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Scotland and the Scots
Noblemen I have known


IT is a frequent subject of remark that "Americans dearly love a lord." So they do. A few are ready to idolize one whenever they catch him, and all classes desire to see a real live lord, to gaze into his aristocratic features, and to observe his walk and deportment.

But I question very much whether all this lord-worship springs from any servile notions or aristocratic proclivities on the part of the citizens of these United States. They—that is, the majority—seem to be impressed with the desire of beholding a representative of one of the institutions of the Old World which, fortunately for us all, cannot be reproduced on this side of the Atlantic, particularly in this section of it. The titled aristocrats of Europe have long regarded themselves, and been regarded by those who surround them, as a privileged class. They are looked up to as though they and their rights and honors are in a measure sacred, and as though even their persons are far superior in every way to those of the "common herd," as they impertinently used to call the people. Americans love to see these great folks, and gaze at them with all their might, but their sentiments toward them are akin to those they would entertain for any noble son of the desert who happened to be on exhibition in a circus or a great moral show. Curiosity is at the bottom of it all, except when real personal worth accompanies the title.

Again, some of the aristocratic visitors to America are wearers of titles which figure so often in history that it seems like getting a glimpse into the olden time to look upon them. Suppose, for instance, that the Duke of Norfolk happened to come over here, how the pages of history and the utterances of the poets would be overhauled to bring to memory all the scenes and passages in which the "Grand Marshals of England" have figured! When the Duke of Argyll visited this country several years ago, the newspapers were full of stories—true and false—illustrative of the Campbells from the beginning of their history until the present time. People talked of the "MacCallum More" as though they met him every morning at breakfast, or ''was a cousin of his own," as an Irishman might say. Sometimes, however, the newspaper historians get a ''little off" in their haste to be the first to tell their news to the public. A year or two ago it was announced somehow that Earl Percy, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland, was about to visit New York en route for Ottawa, where his brother-in-law, the Marquis of Lorne, held court as Governor-General of the Dominion. Lord Percy did not come, but the newspapers made a great ado about him as a descendant of the gallant old Percies who played such prominent parts in the Border Wars between England and Scotland, and whose prowess has been the theme of much of the best ballad lore of Central Britain. The fact was, however, that the earl had no more to do with the ancient Percies than the reader of these lines. His family name was Smithson.

I have met in the city of New York quite a number of men who laid claim to titles in the British peerage. I do not mean individuals who believed they were descended from noble families, but men who asserted that they were the very head-centre around whom the reverence of their own particular family should rally. According to their own stories, they were debarred from taking actual possession by some simple quirk in the law, or because of a single missing link in the chain of evidence they had connected, or by some secret malignant influence exercised by the family which is actually enjoying the honors and estates at the present time. And this reminds me that in the American, and even in the British popular mind, titles and estates are always associated together. People can hardly believe that it is possible for them to be separated, and yet it is a simple fact that they are quite distinct. It is only the other day that the Earl of Balcarres actually bought the estate of that name, although the title had been in his own family for several generations. Lord Reay does not possess an inch of ground in all the wide section of country which is still called "Lord Reay's country." Lord Belhaven does not own an acre of land anywhere, nor is the Duke of Edinburgh proprietor of even a single room in the city which gives him his appellation. The time was, of course, when things were different but nowadays a title is simply an honor, and land means wealth. I question much whether the modern arrangement is an improvement on the old one or not, for a poor nobleman is, very often, one of the most useless beings on the face of the earth. His rank unfits him for actual work, and, unless something nice and genteel can be secured for him through the influence of his more fortunate relatives, his lines are laid in very disagreeable places indeed.

The noblemen to whom I am about to refer had themselves no doubt whatever as to the perfect justness of their claims. They were all delighted to go over their stories, and could argue the pros and cons with an earnestness which would have done credit to a crown lawyer. To me there was always something pathetic in the recitals. These men believed they were the victims of adverse circumstances, that they were wronged; and there is nothing more disheartening that for human beings to pass through life with such an unsatisfactory burden in their breasts as this. I do not profess to be capable of expressing any definite opinion as to whether their claims had any real foundation or not. To be able to do so one would require to spend a great deal of time examining documents, studying genealogies and so forth, and would need to be imbrued with the enthusiasm and patience of an antiquary. In my humble judgment, however, their stories were all feasible enough, and I really believe they claimed the titles with as much right on their side as enabled others to hold them. Very few peerages of one or two hundred years' standing can show a clear descent.

