Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 61

WE are now, my dear child, approaching a period more resembling our own than those through which I have hitherto conducted you. In England, and in the Lowlands of Scotland, men used the same language, possessed in a considerable degree the same habits of society, and lived under the same forms of government, which have existed in Britain down to the present day. The Highlanders, indeed, retained their ancient manners; and although, from the establishment of forts and garrisons in their country, the laws had much more power over them than formerly, so that they could no longer break out into the same excesses, they still remained, in their dress; customs, manners, and language, much more like the original Scots in the reign of Malcolm Canmore, than the Lowlanders of the same period resembled their ancestors of the seventeenth century.

But though the English and Lowland Scots exhibited little distinction in their manners and habits, excepting that those of the latter people indicated less wealth or refinement of luxury, there was no sympathy of feeling between them, and the recent measure of the Union had only an effect resembling that of putting two quarrelsome dogs into the same couples, or two sullen horses into the same yoke. Habit may in course of time teach them to accommodate themselves to each other; but the first consequence of the compulsory tie which unites them is the feeling of aggravated hostility. The predominant prejudices of the English represented the Scots, in the language of the celebrated Dean Swift,’ as a poor, ferocious, and haughty people, detesting their English neighbours, and looking upon them as a species of Egyptians, whom it was not only lawful but commendable to plunder, whether by open robbery or secret address. The poverty of the North Britons, and the humble and patient labour by which individuals were frequently observed to emerge from it, made them the objects of contempt to the English; while, on the other hand, the irascible and turbulent spirit of the nation, and a habitual use of arms, exposed them to aversion and hatred. This peculiar characteristic was, at the time of the Union, very general in Scotland. The Highlanders, you must remember, always carried weapons, and if thought of at all by their southern neighbours, they must have been considered as absolute and irreclaimable savages. The Lowlanders were also used to arms at this period, for almost the whole Scottish nation had been trained under the Act of Security; the population was distributed into regiments, and kept ready for action; and in the gloomy and irritated state of mind in which the Scots had been placed by the management of the Union treaty, they spoke of nothing more loudly and willingly than of war with England. The English had their especial reasons for disliking the Union. They did not, in general, feel nattered by the intimate confederacy and identification of their own rich country and civilized inhabitants with the boreal region of the North, and its rude and savage tribes. They were afraid that the craft, and patient endurance of labour of the Scots, would give them more than their share of the colonial trade which they had hitherto monopolized to themselves.

Yet, though such was the opinion held by the English in general, the more enlightened part of the nation, remembering the bloody wars which had so long desolated Britain in its divided state, dated from the Union an era of peace and happiness to both countries; and, looking far into futurity, foresaw a time when the national prejudices, which for the present ran so high, would die out or be eradicated like the weeds which deface the labours of the agriculturist, and give place to plenty and to peace. It was owing to the prevalence of such feelings, that the Duke of Queensberry, the principal negotiator of the treaty of Union, when he left Scotland for London after the measure was perfected, was received with the greatest distinction in the English towns through which he passed. And when he approached the neighbourhood of London, many of the members of the two Houses came to meet and congratulate a statesman, who, but for the guards that surrounded him, would, during the progress of the treaty, have been destroyed by his countrymen in the streets of Edinburgh! In England, therefore, the Union had its friends and partisans. In Scotland it was regarded with an almost universal feeling of discontent and dishonour. The Jacobite party, who had entertained great hopes of eluding the act for settling the kingdom upon the family of Hanover, beheld them entirely blighted; the Whigs, or Presbyterians, found themselves forming part of a nation in which Prelacy was an institution of the state; the Country Party, who had nourished a vain but honourable idea of maintaining the independence of Scotland, now saw it, with all its symbols of ancient sovereignty, sunk and merged under the government of England. All the different professions and classes of men saw each something in the obnoxious treaty, which affected their own interest. The nobles of an ancient and proud land, which they were wont to manage at their pleasure, were now stripped of their legislative privilege, unless in as far as exercised, like the rights of a petty corporation, by a handful of delegates; the smaller barons and gentry shared their humiliation, their little band of representatives being too few, and their voices too feeble, to produce any weight in the British House of Commons, to which a small portion was admitted.

