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“O I am sent from a distant clime,
Five thousand miles away,
Done here 'twixt night and day.”
And thus began his say-
Did that Gray Brother lay.
THOMAS THE RHYMER.
IN THREE PARTS. few personages are so renowned in tradition as Thomas of Ercildoune, known by the appellation of The Rhymer. Uniting, or supposed to unite, in his person, the powers of poetical composition and of vaticination, his memory, even after the lapse of five hundred years, is regarded with veneration by his countrymen. To give anything like a certain history of this remarkable man would be indeed difficult ; but the curious may derive some satisfaction from the particulars here brought together.
It is agreed on all hands that the residence, and probably the birthplace, of this ancient bard, was Ercildoune, a village situated upon the Leader, two miles above its junction with the Tweed. The ruins of an ancient tower are still pointed out as the Rhymer's castle. The uniform tradition bears that his surname was Lermont, or Learmont; and that the appellation of The Rhymer was conferred upon him in consequence of his poetical compositions. There remains, nevertheless, some doubt upon the subject.
We are better able to ascertain the period at which Thomas of Ercildoune lived, being the latter end of the thirteenth century. I am inclined to place his death a little farther back than Mr Pinkerton, who supposes that he was alive in 1300 (List of Scottish Poets). It cannot be doubted that Thomas of Ercildoune was a remarkable and important person in his own time, since, very shortly after his death, we find him celebrated as a prophet and as a poet. Whether he himself made any pretensions to the first of these characters, or whether it was gratuitously conferred upon him by the credulity of posterity, it seems difficult to decide. If we may believe Mackenzie, Learmont only versified the prophecies delivered by Eliza, an inspired nun of a convent at Haddington. But of this there seems not to be the most distant proof. On the contrary, áll ancient authors, who quote the Rhymer's prophecies, uniformly Suppose them to have been emitted by himself.
The popular tale bears that Thomas was carried off, at an early age, to the Fairy Land, where he acquired all the knowledge which made him afterwards so famous. After seven years' residence, he was permitted to return to the carth, to enlighten and astonish his countrymen by his prophetic powers ; still, however, remaining bound to return to his royal mistress, when she should intimate her pleasure. Accordingly, while Thomas was making merry with his friends in the tower of Ercildoune, a person came running in, and told, with marks of fear and astonishment, that a hart and hind had left the neighbouring forest, and were, composedly and slowly, parading the street of the village. The prophet instantly arose, left his habitation, and followed the wonderful animals to the forest, whence he was never seen to return. According to the popular belief, he still “drees his weird" in Fairy Land, and is one day expected to revisit earth. In the meanwhile, his memory is held in the most profound respect. The Eildon Tree, from beneath the shade of which he delivered his prophecies, now no longer exists ; but the spot is marked by a large stone, called the Eildon Tree Stone. A neighbouring rivulet takes the name of the Bogle Burn (Goblin Brook) from the Rhymer's supernatural visitants.
It seemed to the Editor unpardonable to dismiss a person so important in Border tradition as the Rhymer, without some farther notice than a simple commentary upon the following ballad. It is given from a copy, obtained from a lady residing not far from Ercildoune, corrected and enlarged by one in Mrs Brown's MSS. The former copy, however, as might be expected, is far more
imale in the forest, whence he was never seen
minute as to local description. To this old tale the Editor has ventured to add a Second Part, consisting of a kind of cento, from the printed prophecies vulgarly ascribed to the Rhymer; and a Third Part, entirely modern, founded upon the tradition of his having returned with the hart and hind, to the Land of Faërie. To make his peace with the more severe antiquaries, the Editor has prefixed to the Second Part some remarks on Learmont's prophecies.
A ferlie he spied wi' his e'e ;
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.
Her mantle o' the velvet fyne ;
Hang fifty siller bells and nine.
And louted low down to his knee,
For thy peer on earth I never did see.”
“That name does not belang to me;
That am hither come to visit thee.
“Harp and carp along with me;
Sure of your bodie I will be."
That weird shall never danton me."
All underneath the Eildon Tree.
“True Thomas, ye maun go wi' me;
Through weal or woe as may chance to be."
She's ta'en true Thomas up behind;
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
The steed gaed swifter than the wind,
And living land was left behind.
And lean your head upon my knee :
And I will show
“O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers ?
Though after it but few inquires.
That lies across that lily leven ?-
Though some call it the road to heaven.
That winds about the fernie brae?
Where thou and I this night maun gae.
