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Places of Interest about Girvan
William Bell Scott, Poet Artist


IT is now a good many years since I first called by invitation at Penkill Castle. I was received most kindly by Miss Boyd and shown over the old building by Mr Scott. Mr Dante Rosettirthe famous Poet-Painter, was at that time on a visit, so I had the good fortune to be introduced to him. He took very little part in the conversation, however, which turned chiefly on local history, so that all I remember is a neat figure, dressed in a black velvet coat, with a face remarkably like Shakespear's, leaning back in his chair, and interjecting "Very curious" now and then, as some fresh fact caught his attention. I was told that he wrote several sonnets at Penkill, using as his study the old Covenanter's Cave in the glen below the Castle.

Some years after, I again visited Penkill, and had a long talk with its inmates about the literary Celebrities of London. We talked of Carlyle, whom Mr Scott had known personally. "Carlyle looked at everything through the eyes of a Scotch peasant."—"Well," I replied, "he might look at the world through worse eyes."—"You are right," he said.—"But, then," said another, "Carlyle was so egotistical" "He had some right to be so," was Mr Scott's quiet response.—"What sort of a person was Mrs Carlyle?" I asked.—"She was not nearly so interesting as her husband. She was always posing."—"I suppose he never posed."—"Oh no, he was too great for that," said Mr Scott.—"All the same, you don't seem to have liked him?'—"No; and the reason was, he always spoke so slightingly of Art. He once gave Millais a sitting for his portrait, and on coming out of the studio Carlyle glanced round at the superb staircase and asked— 'Millais, did Painting do all that?'—'Yes; Painting did it all.'—'Well' rejoined the old "Scotch peasant," 'there must be more fools in this world than I had thought.'"

Mr Scott asked me if I had read Shelley. I said I had read the minor poems. "Oh yes," he said, "these are well enough; but the larger poems are to me unintelligible. People say they are atheistical. I say they are non-understandable. Mr Routledge, the bookseller, once asked me to write a short memoir to prefix to an edition of Shelley, which I did. I told Mr Routledge that I did not think Shelley was read now-a-days. 'I daresay not,' he replied, 'but he is bought, and that is all I have to do with.'"

When the subject of Art was mentioned, I said I did not care for it except in so far as it touched on human life, and asked why he himself had chosen such out-of-the-world subjects to exercise his mind upon. "Oh," he said, "it is just my taste."—"Don't you paint now?" I inquired. —"No," he said; "when you get old, you are unable to distinguish delicate shades of colour, and so must give up."

The subject of Religion was mentioned, and I, somewhat boldly perhaps, asked him how he regarded it. "Well," he replied, "I am, generally speaking, what is called an Agnostic—that is to say, I don't believe that God has revealed anything to us of the Unseen world. Of course, people in all ages have imagined what lies beyond Death, but none know''—"But, then," I asked, "what would you say to a man like Paul, who had met the Son of God, and talked with Him?"—"Ah," he replied, "I could not say anything to Aim."—"Well," I rejoined, "erery truly converted person is so because Jesus Christ has met him, and revealed Himself to his heart."—" That may be so,'1 he said, "and I don't wish to take any one's comfort away from him."—To which I replied, "A true Christian's comfort is not so easily taken from him, as some suppose."

He spoke of many persons, but kindly of them all. In fact, this to me was Mr Scott's leading characteristic His talk, too, was always informing, and never tended to gossip. It was always moving on a high intellectual level, and was clothed in choice words. He complimented me on my efforts to spread a better knowledge of our local history, and urged me to write a life of Peden the Prophet, whose character had impressed him; and he was anxious that I should get the autobiography of John Stevenson, the Dailly Covenanter, republished in a cheap form, for the benefit of the countryside. One of the last things he himself wrote for the press was a paper in Frazcr>s Magazine upon the old Kirk-Session records of Dailly, in which he had a kindly word to say of the contendings of our forefathers for civil and religious liberty.

He died 2 2d November, 1890, and was buried in Old Dailly Churchyard. . His brother David, who was buried in the Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh, had perhaps more genius, but he could not have had a more humble, kindly spirit, or possessed a milder wisdom. And although we in this district took little note of his comings and goings among us, it may be that in years to come, others will make a pilgrimage to visit the home of his old age, and look with interest on his quiet grave.


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