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In an evyle tyding,
Went ye fro Dunnbarre.* There is at least one valuable historical fact to be argued from these rude canticles ; that the language of the English nation, and that of the Scottish lowlanders, were then nearly the same.
It is also, perhaps, to be gathered from these, that to express national sentiment in songs and rhymes, was then a common practice with both the English and the Scots ; of which theory a further confirmation is to be found in the Scotichronicon of Fordun, a work written about a century after the period in question. Fordun informs us, that many songs were composed by the people on their heroic leader, Sir William Wallace; and he refers to one of them as evidence of a historical fact. One ballad on an adventure of this hero still exists; but whether it be a composition of his own time, or one of later date, is not now to be ascertained. Ritson, in bis “ Ancient Songs," has preserved an English song on the death of Wallace, and the fates of his various compatriots.
The next national Scottish song, of which any notice occurs in our early chroniclers, is one of triumph on the brilliant victory of Bannockburn. On this occasion, says Fabyan, (a citizen of London, who wrote an English chronicle, “the Scottes, enflamed with pride, made this ryme as followeth, in derysyon of the Englyshmen:
Maydens of Englande, sore may you mourne
With heve a lowe.
With rumbylowe. This songe," he adds, “ was, after many days, sung in daunces in the carols of the maidens and minstrels of
* After the battle of Dunbar, according to Langtoft,
the Inglis rymed this.
Scotland, to the reproofe and disdayne of Englyshmen, with dyvers other, which I overpasse.” Ritson informs us, that, in Caxton's Chronicle, and in a Harleian manuscript, two somewhat various versions of this song occur. He further points out that the strange burdens which formed the third and the sixth lines, were common at the time, and for a long period after, as “ Derry down” is at present. Thus, in “ Peblis to the Play,"
Hop, Cailzie, and Cardrona,
Gathered out thick-fald ;
The young folks were full bauld. The next pasquil which the Scots can be discovered to have composed against the English, occurs in the year 1328, when David, the infant son of Robert Bruce, was married to Jane, the daughter of Edward II., as a means of procuring a pacification between the two countries. The terms of this treaty were humiliating to England, which seemed, by sacrificing one of its sovereign's family as a hostage, to purchase the forbearance of their northern neighbours. The Scots, on their part, were greatly puffed up by a transaction so favourable to them. They called the young princess, “ Jane Make-peace;” and “ also, to their more derision," quoth Fabyan, “ thei made divers truffes, roundes, and songs, of the which," he adds, “ one is specially remembered as followeth :
Long beardes heartles,
Maketh Englande thriftles. Which ryme, as saeith Guido, was made by the Scottes, principally for the deformyte of clothyng that at those days was used by Englyshmenne." Another historian (Caxton) gives us the circumstances more minutely. The English at that time clothed themselves in coats and hoods, which were decorated in a strange fashion, with letters and flowers painted on them.
They alsó wore long beards. The Scots, on coming to York to manage the business of the pacification, were much struck with this fantastic attire, which no doubt formed a strong contrast with the rude and scanty garments which they themselves wore, in all probability, at that time. The Scotsman has ever been a self-denyer. And be is not only disposed to restrain himself in luxurious pleasures, but he is much given to censuring the extravagance of others. Accordingly, on the present occasion, “ thei made this bill, which they fastened upon the church doores of Seint Petre towards Stangate, in despite of Englishmenne."
Some of the preceding specimens may appear scarcely fit to be introduced as illustrating the condition of early Scottish song; being rather recited rhymes than songs. This, however, is not a very fair objection. We find many popular rhymes in the present day, especially among children, which, though not expressly songs, yet resemble that species of composition in so many respects, that they may almost be held as such. Songs are themselves, in general, extemporaneous effusions of the people, produced under the influence of some particular passion. Recitative rhymes are precisely the same. It is, therefore, to be argued from analogy, that the rhymes given above, though not perhaps uttered with the modulation of a tune, are exactly similar to those compositions, whatever they were, which did enjoy an alliance with music.
