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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter IV


Lord Erskine's Marriage at Gretna.

Here read some seandal, but, I wis,
Too bad to talk about;
And yet, in such a work as this,
The truth must all come out.

To contemplate fallen greatness is very painful, and strongly conducive to lamentable tears—as ask those who wept over the -ruins of Troy, of Carthage, of Tadmor, of Babylon ; and the salt fountains that gush forth from the sternest eyes, are beauteous to behold, because they tell of a sympathising heart, evidently situated in the right place.

Those peregrinators who enter into the village of Springfield, in the' parish of Gretna, in the county of Dumfries, in that part of Great Britain denominated Scotland, would do well to draw their handkerchiefs from their pockets, and give free vent to their feelings when they contemplate that especial hostelrie ycleped " The King's Head." Here, in good sooth, they will survey fallen greatness ;—and, to survey fallen greatness, is a most overpowering thing, as we have just said.

The feeling, though a complicated one, that then occupies the bosom, is mainly composed of that passion which we call regret;—that is, that notwithstanding divers afflicting sensations combine to rack the mind, still the particular one called regret predominates far over the rest.

He who journeys forth into the parched and barren waste, and looks upon the overturned columns or mutilated sculptures of Thebes, experiences a strange depression of spirit pass like a blight upon him : he comes eagerly up to the spot full of curiosity, delight, and elation, full of self-gratulation and pleased satisfaction, that he now stands over the city of his long cherished desires, and full of that species of pride known to most travellers, which they taste of, after having reached in safety the end of some arduous, dangerous, or difficult undertaking, such as that of crossing an enemy's country, or a dreary desert, abounding in wild beasts, and equally wild strawberries. All these thrills of prospective joy belong to that which we term anticipation; and anticipation is a bright picture, coloured from the glowing palette of the imagination, and representing a scene to come, or rather not to come ; for sweet anticipation generally terminates in disappointment. Thus, when he looks upon the city, elate with anticipation, it is not long ere this blight descends like a chilling vapour upon the beauteous painting which he had before drawn; and then, the sight of desolation spreading itself on every side, the decaying temples, the broken statues, the effaced inscriptions, the corroded chiselings bereft of their pristine sharpness, the rank weeds springing out of the tesselated marble floors—all these circumstances together, speedily call up that multiplicity of sorrowful feelings, the chiefest amongst which, as we said, is that same regret.

Locke defines this to be, an uneasiness of the mind upon the consideration' of some good or advantage lost—in this instance, the prosperity of a great city or fine edifice—which might have been enjoyed longer—as if the city or building had stood in pristine glory,—or the sense of present evil:— that is, the sense of present desolation where once there existed pomp, beauty, riches, happiness, or a thriving population—all now lost.

The King's Head Inn stands in the midst of the village of Springfield, and mine host is ycleped Alexander Beattie, as the sign, blazoned forth over the door in glaring heraldic achievement, will advertise the traveller. Simon Beatie at the tollgate' spells his name with one t only; whereas Alexander of -the King's Head employs two; and albeit those did without question originally both come from the same clan, and both here disclaim fellowship in trade, neither the one nor the other have considered it necessary to append to his advertisement these especial words —"no connexion with persons of the same name."

This hostelrie is a glorious ruin; we say ruin because, forsooth, since the alteration of the road the tide of passengers and the ehannel of business have been turned aside into another course, and hence the prosperity of former days has dwindled away to a lamentable extent. It is not much now as a building, nor is the Colosseum at Rome, being mueh out of good repair ; it is not what it is, but what it has been : —it is "interesting from association."' Rare deeds will hallow a paltry hut; and no place so mean but great exploits will consecrate.

In external appearance the edifice is ordinary and humble ;—no lawn or parterre in front; no flowers and sweet-smelling shrubs; no long carriage drive from the lodge up to the steps, for it stands flush with the street; no grounds; no sentimental walks; no trees to hang on. It forms the coin or angle of two streets; it is entered from the principal one


THE KINO'S HEAD.

by a door in the centre of the fa9ade; there is a sash window on each side of the door, whilst three similar windows appear in the story above, ranged equidistant; the roof is of slate, but the heart sinks when the eye surveys it, for with tears be it recorded, the said roof is but sparingly adorned with chimneys. Hence, in passing through Springfield, no pictures of profuse hospitality arise in the imagination of the peregrinator; no visions of good cheer, or pleasant fellowship, and no bright ideas of rich entertainment gladden his spirit.

