Scotland's Influence on Civilization
Her Great Historic Names
NOT a little of the
heroic and romantic mingles in the Iong story of Scotland's struggle
for civil and religious liberty, giving rise to an illustrious roll
known as the "Scottish chiefs" and the "Scottish worthies." Who are
best entitled to stand as the representative heroes of that history?
Unquestionably, the three greatest names are those of William
Wallace, Robert Bruce and John KnoxBruce, the noblest of her
warrior-kings; Wallace, the most renowned of her people and gentry;
and Knox, the grandest champion of her Reformed Church.
There are two notable
epochs in the Scottish history, each having all the elements of a
magnificent picture. One of these belongs to the sixteenth century,
with Knox and Queen Mary in the foreground; the other carries us
back to the days of Bruce and Wallace and the great house of
Douglas, at the close of the thirteenth and the opening of the
fourteenth century. A stern and lofty grandeur gathers around the
brow of Knox. It is not surprising that Carlyle in his Hero-Worship
sets up the great Reformer as a veritable king of men, the highest
type and embodiment of a nation, a man created for the times, the
foster-child of divine Providence, "one of the few immortal names
that were not born to die."
"John Knox," says
Carlyle, "is the one Scotsman to whom, of all others, his country
and the world owe a debt." "The life of Knox," says one of our own
countrymen, Prof. Samuel J. Nilson, "was one of the grandest ever
lived on this footstool of God. He has been dead these three hundred
years. During all this time history has been busy with his life and
character. These have been fiercely assailed and eloquently
defended. For three centuries his work has been speaking for him
with ever-increasing volume of meaning and eloquence. He needs no
other monument. He needs no other apology." John Knox at St.
Andreas, or in his pulpit of St. Giles at Edinburgh, or summoned
into the presence of Mary Stuart at Holyrood Palace, is a figure as
grand as Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms. When standing
before the imperious young queen for the fifth time, alike unawed by
her threats and unmoved by her tears, and confronted with angry,
indignant questions, "Who are you in this commonwealth, and what
have you to do with my marriage?" what could exceed the calm dignity
and heroism of the Reformer's reply? "I am a subject born within the
same, madam; and, albeit I am neither earl, lord nor baron within
it, yet has God made me, how abject soever I am in your eyes, a
profitable member within the same. Yea, madam, to me it appertains
no less to forewarn of such things as may hurt it, if I foresee
them, than it doth to any of the nobility."
It was not in vain
that during the dark period of ten years' civil strife the voice of
Knox had been heard ringing like a clarion in St. Giles's pulpit at
Edinburgh, and that his words had been echoed in all the pulpits of
the land. "His was the voice," says Professor Wilson, "that taught
the peasant of the Lothians that he was a freeman, the equal in the
sight of God with the proudest peer or prelate that had trampled on
his forefathers. During the trying vicissitudes of civil war, Knox
was the one pillar of strength upon which Scotland Ieaned with her
whole weight. Wise in counsel, utterly fearless in action, mighty in
the resistless torrents of his eloquence, the nation turned to him
instinctively as its God-given leader. With a price upon his head,
with hired assassins waylaying his path, ever at the post of duty
and of danger, careless of his own life, thinking only of his dear
Scotland in the darkest extremities of perilous times, waking the
expiring courage of heroes with the trumpet-peals of his
eloquence,he fought the good fight bravely through until peace was
proclaimed, popery was abolished by act of Parliament, and a
Confession prepared principally by himself was adopted. There never
was a nobler fight, or one that was more signal in its
The names of Sir
William Wallace and King Robert Bruce, from the earlier period of
Scottish history in the close of the thirteenth and opening of the
fourteenth century, have been the loved themes of the poet, the
historian, the orator and the statesman through all the succeeding
ages. They have been the laurel-crowned heroes not only of their own
country, but in all lands where the love of freedom has burned
brightly in the hearts of the people. They have been the synonyms
for natural independence, manly courage, heroic daring and
perseverance unto death. They are the very watchwords of liberty for
every oppressed race and nation, in every battle of the weak against
the strong, of the right against the wrong. Though one of them,
Wallace, after win-icing one great battle, was crushed by treachery
and superior numbers in a second, and at last shamefully executed as
a traitor, his name has yet come down through history as one of the
honored and immortal names that can never perish. Bruce a few years
later took up the same battle of his country, and after almost
unparalleled disasters and the most heroic energy was at last
crowned with victory in the memorable battle of Bannockburn. He
lived to show by one great example how freedom's cause may at last
be won. If little Scotland had done no more than produce her Wallace
and her Bruce, she Would thereby have gained the lasting gratitude
and admiration of the world, and sent down an influence and a
prestige to be felt as long as independence and liberty are
appreciated among men.
In this connection
must be briefly mentioned two other illustrious names on the roll of
Scotland's canonized heroes. They stand as the pioneers and the
representatives of her noble army of Christian champions in the
cause of truth. These are Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart, the
precursors of the great Reformationthe first a young man of
twenty-three with the blood of earls and dukes in his veins and a
brilliant future opening before him; the other, the learned and
eloquent evangelist whose voice rang like a trumpet over Scotland,
and whose powerful preaching, whether in churches or in the open
air, drew crowds of admiring people to hear him. By order of the
papal hierarchy each was arrested, condemned and burned at the stake
before the doors of the University of St. Andrews, which in better
times they might have adorned by their learning and their eloquence.
