Sunday, January 31, 2010

False Alarm

Around the turn of the century - 1800 or so - Napoleon was running through the continent.  The British navy had successfully kept Napoleon's forces at bay, with Nelson winning the Battle of Trafalgar, and many battles aided by the carronade produced at the Carron Iron Works in Falkirk.  Great Britain remained wary of an invasion by the French, however.

To help counter the risk of a land invasion in the Borders area, a system of warning beacons was set up on prominent hills: Dunion hill near Jedburgh; Dunselaw and Hume Castle; Peneilbeugh; the Eildons; Ruberslaw; Belling and Cheviot hills; Crumhaugh hill for Upper Teviotdale; Wisp and Black Andrew for the Ettrick Forest.

This system had worked in the past, when wars occurred between Scottish chiefs.  Now it would be tested against a foreign enemy.  On the 31st of January, 1804, a warning beacon was mistakenly lit at Hume Castle.  The signal was repeated, rapidly spreading throughout the Borders.  Watchers, on the hills, left their posts to warn the towns. Volunteers came out to prepare for battle.

Walter Scott, who rode to join his regiment, wrote of the occasion:

'The men of Liddesdale, says he, the most remote point to the westward which the alarm reached, were so much afraid of being late in the field, that they put in requisition all the horses they could find; and when they had thus made a forced march out of their own county, they turned their borrowed steeds loose to find their way back through the hills, and they all got back safe to their own stables. Another remarkable circumstance was, the general cry of the inhabitants of the smaller towns for arms, that they might go along with their companions. The Selkirkshire yeomanry made a remarkable march; for although some of the individuals lived at twenty and thirty miles' distance from the place where they mustered, they were nevertheless embodied and in order in so short a period, that they were at Dalkeith, which was their alarm-post, about one o'clock on the day succeeding the first signal, with men and horses in good order, though the roads were in a bad state, and many of the troopers must have ridden forty or fifty miles without drawing bridle.'

Scott employs this story in "The Antiquary", where the character of Edie Ochiltree, who wishes to "fight for his dish, like the laird for his land," to fight a French invasion.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Execution of Charles I

Charles I of England met his fate on January 30, 1649.  Charles' birth was mentioned in an earlier post, as well as one incident leading to his downfall, and ultimately the trial that led to his beheading.  Charles is said to have faced his end bravely, displaying no signs of fear.  The execution took place in front of the Banqueting House, Whitehall. 

Charles appears in a happier, more innocent age, as Babie Charles in Scott's "The Fortunes of Nigel". 
"He shall have our own advice," said the king, "how to carry on his studies to maist advantage; and it may be we will have him come to Court, and study with Steenie and Babie Charles. And, now we think on't, away—away, George—for the bairns will be coming hame presently, and we would not as yet they kend of this matter we have been treating anent. Propera fedem, O Geordie. Clap your mule between your boughs, and god-den with you."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Croker's Edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson

January 29. (1831)—I had a vacant day once more by the kindness of Sir Robert, unasked, but most kindly afforded. I have not employed it to much purpose. I wrote six pages to Croker, who is busied with a new edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson, to which most entertaining book he hopes to make large additions from Mrs. Piozzi, Hawkins and other sources. I am bound by many obligations to do as much for him as I can, which can only respect the Scottish Tour.

John Wilson Croker did compile an annotated version of Boswell's Life of Johnson, publishing it in 1831.  In addition to the writing referred to above, Croker asked Walter Scott to approach James Boswell's sons (Alexander and James) with a request for source material for his new edition. Scott attempted to contact the Boswell's, who he was acquainted with, but wasn't able to connect - much as had been Croker's experience.

Croker's publication became the source of much controversy.  He included several errors in his work, and these were picked up by a political enemy - Thomas Macaulay.  Macaulay published a critical review that damaged both Croker and Boswell.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Henry VII of England

Henry VII was born on January 28, 1457.  Henry Tudor became the first monarch of that line, gaining the throne with a victory over Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth.  This next to final battle in the Wars of the Roses decided things in favor of the Lancastrians. 

