and into the agencies by which that
been produced and modified. Both of
s may be ranked among the most per-
ose intricate problems which the science
iture encounters at every step of its

of these — the inquiry into national cha-
- answered at all by those who apprehend
answered only with diffidence and by an
ine ; for the phenomena, on which an
be founded, are so subtle as often to
nest observation, so intricate as to baffle
ching analysis, so manifold as to exceed

the most comprehensive understanding.

the spectrum we can now analyse the

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constitution of a world at immeasurable distance in
space; but what agent of decomposition can unfold
with certainty the character of a nation, or even of an
individual ? A remarkable instance of the difficulty
involved in estimating even one's own character is
furnished by the fact, that Goethe attached more im-
portance to his scientific insight than to his poetical
power; and, in summing up the results of his life, de-
clared that as it had been the mission of Luther to
dispel the darkness of the Papacy, so it had* been his
to overturn the Newtonian theory of colours ! ^

The other inquiry — that, namely, into the agencies
by which a nation's character is developed, or into the
precise influence which any particular agency may have
exerted on its development — is even more difficult than
the preceding. Here all the machinery of philosophical
induction breaks down under the difficulty of making
sufficiently accurate and sufficiently extensive observa-
tions, and the collateral difficulty of arranging the data
which observation yields with a view to legitimate

Now, if we had to serve merely the purposes of
popular declamation, it would be easy enough, conceal-
ing the difficulty of aft such inquiries, to assert a number
of questionable platitudes on the Scottish character and
on the influences by which it has been formed. The
aim in the following essay has been to avoid all asser-

^ Eckermann's "Conversations of Goethe," vol. i., p. 162. Compare
Lewes' "Life of Goethe," vol. ii., p. 124.

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nee to national character and the causes
development, except in so far as such
implied in the solution of the main
rhich we have to deal.

is in reality twofold. It involves two
whether any influence at all has been

character of the Scottish people by
d songs ; and (2), if so, what that in-
.. The preliminary inquiry, which forms
se two questions, may be disposed of
jral way. The character of a nation, as
lividual, is moulded by all the influences
vhich the nation or the individual lives,
indeed, impossible to determine with
mparative importance of the influences
■ten the most insignificant in appearance
werful in reality. In the early years of
ipire, for example, no man could have
cing, among the villages of Galilee, the
hich were to issue the most valuable
luent history ; and biographical records,
le religious life, have made us familiar
hat the most efficient cause in shaping
character has often been an incident
irnally of the most trivial nature. But

in appearance or in reality, every in-
g upon the people of a country in
ntribute something to the national cha-
some influences may be so slight as

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to be incapable of being traced. The only question,
therefore, which really remains for answer, is whether
we can discover, in the Scottish character, any trace
of an influence exerted by the Scottish ballads
and songs.

Before proceeding to the detailed examination of the
ballads and songs with a view to the solution of this
question, it may be well to remark, that it is exceed-
ingly difficult to pitch on any feature of the Scottish
character, and say, without hesitation, that is due to the
influence of the ballads and spngs alone. For it is not
enough to prove that the ballads and songs are capable
of producing such an effect : numerous instances will
occur to anyone, in which the perplexity of a problem
is precisely to discover, among several phenomena all
capable of producing a certain effect, which has actually
been the cause. Moreover, the agencies at work in
human nature, as well as in external nature, are often
thwarted, counteracted, in fact completely neutralized,
by others; and this circumstance creates one of the
main difficulties of all scientific inquiry. In addition to
this, there is a peculiar difficulty attaching to inquiries
concerning the agencies which go to form social cha-
racter ; for every such agency is alternately cause and
effect A certain type of character in a people cannot
be due, for example, to the agency of the people's songs
alone ; for the people's songs are, in the first instance,
due to its character. Every manifestation of character
is thus at once evidence of the existence of a certain

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tendency, and a contribution to the force of the tendency
from which it has sprung.

The presence, therefore, of a certain agency is not
sufficient to prove that it has produced a certain effect
which it is capable of producing, till it has been shown
that the effect has not been produced by some other
coexisting cause. How, then, must we proceed in our
endeavour to trace in the Scottish character some fea-
tures which are due to the Scottish ballads and songs ?

The method adopted in the following essay is the
only method allowed by the nature of the inquiry, and
the only method of arriving at reliable results. The
object has been, after arranging the ballads and songs
into groups, to elicit some of the features by which each
group is distinguished, to point out the effects which
such features are calculated to produce, and to trace
these effects in Scottish life. The proof in each detail,
taken by itself, is not expected to be convincing ; but
when the line of argument is comprehended as a whole,
it .must be evident that the people of Scotland cannot
have continued, from generation to generation, singing
certain kinds of lyrics, without the distinctive features of
these lyrics being stamped, more or less clearly, on the
character of that people.

