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Traits and Stories of the Scottish People
Chapter X. - Biographical and Historical Gleanings


"Great Julius, on the mountains bred,
A flock perhaps or herd had led;
He that the -world subdued, had been
But the best wrestler on the green."

"Waller.

"Dear I lo'e the wild war strains
Our langsyne minstrels sung;
They rouse wi' patriotic fires
The hearts of auld and young;
And even the dowie dirge that wails
Some brave but ruined band,
Inspires us wi' a warmer love
For hame and fatherland."

Archibald Mackay.

In the early part of the present century, a lively little Highland boy, named Colin Macliver, led the sports of his juvenile companions on Glasgow Green. His father came from one of the Western Isles, and had obtained employment in a carpenter's shop. He was a sober and industrious tradesman, and used his best efforts to provide for his wife and their two children, a boy and girl. He had been rather good-looking, for it was whispered that a Highland damsel had stooped from a higher social position to become his wife.

The Crimean war, which proved so disastrous to military reputations, revealed the qualities hitherto imperfectly known of a veteran officer of Scottish origin and name. Newspaper reports and military despatches teemed with the praises of Brigadier-General Sir Colin Campbell. His gallantry as leader of the Highland brigade at the Alma, and his remarkable resistance of the Russian charge at Bala-klava, established his reputation. When tidings of the Indian insurrection of 1857 reached this country, every eye was fixed on Sir Colin Campbell as one equal to the terrible emergency. When he had assented to the royal wish that he would undertake the Indian command, he was asked when he would be ready. "To-morrow!" was his prompt reply. Under his victorious arms the Insurrection was speedily suppressed. He was ennobled, and took his place in the first Assembly of the nation. He chose as his title in the Peerage the name of the old river on the banks of which he had played at Glasgow Green. Colin Macliver, to please a maternal uncle, entered the army under his mother's name of Campbell. He rose step by step till he attained those honours which a grateful country rejoices to bestow on the deserving. His old father survived to rejoice in the prosperity of his son, and he was long supported by his bounty.

A gentleman of artistic tastes happened in the year 1805 to step into the cottage of a working shoemaker at Stockhridge, a suburb of Edinburgh. On the whitewashed wall of the apartment he observed a number of well-executed representations of animals drawn with keel* and charcoal. He examined the drawings, which he proceeded to commend highly. "Hoot," said the shoemaker's wife, "these are bits o' drawings o' oor Davie; he was seein' some wild beasts at a show, and he's caulked them there to let me see them." "Indeed," said the gentleman, "and what are you to make of the boy?" "Deed," said the honest woman, "he'll jist need to sit down on the stool aside his father, and learn to mak and mend shoon." "That will never do," said the gentleman; "he is quite a genius, and you must make him a painter." Through the gentleman's intervention, the shoemaker's son was soon after apprenticed to a house-painter.

The youth proved industrious, and indicated uncommon genius in his art. He became a painter of dramatic scenery,—a department which he eminently adorned. He bestowed attention on Gothic architecture, and produced some admirable paintings of the ruins of his native country. He sought subjects for his pencil in the ancient structures of Normandy and of Northern Europe. Proceeding to Spain, he brought home noble representations of the architecture of the Moors. He visited the Holy Land, and delineated scenes endeared to Christians of every country by early and hallowed associations.

This artist was David Roberts,—one of the most gifted of British painters, and a man endowed with the purest virtues. He lived to befriend the visitor at his father's cottage, who, discovering his artistic talent, had placed him on the first step of the ladder of fortune. Mr. Roberts died at London, on the 25th November, 1864, in his sixty-eighth year. His Memoirs have been published by his ingenious friend, Mr. James Ballantine.

