Friday, April 30, 2010

Journal Critique from Scott

April 30 (1829).—Dr. Johnson enjoins Bozzy to leave out of his diary all notices of the weather as insignificant. It may be so to an inhabitant of Bolt Court, in Fleet Street, who need care little whether it rains or snows, except the shilling which it may cost him for a Jarvie; but when I wake and find a snow shower sweeping along, and destroying hundreds perhaps of young lambs, and famishing their mothers, I must consider it as worth noting. For my own poor share, I am as indifferent as any Grub Streeter of them all—

"—And since 'tis a bad day,
Rise up, rise up, my merry men,
And use it as you may."
From Scott's Journal.
Walter Scott seemed to think of Samuel Johnson often in his journal writings, mentioning him more than a dozen times.  In January 1829, Scott wrote a letter to John Wilson Croker to provide material for Croker's edition of Boswell's "Life of Johnson".

Thursday, April 29, 2010

John Bull


"...Since this unhappy division of our nation into parties, it is not to be imagined how many artifices have been made use of by writers to obscure the truth, and cover designs which may be detrimental to the public. In particular, it has been their custom of late to vent their political spleen in allegory and fable. If an honest believing nation is to be made a jest of, we have a story of " John Bull and his wife:" if a treasurer is to be glanced at, an ant with a white straw is introduced; if a treaty of commerce is to be ridiculed, it is immediately metamorphosed into a tale of « Count Tariff."*

* Arbuthnot's History of John Bull is quoted on the one side, and on the other, a paper of Steele's Guardian, in which some political insinuations are couched, under the allegory of a colony of ants. The satire, entitled The Trial of Count Tariff, was written in ridicule of the commercial treaty .with France..."

From The Works of Jonathan Swift, D.D
With Notes and a Life of the Author by Sir Walter Scott

John Arbuthnot seems to have been something of a renaissance man, contributing in several different fields of knowledge; math, medicine, writing.  He was born on April 29, 1667.  Arbuthnot and Jonathan Swift became close after Swift moved to London, in 1710.  The two formed "The Brothers' Club" where they discussed ideas for a publication called the "Tory".

Arbuthnot created the character John Bull, in 1712, to satirize the war between England and France.  John Bull grew to represent the prototypical Englishman.  Bull had a sister Peg, which represented Scotland.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville


by Walter Scott

I am too sensible of the respect due to the Public, especially by one who has already experienced more than ordinary indulgence, to offer any apology for the inferiority of the poetry to the subject it is chiefly designed to commemorate. Yet I think it proper to mention, that while I was hastily executing a work, written for a temporary purpose, and on passing erents, the task was most cruelly interrupted by the successive deaths of Lord President Blair 1, and Lord Viscount Melville. In those distinguished characters, I had not only to regret persons whose lives were most important to Scotland, but also whose notice and patronage honoured my entrance upon active life; and, I may add, with melancholy pride, who permitted my more advanced age to claim no common share in their friendship.

1 [The Right Hon. Robert Blair of Avontoun, President of the Court of Session, was the son of the Rev. Robert Blair, author of " The Grave." After long filling the office of Solicitor-General in Scotland with high distinction, he was elevated to the Presidency in 1808. He died very suddenly on the 20th May 1811, in the 70th year of his age; and his intimate friend, Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, having gone into Edinburgh on purpose to attend his remains to the grave, was taken ill not less suddenly, and died there the very hour that the funeral took place, on the 28th of the same month.]

The text above references Henry Dundas' death.  But on this day (April 28) in 1742, the future Lord Melville was born.  The family Dundas took to law.  Father Robert Dundas of Arniston served as Lord President of the Court of Sessions, as did Henry's half-brother Robert.

Lord Melville's career was closely tied to that of William Pitt (the Younger), under whom he served as War Secretary (1794-1801), then Treasurer and later First Lord of the Admiralty.  Dundas has the dubious distinction of being the last individual to be tried under articles of impeachment in the House of Lords.  The charges, for which he was acquitted, arose out of his term as Treasurer of the Admiralty.

At his peak, Melville's power was substantial, earning him the nickname "Harry the Ninth, Uncrowned King of Scotland".

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Battle of Dunbar (1296)

Popular report states this battle to have been lost by treachery; and the communication between the earls of Dunbar and Angus and King Edward, as well as the disgraceful flight of the Scottish cavalry without a single blow, corroborates the suspicion. But the great superiority of the English in archery may account for the loss of this as of many another battle on the part of the Scots. The bowmen of Ettrick Forest were faithful; but they could only be few. So nearly had Wallace's scheme for the campaign been successful, that Edward, even after having gained this great battle, returned to England, and deferred reaping the harvest of his conquest till the following season. If he had not been able to bring the Scottish army to action, his retreat must have been made with discredit and loss, and Scotland must have been left in the power of the patriots.

From 'Exploits and Death of William Wallace, the "Hero of Scotland" ' by Sir Walter Scott.

The Battle of Dunbar took place on April 27, 1296.  Dunbar followed the Massacre at Berwick in the Wars of Scottish Independence.  It was the first and final major confrontation between Scots and English during that calendar year.  John Balliol led the field for the Scots in what became a complete rout for the English under Balliol's father-in-law, John de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey.  After the short-lived battle was over, King Edward I rode in to Dunbar Castle, which readily surrendered in the face of a much superior force.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Leading Light of the Scottish Enlightenment

David Hume has been described by some as the most important philosopher in the English language.  It is probable that most people today have never even heard of him.  Born April 26, 1711, as David Home (changed in 1734 so that the English could better understand how to pronounce his name), the "uncommonly wake-minded" Hume attended Edinburgh University by age 11. 

Hume has been labeled a British empiricist as a philosopher; i.e. (roughly that) knowledge derives from experience of the senses.  This school of thought was founded by John Locke.  Hume's major productions include "A Treatise of Human Nature" (1739-1740), the "Enquiries concerning Human Understanding" (1748) and "concerning the Principles of Morals" (1751).  Hume also contributed substantially to history and economics, publishing a 6 volume "History of England", and influencing the viewpoint of his friend Adam Smith.  More famous in his own day than in current times, Hume participated in political endeavors of the day, including accompanying his cousin, Lieutenant-General James St. Clair on a diplomatic mission to Vienna and Turin (1748).

