Sir Walter Scott and the Border Minstrelsy
by Andrew Lang
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Preface Scott and the Ballads Auld Maitland The Ballad of Otterburne Scott's Traditional Copy and how he edited it The Mystery of the Ballad of Jamie Telfer Kinmont Willie Conclusions


Persons not much interested in, or cognisant of, "antiquarian old womanries," as Sir Walter called them, may ask "what all the pother is about," in this little tractate. On my side it is "about" the veracity of Sir Walter Scott. He has been suspected of helping to compose, and of issuing as a genuine antique, a ballad, Auld Maitland. He also wrote about the ballad, as a thing obtained from recitation, to two friends and fellow-antiquaries. If to Scott's knowledge it was a modern imitation, Sir Walter deliberately lied.

He did not: he did obtain the whole ballad from Hogg, who got it from recitation—as I believe, and try to prove, and as Scott certainly believed. The facts in the case exist in published works, and in manuscript letters of Ritson to Scott, and Hogg to Scott, and in the original MS. of the song, with a note by Hogg to Laidlaw. If we are interested in the truth about the matter, we ought at least to read the very accessible material before bringing charges against the Sheriff and the Shepherd of Ettrick.

Whether Auld Maitland be a good or a bad ballad is not part of the question. It was a favourite of mine in childhood, and I agree with Scott in thinking that it has strong dramatic situations. If it is a bad ballad, such as many people could compose, then it is not by Sir Walter.

The Ballad of Otterburne is said to have been constructed from Herd's version, tempered by Percy's version, with additions from a modern imagination. We have merely to read Professor Child's edition of Otterburne, with Hogg's letter covering his MS. copy of Otterburne from recitation, to see that this is a wholly erroneous view of the matter. We have all the materials for forming a judgment accessible to us in print, and have no excuse for preferring our own conjectures.

"No one now believes," it may be said, "in the aged persons who lived at the head of Ettrick," and recited Otterburne to Hogg. Colonel Elliot disbelieves, but he shows no signs of having read Hogg's curious letter, in two parts, about these "old parties"; a letter written on the day when Hogg, he says, twice "pumped their memories."

I print this letter, and, if any one chooses to think that it is a crafty fabrication, I can only say that its craft would have beguiled myself as it beguiled Scott.

It is a common, cheap, and ignorant scepticism that disbelieves in the existence, in Scott's day, or in ours, of persons who know and can recite variants of our traditional ballads. The strange song of The Bitter Withy, unknown to Professor Child, was recovered from recitation but lately, in several English counties. The ignoble lay of Johnny Johnston has also been recovered: it is widely diffused. I myself obtained a genuine version of Where Goudie rins, through the kindness of Lady Mary Glyn; and a friend of Lady Rosalind Northcote procured the low English version of Young Beichan, or Lord Bateman, from an old woman in a rural workhouse. In Shropshire my friend Miss Burne, the president of the Folk-Lore Society, received from Mr. Hubert Smith, in 1883, a very remarkable variant, undoubtedly antique, of The Wife of Usher's Well. {0a} In 1896 Miss Backus found, in the hills of Polk County, North Carolina, another variant, intermediate between the Shropshire and the ordinary version. {0b}

There are many other examples of this persistence of ballads in the popular memory, even in our day, and only persons ignorant of the facts can suppose that, a century ago, there were no reciters at the head of Ettrick, and elsewhere in Scotland. Not even now has the halfpenny newspaper wholly destroyed the memories of traditional poetry and of traditional tales even in the English-speaking parts of our islands, while in the Highlands a rich harvest awaits the reapers.

I could not have produced the facts, about Auld Maitland especially, and in some other cases, without the kind and ungrudging aid, freely given to a stranger, of Mr. William Macmath, whose knowledge of ballad-lore, and especially of the ballad manuscripts at Abbotsford, is unrivalled. As to Auld Maitland, Mr. T. F. Henderson, in his edition of the Minstrelsy (Blackwood, 1892), also made due use of Hogg's MS., and his edition is most valuable to every student of Scott's method of editing, being based on the Abbotsford MSS. Mr. Henderson suspects, more than I do, the veracity of the Shepherd.

I am under obligations to Colonel Elliot's book, as it has drawn my attention anew to Auld Maitland, a topic which I had studied "somewhat lazily," like Quintus Smyrnaeus. I supposed that there was an inconsistency in two of Scott's accounts as to how he obtained the ballad. As Colonel Elliot points out, there was no inconsistency. Scott had two copies. One was Hogg's MS.: the other was derived from the recitation of Hogg's mother.

This trifle is addressed to lovers of Scott, of the Border, and of ballads, et non aultres.

It is curious to see how facts make havoc of the conjectures of the Higher Criticism in the case of Auld Maitland. If Hogg was the forger of that ballad, I asked, how did he know the traditions about Maitland and his three sons, which we only know from poems of about 1576 in the manuscripts of Sir Richard Maitland? These poems in 1802 were, as far as I am aware, still unpublished.

Colonel Elliot urged that Leyden would know the poems, and must have known Hogg. From Leyden, then, Hogg would get the information. In the text I have urged that Leyden did not know Hogg. I am able now to prove that Hogg and Leyden never met till after Laidlaw gave the manuscript of Auld Maitland to Hogg.

The fact is given in the original manuscript of Laidlaw's Recollections of Sir Walter Scott (among the Laing MSS. in the library of the University of Edinburgh). Carruthers, in publishing Laidlaw's reminiscences, omitted the following passage. After Scott had read Auld Maitland aloud to Leyden and Laird Laidlaw, the three rode together to dine at Whitehope.

"Near the Craigbents," says Laidlaw, "Mr. Scott and Leyden drew together in a close and seemingly private conversation. I, of course, fell back. After a minute or two, Leyden reined in his horse (a black horse that Mr. Scott's servant used to ride) and let me come up. 'This Hogg,' said he, 'writes verses, I understand.' I assured him that he wrote very beautiful verses, and with great facility. 'But I trust,' he replied, 'that there is no fear of his passing off any of his own upon Scott for old ballads.' I again assured him that he would never think of such a thing; and neither would he at that period of his life.

"'Let him beware of forgery,' cried Leyden with great force and energy, and in, I suppose, what Mr. Scott used afterwards to call the SAW TONES OF HIS VOICE."

This proves that Leyden had no personal knowledge of "this Hogg," and did not supply the shepherd with the traditions about Auld Maitland.

Mr. W. J. Kennedy, of Hawick, pointed out to me this passage in Laidlaw's Recollections, edited from the MS. by Mr. James Sinton, as reprinted from the Transactions of the Hawick Archaeological Society, 1905.


It was through his collecting and editing of The Border Minstrelsy that Sir Walter Scott glided from law into literature. The history of the conception and completion of his task, "a labour of love truly, if ever such there was," says Lockhart, is well known, but the tale must be briefly told if we are to understand the following essays in defence of Scott's literary morality.

Late in 1799 Scott wrote to James Ballantyne, then a printer in Kelso, "I have been for years collecting Border ballads," and he thought that he could put together "such a selection as might make a neat little volume, to sell for four or five shillings." In December 1799 Scott received the office of Sheriff of Selkirkshire, or, as he preferred to say, of Ettrick Forest. In the Forest, as was natural, he found much of his materials. The people at the head of Ettrick were still, says Hogg, {1a} like many of the Highlanders even now, in that they cheered the long winter nights with the telling of old tales; and some aged people still remembered, no doubt in a defective and corrupted state, many old ballads. Some of these, especially the ballads of Border raids and rescues, may never even have been written down by the original authors. The Borderers, says Lesley, Bishop of Ross, writing in 1578, "take much pleasure in their old music and chanted songs, which they themselves compose, whether about the deeds of their ancestors, or about ingenious raiding tricks and stratagems." {2a}

The historical ballads about the deeds of their ancestors would be far more romantic than scientifically accurate. The verses, as they passed from mouth to mouth and from generation to generation, would be in a constant state of flux and change. When a man forgot a verse, he would make something to take its place. A more or less appropriate stanza from another ballad would slip in; or the reciter would tell in prose the matter of which he forgot the versified form.

Again, in the towns, street ballads on remarkable events, as early at least as the age of Henry VIII., were written or printed. Knox speaks of ballads on Queen Mary's four Maries. Of these ballads only one is left, and it is a libel. The hanging of a French apothecary of the Queen, and a French waiting-maid, for child murder, has been transferred to one of the Maries, or rather to an apocryphal Mary Hamilton, with Darnley for her lover. Of this ballad twenty-eight variants—and extremely various they are—were collected by Professor Child in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads (ten parts, 1882- 1898). In one mangled form or another such ballads would drift at last even to Ettrick Forest.

A ballad may be found in a form which the first author could scarcely recognise, dozens of hands, in various generations, having been at work on it. At any period, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the cheap press might print a sheet of the ballads, edited and interpolated by the very lowest of printer's hacks; that copy would circulate, be lost, and become in turn a traditional source, though full of modernisms. Or an educated person might make a written copy, filling up gaps himself in late seventeenth or in eighteenth century ballad style, and this might pass into the memory of the children and servants of the house, and so to the herds and to the farm lasses. I suspect that this process may have occurred in the cases of Auld Maitland and of The Outlaw Murray—"these two bores" Mr. Child is said to have styled them.

