1813
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Lay of the Scottish Fiddle.

The Lay of the Scottish Fiddle: a Tale of Havre de Grace. Supposed to be written by Walter Scott, Esq.

James Kirke Paulding


James Kirke Paulding concludes his anonymous parody of Walter Scott with three Spenserians burlesquing the "Harp of the North" stanzas in Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake (1810). The poet was a Jeffersonian Democrat and life-long Anglophobe. Is "Church's ghost" the poet and Revolutionary war traitor Benjamin Church (1734-78)?

The Stranger [Albany]: "The author of the Lay of the Scottish Fiddle, has imitated Mr. Scott's style with admirable success, though in many respects his work is very faulty. His attempt to ridicule the manner in which the Lay of the Last Minstrel is introduced is improper. Though that poem in itself possesses more of the authour's faults than any other of his writing, the circumstance under which the tale is supposed to be related, we consider very happy and poetick. Turning minstrels into fiddlers, and lords into tavern keepers, is the vice of the travesty, and is not necessary for the purpose of parodying an authour's style" 1 (11 September 1813) 87.

The Port Folio [Philadelphia]: "We are so much in the habit of hearing the enemy abused with all the gravity of dullness, that it is quite comfortable to laugh a little at them. We therefore thank the merry author of this little volume, which contains some very good hits at the conduct of the British navy, and, though written with every mark of haste and even carelessness, shows that the writer possesses a sparkling vein of genuine humour. The idea of ascribing the poem to Walter Scott is not, however, happy, nor well sustained, for the endeavour to imitate his manner has occasioned, we presume, the seriousness and length of some of the introductory cantoes, which do not accord with the general tone of the poem; besides there is to great an incongruity in making Walter Scott speak of 'The whipperwill, "our" bird of night,' or of the Americans as 'our brave lads,' or that Cornwallis was 'forced to yield | Before our country's sword and shield.' But this is, however, of small consequence. The poem is a parody of the Lay of the Last Minstrel, and describes the recent achievements of the British in the Chesapeake. A very fit subject, it must be confessed, for ludicrous poetry; but as it has so recently issued from the press, we have neither time nor space for more than a very rapid and short notice of its prominent parts. Like the model from which it is copied, the Lay of the Last Fiddle commences with the journey of an old blind fiddler, who is led by his dog from Newyork to Princeton, where he is hospitably entertained, after the manner of the dutchess of Buccleugh, by lady Joline, the wife, it seems, of a Princeton tavern-keeper of that name, who is ennobled for the occasion by our bard, and successor, if our collegiate recollections do not deceive us, of the Gifford family" S3 2 (September 1813) 326-27.

Analectic Magazine [Philadelphia]: "The writer appears to have more than one object in view. At first, his intention seems to be merely to satirize and parody the writings of Walter Scott, which have lately had such an all pervading circulation in the fashionable world; but in the course of his work, he seems disposed to extend his lash to the follies and errors of his countrymen; to advocate the present war; and to retaliate, in a good-humoured way, on the British invaders in the Chesapeake, for their excesses at Havre de Grace. But though ridicule and merriment appear to be the leading features, the work is occasionally diversified by little passages of pathos and feeling; the descriptions of American scenery, and American manners, are touched off with much truth of pencil and felicity of manner, and there are several veins of thought, that would do credit to a work of a more elevated and sober character" 2 (September 1813) 223.

J. W. Croker: "The Lay of the Scottish Fiddle resembles the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," as small beer does champaign: — nor are the poetical powers of the parodist shamed by the soundness of his judgment. More than half the volume consists of notes, (under the name of Walter Scott,) giving, in a kind of tiresome drawl, rendered yet more oppressive by an affectation of smartness, a miserable detail of petty squabbles in huts and hamlets, of which neither the name nor the knowledge ever crossed the Atlantic. The story we can scarcely discover; the tendency is sufficiently clear — to calumniate the naval officers of Old England, and to libel its own countrymen of New England. The cause of hatred to Great Britain is obvious enough; the grounds of enmity to the New Englanders is the complimentary and, we believe, the just accusation of having approached more nearly than the other states to the feelings and manners of European society" Quarterly Review 10 (January 1814) 464.