Walter Scott would have been too young to meet Hume, who died in 1776; five years after Scott's birth.  Hume's influence on the Scottish Enlightenment and on the thinking of those like Walter Scott who lived during and after is inescapable.  From Scott's Journal:
April 3 (1828)   ...Come, I'll write down the whole stanza, which is all that was known to exist of David Hume's poetry, as it was written on a pane of glass in the inn:—

"Here chicks in eggs for breakfast sprawl,
Here godless boys God's glories squall,
Here Scotsmen's heads do guard the wall,
But Corby's walks atone for all."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

War of the Spanish Succession

April 25, 1707 saw the Battle of Almanza, which was a victory for Bourbon French forces over the Hapsburg Spanish army.  In his "Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott", Lockhart records Scott's preparing a preface for a publication of Carleton's "Memoirs of the War of the Spanish Succession":

"The publisher of this work was John Murray, of London. It was immediately preceded by a reprint of Captain Carleton's Memoirs of the War of the Spanish Succession, to which he gave a lively preface and various notes ; and followed by a similar edition of the Memoirs of Robert Gary Earl of Monmouth, —each of these being a single octavo, printed by Ballantyne and published by Constable.

The republication of Carleton, Johnson's eulogy of which fills a pleasant page in Boswell, had probably been suggested by the lively interest which Scott took in the first outburst of Spanish patriotism consequent on Napoleon's transactions at Bayonne. There is one passage in the preface which I must indulge myself by transcribing. Speaking of the absurd recall of Peterborough, from the command in which he had exhibited such a wonderful combination of patience and prudence with military daring, he says — " One ostensible reason was, that Peterborough's parts were of too lively and mercurial a quality, and that his letters showed more wit than became a General;—a commonplace objection, raked by the dull malignity of commonplace minds, against those whom they see discharging with ease and indifference the tasks which they themselves execute (if at all) with the sweat of their brow and in the heaviness of their hearts..."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Daniel DeFoe

The author of "Life and Adventures of Robinon Crusoe", and over 500 other works, died on April 24, 1731.  The shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe was possibly based on the real life experience of Alexander Selkirk, who spent four years on an island in the archipelago of Juan Fernandez, off Chile.  Walter Scott wrote an essay on Defoe that was included in an 1887 printing of Robinson Crusoe by Carleton Publishers:



PERHAPS there exists no work, either of instruction or entertainment, in THE English language, which has been more generally read, nor more universally admired, than the Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.  It is difficult to say in what the charm consists, by which persons of all classes and denominations are thus fascinated; yet the majority of readers will recollect it as among the first works which awakened and interested their youthful attention; and feel, even in advanced life, and in the maturity of their understanding, that there are still associated with Robinson Crusoe, the sentiments peculiar to that period, when all is new, all glittering in prospect, and when those visions are most bright, which the experience of after life tends only to darken and destroy...

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Bard

"...Think of what that arch-knave Shakespeare says--a plague on him, his toys come into my head when I should think of other matters. Stay, how goes it?

'Cressid was yours, tied with the bonds of heaven;
These bonds of heaven are slipt, dissolved, and loosed,
And with another knot five fingers tied,
The fragments of her faith are bound to Diomed.'..."

From "Kenilworth"
(Queen Elizabeth speaking)

William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616; mid-fiftyish.  He is buried at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-on-Avon.  He has been honored with a monument in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, and in the States, his likeness stands near Sir Walter Scott in statue form along the Literary Walk in New York's Central Park.  This statue was cast by sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward in 1870.  Ward is best known for the full length statue of George Washington that stands in front of Federal Hall on Wall Street.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Battle of Eckmuhl

"...After the fatal battle of Eckmuhl, the Archduke Charles effected, as we have seen, his retreat into the mountainous country of Bohemia, full of defiles, and highly capable of defence, where he could remodel his broken army, receive reinforcements of every kind, and make a protracted defence, should Napoleon press upon him in that direction. But the victories of these memorable five days had placed the French Emperor in full possession of the right bank of the Danube, and of the high road to the city of Vienna, which is situated on the same side of the river. True to his principle of striking directly at the heart of his antagonist, Napoleon determined to march on the metropolis of Austria, instead of pursuing the Archduke into the mountains of Bohemia..."

The second day of the battle of Eckmuhl, on April 22, 1809, turned the War of the Fifth Coalition firmly in Napoleon's favor, in his conflict with Austrian Archduke Charles.  Walter Scott notes as much in the passage above, which is taken from his "The Life of Napoleon".  Success at Eckmuhl led, ultimately, to the fall of Vienna.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Henry VIII Acceeds to the Throne

Henry VIII took the throne of England upon the death of his father Henry VII, on April 21, 1509.  Aspects of Henry VIII's reign are used as material for Walter Scott's "Marmion".  Marmion himself is portrayed as a favorite of King Henry.  The action takes place around the Battle of Flodden Field (September 9, 1513), in which King James VI of Scotland declared war on England to honor an alliance with France.  James marched into Northumberland, where he was met by English forces under Earl Thomas Howard of Surrey.  Surrey carried the day, in a very one-sided battle.

From Marmion:



Day set on Norham's castled steep,
And Tweed's fair river, broad and deep,
And Cheviot's mountains lone:
The battled towers, the donjon keep,
The loophole grates, where captives weep,

The flanking walls that round it sweep,
In yellow lustre shone.
The warriors on the turrets high,
Moving athwart the evening sky,
Seem'd forms of giant height:
Their armour, as it caught the rays,
Flash'd back again the western blaze,
In lines of dazzling light....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rump Parliament Dissolved

" And as for the rumps of beeves," continued Tomkins, with the same solemnity, " there is a rump at Westminster, which will stand us of the army much hacking and hewing yet, ere it is discussed to our mind."

Sir Henry paused, as if to consider what was the meaning of this innuendo; for he was not a person of very quick apprehension. But having at length caught the meaning of it, he burst into an explosion of louder laughter than Joceline had seen him indulge in for a good while.

