I sat and watched while all
men slept, and lo!
Between the green earth and the deep green sea
I saw bright spirits pass, pure as the touch
Of Mays first finger on the eastern hill.
Behind them followed fast a little cloud ;
And from the cloud an evil spirit came--
A damned shapeone who in the dark pit
Held sovereign sway; and power to him was given
To chase the blessed spirits from the earth,
And rule it for a season.
Soon he shed
His hellish slough, and many a subtle wile ;
Was his to seem a heavenly spirit to man.
First he a hermit, sore subdued in flesh,
O'er a cold cruse of water and a crust,
Poured out meek prayers abundant.
Then he changed
Into a maid when she first dreams of man,
And from beneath two silken eyelids sent
The sidelong light of two such wondrous eyes,
That all the saints grew sinners. He subdued
Those wanton smiles, and grew a reverend dame,
With wintry ringlets, and grave lips, which dropt
Proverbial honey in her grandsons ear.
Then a professor of Gods Word he seemed,
And oer a multitude of upturned eyes
Showered blessed dews, and made the pitchy path
Down which howl damned spirits, seem the bright
Thrice-hallowed way to heaven. Yet grimly through
The glorious veil of those seducing shapes
Frowned out the fearful spirit.
The religious legend
which supplies my story with the motto, affords me no further assistance
in arranging and interpreting the various traditional remembrances of
the colloquies between one of the chiefs of the ancient Presbyterian
Kirk and one of the inferior spirits of darkness. It is seldom that
tradition requires any illustration; its voice is clear, and its
language simple. It seeks to conceal nothing ; what it can explain it
explains, and scorns, in the homely accuracy of its protracted details,
all mystery and reservation. But in the present story, there is much
which the popular spirit of research would dread to have revealed;a
something too mystical and hallowed to be sought into by a devout
people. Often as I have listened to it, I never heard it repeated
without mutual awe in the teller and the auditor. The most intrepid
peasant becomes graver and graver as he proceeds, stops before the
natural termination of the story, and hesitates to pry into the
supernatural darkness of the tradition. It would be unwise, therefore,
to seek to expound or embellish the legend,it shall be told as it was
told to me; I am but as a humble priest responding from the traditionary
oracles, and the words of other years pass without change from between
Ezra Peden was one of the
shepherds of the early Presbyterian flock, and distinguished himself as
an austere and enthusiastic pastor; fearless in his ministration,
delighting in wholesome discipline, and guiding in the way of grace the
peer as well as the peasant. He grappled boldly with the infirmities and
sins of the times; he spared not the rod in the way of his ministry; and
if in the time of peril he laid his hand on the sword, in the time of
peace his delight was to place it on the horns of the altar. He spared
no vice, he compounded with no sin, and he discussed mens claims to
immortal happiness with a freedom which made them tremble. Amid the
fervour of his eloquence, he aspired, like some of his fellow-professors
of that period, to the prophetic mantle. Plain and simple in his own
apparel, he counted the mitred glory and exterior magnificence of the
hierarchy a sin and an abomination, and preferred preaching on a wild
hill, or in a lonesome glen, to the most splendid edifice.
Wherever he sojourned,
dance and song fled ;the former he accounted a devoting of limbs which
God made to the worship of Satan; the latter he believed to be a sinful
meting out of wanton words to a heathen measure. Satan, he said, leaped
and danced, and warbled and sung, when he came to woo to perdition the
giddy sons and daughters of men. He dictated the colour and the cut of
mens clothesit was seemly for those who sought salvation to seek it in
a sober suit; and the ladies of his parish were obliged to humble their
finery, and soberdown their pride, before his sarcastic sermons on
female paintings, and plumings, and perfumings, and the unloveliness of
love-locks. He sought to make a modest and sedate grace abound among
women; courtship was schooled and sermoned into church controversy, and
love into mystical professions ; the common civilities between the sexes
were doled out with a suspicious hand and a jealous charity, and the
primrose path through the groves of dalliance to the sober vale of
marriage was planted with thorns and sown with briars.
He had other endowments
not uncommon among the primitive teachers of the Word. In his day, the
empire of the prince of darkness was more manifest among men than now,
and his ministry was distinguished, like the reign of King Saul, by the
persecution of witches, and elves, and evil spirits. He made himself the
terror of all those who dealt in divinations, or consulted the stars, or
sought to avert witchcraft by sinful spell and charm, instead of
overcoming it by sorrowings and spiritual watchings. The midnight times
of planetary power he held as the prime moments of Satans glory on
earth, and he punished Hallowmas revellers as chief priests in the
infernal rites. He consigned to church censure and the chastening of
rods a wrinkled dame who sold a full sea and a fair wind to mariners,
and who insulted the apostles, and made a mystical appeal to the twelve
signs of heaven in setting a brood goose with a dozen eggs. His wrath,
too, was observed to turn against all those who compounded with witches,
and people who carried evil influence in their eyes -- this was giving
tribute to the fiend, and bribing the bottomless pit.
