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“ Had Sir Walter Scott ever read through the Arthour and Merlin of the Auchinleck MS, he would have known that it could not be the Gest Teferred to in the above passage by Wyntown; and Mr Turnbull, the editor of this romance, is less excusable on this account in repeating the error without correction. But of what, in all probability, is the veritable Gest of Arthure composed by Huchowne, and written in alliterative metre, I possess a transcript, from a MS. in Lincoln Cathedral Library, which may, probably, at some future period be given to the press."
This MS.—the Morte Arthure—was first printed by Mr Halliwell, in the year 1847, and again by the Society in 1865, edited by Mr Perry, who, on the authority of Dr R. Morris, asserted it to be not Scottish, but composed in one of the Northumbrian dialects spoken south of the Tweed. And upon the same authority, the Stately Poem of the Destruction of Troy has been pronounced, in one of the Society's Reports, to be the work of an English writer of the Midland counties.
The sufficient internal evidence to which Sir F. Madden refers, as proving the northern origin of Sir Gawan, of the three metrical pieces referred to on page xxiv, and, doubtless, also of the Morte Arthure, must mean the words, expressions, or language of the poems, as distinguished from the mere spelling, or peculiarities of form, which, in his estimation, can only indicate the transcribers or copyists of the MSS.
The latter, the spelling and external forms in a MS.—the production or handiwork of one, or it may be of several transcribers, as we have already remarked, may point out or prove the country and perhaps even the county of the last transcriber ; but unless they are component parts of, or inseparably connected with, the words or expressions themselves, they are and must be no very strong foundation on which to rest the proof as to the real source of the language and the authorship of a work. And yet it is upon the ground of the spelling and external forms of the words, mainly or wholly, that it has been contended that the Morte Arthure is Northumbrian and Midland, and that the Stately Poem is Midland, without the Northumbrian.
It may be more than doubted that we have yet a sufficiency of MSS., and especially a sufficient number of examples of each work,
printed or accessible, to furnish the external forms and reliable criteria by which alone, and without other evidence, we may determine otherwise than generally the authorship and localities of our unnamed, or unknown, early English literature. That the words, language, or vocabulary, of unknown works, alone and irrespective of other internal evidence, do not in all cases form a perfectly safe guide either, must be at once admitted. When words, however, are combined into phrases and compound expressions, the ground becomes firmer. Much has been done with Glossaries, but very much more must be accomplished before we can draw out a list of test words, the presence of which will enable us to define the exact limits within which a work was originally produced. But although it may be difficult, or even impossible, to compile such a list at present, if ever, yet it would be quite possible from the works of Barbour, Henry, Wyntown, Bellenden, and other early Scottish writers, to produce a list of words and phrases, the absence of which from any work, or the expression of their meaning by other and Southern words, would conclusively prove that it could not be Scottish, whatever else it might be. Such a negative test, if we may call it so, both the Morte Arthure and the Stately Poem, we are satisfied, can stand.
The writer of this, in the course of his investigations in connection with the present poem, has examined personally or by deputy several MSS., or versions of Guido de Colonna, and of Lydgate's Troy Book, and has had many portions of these transcribed for reference and comparison. Amongst others he has had transcribed several passages from Douce MS. 148, one very long one, containing Lydgate's account of the rebuilding of Troy by Priam. This MS., like that in the Cambridge University Library, Kk. 5. 30, was the transcript of a Scottish writer who tells us at the conclusion,
Heir endis ye sege of Troye written and mendit at ye Instance of ane honorable chaplane Ser Thomas ewyn in Edinburgh.
Now from these long passages of about 400 lines, did we not know whose work the MS. was, we could very easily produce from the spellings and peculiar forms--- from such words as thai, thar, thaim, quhat, quhilk, quhom, quhar, quhylome, thir, war callit, mak,
couth, sicht, crukit, ferd (fourth), sext, straike, ane, ayre, polyst, chakker, has ordunyt, for 'hath ordeyned,' one rawe, for ' a rowe,' &c.; and especially from such lines as
“For thir pepill destroyit war certane,"
Cosyng lason tak hede quhat I sall sayne ;
Besyd ane holt, he saw quhar stude ane tre; occurring in them-an amount of evidence to prove that portions of it were originally written by a Scottish author, quite as complete and sufficient as may be advanced to prove that the Morte Arthure is Northumbrian and Midland, and that the Stately Poem is Midland. Had a second 'honorable chaplane’ taken the MS. in hand, and especially had it been written to dictation, as our Poem evidently has been, the remaining portions in which Ser Thomas Ewyn was more faithful to his copy, and which in consequence are manifestly English, would have been thoroughly “ mendit," and all obvious traces of its Southern origin removed, such as en from the infinitives, y from the perfect participles, &c. And yet upon comparing these extracts with the parallel passages in the printed version of Lydgate executed by Marsh, it is remarkable to find, among all the changes of spelling, &c., how few words, if any, have been changed for others by the Scottish transcriber. The first word that I noticed, as quite different from that in Marsh, was ythakkede, which, from its form and from its occurring in a portion apparently untouched, I am of opinion is Lydgate's original word—the change to covered having taken place in the modernized version. Had the MS. been again transcribed, it would have probably become thakked, and if written to dictation, either thek yd or theikkit, as respectively in Wyntown and Bellenden. The passages from both, in which the change has been made, are as follow :
"Men to wolken to-gidder, tweyn and tweyn,
Douce MSS. 148.
