The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, by Walter Scott

Graeme and Bewick.

The date of this ballad, and its subject, are uncertain. From internal evidence, I am inclined to place it late in the sixteenth century. Of the Graemes enough is elsewhere said. It is not impossible, that such a clan, as they are described, may have retained the rude ignorance of ancient border manners to a later period than their more inland neighbours; and hence the taunt of old Bewick to Graeme. Bewick is an ancient name in Cumberland and Northumberland. The ballad itself was given, in the first edition, from the recitation of a gentleman, who professed to have forgotten some verses. These have, in the present edition, been partly restored, from a copy obtained by the recitation of an ostler in Carlisle, which has also furnished some slight alterations.

The ballad is remarkable, as containing, probably, the very latest allusion to the institution of brotherhood in arms, which was held so sacred in the days of chivalry, and whose origin may be traced up to the Scythian ancestors of Odin. Many of the old romances turn entirely upon the sanctity of the engagement, contracted by the freres d’armes. In that of Amis and Amelion, the hero slays his two infant children, that he may compound a potent salve with their blood, to cure the leprosy of his brother in arms. The romance of Gyron le Courtois has a similar subject. I think the hero, like Graeme in the ballad, kills himself, out of some high point of honour towards his friend.

The quarrel of the two old chieftains, over their wine, is highly in character. Two generations have not elapsed since the custom of drinking deep, and taking deadly revenge for slight offences, produced very tragical events on the border; to which the custom of going armed to festive meetings contributed not a little. A minstrel, who flourished about 1720, and is often talked of by the old people, happened to be performing before one of these parties, when they betook themselves to their swords. The cautious musician, accustomed to such scenes, dived beneath the table. A moment after, a man’s hand, struck off with a back-sword, fell beside him. The minstrel secured it carefully in his pocket, as he would have done any other loose moveable; sagely observing, the owner would miss it sorely next morning. I chuse rather to give this ludicrous example, than some graver instances of bloodshed at border orgies. I observe it is said, in a MS. account of Tweeddale, in praise of the inhabitants, that, “when they fall in the humour of good fellowship, they use it as a cement and bond of society, and not to foment revenge, quarrels, and murders, which is usual in other countries;” by which we ought, probably, to understand Selkirkshire and Teviotdale. —Macfarlane’s MSS.

Graeme and Bewick.

Gude lord Graeme is to Carlisle gane;

Sir Robert Bewick there met he;

And arm in arm to the wine they did go,

And they drank till they were baith merrie.

Gude lord Graeme has ta’en up the cup,

“Sir Robert Bewick, and here’s to thee!

“And here’s to our twae sons at hame!

“For they like us best in our ain countrie.”

“O were your son a lad like mine,

“And learn’d some books that he could read,

“They might hae been twae brethren bauld,

“And they might hae bragged the border side.”

“But your son’s a lad, and he is but bad,

“And billie to my son he canna be;

* * *

“Ye sent him to the schools, and he wadna learn;

“Ye bought him books, and he wadna read.”

“But my blessing shall he never earn,

“Till I see how his arm can defend his head.”

Gude lord Graeme has a reckoning call’d,

A reckoning then called he;

And he paid a crown, and it went roun’;

It was all for the gude wine and free.291

And he has to the stable gaen,

Where there stude thirty steeds and three;

He’s ta’en his ain horse amang them a’,

And hame he’ rade sae manfullie.

“Wellcome, my auld father!” said Christie Graeme,

“But where sae lang frae hame were ye?”

“It’s I hae been at Carlisle town,

“And a baffled man by thee I be.

“I hae been at Carlisle town,

“Where Sir Robert Bewick he met me;

“He says ye’re a lad, and ye are but bad,

“And billie to his son ye canna be.

“I sent ye to the schools, and ye wadna learn;

“I bought ye books, and ye wadna read;

“Therefore, my blessing ye shall never earn,

“Till I see with Bewick thou save thy head.”

“Now, God forbid, my auld father,

“That ever sic a thing suld be!

“Billie Bewick was my master, and I was his scholar,

“And aye sae weel as he learned me.”

“O hald thy tongue, thou limmer lown,

“And of thy talking let me be!

“If thou does na end me this quarrel soon,

“There is my glove I’ll fight wi’ thee.”

Then Christie Graeme he stooped low

Unto the ground, you shall understand —

“O father, put on your glove again,

“The wind has blown it from your hand.”

“What’s that thou says, thou limmer loun?

“How dares thou stand to speak to me?

“If thou do not end this quarrel soon,

“There’s my right hand thou shalt fight with me.”

Then Christie Graeme’s to his chamber gane,

To consider weel what then should be;

Whether he suld fight with his auld father

Or with his billie Bewick, he.