When Allan Ramsay, about 1720, took up and printed a ballad, he altered it if he pleased. More faithful to his texts (wherever he got them), was David Herd, in his collection of 1776, but his version did not reach, as we shall see, old reciters in Ettrick. If Scott found any traditional ballads in Ettrick, as his collectors certainly did, they had passed through the processes described. They needed re-editing of some sort if they were to be intelligible, and readable with pleasure.

In 1800, apparently, while Scott made only brief flying visits from the little inn of Clovenfords, on Tweed, to his sheriffdom, he found a coadjutor. Richard Heber, the wealthy and luxurious antiquary and collector, looked into Constable's first little bookselling shop, and saw a strange, poor young student prowling among the books. This was John Leyden, son of a shepherd in Roxburghshire, a lad living in extreme poverty.

Leyden, in 1800, was making himself a savant. Heber spoke with him, found that he was rich in ballad-lore, and carried him to Scott. He was presently introduced into the best society in Edinburgh (which would not happen in our time), and a casual note of Scott's proves that he did not leave Leyden in poverty. Early in 1802, Leyden got the promise of an East Indian appointment, read medicine furiously, and sailed for the East in the beginning of 1803. It does not appear that Leyden went ballad-hunting in Ettrick before he rode thither with Scott in the spring of 1802. He was busy with books, with editorial work, and in aiding Scott in Edinburgh. It was he who insisted that a small volume at five shillings was far too narrow for the materials collected.

Scott also corresponded with the aged Percy, Bishop of Dromore, editor of the Reliques, and with Joseph Ritson, the precise collector, Percy's bitter foe. Unfortunately the correspondence on ballads with Ritson, who died in 1803, is but scanty; nor has most of the correspondence with another student, George Ellis, been published. Even in Mr. Douglas's edition of Scott's Familiar Letters, the portion of an important letter of Hogg's which deals with ballad-lore is omitted. I shall give the letter in full.

In 1800-01, "The Minstrelsy formed the editor's chief occupation," says Lockhart; but later, up to April 1801, the Forest and Liddesdale had yielded little material. In fact, I do not know that Scott ever procured much in Liddesdale, where he had no Hogg or Laidlaw always on the spot, and in touch with the old people. It was in spring, 1802, that Scott first met his lifelong friend, William Laidlaw, farmer in Blackhouse, on Douglasburn, in Yarrow. Laidlaw, as is later proved completely, introduced Scott to Hogg, then a very unsophisticated shepherd. "Laidlaw," says Lockhart, "took care that Scott should see, without delay, James Hogg." {4a} These two men, Hogg and Laidlaw, knowing the country people well, were Scott's chief sources of recited balladry; and probably they sometimes improved, in making their copies, the materials won from the failing memories of the old. Thus Laidlaw, while tenant in Traquair Knowe, obtained from recitation, The Daemon Lover. Scott does not tell us whether or not he knew the fact that Laidlaw wrote in stanza 6 (half of it traditional), stanza 12 (also a ballad formula), stanzas 17 and 18 (necessary to complete the sense; the last two lines of 18 are purely and romantically modern).

We shall later quote Hogg's account of his own dealings with his raw materials from recitation.

In January 1802 Scott published the two first volumes of The Minstrelsy. Lockhart describes the enthusiasm of dukes, fine ladies, and antiquarians. In the end of April 1803 the third volume appeared, including ballads obtained through Hogg and Laidlaw in spring 1802. Scott, by his store of historic anecdote in his introductions and notes, by his way of vivifying the past, and by his method of editing, revived, but did not create, the interest in the romance of ballad poetry.

It had always existed. We all know Sidney's words on "The Douglas and the Percy"; Addison's on folk-poetry; Mr. Pepys' ballad collection; the ballads in Tom Durfey's and other miscellanies; Allan Ramsay's Evergreen; Bishop Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry; Herd's ballad volumes of 1776; Evans' collections; Burns' remakings of old songs; Ritson's publications, and so forth. But the genius of Burns, while it transfigured many old songs, was not often exercised on old narrative ballads, and when Scott produced The Minstrelsy, the taste for ballads was confined to amateurs of early literature, and to country folk.

Sir Walter's method of editing, of presenting his traditional materials, was literary, and, usually, not scientific. A modern collector would publish things—legends, ballads, or folk-tales— exactly as he found them in old broadsides, or in MS. copies, or received them from oral recitation. He would give the names and residences and circumstances of the reciters or narrators (Herd, in 1776, gave no such information). He would fill up no gaps with his own inventions, would add no stanzas of his own, and the circulation of his work would arrive at some two or three hundred copies given away!

As Lockhart says, "Scott's diligent zeal had put him in possession of a variety of copies in various stages of preservation, and to the task of selecting a standard text among such a diversity of materials he brought a knowledge of old manners and phraseology, and a manly simplicity of taste, such as had never before been united in the person of a poetical antiquary."

Lockhart speaks of "The editor's conscientious fidelity . . . which prevented the introduction of anything new, and his pure taste in the balancing of discordant recitations." He had already written that "Scott had, I firmly believe, interpolated hardly a line or even an epithet of his own." {8a}

It is clear that Lockhart had not compared the texts in The Minstrelsy with the mass of manuscript materials which are still at Abbotsford. These, copied by the accurate Mr. Macmath, have been published in the monumental collection of English and Scottish Popular Ballads, in ten parts, by the late Professor Child of Harvard, the greatest of scholars in ballad-lore. From his book we often know exactly what kinds of copies of ballads Scott possessed, and what alterations he made in his copies. The Ballad of Otterburne is especially instructive, as we shall see later. But of the most famous of Border historical ballads, Kinmont Willie, and its companion, Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodhead, Scott has left no original manuscript texts. Now into each of these ballads Scott has written (if internal evidence be worth anything) verses of his own; stanzas unmistakably marked by his own spirit, energy, sense of romance, and, occasionally, by a somewhat inflated rhetoric. On this point doubt is not easy. When he met the names of his chief, Buccleuch, and of his favourite ancestor, Wat of Warden, Scott did, in two cases, for those heroes what, by his own confession, he did for anecdotes that came in his way—he decked them out "with a cocked hat and a sword."

Sir Walter knew perfectly well that he was not "playing the game" in a truly scientific spirit. He explains his ideas in his "Essay on Popular Poetry" as late as 1830. He mentions Joseph Ritson's "extreme attachment to the severity of truth," and his attacks on Bishop Percy's purely literary treatment of the materials of his Reliques of Ancient Poetry (1765).

As Scott says, "by Percy words were altered, phrases improved, and whole verses were inserted or omitted at pleasure." Percy "accommodated" the ballads "with such emendations as might recommend them to the modern taste." Ritson cried "forgery," but Percy, says Scott, had to win a hearing from his age, and confessed (in general terms) to his additions and decorations.

Scott then speaks reprovingly of Pinkerton's wholesale fabrication of ENTIRE BALLADS (1783), a crime acknowledged later by the culprit (1786). Scott applauds Ritson's accuracy, but regrets his preference of the worst to the better readings, as if their inferiority was a security for their being genuine. Scott preferred the best, the most poetical readings.

In 1830, Scott also wrote an essay on "Imitations of the Ancient Ballads," and spoke very leniently of imitations passed off as authentic. "There is no small degree of cant in the violent invectives with which impostors of this nature have been assailed." As to Hardyknute, the favourite poem of his infancy, "the first that I ever learned and the last that I shall forget," he says, "the public is surely more enriched by the contribution than injured by the deception." Besides, he says, the deception almost never deceives.

His method in The Minstrelsy, he writes, was "to imitate the plan and style of Bishop Percy, observing only more strict fidelity concerning my originals." That is to say, he avowedly made up texts out of a variety of copies, when he had more copies than one. This is frequently acknowledged by Scott; what he does not acknowledge is his own occasional interpolation of stanzas. A good example is The Gay Gosshawk. He had a MS. of his own "of some antiquity," a MS. of Mrs. Brown, a famous reciter and collector of the eighteenth century; and the Abbotsford MSS. show isolated stanzas from Hogg, and a copy from Will Laidlaw. Mr. T. F. Henderson's notes {10a} display the methods of selection, combination, emendation, and possible interpolation.

By these methods Scott composed "a standard text," now the classical text, of the ballads which he published. Ballad lovers, who are not specialists, go to The Minstrelsy for their favourite fare, and for historical elucidation and anecdote.

Scott often mentions his sources of all kinds, such as MSS. of Herd and Mrs. Brown; "an old person"; "an old woman at Kirkhill, West Lothian"; "an ostler at Carlisle"; Allan Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany; Surtees of Mainsforth (these ballads are by Surtees himself: Scott never suspected him); Caw's Hawick Museum (1774); Ritson's copies, others from Leyden; the Glenriddell MSS. (collected by the friend of Burns); on several occasions copies from recitations procured by James Hogg or Will Laidlaw, and possibly or probably each of these men emended the copy he obtained; while Scott combined and emended all in his published text.

Sometimes Scott gives no source at all, and in these cases research finds variants in old broadsides, or elsewhere.

