Walter Scott.

The poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet online

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I was to wrestle for my reputation, and not
neglect any advantage. In a most agreeable
pleasure-voyage, which I have tried to com-
memorate in the Introduction to the new
edition of the Pirate, I visited, in social and
friendly company, the coasts and islands of
Scotland, and made myself acquainted with
the localities of which I meant to treat. But
this voyage, which was in every other effect so
delightful, was in its conclusion saddened by
one of those strokes of fate which so often
mingle themselves with our pleasures. The
accomplished and excellent person who had
recommended to me the subject for The Lay of
the Last Minstrel, and to whom I proposed to
inscribe what I already suspected might be the
close of my poetical labors, was unexpectedly
removed from the world, which she seemed
only to have visited for purposes of kindness
and benevolence. It is needless to say how
the author's feelings, or the composition of his
trifling work, were affected by a circumstance
which occasioned so many tears and so mucl?



sorrow. True it is, that The Lord of the Isles
was concluded, unwillingly and in haste, under
the painful feeling of one who has a task which
must be finished, rather than with the ardor
of one who endeavors to perform that task
well. Although the Poem cannot be said to
have made a favorable impression on the
public, the sale of fifteen thousand copies en-
abled the Author to retreat from the field with
the honors of war.

" In the mean time, what was necessarily to be
considered as a failure was much reconciled to
my feelings by the success attending my attempt
in another species of composition. Waverley
had, under strict incognito, taken its flight from
the press, just before I set out upon the voyage
already mentioned ; it had now made its way to
popularity, and the success of that work and the
volumes which followed was sufficient to have
satisfied a greater appetite for applause than I
have at any time possessed.

" I may as well add in this place that, being
much urged by my intimate friend, now unhap-
pily no more, William Erskine (a Scottish judge,
by the title of Lord Kinedder), I agreed to write
the little romantic tale called the Bridal of Trier-
main ; but it was on the condition that he should
make no serious effort to disown the composi-
tion, if report should lay it at his door. As he
was more than suspected of a taste for poetry,
and as I took care, in several places, to mix
something which might resemble (as far as was
in my power) my friend's feeling and manner,
the train easily caught, and two large editions
were sold. A third being called for, Lord
Kinedder became unwilling to aid any longer
a deception which was going farther than he
expected or desired, and the real author's name
was given. Upon another occasion I sent up
another of these trifles, which, like schoolboys'
kites, served to show how the wind of popular
taste was setting. The manner was supposed
to be that of a rude minstrel or Scald, in oppo-
sition to the Bridal of Triermain, which was
designed to belong rather to the Italian school.
This new fugitive piece was called Harold the
Dauntless ; and I am still astonished at my
having committed the gross error of selecting
the very name which Lord Byron had made so
famous. It encountered rather an odd fate.
My ingenious friend, Mr. James Hogg, had pub-
lished, about the same time, a work called the
Poetic Mirror, containing imitations of the prin-
cipal living poets. There was in it a very good
imitation of my own style* which bore such a
dance to Harold the Dauntless that there
WM no discovering the original from the imita-
tion; and I believe that many who took the
trouble of thinking upon the subject were
rather of opinion that my ingenious friend
was the true, and not the fictitious, Simon
Pure. Since this period, which was in the
[817, the Author has not been an intru-
der on the public by any poetical work of im-

"Am:' //;-//, 1830."


1. Thy rugged halls, Art Ornish Krung. The
ruins of the castle of Artornish are situated
upon a promontory on the Morven, or mainland
side of the Sound of Mull, a name given to the
deep arm of the sea which divides that island
from the continent. The situation is wild and
romantic in the highest degree, having on the
one hand a high and precipitous chain of rocks
overhanging the sea, and on the other the nar-
row entrance to the beautiful salt-water lake,
called Loch Alline, which is in 'many places
finely fringed with copsewood. The ruins of
Artornish are not now very considerable, and
consist chiefly of the remains of an old keep, or
tower, with fragments of outward defences. But
in former days it was a place of great con-
sequence, being one of the principal strongholds
which the Lords of the Isles, during the period
of their stormy independence, possessed upon
the mainland of Argyleshire.

2. Rude Heiskar's seal through surges dark,
etc. The seal displays a taste for music, which
could scarcely be expected from his habits and
local predilections. They will long follow a
boat in which any musical instrument is played,
and even a tune simply whistled has attractions
for them. The Dean of the Isles says of Heiskar,
a small uninhabited rock, about twelve (Scottish-)
miles from the isle of Uist, that an infinite
slaughter of seals takes place there.

