IN the notes to Sir Walter Scott's "Rokeby," there is printed an ancient ballad in the Yorkshire dialect, entitled, THE FELON SOW OF ROKEBY, AND THE FREERS OF RICHMOND." It presents a curious contemporary sketch of the habits of our forefathers, and though it is too long to be inserted entire, a few extracts will, perhaps, repay the reader's attention. There are in the Spectator, two very interesting papers, in which Addison, with a good deal of critical tact, institutes a comparison between the fine old ballad of Chevy Chase, and various corresponding passages in Virgil. The subject of this note is in a much different style, and had Addison fallen in with the "felon Sow," he might, perhaps, in one of his livelier moods, have amused us with demonstrating its superiority to Ovid's detail of the capture of the boar at Calydon. First comes the hero, or rather the heroine of the story.
She was mare that other three, (more) The griseliest beast that e'er might be, Her head was great and gray; She was bred in Rokeby Wood, There was few that thither goed, (went) That came on live away. (alive) Ralph of Rokeby, with good will, The Fryers of Richmond gave her till, (to) Full well to garre them fare; (make) Fryar Middleton, by his name, He was sent to fetch her hame, That rued him sine full sare. (since)
It will be recollected that the Friars were professed mendicants, and were enjoined by the rules of their order, to have no estate or regular income, but to live on the alms of the faithful.
The Friar takes with him two "wight men" to secure this "wicked sew," and, after a little manoeuvring, they succeed in haltering her; but they soon found they had only caught a Tartar
She bound her boldly to abide; To Peter Dale, she came aside, With many a hideous yell; She gaped so wide, and cried so hee, The Friar said, "I conjure thee, Thou art a fiend of hell."
After a little more skirmishing, she runs off with the halter, to the great relief of her captors.
The field, it was both lost and wonne, The sew went home, and that full soone, To Morton on the Green; When Ralph of Rokeby saw the rape, (rope) He wist that there had been debate Whereat the Sew had beene.
The Friar returns to Richmond in woful plight
He look't so griesly all that night, The warden said, "Yon man will fight, "If you say ought but good; "Yon guest hath grieved him so sare, (gest, or adventure) "Hold your tongues and speak no mare, "He looks as he were wood." The warden waged on the morne, (hired) Two boldest men that ever were borne, I weine or ever shall be; The one was Gilbert Griffin's son, Full mickle worship has he wonne, Both by land and sea. The other was a bastard son of Spain, Many a Saracen hath he slain, His dint hath gart them die. (blow) These two the battle undertooke, Against the sew, as says the booke, And sealed security, That they would boldly bide and fight, And skomfit her in maine and might, Or therefore should they die: The warden sealed to them againe, And said, "In field if ye be slaine, "This condition make I. "We shall for you pray, sing, and read "To domesday with hearty speede, "With all our progeny." *
* This was the usual inducement held out to excite the generosity of their benefactors. How they were in the habit of managing such affairs, let old Chaucer relate.
With scrip and tipped staff, y tucked high, In every house he gan to pore and pry, And begged meal and cheese, or else corn. His fellow had a staff tipped with horn, A pair of tables all of ivory, A pointell y polished fetously, (skilfully) And wrote always the names as he stood, Of all folkes that gave them any good; Askaunce that he woulde for them pray, "Give us a bushel wheate, malt, or rye, * * * * "Or give us of your brawn, if ye have any, "A dagon of your blanket, dear dame, (piece) "Our sister dear, lo, here I write your name, "Bacon or beef, or such thing as ye find" * * * * And when he was out at the door, anon, He plained away the names, every one, That he before had written on his tables He served them with nifles and with fables.
The gullibility of John Bull has long been proverbial, and there seems no doubt that these gentlemen beggars were the veritable predecessors of the advertising quack doctors of our times.
Then the letters well were made, Bands bound with seales brade, (broad) As deedes of arms should be.
Forth they go to the conflict; and we have the description of the Sow's onset, rough and bristling as hard words can make it;
She came them againe; (against) That saw the bastard son of Spain, He braded out his brand; Full spiteously at her he strake, For all the fence that he could make, (in spite of) She gat sword out of hand; And rave in sunder half his sheilde, And bare him backward in the feilde, He might not her gainstand.
But master Gilbert then doughtily interposes; and
Since in his hands he hath her tane, She took him by the shoulder bane, (bone) And held her hold full fast, And strave so stiffly in that stower, That through all his rich armour The blood came at the last. Then Gilbert grieved was sea sare,(so) That he rave off both hide and haire, The flesh came fro the bone; And all with force he felled her there, And wanne her worthily in werre, And band her him alone.
The prize is then carried to Richmond, and received by the brethren "with all the honors."
If ye will any more of this, In the fryars of Richmond tis, In parchment good and fine; And how fryar Middleton, that was so kend, (well known) At Greta Bridge conjured a feind, In likeness of a swine.
And some people will, perhaps, be so uncharitable as to suspect that if popish miracles, in general, were as "fully and accurately reported" as friar Middleton's feat of conjuration, a host of wonder working saints would be degraded, like him, to the rank of plain pig driving mortals.