The splendour of the interior has faded, and passed away in an equal degree. On the left-hand at entering, there is a kitchen, on the right-hand a parlour (wherein rare deeds have been done, as we will reveal anon); over the kitchen is an apartment that has suffered the general decay, and over the parlour an apartment that formerly was the principal sitting-room, at that time well garnished with comely furniture, but now desolate, and almost empty. Sic transit gloria—Capitis Regis in agro Gretnaniensis.

Visitors to this shrine have somewhat liberally amused themselves with writing, by means of certain diamond rings, their names or those of their friends, mottoes, apophthegms, and amatory verses. On one of the panes of the window in the apartment over the kitchen appears the name and title of a noble baron of these realms, now no more; and the same is seen also in the parlour, or room 011 the right of the entrance. By the non-conformity of style in these two reputed autographs, it is fair to conclude that they were not both traced by the same hand; the villagers, howbeit, contemplate them with infinite satisfaction, particularly the one down stairs, for there exist some misgivings as to the authenticity of the other. We took facsimiles of both on the spot: the apocryphal one stands thus : —

It was in the parlour below that the august rite? betwixt this nobleman and Mistress Buck were performed, as the loquacious hostess narrated to us; and it was on the glass of this room that he amused himself with writing his name, after the ceremony was over, ad ret memoriam, with the title duly prefixed. Every one in the parish declares this last to be genuine beyond doubt, and no argument to the contrary would ever shake the stability of their faith therein. The following is the second fac-simile, as ecce signuvi:—

Now, we are particularly modest in thrusting forward our opinion uninvited, or our judgment unasked; nevertheless at this present, and under correction, we do impertinently hint to the forgiving reader, that we have no very implicit belief in the genuineness of either of these signatures.* It is not at all likely that the noble baron would have amused himself after the execution, by scratching these words on the window under any view of the affair; and even conceding the fact that he really might have done so, the existence of the prefix, "Lord," is enough in itself, to go no further, to suggest its spuriousness. We did warily venture to express thus much to mine hostess at the time, even as we stood surveying the window; but mine hostess at first laughed at our simplicity, and then, when we persisted in our simplicity, she changed her modulation, and became angered at our scepticism, wherefore we were enforced to desist, seeing that she was determined to combat all our doubts, and to have the last word—as what woman will not ?

The other windows of the house, also, are profusely written upon ; some panes exhibiting mere names, others apt mottoes, and yet others again'stanzas of verse, (we do not say poetry,) expressive of the most impassioned sentiments; here a line ardent with glorious anticipation, and there a couplet full of triumph and actual possession. The following is a quatrain copied from the window over the parlour on the right-hand side of the entrance :—

"Transporting hope to clasp the charming Miss In her fair arms, to what unequalled bliss ; What joys I tasted, when, from Gretna's shrine, I drew the maid, and swore she should be mine.—A. H."

After reading this, oh ! blush crimson shame thou spirit of Calliope, and all other spirits that have glowed with the fire of poetry. This is what Jonathan would call " real complete," nevertheless, it is not above all criticism. The first line evidently is a burst of anticipation, replete with the fulness of a certain success. The words, "In her fair arms," at the beginning of the second line, are rather obscure, in so far that a lover does not clasp a lady in her arms, but clasps her in his own; and the remainder of this line appears to have been pressed into service more for the sake of the rhyme than for the sake of the sense. It is certain, howbeit, that rhyme is a terrible plague in writing verse; it fetters many a fine idea, and sorely cramps the, imagination; and the best poets in all ages are agreed that rhyme is the perfection of poetry, and that the sense does not half so much matter, if the rhyme is pretty good. The last two lines bespeak triumph; he has won his lady—she is his—the deed is done—his difficulties, his. anxieties, and his troubles are over. There is much more sense here; and, best of all, the rhymes are unexceptionable.

The above may be adduced as a pretty fair specimen of the verse that adorns and enriches The King's Head hostelrie; other out-pourings, equally fierce, albeit in cold prose, meet the eye in every direction ; nor is it a despicable recreation either, to look them over in pleasantry, and to laugh out at each.

