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Arthur, the romance of the Round Table being then at the height of popularity. Many circumstances are added, which do not occur in the metrical copies. It is here that the heresy concerning the cowardice of the Cornish nation first appears; there is not the least allusion to it in the ancient poems, and it is merely introduced to give effect to some comic adventures, in which Mark (le roy coux) is very roughly handled; and to others, in which certain knights, presuming upon the universal poltroonery of the Cornish, attack Tristram, and, according to the vulgar phrase, "catch a tartar." This volume is stated to be compiled by Luce, Lord of the castle of Gaft, near Salisbury, a name perhaps fictitious. But Luce, if that was his real name, is not singular in chusing the history of Tristram for the groundwork of his folio. There are two immense MSS. on the same subject in the Duke of Roxburgh's library, and one in the national library at Paris, and probably many others. The Morte Arthur, which you mention, is a book of still less authority than the Paris folio. It is not a history of the Cornish hero in particular, but a bundle of extracts, made by Sir T. Mallory, from the French romances themselves, founded on the more ancient metrical lais and jests; I suppose, however, Gibbon had not Mallory's authority for his observation, which he probably derived from the elegant abridgment of Sir Tristram, (I mean of the prose folio) published by Tressan, in Extraits des Romains de la Chevalerie.
"I would willingly add to this scrambling letter, a specimen of the romance of Tomas of Erceldoune, but for the hope of soon having it in my power to send the book itself, which is in the press. I fear that, in wishing to gratify your curiosity, I have been guilty of conferring much tediousness upon you; but as it is possible I may have omitted some of the very particulars you wish to know, I have only to add, that it will give me the highest pleasure to satisfy, as far as I am able, any of Mr. Polwhele's inquiries, to whose literary and poetical fame our northern capital is no stranger. On my part, I am curious to know if any recollection of Sir Tristram (so memorable elsewhere) subsists in his native country, whether by tradition, or in the names of places. Also, whether tradition or history points at the existence of such a place as Carlioun, which Tomas thus describes :—
'Tristremes ship was yare;
He asked his benisoon;
It hight Carlioun:
He hobled up and doun;
To a stede there him was boun,
Deivelin bight the toun,
I may just add, that Tristram is described as a celebrated musician and chess-player, and as the first who laid down regular rules for hunting. I beg to be kindly remembered to Mr. Carlyon, to whom I am much obliged for giving me an opportunity to subscribe myself, Sir,
"Your most obedient humble Servant,
To have thus fallen in, accidentally, with a person furnished with information connected with my native county, and so peculiarly interesting to myself, must have been very gratifying even if there had been nothing else to throw a glow of sunshine over the scene. But this was but one among many incidents which tended to repay us for the readiness with which we accommodated the Sheriff with all the room we could spare, and all he wanted; for from our first acquaintance till he quitted the neighbourhood, about a week in all, his attentions to us were unremitting; and all the return we could make was a present of trout to some friends of his upon whom we called in company with him. One day he took us with him to dine at Melrose, where we were to have met the celebrated African traveller, MungoPark; but it unfortunately happened that he was prevented joining our party. There was a brother of his present; and my friend and myself, after spending a pleasant day, were gratified, on our return home in the evening, by Scott's recital of the beautiful lines on Milrose Abbey,
"If thou would'st view fair Melrose aright,
with which the second Canto of the "Lay of the Last Minstrel" commences.
I am not able to say whether he had at that time committed any of " The Lay" to paper, but he was full of it, and recited long passages whenever the occasion, or the scene, afforded a fit opportunity.
Vol. n. H
The day on which I was kept at home by a sprained ancle, C. spent, throughout, with Mr. Scott; and I cannot forget the strong terms in which he expressed the gratification he had received from his day's excursion, when he and his kind companion rejoined me in the evening. They had been making a sort of raide, for purposes of the sheriffalty, through part of Selkirkshire; and skirting the banks of the Ettrick, had penetrated into a most beautiful and romantic country. It has not, indeed, the grandeur of highland scenery, but the hills, verdant to the summits, and rounded as if for the convenience of the flocks that depastured them, afforded a landscape of a singularly interesting character.
No unimportant part of the ceremony of the day consisted of a convivial dinner, at the house of a substantial yeoman, far up the dale; and so entirely well pleased was C. with the hospitality he had experienced, that he not only ventured to assure me a hearty welcome at the same quarters, a short time afterwards, but made it an additional inducement to me to take a day's fishing in the Ettrick. I was delighted with the scenery, and our success with our rods had been such as nearly to enable us to fill our baskets when we arrived, early in the afternoon, at the house of C's friend, which was situated only a few hundred yards from the river. We were somewhat tired from our day's exercise, (for fishing, well followed, is not merely a delightful pastime, but a trial, likewise, of strength) and our appetite, sharpened with the pure atmosphere we had been inhaling, would have been equal, after ten minutes' repose, to any task the best-replenished board could set us. We approached the garden-gate of the Ettrick yeoman; it was a remarkably neat but lonely residence; not a soul was there to be seen; the labourers were probably at their work; the dinner hour was passed and the table cleared, and we were not long in discovering the adverse fortune which awaited us. The owner himself, a rubicund, fat, and funny-looking figure, replied to our knock, by opening the door to us, and, little prescient of his visitors, was forthwith greeted by C, whom he could not fail of recognising as the merry friend of the Sheriff, who had so lately feasted at his board, and participated in the exhilarating influences of the convivial glass, and all the joyous incidents of a party where the spirit of Scott had communicated its enlivening impulse to the flow of mirth. These recollections flashed, no doubt, like lightning, on his mind. He had been particularly pleased with C, who had a good-humoured anecdote for every one, and every occasion, and, on parting, he invited him, again and again, to repeat his visit before he took leave of the Tweed. But never was a visit less opportune than ours. He had probably been enjoying a siesta, after a hearty dinner, when our knock startled him; for his presence of mind in a great measure forsook him, and his embarrassment was so painfully obvious that, after sitting a short time with him in his parlour, and partaking of a biscuit and a sip of mountain dew, we felt bound in charity to release him as soon as we possiby could. We therefore