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THOMAS THE RHYMER.
BY W. SCOTT.
Thomas The Rhymer was renowned among his contemporaries as the author of the celebrated romance of Sir Tristrem. Of this once-admired poem only one copy is now known to exist, which is in the Advocates' Library. The Editor, in 1804, published a small edition of this curious work; which, if it does not revive the reputation of the Bard of Ercildoune, is at least the earliest specimen of Scottish poetry hitherto published. Some account of this romance has already been given to the world in Mr. Ellis's Specimens of Ancient Poetry, vol. i. p. 165, iii. p. 410; a work to which our predecessors and our posterity are alike obliged; the former, for the preservation of the best-selected examples of their poetical taste; and the latter, for a history of the English Ian
guage, which will only cease to be interesting with the existence of our mother-tongue, and all that genius and learning have recorded in it. It is sufficient here to mention, that so great was the reputation of the romance of Sir Tristrem, that few were thought capable of reciting it after the manner of the author—a circumstance alluded to by Robert de Brunne, the annalist:—
"I see in song, in sedgeyng tale,
Of Erceldoun, and of Kendale,
Now thame says as they thame wroght,
And in thare saying it semes nocht.
That thou may here in Sir Tristrem,
Over gestes it has the steme,
Over all that is or was;
If men it said as made Thomas," &c.
It appears, from a very curious MS. of the thirteenth century, penes Mr. Douce of London, containing a French metrical romance of Sir Tristrem, that the work of our Thomas the Rhymer was known, and referred to, by the minstrels of Normandy and Bretagne. Having arrived at a part of the romance where reciters were wont to differ in the mode of telling the story, the French bard expressly cites the authority of the poet of Ercildoune:—
"Plusurs de nos granter ne volent,
Quant il afole Kaherdin;
Qu* ico neputpas esteer," &c.
The tale of Sir Tristrem, as narrated in the Edinburgh MS., is totally different from the voluminous romance in prose, originally compiled on the same subject by Rusticien de Puise, and analyzed by M. de Tressan; but agrees in every essential particular with the metrical performance just quoted, which is a work of much higher antiquity.
The following attempt to commemorate the Rhymer's poetical fame, and the traditional account of his marvellous return to Fairy Land, being entirely modern, would have been placed with greater propriety among the class of Modern Ballads, had it not been for its immediate connexion with the first and second parts of the same story.
THOMAS THE RHYMER.
When seven years more were come and gone,
Was war through Scotland spread,
Then all by bonny Coldingknow,2
And crested helms, and spears a-rowe,
1 Ruberslaw and Dunyon, are two hills near Jedburgh.
2 An ancient tower near Ercildoune, belonging to a family of the name of Home. One of Thomas's prophecies is said to have run thus:—
"Vengeance! vengeance! when and where?
On the house of Coldingknow, now and ever mair!"
The spot is rendered classical by its having given name to the beautiful melody called the Broom o' the CoiotUnbiows.
The Leader, rolling to the Tweed,
Resounds the ensenzie;1
The feast was spread in Ercildoune,
And there were knights of great renown,
Nor lacked they, while they sat at dine,
The music nor the tale,
Nor mantling quaighs 8 of ale.
True Thomas rose, with harp in hand,
When as the feast was done: (In minstrel strife, in Fairy Land,
The elfin harp he won.)
Hush'd were the throng, both limb and tongue,
And harpers for envy pale;
And hearken'd to the tale.
1 Ensenzie—War-cry, or gathering word. 2 Torwoodlee and Caddenhead are places in Selkirkshire; both the property of Mr. Pringle of Torwoodlee.
8 Quaighs—Wooden cups, composed of staves hooped together.