The Antiquary, by Sir Walter Scott

Introduction

I knew Anselmo. He was shrewd and prudent,

Wisdom and cunning had their shares of him;

But he was shrewish as a wayward child,

And pleased again by toys which childhood please;

As — book of fables, graced with print of wood,

Or else the jingling of a rusty medal,

Or the rare melody of some old ditty,

That first was sung to please King Pepin’s cradle

The present work completes a series of fictitious narratives, intended to illustrate the manners of Scotland at three different periods. Waverley embraced the age of our fathers, Guy Mannering that of our own youth, and the Antiquary refers to the last ten years of the eighteenth century. I have, in the two last narratives especially, sought my principal personages in the class of society who are the last to feel the influence of that general polish which assimilates to each other the manners of different nations. Among the same class I have placed some of the scenes in which I have endeavoured to illustrate the operation of the higher and more violent passions; both because the lower orders are less restrained by the habit of suppressing their feelings, and because I agree, with my friend Wordsworth, that they seldom fail to express them in the strongest and most powerful language. This is, I think, peculiarly the case with the peasantry of my own country, a class with whom I have long been familiar. The antique force and simplicity of their language, often tinctured with the Oriental eloquence of Scripture, in the mouths of those of an elevated understanding, give pathos to their grief, and dignity to their resentment.

I have been more solicitous to describe manners minutely than to arrange in any case an artificial and combined narrative, and have but to regret that I felt myself unable to unite these two requisites of a good Novel.

The knavery of the adept in the following sheets may appear forced and improbable; but we have had very late instances of the force of superstitious credulity to a much greater extent, and the reader may be assured, that this part of the narrative is founded on a fact of actual occurrence.

I have now only to express my gratitude to the Public for the distinguished reception which, they have given to works, that have little more than some truth of colouring to recommend them, and to take my respectful leave, as one who is not likely again to solicit their favour.

To the above advertisement, which was prefixed to the first edition of the Antiquary, it is necessary in the present edition to add a few words, transferred from the Introduction to the Chronicles of the Canongate, respecting the character of Jonathan Oldbuck.

“I may here state generally, that although I have deemed historical personages free subjects of delineation, I have never on any occasion violated the respect due to private life. It was indeed impossible that traits proper to persons, both living and dead, with whom I have had intercourse in society, should not have risen to my pen in such works as Waverley, and those which, followed it. But I have always studied to generalise the portraits, so that they should still seem, on the whole, the productions of fancy, though possessing some resemblance to real individuals. Yet I must own my attempts have not in this last particular been uniformly successful. There are men whose characters are so peculiarly marked, that the delineation of some leading and principal feature, inevitably places the whole person before you in his individuality. Thus the character of Jonathan Oldbuck in the Antiquary, was partly founded on that of an old friend of my youth, to whom I am indebted for introducing me to Shakspeare, and other invaluable favours; but I thought I had so completely disguised the likeness, that it could not be recognised by any one now alive. I was mistaken, however, and indeed had endangered what I desired should be considered as a secret; for I afterwards learned that a highly respectable gentleman, one of the few surviving friends of my father, and an acute critic, had said, upon the appearance of the work, that he was now convinced who was the author of it, as he recognised, in the Antiquary, traces of the character of a very intimate friend1 of my father’s family.”

I have only farther to request the reader not to suppose that my late respected friend resembled Mr. Oldbuck, either in his pedigree, or the history imputed to the ideal personage. There is not a single incident in the Novel which is borrowed from his real circumstances, excepting the fact that he resided in an old house near a flourishing seaport, and that the author chanced to witness a scene betwixt him and the female proprietor of a stage-coach, very similar to that which commences the history of the Antiquary. An excellent temper, with a slight degree of subacid humour; learning, wit, and drollery, the more poignant that they were a little marked by the peculiarities of an old bachelor; a soundness of thought, rendered more forcible by an occasional quaintness of expression, were, the author conceives, the only qualities in which the creature of his imagination resembled his benevolent and excellent old friend.

The prominent part performed by the Beggar in the following narrative, induces the author to prefix a few remarks of that character, as it formerly existed in Scotland, though it is now scarcely to be traced.

