Walter Scott.

The poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet online

. (page 62 of 78)
Online LibraryWalter ScottThe poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet → online text (page 62 of 78)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

public ear, and afford the author an oppor-
tunity of varying his measure with the varia-
tions of a romantic theme. On the contrary,
it was, to the best of my recollection, more
than a year after Mr. Stoddart's visit, that, by
way of experiment, I composed the first two or
three stanzas of 'The Lay of the Last Min-
strel.' I was shortly afterwards visited by two
intimate friends, one of whom still survives.

They were men whose talents might have
raised them to the highest station in litera-
ture, had they not preferred exerting them in
their own profession of the law, in which they
attained equal preferment. I was in the habit
of consulting them on my attempts at composi-
tion, having equal confidence in their sound
taste and friendly sincerity. In this specimen
I had, in the phrase of the Highland servant,
packed all that was my own at least, for I had
also included a line of invocation, a little soft-
ened, from Coleridge —

1 Mary, mother, shield us well.'
As neither of my friends said much to me on
the subject of the stanzas I showed them before
their departure, I had no doubt that their dis-
gust had been greater than their good-nature
chose to express. Looking upon them, there-
fore, as a failure, I threw the manuscript into
the fire, and thought as little more as I could
of the matter. Some time afterwards I met
one of my two counsellors, who inquired, with
considerable appearance of interest, about the
progress of the romance I had commenced, and
was greatly surprised at learning its fate. He
confessed that neither he nor our mutual friend
had been at first able to give a precise opinion
on a poem so much out of the common road ;
but that as they walked home together to the
city, they had talked much on the subject, and
the result was an earnest desire that I would
proceed with the composition. He also added,
that some sort of prologue might be necessary,
to place the mind of the hearers in the situa-
tion to understand and enjoy the poem, and
recommended the adoption of such quaint
mottoes as Spenser has used to announce the
contents of the chapters of the Faery Queen,
such as —

' Babe's bloody hands may not be cleansed.

The face of golden Mean :
Her sisters two, Extremities,

Strive her to banish clean.'

I entirely agreed with my friendly critic in the
necessity of having some sort of pitch-pipe,
which might make readers aware of the object,
or rather the tone, of the publication. But I
doubted whether, in assuming the oracular
style of Spenser's mottoes, the interpreter
might not be censured as the harder to be
understood of the two. I therefore introduced
the Old Minstrel, as an appropriate prolocutor
by whom the lay might be sung or spoken, and
the introduction of whom betwixt the cantos
might remind the reader at intervals of the
time, place, and circumstances of the recitation.
This species of cadre, or frame, afterwards af-
forded the poem its name of ' The Lay of the
Last Minstrel.'

" The work was subsequently shown to other
friends during its progress, and received the
imprimatur of Mr. Francis Jeffrey, who had
been already for some time distinguished by
his critical talent.

" The poem, being once licensed by the critics
as fit for the market, was soon finished, proceed-
ing at about the rate of a canto per week. There



was, indeed, little occasion for pause or hesita-
tion, when a troublesome rhyme might be ac-
commodated by an alteration of the stanza, or
where an incorrect measure might be remedied
by a variation of the rhyme. It was finally
published in 1805, and may be regarded as the
first work in which the writer, who has been
since so voluminous, laid his claim to be con-
sidered as an original author.

" The book was published by Longman and
Company, and Archibald Constable and Com-
pany. The principal of the latter firm was
then commencing that course of bold and lib-
eral industry which was of so much advantage
to his country, and might have been so to him-
self, but for causes which it is needless to enter
into here. The work, brought out on the usual
terms of division of profits between the author
and publishers, was not long after purchased by
them for ^500, to which Messrs. Longman and
Company afterwards added ^100, in their own
unsolicited kindness, in consequence of the un-
common success of the work. It was hand-
somely given to supply the loss of a fine horse,
which broke down suddenly while the Author
was riding with one of the worthy publishers.

"It would be great affectation not to own
frankly, that the Author expected some success
from * The Lay of the Last Minstrel.' The
attempt to return to a more simple and natural
style of poetry was likely to be welcomed, at
a time when the public' had become tired of
heroic hexameters, with all the buckram and
binding which belong to them of later days.
But whatever might have been his expecta-
tions, whether moderate or unreasonable, the
result left them far behind, for among those
who smiled on the adventurous Minstrel were
numbered the great names of William Pitt and
Charles Fox. Neither was the extent of the
sale inferior to the character of the judges who
received the poem with approbation. Upwards
of thirty thousand copies of the Lay were dis-
posed of by the trade ; and the Author had to
perform a task difficult to human vanity, when
called upon to make the necessary deductions
from his own merits, in a calm attempt to
account for his popularity.