He rebuked the venerable
dame, during three successive Sundays, for placing a cream bowl and
new-baked cake in the paths of the nocturnal elves who, she imagined,
had plotted to steal her grandson from the mothers bosom He turned
loose many Scripture threatenings against those diminutive and
capricious beings, the fairies, and sought to preach them from the land.
He prayed on every green hill, and held communings in every green
valley. He wandered forth at night, as a spiritual champion, to give
battle to the enemies of the light. The fairies resigned the contest
with a foe equipped from such an armoury, and came no more among the
sons and daughters of men. The sound of their minstrelsy ceased on the
hill; their equestrian processions were seen no more sweeping past at
midnight beneath the beam of the half-filled moon; and only a solitary
and sullen elf or two remained to lament the loss of their immemorial
haunts. With the spirits of evil men and the lesser angels of darkness
he waged a fierce and dubious war; he evoked an ancient ghost from a
ruined tower, which it had shared for generations with the owl; and he
laid/or tranquillized a fierce and troubled spirit which had haunted the
abode of a miser in a neighbouring churchyard, and seemed to gibber and
mumble over his bones. All these places were purified by prayer, and
hallowed by the blessing of the gifted pastor Ezra Peden.
The place of his ministry
seemed fitted by nature, and largely endowed by history, for the
reception and entertainment of all singular and personified beliefs.
Part was maritime, and part mountainous, uniting the aerial creeds of
the shepherds with the stern and more imposing beliefs of the
husband-man, and the wild and characteristic superstitious of the
sailors. It often happened, when he had marched against and vanquished a
sin or a superstition of native growth, he was summoned to wage war with
a new foe; to contend with a legion of errors, and a strange race of
spirits from the haunted coasts of Norway or Sweden. All around him on
every side were records of the mouldering influence of the enemies of
faith and charity. On the hill where the heathen Odin had appeared to
his worshippers in the circle of granite, the pillars of his Runic
temple promised to be immortal; but the god was gone, and his worship
was extinct. The sword, the spear, and the banner, had found sanctuary
from fields of blood on several lofty promontories; but shattered towers
and dismantled castles told that for a time hatred, oppression, and
revenge had ceased to triumph over religion. Persecution was now past
and gone, a demon exorcised by the sword had hallowed three wild hills
and sanctified two little green valleys with the blood of martyrs. Their
gravestones, bedded among heather or long grass, cried up to heaven
against their oppressors in verses which could not surely fail to elude
the punishment awarded by the Kirk against poesy. Storms, and quicksands,
and unskilful mariners, or, as common belief said, the evil spirits of
the deep, had given to the dangerous coast the wrecks of three stately
vessels; and there they made their mansions, and raised whirlwinds, and
spread quicksands, and made sandbanks, with a wicked diligence, which
neither prayer nor preaching could abate. The forms under which these
restless spirits performed their pranks have unfortunately been left
undefined by a curious and poetical peasantry.
It happened one winter
during the fifteenth year of the ministry of Ezra Peden, and in the year
of grace 1705, that he sat by his fire pondering deep among the
treasures of the ancient Presbyterian worthies, and listening
occasionally to the chafing of the coming tide against cliff and bank,
and the fitful sweep of heavy gusts of wind over the roof of his manor.
During the day he had seemed more thoughtful than usual; he had
consulted Scripture with an anxious care, and fortified his own
interpretation of the sacred text by the wisdom of some of the chiefs
and masters of the calling. A Bible, too, bound in black oak, and
clasped with silver, from the page of which sin had received many a
rebuke, and the abominations of witchcraft and sorcery had, been
cleansed from the land, was brought from its velvet sanctuary and placed
beside him. Thus armed and prepared, he sat like a watcher of old , on
the towers of Judah like one who girds up his loins and makes bare his
right arm for some fierce and dubious contest.
All this stir and
preparation passed not unnoticed of an old man, his predecessors
coeval, and prime minister of the household ; a person thin, religious,
and faithful, whose gifts in prayer were reckoned by some old people
nearly equal to those of the anointed pastor. To such a distinction
Josiah never thought of aspiring; he contented himself with swelling the
psalm into something like melody on Sunday; visiting the sick as a
forerunner of his masters approach, and pouring forth prayers and
graces at burials and banquetings, as long and dreary as a hill sermon.
