From Captain Clutterbuck, late of His Majesty’s —— regiment of infantry, to the Author of Waverley.
Although I do not pretend to the pleasure of your personal acquaintance, like many whom I believe to be equally strangers to you, I am nevertheless interested in your publications, and desire their continuance;-not that I pretend to much taste in fictitious composition, or that I am apt to be interested in your grave scenes, or amused by those which are meant to be lively. I will not disguise from you, that I have yawned over the last interview of MacIvor and his sister, and fell fairly asleep while the schoolmaster was reading the humours of Dandie Dinmont. You see, sir, that I scorn to solicit your favour in a way to which you are no stranger. If the papers I enclose you are worth nothing, I will not endeavour to recommend them by personal flattery, as a bad cook pours rancid butter upon stale fish. No, sir! what I respect in you is the light you have occasionally thrown on national antiquities, a study which I have commenced rather late in life, but to which I am attached with the devotions of a first love, because it is the only study I ever cared a farthing for.
You shall have my history, sir, (it will not reach to three volumes,) before that of my manuscript; and as you usually throw out a few lines of verse (by way of skirmishers, I suppose) at the head of each division of prose, I have had the luck to light upon a stanza in the schoolmaster’s copy of Burns which describes me exactly. I love it the better, because it was originally designed for Captain Grose, an excellent antiquary, though, like yourself, somewhat too apt to treat with levity his own pursuits:
’Tis said he was a soldier bred,
And ane wad rather fa’en than fled;
But now he’s quit the spurtle blade,
And dog-skin wallet,
And ta’en the — antiquarian trade,
I think, they call it.
I never could conceive what influenced me, when a boy, in the choice of a profession. Military zeal and ardour it was not, which made me stand out for a commission in the Scots Fusiliers, when my tutors and curators wished to bind me apprentice to old David Stiles, Clerk to his Majesty’s Signet. I say, military zeal it was not; for I was no fighting boy in my own person, and cared not a penny to read the history of the heroes who turned the world upside down in former ages. As for courage, I had, as I have since discovered, just as much of it as serve’d my turn, and not one frain of surplus. I soon found out, indeed, that in action there was more anger in running away than in standing fast; and besides, I could not afford to lose my commission, which was my chief means of support. But, as for that overboiling valour, which I have heard many of ours talk of, though I seldom observed that it influenced them in the actual affair —— that exuberant zeal, which courts Danger as a bride — truly my courage was of a complexion much less ecstatical.
Again, the love of a red coat, which, in default of all other aptitudes to the profession, has made many a bad soldier and some good ones, was an utter stranger to my disposition. I cared not a “bodle” for the company of the misses: Nay, though there was a boarding-school in the village, and though we used to meet with its fair inmates at Simon Lightfoot’s weekly Practising, I cannot recollect any strong emotions being excited on these occasions, excepting the infinite regret with which I went through the polite ceremonial of presenting my partner with an orange, thrust into my pocket by my aunt for this special purpose, but which, had I dared, I certainly would have secreted for my own personal use. As for vanity, or love of finery for itself, I was such a stranger to it, that the difficulty was great to make me brush my coat, and appear in proper trim upon parade. I shall never forget the rebuke of my old Colonel on a morning when the King reviewed a brigade of which ours made part. “I am no friend to extravagance, Ensign Clutterbuck,” said he; “but, on the day when we are to pass before the Sovereign of the kingdom, in the name of God I would have at least shown him an inch of clean linen.”
Thus, a stranger to the ordinary motives which lead young men to make the army their choice, and without the least desire to become either a hero or a dandy, I really do not know what determined my thoughts that way, unless it were the happy state of half-pay indolence enjoyed by Captain Doolittle, who had set up his staff of rest in my native village. Every other person had, or seemed to have, something to do, less or more. They did not, indeed, precisely go to school and learn tasks, that last of evils in my estimation; but it did not escape my boyish observation, that they were all bothered with something or other like duty or labour — all but the happy Captain Doolittle. The minister had his parish to visit, and his preaching to prepare, though perhaps he made more fuss than he needed about both. The laird had his farming and improving operations to superintend; and, besides, he had to attend trustee meetings, and lieutenancy meetings, and head-courts, and meetings of justices, and what not — was as early up, (that I detested,) and as much in the open air, wet and dry, as his own grieve. The shopkeeper (the village boasted but one of eminence) stood indeed pretty much at his ease behind his counter, for his custom was by no means overburdensome; but still he enjoyed his status, as the Bailie calls it, upon condition of tumbling all the wares in his booth over and over, when any one chose to want a yard of muslin, a mousetrap, an ounce of caraways, a paper of pins, the Sermons of Mr. Peden, or the Life of Jack the Giant-Queller, (not Killer, as usually erroneously written and pronounced. — See my essay on the true history of this worthy, where real facts have in a peculiar degree been obscured by fable.) In short, all in the village were under the necessity of doing something which they would rather have left undone, excepting Captain Doolittle, who walked every morning in the open street, which formed the high mall of our village, in a blue coat with a red neck, and played at whist the whole evening, when he could make up a party. This happy vacuity of all employment appeared to me so delicious, that it became the primary hint, which, according to the system of Helvetius, as the minister says, determined my infant talents towards the profession I was destined to illustrate.
But who, alas! can form a just estimate of their future prospects in this deceitful world? I was not long engaged in my new profession, before I discovered, that if the independent indolence of half-pay was a paradise, the officer must pass through the purgatory of duty and service in order to gain admission to it. Captain Doolittle might brush his blue coat with the red neck, or leave it unbrushed, at his pleasure; but Ensign Clutterbuck had no such option. Captain Doolittle might go to bed at ten o’clock, if he had a mind; but the Ensign must make the rounds in his turn. What was worse, the Captain might repose under the tester of his tent-bed until noon, if he was so pleased; but the Ensign, God help him, had to appear upon parade at peep of day. As for duty, I made that as easy as I could, had the sergeant to whisper to me the words of command, and bustled through as other folks did. Of service, I saw enough for an indolent man — was buffeted up and down the world, and visited both the East and West Indies, Egypt, and other distant places, which my youth had scarce dreamed of. The French I saw, and felt too; witness two fingers on my right hand, which one of their cursed hussars took off with his sabre as neatly as an hospital surgeon. At length, the death of an old aunt, who left me some fifteen hundred pounds, snugly vested in the three per cents, gave me the long-wished-for opportunity of retiring, with the prospect of enjoying a clean shirt and a guinea four times a-week at least.