7. Overlooked, dark Mull ! thy mighty Sou /id.
The Sound of Mull, which divides that island
from the continent of Scotland, is one of the
most striking scenes which the Hebrides afford
to the traveller. Sailing from Oban to Aros, or
Tobermory, through a narrow channel, yet deep
enough to bear vessels of the largest burden,
he has on his left the bold and mountainous
shores of Mull ; on the right those of that dis-
trict of Argyleshire called Morven, or Morvern,
successively indented by deep salt-water lochs,
running up many miles inland. To the south-
eastward arise a prodigious range of mountains,
among which Cruachan-Ben is pre-eminent.
And to the northeast is the no less huge and
picturesque range of the Ardnamurchan hills.
Many ruinous castles, situated generally upon
cliffs overhanging the ocean, add interest to the

8. Mingarry sternly placed, etc. The castle
of Mingarry is situated on the sea-coast of the
district of Ardnamurchan. The ruins, which
are tolerably entire, are surrounded by a very
high wall, forming a kind of polygon, for the
purpose of adapting itself to the projecting
angles of a precipice overhanging the sea, on
which the castle stands. It was anciently the
residence of the Mac-Ians, a clan of Mac-
Donalds, descended from Ian, or John, a grand-
son of Angus Og, Lord of the Isles.

8. The heir of mighty Somerled. Somerled
was thane of Argyle and Lord of the Isles,
about the middle of the twelfth century. He
seems to have exercised his authority in both
capacities, independent of the crown of Scot-


6, 7

land, against which he often stood in hostility.
He made various incursions upon the western
lowlands during the reign of Malcolm IV., and
seems to have made peace with him upon the
terms of an independent prince, about the year
1 157. In 1 164 he resumed the war against
Malcolm, and invaded Scotland with a large
but probably a tumultuary army, collected in
the isles, in the mainland of Argyleshire, and in
the neighboring provinces of Ireland. He was
defeated and slain in an engagement with a
very inferior force, near Renfrew.

8. Lord of the Isles. The representative of
this independent principality — for such it seems
to have been, though acknowledging occasion-
ally the pre-eminence of the Scottish crown —
was, at the period of the poem, Angus, called
Angus Og ; but the name has been, euphonice
gratia, exchanged for that of Ronald, which fre-
quently occurs in the genealogy. Angus was a
protector of Robert Bruce, whom he received
in his castle of Dunnaverty, during the time of
his greatest distress.

n. The House of Lorn. The House of Lorn
was, like the Lord of the Isles, descended from
a son of Somerled, slain at Renfrew, in 1164.
This son obtained the succession of his main-
land territories, comprehending the greater part
of the three districts of Lorn, in Argyleshire,
and of course might rather be considered as
petty princes than feudal barons. They as-
sumed the patronymic appellation of Mac-
Dougal, by which they are distinguished in the
history of the middle ages.

21. The mimic fires of ocean glow, etc. The
phenomenon called by sailors Sea-fire is one of
the most beautiful and interesting which is wit-
nessed in the Hebrides. At times the ocean
appears entirely illuminated around the vessel,
and a long train of lambent coruscations are
perpetually bursting upon the sides of the ves-
sel, or pursuing her wake through the darkness.

24. The dark fortress. The fortress of a Heb-
ridean chief was almost always on the sea-shore,
for the facility of communication which the
ocean afforded. Nothing can be more wild
than the situations which they chose, and the
devices by which the architects endeavored to
defend them. Narrow stairs and arched vaults
were the usual mode of access ; and the draw-
bridge appears at Dunstaffnage, and elsewhere,
to have fallen from the gate of the building to
the top of such a staircase ; so that any one
advancing with hostile purpose, found himself
in a state of exposed and precarious elevation,
with a gulf between him and the object of his


3. That keen knight, De Argentine. SirEgidius,
or Giles de Argentine, was one of the most
accomplished knights of the period. He had
served in the wars of Henry of Luxemburg with
such high reputation that he was, in popular
estimation, the third worthy of the age. Those

to whom fame assigned precedence over him
were, Henry of Luxemburg himself, and Robert
Bruce. Argentine had warred in Palestine,-
encountered thrice with the Saracens, and had
slain two antagonists in each engagement: an
easy matter, he said, for one Christian knight
to slay two Pagan dogs. His death corresponded
with his high character. With Aymer de
Valence, Earl of Pembroke, he was appointed to
attend immediately upon the person of Edward
.II. at Bannockburn. When the day was utterly
lost they forced the king from the field. De
Argentine saw the king safe from immediate
danger, and then took his leave of him ; " God
be with you, sir," he said, " it is not my wont
to fly." So saying, he turned his horse, cried
his war-cry, plunged into the midst of the com-
batants, and was slain.

