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Title: The Balladists - Famous Scots Series
Author: Geddie, John, 1848-1937
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Balladists - Famous Scots Series" ***

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       *       *       *       *       *

The designs and ornaments of this volume are by Mr. Joseph Brown, and
the printing from the press of Messrs. T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh.

       *       *       *       *       *


Not much more has been attempted in these pages than to extract the
marrow of the Scottish Ballad Minstrelsy. They will have served their
purpose if they help to awaken, or to renew, a relish for the contents
of the Ballad Book. To know and love these grand old songs is its own
exceeding great reward; and it is also, alas! almost the only means now
left to us of knowing something concerning their nameless writers.

Questions involving literary or critical controversy as to the age and
genuineness of the ballads have been, as far as possible, avoided in
this popular presentation of their beauties and their qualities; and in
case any challenge may be made of the origin or authenticity of the
passages quoted, I may say that, in nearly every case, I have prudently,
and of purpose, refrained from giving the authority for my text, and
have taken that which best pleases my own ear or has clung most closely
to my memory.

J. G.

_July 1896._



BALLAD CHARACTERISTICS                                                 9


BALLAD GROWTH AND BALLAD HISTORY                                      24


BALLAD STRUCTURE AND BALLAD STYLE                                     43


THE MYTHOLOGICAL BALLAD                                               58


THE ROMANTIC BALLAD                                                   83


THE HISTORICAL BALLAD                                                108


CONCLUSION                                                           128



    'Layés that in harping
    Ben y-found of ferli thing;
    Sum beth of wer, and sum of wo,
    Sum of joye and mirthe also;
    And sum of treacherie and gile;
    Of old aventours that fell while;
    And sum of bourdes and ribaudy;
    And many ther beth of faëry,--
    Of all things that men seth;
    Maist o' love forsoth they beth.'

        _The Lay of the Ash._

Who would set forth to explore the realm of our Ballad Literature needs
not to hamper himself with biographical baggage. Whatever misgivings and
misadventures may beset him in his wayfaring, there is no risk of
breaking neck or limb over dates or names. For of dates and names and
other solid landmarks there are none to guide us in this misty
morning-land of poetry. The balladist is 'a voice and nothing more'--a
voice singing in a chorus of others, in which only faintly and
uncertainly we sometimes fancy we can make out the note, but rarely
anything of the person or history, of the individual singer. In the
hierarchy of song, he is a priest after the order of Melchisedec--without
father or mother, beginning of days or end of life.

The Scottish ballads we may thus love and know by heart, and concerning
their preservation, collection, collation, we may gather a large store
of facts. But the original ballad-writers themselves must remain for us
the Great Unknown. Here and there one can lay down vague lines that seem
to confine a particular ballad, or group of ballads, within particular
bounds of place and of time. Here and there one seems to get a glimpse
of the balladist himself, as onlooker or as actor in the scenes of
fateful love and deathless grief which he has fixed for ever in the
memory of men of his race and blood. There are passages in which, in the
light and heat of battle, or in agony of terror or sorrow, we are made
to see something of the minstrel as well as his theme. But by no
research are we likely at this late date to recover any clew to the
birthplace or to the lineaments of the life and face of the grand old
poet who wrote the grand old ballad of _Sir Patrick Spens_; nor do towns
contend for the honour of having produced the sweet singer of
_Kirkconnel Lea_, the blithe minstrel of _Glenlogie_, or the first of
all the bards who made the _Dowie Dens of Yarrow_ vocal with the song of
unavailing sorrow.

And in truth towns--even such towns as were in those days--could have
had but little to do with the birth and shaping of the Scottish
Balladists. Chief among the marks by which we may the true ballad-maker
know among the verse-makers of his age, is the open-air feeling that
pervades his thought and style. Like the Black Douglas, he likes better
to hear the laverock sing than the mouse cheep. It is not only that he
cares to tread 'the bent sae brown' rather than the paved street; that
the tragedies of fiery love and hate quenched by death, in which he
delights, are more often enacted under the blue cope of heaven than
under vault of stone. What we seem to feel is that these simple old
lays, in which lives a passion that still catches the breath and makes
the cheek turn pale--whose 'words of might' have yet the power to waft
us, mind and sense, into the 'Land of Faëry,' must have been conceived
and brought to full strength under the light of the sun and the breath
of the wind. 'The Muse,' says Robert Burns, himself of the true kin of
the balladists:

    'The Muse, nae Poet ever fand her,
    Till by himsel' he learned to wander,
    Adown some trottin' burn's meander,
            An' no think lang.'

Certainly no true ballad was ever hammered out at the desk. It may have
been wrought and fashioned for singing in bower or hall; but the fire
that shaped it was caught, in gloaming grey or under the 'lee licht o'
the mune,' in birken shaw or by wan water.

It is true that one of the earliest of the Scots ballad-makers whose
names have been handed down to us--Robert Henryson, who taught the
Dunfermline bairns in the hornbook in the fifteenth century--has told us
that he sought inspiration at the ingleside over a glass:

    'I mend the fyre, and beikit me about,
      Then tuik ane drink my spreitis to confort,
    And armit me weill fra the cold thairout;
      To cut the winter nicht, and mak it schort,
      I tuik ane quhair, and left all uther sport.'

But this was while conning, in cold weather, the classic tale of
_Troilus and Cressid_. _Robin and Makyne_, which among Henryson's
acknowledged pieces (except _The Bluidy Sark_) comes nearest to our
conception of the ballad--after all it is but a pastoral--has the scent
of the 'grene wode' in summer.

In sooth, the Ballad Poet was neither made nor born; he grew. The 'wild
flowers of literature' is the name that has been bestowed, with some
little air of condescension, upon the rich inheritance he has left us.
They are the purest and the strongest growth of the genius of the race
and of the soil; and though they owe little save injury and mutilation
to those who have deliberately sought to prune and trim them to please a
later taste, they are as full of vigour and sap to-day as they were in
the Ballad Age, when such poetry sprung up naturally and spontaneously.
It is probable that not one of the old ballads that have come down to us
by oral recitation is the product of a single hand; or of twenty hands.
The greater its age, and the greater its popular favour, the greater is
the number of individual memories and imaginations through which it has
been filtered, taking from each some trace of colour, some flavour of
style or character, some improving or modifying touch. The 'personal
equation' is, in the ballad, a quantity at once immense and unknown. As
in Homer's _Iliad_, the voice we hear is not that of any individual
poet, but of an age and of a people--a voice simple, almost monotonous,
in its rhythmic rise and fall, but charged with meanings multitudinous
and unutterable.

The Scottish ballads are undoubtedly, in their present form, the outcome
of a long and strenuous process of selection. In its earlier stages, the
ballad was not written down but passed from mouth to mouth. Additions,
interpolations, changes infinite must have been made in the course of
transmission and repetition. Like a hardy plant, it had the power to
spread and send down fresh roots wherever it found favourable soil; and
in its new ground it always, as we shall see, took some colour and
character from the locality, the time, and the race. Golden lines and
verses may have been shed in the passage from place to place and down
the centuries. But less of this happened, we may feel sure, than a
purging away of the dross. As a rule, what was fittest--what was truest
to nature and to human nature--survived and was perpetuated in this
evolution of the ballad. When, in the course of its progress, it
gathered to itself anything that was precious and worthy of remembrance,
then, by the very law of things, this was seized and stored in the
memories of the listeners and handed down to future generations.

But this process of purging and refining the ballad, so that it shall
become--like the language, the proverbs, the folklore and nursery tales,
and the traditional music of a nation--the reflection of the history and
character of the race itself, if it is to be genuine, must go on
unconsciously. As soon as the ballad is written down--at least as soon
as it is fixed in print--the elements of natural growth it possesses are
arrested. It is removed from its natural environment and means of
healthy subsistence and development; and from a hardy outdoor plant it
is in danger of becoming a plant of the closet--a potted thing, watered
with printer's ink and trimmed with the editorial shears. Ballads have
sprung up and blossomed in a literary age; but as soon as the spirit
that is called literary seizes upon them and seeks to mould them to its
forms, they begin to droop and to lose their native bloom and wild-wood
fragrance. It is because they neglect, or are ignorant of, literary
models and conventions, and go back to the 'eternal verities' of human
passion and human motive and action--because they speak to 'the great
heart of man'--that they are what they are.

Few of our ballads have escaped those sophisticated touches of art,
which, happily, are easily detected in the rough homespun of the old
lays. Walter Scott, the last of the minstrels, to whom ballad literature
owes more than to any who went before or who has come after him, was
himself not above mending the strains gathered from the lips of old
women, hill shepherds, and the wandering tribe of cadgers and hawkers,
so that one is sometimes a little at a loss to tell what is original and
what is imitation. But even the Wizard's hand is not cunning enough to
patch the new so deftly upon the old that the difference cannot be
detected. The genuine ballad touch is incommunicable; to improve upon it
is like painting the lilies of the field.

In the ranks of the Balladists, then, we do not include the many writers
of merit--some of them of genius--who have worked in the lines of the
elder race of singers, copying their measures and seeking to enter into
their spirit. The studied simplicity, the deliberate archaisms, the
overstrained vigour or pathos of these modern ballads do but convince us
that the vein is well-nigh worked out. The writers could not help
thinking of their models and materials; the old minstrels sang with no
thought but telling what they saw with their eyes and heard with their
ears. But even in these days the precious lode of ballad poetry will
sometimes break to the surface; a phrase or a whole verse, fashioned in
the Iron Age, will recall the Age of Gold. Scott has many such; and, to
take a more modern instance, the spirit of _Sir Patrick Spens_ seems to
inspire almost throughout George MacDonald's _Yerl o' Watery Deck_, now
with a graphic stroke of description, anon with a sudden gleam of
humour, as when the Skipper, in haste to escape his pursuers, hacked
with his sword at the stout rope that bound his craft to the pier,

    'And thocht it oure weel made';

and again when the King's Daughter chose between father and lover in
words that leap forth like a sword from its scabbard:

    'I loot me low to my father for grace,
      Down on my bended knee;
    But I rise, and I look my king in the face,
      For the Skipper 's the king o' me.'

But even here, where we touch high-water mark of the latter-day Scottish
ballad, one seems to find a faint reminiscence of stage-setting and
effect, of purposed antithesis, of ethical discriminations unfamiliar to
the manner and mode of thought of the ancient balladist. The latter, it
may be said, does not stop to think or to analyse or moralise; he feels,
and is content to tell us in the most direct and naïve language, all
that he has felt. He has not learned the new trick of introspection; he
is guided by intuition and the primæval instincts. He carries from his
own lips to ours a draught of pure, strong, human passion, stirred into
action by provocations of love, jealousy, revenge, and grief such as
visit but rarely our orderly, workaday modern world. He renders for us
the 'form and express feature' of his time, and though the
draughtsmanship may be rude, it is free from suspicion of either
flattery or bias. It is not enlisted in the cause of any moral theory or
literary ideal. It is, so far as it goes, truth naked and not ashamed.

But the native-grown ballad takes also colour from the ground whence it
springs. It has the tang of the soil as well as the savour of the blood.
Fletcher of Saltoun's hackneyed epigram, 'Let me make a country's
ballads, and let who will make its laws,' does not embody all the truth.
A country and the race inhabiting it may not be responsible for the laws
that govern it. But a country and a people may rightly be tried and
judged by their ballads--their own handiwork; their own offspring. The
more cultured and highly-developed products of a national literature,
however healthy, however strong and beautiful, must always owe much to
neighbouring and to universal influences. Like the language and manners
of the educated classes of a nation, they conform more or less to models
of world-wide and age-long acceptance among educated men. But in the
ballad one goes to the root of national character, to the pith and
marrow of national life and history.

What then, thus questioned, do the Scottish ballads teach us of Scotland
and the Scots? Surely much to be proud of. They are among the most
precious, as they are among the oldest, of our possessions as a people.
Nay, it may be held that they are the best and choicest of all the
contributions that Scotland has made to poetry and story. They are
written in her heart's blood. Even the songs of Burns and the tales of
Scott must take second rank after the ballads; their purest inspiration
was drawn from those rude old lays. In this field of national
literature, at least, we need not fear comparison with any other land
and people. Our ballads are distinctly different, and in the opinion of
unbiassed literary judges, also distinctly superior to the rich and
beautiful ballad-lore of the Southern Kingdom. One can even note an
expressive diversity of style and spirit in the ballads originating on
the North and on the South margin of the Border line. The latter do not
yield in rough vigour and blunt manliness to the ballads grown on the
northern slope of Cheviot. _Chevy Chase_ may challenge comparison with
_The Battle of Otterburn_, and come at least as well out of the contest
as the Percy did from his meeting with the Douglas; and in many other
ballads which the two nations have in common--_The Heir of Linn_, for
example--the English may fairly be held to bear away the bell from the
Scottish version. We do not possess a group of ballads pervaded so
thoroughly with the freedom and delight of living under 'the leavés
greene' as those of the Robin Hood Cycle; although we also have our
songs of the 'gay greenwood'; although bows twanged as keenly in Ettrick
Forest and in Braidislee Wood as in Sherwood itself, and we can even
claim, partly, perhaps, as a relic of the days when the King of Scotland
was Prince of Cumbria and Earl of Huntingdon, the bold Robin and his
merry men among the heroes of our ballad literature.

But, on the whole, mirth and light-heartedness are very far from being
characteristics of the Scottish ballads. Of ballad themes in general, it
has been said that they concern themselves mainly with the tragedy and
the pathos of the life of feudal and early times; while, on the other
hand, the folk-song reflects the sunnier hours of the days of old. This
is peculiarly true of the Scottish ballads. The best of them are dipped
in gloom of the grave. They breathe the very soul of 'the old, unhappy
far-off times.' Even over the true lovers, Fate stands from the first
with a drawn sword; and the story ends with the 'jow of the deid bell'
rather than with the wedding chimes. Superstitious terrors, too, add a
shadow of their own to these tragedies of crossed and lawless love and
swift-following vengeance. In this respect, the Scottish ballads are
more nearly akin to the popular poetry of Denmark and other countries
across the North Sea, than to that of our neighbours across the Tweed.
There are a score of ballads that agree so closely in plot and
structure, and even in names and phrases, with Norse or German versions,
that it is impossible to doubt that they have been drawn directly from
the same source. Either they have been transplanted thither in the many
descents which the Northmen made on Scotland, as is witnessed not only
by the chronicles, but by existing words, and customs, and place-names
scattered thickly around our coasts; or, what may perhaps be as strongly
argued, both versions may have come from an older and common original.

Celtic influences are also present, although scarcely, perhaps, so
directly manifest as might have been expected, considering that the
Celtic race and speech must at one time have been spread almost
universally over Scotland; they appear rather in the spirit than in the
plot and scene and characters of the typical Scottish ballad. They
supply, unquestionably, a large portion of that feeling of mystery, of
over-shadowing fate, and melancholy yearning--that air of another world
surrounding and infecting the life of the senses--which seems to
distinguish the body and soul of Scottish ballad poetry from the more
matter-of-fact budget of the English minstrels.

But it has to be remembered that the matrix of the ballads that have
taken first place in the love and in the memory of Scotland was the
region most remote and isolated from the Highlands and the Highlanders
during the ballad-making era. This is the basin of the Tweed--the howms
of Yarrow; Leader haughs and Ettrick shaws; the clear streams that flow
past ruined abbey and peel-tower, through green folds of the Cheviots
and the Lammermuirs, that for hundreds of years were the chosen homes of
Border war and romance. Next after these come the banks of Clyde and
Forth; Annan Water and the streams of Ayr and Galloway; and ballads and
ballad localities, differing somewhat, in theme and structure, in mood
and metre, from those of the South, as Aberdonian differs from Borderer,
and the Men of the Mearns from the Men of the Merse, are found scattered
thinly or sprinkled thickly over the whole North, by Tay, and Dee, and

These latter streams are partly without and partly within the Highland
Line, across which, as unacquainted with a language that has its own
rich and peculiar store of legend and ballad poetry, we do not propose
to penetrate; sufficient field for exploration is provided by the Scots
ballads in Scots. But when these were in the making, the Highland Line
must have run down much lower into the Lowlands than it does to-day; the
retreating Gaelic had still outposts in Buchan, and even in Fife, and
Ayr, and Galloway. In the ballads of the North-eastern Counties, the
feuds of Highland chiefs and the raids of Highland caterans make
themselves seen and felt, too visibly and not too sympathetically, in
the ditties of their Lowland neighbours. 'The Hielandmen' play the part
that the English clans from Bewcastle and Redesdale play in the Border
ballads. The 'Red Harlaw' in those boreal provinces was a landmark and
turning-point in history and poetry, as Bannockburn or Flodden was in
the South. By Hangingshaws or Hermitage Castle they knew little of the
Highlander, being too much absorbed in their own quarrels; on Donside
and in the Lennox they knew him better than they liked him; and it was
not until a comparatively recent period of literary history that the
kilted warrior began to take his place as a heroic and imposing figure
in the poetry and prose of the Scottish vernacular.

Making all allowance for borrowings and influences drawn from without,
may we not still say that the Scottish ballad owes nearly all that is
best in it--the sweetness not less than the strength of this draught of
old poetry and passion--to the land and to the folk that gave it birth?
A land thrust further into the gloom and cold of stormy seas than the
Southern Kingdom; a land whose spare gifts are but the more esteemed by
its children because they are given so grudgingly, whose high and bleak
and stern features make the valleys they shelter the more lovely and
loved from the contrast; a race whose blood has been blended of many
strains, and tempered by long centuries of struggle with nature and with
outside enemies; perfervid of spirit and dour of will; holding with
strong grip to the things of this world, but never losing consciousness
of the nearness and mystery of the world of things invisible; with a
border-line on either side of them that for hundreds of years had to be
kept with the strong hand and the stout heart, and behind them a
background of history more charged with trouble and romance than that of
almost any other nation in Europe--where should the ballad draw pith and
sap and colour if not on such a soil and among such a people? If Mr.
Buckle was able to trace the complexion and form of Scottish religion in
the climate and configuration of Scotland, much more easily should we be
able to find the atmosphere and scenery of Scotland reflected in her



    _Clown_--What hast here? ballads?

    _Mopsa_--Pray now, buy some: I love a ballad in print, a' life;
    for then we are sure they are true.--_Winter's Tale._

There is probably not a verse, there is scarcely a line, in the existing
body of Scottish ballad poetry that can be traced with certainty further
back than the sixteenth century. Many of them chronicle events that took
place in the seventeenth century, and there are a few that deal with
even later history. It may seem a bold thing, therefore, to claim for
these traditional tales in verse the much more venerable antiquity
implied in what has been said in the previous chapter. If we were to be
guided by the accessible literary and historical data, or even by the
language of the ballads themselves, we should be disposed to believe
that the productive period of ballad-making was confined within two or
at most three hundred years.

It would be more than rash, however, to imagine that ballads did not
live and grow and spread in the obscure but fertile ground of the
popular fancy and the popular memory, because they did not crop up in
the contemporary printed literature, and were overlooked by the
dry-as-dust chroniclers of the time. Nor is it a paradox to say that a
ballad may be older, by ages, than the hero and the deeds that it seems
to celebrate. Like thistledown it has the property of floating from
place to place, and even from kingdom to kingdom and from epoch to
epoch, changing names and circumstances to suit the locality, and
attaching itself to outstanding figures and fresh events without
changing its essential spirit and character. The more formal Muses
despised these rude and unlettered rhymes--when they noticed them at all
it was in a disdainful or patronising spirit--and this holds true of the
eighteenth century almost as much as of the sixteenth. It is not that
ballad poetry was dumb, but that history was deaf and blind to its

Nor is any adverse judgment as to the antiquity of the Scottish ballad
to be drawn from the comparative modernity of the style and language.
The presence of archaisms in a ballad that claims to have been handed
down by oral repetition from a remote period is, on the contrary, a
thing to raise suspicion as to its genuineness. The ballad, as has been
said, is a living and growing organism; or at least it is this until it
has been committed to print. However deep into the mould of the past its
roots run down, its language and idioms should not be much older than
the popular speech of the time when it has been gathered into the
collector's budget. It is like a plant that, while remaining the same
at the heart and root, is constantly casting the old, and putting out
fresh, leaves.

Thus the very words and phrases that were intended to give an antique
air to _Hardyknut_ stamped it as an imitation; these clumsy and
artificial patches were not the true mosses of age. The ballad of true
lineage, partly from its simplicity of thought and structure, partly
from being kept in immediate contact with the lips and the hearts of the
people, is as readily 'understanded of the general' to-day as when it
was first sung.

It has been noted, for instance, that our ballads preserve fewer
reminiscences of the time when alliteration shared importance with rhyme
or took its place in the metrical system. The bulk of them are supposed
to come hither from the early sixteenth century, from the reigns of
James IV. and James V.; and in that period of Scottish literature
alliteration not only blossomed but often overran and smothered the
court poetry of the day. Alliterative lines and verses appear frequently
in the ballads, but always with good taste, often with exquisite effect.
What phrases are more familiar, more infused with the magic of the
ballad-spirit, than the 'wan water,' the 'bent sae brown,' the 'lee
licht o' the mune'? When the knight rides forth to see his true love, he
mounts on his 'berry brown steed,' and 'fares o'er dale and down,' until
he comes to the castle wa', where the lady sits 'sewing her silken
seam.' He kisses her 'cheek and chin,' and she 'kilts her green kirtle,'
and follows him; but not so fast as to outrun fate. In the oldest set
of _The Battle of Otterburn_, alliteration asserts itself:

    'The rae full reckless there sche runnes
       To make the game and glee.'

It is but seldom that the balladist avails himself so freely of the
'artful aid' of this device as in _Johnie o' Braidislee_, the vigorous
hunting lay that was a favourite with Carlyle's mother:

    'Won up, won up, my good grey dogs,
      Won up and be unboun';
    For we maun awa' to Bride's braid wood,
      To ding the dun deer doun, doun,
              To ding the dun deer doun.'

The words that have had the best chance of coming down to us intact on
the stream of ballad-verse, or with only such marks of attrition and
wear as might be caused by time and a rough channel, are those to which
the popular mind of a later day has been unable to attach any definite
meaning; for instance, certain names of places and houses, titles and
functions, snatches of refrains, phrases reminiscent of otherwise
forgotten primæval or mediæval customs and the like. These remain bedded
like fossils in the more recent deposits, and form a curious study, for
those who have time to enter into it, in the archæology and palæontology
of the ballad. _Childe Rowland_, _Hynde Horn_, _Kempion_, furnish us
with words, drawn from the language of Gothic and Norman chivalry, that
must have dropped out of the common speech long before the ballads began
to be regularly collected and printed. They recall the gentleness and
courtesy, as well as the courage, that were supposed to be attributes of
the 'most perfect goodly knight'--attributes in which, sooth to say, the
typical knight of the Scottish ballad is not always a pattern.
_Kempion_--'Kaempe' or Champion Owayne--is supposed to perpetuate the
name of 'Owain-ap-Urien, King of Reged,' celebrated by Taliessin and the
other early Welsh bards. And this is by no means the only instance in
which ballads appear to have distilled the spirit and blended names and
stories out of both Celtic and Teutonic legend. Thus _Glasgerion_, which
in the best-known Scottish version has become _Glenkindie_, has been
translated as _Glas-keraint_--Geraint, the Blue Bard--an Orpheus among
the Brythons, whose chief legendary sites, according to Mr. Skene,
Professor Rhys, and other authorities, are to be sought in Scotland and
its borderlands. The fame of this harper, who, like Glenkindie, could
'wile the fish from the flood,' came down to the times of Chaucer and
Gavin Douglas, and was by them passed on; the former mentions him in his
_House of Fame_ along with Chiron and Orion,

    'And other Harpers many one,
    With the Briton, Glasgerion.'

