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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:

The Mystery of the Ballad of Jamie Telfer

I--A Riding Song

The Ballad of Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodhead has many charms for lovers of the Border. The swift and simple stanzas carry us through a great tract of country, which remains not unlike what it was in the days when Scotts, Armstrongs, and Elliots rode the hills in jack and knapscap, with sword and lance. The song leads us first, with a foraging party of English riders, from Bewcastle, an English hold, east of the Border stream of the Liddel; then through the Armstrong tribe, on the north bank; then through more Armstrongs north across Tarras water ("Tarras for the good bull trout"); then north up Ewes water, that springs from the feet of the changeless green hills and the pastorum loca vasta, where now only the shepherd or the angler wakens the cry of the curlews, but where then the Armstrongs were in force. We ride on, as it were, and look down into the dale of the stripling Teviot, electro clarior (then held by the Scotts); we descend and ford "Borthwick's roaring strand," as Leyden sings, though the burn is usually a purling brook even where it joins Teviot, three miles above Hawick.

Next we pass across the green waves of moorlands that rise to the heights over Ettrick (held by the Scotts), whence the foragers of the song gallop down to "The Fair Dodhead," now a heap of grass-covered stones, but in their day a peel tower, occupied, ACCORDING TO THE BALLAD, by one James Telfer. The English rob the peel tower, they drive away ten cows, and urge them southwards over Borthwick water, then across Teviot at Coultart Cleugh (say seven miles above Hawick), then up the Frostily burn, and so down Ewes water as before; but the Scottish pursuers meet them before they cross the Liddel again into English bounds. The English are defeated, their captain is shot through the head (which in no way affects his power of making speeches); he is taken, twenty or thirty of his men are killed or wounded, his own cattle are seized, and his victim Telfer, returns rejoicing to Dodhead in distant Ettrick.

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre! These events never occurred, as we shall see later, yet the poet has the old reiving spirit, the full sense of the fierce manly times, and possesses a traditional knowledge of the historical personages of the day, and knows the country,--more or less.

The poem has raised as many difficulties as Nestor's long story about raided cattle in the eleventh book of the Iliad. Historical Greece knew but dimly the places which were familiar to Nestor, the towns that time had ruined, the hill where Athene "turned the people again." We, too, have to seek in documents of the end of the sixteenth century, or in an old map of 1654 (drawn about 1600), to find Dodhead, Catslack, or Catloch, or Catlock hill, and Preakinhaugh, places essential to our inquiry.

I see the student who has ventured so far into my tract wax wan! He does not,--she does not,--wish to hear about dusty documents and ancient maps. For him or for her the ballad is enough, and a very good ballad it is. I would shake the faith of no man in the accuracy of the ballad tale, if it were not necessary for me to defend the character of Sir Walter Scott, which, on occasion of this and other ballads, is impugned by Colonel the Hon. FitzWilliam Elliot. He "hopes, though he cannot expect," that I will give my reasons for not sharing his belief that Sir Walter did a certain thing which I could not easily palliate.'

II--The Ballad Impossible

My attempts to relieve Colonel Elliot from his painful convictions about Sir Walter's unsportsmanlike behaviour must begin with proof that the ballad, as it stands, cannot conceivably be other than "a pack o' lees." Here Colonel Elliot, to a great extent and on an essential point, agrees with me. In sketching rapidly the story of the ballad,--the raid from England into Ettrick, the return of the raiders, the pursuit,--I omitted the clou, the pivot, the central point of dramatic interest. It is this: in one version of the ballad,--call it A for the present,--the unfortunate Telfer runs to ask aid from the laird of Buccleuch, at Branksome Hall, some three and a half or four miles above Hawick, on the Teviot. From the Dodhead it was a stiff run of eight miles, through new-fallen snow. The farmer of Dodhead, in the centre of the Scott country, naturally went for help to the nearest of his neighbours, the greatest chief in the mid-Border. In version A (which I shall call "the Elliot version"), "auld Buccleuch" (who was a man of about thirty in fact) was deaf to Telfer's prayer.

Gae seek your succour frae Martin Elliot,
For succour ye's get nane frae me,
Gae seek your succour where ye paid blackmail,
For, man, ye ne'er paid money to me.

This is impossibly absurd! As Colonel Elliot writes, "I pointed out in my book" (The Trustworthiness of Border Ballads) "that the allegation that Buccleuch had refused to strike a blow at a party of English raiders, who had insolently ridden some twenty-five miles into Scottish ground and into the very middle of his own territory, was too absurd to be believed . . . " {91a}

Certainly; and the story is the more ridiculous as Buccleuch (who has taken Telfer's protection-money, or "blackmail") pretends to believe that Telfer--living in Ettrick, about nine miles from Selkirk--pays protection-money to Martin Elliot, residing at Preakinhaugh, high up the water of Liddel. Martin was too small a potentate, and far too remote to be chosen as protector by a man living near the farm of Singlee on Ettrick, and near the bold Buccleuch.

All this is nonsense. Colonel Elliot sees that, and suggests that all this is not by the original poet, but has been "inserted at some later period." {91a} But, if so, WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL BALLAD BEFORE THE INSERTION? As it stands, all hinges on this impossible refusal of Buccleuch to help his neighbour and retainer, James Telfer. If Colonel Elliot excises Buccleuch's refusal of aid as a later interpolation, and if he allows Telfer to reach Branksome and receive the aid which Buccleuch would rejoice to give, then the Elliot version of the ballad cannot take a further step. It becomes a Scott ballad, Buccleuch sends out his Scotts to pursue the English raiders, and the Elliots, if they come in at all, must only be subordinates. But as the Elliot version stands, it is Buccleuch's refusal to do his duty that compels poor Jamie to run to his brother-in-law, "auld Jock Grieve" in Coultartcleugh, four miles higher on Teviot than Branksome. Jock gives him a mount, and he rides to "Martin's Hab" at "Catlockhill," a place unknown to research thereabout. Thence they both ride to Martin Elliot at Preakinhaugh, high up in Liddesdale, and the Elliots under Martin rescue Jamie's kye.

