The Mystery of Lord Bateman by Andrew Lang
Ever and again, in the literary and antiquarian papers, there flickers up
debate as to the Mystery of Lord Bateman. This problem in no way concerns
the existing baronial house of Bateman, which, in Burke, records no
predecessor before a knight and lord mayor of 1717. Our Bateman comes of
lordlier and more ancient lineage. The question really concerns 'The
Loving Ballad of Lord Bateman. Illustrated by George Cruikshank, London:
Charles Tilt, Fleet Street. And Mustapha Syried, Constantinople.
The tiny little volume in green cloth, with a design of Lord Bateman's
marriage ceremony, stamped in gold, opens with a 'Warning to the Public,
concerning the Loving Ballad of Lord Bateman.' The Warning is signed
George Cruikshank, who, however, adds in a postscript: 'The above is not
my writing.' The ballad follows, and then comes a set of notes, mainly
critical. The author of the Warning remarks: 'In some collection of old
English Ballads there is an ancient ditty, which, I am told, bears some
remote and distant resemblance to the following Epic Poem.'
Again, the text of the ballad, here styled 'The Famous History of Lord
Bateman,' with illustrations by Thackeray, 'plain' (the original designs
were coloured), occurs in the Thirteenth Volume of the Biographical
Edition of Thackeray's works. (pp. lvi-lxi).
The problems debated are: 'Who wrote the Loving Ballad of Lord Bateman,
and who wrote the Notes?' The disputants have not shown much acquaintance
with ballad lore in general.
First let us consider Mr. Thackeray's text of the ballad. It is closely
affiliated to the text of 'The Loving Ballad of Lord Bateman,' whereof the
earliest edition with Cruikshank's illustrations was published in 1839.*
The edition here used is that of David Bryce and Son, Glasgow (no date).
*There are undated cheap broadside copies, not illustrated, in the
Mr. Blanchard Jerrold, in his 'Life of Cruikshank,' tells us that the
artist sang this 'old English ballad' at a dinner where Dickens and
Thackeray were present. Mr. Thackeray remarked: 'I should like to print
that ballad with illustrations,' but Cruikshank 'warned him off,' as he
intended to do the thing himself. Dickens furnished the learned notes.
This account of what occurred was given by Mr. Walter Hamilton, but Mr.
Sala furnished another version. The 'authorship of the ballad,' Mr. Sala
justly observed, 'is involved in mystery.' Cruikshank picked it up from
the recitation of a minstrel outside a pot-house. In Mr. Sala's opinion,
Mr. Thackeray 'revised and settled the words, and made them fit for
publication.' Nor did he confine himself to the mere critical work; he
added, in Mr. Sala's opinion, that admired passage about 'The young
bride's mother, who never before was heard to speak so free,' also
contributing 'The Proud Young Porter,' Jeames. Now, in fact, both the
interpellation of the bride's mamma, and the person and characteristics of
the proud young porter, are of unknown antiquity, and are not due to Mr.
Thackeray—a scholar too conscientious to 'decorate' an ancient text.
Bishop Percy did such things, and Scott is not beyond suspicion; but Mr.
Thackeray, like Joseph Ritson, preferred the authentic voice of tradition.
Thus, in the text of the Biographical Edition, he does not imitate the
Cockney twang, phonetically rendered in the version of Cruikshank. The
second verse, for example, runs thus:
He sail-ed east, he sail-ed vest,
Until he came to famed Tur-key,
Vere he vos taken and put to prisin,
Until his life was quite wea-ry.
He sailed East, and he sailed West,
Until he came to proud Turkey,
Where he was taken and put to prison,
Until his life was almost weary.
There are discrepancies in the arrangement of the verses, and a most
important various reading.
Now sevin long years is gone and past,
And fourteen days vell known to me;
She packed up all her gay clouthing,
And swore Lord Bateman she would go see.
To this verse, in Cruikshank's book, a note (not by Cruikshank) is added:
'"Now sevin long years is gone and past,
And fourteen days well known to me."'
