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Scotland's Influence on Civilization
The Women of Scotland


IN tracing the influence of any one country upon the general civilization of the world, the view would scarcely be complete without some mention of its women. The present survey of Scotland thus far has brought to notice only the part borne by her sons. What now shall be said of her daughters? Theirs, too, is a glorious record of woman's sufferings, of heroic endeavor and patient endurance unto death.

High on that list stand the noble Isabella, countess of Buchan, who set the crown on the head of Robert Bruce; Catherine Douglas, who sacrificed her right arm to save her king; Agnes of Dunbar, who defended her castle to the last extremity; Flora McDonald, who saved the life of the Young Pretender—styled by one "the fairest flower that ever bloomed in the rough pathway of a prince's hard fortune;" the noble martyrs Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLaughlan, who were bound on the seashore and drowned by the rising tide; and, in later times, those two bright examples of woman in her lofty sphere of home influence and Christian philanthropy, the accomplished Lady Janet Colquhoun, and Elizabeth, last duchess of Gordon, distinguished alike for their beauty and their beneficence. Still later, even in our own times, we have seen Mary Somerville, daughter of a distinguished naval officer, by the simple force of her own wonderful genius and industry, achieve a distinction in the higher walks of mathematics and astronomy which placed her in the foremost ranks of the savans and scientists of this advanced nineteenth century, and will send her name down through all time as one of the most remarkable women in the world's history—remarkable for an eminence in scientific attainments which but few men have surpassed, combined with that grace of character which is the crowning glory of womanhood.

By far the most famous woman of Scotland was Mary Stuart, queen of Scots, celebrated for her beauty, her accomplishments, her errors and her misfortunes. No name of her country has gone more fully into history and into the general literature of the world than hers. The sad story of her life and her tragical end has been the undying theme of all the generations that have followed, and to this day it has never lost its attraction to the young and the imaginative. It has been the prolific theme of the historian, the poet, the romancer, the artist, the dramatist, in many lands, who have all sought to embody in different forms the striking features of her eventful career and to impersonate the young and beautiful queen. As to her personal attractions, her rare physical beauty and her high intellectual powers there can be no question; unfortunately, there has never been a like unanimity as to her moral character. From the first, through all the ages following, there has been, and there is still, a widely-contested and yet-unsettled controversy on this point. With all her fine endowments of intellect and person, there is to this day a cloud of uncertainty which, to say the least, mars the picture, and which not all our interest in her misfortunes and her cruel fate can remove. It is not that we have aught to say in extenuation of the part enacted by her powerful rival, Queen Elizabeth: that was bad enough; but what most darkens the picture is the strangely reckless course pursued by Mary toward her once loyal and admiring people of Scotland before she fell into the hands of the queen of England. Did ever sovereign so spurn all her wisest counselors, so set at defiance all public sentiment, or so despise the plainest conventionalities of life?

Sir Walter Scott has taken Mary Stuart as the heroine of one of his historical romances, The Abbot, and has thus thrown around her youth and beauty the spell of his matchless genius. Yet even he with all the strong predilections of nationality and chivalry in her favor, is compelled, in his History of Scotlanzd, to give the following cautious estimate of her character: " No inquiry has been able to bring us to that clear opinion upon the guilt of Mary which is expressed by many authors, or to guide us to that triumphant conclusion in favor of her innocence of all accession, direct or tacit, to the death of her husband which others have maintained with the same obstinacy. The great error of marrying Bothwell, stained as he was by universal suspicion of Darnley's murder, is a blot upon her character for which we in vain seek an apology. What excuse she is to derive from the brutal ingratitude of Darnley, what from the perfidy and cruelty of the fiercest set of nobles who existed in any age, what from the manners of a time in which assassination was often esteemed a virtue and revenge the discharge of a debt of honor,—must be left to the charity of the reader." While her true character must remain an enigma unsolved, there can be no doubt that she was a sincere and devout believer in the Roman Catholic faith. The serene composure with which she received her last sentence and met the hour of her execution was worthy of the heroic race from which she had sprung, and did much to embalm her memory even with those who had never approved her life. On the accession of her son, James I., to the throne of England, her body, which had been interred with great pomp in the cathedral of Peterborough, near the castle of Fotheringay, where she had been so long confined, was by his order removed to the chapel of Henry VII., at Westminster, where a magnificent monument was erected to her memory.