In the year 1800, James, only child of Sergeant Nisbet, of the Royal Artillery, entered himself as apprentice to a solicitor at Kelso. After a trial of three years, he found that the prospect of following the business of a country attorney was intolerable. He recovered his indenture and proceeded to London, where he engaged himself as clerk to a West India merchant. He was now eighteen. His salary was at first d650 ; but it was periodically increased. He lived moderately, and saved a portion of his income every year. In 1809 he opened a bookseller's shop in Castle Street. He was attentive to business, and prospered. He purchased premises in Berners Street, and began to publish religious works. James Nisbet soon became widely known. Every work which bore his imprint was received with confidence by those who rejoiced to promote the circulation of evangelical literature. Mr. Nisbet died in 1854, full of years and honours. The publishing house originated by his enterprise is one of the most important in the kingdom.

The churchyard of Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire, contains a monumental obelisk without any inscription. It is associated with a curious history. James Mounsey, a native of the district, and grand-nephew of William Paterson, who founded the Bank of England, was physician to the Emperor Paul of Russia. When that unfortunate monarch was assassinated, a report arose that Dr. Mounsey was concerned in the massacre, and to prevent his becoming the victim of popular vengeance his death was reported. A mock funeral took place in Lochmaben churchyard, and the obelisk was reared to denote the grave.

When the Grand Duke Nicholas, afterwards Emperor of Russia, was on a visit to Britain, he evinced a particular interest in the cause of education. During his visit to Edinburgh the Duke expressed a wish that he might be conducted to the more celebrated schools. When visiting an academy in one of the suburbs, he requested the head-master to examine in his presence a few of his smartest pupils. The teacher remarked that his most promising scholar was a boy named Patterson. On the youth being examined before him the Duke expressed his surprise at his remarkable precocity. "If he will proceed to Bussia I will make him a nobleman," said the Duke. The schoolmaster consulted the boy's mother on the Duke's proposal, but her consent could not be obtained. The youth studied for the Scottish Church. His career was short, but peculiarly brilliant. The name of John Brown Patterson, author of the Prize Essay on the "National Character of the Athenians," is familiar. He became minister of Falkirk, and died in 1835.

Alexander Peden, the celebrated Covenanter, enjoyed the reputation of being gifted as a prophet. The ascription of supernatural powers to those eminent for their sagacity and piety was not uncommon in ancient Scotland. The prophecies assigned to Peden are generally unimportant, or such as a shrewd person might readily vaticinate without supernatural assistance. One of his prophecies was sufficiently remarkable. Discoursing to his people from Amos vii. 8, he used these words,—"I'll tell you good news. Our Lord will take a feather out of Antichrist's wing which shall bring down the Duke of York, and banish him out of these kingdoms. And there shall never a man of the House of Stuart sit upon the throne of Britain after the Duke of York, whose reign is now short." Peden died in 1686, two years before the dethronement of James VII., and the event of the Revolution.

One of the tales included by Professor Wilson in his "Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life " is entitled "The Covenanter's Marriage Day." It is founded on an occurrence of real life, the tradition of which still obtains in Ettrick Forest. William Laidlaw, a shepherd at Chapelhope, had won the hand of Mary Stewart, a beautiful shepherdess. It was the period of the religious persecutions, and the marriage was celebrated in a lonely retreat among the hills. As the couple were returning home from the celebration of their union, a party of soldiers marched towards them. "You are a Presbyterian, an attender of conventicles, and a harbourer of field-preachers," said the leader. Laidlaw was silent. "Prepare to die," added the commander. In a few seconds the life-blood of the hapless bridegroom crimsoned the moor. The bride had fallen into a swoon, but she was aroused by the report of firearms. She threw herself upon the corpse of her beloved husband. In that hour her reason took flight, and she became a maniac. She gathered withered flowers, and went about singing a melancholy air, with the sad chorus, "The grave, the grave for me."

During the month of August 1859 the author of this work was residing at the village of Darnick, near Abbotsford. Having undertaken to conduct Divine service in a neighbouring parish, he was proceeding on the Sunday morning to the scene of duty. In the course of his journey he found an aged female lying on the side of the turnpike. He was about to assist her, when he was informed by his conductor that the woman was intoxicated. This was an error. The hapless woman was dying,—she died that day. The next person who came up recognised her, and, conveying her to a cottage, comforted her last hours. This was Elizabeth Graham, one of the two prototypes of Madge Wildfire, celebrated by Sir Walter Scott in his "Heart of Mid Lothian." Her sister prototype was Feckless Fannie of Ayrshire. Elizabeth Graham was the daughter of a respectable farmer, but haying been seduced by a false lover, she lost her reason, and became a constant wanderer.

