The introduction to Marmion praises Spenser as one of the great British poets who admired romance: "The mightiest chiefs of British song | Scorn'd not such legends to prolong: | They gleam through Spenser's elfin dream, | And mix in Milton's heavenly theme; | And Dryden, in immortal strain, | Had raised the Table Round again, | But that a ribald King and Court | Bade him toil on, to make them sport" pp. 17-18. Each canto of Marmion is prefaced by an introduction addressed to one of Scott's friends, the first to William Stewart Rose (1775-1843), clerk of the House of Lords and translator of Amadis of Gaul from the French (1803).
The Introduction opens with a description of the November landscape, followed by reflections on the turning seasons and the mutability of history. Will the world ever see the likes of Nelson and Pitt again? With generous spirit, Scott also praises Pitt's great opponent Charles James Fox, also buried in Westminster Abbey: "These spells are spent, and, spent with these | The wine of life is on the lees; | Genius, and taste, and talent gone, | For ever tomb'd beneath the stone, | Where-taming thought to human pride | The mighty chiefs sleep side by side" pp. 12-13. The spirit of romance, however, endures in the bosom of the poet: "How on the ancient minstrel strain | Time lays his palsied hand in vain; | And how our hearts at doughty deeds, | By warriors wrought in steely weeds, | Still throb for fear and pity's sake" p. 16. Spenser and Milton admired romance, and Dryden would have revived Arthur's Round Table had it not been for the corruption of the times. The introduction concludes by praising Rose's translation of Amadis: "Well has thy fair achievement shown, | A worthy meed may thus be won" pp. 19-20. The lines on Pitt, Fox,, and Nelson were reprinted in The Sun for 20 February 1808, one of Scott's first appearances in a London newspaper.
Samuel Egerton Brydges: "a poem, which has been published in the present month, has filled me with delight so singular in its kind, and so high in its degree, that I will not suppress the generous emotion of gratitude that impels me to record my pleasure. Mr. Walter Scott's Romance of Marmion, a Tale of Floddon Field, contains a series of Introductory Epistles, novel in their kind, and as highly poetical and attractive as they are new. The author has given its free and natural range to a mind most richly and exquisitely adorned with all the feelings and images of genuine poetry. How enchantingly, and with what ease and grace he exercises the wand of the magician, and brings before us the varied and changing creations of a moral, sentimental, and picturesque fancy, will he better felt than expressed by every reader of taste and sensibility! Poetry here appears in its natural shape, uncramped by rules, and unfettered by proto-types" Censura Literaria 7 (1808) 310-11.
Francis Jeffrey: "we are inclined to suspect, that the success of the work now before us will be less brilliant than that of the author's former publication, though we are ourselves of opinion that its intrinsic merits are nearly, if not altogether, equal; and that, if it had had the fortune to be the elder born, it would have inherited as fair a portion of renown as has fallen to the lot of its predecessor. It is a good deal longer, indeed, and somewhat more ambitious; and it is rather clearer that it has greater faults, than that it has greater beauties; though, for our own parts, we are inclined to believe in both propositions. It has more tedious and flat passages, and more ostentation of historical and antiquarian lore; but it has also greater richness and variety, both of character and incident; and if it has less sweetness and pathos in the softer passages, it has certainly more vehemence and force of colouring in the loftier and busier representations of action and emotion. The place of the prologuizing minstrel is but ill supplied, indeed, by the epistolary dissertations which are prefixed to each book of the present poem; and the ballad pieces and mere episodes which it contains, have less finish and poetical beauty; but there is more airiness and spirit in the lighter delineations; and the story, if not more skilfully conducted, is at least better complicated, and extended through a wider field of adventure" Edinburgh Review 12 (April 1808) 2-3.
The Cabinet: "It is formed on the same model as the Lay of the last Minstrel; superior perhaps in execution, yet marked by the same excellencies, and sometimes by the same faults" 3 (May 1808) 321.
Robert Anderson to Thomas Percy: "Scott's Marmion is come out; a work of more promise than performance. It does not rise above, and often falls below the 'Lay.' It is censured severely in the Critical Review, and even in the Edinburgh Review, though more handsomely" 18 May 1808; in Nichols, Illustrations (1817-58) 7:189.
Poetical Register for 1808-09: "It is not often that an author, who has gained general applause in a first attempt, is equally successful in a second. Mr. Scott, however, continues his poetical flight with an untired wing. Marmion is certainly, on the whole, not inferior to the Lay of the Last Minstrel. In some parts it is superior. Than the battle scene it would be difficult to find any thing finer in the great body of modern poetry. Innumerable other passages also are distinguished by energy and beauty" (1812) 547.
Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "William Stewart Rose, the translator of Ariosto, Letters from the North of Italy, and other works, was intimate with Byron, Davy, Scott, Southey, and, in short, with l eminent literary men during the whole period of his life. He survived Scott" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 1:223n.
Goldwin Smith: "The Epistles introductory to the cantos of Marmion have been deemed out of place; but they are in themselves charming pictures of Scott among his literary friends. They seem also to show that he well knew he was living in the present while he amused himself and his readers with the romantic past; although he was sometimes enough under the illusion to be taken with ravishment by the mock-feudalism of George the Fourth's coronation, and to play with heart and soul the cockney Highlander on the occasion of the same monarch's farcical visit to Scotland" The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 4:190.
Samuel Smiles: "Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel had been so successful that Constable offered him one thousand pounds for the poem of Marmion very shortly after it was begun, and before he had seen a line of the manuscript. This bold and generous offer startled the literary world. 'It was a price,' Scott afterwards said, 'that made men's hair stand on end.' Constable offered one-fourth of the copyright to Mr. Miller of Albemarle Street, and one-fourth to Mr. Murray of Fleet Street. Both publishers eagerly accepted the proposal" Memoirs of John Murray (1891) 1:76.
In 1809 was published Marmion travestied; a Tale of modern Times. By Peter Pry, Esq.
TO WILLIAM STEWART ROSE, ESQ.
Ashestiel, Ettricke Forest.
November's sky is chill and drear,
November's leaf is red and sear:
Late, gazing down the steepy linn,
That hems our little garden in,
Low in its dark and narrow glen
You scarce the rivulet might ken,
So thick the tangled greenwood grew,
So feeble trilled the streamlet through:
Now, murmuring hoarse, and frequent seen
Through bush and brier, no longer green,
An angry brook, it sweeps the glade,
Brawls over rock and wild cascade,
And, foaming brown with doubled speed,
Hurries its waters to the Tweed.
No longer Autumn's glowing red
Upon our Forest hills is shed;
No more beneath the evening beam
Fair Tweed reflects their purple gleam;
Away hath passed the heather-bell
That bloomed so rich on Needpath-fell;
Sallow his brow; and russet bare
Are now the sister-heights of Yair.
The sheep, before the pinching heaven,
To sheltered dale and down are driven,
Where yet some faded herbage pines,
And yet a watery sunbeam shines:
In meek despondency they eye
The withered sward and wintry sky,
And far beneath their summer hill,
Stray sadly by Glenkinnon's rill:
The shepherd shifts his mantle's fold,
And wraps him closer from the cold;
His dogs no merry circles wheel,
But shivering follow at his heel;
A cowering glance they often cast,
As deeper moans the gathering blast.
My imps, though hardy, bold, and wild,
As best befits the mountain child,
Feel the sad influence of the hour,
And wail the daisy's vanished flower;
Their summer gambols tell, and mourn,
And anxious ask, — Will spring return,
And birds and lambs again be gay,
And blossoms clothe the hawthorn spray?
Yes, prattlers, yes; the daisy's flower
Again shall paint your summer bower;
Again the hawthorn shall supply
The garlands you delight to tie;
The lambs upon the lea shall bound,
The wild birds carol to the round,
And, while you frolic light as they,
Too short shall seem the summer day.
To mute and to material things
New life revolving summer brings;
The genial call dead Nature hears,
And in her glory reappears.
But Oh! my country's wintry state
What second spring shall renovate?
What powerful call shall bid arise
The buried warlike and the wise;
The mind that thought for Britain's weal,
The hand that grasp'd the victor steel?
The vernal sun new life bestows
Even on the meanest flower that blows;
But vainly, vainly may he shine
Where glory weeps o'er NELSON'S shrine;
And vainly pierce the solemn gloom,
That shrouds, O PITT, thy hallowed tomb!
Deep graved in every British heart,
O never let those names depart
Say to your sons, — Lo, here his grave,
Who victor died on Gadite wave;
To him, as to the burning levin,
Short, bright, resistless course was given;
Where'er his country's foes were found,
Was heard the fated thunder's sound,
Till burst the bolt on yonder shore,
Rolled, blazed, destroyed, — and was no more.
