Obrazy na stronie

anticipate objections from those who have condescended to give much attention to this subject. A comparison between the productions of different ages shows us that as literature advances the ballad declines. The poet who adopted some popular theme of exciting interest for his subject, and composed his ballad for the entertainment of his lord, or the amusement of the people, adopts a higher style of composition in proportion as the tastes of his age improve. In the place of a feudal lord he finds a patron, a public instead of the people. The whole spirit of the time is changed. The people still require their ballad, but the want is no longer supplied by the inspired bard. His place is occupied by an inferior race of rhymesters, and thus we travel through the names of Elderton, Peele, Churchyard, Johnson, Munday, Deloney, Price, Parker, Lookes, Burges, Bowne, Lanfiere, Tipping, Houghton, &c. &c., until we arrive at the anonymous band of poets attached to the service of the immortal Catnach of Seven Dials.

It is not our purpose to enter into a history of Ballad Poetry: such an inquiry would be incompatible with the space allowable for an article like the present. But we would make one remark, by way of suggestion, for the use of those who may find leisure and inclination to pursue a subject on which, notwithstanding the labours of Percy, Ritson, Scott, and others, so much yet remains to be said. It has always appeared to us that the history of this species of composition has not been carried back sufficiently far. It is true that Percy has not overlooked the early Scandinavian bards, or Scalds, in his Essay; but he disposes of them in a few lines, in order to come at once to the minstrels, who, it must be admitted, stand in more immediate connexion with the contents of his collection. The literature of Scandinavia contains much that is available for the illustration of the 6 old ballad,” and of many of the manners and customs, allusions and expressions it presents to us; for it must not be forgotten that the ancient Scalds were the historians as well as the poets of the north.

The facilities for prosecuting inquiries like the present have hitherto not been great. It is only by examining ballads of all periods, that the subject can be properly understood; and while such collections remain in the hands of private individuals, access to them must be limited, however liberal may be their possessors. Until the month of March 1845, there was no national collection of very great extent. Of the others, private and quasi private, the “ Pepysian” deposited in the library of Magdalene College, Cambridge, is certainly not of that easy access to tempt inspection from others than those who have some very special object in

view, and who have both spare time and money at their disposal. The Heber collection was dispersed in 1835, and the Roxburghe was in the possession of the late Mr. Bright from the year 1813. Happily, this great difficulty in the way of the Ballad-searcher is removed, the trustees of the British Museum having secured for his use the last-named collection, which Scott, after mentioning that made by Pepys, calls “ the still more valuable deposit in three volumes folio, in which the late John Duke of Roxburghe took so much pleasure, that he was often found enlarging it with fresh acquisitions, which he pasted in and registered with his own hands."*

It would be interesting to trace the gradual growth of this collection ; but, unfortunately, we have only general statements, founded, for the most part, on the short history of it given in the preface to the sale catalogue of the books of the Duke of Roxburghe, which were dispersed by Auction in 1813. The collection was originally formed by Robert Harley, first Earl of Oxford. On the sale of the Harleian library, it became the property of Mr. James West, the president of the Royal Society; and when his books were sold in 1773, Major Thomas Pearson acquired it for, we are told, the sum of £20. While in this gentleman's possession the collection “received very great additions, and was bound in two large volumes, with printed title pages, indexes," &c. In the year 1788, Major Pearson's library was sold, and the two volumes were transferred to the Duke of Roxburghe for the sum of £36, 4s.t The title-page referred to above is as follows :-"Ancient Songs and Ballads written on various subjects, and printed between the years 1560 and 1700, chiefly collected by Robert Earl of Oxford, and purchased at the sale of the late Mr. West's library in the year 1773. Increased by several additions. In two volumes.

" These venerable ancient song inditers

Soar'd many a pitch above our modern writers :
Our numbers may be more refined than those ;
But what we've gain'd in verse, we've lost in prose.
Their words no shuffling double meaning knew ;
Their speech was homely, but their hearts were true.

66 London :
Arranged and bound in the year 1774."
We are further informed that Major Pearson was assisted in

* Minstrelsy, i. p. 38.

+ We mention, for the benefit of the lovers of coincidences, that on the sales of the libraries of West and Pearson, this collection was, in each, in the eleventh day's sale, which took place on a Friday, in the month of April.


his efforts to add to the collection by the celebrated Isaac Reed, and that the Duke, knowing well the zeal of these two gentlemen, did not flatter himself with being able to add much to it. In this “ labour of love,” however, he succeeded far beyond his expectation, for not only was he able to fill up the blank leaves left in the two volumes for further acquisitions (amongst which additions is the remarkable piece entitled “ Ane declaration of the Lordis' just quarrel," printed by Lekpruik in 1567,) but he added a third volume more bulky than either of the two former, and comprising seven more Scotch ballads of the date of 1570, of extraordinary rarity and curiosity. Between the acquisition of this collection by the Duke and its subsequent sale with the rest of his library in 1813, a remarkable change had taken place in the estimation in which old English literature was held, and we must confess our opinion that a more just appreciation of the real value of such memorials was shewn by the price given for the three volumes at the sale of the Duke's effects, viz. £477, 15s. The chaser, Mr. Harding, transferred his prize to Mr. Bright. The secrecy with which this gentleman conducted his book purchases has not suffered the amount given by him to Mr. Harding to transpire, but report states it to have been about £700.

