All entries for February 2012

February 20, 2012

The Antiquary and the Ancient Scottish Ballad Tradition

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Sir Walter Scott's The Antiquary is littered with rhymes, tracts, proverbs and ancient English and Scottish ballads-- making up a rich tapestry of intertextuality and oral history. The Scottish ballad tradition was first noted in the early seventeenth century. and by the eighteenth century (as Anglicization took hold), a keen interest in these ballads had developed, leading to the translation and publication of several well-known ballads, such as The Elfin Knight (c.1610):

MY plaid awa, my plaid awa,
And ore the hill and far awa,
And far awa to Norrowa,
My plaid shall not be blown awa.

1 The elphin knight sits on yon hill,
Ba, ba, ba, lilli ba
He blaws his horn both lewd and shril.
The wind hath blown my plaid awa

2 He blowes it east, he blowes it west,
He blowes it where he lyketh best.

3 'I wish that horn were in my kist,
Yea, and the knight in my armes two.'

4 She had no sooner these words said,
When that the knight came to her bed.

5 'Thou art over young a maid,' quoth he,
'Married with me thou il wouldst be.'

6 'I have a sister younger than I,
And she was married yesterday.

7 'Married with me if thou wouldst be,
A courtesie thou must do to me.

8 'For thou must shape a sark to me,
Without any cut or heme,' quoth he.

9 'Thou must shape it knife-and-sheerlesse,
And also sue it needle-threedlesse.'

10 'If that piece of courtesie I do to thee,
Another thou must do to me.

11 'I have an aiker of good ley-land,
Which lyeth low by yon sea-strand.

12 'For thou must eare it with thy horn,
So thou must sow it with thy corn. Visit for more songs.

13 'And bigg a cart of stone and lyme,
Robin Redbreast he must trail it hame.

14 'Thou must barn it in a mouse-hell,
And thrash it into thy shoes sell.

15 'And thou must winnow it in thy looff,
And also seek it in thy glove.

16 'For thou must bring it over the sea,
And thou must bring it dry home to me.

17 'When thou hast gotten thy turns well done,
Then come to me and get thy sark then.'

18 'I'l not quite my plaid for my life;
It haps my seven bairns and my wife.'
The wind shall not blow my plaid awa

19 'My maidenhead I'1 then keep still,
Let the elphin knight do what he will.'
The wind's not blown my plaid awa

Sir Walter Scott was himself a keen antiquary, collecting tracts and ballads (as well as books, coins and other artifacts) from early childhood, remarking in 1810 that: 'This little collection of Stall tracts and ballads was formed by me, when a boy, from the baskets of the travelling pedlars. Until put into its present decent binding it had such charms for the servants that it was repeatedly, and with difficulty, recovered from their clutches. It contains most of the pieces that were popular about thirty years since, and, I dare say, many that could not now be procured for any price'. In The Antiquary, these are rewritten, altered, adapted-- spoken and mimicked by many different characters at contrasting moments throughout the text, linking the sequence of events and also defeating class and social boundaries.

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