Now the original ballad, if it did not contain Buccleuch's refusal of aid to Telfer (which refusal is a thing "too absurd to be believed") must merely have told about the rescue of Jamie's kye by the Scotts, Wat of Harden, and the rest. If Buccleuch did not refuse help he gave it, and there was no ride by Telfer to Martin Elliot. Therefore, without a passage "too absurd to be believed" (Buccleuch's refusal), THERE COULD BE NO ELLIOTS IN THE STORY. The alternative is, that Telfer in Ettrick DID pay blackmail to a man so remote as Elliot of Preakinhaugh, though Buccleuch was his chief and his neighbour. This is absurd. Yet Colonel Elliot firmly maintains that the version, in which the Elliots have all the glory and Buccleuch all the shame, is the original version, and is true on essential points.

That is only possible if we cut out the verses about Buccleuch and make an Ettrick man not appeal to him, but go direct to a Liddesdale man for succour. He must run from Dodhead to Coultartcleugh, get a horse from Jock Grieve (Buccleuch's man and tenant), and then ride into Liddesdale to Martin. But an Ettrick man, in a country of Scotts, would inevitably go to his chief and neighbour, Buccleuch: it is inconceivable that he should choose the remote Martin Elliot as his protector, and go to HIM.

Thus, as a corollary from Colonel Elliot's own disbelief in the Buccleuch incident, the Elliot version of the ballad must be absolutely false and foolish.

If Colonel Elliot leaves in the verses on Buccleuch's refusal, he leaves in what he calls "too absurd to be believed." If he cuts out these verses as an interpolation, then Buccleuch lent aid to Telfer, and there was no occasion to approach Martin Elliot. Or, by a third course, the Elliot ballad originally made an Ettrick man, a neighbour of the great Buccleuch, never dream of appealing to HIM for help, but run to Coultartcleugh, four miles above Buccleuch's house, and thence make his way over to distant Liddesdale to Martin Elliot! Yet Colonel Elliot says that in what I call "the Elliot version," "the story defies criticism." {93a} Now, however you take it,--I give you three choices,--the story is absolutely impossible.

This Elliot version was unknown to lovers of the ballads, till the late Professor Child of Harvard, the greatest master of British ballad-lore that ever lived, in his beautiful English and Scottish Popular Ballads, printed it from a manuscript belonging to Mr. Macmath, which had previously been the property of a friend of Scott, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe. This version is entitled "Jamie Telfer IN the Fair Dodhead," not "OF": Jamie was a tenant (there was no Jamie Telfer tenant of Dodhead in 1570-1609, but concerning that I have more to say). Jamie was no laird.

Before Professor Child's publication of the Elliot version, we had only that given by Scott in The Border Minstrelsy of 1802. Now Scott's version is at least as absurdly incredible as the Elliot version. In Scott's version the unhappy Jamie runs, not to Branksome and Buccleuch, to meet a refusal; but to "the Stobs's Ha'"(on Slitterick above Hawick) and to "auld Gibby Elliot," the laird. Elliot bids him go to Branksome and the laird of Buccleuch,

For, man, ye never paid money to me!

Naturally Telfer did not pay to Elliot: he paid to Buccleuch, if to any one. More, till after the Union of 1603, and the end of Border raids, Gilbert Elliot, a cousin and friend of Buccleuch, WAS NOT THE OWNER OF STOBS. The Hon. George Elliot pointed out this fact in his Border Elliots and the Family of Minto: Colonel Elliot rightly insists on this point.

The Scott version is therefore as hopelessly false as the Elliot version. The Elliot version, with the Buccleuch incident, is "too absurd to be believed," and could not have been written (except in banter of Buccleuch), while men remembered the customs of the sixteenth century. The Scott version, again, could not be composed before the tradition arose that Gilbert Elliot WAS laird of Stobs before the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Now that tradition was in full force on the Border before 1688. We know that (see chapter on Kinmont Willie, infra), for, in 1688, a man born in 1613, Captain Walter Scott of Satchells, in his Metrical History of the Honourable Families of the Names of Scott and Elliot, represents Gilbert Elliot of Stobs as riding with Buccleuch in the rescue of Kinmont Willie, in 1596. {95a} Now Satchells's own father rode in that fray, he says, {95b} and he gives a minute genealogy of the Elliots of Stobs. {95c}

Thus the belief that Gilbert Elliot was laird of Stobs by 1596 was current in the traditions of a man born seventeen years after 1596. THE SCOTT VERSION RESTS ON THAT TRADITION, and is not earlier than the rise of that erroneous belief.

Neither the Scott nor Elliot version is other than historically false. But the Scott version, if we cut out the reference to auld Gibby Elliot, offers a conceivable, though not an actual, course of events. The Elliot version, if we excise the Buccleuch incident, does not. Cutting out the Buccleuch incident, Telfer goes all the way from Ettrick to Liddesdale, seeking help in that remote country, and never thinks of asking aid from Buccleuch, his neighbour and chief. This is idiotic. In the Scott version, if we cut out the refusal of Gilbert Elliot of Stobs, Telfer goes straight to his brother-in-law, auld Jock Grieve, within four miles of Buccleuch at Branksome; thence to another friend, William's Wat, at Catslockhill (now Branksome-braes), and so to Buccleuch at Branksome. This is absurd enough. Telfer would have gone straight to Branksome and Buccleuch, unless he were a poor shy small farmer, WHO WANTED SPONSORS, known to Buccleuch. Jock Grieve and William's Wat, both of them retainers and near neighbours of Buccleuch, were such sponsors. Granting this, the Scott version runs smoothly, Telfer goes to his sponsors, and with his sponsors to Buccleuch, and Buccleuch's men rescue his kye.

