Home eBooks Index eBooks by Author Glossary Search eBooks

Sir Walter Scott and the Border Minstrelsy

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

Scott's Traditional Copy and how he edited it

As early as December 1802-January 1803, Scott was "so anxious to have a complete Scottish Otterburn that I will omit the ballad entirely in the first volume (of 1803), hoping to recover it in time for insertion in the third." {67a}

The letter is undated, but is determined by Scott's expressed interest "about the Tushielaw lines, which, from what you mention, must be worth recovering." In a letter (Abbotsford MSS.) from Hogg to Scott (marked in copy, "January 7, 1803") Hogg encloses "the Tushielaw lines," which were popular in Ettrick, but were verses of the eighteenth century. They were orally repeated, but literary in origin.

Scott, who wanted "a complete Scottish Otterburn" in winter 1802, did not sit down and make one. He waited till he got a text from Hogg, in 1805, and published an edited version in 1806.

SCOTT'S PUBLISHED stanza i. is Herd's stanza i., with slight verbal changes taken from the Hogg MS. text of 1805. (?) Hogg's MS. And Scott, in stanza ii., give Herd's lines on the Lindsays and Gordons, adding the Grahams, and, in place of Herd's

The Earl of Fife,
And Sir Hugh Montgomery upon a grey,

they end thus -

But the Jardines wald not wi' him ride,
And they rue it to this day.

This is from Hogg's copy; it is a natural Border variant. No Earl of Fife is named, but a reproach to a Border clan is conveyed.

For Herd's iii. (they take Northumberland, and burn "the North shire," and the Otter dale), Hogg's reciters gave -

And he has burned the dales o' Tyne,
And part o' ALMONSHIRE,
And three good towers in Roxburgh fells,
He left them all on fire.

Hogg, in his letter accompanying his copy, says that "Almonshire" may stand for the "Bamborowshire" of the English vi., but that he leaves in "Almonshire," as both reciters insist on it. Scott printed "Bambroughshire," as in the English version (vi.).

Now here is proof that Hogg had a copy, from reciters--a copy which he could not understand. "Almonshire" is "Alneshire," or "Alnwickshire," where is the Percy's Alnwick Castle. In Froissart the Scots burn and waste the region of Alneshire, all round Alnwick, but the Earl of Northumberland holds out in the castle, unattacked, and sends his sons, Henry and Ralph Percy, to Newcastle to gather forces, and take the retreating Scots between two fires, Newcastle and Alnwick. But the Scots were not such poor strategists as to return by the way they had come. In a skirmish or joust at Newcastle, says Froissart, Douglas captured Percy's lance and pennon, with his blazon of arms, and vowed that he would set it up over his castle of Dalkeith. Percy replied that he would never carry it out of England. To give Percy a chivalrous chance of recovering his pennon and making good his word, Douglas insists on waiting at Otterburn to besiege the castle there; and he is taken by surprise (as in the ballads) when a mounted man brings news of Percy's approach. No tryst is made by Percy and Douglas at Otterburn in Froissart; Douglas merely tarried there by the courtesy of Scotland.

In Hogg's version we have a reason why Douglas should tarry at Otterburn; in the English ballad we have none very definite. No captured pennon of Percy's is mentioned, no encounter of the heroes "at the barriers" of Newcastle. Percy, from the castle wall, merely threatens Douglas vaguely; Douglas says, "Where will you meet me?" and Percy appoints Otterburn as we said. He makes the absurd remark that, by way of supplies (for 40,000 men), Douglas will find abundance of pheasants and red deer. {69a}

We see that the English balladist is an unwarlike literary hack. The author of the Ettrick version knew better the nature of war, as we shall see, and his Douglas objects to Otterburn as a place destitute of supplies; nothing is there but wild beasts and birds. If the original poem is the sensible poem, the Scott version is the original which the English hath perverted.

