THE breeze, which swept away the smoke
Round Norham Castle roll’d,
When all the loud artillery spoke,
With lightning-flash, and thunder-stroke,
As Marmion left the Hold —
It curl’d not Tweed alone, that breeze,
For, far upon Northumbrian seas,
It freshly blew, and strong,
Where, from high Whitby’s cloister’d pile,
Bound to Saint Cuthbert’s Holy Isle,
It bore a bark along.
Upon the gale she stoop’d her side,
And bounded o’er the swelling tide,
As she were dancing home;
The merry seamen laugh’d, to see
Their gallant ship so lustily
Furrow the green sea-foam.
Much joy’d they in their honour’d freight;
For, on the deck, in chair of state,
The Abbess of Saint Hilda placed,
With five fair nuns, the galley graced.
’Twas sweet, to see these holy maids,
Like birds escaped to green-wood shades,
Their first flight from the cage,
How timid, and how curious too,
For all to them was strange and new,
And all the common sights they view,
Their wonderment engage.
One eyed the shrouds and swelling sail,
With many a benedicite;
One at the rippling surge grew pale,
And would for terror pray;
Then shriek’d, because the seadog, nigh,
His round black head, and sparkling eye,
Rear’d o’er the foaming spray;
And one would still adjust her veil,
Disorder’d by the summer gale,
Perchance lest some more worldly eye
Her dedicated charms might spy;
Perchance, because such action graced
Her fair-turn’d arm and slender waist.
Light was each simple bosom there,
Save two, who ill might pleasure share —
The Abbess, and the Novice Clare.
The Abbess was of noble blood,
But early took the veil and hood,
Ere upon life she cast a look,
Or knew the world that she forsook.
Fair too she was, and kind had been
As she was fair, but ne’er had seen
For her a timid lover sigh,
Nor knew the influence of her eye.
Love, to her ear, was but a name,
Combined with vanity and shame;
Her hopes, her fears, her joys, were all
Bounded within the cloister wall:
The deadliest sin her mind could reach
Was of monastic rule the breach;
And her ambition’s highest aim
To emulate Saint Hilda’s fame.
For this she gave her ample dower,
To raise the convent’s eastern tower;
For this, with carving rare and quaint,
She deck’d the chapel of the saint,
And gave the relic-shrine of cost,
With ivory and gems emboss’d.
The poor her Convent’s bounty blest,
The pilgrim in its halls found rest.
Black was her garb, her rigid rule
Reform’d on Benedictine school;
Her cheek was pale, her form was spare:
Vigils, and penitence austere,
Had early quench’d the light of youth,
But gentle was the dame, in sooth;
Though, vain of her religious sway,
She loved to see her maids obey,
Yet nothing stern was she in cell,
And the nuns loved their Abbess well.
Sad was this voyage to the dame;
Summon’d to Lindisfame, she came,
There, with Saint Cuthbert’s Abbot old,
And Tynemouth’s Prioress, to hold
A chapter of Saint Benedict,
For inquisition stern and strict,
On two apostates from the faith,
And, if need were, to doom to death.
Nought say I here of Sister Clare,
Save this, that she was young and fair;
As yet a novice unprofess’d,
Lovely and gentle, but distress’d.
She was betroth’d to one now dead,
Or worse, who had dishonour’d fled.
Her kinsmen bade her give her hand
To one, who loved her for her land:
Herself, almost broken-hearted now,
Was bent to take the vestal vow,
And shroud, within Saint Hilda’s gloom,
Her blasted hopes and wither’d bloom.
She sate upon the galley’s prow,
And seem’d to mark the waves below;
Nay, seem’d, so fix’d her look and eye,
To count them as they glided by.
She saw them not —’twas seeming all —
Far other scene her thoughts recall —
A sun-scorch’d desert, waste and bare,
Nor waves, nor breezes, murmur’d there;
There saw she, where some careless hand
O’er a dead corpse had heap’d the sand,
To hide it till the jackals come,
To tear it from the scanty tomb. —
See what a woful look was given,
As she raised up her eyes to heaven!
Lovely, and gentle, and distress’d —
These charms might tame the fiercest breast:
Harpers have sung, and poets told,
That he, in fury uncontroll’d,
The shaggy monarch of the wood,
Before a virgin, fair and good,
Hath pacified his savage mood.
But passions in the human frame,
Oft put the lion’s rage to shame:
And jealousy, by dark intrigue,
With sordid avarice in league,
Had practised with their bowl and knife,
Against the mourner’s harmless life.
This crime was charged ‘gainst those who lay
Prison’d in Cuthbert’s islet grey.
And now the vessel skirts the strand
Of mountainous Northumberland;
Towns, towers, and halls, successive rise,
And catch the nuns’ delighted eyes.
Monk–Wearmouth soon behind them lay,
And Tynemouth’s priory and bay;
They mark’d, amid her trees, the hall
Of lofty Seaton–Delaval;
They saw the Blythe and Wansbeck floods
Rush to the sea through sounding woods;
They pass’d the tower of Widderington,
Mother of many a valiant son;
At Coquet-isle their beads they tell
To the good Saint who own’d the cell;
Then did the Alne attention claim,
And Warkworth, proud of Percy’s name;
And next, they cross’d themselves, to hear
The whitening breakers sound so near,
There, boiling through the rocks, they roar,
On Dunstanborough’s cavern’d shore;
Thy tower, proud Bamborough, mark’d they there,
King Ida’s castle, huge and square,
From its tall rock look grimly down,
And on the swelling ocean frown;
Then from the coast they bore away,
And reach’d the Holy Island’s bay.
The tide did now its flood-mark gain,
And girdled in the Saint’s domain:
For, with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle;
Dry-shod, o’er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day, the waves efface
Of staves and sandall’d feet the trace.
As to the port the galley flew,
Higher and higher rose to view
The Castle with its battled walls,
The ancient Monastery’s halls,
A solemn, huge, and dark-red pile,
Placed on the margin of the isle.
In Saxon strength that Abbey frown’d,
With massive arches broad and round,
That rose alternate, row and row,
On ponderous columns, short and low,
Built ere the art was known,
By pointed aisle, and shafted stalk,
The arcades of an alley’d walk
To emulate in stone.