III--Colonel Elliot's Charge against Sir Walter Scott

Colonel Elliot believes generally in the historical character of the ballad as given in the Elliot version, but "is inclined to think that" the original poet "never wrote the stanza" (the stanza with Buccleuch's refusal) "at all, and that it has been inserted at some later period." {97a} In that case Colonel Elliot is "inclined to think" that an Ettrick farmer, robbed by the English, never dreamed of going to his neighbour and potent chief, but went all the way to Martin Elliot, high up in Liddesdale, to seek redress! Surely few can share the Colonel's inclination. Why should a farmer in Ettrick "choose to lord" a remote Elliot, when he had the Cock of the Border, the heroic Buccleuch, within eight miles of his home?

Holding these opinions, Colonel Elliot, with deep regret -

I wat the tear blinded his ee -

accuses Sir Walter Scott of having taken the Elliot version--till then the only version--and of having altered stanzas vii.-xi. (in which Jamie goes to Branksome, and is refused succour) into his own stanzas vii.-xi., in which Jamie goes to Stobs and is refused succour. This evil thing Scott did, thinks Colonel Elliot. Scott had no copy, he thinks, of the ballad except an Elliot copy, which he deliberately perverted.

We must look into the facts of the case. I know no older published copy of the ballad than that of Scott, in Border Minstrelsy, vol. i. p. 91 et seqq. (1802). Professor Child quotes a letter from the Ettrick shepherd to Scott of "June 30, 1802" thus: "I am surprised to find that the songs in your collection differ so widely from my mother's; Jamie Telfer differs in many particulars." {98a} (This is an incomplete quotation. I give the MS. version later.)

Scott himself, before Hogg wrote thus, had said, in the prefatory note to his Jamie Telfer: "There is another ballad, under the same title as the following, in which nearly the same incidents are narrated, with little difference, except that the honour of rescuing the cattle is attributed to the Liddesdale Elliots, headed by a chief there called Martin Elliot of the Preakin Tower, whose son, Simm, is said to have fallen in the action. It is very possible that both the Teviotdale Scotts and the Elliots were engaged in the affair, and that each claimed the honour of the victory."

Old Mrs. Hogg's version, "differing in many particulars" from Scott's, must have been the Elliot version, published by Professor Child, as "A*," "Jamie Telfer IN" (not "OF") "the Fair Dodhead," "from a MS. written about the beginning of the nineteenth century, and now in the possession of Mr. William Macmath"; it had previously belonged to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe. {98b}

There is one great point of difference between the two forms. In Sir Walter's variant, verse 26 summons the Scotts of Teviotdale, including Wat of Harden. In his 28 the Scotts ride with the slogan "Rise for Branksome readily." Scott's verses 34, 36, and the two first lines of 38, are, if there be such a thing as internal evidence, from his own pen. Such lines as

The Dinlay snaw was ne'er mair white
Nor the lyart locks o' Harden's hair

are cryingly modern and "Scottesque."

That Sir Walter knew the other version, as in Mr. Macmath's MS. of the early nineteenth century, is certain; he describes that version in his preface. That he effected the whole transposition of Scotts for Elliots is Colonel Elliot's opinion. {99a}

If Scott did, I am not the man to defend his conduct; I regret and condemn it; and shall try to prove that he found the matter in his copy. I shall first prove, beyond possibility of doubt, that the ballad is, from end to end, utterly unhistorical, though based on certain real incidents of 1596-97. I shall next show that the Elliot version is probably later than the Scott version. Finally, I shall make it certain (or so it seems to me) that Scott worked on an old copy which was NOT the copy that belonged to Kirkpatrick Sharpe, but contained points of difference, NOT those inserted by Sir Walter Scott about "Dinlay snaw," and so forth.

IV--Who Was the Farmer in the Dodhead in 1580-1609?

Colonel Elliot has made no attempt to prove that one Telfer was tenant of the Dodhead in 1580-1603, which must, we shall see, include the years in which the alleged incidents occur. On this question--was there a Telfer in the Dodhead in 1580-1603?--I consulted my friend, Mr. T. Craig Brown, author of an excellent History of Selkirkshire. In that work (vol. i. p. 356) the author writes: "Dodhead or Scotsbank; Dodhead was one of the four stedes of Redefurd in 1455. In 1609 Robert Scot of Satchells (ancestor of the poet-captain) obtained a Crown charter of the lands of Dodbank." For the statement that Dodhead was one of the three stedes in 1455, Mr. Craig Brown quotes "The Retoured Extent of 1628," "an unimpeachable authority." For the Crown charter of 1609, we have only to look up "Dodbank" in the Register of the Great Seal of 1609. The charter is of November 24, 1609, and gratifies "Robert Scott of Satscheillis" (father of the Captain Walter Scott who composed the Metrical History of the Scotts in 1688) with the lands, which have been occupied by him and his forefathers "from a time past human memory." Thus, writes Mr. Craig Brown to me, "Scott of Satchells was undoubtedly Scott of Dodhead also in 1609."

In "The Retoured Extent of 1628," "Dodhead or Dodbank" appears as Harden's property. Thus in 1628 the place was "Dodhead or Dodbank," a farm that had been tenanted by Scotts "from beyond human memory." But Mr. Craig Brown proves from record that one Simpson farmed it in 1510.

So where does Jamie Telfer come in?

