Imágenes de página
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of the time of the Jameses. It is impossible, except by some process of the imagination, to trace amid its greatly expanded modern outlines the limits of the little walled and moated town, with its seven or eight hundred inhabitants, which six centuries ago sent its armed burghers forth to war or foray. Into the life of that distant period, however, we obtain a few glimpses through the minute-books and records that have been preserved. In the beginning of the sixteenth century, the exigencies of Border existence rendered it necessary that the burghers of Selkirk should nightly keep watch and ward within their bounds. In 1509 some laxness may have set in, for in December of that year the Burgh Council ordains that watches be kept by men and not by laddies (boys); that they are to walk within the bounds of their watches;' that 'nae watch maun gae to the potation and 'drink' after nine in the evening; that they are to walk until cock-crow, and syne to warn Steven of Lauder in the West Port, Thomas Johnson in the Under Port, and 'Wat Haw in the East Port.' In October of the following year the watch is to consist of eighteen men, neighbours and householders, well armed, who are to walk nightly from nine till cock-crow, under pain at ilk failure of twelve 'pence, without favour.' A touch of unconscious humour lights up an order of 1530, in which the council ordains that 'nae deaf men' are to walk in or stand as watchesspecially auld Blair the cooper.' In 1521 it is ordained that all men, indwellers in the burgh, with their servants,' are 'to come readily when any fray arises, well-armed, for the good of the town and of the country, and pass together at 'their power.' But their weapons were not always restricted to legitimate uses. In 1585 John Ker, son of Thomas Ker of Kippilaw, dwelling in Selkirk, is accused of joining Scott of Halydean and others in going armed in the gloom of the ' evening' to Haltree, where they stole 'five oxen, four kye (cows), and ane brown naig.' The general social condition of those old burghs must, one would think, have been full of unrest and more or less open alarm, it never being known at what hour of day or night the Philistines of the English Border might be upon them. Yet doubtless that old life would have its compensations, if we but knew of them; its pleasures must occasionally have counterbalanced its perils.

[ocr errors]

Before taking leave of the ancient burgh of the Forest we must quote a powerful story of diablerie, belonging, alas!

to the days when as yet Psychical Research societies were not.

'Like most country churchyards,' says Mr. Craig-Brown, that of Selkirk has its tale of horror; and it is in keeping with the locality that the incident concerns a sutor. Early one winter evening, before daylight, a brother of the craft, whose house opened upon the churchyard, had a call from a stranger, who ordered a pair of shoes to be ready at a certain hour next morning. There was something about the appearance and manner of his customer which impressed the sutor with the necessity of being up to time, so that the shoes were ready when the stranger called. More than ever struck with his unusual aspect, the tradesman followed him into the dark, walking silently and closely behind him, till at a particular grave he suddenly vanished. Leaving his awl in the mound that he might recognise it again, the shoemaker at daylight brought a great company of the townspeople, who helped him to break open the tomb. In the coffin beside a wellpreserved corpse were the newly-made shoes! Oblivious of the fact that they had been paid for by their mysterious owner, Crispin took them away, and had the grave refilled. But next morning, an hour before cock-crow, as he was stitching away at new work, he was confronted by his unearthly customer, glaring upon him with a malignity which froze his blood with horror. "You have made me the wonder of the town," said he in ghostly tones; "but I'll make you a greater." At daylight the wretched sutor's body was found rent limb from limb upon the violated grave.' (Vol. ii. p. 234.)

This wild and unearthly legend would have been as fuel to fire in the morbid imagination of Edgar Allan Poe. It belongs to that darker side of Border superstition which, as interpreted by the older minstrels, has given us such weird ballads as Clerk Saunders' and 'The Twa Corbies,' and, as interpreted by Scott himself, The Eve of St. John.'

[ocr errors]


This brings us to say a few concluding words on the poetry of Ettrick and Yarrow, to which the opening chapter of Mr. Craig-Brown's first volume is devoted. His numerous quotations from the ballads and songs and poems relating to the district will be read with interest. The district is indeed rich in song, both ancient and modern. In Professor Veitch's volume on 'The History and Poetry of the Scottish Border,' the subject of the Border ballads is treated at length with admirable skill and literary beauty, the whole lighted up with that intellectual sympathy which might be expected from one who is himself touched with the poetic fire. That portion of his volume which deals with the etymology of place-names, and with the historical events affecting the district, is not in some respects all that might be desired; but when he arrives at what forms the chief

interest of his work, the ballads and songs of bygone days, we feel that we are in contact with one who can handle these old blossoms of poesy with tenderness and love; who can, so to speak, expound the beauties of each flower without damaging a single petal. It is this fine under-chord of genuine sympathy running through all his exposition, which gives to Professor Veitch's interpretation of the Border ballads a charm only second to their own.*

[ocr errors]

Confining ourselves to the ballads of Ettrick and Yarrow, we can only notice the chief even of these; and into such questions as those of their antiquity and authorship we cannot here enter. The first to be mentioned is the song of the ancient Forest burgh, The Sutors of Selkirk,' both the age and the occasion of which have not been passed without dispute. It has evidently, however, been written in allusion to Selkirk's share in the battle of Flodden, though its composition belongs to a much later period. Then we have the stirring and vigorous ballad of 'Jamie Telfer o' the Fair 'Dodhead,' to which reference has already been made, and which localises itself in the vale of Ettrick. The scenes of all the other old ballads of merit relating to the district are to be found on Yarrow, with the exception of that strange ballad of fairyland, Tamlane,' to which Ettrick may lay an equal claim; for Carterhaugh, where Janet met her lover, and where she finally won him from the spells of Elfland, lies between Ettrick and Yarrow streams at their point of confluence.