Mary Stuart, however, is no true representative of the women of Scotland. Her education had been in France, where she was trained in all the principles of the papal Church. On her return to Scotland she set herself in bitter antagonism to the growing Protestant Reformation, and she was ready to sacrifice the welfare of the nation to the ascendency of Rome. Far truer representatives of the people were those heroic women, among both the nobles and the lower classes, who stood firmly with Knox, and were ready to endure privations and persecution unto death for the rights of conscience and a pure Church. Such was the heroic wife of John Welsh, daughter of John Knox. Such, too, in the following century, under the bloody persecutions of Claverhouse, was the equally heroic wife of John Brown. The annals of Church history contain few more pathetic pages than those which recount the heroic deaths of Margaret McLaughlan and Margaret Wilson—the one an aged widow, the other a maiden of eighteen--who, bound to stakes in the sea, perished together in the rising tide, humble martyrs for ever ennobled in death and worthy to be associated with Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart, of the former century.

The humble name of Jenny Geddes must not be omitted in any account, however brief, of Scottish women. But little is known about her, and some have even questioned her identity with the real woman whose famous stool, hurled at the head of the dean of Edinburgh in 1637, was the signal of a great uprising among the people, ending in a memorable revolution. The act, insignificant in itself, and even ludicrous, may be forgiven on the score of its unwomanly violence when we consider that it lifted her obscure name into history, that it was provoked by an insult almost unbearable, that it gave expression to the universal indignation of the people and led to results of unspeakable importance to the Scottish Church and to the whole nation. In its far-reaching effects it was not unlike that famous shot first fired at Concord in later days in our own land, which, Emerson tells us, was "heard round the world."

In their insane folly, ambition and treachery King James and his successor, Charles I., had persistently set themselves to the task of forcing a hated ritualistic service on the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The occasion on which this poor woman of a brave heart and a true Scottish conscience comes to the front with her wooden stool and her strong arm is described by the historian Hetherington in the following words:

"The 23d of July, 1637, was the day on which the perilous experiment was to be made whether the people of Scotland would tamely submit to see the institutions of their fathers wantonly violated and overthrown for the gratification of a despotic monarch and a Iordly hierarchy. Several of the prelates were in the capital to grace the innovation with their presence. The attention of the public was directed chiefly to the cathedral church of St. Giles. There the dean of Edinburgh prepared to commence the intended outrage on the national Church and the most sacred feelings of the people. A deep, melancholy calm brooded over the congregation, all apparently anticipating some display of mingled wrath and sorrow, but none aware what form it might assume or what might be its intent. At length, when their feelings, wound up to the highest pitch, were become too tremulously painful much longer to be endured, the dean, attired in his surplice, began to read the service of the day. At that moment an old woman named Jenny Geddes, unable longer to restrain her indignation, exclaimed, `Villain, dost thou say mass at my lug?' and, seizing the stool on which she had been sitting, hurled it at the dean's head. Instantly all was tumultuous uproar and confusion. Missiles of every kind were flying from all directions, aimed at the luckless leader of the forlorn hope of prelacy, and several of the most vehement rushed toward the desk to seize upon the object of their indignation. The dean, terrified by this outburst of popular fury, tore himself out of their hands and fled, glad to escape, though with the loss of his sacerdotal vestments. The bishop of Edinburgh then entered the pulpit and endeavored to allay the wild tumult, but in vain. He was instantly assailed with equal fury, and was with difficulty rescued by the interference of the magistrates."

But the fire thus kindled could no more be quenched. Through forty years of oppression the public mind of Scotland had been preparing for that memorable day. "It was," says Dr. Breed, "the very crisis of a great national revolution." "It was the first formidable outbreak against the tyranny of the Stuarts, and Jenny Geddes' stool was the first shell sent screaming through the air at those merciless oppressors of the two realms; and the echoes of that shell are reverberating to-day among the hills." The very next year the great National Covenant of Scotland was signed in the old Greyfriars church of Edinburgh, which covenant secured not only the religious liberties of Scotland, but, in the end, those of England herself. In its more remote results it overthrew the Stuart dynasty and secured the civil and religious liberties of all English-speaking people. "That tumult in the high church of Edinburgh," says Carlyle, "spread into a universal battle and struggle over all these realms ; there came out, after fifty years' struggling, what we call the glorious revolution, a habeas corpus act, free Parliaments and much else."

