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The Scottish Nation

TRAIN, JOSEPH, a poet and antiquarian, the friend and correspondent of Sir Walter Scott, was born in the village of Sorn, Ayrshire, in 1779. About 1787 his parents, who were in humble circumstances, removed to Ayr, where Joseph was for a short time at school. His education was very limited, as he was early put to a mechanical occupation. Evincing, however, a decided taste for literature, all his leisure hours were devoted to reading and the improvement of his mind. In 1799 he was balloted for the Ayrshire militia, and served in its ranks till the spring of 1802, when, owing to the peace of Amiens, the militia regiments were disbanded. While stationed at Inverness he had become a subscriber for Currie’s edition of Burns’ works, published at Liverpool in 1800, although the price was a guinea and a half. The colonel of his regiment, Sir David Blair, happening to be in the shop of a bookseller in that town, saw the work on the counter, and expressed a wish to purchase it, but was informed, to his great surprise, that it had already been subscribed for by one of his own men. Sir David asked the name of the individual, and was so greatly pleased that he gave orders to have it bound in the best style, and delivered to Train free of expense. He did not content himself even with this, for on their return to Ayr, he recommended him to the notice of Mr. Hamilton of Pinmore, banker in that town, who procured for him an agency for the extensive manufacturing house of Messrs, James Finlay & Co. of Glasgow. In 1808, through Sir David’s influence, backed by the recommendation of the earl of Eglinton and David Boyle, afterwards lord-justice-general of Scotland, then solicitor-general, he obtained an appointment in the excise.

At first he was employed as a supernumerary, and in 1810 was one of a number of assistant officers sent to Perth, for the suppression of illicit distillation, then carried on in that quarter to a great extent. Here he drew up an Essay suggesting certain salutary alterations in the working of the excise statutes. It was not, however, till 1815, that he had an opportunity of bringing it before the board, when meeting the approbation not only of the board of excise but also of that of customs, it was forwarded to the lords of the treasury, and he had the satisfaction of seeing his suggestions ultimately adopted.

In 1811, he was appointed to permanent duty at Largs, in his native county, a place full of grand antiquities, where vestiges of cairns and tumuli abound, memorials of the battle fought there between Haco, king of Norway, and Alexander III. of Scotland, 2d October 1263. In 1813 he was transferred to Newton Stewart, in Galloway, where, as well as previously at Largs, he enjoyed more than ordinary opportunities of prosecuting those antiquarian researches to which the bent of his mind had inclined him from his early youth.

In 1814, Mr. Train published at Edinburgh a volume of poetry, entitled ‘Strains of the Mountain Muse,’ consisting chiefly of metrical tales, illustrative of Galloway and Ayrshire traditions, with notes. This work was the means of introducing him to the notice of Sir (then Mr.) Walter Scott, whom he afterwards greatly assisted by transmitting to him many of those legendary stories in which he delighted, and which he introduced, in various forms, into his works. Having seen the announcement of Mr. Train’s volume previous to publication, and obtained a perusal of the sheets from the publisher, Mr. Scott wrote to the author, subscribing for several copies, and on the book being sent to him by Mr. Train, in acknowledging receipt, he stated that he was not at all acquainted with Galloway traditions and stories, and would be much obliged by any communications from him on these subjects.

Among other traditionary pieces in Mr. Train’s volume was one entitled ‘The Funeral of Sir Archibald the Wicked.’ Meaning Sir Archibald Kennedy of Dunure, ancestor of the earls of Cassillis, a famous persecutor of the Covenanters, who died in 1710. In the Notes to this poem was one relating to another persecutor, Grierson of Lagg, on which Scott founded his romance of Redgauntlet. From his eagerness in collecting that traditionary lore which was then scarcely sought after in Galloway, Mr. Train soon obtained such a reputation that, to use his own words, “even beggars, in the hope of reward, came frequently from afar to Newton Stewart, to recite old ballads and relate old stories” to him.

When Sir Walter Scott was engaged in composing his poem of ‘The Lord of the Isles,’ he wrote to Mr. Train, thanking him for certain traditionary matter which he had sent to him, and requesting some information regarding the state of Turnberry castle, the ancient seat of the Bruces. “With what success,” says his biographer in the Contemporaries of Burns, (Edinb., Paton, 1840,) “Mr. Train set about the necessary inquiries, having undertaken a journey to the coast of Ayrshire for the purpose, appears from the notes appended to canto five of that magnificent poem, wherein is given a description of Turnberry castle, the landing of Robert the Bruce, and of the hospital founded by the deliverer of Scotland at King’s Case, near Prestwick. Through the kindness of Mr. Hamilton of Pinmore, Mr. Train procured from Colonel Fullerton, one of the mazers, or drinking horns, provided by the king for the use of the lepers, which he transmitted to Sir Walter. This interesting relic, much prized by the baronet, was among the first of the many valuable antiquarian remains afterwards presented to him – the extensive collection of which now forms one of the chief attractions at Abbotsford.”