Wonderful is the power of love ! It makes more poets than anything else in this 'varsal world, and everything else in the universe, either individually or collectively, all together. It is not only the most sweet of all themes of him who writes throughout his life, but it is generally the first prompter to him who had never written before. Love and poetry are twins. They were conceived together, they were born together, and, what is more, they have not been separated since their birth, but, like Juno's swans, go coupled and inseparable. The man who is in love, and the maiden too, are for the time poetic; they burn with the poetic fire; they have only to express it in suitable and polished language. It is but a gifted few that are poetic on all subjects; but the most apathetic, the most dull, barbarous, heavy, or insensible, can be aroused into the perception of the beautiful, and into the consciousness of a refinement of sentiment high above the topics of everyday life, when the celestial and softening spirit of that same love has insinuated itself between the rugged folds of a heart, however sinewy. But you shall have this assertion in another form :—

He who's in love, is, for the time, a poet:
Hark well that line—'tis far from being wrong:
I ween there needs small argument to shew it,
For what is poetry, and what is love

They both are full of passions fierce and strong, They both are heavenly gifts come from above ; Love is an art which Cupid taught to Psyche, And poetry, they say, is ?

Now is this what it is to be poetic :— It is to be all tenderness within you, Or else to be all sad and all pathetie, And then to be all ardour and desire,

To breathe in lightning, have a soul all sinew, Like steam in boilers—powder touehed by fire ; It is all deadly love and lively passion, And then to feel all humbless and compassion.

And love is much like this, ye will agree ;—

It is to be all meekness, ardour, feeling, All charity, good-will, and goodly gree, Benevolence and soft perceptibility;

It is to trade in every gentle dealing, And have a heart all sweet susceptibility, To have a tender soul and tender mind, To wish, in fact, all good to all mankind.

Thomas Erskine, Baron Erskine of Restormel, in the county of Cornwall, in England, was born into this wicked world in the year 1750. He was a short time in the navy at his first entrance into busy life ; but having little interest therein, and (consequently) not much chance of promotion, he quitted it for the army; in this profession, howbeit, he strove against equal difficulties and lack of good patronage, wherefore, at the instigation of his mother, a lady of strong mind and mature judgment, he left it after a few years' service, in order to turn his thoughts to other things.

He fixed on the study of the law, a field wherein his mind ranged more readily, and found a pursuit more congenial with the nature and temperament of his disposition. He worked his way rapidly, he strode on honourably, and in due course he became eminent.

At the age of twenty, videlicet, in 1770, he wedded the amiable and accomplished Miss Moore ; he became a widower in 1805, she being the mother of several children his offspring.

After that he led a bustling and active life, astonishing the world by his triumphs of genius and. his brilliancy of talent. An acute man, a first-rate lawyer, an ingenious arguer, a specious reasoner, and an orator that claimed the willing attention of his hearers, he at last rose to the exalted and honourable office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.

Alas and well-way ! there is no stability in human nature, no reliance, no confidence, no trust. Oh what a fall was here !—honour, respect, high place, dignity—all, all, came rushing down to the dust.

If it be the historians's greatest delight to record mighty and noble achievements, so, also, it must be his greatest affliction to tell of weaknesses and acts unwise, that the heroes of his pages may have perpetrated; yet he who takes pen in hand for the pleasure to be derived by discoursing on virtue, inflicts on his impartiality the necessity of submitting to the pain of writing on the errors of our nature.

Married his housekeeper—ye powers !—but hush ! —hold your tongue.

The manner of it was this, to wit,—hush, hush!— cannot it be evaded? Evaded? how  Shall the just and impartial chronicler record what he likes, and omit all that he chooses to omit? There is no help. Besides, it is most certain that the account of the famous parish, the subject of these memoirs, would in no wise be perfect if we were to connive at the duty of our profession in this case, and more especially that part of this parish yeleped Springfield, and of Springfield the King's Head, and of the King's Head, the parlour down stairs, where the execution took place.

The manner of it was this—but stay— Henry Brougham, Baron Brougham and Vaux, of Brougham in the county of Westmoreland, who is a great stickler pro rege, lege, et grege, has indited these sequent words of him :—

"That his private character was exempt from failings, can in no wise be affirmed;" but the little blemishes in his private character, as Lord Kenyon used to say of this great man, were only as " spots in the sun." And these "spots" did not appear until latterly. "It must with sorrow be added," proceeds my Lord Brougham,' " that, as the lustre of the luminary became more dim, the spots did not contract in their dimensions. The usual course on such occasions, is to say, Taceamus de his ; but History neither asserts her greatest privilege, [and particularly the history of Gretna Green,] nor discharges her higher duties, when, dazzled by brilliant genius, or astonished by splendid triumphs, or even softened by amiable qualities, she abstains from marking those defects which so often degrade the most sterling worth, and which the talents and the affections that they accompany may sometimes seduce men to imitate."

