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Ch. 6: Kinmont Willie

If there be, in The Border Minstrelsy, a ballad which is still popular, or, at least, is still not forgotten, it is Kinmont Willie. This hero was an Armstrong, and one of the most active of that unbridled clan. He was taken prisoner, contrary to Border law, on a day of "Warden's Truce," by Salkeld of Corby on the Eden, deputy of Lord Scrope, the English Warden; and, despite the written remonstrances of Buccleuch, he was shut up in Carlisle Castle. Diplomacy failing, Buccleuch resorted to force, and, by a sudden and daring march, he surprised Carlisle Castle, rescued Willie, and returned to Branksome. The date of the rescue is 13th April 1596. The dispatches of the period are full of this event, and of the subsequent negotiations, with which we are not concerned.

The ballad is worthy of the cool yet romantic gallantry of the achievement. Kinmont Willie was a ruffian, but he had been unlawfully seized. This was one of many studied insults passed by Elizabeth's officials on Scotland at that time, when the English Government, leagued with the furious pulpiteers of the Kirk, and with Francis Stewart, the wild Earl of Bothwell, was persecuting and personally affronting James VI.

In Buccleuch, the Warden of the March, England insulted the man who was least likely to pocket a wrong. Without causing the loss of an English life, Buccleuch repaid the affront, recovered the prisoner, broke the strong Castle of Carlisle, made Scrope ridiculous and Elizabeth frantic.

In addition to Kinmont Willie there survive two other ballads on rescues of prisoners in similar circumstances. One is Jock o' the Side, of which there is an English version in the Percy MSS., John a Side. Scott's version, in The Border Minstrelsy, is from Caw's Museum, published at Hawick in 1784. Scott leaves out Caw's last stanza about a punch-bowl. There are other variations. Four Armstrongs break into Newcastle Tower. Jock, heavily ironed, is carried downstairs on the back of one of them; they ride a river in spait, where the English dare not follow.

Archie o' Cafield, another rescue, Scott printed in 1802 from a MS. of Mr. Riddell of Glenriddell, a great collector, the friend of Burns. He omitted six stanzas, and "made many editorial improvements, besides Scotticising the spelling." In the edition published after his death (1833) he "has been enabled to add several stanzas from recitation." Leyden appears to have collected the copy whence the additional stanzas came; the MS., at Abbotsford, is in his hand. In this ballad the Halls, noted freebooters, rescue Archie o' Cafield from prison in Dumfries. As in Jock o' the Side and Kinmont Willie, they speak to their friend, asking how he sleeps; they carry him downstairs, irons and all, and, as in the two other ballads, they are pursued, cross a flooded river, banter the English, and then, in a version in the Percy MSS., "communicated to Percy by Miss Fisher, 1780," the English lieutenant says--


I think some witch has bore thee, Dicky,
   Or some devil in hell been thy daddy.
I would not swam that wan water, double-horsed,
   For a' the gold in Christenty.


Manifestly here was a form of Lord Scrope's reply to Buccleuch, in the last stanza of Kinmont Willie--


He is either himself a devil frae hell,
   Or else his mother a witch may be,
I wadna hae ridden that wan water
   For a' the gowd in Christentie.


Scott writes, in a preface to Archie o' Cafield and Jock o' the Side, that there are, with Kinmont Willie, three ballads of rescues, "the incidents in which nearly resemble each other; though the poetical description is so different, that the editor did not feel himself at liberty to reject any one of them, as borrowed from the others. As, however, there are several verses, which, in recitation, are common to all these three songs, the editor, to prevent unnecessary and disagreeable repetition, has used the freedom of appropriating them to that in which they have the best poetical effect." {129a}

Consequently the verse quoted from the Percy MS. of Archie o' Cafield may be improved and placed in the lips of Lord Scrope, in Kinmont Willie. But there is no evidence that Scott ever saw or even heard of this Percy MS., and probably he got the verse from recitation.

Now the affair of the rescue of Kinmont Willie was much more important and resonant than the two other rescues, and was certain to give rise to a ballad, which would contain much the same formulae as the other two. The ballad-maker, like Homer, always uses a formula if he can find one. But Kinmont Willie is so much superior to the two others, so epic in its speed and concentration of incidents, that the question rises, had Scott even fragments of an original ballad of the Kinmont, "much mangled by reciters," as he admits, or did he compose the whole? No MS. copies exist at Abbotsford. There is only one hint. In a list of twenty-two ballads, pasted into a commonplace book, eleven are marked X (as if he had obtained them), and eleven others are unmarked, as if they were still to seek. Unmarked is Kinmount Willie.

