The first of Walter Scott's major narrative poems reinvented metrical romance by uniting the descriptive realism of modern fiction to the easy manner and heroic themes of the old ballads. The return to metrical romance had been underway for some decades, beginning with Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) and his original (and once popular) Hermit of Warkworth (1771). While a number of faux-antique ballads and chivalric romances had appeared since, The Lay of the Last Minstrel was the first to bring the past vividly to life.
Part of Scott's success had to do with the thoroughly modern way in which he frames his story. Rather than simply weaving tales, as had Spenser and traditional romancers, Scott pursues historical depth by setting the memory of the medieval magician Michael Scott within the more modern context of the main sixteenth-century narrative, which is turn framed by the story of the seventeenth-century minstrel himself. The three contrasting sets of manners (along with the fourth, implicit frame of Scott's own narration for contemporary readers) draws attention to the moral complexities of historical change, ironically underscored by words of the Goblin Page, "lost, lost, lost" and "found, found, found." Scott may have learned this Chinese-box form of narration from Macpherson's Ossian, another "last-minstrel" poem that was occupying his attention about this time.
The first canto opens with a character of an aged Minstrel, struggling with poverty during the reign of William of Orange: "Old times were changed, old manners gone, | A stranger filled the Stuarts' throne; | The bigots of the iron time | Had called his harmless art a crime" p. 4. He is taken in by Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch, widow of the rebel Duke of Monmouth. He offers to play on his harp a lay he had once performed at Holyrood before King Charles the First. While Scott keeps his Stuart-friendly sentiments in the background, his treatment of superstition in the poem would have resonated with readers familiar with Scottish history.
The Minstrel begins his song with an account of Branksome Hall, a fortification defending the border belonging to the Buccleuchs. There dwells the widowed lady of the castle, meditating vengeance against the Car family which had killed her husband; also her young son, and daughter Margaret, whose lover is Henry of Cranstoun, one of the Car family. The lady, reportedly a sorceress, calls her retainer William of Deloraine, "A stark moss-trooping Scott was he | As e'er couched border lance by knee" p. 22. She orders him on a mysterious mission to Melrose Abbey. After a wild ride William arrives at midnight on the day of St. Michael, the warrior-angel.
In his 1830 preface Scott records a suggestion that he adopt "quaint mottos such as Spenser has used to announce the contents of the chapters of the Faerie Queene... I entirely agreed with my friendly critic in the necessity of having some sort of pitch-pipe... But I doubted that whether, in assuming the oracular style of Spenser's mottoes, the interpreter might not be censured as the harder to be understood of the two. I therefore introduced the Old Minstrel..." Poems, ed. Robertson (1904) 53.
Scots Magazine: "We think Mr. Scott has been rather liberal in the use of obsolete language. The same impression never can be made by a passage, for the elucidation of which we must have recourse to notes and a glossary. The practice may be very proper indeed where those words refer to something peculiar to that period, and for which there is no corresponding term in our present idiom, but this limit we think is frequently transgressed" 67 (January 1805) 45.
Francis Jeffrey: "he has produced a very beautiful and entertaining poem, in a style which may fairly be considered as original, and which will be allowed to afford satisfactory evidence of the genius of the author, even though he should not succeed in converting the public to his own opinion as to the interest or dignity of the subject. We are ourselves inclined indeed to suspect that his partiality for the strains of antiquity, has imposed a little upon the severity of his judgement and impaired the beauty of the present imitation, by directing his attention rather to what was characteristic, than to what was unexceptionable in his originals. Though he has spared too many of their faults, however, he has certainly improved upon their beauties: and while we can scarcely help regretting, that the feuds of Border chieftains should have monopolised as much poetry as might have served to immortalise the whole baronage of the empire, we are the more inclined to admire the interest and magnificence which he has contrived to communicate to a subject so unpromising" Edinburgh Review 6 (April 1805) 2.