[ocr errors]

'O I forbid you, maidens a',

That wear gowd in your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tamlane is there.'

Farther up the Vale of Yarrow-here not as yet wearing its mystic robe of pastoral melancholy,' but bordered on either side with waving woods of elm and ash and the birchen tree is the ancient place of Hangingshaw, the scene of The Sang of the Outlaw Murray,' perhaps the best known historical ballad of the Scottish Border. The old tower of


For a full and discriminating analysis of Wordsworth's three Yarrow poems, and an account of the circumstances under which each was written, see the late Principal Shairp's Aspects of Poetry,' chap. xi. 'The Three Yarrows.' In 'Blackwood's Magazine,' also, for July 1886, is a paper by J. B. Selkirk, entitled 'The Secret of Yarrow,' which for classic grace of style and true poetic insight is perhaps the finest prose monograph on Yarrow that has appeared.

Hangingshaw, the home of the Murrays, was destroyed last century, but the Sang' will keep its memory alive.

There's a fair castle, biggit wi' lyme and stayne;

O gin it stands not pleasantlie!

In the forefront o' that castle fair,

Twa unicorns are braw to see;

There's the picture of a knight, and a ladye bright,
And the green hollin abune their brie.'

Among the romantic ballads which claim Yarrow as their local habitation, we have that of The Douglas Tragedy.' The scene which tradition has assigned to it is Blackhouse Tower, on the Douglas Water, up which tributary, towards Blackhouse Heights, Lord William and Lady Margaret rode on that fatal night.

'O they rade on, and on they rade,

And a' by the light o' the moon,
Until they came to the wan water,
And there they lighted down.'

A few miles

Who does not know the sorrowful ending?
farther up Yarrow stands, or rather stood, Henderland
Tower; for its site alone can now be traced.
Here it was

[ocr errors]

that the Border widow,' when a wrathful Scottish king had slain her husband, was left, deserted by all her terrified menials, to bury the corpse herself, and to make that 'Lament' preserved to us in the most pathetic of Border ballads.

'I sewed his sheet, making my mane;
I watched the corpse, myself alane;
I watched the body night and day;
No living creature came that way.

'I took his body on my back,

And whiles I gaed, and whiles I sat ;

I digg'd a grave, and laid him in,

And happ'd him with the sod sae green.

'But think na ye my heart was sair,

When I laid the moul' on his yellow hair.'


But fine as each and all of those ballads are, it is not to them that Yarrow owes her crown of deathless song. old story of love and passion, originating no one knows how, and coming to us no one knows whence, but instinct with these eternal elements of human interest, had got caught amid the harp-strings of some unknown minstrel long ago, and the tender music it awakened there vibrates about us still.

'Late at e'en, drinking the wine,

[ocr errors]

And ere they paid the lawing,
They set a combat them between,
To fight it in the dawing.'

[ocr errors]

We know how his lady urged him to stay at hame;' and how, when she found her pleadings of no avail to turn her lord from the path to which his honour bound him, she, like the true Border woman she was, 'kissed his cheek, and 'kaimed his hair,' and 'belted him with his noble brand:' 'And he's awa to Yarrow.'

Then comes the last stern conflict to him, and the weary hours of heart-sickening suspense to her.

'Yestreen I dreamed a dolefu' dream;

I fear there will be sorrow!

I dreamed I pu'd the heather green,
Wi' my true love on Yarrow.

'O gentle wind, that bloweth south,
From where my love repaireth,
Convey a kiss from his dear mouth,
And tell me how he fareth!'

[ocr errors]

At last is brought to her the sad message, 'to come and lift 'her leafu' lord,' now sleeping sound on Yarrow.' With 'dool and sorrow' she

goes forth.

'She kissed his cheek, she kaimed his hair,

She searched his wounds all thorough,

She kissed them till her lips grew red,
On the dowie holms of Yarrow.

""Now haud your tongue, my daughter dear!

For a' this breeds but sorrow;

I'll wed ye to a better lord

Than him ye lost on Yarrow."

"O haud your tongue, my father dear!
Ye mind me but of sorrow:

A fairer rose did never bloom

Than now lies cropped on Yarrow."'

Upon this simple thread of song, this 'old unhappy far-off 'thing,' Hamilton of Bangor framed his more elaborate poem of 'Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny, bonny bride,' which, though highly artificial in structure, and burdened with much redundancy of phrase, has yet enshrined within it the true spirit of Yarrow song, its sorrow and sadness, its love unquenchable. Logan followed with his finer and more direct strain, 'Thy braes are bonny, Yarrow stream,'



« AnteriorContinuar »