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The more Modern Ballad of Chevy Chací. At the beginning of this volume we gave the old original song of CHEVY-CHASE. The reader has here the more improved edition of that fine heroic ballad. It will afford an agreeable entertainment to the curious to compare them together, and to see how far the latter bard has excelled his predecessor, and where he has fallen short of him. For though he has everywhere improved the versification, and generally the sentiment and diction, yet some few passages retain more dignity in the ancient copy; at least the obsoleteness of the style serves as a veil to hide whatever might appear too familiar or vulgar in them. Thus, for instance, the catastrophe of the gallant Witherington is in the modern copy expressed in terms which never fail at present to excite ridicule, whereas in the original it is related with a plain and pathetic simplicity that is liable to no such unlucky effect. See the stanza in page 10, which in modern orthography, &c., would run thus :
“ For Witherington my heart is woe,
That ever he slain should be:
He knelt and fought on his knee." So again, the stanza which describes the fall of Montgomery is somewhat more elevated in the ancient copy :
“ The dint it was both sad and sore,
He on Montgomery set:
With his heart's blood were wet.”—p. 9. We might also add, that the circumstances of the battle are more clearly conceived, and the several incidents more distinctly marked in the old original than in the improved copy. It is well known that the ancient English weapon was the long-bow, and that this nation excelled all others in archery; while the Scottish warriors chiefly depended on the use of the spear: this characteristic difference never escapes our ancient bard, whose description of the first onset (p. 6) is to the following effect :
ã The proposal of the two gallant earls to determine the dispute by single combat being overruled, the English, says he, who stood with their bows ready bent, gave a general discharge of their arrows, which slew seven score spearmen of the enemy; but notwithstanding so severe a loss, Douglas, like a brave captain, kept his ground. He had divided his forces into three columns, who, as soon as the English had discharged the first volley, bore down upon them with their spears, and breaking through their ranks, reduced them to close fighting. The archers upon this dropt their bows, and had recourse to their swords; and there followed so sharp a conflict, that multitudes on both sides lost their lives.” In the midst of this general engagement, at length the two great earls meet, and after a spirited rencounter agree to breathe ; upon which a parley ensues, that would do honour to Homer himself.
Nothing can be more pleasingly distinct and circumstantial than this : whereas the modern copy, though in general it has great merit, is here unluckily both confused and obscure. Indeed the original words seem here to have been totally misunderstood. “Yet bydys the yerl Douglas upon the bent,” evidently signifies, “Yet the earl Douglas abides in the field ;” whereas the more modern bard seems to have understood by bent, the inclination of his mind, and accordingly runs quite off from the subject,
“ To drive the deer with hound and horn
Earl Douglas had the bent.”—v. 109.
One may also observe a generous impartiality in the old original bard, when in the conclusion of his tale he represents both nations as quitting the field without any reproachful reflection on either: though he gives to his own countrymen the credit of being the smaller number:
6 Of fifteen hundred archers of England
Went away but fifty and three;
But even five and fifty.”—p. 10. He attributes flight to neither party, as hath been done in the modern copies of this ballad, as well Scotch as English. For, to be even with our latter bard, who makes the Scots to flee, some reviser of North Britain bas turned his own arms against him, and printed an edition at Glasgow, in which the lines are thus transposed :
“Of fifteen hundred Scottish speirs,
Went hame but fifty-three:
Scarce fifty-five did flee :"
and to countenance this change, he has suppressed the two stanzas between ver. 240 and ver. 249. From that edition I have here reformed the Scotttsh names in pp. 189, 190, which in the modern English ballad appeared to be corrupted.
In the present edition, instead of the unmeaning lines here censured, an insertion is made of four stanzas modernised from the ancient copy.
When I call the present admired ballad modern, I only mean that it is comparatively so; for that it could not be writ much later than the time of Queen Elizabeth, I think may be made appear; nor yet does it seem to be older than the beginning of the last century. Sir Philip Sidney, when he complains of the antiquated phrase of Chevy Chase, could never have seen this improved copy, the language of which is not more ancient than that he himself used. It is probable that the encomiums of so admired a writer excited some bard to revise the ballad, and to free it from those faults he had objected to. That it could not be much later than that time, appears from the phrase doleful dumps; which in that age carried no ill sound with it, but to the next generation became ridiculous. We have seen it pass uncensured in a sonnet that was at that time in request, and where it could not fail to have been taken notice of, had it been in the least exceptionable : see above, p. 134. Yet in about half a century after it was become burlesque.-See Hudibras, part i. c. iii. ver. 95.