“If I suld kill my billie dear,

“God’s blessing I sall never win;

“But if I strike at my auld father,

“I think ‘twald be a mortal sin.

“But if I kill my billie dear,

“It is God’s will! so let it be.

“But I make a vow, ere I gang frae hame,

“That I shall be the next man’s die.”

Then he’s put on’s back a good ould jack,

And on his head a cap of steel,

And sword and buckler by his side;

O gin he did not become them weel!

We’ll leave off talking of Christie Graeme,

And talk of him again belive;

And we will talk of bonnie Bewick,

Where he was teaching his scholars five.

When he had taught them well to fence,

And handle swords without any doubt;

He took his sword under his arm,

And he walked his father’s close about.

He looked atween him and the sun,

And a’ to see what there might be,

Till he spied a man, in armour bright,

Was riding that way most hastilie.

“O wha is yon, that came this way,

“Sae hastilie that hither came?

“I think it be my brother dear;

“I think it be young Christie Graeme.”

“Ye’re welcome here, my billie dear,

“And thrice you’re welcome unto me!”

“But I’m wae to say, I’ve seen the day,

“When I am come to fight with thee.

“My father’s gane to Carlisle town,

“Wi’ your father Bewick there met he;

“He says I’m a lad, and I am but bad,

“And a baffled man I trow I be.

“He sent me to schools, and I wadna learn;

“He gae me books, and I wadna read;

“Sae my father’s blessing I’ll never earn,

“Till he see how my arm can guard my head.”

“O God forbid, my billie dear,

“That ever such a thing suld be!

“We’ll take three men on either side,

“And see if we can our fathers agree.”

“O hald thy tongue, now, billie Bewick,

“And of thy talking let me be!

“But if thou’rt a man, as I’m sure thou art,

“Come o’er the dyke, and fight wi’ me.”

“But I hae nae harness, billie, on my back,

“As weel I see there is on thine.”

“But as little harness as is on thy back,

“As little, billie, shall be on mine.”

Then he’s thrown aff his coat of mail,

His cap of steel away flung he;

He stuck his spear into the ground,

And he tied his horse unto a tree.

Then Bewick has thrown aff his cloak,

And’s psalter-book frae’s hand flung he;

He laid his hand upon the dyke,

And ower he lap most manfullie.

O they hae fought for twae lang hours;

When twae lang hours were come and gane,

The sweat drapped fast frae aff them baith,

But a drap of blude could not be seen.

Till Graeme gae Bewick an ackward292 stroke,

Ane ackward stroke, strucken sickerlie;

He has hit him under the left breast,

And dead-wounded to the ground fell he.

“Rise up, rise up, now, hillie dear!

“Arise, and speak three words to me! —

“Whether thou’se gotten thy deadly wound,

“Or if God and good leaching may succour thee?”

“O horse, O horse, now billie Graeme,

“And get thee far from hence with speed;

“And get thee out of this country,

“That none may know who has done the deed.”

“O I have slain thee, billie Bewick,

“If this be true thou tellest to me;

“But I made a vow, ere I came frae hame,

“That aye the next man I wad be.”

He has pitched his sword in a moodie-hill,293

And he has leap’d twentie lang feet and three,

And on his ain sword’s point he lap,

And dead upon the grund fell he.

’Twas then came up Sir Robert Bewick,

And his brave son alive saw he;

“Rise up, rise up, my son,” he said,

“For I think ye hae gotten the victorie.”

“O hald your tongue, my father dear!

“Of your prideful talking let me be!

“Ye might hae drunken your wine in peace,

“And let me and my billie be.

“Gae dig a grave, baith wide and deep,

“A grave to hald baith him and me;

“But lay Christie Graeme on the sunny side,

“For I’m sure he wan the victorie.”

“Alack! a wae!” auld Bewick cried,

“Alack! was I not much to blame!

“I’m sure I’ve lost the liveliest lad

“That e’er was born unto my name.”

“Alack! a wae!” quo’ gude Lord Graeme,

“I’m sure I hae lost the deeper lack!

“I durst hae ridden the Border through,

“Had Christie Graeme been at my back.

“Had I been led through Liddesdale,

“And thirty horsemen guarding me,

“And Christie Gramme been at my back,

“Sae soon as he had set me free!

“I’ve lost my hopes, I’ve lost my joy,

“I’ve lost the key but and the lock;

“I durst hae ridden the world round,

“Had Christie Graeme been at my back.”

291 The ostler’s copy reads very characteristically — “It was all for good wine and hay.”]

292 Ackward— Backward.]

293 Moodie-hill— Mole-hill.]

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