On the deep walls, the heathen Dane
Had pour’d his impious rage in vain;
And needful was such strength to these,
Exposed to the tempestuous seas,
Scourged by the winds’ eternal sway,
Open to rovers fierce as they,
Which could twelve hundred years withstand
Winds, waves, and northern pirates’ hand.
Not but that portions of the pile,
Rebuilded in a later style,
Show’d where the spoiler’s hand had been;
Not but the wasting sea-breeze keen
Had worn the pillar’s carving quaint,
And moulder’d in his niche the saint,
And rounded, with consuming power,
The pointed angles of each tower;
Yet still entire the Abbey stood,
Like veteran, worn, but unsubdued.
Soon as they near’d his turrets strong,
The maidens raised Saint Hilda’s song,
And with the sea-wave and the wind,
Their voices, sweetly shrill, combined,
And made harmonious close;
Then, answering from the sandy shore,
Half-drown’d amid the breakers’ roar,
According chorus rose:
Down to the haven of the Isle,
The monks and nuns in order file,
From Cuthbert’s cloisters grim;
Banner, and cross, and relics there,
To meet Saint Hilda’s maids, they bare;
And, as they caught the sounds on air,
They echoed back the hymn.
The islanders, in joyous mood,
Rush’d emulously through the flood,
To hale the bark to land;
Conspicuous by her veil and hood,
Signing the cross, the Abbess stood,
And bless’d them with her hand.
Suppose we now the welcome said,
Suppose the Convent banquet made:
All through the holy dome,
Through cloister, aisle, and gallery,
Wherever vestal maid might pry,
No risk to meet unhallow’d eye,
The stranger sisters roam:
Till fell the evening damp with dew,
And the sharp sea-breeze coldly blew,
For there, even summer night is chill.
Then, having stray’d and gazed their fill,
They closed around the fire;
And all, in turn, essay’d to paint
The rival merits of their saint,
A theme that ne’er can tire
A holy maid; for, be it known,
That their saint’s honour is their own.
Then Whitby’s nuns exulting told,
How to their house three Barons bold
Must menial service do;
While horns blow out a note of shame,
And monks cry ‘Fye upon your name!
In wrath, for loss of silvan game,
Saint Hilda’s priest ye slew.’—
‘This, on Ascension-day, each year,
While labouring on our harbour-pier,
Must Herbert, Bruce, and Percy hear.’—
They told how in their convent-cell
A Saxon princess once did dwell,
The lovely Edelfled;
And how, of thousand snakes, each one
Was changed into a coil of stone,
When holy Hilda pray’d;
Themselves, within their holy bound,
Their stony folds had often found.
They told, how sea-fowls’ pinions fail,
As over Whitby’s towers they sail,
And, sinking down, with flutterings faint,
They do their homage to the saint.
Nor did Saint Cuthbert’s daughters fail,
To vie with these in holy tale;
His body’s resting-place, of old,
How oft their patron changed, they told;
How, when the rude Dane burn’d their pile,
The monks fled forth from Holy Isle;
O’er northern mountain, marsh, and moor,
From sea to sea, from shore to shore,
Seven years Saint Cuthbert’s corpse they bore.
They rested them in fair Melrose;
But though, alive, he loved it well,
Not there his relics might repose;
For, wondrous tale to tell!
In his stone-coffin forth he rides,
A ponderous bark for river tides,
Yet light as gossamer it glides,
Downward to Tilmouth cell.
Nor long was his abiding there,
Far southward did the saint repair;
Chester-le-Street, and Rippon, saw
His holy corpse, ere Wardilaw
Hail’d him with joy and fear;
And, after many wanderings past,
He chose his lordly seat at last,
Where his cathedral, huge and vast,
Looks down upon the Wear;
There, deep in Durham’s Gothic shade,
His relics are in secret laid;
But none may know the place,
Save of his holiest servants three,
Deep sworn to solemn secrecy,
Who share that wondrous grace.
Who may his miracles declare!
Even Scotland’s dauntless king, and heir,
(Although with them they led
Galwegians, wild as ocean’s gale,
And Lodon’s knights, all sheathed in mail,
And the bold men of Teviotdale,)
Before his standard fled.
’Twas he, to vindicate his reign,
Edged Alfred’s falchion on the Dane,
And turn’d the Conqueror back again,
When, with his Norman bowyer band,
He came to waste Northumberland.
But fain Saint Hilda’s nuns would learn
If, on a rock, by Lindisfarne,
Saint Cuthbert sits, and toils to frame
The sea-born beads that bear his name:
Such tales had Whitby’s fishers told,
And said they might his shape behold,
And hear his anvil sound;
A deaden’d clang — a huge dim form,
Seen but, and heard, when gathering storm
And night were closing round.
But this, as tale of idle fame,
The nuns of Lindisfarne disclaim.
While round the fire such legends go,
Far different was the scene of woe,
Where, in a secret aisle beneath,
Council was held of life and death.
It was more dark and lone that vault,
Than the worst dungeon cell:
Old Colwulf built it, for his fault,
In penitence to dwell,
When he, for cowl and beads, laid down
The Saxon battle-axe and crown.
This den, which, chilling every sense
Of feeling, hearing, sight,
Was call’d the Vault of Penitence,
Excluding air and light,
Was, by the prelate Sexhelm, made
A place of burial for such dead,
As, having died in mortal sin,
Might not be laid the church within.
’Twas now a place of punishment;
Whence if so loud a shriek were sent,
As reach’d the upper air,
The hearers bless’d themselves, and said,
The spirits of the sinful dead
Bemoan’d their torments there.
But though, in the monastic pile,
Did of this penitential aisle
Some vague tradition go,
Few only, save the Abbot, knew
Where the place lay; and still more few
Were those, who had from him the clew
To that dread vault to go.
Victim and executioner
Were blindfold when transported there.
In low dark rounds the arches hung,
From the rude rock the side-walls sprung;
The grave-stones, rudely sculptured o’er,
Half sunk in earth, by time half wore,
Were all the pavement of the floor;
The mildew-drops fell one by one,
With tinkling plash, upon the stone.
A cresset, in an iron chain,
Which served to light this drear domain,
With damp and darkness seem’d to strive,
As if it scarce might keep alive;
And yet it dimly served to show
The awful conclave met below.