For the purpose of commencing my new way of life, I selected for my residence the village of Kennaquhair, in the south of Scotland, celebrated for the ruins of its magnificent Monastery, intending there to lead my future life in the otium cum dignitate of half-pay and annuity. I was not long, however, in making the grand discovery, that in order to enjoy leisure, it is absolutely necessary it should be preceded by occupation. For some time, it was delightful to wake at daybreak, dreaming of the reveill? — then to recollect my happy emancipation from the slavery that doomed me to start at a piece of clattering parchment, turn on my other side, damn the parade, and go to sleep again. But even this enjoyment had its termination; and time, when it became a stock entirely at my own disposal, began to hang heavy on my hand.
I angled for two days, during which time I lost twenty hooks, and several scores of yards of gut and line, and caught not even a minnow. Hunting was out of the question, for the stomach of a horse by no means agrees with the half-pay establishment. When I shot, the shepherds, and ploughmen, and my very dog, quizzed me every time that I missed, which was, generally speaking, every time I fired. Besides, the country gentlemen in this quarter like their game, and began to talk of prosecutions and interdicts. I did not give up fighting the French to commence a domestic war with the “pleasant men of Teviotdale,” as the song calls them; so I e’en spent three days (very agreeably) in cleaning my gun, and disposing it upon two hooks over my chimney-piece.
The success of this accidental experiment set me on trying my skill in the mechanical arts. Accordingly I took down and cleaned my landlady’s cuckoo-clock, and in so doing, silenced that companion of the spring for ever and a day. I mounted a turning-lathe, and in attempting to use it, I very nearly cribbed off, with an inch-and-half former, one of the fingers which the hussar had left me.
Books I tried, both those of the little circulating library, and of the more rational subscription collection maintained by this intellectual people. But neither the light reading of the one, nor the heavy artillery of the other, suited my purpose. I always fell asleep at the fourth or fifth page of history or disquisition; and it took me a month’s hard reading to wade through a half-bound trashy novel, during which I was pestered with applications to return the volumes, by every half-bred milliner’s miss about the place. In short, during the time when all the town besides had something to do, I had nothing for it, but to walk in the church-yard, and whistle till it was dinner-time.
During these promenades, the ruins necessarily forced themselves on my attention, and, by degrees, I found myself engaged in studying the more minute ornaments, and at length the general plan, of this noble structure. The old sexton aided my labours, and gave me his portion of traditional lore. Every day added something to my stock of knowledge respecting the ancient state of the building; and at length I made discoveries concerning the purpose of several detached and very ruinous portions of it, the use of which had hitherto been either unknown altogether or erroneously explained.
The knowledge which I thus acquired I had frequent opportunities of retailing to those visiters whom the progress of a Scottish tour brought to visit this celebrated spot. Without encroaching on the privilege of my friend the sexton, I became gradually an assistant Cicerone in the task of description and explanation, and often (seeing a fresh party of visiters arrive) has he turned over to me those to whom he had told half his story, with the flattering observation, “What needs I say ony mair about it? There’s the Captain kens mair anent it than I do, or any man in the town.” Then would I salute the strangers courteously, and expatiate to their astonished minds upon crypts and chancels, and naves, arches, Gothic and Saxon architraves, mullions and flying buttresses. It not unfrequently happened, that an acquaintance which commenced in the Abbey concluded in the inn, which served to relieve the solitude as well as the monotony of my landlady’s shoulder of mutton, whether roast, cold, or hashed.
By degrees my mind became enlarged; I found a book or two which enlightened me on the subject of Gothic architecture, and I read now with pleasure, because I was interested in what I read about. Even my character began to dilate and expand. I spoke with more authority at the club, and was listened to with deference, because on one subject, at least, I possessed more information than any of its members. Indeed, I found that even my stories about Egypt, which, to say truth, were somewhat threadbare, were now listened to with more respect than formerly. “The Captain,” they said, “had something in him after a’ — there were few folk kend sae muckle about the Abbey.”
With this general approbation waxed my own sense of self-importance, and my feeling of general comfort. I ate with more appetite, I digested with more ease, I lay down at night with joy, and slept sound till morning, when I arose with a sense of busy importance, and hied me to measure, to examine, and to compare the various parts of this interesting structure. I lost all sense and consciousness of certain unpleasant sensations of a nondescript nature, about my head and stomach, to which I had been in the habit of attending, more for the benefit of the village apothecary than my own, for the pure want of something else to think about. I had found out an occupation unwittingly, and was happy because I had something to do. In a word, I had commenced local antiquary, and was not unworthy of the name.
Whilst I was in this pleasing career of busy idleness, for so it might at best be called, it happened that I was one night sitting in my little parlour, adjacent to the closet which my landlady calls my bedroom, in the act of preparing for an early retreat to the realms of Morpheus. Dugdale’s Monasticon, borrowed from the library at A——— was lying on the table before me, flanked by some excellent Cheshire cheese, (a present, by the way, from an honest London citizen, to whom I had explained the difference between a Gothic and a Saxon arch,) and a glass of Vanderhagen’s best ale. Thus armed at all points against my old enemy Time, I was leisurely and deliciously preparing for bed — now reading a line of old Dugdale — now sipping my ale, or munching my bread and cheese — now undoing the strings at my breeches’ knees, or a button or two of my waistcoat, until the village clock should strike ten, before which time I make it a rule never to go to bed. A loud knocking, however, interrupted my ordinary process on this occasion, and the voice of my honest landlord of the George was heard vociferating, 3 “What the deevil, Mrs. Grimslees, the Captain is no in his bed? and a gentleman at our house has ordered a fowl and minced collops, and a bottle of sherry, and has sent to ask him to supper, to tell him all about the Abbey.”
