Marmion, by Walter Scott

Introduction to Canto Fifth.

To George Ellis, Esq.

When dark December glooms the day,

And takes our autumn joys away;

When short and scant the sunbeam throws,

Upon the weary waste of snows,

A cold and profitless regard,

Like patron on a needy bard;

When silvan occupation’s done,

And o’er the chimney rests the gun,

And hang, in idle trophy, near,

The game-pouch, fishing-rod, and spear;

When wiry terrier, rough and grim,

And greyhound, with his length of limb,

And pointer, now employ’d no more,

Cumber our parlour’s narrow floor;

When in his stall the impatient steed

Is long condemn’d to rest and feed;

When from our snow-encircled home,

Scarce cares the hardiest step to roam

Since path is none, save that to bring

The needful water from the spring;

When wrinkled news-page, thrice conn’d o’er,

Beguiles the dreary hour no more,

And darkling politician, cross’d,

Inveighs against the lingering post,

And answering housewife sore complains

Of carriers’ snow-impeded wains;

When such the country cheer, I come,

Well pleased, to seek our city home;

For converse, and for books, to change

The Forest’s melancholy range,

And welcome, with renew’d delight,

The busy day and social night.

Not here need my desponding rhyme

Lament the ravages of time,

As erst by Newark’s riven towers,

And Ettrick stripp’d of forest bowers.

True — Caledonia’s Queen is changed,

Since on her dusky summit ranged,

Within its steepy limits pent,

By bulwark, line, and battlement,

And flanking towers, and laky flood,

Guarded and garrison’d she stood,

Denying entrance or resort,

Save at each tall embattled port;

Above whose arch, suspended, hung

Portcullis spiked with iron prong.

That long is gone — but not so long,

Since, early closed, and opening late,

Jealous revolved the studded gate,

Whose task, from eve to morning tide,

A wicket churlishly supplied.

Stern then, and steel-girt was thy brow,

Dun–Edin! O, how altered now,

When safe amid thy mountain court

Thou sitt’st, like Empress at her sport,

And liberal, unconfined, and free,

Flinging thy white arms to the sea,

For thy dark cloud, with umber’d lower,

That hung o’er cliff, and lake, and tower,

Thou gleam’st against the western ray

Ten thousand lines of brighter day.

Not she, the Championess of old,

In Spenser’s magic tale enroll’d,

She for the charmed spear renown’d,

Which forced each knight to kiss the ground —

Not she more changed, when, placed at rest, 66

What time she was Malbecco’s guest,

She gave to flow her maiden vest;

When from the corselet’s grasp relieved,

Free to the sight her bosom heaved;

Sweet was her blue eye’s modest smile,

Erst hidden by the aventayle;

And down her shoulders graceful roll’d

Her locks profuse, of paly gold.

They who whilom, in midnight fight,

Had marvell’d at her matchless might,

No less her maiden charms approved,

But looking liked, and liking loved.

The sight could jealous pangs beguile,

And charm Malbecco’s cares a while;

And he, the wandering Squire of Dames,

Forgot his Columbella’s claims,

And passion, erst unknown, could gain

The breast of blunt Sir Satyrane;

Nor durst light Paridel advance,

Bold as he was, a looser glance.

She charm’d, at once, and tamed the heart,

Incomparable Britomane!

So thou, fair City! disarray’d

Of battled wall, and rampart’s aid,

As stately seem’st, but lovelier far

Than in that panoply of war.

Nor deem that from thy fenceless throne

Strength and security are flown;

Still as of yore, Queen of the North!

Still canst thou send thy children forth.

Ne’er readier at alarm-bell’s call

Thy burghers rose to man thy wall,

Than now, in danger, shall be thine,

Thy dauntless voluntary line;

For fosse and turret proud to stand,

Their breasts the bulwarks of the land.

Thy thousands, train’d to martial toil,

Full red would stain their native soil,

Ere from thy mural crown there fell

The slightest knosp, or pinnacle.

