"And, if Arbattle’s not enough,
“To it we’ll Fordoun join."—P. 274. v. 1.
Arbattle is the ancient name of the barony of Arbuthnot. Fordun has long been the patrimony of the same family.
The date of this ballad, and its subject, are uncertain. From internal evidence, I am inclined to place it late in the sixteenth century. Of the Graemes enough is elsewhere said. It is not impossible, that such a clan, as they are described, may have retained the rude ignorance of ancient border manners to a later period than their more inland neighbours; and hence the taunt of old Bewick to Graeme. Bewick is an ancient name in Cumberland and Northumberland. The ballad itself was given, in the first edition, from the recitation of a gentleman, who professed to have forgotten some verses. These have, in the present edition, been partly restored, from a copy obtained by the recitation of an ostler in Carlisle, which has also furnished some slight alterations.
The ballad is remarkable, as containing, probably, the very latest allusion to the institution of brotherhood in arms, which was held so sacred in the days of chivalry, and whose origin may be traced up to the Scythian ancestors of Odin. Many of the old romances turn entirely upon the sanctity of the engagement, contracted by the freres d’armes. In that of Amis and Amelion, the hero slays his two infant children, that he may compound a potent salve with their blood, to cure the leprosy of his brother in arms. The romance of Gyron le Courtois has a similar subject. I think the hero, like Graeme in the ballad, kills himself, out of some high point of honour towards his friend.
The quarrel of the two old chieftains, over their wine, is highly in character. Two generations have not elapsed since the custom of drinking deep, and taking deadly revenge for slight offences, produced very tragical events on the border; to which the custom of going armed to festive meetings contributed not a little. A minstrel, who flourished about 1720, and is often talked of by the old people, happened to be performing before one of these parties, when they betook themselves to their swords. The cautious musician, accustomed to such scenes, dived beneath the table. A moment after, a man’s hand, struck off with a back-sword, fell beside him. The minstrel secured it carefully in his pocket, as he would have done any other loose moveable; sagely observing, the owner would miss it sorely next morning. I chuse rather to give this ludicrous example, than some graver instances of bloodshed at border orgies. I observe it is said, in a MS. account of Tweeddale, in praise of the inhabitants, that, “when they fall in the humour of good fellowship, they use it as a cement and bond of society, and not to foment revenge, quarrels, and murders, which is usual in other countries;” by which we ought, probably, to understand Selkirkshire and Teviotdale.—Macfarlane’s MSS.