Rokeby, by Walter Scott

Notes to Canto Second.

Note I.

the course of Tees, — St. II. p. 56,

The view from Barnard Castle commands the rich and magnificent valley of Tees. Immediately adjacent to the river, the banks are very thickly wooded; at a little distance they are more open and cultivated; but being interspersed with hedgerows, and with isolated trees of great size and age, they still retain the richness of woodland scenery. The river itself flows in a deep trench of solid rock, chiefly limestone and marble. The finest view of its romantic course is from a handsome modern bridge built over the Tees, by the late Mr Morritt of Rokeby. In Leland’s time the marble quarries seem to have been of some value. “Hard under the cliff” by Egleston, is found on eche side of Tese very fair marble, wont to be taken up booth by marbelers of Barnardes Castelle and of Egleston, and partly to have been wrought by them, and partly sold onwrought to others.” — Itinerary, Oxford, 1768, 8i;o. p, 88.

Note ii.

Eglistones grey ruins. — St. IV. p. 60.

The ruins of this abbey or priory, for Tanner calls it the former, and Leland the latter, are beautifully situated upon the angle, formed by a little dell called Thorsgitl, at its junction with the Tees. A good part of the religious house is still in some degree habitable, but the church is in ruins. Eglistone was dedicated to St Mary and St John the Baptist, and is supposed to have been founded by Ralph de Multon about the end of Henry the Second’s reign. There were formerly the tombs of the families of Rokebys, Bowes, and Fitzhughs.

Note iii.

the mound

Raised by that Legion long renowned,

Whose votive shrine asserts their claim.

Of pious, faithful, conquering faine. — St. V. p. 61.

Close behind the George Inn at Greta–Bridge there is a well-preserved Roman encampment, surrounded with a triple ditch, lying between the river Greta and a brook called the Tutta. The four entrances are easily to be discerned. Very many Roman altars and monuments have been found in the vicinity, most of which are preserved at Rokeby by my friend Mr Morritt. Among others is a small votive altar, with the inscription LEG. VI. VIC. P. F. F. which has been rendered Legio, Sexta, Victrix, Pia, Fortis. Fidelis,

Note iv.

Rokebys turrets high. — St. VI. p. 62.

This ancient manor long gave name to a family by whom it is said to have been possessed from the Conquest downward, and who are at different times distinguislied hi history. It was the Baron of Rokeby who finally defeated the insurrection of the Earl of Northumberland, tempore Hen. IV., of which Hollinshed gives the following account:—

“The king advertised hereof, caused a great armie to be assembled, and came forward with the same towards his enemies; but yer the king came to Notingham, Sir Thomas or (as other copies haue) Sir Rafe Rokesbie, shiriff of Yorkeshire, assembled the forces of the countrie to resist the earle and his power; comming to Grimbautbrigs, beside Knaresborough, there to stop them the passage; but they returning aside, got to Weatherbie, and so to Tadcaster, and finally jcame forward unto Bramham More, near to Haizelwood, where they chose their ground meet to fight upon. The shiriffe was as readie to giue battell as the erle to receiue it; and so with a standard of S. George spread, set fiercelie vpon the earle, who, vnder a standard of his owne amies, encountered his aduersaries with great manhood. There was a sore incounter and cruell conflict betwixt the parties, but in the end the victorie fell to the shiriffe. The Lord Bardolfe was taken, but sore wounded, so that he shortlie after died of the hurts.” As for the Earle of Northumberland, he was slaine outright j so that now the prophecy was fulfilled, which gaue an inkhng of this his heauy hap long before namelie,

Stirps Persitina periet confusa ruina.

For this earle was the stocke and maine root of all that were left aliue, called by the name of Persie; and of manie more by diuers slaughters dispatched. For whose misfortune the people were not a little sorrie, making report of the gentleman’s valiantnesse, renowne, and honour, and applieing vnto him certeine lamentable verses out of Lucaine, saieng,

Sed nos nee sanguis, nee tantum vulnera nostri

Affecere senis; quantum gestata per urbem

Ora duels, quae transfixo deformia pilo


For his head, full of siluer horie haires, being put upon a stake, was openlie carried through London, and set vpon the bridge of the same citie: in like maner was the Lord Bardolfes.” — Holinshed’s Chronicles,Lond, 1808, 4to. III. 45.

The Rokeby, or Rokesby, family continued to be distinguished until the great civil war, when, having embraced the cause of Charles I., they suffered severely by fines and confiscations. The estate then passed from its ancient possessors to the family of the Robinsons, from whom it was purchased by the father of my valued friend, the present proprietor.