The Wars of the Roses was covered in Scott's Anne of Geierstein, Henry himself is mentioned in passing:

...The treasured necklace of Margaret was then put to its destined use, and the produce applied to levy those bands which shortly after fought the celebrated Battle of Bosworth, in which the arms of Oxford and his son contributed so much to the success of Henry VII.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Trial of Gunpowder Plot Conspirators

The Gunpowder Plot was uncovered on November 5, 1605.  Conspirator Guy Fawkes was caught with approximately 1,800 pounds of gunpowder in a basement under the House of Lords.  After mastermind Robert Catesby and other conspirators were rounded up or killed, a trial began - on Janaury 27, 1606.  The punishment imposed by the court was death by being drawn and quartered.  Fawkes himself escaped this form of death by leaping from the scaffold, and breaking his neck.

Walter Scott sets his "The Fortunes of Nigel" during the reign of James I, and after the Gunpowder Plot:

"...In James's reign, on the contrary, the

coarsest pleasures were publicly and unlimitedly indulged, since,
according to Sir John Harrington, the men wallowed in beastly
delights; and even ladies abandoned their delicacy and rolled about in
intoxication. After a ludicrous account of a mask, in which the actors
had got drunk, and behaved themselves accordingly, he adds, "I have
much marvelled at these strange pageantries, and they do bring to my
recollection what passed of this sort in our Queen's days, in which I
was sometimes an assistant and partaker: but never did I see such lack
of good order and sobriety as I have now done. The gunpowder fright is
got out of all our heads, and we are going on hereabout as if the
devil was contriving every man should blow up himself by wild riot,
excess, and devastation of time and temperance. The great ladies do go
well masqued; and indeed, it be the only show of their modesty to
conceal their countenance, but alack, they meet with such countenance
to uphold their strange doings, that I marvel not at aught that

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

James Skene

January 26 (1831).—I have Skene and Mr. M'Culloch of Ardwell, to the relief of my spirits and the diminishing of my time. Mr. Laidlaw joined us at dinner.

Bitter cold.

Walter Scott and James Skene had been friends for about 35 years when this journal entry was made.  It was toward the end of Walter's life.  According to Lockhart, Scott sought out Skene through a mutual friend, to help in his acquisition of German subjects. Skene had lived several years of his youth in Saxony.

One of Skene's contributions to Scott's work was material for Quentin Durward, which he acquired during a trip to France in 1822.  This material included notes and drawings of various landscapes, buildings, etc.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Robert Burns

Born in a cottage near the bridge of Doon, Robert Burns came into the world on January 25, 1759.  The Bard of Ayrshire and Walter Scott met only once.  Scott was about 15 when Burns visited Adam Ferguson's literary salon in Edinburgh.  Scott interacted with Burns when Burns asked a general question as to who the author of the poem "The Justice of the Peace".  Scott answered correctly that is was John Langhorne.

Scott remembered Burns in later years, describing him thusly:

"His person was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish, a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity which received part of its effect perhaps from knowledge of his extraordinary talents. His features are presented in Mr Nasmyth's picture but to me it conveys the idea that they are diminished, as if seen in perspective. I think his countenance was more massive than it looks in any of the portraits ... there was a strong expression of shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, I think, indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large, and of a dark cast, and literally glowed when he spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

John Audubon

John Audubon visited Walter Scott on January 24, 1827, as recorded in his journal:

Visit from Mr. Audubon, who brings some of his birds. The drawings are of the first order—the attitudes of the birds of the most animated character, and the situations appropriate; one of a snake attacking a bird's nest, while the birds (the parents) peck at the reptile's eyes—they usually, in the long-run, destroy him, says the naturalist. The feathers of these gay little sylphs, most of them from the Southern States, are most brilliant, and are represented with what, were it [not] connected with so much spirit in the attitude, I would call a laborious degree of execution. This extreme correctness is of the utmost consequence to the naturalist, [but] as I think (having no knowledge of virtu), rather gives a stiffness to the drawings.