It is now time to give some account of the contents of these extraordinary volumes. They consist of about 1335 broadside ballads and songs, a great number of which are in two parts, printed between the year 1567 and the end of the eighteenth century. About two-thirds are in black letter. We fear that the date given in the title-page as that of the earliest, (1560,) like many other statements in title-pages, is not strictly correct. It may be well, however, to state, in limine, that the date of composition of many of the pieces is much anterior to that of the printing-and also to observe that the reader must not expect us to give illustrations in support of all that we have said respecting the ancient ballad. He will find them much more readily in the collections of Percy and Scott, and in that most remarkable Swedish poem, Frithiof's Saga, by Esaias Tegner, Bishop of Wexiö. For the convenience of extract, we shall divide the collection into ten classes, viz. :

1. HISTORICAL: comprehending those of a romantic and narrative character.

3. Love and COURTSHIP.

9. Those relating to MANNERS and Customs, OCCUPATIONS, SPORTS, &c.


The first class, or historical, consists of about 160 pieces, amongst which the earliest and most remarkable are those relating to Scotland. They are full of the stern energy of the times to which they refer. The earliest relates to the quarrel between Mary and her nobility, and is entitled “ Ane declaration of the lordis

' just quarrel :" it is in black letter, and was printed by Lekpruik at Edinburgh in 1567. This year was one of intense excitement for Scotland. Mary was a prisoner in the hands of her subjects—dethroned—and her life threatened. But she was not without powerful friends; the party by whom the young king was supported was not sufficiently strong to feel permanent security, and amongst the various means adopted to keep alive the popular indignation against their unfortunate queen, the ballad was not forgotten. The following is a specimen of the “ Declaration": “Not lang ago, as I allone did walk,

Intill ane place was plesand to behauld,
Twa leirnit men in privie I hard talk,

And eich of thame his taill in ordoure tauld.

[blocks in formation]

Behalding than the actis execrabill

That in this countrie hes committit bene,
The schame the lack, the bruit abhouminabill,

That saikles men with sorow did sustene.
Ane privat hart it mycht prik up with tene,

To seik redres and mend that cairfull caice,
Far mair the nobillis of the Royall raice.
To se the king fyrst lychtlit schamefully,

And not chereist in chalmer nor in hall,
Syne murdreist downe causeles and crewelly:

Off that tresoun na tryall taine at all.
Thay quhome the bruit did trewlie traytouris call,

Greitest in Court, and chereist all thair best ;
Quhat Lordis hart culd luik on this and lest.

Besyde all this thair durst na vertuous wycht

In presence of that proude tyran appeir :

Bludy boucheouris and throtcutters on nycht,

War only hard, and only had the steir.
The Nobill men durst not the Court cum neir;

The royall hous, refuge to honest men,
Was maid ane bordell and ane theifis den.


Than to conclude, thir Nobillis dois bot rycht

Gif thay the Quene keip still in sicker gaird,
Untill that coward Kingslayar on nycht

For his demeritis get ane just reward.
Than lat thame all concur, baith Lord and Laird,

Thair Realme and Quene with guid consall to guyde,
Settand all private profit far a syde."

The next in date, printed in 1570, also by Lekpruik, refer to the murder of the Regent Murray, in the town of Linlithgow, by James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, in order to avenge the cruel injury inflicted on his wife. The particulars of both tragedies are doubtless well known to the greater number of our readers. Bothwellhaugh had been taken prisoner at the battle of Langside, and condemned to die. Murray, however, spared his life, contenting himself with the forfeiture of his estate, and granted Woodhouselee, on the river Esk, a part of the property, to Bellenden, the Justice-Clerk. This brutal man took violent possession of the house, and turned its mistress, during a bitterly cold night, and almost in a state of nakedness, into the woods, where she was found in the morning furiously mad.* If ever revenge could be held to be justifiable, it would be under the excitement of such a provocation. We cannot stop to inquire why Murray should have been selected as the victim rather than Bellenden. Mr. Tytler says (vol. vii., p. 267):-“ The populace of Edinburgh, by whom the late Regent had been much beloved, were highly excited by the display, in the open street, of a black banner, on which he was painted lying dead in his bed, with his wound open ; beside him, the late king under a tree, as he was found in the garden of the Kirk of Field, and at his feet the little prince kneeling, and imploring God to avenge his cause. Many poems and ballads, describing Murray's assassination, and exhorting to revenge, were scattered amongst the people, and the exasperation of the two parties became daily more incurable.” Mr. Tytler's note upon this is—“ State Paper Office-printed broadsides, in black letter, by Lekpruik.” We presume that the “ broadsides" here mentioned are similar compositions to those now under description, although the State Paper Office is not the

* TYTLER, Hist. of Scotland, vii., p. 251.

« PoprzedniaDalej »