The women of Scotland who have won a place in literature are not numerous. In the heroic ages, before woman in any land had come to wield the pen as a part of her rightful vocation, there was, of course, no opening in Scotland for her genius or talent in this direction. In all that part of the history it was her province to suffer, to make sacrifices, to sustain by her companionship, her counsel and her heroism those who battled bravely for the right. And through all the long eventful struggles for national independence and for civil and religious liberty no country was ever blest with a nobler succession of mothers, wives and daughters than Scotland. In all that has been achieved by her heroic sons the gentler sex have been entitled to a full share of commendation. But in the general advance of woman in many new spheres of usefulness which has taken place in all parts of Christendom during the present century and a portion of the last, Scotland has not been without her female writers who have won an honorable place in poetry, art, science and general literature.

Prominent on the list of those who have gained a reputation beyond their own age and country is the name of Joanna Baillie, who, born in Bothwell, Scotland, of an honorable and affluent family, passed the larger portion of a long life at Hampshire, near London. Her Plays of the Passins--a series of dramatic representations written with the view of elevating the drama—made her famous among her contemporaries and secured for her a permanent place among British poets. Though her plays attained no great success on the stage and failed of their design in reforming it, they evinced a deep knowledge of the human heart and revealed in the author a high degree of poetic genius. Whatever place may be accorded to her now, she was certainly in advance of any of the dramatic poets of her own sex who had preceded her. She was contemporaneous with Sir Walter Scott, who greatly admired her productions and spoke of them as containing passages not unworthy of being written by Shakespeare. "They form," says a critic of our own times, "a mine of genius from which many more recent writers of note have drawn to enrich their own stores. In such compositions (her dramas) she is unrivaled by any female writer, and she is the only woman whose genius, as displayed in her works, appears competent to the production of an epic poem. This she never attempted." As a woman Miss Baillie was modest, dignified, genuine and lovely, without a trace of vanity or ostentation. "After the publication of her Plays," says Mrs. Oliphant, "for many years her house at Hampstead was an object of pilgrimage to many, and the best of the age resorted to it with a respect which was almost allegiance. Sir Walter Scott declared that if he wanted to give an intelligent stranger the best idea possible of an English (he should have said Scots) gentlewoman, he would send him to Joanna Baillie. It would be hard to find higher praise." Her poems have had their day, and they are now seldom read. Few readers of our day could appreciate Scott's enthusiastic admiration in comparing her to the Bard of Avon. It will, however, serve to show the estimate placed upon her genius by at least some of her contemporaries to give the passage cited from Sir Walter by Mrs. Oliphant, who regards it herself as out of all proportion: "A woman might well think much of her work of whom he had said `that the harp had been silent by silver Avon's holy shore for two hundred years' until

"'She, the bold enchantress came
With fearless hand and heart on flame,
From the pale willow snatched the treasure,
And swept it with a kindred measure,
Till Avon's Swan, while rang the grove
With Montfort's hate and Basil's love,
Awakening at the inspired strain,
Dreamed their own Shakespeare Iived again."'

A different order of genius was illustrated in the remarkable career of Mrs. Mary Somerville. In the higher walks of science few women of any age have been so distinguished. When we consider the obstacles she had to surmount and the extent of her attainments, it is obvious that nothing less than an intellect of the first order and an indomitable energy of purpose could have raised her to the position she occupied in the world of science. Certainly no other woman of the century has reached a place so exalted and been so widely honored by the leading scientific associations of Great Britain and the Continent. In reading the record of her long and honored life, as published by her daughter, one scarcely knows which is most to be admired—the persistent self-education by which she pressed her way into the realms of the higher mathematics, the great results thus accomplished, the quiet ease with which it was all done, or the unassuming, beautiful, womanly character which crowned her career to the end.

