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The Ancient Ballad of Cheby-Chase.
THE fine heroic song of CHEVY-CHASE has ever been admired by competent judges. Those genuine strokes of nature and artless passion, which have endeared it to the most simple readers, have recommended it to the most refined; and it has equally been the amusement of our childhood, and the favourite of our riper years.
Mr. Addison has given an excellent critique* on this very popular ballad, but is mistaken with regard to the antiquity of the common received copy; for this, if one may judge from the style, cannot be older than the time of Elizabeth, and was probably written after the eulogium of Sir Philip Sidney: perhaps in consequence of it. I flatter myself, I have here recovered the genuine antique poem, the true original song; which appeared rude even in the time of Sir Philip, and caused him to lament that it was so evil-apparelled in the rugged garb of antiquity.
This curiosity is printed, from an old manuscript, at the end of Hearne's preface to Gul. Nubrigiensis Hist. 1719, 8vo. vol. 1. To the MS. copy is subjoined the name of the author, RYCHARD SHEALE:† whom Hearne had so little judgment as to suppose to be the same with a R. Sheale, who was living in 1588. But whoever examines the gradation of language and idiom in the following volumes, will be convinced that this is the production of an earlier poet. It is indeed expressly mentioned among some very ancient songs in an old book intituled, The Complaint of Scotland, (fol. 42,) under the title of the HUNTIS OF CHEVET, where the two following lines are also quoted: The Perssee and the Mongumrye mette § That day, that day, that gentil day:||
Which, though not quite the same as they stand in the ballad, yet differ not more than might be owing to the author's quoting from memory. Indeed, whoever considers the style and orthography of this old poem, will not be inclined to place it lower than the time of Henry VI.; as, on the other hand, the mention of James the Scottish King, with one or two anachronisms, forbids us to assign it an *Spectator, No. 70, 74.
+ Subscribed, after the usual manner of our old poets, expliceth [explicit] quoth Kychard Sheale.
One of the earliest productions of the Scottish press now to be found. The title-page was wanting in the copy here quoted; but it is supposed to have been printed in 1540.
See Pt. 2, v. 25. || See Pt. 1. v. 104.
earlier date. King James I., who was prisoner in this kingdom at the death of his father,* did not wear the crown of Scotland till the second year of our Henry VI.,† but before the end of that long reign, a third James had mounted the throne. A succession of two or three Jameses, and the long detention of one of them in England, would render the name familiar to the English, and dispose a poet in those rude times to give it to any Scottish king he happened to mention.
So much for the date of this old ballad: with regard to its subject, although it has no countenance from history, there is room to think it had originally some foundation in fact. It was one of the laws of the Marches, frequently renewed between the two nations, that neither party should hunt in the other's borders, without leave from the proprietors or their deputies. § There had long been a rivalship between the two martial families of Percy and Douglas, which, heightened by the national quarrel, must have produced frequent challenges and struggles for superiority, petty invasions of their respective domains, and sharp contests for the point of honour; which would not always be recorded in history. Something of this kind we may suppose gave rise to the ancient ballad of the HUNTING A' THE CHEVIAT. Percy Earl of Northumberland, had vowed to hunt for three days in the Scottish border without con
* Who died Aug. 5, 1406, in the seventh year of our Hen. IV. + James I. was crowned May 22, 1424; murdered, Feb. 21, 1436-7.
In 1460. Hen. VI. was deposed 1461; restored and slain, 1471. § Item... Concordatum est, quod, NULLUS unius partis vel alterius ingrediatur terras, boschas, forrestas, warrenas, loca, dominia quæcunque alicujus partis alterius subditi, causa venandi, piscandi, aucupandi, disportum aut solatium in eisdem, aliave quacunque de causa, ABSQUE LICENTIA ejus . . . . ad quem . . . loca ⚫ pertinent, aut de deputatis suis prius capt. et obtent. Vide Bp. Nicholson's Leges Marchiarum, 1705, 8vo. pp. 27, 51.
This was the original title. See the ballad, Pt. 1, v. 106. Pt. 2, v. 165.
descending to ask leave from Earl Douglas, who was either lord of the soil, or lord-warden of the Marches. Douglas would not fail to resent the insult, and endeavour to repel the intruders by force: this would naturally produce a sharp conflict between the two parties; something of which, it is probable, did really happen, though not attended with the tragical circumstances recorded in the ballad; for these are evidently borrowed from the BATTLE OF OTterbourn,' a very different event, but which after-times would easily confound with it. That battle might be owing to some such previous affront as this of CHEVY-CHASE, though it has escaped the notice of historians. Our poet has evidently jumbled the two events together; if, indeed, the lines † in which this mistake is made are not rather spurious, and the after-insertion of some person, who did not distinguish between the two stories.
Hearne has printed this ballad without any division of stanzas, in long lines, as he found it in the old written copy; but it is usual to find the distinction of stanzas neglected in ancient MSS., where, to save room, two or three verses are frequently given in one line undivided. See flagrant instances in the Harleian Catalogue, No. 2253, s. 29, 34, 61, 70, et passim.
THE FIRST FIT.
THE Persè owt of Northombarlande,
Ver. 5, magger in Hearne's P.C. [Printed Copy.] See the next ballad. † Vide Pt. 2, v. 167.
Fit, see v. 100.
The fattiste hartes in all Cheviat
He sayd he wold kill, and cary them away:
Then the Persè owt of Banborowe cam,
With him a myghtye meany:
This begane on a monday at morn
The chyld may rue that ys un-born,
The dryvars thorowe the woodes went
Bomen bickarte uppone the bent feed
With ther browd aras cleare.
Then the wyld thorowe the woodes went
On every syde shear; entirely
Grea-hondes thorowe the greves glent
V. 11, The the Persè. P.C. V. 13, archardes bolde off blood and bone. P.C. V. 19, throrowe. P.C.
By these "shyars thre” is probably meant three districts in Northumberland, which still go by the name of shires, and are all in the neighbourhood of Cheviot. These are Island-shire, being the district so named from Holy-Island; Norehamshire, so called from the town and castle of Noreham, (or Norham); and Bamboroughshire, the ward or hundred belonging to Bamborough-castle and town.