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establishment, expressed a wish that his tract should issue from the
Auchinleck Press. I determined to gratify him, and the portable press
being too small for general purposes, I exchanged it for one of Mr
Ruthven's full-sized ones; and having increased my stock to _eight_
small fonts, roman and italic, with the necessary appurtenances, I
placed the whole in a cottage, built originally for another purpose,
very pleasantly situated on the bank of a rivulet, and, although
concealed from view by the surrounding wood, not a quarter of a mile
from my house."[74]

[Footnote 74: Bibliographical Decameron, vol. ii. p. 454.]

To show the kind of man who co-operated with Scott in such frivolities,
let me say a word or two more about Sir Alexander. He was the son,
observe, of Johnson's Jamie Boswell, but he was about as like his father
as an eagle might be to a peacock. To use a common colloquial phrase, he
was a man of genius, if ever there was one. Had he been a poorer and
socially humbler man than he was - had he had his bread and his position
to make - he would probably have achieved immortality. Some of his songs
are as familiar to the world as those of Burns, though their author is
forgotten, - as, for instance, the song of parental farewell, beginning -

"Good-night, and joy be wi' ye a';
Your harmless mirth has cheered my heart,"

and ending with this fine and genial touch -

"The auld will speak, the young maun hear;
Be canty, but be good and leal;
Your ain ills aye hae heart to bear,
Another's aye hae heart to feel:
So, ere I set I'll see you shine,
I'll see you triumph ere I fa';
My parting breath shall boast you mine.
Good-night, and joy be wi' you a'."

His "Auld Gudeman, ye're a drucken carle," "Jenny's Bawbee," and "Jenny
dang the Weaver," are of another kind, and perhaps fuller of the
peculiar spirit of the man. This consisted in hitting off the deeper and
typical characteristics of Scottish life with an easy touch that brings
it all home at once. His lines do not seem as if they were composed by
an effort of talent, but as if they were the spontaneous expressions of
nature.

Take the following specimen of ludicrous pomposity, which must suffer a
little by being quoted from memory: it describes a Highland
procession: -

"Come the Grants o' Tullochgorum,
Wi' their pipers on afore 'em;
Proud the mithers are that bore 'em,
Fee fuddle, fau fum.

Come the Grants o' Rothiemurchus,
Ilka ane his sword an' durk has,
Ilka ane as proud's a Turk is,
Fee fuddle, fau fum."

To comprehend the spirit of this, one must endow himself with the
feelings of a Lowland Scot before Waverley and Rob Roy imparted a glow
of romantic interest to the Highlanders. The pompous and the ludicrous
were surely never more happily interwoven. One would require to go
further back still to appreciate the spirit of "Skeldon Haughs, or the
Sow is Flitted." It is a picture of old Ayrshire feudal rivalry and
hatred. The Laird of Bargainy resolved to humiliate his neighbour and
enemy, the Laird of Kerse, by a forcible occupation of part of his
territory. For the purpose of making this aggression flagrantly
insulting, it was done by tethering or staking a female pig on the
domain of Kerse. The animal was, of course, attended by a sufficient
body of armed men for her protection. It was necessary for his honour
that the Laird of Kerse should drive the animal and her attendants away,
and hence came a bloody battle about "the flitting of the sow." In the
contest, Kerse's eldest son and hope, Jock, is killed, and the point or
moral of the narrative is, the contempt with which the old laird looks
on that event, as compared with the grave affair of flitting the sow. A
retainer who comes to tell him the result of the battle stammers in his
narrative on account of his grief for Jock, and is thus pulled up by the
laird -

"'Is the sow flitted?' cries the carle;
'Gie me an answer, short and plain -
Is the sow flitted, yammerin' wean?'"

To which the answer is -

"'The sow, deil tak her, 's ower the water,
And at her back the Crawfords clatter;
The Carrick couts are cowed and bitted.'"

Hereupon the laird's exultation breaks forth, -

"'My thumb for Jock - the sow's flitted!'"

