Anecdotes to Antiquaries
Letter to Editor of Blackwood's Magazine (1817)
I found this amusing
letter to the editor in Volume One (1817) of Blackwoods
I have just seen the
first Number of your Magazine on a table in the study of a
much-respected friend of mine, whose talents have gained for him a
distinguished rank among the learned and elegant writers of
I observe you announce, that a portion of the publication is to be
set apart as an "Antiquarian Repertory." As oft as you can procure
well-authenticated articles, connected with antiquity, whether they
are deemed of importance in the estimation of some of your readers,
or unprofitable in that of others, you will do well to publish them,
for even out of the chaff a pottage is made. But beware that you
are not bronzed and take care you have reasonable proofs, that
what you publish is authentic.
Now, in point, Mr Editor, I will tell you a story, a story
well-known, though, of course, not to nine-tenths of your readers.
A venerable, learned,
and worthy country gentleman, who, had he still been alive, would
have found a pleasure in contributing to your Repertory, happened,
in the course of a forenoon walk, to come upon some industrious
people who were engaged in clearing away the extensive moss of xxxxx.
In the course of their operations, one of them met with a substance
which resisted his spade. The spade was thrown aside, and the
pick-axe grasped to split in flinders this resisting substance.
Softly, "my friend," said the antiquary; "continue with your spade,
and trench round; perhaps you may raise, entire, a Roman urn. ["For
I have always been of opinion," said he to himself, that this was
the line of march of the Romans."]
The illiterate peasant knew as much about an urn, as, mayhap, he
did about Roman. But his respect for the venerable gentleman was
too great not to obey his orders. Well, then, he trenched, till at
last IT made its appearance.
["A Roman camp-kettle," with enthusiastic pleasure, said the
antiquary to himself."]
Carry it to the house, Duncan, and I shall amply reward you."
He did so, and was amply rewarded, befitting so inestimable a
treasure. For in all his actings he dealt justly succoured the needy
was a represser of vice a promoter of industrious virtue. Such was
our venerable antiquary.
It was placed on a table in his study. He viewed it with admiration
and delight, and it confirmed him in his opinion, its goblet form,
its moveable semi-circular handle.
Unquestionably," said he, "the Romans must have made this the line
of their march, and not that, as some ignorant writers have
Pursuing these ideas, it has been insinuated that he wrote a learned
dissertation about this kettle, preparatory to its being presented
elsewhere. It is further said, that it was presented and received
with equal veneration and thanks.
However, to make a long tale short, Mr Editor, I shall not at full
length detail the amusing colloquy which took place, upon an after
occasion, between the venerable and the real owner of the kettle.
Suffice it to say, he was no Roman, but a sturdy Highlander, who
would have given hard blows to any Roman who dared to invade his
kettle, or any thing else belonging to him. In a word, then, his
story was this; that his wife Shanet had, twelve months ago,
bought this identical kettle in the town of xxxxx and on her way
home, having indulged too freely to cure a colic, mistook her path
through the moss, plumped into what is called a peat-bog, and was
glad to quit her kettle and save herself. That Duncan's description
of the size, shape, &c. of the kettle, and Janet's, exactly agreed;
and that there was no doubt but it was their own kettle.
"If your Honour will only gie me back the kettle, said Duncan,
I'll hing it in the very middle kaiber o' the pothie, to be a
warning to Shanet to get trunc no more."
"That is impossible, Donald," said the venerable; "but there is as
much money for you as will buy two such kettles; and in order to
correct Janet's colics, there is, beside, a copy of Macniel's
History of Will and Jean, which you may cause your son, Peter, read
to his mother again and again, and you yourself will not be the
worse for listening to the moral tale.
Donald accepted of the boon, and, having repeatedly said "Got pless
and thank your Honour," withdrew.
Now, Mr Editor, I have just another story to tell you, by way of
introduction to our future acquaintance, and then, for the present,
I have done........
A select knot of antiquaries set out to explore classic ground.
"Here, here I" exclaimed one, "Now we have it look here I look at
this stone; perfectly distinct and plain! mark the letters! R. !.
L. as clear as day, although our researches may sometimes be
covered in obscurity. Quite plain and intelligible is the R. I. L.
Thus far, and no farther," he exultingly exclaimed; "Romani Imperil
The antiquaries gathered around, and were struck with wonder: "We
shall," said one of them, "find, to a certainty, an urn, containing
the bones of some valorous Roman general."
Let us to work, said they, with one concurring voice, and with
their mattocks they set furiously to the business. Before they had
proceeded far, their attention was attracted by the hallooing and
bellowing of a sturdy peasant, who was hastening towards the spot.
When he had approached them, and stopping till he had gathered wind,
he exclaimed, "Hoot, hoot, lads I what's that you're about ? IWind
what the Bible says, Cursed be he who removes a landmark.
Peace, clown," said the junior antiquary, "you are ignorant of the
matter; R. I. L. that is, Romani Imperii Limes." "Hoot, toot,
lads!" said the countryman, "I ken Latin as weel as you do yoursel.
Do ye think I was na bred wi' Mr Doig, at Falklan school, wha could
hae learned the very kaes that biggit in the auld palace to speak
Latin, as my auld granny said, gin they had only leeted till him.
And you say, too, I am ignorant o' the matter. But faith, birky, let
me tell you, I should ken mair o' the matter than you, for was na I
present whan auld Rab Roughcast, the mason, hewed and pat in that
very stane, in my gutcher Robin Rantletree's time. Romani Imperii
Limes, wi' a ban to ye ! I believe ye are nae better than a band o'
tinklers, wha wad claim Rab Innes' Lands as the property of ony
Roman. But there's auld Rab Innes himsel, poor feckless body, coming
we're no owre thrang neebours, yet I wadna like to see him wranged
for a' that. But I'se gae my ways, and gif he lets you remove the
landmark, I say again, accursed be he wha does sae.
This onset gave the antiquaries no stomach to encounter Rab Innes,
and they precipitately took a direction which separated them equally
from Rab Innes and young Rantletrees, leaving the R. I. L. in
quiet possession of the field.
Now, Mr Editor, you must not suppose that I intend to throw any
discredit upon your Antiquarian Repertory. Quite the reverse....all
that I mean you to deduce from what I have said is, a caution to you
against being taken in by a gudewife's kail-pat for a Roman
camp-kettle, or by the landmark betwixt two decent cock lairds,
for a Romani Imperii Limes
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