Like Scott, Audubon found an interest early in life, and found an outlet by which to develop that interest.  According to the website:

Audubon was born in Saint Domingue (now Haiti), the illegitimate son of a French sea captain and plantation owner and his French mistress. Early on, he was raised by his stepmother, Mrs. Audubon, in Nantes, France, and took a lively interest in birds, nature, drawing, and music.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

William Pitt the Younger

'The mighty chiefs sleep side by side;
Drop upon Fox's grave the tear,
'Twill trickle to his rival's bier.'

Walter Scott's first line above refers to the two William Pitt's; the Elder Lord Chatham, and the Younger, who died on January 23, 1806.  Line two, the Whig Charles James Fox, rival of Pitt the Younger.

Pitt's public career included functioning as a prime minister from 1783 - 1801 and again between 1804 - 1806. This timeframe includes the great events of the era; the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.  Pitt's career was necessarily shaped by these events.

One outcome of these times, which Pitt actively supported, was the uniting of Ireland with Great Britain; the Act of Union of 1800.  In one respect, a defensive measure, as Irish nationalists had attempted a rebellion in 1798, and the threat of intercession from France was considered great.

Pitt, in his second ministry encouraged Great Britain's involvement in the Third Coalition, joining Austria, Russia, and Sweden against Napoleon.  Not long after, in October 1805, Horatio Nelson prevailed over the French at the Battle of Trafalgar, establishing English naval supremacy for the duration of the war.

Pitt figures prominently in Scott's "The Life of Napoleon".

Friday, January 22, 2010

Lord Byron

George Gordon Byron was younger, but contemporary with Walter Scott, having been born on January 22, 1788; a difference of about 17 years.  Byron is perhaps best known for his brooding hero; the Byronic hero.

Scott and Byron first met through London publisher John Murray, though they had exchanged letters previously.  The two became friends, and contributed to each other's professional development.  According to biographer John Buchan:
 "Byron was impressed by Scott's gusto and security and broad humanity; Scott by Byron's exotic beauty and the glamour of one who lived all the difficult later years Scott remained Byron's champion, and Byron cherished one of his few esteems for a man whose humanity had sweetened his bitterness and warmed a corner of his bleak house of life..."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Louis XVI of France

Louis XVI appears frequently in Scott's "The Life of Napoleon".  This day, January 21st, in 1793, is the date of Louis' execution by guillotine.  Louis' crime, according to France's National Convention, was treason.  Scott comments:

"...In short, whatever Louis XVI did, which had the least appearance of gratifying those who had lost all for his sake, was accounted an act of treason against freedom and the principals of the revolution..."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Trial of Charles I of England

The trial of Charles I began on January 20, 1649.  Charles refused to plea, as no court had jurisdiction over a monarch.  Fifty-nine Commissioners to the court found Charles guilty, and condemned him to death.

Sir Walter Scott refers to this trial in "Peveril of the Peak":

Moultrassie Hall, the residence of Mr. Bridgenorth, was but two miles distant from Martindale Castle, the ancient seat of the Peverils; and while, as Bridgenorth was a decided Roundhead, all friendly communication which had grown up betwixt Sir Geoffrey and his neighbour was abruptly broken asunder at the outbreak of hostilities, on the trial and execution of Charles I., Bridgenorth was so shocked, fearing the domination of the military, that his politics on many points became those of the Peverils, and he favoured the return of Charles II.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

James Watt

'the most profound man of science, the most successful combiner of powers and calculator of numbers, as adapted to practical purposes' is how Walter Scott described James Watt.  Born on January 19, 1736, in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Watt showed an aptitude for mathematics and mechanics early in his life. 

