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Robert Shortreed


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Robert Shortreed (1761-1829)

Robert Shortreed was born on 7th November 1761, in Jedburgh.

Scott was introduced to Robert Shortreed in 1792 by Charles Kerr of Abbotrule. Scott needed a guide to negotiate the wilds of Liddesdale, and Shortreed knew the area well. They made the first of their many “Liddesdale Raids” within days of being acquainted. For seven years Scott and Shortreed traversed the area when they could, collecting ballads, tales and anecdotes. Shortreed seems to have doubted if Scott had any notion regarding publishing the material when they began:

He was makin’ himsell a’ the time … but he didna ken maybe what he was about till years had passed: at first he thought o’ little, I dare say, but the queerness and the fun

J. G. Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. (1838) I: 194-5)

This is certainly born out by the letter Scott wrote to him regarding plans surrounding trips – past and future – to Hermitage in search of the Coutt of Keildar:

I trouble you with the enclosed for carrying on our joint operations at Hermitage Castle  which I suppose our freind Dr. Elliot will think of commencing about this time. I shall expect to hear from you if they prove successfull. Let the Cowt of Keelder by no means be forgotten. I think it probable his grave may produce something.

I expect to hear from the Dr. on the subject of our(1-29)old Ballads, particularly Jemmy Tellferr which is a great favourite of mine. Tell the Dr. that I am tiring excessively for summer that I may visit Liddesdale again, and that I am saving the fees, to buy a fringed Grey that I may be independent of Mr. Lecks 2 charger, as I hope you will be of the Abbot's Palfrey-Apropos-I heard from him the other day. He seems likely to get into a dispute with his brother-it would be happy for both parties if they would consent to arbitration. Best compliments to Mr. Rutherford & all Liddal water freinds when you see them, & do drop me a line when you can spare [time] from the weightier matters of the law to let me know you have received this. I (H. Grierson, ed. , The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, Volume 1 (1932) 29: Dec 1793)


It is perhaps relevant to note that Scott borrows the phrase “fringed Grey” from the ballad “Hobbie Noble”. Horses were needed, for those roads which existed at that time, could not have supported a carriage.

It was from Shortreed, and from the recollections of one of his sons, that many of the anecdotes from these years were recorded. The two men had to fit such adventures into their work schedules, and as they both were involved in legal duties, they had more than simply the “Liddesdale Raids” in common throughout their years of friendship, Shortreed holding the post of Sheriff Substitute of Roxburgh for many years. We have a description of the man from Lockhart, during the account of a post-hunt dinner:

Sheriff-substitute Shortreed –(a cheerful hearty little man, with a sparkling eye and a most infectious laugh)–gave us Dick o’ the Cw, or, Now Liddesdale has ridden a raid.

Scott, in an inscription in a complete set of his works, which he gave to Shortreed, described him as “the friend of the author from youth to age” and  described himself as “his sincere friend”. The familiarity and companionship between the men is perhaps emphasised by Scott’s letter to Shortreed, where Scott chooses to confide his relief in being granted consent to seek his future wife’s hand in marriage:

DEAR BOB,-This day a long train of anxieties was put an end to by a letter from Lord Downshire, couched in the most flattering terms, giving his consent to my marriage with his ward. I am thus far on my way to Carlisle, only for a visit-because, betwixt her reluctance to an immediate marriage and the imminent approach of the session, I am afraid I shall be thrown back to the Christmas holy days … I hope Mrs. S and child are both well. (H. Grierson, ed. , The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, Volume 1 (1932)  78: October / November 1797)

Robert Shortreed died 7 July, 1829, and was buried in Jedburgh Abbey. Scott, understandably, was affected by the news of his compatriot’s death, writing:

Heard of the death of poor Bob Shortreed, the companion of many a long ride among the hills in quest of old ballads. He was a merry companion, a good singer and mimic, and full of Scottish drollery. In his company, and under his guidance, I was able to see much of rural society in the mountains which I could not otherwise have attained, and which I have made my use of. He was, in addition, a man of worth and character. I always burdened his hospitality while at Jedburgh on the Circuit, and have been useful to some of his family. Poor fellow! He died at a most interesting period for his family, when his eldest daughter was about to make an advantageous marriage. So glide our friends from us— Haec poena diu viventibus. Many recollections die with him and with poor Terry.



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