The Heart of Mid-Lothian, Volume 1.
Sir Walter Scott

Part 1 out of 6

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By Walter Scott







Hear, Land o' Cakes and brither Scots,
Frae Maidenkirk to Johnny Groat's,
If there's a hole in a' your coats,
I rede ye tent it;
A chiel's amang you takin' notes,
An' faith he'll prent it!


SCOTT began to work on "The Heart of Mid-Lothian" almost before he had
completed "Rob Roy." On Nov. 10, 1817, he writes to Archibald Constable
announcing that the negotiations for the sale of the story to Messrs.
Longman have fallen through, their firm declining to relieve the
Ballantynes of their worthless "stock." "So you have the staff in your
own hands, and, as you are on the spot, can manage it your own way.
Depend on it that, barring unforeseen illness or death, these will be the
best volumes which have appeared. I pique myself on the first tale, which
is called 'The Heart of Mid-Lothian.'" Sir Walter had thought of adding a
romance, "The Regalia," on the Scotch royal insignia, which had been
rediscovered in the Castle of Edinburgh. This story he never wrote. Mr.
Cadell was greatly pleased at ousting the Longmans--"they have themselves
to blame for the want of the Tales, and may grumble as they choose: we
have Taggy by the tail, and, if we have influence to keep the best author
of the day, we ought to do it."--[Archibald Constable, iii. 104.]

Though contemplated and arranged for, "The Heart of Mid-Lothian" was not
actually taken in hand till shortly after Jan. 15, 1818, when Cadell
writes that the tracts and pamphlets on the affair of Porteous are to be
collected for Scott. "The author was in great glee . . . he says that he
feels very strong with what he has now in hand." But there was much
anxiety concerning Scott's health. "I do not at all like this illness of
Scott's," said James Ballantyne to Hogg. "I have eften seen him look
jaded of late, and am afraid it is serious." "Hand your tongue, or I'll
gar you measure your length on the pavement," replied Hogg. "You fause,
down-hearted loon, that ye are, you daur to speak as if Scott were on his
death-bed! It cannot be, it must not be! I will not suffer you to speak
that gait." Scott himself complains to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe of
"these damned spasms. The merchant Abudah's hag was a henwife to them
when they give me a real night of it."

"The Heart of Mid-Lothian," in spite of the author's malady, was
published in June 1818. As to its reception, and the criticism which it
received, Lockhart has left nothing to be gleaned. Contrary to his
custom, he has published, but without the writer's name, a letter from
Lady Louisa Stuart, which really exhausts what criticism can find to say
about the new novel. "I have not only read it myself," says Lady Louisa,
"but am in a house where everybody is tearing it out of each other's
hands, and talking of nothing else." She preferred it to all but
"Waverley," and congratulates him on having made "the perfectly good
character the most interesting. . . . Had this very story been conducted
by a common hand, Effie would have attracted all our concern and
sympathy, Jeanie only cold approbation. Whereas Jeanie, without youth,
beauty, genius, warns passions, or any other novel-perfection, is here
our object from beginning to end." Lady Louisa, with her usual frankness,
finds the Edinburgh lawyers tedious, in the introduction, and thinks that
Mr. Saddletree "will not entertain English readers." The conclusion
"flags"; "but the chief fault I have to find relates to the reappearance
and shocking fate of the boy. I hear on all sides 'Oh, I do not like
that!' I cannot say what I would have had instead, but I do not like it
either; it is a lame, huddled conclusion. I know you so well in it,
by-the-by! You grow tired yourself, want to get rid of the story, and
hardly care how." Lady Lousia adds that Sir George Staunton would never
have hazarded himself in the streets of Edinburgh. "The end of poor Madge
Wildfire is most pathetic. The meeting at Muschat's Cairn tremendous.
Dumbiedikes and Rory Beau are delightful. . . . I dare swear many of your
readers never heard of the Duke of Argyle before." She ends: "If I had
known nothing, and the whole world had told me the contrary, I should
have found you out in that one parenthesis, 'for the man was mortal, and
had been a schoolmaster.'"

