Marmion, by Walter Scott

Introduction to Canto First.

To William Stewart Rose, Esq.
Ashestiel, Ettrick Forest.

November’s sky is chill and drear,

November’s leaf is red and sear:

Late, gazing down the steepy linn,

That hems our little garden in,

Low in its dark and narrow glen,

You scarce the rivulet might ken,

So thick the tangled greenwood grew,

So feeble trill’d the streamlet through:

Now, murmuring hoarse, and frequent seen

Through bush and brier, no longer green,

An angry brook, it sweeps the glade,

Brawls over rock and wild cascade,

And, foaming brown with double speed,

Hurries its waters to the Tweed.

No longer Autumn’s glowing red

Upon our Forest hills is shed;

No more, beneath the evening beam,

Fair Tweed reflects their purple gleam;

Away hath pass’d the heather-bell

That bloom’d so rich on Needpath-fell;

Sallow his brow, and russet bare

Are now the sister-heights of Yair.

The sheep, before the pinching heaven,

To sheltered dale and down are driven,

Where yet some faded herbage pines,

And yet a watery sunbeam shines:

In meek despondency they eye

The withered sward and wintry sky,

And far beneath their summer hill,

Stray sadly by Glenkinnon’s rill:

The shepherd shifts his mantle’s fold,

And wraps him closer from the cold;

His dogs no merry circles wheel,

But, shivering, follow at his heel;

A cowering glance they often cast,

As deeper moans the gathering blast.

My imps, though hardy, bold, and wild,

As best befits the mountain child,

Feel the sad influence of the hour,

And wail the daisy’s vanish’d flower;

Their summer gambols tell, and mourn,

And anxious ask — Will spring return,

And birds and lambs again be gay,

And blossoms clothe the hawthorn spray?

Yes, prattlers, yes. The daisy’s flower

Again shall paint your summer bower;

Again the hawthorn shall supply

The garlands you delight to tie;

The lambs upon the lea shall bound,

The wild birds carol to the round,

And while you frolic light as they,

Too short shall seem the summer day.

To mute and to material things

New life revolving summer brings;

The genial call dead Nature hears,

And in her glory reappears.

But oh! my Country’s wintry state

What second spring shall renovate?

What powerful call shall bid arise

The buried warlike and the wise;

The mind that thought for Britain’s weal,

The hand that grasp’d the victor steel?

The vernal sun new life bestows

Even on the meanest flower that blows;

But vainly, vainly may he shine,

Where Glory weeps o’er NELSON’S shrine:

And vainly pierce the solemn gloom,

That shrouds, O PITT, thy hallow’d tomb!

Deep graved in every British heart,

O never let those names depart!

Say to your sons — Lo, here his grave,

Who victor died on Gadite wave;

To him, as to the burning levin,

Short, bright, resistless course was given.

Where’er his country’s foes were found,

Was heard the fated thunder’s sound,

Till burst the bolt on yonder shore,

Roll’d, blazed, destroyed — and was no more.

Nor mourn ye less his perished worth,

Who bade the conqueror go forth,

And launch’d that thunderbolt of war

On Egypt, Hafnia, Trafalgar;

Who, born to guide such high emprize,

For Britain’s weal was early wise;

Alas! to whom the Almighty gave,

For Britain’s sins, an early grave!

His worth, who, in his mightiest hour,

A bauble held the pride of power,

Spum’d at the sordid lust of pelf,

And served his Albion for herself;

Who, when the frantic crowd amain

Strain’d at subjection’s bursting rein,

O’er their wild mood full conquest gain’d,

The pride, he would not crush, restrain’d,

Show’d their fierce zeal a worthier cause,

And brought the freeman’s arm, to aid the freeman’s laws.

Had’st thou but lived, though stripp’d of power,

A watchman on the lonely tower,

Thy thrilling trump had roused the land,

When fraud or danger were at hand;

By thee, as by the beacon-light,

Our pilots had kept course aright;

As some proud column, though alone,

Thy strength had propp’d the tottering throne:

Now is the stately column broke,

The beacon-light is quench’d in smoke,

The trumpet’s silver sound is still,

The warder silent on the hill!

Oh, think, how to his latest day,

When Death, just hovering, claim’d his prey,

With Palinure’s unalter’d mood,

Firm at his dangerous post he stood;

Each call for needful rest repell’d,

With dying hand the rudder held,

Till, in his fall, with fateful sway,

The steerage of the realm gave way!

Then, while on Britain’s thousand plains,

One unpolluted church remains,

Whose peaceful bells ne’er sent around

The bloody tocsin’s maddening sound,

But still, upon the hallow’d day,

Convoke the swains to praise and pray;

While faith and civil peace are dear,

Grace this cold marble with a tear,-

He, who preserved them, PITT, lies here!

Nor yet suppress the generous sigh,

Because his rival slumbers nigh;

Nor be thy requiescat dumb,

Lest it be said o’er Fox’s tomb.

