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Sir Walter Scott and the Border Minstrelsy

The following is from Sir Walter Scott and the Border Minstrelsy by Andrew Lang:

Auld Maitland

The ballad of Auld Maitland holds in The Border Minstrelsy a place like that of the Doloneia, or Tenth Book, in the Iliad. Every professor of the Higher Criticism throws his stone at the Doloneia in passing, and every ballad-editor does as much to Auld Maitland. {19a} Professor Child excluded it from his monumental collection of "English and Scottish Popular Ballads," fragments, and variants, for which Mr. Child and his friends and helpers ransacked every attainable collection of ballads in manuscript, and ballads in print, as they listened to the last murmurings of ballad tradition from the lips of old or young.

Mr. Child, says his friend and pupil, Professor Kittredge, "possessed a kind of instinct" for distinguishing what is genuine and traditional, or modern, or manipulated, or, if I may say so, "faked" in a ballad.

"This instinct, trained by thirty years of study, had become wonderfully swift in its operations, and almost infallible. A forged or retouched piece could not escape him for a moment: he detected the slightest jar in the ballad ring." {18a}

But all old traditional ballads are masses of "retouches," made through centuries, by reciters, copyists, editors, and so forth. Unluckily, Child never gave in detail his reasons for rejecting that treasure of Sir Walter's, Auld Maitland. Child excluded the poem sans phrase. If he did this, like Falstaff "on instinct," one can only say that antiquarian instincts are never infallible. We must apply our reason to the problem, "What is Auld Maitland?"

Colonel Elliot has taken this course. By far the most blighting of the many charges made by Colonel Elliot against Sir Walter Scott are concerned with the ballad of Auld Maitland. {19a} After stating that, in his opinion, "several stanzas" of the ballad are by Sir Walter himself, Colonel Elliot sums up his own ideas thus:

"My view is that Hogg, in the first instance, tried to palm off the ballad on Scott, and failed; and then Scott palmed it off on the public, and succeeded . . . let us, as gentlemen and honest judges, admit that the responsibility of the deception rests rather on the laird (Scott) than on the herd" (Hogg.) {19b}

If Colonel Elliot's "views" were correct (and it is absolutely erroneous), the guilt of "the laird" would be great. Scott conspires with a shepherd, a stranger, to palm off a forgery on the public. Scott issues the forgery, and, what is worse, in a private letter to a learned friend, he utters what I must borrow words for: he utters "cold and calculated falsehoods" about the manner in which, and the person from whom, he obtained what he calls "my first copy" of the song. If Hogg and Scott forged the poem, then when Scott told his tale of its acquisition by himself from Laidlaw, Scott lied.

Colonel Elliot is ignorant of the facts in the case. He gropes his way under the misleading light of a false date, and of fragments torn from the context of a letter which, in its complete form, has never till now been published. Where positive and published information exists, it has not always come within the range of the critic's researches; had it done so, he would have taken the information into account, but he does not. Of the existence of Scott's "first copy" of the ballad in manuscript our critic seems never to have heard; certainly he has not studied the MS. Had he done so he would not assign (on grounds like those of Homeric critics) this verse to Hogg and that to Scott. He would know that Scott did not interpolate a single stanza; that spelling, punctuation, and some slight verbal corrections, with an admirable emendation, were the sum of his industry: that he did not even excise two stanzas of, at earliest, eighteenth century work.

I must now clear up misconceptions which have imposed themselves on all critics of the ballad, on myself, for example, no less than on Colonel Elliot: and must tell the whole story of how the existence of the ballad first became known to Scott's collector and friend, William Laidlaw, how he procured the copy which he presented to Sir Walter, and how Sir Walter obtained, from recitation, his "second copy," that which he printed in The Minstrelsy in 1803.

In 1801 Scott, who was collecting ballads, gave a list of songs which he wanted to Mr. Andrew Mercer, of Selkirk. Mercer knew young Will Laidlaw, farmer in Blackhouse on Yarrow, where Hogg had been a shepherd for ten years. Laidlaw applied for two ballads, one of them The Outlaw Murray, to Hogg, then shepherding at Ettrick House, at the head of Ettrick, above Thirlestane. Hogg replied on 20th July 1801. He could get but a few verses of The Outlaw from his maternal uncle, Will Laidlaw of Phawhope. He said that, from traditions known to him, he could make good songs, "but without Mr. Scott's permission this would be an imposition, neither could I undertake it without an order from him in his own handwriting . . . " {21a} Laidlaw went on trying to collect songs for Scott. We now take his own account of Auld Maitland from a manuscript left by him. {21b}

"I heard from one of the servant girls, who had all the turn and qualifications for a collector, of a ballad called Auld Maitland, that a grandfather (maternal) of Hogg could repeat, and she herself had several of the first stanzas, which I took a note of, and have still the copy. This greatly aroused my anxiety to procure the whole, for this was a ballad not even hinted at by Mercer in his list of desiderata received from Mr. Scott. I forthwith wrote to Hogg himself, requesting him to endeavour to procure the whole ballad. In a week or two I received his reply, containing Auld Maitland exactly as he had received it from the recitation of his uncle Will of Phawhope, corroborated by his mother, who both said they learned it from their father, a still older Will of Phawhope, and an old man called Andrew Muir, who had been servant to the famous Mr. Boston, minister of Ettrick." Concerning Laidlaw's evidence, Colonel Elliot says not a word.

