Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I’ve always enjoyed John Buchan’s framing of the environment surrounding Edinburgh in the year 1771.  The first three paragraphs say so much in a brief space.  Walter Scott, of course, was born on August 15, 1771.  From Buchan’s biography “Sir Walter Scott”:

In the autumn of the year 1771 an Edinburgh citizen, returning after many years' absence, would have noted certain changes in his native city. If, on the morning after his arrival at the White Horse Inn in the Canongate, he had ascended to the high places of the Castle hill, and looked north and east, he would have missed one familiar landmark. The Nor' Loch, his haunt on youthful holidays and the odorous grave of city refuse, had been drained, and its bed was now grass and shingle. Across the hollow which once had held its waters a huge mound of earth had been thrown, giving access to the distant fields. Farther east, another crossing was in process of making, a bridge to carry a broad highway. Before he had left home the Canongate had burst its bonds into New Street and St John Street, and he noted that the city had spilled itself farther southward beyond the South Bridge of the Cowgate into new streets and squares. But now the moat of the Nor' Loch was spanned, and on its farther shore building had begun according to the plans of the ingenious Mr Craig. He had heard much of these plans that morning in Lucky Boyd's hostelry—of how a new Register House, with the Adam brothers as architects, and paid for out of the forfeited Jacobite estates, was designed to rise at the end of the new bridge. And the spectator, according as he was a lover of old things or an amateur of novelties, would have sighed or approved. The little city, strung from the Castle to Holyroodhouse along her rib of hill, where more history had been made than in any place of like size save Athens, Rome and Jerusalem—which, according to the weather and the observer's standpoint, looked like a flag flung against the sky or a ship riding by the shore—was enlarging her bounds and entering upon a new career. 

Another sight of some significance was to be had in the same year at the same season. From every corner of the north droves of black cattle were converging on Falkirk moor for the great autumn Tryst. It was the clearing-house of the Highlands, as Stagshawbank on the Tyne was the clearing-house of Scotland. The drover from Glen Affric, herding his kyloes among the autumn bracken, could see from his bivouac a cloud of dark smoke on the banks of the Carron river, and hear by day and night the clang of hammers. This was the Carron Ironworks, now eleven years old, and a canal was being made from Grangemouth-on-Forth to carry their products to the world. There, within sight of the Highland Line, a quarter of a century after a Jacobite army had campaigned on that very ground, the coal and iron of the Scottish midlands were being used in a promising industry. Cannon were being made for many nations, and the Carron pipes and sugar-boilers and fire-grates were soon to be famous throughout the land. The Highland drover, already perplexed by the intrusion of Lowland sheep on his hills and the cutting of his native woods by English companies, saw in the flame and smoke of the ironworks a final proof that his ancient world was crumbling. 

There was a third portent, the most pregnant of all, which our returned exile, if he were a man of some education, had a chance of noting. He had heard with pleasure during his absence a rumour of good literature coming from the north. The London critics had spoken well of Mr David Hume's works in history and philosophy, of Mr Robertson's excursions in the former domain, of Mr Ferguson's treatise on civil society, and of the poetry of Mr Beattie of Aberdeen, while visitors had reported the surpassing eloquence of Mr Hugh Blair of the High Kirk of St Giles'. Our traveller, when he had access to these famous men, found that Edinburgh had indeed become a home of brilliant talk and genial company—Edinburgh with her endless taverns where entertainment was cheap, since the Forth at the door gave her oysters, and sound claret was to be had at eighteen shillings a dozen. Around the tavern board or the dinner-table he found the illuminati good Scotsmen, speaking the tongue he fondly remembered, and perpetuating the tales and humours of his youth. But their public performance surprised him, for it was a sedulous aping of London. They strove without much success to acquire an English accent, and Mr Adam Smith was envied because Balliol had trimmed the roughness of his Fife tongue. They cultivated a thing called rhetoric, which was supposed to be a canonical use of language freed from local vulgarities, and in the shabby old college Mr Hugh Blair lectured on that dismal science with much acceptance. In their writings they laboriously assisted each other to correct the solecisms of the northern idiom, and a year or two later, when David Hume lay on his death-bed, it was the jest of a caustic Lord of Session that the philosopher confessed not his sins but his Scotticisms. 

So our restored exile may have regarded the scene with mingled feelings. His countrymen beyond doubt had their heads at last above water, but the land they were making for was not the kindly soil he had known. …

The Family of Buccleuch
From the family of Buccleuch there was an early offshoot, called first of Sinton and then of Harden, whose tower still stands in a dark nook of Borthwick water. The Scotts of Harden were scarcely less noted in the Border wars than the parent house, and they produced such figures of ballad and folk story as Auld Wat of Harden, who in 1567 married Mary Scott, the "Flower of Yarrow," and his son William, who espoused the daughter of Sir Gideon Murray of Elibank, the "Muckle Mou'd Meg," of a tale which is probably apocryphal. The third son of this William of Harden became laird of Raeburn, and his wife was a MacDougal of Makerstoun, of a family which has some claim to be the oldest in Scotland. This Walter Scott was a Whig and a Quaker, but his sons walked in other paths, for his eldest fell in {22} a duel, and the second, Walter, was known on Teviotside as Beardie, from the great beard which he allowed to grow in token of his regret for the banished Stuarts. Beardie, after narrowly escaping the gallows on account of his politics, married a kinswoman of the Campbells of Blythswood, and in his old age had some repute for learning. His second son took to sheep-farming, and leased the farm of Sandy Knowe from the Scotts of Harden, after staking all his fortune on the purchase of a hunter, which he fortunately sold for double the price he gave. He prospered, and made a great name on the Border as a judge of stock. His wife was a Haliburton of Newmains, who brought to the family the right of burial in Dryburgh Abbey. The sheep-farmer's eldest son, Walter, forsook the family pursuits and, first of his race, settled in a town and adopted a learned profession, for he became a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh, the highest stage in Scotland of the solicitor's calling. His wife was Anne Rutherford, the eldest daughter of the professor of medicine in the University, and with her came into the blood two other ancient strains. For the Rutherfords had been longer settled on the Border than the Scotts, and her mother was a Swinton of that ilk, one of the most sounding names in early Scottish history, and a descendant of Ben Jonson's friend, the poet Earl of Stirling. 