Lady Louisa omits a character who was probably as essential to Scott's
scheme as any--Douce Davie Deans, the old Cameronian. He had almost been
annoyed by the criticism of his Covenanters in "Old Mortality," "the
heavy artillery out of the Christian Instructor or some such obscure
field work," and was determined to "tickle off" another. There are signs
of a war between literary Cavaliers and literary Covenanters at this
time, after the discharge of Dr. McCrie's "heavy artillery." Charles
Kirkpatrick Sharpe was presented by Surtees of Mainsforth with a
manuscript of Kirkton's unprinted "History of the Church of Scotland."
This he set forth to edite, with the determination not to "let the Whig
dogs have the best of it." Every Covenanting scandal and absurdity, such
as the old story of Mess David Williamson--"Dainty Davie"--and his
remarkable prowess, and presence of mind at Cherrytrees, was raked up,
and inserted in notes to Kirkton. Scott was Sharpe's ally in this
enterprise. "I had in the persons of my forbears a full share, you see,
of religious persecution . . . for all my greatgrandfathers were under
the ban, and I think there were hardly two of them out of jail at once."
"I think it would be most scandalous to let the godly carry it oft thus."
"It" seems to have been the editing of Kirkton. "It is very odd the
volume of Wodrow, containing the memoir of Russell concerning the murder,
is positively vanished from the library" (the Advocates' Library).
"Neither book nor receipt is to be found: surely they have stolen it in
the fear of the Lord." The truth seems to have been that Cavaliers and
Covenanters were racing for the manuscripts wherein they found smooth
stones of the brook to pelt their opponents withal. Soon after Scott
writes: "It was not without exertion and trouble that I this day detected
Russell's manuscript (the account of the murder of Sharpe by one of the
murderers), also Kirkton and one or two others, which Mr. McCrie had
removed from their place in the library and deposited in a snug and
secret corner." The Covenanters had made a raid on the ammunition of the
Cavaliers. "I have given," adds Sir Walter, "an infernal row on the
subject of hiding books in this manner." Sharpe replies that the
"villainous biographer of John Knox" (Dr. McCrie), "that canting rogue,"
is about to edite Kirkton. Sharpe therefore advertised his own edition at
once, and edited Kirkton by forced marches as it were. Scott reviewed the
book in the Quarterly (Jan. 1818). He remarked that Sharpe "had not
escaped the censure of these industrious literary gentlemen of opposite
principles, who have suffered a work always relied upon as one of their
chief authorities to lie dormant for a hundred and forty years." Their
"querulous outcries" (probably from the field-work of the Christian
Instructor) he disregards. Among the passions of this literary "bicker,"
which Scott allowed to amuse him, was Davie Deans conceived. Scott was
not going to be driven by querulous outcries off the Covenanting field,
where he erected another trophy. This time he was more friendly to the
"True Blue Presbyterians." His Scotch patriotism was one of his most
earnest feelings, the Covenanters, at worst, were essentially Scotch, and
he introduced a new Cameronian, with all the sterling honesty, the
Puritanism, the impracticable ideas of the Covenant, in contact with
changed times, and compelled to compromise.

He possessed a curious pamphlet, Haldane's "Active Testimony of the true
blue Presbyterians" (12mo, 1749). It is a most impartial work,
"containing a declaration and testimony against the late unjust invasion
of Scotland by Charles, Pretended Prince of Wales, and William, Pretended
Duke of Cumberland." Everything and everybody not Covenanted, the House
of Stuart, the House of Brunswick, the House of Hapsburg, Papists,
Prelatists and Turks, are cursed up hill and down dale, by these worthy
survivors of the Auld Leaven. Everybody except the authors, Haldane and
Leslie, "has broken the everlasting Covenant." The very Confession of
Westminster is arraigned for its laxity. "The whole Civil and Judicial
Law of God," as given to the Jews (except the ritual, polygamy, divorce,
slavery, and so forth), is to be maintained in the law of Scotland. Sins
are acknowledged, and since the Covenant every political step--
Cromwell's Protectorate, the Restoration, the Revolution, the accession
of the "Dukes of Hanover"--has been a sin. A Court of Elders is to be
established to put in execution the Law of Moses. All offenders against
the Kirk are to be "capitally punished." Stage plays are to be suppressed
by the successors of the famous convention at Lanark, Anno 1682.
Toleration of all religions is "sinful," and "contrary to the word of
God." Charles Edward and the Duke of Cumberland are cursed. "Also we
reckon it a great vice in Charles, his foolish Pity and Lenity, in
sparing these profane, blasphemous Redcoats, that Providence delivered
into his hand, when, by putting them to death, this poor land might have
been eased of the heavy burden of these vermin of Hell." The Auld Leaven
swore terribly in Scotland. The atrocious cruelties of Cumberland after
Culloden are stated with much frankness and power. The German soldiers
are said to have carried off "a vast deal of Spoil and Plunder into
Germany," and the Redcoats had Plays and Diversions (cricket, probably)
on the Inch of Perth, on a Sabbath. "The Hellish, Pagan, Juggler plays
are set up and frequented with more impudence and audacity than ever."
Only the Jews, "our elder Brethren," are exempted from the curses of
Haldane and Leslie, who promise to recover for them the Holy Land. "The
Massacre in Edinburgh" in 1736, by wicked Porteous, calls for vengeance
upon the authors and abettors thereof. The army and navy are "the most
wicked and flagitious in the Universe." In fact, the True Blue Testimony
is very active indeed, and could be delivered, thanks to hellish
Toleration, with perfect safety, by Leslie and Haldane. The candour of
their eloquence assuredly proves that Davie Deans is not overdrawn;
indeed, he is much less truculent than those who actually were testifying
even after his decease.