Another man of genius and learning, whose name is a household one among
the book clubs, is Robert Surtees, the historian of Durham. You may
hunt for it in vain among the biographical dictionaries. Let us hope
that this deficiency will be well supplied in the Biographia Britannica,
projected by Mr Murray. Surtees was not certainly among those who flare
their qualities before the world - he was to a peculiar degree addicted,
as we shall shortly see, to hiding his light under a bushel; and so any
little notice of him in actual flesh and blood, such as this left by his
friend, the Rev. James Tate, master of Richmond School, interests one: -

"One evening I was sitting alone - it was about nine o'clock in the
middle of summer - there came a gentle tap at the door. I opened the door
myself, and a gentleman said with great modesty, 'Mr Tate, I am Mr
Surtees of Mainsforth. James Raine begged I would call upon you.' 'The
master of Richmond School is delighted to see you,' said I; 'pray walk
in.' 'No, thank you, sir; I have ordered a bit of supper; perhaps you
will walk up with me?' 'To be sure I will;' and away we went. As we went
along, I quoted a line from the Odyssey. What was my astonishment to
hear from Mr Surtees, not the next only, but line after line of the
passage I had touched upon. Said I to myself, 'Good Master Tate, take
heed; it is not often you catch such a fellow as this at Richmond.' I
never spent such an evening in my life." What a pity, then, that he did
not give us more of the evening, which seems to have left joyful
memories to both: for Surtees himself thus commemorated it in
macaronics, in which he was an adept: -

"Doctus Tatius hic residet,
Ad Coronam prandet ridet,
Spargit sales cum cachinno,
Lepido ore et concinno,
Ubique carus inter bonos
Rubei montis præsens honos."

In the same majestic folio in which this anecdote may be found - the
Memoir prefixed to the History of Durham - we are likewise told how, when
at college, he was waiting on a Don on business; and, feeling coldish,
stirred the fire. "Pray, Mr Surtees," said the great man, "do you think
that any other undergraduate in the college would have taken that
liberty?" "Yes, Mr Dean," was the reply - "any one as cool as I am!" This
would have been not unworthy of Brummell. The next is not in Brummell's
line. Arguing with a neighbour about his not going to church, the man
said, "Why, sir, the parson and I have quarrelled about the tithes."
"You fool," was the reply, "is that any reason why you should go to
hell?" Yet another. A poor man, with a numerous family, lost his only
cow. Surtees was collecting a subscription to replace the loss, and
called on the Bishop of Lichfield, who was Dean of Durham, and owner of
the great tithes in the parish, to ascertain what he would give. "Give!"
said the bishop; "why, a cow, to be sure. Go, Mr Surtees, to my
steward, and tell him to give you as much money as will buy the best cow
you can find." Surtees, astonished at this unexpected generosity,
said - "My Lord, I hope you will ride to heaven upon the back of that
cow." A while afterwards he was saluted in the college by the late Lord
Barrington, with - "Surtees, what is the absurd speech that I hear you
have been making to the dean?" "I see nothing absurd in it," was the
reply; "when the dean rides to heaven on the back of that cow, many of
you prebendaries will be glad to lay hold of her tail!"

I have noted these innocent trifles concerning one who is chiefly known
as a deep and dry investigator, for the purpose of propitiating the
reader in his favour, since the sacred cause of truth renders it
necessary to refer to another affair in which his conduct, however
trifling it might be, was not innocent. He was addicted to literary
practical jokes of an audacious kind, and carried his presumption so far
as to impose on Sir Walter Scott a spurious ballad which has a place in
the Border Minstrelsy. Nor is it by any means a servile imitation, which
might pass unnoticed in a crowd of genuine and better ballads; but it is
one of the most spirited and one of the most thoroughly endowed with
individual character in the whole collection. This guilty composition is
known as "The Death of Featherstonhaugh," and begins thus: -

"Hoot awa', lads, hoot awa';
Ha' ye heard how the Ridleys, and Thirlwalls, and a',
Ha' set upon Albany Featherstonhaugh,
And taken his life at the Dead Man's Haugh?
There was Williemoteswick
And Hardriding Dick,
And Hughie of Hawdon, and Will of the Wa',
I canna tell a', I canna tell a',
And many a mair that the deil may knaw.

The auld man went down, but Nicol his son
Ran awa' afore the fight was begun;
And he run, and he run,
And afore they were done
There was many a Featherston gat sic a stun,
As never was seen since the world begun.
I canna tell a', I canna tell a',
Some got a skelp and some got a claw,
But they gar't the Featherstons haud their jaw.
Some got a hurt, and some got nane,
Some had harness, and some got staen."

