The Lady of the Lake/Notes to Canto 1

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253624The Lady of the Lake — Notes to Canto FirstWalter Scott



Note I.

——The heights of Uam-var,
And round that cavern where 'tis told
A giant made his den of old.—St. I. p. 6.

Ua-var, as the name is pronounced, or more properly Uaigh-mor, is a mountain to the north-east of the village of Callender in Menteith, deriving its name, which signifies the great den, or cavern, from a sort of retreat among the rocks on the south side, said, by tradition, to have been the abode of a giant. In latter times, it was the refuge of robbers and banditti, who have been only extirpated within these forty or fifty years. Strictly speaking, this strong hold is not a cave, as the name would imply, but a sort of small inclosure, or recess, surrounded with large rocks, and open above head. It may have been originally designed as a toil for deer, who might get in from the outside, but would find it difficult to return. This opinion prevails among the old sportsmen and deer-stalkers in the neighbourhood.

Note II.

Two dogs of black St Hubert's breed,
Unmatched for courage, strength, and speed.—St. VII. p. 10.

"The hounds which we call Saint Hubert's hounds, are commonly all blacke, yet neuertheless, their race is so mingled at these days, that we find them of all colours. These are the hounds which the abbots of St Hubert haue always kept some of their race or kind, in honour or remembrance of the saint, which was a hunter with S. Eustace. Whereupon we may conceaue that (by the grace of God) all good huntsmen shall follow them into paradise. To returne vnto my former purpose, this kind of dogges hath beene dispersed thorough the countries of Henault, Lorayne, Flaunders, and Burgoyne. They are mighty of body, neuerthelesse their legges are low and short, likewise they are not swift, although they be very good of sent, hunting chaces which are farre straggled, fearing neither water nor cold, and doe more couet the chaces that smell, as foxes, bore, and such like, than other, because they find themselues neither of swiftnes nor courage to hunt and kill the chases that are lighter and swifter. The bloudhounds of this colour prooue good, especially those that are coleblacke, but I make no great account to breede on them, or to keepe the kind, and yet I found a booke which a hunter did dedicate to a prince of Lorayne, which seemed to loue hunting much, wherein was a blason which the same hunter gaue to his bloodhound, called Souyllard, which was white:

My name came first from holy Hubert's race,
Souyllard my sire, a hound of singular grace.

Whereupon we may presume that some of the kind prooue white sometimes, but they are not of the kind of the Greffiers or Bouxes, which we hauc at these dayes."—The noble Art of Venerie or Hunting, translated and collected for the use of all Noblemen and Gentlemen. Lond. 1611. 4. p. 15.

Note III.

For the death stroke, and death halloo,
Mustered his breath, his whinyard drew.-St. VIII. p. 11.

When the stag turned to bay, the ancient hunter had the perilous task of going in upon, and killing or disabling the desperate animal. At certain times of the year this was held particularly dangerous, a wound received from a stag's horns being then deemed poisonous, and more dangerous than one from the tusks of a boar, as the old rhyme testifies:

If thou be hurt with hart, it brings thee to thy bier,
But barber's hand will boar's hurt heal, therefore thou needst not fear.

At all times, however, the task was dangerous, and to be adventured upon wisely and warily, either by getting behind the stag while he was gazing on the hounds, or by watching an opportunity to gallop roundly in upon him, and kill him with the sword. See many directions to this purpose in the Booke of Hunting, chap. 41. Wilson the historian has recorded a providential escape which befel him in this hazardous sport, while a youth and follower of the Earl of Essex.

"Sir Peter Lee, of Lime, in Cheshire, invited my lord one summer, to hunt the stagg. And having a great stagg in chace, and many gentlemen in the pursuit, the stagg took soyle. And divers, whereof I was one, alighted, and stood with swords drawne, to have a cut at him, at his coming out of the water. The staggs there being wonderfully fierce and dangerous, made us youths more eager to be at him. But he escaped us all. And it was my misfortune to be hindered of my coming nere him, the way being sliperie, by a fall; which gave occasion to some, who did not know mee, to speak as if I had falne for feare. Which being told me, I left the stagg, and followed the gentleman who [first] spake it. But I found him of that cold temper, that it seems his words made an escape from him; as by his denial and repentance it appeared. But this made mee more violent in pursuite of the stagg, to recover my reputation. And I happened to be the only horseman in, when the dogs sett him up at bay; and approaching nere him on horsebacke, hee broke through the dogs, and run at mee, and tore my horse's side with his hornes, close by my thigh. Then I quitted my horse, and grew more cunning (for the dogs had sette him up againe), stealing behind him with my sword, and cut his ham-strings; and then got upon his back, and cut his throate; which, as I was doing, the company came in, and blamed my rashness for running such a hazard."—Peck's Desiderata Curiosa, II. 464.

