Tam Lin Balladry

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Thomas the Rhymer

Source: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882-1898 by Francis James Child

Volume I

Sources and Text

  • A. ' Thomas Rymer and Queen of Elfland,' Alexande Fraser Tytler's Brown MS., No 1.
  • B. Thomas the Rhymer,' Campbell MSS, II, 83.
  • C. Thomas the Rhymer,' Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, II, 251, 1802, " from a copy obtained from a lady residing not far from Erceldoune, corrected and enlarged by one in Mrs Brown's MS."
  • R.'THOMAS OFF ERSSELDOUNE.' Thornton MS., leaf 149, back, as printed by Dr. J. A. H. Murray.

A Is one of the nine ballads transmitted to Alexander Fraser Tytler by Mrs Brown in April, 1800, as written down from her recollection.1This copy was printed by Jamieson, II, 7, in his preface to 'True Thomas and the Queen of Elfland.' B, never published as yet, has been corrupted here and there, but only by tradition. C being compounded of A and another version, that portion which is found in A is put in smaller type.

Thomas of Erceldoune, otherwise Thomas the Rhymer, and in the popular style True Thomas, has had a fame as a seer, which, though progressively narrowed, is, after the lapse of nearly or quite six centuries, far from being extinguished. The common people throughout the whole of Scotland, according to Mr Robert Chambers (1870), continue to regard him with veneration, and to preserve a great number of his prophetic sayings, which they habitually seek to connect with " dear years " and other notable public events.2 A prediction of Thomas of Erceldoune's is recorded in a manuscript which is put at a date before 1320, and be is referred to with other soothsayers in the Scalacronica, a French chronicle of English history begun in 1355. Erceldoune is spoken of as a poet in Robert Mannyng's translation of Langtoft's chronicle, finished in 1338 ; and in the Auchinleck copy of ' Sir Tristrem,' said to have been made about 1350, a Thomas is said to have been consulted at Erceldoun touching the history of Tristrem. So that we seem safe in holding that Thomas of Erceldoune had a reputation both as prophet and poet in the earlier part of the fourteenth century. The vaticinations of Thomas are cited by various later chroniclers, and had as much credit in England as in Scotland. During the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries," says Chambers, to fabricate a prophecy in the name of Thomas the Rhymer appears to have been found a good stroke of policy on many occasions. Thus was his authority employed to countenance the views of Edward III against Scottish independence, to favor the ambitious views of the Duke of Albany in the minority of James V, and to sustain the spirits of the nation under the harassing invasions of Henry VIII." During the Jacobite rising of 1745 the accomplishment of Thomas's as then unfulfilled predictions was looked for by many. His prophecies, and those of other Scotch soothsayers, were consulted, says Lord Hailes, " with a weak if not criminal curiosity." Even as late as the French revolutionary war a rhyme of Thomas's caused much distress and consternation in the border counties of Scotland, where people were fearing an invasion. The " Whole Prophecie' of Merlin, Thomas Rymour, and others, collected and issued as early as 1603, continued to be printed as a chap-book down to the beginning of this century, when, says Dr Murray, few farm-houses in Scotland were without a copy of it.

All this might have been if Thomas of Erceldoune had been not more historical than Merlin. But the name is known to have belonged to a real person. Thomas Rymor de Ercildune is witness to a deed whereby one Petrus de Haga obliges himself to make a certain payment to the Abbey of Melrose. Petrus de Haga is, in turn, witness to a charter made by Richard de Moreville. Unluckily, neither of these deeds is dated. But Moreville was constable of Scotland from 1162 to 1189. If we suppose Moreville's charter to have been given towards 1189, and Haga to have been then about twenty years old, and so born about 1170, and further suppose Haga to have made his grant to Melrose towards the end of a life of threescore, or three score and ten, the time of Thomas Rymer's signature would be about 1230 or 1240. If Thomas Rymer was then twenty years of age, his birth would have been at 1210 or 1220. In the year 1294 Thomas de Ercildoun, son and heir of Thomas Rymour de Ercildoun, conveyed to a religious house his inheritance of lands in Ercildoun. With Thomas Rhymer in mind, one naturally interprets Thomas Rymour as the prophet and Thomas de Ercildoun as his son. If Rymour was the surname of this family,3 it would have been better, for us at least, if the surname bad been subjoined to the first Thomas also. As the language stands, we are left to choose among several possibilities. Thomas the Rhymer may have been dead in 1294 ; Thomas Rymour, meaning the same person, may have made this cession of lands in 1294, and have survived still some years. Thomas, the father, may, as Dr Hurray suggests, have retired from the world, but still be living, and it may be his son who resigns the lands. Blind Harry's Life of Wallace makes Thomas Rimour to be alive down to 1296 or 1297. A story reported by Bower in his continuation of Fordun, c. 1430, makes Thomas to have predicted the death of Alexander III in 1286, when, according to the previous (necessarily very loose) calculation, the seer would have been between sixty-six and seventy-six. Neither of these last dates is established by the strongest evidence, but there is no reason for refusing to admit, at least, that Thomas of Erceldoune may have been alive at the latter epoch.

Thomas of Erceldoune's prophetic power was a gift of the queen of the elves; the modern elves, equally those of northern Europe and of Greece, resembling in respect to this attribute the nymphs of the ancient Hellenic mythology. How Thomas attained this grace is set forth in the first of three fits of a poem which bears his name. This poem has come down in four somewhat defective copies : the earliest written a little before the middle of the fifteenth century, two others about 14500, the fourth later. There is a still later manuscript copy of the second and third fits.4 All the manuscripts are English, but it is manifest from the nature of the topics that the original poem was the work of a Scotsman. All four of the complete versions speak of an older story: " gyff it be als the storye sayes, v. 83, " als the storye tellis full ryghte,' v. 123. The older story, if any, must be the work of Thomas. The circumstance that the poem, as we have it, begins in the first person, and after a long passage returns for a moment to the first person, though most of the tale is told in the third, is of no importance; nor would it have been important if the whole narrative had been put into Thomas's mouth, since that is the simplest of literary artifices.

