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century, than it would be to present a distinct and connected historical view of the condition of the gipsies or the beggars of the same period. The most vigilant researches into the annals of the country have only been able to procure for us a few vague and meagre incidental notices regarding the existence of such a thing as song ; and if any fragments have been preserved in connexion with these notices, they refer almost exclusively to public transactions—are, in general, only national pasquils-and scarcely in any case have the appearance of what is now considered song. The light of history, in attempting to illuminate this dark subject, has only as yet sent the level rays of its dawn along the mountain tops, and spires, and towers; it has not yet risen so high as to penetrate down into the deep and quiet vale of humble life, and glisten the cottages and open the daisies which nestle and blossom there. These little incidental notices, however, unsatisfactory as they are upon the whole, may be presented to the reader, as approaching in the nearest possible degree to an elucidation of a very interesting subject, and as being, in the very worst view of the case, preferable to nothing at all.
It is recorded, for instance, by Andrew Wintoun, prior of Lochleven, who wrote a rhyming chronicle of Scottish history about the year 1420, that when Alexander III. was killed by a fall from his horse in 1286, the people composed a brief song upon the subject, in which they lamented the cessation of that extraordinary degree of plenty and prosperity which distinguished his reign, and anticipated the misery which was to arise from a disputed succession. The song
is introduced by a couplet, which seems to intimate that song-making was a matter of common occurrence in the time of the wars of the competition, or at least in that of Wintoun.
This falyhyd fra he deyd suddanly ;
The song then proceeds:
Quhen Alysander oure kynge wes dede,
That Scotland led in luve and le,
Off wyne and wax, off gamyn and gle;
Chryst, borne into vergynite,
That stad in his perplexite !
A historical incident which occurred not long after the death of Alexander the Third, gave occasion to a rhyme, or song, which has been preserved for us by the English chroniclers. In 1296, when King Edward 1. (surnamed Longshanks) undertook his first expedition against Scotland, he resolved to destroy the town and castle of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which then belonged to the Scottish nation, and which, being strongly garrisoned by them, threatened to be a serious obstacle to his obtaining possession of the country. So effectually did this city protect the chief passage from England into Scotland, that, on this very occasion, Edward, though at the head of a prodigious force, was obliged to adopt the circuitous and inconvenient pass-. age by the ford of Coldstream, twenty miles
the river, the north bank of wbich he had afterwards to descend, along with his army, before he could lay siege to Berwick. When he first summoned the town to surrender, the defenders were so confident, that they would listen to no terms he could propose. He then directed that, while his army
prepare to advance upon the landward defences of the town, his ships should enter the harbour, and thus distress the garrison by a double attack. Some misunderstanding, however, having occurred, the ships entered the barbour before the king was ready to co-operate by an assault on the walls; and thus the Scots were gratified by having it in their power to burn two large war-vessels, which fell into their bands. So much were they elevated by
this good fortune, that they composed and chanted a rhyme, as a sneer at the miserable efforts of the English sovereign. It ran thus :
Weened Kyng Edewarde, with his lange shankes,
Gas pikes hym,
Such, at least, is the rhyme quoted by Ritson, from a Harleian manuscript; though it is probable that some errors bave occurred in its transcription ; the two last lines, standing as they do, seeming in a great measure unintelligible.* Whatever may be the precise meaning of the rhyme, it is evident that its composers designed it as a sarcasm at the confident hopes with which the English approached their walls, as contrasted with the present depressed state of their affairs. The English, however, soon found an opportunity of revenging the satire of the Scots. King Edward immediately after led his men to a grand attack on the dykes, or sunk fences, which then protected the town; being himself the first man to jump the walls, which he did without dismounting from his war-borse Bayard; and such was the fury of the English, in consequence of the insolence of the Scots, that, even after the garrison
* Perhaps the word “ gas” was gar, which signifies to cause. The incident and the song are thus incorporated in Langtofi's Chronicle:
Now dos Edward dike Berwik brode and long,
thei ne the. Right als I rede, they tombled in Tweed, that woned by the se.
had submitted, they continued to massacre the inhabitants, till, according to some accounts, twenty-seven thousand were killed; by whose blood, says an old historian, running in streams through the streets, mil myeht haif gane two days."
The battle of Dunbar occurred soon after, in which the Scots, by their imprudence in leaving the high grounds, where they commanded the English army, lost a great number of men. The invaders had thus got a double revenge for the taunting rhyme of the defenders of Berwick; yet, as if a revenge in kind had been still necessary, they composed the following rhyme, which must be allowed to possess fully as much of the elements of satire as the former :
Thus scattered Scottis
Of wrenches unaware ;
Went ye fro Dunnbarre.* There is at least one valuable historical fact to be argued from these rude canticles; that the language of the English nation, and that of the Scottish lowlanders, were then nearly the same.
It is also, perhaps, to be gathered from these, that to express national sentiment in songs and rhymes, was then a common practice with both the English and the Scots ;
of which theory a further confirmation is to be found in the Scotichronicon of Fordun, a work written about a century after the period in question. Fordun informs us, that many songs were composed by the peo
* After the battle of Dunbar, according to Langtoft,
the Inglis rymed this.
ple on their heroic leader, Sir William Wallace; and he refers to one of them as evidence of a historical fact. One ballad on an adventure of this hero still exists ; but whether it be a composition of his own time, or one of later date, is not now to be ascertain. ed. Ritson, in bis “ Ancient Songs," has preserved an English song on the death of Wallace, and the fates of his various compatriots.
The next national Scottish song, of which any notice occurs in our early chroniclers, is one of triumph on the brilliant victory of Bannockburn.
On this occasion, says Fabyan, (a citizen of London, who wrote an English chronicle,) “ the Scottes, enflamed with pride, made this ryme as followeth, in derysyon of the Englyshmen:
Maydens of Englande, sore may you mourne
With heve a lowe.
many days, sung in daunces in the carols of the maidens and minstrels of Scotland, to the reproofe and disdayne of Englyshmen, with dyvers other, which I overpasse.” Ritson informs us, that, in Caxton's Chronicle, and in a Harleian manuscript, two somewhat various versions of this song occur. He further points out that the strange burdens which formed the third and the sixth lines, were common at the time, and for a long period after, as “ Derry down” is at present.
Thus, in “ Peblis to the Play,”
Hop, Cailzie, and Cardrona,
Gathered out thick-fald ;
The young folks were full bauld. The next pasquil which the Scots can be discovered to have composed against the English, occurs in the