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.