Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux is remembered in part for developing rules for the Knights Templar, and for building the Cistercian order. On March 31, 1146, at Vezelay France, Bernard preached on embarking on a second crusade.

Walter Scott includes a reference to Bernard and the Cistercians in "The Monastery":
"Not I," said Father Philip, in a tone as deferential as he thought could possibly become the Sacristan of Saint Mary's,--"Not I, but the Holy Father of Christendom, and our own holy father, the Lord Abbot, know best. I, the poor Sacristan of Saint Mary's, can but repeat what I hear from others my superiors. Yet of this, good woman, be assured,--the Word, the mere Word, slayetlh. But the church hath her ministers to gloze and to expound the same unto her faithful congregation; and this I say, not so much, my beloved brethren--I mean my beloved sister," (for the Sacristan had got into the end of one of his old sermons,)--"This I speak not so much of the rectors, curates, and secular clergy, so called because they live after the fashion of the _seculum_ or age, unbound by those ties which sequestrate us from the world; neither do I speak this of the mendicant friars, whether black or gray, whether crossed or uncrossed; but of the monks, and especially of the monks Benedictine, reformed on the rule of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, thence called Cistercian, of which monks, Christian brethren--sister, I would say--great is the happiness and glory of the country in possessing the holy ministers of Saint Mary's, whereof I, though an unworthy brother, may say it hath produced more saints, more bishops, more popes--may our patrons make us thankful!--than any holy foundation in Scotland.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Flamborough Head

King James I of Scotland was a strong ruler, though his reign was shortened by 18 years of captivity under English Kings Henry IV - VI.  Gaining the throne in 1406 on the death of his father, Robert III, the 12 year old James was sailing to France to grow up in safety when disaster struck; March 30, 1406 (OS).  Sir Walter Scott provides some history on this event in 'Scotland'.

'Meantime Prince James, the only surviving son of the poor infirm old king, being now (1405) in his eleventh year, required better education than Scotland could afford, and protection more efficient than that of his debilitated father. Robert III could not but suspect the cause and circumstances of his eldest son's death, and be conscious that the ambition which had prompted the removal of Rothsay would not be satisfied without the life of James also. The youthful prince was, therefore, committed to the care of Wardlaw, bishop of Saint Andrew's, and was by his advice sent to France, as the safest means of protecting him from his uncle's schemes of treachery or violence. He was embarked accordingly, Henry Sinclair, earl of Orkney, being appointed as his governor. A considerable number of Lothian gentlemen, with David Fleming of Cumbernauld, attended him to the ship. But on their return they were attacked, for what reason is unknown, by James Douglas of Balveny, uncle to the earl. A skirmish took place on Hermanston Moor, where Fleming and several of his companions fell.

This bloody omen, at the commencement of Prince James's voyage, was followed by equally calamitous consequences. The vessel in which he was embarked had not gained Flamborough Head, when she was taken by an English corsair. As the truce at the time actually subsisted, this capture of the prince was in every respect contrary to the law of nations. But knowing the importance of possessing the royal hostage, Henry resolved to detain him at all events. "In fact," he said, "the Scots ought to have given me the education of this boy, for I am an excellent French scholar." Apparently this new disaster was an incurable wound to the old king; yet he survived, laden with years and infirmities, till 1406, just a twelvemonth after this last misfortune. His death made no change in public affairs, and was totally unfelt in the administration, which continued in the hands of Albany.'

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Emanuel Swedenborg

Emanuel Swedenborg had much more influence on a later poet, William Blake, than on Walter Scott.  Scott's references to Swedenborg are virtually nil.  The author of "Heaven and Hell", and numerous other works died on March 29, 1772; a few months after Scott was born.

One reference Scott makes compares Swedenborg and a female religious figure of his own time to a French counterpart.  The woman Scott mentions is Joanna Southcott, who professed herself a prophetess.  Ms. Southcott at one point announced that she was pregnant (aged in her 60's) with the Messiah.  Scott's letterwriter Paul seems unimpressed with the lot of them, in "Paul's Letters to his Kinfolk":

'If the French have no strong sense of religion or its precepts, they are not without a share of superstition; and an impostor is at present practising among them, who, by all accounts, is as successful as Joanna Southcote herself. This lady, a woman, I am assured, of rank and information, pretends, like Baron Swedenborg, to an immediate intercourse with the spiritual world, and takes her ecstatic trances for the astonishment of parties of good fashion, to whom, on her return to her senses, she recounts the particulars of her visit to the spiritual world, and whom she treats with explanations of their past lives, and predictions of the future. It's said her art has attracted the attention of some men of high rank in the armies of our allies.'

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tales of an Antiquary

March 28 [1828]—...Read Tales of an Antiquary, one of the chime of bells which I have some hand in setting a-ringing. He is really entitled to the name of an antiquary; but he has too much description in proportion to the action. There is a capital wardrobe of properties, but the performers do not act up to their character.

Richard Thomson's work "Tales of an Antiquary" was published in 1828.  The son of a Scotsman had an affinity for antiquities, which it seems he spent much of his spare time in London exploring.  While Walter Scott leaves a critical remark in his journal (above), he acknowledges his contributions as an antiquary.  Another of Thomson's works is "Chronicles of London Bridge".  "Tales of an Antiquary begins...

'In turning over the story of Ancient London, it is particularly interesting to note the exaltation, decline, or fall of its several districts; since,—as Time possesses the power of wearing out all things, both in reputation and substance, —there are many places, once considered fit only for the noble and princely, which afterwards grew out of fashion, and were abandoned to trade : whilst others, perhaps of a still higher mark, have even become the coverts of the mean, or the haunts of the infamous. " We know what we are," says one who was well acquainted with all Nature, " but we know not what we may be:" and it is often very difficult to imagine what we once have been. Who that now contemplates the gloomy and confined streets of Little Britain, and Tower Royal, can conceive that a Sovereign Prince had his Palace in the former ; or that King Stephen, that " worthy Peer," as the old song calls him, should have resided in an old melancholy fortress in the latter ? which, about four centuries afterwards, Queen Elizabeth turned into a Stable!...'

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Charles I Succeeds to the Throne of England

'Charles I, who succeeded his father James, was a Prince whose personal qualities were excellent. It was said of him justly, that, considered as a private gentleman, there was not a more honourable, virtuous, and religious man, in his dominions. He was a kind father, master, and even too affectionate husband, permitting the Queen Henrietta Maria, the beautiful daughter of Henry IV of France, to influence his government too much. Charles had also the dignity which his father totally wanted; and there is no just occasion to question that so good a man as we have described him, had the intention to rule his people justly and mercifully, in place of enforcing the ancient feudal thraldom. But on the other hand, he entertained extravagant ideas of the regal power; feelings which, being peculiarly unsuitable to the times in which he lived, occasioned his own total ruin, and, for a time, that of his posterity.'

The above text is from Walter Scott's "Tales of a Grandfather".  Charles I became king of England on March 27, 1625.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Burnt Wine

March 26, 1667 was a busy day for Samuel Pepys.  He begins by ruminating over the impending death of his mother.  But he has official business to attend to, people to see, and good food and wine to enjoy.  Pepys mentions wine several times in his diary, and this day he's taking it burnt.