" A few additional remarks on the Author's
literary attempts after this period, will be found
in the Introduction to the Poem of Marmion.

"Abbotsford, April, 1830."


i.' Branksome tower. In the reign of James
I.. Sir William Scott of Buccleuch, chief of the
clan bearing that name, exchanged, with Sir
Thomas [nglia of Manor, the estate of Mur-
, in Lanarkshire, for one-half of the
barony of Branksome, or Brankholm, lying
upon the Teviot, about three miles above
Hawick. He was probably induced to this
1 The numbers are those of stanzas.

transaction from the vicinity of Branksome to
the extensive domain which he possessed in
Ettrick Forest and in Teviotdale. In the for-
mer district he held by occupancy the estate of
Buccleuch, and much of the forest land on the
river Ettrick. In Teviotdale, he enjoyed the
barony of Eckford, by a grant from Robert II.
to his ancestor, Walter Scott of Kirkurd, for
the apprehending of Gilbert Ridderford, con-
firmed by Robert III., 3d May, 1424. Tradi-
tion imputes the exchange betwixt Scott and
Inglis to a conversation, in which the latter, a
man, it would appear, of a mild and forbearing
nature, complained much of the injuries which
he was exposed to from the English Borderers,
who frequently plundered his lands of Brank-
some. Sir William Scott instantly offered him
the estate of Murdiestone, in exchange for that
which was subject to such egregious inconven-
ience. When the bargain was completed, he
dryly remarked that the cattle in Cumberland
were as good as those of Teviotdale ; and pro-
ceeded to commence a system of reprisals upon
the English, which was regularly pursued by
his successors. In the next reign, James II.
granted to Sir Walter Scott of Branksome, and
to Sir David, his son, the remaining half of the
barony of Branksome, to be held in blanche for
the payment of a red rose. The cause assigned
for the grant is, their brave and faithful exer-
tions in favor of the King against the house of
Douglas, with whom James had been recently
tugging for the throne of Scotland.

3. Nine-and-twenty knights, etc. The ancient
Barons of Buccleuch, both from feudal splendor
and from their frontier situation, retained in
their household, at Branksome, a number of
gentlemen of their own name, who held lands
from their chief, for the military service of
watching and warding his castle.

5. Jedwood-axe. " Of a truth," says Frois-
sart, "the Scottish cannot boast great skill with
the bow, but rather bear axes, with which, in
time of need, they give heavy strokes." The
Jedwood-axe was a »sort of partisan, used by
horsemen, as appears from the arms of Jed-
burgh, which bear a cavalier mounted, and
armed with this weapon. It is also called a
Jedwood or Jeddart staff.

6. They watch, etc. Branksome Castle was
continually exposed to the attacks of the Eng-
lish, both from its situation and the restless
military disposition of its inhabitants, who
were seldom on good terms with their neigh-

7. Bards long shall tell, etc. Sir Walter Scott
of Buccleuch succeeded to his grandfather, Sir
David, in 1492. He was a brave and powerful
baron, and Warden of the West Marches of
Scotland. His death was the consequence of a
feud betwixt the Scotts and Kens, which, in
spite of all means used to bring about an agree-
ment, raged for many years upon the Borders.

8. No ! vainly to each holy shrine, etc. Among
other expedients resorted to for stanching the
feud betwixt the Scotts and the Kerrs, there
was a bond executed in 1529, between the heads



of each clan, binding themselves to perform
reciprocally the four principal pilgrimages of
Scotland for the benefit of the souls of those
of the opposite name who had fallen in the
quarrel. This indenture is printed in the Min-
strelsy of the Scottish Border, vol. i. But either
it never took effect, or else the feud was re-
newed shortly afterwards.

10. Carr. The family of Ker, Kerr, or Carr,
was very powerful on the Border. Cessford
Castle, the ancient baronial residence of the
family, is situated near the village of More-
battle, within two or three miles of the Cheviot
Hills. It has been a place of great strength
and consequence, but is now ruinous.

10. Lord Cranstoun. The Cranstouns, Lord
Cranstoun, are an ancient Border family, whose
chief seat was at Crailing, in Teviotdale. They
were at this time at feud with the clan of Scott ;
for it appears that the Lady of Buccleuch, in
1 557, beset the Laird of Cranstoun, seeking his
life. Nevertheless, the same Cranstoun, or
perhaps his son, was married to a daughter of
the same lady.