Literary Journal: "The difficulty of delineating manners not immediately under our eye, and the little success with which we have seen such attempts almost always attended, made us look with not a little distrust on the design of the performance before us, which professes to 'illustrate the customs and manners which anciently prevailed on the borders of England and Scotland.' We know, indeed, that the author possessed singular opportunities for executing this design with more than ordinary propriety. He had, in the course of his former researches, made himself acquainted with all that both ancient songs and oral tradition have preserved with regard to the customs and manners he intended to describe. He was intimately acquainted with the scene where his story is place; and as he is himself of the race of the Scottish borderers, he might be expected to delineate their ancient poets with a degree of enthusiasm. The favourable presage we drew from these circumstances has not been disappointed; and if we have met with considerable blemishes, we have also derived very considerable pleasure from the perusal of this performance" 5 (March 1805) 271.
Critical Review: "Nursed amid scenes, 'Where every mountain | Inspiration breathed around,' he has caught what fragments of traditionary lore float down the stream of time, he has woven these into his narrative, he has from these given a colouring to what is the offspring of his own vivid imagination, and he has wrought the whole into a tissue, at once beautiful and consistent" S3 5 (July 1805) 241-42.
Charles Brockden Brown: "The title and spirit of this poem reminds us of another 'Minstrel,' and the union of exquisite imagery, enchanting numbers, and pathetic tenderness, with marvellous events, disjointed and irregular, capricious and whimsical, calls to memory the 'Oberon' of Wieland. With these performances, the Lay of the Last Minstrel is to be ranked" Literary Magazine and American Register [Philadelphia] 4 (August 1805) 102.
Monthly Magazine: "Mr. Scott has from the resources of his own genius, produced a poem which will be long read and admired for the interest of the story, the ease and harmony of the language, the picturesqueness of the incidents and scenery, and for the faithful delineation of the manners of the ancient borderers. The last, indeed, is avowed to be the primary object of the author, and for the attainment of it, he has adopted the plan of the ancient metrical romance, 'which allows greater latitude, in this respect, than would be consistent with the dignity of a regular poem'" 19 (Supplement, 1805) 658.
Poetical Register for 1805: "Every page of the poem bears ample testimony to Mr. Scott's powers of fancy, description, and language. His metre has great force and variety, so much variety, indeed, that it has afforded a subject of cavil to some critical persons who seem to think that there is no other criterion of verse than what is afforded to them by the ends of their fingers. We have heard an objection made to the names of Mr. Scott's characters; and the same objection has been urged against some of the heroes in Madoc. What other names than such as are Welch and Scotch should be given to the natives of Wales and Scotland? Is it proposed to substitute in their place the pretty pastoral appellations of Damon and Delia, Strephon and Chloe?" (1807) 484.
Censura Literaria: "The most interesting and highly-wrought passage at the whole poem is Deloraine's journey to Melross Abbey and the visit to Michael Scott's tomb there. The whole description of the abbey, of the wizard himself, (who seems to exist in a state somewhat similar to that of the Vampyres in Hungary,) and of Deloraine's aged conductor, is superior to any thing of the kind that has appeared in modern poems, and perhaps would not lose by a comparison with many of those which are most esteemed among the ancients. It forms several separate pictures adorned with the most vivid and brilliant colouring; and they are so put together as to form a well-blended whole, in which all the parts unite, and without any one of which it would be incomplete" 4 (1807) 318.
Lord Byron: "Never was any plan so incongruous and absurd as the groundwork of this production. The entrance of Thunder and Lightning prologuising to Bayes' tragedy [(vide The Rehearsal), British Bards], unfortunately takes away the merit of originality from the dialogue between Messieurs the Spirits of Flood and Fell in the first canto. Then we have the amiable William of Deloraine, 'a stark moss-trooper,' videlicet, a happy compound of poacher, sheep-stealer, and highwayman. The propriety of his magical lady's injunction not to read can only be equalled by his candid acknowledgment of his independence of the trammels of spelling, although, to use his own elegant phrase, ''twas his neckverse at Harribee,' i.e., the gallows" Lord Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809) in Poetical Works, ed. E. H. Coleridge (1898-1904) 1:309n.