'...So at noon home to dinner, where I find Creed, who dined with us, but I had not any time to talk with him, my head being busy, and before I had dined was called away by Sir W. Batten, and both of us in his coach (which I observe his coachman do always go now from hence towards White Hall through Tower Street, and it is the best way) to Exeter House, where the judge was sitting, and after several little causes comes on ours, and while the several depositions and papers were at large reading (which they call the preparatory), and being cold by being forced to sit with my hat off close to a window in the Hall, Sir W. Pen and I to the Castle Tavern hard by and got a lobster, and he and I staid and eat it, and drank good wine; I only burnt wine, as my whole custom of late hath been, as an evasion, God knows, for my drinking of wine (but it is an evasion which will not serve me now hot weather is coming, that I cannot pretend, as indeed I really have done, that I drank it for cold), but I will leave it off, and it is but seldom, as when I am in women’s company, that I must call for wine, for I must be forced to drink to them...'

Walter Scott was familiar with burnt wine as well, which leads the friar in "Ivanhoe" to a surprising discovery:

'..."Nay, we will have no profanation, mad Priest," said Locksley; " let us rather hear where you found this prisoner of thine."

" By Saint Dunstan," said the Friar, " I found him where I sought for better ware! I did step into the cellarage to see what might be rescued there ; for though a cup of burnt wine, with spice, be an evening's draught for an emperor, it were waste, methought, to let so much good liquor be mulled at once ; and I caught up one runlet of sack, and was coming to call more aid among these lazy knaves, who are ever to seek when a good deed is to be done, when I was advised of a strong door —Aha! thought I, here is the choicest juice of all in this secret crypt; and the knave butler, being disturbed in his vocation, hath left the key in the door—In, therefore, I went, and found just nought besides a commodity of rusted chains and this dog of a Jew, who presently rendered himself my prisoner, rescue or no rescue. I did but refresh myself after the fatigue of the action with the unbeliever, with one humming cup of sack, and was proceeding to lead forth my captive, when, crash after crash, as with wild thunder-dint and levinfire, down toppled the masonry of an outer tower, (marry beshrew their hands that built it not the firmer !) and blocked up the passage...'

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bank Founding

The Commercial Bank of Scotland was founded on March 25, 1810.  The Commercial Bank changed banking in Scotland, which at that time was controlled by private banking firms.  Bank historian Andrew Kerr ("History of Banking in Scotland") contrasts Commercial Bank's approach to the status quo:

'The connection between the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank on the one hand, and their respective sets of banking customers on the other hand, became more and more intimate, until partners of private banking firms not only got seats on the bank boards, but actually to a large extent controlled the proceedings of the latter. Business men then began to find it irksome to have to pass their business through the strait gate of the private bank, where toll had to be paid, as the only practical way of obtaining the benefit of the public banks' accommodation; for they believed, rightly or wrongly, that the private banker would refuse at the board meeting to approve of paper which he would readily discount in his own office. It was one great feature of the Commercial Bank to counteract this state of matters; and accordingly it was made a rule of their constitution that no private banker could hold the office of director. This was practically the death-blow to private banking in Edinburgh; for, although many firms continued to exist for years afterwards, the system was ever on the wane. The new establishment was very popular, but it was also very discreet; for while it studied the best interests of the public, it imitated the wisest provisions of the old banks' practice. In short, the founders of the Commercial Bank evinced an amount of true wisdom, which, while it produced great advantage to themselves, was at the same time largely beneficial to the general community. It must not be supposed, however, that the new bank at once sprang into the position of a compeer of the old banks. It commenced on a scale much inferior to their resources, and although it had public favour, it was destitute of the prestige and influence, and accumulated wealth, which placed the old banks in those days on a distinctly elevated platform...'

Founders of the Commercial Bank (through mergers now part of RBS) included John Pitcairn and Henry Cockburn.  Cockburn and Walter Scott were both at one point in their lives members of The Speculative Society.  Cockburn published in the Edinburgh Review, and late in life authored a biography of Francis Jeffrey and "Memorials of his Time".

Thursday, March 24, 2011


English clockmaker John Harrison was born March 24, 1693.  Harrison solved a problem that mariners had faced since the beginning of sea-travel; being able to establish an east-west, or longitudinal position.  Dava Sobel's book on the topic is worth the read.  Sir Walter Scott uses the term longitude to add some color to "The Pirate":

'Amongst others, the little bard, who had now got next to our friend Mordaunt Mertoun, evinced a positive determination to commence and conclude, in all its longitude and latitude, the story of his introduction to glorious John Dryden; and Triptolemus Yellowley, as his spirits arose, shaking off a feeling of involuntary awe, with which he was impressed by the opulence indicated in all he saw around him, as well as by the respect paid to Magnus Troil by the assembled guests, began to broach, to the astonished and somewhat offended Udaller, some of those projects for ameliorating the islands, which he had boasted of to his fellow travellers upon their journey of the morning...'

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Lion of this season becomes the Boar of the next

Walter Scott was known for helping many less successful authors, and people he liked.  As an example, today's post comes from Scott's journal; a note associated with an entry from March 18th.  The note references a letter dated March 23, 1832, which contains an observation appropriate for all:

'As this is the last reference to the Ettrick Shepherd in the Journal [on March 18th], it may be noted that Sir Walter, as late as March 23d, 1832, was still desirous to promote Hogg's welfare. In writing from Naples he says, in reference to the Shepherd's social success in London, "I am glad Hogg has succeeded so well. I hope he will make hay while the sun shines; but he must be aware that the Lion of this season always becomes the Boar of the next.... I will subscribe the proper sum, i.e. what you think right, for Hogg, by all means; and I pray God, keep farms and other absurd temptations likely to beset him out of his way. He has another chance for comfort if he will use common sense with his very considerable genius."....'

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Templars Disbanded

'Returning in less than three minutes, a warder announced ``that the Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx, and the good knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert, commander of the valiant and venerable order of Knights Templars, with a small retinue, requested hospitality and lodging for the night, being on their way to a tournament which was to be held not far from Ashby-de-la-Zouche, on the second day from the present.''...'

The Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert did not fare entirely well in Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe".  The real Knights Templar fared poorly on March 22, 1312, when the order was officially disbanded by Pope Clement V.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Feast of Saint Benedict

The feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia occurs on March 21st, which is believed to be the day of his death, in 547AD.  Benedict's name is remembered in the Benedictine Order, which Walter Scott includes in his poem "Marmion".


There, met to doom in secrecy,
Were placed the heads of convents three:
All servants of Saint Benedict,
The statutes of whose order strict
On iron table lay;
In long black dress, on seats of stone,
Behind were these three judges shown
By the pale cresset's ray:
The Abbess of Saint Hilda's, there,
Sat for a space with visage bare,
Until, to hide her bosom's swell,
And tear-drops that for pity fell,
She closely drew her veil:
Von shrouded figure, as I guess,
By her proud mien and flowing dress,
Is Tynemouth's haughty Prioress,
And she with awe looks pale:
And he, that Ancient Man, whose sight
Has long been quenched by age's night,
Upon whose wrinkled brow alone,
Nor ruth, nor mercy's trace is shown,
Whose look is hard and stern,—
Saint Cuthbert's Abbot is his style;
For sanctity call'd, through the isle,
The Saint of Lindisfarne.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Henry IV of England

Henry Bolingbroke, Henry IV of England, died on March 20, 1413.  Henry was the first Lancaster king.  First cousin to King Richard II, with whom he spent much time growing up, the relationship became strained once the two had competitive interests.  Sir Walter Scott reports the following in "The History of Scotland":
'...a very curious subject of diplomatic discussion subsisted between Henry IV and the Regent of Scotland.