Mary Somerville's maiden-name was Fairfax. She was born in 1780, at Jedburgh, Scotland, the daughter of Sir William George Fairfax, a gallant gentleman who won his title to knighthood, and also to a vice-admiralty in the British navy, by his distinguished services at the victory of Camperdoun over the Dutch fleet. Her only education, except that which she afterward acquired by private studies, was obtained at a school in Musselburgh, near Edinburgh. This early training was so incomplete that she had grown to womanhood without ever having seen a book on algebra or ever knowing what the word meant. It seemed a mere accident which at last attracted her attention to those mathematical studies in which so much of her life was to be spent. But, the clue having been once found and the taste formed for such work, the path was easy, and nothing could turn her from it. She was twice married--first in 1804 to Mr. Samuel Greig, a cousin, who died after three years at his residence, in London. Returning to Edinburgh after his death, she there pursued with great success her scientific studies, and was married again in 1812 to another cousin, William Somerville, a gentleman of congenial tastes and studies with her own, who by his constant encouragement and companionship contributed not a little to that eminence which she attained. This happy union was long continued, he dying in his ninety-first year and she in her ninety-second, both in in Italy, where for years they had resided.

Mrs. Somerville first attracted the attention of men of science by some experiments on the magnetic influence of the violet rays of the solar spectrum. Her scientific attainments soon procured for her the acquaintance of Lord Brougham. At his earnest solicitation, she undertook to produce for the Library of Useful Knowledge a summary in popular form of the great work of Laplace, the Mecanique Celeste. This work, however, when completed—an octavo volume of six hundred pages—was found too large for the society's publications. It was published in a separate form in 1831, with a dedication to Lord Brougham. It at once established her reputation among the cultivators of physical science as one of the most accomplished writers of the period, and letters of congratulation and admiration for the successful accomplishment of her difficult task poured upon her from many of the leading scientists of Great Britain and the Continent. When, afterward, she met with Laplace in Paris, in conversation he remarked that she was the only woman who seemed to take the trouble to understand his Mecanique Celeste except one in England who had translated it. At the moment he did not know the translator was Mrs. Somerville herself.

This first work was followed by another in 1834 —a treatise on the Connection of the Physical Sciences, an independent and original work of great merit, admirably written and dedicated to the queen. It elicited the most flattering notices from the leading reviews of the time. It has since passed through nine editions in English. In 1861 it was translated into Italian and published at Florence. Mrs. Somerville's next work was her treatise on Physical Geography, in two volumes, published in 1848, with a dedication of Sir John Herschel. This won the special admiration of Alexander von Humboldt, and has also passed through several editions and been translated and published in Italian.

From the time these important works appeared Mrs. Somerville's name became intimately associated by friendly correspondence with many of the most distinguished scientific men of her times, who are delighted to do full honor to her genius. Highly appreciated by Queen Victoria and her successive ministers, Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell, through whose agency she received pensions from the government, she was the friend and correspondent of Henry Brougham, Professors Playfair, Whewell, Sedgwick, Peacock, of the universities; Sir Roderick Murchison, Sir David Brewster, Michael Faraday, Sir John Herschel, Astronomer Airy, John Stuart Mill, of her own country; M. Biot, M. Arago, M. Puisson, the marquis de Laplace, of France; Humboldt of Germany; and others on the Continent. She may well be styled by Mrs. Hale, author of the Woman's Record, " the most learned lady of the age, distinguished alike for great scientific knowledge and all womanly virtues, an honor to England, to her native land, and the glory of her sex throughout the world."

Amid all the honors and the scientific associations which crowned her advancing years, though she may have lost the impress of some parts of her early Scotch training, she never wavered on the two fundamental beliefs in God and the future life. Her faculties remained unimpaired to the very day of her death. She took the keenest interest in all that was passing in the world around, especially in science and discovery, and delighted that she was still able to read and solve the intricate problems of the higher mathematics, as in her earlier years. She had long kept a record of her life, and the following striking words--the last from her pen—closed the narrative, only a little before her departure: " The blue peter has been long flying at my foremast, and, now that I am in my ninety-second year, I must soon expect the signal for sailing. It is a solemn voyage, but it does not disturb my tranquillity. Deeply sensible of my utter unworthiness and profoundly grateful for the innumerable blessings I have received, I trust in the infinite mercy of my almighty Creator. I have every reason to be thankful that my intellect is still unimpaired, and, though my strength is weakness, my daughters support my tottering steps, and by incessant care and help make the infirmities of age so light to me that I am perfectly happy."

Speaking of her Physical Geography, and of the great service which by her pen and by her example Mrs. Somerville has rendered to the cause of Christian science, Mrs. Hale says: "This work—the history of the earth in its whole material organization—is worthy to be classed among the greatest efforts of the human mind, directing its energies to the philosophy of science conjoined with moral advancement. Mrs. Somerville has done more by her writings to Christianize the sciences than any living author; nor do we recollect one, except it be Sir Isaac Newton, among departed philosophers, who has approached her standard of sublime speculation on the visible creation united with childlike faith in the divine Creator."