Many of the old Scottish mendicants were by no means to be confounded with the utterly degraded class of beings who now practise that wandering trade. Such of them as were in the habit of travelling through a particular district, were usually well received both in the farmer’s ha’, and in the kitchens of the country gentlemen. Martin, author of the Reliquiae Divi Sancti Andreae, written in 1683, gives the following account of one class of this order of men in the seventeenth century, in terms which would induce an antiquary like Mr. Oldbuck to regret its extinction. He conceives them to be descended from the ancient bards, and proceeds:—“They are called by others, and by themselves, Jockies, who go about begging; and use still to recite the Sloggorne (gathering-words or war-cries) of most of the true ancient surnames of Scotland, from old experience and observation. Some of them I have discoursed, and found to have reason and discretion. One of then told me there were not now above twelve of them in the whole isle; but he remembered when they abounded, so as at one time he was one of five that usually met at St. Andrews.”

The race of Jockies (of the above description) has, I suppose, been long extinct in Scotland; but the old remembered beggar, even in my own time, like the Baccoch, or travelling cripple of Ireland, was expected to merit his quarters by something beyond an exposition of his distresses. He was often a talkative, facetious fellow, prompt at repartee, and not withheld from exercising his powers that way by any respect of persons, his patched cloak giving him the privilege of the ancient jester. To be a gude crack, that is, to possess talents for conversation, was essential to the trade of a “puir body” of the more esteemed class; and Burns, who delighted in the amusement their discourse afforded, seems to have looked forward with gloomy firmness to the possibility of himself becoming one day or other a member of their itinerant society. In his poetical works, it is alluded to so often, as perhaps to indicate that he considered the consummation as not utterly impossible. Thus in the fine dedication of his works to Gavin Hamilton, he says —

And when I downa yoke a naig,

Then, Lord be thankit, I can beg.

Again, in his Epistle to Davie, a brother Poet, he states, that in their closing career —

The last o’t, the warst o’t,

Is only just to beg.

And after having remarked, that

To lie in kilns and barns at e’en,

When banes are crazed and blude is thin,

Is doubtless great distress; the bard reckons up, with true poetical spirit, the free enjoyment of the beauties of nature, which might counterbalance the hardship and uncertainty of the life, even of a mendicant. In one of his prose letters, to which I have lost the reference, he details this idea yet more seriously, and dwells upon it, as not ill adapted to his habits and powers.

As the life of a Scottish mendicant of the eighteenth century seems to have been contemplated without much horror by Robert Burns, the author can hardly have erred in giving to Edie Ochiltree something of poetical character and personal dignity, above the more abject of his miserable calling. The class had, intact, some privileges. A lodging, such as it was, was readily granted to them in some of the out-houses, and the usual awmous (alms) of a handful of meal (called a gowpen) was scarce denied by the poorest cottager. The mendicant disposed these, according to their different quality, in various bags around his person, and thus carried about with him the principal part of his sustenance, which he literally received for the asking. At the houses of the gentry, his cheer was mended by scraps of broken meat, and perhaps a Scottish “twalpenny,” or English penny, which was expended in snuff or whiskey. In fact, these indolent peripatetics suffered much less real hardship and want of food, than the poor peasants from whom they received alms.

If, in addition to his personal qualifications, the mendicant chanced to be a King’s Bedesman, or Blue-Gown, he belonged, in virtue thereof, to the aristocracy of his order, and was esteemed a parson of great importance.

These Bedesmen are an order of paupers to whom the Kings of Scotland were in the custom of distributing a certain alms, in conformity with the ordinances of the Catholic Church, and who where expected in return to pray for the royal welfare and that of the state. This order is still kept up. Their number is equal to the number of years which his Majesty has lived; and one Blue-Gown additional is put on the roll for every returning royal birth-day. On the same auspicious era, each Bedesman receives a new cloak, or gown of coarse cloth, the colour light blue, with a pewter badge, which confers on them the general privilege of asking alms through all Scotland — all laws against sorning, masterful beggary, and every other species of mendicity, being suspended in favour of this privileged class. With his cloak, each receives a leathern purse, containing as many shillings Scots (videlicet, pennies sterling) as the sovereign is years old; the zeal of their intercession for the king’s long life receiving, it is to be supposed, a great stimulus from their own present and increasing interest in the object of their prayers. On the same occasion one of the Royal Chaplains preaches a sermon to the Bedesmen, who (as one of the reverend gentlemen expressed himself) are the most impatient and inattentive audience in the world. Something of this may arise from a feeling on the part of the Bedesmen, that they are paid for their own devotions, not for listening to those of others. Or, more probably, it arises from impatience, natural, though indecorous in men bearing so venerable a character, to arrive at the conclusion of the ceremonial of the royal birth-day, which, so far as they are concerned, ends in a lusty breakfast of bread and ale; the whole moral and religious exhibition terminating in the advice of Johnson’s “Hermit hoar” to his proselyte,

Come, my lad, and drink some beer.