" Right, kuave," he said, " I taste- thy jest-It is the very moral of the puppetshow. Faustus raised the devil, as the Parliament raised the army, and then, as the devil flies away with Faustus, so will the army fly away with the Parliament, or the rump, as thou call'st it, or sitting part of the so-called Parliament. And then, look you, friend, the very devil of all hath my willing consent to fly away with the army in its turn, from the highest general down to the lowest drum-boy. Nay, never look fierce for the matter; remember there is daylight enough now for a game at sharps."
Scott's novel Woodstock, from which the above passage was taken, was set in 1651 during the English Civil Wars.  The Rump Parliament came into being on December 6, 1648, when Colonel Thomas Pride removed members of the Long Parliament that didn't support the Grandee faction of the army in its efforts to try Charles I for treason (Pride's Purge).  Retained members were termed "Rump"; as in the remainder.
Grandees were comprised largely of landed gentry, as opposed to Levellers, who we today might consider more populist, favoring equality before the law and religious tolerance.  Oliver Cromwell was a Grandee.
On April 20, 1653, Cromwell dissolved the Rump.  The Rump had previously agreed to disolve, but hadn't Cromwell felt that rumpers were "designing to spin an everlasting thread".  According to The Book of Days, Cromwell took control of the Parliament stating 'You are no parliament! Some of you are drunkards '—bending a stern eye upon Mr. Chaloner; 'some of you are _______ {whores},' a word expressive of a worse immorality, and he looked here at Henry Marten and Sir Peter Wentworth —'living in open contempt of God's commandments. Some of you are corrupt, unjust persons—how can you be a parliament for God's people? Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. Go!'

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lord Byron's Death

The rock star of his generation, George Gordon Byron died on April 19, 1824.  Byron's meeting and friendship with Walter Scott was covered in an earlier post.  One of Lord Byron's main contributions to literature was the idea of the Byronic hero; the flawed hero.  Scott employed this notion in his characterization of Captain Cleveland in his novel "The Pirate".

On Byron's death, Scott wrote a piece titled "A Character of Lord Byron", which was published in "The Life and Genius of Lord Byron" by Cosmo Gordon:

Amidst the general calmness of the political atmosphere, we have been stunned from another quarter by one of those death-notes which are pealed at intervals, as from an archangel's trumpet, to awaken the soul of a whole people at once. Lord Byron, who has so long and so amply filled the highest place in the public eye, has shared the lot of humanity His Lordship died at Missolonghi on the 19th of April. That mighty genius which walked amongst men as something superior to ordinary mortality , and whose powers were beheld with wonder, and something approaching to terror, as if we knew not whether they were of good or of evil, is laid as soundly to rest as the poor peasant whose ideas never went beyond his daily task. The voice of just blame and of malignant censure are at once silenced; and we feel almost as if the great luminary of heaven had suddenly disappeared from the sky, at the moment when every telescope was levelled for the examination of the spots which dimmed its brightness. It is not now the question what were Byron's faults, what his mistakes? but how is the blank which he has left in British literature to be filled up? Not, we fear, in one generation, which, among many highly gifted persons, has produced none who approach Byron in originality, the first attribute of genius. Only thirty seven years old: — so much already done for immortality,—so much time remaining, as it seems to us short-sighted mortals, to maintain and to extend his fame, and to atone for errors in conduct and levities in composition; who will not grieve that such a race has been shortened, though not always keeping the straight-path — such a light extinguished, though sometimes flaming to dazzle and to bewilder ? One word on this ungrateful subject ere we quit it for ever.

The errors of Lord Byron arose neither from depravity of heart,— for nature had not commited the anomaly of uniting to such extraordinary talents an imperfect moral sense, — nor from feelings dead to the admiration of virtue. No man had ever a kinder heart for sympathy, or a more open hand for the relief of distress; and no mind was ever more formed for the enthousiastic admiration of noble actions, providing he was convinced that the actors had proceeded upon disinterested principles. Lord Byron was totally free from the curse and degradation of literature, — its jealousies, we mean, and its envy. But his wonderful genius was of a nature which disdained restraint even when restraint was most wholesome. When at school, the tasks in which he excelled were those only which he undertook voluntarily ; and his situation as a young man of rank , with strong passions, and in the uncontrolled enjoyment of a considerable fortune, added tho that impatience of strictures or coercion which was natural to him. As an author, he refused to plead at the bar of criticism; as a man, he would not submit to be morally amenable to the tribunal of public opinion. Remonstrances from a friend, of whose intentions and kindness he was secure, had often great weight with him; but there were few who could venture on a task so difficult. Reproof he endured with impatience, and reproach hardened him in his error, — so that he often resembled the gallant war-steed, who rushes forward on the steel that wounds him. In the most painful crisis of his private life, he evinced this irritability and impatience of censure in such a degree, as almost to resemble the noble victim of the bull-fight, which is more maddened by the squibs, darts, and petty annoyances of the unworthy crowds beyond the lists, than by the lance of his nobler, and, so to speak, his more legitimate antagonist. In a word , much of that in which he erred was in bravado and scorn of his censors, and was done with the motive of Dryden's despot,

« To show his arbitrary power. »

It is needless to say that his was a false and prejudiced view of such a contest; and if the Noble Bard gained a sort of triumph, by compelling the world to read his poetry, though mixed with baser matter, because it was his, he grave in return an unworthy triumph lo the unworthy, besides deep sorrow to those whose applause, in his cooler moments , he most valued.

It was the same with his politics, which on several occasions assumed a tone menacing and contemptuous to the constitution of his country; while, in fact, Lord Byron was in his own heart sufficiently sensible, not only of his privileges as a Briton, but of the distinction attending his high birth and rank , and was peculiarly sensitive of those shades which constitute what is termed the manners of gentleman. Indeed, notwithstanding his having employed epigrams and all the petty war of wit, when such would have been much better abstained from, he would have been found, had a collision taken place between the aristocratic parties in the State, exerting all his energies in defence of that to which he naturally belonged. His own feeling on these subjects he has explained in the very last canto of Don Juan; and they are in entire harmony with the opinions which we have seen expressed in his correspondence, at a moment when matters appeared to approach a serious struggle in his native country : —

« He was as independent—aye much more,
Than those who were not paid for independence

As common soldiers, or a common—Shore,

Have in their several acts or parts ascendance

O'er the irregulars in lust or gore,

Who do not give professional attendance.