In "The Heart of Mid-Lothian" Scott set himself to draw his own people at
their best. He had a heroine to his hand in Helen Walker, "a character so
distinguished for her undaunted love of virtue," who, unlike Jeanie
Deans, "lived and died in poverty, if not want." In 1831 he erected a
pillar over her grave in the old Covenanting stronghold of Irongray. The
inscription ends--

Respect the Grave of Poverty,
When combined with Love of Truth
And Dear Affection.

The sweetness, the courage, the spirit, the integrity of Jeanie Deans
have made her, of all Scott's characters, the dearest to her countrymen,
and the name of Jeanie was given to many children, in pious memory of the
blameless heroine. The foil to her, in the person of Effie, is not less
admirable. Among Scott's qualities was one rare among modern authors: he
had an affectionate toleration for his characters. If we compare Effie
with Hetty in "Adam Bede," this charming and genial quality of Scott's
becomes especially striking. Hetty and Dinah are in very much the same
situation and condition as Effie and Jeanie Deans. But Hetty is a
frivolous little animal, in whom vanity and silliness do duty for
passion: she has no heart: she is only a butterfly broken on the wheel of
the world. Doubtless there are such women in plenty, yet we feel that her
creator persecutes her, and has a kind of spite against her. This was
impossible to Scott. Effie has heart, sincerity, passion, loyalty,
despite her flightiness, and her readiness, when her chance comes, to
play the fine lady. It was distasteful to Scott to create a character not
human and sympathetic on one side or another. Thus his robber "of milder
mood," on Jeanie's journey to England, is comparatively a good fellow,
and the scoundrel Ratcliffe is not a scoundrel utterly. "'To make a Lang
tale short, I canna undertake the job. It gangs against my conscience.'
'Your conscience, Rat?' said Sharpitlaw, with a sneer, which the reader
will probably think very natural upon the occasion. 'Ou ay, sir,'
answered Ratcliffe, calmly, 'just my conscience; a body has a conscience,
though it may be ill wunnin at it. I think mine's as weel out o' the gate
as maist folk's are; and yet it's just like the noop of my elbow, it
whiles gets a bit dirl on a corner.'" Scott insists on leaving his worst
people in possession of something likeable, just as he cannot dismiss
even Captain Craigengelt without assuring us that Bucklaw made a
provision for his necessities. This is certainly a more humane way of
writing fiction than that to which we are accustomed in an age of
humanitarianism. Nor does Scott's art suffer from his kindliness, and
Effie in prison, with a heart to be broken, is not less pathetic than the
heartless Hetty, in the same condemnation.

As to her lover, Robertson, or Sir George Staunton, he certainly verges
on the melodramatic. Perhaps we know too much about the real George
Robertson, who was no heir to a title in disguise, but merely a "stabler
in Bristol" accused "at the instance of Duncan Forbes, Esq. of Culloden,
his Majesty's advocate, for the crimes of Stouthrieff, Housebreaking, and
Robbery." Robertson "kept an inn in Bristo, at Edinburgh, where the
Newcastle carrier commonly did put up," and is believed to have been a
married man. It is not very clear that the novel gains much by the
elevation of the Bristo innkeeper to a baronetcy, except in so far as
Effie's appearance in the character of a great lady is entertaining and
characteristic, and Jeanie's conquest of her own envy is exemplary. The
change in social rank calls for the tragic conclusion, about which almost
every reader agrees with the criticism of Lady Louisa Stuart and her
friends. Thus the novel "filled more pages" than Mr. Jedediah
Cleishbotham had "opined," and hence comes a languor which does not beset
the story of "Old Mortality." Scott's own love of adventure and of
stirring incidents at any cost is an excellent quality in a novelist, but
it does, in this instance, cause him somewhat to dilute those immortal
studies of Scotch character which are the strength of his genius.
The reader feels a lack of reality in the conclusion, the fatal encounter
of the father and the lost son, an incident as old as the legend of
Odysseus. But this is more than atoned for by the admirable part of Madge
Wildfire, flitting like a /feu follet/ up and down among the douce
Scotch, and the dour rioters. Madge Wildfire is no repetition of Meg
Merrilies, though both are unrestrained natural things, rebels against
the settled life, musical voices out of the past, singing forgotten songs
of nameless minstrels. Nowhere but in Shakspeare can we find such a
distraught woman as Madge Wildfire, so near akin to nature and to the
moods of "the bonny lady Moon." Only he who created Ophelia could have
conceived or rivalled the scene where Madge accompanies the hunters of
Staunton on the moonlit hill and sings her warnings to the fugitive.

