08 September 2017

Thomas of Erceldoune III -- 'An' that's likker-like than the Fairy Story'

One disadvantage of condensing Murray's extensive introduction as I have just done, is that worthy comments, which give us a sense of the author's personality as well as his scholarship, get lost. To try to combat this I have included below several remarks from Murray's text and footnotes that made me laugh. Comments such as those below may allow us to make out his voice from far off.
I am inclined to suppose, then, that this part [fitt 2] with perhaps fitt 1, the conclusion, and an indefinite portion of Fitt iii, which is in all probability a melange of early traditional prophecies, may have been written on the eve of Halidon Hill, with a view to encouraging the Scots in that battle; in which the oldest text [Thornton], it will be observed, makes the Scots win, with the slaughter of six thousand Englishmen, while the other texts, wise after the fact, make the Scots lose, as they actually did. 

Is it too much to suppose that Thomas of Ercildoune may, from his literary tastes, been a repository of such traditional rhymes, and himself have countenanced the application of their mysterious indications to the circumstances of country, and thus to some extent at least have given currency to the idea of his own prophetic powers 

My friend, Mr Andrew Currie of Darnick, has sent me the following tradition of the disappearance of Thomas, which he took down 35 years ago from the mouth of "Rob Messer, a very intelligent matter-of-fact man, well versed in all tradtionary lorse about Earlston, and possessing a wonderful memory for a man of 85": -- "Ye want to ken if ever aw heard how Tammas the Rymer disappeared? -- Well, aw can tell ye something about that, as aw had it frae ma graanfaither, an' nae doot he had it frae his fore-bears, for we're als auld a family in Yerlsten, -- or raither Ercildoun, as it was caa'd i' thae day -- we're als auld as the Learmonts. D'ye see thae auld waa's i' the front o' yeir ain shop? Weel man, aw mind o' that bein' a gay an' substantial hoose i' maa young days, an' Tammas the Rymer was last seen gaan' oot o' that hoose eae nicht afore the derknin', an' he set off up Leader for Lauder Cas'le; but he ne'er gat there -- he never was sene againe. Aw've heard 'at he geade in there to get some deed signed or wutness 't, an' that he was carryan' money wi' him to some Lord or great man up there, 'at he was intimate wi'. But ma granfaither uist to say -- an' nae doot he had it handit doon -- that Leader was i' great fluid at that time, an' that Tammas the Rymer had been robbit an' murdert an' his body thrawn into the water, whulk micht take it to Berwick. An' that's likker-like than the Fairy story! Sae ye hae'd, as aw had it, frae thaim 'at was afore us.
l note 1

' "The Cambridge [MS] 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. By wetting it, however, with a composition which he procured from a bookseller and a stationer in Cambridge, the writing was so far restored in most places, that, with much poring and the assistance of a magnifying glass, he was able to make it out pretty clearly. The greatest difficulty he met with was from the unlucky zeal and industry of some person who long ago, and in a hand nearly resembling the original, had endeavoured to fill up the chasms, and, as appeared upon the revival of the old writing, had generally mistaken the sense, and done much more harm than good." Jamieson little thought that his own "unlucky zeal and industry" would in the process of time entitle him to equal or even greater reprobation, for the "composition," which he so naively confesses to have applied to the MS., has dried black, and both disastrously disfigured the pages and seriously increased their illegibility'. 

'Jamieson's edition presents many misreadings and not a few wanton alterations of the text.' 

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  1. "General opinion in the neighbourhood was that Bilbo, who had always been rather cracked, had at last gone quite mad, and had run off into the Blue. There he had undoubtedly fallen into a pool or a river and come to a tragic, but hardly an untimely, end."