In Hogg, Douglas jousts with Percy at Newcastle, and gives him a fall. Then come two verses (viii.-ix.). The second is especially modern and mawkish -

But O how pale his lady look'd,
Frae off the castle wa',
When down before the Scottish spear
She saw brave Percy fa'!
How pale and wan his lady look'd,
Frae off the castle hieght,
When she beheld her Percy yield
To doughty Douglas' might.

Colonel Elliot asks, "Can any one believe that these stanzas are really ancient and have come down orally through many generations?" {70a}

Certainly not! But Colonel Elliot does not allow for the fact, insisted on by Professor Child, that traditional ballads, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, were often printed on broad-sheets as edited by the cheapest broadside-vendors' hacks; that the hacks interpolated and messed their originals; and that, after the broadside was worn out, lost, or burned, oral memory kept it alive in tradition. For examples of this process we have only to look at William's Ghost in Herd's copy of 1776. This is a traditional ballad; it is included in Scott's Clerk Saunders, but, as Hogg told him, is a quite distinct song. In Herd's copy it ends thus -

"Oh, stay, my only true love, stay,"
The constant Marg'ret cry'd;
Wan grew her cheeks, she closed her eyes,
Stretched her soft limbs, and dy'd.

Let THIS get into tradition, and be taken down from recitation, and the ballad will be denounced as modern. But it is essentially ancient.

These two modern stanzas, in Hogg's copy, are rather too bad for Hogg's making; and I do not know whether they are his (he practically says they are not, we shall see), or whether they are remembered by reciters from a stall-copy of the period of Lady Wardlaw's Hardyknute.

After that, Hogg's copy becomes more natural. Douglas says to the discomfited Percy (x.) -

Had we twa been upon the green,
And never an eye to see,
I should hae had ye flesh and fell,
But your sword shall gae wi' me.

That rings true! Moreover, had either Hogg or Scott tampered here (Scott excised), either would have made Douglas carry off--not Percy's SWORD, but the historic captured PENNON of Percy. Scott really could not have resisted the temptation had he been interpolating a son devis.

But your PENNON shall gae wi' me!

It was easy to write in that!

Percy had challenged Douglas thus -

But gae ye up to Otterburn,
And there wait days three (xi.),

as in the English (xiii.). In the English, Percy, we saw, promises game enough there; in Hogg, Douglas demurs (xii., xiii., xiv.). There are no supplies at Otterburn, he says -

To feed my men and me.

The deer rins wild frae dale to dale,
The birds fly wild frae tree to tree,
And there is neither bread nor kale,
To fend my men and me.

These seem to me sound true ballad lines, like -

My hounds may a' rin masterless
My hawks may fly frae tree to tree,

in Child's variant of Young Beichan. The speakers, we see, are "inverted." Percy, in the English, promises Douglas's men pheasants--absurd provision for the army of 40,000 men of the English ballad. In the Ettrick text Douglas says that there are no supplies, merely ferae naturae, but he will wait at Otterburn to give Percy his chance.

Colonel Elliot takes the inversion of parts as a proof of modern pilfering and deliberate change to hide the theft; at least he mentions them, and the "prettier verses," with a note of exclamation (!). {73a} But there are, we repeat, similar inversions in the English and in Herd's old copy, and nobody says that Scott or Hogg or any modern faker made the inversions in Herd's text. The differences and inversions in the English and in Herd are very ancient; by 1550 "the Percy and the Montgomery met," in the line quoted in The Complaynte of Scotland. At about the same period (1550) it was the Percy and the Douglas who met, in the English version. Manifestly there pre-existed, by 1550, an old ballad, which either a Scot then perverted from the English text, or an Englishman from the Scots. Thus the inversions in the Ettrick and English version need not be due (they are not due) to a MODERN "faker."

In the Hogg MS. (xxiii.), Percy wounds Douglas "till backwards he did flee." Hogg was too good a Scot to interpolate the flight of Douglas; and Scott was so good a Scot that--what do you suppose he did?--he excised "till backwards he did flee" from Hogg's text, and inserted "that he fell to the ground" FROM THE ENGLISH TEXT!