Watt studied instrument making in London around 1754, then returned to Glasgow, intent on making this his career.  His application was blocked by the Glasgow Guild of Hammermen.  Instead, Watt gained employment at the University of Glasgow.  The University at one point (1763) asked him to fix a Newcomen engine, and while doing so, Watt employed a separate condenser to generate steam power.  The development of the Watt Steam Engine spurred the industrial revolution.

Development of Watt's invention was funded by his friend John Roebuck, who owned the Carron Iron Works.  Roebuck ran into financial difficulty in the early 1770's, and sold his interest in Watt's invention to Matthew Boulton of the Soho Works, who successfully developed Watt's engine.  Watt moved to Birmingham in 1774, working and living there for the next 45 years.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sir John Pringle

The January 16 post covered the Treaty of Union in 1707.  Approximately three months after ratification, John Pringle was born (April 10, 1707).  Pringle was the son of 2nd Baronet John Pringle, a neighbor and friend of James Boswell's father, Lord Auchinlech.

Boswell's companion, Dr. Samuel Johnson, does not seem to have met the Pringles, but Boswell related to Johnson an account of a conversation he had with Captain James Cook at a dinner at Sir John Pringle's:

"I gave him [Johnson] an account of a conversation which had passed between me and Captain Cook, the day before, at dinner at Sir John Pringle's; and he was much pleased with the conscientious accuracy of that celebrated circumnavigator, who set me right as to many of the exaggerated accounts given by Dr Hawkesworth of his Voyages. I told him that while I was with the Captain, I catched the enthusiasm of curiosity and adventure, and felt a strong inclination to go with him on his next voyage.

JOHNSON 'Why, Sir, a man does feel so, till he considers how very little he can learn from such voyages.'

BOSWELL 'But one is carried away with the general grand and indistinct notion of A VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD.'

JOHNSON 'Yes, Sir, but a man is to guard himself against taking a thing in general.'

I said I was certain that a great part of what we are told by the travellers to the South Sea must be conjecture, because they had not enough of the language of those countries to understand so much as they have related. Objects falling under the observation of the senses might be clearly known; but everything intellectual, everything abstract - politicks, morals and religion, must be darkly guessed. Dr Johnson was of the same opinion." (see

Walter Scott had come across this Border family as well.  In the interconnectedness of the Borderlands, one of Sir John Pringle's ancestors, John Fear, married Margaret Scott of Buccleugh.  More directly to Scott's work, John Pringle became the personal physician to John Dalrymple, the 2nd Earl of Stair in 1742 (The 1st Earl of Stair was covered in an earlier post), on his way to a career as a military physician.   The Earl married one Eleanor, widow of Viscount Primrose, who may have inspired Scott's 'My Aunt's Margaret's Mirror" (see Dorothea Waley Singer's Sir John Pringle and his circle - Part I Life

Sir John Pringle died on January 18, 1782.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Papacy Returns to Rome

On January 17, 1377, Pope Gregory XI moved the papacy back to Rome, from Avignon, where it had been since 1309.  The Avignon Papacy spanned seven popes, from the French (Aquitanian) Clement V to Gregory.  The decision to exit Avignon is credited partly to the efforts of Saint Catherine of Siena.  In 1376, Catherine visited Gregory, serving as ambassador of Florence in an attempt to secure peace between Florence and the Papal States.  Her diplomacy failed to quell the strife, but Gregory was apparently impressed enough by Catherine that he was persuaded to return to Rome.

Saint Catherine is referenced in Scott's "The Abbot", along with a footnote on her role in influencing  Gregory's mind.

'..."They call me Lady Abbess, or Mother at the least, who address me,"said Dame Bridget, drawing herself up, as if offended at her friend's authoritative manner--"the Lady of Heathergill forgets that she speaks to the Abbess of Saint Catherine."...'

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Treaty of Union

The Scottish Parliament ratified the Treaty of Union with England this day (January 16) in 1707.  Sir Walter Scott devotes significant time to this union, and the historical actions leading up to its formulation and framing, in "Tales of a Grandfather".  Scott's dedication references the union:

To Hugh Littlejohn, Esq.