There is a story told by Bower, or Bowmaker, the continuator of Fordun's Chronicle, which has hitherto been treated as fabulous by the more modern historians. This story bears, that Richard II, generally supposed to have been murdered at Pontefract castle, either by the "fierce hand of Sir Piers of Exton," or by the slower and more cruel death of famine, did in reality make his escape by subtlety from his place of confinement; that he fled in disguise to the Scottish isles, and was recognised in the dominions of the Lord of the Isles by a certain fool or jester, who had been familiar in the court of England, as being no other than the dethroned king of that kingdom. Bower proceeds to state, that the person of Richard II thus discovered was delivered up by the Lord of the Isles to the Lord Montgomery, and by him presented to Robert III, by whom he was honourably and beseemingly maintained during all the years of that prince's life. After the death of Robert III, this Richard is stated to have been supported in magnificence, and even in royal state, by the Duke of Albany, to have at length died in the castle of Stirling, and to have been interred in the church of the friars there, at the north angle of the altar. This singular legend is also attested by another contemporary historian, Winton, the prior of Lochleven. He tells the story with some slight differences, particularly that the fugitive and deposed monarch was recognised by an Irish lady, the wife of a brother of the Lord of the Isles, that had seen him in Ireland—that being charged with being King Richard, he denied it—that he was placed in custody of the Lord of Montgomery, and afterwards of the Lord of Cumbernauld—and, finally, that he was long under the care of the regent Duke of Albany. "But whether he was king or not, few," said the chronicler of Lochleven, "knew with certainty. The mysterious personage exhibited little devotion, would seldom incline to hear mass, and bore himself like one half wild or distracted." Serlealso, yeoman of the robes to Richard, was executed because, coming from Scotland to England he reported that Richard was alive in the latter country. This legend, of so much importance to the history of both North and South Britain, has been hitherto treated as fabulous. But the researches and industry of the latest historian of Scotland have curiously illustrated this point, and shown, from evidence collected in the original records, that this captive, called Richard II, actually lived many years in Scotland, and was supported at the public expense of that country.

It is then now clear, that, to counterbalance the advantage which Henry IV. possessed over the regent of Scotland by having in his custody the person of James, and consequently the power of putting an end to the delegated government of Albany whenever he should think fit to set the young king at liberty, Albany, on his side, had in his keeping the person of Richard II, or of someone strongly resembling him, a prisoner whose captivity was not of less importance to the tranquility of Henry IV, who at no period possessed his usurped throne in such security as to view with indifference a real or pretended resuscitation of the deposed Richard...'

Saturday, March 19, 2011


On March 19, 1286 (OS), King Alexander III of Scotland died.  His death was caused by a broken neck, suffered while riding to Fife to visit his new queen, Yolande of Dreux.  Wife number two, it was hoped, would provide a replacement heir for the children Alexander had recently lost; Margaret, Alexander, and David all preceded him to the grave.  Walter Scott includes this historical note on Alexander (in a section on Sir Patrick Spens) in his "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border":

'Alexander III. of Scotland died in 1286; and, for the misfortune of his country, as well as his own, he had been bereaved of all his children before his decease. The crown of Scotland descended upon his grand-daughter, Margaret, termed, by our historians, the Maid of Norway. She was the only offspring of a marriage betwixt Eric, King of Norway, and Margaret, daughter of Alexander III. The kingdom had oeen secured to her by the Parliament of Scotland held at Scone, the year preceding her grandfather's death. The regency of Scotland entered into a congress with the ministers of the King of Norway, and with those of England, for the establishment of good order in the kingdom of the infant Princess. Shortly afterwards, Edward I. conceived the idea of matching his eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales, with the young Queen of Scotland. The plan was eagerly embraced by the Scottish nobles; for, at that time, there was little of the national animosity, which afterwards blazed betwixt the countries, and they patriotically looked forward to the important advantage of uniting the island of Britain into one kingdom. But Eric of Norway seems to have been unwilling to deliver up his daughter: and, while the negotiations were thus protracted. the death of the Maid of Norway effectually crushed a scheme, the consequences of which might have been, that the distinction betwixt England and Scotland would, in our day. have been as obscure and uninteresting as that of the realms of the heptarchy. — Hailes Annals. Fordun, &c.'

Friday, March 18, 2011

Robert Walpole

The unofficial first Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Robert Walpole, died on March 18, 1745. His “ministership” began in 1721, and he gained notoriety and influence by stopping a Jacobite plot to capture King George I, and restore King James Stewart to the throne. The plot was named for a leading conspirator, Francis Atterbury. Walpole became important to the Hanovers, and Sir Walter Scott wrote about this period in history in his "Tales of a Grandfather":

'George, the first of his family who had ascended the British throne, had transmitted the important acquisition to his son, George II. Both sovereigns were men of honour, courage, and good sense; but, being born and educated foreigners, they were strangers to the peculiar character, no less than to the very complieated form of government, of the country over which they were called by Providence to reign. They were successively under the necessity of placing the administration in the hands of a man of distinguished talent, the celebrated Sir Robert Walpole. Unfortunately, this great statesman was a man of a coarse mind, who, altogether disbelieving in the very existence of patriotism, held the opinion that every man had his price, and might be bought, if his services were worth the value at which he rated them. His creed was as unfavourable to the probity of public men, as that of a leader who should disbelieve in the existence of military honour would be degrading to the character of a soldier. The venality of Sir Robert Walpole's administration became a shame and reproach to the British nation, which was also burdened with the means of supplying the wages of the national corruption.

The Kings also, George I and II, under whom Sir Robert Walpole conducted public affairs, were themselves unpopular from a very natural reason. They loved with fond partiality their paternal dominions of Hanover, and the manners and customs of the country in which they had been born and bred. Their intimacy and confidence were chiefly imparted to those of their own nation; and so far, though the preference might be disagreeable to their British subjects, the error flowed from a laudable motive. But both the royal father and sot suffered themselves to be hurried farther than this. Regard for their German territories was the principle which regulated their political movements, and both alliances and hostilities were engaged in for interests and disputes which were of a nature exclusively German, and with which the British nation had nothing to do. Out of this undue partiality for their native dominions arose a great clamour against the two first kings of the House of Guelph, that, called to the government of so fair and ample a kingdom as Britain, they neglected or sacrificed its interests for those of the petty and subaltern concerns of their electorate of Hanover.