4. " Fill me the mighty cup ! " he said, etc. A
Hebridean drinking-cup, of the most ancient
and curious workmanship, has been long pre-
served in the castle of Dunvegan, in Skye, the
romantic seat of Mac-Leod of Mac-Leod, the
chief of that ancient and powerful clan. This
very curious piece of antiquity is nine inches
and three quarters in inside depth, and ten and
a half in height on the outside, the extreme
measure over the lips being four inches and
a half. The cup is made of wood (oak to all
appearance), but most curiously wrought and
embossed with silver work, which projects from
the vessel. The workmanship of the silver is
extremely elegant, and appears to have been
highly gilded. The ledge, brim, and legs of
the cup are of silver.

9. With Carrick's outlawed Chief. It must be
remembered by all who have read the Scottish
history, that after he had slain Comyn at Dum-
fries, and asserted his right to the Scottish
crown, Robert Bruce was reduced to the great-
est extremity by the English and their adherents.
He was crowned at Scone by the general con-
sent of the Scottish barons, but his authority
endured but a short time. According to the
phrase said to have been used by his wife, he
was for that year " a summer king, but not a
winter one."

II. The Brooch of Lorn. Robert Bruce,
after his defeat at Methven, being hard pressed
by the English, endeavored, with the dispirited
remnant of his followers, to escape from
Breadalbane and the mountains of Perthshire
into the Argyleshire Highlands. But he was
encountered and repulsed, after a very severe
engagement, by the Lord of Lorn. Bruce's
personal strength and courage were never dis-
played to greater advantage than in this con-
flict. There is a tradition in the family of the
Mac-Dougals of Lorn, that their chieftain en-
gaged in personal battle with Bruce himself,
while the latter was employed in protecting the
retreat of his men ; that Mac-Dougal was
struck down by the king, whose strength of
body was equal to his vigor of mind, and
would have been slain on the spot, had not
two of Lorn's vassals, a father and son, whom
tradition terms Mac-Keoch, rescued him, by



seizing the mantle of the monarch, and dragging
him from above his adversary. Bruce rid him-
self of these foes by two blovvs of his redoubted
battle-axe, but was so closely pressed by the
other followers of Lorn, that he was forced to
abandon the mantle, and brooch which fastened
it, clasped in the dying grasp of the Mac-
Keochs. A studded brooch, said to have been
that which King Robert lost upon this occa-
sion, was long preserved in the family of Mac-
Dougal, and was lost in a fire which consumed
their temporary residence.

13. Vain was then the Douglas brand, etc.
The gallant Sir James, called the Good Lord
Douglas, the most faithful and valiant of Bruce's
adherents, was wounded at the battle of Dairy.
Sir Nigel, or Neil Campbell, was also in that
unfortunate skirmish. He married Marjorie,
sister to Robert Bruce, and was among his most
faithful followers.

13. Vain Kirkpatrick' s bloody dirk, etc. The
proximate cause of Bruce's asserting his right
to the crown of Scotland was the death of
John, called the Red Comyn. (See canto i. st.
27.) The causes of this act of violence, equally
extraordinary from the high rank both of the
perpetrator and sufferer, and from the place
where the slaughter was committed, are vari-
ously related by the Scottish and English his-
torians, and cannot now be ascertained. The
fact that they met at the high altar of the Minor-
ites, or Greyfriar's Church in Dumfries, that
their difference broke out into high and insult-
ing language, and that Bruce drew his dagger
and stabbed Comyn, is certain. Rushing to
the door of the church, Bruce met two power-
ful barons, Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, and James
de Lindsay, who eagerly asked him what tid-
ings ? " Bad tidings," answered Bruce ; " I
doubt I have slain Comyn." — " Doubtest
thou?" said Kirkpatrick; "I make sicker"
(/'. e. sure). With these words, he and Lindsay
rushed into the church, and despatched the
wounded Comyn- The Kirkpatricks of Close-
burn assumed, in memory of this deed, a hand
holding a dagger, with the memorable words,
" I make sicker."