Now, the manner of it was this. They got into the carriage, together with their children, in order to journey to Springfield ;—hush I do hold your tongue.

The universally besetting sin in human nature — most sought after, most relished, and most dearly loved—is the fondness for gossip and scandal; not, pcradventure, for the sake of saying evil things of our neighbours, or for the sake of listening to charges against their reputation, for we sometimes talk what is termed scandal of our good friends without ceasing to love them, but for the sake of a lively topic of conversation amongst those whose temperaments are not grave enough for abstruse subjects, for the sake of exercising that inherent quality called curiosity, whether it be in one sex or whether it be in the other, and for the sake of imparting to our fellow gossips the knowledge we possess of other folks' affairs. These motives are instigators strong- enough in themselves, to say nothing of others perhaps not so harmless, which, on the other hand, might be adduced. It is difficult to say, with. precision, where news of our friends, strictly so understood, or " kind inquiries" about them, given and received end, and where scandal begins. It is just and fair to inquire how our friends speed in the world, as manifesting sympathy and interest concerning them; but it is the abuse of that sympathy and interest, the prying unnecessarily further than concerns us, that then degenerates into  "tittle-tattle." Who ever took a tete-a-tete drive round the park, but such light gossip was the chief amusement ? or, who ever met half a dozen intimates at a snug tea party, (tea is a dreadful promoter of scandal,) but it was the reigning pastime all the evening ? In such cases, it may be only a sympathetic talking of our absent acquaintances; but the transition from that to actual tittle-tattle is easy and pleasant to most people, not only of the female sex, (as some have maliciously said,) but of the male sex also.

We have made these observations on this dear passion, half thinking that the reader might suppose we were going to give way to it ourselves; but we must intreat him or her to recollect that the historian is not a scandal-monger, although he shall discourse of events which befel, not in the remote ages of antiquity, but even in days near unto those in which we live. The only difference between history and written scandal appears to be this:—that the former treats of achievements which befel in times long passed away, whereas the latter touches on events which have happened almost within our own observation.

Well! the manner of it was this, to wit—they both got into the carriage, accompanied by their children, in order to journey to Springfield; and that they might the more surely escape observation, we are told by such rare chronicles as have made especial note of this matter, and eke by such cotemporaries as are now living and remember it, the noble baron laid aside his honours, and became a plain man by assuming an alias—even that of "Mr. Thomas," and that name, indeed, was returned to those who inquired whose carriage stopped the way.

Mr. Thomas passed unknown for a space ; but deception will endure only for a season, and the truth will eventually prevail. So it was here ; Mr. Thomas's doublet was soon peered through, and the Lord Erskine was perceived withinside.

It even got about, through the horribly libellous exertions of the gossips of the day, that he travelled in woman's attire, for the purpose of preserving a more certain incog. But this, most just reader, prithee do not believe, because it is not true, as we have discovered by searching into the stores of rare archives: it arose only out of a mistake or rather a misapprehension of appearances. Pleasant is the office of the peace-maker; so also, is the office of him that corrects and clears up a calumny. We pray you to abjure all credence in this assertion; to eschew harbouring it in any wise; and to abhor the mention of it, and the sinner who first set it abroach. Such a scandalous report arose after this fashion,—namely, as my Lord journeyed in the vehicle, together with Mistress Sarah Buck, the lady of his especial election, and the two little pledges of his dearest affection ; he did, in fatherly love, and that he might beguile the way, and amuse these, the said little pledges, facetiously put upon his own head the bonnet of the hereinbefore-mentioned Mistress Sarah Buck. Now this is the historical relation of the fact, the clearing up the mystery, and the expungement of all slur and detraction. Wherefore, it is grievous to reflect on the natural depravity of human nature, that it should, out of a domestic and amiable incident, concoct a tale of defamation and hurtful slander. The children laughed and were pleased ; and mamma was pleased too, and patted their little heads with her "awful-paws;" ay, and papa was pleased as well — so they were all pleased, and, consequently, happy for the time, and, consequently, content with their lot: and contentment with one's lot is gratitude to God who assigned that lot to us; and as ingratitude is the worst of sins, so gratitude, the contrary, becometh a positive virtue. And yet this innocent and happy party did not, even at that moment, escape calumny. But what says William Shakspere, comedian of Stratford-super-Avon, in the county of Warwick?

Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, Thou shalt not escape calumny."

Alas! then, for those who are not like either one or the other.

They sped on their journey at a fair pace, and for the reasons, somewhere before given, they are supposed not to have seen one bit of Sohvay Moss. Arrived at Springfield by the old road—for neither the present new one nor Gretna Hall were in existence — they repaired to the King's Head hostel, and in that hostel, to the parlour or sitting-room on the right-hand of the door at entering. Here they soon achieved the first half of our motto on the title page, they " married in haste:11 and let us add also, if it were for no other reason than to shew how infallible this motto is, they shortly afterwards " repented at leisure," but with that we have nothing to do.

This execution was not unattended with certain strange circumstances, as -were authentically related to us in the house by Dame Beattie.

"Here good sir," said she, going into the middle of the room; "here it was that my Lord stood, together with Miss Buck; here it was he pledged his allegiance, and gave up his heart and his hand; here it was lie swore to love and to cherish and so forth; and here it was he threw his cloak over his little ones that he had brought with him.

"He wore an ample travelling cloak when he alighted down at the door," continued she ; " and he did not take it off when he came into the house. It was gathered round his neck by, a collar; and by flowing in long folds down to the ground, it served well to cover his whole person. Under this he took his children during the ceremony, in order, as I was told, that they should become his heirs."

"Surely then, he did this bostelrie much honour by the visit."

"Surely you are right, good sir, and the fame hereof has, in consequence, been much beholden unto him."

"Doubtless—doubtless."

"But, oh ! sir, only think of it—out upon your sex say I."

"Only think of what? Out upon us, and wherefore?"

"Alas! the inconstancy of man, the shallowness of his judgment, the instability of his resolution, and the insecurity of his love."

"Indeed ! you don't mean all that, I am sure."

"Indeed, sir, but I do though."

"And what then? I knew all that before. I thought you had discovered something new."

"I trow not; for many a man ere now has sworn one way to day, and gone another to-morrow."

"Very bad—very bad."

"And what is plighted faith, or promises pledged, or oaths pronounced if they abide not?"

"Some poet says, (and poets always say true,) that oaths are but words, and words but breath; now, words are only heard for the moment, and leave no trace of the thing they were; and breath is but as the idle zephyr of heaven, which bloweth where it listeth, and which no eye can discern, and no art can render stable for a moment."

"And such be the oaths and promises of men."

"How so? How so? Even allowing, Mistress Beattie, that poets always speak true, I will not say that I always believe them; and albeit promises be made up, as they say, of breath only, and so on, yet would I have a man not utter an airy and an invisible promise, or an intangible oath, unless he has stability of purpose such as will keep him well up to it ever after. True, words be but breath ; but words are the issued coinage of the inward soul, and if that soul thinketh one thing and speaketh another, that soul becometh a liar."

"Now that is what I like. But he who makes a promise to-day, fully meaning to keep to it, yet afterwards falls away, either through fickleness of temper or natural inconstancy, or innate proneness to change,—that man is not a premeditated liar, but rather a weak and frail creature in whom there is no dependancc."

"Most eloquently spoken: yet what are you driving at, for verily I am lost? You say that man is inconstant—fickle, without stability, reliance, or dependance ; not, however, a premeditated liar—only a weak creature; a liar because he does not keep his promise, yet a liar through omission and weakness, and not depravity;—mighty fine, and doubtless passing true, but what then?"

"Why, Sir, you see that my Lord came here of his own free will, through his own yearning and desire, and of his pleasure wedded the lady of his election."

"Very good, and many others have done the same."

"Just so ; and very good thus far. But will you believe what came after?"

"I don't know."

"Why, he tried to get a divorce."

"A what? "

"A divorce."

Of a truth, friend reader, this was a good moral for those who marry in haste. At these words we were, as some tender poet saith, "struck all of a heap." It was enough to ruin the fair fabric of romance which the imagination of Gretna marriages is so ready to build up; and enough to make a man pucker himself like a snail into his shell, when he meets with anything that greatly offends him.

"I tell you what it is, Mistress Beattie; I will incontinently sit down and write a book about Gretna Green: and mark me, I will have a rare motto on the title-page."

"No doubt, Sir, many good things besides on the title-page, might be put into it."

"Plenty of gossip, plenty of tittle-tattle, plenty of scandal."

"This is what the world loves, no matter where or how."

"The first half of the motto shall contain the fact; the second shall set forth the moral."


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