Thus on the mob all statesmen are as eager
To prove tbeir pride as footmen to a beggar 1

We are not, however, Byron's apologists, for now, alas! he needs none. His excellencies will now be universally acknowledged, and his faults (let us hope and believe) not remembered in his epitaph. It will be recollected what a part he has sustained in British literature since the first appearance of Childe-Harold, — a space of nearly sixteen years.  There has been no reposing under the shade of his laurels, no living upon the resource of past reputation; none of that coddling and petty precaution, which little authors call « taking care of their fame. » Byron let his fame take care of itself. His foot was always in the arena, his shield hung always in the lists; and although his own gigantic renown increased the difficulty of the struggle, since he could produce nothing , however great, which exceeded the public estimates of his genius, yet he advanced to the honourable contest again and again and again, and came always off with distinction, almost always with complete triumph. As various in composition as Shakspeare himself (this will be admitted by all who are acquainted with his Don Juan) he has embraced every topic of human life, and sounded every string on the divine harp, from its slightest to its most powerful and heart-astounding tones. There is scarce a passion or a situation which has escaped his pen ; and he might be drawn, like Garrick , between the weeping and the laughing Muse, although his most powerful efforts have certainly been dedicated to Melpomene. His genius seemed as prolific as various. The most prodigal use did not exhaust his powers, nay, seemed rather to increase their vigour. Neither Childe-Harold, nor any of the most beautiful of Byron's earlier tales, contain more exquisite morsels of poetry than are to be found scattered through the cantos of Don Juan amidst verses which the author appears to have thrown off with an effort as spontaneous as that of a tree resigning its leaves to the wind. But that noble tree will never more bear fruit or blossom! It has been cut down in its strengh, and the past is all that remains to us of Byron. We can scarce reconcile ourselves to the idea —scarce think that the voice is silent for ever, which, bursting so often on our ear, was often heard with rapturous admiration, sometimes, with regret, but always with the deepest interest:

« All that's bright most fade ,
« The brightest still the fleetest »

With a strong feeling of awfull sorrow, we take leave of the subject. Death creeps upon our most serious as well as upon our most idle employments; and it is a reflection solemn and gratifying, that he found our Byron in no moment of levity, but contributing his fortune, and hazarding his life, in behalf of a people only endeared to him by their past glories, and as fellow-creatures suffering under the yoke of a heathen oppressor. To have fallen in a crusade for freedom and humanity, as in olden times it would have been an atonement for the blackest crimes, may in the present be allowed to expiate greater follies than even exaggerated calumny has propagated against Byron.»

We were going to allude again this week to the question between Mr. Thomas Moore and the public, respecting the destruction of Lord Byron's Memoirs. We have received several letters expressing the extreme mortification of the writers on learning the fact, and venting their indignation in no very measured terms against the perpetrators. And we should not have concealed our own opinion , that, however nobly Thomas Moore may have acted as regards his own interest, his published letter makes out no justification either in regard to his late illustrious friend, whose reputation whas thus abandoned without that defence which probably his own pen could alone furnish of many misrepresented passages in his conduct; or in regard to the world, which is thus robbed of a treasure that can never be replaced. But we have learnt one fact which puts a different face on the whole matter. It is., that Lord Byron himself did not wish the Memoirs published. How they came into the hands of Mr. Moore and the bookseller — for what purpose, and under what reservations —we shall probably be at liberty to explain at a future time; for the present we can only say that such is the fact, as the Noble Poet's intimate friends can testify.

1 The hit about aristocracy smacks of the Baronet and Courtier; and the quotation upon which he founds it, is exceedingly unfair, since for this one stanza we could quote twenty out of the same poem full of the most contemptuous satire upon the upper orders , if indeed the whole spirit of the poem were not a better authority.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Born in Boston, in 1734, Paul Revere was the son of a silversmith who originated from France.  Revere became well known in Boston for his own craftsmanship, but, of course, is best remembered for his midnight ride On April 18, 1775 with William Dawes to Lexington (from Boston) to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British had crossed the River Charles on their way toward Lexington.  Revere had developed an alarm system that included the raising of two lanterns in the Old North Church to warn of the British movements across the Charles, in case Revere was apprehended en route (one lantern would have been raised if the British marched by land).  In good measure a result of the early warning system, victory went to the colonists at the battles of Lexington and Concord.

As another example of the ability of poetry to build remembrance and legend, Revere's efforts were not much remarked on during his lifetime.  It was in 1861 that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his poem "Paul Revere's Ride".  Walter Scott included this poem in "Great Men and Famous Deeds":


Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend,—"If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said good-night, and with muffled oar
Silently row'd to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The "Somerset," British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge, black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack-door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climb'd to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade;
Up the light ladder, slender and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the quiet town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapp'd in silence so deep and still,
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurr'd, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walk'd Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamp'd the earth,
And turn'd and tighten'd his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watch'd with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely, and spectral, and sombre, and still.

And, lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!  
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

It was twelve by the village clock,
When he cross'd the bridge into Medford town,
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he rode into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he pass'd,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning-breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British regulars fired and fled;
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,—
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness, and peril, and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Canterbury Tales


A Monk there was, a fayre for the maistrie,
An outrider that loved venerie;
A manly man, to be an Abbot able,
Full many a daintie horse had he in stable :
And whan he rode, men might his bridle hear
Gingeling in a whistling wind as clear,
And eke as loud, as doth the chapell bell,
There as this lord was keeper of the cell.


Walter Scott employed the above passage from the prologue to "The Canterbury Tales" as the motto to Chapter II of  "Ivanhoe".  April 17 has two resonances with Chaucer's work.  In 1397, Chaucer told "The Canterbury Tales" for the first time, in the court of English King Richard II.  It is also the date the pilgrimage to Canterbury is supposed to have begun, in 1387.

Friday, April 16, 2010


"Waverley riding post, as was the usual fashion of the period, without any adventure save one or two queries, which the talisman of his passport sufficiently answered, reached the borders of Scotland. Here he heard the tidings of the decisive battle of Culloden. It was no more than he had long expected, though the success at Falkirk had thrown a faint and setting gleam over the arms of the Chevalier..."

