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With the fifth fytte there commences a new story. The Sheriff of Nottingham proclaims a shooting-match ; Robin attends, and bears off the prize. As he leaves the town, the cry of * Robin Hood !' is raised ; 'great horns gan they to blow; the townsmen assemble, a sharp encounter ensues, and Little John is wounded in the knee, so that he can neither go nor ride. He entreats his master to smite off his head with his brown sword,' and make his escape. The proposal is indignantly rejected. Little Much takes his wounded companion upon his back, lays him down from time to time to shoot another while,' and, in the end, they all escape to the castle of their friend the knight.
The sixth fytte opens with a complaint by the Sheriff to the King, against the knight, for harbouring outlaws. His Majesty determines to visit Nottingham, and himself suppress these outrages. Without waiting for the arrival of his sovereign, the Sheriff waylays the knight. His lady appeals to Robin Hood, who instantly summons his men, proceeds to Nottingham, slays the proud Sheriff,' and carries off the knight into the greenwood.
The seventh fytte presents us with the arrival of Edward, 'our comely King,' at Nottingham. For half a year all his endeavours to take Robin, or the knight, are vain. At length, a forester offers, that if the King will put on the costume of an abbot, he will lead him to Robin's retreat, "a mile under the lynde ;' in the very depths, that is, of a wood of limes. The offer is accepted. Robin received the pretended abbot with courtesy, and of forty pounds voluntarily offered by the King, took but one half, which he doled out among his men, and bad them merry be. The King then produces a summons under the royal seal, inviting Robin to Nottingham, both to meat and meal.' Robin bends upon his knee before the royal missive, and entertains the messenger in his noblest fashion ; feasts him off his own fat venison
• With good white bread, and good red wine,
And therto fine ale brown.' After dinner he entertains him with the accustomed forest sport, a shooting-match; the condition being, that whoever misses a rose garland suspended between two poles, should forfeit his archer's • tackle,' and submit to receive a buffet on his head. Robin misses by three fyngers and mare.' The King is to enforce the penalty. He hesitates. “Smite boldly,' said Robin,
, "I give thee large leave.' Thus encouraged, the King folds up his sleeve, and, with one blow of a stalwart arm, makes the outlaw reel almost to the earth. Such an exhibition of pith in the
arm,' opens the eyes of Robin and his friend the knight. The bras de fer was an acknowledged attribute of sovereignty. Down kneel the outlaw band before the recognised majesty of England; and peace and pardon follow.
The eighth fytte hurriedly concludes the history. Robin and his men follow the King to the court. But within a year the inextinguishable love of the forest had lured away all his companions save two, and Robin himself was pining after his tortyll tree.' On a certain day he chanced to behold an assembly of young archers practising. This brought his home-sickness to a height.
• Alas, and well-a-woo !
Sorowe wyll me sloo.' He hied back to the green-wood, and dwelt there for twenty 6 yere and two;' but, in the end, was betrayed by his kinswoman, the prioress of Kirkesley. Going to the priory, 'to be leten blode,' the prioress and Sir Roger of Doncaster, that was her own special, procured his death through theyr false playe.' The poem concludes with the charitable aspiration
• Cryst have mercy on his soule,
That dyed on the rode,
And dyde pore men much god.' The Lytell Geste is the most skilful and complete of all the Robin Hood poems. It has, indeed, a kind of epic regularity of construction, which has no parallel int any of the nearly fifty subsequent ballads which Ritson and the present editor have brought together. These are all founded upon the incidents of the Lytell Geste, or upon those of the earlier 'rhymes,' or upon incidents common in ballad literature; and the majority are rude compositions, of little merit or value, except as proofs of the way in which a story, once admitted into the popular mind, will gradually enlarge and spread on every side. In the instance of Robin Hood, there were two peculiar sources whence the facts, which were ultimately engrafted upon the original story, were derived. The first, was the adoption of Robin Hood as an actor in the popular festival in honour of May Day. In this old observance, which was a relic of the ancient festival of Flora, a Lady or Queen of the May was a necessary character, as the representative of the Goddess of Flowers. From an early period the Lady of the May was termed in England, and perhaps also in France, * Maid
. See Douce's Illustrations of Shakspeare, p. 588, edit. 1839. Roquefort, de l'etat de la Poésie Françoise, p. 261. Warton's Eng. Poetry, i, 80, edit. 1824.
Marion. At a more recent date, when the original meaning of the festival was altogether disregarded, a Lord or King of the May either superseded the Queen, or was added to the customary actors; and, finally, the Lord or King came, in many places, to be termed Robin Hood, and was brought upon the scene in archer's habiliments, and with some of Robin Hood's usual attendants. In this way the names and stories of Robin Hood and Maid Marion came to be blended ; and Robin acquired an additional hold upon the hearts of the people. The second source to which we have alluded, is intimately connected with the first. May Day games fell out of fashion ; archery was remembered only in the famous feats of English bowmen; old faiths and superstitions began to wax dim; Maid Marion, who used to be personated by a boisterous "lubberly boy,' was turned over to some woman less attractive still, and became an object of contempt even with Falstaff; Robin Hood's quiver hung useless at his back; Friar Tuck could no longer raise a laugh by pattering an Ave, or repeating scraps of the old Latin service; the joke and the merriment were now dependent, not upon a Little John of six feet two or three, but upon some low life Jack-pudding, or upon the coarse vulgarities of some make-believe Moor or Ethiopianfor there is nothing new under the sun.