Besides other causes of unpopularity, the length of Sir Robert Walpole's administration was alone sufficient to render it odious to a people so fickle as the English, who soon become weary of one class of measures, and still sooner of the administration of any one minister. For these various reasons, the government of Sir Robert Walpole, especially towards its close, was highly unpopular in England, and the Opposition attacked it with a degree of fury which made those who watched the strife from a distance imagine, that language so outrageous was that of men in the act of revolt. The foreign nations, whose ideas of our constitution were as imperfect formerly as they are at this moment, listened like men who hear what they conceive to be the bursting of a steam-engine, when the noise only announces the action of the safetyvalves....'

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On the Braes of Atholl

Rampant Scotland, and other sites, note that on March 17, 1746, the pro-English Campbell militia was attacked and defeated by Jacobite forces; clans Murray and MacPherson, under Lord George Murray and Cluny MacPherson.  The Battle of Culloden is only a month away at this point, and this raid provided for some Jacobite optimism.  A history of Bonnie Prince Charlie's campaign of 1745/46 is contained in James Johnstone Johnstone's "Memoirs of the rebellion in 1745 and 1746", including events around the Braes of Atholl:

'As all the male vassals of the Duke of Athol were in our army, with his brother Lord George, the Duke of Cumberland sent a detachment of his troops into their country, who committed the most unheard-of cruelties, burning the houses of the gentlemen who were with the Prince; turning out their wives and children in the midst of winter, to perish in the mountains with cold and hunger, after subjecting them to every species of infamous and brutal treatment. As soon as these proceedings were known at Inverness, Lord George set off instantly, with the clan of Athol, to take vengeance for this treatment; and he conducted his march so well, passing through bye-ways across the mountains, that the enemy had no information of his approach. Having planned his march so as to arrive at Athol in the beginning of the night, the detachment separated, dividing itself into small parties, every gentleman taking the shortest road to his own house; and in this manner all the English were surprised in their sleep. Those who found their wives and daughters violated by the brutality of these monsters, and their families dying from hunger and the inclemency of the season, made no prisoners. All the English received, while they slept, the punishment which their inhumanity merited. Thus they were all either put to the sword or made prisoners, except two or three hundred men, who barricadoed themselves in the castle of the Duke of Athol, which could not be forced without cannon. It was impossible to transport cannon across the mountains, by the paths which it was necessary to take to succeed in such a surprise. The clan of Athol was the most numerous in our army, amounting to from twelve to fifteen hundred men.

...there came to Inverness various complaints of oppression by the soldiers, upon the families of the Athol gentlemen who were with the Highlanders; and they all agreed to come off and redress them, and got leave of absence for eight or ten days. They came south to the braes of Athol, and remained there until, as they calculated, they could reach their houses about midnight; and then they separated, every laird with his own men, taking the road to his own house. He accompanied his uncle, and they arrived at his uncle's house about one in the morning.—All was quiet, and having somehow or other got in, they first took possession of the room where the arms were, and collected all the soldiers from different rooms and out-houses, one after another, and put them into some room or house, with a declaration that if there was the least noise they should be put to death. His uncle and he went to the room where the commander of the party Duke of Athol, at Blair. '

According to "A Critical Dictionary of English Literature, and British and American Authors" by Samuel Austin Allibone, the Chevailer de Johnstone, as he was known, was the 'son of a grocer of Edinburgh, became Aide-de-Camp to Lord George Murray, and Assistant Aide-de-Camp to Prince Charles Edward the Pretender.'

That same work records Sir Walter Scott's opinion of Johnstone's account of the '45: "We suspect our friend the Chevalier to be somewhat of a Gasconader, and we are not willing to take away the character of Charles for courage upon such suspicious authority. . . . We happen to know that some of his stories are altogether fictitious."—SIR Walter Scott : Life and Works of John Home.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Long Parliament Dissolves

On March 16, 1660, the Long Parliament was disbanded.  This Parliament had stood since 1640, when Charles I called it, and ended with the Restoration of Charles II.  Sir Walter Scott has some words on this event, in his "Tales of a Landlord":

'...The assurance that General Monk had openly quarrelled with the present rulers, and was disposed to insist for a free and full Parliament, was made public by the printing and dispersing of the General's letter, and the tidings filled the City with most extravagant rejoicings. The rabble rung all the bells, lighted immense bonfires in every street, and danced around them, while they drank healths to the General, the secluded members, and even to the King. But the principal part of their amusement was roasting rumps of poultry, or fragments of butcher-meat cut into that form, in ridicule of their late rulers, whose power they foresaw would cease, whenever a full Parliament should be convened.. The revelry lasted the whole night, which was that of 11th February, 1660.Monk, supported at once by military strength and the consciousness of general popularity, did not wait until the new Parliament should be assembled, or the present dissolved, to take measures for destroying the influence of the junto now sitting at Westminster. He compelled them to open their doors to, and admit to their deliberations and votes, all the secluded members of their body, who had been expelled from their seats by military violence, since it was first practised on the occasion called Colonel Pride's Purge. These members, returning to Parliament accordingly, made by their numbers such a predominant majority in the House, that the fifty or sixty persons, who had lately been at the head of the Government, were instantly reduced to the insignificance, as a party, from which they had only emerged by dint of the force which had been exercised to exclude the large body who were now restored to their seats.

The first acts of the House thus renovated were to disband the refractory part of the army, to dispossess the disaffected officers, of whom there were very many, and to reduce the country to a state of tranquillity ; after which they dissolved themselves, having first issued writs to summon a new Parliament, to meet on the 25ih of April. Thus then finally ended the Long Parliament, as it is called, which had sat for nearly twenty years; the most eventful period, perhaps, in British history...'

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Return No More

March 15.[1826]—This morning I leave No. 39 Castle Street, for the last time. "The cabin was convenient," and habit had made it agreeable to me. I never reckoned upon a change in this particular so long as I held an office in the Court of Session. In all my former changes of residence it was from good to better; this is retrograding. I leave this house for sale, and I cease to be an Edinburgh citizen, in the sense of being a proprietor, which my father and I have been for sixty years at least. So farewell, poor 39, and may you never harbour worse people than those who now leave you! Not to desert the Lares all at once, Lady S. and Anne remain till Sunday. As for me, I go, as aforesaid, this morning.

"Ha til mi tulidh'!
[I return no more]
The panic of 1825/26 caught Sir Walter Scott in a bad position; over-extended.  His journal entry of March 15, 1826 captures some of the sadness he must have felt, facing bankruptcy, and embarking on an ambitious streak of literary output in an attempt to honor his debts.  There is a nice portrayal of this house, which Scott built soon after his marriage, by Joseph Mallord William Turner at Edinburgh University's Walter Scott archive:  Also, photographs of Scott homes, including 39 North Castle Street here:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Admiral John Byng

John Byng was executed on March 14, 1757.  His crime of failing to defeat a French fleet he encountered during the Battle of Minorca (1756) ended a distinguished career, and the loss of Minorca probably contributed to hi being court-marshalled.  Byng figured in an earlier encounter with the French (1708) which Walter Scott reports on in his "Tales of a Grandfather".  The venue was more local - the Frith of Forth.  The French got away in this encounter, too, but an attempt to land James Francis Edward Stewart failed, and a potential Jacobite rising subsided.

