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Well might the ladies 'look from their
loft windows,' and sigh, 'God bring our men weel hame again!' as Johnie,
and the six-and-thirty Armstrongs and Elliots in his train, ran their
horses through Langholm howm in their haste to welcome their 'lawful
king.' This expedition of 1529 has left its mark on ballad poetry as
well as history; through the hanging of Cockburn of Henderland it gave
occasion for the _Lament of the Border Widow_. But no incident in it
made deeper impression on the popular memory--none seems to have caused
more sorrow and reprobation--than the stringing up of the Laird of
Gilnockie and his followers on the trees at Carlenrig, at the head of
Teviot. A 'Johnie Armstrong's Dance' was popular when the _Complaynt of
Scotland_ was written twenty years later; and Sir David Lyndsay, in one
of his plays, makes his Pardoner hawk about, among his relics of saints,
the cords of good hemp that hanged the unlucky laird of Gilnockie Hall,
with the commendation that

'Wha'ever beis hangit in this cord
Neidis never to be drowned.'

At the bar of judgment of the balladists, the deed was counted murder:

'Scotland's heart was ne'er sae wae
To see sae mony brave men die';

and murder all the less pardonable, since the king who ordered it was
himself an inspirer and, as some say, a writer of ballads. As is pointed
out in the _Border Minstrelsy_, the ballad, in its account of the
interview between the king and his troublesome subject, follows pretty
closely the narrative of Pitscottie. 'What wants that knave that a king
should have?' was the offended remark of James, when he saw the band
approaching him in the bravery of their war-gear. And Johnie, when all
his appeals and bribes proved to be vain, could also speak a frank word:

'"To seek het water beneath cauld ice,
Surely it is a great follie;
I have asked grace at a graceless face,
But there is nane for my men and me."'

Whatever their misdeeds, Gilnockie and his men had certainly hard
measure and short shrift. The king's courtiers, it is alleged, incited
him to make a summary end of the Armstrongs; and he had not the biting
answer ready which his father is said to have given to the 'keen laird
of Buccleuch,' when that Border chieftain urged him to 'braid on with
fire and sword' against the Outlaw of Ettrick Forest:

'Now haud thy tongue, Sir Walter Scott,
Nor speak of reif or felonie;
For had every honest man his coo,
A right puir clan thy name would be.'

But when their own clan or dependants made appeal for help or vengeance,
none were more prompt with the strong word and deed than the
Scotts--witness, _Kinmont Willie_; witness also, _Jamie Telfer o' the
Fair Dodhead_. When Jamie ran hot-foot to Branksome Hall with the news
that the Captain of Bewcastle had ramshackled his house and driven his
gear and stock, until

'There was naught left in the Fair Dodhead
But a greeting wife and bairnies three,'

did not Buccleuch start up like an old roused lion?

'"Gar warn the water, braid and wide,
Gar warn it soon and hastilie!
They that winna ride for Telfer's kye,
Let them never look on the face o' me!"'

And the chase goes on, from the Dodhead on the Ettrick until, at the
fords of the Liddel, the enemy are brought to bay; and we have the fine
picture of Auld Wat of Harden, the husband of the 'Flower of Yarrow,'
and a forebear of the author of _Waverley_, as he 'grat for very rage'
when Willie Scott, the son of his chief, lay slain by an English stroke:

'But he 's ta'en aff his good steel cap,
And thrice he 's waved it in the air.
The Dinley's snaw was ne'er mair white
Than the lyart locks of Harden's hair.'

Vain was the offer by the Bewcastle raiders to men in such mood to take
back the cattle that had been lifted:

'When they cam' to the Fair Dodhead,
They were a welcome sight to see!
For instead of his ain ten milk-kye,
Jamie Telfer has gotten thirty-and-three.'

_Auld Maitland_ treats of an inroad on the opposite side of the country,
of more ancient date and more formidable character. Its hero appears to
have been a progenitor of that line of Lethington in East Lothian, and
of Thirlstane, in Lauderdale, who, planted firmly on both sides of
Lammermuir, produced in after-times warriors, statesmen, and even poets
of note. Gavin Douglas places Maitland, with the 'auld beird grey,'
among the legendary inmates of his 'Palace of Honour'; and Scott
identifies him as a Sir Richard de Mautlant who, in the latter half of
the thirteenth century, and probably during the Wars of Independence,
held the ancestral lands by Leaderside, on the track of invading armies
crossing the Tweed between Coldstream and Melrose, and holding in to
Lothian by Soultra Hill. Accordingly, the ballad tells us that the
English army, under King Edward, assembled on the Tyne:

'They lighted on the banks of Tweed,
And blew their fires so het,
And fired the Merse and Teviotdale
All in an evening late.

