THE public writ in Scotch, Anno 1389, has been printed in Scotland in the Middle Ages, p. 260;
‘John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen, tells us, himself, that he was in progress of writing his great poem of the Bruce, in the year 1375, and he died in 1395. But the only manuscripts extant are a full century later in date. The Scotch Odyssey was popular from its first appearance, and must have gone through many transcribings in that century of fluctuating language, so that it loses one quality of interest; and serves but imperfectly to mark the state of our language when the Archdeacon, with the fire of a patriot and a soldier, was singing the prowess of Bruce. But though the spelling, and even, occasionally, the words, may have undergone much change, we cannot suppose much alteration in the structure and frame of the language, which would imply the serious labour of an entire re-casting of the metre and versification.
I fear “The Bruce” is less read among us now, than when the homely edition on the coarsest paper was among the three or four volumes over the cottage chimney. I assure you he is not deserving of the neglect into which he has fallen. But I must deny myself the pleasure of making you better acquainted with him, and keep more strictly to my object in directing you to a few specimens of Scotch, actually written during his time. Here is a formal public writ, still preserved in the original, among the Melrose charters, and dated in 1389:-
“Robert Erle of ffyf & of Menteth Wardane & Chambirlayn of Scotland to the Custumers of the Grete Custume of the Burows of Edinburgh hadyn-tone & Dunbarr greting: ffor qwhy that of gude memore Dauid kyng qwhilom of Scotland that god assoillie with his chartir vndre his grete sele has gyvin to the Religiouss men the Abbot & the Conuent of Meuros & to thair successours for euere mare frely all the Custume of all thair wollys as wele of thair awin growing as of thair tendys of thair kyrkes as it apperis be the forsaid Charter confermyt be our mast souereigne & doubtit Lorde & fadre our lorde the kyng of Scotland Robert that now ys wyth his grete Sele: To yow ioyntly & seuerailly be the c tenour of this lettre fermely We bid & commandes that the forsaid wollys at your Portis thir lettres sene the qwilk lettres yhe delyuere to tham again yhe suffre to be shippit & frely to pass withoutyn ony askyng or takyng of Custume or ony obstacle or lettyng in ony point eftir as the tenour of the forsaides chartir & confirmacion plenerly askis & purportis: In wytness here of to this lettre We haue put our sele at Edynburgh the xxvj day of Maij the yhere of god mill ccc iiij xx and nyne.” ‘