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The author of this celebrated ballad was Lady Wardlaw, second daughter of Sir Charles Halket, of Pitferran. She was born in 1677; and in 1696 was married to Sir Henry Wardlaw of Balmulie, or Pitrivie, in Fifeshire. She died about the year 1727.
It is difficult which most to admire, the mind capable of producing such a poem, or the modesty of sending it into the world anonymously. It must be remembered, too, that "Hardyknute" was composed at a period unusually dark in the literary history of ScotA .
land, and when poetical genius, in particular, seems to have slumbered; at least, no composition of those times exists, possessing, in a nearly equal degree, the vigour and lofty versification of " Hardyknute."
Lady Wardlaw, who seems to have wished to deceive the world into an opinion of the antiquity of the ballad, for the greater security, as her own poetical talents were well known, employed her brother-in-law, Sir John Bruce of Kinross, to communicate the MS. to Lord Binning, with the following account: "In performance of my promise, I send you a true copy of the manuscript I found a few weeks ago, in an old vault at Dumfermline. It is written on vellum, in a fair Gothic character, but so much defaced by time, as you'll find, that the tenth part is not legible *."
* From the words I found, &c. in this letter, Mr Pinkerton supposes that Sir John himself was the author; but the following circumstances will, it is believed,
The ballad was first published in 1719, by some literary gentlemen, who believed it to be a genuine production of antiquity.—It was afterwards adopted by Ramsay into the Evergreen; from which edition the present one is taken, as being the last printed during the life of Lady Wardlaw, and as exhibiting the additions made by herself.
put the question entirely at rest.—Dr Percy, on the authority of a gentleman of rank and learning in Scotland, ascribes it to Mrs Wardlaw, of the family of Pitferran, and aunt of Sir Peter Halket, who was killed in America in 1755; and that when questioned on the subject, she in a manner acknowledged it, by adding the three last stanzas, which were not in the first edition.—Retiques, Vol. II. p. 96. This is perfectly correct, with the exception of the lady's title. The late Mr Hepburn, of Keith, often declared, that he was in the house with Lady Wardlaw when she wrote Hardyknute. To these strong testimonies, may also be added those of Mrs Wedderburn of Gosford, Lady Wardlaw's daughter, and of Mrs Menzies of Woodend, her sister-in-law, who were equally positive in their evidence. See Life of Ramsay, prefixed to his works, Lend, 1800,
Mr Pinkerton, to complete the catastrophe, has added a second part to it in his Collection of Heroic Ballads, and has likewise taken some unjustifiable liberties with the text of the original.—The principal variations and parallel passages will be found in the notes.
The following are the historical events celebrated in the ballad. In 1263, Haco, king of Norway, invaded the western isles of Scotland with a powerful fleet; and having taken and laid waste Kintire, and the islands of Bute and Arran, he anchored his fleet at the Cumbras, and sent a detachment up the river Clyde, which landing at Loch Long, dragged their boats across the isthmus at Tarbet, and plundered the islands in Loch-lomond, which were at that time well inhabited *:
* Within this Loch are xxx ilis, weil biggit with kirkis, templis, and housis.—Bellenden's Boece, Descript. of Albion.
A storm, in the meantime, arose, and several of the ships which were with Haco were driven on shore near Largs. The Scotch army attacked them in this situation. Haco sent a reinforcement on shore to their assistance, which brought on the battle of Largs, fought on the 2d of October, 1263.
It is thus described in the Norwegian account, published by Mr Johnstone, at Copenhagen, from ancient MSS. in the library of the king of Denmark.
"When the Scotch saw that the vessels had run aground, they assembled together, and, advancing against the Norwegians, attacked them with missile weapons. They, however, defended themselves gallantly, under cover of their ships. The Scotch made several attempts, at different times, but killed few, though many were wounded. King Haco, as the wind was now somewhat abated,