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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter I


Topography of the Country between Carlisle and Gretna.

Some facts about Geography
Amuse us for awhile;
And chiefly the Topography
'Twixt Gretna and Carlisle.

What a pity it is that the exquisite romance of running away with a lady, and marrying her clandestinely, should ever be tarnished by subsequent matrimonial squabbles. Alack and well-a-day ! surely it must be a most humiliating consideration, for people to find themselves launching cutting speeches at each other, when the remembrance of the caresses, the rapture, the triumph, that swelled in their bosoms at the successful moment of escape to Gretna is still fresh in their minds, if they only dare to recall it. We say dare to recall it: and it is certain that it must require some courage to venture to look back upon these thrilling moments at such a time as we mention, —that is, when the novelty of wedded life has in some sort passed away,—when the person whom we had always yearned for, and sighed for, and had looked upon as an angel moving upon earth, is, indeed, no more than a human being, possessed of weaknesses, frailties, and imperfections, not to say vices;—at such time, when these failings have increased so far as to create not only indifference but absolute loathing; and when this loathing has broken out into bickerings, contradictions, and wrangling; then, we say, it will require some courage to look back with the mind's eye upon the sweet congratulations of having achieved a midnight elopement unprevented, unstopped, unarrested.

And why should it require such courage to reflect upon bliss that is gone?

It has been said that there is no grief so great as the recollection of past happiness when in the days of misery. This may be a great grief, certainly; but we were talking of humiliation. Grief may be proud, stern, savage, unbending; but humiliation can scarcely be either of these. Humiliation makes the feeler of it small, degraded, stricken down, abashed ; but why should such a remembrance produce such an effect? Why, for this reason: that it lets-us know that our judgment was erroneous; that we were incapable of making a wise selection, or that the person we selected managed to outwit us in dissimulation ; that we certainly made a shallow and foolish choice; and then the inference is, that he who makes a foolish choice must, per consequence, be a fool, and that is not flattering to our vanity in fine, it makes us out of humour with ourselves, and that is more galling than being out of humour with all the world besides; and when we are out of humour with ourselves we grow sour and peevish, and soon vent that ill humour upon the nearest object to us, and the unhappy one that is so closely allied to the origin of these disquiets.

It is hard, too, that our ill-humour should be poured out upon our helpmate; as if that helpmate had committed a crime merely for having complied with our most pressing desires—that is, of becoming our partner. Did we not wish it ? did we not promote it ? did we not solicit it, urge it, importune it ? Of a truth it was very kind in the other party to comply with our request; to yield to what we vowed was the only thing left us to ensure our happiness. Why, really, we never thought of looking at the matter in this light before. Is it possible that we can vent our peevishness on our partner, who actually became our partner to satisfy our most fervent entreaty ? Positively also, our mate has great reason to be angered with us: did we not consent to marry our mate when it was our mate's pleasure that it should be so ? Yes, this cannot be denied; and therefore we have commited an offence which our mate never can forgive, and for which our mate will never desist persecuting us.

"Married love never lasts; dat is not in de nature," said the unfortunate Queen Caroline some thirty years ago; a sweeping denunciation, certainly, and but an indifferent encouragement to maidens and bachelors. "I could be the slave of the man I love," she observed to one of her ladies at another time, with a great deal of truth; truth, because it is a sentiment in which all other women will agree; ay, and men too. "I could be the slave of the mau I love; but to one whom I loved not, and who did not love me, impossible—c'est autre chose."

We wash the queen had bequeathed us some receipt for ensuring the permanency of wedded love : but alas ! for her, she was one of the last who could have transmitted such a bequest. She judged of every one by her own individual self, when she said, "Married love never lasts; dat is not in de nature ;" but after all, if we look round the world, and scrutinize the opinions of men, we shall see that almost all their theses, dogmata, and theorems, are not founded so much on the wisdom of others as they are on their own abstract experience. Because her wedded love did not last, she broadly declared that the wedded love of every person besides did not, and would not, last.

Philosophers and moralists preach mutual forbearance as one of the especial ensurers of happiness; and philosophers and moralists are right in thus preaching : but it is so hard to resist being cross, and to stifle an ill-natured remark when things have gone wrong, and have put us out of sorts. And therefore, of course, on the other hand, it is particularly easy,— it is even pleasant, to give a short answer when the person to whom it is spoken has provoked us to anger, whether justly or not. This is a vile ingredient in human nature; and yet there are few, however amiable as human nature goes, who will not confess that they know it to be fact.