Did he find it, or did he make it all?

In 1888, in a note to Kinmont Willie, I wrote: "There is a prose account very like the ballad in Scott of Satchells' History of the Name of Scott" (1688). Satchells' long-winded story is partly in unrhymed and unmetrical lines, partly in rhymes of various metres. The man, born in 1613, was old, had passed his life as a soldier; certainly could not write, possibly could not read.

Colonel Elliot "believes that Sir Walter wrote the whole from beginning to end, and that it is, in fact, a clever and extremely beautiful paraphrase of Satchells' rhymes." {130a}

This thorough scepticism is not a novelty, as Colonel Elliot quotes me I had written years ago, "In Kinmont Willie, Scott has been suspected of making the whole ballad." I did not, as the Colonel says, "mention the names of the sceptics or the grounds of their suspicions." "The sceptics," or one of them, was myself: I had "suspected" on much the same grounds as Colonel Elliot's own, and I shall give my reasons for adopting a more conservative opinion. One reason is merely subjective. As a man, by long familiarity with ancient works of art, Greek gems, for example, acquires a sense of their authenticity, or the reverse, so he does in the case of ballads--or thinks he does--but of course this result of experience is no ground of argument: experts are often gulled. The ballad varies in many points from Satchells', which Colonel Elliot explains thus: "I think that the cause for the narrative at times diverging from that recorded by the rhymes (of Satchells), is due, partly to artistic considerations, partly to the author having wished to bring it more or less into conformity with history." {131a}

Colonel Elliot quotes Scott's preface to the ballad: "In many things Satchells agrees with the ballads current in his time" (1643-88), "from which in all probability he derived most of his information as to past events, and from which he occasionally pirates whole verses, as we noticed in the annotations upon the Raid of the Reidswire. In the present instance he mentions the prisoner's large spurs (alluding to fetters), and some other little incidents noticed in the ballad, which therefore was probably well known in his day."

As Satchells was born in 1613, while the rescue of Kinmont Willie by Buccleuch, out of Carlisle Castle, was in 1596, and as Satchells' father was in that adventure (or so Satchells says) he probably knew much about the affair from fresh tradition. Colonel Elliot notices this, and says: "The probability of Satchells having obtained information from a hypothetical ballad is really quite an inadmissible argument."

This comes near to begging the question. As contemporary incidents much less striking and famous than the rescue of Kinmont Willie were certainly recorded in ballads, the opinion that there was a ballad of Kinmont Willie is a legitimate hypothesis, which must be tested on its merits. For example, we shall ask, Does Satchells' version yield any traces of ballad sources?

My own opinion has been anticipated by Mr. Frank Miller in his The Poets of Dumfriesshire (p. 33, 1910), and in ballad-lore Mr. Miller is well equipped. He says: "The balance of probability seems to be in favour of the originality of Kinmont Willie," rather than of Satchells (he means, not of our Kinmont Willie as Scott gives it, but of a ballad concerning the Kinmont). "Captain Walter Scott's" (of Satchells) "True History was certainly gathered out of the ballads current in his day, as well as out of formal histories, and his account of the assault on the Castle reads like a narrative largely due to suggestions from some popular lay."

Does Satchells' version, then, show traces of a memory of such a lay? Undoubtedly it does.

Satchells' prolix narrative occasionally drops or rises into ballad lines, as in the opening about Kinmont Willie--


It fell about the Martinmas
When kine was in the prime


that Willie "brought a prey out of Northumberland." The old ballad, disregarding dates, may well have opened with this common formula. Lord Scrope vowed vengence:-


Took Kinmont the self-same night.

If he had had but ten men more, That had been as stout as he, Lord Scroup had not the Kinmont ta'en With all his company.


Scott's ballad (stanza i.) says that "fause Sakelde" and Scrope took Willie (as in fact Salkeld of Corby DID), and


Had Willie had but twenty men,
   But twenty men as stout as he,
Fause Sakelde had never the Kinmont ta'en,
   Wi' eight score in his cumpanie.