In this may be recognised, though in a minor degree, the same gifted hand
that portrayed the Mussulman, the pirate, the father, and the bigot, in
two words ("This Turk").
'"The time is gone, the historian knows it, and that is enough for the
reader. This is the dignity of history very strikingly exemplified."'
That note to Cruikshank's text is, like all the delightful notes, if style
is evidence, not by Dickens, but by Thackeray. Yet, in his own text, with
an exemplary fidelity, he reads: 'And fourteen days well known to THEE.'
To whom? We are left in ignorance; and conjecture, though tempting, is
unsafe. The reading of Cruikshank, 'vell known to ME'—that is, to
the poet—is confirmed by the hitherto unprinted 'Lord Bedmin.' This
version, collected by Miss Wyatt Edgell in 1899, as recited by a blind old
woman in a workhouse, who had learned it in her youth, now lies before the
present writer. He owes this invaluable document to the kindness of Miss
Wyatt Edgell and Lady Rosalind Northcote. Invaluable it is, because it
proves that Lord Bateman (or Bedmin) is really a volkslied, a popular and
current version of the ancient ballad. 'Famed Turkey' becomes 'Torquay' in
this text, probably by a misapprehension on the part of the collector or
reciter. The speech of the bride's mother is here omitted, though it
occurs in older texts; but, on the whole, the blind old woman's memory has
proved itself excellent. In one place she gives Thackeray's reading in
preference to that of Cruikshank, thus:
Ven he vent down on his bended knee.
Down on his bended knees fell he.
Down on his bended knee fell he.
We have now ascertained the following facts: Cruikshank and Thackeray used
a text with merely verbal differences, which was popular among the least
educated classes early in last century. Again, Thackeray contributed the
notes and critical apparatus to Cruikshank's version. For this the
internal evidence of style is overpowering: no other man wrote in the
manner and with the peculiar humour of Mr. Titmarsh. In the humble opinion
of the present writer these Notes ought to be appended to Mr. Thackeray's
version of 'Lord Bateman.' Finally, Mr. Sala was wrong in supposing that
Mr. Thackeray took liberties with the text received from oral tradition.
What was the origin of that text? Professor Child, in the second part of
his 'English and Scottish Popular Ballads'* lays before us the learning
about Lord Bateman, Lord Bedmin, Young Bicham, Young Brechin, Young Bekie,
Young Beichan and Susie Pie (the heroine, Sophia, in Thackeray), Lord
Beichan, Young Bondwell, and Markgraf Backenweil; for by all these names
is Lord Bateman known. The student must carefully note that 'Thackeray's
List of Broadsides,' cited, is NOT by Mr. W. M. Thackeray.
*Pt. ii. p. 454 et seq., and in various other places.
As the reader may not remember the incidents in the Thackeray, Cruikshank,
and Old Woman version (which represents an ancient ballad, now not so much
popularised as vulgarised), a summary may be given. Lord Bateman went
wandering: 'his character, at this time, and his expedition, would seem to
have borne a striking resemblance to those of Lord Byron.... SOME foreign
country he wished to see, and that was the extent of his desire; any
foreign country would answer his purpose—all foreign countries were
alike to him.'—(Note, apud Cruikshank.) Arriving in Turkey (or
Torquay) he was taken and fastened to a tree by his captor. He was
furtively released by the daughter of 'This Turk.' 'The poet has here, by
that bold license which only genius can venture upon, surmounted the
extreme difficulty of introducing any particular Turk, by assuming a
foregone conclusion in the reader's mind; and adverting, in a casual,
careless way, to a Turk hitherto unknown as to an old acquaintance....
"THIS Turk he had" is a master-stroke, a truly Shakespearian touch'—(Note.)
The lady, in her father's cellar ('Castle,' Old Woman's text), consoles
the captive with 'the very best wine,' secretly stored, for his private
enjoyment, by the cruel and hypocritical Mussulman. She confesses the
state of her heart, and inquires as to Lord Bateman's real property, which
is 'half Northumberland.' To what period in the complicated mediaeval
history of the earldom of Northumberland the affair belongs is uncertain.