This imposture, professing to be taken down from the recitation of a
woman eighty years old, was accompanied with some explanatory notes,
characteristic of the dry antiquary, thus: "Hardriding Dick is not an
epithet referring to horsemanship, but means Richard Ridley of
Hardriding, the seat of another family of that name, which, in the time
of Charles I., was sold on account of expenses incurred by the loyalty
of the proprietor, the immediate ancestor of Sir Matthew Ridley. Will o'
the Wa' seems to be William Ridley of Walltown, so called from its
situation on the great Roman wall. Thirlwall Castle, whence the clan of
Thirlwalls derived their name, is situated on the small river of
Tippell, near the western boundary of Northumberland. It is near the
wall, and takes its name from the rampart having been _thirled_ - that
is, pierced or breached - in its vicinity."

In the Life of Surtees, the evidence of the crime is thus dryly set
forth, in following up a statement of the transmission of the
manuscript, and of its publication: "Yet all this was a mere figment of
Surtees's imagination, originating probably in some whim of ascertaining
how far he could identify himself with the stirring times, scenes, and
poetical compositions which his fancy delighted to dwell on. This is
proved by more than one copy among his papers of this ballad, corrected
and interlined, in order to mould it to the language, the manners, and
the feelings of the period and of the district to which it refers. Mr
Surtees no doubt had wished to have the success of his attempt tested by
the unbiassed opinion of the very first authority on the subject; and
the result must have been gratifying to him."

In Scott's acknowledgment of the contribution, printed also in the Life
of Surtees, there are some words that must have brought misgivings and
fear of detection to the heart of the culprit, since Scott, without
apparently allowing doubts to enter his mind, yet marked some
peculiarities in the piece, in which it differed from others. "Your
notes upon the parties concerned give it all the interest of authority,
and it must rank, I suppose, among those half-serious, half-ludicrous
songs, in which the poets of the Border delighted to describe what they
considered as the _sport of swords_. It is perhaps remarkable, though it
may be difficult to guess a reason, that these Cumbrian ditties are of a
different stanza and character, and obviously sung to a different kind
of music, from those on the northern Border. The gentleman who collected
the words may perhaps be able to describe the tune."

There is perhaps no system of ethics which lays down with perfect
precision the moral code on literary forgeries, or enables us to judge
of the exact enormity of such offences. The world looks leniently on
them, and sometimes sympathises with them as good jokes. Allan
Cunningham, who, like Ramsay, was called "honest Allan," did not lose
that character by the tremendous "rises" which he took out of Cromek
about those remains of Nithsdale and Galloway song - a case in point so
far as principle goes, but differing somewhat in the intellectual rank
of the victim to the hoax. The temptation to commit such offences is
often extremely strong, and the injury seems slight, while the offender
probably consoles himself with the reflection that he can immediately
counteract it by confession. Vanity, indeed, often joins
conscientiousness in hastening on a revelation. Surtees, however,
remained in obdurate silence, and I am not aware that any edition of
the Minstrelsy draws attention to his handiwork. Lockhart seems not only
to have been ignorant of it, but to have been totally unconscious of the
risk of such a thing, since he always speaks of its author as a
respectable local antiquary, useful to Scott as a harmless drudge.
Perhaps Surtees was afraid of what he had done, like that teller in the
House of Commons who is said by tradition to have attempted to make a
bad joke in the division on the Habeas Corpus Act by counting a fat man
as ten, and, seeing that the trick passed unnoticed, and also passed the
measure, became afraid to confess it.

The literary history of "The Death of Featherstonhaugh" naturally
excited uneasiness about the touching ballad of "Barthram's Dirge," also
contributed to the Minstrelsy as the fruit of the industrious
investigations of Surtees. Most readers will remember this: -

"They shot him dead at the Nine-Stone Rig,
Beside the headless cross,
And they left him lying in his blood,
Upon the moor and moss."

After this stanza, often admired for its clearness as a picture, there
is a judicious break, and then come stanzas originally deficient of
certain words, which, as hypothetically supplied by Surtees, were
good-naturedly allowed to remain within brackets, as ingenious
suggestions: -

"They made a bier of the broken bough,
The sauch and the aspine grey,
And they bore him to the Lady Chapel,
And waked him there all day.