“Na,” answered Luckie Grimslees, in the true sleepy tone of a Scottish matron when ten o’clock is going to strike, “he’s no in his bed, but I’se warrant him no gae out at this time o’ night to keep folks sitting up waiting for him — the Captain’s a decent man.”
I plainly perceived this last compliment was made for my hearing, by way both of indicating and of recommending the course of conduct which Mrs. Grimslees desired I should pursue. But I had not been knocked about the world for thirty years and odd, and lived a bluff bachelor all the while, to come home and be put under petticoat government by my landlady. Accordingly I opened my chamber-door, and desired my old friend David to walk up stairs.
“Captain,” said he, as he entered, “I am as glad to find you up as if I had hooked a twenty pound saumon. There’s a gentleman up yonder that will not sleep sound in his bed this blessed night unless he has the pleasure to drink a glass of wine with you.”
“You know, David,” I replied, with becoming dignity, “that I cannot with propriety go out to visit strangers at this time of night, or accept of invitations from people of whom I know nothing.”
David swore a round oath, and added, “Was ever the like heard of? He has ordered a fowl and egg sauce, a pancake and minced collops and a bottle of sherry — D’ye think I wad come and ask you to go to keep company with ony bit English rider that sups on toasted cheese, and a cheerer of rum-toddy? This is a gentleman every inch of him, and a virtuoso, a clean virtuoso-a sad-coloured stand of claithes, and a wig like the curled back of a mug-ewe. The very first question he speered was about the auld drawbrig that has been at the bottom of the water these twal score years — I have seen the fundations when we were sticking saumon — And how the deevil suld he ken ony thing about the old drawbrig, unless he were a virtuoso?” 4
David being a virtuoso in his own way, and moreover a landholder and heritor, was a qualified judge of all who frequented his house, and therefore I could not avoid again tying the strings of my knees.
“That’s right, Captain,” vociferated David; “you twa will be as thick as three in a bed an ance ye forgather. I haena seen the like o’ him my very sell since I saw the great Doctor Samuel Johnson on his tower through Scotland, whilk tower is lying in my back parlour for the amusement of my guests, wi’ the twa boards torn aff.”
“Then the gentleman is a scholar, David?”
“I’se uphaud him a scholar,” answered David: “he has a black coat on, or a brown ane, at ony-rate.”
“Is he a clergyman?”
“I am thinking no, for he looked after his horse’s supper before he spoke o’ his ain,” replied mine host.
“Has he a servant?” demanded I.
“Nae servant,” answered David; “but a grand face o’ his ain, that wad gar ony body be willing to serve him that looks upon him.”
“And what makes him think of disturbing me? Ah, David, this has been some of your chattering; you are perpetually bringing your guests on my shoulders, as if it were my business to entertain every man who comes to the George.”
“What the deil wad ye hae me do, Captain?” answered mine host; “a gentleman lights down, and asks me in a most earnest manner, what man of sense and learning there is about our town, that can tell him about the antiquities of the place, and specially about the auld Abbey — ye wadna hae me tell the gentleman a lee? and ye ken weel eneugh there is naebody in the town can say a reasonable word about it, be it no yoursell, except the bedral, and he is as fou as a piper by this time. So, says I, there’s Captain Clutterbuck, that’s a very civil gentleman and has little to do forby telling a’ the auld cracks about the Abbey, and dwells just hard by. Then says the gentleman to me, ‘Sir,’ says he, very civilly, ‘have the goodness to step to Captain Clutterbuck with my compliments, and say I am a stranger, who have been led to these parts chiefly by the fame of these Ruins, and that I would call upon him, but the hour is late.’ And mair he said that I have forgotten, but I weel remember it ended — ‘And, landlord, get a bottle of your best sherry, and supper for two.’— Ye wadna have had me refuse to do the gentleman’s bidding, and me a publican?”
“Well, David,” said I, “I wish your virtuoso had taken a fitter hour — but as you say he is a gentleman —”
“I’se uphaud him that — the order speaks for itsell — a bottle of sherry — minched collops and a fowl — that’s speaking like a gentleman, I trow? — That’s right, Captain, button weel up, the night’s raw — but the water’s clearing for a’ that; we’ll be on’t neist night wi’ my Lord’s boats, and we’ll hae ill luck if I dinna send you a kipper to relish your ale at e’en.” 5
In five minutes after this dialogue, I found myself in the parlour of the George, and in the presence of the stranger.
He was a grave personage, about my own age, (which we shall call about fifty,) and really had, as my friend David expressed it, something in his face that inclined men to oblige and to serve him. Yet this expression of authority was not at all of the cast which I have seen in the countenance of a general of brigade, neither was the stranger’s dress at all martial. It consisted of a uniform suit of iron-gray clothes, cut in rather an old-fashioned form. His legs were defended with strong leathern gambadoes, which, according to an antiquarian contrivance, opened at the sides, and were secured by steel clasps. His countenance was worn as much by toil and sorrow as by age, for it intimated that he had seen and endured much. His address was singularly pleasing and gentlemanlike, and the apology which he made for disturbing me at such an hour, and in such a manner, was so well and handsomely expressed, that I could not reply otherwise than by declaring my willingness to be of service to him.
“I have been a traveller today, sir,” said he, “and I would willingly defer the little I have to say till after supper, for which I feel rather more appetized than usual.”
