Month: September 2014

Remaining an infidel

On 24th  January 24, 1799, MJ ‘Monk’ Lewis wrote to Scott, having written previously regarding certain ballads, namely ‘Glenfinlas’ and ‘The Eve of St John’. Lewis, as in previous correspondence, remarked on several aspects of Scott’s poetical style, including words which, in his consideration, did not rhyme. Having evidently discussed the matter with an acquaintance, Lewis wrote this to Scott.

I must not omit telling you, for your own comfort,

and that of all such person as are wicked enough to

make bad rhymes, that Mr Smythe (a very clever

man at Cambridge) took great pains the other day

to convince me, not merely that a bad rhyme might

pass, but that occasionally a bad rhyme was better

than a good one!!!!!! I need not tell you that he left

me as great an infidel on this subject as he found me.

Ever yours,

(Signed) M. G. Lewis

‘Tis 200 years since

A little diversion into the realms of modern life, I fear. Those of a more delicate constitution may wish to steel their nerves, as we tread the causewaystones of George IV Bridge.

May we encourage any gentle reader to make their way, if possible, to the National Library of Scotland, where the MS of Waverley is now on display, along with associated documents. A visual representation is also available through this internet sorcery, at

Collecting ballads: Don’t forget your screwdriver

Francis James Child is a name well-known to ballad singers and scholars alike; William Macmath less so. However had the latter not given up his summer holidays in the months of July and August, 1890, Child’s seminal ballad collection “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads” would not have had the benefit of several transcriptions of ballad manuscripts used in the preparation of Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802)


One small bookcase in the Library, which contains Ballads, can only be opened by the use of a screw driver. No wonder, therefore, that David Laing and Thomas Carlyle could do nothing. Writing letters of of no avail. Personal presence is required, to sit down before the place, and pointing say in effect, but more politely, I must have that book out, please get the screw driver, as I can’t go away without seeing the volume.”

Macmath – Child, in Montgomerie, “Macmath and the Scott Ballad Manuscripts”, Studies in Scottish Literature, no. 1, July 1963.