Of the charity bestowed on these aged Bedesmen in money and clothing, there are many records in the Treasurer’s accompts. The following extract, kindly supplied by Mr. Macdonald of the Register House, may interest those whose taste is akin to that of Jonathan Oldbuck of Monkbarns.

Blew Gownis.

In the Account of Sir Robert Melvill of Murdocarney, Treasurer-Depute of King James IV., there are the following Payments:—

“Junij 1590.

“Item, to Mr. Peter Young, Elimosinar, twentie four gownis of blew clayth, to be gevin to xxiiij auld men, according to the yeiris of his hienes age, extending to viii xx viii elnis clayth; price of the elne xxiiij s. Inde, ij c_j li. xij s.

“Item, for sextene elnis bukrum to the saidis gownis, price of the elne x s. Inde,viij li.

“Item, twentie four pursis, and in ilk purse twentie four schelling

Inde, xxciij li. xvj s.

“Item, the price of ilk purse iiij d. Inde, viij s.

“Item, for making of the saidis gownis viij li.

In the Account of John, Earl of Mar, Great Treasurer of Scotland, and of Sir Gideon Murray of Enbank, Treasurer-Depute, the Blue-Gowns also appear thus:—

“Junij 1617.

“Item, to James Murray, merchant, for fyftene scoir sex elnis and aine half elne of blew claith to be gownis to fyftie ane aigeit men, according to the yeiris of his Majesteis age, at xl s. the elne

Inde,vj c xiij li.

“Item, to workmen for careing the blewis to James Aikman, tailyeour, his hous xiij s. iiij d.

“Item, for sex elnis and ane half of harden to the saidis gownis, at vj s. viij d. the elne Inde,xliij s. iiij d.

“Item, to the said workmen for careing of the gownis fra the said James Aikman’s hous to the palace of Halyrudehous xviij s.

“Item, for making the saidis fyftie ane gownis, at xij s. the peice

Inde,xxx li. xij s.

“Item, for fyftie ane pursis to the said puire menlj s.

“Item, to Sir Peter Young,li s. to be put in everie ane of the saidis ljpursis to the said poore men j c_xxxl jj s.

“Item, to the said Sir Peter, to buy breid and drink to the said puir men vj li. xiij s. iiij d.

“Item, to the said Sir Peter, to be delt amang uther puire folk j c_li.

“Item, upoun the last day of Junii to Doctor Young, Deane of Winchester, Elimozinar Deput to his Majestic, twentie fyve pund sterling, to be gevin to the puir be the way in his Majesteis progress Inde,iij c li.

I have only to add, that although the institution of King’s Bedesmen still subsists, they are now seldom to be seen on the streets of Edinburgh, of which their peculiar dress made them rather a characteristic feature.

Having thus given an account of the genus and species to which Edie Ochiltree appertains, the author may add, that the individual he had in his eye was Andrew Gemmells, an old mendicant of the character described, who was many years since well known, and must still be remembered, in the vales of Gala, Tweed, Ettrick, Yarrow, and the adjoining country.

The author has in his youth repeatedly seen and conversed with Andrew, but cannot recollect whether he held the rank of Blue-Gown. He was a remarkably fine old figure, very tall, and maintaining a soldierlike or military manner and address. His features were intelligent, with a powerful expression of sarcasm. His motions were always so graceful, that he might almost have been suspected of having studied them; for he might, on any occasion, have, served as a model for an artist, so remarkably striking were his ordinary attitudes. Andrew Gemmells had little of the cant of his calling; his wants were food and shelter, or a trifle of money, which he always claimed, and seemed to receive as his due. He, sung a good song, told a good story, and could crack a severe jest with all the acumen of Shakespeare’s jesters, though without using, like them, the cloak of insanity. It was some fear of Andrew’s satire, as much as a feeling of kindness or charity, which secured him the general good reception which he enjoyed everywhere. In fact, a jest of Andrew Gemmells, especially at the expense of a person of consequence, flew round the circle which he frequented, as surely as the bon-mot of a man of established character for wit glides through the fashionable world, Many of his good things are held in remembrance, but are generally too local and personal to be introduced here.