This copy of Auld Maitland, with the superscription outside -


all in Hogg's hand, is now at Abbotsford. We next have, through Carruthers using Laidlaw's manuscript, an account of the arrival of Scott and Leyden at Blackhouse, of Laidlaw's presentation of Hogg's manuscript, which Scott read aloud, and of their surprise and delight. Scott was excited, so that his burr became very perceptible. {23a}

The time of year when Scott and Leyden visited Yarrow was not the AUTUMN vacation of 1802, as Lockhart erroneously writes, {23b} but the SPRING vacation of 1802. The spring vacation, Mr. Macmath informs me, ran from 11th March to 12th May in 1802. In May, apparently, Scott having obtained the Auld Maitland MS. in the vernal vacation of the Court of Session, gave his account of his discovery to his friend Ellis (Lockhart does not date the letter, but wrongly puts it after the return to Edinburgh in November 1802).

Scott wrote thus: --"We" (John Leyden and himself) "have just concluded an excursion of two or three weeks through my jurisdiction of Selkirkshire, where, in defiance of mountains, rivers, and bogs, damp and dry, we have penetrated the very recesses of Ettrick Forest . . . I have . . . returned LOADED with the treasures of oral tradition. The principal result of our inquiries has been a complete and perfect copy of "Maitland with his Auld Berd Graie," referred to by [Gawain] Douglas in his Palice of Honour (1503), along with John the Reef and other popular characters, and celebrated in the poems from the Maitland MS." (circ. 1575). You may guess the surprise of Leyden and myself when this was presented to us, copied down from the recitation of an old shepherd, by a country farmer . . . Many of the old words are retained, which neither the reciter nor the copyer understood. Such are the military engines, sowies, SPRINGWALLS (springalds), and many others . . . " {24a}

That Scott got the ballad in spring 1802 is easily proved. On 10th April 1802, Joseph Ritson, the crabbed, ill-tempered, but meticulously accurate scholar, who thought that ballad-forging should be made a capital offence, wrote thus to Scott:-

"I have the pleasure of enclosing my copy of a very ancient poem, which appears to me to be the original of The Wee Wee Man, and which I learn from Mr. Ellis you are desirous to see." In Scott's letter to Ellis, just quoted, he says: "I have lately had from him" (Ritson) "A COPIE of 'Ye litel wee man,' of which I think I can make some use. In return, I have sent him a sight of Auld Maitland, the original MS . . . I wish him to see it in puris naturalibus." "The precaution here taken was very natural," says Lockhart, considering Ritson's temper and hatred of literary forgeries. Scott, when he wrote to Ellis, had received Ritson's The Wee Wee Man "lately": it was sent to him by Ritson on 10th April 1802. Scott had already, when he wrote to Ellis, got "the original MS. of Auld Maitland" (now in Abbotsford Library). By 10th June 1802 Ritson wrote saying, "You may depend on my taking the utmost care of Old Maitland, and returning it in health and safety. I would not use the liberty of transcribing it into my manuscript copy of Mrs. Brown's ballads, but if you will signify your permission, I shall be highly gratified." {25} "Your ancient and curious ballad," he styles the piece.

Thus Scott had Auld Maitland in May 1802; he sent the original MS. To Ritson; Ritson received it graciously; he had, on 10th April 1802, sent Scott another MS., The Wee Wee Man: and when Scott wrote to Ellis about his surprise at getting "a complete and perfect copy of Maitland," he had but lately received The Wee Wee Man, sent by Ritson on 10th April 1802. He had made a spring, not an autumn, raid into the Forest.

We now know the external history of the ballad. Laidlaw, hearing his servant repeat some stanzas, asks Hogg for the full copy, which Hogg sends with a pedigree from which he never wavered. Auld Andrew Muir taught the song to Hogg's mother and uncle. Hogg took it from his uncle's recitation, and sent it, directed outside,


and Laidlaw gave it to Scott, in March 12-May 12, 1802. But Scott, publishing the ballad in The Minstrelsy (1803), says it is given "as written down from the recitation of the mother of Mr. James Hogg, who sings, or rather chants, it with great animation" (manifestly he had heard the recitation which he describes).

It seems that Scott, before he wrote to Ellis in May 1802, had misgivings about the ballad. Says Carruthers, he "made another visit to Blackhouse for the purpose of getting Laidlaw as a guide to Ettrick," being "curious to see the poetical shepherd."

Laidlaw's MS., used by Carruthers, describes the wild ride by the marshes at the head of the Loch of the Lowes, through the bogs on the knees of the hills, down a footpath to Ramseycleuch in Ettrick. They sent to Ettrick House for Hogg; Scott was surprised and pleased with James's appearance. They had a delightful evening: "the qualities of Hogg came out at every instant, and his unaffected simplicity and fearless frankness both surprised and pleased the Sheriff." {26a} Next morning they visited Hogg and his mother at her cottage, and Hogg tells how the old lady recited Auld Maitland. Hogg gave the story in prose, with great vivacity and humour, in his Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott (1834).