He looked on the minister as something superior to man; a being
possessed by a divine spirit; and he shook his head with all its silver
hairs, and uttered a gentle groan or two, during some of the more rapt
and glowing passages of Ezras sermons.
This faithful personage
stood at the door of his masters chamber, unwilling to go in, and yet
loath to depart. "Josiah, thou art called, Josiah," said Ezra, in a
grave tone, "so come hither; the soul of an evil man, a worker of
iniquity, is about to depart; one who drank the blood of saints, and
made himself fat with the inheritance of the righteous. It hath been
revealed to me that his body is sorely troubled; but I say unto you, he
will not go from the body without the strong compulsion of prayer, and
therefore am I summoned to war with the enemy; so I shall arm me to the
Josiah was tardy in
speech, and before he could reply, the clatter of a horses hoofs was
heard at the gate : the rider leapt down, and, splashed with mire and
sprinkled with sleet, he stood in an instant before the minister.
"Ah, sir," said the
unceremonious messenger, "haste ! snatch up the looms of redemption, and
bide not the muttering of prayer, else auld Mahoun will have his friend
Bonshaw to his cauldron, body and soul, if he hasna him half-way hame
already. Godsake, sir, start and fly, for he cannot shoot over another
hour! He talks of perdition, and speaks about a broad road and a great
fire, and friends who have travelled the way before him. Hes no his
lane, however,thats one comfort; for I left him conversing with an old
cronie, whom no one saw but himself one whose bones are ripe and rotten
; and mickle they talked of a place called Tophet,a hot enough region,
if one can credit them; but I aye doubt the accounts of such
travellers,they are like the spies of the land of promise
"Silence thine irreverent
tongue, and think of thy latter end with fear and trembling, said Ezra,
in a stern voice. "Mount thy horse, and follow me to the evil man, thy
master; brief is the time, and black is the account, and stern and
inexorable will the summoning angel be.
And leaping on their horses, they passed from the manse, and sought out
the bank of a little busy stream, which, augmented by a fall of sleet,
lifted up a voice amid its rocky and desolate glen equal to the clamour
of a mightier brook. The glen or dell was rough with sharp and
projecting crags, which, hanging forward at times from opposite sides,
seemed to shut out all further way; while from between their dark gray
masses the rivulet leapt out in many divided streams. The brook again
gathered together its waters, and subsided into several clear deep
pools, on which the moon, escaping for a moment from the edge of a cloud
of snow, threw a cold and wavering gleam. Along the sweeps of the stream
a rough way, shaped more by nature than by the hand of man, winded among
the rocks ; and along this path proceeded Ezra, pondering on the
vicissitudes of human life.
At length he came where
the glen expanded, and the sides became steep and woody; amid a grove of
decaying trees, the mansion of Bonshaw rose, square and gray. Its walls
of rough granite were high and massive ; the roof, ascending steep and
sharp, carried a covering of red sandstone flags ; around the whole the
rivulet poured its scanty waters in a deep moat, while a low-browed
door, guarded by loopholes, gave it the character of a place of refuge
and defence. Though decayed and war-worn now, it had, in former times,
been a fair and courtly spot. A sylvan nook or arbour, scooped out of
the everlasting rock, was wreathed about with honeysuckle; a little
pool, with a margin studded with the earliest primroses, lay at its
entrance ; and a garden, redeemed by the labour of man from the sterile
upland, had its summer roses and its beds of lilies, all bearing token
of some gentle and departed inhabitant.
As he approached the
house, a candle glimmered in a small square window, and threw a line or
two of straggling light along the path. At the foot of the decayed porch
he observed the figure of a man kneeling, and presently he heard a voice
chanting what sounded like a psalm or a lyke-wake hymn. Ezra alighted
and approached,the form seemed insensible of his presence, but
stretched his hands towards the tower; and while the feathery snow
descended on his gray hair, he poured his song forth in a slow and
"I protest," said the
messenger, "here kneels old William Cameron, the Covenanter. Hearken, he
pours out some odd old-world malison against Bonshaw. I have heard that
the laird hunted him long and sore in his youth, slew his sons, burned
his house, threw his two bonny daughters desolate,--that was nae gentle
deed, however,--and broke the old mothers heart with downright sorrow.
Sae I canna much blame the dour auld carle for remembering it even now,
though the candles of Bonshaw are burning in the socket, and his light
will soon be extinguished for ever. Let us hearken to his psalm or his
song ; it is no every night we have minstrelsy at Bonshaw gate, I can
tell ye that."