The worthy predecessors of Knox, and endued with his heroic spirit,
they bravely met the issue, and nobly died for the rights of
conscience and the word of God. From their ashes was kindled the
flame of reformation that soon spread over all Scotland and prepared
the way for the work of Knox. In them, truly, the blood of the
martyrs became the seed of the Church. Cardinal Beaton sought to
cover their names with infamy and to extinguish their influence for
ever. All generations have delighted to do them honor. The influence
of their example has gone out over all the earth. It has become an
inspiration of zeal and courage to the champions of truth and
liberty in every civilized land. It is one of Scotland's precious
contributions to the world's history.
While to the
thoughtful student all the elements of moral sublimity will ever
gather thickest around the later period, with Knox as its pioneer
and leader, still in the popular estimation probably the highest
heroic interest of the Scottish history culminates, in the earlier
period, around the names of Wallace and Bruce. The men of all free
and civilized nations, the very boys and girls at school to the end
of time, will read and be thrilled by that story. It was the era of
the troubadour and the tournament, when Europe rang with the fame of
the crusader and Christendom bowed at the mention of the cross. It
was the noonday of romance and chivalrythe apotheosis of manly
honor, of womanly beauty, of gallant prowess, of martial glory.
There were indeed giants on earth in those days, and Scotland's
heroes were among them.
With all its glory,
it was an age of iron, an age of blood. It is not the purpose of
this sketch to dwell on its great characters or its cruel conflicts;
it is enough now simply to point out influences and results. Was all
that gallant blood, of both the earlier and the later period, shed
in vain? Assuredly not. It was the price of independence, of
self-government, of civil and religious liberty. Costly as was the
sacrifice, long and terrible as was the conflict, it was not too
dear a cost at which to purchase such a boon. When it was won, it
was not won for Scotland alone, but for posterity, for mankind. All
that Scotland is today, all that she holds precious in the arts of
peaceful industry and in the possession of civil and religious
freedom, she owes, under God, to her own deathless struggle for
independence, renewed from century to century until it had reddened
her fields with blood and filled her land with ruins and monuments.
No portion of the earth's surface is perhaps more thickly strewn
with the ashes of martyred heroes and the bones of the slaughtered
champions of truth and right. The seed was long sowing, but the
harvest has been abundant and glorious. Victoria reigns today as
truly Scotland's queen as she is England's fifty-fourth sovereign
of the Scottish royal line from Kenneth MacAlpine, and fifty-first
of the English from Alfred the Great.
It has been finely
said that a land without ruins is a land without memories, and a
land without memories is a land without liberty. "The land that
wears a laurel crown may be fair to look upon, but twine a few sad
cypress-leaves around the brow of some bleak and barren land (it may
be dark and lonely as Montenegro) and it becomes lovely in its
coronet of sorrow. It wins the sympathies of the heart and of
history. Crowns of roses fade; crowns of thorns endure. Calvaries
and crosses take deepest hold of humanity."
"Who would be free,
themselves must strike the blow."
Byron's strong line
might be taken as the text and the key to a large portion of the
Scottish history. In the struggle for national independence and
constitutional liberty the soil of Scotland was made not only a
battlefield, but a crowded cemetery. No equal portion of the earth's
surface could better illustrate the sentiment of a living American
"Give me a land where
the ruins are spread,
And the living tread light on the hearts of the dead;
Ay, give me a land that is blest by the dust
And bright with the deeds of the down-trodden just.
I honor the land that hath legend and lays
Enshrining the memory of long-vanished days;
I honor the land that path story and song
To tell of the strife of the right with the wrong.
Yes, give me the land with a grave in each spot,
And names in the graves that shall not be forgot:
There's a grandeur in graves, there's a glory in gloom,
For out of the gloom future brightness is born,
And after the night looms the sunrise of morn;
And the graves of the dead, with the grass overgrown,
May yet form the footstool of Liberty's throne,
And each single wreck in the warpath of might
Shall yet be a rock in the temple of Right."
Every part of
Scotland is crowded with such memorials of the pastvenerable ruins
where " the living tread Iight on the hearts of the dead,"
battlefields that " tell of the strife of the right with the wrong,"
sacred enclosures "with a grave in every spot " and " names in the
graves that shall not be forgot." Most of all do these grand
monuments of the past cluster around Edinburgh, the unique and
classic capital enthroned among crags where the new and the old so
strangely meet. There a thousand associations of the past chain the
antiquarian, a thousand beauties of the present make it to the eye
of the artist the most picturesque city in Europe,
"Where splendor falls
And snowy summits old in story."
Upon the splendid
city of to-day the old castle looks down out of history. Within or
close around it were transacted many of the most memorable scenes in
the life of the nation. A mile from the castle, at the eastern
termination of the Canongate, still remains in antique splendor the
famous Holyrood Palace, flanked on one side by the monument-crowned
Calton Hill, and on the other by the loftier Salisbury Crag and
Arthur's Seat, that stand like sentinels to guard the enchanted
spot. Just on the outside of the city, in the Greyfriars'
churchyard, the National Covenantthe Magna Charta of Scottish
freedomwas signed in the presence of sixty thousand persons. Close
at hand, in what was then the open space of the Grass Market,
hundreds who had signed that Covenant suffered death at the stake
rather than abjure the rights of conscience. Thousands all over
Scotland shared the same fate.
They lived unknown
Till persecution dragged them into fame
And chased them up to heaven.
Their ashes flew No mortal tells us whither."
Their heroic virtues,
however, survived fresh and green in the memory of succeeding ages.
The influence of their example became the heritage of Christendom.
Not only Scotland, but England and America, became the richer for
the legacy. All lands where history is read, where civil and
religious liberty is prized, have felt the inspiring influence of
that example. It is a part of the history of modern civilization.
Our Christian institutions in America are to-day in large measure
indebted to that moral power of truth and right and freedom which
Scotland's martyrs for conscience' sake so nobly illustrated on the
scaffold and at the stake.
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