It is not too much to conjecture that it was remembered also in popular
poetry; and these and other classical writers of the Middle Ages, who
despised not the common folk and their ways, no doubt drank deeply of
knowledge and inspiration from the clear and hidden well of English
poetry and romance even then existing in ballad lore. In fact, it seems
as probable that the prose and metrical romances of chivalry have been
derived from the folk-songs they resemble, as that the ballads have been
borrowed from the romances; perhaps both owe their descent to a common
and forgotten ancestor.

Is it too much to believe that in our older ballads we hear the echoes
of the voices--it may be the very words--of the old bards, the harpers
and the minstrels, who sang in the ears of princes and people as far
back as history can carry us? We know, by experience of other lands and
races, from Samoa to Sicily, that are still in their earlier or later
ballad-age, that the making of ballads is almost as old as the making of
war or of love--that it long precedes letters, to say nothing of the
printed page. It comes as natural for men to sing of the pangs of
passion, or of the joys of victory, as to kiss or to fight. For untold
generations the harps twanged in the hall, and the song of battle and
the song of sorrow found eager listeners. All the while, the same tales,
though perhaps in ruder and simpler guise, met with as warm a welcome in
road and field and at country merrymaking. Trouvere and wandering
minstrel, gleeman and eke gleemaiden, passed from place to place and
from land to land repeating, altering, adapting the old stock of heroic
or lovelorn ditties, or inventing new ones. They were a law unto
themselves in other matters than metres; and had their own guilds, their
own courts, and their own kings. The names of all but a few that
chance, more than anything else, has preserved, have perished. But time
may have been more tender than we know to their thoughts and words, or
to their words and music, where these have been fitly wedded together.
It may have saved for us some thrilling image as old as the time of the
scalds, some scrap of melody which Ossian or Llywarch Hen but improved
and handed on. The law of the conservation of force holds good in the
world of poetry as well as in the physical world; and all that is
dispersed and forgotten in ancient song is not lost. It is fused into
the general stock of the nation's ideas and memories; and the richest
and purest relics of it are perhaps to be sought in the Scottish

The chroniclers who set down, often at inordinate and wearisome length,
what was said and done in court or council or monastery did not wholly
overlook the 'gospel of green fields' sung by the contemporary
minstrels. But their notices are provokingly vague and unsatisfactory;
no happy thought ever seems to have occurred to any monkish penman that
he might earn more gratitude from posterity by collecting ballad verses
than by copying the Legends of the Saints--so little can we guess what
will be deemed of value by future ages. But in Scotland, as elsewhere,
we have reason to believe that every event that deeply moved the popular
mind gave rise to its crop of ballads, either freshly invented or worked
up out of the old ballad stock. So sharply were incidents connected with
the departure of a Scottish Princess, daughter of King Alexander III.,
to be the bride of Eric of Norway, imprinted on people's minds that,
according to Motherwell's calculation, the ballad of _Sir Patrick Spens_
preserves the very days of the week when the expedition set sail and
made the land:

    'They hoisted their sails on a Mononday morn,
      Wi' a' the speed they may,
    And they have landed in Norawa'
      Upon a Wodensday.'

But this has the fault of proving too much. The last virtue that the
ballad can claim is that of accuracy. With every desire to find proof
and confirmation in the very calendar of the antiquity of this glorious
old rhyme, one is disposed to suspect these dates to be a lucky hit; in
fact, no sounder evidence than the correct enumeration of the daughters
of George, fourth Earl of Huntly, in the old Aberdeenshire ballad:

    'The Lord o' Gordon had three daughters,
    Elizabeth, Margaret, and Jean,'

which has led some Northern commentators to assume that its heroine was
that Lady Jane Gordon whom Bothwell wronged and divorced, and who
afterwards managed to console herself by marrying an Earl of Sutherland
and a Lord Ogilvy of Boyne. The tragedy of the death of 'Alexander our
King,' and the unnumbered woes that came in its train, was, as we know,
celebrated in rhymes of which some scant salvage has come down to us;
and the feats of William Wallace and the victories of the Bruce were
rewarded by the maidens singing and the harpers harping in their
praise. This we learn from a surer source than the ballads of the
Wallace and Bruce Cycle that have been preserved, and that are neither
the best of their kind nor of unquestioned authenticity. Blind Harry was
himself of the ancient guild of the Minstrels, and gathered his
materials at a date when the 'gude Sir William Wallace' was nearer his
day than Prince Charlie is to our own. His poem is nothing other than
floating ballads and traditional tales strung into epic form after the
manner in which Pausanias is supposed to have pieced together the
_Iliad_; indeed John Major, who in his childhood was contemporary with
the Minstrel, tells us that he wrote down these 'native rhymes' and 'all
that passed current among the people in his day,' and afterwards 'used
to recite his tales in the households of the nobles, and thereby get the
food and clothing that he deserved.'

Then nothing could yield more convincing proof of the prevalence and
popularity of the ballad in Scotland in the period of Chaucer--and
nothing also could be more tantalising to the ballad-hunter--than
Barbour's remark in his _Brus_, that it is needless for him to rehearse
the tale of Sir John Soulis's victory over the English on the shores of

    'For quha sa likis, thai may heir
    Yong women, quhen they will play
    Sing it emang thame ilka day.'

The 'young women,' and likewise the old--bless them for it!--have
always taken a foremost part in the singing and preservation of our old
ballads, and even in the composing of them. Bannockburn set their quick
brains working and their tongues wagging tunefully, in praise of their
own heroes and in scorn of the English 'loons.' Aytoun quotes from the
contemporary _St. Alban's Chronicle_ a stanza of a song, which (says the
old writer) 'the maydens in that countree made on Kyng Edward; and in
this manere they sang:

    '"Maydens of Englande, sore may ye morne,
    For ye have lost your lemans at Bannocksborne,
                    With rombelogh."'

Do not these jottings of grave fourteenth century churchmen, bred in the
cell but having ears open to the din of the camp and the 'song of the
maydens,' recall the exquisite words in _Twelfth Night_, that sum up the
ballad at its best?

                  'It is old and plain:
    The spinsters and the knitters in the sun,
    And the free maids that weave their thread with bones
    Do use to chaunt it; it is silly sooth,
    And dallies with the innocence of love
    Like the old age.'

In the long struggle with our 'auld enemies' of England that followed
Bannockburn; in the quarrels between nobles and king; in the feuds of
noble with noble and of laird with laird that continued for nearly three
hundred years, themes and inspirations for the ballad muse came thick
and fast. It was not alone, or chiefly, kingly doings and great national
events that awakened the minstrel's voice and strings. Harpers and
people had their favourite clans and names--a favour won most readily by
those who were free both with purse and with sword. The Gordons of the
North; and, in the South, Graemes, Scotts, Armstrongs, Douglases, are
among the races that figure most prominently in ballad poetry. The great
house of Douglas, in particular, is in the eyes and lips of romance and
legend more honoured than the Stewarts themselves. The Douglas is the
hero of both the Scottish and English versions of _Chevy Chase_. Hume of
Godscroft, in his _History of the House of Angus_, written in 1644, has
saved for us several scraps of traditional song celebrating the wrongs
or the exploits of the Douglases, some of which must have originated at
least as early as the second half of the fourteenth century, and can be
identified in ballads that are extant and sung in the present day. One
of them, quoted by Scott in his _Minstrelsy_, and times out of number
since, unmistakably reveals the singer's sympathies. It is the verse
that commemorates the treacherous slaughter of William, sixth Earl of
Douglas, and his brother in 1440, by that great enemy of his race, James
II., after the fatal 'black bull's head' had been set before them at the
banquet to which they had been invited by the king:

    'Edinburgh Castle, towne and toure,
       God grant thou sink for sinne!
    And that even for the black dinoúr
       Erl Douglas gat therein.'

Another records with glee the Douglas triumph when, in 1528, 'The Earl
of Argyle had bound him to ride' into the Merse by the Pass of Pease,
but was met and discomfited at 'Edgebucklin Brae.' In another, and much
earlier fragment, recording how William Douglas the 'Knight of
Liddesdale,' was met and slain by his kinsman, the Earl of Douglas, at
the spot now known as Williamshope in Ettrick Forest, after the Countess
had written letters to the doomed man 'to dissuade him from that
hunting,' we may perhaps discover a germ of _Little Musgrave_, or trace
situations and phrases that reappear in _The Douglas Tragedy_, _Gil
Morice_, and their variants.

In _Johnie Armstrong o' Gilnockie_, _The Border Widow_, and _The Sang of
the Outlaw Murray_, also--in which we should perhaps see the reflection,
in the popular mind of the day, of the efforts of James IV. and James V.
to preserve order on the Borders--it is on the side of the freebooter
rather than of the king and the law that our sympathies are enlisted.
Indeed your balladist, like Allan Breck Stewart, was never a bigoted
partisan of the law. There is ample proof in the writings of Sir David
Lyndsay and others that in the first half of the sixteenth century a
number of the Scottish ballads that have come down to us were already
current and in high favour among the people, although they have not
reached us in the shape in which they were then sung or recited.

Long before this period, however, and on both sides of the Border, the
status of the minstrel or ballad-maker--for in old times the two went
together, or rather were blent in one, like the words and music--had
suffered sad declension. There was no longer question of royal harpers
or troubadours, as Alfred the Great and as Richard the Lion Heart had
been in their hour of need; or even of bards and musicians held in high
favour and honour by king and court, like Taillefer or Blondel. 'King's
Minstrels' there were on both sides of Tweed, as is found from Exchequer
and other records. But we suspect that these were players and singers of
courtly and artificial lays. True, a poet of such genuine gifts as
Dunbar had gone to London as the 'King's singer,' and had recited verses
at a Lord Mayor's banquet that had tickled the ears of the worshipful
aldermen and livery. But these could hardly have been the natural and
spontaneous notes of the Muse of Scottish ballad poetry. The written and
printed verse of the period had got overlaid and smothered by the
flowers of ornament. As a French student of our literature has said,
'The roses of these poets are splendid, but too full blown; they have
expended all their strength, all their beauty, all their fragrance; no
store of youth is left in them; they have given it all away.'

As has happened repeatedly in our literary history, simplicity in art,
as a source both of strength and of beauty, was almost forgotten; or its
tradition was only remembered among the humble and nameless balladists.
The only ones, says M. Jusserand, who escape the touch of decadence,
are 'those unknown singers, chiefly in the region of the Scottish
border, who derive their inspiration directly from the people'; who
leave books alone and 'remodel ballads that will be remade after them,
and come down to us stirring and touching,' like that ride of the Percy
and the Douglas which, spite of his classic tastes, stirred the heart of
the author of the _Art of Poesy_ 'like the sound of a trumpet.'

Thus, like Antæus, poetry sprang up again, fresh and strong, at the
touch of its native earth; 'although declining in castles, it still
thrilled with youth along the hedges and copses, in the woods and on the
moors'; banished from court, it found refuge in the wilderness and sang
at poor men's hearths and at rural fairs, where the King himself, if we
may believe tradition, went out in romantic quest of it and of
adventure, clad as a _gaberlunzie man_. In the _Complaynt of Scotland_,
published in 1549, we have an enticing picture of the extent to which
ballad lore and ballad music entered into the lives of the country
people on the eve of the Reformation troubles. At the gatherings of the
shepherds, old tales would be told, with or without stringed
accompaniment--of _Gil Quheskher_ and _Sir Walter, the Bauld Leslye_,
pieces now probably lost to us irrecoverably; of the familiar _Tayl of
Yong Tamlane_; of _Robene Hude_ and _Litel Ihone_, whose fame, like that
of the prophecies of Thomas of Ercildoune, had already been firmly
established for a couple of centuries; of the _Red Etin_, whose place
in folklore is well ascertained; and of the _Tayl of the Thre Vierd
Systirs_, in which one can snuff the ingredients of the caldron in
_Macbeth_. There were dances, founded on the same themes--_Robin Hood_,
_Thom of Lyn_, and _Johnie Ermstrang_; and between whiles the women sang
'sueit melodious sangis of natural music of the antiquite, such as _The
Hunting of Cheviot_ and _The Red Harlaw_.' But of all this feast which
he spreads in our sight, our author only lets us taste a morsel--a
couple of lines taken apparently from a lost ballad on the fate of the
Chevalier de la Beauté, rubbed down by the rough Scottish tongue to
'Bawty,' at Billie Mire in 1517.

The great religious and social upheaval that had already changed the
face of England reached Scotland in a severer form. There was an escape
of the _odium theologicum_ which always and everywhere is fatal to the
tenderer flowers of poetry and romance. Men's minds were too deeply
moved, and their hands too full to look upon ballads otherwise than
askance and with disfavour. The Wedderburns and other zealous reformers
set themselves to match the traditional and popular airs to 'Gude and
Godlie Ballates' of their own invention. The wandering ballad-singer
could no longer count on a welcome, either in the castles of the nobles
or with the shepherds of the hills. Instead of getting, like Henry the
Minstrel, his deserts in 'food and clothing,' these were apt to come to
him in the shape of the stocks or the repentance-stool. He had lost
caste and character, from causes for which he was not altogether
responsible. An ill name had been given to him; and doubtless he often
managed to merit it. His type, as it was found on both sides of the
Border, is Autolycus, whom Shakespeare must often have met in the flesh
about the 'footpath ways,' and at the rustic merrymakings of
Warwickshire. Autolycus, too, has known the court, and has found his
wares go out of fashion and favour with the great, and has to be content
with cozening the ears and pockets of simple country folk. One cannot
help liking the rogue, although he is as nimble with his fingers as with
his tongue. He has the true balladist's love for freedom and sunshine
and the open country. He will not be tied by rule; according to his
moral law,

    'When we wander here and there
      We then do go most right.'

His memory and his mouth, like his wallet, are full of snatches of
ballads; and they cover a multitude of sins.

Though no undoubted Scottish specimen was drawn from this pedlar's pack,
we know, from the plays of the Elizabethan dramatists and other
evidence, that Border minstrelsy had already raised echoes in London
town, before King Jamie went thither with Scotland streaming in his
train. During the last troublous half century of Scotland's history as
an independent kingdom, the raw material of ballads was being
manufactured as actively as at any period of her history, especially on
the Borders and in the North. It may be called, indeed, the
Moss-trooping Age, and the chief members of the Moss-trooping Cycle date
from the latter years of the sixteenth century. _The Raid of the
Reidswire_ happed in 1575; the expedition of _Jamie Telfer of the Fair
Dodhead_ is conjecturally set down for 1582; _The Lads of Wamphray_
commemorates a Dumfriesshire feud of the year 1593; while the more
famous incident sung with immortal fire and vigour in _Kinmont Willie_
took place in 1596. To the same period belong the exploits of _Dick of
the Cow_ (who had made a name for himself in London while Elizabeth was
on the throne), Archie of Ca'field, Hobbie Noble, Dickie of Dryhope, the
Laird's Jock, John o' the Side, and other 'rank reivers,' whose title to
the gallows is summed up in Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington's terse
verse on the Liddesdale thieves; and their match in spulzying and
fighting was to be found on the other side of the Esk and the Cheviot.

With the Union of the Crowns, Sir Walter Scott half sadly reminds us in
_Nigel_, one stream of Scottish romance and song ran dry; the end of the
Kingdom became the middle of it; and as his namesake, Scott of Satchells
puts it, the noble freebooter was degraded to be a common thief. But
even the Reformation and the Union did not wipe out original sin or
alter human nature. The kingdoms might have outwardly composed their
quarrels; but private feuds remained, and even the Martyrs and the
Covenanters had their relapses, and loved and sang and slew under the
impulse of earthly passion. _The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow_--perhaps the
most moving and most famous of the Scottish ballads--is supposed to have
sprung, in its present shape at least, out of a tragic passage that
occurred by that stream of sorrow so late as 1616.

Away in the North, what we may call the ballad-yielding age, if it came
later and had a less brilliant flowering time, endured longer. They had
a fighting 'Border' there that lasted until the '45. The Gordons, of
their own hand, have furnished a ballad literature as rich, if not quite
so choice, as that of the Douglases themselves. _Glenlogie_ and
_Geordie_ were of the 'gay Gordons,' and had the 'sprightly turn' that
is held to be an inheritance of the race. _Edom o' Gordon_--Adam of
Auchindoun--did his ruthless work in 1571. It was in one of their
interminable quarrels, begun on the farther side of Spey, that, in the
year 1592, the _Bonnie Earl o' Moray_ fell so far away as Donibristle,
in Fife. The mystery of the _Burning of Frendraught_ took place in 1630;
the tragedy of _Mill o' Tiftie's Annie_--one of the few dramas in which
the balladist is content to take his characters from humble life--is
dated, from the tombstone in Fyvie churchyard, in the year following,
and is placed in Gordon country, and under the shadow of the Setons that
became Gordons. _The Bonnie House o' Airlie_ treats of one of the
incidents of the Civil War, and, for a wonder, in the true ballad
fashion; and it turns, as the balladists are apt to do, a crooked and
misliking look on the 'gleyed Argyll'; while that fine Deeside ballad,
_The Baron o' Bracklay_, deals with an encounter between Farquharsons
and Gordons in the period of the Restoration.

After this, however, we hardly meet with a ballad having the antique
ring about it, even on the Highland Line. The fine gold had become dim,
or mixed with later clay. The mood and condition of the nation had
changed. The 'end of the auld sang' of the Scottish Parliament was the
end also of the ballad. There was an outburst of national feeling,
expressed in song and music, over the Jacobite risings of last century;
Allan Ramsay rose like a star at its beginning, and Burns shone out
gloriously towards its close. But the expression was lyrical, and not
narrative. The ballad of the old type no longer grew naturally and
freshly by edge of copse and shaw. The collector had his eye upon it,
and was already collecting, comparing, and classifying--and, what was
worse, correcting, restoring, and improving.



    'Strike on, strike on, Glenkindie,
      O' thy harping do not blinne,
    For every stroke goes o'er thy harp,
      It stounds my heart within.'


The old ballads were made to be sung; or, at least, to be chanted. An
inquiry whether the traditional ballad airs preceded the words, or _vice
versâ_, would probably lead us to no more certain conclusions than that
of whether the egg came before the fowl or the fowl before the egg. Both
ballads and ballad airs have come down to us greatly changed and
corrupted; and probably it is the airs that have suffered most from
neglect and from alteration. Notation of the simple and plaintive and
sweet old melodies appropriated in the ears and lips of the people to
the words of particular ballads came long after the transcribing of the
words themselves. There are other elements of perplexity and difficulty
in ballad music which require an expert to unravel and explain, and
which cannot be entered into here. The subject is referred to only
because, in the eyes of the original composers and singers at least, to
dissever the words from the tune would have seemed like parting soul
from body; and because no right notion can be gathered of the Scottish
ballads without bearing in mind the part which the ancient airs have
taken in framing their structure and in moulding their style.

Like the ballads themselves, the 'sets' of ballad airs vary with the
localities; and even in the same district different airs will be found
sung to the same words and different words to the same air. But of many
of the older ballads, at least, it may be affirmed that, from time
immemorial, they have been preserved in a certain musical setting which
has not altered more in transmission from place to place and from
generation to generation than have the ballads themselves, and which has
so wrought itself into the texture and essence of the tale that it is
impossible to think of them apart. The analogy of the Scottish psalmody
may, perhaps, be used in illustration. In it, also, there is a 'common
measure' that can be fitted at will to the common metre--in the psalms,
as in the ballads, the alternation of lines of four and three accented
syllables. In the one case, as in the other, there is a certain family
resemblance, in the melody as in the theme, that to the untrained and
unaccustomed ear may convey an impression of monotony. But to each
ballad, as to each psalm, there belongs a peculiar strain or lilt,
touched, as a rule, with a solemn or piercing pathos, often cast in the
plaintive minor mode, that alone can bring out the full inner meaning
of the words, and that is endeared and hallowed by centuries of
association. As easily might we explain why the words and air of the
'Old Hundredth' or the 'Old 124th' belong to each other, as analyse the
wedded harmony of the verse and music in _The Broom o' the
Cowdenknowes_, or _Barbara Allan_, or _The Bonnie House o' Airlie_.

But not all, and not all the sweetest and the best of our ballad
strains, are so firmly fixed in the memory as these; because, for one
thing, they have not all enjoyed the same popularity of print. As a
rule, and until this popularity comes, it may be taken that the greater
the variations in tune and in words the greater the age. The late Dean
Christie, of Fochabers, an enthusiastic hunter after 'Traditional Ballad
Airs,' of which he found great treasure-trove in out-of-the-way nooks of
Buchan, Enzie, and other districts of the north-eastern counties, tells
us, from his experience, that 'the differences in the versions of the
Romantic Ballads, as sung in the different counties, may be taken as a
proof of their antiquity.' He had 'seldom heard two ballad-singers sing
a ballad in the same way, either in words or music'; and he holds it
'almost impossible to find the true set of any traditional air, unless
the set can be traced genuinely to its composer,' a task, it need hardly
be said, still more difficult than that of tracing the ballad words to
the original balladist. It is also the opinion of this authority, that
it is well-nigh impossible 'to arrange the traditional melodies without
hearing them sung to the words of the ballad, the words and the air
being so interwoven.' May it not be said, with equal truth, that those
who know only the words of _Binnorie_, or _Chil' Ether_, or _The Twa
Corbies_, and have never heard the strains, sweet and sad and weird,
like the wind crooning at night round a ruined tower, to which it has
been sung for untold generations, have not yet penetrated to the inmost
soul of the ballad, or got a grasp of its formative principle?

The refrain is a venerable and characteristic feature of the ballad and
ballad melody. In its refrains, as in everything else, Scottish ballad
poetry has been peculiarly happy. Some will have it that they are of
much older date than the ballads themselves. It has been suggested that
many of them--and these the refrains that have lost, if they ever
possessed, any definite or intelligible meaning to the ear--may be
relics not merely of ancient song, but of ancient rites and
incantations, and of a forgotten speech. Attempts have been made to
interpret, for instance, the familiar 'Down, down, derry down,' as a
Celtic invocation to assemble at the hill of sacrifice--a survival of
pagan times when the altars smoked with human victims. It need only be
said that these ingenious theorists have not yet proved their case; and
that the origin of the refrain is a subject involved in still greater
obscurity than that of the ballad itself.