A lady came to that lonely bower,
And threw her robes aside;
She tore her ling [long] yellow hair,
And knelt at Barthram's side.

She bathed him in the Lady Well,
His wounds sae deep and sair,
And she plaited a garland for his breast,
And a garland for his hair."

A glance at the reprint of the Life of Surtees for the book club called
after his name, confirms the suspicions raised by the exposure of the
other ballad - this also is an imposition.[75]

[Footnote 75: The editor of the Life prints the following note by Mr
Raine, the coadjutor of Surtees in his investigations into the history
of the North of England: "I one evening in looking through Scott's
Minstrelsy wrote opposite to this dirge, _Aut Robertus aut Diabolus_.
Surtees called shortly after, and, pouncing upon the remark, justified
me by his conversation on the subject, in adding to my note, _Ita, teste
seipso_." - P. 87.]

Altogether, such affairs create an unpleasant uncertainty about the
paternity of that delightful department of literature, our ballad
poetry. Where next are we to be disenchanted? Of the way in which
ancient ballads have come into existence, there is one sad example
within my own knowledge. Some mad young wags, wishing to test the
critical powers of an experienced collector, sent him a new-made
ballad, which they had been enabled to secure only in a fragmentary
form. To the surprise of its fabricator, it was duly printed; but what
naturally raised his surprise to astonishment, and revealed to him a
secret, was, that it was no longer a fragment, but a complete
ballad, - the collector, in the course of his industrious inquiries among
the peasantry, having been so fortunate as to recover the missing
fragments! It was a case where neither could say anything to the other,
though Cato might wonder _quod non rideret haruspex, haruspicem cum
vidisset_. This ballad has been printed in more than one collection, and
admired as an instance of the inimitable simplicity of the genuine old
versions!

It may perhaps do something to mitigate Surtees's offence in the eye of
the world, that it was he who first suggested to Scott the idea of
improving the Jacobite insurrections, and, in fact, writing Waverley. In
the very same letter, quoted above, where Scott acknowledges the
treacherous gift, he also acknowledges the hints he has received; and,
mentioning the Highland stories he had imbibed from old Stewart of
Invernahyle, says: "I believe there never was a man who united the
ardour of a soldier and tale-teller - or man of talk, as they call it in
Gaelic - in such an excellent degree; and as he was as fond of telling as
I was of hearing, I became a violent Jacobite at the age of ten years
old; and even since reason and reading came to my assistance, I have
never got rid of the impression which the gallantry of Prince Charles
made on my imagination. Certainly I will not renounce the idea of doing
something to preserve these stories, and the memory of times and manners
which, though existing as it were yesterday, have so strangely vanished
from our eyes."

So much for certain men of mark whose pursuits or hobbies induced them
to cluster round the cradle of this new literary organisation. When it
was full grown it gathered about it a large body of systematic workers,
who had their own special departments in the great republic of letters.
To offer a just and discriminating account of these men's services would
draw me through an extensive tract of literary biography.

There is a shallow prejudice very acceptable to all blockheads, that men
who are both learned and laborious must necessarily be stupid. It is
best to meet the approach of such a prejudice at once, by saying that
the editors of club books are not mere dreary drudges, seeing the works
of others accurately through the press, and attending only to dates and
headings. Around and throughout the large library of volumes issued by
these institutions, there run prolific veins of fresh literature
pregnant with learning and ability. The style of work thus set agoing
has indeed just the other day been incorporated into a sort of
department of state literature since the great collection called The
Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle
Ages, of which the Master of the Rolls accepts the responsibility, is
carried out in the very spirit of the book clubs, in which indeed most
of the editors of the Chronicles have been trained.

Without prejudice to others, let me just name a few of those to whom the
world is under obligation for services in this field of learned labour.
For England, there are James Orchard Halliwell, Sir Frederic Madden,
Beriah Botfield, Sir Henry Ellis, Alexander Dyce, Thomas Stapleton,
William J. Thoms, Crofton Croker, Albert Way, Joseph Hunter, John Bruce,
Thomas Wright, John Gough Nichols, Payne Collier, Joseph Stevenson, and
George Watson Taylor, who edited that curious and melancholy book of
poems, composed by the Duke of Orleans while he was a prisoner in
England after the battle of Agincourt - poems composed, singularly
enough, in the English language, and at a period extremely deficient in
native vernacular literature.