Scott's novel Waverley, from which the text above was taken, was set during the Jacobite Rising of 1745.  The Battle of Culloden was the last battle of that rebellion, occurring on April 16, 1745.  Jacobites aimed to restore a Stuart to the throne, in place of the Hanovers.  The battle lasted about an hour; a complete rout for the English.  Afterwards, Charles Edward Stuart made a famous escape by way of Skye, with the aid of Flora MacDonald, to spend the rest of his life in exile.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leaving Naples

April 15, Naples.—I am on the eve of leaving Naples after a residence of three or four months, my strength strongly returning, though the weather has been very uncertain. What with the interruption occasioned by the cholera and other inconveniences, I have not done much. I have sent home only the letters by L.L. Stuart and three volumes of the Siege of Malta. I sent them by Lord Cowper's son—Mr. Cowper returning, his leave being out—and two chests of books by the Messrs. Turner, Malta, who are to put them on board a vessel, to be forwarded to Mr. Cadell through Whittaker. I have hopes they will come to hand safe. I have bought a small closing carriage, warranted new and English, cost me £200, for the convenience of returning home. It carries Anne, Charles, and the two servants, and we start to-morrow morning for Rome, after which we shall be starting homeward, for the Greek scheme is blown up, as Sir Frederick Adam is said to be going to Madras, so he will be unable to send a frigate as promised. I have spent on the expenses of medical persons and books, etc., a large sum, yet not excessive...

From Scott's Journal.

Scott's departure from Abbotsford to Naples was covered a few posts ago.  Scott's entourage arrived in Naples on December 17, 1831.  After nearly four months of rest and recuperation, he is leaving on April 15, 1832.  According to Lockhart ("Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott"), the person he saw most on this trip was Sir William Gell, who had also turned to Naples for his health.    Scott's post from this day discusses his "Siege of Malta", which has recently been published.  Scott also logs the story of Il Bizarro; also recently published.  Lockhart's biography relates that Scott worked on these stories through much of his time in Naples.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

James Hepburn

Earl James Hepburn of Bothwell went down in history with mostly unfavorable notoriety.  Hepburn went through acrimonious relationships in his engagement to Anna Tronds and marriage to Jean Gordon before possibly forcibly marrying Mary, Queen of Scots.  It was Hepburn's relationship with the first of these women that ultimately did him in. 

Hepburn was the son of Patrick Hepburn, the 3rd Earl of Boswell, and Agnes Sinclair, daughter of Henry, the 3rd Lord Sinclair.  Bothwell was forced to escape the Scottish mainland in June 1567, after Scottish Lords signed a bond denouncing the newly married James and Mary.  Mary was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle that same month, and forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her son James I.  Mary escaped from Lockleven Castle on May 2, 1568, with one of those aiding her being Hepburn's grandfather Henry Sinclair (

Many in the 16th century, and now, have speculated on when the relationship between James and Mary became intimate.  Mary made a famous visit to Bothwell in October 1566, while he was ill.  Bothwell was married to Jean Gordon at the time.

In "A Vindication of James Hepburn", author John Watts De Peyster turns to Walter Scott on this question: "Sir Walter Scott, who is by no means favorable on any occasion to Bothwell, admits that it is an open question " whether she (the Queen) visited a wounded subject, or a lover in danger." The Wizard of the North adds: "The Queen's Mire is still a pass of danger, exhibiting, in many places, the bones of the horses which have been entangled in it. For what reason the Queen chose to enter Liddesdale, by the circuitous route of Hawick, is not told. There are other two passes from Jedburgh to Hermitage Castle; the one by the Note of the Gate, the other over the mountain called Winburgh. Either of these, but especially the latter, is several miles shorter than that by Hawick and the Queen's Mire. But, by the circuitous way of Hawick, the Queen could traverse the districts of more friendly clans than by going directly into the disorderly province of Liddesdale."..."

Bothwell's escape to Scandanavia and Norway ended in his capture by Danish authorities.  Here Anna Tronds found revenge, lodging a complaint against Hepburn.  Bothwell spent the last ten years of his life in prison, dying on April 14, 1578.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Charles Burney

Dr. Charles Burney was an English music historian and composer.  In 1776, Burney published the first volume of his "History of Music", which was followed by three additional volumes by 1789.  Dr. Burney passed on April 13, 1814.

Burney is probably best known now as the father of author Fanny Burney, and to a lesser extent Fanny's half-sister, author Sarah Burney.  During his day, Charles Burney was well known in London circles, and was familiar to Samuel Johnson.  Boswell records the following correspondence between Burney and Johnson in his "Life of Johnson".

"...In 1755 we behold him to great advantage; his degree of Master of Arts conferred upon him, his Dictionary published, his correspondence animated, his benevolence exercised.

Mr. Charles Burney, who has since distinguished himself so much in the science of Musick, and obtained a Doctor's degree from the University of Oxford, had been driven from the capital by bad health, and was now residing at Lynne Regis, in Norfolk. He had been so much delighted with Johnson's Rambler and the Plan of his Dictionary, that when the great work was announced in the news-papers as nearly finished,' he wrote to Dr. Johnson, begging to be informed when and in what manner his Dictionary would be published; intreating, if it should be by subscription, or he should have any books at his own disposal, to be favoured with six copies for himself and friends.

In answer to this application, Dr. Johnson wrote the following letter, of which (to use Dr. Burney's own words) 'if it be remembered that it was written to an obscure young man, who at this time had not much distinguished himself even in his own profession, but whose name could never have reached the authour of The Rambler, the politeness and urbanity may be opposed to some of the stories which have been lately circulated of Dr. Johnson's natural rudeness and ferocity.'


'SIR,--If you imagine that by delaying my answer I intended to shew any neglect of the notice with which you have favoured me, you will neither think justly of yourself nor of me. Your civilities were offered with too much elegance not to engage attention; and I have too much pleasure in pleasing men like you, not to feel very sensibly the distinction which you have bestowed upon me. 'Few consequences of my endeavours to please or to benefit mankind have delighted me more than your friendship thus voluntarily offered, which now I have it I hope to keep, because I hope to continue to deserve it.

'I have no Dictionaries to dispose of for myself, but shall be glad to have you direct your friends to Mr. Dodsley, because it was by his recommendation that I was employed in the work.

'When you have leisure to think again upon me, let me be favoured with another letter; and another yet, when you have looked into my Dictionary. If you find faults, I shall endeavour to mend them; if you find none, I shall think you blinded by kind partiality: but to have made you partial in his favour, will very much gratify the ambition of, Sir, your most obliged and most humble servant,


'Gough-square, Fleet-street, April 8,1755.'..."

Walter Scott met Fanny Burney in 1826 (November 18).  Sarah Burney was also a fan of Scott's.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Union Flag

On April 12, 1606, The Union Flag (or Jack) was officially adopted as the standard of England, Wales, and Scotland.  Though the Treaty of Union would not be signed until 1707, the three kingdoms were united through having a common ruler, James I of England/VI of Scotland.  St. George's cross was joined by that of St. Andrew's.  Wales was not explicitly represented on the Union Flag, as it had already legally incorporated into England.