Allan Cunningham: "The spirit of Scotland acknowledged at once the original vigour and truth of the poem: every paper was filled with the favourite passages — every mouth was filled with quotation and praise; and they who lamented the loss of Burns, and persisted in believing, that his place could not be supplied, were constrained to own that a poet of another stamp had appeared, whose strains echoed as truly and fervently the feelings of their country as the songs of the Bard of Ayr" "Some Account of Sir Walter Scott" The Athenaeum (6 October1832) 643.
John Gibson Lockhart: "The first edition of the Lay was a magnificent quarto, 750 copies; but this was soon exhausted, and there followed an octavo impression of 1500; in 1806, two more, one of 2000 copies, another of 2250; in 1807, a fifth edition, of 2000, and a sixth, of 3000; in 1808, 3550; in 1809, 3000 — a small edition in quarto (the ballads and lyrical pieces being then annexed to it) — and another octavo edition of 3250; in 1811, 3000; in 1812, 3000; in 1816, 3000; in 1823, 1000. A fourteenth impression of 2000 foolscap appeared in 1825; and besides all this, before the end of 1836, 11,000 copies had gone forth in the collected editions of his poetical works. Thus, nearly forty-four thousand copies had been disposed of in this country, and by the legitimate trade alone, before he superintended the edition of 1830" Life of Scott (1837-38; 1902) 1:419.
Lockhart Murihead: "The minstrel is represented as in old age, and wandering on the banks of the Yarrow, when he is received with hospitality by the Duchess of Buccleugh and Monmouth, and encouraged to sing to his harp a tale of six cantos. The lady of Branksome, an heroic dame, and conversant in magical arts, retires into her enchanted recess, and meditates, with determined purpose, to revenge the death of her beloved Lord Walter, who had fallen in a rencontre with the Kerrs of Cessford. Lord Cranstoun, who had espoused the interests of the latter, and had consequently incurred the displeasure of the high-minded lady, is the lover of her daughter Margaret. The fate of the Branksome family is faintly predicted in a mysterious dialogue between the spirit of the Mountain and the spirit of the River. The anxious widow dispatches her faithful Sir William of Deloraine to the Monk of St. Mary's Aisle, in the Abbey of Melrose, to procure an eventful book from the tomb of the wizard, Michael Scott. The Knight forthwith proceeds on his mission, and, with awful ceremony, obtains the volume. The hoary monk, by whose solemn aid this singular service is effected, dies on the following day; and Deloraine, scarcely recovered from his terror, returns with the prize. On his way, however, he encounters Lord Cranstoun, who had just met with Lady Margaret, in a neighbouring forest. The Knight, in spite of his valour, is unhorsed, and stretched bleeding on the ground: but his courteous adversary commands a malicious dwarf to convey him to the castle of Branksome, decoys him into the hands of the English. The latter advance in hostile array, publicly accuse Deloraine of March treason, and require either that he should be delivered up to the punishment, or that the young Lord should be detained as a prisoner, and an English garrison placed in the castle. It is at length stipulated that Musgrave and Deloraine shall decide the affair by single combat. The arrival of a numerous Scottish army, the proclamation of the truce, the festive intercourse of the opposite bands, and the circumstances of the appointed conflict, are duly rehearsed. Deloraine is presumed to have killed Musgrave, and to present the young heir to his mother. Cranstoun, however, by virtue of his dwarf and the enchanted book, had personated the knight, and, in consideration of this eminent service, obtains the mother's consent to wed her daughter. The merriment of the nuptial consent to wed her daughter. The merriment of the nuptial banquet is suddenly interrupted by dreadful thunder and lightning. Deloraine perceives the angry spirit of Michael Scott, and the chieftains undertake a pilgrimage to Melrose to appease his shade. The song thus concluded, in pity to his age, and in consideration of his professional merits, the Duchess assigns to the Minstrel a neat and comfortable cottage beneath the tower of her castle" Monthly Review NS 49 (March 1806) 295-97.
O. Neville published The Lay of the Last Minstrel Travesty (1811); James Kirke Paulding published The Lay of the Scottish Fiddle (1813), and "an admirer of Walter Scott" published The Lay of the Poor Fiddler, a Parody (1814).