11. Bethune's line of Picardie. The Bethunes
were of French origin, and derived their name
from a small town in Artois. There were sev-
eral distinguished families of the Bethunes in
the neighboring province of Picardy ; they
numbered among their descendants the cele-
brated Due de Sully; and the name was ac-
counted among the most noble in France, while
aught noble remained in that country.

11. Padua. Padua was long supposed, by
the Scottish peasants, to be the principal
school of necromancy.

11. His form no darkening shadow traced, etc.
The shadow of a necromancer is independent
of the sun. Glycas informs us, that Simon
Magus caused his shadow to go before him,
making people believe it was an attendant
spirit (Hey wood's Hierarchie, p. 475).

12. Till to 'her bidding, etc. The Scottish
vulgar, without having any very defined notion
of their attributes, believe in the existence of
an intermediate class of spirits, residing in the
air or in the waters ; to whose agency they as-
cribe floods, storms, and all such phenomena
as their own philosophy cannot readily explain.
They are supposed to interfere in the affairs of
mortals, sometimes with a malevolent purpose,
and sometimes with milder views.

19. The Crescents and the Star. The arms of
the Kerrs of Cessford were, Vert on a chevron,
betwixt three unicorns' heads erased argent,
three mullets sable; crest, a unicorn's head
erased proper. The Scotts of Buccleuch bore,
Or, on a bend azure ; a star of six points be-
twixt two crescents of the first.

20. William of Deloraine. The lands of
Deloraine are joined to those of Buccleuch in
Ettrick Forest. They were immemorially pos-
sessed by the Buccleuch family, under the
strong title of occupancy, although no charter
was obtained from the crown until 1545.

21. By wily turns, etc. The kings and heroes
of Scotland, as well as the Border-riders, were

sometimes obliged to study how to evade the
pursuit of bloodhounds. Barbour informs us
that Robert Bruce was repeatedly tracked by
sleuth-dogs. On one occasion he escaped by
wading a bow-shot down a brook, and ascend-
ing into a tree by a branch which overhung the
water; thus, leaving no trace on land of his
footsteps, he baffled the scent.

24. Were 7 my neck-verse, etc. Hairibee was
the place of executing the Border marauders
at Carlisle. The neck-verse is the beginning of
the 51st Psalm, Miserere mei, etc., anciently
read by criminals claiming the benefit of clergy.

25. The Moat-hill's mound. This is a round
artificial mount near Hawick, which, from its
name {Mot, A. S. Concilium, Conventus), was
probably anciently used as a place for assem-
bling a national council of the adjacent tribes.
There are many such mounds in Scotland, and
they are sometimes, but rarely, of a square form.

27. Minto-crags. A romantic assemblage of
cliffs, which rise suddenly above the vale of
Teviot, in the immediate vicinity of the family-
seat from which Lord Minto takes his title. A
small platform, on a projecting crag, command-
ing a most beautiful prospect, is termed Barn-
hills' Bed. This Barnhills is said to have been
a robber, or outlaw. There are remains of a
strong tower beneath the rocks, where he is
supposed to have dwelt, and from which he
derived his name.

30. Halidon. An ancient seat of the Kerrs
of Cessford, now demolished. About a quarter
of a mile to the northward lay the field of battle
betwixt Buccleuch and Angus, which is called
to this day the Skirmish Field.

31. Old Metros'. Melrose Abbey. The an-
cient and beautiful monastery of Melrose was
founded by King David I. Its ruins afford
the finest specimen of Gothic architecture and
Gothic sculpture which Scotland can boast.
The stone of which it is built, though it has
resisted the weather for so many ages, retains
perfect sharpness, so that even the most mi-
nute ornaments seem as entire as when newly


1. St. David'' ruined pile. David I. of Scot-
land purchased the reputation of sanctity by
founding, and liberally endowing, not only the
monastery of Melrose, but those of Kelso, Jed-
burgh, and many others ; which led to the well-
known observation of his successor, that he was
a sore saint for the crown.

The Buccleuch family were great benefactors
to the Abbey of Melrose. As early as the reign
of Robert II., Robert Scott, Baron of Murdie-
ston and Rankleburn (now Buccleuch), gave to
the monks the lands of Hinkery, in Ettrick For-
est, pro salute animce sucb.