Note IV.

And now to issue from the glen
No pathway meets the wanderer's ken,
Unless he climb, with footing nice,
A far projecting precipice.—St. XIV. p. 17.

Until the present road was made through the romantic pass which I have presumptuously attempted to describe in the preceding stanzas, there was no mode of issuing out of the defile, called the Trosachs, excepting by a sort of ladder, composed of the branches and roots of the trees.

Note V.

To meet with highland plunderers here,
Were worse than loss of steed or deer—St. XVI. p. 21.

The clans who inhabited the romantic regions in the neighbourhood of Loch Katrine, were, even until a late period, much addicted to predatory excursions upon their lowland neighbours.

"In former times, those parts of this district, which are situated beyond the Grampian range, were rendered almost inaccessible, by strong barriers of rocks, and mountains, and lakes. It was a border country, and though on the very verge of the low country, it was almost totally sequestered from the world, and, as it were, insulated with respect to society.

"'Tis well known, that in the highlands, it was, in former times, accounted not only lawful, but honourable, among hostile tribes, to commit depredations on one another; and these habits of the age were perhaps strengthened in this district, by the circumstances which have been mentioned. It bordered on a country, the inhabitants of which, while they were richer, were less warlike than they, and widely differenced by language and manners."—Graham's Sketches of Scenery in Perthshire. Edin. 1806, p. 97.

The reader will therefore be pleased to remember, that the the scene of this poem is laid in a time

When tooming faulds, or sweeping of a glen,
Had still been held the deed of gallant men.

Note VI.

A grey-haired sire, whose eye, intent,
Was on the visioned future bent.—St. XXIII. P. 28.

If force of evidence could authorise us to believe facts inconistent with the general laws of nature, enough might be produced in favour of the existence of the Second-Sight. It is called in Gaelic Taishitaraugh, from Taish, an unreal or shadowy appearance; and those possessed of the faculty are called Taishatrin, which may be aptly translated visionaries. Martin, a steady believer in the second-sight, gives the following account of it:

"The second-sight is a singular faculty of seeing an otherwise invisible object, without any previous means used by the person that uses it for that end; the vision makes such a lively impression upon the seers, that they neither see, nor think of any thing else, except the vision, as long as it continues; and then they appear pensive or jovial, according to the object which was represented to them.

"At the sight of a vision, the eye-lids of the person are erected, and the eyes continue staring until the object vanish. This is obvious to others who are by, when the persons happen to see a vision, and occurred more than once to my own observation, and to others that were with me.

"There is one in Skie, of whom his acquaintance observed, that when he sees a vision, the inner part of his eye-lids turns far upwards, that after the object disappears, he must draw them down with his fingers, and sometimes employs others to draw them down, which he finds to be the much easier way.

"This faculty of the second-sight does not lineally descend in a family, as some imagine, for I know several parents who are endowed with it, but their children not, and vice versa: neither is it acquired by any previous compact. And, after a strict enquiry, I could never learn that this faculty was communicable any way whatsoever.

"The seer knows neither the object, time, nor place of a vision, before it appears; and the same object is often seen by different persons, living at a considerable distance from one another. The true way of judging as to the time and circumstance of an object, is by observation; for several persons of judgment, without this faculty, are more capable to judge of the design of a vision, than a novice that is a seer. If an object appear in the day or night, it will come to pass sooner or later accordingly.

"If an object is seen early in the morning (which is not frequent,) it will be accomplished in a few hours afterwards. If at noon, it will commonly be accomplished that very day. If in the evening, perhaps that night; if after candles be lighted, it will be accomplished that night: the later always in accomplishment, by weeks, months, and sometimes years, according to the time of night the vision is seen.

"When a shroud is perceived about one, it is a sure prognostick of death: the time is judged according to the height of it about the person; for if it is seen above the middle, death is not to be expected for the space of a year, and perhaps some months longer; and as it is frequently seen to ascend higher towards the head, death is concluded to be at hand within a few days, if not hours, as daily experience confirms. Examples of this kind were shewn me, when the persons of whom the observations were then made, enjoyed perfect health.

"One instance was lately foretold by a seer that was a novice, concerning the death of one of my acquaintance; this was communicated to a few only, and with great confidence: I being one of the number, did not in the least regard it, until the death of the person, about the time foretold, did confirm me of the certainty of the prediction. The novice mentioned above, is now a skilfull seer, as appears from many late instances; he lives in the parish of St Mary's, the most northern in Skie.