In an earlier poetical address to Scott, congratulating him on his elevation to the baronetcy (1818), the Shepherd says -

When Maitland's song first met your ear,
How the furled visage up did clear.
Beaming delight! though now a shade
Of doubt would darken into dread,
That some unskilled presumptuous arm
Had marred tradition's mighty charm.
Scarce grew thy lurking dread the less,
Till she, the ancient Minstreless,
With fervid voice and kindling eye,
And withered arms waving on high,
Sung forth these words in eldritch shriek,
While tears stood on thy nut-brown cheek:
"Na, we are nane o' the lads o' France,
Nor e'er pretend to be;
We be three lads of fair Scotland,
Auld Maitland's sons a' three."

(Stanza xliii. as printed. In Hogg's MS. copy, given to Laidlaw there are two verbal differences, in lines 1 and 4.)

Then says Hogg -

Thy fist made all the table ring,
By -, sir, but that is the thing!

Hogg could not thus describe the scene in addressing Scott himself, in 1818, if his story were not true. It thus follows that his mother knew the sixty-five stanzas of the ballad by heart. Does any one believe that, as a woman of seventy-two, she learned the poem to back Hogg's hoax? That he wrote the poem, and caused her to learn it by rote, so as to corroborate his imposture?

This is absurd.

But now comes the source of Colonel Elliot's theory of a conspiracy between Scott and Hogg, to forge a ballad and issue the forgery. Colonel Elliot knows scraps of a letter to Hogg of 30th June 1802. He has read parts, not bearing on the question, in Mr. Douglas's Familiar Letters of Sir Walter Scott (vol. i. pp. 12-15), and another scrap, in which Hogg says that "I am surprised to hear that Auld Maitland is suspected by some to be a modern forgery." This part of Hogg's letter of 30th June 1802 was published by Scott himself in the third volume of The Minstrelsy (April 1803).

Not having the context of the letter, Colonel Elliot seems to argue, "Scott says he got his first copy in autumn 1802" (Lockhart's mistake), "yet here are Hogg and Scott corresponding about the ballad long before autumn, in June 1802. This is very suspicious." I give what appears to be Colonel Elliot's line of reflection in my own words. He decides that, as early as June 1802, "Hogg"(in the Colonel's 'view'), "in the first instance, tried to palm off the ballad on Scott, and failed; and that then Scott palmed it off on the public, and succeeded."

This is all a mare's nest. Scott, in March-May 1802, had the whole of the ballad except one stanza, which Hogg sent to him on 30th June.

I now print, for the first time, the whole of Hogg's letter of 30th June, with its shrewd criticism on ballads, hitherto omitted, and I italicise the passage about Auld Maitland:-


Dear Sir,--I have been perusing your minstrelsy very diligently for a while past, and it being the first book I ever perused which was written by a person I had seen and conversed with, the consequence hath been to me a most sensible pleasure; for in fact it is the remarks and modern pieces that I have delighted most in, being as it were personally acquainted with many of the modern pieces formerly. My mother is actually a living miscellany of old songs. I never believed that she had half so many until I came to a trial. There are some (sic) in your collection of which she hath not a part, and I should by this time had a great number written for your amusement, thinking them all of great antiquity and lost to posterity, had I not luckily lighted upon a collection of songs in two volumes, published by I know not who, in which I recognised about half-a-score of my mother's best songs, almost word for word. No doubt I was piqued, but it saved me much trouble, paper, and ink; for I am carefully avoiding anything which I have seen or heard of being in print, although I have no doubt that I shall err, being acquainted with almost no collections of that sort, but I am not afraid that you too will mistake. I am still at a loss with respect to some: such as the Battle of Flodden beginning, "From Spey to the Border," a long poetical piece on the battle of Bannockburn, I fear modern: The Battle of the Boyne, Young Bateman's Ghost, all of which, and others which I cannot mind, I could mostly recover for a few miles' travel were I certain they could be of any use concerning the above; and I might have mentioned May Cohn and a duel between two friends, Graham and Bewick, undoubtedly very old. You must give me information in your answer. I have already scraped together a considerable quantity--suspend your curiosity, Mr. Scott, you will see them when I see you, of which I am as impatient as you can be to see the songs for your life. But as I suppose you have no personal acquaintance in this parish, it would be presumption in me to expect that you will visit my cottage, but I will attend you in any part of the Forest if you will send me word. I am far from supposing that a person of your discernment,--d-n it, I'll blot out that, 'tis so like flattery. I say I don't think you would despise a shepherd's "humble cot an' hamely fare," as Burns hath it, yet though I would be extremely proud of a visit, yet hang me if I would know what to do wi' ye. I am surprised to find that the songs in your collection differ so widely from my mother's. Is Mr. Herd's MS. genuine? I suspect it. Jamie Telfer differs in many particulars. Johnny Armstrong of Gilnockie is another song altogether. I have seen a verse of my mother's way called Johny Armstrong's last good-night cited in the Spectator, and another in Boswell's Journal. It begins, "Is there ne'er a man in fair Scotland?" Do you know if this is in print, Mr. Scott? In the Tale of Tomlin the whole of the interlude about the horse and the hawk is a distinct song altogether. {30a} Clerk Saunders is nearly the same with my mother's, until that stanza [xvi.] which ends, "was in the tower last night wi' me," then with another verse or two which are not in yours, ends Clerk Saunders. All the rest of the song in your edition is another song altogether, which my mother hath mostly likewise, and I am persuaded from the change in the stile that she is right, for it is scarce consistent with the forepart of the ballad. I have made several additions and variations out, to the printed songs, for your inspection, but only when they could be inserted without disjointing the songs as they are at present; to have written all the variations would scarcely be possible, and I thought would embarrass you exceedingly. I HAVE RECOVERED ANOTHER HALF VERSE OF OLD MAITLAN, AND HAVE RHYMED IT THUS -

