The plan of this edition leads me to insert in this place some account of the incidents on which the Novel of Waverley is founded. They have been already given to the public by my late lamented friend, William Erskine, Esq. (afterwards Lord Kinneder), when reviewing the Tales of My Landlord for the Quarterly Review in 1817. The particulars were derived by the critic from the Author’s information. Afterwards they were published in the Preface to the Chronicles of the Canongate. They are now inserted in their proper place.
The mutual protection afforded by Waverley and Talbot to each other, upon which the whole plot depends, is founded upon one of those anecdotes which soften the features even of civil war; and, as it is equally honourable to the memory of both parties, we have no hesitation to give their names at length. When the Highlanders, on the morning of the battle of Preston, 1745, made their memorable attack on Sir John Cope’s army, a battery of four field- pieces was stormed and carried by the Camerons and the Stewarts of Appine. The late Alexander Stewart of Invernahylewas one of the foremost in the charge, and observing an officer of the King’s forces, who, scorning to join the flight of all around, remained with his sword in his hand, as if determined to the very last to defend the post assigned to him, the Highland gentleman commanded him to surrender, and received for reply a thrust, which he caught in his target. The officer was now defenceless, and the battle-axe of a gigantic Highlander (the miller of Invernahyle’s mill) was uplifted to dash his brains out, when Mr. Stewart with difficulty prevailed on him to yield. He took charge of his enemy’s property, protected his person, and finally obtained him liberty on his parole. The officer proved to be Colonel Whitefoord, an Ayrshire gentleman of high character and influence, and warmly attached to the House of Hanover; yet such was the confidence existing between these two honourable men, though of different political principles, that, while the civil war was raging, and straggling officers from the Highland army were executed without mercy, Invernahyle hesitated not to pay his late captive a visit, as he returned to the Highlands to raise fresh recruits, on which occasion he spent a day or two in Ayrshire among Colonel Whitefoord’s Whig friends, as pleasantly and as good-humouredly as if all had been at peace around him.
After the battle of Culloden had ruined the hopes of Charles Edward and dispersed his proscribed adherents, it was Colonel Whitefoord’s turn to strain every nerve to obtain Mr. Stewart’s pardon. He went to the Lord Justice Clerk to the Lord Advocate, and to all the officers of state, and each application was answered by the production of a list in which Invernahyle (as the good old gentleman was wont to express it) appeared ‘marked with the sign of the beast!’ as a subject unfit for favour or pardon.
At length Colonel Whitefoord applied to the Duke of Cumberland in person. From him, also, he received a positive refusal. He then limited his request, for the present, to a protection for Stewart’s house, wife, children, and property. This was also refused by the Duke; on which Colonel Whitefoord, taking his commission from his bosom, laid it on the table before his Royal Highness with much emotion, and asked permission to retire from the service of a sovereign who did not know how to spare a vanquished enemy. The Duke was struck, and even affected. He bade the Colonel take up his commission, and granted the protection he required. It was issued just in time to save the house, corn, and cattle at Invernahyle from the troops, who were engaged in laying waste what it was the fashion to call ‘the country of the enemy.’ A small encampment of soldiers was formed on Invernahyle’s property, which they spared while plundering the country around, and searching in every direction for the leaders of the insurrection, and for Stewart in particular. He was much nearer them than they suspected; for, hidden in a cave (like the Baron of Bradwardine), he lay for many days so near the English sentinels that he could hear their muster-roll called. His food was brought to him by one of his daughters, a child of eight years old, whom Mrs. Stewart was under the necessity of entrusting with this commission; for her own motions, and those of all her elder inmates, were closely watched. With ingenuity beyond her years, the child used to stray about among the soldiers, who were rather kind to her, and thus seize the moment when she was unobserved and steal into the thicket, when she deposited whatever small store of provisions she had in charge at some marked spot, where her father might find it. Invernahyle supported life for several weeks by means of these precarious supplies; and, as he had been wounded in the battle of Culloden, the hardships which he endured were aggravated by great bodily pain. After the soldiers had removed their quarters he had another remarkable escape.
As he now ventured to his own house at night and left it in the morning, he was espied during the dawn by a party of the enemy, who fired at and pursued him. The fugitive being fortunate enough to escape their search, they returned to the house and charged the family with harbouring one of the proscribed traitors. An old woman had presence of mind enough to maintain that the man they had seen was the shepherd. ‘Why did he not stop when we called to him?’ said the soldier. ‘He is as deaf, poor man, as a peat-stack,’ answered the ready-witted domestic. ‘Let him be sent for directly.’ The real shepherd accordingly was brought from the hill, and, as there was time to tutor him by the way, he was as deaf when he made his appearance as was necessary to sustain his character. Invernahyle was afterwards pardoned under the Act of Indemnity.
The Author knew him well, and has often heard these circumstances from his own mouth. He was a noble specimen of the old Highlander, far descended, gallant, courteous, and brave, even to chivalry. He had been out, I believe, in 1715 and 1745, was an active partaker in all the stirring scenes which passed in the Highlands betwixt these memorable eras; and, I have heard, was remarkable, among other exploits, for having fought a duel with the broadsword with the celebrated Rob Roy MacGregor at the clachan of Balquidder.
Invernahyle chanced to be in Edinburgh when Paul Jones came into the Firth of Forth, and though then an old man, I saw him in arms, and heard him exult (to use his own words) in the prospect of drawing his claymore once more before he died.’ In fact, on that memorable occasion, when the capital of Scotland was menaced by three trifling sloops or brigs, scarce fit to have sacked a fishing village, he was the only man who seemed to propose a plan of resistance. He offered to the magistrates, if broadswords and dirks could be obtained, to find as many Highlanders among the lower classes as would cut off any boat’s crew who might be sent into a town full of narrow and winding passages, in which they were like to disperse in quest of plunder. I know not if his plan was attended to, I rather think it seemed too hazardous to the constituted authorities, who might not, even at that time, desire to see arms in Highland hands. A steady and powerful west wind settled the matter by sweeping Paul Jones and his vessels out of the Firth.
If there is something degrading in this recollection, it is not unpleasant to compare it with those of the last war, when Edinburgh, besides regular forces and militia, furnished a volunteer brigade of cavalry, infantry, and artillery to the amount of six thousand men and upwards, which was in readiness to meet and repel a force of a far more formidable description than was commanded by the adventurous American. Time and circumstances change the character of nations and the fate of cities; and it is some pride to a Scotchman to reflect that the independent and manly character of a country, willing to entrust its own protection to the arms of its children, after having been obscured for half a century, has, during the course of his own lifetime, recovered its lustre.
Other illustrations of Waverley will be found in the Notes at the foot of the pages to which they belong. Those which appeared too long to be so placed are given at the end of the chapters to which they severally relate.12
12 In this edition, all notes are found at the end of the chapter in which they are referenced.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00