Burns’ Tam O’Shanter, 1792 (1855 illustrations)
“Tam O’Shanter” is a ghost story written in verse by the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns persuaded his friend Francis Grose to include a drawing of Alloway Kirk, in his Antiquities of Scotland (1791), which Grose promised to do if Burns would supply him with a ghost story to go with it. Burns wrote a brief version of the story in prose before starting his 224 line poem. Both versions have been quoted in the following account (see here for the prose and here for the poem).
The poem concerns a farmer, Tam. After a night of drinking and story-telling, Tam must ride home to Carrick through a heavy storm. As Tam passes Alloway kirk-yard it is “the wizard hour, between night and morning”. He sees a bright light streaming from the ruined church and, on investigating, he is “surprised and entertained, thorough the ribs and arches of an old gothic window … to see a dance of witches merrily footing it round”. As the dance grows “fast and furious” the women cast aside their cloths and dance in their “sark” (undershirt). Alone among the many “wither’d beldams, auld and droll” (withered grandmothers, old and comical) Tam notices a “winsome wench” in a “cutty sark” (short shirt). After some time observing the young witch dancing, Tam unwisely cries out “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”; at which, the music stops, the lights go out and all the witches give chase. Tam makes for the bridge (since a witch can’t cross running water): “the pursuing, vengeful hags were so close at his heels, that one of them actually sprung to seize him: but it was too late; nothing was on her side of the stream but the horse’s tail, which immediately gave way to her infernal grip, as if blasted by a stroke of lightning.”
The poem was immediately, and immensely, popular: it has been illustrated many times. Artists have shown particular relish in depicting Nannie (the young witch) dancing, chasing Tam, and grasping the tail of Tam’s horse, Meg (or Maggie). The three illustrations below are by John Faed (and engraved by Lumb Stocks and James Stephenson for the 1855 edition). These are some of the best and most frequently reprinted or copied illustrations to Burns’ poem. I have accompanied each illustration (or detail) with a passage from the poem. (Follow link above or below for the author’s article to continue …)
http://sexywitch.wordpress.com/2006/09/15/burns-tam-oshanter/Want to follow the travels of Sir Thomas Leaf? Click Here!
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