We sate down to table, and notwithstanding the stranger’s alleged appetite, as well as the gentle preparation of cheese and ale which I had already laid aboard, I really believe that I of the two did the greater honour to my friend David’s fowl and minced collops.
When the cloth was removed, and we had each made a tumbler of negus, of that liquor which hosts call Sherry, and guests call Lisbon, I perceived that the stranger seemed pensive, silent, and somewhat embarrassed, as if he had something to communicate which he knew not well how to introduce. To pave the way for him, I spoke of the ancient ruins of the Monastery, and of their history. But, to my great surprise, I found I had met my match with a witness. The stranger not only knew all that I could tell him, but a great deal more; and, what was still more mortifying, he was able, by reference to dates, charters, and other evidence of facts, that, as Burns says, “downa be disputed,” to correct many of the vague tales which I had adopted on loose and vulgar tradition, as well as to confute more than one of my favourite theories on the subject of the old monks and their dwellings, which I had sported freely in all the presumption of superior information. And here I cannot but remark, that much of the stranger’s arguments and inductions rested upon the authority of Mr. Deputy Register of Scotland, 6 and his lucubrations; a gentleman whose indefatigable research into the national records is like to destroy my trade, and that of all local antiquaries, by substituting truth instead of legend and romance. Alas! I would the learned gentleman did but know how difficult it is for us dealers in petty wares of antiquity to —
Pluck from our memories a rooted “legend,”
Raze out the written records of our brain.
Or cleanse our bosoms of that perilous stuff —
and so forth. It would, I am sure, move his pity to think how many old dogs he hath set to learn new tricks, how many venerable parrots he hath taught to sing a new song, how many gray heads he hath addled by vain attempts to exchange their old Mumpsimus for his new Sumpsimus. But let it pass. Humana perpessi sumus — All changes round us, past, present, and to come; that which was history yesterday becomes fable today, and the truth of today is hatched into a lie by tomorrow.
Finding myself like to be overpowered in the Monastery, which I had hitherto regarded as my citadel, I began, like a skilful general, to evacuate that place of defence, and fight my way through the adjacent country. I had recourse to my acquaintance with the families and antiquities of the neighbourhood, ground on which I thought I might skirmish at large without its being possible for the stranger to meet me with advantage. But I was mistaken.
The man in the iron-gray suit showed a much more minute knowledge of these particulars than I had the least pretension to. He could tell the very year in which the family of De Haga first settled on their ancient barony.7
Not a Thane within reach but he knew his family and connexions, how many of his ancestors had fallen by the sword of the English, how many in domestic brawl, and how many by the hand of the executioner for march-treason. Their castles he was acquainted with from turret to foundation-stone; and as for the miscellaneous antiquities scattered about the country, he knew every one of them, from a cromlech to a cairn, and could give as good an account of each as if he had lived in the time of the Danes or Druids.
I was now in the mortifying predicament of one who suddenly finds himself a scholar when he came to teach, and nothing was left for me but to pick up as much of his conversation as I could, for the benefit of the next company. I told, indeed, Allan Ramsay’s story of the Monk and Miller’s Wife, in order to retreat with some honour under cover of a parting volley. Here, however, my flank was again turned by the eternal stranger.
“You are pleased to be facetious, sir,” said he; “but you cannot be ignorant that the ludicrous incident you mentioned is the subject of a tale much older than that of Allan Ramsay.”
I nodded, unwilling to acknowledge my ignorance, though, in fact, I knew no more what he meant than did one of my friend David’s post-horses.
“I do not allude,” continued my omniscient companion, “to the curious poem published by Pinkerton from the Maitland Manuscript, called the Fryars of Berwick, although it presents a very minute and amusing picture of Scottish manners during the reign of James V.; but rather to the Italian novelist, by whom, so far as I know, the story was first printed, although unquestionably he first took his original from some ancient fabliau.” 8
“It is not to be doubted,” answered I, not very well understanding, however, the proposition to which I gave such unqualified assent.
“Yet,” continued my companion, “I question much, had you known my situation and profession, whether you would have pitched upon this precise anecdote for my amusement.”
This observation he made in a tone of perfect good-humour. I pricked up my ears at the hint, and answered as politely as I could, that my ignorance of his condition and rank could be the only cause of my having stumbled on anything disagreeable; and that I was most willing to apologize for my unintentional offence, so soon as I should know wherein it consisted.
“Nay, no offence, sir,” he replied; “offence can only exist where it is taken. I have been too long accustomed to more severe and cruel misconstructions, to be offended at a popular jest, though directed at my profession.”
“Am I to understand, then,” I answered, “that I am speaking with a Catholic clergyman?”
“An unworthy monk of the order of Saint Benedict,” said the stranger, “belonging to a community of your own countrymen, long established in France, and scattered unhappily by the events of the Revolution.” “Then,” said I, “you are a native Scotchman, and from this neighbourhood?”
“Not so,” answered the monk; “I am a Scotchman by extraction only, and never was in this neighbourhood during my whole life.”
“Never in this neighbourhood, and yet so minutely acquainted with its history, its traditions, and even its external scenery! You surprise me, sir,” I replied.
“It is not surprising,” he said, “that I should have that sort of local information, when it is considered, that my uncle, an excellent man, as well as a good Scotchman, the head also of our religious community, employed much of his leisure in making me acquainted with these particulars; and that I myself, disgusted with what has been passing around me, have for many years amused myself, by digesting and arranging the various scraps of information which I derived from my worthy relative, and other aged brethren of our order.”
“I presume, sir,” said I, “though I would by no means intrude the question, that you are now returned to Scotland with a view to settle amongst your countrymen, since the great political catastrophe of our time has reduced your corps?”
“No, sir,” replied the Benedictine, “such is not my intention. A European potentate, who still cherishes the Catholic faith, has offered us a retreat within his dominions, where a few of my scattered brethren are already assembled, to pray to God for blessings on their protector, and pardon to their enemies. No one, I believe, will be able to object to us under our new establishment, that the extent of our revenues will be inconsistent with our vows of poverty and abstinence; but, let us strive to be thankful to God, that the snare of temporal abundance is removed from us.”