The old and popular song of "Jenny Nettles" celebrates a rustic beauty of Fife, whose melancholy fate might have been depicted in more plaintive strains. Jenny was disowned by a faithless lover, and unable to bear the scorn of society, she terminated her existence. Her remains were interred between two lairds' lands near the Lomond Hills, where a cairn was placed to denote the spot. About forty years ago the grave was examined, when the skull of the unhappy maiden was discovered, along with her earrings and necklace. The skull \s now in the museum of Mr. Joseph Paton of Dunfermline.

Mr. John Home's tragedy of "Douglas" is founded on the old ballad of "Gil Morice." The hero of the ballad, Gil Morice, an earl's son, is represented as sending a message to the wife of Lord Barnard to meet him in the "green wood." His page delivered the message to the dame in the hearing of her lord. His lordship's jealousy was excited, and he proceeded to the "green wood " to encounter one whom he supposed to be the paramour of his faithless spouse. He found Gil Morice, whom he complimented on his manly beauty, and then stabbed to the heart. The baron's spouse, when she saw the lifeless remains of the youth, announced to her lord that Gil Morice was her son. She had built for him a bower in the "green wood," that she might occasionally see him, while shame had prevented her acknowledging the existence of one to whom before wedlock she had given birth. The baron expressed his deep concern for his rashness, and joined his lamentations with those of his spouse. He said,—

"I'll aye lament for Gil Morice
As gin be were my ain,
I'll ne'er forget the driery day
On which the youth was slain."

The romantic character of the story led the collectors of the older ballads to hazard an opinion that the story was a creation of romance. Tradition had, however, assigned a particular spot on the banks of the Carron river as the burying-place of the youth. During the course of the present century the proprietor of the estate resolved to erect a cottage at the spot, and in digging for the foundation, the workmen discovered an ancient grave, containing bones. These mouldered into dust on exposure to the air, but several of the teeth were found to be perfectly entire. They were inserted in a glass case, which has been attached to the wall of the cottage vestibule. The writer has inspected the relics.

The old ballad of "Johnny Faa, or the Gypsie Laddie," describes the elopement of a Countess of Cassilis with a gipsy. The story is thus represented in the tradition. Faa was a gentleman of good family, in the county of Haddington, and was an attached lover of the Countess before her marriage. She had married the Earl to gratify her kinsfolk, but contrary to her own inclinations. Though the lady was wedded to another, Faa had resolved to make an attempt to secure her person. Accordingly he proceeded to her residence during her lord's absence, accompanied by eight retainers, all being disguised as gipsies.

Having procured an interview with the Countess, Faa made himself known to her, and induced her to elope with him. When Lord Cassilis returned home, he assembled his vassals and proceeded in quest of the fugitives. He overtook them somewhere on the borders of England, and at a pitched battle slew Faa and seven of his followers. Having recovered his wife, he built a tower for her reception in the village of Maybole, where he caused her to be kept a close prisoner during the remainder of her life. This story has been often related in connection with the ballad, but the genealogical accounts of the family do not afford any evidence as to its accuracy.

In the parish churchyard of Kirkconnell, Dumfriesshire, a flat tombstone exhibits two sculptured swords, and is inscribed with these words:—"Hie jacet Adamus Fleming." The stone is associated with the touching old ballad of "Fair Helen of Kirkconnell." Some time in the seventeenth century, Helen Irving, a celebrated beauty, and daughter of the Laird of Kirkconnell, was beloved by two young gentlemen of the neighbourhood. The favoured lover was Adam Fleming. The rejected suitor, Bell of Blacket House, vowed to sacrifice his successful rival on the first opportunity. One evening Helen was seated with her accepted lover on a romantic spot, by the margin of the river Kirtle, when Bell suddenly appeared on the other side of the stream, in the act of presenting a musket at his rival. The maiden, perceiving the imminent danger of her lover, threw herself between him and his assassin. Pierced with the bullet intended for her admirer, she fell into his arms and immediately expired. Fleming pursued the murderer and slew him. He afterwards proceeded to Spain, where he fought against the infidels. Returning to Kirkconnell, he went to the parish churchyard, and stretched himself on the grave of the hapless maid, who, to preserve his life, had sacrificed her own. His feelings so overcame him, that he burst a blood vessel and died. His remains were deposited beside those of the gentle Helen.