My dear child,
I now address you to two volumes of Scottish Stories, which brings down the History of that Country from the period when England and Scotland became subject to the same King until that of the Union, when they were finally united into one Kingdom.  That you and children of your age, may read these books with pleasure and improvement, is the desire and hope of,
My dearest Child,
Your very affectionate Grandfather,
                            Walter Scott
Abbotsford, 15th October, 1828

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Burke and Hare Case

The story of the West Port murders is fairly well known.  Between 1827 and 1828, William Burke and William Hare went on a killing spree in order to sell bodies for dissection.  The purchase was Doctor Robert Knox.

January 15, 1829 finds Sir Walter Scott grappling with how to deal with Doctor Knox's work.  From Scott's Journal:

...I went to the Council of the Royal Society, which was convened at my request, to consider whether we ought to hear a paper on anatomical subjects read by Mr. Knox, whose name has of late been deeply implicated in a criminal prosecution against certain wretches, who had murdered many persons and sold their bodies to professors of the anatomical science. Some thought that our declining to receive the paper would be a declaration unfavourable to Dr. Knox. I think hearing it before Mr. Knox has made any defence (as he is stated to have in view) would be an intimation of our preference of the cause of science to those of morality and common humanity. Mr. Knox's friends undertook to deal with him about suffering the paper to be omitted for the present, while adhuc coram judice lis est.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Red Rover

According to John Buchan, Scott "had a regular gift of eliciting what was worthiest in a man...".    In addition to the many real life characters Scott appreciated, he read other writer's works voaciously.  In 1828, we find him engaged in James Fenimore Cooper's "The Red Rover" (from Scott's Journal).

January 14.—I read Cooper's new novel, The Red Rover; the current of it rolls entirely upon the ocean. Something there is too much of nautical language; in fact, it overpowers everything else. But, so people once take an interest in a description, they will swallow a great deal which they do not understand. The sweet word "Mesopotamia" has its charm in other compositions as well as in sermons. He has much genius, a powerful conception of character, and force of execution. The same ideas, I see, recur upon him that haunt other folks. The graceful form of the spars, and the tracery of the ropes and cordage against the sky, is too often dwelt upon.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

George Fox

George Fox, who died on January 13, 1691, founded the Religious Society of Friends; the Quakers.  Fox began his career as a weaver, but began preaching around 1647, when he was approximately 23.  Fox traveled widely in his ministry, reaching the Borderlands about 1657.  There he influenced one Walter Scott of Raeburn, 2nd Great Grandfather of Sir Walter Scott of Waverly fame.

Both Walter (Raeburn) and his brother Gideon ventured into Quakerism; around 1660, according to a letter of Sir Walter Scott's published in "Friends Intelligencer: a religious and family journal, Volume 23".  This publication contains a response Scott wrote to a letter from a member of the Society of Friends who'd inquired whether Scott had come across any records relating to the Friends among his family papers.  Scott wrote back:

"I received your letter yesterday, and lose no time in replying.  I have particular family reasons for desiring to oblige the society of Friends, as two of my ancestors, one by my mother's and the other by my father's side were members of that respectable body..."

The ancestor on his mother's side was John Swinton of Swinton, who had worked with Oliver Cromwell in administering Scotland.  The two Scott brothers mentioned above were pulled back to Presbyterianism by their older brother William Scott, who took legal action with the Privy Council of Scotland against the heretic Walter Scott, having him imprisoned - first in Edinburgh, later in Jedburgh.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

John Buchan

Author John Buchan passed on January 12, 1940.  Buchan was perhaps best known for his story "39 Steps", which Alfred Hitchcock turned into a movie.  Like Scott, who Buchan admired, he set several of his novels using scenery from his walks through Scotland, including especially the Scottish Borders. 