For ilka drap o' Maitlen's blood
I'll gie THEE rigs o' land. -

THE TWO LAST LINES ONLY ARE ORIGINAL; YOU WILL EASILY PERCEIVE THAT THEY OCCUR IN THE VERY PLACE WHERE WE SUSPECTED A WANT. I AM SURPRISED TO HEAR THAT THIS SONG IS SUSPECTED BY SOME TO BE A MODERN FORGERY; THIS WILL BE BEST PROVED BY MOST OF THE OLD PEOPLE HEREABOUTS HAVING A GREAT PART OF IT BY HEART; many, indeed, are not aware of the manners of this place, it is but lately emerged from barbarity, and till this present age the poor illiterate people in these glens knew of no other entertainment in the long winter nights than in repeating and listening to these feats of their ancestors, which I believe to be handed down inviolate from father to son, for many generations, although no doubt, had a copy been taken of them at the end of every fifty years, there must have been some difference, which the repeaters would have insensibly fallen into merely by the change of terms in that period. I believe that it is thus that many very ancient songs have been modernised, which yet to a connoisseur will bear visible marks of antiquity. The Maitlen, for instance, exclusive of its mode of description, is all composed of words, which would mostly every one spell and pronounce in the very same dialect that was spoken some centuries ago.

Pardon, my dear Sir, the freedom I have taken in addressing you--it is my nature; and I could not resist the impulse of writing to you any longer. Let me hear from you as soon as this comes to your hand, and tell me when you will be in Ettrick Forest, and suffer me to subscribe myself, Sir, your most humble and affectionate servant,


In Scott's printed text of the ballad, two interpolations, of two lines each, are acknowledged in notes. They occur in stanzas vii., xlvi., and are attributed to Hogg. In fact, Hogg sent one of them (vii.) to Laidlaw in his manuscript. The other he sent to Scott on 30th June 1802.

Colonel Elliot, in the spirit of the Higher Criticism (chimaera bombinans in vacuo), writes, {31a} "Few will doubt that the footnotes" (on these interpolations) "were inserted with the purpose of leading the public to think that Hogg made no other interpolations; but I am afraid I must go further than this and say that, since they were inserted on the editor's responsibility, the intention must have been to make it appear as if no other interpolations by any other hand had been inserted."

But no other interpolations by another hand WERE inserted! Some verbal emendations were made by Scott, but he never put in a stanza or two lines of his own.

Colonel Elliot provides us with six pages of the Higher Criticism. He knows how to distinguish between verses by Hogg, and verses by Scott! {32a} But, save when Scott puts one line, a ballad formula, where Hogg has another line, Scott makes no interpolations, and the ballad formula he probably took, with other things of no more importance, from Mrs. Hogg's recitation. Oh, Higher Criticism!

I now print the ballad as Hogg sent it to Laidlaw, between August 1801 and March 1802, in all probability.

[Back of Hogg's MS.: Mr. William Laidlaw, Blackhouse.]


There lived a king in southern land
King Edward hecht his name
Unwordily he wore the crown
Till fifty years was gane.

He had a sister's son o's ain
Was large o' blood and bane
And afterwards when he came up,
Young Edward hecht his name.

One day he came before the king,
And kneeld low on his knee
A boon a boon my good uncle,
I crave to ask of thee

"At our lang wars i' fair Scotland
I lang hae lang'd to be
If fifteen hunder wale wight men
You'll grant to ride wi' me."

"Thou sal hae thae thou sal hae mae
I say it sickerly;
And I mysel an auld grey man
Arrayd your host sal see." -

King Edward rade King Edward ran -
I wish him dool and pain!
Till he had fifteen hundred men
Assembled on the Tyne.
And twice as many at North Berwick
Was a' for battle bound

They lighted on the banks of Tweed
And blew their coals sae het
And fired the Merce and Tevidale
All in an evening late

As they far'd up o'er Lammermor
They burn'd baith tower and town
Until they came to a derksome house,
Some call it Leaders Town

Whae hauds this house young Edward crys,
Or whae gae'st ower to me
A grey haired knight set up his head
And cracked right crousely

Of Scotlands King I haud my house
He pays me meat and fee
And I will keep my goud auld house
While my house will keep me

They laid their sowies to the wall
Wi' mony heavy peal
But he threw ower to them again
Baith piech and tar barille

With springs: wall stanes, and good of ern,
Among them fast he threw
Till mony of the Englishmen
About the wall he slew.

Full fifteen days that braid host lay
Sieging old Maitlen keen
Then they hae left him safe and hale
Within his strength o' stane

Then fifteen barks, all gaily good,
Met themen on a day,
Which they did lade with as much spoil
As they could bear away.