Following, then, the method thus indicated, we must
start with some classification of the ballads and songs.
In doing so, a sentence or two may not be out place, to
define the precise sense in which the terms ballad and
song are severally employed.

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1. Without going into a history of the various uses
of the former term, it may be defined as denoting a
lyrical narrative^ unguided by conscious arty of any ei^ent,
real or imaginary ^ which is calculated to excite emotion.
It need only be added, that, by this definition, our
review is limited to the genuine ballad, and that there-
fore its modem imitations are excluded. In a critical
investigation there may be doubt as to the genuine-
ness of particular ballads ; but for our purposes the
question of genuineness may be left out of view

2, A song is a lyrical utterance of an emotion. It is
not always possible, therefore, to distinguish precisely be-
tween a ballad and a song ; for songs are often, perhaps
commonly, founded on an event, imaginary if not real.
But when the narrative of the ^vent predominates over
the mere utterance of the emotion which the event calls
forth, the lyric becomes in propriety a ballad ; and vice
vcrsd. Still, some lyrics may, without impropriety, be
classed either among ballads or among songs, and are
consequently found in collections of both. Barbara
Allan, commonly met with in song-books, partakes
more of the nature of a ballad ; while Helen of Kir-
connell and The Lament of the Border Widow, as well as
some other lyrics generally included in our books of
ballads, are more correctly regarded as songs. The
Song of Moses^ js a splendid specimen of lyrical nar-
rative, borne on by such an impetuous tide of emotion,

1 Exodus, chap. xv.

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swelling at a great national crisis, that it is difficult to
' Tier the narrative or the emotional element

^possible to suggest a perfectly logical classifi-
the ballads and songs, or of any other literary
hatever. The following must justify itself
y its convenience for our purposes : —
mdary ballads and songs — those in which a
iral element, embodying the superstitions of a
tific age, comes into play.
al ballads and songs — those to which the social

or the events of social life furnish a theme.
lantic ballads and songs — those in which the

an imaginary, or at least an uncertain event.
*orical ballads and songs — those which contain
1 narrative of, or reference to, some known event

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** There must thou wake perforce thy Doric qu

*Tis fancy's land to which thou sett'st thy 1

Where still, 'tis said, the fairy people meel
Beneath each birken shade, on mead or hill.
There each trim lass, that skims the milky st

To the swart tribes their creamy bowls all<
By night they sip it round the cottage door,

While airy minstrels warble jocund notes.
There every herd, by sad experience, knows

How, winged with fate, their elf-shot arro
When the sick ewe her summer food forgoes

Or, stretched on earth, the heart-smit heift
Such airy beings awe the untutored swain :

Nor thou, though learned, his homelier th<
Let thy sweet Muse the rural faith sustain ;

These are the themes of simple, sure effect

That add new conquests to her boundless reij

And fill, with double force, her heart-comma

Collins' Ode on the Superstitions of th

The poems comprehended under this c
those which involve a belief in forms of
patible with the known laws of nature,
arises spontaneously in any mind unacqt

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uniformity of type which modem science has detected
in the innumerable varieties of being, and with the~
uniformity of sequence which we have been taught to
trace through all the various processes by which Nature
reaches her ends. In order to study the legendary lyrics
with profit, we must, therefore, carry ourselves by imagi-
nation back into those old times, when the convictions
of science found as yet no place in the culture of men, —
when no shock was given to ordinary human beliefs by
the idea of creatures which violated every principle of
anatomical structure, — when an extraordinary event,
instead of being laboriously referred to some recognized
agency of nature, was at once explained as the work of
some of those supernatural beings which peopled the
fancy of our ancestors.

Most of the superstitious conceptions thus originated,
which we come upon in the legendary" songs and ballads,
have been handed down from an exceedingly remote
period, and, in the course of tradition, have gathered
numerous features by which their original shape is more
or less concealed. In fact, nearly all those superstitions
of modern Europe, which have a title to be called
popular, on the ground of their acceptance among a
people at large, and not merely among isolated indi-
viduals or isolated sections of a community, still bear
traces of their descent from heathen times. The recent
researches of comparative mythology have put into our
hands the clue by which we can already track many of
the legendary beliefs, of the Aryan nations at least,
to their common Eastern home; and in studying the
poems which come under review in the present chapter,

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several opportunities will occur for observing the various
shapes which the same primitive legend has assumed
under the various influences to which it has been sub-
jected at the different points where it has been deposited
along the stream of Aryan migration.