Scott’s Ancestry
So much for the details of pedigree. The child born in August, 1771, to Anne Rutherford and Walter Scott at the head of the College Wynd, had a more varied ancestry than falls to the lot of most men. No doubt the ancestry of all of us is oddly mixed, but in his case the record was known. He was linked collaterally through the Buccleuchs with the greater noblesse. He had behind him the most historic of the Border stocks in Scott and Murray and Rutherford and Swinton. He had Celtic blood from MacDougal and Campbell. Of the many painted shields on the ceiling of the hall at Abbotsford which enshrine his pedigree, only three lack a verified heraldic cognizance. Among his forbears were saints and sinners, scholars and sportsmen and {23} men-at-arms, barons and sheep-farmers, divines and doctors of medicine, Whigs and Jacobites, Cavaliers and Quakers. Above all he had that kindest bequest of the good fairies at his cradle, a tradition, bone of his bone, of ancient pastoral, of a free life lived among clear waters and green hills as in the innocency of the world. …’

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Constitution of Man

Lawyer and phrenologist George Combe, author of “The Constitution of Man” died on August 14, 1858.  Combe’s work, which was published in Walter Scott’s lifetime (1828), downplays the role of religion and philosophy in human behavior, in favor of physical characteristics of the human skull.  

In his role as a lawyer, Combe disagreed with Walter Scott on aspects of the legal profession.   From Charles Gibbon’s “The Life of George Combe: Author of “The Constitution of Man”:

" In Sir Walter Scott's autobiography, just published  by John Gibson Lockart, his son-in-law, Sir Walter states various reasons for declining an offer made to him by his father to become his partner as a writer to the signet, to which profession Sir Walter had served an apprenticeship with his father, and for preferring the bar, the import of which is disparaging to the inferior branch of the profession.    I do not know what might be the relative  character in  moral  and intellectual respectability of writers to the signet and advocates in Sir Walter's day, but I know what they have been in mine, and I am twenty years his junior, and I differ considerably from his estimate.    The points on which there can be no dispute are, that the gentlemen of the bar have by their education and professional practice greater knowledge of composition, written and oral, more comprehensive views of the principles of law; and greater talents of reasoning, than the writers to the signet ; and if Sir Walter had  confined himself to  this  claim  of superiority it would have been undoubtedly  well founded.

But he insinuates that the morale, of the attorney is inferior to that of the barrister, and to this I demur.

" In Scotland, writers to the signet are employed in various branches. Some act chiefly as agents in litigations. These are the men with whom the barristers come chiefly into contact; and as litigation is a warfare in which victory is contended for at all hazards, within the limits of the rules prescribed by the law and by the forms of court, it is naturally to be supposed that the most adroit, energetic, and able combatant will be preferred by those who need to hire a champion…’

Combe’s work was controversial.  Writing in 1837, five years after Walter Scott’s death, author William Scott, in “The Harmony of Phrenology with Scripture..” invokes Sir Walter’s name in refuting Combe’s phrenological theories:

‘…Sir Walter Scott did not avail himself of the lights of Phrenology, yet his representations of character are, in many cases, such as no phrenologist could presume to mend. These are but two instances out of many. Various others might be cited, among our dramatists, poets, historians, and moralists, of writers who possessed an intuitive perception of the motives and springs of human action, and whose analysis of mental feelings agrees almost entirely with that which would be given by a phrenologist. Almost the only exceptions to this among our great writers, occur in the case of the metaphysicians; and the reason seems to be, that they have studied human nature in their closets, and not in the world. But many of our eminent divines, in their sermons and other compositions, shew a thorough practical knowledge of the human heart; and sometimes hold up a glass, in which the sinner may see his character portrayed with fearful accuracy. Upon the whole, therefore, I am inclined to anticipate, that when Phrenology has been brought to a higher state of cultivation than it has hitherto reached, there will be found much less difference between the views which it offers, and those which have been hitherto entertained by men of practical good sense, than Mr Combe seems to suppose. That it will prove of essential benefit to society I entertain not the least doubt; but that it will ever, as he supposes, reach to revolutionize, reform, and regenerate the world, I look upon to be a dream as vain and unsubstantial as the wildest chimeras of the alchemists…’

Monday, August 13, 2012

Order of the Garter

‘Thursday 13 August 1663 

…Thence to Mrs. Hunt’s, where I left my wife, and I to walk a little in St. James’s Park, while Mrs. Harper might come home, with whom we came to speak about her kinswoman Jane Gentleman to come and live with us as a chamber mayde, and there met with Mr. Hoole my old acquaintance of Magdalen, and walked with him an hour in the Parke, discoursing chiefly of Sir Samuel Morland, whose lady is gone into France. It seems he buys ground and a farm in the country, and lays out money upon building, and God knows what! so that most of the money he sold his pension of 500l. per annum for, to Sir Arthur Slingsby, is believed is gone. It seems he hath very great promises from the King, and Hoole hath seen some of the King’s letters, under his own hand, to Morland, promising him great things (and among others, the order of the Garter, as Sir Samuel says); but his lady thought it below her to ask any thing at the King’s first coming, believing the King would do it of himself, when as Hoole do really think if he had asked to be Secretary of State at the King’s first coming, he might have had it. And the other day at her going into France, she did speak largely to the King herself, how her husband hath failed of what his Majesty had promised, and she was sure intended him; and the King did promise still, as he is a King and a gentleman, to be as good as his word in a little time, to a tittle: but I never believe it…’

Being appointed to The order of the Garter would have been quite an honor for Samuel Morland, or anyone.  Morland entered Charles II’s service due to his work in the field of espionage, and his development of cryptography.  Morland was an associate of Samuel Pepys, whose diary is the source of today's post (August 13th).