'...They sailed accordingly on 17th March from the road of Dunkirk; and now not a little depended on the accidental circumstance of wind and tide, as these should be favourable to the French or English fleets. The elements were adverse to the French. They had no sooner left Dunkirk road than the wind became contrary, and the squadron was driven into the roadstead called Newport-pits, from which place they could not stir for the space of two days, when, the wind again changing, they set sail for Scotland with a favourable breeze. The Comte de Forbin and his squadron arrived in the entrance of the Frith of Forth, sailed as high up as the point of Crail, on the coast of Fife, and dropped anchor there, with the purpose of running up the Frith as far as the vicinity of Edinburgh on the next day, and there disembarking the Chevalier de St. George, Marechal Matignon, and his troops. In the mean time, they showed signals, fired guns, and endeavoured to call the attention of their friends, whom they expected to welcome them ashore.

None of these signals were returned from the land; but they were answered from the sea in a manner as unexpected as it was unpleasing. The report of five cannon, heard in the direction of the mouth of the Frith, gave notice of the approach of Sir John Byng and the English fleet, which had sailed the instant their admiral learned that the Comte de Forbin had put to sea: and though the French had considerably the start of them, the British admiral contrived to enter the Frith immediately after the French squadron.

The dawn of morning showed the far superior force of the English fleet advancing up the Frith, and threatening to intercept the French squadron in the narrow inlet of the sea into which they had ventured. The Chevalier de St. George and his attendants demanded to be put on board a smaller vessel than that commanded by Mons. de Forbin, with the purpose of disembarking at the ancient castle of Wemyss, on the Fife coast, belonging to the earl of the same name, a constant adherent of the Stewart family. This was at once the wisest and most manly course which he could have followed. But the son of James II was doomed to learn, how little free will can be exercised by the prince who has placed himself under the protection of a powerful auxiliary. Mons. de Forbin, after evading his request for some time, at length decidedly said to him,—" Sire, by the orders of my royal master, I am directed to take the same precautions for the safety of your august person as for his Majesty's own. This must be my chief care. You are at present in safety, and I will never consent to your being exposed in a ruinous chateau, in an open country, where a few hours might put you in the hands of your enemies.  I am intrusted with your person; am answerable for your safety with my head; I beseech you, therefore, to repose your confidence in me entirely, and to listen to no one else. All those who dare give you advice different from mine, are either traitors or cowards." Having thus settled the Chevalier's doubts in a manner savouring something of the roughness of his profession, the Comte de Forbin bore down on the English admiral, as if determined to fight his way through the fleet. But as Sir George Byng made signal for collecting his ships to meet the enemy, the Frenchman went off on another tack, and, taking advantage of the manoeuvre to avoid the English admiral, steered for the mouth of the Frith. The English ships having been long at sea, were rather heavy sailers, while those of Forbin had been carefully selected and careen'd for this particular service. The pursuit of Byng was therefore in vain, excepting that the Elizabeth, a slow-sailing vessel of the French fleet, fell into his hands...'

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley, the theologian and natural philosopher, was born on March 13, 1733.   Priestley helped establish Unitarianism in Britain, and influenced Thomas Jefferson, with whom he corresponded after escaping with his family to America.  The escape was precipitated by personal attacks on Priestley, who spoke and wrote in an inflammatory way about what he perceived as corruptions of Christianity, and against the Test Act, which favored members of the Church of England for public office.

Priestley also engaged in scientific study, being the first to identify oxygen. He also created soda water, which is something Walter Scott might have enjoyed with whiskey.  A more salient connection however, is that both Priestley and Scott benefitted from at least one common educator; philosopher Dugald Stewart.

The term common, of course, refers not to Stewart's efficacy in teaching, but in its being shared by these two; and other famous individuals.  And whether or not one believes in Priestley's or Scott's views one must appreciate the strength of thought behind them.  In our current days of budget cuts, in Education and all walks of life, a fundamental review of what constitutes effective education could benefit all concerned.  The list of contributions from individuals like Priestley and Scott who benefitted from a background in philosophy points to substantial benefit from a reemphasis on its study.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Almack's: A Novel

[Abbotsford,] March 12...I have been trying to read a new novel which I have heard praised. It is called Almacks, and the author has so well succeeded in describing the cold selfish fopperies of the time, that the copy is almost as dull as the original. I think I will take up my bundle of Sheriff-Court processes instead of Almacks, as the more entertaining avocation of the two.

Per Scott's journal, today we catch Sir Walter Scott at home reading - March 12th 1827, that is.  Evidently, he was not impressed with Marianne Spencer Stanhope Hudson's work.  The "cold pleasant fopperies" Scott refers to occurred at Almack's Assembly Rooms.  Almack's was one of the earliest co-ed clubs.  Almack's contains the following recommendation from the Edinburgh Review:

" To expose the vices of fashionable life, in their original and proudest sphere, is not only to purify the stream at its source, but to counteract their pernicious influence where it is the most formidable and extensive"

Edinburgh Review.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thumb Lore

This topic is presented in "The Book of Days" for March 11.  From Scott's "The Antiquary":

'From the remotest days of antiquity the practice of licking the thumb has always been regarded as a solemn pledge or promise, existing, according to Tacitus and other authorities, not only among the Goths, the Iberians, and the Moors, but which may be traced through successive periods even down to our own time.

Lord Erskine, in his Institutes, affirms that among certain of the lower ranks in Scotland, the final settlement of a bargain was always signalized by the "licking and joining of thumbs," and decrees are at this moment extant testifying to the legality of sales effected upon "thumb-licking," with this interpretation, "that the parties had licked thumbs at finishing the bargain." Relics of this ancient custom are still to be met with among the vulgar in Scotland, as also in those parts of Ulster where the inhabitants are of Scottish descent, the common observation between two gossips who ultimately agree upon a disputed point being, "We may lick thooms upo' that!"

In another aspect, licking the thumb appears to have implied a challenge or promise to be redeemed at some future opportunity, equally significant as was the casting of the gauntlet at the rival's feet of an earlier period, and from which no departure was possible. But from the days of chivalry down to the time of Shakespeare, and long after, the recognized form of challenge was universally that of biting the thumb, though many historians and commentators argue that this may have been intended merely as an insulting gesture. At the very rising of the curtain upon Romeo and Juliet, the feud between the adherents of the rival houses is introduced by one of them biting his thumb, which is construed by those on the opposite side as an intentional insult or challenge for another deadly broil. Thus Samson, on the Capulet side, tells his companion that he will bite his thumb at them, "which is a disgrace to them if they bear it," upon which Abram, of the Montague, demands, "Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?" Here Gregory, having hastily taken in a calculation of the opposing numbers, thinks fit to decline the challenge, and returns: "No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir." This evasive reply is, however, of little avail, for the onslaught becomes general, the fatal issue of which is only prevented by the timely arrival of the Prince, who commands them instantly to disperse, under penalty of their lives. Again, the poet Decker, in his Dead Term, wherein he gives us a lively description of the groups of gallants who daily distinguished themselves in the walks of old St. Paul's Churchyard, uses this expression:—" What swearing is there, what shouldering, what jeering, what biting of thumbs to beget quarrels;" and, says a writer in Chamber's Book of Days, the whole history of a quarrel seems to be detailed in this quotation:

We almost see the ruffling swash-bucklers strutting up and down St. Paul's Walk, full of braggadocio and "new turned oaths." At first they shoulder, as if by accident; at the next turn they jostle ; fiery expostulation is answered by jeering, and then, but not till then, the thumb is bitten, expressive of dire revenge at a convenient opportunity, for fight they dare not within the precincts of the Cathedral cliiuvli.

