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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter I

Situation of Gretna.—The Debateable Land.—Walls of Agri-c >la and Adrian.—Wall of Severus.—Arthur's Court.— Arthur's Queen insulted.—Peredur and the Knight.—Peredur's knight-errantry.—His Prowess.—Gwnlchniai's Offer. --Peredur and Gwalehmai.—Peredur's Courtship.

Here Chapter First begins the work,
With matters worth your heeding,
With legends, old traditions, tales,
As ye may see by reading.

A dread commeth over us as we take our grey goose-quill in hand, and set our joints to the writing of this most notable history. There is something magical about the words "Gretna Green;" and we never hear them but we instantly "prick up our ears," as some tender poet saith, and are straightway filled with curiosity, interest, yearning, and desire. Wherefore, borne up and borne along by this conviction, and especially for the explication of certain erroneous ideas which the distant world has assumed touching traditions of this place, do we submit the pages here following to the consideration of the reader.

The parish of Gretna, or Graitney, as it is sometimes written, lies in the county of Dumfries, and is situate, as most run-aways well know, close on the borders of Scotland and England: and that border is here defined by the small river, Sark. The western sea, or, under correction, the Sol way Firth, lies here so contiguous that the tide flows up to the very bridge that runs over the said river, over which bridge runs the Queen's highway, 'twixt Carlisle and Annan, and over which highway run lovers not a few.

About two miles on the English side of the Sark, we have the river Esk, in some sort parallel thereunto, and also falling into the Solway Firth : it is traversed by a fair stone and iron bridge, and is a larger stream than the former by fourfold.

Betwixt these two, lies the "Debateable Land," a region especially noted in the pages of historiographers, and the scene of many a bloody strife when the borderers could not agree. This Debateable Land was, however, scarcely worth debating about, seeing that it is a bog, a march, a quagmire, a swamp, across which a man cannot pass at hazard, lest he sink, being made up of peat, which the inhabitants in the vicinage procure for fuel. Now, a peat Log- in this country, they call a "moss," or a "peat-moss," and this identical one goes by the name of "Solway Moss." There are many such, not only liere about, but in divers parts of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

The great field of our discussions and speculations, which will fill the pages of this history, lying round the Firth of Solway, was, in the earliest ages, as authors say, occupied by a tribe of Britons known as the Selgova; and it was these whom Agricola with his Romans disconcerted, when he came this way with hostile intent. It was in the third year of his progress that he arrived here, and soon after he built the wall stretching from the land of the Dalriads to the eastern sea near the Maiden's Castle, vulgarly called Edinburgh. In the year 120, the emperor Adrian crossed over from Gaul, in order that he might gall the Caledonians with a fresh yoke; but he proceeded no further than York, for some old soldiers, who had before penetrated into the country with former commanders, told him that the painted savages fought well .and hit hard; and moreover, the region that they fought and hit for, was not worth quarrelling about, being wild, mountainous, and barren. Wherefore, Adrian the emperor, resolved that he would not go further from home, but erected that vast Thus-far-shalt-thou-come-and-no-further, running from the western waters near Gretna across the country to the river Tyne: a work which was designed to debar the wanderings of the Pictish Northerners, but which ill effected this end, since it stretched to the length of sixty English, or seventy Roman miles, and no more than eighteen hundred men were allotted for its defence on the southern side. It traversed these parts between merry Carlisle and Gretna Green of honourable mention, well-nigh skirting the Debateable Land: but owing to the loamy nature of the soil here, the industrious mattock of Time hath dug down the rampart and shovelled it into, the ditch, even where it was before the Romans dug it out, so that now it is pretty well destroyed.

It should appear that this fortification consisted of a series of vallations, and that, in fact, they were as follows:—first, on the southern, or English side, a rampart ten or twelve feet high; then five paces towards Scotland, another rampart, or agger of equal size ; outside that a ditch, being about nine feet deep, eleven feet wide at the top, and somewhat less at the bottom; and lastly, at about seven or eight paces further north from the ditch, a broad rampart, but considerably lower than the others. This fortification is said to have been made of earth only faced with turf; and Capitolinus, in his biography of Antoninus Pius, says that the wall erected in 81, by Agricola, and strengthened afterwards by this emperor in 140,

Stretching from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth, was built in the same way also; but Camden contradicts this, in so far that he declares it to have been faced with square blocks of hewnstone ; and this last assertion has been fully corroborated by the quantities of fragments and sculptured vestiges that have from time to time been discovered on this line. It is concluded to have been composed of soft materials like the other, but faced with masses of stone, in order to prevent the earth from falling into the ditch. There are certain scattered passages in Ossian, the son of Fingal, which goto support Mr. Camden,—as, for instance, in the poem ycleped " The War of Caros," where ye may thus read:—

"What does Caros, king of ships?" said the son, Oscar, of the now mournful Ossian; "spreads he the wings of his pride, [the Roman eagle,] bard of the times of old?"