The prevalence of songs among the common people of Scotland at this period, is proved obliquely by a passage in Barbour's Life of King Robert Bruce. This historian, in alluding to a victory which Sir John de Soulis, the governor of Eskdale, gained, with fifty men, over a body of English, amounting to three hun. dred, under Sir Andrew Hercla, forbears to reherss the maner” of the fight, because -quhasae likes thai
her Young women, quhen thai play,
Sing it among them ilk day. Few and scattered as the fragments already given may be considered by the reader, a period now ensues, during which still fewer occur to the enquirer. It may be observed, that we are chiefly indebted for the preservation of the above specimens to English historians;
the period being one when the history of Scotland fell as much under the observation of these chroniclers as that of their own country. The ensuing century, during which Scotland continued alike unannoyed and unchronicled by England, and during which she did not happen to possess any native historians, is, therefore, a complete blank, so far as the subject of this essay is concerned. The next trace we find of Scottish song occurs under James I., at the beginning of the fifteenth century
King James the First one of the most endeared historical names which Scotland possesses—returned, in 1424, from his long captivity in England, accomplished in all the branches of education which
any prince could then have commanded in any country. Henry IV., though induced by reasons of state to confine his person, had by no means constrained his mind. With a wish, it would rather appear, to compensate the injustice of his personal imprisonment, he had taken every measure to enlarge and liberalize the understanding of the young Scottish prince. When James was first brought before him, after being seized by the English fleet, Henry enquired what reason had induced his father to send him to France ? James answered, that it was to learn French; on which the king remarked with a smile, that he would acquire that accomplishment quite as well at the English court; where, as the reader will recollect, this language had continued to be used ever since the Norman conquest. The English monarch fully proved the truth of this assertion, by causing his captive not only to be instructed in the fashionable language, which he affected a wish to learn, but also in the more solid departments of knowledge. With the usual generosity of the Plantagenets—for never, perhaps, did a nobler race of men exist than this line of monarchs—he resolved, while abstracting the heir of the King of Scots, at least not to mar the scheme which he had formed for the education of his
the only loss, he well knew, which would afterwards be perfectly irreparable.
James, then, on being transferred from his English prison to his Scottish throne, was found to be not on
ly acquainted fully with all that could dignify a prince and direct a lawgiver, but also with those minor accomplishments which, while they perhaps belong most properly to the gentleman or man of taste, are fitted to adorn and alleviate the condition of every rank of
Nature had rendered him a poet and a musician; taste and education bad raised him to a degree of perfection in these arts. His contemporary and historian, Joannes de Fordun, has devoted a whole chapter to an account of his many and varied accomplishments : I
here translate the most remarkable passage. “ He excelled in music, and not only in the vocal kind, but also in instrumental, which is the perfection of the art; in tabor and choir, in psalter and organ. Nature, apparently having calculated upon his requiring something more than the ordinary qualifications of men, had implanted in him a force and power of divine genius above all buman estimation ; and this genius showed itself most particularly in music. His touch upon the harp produced a sound so utterly sweet, and so truly delightful to the hearers, that he seemed to be born a second Orpheus, or, as it were, the prince and prelate of all harpers."
John Major, writing about twenty or thirty years after the death of King James, speaks still more pointedly of his talents as a poet and musician. “ He was," says this historian, “ à most ingenious composer in his native or vernacular language, and his numerous poems and songs are still held in the highest estimation among the Scottish people. During his captivity, he wrote a very good poem on the lady whom he afterwards made his queen.* There was another, beginning Yas sen,t &c.; and another still, a very elaborate and very humorous composition, called At Beltayn. This last some persons at Dalkeith and Gargeil attempted to alter, representing him as confined in
* The Kingis Quair.
+ Probably a mistake for “ sen yat” (since that), the opening words of a “ Song.on Absence,” which is to be found in Sibbald's Chronicle.
Peblis to the Play.