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The Poem, now offered to the Public, is intended to illustrate the customs and manners, which anciently prevailed on the Borders of England and Scotland. The inhabitants, living in a state partly pastoral, and partly warlike, and combining habits of constant depredation with the influence of a rude spirit of chivalry, were often engaged in scenes, highly susceptible of poetical ornament. As the description of scenery and manners
more the object of the Author than a combined and regular narrative, the plan of the Ancient Metrical Romance was adopted, which allows greater latitude, in this respect, than would be consistent with the dignity of a regular Poem. The same model offered other facilities, as it permits an occasional alteration of measure, which, in some degree, authorizes the change of rhythm in the text. The machinery also, adopted from popular belief, would have seemed puerile in a Poem, which did not partake of the rudeness of the old Ballad, or Metrical Romance.
For these reasons, the Poem was put into the mouth of an ancient Minstrel, the last of the race, who, as he is supposed to have survived the Revolution, might have caught somewhat of the refinement of modern poetry, without losing the simplicity of his original model. The date of the Tale itself is about the middle of the sixteenth century, when most of the personages actually flourished. The time occupied by the action is three Nights and Three Days.
LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL,
IN SIX CANTOS.
Dum relego, scripsisse pudet ; quia plurima cerno,
Me quoque, qui feci, judice, digna lini
The way was long, the wind was cold,
He pass'd where Newark's' stately tower Looks out from Yarrow's birchen bower:
*[“ This is a massive square tower, now unroofed and ruinous, surrounded by an outward wall, defended by round flanking tur
It is most beautifully situated, about three miles from Sel. kirk, upon the banks of the Yarrow, a fierce and precipitous stream, which unites with the Ettricke about a mile beneath the castle.
“ Newark Castle was built by James II. The royal arms, with the unicorn, are engraved on a stone in the western side of the tower. There was a much more ancient castle in its immediate vicinity, called Auldwark, founded, it is said, by Alexander III. Both were designed for the royal residence when the King was disposed to take his pleasure in the extensive forest of Ettricke. Various grants occur the records of the Privy Seal, bestowing the keeping of the Castle of Newark upon different barons. There is a popular tradition, that it was once seized, and held out by the outlaw Murray, a noted character in song, who only surrendered Newark upon condition of being made hereditary sheriff of the forest. A long ballad, containing an account of this transaction, is preserved in the • Border Minstrelsy.' Upon the marriage of James IV. with Margaret, sister of Henry VIII., the Castle of Newark, with the whole Forest of Ettricke, was assigned to her as a part of her jointure lands. But of this she could make little advantage; for, after the death of her husband, she is found complaining heavily, that Buccleuch had seized upon these lands. Indeed, the office of keeper was latterly held by the family of Buccleuch, and with so firm a grasp, that when the Forest of Ettricke was disparked, they obtained a grant of the Castle of Newark in property. It was within the court-yard of this Castle that General Lesly did military execution upon the prisoners whom he had taken at the battle of Philiphaugh. The castle continued to be an occasional seat of the Buccleuch family for more than a century; and here, it is said, the Duchess of Monmouth and Buccleuch was brought up. For this reason, probably, Mr. Scott has chosen to make it the scene in which the • Lay of the Last Minstrel’ is recited in her presence, and for her