In the Hogg MS. (xviii., xix.), in Scott xvii., xviii., Douglas, at Otterburn, is roused from sleep by his page with news of Percy's approach. Douglas says that the page lies (compare Herd, where Douglas doubts the page) -

For Percy hadna' men yestreen
To dight my men and me.

There is nothing in this to surprise any one who knows the innumerable variants in traditional ballads. But now comes in a very curious variation (Hogg MS. xx., Scott, xix.). Douglas says (Hogg MS. xx.) -

But I have seen a dreary dream
Beyond the Isle o' Skye,
I saw a dead man won the fight,
And I think that man was I.

Here is something not in Herd, and as remote from the manner of the English poet, with his

The Chronicle will not lie,

as Heine is remote from, say,--Milman. The verse is magical, it has haunted my memory since I was ten years old. Godscroft, who does not approve of the story of Douglas's murder by one of his men, writes that the dying leader said:-

"First do yee keep my death both from our own folke and from the enemy" (Froissart, "Let neither friend nor foe know of my estate"); "then that ye suffer not my standard to be lost or cast downe" (Froissart, "Up with my standard and call DOUGLAS!";) "and last, that ye avenge my death" (also in Froissart). "Bury me at Melrose Abbey with my father. If I could hope for these things I should die with the greater contentment; for long since I HEARD A PROPHESIE THAT A DEAD MAN SHOULD WINNE A FIELD, AND I HOPE IN GOD IT SHALL BE I." {75a}

I saw a dead man won the fight,
And I think that man was I!

Godscroft, up to the mention of Melrose and the prophecy, took his tale direct from Froissart, or, if he took it from George Buchanan's Latin History, Buchanan's source was Froissart, but Froissart's was evidence from Scots who were in the battle.

But who changed the prophecy to a dream of Douglas, and who versified Godscroft's "a dead man shall winne a field, and I hope in God it shall be I"? Did Godscroft take that from the ballad current in his time and quoted by him? Or did a remanieur of Godscroft turn HIS words into

I saw a dead man win the fight,
And I think that man was I?

Scott did not make these two noble lines out of Godscroft, he found them in Hogg's copy from recitation, only altering "I saw" into "I dreamed," and the ungrammatic "won" into "win"; and "THE fight" into "A fight."

The whole dream stanza occurs in a part of the ballad where Hogg confesses to no alteration or interpolation, and I doubt if the Shepherd of Ettrick had read a rare old book like Godscroft. If he had not, this stanza is purely traditional; if he had, he showed great genius in his use of Godscroft.

In Hogg's Ettrick copy, Douglas, after telling his dream, rushes into battle, is wounded by Percy, and "backward flees." Scott (xx.), following a historical version (Wyntoun's Cronykil), makes

Douglas forget the helmit good
That should have kept his brain.

Being wounded, in Hogg's version, and "backward fleeing," Douglas sends his page to bring Montgomery (Hogg), and from stanza xxiv. to xxxiv., in Hogg, all is made up by himself, he says,--from facts given "in plain prose" by his reciters, with here and there a line or two given in verse. Scott omitted some verses here, amended others slightly, by help of Herd's version, LEFT OUT A BROKEN LAST STANZA (xl.) and put in Herd's concluding lines (stanza lxviii. in the English text).

This deed was done at the Otterburn. (Herd.)

The fraye began at Otterburn. (English.)

Now what was the broken Ettrick stanza that Scott omitted in his published Otterburne (1806)? It referred to Sir Hugh Montgomery, who, in Herd, captured Percy after a fight; in the English version is a prisoner apparently exchanged for Percy. In the Ettrick MS. The omitted verse is

He left not an Englishman on the field
. . .
That he hadna either killed or taen
Ere his heart's blood was cauld.

Scott ended with Herd's last stanza; in the English version the last but two.

