The Lay of the Last Minstrel

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First edition title page
The Harp of the North from The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Scott Monument, Edinburgh
"This is my own, my native land"
quoted from The Lay of the Last Minstrel on Walter Scott's stone slab at the Makars' Court outside The Writers' Museum in Edinburgh

"The Lay of the Last Minstrel" (1805) is a long narrative poem by Walter Scott. ( It should not be confused with The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, also by Walter Scott, compiled three years previously.)


In the poem, Lady Margaret Scott of Buccleuch, the "Flower of Teviot" is beloved by Baron Henry of Cranstown an ally of the Ker Clan, but a deadly feud exists between the two border clans of Scott and Carr/Ker, which has resulted in the recent murder of Lady Margaret's father, Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch by the Kers on the High Street in Edinburgh. Maragaret's widowed mother – Lady Janet – hates the Ker clan as a result, and is adamant in refusing her consent to any suggestion of marriage between the lovers. The lines in its 6th Canto that begin "Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land!" are cited in Edward Everett Hale's famous story "The Man Without a Country" (1863). The title of the concert overture The Land of the Mountain and the Flood by Hamish MacCunn is also taken from the 6th Canto.


"The Poem, now offered to the Public, is intended to illustrate the customs and manners which anciently prevailed on the Borders of England and Scotland. The inhabitants living in a state partly pastoral and partly warlike, and combining habits of constant depredation with the influence of a rude spirit of chivalry, were often engaged in scenes highly susceptible of poetical ornament. As the description of scenery and manners was more the object of the Author than a combined and regular narrative, the plan of the Ancient Metrical Romance was adopted, which allows greater latitude, in this respect, than would be consistent with the dignity of a regular Poem. The same model offered other faculties, as it permits an occasional alteration of measure, which, in some degree, authorizes the change of rhythm in the text. The machinery, also, adopted from popular belief, would have seemed puerile in a Poem which did not partake of the rudeness of the old Ballad, or Metrical Romance.

"For these reasons, the Poem was put into the mouth of an ancient Minstrel, the last of the race, who, as he is supposed to have survived the Revolution, might have caught somewhat of the refinement of modern poetry, without losing the simplicity of his original model. The date of the Tale itself is about the middle of the sixteenth century, when most of the personages actually flourished. The time occupied by the action is Three Nights and Three Days."

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