"He spreads them, Oscar," replied the bard, "but it is behind his gathered heap. He looks over his stones with fear."

The "gathered heap" is here understood to be the wall of Agricola, near which the battle was fought, and the word "stones," clearly indicates the nature of the material with which it was constructed — at all events, externally. Caros is decided to have been no other than the usurper Carausius, who assumed the purple in 284, and in this action the Caledonians were commanded by Oscar, the son of Ossian.

The wall of Severus, drawn across the island from the Solway, near where the modern Gretna Green lies, and following nearly the line of Adrian's, made some years before, was, according to Aurelius Victor, Orosius, Spartian, and others, a -svork of greater labour, vastness, and strength than any of the others that had 0 been thrown up by the Romans. It was built of. free-stone throughout, both internally and externally; it was well grouted with lime, so that it soon consolidated into a hard mass, and it was guarded by ten thousand troops, who kept watch in turrets and castles scattered along its whole extent at intervals. For two hundred years it kept the Picts in check, and would longer, have continued to do so, had not the garrison been withdrawn, and ordered back to Italy.

Now, Gretna Green in aftertimes formed part of the territory of the renowned Prince Arthur, Basileus and Bretwalda of Britain, and merry Carlisle was one of his capital cities, wherein he held his principal court. "Arthur held his court in merry Carlisle," saith Sir Francis Palgrave; "and Peredur, the Prince of Sunshine, whose name we find amongst the princes of Strath-Clyde, is one of the great heroes of The Mabinogion, or tales of youth, long preserved by tradition amongst the Cymry."

We will not here enter upon any erudite discussion on the geographical knowledge of the ancients, or the extent of accuracy with which they constructed maps or described localities ; nor will we (to descend from generalities to particularities) speculate on the probability that Carlisle, the former Caer-luel, not far from the river Esk, may or may not have have been the Caerlleon upon Usk, of the old romances. Arthur was at Caerlleon upon Usk, says the legend of Peredur-ab-Efrawc in the Mabinogion above alluded to ; and it proceeds to set forth how he sat in his hall, surrounded by stalwart knights; and how Gwenhwyvar his queen, who was beautiful to a proverb, sat there also, along with a bevy of fair maidens, who discoursed sweetly, or wove tapestry and other cunning needlework. "Meanwhile, Peredur journeyed on towards Arthur's court," are the words of Lady Guest's translation; "and before he reached it, another knight had been there, who gave a ring of thick gold at the door of the gate for holding his horse, and went into the hall, where Arthur and his household and Gwenhwyvar and her maidens were assembled. And the page of the chamber was serving Gwenhwyvar with a golden goblet. Then the knight dashed the liquor that was therein upon her face, and upou her stomacher, and gave her a violent blow on the face, and said, ' If any have the boldness to dispute this goblet with me, and to revenge the insult to Gwenhwyvar, let him follow me to the meadow, and there I will await him.' So the knight took his horse and rode to the meadow: and all the household hung down their heads, lest any of them should be requested to go and avenge {he insult to Gwenhwyvar. For it seemed to them that no one would have ventured on so daring an outrage, unless he possessed such powers, through magic or charms, that none could be able to take vengeance upon him. Then, behold, Peredur entered the hall."

Here he inquires for Arthur amongst the company; but Sir Kai, who had a very unamiable and discourteous disposition, answers in a most 'untoward manner, and desires to know what he wants of Arthur? After a while, Peredur repeats his question: "Tall man,' said he, ' show me which is Arthur.-'Hold thy peace,' said Kai, ' and go after the knight who went hence to the meadow, and take from him the goblet, and overthrow him, and possess thyself of his horse and arms, and then shalt thou receive the order of knighthood.' ' I will do so, tall man,' said Peredur. So he turned his horse's head towards the meadow; and when he came there, the knight was riding up and down, proud of his strength, and valour, and noble mien. ' Tell me,' said the knight, ' didst thou see any one coming after me from the court? 'The tall man that was there,' said he, ' desired me to come and overthrow thee, and take from thee the goblet, and thy horse, and thy armour for myself.' 4 Silence !' said the. knight; ' go back to the court, and tell Arthur from me, either to come himself, or to send some other to fight with me ; and unless he do so quickly, I will not wait for him.' ' By my faith,' said Peredur, ' choose thou whether it shall be willingly or unwillingly, but I will have the horse, and the arms, and the goblet.' And upon this the knight ran at him furiously, and struck him a violent blow with the shaft of his spear, between the neck and the shoulder. ' Haha, lad!' said Peredur, ' my mother's servants were not used to play with me in this wise; therefore, thus will I play with thee.' And hereupon he struck him with a sharp-pointed fork, and it hit him in the eye, and came out at the back of his neck, so that he instantly fell down lifeless.