In a note to his Lay of the Last Minstrel, Sir Walter Scott likewise alludes to this custom, viz.:

To bite the thumb or the glove seems not to have been considered upon the Border as a gesture of contempt, though so used by Shakespeare, but as a pledge of mortal revenge,and proceeds to narrate an instance wherein a young gentleman of Cheviotdale discovered on the morning after a hard drinking bout that his glove had been bitten, and knowing that he must have quarrelled with some one, he instantly repaired to his late companions until he whom he had challenged presented himself, following which the two engaged in a duel, which proved fatal to the challenger. This incident occurred at Selkirk in 1721.

From Seldon's Titles of Honour we learn that kissing the thumb was formerly a characteristic of servility, the clergy, the rich, and the great being in receipt of this honour from the "tradesmen" who had the privilege of supplying their household requisites. This ceremony was performed at every interview: the tenant kneeling and clasping the hands of his lord, he kissed the thumbs ere he rose to depart. The custom was widespread on the Continent, and peculiar most of all to Dauphiny.

Omens and superstitions have been connected with the thumb equally with other material things. Shakespeare has several allusions, notably in Macbeth, Act IV. sc. i, where the second witch, anticipating the approach of the murderer of Duncan, says:

By the pricking of my thumbs
Someone evil this way comes,

an omen as characteristic as that of the tingling of the ears, by which we believe ourselves to be the topic of thought or conversation on the part of a distant acquaintance. Again, in the same play, Act I. sc. 2, the first witch thus foretells the manner of Macbeth's return from the seas—

Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest tossed,
and being questioned by her companion as to the stability of her knowledge, she returns, showing her withered thumb:
Here I have a pilot's thumb,
Wreck'd as homeward he did come.'

Thursday, March 10, 2011


'...I believe it  was just about this time that Scott had abandoned his place in Mr Jeffrey's corps. The journal had been started among the clever young society with which Edinburgh abounded when they were both entering life as barristers; and Jeffrey's principal coadjutors for some time were Sydney Smith, Brougham, Horner, Scott himself—and on scientific subjects, Playfair...'

Professor John Playfair was well known in Edinburgh society during Scott's time.  As a mathematician, he even has an axiom named after him; Playfair's Axiom.  John Playfair was born on March 10, 1748.

The text above is from Lockhart's "Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott".  The journal referenced is the Edinburgh Review, which was published by Archibald Constable.  Scott initially supported the Review, but became so fed up with the politics that he canceled, later supporting publisher John Murray in developing the Quarterly Review. 

Walter Scott's relationship with Edinburgh Review is described in Samuel Smiles' "A Publisher and his Friends": '...Walter Scott still continued to write for the Edinburgh, notwithstanding the differences of opinion which existed between himself and the editor as to political questions. He was rather proud of the Review, inasmuch as it was an outgrowth of Scottish literature...'  And on the rift: 'A severe and unjust review of "Marmion," by Jeffrey, appeared in 1808, accusing Scott of a mercenary spirit in writing for money (though Jeffrey himself was writing for money in the same article), and further irritating Scott by asserting that he "had neglected Scottish feelings and Scottish characters." "Constable," writes Scott to his brother Thomas, in November 1808, "or rather that Bear, his partner [Mr. Hunter], has behaved by me of late not very civilly, and I owe Jeffrey a flap with a foxtail on account of his review of 'Marmion,' and thus doth the whirligig of time bring about my revenges." 

Smiles quotes Lockart on the subject '..."When he read the article on 'Marmion,' and another on foreign politics, in the same number of the Edinburgh Review, Murray said to himself, 'Walter Scott has feelings, both as a gentleman and a Tory, which these people must now have wounded; the alliance between him and the whole clique of the Edinburgh Review is now shaken'"...'

The final straw came happened to occur when Murray himself was visiting Scott at Ashestiel '..During Murray's visit to Ashestiel No. 26 of the Edinburgh Review arrived. It contained an article entitled "Don Cevallos on the Occupation of Spain." It was long supposed that the article was written by Brougham, but it has since been ascertained that Jeffrey himself was the author of it. This article gave great offence to the friends of rational liberty and limited monarchy in this country. Scott forthwith wrote to Constable: "The Edinburgh Review had become such as to render it impossible for me to become a contributor to it; now it is such as I can no longer continue to receive or read it."

"The list of the then subscribers," said Mr. Cadell to Mr. Lockhart, "exhibits, in an indignant dash of Constable's pen opposite Mr. Scott's name, the word 'STOPT!'"...'

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

James Hamilton's Execution

'On arriving at Preston, in Lancashire, Lord George Murray had to combat the superstition of the soldiers whom he commanded. The defeat of tbe Duke Hamilton in the great Civil War, with the subsequent misfortune of Brigadier Macintosh in 1715 had given rise to a belief, that Preston was to a Scottish army the fatal point, beyond which they were not to pass. To counteract this superstition, Lord George led a part of his troops across the Ribble bridge, a mile beyond Preston, at which town the Chevalier arrived in the evening. The spell which arrested the progress of the Scottish was thus supposed to be broken, and the road to London was considered as laid open before them.

The people of Preston received Charles Edward with several cheers, which were the first he had heard since entering England; but on officers being appointed to beat up for recruits, no one would enlist. When this was stated to the Prince, he continued, in reply, to assure his followers with unabated confidence, that he would be joined by all his English friends when they advanced as far as Manchester; and Monsieur D'Eguilles, with similar confidence, offered to lay considerable wagers, that the French either had already landed, or would land within a week. Thus, the murmurers were once more reduced to silence.'
Duke James Hamilton, remembered above in text from Sir Walter Scott's "Tales of a Grandfather", suffered a terrible defeat at the Battle of Preston.  With odds of nearly 2.5:1 in his favor, Hamilton managed to lose to Oliver Cromwell's forces.  Hamilton is remembered as a weak and ineffective leader.  Hamilton was captured at Preston, tried, and on March 9, 1649, decapitated.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Anne Stuart Acceeds to the Throne

Anne Stuart became Queen of England on March 8, 1702; the day on which William III passed.  She reigned only five years, and the issue of her succession was a concern before she gained power.  Walter Scott describes the climate surrounding her accession to the crown in his "Tales of a Grandfather":