10. O gallant chief of Otterburne ! The fa-
mous and desperate battle of Otterburne was
fought 15th August, 1388, betwixt Henry Percy,



called Hotspur, and James, Earl of Douglas.
Both these renowned champions were at the
head of a chosen body of troops, and they were
rivals jn military fame. The issue of the con-
flict is well known : Percy was made prisoner,
and the Scots won the day, dearly purchased by
the death of their gallant general, the Earl of
Douglas, who was slain in the action. He was
buried at Melrose beneath the high altar.

10. Dark Knight of Liddesdale. William I
Douglas, called the Knight of Liddesdale, j
flourished during the reign of David II., and j
was so distinguished by his valor that he was j
called the Flower of Chivalry. Nevertheless,
he tarnished his renown by the cruel murder of j
Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, originally
his friend and brother in arms. The King had
conferred upon Ramsay the sheriffdom of Tevi-
otdale, to which Douglas pretended some claim.
In revenge of this preference, the Knight of
Liddesdale came down upon Ramsay, while he
was administering justice at Hawick, seized
and carried him off to his remote and inacces-
sible castle of Hermitage, where he threw his
unfortunate prisoner, horse and man, into a
dungeon, and left him to perish of hunger. It
is said the miserable captive prolonged his ex-
istence for several days by the corn which fell
from a granary above the vault in which he was
confined. So weak was the royal authority,
that David, although highly incensed at this
atrocious murder, found himself obliged to ap-
point the Knight of Liddesdale successor to his
victim, as Sheriff of Teviotdale. But he was
soon after slain, while hunting in Ettrick For-
est, by his own godson and chieftain, William,
Earl of Douglas, in revenge, according to some
authors, of Ramsay's murder ; although a pop-
ular tradition, preserved in a ballad quoted by
Godscroft, and some parts of which are still
preserved, ascribes the resentment of the Earl
to jealous]

[3. Michael Scott. Sir Michael Scott of Bal-
wearie flourished during the thirteenth century,
and was one of the ambassadors sent to bring
the Maid of Norway to Scotland upon the death
of Alexander III. By a poetical anachronism,
he is here placed in a later era. He was a man
of much learning, chiefly acquired in foreign
countries. He wrote a commentary upon Aris-
totle, printed at Venice in 1496: and several
es upon natural philosophy, from which
he appear- to have been addicted to the ab-
I judicial astrology, alchemy,
physiognomy, and chiromancy. 'Hence he
among his contemporaries for a skil-
lul magician. Dempster informs us, that he
remembers to have heard in his youth that the
magic books of Michael s< . »t t were still in ex-
, but could not be opened without dan-
ii account of the malignant fiends who
thereby invoked. Tradition varies con-
cerning the place of his burial; some contend
i lme Coltrame, in Cumberland, others
foi Metro* Abbey. But all agree that his
books of in interred in his grave, or

vent where he died.

13. Salamanca's cave. Spain, from the relics,
doubtless, of Arabian learning and superstition,
was accounted a favorite residence of magi-
cians. Pope Sylvester, who actually imported
from Spain the use of the Arabian numerals,
was supposed to have learned there the magic
for which he was stigmatized by the ignorance
of his age. There were public schools where
magic, or rather the sciences supposed to in-
volve its mysteries, were regularly taught, at
Toledo, Seville, and Salamanca. In the latter
city, they were held in a deep cavern ; the
mouth of which was walled up by Queen Isa-
bella, wife of King Ferdinand.

13. The bells would ring in Notre Da?ne.
Michael Scott was chosen, it is said, to go
upon an embassy, to obtain from the King of
France satisfaction for certain piracies com-
mitted by his subjects upon those of Scotland.
Instead of preparing a new equipage and splen-
did retinue, the ambassador retreated to his
study, opened his book and evoked a fiend in
the shape of a huge black horse, mounted upon
his back, and forced him to fly through the air
towards France. As they crossed the sea, the
devil insidiously asked his rider what it was
that the old women of Scotland muttered at
bed-time. A less experienced wizard might
have answered that it was the Pater Noster,
which would have licensed the devil to precipi-
tate him from his back. But Michael sternly
replied, " What is that to thee ? Mount, Di-
abolus, and fly ! " When he arrived at Paris,
he tied his horse to the gate of the palace, en-
tered, and boldly delivered his message. An
ambassador, with so little of the pomp and cir-
cumstance of diplomacy, was not received with
much respect, and the king was about to return
a contemptuous refusal to his demand, when
Michael besought him to suspend his resolu-
tion till he had seen his horse stamp three
times. The first stamp shook every steeple in
Paris, and caused all the bells to'ring ; the sec-
ond threw down three of the towers of the pal-
ace; and the infernal steed had lifted his lioof
to give the third stamp, when the king rather
chose to dismiss Michael, with the most ample
concessions, than to stand to the probable con-

