Matthew Gregory Lewis was a dramatist and writer born in 1775. He only lived until the age of 43, but successfully managed to publish some very good ballads, poems and stories. Motivated by a visit to Blantyre’s banks of the Clyde in the late 1700’s, Matthew, although not a local man, retold a tale he overhead, in the form of a ballad. The Blantyre Project has uncovered his song dated from 1801 which is very relevant to Blantyre. It’s a tale, embodying local legend of the love between a Bothwell woman longing for a particular Blantyre man, but sadly betrothed to be wed to somebody else. Our famous Priory features and the tale is one roller-coaster of a ride! Over the next few posts, we’ll be publishing the ballad “Bothwell’s Bonny Jane” in full (and would love to hear your comments!)
Bothwell’s Bonny Jane (Part 1)
Loud roars the north round Bothwell’s hall,
And fast descends the pattering rain :
But streams of tears still faster fall
From thy blue eyes, oh ! bonny Jane!
Hark ! hark ! — I hear, with mournful yell,
The wraiths * of angry Clyde complain ;
But sorrow bursts with louder swell
From thy fair breast, oh! bonny Jane!
” Tap ! — tap !” — who knocks ? — the door unfolds ;
The mourner lifts her melting eye,
And soon with joy and hope beholds
A reverend monk approaching nigh
His air is mild, his step is slow,
His hands across his breast are laid,
And soft he sighs, while bending low,
” St. Bothan* guard thee, gentle maid!” —
To meet the friar the damsel ran ;
She kiss’d his hand, she clasp’d his knee. —
Now free me, free me, holy man,
Who com’st from Blantyre Prio-rie!’ —
” What mean these piteous cries, daughter? “
St. Bothan be thy speed !
” Why swim in tears thine eyes, daughter? ”
From whom would’st thou be freed?” —
Oh ! father, father ! know, my sire,
Though long I knelt, and wept, and sigh’d, ‘
Hath sworn, ere twice ten days expire,
His Jane shall be Lord Malcolm’s bride!’ —
Lord Malcolm is rich and great, daughter, —
” And comes of an high degree ; ”
He’s fit to be thy mate, daughter, ”
So, Benedicitel” —
Oh ! father, father ! say not so !
Though rich his halls, though fair his bowers,
There stands an hut, where Tweed doth flow,
I prize beyond Lord Malcolm’s towers :
There dwells a youth where Tweed doth glide,
On whom nor rank, nor fortune smiles ;
I’d rather be that peasant’s bride,
Than reign o’er all Lord Malcolm’s isles. —
” But should you flee away, daughter, “
And wed with a village clown,
What would your father have said, daughter?
” How would he fume and frown?” —
Oh ! he might frown and he might fume,
And Malcolm’s heart might grieve and pine,
So Edgar’s hut for me had room,
And Edgar’s lips were press’d to mine !* —
to be continued……
Blantyre Project comments: The ballad opens with the writer comparing the clyde itself to the floods of tears of a maiden in the halls of Bothwell Castle. The woman mourns the loss of a close relative and the approaching monk came over from Blantyre Priory to offer her some compassion and sympathy. St Bothan is the patron saint of Bothwell and the monk comforts her with that words that the saint is watching over her. The woman pleas with the monk whom she refers to as father (in the religious sense only). The monk asks why she’s upset and crying so much, referring to her as daughter, in the sense that all woman would be daughters to him. She admits that in 20 days time, she is sworn to be Lord Malcolm’s bride. (perhaps as a result of the death she mourns over?). The monk tries to assure Bonny Jane that Lord Malcolm is kind and rich, but the maiden confirms she sees past this and looks towards a hut where Tweed doth flow. Directly across from Bothwell Castle is Blantyre’s Cotton Mills in this era, mass producer of cotton and tweed. She goes on to say that there’s a youth working there in the mills, not rich, nor lucky, but she would rather marry that Blantyre man, than be ruler over Lord Malcolm’s isles. We begin to get a picture that love for one person is being denied as she’s betrothed against her will to another man. The Priory Monk then says what would your father have said had you run off with this “village clown” from Blantyre mills. This indicates that the person she earlier mourns over was likely her own father. She replies to the Monk that her father and Malcolm wouldnt be happy, but at least her and Edgar could be together. (we now have a name for the Blantyre man she wishes to be with!).
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