Monday, August 31, 2009

Fort Augustus

August 31, 1773, Boswell and Johnson depart from Fort Augustus, which is situated by Loch Ness. The fort served as a launching point for them to cross the Highlands. Johnson writes on the fort's utility. Scott, in his "The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland" remarks that "No one will stay an hour in Fort Augustus if he can avoid it." Both Johnson and Scott discuss the common perception that Loch Ness does not freeze. Johnson speculates that high wind must agitate the surface so that freezing is not possible. Scott does not speculate, but comments on the futility of uninformed attempts to explain the unexplainable. Scott is referring to common philosophies, not on Dr. Johnson's attempt to rationally explain this phenomena.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Louis XI

This day (August 30) in 1483 saw the death of France's Louis XI. According to Wikipedia, Louis was largely responsible for undermining the fuedal system. The changing structure of political life was a focus of Scott's Quentin Durward. From that novel:

"...Among those who were the first to ridicule and abandon the self-denying principals in which the young knight was instructed, and to which he was so carefully trained up, Louis XI was the chief. The sovereign was of a character so purely selfish - so guiltless of entertaining any purpose unconnected with his ambition, covetousness and desire of selfish enjoyment - that he seems almost an incarnation of the devil himself, permitted to do his utmost ot corrupt our ideas of honour at the very source."

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Johnson and Boswell are in Inverness today; the year is 1773. Johnson's commentary depicts what I think is not unusual of the English perspective toward Scotland at this time.

"...Yet what the Romans did to other nations, was in a great degree done by Cromwell to the Scots; he civilized them by conquest, and introduced by useful violence the arts of peace. I was told at Aberdeen that the people learned from Cromwell's soldiers to make shoes and plant kail..."

Compare to with some of Scott's description (The Highland and Western Isles of Scotland):

"Inverness has been strangely underrated. To compare the country again with Edinburgh, there is a careless wealth of surface about it...contrasted with the dry and cold economy of Edinburgh, where the trees that are to be seen only remind us of the million that are wanting, and where every field and road is deformed by a stone wall, as if it was a land of thieves and law, as if the bones of a country were appearing through its meager surface

Friday, August 28, 2009


On August 28th in 1773, Sam Johnson and James Boswell start their day in Calder, reaching Inverness by nightfall. They began their Highlands tour on the 18th of August, so were 10 days in at that point.

Scott too toured the Highlands, and he describes, in his "The Highlands and Western Isles of Scootland", meeting a local, and perceiving how unpopular English roads were. According to Scott, the roads were viewed as a form of tyranny. Many still walked, or rode horseback, on the old country tracks, rather than use the newer roads; especially to avoid the "turnimspike".

Thursday, August 27, 2009

St. Malrubius

Today is the feast day of St. Malrubius, a hermit who re-entered the world after Norwegians invaded his region of Scotland, to tend to the people and convert the Norwegians. He ended up a martyr. Malrubius' region was Mearns, now roughly Kincardine. It was in Kincardine Castle that John Baliol was forced to confess his rebellion against England's King Edward, and to forfeit his Scottish throne, creating the power vacuum that led ultimately to William Wallace's rise to fame (see 8/23/09).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Black Prince

August 26th, 1346 saw the Battle of Crecy, with the English battling the French for Edward III's claim to the French throne. Edward's son (Edward, Prince of Wales) was known as the black prince, and he distinguished himself in this battle. It is possible that this battle included the first use of cannon.

There is a connection between the black prince and Scott's Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe was the name of one of the three manors that were forfeited by a John Hampden, who had unwisely struck the black prince, possibly during a jousting match.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

David Hume

The historian David Hume died this day in 1776. Hume published a History of England that became the standard for many years. Scott covered Hume's letters in the Edinburgh Annual Register, volume 2.

Monday, August 24, 2009

St. Bartholomew's Day

August 24th is associated with the apostle St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive while on mission in Armenia. The feast of St. Bartholomew's day appears in several of Scott's novel's, including Kenilworth, Peveril of the Peak, and Quentin Durward. St. Bartholomew's symbol is the knife, in remembrance of Bartholomew's horrible death. It is an ill portent, when the day appears in Scott's stories.