The first nobleman I met here was Sandy Fraser, who made a scanty living by peddling books and magazines in New York. He was a short, thick-set man, with a large head and long dark hair, threaded here and there with gray. His face was sadly marred by the marks of small-pox, but his full, broad forehead and decisive-looking mouth showed him to be a man of much force of character. So he was. Woe betide any of his customers who happened to offend him or any who ventured to question the antiquity and grandeur of the Frasers, the beauty of the Gaelic, or the transcendent excellences of Dugald Buchanan, the Highland bard. His tongue was ready, and his argumentative skill always primed so as to go off on a moment's notice. I remember seeing him, one day, march up Broadway in a towering passion, muttering terrible oaths, while his eyes glared wildly. He quieted down a little after I had accosted him, and explained that some young Scotch fools in a bank on Wall street had tried to force down his throat the assertion that every one of the chiefs of the Frasers had been hanged, or ought to have been. The old man did not make very much money at his occupation. It could hardly be expected that he would, for his manners repelled instead of attracting customers. Besides, New York business men have no time for discussing the history of the Frasers, and Sandy always managed to turn a conversation in that direction, no matter on what theme it had begun. A few winters ago he fell into bad health, and his visits to his accustomed places became infrequent and irregular. One day I received a message from him, a very urgent call, and found him lying in a dark hall bedroom near the top of a very dirty tenement in Goerck street. He was unable to speak, and by the dim light of a candle I could see, only too plainly, that he was dying. There was no doubt of that. The skin on his cheeks was stretched and pinched, his lips were blue, and his eyes were surrounded by a dark, broad circle, and had a sort of far-away look such as I had never seen before. He lifted his thin, wasted arm and placed his hand in mine, but its clammy feeling made me almost shudder. In a few words, whispered with effort, he told me that he knew his time had come, that he had not a penny in the world, and then with awful earnestness implored me not to allow his body to be buried in Potter's Field. I promised—I could do nothing else—and he sunk back on his pillow with a sort of sigh of relief. After a while I said I would go and bring him a doctor. But he again seized me by the hand and whispered: ''Ye needna mind; it's nae use. I'm gauin fast. Ye'll be at plenty o' expense wi' me sune enough." So for an hour he held me by the hand, while I sat and watched the life ebb slowly and softly out of his frame. He died like a baby, so easily, and without any sign of pain. A moment before the end he opened his eyes wide and stared into mine with a terrible earnestness, which I answered, as well as I could, by a gentle pressure on his cold damp hand. Then the light faded from the eyes, the head drooped slightly, the hand in mine lay a little heavier, and all was over.

He was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery as respectably, at least, as he desired. In company with half a dozen of his countrymen whom I gathered together, I stood by the side of the grave while the body was being lowered to its last resting-place, heard the dull, discordant thud of the earth upon the coffin, saw the hole filled up and banked over by the spades of the grave-diggers. Then I turned away, and left poor Sandy in his lonely home—the last home of the Frasers as well as of every one else. A year ago I was over in the cemetery and had considerable trouble in finding the grave among the multitudes which surrounded it. When I did find it, however, I was surprised to see how green the sod was which covered it, and how gracefully the few wild flowers which had somehow sprung amongst the grass, waved in the sweet, fresh autumn breeze. There is something in wild flowers which makes them seem, to me, far superior to anything which the training of the ,most scientific horticulturist can produce. They are natural and beautiful, no matter how much people may contemn them. They show as much grace in their form and structure, and as much delicacy in their lines, as the most gorgeous production of the conservatory, and lovely, crowning the mound beneath which poor Sandy sleeps after his stormy and troubled career, I could not restrain an inward prayer of reverent thankfulness to the Father of us all, who thus showed His care over a spot which the hand of man had completely forgotten. I have often thought that, had I the means, I would erect a stone at the head of this grave with an inscription somewhat in the following strain : "Sacred to the memory of Alexander Fraser, Eighteenth Lord Fraser of Lovat in the Peerage of Scotland, who died 18— and was buried here in presence of a few of his countrymen.'' How proud Sandy would have been could he even have dreamt that there was a possibility of such a memorial being erected over his grave! For some recognition of his rights to the Lovat peerage was what he always looked for, and it was the lack of that recognition which embittered and perverted his whole life.