Like the ballad verses and the ballad airs, also, these 'owerwords' are
exceedingly variable, and are often interchangeable. Some of them are
'owerwords' literally; that is to say, they simply repeat or echo a word
or phrase of the stanza to which they are attached. A specimen is the
verse from _Johnie o' Braidislee_, quoted in the previous chapter.
Others, and these, as has been said, among the refrains of most ancient
and honourable lineage, bear the appearance of words whose meaning has
been forgotten. 'With rombelogh' has come rumbling down to us from the
days of Bannockburn; and may even then have been of such eld that the
key to its interpretation had already been lost. The 'Hey, nien-nanny'
of the Scottish ballad was, under slightly different forms, old and
quaint in Shakespeare's time, and in Chaucer's. Still others have the
effect upon us of the rhyming prattle invented by children at play. They
are cries, naïve or wild, from the age of innocence--cries extracted
from the children of nature by the beauty of the world or the sharp and
relentless stroke of fate. Of such are 'The broom, the bonnie, bonnie
broom,' 'Hey wi' the rose and the lindie o',' 'Blaw, blaw, ye cauld
winds blaw,' and their congeners. These sweet and idyllic notes are
often interposed in some of the very grimmest of our ballads. They
suggest a harping interlude between lines that, without this relief,
would be weighted with an intolerable load of horror or sorrow. There
are refrain lines--'Bonnie St. Johnston stands fair upon Tay' is an
example--which seem to hint that they may have been borrowed from some
old ballad that, except for this preluding or interjected note, has
utterly 'sunk dumb.' But more noticeable are those haunting burdens
which, in certain moods, seem somehow to have absorbed more of the story
than the ballad lines they accompany--that appeal to an inner sense with
a directness and poignancy beyond the power of words to which we attach
a coherent meaning. How deeply the sense of dread, of approaching
tragedy, as well as that of colour and locality, is stimulated by the
iteration of the drear owerword, 'All alone and alonie,' or 'Binnórie, O
Binnórie!' How the horror of a monstrous crime creeps nearer with each
repetition of the cry, 'Mither, Mither!' in the wild dialogue between
mother and son in _Edward_! Like Glenkindie's harping, every stroke
'stounds the heart within'--we scarce can tell how or why.

Like the early Christians, the old balladists seem to have believed in
community of goods. They had a kind of joint-stock of ideas, epithets,
images; and freely borrowed and exchanged among themselves not merely
refrains and single lines, but whole verses, passages, and situations.
Always frugal in the employment of ornament in his text, the balladist
never troubled to invent when he found a descriptive phrase or figure
made and lying ready to his hand. Plagiarism from his brother bards was
a thing that troubled him no more than repeating himself. He lived and
sang in times before the literary conscience had been awakened or the
literary canon had been laid down--or at least in places and among
company where the fear of these, and of the critic, had never
penetrated; and he borrowed, copied, adapted, without any sense of shame
or remorse, because without any sense of sin. He has his conventional
manner of opening, and his established formula for closing his tale. In
portraiture, in scenery, in costume, he is simplicity itself. The
heroine of the ballad, and, for that matter, the hero also, as a rule,
must have 'yellow hair.' If she is not a Lady Maisry, it is a wonder if
she be not a May Margaret or a Fair Annie, although there is also a
goodly sprinkling of Janets, and Helens, and Marjories, and Barbaras in
the enchanted land of ballad poetry. Sweet William has always been the
favourite choice of the balladist, among the Christian names of the
knightly wooers. Destiny presides over their first meeting. The king's

    'Cast kevils them amang,
      To see who will to greenwood gang';

and the lot falls upon the youngest and fairest--the youngest is always
the fairest and most beloved in the ballad. The note of a bugle horn,
and the pair see each other, and are made blessed and undone. Like Celia
and Oliver in the Forest of Arden they no sooner look than they sigh;
they no sooner sigh than they ask the reason; and as soon as they know
the reason they apply the remedy. Or, mounted on 'high horseback,' the
lover comes suddenly upon the lady among her sisters or her
bower-maidens 'playin' at the ba'.'

    'There were three ladies played at the ba',
      Hey wi' the rose and the lindie O!
    There cam' a knight and played o'er them a',
      Where the primrose blooms so sweetly.

    The knight he looted to a' the three,
      Hey wi' the rose and the lindie O!
    But to the youngest he bowed the knee
      Where the primrose blooms so sweetly.'

He sends messages that reach his true love's ear, through the guard of
'bauld barons' and 'proud porters,' by his little footpage, who,

    'When he came to broken brig,
      He bent his bow and swam,
    And when he came to grass growin',
      Set down his feet and ran.

    And when he came to the porter's yett,
      Stayed neither to chap or ca',
    But set his bent bow to his breast,
      And lightly lap the wa'.'

Or the knight comes himself to the bower door at witching and untimely
hours--at 'the to-fa' o' the nicht,' or at the crowing of the 'red red
cock'--and 'tirles at the pin.' But always treachery, in the shape of
envious step-dame, angry brother, or false squire, is watching and
listening. Six perils may go past, but the seventh is sure to strike its
mark. Even should the course of true love run smoothly almost to the
church door, something is sure to happen. Love is hot and swift as flame
in the ballads, although it does not waste itself in honeyed phrases. It
is quick to take offence; and at a hasty word the lovers start apart,

    'Lord Thomas spoke a word in jest,
      Fair Annet took it ill.'

But more often the bolt comes out of the blue from another and jealous
hand. The bride sets out richly apparelled and caparisoned to the tryst
with the bridegroom. Her girdle is of gold and her skirts of the
cramoisie. Four-and-twenty comely knights ride at her side, and
four-and-twenty fair maidens in her train. The very hoofs of her steed
are 'shod in front with the yellow gold and wi' siller shod behind.' To
every teat of his mane is hung a silver bell, and,

    'At every tift o' the norland win'
      They tinkle ane by ane.'

If the voyage is by sea,

    'The masts are a' o' the beaten gold
      And the sails o' the taffetie.'

The old minstrel loved to linger over and repeat these details, and his
audience, we may feel sure, never tired of hearing them. But they knew
that calamity was coming, and would overtake bride and groom before they
had gone, by sea or land,

    'A league, a league,
      A league, but barely three.'

It might be in the shape of storm or flood. One ballad opens:

    'Annan Water 's runnin' deep,
      And my love Annie 's wondrous bonnie,'

and afar off we see what is going to happen. But greater danger than
from salt sea wave or 'frush saugh bush' is to be apprehended from the
poisoned cup of the slighted rival or the dagger of the jealous brother.
The knight had perhaps forgotten when he came courting his love to
'spier at her brither John'; and when she stoops from horseback to kiss
this sinister kinsman at parting, he thrusts his sword into her heart.
The rosy face of the bride is wan, and her white bodice is full of blood
when the gay bridegroom greets her, and he is left 'tearing his yellow
hair.' More often, death itself does not sunder these lovers dear:

    'Lady Margaret was dead lang e'er midnicht,
      And Lord William lang e'er day.'

And when they are buried, there springs up from their graves, as has
happened in all the ballad lore and _märchen_ of all the Aryan nations:

    'Out of the one a bonnie rose bush,
      And out o' the other a brier,'

that 'met and pleat' in a true lovers' knot in emblem of the immortality
of love, as love was in the olden time.

These are all hackneyed phrases and incidents of the old balladists, the
merest counters, borrowed, worn, and passed on through bards
innumerable. But what fire and colour, what strength and pathos,
continue to live in them! They smell of 'Flora and the fresh-delved
earth'; they are redolent of the spring-time of human passion and
thought. For the most part they belong to all ballad poetry, and not to
the Scottish ballads alone. But there are other touches that seem to be
peculiar to the genius of our own land and our own ballad literature;
and, as has been said, one can with no great difficulty note the
characteristic marks of the song of a particular district and even of an
individual singer. The romantic ballads of the North, for example,
although in no way behind those of the Border in strength and in
tenderness, are commonly of rougher texture. They lack often the grace
which, in the versions sung in the South, the minstrel knew how to
combine with the manly vigour of his song; they are content with
assonance where the other must have rhyme; and in many long and popular
ballads, such as _Tiftie's Annie and Geordie_, there is scarcely so much
as a good sound rhyme from beginning to end. One sometimes fancies that
these Aberdonian ballads bear signs of being 'nirled' and toughened by
the stress of the East Wind; they are true products of a keen, sharp
climate working upon a deep and rich, but somewhat dour and stiff,
historic soil.

Whether they come from the north or the south side of Tay, whether they
use up the traditional plots and phrases, or strike out an original line
in the story and language, our ballads have all this precious quality,
that they reflect transparently the manners and morals of their time,
and human nature in all times. Their vast superiority, alike in truth
and in beauty, over those imitations of them that were put forward last
century as improvements upon the rude old lays, may best be seen,
perhaps, by laying the old and the new 'set' of _Sir James the Rose_
side by side, or comparing verse by verse David Mallet's much vaunted
_William and Margaret_, with the beautiful old ballad, _There came a
ghost to Marg'ret's door_. There is indeed no comparison. The changes
made are nearly all either tinsel ornaments or mutilations of the
traditional text, which an eighteenth century poetaster had sought to
dress up to please the modish taste of the period. Nothing can be more
out of key with the simple, direct, and graphic style of the Scottish
ballads, dealing with elemental emotions and the situations arising
therefrom, than a style founded on that of Pope, unless it be the style
of the modern poet and romancist of the analytical and introspective

If there ever be matter of offence in the traditional ballad, it resides
in the theme and not in the handling and language. Whatever be its
faults, it never has the taint of the vulgar; it avoids the suggestive
with the same instinct with which it avoids the vapid adjective; it is
the antithesis of the modern music-hall ditty. The balladist and his men
and women speak straight to the point, and call a spade a spade.

    'Ye lee, ye lee, ye leear loud,
      Sae loud 's I hear ye lee,'


    'O wae betide you, ill woman,
      And an ill death may ye dee,'

are among the familiar courtesies of colloquy. In the telling of his
tale, the minstrel puts off no time in preluding or introductory
passages. In a single verse or couplet he has dashed into the middle of
his theme, and his characters are already in dramatic parley, exchanging
words like sword-thrusts. Take the opening of the immortal _Dowie Dens
of Yarrow_, where the place, time, circumstances, and actors in the
fatal quarrel are put swiftly before us in four lines:

    'Late at e'en, drinking the wine,
      And e'er they paid the lawin',
    They set a combat them between,
      To fight it e'er the dawin'.'

Or still better example, the not less famous:

    'The king sits in Dunfermline tower,
      Drinking the blood-red wine.
    Oh, where shall I find a skeely skipper
      To sail this ship o' mine.'

Or of _Sir James the Rose_:

    'O, hae ye nae heard o' Sir James the Rose,
      The young laird o' Balleichan,
    How he has slain a gallant squire
      Whose friends are out to take him!'

Or in yet briefer space the whole materials of tragedy are given to us,
as in that widely-known and multiform legend of the _Twa Sisters_ which
Tennyson took as the basis of his _We were two daughters of one race_:

    'He courted the eldest wi' glove and wi' ring,
      Binnorie, O Binnorie!
    But he loved the youngest aboon a' thing,
      By the bonnie mill dams o' Binnorie.'

Sometimes a brilliant or glowing picture is called up before our eyes by
a stroke or two; as--

    'The boy stared wild like a grey goshawk,'


    'The mantle that fair Annie wore
      It skinkled in the sun';


    'And in at her bower window
      The moon shone like a gleed';


    'O'er his white banes when they are bare
    The wind shall sigh for evermair.'

Or, to rise to the height of pity, despair, and terror to which the
ballad strains of Scotland have reached, what master of modern realism
has surpassed in trenchant and uncompromising power the passages in
_Clerk Saunders_?--

    'Then he drew forth his bright long brand,
      And slait it on the strae,
    And through Clerk Saunders' body
      He 's gart cauld iron gae';


    'She looked between her and the wa',
      And dull and drumly were his een.'

Has it ever happened, since the harp of Orpheus drew iron tears down
Pluto's cheek, that ruth has taken so grim a form as that of _Edom o'
Gordon_, as he turned over with his spear the body of his victim?

            'O gin her breast was white;
    "I might have spared that bonnie face
      To be some man's delight."'

Is there in the many pages of romance a climax so surprising, so
overwhelming--a revelation that in its succinct and despairing candour
goes so straight to the quick of human feeling--as that in the ballad of
_Gil Morice_?--

    '"I ance was as fu' o' Gil Morice
      As the hip is wi' the stane."'

To the fountainhead of our ballad-lore the great poets and romancists,
from Chaucer to Shakespeare, and from Shakespeare to Wordsworth and
Swinburne, and from Gavin Douglas to Burns and Scott and Stevenson, have
gone for refreshment and new inspiration, when the world was weary and
tame and sunk in the thraldom of the vulgar, the formal, and the
commonplace; and never without receiving their rich reward and
testifying their gratitude by fresh gifts of song and story, fresh
harpings on the old lyre that moved the hearts of men to tears and
laughter long before they knew of printed books. The old wellspring of
music and poetry is still open to all, and has lost none of the old
power of thrilling and enthralling; and the present is a time when a
long and deep draught from the Scottish ballads seems specially required
for the healing of a sick literature.



    'Oh see ye not that bonnie road
      That winds about yon fernie brae?
    Oh that 's the road to fair Elfland
      Where you and I this day maun gae.'

        _Thomas the Rhymer._

No scheme of ballad classification can be at all points complete and
satisfactory. We have seen that it is impossible to classify the
Scottish ballads according to authorship, since authors, known and
proved, there are none. Scarce more practicable is it to arrange them in
any regular order of chronology or locality; and even when we seek to
group them with regard to type and subject, difficulties start up at
every step. A convenient and intelligible division would seem to be one
that recognised the ballads as Mythological, Romantic, or Historical,
this last class including the lays of the foray and the chase, that
cannot be assigned to any particular date--that cannot, indeed, be
proved to have any historical basis at all--but can yet, with more or
less of probability, be assigned to some historical or _quasi_-historical
character. Besides these, there are groups of ballads that cannot be
wholly overlooked--ballads in which, contrary to the prevailing spirit
of this kind of poetry, Humour asserts itself as an essential element;
ballads of the Sea; and Peasant ballads, of which, perhaps, England
yields happier examples than Scotland--simple rustic ditties, hawked
about in broad-sheets, and dating, many of them, no earlier than the
present century, that seldom rise much above the doggerel and
commonplace, and do not, as a rule, concern themselves with the high
personages and high-strung passions of the ballad of Old Romance.

No well-defined frontier can be laid down between the three chief
departments of ballad minstrelsy. The pieces in which fairy-lore and
ancient superstition have a prominent place--the ballads of Myth and
Marvel--have all of them a strong romantic colouring; and the like may
be said of the traditional songs of war and of raiding and hunting, as
well as of those whose theme is the passion and tragedy of love.
Romance, indeed, is the animating soul of the body of Scottish ballad
poetry; the note that gives it unity and distinguishes it from mere
versified history and folklore. There are few ballads on which some
shadow out of the World Invisible is not cast; few where ill-happed love
is not a master-string of the minstrel's harp; few into which there does
not come strife and the flash of cold steel. Natheless, a broad division
into ballads Supernatural, Romantic, and Martial has reason as well as
convenience to recommend it; and in a loose and general way such an
arrangement should also indicate the comparative age, not indeed of the
ballad versions as we know them, but of the ideas and materials of which
they are composed.

First, then, of the ballads that are steeped in the element of the
supernatural, let it be remembered that it is well-nigh impossible for
us in these days, when we have cleared about us a little island of light
in the darkness, to understand the atmosphere of mystery that pressed
close around the life of man in the age when the ballad had its birth.
The Unknown and the Unseen surrounded him on every side. He could
scarcely put forth a hand without touching things that were not of this
world; and in proportion to the ignorance was the fear. Through the long
twilight in which the primæval beliefs and superstitions grew up and
became embodied in legend and custom, in _märchen_ and ballad, and all
through the Middle Ages, man's pilgrimage on earth was indeed through a
Valley of the Shadow. It was a narrow way, between 'the Ditch and the
Quag, and past the very mouth of the Pit,' full of frightful sights and
dreadful noises, of hobgoblins, and dragons, and chimeras dire. Tales
that have ceased to frighten the nursery, that we listen to with a smile
or at most with a pleasant stirring of the blood and titillation of the
nerves, once on a time were the terror of grown men. The ogres and
dragons of old are dead, and the Folklorist and the Comparative
Mythologist make free of their caves, and are busy setting up,
comparing, classifying, and labelling their skeletons for the
instruction of an age of science. But there was a time when the wisest
believed in their existence as an article of faith, and when the boldest
shuddered to hear them named. What are now idle fancies were once the
most portentous of realities; and in this lies the secret of the almost
universal diffusion of certain typical tales, beliefs, and observances,
and of the fascination which they have not ceased to exercise over the
imagination of mankind.

Into the subject of the origins, the relationships, and the
signification of these venerable traditions and superstitions of the
race and of all races, there is neither time nor occasion for entering.
This oldest and yet last found of the realms of science is as yet only
in course of being surveyed, and from day to day fresh discoveries are
announced by the eager explorers of the darkling provinces of myth and
folktale. But this at least may be said, that not in the wide domain of
popular saga and poetry can there be reaped a richer or more varied
harvest of weird and wild and beautiful fancies, touched by the light
that 'never was on sea or land,' than is to be found in the Scottish

From among them one could gather out a whole menagerie of the 'selcouth'
beasts and birds and creeping things that have been banished from solid
earth into the limbo of Faëry and Romance. They furnish examples of
nearly all the root-ideas and typical tales which folklorists have
discovered in the vast jungle of popular legends and superstitions--the
Supernatural Birth, the Life and Faith Tokens, the Dragon Slayer, the
Mermaid and the Despised Sister, Bluebeard of the Many Wives, the Well
of Healing, the Magic Mirror, the Enchanted Horn, the Singing Bone, the
Babes in the Wood, the Blabbing Popinjay, the Counterpart, the
Transformation, the Spell, the Prophecy, the Riddle, the Return from the
Grave, the Dead Ride, the Demon Lover, the Captivity in Faëryland, the
Seven Years' Kain to Hell, and a host of others.

Certain of them, like _Thomas the Rhymer_ and _Young Tamlane_, are
'fulfilléd all of Faëry.' One can read in them how deeply the old
superstition, which some would attribute to a traditional memory of the
pre-Aryan inhabitants of Western Europe--to the 'barrow-wights,'
pigmies, or Pechts who dwelt in or were driven for shelter to caves and
other underground dwellings of the land--had struck its roots in the
popular fancy. Probably Mr. Andrew Lang carries us as far as we can go
at present in the search for origins and affinities, when he says that
the belief in fairies, and in their relatives, the gnomes and brownies,
is 'a complex matter, from which tradition, with its memory of
earth-dwellers, is not wholly absent, while more is due to a survival of
the pre-Christian Hades, and to the belief in local spirits--the Vius of
Melanesia, the Nereids of ancient and modern Greece, the Lares of Rome,
the fateful Mæræ and Hathors--old imaginings of a world not yet
dispeopled of its dreams.' The elfin-folk of the Scottish ballads have
some few traits that are local and national; but, on the whole, they
conform pretty closely to a type that has now become well marked in the
literature as well as in the popular beliefs of European countries. The
fairies have been, among the orders of supernatural beings, the pets and
favourites of the poets, who have heaped their flowers of fancy above
the graves of the departed Little Folk. We suspect that the more
graceful and gracious touches in the Fairy Ballad are the renovating
work of later hands than the elder balladist; and in the two typical
Scottish examples that have been mentioned, it is not difficult to find
the mark of Sir Walter.

In the time when fairies still tripped the moonlit sward, they received
praise and compliment indeed from the mouths of their human kin, but it
was more out of fear than out of love. They were the 'Men of Peace' and
the 'Good Neighbours' for a reason not much different from that which
caused the Devil's share in the churchyard to be known as the 'Guid
Man's Croft,' lest by speaking more frankly of those having power, evil
might befall. The tenancy of brake and woodland in the 'witching hours'
by this uncanny people was a formidable addition to the terrors of the

    'Up the craggy mountain
      And down the rushy glen,
    We dare not go a-hunting
      For fear of Little Men.

    Wee folk, good folk,
      Trooping altogether,
    Green jerkin, red cap,
      And white owl's feather.'

They were tricksy, capricious, peevish, easily offended, malicious if
not wholly malevolent, and dangerous alike to trust and to thwart. All
this, together with their habit of trooping in procession and dancing
under the moon; their practice of snatching away to their underground
abodes those who, by kiss or other spell, fall into their hands; and the
penance or sacrifice which at every seven years' term they pay to powers
still more dread, comes out in the tale of True Thomas's adventure with
the Queen of Faëry, and in Fair Janet's ordeal to win back Young Tamlane
to earth. Their prodigious strength, so strangely disproportioned to
their size, is celebrated in the quaint lines of _The Wee Wee Man_;
while from _The Elfin Knight_ we learn that woman's wit as well as
woman's faith can, on occasion, prove a match for all the spells and
riddles of fairyland. The enchanted horn is heard blowing--

    'A knight stands on yon high, high hill,
      Blaw, blaw, ye cauld winds blaw!
    He blaws a blast baith loud and shrill,
      The cauld wind 's blawn my plaid awa,'

and, at the spoken wish, the Elfin Knight is at the maiden's side. But
the spell the tongue has woven, the tongue can unloose; and the lady
brings her unearthly lover first into captivity by setting him a
preliminary task to perform, more baffling than that 'sewing a sark
without a seam.'

It is otherwise with True Thomas, as it was with Merlin before him, and
with all the men, wise and foolish, who have once yielded to the
glamourie of the Elfin Queen and others of her type and sex. The Rhymer
of Ercildoune was probably only a man more learned and far-seeing than
others of his time. His reputation for Second Sight may rest upon a
basis similar to that which led the mediæval mind to dub Virgil a
magician, and to recognise the wizard in Sir Michael Scott, the grave
ambassador and counsellor of kings, and, at a later date, enabled the
profane vulgar to discover a baronet of Gordonstoun to be a warlock, for
no better reason than because, with the encouragement of that most
indefatigable of ballad collectors, Samuel Pepys, he gave his attention
to the perfecting of sea-pumps for the royal navy. Whether the Rhymer's
expedition to Fairyland was feigned by the balladist to explain his
soothsaying; or whether, rather, his prophecies were invented as
evidence of the perilous gift he brought back with him from Elfland,
research will never be able to tell us. But the journey True Thomas made
on the fateful day when, lying on Huntlie bank,

    'A ferlie he spied wi' his e'e;
      And there he saw a ladye bright
    Come riding down by the Eildon Tree,'

was one that many heroes of adventure, before him and after him, have
made in fairy lands forlorn. The scenery and incidents of that strange
ride are also among the common possessions of fairy romance. One dimly
discerns in them the glimmer of an ancient allegory, of an old
cosmogony, that may possibly be derived from the very infancy of the
world, when human thought began to brood over the mysteries of life and
time. There are the Broad Path of Wickedness and the Narrow Way of
Right, and between them that 'bonnie road' of Fantasy, winding and
fern-sown, that leads to 'fair Elfland.' There is a glimpse of the
Garden of the Hesperides and its fruits; and a lurid peep into Hades:

    'It was mirk, mirk nicht and nae starlicht,
      And they waded through red bluid to the knee;
    For a' the bluid that 's shed on earth
      Rins through the springs o' that countrie.'

The Palace of Truth as well as of Error is built on fairy ground; and
there is a foretaste of Gilbertian humour in the dismay with which the
Rhymer hears that he is to be endowed with 'the tongue that can never

    '"My tongue is mine ain," True Thomas said;
      "A goodlie gift you would give me;
    I neither dought to buy or sell
      At fair or tryst where I may be;
    I dought neither speak to prince or peer
      Nor ask of grace from fair ladye."'

But from his seven years' wanderings in fairyland, that speed like a day
upon earth, he wakens up as from a dream, and again he is laid on
Huntlie bank, in sight of the cleft Eildon.