Thomas, having found favor with the queen of Eltland, was taken with her to that country, and there he remained more than three [seven] years. Then the time came round when a tribute had to be paid to hell, and as Thomas was too likely to be chosen by the fiend, the elf queen conducted him back to the world of men. At the moment of parting Thomas desires some token which may authenticate his having spoken with her. She gives him the gift of soothsaying. He presses her to stay and tell him some ferly. Upon this she begins a train of predictions, which Thomas more than once importunes her to continue. The first two of these, the failure of Baliol's party and the battle of Halidon Hill, 1333, stand by themselves, but they are followed by a series in chronological order, extending from the battle of Falkirk to the battle of Otterbourn, 1298-1388. The third fit, excepting, perhaps, a reference to Henry IV's invasion of Scotland in 1401, seems to consist, not of predictions made after the event, but of " adaptations of legendary prophecies, traditionally preserved from far earlier times, and furbished up anew at each period of national trouble and distress, in expectation of their fulfilment being at length at hand.5

The older "story," which is twice referred to in the prologue to the prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune, was undoubtedly a romance which narrated the adventure of Thomas with the elf queen simply, without specification of his prophecies. In all probability it concluded, in accordance with the ordinary popular tradition, with Thomas's return to fairy-land after a certain time passed in this world.6 For the story of Thomas and the Elf-queen is but another version of what is related of Ogier le Danois and Nlorgan the Fay. Six fairies made gifts to Ogier at his birth. By the favor of five he was to be the strongest, the bravest, the most successful, the handsomest, the most susceptible, of knights: Morgan's gift was that, after a long and fatiguing career of glory, he should live with leer at her castle of Avalon, in the enjoyment of a still longer youth and never wearying pleasures. When Ogier had passed his hundredth year, Morgan took measures to carry out her promise. She had him wrecked, while he was on a voyage to France, on a loadstone rock conveniently near to Avalon, which Avalon is a little way this side of the terrestrial paradise. In due course he comes to an orchard, and there he eats an apple, which affects him so peculiarly that he looks for nothing but death. He turns to the east, and sees a beautiful lady, magnificently attired. He takes her for the Virgin; she corrects his error, and announces herself as Morgan the Fay. She puts a ring on his finger which restores his youth, and then places a crown on his head which makes him forget all the past. For two hundred years Ogier lived in such delights as no worldly being can imagine, and the two hundred years seemed to hint but twenty. Christendom was then in danger, and even Morgan thought his presence was required in the world. The crown being taken from his head, the memory of the past revived, and with it the desire to return to France. He was sent back by the fairy, properly provided, vanquished the foes of Christianity in a short space, and after a time was brought back by Morgan the Fay to Avalon.7

The fairy adventures of Thomas and of Ogier have the essential points in common, and even the particular trait that the fairy is taken to be the Virgin. The occurrence of this trait again ill the ballad, viewed in connection with the general similarity of the two, will leave no doubt that the ballad had its source in the romance. Yet it is an entirely popular ballad as to style,8 and must be of considerable age, though the earliest version (A) can be traced at furthest only into the first half of the last century.

The scene of the meeting of Thomas with the elf queen is Huntly Banks and the Eildon Tree in versions B, C of the ballad, as in the romance.9 Neither of these is mentioned in A, the reciter of which was an Aberdeen woman. The elf-lady's costume and equipment, minutely given in the romance (henceforth referred to as R), are reduced in the ballad to a skirt of grass-green silk and a velvet mantle, A, and a dapple-gray horse. B 2 (R 5 ), with nine and fifty bells on each tett of its mane, A 2 (three bells on either side of the bridle, R 9).10 Thomas salutes the fairy as queen of heaven, A 3, R 11. B 3 has suffered a Protestant alteration which makes nonsense of the following stanza. She corrects his mistake in all, and in B 4 tells him she is out hunting, as in R 16. As C 5 stands, she challenges Thomas to kiss her, warning him at the same time, unnaturally, and of course in consequence of a corrupt reading, of the danger; which Thomas defies, C 6. These two stanzas in C represent the passage in the romance 17-21, in which Thomas embraces the fairy queen, and are wanting in A, B, though not to be spared. It is contact with the fairy that gives her the power to carry her paramour off; for carry him off she does, and he is in great fright at having to go. The ballad is no worse, and the romance would have been much better, for the omission of another passage, impressive in itself, but incompatible with the proper and original story. The elf-queen had told Thomas that he would ruin her beauty, if he had his will, and so it came to pass : her eyes seemed out, her rich clothing was away, her body was like the lead ; and it is while thus disfigured that she bids Thomas take leave of sun and moon, so that his alarm is not without reason.11 He must go with her for seven years, A, B ; only for a twelvemonth, R. She takes hint up behind her, A; she rides and he runs, B ; she leads him in at Eldon hill, R; they cross a water, he wading up to the knee, B, R. The water is subterranean in R, and for three days naught is heard but the soughing of the flood. Then they come to an orchard, A, B, R, and Thomas, like to tyne for lack of food, is about to pull fruit, but is told that the fruit is cursed, A 9, B 8 ; 12 if he plucks it, his soul goes to the fire of hell, R 35. The fairy has made a provision of safe bread and wine for him in the ballad, A 10, B 9, but he has still to fast a while in the romance. C, which lacks this passage, makes them ride till they reach a wide desert, and leave living land behind, 9 ; and here (but in A, B, and R in the vicinity of the orchard) the fairy bids Thomas lay his head on her knee, and she will show him rare sights. These are the way to heaven, A 12, B 11, R 38 ; the way to hell, A 13, B 10, R 41 ; the road to Elfland whither they are going, A 14. R does not point out the road to Elfland, but the elfqueen's castle on a high hill; and there are two additional ferlies, the way to paradise and the way to purgatory,13 39, 40. Thomas, in A 15, is now admonished that he must hold his tongue, for if be speaks a word he will never get back to his own country ; in R 44 he is told to answer none but the elf-queen, whatever may be said to him, and this course lie takes in B 12. But before they proceed to the castle the lady resumes all the beauty and splendor which she had lost, and no explanation is offered save the naive one in the Lansdowne copy, that if she had not, the king, her consort. would have known that site had been in fault. Now follows in A 15 (as recited, here 7), C 15, 16, the passage through the subterranean water, which should come before they reach the orchard, as in B 6, R 30, 31. There is much exaggeration in the ballad: they wade through rivers in darkness and hear the sea roaring, C 15, A 7, as in R, but they also wade through red blood to the knee, A 7, C 16, and the crossing occupies not three days, as in R 31, but forty days, A 7. In C they now come to the garden. Stanzas 15, 16 are out of place in C, as just remarked, and 17 in entirely perverted. The cursed fruit which Thomas is not to touch in A 9, B 8, R 35, is offered him by the elf-queen as his wages, and will give him the tongue that can never lie, -a gift which is made him in the romance at the beginning of the second fit, when the fairy is preparing to part with him. Stanzas 18, 19 of C are certainly a modern, and as certainly an ill-devised, interpolation. B has lost the conclusion. In A, C, Thomas gets a fairy costume, and is not seen on earth again for seven years.