Note V.

A stern and lone, yet lovely road,

As eer the foot of Minstrel trode! — St. VII. p. 6S,

Wliat follows is an attempt to describe the romantic glen, or rather ravine, throngh which the Greta finds a passage between Rokeby and Mortham, the former situated upon the left bank of Greta, the latter on the right bank, about half a mile nearer to its junction with the Tees. The river runs with very great rapidity over a bed of solid rock, broken by many shelving descents, down which the stream dashes with great noise and impetuosity, vindicating its etymology, which has been derived from the Gothic, Gridan, to clamour. The banks partake of the same wild and romantic character, being chiefly lofty cliffs of limestone rock, whose grey colour contrasts admirably with the various trees and shrubs which find root among their crevices, as well as with the hue of th© ivy, whicji clings around them in profusion, and hangs down from their projections in long sweeping tendrils. At other points the rocks give place to precipitous banks, of earth, bearing large trees, intermixed with copse-wood. In one spot the dell, which is elsewhere very narrow, widens for a space to leave room for a dark grove of yew-trees, intermixed here and there with aged pines of uncommon size. Directly opposite to this sombre thicket, the cliffs on the other side of the Greta are tall, white, and fringed with all kinds of deciduous shrubs. The whole scenery of this spot is so much adapted to the ideas of superstition, that it has acquired the name of Blockula, from the place where the Swedish witches were supposed to hold their sabbath. The dell, however, has superstitions of its own growth, for it is supposed to be haunted by a female spectre, called the Dobie of Mortham. The cause assigned for her appearance is a lady’s having been whilom murdered in the wood, in evidence of which her blood is shewn upon the stairs of the old tower at Mortham. But whether she was slain by a jealous husband or by savage banditti, or by an uncle who coveted her estate, or by a rejected lover, are points upon which the traditions of Rokeby do not enable us to decide.

Note vi.

What gales are sold on Lapkmd’s shore, — St. XL p. 70.

“Also I shall shew very briefly what force conjurers and witches have in constraining the elements enchanted by them or others, that they may exceed or fall short of their natural order: premising this, that the extream land of North Finland and Lapland was so taught witchcraft formerly in heathenish times, as if they had learned this cursed art from Zoroastres the Persian; though other inhabitants by the sea-coasts are reported to be bewitched with the same madness: for they exercise this divelish art, of all the arts of the world, to admiration; and in this, or other such like mischief, they commonly agree. The Finlanders were wont formerly, amongst their other errors of gentilisme, to sell winds to merchants that were stopt on their coasts by contrary weather; and when they had their price, they knit three magical knots, not, like to the laws of Cassius, bound up with a thong, and they gave them vnto the merchants; observing that rule, that when they imloosed the first they should have a good gale of wind, when the second a stronger wind, })ut when they untied the third they should have such cruel tempests that they should not be able to look out of the forecastle to avoid the rocks, nor move a foot to pull down the sails, nor stand at the helm to govern the ship; and they made an unhappy trial of the truth of it Avho denied that there was any such power in those knots.” — Olaus Magnus’s History of the Goths, Swedes, and Vandals, Loud. 1658, fol. p.47.

Note vii.

How whistle rash bids tempests roar. — St. XL p. 70.

That this is a general superstition is well known to all who have been on ship-board, or who have conversed with seamen. The most formidable whistler that I remember to have met with was the apparition of a certain Mrs Leakey, who about 1636 resided, we are told, at Mynehead, in Somerset, where her only son drove a considerable trade between that port and Waterford, and was owner of several vessels. This old gentlewoman was of a social disposition, and so acceptable to her friends, that they used to say to her and to each other, it were pity such an excellent good-natured old lady should die; to which she was wont to reply, that whatever pleasure they might find in her company just now, they would not greatly like to see or converse with her after death, which nevertheless she was apt to think might happen. Accordingly, after her death and funeral, she began to appear to various persons by night and by noonday, in her own house, in the town and fields, at sea and upon shore. So far had she departed from her former urbanity, that she is recorded to have kicked a doctor of medicine for his impolite negligence in omitting to hand her over a stile. It was also her humour to appear upon the quay, and call for a boat. But especially so soon as any of her son’s ships approached the harbour, “this ghost would appear in the same garb and likeness as when she was alive, and, standing at the mainmast, would blow with a whistle, and though it were never so great a calm, yet immediately there would arise a most dreadful storm, that would break, wreck, and drown ship and goods.” When she had thus proceeded until her son had neither credit to freight a vessel, nor could have procured men to sail it, she began to attack the persons of his family, and actually strangled their only child in the cradle. The rest of the story, showing how the spectre looked over the shoulder of her daughterin-law while dressing her hair at a looking-glass; and how Mrs Leakey the younger took courage to address her; and how the beldam dispatched her to an Irish prelate, famous for his crimes and misfortunes, to exhort him to repentance, and to apprize him that otherwise he would be hanged; and how the bishop was satisfied with replying, that if he was born to be hanged, he should not be drowned; — all these, with many more particulars, may be found at the end of one of John Dunton’s publications, called Athenianism, London, 1710, where the tale is engrossed under the title of The Apparition Evidence.

