Page images

from Carlisle, in the ballad which takes its title from him, are described as meeting "the fause Sakelde,” who, in reply to their questions as to his object, is deluded at first by various evasions; but evidently the minstrel's sympathies go, and those of his audience would follow, with Dickie of Dryhope who "had nevir a word o' lear."

"The nevir a word had Dickie to say,

Sae he thrust the lance through his fause bodie."

Might becomes, therefore, with this class of men, the main standard of right; power to hold, the real justification of property. King James V., annoyed at the exploits of Murray of Philiphaugh, determined that the outlaw should be compelled to recognize his feudal lord. Accordingly he despatched James Boyd, who appears in front of Murray's castle, and summons him to his allegiance :

"The King of Scotlande sent me here,
And, gude Outlaw, I am sent to thee;
I wad wot of whom ye hald your landis,
Or, man, wha may thy master be."

The spirited reply throws a peculiar light on the ideas of the time and country:

"Thir landis are MINE!' the Outlaw said;

'I ken nae King in Christentie;

Frae Soudron I this foreste wan,

When the King nor his Knightis were not to see.'"

The fact is, that some of the estates within the limits of the Debatable Land had been won from their southern


foes by the Border chiefs, without assistance from the crown of Scotland; and, with the weak central government which was the perennial source of the country's misfortunes, the captors had to trust to their own swords for continued possession of their property. Their own power, therefore, to take and hold their lands constituted, in their eyes, a more indefeasible title than the most accurately drawn charter from the lawyers of Edinburgh.1

With these ideas it is not surprising that the Borderers should have looked to their swords for their right, not only to their lands, but to all the necessaries of life; and it is perfectly in accordance with this principle that they should have cherished a popular prayer, which quaintly combines their savage morality with the limited Christian conceptions that had made way into their minds.

"He'that ordained us to be born,

Send us mair meat for the morn :
Come by right, or come by wrang,
Christ, let us never fast owre lang,
But blithely spend what's gaily got-
Ride, Rowland, hough's in the pot." :


In the spirit of this prayer, closing with the hint that the hough (the poorest and therefore the last piece of meat) was in the pot, was a practice related of the wife

1 An excellent sketch of the Border chiefs will be found in Burton's "History of Scotland,” vol. iii. pp. 323-329. Many interesting facts are also given by Scott in his General Introduction to the "Border Minstrelsy," as well as in his special introductions and notes to the different ballads. 2 Allan Cunningham's "Songs of Scotland," vol. i. p. 139.

of Walter Scott of Harden-Auld Wat of Harden, as he was familiarly called. This Border chief, who flourished about the middle of the sixteenth century, married Mary Scott-the Flower of Yarrow, as she is named in poetical style; and by her he had six stalwart sons. When meat became scarce at Harden, it is said the hungry lads, on sitting down to dinner and uncovering the dishes, used to find a clean pair of spurs for each, placed there by their mother's hand, and

"Come by right, or come by wrang,"

the meat was sure to be on the table next day.1

Among such a people, all laws which distinguish meum and tuum on any other principle than that of power to take and hold, are ridiculed as on the face of them absurd; and the interference of a force from Edinburgh, swooping down on the robbers' keeps and gibbeting the refractory chiefs on the most convenient tree, if not on their own gateways, was an action the necessity of which did not come within the range of their ethical or political conceptions. Like that of a ballad 2 which represents a similar state of society the sentiment of the Border ballads runs against the laws of civilized states with a simplicity which, though amusing, is thoroughly sincere :—

Wae worth the loun that made the laws

To hang a man for gear;

To reave of life for ox or ass,

For sheep or horse or mare!"

1 "Border Minstrelsy," vol. i. p. 211, note, and vol. ii. p.10, note 3.

2 The ballad of Gilderoy.

And therefore it is that the sympathies of the people, as expressed in the fine ballad of Johnie Armstrang, side not with the government which had rid the country of a dangerous predatory chief, but with the sufferer :

"John murdered was at Carlinrigg,
And all his gallant companie;

But Scotland's heart was ne'er sae wae,
To see sae mony brave men die,—

"Because they saved their country deir

Frae Englishmen! Nane were sae bauld, Whyle Johnie lived on the Border syde,

Nane of them durst cum neir his hauld."

This admiration of sheer strength is also seen in the grim humour in which the Borderers could sport with danger or pain to themselves or others. Hughie Graham, who gives his name to a ballad, had stolen a mare belonging to the Bishop of Carlisle in revenge for a worse offence which the Bishop had done to him. The dignitary of the Church, however, was of influence. sufficient to get Hughie sent to the gallows for the theft; but the spirit of the condemned man was not to be broken, and his last message to his father, as he looked down upon him from the gallows-knowe, is one of the most remarkable utterances ever delivered in such a situation :


"And ye may tell my kith and kin,
I never did disgrace their blood,
And when they meet the Bishop's cloak,
To mak it shorter by the hood."

When Kinmont Willie is being rescued from the castle at Carlisle, so runs the ballad named after him,-the task of carrying him down the ladder, with his chains still about him, is given to "Red Rowan,"

"The starkest man in Teviotdale."

The rescued prisoner, who was to have been led out to execution in the morning, can still keep spirit enough for a jest:

"O mony a time,' quo' Kinmont Willie,

'I have ridden a horse baith wild and wood;
But a rougher beast than Red Rowan,
I ween my legs have ne'er bestrode.'

"And mony a time,' quo' Kinmont Willie,
'I've pricked a horse out owre the furs;
But since the day I backed a steed,

I never wore sic cumbrous spurs.'

But this worship of force did not, as Alexander Smith supposes,1 exclude the use of lying and deceit, when these suited the purpose of the Borderers. Remarkable instances of their fidelity may undoubtedly be adduced; but fidelity was with them a passion, not a principle, and could not be relied upon where passion was involved. The truth is, that all tribes and individuals of strong muscle, but moderately developed brain, will, as a rule, go straight to their object with sheer physical strength. Only one instance is recorded in which the

1 See his fine, suggestive essay on the Scottish Ballads in the "Edinburgh Essays," p. 229.

2 Compare Scott's remarks in the "Border Minstrelsy," vol. i. pp. 173, 174.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »