the open casement, all night long, drifted the river’s murmur, like a
lullaby. No moon was there in the midnight sky wherewith to "view
aright" the witchery of "fair Melrose;" but the gentle airs
which came sighing, ever and again, across the abbey close, brought with
them plaintive memories of the place. No bell, it is true, tinkled its
summons there at vesper-time; no glory of altar lights within flamed
through the mullioned oriels; and on the listening night arose no harmony
of monkish voices chanting their evensong. Only the faint whispering of
the abbey trees at times recalled the fact that, close by, abbot and
priest lay asleep under the aisles which their sandalled feet once trod,
filling the heart with a strange awe and pity at the nearness and the
oblivion now of that once warmbreathing dust. Alas, the murmur of river
and sigh of night-wind tell us nothing of the dreams of those who sleep so
soundly and so long.
But morning has come—morning, with the crowing cock
and the waking town—a sunny morning, the inspiration of a pedestrian;
with the promise of a glorious day, though the mist lies grey yet in the
Two miles and a half to the east, towards Dryburgh, on
a little peninsula washed by the Tweed, lies the site of Old Melrose,
with, on the way to it by the river, the quiet village of New-stead,
famous for its sundials.
It was at Old Melrose that the original monastery
stood, the home of St Cuthbert, and the contemporary of lona and
Lindisfarne. By Bede it is stated to have become an establishment of great
celebrity so early as the year 664; and Nennius, who lived in 853A.D.,
mentions its destruction by pagan Danes. To this spot, from its situation,
as will be seen, more properly belongs the name, derived probably from the
Celtic mull ross, or "bare promontory," transferred
afterward to the later settlement. For the modern Melrose was anciently
known as Little Fordel.
But at Old Meirose little is left of the ancient hamlet
or of its Culdee monastery, which was probably built only of wood; and the
spot, with most of the countryside—river and tower and town — will be
very well seen from the top of Eildon Hill. A last look, then, at the
ruined pile in the quiet abbey close, a drink from the famous St Dunstan’s
Well, a glance at the quaint old market-cross of the town, with its
slender shaft and curious crest, whose upkeep forms the quit-rent of a
ridge of land close by; and then away for the top of the three-peaked
The supernatural lore with which the whole countryside
is invested has a legend to account for the strange shape of the mountain.
It seems that Michael Scot at one time found himself compelled to provide
occupation for a certain troublesome fiend. First he set the latter to
build a dam across the Tweed. This behest, however, to the wizard’s
surprise and dismay, was accomplished by the fiend in a single night. The
result is still to be seen near Kelso. A more formidable command seemed to
be to "cleave Eildon Hill in three." But the too energetic
familiar accomplished this second herculean feat likewise in a night; and
he was only found in constant employment finally by being set the somewhat
unsatisfactory task of manufacturing ropes out of sea-sand.
In the same way, popular legend assigns Eildon Tree on
the hillside just above Newstead as the spot at which Thomas of Ercildoune
first met the Queen of Faerie. Eildon Tree itself has now disappeared, but
the spot is marked by a large stone, known as Eildon Tree Stone. Here True
Thomas is popularly believed to have had that encounter with the elfin
queen which resulted in his acquisition of prophetic power. The account of
his adventure contains the boldest and most striking picture extant of the
enchanted middle world.
THOMAS THE RHYMER.
True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank;
A ferliehe spied wi’ his e’e;
And there he saw a lady bright,
Come riding down by the Eildon tree.
Her shirt was o’ the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o’ the velvet fine;
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane,
Hung fifty siller bells and nine.
True Thomas, he pulled aff his cap,
And louted low down to his knee,
"All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see."
"O no, O no, Thomas," she said,
"That name does not belang to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
That am hither come to visit thee."
"Harp and carp,Thomas," she said,
"Harp and carp along wi’ me;
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your body I will be."
Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never daunton me."
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon tree.
"Now, ye maun go wi’ me," she said;
"True Thomas, ye maun go wi’ me;
And ye mann serve me seven years,
Through weal or woe as may chance to be.’
She mounted on her milk-white steed;
She’s ta’en True Thomas up behind;
And aye, whene’er her bridle rung,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
O they rade on, and farther on;
The steed gaed swifter than the wind;
Until they reached a desert wide,
And living land was left behind.
"Light down, light down now, True Thomas,
And lean your head upon my knee;
Abide and rest a little space,
And I will shew you ferlies three.
"O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Though after it but few enquires.
And see ye not that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven ?
That is the path of wickedness,
Though some call it the road to heaven.