Manifestly either Satchells is here "pirating" a verse of a ballad (as Scott holds) or Scott, if he had NO ballad fragments before him, is "pirating" a verse from Satchells, as Colonel Elliot must suppose.

In my opinion, Satchells had a memory of a Kinmont ballad beginning like Jamie Telfer, "It fell about the Martinmas tyde," or, like Otterburn, "It fell about the Lammas tide," and he opened with this formula, broke away from it, and came back to the ballad in the stanza, "If he had had but ten men more," which differs but slightly from stanza ii. of Scott's ballad. That this is so, and that, later, Satchells is again reminiscent of a ballad, is no improbable opinion.

In the ballad (iii.-viii.) we learn how Willie is brought a prisoner across Liddel to Carlisle; we have his altercation with Lord Scrope, and the arrival of the news at Branksome, where Buccleuch is at table. Satchells also gives the altercation. In both versions Willie promises to "take his leave" of Scrope before he quits the Castle.

In Scott's ballad (Scrope speaks) (stanza vi.).


Before ye cross my castle yate,
I trow ye shall take fareweel o' me.

Willie replies--

I never yet lodged in a hostelrie,
But I paid my lawing before I gaed.

In Satchells, Lord Scrope says--

"Before thou goest away thou must
   Even take thy leave of me?"
"By the cross of my sword," says Willie then,
   "I'll take my leave of thee."


Now, had Scott been pirating Satchells, I think he would have kept "By the cross of my sword," which is picturesque and probable, Willie being no good Presbyterian. In Otterburne, Scott, ALTERING HOGG'S COPY, makes Douglas swear "By the might of Our Ladye."

It is a question of opinion; but I do think that if Scott were merely paraphrasing and pirating Satchells, he could not have helped putting into his version the Catholic, "'By the cross of my sword,' then Willy said," as given by Satchells. To do this was safe, as Scott had said that Satchells does pirate ballads. On the other hand, Satchells, composing in black 1688, when Catholicism had been stamped out on the Scottish Border, was not apt to invent "By the cross of my sword." It LOOKS like Scott's work, for he, of course, knew how Catholicism lingered among the spears of Bothwell, himself a Catholic, in 1596. But it is NOT Scott's work, it is in Satchells. In both Satchells and the ballad, news comes to Buccleuch. Here Satchells again balladises--


"It is that way?" Buckcleugh did say;
   "Lord Scrope must understand
That he has not only done me wrong
   But my Sovereign, James of Scotland.

"My Sovereign Lord, King of Scotland, Thinks not his cousin Queen, Will offer to invade his land Without leave asked and gi'en."


I do not see how Satchells could either invent or glean from tradition the gist of Buccleuch's diplomatic remonstrances, first with Salkeld, for Scrope was absent at the time of Willie's capture, then with Scrope. Buccleuch, in fact, wrote that the taking of Willie was "to the touch of the King," a stain on his honour, says a contemporary manuscript. {135a}

In a CONTEMPORARY ballad, a kind of rhymed news-sheet, the facts would be known and reported. But at this point (at Buccleuch's reception of the news of Kinmont), Scott is perhaps overmastered by his opportunity, and, I think, himself composes stanzas ix., x., xi., xii.


O is my basnet a widow's curch?
Or my lance a wand o' the willow tree?


and so on. Child and Mr. Henderson are of the same opinion; but it is only sense of style that guides us in such a matter, nor can I give other grounds for supposing that the original ballad appears again in stanza xiii.


O were there war between the lands,
   As well I wot that there is none,
I would slight Carlisle castle high,
   Tho' it were built o' marble stone!


Thence, I think, the original ballad (doubtless made "harmonious," as Hogg put it) ran into stanza xxxi., where Scott probably introduced the Elliot tune (if it be ancient)--


O wha dare meddle wi' me?


Satchells next, through a hundred and forty lines, describes Buccleuch's correspondence with Scrope, his counsels with his clansmen, and gives all their names and estates, with remarks on their relationships. He thinks himself a historian and a genealogist. The stuff is partly in prose lines, partly in rhymed couplets of various lengths. There are two or three more or less ballad-like stanzas at the beginning, but they are too bad for any author but Satchells.