This much premised, the reader that would see the general beauties of this ballad set in a just and striking light, may consult the excellent criticism of Mr. Addison. With regard to its subject, it has already been considered in page 2. The conjectures there offered will receive confirmation from a passage in the Memoirs of Carey, Earl of Monmouth, 8vo, 1759, p. 165: whence we learn that it was an ancient custom with the borderers of the two kingdoms, when they were at peace, to send to the Lord Wardens of the opposite Marches for leave to hunt within their districts. If leave was granted, then towards the end of summer, they would come and hunt for several days together, “with their grey-hounds for deer;" but if they took this liberty unpermitted, then the Lord Warden of the border so invaded, would not fail to interrupt their sport and chastise their boldness. He mentions a remarkable instance that happened while he was Warden, when some Scotch gentlemen coming to hunt in defiance of him, there must have ensued such an action as this of Chevy Chace, if the intruders had been proportionably numerous and well-armed ; for upon their being
? A late writer has started a notion, that the more modern copy " was written to be sung by a party of English, headed by a Douglas, in the year 1524; which is the true reason why, at the same time that it gives the advantage to the English soldiers above the Scotch, it gives yet so lovely and so manifestly superior a character to the Scotch commander above the English.”-See Say's Essay on the Numbers of Paradise Lost, 4to, 1745, p. 167.
This appears to me a groundless conjecture: the language seems too modern for the date above mentioned ; and had it been printed even so early as Queen Elizabeth's reign, I think I should have met with some copy wherein the first line would have been,
“ God prosper long our noble queen,” as was the case with the Blind Beggar of Bednal Green; see vol. i. book v. no. 10.
3 In the Spectator, Nos. 70, 74.
attacked by his men-at-arms, he tells us, “ some hurt was done, though he had given especiall order that they should shed as little blood as possible.” They were in effect overpowered and taken prisoners, and only released on their promise to abstain from such licentious sporting for the future.
The following text is given from a copy in the Editor's folio MS. compared with two or three others printed in black letter. In the second volume of Dryden's Miscellanies may be found a translation of Chevy-Chace into Latin rhymes. The translator, Mr. Henry Bold, of New College, undertook it at the command of Dr. Compton, Bishop . of London, who thought it no derogation to his episcopal character to avow a fondness for this excellent old ballad.-See the preface to Bold's Latin Songs, 1685, 8vo.
God prosper long our noble king,
Our liffes and safetyes all;
In Chevy-Chace befall.
To drive the deere with hound and horne,
Erle Percy took his way;
The hunting of that day.
The stout Erle of Northumberland
A vow to God did make,
Three summers days to take;
The cheefest harts in Chevy-Chace
To kill and beare away :
In Scotland where he lay.
Who sent Erle Percy present word,
He wold prevent his sport;
Did to the woods resort,
With fifteen hundred bow-men bold,
All chosen men of might,
To ayme their shafts arright.
The gallant greyhounds swiftly ran,
Ere day-light did appeare;
An hundred fat buckes slaine;
To rouze the deare againe.
Well able to endure;
The nimble deere to take,
An eccho shrill did make.
To view the tender deere;
This day to meet me heere;
Noe longer wold I stay."
Thus to the Erle did say:
His men in armour bright;
Ver. 36, that they were. fol. Mş. 4 The Chiviot Hills and circumjacent Wastes are at present void both of deer and woods : but formerly they had enough of both to justify the description attempted here and in the Ancient Ballad of Chevy-Chase. Leland, in the reign of Hen. VIII., thus describes this county :-"In Northumberland, as I heare say, be no forests, except Chivet Hills: where is much Brushe-wood and some Okke; grownde ovargrowne with Linge, and some with Mosse. I have harde say that Chivet Hills stretchethe xx miles. There is greate plenté of Redde-dere, and Roo Bukkes.”—Itinerary, vol. vii. p. 56. This passage, which did not occur when pp. 15, 17, were printed off, confirms the accounts there given of the Stagge and the Roe.