Watty and Meg, or the Wife Reformed

Watty and Meg, or the Wife Reformed
by Alexander Wilson
474657Watty and Meg, or the Wife ReformedAlexander Wilson (1766-1813)


or, The Wife Reformed.

"We dream in courtship, but awake in wedlock."

KEEN the frosty winds were blawin',
     Deep the snaw had wreathed the ploughs;
Watty, weary't a' day sawin',
     Dannert down to Mungo Blew's.

5 Dryster Jock was sitting, crackie,
     Wi' Patie Tamson o' the Hill—
"Come awa," quo Johnny, " Watty!
     Haith, we' se ha'e anither Jill."

Watty, glad to see Jack Jabos,
     10 And sae mony neibours roun',
Kicket frae his shoon the sna'-ba's,
     Syne ayont the fire sat doun.

Ower a board wi' bannocks heapet,
     Cheese an stowps and glasses stood;
15 Some were roaring, ithers sleepet,
     I thers quietly chewt their cude.

Jock was selling Pate some tallow—
     A' the rest a rackit hel'—
A' but Watty, wha, poor fellow,
     20 Sat and smoket by himsel'.

Mungo hil't him up a tooth-fu',
     Drank his health and Mag's in ane;
Watty, puffin' out a mouth fu',
     Pledged him wi' a weary grane.

25 "What's the matter, Watty, wi' you?
     Troth, your chafts are fa'in in ;
Something's wrang—I'm vext to see you—
     Gudesake, but you're desp'rate thin!"

"Ay," quo' Watty, "things are alter't;
     30 But it's past redemption now—
L—d,[2] I wish I had been halter'd
     When I married Maggy How.

"I've been poor, and vext, and raggy,
     Try't wi' troubles no that sma'—
35 Them I bore; but marrying Maggy
     Laid the cap-stane o' them a'.

"Night and day she's ever yelpin',
     Wi' the weans she ne'er can 'gree ;
When she's tired wi' perfect skelpin",
     40 Then she flees like fire on me.

"See you, Mungo, when she'll clash on
     Wi' her everlasting clack,
Whiles I've had my nieve, in passion,
     Liftet up to break her back."

45 "Oh, for gudesake, keep frae cuffets!"
     Mungo shook his head and said;
Weel I ken what sort o' life it's,
     Ken ye, Watty, how I did ?

"After Bess and I was kippl't,
     50 Fact, she grew like ony bear, [3]
Brak my shins, and when I tippl't,
     Harl't out my verra hair!

"For a wee I quietly knuckl't;
     But when naething wad prevail,
55 Up my claes and cash I buckl't—
     Bess, for ever fare ye weel.'

"Then her din grew less and less aye—
     Fact, I gart her change her tune;[4]
Now a better wife than Bessy
     60 Never stept in leather shoon.

"Try this, Watty, when ye see her
     Raging like a roaring flood,
Swear that moment that ye'll lea' her ;
     That's the way to keep her gude."

65 Laughing, sangs, and lasses' skirls
     Echo'd now out thro' the roof.
'Done!" quo' Pate, and syne his airls
     Nail't the Dryster's wauket loof.

In the thrang o' story-telling,
     70 Shaking hauns and ither cheer,
Swith! a chap comes on the hallen,—
     "Mungo, is our Watty here? '

Maggie's weel-kent tongue and hurry
     Dartet through him like a knife.
75 Open the door flew—like a fury
     In came Watty's scawlin' wife.

"Nasty, gude-for-naething being
     Oh, ye snuffy, drucken sow!
Bringin' wife and weans to ruin,
     80 Drinkin' here wi' sic a crew!

"Devil nor your legs were broken!
     Sic a life nae flesh endures—
Toilin' like a slave to sloken
     You, ye dyvour, and your w------![5]

85 "Rise, ye drucken beast o' Bethel!
     Drink's your night and day's desire,
Rise this precious hour, or faith I'll
     Fling your whisky i' the fire."

Watty heard her tongue unhallowed,
     90Pay't his groat wi' little din,
Left the house while Maggy followed
     Flytin' a' the road behin'.

Fowk frae every door cam' lampin';
     Maggy curst them ane and a',
95Clappit wi' her hauns, and stampin',
     Lost her bauchals i' the snaw.

Hame at length, she turned the gavil,
     Wi' a face as white's a clout,
Ragin' like a verra deevil,
     100Pitchin' stools and chairs about.

"Ye'll sit wi' your limmers round ye!
     Hang you, sir, I'll be your death!
Little hauds my haunds, confound you!
     But I'll cleave you to the teeth."

105 Watty, wha 'midst this oration
     Eyed her whyles but daurna speak,
Sat like patient resignation,
     Trem'lin' by the ingle cheek.