The way was long, the wind was cold,
The Minstrel was infirm and old;
His withered cheek and tresses gray,
Seemed to have known a better day;
The harp, his sole remaining joy,
Was carried by an orphan boy.
The last of all the Bards was he,
Who sung of Border chivalry;
For, well-a-day! their date was fled,
His tuneful brethren all were dead;
And he, neglected and oppressed,
Wished to be with them, and at rest.
No more, on prancing palfrey borne,
He carolled, light as lark at morn;
No longer, courted and caressed,
High placed in hall, a welcome guest,
He poured, to lord and lady gay,
The unpremeditated lay;
Old times were changed, old manners gone,
A stranger filled the Stuarts' throne;
The bigots of the iron time
Had called his harmless art a crime.
A wandering harper, scorned and poor,
He begged his bread from door to door;
And tuned, to please a peasant's ear,
The harp, a King had loved to hear.
He passed where Newark's stately tower
Looks out from Yarrow's birchen bower:
The Minstrel gazed with wishful eye--
No humbler resting place was nigh.
With hesitating step, at last,
The embattled portal-arch he passed,
Whose ponderous grate, and massy bar,
Had oft rolled back the tide of war,
But never closed the iron door
Against the desolate and poor.
The Duchess marked his weary pace,
His timid mien, and reverend face,
And bade her page the menials tell,
That they should tend the old man well:
For she had known adversity,
Though born in such a high degree;
In pride of power, in beauty's bloom,
Had wept o'er Monmouth's bloody tomb!
When kindness had his wants supplied,
And the old man was gratified,
Began to rise his minstrel pride.
And he began to talk, anon,
Of good Earl Francis, dead and gone,
And of Earl Walter, rest him God!
A braver ne'er to battle rode:
And how full many a tale he knew,
Of the old warriors of Buccleuch;
And, would the noble Duchess deign
To listen to an old man's strain,
Though stiff his hand, his voice though weak,
He thought even yet, the sooth to speak,
That, if she loved the harp to hear,
He could make music to her ear.
The humble boon was soon obtained;
The aged Minstrel audience gained.
But, when he reached the room of state,
Where she, with all her ladies, sate,
Perchance he wished his boon denied;
For, when to tune his harp he tried,
His trembling hand had lost the ease,
Which marks security to please;
And scenes, long past, of joy and pain,
Came wildering o'er his aged brain--
He tried to tune his harp in vain.
The pitying Duchess praised its chime,
And gave him heart, and gave him time,
Till every string's according glee
Was blended into harmony.
And then, he said, he would full fain
He could recal an ancient strain,
He never thought to sing again.
It was not framed for village churls,
But for high dames and mighty earls;
He had played it to King Charles the Good,
When he kept court in Holyrood;
And much he wished, yet feared, to try
The long-forgotten melody.
Amid the strings his fingers strayed,
And an uncertain warbling made--
And oft he shook his hoary head.
But when he caught the measure wild,
The old man raised his face, and smiled;
And lightened up his faded eye,
With all a poet's extacy!
In varying cadence, soft or strong,
He swept the sounding chords along;
The present scene, the future lot,
His toils, his wants, were all forgot;
Cold diffidence, and age's frost,
In the full tide of song were lost.
Each blank, in faithless memory void,
The poet's glowing thought supplied;
And, while his harp responsive rung,
'Twas thus the LATEST MINSTREL sung.
The feast was over in Branksome tower,
And the Ladye had gone to her secret bower;
Her bower, that was guarded by word and by spell,
Deadly to hear, and deadly to tell—
Jesu Maria, shield us well!
No living wight, save the Ladye alone,
Had dared to cross the threshold stone.
The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all;
Knight, and page, and household squire,
Loitered through the lofty hall,
Or crowded round the ample fire.
The stag-hounds, weary with the chase,
Lay stretched upon the rushy floor,
And urged, in dreams, the forest race,
From Teviot-stone to Eskdale-moor.