Buchan wrote more than one book on Walter Scott, and at least one other on the Borders, including:
"Some Notes on Sir Walter Scott (1924)"
"The Man and the Book: Sir Walter Scott (1925)"
"Sir Walter Scott (1932)"

This blogger appreciates Buchan's framing of Scott's biography into the major trends existing at various stages of Scott's life.  Buchan provides a very visual backdrop to historical events.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hiring an Amanuensis

Scott found writing difficult toward the end of his life, and dictated to an amanuensis; his old friend William Laidlaw.  According to biographer John Buchan, Scott met the farmer William Laidlaw around 1803, when he (Scott) was living part-time in Lasswade.  Laidlaw helped Scott collect border ballads.  It was Laidlaw who introduced Scott to James Hogg, who was herding sheep at Ettrick House.

From Scott's Journal of January 11, 1831:

Wrote and sent off three of my own pages in the morning, then walked with Swanston. I tried to write before dinner, but, with drowsiness and pain in my head, made little way. My friend Will Laidlaw came in to dinner, and after dinner kindly offered his services as amanuensis. Too happy was I, and I immediately plunged him into the depths of Count Robert, so we got on three or four pages, worth perhaps double the number of print. I hope it did not take him too short, but after all to keep the press going without an amanuensis is impossible, and the publishers may well pay a sponsible person. He comes back to-morrow. It eases many of my anxieties, and I will stick to it. I really think Mr. Laidlaw is pleased with the engagement for the time. Sent off six close pages.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Penny Post

The penny post was introduced in Great Britain on January 10, 1840.  A major change from the previous charging scheme was that any letter posted in Great Britain or Ireland cost the same amount (one penny), regardless of distance.  Sir Rowland Hill receives credit for introducing the new system, as well as the idea of the prepaid postage stamp.

The penny post came into existence well after Walter Scott passed away (1832).  Scott provides this vignette of the role of the post in daily life from "The Antiquary":

Leaving Mr. Oldbuck and his friend to enjoy their hard bargain of fish, we beg leave to transport the reader to the back-parlour of the post-master's house at Fairport, where his wife, he himself being absent, was employed in assorting for delivery the letters which had come by the Edinburgh post. This is very often in country towns the period of the day when gossips find it particularly agreeable to call on the man or woman of letters, in order, from the outside of the epistles, and, if they are not belied, occasionally from the inside also, to amuse themselves with gleaning information, or forming conjectures about the correspondence and affairs of their neighbours. Two females of this description were, at the time we mention, assisting, or impeding, Mrs. Mailsetter in her official duty. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Income Tax

The first English income tax was introduced on January 9, 1799, by Prime Minister William Pitt.  The tax, of two shillings on the Pound, was used to finance the Napoleonic Wars.  Presumably among the items ultimately funded, would be the light-weight carronade naval cannons, produced near Falkirk by the Carron Iron Works, that earned a tremendous amount of credit for defeating Napoleon.

A curious event involving carronades occurred in March of 1792, when the brig Rosamond was seized by the government at Dumfries as a smuggling ship.  One of the officials who boarded the ship was the excise man and poet Robert Burns.  The ship and its contents were subsequently sold.

According to a report by antiquarian Joseph Train, Burns purchased 4 carronades at that sale. Train passed documents relating to the sale of the Rosamond inventory to Sir Walter Scott, in 1825.  According to John Lockhart, Burns later sent the carronades to the French Convention in a show of sympathy.  Train relates that Scott attempted to trace receipt of the guns in France, and learned from Custom House authorities that the carronades had been seized at the port of Dover, never reaching France.

Friday, January 8, 2010

John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair

John Dalrymple played a significant role in the history of Scotland and England.  He was best known for his role in the Massacre of Glencoe, in 1692.  At Glencoe, 38 MacDonald's were murdered while having received, on friendly terms, more than 100 English troops under Captain Robert Campbell.  In a government review afterwards, Dalrymple was indicated as the individual who ordered the killing.  He received a short suspension as a result.  Though he died on January 8, 1707, Stair was also integral to the 1707 Treaty of Union between England and Scotland.