And if it come — as come it may,

Dun–Edin! that eventful day —

Renown’d for hospitable deed,

That virtue much with Heaven may plead,

In patriarchal times whose care

Descending angels deign’d to share;

That claim may wrestle blessings down

On those who fight for The Good Town,

Destined in every age to be

Refuge of injured royalty;

Since first, when conquering York arose,

To Henry meek she gave repose,

Till late, with wonder, grief, and awe,

Great Bourbon’s relics, sad she saw.

Truce to these thoughts! — for, as they rise,

How gladly I avert mine eyes,

Bodings, or true or false, to change,

For Fiction’s fair romantic range,

Or for Tradition’s dubious light,

That hovers ‘twixt the day and night:

Dazzling alternately and dim

Her wavering lamp I’d rather trim,

Knights, squires, and lovely dames, to see,

Creation of my fantasy,

Than gaze abroad on reeky fen,

And make of mists invading men. —

Who loves not more the night of June

Than dull December’s gloomy noon?

The moonlight than the fog of frost?

But can we say, which cheats the most?

But who shall teach my harp to gain

A sound of the romantic strain,

Whose Anglo–Norman tones whilere

Could win the royal Henry’s ear,

Famed Beauclerk call’d, for that he loved

The minstrel, and his lay approved?

Who shall these lingering notes redeem,

Decaying on Oblivion’s stream;

Such notes as from the Breton tongue

Marie translated, Blondel sung? —

O! born, Time’s ravage to repair,

And make the dying Muse thy care;

Who, when his scythe her hoary foe

Was poising for the final blow,

The weapon from his hand could wring,

And break his glass, and shear his wing,

And bid, reviving in his strain,

The gentle poet live again;

Thou, who canst give to lightest lay

An unpedantic moral gay,

Nor less the dullest theme bid flit

On wings of unexpected wit;

In letters as in life approved,

Example honour’d, and beloved —

Dear ELLIS! to the bard impart

A lesson of thy magic art,

To win at once the head and heart —

At once to charm, instruct, and mend,

My guide, my pattern, and my friend!

Such minstrel lesson to bestow

Be long thy pleasing task — but, O!

No more by thy example teach —

What few can practise, all can preach —

With even patience to endure

Lingering disease, and painful cure,

And boast affliction’s pangs subdued

By mild and manly fortitude.

Enough, the lesson has been given:

Forbid the repetition, Heaven!

Come listen, then! for thou hast known,

And loved the Minstrel’s varying tone,

Who, like his Border sires of old,

Waked a wild measure rude and bold,

Till Windsor’s oaks, and Ascot plain,

With wonder heard the northern strain.

Come listen! bold in thy applause,

The Bard shall scorn pedantic laws;

And, as the ancient art could stain

Achievements on the storied pane,

Irregularly traced and plann’d,

But yet so glowing and so grand —

So shall he strive, in changeful hue,

Field, feast, and combat, to renew,

And loves, and arms, and harpers’ glee, 191

And all the pomp of chivalry.


‘GEORGE ELLIS, to whom this Introduction is addressed, is “the well-known coadjutor of Mr. Canning and Mr. Frere in the “Anti–Jacobin,” and editor of “Specimens of Ancient English Romances,” &c. He died 10th April, 1815, aged 70 years; being succeeded in his estates by his brother, Charles Ellis, Esq., created in 1827 Lord Seaford.’— LOCKHART. See ‘Life of Scott’ and ‘Dictionary of National Biography.’

line 36. See Introd. to Canto II.

line 37. ‘The Old Town of Edinburgh was secured on the north side by a lake, now drained, and on the south by a wall, which there was some attempt to make defensible even so late as 1745. The gates, and the greater part of the wall, have been pulled down, in the course of the late extensive and beautiful enlargement of the city. My ingenious and valued friend, Mr. Thomas Campbell, proposed to celebrate Edinburgh under the epithet here borrowed. But the “Queen of the North” has not been so fortunate as to receive from so eminent a pen the proposed distinction.’— SCOTT.