Nine-and-twenty knights of fame
Hung their shields in Branksome Hall;
Nine-and-twenty squires of name,
Brought them their steeds to bower from stall;
Nine-and-twenty yeomen tall,
Waited, duteous on them all:
They were all knights of mettle true,
Kinsmen to the bold Buccleuch.
Ten of them were sheathed in steel,
With belted sword, and spur on heel:
They quitted not their harness bright,
Neither by day, nor yet by night:
They lay down to rest
With corslet laced,
Pillowed on buckler cold and hard;
They carved at the meal
With gloves of steel,
And they drank the red wine through the helmet barred.
Ten squires, ten yeomen, mail-clad men,
Waited the beck of the warders ten.
Thirty steeds, both fleet and wight,
Stood saddled in stable day and night,
Barded with frontlet of steel, I trow,
And with Jedwood-axe at saddle bow.
A hundred more fed free in stall—
Such was the custom of Branksome Hall.
Why do these steeds stand ready dight?
Why watch these warriors, armed, by night?
They watch to hear the blood-hound baying;
They watch to hear the war-horn braying;
To see St George's red cross streaming,
To see the midnight beacon gleaming;
They watch against Southern force and guile,
Lest Scroop, or Howard, or Percy's powers,
Threaten Branksome's lordly towers,
From Warkworth, or Naworth, or merry Carlisle.
Such is the custom of Branksome Hall.
Many a valiant knight is here;
But he, the Chieftain of them all,
His sword hangs rusting on the wall,
Beside his broken spear.
Bards long shall tell,
How lord Walter fell!
When startled burghers fled, afar,
The furies of the Border war;
When the streets of high Dunedin
Saw lances gleam, and falchions redden,
And heard the slogan's deadly yell—
Then the Chief of Branksome fell.
Can piety the discord heal,
Or staunch the death-feud's enmity?
Can Christian lore, can patriot zeal,
Can love of blessed charity?
No! vainly to each holy shrine,
In mutual pilgrimage, they drew;
Implored, in vain, the grace divine
For chiefs, their own red falchions slew.
While Cessford owns the rule of Car,
While Ettrick boasts the line of Scott,
The slaughtered chiefs, the mortal jar,
The havoc of the feudal war,
Shall never, never be forgot!
In sorrow, o'er lord Walter's bier,
The warlike foresters had bent;
And many a flower, and many a tear,
Old Teviot's maids and matrons lent:
But, o'er her warrior's bloody bier,
The Ladye dropped nor sigh nor tear!
Vengeance, deep-brooding o'er the slain,
Had locked the source of softer woe;
And burning pride, and high disdain,
Forbade the rising tear to flow;
Until, amid his sorrowing clan,
Her son lisped from the nurse's knee—
"And, if I live to be a man,
"My father's death revenged shall be!"
Then fast the mother's tears did seek
To dew the infant's kindling cheek.
All loose her negligent attire,
All loose her golden hair,
Hung Margaret o'er her slaughtered sire,
And wept in wild despair.
But not alone the bitter tear
Had filial grief supplied;
For hopeless love, and anxious fear,
Had lent their mingled tide;
Nor in her mother's altered eye
Dared she to look for sympathy.
Her lover, 'gainst her father's clan,
With Car in arms had stood,
When Mathouse burn to Melrose ran,
All purple with their blood.
And well she knew, her mother dread,
Before lord Cranstoun she should wed,
Would see her on her dying bed.
Of noble race the Ladye came;
Her father was a clerk of fame,
Of Bethune's line of Picardie:
He learned the art, that none may name,
In Padua, far beyond the sea.
Men said he changed his mortal frame
By feat of magic mystery;
For when, in studious mood, he paced
St Kentigern's hall,
His form no darkening shadow traced
Upon the sunny wall!
And of his skill, as bards avow,
He taught that Ladye fair,
Till to her bidding she could bow
The viewless forms of air.
And now she sits in secret bower,
In old Lord David's western tower,
And listens to a heavy sound,
That moans the mossy turrets round.
Is it the roar of Teviot's tide,
That chafes against the scaur's red side?
Is it the wind, that swings the oaks?
Is it the echo from the rocks?
What may it be, the heavy sound,
That moans old Branksome's turrets round?