John Gibson Lockhart’s “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott” includes the following story of Scott a member of this order, in 1813. 

‘Scott had been for some time under an engagement to meet the Marquis of Abercorn at Carlisle, in the first week of August, for the transaction of some business connected with his brother Thomas's late administration of that nobleman's Scottish affairs; and he had designed to pass from Drumlanrig to Carlisle for this purpose, without going back to Abbotsford. In consequence of these repeated harassments, however, he so far altered his plans as to cut short his stay at Drumlanrig, and turn homewards for two or three days, where James Ballantyne met him with such a statement as in some measure relieved his mind.

He then proceeded to fulfil his engagement with Lord Abercorn, whom he encountered travelling in a rather peculiar style between Carlisle and Longtown. The ladies of the family and the household occupied four or five carriages, all drawn by the Marquis's own horses, while the noble Lord himself brought up the rear, mounted on horseback, and decorated with the ribbon of the order of the Garter. On meeting the cavalcade, Scott turned with them, and he was not a little amused when they reached the village of Longtown, which he had ridden through an hour or two before, with the preparations which he found there made for the dinner of the party. The Marquis's major-domo and cook had arrived there at an early hour in the morning, and everything was now arranged for his reception in the paltry little public-house, as nearly as possible in the style usual in his own lordly mansions. The ducks and geese that had been dabbling three or four hours ago in the village-pond were now ready to make their appearance under numberless disguises as entrees; a regular bill-of-fare flanked the noble Marquis's allotted cover; every huckaback towel in the place had been pressed to do service as a napkin; and, that nothing might be wanting to the mimicry of splendour, the landlady's poor remnants of crockery and pewter had been furbished up, and mustered in solemn order on a crazy old beauffet, which was to represent a sideboard worthy of Lucullus. I think it worth while to preserve this anecdote, which Scott delighted in telling, as perhaps the last relic of a style of manners now passed away, and never likely to be revived among us...’

Sunday, August 12, 2012


12 August in 1668

… Home to dinner, where Pelling dines with us, and brings some partridges, which is very good meat; and, after dinner, I, and wife, and Mercer, and Deb., to the Duke of York’s house, and saw “Mackbeth,” to our great content, and then home, where the women went to the making of my tubes, and I to the office, and then come Mrs. Turner and her husband to advise about their son, the Chaplain, who is turned out of his ship, a sorrow to them, which I am troubled for, and do give them the best advice I can, and so they gone we to bed.’

That lover of the theater Samuel Pepys saw “Macbeth” this day, 344 years ago (per his diary).  Shakesperian scholar William J. Rolfe, draws on writing from Walter Scott to show that Shakespeare’s use of material about Macbeth was not especially  historically accurate. 

‘Shakespeare drew the materials for the plot of Macbeth from Holinshed's Chronicles of Englande, Scotlande, and Ireland, the first edition of which was issued in 1577, and the second (which was doubtless the one the poet used) in 1586-87….Although, as Knight remarks, "the interest of Macbeth is not an historical interest," so that it matters little whether the action is true or has been related as true, I may add, for the benefit of my younger readers, that the story of the drama is almost wholly apocryphal. The more authentic history is thus summarized by Sir Walter Scott:

"Duncan, by his mother Beatrice a grandson of Malcolm II, succeeded to the throne on his grandfather's death, in 1033: he reigned only six years. Macbeth, his near relation, also a grandchild of Malcolm II, though by the mother's side, was stirred up by ambition to contest the throne with the possessor. The Lady of Macbeth also, whose real name was Graoch, had deadly injuries to avenge on the reigning prince. She was the granddaughter of Kenneth IV, killed 1003, fighting against Malcolm II, and other causes for revenge animated the mind of her who has been since painted as the sternest of women. The old annalists add some instigations of a supernatural kind to the influence of a vindictive woman over an ambitious husband. Three women, of more than human stature and beauty, appeared to Macbeth in a dream or vision, and hailed him successively by the titles of Thane of Cromarty, Thane of Moray, which the king afterwards bestowed on him, and finally by that of King of Scots; this dream, it is said, inspired him with the seductive hopes so well expressed in the drama...'

Friday, August 10, 2012


Gustavus Adolphus, who Walter Scott’s "A Legend of Montrose" character Major Dalgetty served during the Thirty Years’ War, built a navy to patrol the Baltic.  The Vasa was to serve at sea, joining land efforts of men such as Dalgetty in this same war.  Many know the story, of how this top-heavy vessel sank, minutes into its maiden voyage, on August 10, 1628.  

Thankfully, the Vasa was salvaged, in 1961.  For those of you who have not yet seen the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, it is well worth the trip (Link: ).  

Vasa is a family name, a family of which Gustavus Adolphus (Gustavus II of Sweden) was a member.  Scott met Prince Gustav of Vasa, who is descended from a different line than Gustavus Adolphus, when that prince resided in Edinburgh, in 1820.  From John Gibson Lockhart’s “Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott”:

