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Wilson's Border Tales
The Black and White Reformers


The first example of martyrdom for religious opinions, recorded in the history of Scotland, was, as is well known. the death of the unfortunate John Resby, an English priest, of the school of the celebrated English Reformer, Wickliff. Great as were the merits of Knox, it may be doubted if he possessed the courage of this early Reformer, who, at a time when Catholicism reigned supreme in the Church, and shewed its power in the palace and the house of Parliament. stood up for the sake of truth in a crowd of enemies, unqualified by even a mixture of open friends; and, latterly, resigned his life in the midst of a burning pile in the city of Perth, in the year 1405.

Though the enmity of the dominant Church, and especially of its great defender, Laurence of Lindores, prevented any open acceptance or approbation of the tenets of Resby, his excellent sermons—the truth they contained, and the novelty of such a thing as an attack upon usages which had obtained authority for so long a period— drew around the enthusiastic preacher a great concourse of people. His forty heretical conclusions had a secret charm in them, which recommended them to the hearts of all lovers of truth; but no one durst venture to say he approve of them for Albany, the governor, had already shewn himself a persecutor of the Lollards and heretics; and his fierce character was a guarantee for all manner of cruel visitations upon the heads of the victims of his displeasure. But the courageous Resby, despised both him and his persecutions, and continued the dissemination of his brochures and his public orations in the face of the threatened stake and its encircling flames.

In various parts of Scotland the preacher held forth; in Perth, Dundee, and many of the southern towns. His progress was narrowly watched by Laurence of Lindores; and a keen eye kept on his secret favourers. On one occasion he preached in the town of Dumfries; and there were some circumstances attending his holding forth in that town, which are, in themselves, extremely curious, and deserve the attention of the public, as much for their singularity as the effects that flowed from them.

The character of the Duke of Rothsay, the nephew of the Regent, has been drawn by pens which no other goose-quill will ever rival. His beauty, his high honour, his gallantry, chivalry, and light-hearted, perhaps mad-cap frolics, have endeared him to those who could not well defend his more unrestrained out-breakings of youthful intemperance and dissipation. He worshipped, with equal veneration, Momus and Minerva. Philosophy and fun were equally his delight; and the affairs of state, and the light gambols of libertinism were equally congenial to his pleasure and powers. His early friend, Sir John de Ramorgny, afterwards his enemy and destroyer, flattered his excesses, and joined his revels. They went through Scotland in disguise—personated their friends and their enemies, and drew out of the pleasure and pain of the humble inhabitants of Scotland food for their amusement. These two gay friends happened to be in Dumfries at the time that Resby was to hold forth to the benighted inhabitants of that ancient town. Such an opportunity for amusement could not be allowed to pass; and Rothsay’s wits were employed to devise a scheme for annoying the preacher and tormenting his hearers.

"What thinkest thou, Ramorgny," said Rothsay, "of playing a trick on the old Wickliffite, Resby? The curmudgeon is not liked by my uncle, and that should be a reason against my abusing him; but my spirits are flat, and call for a stimulant, and who can so well cure my depression as the inspired curmudgeon who is to hold forth tomorrow in the old church of Dumfries. I have for this hour past been planning a project, and when thou hast heard it, I think it will be admitted that the ideas have obeyed the magic wand of my bright fancy."

"It would not be, Rothsay," replied Ramorgny, "if the invention of a scheme of frolic did not keep pace with the eternal flow of those gay dancing spirits of thine, which make even sober reason to join the gallopade of their merriment. What hast thou devised?"

"Hast thou ever heard the women sitting at the doors of our Scottish huts, singing their song on the churchman Lindores, or, as they caIl him, Lindares?"

"No," said Ramorgny; "but thou, who dost so much associate with the dancing girls and minstrels, in the gratification of thy reckless spirit, canst perhaps sing it."

"Oh, yes, I can," cried the prince, laughing; "but there is only one verse of it which has any connection with our subject—

‘A black cat sits on Melrose aisle,
And cries—"Doon wi’ Lindares!"
But a white dove sits upon its tail,
And whistles for him prayers.’"

"And what is the moral of that?" inquired Ramorgny; "I see no connection between a ridiculous song and the old preacher, Resby."

"I cry thee mercy," said Rothsay; "thy wits are too heavy for the flight of my fancy. I propose to get a representative of old Mahoun, or the Devil, to sit on the top of Resby’s pulpit, and grin or purr at the audience, while we enjoy the effects produced by the apparition."

"I am still at fault," said Ramorgny.

"What thinkest thou," said the prince, "would be the effect of a large black cat sitting on the top of the pulpit, while Resby is preaching? The people will take him for the arch-enemy superintending and inspiring the Reformer; a tumult will be the consequence; Resby will be seized, and in all likelihood plunged (we will save him from being drowned) in the river; while we will enjoy the scene unknown."

"Thy scheme is excellent," said Ramorgny; "but it is incomplete. Why not have the white dove in the song, besides, as the representative of a purer spirit, to produce an opposition on the part of Resby’s friends to the disciples of puss."

"Better still," cried Rothsay, clapping his hands with joy; "the scheme is complete. You must procure the performers."

"I will," said Ramorgny; and they went to prepare for their recreation.