The Union Flag makes an appearance in Walter Scott's "Waverley":

"...In about two hours' time, the party were near the Castle of Stirling, over whose battlements the union flag was brightened as it waved in the evening sun. To shorten his journey, or perhaps to display his importance, and insult the English garrison, Balmawhapple, inclining to the right, took his route through the royal park, which reaches to and surrounds the rock upon which the fortress is situated..."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Darien Scheme

On April 11, 1700, the Scottish settlement of Darien was abandoned.  The Darien Company began as the first large-scale Scottish joint-stock company.  Its formation was encouraged by the passage of the Act, William and Mary 1693, which included a chapter (34) "for the encouraging of foreign trade".  This act effectively promised William's protection for such endeavors.  Darien was the brainchild of financier William Paterson.

Paterson attempted, and failed, to obtain funding for his proposed trading colony on the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) in England and Holland.  Eventually, he turned to his native Scotland, where the project found substantial interest.  Scotland was a poor country at this time.  According to bank historian Andrew Kerr, Scotland's total currency did not exceed L800,000.  The Darien Company, after initial success in Scotland, reached a subscribed funding of approximately L400,000, half of which was paid up.  This was clearly an enormous investment for a Scottish enterprise.

The first ships bound for Darien left on July 26, 1698; a flotilla of 5 well armed vessels.  Two further expeditions were to follow.  Far from protection, the colonists found that rival English colonies in the West Indies and Americas were forbidden to sell food to the Darien group.  Darien was attacked by a much larger Spanish force, and finally the colonists were forced to leave Panama.

Several Scottish writers have commented on this catastrophe, including Tobias Smollett: "The clamor in Scotland increased against the ministry, who had disowned their company, and in a great measure defeated their design, from which they had promised themselves such heaps of treasure.... At Madeira they took in a supply of wine, and then returned to Crab Island, in the neighborhood of. St. Thomas, lying between Santa Cruz and Porto Rico. Their design was to take possession of this little island; but when they entered the road, they saw a large tent pitched upon the strand, and the Danish colors flying. Finding themselves anticipated in this quarter, they directed their course to the coast of Darien. . . . "

Regarding Darien, Walter Scott commented that "Nothing could be heard throughout Scotland but the language of grief and of resentment. Indemnification, redress, revenge, were demanded by every mouth, and each hand seemed ready to vouch for the justice of the claim. For many years no such universal feeling had occupied the Scottish people."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Alexander Nasmith

The painter that David Wilkie referred to as "the founder of the landscape painting school of Scotland" died on April 10, 1840.  Alexander Nasmith began his career as an artist through apprenticing for house decorator James Cummyng, and later under portraitist Allan Ramsey. Nasmith later trained other painters, including John Thomson and possibly John Ruskin's father.

Nasmith enjoyed a fair amount of success as a portrait painter.  The Scottish National Gallery owns eight Nasmith paintings, two of which are portraits of his friend Robert Burns.  But is was more for his skill in landscape painting that Walter Scott commissioned Nasmith to provide vignette engravings for the 1821 edition of the Waverley Novels.  Nasmith contributed more than 60 illustrations to Scott's works.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Edward IV of England

Edward IV's reign is known mainly for the Wars of the Roses.  He was crowned in 1461, during this time of strife between the houses of York and Lancaster.  Edward inherited a right to the throne when his father Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, was killed at the Battle of Wakefield.  Edward was crowned in London, in 1461, thanks to the efforts of his cousin Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who gained control of the city while Henry VI was embroiled in battle in the north of England.  Scott references Edward's life in his "The Lord of the Isles".  Scott provides a note to canto 1 including the following:
"...From this castle of Artornish, upon the 19th day of Octoher, 1461, John de Yle, designing himself Earl of Ross, and Lord of the Isles, granted, in the style of an independent sovereign, a commission to his trusty and well-beloved cousins, Ronald of the Isles, and Duncan, Arch-Dean of the Isles, for empowering them to enter into a treaty with the most excellent Prince Edward, by the grace of God, King of France and England, and Lord of Ireland. Edward IV., on his part, named Laurence, Bishop of Durham, the Earl of Worcester, the Prior of St. John's, Lord Wenlock, and Mr. Robert Stillington, keeper of the privy seal, his deputies and commissioners, to confer with those named by the Lord of the Isles. The conference terminated in a treaty, by which the Lord of the Isles agreed to become a vassal to the crown of England, and to assist Edward IV. and James, Earl of Douglas, then in banishment, in subduing the realm of Scotland.

The first article provides, that John de Isle, Earl of Ross, with his son, Donald Balloch, and his grandson, John de Isle, with all their subjects, men, people, and inhabitants, become vassals and liegemen to Edward IV of England, and assist Him in his wars in Scotland or Ireland; and then follow the allowances to he made to the Lord of the Isles, in recompense of his military service, and the provisions for dividing such conquests as their united arms should make upon the mainland of Scotland among the confederates..."

Thursday, April 8, 2010


On April 8, 1820, prisoners of the Radical War were taken from Paisley to Greenock jail.  The prisoners were escorted by the Port Glasgow Militia, which came under attack from stone throwing Greenock citizens along the way.  Eventually, the militia opened fire, killing eight citizens.  The militia left after jailing the prisoners, but Greenockians broke into the jail, freeing the Radicals.

There are certainly worse places to be jailed than in Greenock.  Greenock lies on the firth of Clyde, and has inspired several literary, musical and cinematic works.  Greenock born composer Hamish MacCunn based his "The Land of the Mountain and the Flood" on Sir Walter Scott's descriptions of the Scottish landscape.

Other notable residents have included James Watt, and according to the pirate William Kidd, Greenock was his birth place (believed to be inaccurate).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On the Departure of Sir Walter Scott from Abbotsford, for Naples

The poem named in the title bar (displayed below) was written by Scott's contemporary William Wordsworth.  Wordsworth was born on April 7, 1770, (a year before Scott) at Cockermouth, in the Cumberland Lake District.  With Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Wordsworth jointly published "Lyrical Ballads", demarking the beginning of the Romantic Age in English literature.