Is it not significant that Melrose and Abbotsford, where a later and
greater wizard wrought his spells over the valley of the Tweed and
Ettrick Forest, should be half-way between the chief scenes of our Fairy
Ballads--between the Rhymer's Tower and Carterhaugh? Fair Janet's
conduct, when forbidden to come or go by Carterhaugh, where Yarrow holds
tryst with Ettrick, lest she might encounter the Young Tamlane, may be
traced back to the Garden of Eden, and is of a piece with that of Mother

    'Janet has kilted her green kirtle
      A little abune her knee;
    And she has braided her yellow hair
      A little abune her bree;
    And she 's awa' to Carterhaugh
      As fast as she could gae.'

There she falls in with the 'elfin grey' who might have been an 'earthly
knight'; and he tells her how, as a youth, he had been reft away to

    'There cam' a wind out o' the north,
      A sharp wind and a snell;
    A deep sleep cam' over me
      And from my horse I fell';

as happened to 'Held Harald' and his men in the German legend. But he
also tells her how, by waiting at the cross road at midnight on
Halloweve, 'when fairy folk do ride,' she may win back the father of her
child to mortal shape. That waiting on the dreary heath while 'a north
wind tore the bent,' and what followed, become the ordeal of Janet's

    'Aboot the dead hour o' the night
      She heard the bridles ring;
    And Janet was as glad o' that
      As any earthly thing.

    And first gaed by the black, black steed,
      And then gaed by the brown,
    But fast she gripped the milk-white steed
      And pu'ed the rider down';

and holding her lover fast, through all his gruesome changes of form,
she 'borrowed' him from the 'seely court,' and saved him from becoming
the tribute paid every seven years to the powers that held fairydom in

Another series of transmutations, familiar in ballad and folklore, is
that in which the powers of White and Black Magic strive for the
mastery, generally to the discomfiture of the latter, after the manner
of the Hunting of Paupukewis in _Hiawatha_. The baffled magician or
witch--often the mother-in-law or stepmother, the stock villain of the
piece in these old tales--alters her shape rapidly to living creature or
inanimate thing; but fast as she changes the avenger also changes,
pursues, and at length destroys. In the ballad of _The Twa Magicians_,
given in Buchan's collection, it is virtue that flees, and wrong, in the
shape of a Smith, of Weyland's mystic kin, that follows and overcomes.

But, as a rule, the transformations that are made the subject of the
Scottish ballads are of a more lasting kind; the prince or princess,
tempted by a kiss, or at the touch of enchanted wand or ring, is doomed
for a time to crawl in the loathly shape of snake or dragon about a
tree, or swim the waters as mermaid or other monstrous brood of the seas
of romance, until the appointed time when the deliverer comes, and by
like magic art, or by the pure force of courage and love, looses the
spell. _Kempion_ is a type of a class of story that runs, in many
variations, through the romances of chivalry, and from these may have
been passed down to the ballad-singer, although ruder forms of it are
common to nearly all folk-mythology. The hero is one of those kings'
sons, who, along with kings' daughters, people the literature of ballad
and _märchen_; and he has heard of the 'heavy weird' that has been laid
upon a lady to haunt the flood around the Estmere Crags as a 'fiery
beast.' He is dared to lean over the cliff and kiss this hideous
creature; and at the third kiss she turns into

    'The loveliest ladye e'er could be.'

The rescuer asks--

    'O, was it wehrwolf in the wood,
      Or was it mermaid in the sea?
    Or was it man, or vile womán,
      My ain true love, that misshapéd thee?'

Nor do we wonder to hear that it was the doing of the wicked and envious
stepmother, on whom there straight falls a worse and a well-deserved
weird. In _King Henrie_, too, it is the stepdame that has wrought the
mischief. He is lying 'burd alane' in his hunting hall in the forest,
when his grey dogs cringe and whine; the door is burst in, and

          'A grisly ghost
    Stands stamping on the floor.'

The manners of this _Poltergeist_ are in keeping with her rough entrance
on the scene; her ogreish appetite is not satisfied even when she had
devoured his hounds, his hawks, and his steed. As in the _Wife of Bath's
Tale_, and the _Marriage of Sir Gawain_ and other legends of the same
type, the knight's courtesy withstands every test, and he is rewarded
for having given the lady her will:

    'When day was come and night was gane
      And the sun shone through the ha',
    The fairest ladye that e'er was seen
      Lay between him and the wa'.'

In most cases it is not wise or safe to give entertainment to these
wanderers of the night, whether they come in fair shape or in foul. They
are apt to prove to be of the race of the _succubi_, from whom a kiss
means death or worse. More than one of our Scottish ballads are
reminiscent of the beautiful old Breton lay, _The Lord Nann_, so
admirably translated by Tom Taylor, wherein the young husband, stricken
to the heart by the baleful kiss given to him against his will by a
wood-nymph, goes home to die, and his fair young wife follows him fast
to the grave. _Alison Gross_ is another of those Circes who, by
incantation of horn and wand, seek to lower the shape and nature of her
lovers to those of the beasts that crawl on their bellies. Sometimes the
tempter is of the other sex. Thus _The Demon Lover_ is a tale known in
several versions in Scotland, and lately brought under notice by Mr.
Hall Caine in its Manx form. The frail lady is enticed from her home,
and induced to put foot on board the mysterious ship by an appeal, a
pathetic echo of which has lingered on in later poetry, and has been
quoted as the very dirge of the Lost Cause:

    'He turned him right and round about,
      And the tear blindit his e'e;
    "I would never have trodden on Irish ground
      If it hadna been for thee."'

They have not sailed far, when his countenance changes, and he grows to
a monstrous stature; the foul fiend is revealed. They are bound on a
drearier voyage than that of True Thomas--to a Hades of ice and
isolation that bespeaks the northern origin of the tale:

    '"O whaten a mountain 's yon," she said,
      "So dreary wi' frost and snow?"
    "O yon 's the mountain of hell," he cried,
      "Where you and I must go."

    He strack the tapmast wi' his hand,
      The foremast wi' his knee;
    And he brake the gallant ship in twain
      And sank her in the sea.'

Other spells and charms not a few, for the winning of love and the
slaking of revenge, are known to the old balladists. We hear of the
compelling or sundering power of the bright red gold and the cold steel.
Lovers at parting exchange rings, as in _Hynd Horn_, gifted with the
property of revealing death or faithlessness:

    'When your ring turns pale and wan,
    Then I 'm in love wi' another man.'

Or, as in _Rose the Red and Lily Flower_, it is a magic horn, to be
blown when in danger, and whose notes can be heard at any distance.
These are examples of the 'Life Token' and the 'Faith Token,' known to
the folklore of nearly all peoples who have preserved fragments of their
primitive beliefs. The prophetic power of dreams is revealed in _The
Drowned Lovers_, in _Child Rowland_, in _Annie of Lochryan_, and in a
host of others. The spells used by witchcraft to arrest birth do not
differ greatly in _Willie's Lady_--the 'nine witch-knots,' the 'bush of
woodbine,' the 'kaims o' care,' and the 'master goat'--from those
mentioned in its prototypes in Scandinavian, Greek, and Eastern ballads
and stories; and in more than one it is the sage counsels of 'Billy
Blin''--the Brownie--that give the cue by which the evil charm is
unwound. The Brownie--the Lubber Fiend--owns a department of legend and
ballad scarcely less important than that possessed by his relatives, the
Elfin folk and the Trolds; a shy and clumsy monster, but harmless and
good-natured, and with a turn for hard manual labour that can be turned
to useful account. Good and ill fortune, in the ballads, comes often by

    'We were sisters, sisters seven,
      Bowing down, bowing down;
    The fairest maidens under heaven;
      And aye the birks a' bowing.

    And we keest kevils us amang,
      Bowing down, bowing down;
    To see who would to greenwood gang,
      And aye the birks a' bowing.'

The birk held a high place in the secret rites and customs of the Ballad
Age. It was with 'a wand o' the bonnie birk' that May Margaret went
through the mysterious process of restoring her plighted troth to Clerk
Saunders; in other ballads it is done by passes of the hand, or of a
crystal rod. When the 'Clerk's Twa Sons o' Owsenford' were brought back
to earth by their mother's bitter grief and longing, they wore 'hats
made o' the birk':

    'It neither grew in syke or ditch,
      Nor yet in ony sheugh;
    But at the gate of Paradise
      That birk grew green eneuch.'

Birds of the air carry a secret; there are tongues in trees that
syllable men's names; and even inanimate things cry aloud with the voice
of Remorse or of Doom. When the knight wishes to send a message, he
speaks in the ear of his 'gay goshawk that can baith speak and flee.'
When May Colvin returns home after the fatal meeting at the well, where
her seven predecessors in the love of the 'Fause Sir John' had been
drowned, the 'wylie parrot' speaks the words that were no doubt ringing
in her brain:

    'What hae ye made o' the fause Sir John
      That ye gaed wi' yestreen?'

And in _Earl Richard_ and other ballads, it is the 'popinjay' that
proclaims guilt or fear from turret or tree. One remembers also 'Proud
Maisie' walking early in the wood, and Sweet Robin piping her doom among
the green summer leaves:

    '"Tell me, my bonnie bird,
      When shall I marry me?"
    "When six braw gentlemen
      Kirkward shall carry thee"';

and the 'Three Corbies' croaking the most grim and dismal notes in all
the wide, wild range of ballad poetry, as they feast on the new-slain

    'Ye 'll sit on his white hause bane,
    And I 'll pike oot his bonnie blue een;
    Wi' ae lock o' his yellow hair
    We 'll theak our nest when it is bare.

    O mony a ane for him maks mane,
    But nae ane kens whaur he is gane,
    O'er his white banes when they are bare
    The wind shall sigh for evermair.'

But things that have neither sense nor life utter aloud words of menace
and accusation. Lord Barnard's horn makes the forest echo with the
warning notes, 'Away, Musgrave, away!' _Binnorie_ embalms the tradition
of the 'singing bone' which pervades the folklore of the Aryan peoples,
and is found also in China and among the negro tribes of West Africa. A
harper finds the body of the drowned sister, and out of her
'breast-bane' he forms a harp which he strings with her yellow hair.
According to a northern version of the ballad, he makes a plectrum from
'a lith of her finger bane.' On this strange instrument the minstrel
plays before king and court, and the strings sigh forth:

    'Wae to my sister, fair Helén!'

In other ballads, the yearning or remorse of the living draw the dead
from their graves. In the tale of _The Cruel Mother_, we seem to see the
workings of the guilty conscience, which at length 'visualised' the
victims of unnatural murder. The bride goes alone to the bonnie
greenwood, to bear and to slay her twin children:

    'She 's wrapped her mantle about her head,
      All alone, and alonie O!
    She 's gone to do a fearful deed
      Down by the greenwood bonnie O!'

The crime and shame are hid; but peace does not come to her:

    'The lady looked o'er her high castle wa',
      All alone and alonie O!
    She saw twa bonnie bairnies play at the ba'
      Down by yon greenwood bonnie O!

The mother's yearning awakens within her, and she promises them all
manner of gifts if they will only be hers. But the voices of the
ghost-children rise and pronounce judgment on her:

    'O cruel mither, when we were thine,
      All alone and alonie O!
    From us ye did our young lives twine,
      Doon by yon greenwood bonnie O.'

Elsewhere in these old rhymes may be traced a superstitious belief,
which was put in practice as a means of discovering guilt, at least as
late as the middle of the seventeenth century--that of the Ordeal by
Touch. In _Young Benjie_ another test is applied to find the murderer;
and at midnight the door of the death-chamber is set ajar, so that the
wandering spirit may enter and reanimate for an hour the 'streikit

    'About the middle of the night
      The cocks began to craw;
    And at the dead hour o' the night,
      The corpse began to thraw.'

It sat up; and with its dead lips told the waiting brethren on whose
head justice, tempered with a strange streak of mercy, should fall for
the foul slaughter of their 'ae sister':

    'Ye maunna Benjie head, brothers,
      Ye maunna Benjie hang,
    But ye maun pyke oot his twa grey een
      Before ye let him gang.'

In _Proud Lady Margaret_, again, we have a form of the legend, told in
many lands, and made familiar, in a milder form, by the classical German
ballad of _The Lady of the Kynast_, of a haughty and cruel dame whose
riddles are answered and whose heart is at length won by a stranger
knight. She would fain ride home with him, but he answers her that he is
her brother Willie, come from the other side of death to 'humble her
haughty heart has gart sae mony dee':

    'The wee worms are my bedfellows
    And cauld clay is my sheets';

and there is no room in his narrow house for other company. Out of the
Dark Country, too, on a similar errand, on Hallowe'en night, rides the
betrayed and slain knight in _Child Rowland_, the first line of which,
preserved in _King Lear_ as it was known in Shakespeare's day, seems to
strike a keynote of ballad romance:

    'Child Rowland to the dark tower came,'

mumbles the feigned madman in the ear of the poor wronged king as they
tread the waste heath. And the sequel, as it has come down to us,
sustains and strengthens the spell of the opening:

      'And he tirled at the pin;
    And wha sae ready as his fause love,
      To rise and let him in.'

The passages that describe the haunted ride in the moonlight, when the
lady has fled from the scene of her treachery and guilt, are not
surpassed in weird imaginative power, if they are equalled, by anything
in ballad or other literature:

    'She hadna ridden a mile, a mile,
      Never a mile but ane,
    When she was 'ware o' a tall young man
      Riding slowly o'er the plain.
    She turned her to the right about,
      And to the left turned she;
    But aye 'tween her and the wan moonlight
      That tall knight did she see.'

She set whip and spur to her steed, but 'nae nearer could she get'; she
appealed to him, as from a 'saikless,' or guiltless, maid to 'a leal
true knight,' to draw his bridle-rein until she can come up with him:

    'But nothing did that tall knight say,
      And nothing did he blin;
    Still slowly rade he on before,
      And fast she rade behind,'

until he drew rein at a broad river-side. Then he spoke:

    '"This water it is deep," he said,
      "As it is wondrous dun;
    But it is sic as a saikless maid,
      And a leal true knight can swim."'

They plunged in together, and the flood bore them down:

    '"The water is waxing deeper still,
      Sae does it wax mair wide;
    And aye the farther we ride on,
      Farther off is the other side."

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    The knight turned slowly round about
      All in the middle stream,
    He stretched out his hand to that lady,
      And loudly she did scream.

    "O, this is Hallow-morn," he said,
      "And it is your bridal day;
    But sad would be that gay wedding
      Were bridegroom and bride away.
    But ride on, ride on, proud Margaret,
      Till the water comes o'er your bree;
    For the bride maun ride deep and deeper yet
      Who rides this ford wi' me."'

But the perturbed spirit does not always thus revisit the glimpses of
the moon to awaken conscience, to humble pride, or to wreak vengeance.
More often it is the repinings and longings of passionate love that keep
it from its rest. In _märchen_ and ballad the ghost of the lover comes
to complain that the tears which his betrothed sheds nightly fill his
shroud with blood; when she smiles, it is filled with rose leaves. The
mother steals from the grave to hap and comfort her orphan children;
their harsh stepmother neglects and ill-treats them, and their exceeding
bitter and desolate cry has penetrated beneath the sod, and reached the
dead ear. In _The Clerk's Sons o' Owsenford_, and in that singular
fragment of the same creepy theme, recovered by Scott, _The Wife of
Usher's Well_, it is the yearning of the living mother that brings the
dead sons back to their home:

    '"Blaw up the fire, my maidens,
      Bring water from the well!
    For a' my house shall feast this nicht,
      Since my three sons are well."'

The _revenants_, silent guests with staring eyes, wait and warm
themselves by the fireside, while the 'carline wife' ministers to their
wants, and spreads her 'gay mantle' over them to keep them from the
cold, until their time comes:

    '"The cock doth craw, the day doth daw,
      The channerin' worm doth chide;
    Gin we be missed out o' our place
      A sair pain we must bide."

    "Lie still, be still a little wee while,
      Lie still but if we may;
    Gin my mother should miss us when she wakes,
      She 'll gae mad, ere it be day."

    O it 's they 've taen up their mother's mantle,
      And they 've hung it on a pin;
    "O lang may ye hing, my mother's mantle,
      Ere ye hap us again."'

A chill air as from the charnel-house seems to breathe upon us while
reading the lines; the coldness, the darkness, and the horror of death
have never been painted for us with more terrible power than in the
'Wiertz Gallery' of the old balladists.

We feel this also in the ballads of the type of _Sweet William and May
Margaret_, quoted in Beaumont and Fletcher's _Knight of the Burning
Pestle_, where the dead returns to claim back a plighted word; and at
the same time we feel the strength of the perfect love that triumphs
over death and casts out fear:

    '"Is there any room at your head, Willie,
      Or any room at your feet,
    Or any room at your side, Willie,
      Wherein that I may creep?"'

How miserably the poetical taste of the early part of last century
misappreciated the spirit of the ancient ballad, preferring the dross to
the fine gold, and tricking out the 'terrific old Scottish tale,' as
Sir Walter Scott calls it, in meretricious ornament, may be seen by
comparing the original copies with that 'elegant' composition of David
Mallet, _William and Margaret_, so praised and popular in its day, in
which every change made is a disfigurement of the nature of an outrage.
Read the summons of the ghost, still 'naked of ornament and simple':

    '"O sweet Marg'ret, O dear Marg'ret!
      I pray thee speak to me;
    Gie me my faith and troth, Marg'ret,
      As I gae it to thee,"'

along with the 'improved' version:

    '"Awake!" she cried, "thy true love calls,
      Come from her midnight grave;
    Now let thy pity hear the maid
      Thy love refused to save."'

Of a long antiquity most of these Mythological Ballads must be, if not
in their actual phraseology, in the dark superstitions they embody and
in the pathetic glimpses they afford us of the thoughts and fears and
hopes of the men and women of the days of long ago--the days before
feudalism; the days, as some inquisitors of the ballad assure us, when
religion was a kind of fetichism or ancestor worship, when the laws were
the laws of the tribe or family, and when the cannibal feast may have
been among the customs of the race. We cannot find a time when this
inheritance of legend was not old; when it was not sung, and committed
to memory, and handed down to later generations in some rude rhyme. The
leading 'types' were in the wallet of Autolycus; and he describes
certain of them with a seasoning of his grotesque humour, to his simple
country audience. There were the well-attested tale of the _Usurer's
Wife_, a ballad sung, as ballads are wont, 'to a very doleful
tune'--obviously a form of the Supernatural Birth; and the story, true
as it is pitiful, of the fish that turned to woman, and then back again
to fish, in which he that runs may read an example from the Mermaid
Cycle. They are to be found to-day, often in debased and barely
recognisable guise, in the hands of the peripatetic ballad-mongers who
still haunt fairs and sing in the streets, and in the memories of
multitudes of country folks who know scarce any other literature bearing
the magic trademark of Old Romance.



    'O they rade on, and farther on,
      By the lee licht o' the moon,
    Until they cam' to a wan water,
      And there they lichted them doon.'

        _The Douglas Tragedy._

It may look like taking a liberty with the chart of ballad poetry to
label as 'romantic' a single province of this kingdom of Old Romance. It
is probably not even the most ancient of the provinces of balladry, but
it has some claim to be regarded as the central one in fame and in
wealth--the one that yields the purest and richest ore of poetry. It is
that wherein the passion and frenzy of love is not merely an element or
a prominent motive, but is the controlling spirit and the absorbing

As has been acknowledged, it is not possible to make any hard and fast
division of the Scottish ballads by applying to them this or any other
test; and mention has already been made, on account of the mythological
or superstitious features they possess, of a number of the choicest of
these old lays that turn essentially upon the strength or the weakness,
the constancy or the inconstancy, the rapture or the sorrow of earthly
love. Love in the ballads is nearly always masterful, imperious,
exacting; nearly always its reward is death and dule, and not life and
happiness. But as it spurns all obstacles, it meets its fate
unflinchingly. No sacrifices are too great, no penance too dire, no
shame or sin too black to turn aside for an instant the rush of this
impetuous passion, which runs bare-breasted on the drawn sword.

It is not to the ballads we must go for example--precept of this or of
any kind there is none--in the _bourgeois_ and respectable virtues; of
the sober and chastened behaviour that comes of a prudent fear of
consequences, of a cold temperament and a calculating spirit. The good
or the ill done by the heroes and heroines of the Romantic Ballad is
done on the spur of the moment, on the impulse of hot blood. Whether it
be sin or sacrifice, the prompting is not that of convention, but of
Nature herself. Love and hate, though they may burn and glow like a
volcano, are not prodigal of words. It is one of the marks by which we
may distinguish the characters in the ballads from those in later and
more cultivated fields of literature that, as a rule, they say less
rather than more than they mean. They speak daggers; but they are far
more apt in using them. At a word or look the lovers are ready to die
for each other; but of the language of endearment they are not prodigal;
and a phrase of tenderness is sweet in proportion that it is rare.

With the tamer affections it fares no better than with the moral law
when it comes in the path of the master passion. Mother and sisters are
defied and forsaken; father and brethren are resisted at the sword's
point when they cross, as is their wont, the course of true love. It is
curious to note how little, except as a foil, the ballad makes of
brotherly or sisterly love. It finds exquisite expression in the tale of
_Chil Ether_ and his twin sister,

    'Who loved each other tenderly
      'Boon everything on earth.

    "The ley likesna the simmer shower
      Nor girse the morning dew,
    Better, dear Lady Maisrie,
      Than Chil Ether loves you."'

But for this, among other reasons, the genuine antiquity of the ballad
is under some suspicion.

In modern fiction or drama the lady hesitates between the opposing
forces of love and of family pride and duty; the old influences in her
life do not yield to the new without a struggle. But of struggle or
indecision the ballad heroine knows, or at least says, nothing. A
glance, a whispered word, a note of harp or horn, and she flings down
her 'silken seam,' and whether she be king's daughter or beggar maid she
obeys the spell, and follows the enchanter to greenwood or to broomy
hill, to the ends of the earth, and to the gates of death.

For when the gallant knight and his 'fair may' ride away, prying eyes
are upon them; black care and red vengeance climb up behind them and
keep them company. _The Douglas Tragedy_ may be selected for its
terseness and dramatic strength, for the romance and pathos inwoven in
the very names and scenes with which it is associated, as the type of a
favourite story which under various titles--_Earl Brand_ and the _Child
of Elle_ among the rest--has, time beyond knowledge, captivated the
imagination and drawn the tears of ballad-lovers. In the best-known
Scots version--that which Sir Walter Scott has recovered for us, and
which bears some touches of his rescuing hand--it is the lady-mother who
gives the alarm that the maiden has fled under cloud of night with her

    'Rise up, rise up, my seven bauld sons,
      And put on your armour so bright,
    And take better care of your youngest sister,
      For your eldest 's awa' the last night.'

In English variants, it is the sour serving-man or false bower-woman who
gives the alarm and sets the chase in motion. But there are other
differences that enter into the very essence of the story, and express
the diverse feeling of the Scottish and the English ballad. In the
latter there is a pretty scene of entreaty and reconciliation; the
lady's tears soften the harsh will of the father, and stay the lifted
blade of the lover, and all ends merry as a marriage bell. But in the
Scottish ballads fathers and lovers are not given to the melting mood.
In sympathy with the scenery and atmosphere, the ballad spirit is with
us sterner and darker; and just as the materials of that tender little
idyll of faithful love, _The Three Ravens_, are in Scottish hands
transformed into the drear, wild dirge of _The Twa Corbies_, the gallant
adventure of the _Child of Elle_ turns inevitably to tragedy by Douglas
Water and Yarrow. But how much more true to this soul of romance is the
choice of the northern minstrel! Lady Margaret, as she holds Lord
William's bridle-rein while he deals those strokes so 'wondrous sair' at
her nearest kin, is a figure that will haunt the 'stream of sorrow' as
long as verse has power to move the hearts of men:

    '"O choose, O choose, Lady Marg'ret," he cried,
      "O whether will ye gang or bide?"
    "I 'll gang, I 'll gang, Lord William," she said,
      "For you 've left me no other guide."