In Scotland, it was in the earlier issues of the Bannatyne that Thomas
Thomson, too indolent or fastidious to commit himself to the writing of
a book, left the most accessible vestiges of that power of practically
grasping historical facts and conditions, which Scott admired so
greatly, and acknowledged so much benefit from. He was followed by
Professor Innes, who found and taught the secret of extracting from
ecclesiastical chartularies, and other early records, the light they
throw upon the social condition of their times, and thus collected
matter for the two pleasant volumes which have become so popular. The
Bannatyne Club, lately finding no more to do, wound up with a graceful
compliment to David Laing - the man to whom, after Scott, it has been
most indebted. And, lastly, it is in the Scotch book clubs that Joseph
Robertson has had the opportunity of exercising those subtle powers of
investigation and critical acumen, peculiarly his own, which have had a
perceptible and substantial effect in raising archæology out of that
quackish repute which it had long to endure under the name of
antiquarianism. For Ireland, of which I have something farther to say at
length, let it suffice in the mean time to name Dean Butler, Dr Reeves,
Mr O'Donovan, Mr Eugene Curry, and Dr Henthorn Todd.

There is another and distinct class of services which have been
performed through the medium of the club books. The Roxburghe having
been founded on the principle that each member should print a volume, to
be distributed among his colleagues, an example was thus set to men of
easy fortune and scholarly tastes, which has been followed with a large
liberality, of which the public have probably but a faint idea. Not only
in those clubs founded on the reciprocity system of each member
distributing and receiving, but in those to be presently noticed, where
the ordinary members pay an annual sum, to be expended in the printing
of their books, have individual gentlemen come forward and borne the
expense of printing and distributing costly volumes. In some instances
valuable works have thus been presented to the members at the cost of
those who have also undergone the literary labour of editing them.

There is something extremely refined and gentlemanlike in this form of
liberality. The recipient of the bounty becomes the possessor of a
handsome costly book without being subjected in any way to the
obligation of receiving a direct gift at the hands of the munificent
donor; for the recipient is a sort of corporation - a thing which the
lawyers say has no personal responsibility and no conscience, and which
all the world knows to have no gratitude.

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_PART IV. - BOOK-CLUB LITERATURE._

Generalities.


Nearly a quarter of a century after the birth of the first book club, a
new era was ushered in by its brother, the Camden, established for the
printing of books and documents connected with the early civil,
ecclesiastical, and literary history of the British Empire. It discarded
the rule which threw on each member the duty of printing and
distributing a book, and tried the more equitable adjustment of an
annual subscription to create a fund for defraying the expense of
printing volumes to be distributed among the members. These, at first
limited to 1000, expanded to 1200. Clubs with various objects now
thickly followed. Any attempt to classify them as a whole, is apt to
resemble Whately's illustration of illogical division - "_e.g._, if you
were to divide 'book' into 'poetical, historical, folio, quarto, French,
Latin,'" &c. One of the systems of arrangement is topographical, as the
Chetham, "for the purpose of publishing biographical and historical
books connected with the counties palatine of Lancaster and
Chester."[76] The Surtees, again, named after our friend the
ballad-monger, affects "those parts of England and Scotland included in
the east between the Humber and the Firth of Forth, and in the west
between the Mersey and the Clyde - a region which constituted the ancient
kingdom of Northumberland." The Maitland, with its headquarters in
Glasgow, gives a preference to the west of Scotland, but has not been
exclusive. The Spalding Club, established in Aberdeen, the granite
capital of the far north, is the luminary of its own district, and has
produced fully as much valuable historical matter as any other club in
Britain. Then there is the Irish Archæological - perhaps the most learned
of all - with its casual assistants, the Ossianic, the Celtic, and the
Iona. The Ælfric may be counted their ethnical rival, as dealing with
the productions of the Anglo-Saxon enemies of the Celt. The Camden
professes, as we have seen, to be general to the British Empire. The
name of the club called "The Oriental Translation Fund," tells its own
story.

[Footnote 76: Among other volumes of interest, the Chetham has issued a
very valuable and amusing collection of documents about the siege of



Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter : etc. → online text (page 25 of 33)