The romance, after some description of the life at the elf-castle, informs us that Thomas lived there more than three years [Cambridge MS., seven, and thought the time but a space of three days, an almost moderate illusion compared with the experience of other mortals under analogous circumstances.14 The fairy queen then hurried him away, on the eve of the day when the foul fiend was to come to fetch his tribute. He was a mickle man and hend, and there was every reason to fear that he would be chosen. She brought him again to Eldon Tree, and was bidding him farewell. Thomas begged of her a token of his conversation with her, and she gave him the gift of true speaking. He urged her further to tell him some ferly, and she made him several predictions, but he would not let her go without more and more. Finally, with a promise to meet him on Huntly Banks when she might, she left him under the tree.

Popular tradition, as Sir Walter Scott represents, held that, though Thomas was allowed to revisit the earth after a seven years' sojourn in fairy-land, he was under an obligation to go back to the elf-queen whenever she should summon him. One day while he " was making merry with his friends in the town of Erceldoune, a person came running in, and told, with marks of fear and astonishment, that a hart and hind had left the neighboring forest, and were composedly and slowly parading the street of the village. The prophet instantly arose, left his habitation, and followed the wonderful animals to the forest, whence he was never seen to return." He is, however, expected to come back again at some future time.

What we learn from the adventures of Thomas concerning the perils of dealing with fairies, and the precautions to be observed, agrees with the general teaching of tradition upon the subject. In this matter there is pretty much one rule for all "unco" folk, be they fairies, dwarfs, water-sprites, devils, or departed spirits, and, in a limited way, for witches, too. Thomas, having kissed the elfqueen's lips, must go with her. When the dead Willy comes to ask back his faith and troth of Margaret, and she says he must first kiss her, cheek and chin, he replies, "If I should kiss your red, red lips, your days would not be long." 15 When Thomas is about to pull fruit in the subterranean garden, or paradise, the elf bids him let be: all the plagues of hell light on the fruit of this country; "if thou pluck it, thy soul goes to the fire of hell."16 The queen had taken the precaution of bringing some honest bread and wine with her for Thomas's behoof. So when Burd Ellen's brother sets out to rescue his sister, who had been carried off by the king of Elfland, his sage adviser enjoins him to eat and drink nothing in fairy-land, whatever his hunger or thirst; "for if he tasted or touched in Elfland, he must remain in the power of the elves, and never see middle-eard again." 17 Abstinence from speech is equally advisable, according to our ballad and to other authority: Gin ae word you should chance to speak, you will neer get back to your sin countrie, A 15. They've asked him questions, one and all, but he answered none but that fair ladie, B 12. What so any man to thee say, look thou answer none but me, R 44.

That eating and drinking, personal contact, exchange of speech, receiving of gifts, in any abode of unearthly beings, including the dead, will reduce a man to their fellowship and condition might be enforced by a great number of examples, and has already been abundantly shown by Professor Wilhelm Miiller in his beautiful essay, Zur Symbolik der deutschen Volkssage.18 The popular belief of the northern nations in this matter is more completely shown than anywhere else in Saxo's account of King Gormo's visit to Guthmund, and it will be enough to cite that. The Danish King Gormo, having heard extraordinary things of the riches of Geruth (the giant Geirröðr) determines to verify the reports with his own eves, under the guidance of Thorkill, from Whom he has received them. The land of Geruth is far to the northeast, beyond the sun and stars, and within the realm of Chaos and Old Night. It is, in fact, a very dismal and terrific sort of Hades. The way to it lies through the dominion of Guthmund, Geruth's brother, which is described as a paradise, but a paradise of the same dubious attractions as that in Thomas of Erceldoune. Guthmund, himself a giant, receives the travellers, a band of about three hundred, very graciously, and conducts them to his palace. Thorkill takes his comrades apart, and puts them on their guard : they must eat and drink nothing that is offered them, but live on the provisions which they have brought, must keep off from the people of the place and not touch them ; if they partake of any of the food, they will forget everything, and have to pass their lives in this foul society. Guthmund complains that they slight his hospitality, but Thorkill, now and always, has an excuse ready. The genial monarch offers Gormo one of his twelve beautiful daughters in marriage, and their choice of wives to all the rest of the train. Most of the Danes like the proposition, but Thorkill renews his warnings. Four take the bait, and lose all recollection of the past. Guthmund now commends the delicious fruits of his garden, and tries every art to make the king taste them. But he is again foiled by Thorkill, and clearly perceiving that he has met his match, transports the travellers over the river which separates him and his brother, and allows them to continue their journey.19.

C is translated by Talvj, Versuch, etc., p. 552; by Doenniges, p. 64 ; by Arndt, Blüten p. 246; by Rosa Warrens, Schottische Volkslieder, p. 14; by Knortz, Lieder u. Romanzen, p. 1; by Edward Barry, Cycle populaire de Robin Hood, p. 92; and by F. H. Bothe, Janus, p. 122, after Barry.


Alexander Fraser Tytler's Brown MS., No l : Jamieson's popular Ballads, II, 7.

