07 September 2017

Thomas of Erceldoune II -- Murray's Introduction and the Contents of his Edition

The Introduction will probably seem more than a little dry to most who actually read it. Myself, I either don't read introductions at all or I read them after I have read the book (which is what I did here). My reason is that I don't want to be told how to read the book, as most introductions seem to me to do. Mercifully, that is not the case here. Murray's introduction is thoroughly detailed, informative and quite interesting for those of us who like this sort of thing. He examines the story of Thomas and his works not as just written documents, but as part of a centuries old living tradition about the man and his prophecies that carried weight even into his own time, and that many had held relevant to the history of Scotland. His legend touches upon figures such as William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, James the Sixth and First, and Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender

Yet at 77 pages (ix-lxxxi) Murray's introduction is far too long for more than the briefest outline here. When considering the text itself later, I will of course bring in relevant material from the Introduction.


"Traditional" ballad of Thomas and the Queene of Faerie (ix-lvi)
  1. Sources and dates (ix-xi) --
    • Contemporary documents suggest that Thomas was born between 1210 and 1220, and was perhaps dead by 1294, but the latter date may be wrong. See below, section 3.
  2. Family (xi-xiii) -- 
    • His surname, de Ercildoune, suggests a connection, whether of blood or vassalage, to the Earls of March who used de Ercildoune as their surname. His other name, Rymour may be a family name or 'derived, it is generally supposed, from his poetic or prophetic avocations' (xii). 
  3. Alexander III and William Wallace (xiii-xvii) --
    • In 1286 Thomas supposedly predicted the death of Alexander III of Scotland the next day. He is also linked to an incident in the life of William Wallace that can date no earlier than 1296.
  4. Posthumous fame as a prophet (xvii-xx) -- 
    • Quoted as a prophet as early as 1314 or so, Thomas was frequently mentioned in company with Merlin.
  5. Poetic Abilities (xx-xxiii) -- 
    • Numerous works are attested in his name from an early date.
  6. Dual Character as Poet and Prophet (xxiii) -- 
    • Thomas 'continued to be venerated for centuries' in this character, starting with the earliest composition attributed to him, the present poem.
  7. Naming the actual author (xxiii-xxiv) -- 
    • Thomas sometimes seems to be the poet, and sometimes a character in the poem, as he shifts back and forth between the first and third person.  For this reason deciding if the professed author is the actual author is a vexed question.
  8. Dating the poem (xxiv-xxvii) --
    • Events mentioned in the prophecies in Fitts II and III indicates that the poem was composed later than 1401, though a date in the aftermath of the Battle of Otterbourne in 1388 is also possible.
  9. Fitt III (xxvii-xxix) -- 
    • Murray regards the greater part of the predictions in Fitt III as adaptations of earlier legendary prophecies (e.g., about Arthur) now revamped and attributed to Thomas, whereas the prophecies of Fitt II can be related to historical events. Interest in the prophecies helped preserve the fairy story on Fitt I.
  10. Identification of the English (xxix-xxx) --
    • These traditional prophecies, which often spoke of how Arthur would drive out the Saxon invader, encouraged the Scots in their 14th century struggles with the English to identify the English with the Saxons. Here, too, Thomas is often paired with Merlin. Murray asks: 'Is is too much to suppose that Thomas of Erceldoune may, form his literary tastes, have been the repository of of such traditional rhymes, and himself have countenanced the application of their mysterious indications to the circumstances of his country, and thus to some extent at least given currency to the idea of his own prophetic powers?' 
  11. The prominence of Thomas in printed prophetic literature (xxx-xl) --
    • From 1603 onward printed collections of prophetic and occult lore contain frequent citations of Thomas.
  12. Connection to James I/VI (xl-xli) --
    • Thomas was held to have prophesied the ascent of James the Sixth of Scotland to the throne of England as James the First.
  13. Thomas' reputation as a prophet in Scotland in the 18th century (xli-xlii) --
    • In the Stuart rising of 1745 men expected Thomas's prophecies to be fulfilled. In fact his prophecies commanded such widespread belief in 18th century Scotland that a contemporary historian felt it necessary to disparage and refute them. 
  14. Thomas' reputation as a prophet in England (xlii-xliii) --
    • All the copies of Thomas' prophecies that survive do so in English, not Scots, which suggests how wide an audience he had in England. English prophetic writings of the 15th and 16th centuries commonly appeal to him and his prophecies. 
  15. Thomas in Tweedside (xliii-l) --
    • Locally and throughout Scotland well into the 19th century the people preserved traditional local predictions traced back to Thomas. Sir Walter Scott preserves some of these in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. 'Within my own memory' (xlvi), Murray, who was born in 1837, can attest people quoting at least one prophecy of Thomas'.
  16. The Eildon Tree and Huntlie Brae (l-lii) --
    • A discussion of these locations mentioned in the poem.
  17. Sir  Walter Scott's and Robert Jamieson's ballads of 'Thomas the Rhymer' (lii-lvi) --
    • Murray presents the texts of each in parallel.
Description of the MSS and Editions (lvi-lxii)