Previously to his correspondence with Sir Walter Scott, he had, in conjunction with Captain James Denniston, author of ‘Legends of Galloway,’ formed the plan of writing a history of ancient Galloway, and they had accumulated a large amount of information relative to the history, antiquities, manners and customs of the former inhabitants of the district. Abandoning the idea of a separate publication, Mr. Train ultimately forwarded the greater portion of the materials collected, in a digested form, to Sir Walter Scott, to be used by him as suited his various publications. Among other communications sent by him was the ballad on which the novel of ‘Guy Mannering’ is founded, which had been recovered by Mr. Train from the recitation of an old lady then residing in Castle Douglas. In his researches throughout Galloway, he discovered a great variety of curious remains, and on his first visit to Scott at Edinburgh in May 1816, he took with him, as a present to the latter, an antique purse or spleuchan, at one time the property of Rob Roy, which he had obtained indirectly from a descendant of “the bold outlaw.” It was during this visit that Scott first heard from Mr. Train the name of Old Mortality, and received from him all the particulars of that singular individual that he could then recollect. He was so much interested in the details that he exacted a promise from his visitor that, on his return to Galloway, he would send him all the information he could collect concerning him as well as relative to the Covenanters. On the information thus obtained for him Scott founded his novel entitled Old Mortality. In reference to this first interview with Sir Walter, Mr. Lockhart says: -- “To this intercourse with Mr. Train we owe the whole machinery of the Tales of my Landlord, as well as the adoption of Claverhouse’s period for the scene of some of its first fictions. I think it highly probably that we owe a farther obligation to the worthy supervisor’s presentation of Rob Roy’s spleuchan.”

His name having been mentioned by Scott to Mr. Chalmers, author of Caledonia, while the latter was engaged in preparing the third volume of that work for publication, as a person able to assist him in the ancient history of Galloway and Ayrshire, a correspondence was commenced between them, and Mr. Train contributed to his great national work a succinct account of the Roman Post on the “Black Water of Dee,” near New Galloway, a sketch and description of the Roman camp at Rispain near Whithorn, and of the Roman Way from the Doon of Tynron in Dumfries-shire, to the town of Ayr. In his Introduction, Mr. Chalmers had stated that the Romans had never penetrated into Wigtownshire, but in the third volume he took the opportunity of correcting the mistake, and in a letter to Mr. Train, dated “Office for Trade, Whitehall, 20th June 1818,” he says, “You will enjoy the glory of being the first who has traced the Roman footsteps so far westward into Wigtonshire, and the Roman Road from Dumfries-shire to Ayr town. You have gone far beyond any correspondent of mine in these parts.” (Contemporaries of Burns, p. 276.) He also traced another vestige of antiquity in that quarter, called ‘The Dell’s Dyke,’ being an old wall extending to nearly eighty miles, of which the builders, the age, and the object are alike unknown.

In 1820, through the unwearied exertions of Sir Walter Scott on his behalf, he was appointed supervisor of excise, and removed to Cupar-Fife, where he had the charge of an extensive district. In this new field for antiquarian inquiry, he was successful in collecting some curious traditions respecting the famous crosses of Macduff and Mugdrum, which he sent to Sir Walter, who was so much interested that the following summer he visited the place, and soon after published his drama of ‘M’Duff’s Cross.’

Mr. Train was next removed, for temporary duty, to Kirkintilloch, where he got possession of several valuable Roman relics, a sword, a tripod, and a brass-plate, the latter found in the ruins of Castle Cary in 1775. There he transmitted to Abbotsford with an interesting account of the image of St. Flanning, which, prior to the Reformation, had adorned a chapel dedicated to that saint, the ruins of which still stand a few miles from Kirkintilloch. In June 1822, he was appointed to Queensferry, whence he also transmitted several remains of antiquity to Sir Walter, with an amusing account of the annual “riding of the marches” by the freemen of Linlithgow. At Sir Walter’s request, he collected information respecting the manners, customs, traditions, and superstitions of the fishermen of Buckhaven, and first gave him a description of the “Hailly Hoo,” a superstition alluded to in Quentin Durward.

After being about six months at Queensferry, Mr. Train was, in consequence of the cessation of the duty on salt, ordered in January 1823, to Falkirk. While in Edinburgh in the spring of 1826, he related to Sir Walter Scott the story of a Fifeshire ‘Surgeon’s daughter,’ which suggested to him the tale bearing that name in the ‘chronicles of the Canongate.’

The last district to which Mr. Train was appointed was that of Castle Douglas, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, where for nine years he discharged his laborious duties as supervisor of excise. For the edition of the Waverley novels, published in 1829, he furnished much of the information contained in the notes, and the assistance thus rendered by him was acknowledged by Sir Walter in the different volumes. In November of the same year, on the recommendation of Mr. Skene of Rubislaw, Mr. Train was admitted an honorary member of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries.

After being twenty-eight years in the service of the excise, Mr. Train was placed on the retired list in 1836, and afterwards resided in a cottage in the neighbourhood of Castle Douglas, pursuing his literary studies to the last, and occasionally contributing tales and poetry to ‘Chambers’ Journal,’ the ‘Dumfries Magazine,’ and other periodicals. The last of his publications was ‘The Buchanites from first to last.’ He died 14th December 1852, aged 74. He left several works, including a ‘History of the Isle of Man.’ He had married in 1803, Mary, eldest daughter of Mr. Robert Wilson, gardener in Ayr, by whom he had five children. His eldest son, William, became cashier in the Southern Bank, Dumfries, and was afterwards appointed one of the inspectors of the National Provincial Bank of England. In the Collected edition of the Waverley Novels and in Lockhart’s Life of Scott, there are several notices of Mr. Train, to which and to his Life in the ‘Contemporaries of Burns,’ we have been indebted for the materials for this memoir.

His works are:

Poetical Reveries. Glasgow, 1806, 8vo.
Strains of the Mountain Muse. Edinburgh, 1814, 8vo.
Historical and Statistical Account of the Isle of Man, From the earliest times to the present date; with a view of its ancient Laws, peculiar Customs and popular Superstitions. Douglas, 1845, 2 vols. 8vo.
The Buchanites from First to Last. Edin. 1846, 12mo.

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