"And see not ye that bonnie road,
That winds about the ferny brae;
That is the road to fair Elfiand,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.
"But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
Whatever ye may hear or see;
For, if you speak a word in Elflyn land,
Ye’ll ne’er get back to your am countrie."
O they rade on, and farther on,
And they waded through rivers abune the knee,
And they saw neither sun nor moon,
But they heard the roaring of the sea.
It was mirk mirk night, there was nae stern light,
And they waded through red bluid to the knee;
For a’ the bluid that’s shed on earth
Rins through the springs o’ that countrie.
Sync they came to a garden green,
And she pu’d an apple frae a tree—
Take this for thy wages, True Thomas;
It will give thee the tongue that can never lee."
"My tongue is mine am," True Thomas said;
A gudely gift ye wad gi’e to me!
I neither doughti to buy nor sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be.
I dought neither speak to prince or peer,
Nor ask of grace from fair lady."
Now hold thy peace!" the lady said,
For as I say, so must it be."
He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green;
And till seven years were gane and past,
True Thomas on earth was never seen.
The hero of this ballad is remembered throughout the
Border to the present day, both as a poet and as a prophet. Again and
again during the middle centuries, down indeed to the reign of James VI.,
his supposed prophecies regarding public affairs were a force to be
counted on in the politics of the hour. If anyone wishes to consult them
at the present day, a considerable number are to be found in a small
volume published at Edinburgh by Andrew Hart in 1615. Prophecies of more
local import are probably current yet on the Border side.
One of these local prophecies contains a somewhat
pathetic reference to the fortunes of his own house—
The hare sail kittle on my hearth stane,
And there will never be a laird Learmont again.
Regarding another, Scott, in his note to the ballad in
his Minstrelsy, tells a curious story. The ownership of an estate
in this neighbourhood was the subject of one of the Rhymer’s prophecies
Tide may tide whate’er betide,
Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde.
This couplet had always been considered oracular, but
towards the end of last century the line of Haig seemed about to fail. The
laird of Bemersyde had been wedded for some twelve years without the
appearance of an heir, and the credit of prophet and prophecy seemed
about" to suffer. At last, however, past all expectation, the lady of
Bemersyde presented her husband with a son, and the circumstance confirmed
the popular confidence in the Rhymer’s prophetic power tenfold.
The prophecies of Thomas are mentioned with all respect
in Barbour’s Bruce, in Wyntoun’s Cronyhil, and in the Scala
Chronicon; and Thomas himself is mentioned by Henry the Minstrel as
residing in a religious house, the Faile, near Ayr, when the hero Wallace
was cast for dead over the wall of the prison in that town. He is pictured
upon that occasion by the Minstrel, as refusing stoutly, out of his
supernatural knowledge, to believe in the death of the future champion—a
refusal which was presently justified by Wallace’s nurse presenting the
The reputation of Thomas as a prophet, however, is
rivalled by his fame as a poet. Ercildoune stood upon the border of that
ancient Cymric kingdom between the Roman walls—the country of Arthur and
Gawain and Lancelot—to which reference has already more than once been
made. The traditions of that kingdom were still, probably, in his day the
common property of the country-side, as they already, in the mouths of
minstrels, formed the subjects of a whole cycle of courtly romance. As a
singer of these chivalric and romantic traditions, as well as an
interpreter of the spirit of the ancient race, Thomas must be regarded as
the successor of the Cymric Merlin himself. Partly, it appears probable,
from earlier compositions, and partly from local tradition, the Rhymer
composed ‘Sir Tristrem,’ the finest of the extant mediaeval romances
regarding the Cymric heroes. He is also believed to be the author of the
first part of a romantic poem in three fytts or cantos, which contains a
series of prophecies in chronological order regarding the events of
Scottish history for several centuries. It is of the first fytt of this
poem that the ballad above printed is the popular traditional version.
Jamieson, in his Popular Ballads of Scotland, suggested that in
order to gain credence for his predictions, which seem all to have been
calculated for the service of his country, Thomas pretended to an
intercourse with the elfin queen, as Numa Pompilius did with the nymph
Egeria. There is reason, however, to suppose that the story of the Rhymer’s
meeting with the elfin~ queen may represent some strange legend of a still
earlier time. For the hillside here, facing the mystic east, was probably
the scene of pagan rites as early as the days when Saul had dealings with
the Witch of Endor.
Upon many a strange historic scene has the silent
mountain looked down, though the record has been all but lost. Northward,
wave after wave across its foot, have come the tramplings of many nations.
A great Caledonian tumulus and the remains of a Roman encampment rest on
the mountain; in the Leader valley near, the British Arthur is said to
have fought his eighth great battle ; and under the shadow of the hill, in
Dryburgh, the Druids buried their dead. Like Ben Ledi, the "Hill of
God," in the north, Eildon would seem to have been consecrated by the
ashes of primeval altars.
In a grove on the north side of the middle hill the
Druids, according to tradition, offered their sacrifices. Underground,
too, in the hidden caverns of the mountain, according to the mythic
legends which in course of time invested the fate of the hero, King
Arthur, and his knights, brought hither by magic means after the last
great battle at Camelon, near Falkirk, in which they fell, lie in their
armour, waiting for the bugle call that shall break their enchanted sleep
and restore them to earthly life once more.
Beside each coal-black courser sleeps a knight,
A raven plume waves o’er each helmed crest,
And black the mail which binds each manly breast.
Say, who is he, with summons strong and high,
That bids the charmed sleep of ages fly,
Rolls the long sound through Eildon’s caverns vast,
While each dark warrior rouses at the blast,
His horn, his falcion grasps with mighty hand,
And peals proud Arthur’s march from Fairyland?
No better view of the Borderland is to be had than that
from the top of the Eildons; and it was hither, as to the Delectable
Mountains, that Scott brought Washington Irving and many another guest to
look upon the scene of ancient fire and foray.
Does not the storied vale of Tweed stretch away to the
eastward, by Kelso and Coldstream, to Berwick on its purple verge, and
dusky Flodden, where so dark a harvest once was reaped? Southward roll the
Cheviots, mindful of Otterbourne and Chevy Chase—those dire raids of the
Black Douglas and the Red—away to the hills of Liddesdale and Eskdale in
the direction of Merrie Carlisle. Due westward lies the pastoral vale of
Yarrow, home of so much romance. And to the north, beyond the smoke of
Galashiels, rise the Muirfoot Hills and the lonely Lammermuirs. Almost at
the mountain foot, too, stand the abbey ruins of Melrose, and of Dryburgh
among its woods? And, further off, Sir Walter could point out Smailholm
Tower, and tell how, in his grandfather’s farmhouse of Sandyknowe at its
foot, he, when a lame child, had listened long nights by the ingleside to
ballad and legend of his ancestors. He himself early invested that ancient
tower with a weird interest, by making it the scene of his tragic ‘Eve
of St John.’
By Smailholm, too, at Earlston, stands the ruin of the
tower of True Thomas, disposed of, with its lands, to the convent of
Soltra by the Rhymer’s son in 1299. And nearer lies the scene of a
well-known ballad, as romantic as, it is to be feared, it has been
mischievous —‘ The Broom o’ the Cowdenknowes.’
Quiet and beautiful at this time of year lies the road
through the woods down to Dryburgh. Under its swinging wire foot-bridge
the river runs clear and swift and broad; and the red fallen beech-leaves
make the path in front appear as if stained with blood—the blood, it
might be, of monks slain long ago in defence of their abbey.
The priests of all ages have chosen the sites of their
temples well. Here, in Dryburgh (perhaps Dryad, perhaps Druid burgh), on
the rich alluvial level in the depths of the primeval forest, girdled by
the swift and silvery Tweed, and on the ruined shrine, it may be, of some
older worship, the Druids reared an altar. No rude barbarians were these,
though they have left no books to tell us of their faith. Rather, indeed,
may they have been missionaries who brought to these islands the lore of
ancient Chaldea. The soul, we know from Ceasar, they deemed immortal, and
Bel they worshipped in the image of the sun. Their cup-hollowed stones may
have held water-mirrors for the reading of the heavens; and their circles
of monoliths, ranged suggestively in the distance-order of the planets,
formed dials of the time of year and day. Here, then, if the urn-shaped
stones which have come again to light after buried centuries could speak,
might be told many a tale of mystic rites performed to moon and sun two
long millenniums ago, and commemorated now only by the place’s name.