After saying this, it may appear strange that we should pave the way to Gretna by writing this work. But we are not paving the way thither in these' pages; and we mean to take every opportunity of appending a wholesome moral to each anecdote connected with the disreputable practice of journeying to that bourn, and to lay open every circumstance touching* that practice, not that the reader should become enamoured of it, but rather that he or she should detest .it and eschew it.

For the information of all those whom it may concern, we will by these presents make them acquainted with the modern geography of this region, as we have hitherto spoken of its ancient appearance ; so that the mad and, the inconsiderate who journey this way to destruction, or at all events to matrimony, may the better comprehend where .they are going, and not otherwise, like the blind, fall together into the ditch.

Now, the veritable distance from the ancient city ( of Carlisle, on whose wall the sun shines bright, as the minstrel's ballad says, unto Gretna, is nine miles and one half, for there is a mile-stone on the right-hand, or eastern side of the road, under the hedge, indicating to that effect: it is just opposite the first cottage you come to on entering this interesting .village, and at about two hundred yards from Gretna Hall, the principal marrying-shop. By this it will be seen that the whole and complete distance from the famous city wherein Arthur held his court and Peredur flourished, across the Debateable Land and the border, even up to the very altar, is two hundred yards more than the nine miles and a half—or, say nine miles and three quarters, which will be making the most of the evil, and taking the matter at the worst, to those who think it far too long, and are impatient to get over it. But the distance from this city to the river Sark, or boundary-line betwixt the two kingdoms, is about nine miles lawful measure, as near as may be, scarce more or less; and at this distance all fugitives may safely calculate on being beyond the reach of English pursuit.

Now, it will not be difficult to perceive how very providentially all these measurements are made out, the said nine miles and the fraction being just ax convenient length for a posting stage; not too long, but that the horses may be kept hard at it all the way, and quite long enough for the patience of the knight and his ladye love, who, be it observed, are now anxious to attain unto that bourn whence none (or few) return, and who are both on the last stage of their journey and of their celibacy.

Such progresses, howbeit, progress toward evil, and swains and maidens would do well to eschew them, seeing that, for the most part, they be undertaken lacking the sanction of parents, or the approval of friends, but are rather promoted at the instigation and enforcement of the devil; and this sheweth us the reason why they do always on such occasions drive speedily, for it is said, we must needs go quick when the devil driveth.

The road is a right fair road as roads go, (though they move not,) notwithstanding it passes over an unstable foundation, altogether lacking firmness but there is a modern road-maker, being the son of Adam, (for "mak signifieth a sonne," said John Elder to Henry VIII.,) who declared that he would sooner make a road over a soft bed, than over a bed of rock. After crossing the bridge of Carlisle, near the meadow where Peredur, the Prince of Sunshine, tilted with and overthrew the discourteous knight who had insulted Queen Gwenhwyvar by dashing the goblet out of her hand as she was drinking, there is an easy ascent until you attain the summit of a hill, over which, in the olden time, ran the Picts' wall, otherwise the wall of Adrian or Severus, about which we have made sufficient historical mention heretofore. Nothing remains of this fortification in the present day exactly at this spot, by reason that the soil of the district is not rocky, so that the coulter of the plough and the" self-same Time that aided to build it, have more recently levelled it to the ground; but further eastward, at the stone quarries, traces are yet visible, and will gratify the inquiries of the antiquarian pilgrim. From the summit of this rising, even all the way to the border, the road is passing level, so that the horses would not say that it were much on the collar; it is, for the most part, bounded on either hand by a dreary waste, even the Debate-able Land, or Solway Moss ; a few cheerless huts lie dotted about with their enclosures, like oases in the great desert of Zahara; and here and there the barrenness of the scene is enlivened by some plantations of fir trees. This description of the country is not given without a reason. Furthermore, in the remote north-east, the western extremities of the Cheviots may be seen rising as a background; and on the opposite side, toward the setting sun, a fair ken of the western waters openeth to the view. The inhabitants of the said huts look exceedingly miserable ; they are squalid in vesture, and meagre in feature, one while turning up. peat for winter fuel, and at another turning up what they are pleased to term their gardens. The children are ragged and dirty, curious to look at passers-by, and not apt to return any base coin that may be thrown to them.

This kind of road continues much the same until it attains the Eske, over which it is carried by a creditable stone and iron bridge ; and then, on reaching the Sark, a smaller stream, it passes, by another bridge of stone, actually over the border into the sister kingdom.