The most universal agency in modifying Aryan
mythology among the Western nations has been the
introduction of Christianity. The mass of beliefs
and practices which formed the religious faith and
worship of the pre-Christian Teutons, in whom we find
our ancestry, did not at once yield to the force of
Christian teaching. As Roman Christianity became
tainted by numerous symbols and festivals of the
paganism it supplanted, so the Teutonic tribes, long
after their conversion, clung to the old beliefs which
in fact entered into all their forms of thought and
speech about the world, as well as to the observances
which had, in many cases, woven themselves into the
habits of their daily lives. The influence, indeed, of the
new religion on these Teutonic superstitions was various.
Those which wore clearly incompatible with essential
principles of Christian thought and life, were, of course,
ultimately compelled to give way, though the struggle of
the Church with even these was protracted longer than
might have been anticipated, and isolated remains of
heathen cultus may still be discovered by the antiquary,
in various retired districts throughout Europe.^ In some

^ See some instances in Sir John Lubbock's "Origin of Civilization,"
chap. V. But the whole subject of such survivals of an earlier culture
in a later has been recently investigated, with great learning, in Tyler's
" Primitive Culture," vol. i. chapters iii. and iv.

B 2

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cases, however, the Church was forced to content itself
with a compromise, throwing what is often a very thin
veil of Christianity over ideas and practices of Teutonic
heathenism. An instance or two of this kind may be
worthy of attention, as introducing us to some of the
Scottish ballads.

In studying the intellectual progress of modern
Europe, we are met by no fact more mournful than
the prolonged hold, even over educated minds, of
the belief in witches and witchcraft. In its essential
nature this savage superstition takes us back to that
rudimentary faith in supernatural power, designated by
the historians of religion y^/Zc^iw-w/, which is found among
tribes at the lowest stage of civilization.^ Springing from
essential tendencies of human thought, it crops out in
places which are separated by all the earth's diameter,
and distinguished by every variety in the manners of
life ; while it survives among us still in minds which
have yet been scarcely affected by the scientific spirit of
modern times. Though the culture of the past three
half centuries has taught us to view this faith as wholly
alien to Christian civilization, yet even the revolting
results which it exercised on judicial practice did not
exclude it, till recent times, from the realm of Christian
thought. The reason of this is evidently the fact, that
it found a point of attachment in a certain cycle of
Christian dogma, — the doctrine of a devil, and a world

* It is just possible that, in Britain, there may have been a slim thread
of historical connection between ancient Druidism and modem mtchcraft,
some of the Druids, whose individual personality has come down to us,
having been women. See Burton's ** History of Scotland," vol i. pp. 222-4.

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of demons over which he rules. It must not be supposed,
indeed, that the malignant features of witchcraft were
first stamped upon it by being dragged into the service
of a Christian dogma, or — to speak perhaps more truly
— by dragging a Christian dogma into its service ;^ but
the result of this alliance was to obliterate all the miti-
gating features of the primitive superstition, reducing it
to a scheme of pure diabolism. This fact is worth
referring to as illustrating one of the effects upon
heathen superstitions resulting from their contact with
Christian ideas ; but for our more immediate purpose
witchcraft might almost have been passed without men-
tion. For it cannot but strike one as remarkable, that a
superstition which was so universally prevalent, which, by
Its fascinating horror, must have seized such a hold on
the popular imagination and entered so extensively into
popular thought and language, should yet have in-
fluenced so slightly the songs and ballads, even of a
people over whom it appears to have exercised a more
unrestricted tyranny than over any other.^ I shall not
attempt to account for this circumstance, except by sug-
gesting the unpoetical nature of the materials furnished
by such a superstition ; for the essential object of poetry

^ There is abundant evidence, from the laws of Rome, both under the
Republic and under the pagan Empire, that the magic of ancient paganism
was believed to be employed for malicious purposes (Lecky's "History of
Rationalism," vol. i. pp. 42-4, Amer. edit.) ; while Simrock has pointed
out beliefs in Teutonic heathenism which have probably given to witch-
craft the malignant aspect exclusively developed in Christendom (** Deutsche
Mythologie," § 129).

2 ** In other lands the superstition was at least mixed with much of im-
posture ; in Scotland it appears to have been entirely undiluted." — Lecky's
History of Rationalism ^ vol. i. p. 144, Amer. edit.

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— ^the production of an intellectual pleasure — could
hardly be attained by any treatment of a faith so
grossly unspiritual, and suggestive of no ideas which
can be imagined without unmitigated pain.

In the very few ballads into which witchcraft enters
as an essential motive in the development of the plot,
the superstition appears in its more ancient form, and
rises to that aspect of sublimer horror which has been
noticed as a prominent characteristic imparted to it by

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Online LibraryJohn Clark MurrayThe ballads and songs of Scotland: in view of their influence on the ... → online text (page 1 of 13)