Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 124 (no. 222).
Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Poem: Fitzwilliam Museum manuscript;
Duke Library draft manuscript.
DGR told Watts-Dunton in 1875 (see Doughty and Wahl,
) that the story of Michael Scott was “one of the best
supernatural tales I know” and he toyed for many years with
completing a ballad. His efforts to compose this ballad began in 1869 but
was then left hanging fire. His interest was renewed in late 1875 when
Watts-Dunton supplied him with a new version of the tale (see his letters to
Watts-Dunton of 10 and 12 December 1875, Fredeman,
75. 213, 215
DGR only drafted some preliminary stanzas for this projected
ballad—stanzas that modelled the possible stanzaic forms (which
would have been either in 4 or in 6 lines, or perhaps in alternating stanzas
of 4 and 6 lines). Two documents exhibit this prosodic trial effort:
one in the Fitzwilliam Museum (dating from
about 1869), the other part of a letter to Watts-Dunton of 4
January 1876 in the Ashley Library. DGR made a prose sketch of the ballad
but he never worked out the verse text beyond the experimental fragments.
The prose sketch for the ballad dates from 1869-71.
The draft manuscript text of DGR's prose sketch is part of the
Duke Library's Notebook IV. Besides the fragment at the Fitzwilliam, which
dates from around 1869, and the Ashley Library document, the notebooks have
some fragments connected to this unconsummated project. Another fragment
intended for the work is the piece titled (posthumously) by WMR A Ground-Swell.
At least two different pictorial treatments were undertaken, once in
1853 and again, as for the present work, in 1869-1871. Frederick Craven commissioned a watercolour in 1867 and Leyland an oil in 1871, but neither commission was even begun. The red chalk drawing in the William Morris Gallery is the most finished of the studies DGR made for the work.
We know that in late 1870 DGR was at least contemplating work on “a picture I am
proposing to paint to be called Michael Scott's Wooing”, as he wrote to
Alice Boyd on 1 November asking for an example of a Scotch girl's clothing to copy (see
). He was still negotiating with Craven in 1871 about that commission, and he seems to have backed away from Leyland's work late in that year, when he told Leyland “that on tackling the Michael Scott subject, I find there are points in it which present unexpected difficulties for so large and important a work, and I want to substitute a Dante subject I have long had in contemplation” (see
71. 44, 216
WMR printed examples of both the poetry and the prose in his 1911 edition,
taking the former from the Fitzwilliam manuscript and the latter from the
Michael Scott (or Scot) (ca. 1175-1274), the celebrated scholar and
astrologer sent by Frederic II to spread Aristotelian ideas to the
courts of Europe. A semi-legendary figure, he was celebrated for his
supposed magical powers.
The ballad would have treated an incident from James Hogg's short novel
Mary Burnet (see Doughty and Wahl,
Letters, II. 911n
DGR was familar with the many treatments of Michael Scott's
life, in particular the most celebrated of all from Walter Scott's
The Lay of the Last Minstrel (see Canto II in particular).
In December 1870 DGR told Thomas Hake that the latter's poem “Madeline” afforded “a curiously close parallel to the general notion of my Michael Scott design” (see