Next day, Resby held forth to his congregation. It has come down to these times, that the figure and manner of this extraordinary man were excellently calculated to accomplish the object of his ambition. He is represented as being of great height, extremely spare, and with a clear eye, which seemed to burn continually with the enthusiasm of one destined by Providence to produce a change in the frame of society. He was, in fact, a perfect example of those spirits which are produced at great distances of time, no doubt to execute purposes which, without the aid of such instruments, would not be fulfilled. To look upon him produced a kind of awe which could only be accounted for by the presence of the dominant power which held its influence over him, and gave him a sense of importance, an elevation of character, and a majesty of expression, which are not to be found in men adapted and bound to the common every-day duties and feelings of ordinary life.

Such was the effect produced by Resby in the congregation, that the two firebrand spirits who had determined to torment him, could not avoid participating in some degree in the enthusiasm with which he seemed to inspire all present. Ramorgny, in particular, almost resigned his intention; and, as he made all the efforts in his power to keep quiet the animal he had secreted in a bag, he could not help contrasting the solemnity of the scene around him with the ludicrous operation in which he was engaged. The prince, more volatile, saw only, in the gravity of the faces of the people, a better guarantee for the sport which he anticipated, and which, in a great measure, would consist in the mixture of fear, doubt, awe, and enthusiasm, which would seize the countenances which now only permitted the expression of one feeling to occupy them.

The discourse which the preacher that day thought suited to the people of Dumfries, comprehended two or three of the forty heresies which Laurence of Lindores afterwards charged against him. He denied the authority of the Pope, as the successor of St Peter, calling him by that name which, afterwards, when the Reformation had advanced, became so favourite an epithet in the mouths of the Reformers—viz., Antichrist. The use of such a phrase in those early times, was boldness itself, and some murmurs were heard in the church, as the word resounded through the place of assembly. He discanted largely on the inutility of penances and auricular confession, and asserted that a holy life was absolutely necessary in any one who dared to call himself the vicar of his great Master.

These topics were then of paramount importance, and not having previously been called in question, the eloquence of Resby, fired with his natural enthusiasm, and exerted on subjects so interesting, chained every attention--except, perhaps, those of Rothsay, and his friend, and their prisoners--and inflamed every imagination. As he proceeded, he got more enthusiastic, thundering with his clenched hand upon the pulpit, turning up his eyes to the roof of the chapel, and then darting them on the terrified and awe-stricken hearers.

A spell was upon the congregation. The preacher’s triumph was complete; for that which he had laboured for he had accomplished—the chaining of the attention of his hearers. He had reached the climax of his enthusiasm, and the people had attained to the full height of their sympathy, in the feelings he so eloquently expressed. The time was come for Ramorgny to act. Having, when he entered, slipped near the pulpit, his situation was well suited to the accomplishment of his object. He opened his bag, and let out his black prisoner, who, terrified at the number of people, scrambled up the pulpit, and sat on the top of it with its face to the audience—an apt representative of the arch-fiend The people were electrified. A scream issued from the females, and groans from the men resounded through the church. Resby, who did not see his black companion, conceived the tumult to be the result of his eloquence. He increased his energies--lifted higher his voice, and enhanced the wildness of his gestures. At this moment Rothsay let off his dove, which, with a beautiful wheel, flew round the church and lighted on a part of the gallery opposite to the preacher and the demure grimalkin.

This additional token was viewed with superstitious awe. Resby himself was deceived. He looked at the bird, and pointing his finger, cried out—"Behold a voucher for the truth of my mission." His friends were filled with enthusiasm—-"A spirit!" "A spirit!" resounded from various quarters; while the enemies of the preacher, with fingers pointed to the black messenger, cried out—"Beelzebub! Beelzebub!" The cries continued, becoming louder and louder. The people divided—one joining the standard of puss, and the other that of the dove. A scene of confusion commenced, such as was never witnessed in a religious congregation before or since. The timid endeavoured to get out, which produced a crush with all its appalling effects. The preacher held up his hands, vociferated, pointed to the dove; the people continued to press forward and to scream, while the two opposing parties dealt blows around them, and a scene of wild uproar commenced which threatened the loss of many lives. The dove, in the meantime, escaped by the window, and puss secreted herself among the seats, Rothsay and Ramorgny, having placed themselves near the entrance, were among the first to get out. They stood at the door, witnessing the deplorable effects of their frolic. As the people came out, many of them fell down in a faint. Several were crushed almost to death, and some received injuries from which they never recovered.

Rothsay, who did not want feeling, was annoyed by the result of his project. The consequences went farther than he anticipated or wished. Alas! he did not yet see the end of them, and was doomed never to see them; for he fell a victim to the perfidy of his companion, before Resby, whom this very circumstance made more obnoxious to the Regent, was committed to the flames.

The secret of Rothsay’s hand in this project was well kept; and, as neither the cat nor the dove were seen again, a universal belief prevailed, in these superstitious times, that they were really messengers of good and evil. The story spread, and carried with it Resby’s name. The public were divided into two parts—one espousing the part of the dove, the other that of the cat. Resby was either a saint or a fiend—there was no medium; and, as his success or failure had apparently interested the powers above and below, the inhabitants of the middle world could not be blamed for viewing him in either of these lights. This simple incident may even be traced in its effects to the times of the Reformation. The spirit then raised increased in power, till filling the soul of the immortal Knox, it became irresistible and finally achieved a victory which has produced more good than any triumph of reason that ever was signalized.

The name of Black and White Reformers, derived from the incident now detailed, prevailed in Scotland long after Resby’s death, and even with the circumstances which gave rise to it, was no longer remembered. Both parties were called Reformers, because their disputes tended to the advancement of the Reformation.


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