In thirteen cases he gives no source, or "from tradition," which is the same thing; though "tradition in Ettrick Forest" may sometimes imply, once certainly does, the intermediary Hogg, or Will Laidlaw.

We now understand Scott's methods as editor. They are not scientific; they are literary. We also acknowledge (on internal evidence) his interpolation of his own stanzas in Kinmont Willie and Jamie Telfer, where he exalts his chief and ancestor. We cannot do otherwise (as scholars) than regret and condemn Scott's interpolations, never confessed. As lovers of poetry we acknowledge that, without Scott's interpolation, we could have no more of Kinmont Willie than verses, "much mangled by reciters," as Scott says, of a ballad perhaps no more poetical than Jock o' the Side. Scott says that "some conjectural emendations have been absolutely necessary to render it intelligible." As it is now very intelligible, to say "conjectural emendations" is a way of saying "interpolations."

But while thus confessing Scott's sins, I cannot believe that he, like Pinkerton, palmed off on the world any ballad or ballads of his own sole manufacture, or any ballad which he knew to be forged.

The truth is that Scott was easily deceived by a modern imitation, if he liked the poetry. Surtees hoaxed him not only with Barthram's Dirge and Anthony Featherstonhaugh, but with a long prose excerpt from a non-existent manuscript about a phantom knight. Scott made the plot of Marmion hinge on this myth, in the encounter of Marmion with Wilfred as the phantasmal cavalier. He tells us that in The Flowers of the Forest "the manner of the ancient minstrels is so happily imitated, that it required the most positive evidence to convince the editor that the song was of modern date." Really the author was Miss Jane Elliot (1747-1805), daughter of Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto. Herd published a made-up copy in 1776. The tune, Scott says, is old, and he has heard an imperfect verse of the original ballad -

"I ride single on my saddle, For the flowers o' the forest are a' wede awa'"

The CONSTANT use of double rhymes within the line -

"At e'en, in the gloaming, nae younkers are roaming,"

an artifice rare in genuine ballads, might alone have proved to Scott that the poem of Miss Elliot is not popular and ancient.

I have cleared my conscience by confessing Scott's literary sins. His interpolations, elsewhere mere stopgaps, are mainly to be found in Kinmont Willie and Jamie Telfer. His duty was to say, in his preface to each ballad, "The editor has interpolated stanza" so and so; if he made up the last verses of Kinmont Willie from the conclusion of a version of Archie o' Ca'field, he should have said so; as he does acknowledge two stopgap interpolations by Hogg in Auld Maitland. But as to the conclusion of Kinmont Willie, he did, we shall see, make confession.

Professor Kittredge, who edited Child's last part (X.), says in his excellent abridged edition of Child (1905), "It was no doubt the feeling that the popular ballad is a fluid and unstable thing that has prompted so many editors—among them Sir Walter Scott, whom it is impossible to assail, however much the scholarly conscience may disapprove—to deal freely with the versions that came into their hands."

Twenty-five years after the appearance of The Border Minstrelsy, in 1827, appeared Motherwell's Minstrelsy, Ancient and Modern. Motherwell was in favour of scientific methods of editing. Given two copies of a ballad, he says, "perhaps they may not have a single stanza which is mutual property, except certain commonplaces which seem an integral portion of the original mechanism of all our ancient ballads . . . " By selecting the most beautiful and striking passages from each copy, and making those cohere, an editor, he says, may produce a more perfect and ornate version than any that exists in tradition. Of the originals "the individuality entirely disappears."

Motherwell disapproved of this method, which, as a rule, is Scott's, and, scientifically, the method is not defensible. Thus, having three ballads of rescues, in similar circumstances, with a river to ford, Scott confessedly places that incident where he thinks it most "poetically appropriate"; and in all probability, by a single touch, he gives poetry in place of rough humour. Of all this Motherwell disapproved. (See Kinmont Willie, infra.)

Aytoun, in The Ballads of Scotland, thought Motherwell hypercritical; and also, in his practice inconsistent with his preaching. Aytoun observed, "with much regret and not a little indignation" (1859), "that later editors insinuated a doubt as to the fidelity of Sir Walter's rendering. My firm belief, resting on documentary evidence, is that Scott was most scrupulous in adhering to the very letter of his transcripts, whenever copies of ballads, previously taken down, were submitted to him." As an example, Aytoun, using a now lost MS. copy of about 1689-1702, of The Outlaw Murray, says "Sir Walter has given it throughout just as he received it." Yet Scott's copy, mainly from a lost Cockburn MS., contains a humorous passage on Buccleuch which Child half suspects to be by Sir Walter himself. {15a} It is impossible for me to know whether Child's hesitating conjecture is right or wrong. Certainly we shall see, when Scott had but one MS. copy, as of Auld Maitland, his editing left little or nothing to be desired.

But now Scott is assailed, both where he deserves, and where, in my opinion, he does not deserve censure.

Scott did no more than his confessed following of Percy's method implies, to his original text of the Ballad of Otterburne. This I shall prove from his original text, published by Child from the Abbotsford MSS., and by a letter from the collector of the ballad, the Ettrick Shepherd.

The facts, in this instance, apparently are utterly unknown to Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon. Fitzwilliam Elliot, in his Further Essays on Border Ballads (1910), pp. 1-45.

Again, I am absolutely certain, and can demonstrate, that Scott did not (as Colonel Elliot believes) detect Hogg in forging Auld Maitland, join with him in this fraud, and palm the ballad off on the public. Nothing of the kind occurred. Scott did not lie in this matter, both to the world and to his intimate friends, in private letters.

Once more, without better evidence than we possess, I do not believe that, in Jamie Telfer, Scott transferred the glory from the Elliots to the Scotts, and the shame from Buccleuch to Elliot of Stobs. The discussion leads us into very curious matter. But here, with our present materials, neither absolute proof nor disproof is possible.

Finally, as to Kinmont Willie, I merely give such reasons as I can find for thinking that Scott HAD "mangled" fragments of an old ballad before him, and did not merely paraphrase the narrative of Walter Scott of Satchells, in his doggerel True History of the Name of Scott (1688).

The positions of Colonel Elliot are in each case the reverse of mine. In the instance of Auld Maitland (where Scott's conduct would be unpardonable if Colonel Elliot's view were correct), I have absolute proof that he is entirely mistaken. For Otterburne I am equally fortunate; that is, I can show that Scott's part went no further than "the making of a standard text" on his avowed principles. For Jamie Telfer, having no original manuscript, I admit DECORATIVE interpolations, and for the rest, argue on internal evidence, no other being accessible. For Kinmont Willie, I confess that the poem, as it stands, is Scott's, but give reasons for thinking that he had ballad fragments in his mind, if not on paper.

It will be understood that Colonel Elliot does not, I conceive, say that his charges are PROVED, but he thinks that the evidence points to these conclusions. He "hopes that I will give reasons for my disbelief" in his theories; and "hopes, though he cannot expect that they will completely dispose of" his views about Jamie Telfer. {17a}

I give my reasons, though I entertain but slight hope of convincing my courteous opponent. That is always a task rather desperate. But the task leads me, in defence of a great memory, into a countryside, and into old times on the Border, which are so alluring that, like Socrates, I must follow where the logos guides me. To one conclusion it guides me, which startles myself, but I must follow the logos, even against the verdict of Professor Child, notre maitre a tous. In some instances, I repeat, positive proof of the correctness of my views is impossible; all that I can do is to show that Colonel Elliot's contrary opinions also fall far short of demonstration, or are demonstrably erroneous.


The ballad of Auld Maitland holds in The Border Minstrelsy a place like that of the Doloneia, or Tenth Book, in the Iliad. Every professor of the Higher Criticism throws his stone at the Doloneia in passing, and every ballad-editor does as much to Auld Maitland. {19a} Professor Child excluded it from his monumental collection of "English and Scottish Popular Ballads," fragments, and variants, for which Mr. Child and his friends and helpers ransacked every attainable collection of ballads in manuscript, and ballads in print, as they listened to the last murmurings of ballad tradition from the lips of old or young.

Mr. Child, says his friend and pupil, Professor Kittredge, "possessed a kind of instinct" for distinguishing what is genuine and traditional, or modern, or manipulated, or, if I may say so, "faked" in a ballad.

"This instinct, trained by thirty years of study, had become wonderfully swift in its operations, and almost infallible. A forged or retouched piece could not escape him for a moment: he detected the slightest jar in the ballad ring." {18a}

But all old traditional ballads are masses of "retouches," made through centuries, by reciters, copyists, editors, and so forth. Unluckily, Child never gave in detail his reasons for rejecting that treasure of Sir Walter's, Auld Maitland. Child excluded the poem sans phrase. If he did this, like Falstaff "on instinct," one can only say that antiquarian instincts are never infallible. We must apply our reason to the problem, "What is Auld Maitland?"