"If a woman is seen standing at a man's left hand, it is a presage that she will be his wife, whether they be married to others, or unmarried, at the time of the apparition.

"If two or three women are seen at once near a man's left hand, she that is next him will undoubtedly be his wife first, and so on, whether all three, or the man, be single or married at the time of the vision or not; of which there are several late instances among those of my acquaintance. It is an ordinary thing for them to see a man that is to come to the house shortly after; and if he is not of the seer's acquaintance, yet he gives such a lively description of his stature, complexion, habit, &c. that upon his arrival he answers the character given him in all respects.

"If the person so appearing be one of the seer's acquaintance, he will tell his name, as well as other particulars; and he can tell by his countenance whether he comes in a good or bad humour.

"I have been seen thus myself by seers of both sexes, at some hundred miles distance; some that saw me in this manner had never seen me personally, and it happened according to their visions, without any previous design of mine to go to those places, my coming there being purely accidental.

"It is ordinary with them to see houses, gardens, and trees in places void of all three; and this in progress of time uses to be accomplished: as at Mogshot, in the Isle of Skie, where there were but a few sorry cow-houses, thatched with straw, yet in a very few years after, the vision, which appeared often, was accomplished, by the building of several good houses on the very spot represented by the seers, and by the planting of orchards there.

"To see a spark of fire fall upon one's arm or breast, is a forerunner of a dead child to be seen in the arms of those persons; of which there are several fresh instances.

"To see a seat empty at the time of one's sitting in it, is a presage of that person's death soon after.

"When a novice, or one that has lately obtained the second-sight, sees a vision in the night-time without doors, and comes near a fire, he presently falls into a swoon.

"Some find themselves as it were in a crowd of people, having a corpse which they carry along with them; and after such visions the seers come in sweating, and describe the people that appeared: if there be any of their acquaintance among 'em, they give an account of their names, as also of the bearers, but they know nothing concerning the corpse.

"All those who have the second-sight do not always see these visions at once, though they be together at the time. But if one who has this faculty, designedly touch his fellow-seer at the instant of a vision's appearing, then the second sees it as well as the first: and this is sometimes discerned by those that are near them on such occasions."—Martin's Description of the Western Islands, 1716, 8vo. p. 300, et seq.

To these particulars innumerable examples might be added, all attested by grave and credible authors. But in despite of evidence, which neither Bacon, Boyle, nor Johnson were able to resist, the Taisch, with all its visionary properties, seems to be now universally abandoned to the use of poetry. The exquisitely beautiful poem of Lochiel will at once occur to the recollection of every reader.

Note VII.

There, for retreat in dangerous hour,
Some chief had framed a rustic bower.—St. XXVI. p. 31.

The Celtic chieftains, whose lives were continually exposed to peril, had usually, in the most retired spot of their domains, some place of retreat for the hour of necessity, which, as circumstances would admit, was a tower, a cavern, or a rustic hut in a strong and secluded situation. One of these last gave refuge to the unfortunate Charles Edward, in his perilous wanderings after the battle of Culloden.

"It was situated in the face of a very rough, high, and rocky mountain, called Letternilichk, still a part of Benalder, full of great stones and crevices, and some scattered wood interspersed. The habitation called the Cage, in the face of that mountain, was within a small thick bush of wood. There were first some rows of trees laid down, in order to level a floor for a habitation; and as the place was steep, this raised the lower side to an equal height with the other; and these trees, in the way of joists or planks, were levelled with earth and gravel. There were betwixt the trees, growing naturally on their own roots, some stakes fixed in the earth, which, with the trees, were interwoven with ropes, made of heath and birch twigs, up to the top of the Cage, it being of a round or rather oval shape; and the whole thatched and covered over with fog. The whole fabric hung, as it were, by a large tree, which reclined from the one end, all along the roof, to the other, and which gave it the name of the Cage; and by chance there happened to be two stones at a small distance from one another, in the side next the precipice, resembling the pillars of a chimney, where the fire was placed. The smoke had its vent out here, all along the fall of the rock, which was so much of the same colour, that one could discover no difference in the clearest day."—Home's History of the Rebellion, Lond. 1802. 4to. p. 381.

Note VIII.

My sire's tall form might grace the part
Of Ferragus or Ascabart.—St. XXVIII. p. 35.

These two sons of Anak flourished in romantic fable. The first is well known to the admirers of Ariosto, by the name of Ferrau. He was an antagonist of Orlando, and was at length slain by him in single combat. There is a romance in the Auchinleck MS., in which Ferragus is thus described:

"On a day come tiding
Unto Charls the King,
Al of a doughti knight
Was comen to Navers,
Stout he was and fers,
Veruagu he hight.
Of Babiloun the soudan
Thider him sende gan,
With King Charls to fight.
So hard he was to-fond[1]
That no dint of brond
No greued him, aplight.