Scott describes Dalrymple's role at Glencoe in his "The Highland Widow":

"...At this time Sir John Dalrymple, afterwards Earl of Stair, being in attendance
upon William as Secretary of State for Scotland, took advantage of Macdonald's
neglecting to take the oath within the time prescribed, and procured from the King a
warrant of military execution against that chief and his whole clan. This was done
at the instigation of the Earl of Breadalbane, whose lands the Glencoe men had plundered,
and whose treachery to government in negotiating with the Highland clans,
Macdonald himself had exposed. The King was accordingly persuaded that Glencoe
was the main obstacle to the pacification of the Highlands ; and the fact of the unfortunate
chief's submission having been concealed, the sanguinary orders for proceeding
to military execution against his clan were in consequence obtained..."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Allan Ramsay

Scots poet Allan Ramsay, who died on January 7, 1757, was best known for his pastoral, "The Gentle Shepherd".  This work, which later inspired John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera".  Ramsay was not a career poet, having established himself as a wig maker in Edinburgh.  In 1712, he founded the Easy Club, which was a Jacobite literary society.  It was here that his writing skills gained an audience.

Ramsay was well known to Walter Scott.  Scott references Ramsay in his "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border", crediting Ramsay as the source of a Presbyterian march, called Lesly's March, which was first published in Ramsay's "Evergreen".  Scott created a parody of Lesly's March, and included it in his novel "The Monastery":

March, march, Ettrick and Teviotdale,
 Why the deil dinna ye march forward in order!
March, march, Eskdale and Liddesdale,
 All the Blue Bonnets are bound for the Border.
       Many a banner spread,
       Flutters above your head,
 Many a crest that is famous in story.
       Mount and make ready then,
       Sons of the mountain glen,
 Fight for the Queen and our old Scottish glory.        

Come from the hills where your hirsels are grazing,
 Come from the glen of the buck and the roe;
Come to the crag where the beacon is blazing,
 Come with the buckler, the lance, and the bow.
       Trumpets are sounding,        
       War-steeds are bounding,
 Stand to your arms, then, and march in good order;
       England shall many a day
       Tell of the bloody fray,
When the Blue Bonnets came over the Border.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Twelfth Day

Twelve days after Christmas, Christians celebrate the visit of the Three Wise Men.  This feast was a much more festive occasion in the years preceding the English Civil Wars.  One English custom was to elect a "King of Beans", where a bean was placed inside a cake, and whoever ended up with the piece with the bean was honored as king (or queen) for the day.  Twelfth day was celebrated at all levels of society, with reports of Charles II, Mary Queen of Scots, and many others enjoying the festivities.

Walter Scott reports a more superstitious aspect of this feast in his "Letters on demonology and witchcraft".  The story involves floating dishes, glasses, etc., which excited an English village:

"In 1772, a train of transactions, commencing on Twelfth Day, threw the utmost consternation into the village of Stockwell, near London, and impressed on some of its inhabitants the inevitable belief that they were produced by invisible agents.  The plates, dishes, china, and glass-ware and small movables of every kind, contained in the house of Mrs. Golding, and elderly lady, seemed to become animated, shifted their places, flew through the room, and were broken into pieces...Amidst this combustion, a young woman, Mrs. Golding's maid named Anne Robinson, was walking backwards and forwards, nor could she be prevailed on to sit down for a moment excepting when the family were at prayers, during which time no disturbance happened..."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Saxon + Norman = English

From Scott's Ivanhoe:

" was not until the reign of Edward the Third that the mixed language now termed English, was spoken at the court of London, and that the hostile distinction of Norman and Saxon seems entirely to have disappeared..."

The last king of the House of Wessex, Edward III, died on January 5, 1066.  Edward reigned for roughly 24 years.  Edward favored Normans at his court, which was a cause of discontent with his powerful father-in-law, Godwin, Earl of Wessex.  Wessex is the traditional stronghold of the Anglo Saxon monarchy.  Edward himself was the son of Emma of Normandy, and he had spent time in Normandy in his youth.