The clergy’s apprehension for their own system of church discipline was sensitively awakened, and their frequent warnings from the pulpit kept the terror of innovation before their congregations. The Scottish lawyers had equal reason for alarm. They witnessed what they considered as the degradation of their profession, and of the laws, to the exposition of which they had been bred up. They saw their supreme civil court, which had spurned at the idea of having their decrees reviewed even in the Parliament, now subjected to appeal to the British House of Peers; a body who could be expected to know little of law at all, and in which the Chancellor, who presided, was trained in the jurisprudence of another country. Besides, when the sceptre departed from Scotland, and the lawgiver no longer sate at her feet, it was likely that her municipal regulations should be gradually assimilated to those of England, and that her lawyers should by degrees be laid aside and rendered useless, by the introduction of the institutions of a foreign country which were strange to their studies.

The merchants and trading portion of Scotland also found grievances in the Union peculiar to themselves. The privileges which admitted the Scots into the colonial trade of England, only represented the apples of Tantalus, so long as local prejudices, want of stock, and all the difficulties incident to forcing capital into a new channel, or line of business, obstructed their benefiting by them. On the other hand, they lost all the advantage of their foreign trade whenever their traffic became obstructed by the imposition of English duties. They lost, at the same time, a beneficial, though illicit trade, with England itself, which took place in consequence of foreign commodities being so much cheaper in Scotland. Lastly, the establishment of two Boards of Customs and Excise, with the introduction of a shoal of officers, all Englishmen, and, it was said, frequently men of indifferent and loose character,1 was severely felt by the commercial part of a nation, whose poverty had hitherto kept them tolerably free from taxation. The tradesmen and citizens were injured in the tenderest point, by the general emigration of families of rank and condition, who naturally went to reside in London, not only to attend their duties in Parliament, but to watch for those opportunities of receiving favours which are only to be obtained by being constantly near the source of preferment; not to mention numerous families of consequence, who went to the metropolis merely for fashion’s sake. This general emigration naturally drained Scotland of the income of the non-residents, who expended their fortunes among strangers, to the prejudice of those of their country folk, who had formerly lived by supplying them with necessaries or luxuries.

The agricultural interest was equally affected by the scarcity of money, which the new laws, the money drawn by emigrants from their Scottish estates, to meet the unwonted expenses of London, the decay of external commerce, and of internal trade, all contributed to produce. Besides these peculiar grievances which affected certain classes or professions, the Scots felt generally the degradation, as they conceived it, of their country being rendered the subservient ally of the state, of which, though infinitely more powerful, they had resisted the efforts for the space of two thousand years. The poorest and meanest, as well as the richest and most noble, felt that he shared the national honour; and the former was even more deeply interested in preserving it untarnished than the latter, because he had no dignity or consideration due to him personally or individually, beyond that which belonged to him as a native of Scotland.

There was, therefore, nothing save discontent and lamentation to be heard throughout Scotland, and men of every class vented their complaints against the Union the more loudly, because their sense of personal grievances might be concealed and yet indulged under popular declamations concerning the dishonour done to the country. To all these subjects of complaint there lay obvious answers, grounded on the future benefits which the Union was calculated to produce, and the prospect of the advantages which have since arisen from it. But at the time immediately succeeding that treaty, these benefits were only the subject of distant and doubtful speculation, while the immediate evils which we have detailed were present, tangible, and certain. There was a want of advocates for the Union, as well as of arguments having immediate and direct cogency. A considerable number of the regular clergy, indeed, who did not share the feverish apprehensions of prelatic innovation, which was a bugbear to the majority of their order, concluded it was the sounder policy to adhere to the Union with England, under the sovereignty of a Protestant prince, than to bring back, under King James VII., the evils in church and state which had occasioned the downfall of his father. But by such arguments, the ministers who used them only lowered themselves in the eyes of the people, who petulantly replied to their pastors, that none had been more loud than they against the Union, until they had got their own manses, glebes, and stipends assured to them; although that being done, they were now contented to yield up the civil rights of the Scottish monarchy, and endanger the stability of the Scottish church. Their hearers abandoned the kirks, and refused to attend the religious ordinances of such clergymen as favoured the Union, and went in crowds to wait upon the doctrines of those who preached against the treaty with the same zeal with which they had formerly magnified the Covenant. Almost all the dissenting and Cameronian ministers were anti-unionists, and some of the more enthusiastic were so peculiarly vehement, that long after the controversy had fallen asleep, I have heard my grandfather say (for your grandfather, Mr Hugh Little–John, had a grandfather in his time), that he had heard an old clergyman confess he could never bring his sermon, upon whatever subject, to a conclusion, without having what he called a blaud, that is a slap, at the Union.