Scott's ballad "cuts" all that, omits even what Satchells gives-- mentions of Harden, and goes on (xv.)--


He has called him forty marchmen bauld,
   I trow they were of his own name.
Except Sir Gilbert Elliot called
   The Laird of Stubs, I mean the same.


Now I would stake a large sum that Sir Walter never wrote that "stall- copy" stanza! Colonel Elliot replies that I have said the ballad-faker should avoid being too poetical. The ballad-faker SHOULD shun being too poetical, as he would shun kippered sturgeon; but Scott did not know this, nor did Hogg. We can always track them by their too decorative, too literary interpolations. On this I lay much stress.

The ballad next gives (xvi.-xxv.) the spirited stanzas on the ride to the Border--


There were five and five before them a',
   Wi' hunting horns and bugles bright;
And five and five came wi' Buccleuch,
   Like Warden's men arrayed for fight.

And five and five like a mason gang, That carried the ladders lang and hie; And five and five like broken men, And so they reached the Woodhouselee.


--a house in Scotland, within "a lang mile" of Netherby, in England, the seat of the Grahams, who were partial, for private reasons, to the Scottish cause. They were at deadly feud with Thomas Musgrave, Captain of Bewcastle, and Willie had married a Graham.

Now in my opinion, up to stanza xxvi., all the evasive answers given to Salkeld by each gang, till Dicky o' Dryhope (a real person) replies with a spear-thrust--


"For never a word o' lear had he,"


are not an invention of Scott's (who knew that Salkeld was not met and slain), but a fantasy of the original ballad. Here I have only familiarity with the romantic perversion of facts that marks all ballads on historical themes to guide me.

Salkeld is met--


"As we crossed the Batable land,
When to the English side we held."


The ballad does not specify the crossing of Esk, nor say that Salkeld was on the English side; nor is there any blunder in the reply of the "mason gang"--


"We gang to harry a corbie's nest,
That wons not far frae Woodhouselee."


Whether on English or Scottish soil the masons say not, and their pretence is derisive, bitterly ironical.

Colonel Elliot makes much of the absence of mention of the Esk, and says "it is AFTER they are in England that the false reports are spread." {139a} But the ballad does not say so--read it! All passes with judicious vagueness.


"As we crossed the Batable land,
When to the English side we held."


Satchells knows that the ladders were made at Woodhouselee; it took till nightfall to finish them. The ballad, swift and poetical, takes the ladders for granted--as a matter of fact, chronicled in the dispatches, the Grahams of Netherby harboured Buccleuch: Netherby was his base.

"I could nought have done that matter without great friendship of the Grames of Eske," wrote Buccleuch, in a letter which Scrope intercepted. {139b}

In Satchells, Buccleuch leaves half his men at the "Stonish bank" (Staneshaw bank) "FOR FEAR THEY HAD MADE NOISE OR DIN." An old soldier should have known better, and the ballad (his probable half-remembered source here) DOES know better--


"And there the laird garr'd leave our STEEDS,
   For fear that they should stamp and nie,"


and alarm the castle garrison. Each man of the post on the ford would hold two horses, and also keep the ford open for the retreat of the advanced party. The ballad gives the probable version; Satchells, when offering as a reason for leaving half the force, lest they should make "noise or din," is maundering. Colonel Elliot does not seem to perceive this obvious fact, though he does perceive Buccleuch's motive for dividing his force, "presumably with the object of protecting his line of retreat," and also to keep the horses out of earshot, as the ballad says. {140a}

In Satchells the river is "in no great rage." In the ballad it is "great and meikle o' spait." And it really was so. The MS. already cited, which Scott had not seen when he published the song, says that Buccleuch arrived at the "Stoniebank beneath Carleile brig, the water being at the tyme, through raines that had fallen, weill thick."

In Scott's ORIGINAL this river, he says, was the Esk, in Satchells it is the Eden, and Scott says he made this necessary correction in the ballad. In Satchells the storming party


Broke a sheet of leid on the castle top.

In the ballad they

Cut a hole through a sheet o' lead.


Both stories are erroneous; the ladders were too short; the rescuers broke into a postern door. Scrope told this to his Government on the day after the deed, 14th April. {140b}

In xxxi. the ballad makes Buccleuch sound trumpets when the castle-roof was scaled; in fact it was not scaled. The ladders were too short, and the Scots broke in a postern door. The Warden's trumpet blew "O wha dare meddle wi' me," and here, as has been said, I think Scott is the author. Here Colonel Elliot enters into learning about "Wha dare meddle wi' me?" a "Liddesdale tune," and in the poem an adaptation, by Scott, of Satchells' "the trumpets sounded 'Come if ye dare.'"