The following are the verses, which have been preserved under the title
of "Ane godly exultation of William Cameron, a chosen vessel, over
Bonshaw, the persecutor. I have adopted a plainer, but a less
THE DOWNFALL OF DALZELL.
The wind is cold, the snow falls fast,
The night is dark and late,
As I lift aloud my voice and cry
By the oppressors gate.
There is a voice in every hill.
A tongue in every stone;
The greenwood sings a song of joy.
Since thou art dead and gone;
A poet's voice is in each mouth,
And songs of triumph swell,
Glad songs, that tell the gladsome earth
The downfall of Dalzell.
As I raised up my voice to sing,
I heard the green earth say,
Sweet am I now to beast and bird,
Since thou art passed away:
I hear no more the battle shout.
The martyrs' dying moans:
My cottages and cities sing
From their foundation-stones .
The carbine and the culverins mute,--
The death-shot and the yell
Are turned into a hymn of joy,
For thy downfall, Dalzell
Ive trod thy banner in the dust,
And caused the raven call
From thy bride-chamber to the owl
Hatched on thy castle wall;
Ive made thy minstrels music dumb,
And silent now to fame
Art thou, save when the orphan casts
His curses on thy name.
Now thou mayst say to good mens prayers
A long and last farewell :
There's hope for every sin save thine,-
Adieu, adieu, Dalzell!
The grim pit opes for thee her gates,
Where punished spirits wail,
And ghastly Death throws wide his door,
And hails thee with a Hail.
Deep from the grave there comes a voice,
A voice with hollow tones,
Such as a spirit's tongue would have
That spoke through hollow bones :
"Arise, ye martyred men, and shout
From earth to howling hell;
He comes, the persecutor comes!
All hail to thee, Dalzell!"
O'er an old battle-field there rushed
A wind, and with a moan
The severed limbs all rustling rose,
Even fellow bone to bone.
"Lo ! there he goes," I heard them cry,
"Like babe in swathing band,
Who shook the temples of the Lord,
And passed them 'neath his brand.
Cursed be the spot where he was born,
There let the adders dwell,
And from his fathers hearthstone hiss:
All hail to thee, Dalzell!"
I saw thee growing like a tree,-
Thy green head touched the sky,-
But birds far from thy branches built,
The wild deer passed thee by;
No golden dew dropt on thy bough,
Glad summer scorned to grace
Thee with her flowers, nor shepherds wooed
Beside thy dwelling place;
The axe has come and hewed thee down,
Nor left one shoot to tell
Where all thy stately glory grew:
Adieu, adieu, Dalzell!
An ancient man stands by thy gate,
His head like thine is gray;
Gray with the woes of many years,
Years fourscore and a day.
Five brave and stately sons were his ;
Two daughters, sweet and rare;
An old dame, dearer than them all,
And lands both broad and fair ;
Two broke their hearts when two were slain,
And three in battle fell,-
An old mans curse shall cling to thee,
Adieu, adieu, Dalzell!
And yet I sigh to think of thee,
A warrior tried and true
As ever spurred a steed, when thick
The splintering lances flew.
I saw thee in thy stirrups stand,
And hew thy foes down fast,
When Grierson fled, and Maxwell failed,
And Gordon stood aghast;
And Graeme, saved by thy sword, raged fierce
As one redeemed from hell.
I came to curse thee,and I weep :
So go in peace, Dalzell!
When this wild and
unusual hymn concluded, the Cameronian arose and departed, and Ezra and
his conductor entered the chamber of the dying man.
He found him stretched on a couch of state, more like a warrior cut in
marble than a breathing being. He had still a stern and martial look,
and his tall and stalwart frame retained something of that ancient
exterior beauty for which his youth was renowned. His helmet, spoiled by
time of its plumage, was placed on his head; a rusty corslet was on his
bosom; in his arms, like a bride, lay his broad and famous sword; and as
he looked at it, the battles of his youth passed in array before him.
Armour and arms hung grouped along the walls, and banners, covered with
many a quaint and devotional device, waved in their places as the
domestic closed the door on Ezra and the dying warrior in the chamber of
The devout man stood and regarded his ancient parishioner with a meek
and sorrowful look; but nothing visible or present employed Bonshaws
reflections or moved his spirithis thoughts had wandered back to
earlier years, and to scenes of peril and blood. He imagined himself at
the head of his horsemen in the hottest period of the persecution,
chasing the people from rock to rock, and from glen to cavern. His
imagination had presented to his eye the destruction of the children of
William Cameron. He addressed their mother in a tone of ironical
"Woman, where is thy devout husband, and thy five holy sons? Are they
busied in interminable prayers or everlasting sermons? Whisper it in my
ear, woman,--thou hast made that reservation doubtless in thy promise of
concealment. Come, else I will wrench the truth out of thee with these
gentle catechists, the thumbscrew and the bootikin. Serving the Lord,
sayest thou, woman? Why, that is rebelling against the king. Come, come,
a better answer, else I shall make thee a bride for a saint on a bloody
bed of heather.
