Marmion, by Walter Scott

Introduction to Canto Third.

To William Erskine, Esq.
Ashestiel, Ettrick Forest.

Like April morning clouds, that pass,

With varying shadow, o’er the grass,

And imitate, on field and furrow,

Life’s chequer’d scene of joy and sorrow;

Like streamlet of the mountain north,

Now in a torrent racing forth,

Now winding slow its silver train,

And almost slumbering on the plain;

Like breezes of the autumn day,

Whose voice inconstant dies away,

And ever swells again as fast,

When the ear deems its murmur past;

Thus various, my romantic theme

Flits, winds, or sinks, a morning dream.

Yet pleased, our eye pursues the trace

Of Light and Shade’s inconstant race;

Pleased, views the rivulet afar,

Weaving its maze irregular;

And pleased, we listen as the breeze

Heaves its wild sigh through Autumn trees;

Then, wild as cloud, or stream, or gale,

Flow on, flow unconfined, my Tale!

Need I to thee, dear Erskine, tell

I love the license all too well,

In sounds now lowly, and now strong,

To raise the desultory song?

Oft, when ‘mid such capricious chime,

Some transient fit of lofty rhyme

To thy kind judgment seem’d excuse

For many an error of the muse,

Oft hast thou said, ‘If, still misspent,

Thine hours to poetry are lent,

Go, and to tame thy wandering course,

Quaff from the fountain at the source;

Approach those masters, o’er whose tomb

Immortal laurels ever bloom:

Instructive of the feebler bard,

Still from the grave their voice is heard;

From them, and from the paths they show’d,

Choose honour’d guide and practised road;

Nor ramble on through brake and maze,

With harpers rude of barbarous days.

‘Or deem’st thou not our later time

Yields topic meet for classic rhyme?

Hast thou no elegiac verse

For Brunswick’s venerable hearse?

What! not a line, a tear, a sigh,

When valour bleeds for liberty? —

Oh, hero of that glorious time,

When, with unrivall’d light sublime —

Though martial Austria, and though all

The might of Russia, and the Gaul,

Though banded Europe stood her foes —

The star of Brandenburgh arose!

Thou couldst not live to see her beam

For ever quench’d in Jena’s stream.

Lamented Chief! — it was not given

To thee to change the doom of Heaven,

And crush that dragon in its birth,

Predestined scourge of guilty earth.

Lamented Chief! — not thine the power,

To save in that presumptuous hour,

When Prussia hurried to the field,

And snatch’d the spear, but left the shield!

Valour and skill ’twas thine to try,

And, tried in vain, ’twas thine to die.

Ill had it seem’d thy silver hair

The last, the bitterest pang to share,

For princedoms reft, and scutcheons riven,

And birthrights to usurpers given;

Thy land’s, thy children’s wrongs to feel,

And witness woes thou could’st not heal!

On thee relenting Heaven bestows

For honour’d life an honour’d close;

And when revolves, in time’s sure change,

The hour of Germany’s revenge,

When, breathing fury for her sake,

Some new Arminius shall awake,

Her champion, ere he strike, shall come

To whet his sword on BRUNSWICK’S tomb,

‘Or of the Red–Cross hero teach

Dauntless in dungeon as on breach:

Alike to him the sea, the shore,

The brand, the bridle, or the oar:

Alike to him the war that calls

Its votaries to the shatter’d walls,

Which the grim Turk, besmear’d with blood,

Against the Invincible made good;

Or that, whose thundering voice could wake

The silence of the polar lake,

When stubborn Russ, and metal’d Swede,

On the warp’d wave their death-game play’d;

Or that, where Vengeance and Affright

Howl’d round the father of the fight,

Who snatch’d, on Alexandria’s sand,

The conqueror’s wreath with dying hand.

‘Or, if to touch such chord be thine,

Restore the ancient tragic line,

And emulate the notes that rung

From the wild harp, which silent hung

By silver Avon’s holy shore,

Till twice an hundred years roll’d o’er;

When she, the bold Enchantress, came,

With fearless hand and heart on flame!

From the pale willow snatch’d the treasure,

And swept it with a kindred measure,

Till Avon’s swans, while rung the grove

With Montfort’s hate and Basil’s love,

Awakening at the inspired strain,

Deem’d their own Shakspeare lived again.’

Thy friendship thus thy judgment wronging,

With praises not to me belonging,

In task more meet for mightiest powers,

Wouldst thou engage my thriftless hours.

But say, my Erskine, hast thou weigh’d

That secret power by all obey’d,

Which warps not less the passive mind,

Its source conceal’d or undefined;

Whether an impulse, that has birth

Soon as the infant wakes on earth,

One with our feelings and our powers,

And rather part of us than ours;

Or whether fitlier term’d the sway

Of habit, form’d in early day?