Note viii.

Of Erick’s cap and Elmo’s light. — St. XL p. 70.

“This Ericus, King of Sweden, in his time was held second to none in the magical art; and he was so familiar with the evil spirits, which he exceedingly adored, that which way soever he turned his cap, the wind would presently blow that way. From this occasion he was called Windy Cap; and many men believed that Regnenis, King of Denmark, by the conduct of this Ericus, who was his nephew, did liappily extend his piracy into the most remote parts of the earth, and conquered many countries and fenced cities by his cunning, and at last was his coadjutor; that by the consent of the nobles, he should be chosen King of Sweden, which continued a long time with him very happily, until he died of old age.” — OlauSj ut supra, p, 45.

Note ix.

The Daemon-frigate. — St. XL p. 71.

This is an allusion to a well-known nautical superstition concerning a fantastic vessel, called by sailors The Flying Dutchman, and supposed to be seen about the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope. She is distinguished from earthly vessels by bearing a press of sail when all others are unable, from stress of weather, to shew an inch of canvass. The cause of her wandering is not altogether certain; but the general account is, that she was originally a vessel loaded with firreat wealth, on board of which some horrid act of murder and piracy had been committed; that the plague broke out anion o” the wicked crew who had perpetrated the crime, and that they sailed in vain from port to port, offering, as the price of shelter, the whole of their ill-gotten wealth; that they were excluded from every harbour, for fear of the contao“ion which was devouring them, and that, as a punishment of their crimes, the apparition of the ship still continues to haunt those seas in which the catastrophe took place, and is considered by the mariners as the worst of all possible omens.

My late lamented friend, Dr John Leyden, has introduced this phenomenon into his Scenes of Infancy, imputing, with poetical ingenuity, the dreadful judgment to the first ship which commenced the slave trade:—

Stout was the ship from Benin’s palmy shore,

That first the freight of bartered captives bore;

Bedimmed with blood, the sun with shrinking beams

Beheld her bounding o’er the ocean streams j

But, ere the moon her silver horns had reared,

Amid the crew the speckled plague appeared.

Faint and despairing on their watery bier,

To every friendly shore the sailors steer;

Repelled from port to port, they sue in vain,

And track with slow unsteady sail the main.

Where ne’er the bright and buoyant wave is seen

To streak with wandering foam the sea-weeds green,

Towers the tall mast a lone and leafless tree,

Till self-impelled amid the waveless sea;

Where summer breezes ne’er were heard to sing,

Nor hovering snow-birds spread the downy wing,

Fixed as a rock amid the boundless plain,

The yellow stream pollutes the stagnant main,

Till far through night the funeral flames aspire,

As the red lightning smites the ghastly pyre.

Still doomed by fate on weltering billows rolled,

Along the deep their restless course to hold,

Scenting the storm, the shadowy sailors guide

The prow with sails opposed to wind and tide;

The spectre ship, in livid glimpsing light,

Glares baleful on the shuddering watch at night,

Unblest of God and man! — Till time shall end,

Its view strange horror to the storm shall lend.

Note X.

by some desart isle or key. — St. XII. p. 71.

What contributed much to the security of the buccaneers, about the Windward Islands, was the great number of httle islets, called in that country keys. These are small sandy patches, appearing just above the surface of the ocean, covered only with a few bushes and weeds, but sometimes affording springs of water, and in general much frequented by turtle. Such little uninhabited spots afforded the pirates good harbours, either for refitting or for the purpose of ambush; they were occasionally the hiding-place of their treasure, and often afforded a shelter to themselves. As many of the atrocities which they practised on their prisoners were committed in such spots, there are some of these keys which even now have an indifferent reputation among seamen, and where they are with difficulty prevailed on to remain ashore at night, on account of the visionary terrors incident to places which have been thus contaminated.

Note xi.

Before the gate of Mortham stood. — St. XVI. p. 77.

