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2. Robin Hood : a collection of all the ancient Poems, Songs, and Bal
lads now ertant relative to that celebrated outlaw; to which are prefixed Historical Anecdotes of his Life. By Joseph Ritsos,
Esq. 2 vols. 12mo. London, 1832. 3. Histoire de la conquête de l'Angleierre par les Normands. Par
AUGUSTIN THIERRY. Paris, 1851. 4. Scotichronicon. IOANNIS FARDUNI. Ed. Goodall, folio, Edin
burgh. 1759. The poems, songs, histories, and essays relating to Robin Hood, the celebrated English robber-chief, form quite a literature of their own. We have before us a list of nearly thirty works on the subject; and there are, perhaps, as many more, the names of which we have not taken down. Many of these profess to give full and authentic particulars of the bold outlaw's life, which are disputed by others as false, or inaccurate. It is amusing to contrast them, and note the various theories which have been started, as to who he was, and when he lived ; and, even, whether there ever was such a person as Robin Hood. There are six of these theories which we propose to discuss in their turn. The first is, that there never was such a man. The second, that he was the outlawed earl of Huntington. The third, that he was a yeoman, and not a nobleman. The fourth, that he lived in the time of Richard I. The fifth, that he lived in the time of Edward I. The sixth, that he lived in the time of Edward II. And since all these theories have had, and now have, their supporters, it is evident that a great amount of obscurity hangs over the subject.
The tendency of modern investigation has been to dethrone the old idols of the world, to deprive history of its romance, and to substitute dry matter-of-fact for the poetry of life. This stripping off of the gay and pleasing costume of the popular heroes of our youthful fancies may be right, and even profitable in the long run, since-as Dr. Priestly says—“the cause of truth must at all times be more beneficial to mankind than that of error.” But the process is painful, nevertheless; and we confess that we should be sorry to discover that our prince of outlaws and robbers—ille famosissimus sicarius, as Fordun calls him--was nothing but
a myth ; that the dear old familiar names of Robin Hood, Little John, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, Scarlet Much, the miller's son, Will Scathelock, and George-a-Green, never belonged to any beings more substantial than those which "imagination bodies forth.” To relieve ourselves from this anxiety it is obviously necessary to investigate the foundations upon which the first of the six theories rests, viz., that Robin Hood never existed; for this conclusion once established, the other five theories fall with it, and "there an end." So ignoble a termination of our inquiries would remind us of the old joke of the seventeen reasons offered by the citizens of Dover for not saluting Charles II., on his landing; the first of them being that they had no guns, whereupon the king dispensed with the remaining sixteen reasons.
The strong, and, indeed, the only valid argument in support of the non-existence theory is, that no contemporary writer mentions Robin Hood. One of the earliest notices yet discovered of him, occurs in John Fordun's Scotichronicon, an imperfect and unfinished history of Scotland, written some time during the latter half of the fourteenth centuryprobably during the early part of the reign of Richard II., A. D. 1377--84.*
But whence did Fordun obtain his information? He wrote upwards of a century after the battle of Evesham, and he either relied upon tradition, or derived his knowledge from some record, the very name of which has perished. But the text itself gives us the clue to the source from whence Fordun obtained this knowledge of Robin Hood and Little John, viz. : the popular plays, songs, and ballads of the day. A writer in the “Edinburgh Review,”+ commenting upon the passage, says: “It is very easy
* This note is as follows: “ Hoc in tempore (that is after the battle of Evesham, A. D. 1265, in which prince Edward-afterwards Edward I.-cut to pieces Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, and his adherents) de exhereditis et bannitis surrexit et caput erexit ille famosissimus sicarius Robertus Hode et Littill Johanne, cum eorum complicibus, de quibus stolidum vulgus hianter in comediis et tragediis prurienter festum faciunt, et super ceteras romancias, minos et bardanos cantitars delectantur."-Scotichronicon, vol. 2, p. 104.
+ Vol. 2., pp. 122–138.
