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Why left ye Wallace, greatest of the free,
And treasure still the memory of her dread.* Who does not perceive in this effulgence of Sad Scotia's glistening tears on valour's shrine, this decking of Albyn's hero with pearly dewdrops, the inspiration of Miss Porter's genius, and acquiescence in her portraiture as worthy of all acceptation ? From another source was Thomas Campbell inspired when he wrote those justly admired stanzas on William of Ellerslie, as one who
- strode o'er the wreck of each well-fought field,
Was light in his terrible hand.+ If one touch of nature makes the whole world kin, so one touch of kindred makes the whole Scotch nature clannish. He were no Scotsman, Scotchmen will assure you, whose pulse beat not quicker at sound of Wallace's name. Their poets, accordingly, or there would be no poetry in them,-have ever swept the lyre with new energy when Wallace was the theme. The strain we hear is in a higher mood, whenever his memory is its burden. Not to lose ourselves darkling in the backward abysm of time with Blind Harry, mark how Thomson turns a poor parenthesis even into a glowing panegyric, when describing “a manly race, of unsubmitting spirit, wise, and brave;
Who still through bleeding ages struggled hard
Great patriot-hero! ill-requited chief!") Or how Burns, in perhaps the most spirited stanza of one of his most spirited pieces, exclaims, all aglow with fervid conviction,
At Wallace' name what Scottish blood
By Wallace' side,
Or glorious dy'd. And is not the closing stanza of Burns's purest, best-reputed, most sacred poem, an apostrophe to Heaven that
* The Tower of London, A Poem. By Thos. Roscoe. Part I.
+ The Dirge of Wallace (only to be found, unless recently, in foreign editions of Campbell's poems--the poet refusing it a place in the London editions, as a too juvenile and rhapsodical affair to range wilh his maturer and well-pruned
I The Seasons, Autumn.
-pour'd the patriotic tide
Or nobly die, the second glorious part !* Nor are Southron bards deficient in powers of Wallace-worship. Wordsworth glowingly records
How Wallace fought for Scotland ; left the name
Of independence and stern liberty.t Gratingly and freezingly, after such homage from the South, must come to every Northern ear and heart the style of a fellow-countryman so ungenuine, so ungenial, so ungenerous, comparatively if not absolutely speaking, as David Hume. He talks, with even pulse and in coldly critical tones, of “one William Wallace"-of" this man, whose valorous exploits are the object of just admiration, but have been much exaggerated by the traditions of his countrymen." He pictures him as a fugitive homicide, betaking himself' to the woods, and offering himself as a leader to all those whom their crimes, or bad fortunes, or avowed hatred of the English, had reduced to a like necessity. At the same time, David pays tribute to the physical endowments and metaphysical distinctions of this man of men-duly taking cognisance of not only his “ gigantic force of body,” but of his “heroic courage of mind,” his “disinterested magnanimity"_"with incredible patience, and ability, to bear hunger, fatigue, and all the severities of the seasons;" whence the facility and speed with which he acquired, “among those desperate fugitives, that authority to which his virtues so justly entitled him." But this is not the Wallace Wight of antique tradition and of latter-day romance. It is not the chevalier sans reproche as well as sans peur, of the storybooks old and new. It is not Miss Porter's ante-dated Grandison. Nor is it Mr. Savage Landor's sententious hero, 8—of whom, debating in imaginary conversation with the first Edward, Mr. Wilson Croker sceptically remarked, that we almost imagine ourselves in the company of some venerable stoic, or some Christian martyr, so patient is he, so forgiving. “Few have a right to punish, all to pardon.” A cast of thought like this who would expect, asks Mr. Croker, “ from the rude, ruthless, and baffled champion of the independence of a dark and barbarous country? It is still less likely to have proceeded from the Scotch Guerilla chieftain than from the haughty Plantagenet, to whom such sentiments are so foreign, that he cannot even understand the language of his philosophical contemporary."||
** The Cottar's Saturday Night.
† The Prelude. I As to Wallace's knighthood, we are informed by Thomas of Walsingham that he was knighted by a Scotch earl, on being elected leader of the insurrection against Edward I. Scotis vero cito sibi [Wilhelmo Waleys] consentientibus et ipsuun eorum ducem constituentibus, militiæ donatus est cingulo a quodam comite regionis illuis. (Hist. Angl., p. 90.)—See Mr. Francis M. Nichols's “Inquiry" on Feudal and Obligatory Knighthood, p. 24.