There was also the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, which began on 8/24/1572. The initial violence occurred in Paris, where Catholic (Queen Mother) Catherine de Medici's daughter Marguerite was to be married to Huguenot Prince Henry of Navarre. Thousands of Huguenots were killed (est. 8k - 20k) in the on-going slaughter, which persisted into September of that year.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

William Wallace

No Scots oriented thought would be complete without considering William Wallace, who died, decapitated, on this day in 1305. Scott wrote about Wallace in his Exploits and Death of William Wallace, the 'Hero of Scotland". It is an interesting read, focusing on the power vacuun that England's Edward I exploited after Alexander III's death. John Baliol became king, though in name only. For all intents and purposes, Scotland became a dependency of England. In 1296, after Baliol had made an alliance with Philip of France, Edward invaded Scotland, slaughtering thousands. Baliol surrendered, but the Scottish people never capitulated. Out of this environment, Wallace arose. Scott includes Wallace's story in "Tales of a Grandfather".

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Warren Hastings

There is a connection to this date, August 22nd, Walter Scott, and the impeached (later acquitted) Warren Hastings (died 8/22/1818), who was the first Governor-General of Bengal (1773 - 1785). Apparently Hastings appropriated a group of unusually shaped stones for his property, that had been the subject of local superstition and folklore. The stones were known as the Grey Geese of Addle-strop Hill. The legend (in Scott's version) was that a witch was driving her geese to market, when, losing patience with their waywardness, she suddenly exclaimed: 'Deevil! that neither they nor I ever stir from this spot more!' and instantly she and her flock were transformed into blocks of stone, as they had ever since remained, until the Black Dwarf appropriated them for the building of his lonely cottage.

Scott employed the setting of this in the opening of his "The Tales of My Landlord", calling the stones the Grey Geese of Mucklestane Moor.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Henrie Winde

The description of the clan battle in Scott's Maid of Perth is very close to Henry Adamson's poem in his "Muses Threnodie", including the role Henrie Winde played in the battle; right down to the last of the losing clan escaping into the Tay.

...None fought so fiercely, nor so well deserved
As this their hired souldier, Henrie Winde,
For by his valour victory inclinde
Unto that side; and ever since those dayes
This proverb current goes, when any sayes-
How come you here 1 this answer doth he finde,
I'm for mine owne hand, as fought Henrie Winde.
So finely fought he, ten with him escap't,
And of the other but one, in flood who leap't
And sav'd himself by swimming over Tay,
But to speak more of this we might not stay...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Bowlt did Cleave the Clouds

The Edinburgh edition of "Fair Maid of Perth" lists Henry Adamson's "The Muses Threnodie" as a source document for Scott's story. A cursory scan quickly reveals the name Henrie Winde; Scott's hero. The selection of Adamson's work reproduced here highlights Perths reputation for archery, both for warfare and sport.

...And with a strong and steadfast eye and hand,
So valiantly your bow yee did command,
A sliddrie shaft forth of its forks did fling,
Clank gave the bow, the whistling air did ring;
The bowlt did cleave the clouds, and threat the skyes,
And thence down falling to the mark it flies:...

Source: google books

Monday, August 17, 2009


The Fair Maid of Perth is my most recent Scott read, which means there will be several entries about this text in the near future. Highlighting one quote today: "...It was a wild inaccessible spot, where the Campbells at a subsequent period founded their strong fortress of Finlayrigg..."

The death of Clan Quhele's chief was an important plot development, leading up to the suicide of the new chieftan, which has been the subject of some literary discussion. I have found no historical reference for a Finlayrigg fortress.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne

Another entry, another birthday. Carolina Oliphant was born on August 16, 1766; five years before Scott. The "flower of Streatearn", so named because of her beauty, collected folk songs, a la Robert Burns and James Hogg, putting her own words to them.

Carolina was born into a strongly Jacobite family. Both her father and grandfather fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. She was born in Gask, in Perthshire.

Gask (or Findogask, after St. Findoc) is not far from Perth, the setting for Scott's "Fair Maid of Perth". On September 11, 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart breakfasted in Gask on his way south from Perth.

Carolina became Lady Nairne in 1824, largely due to Scott's efforts to have peerages and titles that had been forfeited due to the Jacobite uprising restored.

In 1846, her collected songs "Lays of Streathearn" was published. One arrangement was done by Finlay Dun.

Sources: Wikipaedia, Rampant Scotland

Friday, August 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Sir Walter - 238 Years

The primary purpose of this blog is to bring a bit of the perspective of Scottish life and times that Walter Scott wrote about into the current world situation. Scott romanticized much of Scottish history; the highlander, for example. This blog will cover Scottish historical figures, economics, creative thought, and just about anything else that I care to write about.

This blogger has been struck particularly by the accounts of the Highland Clearances that John Prebble wrote about. Also by the opposing English/economic point of view as embodied in the opinions of Samuel Johnson. The timeframe of the Clearances finds a current parallel in the downsizing of, among other industries, financial services.

So, happy birthday 8/15.