Here he paused and waved his hand like a warrior at the head of armed
men, and thus he continued,--"Come, uncock thy carbine, and harm not the
woman till she hear the good tidings. Sister saint, how many bairns have
ye? I bless God, saith she, fiveReuben, Simon, Levi, Praisegod, and
Patrick. A bonny generation, woman. Here, soldier, remove the bandages
from the faces of those two young men before ye shoot them. There stands
Patrick, and that other is Simon ;dost thou see the youngest of thy
affections? The other three are in Sarahs bosomthyself shall go to
Abrahams The woman looks as if she doubted me ;here, toss to her those
three headsoften have they lain in her lap, and mickle have they prayed
in their time. Out, thou simpleton! canst thou not endure the sight of
the heads of thine own fair-haired sons, the smell of powder, and the
flash of a couple of carbines?
The re-acting of that ancient tragedy seemed to exhaust for a little
while the old persecutor. He next imagined himself receiving the secret
instructions of the Council.
"What, what, my lord, must all this pleasant work fall to me? A reeking
house and a crowing cock shall be scarce things in Nithsdale. Weepings
and Wailings shall be rifethe grief of mothers, and the moaning of
fatherless babes. There shall be smoking ruins and roofless kirks, and
prayers uttered in secret, and sermons preached at a venture and a
hazard on the high and solitary places. Where is General Turner?Gone
where the wine is good?And where is Grierson?Has he begun to talk of
repentance?Gordon thinks of the unquenchable fire which the martyred
Cameronian raved about; and gentle Graeme vows he will cut no more
throats unless they wear laced cravats. Awell, my lords; I am the kings
servant, and not Christs, and shall boune me to the task."
His fancy flew over a large extent of time, and what he uttered now may
be supposed to be addressed to some invisible monitor ; he seemed not
aware of the presence of the minister.
"Auld, say you, and gray-headed, and the one foot in the grave; it is
time to repent, and spice and perfume over my rottenness, and prepare
for heaven? Ill tell ye, but ye must not speak ontI tried to pray
late yestreenI knelt down, and I held up my hands to heaven-and what
think ye I beheld? a widow woman and her five fair sons standing between
me and the Most High, and calling out, Woe, woe, on Bonshaw. I threw
myself with my face to the earth, and what got I between my hands? A
gravestone which covered five martyrs, and cried out against me for
blood which I had wantonly shed. I heard voices from the dust whispering
around me; and the angel which watched of old over the glory of my house
hid his face with his hands, and I beheld the evil spirits arise with
power to punish me for a season. Ill tell ye what I will do--among the
children of those I have slain shall my inheritance be divided; so sit
down, holy sir, and sit down, most learned man, and hearken to my
bequest. To the children of three men slain on Irongray Moor--to the
children of two slain on Closeburn-hilltono, no, no, all that crowd,
that multitude, cannot be the descendants of those whom I doomed to
perish by the rope, and the pistol, and the sword. Away, I say, ye
congregation of zealots and psalm-singers !disperse, I say, else I
shall trample ye down beneath my horses hoofs ! Peace, thou
white-headed stirrer of sedition, else I shall cleave thee to the collar
!wilt thou preach still? "
Here the departing persecutor uttered a wild imprecation, clenched his
teeth, leaped to his feet, waved his sword, and stood for several
moments, his eyes flashing from them a fierce light, and his whole
strength gathered into a blow which he aimed at his imaginary adversary.
But he stiffened as he stooda brief shudder passed over his frame, and
he was dead before he fell on the floor, and made the hall re-echo.
The minister raised him in his arms a smile of military joy still
dilated his stern faceand his hand grasped the sword hilt so firmly
that it required some strength to wrench it from his hold. Sore, sore
the good pastor lamented that he had no death-bed communings with the
departed chief, and he expressed this so frequently, that the peasantry
said, on the day of his burial, that it would bring back his spirit to
earth and vex mankind, and that Ezra would find him particularly
untractable and bold. Of these whisperings he took little heed, but he
became somewhat more grave and austere than usual.
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