The story of Bessy Bell and Mary Gray, celebrated in ballad, is, though partaking of a romantic character, founded on truth. Two young ladies in Perthshire were attached friends. One of them, Miss Elizabeth Bell, was the daughter of Mr. Bell of Kin-vaid; the other, Miss Mary Gray, was daughter of Mr. Gray, proprietor of Lynedoch. They both were beautiful and of engaging manners, and had each attracted the affection of a young gentleman in the neighbourhood. The plague of 1645 was raging with terrible severity, and the maidens left their paternal homes, and took shelter in a bower at Burn Braes, on the banks of the Lednoch. They determined to receive no visitors save the youth whom they held in mutual esteem. He paid daily visits to the bower, and having caught the infection unconsciously carried it to Burn Braes. The maidens died, and, as they had requested, were both interred at the spot where they had sought unavailing shelter. In the words of the ballad,—

"They wadna lie in Methven kirkyard
Amang their gentle kin;
But they wad lie on Dronach haiigh
To beak foment the eun."

Some years ago the writer made a pilgrimage to the grave of the loving maidens; he found the spot enclosed by a railing. This was erected through the liberality and kindly sentiment of Major Berry, the late proprietor of Lynedoch.

Lynedoch became the property of Thomas Graham of Balgowan, the hero of Barossa, who, on his elevation to the peerage, chose it as his title. Mr. Graham lived many years on his estate of Balgowan in Berth-shire, attending to the duties of a country landowner. In his forty-second ear, his wife, a daughter of Lord Cathcart, died somewhat suddenly, and having been extremely attached to her, the shock of her removal severely depressed him. He entered the army, and, regardless of his life, fought with desperate courage. He became one of the most distinguished of the Peninsular heroes.

The sudden death of a young lady to whom he was about to be married led William Drummond of Hawthornden to betake himself to literary seclusion. To the event of his bereavement the world is indebted for the production of those works, in prose and verse, which reflect so much credit on his country and age.

There is an anecdote illustrative of strong family affection during the political troubles of the seventeenth century. In 1646, several noble persons were tried at St. Andrews for bearing arms in the royal army. Among those sentenced to death was Lord Ogilvie, eldest son of the Earl of Airlie. The noble convict, having pretended sickness, was allowed to receive a visit from the members of his family. When his wife, mother, and sisters entered his cell, the guards retired for a short period. In the interval one of his lordship's sisters arrayed him in her gown, while she threw herself into the bed, and put his night-cap on her head. When the guards entered, an affectionate parting ensued, and the visitors, including the disguised nobleman, were conducted to their carriage. On the escape of Lord Ogilvie being made known, some of tlie nobility would have wreaked vengeance on the ladies, but more merciful counsels prevailed.

