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The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
By Francis James Child
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
JOHN THOMSON AND THE TURK
a. 'John Thomson and the Turk,' Buchan's Ballads of the North of Scotland, II, 159 ; Motherwell's Minstrelsy, Appendix, p. ix. 'John Tamson,' Motherwell's MS., p. 615.
b. Leyden's Glossary to The Complaynt of Scotland, p. 371, four stanzas.
* * *
LEYDEN (1801) says that he had "heard the whole song when very young." Motherwell's copy was probably given him by Buchan.
John Thomson has been fighting against the Turks for more than three years, when he is surprised by receiving a visit from his wife, who walks up to him in a rich dress, as if Scotland were just round the corner. The lady stays several days, and then gives her husband to understand that she is going home. He recommends her to take a road across the lea, for by doing this she will escape wild Hind Soldan and base Violentrie. It is not so much an object with the lady to avoid these Turks as John Thomson supposes. The Soldan, it turns out, has been slain; but she goes straight to Violentrie. After a twelvemonth John Thomson sends a letter to Scotland, "to see about his gay lady." An answer is returned that her friends have not laid eyes on her in all that time. John Thomson disguises himself as a palmer and hies to Violentrie's castle, where he finds his lady established. Learning that the palmer has come from the Scots' army in Greece, she asks whether one of the chieftains has seen his wife lately, and is told that it is long since the knight in question parted with his wife, and that he has some fear lest the lady should have been captured by his foes. The lady declares that she is where she is by her own will, and means to stay. The palmer throws off his disguise, begs to be hidden from Violentrie, and is put down in a dark cellar. Violentrie soon arrives and calls for his dinner, casually remarking that he would give ten thousand sequins for a sight of the Scot who has so often put him to flight. The lady takes him at his word, and calls up John Thomson. The Turk demands what he would do if their positions were exchanged. "Hang you up," the Scot replies, with spirit, "and make you wale your tree." Violentrie takes his captive to the wood. John Thomson climbs tree after tree, ties a ribbon to every branch, and puts up a flag as a sign to his men : all which the Turk thinks no harm. Then John Thomson blows his horn. Three thousand men come tripping over the hill and demand their chief. The Turk begs for mercy, and gets such as he would have given: they burn him in his castle, and hang the lady.
This ridiculous ballad is a seedling from an ancient and very notable story, which has an extensive literature, and has of late been subjected to learned and acute investigation. It may be assumed with confidence that the story was originally one of King Solomon and his queen, of whom it is related in Russian, Servian, and German. In the course of transmission, as ever has been the wont, names were changed, and also some subordinate circumstances ; in Portuguese, Solomon is replaced by Ramiro II, king of Leon ; in a French romance by the Bastard of Bouillon. It is, however, certain that the Solomon story was well known to the French, and as early as the twelfth century. Something of the same story, again, is found in König Rother and in the Cligès of Crestien de Troies, both works of the twelfth century, and. in various other poems and tales.
The tale of the rape of Solomon's wife and of the revenge taken by Solomon is extant in Russian in three byliny (or, we may say, ballads), taken down from recitation in this century, and in three prose versions preserved in MSS of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. The byliny relate that Tsar Vasily of Constantinople (or Novgorod), while feasting with his nobles, demands of them to find him a wife who shall be his fair match in stature, beauty, wit, and birth. One of the company undertakes to get for his master Salamanija (Salomonida), the beautiful wife of Salomon, Tsar of Jerusalem (or of Constantinople), and effects the business by enticing her on board of a ship to see fine things, an artifice of frequent occurrence in ballads. Salomon sets out to retrieve his wife, attended by a large army (which he conceals in a grove), presents himself at Vasily's palace as a pilgrim (or other humble personage), is recognized by his wife, and shut up in a box. When Vasily comes back from hunting, Salamanija tells him what has chanced, and advises the instant execution of Salomon, which is resolved on. Salomon is to be beheaded, but he begs that he may be hanged, and that three nooses, of rope, bast, and silk, may be provided. Under the gallows Salomon asks to be allowed to sound his horn. Salamanija objects, but is overruled. He blows thrice; his army comes at the third sounding. Vasily is hanged in the silken noose, Salamanija in the rope, and the man that carried her off in the bast.