"England's our ain by heritage;
And whae can us gainstand,
When we hae conquerd fair Scotland
Wi' bow, buckler, and brande" -

Then they are on to th' land o' france,
Where auld King Edward lay,
Burning each town and castle strong
That ance cam in his way.

Untill he cam unto that town
Which some call Billop-Grace
There were old Maitlen's sons a' three
Learning at School alas

The eldest to the others said,
O see ye what I see
If a' be true yon standard says,
We're fatherless a' three

For Scotland's conquerd up and down
Landsmen we'll never be:
Now will you go my brethren two,
And try some jeopardy

Then they hae saddled two black horse,
Two black horse and a grey
And they are on to Edwardes host
Before the dawn of day

When they arriv'd before the host
They hover'd on the ley
Will you lend me our King's standard
To carry a little way

Where was thou bred where was thou born
Wherein in what country -
In the north of England I was born
What needed him to lie.

A knight me got a lady bare
I'm a squire of high renown
I well may bear't to any king,
That ever yet wore crown.

He ne'er came of an Englishman
Had sic an ee or bree
But thou art likest auld Maitlen
That ever I did see

But sic a gloom inon ae browhead
Grant's ne'er see again
For many of our men he slew
And many put to pain

When Maitlan heard his father's name,
An angry man was he
Then lifting up a gilt dager
Hung low down by his kee

He stab'd the knight the standard bore,
He stabb'd him cruelly;
Then caught the standard by the neuk,
And fast away rade he.

Now is't na time brothers he cry'd
Now, is't na time to flee
Ay by my soothe they baith reply'd,
We'll bear you company

The youngest turn'd him in a path
And drew a burnish'd brand
And fifteen o' the foremost slew
Till back the lave did stand

He spurr'd the grey unto the path
Till baith her sides they bled
Grey! thou maun carry me away
Or my life lies in wed

The captain lookit owr the wa'
Before the break o day
There he beheld the three Scots lads
Pursued alongst the way

Pull up portculzies down draw briggs
My nephews are at hame
And they shall lodge wi' me to-night,
In spite of all England

Whene'er they came within the gate
They thrust their horse them frae
And took three lang spears in their hands,
Saying, here sal come nae mae

And they shott out and they shott in,
Till it was fairly day
When many of the Englishmen
About the draw brigg lay.

Then they hae yoked carts and wains
To ca' their dead away
And shot auld dykes aboon the lave
In gutters where they lay

The king in his pavilion door
Was heard aloud to say
Last night three o' the lads o' France
My standard stole away

Wi' a fause tale disguis'd they came
And wi' a fauser train
And to regain my gaye standard
These men were a' down slaine

It ill befits the youngest said
A crowned king to lie
But or that I taste meat and drink,
Reproved shall he be.

He went before King Edward straight
And kneel'd low on his knee
I wad hae leave my liege he said,
To speak a word wi' thee

The king he turn'd him round about
And wistna what to say
Quo' he, Man, thou's hae leave to speak
Though thou should speak a day.

You said that three young lads o' France,
Your standard stole away
Wi' a fause tale and fauser train,
And mony men did slay

But we are nane the lads o' France
Nor e'er pretend to be
We are three lads o' fair Scotland,
Auld Maitlen's sons a' three

Nor is there men in a your host,
Dare fight us three to three
Now by my sooth young Edward cry'd,
Weel fitted sall ye be!

Piercy sall with the eldest fight
And Ethert Lunn wi' thee
William of Lancastar the third
And bring your fourth to me

He clanked Piercy owr the head
A deep wound and a sair
Till the best blood o' his body
Came rinnen owr his hair.

Now I've slain one slay ye the two;
And that's good company
And if the two should slay ye baith,
Ye'se get na help frae me

But Ethert Lunn a baited bear
Had many battles seen
He set the youngest wonder sair,
Till the eldest he grew keen

I am nae king nor nae sic thing
My word it sanna stand
For Ethert shall a buffet bide,
Come he aneath my brand.

He clanked Ethert owr the head,
A deep wound and a sair
Till a' the blood of his body
Came rinnen owr his hair

Now I've slayne two slay ye the one;
Isna that gude company
And tho' the one should slay ye both
Ye'se get nae help o' me.

The twasome they hae slayn the one
They maul'd them cruelly
Then hang them owr the drawbridge,
That a' the host might see

They rade their horse they ran their horse,
Then hover'd on the ley
We be three lads o' fair Scotland,
We fain wad fighting see

This boasting when young Edward heard,
To's uncle thus said he,
I'll take yon lad I'll bind yon lad,
And bring him bound to thee

But God forbid King Edward said
That ever thou should try
Three worthy leaders we hae lost,
And you the fourth shall be.

If thou wert hung owr yon drawbrigg
Blythe wad I never be
But wi' the pole-axe in his hand,
Outower the bridge sprang he

The first stroke that young Edward gae
He struck wi might and main
He clove the Maitlen's helmet stout,
And near had pierced his brain.