  1. TRUE Thomas lay oer yond grassy bank,
    And he beheld a ladie gay,
    A ladie that was brisk and bold,
    Come riding oer the fernie brae.
  2. Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
    Her mantel of the velvet fine,
    At ilka tett of her horse's mane
    Hung fifty silver bells and nine.
  3. True Thomas he took off his hat,
    And bowed him low down till his knee:
    'All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
    For your peer on earth I never did see.'
  4. 'O no, O no, True Thomas,' she says,
    'That name does not belong to me;
    I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
    And I'm come here for to visit thee.

    * * * * * *

  5. 'But ye maun go wi me now, Thomas,
    True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
    For ye maun serve me seven years,
    Thro weel or was as may chance to be.'
  6. She turned about her milk-white steed,
    And took True Thomas up behind,
    And aye wheneer her bridle rang,
    The steed flew swifter than the wind.
  7. For forty days and forty nights
    He wade thro red blade to the knee,
    And he saw neither sun nor moon,
    But heard the roaring of the sea
  8. O they rade on, and further on,
    Until they came to a garden green:
    'Light down, light down, ye ladie free,
    Some of that fruit let me pull to thee.'
  9. 'O no, O no, True Thomas,' she says,
    ' That fruit maun not be touched by thee,
    For a' the plagues that are in hell
    Light on the fruit of this countrie.
  10. ' But I have a loaf here in my lap,
    Likewise a bottle of claret wine,
    And now ere we go farther on,
    We'll rest a while, and y e may dine.'
  11. When he had eaten and drunk his fill,
    ' Lay down your head upon my knee,
    The lady sayd, ' ere we climb yon hill,
    And I will show you fairlies three.
  12. ' O see not ye yon narrow road,
    So thick beset wi thorns and briers?
    That is the path of righteousness,
    Tho after it but few enquires.
  13. 'And see not ye that braid braid road,
    That lies across yon lillie leven?
    That is the path of wickedness,
    Tho some call it the road to heaven.
  14. 'And see not ye that bonny road,
    Which winds about the fernie brae?
    That is the road to fair Elfland,
    Whe[re] you and I this night maun gae.
  15. 'But Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
    Whatever you may hear or see,
    For gin ae word you should chance to speak,
    You will neer get back to your ain countrie.'
  16. He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
    And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
    And till seven years were past and gone
    True Thomas on earth was never seen.


Campbell HISS, II, 83

  1. As Thomas lay on Huntlie banks -
    A wat a weel bred man was he
    And there he spied a lady fair,
    Coming riding down by the Eildon tree.
  2. The horse she rode on was dapple gray,
    And in her hand she held bells nine;
    I thought I heard this fair lady say
    These fair siller bells they should a' be mine.
  3. It's Thomas even forward went,
    And lootit low down on his knee
    ' Weed met thee save, my lady fair,
    For thou'rt the flower o this countrie.'
  4. O no, O no, Thomas,' she says,
    'O no, O no, that can never be,
    For I'm but a lady of an unto land.
    Comd out a hunting, as ye may see.
  5. O harp and carp, Thomas,' she says,
    'O harp and carp, and go wi me;
    It's be seven years, Thomas, and a day.
    Or you see man or woman in your am countrie.'
  6. It's she has rode, and Thomas ran.
    Until they cam to yon water clear ;
    He's coosten off his hose and shon,
    And he's wooden the water up to the knee.
  7. It's she has rode, and Thomas ran,
    Until they cam to yon garden green ;
    He's put up his hand for to pull down ane,
    For the lack o food he was like to tyne.
  8. 'Hold your hand, Thomas,' she says,
    'Hold your hand, that must not be;
    It was a' that cursed fruit o thine
    Beggared man and woman in your countrie
  9. ' But I have a loaf and a soup o wine,
    And ye shall go and dine wi me;
    And lay yer head down in my lap,
    And, I will tell ye farlies three.
  10. 'It 's dont ye see yon broad broad way,
    That leadeth down by yon skerry fell?
    It's ill's the man that dothe thereon gang,
    For it leadeth him straight to the gates o hell.
  11. It's dont ye see yon narrow way,
    That leadeth down by yon lillie lea?
    It's weel's the man that doth therein gang,
    For it leads him straight to the heaven hie.'

    * * * * *

  12. It's when she cam into the hall
    I wat a weel bred man was he -
    They've asked him question[s], one and all,
    But he answered none but that fair ladie.
  13. O they speerd at her where she did him get,
    And she told them at the Eildon tree;


Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, II, 251, ed. 1802

  1. TRUE Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,
    A ferlie he spied wi' his ee,
    And there be saw a lady bright,
    Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.
  2. Her shirt was o the grass-green silk,
    Her mantle o the velvet fyne,
    At ilka tett of her horse's mane
    Hang fifty siller bells and nine.
  3. True Thomas, he pulld aff his cap,
    And louted low down to his knee
    'All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
    For thy peer on earth I never did see.'
  4. 'O no, O no, Thomas,' she said,
    ' That name does not belang to me;
    I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
    That am hither come to visit thee.
  5. ' Harp and carp. Thomas.' she said,
    'Harp and carp along wi me,
    And if ye dare to kiss my lips.
    Sure of your bodie I will be.'
  6. ' Betide me weal, betide me woe,
    That weird shall never daunton me ; '
    Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
    All underneath the Eildon Tree.
  7. 'Now ye maun go wi me,' she said,
    True Thomas, Ye maun no wi me,
    And ye maun serve me seven years.
    Thro weal or woe, as may chance to be.'
  8. She mounted on her milk-white steed,
    She's taen True Thomas up behind,
    And aye wheneer her bridle rung,
    The steed flew swifter than the wind.
  9. O they rade on, and farther on -
    The steed gaed swifter than the wind -
    Untill they reached a desart wide,
    And living land was left behind.
  10. ' Light down, light down, now, True Thomas,
    And lean your head upon my knee;
    Abide and rest a little space,
    And I will shew you ferlies three.
  11. see ye not yon narrow road,
    So thick beset with thorns and briers?
    That is the path of righteousness,
    Tho after it but few enquires.
  12. 'And see not ye that braid braid road,
    That lies across that lily leven?
    That is the path of wickedness,
    Tho some call it the road to heaven.
  13. 'And see not ye that bonny road,
    That winds about the fernie brae?
    That is the road to fair Elfland
    Where thou and I this night maun gae.
  14. ' But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
    Whatever ye may hear or see,
    For, if you speak word in Elflyn land,
    Ye'Il neer get back to your ain countrie.'
  15. they rade on, and farther on,
    And they waded thro rivers aboon the knee,
    And they saw neither sun nor moon,
    But they heard the roaring of the sea.
  16. It was mirk mirk night, and there was nae stern light,
    And they waded thro red blade to the knee;
    For a' the blude that's shed on earth
    Rins thro the springs o that countrie.
  17. Syne they came on to a garden green,
    And she pu'd an apple frae a tree
    Take this for thy wages, True Thomas,
    It will give the tongue that can never lie.'
  18. ' My tongue is mine ain,' Tree Thomas said
    ' A gudely gift ye wad gie to me!
    I neither dought to buy nor sell,
    At fair or tryst where I may be.
  19. ' I dought neither speak to prince or peer,
    Nor ask of grace from fair ladye :'
    Now hold thy peace,' the lady said,
    ' For as I say, so must it be.'
  20. He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
    And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
    And till seven years were gane and past
    True Thomas on earth was never seen.