There, met to doom in secrecy,
Were placed the heads of convents three:
All servants of Saint Benedict,
The statutes of whose order strict
On iron table lay;
In long black dress, on seats of stone,
Behind were these three judges shown
By the pale cresset’s ray:
The Abbess of Saint Hilda’s, there,
Sat for a space with visage bare,
Until, to hide her bosom’s swell,
And tear-drops that for pity fell,
She closely drew her veil:
Yon shrouded figure, as I guess,
By her proud mien and flowing dress,
Is Tynemouth’s haughty Prioress,
And she with awe looks pale:
And he, that Ancient Man, whose sight
Has long been quench’d by age’s night,
Upon whose wrinkled brow alone,
Nor ruth, nor mercy’s trace, is shown,
Whose look is hard and stern —
Saint Cuthbert’s Abbot is his style;
For sanctity call’d, through the isle,
The Saint of Lindisfarne.
Before them stood a guilty pair;
But, though an equal fate they share,
Yet one alone deserves our care.
Her sex a page’s dress belied;
The cloak and doublet, loosely tied,
Obscured her charms, but could not hide.
Her cap down o’er her face she drew;
And, on her doublet breast,
She tried to hide the badge of blue,
Lord Marmion’s falcon crest.
But, at the Prioress’ command,
A Monk undid the silken band
That tied her tresses fair,
And raised the bonnet from her head,
And down her slender form they spread,
In ringlets rich and rare.
Constance de Beverley they know,
Sister profess’d of Fontevraud,
Whom the Church number’d with the dead,
For broken vows, and convent fled.
When thus her face was given to view,
(Although so pallid was her hue,
It did a ghastly contrast bear
To those bright ringlets glistering fair),
Her look composed, and steady eye,
Bespoke a matchless constancy;
And there she stood so calm and pale,
That, bur her breathing did not fail,
And motion slight of eye and head,
And of her bosom, warranted
That neither sense nor pulse she lacks,
You might have thought a form of wax,
Wrought to the very life, was there;
So still she was, so pale, so fair.
Her comrade was a sordid soul,
Such as does murder for a meed;
Who, but of fear, knows no control,
Because his conscience, sear’d and foul,
Feels not the import of his deed;
One, whose brute-feeling ne’er aspires
Beyond his own more brute desires.
Such tools the Tempter ever needs,
To do the savagest of deeds;
For them no vision’d terrors daunt,
Their nights no fancied spectres haunt,
One fear with them, of all most base,
The fear of death — alone finds place.
This wretch was clad in frock and cowl,
And ‘shamed not loud to moan and howl,
His body on the floor to dash,
And crouch, like hound beneath the lash;
While his mute partner, standing near,
Waited her doom without a tear.
Yet well the luckless wretch might shriek,
Well might her paleness terror speak!
For there were seen in that dark wall,
Two niches, narrow, deep, and tall; —
Who enters at such grisly door,
Shall ne’er, I ween, find exit more.
In each a slender meal was laid,
Of roots, of water, and of bread:
By each, in Benedictine dress,
Two haggard monks stood motionless;
Who, holding high a blazing torch,
Show’d the grim entrance of the porch:
Reflecting back the smoky beam,
The dark-red walls and arches gleam.
Hewn stones and cement were display’d,
And building tools in order laid.
These executioners were chose,
As men who were with mankind foes,
And with despite and envy fired,
Into the cloister had retired;
Or who, in desperate doubt of grace,
Strove, by deep penance, to efface
Of some foul crime the stain;
For, as the vassals of her will,
Such men the Church selected still,
As either joy’d in doing ill,
Or thought more grace to gain,
If, in her cause, they wrestled down
Feelings their nature strove to own.
By strange device were they brought there,
They knew not how, and knew not where.
And now that blind old Abbot rose,
To speak the Chapter’s doom,
On those the wall was to enclose,
Alive, within the tomb;
But stopp’d, because that woful Maid,
Gathering her powers, to speak essay’d.
Twice she essay’d, and twice in vain;
Her accents might no utterance gain;
Nought but imperfect murmurs slip
From her convulsed and quivering lip;
Twixt each attempt all was so still,
You seem’d to hear a distant rill —
’Twas ocean’s swells and falls;
For though this vault of sin and fear
Was to the sounding surge so near,
A tempest there you scarce could hear,
So massive were the walls.
At length, an effort sent apart
The blood that curdled to her heart,
And light came to her eye,
And colour dawn’d upon her cheek,
A hectic and a flutter’d streak,
Like that left on the Cheviot peak,
By Autumn’s stormy sky;
And when her silence broke at length,
Still as she spoke she gather’d strength,
And arm’d herself to bear.
It was a fearful sight to see
Such high resolve and constancy,
In form so soft and fair.
‘I speak not to implore your grace,
Well know I, for one minute’s space
Successless might I sue:
Nor do I speak your prayers to gain;
For if a death of lingering pain,
To cleanse my sins, be penance vain,
Vain are your masses too. —
I listen’d to a traitor’s tale,
I left the convent and the veil;
For three long years I bow’d my pride,
A horse-boy in his train to ride;
And well my folly’s meed he gave,
Who forfeited, to be his slave,
All here, and all beyond the grave. —
He saw young Clara’s face more fair,
He knew her of broad lands the heir,
Forgot his vows, his faith forswore,
And Constance was beloved no more. —
’Tis an old tale, and often told;
But did my fate and wish agree,
Ne’er had been read, in story old,
Of maiden true betray’d for gold,
That loved, or was avenged, like me!
‘The King approved his favourite’s aim;
In vain a rival barr’d his claim,
Whose fate with Clare’s was plight,
For he attaints that rival’s fame
With treason’s charge — and on they came,
In mortal lists to fight.
Their oaths are said,
Their prayers are pray’d,
Their lances in the rest are laid,
They meet in mortal shock;
And hark! the throng, with thundering cry,
Shout “Marmion, Marmion I to the sky,
De Wilton to the block!”
Say ye, who preach Heaven shall decide
When in the lists two champions ride,
Say, was Heaven’s justice here?
When, loyal in his love and faith,
Wilton found overthrow or death,
Beneath a traitor’s spear?
How false the charge, how true he fell,
This guilty packet best can tell.’—
Then drew a packet from her breast,
Paused, gather’d voice, and spoke the rest.
‘Still was false Marmion’s bridal staid;
To Whitby’s convent fled the maid,
The hated match to shun.
“Ho! shifts she thus?” King Henry cried,
“Sir Marmion, she shall be thy bride,
If she were sworn a nun.”
