The Romany Rye, by George Borrow

Appendix VI

On Scotch Gentility-Nonsense — Charlie O’er the Waterism

Of the literature just alluded to Scott was the inventor. It is founded on the fortunes and misfortunes of the Stuart family, of which Scott was the zealous defender and apologist, doing all that in his power lay to represent the members of it as noble, chivalrous, high-minded, unfortunate princes; though, perhaps, of all the royal families that ever existed upon earth, this family was the worst. It was unfortunate enough, it is true; but it owed its misfortunes entirely to its crimes, viciousness, bad faith, and cowardice. Nothing will be said of it here until it made its appearance in England to occupy the English throne.

The first of the family which we have to do with, James, was a dirty, cowardly miscreant, of whom the less said the better. His son, Charles I., was a tyrant, exceedingly cruel and revengeful, but weak and dastardly; he caused a poor fellow to be hanged in London, who was not his subject, because he had heard that the unfortunate creature had once bit his own glove at Cadiz, in Spain, at the mention of his name; and he permitted his own bull-dog, Strafford, to be executed by his own enemies, though the only crime of Strafford was that he had barked furiously at those enemies, and had worried two or three of them when Charles shouted, ‘Fetch ’em!’ He was a bitter, but yet a despicable, enemy, and the coldest and most worthless of friends; for though he always hoped to be able some time or other to hang his enemies, he was always ready to curry favour with them, more especially if he could do so at the expense of his friends. He was the haughtiest yet meanest of mankind. He once caned a young nobleman for appearing before him in the drawing-room not dressed exactly according to the court etiquette; yet he condescended to flatter and compliment him who, from principle, was his bitterest enemy — namely, Harrison, when the Republican colonel was conducting him as a prisoner to London. His bad faith was notorious; it was from abhorrence of the first public instance which he gave of his bad faith — his breaking his word to the Infanta of Spain, that the poor Hiberno–Spainard bit his glove at Cadiz; and it was his notorious bad faith which eventually cost him his head; for the Republicans would gladly have spared him, provided they could have put the slightest confidence in any promise, however solemn, which he might have made to them. Of them it would be difficult to say whether they most hated or despised him. Religion he had none. One day he favoured Popery; the next, on hearing certain clamours of the people, he sent his wife’s domestics back packing to France, because they were Papists. Papists, however, should make him a saint, for he was certainly the cause of the taking of Rochelle.

His son, Charles the Second, though he passed his youth in the school of adversity, learned no other lesson from it than the following one — take care of yourself, and never do an action, either good or bad, which is likely to bring you into any great difficulty; and this maxim he acted up to as soon as he came to the throne. He was a Papist, but took especial care not to acknowledge his religion, at which he frequently scoffed, till just before his last gasp, when he knew that he could lose nothing, and hoped to gain everything by it. He was always in want of money, but took care not to tax the country beyond all endurable bounds, preferring, to such a bold and dangerous course, to become the secret pensioner of Louis, to whom, in return for his gold, he sacrificed the honour and interests of Britain. He was too lazy and sensual to delight in playing the part of a tyrant himself; but he never checked tyranny in others, save in one instance. He permitted beastly butchers to commit unmentionable horrors on the feeble, unarmed, and disunited Covenanters of Scotland, but checked them when they would fain have endeavoured to play the same game on the numerous, united, dogged, and warlike Independents of England. To show his filial piety, he bade the hangman dishonour the corpses of some of his father’s judges, before whom, when alive, he ran like a screaming hare; but permitted those who had lost their all in supporting his father’s cause, to pine in misery and want. He would give to a painted harlot a thousand pounds for a loathsome embrace, and to a player or buffoon a hundred for a trumpery pun, but would refuse a penny to the widow or orphan of an old Royalist soldier. He was the personification of selfishness; and as he loved and cared for no one, so did no one love or care for him. So little had he gained the respect or affection of those who surrounded him, that after his body had undergone an after-death examination, parts of it were thrown down the sinks of the palace, to become eventually the prey of the swine and ducks of Westminster.