" Verily,' said Owain, the son of Urien, to Kai, ' thou wert ill advised when thou didst send that madman [meaning Peredur] after the knight; for one of two things must befall him,—he must either be overthrown or slain. If he is overthrown by the knight, he will be counted by him to be an honourable person of the court, and an eternal disgrace will it be to Arthur and his warriors: and if he is slain, the disgrace will be the same, and more-over his sin will be upon him ; therefore, will I go and see what has befallen him.' So Owain went to the meadow, and he found Peredur dragging the man about. ' What art thou doing thus?' said Owain. ' This iron coat,' said Peredur, ' will never come from off him, not by my efforts, at any rate.1 And Owain unfastened his armour and his clothes. ' Here, my good soul,1 said he, 'is a horse and armour better than thine. Take them joyfully, and come with me to Arthur to receive the order of knighthood, for thou dost merit it."

Now, gentle reader, if it be that this Caerlleon, where Arthur then held his court, be Carlisle city nigh unto Gretna, Peredur compassed this achievement in the meadow that stretches along beneath the castle walls, as ye may behold at this day; and the Mabinogion will further tell ye how this rare warrior traversed these regions, doing service to distressed maidens, and swearing oaths ten fathom deep to his lady love ; for, even twelve or thirteen centuries ago, there seems to have been something loving and lovable pervading the atmosphere of the Solway. " And in the evening he entered a valley," we are informed; " and at the head of the valley he came to a hermit's cell, and the hermit welcomed him gladly, and there he spent the night. And in the morning he arose, and when he went forth, behold a shower of snow had fallen the night before, and a hawk had killed a wild fowl in front of the cell; and the noise of the horse scared the hawk away, and a raven alighted upon the bird. And Peredur stood and compared the blackness of the raven, and the whiteness of the snow, and the redness of the blood, to the hair of the lady that best he loved, which was blacker than jet, and to her skin, which was whiter than the snow, and to the two red spots upon her cheeks, which were redder than the blood upon the snow appeared to be.

"Now Arthur and his Court were in search of Peredur. ' Know ye,' said Arthur, ' who is the knight with the long spear that stands by the brook up yonder?' ' Lord,1 said one of them, ' I will go and learn who he is.1 So the youth came to the place where Peredur was, and asked him what he did thus, and who he was. And from the intensity with which he thought upon the lady whom best he loved, he gave him no answer. Then the youth thrust at Peredur with his lance, and Peredur turned upon him, and struck him over his horse's crupper to the ground. And after this, four and twenty youths came to him, and he did not answer one more than another, but gave the same reception to all, bringing them with one single thrust to the ground. And then came Kai, and spoke to Peredur rudely and angrily; and Peredur took him with his lance under the jaw, and cast him from him with a thrust, so that he broke his arm and his shoulder blade, and he rode over him one and twenty times. And while he lay thus, stunned with the violence of the pain that he had suffered, his horse returned back at a wild and prancing pace. And when the household saw the horse come back without his rider, they rode forth in haste to the place where the encounter had been. And when they first came there, they thought that Kai was slain ; but they found that if he had a skilful physician, he yet might live. And Peredur moved not from his meditation, on seeing the concourse that was around Kai. And Kai was brought to Arthur's tent, and Arthur caused skilful physicians to come to him. And Arthur was grieved that Kai had met with this reverse, for he loved him greatly.

"*Then,' said Gwalchmai, ' it is not fitting that any should disturb an honourable knight from his thought unadvisedly; for either he is pondering some damage that he has sustained, or he is thinking on the lady whom best he loves. And through such ill-advised proceeding, perchance this misadventure has befallen him who last met with him. And if it seem well to thee, lord, I will go and see if this knight has changed from his thought; and if he has, I will ask him courteously to come and visit thee.'