“Many of your convents abroad, sir,” said I, “enjoyed very handsome incomes — and yet, allowing for times, I question if any were better provided for than the Monastery of this village. It is said to have possessed nearly two thousand pounds in yearly money-rent, fourteen chalders and nine bolls of wheat, fifty-six chalders five bolls barley, forty-four chalders and ten bolls oats, capons and poultry, butter, salt, carriage and arriage, peats and kain, wool and ale.”
“Even too much of all these temporal goods, sir,” said my companion, “which, though well intended by the pious donors, served only to make the establishment the envy and the prey of those by whom it was finally devoured.”
“In the meanwhile, however,” I observed, “the monks had an easy life of it, and, as the old song goes,
— made gude kale
On Fridays when they fasted.”
“I understand you, sir,” said the Benedictine; “it is difficult, saith the proverb, to carry a full cup without spilling. Unquestionably the wealth of the community, as it endangered the safety of the establishment by exciting the cupidity of others, was also in frequent instances a snare to the brethren themselves. And yet we have seen the revenues of convents expended, not only in acts of beneficence and hospitality to individuals, but in works of general and permanent advantage to the world at large. The noble folio collection of French historians, commenced in 1737, under the inspection and at the expense of the community of Saint Maur, will long show that the revenues of the Benedictines were not always spent in self-indulgence, and that the members of that order did not uniformly slumber in sloth and indolence, when they had discharged the formal duties of their rule.”
As I knew nothing earthly at the time about the community of St. Maur, and their learned labours, I could only return a mumbling assent to this proposition. I have since seen this noble work in the library of a distinguished family, and I must own I am ashamed to reflect, that, in so wealthy a country as ours, a similar digest of our historians should not be undertaken, under the patronage of the noble and the learned, in rivalry of that which the Benedictines of Paris executed at the expense of their own conventual funds.
“I perceive,” said the ex-Benedictine, smiling, “that your heretical prejudices are too strong to allow us poor brethren any merit, whether literary or spiritual.”
“Far from it, sir,” said I; “I assure you I have been much obliged to monks in my time. When I was quartered in a Monastery in Flanders, in the campaign of 1793, I never lived more comfortably in my life. They were jolly fellows, the Flemish Canons, and right sorry was I to leave my good quarters, and to know that my honest hosts were to be at the mercy of the Sans-Culottes. But fortune de la guerre!”
The poor Benedictine looked down and was silent. I had unwittingly awakened a train of bitter reflections, or rather I had touched somewhat rudely upon a chord which seldom ceased to vibrate of itself. But he was too much accustomed to this sorrowful train of ideas to suffer it to overcome him. On my part, I hastened to atone for my blunder. “If there was any object of his journey to this country in which I could, with propriety, assist him, I begged to offer him my best services.” I own I laid some little emphasis on the words “with propriety,” as I felt it would ill become me, a sound Protestant, and a servant of government so far as my half-pay was concerned, to implicate myself in any recruiting which my companion might have undertaken in behalf of foreign seminaries, or in any similar design for the advancement of Popery, which, whether the Pope be actually the old lady of Babylon or no, it did not become me in any manner to advance or countenance.
My new friend hastened to relieve my indecision. “I was about to request your assistance, sir,” he said, “in a matter which cannot but interest you as an antiquary, and a person of research. But I assure you it relates entirely to events and persons removed to the distance of two centuries and a half. I have experienced too much evil from the violent unsettlement of the country in which I was born, to be a rash labourer in the work of innovation in that of my ancestors.”
I again assured him of my willingness to assist him in anything that was not contrary to my allegiance or religion.
“My proposal,” he replied, “affects neither. — May God bless the reigning family in Britain! They are not, indeed, of that dynasty to restore which my ancestors struggled and suffered in vain; but the Providence who has conducted his present Majesty to the throne, has given him the virtues necessary to his time — firmness and intrepidity — a true love of his country, and an enlightened view of the dangers by which she is surrounded. — For the religion of these realms, I am contented to hope that the great Power, whose mysterious dispensation has rent them from the bosom of the church, will, in his own good time and manner, restore them to its holy pale. The efforts of an individual, obscure and humble as myself, might well retard, but could never advance, a work so mighty.”
“May I then inquire, sir,” said I, “with what purpose you seek this country?”
Ere my companion replied, he took from his pocket a clasped paper book, about the size of a regimental orderly-book, full, as it seemed, of memoranda; and, drawing one of the candles close to him, (for David, as a strong proof of his respect for the stranger, had indulged us with two,) he seemed to peruse the contents very earnestly.
“There is among the ruins of the western end of the Abbey church,” said he, looking up to me, yet keeping the memorandum-book half open, and occasionally glancing at it, as if to refresh his memory, “a sort of recess or chapel beneath a broken arch, and in the immediate vicinity of one of those shattered Gothic columns which once supported the magnificent roof, whose fall has now encumbered that part of the building with its ruins.”
“I think,” said I, “that I know whereabouts you are. Is there not in the side wall of the chapel, or recess, which you mention, a large carved stone, bearing a coat of arms, which no one hitherto has been able to decipher?”
“You are right,” answered the Benedictine; and again consulting his memoranda, he added, “the arms on the dexter side are those of Glendinning, being a cross parted by a cross indented and countercharged of the same; and on the sinister three spur-rowels for those of Avenel; they are two ancient families, now almost extinct in this country — the arms part y per pale.”
“I think,” said I, “there is no part of this ancient structure with which you are not as well acquainted as was the mason who built it. But if your information be correct, he who made out these bearings must have had better eyes than mine.”
“His eyes,” said the Benedictine, “have long been closed in death; probably when he inspected the monument it was in a more perfect state, or he may have derived his information from the tradition of the place.”