Nor mourn ye less his perished worth
Who bade the conqueror go forth,
And launched that thunderbolt of war
On Egypt, Hafnia, Trafalgar;
Who, born to guide such high emprize,
For Britain's weal was early wise;
Alas! to whom the Almighty gave,
For Britain's sins, an early grave!
His worth who, in his mightiest hour,
A bauble held the pride of power,
Spurned at the sordid lust of pelf,
And served his Albion for herself;
Who, when the frantic crowd amain
Strained at subjection's bursting rein,
O'er their wild mood full conquest gained,
The pride, he would not crush, restrained,
Showed their fierce zeal a worthier cause,
And brought the freeman's arm to aid the freeman's laws.
Had'st thou but lived, though stripped of power,
A watchman on the lonely tower,
Thy thrilling trump had roused the land,
When fraud or danger were at hand;
By thee, as by the beacon-light,
Our pilots had kept course aright;
As some proud column, though alone,
Thy strength had propped the tottering throne.
Now is the stately column broke,
The beacon-light is quenched in smoke,
The trumpet's silver sound is still,
The warder silent on the hill!
Oh, think, how to his latest day,
When Death, just hovering, claimed his prey,
With Palinure's unaltered mood,
Firm at his dangerous post he stood;
Each call for needful rest repelled,
With dying hand the rudder held,
Till, in his fall, with fateful sway,
The steerage of the realm gave way!
Then, while on Britain's thousand plains,
One unpolluted church remains,
Whose peaceful bells ne'er sent around
The bloody tocsin's maddening sound,
But still, upon the hallowed day,
Convoke the swains to praise and pray;
While faith and civil peace are dear,
Grace this cold marble with a tear,—
He, who preserved them, PITT, lies here!
Nor yet suppress the generous sigh,
Because his rival slumbers nigh;
Nor be thy requiescat dumb,
Lest it be said o'er Fox's tomb.
For talents mourn, untimely lost,
When best employed, and wanted most;
Mourn genius high, and lore profound,
And wit that loved to play, not wound;
And all the reasoning powers divine,
To penetrate, resolve, combine;
And feelings keen, and fancy's glow,—
They sleep with him who sleeps below:
And, if thou mourn'st they could not save
From error him who owns this grave,
Be every harsher thought suppressed,
And sacred be the last long rest!
Here, where the end of earthly things
Lays heroes, patriots, bards, and kings;
Where stiff the hand, and still the tongue,
Of those who fought, and spoke, and sung;
Here, where the fretted aisles prolong
The distant notes of holy song,
As if some angel spoke agen,
All peace on earth, good-will to men;
If ever from an English heart,
O, here let prejudice depart,
And, partial feeling cast aside,
Record, that Fox a Briton died!
When Europe crouched to France's yoke,
And Austria bent, and Prussia broke,
And the firm Russian's purpose brave,
Was bartered by a timorous slave,
Even then dishonour's peace he spurned,
The sullied olive-branch returned,
Stood for his country's glory fast,
And nailed her colours to the mast.
Heaven, to reward his firmness, gave
A portion in this honoured grave,
And ne'er held marble in its trust
Of two such wondrous men the dust.
With more than mortal powers endowed,
How high they soared above the crowd
Theirs was no common party race,
Jostling by dark intrigue for place;
Like fabled Gods, their mighty war
Shook realms and nations in its jar;
Beneath each banner proud to stand,
Looked up the noblest of the land,
Till through the British world were known
The names of PITT and Fox alone.
Spells of such force no wizard grave
E'er framed in dark Thessalian cave,
Though his could drain the ocean dry,
And force the planets from the sky.
These spells are spent, and, spent with these
The wine of life is on the lees;
Genius, and taste, and talent gone,
For ever tombed beneath the stone,
Where-taming thought to human pride
The mighty chiefs sleep side by side.
Drop upon Fox's grave the tear,
'Twill trickle to his rival's bier;
O'er PITT'S the mournful requiem sound,
And Fox's shall the notes rebound.
The solemn echo seems to cry,—
"Here let their discord with them die.
Speak not for those a separate doom,
Whom Fate made Brothers in the tomb;
But search the land of living men,
Where wilt thou find their like agen?"
Rest, ardent Spirits! till the cries
Of dying Nature bid you rise;
Not even your Britain's groans can pierce
The leaden silence of your hearse;
Then, O how impotent and vain
This grateful tributary strain;
Though not unmarked from northern clime,
Ye heard the Border Minstrel's rhyme:
His Gothic harp has o'er you rung;
The Bard you deigned to praise, your deathless names has sung.