He hadde twenti men strengthe,
And fourti fet of lengthe,
Thilke painim hede,[2]
And four fet in the face,
Y-meten[3] in the place,
And fiften in brede.[4]
His nose was a fot and more;
His brow, as brestles wore; [5]
He that it seighe it sede.
He loked lotheliche,
And was swart[6] as any piche,
Of him men night adrede."

Romance of Charlemagne, 1. 461-484. Auchinleck MS. fol. 265.

Ascapart, or Ascabart, makes a very material figure in the History of Bevis of Hampton, by whom he was conquered. His effigies may be seen guarding one side of a gate at Southampton, while the other is cccupied by Sir Bevis himself. The dimensions of Ascapart were little inferior to those of Ferragus, if the following description be correct:

"They metten with a geaunt,
With a lotheliche semblaunt.
He was wonderliche strong,
Rome[7] thretti fote long.
His berd was hot gret and rowe;[8]
A space of a fot betweene is[9] browe;
His clob was, to yeue[10] a strok,
A lite bodi of an ok.[11]
Beues hadde of him wonder gret,
And askede him what a het,[12]
And yaf[13] men of his contrè
Were ase meche[14] ase was he.
'Me name,' a sede,[15] 'is Ascopard
Garci me sent hiderward,
For to bring this quene ayen,
And the Beues her of-slen.[16]
Icham Garci is[17] champioun,
And was i-driue out of me[18] toun,
Al for that ich was so lite.[19]
Eueri man me wolde smite,
Ich was so lite and so merugh,[20]
Eueri man me clepede dwerugh.[21]
And now icham in this londe,
I wax mor[22] ich understonde,
And strengere than other tene;[23]
And that schel on us be sene.

Sir Bevis of Hampton, I. 2512. Auchinleck MS. fol. 189.

Note IX.

Though all unasked his birth or name.—St. XXIX. p. 35.

The highlanders, who carried hospitality to a punctilious excess, are said to have considered it as churlish, to ask a stranger his name or lineage, before he had taken refreshment. Feuds were so frequent among them, that a contrary rule would, in many cases, have produced the discovery of some circumstance, which might have excluded the guest from the benefit of the assistance he stood in need of.

Note X.

—————— And still a harp unseen,
Filled up the symphony between.—St. XXX. p. 36.

"They (meaning the highlanders) delight much in musicke, but chiefly in harps and clairschoes of their own fashion. The strings of the clairschoes are made of brasse-wire, and the strings of the harps of sinews; which strings they strike either with their nayles, growing long, or else with an instrument appointed for that use. They take great pleasure to decke their harps and clairschoes with silver and precious stones; the poore ones, that cannot attayne hereunto, decke them with christall. They sing verses prettily compound, contayning (for the most part) prayses of valiant men. There is not almost any other argument, whereof their rhymes intreat. They speak the ancient French language, altered a little."[24]—"The harp and clairschoes are now only heard of in the highlands in ancient song. At what period these instruments ceased to be used, is not on record; and tradition is silent on this head. But, as Irish harpers occasionally visited the highlands and western isles till lately, the harp might have been extant so late as the middle of the present century. Thus far we know, that from remote times down to the present, harpers were received as welcome guests, particularly in the highlands of Scotland; and so late as the latter end of the sixteenth century, as appears by the above quotation, the harp was in common use among the natives of the western isles. How it happened that the noisy and inharmonious bagpipe banished the soft and expressive harp, we cannot say; but certain it is, that the bagpipe is now the only instrument that obtains universally in the highland districts."—Campbell's Journey through North Britain. Lond. 1808. 4to. I. 175.

Mr Gunn, of Edinburgh, has lately published a curious essay upon the harp and harp music of the Highlands of Scotland. That the instrument was once in common use there, is most certain. Cleland numbers an acquaintance with it among the few accomplishments which his satire allows to the Highlanders:—

In nothing they're accounted sharp,
Except in bag-pipe or in harp.

  1. Found, proved.
  2. Had.
  3. Measured.
  4. Breadth.
  5. Were.
  6. Black.
  7. Fully.
  8. Rough.
  9. His.
  10. Give.
  11. The stem of a little oak tree.
  12. He hight, was called.
  13. If.
  14. Great.
  15. He said.
  16. Slay.
  17. His.
  18. My.
  19. Little.
  20. Lean.
  21. Dwarf.
  22. Greater, taller.
  23. Ten.
  24. Vide "Certeyne Matters concerning the Realme of Scotland, &c. as they were Anno Domini 1597. Lond. 1603." 4to.