“I assure you,” said I, “that no such tradition now exists. I have made several reconnoissances among the old people, in hopes to learn something of the armorial bearings, but I never heard of such a circumstance. It seems odd that you should have acquired it in a foreign land.”
“These trifling particulars,” he replied, “were formerly looked upon as more important, and they were sanctified to the exiles who retained recollection of them, because they related to a place dear indeed to memory, but which their eyes could never again behold. It is possible, in like manner, that on the Potomac or Susquehannah, you may find traditions current concerning places in England, which are utterly forgotten in the neighbourhood where they originated. But to my purpose. In this recess, marked by the armorial bearings, lies buried a treasure, and it is in order to remove it that I have undertaken my present journey.”
“A treasure!” echoed I, in astonishment.
“Yes,” replied the monk, “an inestimable treasure, for those who know how to use it rightly.”
I own my ears did tingle a little at the word treasure, and that a handsome tilbury, with a neat groom in blue and scarlet livery, having a smart cockade on his glazed hat, seemed as it were to glide across the room before gay eyes, while a voice, as of a crier, pronounced my ear, “Captain Clutterbuck’s tilbury — drive up.” But I resisted the devil, and he fled from me.
“I believe,” said I, “all hidden treasure belongs either to the king or the lord of the soil; and as I have served his majesty, I cannot concern myself in any adventure which may have an end in the Court of Exchequer.”
“The treasure I seek,” said the stranger, smiling, “will not be envied by princes or nobles —— it is simply the heart of an upright man.”
“Ah! I understand you,” I answered; “some relic, forgotten in the confusion of the Reformation. I know the value which men of your persuasion put upon the bodies and limbs of saints. I have seen the Three Kings of Cologne.”
“The relics which I seek, however,” said the Benedictine, “are not precisely of that nature. The excellent relative whom I have already mentioned, amused his leisure hours with putting into form the traditions of his family, particularly some remarkable circumstances which took place about the first breaking out of the schism of the church in Scotland. He became so much interested in his own labours, that at length he resolved that the heart of one individual, the hero of his tale, should rest no longer in a land of heresy, now deserted by all his kindred. As he knew where it was deposited, he formed the resolution to visit his native country for the purpose of recovering this valued relic. But age, and at length disease, interfered with his resolution, and it was on his deathbed that he charged me to undertake the task in his stead. The various important events which have crowded upon each other, our ruin and our exile, have for many years obliged me to postpone this delegated duty. Why, indeed, transfer the relics of a holy and worthy man to a country, where religion and virtue are become the mockery of the scorner? I have now a home, which I trust may be permanent, if any thing in this earth can be, termed so. Thither will I transport the heart of the good father, and beside the shrine which it shall occupy, I will construct my own grave.”
“He must, indeed, have been an excellent man,” replied I, “whose memory, at so distant a period, calls forth such strong marks of regard.”
“He was, as you justly term him,” said the ecclesiastic, “indeed excellent — excellent in his life and doctrine — excellent, above all, in his self-denied and disinterested sacrifice of all that life holds dear to principle and to friendship. But you shall read his history. I shall be happy at once to gratify your curiosity, and to show my sense of your kindness, if you will have the goodness to procure me the means of accomplishing my object.” I replied to the Benedictine, that, as the rubbish amongst which he proposed to search was no part of the ordinary burial-ground, and as I was on the best terms with the sexton, I had little doubt that I could procure him the means of executing his pious purpose.
With this promise we parted for the night; and on the ensuing morning I made it my business to see the sexton, who, for a small gratuity, readily granted permission of search, on condition, however, that he should be present himself, to see that the stranger removed nothing of intrinsic value.
“To banes, and skulls, and hearts, if he can find ony, he shall be welcome,” said this guardian of the ruined Monastery, “there’s plenty a’ about, an he’s curious of them; but if there be ony picts” (meaning perhaps pyx) “or chalishes, or the like of such Popish veshells of gold and silver, deil hae me an I conneve at their being removed.”
The sexton also stipulated, that our researches should take place at night, being unwilling to excite observation, or give rise to scandal. My new acquaintance and I spent the day as became lovers of hoar antiquity. We visited every corner of these magnificent ruins again and again during the forenoon; and, having made a comfortable dinner at David’s, we walked in the afternoon to such places in the neighbourhood as ancient tradition or modern conjecture had rendered mark worthy. Night found us in the interior of the ruins, attended by the sexton, who carried a dark lantern, and stumbling alternately over the graves of the dead, and the fragments of that architecture, which they doubtless trusted would have canopied their bones till doomsday.
I am by no means particularly superstitious, and yet there was that in the present service which I did not very much like. There was something awful in the resolution of disturbing, at such an hour, and in such a place, the still and mute sanctity of the grave. My companions were free from this impression — the stranger from his energetic desire to execute the purpose for which he came — and the sexton from habitual indifference. We soon stood in the aisle, which, by the account of the Benedictine, contained the bones of the family of Glendinning, and were busily employed in removing the rubbish from a corner which the stranger pointed out. If a half-pay Captain could have represented an ancient Border-knight, or an ex-Benedictine of the nineteenth century a wizard monk of the sixteenth, we might have aptly enough personified the search after Michael Scott’s lamp and book of magic power. But the sexton would have been de trop in the group. 9
Ere the stranger, assisted by the sexton in his task, had been long at work, they came to some hewn stones, which seemed to have made part of a small shrine, though now displaced and destroyed.
“Let us remove these with caution, my friend,” said the stranger, “lest we injure that which I come to seek.”
“They are prime stanes,” said the sexton, “picked free every ane of them — warse than the best wad never serve the monks, I’se warrant.”
A minute after he had made this observation, he exclaimed, “I hae fund something now that stands again’ the spade, as if it were neither earth nor stane.”
The stranger stooped eagerly to assist him.