For talents mourn, untimely lost,

When best employ’d, and wanted most;

Mourn genius high, and lore profound,

And wit that loved to play, not wound;

And all the reasoning powers divine,

To penetrate, resolve, combine;

And feelings keen, and fancy’s glow —

They sleep with him who sleeps below:

And, if thou mourn’st they could not save

From error him who owns this grave,

Be every harsher thought suppress’d,

And sacred be the last long rest.

HERE, where the end of earthly things

Lays heroes, patriots, bards, and kings;

Where stiff the hand, and still the tongue,

Of those who fought, and spoke, and sung;

HERE, where the fretted aisles prolong

The distant notes of holy song,

As if some angel spoke agen,

‘All peace on earth, good-will to men;’

If ever from an English heart,

O, HERE let prejudice depart,

And, partial feeling cast aside,

Record, that Fox a Briton died!

When Europe crouch’d to France’s yoke,

And Austria bent, and Prussia broke,

And the firm Russian’s purpose brave,

Was barter’d by a timorous slave,

Even then dishonour’s peace he spurn’d,

The sullied olive-branch return’d,

Stood for his country’s glory fast,

And nail’d her colours to the mast!

Heaven, to reward his firmness, gave

A portion in this honour’d grave,

And ne’er held marble in its trust

Of two such wondrous men the dust.

With more than mortal powers endow’d,

How high they soar’d above the crowd!

Theirs was no common party race,

Jostling by dark intrigue for place;

Like fabled Gods, their mighty war

Shook realms and nations in its jar;

Beneath each banner proud to stand,

Look’d up the noblest of the land,

Till through the British world were known

The names of PITT and Fox alone.

Spells of such force no wizard grave

E’er framed in dark Thessalian cave,

Though his could drain the ocean dry,

And force the planets from the sky.

These spells are spent, and, spent with these,

The wine of life is on the lees.

Genius, and taste, and talent gone,

For ever tomb’d beneath the stone,

Where — taming thought to human pride! —

The mighty chiefs sleep side by side.

Drop upon Fox’s grave the tear,

’Twill trickle to his rival’s bier;

O’er PITT’S the mournful requiem sound,

And Fox’s shall the notes rebound.

The solemn echo seems to cry —

‘Here let their discord with them die.

Speak not for those a separate doom,

Whom Fate made Brothers in the tomb;

But search the land of living men,

Where wilt thou find their like agen?’

Rest, ardent Spirits! till the cries

Of dying Nature bid you rise;

Not even your Britain’s groans can pierce

The leaden silence of your hearse;

Then, O, how impotent and vain

This grateful tributary strain!

Though not unmark’d from northern clime,

Ye heard the Border Minstrel’s rhyme:

His Gothic harp has o’er you rung;

The Bard you deign’d to praise, your deathless names has sung.

Stay yet, illusion, stay a while,

My wilder’d fancy still beguile!

From this high theme how can I part,

Ere half unloaded is my heart!

For all the tears e’er sorrow drew,

And all the raptures fancy knew,

And all the keener rush of blood,

That throbs through bard in bard-like mood,

Were here a tribute mean and low,

Though all their mingled streams could flow —

Woe, wonder, and sensation high,

In one spring-tide of ecstasy! —

It will not be-it may not last —

The vision of enchantment’s past:

Like frostwork in the morning ray,

The fancied fabric melts away;

Each Gothic arch, memorial-stone,

And long, dim, lofty aisle, are gone;

And, lingering last, deception dear,

The choir’s high sounds die on my ear.

Now slow return the lonely down,

The silent pastures bleak and brown,

The farm begirt with copsewood wild

The gambols of each frolic child,

Mixing their shrill cries with the tone

Of Tweed’s dark waters rushing on.

Prompt on unequal tasks to run,

Thus Nature disciplines her son:

Meeter, she says, for me to stray,

And waste the solitary day,

In plucking from yon fen the reed,

And watch it floating down the Tweed;

Or idly list the shrilling lay,

With which the milkmaid cheers her way,

Marking its cadence rise and fail,

As from the field, beneath her pail,

She trips it down the uneven dale:

Meeter for me, by yonder cairn,

The ancient shepherd’s tale to learn;

Though oft he stop in rustic fear,

Lest his old legends tire the ear

Of one, who, in his simple mind,

May boast of book-learn’d taste refined.

But thou, my friend, canst fitly tell,

(For few have read romance so well,)

How still the legendary lay

O’er poet’s bosom holds its sway;

How on the ancient minstrel strain

Time lays his palsied hand in vain;

And how our hearts at doughty deeds,

By warriors wrought in steely weeds,

Still throb for fear and pity’s sake;

As when the Champion of the Lake

Enters Morgana’s fated house,

Or in the Chapel Perilous,

Despising spells and demons’ force,

Holds converse with the unburied corse;

Or when, Dame Ganore’s grace to move,

(Alas, that lawless was their love!)

He sought proud Tarquin in his den,

And freed full sixty knights; or when,

A sinful man, and unconfess’d,

He took the Sangreal’s holy quest,

And, slumbering, saw the vision high,

He might not view with waking eye.