Colonel Elliot has taken this course. By far the most blighting of the many charges made by Colonel Elliot against Sir Walter Scott are concerned with the ballad of Auld Maitland. {19a} After stating that, in his opinion, "several stanzas" of the ballad are by Sir Walter himself, Colonel Elliot sums up his own ideas thus:

"My view is that Hogg, in the first instance, tried to palm off the ballad on Scott, and failed; and then Scott palmed it off on the public, and succeeded . . . let us, as gentlemen and honest judges, admit that the responsibility of the deception rests rather on the laird (Scott) than on the herd" (Hogg.) {19b}

If Colonel Elliot's "views" were correct (and it is absolutely erroneous), the guilt of "the laird" would be great. Scott conspires with a shepherd, a stranger, to palm off a forgery on the public. Scott issues the forgery, and, what is worse, in a private letter to a learned friend, he utters what I must borrow words for: he utters "cold and calculated falsehoods" about the manner in which, and the person from whom, he obtained what he calls "my first copy" of the song. If Hogg and Scott forged the poem, then when Scott told his tale of its acquisition by himself from Laidlaw, Scott lied.

Colonel Elliot is ignorant of the facts in the case. He gropes his way under the misleading light of a false date, and of fragments torn from the context of a letter which, in its complete form, has never till now been published. Where positive and published information exists, it has not always come within the range of the critic's researches; had it done so, he would have taken the information into account, but he does not. Of the existence of Scott's "first copy" of the ballad in manuscript our critic seems never to have heard; certainly he has not studied the MS. Had he done so he would not assign (on grounds like those of Homeric critics) this verse to Hogg and that to Scott. He would know that Scott did not interpolate a single stanza; that spelling, punctuation, and some slight verbal corrections, with an admirable emendation, were the sum of his industry: that he did not even excise two stanzas of, at earliest, eighteenth century work.

I must now clear up misconceptions which have imposed themselves on all critics of the ballad, on myself, for example, no less than on Colonel Elliot: and must tell the whole story of how the existence of the ballad first became known to Scott's collector and friend, William Laidlaw, how he procured the copy which he presented to Sir Walter, and how Sir Walter obtained, from recitation, his "second copy," that which he printed in The Minstrelsy in 1803.

In 1801 Scott, who was collecting ballads, gave a list of songs which he wanted to Mr. Andrew Mercer, of Selkirk. Mercer knew young Will Laidlaw, farmer in Blackhouse on Yarrow, where Hogg had been a shepherd for ten years. Laidlaw applied for two ballads, one of them The Outlaw Murray, to Hogg, then shepherding at Ettrick House, at the head of Ettrick, above Thirlestane. Hogg replied on 20th July 1801. He could get but a few verses of The Outlaw from his maternal uncle, Will Laidlaw of Phawhope. He said that, from traditions known to him, he could make good songs, "but without Mr. Scott's permission this would be an imposition, neither could I undertake it without an order from him in his own handwriting . . . " {21a} Laidlaw went on trying to collect songs for Scott. We now take his own account of Auld Maitland from a manuscript left by him. {21b}

"I heard from one of the servant girls, who had all the turn and qualifications for a collector, of a ballad called Auld Maitland, that a grandfather (maternal) of Hogg could repeat, and she herself had several of the first stanzas, which I took a note of, and have still the copy. This greatly aroused my anxiety to procure the whole, for this was a ballad not even hinted at by Mercer in his list of desiderata received from Mr. Scott. I forthwith wrote to Hogg himself, requesting him to endeavour to procure the whole ballad. In a week or two I received his reply, containing Auld Maitland exactly as he had received it from the recitation of his uncle Will of Phawhope, corroborated by his mother, who both said they learned it from their father, a still older Will of Phawhope, and an old man called Andrew Muir, who had been servant to the famous Mr. Boston, minister of Ettrick." Concerning Laidlaw's evidence, Colonel Elliot says not a word.

This copy of Auld Maitland, with the superscription outside -


all in Hogg's hand, is now at Abbotsford. We next have, through Carruthers using Laidlaw's manuscript, an account of the arrival of Scott and Leyden at Blackhouse, of Laidlaw's presentation of Hogg's manuscript, which Scott read aloud, and of their surprise and delight. Scott was excited, so that his burr became very perceptible. {23a}

The time of year when Scott and Leyden visited Yarrow was not the AUTUMN vacation of 1802, as Lockhart erroneously writes, {23b} but the SPRING vacation of 1802. The spring vacation, Mr. Macmath informs me, ran from 11th March to 12th May in 1802. In May, apparently, Scott having obtained the Auld Maitland MS. in the vernal vacation of the Court of Session, gave his account of his discovery to his friend Ellis (Lockhart does not date the letter, but wrongly puts it after the return to Edinburgh in November 1802).

Scott wrote thus: —"We" (John Leyden and himself) "have just concluded an excursion of two or three weeks through my jurisdiction of Selkirkshire, where, in defiance of mountains, rivers, and bogs, damp and dry, we have penetrated the very recesses of Ettrick Forest . . . I have . . . returned LOADED with the treasures of oral tradition. The principal result of our inquiries has been a complete and perfect copy of "Maitland with his Auld Berd Graie," referred to by [Gawain] Douglas in his Palice of Honour (1503), along with John the Reef and other popular characters, and celebrated in the poems from the Maitland MS." (circ. 1575). You may guess the surprise of Leyden and myself when this was presented to us, copied down from the recitation of an old shepherd, by a country farmer . . . Many of the old words are retained, which neither the reciter nor the copyer understood. Such are the military engines, sowies, SPRINGWALLS (springalds), and many others . . . " {24a}

That Scott got the ballad in spring 1802 is easily proved. On 10th April 1802, Joseph Ritson, the crabbed, ill-tempered, but meticulously accurate scholar, who thought that ballad-forging should be made a capital offence, wrote thus to Scott:-

"I have the pleasure of enclosing my copy of a very ancient poem, which appears to me to be the original of The Wee Wee Man, and which I learn from Mr. Ellis you are desirous to see." In Scott's letter to Ellis, just quoted, he says: "I have lately had from him" (Ritson) "A COPIE of 'Ye litel wee man,' of which I think I can make some use. In return, I have sent him a sight of Auld Maitland, the original MS . . . I wish him to see it in puris naturalibus." "The precaution here taken was very natural," says Lockhart, considering Ritson's temper and hatred of literary forgeries. Scott, when he wrote to Ellis, had received Ritson's The Wee Wee Man "lately": it was sent to him by Ritson on 10th April 1802. Scott had already, when he wrote to Ellis, got "the original MS. of Auld Maitland" (now in Abbotsford Library). By 10th June 1802 Ritson wrote saying, "You may depend on my taking the utmost care of Old Maitland, and returning it in health and safety. I would not use the liberty of transcribing it into my manuscript copy of Mrs. Brown's ballads, but if you will signify your permission, I shall be highly gratified." {25} "Your ancient and curious ballad," he styles the piece.

Thus Scott had Auld Maitland in May 1802; he sent the original MS. to Ritson; Ritson received it graciously; he had, on 10th April 1802, sent Scott another MS., The Wee Wee Man: and when Scott wrote to Ellis about his surprise at getting "a complete and perfect copy of Maitland," he had but lately received The Wee Wee Man, sent by Ritson on 10th April 1802. He had made a spring, not an autumn, raid into the Forest.

We now know the external history of the ballad. Laidlaw, hearing his servant repeat some stanzas, asks Hogg for the full copy, which Hogg sends with a pedigree from which he never wavered. Auld Andrew Muir taught the song to Hogg's mother and uncle. Hogg took it from his uncle's recitation, and sent it, directed outside,


and Laidlaw gave it to Scott, in March 12-May 12, 1802. But Scott, publishing the ballad in The Minstrelsy (1803), says it is given "as written down from the recitation of the mother of Mr. James Hogg, who sings, or rather chants, it with great animation" (manifestly he had heard the recitation which he describes).

It seems that Scott, before he wrote to Ellis in May 1802, had misgivings about the ballad. Says Carruthers, he "made another visit to Blackhouse for the purpose of getting Laidlaw as a guide to Ettrick," being "curious to see the poetical shepherd."

Laidlaw's MS., used by Carruthers, describes the wild ride by the marshes at the head of the Loch of the Lowes, through the bogs on the knees of the hills, down a footpath to Ramseycleuch in Ettrick. They sent to Ettrick House for Hogg; Scott was surprised and pleased with James's appearance. They had a delightful evening: "the qualities of Hogg came out at every instant, and his unaffected simplicity and fearless frankness both surprised and pleased the Sheriff." {26a} Next morning they visited Hogg and his mother at her cottage, and Hogg tells how the old lady recited Auld Maitland. Hogg gave the story in prose, with great vivacity and humour, in his Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott (1834).

In an earlier poetical address to Scott, congratulating him on his elevation to the baronetcy (1818), the Shepherd says -

When Maitland's song first met your ear, How the furled visage up did clear. Beaming delight! though now a shade Of doubt would darken into dread, That some unskilled presumptuous arm Had marred tradition's mighty charm. Scarce grew thy lurking dread the less, Till she, the ancient Minstreless, With fervid voice and kindling eye, And withered arms waving on high, Sung forth these words in eldritch shriek, While tears stood on thy nut-brown cheek: "Na, we are nane o' the lads o' France, Nor e'er pretend to be; We be three lads of fair Scotland, Auld Maitland's sons a' three."

(Stanza xliii. as printed. In Hogg's MS. copy, given to Laidlaw there are two verbal differences, in lines 1 and 4.)

Then says Hogg -

Thy fist made all the table ring, By -, sir, but that is the thing!