“Na, na, haill o’ my ain,” said the sexton; “nae halves or quarters;"— and he lifted from amongst the ruins a small leaden box.
“You will be disappointed, my friend,” said the Benedictine, “if you expect any thing there but the mouldering dust of a human heart, closed in an inner case of porphyry.”
I interposed as a neutral party, and taking the box from the sexton, reminded him, that if there were treasure concealed in it, still it could not become the property of the finder. I then proposed, that as the place was too dark to examine the contents of the leaden casket, we should adjourn to David’s, where we might have the advantage of light and fire while carrying on our investigation. The stranger requested us to go before, assuring us that he would follow in a few minutes.
I fancy that old Mattocks suspected these few minutes might be employed in effecting farther discoveries amongst the tombs, for he glided back through a side-aisle to watch the Benedictine’s motions, but presently returned, and told me in a whisper that “the gentleman was on his knees amang the cauld stanes, praying like ony saunt.”
I stole back, and beheld the old man actually employed as Mattocks had informed me. The language seemed to be Latin; and as, the whispered, yet solemn accent, glided away through the ruined aisles, I could not help reflecting how long it was since they had heard the forms of that religion, for the exercise of which they had been reared at such cost of time, taste, labour, and expense. “Come away, come away,” said I; “let us leave him to himself, Mattocks; this is no business of ours.”
“My certes, no, Captain,” said Mattocks; “ne’ertheless, it winna be amiss to keep an eye on him. My father, rest his saul, was a horse-couper, and used to say he never was cheated in a naig in his life, saving by a west-country whig frae Kilmarnock, that said a grace ower a dram o’ whisky. But this gentleman will be a Roman, I’se warrant?”
“You are perfectly right in that, Saunders,” said I.
“Ay, I have seen twa or three of their priests that were chased ower here some score o’ years syne. They just danced like mad when they looked on the friars’ heads, and the nuns’ heads, in the cloister yonder; they took to them like auld acquaintance like. — Od, he is not stirring yet, mair than he were a through-stane! 10 I never kend a Roman, to say kend him, but ane — mair by token, he was the only ane in the town to ken — and that was auld Jock of the Pend. It wad hae been lang ere ye fand Jock praying in the Abbey in a thick night, wi’ his knees on a cauld stane. Jock likit a kirk wi’ a chimley in’t. Mony a merry ploy I hae had wi’ him down at the inn yonder; and when he died, decently I wad hae earded him; but, or I gat his grave weel howkit, some of the quality, that were o’ his ain unhappy persuasion, had the corpse whirried away up the water, and buried him after their ain pleasure, doubtless — they kend best. I wad hae made nae great charge. I wadna hae excised Johnnie, dead or alive. — Stay, see — the strange gentleman is coming.”
“Hold the lantern to assist him, Mattocks,” said I. —“This is rough walking, sir.”
“Yes,” replied the Benedictine; “I may say with a poet, who is doubtless familiar to you ——”
I should be surprised if he were, thought I internally.
The stranger continued:
“Saint Francis be my speed! how oft to-night
Have my old feet stumbled at graves!”
“We are now clear of the churchyard,” said I, “and have but a short walk to David’s, where I hope we shall find a cheerful fire to enliven us after our night’s work.”
We entered, accordingly, the little parlour, into which Mattocks was also about to push himself with sufficient effrontery, when David, with a most astounding oath, expelled him by head and shoulders, d — ning his curiosity, that would not let gentlemen be private in their own inn. Apparently mine host considered his own presence as no intrusion, for he crowded up to the table on which I had laid down the leaden box. It was frail and wasted, as might be guessed, from having lain so many years in the ground. On opening it, we found deposited within, a case made of porphyry, as the stranger had announced to us.
“I fancy,” he said, “gentlemen, your curiosity will not be satisfied — perhaps I should say that your suspicions will not be removed — unless I undo this casket; yet it only contains the mouldering remains of a heart, once the seat of the noblest thoughts.”
He undid the box with great caution; but the shrivelled substance which it contained bore now no resemblance to what it might once have been, the means used having been apparently unequal to preserve its shape and colour, although they were adequate to prevent its total decay. We were quite satisfied, notwithstanding, that it was, what the stranger asserted, the remains of a human heart; and David readily promised his influence in the village, which was almost co-ordinate with that of the bailie himself, to silence all idle rumours. He was, moreover, pleased to favour us with his company to supper; and having taken the lion’s share of two bottles of sherry, he not only sanctioned with his plenary authority the stranger’s removal of the heart, but, I believe, would have authorized the removal of the Abbey itself, were it not that it happens considerably to advantage the worthy publican’s own custom.
The object of the Benedictine’s visit to the land of his forefathers being now accomplished, he announced his intention of leaving us early in the ensuing day, but requested my company to breakfast with him before his departure. I came accordingly, and when we had finished our morning’s meal, the priest took me apart, and pulling from his pocket a large bundle of papers, he put them into my hands. “These,” said he, “Captain Clutterbuck, are genuine Memoirs of the sixteenth century, and exhibit in a singular, and, as I think, an interesting point of view, the manners of that period. I am induced to believe that their publication will not be an unacceptable present to the British public; and willingly make over to you any profit that may accrue from such a transaction.”
I stared a little at this annunciation, and observed, that the hand seemed too modern for the date he assigned to the manuscript.
“Do not mistake me, sir,” said the Benedictine; “I did not mean to say the Memoirs were written in the sixteenth century, but only, that they were compiled from authentic materials of that period, but written in the taste and language of the present day. My uncle commenced this book; and I, partly to improve my habit of English composition, partly to divert melancholy thoughts, amused my leisure hours with continuing and concluding it. You will see the period of the story where my uncle leaves off his narrative, and I commence mine. In fact, they relate in a great measure to different persons, as well as to a different period.”
Retaining the papers in my hand, I proceeded to state to him my doubts, whether, as a good Protestant, I could undertake or superintend a publication written probably in the spirit of Popery.