The mightiest chiefs of British song

Scorn’d not such legends to prolong:

They gleam through Spenser’s elfin dream,

And mix in Milton’s heavenly theme;

And Dryden, in immortal strain,

Had raised the Table Round again,

But that a ribald King and Court

Bade him toil on, to make them sport;

Demanded for their niggard pay,

Fit for their souls, a looser lay,

Licentious satire, song, and play;

The world defrauded of the high design,

Profaned the God-given strength, and marr’d the lofty line.

Warm’d by such names, well may we then,

Though dwindled sons of little men,

Essay to break a feeble lance

In the fair fields of old romance;

Or seek the moated castle’s cell,

Where long through talisman and spell,

While tyrants ruled, and damsels wept,

Thy Genius, Chivalry, hath slept:

There sound the harpings of the North,

Till he awake and sally forth,

On venturous quest to prick again,

In all his arms, with all his train,

Shield, lance, and brand, and plume, and scarf,

Fay, giant, dragon, squire, and dwarf,

And wizard with his wand of might,

And errant maid on palfrey white.

Around the Genius weave their spells,

Pure Love, who scarce his passion tells;

Mystery, half veil’d and half reveal’d;

And Honour, with his spotless shield;

Attention, with fix’d eye; and Fear,

That loves the tale she shrinks to hear;

And gentle Courtesy; and Faith,

Unchanged by sufferings, time, or death;

And Valour, lion-mettled lord,

Leaning upon his own good sword.

Well has thy fair achievement shown,

A worthy meed may thus be won;

Ytene’s oaks — beneath whose shade

Their theme the merry minstrels made,

Of Ascapart, and Bevis bold,

And that Red King, who, while of old,

Through Boldrewood the chase he led,

By his loved huntsman’s arrow bled —

Ytene’s oaks have heard again

Renew’d such legendary strain;

For thou hast sung, how He of Gaul,

That Amadis so famed in hall,

For Oriana, foil’d in fight

The Necromancer’s felon might;

And well in modern verse hast wove

Partenopex’s mystic love;

Hear, then, attentive to my lay,

A knightly tale of Albion’s elder day.

With regard to the Introductions generally, Lockhart writes, in Life of Scott, ii. 150:—‘Though the author himself does not allude to, and had perhaps forgotten the circumstance, when writing the Introductory Essay of 1830 — they were announced, by an advertisement early in 1807, as “Six Epistles from Ettrick Forest,” to be published in a separate volume, similar to that of the Ballads and Lyrical Pieces; and perhaps it might have been better that this first plan had been adhered to. But however that may be, are there any pages, among all he ever wrote, that one would be more sorry he should not have written? They are among the most delicious portraitures that genius ever painted of itself — buoyant, virtuous, happy genius — exulting in its own energies, yet possessed and mastered by a clear, calm, modest mind, and happy only in diffusing happiness around it.

‘With what gratification those Epistles were read by the friends to whom they were addressed it is superfluous to show. He had, in fact, painted them almost as fully as himself; and who might not have been proud to find a place in such a gallery? The tastes and habits of six of those men, in whose intercourse Scott found the greatest pleasure when his fame was approaching its meridian splendour, are thus preserved for posterity; and when I reflect with what avidity we catch at the least hint which seems to afford us a glimpse of the intimate circle of any great poet of former ages, I cannot but believe that posterity would have held this record precious, even had the individuals been in themselves far less remarkable than a Rose, an Ellis, a Heber, a Skene, a Marriott, and an Erskine.’

William Stewart Rose (1775–1843), to whom Scott addresses the Introduction to Canto First, was a well-known man of letters in his time. He addressed to Hallam, in 1819, a work in two vols., entitled ‘Letters from the North of Italy,’ and escaped a prohibitory order from the Emperor of Austria by ingeniously changing his title to ‘A Treatise upon Sour Krout,’ &c. His other original works are, ‘Apology addressed to the Travellers’ Club; or, Anecdotes of Monkeys’; ‘Thoughts and Recollections by one of the Last Century’; and ‘Epistle to the Hon. J. Hookham Frere in Malta.’ His translations are these:—‘Amadis of Gaul: a Poem in three Books, freely translated from the French version of Nicholas de Herberay’ (1803); ‘Partenopex de Blois, a Romance in four Cantos, from the French of M. Le Grand’ (1807); ‘Court and Parliament of Beasts, translated from the Animali Parlanti of Giambatista Casti’ (1819); and ‘Orlando Furioso, translated into English Verse’ (1825–1831). The closing lines of this Introduction refer to Rose’s ‘Amadis’ and ‘Partenopex.’

