1788
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[Supplemental Stanzas to Collins's Ode on the Superstitions of the Highlands.]

Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany 7 (April 1788) 307.

William Erskine


Three addition stanzas, signed "E. W.," for William Collins's Superstitions Ode, published for the first time earlier in the year. Each stanza is in a different generic register: tragic, comic, and romantic. The poem is attributed to "William Erskine, Esq. Advocate" in Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1803), where it is reprinted with substantive variations. Erskine, Lord Kinneder (1769-1822) was an early encourager of Scott's literary endeavors.

Headnote: "Sir, Every lover of Poetry must consider himself as indebted to you for inserting Collin's admirable Ode on the Superstitions in the Highlands of Scotland. It has been observed, with regret, that there are several superstitions which he has omitted; and it may, perhaps, be regarded as daring that a nameless rhymester should endeavour to supply the deficiency. This, however, I have attempted in the following stanzas, which may be read after the VIIIth of Collin's. None can be more conscious, than I am, how much the Verses I send are inferior to the original: but, let it be remembered, that if I have failed, I have failed in an attempt, which, to execute with propriety, required the genius of a Mackenzie. I am, Sir, Yours, &c. E. W."

Walter Scott: "The editor embraces this opportunity of presenting the reader the following stanzas, intended to commemorate some striking Scottish superstitions, omitted by Collins in his ode upon that subject, and which, if the editor can judge with impartiality of the production of a valued friend, will be found worthy of the sublime original. The reader must observe, that these verses form a continuation of the address, by Collins, to the author of Douglas, exhorting him to celebrate the traditions of Scotland. They were first published in the Edinburgh Magazine, for April, 1788" Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1803) 1:clxv-clxvi.

C. H. Timperley: "In 1783 Mr. [James] Sibbald established a monthly literary miscellany, under the name of the Edinburgh Magazine. This was the first time that a rival to the ancient Scots Magazine meet with decided success. Mr. Sibbald was himself the editor and chief contributor" Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:777.



I.
Thy muse may tell, how, when at labor's close,
To meet her love, beneath the twilight shade,
O'er many a broom-clade brae, and heathy glade,
In merry mood the village maiden goes.
There, on a streamlet's margin as she lies,
Chanting some carrol till her swain appears;
With visage deadly pale, in pensive guise
Beneath a wither'd fir his form he rears.
Shrieking and sad, she bends her speedy flight,
When mid dire heaths, where flits a taper blue,
The whilst the moon sheds dim a sickly light,
The solemn funeral meets her blasted view.
When trembling, weak, she gains her cottage low,
Where Magpies scatter notes of horror wide,
Some one shall tell, while tears in torrents flow,
That just when twilight dimm'd the green hill's side,
Sunk in his airy shiel, her hapless shepherd died.

II.
Let these sad strains to lighter sounds give place;
Bid thy brisk viol warble measures gay:
For see, recall'd by thy resistless lay,
Once more the Brownie shews his honest face.
Hail from thy wanderings long, my much-lov'd sprite,
Thou friend, thou lover of the lowly, hail!
Tell in what realms thou sport'st thy merry night,
Trail'st the long mop, or whirlst the mimic flail.
Where dost thou range the much-disorder'd hall,
While the tir'd damsel in Elysium sleeps;
With early voice to drowsy workman call,
Or lull the dame, while mirth his vigils keeps?
'Twas thus in Caledonia's domes, 'tis said,
Thou ply'dst the kindly task in years of yore:
At last, in luckless hour, some pitying maid,
Spread in thy nightly cell of viands store.
Ne'er was thy form beheld among their mountains more.

III.
Then wake (for well thou canst) that wondrous lay,
How, when around the thoughtless matrons sleep,
Soft o'er the floor the treach'rous Faeries creep,
And bear the smiling infant far away.
How starts the nurse, when, for her lovely child,
She sees at dawn a gaping ideot stare!
O snatch the innocent from demons wild,
And save the parents fond from fell despair!
In a deep cave the trusty menials wait,
Till, from their hilly dens, at midnight's hour,
Forth prance the airy elves in pompous state,
And o'er the moonlight heath with swiftness scour.
In armour bright the little horsemen shine;
Last, on a milk-white stead with targe of gold,
A fay of might appears, whose arms entwine
The lost lamented child: the shepherds bold
Th' unconscious infant tear from his unhallow'd fold.

[p. 307]