The pair vow to be celibate for seven years, and Lord Bateman escapes. At
the end of the period, Sophia sets out for Northumberland, urged, perhaps,
by some telepathic admonition. For, on arriving at Lord Bateman's palace
(Alnwick Castle?), she summons the proud porter, announces herself, and
finds that her lover has just celebrated a marriage with another lady. In
spite of the remonstrances of the bride's mamma, Lord Bateman restores
that young lady to her family, observing
She is neither the better nor the worse for me.
So Thackeray and Old Woman. Cruikshank prudishly reads,
O you'll see what I'll do for you and she.
'Lord Bateman then prepared another marriage, having plenty of superfluous
wealth to bestow upon the Church.'—(Note.) All the rest was bliss.
The reader may ask: How did Sophia know anything about the obscure
Christian captive? WHY did she leave home exactly in time for his
marriage? How came Lord Bateman to be so fickle? The Annotator replies:
'His lordship had doubtless been impelled by despair of ever recovering
his lost Sophia, and a natural anxiety not to die without leaving an heir
to his estate.' Finally how was the difficulty of Sophia's religion
To all these questions the Cockney version gives no replies, but the older
forms of the ballad offer sufficient though varying answers, as we shall
Meanwhile one thing is plain from this analysis of the pot-house version
of an old ballad, namely, that the story is constructed out of fragments
from the great universal store of popular romance. The central ideas are
two: first, the situation of a young man in the hands of a cruel captor
(often a god, a giant, a witch, a fiend), but here—a Turk. The youth
is loved and released (commonly through magic spells) by the daughter of
the gaoler, god, giant, witch, Turk, or what not. In Greece, Jason is the
Lord Bateman, Medea is the Sophia, of the tale, which was known to Homer
and Hesiod, and was fully narrated by Pindar. THE OTHER YOUNG PERSON, the
second bride, however, comes in differently, in the Greek. In far-off
Samoa, a god is the captor.* The gaoler is a magician in Red Indian
*Turner's 'Samoa,' p. 102.
**For a list, though an imperfect one, of the Captor's Daughter story,
see the Author's Custom and Myth, pp. 86-102.
As a rule, in these tales, from Finland to Japan, from Samoa to
Madagascar, Greece and India, the girl accompanies her lover in his
flight, delaying the pursuer by her magic. In 'Lord Bateman' another
formula, almost as widely diffused, is preferred.
The old true love comes back just after her lover's wedding. He returns to
her. Now, as a rule, in popular tales, the lover's fickleness is explained
by a spell or by a breach of a taboo. The old true love has great
difficulty in getting access to him, and in waking him from a sleep,
drugged or magical.
The bloody shirt I wrang for thee,
The Hill o' Glass I clamb for thee,
And wilt thou no waken and speak to me?
He wakens at last, and all is well. In a Romaic ballad the deserted girl,
meeting her love on his wedding-day, merely reminds him of old kindness.
Now he that will may scatter nuts,
And he may wed that will,
But she that was my old true love
Shall be my true love still.
This incident, the strange, often magically caused oblivion of the lover,
whose love returns to him, like Sophia, at, or after, his marriage, is
found in popular tales of Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Germany, Italy,
Greece, and the Gaelic Western Islands. It does not occur in 'Lord
Bateman,' where Mr. Thackeray suggests probable reasons for Lord Bateman's
fickleness. But the world-wide incidents are found in older versions of
'Lord Bateman,' from which they have been expelled by the English genius
for the commonplace.
Thus, if we ask, how did Sophia at first know of Bateman's existence? The
lovely and delicate daughter of the Turk, doubtless, was unaware that, in
the crowded dungeons of her sire, one captive of wealth, noble birth, and
personal fascination, was languishing. The Annotator explains: 'She hears
from an aged and garrulous attendant, her only female adviser (for her
mother died while she was yet an infant), of the sorrows and sufferings of
the Christian captive.' In ancient versions of the ballad another
explanation occurs. She overhears a song which he sings about his unlucky
condition. This account is in Young Bekie (Scottish: mark the name,
Bekie), where France is the scene and the king's daughter is the lady. The
same formula of the song sung by the prisoner is usual. Not uncommon, too,
is a TOKEN carried by Sophia when she pursues her lost adorer, to insure
her recognition. It is half of her broken ring. Once more, why does Sophia
leave home to find Bateman in the very nick of time? Thackeray's version
does not tell us; but Scottish versions do. 'She longed fu' sair her love
to see.' Elsewhere a supernatural being, 'The Billy Blin,' or a fairy,
clad in green, gives her warning. The fickleness of the hero is caused,
sometimes, by constraint, another noble 'has his marriage,' as his feudal
superior, and makes him marry, but only in form.
