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Book. I only knew that it was a Scotch manuscript, formerly in the Duke of Lauderdale's collection, which was sold by auction in 1692, and that it had been bought with several others from the same library by Bishop Moore, and transferred with the rest of his books to the University by the munificence of King George in 1715. My immediate object was to see how far Lydgate's southern English had been modified in the process of transcription by a Scottish scribe. The original volume was mutilated both at beginning and end, and the missing parts had been supplied in writing, from the printed edition of 1555, by one Sir James Murray of Tibbermure, who owned the book in 1612. However, on turning over a few leaves near the end of the original scribe's work, I was struck with a line in larger handwriting (that used throughout the volume for rubrics), running as follows:
'Her endis the monk ande begynnis barbour;'
and on turning back, I found a similar rubric near the beginning: 'Her endis barbour and begynnis the monk.'
It was further apparent that the lines before this note at the beginning, as far as they were preserved (about 600), and after the note at the end (about 1500 or 1600), were not Lydgate couplets of verses of five accents, but Romance couplets of verses of four accents. A few lines were enough to shew me that the language was anything but southern English; and I had little doubt that I had stumbled upon some fragments of a large work by the earliest known Scotch poet, of which I did not recollect to have seen any notice. . . . . It is difficult to understand how these fragments came to occupy the place which they hold in the present MS. The only explanation I can suggest is that the Scotch scribe, wishing to make a copy of Lydgate's story of the Destruction of Troy, was only able to procure for his purpose a copy mutilated at beginning and end; and that, in transcribing, he supplemented his original by taking the missing portions of the story from the antiquated (and in his eyes less refined) translation made by his own countryman in the previous century. King James seems to have carried back with him into Scotland the knowledge of the English poetry of his day. There is ample evidence of the popularity of Chaucer in Scotland in the latter half of the fifteenth century; several of his smaller poems are only known to us from Scotch copies of them; and one indeed is among the earliest productions of the Edinburgh press. It need not then be matter of surprise to us if the great popularity of Lydgate in England had spread his fame across the border. I still thought that anonymous copies of Barbour's Siege of Troy might have been preserved either entire or, as here, combined with Lydgate's work, and suggested this to my friends in Scotland; but at present all that I can say is that they know of no poem of the kind lying unclaimed. While, however, so many libraries remain unexplored, it is very probable that a more complete copy may yet be discovered. . .
"P.S. My conjecture has been verified to some extent. I have since
had the good fortune to discover in the Douce Collection a copy which furnishes about 1200 additional lines towards the close of the poem. Being at Oxford for some weeks this summer, I was enabled, thanks to the unequalled kindness of Mr Coxe, to explore at my leisure whole departments of the Bodleian Library. I was searching for printed books; but seeing a MS. of Lydgate's Troy Book in an adjoining book-case, I was tempted to take it down, although I knew that all the Bodleian Lydgates had been just recently examined with great care for the committee of the Early English Text Society. It is a Scotch MS., and was probably copied from the Cambridge MS. before ours was so much mutilated. The beginning is Lydgate, the volume closes1 with the last few lines of Lydgate's poem, and the rubrics about Barbour and the Monk are omitted; so that it is not to be wondered at that even Mr Douce himself should have overlooked it, to say nothing of more recent investigators."
That the two MSS. may have had a common origin, and been written and "mendit," at the end at least, by the same chaplain that executed the Douce copy, is very probable and likely, but that the one was copied from the other is disproved, I think, by the various differences existing between them, as shown by parallel extracts, which I have had taken from both. The Douce MS., for example, has not the concluding portion, if indeed it has any, of the first 600 lines of Barbour, which are found in the other. In the Cambridge MS. these lines conclude thus ::
"And thus of Medea fynd I
No neuer sall be pure no ryk.
Of dyuerse Cercles and reuolutions
1 From an extract, now before me, from this MS., the case really stands thus: Folio 336 and last commences with four lines of Barbour, then follow 32 lines of Lydgate; the long episodical address to Henry V., in which he describes himself, mentions Chaucer, &c., consisting of 235 lines, is omitted, and then the "mendit" poem concludes with the last five lines of Lydgate.
The corresponding passage in the Douce MS., fol. 25b., is as follows:
"1Quhen he movis onder eliptike lyne
The clipse mought follow as auctoures list dissyne
Of boith twayn full coniunctioun
And ye mone be set eke in ye tale
As by nature yan It may nought fale
That yn [yre] must fall eclipse of werray neid
The first ten lines of this extract are Lydgate's, modified in spell-
I had not gone over much of the Stately Poem in proof before I
In Marsh, 1555, these two lines are
"Whan so he meueth under the Clyptik lyne, The Clipse mott folow as Auctours list diffine." Evidently a mistake for cercles.
[fol. 26 a.]
and might even be spoken by them, without the slightest suspicion that they were uttering anything either archaic or foreign. In my native county of Fife many an urchin, "yonge and yepe," or "yaup," not long intrusted with "breeks," were he visiting Cupar, the capital of the ancient "Kingdom,"
"Hit is the Soveraiyne citie of the soyle ever,
might, on his return home, give an account of his expedition very much in the words of the poem, and tell that he had
"Steppit up to a streite streght on his gate,
As (he) past on the payment the pepull behelde,
The "gude folke" at home would not only understand every word, "grese" perhaps not excepted, of this account taken or made up from the passage 351-372, but consider that the account was expressed in most appropriate broad Scotch, taught him by "hom selvyne;" and if told that this was South-Midland English, they would "threpe," and with a "birr" too, that it was no more English than it was French or Gaelic. It must indeed be admitted, however, that were the same urchin sufficiently advanced to be in Latin, and translating Cæsar into his vernacular, he and they would as stoutly aver that he was turning his author into English. I question if a South-Midland peasant, or Englishman far south of the Tyne, could even pronounce some of the words in this passage, and yet were I reading, more Scottico, these lines and many other similar ones to a class of boys or girls, able to write, in a parish school, I venture to say that I would "belyve" get them back, almost in the very guise or form in which they are "brevit" in
our "Boke." And there are passages moreover, not a few, in which occur, within a short space, several undeniably Scottish or Northern words of peculiar meanings, still retained in use, and spelt, curiously enough, almost exactly as now pronounced. So that, reasoning according to the mere doctrine of chances, it may be concluded with certainty that so many could never have come together, or been used in their present connection, unless the author had been a Scotsman or Northumbrian, to the manner born. I may give here two or three such passages.
"Steppit up to a streite, streght on his gate."
"Gate masons full mony, that mykull fete couthe;
Louely and large to logge in hym seluyn,
Of sede that is sawen, by sesyng of briddes,
Shuld never corne for care be caste vppon erthe."
There are scores of such passages, one of which, longer and more peculiarly note-worthy, will engage our attention further on.
But the author of the Stately Poem, while, I believe, a Scotsman, was something more. Other passages still more remarkable and specially characteristic, describing the sea, its storms, and Voyaging; woodcraft, rural and silvan scenes; war, its conflicts and bloody work; courts, with their receptions and feastings; councils, their deliberations and debates, &c., when translated or amplified/ from Guido de Colonna, show not only the skill of the poet, but are often hit off with an appropriate ease and deftness of hand that mark the experienced sailor, hunter, warrior, courtier, and statesman. The author, experto crede, if a landsman, must have been at sea
A similar experiment tried in some parts of the North of England would, I have little doubt, be attended by a like result.