This eminent woman took the liveliest interest in all efforts throughout the world to ameliorate the condition of her sex and to extend to woman high-class education, both classical and scientific. Toward the close of life she said, "Abe has not abated my zeal for the emancipation of my sex from the unreasonable prejudice too prevalent in Great Britain against a literary and scientific education for women." Her own life was a noble vindication of the truth of her opinions on this subject. No one ever filled woman's sphere of duty more completely. Well might her intimate friend, Maria Edgeworth, write of her. "She draws beautifully, and, while her head is among the stars, her feet are firm upon the earth."
Nor have the daughters of Scotland lacked worthy representatives of their own sex in the fair fields of historical, educational, fictitious and religious literature. Among this class may be mentioned Susan E. Ferrier of Edinburgh, styled the "Scottish Maria Edgeworth," author of the Inheritance and other novels, a popular writer of the time of Sir Walter Scott, much admired by him and commended by Robert Chambers; Catherine Sinclair, author of Modern Accomplishments and many other interesting works of a moral and elevating character; Lady Janet Colquhoun—a daughter of Sir John Sinclair—whose life was much devoted to philanthropic beneficence toward the lower classes, and whose admirable writings did much to commend a pure Christianity to all classes. To these may be added the brilliant wife of Thomas Carlyle, Jane Welsh, whose self-sacrificing devotion to her unappreciative husband (one of a class), and whose remarkable correspondence, published by Mr. Froude, reveal a character of the first order, and at the same time but too sadly indicate what she might have accomplished under better auspices.

Without enumerating further examples, it may be proper to remark in this connection that these eminent Scottish writers may be taken as an illustration of that general advance of women in all the higher realms of thought and of popular authorship which has taken place during the last hundred years, not only in the British isles, but on the Continent and in America. This new departure in the education, and in the consequent influence, of woman has, in fact, become one of the most important and significant characteristics of the age in which we live. It is one of the hopeful signs of promise which the nineteenth century is about to send forward into those which are to follow. The movement dates back, indeed, into the closing decades of the preceding century, where its early precursors, Miss Frances Burney (Madame d'Arblay), Mrs. Anna Letitia Barbauld, Madame de Stael, Mrs. Elizabeth Inchbald, Mrs. Ann Radcliff, Joanna Baillie, Jane Austen and Hannah More, by the charm of brilliant genius, combined in most of them with the charm of personal beauty, won their way to popular favor despite the prejudices of the age. This first great success was followed through all the years of the present century, even down to our own day, by the still more brilliant triumphs of a host of writers, English, Irish and Scotch, such as Maria Edgeworth, Anna Maria Porter and Jane Porter, author of Thaddeus of Warsaw and the Scottish Chiefs, the very pioneers and models of the historical romance, which has since become so popular.

"These lofty romances," says Mrs. Oliphant, "delighted the primitive and simple-minded public which as yet knew nothing of Waverley." The sisters Anna Maria and Jane Porter, during their residence in Edinburgh, had become intimately acquainted with Sir Walter Scott while a youth at college. To the writings of Maria Edgeworth, and especially to the Scottish Chiefs of Miss Jane Porter, he acknowledged himself indebted for the first suggestion of the Waverley novels--a series constituting one of the most marked epochs of English literature.

Since that day, so nearly synchronizing with the opening of our century, and thus so clearly allied to the genius of Scotland, how wide and how fruitful has been the influence of woman's pen not only in the line of thought, but in all the walks of literature! Where is the department which she has not touched and adorned? And where is the Christian home-circle in any civilized land to which the genial influence of her authorship has not extended! What a galaxy of familiar honored names does her record contain !—Felicia Hemans, Letitia E. Landon, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mary Russell Mitford, Mrs. Jameson, Mrs. Opie, Mary Howitt, Charlotte Bronte, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mrs. Sigourney, Mrs. Gaskill, Jean Ingelow, Dinah Mulock, George Eliot, Mrs. Alexander, Frances Power Cobb, Frederika Bremer, Margaret Fuller, Mrs. Fawcett, Mrs. Oliphant.


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