‘…In a letter, already quoted, there occurs some mention of the Prince Gustavus Vasa, who was spending this winter in Edinburgh, and his Royal Highness's accomplished attendant, the Baron Poller. I met them frequently in Castle Street, and remember as especially interesting the first evening that they dined there. The only portrait in Scott's Edinburgh dining-room was one of Charles XII. of Sweden, and he was struck, as indeed every one must have been, with the remarkable resemblance which the exiled Prince's air and features presented to the hero of his race. Young Gustavus, on his part, hung with keen and melancholy enthusiasm on Scott's anecdotes of the expedition of Charles Edward Stuart. — The Prince, accompanied by Scott and myself, witnessed the ceremonial of the proclamation of King George IV. on the 2d of February at the cross of Edinburgh, from a window over Mr Constable's shop in the High Street; and on that occasion also, the air of sadness that mixed in his features with eager curiosity, was very affecting. Scott explained all the details to him, not without many lamentations over the barbarity of Auld Reekie Bailies, who had removed the beautiful Gothic Cross itself, for the sake of widening the thoroughfare. The weather was fine, the sun shone bright; and the antique tabards of the heralds, the trumpet notes of God sate the King, and the hearty cheerings of the immense uncovered multitude that filled the noble old street, produced altogether a scene of great splendour and solemnity. The Royal Exile surveyed it with a flushed cheek and a watery eye; and Scott, observing his emotion, withdrew with me to another window, whispering—" Poor lad! poor lad! God help him." Later in the season, the Prince spent a few days at Abbotsford…’

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


‘Sunday 7 August 1664

…While we were talking came by several poor creatures carried by, by constables, for being at a conventicle. They go like lambs, without any resistance. I would to God they would either conform, or be more wise, and not be catched!...’

Samuel Pepys lived through a time when conventicles were a source of physical and legal dispute.  Earlier in 1664, Pepys wrote about what became the Conventicle Act of 1664.  

'Friday 13 May 1664

… In the Painted Chamber I heard a fine conference between some of the two Houses upon the Bill for Conventicles. The Lords would be freed from having their houses searched by any but the Lord Lieutenant of the County; and upon being found guilty, to be tried only by their peers; and thirdly, would have it added, that whereas the Bill says, “That that, among other things, shall be a conventicle wherein any such meeting is found doing any thing contrary to the Liturgy of the Church of England,” they would have it added, “or practice.” The Commons to the Lords said, that they knew not what might hereafter be found out which might be called the practice of the Church of England; for there are many things may be said to be the practice of the Church, which were never established by any law, either common, statute, or canon; as singing of psalms, binding up prayers at the end of the Bible, and praying extempore before and after sermon: and though these are things indifferent, yet things for aught they at present know may be started, which may be said to be the practice of the Church which would not be fit to allow….’

Walter Scott wrote about conventicles as well, more from a historical perspective, as in the following from “Tales of a Grandfather”:

‘…But this modified degree of zeal by no means gratified the more ardent and rigid Covenanters, by whom the stooping to act under the Indulgence was accounted a compromise with the Malignants —a lukewarm and unacceptable species of worship, resembling salt which had lost its savour. Many, therefore, held the indulged clergy as a species of king's curates ; and rather than listen to their doctrines, which they might have heard in safety, followed into the wilderness those bold and daring preachers, whose voices thundered forth avowed opposition and defiance against the mighty of the earth. The Indulged were accused of meanly adopting Erastian opinions, and acknowledging the dependence and subjection of the Church to the civil magistrate,—a doctrine totally alien from the character of the Presbyterian religion. The elevated wish of following the religion of their choice, in defiance of danger and fear, and their animosity against a government by whom they had been persecuted, induced the more zealous Presbyterians to prefer a conventicle to their parish church; and a congregation -where the hearers attended in arms to defend themselves, to a more peaceful meeting, when, if surprised, they might save themselves by submission or night. Hence these conventicles became frequent, at which the hearers attended with weapons. The romantic and dangerous character of this species of worship recommended it to such as were constitutionally bold and high-spirited; and there were others, who, from the idle spirit belonging to youth, liked better to ramble through the country as the life-guard to some outlawed preacher, than to spend the six days of the week in ordinary labour, and attend their own parish church on the seventh, to listen to the lukewarm doctrine of an Indulged minister…’

Monday, August 6, 2012

More on Ben Jonson

‘…It is impossible to see Hawthornden, and mention its poetical owner [William Drummond], without thinking upon the time when

"Jonson sate in Drummond's social shade."
and lamenting the loss of Ben's

-"journey into Scotland song,
With all the adventurers."

And from thence it is with anxiety that we find ourselves urged upon something like a controversy with the learned, acute, and ingenious editor of Jonson's works, who, in his zeal to do full justice to his subject, has, we think, uttered some undue injury to the memory of Drummond. The attempt has indeed been prohibited to us, under a heavy denunciation. We presume, nevertheless, in all honourable courtesy, to take up the gage which is thus thrown down, and venture the following remarks on the memorable interview of Drummond of Hawthornden and the great English dramatist, and the brief account which the former has left of the manners and opinions of Ben Jonson. 

That Ben Jonson did Drummond the distinguished honour of visiting Scotland, partly with a view of spending some time with a man whom he esteemed—that he accordingly lived about three weeks at Hawthornden, and was gratified by Drummond's hospitality—that they parted friends, and remained in an amicable intercourse until death—are facts on which all are agreed; as also, that in the shape of loose memoranda, Drummond has preserved some severe censures passed by Jonson upon other poets, and added a very unfavourable picture of the dramatist's self-opinion, as well as of his intemperance, his literary jealousies and peculiarities, the laxity of his speculative opinions, and other foibles which darkened his great qualities. Hinc iliae lachrymae. 

These scraps of information, for they are nothing more, may be considered in two points of view, as they affect the character of Jonson, or that of Drummond; in other words, as they contain truth with respect to the former, or as they infer malice and calumny (whether in themselves true or false) on the part of him who recorded them.

