صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

Naylor), claimed greater celebrity. He stood nearly seven feet high, and was nicknamed "Little” in consequence; and he was not less remarkable for his drollery than his prowess. The cottage in which he died is still shown, at Hathersage, in Sherwood forest; and the churchyard of that town is his reputed burial-place. Two ancient, upright stones mark the spot where his remains reposed, previous to their exhumation many years ago (about the year 1785).

A full description of this antique cottage will be found in Hall's “Rambles in the country surrounding the Forest of Sherwood.” It is very small, and there is a tradition that his body stretched nearly across the floor when he was dead.

His grave was opened by order of Captain James Shuttleworth, and a great thigh-bone was found in it, which measured thirty-two inches in length. This relic was re-interred; but some years afterwards it was re-exụmed by a party of “great folk” from Yorkshire, who took it with them to Canon hall, near Barnesley. Up to that time Little John's cap was kept hanging by a chain in the church ; but even that they took away--it was a green cloth cap. These doings, even if they prove nothing as to the fact of Little John's existence, show how strong is the belief in it at the present day. Mr. Gutch states further, that he was informed by Mr. Hall, that, some years ago, an old house was pulled down at Mansfield, and in its walls was discovered a sort of hiding-place, where the rotten remains of a bow, a green garment, a cap, and something besides were found ; and were supposed, from their appearance and locality, to have belonged to one of Robin Hood's band.

Such was the popularity of Little John that both Scotland and Ireland claimed the honor of possessing his grave. Hector Boece (translated by Bellenden*), says: “In Murray land is the kirk of Pette, quhare the bonis of Little Johne remanis in great admiration of pepill. He has bene fourtene fut of hicht, with square membris effering thairto. Six yeris afore the cuming of this werk to licht, we saw his hanche-bane als mekill as the haill bane of ane man ; for

*i. xxxiv.

we schot our arme in the mouth thairof; be quhilh appearis how strong and square pepill grew in our regions afore they were effiminat with lust and intemperance of mouth.” The Irish say that Little John took refuge in the neighborhood of Dublin, from English oppression. A hillock which, perhaps, was a barrow, that once stood on Astmantowne green, and was termed "Little John's shot,” was a lasting evidence of his presence, and of his skill in archery. Some records in the Southwell family, attest that he was publicly executed on Arbor hill, Dublin, for robbery. Absurdly conflicting as these statements are, they still afford evidence of the widespread popularity, or, at all events, notoriety of the individual they relate to.

Now, it is very unlikely that there was no fire to cause all this smoke. It is not sufficient to say that some fortunate ballad-monger, in a happy moment of inspiration, invented the story of Robin Hood and his merry men, and gave them a local habitation as well as a name. The same method of accounting for such widespread fame as connected with a personage only doubtfully known to history, has been resorted to in the case of king Arthur, the ancient British hero, of whom so many traditions remain; but the bulk of evidence is in favor of his having been a real personage, and the localities still pointed out as the scenes of his exploits, are lasting testimonies to the reality of them. Lord Bacon specifies “names and words” as aiding us “to save and recover somewhat from the deluge of time;" and surely an abundance of them has been produced ; sufficient to authenticate the belief that Robin Hood and his company were real personages, and performed most of the feats recorded of them. But if mere names are wanting, let us turn to the statement made by Mr. Spencer T. Hall, in his “ Forrester's Offering;" himself a native of Sherwood Forest, the scene of Robin's greatest exploits. Commenting on the names of Robin's companions, Little John the Naylor, Much, Scathelock, Statley or Stoutly, and others, he says:

"If my reader smiles at the above names, and deem the history fictitious because they are used, I will at once refer him to any churchyard in the Forest, where lie will find many similar on the gravestones; and. probably, inherited from some of Robin Hood's archers themselves,

Nor am I alone in this opinion; it struck that graphic American writer, Washington Irving, most forcibly, while on a pilgrimage to Newstead Abbey. I have seen a public house in the very heart of the district, with the sign of 'Robin Hood,' and kept by John Little.

One of my earliest playfellows rejoiced in the name of Jonas Archer ; the name of the parish clerk of Kirkby, in Nottinghamshire, is Shaklock, and there are many others of the same name in; that and the neighboring village of Sutton. Hardstaff is the name of the late Squire Chaworth's huntsman, at Annesley Park; and Beardall is the name of an innkeeper at Hucknall Torhard ; a Mr. Bowman (there is a name! a sturdy man must the original bow-breaker have been !) keeps a public house at Nuncar gate, near Kirkby woodhouse; and similar names, identified with the locality, are as numerous as a parislı jury-list !"

From names and words we pass on to “proverbs,” the fourth item in Lord Bacon's list of evidences. Mr. Ritson, in his “Historical Anecdotes," appended to his work on Robin Hood, cites several relating to the famous outlaw, and gives the authorities from which he quotes. 1. “Good even, good Robin Hood.” This is an allusion to civility extorted by fear. It is preserved by Skelton in his satire on Wolsey, beginning, “Why come ye not to court ?” 2.