Ashestiel, whence the Introduction to the First Canto is dated, is on the Tweed, about six miles above Abbotsford. ‘The valley there is narrow,’ says Lockhart, ‘and the aspect in every direction is that of perfect pastoral repose.’ This was Scott’s home from 1804 to l812, when he removed to Abbotsford.

lines 1–52. This notable winter piece is the best modern contribution to that series of poetical descriptions by Scottish writers which includes Dunbar’s ‘Meditatioun in Winter,’ Gavin Douglas’s Scottish winter scene in the Prologue to his Virgil’s Aeneid VII, Hamilton of Bangour’s Ode III, and, of course, Thomson’s ‘Winter’ in ‘The Seasons.’ The details of the piece are given with admirable skill, and the local place-names are used with characteristic effect. The note of regret over winter’s ravages, common to all early Scottish poets, is skilfully struck and preserved, and thus the contrast designed between the wintry landscape and ‘my Country’s wintry state’ is rendered sharper and more decisive.

line 3. steepy linn. Steepy is Elizabethan = steep, precipitous. Linn (Gael. linne = pool; A.S. hlinna = brook) is variously used for ‘pool under a waterfall,’ ‘cascade,’ ‘precipice,’ and ‘ravine.’ The reference here is to the ravine close by Ashestiel, mentioned in Lockhart’s description of the surroundings:—‘On one side, close under the windows, is a deep ravine clothed with venerable trees, down which a mountain rivulet is heard, more than seen, in its progress to the Tweed.’

line 16. our forest hills. Selkirkshire is poetically called ‘Ettrick Forest’; hence the description of the soldiers from that district killed at Flodden as ‘the flowers of the forest.’

line 22. Cp. Hamilton of Bangour’s allusion (Ode III. 43) to the appearance of winter on these heights; —

‘Cast up thy eyes, how bleak and bare

He wanders on the tops of Yare!’

line 37. imps (Gr. emphutos, Swed. ympa). See ‘Faery Queene,’ Book I. (Clarendon Press), note to Introd. The word means (1) a graft; (2) a scion of a noble house; (3) a little demon; (4) a mischievous child. The context implies that the last is the sense in which the word is used here. Cp. Beattie’s ‘Minstrel,’ i. 17:—

‘Nor cared to mingle in the clamorous fray

Of squabbling imps,’

line 50. round. Strictly speaking, a round is a circular dance in which the performers hold each other by the hands. The term, however, is fairly applicable to the frolicsome gambols of a group of lambs in a spring meadow. Certain rounds became famous enough to be individualised, as e.g. Sellenger’s or St. Leger’s round, mentioned in the May-day song, ‘Come Lasses and Lads.’ Cp. Macbeth, iv. 1; Midsummer Night’s Dream, ii. 2; and see note on Comus, line 144, in ‘English Poems of Milton,’ vol. i. (Clarendon Press).

line 53. Lockhart, in a foot-note to his edition of ‘Marmion,’ quotes from the ‘Monthly Review’ of May, 1808: ‘The “chance and change” of nature — the vicissitudes which are observable in the moral as well as the physical part of the creation — have given occasion to more exquisite poetry than any other general subject. . . . The Ai, ai, tai Malaki of Moschus is worked up again to some advantage in the following passage — “To mute,” &c.’

lines 61, 62. The inversion of reference in these lines is an illustration of the rhetorical figure ‘chiasmus.’ Cp. the arrangement of the demonstrative pronouns in these sentences from ‘Kenilworth’:—‘Your eyes contradict your tongue. That speaks of a protector, willing and able to watch over you; but these tell me you are ruined.’

line 64. Cp. closing lines of Wordsworth’s ‘Ode on Intimations of Immortality’ (finished in 1806):—

‘To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.’

lines 65–8. Nelson fell at Trafalgar, Oct. 21, 1805; Pitt died Jan. 23, 1806.

line 72. Gadite wave. The epithet is derived from Gades, the Roman name of the modern Cadiz.

line 73. Levin = lightning. See Canto I, line 400. Spenser uses the phrase ‘piercing levin’ in the July eclogue of the ‘Shepheards Calendar,’ and in ‘Faery Queene,’ III. v. 48. The word still occasionally occurs in poetry. Cp. Longfellow, ‘Golden Legend,’ v., near end:—

‘See! from its summit the lurid levin

Flashes downward without warning! ’

line 76. fated = charged with determination of fate. Cp. All’s Well that Ends Well, i. I. 221 —

          ‘The fated sky

Gives us free scope.’

line 82. Hafnia, is Copenhagen. The three victories are, the battle of the Nile, 1798; the battle of the Baltic, 1801; and Trafalgar, 1805.

lines 84–86. Pitt (1759–1806) became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1783, and from 1785 onwards the facts of his career are a constituent part of national history. He faced with success difficulties like bread riots, mutinies in the fleet in 1797, disturbances by the ‘United Irishmen,’ and the alarming threats of Napoleon. In 1800 the Union of Ireland with Great Britain gave Irishmen new motives for living, and in 1803 national patriotism, stirred and guided by Pitt, was manifested in the enrolment of over three hundred thousand volunteers prepared to withstand the vaunted ‘Army of England.’ In spite of his distinguished position and eminent services, Pitt died L40,000 in debt, and his responsibilities were promptly met by a vote of the House of Commons.

lines 97–108. These picturesque lines, with their varied and suggestive metaphors, were interpolated on the blank page of the MS. The reference in the expression ‘tottering throne’ in line 104 is to the threatened insanity of George III.

