Child's, The English And Scottish Ballads

Volume 2 of 8 from 1860 edition

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A FBAGMENT of this fine ballad (which is common­ly called The Cruel Knight) was published by Herd, (L 222,) and also by Pinkerton, (Select Scottish Bal­lads, i. 69,) with variations. Finlay constructed a nearly complete edition from_two recited copies, but suppressed some lines. (Scottish Ballads, ii. 72.) The present copy is one which Motherwell obtained from recitation, with a few verbal emendations by that editor from Finlay's.
With respect to the sudden and strange catastrophe, Motherwell remarks:—
" The reciters of old ballads frequently supply the best commentaries upon them, when any obscurity or want of connection appears in the poetical narrative. This ballad, as it stands, throws no light on young Johnstone's motive for stabbing his lady; but the per­son from whose lips it was taken down alleged that the barbarous act was committed unwittingly, through young Johnstone's suddenly waking from sleep, and, in that moment of confusion and alarm, unhappily mis­taking his mistress for one of his pursuers. It is not improbable but the ballad may have had, at one time,