Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

The bristled boar in infant-gore
Wallows beneath the thorny shade.

Now, brothers, bending o'er the accursed loom,

Stamp we our vengeance deep, and ratify mis doom.

“Edward, lo l to sudden fate,

(Weave we the woof. The thread is spun).

Half of thy heart we consecrate.
(The web is wove. The work is done).
Stay, oh stay nor thus forlorn
Leave me unbless'd, unpitied, here to mourn :
In yon bright track, that fires the western skies,
They melt, they vanish from my eyes.
But oh! what solemn scenes on Snowdon's height,

Descending slow, their glittering skirts unroll!
Visions of glory, spare my aching sight !

Ye unborn ages, crowd not on my soul!
No more our long-lost Arthur we bewail,
All hail, ye genuine kings, Britannia's issue, hail!

“Girt with many a baron bold,

Sublime their starry fronts they rear;

And gorgeous dames, and statesmen old
In bearded majesty, appear.
In the midst a form divine !
Her eye proclaims her of the Briton line;
Her lion-port, her awe-commanding face,
Attemper'd sweet to virgin grace.
What strings symphonious tremble in the air,

What strains of vocal transport round her play! Hear from the grave, great Taliessin, hear;

They breathe a soul to animate thy clay,
Bright rapture calls, and soaring as she sings,
Waves in the eye of heav'n her many-colour'd wings

“The verse adorn again Fierce war and faithful love, And truth severe, by fairy fiction drest. In buskin'd measures move Pale grief, and pleasing pain, With horror, tyrant of the throbbing breast. A voice as of the cherub-choir, Gales from blooming Eden bear; And distant warblings lessen on my ear, That lost in long futurity expire. Fond impious man, think'st thou yon sanguine cloud, Rais'd by thy breath, has quench'd the orb of day ! To-morrow he repairs the golden flood, And warms the nations with redoubled ray. Enough for me; with joy I see The diff'rent dooms our fates assign.

Be thine despair, and scept’red care,
To triumph, and to die, are mine.”

He spoke, and headlong from the mountain's height,

Deep in the roaring tide he plunged to endless night.

101.--THE STORY OF WILLIAM WALLACE.
SIR WALTER Scott.

William Wallace was none of the high nobles of Scotland, but the son of a private gentleman, called Wallace of Ellerslie, in Renfrewshire, near Paisley. He was very tall and handsome, and one of the strongest and bravest men that ever lived. He had a very fine countenance, with a quantity of fair hair, and was particularly dexterous in the use of all weapons which were then employed in battle. Wallace, like all Scotsmen of high spirit, had looked with great indignation upon the usurpation of the crown by Edward, and upon the insolences which the English soldiers committed on his countrymen. It is said, that when he was very young, he went a fishing for sport in the river of Irvine, near Ayr. He had caught a good many trouts, which were carried by a boy, who attended him with a fishing-basket, as is usual with anglers. Two or three English soldiers, who belonged to the garrison of Ayr, came up to Wallace, and insisted, with their usual insolence, on taking the fish from the boy. Wallace was contented to allow them a part of the trouts, but he refused to part with the whole basketful. The soldiers insisted, and from words came to blows. Wallace had no better weapon than the butt-end of his fishing-rod; but he struck the foremost of the Englishmen so hard under the ear with it, that he killed him on the spot; and getting possession of the slain man's sword, he fought with so much fury that he put the others to flight, and brought home his fish safe and sound. The English governor of Ayr sought for him, to punish him with death for this action; but Wallace lay concealed among the hills and great woods till the matter was forgotten, and then appeared in another part of the country. He is said to have had other adventures of the same kind, in which he gallantly defended himself, sometimes when alone, sometimes with very few companions, against superior numbers of the English, until at last his name became generally known as a terror to them.

But the action which occasioned his finally rising in arms, is believed to have happened in the town of Lanark. Wallace was at this time married to a lady of that place, and residing there with his wife. It chanced, as he walked in the market-place, dressed in a green garment, with a rich dagger by his side, that an Englishman came up and insulted him on account of his finery, saying, a Scotsman had no business to wear so gay a dress, or carry so handsome a weapon. It soon came to a quarrel, as on many former occasions; and Wallace, having killed the Englishman, fled to his own house, which was speedily assaulted by all the English soldiers. While they were endeavouring to force their way in at the front of the house, Wallace escaped by a back-door, and got in safety to a rugged and rocky glen, near Lanark, called the Cartland-crags, all covered with bushes and trees, and full of high precipices, where he knew he should be safe from the pursuit of the English soldiers. In the meantime, the governor of Lanark, whose name was Hazelrigg, burned Wallace's house, and put his wife and servants to death; and by committing this cruelty, increased to the highest pitch, as you may well believe, the hatred which the champion had always borne against the English usurper. Hazelrigg also proclaimed Wallace an outlaw, and offered a reward to any one who should bring him to an English garrison, alive or dead.