lines 109–125. Pitt’s patriotism was consistent and thorough. The anxious, troubled expression his face, betrayed in his latest appearances in the House of Commons, Wilberforce spoke of as ‘his Austerlitz look,’ and there seems little doubt that the burden of his public cares hastened his end. This gives point to the comparison of his fate with that of Aeneas’s pilot Palinurus (Aeneid v. 833).

lines 127–141. Charles James Fox (1749–1806) was second son of the first Lord Holland, whose indulgence tended to spoil a youth of unusual ability and precocity. Extravagant habits, contracted at an early age, were not easily thrown off afterwards, but they did not interfere with Fox’s efficiency as a statesman. His rivalry with Pitt dates from 1783. Their tombs are near each other in Westminster Abbey.

line 146. Cp. in Gray’s ‘Elegy’:—

‘Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault

The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.’

line 153. Jeffrey, in his criticism of ‘Marmion’ in the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ found fault with the tribute to Fox, and cavilled in particular at the expression ‘Fox a Briton died.’ He argued that Scott praised only the action of Fox in breaking off the negotiations for peace with Napoleon, while insinuating that the previous part of his career was unpatriotic. Only a special pleader could put such an unworthy interpretation on the words.

lines 155–65. By the result of the battle of Austerlitz (December, 1805) Napoleon seemed advancing towards general victory. Prussia hastily patched up a dishonourable peace on terms inconsistent with very binding pledges, and the Russian minister at Paris compromised his country by yielding to humiliating proposals on the part of France. All this changed Fox’s view of the position, and he broke off the negotiations for peace which had been begun in accordance with a policy he had long advocated.

line 161. There is a probable reference here to Nelson’s action at the battle of the Baltic. He disregarded the signal for cessation of fighting given by Sir Hyde Parker, and ordered his own signal to be nailed to the mast.

line 176. Thessaly was noted for witchcraft. The scene of Virgil’s eighth Eclogue is laid in Thessaly as appropriate to the introduction of such machinery as enchantments, love-spells, &c. Cp. Horace, Epode v. 21, and Ode I. xxvii. 21:—

‘Quae saga, quis te solvere Thessalis

Magus venenis, quis poterit deus?’

In his ‘Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft,’ Letter III., Scott, obviously basing his information on Horace, writes thus:—‘The classic mythology presented numerous points in which it readily coalesced with that of the Germans, Danes, and Northmen of a later period. They recognised the power of Erictho, Canidia, and other sorceresses, whose spells could perplex the course of the elements, intercept the influence of the sun, and prevent his beneficial operation upon the fruits of the earth; call down the moon from her appointed sphere, and disturb the original and destined course of nature by their words and charms, and the power of the evil spirits whom they evoked.’

line 181. Lees is properly pl. of lee (Fr.lie = dregs), the sediment or coarser parts of a liquid which settle at the bottom, but it has come to be used as a collective word without reference to a singular form. For phrase, cp. Macbeth, ii. 3. 96:—

‘The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees

Is left this vault to brag of.’

line 185. Cp. Byron’s ‘Age of Bronze’:—

‘But where are they — the rivals! — a few feet

Of sullen earth divide each winding-sheet.’

line 199. hearse, from Old Fr. herce = harrow, portcullis. In early English the word is used in the sense of ‘harrow’ and also of ‘triangle,’ in reference to the shape of the harrow. By-and-by it came to be used variously for ‘bier,’ ‘funeral carriage,’ ornamental canopy with lighted candles over the coffins of notable people during the funeral ceremony, the permanent framework over a tomb, and even the tomb itself. Cp. Spenser’s Shep. Cal., November Eclogue:—

‘Dido, my deare, alas! is dead,

Dead, and lyeth wrapt in lead.

  O heavie herse!’

The gloss to this is, ‘Herse is the solemne obsequie in funeralles.’ Cp. also Ben Jonson’s ‘Epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke’:—

‘Underneath this sable herse

Lies the subject of all verse.’

line 203. The ‘Border Minstrel’ is an appropriate designation of the author of ‘Contributions to the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ and the ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel.’ In the preface to the latter work, written in 1830, Scott refers to the two great statesmen as having ‘smiled on the adventurous minstrel.’ This is the only existing evidence of Fox’s appreciation. Pitt’s praise of the Lay his niece, Lady Hester Stanhope, reported to W. S. Rose, who very naturally passed it on to Scott himself. The Right Hon. William Dundas, in a letter to Scott, mentions a conversation he had had with Pitt at his table, in 1805, and says that Pitt both expressed his desire to advance Scott’s professional interests and quoted from the Lay the lines describing the embarrassment of the harper when asked to play. ‘This,’ said he, ‘is a sort of thing which I might have expected in painting, but could never have fancied capable of being given in poetry.’— Lockhart’s Life of Scott, ii. 34.

line 204. Gothic. This refers to both subject and style, neither being classical.

line 220. Lockhart quotes from Rogers’s ‘Pleasures of Memory’:—

‘If but a beam of sober reason play,

Lo! Fancy’s fairy frostwork melts away.’

