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This old Romantic Legend (which is given from two copies, one of them in the Editor's folio MS. but which contained very great variations,) bears marks of considerable antiquity, and perhaps ought to have taken place of any in this volume. It should seem to have been written while part of Spain was in the hands of the Saracens or Moors; whose empire there was not fully extinguished before the year 1491. The Mahometans are spoken of in ver. 49, &c. just in the same terms as in all other old Romances. The author of the ancient Legend of SIR BEVIS represents his hero, upon all occasions, breathing out defiance against
"Mahound and Termagaunte ;"*
and so full of zeal for his religion, as to return the following polite message to a Paynim king's fair daughter, who had fallen in love with him, and sent two Saracen knights to invite him to her bower:
"I wyll not ones stirre off this grounde,
Indeed they return the compliment by calling him elsewhere "A christen hounde."‡
This was conformable to the real manners of the barbarous ages: perhaps the same excuse will hardly serve our bard; for that the Adland should be found lolling or leaning at his gate (ver. 35.) may be thought
See a short Memoir at the end of this Ballad, Note ttt. † Sign. C. ii, b. + Sign. C. i. b.
perchance a little out of character. And yet the great painter of manners, Homer, did not think it inconsistent with decorum to represent a king of the Taphians leaning at the gate of Ulysses to inquire for that monarch, when he touched at Ithaca as he was taking a voyage with a ship's cargo of iron to dispose in traffic. So little ought we to judge of ancient manners by our own.
Before I conclude this article, I cannot help observing that the reader will see, in this ballad, the character of the old Minstrels (those successors of the Bards) placed in a very respectable light:† here he will see one of them represented mounted on a fine horse, accompanied with an attendant to bear his harp after him, and to sing the poems of his composing. Here he will see him mixing in the company of kings without ceremony: no mean proof of the great antiquity of this poem. The further we carry our inquiries back, the greater respect we find paid to the professors of poetry and music among all the Celtic and Gothic nations. Their character was deemed so sacred, that under its sanction cur famous king Alfred (as we have already seen‡) made no scruple to enter the Danish camp, and was at once admitted to the king's head-quarters. Our poet has suggested the same expedient to the heroes of this ballad. All the histories of the north are full of the great reverence paid to this order of men. Harold Harfagre, a celebrated king of Norway, was wont to seat them at his table above all the officers of his court: and we find another Norwegian king placing five of them by his side in a day of battle, that they might be eye
* Odyss. A. 105.
Se V. II. Note subjoined to 1 Pt. of Beggar of Bednal, &c. See the Essay on the ancient Minstrels prefixed to this volute.
Even so late as the time of Froissart, we find Minstrels and Heralis mentioned together, as those who might securely go into an enemy's country. Cap. cxl.
witnesses of the great exploits they were to celebrate. As to Estmere's riding into the hall while the kings were at table, this was usual in the ages of chivalry; and even to this day we see a relic of this custom still kept up, in the champion's riding into Westminster-hall during the coronation dinner.t
Some liberties have been taken with this tale by the Editor, but none without notice to the reader in that part which relates to the subject of the Harper and his attendant.
HEARKEN to me, gentlemen,
Ile tell you of two of the boldest brethren
That ever borne y-were.
The tone of them was Adler younge,
The were as bolde men in their deeds,
As they were drinking ale and wine.
Within kyng Estmeres balle:
Ver. 3. brether. fol. MS. Ver. 10. his brother's hall. fol. MS.
* Bartholini Antiq. Dan. p. 173.—Northern Antiquities, &c. vol. i. pp. 386. 389, &c.
See also the account of Edw. II. in the Essay on the Minstrels, and Note (X.)
Then bespake him kyng Estmere,
I know not that ladye in any land
That's able to marrye with mee.
Kyng Adland hath a daughter, brother,
If I were kyng here in your stead,
That ladye shold be my queene.
Saies, Reade me, reade me, deare brother,
Throughout merry England,
Where we might find a messenger
Betwixt us towe to sende.
Saies, You shal ryde yourselfe, brother,
Ile beare you companye;
Many throughe fals messengers are deceived, And I feare lest soe shold wee.
Thus the renisht them to ryde
Of twoe good renisht steeds,
And when the came to king Adlands halle,
Of redd gold shone their weeds.
And when the came to kyng Adlands hall
Before the goodlye gate,
There they found good kyng Adlaand
Rearing himselfe theratt.
Now Christ thee save, good kyng Adland;
Sayd, You be welcome, king Estmere,
You have a daughter, said Adler younge,
Yesterday was att my deere daughter
Syr Bremor the kyng of Spayne;
The kyng of Spayne is a foule paynìm,
And 'leeveth on Mahound;
But grant to me, sayes kyng Estmere,
That I may see your daughter deere
Before I goe hence
Ver. 46. The king his soone of Spayn. fol. MS.