Howe’er derived, its force confest

Rules with despotic sway the breast,

And drags us on by viewless chain,

While taste and reason plead in vain.

Look east, and ask the Belgian why,

Beneath Batavia’s sultry sky,

He seeks not eager to inhale

The freshness of the mountain gale,

Content to rear his whiten’d wall

Beside the dank and dull canal?

He’ll say, from youth he loved to see

The white sail gliding by the tree.

Or see yon weatherbeaten hind,

Whose sluggish herds before him wind,

Whose tatter’d plaid and rugged cheek

His northern clime and kindred speak;

Through England’s laughing meads he goes,

And England’s wealth around him flows;

Ask, if it would content him well,

At ease in those gay plains to dwell,

Where hedge-rows spread a verdant screen,

And spires and forests intervene,

And the neat cottage peeps between?

No! not for these will he exchange

His dark Lochaber’s boundless range;

Not for fair Devon’s meads forsake

Bennevis grey, and Carry’s lake.

Thus while I ape the measure wild

Of tales that charm’d me yet a child,

Rude though they be, still with the chime

Return the thoughts of early time;

And feelings, roused in life’s first day,

Glow in the line, and prompt the lay.

Then rise those crags, that mountain tower

Which charm’d my fancy’s wakening hour.

Though no broad river swept along,

To claim, perchance, heroic song;

Though sigh’d no groves in summer gale,

To prompt of love a softer tale;

Though scarce a puny streamlet’s speed

Claim’d homage from a shepherd’s reed;

Yet was poetic impulse given,

By the green hill and clear blue heaven.

It was a barren scene, and wild,

Where naked cliff’s were rudely piled;

But ever and anon between

Lay velvet tufts of loveliest green;

And well the lonely infant knew

Recesses where the wall-flower grew,

And honey-suckle loved to crawl

Up the low crag and ruin’d wall.

I deem’d such nooks the sweetest shade

The sun in all its round survey’d;

And still I thought that shatter’d tower

The mightiest work of human power;

And marvell’d as the aged hind

With some strange tale bewitch’d my mind,

Of forayers, who, with headlong force,

Down from that strength had spurr’d their horse,

Their southern rapine to renew,

Far in the distant Cheviots blue,

And, home returning, fill’d the hall

With revel, wassel-rout, and brawl.

Methought that still with trump and clang,

The gateway’s broken arches rang;

Methought grim features, seam’d with scars,

Glared through the window’s rusty bars,

And ever, by the winter hearth,

Old tales I heard of woe or mirth,

Of lovers’ slights, of ladies’ charms,

Of witches’ spells, of warriors’ arms;

Of patriot battles, won of old

By Wallace wight and Bruce the bold;

Of later fields of feud and fight,

When, pouring from their Highland height,

The Scottish clans, in headlong sway,

Had swept the scarlet ranks away.

While stretch’d at length upon the floor,

Again I fought each combat o’er,

Pebbles and shells, in order laid,

The mimic ranks of war display’d;

And onward still the Scottish Lion bore,

And still the scattered Southron fled before.

Still, with vain fondness, could I trace,

Anew, each kind familiar face,

That brighten’d at our evening fire!

From the thatch’d mansion’s grey-hair’d Sire,

Wise without learning, plain and good,

And sprung of Scotland’s gentler blood;

Whose eye, in age, quick, clear, and keen,

Show’d what in youth its glance had been;

Whose doom discording neighbours sought,

Content with equity unbought;

To him the venerable Priest,

Our frequent and familiar guest,

Whose life and manners well could paint

Alike the student and the saint;

Alas! whose speech too oft I broke

With gambol rude and timeless joke:

For I was wayward, bold, and wild,

A self-will’d imp, a grandame’s child;

But half a plague, and half a jest,

Was still endured, beloved, caress’d.

From me, thus nurtured, dost thou ask

The classic poet’s well-conn’d task?

Nay, Erskine, nay — On the wild hill

Let the wild heath-bell flourish still;

Cherish the tulip, prune the vine,

But freely let the woodbine twine,

And leave untrimm’d the eglantine:

Nay, my friend, nay — Since oft thy praise

Hath given fresh vigour to my lays;

Since oft thy judgment could refine

My flatten’d thought, or cumbrous line;

Still kind, as is thy wont, attend,

And in the minstrel spare the friend.

Though wild as cloud, as stream, as gale,

Flow forth, flow unrestrain’d, my Tale!

Introduction to Canto Third.

‘William Erskine, Esq. advocate, sheriff-depute of the Orkneys, became a Judge of the Court of Session by the title of Lord Kinnedder, and died in Edinburgh in August, 1823. He had been from early youth the most intimate of the Poet’s friends, and his chief confidant and adviser as to all literary matters. See a notice of his life and character by the late Mr. Hay Donaldson, to which Sir Walter Scott contributed several paragraphs.’— LOCKHART.