Now the death, at Otterburn, of Sir Hugh, is recorded in an English ballad styled The Hunting of the Cheviot. By 1540-50 it was among the popular songs north of Tweed. The Complaynte of Scotland (1549) mentions among "The Songis of Natural Music of the Antiquitie" (volkslieder), The Hunttis of Chevet. Our copy of the English version is in the Bodleian (MS. Ashmole, 48). It ends: "Expliceth, quod Rychard Sheale," a minstrel who recited ballads and tales at Tamworth (circ. 1559). The text was part of his stock-in-trade.

The Cheviot ballad, in a Scots form popular in 1549, is later in many ways than the English Battle of Otterburne. It begins with a brag of Percy, a vow that, despite Douglas, he will hunt in the Cheviot hills. While Percy is hunting with a strong force, Douglas arrives with another. Douglas offers to decide the quarrel by single combat with Percy, who accepts. Richard Witherington refuses to look on quietly, and a general engagement ensues.

At last the Duglas and the Perse met,
Lyk to Captayns of myght and of mayne,
They swapte together tylle they both swat
With swordes that wear of fyn myllan."

We are back in stanza I. of the English Otterburne, in stanza xxxv. (substituting Hugh Montgomery for Douglas) of the Hogg MS. In The Hunting, Douglas is slain by an English arrow (xxxvi.-xxxviii.).

Sir Hugh Montgomery now charges and slays Percy (who, of course, was merely taken prisoner). An archer of Northumberland sends an arrow through good Sir Hugh Montgomery (xliii.-xlvi.). Stanza lxvi. has

At Otterburn begane this spurne,
Upon a Monnynday;
There was the doughte Douglas slean,
The Perse never went away.

This is a form of Herd's stanza xiv. of the English Otterburn (lxviii.), made soon after the battle. We see that the ORIGINAL ballad has protean variants; in time all is mixed in tradition.

Now the curious and interesting point is that Hogg, when he collected the ballad from two reciters, himself noticed that the Cheviot ballad had merged, in some way, into the Otterburn ballad, and pointed this out to Scott. I now publish Hogg's letter to Scott, in which, as usual, he does not give the year-date: I think it was 1805.

ETTRICK HOUSE, Sept. 10, [?1805].

Dear Sir,--Though I have used all diligence in my power to recover the old song about which you seemed anxious, I am afraid it will arrive too late to be of any use. I cannot at this time have Grame and Bewick; the only person who hath it being absent at a harvest; and as for the scraps of Otterburn which you have got, THEY SEEM TO HAVE BEEN SOME CONFUSED JUMBLE MADE BY SOME PERSON WHO HAD LEARNED BOTH THE SONGS YOU HAVE, {79a} AND IN TIME HAD BEEN STRAITENED TO MAKE ONE OUT OF THEM BOTH. But you shall have it as I had it, saving that, as usual, I have sometimes helped the metre without altering one original word.

Hogg here gives his version from recitation as far as stanza xxiv.

Here Hogg stops and writes:-

The ballad, which I have collected from two different people, a crazy old man and a woman deranged in her mind, seems hitherto considerably entire; but now, when it becomes most interesting, they have both failed me, and I have been obliged to take much of it in plain prose. However, as none of them seemed to know anything of the history save what they had learned from the song, I took it the more kindly. Any few verses which follow are to me unintelligible.

He told Sir Hugh that he was dying, and ordered him to conceal his body, and neither let his own men nor Piercy's know; which he did, and the battle went on headed by Sir Hugh Montgomery, and at length -

Here follow stanzas up to xxxviii.

Hogg then goes on thus:-

Piercy seems to have been fighting devilishly in the dark. Indeed my narrators added no more, but told me that Sir Hugh died on the field,but that

He left not an Englishman on the field,
. . .
That he hadna either killed or ta'en
Ere his heart's blood was cauld.

Almonshire (Stanza iii.) may probably be a corruption of Bamburghshire, but as both my narrators called it so I thought proper to preserve it. The towers in Roxburgh fells (Stanza iii.) may not be so improper as we were thinking, there may have been some [English] strength on the very borders.--I remain, Dear Sir, your most faithful and affectionate servant, JAMES HOGG.