If the mouths of the clergymen who advocated the treaty were stopped by reproaches of personal interest, with far more justice were those reproaches applied to the greater part of the civil statesmen, by whom the measure had been carried through and completed. The people of Scotland would not hear these gentlemen so much as speak upon the great incorporating alliance, for the accomplishment of which they had laboured so effectually. Be the event of the Union what it would, the objection was personal to many of those statesmen by whom it was carried through, that they had pressed the destruction of Scottish independence, which it necessarily involved, for private and selfish reasons, resolving into the gratification of their own ambition or avarice. They were twitted with the meanness of their conduct even in the Parliament of Britain. A tax upon linen cloth, the staple commodity of Scotland, having been proposed in the House of Commons, was resisted by Mr Baillie of Jerviswood, and other Scottish members, favourers of the Union, until Mr Harley, who had been Secretary of State during the treaty, stood up, and cut short the debate, by saying, “ Have we not bought the Scots, and did we not acquire a right to tax them? or for what other purpose did we give the equivalent?” Lockhart of Carnwath arose in reply, and said, he was glad to hear it plainly acknowledged that the Union had been a matter of bargain, and that Scotland had been bought and sold on that memorable occasion; but he was surprised to hear so great a manager in the traffic name the equivalents as the price, since the revenue of Scotland itself being burdened in relief of that sum, no price had been in fact paid, but what must ultimately be discharged by Scotland from her own funds.

The detestation of the treaty being for the present the ruling passion of the times, all other distinctions of party, and even of religious opinions in Scotland, were laid aside, and a singular coalition took place, in which Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Cavaliers, and many friends of the Revolution, drowned all former hostility in the predominant aversion to the Union. Even the Cameronians, who now formed a powerful body in the state, retained the same zeal against the Union when established, which had induced them to rise in arms against it while it was in progress. It was evident, that the treaty of Union could not be abolished without a counter-revolution; and for a time almost all the inhabitants of Scotland were disposed to join unanimously in the Restoration, as it was called, of James the Second’s son, to the throne of his fathers; and had his ally, the King of France, been hearty in his cause, or his Scottish partisans more united among themselves, or any leader amongst them possessed of distinguished talent, the Stewart family might have repossessed themselves of their ancient domain of Scotland, and perhaps of England also. To understand the circumstances by which that hope was disappointed, it is necessary to look back on the history of James II., and to take some notice of the character and situation of his son. The Chevalier de Saint George, as he was called by a conventional name, which neither gave nor denied his royal pretensions, was that unfortunate child of James II., whose birth, which ought in ordinary cases to have been the support of his father’s throne, became by perverse chance the strongest incentive for pressing forward the Revolution. He lost his hopes of a kingdom, therefore, and was exiled from his native country, ere he knew what the words country or kingdom signified, and lived at the court of Saint Germains, where Louis XIV. permitted his father to maintain a hollow pageant of royalty. Thus the son of James II. was brought up in what is generally admitted to be the very worst way in which a prince can be educated; that is, he was surrounded by all the pomp and external ceremony of imaginary royalty, without learning by experience any part of its real duties or actual business. Idle and discontented men, who formed the mimicry of a council, and played the part of ministers, were as deeply engaged in political intrigues for ideal offices and dignities at the court of Saint Germains, as if actual rank or emolument had attended them, — as reduced gamblers have been known to spend days and nights in play, although too poor to stake any thing on the issue of the game. It is no doubt true, that the versatility of the statesmen of England, including some great names, offers a certain degree of apology for the cabinet of the dethroned prince, to an extent even to justify the hopes that a counter-revolution would soon take place, and realize the expectations of the St Germains courtiers. It is a misfortune necessarily attending the success of any of those momentous changes of government, which, innovating upon the constitution of a country, are termed revolutions, that the new establishment of things cannot for some time attain that degree of respect and veneration which antiquity can alone impress. Evils are felt under the new government, as they must under every human institution, and men readily reconcile their minds to correct them, either by adopting further alterations, or by returning to that order of things which they have so lately seen in existence. That which is new itself, may, it is supposed, be subjected to further innovations without inconvenience, and if these are deemed essential and necessary, or even advantageous, there seems to ardent and turbulent spirits little reason to doubt, that the force which has succeeded so lately in destroying the institutions which had the venerable sanction of antiquity, may be equally successful in altering or remodelling that which has been the work of the present generation, perhaps of the very statesmen who are now desirous of innovating upon it. With this disposition to change still further what has been recently the subject of alteration, mingle other passions. There must always be many of those that have been active in a recent revolution, who have not derived the personal advantages which they were entitled, or, which is the same thing, thought themselves entitled, to expect. Such disappointed men are apt, in their resentment, to think that it depends only upon themselves to pull down what they have assisted to build, and to rebuild the structure in the destruction of which they have been so lately assistants. This was in the utmost extent evinced after the English Revolution. Not only subordinate agents, who had been active in the Revolution, but some men of the highest and most distinguished talents, were induced to enter into plots for the restoration of the Stewarts. Marlborough, Carmarthen, and Lord Russell, were implicated in a correspondence with France in 1692; and indeed, throughout the reigns of William III. and Queen Anne, many men of consequence, not willing explicitly to lend themselves to counter-revolutionary plots, were yet not reluctant to receive projects, letters, and promises from the exking, and return in exchange vague expressions of good-will for the cause of their old monarch, and respect for his person.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the Jacobite ministers at St Germains were by such negotiations rendered confident that a counter-revolution was approaching, or that they intrigued for their share in the honours and power which they conceived would be very soon at their master’s disposal. In this they might, indeed, have resembled the hunters in the fable, who sold the bear’s hide before they had killed him; but, on the other hand, they were less like simpletons who spend their time in gambling for nothing, than eager gamesters who play for a stake, which, though they do not yet possess, they soon expect to have at their disposal. Amid such petty and empty feuds, it was not likely that the son of James II. should greatly augment the strength of mind of which nature had given him but a small share, especially as his father had laid aside those habits of business with which he was once familiar, and, resigning all hopes of his restoration, had abandoned himself entirely to the severities of ascetic devotion. From his advice and example, therefore, the Chevalier de St George could derive no advantage; and Heaven had not granted him the talents which supply the place of instruction.

