Literary daybook, Aug. 23

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published August 23, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction
On Aug. 23, 1628: Felton kills the Duke of Buckingham.
-- "The Three Musketeers" (1844)
by Alexandre Dumas

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

- - - - - - - - - - -

Today in literary history
On this day in 1305, Scotland's William Wallace was executed -- to be accurate: hanged, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered -- as a traitor in London. The William Wallace legend, and the popularity of the "Braveheart" movie, owe much to a 15th century epic poem by Blind Harry (Harry the Minstrel). Here is the moment at which Wallace gains revenge on the sheriff of Lanark for having executed his Marion:

"'And thought'st thou, traitor,' fierce the hero cried,
'When by thy murd'ring steel she cruel died;
When thy fell hand her precious blood did spill,
Wallace though absent, would be absent still?'
Furious he spoke, and rising on the foe,
Full on his head discharg'd the pond'rous blow;
Down sinks the felon headlong to the ground,
The guilty soul flew trembling through the wound ..."

Blind Harry's Wallace ran to nine volumes, but it is said to have had second place only to the Bible in Scottish homes. Burns took inspiration and his title for "Scots Wha Hae" from it:

"Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!

Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour;
See approach proud Edward's power --
Chains and slavery! ..."

Burns chose discretion over valor when this was first published in a Scottish newspaper in 1794: Given that Scottish independence was still a volatile issue and its advocacy an imprisonable offence, he advised that the newspaper print the poem "as a thing they have met with by accident, and unknown to me." Less discreet was the overwhelming vote for the new Scottish Parliament, held in 1997 on the 700th anniversary of Wallace's victory over English troops at Stirling Bridge.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books Richard Blumenthal