Francis Hodgson: "We were not prepossessed in favour of this dear little volume, either by its title or its implied design of ridiculing our northern minstrel. The title is vulgar; and the design has of late been so often and so sufficiently well executed, that we are tired of it. Parodies cannot long please; — the best and most successful at the time are soon neglected; and this we are inclined to think is quite as it should be. A momentary laugh should not furnish matter for lasting approbation. Still less do we approve of the trifle when considered as an attack on our naval commanders on the American station. Regarding it, however, as a sort of fly on the ox, who was wholly unconscious of the important little animal's presence, we shall take no further notice either of its low and very moderate attempts at humour in the case of Mr. Scott, or of its impotent malignity against the untarnished honour of the British flag" Monthly Review NS 77 (June 1815) 143.

Washington Irving to John Murray: "On taking up a London paper this morning, I found my name given at full length in an advertisement of Cawthorn's as author of a poem he has just republished, entitled 'The Lay of a Scottish Fiddle.' As I wish to be answerable for no sins but my own, I would take it as a particular favour if you would contradict it in your next advertisement of the 'Sketch Book.' The work in question was written by a Mr. Paulding. What particularly annoys me is that the poem is a burlesque on the writings of Sir Walter Scott, for whom I have so perfect esteem and affection, and it contains political and national reflections of a different nature from those I entertain" 26 October 1820; in Smiles, A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 2:131.

Blackwood's Magazine: "The Yankees appear to us a testy and quarrelsome race, and we like them the better for it; they shew young blood, and swagger becoming a nation in its teens. Nevertheless we wish, for their own sakes, that they would somewhat amend of these propensities; inasmuch as they savour more of national vanity than of national pride" 11 (June 1822) 685.

George and Evert Duyckinck: "The Diverting History was followed by a poem entitled The Lay of the Scottish Fiddle, a free parody of the Lay of the Last Minstrel, which appeared anonymously, like most of Paulding's earlier writings. This production is principally devoted to satirizing the predatory warfare of the British on Chesapeake Bay, and, what is somewhat remarkable, was published in a very handsome style in London with a preface highly complimentary to the author. The hero is Admiral Cockburn, and the principal incident the burning and sacking the little town of Havre de Grace on the coast of Maryland. It had at that time what might be called the distinction of provoking a fierce review from the London Quarterly. It is clever as a parody, and contains many passages entirely original and of no inconsiderable beauty" Cyclopedia of American Literature (1856; 1875) 2:2.



Scotch fiddle, fare the well! the night dogs bark,
Their wild notes with thy drowsy tones are blending,
Rouse from his reverie som boozy spark,
From porter-house or tavern homeward wending;
Resume thy case again, thou wantest mending,
And thy worn strings make droning minstrelsy;
The squeaking tone with city vespers blending,
Mixe with the distant hum of nightly glee,
In drowsy concert sleepy maketh me.

Yet once again, farewel, Scotch fiddle dear
(For dear thou art to those that buy thy lay)
Ah! little recked I of thy tones so clear,
That scare love making catlings far away.
How often have I scraped whole nights away,
And murdered tunes the world hath never known;
What time to dancing wights and damsels gay,
I tuned thy strings, and fiddled all alone:
That I survive these nights, sweet fiddle, is thine own.

Hark! as my lingering footsteps slow retire,
Some airy minstrel wakes thy worn out string!
'Tis Church's ghost, come from Tartarean fire!
"Scotch ointment," stead of rosin pure he brings.
And hark! how sweet th' annointed fiddle rings!
Fainter and fainter in receding swell,
As the pure spirit spreads his singed wings,
My fingers itch to play the wizard spell,
But 'twill not be — SCOTCH FIDDLE, fare the well!

[pp. 134-35]