Edward's death led to the short-lived reign of Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king before the Norman invasion.  Harold reigned from Edward's death to October 14, 1066, when he was killed at the Battle of Hastings, and William the Conqueror took England.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Five to be Arrested in Parliament

" I am convinced the spirit of Pym or Hampden has transmigrated into the rogue, and continues to demonstrate his hatred against royalty and all its adherents."

The above is from Scott's Woodstock.

An act which was a prelude to the English Civil War occurred on this day (January 4) in 1642.  Parliamentarians Pym, Hampden, Hollis, Haselrig and Strode were on Charles I's short list of enemies after the king was served by the Long Parliament with the Grand Remonstrance - a list of grievances against Charles.  In addition to being critical of Charles' actions, Parliament's complaints were strongly anti-Catholic.  Charles' wife was the French Catholic Henrietta Maria.

Charles may have feared that Parliament was considering impeaching his Queen, when he entered the Parliament with an eye toward arresting five of its members.  But the intended prey escaped before Charles reached Parliament.  It was a terrible miscalculation on the King's part, turning some of his existing supporters against him.  The English Civil War ensued, beginning on October 26, 1642 (Battle of Edgehill).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

George Monck

From Scott's "Woodstock":

At length Cromwell died, his son resigned the government, and the various charges which followed induced Everard, as well as many others, to adopt more active measures in the king's behalf...After this, although the estate was terribly unsettled, yet no card seemed to turn up favorable to the royal cause, until the movement of General Monk from Scotland.

George Monck (or Monk), who died on January 3, 1670, is notable for having maneuvered politically through several regimes.  One constant in his life was his military success.  Monck fought against the Scots (1639-1640) and Irish (1641) under Charles I, again against the Irish under Cromwell, and at Cromwell's side against the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar (1650).  Charles II appealed to Monck while he was in Cromwell's employ, but Monck was too close to the Protector to switch sides at this time.  After Cromwell's death, Charles again approached Monck, who now saw an advantage in supporting Charles and the ultimate Restoration.  Charles raised Monck to Duke of Albemarle in gratitude for his support, and gave him the Province of Carolina in America.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Yesterday's post referenced the novel "Woodstock".  Walter Scott often moved from one project ot another.  Sometimes these breaks provided an opportunity to move forward while waiting for source material for the first project.  Other times they seem to have been an outlet when Scott ran into a creative roadblock.  In late 1825, Scott took a break from working on his Life of Napoleon Buonaparte to start the novel Woodstock.  From Scott's Journal of January 2, 1826:

Weather clearing up in Edinburgh once more, and all will, I believe, do well. I am pressed to get on with Woodstock, and must try. I wish I could open a good vein of interest which would breathe freely. I must take my old way, and write myself into good-humour with my task. It is only when I dally with what I am about, look back, and aside, instead of keeping my eyes straight forward, that I feel these cold sinkings of the heart. All men I suppose do, less or more. They are like the sensation of a sailor when the ship is cleared for action, and all are at their places—gloomy enough; but the first broadside puts all to rights. Dined at Huntly Burn with the Fergusons en masse.

Friday, January 1, 2010


The last coronation to be held at Scone took place this day, in 1651, with Charles Stuart (Charles II of England) accepting the crown.  Six months later, the English marched north, moving into Fife and Perth.  Scottish forces headed south, ultimately losing at the Battle of Worcester (Sept 3, 1651).  Charles made a famous escape after this battle.

Scott covers Charles' escape in Woodstock.  This novel is set in 1651.  From Woodstock:

"Well then, go to.--When the young man Charles Stewart fled from the

field of Worcester, and was by sharp chase and pursuit compelled to
separate himself from his followers, I know by sure intelligence that
this Albert Lee was one of the last who remained with him, if not indeed
the very last."