There are frequent references to Erskine throughout Lockhart’s Life of Scott. The critics of the time were of his opinion that Scott as a poet was not giving his powers their proper direction. Jeffrey considered Marmion ‘a misapplication in some degree of extraordinary talents.’ Fortunately, Scott decided for himself in the matter, and the self-criticism of this Introduction is characterised not only by good humour and poetic beauty but by discrimination and strong common-sense.

line 14. a morning dream. This may simply be a poetic way of saying that his method is unsystematic, but Horace’s account of the vision he saw when he was once tempted to write Greek verses is irresistibly suggested by the expression:—

             ‘Vetuit me tali voce Quirinus

Post mediam noctem visus, cum somnia vera:

“In silvam non ligna feras insanius, ac si

Magnas Graecorum malis implere catervas?’

                                 Sat. I. x. 32.

line 24. all too well. This use of ‘all too’ is a development of the Elizabethan expression ‘all-to’ = ALTOGETHER, QUITE, as ‘all to topple,’ Pericles, iii. 2. 17; ‘all to ruffled,’ Comus, 380. In this usage the original force of TO as a verbal prefix is lost sight of. Chaucer has ‘The pot to breaketh’ in Prologue to Chanon Yeomanes Tale. See note in Clarendon Press Milton, i. 290.

line 26. Desultory song may naturally command a very wide class of those intelligent readers, for whom the Earl of Iddesleigh, in ‘lectures and Essays,’ puts forward a courageous plea in his informing and genial address on the uses of Desultory Reading.

line 28. The reading of the first edition is ‘loftier,’ which conveys an estimate of his own achievements more characteristic of Scott than the bare assertion of his ability to ‘build the lofty rhyme’ which is implied in the line as it stands. Perhaps the expression just quoted from ‘Lycidas’ may have led to the reading of all subsequent editions.

line 46. The Duke of Brunswick commanded the Prussian forces at Jena, 14 Oct., 1806, and was mortally wounded. He was 72. For ‘hearse,’ cp. above, Introd. to I. 199.

line 54. The reigning house of Prussia comes from the Electors of Brandenburg. In 1415 Frederick VI. of Hohenzollern and Nuremberg became Frederick the First, Elector of Brandenburg. The Duchy of Prussia fell under the sway of the Elector John Sigismund (1608–19), and from that time to the present there has been a very remarkable development of government and power. See Carlyle’s ‘Frederick the Great,’ and Mr. Baring–Gould’s ‘Germany’ in the series ‘Stories of the Nations.’

lines 57–60. The Duke of Brunswick was defeated at Valmy in 1792, and so failed to crush the dragon of the French Revolution in its birth, as in all likelihood he would have done had he been victorious on the occasion.

line 64. Prussia, without an ally, took the field instead of acting on the defensive.

line 67. seem’d = beseemed, befitted; as in Spenser’s May eclogue, ‘Nought seemeth sike strife,’ i.e. such strife is not befitting or seemly.

line 69. Various German princes lost their dominions after Napoleon conquered Prussia.

line 78. By defeating Varus, A. D. 9, Arminius saved Germany from Roman conquest. See the first two books of the Annals of Tacitus, at the close of which this tribute is paid to the hero: ‘liberator haud dubie Germaniae et qui non primordia populi Romani, sicut alii reges ducesque, sed florentissimum imperium lacessierit, proeliis ambiguus, bello non victus.’

lines 46–80. This undoubtedly vigorous and well-sustained tribute is not without its special purpose. The Princess Caroline was daughter of the Duke of Brunswick, and Scott was one of those who believed in her, in spite of that ‘careless levity’ which he did not fail to note in her demeanour when presented at her Court at Blackheath in 1806. This passage on the Duke of Brunswick had been read by the Princess before the appearance of ‘Marmion.’ Lockhart (Life of Scott, ii. 117) says: ‘He seems to have communicated fragments of the poem very freely during the whole of its progress. As early as the 22nd February, 1807, I find Mrs. Hayman acknowledging, in the name of the Princess of Wales, the receipt of a copy of the Introduction to Canto III, in which occurs the tribute to her Royal Highness’s heroic father, mortally wounded the year before at Jena — a tribute so grateful to her feelings that she herself shortly after sent the poet an elegant silver vase as a memorial of her thankfulness.’

line 81. The Red–Cross hero is Sir Sidney Smith, the famous admiral, who belonged to the Order of Knights Templars. The eight-pointed Templar’s cross which he wore throughout his career is said to have belonged to Richard Coeur-deLion. In early life, with consent of the Government, Smith distinguished himself with the Swedes in their war with Russia. He was frequently entrusted with the duty of alarming the French coast, and once was captured and imprisoned, in the Temple at Paris, for two years. His escape was effected by a daring stratagem on the part of the French Royalist party. He and his sailors helped the Turks to retain St. Jean d’Acre against Napoleon, till then the ‘Invincible,’ who retired baffled after a vain siege of sixty days (May, 1799). Had Acre been won, said Napoleon afterwards, ‘I would have reached Constantinople and the Indies — I would have changed the face of the world.’ See Scott’s ‘Life of Napoleon,’ chap. xiii.