Sad his wee drap brose he sippet,
     110 Maggy's tongue went like a bell,
Quietly to his bed he slippet,
     Sighin' aften to himsel':

" Nane are free frae some vexation,
     Ilk ane has his ills to dree;
115But through a' the hale creation,
     Is a mortal vext like me? "

A' night lang he rout and gauntet,
     Sleep nor rest he couldna' tak'!
Maggy aft wi' horror hauntet,
     120Mum'lin' started at his back.

Soon as e'er the morning peepet,
     Up raise Watty, waefu' chiel.
Kissed his weanies, while they sleepet,
     Wauken't Meg, and sought fareweel.

125"Fareweel, Meg ! and oh, may heaven
     Keep you aye within his care;
Watty's heart ye've lang been grievin',
     Now he'll ne'er fash you mair.

"Happy could I be beside you,
     130Happy baith at morn and e'en;
A' the ills did e'er betide you,
     Watty aye turn't out your frien'.

But ye ever like to see me
     Vext and sighin', late and air,
135Fareweel, Meg, I've sworn to lea' thee,
     so thou'll never see me mair."

Meg a' sabbin' sae to lose him,
     Sic a change had never wist,
Held his haun' close to her bosom,
     140While her heart was like to burst.

"Oh, my Watty, will ye lea' me
     Frien 'less, helpless, to despair!
Oh ! for this ae time forgi'e me,
     Never will I vex you mair."

145"Aye, ye've aft said that and broken
     A' your vows ten times a week:
Na, na, Meg! see there's a token
     Glitterin' on my bonnet cheek.

" Ower the seas I march this mornin',
     150Listet. testet, sworn an' a',
Forced by your confounded girnin';
     Fareweel Meg! for I'm awa."

Then poor Maggy's tears and clamour
     Gusht afresh and louder grew,
155While the weans wi' mournfu' yammer
     Round their sabbin' mother flew.

"Through the yirth I'll wander wi' you—
     Stay, O Watty ! stay at hame,
Here upo' my knees I'll gi'e you
     160Any vow you like to name.

"See your poor young lammies pleadin',
     Will you gang and break our heart;
No a house to put our head in!
     No a frien' to tak' our part!"

165Ilka word came like a bullet;
     Watty's heart begoud to shake;
On a kist he laid his wallet,
     Dightet baith his een and spake—

"If ance mair I could by writin'
     170Lea' the sogers and stay still,
Wad ye swear to drop yer flytin' ? "—
     "Yes, O Watty, yes I will."

" Then," quo' Watty, "mind be honest;
     Aye to keep your temper strive;
175Gin ye break this dreadfu' promise,
     Never mair expect to thrive:—

"Marget How ! this hour ye solemn
     Swear by everything that's gude.
Ne'er again your spouse to scol' him,
     180While life warms your heart and bluid—

"That you'll ne'er in Mungo's seek me,
     Ne'er put 'drucken' to my name,
Never out at e'ening steek me,
     Never gloom when I come hame—

185"That you'll ne'er, like Bessy Millar,
     Kick my shins and rug my hair;
Lastly, I'm to keep the siller—
     This upon your soul you swear?"

"O-h!" quo' Meg.—" Aweel," quo' Watty,
     190"Fareweell faith I'll try the seas."
"Oh, stan' still," quo' Meg, and grat aye,
     "Ony, ony way ye please."

Maggy syne, because he pres't her,
     Swore to a' thing ower again ;
195Watty lap, and danc't, and kiss'd her;
     Wow! but he was wond'rous fain.

Doun he threw his staff victorious;
     Aff gaed bonnet, claes, and shoon ;
Syne below the blankets, glorious,
     200Held anither Hinny-Moon!

1791. Printed and sold by JOHN SANDERSON,
148 Canongate, Edinburgh.


The ballad "Watty and Meg" is attributed to the celebrated American ornithologist, Alexander Wilson who was born in Paisley, Scotland. Wilson left school at an early age to train as a weaver. He soon abandoned his apprenticeship to take up work as a pedlar and, inspired by the likes of Robert Burns, began to write his own poetry. After years of roving the countryside as a pedlar and working to survive, Wilson finally emigrated to America in the early 1790s. "Watty and Meg" was written in 1791 and is generally considered to be one of his best works.

  1. Epigraph — They dream in Courtship, but in Wedlock wake. —"The Wife of Bath her Prologue, from Chaucer" (c. 1704, published 1713), line 103.
  2. L. 31 — Lord
  3. L. 50 — In another source: ``Soon she grew like ony bear;
  4. L. 50 — In another source: ``Haith I gart her change her tune;
  5. L. 84 — 'hores