When the glede's in the blue cloud,
The lavrock lies still;
When the hound's in the green-wood,
The hind keeps the hill.
There's a bloodhound ranging Tinwald wood,
There's harness glancing sheen;
There's a maiden sits on Tinwald brae,
And she sings loud between.
O sleep ye sound, Sir James, she said,
When ye suld rise and ride?
There's twenty men, wi' bow and blade,
Are seeking where ye hide.

The madness of Madge Wildfire has its parallel in the wildness of
Goethe's Marguerite, both of them lamenting the lost child, which, to
Madge's fancy, is now dead, now living in a dream. But the gloom that
hangs about Muschat's Cairn, the ghastly vision of "crying up Ailie
Muschat, and she and I will hae a grand bouking-washing, and bleach our
claise in the beams of the bonny Lady Moon," have a terror beyond the
German, and are unexcelled by Webster or by Ford. "But the moon, and the
dew, and the night-wind, they are just like a caller kail-blade laid on
my brow; and whiles I think the moon just shines on purpose to pleasure
me, when naebody sees her but mysell." Scott did not deal much in the
facile pathos of the death-bed, but that of Madge Wildfire has a grace of
poetry, and her latest song is the sweetest and wildest of his lyrics,
the most appropriate in its setting. When we think of the contrasts to
her--the honest, dull good-nature of Dumbiedikes; the common-sense and
humour of Mrs. Saddletree; the pragmatic pedantry of her husband; the
Highland pride, courage, and absurdity of the Captain of Knockdander--
when we consider all these so various and perfect creations, we need not
wonder that Scott was "in high glee" over "The Heart of Mid-Lothian,"
"felt himself very strong," and thought that these would be "the best
volumes that have appeared." The difficulty, as usual, is to understand
how, in all this strength, he permitted himself to be so careless over
what is really by far the easiest part of the novelist's task--the
construction. But so it was; about "The Monastery" he said, "it was
written with as much care as the rest, that is, with no care at all."
His genius flowed free in its own unconscious abundance: where conscious
deliberate workmanship was needed, "the forthright craftsman's hand,"
there alone he was lax and irresponsible. In Shakspeare's case we can
often account for similar incongruities by the constraint of the old plot
which he was using; but Scott was making his own plots, or letting them
make themselves. "I never could lay down a plan, or, having laid it down,
I never could adhere to it; the action of composition always diluted some
passages and abridged or omitted others; and personages were rendered
important or insignificant, not according to their agency in the original
conception of the plan, but according to the success or otherwise with
which I was able to bring them out. I only tried to make that which I was
actually writing diverting and interesting, leaving the rest to fate. . .
When I chain my mind to ideas which are purely imaginative--for argument
is a different thing--it seems to me that the sun leaves the landscape,
that I think away the whole vivacity and spirit of my original
conception, and that the results are cold, tame, and spiritless."