One way remain’d — the King’s command
Sent Marmion to the Scottish land!
I linger’d here, and rescue plann’d
For Clara and for me:
This caitiff Monk, for gold, did swear,
He would to Whitby’s shrine repair,
And, by his drugs, my rival fair
A saint in heaven should be.
But ill the dastard kept his oath,
Whose cowardice has undone us both.
‘And now my tongue the secret tells,
Not that remorse my bosom swells,
But to assure my soul that none
Shall ever wed with Marmion.
Had fortune my last hope betray’d,
This packet, to the King convey’d,
Had given him to the headsman’s stroke,
Although my heart that instant broke. —
Now, men of death, work forth your will,
For I can suffer, and be still;
And come he slow, or come he fast,
It is but Death who comes at last.
‘Yet dread me, from my living tomb,
Ye vassal slaves of bloody Rome!
If Marmion’s late remorse should wake,
Full soon such vengeance will he take,
That you shall wish the fiery Dane
Had rather been your guest again.
Behind, a darker hour ascends!
The altars quake, the crosier bends,
The ire of a despotic King
Rides forth upon destruction’s wing;
Then shall these vaults, so strong and deep,
Burst open to the sea-winds’ sweep;
Some traveller then shall find my bones
Whitening amid disjointed stones,
And, ignorant of priests’ cruelty,
Marvel such relics here should be.’
Fix’d was her look, and stern her air:
Back from her shoulders stream’d her hair;
The locks, that wont her brow to shade,
Stared up erectly from her head;
Her figure seem’d to rise more high;
Her voice, despair’s wild energy
Had given a tone of prophecy.
Appall’d the astonish’d conclave sate;
With stupid eyes, the men of fate
Gazed on the light inspired form,
And listen’d for the avenging storm;
The judges felt the victim’s dread;
No hand was moved, no word was said,
Till thus the Abbot’s doom was given,
Raising his sightless balls to heaven:—
‘Sister, let thy sorrows cease;
Sinful brother, part in peace!’
From that dire dungeon, place of doom,
Of execution too, and tomb,
Paced forth the judges three;
Sorrow it were, and shame, to tell
The butcher-work that there befell,
When they had glided from the cell
Of sin and misery.
An hundred winding steps convey
That conclave to the upper day;
But, ere they breathed the fresher air,
They heard the shriekings of despair,
And many a stifled groan:
With speed their upward way they take,
(Such speed as age and fear can make,)
And cross’d themselves for terror’s sake,
As hurrying, tottering on,
Even in the vesper’s heavenly tone,
They seem’d to hear a dying groan,
And bade the passing knell to toll
For welfare of a parting soul.
Slow o’er the midnight wave it swung,
Northumbrian rocks in answer rung;
To Warkworth cell the echoes roll’d,
His beads the wakeful hermit told,
The Bamborough peasant raised his head,
But slept ere half a prayer he said;
So far was heard the mighty knell,
The stag sprung up on Cheviot Fell,
Spread his broad nostril to the wind,
Listed before, aside, behind,
Then couch’d him down beside the hind,
And quaked among the mountain fern,
To hear that sound, so dull and stern.
lines 1–6. The earlier editions have a period at the end of line 5, and neither Scott himself nor Lockhart changed that punctuation. But, undoubtedly, the first sentence ends with line 11, ‘roll’d’ in the second line being a part, and not a finite verb. Mr. Rolfe is the first to punctuate the passage thus.
line 9. ‘The Abbey of Whitby, in the Archdeaconry of Cleaveland, on the coast of Yorkshire, was founded A. D. 657, in consequence of a vow of Oswy, King of Northumberland. It contained both monks and nuns of the Benedictine order; but, contrary to what was usual in such establishments, the abbess was superior to the abbot. The monastery was afterwards mined by the Danes, and rebuilded by William Percy, in the reign of the Conqueror. There were no nuns there in Henry the Eighth’s time, nor long before it. The ruins of Whitby Abbey are very magnificent.’— SCOTT.
line 10. ‘Lindisfarne, an isle on the coast of Northumberland, was called Holy Island, from the sanctity of its ancient monastery, and from its having been the episcopal seat of the see of Durham during the early ages of British Christianity. A succession of holy men held that office: but their merits were swallowed up in the superior fame of St. Cuthbert, who was sixth bishop of Durham, and who bestowed the name of his “patrimony” upon the extensive property of the see. The ruins of the monastery upon Holy Island betoken great antiquity. The arches are, in general, strictly Saxon, and the pillars which support them, short, strong, and massy. In some places, however, there are pointed windows, which indicate that the building has been repaired at a period long subsequent to the original foundation. The exterior ornaments of the building, being of a light sandy stone, have been wasted, as described in the text. Lindisfarne is not properly an island, but rather, as the Venerable Bede has termed it, a semi-isle; for, although surrounded by the sea at full tide, the ebb leaves the sands dry between it and the opposite coast of Northumberland, from which it is about three miles distant.’— SCOTT.
The monastery, of which the present ruins remain, was built, between 1093 and 1120, by Benedictine monks under the direction of William Carileph, Bishop of Durham. There were sixteen bishops in Holy Island between St. Aidan (635 A. D.) and Eardulph (875 A. D.). The Christians were dispersed after the violent inroad of the Danes in 868, and for two centuries Lindisfarne suffered apparent relapse. Lindisfarne (Gael. farne, a retreat) signifies ‘a place of retreat by the brook Lindis.’ The name Holy Island was given by Carileph’s monks, to commemorate, they said, ‘the sacred blood which had been shed by the Danes.’ See Raine’s ‘History of North Durham,’ F. R. Wilson’s ‘Churches of Lindisfarne,’ and Mr. Keeling’s ‘Lindisfarne, or Holy Island: its History and Associations.’
line 17. Cp. Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner’:—
‘The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The farrow followed free.’
line 20. For Saint Hilda, see below, note on line 244.
Stanza II. line 33. sea-dog, the seal.
line 36. still. Cp. above, I. 430.
line 44. A Novice is one under probation for a term extending to at least a year, and it may extend to two or three years, after which vows are either taken or declined.