Andrew had a character peculiar to himself among his tribe for aught I ever heard. He was ready and willing to play at cards or dice with any one who desired such amusement. This was more in the character of the Irish itinerant gambler, called in that country a “carrow,” than of the Scottish beggar. But the late Reverend Doctor Robert Douglas, minister of Galashiels, assured the author, that the last time he saw Andrew Gemmells, he was engaged in a game at brag with a gentleman of fortune, distinction, and birth. To preserve the due gradations of rank, the party was made at an open window of the chateau, the laird sitting on his chair in the inside, the beggar on a stool in the yard; and they played on the window-sill. The stake was a considerable parcel of silver. The author expressing some surprise, Dr. Douglas observed, that the laird was no doubt a humourist or original; but that many decent persons in those times would, like him, have thought there was nothing extraordinary in passing an hour, either in card-playing or conversation, with Andrew Gemmells.

This singular mendicant had generally, or was supposed to have, much money about his person, as would have been thought the value of his life among modern foot-pads. On one occasion, a country gentleman, generally esteemed a very narrow man, happening to meet Andrew, expressed great regret that he had no silver in his pocket, or he would have given him sixpence. —“I can give you change for a note, laird,” replied Andrew.

Like most who have arisen to the head of their profession, the modern degradation which mendicity has undergone was often the subject of Andrew’s lamentations. As a trade, he said, it was forty pounds a-year worse since he had first practised it. On another occasion he observed, begging was in modern times scarcely the profession of a gentleman; and that, if he had twenty sons, he would not easily be induced to breed one of them up in his own line. When or where this laudator temporis acti closed his wanderings, the author never heard with certainty; but most probably, as Burns says,

— he died a cadger-powny’s death,

At some dike side.

The author may add another picture of the same kind as Edie Ochiltree and Andrew Gemmells; considering these illustrations as a sort of gallery, open to the reception of anything which may elucidate former manners, or amuse the reader.

The author’s contemporaries at the university of Edinburgh will probably remember the thin, wasted form of a venerable old Bedesman, who stood by the Potterrow-Port, now demolished, and, without speaking a syllable, gently inclined his head, and offered his hat, but with the least possible degree of urgency, towards each individual who passed. This man gained, by silence and the extenuated and wasted appearance of a palmer from a remote country, the same tribute which was yielded to Andrew Gemmells’ sarcastic humour and stately deportment. He was understood to be able to maintain a son a student in the theological classes of the University, at the gate of which the father was a mendicant. The young man was modest and inclined to learning, so that a student of the same age, and whose parents where rather of the lower order, moved by seeing him excluded from the society of other scholars when the secret of his birth was suspected, endeavoured to console him by offering him some occasional civilities. The old mendicant was grateful for this attention to his son, and one day, as the friendly student passed, he stooped forward more than usual, as if to intercept his passage. The scholar drew out a halfpenny, which he concluded was the beggar’s object, when he was surprised to receive his thanks for the kindness he had shown to Jemmie, and at the same time a cordial invitation to dine with them next Saturday, “on a shoulder of mutton and potatoes,” adding, “ye’ll put on your clean sark, as I have company.” The student was strongly tempted to accept this hospitable proposal, as many in his place would probably have done; but, as the motive might have been capable of misrepresentation, he thought it most prudent, considering the character and circumstances of the old man, to decline the invitation.

Such are a few traits of Scottish mendicity, designed to throw light on a Novel in which a character of that description plays a prominent part. We conclude, that we have vindicated Edie Ochiltree’s right to the importance assigned him; and have shown, that we have known one beggar take a hand at cards with a person of distinction, and another give dinner parties.

I know not if it be worth while to observe, that the Antiquary,2 was not so well received on its first appearance as either of its predecessors, though in course of time it rose to equal, and, with some readers, superior popularity.

1 [The late George Constable of Wallace Craigie, near Dundee.]

2 Note A. Mottoes.

[“It was in correcting the proof-sheets of this novel that Scott first took to equipping his chapters with mottoes of his own fabrication. On one occasion he happened to ask John Ballantyne, who was sitting by him, to hunt for a particular passage in Beaumont and Fletcher. John did as he was bid, but did not succeed in discovering the lines. ‘Hang it, Johnnie,’ cried Scott, ‘I believe I can make a motto sooner than you will find one.’ He did so accordingly; and from that hour, whenever memory failed to suggest an appropriate epigraph, he had recourse to the inexhaustible mines of “old play” or “old ballad,” to which we owe some of the most exquisite verses that ever flowed from his pen.”— J. G. Lockhart.

See also the Introduction to “Chronicles of the Canongate,” vol. xix.]

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/antiquary/introduction1.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29