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while to Rizzio the country may be indebted for some of its finer and more popular pieces.
Be this as it may, these kindred arts so flourished, in rude and elementary forms, at the period referred to as to rouse into action the musical and poetical ardour of the more educated portion of the nation.
To expatiate upon the characteristics of early ballad poetry would be a digression from the main line of this essay, still, as more than even a passing reference to these seems essential to its completeness, a short description may be allowed.
Ballad poetry grew up in the stormy feudal times, in out-of-the-way localities and in obscure nooks and corners—so rude in structure and expression as to be quite uncontrolled by critical rules, yet full of energy and vitality. It naturally divides itself into two parts—historical and romantic. The former exhibits the unsettled state of the country through its wars with the sister kingdom, the many and long regencies, and the consequent general lawlessness which prevailed; the latter displays the numerous domestic phases and constitutional temperaments of a people seemingly ready to adopt whatever was romantic and enthusiastic in manners and sentiment.
Clanship had its origin in self-protection and self-aggrandizement. The sept was so closely bound together that an injury done to its weakest member was viewed as an offence against the clan, and nothing short of the blood of the offender, and that of his entire kindred, was considered sufiicient atonement. Thus the dark side of clanship was exhibited in originating and multiplying sources of jealousy, in fostering and maintaining the antipathies of rival families, and in those long-continued and embittered- tribal feuds with all their inevitable results. On the eve of a Clan Raid, the bard’s recitals roused the tribe to action and vengeance, and in centuries following the piper played the pibroch or battle-spey of the sept for the same object.
A more recent illustration of this trait in the Celtic character was afforded at the battle of \Vaterloo, during the hours when its fortunes may have said to hang in the balance. It is given in Book Third of “ J ohnston’s History of the Scottish Regiments ”— Cameron Highlanders, 79th Regiment. Sometime after the gallant Picton was killed, and General Kempt had been severely wounded, Milhand’s Cuirassiers advanced upon Kempt’s Brigade, in the pride of success after their destruction of a battalion of Hanoverians, whereupon “ the 79th and other regiments at once threw themselves into square, and whilst the Camerons were forming Piper Kinneth Mackay stepped outside the bayonets, and played round the square the air, ‘Cogaidh na Sith ’ (\Var or Peace).”
Direful were the evils springing from numerous marauding expeditions and night forays. The powerful lord, who, safe in numerous retainers and moated keep, bade defiance to law, meeted out his vengeance in the sacking of castles during the hours of rest, and the wholesale slaughter of the slumbering inmates; the burning of border keeps, with their mailed knights, the ladies at their bower windows, and household retainers ; successful forays into the enemies’ country, with the horrible accompaniments of fire and sword ; the ravaging and depopulation of large districts of country, carrying off hundreds of prisoners; the lifting of droves of cattle and all moveables of value —these heart-rending scenes being depicted in the ballad poetry of the time with tragic realism and considerable truthfulness.
It was over such a state of things, ’mid such scenes, principally where factious Chiefs and Barons held sway, and in whose -bosoms glowed the fiercest hatred, that the ballad casts its glamour. Amid these northern semi-savage tribes bardism found its chosen home. There the minstrels of the “North Countrie” held undisputed sway, and received preeminence over their less favoured brethren.
Early ballad poetry is deeply imbued with all this. The prevailing features are harsh and ferocious, often narrating harrowing cruelties
perpetrated in cold blood, Yet now and again ‘
gracious tenderness and generous treatment are displayed — traits of character _exhibiting true sympathy with suffering humanity, lying 'trodden under foot, like a tender beauteous way-side flower; or, to change the figure, the conqueror becoming the helper of the helpless, the protector of the unprotected, the succourer of the needy.
It is a relief to know that, in some of the ballads, there are silver linings to the clouds, as in the fine heroic songs of “Chevy Chase ” and “ Auld Maitland,” where there are not only genuine strokes of nature and artless passion, but deeds of rude, yet high-minded gallantry.
The tone and spirit of chivalry, derived from love,
devotion, and valour, had its own share in moulding .
the manners and customs of that early period. The chivalrous, gentle, tender regard for women on the one part, and the delicacy of feeling which, even in so rude an age, seems to have characterised the Scottish wife and maiden on the other, were doubtless fostered by predisposing circumstances.
The love for offspring, too, is touchingly exemplified in the ballads, and numerous are the instances of parental and filial affection.
Superstition is also a leading element in early poetry, and this may be traced to a variety of causes.
What ignorance and superstition are believed to have D
seen is soon beheld anew, and, by oft-repeated testimony, marvellous incidents are placed beyond the region of doubt. These, with other visions and prognostics, float about and people the air; thus, through the well known channels of rustic tradition, each mountain, glen, and solitary heath came to possess its own unearthly visitors—each sept and family its omen, or boding spectre. Superstition, thus reduced to a system, fell into the hands of a class, and by them, as gifted seers, and wizards, and minstrels, systematized and expounded, exhibited these and other characteristics in the early ballads.
But to return. Before the invention of printing, and even for some time afterwards, the regular preservation of our old ballads could scarcely have been expected.
As many of the Minstrels could neither read nor write, there would be comparatively few manuscript copies of those early songs. Thus would the Bards have to trust to well-stored, and well-exercised memories, for the entertainment and amusement of lovers of poetry in grange and hall.
Doubtless successive garlands of song appeared, bloomed, faded and were forgotten to such an extent that even the names of but few of them have been preserved. It is matter of the deepest and most sincere regret that a large portion of the ancient music and poetry of Scotland was irretrievably lost centuries ago.
About the middle of the sixteenth century there was printed at St Andrews a curious work, entitled “ Vedderburn’s Complainte of Scotland,” wherein is preserved the names of thirty-seven of the more ancient songs of Old Caledonia, many of which, considerably upwards of three centuries ago, must have been the delight, solace, and admiration of our ancestors.