The castle of Mortham, which Leland terms “Mr Rokesby’s place, in ripa cite?’, scant a quarter of mile from Greta-bridge, and not a quarter of mile beneath into Tees,” is a picturesque tower, surrounded by buildings of different ages, now converted into a farm-house and offices. The battlements of the tower itself are singularly elegant, the architect having broken them at regular intervals into different heights; while those at the corners of the tower project into octangular turrets. They are also from space to space covered with stones laid across them, as in modern embrasures, the whole forming an uncommon and beautiful effect. The surrounding buildings are of a less happy form, being pointed into high and steep roofs. A wall, with embrasures, incloses the southern front, where a low portal arch affords an entry to what was the castle court. At some distance is most happily placed, between the stems of two magnificent elms, the monument alluded to in the text. It is said to have been brought from the ruins of Eglistone Priory, and, from the armoury with which it is richly carved, appears to have been a tomb of the Fitz–Hughs.

The situation of Mortham is eminently beautiful, occupying a high bank, at the bottom of which the Greta winds out of the dark, narrow, and romantic dell, which the text has attempted to describe, and flows onward through a more open valley to meet the Tees, about a quarter of a mile from the castle. Mortham is surrounded by old trees, happily and widely grouped with Mr Morritt’s new plantations.

Note xii.

There dig and tomb your precious heap.

And bid the dead your treasure keep. — St. XVIII. p. 81.

If time did not permit the buccaneers to lavish away their plunder in their usual debaucheries, they were wont to hide it, with many superstitious solemnities, in the desert islands and keys which they frequented, and where much treasure, whose lawless owners perished without reclaiming it, is still supposed to be concealed. The most cruel of mankind are often the most superstitious, and these pirates are said to have had recourse to a horrid ritual in order to secure an unearthly guardian to their treasures. They killed a Negro or Spaniard, and buried him with the treasure, believing that his spirit would haunt the spot, and terrify away all intruders. I cannot produce any other authority on which this custom is ascribed to them than that of maritime tradition, which is, however, amply sufficient for the purposes of poetry.

Note xiii.

The power

That unsubdued and lurking lies

To take the felon by surprise, — St. XIX. p. 82.

All who are conversant with the administration of criminal justice, must remember many occasions in which malefactors appear to have conducted themselves with a species of infatuation, either by making unnecessary confidences respecting their guilt, or by sudden and involuntary allusions to circumstances by which it could not fail to be exposed. A remarkable instance occurred in the celebrated case of Eugene Aram. A skeleton being found near Knaresborough, was supposed, by the persons who gathered around the spot, to be the remains of one Clarke, who had disappeared some years before, under circumstances leading to a suspicion of his having been murdered. One Houseman, who had minified in the crowd, suddenlv said, while lookincr at the skeleton, and hearing the opinion which was buzzed around, “That is no more Dan Clarke’s bone than it is mine!” — a sentiment expressed so positively, and with such pecidiarity of manner, as to lead all who heard him to infer that he must necessarily know where the real body had been discovered. Accordingly, being apprehended, he confessed having assisted Eugene Aram to murder Clarke, and to hide his body in Saint Robert’s Cave. It happened to the author himself, while conversing with a person accused of an atrocious crime, for the purpose of rendering him professional assistance upon his trial, to hear the prisoner, after the most solemn and reiterated protestations that he was guiltless, suddenly, and, as it were, involuntarily, in the course of his communications, make such an admission as was altogether incompatible with innocence.

Note xiv.

Brackenbury s dismal tower. — St. XXVIII. p. 94.

This tower has been already mentioned: it is situated near the northeastern extremity of the wall which incloses Bernard-Castle, and is traditionally said to have been the prison. By an odd coincidence it bears a name which we naturally connect with imprisonment, from its being that of Sir Robert Brackenbury, lieutenant of the Tower of London under Edward IV. and Richard III.

Note xv.

Nobles and knights, so proud of late.

Must pine for freedom and estate.

Right heavy shall his ransom be,

Unless that maid compound with thee! — St. XXXI. p. 97.

After the battle of Marston Moor, the Earl of Newcastle retired beyond sea in disgust, and many of his followers laid down their arms, and made the best composition they could with the committees of parliament. Fines were imposed upon them in proportion to their estates and degrees of delinquency, and these fines were often bestowed upon such persons as had deserved well of the commons. In some circumstances it happened that the oppressed cavaliers were fain to form family alliances with some powerful person among the triumphant party. The whole of Sir Robert Howard’s excellent comedy of the Committee turns upon the plot of Mr and Mrs Day, to enrich their family by compelling Arabella, whose estate was under sequestration, to marry their son Abel, as the price by which she was to compound with parliament for delinquency; that is, for attachment to the royal cause.

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