Many men talk of Robin Hood that were shot in his bow.” This saying is found in Fuller's “Worthies.” 3. “To overshoot Robin Hood,” quoted in Sir Philip Sidney's “ Defence

of Poesie.” 4. “Tales of Robin Hood are good enough for • fools.” This is found in Camden's “Remains.” 5. “To sell

Robin Hood's pennyworths." Fuller, in his “Worthies,' say's that “this was spoken of things sold under half their value, or,

if

you will, half sold, half given. Robin Hood came lightly by his ware, and lightly parted therewith ; so that he could afford the length of his bow for a yard of velvet.” 6. “Come, turn about, Robin Hood,” implying that to challenge, or defy him, must have been the ne plus ultra of courage. It occurs in “ Wit and Drollery,” 1661. 7. “As crooked as Robin Hood's bow." To these Mr. Gutch adds : 8. To go round by Robin Hood's barn ;” implying the going of a short distance by a circuitous route. 9. “He makes Robin Hood's pennyworths.” Of his stolen goods he afforded good pennyworths. 10. “Robin Hood's choice;" this or nothing. And to these may be added the singular saying which was at one time in use in the courts of Westminster :

“Robin Hood in Barnwood stood,” which implied a quibble. Shakespeare makes one of the outlaws in the “Two gentlemen of Verona” swear “by the bare scalp of Robin Hood's fat friar;"* and swearing by Robin Hood, or some of his companions, appears to have been a usual practice. Mr. Gutch cites an account of a man going to be hanged, who sang part of an old song of Robin Hood.t At Edinburgh, in the year 1505, one Sandy Steven was convicted of blasphemy, alleging that he would give no more credit to the New Testament than to a tale of Robin Hood, except it were confirmed by the doctors of the church.

After proverbs come traditions, which, as regards Robin Hood, are very numerous. Many of them have been already alluded to, but many more remain. It would take more space than can be allotted to this article, to give them in detail, and the doing so would not help to settle the question as to the reality of the existence of our hero, since the greater number of them are productions of later ages than the latest supposed era of the outlaw; and the exploits therein described in ballad form are probably the inventions of the authors of these poems. Mr. Gutch has presented the entire series, or “cycle,” of Robin Hood ballads in his Lytell Geste. There are more than sixty of them, all written at different periods, and descriptive of different exploits and adventures of the outlaw and his comrades. Of these the earliest are " A tale of Robin Hood," or "Robin Hode and the Monk,” and “Robyn Hode and the Potter.” Then comes “The Lytell Geste," the most elaborate and famous of all. Upon these three are founded the subsequent

Mr. Wright, the eminent antiquary, in his essay on the popular cycle of the Robin Hood ballads,” gives it as his opinion that the compiler of the legend of the Lytell Geste obtained his materials for each fytte from ballads previously in existence. If this opinion be well founded, we are carried back to an indefinite period of antiquity. The manuscripts of these ballad-romances are to be found in the

ones.

* Act 4., sc. 1. Gentleman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 154.
I Knox's Historie of the Reformation in Scolland, p. 368.

[ocr errors]

public library at Cambridge, England, and Mr. Wright, from internal evidence, conjectures that they may be of a date rather earlier than the reign of Henry V.; but their greatest antiquity must be limited to the 15th century. If, then, the “Lytell Geste” were compiled from other ballads previously in existence, but now lost, it is possible that these same more ancient ballads were composed shortly after the time in which the hero of them lived, and the fact of their antiquity, and universal popularity is favorable to the supsupposition that Robin Hood was a real personage.

There is internal evidence that these ballad-romances faithfully represent the manners of the age in which they are supposed to have been written. The fondness for hunting, and for fighting with sword, quarter-staff and fist in trials of skill, the love of good cheer and jolly fellowship, of uncouth jokes and pranks, and an ill-concealed animosity to the churchmen and the overbearing Norman nobility, are highly characteristic of the English yeomanry of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The “Lytell Geste embodies all these characteristics, and an analysis of it(an excellent one is given in an article on Robin Hood in the Westminister Review,)*_will present them all, so that there need be no reference to the ballads which relate similar exploits, such as “Robyn Hode and the Monk,” “Robyn Hode and the Potter," "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne,” Robin Hood and the Stranger," "Robin Hood and the Bishop,” “Robin Hood and the Butcher," Robin Hood and the Beggar,” Robin Hood and the Tanner,” and so on, all of which may be said to "ring the changes" on the same theme. Mr. Gutch believes that the "Lytell Geste ” is the composition of a writer of the time of Chaucer, probably between 1377 and 1413,or from 80 to 100 years after the death of Edward I., to whom reference is made in it; but hitherto not a vestige of any manuscript has been discovered from which the early black letter editions were printed. Mr. Ritson says that it was first printed by Wynken de Worde, about the year 1489, in old quarto black letter. The poem is composed of 454

* No. LXV., March, 1840.

« السابقةمتابعة »