The farmers were Scotts, it was to their chief, Buccleuch, that they went when they needed aid. {101a}

Thus vanishes the hero of the ballad, Jamie Telfer in the Fair Dodhead, and thus the ballad is pure fiction from end to end.

V--More Impossibilities in the Ballad

This is only one of the impossibilities in the ballad. That the Captain of Bewcastle, an English hold, stated in a letter of the period to be distant three miles from the frontier, the Liddel water, should seek "to drive a prey from the Ettrick, far through the bounds of his neighbours and foes, Grahams, Armstrongs, Scotts, and Elliots, is a ridiculously absurd circumstance.

Colonel Elliot attempts to meet this difficulty by his theory of the route taken by the Captain, which he illustrates by a map. {102a} The ballad gives no details except that the Captain found his first guide "high up in Hardhaughswire," which Colonel Elliot cannot identify. The second guide was "laigh down in Borthwick water." If this means on the lower course of the Borthwick, the Captain was perilously near Branksome Hall and Harden, and his ride was foolhardy. But "laigh down," I think, means merely "on lower ground than Hardhaughswire."

The Captain, as soon as he crossed the Ritterford after leaving Bewcastle, was in hostile and very watchful Armstrong country. This initial difficulty Colonel Elliot meets by marking on his map, as Armstrong country, the north bank of the Liddel down to Kershope burn; and the Captain crosses Liddel below that burn at Ritterford. Thence he goes north by west, across Tarras water, up Ewes water, up Mickledale burn, by Merrylaw and Ramscleugh and so on to Howpasley, which is not on the lower but the upper Borthwick.

Looking at Colonel Elliot's chart of the Captain's route, all seems easy enough for the Captain. He does not try to ride into Teviotdale, for which he is making, up the Liddel water, and thence by the Hermitage tributary on his left. Colonel Elliot studs that region with names of Armstrong and Elliot strongholds. He makes the Captain, crossing Liddel by the Ritterford, bear to his left, through a space empty of hostile habitations, in his map. This seems prudent, but the region thus left blank was full of the fiercest and most warlike of the Armstrong name. That road was closed to the Captain!

Colonel Elliot has failed to observe this fact, which I go on to prove, from a memoir addressed in 1583 to Burleigh, by Thomas Musgrave, the active son of the aged Captain of Bewcastle, Sir Simon Musgrave. Thomas describes the topography of the Middle Marches. He says that the Armstrongs hold both banks of Liddel as far south as "Kershope foot" (the junction of the Kershope with the Liddel), and hold the north side of the Liddel as far as its junction with the Esk. {103a} Thus on crossing Liddel by the Ritterford, the Captain had at once to pass through the hostile Armstrongs. Thereby also were Grahams with whom the Musgraves of Bewcastle were in deadly feud. Farther down Esk, west of Esk, dwelt Kinmont Willie, an Armstrong, "at a place called Morton." If he did pass so far through Armstrongs, the Captain met them again, farther north, on Tarras side, where Runyen Armstrong lived at Thornythaite. Near him was Armstrong of Hollhouse, Musgrave's great enemy. North of Tarras the Captain rode through Ewesdale; there he had to deal with three hundred Armstrong men of the spear. {104a} When he reached Ramscleuch (which he never could have done), the Colonel's map makes the Captain ride past Ramscleuch, then farmed by the Grieves, retainers of Buccleuch, who would warn Branksome. When the Captain reached Howpasley on Borthwick water, he would be observed by the men of Scott of Howpasley, the Grieves, who could send a rider some six miles to warn Branksome.

We get the same information as to the perils of the Captain's path from the places marked on Blaeu's map of 1600-54. There are Hollhouse and Thornythaite, Armstrong towers, and the active John Armstrong of Langholm can come at a summons.

It seems to be a great error to suppose that the route chosen for the Captain by Colonel Elliot could lead him into anything better than a death-trap. I must insist that it would have been madness for a Captain of Bewcastle to ride far through Armstrong country, deep into Buccleuch's country, and return on another line through Scott, and near Elliot, and through Armstrong country--and all for no purpose but to steal ten cows in remote Selkirkshire!

Here I may save the reader trouble, by omitting a great mass of detail as to the deplorable condition of Bewcastle itself in 1580-96. Sir Simon, the Captain, declares himself old and weary. The hold is "utterly decayed," the riders are only thirty-seven men fairly equipped. Soldiers are asked for, sometimes fifty are sent from the garrison of Berwick, then they are withdrawn. Bewcastle is forayed almost daily; "March Bills" minutely describe the cattle, horses, and personal property taken from the Captain and the people by the Armstrongs and Elliots.

Once, in 1582, Thomas Musgrave slew Arthur Graham, a near neighbour, and took one hundred and sixty kye, but this only caused such a feud that the Musgraves could not stir safely from home. From 1586 onwards, Thomas Musgrave, officially or unofficially, was acting Captain of Bewcastle. He had no strength to justify him in raiding to remote Ettrick, through enemies who penned him in at Bewcastle.

I look on Musgrave as the Captain whose existence is known to the ballad-maker, and I find the origin of the tale of his defeat and capture in the ballad, in a distorted memory of his actual capture.

