annals of the house of Lindsay contain inexhaustible material for the I'
weaver of magazine literature; yet when Robert Chambers, some seventy
years ago, wrote for his Edinburgh Journal a paper entitled "A
Pilgrimage to Balcarres," he had but little to tell about the great
historic family to which that fine estate belongs. For him Balcarres
owed its chief attraction to association with the memory of a very
charming and accomplished woman, Lady Anne Lindsay, [Daughter of James,
fifth Earl of Balearres, and thirtieth Lord Lindsay of Crawford. Lady
Anne married Andrew Barnard and died in 1825. Her oldest brother,
great-grandfather of the present Earl of Crawford and Balcarres,
succeeded as twenty-third Earl of Crawford in addition to the other
titles.] a memory whereof, it must be admitted, the modern architect and
landscape gardener between them have succeeded in obliterating most of
the physical landmarks. The old castle has been so completely masked by
recent additions, as to divest it, externally at least, of all venerable
suggestion; while the grassy slopes where gentle Anne Lindsay tended her
flowers have been buried under tons of terraces, stone-built, and scaled
by exorbitant stairways, severing us for ever from the footprints of
A garden has been created
in the grandiose style of the early Victorian erathe age when Wyatt and
Paxton designed parks and palaces, and Disraeli and Buiwer-Lytton
peopled them with appropriate characters. The centuries will touch and
retouch these terraces into charm; as yet, the elaborate stone-work has
weathered too few winters gathered too little mossto gratify the eye;
while shadeless gravel walks, wide enough to admit a battalion of
grenadiers in column of half-companies, make one sigh for
Les sentiers ombreux
Ou s'egarent les amoureux.
A little group of blue
hyacinths have had the temerity to establish themselves at the foot of
one of the great terrace stairspretty wildings, seeming to dread
detection and expulsion, yet giving one the same agreeable thrill that
is conveyed by a nod of recognition in a crowded assembly of strangers.
Where the masonry ceases,
clipped yew hedges beginhundreds of yards of them, with far-spread,
intricate designs in clipped box. Altogether the leafage submitted to
the shears in each season must be measured in acres. One is thankful
that a noble arbutus near the range of vine-houses, has escaped the
tonsure. It is about 22 feet in height
and measures 125 feet
round the circumference of its branches. An inspiring point of
brilliancy was furnished by the finest clump of Adonis vernalis I ever
saw, whereon were blazing between thirty and forty satellites to the
glorious May sun, testifying to what soil and climate in the East Neuk
are capable of producing for spring display, were they but given a fair
chance. According to present arrangements, all effort is focussed upon
autumnal splendour, when, as shown in Miss Wilson's study, there is no
lack of colour on walls and in parterres.
My visit to Balcarres was
ill-timed for garden effect; outside there was ample beauty to
compensate for flowerless borders, for it would be hard to find a more
glorious bit of park scenery. Wych elm and sycamore, trees which must
turn the century before attaining majesty, abound here of great size;
there is also much fine ash timber, and some well-grown modern conifers,
not scattered as specimens, but crowded as they should be in close
forest. The Californian Pines mon icola, which is but a glorified form
of the Weymouth pine, luxuriates here, and shows as yet no liability to
the disease which has proved so fatal to this fine tree at Murthly.
Dominating the whole demesne is Balcarres Craig, a lofty precipitous
rock, from the summit of which a soul-stirring prospect spreads around.
Beyond the rich woods and fertile plain lies the blue Firth of Forth,
bearing on its bosom the massive Bass Rock. The smooth outline of the
Lammermuir forms the southern horizon, within which Auld Reekie rears
her dusky canopy.
A word about Lady Anne
Lindsay, whose best years had sped before she changed her name in
marrying Mr. Barnard. "Her hand," says her nephew, Colonel Lindsay, "was
sought in marriage by several of the first men of the land, and her
friendship and confidence by the most distinguished women; but
indecision was her failing; hesitation and doubt upset her judgment ;
her heart had never been captured, and she remained single till late in
life, when she married an accomplished, but not wealthy, gentleman,
younger than herself, whom she accompanied to the Cape of Good Hope when
appointed Colonial Secretary under Lord Macartney."
Upon Scottish hearts this
lady has founded an undying claim as the author of Auld Robin Gray,
whereof Sir 'Palter Scott wrote as " that real pastoral which is worth
all the dialogues which Corydon and Phyllis have had together, from the
days of Theocritus downwards." The real authorship of this ballad, which
from its first appearance in 1771 captured and retained the fancy of
people of all ranks and many nationalities, was disputed for many years
as hotly as that of Waverley. Strange to say it was the author of
Waverley himself who first revealed the author of Auld Robin Gray, by
comparing the lot of Minna in The Pirate to that of Jeanie Gray, "the
village heroine in Lady Anne Lindsay's beautiful ballad."
Nae langer she wept; her
tears were a' spent;
Despair it was come, and she thought it content;
She thought it content, but her cheek it grew pale,
And she drooped like a snowdrop broke down by the hail.
For more than fifty years
the secret had been kept, and when at last it was thus laid bare in
1823, Lady Anne disdained to disown the offspring of her Muse. Less than
two years before her death, she wrote a full confession to Sir Walter,
explaining how she had composed the verses to suit an old Scottish air
of which she was "passionately fond," and had borrowed from the old
herdsman of Balcarres the ruame of Robin Gray. Her letter, and Sir
Walter's reply (both of which well repay perusal) are too long to print
here. They are given in full in Lord Lindsay's delightful work, The
Lives of the Lindsays (vol. ii. pp. 391-399).
"I have sometimes
wondered," wrote Sir Walter in a later letter, "how many of our best
songs have been written by Scotchwomen of rank and condition. The Hon.
Mrs. Murray (Miss Baillie Jerviswood born) wrote the very pretty Scots
'An't were not my heart's
light I wad die,'
Miss Elliot of Minto, the
verses of the Flowers o' the Forest which begin
`I've heard a lilting,'
Mrs. Cockburn composed
other verses to the same tune,
'I have seen the smiling
of fortune's beguiling,' etc.
Lady Wardlaw wrote the
glorious old ballad of Hardykute. Place Auld Robin at the head of this
list, and I question if we masculine wretches can claim five or six
songs equal in elegance and pathos out of the long list of Scottish
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