At the sullen, moaning sound
The ban-dogs bay and howl,
And, from the turrets round,
Loud whoops the startled owl.
In the hall, both squire and knight
Swore that a storm was near,
And looked forth to view the night;
But the night was still and clear!
From the sound of Teviot's tide,
Chafing with the mountain's side,
From the groan of the wind-swung oak,
From the sullen echo of the rock,
From the voice of the coming storm,
The Ladye knew it well!
It was the Spirit of the Flood that spoke,
And he called on the Spirit of the Fell.
"Sleep'st thou, brother?"
On my hills the moon-beams play.
From Craik-cross to Skelfhill-pen,
By every rill, in every glen,
Merry elves, their morrice pacing,
To aerial minstrelsy,
Emerald rings on brown heath tracing,
Trip it deft and merrily.
Up, and mark their nimble feet!
Up, and list their music sweet!"
"Tears of an imprisoned maiden
Mix with my polluted stream;
Margaret of Branksome, sorrow-laden,
Mourns beneath the moon's pale beam.
Tell me, thou, who view'st the stars,
When shall cease these feudal jars?
What shall be the maiden's fate?
Who shall be the maiden's mate?"
"Arthur's slow wain his course doth roll,
In utter darkness, round the pole;
The Northern Bear lowers black and grim;
Orion's studded belt is dim;
Twinkling faint; and distant far,
Shimmers through mist each planet star;
Ill may I read their high decree:
But no kind influence deign they shower
On Teviot's tide, and Branksome's tower,
Till pride be quelled, and love be free."
The unearthly voices ceast,
And the heavy sound was still;
It died on the river's breast,
It died on the side of the hill—
But round Lord David's tower
The sound still floated near;
For it rung in the Ladye's bower,
And it rung in the Ladye's ear.
She raised her stately head,
And her heart throbbed high with pride:
"Your mountains shall bend
And your streams ascend,
Ere Margaret be our foeman's bride!"
The Ladye sought the lofty hall,
Where many a bold retainer lay,
And, with jocund din, among them all,
Her son pursued his infant play.
A fancied moss-trooper, the boy
The truncheon of a spear bestrode,
And round the hall, right merrily,
In mimic foray rode.
Even bearded knights, in arms grown old,
Share in his frolic gambles bore,
Albeit their hearts, of rugged mould,
Were stubborn as the steel they wore.
For the gray warriors prophesied,
How the brave boy, in future war,
Should tame the Unicorn's pride,
Exalt the Crescents and the Star.
The Ladye forgot her purpose high,
One moment, and no more;
One moment gazed with a mother's eye,
As she paused at the arched door.
Then, from amid the armed train,
She called to her William of Deloraine.
A stark moss-trooping Scott was he
As e'er couched border lance by knee.
Through Solway sands, through Tarras moss,
Blindfold, he knew the paths to cross;
By wily turns, by desperate bounds,
Had baffled Percy's best blood-hounds;
In Eske, or Liddel, fords were none,
But he would ride them one by one;
Alike to him was time, or tide,
December's snow or July's pride;
Alike to him was tide, or time,
Moonless midnight, or mattin prime.
Steady of heart, and stout of hand,
As ever drove prey from Cumberland;
Five times outlawed had he been,
By England's king and Scotland's queen.
"Sir William of Deloraine, good at need,
Mount thee on the wightest steed;
Spare not to spur, nor stint to ride,
Until thou come to fair Tweedside;
And in Melrose's holy pile
Seek thou the Monk of St Mary's isle:
Greet the father well from me;
Say, that the fated hour is come,
And to night he shall watch with thee,
To win the treasure of the tomb:
For this will be St Michael's night,
And though stars be dim, the moon is bright;
And the cross of bloody red
Will point to the grave of the mighty dead."
"What he gives thee, see thou keep;
Stay not thou for food or sleep.
Be it scroll, or be it book,
Into, knight, thou must not look;
If thou readest thou art lorn!
Better hadst thou ne'er been born."