On 3rd July 1596, Thomas (having got Scrope's permission, without which he dared not cross the Border on affairs of war) attempted a retaliatory raid on Armstrongs within seven miles of the Border, the Armstrongs of Hollace, or Hollhouse. "He found only empty houses;" he "sought a prey" in vain; he let his men straggle, and returning homeward, with some fifteen companions, he was ambushed by the Armstrongs near Bewcastle, was refused shelter by a Graham, was taken prisoner, and was sent to Buccleuch at Branksome. On 15th July he came home under a bond of 200 pounds for ransom. {106a} As every one did, in his circumstances, the Captain made out his Bill for Damages. It was indented on 28th April 1597. We learn that John (Armstrong) of Langholm, Will of Kinmont (not Liddesdale men), and others, who took him, are in the Captain's debt for "24 horses and mares, himself prisoner, and ransomed to 200 pounds, and 16 other prisoners, and slaughter." The charges are admitted by the accused; the Captain is to get 400 pounds. {106b}

In my opinion this capture of the Captain of Bewcastle and others, poetically handled, is, with other incidents, the basis of the ballad. Colonel Elliot says that the incident "is no proof that a Captain of Bewcastle was not also taken or killed at some other place or at some other time." But WHAT Captain, and when? Sir Simon, in 1586, had been Captain, he says, for thirty years. Thenceforth till near the Union of the Crowns, Thomas was Captain, or acting Captain.

So considerable an event as the taking of a Captain of Bewcastle, who, in the ballad, was shot through the head and elsewhere, could not escape record in dispatches, and the periodical "March Bills," or statements of wrongs to be redressed. Colonel Elliot's reply takes the shape of the argument that the ballad may speak of some other Captain, at some other time; and that, in one way or another, the sufferings and losses of THAT Captain may have escaped mention in the English dispatches from the Border. These dispatches are full of minute details, down to the theft of a single mare. I am content to let historians familiar with the dispatches decide as to whether the Captain's mad ride into Ettrick, with his dangerous wounds, loss of property, and loss of seventeen men killed and wounded (as in the ballad), could escape mention.

The capture of Thomas Musgrave, I think, and two other incidents,--confused in course of tradition, and handled by the poet with poetic freedom,--are the materials of Jamie Telfer. One of the other incidents is of April 1597. {107a} Here Buccleuch in person, on the Sabbath, burned twenty houses in Tynedale, and "slew fourteen men who had been in Scotland and brought away their booty." Here we have Buccleuch "on the hot trod," pursuing English reivers, recovering the spoils probably, and slaying as many of the raiders as the Captain lost, in the ballad. Again, not a SON of Elliot of Preakinhaugh (as I had erroneously said), but a NEPHEW named Martin, was slain in a Tynedale raid into Liddesdale. {108a} Soldiers aided the English raiders. A confused memory of this death of Elliot's nephew in 1597 may be the source of the story of the death of his son, Simmy, in the ballad.

Our traditional ballads all arise out of some germs of history, all handle the facts romantically, and all appear to have been composed, in their extant shapes, at a considerable time after the events. I may cite Mary Hamilton; The Laird of Logie is another case in point; there are many others.

Colonel Elliot does not agree with me. So be it.

Colonel Elliot writes that,--in place of my saying that Jamie Telfer "is a mere mythical perversion of carefully recorded facts,"--"it would surely be more correct to say that it is a fairly true, though jumbled, account of actual incidents, separated from each other by only short periods of time . . . " {108b} If he means, or thinks that I mean, that the actual facts were the capture of Musgrave near Bewcastle in 1596 by the Armstrongs, with Buccleuch's hot-trod, and Martin Elliot's slaying in 1597, I entirely agree with him that the facts are ''jumbled." But as to the opinion that the ballad is "fairly true" about the raid to Ettrick (the Captain could not ride a mile beyond the Border without the Warden's permission), about the nonexistent Jamie Telfer, about the shooting, taking, and plundering of the Captain, about his loss of seventeen men wounded and slain (he lost about as many prisoners),--I have given reasons for my disbelief.

VI--Is The Scott Version, With Elliots and Scotts Transposed, The Later Version?

We now come to the important question, Is the Scott version of the ballad (apart from Sir Walter's decorative stanzas) necessarily LATER than the Elliot version in Sharpe's copy? The chief argument for the lateness of the Scott version, the presence of a Gilbert Elliot of Stobs at a date when this gentleman had not yet acquired Stobs, I have already treated. If the ballad is no earlier than the date when Elliot was believed (as by Satchells) to have obtained Stobs before 1596, the argument falls to the ground.

Starting from that point, and granting that a minstrel fond of the Scotts wants to banter the Elliots, he may make Telfer ask aid at Stobs. After that, which version is better in its topography? Bidden by Stobs to seek Buccleuch, Telfer runs to Teviot, to Coultartcleugh, some four miles above Branksome. Branksome was nearer, but Telfer was shy, let us say, and did not know Buccleuch; while at Coultartcleugh, Jock Grieve was his brother-in-law. Jock gives him a mount, and takes him to "Catslockhill."

Now, no Catslockhill is known anywhere, to me or to Colonel Elliot. Mr. Henderson, in a note to the ballad, {110a} speaks of "Catslack in Branxholm," and cites the Register of the Privy Seal for 4th June 1554, and the Register of the Privy Council for 14th October 1592. The records are full of THAT Catslack, but it is not in Branksome. Blaeu's map (1600-54) gives it, with its appurtenances, on the north side of St. Mary's Loch. There is a Catslack on the north side of Yarrow, near Ladhope, on the southern side. Neither Catslack is the Catslockhill of the Scott ballad. But on evidence, "and it is good evidence," says Colonel Elliot, {110b} I prove that, in 1802, a place called "Catlochill" existed between Coultartcleugh and Branksome. The place (Mrs. Grieve, Branksome Park, informs me) is now called Branksome-braes. On his copy of The Minstrelsy of 1802, Mr. Grieve, then tenant of Branksome Park, made a marginal note. Catlochill was still known to him; it was in a commanding site, and had been strengthened by the art of man. His note I have seen and read.

Thus, on good evidence, there was a Catlochill, or Catlockhill, between Coultartcleugh and Branksome. The Scott version is right in its topography.