Whatever ye may hear or see ;
Ye'll ne'er get back to your ain countrie."
And they waded through rivers aboon the knee,
But they heard the roaring of the sea.
And they waded through red blude to the knee,
Rins through the springs o' that countrie.
And she pu'd an apple frae a tree-
"A gudely gift ye wad gie to me!
At fair or tryst where I may be.
Nor ask of grace from fair ladye."
“For, as I say, so must it be.”
And a pair of shoes of velvet green;
True Thomas on earth was never seen.
ALTERED FROM ANCIENT PROPHECIES. The prophecies, ascribed to Thomas of Ercildoune have been the principal means of securing to him remembrance "amongst the sons of his people.” The author of “Sir Tristrem" would long ago have joined, in the vale of oblivion, “Clerk of Tranent, who wrote the adventure of 'Schir Gawain,'” if, by good hap, the same current of ideas respecting antiquity, which causes Virgil to be regarded as a magician by the Lazaroni of Naples, had not exalted the bard of Ercildoune to the prophetic character. Perhaps, indeed, he himself affected it during his life. We know, at least, for certain, that a belief in his supernatural knowledge was current soon after his death. His prophecies are alluded to by Barbour, by Winton, and by Henry the Minstrel, or Blind Harry, as he is usually termed. None of these authors, however, give the words of any of the Rhymer's vaticinations, but merely narrate, historically, his having predicted the events of which :hey speak. The earliest of the prophecies ascribed to him, which is now extant, is quoted by Mr Pinkerton from a MS. It is supposed to be a response from Thomas of Ercildoune to a question from the heroic countess of March, renowned for the defence of the Castle of Dunbar against the Eng. lish, and termed, in the familiar dialect of her time, Black Agnes of Dunbar. This prophecy is remarkable, in so far as it bears very little resemblance to any verses published in the printed copy of the Rhymer's supposed prophecies.
Corspatrick (Comes Patrick), earl of March, but more commonly taking his title from his castle of Dunbar, acted a noted part during the wars of Edward I. in Scotland. As Thomas of Ercildoune is said to have delivered to him his famous prophecy of King Alexander's death, the author has chosen to introduce him into the following ballad. All the prophetic verses are selected from Hart's publication.
When seven years were come and gane,
The sun blinked fair on pool and stream;
Like one awakened from a dream.
He saw the flash of armour flee,
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.
Of giant make he 'peared to be:
Wi' gilded spurs, of faushion free.
Some uncouth ferlies show to me."
Thrice welcome, good Dunbar, to me!
And I will show thee curses three,
And change the green to the black livery.
From Rosse's Hills to Solway Sea.”
For the sun shines sweet on fauld and lea."
He showed him a rock, beside the sea,
And steel-dight nobles wiped their e'c.
By Flodden's high and heathery side,
And chieftains throng wi' meikle prid.
“ A Scottish king shall come full keen;
The ruddy lion beareth he:
Shall make him wink and warre to see. " When he is bloody, and all to bledde,
Thus to his men he still shall say*For God's sake, turn ye back again,
And give yon southern folk a fray! Why should I lose the right is mine?
My doom is not to die this day.' “Yet turn ye to the eastern hand,
And woe and wonder ye sall see; How forty thousand spearmen stand,
Where yon rank river meets the sea. “There shall the lion lose the gylte,
And the libbards bear it clean away; At Pinkyn Cleuch there shall be spilt
Much gentil blude that day.” “Enough, enough, of curse and ban;
Some blessing show thou now to me, Or, by the faith o' my bodie,” Corspatrick said,
“Ye shall rue the day ye e'er saw me!” “The first of blessings I shall thee show
Is by a burn, that's called of bread; Where Saxon men shall tine the bow,
And find their arrows lack the head. “Beside that brigg, out ower that burn,
Where the water bickereth bright and sheen, Shall many a falling courser spurn,
And knights shall die in battle keen. “Beside a headless cross of stone,
The libbards there shall lose the gree; The raven shall come, the erne shall go,
And drink the Saxoni blood sae free. The cross of stone they shall not know,
So thick the corses there shall be." “But tell me now,” said brave Dunbar,
“True Thomas, tell now unto me, What man shall rule the isle Britain,
Even from the north to the southern sea ?” “A French queen shall bear the son,
Shall rule all Britain to the sea; He of the Bruce's blood shall come,
As near as in the ninth degree. “The waters worship shall his race ;
Likewise the waves of the farthest sea; For they shall ride ower ocean wide,
With hempen bridles, and horse of tree.”