‘…These statesmen called themselves the Country Party, as embracing exclusively for their object the interests of Scotland alone. This party, formed upon a plan and principle of political conduct hitherto unknown in the Scottish Parliament, was numerous, bold, active, and eloquent; and as a critical period had arrived in which the measures to be taken in Scotland must necessarily greatly affect the united empire, her claims could no longer be treated with indifference or neglect, and the voice of her patriots disregarded. The conjuncture which gave Scotland new consequence, as as follows: when Queen Anne was named to succeed to the English throne, on the death of her sister Mary, and brother-in-law William III, she had a family. But the young Duke of Gloucester, the last of her children, had died before her accession to the crown, and there were no hopes of her having more; it became, therefore, necessary to make provision for the succession to the crown when the new Queen should die. The titular Prince of Wales, son of the abdicated James, was undoubtedly the next heir; but he was a Catholic, bred up in the court of France, inheriting all the extravagant claims, and probably the arbitrary sentiments, of his father; and to call him to the throne, would be in all likelihood to undo the settlement between king and people which had taken place at the Revolution. The English legislature, therefore, turned their eyes to another descendant of King James VI, namely, Sophia, the Electress Dowager of Hanover, grand-daughter of James the First of England and Sixth of Scotland, by the marriage of his daughter, Elizabeth, with the Prince Palatine. This Princess was the nearest Protestant heir in blood to Queen Anne, supposing the claims of the son of James II were to be passed over. She was a Protestant, and would necessarily, by accepting the crown, become bound to maintain the civil and religions rights of the nation, as settled at the Revolution, upon which her own right would be dependent. For these weighty reasons the English Parliament passed an Act of Succession, settling the crown, on the failure of Queen Anne and her issue, upon the Princess Sophia, Electress Dowager of Hanover, and her descendants. This act, most important in its purport and consequences, was passed in June, 1700…’

Monday, March 7, 2011


'Upon his entering the Holy Land, Bonaparte again drove before him a body of the Mamelukes, belonging to those who, after the battles of the Pyramids and of Salahieh, had retreated into Syria; and his army occupied without resistance Gaza, anciently a city of the Philistines, in which they found supplies of provisions. Jaffa, a celebrated city during the time of the Crusades, was the next object of attack. It was bravely assaulted, and fiercely defended. But the French valour and discipline prevailed—the place was carried by storm—three thousand Turks were put to the »word, and the town was abandoned to the license of the soldiery, which, by Bonaparte's own admission, never assumed a shape more frightful. Such, it may be said, is the stern rule of war; and if 00, most of our readers will acquiesce in the natural exclamation of the Marechal dc Montluc: "Certes, we soldiers stand in more need of the Divine mercy than other men, seeing that our profession compels us to command and to witness deeds of such cruelty." It was not, however, to the ordinary horrors attending the storm of a town, that the charge against Bonaparte is on this occasion limited. He is accused of having been guilty of an action of great injustice, as well as of especial barbarity....'

From Walter Scott's "Life of Napoleon Bonaparte".  Napoleon took Jaffa on March 7, 1799.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kemp's Monument to Scott

George Meikle Kemp might have been a shepherd had it not been for a trip to Roslin Castle and Roslin Chapel.  Here he was inspired to architecture.  Kemp developed his interest, travelling throughout Britain for work, and to study gothic architecture.  Ultimately he found work at Melrose Abbey. 

In the spring of 1833, after Sir Walter Scott had died (the previous September, Kemp entered a contest to build a monument to Scott.  Against the odds, Kemp emerged the winner, and built the monument situated in Edinburgh today (John Steell sculpted the statue of Scott from carrara marble; later a cast bronze statue in New York's Central Park).  Kemp unfortunately died before the completion of his memorial, falling into a canal one foggy night - March 6, 1844.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

David II of Scotland Born

David II of Scotland was born this day, March 5th, in 1324.  He had big shoes to fill, following his father Robert the Bruce as king.  Inheriting the throne at the age of five (1329), the early years of his kingship were passed under guardianship.  There were many battles with the English during these years, and in 1333, David and Queen Joan of England were sent to France for safety.

Walter Scott devotes some time to this last male of the Bruce line in "Tales of a Grandfather", here picking up with David's return from France to a chaotic homeland: 'The nobles of Scotland, finding the affairs of the kingdom more prosperous, now came to the resolution of bringing back from France, where he had resided for safety, their young King, David II., and his consort, Queen Joanna. They arrived in 1341.

David II. was still a youth, neither did he possess at any period of life the wisdom and talents of his father, the great King Robert. The nobles of Scotland had become each a petty prince on his own estates; they made war on each other as they had done upon the English, and the poor King possessed no power of restraining them. A most melancholy instance of this discord took place, shortly after David's return from France.

I have told you how Sir Alexander Ramsay and the Knight of Liddesdale assisted each other in fighting against the English. They were great friends and companions in arms- But Ramsay having taken by storm the strong castle of Roxburgh, the King bestowed on him the office of Sheriff of that county, which was before enjoyed by the Knight of Liddesdale. As this was placing another person in his room, the Knight of Liddesdale altogether forgot his old friendship for Ramsay, and resolved to put him to death. He came suddenly upon him with a strong party of men, while he was administering justice at Hawick. Ramsay, having no suspicion of injury from the hand of his old comrade, and having few men with him, was easily overpowered, and, being wounded, was hurried away to the lonely Castle of the Hermitage, which stands in the middle of the morasses of Liddesdale. Here he was thrown into a dungeon, where he had no other sustenance than some grain which fell down from a granary above; and after lingering a little while in that dreadful condition, the brave Sir Alexander Ramsay died. This was in 1342. Nearly four hundred and fifty years afterwards, that is, about forty years ago, a mason, digging amongst the ruins of Hermitage Castle, broke into a dungeon, where lay a quantity of chaff, some human bones, and a bridle bit, which were supposed to mark the vault as the place of Ramsay's death. The bridle bit was given to grandpapa, who presented it to the present gallant Earl of Dalhousie, a brave soldier, like his ancestor Sir Alexander Ramsay, from whom he is lineally descended. The King was much displeased at the commission of so great a crime, on the person of so faithful a subject. He made some attempts to avenge the murder, but the Knight of Liddesdale was too powerful to be punished, and the King was obliged to receive him again into friendship and confidence. But God in his own good time revenged this cruel deed. About live years after the crime was committed, the Knight of Liddesdale was taken prisoner by the English at the battle of Neville's Cross, near Durham, and is suspected of having obtained his liberty by entering into a treacherous league with the English monarch. He had no time to carry his treason, however, into effect; for, shortly after his liberation, he was slain whilst hunting in Ettrick Forest, by his near relation and godson, William Lord Douglas. The place where he fell was called from his name, William-hope. It is a pity that the Knight of Liddesdale committed that great crime of murdering Ramsay, and entered into the treasonable treaty with the King of England. In other respects, he was ranked so high in public esteem, that he was called the Flower of Chivalry; and an old writer has said of him, " He was terrible in arms, modest and gentle in peace, the scourge of England, and the buckler and wall of Scotland; one whom good success never made presumptuous, and whom evil fortune never discouraged."...'

Friday, March 4, 2011


"My lord," said Kenneth, "the cross which I wear in common with yourself, and the importance of what I have to tell, must, for the present, cause me to pass over a bearing which else I were unapt to endure. In plain language, then, I bring with me a Moorish physician, who undertakes to work a cure on King Richard."

"A Moorish physician!" said De Vaux; "and who will warrant that he brings not poisons instead of remedies?"

"His own life, my lord--his head, which he offers as a guarantee."

"I have known many a resolute ruffian," said De Vaux, "who valued his own life as little as it deserved, and would troop to the gallows as merrily as if the hangman were his partner in a dance."

