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stanzas, divided into eight fyttes or cantos, and the following is an outline of the story:
1st Fytte. Robin is in Barnsdale Wood with his faithful comrades Little John, Scathlocke and Much the miller's son. He sends them out to seek for a guest before sitting down to dinner. They meet with Sir Richard of the Lee, and bring him to Robin. The knight is in great distress because he has mortgaged his lands to the abbot of St. Mary's at York for £400, and the time for redeeming them having elapsed, he will lose them because he cannot pay off the mortgage. Robin lends him the money and gives him presents, and sends Little John with him, as his squire, to the abbot to redeem the lands.
2d Fytte. The abbot is in the act of acquainting his brethren that unless the knight redeems his lands that very day, they will be forfeited to the convent. The prior intercedes for the knight, but is snubbed by the abbot, the treasurer, the chief justice and the sheriff, who are all present and ready to confiscate the lands to the convent. While they are congratulating themselves on this accession to their reyenues, the knight arrives, assumes an air of poverty, and pleads for time, but is reviled by the abbot. He then, to the surprise of all, produces the £100 and walks unceremoniously away. After a time he saves up £100 to repay Robin Hood, and sets off with the money and various presents to seek him in Barnesdale.
3d Fytte. This relates principally to Little John. The sheriff of Nottingham, having witnessed Little John's skill in archery, asks him who he is. Little John replies that he was born in Holderness, that his name is Reynolds Greenleaf, and that the knight is his master. The sheriff engages him for a year at a salary of twenty marks. But Little John having on one occasion been deprived of his breakfast, makes a great disturbance in the house, breaks open the buttery, beats the butler, and takes his fill of meat and wine. Thereupon the man-cook attacks him, and they fight with broadswords for an hour without being able to hurt each other. They then make friends and feast together. After this they break open the treasury, steal £303 and the silver
plate and join Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest. Little John there finds the sheriff hunting, and persuades him, by an artifice, to follow him to another part of the forest. The sheriff is betrayed to Robin Hood, who makes him dine off his own plate, strips him of his clothes, and compels him to sleep a night in the forest. The next morning he releases him on his taking an oath to be a friend to Robin Hood and his men in case of need.
4th Fytte. The scene of this canto is laid at Barnesdale, on the afternoon of the day appointed for the repayment of the · £400 loaned to the knight. Little John, Much and Scathlocke are sent out by Robin to stop travellers and bring them to dinner. They meet the treasurer of St. Mary's abbey with his retinue. Dispersing the latter, they force the abbot to accompany them to Robin. They then search his trunks and find £800, which they confiscate. The monk goes away amid jeers, and the knight arrives soon afterwards with the £400; but Robin not only refuses to take it, but gives him £400 more, relating how he has acquired it.
5th Fytte. There is a shooting match for a golden-headed arrow, on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest. This has been got up by the sheriff of Nottingham, in order to entrap Robin Hood. The latter attends with five men, but places 140 more in ambush. He wins the arrow, and the sheriff attempts to seize him; then ensues a fight in which the sheriff and his men are driven away, but Little John is wounded in the knee. He begs Robin to kill him in order to prevent his falling into the sheriff's hands; but Robin refuses. Much takes him upon his back and carries him a mile, when they come to a castle. Here dwells Sir Richard of the Lea, who gladly welcomes Robin and his men, and mans the walls to resist the sheriff and his troop.
6th Fytte. The sheriff of Nottingham, aided by the sheriff of Yorkshire, now calls on the castle to surrender. The knight refuses to deliver up the outlaws until he has learned the king's pleasure on the subject. The sheriff posts away to London to see the king, who tells him that he himself will be in Nottingham within a fortnight, and commands him to go back and assemble all the bow-men he can find
Meanwhile Robin and his men return to the forest, and Little John recovers from his wound. The sheriff lies in wait for the knight, surprises him while hunting, binds him and carries him off towards Nottingham. The knight's wife hurries off to Robin Hood and implores his aid. Robin and his men hasten to Nottingham, where they kill the sheriff, release the knight, and take him to the forest.
7th Fytte. King Edward I., on his return from the Holy Land, takes a strong force with him to find Robin. After seeking him six months in vain, he is about to give up the pursuit, when a forest-keeper suggests that the king shall disguise himself, along with five of his best knights, in monk's dress, and let him conduct them to the outlaw's haunts. The king adopts this plan, is met by Robin and robbed of £20. Then he shows Robin the royal seal with a friendly greeting from the king. Robin invites him to dinner, feasts him on venison, and then shows him what his men can do in archery. Robin misses the mark purposely, and then asks the king to pay him the forfeit, viz.: a blow on the bare head. The king refuses, but on being pressed, knocks him down. By this they recognize the king, who pardons the knight and the outlaws, and engages them to enter his service.