I once met a smart gentleman, engaged in business on Broadway, who claimed to be the real Earl of Dalhousie. He got the notion into his head after he had passed middle life, and just when he was in a fair way for acquiring a competency. As soon as he imagined himself to be a peer, however, he began to neglect his business, with the usual result. When I met him in his office, its sole occupant besides himself was a boy, and the whole place had that seedy look which is common to warehouses in a state of decline, as well as to men who have seen better days. But he worked as hard as ever, harder in fact, and the evidence of his labors was to he seen in the piles of manuscript which littered the shelves of his private office. I do not know what has become of him, but suppose he has, in the expressive commercial phrase, 'gone under" and is knocking out existence as a clerk in some store where he was known in his more prosperous years. At all events, when I passed the building, the other day, in which his ware- house used to be, I noticed that his sign was gone and another hearing a strange name occupied its place. I never learned anything as to the merits of his claim, but even at the best they must have been very slight. The wonder to me was that a shrewd, cool-headed business man such as he undoubtedly at one time was could not have calculated all the chances of the matter better than he did. He sacrificed a good, comfortable business to follow an ingis-fatuus, and the result was ruin. Now, had he tried, he might have foreseen this end. For even although his claim had been almost perfect, every stage in the progress of recovery would be bitterly contested in the law courts, and even before a final decision could have been given in his favor so many years would have necessarily elapsed that his personal enjoyment of the honor would be of brief duration, even if its possession would have given him any enjoyment at all. In the course of the proceedings his means would have been spent, his time engrossed, and he would have suffered heart breakings enough to have sent stouter men than he down to their graves in sorrow and misery.

Jimmy Erskine was quite a different sort of a character, although he boasted of being no less a personage than the Right Honorable the Earl of Mar, Earl of Kellie, Baron Dirleton, Viscount Fenton, and a Baronet of Nova Scotia— quite a sufficient number of titles to sink a ship, as he used to remark when in a particularly jocular mood. Indeed, when in his cups—which was often—Jimmy used to bestow one of his minor titles oil happened to be his boon- companion. But he stuck like a leech to the two earldoms and the baronetcy. His story was that one of the former earls had been in this country and married an American girl. Jimmy was the direct descendant of this union. He had no documents ' like most other claimants, did not place much faith in such things, and could hardly have kept any even if he had them. For Jimmy was a waif, a sad victim to intemperance. He was born in Hester street, New York, and learned the trade of a compositor. His office associates were none of the best, unfortunately, and Jimmy, easy-going, good-natured, kind-hearted Jimmy, soon became a slave to the cup. His friends tried to reform him, and for a time succeeded. He married a trim, good-looking lass, and for about a year life was really pleasant to him. Then he fell again, worse than before, and his little home--the last he ever had—was broken up. When the civil war commenced, Jimmy volunteered and went to the front. Hardtack and hard lines did not affect him much, and, although he bore his share in several engagements anti in innumerable skirmishes, he never received even a scratch. When peace was restored Jimmy resumed his civil career, but his soldiering days had completely rooted out whatever stability he had. He worked only now and again, rarely more than a week at a time, and generally, even in the depths of winter, was thinly and raggedly clad. When he had the money he lodged in some one of the cheap night-houses in the neighborhood of Chatham street. When he was "broke" he was content to seek repose in an ice-wagon or a hallway. A five-dollar bill seemed to burn a hole in his pocket, and whenever he earned one it was no sooner in his possession than a spree was begun. All his chums knew when Jimmy was in funds, and found it all matter to share in his success, for when he had the means nothing delighted him more than to treat all hands. His flush spells did not last very long, of course, and he was back again to his Post of duty and observation, which was generally in Printing-House Square near the statue of Franklin, "the nice old gentleman," as Jimmy used to call him. There I have seen this would-be earl shivering in a February storm or sweltering in all heat, a perfect picture of abject poverty, yet always good-natured and seemingly happy. Sometimes he would disappear for a fortnight or a month, and when he returned would answer all inquiries by stating that he had been working in Hoboken or Newark or some place in New Jersey. Few knew that he had been serving a short term for drunkenness in one of the city prisons or on Blackwell's Island. Brooklyn he avoided as a plague spot, for he knew that there his forsaken wife, by her own industry as a dressmaker, had built up for herself a comfortable home, and her son—his son—was occupying a responsible position as a clerk in a large hank. He never saw his wife after his return from the South, and would not have known his son, the heir to all his titles, though he had met him. I tried hard to get Jimmy to reform, for he had many good qualities in spite of all his faults, but failed every time. I once offered to send him to an institution, but he declined and coolly assured me that "ten cents would be of more use to him at the present time." I procured him employment times without number, and obtained any amount of promises of amendment. But it was no use; as soon as he got a few dollars in his hands he went off on a hard, steady drinking bout.