[Due consideration has hardly yet been given to
existing evidences of Druid lore. The late researches of Rawlinson and
others in the east have brought to light the fact that the menhirs and
cromlechs and circles of Scotland have an exact counterpart in the stone
remains existing in what was once Chaldea. It would appear, therefore,
that in order to discover something of the rites which took place in
prehistoric times beside these Scottish monuments, Ezekiel and other Bible
writers may be consulted, with their allusions to the rites around the
"fire-stones of Tyre." The late Dr Wylie, in his "History
of Scotland" (vol. I., chap. xi.), described a custom surviving, to
his knowledge, among the boys of Aberdeenshire. On Beltane day they kindle
a fire and bake a cake; then, breaking the cake into pieces, they blacken
one piece in the fire. All the pieces are then placed in a bonnet, and the
boy who draws the burnt piece from the bonnet is called
"devoted," and must leap three times through the flames. Here
would appear to exist a remnant of the custom alluded to in Scripture, of
passing children through the fire to Moloch or Baal. We are also aware
that in early Scotland, upon Beltane eve, the first of May, the flame of
every hearth was extinguished, and the Druids, assembled on Ben Ledi (the
Hill of God, as the name signifies), waited for the new fire to descend
from heaven and rekindle their altar. A trench still exists across the top
of the mountain, which may have borne some part in this ceremony. Again in
the construction of the cairns at Clava, near Culloden, a peculiarity has
been pointed out to the present writer by an enthusiastic antiquary, Mr
George Bain, of the Nairnshire Telegraph, which is certainly
suggestive. Each cairn consists of a chamber covered by a heap of stones
and surrounded by several con- centric rings of monoliths. The peculiarity
consists in the fact that the distance from the centre of the chamber to
its walls, from the walls to the outer edge of the cairn, from there to
the first ring of stones, and so on, corresponds to our modern knowledge
of the distance-order of the various planets from the sun. Further, by a
nautical observation taken on the spot, it was ascertained that two paved
ways, observed within several of the circles, marked the shadow of the
southernmost stone as cast by the sun at the spring and autumn equinox
respectively, denoting, perhaps, the seasons of seedtime and harvest.
Facts like these would seem to point to the existence among the
prehistoric priesthood of Scotland of an astronomical knowledge of
hitherto unsuspected extent, and they furnish striking corroboration of
the statement of Caesar (De. Bell. Gall., vi. 14): "Multa
praeterea de sideribus, atque eorum motu, de mundi ac terrarum magnitudine,
de rerum natura, de deorum immortalium vi ac potestate disputant, et
Here, later, came the iron Roman, and left his ashes in
coffin of stone, far from his home by the yellow Tiber.’ Presently, in
their turn, the simple Culdees brought hither the elements of Christian
faith. And, last of all, the lord of Lauderdale, Hugh De Moreville, in
1141 founded on the spot a house of the White Canons. This same Moreville
or his son, it may be remembered, was one of those four avenging barons
who secretly left Henry II.’s court in Normandy, hurried over to
England, and, on Dec. 29, 1170, transacted that dark scene in the
cathedral at Canterbury, the assassination of Thomas a Becket.The
founder’s grave is marked with a circle drawn on the earthen floor of
the Chapter House.
And here, among the ashes of his ancestors, rest the
remains of the author of ‘Waverley.’ For Dryburgh, now owned by the
Earls of Buchan, had belonged to the family of Scott’s grandmother, the
Haliburtons of Newmains. The poet lies under the last fragment of the
groined roof in St Mary’s aisle, his wife and his soldier son by his
side, and his son-in-law, Lockhart, at his feet—a tranquil and
appropriate rest for one who loved so much to dwell amid the glories of
Daws preen their wings in the ruins now, and wild
wood-doves rustle at home in the trees close by; but the pilgrim comes
hither still to worship at the shrine of the past, and, under the
ancestral cedars and sycamores, feels something gather upon him of the awe
of lost religions.
Through a rich cultivated loneliness the road winds
back across the Tweed and down the country southwards from St Boswells.
Partly following the line of the ancient Roman road, or Watling Street,
its character, on a still day of late autumn, suits well with the mood of
the reminiscent pedestrian. From the quiet fields the harvest has been
gathered in; only sometimes in the distance there is heard the creaking of
a loaded cart bearing the last sheaves home. Among the woods, where the
air is heavy with scents that recall old garden memories, the brown road
rises between hedges of glowing russet red, deep yellow, and fading green;
overhead in the avenues the branches of the stirless trees are stained,
like cathedral clerestories at afternoon, with the rich splendours of
their autumn colour; and from the woodland depths on either hand only
sometimes is the stillness broken by the whistle of a bird.