On the first point, it is not easy to discover Mr. Gifford's opinion. He seems to receive as truth what circumstances Drummond has narrated concerning Jonson's birth, parentage, and earlier adventures; and far from doubting the accuracy of his report concerning Jonson's criticisms on contemporary authors, he only regrets that they are not sufficiently detailed. It is therefore apparently only where Drummond bears testimony to Jonson's failings, that the editor, in laudable zeal for the honour of his author, is disposed to impugn his testimony…’

Ben Jonson was covered last year, as well. But he certainly deserves additional coverage.  In this post, we bring in Scott’s discussion of a friendship between Jonson and Scottish poet William Drummond.  The text above comes from “Provincial Antiquities of Scotland”.  The English dramatist died on August 6th, 1637.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Gowrie Conspiracy

On August 5, 1600, the mysterious incident known as the Gowrie Conspiracy, involving the Ruthven brothers, John, the 3rd Earl of Gowrie, and Alexander, took place in Perth.  In “The History of Scotland”, Walter Scott devotes a fair amount of acreage to this episode.  The action of the story, per Scott, is below.  There is more to enjoy in Scott's history.

The Earl of Gowrie's younger brother, Alexander Ruthven, was a young man of great hopes, and both were considered as possessing a share of the king's favour. Learned, handsome, young, and active, they belonged to the class of men which most readily attracted the king's notice; and, generous, brave, and religious to a degree not common with men so young, they were the darlings of the people. Alexander Ruthven was made a gentleman of the bed-chamber; one of his sisters advanced to be a chief attendant upon the queen; a considerable post in the government was designed for Gowrie himself; and no house in the kingdom appeared more flourishing, at the very time when a number of violent and mysterious circumstances brought on its total ruin.