Alter crossing the Sark, the road, for the last half mile into the village of Gretna, ascends by a moderate inclination; wherefore, in order to tear up this hill with matrimonic-runaway effect, so as to strike admiration into the hearts of all curious beholders, it is well to ease the cattle over the last mile on the more level moss, (unless papa happens to be close behind,) because, oh !. thou most sociable companion, that dost accompany us through these pages, although, as we have said, this be an evil undertaking, still, if it is done, why, let it be done in a comely manner. Even Pluto himself we would sec ascend his burning throne with grace.

We said before, that this minute description of the aspect of the country over which the last stage of the eventful journey passes, has not been written without reason; • verily, to say the honest truth, it has been done for the particular information of all married persons who have driven over this road, and have been wedded at Gretna Green. Indeed ! how so ? Because, forsooth, it is notorious, that when two lovers are sitting in one carriage on their way to be thus united, they are ever and always looking sweetly right into each other's eyes, so that they never see one bit of the country outside. Thus, it has been remarked, that all runaways who have been over the Debateable Land, know less about it than, any other travellers whatsoever. We, ourself, did not go this way on an eloping adventure; consequently we kept our eyes directed out of the carriage to observe the country, having no inducement to direct them in, no bright orbs to look into and discourse with, but scrutinized the face of the district, and made such valuable notes as should serve for this most important history. The above description, we repeat, therefore, has been carefully drawn up for the perusal of all those bright eyes that were gazing passionately into each other when they were borne along over this last stage,—that is, by the by, if those bright eyes have not since been scratched out.

On entering the village, the stone of nine miles and a half may be seen by the way-side on the right-hand ; a hundred yards beyond that, on the left, is the village church,—but you are not going there, so pass on,—and beyond that, again, is the green, from which the name of Gretna Green arose, it being a triangular piece of grass at the convergence of several roads, and on the further side of that is the entrance to Gretna Hall, the modern aristocratic establishment for being married at.

In the days of my Lord Erskine and other personages of renown, it was customary to marry in the old village of Springfield, a place that is distant about half a mile from the green: but the bright star of Springfield has sunk beneath the horizon, and the hall has sprung up, much to its injury and disparagement. The great road from Carlisle into Scotland used to run directly through Springfield, so that it then lay on the principal thoroughfare ; but about the year 1826—more or less—a new road thence to Glasgow was cut through these parts, in such sort as wholly to eschew the said place; so that the .peregrinator wending this way cannot see it at all, nor would he know of its existence unless he were particularly advertised of it.

Hence it is, that Springfield has suffered much in prosperity since the alteration, being entirely cut off from travellers, and well-nigh forgotten by those who come hastily to be wedded.

The neglect of the village has led to the increase of buildings round the green near the church, close to which the new road runs; and hence has arisen within the last few years, for matrimonial accommodation, (with a true eye to business and a favourable locality,) that comparatively large; neat, and comfortable mansion ycleped "Gretna Hall." It is a kind of hotel or boarding-house, having coach-house, stables, and everything meet for the horrible end in view —but of this more anon.

It is necessary to explain, that although the place has ever gone by the name of " Gretna Green," people were always executed in the village of Springfield. Now, attached to this village there was, and, as we have said, there still is, a green or open space, where the inhabitants used to meet of a summers evening to enjoy themselves with a game of shinty, tennis, or other ancient pastime ;—such a green as of old pertained and appertained to many towns and villages in England, and which, in some cases remains to this day—and this green under discussion, was the village green of Springfield.

Perhaps, then, it will be demanded, since we say it was the green of Springfield, why it was not called Springfield Green rather than Gretna Green. To this, we answer, that the parish in which the village stands and is included, is named Gretna, and that the Green was apparently christened after the parish, as the principal or whole, and not after the village, which was only a part.

Lying, as it does, on the great road northward, and at the confluence of several minor thoroughfares, the Green is now considered as the nucleus, to the prejudice of Springfield. On the north side lies the lawn and entrance to the Hall; the post-office is on the east; the parish church and the manse, or clergyman's residence, on the south ; and from the west, or most acute angle of the trigon, proceed at a slight divergence, the two roads, one to Annan, and the other to Glasgow ; whilst the intervals between these buildings and roads are pretty well filled up with cottages.

Such is the present arrangement of this place ; in describing which we consider we have done the reader a great service, particularly if he (or she) purposes going that way, and would wish to comprehend the geography thereof previously.


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