  • A. 7 stands 15 in the MS
    82. golden green if only my copy is right.
    112,3are 112,3 in the MS: the order of words is still not simple enough for a ballad.
    144. goe
    Jamison has a few variations, which I suppose to be his own.
    11, oer yonder bank. 34. your like. 44. And I am come here to. 64. her steed. 82. garden, rightly. 102. clarry. 112. Lay your head. 121. see you not. 124. there's few. 13. see ye not yon. 141. see ye yon. 142. which winds.
  • B. 32. her knee. 38. thou save.
    121. MS perhaps unto.
    131,2 follows st. 12 without separation.
  • C. 201. a cloth


Thornton MS., leaf 149, back, as printed by Dr. J. A. H. Murray.

[A prologue of six stanzas, found only in the Thornton MS., is omitted, as being, even if genuine, not to the present purpose.)

note: The original text makes use of the character yogh, for which there is no markup at this time. It has been replaced in the text with a subscripted italic 3, ȝ, and generally closly approximates either y or g.

  1. ALs I me wente þis endres dare,
    Ffull faste in mynd makand my mone,
    In a mery mornynge of Maye,
    By Huntle bankkes my selfe allone,
  2. I herde þe jays and þe throstelle
    The mawys menyde of hir songs,
    þe wodewale beryde als a belle,
    That alle þe wode a-bowte me ronge.
  3. Allonne in longynge thus als I lave,
    Vndyre-nethe a semely tre,
    [Saw] I whare a lady gave
    [Came ridand] ouer a longe lee.
  4. If I solde sytt to domesdaye,
    With my tonge to wrobbe and wrye,
    Certanely þat lady gave
    Neuer bese scho askryede for mee.
  5. Hir palfraye was a dappill grave,
    Swylke one no saghe I neuer none;
    Als dose þe sonne on someres daye,
    þat faire lady hir selfe scho schone.
  6. Hir Belle it was of roelle bone,
    Ffull semely was þat syghte to see;
    Stefly sett with precyous stones,
    And compaste all with crapotee;
  7. Stones of oryente, grete plente.
    Hir hare abowte hir hede it hangs ;
    Scho rade ouer þat lange lee;
    A whylle echo blewe, a-noþer scho sange.
  8. Hir garthes of nobyll sylke þay were,
    The bukylls were of berelle stone,
    Hir steraps were of crystalle clere,
    And all with perelle ouer-by-gone.
  9. Hir payetrelle was of irale fyne,
    Hir cropoure was of orpharë,
    And als olere goIde hir brydill it schone
    One aythir syde hange bellys three,
  10. [Scho led three grehoundis in a leesshe,]
    And seuene raches by hir þay rone;
    Scho bare an horne abowte hir hake,
    And vndir hir belte full many a flone.
  11. Thomas laye and sawe þat syghte,
    Vndir-nethe ane semly tree;
    He sayd, ȝone es Marye, moste of myghte,
    þat bare þat childe þat dyede for mee.
  12. Bot if I speke with ȝone lady bryghte,
    I hope myne herte will bryste in three;
    Now sail I go with all my myghte
    [fir for to mete at Eldoune tree.
  13. Thomas rathely vpe he rase,
    And he rane ouer þat mountayne hye;
    Gyff it be als the storye saves,
    He hir mette at Eldone tree.
  14. He knelyde downe appone his knee,
    Vndir-nethe þat grenwode spraye,
    And sayd, Lufly ladye, rewe one mee,
    Qwene of heuene, als þou wele maye !
  15. Then spake þat lady milde of thoghte:
    Thomas, late swylke wordes bee;
    Qwene of heuene ne am I noghte,
    Ffor I tuke neuer so heghe degre.
  16. Bote I ame of ane oþer countree,
    If I be payrelde moste of pryse;
    I ryde aftyre this wylde fee;
    My raches rynnys at my devyse.'
  17. ' If þou be parelde moste of pryse,
    And here rydis thus in thy folye,
    Of lufe, lady, als þou erte wyse,
    þoll gyffe me leue to lye the bye.'
  18. Scho sayde, þoul mane, þat ware folye ;
    I praye þe, Thomas, þou late me bee;
    Ffor I save þe full sekirlye,
    þat synne will for-doo all my beaute.
  19. ' Now, lufly ladye, rewe one mee,
    And I will euer more with the duels ;
    Here my trouthe I will the plyghte,
    Whethir þou will in heuene or helle.'
  20. ' Mane of molde, þou will me marre,
    But ȝitt þou sail hafe all thy will;
    And trowe it wele, þou chewys þe werre,
    Ffor alle my beaute will þou spylle.'
  21. Downe þane lyghte þat lady bryghte,
    Vndir-nethe þat grenewode sprays ;
    And, als the starve tellis full ryghte,
    Seune sythis by hir he lave.
  22. Scho sayd, Mane, the lykes thy plays:
    Whate byrde in boure maye dells with the?
    Thou merrys me all þis longe daye;
    I pray the, Thomas, late me bee.
  23. Thomas stode vpe in þat stede,
    And he by-heide þat lady gaye;
    Hir hare it hange all ouer hir hede,
    Hir eghne semede owte, þat are were grave.
  24. And alle þe riche clothynge was a-waye,
    &Thorn;at be by-fore sawe in þat stede ;
    Hir a schanke blake, hir oþer graye,
    And all hir body lyke the lede.
  25. Thomas lave, and sawe þat syghte,
    Vndir-nethe þat grenewod tree.