In fact, Sir Walter was like the Magician who can raise spirits that,
once raised, dominate him. Probably this must ever be the case, when an
author's characters are not puppets but real creations. They then have a
will and a way of their own; a free-will which their creator cannot
predetermine and correct. Something like this appears to have been
Scott's own theory of his lack of constructive power. No one was so
assured of its absence, no one criticised it more severely than he did
himself. The Edinburgh Review about this time counselled the "Author of
Waverley" to attempt a drama, doubting only his powers of compression.
Possibly work at a drama might have been of advantage to the genius of
Scott. He was unskilled in selection and rejection, which the drama
especially demands. But he detested the idea of writing for actors, whom
he regarded as ignorant, dull, and conceited. "I shall not fine and renew
a lease of popularity upon the theatre. To write for low, ill-informed,
and conceited actors, whom you must please, for your success is
necessarily at their mercy, I cannot away with," he wrote to Southey.
"Avowedly, I will never write for the stage; if I do, 'call me horse,'"
he remarks to Terry. He wanted "neither the profit nor the shame of it."
"I do not think that the character of the audience in London is such that
one could have the least pleasure in pleasing them." He liked helping
Terry to "Terryfy" "The Heart of Mid-Lothian," and his other novels, but
he had no more desire than a senator of Rome would have had to see his
name become famous by the Theatre. This confirmed repulsion in one so
learned in the dramatic poets is a curious trait in Scott's character.
He could not accommodate his genius to the needs of the stage, and that
crown which has most potently allured most men of genius he would have
thrust away, had it been offered to him, with none of Caesar's
reluctance. At the bottom of all this lay probably the secret conviction
that his genius was his master, that it must take him where it would, on
paths where he was compelled to follow. Terse and concentrated, of set
purpose, he could not be. A notable instance of this inability occurs in
the Introductory Chapter to "The Heart of Mid-Lothian," which has
probably frightened away many modern readers. The Advocate and the Writer
to the Signet and the poor Client are persons quite uncalled for, and
their little adventure at Gandercleugh is unreal. Oddly enough, part of
their conversation is absolutely in the manner of Dickens.

"'I think,' said I, . . . 'the metropolitan county may, in that case, be
said to have a sad heart.'

"'Right as my glove, Mr. Pattieson,' added Mr. Hardie; 'and a close
heart, and a hard heart--Keep it up, Jack.'

"'And a wicked heart, and a poor heart,' answered Halkit, doing his best.

"'And yet it may be called in some sort a strong heart, and a high
heart,' rejoined the advocate. 'You see I can put you both out of

Fortunately we have no more of this easy writing, which makes such very
melancholy reading.

The narrative of the Porteous mob, as given by the novelist, is not, it
seems, entirely accurate. Like most artists, Sir Walter took the liberty
of "composing" his picture. In his "Illustrations of the Author of
Waverley" (1825) Mr. Robert Chambers records the changes in facts made by
Scott. In the first place, Wilson did not attack his guard, and enable
Robertson to escape, after the sermon, but as soon as the criminals took
their seats in the pew. When fleeing out, Robertson tripped over "the
plate," set on a stand to receive alms and oblations, whereby he hurt
himself, and was seen to stagger and fall in running down the stairs
leading to the Cowgate. Mr. McQueen, Minister of the New Kirk, was coming
up the stairs. He conceived it to be his duty to set Robertson on his
feet again, "and covered his retreat as much as possible from the pursuit
of the guard." Robertson ran up the Horse Wynd, out at Potter Row Port,
got into the King's Park, and headed for the village of Duddingston,
beside the loch on the south-east of Arthur's Seat. He fainted after
jumping a dyke, but was picked up and given some refreshment. He lay in
hiding till he could escape to Holland.

The conspiracy to hang Porteous did not, in fact, develop in a few hours,
after his failure to appear on the scaffold. The Queen's pardon (or a
reprieve) reached Edinburgh on Thursday, Sept. 2; the Riot occurred on
the night of Sept. 7. The council had been informed that lynching was
intended, thirty-six hours before the fatal evening, but pronounced the
reports to be "caddies' clatters." Their negligence, of course, must have
increased the indignation of the Queen. The riot, according to a very old
man, consulted by Mr. Chambers, was headed by two butchers, named
Cumming, "tall, strong, and exceedingly handsome men, who dressed in
women's clothes as a disguise." The rope was tossed out of a window in a
"small wares shop" by a woman, who received a piece of gold in exchange.
This extravagance is one of the very few points which suggest that people
of some wealth may have been concerned in the affair. Tradition,
according to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, believed in noble leaders of the
riot. It is certain that several witnesses of good birth and position
testified very strongly against Porteous, at his trial.

According to Hogg, Scott's "fame was now so firmly established that he
cared not a fig for the opinion of his literary friends beforehand." He
was pleased, however, by the notice of "Ivanhoe," "The Heart of Mid-
Lothian," and "The Bride of Lammermoor" in the Edinburgh Review of 1820,
as he showed by quoting part of its remarks. The Reviewer frankly
observed "that, when we began with one of these works, we were conscious
that we never knew how to leave off. The Porteous mob is rather heavily
described, and the whole part of George Robertson, or Staunton, is
extravagant and displeasing. The final catastrophe is needlessly
improbable and startling." The critic felt that he must be critical, but
his praise of Effie and Jeanie Deans obviously comes from his heart.
Jeanie's character "is superior to anything we can recollect in the
history of invention . . . a remarkable triumph over the greatest of all
difficulties in the conduct of a fictitious narrative." The critique ends
with "an earnest wish that the Author would try his hand in the lore of
Shakspeare"; but, wiser than the woers of Penelope, Scott refused to make
that perilous adventure.