One of the prose tales narrates these transactions as follows. The wife of Solomon, king of Jerusalem, is stolen from him by his brother Kitovras, through the agency of a magician, who, in the character of a merchant, excites Solomon's admiration for a magnificent purple robe. Solomon buys the robe, and invites the seeming merchant to his table. During the repast the magician envelops the king and his people in darkness, brings a heavy slumber upon the queen and her people, and carries her off in his arms to his ship. Solomon, learning that his wife is in the possession of Kitovras, proceeds against him with an army, which he orders to come to his help when they shall hear his horn sound the third time. Clad as an old pilgrim or beggar, he enters Kitovras's garden, where he comes upon a girl with a gold cup, who is about to draw water. He asks to drink from the king's cup. The girl objects, for, if reported to the king, such a thing would be the death of both of them; but the gift of a gold ring induces her to consent. The queen sees the ring on the girl's hand, and asks who gave it to her. An old pilgrim, she replies. No pilgrim, says the queen, but my husband, Solomon. Solomon is brought before the queen, and asked what he has come for. To take off your head, he answers. To your own death, rejoins the queen; you shall be hanged. Kitovras is sent for, and pronounces this doom. Solomon reminds Kitovras that they are brothers, and asks that he may die in regal style; that Kitovras and the queen shall attend the execution, with all the people of the city; and that there shall be ample provision of food and drink: all which is granted. At the gallows he finds a noose of bast ; he begs that two other nooses may be provided, one of red silk, one of yellow, so that he may have a choice, and this whim is complied with. Always urging their brotherhood, Solomon, at three successive stages, asks the privilege of blowing his horn. The army is at hand upon the third blast, and is ordered to kill everybody. Kitovras and the queen are hanged in the silken nooses, the magician in the bast.
The variations of the other versions are mostly not material to our purpose. In one, King Por takes the place of Kitovras ; in the third, the king of Cyprus. In the latter, Solomon asks to be hanged upon a tree, a great oak. The king of Cyprus begs for a gentle death, and his veins are opened. The queen is dismembered by horses.
A Servian popular tale runs thus. Solomon's wife fell in love with another king, and not being able to escape to him on account of the strict watch which was kept over her, made an arrangement with him that he should send her a drink which should make her seem to be dead. Solomon, to test the reality of her death, cut off her little finger, and seeing no sign of feeling, had her buried. The other king sent his people to dig her up, restored animation, and took her to wife. When Solomon found out what had been done, he set out for the king's palace with a body of armed men, whom he left in a wood, under orders to hasten to his relief when they heard the blast of a trumpet, each man with a green bough in his hand. The king was out a-hunting, the queen at home. She wiled Solomon into a chamber and locked him up, and when the king came back from the chase told him to go into the room and cut Solomon down, but to enter into no talk, since in that case he would certainly be outwitted. Solomon laughed at the king and his sword : that was not the way for a king to dispose of a king. He should take him to a field outside the city, and let a trumpet sound thrice, so that everybody that wished might witness the spectacle; then he would find that the very greenwood would come to see one king put another to death. The king was curious to know whether the wood would come, and adopted Solomon's suggestion. At the first sound of the trumpet, Solomon's men set forward; at the second they were near at hand, but could not be distinguished because of the green boughs which they bore. The king, convinced that the wood was coming, ordered a third blast. Solomon was rescued; the king and his court were put to the sword.
A Little Russian story of Solomon and his wife is given by Dragomanof, Popular Traditions and Tales, 1876, p. 103, translated in Revue des Traditions Populaires, II, 518, by E. Hins. Solomon takes a wife from the family of a heathen tsar. She hates him, and concerts an elopement with a heathen tsarevitch. She pretends to be dead. Solomon burns her hands through and through with a red-hot iron. She utters no sound, is buried in the evening, and immediately disinterred and carried off by her paramour. Solomon goes to the tsarevitch's house, attended by three armies, a black, a white, and a red (which are, of course, kept out of sight), and furnished with three pipes. The tsarevitch has a gallows set up, and Solomon is taken out to be hanged. He obtains liberty first to play on his pipes. The sound of the first brings the white army, that of the second the red, that of the third the black. The tsarevitch is hanged, the tsaritsa dragged at a horse's tail.
A like story is narrated in German in a passage of about two hundred and fifty verses, which is appended to the Wit-Combat, or Dialogue, of Solomon and Morolf ; and again, with much interpolation and repetition, in a later strophic poem of more than four thousand lines. Both pieces are extant in manuscripts and print of the fifteenth century, but their original is considerably earlier.
In the briefer and earlier of the two German versions, Solomon's wife has bestowed her love on a nameless heathen king, and wishes to escape to him, but cannot bring this about. She feigns to be sick, and the heathen (with whom she has been in correspondence) sends two minstrels to her, who pretend to be able to cure sick folk with their music. They obtain admission to the queen, give her an herb which throws her into a death-like sleep, and carry her off to their master. Morolf, at King Solomon's entreaty, sets forth to find the queen, and, after traversing many strange lands, succeeds. Solomon, under his guidance and advice, and properly supported by an armed force, goes to the castle where the queen is living; leaves his men in an adjoining wood, under command to come to him when they hear his horn blow; and, disguised as a pilgrim, begs food at the castle. His wife knows him the moment she lays eyes on him, and tells the heathen that it is Solomon. The heathen, overjoyed, says to Solomon, If I were in your hands, what should be my death? Would God it were so ! answers the king. I would take you to the biggest wood, let you choose your tree, and hang you. So shall it be, says the heathen, calls his people, takes Solomon to the wood, and bids him choose his tree. I shall not be long about that, says Solomon; but, seeing that I am of kingly strain, grant me, as a boon, to blow my horn three times. The queen objects; the heathen says, Blow away. At the third blast Morolf arrives with Solomon's men. The heathen and all his people are slain ; the queen is taken back to Jewry, and put to death by opening her veins in a bath.
