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THE

LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL.

Dum relego, scripsisse, pudet, quia plurima cerno, Me quoque, qui feci, judice, digna limi.

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE CHARLES, EARL OF DALKEITH,

THIS POEM IS INSCRIBED, BY THE AUTHOR.

THE poem, now offered to the public, is intended to illustrate the customs and manners which anciently prevailed on the borders of England and Scotland. The inhabitants, living in a state partly pastoral and partly warlike, and combining habits of constant depredation with the influence of a rude spirit of chivalry, were often engaged in scenes highly susceptible of poetical ornament. As the description of scenery and manners was more the object of the author, than a combined and regular narrative, the plan of the ancient Metrical Romance was adopted, which allows greater latitude in this respect than would be consistent with the dignity of a regular poem. The same model offered other facilities, as it permits an occasional alteration of measure, which, in some degree, authorizes the change of rhythm in the text. The machinery also, adopted from popular belief, would have seemed puerile in a poem which did not partake of the rudeness of the old ballad, or Metrical Ro

mance.

For these reasons, the poem was put into the mouth of an ancient minstrel, the last of the race, who, as he is supposed to have survived the Revolution, might have caught somewhat of the refinement of modern poetry, without losing the simplicity of his original model. The date of the tale itself is about the middle of the sixteenth century, when most of the personages actually flourished. The time occupied by the action is three nights and three days.

INTRODUCTION.

THE way was long, the wind was cold,
The minstrel was infirm and old;
His wither'd cheek, and tresses gray,
Seem'd 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 oppress'd,
Wish'd to be with them, and at rest.
No more, on prancing palfrey borne,
He caroll'd, light as lark at morn;

No longer courted and caress'd,
High placed in hall, a welcome guest,
He pour'd, to lord and lady gay

The unpremeditated lay:

Old times were changed, old manners gone; A stranger fill'd the Stuart's throne;

The bigots of the iron time

Had call'd his harmless art a crime.
A wandering harper, scorn'd and poor,
He begg'd his bread from door to door;
And tuned, to please a peasant's ear,
The harp a king had loved to hear.

He pass'd 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 pass'd,
Whose ponderous grate and massy bar
Had oft roll'd back the tide of war,
But never closed the iron door
Against the desolate and poor.
The dutchess* mark'd 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 degreee;
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 dutchess deign
To listen to an old man's strain,
Though stiff his hand, his voice though weak,
He thought, e'en 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 obtain'd;
The aged minstrel audience gain'd.
But, when he reach'd the room of state,
Where she, with all her ladies, sate,
Perchance he wish'd 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 recall an ancient strain,
He never thought to sing again.

* Anne, Dutchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth, representative of the ancient lords of Buccleuch, and widow of the unfortunate James, Duke of Monmouth, who was beheaded in 1655.

+ Francis Scott, Earl of Buccleuch, father to the dutchess. Walter, Earl of Buccleuch, grandfather to the dutchess, and a celebrated warrior.

It was not framed for village churls,
But for high dames and mighty earls ;
He had play'd it to King Charles the good,
When he kept court in Holyrood;
And much he wish'd, yet fear'd, to try
The long forgotten melody.
Amid the strings his fingers stray'd,
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 lighten'd up his faded eye,
With all a poet's ecstasy!

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.

CANTO I I.

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.

II.
The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all;
Knight, and page, and household squire,
Loiter'd through the lofty hall,

Or crowded round the ample fire;
The stag hounds, weary with the chase,
Lay stretch'd upon the rushy floor,
And urged, in dreams, the forest race,
From Teviotstone to Eskdale-moor.

III.

Nine-and-twenty knights of fame

Hung their shields in Branksome hall;
Nine-and-twenty squires of name

Brought them their steeds from bower to stall;
Nine-and-twenty yeomen tall
Waited duteous on them all:

They were all knights of metal true,
Kinsmen to the bold Buccleuch.
IV.

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,

Pillow'd on buckler cold and hard;

They carved at the meal

With gloves of steel,

And they drank the red wine through the helmet

barr'd.

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Until, amid his sorrowing clan,

Her son lisp'd 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.

X.

All loose her negligent attire,

All loose her golden hair,

Hung Margaret o'er her slaughter'd 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 alter'd 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 would wed,
Would see her on her dying bed.

XI.

Of noble race the ladye came;
Her father was a clerk of fame,

Of Bethune's line of Picardie;

He learn'd 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
Saint Andrew's cloister'd hall,
His form no darkening shadow traced
Upon the sunny wall!

XII.

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?

XIII.

At the sullen moaning sound,
The bandogs 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!

* Scaur, a precipitous bank of earth.

XIV.

From the sound of Teviot's tide,
Chafing with the mountain's side,
From the groan of the windswung oak,
From the sullen echo of the rock,
From the voice of the coming storm,

The lady knew it well!

It was the spirit of the flood that spoke, And he call'd on the spirit of the fell.

XV.

RIVER SPIRIT.

"Sleep'st thou, brother ?"

MOUNTAIN SPIRIT.

"Brother, nay

On my hills the moonbeams play.
From Craig-cross to Skelfhillpen,
By every rill, in every glen,
Merry elves their morrice pacing,
To aërial minstrelsy,

Emerald rings on brown heath tracing,
Trip it deft and merrily.

