meanings and origin of ‘a far cry’

The phrase a far cry means something very different.

Its literal signification is a long way, a great distance; here, the noun cry denotes a calling distance, as in within cry of, meaning within calling distance of; for example, the following is from The Aberdeen Journal (Aberdeen, Scotland) of Tuesday 16th June 1752:

They write from Abbay St. Bethune’s in Lammermuir, that they have been greatly disturbed about that Place, by a Gang of Thieves, whose Haunt they suspect to be in some of the neighbouring Woods. […] Tuesday Evening, one of these Fellows had the Impudence to attack a Man within cry of his own House.

The literal sense of a far cry is first recorded in A Legend of Montrose (Edinburgh, 1819), by the Scottish poet and novelist Walter Scott (1771-1832):

“Gentlemen,” said the Captain, who began much to dislike the turn which his mission seemed about to take, “I pray you to remember, that the Earl of Montrose will hold you and your possessions liable for whatever injury my person, or my horse, shall sustain by these unseemly proceedings, and that he will be justified in executing retributive vengeance on your persons and possessions.”
This menace was received with a scornful laugh, while one of the Campbells replied, “It is a far cry to Lochow,” a proverbial expression of the tribe, meaning that their ancient hereditary domains lay beyond the reach of an invading enemy.

I have found an early instance of the figurative use of a far cry in The Stormy Petrel, published in The Western Times (Exeter, Devon) of Saturday 31st July 1841—this poem was written about a “celebrated caricature” inspired by Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville – 1816), an opera by the Italian composer Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (1792-1868):

I come from the land of the blushing vine,
And have “planted” my dulcet Columbine,
I won her by mean of my Gaelic tropes,
ln praise of her “Uncles,”—the three last Popes.

How bright the tear in Beauty’s peeper!
How well t’is known to those who keep her!—
To “Ginevra” I left some hard earned guineas,
To her “Uncle”—my work on Demosthenes.

T’was a far cry from the Countess C.
That made me desert the Papal see,
Ex Chancellor L. too urged his plea,
That home should come Ex-Chancellor B.

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