This fact was unknown to Colonel Elliot. Not knowing a Catslackhill or Catslockhill in Teviot, he made Scott's Telfer go to an apocryphal Catlockhill in Liddesdale. Professor Veitch had said that the Catslockhill of the ballad "IS TO BE SOUGHT" in some locality between Coultartcleugh and Branxholm. Colonel Elliot calls this "a really preposterously cool suggestion." {111a} Why "really preposterously cool"? Being sought, the place is found where it had always been. Jamie Telfer found it, and in it his friend "William's Wat," who took him to the laird of Buccleuch at Branksome.

In the Elliot version, when refused aid by Buccleuch, Jamie ran to Coultartcleugh,--as in Scott's,--on his way to Martin Elliot at Preakinhaugh on the Liddel. Jamie next "takes the fray" to "the Catlockhill," and is there remounted by "Martin's Hab," an Elliot (not by William's Wat), and THEY "take the fray" to Martin Elliot at Preakinhaugh in Liddesdale. This is very well, but where IS this "Catlockhill" in Liddesdale? Is it even a real place?

Colonel Elliot has found no such place; nor can I find it in the Registrum Magni Sigilli, nor in Blaeu's map of 1600-54.

Colonel Elliot's argument has been that the Elliot version, the version of the Sharpe MS., is the earlier, for, among other reasons, its topography is correct. {112a} It makes Telfer run from Dodhead to Branksome for aid, because that was the comparatively near residence of the powerful Buccleuch. Told by Buccleuch to seek aid from Martin Elliot in Liddesdale, Telfer does so. He runs up Teviot four miles to his brother-in-law, Jock Grieve, who mounts him. He then rides off at a right angle, from Teviot to Catlockhill, says the Elliot ballad, where he is rehorsed by Martin's Hab. The pair then take the fray to Martin Elliot at Preakinhaugh on Liddel water, and Martin summons and leads the pursuers of the Captain.

This, to Colonel Elliot's mind, is all plain sailing, all is feasible and natural. And so it IS feasible and natural, if Colonel Elliot can find a Catlockhill anywhere between Coultartcleugh and Preakinhaugh. On that line, in Mr. Veitch's words, Catlockhill "is to be sought." But just as Mr. Veitch could find no Catslockhill between Coultartcleugh and Branksome, so Colonel Elliot can find no Catlockhill between Coultartcleugh and Preakinhaugh. He tells us {112b} indeed of "Catlockhill on Hermitage water." But there is no such place known! Colonel Elliot's method is to take a place which, he says, is given as "Catlie" Hill, "between Dinlay burn and Hermitage water, on Blaeu's map of 1654." We may murmur that Catlie Hill is one thing and Catlock another, but Colonel Elliot points out that "lock" means "the meeting of waters," and that Catlie Hill is near the meeting of Dinlay burn and the Hermitage water. But then why does Blaeu call it, not Catlockhill, nor Catlie hill, nor "Catlie" even, but "Gatlie," for so it is distinctly printed on my copy of the map? Really we cannot take a place called "Gatlie Hill" and pronounce that we have found "Catlockhill"! Would Colonel Elliot have permitted Mr. Veitch--if Mr. Veitch had found "Gatlie Hill" near Branksome, in Blaeu--to aver that he had found Catslockhill near Branksome?

Thus, till Colonel Elliot produces on good evidence a Catlockhill between Coultartcleugh and Preakinhaugh, the topography of the Elliot ballad, of the Sharpe copy of the ballad, is nowhere, for neither Catliehill nor Gatliehill is Catlockhill. That does not look as if the Elliot were older than the Scott version. (There was a Sim ARMSTRONG of the CATHILL, slain by a Ridley of Hartswell in 1597. {113a})

We now take the Scott version where Telfer has arrived at Branksome. Scott's stanza xxv. is Sharpe's xxiv. In Scott, Buccleuch; in Sharpe, Martin Elliot bids his men "warn the waterside" (Sharpe), "warn the water braid and wide" (Scott). Scott's stanza xxvi. is probably his own, or may be, for he bids them warn Wat o' Harden, Borthwick water, and the Teviot Scotts, and Gilmanscleuch--which is remote. Then, in xxvii., Buccleuch says -

Ride by the gate of Priesthaughswire,
And warn the Currors o' the Lee,
As ye come down the Hermitage slack
Warn doughty Wiliie o' Gorrinberry.

All this is plain sailing, by the pass of Priesthaughswire the Scotts will ride from Teviot into Hermitage water, and, near the Slack, they will pass Gorrinberry, will call Will, and gallop down Hermitage water to the Liddel, where they will nick the returning Captain at the Ritterford.

The Sharpe version makes Martin order the warning of the waterside (xxiv.), and then Martin says (xxv.) -

When ye come in at the Hermitage Slack,
Warn doughty Will o' Gorranherry.

Colonel Elliot {114a} supposes Martin (if I follow his meaning) to send Simmy with his command, BACK OVER ALL THE COURSE THAT TELFER AND MARTIN'S HAB HAVE ALREADY RIDDEN: back past Shaws, near Braidley (a house of Martin's), past "Catlockhill," to Gorranberry, to "warn the waterside." But surely Telfer, who passed Gorranberry gates, and with Hab passed the other places, had "taken the fray," and warned the water quite sufficiently already. If this be granted, the Sharpe version is taking from the Scott version the stanza, so natural there, about the Hermitage Slack and Gorranberry. But Colonel Elliot infers, from stanzas xxvi., xxx., xxxi., that Simmy has warned the water as far as Gorranberry (AGAIN), has come in touch with the Captain, "between the Frostily and the Ritterford," and that this is "consistent only with his having moved up the Hermitage water."