"But thus it is, my lord," replied the Scot. "Saladin, to whom none will deny the credit of a generous and valiant enemy, hath sent this leech hither with an honourable retinue and guard, befitting the high estimation in which El Hakim [The Physician] is held by the Soldan, and with fruits and refreshments for the King's private chamber, and such message as may pass betwixt honourable enemies, praying him to be recovered of his fever, that he may be the fitter to receive a visit from the Soldan, with his naked scimitar in his hand, and a hundred thousand cavaliers at his back. Will it please you, who are of the
 King's secret council, to cause these camels to be discharged of their burdens, and some order taken as to the reception of the learned physician?"

Tiqrit Iraq which is thought of currently, in military terms, as the northern angle of the Sunni triangle, is also the birthplace of the legendary Sultan Saladin.  Saladin is treated as a just and chivalrous character in Sir Walter Scott's "The Talisman".  Saladin died on March 4, 1193.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

William Stukeley

Antiquarian William Stukeley, who died on March 3, 1765, receives a reference in editor Andrew Lang's introduction to Walter Scott's "The Antiquary".  Stukeley is most famous for his study of Stonehenge and Avebury.  Per Lang:

'In another point Monkbarns borrows from Gordon. Sandy has a plate (page 20) of "The Roman Sacellum of Mars Signifer, vulgarly called 'Arthur's Oon.' With regard to its shape, it is not unlike the famous Pantheon at Rome before the noble Portico was added to it by Marcus Agrippa." Gordon agrees with Stukeley in attributing Arthur's Oon to Agricola, and here Monkbarns and Lovel adopt almost his words. "Time has left Julius Agricola's very name on the place; . . . and if ever those initial letters J. A. M. P. M. P. T., mentioned by Sir Robert Sibbald, were engraven on a stone in this building, it may not be reckoned altogether absurd that they should bear this reading, JULIUS AGRICOLA MAGNUS PIETATIS MONUMENTUM POSUIT TEMPLUM; but this my reader may either accept or reject as he pleases. '

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


'He [Ivanhoe] was deposited in the horse-litter which had brought him from the lists, and every precaution taken for his travelling with ease. In one circumstance only even the entreaties of Rebecca were unable to secure sufficient attention to the accommodation of the wounded knight. Isaac, like the enriched traveller of Juvenal's tenth satire, had ever the fear of robbery before his eyes, conscious that he would be alike accounted fair game by the marauding Norman noble, and by the Saxon outlaw. He therefore journeyed at a great rate, and made short halts, and shorter repasts, so that he passed by Cedric and Athelsiane who had several hours the start of him, but who had been delayed by their protracted feasting at the convent of Saint Withold's. Yet such was the virtue of Miriam's balsam, or such the strength of Ivanhoe's constitution, that he did not sustain from the hurried journey that inconvenience which his kind physician had apprehended.'

Latin poet Juvenal's actual birth date is unknown, though the Book of Days quotes March 2nd, around the year 40 AD.  Juvenal's tenth satire, employed by Scott in "Ivanhoe",  is "The Vanity of Human Wishes".  Another of Juvenal's satires, his third, was used as a model by Samuel Johnson for his famous poem "London".

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

George Wishart Burned at the Stake

'The Scottish affairs were now managed almost entirely by Cardinal Beaton, a statesman, as we before observed, of great abilities, but a bigoted Catholic, and a man of a severe and cruel temper. He had gained entire influence over the Regent Arran, and had prevailed upon that fickle nobleman to abandon the Protestant doctrines, reconcile himself to the Church of Rome, and give way to the prosecution of the heretics, as the Protestants were still called. Many cruelties were exercised, but that which excited public feeling to the highest degree, was the barbarous death of George Wishart.

This martyr to the cause of Reformation was a man of honourable birth, great wisdom and eloquence, and of primitive piety. He preached the doctrines of the Reformed religion with zeal and with success, and was for some time protected against the efforts of the vengeful Catholics by the Barons who had become converts to the Protestant faith. At length, however, he fell into the hands of the Cardinal, being surrendered to him by Lord Bothwell, and was conveyed to the Castle of Saint Andrews, a strong fortress and palace belonging to the Cardinal as Archbishop, and there thrown into a dungeon. Wishart was then brought to a public trial, for heresy, before the Spiritual Court, where the Cardinal presided. He was accused of preaching heretical doctrine by two priests, called Lauder and Oliphant, whose outrageous violence was strongly contrasted with the patience and presence of mind shown by the prisoner. He appealed to the authority of the Bible against that of the Church of Rome, but his judges were little disposed to listen to his arguments, and he was condemned to be burnt alive. The place of execution was opposite to the stately castle of the Cardinal, and Beaton himself sat upon the walls, which were hung with tapestry to behold the death of his heretical prisoner. Wishart was then brought out and fastened to a stake with iron chains. He was clad in a buckram garment, and several bags of gunpowder were tied around his body, to hasten the operation of the fire. A quantity of fagots were disposed around the pile. While he stood in expectation of his cruel death, he cast his eyes towards his enemy the Cardinal, as he sat on the walls of the castle enjoying the dreadful scene.

Captain," he said to him who commanded the guard, "may God forgive yonder man, who lies so proudly on the wall—within a few days he shall be seen lying there in as much shame as he now shows pomp and vanity."

The pile was then fired, the powder exploded, the fire arose, and Wishart was dismissed by a painful death to a blessed immortality in the next world.

Perhaps the last words of Wishart, which seemed to contain a prophetic Spirit, incited some men to revenge his death. At any rate, the burning of Wishart greatly increased the public detestation against the Cardinal, and a daring man stood forth to gratify the general desire, by putting him to death. This was Norman Leslie, called the master of Rothes, the same who led the men of Fife at the battle of Ancrum Moor. It appears, that besides his share of the common hatred to the Cardinal as a persecutor, he had some private feud or cause of quarrel with him. With no more than sixteen men, Leslie undertook to assault the Cardinal in his own castle, among his numerous guards and domestics. It chanced that, as many workmen were still employed in labouring upon the fortifications of the castle, the wicket of the castle-gate was open early in the morning, to admit them to their work. The conspirators took advantage of this, and obtained possession of the entrance. Having thus gained admittance, they seized upon the domestics of the Cardinal, and turned them one by one out of the castle, then hastened to the Cardinal's chamber, who had fastened the door. He refused them entrance, until they threatened to apply fire, when, learning that Norman Leslie was without, he at length undid the door, and asked for mercy. Melville, one of the conspirators, told him, he should only have such mercy as he had extended to George Wishart, and the other servants of God, who had been slain by his orders. He then, with his sword pointed to his breast, bid the Cardinal say his prayers to God, for his last hour was come. The conspirators now proceeded to stab their victim, and afterward dragged the dead body to the walls, to show it to the citizens of Saint Andrews, his clients and dependants, who came in fury to demand what had become of their Bishop. Thus his dead body really came to lie with open shame upon the very battlements of his own castle, where he had sat in triumph to see Wishart's execution...'

The execution Sir Walter Scott describes in his "Tales of a Grandfather" occurred on March 1, 1546.