When Matlen saw his ain blood fa,
An angry man was he
He let his weapon frae him fa'
And at his neck did flee

And thrice about he did him swing,
Till on the ground he light
Where he has halden young Edward
Tho' he was great in might

Now let him up, King Edward cry'd,
And let him come to me
And for the deed that ye hae done
Ye shal hae earldoms three

It's ne'er be said in France nor Ire
In Scotland when I'm hame
That Edward once was under me,
And yet wan up again

He stabb'd him thro and thro the hear
He maul'd him cruelly
Then hung him ower the drawbridge
Beside the other three

Now take from me that feather bed
Make me a bed o' strae
I wish I neer had seen this day
To mak my heart fu' wae

If I were once at London Tower,
Where I was wont to be
I never mair should gang frae hame,
Till borne on a bier-tree

At the end of his copy Hogg writes (probably of stanza vii.)--"You may insert the two following lines anywhere you think it needs them, or substitute two better -

And marching south with curst Dunbar
A ready welcome found."

II--What Is Auld Maitland?

Is Auld Maitland a sheer forgery by Hogg, or is it in any sense, and if so, in what sense, antique and traditional? That Hogg made the whole of it is to me incredible. He had told Laidlaw on 20th July 1801, that he would make no ballads on traditions without Scott's permission, written in Scott's hand. Moreover, how could he have any traditions about "Auld Maitland, his noble Sonnis three," personages of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries? Scott had read about them in poems of about 1580, but these poems then lay in crabbed manuscripts. Again, Hogg wrote in words ("springs, wall-stanes") of whose meaning he had no idea; he took it as he heard it in recitation. Finally, the style is not that of Hogg when he attempts the ballad. Scott observed that "this ballad, notwithstanding its present appearance, has a claim to very high antiquity." The language, except for a few technical terms, is modern, but what else could it be if handed down orally? The language of undoubted ballads is often more modern than that which was spoken in my boyhood in Ettrick Forest. As Sir Walter Scott remarked, a poem of 1570-1580, which he quotes from the Maitland MSS., "would run as smoothly, and appear as modern, as any verse in the ballad (with a few exceptions) if divested of its antique spelling."

We now turn to the historical characters in the ballad.

Sir Richard Maitland of Lauder, or Thirlestane, says Scott, was already in his lands, and making donations to the Church in 1249. If, in 1296, forty-seven years later, he held his castle against Edward I., as in the ballad, he must have been a man of, say, seventy-five. By about 1574 his descendant, Sir Richard Maitland, was consoled for his family misfortunes (his famous son, Lethington, having died after the long siege of Edinburgh Castle, which he and Kirkcaldy of Grange held for Queen Mary), by a poet who reminded him that his ancestor, in the thirteenth century, lost all his sons--"peerless pearls"--save one, "Burdallane." The Sir Richard of 1575 has also one son left (John, the minister of James VI.). {41a}

From this evidence, in 1802 in MS. unpublished, and from other Maitland MSS., we learn that, in the sixteenth century, the Auld Maitland of the ballad was an eminent character in the legends of that period, and in the ballads of the people. {42b} His

Nobill sonnis three,
Ar sung in monie far countrie,

Pinkerton published, in 1786, none of the pieces to which Scott refers in his extracts from the Maitland MSS. How, then, did Hogg, if Hogg forged the ballad, know of Maitland and his "three noble sons"? Except Colonel Elliot, to whose explanation we return, I am not aware that any critic has tried to answer this question.

It seems to me that if the Ballad of Otterburne, extant in 1550 in England, survived in Scottish memory till Herd's fragment appeared in 1776, a tradition of Maitland, who was popular in the ballads of 1575, and known to Gawain Douglas seventy years earlier, may also have persisted. There is no impossibility.

Looking next at Scott's Auld Maitland the story is that King Edward I. reigned for fifty years. He had a nephew Edward (an apocryphal person: such figures are common in ballads), who wished to take part in the invasion of Scotland. The English are repulsed by old Maitland from his "darksome house" on the Leader. The English, however, (stanza xv.) conquer Scotland, and join Edward I. in France. They besiege that town,

Which some call Billop-Grace (xviii.).

Here Maitland's three sons are learning at school, as Scots often were educated in France. They see that Edward's standard quarters the arms of France, and infer that he has conquered their country. They "will try some jeopardy." Persuading the English that they are themselves Englishmen, they ask leave to carry the royal flag. The eldest is told that he is singularly like Auld Maitland. In anger he stabs the standard-bearer, seizes the flag, and, with his brothers, spurs to Billop-Grace, where the French captain receives them. There is fighting at the gate. The King says that three disguised lads of France have stolen his flag. The Maitlands apparently heard of this; the youngest goes to Edward, and explains that they are Maitland's sons, and Scots; they challenge any three Englishmen; a thing in the manner of the period. The three Scots are victorious. Young Edward then challenges one of the dauntless three, who slays him. Edward wishes himself home at London Tower.

Such is the story. It is out of the regular line of ballad narrative, but it does not follow that, in the sixteenth century, some such tale was not told "in rural rhyme" about Maitland's "three noble sons." That it is not historically true is nothing, of course, and that it is not in the Scots of the thirteenth century is nothing.

Colonel Elliot asks, What in the ballad raised suspicion of forgery (in 1802-03)? The historical inaccuracies are common to all historical ballads. (In an English ballad known to me of 1578, Henry Darnley is "hanged on a tree"!)

