« ForrigeFortsæt »
rode rapidly through the 'Debatable Land,' forded the Eden, then swollen over its banks, and halted at a small burn named Caday, close by Carlisle. Here he caused eighty of his men to dismount, and silently led them, carrying with them the scaling-ladders, crowbars, and other iron tools which they had prepared, to the foot of the castle wall.
The night was dark and rainy, and everything seemed to favour the attempt. But, to their disappointment, the ladders proved too short. In this extremity they underinined a postern gate in the wall, and soon made a breach sufficient to admit a single soldier. Those who entered first disarmed and bound the watch, wrenched open the postern from the inside, and admitted their companions. Buccleuch kept the postern, while a body of his men proceeded to the castle jail and released Kinmont, carrying him off in his irons, and sounding their trumpets as a signal that the enterprise was accomplished.* On passing the window of Lord Scrope, Kinmont shouted a 'good-night' to his lordship, asking him at the same time if he had any news for Scotland. Meantime the alarm-bell of the castle rung, and was answered by those of the cathedral and the Moot Hall; drums beat to arms, and the beacon blazed up on the top of the great tower. But as the real strength of the enemy was unknown, all was terror and confusion both in the castle and town. Buccleuch having accomplished his purpose, rode off, the Borderers having strictly obeyed his orders, in forbearing to injure the garrison or to take any booty. Rejoining his men whom he had left on the Caday, he made an orderly retreat, carrying off his rescued prisoner in the midst of his band, and regained the Scottish Border before sunrise
This daring exploit, one of the last, and certainly most gallant achievements performed upon the Border, was loudly extolled at the time, and has been minutely recorded in the inimitable ballad of Kinmont Willie. There had never been a more gallant deed of vassalage done in Scotland,' says an old historian, 'no, not in Wallace's days.'
Queen Elizabeth was dreadfully enraged at this insult, and
* 'Now sound out trumpets !' quo' Buccleuch ;
Let's waken Lord Scroop right merrilie !'
O wha daur meddle wi' me?' When the false alarm of invasion was given in 1803, the Liddesdale yeomanry, the moment the blaze was seen, hastened to the place of rendezvous, and swam the river Liddel to reach it. They were assembled in two hours, though several of their houses were six or seven miles distant, and at break of day marched into the town of Hawick, twenty miles from the place of meeting, playing the spirit-stirring old tune, Wha daur meddle wi' me? On this being told to Leyden in India, his countenance became animated as the narrator (Sir John Malcolm) proceeded with the detail, and at its close he sprang from his sick-bed, and with strange melody, and still stranger gesticulations, sang aloud: "Wha daur meddle wi' me ?-wha daur meddle wi' me?' The spectators of this scene supposed that he was raving in the delirium of a fever.
demanded, with the most violent complaints and threats, that Buccleuch should be delivered up to the English. So deadly, indeed, was her resentment, that Buccleuch's life is said to have been aimed at, not, as was alleged, without Elizabeth's privity. James for a time resisted compliance with the demand of the English queen, and was zealously supported by the whole body of the nobles and people, and even by the clergy. The matter was at length arranged by the commissioners of both nations at Berwick, by whom it was agreed that the delinquents should be delivered up on both sides, and that the chiefs themselves should enter into ward in the opposite countries till this condition was complied with, and pledges granted for the future maintenance of the quiet of the Borders. Buccleuch was accordingly sent on parole to England, along with Kerr of Cessford. According to ancient tradition, Queen Elizabeth sent for the intrepid chieftain, and demanded of him how he had dared to storm her castle: to which the ‘bauld Buccleuch,' nothing daunted, replied: “What is there that a man dares not do?' Pleased with the rejoinder, she turned to a lord in waiting, and said: 'With a thousand such men, our brother of Scotland might shake the firmest throne in Europe.'