"O swiftly can speed my dapple-gray steed,
Who drinks of the Teviot clear;
Ere break of day, the warrior 'gan say,
"Again will I be here:
And safer by none may thy errand be done
Than, noble dame, by me;
Letter nor line know I never one,
Wer't my neck-verse at Hairibee."
Soon in his saddle sate he fast,
And soon the steep descent he past;
Soon crossed the sounding barbican,
And soon the Teviot side he won.
Eastward the wooded path he rode;
Green hazels o'er his basnet nod:
He passed the Peel of Goldiland,
And crossed old Borthwick's roaring strand;
Dimly he viewed the Moat-hill's mound,
Where Druid shades still flitted round:
In Hawick twinkled many a light;
Behind him soon they set in night;
And soon he spurred his courser keen
Beneath the tower of Hazeldean.
The clattering hoofs the watchmen mark;
"Stand, ho! thou courier of the dark."
"For Branksome, ho!" the knight rejoined,
And left the friendly tower behind.
He turned him now from Teviotside,
And, guided by the tinkling rill,
Northward the dark ascent did ride,
And gained the moor at Horseliehill;
Broad on the left before him lay,
For many a mile, the Roman way.
A moment now he slacked his speed,
A moment breathed his panting steed;
Drew saddle-girth and corselet-band,
And loosened in the sheath his brand.
On Minto-crags the moonbeams glint,
Where Barnhill hewed his bed of flint;
Who flung his outlawed limbs to rest,
Where falcons hang their giddy nest,
Mid cliffs from whence his eagle eye,
For many a league, his prey could spy;
Cliffs doubling, on their echoes borne,
The terrors of the robber's horn;
Cliffs which, for many a later year,
The warbling Doric reed shall hear,
When some sad swain shall teach the grove,
Ambition is no cure for love.
Unchallenged, thence past Deloraine,
To ancient Riddell's fair domain,
Where Aill, from mountains freed,
Down from the lakes did raving come;
Each wave was crested with tawny foam,
Like the mane of a chesnut steed.
In vain! no torrent, deep or broad,
Might bar the bold moss-trooper's road.
At the first plunge the horse sunk low,
And the water broke o'er the saddle-bow;
Above the foaming tide, I ween,
Scarce half the charger's neck was seen;
For he was barded from counter to tail,
And the rider was armed complete in mail;
Never heavier man and horse
Stemmed a midnight torrent's force;
The warrior's very plume, I say,
Was daggled by the dashing spray;
Yet through good heart, and our Ladye's grace,
At length he gained the landing place.
Now Bowden Moor the march-man won,
And sternly shook his plumed head,
As glanced his eye o'er Halidon;
For on his soul the slaughter red,
Of that unhallowed morn arose,
When first the Scott and Car were foes;
When royal James beheld the fray,
Prize to the victor of the day;
When Home and Douglas, in the van
Bore down Buccleuch's retiring clan,
Till gallant Cessford's heart-blood dear
Reeked on dark Elliot's Border spear.
In bitter mood he spurred fast,
And soon the hated heath was past;
And far beneath, in lustre wan,
Old Melros' rose, and fair Tweed ran;
Like some tall rock, with lichens gray,
Seemed, dimly huge, the dark Abbaye.
When Hawick he passed, had curfew rung,
Now midnight lauds were in Melrose sung.
The sound upon the fitful gale,
In solemn wise, did rise and fail,
Like that wild harp, whose magic tone
Is wakened by the winds alone:
But when Melrose he reached 'twas silence all;
He meetly stabled his steed in stall,
And sought the convent's lonely wall.
Here paused the harp; and with its swell
The Master's fire and courage fell:
Dejectedly, and low, he bowed,
And, gazing timid on the crowd,
He seemed to seek, in every eye,
If they approved his minstrelsy;
And, diffident of present praise,
Somewhat he spoke of former days,
And how old age, and wandering long,
Had done his hand and harp some wrong.
The Duchess, and her daughters fair,
And every gentle lady there,
Each after each, in due degree,
Gave praises to his melody;
His hand was true, his voice was clear,
And much they longed the rest to hear.
Encouraged thus, the Aged Man,
After meet rest, again began.