to dovetail the existence and adventures of a hero of the greenwood upon any passage which indicates the existence of a band of outlaws," and maintains that this is what the author of the “Scotichronicon " has done. To us it appears far more probable that the popularity of the outlaw had its origin in actual events; and that it became embodied in the form it would naturally take in a rude, unenlightened age, when there was no literature for the mass of the people; viz., in the ballads and plays in which they delighted. But there is other evidence of the attachment of the
yeomanry and peasants of England to their romantic champion, which is scarcely compatible with the theory that some one invented the story of Robin Hood, and that it became so popular, that the people in time came to believe in it as firmly as if it were gospel. This evidence is found in the names of places, and in the local traditions of many counties in England. The writer in the “Edinburg Revie7," before cited, admits this, while sneering at the fact; but he draws from it an inference the reverse of what we do. The list of places named after Robin Hood, or in connection with him, is quite a long one. There is scarcely a county in England, or any class of ancient remains, which, in some place or other, does not claim a kind of relationship to this celebrated hero. Cairns in Blackdown, in Somersetshire, and barrows near Whitby, in Yorkshire, and Ludlow, in Shropshire, are termed Robin Hood's butts. Lofty, natural eminences in Gloucestershire and Derbyshire, are Robin Hood's hills. A huge rock near Matlock, in Derbyshire, is Robin Hood's Tor. Ancient boundary-stones, as in Lincolnshire, are Robin Hood's crosses. A presumed laggan, or rollingstone, in Yorkshire, is Robin Hood's penny-stone. A fountain near Nottingham, another between Doncaster and Wakefield, and one in Lancashire, are Robin Hood's wells. A cave in Nottinghamshire is his stable. A rude, natural rock in Hope Dale is his chair. A chasm in Chatsworth is his leap. Blackstone Edge, in Lancashire, is his bed. Ancient oaks in various parts of the country are his trees. Plumpton Park, in Cumberland, the forest of Feckenham, in Worcestershire, the deep glades of Sherwood and Barnesdale,
and the innermost recesses of Needwood and Inglewood still resound with his exploits. Loxley, or Locksley, the presumed place of his birth, which is set down by the old writers as in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire, is also claimed by Warwickshire and Staffordshire. 0.“Out of monuments, names, words, proverbs, traditions, private records and evidences, fragments of stories, passages
of books, and the like, we do save and recover somewhat from the deluge of time," says Lord Bacon,* and this aphorism is peculiarly applicable to the case of Robin Hood. We find all these testimonies bearing upon it. There are monuments to his memory and that of some of his companions. Gough has given a picture of the stone over the alleged grave of Robin Hood, in Kirklees Park, between Wakefield and Huddersfield, in Yorkshire, (at present the seat of Sir George Armitage, Bart.,)+ It is a plain stone, with a sort of flowered cross on it, now broken and much defaced. The inscription is illegible; but this stone was probably removed at some remote period from its original place; for the late Sir Samuel Armitage caused the ground underneath it to be dug up, in order to ascertain whether a body had been under it; and it was then found that the ground had never been disturbed. Leland says that "Robin Hood was interred under some trees at a short distance from the house (Kirklees Nunnery, where he died); a stone being placed over his grave with an inscription to his memory : * Kirkley monasterium monialium, ubi Ro : Hood nobilis ille exlex sepultus.'”+
Leland visited the spot, and wrote his description of it in the time of Henry VIII., more than 330 years ago. Dr. Stukeley also, writing at the beginning of the last century, gives an engraving of Kirklees Abbey, and of the trees among which Robin Hood was buried. The doctor
have been led to believe this as a fact from his partiality for all that concerned the bold outlaw; but, nevertheless, the tradition itself can be traced back several hun
* Advancement of Learning, book ii., vol. ii. † Sepulchral Monuments, p. 108. $ Collectanea, i., 54. § Itinerarium Curiosum.
dred years. Among the personages who figure in the story, is Maid Miriam, a name said to have been given to, or assumed by, the Lady Matilda, daughter of Robert, second Earl Fitzwalter. The legend is, that she fell in love with Robin, and ran away from her father's home to live with him in the greenwood. She is buried at Dunmow priory, in Esses, where may still be seen her monument. It is a mural tomb, shielded by a beautiful screen of dark old oak, which separates the nave from the chancel. On the slab is a reposing figure of the fair Matilda. The head is covered with a woolen coif; the neck is encircled with a collar, and a string of pendants falls upon an embroidered cap; and a rich girdle and long robe, with sleeves close to the wrist, and hands covered with rings, further indicate her rank. Angels were stationed beside her head, and a dog crouched at her feet. But rough hands have marred the tomb; the angels have been rudely broken, though the effigy itself has been spared.*
Robin Hood's companions share their leader's popularity. Little John heads the list as Robin's lieutenant and most devoted follower. William Scadlock, or Scathelock, George-aGreen, Pindar of Wakefield, Scarlet Much, the miller's son, and Friar Tuck, are next in esteem. Then follow Will Stately, Midge, Clifton, William of Goldsborough, Righthitting Brand, Gilbert with the white hand, Arthur-a-Bland, and Allan-a-Dale, a minstrel. George-a-Green's exploits were very popular; and he figures as the hero of a signpost at many other places besides his native town. A short time since there was one of him at one of the oldest public houses in Gray's Inn lane, London; and the once famous Bagnigge wells, formerly the country resort of the cockneys, but now in the heart of the town, had over an ancient gate, leading into the garden, a sculptured stone with this inscription : " This is Bagnigge house, near the Pindar-a-Wakefield.t
A romantic history of George-a-Green was published in 1706. But Little John (whose real name was John the
* Gutch, A Lytell Geste., p. 43. Ibid, p. 36.