$ Imaginary Conversations, “ William Wallace and King Edward I.” i Quarterly Rev., vol. lviii.
Guerilla chieftain is also the style applied to Wallace by his biographer in the English Cyclopædia --who observes that how far “the guerilla warfare maintained by Wallace and his associates" contributed to excite and spread the spirit of resistance to the English government, we have scarcely the means of judging; though it seems probable that it aided materially in producing the general insurrection which broke out in the spring of 1297,* but which " appears to have been but an ill-cemented confederacy.” It was on the 11th of September in that year that the battle of Stirling Bridge was fought, resulting in the exclusion of the English from all Scotland, plus the always debatable town of Berwick on the Tweed. “ Availing himself of this panic, and of the exhilaration of his countrymen, Wallace pursued the fugitives across the border; and putting himself at the head of a numerous force, he entered England on the 18th of October, and remaining till the 11th of November, wasted the country with fire and sword from sea to sea, and as far south as to the walls of Newcastle.” It was after his triumphal return from this “ great sensation" movement, that Wallace assumed the title of Guardian of the Kingdom in the name of King John-Baliol, to wit, now living as Edward Plantagenet's half-ward, half-prisoner, or as some express (if not explain) it," in a sort of free custody,” in the Tower of London. Earlier than this, was Wallace a recognised knight. As in 1298 he styled himself, in an extant charter, “ Willelmus Walays miles, Custos Regni Scotiæ, et ductor exercituum ejusdem,"—so in the treaty of Irvine, a year before, he is entitled “ Sir Willaume”-the honour of knighthood having been probably conferred upon him, according to wont, by some other knight, one of his fellow-men-at-arms, after he emerged from the dubious distinction of a leader of outlawst into the blaze and fame of Guardian of the Realm, and Commander-in-Chief of its armies.
The summer of '98 saw the Scots defeated at Falkirk with prodigious slaughter. A universal rout ensued, which did not, however, put an end to the war, though it was taken advantage of by the native nobility to degrade Sir William from his office as Custos Regni Scotia. Hume relates the “ factions, jealousies, and animosities,” that divided the nobles, and distracted all their councils. “ The elevation of Wallace, though purchased by so great merit and such eminent services, was the object of envy to the nobility, who repined to see a private gentleman raised above them by his rank, and still more by his glory and reputation."* So either
* “ The history of Wallace down to the year 1297 she was probably born about 1270] is entirely legendary, and only to be found in the rhymes of Harry the Minstrel; though many of the facts which Harry relates still live as popular traditions in the localities where the scenes of them are laid, whether handed down in that way from the time when they happened, or only derived from his poem, which long continued to be the chief literary favourite of the Scottish peasantry." - Engl. Cyclop., VI. 486.
Harry the Minstrel, or Blind Harry, is supposed to have lived a matter of two centuries later than his hero. His metrical historico-biography of Wallace is professedly a translation of the Latin narrative by John Blair, Sir William's fast friend and private chaplain.
The English annalists Trivet and Hemingford were contemporaries of Wallace, and contribute a few facts as ana pour servir to his would-be biographers.
Who outlaw'd dwelt by greenwood tree
Scott: Lord of the Isles, c. i. st. 27. # Hume, Hist. of Engl., sub Edw. I.
he resigned, or they deprived him of office, and he “ retained only the command over that body of his followers, who being accustomed to victory under his standard, refused to follow into the field any other leader.” Michelet designates him “the heroic chief of the clans"*the idea of Scotland and that of clanship, as Michelet's English (or rather, perhaps, British, North British) translator observes, being apparently « so identified in the minds of Englishmen, let alone foreigners, that it is not surprising to find M. Michelet falling into this error with regard to Wallace.”+ Professor Masson pronounces no nation in the world to be more “ factitious" than the Scotch—more composite as regards the materials out of which it has been constructed; but he claims for it, notwithstanding, by reason of its very smallness, for one thing, a more intense consciousness of its nationality, and a greater liability to be acted upon throughout its whole substance by a common thought or common feeling, than England. Even as late as the year 1707, he remarks, the entire population of Scotland did not exceed one million ; and if, going farther back, we fancy this small nation placed on the frontier of one so much larger, and obliged continually to defend itself against the attacks of so powerful a neighbour, we can have no difficulty in conceiving how, in the smaller nation, the feeling of a central life would be sooner developed and kept more continuously active. “The sentiment of nationality is essentially negative; it is the sentiment of a people which has been taught to recognise its own individuality by incessantly marking the line of exclusion between itself and others." Almost all the great movements of Scotland, as a nation, have accordingly, as the Professor points out, been of a negative character-that is, movements of self-defence--the War of National Independence against the Edwards being the first of his examples in proof. I And no doubt so good a Scotsman would have in the leader of that War a very "parfit gentil knight,” embodying the poet's picture of another patriot :
God gave him reverence of laws
The eye of the hawk, and the fire therein. $ Mr. Selby Watson, || it has been remarked, would no doubt be dreadfully shocked at Mr. Clifford's memorable comparison of his hero to Nana Sahib. Yet is the Saturday Reviewer of both these partyhistorians disposed in some sort to accept, and to some extent to justify the comparison. The English of Edward's time, he argues, looked on William Wallace much as the English of our time looked on Nana Sahib; while there are, doubtless, multitudes in India who look on Nana Sahib much as Scotchmen still look upon William Wallace. In both cases, the traitor and murderer of one side is the patriot and martyr of the other. A perfectly impartial judge might perhaps say that Hindoos and Scots
* Histoire de France, t. iii. c. 2.
