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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter VI


"Oh! wad some power the giftie gie us
Tae see oursels as ithers see us."

MY love of home, placed in juxtaposition with my restless desire to leave it, would appear to those unacquainted with the character of the Scottish people to savor of inconsistency. The migratory spirit of the Scotch is not altogether an optional matter with the individual. There is a sentiment pervading the home atmosphere which largely tends to prompt or interfere with his initiatory steps on the threshold of life, which is more powerful than his own will. A boy can bravely stand the buffets of a cold outside world, but to be twitted by his schoolmates with being "tied to his mither's apron-strings" is more than he can bear. During the harvest of 1817 I assisted Mr. Bryson of Aberlady, and while there it was discovered that the symptoms of a fatal disease were sapping the foundations of my brother's health, which Dr. Maitland declared to be a virulent type of consumption, of which he died in November of that year. Notwithstanding the death of my brother, an evil which clearly made it my duty to stay and assist my parents, I blush to say that previous to leaving Aberlady I had engaged to work for Andrew Robertson, of Portobello, which engagement nothing could dissuade me from fulfilling—conduct which I never can think of without pain. My father pardoned this hardheartedness, but I cannot pardon myself. And now I leave my lovely native spot again, of which, in singing in its praise, I have been accused of partiality. I have said, and lovingly sang in ecstacy, that

"Atween the Bass and Lammerlaw,
Coldingham Muir and Prestonshaw,
Auld Scotia's garden lies;
In a' that ornaments the ground,
A lovelier spot can ne'er be found
Beneath the arching skies."

In order to prove this, let the reader accompany me to an eminence overlooking East Lothian, and see for himself whether there be exaggeration in the statement. Lammerlaw is the most elevated point of the Lammermuir range of hills, which runs from the east in Berwickshire to join the Lowthers on the west, forming a fine protecting southern boundary to the rich Lothian land lying to the north, between this range and the Firth of Forth. Trace the course of that little stream, and listen to its self-important clatter among the stones in its descent to the bonny braes o' Danskin! And see it now, after meandering round the hill foot, and receiving the embraces of the mountain tributaries. Its channel widens and deepens as it laughs in its new born pride, as much as to say, "Growing at this rate in my course, I shall be able to drive a mill when I come to the place where a mill may be wanted." Now it has hidden itself among that splendid foliage, it beautifies the scene of Yester, the seat of the Marquis of Tweeddale, where the beautiful Lady Margaret Hay, the present Duchess of Wellington, was born. The mills of Gifford are beholden to this burnie, which was born under your feet, but which now is dignified by the name of the river Tyne. Now it ca's the 'wauk mill,' and plays aboot the rocks of Eagles Cairnie, owned and occupied by Colonel Stuart, said to be the only remaining scion of the royal family of that name. He lost both arms at Waterloo. Notwithstanding this physical defect, he was the finest skater on the Tyne. It was a treat to see this tall, straight, armless figure amusing himself on the ice. Tyne now ornaments the grounds of Ledington, now called Lennox Love, where Gilbert Burns was land steward. He lived for many years, and died at that delightful spot called Grant's braes, situated on a high bank, overlooking the fine Policy of General Houston, of Clerkington, on the opposite bank of Tyne. Lennox Love, on the east bank, is the property of Lord Blantyre. We have traced the Tyne from its source in the Lammermuir doon to where I first saw and paddled in it, where its pranks have ofttimes put the countryside in fear; on one occasion, it rose to an extraordinarily great height, threatening danger to the town, which was timely relieved by the stone wall round the Policy of Amesfield Park giving way.

The estates which it waters below Haddington are beautiful and historically interesting, which in description seems to defy exaggeration. Amesfield, the seat of Francis Charteris, Lord Elcho; Stevenston, the seat of Sir John Sinclair; Biel, the bonny banks o' Biel, the property of the Nisbets; the estate of Bienston, Hailes Castle, the Hepburn property, where Queen Mary staid (I won't say slept), over night on her unhappy way to Dunbar Castle, which was the parting scene of that ill-fated lady from her native Scotland. Just below Hailes is the pretty village of Linton and Linton Linn, "where a' the de'ils in hell fell in." Here is the model farm of Phantasy, where the celebrated Sir John Rennie, who built the iron bridge across the Thames at Southwark and new London bridge, was born, and as we approach the confluence of the sweet stream with the larger volume of the Firth, we point out the wee bit shopie wherein John Rennie served his apprenticeship. Nor would it be respectful to the Earl of Haddington, to leave the delightful village of Tyningham, without viewing his holly hedges, on which he prides himself so much, also his fine estate, his noble mansion, and the aspect of his stately grounds. As the village belle on her first visit to a city marvels at the scant deference paid to her, so the identity of a cheering stream is lost in wider waters. Pray do not quit your altitude before justice is done to the grand panoramic view before you.