The longer poem has several additional incidents which recur in our ballad, and others which link it with other forms of the story. Salme, Solomon's wife, is daughter of an Indian king (Cyprian, cf. the third Russian prose tale), and has been stolen from her father by Solomon. Fore, a heathen king, in turn steals Salme from the king of Jerusalem. Morolf is not the sharp-witted boor of the other piece, but Solomon's brother. When Solomon goes to Fore's castle, he is kindly received by that king's sister, and she remains his fast friend throughout. He tells her that he is a sinful man, upon whom has been imposed a penance of perpetual pilgrimage. Brought before the queen, Solomon tries to make Salme come back to him. She lets him know that she loves Fore three times as well as him, and to Fore will she stick. Solomon is put into some side room. Fore comes home and sits down to table with Salme, and she informs him that Solomon is in his power. The army consists of three divisions, a black, a white, and a wan (bleich), nearly as in the Little Russian tale. The reason which Solomon alleges for wishing to blow his horn is to give notice to St Michael and the angels to come and take his soul in charge. Fore is hanged. Salme is disposed of as before, but not until after she has eloped with another king. Solomon marries Fore's sister after Salme's death.
The adventure of Solomon will be recognized in what is recounted in Portuguese genealogies of the fourteenth century concerning King Ramiro Second of Leon (950). King Ramiro, smitten with passion for a beautiful Moorish lady, got himself invited to the castle of her brother Alboazar, at Gaya, and plumply asked for her. He would make her a Christian and marry her. Alboazar replied that Ramiro had a wife and children already. Ramiro could not deny this, but his queen was, it seems, conveniently near of kin to him, and Holy Church would allow a separation. The Moor swore that he never would give his sister to Ramiro. Ramiro, under cover of a darkness produced by an astrologer in his service, carried her off to Leon and had her baptized with the name Artiga. Alboazar, in revenge, availed himself of a favorable opportunity to lay hands on Aldora, Ramiro's queen, and took her to his castle of Gaya. Ramiro, with five galleys crowded with his vassals, ran in at San João de Foz, near Gaya. He had taken the precaution to cover his galleys with green cloth, and he laid them under the boughs of trees with which the place was covered, so that they were not to be seen. Having landed his men, he left them under the command of his son, D. Ordonho, with directions that they should keep well hidden and not stir from the spot till they should hear his horn, but then come with all speed, and himself putting on mean clothes (panos de tacanho, de veleto) over sword, mail, and horn, went and lay down at a spring near the castle. One of the queen's women came out to fetch water for her mistress. Ramiro, feigning to be unable to rise, asked her for a drink, which she offered him. He put into his mouth the half of a ring which he had divided with his queen, and dropped it into the vessel. The queen saw the half-ring and knew it, and elicited from her maid that she had met a sick beggar, who had asked for a drink. The man was sent for.' What brings you here, King Ramiro? 'demanded the queen.' Love for you,' said he. 'No love for me; you care more for Artiga,' she retorted. Ramiro was put into a back room, and the door was locked. Presently Alboazar came into the queen's chamber. The queen said to him, What would you do to Ramiro if you had him here? Put him to death cruelly (What he would do to me, kill him), responded the Moor. He is locked up in that room, said the queen, and you can proceed at your will.
Ramiro heard all this, and saw that he had never had more need to use his wits. He called in a loud voice to Alboazar: I wronged you by carrying off your sister. I confessed my sin to my priest, and he required of me as penance to go to you in this vile garb, and put myself in your power ; and if you wished to take my life, I was to submit to death in a shameful place, and the fact and cause of my death were to be proclaimed by a horn to all your people. Now I have to ask that you would collect your sons, your daughters, your kinsfolk, and the people of this town, in a cattle-yard (curral), put me up high, and let me blow this horn that I wear, until breath and life fail. So you will have your revenge, and I shall save my soul. Alboazar began to feel compassion for Ramiro. Aldora exclaimed at his weakness and folly. Ramiro, she said, was revengeful and cunning, and sparing him was rushing into destruction; whereby the Moor was brought to say, You know that if you had me in your hands, I should not escape. I will do what you ask, for the salvation of your soul. So Alboazar took Ramiro to the yard, which had high walls and but one gate, and the queen, her dames and damsels, the Moor's sons and kinsfolk, and the town's people, were there. Ramiro was put on a pillar, and told to blow till life left his body; and he blew with all his might. D. Ordonho came with the king's vassals and beset the gate. Ramiro drew his sword and split Alboazar's head. The queen and her ladies were spared, but every other creature in the yard was slain, including four sons and three daughters of Alboazar, and no stone was left standing in Gaya. Ramiro put the queen and her women aboard the galleys. Aldora was found weeping. Ramiro asked the cause. Because you have killed the Moor, a better man than yourself, was her answer. This was thought too much to be borne. The queen was tied to a millstone and thrown into the sea. Ramiro married Artiga.
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