Next, "there are occasional lines, and even stanzas, which jar in style to such a degree that they must have been written by two separate hands."

But this, also, is a common feature. In "Professor Child and the Ballad," Mr. W. M. Hart gives a list of Professor Child's notes on the multiplicity of hands, which he, and every critic, detect in some ballads with a genuinely antique substratum. {44a}

Colonel Elliot quotes, as in his opinion the best, stanzas viii., ix., x., xi., while he thinks xv., xviii. the worst. I give these stanzas -


They lighted on the banks o' Tweed,
And blew their coals sae het,
And fired the Merse and Teviotdale,
All in an evening late.


As they fared up o'er Lammermoor,
They burned baith up and doun,
Until they came to a darksome house,
Some call it Leader Town.


"Wha hauds this house?" young Edward cried,
"Or wha gi'est ower to me?"
A grey-hair'd knight set up his head,
And crackit right crousely:


"Of Scotland's king I haud my house,
He pays me meat and fee;
And I will keep my guid auld house,
While my house will keep me."

I cannot, I admit, find any fault with these stanzas: cannot see any reason why they should not be traditional.

Then Colonel Elliot cites, as the worst -


Then fifteen barks, all gaily good,
Met them upon a day,
Which they did lade with as much spoil
As they could take away.


Until we came unto that town
Which some call Billop-Grace;
There were Auld Maitland's sons, a' three,
Learning at school, alas!

Now, if I venture to differ from Colonel Elliot here, I may plead that I am practised in the art of ballad-faking, and can produce high testimonials of skill! To me stanzas xv., xviii. seem to differ much from viii.-xi., but not in such a way as Hogg would have differed, had he made them. Hogg's error would have lain, as Scott's did, in being, as Scott said of Mrs. Hemans, TOO POETICAL.

Neither Hogg nor Scott, I think, was crafty enough to imitate the prosaic drawl of the printed broadside ballad, or the feeble interpolations with which the "gangrel scrape-gut," or bankelsanger, supplied gaps in his memory. The modern complete ballad-faker WOULD introduce such abject verses, but Scott and Hogg desired to decorate, not to debase, ballads with which they intermeddled, and we track them by their modern romantic touch when they interpolate. I take it, for this reason, that Hogg did not write stanzas xv., xviii. It was hardly in nature for Hogg, if he knew Ville de Grace in Normandy (a thing not very probable), to invent "Billop-Grace" as a popular corruption of the name--and a popular corruption it is, I think. Probably the original maker of this stanza wrote, in line 4, "alace," an old spelling--not "alas"--to rhyme with "grace."

Colonel Elliot then assigns xv., xviii. as most likely of all to be by Hogg. On that I have given my opinion, with my reasons.

These verses, with xviii., lead us to France, and whereas Scott here suspects that some verses have been lost (see his note to stanza xviii.), Colonel Elliot suspects that the stanzas relating to France have been interpolated. But the French scenes occupy the whole poem from xvi. to lxv., the end.

What, if Hogg were the forger, were his sources? He MAY have known Douglas's Palice of Honour, which, of course, existed in print, with its mention of Maitland's grey beard. But how did he know Maitland's "three noble sons," in 1801-1802, lying unsunned in the Maitland MSS.?

This is a point which critics of Auld Maitland studiously ignore, yet it is the essential point. How did the Shepherd know about the three young Maitlands, whose existence, in legend, is only revealed to us through a manuscript unpublished in 1802? Colonel Elliot does not evade the point. "We may be sure," he says, that Leyden, before 1802, knew Hogg, and Hogg might have obtained from him sufficient information to enable him to compose the ballad. {47a} But it was from Laidlaw, not from Leyden, that Scott, after receiving his first copy at Blackhouse, in spring 1802, obtained Hogg's address. {47b} There is no hint that before spring 1802 Leyden ever saw Hogg. Had he known him, and his ballad-lore, he would have brought him and Scott together. In 1801-02, Leyden was very busy in Edinburgh helping Scott to edit Sir Tristram, copying Arthour, seeking for an East India appointment, and going into society. Scott's letters prove all this. {47c}

That Hogg, in 1802, was very capable of writing a ballad, I admit; also that, through Blind Harry's Wallace, he may have known all about "sowies," and "portculize," and springwalls, or springald's, or springalls, mediaeval balistas for throwing heavy stones and darts. But Hogg did not know or guess what a springwall was. In his stanza xiii. (in the MS. given to Laidlaw), Hogg wrote -

With springs; wall stanes, and good o'ern
Among them fast he threw.

Scott saw the real meaning of this nonsense, and read -

With springalds, stones, and gads o' airn.

In his preface he says that many words in the ballad, "which the reciters have retained without understanding them, still preserve traces of their antiquity." For instance, springalls, corruptedly pronounced springwalls. Hogg, hearing the pronunciation, and not understanding, wrote, "with springs: wall stanes." A leader would not throw "wall stanes" till he had exhausted his ammunition. Hogg heard "with springwalls stones, he threw," and wrote it, "with springs: wall stones he threw."

Hogg could not know of Auld Maitland "and his three noble sons" except through an informant familiar with the Maitland MSS. in Edinburgh University Library. On the theory of a conspiracy to forge, Scott taught him, but that theory is crushed.

