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William Motherwell's "The Crusader's Farewell"

A poet and collector of ballads, William Motherwell (1797-1835) participated in the antiquarian movement that dominated late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century engagement with England’s literary and historical past. Motherwell is best known for the collection Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern, published in 1827. According to Hamish Whyte’s article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Motherwell greatly admired Sir Walter Scott’s works, including Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and corresponded with Scott himself. As William B. McCarthy observes in “William Motherwell as a Field Collector,” Motherwell is known for his faithfulness to his original sources. McCarthy writes that “Motherwell’s exemplary editorial practice demonstrates a keen understanding of balladry as a living art. As the passages cited from Wells and Hustvedt suggest, the editor’s field experience was decisive in developing that understanding” (296). Unlike the majority of the ballad collectors of his day, Motherwell acquired the majority of the poems in his collection through fieldwork rather than from private sources. McCarthy reports that “for reasons unknown, he early on gave himself to gathering ballads from oral sources. Of approximately 270 ballad texts in the manuscript collection, no more than seventy come from second-hand or third-hand sources” (298). Although the source of “The Crusader's Farewell” is not immediately clear, Motherwell’s predominant use of oral sources render this poem particularly valuable as a record of nineteenth-century popular knowledge of crusading.

The four brief stanzas of “The Crusader’s Farewell” document a crusading knight’s parting from his lady. Initially, the poem establishes the conflict between crusade and romance, which is typical of nineteenth-century crusades literature. The “banners” and the “angry trumpets” demand a separation between the poem’s unnamed lovers: “They call me, lady, from thy arms, / They bid me sigh farewell!” In the second stanza of the poem, the balladeer continues to maintain the dichotomy between the ideologies of crusade and those of love:
They call me to a distant land
To quell a Paynim foe;
To leave the blandishments of love
For danger, strife, and woe. (66)
The crusading knight develops no true character for his “Paynim foe,” nor any significant sense of the Crusade’s purpose; there is no mention of Jerusalem or a “Holy Land” in the poem; any sense of religious zeal or obligation is completely absent from these lines. Thus, the “danger, strife and woe” entailed in the act of crusading offers no inherent rewards to the knight.

The second half of the poem, however, collapses the original dichotomy between romantic love and the Crusade. In the third stanza of the poem, the knight asserts that he can simultaneously fulfill domestic and chivalric obligations through the constancy of his love. He asserts that he can maintain a symbolic presence in both the Crusade and the domestic circle where the lady awaits him:
Yet deem not, lady, though afar
It be my hap to roam
That e’er my constant heart shall stray
From love, from thee, and home. (66)
This construction metaphorically separates the knight’s heart from his body in order to allow him to retain undivided loyalties and a constant presence. In the sphere of nineteenth-century Crusades romance, this is an important ability: works such as Sir Walter Scott’s The Betrothed and Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s “A Knight's Tale” and “The Crusader” suggest the perils of divided loyalties and an unguarded domestic idyll. This unnamed crusader, however, addresses this traditional tension by unreservedly affirming his undivided loyalty to the lady. Furthermore, her presence becomes central to his chivalric victory:
No! in the tumult of the flight—
‘Midst Salem’s chivalrie,
The thought that arms this hand with death
Shall be the thought of thee! (66)
“Salem,” in this context, appears to stand for “Jerusalem;” this is the only direct reference in the poem to the attempt to recover the Holy City. The motif in the second half of the stanza is a familiar chivalric trope—the love of the lady gives the knight strength—but in the context of this poem’s domestic focus, it is particularly important. The knight, through the constancy of his heart, maintains his presence in Britain; the lady, also through the knight’s fidelity, is an active, chivalric presence in the Holy Land.

As a testament to the circulation of crusading ideology in British popular culture, this poem, like the longer crusades romances, suggests that the nineteenth century balladeer’s primary concerns lay not with the endeavor to recover the Holy Land, but with the feasibility of maintaining a stable domestic idyll while “call[ed] to a distant land” (66). This focus, dominant through most nineteenth-century crusades literature, suggests possible intersections between this crusading literature and nineteenth-century imperial fears. Although it is relatively rare to find explicit connections between crusading and the nineteenth-century work of imperialism, they do occasionally appear. Moreover, the resurgence of crusades literature in the nineteenth century coincides with the dramatic growth of the British Empire.
Primary Source:

Motherwell,  William.  "The Crusader's Farewell." Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern. Glasgow:  John Wylie, 1827. 66.

Secondary Sources:

McCarthy, William B. "William  Motherwell as a Field Collector." Folk Music Journal 5.3

Whyte, Hamish. "Motherwell, William (1797–1835)." Oxford  Dictionary of National Biography, online edition. Oxford: Oxford University  Press, 2004.