Hogg could not thus describe the scene in addressing Scott himself, in 1818, if his story were not true. It thus follows that his mother knew the sixty-five stanzas of the ballad by heart. Does any one believe that, as a woman of seventy-two, she learned the poem to back Hogg's hoax? That he wrote the poem, and caused her to learn it by rote, so as to corroborate his imposture?

This is absurd.

But now comes the source of Colonel Elliot's theory of a conspiracy between Scott and Hogg, to forge a ballad and issue the forgery. Colonel Elliot knows scraps of a letter to Hogg of 30th June 1802. He has read parts, not bearing on the question, in Mr. Douglas's Familiar Letters of Sir Walter Scott (vol. i. pp. 12-15), and another scrap, in which Hogg says that "I am surprised to hear that Auld Maitland is suspected by some to be a modern forgery." This part of Hogg's letter of 30th June 1802 was published by Scott himself in the third volume of The Minstrelsy (April 1803).

Not having the context of the letter, Colonel Elliot seems to argue, "Scott says he got his first copy in autumn 1802" (Lockhart's mistake), "yet here are Hogg and Scott corresponding about the ballad long before autumn, in June 1802. This is very suspicious." I give what appears to be Colonel Elliot's line of reflection in my own words. He decides that, as early as June 1802, "Hogg"(in the Colonel's 'view'), "in the first instance, tried to palm off the ballad on Scott, and failed; and that then Scott palmed it off on the public, and succeeded."

This is all a mare's nest. Scott, in March-May 1802, had the whole of the ballad except one stanza, which Hogg sent to him on 30th June.

I now print, for the first time, the whole of Hogg's letter of 30th June, with its shrewd criticism on ballads, hitherto omitted, and I italicise the passage about Auld Maitland:-


Dear Sir,—I have been perusing your minstrelsy very diligently for a while past, and it being the first book I ever perused which was written by a person I had seen and conversed with, the consequence hath been to me a most sensible pleasure; for in fact it is the remarks and modern pieces that I have delighted most in, being as it were personally acquainted with many of the modern pieces formerly. My mother is actually a living miscellany of old songs. I never believed that she had half so many until I came to a trial. There are some (sic) in your collection of which she hath not a part, and I should by this time had a great number written for your amusement, thinking them all of great antiquity and lost to posterity, had I not luckily lighted upon a collection of songs in two volumes, published by I know not who, in which I recognised about half-a-score of my mother's best songs, almost word for word. No doubt I was piqued, but it saved me much trouble, paper, and ink; for I am carefully avoiding anything which I have seen or heard of being in print, although I have no doubt that I shall err, being acquainted with almost no collections of that sort, but I am not afraid that you too will mistake. I am still at a loss with respect to some: such as the Battle of Flodden beginning, "From Spey to the Border," a long poetical piece on the battle of Bannockburn, I fear modern: The Battle of the Boyne, Young Bateman's Ghost, all of which, and others which I cannot mind, I could mostly recover for a few miles' travel were I certain they could be of any use concerning the above; and I might have mentioned May Cohn and a duel between two friends, Graham and Bewick, undoubtedly very old. You must give me information in your answer. I have already scraped together a considerable quantity—suspend your curiosity, Mr. Scott, you will see them when I see you, of which I am as impatient as you can be to see the songs for your life. But as I suppose you have no personal acquaintance in this parish, it would be presumption in me to expect that you will visit my cottage, but I will attend you in any part of the Forest if you will send me word. I am far from supposing that a person of your discernment,—d-n it, I'll blot out that, 'tis so like flattery. I say I don't think you would despise a shepherd's "humble cot an' hamely fare," as Burns hath it, yet though I would be extremely proud of a visit, yet hang me if I would know what to do wi' ye. I am surprised to find that the songs in your collection differ so widely from my mother's. Is Mr. Herd's MS. genuine? I suspect it. Jamie Telfer differs in many particulars. Johnny Armstrong of Gilnockie is another song altogether. I have seen a verse of my mother's way called Johny Armstrong's last good-night cited in the Spectator, and another in Boswell's Journal. It begins, "Is there ne'er a man in fair Scotland?" Do you know if this is in print, Mr. Scott? In the Tale of Tomlin the whole of the interlude about the horse and the hawk is a distinct song altogether. {30a} Clerk Saunders is nearly the same with my mother's, until that stanza [xvi.] which ends, "was in the tower last night wi' me," then with another verse or two which are not in yours, ends Clerk Saunders. All the rest of the song in your edition is another song altogether, which my mother hath mostly likewise, and I am persuaded from the change in the stile that she is right, for it is scarce consistent with the forepart of the ballad. I have made several additions and variations out, to the printed songs, for your inspection, but only when they could be inserted without disjointing the songs as they are at present; to have written all the variations would scarcely be possible, and I thought would embarrass you exceedingly. I HAVE RECOVERED ANOTHER HALF VERSE OF OLD MAITLAN, AND HAVE RHYMED IT THUS -

REMEMBER FIERY OF THE SCOT HATH COWR'D ANEATH THY HAND; For ilka drap o' Maitlen's blood I'll gie THEE rigs o' land. -

THE TWO LAST LINES ONLY ARE ORIGINAL; YOU WILL EASILY PERCEIVE THAT THEY OCCUR IN THE VERY PLACE WHERE WE SUSPECTED A WANT. I AM SURPRISED TO HEAR THAT THIS SONG IS SUSPECTED BY SOME TO BE A MODERN FORGERY; THIS WILL BE BEST PROVED BY MOST OF THE OLD PEOPLE HEREABOUTS HAVING A GREAT PART OF IT BY HEART; many, indeed, are not aware of the manners of this place, it is but lately emerged from barbarity, and till this present age the poor illiterate people in these glens knew of no other entertainment in the long winter nights than in repeating and listening to these feats of their ancestors, which I believe to be handed down inviolate from father to son, for many generations, although no doubt, had a copy been taken of them at the end of every fifty years, there must have been some difference, which the repeaters would have insensibly fallen into merely by the change of terms in that period. I believe that it is thus that many very ancient songs have been modernised, which yet to a connoisseur will bear visible marks of antiquity. The Maitlen, for instance, exclusive of its mode of description, is all composed of words, which would mostly every one spell and pronounce in the very same dialect that was spoken some centuries ago.

Pardon, my dear Sir, the freedom I have taken in addressing you—it is my nature; and I could not resist the impulse of writing to you any longer. Let me hear from you as soon as this comes to your hand, and tell me when you will be in Ettrick Forest, and suffer me to subscribe myself, Sir, your most humble and affectionate servant,


In Scott's printed text of the ballad, two interpolations, of two lines each, are acknowledged in notes. They occur in stanzas vii., xlvi., and are attributed to Hogg. In fact, Hogg sent one of them (vii.) to Laidlaw in his manuscript. The other he sent to Scott on 30th June 1802.

Colonel Elliot, in the spirit of the Higher Criticism (chimaera bombinans in vacuo), writes, {31a} "Few will doubt that the footnotes" (on these interpolations) "were inserted with the purpose of leading the public to think that Hogg made no other interpolations; but I am afraid I must go further than this and say that, since they were inserted on the editor's responsibility, the intention must have been to make it appear as if no other interpolations by any other hand had been inserted."

But no other interpolations by another hand WERE inserted! Some verbal emendations were made by Scott, but he never put in a stanza or two lines of his own.

Colonel Elliot provides us with six pages of the Higher Criticism. He knows how to distinguish between verses by Hogg, and verses by Scott! {32a} But, save when Scott puts one line, a ballad formula, where Hogg has another line, Scott makes no interpolations, and the ballad formula he probably took, with other things of no more importance, from Mrs. Hogg's recitation. Oh, Higher Criticism!

I now print the ballad as Hogg sent it to Laidlaw, between August 1801 and March 1802, in all probability.

[Back of Hogg's MS.: Mr. William Laidlaw, Blackhouse.]


There lived a king in southern land King Edward hecht his name Unwordily he wore the crown Till fifty years was gane.

He had a sister's son o's ain Was large o' blood and bane And afterwards when he came up, Young Edward hecht his name.

One day he came before the king, And kneeld low on his knee A boon a boon my good uncle, I crave to ask of thee

"At our lang wars i' fair Scotland I lang hae lang'd to be If fifteen hunder wale wight men You'll grant to ride wi' me."

"Thou sal hae thae thou sal hae mae I say it sickerly; And I mysel an auld grey man Arrayd your host sal see." -

King Edward rade King Edward ran - I wish him dool and pain! Till he had fifteen hundred men Assembled on the Tyne. And twice as many at North Berwick Was a' for battle bound

They lighted on the banks of Tweed And blew their coals sae het And fired the Merce and Tevidale All in an evening late

As they far'd up o'er Lammermor They burn'd baith tower and town Until they came to a derksome house, Some call it Leaders Town

Whae hauds this house young Edward crys, Or whae gae'st ower to me A grey haired knight set up his head And cracked right crousely

Of Scotlands King I haud my house He pays me meat and fee And I will keep my goud auld house While my house will keep me

They laid their sowies to the wall Wi' mony heavy peal But he threw ower to them again Baith piech and tar barille

With springs: wall stanes, and good of ern, Among them fast he threw Till mony of the Englishmen About the wall he slew.