8th Fytte. The king and his attendant knights, borrowing outlaws' dresses, then amuse themselves by frightening the people of Nottingham, and reinstate Sir Richard in his domains. Robin remains fifteen months in the king's court, but all his men, except Little John and Scathlocke, desert him and return to the forest. At last, Robin, yearning for his old life, obtains leave of the king to revisit Barnesdale for a few days; but when he arrives there he abandons the king's service and joins his old band. He lives twenty-two years after this in Barnesdale. At length, falling sick of a fever, he goes to the prioress of Kyrkesly (Kirklees), a kinswoman of his, to get bled.
This wicked woman is engaged in an intrigue with Sir Roger of Doncaster, and they conspire to murder him. Accordingly, she bleeds him, and locking him in his room, leaves him to bleed to death. Little John, fearing foul play, hastens to the priory, breaks open the door of the room,
kneels at Robert's feet and begs permission to burn Kyrkesly Hall and the Priory. Robin refuses to grant it, but asks for his bow and arrows and shoots an arrow out of the window, directing that they shall bury him where it falls. He then dies and is buried according to his request.
Such is the outline of the “Lytell Geste,” and, indeed, of Robin Hood's career as an outlaw. We may here mention that the traditional spot of his interment in the park at Kirklees has lately been secured by an enclosure of neat and solid masonry, supporting a strong and lofty iron railing, with a slender tapering pillar at each corner.
From traditions we pass on to private records and evidences. These are but slight, and scarcely worthy of credit. Such are the alleged relics of Robin Hood's bow, arrows, cap, chairs, slippers, etc., all of which have been mentioned by one traveller or another, apparently in good faith, but when we reflect upon the facility with which relics are manufactured, our faith in them disappears. Mr. Gutch selects a few of these notices by tourists,* and we cite them as specimens of credulity. “We omitted the sight of Fountain's Abbey, where Robin Hood's bow is kept.” This is a quotation from Ray's “ Itineraries,” in the year 1700,+ and it appears that this careful investigator did not even think it worth while to look at the relic, but was content with being told that it might be seen. The next traveller quoted was a little more curious. This is Mr. Brome, who published in 1700 his “Travels over England.” “Having,” he says: “pleased ourselves with the antiquities of Nottingham, we took horse and went to visit the well and the ancient chair of Robin Hood, which is not far from hence, within the forest of Sherwood. Being placed in the chair, we had a cap, which they say was his, very formally put upon our heads, and having performed the usual ceremonies befitting so great a solemnity, we received the freedom of the chair, and were incorporated into the society of that renowned brotherhood."#
A pretty farce, this! No doubt Mr. Brome and his friends thereupon felt equal to any feat in archery. We ourselves,
once travelling in the highlands of Scotland, came upon a small cottage near the pass of Aberfoil, whence sallied forth an old crone with a very long and very old-fashioned gun, which she gravely assured us was Rob Roy's fowling piece, and we were very much edified at the sight; but it occurred to us at the time that if Sir Walter Scott had not written Rob Roy, and thereby attracted tourists to the spot, the gun would have remained rusting in the hiding place where its real owner put it. Here are two more specimens, one from Robert Dodsley. $ “On one side of this forest (Sherwood), towards Nottingham, I was shown a chair, a bow, and an arrow, all said to have been his, Robin Hood's, property.” The other is from William Hutton.? 'I was pleased with a slipper belonging to the famous Robin Hood, fifty years ago, at Saint Ann's Well, near Nottingham, a place upon the borders of Sherwood Forest, to which he resorted.” In none of these cases, however, do the tourists say they believed in the authenticity of the relies. If the fame of Robin Hood depended on them, we fear it would stand but a slight chance of immortality.
Following the Baconian, order we come to fragments of stories, passages of books, and the like. Leaving out of question, for the moment, the numerous songs and sayings already mentioned or alluded to, we shall here consider such notices of the famous outlaw as are to be found in works on history. We have already quoted that remarkable passage from “Fordun's Scotichronicon," wherein he speaks of "Robertus Hode and Littill Johne," as “ille famosissimus sicarius," and as living in the reign of Henry III. There is, however, a still earlier mention of Robin Hood ; it occurs in a very curious rhyming Latin poem, contained in Peck's supplement to Dugdale's “ Monasticon,” and bearing the following title: "Prioris Alnwicensis de bello Scotico apud Dumbarr, tempore regis Edvardi I. dictamen sive rithmus Latinus, quo de Willielmo Wallace, ‘Scotico illo Robin Whood,' plura sed invidiose canit ;" and in the margin are the following
* Travels of Tom Thumb over England and Wales, p. 82.