line 91. For metal’d see above, Introd. to I. 308.

line 92. For warped = ‘frozen,’ cp. As You Like It, ii. 7. 187, where, addressing the bitter sky, the singer says:—

‘Though thou the waters warp,

Thy sting is not so sharp,

    As friends remember’d not.’

line 94. The reference is to Sir Ralph Abercromby, who commanded the expedition to Egypt, 1800–1, and fell at the battle of Alexandria. Sir Sidney Smith was wounded in the same battle, and had to go home.

lines 100–10. Scott pays compliment to his friend Joanna Baillie (1764–1851), with chivalrous courtesy asserting that she is the first worthy successor of Shakespeare. ‘Count Basil’ and ‘De Montfort’ are the two most remarkable of her ‘Plays of the Passions,’ of which she published three volumes. ‘De Montfort’ was played in London, Kemble enacting the hero. Several of Miss Baillie’s Scottish songs are among standard national lyrics.

line 100. Cp. opening of ‘Lady of the Lake.’

lines 115–28. Lockhart notes the resemblance between this passage and Pope’s ‘Essay on Man,’ II. 133–148.

line 134. Cp. Goldsmith’s ‘Traveller,’ 293:—

‘The slow canal, the yellow-blossom’d vale,

The willow-tufted bank, the gliding sail.’

Batavia is the capital of the Dutch East Indies, with canals, architecture, &c., after the home model.

line 137. hind, from Early Eng. hyne, servant (A. S. hina) is quite distinct from hind, a female stag. Gavin Douglas, translating Tyrii coloni of Aen. I. 12, makes them ‘hynis of Tyre.’ Shakespeare (Merry Wives, iii. 5. 94) uses the word as servant, ‘A couple of Ford’s knaves, his HINDS, were called forth.’ The modern usage implies a farm-bailiff or simply a farm-servant.

line 149. Lochaber is a large district in the south of Invernesshire, having Ben Nevis and other Grampian heights within its compass. It is a classic name in Scottish literature owing to Allan Ramsay’s plaintive lyric, ‘Lochaber no more.’

line 153. For early influences, see Lockhart’s Life, vol. i.

line 178. ‘Smailholm Tower, in Berwickshire, the scene of the author’s infancy, is situated about two miles from Dryburgh Abbey.’- -LOCKHART.

line 180. The aged hind was ‘Auld Sandy Ormiston,’ the cow-herd on Sandyknows, Scott’s grandfather’s farm. ‘If the child saw him in the morning,’ says Lockhart, ‘he could not be satisfied unless the old man would set him astride on his shoulder, and take him to keep him company as he lay watching his charge.’

line 183. strength, stronghold. Cp. Par. Lost, vii. 141:—

‘This inaccessible high strength . . .

He trusted to have seiz’d.’

line 194. slights, as pointed out by Mr. Rolfe, was ‘sleights’ in the original, and, as lovers’ stratagems are manifestly referred to, this is the preferable reading. But both spellings occur in this sense.

line 201. The Highlanders displayed such valour at Killiecrankie (1689), and Prestonpans (1745).

line 207. ‘See notes on the Eve of St. John, in the Border Minstrelsy, vol. iv; and the author’s Introduction to the Minstrelsy, vol. i. p. 101.’— LOCKHART.

line 211. ‘Robert Scott of Sandyknows, the grandfather of the Poet.’— LOCKHART.

line 216. doom, judgment or decision. ‘Discording,’ in the sense of disagreeing, is still in common use in Scotland both as an adj. and a participle. ‘They discorded’ indicates that two disputants approached without quite reaching a serious quarrel. In a note to the second edition of the poem Scott states that the couplet beginning ‘whose doom’ is ‘unconsciously borrowed from a passage in Dryden’s beautiful epistle to John Driden of Chesterton.’ Dryden’s lines are:—

‘Just, good, and wise, contending neighbours come,

From your award to wait their final doom.’

line 221. ‘Mr. John Martin, minister of Mertoun, in which parish Smailholm Tower is situated.’— LOCKHART. With the tribute to the clergyman’s worth, cp. Walton’s eulogy on George Herbert, ‘Thus he lived, and thus he died, like a saint,’ &c.

line 225. For imp, cp. above Introd. to I. 37. A ‘grandame’s child’ is almost certainly spoiled. Shakespeare (King John, ii. i. 161) utilizes the fact:—

               ‘It grandam will

Give it a plum, a cherry, and a fig.’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29