An essay by Mr. George Ormond, based on manuscripts in the Edinburgh
Record office (Scottish Review, July, 1892), adds little to what is known
about the Porteous Riot. It is said that Porteous was let down alive, and
hanged again, more than once, that his arm was broken by a Lochaber axe,
and that a torch was applied to the foot from which the shoe had fallen.
A pamphlet of 1787 says that Robertson became a spy on smugglers in
Holland, returned to London, procured a pardon through the Butcher
Cumberland, and "at last died in misery in London." It is plain that
Colonel Moyle might have rescued Porteous, but he was naturally cautious
about entering the city gates without a written warrant from the civil



Courteous Reader,

If ingratitude comprehendeth every vice, surely so foul a stain worst of
all beseemeth him whose life has been devoted to instructing youth in
virtue and in humane letters. Therefore have I chosen, in this
prolegomenon, to unload my burden of thanks at thy feet, for the favour
with which thou last kindly entertained the Tales of my Landlord. Certes,
if thou hast chuckled over their factious and festivous descriptions, or
hadst thy mind filled with pleasure at the strange and pleasant turns of
fortune which they record, verily, I have also simpered when I beheld a
second storey with attics, that has arisen on the basis of my small
domicile at Gandercleugh, the walls having been aforehand pronounced by
Deacon Barrow to be capable of enduring such an elevation. Nor has it
been without delectation that I have endued a new coat (snuff-brown, and
with metal buttons), having all nether garments corresponding thereto. We
do therefore lie, in respect of each other, under a reciprocation of
benefits, whereof those received by me being the most solid (in respect
that a new house and a new coat are better than a new tale and an old
song), it is meet that my gratitude should be expressed with the louder
voice and more preponderating vehemence. And how should it be so
expressed?--Certainly not in words only, but in act and deed. It is with
this sole purpose, and disclaiming all intention of purchasing that
pendicle or poffle of land called the Carlinescroft, lying adjacent to my
garden, and measuring seven acres, three roods, and four perches, that I
have committed to the eyes of those who thought well of the former tomes,
these four additional volumes of the Tales of my Landlord. Not the less,
if Peter Prayfort be minded to sell the said poffle, it is at his own
choice to say so; and, peradventure, he may meet with a purchaser: unless
(gentle reader) the pleasing pourtraictures of Peter Pattieson, now given
unto thee in particular, and unto the public in general, shall have lost
their favour in thine eyes, whereof I am no way distrustful. And so much
confidence do I repose in thy continued favour, that, should thy lawful
occasions call thee to the town of Gandercleugh, a place frequented by
most at one time or other in their lives, I will enrich thine eyes with a
sight of those precious manuscripts whence thou hast derived so much
delectation, thy nose with a snuff from my mull, and thy palate with a
dram from my bottle of strong waters, called by the learned of
Gandercleugh, the Dominie's Dribble o' Drink.

It is there, O highly esteemed and beloved reader, thou wilt be able to
bear testimony, through the medium of thine own senses, against the
children of vanity, who have sought to identify thy friend and servant
with I know not what inditer of vain fables; who hath cumbered the world
with his devices, but shrunken from the responsibility thereof. Truly,
this hath been well termed a generation hard of faith; since what can a
man do to assert his property in a printed tome, saving to put his name
in the title-page thereof, with his description, or designation, as the
lawyers term it, and place of abode? Of a surety I would have such
sceptics consider how they themselves would brook to have their works
ascribed to others, their names and professions imputed as forgeries, and
their very existence brought into question; even although, peradventure,
it may be it is of little consequence to any but themselves, not only
whether they are living or dead, but even whether they ever lived or no.
Yet have my maligners carried their uncharitable censures still farther.