lines 233–48. In these lines the poet indicates the sphere in which he had previously worked with independence and success. Like Virgil when proceeding to write the AEneid, he is doubtful whether his devotion to legendary and pastoral themes is sufficient warrant for attempting heroic verse. The reference to the tales of shepherds in the closing lines of the passage recalls the advice given (about 1880) to his students by Prof. Shairp, when lecturing from the Poetry Chair at Oxford. ‘To become steeped,’ he said, ‘in the true atmosphere of romantic poetry they should proceed to the Borders and learn their legends, under the twofold guidance of Scott’s “Border Minstrelsy” and an intelligent local shepherd.’

line 256. steely weeds = steel armour. ‘Steely’ in Elizabethan times was used both literally and figuratively. Shakespeare, 3 Henry VI. ii. 3. 16, has ‘The steely point of Clifford’s lance,’ and Fisher in his ‘Seuen Psalmes’ has ‘tough and stely hertes.’ For a modern literal example, see Crabbe’s ‘Parish Register’:—

‘Steel through opposing plates the magnet draws,

And STEELY atoms calls from dust and straws.’

WEEDS in the sense of dress is confined, in modern English, to widows’ robes. In Elizabethan times it had a general reference, as e.g. Spenser’s ‘lowly Shephards weeds’ in the Introduction to ‘Faery Queene.’ Cp. below, Canto V. line 168, VI. line 192.

line 258. The Champion is Launcelot, the most famous of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. See Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of the King,’ especially ‘Lancelot and Elaine,’ and William Morris’s ‘Defence of Guenevere.’

line 263. Dame Ganore is Guenevere, Arthur’s Queen.

lines 258–262. Scott annotates these lines as follows:—

‘The Romance of the Morte Arthur contains a sort of abridgment of the most celebrated adventures of the Round Table; and, being written in comparatively modern language, gives the general reader an excellent idea of what romances of chivalry actually were. It has also the merit of being written in pure old English; and many of the wild adventures which it contains are told with a simplicity bordering upon the sublime. Several of these are referred to in the text; and I would have illustrated them by more full extracts, but as this curious work is about to be republished, I confine myself to the tale of the Chapel Perilous, and of the quest of Sir Launcelot after the Sangreal.

‘“Right so Sir Lanncelot departed, and when he came to the Chapell Perilous, he alighted downe, and tied his horse to a little gate. And as soon as he was within the churchyard, he saw, on the front of the chapell, many faire rich shields turned upside downe; and many of the shields Sir Launcelot had seene knights have before; with that he saw stand by him thirtie great knights, more, by a yard, than any man that ever he had seene, and all those grinned and gnashed at Sir Launcelot; and when he saw their countenance, hee dread them sore, and so put his shield afore him, and tooke his sword in his hand ready to doe battaile; and they were all armed in black harneis, ready, with their shields and swords drawen. And when Sir Launcelot would have gone through them, they scattered on every side of him, and gave him the way; and therewith he waxed all bold, and entered into the chapell, and then hee saw no light but a dimme lampe burning, and then was he ware of a corps covered with a cloath of silke; then Sir Launcelot stooped downe, and cut a piece of that cloath away, and then it fared under him as the earth had quaked a little, whereof he was afeard, and then hee saw a faire sword lye by the dead knight, and that he gat in his hand, and hied him out of the chappell. As soon as he was in the chappell-yerd, all the knights spoke to him with a grimly voice, and said, ‘Knight, Sir Launcelot, lay that sword from thee, or else thou shalt die.’— ‘Whether I live or die,’ said Sir Launcelot, ‘with no great words get yee it againe, therefore fight for it and ye list.’ Therewith he passed through them; and beyond the chappell-yerd, there met him a faire damosell, and said, ‘Sir Launcelot, leave that sword behind thee, or thou wilt die for it.’—‘I will not leave it,’ said Sir Launcelot, ‘for no threats.’—‘No?’ said she; ‘and ye did leave that sword, Queen Guenever should ye never see.’—‘Then were I a foole and I would leave this sword,’ said Sir Launcelot. ‘Now, gentle knight,’ said the damosell, ‘I require thee to kisse me once.’— ‘Nay,’ said Sir Launcelot, ‘that God forbid!’—‘Well, sir,’ said she, ‘and thou hadest kissed me thy life dayes had been done; but now, alas!’ said she, ‘I have lost all my labour; for I ordeined this chappell for thy sake, and for Sir Gawaine: and once I had Sir Gawaine within it; and at that time he fought with that knight which there lieth dead in yonder chappell, Sir Gilbert the bastard, and at that time hee smote off Sir Gilbert the bastard’s left hand. And so, Sir Launcelot, now I tell thee, that I have loved thee this seaven yeare; but there may no woman have thy love but Queene Guenever; but sithen I may not rejoyice thee to have thy body alive, I had kept no more joy in this world but to have had thy dead body; and I would have balmed it and served, and so have kept it in my life daies, and daily I should have clipped thee, and kissed thee, in the despite of Queen Guenever.’—‘Yee say well,’ said Sir Launcelot; ‘Jesus preserve me from your subtill craft.” And therewith he took his horse, and departed from her.”’