On the other hand, Wallace soon collected a body of men, outlawed like himself, or willing to become so, rather than any longer endure the oppression of the English. One of his earliest expeditions was directed against Hazelrigg, whom he killed, and thus avenged the death of his wife. He fought skirmishes with the soldiers who were sent against him, and often defeated them; and in time became so well known and so formidable, that multitudes began to resort to his standard, until at length he was at the head of a considerable army, with which he proposed to restore his country to independence. About this time is said to have taken place a memorable event, which the Scottish people called the Barns of Ayr. It is alleged that the English governor of Ayr had invited the greater part of the Scottish nobility and gentry in the western parts, to meet him at some large buildings called the barns of Ayr, for the purpose of friendly conference upon the affairs of the nation. But the English earl entertained the treacherous purpose of putting the Scottish gentlemen to death. The English soldiers had halters with running nooses ready prepared, and hung upon the beams which supported the roof; and as the Scottish gentlemen were admitted by two and two at a time, the nooses were thrown over their heads, and they were pulled up by the neck, and thus hanged or strangled to death. Amongst those who were slain in this base and treacherous manner, was, it is said, Sir Reginald Crawford, sheriff of the county of Ayr, and uncle to William Wallace. When Wallace heard of what had befallen, he was dreadfully enraged, and collecting his men in a wood near the town of Ayr, he resolved to be revenged on the authors of this great crime. The English in the mean while made much feasting, and when they had eaten and drunk plentifully, they lay down to sleep in the same large barns in which they had murdered the Scottish gentlemen. But Wallace, learning that they kept no guard or watch, not suspecting there were any enemies so near them, directed a woman, who knew the place, to mark with chalk the doors of the lodgings where the Englishmen lay. Then he sent a party of men, who, with strong ropes, made all the doors so fast on the outside, that those within could not open them. On the outside the Scots had prepared heaps of straw, to which they set fire, and the barns of Ayr, being themselves made of wood, were soon burning in a bright flame. Then the English were awakened, and endeavoured to get out to save their lives. But the doors, as I told you, were secured on the outside, and bound fast with ropes; and, besides, the blazing houses were surrounded by the Scots, who forced those who got out to run back into the fire, or else put them to death on the spot; and thus great numbers perished miserably. Many of the English were lodged in a convent, but they had no better fortune than the others; for the prior of the convent caused all the friars to arm themselves, and attacking the English guests, they put most of them to the sword. This was called the “Friar of Ayr's Blessing.” We cannot tell if this story of the Barns of Ayr be exactly true; but it is probable there is some foundation for it, as it is universally believed in that country. Thus Wallace's party grew daily stronger and stronger, and many of the Scottish nobles joined with him. Among these were Sir William Douglas, the Lord of Douglas-dale, and the head of a great family often mentioned in Scottish history. There was also Sir John the Grahame, who became Wallace's bosom friend and greatest confidant. Many of these great noblemen, however, deserted the cause of the country on the approach of John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, the English governor, at the head of a numerous and well-appointed army. They thought that Wallace would be unable to withstand the attack of so many disciplined soldiers, and hastened to submit themselves to the English, for fear of losing their estates. Wallace, however, remained undismayed, and at the head of a considerable army. He had taken up his camp upon the northern side of the river Forth, near the town of Stirling. The river was there crossed by a long wooden bridge, about a mile above the spot where the present bridge is situated. The English general approached the banks of the river on the southern side. He sent two clergymen to offer a pardon to Wallace and his followers, on condition that they should lay down their arms. But such was not the purpose of the highminded champion of Scotland. “Go back to Warenne,” said Wallace, “and tell him we value not the pardon of the king of England. We are not here for the purpose of treating of peace, but of abiding battle, and restoring freedom to our country. Let the English come on ;we defy them to their very beards !” The English, upon hearing this haughty answer, called loudly to be led to the attack. Their leader, Sir Richard Lundin, a Scottish knight, who had gone over to the enemy at Irvine, hesitated, for he was a skilful soldier, and he saw that, to approach the Scottish army, his troops must pass over the long, narrow wooden bridge; so that thcse who should get over first might be attacked by Wallace with all his forces, before those who remained behind could possibly come to their assistance. He therefore inclined to delay the battle. But Cressingham, the treasurer, who was ignorant and presumptuous, insisted that it was their duty to fight, and put an end to the war at once; and Lundin gave way to his opinion, although Cressingham, being a churchman, could not be so good a judge of what was fitting as he himself, an experienced officer. The English army began to cross the bridge, Cressingham leading the van, or foremost division of the army; for, in those military days, even clergymen wore armour and fought in battle. That took place which Sir Richard Lundin had foreseen. Wallace suffered a considerable part of the English army to pass the bridge, without offering any opposition; but when about one half were over, and the bridge was crowded with those who were following, he charged those who had crossed with his whole strength, slew a very great number, and drove the rest into the river Forth, where the greater part were drowned. The remainder of the English army, who were left on the southern bank of the river, fled in great confusion, having first set fire to the wooden bridge, that the Scots might not pursue them. Cressingham was killed in the very beginning of the battle; and the Scots detested him so much, that they flayed the skin from his dead body, and kept pieces of it, in memory of the revenge they had taken upon the English treasurer. Some say they made saddle-girths of this same skin; a purpose for which I do not think it could be very fit. It must be owned to have been a dishonourable thing of the Scots to insult thus the dead body of their enemy, and shows that they must have been then a ferocious and barbarous people. The remains of Surrey's great army fled out of Scotland after this defeat ; and the Scots, taking arms on all sides, attacked the castles in which the English soldiers continued to shelter themselves, and took most of them by force or stratagem. Many wonderful stories are told of Wallace's exploits on these occasions; some of which are no doubt true, while others are either invented, or very much exaggerated. It seems certain, however, that he defeated the English in several combats, chased them almost entirely out of Scotland, regained the towns and castles of which they had possessed themselves, and recovered for a time the complete freedom of the country. He even marched into England, and laid Cumberland and Northumberland waste, where the Scottish soldiers, in revenge for the mischief which the English had done in their country, committed great cruelties. Wallace did not approve of their killing the people who were not in arms, and he endeavoured to protect the clergymen and others, who were not able to defend themselves. “Remain with