t G. H. Smith. I See “Scottish Influence in British Literature,” in David Masson's collected Essays, 1856. SS. T. Coleridge.
i Sir William Wallace, the Scottish Hero. A Narrative of his Life and Actions. By the Rev. J. S. Watson, M.A., F.R.S.L. 1861.
The Greatest of all the Plantagenets. By Edmund Clifford. 1860.
were both naturally justified in revolting, but that the English government, in both cases, was no less justified in putting down the revolt. He would probably add that, whatever inherent righteousness there was in the cause either of William Wallace or of Nana Sahib, was unavoidably put out of sight by the monstrous form which the revolt took in both cases. “ We fear,” continues the reviewer, “ that he would have to add that the revolt of our own days was suppressed with much more of heedless cruelty than the revolt of the thirteenth century. There is no evidence that the young officers of King Edward's army had any amusements analogous to the modern diversion of 'potting pandies.'
“ We are in no way anxious to depreciate any merits which William Wallace may really have possessed. He lived in a rude country and in a rude age. At the same time, we are inclined to doubt whether the thirteenth century was not, on the whole, less cruel than some of those which followed it, and still more whether Scotland at least was not a less rude country then than in some later times. At any rate, William Wallace belonged to that class of irregular warriors who often rise in the noblest of causes, but who, to say the least, can seldom keep their followers from disgracing their cause by cruel and treacherous deeds. If Nana Sahib is too bitter a pill to swallow, we shall at least not be far wrong in comparing William Wallace to some of the less reputable of the Spanish guerilla chiefs, and some of the less reputable of the Greek leaders in the War of Independence. It is certainly not a harsh judgment if we say that he was probably not unlike such a man as Theodore Kolokotrônês-a cross between robber and patriot, in which each character prevails in turn. We fancy that the Barabbas of the Gospel was something of the same order, and that he is unfairly wronged by those readers who take him for a mere vulgar burglar or highwayman. We can have no doubt that plenty of specimens of the type may be found at this moment [December, 1861], both in a good cause and in a bad, among the insurgents of Herzegovina and among the Bourbonist chiefs of Naples. Anyhow, it is absurd to compare William Wallace, as we have seen him compared, with Kosciuszko, with Washington, and with William the Silent. One might as well bracket Kolokotrônês with Mavrokordatos, or Barabbas with Judas Maccabæus. And in any case, what Wallace was is matter for the
severe historical inquirer,' not for writers who wilfully and avowedly play with truth. And, above all, the honour of England and of England's greatest king must not be sacrificed to the “ideas'* which William Wallace's countrymen may have ever loved to cherish.'”+
It is freely conceded by this same rather “ severe historical inquirer,'' for whom Mr. Watson no more thought of writing than did Miss Porter when she concocted “ The Scottish Chiefs,” that a defence of Edward the First against Scottish calumnies in no way implies any condemnation of the Scots for revolting against him—there being many cases in which it is alike impossible to blame subjects for revolting, and to blame rulers for suppressing their revolt. No doubt the Scots had wrongs—he says; and
* Mr. Watson explicitly professes, or confesses, that his “history" (founded on Blind Harry) is “not written for the severe historical inquirer," and that he, the writer, “ will be content if the story convey to the reader that idea of Wallace which his countrymen have ever loved to cherish."-Preface to Sir Wm. Wallace, the Scottish Hero.
† Saturday Review, No. 319.