Charles, sixth Earl of Strathmore, was killed in 1728 from an accidental wound received in a scuffle. He had married, three years before, Lady Susan Cochrane, second daughter of the Earl of Dundonald, who was then in her fifteenth year. Left a widow at eighteen, Lady Strathmore received many advantageous offers of marriage, all of which she chose to reject. When she had reached the mature age of thirty-six she took a fancy for her groom, George Forbes, to whom she offered herself in marriage. The groom at first thought that the Countess had become mentally disordered, but when he perceived that she was serious, he gladly embraced the good fortune which had so unexpectedly fallen in his way. The marriage took place, and the Countess, who had no children by her first union, gave birth to a daughter. Her husband proved most unworthy of his elevation, and rendered himself so obnoxious by his low tastes and intemperate habits, that the Countess left him and proceeded to reside in France. She placed the child in a convent at Rouen. Lady Strathmore died in 1754, and it was found that, having lived expensively, she had left nothing for the support of her child. Some years after, George Forbes, who had set up as a keeper of livery stables at Leith, married a girl of his own rank, and became the father of a family. He now sent to Rouen for his daughter by the Countess, who had reached her fifteenth year. On her arrival in her father's house she was treated most cruell/ by her stepmother, and so made an abrupt departure from the family. She crossed the Forth at the King-horn ferry, probably with a view of proceeding to the seat of the Strathmore family in Forfarshire. In her journey through Fife she became exhausted, and sought rest and a night's lodging at a farmhouse occupied by a family of the name of Lauder. She narrated to the family her remarkable story, with which they were so interested that they asked her to reside with them. Soon after, Miss Forbes married the farmer's son, who proved an affectionate husband. But the Lauder family suffered reverses, and the daughter of Lady Strathmore, now a widow, was found in 1821 residing in a small cottage near Stirling. When her history became known, several influential persons in the district appealed on her behalf to her noble relatives. Her claims were acknowledged, and an annuity of one hundred pounds was settled on her. Her latter years were spent in comparative comfort.

Lord Dalmeny, eldest son of James, second Earl of Roseberry, met in London a most fascinating lady, whom he persuaded to marry him. After marriage the parties proceeded to the Continent, where they lived together with much concord. At length the lady was seized, with a severe illness, which the physicians assured her she could not long survive. She called for a slip of paper, and wrote upon it these words:—"I am the wife of the Be v. Mr. Gough, rector of Thorpe, in Essex. My maiden name was C. Cannon, and my last request is to be buried at Thorpe." Lord Dalmeny was deeply grieved at the loss of his wife, and was inclined to believe that the writing she had left had been caused by her ailment affecting her brain, and producing delusion. He. caused, however, the body to be removed to England, and on his arrival sent for the Eev. Mr. Gough to consult with him on the subject of the writing. The clergyman recognised in the corpse the features of his wife. She had left him for some years, and he had been unable to obtain any trace of her movements. Lord Dalmeny and the clergyman compassionated with each other on the strange occurrence which had brought them together. The funeral took place at Thorpe, and both the husbands of the' deceased lady were mourners at her grave.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, Mr. Chisholm, the young laird of Cromlix, became enamoured of Miss Helen Murray, daughter of the laird of Ardoch, a lady much celebrated for her beauty. Miss Murray reciprocated the affection of her admirer, and it was agreed that, during his absence on some business in France, their correspondence should be conducted through the intervention of a gentleman in Dunblane. This person proved untrue. He secreted the letters on both sides, and sought to prejudice the lady against her admirer. Protracted silence and false representations at length succeeded in overcoming Miss Murray's affection for young Chisholm, and his unworthy confidant now sought to win the lady's affection for himself. By the strong importunities of her friends, she was persuaded to assent to his proposals. Their marriage was solemnized; hut the event had just taken place when Chisholm unexpectedly returned. The villany of the treacherous friend was exposed, and the marriage was annulled. Helen was now united to her faithful admirer. A song, composed by the lover during the period of the supposed desertion of his mistress, was long popular. It is known as "Cromlet's Lilt." A similar story in connection with the courtship and marriage of the gallant Sir Robert Munro, Bart., of Foulis, is related by Mr. Hugh Miller, in his " Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland."

Dr. Abernethy, the celebrated physician, carried his well-known abruptness of manner even into his courting his wife. He had been professionally attending a widow lady for several weeks, when he was struck with the prudent conduct of her daughter, and formed the opinion that she might suit as his helpmate. Taking leave of his patient on a Saturday, he said to her, " Madam, you are now so well that I will make my farewell visit on Monday. Meanwhile I wish you and your daughter seriously to consider the proposal I am about to make. It is abrupt and unceremonious, I am aware; but the excessive occupation of my time by my professional duties affords me no leisure to accomplish what I desire by the more ordinary course of solicitation.