His brother, who succeeded him, James the Second, was a Papist, but sufficiently honest to acknowledge his Popery, but, upon the whole, he was a poor creature; though a tyrant, he was cowardly; had he not been a coward he would never have lost his throne. There were plenty of lovers of tyranny in England who would have stood by him, provided he would have stood by them, and would, though not Papists, have encouraged him in his attempt to bring back England beneath the sway of Rome, and perhaps would eventually have become Papists themselves; but the nation raising a cry against him, and his son-inlaw, the Prince of Orange, invading the country, he forsook his friends — of whom he had a host, but for whom he cared little — left his throne, for which he cared a great deal, and Popery in England, for which he cared yet more, to their fate, and escaped to France, from whence, after taking a little heart, he repaired to Ireland, where he was speedily joined by a gallant army of Papists whom he basely abandoned at the Boyne, running away in a most lamentable condition at the time when, by showing a little courage, he might have enabled them to conquer. This worthy, in his last will, bequeathed his heart to England, his right arm to Scotland, and his bowels to Ireland. What the English and Scotch said to their respective bequests is not known, but it is certain that an old Irish priest, supposed to have been a great-grand-uncle of the present Reverend Father Murtagh, on hearing of the bequest to Ireland, fell into a great passion, and, having been brought up at ‘Paris and Salamanca,’ expressed his indignation in the following strain: ‘Malditas sean tus tripas! teniamos bastante del olor de tus tripas al tiempo de tu nuida dela batalla del Boyne!’

His son, generally called the Old Pretender, though born in England, was carried in his infancy to France, where he was brought up in the strictest principles of Popery, which principles, however, did not prevent him becoming (when did they ever prevent anyone?) a worthless and profligate scoundrel. There are some doubts as to the reality of his being a son of James, which doubts are probably unfounded, the grand proof of his legitimacy being the thorough baseness of his character. It was said of his father that he could speak well, and it may be said of him that he could write well — the only thing he could do which was worth doing, always supposing that there is any merit in being able to write. He was of a mean appearance, and, like his father, pusillanimous to a degree. The meanness of his appearance disgusted, and his pusillanimity discouraged the Scotch when he made his appearance amongst them in the year 1715, some time after the standard of rebellion had been hoisted by Mar. He only stayed a short time in Scotland, and then, seized with panic, retreated to France, leaving his friends to shift for themselves as they best could. He died a pensioner of the Pope.

The son of this man, Charles Edward, of whom so much in latter years has been said and written, was a worthless, ignorant youth, and a profligate and illiterate old man. When young, the best that can be said of him is that he had occasionally springs of courage, invariably at the wrong time and place, which merely served to lead his friends into inextricable difficulties. When old, he was loathsome and contemptible to both friend and foe. His wife loathed him, and for the most terrible of reasons; she did not pollute his couch, for to do that was impossible — he had made it so vile; but she betrayed it, inviting to it not only Alfieri the Filthy, but the coarsest grooms. Doctor King, the warmest and almost last adherent of his family, said that there was not a vice or crime of which he was not guilty; as for his foes, they scorned to harm him even when in their power. In the year 1745 he came down from the Highlands of Scotland, which had long been a focus of rebellion. He was attended by certain clans of the Highlands — desperadoes used to freebootery from their infancy, and consequently to the use of arms, and possessed of a certain species of discipline. With these he defeated at Prestonpans a body of men called soldiers, but who were in reality peasants and artizans, levied about a month before, without discipline or confidence in each other, and who were miserably massacred by the Highland army. He subsequently invaded England, nearly destitute of regular soldiers, and penetrated as far as Derby, from which place he retreated on learning that regular forces, which had been hastily recalled from Flanders, were coming against him, with the Duke of Cumberland at their head. He was pursued, and his rear-guard overtaken and defeated by the dragoons of the Duke at Clifton, from which place the rebels retreated in great confusion across the Eden into Scotland, where they commenced dancing Highland reels and strathspeys on the bank of the river for joy at their escape, whilst a number of wretched girls, paramours of some of them, were perishing in the waters of the swollen river in an attempt to follow them. They themselves passed over by eighties and by hundreds, arm-inarm, for mutual safety, without the loss of a man, but they left the poor paramours to shift for themselves; nor did any of these canny people, after passing the stream, dash back to rescue a single female life — no, they were too well employed upon the bank in dancing strathspeys to the tune of ‘Charlie o’er the water.’ It was, indeed, Charlie o’er the water, and canny Highlanders o’er the water, but where were the poor prostitutes meantime? In the water.

The Jacobite farce, or tragedy, was speedily brought to a close by the Battle of Culloden; there did Charlie wish himself back again o’er the water, exhibiting the most unmistakable signs of pusillanimity; there were the clans cut to pieces — at least, those who could be brought to the charge — and there fell Giles Mac Bean, or, as he was called in Gaelic, Giliosa Mac Beathan, a kind of giant, six feet four inches and a quarter high, ‘than whom,’ as his wife said in a coronach she made upon him, ‘no man who stood at Cuiloitr was taller’— Giles Mac Bean, the Major of the clan Cattan, a great drinker, a great fisher, a great shooter, and the champion of the Highland host.

The last of the Stuarts was a cardinal.