Hogg adds a postscript:

Not being able to get the letter away to the post, I have taken the opportunity of again pumping my old friend's memory, and have recovered some more lines and half lines of Otterburn, of which I am becoming somewhat enamoured. These I have been obliged to arrange somewhat myself, as you will see below, but so mixed are they with original lines and sentences that I think, if you pleased, they might pass without any acknowledgment. Sure no man will like an old song the worse of being somewhat harmonious. After stanza xxiv. you may read stanzas xxv. to xxxiv. Then after xxxviii. read xxxix.

Now we know all that can be known about the copy of the ballad which, in 1805, Scott received from Hogg. Up to stanza xxiv. it is as given by the two old reciters. The crazy man may be the daft man who recited to Hogg Burns's Tam o' Shanter, and inspired him with the ambition to be a poet. The deranged woman, like mad Madge Wildfire, was rich in ballad scraps. From stanza xxv. to xxxiv., Hogg confessedly "harmonises" what he got in plain prose intermixed with verse. Stanza xxxix. is apparently Hogg's. The last broken stanza, as Hogg said, is a reminiscence of the Hunting of the Cheviot, in a Scots form, long lost.

Hogg was not a scientific collector: had he been, he would have taken down "the plain prose" and the broken lines and stanzas verbally. But Hogg has done his best.

We have next to ask, How did Scott treat the material thus placed before him? He dropped five stanzas sent by Hogg, mainly from the part made up from "plain prose"; he placed in a stanza and a line or two from Herd's text; he remade a stanza and adopted a line from the English of 1550, and inserted an incident from Wyntoun's Cronykil (about 1430). He did these things in the effort to construct what Lockhart calls "a standard text."

1. In stanza i., for Hogg's "Douglas WENT," Scott put "bound him to ride."

2. (H) "With the Lindsays." (S.) "With THEM the Lindesays."

3. (H) "Almonshire." (S.) "Bamboroughshire." (H) "Roxburgh." (S.) "Reidswire."

6. (H.) "The border again. " (S.) "The border fells."

7. (H) "MOST furiously." (S.) "RIGHT furiouslie."

9. (H.) A modernised stanza.  (S.) Scott deletes it.

15. (H) Scott rewrites the stanza thus,


But I will stay at Otterburn,
Where you shall welcome be;
And if ye come not at three days end,
A coward I'll call thee.


"Thither will I come," proud Percy said,
"By the might of Our Ladye."
"There will I bide thee," said the Douglas,
"My troth I'll plight to thee."

19. (H.) "I have SEEN a dreary dream."

20. (S.) "I have DREAMED a dreary dream."

21. (H)

Where he met with the stout Percy
And a' his goodly train.

21. (S.)

But he forgot the helmet good
That should have kept his brain.

(From Wyntoun.)

22. (H.) Line 2. "Right keen."

 (S.) Line 2. "Fu' fain."

Line 4.

The blood ran down like rain.

Line 4.

The blood ran them between.

23. (H.)

But Piercy wi' his good broadsword
Was made o' the metal free,
Has wounded Douglas on the brow
Till backward did he flee.

24. (S.)

But Piercy wi' his broadsword good
That could so sharply wound,
Has wounded Douglas on the brow,
Till he fell to the ground.

25. (H.) Here Hogg has mixed prose and verse, and does his best. Scott deletes Hogg's 25.

27. (H.) Douglas repeats the story of his dream. Scott deletes the stanza.

28. In Hogg's second line,

Nae mair I'll fighting see.

Scott gives, from Herd,

Take thou the vanguard of the three.

29. Hogg's verse is

But tell na ane of my brave men
That I lie bleeding wan,
But let the name of Douglas still
Be shouted in the van.

This is precisely what Douglas does say, in Froissart, but Scott deletes the stanza. Probably Hogg got the fact from his reciters, "in plain prose," with a phrase or two in verse.

31. (H.) Line 4.

On yonder lily lee.