Satchells makes the trumpets sound when the rescuers bring Kinmont Willie to the castle-top on the ladder (which they did not), and again when the rescuers reach the ground by the ladder. They made no use at all of the ladders, which were too short, and Willie, says the ballad, lay "in the LOWER prison." They came in and went out by a door; but the trumpets are not apocryphal. They, and the shortness of the ladders, are mentioned in a MS. quoted by Scott, and in Birrell's contemporary Diary, i. p. 57. In the MS. Buccleuch causes the trumpets to be sounded from below, by a detachment "in the plain field," securing the retreat. His motive is to encourage his party, "and to terrify both castle and town by imagination of a greater force." Buccleuch again "sounds up his trumpet before taking the river," in the MS. Colonel Elliot may claim stanza xxxi. for Scott, and also the tune "Wha dare meddle wi' me?" he may even claim here a suggestion from Satchells' "Come if ye dare." Colonel Elliot says that no tune of this title ever existed, a thing not easy to prove. {142a}

In the conclusion, with differences, there are resemblances in the ballad and Satchells. Colonel Elliot goes into them very minutely. For example, he says that Kinmont is "made to ride off; not on horseback, but on Red Rowan's back!"

The ballad says not a word to that effect. Kinmont's speech about Red Rowan as "a rough beast" to ride, is made immediately after the stanza,


"Then shoulder high, with shout and cry,
   We bore him down the ladder lang;
At every stride Red Rowan made,
   I wot the Kinmont's airns played clang." {142b}


After this verse Kinmont makes his speech (xl.-xli.). But if he DID ride on Red Rowan's back to Staneshaw bank, it was the best thing that a heavily ironed man could do. In the ballad (xxvii.) no horses of the party were waiting at the castle, ALL horses were left behind at Staneshaw bank (Satchells brings horses, or at least a horse for Willie, to the castle). On what could Willie "ride off," except on Red Rowan? {142c}

Stanzas xxxv., xxxvi. and xliv. are related, we have seen, to passages in Jock o' the Side and Archie o' Cafield, but ballads, like Homer, employ the same formulae to describe the same circumstances: a note of archaism, as in Gaelic poetic passages in Marchen.

I do not pretend always to know how far Scott kept and emended old stanzas mangled by reciters: there are places in which I am quite at a loss to tell whether he is "making" or copying.

I incline to hold that Satchells was occasionally reminiscent of a ballad for the reasons and traces given, and I think that Scott when his and Satchells' versions coincide, did not borrow direct from Satchells, but that both men had a ballad source.

That ballad was later than the popular belief, held by Satchells, that Gilbert Elliot was at the time (1596) laird of Stobs, which he did not acquire till after the Union (1603), and that he (the only man not a Scot, says Satchells, wrongly) rode with Buccleuch. Elliot is not accused of doing so in Scrope's dispatches, but he may have come as far as Staneshaw bank, where half the company were left behind, says Satchells, with the horses, which were also left, says the ballad. In that case Elliot would not be observed in or near the Castle. Yet it may have been known in Scotland that he was of the party.

He was, as Satchells says, a cousin, he was also a friend of Buccleuch's, and he may conceivably have taken a part in this glorious adventure, though he could not, AT THE MOMENT, be called laird of Stobs. Were I an Elliot, this opinion would be welcome to me! Really, Salkeld was in a good position to know whether Elliot rode with Buccleuch or not.

The whole question is not one on which I can speak dogmatically. A person who suspects Scott intensely may believe that there were no ballad fragments of Kinmont in his possession. The person who, like myself, thinks Satchells, with his "It fell about the Martinmas," knew a ballad vaguely, believes that Satchells HAD some ballad sources bemuddled in his old memory.