Such were the Stuarts, such their miserable history. They were dead and buried, in every sense of the word, until Scott resuscitated them — how? — by the power of fine writing, and by calling to his aid that strange divinity, gentility. He wrote splendid novels about the Stuarts, in which he represents them as unlike what they really were, as the graceful and beautiful papillon is unlike the hideous and filthy worm. In a word, he made them genteel, and that was enough to give them paramount sway over the minds of the British people. The public became Stuart-mad, and everybody, especially the women, said: ‘What a pity it was that we hadn’t a Stuart to govern.’ All parties, Whig, Tory, or Radical, became Jacobite at heart, and admirers of absolute power. The Whigs talked about the liberty of the subject, and the Radicals about the rights of man still; but neither party cared a straw for what it talked about, and mentally swore that, as soon as by means of such stuff they could get places, and fill their pockets, they would be as Jacobite as the Jacobs themselves. As for the Tories, no great change in them was necessary; everything favouring absolutism and slavery being congenial to them. So the whole nation — that is, the reading part of the nation, with some exceptions, for, thank God, there has always been some salt in England — went over the water to Charlie. But going over to Charlie was not enough; they must, or at least a considerable part of them, go over to Rome, too, or have a hankering to do so. As the Priest sarcastically observes in the text, ‘As all the Jacobs were Papists, so the good folks who, through Scott’s novels, admire the Jacobs must be Papists too.’ An idea got about that the religion of such genteel people as the Stuarts must be the climax of gentility, and that idea was quite sufficient. Only let a thing, whether temporal or spiritual, be considered genteel in England, and if it be not followed it is strange indeed; so Scott’s writings not only made the greater part of the nation Jacobite, but Popish.

Here some people will exclaim — whose opinions remain sound and uncontaminated — what you say is perhaps true with respect to the Jacobite nonsense at present so prevalent being derived from Scott’s novels, but the Popish nonsense, which people of the genteeler class are so fond of, is derived from Oxford. We sent our sons to Oxford nice honest lads, educated in the principles of the Church of England, and at the end of the first term they came home puppies, talking Popish nonsense, which they had learned from the pedants to whose care we had entrusted them; ay, not only Popery, but Jacobitism, which they hardly carried with them from home, for we never heard them talking Jacobitism before they had been at Oxford; but now their conversation is a farrago of Popish and Jacobite stuff: ‘Complines and Claverse.’ Now, what these honest folks say is, to a certain extent, founded on fact; the Popery which has overflowed the land during the last fourteen or fifteen years has come immediately from Oxford, and likewise some of the Jacobitism, Popish and Jacobite nonsense, and little or nothing else, having been taught at Oxford for about that number of years. But whence did the pedants get the Popish nonsense with which they have corrupted youth? Why, from the same quarter from which they got the Jacobite nonsense with which they have inoculated those lads who were not inoculated with it before — Scott’s novels. Jacobitism and Laudism, a kind of half Popery, had at one time been very prevalent at Oxford, but both had been long consigned to oblivion there, and people at Oxford cared as little about Laud as they did about the Pretender. Both were dead and buried there, as everywhere else, till Scott called them out of their graves, when the pedants of Oxford hailed both; ay, and the Pope, too, as soon as Scott had made the old fellow fascinating, through particular novels, more especially the ‘Monastery’ and ‘Abbot.’ Then the quiet, respectable, honourable Church of England would no longer do for the pedants of Oxford; they must belong to a more genteel Church — they were ashamed at first to be downright Romans — so they would be Lauds. The pale-looking, but exceedingly genteel, non-juring clergyman in Waverley was a Laud; but they soon became tired of being Lauds, for Laud’s Church, gewgawish and idolatrous as it was, was not sufficiently tinselly and idolatrous for them, so they must be Popes, but in a sneaking way, still calling themselves Church of England men, in order to batten on the bounty of the Church which they were betraying, and likewise have opportunities of corrupting such lads as might still resort to Oxford with principles uncontaminated.

So the respectable people, whose opinions are still sound, are, to a certain extent, right when they say that the tide of Popery, which has flowed over the land, has come from Oxford. It did come immediately from Oxford, but how did it get to Oxford? Why, from Scott’s novels. Oh! that sermon which was the first manifestation of Oxford feeling, preached at Oxford some time in the year ‘38 by a divine of a weak and confused intellect, in which Popery was mixed up with Jacobitism! The present writer remembers perfectly well, on reading some extracts from it at the time in a newspaper, on the top of a coach, exclaiming: ‘Why, the simpleton has been pilfering from Walter Scott’s novels!’

Oh, Oxford pedants! Oxford pedants! ye whose politics and religion are both derived from Scott’s novels! what a pity it is that some lad of honest parents, whose mind ye are endeavouring to stultify with your nonsense about ‘Complines and Claverse,’ has not the spirit to start up and cry, ‘Confound your gibberish! I’ll have none of it. Hurrah for the Church, and the principles of my father!’

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:18