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Jon Bartlett Tally sticks - help please! (5) Tally sticks - help please! 02 Nov 12


George Allan's "Life of Sir Walter Scott" includes the following fascinating tit-bit:

"The method employed by Scott at this time for riveting on his memory the local anecdotes and legends which he collected from the individuals with whom he came in contact, was amusing enough. He seized any piece of twig or piece of wood that came to hand, and kept notching it with his clasped knife as the narrator went on. These poetical tally sticks he at times entrusted to the charge of his companion; and Mr. Shortreed used to allege, that on one occasion this strange note-book became so bulky that, in the language of Burns, the pins in his pocket "might serve to mend a mill in time of need.""

Does any Mudcatter know any more about this? I seem to recall (though googling doesn't help) that someone reported that Scott kept these aides memoires. Did he collect songs using the same principles? And what WERE the principles? I found a footnote to the letters of Jane Austen (12th letter) which refers to an accounting system for illiterate customers of traders using tally sticks, and of course they were used in the British Exchequer as markers of debts owing, but for legends and anecdotes? And perhaps for songs? And what about vernacular dances such as Morris?

Jon Bartlett


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