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It seems extremely strange, that, although the Scot. tish people are more proud of their songs and music than of any other branch of literature or accomplishment peculiar to them, they can tell very little regarding the origin and early history of these endeared national treasures. Yet, mysterious as the thing appears, it is perhaps easily to be accounted for. Poetry and music, till the early part of the last century, lived a very vagrant and disreputable life in Scotland. They flourished vigorously in the hearts and souls of the people—for the people of Scotland were susceptible of the strongest impressions from poetry and music. But they were discountenanced, to the last degree, by the public institutions of the country. The voice of song was, perhaps, daily heard on the lea and on the mountain side, where the simple ploughman and shepherd were following their various occupations ; it was also, perhaps, beard nightly under the sooty rafters of the humble cot, breathing from fair or from manly lips, as an amusement for the hours of relaxation. It was employed universally in giving expression to the passions of humble life. It supplied language to the bashful shepherd lover in addressing the beautiful and barefooted divinity, who had first sent the thrill of love
into his heart. It supplied that divinity, in her turn, with innuendoes and evasive phrases, wherewith to play the first game of coquetry; and finally, with metaphorical imagery, in which to clothe her confession and consent. Youth found in song a weapon to employ against the selfish views of age; and age found, in its various and interminable armoury, a dart wherewith to transfix and mortify the inconsiderate passions of youth. Yet, although thus of universal application in ordinary life, and although forming so great a part in the sum of rustic enjoyment, it was always looked upon with aversion and disrespect by persons concerned in public affairs. It was a sinful thing, arising from the natural wickedness of the heart; a thing, at least, that tended to pleasure, and which was therefore condemned by the oracles of a religious creed, which looked upon every human pleasure, however innocent, as calculated to ensnare and mislead. If it lived at all, it lived as crimes live against the exertions of the High Court of Justiciary, or as the tribe of rats continues to exist notwithstanding the craft of the rat-catcher. Its existence was altogether clandestine and desultory. It never appeared, so to speak, above board. It stole along, a little bidden rill of quiet enjoyment, beneath the incumbent mass of higher, and graver, and more solid matters. Its history, thus, is no more noted by the chroniclers of the kingdom, than the course of a subterraneous river is marked on the map of the country in which it is situated.
Such having been the condition of Scottish song till a recent period, it necessarily follows that very little can be recovered by the present generation regarding it. It would be no more possible to compile a history of the vagrant ditties which delighted the sixteenth century, than it would be to present a distinct and connected historical view of the condition of the gipsies or the beggars of the same period. The most vigilant researches into the annals of the country have only been able to procure for us a few vague and meagre incidental notices regarding the existence of such a thing as song ; and if any fragments have been preserved in connexion with these notices, they refer almost exclusively to public transactions-are, in general, only national pasquils--and scarcely in any case have the appearance of what is now considered song. The light of history, in attempting to illuminate this dark subject, has only as yet sent the level rays of its dawn along the mountain tops, and spires, and towers ; it has not yet risen so high as to penetrate down into the deep and quiet vale of humble life, and glisten the cottages
the daisies which nestle and blossom there. These little incidental notices, however, unsa. tisfactory as they are upon the whole, may be presented to the reader, as approaching in the nearest possible degree to an elucidation of a very interesting subject, and as being, in the very worst view of the case, preferable to nothing at all.
It is recorded, for instance, by Andrew Wintoun, prior of Lochleven, who wrote a rhyming chronicle of Scottish history about the year 1420, that when Alexander III. was killed by a fall from his horse in 1286, the people composed a brief song upon the subject, in which they lamented the cessation of that extraordinary degree of plenty and prosperity which distinguished his reign, and anticipated the misery which was to arise from a disputed succession. The song is introduced by a couplet, which seems to intimate that song-making was a matter of common occurrence in the time of the wars of the competition, or at least in that of Wintoun.
This falyhyd fra he deyd suddanly ;
This sang wes made off hym for thi. The song then proceeds:
Quhen Alysander oure kynge wes dede,
That Scotland led in luve and le,
Off wyne and wax, off gamyn and gle;
Chryst, borne into vergynite,
That stad in his perplexite !
A historical incident which occurred not long after the death of Alexander the Third, gave occasion to a rhyme, or song, which has been preserved for us by the English chroniclers. In 1296, when King Edward I. (surnamed Longshanks) undertook his first expedition against Scotland, he resolved to destroy the town and castle of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which then belonged to the Scottish nation, and which, being strongly garrisoned by them, threatened to be a serious obstacle to his obtaining possession of the country. So effectually did this city protect the chief passage from England into Scotland, that, on this very occasion, Edward, though at the head of a prodigious force, was obliged to adopt the circuitous and inconvenient passage by the ford of Coldstream, twenty miles up the river, the north bank of which he had afterwards to descend, along with his army, before he could lay siege to Berwick. When he first summoned the town to surrender, the defenders were so confident, that they would listen to no terms he could propose. He then directed that, while his army
to advance upon the landward defences of the town, his ships should enter the harbour, and thus distress the garrison by a double attack. Some misunderstanding, however, having occurred, the ships entered the harbour before the king was ready to co-operate by an assault on the walls; and thus the Scots were gratified by having it in their power to burn two large war-vessels, which fell into their hands. So much were they elevated by this good fortune, that they composed and chanted a rhyme, as a sneer at the miserable efforts of the English sovereign. It ran thus.:
Weened Kyng Edewarde, with his lange shankes,
Gas pikes hym,
Such, at least, is the rhyme quoted by Ritson, from a Harleian manuscript; though it is probable that some errors have occurred in its transcription ; the two last lines, standing as they do, seeming in a great measure unintelligible. * Whatever may be the precise mean
Perhaps the word “ gas" was gar, which signifies to cause.
ing of the rhyme, it is evident that its composers designed it as a sarcasm at the confident hopes with which the English approached their walls, as contrasted with the present depressed state of their affairs. The English, however, soon found an opportunity of revenging the satire of the Scots. King Edward immediately after led his men to a grand attack on the dykes, or sunk fences, which then protected the town; being himself the first man to jump the walls, which he did without dismounting from his war-borse Bayard; and such was the fury of the English, in consequence of the insolence of the Scots, that, even after the garrison had submitted, they continued to massacre the inhabitants, till, according to some accounts, twenty-seven thousand were killed ; by whose blood, says an old historian, running in streams through the streets, mil mycht baif gane two days.”
The battle of Dunbar occurred soon after, in which the Scots, by their imprudence in leaving the high grounds, where they commanded the English army, lost a great number of men. The invaders had thus got a double revenge for the taunting rhyme of the defenders of Berwick; yet, as if a revenge in kind had been still necessary, they composed the following rhyme, which must be allowed to possess fully as much of the elements of satire as the former:
Thus scattered Scottis
Of wrenches unaware ;
The incident and the song are thus incorporated in Langtoft's
Now dos Edward dike Berwik brode and long,
thei ne the. Right als I rede, they tombled in Tweed, that woned by the se.