    He lifted her on a milk-white steed,
      And himself on a dapple grey,
    With a buglet horn hung down by his side,
      And slowly they both rade away.

    O they rade on, and farther on,
      By the lee licht o' the moon,
    Until they cam' to a wan water,
      And there they lichted them doon.

    "Hold up, hold up, Lord William," she said,
      "For I fear that ye are slain."
    "'Tis naething but the shadow of my scarlet cloak
      That shines in the water so plain."'

The man who can listen to these lines without a thrill is proof against
the Ithuriel spear of Romance. He is not made of penetrable stuff, and
need waste no thought on the Scottish ballads.

To close the tale comes that colophon that as naturally ends the typical
ballad as 'Once upon a time' begins the typical nursery tale:

    'Lord William was buried in St. Mary's Kirk,
      Lady Margaret in St. Mary's Quire;
    And out of her grave there grew a birk,
      And out of the knight's a brier.

    And they twa met and they twa plait,
      As fain they wad be near;
    And a' the world might ken right well
      They were twa lovers dear.'

Birk and brier; vine and rose; cypress and orange; thorn and olive--the
plants in which the buried lovers of ballad romance live again and
intertwine their limbs, vary with the clime and race; and just as the
'Black Douglas' of the Yarrow ballad--'Wow but he was rough!'--plucks up
the brier, and 'flings it in St. Mary's Loch,' the King, in the
Portuguese folk-song, cuts down the cypress and orange that perpetuate
the loves of Count Nello and the Infanta, and then grinds his teeth to
see the double stream of blood flow from them and unite, proving that
'in death they are not divided.'

The scene of the Scottish story is supposed to be Blackhouse, on the
Douglas Burn, a feeder of the Yarrow, the farm on which Scott's friend,
William Laidlaw, the author of _Lucy's Flittin'_, was born. Seven stones
on the heights above, where the 'Ettrick Shepherd,' with his dog Hector,
herded sheep and watched for the rising of the Queen of Faëry through
the mist, mark the spot where the seven bauld brethren fell.

But Yarrow Vale is strewn with the sites of those tragedies of the
far-off years, forgotten by history but remembered in song and
tradition. Its green hills enclose the very sanctuary of romantic
ballad-lore. Its clear current sings a mournful song of the 'good
heart's bluid' that once stained its wave; of the drowned youth caught
in the 'cleaving o' the craig.' The winds that sweep the hillsides and
bend 'the birks a' bowing' seem to whisper still of the wail of the
'winsome marrow,' and to have an undernote of sadness on the brightest
day of summer; while with the fall of the red and yellow leaf the very
spirit of 'pastoral melancholy' broods and sleeps in this enchanted
valley. St. Mary's Kirk and Loch; Henderland Tower and the Dow Linn;
Blackhouse and Douglas Craig; Yarrow Kirk and Deucharswire; Hangingshaw
and Tinnis; Broadmeadows and Newark; Bowhill and Philiphaugh--what
memories of love and death, of faith and wrong, of blood and of tears
they carry! Always by Yarrow the comely youth goes forth, only to fall
by the sword, fighting against odds in the 'Dowie Dens,' or to be caught
and drowned in the treacherous pools of this fateful river; always the
woman is left to weep over her lost and 'lealfu' lord.' In the Dow Glen
it is the 'Border Widow,' upon whose bower the 'Red Tod of Falkland' has
broken and slain her knight, whose grave she must dig with her own

    'I took his body on my back,
    And whiles I gaed and whiles I sat;
    I digged a grave and laid him in,
    And happed him wi' the sod sae green.

    But think nae ye my heart was sair
    When I laid the moul's on his yellow hair;
    O think nae ye my heart was wae
    When I turned about awa' to gae.

    Nae living man I 'll love again,
    Since that my lovely knight is slain;
    Wi' ae lock o' his yellow hair
    I 'll chain my heart for evermair.'

An echo of this, but blending with poignant grief a masculine note of
rage and vengeance, is the lament of Adam Fleming for Burd Helen, who
dropped dead in his arms at their trysting-place in 'fair Kirkconnell
Lea,' from the shot fired across the Kirtle by the hand of his jealous

    'O thinkna ye my heart was sair,
    When my love drapt doun and spak nae mair!
    There did she swoon wi' meikle care
              On fair Kirkconnell Lea.

    O Helen fair, beyond compare!
    I 'll make a garland o' thy hair
    Shall bind my heart for evermair
              Until the day I dee.'

Still older, and not less sad and sweet, is the lilt of _Willie Drowned
in Yarrow_, the theme amplified, but not improved, in Logan's lyric:

    'O Willie 's fair and Willie 's rare,
      And Willie wondrous bonnie;
    And Willie hecht to marry me
      If e'er he married ony.'

Gamrie, in Buchan, contends with the 'Dowie Howms' as the scene of this
fragment; but surely its sentiment is pure Yarrow:

    'She sought him east, she sought him west,
      She sought him braid and narrow;
    Syne in the cleaving o' a craig
      She found him drowned in Yarrow.'

But best-remembered of the Yarrow Cycle is _The Dowie Dens_. One cannot
analyse the subtle aroma of this flower of Yarrow ballads. In it the
song of the river has been wedded to its story 'like perfect music unto
noble words.' It is indeed the voice of Yarrow, chiding, imploring,
lamenting; a voice 'most musical, most melancholy.' A ballad minstrel
with a master-touch upon the chords of passion and pathos, with a
feeling for dramatic intensity of effect that Nature herself must have
taught him, must have left us these wondrous pictures of the quarrel,
hot and sudden; of the challenge, fiercely given and accepted; of the
appeal, so charged with wild forebodings of evil:

    '"O stay at hame, my noble lord,
      O stay at hame, my marrow!
    My cruel kin will you betray
      On the dowie howms o' Yarrow"';

of the treacherous ambuscade under Tinnis bank; of the stubborn fight,
in which a single 'noble brand' holds its own against nine, until the
cruel brother comes behind that comeliest knight and 'runs his body
thorough'; of the yearning and waiting of the 'winsome marrow,' while
fear clutches at her heart:

    '"Yestreen I dreamed a doleful dream,
      I fear there will be sorrow,
    I dreamed I pu'ed the birk sae green
      For my true love on Yarrow.

    O gentle wind that blaweth south
      Frae where my love repaireth,
    Blaw me a kiss frae his dear mouth
      And tell me how he fareth"';

lastly, of the quest 'the bonnie forest thorough,' until on the trampled
den by Deucharswire, near Whitehope farmhouse, she finds the 'ten slain
men,' and among them 'the fairest rose was ever cropped on Yarrow':

    'She kissed his cheek, she kaimed his hair,
      She searched his wounds a' thorough,
    She kissed them till her lips grew red
      On the dowie howms o' Yarrow.'

The story is said to be founded on the slaughter of Walter Scott of
Oakwood, of the house of Thirlstane, by John Scott of Tushielaw, with
whose sister Grizel the murdered man had, in 1616, contracted an
irregular marriage, to the offence of her kin. On this showing, it is of
the later crop of the ballads. But it is well-nigh impossible to think
of rueful Yarrow flowing through her dens to any other measure than that
which keeps repeating

              'By strength of sorrow
    The unconquerable strength of love.'

But, as Wordsworth reminds us, these ever-youthful waters have their
gladsome notes. On the not unchallengeable ground that it makes mention,
in one version, of 'St. Mary's' as the fourth Scots Kirk at which halt
was made after leaving the English Border, _The Gay Goshawk_ has been
set down among the Yarrow ballads; and Hogg has confirmed the claim by
using the tale as the foundation of his _Flower of Yarrow_. Even here
such happiness as the lovers find comes by a perilous way past the very
gates of the grave. The feigning of death, as the one means of escape
from kinsfolk's ban to the arms of love, was a device known to Juliet
and to other heroines of old plays and romances. But few could have
abode the test suggested by the 'witch woman' or cruel stepmother, whose
experience had taught her that 'much a lady young will do, her ain true
love to win':

    '"Tak' ye the burning lead,
    And drap a drap on her white bosom
      To try if she be dead."'

And Lord William, at St. Mary's Kirk, was more fortunate than Romeo in
the vault of the Capulets; for when he rent the shroud from the face the
blood rushed back to the cheeks and lips, 'like blood-draps in the
snaw,' and the 'leeming e'en' laughed back into his own:

    '"Gie me a chive o' your bread, my love,
      And ae glass o' your wine,
    For I hae fasted for your love
      These weary lang days nine."'

_The Nut-brown Bride_ and _Fair Janet_ might also be identified as among
the Yarrow lays, if only it were granted that there is but one 'St.
Mary's Kirk.' In the former, the balladist treats, with dramatic fire
and fine insight into the springs of action, the theme that

    'To be wroth with those we love
    Doth work like madness in the brain.'

As in Barbara Allan, a word spoken amiss sets division between two
hearts that had beat as one:

    'Lord Thomas spoke a word in jest,
      Fair Annet took it ill.'

In haste he consults mother and brother whether he should marry the
'Nut-brown Maid, and let Fair Annet be,' and so long as they praise the
tochered lass he scorns their counsel; he will not have 'a fat fadge by
the fire.' But when his sister puts in a word for Annet his resentment
blazes up anew; he will marry her dusky rival in despite. With a heart
not less hot, we may be sure, his forsaken love dons her gayest robes,
and at St. Mary's Kirk she casts the poor brown bride into the shade in
dress as well as in looks. Small wonder if the bride speaks out with
spite when her bridegroom reaches across her to lay a red rose on
Annet's knee. The words between the two angry women are like
rapier-thrusts, keen and aimed at the heart. 'Where did ye get the
rose-water that maks your skin so white?' asks the bride; and when
Annet's swift retort goes home, she can only respond with the long
bodkin drawn from her hair. The word in jest costs the lives of three.
Fair Janet's is another tragic wedding; love, and jealousy, and guilt
again hold tryst in the little kirk whose grey walls are scarce to be
traced on the green platform above the loch. 'I 've seen other days,'
says the pale bride to her lost lover as he dances with her

    '"I 've seen other days wi' you, Willie,
      And so hae mony mae;
    Ye would hae danced wi' me yoursel'
      And let a' ithers gae"';

and, dancing, she drops dead.

Fasting, and fire, and sickness unto death were, however, tame ordeals
compared with those which 'Burd Helen' came through, as they are
described in the ballad Professor Child holds, not without reason, to
have 'perhaps no superior' in our own or any other tongue. Patient
Grizel, herself the incarnation in literary form of a type of woman's
faithfulness and meek endurance of wrong that had floated long in
mediæval tradition, might have shrunk from some of the cruel tasks which
Lord Thomas--the 'Child Waters' of the favourite English variant--lays
upon the mother of his unborn child--the woman whose self-surrender had
been so complete that she has not the blessing of Holy Church and the
support of wifely vows to comfort her in her hour of trial. All the
summer day she runs by his bridle-rein until they come to the Water of
Clyde, which 'Sweet Willie and May Margaret' also sought to ford on a
similar errand:

    'And he was never so courteous a knight,
      As stand and bid her ride;
    And she was never so poor a may,
      As ask him for to bide.'

She stables his steed; she waits humbly at table as the little page-boy;
she listens, her colour coming and going, to the mother's scorns and the
young sister's naïve questions. But never, until the supreme moment of
her distress, does she draw one sign of pity or relenting from her harsh
lord. Then, indeed, love and remorse, as if they had been dammed back,
break forth like a flood, that bursts the very door, and makes it 'in
flinders flee.' And because

    'The marriage and the kirkin'
      Were baith held on ae day,'

our simple balladist bids us believe that the twain lived happily ever

The variations of this ancient tale, localised in nearly every European
country, are innumerable; and Professor Veitch was disposed to trace
them to the thirteenth century _Tale of the Ash_, by Marie of France.
The 'Fair Annie' of another ballad on the theme seems to have borrowed
both name and history directly from the 'Skiæn Annie' of Danish
folk-poetry. Here the old love suffers the like indignity that was
thrown upon the too-too submissive Griselda; she has to make ready the
bridal bed for her supplanter and do other menial offices, until a happy
chance reveals the fact that the newcomer is her sister. Yet neither
from Fair Annie nor from Burd Helen comes word of reproach or complaint.
The exceeding bitter thought is whispered only to the heart:

    '"Lie still, my babe, lie still, my babe,
      Lie still as lang 's ye may;
    For your father rides on high horseback,
      And cares na for us twae."'

And again,

    '"Gin my seven sons were seven young rats,
      Runnin' upon the castle wa';
    And I were a grey cat mysel',
      Soon should I worry ane and a'."'

Wide, surely, is the gulf between the Original Woman of old romance and
the New Woman of recent fiction. The change, no doubt, is for the
better; and yet is it altogether for the better?

According to all modern canons, the conduct of these too-tardy
bridegrooms was brutal beyond words; and as for the heroines of the
Romantic Ballad, Mother Grundy, had she the handling of them, would use
them worse than ever did moody brother or crafty stepmother. But the
balladists and ballad characters had their own gauges of conduct. Their
morals were not other or better than the morals of their age. They
strained out the gnats and swallowed the camels of the law as given to
Moses; perhaps if they could look into modern society and the modern
novel they would charge the same against our own times and literature.
If they broke, as they were too ready to do, the Sixth Commandment, or
the Seventh, they made no attempt to glose the sin; they dealt not in
innuendo or _double entendre_. Beside the page of modern realism, the
ballad page is clean and wholesome. Human passion unrestrained there may
be; but no sickly or vicious sentiment. There is a punctilious sense of
honour; and if it is sometimes the letter rather than the spirit of vow
or promise that is kept, the knights and ladies in the ballads are no
worse than are the Pharisees of our day; and they are always ready to
pay, and generally do pay, the utmost penalty.

Thus, in that most powerful and tragic ballad, _Clerk Saunders_, May
Margaret ties a napkin about her eyes that she 'may swear, and keep her
aith,' to her 'seven bauld brothers,' that she had not seen her lover
'since late yestreen'; she carries him across the threshold of her
bower, that she may be able to say that his foot had never been there.
The story of the sleeping twain--the excuses for their sin; the reason
why ruth should turn aside vengeance--is told, in staccato sentences, by
the brothers as they stand by the bedside of their 'ae sister,' with
'torches burning bright':

    'Out and spake the first o' them,
      "I wot that they are lovers dear";
    And out and spake the second o' them,
      "They 've been in love this mony a year";

    And out and spake the third o' them,
      "His father had nae mair than he."'

And so until the seventh--the Rashleigh of the band--who spake no word,
but let his 'bright brown brand' speak for him. What follows rises to
the extreme height of the balladist's art; literature might be
challenged for anything surpassing it in simplicity and power, in the
mingling of horror and pathos:

    'Clerk Saunders he started and Margaret she turned,
      Into his arms as asleep she lay;
    And sad and silent was the night
      That was atween the twae.

    And they lay still and sleepéd sound,
      Until the day began to daw,
    And softly unto him she said,
      "It 's time, true love, you were awa'."

    But he lay still and sleepéd sound,
      Albeit the sun began to sheen;
    She looked atween her and the wa',
      And dull and drumlie were his een.'

In the majority of ballads of the _Clerk Saunders_ class there is some
base agent who betrays trust and brings death upon the lovers. 'Fause
Foodrage' takes many forms in these ancient tales without changing type.
He is the slayer of 'Lily Flower' in _Jellon Graeme_; and the boy whom
he has preserved and brought up sends the arrow singing to his guilty
heart. Lammiken, the 'bloodthirsty mason,' who must have a life for his
wage, is another enemy within the house who finds his way through
'steekit yetts'; and he is assisted by the 'fause nourice.' In other
ballads it is the 'kitchen-boy,' the 'little foot-page,' the 'churlish
carle,' or the bower-woman who plays the spy and tale-bearer. In
_Glenkindie_, 'Gib, his man,' is the vile betrayer of the noble harper
and his lady. Sometimes, as in _Gude Wallace_, _Earl Richard_, and _Sir
James the Rose_, it is the 'light leman' who plays traitor. But she
quickly repents, and meets her fate in the fire or at the sword's point,
in 'Clyde Water' or in 'the dowie den in the Lawlands o' Balleichan.' In
_Gil Morice_, that ballad which Gray thought 'divine,' it is 'Willie,
the bonnie boy,' whom the hero trusted with his message, that in malice
and wilfulness brings about the tremendous catastrophe of the tale. He
calls aloud in hall the words he was bid whisper in the ear of Lord
Barnard's lady--to meet Gil Morice in the forest, and 'speir nae bauld
baron's leave.'

    'The lady stampéd wi' her foot
      And winkéd wi' her e'e;
    But for a' that she could say or do
      Forbidden he wadna be.'

It is the angry and jealous baron who, in woman guise, meets and slays
the youth who is waiting in gude greenwood, and brings back the bloody
head to the mother.

Other fine ballads in which mother and son carry on tragic colloquy are
_Lord Randal_ and _Edward_. These versions of a story of treachery and
blood, conveyed in the dark hints of a strange dialogue, have received
many touches from later hands; but the germ comes down from the age of
tradition. It has even been noted that, with the curious tenacity with
which the ballad memory often clings to a detail while forgetting or
mislaying essential fact, the food with which, in the version Burns
recovered for Johnson's _Museum_, Lord Randal is poisoned--'eels boiled
in broo'--is identical with that given to his prototype in the
folk-ballads of Italy and other countries. The structure of this
ballad, like the beautiful old air to which it is sung, bears marks of
antiquity, and its wide diffusion militates against Scott's not very
convincing suggestion that it refers to the alleged poisoning of the
Regent Randolph. But it lacks the terrible and dramatic intensity of
_Son Davie_, better known in the version transmitted, under the name of
_Edward_, by Lord Hailes to Bishop Percy's _Reliques_. Here it is the
murderer, and not the victim, who answers; and it is the questioning
mother, and not the absent false love, with whom the curse is left as a
legacy. Despair had never a more piercing utterance than this:

    '"And what will ye leave to your bairns and your wife?
                        Edward, Edward!
    And what will ye leave to your bairns and your wife
    When ye gang over the sea, O?"

    "The warld 's room, let them beg through life,
                        Mither, Mither!
    The warld 's room, let them beg through life,
    For them never mair will I see, O!"

    "And what will ye leave to your ain mither dear?
                        Edward, Edward!
    And what will ye leave to your ain mother dear,
    My dear son, now tell me, O?"

    "The curse o' hell from me shall ye bear,
                        Mither, Mither!
    The curse o' hell from me shall ye bear,
    Sic counsels ye gae me, O!"'

Although Yarrow be the favoured haunt on Scottish soil--may we not also
say on the whole round of earth?--of the Romantic Ballad, and has
coloured them, and taken colour from them, for all time, yet there are
other streams and vales that only come short of being its rivals.
'Leader Haughs,' for instance, which the harp of Nicol Burne, the 'Last
Minstrel' who wandered and sang in the Borderland, has linked
indissolubly with Yarrow braes, know of ballad strains well-nigh as
sweet as those of the neighbour water. But cheerfulness rather than
sadness is their prevailing note. _Auld Maitland_, the lay which James
Hogg's mother repeated to Scott, has its scene on Leader side, and at
the 'darksome town'--a misnomer in these days--of Lauder. Long before
the time of that tough champion, St. Cuthbert and True Thomas had
wandered and dreamed and sang by Leader. It was a Lord Lauderdale who
rode to Traquair to court, after the older fashion, Katherine Janferie:

    'He toldna her father, he toldna her mither,
      He toldna ane o' her kin;
    But he whispered the bonnie may hersel',
      And has her favour won.'

He it was, according to the old ballad, who rode to the bridal at the
eleventh hour, with four and twenty Leader lads behind him:

    '"I comena here to fight," he said,
      "I comena here to play;
    But to lead a dance wi' the bonnie bride,
      And mount and go my way"';

and it was Lord Lochinvar (although 'he who told the story later' has
taught us so differently) who played the inglorious part of the deserted
bridegroom. Scott himself drank in the passion for Border romance and
chivalry on the braes of Sandyknowe, between Leader and Eden waters, not
far from Smailholm and Dryburgh, and Huntly Bank and Mellerstain, and
Rhymer's Tower and the Broom o' the Cowdenknowes. According to Mr. Ford,
the ballad which takes its name from this last-mentioned spot is
traditionally assigned to a Mellerstain maid named Crosbie, whose words
were set to music by no less famous a hand than that of David Rizzio. So
that here at least we have a vague echo of the name of a balladist and
of a ballad-air composer. Between them, the maid of Mellerstain and
'Davy' have harmonised most musically, albeit with some touch of moral
laxity, the spirit of pastoral and of ballad romance:

    'The hills were high on ilka side,
      And the bucht i' the lirk o' the hill,
    And aye as she sang her voice it rang
      Out ower the head o' yon hill.

    There cam' a troop o' gentlemen,
      Merrily riding by,
    And ane o' them rade out o' the way
      To the bucht to the bonnie may.'

Nowhere has the ballad inspiration and the ballad touch lingered longer
than by Eden and Leader and Whitadder. Lady Grizel Baillie (who also
wonned in Mellerstain) had them--

    'There once was a may and she lo'ed nae men,
    And she biggit her bonnie bower doun in yon glen'--

and it still lives in Lady John Scott, who has sung of _The Bonnie
Bounds of Cheviot_ as if the mantle of the Border minstrels had fallen
upon her.

After all, the ballads of Yarrow and Ettrick, of the Merse and
Teviotdale, owe their superior fame as much as anything to the happy
chance that the Wizard of Abbotsford dwelt in the midst of them, and
seizing upon them before they were forgotten, made them and the
localities classical. Other districts have in this way been despoiled to
some extent of their proper meed of honour. Fortune as well as merit has
favoured the Border Minstrelsy in the race for survival and for
precedence in the popular memory. But Galloway, a land pervaded with
romance, claims at least one ballad that can rank with the best. _Lord
Gregory_ has aliases and duplicates without number. But the scene is
always Loch Ryan and some castled island within sight of that arm of the
sea, whither the love-lorn Annie fares in her boat 'wi' sails o' the
light green silk and tows o' taffetie,' in quest of her missing lord:

    '"O row the boat, my mariners,
      And bring me to the land!
    For yonder I see my love's castle
      Close by the salt sea strand."'

Alas! cold is her welcome as she stands with her young son in her arms,
and knocks and calls on her love, while 'the wind blaws through her
yellow hair, and the rain draps o'er her chin.' A voice, that seems that
of Lord Gregory, bids her go hence as 'a witch or a wil' warlock, or a
mermaid o' the flood'; and with a woful heart she turns back to the sea
and the storm. And when he wakes up from boding dreams to find his true
love and his child have been turned from his door, it is too late. His
cry to the waves is as vain as Annie's cry to that 'ill woman,' his
mother, who has betrayed them:

    '"And hey, Annie, and how, Annie!
      O Annie, winna ye bide?"
    But aye the mair that he cried Annie,
      The braider grew the tide.

    "And hey, Annie, and how, Annie!
      Dear Annie, speak to me!"
    But aye the louder he cried Annie,
      The louder roared the sea.'