These cavillers have not only doubted mine identity, although thus
plainly proved, but they have impeached my veracity and the authenticity
of my historical narratives! Verily, I can only say in answer, that I
have been cautelous in quoting mine authorities. It is true, indeed, that
if I had hearkened with only one ear, I might have rehearsed my tale with
more acceptation from those who love to hear but half the truth. It is,
it may hap, not altogether to the discredit of our kindly nation of
Scotland, that we are apt to take an interest, warm, yea partial, in the
deeds and sentiments of our forefathers. He whom his adversaries describe
as a perjured Prelatist, is desirous that his predecessors should be held
moderate in their power, and just in their execution of its privileges,
when truly, the unimpassioned peruser of the annals of those times shall
deem them sanguinary, violent, and tyrannical. Again, the representatives
of the suffering Nonconformists desire that their ancestors, the
Cameronians, shall be represented not simply as honest enthusiasts,
oppressed for conscience' sake, but persons of fine breeding, and valiant
heroes. Truly, the historian cannot gratify these predilections. He must
needs describethe cavaliers as proud and high-spirited, cruel,
remorseless, and vindictive; the suffering party as honourably tenacious
of their opinions under persecution; their own tempers being, however,
sullen, fierce, and rude; their opinions absurd and extravagant; and
their whole course of conduct that of persons whom hellebore would better
have suited than prosecutions unto death for high-treason. Natheless,
while such and so preposterous were the opinions on either side, there
were, it cannot be doubted, men of virtue and worth on both, to entitle
either party to claim merit from its martyrs. It has been demanded of me,
Jedediah Cleishbotham, by what right I am entitled to constitute myself
an impartial judge of their discrepancies of opinions, seeing (as it is
stated) that I must necessarily have descended from one or other of the
contending parties, and be, of course, wedded for better or for worse,
according to the reasonable practice of Scotland, to its dogmata, or
opinions, and bound, as it were, by the tie matrimonial, or, to speak
without metaphor, /ex jure sanguinis,/ to maintain them in preference to
all others.

But, nothing denying the rationality of the rule, which calls on all now
living to rule their political and religious opinions by those of their
great-grandfathers, and inevitable as seems the one or the other horn of
the dilemma betwixt which my adversaries conceive they have pinned me to
the wall, I yet spy some means of refuge, and claim a privilege to write
and speak of both parties with impartiality. For, O ye powers of logic!
when the Prelatists and Presbyterians of old times went together by the
ears in this unlucky country, my ancestor (venerated be his memory!) was
one of the people called Quakers, and suffered severe handling from
either side, even to the extenuation of his purse and the incarceration
of his person.

Craving thy pardon, gentle Reader, for these few words concerning me and
mine, I rest, as above expressed, thy sure and obligated friend,*

J. C.
this 1st of April, 1818.

* Note A. Author's connection with Quakerism.



The author has stated, in the preface to the Chronicles of the Canongate,
1827, that he received from an anonymous correspondent an account of the
incident upon which the following story is founded. He is now at liberty
to say, that the information was conveyed to him by a late amiable and
ingenious lady, whose wit and power of remarking and judging of character
still survive in the memory of her friends. Her maiden name was Miss
Helen Lawson, of Girthhead, and she was wife of Thomas Goldie, Esq. of
Craigmuie, Commissary of Dumfries.

Her communication was in these words:--

"I had taken for summer lodgings a cottage near the old Abbey of
Lincluden. It had formerly been inhabited by a lady who had pleasure in
embellishing cottages, which she found perhaps homely and even poor
enough; mine, therefore, possessed many marks of taste and elegance
unusual in this species of habitation in Scotland, where a cottage is
literally what its name declares.

"From my cottage door I had a partial view of the old Abbey before
mentioned; some of the highest arches were seen over, and some through,
the trees scattered along a lane which led down to the ruin, and the
strange fantastic shapes of almost all those old ashes accorded
wonderfully well with the building they at once shaded and ornamented.

"The Abbey itself from my door was almost on a level with the cottage;
but on coming to the end of the lane, it was discovered to be situated on
a high perpendicular bank, at the foot of which run the clear waters of
the Cluden, where they hasten to join the sweeping Nith,

'Whose distant roaring swells and fa's.'

As my kitchen and parlour were not very far distant, I one day went in to
purchase some chickens from a person I heard offering them for sale. It
was a little, rather stout-looking woman, who seemed to be between
seventy and eighty years of age; she was almost covered with a tartan
plaid, and her cap had over it a black silk hood, tied under the chin, a
piece of dress still much in use among elderly women of that rank of life
in Scotland; her eyes were dark, and remarkably lively and intelligent; I
entered into conversation with her, and began by asking how she
maintained herself, etc.

"She said that in winter she footed stockings, that is, knit feet to
country-people's stockings, which bears about the same relation to
stocking-knitting that cobbling does to shoe-making, and is of course
both less profitable and less dignified; she likewise taught a few
children to read, and in summer she whiles reared a few chickens.