I “Wyth lede the south yle thekyd alsua."—Wyntown, ix. 6. 124.
“He theikkit the kirk with leid.”— Bellend. Cron., B. xii. c. 16.
"Men to walke togithers, twaine and twaine,
every howse covered was with lead.” &c.—Marsh, 1555. Two or three other differences were found, upon a second and closer examination, but with respect to these, one only excepted, it would be difficult to say on which side the change had taken place. In the case of that one, awhaped, stunned, as in Marsh, it is evident that the transcriber's
“Copie, auld, mankit and mutillait,” had failed him, and he made no bad guess in ay wepit, still wept, which he supplied. It may be a question whether another, Batallede, in the Douce MS., is the original word or changed. It is bretexed in Marsh. Another, engins, in Douce, is most likely the original word, which in Marsh has been changed or glossed into great gonnes. One word alone may have been intentionally changed in the case of ‘yates of zetten brasse ', molten or fused brass, which in Marsh are 'gates of shining brass. The word occurs in Douglas as yett and zyt; but it is also in the Ormulum, 17418. It occurs as yetting in our poem, 1 8175; and 'yettin of the gun'occurs in the Royal Chamberlain's Accounts, Scotland.
By some, Huchoune of the Aule Ryale may be considered only a myth or ghostly shade, while coolly appropriated as an English poet by others; although Wyntown designates him so as evidently to be recognized by his fellow countrymen and contemporary readers, and he eulogizes and defends his writings with an affectionate warmth and zeal by no means natural towards a Southron. Lydgate is not a myth, however; while most of the works ascribed to him, and especially his well-known Troy Book, are no myths either. Of the latter we know of five different MSS., from all of which we have various extracts, and there are scores of others; while, in addition, there are two printed versions of the work, viz. those of Pynson and Marsh. There can be no doubt, then, of the solidity of our ground here, and, reasoning from the known to the unknown, may we not conclude that what has taken place in this case, in the transcription of an English work into the Scottish form or dress, will not be very unlike what would take place, were the order reversed, in the transcription of a Scottish work into the English form or dress? Here we kno our author, we know his language, and we see what changes a Scottish transcriber makes in the expression of it. Now, if so very few words be changed, if changed they be, with one exception, in such a lengthened specimen, may we not conclude that, in the case of a Scottish author's work transcribed by an Englishman or by Englishmen, there would be similar stability, so to speak, in its wording or language, whatever became of the spelling or external forms? If so, then we are warranted in concluding from the many undeniable Scottish words, &c., in the Morte Arthure, that it is the work of a Scottish man whose language has been externally disguised somewhat in spelling, or changed, if you will, by Midland forms, but which, for all that, still remains substantially the language of its original author. In this connection, we may give in an appendix five or six specimens, which will bear out our contention most satisfactorily.
We return, however, to the remarks of Sir F. Madden. After a very careful and repeated examination of the passage in Wyntown from which he quotes, we are more and more convinced of the correctness of his opinion, and that the Morte Arthure, copied by Thornton, and printed by the Society, is the Gret Gest of Arthure, the Gest Il ystoriale and the Gest of Broyttys Auld Story, to which Wyntown was expressly alluding as the work of Huchoune of the Aule Ryale. The passage in Wyntown, Lib. V. cap. xii. 1. 251–362, thus begins :
“ And quhen this Leo was Emperowre,
Kyng of Brettane wes Arthowre,
'We may indicate a few such examples here. M. A. 1. 276—282; 292, &c. ; 339—349; 360; 367 ; 377 ; 403; 468; 519–521 ; 526; 704, &c. ; 916, &c. &c.