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28 THE HUNTING OP THE CHEVIOT.
been met, first, by the supposition that the author belonged to the north of England, and afterwards, when it appeared that Sheale lived at Tamworth, about a hundred miles from London, by the allegation that the language of a person in humble life in Warwickshire or Staffordshire would be very far behind the current speech of the metropolis. It happens, however, that the language of the ballad is very much older than the other compositions of Sheale, as a moment's inspection will show. Besides, Sheale's poetical abilities were manifestly of the lowest order, and although he styles himself " minstrel," we have no reason to think that he ever composed ballads. He speaks of his memory being at one time so decayed that he " could y neither sing nor talk." Being a mere ballad-singer and story-teller, he would naturally be dependent on that faculty. The fact is very obvious, that Richard Sheale was a mere reciter of songs and tales ; at any rate, that all we have to thank him for in the matter of Chevy Chase is for committing to paper the only old copy that has come down to our times.*
The Hunting of the Cheviot is mentioned in the Complaynt of Scotland with other, very ancient, ballads. It was consequently popular in Scotland in 1548, ten years before the time that we know Sheale to have written anything. The mention of James the Scottish King forbids us to assign this piece an earlier date than the reign of Henry VI.
It has been customary to understand Sidney's
* Wo regret that even Dr. Rimbault has hastily sanctioned this ascription of Chevy-Chase to the "sely" minstrel of Tamworth.