Wordsworth and Scott met and became friends, around 1803.  That Wordsworth made an impression on Scott is evident from the more that 30 entries in his journal, either referencing his work or a social gathering.  Clearly, the feeling was mutual:

On the Departure of Sir Walter Scott from Abbotsford, for Naples

A trouble, not of clouds, or weeping rain,
Nor of the setting sun's pathetic light
Engendered, hangs o'er Eildon's triple height:
Spirits of Power, assembled there, complain
For kindred Power departing from their sight;
While Tweed, best pleased in chanting a blithe strain,
Saddens his voice again, and yet again.
Lift up your hearts, ye Mourners! for the might
Of the whole world's good wishes with him goes;
Blessings and prayers in nobler retinue
Than sceptred king or laurelled conqueror knows,
Follow this wondrous Potentate. Be true,
Ye winds of ocean, and the midland sea,
Wafting your Charge to soft Parthenope!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Richard the Lionheart

Richard I of England took the throne in 1189, at 31 years of age.  The next two years of his life were spent en route to the Holy Land.  On July 12, 1192, he participated in taking Acre with Philip of France.  At the end of September of that year, Richard reached a truce with Saladin, and left for home. 

Shipwrecked near Aquilcia, he was taken prisoner by the Austrian Duke Leopold V, and ultimately ransomed, returning home in 1194  Austria gained a city, Wiener Neustadt, funded by the ransom money, and England had its king back.  It is at this point in time that Walter Scott's Ivanhoe is set.  Richard died on April 6, 1199.

From Chapter I:

"...Such being our chief scene, the date of our story refers to a period towards the end of the reign of Richard I., when his return from his long captivity had become an event rather wished than hoped for by his despairing subjects, who were in the meantime subjected to every species of subordinate oppression. The nobles, whose power had become exorbitant during the reign of Stephen, and whom the prudence of Henry the Second had scarce reduced to some degree of subjection to the crown, had now resumed their ancient license in its utmost extent; despising the feeble interference of the English Council of State, fortifying their castles, increasing the number of their dependants, reducing all around them to a state of vassalage, and striving by every means in their power, to place themselves each at the head of such forces as might enable him to make a figure in the national convulsions which appeared to be impending..."

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Thou wilt show my head to the people: It is worth showing"

The famous last words of Georges Jacques Danton, the French Revolutionary, were uttered on April 5, 1794.  Danton, who had participated in the storming of the Bastille, was guillotined toward the end of the reign of terror.  Financial improprieties were cited, including an attempt to gain from insider trading related to the French East India Company.

Walter Scott covers Danton in his "Life of Napoleon", considering him in the same breath as Robespierre and Marat; the triumvirate, as Scott referred to them.

"...The Jacobins—the second of these parties —were allies of the Brissotins, with the ulterior purpose of urging the revolutionary force to the uttermost, but using as yet the shelter of their republican mantle. Robespierre, who, by an affectation of a frugal and sequestered course of life, preserved among the multitude the title of the Incorruptible, might be considered as the head of the Jacobins, if they had indeed a leader more than wolves have, which tune their united voices to the cry of him who bays the loudest. Danton, inexorable as Robespierre himself, but less prudent, because he loved gold and pleasure as well as blood and power, was next in authority. Marat, who loved to talk of murder as soldiers do of battles; the wretched Collot d'Herb√≥te, a broker-down play-actor ; Chabot, an eicapuchin ; with many other men of desperate character, whose moderate talents were eked cut by the most profligate effrontery, formed the advanced guard of this party, soiled with every species of crime, and accustomed to act their parts in the management of those dreadful insurrections, which had at once promoted and dishonoured the Revolution..."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Oliver Goldsmith

'Dr. Goldsmith is one of the first men we now have as an authour, and he is a very worthy man too. He has been loose in his principles, but he is coming right.'

- Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell in his "Life of Johnson"

The author of "The Traveler", and "The Vicar of Wakefield" died on April 4, 1774.  Walter Scott wrote a short biography of Goldsmith, contained in his "Miscellaneous Prose Works."  Goldsmith was known for his foibles as well as his talents, and Scott recognizes the influence of Samuel Johnson on Goldsmith's work:

"..Still, however, though subsisting thus precariously, he was getting forward in society; and had already, in the year 1761, made his way as far as Dr. Johnson, who seems, from their first acquaintance, till death separated them, to have entertained for Goldsmith the most sincere friendship, regarding his genius with respect, his failings with indulgence, and his person with-affection.

It was probably soon after this first acquaintance, that Necessity, the parent of so many works of genius, gave birth to the Vicar of Wakefield. The circumstances attending the sale of the work to the fortunate publisher, are too singular to be told in any other words than those of Johnson, as reported by his faithful chronicler, Boswell.

" I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith, that he was in great distress; and as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated.- He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return, and, having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill."..."

Saturday, April 3, 2010


On April 3, 1820, the ill-fated Radical War took its first real action, with a strike by artisans in central Scotland.  A militant group among the Radicals determined to seize weapons at the Carron Iron Works.  Proceeding from Glasgow toward the Carron Company, they were stopped at Bonnymuir by Perth-based troops; the 11th Hussars commanded by Lt. Ellis Hodgson.  Two of the Radical leaders, John Baird and Andrew Hardie, were later tried and executed for their roles in this uprising.

Walter Scott recorded these words concerning the executions of Hardie and Baird in the Edinburgh Annual Register (v. 13)

8th (September 1820).—Stirling.—Execution Of Hardie And Baird.—During last night the usual apparatus was erected in front of the stair leading to the Townhouse, and in the morning exhibited two decently ornamented coffins on the platform, with a dark-coloured wooden block.