The shores and basin of the Forth have also their rowth of ballads; and
some of them have, like _The Lass of Lochryan_, the sound of the waves
and the salt smell of the sea mingled with their plaintive music. _Gil
Morice_ has been 'placed' by Carronside--Ossian's 'roaring Carra'--a
meet setting for the story. _Sir Patrick Spens_ cleaves to the shores of
Fife; though some, eager for the honour of the North, have claimed that
it is Aberdour in Buchan that is spoken of in the ballad. By the
powerful spell of this old rhyme, the king still sits and drinks the
blood-red wine in roofless Dunfermline tower; the ladies still haunt the
windy headland--Kinghorn or Elie Ness--with 'their kaims intil their
hands' waiting in vain the return of their 'good Scots lords'; the
wraith of Sir Patrick himself in misty days strides the silver strand
under the Hawes Wood, reading the braid letter. Near by is Donibristle;
and it keeps the memory of the 'Bonnie Earl of Moray,' slain here, hints
the balladist--though history is silent on the point--for pleasing too
well the Queen's eye at Holyrood.

Edinburgh, too, draws a good part of its romance from the ballad bard.
Mary Hamilton, of the Queen's Maries, rode through the Netherbow Port to
the gallows-foot:

    '"Yestreen the Queen had four Maries,
      The night she 'll hae but three;
    There was Marie Seton, and Marie Beaton,
      And Marie Carmichael, and me."'

The Marchioness of Douglas wandered disconsolate on Arthur's Seat and
drank of St. Anton's well:

    '"O waly, waly, love be bonnie
      A little time while it is new,
    But when it 's auld it waxes cauld
      And fades awa' like morning dew.

    But had I wist before I kissed
      That love had been so ill to win,
    I 'd locked my heart within a kist
      And fastened it wi' a siller pin"';

and across the hill lies the 'Wells o' Wearie.' Nowhere else has the
wail of forsaken love found such wistful expression--except in _The
Fause Lover_:

    '"But again, dear love, and again, dear love,
      Will you never love me again?
    Alas! for loving you so well,
      And you not me again."'

From Edinburgh wandered Leezie Lindsay, kilting her coats of green satin
to follow her Lord Ronald Macdonald the weary way to the Highland
Border; and to its plainstanes came the faithful Lady of Gicht to ransom
her Geordie:

    'My Geordie, O my Geordie,
      The love I bear my Geordie!
    For the very ground I walk upon
      Bears witness I lo'e Geordie.'

And these regions of the North have as much of the 'blood-red wine' of
ballad romance coursing through them as Tweedside or Lothian, although
it may be of harsher and coarser flavour. Space does not allow of doing
justice to the Northern Ballads, some of them simple strains, made
familiar by sweet airs, like _Hunting Tower_, or _Bessie Bell and Mary
Gray_, or the _Banks of the Lomond_; others, and these chiefly from the
wintry side of Cairn o' Mount, 'bleak and bare' as that wilderness of
heather; still others, and from the same quarter, gallant, warm-hearted,
light-stepping tunes as ever were sung--_Glenlogie_, for instance:

    'There were four-and-twenty nobles
      Rode through Banchory fair;
    And bonnie Glenlogie
      Was flower o' them there.'

For the most part they are variants, many of them badly mutilated in the
rhymes, that are familiar, under other names, farther south. They gather
about the family history and the family trees of the great houses--the
Gordons for choice--planted by Dee and Don and Ythan, where Gadie runs
at the 'back o' Benachie,' and in the Bog o' Gicht; and they tell of
love adventures and mischances that have befallen the Lords of Huntly or
Aboyne, the Lairds of Drum or Meldrum, and even the humble Trumpeter of



    'It fell about the Lammas tide,
      When the muirmen win their hay,
    The doughty Douglas bound him to ride
      Into England, to drive a prey.'

        _The Battle of Otterburn._

The kindly Scot will not quarrel with the comparative mythologist who
tells him that the superstitions embalmed in his ballad minstrelsy are
wanderers out of misty times and far countries--primitive ideas and
beliefs that may have started with his remote ancestors from the heart
of the East, to find harbour in the valleys of the Cheviots and the
islands of the West, or that have drifted thither with the tide of later
inroads. Nor will he greatly protest when the literary historian assures
him that the plots and incidents in the popular old rhymes of the
frenzies and parlous adventures of love have been borrowed or adapted
from the metrical and prose romances of the Middle Ages. He can
appreciate in his poetry, as in his pedigree, high and long descent; all
the more since, as he flatters himself, whencesoever the seed may have
come, it has found kindly soil, and drawn from thence a strength and
colour such as few other lands and ballad literatures can match.

But to suggest that not even our Historical Songs of fight and of foray
against our 'auld enemies' of England are genuine, unalloyed products of
the national spirit; to hint that _Kinmont Willie_, _The Outlaw Murray_,
or _The Battle of Otterburn_ itself is an exotic--that were a somewhat
dangerous exercise of the art of analytic criticism, in the presence of
a Scottish audience. In truth, no poetry of any tongue or land is more
powerfully dominated by the sense of locality--is more expressive of the
manners of the time and mood of the race--than those rough Border lays
of moonlight rides, on reiving or on rescue bound, and of death fronted
boldly in the press of spears or 'behind the bracken bush.' These are
not tales of the infancy of a people. Scotland had already attained to
something of national unity of blood and of sentiment before they came
to birth. For generations and centuries she had to keep her head and her
bounds against an enemy as watchful and warlike as herself, and many
times as strong. Blows were struck and returned, keen and sudden as
lightning. The 'hammer of the Scots,' wielded by the English kings, had
smitten, and under its blows the race had been welded together and
wrought to a temper like steel, supple upon occasion to bend, but
elastic and unbreakable, and with a sharp cutting edge.

Heroes conquered or fell; and sometimes a minstrel was by to sing the
exploit. Patriotism and the joy of combat are leading notes in these
Historic Ballads. The annals of Scotland are full of family and clan
feuds--the quarrels of kites and crows. But, with a fine and true
instinct, the best of these ballads avoid taking account of the
bickerings in the household. It is when they sing of 'patriot battles
won of old,' where Scot and Southron met, 'red-wat shod,' that the
strain rises to its clearest, and 'stirs the heart like the sound of a
trumpet.' Nor is it always the events that are most noised in the
history-book that are best remembered in the ballads. The old singers
and their audiences delighted more in personal episode than in filling a
big canvas; their genius was dramatic rather than epic. _Hardyknut_,
with its commemoration of the battle of Largs and the Northmen, although
accepted by the _literati_ of the early Georgian era as a genuine
'antique,' has long been proved to be an imitative production of Lady
Wardlaw's. The rhyme which the Scottish maidens sang about Bannockburn
is lost. The Wallace group of ballads bears plain marks of spurious
intermixture, or later composition. There are no traditional verses
preserved in popular memory regarding the disasters of Neville's Cross
or of Homildon Hill, where so much good Scots blood soaked an alien sod;
or of that shameful day of Solway Moss, about which James the Fifth
muttered strange words on his dying-bed. Even the pathetic strain, more
lyrical, however, than narrative, in which lament is made for _The
Flowers o' the Forest_, that were 'wede awa'' at Flodden, came two
centuries later than the woful battle.

Perhaps it is natural that a warlike people should sing of their
triumphs rather than of their defeats and humiliations. But if the old
ballads have lost sight of some great landmarks in the country's
chronicle, they have preserved names and incidents which the duller pen
of history has forgotten or overlooked. The breath of poetry passes over
the Valley of Bones of the national annals, and each knight stands up in
his place, a breathing man and a living soul. They are none the less
real and living for us because Dry-as-dust has mislaid the vouchers for
their birth and their deeds, and cannot fit them into their place in his
family trees and chronological tables.

It follows, from the strongly patriotic cast of the ballads of war and
fray, that they should have sprung up most rankly on the battle-fields
and around the peel-towers of the Borderland. It was on the line of the
Tweed and of the Cheviots that the long quarrel was fought out; and thus
the Merse, Ettrick Forest, and Teviotdale; the Debateable Land,
Liddesdale, and Annan Water became the native countries of the songs of
raid and battle. The 'Red Harlaw'--which has had its own homespun bard,
although of a different note and fibre from the minstrels of the
Border--may be said to have ended the struggle for the mastery between
Highlands and Lowlands. From thence onward through the age of
ballad-making, there were _spreaghs_ and feuds enow upon and within the
Highland Line. But, until the time when Jacobitism came to give change
of theme and bent, along with change of scene, to the spirit of Scottish
romance, none of these local bloodlettings sufficed to inspire a ballad
of more than local fame; unless indeed the story drew part of its power
to live and to please from other sources besides the mere zest for
fighting. In distinction, as we shall see from the typical Border War
Lay, in which woman, if her presence is felt at all, is kept in the
background, as looker-on or rewarder of the fight, in such Northern
tales of raid and spulzie as _The Baron of Bracklay_, _Edom o' Gordon_,
_The Bonnie House o' Airlie_, or even _The Burning o' Frendraught_, she
is brought into the heart of the scene and forms an abiding and
controlling influence.

In a word, these are at least as much Romantic as Historical Ballads. We
suspect that woman's guile and treachery are at work, as soon as we hear
the taunting words of Bracklay's lady:

    'O rise, my bauld Baron,
      And turn back your kye,
    For the lads o' Drumwharron
      Are driving them bye.'

We are made sure of it, when the minstrel tells us:

    'There was grief in the kitchen
      But mirth in the ha';
    But the Baron o' Bracklay
      Is dead and awa'.'

And in the assault on the 'House o' the Rhodes,' it is not the wild work
of the Gordons on which our thoughts are fixed; it is not even on the
Forbeses, riding hard and fast to be in time for rescue:

    'Put on, put on, my michty men,
      As fast as ye can drie;
    For he that 's hindmost o' my men
      Will ne'er get good o' me.'

It is 'the bonnie face that lies on the grass,' and Lady Ogilvie, and
not her lord or the 'gleyed Argyll,' is central figure of the tale of
the raid of the Campbells against their hereditary foes in Angus.

As a rule, in those ballads of the Borders whose business is with foray
and reprisal, we have none of this disturbing element. The sheer love of
adventure, the chance of exchanging 'hard dunts' with the Englishmen, is
inducement enough for us to follow the lead of the Douglas or Buccleuch
across the Waste of Bewcastle or through the wilds of Kidland. The women
folks are safe and well defended in the peel-towers, from whence, when
the word has gone out to 'warn the water speedilie,' the bale-fires
flash up the dales from water-foot to well-e'e, and set the hill-crests
aflame with the news of the enemy's coming. They may have given the hint
of a toom larder by serving a dish of spurs on the board. They will be
the first to welcome home the warden's men or the moss-troopers if they
return with full hands, or to rally them if they have brought nothing
back but broken heads. But keeping or breaking the peace on the Borders
is a man's part; and only men mingle in it. Both sides are too
accustomed to surprises, and have too many strong fortalices and friends
at hand, to give the foe the chance of 'lifting' whole families as well
as their gear and cattle. The last thing one looks for, then, in the
moss-trooping ballads is a strain of tender and pathetic sentiment. The
tone is hearty and virile even to boisterousness. The minstrel, like the
fighters, revels in hard knocks and rough jests. He has ridden with them
probably, and has had the piper's share of the plunder and whatever else
was going. He has heard 'the bows that bauldly ring and the arrows
whiddering near him by,' as he passes through the 'derke Foreste.' He
took the fell with the other folk in the following of the Scottish
warden, and looking down the slope towards Reed Water, witnessed the
beginning and end of the skirmish known as _The Raid of the Reidswire_.

    'Be this our folk had taen the fell
      And planted pallions there to bide;
    We looked down the other side,
      And saw them breasting ower the brae
    Wi' Sir John Forster as their guide,
      Full fifteen hundred men and mae.'

With strokes, graphic and humorous, he describes how the meeting of the
two wardens, 'begun with merriment and mowes,' turned to the exchange of
such 'reasons rude' between Tyndale and Jed Forest, as flights of arrows
and 'dunts full dour.' Pride was at the bottom of the mischief; pride
and the memory of old scores.

    'To deal with proud men is but pain;
      For either must ye fight or flee,
    Or else no answer make again,
      But play the beast and let them be.'

And so, when the English raised the question of surrendering a fugitive,

    'Carmichael bade them speak out plainlie,
      And cloak no cause for ill or good;
    The other answering him as vainly,
      Began to reckon kin and blood;
    He raise, and raxed him where he stood,
      And bade him match him wi' his marrows;
    Then Tyndale heard these reason rude,
      And they let off a flight of arrows.'

Again, in _Kinmont Willie_, the flower, with one exception to be named,
of the ballads that celebrate the exploits of the 'ruggers and rivers,'
the singer lets slip, as it were by accident, that he was of the bold
and lawless company that broke Carlisle Castell in time of peace. The
old lay tingles and glows with the restless untameable courage, the
dramatic fire, the grim humour, and the spirit of good fellowship that
were characteristic, along with some less admirable qualities, of the
old Borderers. The rage, tempered with a dash of Scots caution, of the
Bauld Buccleuch when he heard that his unruly countryman had been taken
'against the truce of border tide' by the 'fause Sakelde and the keen
Lord Scroope'; his device for a rescue that while it would set the
Kinmont free, would 'neither harm English lad nor lass,' or break the
peace between the countries; the keen questionings and adroit replies
that passed, like thrust and parry, between the divided bands of the
warden's men and Sakelde himself, who met them successively as they
crossed the Debateable Land, until it came to the turn of tongue-tied
Dickie o' Dryhope, who, having never a word ready, 'thrust the lance
through his fause bodie,'--all these are told in the most vigorous and
graphic style of rough first-hand narrative. And then the story-teller
takes up the parable in his own person, and describes how he and his
comrades plunged through the flooded Eden, climbed the bank, and through
'wind and weet and fire and sleet' came beneath the castle wall:--

    'We crept on knees and held our breath,
      Till we placed the ladders against the wa';
    And sae ready was Buccleuch himsel'
      To mount the first before us a'.

    He 's ta'en the watchman by the throat,
      And flung him down upon the lead--
    "Had there not been peace between our lands,
      Upon the other side thou 'dst gaed!"'

In the 'inner prison' lay Willie o' Kinmont, like a wolf in a trap,
sleeping soft and waking oft, with thoughts of the gallows, on which he
was to swing in the morning, and of his wife and bairns and the 'gude
fellows' in the Debateable Land he was never to see again. But in an
instant, at the hail and sight of his friends, the fearless humour of
the Border rider comes back to him; mounted, irons and all, on the
shoulders of Red Rowan, 'the starkest man in Teviotdale,' he must first
take farewell of his host, Lord Scroope, with a significant promise
that he would 'pay him lodging maill when first they met on the border

    'Then shoulder high, with shout and cry,
      We bore him down the ladder lang;
    At every stride Red Rowan made
      I wot the Kinmont's airns played clang.

    "O mony a time," quo' Kinmont Willie,
      "I 've ridden a horse baith wild and wud;
    But a rougher beast than Red Rowan
      I ween my legs have ne'er bestrode."'

Then comes the wild rush for the Eden, where it flowed from bank to
brim, with all Carlisle streaming behind in chase, and the bold plunge
of the fugitives into the spate, leaving Lord Scroope staring after
them, sore astonished, from the water's edge:

    '"He 's either himsel' a devil frae hell,
      Or else his mither a witch maun be;
    I wadna' have ridden that wan water
      For a' the gowd in Christentie."'

History attests the main incidents and characters of _Kinmont Willie_ as
true to the facts; and tradition has broidered the story with incidents
which the ballad itself does not record. The daughter of the smith, on
the road between Longtown and Langholm, used to relate, half a century
afterwards, how Buccleuch impatiently thrust his spear through the
window to arouse her father and rid Armstrong's legs from their
'cumbrous spurs,' and remembered seeing the rough riders grouped in the
outer darkness and streaming with wet. The rescue was one of the latest
of the episodes of Border warfare before the Union of the Crowns; and
Armstrong of Kinmont himself, besides being a typical specimen of his

                      'Able men,
    Somewhat unruly, and very ill to tame,'

was one of the last of what we may describe as the legitimate line of
Border freebooters, before the freebooter became merged in the vulgar
thief, as explained quaintly and sympathetically in Scott of Satchells'

    'It 's most clear a freebooter doth live in hazard's train;
    A freebooter 's a cavalier who ventures life for gain;
    But since King James the Sixth to England went,
    There has been no cause for grief;
    And he that hath transgressed since then,
    Is no cavalier, but a thief.'

No doubt many other like exploits of capture and rescue were enacted and
recounted on the Borders in the troublous times. _Jock o' the Side_ and
_Archie o' Ca'field_ read almost like variants of _Kinmont Willie_.
Their heroes, too, are 'notour lymours and thieves,' living on or near
the margin of the Debateable Land; and he of the Side, in particular,
lives in Sir Richard Maitland's bede-roll of the Liddesdale thieves, as
only 'too well kend' by his peaceable neighbours,

    'A greater thief did never hyde;
    He never tyris
    For to brek byris,
    Owre muir and myris,
    Owre gude and guide.'

Both are clapped into 'prison strang,' and liberated by a night raid and
surprise. But the scene of rescue is shifted from Carlisle to Newcastle
in the one case, and to Dumfries Tolbooth in the other. Hobbie Noble,
the English outlaw, performs for the redoubtable Jock o' the Side the
service rendered by Red Rowan; and 'mettled John Hall o' laigh
Teviotdale' clatters down the Tolbooth stairs with Archie Armstrong of
the Calfhill on his back, to mount him on his fleet black mare. And from
the safe side of Tyne and of Nith, instead of Eden, they send their
jeers and challenges back at the discomfited English pursuers. The old
balladists may have mixed up places, names, and incidents in their
memories, as they were rather wont to do, and laid skaith or credit at
the wrong doors. But while their poetic and dramatic merit may vary, the
spirit of the very baldest of these ancient songs is irresistible. The
Border reiver may play a foul trick in the game; the Armstrongs, for
instance, requited scurvily the services of Hobbie Noble, 'the man that
lowsed Jock o' the Side;' but the roughest of these tykes, whether they
rode behind the Captain of Bewcastle or the Laird of Buccleuch or
Ferniehirst, or fought for their own hand, had their own code of honour,
and the balladist zealously and jealously measures by it their acts and
words. The worst of them had courage; they snap their fingers and laugh
in the very teeth of death. Hobbie Noble, with the can of beer at his
lips and the rope about his neck, could sing with an approving

    '"Now, fare thee well, sweet Mangerton,
      For ne'er again I will thee see;
    I wad hae betrayed nae man alive
      For a' the gowd in Christentie"'--

a farewell that reminds us of that of the Highland cateran, Macpherson,
who 'so rantingly, so dantonly,' played a spring and danced to it
beneath the gallows-tree at Banff, crying out the while against
'treacherie,' and broke his fiddle across his knee when none among the
crowd would take it from his hand.

Like Sir Lancelot, in the famous eulogy of Sir Ector, these Borderers of
old were not only strong men of their hands, but strong also of heart,
and 'true friends to their friends,' who, since they held the first line
of defence of the Kingdom, might be said to embrace, after their own
family and clan, their countrymen at large. They might, on occasion,
'seek their broth in England and in Scotland both.' But they robbed and
slew, when it was possible, with patriotic discrimination. In _Johnie
Armstrong_ and _The Sang o' the Outlaw Murray_ the heroes take credit
for their 'honesty' and for their services to their country. The former
boasts that 'never a Scots wife could have said that e'er I skaithed her
ae puir flee'; and the other that he had won Ettrick Forest from the
Southron without help from king or noble. Yet the quarrel of both is
with the Scottish sovereign, who has come South intent on the exemplary
and kingly work of 'making the rash bush keep the cow'; and, stranger
still, it is for the bold-spoken outlaws, and not for the legitimate
guardian of Border peace, that the minstrel engages our sympathies.

If we may credit the surmises of Mr. P. Macgregor Chalmers, the Outlaw
Murray is none other than the 'John Morvo,' the builder who has set an
admirable mark of his own upon Melrose Abbey and other ecclesiastical
fanes, and, as Sheriff of the Forest, built Newark Castle after he had,
in jest or earnest, defied the authority of his patron, King James IV.;
perhaps he was even the writer of the ballad. This is a pretty strong
order on our faith; although it must be confessed that there is a
singular mixture, in this fine old lay, of information on architecture,
venerie, and local ownership of land; and the Outlaw is made to have all
the best of the combat of wits and words, and of the bargain with which
it ends. 'Name your lands,' cries the King, 'where'er they lie, and here
I render them to thee'; and the Outlaw promptly responds:

    '"Fair Philiphaugh is mine by right,
      And Lewinshope still mine shall be,
    Newark, Foulshiels, and Tinnis baith,
      My bow and arrow purchased me.

    And I have native steads to me,
      And some by name I do not knaw;
    The Hangingshaw and Newark Lee,
      And mony mair in the Forest shaw."'

Very different was the guerdon which Johnie Armstrong of Gilnockie got
from King James the Fifth, when, in an evil hour, he came with a gallant
company from his stronghold in Eskdale to meet that monarch, who had
ridden with a strong force into the heart of the moss-troopers' country,
intent on taming the marchmen. Well might the ladies 'look from their
loft windows,' and sigh, 'God bring our men weel hame again!' as Johnie,
and the six-and-thirty Armstrongs and Elliots in his train, ran their
horses through Langholm howm in their haste to welcome their 'lawful
king.' This expedition of 1529 has left its mark on ballad poetry as
well as history; through the hanging of Cockburn of Henderland it gave
occasion for the _Lament of the Border Widow_. But no incident in it
made deeper impression on the popular memory--none seems to have caused
more sorrow and reprobation--than the stringing up of the Laird of
Gilnockie and his followers on the trees at Carlenrig, at the head of
Teviot. A 'Johnie Armstrong's Dance' was popular when the _Complaynt of
Scotland_ was written twenty years later; and Sir David Lyndsay, in one
of his plays, makes his Pardoner hawk about, among his relics of saints,
the cords of good hemp that hanged the unlucky laird of Gilnockie Hall,
with the commendation that

    'Wha'ever beis hangit in this cord
      Neidis never to be drowned.'

At the bar of judgment of the balladists, the deed was counted murder:

    'Scotland's heart was ne'er sae wae
      To see sae mony brave men die';

and murder all the less pardonable, since the king who ordered it was
himself an inspirer and, as some say, a writer of ballads. As is pointed
out in the _Border Minstrelsy_, the ballad, in its account of the
interview between the king and his troublesome subject, follows pretty
closely the narrative of Pitscottie. 'What wants that knave that a king
should have?' was the offended remark of James, when he saw the band
approaching him in the bravery of their war-gear. And Johnie, when all
his appeals and bribes proved to be vain, could also speak a frank word:

    '"To seek het water beneath cauld ice,
      Surely it is a great follie;
    I have asked grace at a graceless face,
      But there is nane for my men and me."'

Whatever their misdeeds, Gilnockie and his men had certainly hard
measure and short shrift. The king's courtiers, it is alleged, incited
him to make a summary end of the Armstrongs; and he had not the biting
answer ready which his father is said to have given to the 'keen laird
of Buccleuch,' when that Border chieftain urged him to 'braid on with
fire and sword' against the Outlaw of Ettrick Forest:

    'Now haud thy tongue, Sir Walter Scott,
      Nor speak of reif or felonie;
    For had every honest man his coo,
      A right puir clan thy name would be.'