Slowly the country ascends to Lilliard’s Edge, the
watershed between Tweed and Teviot. Here, just on the ridge, in the heart
of the plantation to the left of the road, lies a lonely walled grave with
a history. It is quaintly inscribed, "To a’ true Scotsmen. I hae
mendit it. To you I commend it." In the hollow of Ancrum Moor just
beyond, it was, that, three hundred years ago, was fought a great battle
of the Borders. Following the devastating raid of Lord Hertford, already
referred to in connection with the destruction of Melrose Abbey, Henry
VIII. had assigned to Sir Ralph Evers and Sir Brian Laitoun possession of
whatever lands they might capture in Scotland; and, in 1544, these
filibustering barons had laid waste with dreadful havoc the valleys of
Merse and Teviotdale. In 1545 they came north again with 5200 men, and,
ravaging as they went, had reached Meirose, where, the abbey itself being
already destroyed, they vented their spirit in mutilating the memorials of
the dead — among others, the tombs of the Dark Knight of Liddesdale and
of the Douglas who fell at Otterbourne. Presently, however, they heard
that the Earl of Angus, breathing vengeance for the destruction of these
tombs of his race, was, with Albany, the Regent of Scotland, gathering a
force to oppose them. At these tidings they retired towards Jedburgh; and
Angus, with but a fifth of their force, was not able to do more than hang
upon their rear. On Ancrum Moor close by here, however, the earl was
reinforced by Norman Leslie, Master of Rothes, with three hundred spearmen
from Fife ; and Scott of Buccleugh came galloping up to say that his
Borderers were rising. Angus then invented a strategy. Dismounting his
men, he made the camp-boys ride back on the horses up the hillside here
behind him. Evers perceiving this, and believing the Scots to be in
retreat, made hasty pursuit, and his troops, coming precipitately over the
brow of the next hill, with the afternoon sun blazing full in their faces,
almost ran upon the spear-points of the compact little company of the
north. A long account was due for the ravages Evers had been making in
Scotland, and it was settled then. A thousand of his men, with Laitoun and
himself, were slain, and almost as many were made prisoners; small mercy
being granted to foes who, in their time of power, had shown none. Many
gallant deeds were done on the field that day, and many hard blows given
and taken. But the greatest credit of all in the fight was won by a
Scottish maid. This young woman, tradition runs, had followed her lover
from the village of Maxton, close by, and seeing him fall, she rushed with
Amazonian courage to avenge him, dealing her blows right and left to such
good purpose that she was largely the means of turning the fight, and her
name was given to the battle-field. The ancient epitaph re-inscribed upon
her tomb reads :—
Fair maiden Lilliard lies under this stane;
Little was her stature, but muckle was her fame.
Upon the English loons she laid mony thumps,
And when her legs were cuttit off she fought upon her stumps.
The conditions under which she continued the struggle
are somewhat similar, it will be noticed, to those recorded of Squire
Withington at the battle of Chevy Chase. Poor lass! if the story be true,
hers was a doughty way of expressing her grief. At the same time there
must be taken into account the fact, pointed out by Skene, that the name
Lilliard’s Edge may be no more than a modification of Lilisyhater, the
name of the spot in the 12th century.
Downhill from Lilliard’s Edge the road runs to
Teviotside through forests lone and fair, with hamlet and cottage
sometimes in leafy glade and on open hillside. Yellow canariensis and
purple clematis flower late on the walls of these; but the crimson
tropeolum has seeded by October, and the blue convolvulus is withered.
Historic associations are crusted thick upon the
landscape here. A little way down the road which branches off to the right
lies Ancrum village. An ancient appanage of the bishopric of Glasgow, it
enjoyed the distinction of being burned by the Earl of Rutland, when
pursuing D’Esse, the French ally of the Scots, in 1549. The place has a
cross of the date of Alexander III., and extensive remains of a hospital
of the Knights of St John. There are the ruins near it, too, of a Pictish
fort, and of one of the monasteries of David I., besides fifteen caves of
refuge in the rocky banks of the Ale Water, similar retreats to the caves
at Rosslyn used by Ramsay of Dalhousie in the wars of David Bruce.
But Jedburgh is still two miles away, and already it is
growing dusk. There is time only for a glance at the deer in the
forest-park about Ancrum House. The place was the favourite residence of
William De Bondington, Bishop of Glasgow in the thirteenth century; and he
died here, after resigning his bishopric, like Abbot Boniface, in 1258.
About the house, in the twilight, a mighty cawing of rooks fills the air,
and the moss-grown gateway looks ancient enough to have seen the entry of
the good prelate himself. On, however, across the stone bridge of the
Teviot, with its quaint pointed pillars; and up the quiet little valley of
the Jed. And as the gloaming at last deepens into mirk, it is pleasant to
hear the bells of Jedburgh ringing the quarter-chimes.
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