VI. Supplementary Stanzas To Collin's Ode on the Superstitions of the Highlands
By William Erskine, Esq. Advocate
This accomplished and most dear friend of Sir Walter Scott became a judge of the Court of Session by the title of Lord Kinnedar, and died in August, 1822.
The Editor embraces this opportunity of presenting the reader with the following stanzas, intended to commemorate some striking Scottish superstitions, omitted by Collins in his Ode upon that subject; and which, if the Editor can judge with impartiality of the production of a valued friend, will be found worthy of the sublime original. The reader must observe, that these verses form a continuation of the address, by Collins, to the author of 'Douglas,' exhorting him to celebrate the traditions of Scotland. They were first published in the Edinburgh Magazine, for April, 1788.
Thy muse may tell, how, when at evening's close,
To meet her love beneath the twilight shade
O'er many a broom-clad brae and heathy glade,
In merry mood the village maiden goes;
There, on a streamlet's margin as she lies,
Chanting some carol till her swain appears,
With visage deadly pale, in pensive guise,
Beneath a wither'd fir his form he rears!*
Shrieking and sad, she bends her eirie flight,
When, mid dire heaths, where flits the taper blue,
Whilst the moon sheds dim a sickly light,
The airy funeral meets her blasted view!
When, trembling, weak, she gains her cottage low,
There magpies scatter notes of presage wide,
Some one shall tell, while tears in torrents flow,
That just when twilight dimmed the green hill's side,
Far in his lonely shiel her hapless shepherd died.
Let these sad strains to lighter sounds give place,
Bid thy brisk viol warble measures gay!
For, see! recall'd by thy resistless lay,
Once more the Brownie shows his honest face.
Hail, from thy wanderings long, my much-loved sprite,
Thou friend, thou lover of the lowly, hail!
Tell, in what realms thou sport'st thy merry night,
Trail'st the long mop, or whirl'st the mimic flail
Where dost thou deck the much disorder'd hell,
While the tired damsel in Elysium sleeps,
With early voice to drowsy workman call,
Or lull the dame, while Mirth his vigils keeps?
'Twas thus in Caledonia's domes, 'tis said,
Thou plied'st the kindly task in years of yore;
At last, in luckless hour, some erring maid
Spread in they nightly cell of viands store:
Ne'er was thy form beheld among their mountains more.
Then wake (for well thou canst) that wondrous lay,
How, while around the thoughtless matrons sleep
Soft o'er the floor the treach'rous fairies creep,
And bear the smiling infant far away;
How starts the nurse, when, for her lovely child,
She sees at dawn a gaping idiot stare!
O snatch the innocent from demons vilde,
And save the parents fond from fell despair!
In a deep cave the trusty menials wait,
When from their hilly dens at midnight's hour
Forth rush the airy elves in mimic state,
And o'er the moonlight-heath with swiftness scour.
In glittering arms the little horsemen shine;
Last on a milk-white steed, with targe of gold,
A fay of might appears, whose arms entwine
The lost, lamented child! the shepherds bold
The unconscious infant tear from his unhallow'd hold.
* The wraith, or spectral appearance, of a person shortly to die, is a firm article in the creed of Scottish superstition. Nor is it unknown in our sister kingdom.