About 12 o'clock two troops of the Dragoon Guards entered the esplanade before the Castle, and formed a wide semicircle in front of the drawbridge. Within this a party of the 13th foot drew up. The crowd collected on the esplanade was inconsiderable. At a quarter to one o'clock the Sheriff and Magistrates left the Townhall in procession, and walked to the Castle to receive the prisoners. Immediately on their arrival the gates of the Castle were thrown open, and Baird and Hardie appeared, attended by the authorities of the garrison and the established clergy men of the town. Baird looked pale and thoughtful; Hardie's countenance did not seem much altered. With astonishing calmness they bade an affectionate farewell to the officers of the corps in the Castle, and expressed warmly their gratitude for the indulgence they had experienced during their confinement. They both surveyed the ignominious preparation for their removal with dignity, and were kindly assisted to their seat on the hurdle by the clergymen. The headsman in the mask, who decapitated Wilson at Glasgow, took his seat on the hurdle opposite the two victims, with his hatchet resting on his thigh. As he entered, a slight expression of contempt marked the features of Hardie. Baird was busy with a Bible, and spoke a few words to the clergyman next him. The cavalcade began to move down the esplanade, and the prisoners united in singing a psalm till they reached the bottom of the scaffold. Hardie stepped out of the hurdle, and looked up to the drop without the slightest trace of discomposure. They walked into the court-room, each resting on the arm of a clergyman— With great apparent earnestness they joined in the religious devotions, which lasted till twenty-five minutes past two, when their arms were bound, and they walked with a firm step and elevated mien to the drop. They were followed by the civil authorities and the clergymen. Baird advanced to the railing, and bowed gracefully; a smile was on his countenance, and he expressed a wish to be heard. Silence being obtained, with a loud unfaltering voice, he recommended to the understandings and lives of his hearers the doctrines and precepts of Christianity. We caught, "Oh ! I entreat of you, notice your Bibles, and conduct yourselves soberly ; mind religion at all times; but be not regardless of justice and reason on every subject." He then maintained his strong attachment to the cause in which he had been merely imprudent, and declared himself pure, in his political purposes. He rejoiced in the. knowledge he had obtained of a Saviour, who had likewise Buffered innocently ; and spoke gratefully of the clerical aid he had enjoyed. During his address he gesticulated violently, turning round in all directions. Hardie, at the commencement of it, sat calmly down on the block, and in rising up paid his respects to an acquaintance whom he saw in the crowd. He then spoke with equal freedom, but less distinctness, and seemed less subdued in spirit. His political conduct appeared uppermost in his thoughts; and the crowd could only hear him say, " I die a martyr to the cause of liberty, truth, and justice." This seemed to operate like a charm on the hitherto sad multitude, and was greeted by three vehement cheers. He was interrupted by the cheering and a tap on the shoulder by the sheriff, to whom he turned round, and replied to whatever had been said to him. He then resumed his address, changing the subject to an expression of his religious feelings. The executioner having prepared Baird during the address of Hardie, they were soon both ready to be launched. Having both joined in the prayer of a clergyman behind them, Baird spoke something towards the spectators through his cap, and dropped the signal. They died almost without a struggle.

After hanging half an hour, Calder, the sheriffs officer, came forward and caught the bodies alternately, whilst the hangman cut them down. They then placed them on the scaffold, and Calder having bared the neck to the shoulders, cutting open the coat and vest, the decapitator came forward amid execrations, hisses, and shouts of "Murder!" One blow aimed at the first neck he engaged failed to sever the head; and a second, with mangling, scarcely effected it. He held it up; it seemed to be that of Hardie, swoln and livid, but placid. The blood trinkled down ; the usual proclamation was feebly pronounced, having to come through the crape, mask of the headsman. The cries of "Butchery ! Ruffian!" were general, but seemed to make no impression on the operator, who advanced to the next, and was equally unfortunate in his odious work. The mangling horrified the spectators; the head was proclaimed; and the decapitator quickly retreated, amid loudly expressed disapprobation.

To the credit of the humanity of the inhabitants of this place, very few attended the execution. The crowd seemed almost entirely composed of people from the country, this being the market-day. Females of any respectability there seemed none; and scarcely any spectators occupied the neighbouring windows.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Robert Pierce Gillies

April 2 (1827).—Another letter from R.P.G. I shall begin to wish, like S., that he had been murthered and robbed in his walks between Wimbledon and London. John [Archibald] Murray and his young wife came to dinner, and in good time. I like her very much, and think he has been very lucky. She is not in the vaward of youth, but John is but two or three years my junior. She is pleasing in her manners, and totally free from affectation; a beautiful musician, and willingly exerts her talents in that way; is said to be very learned, but shows none of it. A large fortune is no bad addition to such a woman's society.

From Scott's Journal.

The RPG that Scott is frustrated with is Robert Pierce Gillies, a man that has been described by author W. Frye ("Edinburgh under Walter Scott") as an eccentric.  Gillies was known to Scott, Goethe, and Wordsworth, to name a few.  Gillies authored "Tales of a Voyageer to the Arctic Ocean", among other works.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Radical War

On April 1, 1820, a pamphlet calling for a national strike was circulated through Glasgow by a group calling itself A Committee for Forming a Provisional Government.  What became known as the Radical War, or Insurrection of 1820, had as an antecedent the Massacre of Peterloo (August 16, 1819 - dubbed Peterloo after the Battle of Waterloo four years earlier), in which a crowd of 60,000 - 80,000 protesters gathered at St. Peter's Field in Manchester was charged on by armed cavalry.

The Radicals were largely comprised of weavers, who, according to Rev. Robert Rennie, were among the better educated tradespeople.  The weavers saw their economic quality of life deteriorating in the first two decades of the 19th century, impacted by the Napoleonic Wars.  Earnings fell by half between 1800 and 1808, and much further over the next decade.  The pamphlets circulated on April 1st called for a national strike:

"Friends and Countrymen! Rouse from that state in which we have sunk for so many years, we are at length compelled from the extremity of our sufferings, and the contempt heaped upon our petitions for redress, to assert our rights at the hazard of our lives." by "taking up arms for the redress of our common grievances". "Equality of rights (not of property)... Liberty or Death is our motto, and we have sworn to return home in triumph - or return no more.... we earnestly request all to desist from their labour from and after this day, the first of April [until] in possession of those rights..." It called for a rising "To show the world that we are not that lawless, sanguinary rabble which our oppressors would persuade the higher circles we are but a brave and generous people determined to be free."

A footnote added: "Britons – God – Justice – the wish of all good men, are with us. Join together and make it one good cause, and the nations of the earth shall hail the day when the Standard of Liberty shall be raised on its native soil."

The following Monday, a strike did occur, followed by violent incidents at Bonnymuir and Greenock.  The Radical War had little chance of succeeding, and its main instigators, James Wilson, John Baird, and Andrew Hardie were captured, tried, and executed. 

Fallout from the Insurrection of 1820 included the scheduling of a visit by King George IV to Scotland, which Sir Walter Scott organized very effectively.  Scott authored a poem for this event, "Carle, now the King's Come":

"The news has flown frae mouth to mouth,
the North for once has bang'd the South;
The deil a Scotsman's die o' drouth,
Carle, now the King's come!