line 57. ‘Since writing this line, I find I have inadvertently borrowed it almost verbatim, though with somewhat a different meaning, from a chorus in “Caractacus”:—

“Britain heard the descant bold,

She flung her white arms o’er the sea,

Proud in her leafy bosom to enfold

The freight of harmony.”’-SCOTT.

line 58. For = instead of.

lines 60–1. gleam’st, with trans. force, is an Elizabethanism. Cp. Shakespeare’s Lucrece, line 1378:—

‘Dying eyes gleamed forth their ashy lights.’

line 67. See ‘Faerie Queene,’ III. iv.

line 78. “For every one her liked, and every one her loved.” Spenser, as above.’— SCOTT.

line 106. A knosp is an architectural ornament in form of a bud.

lines 111–12. See Genesis xviii.

line 118. ‘Henry VI, with his Queen, his heir, and the chiefs of his family, fled to Scotland after the battle of Towton. In this note a doubt was formerly expressed whether Henry VI came to Edinburgh, though his Queen certainly did; Mr. Pinkerton inclining to believe that he remained at Kirkcudbright. But my noble friend, Lord Napier, has pointed out to me a grant by Henry, of an annuity of forty marks to his Lordship’s ancestor, John Napier, subscribed by the King himself, AT EDINBURGH, the 28th day of August, in the thirtyninth year of his reign, which corresponds to the year of God, 1461. This grant, Douglas, with his usual neglect of accuracy, dates in 1368. But this error being corrected from the copy of Macfarlane’s MSS., p. 119, to, removes all scepticism on the subject of Henry VI being really at Edinburgh. John Napier was son and heir of Sir Alexander Napier, and about this time was Provost of Edinburgh. The hospitable reception of the distressed monarch and his family, called forth on Scotland the encomium of Molinet, a contemporary poet. The English people, he says —

“Ung nouveau roy creerent,

  Par despiteux vouloir,

Le vieil en debouterent,

  Et son legitime hoir,

Qui fuytyf alia prendre

  D’Ecosse le garand,

De tous siecles le mendre,

  Et le plus tollerant.”

           Recollection des Avantures’— SCOTT.

line 120. ‘In January, 1796, the exiled Count d’Artois, afterwards Charles X of France, took up his residence in Holyrood, where he remained until August, 1799. When again driven from his country, by the revolution of July, 1830, the same unfortunate Prince, with all the immediate members of his family, sought refuge once more in the ancient palace of the Stuarts, and remained there until 18th September, 1833.’— LOCKHART.

line 140. ‘Mr. Ellis, in his valuable Introduction to the “Specimens of Romance,” has proved, by the concurring testimony of La Ravaillere, Tressan, but especially the Abbe de la Rue, that the courts of our Anglo–Norman Kings, rather than those of the French monarch, produced the birth of Romance literature. Marie, soon after mentioned, compiled from Armorican originals, and translated into Norman–French, or Romance language, the twelve curious Lays of which Mr. Ellis has given us a precis in the Appendix to his Introduction. The story of Blondel, the famous and faithful minstrel of Richard I, needs no commentary.’— SCOTT.

line 141. for that = ‘because,’ a common Elizabethan connective.

line 165. ‘“Come then, my friend, my genius, come along,

      Oh master of the poet and the song!”

                     Pope to Bolingbroke.’— LOCKHART.

Cp. also the famous ‘guide, philosopher, and friend,’ in ‘Essay on Man,’ IV. 390.

lines 166–175. For a curious and characteristic ballad by Leyden on Ellis, see ‘Life of Scott’ i. 368; and for references to his state of ealth see ‘Life,’ ii, 17, in one of Scott’s letters.

line 181. ‘At Sunning-hill, Mr. Ellis’s seat, near Windsor, part of the first two cantos of Marmion were written.’— LOCKHART. Ascot Heath is about six miles off.

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