Sir Thomas Malory’s ‘Morte D’Arthure’ was first printed by Caxton in 4to., 1485. A new issue of this belongs to 1634. The republication referred to by Scott is probably the edition published in 1816, in two vols. l8mo. The Roxburghe Club made a sumptuous reprint in 1819, and Thomas Wright, in 1858, edited the work in three handy 8vo. vols. from the text of 1634. This edition is furnished with a very useful introduction and notes.

lines 267–70. ‘One day when Arthur was holding a high feast with his Knights of the Round Table, the Sangreal, or vessel out of which the last passover was eaten, (a precious relic, which had long remained concealed from human eyes, because of the sins of the land,) suddenly appeared to him and all his chivalry. The consequence of this vision was, that all the knights took on them a solemn vow to seek the Sangreal. But, alas! it could only be revealed to a knight at once accomplished in earthly chivalry, and pure and guiltless of evil conversation. All Sir Launcelot’s noble accomplishments were therefore rendered vain by his guilty intrigue with Queen Guenever, or Ganore; and in this holy quest he encountered only such disgraceful disasters as that which follows:—

‘But Sir Launcelot rode overthwart and endlong in a wild forest, and held no path, but as wild adventure led him; and at the last, he came unto a stone crosse, which departed two wayes, in wast land; and, by the crosse, was a stone that was of marble; but it was so dark, that Sir Launcelot might not well know what it was. Then Sir Launcelot looked by him, and saw an old chappell, and there he wend to have found people. And so Sir Launcelot tied his horse to a tree, and there he put off his shield, and hung it upon a tree, and then hee went unto the chappell doore, and found it wasted and broken. And within he found a faire altar, full richly arrayed with cloth of silk, and there stood a faire candlestick, which beare six great candles, and the candlesticke was of silver. And when Sir Launcelot saw this light, hee had a great will for to enter into the chappell, but he could find no place where hee might enter. Then was he passing heavie and dismaied. Then he returned, and came again to his horse, and tooke off his saddle and his bridle, and let him pasture, and unlaced his helme, and ungirded his sword, and laid him downe to sleepe upon his shield, before the crosse.

‘And so hee fell on sleepe; and, halfe waking and halfe sleeping, hee saw come by him two palfreys, both faire and white, the which beare a litter, therein lying a sicke knight. And when he was nigh the crosse, he there abode still. All this Sir Launcelot saw and beheld, for hee slept not verily, and hee heard him say, “O sweete Lord, when shall this sorrow leave me, and when shall the holy vessell come by me, where through I shall be blessed, for I have endured thus long for little trespasse!” And thus a great while complained the knight, and allwaies Sir Launcelot heard it. With that Sir Launcelot saw the candlesticke, with the fire tapers, come before the crosse; but he could see no body that brought it. Also there came a table of silver, and the holy vessel of the Sancgreall, the which Sir Launcelot had seen before that time in King Petchour’s house. And therewithall the sicke knight set him upright, and held up both his hands, and said, “Faire sweete Lord, which is here within the holy vessell, take heed to mee, that I may bee hole of this great malady!” And therewith upon his hands, and upon his knees, he went so nigh, that he touched the holy vessell, and kissed it: And anon he was hole, and then he said, “Lord God, I thank thee, for I am healed of this malady.” Soo when the holy vessell had been there a great while, it went into the chappell againe, with the candlesticke and the light, so that Sir Launcelot wist not where it became, for he was overtaken with sinne, that he had no power to arise against the holy vessell, wherefore afterward many men said of him shame. But he tooke repentance afterward. Then the sicke knight dressed him upright, and kissed the crosse. Then anon his squire brought him his armes, and asked his lord how he did. “Certainly,” said hee, I thanke God right heartily, for through the holy vessell I am healed: But I have right great mervaile of this sleeping knight, which hath had neither grace nor power to awake during the time that this holy vessell hath beene here present.”—“I dare it right well say,” said the squire, “that this same knight is defouled with some manner of deadly sinne, whereof he has never confessed.”— “By my faith,” said the knight, “whatsoeer he be, he is unhappie; for, as I deeme, hee is of the fellowship of the Round Table, the which is entered into the quest of the Sancgreall.”—“Sir,” said the squire, “here I have brought you all your armes, save your helme and your sword; and, therefore, by mine assent, now may ye take this knight’s helme and his sword;’ and so he did. And when he was cleane armed, he took Sir Launcelot’s horse, for he was better than his owne, and so they departed from the crosse.