I missed him for a long time one summer, longer than usual, even though he had been "working in Jersey,' and began inquiring about him among some of his old chums who were sunning themselves in the City Hall Park. From them I learned that Jimmy had been found in a covered truck, stiff and dead, one morning about two months before, and they supposed he had been buried in Potter's Field. All this I afterwards found to be only too true. jimmy had joined his titled ancestors in the unknown world. He was his own worst enemy, and, but for his one besetting sin or fault, would have been as honorable an Earl of Mar as most of those Who have sported that title. But his end was a sad one for any human being of whatever degree.

Malcolm Alexander was one of the most amiable, unassuming and studious young men I ever met. It was quite a pleasure to hold a conversation with him, he was so intelligent and well read. giving his opinions freely yet not presumptuously, and with an air of honesty which seemed to be natural to him. I met him first in a law office on Broadway, and his industry and amiability as well as his knowledge of his profession had won him the respect, aye, even the love of his superiors and fellow-clerks. I had known him for a considerable time—a year probably—before he spoke to me of the great and consuming burden of his life, his claim to the Stirling peerage. According to his story, he was not the first of his family to possess this notion. His grandfather had contested the same claim in the Scottish courts, and was not only defeated, but was actually tried for forgery in connection with the case. I remembered reading about that trial, but had forgotten many of its details until I met Malcolm. lie told me that after being acquitted the former claimant was practically a ruined man, and his life closed after a hard struggle against not only poverty but also obloquy. His son, or one of his sons, came to this country, and after his father's death quietly assumed the title in his own family circle and among his immediate friends, just for the sake of keeping the claim alive. He appears to have been an easy-going, good-natured sort of personage, with little of the heroic in his composition, certainly not enough to make him risk his life and happiness on so shadowy an honor as this earldom. Malcolm was exactly the opposite. He was always slow to take up a position, but once he did he never wavered from it. As soon as he became convinced that his father was an earl, and he the heir, he determined to work for securing his rights. This led him to apply himself to his law studies with an avidity which far surpassed that of the majority of clerks. While his father lived Malcolm assumed the title of Viscount Canada, but the death of the parent, a short time before 1 met the son, had made the latter earl, viscount and all the rest of it. He had the whole history of the Alexander family at his finger-ends, and rattled over the names of its chiefs from Somerled, Lord of the Isles, down to his own accession. Dates were mere play-toys to him in this matter, and he had brooded over the real or fancied histories of the different chiefs until they assumed wonderful proportions in his eyes. There never was such a family, according to his notions, as that of the Alexanders, and their old residence of Menstrie House, in his estimation, was the Mecca of Scotland. The founder of the title, the first earl, he regarded as the grandest of all the poets of the later Elizabethan period, and furnished the brains which gave poetic fame to King James, Drummond of Hawthornden, Ben Jonson and the more famous .English writers of that day. And so on would Malcolm ramble, extravagant and irrational wherever the Alexanders were concerned, but on all other topics perfectly calm, logical) intelligent and open to conviction. He once showed me his pedigree and allowed me to examine the proofs in his possession ; and although I pointed out many weak links in the chain, he remained unshaken by my doubts. The same weak evidence which had so nearly transported his grandfather as a felon was all used by him, but he considered he had strengthened it by additional documents he had found and facts he had collected. I could not encourage him to believe I was impressed with any of these, but he remained as firm and immovable as a granite boulder. If he had had the means he would have brought the matter into the courts, but he was as poor as Job. At one time he conceived the idea of giving as wide a publicity to his claims as possible by organizing a joint-stock company to furnish the means of prosecution ; but I managed to dispossess his mind of any hopes of success in that line. I asked him where were the estates which were to recoup the stockholders after victory had been won, and his legal knowledge forced him to admit that none now existed. The first earl had died a bankrupt. He owned at no time very much real estate in Britain. He held grants of land including nearly the whole of Canada, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and away West beyond the Mississippi. But neither the United States nor the Dominion of Canada would, if they could, allow the claims of his heirs. Where, then, was the property? He could not answer, and in despair abandoned the joint-stock idea, although with great reluctance. A year or two later Malcolm fell into a decline, and soon after began, almost visibly, to "dwyne away." The manner in which he brooded over his lowering prospects assisted the disease, and he died a victim to consumption. But even the prospect of death did not turn his mind from the theory which had so long influenced him, and almost the last words he uttered were of regret that he had not been spared long enough to have had a son to carry on the struggle. The thought that he was the last of his race seemed to embitter the end.

Of course I have met other "noblemen," spurious brands, some of whom figured in police courts and were as thorough scamps as ever traded upon the gullibility or weakness of the public; but the men I have written about, whatever their faults, were at least honest. Three of them were reputable citizens, and two at least might have won both wealth and honor had it not been for the unfortunate craze which somehow or other got possession of them.

THE END.


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