On the 5 of August, 1600, as the king, then residing at Falkland, had taken horse at daybreak to follow his favourite exercise of stag-hunting, he was joined by Alexander Ruthven, who requested a private audience, and communicated to James, as they rode together, apart from the other huntsmen, a story of a most extraordinary kind. He had been, he said, walking near his brother's house at Perth, when, in a retired spot, he encountered a fellow of a down-looking aspect, and altogether suspicious in his appearance, who was wrapt in a cloak, and seemed desirous to escape observation. Ruthven continued, that, conceiving it his duty to lay hands on this man, he had, in doing so, discovered on this person a large pot full of gold pieces of foreign coinage. He then deemed it his duty, he said, to carry the stranger to his brother's castle, and privately imprison him, in a remote apartment, in order that his majesty might have the earliest information upon a subject so extraordinary; he urged the king, therefore, to ride with him instantly to his brother, the Earl of Gowrie's castle, in the town of Perth, examine the captive himself and secure the treasure for his own royal use. The king replied, that he saw no reason why the man should not be regularly examined by the magistrates of Perth, of whom the Earl of Gowrie was provost. This proceeding young Ruthven eagerly opposed : alleging the necessity that a matter so mysterious should be subjected to the king's own scrutiny, so much deeper than that of any subject, and stating eagerly the risk of the treasure being embezzled, if any inferior person was to be trusted with the examination. He, therefore, repeatedly urged James instantly to ride with him to Perth; and this in a manner so hurried and vehement, that the king was induced to ask some of his attendants whether Ruthven had ever been known to be affected with fits of insanity: they replied, that they had never known him, save as a sober and sensible young man. Reassured by this information, feeling, it may be supposed, the compliment paid to his superior wisdom, and desirous to secure a windfall which did not often come in his way,  James agreed that as soon as he had seen the buck killed he would accompany Alexander Ruthven to Perth, and examine the prisoner.
 During the whole chase, which was a short one, Ruthven hung upon the king, and at every opportunity which it afforded plied him with earnest importunity to set out upon his journey. It must be observed, that a person named Andrew Henderson, a dependant upon the Earl of Gowrie, and whose part in this affair is not the least extraordinary in the whole mystery, was then at a distance in attendance upon Alexander Ruthven, who, after his conferences with the king, ordered Henderson to ride back with the utmost speed to Perth, and announce to the Earl of Gowrie that the king was coming immediately to Gowrie House with a small company.  Henderson reached Perth about ten o'clock in the morning.  So soon as ever the earl saw him, he came apart from the persons with whom he was speaking, and inquired secretly what tidings he had brought him from his brother Alexander.  Henderson delivered the message which he had received from Mr. Ruthven; adding, he had no letter to his brother, which the Earl of Gowrie seemed to have expected.  Henderson then asked what service his lordship had for him to do, who, within an hour afterwards, bid him put on his armour, as he had a Highlander to take prisoner in the town of Perth. It does not appear that the Earl of Gowrie at this time made any preparation to receive the king, although apprised of his approach, nor did he even put off the service of his own dinner until that of his majesty should be provided. On the contrary, he proceeded to his own meal, with one or two chance guests who happened to be in the castle, at the usual hour of half past twelve o'clock. Their dinner was scarcely finished, when notice was given of the king's near approach.
Upon the death of the stag, the king fulfilled his promise of riding to Perth with Mr. Ruthven, but before this, which is material, by-the-bye, to the evidence of the case, he communicated to the Duke of Lennox the story of the treasure which had been found. The duke replied, he did not think the tale a likely one. In consequence, perhaps, of this communication, the- duke, the Earl of Mar, and a small train of gentlemen, followed the king to Perth. They were met by the Earl of Gowrie, who, although he appeared surprised at the visit, conducted him to his mansion, a large Gothic building; walled in and defended by towers, and having a garden or pleasure ground which extended straight down to the river Tay.  The king, according to etiquette, dined by himself. Lord Lennox, the Earl of Mar, and his train, had their repast served in another apartment. The dinner was cold and ill-arranged; and everything had the air of haste and precipitation which need not have existed had the Earl of Gowrie been disposed to avail himself of the timely information which he had received from Henderson. The conduct of the entertainer himself was cold, abstracted, and unequal, unlike to that expected from a subject who is honoured with the presence of his sovereign as a guest. When the king had dined, he good-humouredly reminded the Earl of Gowrie that he ought to go into the next room and drink a cup of welcome to the lords and gentlemen of his train. Gowrie did so; and upon his leaving the room, his brother Alexander whispered to the king that this was the fitting time to inquire into the business of the prisoner and the money pot. The king was, apparently, not altogether void of suspicion, though probably it extended no farther than a floating idea that Ruthven, whose tale and conduct were so extraordinary, might possibly, after all, be distracted. He had, therefore, in the course of their journey to Perth, privately desired the Duke of Lennox to take notice where he should pass with Alexander Ruthven, and to follow him. But as they were in separate chambers, the duke had no opportunity to observe the charge given to him.
Alexander Ruthven conducted the king from chamber to chamber, until he introduced him into a large gallery, at the angles of which were two rounds or turrets, which gave room, as is usual in such buildings, the one to a small closet or cabinet, the other to a private passage called a turnpike stair. On Ruthyen's opening that which constituted a cabinet, the king discovered, to his surprise, a man not bound or captive, but armed and at liberty.
This was Henderson, already mentioned, whom the brothers had employed in their plan, though they had not deemed it safe to trust him with its purpose. His deposition bore, that after his return from Falkland, and his assuming his armour by the earl's orders, Gowrie had asked him for the key of the gallery-chamber. It was not at first to be found, so little were things prepared for an attempt so dangerous. Being at length-found, the earl commanded Henderson to go there, and to act as he should be directed by his brother Alexander. Henderson obeyed with the unresisting and ready submission of a vassal of the time; and Ruthven planted him in the little cabinet in which he was found, and locked him in. These preparations made, the man became afraid where all this might end. Left alone in the cabinet, he prayed to God to guard him from approaching evil; and after waiting about half an hour, Ruthven and the king appeared. The account of the extraordinary scene which followed rests upon the evidence of the king and Henderson. They agree in the main, but differ in several minute particulars. This is in n way surprising. Upon scarce any occasion do the witnesses of a perturbed, violent, and agitating scene agree minutely in narrating what has passed before for their eyes; and there often exist circumstances of discrepancy much more remarkable than any that occur in the present case, which, nevertheless, are not considered as affecting the general truth and consistency of the evidence. The truth is, that the surprise or shock which the mind receives when individual witnesses anything very extraordinary have an operation in preventing exact circumstantial recollection of what has passed, and the witness, insensibly on his own part, is, in the detail of minute particulars, extremely apt to substitute the suggestions of imagination for those of recollection. There may be also seen, in the varieties of the king's declaration and the evidence of Henderson, a desire on the part of each to set his own conduct in the best point of view; Henderson taking the merit of assisting the king in one or two instances, where James ascribes his safety to his own personal exertions.