me,” he said to the priests of Hexham, a large town in Northumberland, “for I cannot protect you from my soldiers when you are out of my presence.” The troops who followed Wallace received no pay, because he had no money to give them; and that was one great reason why he could not keep them under restraint, or prevent their doing much harm to the defenceless country people. He remained in England more than three weeks, and did a great deal of mischief to the country. Indeed, it appears, that, though Wallace disapproved of slaying priests, women, and children, he partook of the ferocity of the times so much, as to put to death without quarter all whom he found in arms. In the north of Scotland, the English had placed a garrison in the strong castle of Dunnottar, which, built on a large and precipitous rock, overhangs the raging sea. Though the place is almost inaccessible, Wallace and his followers found their way into the castle, while the garrison in great terror fled into the church or chapel, which was built on the very verge of the precipice. This did not save them, for Wallace caused the church to be set on fire. The terrified garrison, involved in the flames, ran some of them upon the points of the Scottish swords, while others threw themselves from the precipice into the sea, and swam along to the cliffs, where they hung like sea-fowl, screaming in vain for mercy and assistance. The followers of Wallace were frightened at this dreadful scene, and falling on their knees before the priests who chanced to be in the army, they asked forgiveness for having committed so much slaughter, within the limits of a church dedicated to the service of God. But Wallace had so deep a sense of the injuries which the English had done to his country, that he only laughed at the contrition of his soldiers. “I will absolve you all, myself,” he said. “Are you Scottish soldiers, and do you repent for a trifle like this, which is not half what the invaders deserved at our hands !” So deep-seated was Wallace's feeling of national resentment, that it seems to have overcome, in such instances, the scruples of a temper which was naturally humane. Edward I. was in Flanders when all these events took place. You may suppose he was very angry when he heard that Scotland, which he thought completely subdued, had risen into a great insurrection against him, defeated his armies, killed his treasurer, chased his soldiers out of their country, and invaded England with a great force. He came back from Flanders in a mighty rage, and determined not to leave that rebellious country until it was finally conquered; for which purpose he assembled a very fine army, and marched into Scotland. In the mean time the Scots prepared to defend themselves, and chose Wallace to be governor, or protector of the kingdom, because they had no king at the time. He was now titled Sir William Wallace, Protector, or Governor, of the Scottish nation. But although Wallace, as we have seen, was the best soldier and bravest man in Scotland, and therefore the most fit to be placed in command at this critical period, when the king of England was coming against them with such great forces, yet the nobles of Scotland envied him this important situation, because he was not a man born in high rank, or enjoying a large estate. So great was their jealousy of Sir William Wallace, that many of these great barons did not seem very willing to bring forward their forces, or fight against the English, because they would not have a man of inferior condition to be general. This was base and mean conduct, and it was attended with great disasters to Scotland. Yet, notwithstanding this unwillingness of the great nobility to support him, Wallace assembled a large army; for the middling, but especially the lower classes, were very much attached to him. He marched boldly against the king of England, and met him near the town of Falkirk. Most of the Scottish army were on foot, because, as I already told you, in those days only the nobility and great men of Scotland fought on horseback

« ForrigeFortsett »