13. Eildon Hills. Michael Scott was, once
upon a time, much embarrassed by a spirit, for
whom he was under the necessity of finding
constant employment. He commanded him to
build a cauld, or dam-head, across the Tweed
at Kelso; it was accomplished in one night,
and still does honor to the infernal architect.
Michael next ordered that Eildon Hill, which
was then a uniform cone, should be divided
into three. Another night was sufficient to part
its summit into the three picturesque peaks
which it now bears. At length the enchanter
conquered this indefatigable demon, by em-
ploying him in the hopeless and endless task
of making ropes out of sea-sand.

17. That lamp, etc. Baptista Porta, and
other authors who treat of natural magic, talk
much of eternal lamps, pretended to have been



found burning in ancient sepulchres. One of
these perpetual lamps is said to have been dis-
covered in the tomb of Tulliola, the daughter
of Cicero. The wick was supposed to be com-
posed of asbestos. Kircher enumerates three
different recipes for constructing such lamps,
and wisely concludes that the thing is never-
theless impossible.

31. The Baron's dwarf. The idea of Lord
Cranstoun's Goblin Page is taken from a being
called Gilpin Horner, who appeared, and made
some stay, at a farmhouse among the Border-
mountains. An old man, of the name of An-
derson, who was born, and lived all his life, at
Todshaw-hill, in Eskedale-muir, said that two
men, late in the evening, when it was growing
dark, heard a voice, at some distance, crying,
" Tint ! tint ! tint ! " x One of the men, named
Moffat, called out, "What deil has tint you?
Come here." Immediately a creature, of some-
thing like a human form, appeared. It was
surprisingly little, distorted in features, and mis-
shapen in limbs. As soon as the two men could
see it plainly, they ran home in a great fright,
imagining they had met with some goblin. By
the way Moffat fell, and it ran over him, and
was home at the house as 'soon as either of
them, and staid there a long time ; but it is not
stated how long. It was real flesh and blood,
and ate and drank, was fond of cream, and,
when it could get at it, would destroy a great
deal. It seemed a mischievous creature ; and
any of the children whom it could master, it
would beat and scratch without mercy. It was
once abusing a child belonging to the same
Moffat, who had been so frightened by its first
appearance ; and he, in a passion, struck it so
violent a blow upon the side of the head, that
it tumbled upon the ground; but it was not
stunned; for it set up its head directly, and ex-
claimed, "Ah hah, Will o' Moffat, you strike
sair ! " (viz., sore.) After it had staid there long,
one evening, when the women were milking
the cows in the loan, it was playing among the
children near by them, when suddenly they
heard a loud shrill voice cry, three times, " Gil-
pin Homer ! " It started, and said, " That is
me, I must away" and instantly disappeared,
and was never heard of more. Besides con-
stantly repeating the word tint! tint! Gilpin
Horner was often heard to call upon Peter Ber-
tram, or Be-te-ram, as he pronounced the word ;
and when the shrill voice called Gilpin Horner,
he immediately acknowledged it was the sum-
mons of the said Peter Bertram, who seems
therefore to have been the devil who had tint,
or lost, the little imp. As much as has been
objected to Gilpin Horner on account of his
being supposed rather a device of the author
than a popular superstition, I can only say, that
no legend which I ever heard seemed to be
more universally credited, and that many per-
sons of very good rank and considerable in-
formation are well known to repose absolute
faith in the tradition.

1 Tint signifies lost.


4. The crane on the Baron's crest. The crest
of the Cranstouns, in allusion to their name, is
a crane dormant, holding a stone in his foot,
with an emphatic Border motto, Thou shall want
ere I want.

8. A book-bosomed priest. At Unthank, two
miles N. E. from the church of Ewes, there
are the ruins of a chapel for divine service, in
time of Popery. There is a tradition, that friars
were wont to come from Melrose, or Jedburgh,
to baptize and marry in this parish ; and from
being in use to carry the mass-book in their
bosoms, they were called, by the inhabitants,

9. Glamour. Glamour, in the legends of
Scottish superstition, means the magic power
of imposing on the eyesight of the spectators,
so that the appearance of an object shall be
totally different from the reality. The trans-

Online LibraryWalter ScottThe poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet → online text (page 62 of 78)