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From the enquiries into which I have been led in preparing these Ballads for the press, I have collected a few notices, respecting the earlier historical and romantic poetry of Scotland, which I shall give to my reader^ in the hope, that, imperfect and desultory as they are, they may be regarded as contributing, in some degree, to the study of our ancient literature.
At the earliest period of Scottish poetry with which we are acquainted, we find it divided into two distinct species; the elaborate Romances of the minstrels, which were composed for
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kings and nobles, and the Ballads, which were designed for the entertainment of the lower orders of the people.
I. The learning and ingenuity of antiquarians has been exerted, with doubtful success, to investigate the introduction of the artificial poetry of the minstrels into the different languages of Europe; and the history of our Scottish romance has been usually conceived to depend on this yet uncompleted investigation. This opinion, however, has lately been opposed; and the assertion of Tyrwhitt, that we possess no Anglo-Saxon romance which is not founded on a French original, has been strongly contested in the preface to Mr Scott's edition of " Sir Tristrem." This poem its learned editor conceives to have sprung up in Scotland, from the British traditions surviving on the Border, and to have been translated by the minstrels of the continent. As the theory which thus represents this country as one of the sources of romantic
fiction to Europe, would, if established, throw considerable splendour on its early literature, it becomes a matter of some importance and curiosity to examine the grounds on which it rests. The argument is thus stated: "We have satisfactory proof, that the romance of Sir Tris- trem, as composed by Thomas of Erceldoune, was known upon the continent, and referred to by the French minstrels, as the most authentic mode of telling the story. This is fortunately established by two metrical Fragments of a French romance, preserved in the valuable library of Mr Douce. The story told in these Fragments will be found to correspond most accurately with the tale of Sir Tristrem, as narrated by Thomas of Erceldoune, while both differ essentially from the French prose romance, afterwards published." (SirTrktrem, p. xxxix. 1 st edit.) Now it must be evident to every one who consults the Fragments, that the whole force of this argument depends on the supposition, that both are by the same author; for the striking coincidence is confined to the second, and the first only refers to the authority of Thomas. They are accordingly conceived, by Mr Scott, to be even parts of the same poem.* It must be observed, however, that the poem is not easily conceivable which should combine these two parts. The second has every appearance, except, perhaps, in the abruptness of the opening, of being itself a distinct and complete poem; for it consists of a single anecdote, detailed at length, from the adventures of Sir Tristrem, in
* "There seems room to believe, that these fragments were part of a poem, composed, as is believed, by Raoul de Beauvais, who flourished in 1257, about the same time with Thomas of Erceldoune, and shortly after we suppose the latter to have completed his grand work."—Sir Tristrem, p. xl. If we may trust the evidence of style in the specimens given by Mr Scott of the fragments, and of the Perceval of Raoul de Beauvais, we can scarcely ascribe them to the same author. Perceval appears to belong to a later age, both of language and composition. Among other things, we find, in the first fragment, the old form li reis, and in Perceval, U roy.