Stanza IV. line 70. Benedictine school. St. Benedict founded his order — sometimes, because of their dark garb, called Black Friars — in the beginning of the sixth century. Benedict of Aniana, in the eighth century, reformed the discipline of the order.
line 74. Cp. Chaucer’s Prioress in the Prologue:—
‘And sikerly sche was of gret disport,
And ful plesaunt, and amyable of port.’
Stanza V. line 90. Cp. Spenser’s Una, ‘Faery Queene,’ I. iv:—
‘A lovely Ladie rode him faire beside.
As one that inly mournd, so was she sad,
And heavie sat upon her palfrey slow.’
Stanza VI. With this ‘brown study,’ cp. Wordsworth’s ‘Reverie of Poor Susan.’
Stanza. VII. line 114. Reference to the lion of ‘Faery Queene,’ I. iii:—
‘Forsaken Truth long seekes her love,
And makes the Lyon mylde.’
line 124. bowl and knife. Poisoning and stabbing.
Stanza VIII. Monk–Wearmouth. A monastery, founded here in 674 A. D., was destroyed by the Danes in the ninth century, and restored after the Norman Conquest. For Tynemouth, see below, 371, Seaton–Delaval, the seat of the Delavals, who by marriage came into possession of Ford Castle. Widderington. It was a ‘squyar off Northombarlonde, Ric. Wytharynton,’ that showed notable valour and persistent endurance at Chevy Chase:—
‘For Wetharryngton my harte was wo,
That ever he slayne shulde be;
For when both his leggis wear hewyne in te,
He knyled and fought on hys kne.’
Butler, fully appreciating this doughty champion, uses him in a descriptive illustration, ‘Hudibras,’ I. iii. 95:—
‘As Widdrington, in doleful dumps,
Is said to fight upon his stumps.’
Widderington Castle, with the exception of one tower, was destroyed by fire. Warkworth Castle is about a mile from the mouth of the Alne, and is the seat of the Duke of Northumberland. Bamborough, the finest specimen of a feudal castle in the north of England, is said to have been founded by King Ida about the middle of the sixth century. Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, purchased the Bamborough estates between 1709 and 1720, and left them for charitable purposes. This charity maintains, inter alia, a national school in the village of Bamborough, and an officer to fire a cannon from the dangerous rocks every fifteen minutes in foggy weather, besides providing for the education of thirty girls within the castle walls.
Stanza IX. line 164. battled. See above, I. 4.
Stanza X. line 173. Pointed or Gothic architecture came in towards the end of the twelfth century.
Stanza XII. line 215. Suppose we = Let us suppose. This is an Elizabethanism. Cp. Macbeth, i. I. 10:—
‘Hover through the fog and filthy air,’
where hover = hover we.
Stanza XIII. line 234. Scott quotes from ‘A True Account,’ circulated at Whitby, concerning the consequences of a boar-hunt on Eskdale-side, belonging to the Abbot of Whitby. The boar, being hard pressed, made for a hermitage and died just within the door. Coming up, the three leaders — William de Bruce, Lord of Uglebarnby, Ralph de Percy, Lord of Smeaton, and a freeholder named Allatson — in their disappointment and wrath set upon the hermit, whom they fatally wounded. When the abbot afterwards came to the dying hermit, and told him his assailants would suffer extreme penalty for their ruthless conduct, the hermit asked the gentlemen to be sent for, and said he would pardon them on certain conditions. ‘The gentlemen being present bade him save their lives. — Then said the hermit, “You and yours shall hold your lands of the Abbot of Whitby, and his successors, in this manner: That, upon Ascension-day, you, or some of you, shall come to the wood of the Stray-heads, which is in Eskdale-side, the same day at sun-rising, and there shall the abbot’s officer blow his horn, to the intent that you may know where to find him; and he shall deliver unto you, William de Bruce, ten stakes, eleven strout stowers, and eleven yethers, to be cut by you, or some of you, with a knife of one penny price: and you, Ralph de Percy, shall take twenty-one of each sort, to be cut in the same manner; and you, Allatson, shall take nine of each sort, to be cut as aforesaid, and to be taken on your backs and carried to the town of Whitby, and to be there before nine of the clock the same day before mentioned. At the same hour of nine of the clock, if it be full sea, your labour and service shall cease; and if low water, each of you shall set your stakes to the brim, each stake one yard from the other, and so yether them on each side with your yethers; and so stake on each side with your strout stowers, that they may stand three tides, without removing by the force thereof. Each of you shall do, make, and execute the said service, at that very hour, every year, except it be fall sea at that hour; but when it shall so fall out, this service shall cease. You shall faithfully do this, in remembrance that you did most cruelly slay me; and that you may the better call to God for mercy, repent unfeignedly of your sins, and do good works. The officer of Eskdale-side shall blow, Out on you! Out on you! Out on you! for this heinous crime. If you, or your successors, shall refuse this service, so long as it shall not be full sea at the aforesaid hour, you or yours shall forfeit your lands to the Abbot of Whitby, or his successors. This I entreat, and earnestly beg, that you may have lives and goods preserved for this service: and I request of you to promise, by your parts in Heaven, that it shall be done by you and your successors, as is aforesaid requested; and I will confirm it by the faith of an honest man.”— Then the hermit said, “My soul longeth for the Lord: and I do as freely forgive these men my death, as Christ forgave the thieves on the cross.” And, in the presence of the abbot and the rest, he said moreover these words: “In manus tuos, Domine, commendo spiritum meum, a vinculis enim mortis redemisti me, Domine veritatis, Amen.”- -So he yielded up the ghost the eighth day of December, anno Domini 1159, whose soul God have mercy upon. Amen.
‘“This service,” it is added, “still continues to be performed with the prescribed ceremonies, though not by the proprietors in person. Part of the lands charged therewith are now held by a gentleman of the name of Herbert.”’— SCOTT.
line 244. Edelfled ‘was the daughter of King Oswy, who, in gratitude to Heaven for the great victory which he won in 655, against Penda, the pagan King of Mercia, dedicated Edelfleda, then but a year old, to the service of God, in the monastery of Whitby, of which St. Hilda was then abbess. She afterwards adorned the place of her education with great magnificence.’— SCOTT.
line 251. ‘These two miracles are much insisted on by all ancient writers who have occasion to mention either Whitby or St. Hilda. The relics of the snakes, which infested the precincts of the convent, and were at the abbess’s prayer not only beheaded but petrified, are still found about the rocks, and are termed by Protestant fossilists, Ammonitae.
