Collection of Ancient Scottish Prophecies in Alliterative Verse

Mar 31, 2013 by

ancientscottishCollection of Ancient Scottish Prophecies in Alliterative Verse by David Laing was originally published in 1833 but appears to go back much much farther judging from the book’s introduction:

“It seems difficult for any one, at the present day, to be fully aware of that degree of fond credulity with which, at a period even within the last century, certain political prophecies were regarded and cherished by the partisans of opposite factions in this country, which the least instructed peasants of a later age would probably treat with contempt and derision. The name of Thomas of Ercildoune, or The Rhymer, was then familiar to his countrymen only as that of a gifted seer, to whom the remote destinies of the Scottish Monarchy had been disclosed, and in whose supposititious vaticinations their feverish hopes or fears found encouragement or relief. No doubt can be entertained that the obscure and almost unintel- ligible rhymes which then passed current under his name, and under the names of Merlin, Bede, Berlington, and various other soothsayers, must have been fabricated at a period comparatively recent.

To the late Lord Hailes we are indebted for the first, and still the only attempt to subject them to the ordeal of historical criticism; and his ingenious and successful exposure of a small  portion of these impostures, may be safely enough regarded as superseding all farther discussion on their claims to popular belief. ” Perhaps it may be thought,” says Lord Hailes, ” that I have bestowed unnecessary pains in discrediting the popular predictions ascribed to Thomas the Rhymer. Let it, however, be considered that the name of Thomas the Rhymer is not forgotten in Scotland, nor his authority altogether slighted even at this day. Within the memory of man, his prophecies, and the prophecies of other Scottish soothsayers, have not only been reprinted, but have been consulted with a weak, if not criminal curiosity. I mention not particulars ; for I hold it ungenerous to reproach men with weaknesses of which they themselves are ashamed.

The same superstitious credulity might again spring up. I flatter myself that my attempt to eradicate it will not prove altogether vain. Be this as it will, in endeavouring to expose forgeries, I endeavour to maintain the cause of truth.” The edition of the Scottish and other Prophecies on which Lord Hailes deigned to bestow his ingenious and elaborate criticism, was that printed at Edinburgh by Andro Hart, in the year 16 15. This, which is a volume of extremely rare occurrence, was then  among intelligent bibliographers, believed to have been the earliest publication of the work ; but it is now ascertained that it had been  printed by Robert Waldegrave, printer to the King’s most excellent Majesty, and a copy of this, probably the first edition, having been lately brought into notice at the sale of an old family library, it has been deemed a literary curiosity deserving of preservation in an exact reprint.

In orthography, and some other minute particulars, it differs from the later edition of 1615 ; and of these variations, a list will be found at the end of the volume. 1 No less than twelve later editions, printed between the years 1680 and 1746, have been inspected, and appear to be merely servile and not very accurate copies, of no intrinsic value, and undeserving of minute collation. As specimens of literary composition, the contents of this volume have but slender claims to regard ; but to those who are curious in tracing the under-currents of political faction in the sixteenth. Another copy of this Edition of 1603 occurred at the sale of the late Mr Nassau’s Library, and was purchased, it is understood, for the Collection of Richard Heber, Esq. 2 The copy of the Edition 1615, employed for this collation, is that preserved in the rich and curious Library at Abbotsford. In Bagford’s MS. Collections regarding Printing, there is a notice of an edition of the Prophecies, ” Printed at Edinburgh by the heires of Andrew Hart, 1625.” Vlll century, and who have sufficient skill and patience to follow in the track of our greatest modern annalist in detecting the sources of antiquated delusion, the genuine text now presented to them can- not fail to be acceptable.”


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