    * * * * *

  26. &Thorn;an said Thomas, Allas! allas !
    In faythe þis es a dullfull syghte;
    How arte þou fadyde þus in þe face,
    &Thorn;at schane by-fore als þe sonne so bryght[e]!
  27. Scho sayd, Thomas, take leue at sone and mon[e]
    And als at lefe þat grewes on tree ;
    This twelmoneth sall þou with me gone,
    And medill-erthe salt þou none see.'
  28. He knelyd downe appone his knee,
    Vndir-nethe þat grenewod sprays,
    And sayd, Lufly lady, rewe on mee,
    Mylde qwene of heuene, als þou beste maye !
  29. 'Allas' he sayd, ' and wa es mee !
    I trowe my dedis wyll wirke me care;
    My saulle, Jhesu, by-teche I the,
    Whedir-some þat euer my banes sail fare.'
  30. Scho ledde hym in at Eldone hill,
    Vndir-nethe a derne lee,
    Whare it was dirke as mydnyght myrke,
    And euer þe water till his knee.
  31. The montenans of dayes three,
    He herd hot swoghynge of þe flode ;
    At þe taste he sayde, Full wa es mee !
    Almaste I dye, for fawte of f[ode.]
  32. Scho lede hym in-till a faire herbere,
    Whare frwte was g[ro]wan[d gret plentee]
    Pere and appill, bathe ryppe þay were,
    The date, and als the damasee.
  33. þe fygge, and alsso þe wyneberye,
    The nyghtgales byggande on þair nests ;
    &Thorn;e papeioyes faste abowte gane flye,
    And throstylls sange, wolde hafe no reste.
  34. He pressede to pulls frowte with his hande,
    Als mane for fude þat was nere faynt;
    Scho sayd, Thomas, þou late þame stande,
    Or ells þe fends the will atteynt.
  35. If þou it plokk, sothely to save,
    Thi saule gore to þe fyre of helle;
    It commes neuer owte or domesdaye,
    Bot þerin payne ay for to duelle.
  36. Thomas, sothely I the hyghte,
    Come lygge thyne hede downe on my knee,
    Ant [þou] sall se þe fayreste syghte
    &Thorn;at euer sawe mane of thi contree.
  37. He did in hye als scho hym badde;
    Appone hir knee his hede be layde,
    Ffor hir to paye be was full glade;
    And þane þat lady to hym sayde
  38. Seese þou nowe ȝone faire wave,
    þat lygses ouer ȝuno heghe mountayne ?
    ȝone es þe wave to heuene for aye,
    Whene synfull sawles are passed þer payne
  39. Seese þou nowe ȝone oþer waye,
    þat lygges laws by-nethe ȝone rysse?
    ȝone es þe waye, þe sothe to save,
    Vn-to þe joys of paradyse.
  40. Seese þou ȝitt ȝone thirds wave,
    þat ligges vndir ȝone grene playne?
    one es þe wave, with tene and traye,
    Whare synfuil saulis sutfirris þaire payne.
  41. Bot seese þou nowe ȝone ferthe ways,
    Þat lygges ouer ȝone depe dells?
    ȝone es þe wave, so waylawaye !
    Vn-to þe birnande fyre of belle.
  42. Seese þou ȝitt ȝone faire castelle,
    [Þat standis ouer] ȝone heghe hill ?
    Of towne and towre it beris þe belle;
    In erthe es none lvke it vn-till.
  43. For sothe, Thomas, ȝone, es myne awenne,
    And þe kynges of this countree;
    Bot me ware leuer be hanged and drawene,
    Or þat he wyste þon lave by me.
  44. When þou commes to ȝone castelle gay,
    I pray þe curtase mane to bee;
    And whate so any mane to þe save,
    Luke þou answers none bott mee.
  45. My lords es seruede at ylk a mess
    With thritty knvghttis faire and free;
    I mall says, syuasde at the dew,
    I take thi speaks by-ȝonde the see
  46. Thomas still als etane he stude,
    And he by-belle þat lady gaye ;
    Scho come agayne aIs faire and gude, i
    And also ryche one hir palfraye.
  47. Hir grewehundis fillide with dere blode,
    Hir rashes couplede, by my faye;
    Scho blewe hir horns with mayne and mode,
    Vn-to þe castelle scho tuke þe ways.
  48. In-to þe haulle sotliely scho went,
    Thomas foloued at hir hande;
    Than ladyes come, bothe faire and gent,
    With curtassye to hir knelande.
  49. Harpe and fethill bothe þay fande,
    Getterne, and als so þe sawtrye ;
    Lutte and rybybe bothe gangande,
    And all manere of mynstralsye.
  50. Þe most meruelle þat Thomas thoghte,
    Whene þat he stode appone the flore;
    Ffor feftty hertis in were broghte,
    Þat were bothe grete and store.
  51. Rashes lave lapande in þe blode,
    Cokes come with dryssynge knyfe;
    Thay brittened þame als þay were wode ;
    Reuelle amanges þame was full ryfe.
  52. Knyghtis dawnesede by three and three,
    There was revelle, gamene and playe;
    L afly ladyes, faire and free,
    That satte and sane one riche araye.
  53. Thomas dueilide in that solace
    More þane I ȝowe saye parde,
    Till one a daye, so hafe I grace.
    Iy lufly lady sayde to Mee:
  54. Do buske the, Thomas, þe buse agayne,
    Ffor þou may here no lengare be;
    Hye the faste, with myghte and mayne,
    I sall the brynge till Eldone tree.
  55. Thomas sayde pane, with beuy chere,
    Lufly lady, nowe late me bee;
    Ffor certis, lady, I hafe bene here
    Noghte hot þe space of dayes three.
  56. ' Ffor sothe, Thomas, als I þe tells,
    þou base bene here thre ȝere and more;
    Bot langere here þou may noghte duelle;
    The skylle I sall þe tells whare-fore.
  57. ' To morne of belle þe foulle fende
    Amange this folke will feche his fee;
    And þon arts mekill mane and hende;
    I trowe full wele he wolde chose the.
  58. g , Ffor alle þe gold þat ewer may bee,
    Ffro hethyne vn-to þe worldis ende,
    þou bese neuer be-trayede for mee;
    Þerefore with me I rede thou wends.'
  59. Scho broghte hym agayne to Eldone tree,
    Vndir-nethe þat grenewode sprays;
    In Huntlee bannkes es mery to bee,
    Whare fowles synges bothe nyght and days
  60. ' Fferre owtt in ȝone mountane graye,
    Thomas, my fawkone bygges a neste;
    A fawconne es an erlis prays ;
    Ffor-thiin na place may he reste.
  61. 'Ffare well, Thomas, I wend my ways,
    Ffor me by-houys ouer thir benttis browne:
    Loo here a fytt: more es to saye,
    All of Thomas of Erselldowne.