But when their own clan or dependants made appeal for help or vengeance,
none were more prompt with the strong word and deed than the
Scotts--witness, _Kinmont Willie_; witness also, _Jamie Telfer o' the
Fair Dodhead_. When Jamie ran hot-foot to Branksome Hall with the news
that the Captain of Bewcastle had ramshackled his house and driven his
gear and stock, until

    'There was naught left in the Fair Dodhead
      But a greeting wife and bairnies three,'

did not Buccleuch start up like an old roused lion?

    '"Gar warn the water, braid and wide,
      Gar warn it soon and hastilie!
    They that winna ride for Telfer's kye,
      Let them never look on the face o' me!"'

And the chase goes on, from the Dodhead on the Ettrick until, at the
fords of the Liddel, the enemy are brought to bay; and we have the fine
picture of Auld Wat of Harden, the husband of the 'Flower of Yarrow,'
and a forebear of the author of _Waverley_, as he 'grat for very rage'
when Willie Scott, the son of his chief, lay slain by an English stroke:

    'But he 's ta'en aff his good steel cap,
      And thrice he 's waved it in the air.
    The Dinley's snaw was ne'er mair white
      Than the lyart locks of Harden's hair.'

Vain was the offer by the Bewcastle raiders to men in such mood to take
back the cattle that had been lifted:

    'When they cam' to the Fair Dodhead,
      They were a welcome sight to see!
    For instead of his ain ten milk-kye,
      Jamie Telfer has gotten thirty-and-three.'

_Auld Maitland_ treats of an inroad on the opposite side of the country,
of more ancient date and more formidable character. Its hero appears to
have been a progenitor of that line of Lethington in East Lothian, and
of Thirlstane, in Lauderdale, who, planted firmly on both sides of
Lammermuir, produced in after-times warriors, statesmen, and even poets
of note. Gavin Douglas places Maitland, with the 'auld beird grey,'
among the legendary inmates of his 'Palace of Honour'; and Scott
identifies him as a Sir Richard de Mautlant who, in the latter half of
the thirteenth century, and probably during the Wars of Independence,
held the ancestral lands by Leaderside, on the track of invading armies
crossing the Tweed between Coldstream and Melrose, and holding in to
Lothian by Soultra Hill. Accordingly, the ballad tells us that the
English army, under King Edward, assembled on the Tyne:

    'They lighted on the banks of Tweed,
      And blew their fires so het,
    And fired the Merse and Teviotdale
      All in an evening late.

    As they flared up o'er Lammermuir
      They burned baith up and down,
    Until they came to a darksome house,
      Some call it Lauder town.'

Many a foray from the same direction followed the same gait, their
coming heralded by the bale-fires that flashed the signal from Hume
Castle to Edgarhope (wrongly identified by Professor Veitch with
Edgerston on Jed Water), and from Edgarhope to Soultra Edge. But
memorable above all other Border raids recorded in song or story, is
that encounter in which 'the Douglas and the Percy met,' and which has
inspired perhaps the very finest of the historical ballads of each
country. Moot points there are of locality, date, and circumstances; but
it is generally accepted that the rhyme known for many centuries in
Scotland as _The Battle of Otterburn_, and the English _Chevy Chase_ are
versions, from opposite sides, of one event--a skirmish fought in the
autumn of 1388 on Rede Water, between a band of Scots, under James, Earl
of Douglas, returning home laden with spoil, and a body of English, led
by Hotspur, the son of the Earl of Northumberland, in which Douglas was
slain and young Harry Percy taken prisoner. It were as hard to decide
between the merits of these famous old lays as to award the prize for
prowess between the respective champions. But it may be noted, as a fine
Borderer's trait, that each of the two ballads does full justice to the
chivalry and fighting mettle of the enemy. It is to be observed also
that they are different poems, and not merely versions of the same; and
that _The Battle of Otterburn_ and the other racy and vigorous ballads
of its class dealt with in this chapter, are of themselves sufficient to
refute the arrogant dictum of Mr. Carew Hazlitt, that Scotland has no
original ballad-poetry to speak of, and that what she calls her own are
'chiefly English ballads, sprinkled with Northern provincialisms.'

But while they are, as Scott says, different in essentials, the English
and Scottish ballads have exchanged phrases and even verses, as the
English and Scottish warriors exchanged strokes, and these of the best:

    'When Percy wi' the Douglas met,
      I wat they were full fain;
    They swakked their swords till sair they swet,
      And the blood ran doon like rain,'

may lack some of the picturesqueness of the corresponding passage of
_Chevy Chase_. But nothing, at least in Scottish eyes, can surpass the
simple majesty and pathos of the last words of Douglas--words that sound
all the sadder since Walter Scott repeated them, when he also had almost
fought his last battle and was wounded unto death:

    '"My nephew good," the Douglas said,
      "What recks the death o' ane?
    Last night I dreamed a dreary dream,
      And I ken the day 's thy ain.

    "My wound is deep, I fain would sleep;
      Take thou the vanward o' the three,
    And hide me by the bracken bush
      That grows upon the lily lee.

    "O bury me by the bracken bush,
      Beneath the blooming brier;
    Let never living mortal ken
      A kindly Scot lies here."'

The Historical Ballad of Border chivalry touches its highest and
strongest note in these words; they will stand, like Tantallon, proof
against the tooth of Time as long as Scotland has a heart to feel and
ears to hear.



    Though long on Time's dark whirlpool tossed,
    The song is saved; the bard is lost.

        _The Ettrick Shepherd._

Ballad poetry is a phrase of elastic and variable meaning. In the
national repertory there are Ballads Satirical, Polemical, and
Political, and even Devotional and Doctrinal, of as early date as many
of the songs inspired by the spirit of Love, War, and Romance. Among
them they represent the diverse strands that are blended in the Scottish
character--the sombre and the bright; the prose and the poetry. The one
or the other has predominated in the expression of the genius of the
nation in verse, according to the circumstances and mood of the time.
But neither has ever been really absent; they are the opposite sides of
the same shield. It is not proposed to enter here into the ballad
literature of the didactic type--the 'ballads with a purpose'--either by
way of characterisation or example. In further distinction from the
authors of the specimens of old popular song, the writers of many or
most of them are known to us, at least by name, and are among the most
honoured and familiar in our literature.

Towards the unlettered bards of the traditional ballads, who 'saved
other names, but left their own unsung,' the more serious and
self-conscious race of poets who wrote satire and allegory and homily on
the same model have generally thought themselves entitled to assume an
attitude of superiority and even of disapproval. The verse of those
self-taught rhymers was rude and simple, and wanting in those
conventional ornaments, borrowed from classic or other sources, which
for the time being were the recognised hallmarks of poesy; the moral
lessons it taught were not apparent, nor even discoverable. It is
curious to note how early this tone of reprobation, of contempt, or at
best of kindly condescension on the part of the official priesthood of
letters towards the humble tribe of balladists asserts itself, and how
long it endures.

Even Edmund Spenser, as quoted by Scott in the _Minstrelsy_, reproves
the Irish bards and rhymsters, as he might have done their Scottish
brethren, because 'for little reward or the share of a stolen cow' they
'seldom use to choose the doings of good men for the arguments of their
poems,' but, on the contrary, those of such men as live 'lawlessly and
licentiously upon stealths and spoyles,' whom they praise to the people,
and set up as an example to young men. A poetaster of the beginning of
the seventeenth century prays his printer that his book 'be not with
your Ballads mixt,' and that 'it come not brought on pedlars' backs to
common Fairs'--a prayer fulfilled to the letter. And down even to our
own century, a host of collectors, adaptors, and imitators have spoken
patronisingly of the elder ballads, and foisted on them additions and
ornaments that have not always or often been improvements.

The whirligig of time has brought in its revenges; and the final
judgment passed by posterity upon the respective claims of the formal
verse and the 'unpremeditated lay' of earlier centuries, has in large
measure reversed that of the age in which they were born. The former,
and particularly where it undertook to scourge the vices, the heresies,
and the follies of the period, lacks entirely that air of simplicity and
spontaneity--that 'wild-warlock' lilt, that 'wild happiness of thought
and expression'--which, in the phrase of Robert Burns, marks 'our native
manner and language' in ballad poetry certainly not less than in lyrical
song. The laureated bard, honoured of the Court and blessed by the
Church, is deposed from his pride of place, in the affections and
remembrance of the people at least, while the chant of the unknown
minstrel of 'the hedgerow and the field' goes sounding on in deeper and
widening volume through the great heart of the race, and is hailed as
the one true ballad voice.

Among the subjects which the Moral and Satirical Ballad selected for
censure were, it will be seen, the themes and the heroes of the humble
broadsheets sung at the common fairs and carried in the pedlar's pack.
Nor are we to wonder at this. Much of the contents of that pack is
better forgotten. Much even of what has been preserved might have been
allowed to drop into oblivion, without loss to posterity and with gain
to the character and reputation of the 'good old times.' The
balladists--those of the early broadsheets at least--could be gross on
occasion; although, it must be owned, not more gross than the dramatists
of Elizabethan and Restoration times, and even the novelists of last
century, sometimes deigned to be. In particular, they made the mistake,
of venerable date and not quite unknown to this day, of confounding
humour with coarseness. A humorous ballad is usually a thing to be
fingered gingerly. Yet, although (partly for the reason hinted at)
humour has been said not to be a strongly marked element of the flower
of our ballad poetry, there are many of the best of them that have
imbedded in them a rich and genuine vein of comic wit or broad fun; and
there are also what may be classed as Humorous Ballads proper (or
improper as the case may be), which reflect more plainly and frankly,
perhaps, than any other department of our literature, the customs,
character, and amusements of the commonalty, and have exercised an
important influence on the national poets and poetry of a later day.

Of the blending of the humorous with the romantic, an excellent example
is found in the ballad of _Earl Richard and the Carl's Daughter_. The
Princess, disguised in beggar's duds, keeps on the hook the deluded and
disgusted knight, who has unwillingly taken her up behind him, and with
wilful and lively wit draws for him pictures of the squalid home and
fare with which she is familiar, until it is her good time and pleasure
to undeceive him:

    'She said, "Good-e'en, ye nettles tall,
      Where ye grow at the dyke;
    If the auld carline my mother was here
      Sae weel 's she wad ye pike.

    How she wad stap ye in her poke,
      I wot she wadna fail;
    And boil ye in her auld brass pan,
      And o' ye mak' good kail."

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    "Awa', awa', ye ill woman,
      Your vile speech grieveth me;
    When ye hide sae little for yoursel'
      Ye 'll hide far less for me."

    "Gude-e'en, gude-e'en, ye heather berries,
      As ye grow on yon hill;
    If the auld carline and her bags were here,
      I wot she would get her fill.

    Late, late at night I knit our pokes,
      Wi' four-and-twenty knots;
    And in the morn, at breakfast-time
      I 'll carry the keys o' your locks."

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    "But if you are a carl's daughter,
      As I take you to be,
    Where did you get the gay clothing
      In greenwood was on thee?"

    "My mother she 's a poor woman,
      But she nursed earl's children three,
    And I got it from a foster-sister,
      To beguile such sparks as thee."'

Of the ballads descriptive of old country sports and merry-making that
have come down to us, the most famous are _Christ's Kirk on the Green_
and _Peblis to the Play_. They lead us back to times when life in
Scotland was not such a 'serious' thing as it afterwards became--when,
under the patronage of the Court or of the Church, Miracle-plays or
Moralities were played on the open sward in such places of resort for
gentle and simple as Falkland and Stirling and Peebles and Cupar; and
the strain of the more solemn mumming was relieved for the benefit of
the common folks, by rough jests, horse-play, and dancing, in which
their betters freely joined. No doubt it was a piece of sage church and
state policy to keep the minds of the people off the dangerous questions
that began to be stirring in them, by aid of these scenes of 'dancing
and derray,' and of almost Rabelaisian fits of mirth and laughter, the
savour of which remained long after they had been placed under the ban
of a sterner ecclesiastical rule.

Leslie in Fife and Leslie in Aberdeen are competitors for having given
the inspiration to _Christ's Kirk on the Green_, to which Allan Ramsay
afterwards added a second part in the same vein. But whether these
passages of boisterous merriment, in which 'licht-skirtit lasses and
girning gossips' play their part happed under the green Lomond or at
Dunideer, there can be no question of the national popularity which the
piece long enjoyed. Pope declared that a Scot would fight in his day for
its superiority over English ballads; and the author of _Tullochgorum_,
in a letter to Robert Burns, tells us that at the age of twelve he had
it by heart, and had even tried to turn it into Latin verse. In _Peblis
to the Play_, the fun is not less nimble although it is a whit more
restrained; there is an infectious spirit of spring-time and gaiety in
the strain that sings of the festal gathering at Beltane, when burgesses
and country folks fared forth 'be firth and forest,' all 'graithed full
gay' to take part in the sports. 'All the wenches of the west' were up
and stirring by cock-crow, selecting, rejecting, or comparing their
tippets, hoods, and curches. Not only Peebles, but

    'Hop-Kailzie, and Cardronow,
      Gaderit out thick-fald,
    With "Hey and how rohumbelow"
      The young folk were full bald.
    The bag-pipe blew, and they out-threw
      Out of the townis untald,
    Lord, what a shout was them amang
      Quhen thai were ower the wald
                        Their west
    Of Peblis to the play!'

From a phrase used by John Major, it has been suggested that James I. of
Scots was the writer of this poem; and a note on the Bannatyne MS. of
_Christ's Kirk_ attributes that companion poem to the same royal
authorship. In spite of the adverse judgment pronounced by Professors
Guest and Skeat, it does not seem an inconceivable thing that the
monarch who wrote the _King's Quair_, and whose daughter kissed the
lips of Alain Chartier as the reward of France for his sweet singing,
should have written these strains descriptive of rural jollity in
localities where the court and sovereign are known to have often
resorted for hunting and other diversion. The cast and language of the
poems appear, however, to belong to a later date; and the quaint stanza,
afterwards employed in a modified form with such effect by Fergusson and
Burns, is that used by Alexander Scot in _The Justing at the Drum_, and
in other burlesque pieces of the early or middle period of the sixteenth

A much more taking tradition is that which assigns them to the
adventure-loving 'Commons King,' James V. They are thoroughly after the
'humour'--using the word in the Elizabethan as well as in the ordinary
sense--of the wandering 'Red Tod'; who has also been held to be the
inspirer, if not the author, of those excellent humorous ballads--among
the best of their kind to be found in any language--_The Gaberlunzie
Man_ and _The Jolly Beggar_.

From the moral point of view, these pieces may, perhaps, come under
Spenser's condemnation of the rhymers who sing of amatory adventures in
which love is no sooner asked than it is granted. But the balladist
carries everything before him by the verve and good humour and pawky wit
of his song. There are touches worthy of the comedy spirit of Molière in
the description, in _The Gaberlunzie Man_, of the good-wife's alternate
blessing and banning as she makes her morning discoveries about the
'silly poor man' whom she has lodged over night:

    'She gaed to the bed whair the beggar lay;
    The strae was cauld, he was away;
    She clapt her hands, cry'd, "Dulefu' day!
      For some of our gear will be gane."

    Some ran to coffer and some to kist,
    But nought was stown that could be mist,
    She danced her lane, cry'd, "Praise be blest,
      I 've lodg'd a leal poor man.
    Since naething awa, as we can learn,
    The kirn 's to kirn, and milk to yearn,
    Gae but the house, lass, and waken my bairn,
      And bid her come quickly ben."

    The servant gaed where the dochter lay--
    The sheets were cauld, she was away;
    And fast to the goodwife did say
      "She 's aff wi' the gaberlunzie man."
    "O fy gar ride, and fy gar rin,
    And haste ye, find these traitors again;
    For she 's be burnt, and he 's be slain,
      The wearifu' gaberlunzie man."'

_The Jolly Beggar_ is a variation of the same tale from the book of the
moonlight rovings of the 'Guidman o' Ballengeich,' with the same vigour
and lively humour, and with the bloom of the old ballad minstrelsy upon
it besides:

    'He took his horn from his side,
      And blew baith loud and shrill,
    And four-and-twenty belted knights
      Came skipping o'er the hill.

    And he took out his little knife,
      Loot a' his duddies fa';
    And he stood the brawest gentleman
      That was amang them a'.'

Other excellent specimens of old Scottish humour have come down to us in
ballad form, some of them made more familiar to our ears in modernised
versions or paraphrases in which, along with the roughnesses, much of
the force and quaint drollery of the originals has been smoothed away.
Of such is _The Wyf of Auchtermuchty_, a Fife ballad, full of local
colour and character, the production of 'Sir John Moffat,' a sixteenth
century priest, who loved a merry jest, and of whom we know barely more
than the name. With so many other precious fragments of our national
poetry, it is preserved in the collection of George Bannatyne, the
namefather of the Bannatyne Club, who beguiled the tedium of his
retirement in time of plague by copying down the popular verse of his
day. It is the progenitor of _John Grumlie_, and gives us a lively
series of pictures of the housewifery and the husbandry, as well as the
average human nature of the time, class, and locality to which it
belongs. The proverb, 'The more the haste the less the speed,' has never
been more humorously illustrated than in the troubles of the lazy
guidman who 'weel could tipple oot a can, and neither lovit hunger nor
cauld,' and who fancied that he could more easily play the housewife's

    'Then to the kirn that he did stour,
      And jumbled at it till he swat;
    When he had jumblit ane lang hour,
      The sorrow crap of butter he gat.

    Albeit nae butter he could get,
      Yet he was cumbered wi' the kirn;
    And syne he het the milk ower het,
      That sorrow spark o' it wad yearn.'

Of the same racy domestic type are the still popular, _The Barrin' o'
the Door, Hame cam' oor Guidman at e'en_, to which, with needless
ingenuity, it has been sought to give a Jacobite significance, and
_Allan o' Maut_, an allegorical account of the genesis of 'barley bree.'
Of this last, also, Bannatyne has noted a version which was probably in
vogue in the first half of the sixteenth century. Even the hand of
Burns, who has produced, in _John Barleycorn_, the final form of the
ballad, could not give us more vigorous and trenchant Scots than is
contained in the verses of this venerable rhyme in Jamieson's

    'He first grew green, syne grew he white,
    Syne a' men thocht that he was ripe;
    And wi' crookit gullies and hafts o' tree,
    They 've hew'd him down, right dochtilie.

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    The hollin souples, that were sae snell,
    His back they loundert, mell for mell,
    Mell for mell, and baff for baff,
    Till his hide flew round his lugs like chaff.'

Three (if not four) generations of the Semples of Beltrees carried the
tradition of this homely type of native poetry, with its strong gust and
relish of life, and the Dutch-like breadth and fidelity of its pictures
of the character and humours of common folk, over the period from the
Scottish Reformation to the Revolution; and are remembered by such
pieces as _The Packman's Paternoster_, _The Piper o' Kilbarchan_, _The
Blithesome Bridal_, and, best and most characteristic of all, _Maggie

The 'business of the Reformation of Religion' did not go well with
ballad-making or with the roystering fun of the fair and the play. In
the stern temper to which the nation was wrought in the struggle to cast
out abuses in the faith and practice of the Church and to assert liberty
of judgment, the feigned adventures of knights and the sorrows of
love-crossed maids seemed to cease for a time to exercise their spell
over the fancy of the people. The open-air gatherings and junketings on
feast and saints' days, with their attendant mirth and music, were too
closely associated with the old ecclesiastical rule, and had too many
scandals and excesses connected with them, to escape censure from the
new Mentors and conscience-keepers of the nation. When, a little later,
the spirit of Puritanism came in, mirth and music, and more particularly
the dance, became themselves suspect. They savoured of the follies of
this world, and were among the wiles most in use by the Wicked One in
snaring souls. The flowers were cut down along with the weeds by those
root-and-branch men--only to spring up again, both of them, in due
season, more luxuriantly than ever.

There were other and cogent reasons why the exploits of 'Jock o' the
Side' and his confreres should be frowned upon and listened to with
impatience. The time for Border feud and skirmish was already well-nigh
past. Industry and knowledge and the pacific arts of life were making
progress. The moss-trooper was already becoming an anachronism and a
pestilent nuisance, to be put down by the relentless arm of the law,
before the Union of the Crowns. Half a century or more before that
event, this opinion had been formed of the reiving clans by their
quieter and more thoughtful neighbours, as is manifest from the biting
allusions of Sir David Lyndsay and Sir Richard Maitland. But after King
James's going to England, even the balladists were chary of lifting up a
voice in praise of the freebooters of the former Marches. Men were busy
finding and fitting themselves to new ideals of patriotism and duty. The
gift and the taste for ballad poetry disappeared, or rather went into
retirement for a time, to reappear in other forms at a later call of
loyalty and romanticism.

The _Gude and Godlie Ballates_ of the Wedderburns had been deliberately
produced and circulated by the Reformers, with the avowed intention, as
Sheriff Mackay says, of 'driving the old amatory and romantic ballads
out of the field, and substituting spiritual songs, set to the same
tunes--much as revivalists of the present day have adopted older secular
melodies.' But nothing enduring is to be done, in the field of poetry,
by mere dint of determination and good intent. If the older songs
succumbed for a time to the new spiritual melodies, we may feel sure
that it was not without a struggle. On the Borders and in the Highlands,
the Original Adam asserted himself, in deed and in song, long after the
more sober mind of Fife, Lanark, and the West Country had given itself
up to the solution of the new theological and ecclesiastical problems
which time and change had brought to the nation. The Reformers
complained that the fighting clans of the Western Marches could only
with difficulty be induced to turn their thoughts from the hereditary
business of the quarrel of the Kingdoms to take up instead the quarrel
of the Kirk. Even so late as the Covenanting period, Richard Cameron
found it hard work 'to set the fire of hell to the tails' of the
Annandale men. They came to the field meetings 'out of mere curiosity,
to see a minister preach in a tent, and people sit on the ground'--in a
spirit not unlike that in which the people used to gather at _Peblis to
the Play_ or _Christ's Kirk on the Green_, to mingle a pinch of piety
and priestly Moralities with a bellyful of carnal delights. It was not
until the preacher had denounced them as 'offspring of thieves and
robbers,' that some of them began to 'get a merciful cast.'

This, too, changed in the course of time, and having once caught fire,
the religious enthusiasm of the marchmen kindled into a brilliant glow,
or smouldered with a fervent heat. They flung themselves into the front
of Kirk controversy, as they did also into more peaceable pursuits, such
as sheep-farming and tweed manufacture, with the same hearty energy
which aforetime was expended upon raids into Cumberland and

But through all the changes and distractions of the three centuries
since the Warden's men met with merriment and parted with blows at the
Reidswire, the old ballad music--the voice of the blood; the very speech
and message of the hills and streams--has sounded like a softly-played
accompaniment to the strenuous labour of the race with hand and head--a
reminder of the men and the thoughts of 'the days of other years.' At
times, in the strife of Church or State, or in the chase of gain, the
magic notes of this 'Harp of the North' may have sunk low, may have
become nigh inaudible. But in the pauses when the nation could listen to
the rhythmic beat of its own heart, the sound has made itself heard and
felt like the noise of many waters or the sough of the wind in the
tree-tops; it is music that can never die out of the land. Its echo has
never been wholly missed by Dee and Earn and Girvan; certainly never by
Yarrow and Teviot and Tweed. The 'Spiritual Songs'--the 'Gude and Godlie
Ballates'--are lost, or are remembered only by the antiquary; not indeed
because they were spiritual, or because they were written by worthy men
with good intent--for the Scottish Psalms, sung to their traditional
melodies, touch a still deeper chord in the natural breast than the
ballads--but because they lacked the sap of life, the beauty and the
passion of nature's own teaching, which only can give immortality to
song. There is a 'Harp of the Covenant', and in it there are piercing
wails wrung from a people almost driven frantic with suffering and
oppression. But the popular lays of the civil wars and commotions of
the seventeenth century are few in number, and singularly wanting in
those touches of grace and tenderness and kindly humour that somehow
accompany the very roughest and most trenchant of the earlier ballads,
like the bloom and fragrance that adorn the bristling thickets of the
native whin on the slopes of the Eildons or Arthur Seat. The times were
harsh and crabbed, and the song they yielded was like unto themselves.
There are ballads of the _Battle of Pentland_, of _Bothwell Brig_, of
_Killiecrankie_, and, to make a leap into another century, of
_Sheriffmuir_. But they are memorable for the passion of hatred and
scorn that is in them, rather than for their merits as poetry--for
girdings, from one side or the other, at 'cruel Claver'se' and the
red-shanked Highlandmen that slew the hope of the Covenant, or at the

    'Riven hose and ragged hools,
    Sour milk and girnin' gools,
    Psalm beuks and cutty stools'

of Whiggery.