Hogg says, in Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott, that when his mother met Scott she told him that her brother and she learned the ballad from auld Andrew Muir, and he from "auld Babby Mettlin," housekeeper of the first ("Anderson") laird of Tushielaw. This first Anderson, laird of Tushielaw, reigned from 1688 to 1721 (?) or 1724. {48a} Hogg's mother was born in 1730, and was only one remove--filled up by Andrew Muir--from Babby, who was "ither than a gude yin," and knew many songs. Does any one think Hogg crafty enough to have invented Babby Maitland as the source of a song about the Maitlands, and to have introduced her into his narrative in 1834? I conjecture that this Maitland woman knew a Maitland song, modernised in time, and perhaps copied out and emended by one of the Maitland family, possibly one of the descendants of Lethington. We know that, under James I., about 1620, Lethington's impoverished son, James, had several children; and that Lauderdale was still supporting them (or THEIR children) during the Restoration. Only a century before, ballads on the Maitlands had certainly been popular, and there is nothing impossible in the suggestion that one such ballad survived in the Lauderdale or Lethington family, and came through Babby Maitland to Andrew Muir, then to Hogg's mother, to Hogg, and to Scott.

If a manuscript copy ever existed, and was Babby's ultimate source, it would be of the late seventeenth century. That is the ascertained date of the oldest known MS. of The Outlaw Murray, as is proved from an allusion in a note appended to a copy, referring to a Judge of Session, Lord Philiphaugh, as then alive. The copy was of 1689-1702. {49a}

Granting a MS. of Auld Maitland existing in any branch of the Maitland family in 1680-1700, Babby Mettlin's knowledge of the ballad, and its few modernisms, are explained.

As Lockhart truly says, Hogg "was the most extraordinary man that ever wore the maud of a shepherd." He had none of Burns' education. In 1802 he was young, and ignorant of cities, and always was innocent of research in the crabbed MSS. of the sixteenth century. Yet he gets at legendary persons known to us only through these MSS. He makes a ballad named Auld Maitland about them. Through him a farm-lass at Blackhouse acquires some stanzas which Laidlaw copies. In a fortnight Hogg sends Laidlaw the whole ballad, with the pedigree--his uncle, his mother, their father, and old Andrew Muir, servant to the famous Rev. Mr. Boston of Ettrick. The copy takes in Scott and Leyden. Later, Ritson makes no objection. Mrs. Hogg recites it to Scott, and, according to Hogg, gives a casual "auld Babby Maitland" as the original source.

Is the whole fraud conceivable? Hogg, we must believe, puts in two stanzas (xv., xviii.), of the lowliest order of printed stall-copy or "gangrel scrape-gut" style, and the same with intent to deceive. He introduces "Billop-Grace" as a deceptive popular corruption of Ville de Grace. This is far beyond any craft that I have found in the most artful modern "fakers." One stanza (xlix.) -

But Ethert Lunn, a baited bear,
Had many battles seen -

seems to me very recent, whoever made it. Scott, in lxii., gives a variant of "some reciters," for "That Edward once lay under me," they read "That Englishman lay under me." This, if a false story, was an example of an art more delicate than Scott elsewhere exhibits.

One does not know what Professor Child would have said to my arguments. He never gave a criticism in detail of the ballad and of the circumstances in which Scott acquired it. A man most reasonable, most open to conviction, he would, I think, have confessed his perplexity.

Scott did not interpolate a single stanza, even where, as Hogg wrote, he suspected a lacuna in the text. He neither cut out nor improved the cryingly modern stanzas. He kept them, as he kept several stanzas in Tamlane, which, so he told Laidlaw, were obviously recent, but were in a copy which he procured through Lady Dalkeith. {51a}

By neither adding to nor subtracting from his MS. copy of Auld Maitland, Scott proved, I think, his respect for a poem which, in its primal form, he believed to be very ancient. We know, at all events, that ballads on the Maitland heroes were current about 1580. So, late in the sixteenth century, were the ballads quoted by Hume of Godscroft, on the murder of the Knight of Liddesdale (1354), the murder of the young Earl of Douglas in Edinburgh Castle (1440), and the battle of Otterburn. Of these three, only Otterburne was recovered by Herd, published in 1776. The other two are lost; and there is no prima facie reason why a Maitland ballad, of the sort current in 1580, should not, in favourable circumstances, have survived till 1802.

As regards the Shepherd's ideas of honesty in ballad-collecting at this early period, I have quoted his letter to Laidlaw of 20th July 1802.

Again, in the case of his text from recitation of the Ballad of Otterburne (published by Scott in The Minstrelsy of 1806), he gave the Sheriff a full account of his mode of handling his materials, and Scott could get more minute details by questioning him.

To this text of Otterburne, freely attacked by Colonel Elliot, in apparent ignorance, as before, of the published facts of the case, and of the manuscript, we next turn our attention. In the meantime, Scott no more conspired to forge Auld Maitland than he conspired to forge the Pentateuch. That Hogg did not forge Auld Maitland I think I have made as nearly certain as anything in this region can be. I think that the results are a lesson to professors of the Higher Criticism of Homer.

The Ballad of Otterburne - Footnotes

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