  1. Fare wele, Thomas, I wend my waye,
    I may no lengare stande with the:'
    'Gyff me a tokynynge, lady gaye,
    That I may saye I spake with the.'
  2. To harpe or carpe, whare-so þou gose,
    Thomas, þou sail hafe þe chose sothely :'
    And he salde, Harpynge kepe I none,
    Ffor tonge es chefs of mynstralsre.
  3. ' If þou will spells, or tales telle,
    Thomas, þou sall neuer lesynge lye;
    Whare euer þou fare, by frythe or felle,
    I praye the spoke none euyll of me.
  4. ' Ffare wele, Thomas, with-owttyne gyle,
    I may no lengare duelle with the: '
    ' Luy lady, habyde a while,
    And telle þou me of some ferly.'
  5. ; Thomas, herkyne what I the says :' etc.

Here begin the prophecies.

& and j are replaced by and and I.
21 throstyll cokke : throstell, Cambridge MS.
22 menyde hir.
101 Wanting. She led, etc., Cambridge.
124, 134 Lansdowne, elders ; Cambridge, eldryn, el-dryne.
162 prysse.
171. prysee 173 wysse.
434 me by. Cambridge, be me.
464 also.
21 þou gore. Cambridge, ȝe gon.


  1. See the letter of Dr Anderson to Bishop Perev, December 29, 1800, in Nichols's Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, VII, 178 f.
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  2. Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland, 1870, pp. _i 1 224. See, also, Scott's Minstrelsy, IV, 110-116, 139-151, ed. 1333. But, above all, Dr J. A. H. Murray's Introduction to The Romance Mid Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune, 1875.
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  3. Hector Boece (152') says the surname was Leirmont, but there is no evidence for this that is of value. See Hurray, p. xiii.
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  4. The five copies have been edited by Dr J. A. H. Murray, and printed by the Early English Text Society. A reconstructed text by Dr Alois Brandl makes the second volume of a Sammlung englischer Denkmiiler in kritischen Ausgaben, Berlin, 1880.
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  5. Murray, pp xxiv-xxvii. As might be expected, the Latin texts corrupt the names of persons and of places, and alter the results of battles. Dr Murray remarks : " The oldest text makes the Scots win Halidon Hill, with the slaughter of six thousand Englishmen, while the other texts, wise after the fact, makes the Scots lose, as they actually did." This, and the consideration that a question about the conflict between the families of Bruce and Baliol would not be put after 1400, when the Baliol line was extinct, disposes Dr Murray to think that verses 326-56 of the second fit, with perhaps the first fit, the conclusion of the poem, and an indefinite portion of fit third, may have been written on the eve of Halidon Hill with a view to encourage the Scots.
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  6. The poem, vv 675-80, says only that 'Thomas and the lady slid not part for ever and aye, but that she was to visit him at Huntley banks.
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  7. The relations of Thomas Rhymer and Ogier might, perhaps, be cleared up by the poem of The Visons of Ogier in Fairy Land. The book is thus described by Brunet, ed. 1863, IV, 173: Le premier (second et troisieme) livre des visions d'Oger Is Dannoys au royaulme de Fairie, Paris, 1542, pet. in8, de 48 ff. Brunet adds : A la suite de ce Poeme dares l'exemplaire de la Bibliotheque imperials, se trouve, Le liure des visions fantastiqucs, Paris, 15 2, pet. in-8, de 24 ff. The National Library is not now in possession of tab volume; nor have all the inquiries I have been able to make, though most courteously aided in France, resulted, as I hoped, in the finding of a copy.
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  8. Excepting the two satirical stanzas with which Scott's version (C) concludes. "The repugnance of Thomas to be debarred the use of falsehood when he should find it convenient," may have, as Scott says, "a comic effect," but is, for a ballad, a miserable conceit. Both ballad and romance are serious.
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  9. Eildon Tree, the site of which is supposed now to he marked by the Eiblon Tree Stone, stood, or should have stool, on the slope of the eastern of the three Eildon Hills. Huntly Banks are about half a mile to the west of the Eildon Stone, on the same hill-slope. Erceldoun, a village on the Leader, two miles shove its junction with the Tweed, is all but visible from the Eildon Stone. Murray, pp 1-Iii.
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  10. In B 2 absurdly, the lady hold; nine bells in her hand. Ringing or jingling bridles are ascribed to fairies, Tam Lin, A 37, Cromek's Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, p. 398 (" manes hung wi whustles that the win placed on," p. 2991). The fairy's saddle has a bordure of bells in the English Launfal Halliwell's Illustrations of Fairy Mythology, p. 31, but not in Marie's lai. the dwarf king Antiloie, in Ulrich Von Eschenbach's Alexander, has bells on his bridle: Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie I, 385. These bells, however, are not at all distinctive of fairies, but are the ordinary decoration of elegant "outriders" in the Middle Ages, especially of women. In the romance of Richard Coeur de Lion, a messenger's trappings ring with five hundred bells. Besides the bridle, bells were sometimes attached to the horse's breastplate, to the saddle-bow, crupper, and stirrups. Conde Claros's steed has three hundred around his breastplate. See Weller's Metrical Romances, R. C. de Lion, vv 1514-17, 5712-14, cited by T. Wright, History of Domestic Manners in England, 214 f; Liebrecht, Gercasius p. 122; Kolbing, Englische Studien, III, 105; Zupitza and Varnhagen, Anglia, III, :571, IV, 417; and particularly A. Schultz, Des hofische Leben zur Zeit der Minnesinger, I, 235, 388-91.