Such was the state of things with the story of Robin Hood, wben, some two hundred and fifty years ago, Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle contrived to unite it with a semi-historical narrative of an interesting character, and to bring it upon the ordinary stage in the drama of The Downfall of the Earl of Huntingdon, Robin Hood being the outlawed Earl, and Maid Marion the
chaste Matilda, the Lord Fitzwalter's daughter.' The play was extremely popnlar, and not undeservedly so. The plot is well developed; the dramatis personæ comprise many names of traditional interest; the familiar incidents of the ballads are skilfully adapted to a quasi-historical end ; and, finally, that portion of the play of which the scene is laid in the green-wood, possesses a sylvan freshness and sunny light, which no man that has a living soul in him, or the least feeling for country life, can possibly withstand. Munday and Chettle's play gave new life to the decaying legend. But it was not a true life. To convert the old popular favourites into lords and ladies in disguise, was to communicate a galvanic semblance to them rather than a real existence. They, however, became fashionable; and the supposititious nobility of Robin and Marion passed from the play into new ballads, and was accepted as an integral portion of the original history,
• But time is like a fashionable host,
New favourites arose. " The old Robin Hood of England,' as Shakspeare terms him, now no longer a popular hero, was soon overlooked in the artificial world of polite letters. He gradually faded away into a memory and a tradition, a thing for antiquaries and refuse-mongers: and they strove to make something of him after their own fashion. One gentleman invented a pedigree of the poetic earl, which is an outrage upon all history; and another an inscription upon his tombstone, which is a burlesque upon all language. Finally, Ritson, with most astonishing carefulness, gathered up all the crumbs of infor. mation respecting him, the allusions, the scattered disjointed references, which lie strewn over the surface of our literature, and brought them all together into two octavo volumes. Mr Gutch has republished almost the whole of Ritson, with additions ; but without Ritson's care.
He holds Ritson, we can see, in some contempt. Yet it would not please him, if any one were to institute a strict comparison between the antiquarian acquirements of Ritson and those of Ritson's successor.
And now, throwing aside the poetical earldom, and the popular liaison with Maid Marion, and the ballads clearly subsequent to the Lytell Geste, we arrive at the question-Who and what, after all, was Robin Hood? Where and when did he really live ? This is a question which it will take a bolder man than we can make up among us, to answer distinctly.
What do contemporary English chroniclers say respecting him ? Not a word. What evidence does any contemporary author afford concerning him? None at all. What proof is there, in short, that he ever existed, or did any one of the feats attributed to him? The testimony only of ballads and popular tradition. Nothing else. For, although he is mentioned in two Scottish chronicles, written several hundred years after the most recent of the periods at which he is supposed to have lived, it is plain that the authors of the chronicles in question knew nothing of him beyond the ballads; and merely assigned a speculative date to the life and adventures of the person whom the ballads celebrated. The first of
* Ritson's diligence in this respect was singular. Some few allusive passages have been turned up since his time, but the number is very small. We can add but one which we believe has not been noticed. It occurs, of all places in the world, in a petition to Parliament, presented in the year 1439, against one Piers Venables of Aston in Derbyshire, who haying no liftode, ne ufficeante of goodes, gadered and assembled unto him many misdoers, beynge of his clothynge, and, in manere of insurrection, wente into the wodes in that countrie, like as it hadde be Robyn Hode and his meyné.'-(Rot. Parl. v. 16.)
these chronicles is the Scotichronicon, partly written by Fordun, a canon of Aberdeen, between the years 1377 and 1384, and partly by Bower, abbot of St Columba, about the year 1450. Bower's labours, in connexion with the Scotichronicon, are said to have been of three kinds. Fordun completed five books; these Bower interpolated with new matter, Fordun also left various collections for a continuation of his work, from 1153 to 1385: these Bower arranged, eking them out with materials collected by him self, and he digested the whole into books, extending from Book V. to Book XIII. cap. 33; while the latter part of Book XIII., and the continuation down to the end of Book XVI., are attributed to him entirely. Although there was this distinction between the books before and after Book XIII., Bower himself claimed the whole chronicle subsequent to Book V. as equally his own. In some concluding valedictory lines, he says,
• Quinque libros Fordun, undenos auctor arabat. Now it is in Book X. that the passages relating to Robin Hood occur; but it is a mistake to say that they occur only “in one of the late manuscripts'* of the Scotichronicon. They are to be found in all the manuscripts that we have had opportunities of consulting; in the Edinburgh MS., from which Goodall printed; in the famous Black Book of Paisley, which is now in the King's library in the British Museum ; in the Harleian manuscript 712, which is a copy made in 1483 for an archbishop of St Andrews; and in the Harleian manuscript 4764, which is also a manuscript of the fifteenth century. 'In all these manuscripts the passages exist as printed by Hearne or Goodall; but it is clear that there cannot be any certainty that they were written by Fordun. Their disjointed character, as compared with the passages which precede and follow them, gives them very much the appearance of having been interpolated, but, whether interpolated or not, the facts that are stated in them are evidently derived from the ballads, which are distinctly referred to, and are said to be more attractive to the silly people’ than any others of their kind.
The other Scottish writer who mentions Robin Hood is Major or Mair (Joannes, as Buchanan designates him, solo cognomine Major:) in his Historia Majoris Britannia, which was first published in 1512, and appears to have been written a very little while before. Under the reign of Richard I., that is, between 1189 and 1199, he observes—* About this time, as I conjecture, the famous thieves, Robert Hude of England and Little John, lurked in woods,' &c.; and then he relates various particulars,
* Wright's Essays, ii. 84,