There is a marriage in yonder hall,
Has lasted thirty days and three,
The bridegroom winna bed the bride,
For the sake o' one that's owre the sea.
In this Scottish version, by the way, occurs—
Up spoke the young bride's mother,
Who never was heard to speak so free,
wrongly attributed to Mr. Thackeray's own pen.
The incident of the magical oblivion which comes over the bridegroom
occurs in Scandinavian versions of 'Lord Bateman' from manuscripts of the
sixteenth century.* Finally, the religious difficulty in several Scottish
versions is got over by the conversion and baptism of Sophia, who had
professed the creed of Islam. That all these problems in 'Lord Bateman'
are left unsolved is, then, the result of decay. The modern vulgar English
version of the pot-house minstrel (known as 'The Tripe Skewer,' according
to the author of the Introduction to Cruikshank's version) has forgotten,
has been heedless of, and has dropped the ancient universal elements of
folk-tale and folk-song.
*Child, ii. 459-461.
These graces, it is true, are not too conspicuous even in the oldest and
best versions of 'Lord Bateman.' Choosing at random, however, we find a
Scots version open thus:
In the lands where Lord Beichan was born,
Among the stately steps o' stane,
He wore the goud at his left shoulder,
But to the Holy Land he's gane.
That is not in the tone of the ditty sung by the Tripe Skewer. Again, in
He made na his moan to a stock,
He made na it to a stone,
But it was to the Queen of Heaven
That he made his moan.
The lines are from a version of the North of Scotland, and, on the face of
it, are older than the extirpation of the Catholic faith in the loyal
North. The reference to Holy Land preserves a touch of the crusading age.
In short, poor as they may be, the Scottish versions are those of a people
not yet wholly vulgarised, not yet lost to romance. The singers have 'half
remembered and half forgot' the legend of Gilbert Becket (Bekie, Beichan),
the father of St. Thomas of Canterbury. Gilbert, in the legend, went to
Holy Land, was cast into a Saracen's prison, and won his daughter's heart.
He escaped, but the lady followed him, like Sophia, and, like Sophia,
found and wedded him; Gilbert's servant, Richard, playing the part of the
proud young porter. Yet, as Professor Child justly observes, the ballad
'is not derived from the legend,' though the legend as to Gilbert Becket
exists in a manuscript of about 1300. The Bateman motive is older than
Gilbert Becket, and has been attached to later versions of the adventures
of that hero. Gilbert Becket about 1300 was credited with a floating,
popular tale of the Bateman sort, and out of his legend, thus altered, the
existing ballads drew their 'Bekie' and 'Beichan,' from the name of
The process is: First, the popular tale of the return of the old true
love; that tale is found in Greece, Scandinavia, Denmark, Iceland, Faroe,
Spain, Germany, and so forth. Next, about 1300 Gilbert Becket is made the
hero of the tale. Next, our surviving ballads retain a trace or two of the
Becket form, but they are not derived from the Becket form. The fancy of
the folk first evolved the situations in the story, then lent them to
written literature (Becket's legend, 1300), and thirdly, received the
story back from written legend with a slight, comparatively modern
In the dispute as to the origin of our ballads one school, as Mr. T. F.
Henderson and Professor Courthope, regard them as debris of old literary
romances, ill-remembered work of professional minstrels.* That there are
ballads of this kind in England, such as the Arthurian ballads, I do not
deny. But in my opinion many ballads and popular tales are in origin older
than the mediaeval romances, as a rule. As a rule the romances are based
on earlier popular data, just as the 'Odyssey' is an artistic whole made
up out of popular tales. The folk may receive back a literary form of its
own ballad or story, but more frequently the popular ballad comes down in
oral tradition side by side with its educated child, the literary romance
on the same theme.