13. Barendown fled fast away, etc. These
knights are enumerated by Barbour among the
small number of Bruce's adherents, who re-
mained in arms with him after the battle of

25. Was't not enough to Ronald's bower, etc.
It was anciently customary in the Highlands to
bring the bride to the house of the husband.
Nay, in some cases the complaisance was
stretched so far that she remained there upon
trial for a twelvemonth ; and the bridegroom,
even after this period, retained an option of

as to fulfil his engagement.

26. Since mat, //less Wallace, etc. There is
something singularly doubtful about the mode
in which Wallace was taken. That he was

1 to the English i-, indubitable; and
popular fame charges Sir John Menteith with
the indelible infamy. "Accursed," says Arnold
Blair, " be the day of nativity of John de Men-

teith, and may his name be struck out of the
book of life." But John de Menteith was ail
along a zealous favorer of the English interest,
and was governor of Dumbarton Castle by com-
mission from Edward the First ; and therefore,
as the accurate Lord Hailes has observed,
could not be the friend and confidant of Wallace,
as tradition states him to be. The truth seems
to be that Menteith, thoroughly engaged in the
English interest, pursued Wallace closely, and
made him prisoner through the treachery of an
attendant, whom Peter Langtoft calls Jack

26. Was not the life of A thole shed, etc. John
de Strathbogie, Earl of Athole, had attempted
to escape out of the kingdom, but a storm cast
him upon the coast, when he was taken, sent
to London, and executed, with circumstances
of great barbarity, being first half strangled,
then let down from the gallows while yet alive,
barbarously dismembered, and his body burnt.
It may surprise the reader to learn that this
was a mitigated punishment; for in respect
that his mother was a granddaughter of King
John, by his natural son Richard, he was not
drawn on a sledge to execution, " that point was
forgiven," and he made the passage on horse-
back. Matthew of Westminster tells us that
King Edward, then extremely ill, received great
ease from the news that his relative was appre-
hended. " Quo audito, Rex Anglian, etsi gravis-
simo morbo tti7ic langueret, levins tamen tulit
dolorem." To this singular expression the text

29. While I the blessed cross advance, etc.
Bruce uniformly professed, and probably felt,
compunction for having violated the sanctuary
of the church by the slaughter of Comyn; and
finally, in his last hours, in testimony of his
faith, penitence, and zeal, he requested James
Lord Douglas to carry his heart to Jerusalem,
to be there deposited in the Holy Sepulchre.

3 1 . De Brtice I I rose with purpose dread, etc.
So soon as the notice of Comyn's slaughter
reached Rome, Bruce and his adherents were
excommunicated. It was published first by the
Archbishop of York, and renewed at different
times, particularly by Lambyrton, Bishop of St.
Andrews, in 1308 ; but it does not appear to
have answered the purpose which the English
monarch expected. Indeed, for reasons which
it may be difficult to trace, the thunders of
Rome descended upon the Scottish mountains
with less effect than in more fertile countries.
Many of the Scottish prelates, Lambyrton the
primate particularly, declared for Bruce, while
he was yet under the ban of the church, although
he afterwards again changed sides.


8. " Alas ! dear youth, the unhappy time," etc.
I have followed the vulgar and inaccurate tra-
dition, that Bruce fought against Wallace and
the array of Scotland, at the fatal battle of Fal-



kirk. The story, which seems to have no bet-
ter authority than that of Blind Harry, bears,
that having made much slaughter during the
engagement, he sat down to dine with the con-
querors without washing the filthy witness from
his hands.

12. These are the savage wilds that lie, etc.
The extraordinary piece of scenery which I
have here attempted to describe is, I think,
unparalleled in any part of Scotland, at least in
any which I have happened to visit. It lies just
upon the frontier of the Laird of Mac-Leod's
country, which is thereabouts divided from the
estate of Mr. Maccalister of Strath-Aird, called
Strathnardill by the Dean of the Isles.

19. Men were they all of evil mien, etc. The
story of Bruce's meeting the banditti is copied,
with such alterations as the fictitious narrative
rendered necessary, from a striking incident in
the monarch's history, told by Barbour.

28. And mermaid's alabaster grot, etc. Imagi-
nation can hardly conceive anything more beau-
tiful than the extraordinary grotto discovered
not many years since upon the estate of Alex-
ander Mac-Allister, Esq., of Strathaird. It has
since been much and deservedly celebrated, and
a full account of its beauties has been published
by Dr. Mac-Leay of Oban.