Up, and mark their nimble feet!
Up, and list their music sweet!"

XVI.

RIVER SPIRIT.

"Tears of an imprison'd 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 ?"

XVII.

MOUNTAIN SPIRIT.

"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 infiuence deign they shower
On Teviot's tide, and Branksome's tower,
Till pride be quell'd, and love be free."
XVIII.

The unearthly voices ceased,
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 throbb'd high with pride:"Your mountains shall bend,

And your streams ascend,

Ere Margaret be our foeman's bride!"

XIX.

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 mosstrooper, the boy
The truncheon of a spear bestrode,
And round the hall, right merrily,

In mimic foray* rode.

E'en bearded knights, in arms grown old, Share in his frolic gambols 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 crescent and the star.

XX.

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 call'd to her William of Deloraine.

XXI.

A stark mosstrooping Scott was he,

As e'er couch'd 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 bloodhounds;
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 matin 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.
XXII.

"Sir William of Deloraine, good at need,
Mount thee on the wightest steed;
Spare not to spur, nor stint to ride,

Until you come to fair Tweed side;
And in Melrose's holy pile
Seek thou the monk of St. Mary's aisle.
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 Saint 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.

XXIII.

"What he gives thee, see thou keep; Stay not thou for food or sleep;

Be it scroll, or be it book,

Into it, knight, thou must not look;

* Foray, a predatory inroad.

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Soon in his saddle sate he fast,
And soon the deep descent he pass'd,
Soon cross'd the sounding barbican,t
And soon the Teviot's side he won.
Eastward the wooded path he rode,
Green hazels o'er his basnet nod:
He pass'd the peelt of Goldiland,

And cross'd old Borthwick's roaring strand;
Dimly he view'd the moathill's mound,
Where Druid shades still flitted round:
In Hawick twinkled many a light;
Behind him soon they set in night;
And soon he spurr'd his courser keen
Beneath the tower of Hazeldean.

XXVI.

The clattering hoofs the watchmen mark;-
"Stand, ho! thou courier of the dark."
"For Branksome, ho!" the knight rejoin'd,
And left the friendly tower behind.

He turn'd him now from Teviot side,
And, guided by the tinkling rill,
Northward the dark ascent did ride,

And gain'd the moor at Horslie hill;
Broad on the left before him lay,
For many a mile the Roman way.§

XXVII.

A moment now he slack'd his speed,
A moment breathed his panting steed;
Drew saddle-girth and corslet-band,
And loosen'd in the sheath his brand.
On Mintocrags the moonbeams glint,
Where Barnhill hew'd his bed of flint;
Who flung his outlaw'd 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 Dorie reed shall hear,
When some sad swain shall teach the grove,
Ambition is no cure for love.

*Haribee, the place of executing the Border marauders at Carlisle. The neck-verse is the beginning of the fifty. first psalm, Miserere mei, &c. anciently read by criminals, claiming the benefit of clergy.

+ Barbican, the defence of the outer gate of a feudal castle.

Peel, a Border tower.

§ An ancient Roman road, crossing through part of Roxburghshire.

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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,
Rose, dimly huge, the dark abbaye.
When Hawick he pass'd, 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 waken'd by the winds alone.

But when Melrose he reach'd, '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 bow'd,
And, gazing timid on the crowd,
He seem'd to seek, in every eye,

If they approved his minstrelsy:

*Barded, or barbed, applied to a horse accoutred with defensive armour.

+ Lauds, the midnight service of the Catholic church.

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 dutchess and her daughters fair,
And every gentle ladye 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.

CANTO II. I.

Ir thou wouldst view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight;
For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout, the ruins gray.

When the broken arches are black in night
And each shafted oriel glimmers white;
When the cold light's uncertain shower
Streams on the ruin'd central tower:
When buttress and buttress, alternately,
Seem'd framed of ebon and ivory:

When silver edges the imagery,

And the scrolls that teach thee to live and die;
When distant Tweed is heard to rave,

And the owlet to hoot o'er the dead man's grave,
Then go but go alone the while-
Then view Saint David's ruin'd pile;
And, home returning, soothly swear,
Was never scene so sad and fair!

II.

Short halt did Deloraine make there;
Little reck'd he of the scene so fair:
With dagger's hilt, on the wicket strong,
He struck full loud, and struck full long.
The porter hurried to the gate-
"Who knocks so loud, and knocks so late?"
"From Branksome I," the warrior cried;
And straight the wicket open'd wide:

For Branksome's chiefs had in battle stood,
To fence the rights of fair Melrose;

And lands and livings, many a rood,

Had gifted the shrine for their soul's repose.
III.

Bold Deloraine his errand said;
The porter bent his humble head;
With torch in hand, and feet unshod,
And noiseless step, the path he trod;
The arched cloisters, far and wide,
Rang to the warrior's clanking stride;
Till, stooping low his lofty crest,

He enter'd the cell of the ancient priest,
And lifted his barred aventayle,*

To hail the monk of St. Mary's aisle.

IV.

"The Ladye of Branksome greets thee by me; Says that the fated hour is come,

* Aventayle, visor of the helmet.

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