Meanwhile Martin, he thinks, rode with his men down Liddel water. But here we get into a maze of topographical conjecture, including the hypothesis that perhaps the Liddel came down in flood, and caused the English to make for Kershope ford instead of Ritterford, and here they were met by Martin's men on the Hermitage line of advance. I cannot find this elegant combined movement in the ballad; all this seems to me hypothesis upon hypothesis, even granting that Martin sent Simmy back up Hermitage that he might thence cut sooner across the enemy's path. Colonel Elliot himself writes: "It is certain that after the news of the raid reached Catlockhill" (AND Gorranberry, Telfer passed it), "it must have spread rapidly through Hermitage water, and it is most unlikely for the men of this district to have delayed taking action until they received instructions from their chief."'

That is exactly what I say; but Martin says, "When ye come in at the Hermitage Slack, warn doughty Will o' Gorranberry." Why go to warn him, when, as Colonel Elliot says, the news is running through Hermitage water, and the men are most probably acting on it,--as they certainly would do?

Martin's orders, in Sharpe xxv., are taken, I think, from Buccleuch's, in Scott's xxvii.

The point is that Martin had no need to warn men so far away as Gorranberry,--they were roused already. Yet he orders them to be warned, and about a combined movement of Martin and Simmy on different lines the ballad says not a word. All this is inference merely, inference not from historical facts, but from what may be guessed to have been in the mind of the poet.

Thus the Elliot or Sharpe version has topography that will not hold water, while the Scott topography does hold water; and the Elliot song seems to borrow the lines on the Hermitage Slack and Gorranberry from a form of the Scott version. This being the case, the original version on which Scott worked is earlier than the Elliot version. In the Scott version the rescuers must come down the Hermitage Slack: in the Elliot they have no reason for riding BACK to that place.

VII--Scott Had a Copy of the Ballad Which Was Not the Sharpe Copy

Did Scott know no other version than that of the Sharpe MS.? In Scott's version, stanza xlix., the last, is absent from the Elliot version, which concludes triumphantly, thus -

Now on they came to the fair Dodhead,
They were a welcome sight to see,
And instead of his ain ten milk-kye
Jamie Telfer's gotten thirty and three.

Scott too gives this, but ends with a verse not in Sharpe -

And he has paid the rescue shot
Baith wi' goud and white money,
And at the burial o' Willie Scott
I wat was mony a weeping ee.

Did Scott add this? Proof is impossible; but the verse is so prosaic, and so injurious to the triumphant preceding verse, that I think Scott found it in his copy: in which case he had another copy than Sharpe's.

Scott (stanza xviii.) reads "Catslockhill" where the Sharpe MS. Reads "Catlockhill." In Scott's time it was a mound, but the name was then known to Mr. Grieve, the tenant of Branksome Park. To-day I cannot find the mound; is it likely that Scott, before making the change, sought diligently for the mound and its name? If so, he found "CATLOCHILL," for so Mr. Grieve writes it, not Catslockhill.

Meanwhile Colonel Elliot, we know, has no Catlockhill where he wants it; he has only Gatliehill, unless his Blaeu varies from my copy, and Gatliehill is not Catlockhill.

Scott gives (xlviii.) the speech of the Captain after he is shot through the head and in another dangerous part of his frame -

"Hae back thy kye!" the Captain said,
"Dear kye, I trow, to some they be,
For gin I suld live a hundred years,
There will ne'er fair lady smile on me."

This is not in Sharpe's MS., and I attribute this redundant stanza to Scott's copy. The Captain, remember, has a shot "through his head," and another which must have caused excruciating torture. In these circumstances would a poet like Scott put in his mouth a speech which merely reiterates the previous verse? No! But the verse was in Scott's copy.

Colonel Elliot has himself noted a more important point than these: he quotes Scott's stanza xii., which is absent from the Sharpe MS. -

My hounds may a' rin masterless,
My hawks may fly frae tree to tree,
My lord may grip my vassal lands,
For there again maun I never be!

"They are, doubtless, beautiful lines, but their very beauty jars like a false note. One feels they were written by another hand, by an artist of a higher stamp than a Border 'ballad-maker.' And not only is it their beauty that jars, but so also does their inapplicability to Jamie Telfer and to the circumstances in which he found himself--so

much so, indeed, that it may well occur to one that the stanza belongs to some other ballad, and has accidentally been pitchforked into this one. It would not have been out of place in the ballad of The Battle of Otterbourne, and, indeed, it bears some resemblance to a stanza in that ballad." Here the Colonel says that the lines "one feels were written by another hand, by an artist of a higher stamp than a Border ballad-maker." But "it may also occur to one that the stanza belongs to some other ballad, and has ACCIDENTALLY" (my italics) "been pitchforked into this": a very sound inference.

Now if Scott had only the Sharpe version, he was the last man to "pitchfork" into it, "accidentally," a stanza from "some other ballad," that stanza being as Colonel Elliot says "inapplicable" to Telfer and his circumstances. Poor Jamie, a small tenant-farmer, with ten cows, and, as far as we learn, not one horse, had no hawks and hounds; no "vassal lands," and no reason to say that at the Dodhead he "maun never be again." He could return from his long run! Scott certainly did not compose these lines; and he could not have pitchforked them into Jamie Telfer, either by accident or design.

Professor Child remarked on all this: "Stanza xii. is not only found elsewhere (compare Young Beichan, E vi.), but could not be more inappropriately brought in than here; Scott, however, is not responsible for that." {120a}

The hawk that flies from tree to tree

is a formula; it comes in the Kinloch MS. copy of the ballad of Jamie Douglas, date about 1690.