In the reign of Elizabeth, Sir Robert Carey, warden of the west marches, made an excursion into Liddesdale, with the view of quelling the Scottish freebooters in that district. In this, however, he was far from successful. It is related by tradition, that, while he was besieging the moss-troopers in the Tarras, they contrived, by ways known only to themselves, to send a party into England, who plundered the warden's lands. On their return, they sent Carey one of his own cows, telling him that, fearing he might fall short of provisions during his visit to Scotland, they had taken the precaution of sending him some English beef. This practical joke could scarcely be consolatory to the English warden in his march homeward.
After the accession of James to the crown of England, when the jurisdictions on both sides acted more in unison, the most arbitrary measures were resorted to for the suppression of the Border banditti. Many of them were executed without even the formality of a trial. A band of the most desperate of these freebooters was formed by Buccleuch into a legion for the service of the states of Holland; and the Græmes, a hardy and ferocious race, inhabiting chiefly the
Debatable Land,' were transported to Ireland, and their return prohibited under pain of death."
But the predatory habits of the Borderers were too deeply rooted to be removed so speedily, and they broke forth again upon the slightest encouragement. During the great Civil War, the mosstroopers, taking advantage of the unsettled state of the country, resumed their old profession; and frequent reference is made to their exploits in the diaries and military reports of the time. The labours
of Richard Cameron and other Presbyterian ministers are said to have been very successful in reclaiming them from their licentious habits, though incidents not unfrequently occurred which shewed that the old spirit was not altogether extinguished.
Like the Arabs of the desert, the Border marauders, with all their freebooting propensities, were faithful to their word. Having once pledged their faith, even to an enemy, they were very strict in observing it, and looked upon its violation as a most heinous crime. When an instance of this occurred, the injured person, at the first Border meeting, rode through the field displaying a glove (the pledge of faith) upon the point of his lance, and proclaiming the perfidy of the person who had broken his word. So great was the indignation of the assembly against the perjured criminal, that he was often slain by his own clan, to wipe out the disgrace he had brought on them. In the same spirit of confidence, it was not unusual to behold the victors, after an engagement, dismiss their prisoners upon parole; who never failed either to transmit the stipulated ransom, or to surrender themselves to captivity if unable to do so. Thus, even among the rudest class of men, there often exist good points of character.
BORDER BALLADS. The history of the Borders—their wars, feuds, and the daring exploits of which they were the fertile scene-has been embalmed in a variety of ballads of great antiquity, the wreck of the legendary lore once common throughout the district. According to all accounts, the old Borderers spent much of their leisure time in listening to the traditionary stories, the songs, and the inspiring strains of minstrels who visited their secluded mountain-homes. Of the mass of ballads and lays which used thus to cheer the Border hearth, and have come down to the present generation, comparatively few, it is observed, belong to the English side of the boundary. Nearly all are Scotch; whether from the greater prevalence of this species of poetry among our Scottish ancestors, or from the greater industry exercised by Scotsmen in gathering together the fragments of ballads, it would be difficult to say.
Unfortunately, many of the ballads once current on the Borders are now lost, and many of them have come down to us in an imperfect and mutilated state. It could scarcely have been otherwise, since they have been almost entirely preserved by oral tradition. Till a very late period, the pipers, of whom there was one attached to each Border town of note, were the great depositaries of these poetical traditions. These minstrels were in the habit of itinerating through a particular district of the country, about spring-time and after harvest, and, in return for the music donation of seed-corn. The ancient Scottish gaberlunzie, too, was often repaid by his night's quarters for his contributions in legendary lore. By means of these professed ballad-reciters, much traditional poetry was preserved which must otherwise have perished. Many interesting ballads and tales have also been recovered from the recitations of shepherds and aged persons residing in the recesses of the Border mountains. From these various sources, nearly two hundred different ballads have been collected, several of which are believed to be compositions of the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries; as there is every reason to suppose that these ballads were, in almost every case, composed immediately after the occurrence of the incidents which they commemorate.