Full fifteen days that braid host lay Sieging old Maitlen keen Then they hae left him safe and hale Within his strength o' stane

Then fifteen barks, all gaily good, Met themen on a day, Which they did lade with as much spoil As they could bear away.

"England's our ain by heritage; And whae can us gainstand, When we hae conquerd fair Scotland Wi' bow, buckler, and brande" -

Then they are on to th' land o' france, Where auld King Edward lay, Burning each town and castle strong That ance cam in his way.

Untill he cam unto that town Which some call Billop-Grace There were old Maitlen's sons a' three Learning at School alas

The eldest to the others said, O see ye what I see If a' be true yon standard says, We're fatherless a' three

For Scotland's conquerd up and down Landsmen we'll never be: Now will you go my brethren two, And try some jeopardy

Then they hae saddled two black horse, Two black horse and a grey And they are on to Edwardes host Before the dawn of day

When they arriv'd before the host They hover'd on the ley Will you lend me our King's standard To carry a little way

Where was thou bred where was thou born Wherein in what country - In the north of England I was born What needed him to lie.

A knight me got a lady bare I'm a squire of high renown I well may bear't to any king, That ever yet wore crown.

He ne'er came of an Englishman Had sic an ee or bree But thou art likest auld Maitlen That ever I did see

But sic a gloom inon ae browhead Grant's ne'er see again For many of our men he slew And many put to pain

When Maitlan heard his father's name, An angry man was he Then lifting up a gilt dager Hung low down by his kee

He stab'd the knight the standard bore, He stabb'd him cruelly; Then caught the standard by the neuk, And fast away rade he.

Now is't na time brothers he cry'd Now, is't na time to flee Ay by my soothe they baith reply'd, We'll bear you company

The youngest turn'd him in a path And drew a burnish'd brand And fifteen o' the foremost slew Till back the lave did stand

He spurr'd the grey unto the path Till baith her sides they bled Grey! thou maun carry me away Or my life lies in wed

The captain lookit owr the wa' Before the break o day There he beheld the three Scots lads Pursued alongst the way

Pull up portculzies down draw briggs My nephews are at hame And they shall lodge wi' me to-night, In spite of all England

Whene'er they came within the gate They thrust their horse them frae And took three lang spears in their hands, Saying, here sal come nae mae

And they shott out and they shott in, Till it was fairly day When many of the Englishmen About the draw brigg lay.

Then they hae yoked carts and wains To ca' their dead away And shot auld dykes aboon the lave In gutters where they lay

The king in his pavilion door Was heard aloud to say Last night three o' the lads o' France My standard stole away

Wi' a fause tale disguis'd they came And wi' a fauser train And to regain my gaye standard These men were a' down slaine

It ill befits the youngest said A crowned king to lie But or that I taste meat and drink, Reproved shall he be.

He went before King Edward straight And kneel'd low on his knee I wad hae leave my liege he said, To speak a word wi' thee

The king he turn'd him round about And wistna what to say Quo' he, Man, thou's hae leave to speak Though thou should speak a day.

You said that three young lads o' France, Your standard stole away Wi' a fause tale and fauser train, And mony men did slay

But we are nane the lads o' France Nor e'er pretend to be We are three lads o' fair Scotland, Auld Maitlen's sons a' three

Nor is there men in a your host, Dare fight us three to three Now by my sooth young Edward cry'd, Weel fitted sall ye be!

Piercy sall with the eldest fight And Ethert Lunn wi' thee William of Lancastar the third And bring your fourth to me

He clanked Piercy owr the head A deep wound and a sair Till the best blood o' his body Came rinnen owr his hair.

Now I've slain one slay ye the two; And that's good company And if the two should slay ye baith, Ye'se get na help frae me

But Ethert Lunn a baited bear Had many battles seen He set the youngest wonder sair, Till the eldest he grew keen

I am nae king nor nae sic thing My word it sanna stand For Ethert shall a buffet bide, Come he aneath my brand.

He clanked Ethert owr the head, A deep wound and a sair Till a' the blood of his body Came rinnen owr his hair

Now I've slayne two slay ye the one; Isna that gude company And tho' the one should slay ye both Ye'se get nae help o' me.

The twasome they hae slayn the one They maul'd them cruelly Then hang them owr the drawbridge, That a' the host might see

They rade their horse they ran their horse, Then hover'd on the ley We be three lads o' fair Scotland, We fain wad fighting see

This boasting when young Edward heard, To's uncle thus said he, I'll take yon lad I'll bind yon lad, And bring him bound to thee

But God forbid King Edward said That ever thou should try Three worthy leaders we hae lost, And you the fourth shall be.

If thou wert hung owr yon drawbrigg Blythe wad I never be But wi' the pole-axe in his hand, Outower the bridge sprang he

The first stroke that young Edward gae He struck wi might and main He clove the Maitlen's helmet stout, And near had pierced his brain.

When Matlen saw his ain blood fa, An angry man was he He let his weapon frae him fa' And at his neck did flee

And thrice about he did him swing, Till on the ground he light Where he has halden young Edward Tho' he was great in might

Now let him up, King Edward cry'd, And let him come to me And for the deed that ye hae done Ye shal hae earldoms three

It's ne'er be said in France nor Ire In Scotland when I'm hame That Edward once was under me, And yet wan up again

He stabb'd him thro and thro the hear He maul'd him cruelly Then hung him ower the drawbridge Beside the other three

Now take from me that feather bed Make me a bed o' strae I wish I neer had seen this day To mak my heart fu' wae

If I were once at London Tower, Where I was wont to be I never mair should gang frae hame, Till borne on a bier-tree

At the end of his copy Hogg writes (probably of stanza vii.)—"You may insert the two following lines anywhere you think it needs them, or substitute two better -

And marching south with curst Dunbar A ready welcome found."


Is Auld Maitland a sheer forgery by Hogg, or is it in any sense, and if so, in what sense, antique and traditional? That Hogg made the whole of it is to me incredible. He had told Laidlaw on 20th July 1801, that he would make no ballads on traditions without Scott's permission, written in Scott's hand. Moreover, how could he have any traditions about "Auld Maitland, his noble Sonnis three," personages of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries? Scott had read about them in poems of about 1580, but these poems then lay in crabbed manuscripts. Again, Hogg wrote in words ("springs, wall-stanes") of whose meaning he had no idea; he took it as he heard it in recitation. Finally, the style is not that of Hogg when he attempts the ballad. Scott observed that "this ballad, notwithstanding its present appearance, has a claim to very high antiquity." The language, except for a few technical terms, is modern, but what else could it be if handed down orally? The language of undoubted ballads is often more modern than that which was spoken in my boyhood in Ettrick Forest. As Sir Walter Scott remarked, a poem of 1570-1580, which he quotes from the Maitland MSS., "would run as smoothly, and appear as modern, as any verse in the ballad (with a few exceptions) if divested of its antique spelling."

We now turn to the historical characters in the ballad.

Sir Richard Maitland of Lauder, or Thirlestane, says Scott, was already in his lands, and making donations to the Church in 1249. If, in 1296, forty-seven years later, he held his castle against Edward I., as in the ballad, he must have been a man of, say, seventy-five. By about 1574 his descendant, Sir Richard Maitland, was consoled for his family misfortunes (his famous son, Lethington, having died after the long siege of Edinburgh Castle, which he and Kirkcaldy of Grange held for Queen Mary), by a poet who reminded him that his ancestor, in the thirteenth century, lost all his sons—"peerless pearls"—save one, "Burdallane." The Sir Richard of 1575 has also one son left (John, the minister of James VI.). {41a}

From this evidence, in 1802 in MS. unpublished, and from other Maitland MSS., we learn that, in the sixteenth century, the Auld Maitland of the ballad was an eminent character in the legends of that period, and in the ballads of the people. {42b} His

Nobill sonnis three, Ar sung in monie far countrie, ALBEIT IN RURAL RHYME.

Pinkerton published, in 1786, none of the pieces to which Scott refers in his extracts from the Maitland MSS. How, then, did Hogg, if Hogg forged the ballad, know of Maitland and his "three noble sons"? Except Colonel Elliot, to whose explanation we return, I am not aware that any critic has tried to answer this question.

It seems to me that if the Ballad of Otterburne, extant in 1550 in England, survived in Scottish memory till Herd's fragment appeared in 1776, a tradition of Maitland, who was popular in the ballads of 1575, and known to Gawain Douglas seventy years earlier, may also have persisted. There is no impossibility.

Looking next at Scott's Auld Maitland the story is that King Edward I. reigned for fifty years. He had a nephew Edward (an apocryphal person: such figures are common in ballads), who wished to take part in the invasion of Scotland. The English are repulsed by old Maitland from his "darksome house" on the Leader. The English, however, (stanza xv.) conquer Scotland, and join Edward I. in France. They besiege that town,

Which some call Billop-Grace (xviii.).