On beauty artists love to dwell,
To them a landscape brings a spell,
A bliss denied to ithers,
Except the poet drinking in
The tints o' a' that make a scene;
Nature made them brithers.

For guid sake assume the quality o' ane o' the brithers if ye hae it not, and do not descend the hill with an idea that the beauty of East Lothian is confined to the course of the Tyne, bonny as it is. Look east, where your view is lost in the German ocean, but do not overlook intervening points. Notice that big lone hill, sleeping in the rich valley in the foreground. That is Traprainlaw, which is supposed to contain gold enough to enrich the county, but which is left by the owner in its natural aspect to feed his sheep by its velvety covering, painting their little hoofs into tints of the supposed metallic substance below. In that true spirit of Scotch philosophy, he waits the wave of Cal-ifornian enterprise to howk and open up his treasure; a thing likely in the near future, for in Lord Hopetoun he has a brave prospecting pioneer within three miles of him. It is supposed that his Lordship opened up the Garleton hills in search of the precious metal, and • found, instead, a richer mine of iron of the finest quality. In the middle distance you have the picturesque grounds of Belhaven, and the rugged coast of Dunbar with its burgh, and the ruins of its historical castle, where Black Agnes defied the Montague, also the mansion and grounds of the Earl of Lauderdale. A little to the east lies the battle ground whereon Cromwell secured, by the defeat of Leslie, the government of Scotland, and blessed by relieving it for some eight years of the bungling misgovernment of the Stuarts. Still further east, the romantic ravine, spanned by the Peasbrig, Coldingham, Eyemouth, and St. Abb's Head. To the north, we have a richer view still. . The whole course of the Tyne, and estates it waters, besides those seats of beauty placed beyond its reach, such as Gosford (Earl of Wemyss), Lufness, Balancecrief (Lord Elibank), that of Sir James Sutie, and Balfour of Whitingham; Stuart, of Alderston; Sir Hugh Dalrymple, North Berwick, and many others all spread out like a richly variegated carpet fringed on the north by that noble estuary the Firth of Forth, on a promontory, on which stand the ruins of Tantallon Castle, the ancient seat of the Douglass, which Marmion immortalized. Two miles out in the Firth from this point is the Bass Rock, the last stronghold of the Stuarts; some fifteen miles further out the island of May. The western view embraces the estate of Fletcher, of Saltoun Hall, the bonny braes o' Branxholm, the estates of Seaton, of Caddell of Cockenzie, of Ormiston, and others, up to the boundary line west of Preston Grange, taking in the continued line of thriving villages along the coast, make up a landscape which, when once seen, never can be forgotten. From Gullen on the east, to Prestonpans on the west, presents one of the most thriving scenes of industry to be found anywhere. I cannot bear to leave East Lothian without a parting word on the unfortunate Mary, whose treatment at the Court of Elizabeth forms one of the most heartless > tragedies on record.

Behold the lovely Mary, Scotland's queen!
In ectasy of grief, on Hepburn Lien
That shelter seek, within Haile's castle towers,
Denied her by the legislative powers.

Thence, evil tidings of her adverse war,
In poignant anguish, drove her to Dunbar,
Without a friend to counsel or protect
Her sacred person from the fearful wreck.

Her self-reliance fails. She now must yield,
And place herself behind a Southern shield.
Nor had the suppliant Mary long to wait —
The white-horse rider's ready at the gate.

Willing help th' imperious Tudor gave,
Precursing durance and a bloody grave.
To England's standing on the scroll of fame,
The death of Mary brings the blush of shame!

The reader will excuse an anecdote on taking leave of the Tyne. On crossing from school one sunny day, over the Nungate brig, as was my wont, to see the bonnie troots gamboling in the clear stream, I clambered to the cape-stane, and there I saw an unco sight—a bairn about four years of age, lying on its back, in its last efforts to retain the precious spark, at the bottom of the river. I ran, as prompted, to the rescue, and succeeded in restoring the child to the embrace of the anxious parents. This same child was doomed, in one short half year, to lose its life by violence. On the morning of a winter day, the poor little fellow, descending the inclined plane leading from the bridge, slipped on the ice, and fell in front of one of the. wheels of a laden cart, and was killed on the spot.


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