“You will find,” he said, “no matter of controversy in these sheets, nor any sentiments stated, with which, I trust, the good in all persuasions will not be willing to join. I remembered I was writing for a land unhappily divided from the Catholic faith; and I have taken care to say nothing which, justly interpreted, could give ground for accusing me of partiality. But if, upon collating my narrative with the proofs to which I refer you — for you will find copies of many of the original papers in that parcel — you are of opinion that I have been partial to my own faith, I freely give you leave to correct my errors in that respect. I own, however, I am not conscious of this defect, and have rather to fear that the Catholics may be of opinion, that I have mentioned circumstances respecting the decay of discipline which preceded, and partly occasioned, the great schism, called by you the Reformation, over which I ought to have drawn a veil. And indeed, this is one reason why I choose the papers should appear in a foreign land, and pass to the press through the hands of a stranger.”
To this I had nothing to reply, unless to object my own incompetency to the task the good father was desirous to impose upon me. On this subject he was pleased to say more, I fear, than his knowledge of me fully warranted — more, at any rate, than my modesty will permit me to record. At length he ended, with advising me, if I continued to feel the diffidence which I stated, to apply to some veteran of literature, whose experience might supply my deficiencies. Upon these terms we parted, with mutual expressions of regard, and I have never since heard of him.
After several attempts to peruse the quires of paper thus singularly conferred on me, in which I was interrupted by the most inexplicable fits of yawning, I at length, in a sort of despair, communicated them to our village club, from whom they found a more favourable reception than the unlucky conformation of my nerves had been able to afford them. They unanimously pronounced the work to be exceedingly good, and assured me I would be guilty of the greatest possible injury to our flourishing village, if I should suppress what threw such an interesting and radiant light upon the history of the ancient Monastery of Saint Mary.
At length, by dint of listening to their opinion, I became dubious of my own; and, indeed, when I heard passages read forth by the sonorous voice of our worthy pastor, I was scarce more tired than I have felt myself at some of his own sermons. Such, and so great is the difference betwixt reading a thing one’s self, making toilsome way through all the difficulties of manuscript, and, as the man says in the play, “having the same read to you;"— it is positively like being wafted over a creek in a boat, or wading through it on your feet, with the mud up to your knees. Still, however, there remained the great difficulty of finding some one who could act as editor, corrector at once of the press and of the language, which, according to the schoolmaster, was absolutely necessary.
Since the trees walked forth to choose themselves a king, never was an honour so bandied about. The parson would not leave the quiet of his chimney-corner — the bailie pleaded the dignity of his situation, and the approach of the great annual fair, as reasons against going to Edinburgh to make arrangements for printing the Benedictine’s manuscript. The schoolmaster alone seemed of malleable stuff; and, desirous perhaps of emulating the fame of Jedediah Cleishbotham, evinced a wish to undertake this momentous commission. But a remonstrance from three opulent farmers, whose sons he had at bed, board, and schooling, for twenty pounds per annum a-head, came like a frost over the blossoms of his literary ambition, and he was compelled to decline the service.
In these circumstances, sir, I apply to you, by the advice of our little council of war, nothing doubting you will not be disinclined to take the duty upon you, as it is much connected with that in which you have distinguished yourself. What I request is, that you will review, or rather revise and correct, the enclosed packet, and prepare it for the press, by such alterations, additions, and curtailments, as you think necessary. Forgive my hinting to you, that the deepest well may be exhausted — the best corps of grenadiers, as our old general of brigade expressed himself, may be used up. A few hints can do you no harm; and, for the prize-money, let the battle be first won, and it shall be parted at the drum-head. I hope you will take nothing amiss that I have said. I am a plain soldier, and little accustomed to compliments. I may add, that I should be well contented to march in the front with you — that is, to put my name with yours on the title-page. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your unknown humble Servant, Cuthbert Clutterbuck. Village of Kennaquhair, — of April, 18 —
For the Author of “Waverley,” &c. care of Mr. John Ballantyne, Hanover Street, Edinburgh.
3 The George was, and is, the principal inn in the village of Kennaquhair, or Melrose. But the landlord of the period was not the same civil and quiet person by whom the inn is now kept. David Kyle, a Melrose proprietor of no little importance, a first-rate person of consequence in whatever belonged to the business of the town, was the original owner and landlord of the inn. Poor David, like many other busy men, took so much care of public affairs, as in some degree to neglect his own. There are persons still alive at Kennaquhair who can recognise him and his peculiarities in the following sketch of mine Host of the George.
4 There is more to be said about this old bridge hereafter. See Note, p. 57.
5 The nobleman whose boats are mentioned in the text, is the late kind and amiable Lord Sommerville, an intimate friend of the author. David Kyle was a constant and privileged attendant when Lord Sommerville had a party for spearing salmon; on such occasions, eighty or a hundred fish were often killed between Gleamer and Leaderfoot.
6 Thomas Thomson, Esq., whose well-deserved panegyric ought to be found on another page than one written by an intimate friend of thirty years’ standing.
7 The family of De Haga, modernized into Haig, of Bemerside, is of the highest antiquity, and is the subject of one of the prophecies of Thomas the Rhymer:—
Betide, betide, whate’er betide.
Haig shall be Haig of Bemerside.
8 It is curious to remark at how little expense of invention successive ages are content to receive amusement. The same story which Ramsay and Dunbar have successively handled, forms also the subject of the modern farce, No Song, no Supper.
9 This is one of those passages which must now read awkwardly, since every one knows that the Novelist and the author of the Lay of the Minstrel, is the same person. But before the avowal was made, the author was forced into this and similar offences against good taste, to meet an argument, often repeated, that there was something very mysterious in the Author of Waverley’s reserve concerning Sir Walter Scott, an author sufficiently voluminous at least. I had a great mind to remove the passages from this edition, but the more candid way is to explain how they came there.
10 A tombstone.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00