The outline of the fact is this: So soon as Ruthven and the king entered the cabinet, the former  exchanged the deference of a subject for the demeanor of an assassin: he threw his hat upon his head, snatched a dagger from the side of Andrew Henderson, and placing the point to the king's breast, said, "Sir, you must be my prisoner:—think on my father's death; Henderson pushed the weapon aside: as the king attempted to speak, Ruthven replied, "Hold your tongue, or, by heaven, you shall die:"—"Alexander," replied the king, "think upon our intimacy, and remember, that at the time of your father's death I was but a minor, and the council might have done any thing they pleased:—even should you slay me you cannot possess the crown: for I have both sons and daughters, and friends, and faithful subjects, who will not leave my death unavenged."—Ruthven replied, by swearing that he neither sought the king's life nor blood.— What, then, is it you demand?" said the king.—"It is but a promise," answered the conspirator, who seems to have been irresolute, or intimidated.—"What promise?" demanded James; and added, with becoming spirit, "What though you were to take off your hat."—" My brother will tell you,'' replied Ruthven, uncovering, in obedience to the king's command.—" Fetch him hither," said the king. And Ruthven, having first taken James's word that he would not open the window or raise any alarm, left him, in order, as he pretended, to seek his brother, although, as Henderson says, he thinks that Ruthven never stirred from the gallery. He retired, most probably, only with the purpose of fortifying his own failing resolution, or preparing the means of binding the king. During his absence, the king demanded of Henderson how he came there. “As I live," answered the poor man, much alarmed by all that had passed in his presence, "I was shut up here like a dog." The king then asked if the Ruthvens would do him any injury. "As I live," answered Henderson, "I will die ere I witness it." The king, finding this person at his command, desired him to open the window of the turret. It had two, one of which looked down towards the castle garden and the river side, the other to the court-yard in front of the castle. The king, with the presence of mind which he seems to have maintained during the whole transaction, seeing that Henderson opened the former of those windows, from which no alarm could be given, called out that he undid the wrong window.  Henderson was going to the other, when Ruthven again entered, with a garter in his hand, and laid violent hands upon his majesty, declaring there was no remedy. James, replying with indignation that he was a free prince, and would not be bound, resisted Ruthven manfully, and, though much inferior to him in strength and stature, had rather the better of the struggle. Henderson, who appears to have been confounded with terror, and divided betwixt his respect for the king and for his feudal lord, took no part in the struggle, otherwise than by snatching the garter from Ruthven's hand, and, as he says, Alexander's hand from the king's mouth. Ruthven had expected his co-operation, for he exclaimed, "Wo worthy thee! is there no help in thee?" Mean time the king, by violent exertion, dragged the conspirator as far as the second window, which Henderson opened. The king then, still struggling with Ruthven, called out, "Treason!" and Help!" and was heard by his followers in the court-yard below.
We must here give some account how the royal train came to be so opportunely within hearing of their master's cries. After drinking the pledge which had been recommended by the king, the Duke of Lennox and the rest of the royal retinue arose from table; the former recollecting the charge which he had to follow his majesty, when he should see him go out with Ruthven. The Earl of Gowrie, however, alleged that the king desired to be private for a few minutes; and calling for the key of his garden, carried his visitors to walk there until James should descend. They had stayed there but a few minutes when John Cranstoun, a retainer or friend of the Earl, came into the garden, and said that the king was on horseback, and already past the middle of the South Inch, upon his return to Falkland. The Duke of Lennox and the other attendants of .James, conceiving them failing in their duty, instantly hastened out of the garden towards the court-yard, and called to horse. The porter at the gate informed them the king had not passed. As they stood in surprise, the Earl of Gowrie entreated them to stay till he should obtain sure information concerning the king's motions. He entered the house, and returning almost immediately, declared that the king was actually set forth. The porter still contradicted the report of his master, replying to the royal attendants that the king must be still in the mansion, since he could not have gone out without his having seen him. "Thou liest, knave!" exclaimed the earl; and to reconcile his own account with that of his servant, Gowrie alleged that the king was gone forth at a postern gate. "It is impossible, my lord, answered the porter, "for I am in possession of the key of that postern." During this dispute cries of treason and help were heard from the turret. "That is the king's voice," said the Duke of Lennox, "be he where he will." James's attendants looked up to the window from whence the noise was heard, and perceived the head of the king partly thrust out at the window, inflamed by struggling, and a hand grasping him by the throat. The greater part of the king's attendants reentered the mansion by the principal gate lo hasten to their master's assistance, while Sir Thomas Erskine and others threw themselves upon the Earl of Gowrie, accusing him of treason. Gowrie, with the assistance of Thomas Cranstoun and others his retainers and servants, extricated himself from their grasp, and at first fled a little way up the street; then halted, and drew two swords, which, according to a fashion of the time practised in Italy, he carried in the same scabbard. "What will you do, my lord?" said Cranstoun, who attended with the purpose of seconding him. "I will either make my way to my own house," said the earl, adopting, it would seem, a desperate resolution, "or I will die for it." He rushed on, followed by Cranstoun and other friends and domestics, who also drew their swords. A lackey, named Crookshanks. threw a steel headpiece upon the earl's head as he passed.
A dreadful scene in the mean while was taking place in Gowrie House. Lennox, Mar, and by far the greater part of the king's attendants, endeavoured to find their way to the place of the king's confinement by the public stair-case of the castle; but this only conducted them to the outer door of the gallery, within which, and from one of its extremities, opened the fatal cabinet in which the king and Alexander Ruthven were still grappling with each other.
It must be remembered, that a scene, the details of which take some time in narrating, passed in the course of two or three minutes. Sir John Ramsay, a page of James, who had in keeping his majesty's hawk, had heard James's cry of distress; and while the other attendants of the king ran up the main staircase, he lighted by accident upon a small turnpike or winding stair, which led to the cabinet in which the struggle was still taking place, alarmed by the noise and shuffling of feet, he exerted his whole strength in such a manner as to force open the door at the head of that turnpike, which introduced him into the fatal cabinet. The king and Ruthven were still wrestling together; and although James had forced his antagonist almost upon his knees, Ruthven had still his hand upon James's face and mouth. He also saw another form, that of the passive Andrew Henderson, who left the closet almost the instant he saw Ramsay enter.
The page, at the sight of his master's danger, cast the king’s hawk from his hand, and drew his whinger, or hunting sword. The king, at that moment of emergency, called out, "Fie! strike him low, for he has a pine doublet,"—meaning a secret shirt of mail under his garments. Ramsay stabbed Ruthven accordingly; and James lending his assistance, they thrust the wounded man down the turnpike by which Ramsay had ascended. Voices and steps were now heard advancing upwards: and Ramsay, knowing the accents called out to Sir Thomas Erskine to come up the turnpike stair, even to the head. Sir Thomas Erskine was accompanied by Sir Hugh Harris, the king's physician, a lame man, and unfit for fighting. Near the bottom of the turnpike Sir Thomas Erskine, in his ascent met Ruthven, bleeding in the face and neck and called out, "Fie! strike! this is the traitor on which Alexander Ruthven was run through the body, having only breath remaining to say, "Alas! I had no blame of it."
Sir Thomas Erskine pressed to the head of the staircase, where he found the king and Ramsay alone. "I thought." said Erskine, your majesty would have trusted me so much as at least to have commanded me to await at the door for your protection, if you had not thought it meet to take me with you. James replied, and the words first spoken in such a moment of agitation are always worthy of notice, "Alas! the traitor deceived me in that as he did in the rest; for I commanded him to bring you to me, but he only went out and locked the door."
At this point of the extraordinary transaction the Karl of Gowrie entered with a drawn sword in each hand, a steel bonnet on his head, and six servants following him in arms. In the chamber there were only three of the king's retinue, Sir Hugh Horns, Sir John Ramsay, and Sir Thomas Erskine, with one Wilson, a servant. Of these, Sir Hugh Harris might be considered as unfit for combat. They thrust the king back into the turret closet, and turned to encounter Gowrie and his servants, exasperated as they were by the death of Alexander Ruthven, whose body they had found at the bottom of the turnpike stair. The battle was for a short time fierce and unequal on the part of the king's retinue; hut Erskine having exclaimed to the Earl of Gowrie, "Traitor, you have slain our master, and now you would murder us!" the Earl, as if astonished, dropped the point of his sword, and Erskine in the same moment ran him through the body. The thrust was fatal, and the Earl fell dead, without a single word. His servants and assistants fled...’