‘The other miracle is thus mentioned by Camden: “It is also ascribed to the power of her sanctity, that these wild geese, which, in the winter, fly in great flocks to the lakes and rivers unfrozen in the southern parts, to the great amazement of every one, fall down suddenly upon the ground, when they are in their flight over certain ‘neighbouring fields hereabouts: a relation I should not have made, if I had not received it from several credible men. But those who are less inclined to heed superstition, attribute it to some occult quality in the ground, and to somewhat of antipathy between it and the geese, such as they say is betwixt wolves and scyllaroots: for that such hidden tendencies and aversions, as we call sympathies and antipathies, are implanted in many things by provident Nature for the preservation of them, is a thing so evident, that everybody grants it.” Mr. Chariton, in his History of Whitby, points out the true origin of the fable, from the number of sea-gulls that, when flying from a storm, often alight near Whitby; and from the woodcocks, and other birds of passage, who do the same upon their arrival on shore, after a long flight.’— SCOTT.
Stanza XIV. line 257. ‘St. Cuthbert was, in the choice of his sepulchre, one of the most mutable and unreasonable saints in the Calendar. He died A. D. 688, in a hermitage upon the Farne Islands, having resigned the bishopric of Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, about two years before. 1 His body was brought to Lindisfarne, where it remained until a descent of the Danes, about 793, when the monastery was nearly destroyed. The monks fled to Scotland, with what they deemed their chief treasure, the relics of St. Cuthbert. The Saint was, however, a most capricious fellow-traveller; which was the more intolerable, as, like Sinbad’s Old Man of the Sea, he journeyed upon the shoulders of his companions. They paraded him through Scotland for several years, and came as far west as Whithorn, in Galloway, whence they attempted to sail for Ireland, but were driven back by tempests. He at length made a halt at Norham; from thence he went to Melrose, where he remained stationary for a short time, and then caused himself to be launched upon the Tweed in a stone coffin, which landed him at Tilmouth, in Northumberland. This boat is finely shaped, ten feet long, three feet and a half in diameter, and only four inches thick; so that, with very little assistance, it might certainly have swam: it still lies, or at least did so a few years ago, in two pieces, beside the ruined chapel at Tilmouth. From Tilmouth, Cuthbert wandered into Yorkshire; and at length made a long stay at Chester-le-street, to which the bishop’s see was transferred. At length, the Danes continuing to infest the country, the monks removed to Rippon for a season; and it was in return from thence to Chester-le-street, that, passing through a forest called Dunholme, the Saint and his carriage became immovable at a place named Wardlaw, or Wardilaw. Here the Saint chose his place of residence; and all who have seen Durham must admit, that, if difficult in his choice, he evinced taste in at last fixing it. It is said, that the Northumbrian Catholics still keep secret the precise spot of the Saint’s sepulture, which is only intrusted to three persons at a time. When one dies the survivors associate to them, in his room, a person judged fit to be the depositary of so valuable a secret.’— SCOTT.
1 Lockhart quotes:—‘He resumed the bishopric of Lindisfarne, which, owing to bad health, he again relinquished within less than three months before his death.’— RAINE’S St. Cuthbert.
‘The resting-place of the remains of this Saint is not now matter of uncertainty. So recently as 17th May, 1827 — 1139 years after his death — their discovery and disinterment were effected. Under a blue stone, in the middle of the shrine of St. Cuthbert, at the eastern extremity of the choir of Durham Cathedral, there was then found a walled grave, containing the coffins of the Saint. The first, or outer one, was ascertained to be that of 1541, the second of 1041; the third, or inner one, answering in every particular to the description of that of 698, was found to contain, not indeed, as had been averred then, and even until 1539, the incorruptible body, but the entire skeleton of the Saint; the bottom of the grave being perfectly dry, free from offensive smell, and without the slightest symptom that a human body had ever undergone decomposition within its walls. The skeleton was found swathed in five silk robes of emblematical embroidery, the ornamental parts laid with gold leaf, and these again covered with a robe of linen. Beside the skeleton were also deposited several gold and silver insignia, and other relics of the Saint.
‘(The Roman Catholics now allow that the coffin was that of St. Cuthbert.)
‘The bones of the Saint were again restored to the grave in a new coffin, amid the fragments of the former ones. Those portions of the inner coffin which could be preserved, including one of its rings, with the silver altar, golden cross, stole, comb, two maniples, bracelets, girdle, gold wire of the skeleton, and fragments of the five silk robes, and seme of the rings of the outer coffin made in 1541, were deposited in the library of the Dean and Chapter, where they are now preserved.’— LOCKHART.
For ample details regarding St. Cuthbert, see ‘St. Cuthbert,’ by James Raine, M. A. (4to, Durham, 1828).
line 263. For ‘fair Melrose’ see opening of Canto II, ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel,’ and Prof. Minto’s note in the Clarendon Press edition.
Stanza XV. line 292. ‘Every one has heard, that when David I, with his son Henry, invaded Northumberland in 1136, the English host marched against them under the holy banner of St. Cuthbert; to the efficacy of which was imputed the great victory which they obtained in the bloody battle of Northallerton, or Cuton-moor. The conquerors were at least as much indebted to the jealousy and intractability of the different tribes who composed David’s army; among whom, as mentioned in the text, were the Galwegians, the Britons of Strath–Clyde, the men of Teviotdale and Lothian, with many Norman and German warriors, who asserted the cause of the Empress Maud. See Chalmers’s “Caledonia,” vol. i. p. 622; a most laborious, curious, and interesting publication, from which considerable defects of style and manner ought not to turn aside the Scottish antiquary.
‘Cuthbert, we have seen, had no great reason, to spare the Danes, when opportunity offered. Accordingly, I find in Simeon of Durham, that the Saint appeared in a vision to Alfred, when lurking in the marches of Glastonbury, and promised him assistance and victory over his heathen enemies; a consolation which, as was reasonable, Alfred, after the battle of Ashendown, rewarded, by a royal offering at the shrine of the Saint. As to William the Conqueror, the terror spread before his army, when he marched to punish the revolt of the Northumbrians, in 1096, had forced the monks to fly once more to Holy Island with the body of the Saint. It was, however, replaced before William left the north; and, to balance accounts, the Conqueror having intimated an indiscreet curiosity to view the Saint’s body, he was, while in the act of commanding the shrine to be opened, seized with heat and sickness, accompanied with such a panic terror, that, notwithstanding there was a sumptuous dinner prepared for him, he fled without eating a morsel (which the monkish historian seems to have thought no small part both of the miracle and the penance,) and never drew his bridle till he got to the river Tees.’— SCOTT.
