1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe

William Motherwell to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, 19 January 1825; Letters from and to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharp (1888) 2:326-28.



PAISLEY, 19th January 1825.

DEAR SIR,

The other night in looking over Ritson's historical essay prefixed to his "Scotish Song," p. lxxxi, I observed that he gives the name of "Jack the little Scot" to a ballad which he states to be in an unedited collection of ballads which was shewn to him thro' the politeness of Alexander Fraser Tytler. I have a shrewd suspicion that this ballad may be something like the one I sent you under the title of "Johnie Scot." Could you obtain access to the collection alluded to? and would you have the goodness — if compatible with the state of your health, which, from your last note to Mr. Wylie, I am sorry to find is anything but what I could wish it to be — to communicate the result of your inspection and collation?

I mentioned in my last letter another ballad on the same subject as "Johnie Scot " called "M'Naughtoun." This I have since recovered, and between the two there is little or no difference except in the proper names — they are evidently sprouts of the same parent stock; nevertheless, I think I will get both printed, and leave the question as to which is the elder scion to be gravely settled by the antiquary as he best may.

"The Haggis o' Dunbar" in your "Ballad Book," I observe, is far from being complete. I have a very full copy, which I intended for publication in a small collection of unedited songs and scraps of ballads gathered in this neighbourhood — things which it might be foolish to publish for the world at large, but which are not the less interesting to the curious, and which, at all events, ought to be preserved in some shape or another as memorials of what has once been.

I am anxious to recover what I consider are the original words of Gilderoy. I have a few stanzas, but I believe there are a good many more. Mr. Chambers, I think, in the introduction to the 3d vol. of his "Caledonia," alludes to a set of the same ballad as being the original one; but not having seen it, I cannot say whether it is the same as mine. The copy I have is from recitation. It begins:—

Gilderoy was as bonnie a boy
As ever Scotland bred,
Descended of a Highland clan,
But a cateran to his trade.

Another verse which I quote, from the circumstances of its noticing a hero of whom I never heard before, is:—

Altho' he was as Wallace stout,
And tall as Gilmahoy,
None in the land durst stand a clout
Frae my love Gilderoy.

Can Gilmahoy be a corrupted form of the name of any of the Fingalian heroes? or is it the name of some notable limmer coeval with the subject of the ballad, whose fame partial history has left to perish?

There is another ballad of which I would like very much to obtain a copy from recitation, that of "Gil Morrice," or as I have heard it called "Lord Barnard." I have heard a set at an early period of my life much different from any copy of "Gil Morrice" now printed; but the old man who chanted it happens, unfortunately for traditionary song, to be dead. Mr. Jamieson, who went upon a similar quest, proved unsuccessful in his attempts to obtain a copy; perhaps you may have been more fortunate. I do not altogether despair myself of some time or other lighting upon it. Even at this moment I have some faint hopes; but I shall not be over sanguine in my expectations, for in nine cases out of ten, disappointment is the lot of the ballad-hunter, let his craft and perseverance in the chase be never so exemplary.

Have you heard any song of which this forms a verse?

Dree-an-alin had nae breeks to wear;
He coft a sheep's skin for to mak' him a pair;
The rough side out and the smooth side in,
I'm gallantly mounted, quo' Dreeanalin.

It seems to be somewhat like the song of "Tamalin." By the bye, "Dysmal " is known here under the title of "Isbel."

But I am afraid I may be troubling you with too many foolish impertinencies at one time, and shall therefore for the present leave off in the hope of hearing from you so soon as your health will permit. — I am, dear sir, your very obliged servant,

W. MOTHERWELL.