MSS (lvi-lxi)
  1. MS Thornton (lvi-lvii): circa 1430-40. '[O]n the whole a very careful and accurate text; only in a few places...Robert Thornton has misread his original, which can however generally be restored.' '[The] original Northern form of the language [is] little altered.'
  2. MS Cambridge (lvii-lviii): mid 15th century. Murray quotes Robert Jamieson on it: '"The Cambridge has suffered by rain-water nearly as much as the Cotton has by fire, a great part of each page having become illegible by the total disappearance of the ink."' A Southernized version badly done, with scribal errors and varia from Thornton generally unsupported.
  3. MS Cotton, Vitellius E x (lviii-lix) Damaged in the notorious fire at Ashburnham House in 1731 (the same fire which damaged the Beowulf MS, Cotton Vitellus A xv). This is a poorly done copy, but it generally agrees with Thornton.
  4. MS Landsdowne 792 (lix): between 1524 and 1530. Well and neatly copied, but incomplete.
  5. MS Sloane 2578 (lix-lxi): dated 1547. It does not contain Fitt I at all, likely because the book in which it is bound is specifically interested in prophecies.

Printed Editions (lxi-lxii)
  1. Sir Walter Scott published Fitt I, based on the Cotton MS, in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-03). (lxi)
  2. Robert Jamieson included all three fitts in his Popular Ballads and Songs from Tradition, Manuscripts, and Scarce editions (1806). 'Jamieson's edition presents many misreadings and not a few wanton alterations of the text.' The Cambridge MS was the basis of his text. (lxi)
  3. David Laing in 1822 based his edition in Select Remains of the Ancient Popular Poetry of Scotland. Relied on the Lincoln MS, supplemented from the Cambridge. (lxi)
  4. J. O. Halliwell in his Illustrations of the Fairy Mythology of a Midsummer Night's Dream of 1845. According to Murray, Halliwell also used the Cambridge MS, but did a better job of it than Jamieson had. (lxi-lxii)
  5. F. J. Child, 1861, English and Scottish Ballads, reprints and corrects fitt 1 from Laing. (lxii)
  6. The Present Edition (lxii-lxiv)

Collation of MSS. (lxiv-lxviii)

  • A table of five columns, 'showing the lines present and absent in the various MSS., and the actual line in each, which answer to each other and to those numbered in the printed text.'

Notes Textual and Explanatory (lxix-lxxxvi)

  • In which Murray offers commentary on noteworthy or difficult items within the text itself.

Tomas of Ersseldoune (1-47)

  • Fytte I (2-17)
  • Fytte II (18-31) 
  • Fytte III (32-47)

Appendix (48-63)

  1. I (48-51) --
    • The text of 'The Prophecie of Thomas the Rhymer' (1515-1548) as published in "The Whole prophesie of Scotland" by Robert Waldegrave (1603).
  2. II (52-61) --
    • "The Prophisies of Rymour, Beid, and Marlyng" (1515-1525) from Landsdowne MS. 762 and Rawls MS. C. 813.
  3. III (62-63) --
    • "An English Prophecy of Gladsmoor, Sandisford, and Seyton and the Seye" (1549).

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