‘Then anon Sir Launcelot awaked, and set himselfe upright, and he thought him what hee had there seene, and whether it were dreames or not; right so he heard a voice that said, “Sir Launcelot, more hardy than is the stone, and more bitter than is the wood, and more naked and bare than is the liefe of the fig-tree, therefore go thou from hence, and withdraw thee from this holy place;” and when Sir Launcelot heard this, he was passing heavy, and wist not what to doe. And so he departed sore weeping, and cursed the time that he was borne; for then he deemed never to have had more worship; for the words went unto his heart, till that he knew wherefore that hee was so called.’— SCOTT.

line 273. Arthur is the hero of the ‘Faery Queene.’ In his explanatory letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, Spenser says, ‘I chose the historye of King Arthure, as most fitte for the excellency of his person, being made famous by many mens former workes, and also furthest from the daunger of envy, and suspicion of present time.’

line 274. Milton is said to have meditated in his youth the composition of an epic poem on Arthur and the Round Table. In ‘Paradise Lost’ ix. 26, he states that the subject of that poem pleased him ‘long choosing and beginning late,’ and references both in ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Paradise Regained’ prove his familiarity with the Arthurian legend. Cp. Par. Lost, i. 580, and Par. Reg. ii. 358.

line 275. Scott quotes from Dryden’s ‘Essay on Satire,’ prefixed to the translation of Juvenal, regarding his projected Epic. ‘Of two subjects,’ says Dryden, ‘I was doubtful whether I should choose that of King Arthur conquering the Saxons, which, being further distant in time, gives the greater scope to my invention; or that of Edward the Black Prince, in subduing Spain, and restoring it to the lawful prince, though a great tyrant, Pedro the Cruel. . . . I might perhaps have done as well as some of my predecessors, or at least chalked out a way for others to amend my errors in a like design; but being encouraged only with fair words by King Charles II, my little salary ill paid, and no prospect of a future subsistence, I was then discouraged in the beginning of my attempt; and now age has overtaken me, and want, a more insufferable evil, through the change of the times, has wholly disabled me.’

lines 281–3. Dryden’s dramas, certain of his translations, and various minor pieces adapted to the prevalent taste of his time, are unworthy of his genius. Pope’s reflections on the poet forgetful of the dignity of his office, with the allusion to Dryden as an illustration (‘Satires and Epistles,’ v. 209), may be compared with this passage; —

‘I scarce can think him such a worthless thing,

Unless he praise some monster of a king;

Or virtue, or religion turn to sport,

To please a lewd, or unbelieving court.

Unhappy Dryden! In all Charles’s days,

Roscommon only boasts unspotted bays.’

line 283. Cp. Gray’s ‘Progress of Poesy,’ 103 —

‘Behold, where Dryden’s less presumptuous car

Wide o’er the fields of glory bear

Two coursers of ethereal race,

With necks in thunder cloth’d, and long-resounding pace’;

and Pope’s ‘Satires and Epistles,’ v. 267 —

                      ‘Dryden taught to join

The varying verse, the full-resounding line,

The long majestic march, and energy divine.’

line 286. To break a lance is to enter the lists, to try one’s strength. The concussion of two powerful knights would suffice to shiver the lances. Hence comes the figurative use. Cp. I Henry VI. iii. 2 —

‘What will you do, good greybeard? break a lance,

And run a tilt at death within a chair?’

lines 288–309. The Genius of Chivalry is to be resuscitated from the deep slumber under which baneful spells have long effectually held him. The appropriateness of this is apparent when the true meaning of Chivalry is considered. Scott opens his ‘Essay on Chivalry’ thus:—‘The primitive sense of this well-known word, derived from the French Chevalier, signifies merely cavalry, or a body of soldiers serving on horseback; and it has been used in that general acceptation by the best of our poets, ancient and modern, from Milton to Thomas Campbell.’ See Par. Lost, i. 307, and Battle of Hohenlinden.

line 294. To spur forward his horse on an expedition of adventures, like Spenser’s Red Cross Knight. For the accoutrements and the duties of a knight see Scott’s ‘Essay on Chivalry’ (Miscellaneous Works, vol. vi.). Cp. ‘Faery Queene,’ Book I, and (especially for the personified abstractions from line 300 onwards) Montgomerie’s allegory, ‘The Cherrie and the Slae.’

line 312. Ytene’s oaks. ‘The New Forest in Hampshire, anciently so called.’— SCOTT. Gundimore, the residence of W. S. Rose, was in this neighbourhood, and in an unpublished piece entitled ‘Gundimore,’ Rose thus alludes to a visit of Scott’s:—

‘Here Walter Scott has woo’d the northern muse;

Here he with me has joy’d to walk or cruise;

And hence has prick’d through Yten’s holt, where we

Have called to mind how under greenwood tree,

Pierced by the partner of his “woodland craft,”

King Rufus fell by Tyrrell’s random shaft.’

line 314. ‘The “History of Bevis of Hampton” is abridged by my friend Mr. George Ellis, with that liveliness which extracts amusement even out of the most rude and unpromising of our old tales of chivalry. Ascapart, a most important personage in the romance, is thus described in an extract:—

“This geaunt was mighty and strong,

And full thirty foot was long.

He was bristled like a sow;

A foot he had between each brow;

His lips were great, and hung aside;

His eyen were hollow, his mouth was wide;

Lothly he was to look on than,

And liker a devil than a man.

His staff was a young oak,

Hard and heavy was his stroke.”

           Specimens of Metrical Romances, vol. ii. p. 136.

‘I am happy to say, that the memory of Sir Bevis is still fragrant in his town of Southampton; the gate of which is sentinelled by the effigies of that doughty knight errant and his gigantic associate.’- -SCOTT.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00