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  11. The original I suppose to be the very cheerful tale of Ogier, with which the author of Thomas of Erceldoune has blended a very serious one, without any regard to the irreconcilableness of the two. He is presently forced to undo this melancholy transformation of the fairy, as we shall see. Brandl, 'Thomas of Erceldoune,' p. 20, cites from Giraldus Carnbreusis, Itinerarium Cambrix, I, 5, a story about one Meilyr, a Welshman, the like of which our poet had in mind. This Meilyr was a great soothsayer, and "owed his skill to the following adventure : " Being in company one evening with a girl for whom he had long had a passion, desideratis amplexibus atque deliciis cum indulsisset. statim loco puellae formosae formam quamdam villosam, hispidarn et hirsutam, adeoque enormiter deformem invenit, quod in ipso ejusdem aspectu dementire coepit et insanire. Meilyr recovered his reason after several years, through the merits of the saints, but always kept up an intimacy with unclean spirits, and by their help foretold the future. It is not said that they gave him the tongue that never could lie, bat no other tongue could lie successfully in his presence: he always saw a little devil capering; on it. He was able, by similar indications, to point out the lies and errors of books. The experiment being once tried of laying the Gospel of John in his lap. every devil instantly decamped. Geoffrey of Monmouth's history was substituted, and imps swarmed all over the book and him, too.
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  12. 8 3, 4 " It was a' that cursed fruit o thine beggared man and woman in your countrie : " the fruit of the Forbidden Tree.
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  13. Purgatory is omitted in the Cotton MS. of the romance, as in the ballad.
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  14. Ogier le Danois hardly exceeded the proportion of the ordinary hyperhole of lovers: two hundred Years seemed but twenty. The British king Herla lived with the king of the dwarfs more than two hundred years, and thought the time but three days: Walter Mapes, Nugae Curialium, ad. Wright, p. 16f (Liebrecht). The strongest case, I believe, is the exquisite legend, versified by Trench, of the monk, with whom three hundred years passed, while he was listening to a bird's song - as he thought, less than three hours. For some of the countless repetitions of the idea, see Pauli's Schimpf and Ernst, ed. Oesterlev, No 562, and notes, p. 537 ; Liebrecht's Gervasius, p. 89; W. Hertz, Deutsche Safe im Elsass pp 115-13, 263 ; A. 6raf, La Leggenda del Paradiso Terrestre, pp 26-29, 31-33, and notes ; J. Koch, Die Siebeusehhaferlegentle, kap. ii.
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  15. In an exquisite little ballad obtained by Tommaseo from a peasant-girl of Empoli, I, 26, a lover who had visited hell, and there met and kissed his mistress, is told by her that he must not hope ever to go thence. How the lover escaped in this instance is not explained. Such things happen sometimes, but not often enough to encourage one to take the risk.

    Sono state all' inferno, a son tornato:
    Misericordia, la gente the c'era!
    V'era una stanza tutta illuminata
    E dentro v'era la speranza mix.
    Quando mi vedde gran festa mi fece,
    E poi mi disse: Dolce anima mia
    Non ti arricordi del tempo passato.
    Quando to mi dicevi, " anima mia?''
    Ora, mio caro hen, baciami in bocca,
    Baciami tanto ch'io contents six.
    É tanto saporita la tea bocca!
    Di grazia saporisci anco la mix.
    Ora, mio caro hen, the m'hai baciato,
    Di qui non Isperar d'andarne via.

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  16. A 8, 9, R 34, 35. It was not that Thomas was about to pluck fruit from the Forbidden Tree, though B understands it so : cf. R 32, 33. The curse of this tree seems, however, to have affected all Paradise. In modern Greek popular poetry Paradise occurs sometimes entirely in the sense of Hades. See B. Schmidt, Volksleben der neugrie chen, p. 249.

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  17. Jamieson, in Illustrations of Northern Antiquities, p. 398 : ' Child Rowland and Burd Ellen.'
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  18. Neidersachsische Sagen and Märchen, Schambach and Muller, p. 373. Shakspere has this : " They are fairies; he that speaks to them shall die; " Falstaff, in Merry Wives of Windsor, V, 5. Ancient Greek tradition is not without traces of the same ideas. It was Persephone's eating of the pomegranate kernel that consigned her to the lower world, in spite of Zeus and Demeter's opposition. The drinking of Circe's brewage and the eating of lotus had an effect on the companions of Ulysses such as is sometimes ascribed to the food and drink of fairies, or other demons, that of producing forgetfulness of home: Odyssey, c, 236, ix, 97. But it would not be safe to build much on this. A Hebrew tale makes the human wife of a demon charge a man who has come to perform a certain service for the family not to eat or drink in the house, or to take any present of her husband, exactly repeating the precautions observed in Grimm, Deutsche Sagen Los 41, 49: Tendlau, Das Buch der Sagen and Legenden judischer Vorzeit 1). 1-41. The children of Shem may probably have derived this trait in the story from the children of Japhet. Aladdin, in the Arabian Nights, in to have a care, above all things, that he does not touch the walls of the subterranean chamber so much as with his clothes, or he will lie instantly. This again, by itself, is not very conclusive.
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  19. Historia Danica, 1. viii: :Miller et Velechow, I, 420-2b.
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