"Then Kai was wrath, and he spoke angry and spiteful words. 'Gwalchmai,said he; 'I know that thou wilt bring him, because he is fatigued. Little praise and honour, nevertheless, wilt thou have from vanquishing a weary knight, who is tired with fighting. Yet, thus hast thou gained the advantage over many. And while thy speech and thy soft words last, a coat of thin linen were armour enough for thee; and thou wilt not need to break either lance or sword in fighting with the knight in the state he is in.'

"Then said Gwalchmai to Kai, ' Thou mightest use more pleasant words, wert thou so minded; and it behoves thee not upon me to wreak thy wrath and thy displeasure. Methinks I shall bring the knight hither without breaking either my arm or my shoulder.'

"Then said Arthur to Gwalchmai,' Thou speak-est like a wise and prudent man ; go, and take enough of armour about thee, and choose thy horse. And Gwalchmai accoutred himself, and rode forward hastily to the place where Peredur was.

"And Peredur was resting on the shaft of his spear, pondering the same thought, and Gwalchmai came to him without any signs of hostility, and said to him, If I thought that it would be as agreeable to thee as it would be to me, I would converse with thee. I have also a message from Arthur unto thee, to pray thee to come and visit him. And two men have been before on this errand.'

"'That is true,' said Peredur; ' and uncour-teously they came. They attacked me, and I was annoyed thereat, for it was not pleasing to me to be drawn from the thought I was in, for I was thinking on the lady whom best I love.'

"Said Gwalchmai,' This was not an ungentle thought, and I should marvel if it were pleasant to thee to be. drawn from it.'"

This narrative was so full of nature, chivalry, simplicity, and poetry, that we could not resist quoting it in full. After this greeting, the knights, together with Arthur and his retinue, returned to Caerlleon; and the following passage still further shews the amorousness of the atmosphere in these parts.

44 And the first night Peredur came to Caerlleon, to Arthur's court, and as he walked in the city after his repast, behold, there met him Angharad Law Eurawc. 4 By my faith, sister,' said Peredur, 'thou art a beauteous and lovely maiden; and were it pleasing to thee, I could -love thee above all women.'"

The legend does not precisely inform us as to whether this was the lady on whom he had been before pondering, though it appears probable; howbeit, he assuredly got a very ungentle answer.

" I pledge my faith,1 said she, that I do not love thee, nor will I ever do so.'"

Notwithstanding this rebuff, her admirer was nothing daunted. "' I also pledge my faith,1 said Peredur, ' that I will never speak a word to any christian again, until thou come to love me above all men." And Peredur kept his word so rigourously that he obtained the name of the Dumb Youth; and furthermore, Peredur gained his victory over the lady. After various adventures and some lapse of time, we are told that Angharad Law Eurawc again met him, but without recognising his person; I declare to heaven, chieftain,1 said she, ' woful is it that thou canst not speak; for couldest thou jaeak, I would love thee best of all -men ; and by my faith, although thou canst not, I do love thee best of all.'

"'Heaven reward thee, my sister,1 said Peredur ; ' by my faith I do also love thee.'"

After this happy triumph, let no swain despair, albeit his lady do not at first seem kindly disposed. Some there be who say that perseverance will not bend a woman's will, and that if she is not disposed to love to-day, neither will she be disposed to-morrow. He who spoke thus, me-thinks, had never been loved at all, either yesterday, to-day, or to-morrow, and to-morrow up to the end of his life. We know one who put the following stanza into the mouth of a fair maiden, when she had to reprove her persecutor for being too importunate, videlicet:

"Pray leave me, if thou courtest mine esteem ; This heart is mine, if that thou seekest still;

Thou hast my mind,—then why, oh idly dream That perseverance moves a woman's will?"

Other knights, however, besides Peredur have proved the fallacy of such assertions ; for it is only those who persevere in being disagreeable that cannot move a woman's will by time; since those who go to work modestly, meekly, and deferentially, will, for the most part, compass their end. Have we not known twenty young folks of the opposite sexes come together, who, at their first acquaintanceship were not only indifferent, but were absolutely disagreeable to each other ! and yet, have we not known that time and better knowledge of their several dispositions and virtues, have so changed the aspect of their opinions, that many of them have, in the event, sworn matrimony to each other for good or bad, for better for worse, all the days of their existence. Let all swains therefore hold up Peredur, the Prince of Sunshine, as a cheering precedent, never allowing themselves to be stricken down by one blow, or defeated by incipient difficulties.

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