As they flared up o'er Lammermuir
They burned baith up and down,
Until they came to a darksome house,
Some call it Lauder town.'

Many a foray from the same direction followed the same gait, their
coming heralded by the bale-fires that flashed the signal from Hume
Castle to Edgarhope (wrongly identified by Professor Veitch with
Edgerston on Jed Water), and from Edgarhope to Soultra Edge. But
memorable above all other Border raids recorded in song or story, is
that encounter in which 'the Douglas and the Percy met,' and which has
inspired perhaps the very finest of the historical ballads of each
country. Moot points there are of locality, date, and circumstances; but
it is generally accepted that the rhyme known for many centuries in
Scotland as _The Battle of Otterburn_, and the English _Chevy Chase_ are
versions, from opposite sides, of one event--a skirmish fought in the
autumn of 1388 on Rede Water, between a band of Scots, under James, Earl
of Douglas, returning home laden with spoil, and a body of English, led
by Hotspur, the son of the Earl of Northumberland, in which Douglas was
slain and young Harry Percy taken prisoner. It were as hard to decide
between the merits of these famous old lays as to award the prize for
prowess between the respective champions. But it may be noted, as a fine
Borderer's trait, that each of the two ballads does full justice to the
chivalry and fighting mettle of the enemy. It is to be observed also
that they are different poems, and not merely versions of the same; and
that _The Battle of Otterburn_ and the other racy and vigorous ballads
of its class dealt with in this chapter, are of themselves sufficient to
refute the arrogant dictum of Mr. Carew Hazlitt, that Scotland has no
original ballad-poetry to speak of, and that what she calls her own are
'chiefly English ballads, sprinkled with Northern provincialisms.'

But while they are, as Scott says, different in essentials, the English
and Scottish ballads have exchanged phrases and even verses, as the
English and Scottish warriors exchanged strokes, and these of the best:

'When Percy wi' the Douglas met,
I wat they were full fain;
They swakked their swords till sair they swet,
And the blood ran doon like rain,'

may lack some of the picturesqueness of the corresponding passage of
_Chevy Chase_. But nothing, at least in Scottish eyes, can surpass the
simple majesty and pathos of the last words of Douglas--words that sound
all the sadder since Walter Scott repeated them, when he also had almost
fought his last battle and was wounded unto death:

'"My nephew good," the Douglas said,
"What recks the death o' ane?
Last night I dreamed a dreary dream,
And I ken the day 's thy ain.

"My wound is deep, I fain would sleep;
Take thou the vanward o' the three,
And hide me by the bracken bush
That grows upon the lily lee.

"O bury me by the bracken bush,
Beneath the blooming brier;
Let never living mortal ken
A kindly Scot lies here."'

The Historical Ballad of Border chivalry touches its highest and
strongest note in these words; they will stand, like Tantallon, proof
against the tooth of Time as long as Scotland has a heart to feel and
ears to hear.




CHAPTER VII

CONCLUSION

Though long on Time's dark whirlpool tossed,
The song is saved; the bard is lost.

_The Ettrick Shepherd._


Ballad poetry is a phrase of elastic and variable meaning. In the
national repertory there are Ballads Satirical, Polemical, and
Political, and even Devotional and Doctrinal, of as early date as many
of the songs inspired by the spirit of Love, War, and Romance. Among
them they represent the diverse strands that are blended in the Scottish
character--the sombre and the bright; the prose and the poetry. The one
or the other has predominated in the expression of the genius of the
nation in verse, according to the circumstances and mood of the time.
But neither has ever been really absent; they are the opposite sides of
the same shield. It is not proposed to enter here into the ballad
literature of the didactic type--the 'ballads with a purpose'--either by
way of characterisation or example. In further distinction from the
authors of the specimens of old popular song, the writers of many or
most of them are known to us, at least by name, and are among the most
honoured and familiar in our literature.

Towards the unlettered bards of the traditional ballads, who 'saved
other names, but left their own unsung,' the more serious and
self-conscious race of poets who wrote satire and allegory and homily on
the same model have generally thought themselves entitled to assume an
attitude of superiority and even of disapproval. The verse of those
self-taught rhymers was rude and simple, and wanting in those
conventional ornaments, borrowed from classic or other sources, which
for the time being were the recognised hallmarks of poesy; the moral
lessons it taught were not apparent, nor even discoverable.



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