Cf. The Queen's Marie.
Mr. Henderson has answered that the people is unpoetical. The degraded
populace of the slums may be unpoetical, like the minstrel named 'Tripe
Skewer,' and may deprave the ballads of its undegraded ancestry into such
modern English forms as 'Lord Bateman.' But I think of the people which,
in Barbour's day, had its choirs of peasant girls chanting rural snatches
on Bruce's victories, or, in still earlier France, of Roland's overthrow.
If THEIR songs are attributed to professional minstrels, I turn to the
Greece of 1830, to the Finland of to-day, to the outermost Hebrides of
to-day, to the Arapahoes of Northern America, to the Australian blacks,
among all of whom the people are their own poets and make their own
dirges, lullabies, chants of victory, and laments for defeat. THESE
peoples are not unpoetical. In fact, when I say that the people has been
its own poet I do not mean the people which goes to music halls and reads
halfpenny newspapers. To the true folk we owe the legend of Lord Bateman
in its ancient germs; and to the folk's degraded modern estate, crowded as
men are in noisome streets and crushed by labour, we owe the Cockney
depravation, the Lord Bateman of Cruikshank and Thackeray. Even that, I
presume, being old, is now forgotten, except by the ancient blind woman in
the workhouse. To the workhouse has come the native popular culture—the
last lingering shadow of old romance. That is the moral of the ballad of
In an article by Mr. Kitton, in Literature (June 24, 1899, p. 699), this
learned Dickensite says: 'The authorship of this version' (Cruikshank's)
'of an ancient ballad and of the accompanying notes has given rise to much
controversy, and whether Dickens or Thackeray was responsible for them is
still a matter of conjecture, although what little evidence there is seems
to favour Thackeray.'
For the ballad neither Thackeray nor Dickens is responsible. The Old
Woman's text settles that question: the ballad is a degraded Volkslied. As
to the notes, internal evidence for once is explicit. The notes are
Thackeray's. Any one who doubts has only to compare Thackeray's notes to
his prize poem on 'Timbuctoo.'
The banter, in the notes, is academic banter, that of a university man,
who is mocking the notes of learned editors. This humour is not the humour
of Dickens, who, however, may very well have written the Introduction to
Cruikshank's version. That morceau is in quite a different taste and
style. I ought, in fairness, to add the following note from Mr. J. B.
Keene, which may be thought to overthrow belief in Thackeray's authorship
of the notes:—
Dear Sir,—Your paper in the 'Cornhill' for this month on the Mystery
of Lord Bateman interested me greatly, but I must beg to differ from you
as to the authorship of the Notes, and for this reason.
I have before me a copy of the first edition of the 'Loving Ballad' which
was bought by my father soon after it was issued. At that time—somewhere
about 1840—there was a frequent visitor at our house, named Burnett,
who had married a sister of Charles Dickens, and who gave us the story of
He said, as you state, that Cruikshank had got the words from a pot-house
singer, but the locality he named was Whitechapel,* where he was looking
out for characters. He added that Cruikshank sung or hummed the tune to
him, and he gave it the musical notation which follows the preface. He
also said that Charles Dickens wrote the notes. His personal connection
with the work and his relation to Dickens are, I think, fair evidence on
I am, dear Sir, Yours truly,
J. B. KEENE.
Kingsmead House, 1 Hartham Road, Camden Road, N., Feb. 13,1900.
Mr. Keene's evidence may, perhaps, settle the question. But, if Dickens
wrote the Introduction, that might be confused in Mr. Burnett's memory
with the Notes, from internal evidence the work of Thackeray. If not, then
in the Notes we find a new aspect of the inexhaustible humour of Dickens.
It is certain, at all events, that neither Dickens nor Thackeray was the
author of the 'Loving Ballad.'
P.S.—The preface to the ballad says Battle Bridge.