Here Maitland's three sons are learning at school, as Scots often were educated in France. They see that Edward's standard quarters the arms of France, and infer that he has conquered their country. They "will try some jeopardy." Persuading the English that they are themselves Englishmen, they ask leave to carry the royal flag. The eldest is told that he is singularly like Auld Maitland. In anger he stabs the standard-bearer, seizes the flag, and, with his brothers, spurs to Billop-Grace, where the French captain receives them. There is fighting at the gate. The King says that three disguised lads of France have stolen his flag. The Maitlands apparently heard of this; the youngest goes to Edward, and explains that they are Maitland's sons, and Scots; they challenge any three Englishmen; a thing in the manner of the period. The three Scots are victorious. Young Edward then challenges one of the dauntless three, who slays him. Edward wishes himself home at London Tower.

Such is the story. It is out of the regular line of ballad narrative, but it does not follow that, in the sixteenth century, some such tale was not told "in rural rhyme" about Maitland's "three noble sons." That it is not historically true is nothing, of course, and that it is not in the Scots of the thirteenth century is nothing.

Colonel Elliot asks, What in the ballad raised suspicion of forgery (in 1802-03)? The historical inaccuracies are common to all historical ballads. (In an English ballad known to me of 1578, Henry Darnley is "hanged on a tree"!)

Next, "there are occasional lines, and even stanzas, which jar in style to such a degree that they must have been written by two separate hands."

But this, also, is a common feature. In "Professor Child and the Ballad," Mr. W. M. Hart gives a list of Professor Child's notes on the multiplicity of hands, which he, and every critic, detect in some ballads with a genuinely antique substratum. {44a}

Colonel Elliot quotes, as in his opinion the best, stanzas viii., ix., x., xi., while he thinks xv., xviii. the worst. I give these stanzas -


They lighted on the banks o' Tweed, And blew their coals sae het, And fired the Merse and Teviotdale, All in an evening late.


As they fared up o'er Lammermoor, They burned baith up and doun, Until they came to a darksome house, Some call it Leader Town.


"Wha hauds this house?" young Edward cried, "Or wha gi'est ower to me?" A grey-hair'd knight set up his head, And crackit right crousely:


"Of Scotland's king I haud my house, He pays me meat and fee; And I will keep my guid auld house, While my house will keep me."

I cannot, I admit, find any fault with these stanzas: cannot see any reason why they should not be traditional.

Then Colonel Elliot cites, as the worst -


Then fifteen barks, all gaily good, Met them upon a day, Which they did lade with as much spoil As they could take away.


Until we came unto that town Which some call Billop-Grace; There were Auld Maitland's sons, a' three, Learning at school, alas!

Now, if I venture to differ from Colonel Elliot here, I may plead that I am practised in the art of ballad-faking, and can produce high testimonials of skill! To me stanzas xv., xviii. seem to differ much from viii.-xi., but not in such a way as Hogg would have differed, had he made them. Hogg's error would have lain, as Scott's did, in being, as Scott said of Mrs. Hemans, TOO POETICAL.

Neither Hogg nor Scott, I think, was crafty enough to imitate the prosaic drawl of the printed broadside ballad, or the feeble interpolations with which the "gangrel scrape-gut," or bankelsanger, supplied gaps in his memory. The modern complete ballad-faker WOULD introduce such abject verses, but Scott and Hogg desired to decorate, not to debase, ballads with which they intermeddled, and we track them by their modern romantic touch when they interpolate. I take it, for this reason, that Hogg did not write stanzas xv., xviii. It was hardly in nature for Hogg, if he knew Ville de Grace in Normandy (a thing not very probable), to invent "Billop-Grace" as a popular corruption of the name—and a popular corruption it is, I think. Probably the original maker of this stanza wrote, in line 4, "alace," an old spelling—not "alas"—to rhyme with "grace."

Colonel Elliot then assigns xv., xviii. as most likely of all to be by Hogg. On that I have given my opinion, with my reasons.

These verses, with xviii., lead us to France, and whereas Scott here suspects that some verses have been lost (see his note to stanza xviii.), Colonel Elliot suspects that the stanzas relating to France have been interpolated. But the French scenes occupy the whole poem from xvi. to lxv., the end.

What, if Hogg were the forger, were his sources? He MAY have known Douglas's Palice of Honour, which, of course, existed in print, with its mention of Maitland's grey beard. But how did he know Maitland's "three noble sons," in 1801-1802, lying unsunned in the Maitland MSS.?

This is a point which critics of Auld Maitland studiously ignore, yet it is the essential point. How did the Shepherd know about the three young Maitlands, whose existence, in legend, is only revealed to us through a manuscript unpublished in 1802? Colonel Elliot does not evade the point. "We may be sure," he says, that Leyden, before 1802, knew Hogg, and Hogg might have obtained from him sufficient information to enable him to compose the ballad. {47a} But it was from Laidlaw, not from Leyden, that Scott, after receiving his first copy at Blackhouse, in spring 1802, obtained Hogg's address. {47b} There is no hint that before spring 1802 Leyden ever saw Hogg. Had he known him, and his ballad-lore, he would have brought him and Scott together. In 1801-02, Leyden was very busy in Edinburgh helping Scott to edit Sir Tristram, copying Arthour, seeking for an East India appointment, and going into society. Scott's letters prove all this. {47c}

That Hogg, in 1802, was very capable of writing a ballad, I admit; also that, through Blind Harry's Wallace, he may have known all about "sowies," and "portculize," and springwalls, or springald's, or springalls, mediaeval balistas for throwing heavy stones and darts. But Hogg did not know or guess what a springwall was. In his stanza xiii. (in the MS. given to Laidlaw), Hogg wrote -

With springs; wall stanes, and good o'ern Among them fast he threw.

Scott saw the real meaning of this nonsense, and read -

With springalds, stones, and gads o' airn.

In his preface he says that many words in the ballad, "which the reciters have retained without understanding them, still preserve traces of their antiquity." For instance, springalls, corruptedly pronounced springwalls. Hogg, hearing the pronunciation, and not understanding, wrote, "with springs: wall stanes." A leader would not throw "wall stanes" till he had exhausted his ammunition. Hogg heard "with springwalls stones, he threw," and wrote it, "with springs: wall stones he threw."

Hogg could not know of Auld Maitland "and his three noble sons" except through an informant familiar with the Maitland MSS. in Edinburgh University Library. On the theory of a conspiracy to forge, Scott taught him, but that theory is crushed.

Hogg says, in Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott, that when his mother met Scott she told him that her brother and she learned the ballad from auld Andrew Muir, and he from "auld Babby Mettlin," housekeeper of the first ("Anderson") laird of Tushielaw. This first Anderson, laird of Tushielaw, reigned from 1688 to 1721 (?) or 1724. {48a} Hogg's mother was born in 1730, and was only one remove—filled up by Andrew Muir—from Babby, who was "ither than a gude yin," and knew many songs. Does any one think Hogg crafty enough to have invented Babby Maitland as the source of a song about the Maitlands, and to have introduced her into his narrative in 1834? I conjecture that this Maitland woman knew a Maitland song, modernised in time, and perhaps copied out and emended by one of the Maitland family, possibly one of the descendants of Lethington. We know that, under James I., about 1620, Lethington's impoverished son, James, had several children; and that Lauderdale was still supporting them (or THEIR children) during the Restoration. Only a century before, ballads on the Maitlands had certainly been popular, and there is nothing impossible in the suggestion that one such ballad survived in the Lauderdale or Lethington family, and came through Babby Maitland to Andrew Muir, then to Hogg's mother, to Hogg, and to Scott.

If a manuscript copy ever existed, and was Babby's ultimate source, it would be of the late seventeenth century. That is the ascertained date of the oldest known MS. of The Outlaw Murray, as is proved from an allusion in a note appended to a copy, referring to a Judge of Session, Lord Philiphaugh, as then alive. The copy was of 1689-1702. {49a}

Granting a MS. of Auld Maitland existing in any branch of the Maitland family in 1680-1700, Babby Mettlin's knowledge of the ballad, and its few modernisms, are explained.

As Lockhart truly says, Hogg "was the most extraordinary man that ever wore the maud of a shepherd." He had none of Burns' education. In 1802 he was young, and ignorant of cities, and always was innocent of research in the crabbed MSS. of the sixteenth century. Yet he gets at legendary persons known to us only through these MSS. He makes a ballad named Auld Maitland about them. Through him a farm-lass at Blackhouse acquires some stanzas which Laidlaw copies. In a fortnight Hogg sends Laidlaw the whole ballad, with the pedigree—his uncle, his mother, their father, and old Andrew Muir, servant to the famous Rev. Mr. Boston of Ettrick. The copy takes in Scott and Leyden. Later, Ritson makes no objection. Mrs. Hogg recites it to Scott, and, according to Hogg, gives a casual "auld Babby Maitland" as the original source.

Is the whole fraud conceivable? Hogg, we must believe, puts in two stanzas (xv., xviii.), of the lowliest order of printed stall-copy or "gangrel scrape-gut" style, and the same with intent to deceive. He introduces "Billop-Grace" as a deceptive popular corruption of Ville de Grace. This is far beyond any craft that I have found in the most artful modern "fakers." One stanza (xlix.) -

But Ethert Lunn, a baited bear, Had many battles seen -

seems to me very recent, whoever made it. Scott, in lxii., gives a variant of "some reciters," for "That Edward once lay under me," they read "That Englishman lay under me." This, if a false story, was an example of an art more delicate than Scott elsewhere exhibits.