The heir of this ancient line was not, however, deficient in the external qualities, which associate well with such distinguished claims. He was of tall stature, and possessed a nobly formed countenance, and courteous manners. He had made one or two campaigns with applause, and showed no deficiency of courage, if he did not display much energy. He appears to have been good-humoured, kind, and tractable. In short, born on a throne, and with judicious ministers, he might have been a popular prince; but he had not the qualities necessary either to win or to regain a kingdom. Immediately before the death of his unfortunate father, the Chevalier de St George was consigned to the protection of Louis XIV., in an affecting manner.(16th Sept. 1701) The French monarch came for the last time to bid adieu to his unfortunate ally when stretched on his deathbed. Affected by the pathos of the scene, and possessing in reality a portion of that royal magnanimity by which he was so ambitious of being distinguished, Louis declared publicly his purpose to recognise the title of his friend’s son, as heir to the throne of Britain, and take his family under his protection. The dying prince half raised himself from his bed, and endeavoured to speak his gratitude; but his failing accents were drowned in a murmur of mingled grief and joy, which broke from his faithful followers. They were melted into tears, in which Louis himself joined. And thus was given, in a moment of enthusiasm, a promise of support which the French King had afterwards reason to repent of, as he could not gracefully shake off an engagement contracted under such circumstances of affecting solemnity; although in after periods of his reign, he was little able to supply the Chevalier de St George with such succours as his promise had entitled that prince to expect.

Louis was particularly embarrassed by the numerous plans and schemes for the invasion of Scotland and England, proposed either by real Jacobites eager to distinguish themselves by their zeal, or by adventurers, who, like the noted Captain Simon Fraser, assumed that character, so as to be enabled either to forward the Chevalier de St George’s interest, or betray his purpose to the English Ministry, whichever might best advance the interest of the emissary. This Captain Fraser (afterwards the celebrated Lord Lovat) was looked upon with coldness by the Chevalier and Lord Middleton, his secretary, but he gained the confidence of Mary of Este, the widow of James II. Being at length, through her influence, despatched to Scotland, Fraser trafficked openly with both parties; and although, whilst travelling through the Highlands, he held the character and language of a highflying Jacobite, and privately betrayed whatever he could worm out of them to the Duke of Queensberry, then the royal commissioner and representative of Queen Anne, he had nevertheless die audacity to return to France, and use the language of an injured and innocent man, till he was thrown into the Bastile for his double dealing. It is probable that this interlude of Captain Fraser, which happened in 1703, contributed to give Louis a distrust of Scottish Jacobite agents, and inclined him, notwithstanding the general reports of disaffection to Queen Anne’s government, to try the temper of the country by an agent of his own, before resolving to give any considerable assistance towards an invasion, which his wars in Flanders, and the victories of Marlborough, rendered him ill able to undertake.

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