Stanza XVI. line 300. ‘Although we do not learn that Cuthbert was, during his life, such an artificer as Dunstan, his brother in sanctity, yet, since his death, he has acquired the reputation of forging those Entrochi which are found among the rocks of Holy Island, and pass there by the name of St. Cuthbert’s Beads. While at this task, he is supposed to sit during the night upon a certain rock, and use another as his anvil. This story was perhaps credited in former days; at least the Saint’s legend contains some not more probable.’— SCOTT.
See in Mr. Aubrey de Vere’s ‘Legends of the Saxon Saints’ a fine poem entitled ‘How Saint Cuthbert kept his Pentecost at Carlisle.’ The ‘beads’ are there referred to thus:—
‘And many an age, when slept that Saint in death,
Passing his isle by night the sailor heard
Saint Cuthbert’s hammer clinking on the rock.’
The recognised name of these shells is still ‘St. Cuthbert’s beads.”
Stanza XVII. line 316. ‘Ceolwolf, or Colwulf, King of Northumberland, flourished in the eighth century. He was a man of some learning; for the venerable Bede dedicates to him his “Ecclesiastical History.” He abdicated the throne about 738, and retired to Holy Island, where he died in the odour of sanctity. Saint as Colwulf was, however, I fear the foundation of the penance-vault does not correspond with his character; for it is recorded among his memorabilia, that, finding the air of the island raw and cold, he indulged the monks, whose rule had hitherto confined them to milk or water, with the comfortable privilege of using wine or ale. If any rigid antiquary insists on this objection, he is welcome to suppose the penance-vault was intended by the founder for the more genial purposes of a cellar.
‘These penitential vaults were the Geissel-gewolbe of German convents. In the earlier and more rigid times of monastic discipline, they were sometimes used as a cemetery for the lay benefactor of the convent, whose unsanctified corpses were then seldom permitted to pollute the choir. They also served as places of meeting for the chapter, when measures of uncommon severity were to be adopted. But their most frequent use, as implied by the name, was as places for performing penances, or undergoing punishment.’— SCOTT.
Stanza XVIII. line 350. ‘Antique chandelier.’— SCOTT.
Stanza XIX. line 371. ‘That there was an ancient priory at Tynemouth is certain. Its ruins are situated on a high rocky point; and, doubtless, many a vow was made to the shrine by the distressed mariners, who drove towards the iron-bound coast of Northumberland in stormy weather. It was anciently a nunnery; for Virca, abbess of Tynemouth, presented St. Cuthbert (yet alive) with a rare winding-sheet, in emulation of a holy lady called Tuda, who had sent him a coffin: but, as in the case of Whitby, and of Holy Island, the introduction of nuns at Tynemouth, in the reign of Henry VIII, is an anachronism. The nunnery of Holy Island is altogether fictitious. Indeed, St. Cuthbert was unlikely to permit such an establishment; for, notwithstanding his accepting the mortuary gifts above mentioned, and his carrying on a visiting acquaintance with the abbess of Coldingham, he certainly hated the whole female sex; and, in revenge of a slippery trick played to him by an Irish princess, he, after death, inflicted severe penances on such as presumed to approach within a certain distance of his shrine.’— SCOTT.
line 376. ruth (A. S. hreow, pity) in Early and Middle English was used both for ‘disaster’ and ‘pity.’ These two shades of meaning are illustrated by Spenser in F. Q., Bk. ii. I. Introd. to Canto where Falsehood beguiles the Red Cross Knight, and ‘workes him woefull ruth,’ and in F. Q. I. v. 9:
‘Great RUTH in all the gazers hearts did grow.’
Milton (Lycidas, 163) favours the poetical employment of the word, which modern poets continue to use. Cp. Wordsworth, ‘Ode for a General Thanksgiving’:—
‘Assaulting without RUTH
The citadels of truth;’
and Tennyson’s ‘Geraint and Enid,’ II. 102:—
‘RUTH began to work
Against his anger in him, while he watch’d
The being he lov’d best in all the world.’
Stanza XX. line 385. doublet, a close-fitting jacket, introduced from France in the fourteenth century, and fashionable in all ranks till the time of Charles II. Cp. As You Like It, ii. 4. 6:—‘Doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat.’
line 398. Fontevraud, on the Loire, 8 miles from Saumur, had one of the richest abbeys in France. It was a retreat for penitents of both sexes, and presided over by an abbess. ‘The old monastic buildings and courtyards, surrounded by walls, and covering from 40 to 50 acres, now form one of the larger prisons of France, in which about 2000 men and boys are confined, and kept at industrial occupations.’ See Chambers’s ‘Encyclopaedia,’ s. v., and Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 2d. S, I. 104.
Stanza XXI. line 408. but = except that. Cp. Tempest, i. 2. 414:—
‘And, but he’s something stain’d
With grief that’s beauty’s canker, thou might’st call him
A goodly person.’
line 414. Byron, writing to Murray on 3 Feb., 1816, expresses his belief that he has unwittingly imitated this passage in ‘Parisina.’ ‘I had,’ he says, ‘completed the story on the passage from Gibbon, which indeed leads to a like scene naturally, without a thought of the kind; but it comes upon me not very comfortably.’ Byron is quite right in his assertion that, if he had taken this striking description of Constance as a model for his Parisina, he would have been attempting ‘to imitate that which is inimitable.’ See ‘Parisina,’ st. xiv:—
‘She stood, I said, all pale and still,
The living cause of Hugo’s ill.’
Stanza XXII. line 415. a sordid soul, &c. For such a character in the drama see Lightborn in Marlowe’s Edward II, and those trusty agents in Richard III, whose avowed hardness of heart drew from Gloucester the appreciative remark:—
‘Your eyes drop millstones, when fools’ eyes drop tears.’
Richard III, i. 3. 353.
Stanza XXIII. line 438. grisly, grim, horrible; still an effective poetic word. It is, e.g., very expressive in Tennyson’s ‘Princess,’ sect. vi, where Ida sees
‘The haggard father’s face and reverend beard
Of GRISLY twine, all dabbled with the blood,’ &c.
