ancient Abbey of Dulce Cor,
The pleasant Solway near,
Two passionate hearts they laid of yore
And a love that cast out fear."
So on the title-page of a little book of verses, called by
the proper name of the ancient monastic foundation, I wrote twenty years
ago. The only remark which a certain metropoIitan journal, then at the head
of literary criticism, made upon the work was conveyed in these, to me,
memorable words, "The caninity of the Latin title of this hook will prevent
every educated reader from venturing further."
Nevertheless, had the educated critic so much as turned the
page, he would have found that the little Collect of boyish verse was called
after a real Abbey of Dulce Cor, otherwise Douce Coeur–a 'Dulce Cor,'. too,
where certain memorable things came to pass, where many men lived and died
in the odour of sanctity, and whose last abbot continued, long after the
Reformation had swept away all his Scottish peers, to discharge his
functions, both hospitable and spiritual.
Further, the critic might have read in the same place these
excellent words, "lifted" from the Scoti Monasticon, and even through
the clouds of anonymous stupidity a light might have dawned upon him.
"When John Baliol died in 1269, Devorgilla, his wife, had
his dear heart embalmed and enshrined in a coffer of ivory, enamelled and
bound with silver bright, which was placed before her daily in her hall as
her sweet silent companion. At her death she desired the relic to be laid
upon her heart, when sleeping in the New Abbey which she caused to be built.
Hence it received the name of Sweetheart Abbey."
These monks of old always chose good sites, knowing that
they would have a long time in which to admire the surrounding scenery, but
never did they hit on one more beautiful than that of Devorgilla's Abbey of
Under the lee of great green Criffel it lies, almost within
spying distance of Loch Kinder. The sea swept close enough up to carry the
holy brethren their salt and spice–shall we say? Yet it is far enough away
not to fret them overmuch with its wintry blasts. There is nothing
pleasanter even now than to wander through the kirkyard, across the
cornfields, down the side of a mossy wall and so by little fords and white
cottages up an opposite brae-face, all be-brambled and purple in the right
season, till you look down on what is (take it for all in all) the most
beautifully situated ruin in Scotland.
Dulce Cor owes its charm partly to the rosy colour of its
stone, mellow as a page of monkish vellum illuminated in gold and blue. The
centuries have only rendered it more and more harmonious. The thousand suns
and rains have wrought together to make this handiwork of pious men seem,
even in ruin, like the breathing of an unspoken prayer.
While in New Abbey, I have always a feeling that it is the
Sabbath day. Not indeed a Sabbath to be feared. Rather the hush of a sweet
peace seems to lie on the white cottages of the winding street, on the manse
nestling amongst its trees-and yonder, lo! the good doctor coming down the
road lifts his hand at sight of me with something of kindly benediction!
It is good to be here. The world which is too much with us,
is for a time shut out ;–though doubtless those who live always beside the
Abbey have another tale to tell Such, however, was the impression of a
wanderer, who will keep
The World too much with us.
in his heart a memory of fair days and quiet nights, of
cornfields with the dew on the stooks, of the mouths of children stained
purple with blackberrying–and over all, constant as the everlasting hills
(aid-ful too, constant as the Psalmist says) the rosy towers of Dulce Cor,
refreshing the heart at every turn of the road and every glimpse caught of
them from the village street–a God's city set on a hill which cannot be hid.
There is much to see at New Abbey, apart from the Abbey
itself. There are, for instance, the delightful woodland walks. Never have I
seen such a choice of trees all about–great trunks of ash and beech, the
rustle of ancient woods, pines in which the blue tits creak and the
squirrels chatter unseen, younger growths pushing out fresh greenery close
above your head, and down by the shore the heavy overloaded foliage of oaks,
leaning a little to the earth as if weary of ancestral dignity.
Nevertheless at every hundred yards you come on the heather
pushing up among the roots of the trees, or a vista opens out far away
across the Solway. You see the glitter of silver water in midchannel, or the
grey and dun stretches of the tideless flats. Yonder, you are told, is
historic Caerlaverock far over the estuary, lonely on its green shore. A
turn of the path and Loch Kinder lies beneath you, blue in the hollow of
Criffel, a pool of moss water caught in a fold of his ample cloak, so lonely
that, save for the ring of a hammer in the granite quarries above or the cry
of a passing whaup high overhead, you cannot hear anything at al~ except the
short clipping clatter of the wavelets on its pebbles.
Above all rises Criffel, simple, restful, hardly beautiful,
yet somehow harmonious too–a molehill made majestic by size.
There is one demon in this Paradise, and against him I
pronounce the Greater Excommunication. He is the putter-up of barbed-wire
fences. However, his fate is written. I
inquiries, and I have the highest local ecclesiatical authority (that of a
fellow-sufferer) for saying that his future will be as uncomfortable as his
own barbed wire, heated seven times in the furnace, can make it–be he
Iandlord who oders, or farmer who profits by this engine of devilry.
Anathema Maranatha! This is pronounced for DOOM.