4. Yet to no sense of selfish wrongs, etc. The
generosity which does justice to the character
of an enemy often marks Bruce's sentiments,
as recorded by the faithful Barbour. He sel-
dom mentions a fallen enemy without praising
such good qualities as he might possess.

4. Such hate was his on Solway's strand, etc.
To establish his dominion in Scotland had
been a favorite object of Edward's ambition,
and nothing could exceed the pertinacity with
which he pursued it, unless his inveterate resent-
ment against the insurgents, who so frequently
broke the English yoke when he deemed it most
firmly riveted. After the battles of Falkirk and
Methven, and the dreadful examples which he
had made of Wallace and other champions of
national independence, he probably concluded
every chance of insurrection was completely
annihilated. This was in 1306, when Bruce,
as we have seen, was utterly expelled from
Scotland r yet, in the conclusion of the same
year, Bruce was again in arms and formidable ;
and in 1307, Edward, though exhausted by a
long and wasting malady, put himself at the
head of the army destined to destroy him utterly.
But even his spirit of vengeance was unable to
restore his exhausted strength. He reached
Burgh-upon-Sands, a petty village of Cumber-
land, on the shores of the Solway Firth, and
there, 6th July, 1307, expired in sight of the
detested and devoted country of Scotland. His
dying injunctions to his son required him to
continue the Scottish war, and never to recall

8. Carina's tower, that, steep and gray, etc.
The little island of Canna, or Cannay, adjoins
to those of Rum and Muick, with which it
forms one parish. In a pretty bay opening
towards the east, there is a lofty and slender
rock detached from the shore. Upon the sum-
mit are the ruins of a very small tower, scarcely
accessible by a steep and precipitous path.
Here, it is said, one of the kings, or Lords of
the Isles, confined a beautiful lady, of whom he
was jealous. The ruins are of course haunted
by her restless spirit, and many romantic stories
are told by the aged people of the island con-
cerning her fate in life, and her appearances
after death.

9. And Ronin's mountains dark have sent, etc.
Ronin (popularly called Rum) is a very rough
and mountainous island, adjacent to those of
Eigg and Cannay. There is almost no arable
ground upon it.

9. On Scooreigg next a warning light, etc.
These, and the following lines of the stanza,
refer to a dreadful tale of feudal vengeance.
Scoor-Eigg is a high peak in the centre of the
small Isle of Eigg, or Egg. The Mac-Donalds
of the Isle of Egg, a people dependent on Clan-
Ranald, had done some injury to the Laird of
Mac-Leod. The tradition of the isle says that .
it was by a personal attack on the chieftain, in
which his back was broken. But that of the
other isles bears, more probably, that the injury
was offered to two or three of the Mac-Leods,
who, landing upon Eigg, and using some free-
dom with the young women, were seized by the
islanders, bound hand and foot, and turned
adrift in a boat, which the winds and waves
safely conducted to Skye. To avenge the
offence given, Mac-Leod sailed with such a body
of men as rendered resistance hopeless. The
natives, fearing his vengeance, concealed them-
selves in this cavern, and, after a strict search,
the Mac-Leods went on board their galleys,
after doing what mischief they could, concluding
the inhabitants had left the isle, and betaken
themselves to the Long Island, or some of Clan-
Ranald's other possessions. But next morning
they espied from the vessels a man upon the
island, and immediately landing again, they
traced his retreat by the marks of his footsteps,
a light snow being unhappily on the ground.
Mac-Leod then surrounded the cavern, sum-
moned the subterranean garrison, and demanded
that the individuals who had offended him
should be delivered up to him. This was per-
emptorily refused. The chieftain then caused
his people to divert the course of a rill of water,
which, falling over the entrance of the cave,
would have prevented his purposed vengeance.
He then kindled, at the entrance of the cavern,
a huge fire, composed of turf and fern, and
maintained it with unrelenting assiduity, until
all within were destroyed by suffocation.

II. Scenes sung by him who sings no more.
The ballad, entitled Macphail of Colonsay, and
the Mermaid of Co7-rievrekin, was composed
by John Leyden, from a tradition which he
found while making a tour through the Hel>



rides about 1801, soon before his fatal departure
for India, where he died a martyr to his zeal
for knowledge, in the island of Java, immedi-
ately after the landing of our forces near Ba-

Online LibraryWalter ScottThe poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet → online text (page 73 of 78)