I know no proof that Scott was acquainted with variant E of Young Beichan. {120a} If he had been, he could not have introduced into Jamie Telfer lines so utterly out of keeping with Telfer's circumstances, as Colonel Elliot himself says that stanza xii. is. It may be argued, "if Scott DID find stanza xii. in his copy, it was in his power to cut it out; he treated his copies as he pleased." This is true, but my position is that, of the two, Scott is more likely to have let the stanza abide where he found it (as he did with his MS. Of Tamlane, retaining its absurdities) in his copy, than to "pitchfork it in," from an obscure variant of Young Beichan, which we cannot prove that he had ever heard or read. But as we can never tell that Scott did NOT know any rhyme, we ask, why did he "pitchfork in" the stanza, where it was quite out of place? Child absolves him from this absurdity.

Thus Scott had before him another than the Sharpe copy; had a copy containing stanza xii. That copy presented the perversion--the transposition of Scott's and Elliot's--and into that copy Scott wrote the stanzas which bear his modern romantic mark. Colonel Elliot, we saw, is uncertain whether to attribute stanza xii. to "another hand, an artist of higher stamp than a Border ballad-maker," or to regard it as belonging "to some other ballad," and as having been "accidentally pitchforked into this one." The stanza is, in fact, an old floating ballad stanza, attracted into the cantefable of Susie Pye, and the ballad of Young Beichan (E), and partly into Jamie Douglas. Thus Scott did not MAKE the stanza, and we cannot suppose that, if he knew the stanza in any form, he either "accidentally pitchforked" or wilfully inserted into Jamie Telfer anything so absurdly inappropriate. The inference is that Scott worked on another copy, not the Sharpe copy.

If Scott had not a copy other than Sharpe's, why should he alter Sharpe's (vii.)

The moon was up and the sun was down,


The sun wasna up but the moon was down?

What did he gain by that? WHY DID HE MAKE JAMIE "OF" NOT "IN" THE DODHEAD, IF HE FOUND "IN" IN HIS COPY? "In" means "tenant in," "of" means "laird of," as nobody knew better than Scott. Jamie is evidently no laird, but "of" was in Scott's copy.

If the question were about two Greek texts, the learned would admit that these points in A (Scott) are not derived from B (Sharpe). Scott's additions have an obvious motive, they add picturesqueness to his clan. But the differences which I have noticed do nothing of that kind. When they affect the poetry they spoil the poetry, when they do not affect the poetry they are quite motiveless, whence I conclude that Scott followed his copy in these cases, and that his copy was not the Sharpe MS.

If I have satisfied the reader on that point I need not touch on Colonel Elliot's long and intricate argument to prove, or suggest, that Scott had before him no copy of the ballad except one supposed by the Colonel to have been taken by James Hogg from his mother's recitation, while that copy, again, is supposed to be the Sharpe MS.--all sheer conjecture. {122a} Not that I fear to encounter Colonel Elliot on this ground, but argufying on it is dull, and apt to be inconclusive.

In the letter of Hogg to Scott (June 30, 1803) as given by Mr. Douglas in Familiar Letters, Hogg says, "I am surprised to find that the songs in your collection differ so widely from my mother's . . . Jamie Telfer differs in many particulars." {123a} The marks of omission were all filled up in Hogg's MS. letter thus: "Is Mr. Herd's MS. genuine? I suspect it." Then it runs on, "Jamie Telfer differs in many particulars."

I owe this information to the kindness of Mr. Macmath. What does Hogg mean? Does "Is Mr. Herd's MS. genuine?" mean all Herd's MS. Copies used by Scott? Or does it refer to Jamie Telfer in especial?

Mr. Macmath, who possesses C. K. Sharpe's MS. copy of the Elliot version, believes that it is Herd's hand as affected by age. Mr. Macmath and I independently reached the conclusion that by "Mr. Herd's MS." Hogg meant all Herd's MSS., which Scott quoted in The Minstrelsy of 1803. Their readings varied from Mrs. Hogg's; therefore Hogg misdoubted them. He adds that Jamie Telfer differs from his mother's version, without meaning that, for Jamie, Scott used a Herd MS.


I have now proved, I hope, that the ballad of Jamie Telfer is entirely mythical except for a few suggestions derived from historical events of 1596-97. I have shown, and Colonel Elliot agrees, that refusal of aid by Buccleuch (or by Elliot of Stobs) is impossible, and that the ballad, if it existed without this incident, must have been a Scott, and could not be an Elliot ballad. No farmer in Ettrick would pay protection-money to an Elliot on Liddel, while he had a Scott at Branksome. I have also disproved the existence of a Jamie Telfer as farmer at "Dodhead or Dodbank" in the late sixteenth century.

As to the character of Sir Walter Scott, I have proved, I hope, that he worked on a copy of the ballad which was not the Elliot version, or the Sharpe copy; so that this copy may have represented the Scotts as taking the leading part; while for the reasons given, it is apparently earlier than the Elliot version--cannot, at least, be proved to be later--and is topographically the more correct of the two. I have given antique examples of the same sort of perversions in Otterburn. If I am right, Colonel Elliot's charge against Scott lacks its base--that Scott knew none but the Sharpe copy, whence it is inferred that he not only decorated the song (as is undeniable), but perverted it in a way far from sportsmanlike.

I may have shaken Colonel Elliot's belief in the historicity of the ballad. His suspicions of Scott I cannot hope to remove, and they are very natural suspicions, due to Scott's method of editing ballads and habit of "giving them a cocked hat and a sword," as he did to stories which he heard; and repeated, much improved.

Absolute proof that Scott did, or did not, pervert the ballad, and turn a false Elliot into a false Scott version, cannot be obtained unless new documents bearing on the matter are discovered.

But, I repeat, as may be read in the chapter on The Ballad of Otterburne, such inversions and perversions of ballads occurred freely in the sixteenth century, and, in the seventeenth, the process may have been applied to Jamie Telfer. {125a}

Kinmont Willie - Footnotes

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