27. (S.)

That his merrie men might not see.

33. (H) Scott deletes the stanza.

35. (H)

When stout Sir Hugh wi' Piercy met.

30. (S.)

The Percy and Montgomery met. {83a}

36. (H.)

"O yield thee, Piercy," said Sir Hugh,
"O yield, or ye shall die!"
"Fain would I yield," proud Percy said,
"But ne'er to loon like thee."

31. (S.)

"Now yield thee, yield thee, Percy," he said,
"Or else I vow I'll lay thee low,"
"To whom must I yield," quoth Earl Percy,
"Now that I see it must be so?"

Scott took this from Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe's MS. copy. {84a}

38. (H)

38. (S.) Scott makes a slight verbal alteration.

39. (H) Line 1.

34. (S.) Line 1.

Scott substitutes Herd's

As soon as he knew it was Montgomery.

40. (H) Hogg's broken stanza on the death of Montgomery, derived from a lost form of the Huntiss of Chevets, named in The Complaynte of Scotland.

35. (S.) Scott omits giving the formula common to the English of 1550 and to Herd. This was the whole of Scott's editorial alteration. Any one may discover the facts from Professor Kittredge's useful abbreviation of Child's collection into a single volume (Nutt. London, 1905). Colonel Elliot quotes Professor Kittredge's book three or four times, but in place of looking at the facts he abounds in the Higher Criticism. Colonel Elliot says that Scott does not tell us of a single line having been borrowed from Percy's version. {84a} Scott has only "a single line" to tell of, the fourth line in his stanza xxii., "Till he fell to the ground."

For the rest, the old English version and Herd's have many inter-borrowings of stanzas, but we do not know whether a Scot borrowed from an Englishman, or vice versa. Thus, in another and longer traditional version--Hogg's--more correspondence must be expected than in Herd's fourteen stanzas. It is, of course, open to scepticism to allege that Hogg merely made his text, invented the two crazy old reciters, and the whole story about them, and his second "pumping of their memories," invented "Almonshire," which he could not understand, and invented his last broken stanza on the death of Montgomery, to give the idea that The Huntiss of Chevets was mingled in the recollections of the reciters with The Battle of Otterburn. He also gave the sword in place of the pennon of Percy as the trophy of Douglas, "and the same with intent to deceive," just as he pretended, in Auld Maitland, not to know what "springwalls" were, and wrote "springs: wall-stanes." If this probable theory be correct, then Scott was the dupe of Truthful James. At all events, though for three years Scott was moving heaven and earth and Ettrick Forest to find a copy of a Scottish ballad of Otterburn, he did not sit down and make one, as, in Colonel Elliot's system, he easily could and probably would have done.

Before studying his next ill deed, we must repeat that the Otterburn ballads prove that in early times one nation certainly pirated a ballad of a rival nation, and very ingeniously altered it and inverted the parts of the heroes.

We have next to examine a case in a later generation, in which a maker who was interested in one clan, pirated, perverted, and introverted the roles of the heroes in a ballad by a maker interested in another clan. Either an Elliotophile perverted a ballad by a Scottophile, or a Scottophile perverted a ballad by an Elliotophile.

This might be done at the time when the ballad was made (say 1620-60). But Colonel Elliot believes that the perversion was inflicted on an Elliotophile ballad by a Scottophile impostor about 1800-1802. The name of this desperate and unscrupulous character was Walter Scott, Sheriff of Ettrick Forest, commonly called Selkirkshire.

In this instance I have no manuscript evidence. The name of "Jamie of the Fair Dodhead," the ballad, appears in a list of twenty-two ballads in Sir Walter's hand, written in a commonplace book about 1800-1801. Eleven are marked X. "Jamie" is one of that eleven. Kinmont Willie is among the eleven not marked X. We may conjecture that he had obtained the first eleven, and was hunting for the second eleven,--some of which he never got, or never published.

The Mystery of the Ballad of Jamie Telfer - Footnotes

Copyright Scotland from the Roadside 2019