Stay yet, illusion, stay a while,
My wildered fancy still beguile!
From this high theme how can I part,
Ere half unloaded is my heart!
For all the tears e'er sorrow drew
And all the raptures fancy knew,
And all the keener rush of blood,
That throbs through bard in bard-like mood,
Were here a tribute mean and low,
Though all their mingled streams could flow—
Woe, wonder, and sensation high,
In one spring-tide of ecstasy.—
It will not be — it may not last—
The vision of enchantment's past:
Like frost-work in the morning ray,
The fancied fabric melts away;
Each Gothic arch, memorial stone,
And long, dim, lofty aisle, are gone,
And, lingering last, deception dear,
The choir's high sounds die on my ear.
Now slow return the lonely down,
The silent pastures bleak and brown,
The farm begirt with copse-wood wild,
The gambols of each frolic child,
Mixing their shrill cries with the tone
Of Tweed's dark waters rushing on.
Prompt on unequal tasks to run,
Thus Nature disciplines her son:
Meeter, she says, for me to stray,
And waste the solitary day,
In plucking from yon fen the reed,
And watch it floating down the Tweed;
Or idly list the shrilling lay,
With which the milkmaid cheers her way,
Marking its cadence rise and fail,
As from the field, beneath her pail,
She trips it down the uneven dale:
Meeter for me, by yonder cairn,
The ancient shepherd's tale to learn,
Though oft he stop in rustic fear,
Lest his old legends tire the ear
Of one, who, in his simple mind,
May boast of book-learned taste refined.
But thou, my friend, canst fitly tell,
(For few have read romance so well,)
How still the legendary lay
O'er poet's bosom holds its sway;
How on the ancient minstrel strain
Time lays his palsied hand in vain;
And how our hearts at doughty deeds,
By warriors wrought in steely weeds,
Still throb for fear and pity's sake;
As when the Champion of the Lake
Enters Morgana's fated house,
Or, in the Chapel Perilous.
Despising spells and demons' force,
Holds converse with the unburied corse;
Or when, Dame Ganore's grace to move,
(Alas, that lawless was their love!)
He sought proud Tarquin in his den,
And freed full sixty knights; or when,
A sinful man, and unconfessed,
He took the Sangreal's holy quest,
And, slumbering, saw the vision high,
He might not view with waking eye.
The mightiest chiefs of British song
Scorned not such legends to prolong:
They gleam through Spenser's elfin dream,
And mix in Milton's heavenly theme;
And Dryden, in immortal strain,
Had raised the Table Round again,
But that a ribald King and Court
Bade him toil on, to make them sport;
Demanded for their niggard pay,
Fit for their souls, a looser lay,
Licentious satire, song, and play;
The world defrauded of the high design,
Profaned the God-given strength, and marred the lofty line.
Warmed by such names, well may we then,
Though dwindled sons of little men,
Essay to break a feeble lance
In the fair fields of old romance;
Or seek the moated castle's cell,
Where long through talisman and spell,
While tyrants ruled, and damsels wept,
Thy Genius, Chivalry, bath slept:
There sound the harpings of the North,
Till he awake and sally forth,
On venturous quest to prick again,
In all his arms, with all his train,
Shield, lance, and brand, and plume,
Fay, giant, dragon, squire, and dwarf,
And wizard with his wand of might,
And errant maid on palfrey white.
Around the Genius weave their spells,
Pure Love, who scarce his passion tells;
Mystery, half veiled and half revealed;
And Honour, with his spotless shield;
Attention, with fixed eye; and Fear,
That loves the talc she shrinks to hear;
And gentle Courtesy; and Faith,
Unchanged by sufferings, time, or death;
And Valour, lion-mettled lord,
Leaning upon his own good sword.
Well has thy fair achievement shown,
A worthy meed may thus be won;
Ytene's oaks — beneath whose shade
Their theme the merry minstrels made,
Of Ascapart, and Bevis bold,
And that Red King, who, while of old,
Through Boldrewood the chase he led,
By his loved huntsman's arrow bled—
Ytene's oaks have heard again
Renewed such legendary strain;
For thou hast sung, how He of Gaul,
That Amadis so famed in hall,
For Oriana, foiled in fight
The Necromancer's felon might;
And well in modern verse hast wove
Partenopex's mystic love:
Hear, then, attentive to my lay,
A knightly tale of Albion's elder day.