The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

DEANNA DELMAR EVANS


25. Re-evaluating the case for a Scottish Eger and
Grime

According to an entry in the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, on 19 April 1497, James IV rewarded ‘tua fithelaris that sang Graysteil’. The work performed was apparently some version of the romance Eger and Grime. With this record in the Scottish Accounts, the romance was given a place in Scottish literary history. In the twentieth century Eger and Grime has received occasional mention by those concerned with the history of Scottish literature.1 Moreover, James Caldwell published a critical edition of it in 1933,2 and Mabel Van Duzee the only scholarly book about it in 1966.3 Caldwell, in his introduction, investigated likely sources and included a brief linguistic study of rhyme words, concluding that ‘the dialect of the original was Northeastern or Central Scottish…,’ and the plot was ‘based on a Celtic, probably Scottish, version of the folk-tale, Die Zwei Brüder’4 Caldwell’s linguistic argument, however, was seriously challenged by his reviewers who faulted his tendency to base conclusions on rhymes found in only one version of surviving texts. Subsequently, one of Caldwell’s critics, H.A. Basilius, made a study of the 127 rhymes common to both existing versions; he pointed out that since a few of these bore ‘northern characteristics’, there is a strong probability that the ‘common ancestor’ of the extant versions ‘was written in a northern English or Scottish dialect’.5 Van Duzee expanded on Caldwell’s study of the Celtic background of the romance and from this was persuaded that ‘in a stage considerably earlier than that of the extant versions, Eger and Grime may conceivably have been an Arthurian romance.’6 She claimed that certain names, such as Gallias (Wales), Kay, and those of the two heroines, are evidence of that connection, and other names, including that of the co-hero Eger, indicate a

1 Among the most prominent literary histories to mention Eger and Grime are those by Agnes Mure Mackenzie, A Historical Survey of Scottish Literature to 1714 (London: Alexander Maclehose & Co., 1933), pp. 24 & 26; C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), p. 68, finding its adventures ‘as palpable as those in Homer’; and, most recently, Matthew P. McDiarmid, ‘The Metrical Chronicles and Non-Alliterative Romances,’ The History of Scottish Literature: Origins to 1660, Vol. 1, ed. R. D. S. Jack (Aberdeen: Aberdeen Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 34— 5, describing the author as ‘a story-teller of genius’. I owe a considerable debt of gratitude to the late Mr McDiarmid who suggested that I undertake the present study of Eger and Grime and offered much encouragement and advice along the way.

2 Eger and Grime: A Parallel Text Edition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1933); Caldwell, p. 6, makes mention of the Treasurer’s Accounts record cited at the beginning of this essay.

3 Medieval Romance of Friendship: Eger and Grime (New York: Burt Franklin, 1963).

4 Caldwell, pp. 42–52, provides his rhyme word study; on p. 157, he asserts that the plot ‘is based upon a Celtic (probably Scottish) version of the very widespread folk-tale, Die Zwei Brüder…’.

5 H.A. Basilius, ‘The Rhymes in Eger and Grime,’ Modem Philology, 35 (1937–8): 129–33.

6 Van Duzee, p. 16; this argument dominates the book, and one of her central ideas is that the basic plot of the romance is derived from the Pwyll tradition of early Welsh literature.

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