My annual receipts amount to £-, and I can settle £-on my wife. My character is generally known.

I have seen in your daughter an affectionate child, a careful nurse, and a ladylike member of a family. Such a person is all a husband could covet. I offer her my hand. On Monday I shall receive your determination, for I have no time for courtship. The answer was an acceptance of the offered hand. The marriage proved a happy one.

Few persons are aware that the popular song "The Boatie rows," was composed by John Ewen, an ironmonger in Aberdeen, who died in 1821. Ewen was a person of miserly habits, and a sort of domestic tyrant. His only child, Miss Ewen, married in 1787 a person of her own rank and of most respectable character, but he would make no proper provision on the occasion. He afterwards ignored the existence of his daughter and her family, and bequeathed his fortune of £16,000 for the establishment of an hospital at Aberdeen. Much to the satisfaction of the public, the settlement, which was challenged by the daughter, was pronounced invalid by the House of Lords, and the money restored to the descendants of the ill-conditioned poet.

Another unamiable Scottish poet was David Mallet. His original family name was Malloch; his father kept a small public-house at Crieff, and he held in his younger years the humble situation of janitor of the Edinburgh High SchooL When he rose to a position of affluence, and mixed in the literary society of London, Malloch was most desirous of concealing all particulars of his origin and early history. With this view he changed his name to Mallet. The immediate cause of the change has been assigned to the circumstance that he had received from some wit the soubriquet of Moloch, on account of his habit of declaiming against the Christian Religion. Mallet composed "The Birks of Invermay," and the ballad of "William and Margaret."

One of the parties celebrated by Burns in his well-known festive song beginning—

"O Willie brewed a peck o' maut,
And Rob and Allan cam to pree,"

was Mr. Allan Masterton, writing-master in Edinburgh. The author's father enjoyed the acquaintance of Mr. Masterton, and was informed by him of the following remarkable occurrence in his own personal history. Having been on a visit to London, he had arranged to return home in a passenger vessel bound for Leith. He had paid his passage-money, and a porter had brought his luggage to the place of embarkation. Just as he was on the point of stepping on board, he was seized with a strong presentiment that the vessel would not reach her destination. He therefore determined of a sudden to forego his original intention, and to proceed homewards by land. When he reached Edinburgh, he learned that the ship in which he had proposed to sail had foundered at sea, and that all the passengers had perished.

These are a few gleanings from "a field of biographical and historical Lore, in which much remains to be collected and gathered up. What has been accomplished by the author of this Work, and by those who have preceded him in such inquiries, may prompt others to prosecute similar researches.

Such investigations have a salutary tendency. The untravelled Scotsman who plumes himself on his ancient pedigree, and on the moralities of his sires, may be led to discover that the credit of the family tree may have chiefly to rest on his own good deeds, since the virtues of one portion of his progenitors may be more than counterbalanced by the misdemeanours of another.

The country which produced Wallace and Bruce, Knox and Chalmers, Napier and Watt, Abercromby, Moore, and Lord Clyde, teemed with highland reivers, border thieves, and lazy islanders. The most inhuman monsters who ever disgraced civilization were not greater offenders than Cardinal Beaton, Thomas Dalyell, Robert Grierson, John Graham, and Archbishop Sharpe.

On the other hand, in gleaning from his country's Annals, the Scotsman finds examples prompting him to virtuous enterprise. He discovers that he belongs to a country in which the footprint of the invader was extinguished in his blood, and in which thousands of a God-fearing population consented to die rather than renounce their religion. Those who prove unworthy of the better deeds of such a country incur a responsibility from which the virtuous would instinctively shrink.

Let the glory of Scotland be upheld by a discreet reverence of the past and an earnest improvement of the present. In rearing Memorial Stones to our illustrious departed, let us strive to imitate their patient self-denial and Christian earnestness. Let us seek to be governed by those principles of honour, truth, and justice, which guided our old heroes, and the possession of which will best evidence that we represent them worthily.

THE END.


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