A person who cannot conceive that Scott wrote


Except Sir Gilbert Elliot, called
   The laird of Stobs, I mean the same,


will hold that Scott knew some ballad fragments, disjecta membra. But I quite agree with Colonel Elliot, that the ballad, AS IT STANDS (with the exception, to my mind, of some thirty stanzas, themselves emended), "belongs to the early nineteenth century, not to the early seventeenth." The time for supposing the poem, AS IT STANDS, to be "saturated with the folk-spirit" all through is past; the poem is far too much contaminated by the genius of Scott itself; like Burns' transfiguration of "the folk-spirit" at its best.

Near the beginning of this paper I said, in answer to a question of Colonel Elliot's, that I myself was the person who had suspected Scott of composing the whole of Kinmont Willie, and I have given my reasons for not remaining constant to my suspicions. But in a work which Colonel Elliot quotes, the abridged edition of Child's great book by Mrs. Child-Sargent and Professor Kittredge (1905), the learned professor writes, "Kinmont Willie is under vehement suspicion of being the work of Sir Walter Scott." Mr. Kittredge's entire passage on the matter is worth quoting. He first says--"The traditional ballad appears to be inimitable by any person of literary cultivation," "the efforts of poets and poetasters" end in "invariable failure."

I do not think that they need end in failure except for one reason. The poet or poetaster cannot, now, except by flat lying and laborious forgery of old papers, produce any documentary evidence to prove the AUTHENTICITY of his attempt at imitation. Without documentary evidence of antiquity, no critic can approach the imitation except in a spirit of determined scepticism. He knows, certainly, that the ballad is modern, and, knowing that, he easily finds proofs of modernism even where they do not really exist. I am convinced that to imitate a ballad that would, except for the lack of documentary evidence, beguile the expert, is perfectly feasible. I even venture to offer examples of my own manufacture at the close of this volume. I can find nothing suspicious in them, except the deliberate insertion of formulae which occur in genuine ballads. Such wiederholungen are not reasons for rejection, in my opinion; but they are SUSPECT with people who do not understand that they are a natural and necessary feature of archaic poetry, and this fact Mr. Kittredge does understand.

Mr. Kittredge speaks of Sir Walter's unique success with Kinmont Willie; but is Sir Walter successful? Some of his stanzas I, for one, can hardly accept, even as emended traditional verses.

Mr. Kittredge writes--"Sir Walter's success, however, in a special kind of balladry for which he was better adapted by nature and habit of mind than for any other, would only emphasise the universal failure. And it must not be forgotten that Kinmont Willie, if it be Scott's work, is not made out of whole cloth; it is a working over of one of the best traditional ballads known (Jock o' the Side), with the intention of fitting it to an historical exploit of Buccleuch. Further, the subject itself was of such a nature that it might well have been celebrated in a ballad,--indeed, one is tempted to say, it must have been so celebrated."

Not a doubt of THAT!

"And, finally, Sir Walter Scott felt towards 'the Kinmont' and 'the bold Buccleuch' precisely as the moss-trooping author of such a ballad would have felt. For once, then, the miraculous happened. . . . " {146a} Or did not happen, for the exception is "solitary though doubtful," and "under vehement suspicion." But Mr. Kittredge must remember that no known Scottish ballad "is made out of whole cloth." All have, in various degrees, the successive modifications wrought by centuries of oral tradition, itself, in some cases, modifying a much modified printed "stall-copy" or "broadside."

Take Jock o' the Side. The oldest version is in the Percy MS. {147a} As Mr. Henderson says, "it contains many evident corruptions,"


"Jock on his lively bay, Wat's on his white horse behind."


There is an example of what the original author could not have written!

We do not know how good Jock was when he left his poet's hands; and Scott has not touched him up. We cannot estimate the original excellence of any traditional poem by the state in which we find it,


Corrupt by every beggar-man,
And soiled by all ignoble use.


{129a} Minstrelsy, vol. iii. p. 76, 1803.

{130a} Further Essays, p. 112.

{131a} Further Essays, p. 112.

{135a} In Minstrelsy, vol. ii. p. 35 (1833).

{139a} Further Essays, p. 124.

{139b} Border Papers, vol. ii. p. 367.

{140a} Further Essays, pp. 123, 124.

{140b} Border Papers, vol. ii. p. 121.

{142a} Further Essays, p. 125.

{142b} Birrell's Diary vouches for the irons.

{142c} Further Essays, p. 128.

{146a} Sargent and Kittredge, pp. xxix., xxx.

{147a} Hales and Furnivall, ii. pp. 205-207.


Andrew Lang

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