See below, III. 382.
Stanza XXV. line 468. ‘It is well known, that the religious, who broke their vows of chastity, were subjected to the same penalty as the Roman vestals in a similar case. A small niche, sufficient to enclose their bodies, was made in the massive wall of the convent; a slender pittance of food and water was deposited in it, and the awful words, VADE IN PACE, were the signal for immuring the criminal. It is not likely that, in latter times, this punishment was often resorted to; but among the ruins of the abbey of Coldingham, were some years ago discovered the remains of a female skeleton, which, from the shape of the niche, and position of the figure, seemed to be that of an immured nun.’— SCOTT.
Lockhart adds:—‘The Edinburgh Reviewer, on st. xxxii, POST, suggests that the proper reading of the sentence is VADE IN PACEM— not PART IN PEACE, but GO INTO PEACE, or eternal rest, a pretty intelligible mittimus to another world.’
Stanza XXVII. line 506. my = ‘of me,’ retains the old genitive force as in Elizabethan English. Cp. Julius Caesar, i. I. 55:—
‘In HIS way
That comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood.’
line 516. The very old fancy of a forsaken lover’s revenge has been powerfully utilized in D. G. Rossetti’s fascinating ballad, ‘Sister Helen’:—
‘Pale, pale her cheeks, that in pride did glow,
‘Neath the bridal-wreath three days ago.’
‘One morn for pride and three days for woe,
Stanza XXVIII. line 520. plight, woven, united, as in Spenser F. Q., II. vi. 7:—
‘Fresh flowerets dight
About her necke, or rings of rushes PLIGHT.’
lines 524–40. The reference in these lines is to what was known as the appeal to the judgment of God. On this subject, Scott at the close of the second head in his ‘Essay on Chivalry,’ says, ‘In the appeal to this awful criterion, the combatants, whether personally concerned, or appearing as champions, were understood, in martial law, to take on themselves the full risk of all consequences. And, as the defendant, or his champion, in case of being overcome, was subjected to the punishment proper to the crime of which he was accused, so the appellant, if vanquished, was, whether a principal or substitute, condemned to the same doom to which his success would have exposed the accused. Whichever combatant was vanquished he was liable to the penalty of degradation; and, if he survived the combat, the disgrace to which he was subjected was worse than death. His spurs were cut off close to his heels, with a cook’s cleaver; his arms were baffled and reversed by the common hangman; his belt was cut to pieces, and his sword broken. Even his horse shared his disgrace, the animal’s tail being cut off, close by the rump, and thrown on a dunghill. The death-bell tolled, and the funeral service was said for a knight thus degraded as for one dead to knightly honour. And if he fell in the appeal to the judgment of God, the same dishonour was done to his senseless corpse. If alive, he was only rescued from death to be confined in the cloister. Such at least were the strict roles of Chivalry, though the courtesy of the victor, or the clemency of the prince, might remit them in favourable cases.’
For illustration of forms observed at such contests, see Richard II, i. 3.
line 524. Each knight declared on oath that he ‘had his quarrel just.’ The fall of an unworthy knight is referred to below, VI. 961.
Stanza XXIX. line 545. This illustrates Henry’s impulsive and imperious character, and is not, necessarily, a premonition of his final attitude towards Roman Catholicism.
line 555. dastard (Icel. doestr = exhausted, breathless; O. Dut. dasaert = a fool) is very appropriately used here, after the description above, St. xxii, to designate the poltroon that quails only before death. Cp. Pope’s Iliad, II. 427:—
‘And die the dastard first, who dreads to die.’
Stanza XXX. line 568. Cp. Julius Caesar, ii. 2. 35:—
‘It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.’
Stanza XXXI. line 573. the fiery Dane. See note on line 10 above. Passing northwards after destroying York and Tynemouth, the Danes in 875 burned the monastery on Lindisfarne. The bishop and monks, with their relics and the body of St. Cuthbert, fled over the Kylve hills. See Raine, &c.
line 576. the crosier bends. Crosier (O. Fr. croiser; Fr. croix = cross) is used both for the staff of an archbishop with a cross on the top, and for the staff of a bishop or an abbot, terminating in a carved or ornamented curve or crook. The word is used here metaphorically for Papal power, as Bacon uses it, speaking of Anselm and Becket, ‘who with their CROSIERS did almost try it with the king’s sword.’ Constance’s prophecy refers to Henry VIII’s victorious collision with the Pope.
Stanza XXXII. lines 585–91. It is impossible not to connect this striking picture with that of Virgil’s Sibyl (Aeneid, VI. 45):—
‘Ventum erat ad limen, cum virgo, ‘poscere fata
Tempus,’ ait; ‘deus, ecce, deus.’ Cui talia fanti
Ante fores subito non voltus, non color unus,
Non comptae mansere comae; sed pectus anhelum,
Et rabie fera corda tument; maiorque videri
Nec mortale sonans, adflata est numine quando
Iam propiore dei.’
line 588. Stared, stood up stiffly. Cp. Julius Caesar, iv. 3. 280, and Tempest, i. 2. 213, ‘with hair UPSTARING.’
line 600. See above, line 468, and note.
Stanza XXXIII. line 616. for terror’s sake = because of terror. Cp. ‘For fashion’s sake,’ As You Like It, iii. 2. 55.
line 620. The custom of ringing the PASSING bell grew out of the belief that a church bell, rung when the soul was passing from the body, terrified the devils that were waiting to attack it at the moment of its escape. ‘The tolling of the passing bell was retained at the Reformation; and the people were instructed that its use was to admonish the living, and excite them to pray for the dying. But by the beginning of the l8th century the passing bell in the proper sense of the term had almost ceased to be heard. ‘A mourning bell is still rung during funeral services as a mark of respect. See s. v. ‘Bell,’ Chambers’s Encyclopaedia. Cp. Byron’s ‘Parisina,’ St. xv.
‘The convent bells are ringing,
But mournfully and slow;
In the grey square turret swinging
With a deep sound to and fro.’
In criticising ‘Marmion,’ in the Edinburgh Review, Lord Jeffrey says that the sound of the knell rung for Constance ‘is described with great force and solemnity;’ while a writer in the Scots Magazine of 1808 considers that ‘the whole of this trial and doom presents a high-wrought scene of horror, which, at the close, rises almost to too great a pitch.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00