After a time of dearth, however, Scottish poetry began to revive; and
one of the earliest signs was the attention that began to be paid to the
anonymous ballads of the country. It is curious that the first printed
collection of them should have been almost contemporary with that
merging of the Parliaments of the two kingdoms, which, according to the
fears and beliefs of the time, was to have made an end of the
nationality and identity of the smaller and poorer of the countries. It
was in 1706--the year before the Union--that James Watson's _Serious and
Comic Scots Poems_ made their appearance, prompted, conceivably, by the
impulse to grasp at what seemed to be in danger of being lost.

Of infinitely greater importance in the history of our ballad literature
was the appearance, some eighteen years later, of Allan Ramsay's
_Evergreen_ and _Tea-Table Miscellany_. It was a fresh dawning of
Scottish poetry. Warmth, light, and freedom seemed to come again into
the frozen world. The blithe and genial spirit of the black-avised
little barber-poet was itself the greatest imaginable contrast to the
soured Puritanism and prim formalism that for half a century and more
had infested the national letters. But the author of _The Gentle
Shepherd_ himself--and small blame to him--did not fully comprehend the
nature and extent of his mission. He did not wholly rid himself from the
prevalent idea that the simple natural turn of the old verse was naked
rudeness which it was but decent and charitable to deck with the
ornaments of the time before it could be made presentable in polite
society; indeed he himself, in later editions especially, tried his hand
boldly at emendation, imitation, and continuation.

For a generation or two longer, the ballad suffered from these
attentions of the modish muse. Yet the original spark of inspiration was
not extinct; in the Border valleys especially--its native country, as
we have called it--there were strains that 'bespoke the harp of ancient
days.' Of Lady Grizel Baillie's lilts, composed at 'Polwarth on the
Green' or at Mellerstain--classic scenes of song and of legend, both of
them--mention has been made; they have on them the very dew of homely
shepherd life, closed about by the hills, of 'forest charms decayed and
pastoral melancholy.' The Wandering Violer, also, 'Minstrel Burne,' from
whom Scott may have taken the hint of the 'last of all the bards who
sang of Border chivalry'--caught an echo, in _Leader Haughs_, of the
grief and changes 'which fleeting Time procureth.'

    'For many a place stands in hard case
      Where blyth folks ken'd nae sorrow,
    With Humes that dwelt on Leaderside,
      And Scotts that wonned in Yarrow.'

His song, with its notes of native sweetness and its artificial
garnishing of classic allusions, marks the passing of the old ballad
style into the new.

Jane Elliot, too, a descendant of that Gibbie Elliot--'the laird of
Stobs, I mean the same'--who refused to come to the succour of Telfer's
kye, listened to the murmuring of the 'mining Rule' and looked up
towards the dark skirt and threatening top of Ruberslaw, as she crooned
the old fragment which her fancy shaped into that lilting before
daybreak of the lasses at the ewe-milking, turned ere night into wailing
for the lost Flowers of the Forest. Her contemporary, Mrs. Cockburn,
who wrote the more hackneyed set of the same Border lament, was of the
ancient race of Rutherford of Wauchope in the same romantic Border
district,--a district wherein James Thomson, of _The Seasons_, spent his
childhood from almost his earliest infancy, and where the prototype of
Scott's Dandie Dinmont, James Davidson of 'Note o' the Gate,' sleeps
sound under a green heap of turf. To trace the Teviotdale dynasty of
song further in the female line, Mrs. Cockburn's niece, Mrs. Scott, was
that 'guidwife o' Wauchope-house,' who addressed an ode to her 'canty,
witty, rhyming ploughman,' Robert Burns, with an invitation to visit her
on the Border--an invitation which the poet accepted, and on the way
thither, as he relates, chanced upon 'Esther (Easton), a very remarkable
woman for reciting poetry of all kinds, and sometimes making Scots
doggerel of her own.'

Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, the search for and the study
of the remains of the old and popular poetry was making progress. With
this had come a truer appreciation of its beauty and its spirit, and the
return of a measure of the earlier gift of spontaneous song. The fancy
of Scotland was kindled by the tale of the '45. Her poetic heart beat in
sympathy with the 'Lost Cause'--after it was finally lost; even while
her reason and judgment remained, on the whole, true to the side and to
the principles that were victorious. Men who were almost Jacobin in
their opinion--Robert Burns is a prime example--became Jacobite when
they donned their singing robes. The faults and misdeeds of the Stewarts
were forgotten in their misfortunes. In the gallant but ruinous 'cast
for the crown' of the native dynasty, the national lyre found once more
a theme for song and ballad. 'Drummossie moor, Drummossie day' drew
laments as for another Flodden; and 'Johnnie Cope,' in his flight from
the field of Prestonpans, was pursued more relentlessly by mocking
rhymes than by Highland claymores.

A rush of Jacobite song, which had the great good fortune to be wedded
to music not less witching than itself, followed rather than attended
the Rebellion; and has become among the most precious and permanent of
the nation's possessions in the sphere of poetry. Whichever side had the
better in the sword-play, there can be no doubt which has won the
triumph in the piping. Song and music have given the Stewart cause its
revenge against fortune; and Prince Charlie, and not Cumberland, will
remain for all time the hero of the cycle of song that commemorates the
last romantic episode in our domestic annals. Jacobite poetry has been
lyrical for the most part. But the ballad--narrative in form and
dramatic in spirit--has not been neglected.

In a host of singers, Caroline Oliphant, Baroness Nairne, wears the
laurel crown of the Jacobite Muse, and Strathearn is the chief centre of
inspiration. But the authoress of _The Auld Hoose_, and _The Land o' the
Leal_, also wrote ballads of cheery and pawky, yet 'genty' humour that
have caught and held the popular ear, as witness the immortal _Laird of
Cockpen_. Hamilton of Bangour, who was 'out' in the '45, had struck anew
the lyre of Yarrow in _Busk ye, busk ye!_ Fife could already 'cock her
crest' over Elizabeth Halkett, Lady Wardlaw, a balladist whose verse,
acknowledged and unacknowledged, had many genuine touches 'of the
antique manner;' and Lady Anne Barnard, a granddaughter of Colin, Earl
of Balcarres, whose career was one of the romances of the '15 and of the
House of Lindsay, was able to tell Sir Walter Scott, so late as 1823,
the story of the conception and birth of her _Auld Robin Gray_, which
also, on its first anonymous appearance, was taken by some as 'a very,
very ancient ballad, composed perhaps by David Rizzio.' As with so many
other ballads--perhaps as with most of them--the inspiration of the
words was caught from a beautiful and still older air--'an ancient
Scotch melody,' says Lady Anne, 'of which I was passionately fond; Sophy
Johnstone used to sing it to us at Balcarres.' The date of this, perhaps
the sweetest of our modern ballads, is fixed approximately by the gifted
writer 'as soon after the close of the year 1771'--perhaps the first
approach that can be made to the timing a ballad's birth.

Walter Scott, also, was born in the latter half of 1771. Burns was then
fifteen years of age, 'beardless, young, and blate,' but already, as he
wrote to the 'guidwife of Wauchope-house,' with

    'The elements o' sang
      In formless jumble right an' wrang
    Wild floating in his brain.'

Already the wish was 'strongly heaving the breast' of that young
Ayrshire ploughman,

    'That I, for poor auld Scotland's sake
    Some usefu' plan or beuk could make,
      Or sing a sang at least.'

Galloway had by this time taken up again its rough old lyre. Away in the
North--in the Mearns and in Buchan, old homes of the ballad--the
Reverend John Skinner had written his genial songs of _Tullochgorum_,
_The Ewie wi' the Crookit Horn_ and the rest, that seem to thrill with
the piercing and stirring notes of fiddle and pipes, being moved
thereto, as he has told us, by his daughters, 'who, being all good
singers, plagued me for words to their favourite tunes.' Fergusson was
celebrating, in an old stanza, shortly to be made world-famous, the high
jinks on Leith Links. Everywhere, from the Moray Firth to the Cheviots,
and from the East Neuk of Fife to Maidenkirk, there were preludings for
the new and splendid burst of Scottish song, that by and by broke from
the banks of Ayr and Doon. The service rendered by the genius of Burns
in quickening and purifying Scottish song and ballad poetry has often
been acknowledged. It was, indeed, beyond all measure and praise. But
recognition, has not, perhaps, been made so fully and frequently of what
our 'King of Song' owed to the popular poetry of country people and
elder times--and notably to the ballads--that have been handed down by
memory rather than books. His was not an isolated phenomenon, blazing up
meteor-like without visible cause or prompting. His poetry is rather the
culminating effect of an impulse that had been making itself felt for
generations. It was like one of those grand bale-fires of the days of
peril and watching, whose sudden gleam made the blood stir in the veins,
and turned men's faces skywards, but which caught its message from
distant points of light that to us seem almost swallowed in the
surrounding darkness.

Burns had an inimitable ear for ballad feeling and for ballad rhythm and
music. But, except for some vigorous satiric, political, and
bacchanalian chants of his own, and the recasting of a few of the
old-fashioned and lively rhymes like _The Carl o' Kellyburn Braes_ that
were not out of the need of being cleaned and furbished to please a more
fastidious age, he could scarcely be called a ballad writer. His special
sphere in the restoration and preservation of the old was in lyrical
poetry. What Robert Burns achieved for the songs, however, Walter Scott
did for the ballads and prose legends of Scotland. The appearance of the
_Border Minstrelsy_ makes 1802 the red-letter year in the later annals
of the Scottish Ballad. More than twenty years before, the little lame
boy, with the good blood of two Border clans, the Scotts and the
Rutherfords, in his veins, had lain on the braes of Sandyknowe, and had
drunk in through all his senses the history and romance of the
Borderland. He had heard from the 'aged hind,' or at the 'winter
hearth,' the old tales of woe and mirth; wild conjurings of superstition
or real events that, although nearer then by a hundred years than they
are to-day, had already been magnified, distorted, glorified in passing
through the medium of the popular memory. His dreaming fancy did the
rest. Looking from his point of vantage across the fair valley of the
Tweed to the blue chain of Cheviot, every notch in which was 'a gate and
passage of the thief,' every fold below it, the site of some battle or
story of old,

    'Over Tweed's fair flood, and Mertoun's wood,
      And all down Teviotdale,'

he was able to repeople the scene as it was when ballad romance was not
only written but lived:

    'I marvelled as the aged hind
    With some strange tale bewitched my mind,
    Of forayers, who with headlong force
    Down from that strength had spurred their horse.

           ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

    And ever, by the winter hearth,
    Old tales I heard of woe or mirth,
    Of lovers' slights, of ladies charms,
    Of witches' spells, of warriors' arms;
    Of patriot battles won of old
    By Wallace wight and Bruce the bold.'

There could not have been a more 'meet nurse for a poetic child' than
the green slopes, the black rocks, and the grey keep, reflected in its
still 'lochan,' of Scott's ancestral home at Sandyknowe. Dryburgh,
Melrose, and Kelso, are hidden in the valley below. The huge square
tower of Hume--'Willie Wastle's' castle--stands on the same sky-line as
Smailholm peel itself, keeping guard along with it over the passes and
marches of the ancient Scottish Kingdom. Wrangholm is near by, where St.
Cuthbert dreamed and played boyish sports before he set forth on his
mission to christianise Northumbria. Bemerside, the Broom o' the
Cowdenknowes, and the Rhymer's Tower are not far off; Huntly Bank is
also where True Thomas lay alone listening to the throstle and the jay,
under the Eildon tree, and

    'Was war of a lady gay
    Come rydyng ouyr a fair le';

Mellerstain, whence the hero of _James Haitlie_ rode to find favour in
the eyes of the king's daughter, and where Grizel Hume and the
Mellerstain Maid afterwards sung notes as wild and sweet and fresh as
ever came from fairyland; and many a famous spot besides. The
three-headed Eildons are in sight, with Dunion, Ruberslaw, Penielheugh,
Minto Crags, Lilliard's Edge, and all the Border high places. Here
Scott's poetic fancy was born; and he paid it only to the tribute that
was due when he made it the scene of the finest of the modern ballads of
its class, the _Eve of St. John_. As a shrine of pilgrimage for the
lover of ballad lore, Smailholm and Sandyknowe should rank next after,
if they should not take precedence of the Vale of Yarrow. Six years
before Scott's birth, while Burns was just a toddler, Bishop Percy's
_Reliques_ had seen the light. The chief gathering ground of this
celebrated collection was on the English side of the Border, but was not
confined to ballad poetry. But it brought to some of the choicest of our
ballads, such as _Sir Patrick Spens_, a fame and vogue such as they had
never before enjoyed in the world without; and it profoundly influenced
the poetic thought and taste of Scotland, as of every land where song
was loved and English speech was spoken. One effect was seen in the more
strictly Scottish collections of fragments of ballad verse that began
soon after to issue from the press. Herd's, the 'first classical
collection of Scottish songs and ballads,' as Scott calls it, appeared
in 1769; that of Lord Hailes 1770; and Pinkerton's in 1781 and 1783. The
publication in 1787 of the first volume of Johnson's _Museum_ was one of
the fruitful results to the national poetry and music of the visit of
Robert Burns to Edinburgh; but the impulse that brought it to the light
can be traced back by sure lines to Percy. Ritson's learned labours in a
still wider field came forth between 1780 and 1794; and Sibbald's
_Chronicle_ was of the same year as the _Border Minstrelsy_.

The age of ballad collection and collation had fairly set in. But this
does not deprive the _Minstrelsy_ of the praise that, with the beginning
of a new century, it ensured that the search for and rescue from
oblivion of the old ballads should thenceforth be a business which, not
alone the antiquary and the poet, but the whole people should make their
concern. Jamieson's _Popular Ballads_ followed in 1806; and, after a
pause, filled up with the appearance of fresh volumes and fresh editions
of the earlier collections, the works of Kinloch, Motherwell, and Buchan
came with a rush, in the years 1827-8.

Of these, and other repertories of the national ballads, the number is
legion, and the merits and methods as varied and diverse. There is not
space to discuss and compare them, even were discussion and comparison
part of the present plan. Such treatment is apt to reduce a book on
ballads and balladists to what Charles G. Leland terms 'mere logarithmic
tables of variants.' First came the harvesters; and then those who were
content to glean where the others had left. As matter of course and of
necessity the readings, and even the structure of the pieces picked up
from oral recitation and singing, presented endless points of difference
according to the locality and to the individual singer or collector. As
has been said, each old piece of popular poetry, before it has been
fixed in print, and even after, takes a certain part of its colour and
character from the minds and memories through which it has been
strained. As an illustration of this, in another field, one might
mention that Pastor Hurt, when he set about, a few years ago, gathering
the fragments of Esthonian folk literature, obtained contributions from
633 different collectors, most of them simple peasants, and as the
result of three and a half years' work, he brought together 'of epics,
lyrics, wedding songs, etc., upwards of 20,000 specimens; of tales about
3000; of proverbs about 18,000; of riddles, about 20,000, besides a
large collection of magical formulæ, superstitions, and the like.' These
figures include variants of the same tale or ballad theme, of which
there were in some cases as many as 160.

The Scottish ballads may scarce be so multitudinous and protean a host
as this. But the search for them, and the choice of them when
discovered, have given infinite exercise to the industry, the judgment,
and the patience of successive editors; and literature has no more
curious and romantic chapter than that which deals with ballad
collecting and collectors. The latter, in Scotland as elsewhere, have
not been free from the human liability to err--few men have been less
so. As Percy admitted _Hardyknut_ and other examples of the
pseudo-antique among his specimens of 'Old Romance Poetry,' Scott's
critical acumen did not avail to detect brazen forgeries of Surtees,
like _Barthram's Dirge_ and _The Death of Featherstonhaugh_. In Cromek's
_Relics of Galloway Song_ were somewhat palpable 'fakements' of Allan
Cunningham; William Motherwell and Peter Buchan made their egregious
blunders, and even such careful and experienced antiquaries as Joseph
Ritson and David Laing slipped on the dark and broken and intricate
paths which they sought to explore. On the whole it can hardly be
regretted that our ballad collections bear the impress of the
idiosyncrasies of the individual ballad-hunters, as well as of the game
they pursued and the district they coursed over.

Scott made his bag, as he tells us, chiefly 'during his early youth,'
among 'the shepherds and aged persons in the recesses of the Border
mountains,' who 'remembered and repeated the warlike songs of their
fathers.' They were gathered on those long pedestrian excursions, with
Shortreed or with Leyden (himself a balladist), which were themselves
often as full of incident, and of the seeds of future romance, as any
old Border raid. The great Master of Romance was, as one of his
companions said, 'makin' himsel' a' the time.' Dandie Dinmont, whom the
author of _Guy Mannering_ sketches from the traits of a dozen honest
yeomen and store farmers, whose hospitality he had shared in his rambles
through the wilds of Liddesdale, would a few generations earlier have
been a stark moss-trooper, ready to ride to the rescue of Kinmont Willie
or to seek his 'beef and kail' in the Merse. The raid on Habbie Elliot
of the Heughfoot is but a 'variant' of the lifting of Telfer's kye; and
_Wandering Willie's Tale_, if it had been cast in verse, would have been
the pick of our ballads of 'glamourie,' instead of the choicest of short
prose stories. The rhyme and air that haunted the memory of Henry
Bertram--what are they but an echo out of Scott's own romantic
youth--out of the enchanted land of ballad poetry?

    '"Are these the Links of Forth," she said,
      "Or are they the crooks of Dee,
    Or the bonnie woods o' Warroch-head
      That I so fain would see?"'

It was on one of these excursions up Ettrick that Scott forgathered with
Margaret Laidlaw, the mother of the 'Shepherd,' and the repository of an
inexhaustible store of fairy tales, songs and ballads, which, as she
declared, the compiler of the _Border Minstrelsy_ 'spoiled' by
transmitting to print. But the richest and rarest of his 'finds' was
Hogg himself. He was nursed in the lap of the Forest and cradled in
ballad and fairy lore. Here was the 'heart of pathos' of the older
poetry; the head buzzing with its wild fancies; 'the sang o' the linty
amang the broom in the spring'; and along with these the shaggy front,
the strong hand-grips, the loyalty, and the sturdy sense that are the
far-descended inheritance of the Border farmer and shepherd. Surely, to
parody his own words, those who love to listen to Allan Ramsay and Burns
and Scott, and to the nameless Balladists who were their masters and
teachers, will 'never forget a'thegither the Ettrick Shepherd.'

More important, however, even than the materials gathered by Scott from
the lips of Mrs. Hogg and other Border ballad reciters, or from the
Glenriddell MSS., was the golden mine of old poetry, for the
preservation of which he and the nation were indebted to the taste and
retentive memory of Mrs. Brown, daughter of Professor Thomas Gordon, of
King's College, Aberdeen, and wife of a minister of Falkland, in the
beginning of the century. There are in existence three MSS. of the songs
and ballads this lady was able to remember as sung to her on Deeside;
and transcription of her father's account of this precious collection,
as the story is told by him in a letter to Mr. A. Fraser Tytler, and by
him communicated to Scott, may best and most authentically explain its

    'An aunt of my children, Mrs. Farquhar, now dead, who was
    married to the proprietor of a small estate near the sources of
    the Dee, in Braemar, a good old woman who spent the best part of
    her life among flocks and herds, resided in her latter days in
    the town of Aberdeen. She was possessed of a most tenacious
    memory, which retained all the songs she had heard from nurses
    and country-women in that sequestered part of the country. Being
    maternally fond of my children when young, she had them much
    about her, and delighted them with her songs and tales of
    chivalry. My youngest daughter, Mrs. Brown, at Falkland, is
    blessed with a memory as good as her aunt, and has almost the
    whole of her songs by heart. In conversation, I mentioned them
    to your father (William Tytler, the champion of Mary Stuart) at
    whose request my grandson, Mr. Scott, wrote down a parcel of
    them as her aunt sung them. Being then a mere novice in music,
    he added, in the copy, such musical notes as, he supposed, would
    give your father some notion of the airs, or rather lilts, to
    which they were sung.'

To all those whose names are mentioned in the above extract, Scotland
and poetry owe a deep debt of gratitude. But here again, although men,
and men of learning, have borne their part in the salvage, it is to the
'spindle side,' and to simple country ears and memories, that the main
acknowledgment is due for saving what it would have been a calamity to
lose. What may almost be described as the 'classical text' of some of
the finest of our ballads, is that obtained by collation of the Brown
'sets,' of which the fullest is that originally owned by Robert
Jamieson, which reappears in revised form in one of the copies possessed
by Miss Tytler. From the circumstances of its origin, this text has
something of a North Country cast, even where it deals with a South
Country theme. But the three divisions of the land, the North, the
Centre, and the South, bear a share of the credit of its preservation.
The ballads were gathered by Deeside; they were sung and recited under
Lomond Law; they were brought before the world by a Borderer.

No such 'finds' are to be looked for any longer. The ground has been for
the most part well reaped and gleaned. Only a few ears are to be picked
up that have escaped the notice of previous collectors; although, within
the last quarter of a century, in quiet corners like the Enzie and
Buchan and the Cabrach, the late Dean Christie was still able to gather
from the lips of old peasant and fisher women specimens both of ballads
and ballad airs that had never been in print. The chief work for half a
century has been that of comparing, collating, and critically annotating
the materials already found, and reference need only be made to the
monumental work in eight volumes of Professor Child, in which the
subject of the origins, affinities, variants and genuine text of both
the Scottish and English ballads has been thoroughly worked out and
brought nearly down to date.

The Ballads themselves have done a greater work. They have permeated and
revived the poetry and literature of the century like a draught of rare
old wine. The greatest of our modern poets have been proud to
acknowledge what they owe to the forgotten minstrels who have not sent
down to us out of the darkness, along with their song, so much as their
name. Wordsworth, as well as Scott, pored entranced over Percy's
_Reliques_. Coleridge, Tennyson, Browning, Swinburne, and a host
besides, have drunk delight and found inspiration in the Scottish ballad
minstrelsy; and it has awakened a responsive chord in the lyre of the
poets of America. As enthusiastic old Christopher North wrote, 'Perhaps
none of us ever wrote verses of any worth who had not been more or less
readers of our old ballads.'

    'The Bards are lost,
    The song is saved.'

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Balladists - Famous Scots Series" ***

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