The great modern collector of these fine old rhymes, as must be generally known, was Sir Walter Scott, who on divers occasions rode over the more interesting Border tracts, alighting at the cottages of the peasantry, and there and elsewhere noting down all that could be collected of these precious relics. The labours of Sir Walter in this respect were finally laid before the public in his celebrated Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a work in three volumes, issued in the year 1803, and therefore one of his earliest productions. In this popular collection, enlivened with many traditionary anecdotes, the ancient ballads are divided into two classeshistorical and romantic. The first class, again, has been subdivided into two series—those which refer to public historical events, and those which commemorate real circumstances in private life. To the former of these belong the metrical narratives of the Battle of Otterburn, Johnnie Armstrong, the Raid of the Reidswire, and Kinmont Willie, &c. : to the latter, the Douglas Tragedy, and the Dowie Dens of Yarrow. It would be unreasonable to expect that compositions originating in such a state of society as we have described should exhibit either refined sentiment or elegant expression. But they abound in natural pathos and rude energy, and present a picture of the manners and feelings of the times which renders the highly valuable. The romantic ballads are different in almost every respect from the first two classes, and may be regarded as an embodiment of the popular superstitions of the time-a record of the fancied exploits of fairies, ghaists, brownies, and bogles
Of airy elves by moonlight shadows seen,
Their stories are in general only such simple and familiar incidents as take place in a rude state of society; and, what is more, they are almost all common to every nation in the world.
Along with the ancient ballads in the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Sir Walter has presented some modern ones, the composition generally of living authors at the time, written in imitation
of those handed down by tradition. Among these we might instance the Mermaid, by Leyden, and the Murder of Caerlaveroc, by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe.
PRESENT STATE OF THE BORDERS. The union of the crowns of England and Scotland in 1606, as has been stated, greatly changed the character of the Borders; and the union of the kingdoms in 1707, with the establishment of the modern sheriffdoms, reduced the entire district to law and order. Latterly, with the progress of improvement, barren wastes, once the resort of freebooters, have become fruitful fields : towns and hamlets, mansions, farm-steadings, and cottages, now enliven those scenes which for ages had been marked by works of hostility; and in those defiles where the rude reivers found a refuge, rich and almost countless flocks have long wandered in perfect security; while the ruined towers of the Border chiefs, scattered throughout the district, present a striking memorial of times and manners that have long gone by.
The eastern marches, where the Douglases and the Homes once ruled and fought, are now universally allowed to form the most fertile and best cultivated part of Scotland-the place where nature has been kindest, and the husbandman most inclined to cultivate her good graces. To the eye of a traveller, it seems rather a portion of rich and lovely England, than of this land of mountain and of flood. It is tinged, as it were, with the geniality of the country to which it adjoins. It possesses the glorious hedgerows of England in the fullest perfection, with the lines of trees between, making each field resemble a splendid picture, deeply and doubly framed. Here also are to be seen houses built with less regard to the harsh climate of Scotland than those farther north. The honeysuckle and eglantine luxuriate around slim cottages and villas, whose large bow-windows, presented towards the sweet south,' give assurance that there is here a greater sum-total of summer delights than of winter discomfort. This highly favoured district is purely agricultural and pastoral, and is occupied by a population distinguished for their intelligence, industry, and piety. The Tweed, the most lovely of Scottish rivers, with its far-famed tributaries, contributes to its beauty and fertility. On the banks of this classic stream stand the impressive ruins of the abbeys of Melrose, Dryburgh, and Kelso, where the ashes of kings and barons, the flower of Border chivalry, have long mingled with those of their peaceful contemporaries—abbots and monks. The whole region abounds in legends, and superstitions, and spiritstirring tales, and has been from time immemorial the subject and the birthplace of Scottish song.
The vale of the Teviot, which includes the greater part of the county of Roxburgh-the ancient middle marches of the Borderis scarcely less beautiful and fertile, and has been celebrated by