One does not know what Professor Child would have said to my arguments. He never gave a criticism in detail of the ballad and of the circumstances in which Scott acquired it. A man most reasonable, most open to conviction, he would, I think, have confessed his perplexity.

Scott did not interpolate a single stanza, even where, as Hogg wrote, he suspected a lacuna in the text. He neither cut out nor improved the cryingly modern stanzas. He kept them, as he kept several stanzas in Tamlane, which, so he told Laidlaw, were obviously recent, but were in a copy which he procured through Lady Dalkeith. {51a}

By neither adding to nor subtracting from his MS. copy of Auld Maitland, Scott proved, I think, his respect for a poem which, in its primal form, he believed to be very ancient. We know, at all events, that ballads on the Maitland heroes were current about 1580. So, late in the sixteenth century, were the ballads quoted by Hume of Godscroft, on the murder of the Knight of Liddesdale (1354), the murder of the young Earl of Douglas in Edinburgh Castle (1440), and the battle of Otterburn. Of these three, only Otterburne was recovered by Herd, published in 1776. The other two are lost; and there is no prima facie reason why a Maitland ballad, of the sort current in 1580, should not, in favourable circumstances, have survived till 1802.

As regards the Shepherd's ideas of honesty in ballad-collecting at this early period, I have quoted his letter to Laidlaw of 20th July 1802.

Again, in the case of his text from recitation of the Ballad of Otterburne (published by Scott in The Minstrelsy of 1806), he gave the Sheriff a full account of his mode of handling his materials, and Scott could get more minute details by questioning him.

To this text of Otterburne, freely attacked by Colonel Elliot, in apparent ignorance, as before, of the published facts of the case, and of the manuscript, we next turn our attention. In the meantime, Scott no more conspired to forge Auld Maitland than he conspired to forge the Pentateuch. That Hogg did not forge Auld Maitland I think I have made as nearly certain as anything in this region can be. I think that the results are a lesson to professors of the Higher Criticism of Homer.


Scott's version of the Ballad of Otterburne, as given first in The Minstrelsy of 1806, comes under Colonel Elliot's most severe censure. He concludes in favour of "the view that it consists partly of stanzas from Percy's Reliques, which have undergone emendations calculated to disguise the source from which they came, partly of stanzas of modern fabrication, and partly of a very few stanzas and lines from Herd's version" (1776). {53a}

As a matter of fact we know, though Colonel Elliot does not, the whole process of construction of the Otterburne in The Minstrelsy of 1806. Professor Child published all the texts with a letter. {53b} It is a pity that Colonel Elliot overlooks facts in favour of conjecture. Concerning historical facts he is not more thorough in research. The story, in Percy's Reliques, of the slaying of Douglas by Percy, "is, so far as I know, supported neither by history nor by tradition." {53c} If unfamiliar with the English chroniclers (in Latin) of the end of the fourteenth century, Colonel Elliot could find them cited by Professor Child. Knyghton, Walsingham, and the continuator of Higden (Malverne), all assert that Percy killed Douglas with his own hand. {54a} The English ballad of Otterburne (in MS. of about 1550) gives this version of Douglas's death. It is erroneous. Froissart, a contemporary, had accounts of the battle from combatants, both English and Scottish. Douglas, fighting in the front of the van, on a moonlight night, was slain by three lance-wounds received in the mellay. The English knew not whom they had slain.

The interesting point is that, while the Scottish ballads give either the English version of Percy's death (in Minstrelsy, 1806) or another account mentioned by Hume of Godscroft (circ. 1610), that he was slain by one of his own men, the Scottish versions are ALL deeply affected in an important point by Froissart's contemporary narrative, which has not affected the English versions. The point is that the death of Douglas was by his order concealed from both parties.

When both the English version in Percy's Reliques (from a MS. of about 1550), and Scott's version of 1806, mention a "challenge to battle" between Percy and Douglas, Colonel Elliot calls this incident "probably purely fanciful and imaginary," and suspects Scott's version of being made up and altered from the English text. But the challenge which resulted in the battle of Otterburn is not fanciful and imaginary!

It is mentioned by Froissart. Douglas, he says, took Percy's pennon in an encounter under Newcastle. Percy vowed that Douglas would never carry the pennon out of Northumberland; Douglas challenged him to come and take it from his tent door that night; but Percy was constrained not to accept the challenge. The Scots then marched homewards, but Douglas insisted on besieging Otterburn Castle; here he passed some days on purpose to give Percy a chance of a fight; Percy's force surprised the Scots; they were warned, as in the ballads, suddenly, by a man who galloped up; the fight began; and so on.

Now Herd's version says nothing of Douglas at Newcastle; the whole scene is at Otterburn. On the other hand, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe's MS. text DID bring Douglas to Newcastle. Of this Colonel Elliot says nothing. The English version says NOTHING OF PERCY'S LOSS OF HIS PENNON TO DOUGLAS (nor does Sharpe's), and gives the challenge and tryst. Scott's version says nothing of Percy's pennon, but Douglas takes Percy's SWORD and vows to carry it home. Percy's challenge, in the English version, is accompanied by a gross absurdity. He bids Douglas wait at Otterburn, where, pour tout potage to an army absurdly stated at 40,000 men, Percy suggests venison and pheasants! In the Scottish version Percy offers tryst at Otterburn. Douglas answers that, though Otterburn has no supplies—nothing but deer and wild birds—he will there tarry for Percy. This is chivalrous, and, in Scott's version, Douglas understands war. In the English version Percy does not. (To these facts I return, giving more details.) Colonel Elliot supposes some one (Scott, I daresay) to have taken Percy's,—the English version,—altered it to taste, concealed the alterations, as in this part of the challenge, by inverting the speeches and writing new stanzas of the fight at Otterburn, used a very little of Herd (which is true), and inserted modern stanzas.

Now, first, as regards pilfering from the English version, that version, and Herd's undisputed version, have undeniably a common source. Neither, as it stands, is "original"; of an ORIGINAL contemporary Otterburn ballad we have no trace. By 1550, when such ballads were certainly current both in England and Scotland, they were late, confused by tradition, and, of what we possess, say Herd's, and the English MS. of 1550, all were interblended.

The Scots ballad version, known to Hume of Godscroft (1610), may have been taken from the English, and altered, as Child thought, or the English, as Motherwell maintained, may have been borrowed from the Scots, and altered. One or the other process undeniably occurred; the second poet, who made the changes, introduced the events most favourable to his country, and left out the less favourable. By Scott's time, or Herd's, the versions were much degraded through decay of memory, bad penny broadsides (lost), and uneducated reciters. Herd's version has forgotten the historic affair of the capture of Percy's pennon (and of the whole movement on Newcastle, preserved in Sharpe's and Scott's); Scott's remembers the encounter at Newcastle, forgets the pennon, and substitutes the capture by Douglas of Percy's sword. The Englishman deliberately omits the capture of the pennon. The Scots version (here altered by Sir Walter) makes Percy wound Douglas at Otterburn -

Till backward he did flee.

Now Colonel Elliot has no right, I conceive, to argue that this Scots version, with the Newcastle incident, the captured sword, the challenge, the "backward flight" of Douglas, were introduced by a modern (Scott?) who was deliberately "faking" the English version. There is no reason why tradition should NOT have retained historical incidents in the Scottish form; it is a mere assumption that a modern borrowed and travestied these incidents from Percy's Reliques. We possess Hogg's UNEDITED original of Scott's version of 1806 (an original MS. never hinted at by Colonel Elliot), and it retains clear traces of being contaminated with a version of The Huntiss of Chevet, popular in 1459, as we read in The Complaynte of Scotland of that date. There is also an old English version of The Hunting of the Cheviot (1550 or later, Bodleian Library). The UNEDITED text of Scott's Otterburne then contained traces of The Huntiss of Chevet; the two were mixed in popular memory. In short, Scott's text, manipulated slightly by him in a way which I shall describe, was A THING SURVIVING IN POPULAR MEMORY: how confusedly will be explained.

The differences between the English version of 1550 and the Scots (collected for Scott by Hogg), are of old standing. I am not sure that there was not, before 1550, a Scottish ballad, which the English ballad-monger of that date annexed and altered. The English version of 1550 is not "popular"; it is the work of a humble literary man.

The English is a very long ballad, in seventy quatrains; it greatly exaggerates the number of the Scots engaged (40,000), and it is the work of a professional author who uses the stereotyped prosaic stopgaps of the cheap hack -

I tell you withouten dread,

is his favourite phrase, and he cites historical authority -

The cronykle wyll not layne (lie).

Scottish ballads do not appeal to chroniclers! A patriotic and imbecile effort is made by the Englishman to represent Percy as captured, indeed, but released without ransom -

There was then a Scottysh prisoner tayne, Sir Hew Mongomery was his name; For sooth as I yow saye, He borrowed the Persey home agayne.

This is obscure, and in any case false. Percy WAS taken, and towards his ransom Richard II. paid 3000 pounds. {59a}

It may be well to quote the openings of each ballad, English and Scots.

ENGLISH (1550)


It fell about the Lammas tyde, When husbands win their hay, The doughty Douglas bound him to ride, In England to take a prey.


The Earl of Fife, withouten strife, He bound him over Solway; The great would ever together ride That race they may rue for aye.

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