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Percy Bysshe Shelley

August 4 is the birth-date of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who produced more in his twenty-nine years, than most of us do in longer life times.  Shelley was influential to many, but was also a source of controversy.  One of his earlier publications was titled “The Necessity of Athiesm”. 

Shelley had friends in common with Walter Scott, one of whom was Lord Byron, whose religious beliefs were also called into question through his writing.  In the entry from Scott’s Journal below, Scott distinguishes between the two.

February 4 [1828] --Wrote a little and was obliged to correct the Molière affair for R.P.G. I think his plan cannot go on much longer with so much
weakness at the helm. A clever fellow would make it take the field with
a vengeance, but poor G. will run in debt with the booksellers and let
all go to the devil. I sent a long letter to Lockhart, received from
Horace Smith, very gentlemanlike and well-written, complaining that Mr.
Leigh Hunt had mixed him up, in his Life of Byron, with Shelley as if he
had shared his irreligious opinions. Leigh Hunt afterwards at the
request of Smith published a swaggering contradiction of the inference
to be derived from the way in which he has named them together. Horatio
Smith seems not to have relied upon his disclamation, as he has
requested me to mention the thing to John Lockhart, and to some one
influential about Ebony, which I have done accordingly.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Saint Olaf

‘The conscript fathers of Jarlshof, having settled their own matters, took next under their consideration the case of Swertha, the banished matron who had been expelled from the castle, whom, as an experienced and useful ally, they were highly desirous to restore to her office of housekeeper, should that be found possible. But as their wisdom here failed them, Swertha, in despair, had recourse to the good offices of Mordaunt Mertoun, with whom she had acquired some favour by her knowledge in old Norwegian ballads, and dismal tales concerning the Trows, or Drows (the dwarfs of the Scalds), with whom superstitious eld had peopled many a lonely cavern and brown dale in Dunrossness, as in every other district of Zetland. 'Swertha,' said the youth, 'I can do but little for you, but you may do something for yourself. My father's passion resembles the fury of those ancient champions — those Berserkars, you sing songs about.'

'Ay — ay, fish of my heart,' replied the old woman, with a pathetic whine; 'the Berserkars were champions who lived before the blessed days of St. Olave, and who used to run like madmen on swords, and spears, and harpoons, and muskets, and snap them all into pieces, as a finner* would go through a herring-net, and then, when the fury went off, they were as weak and unstable as water.'…’

Walter Scott managed to bring a saint into a book on piracy.  Saint Olaf was King of Norway from 1015 to 1030.  His influence on Orkney and the Faroes, where ”The Pirate” was set  is remembered still.  Olaf's historical range is wide, from the Baltic countries to England and Normandy (at least).  Samuel Pepys, a frequent source for this blog, is buried at Saint Olave's Chuch Hart Street, in London. King Olaf II Haroldsson’s beatification took place on August 3rd, 1031, about a year after his death at the Battle of Stiklestad.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

William Rufus

‘While the princes and barons of the first Crusade were establishing in Palestine the little Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, various alterations took place in Europe, by which the rights of the absentees were materially affected. No one suffered more by these than Robert Duke of Normandy. To furnish himself forth for the Crusade, this eldest son of William the Conqueror had imprudently pledged the Duchy of Normandy, being the only part of his father's dominions which had descended to him, to his brother William, called Rufus, or the Red, King of England, for a large sum of money. But while Robert was employed in cleaving Mahometan champions asunder, and exhibiting feats of the most romantic valour, William was privately engaged in securing and rendering permanent the temporary interest which the mortgage gave him in the fief of the duchy, and it soon became evident, that even if Robert should be able and desirous to redeem the territory, it was not likely that his more powerful brother would renounce the right he had acquired over it. But the death of William Rufus brought into play a third son of the Conqueror. This was Henry, the youngest, whom his brothers, both Robert and William, had treated with considerable severity after their father's death, and refused to grant any appanage becoming his rank. Civil war ensued among the brothers, and on one memorable occasion, Henry was besieged by his two brethren, in the fortress of Mount Saint Michael, and reduced to the greatest extremity for want of water. His distress being communicated to Robert, who was always generous, he instantly sent him a supply. William, who was of a harder and more inflexible disposition, upbraided Robert with his imprudent generosity. "What else could I do?" answered the generous Norman. "He is our brother. Had he died for lack of water, how were we to supply his loss?"

Upon the surrender of the fortress, however, Henry was reduced to the condition of a private individual, although his bravery was equal to that of either of his brothers; his sagacity was also much superior, and his learning, which was uncommon in those days, so considerable, that he obtained the name of Beauclerc, or Fine Scholar.

William Rufus was killed accidentally with an arrow, while hunting in the New Forest, 'which had been so unscrupulously formed or enlarged, by his father the Conqueror. Henry was engaged in the same sport in a different part of the forest, and learning this accident as soon as it happened, rode post-haste to London, and availed himself of Robert's absence to procure his own election to the crown of England, which was confirmed by Parliament…’

The fateful arrow that slew William II of England was fired by Walter Tirel, on August 2nd, 1100.  Sir Walter Scott’s history is found in “Tales of a Grandfather”.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

London Bridge

‘January 26 [1827].--My rheumatism is almost gone. I can walk without Major Weir, which is the name Anne gives my cane, because it is so often out of the way that it is suspected, like the staff of that famous wizard, to be capable of locomotion. Went to Court, and tarried till three o'clock, after which transacted business with Mr. Gibson and Dr. Inglis as one of Miss Hume's trustees. Then was introduced to young Mr. Rennie, or he to me, by [Sir] James Hall, a genteel-looking young man, and speaks well. He was called into public notice by having, many years before, made a draught of a plan of his father's for London Bridge. It was sought for when the building was really about to take place, and the assistance which young Mr. Rennie gave to render it useful raised his character so high, that his brother and he are now in first-rate practice as civil engineers.’

In 1799, a competition to design a replacement for the existing London Bridge was held.  John Rennie, from East Linton, in Scotland won the competition.  Work began in 1824, under Rennie’s son, also John, who Walter Scott records meeting (Scott’s Journal) on January 26th, 1827.  New London Bridge opened August 1, 1831.

According to, thirty current olympic athletes share an August 1st birthday.  Among them, from the US (where I'm from), Asjha Jones, Jeff Larimer, and Stuart Mcnay.  And from host UK, Karen Carney. But to have their picture taken with Rennie's London Bridge, all will have to travel to Arizona.  Like the bridge it replaced, Rennie's bridge became outmoded, and was dismantled and shipped to the US in the 1970's.  London Bridge was recommissioned in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, in 1971.