"I said I could venture to guess from her face she had never been
married. She laughed heartily at this, and said, 'I maun hae the queerest
face that ever was seen, that ye could guess that. Now, do tell me,
madam, how ye cam to think sae?' I told her it was from her cheerful
disengaged countenance. She said, 'Mem, have ye na far mair reason to be
happy than me, wi' a gude husband and a fine family o' bairns, and plenty
o' everything? for me, I'm the puirest o' a' puir bodies, and can hardly
contrive to keep mysell alive in a' the wee bits o' ways I hae tell't
ye.' After some more conversation, during which I was more and more
pleased with the old womans sensible conversation, and the /naivete/ of
her remarks, she rose to go away, when I asked her name. Her countenance
suddenly clouded, and she said gravely, rather colouring, 'My name is
Helen Walker; but your husband kens weel about me.'

"In the evening I related how much I had been pleased, and inquired what
was extraordinary in the history of the poor woman. Mr.---- said, there
were perhaps few more remarkable people than Helen Walker. She had been
left an orphan, with the charge of a sister considerably younger than
herself, and who was educated and maintained by her exertions. Attached
to herby so many ties, therefore, it will not be easy to conceive her
feelings, when she found that this only sister must be tried by the laws
of her country for child-murder, and upon being called as principal
witness against her. The counsel for the prisoner told Helen, that if she
could declare that her sister had made any preparations, however slight,
or had given her any intimation on the subject, that such a statement
would save her sister's life, as she was the principal witness against
her. Helen said, 'It is impossible for me to swear to a falsehood; and,
whatever may be the consequence, I will give my oath according to my

"The trial came on, and the sister was found guilty and condemned; but in
Scotland six weeks must elapse between the sentence and the execution,
and Helen Walker availed herself of it. The very day of her sister's
condemnation she got a petition drawn, stating the peculiar circumstances
of the case, and that very night set out on foot to London.

"Without introduction or recommendation, with her simple (perhaps
ill-expressed) petition, drawn up by some inferior clerk of the court,
she presented herself, in her tartan plaid and country attire, to the
late Duke of Argyle, who immediately procured the pardon she petitioned
for, and Helen returned with it on foot just in time to save her sister.

"I was so strongly interested by this narrative, that I determined
immediately to prosecute my acquaintance with Helen Walker; but as I was
to leave the country next day, I was obliged to defer it till my return
in spring, when the first walk I took was to Helen Walker's cottage.

"She had died a short time before. My regret was extreme, and I
endeavoured to obtain some account of Helen from an old woman who
inhabited the other end of her cottage. I inquired if Helen ever spoke of
her past history--her journey to London, etc., 'Na,' the old woman said,
'Helen was a wily body, and whene'er ony o' the neebors asked anything
about it, she aye turned the conversation.'

"In short, every answer I received only tended to increase my regret, and
raise my opinion of Helen Walker, who could unite so much prudence with
so much heroic virtue."

This narrative was inclosed in the following letter to the author,
without date or signature--

"Sir,--The occurrence just related happened to me twenty-six years ago.
Helen Walker lies buried in the churchyard of Irongray, about six miles
from Dumfries. I once proposed that a small monument should have been
erected to commemorate so remarkable a character, but I now prefer
leaving it to you to perpetuate her memory in a more durable manner."

The reader is now able to judge how far the author has improved upon, or
fallen short of, the pleasing and interesting sketch of high principle
and steady affection displayed by Helen Walker, the prototype of the
fictitious Jeanie Deans. Mrs. Goldie was unfortunately dead before the
author had given his name to these volumes, so he lost all opportunity of
thanking that lady for her highly valuable communication. But her
daughter, Miss Goldie, obliged him with the following additional

"Mrs. Goldie endeavoured to collect further particulars of Helen Walker,
particularly concerning her journey to London, but found this nearly
impossible; as the natural dignity of her character, and a high sense of
family respectability, made her so indissolubly connect her sister's
disgrace with her own exertions, that none of her neighbours durst ever
question her upon the subject. One old woman, a distant relation of
Helen's, and who is still living, says she worked an harvest with her,
but that she never ventured to ask her about her sister's trial, or her
journey to London; 'Helen,' she added, 'was a lofty body, and used a high
style o' language.' The same old woman says, that every year Helen
received a cheese from her sister, who lived at Whitehaven, and that she
always sent a liberal portion of it to herself, or to her father's
family. This fact, though trivial in itself, strongly marks the affection
subsisting between the two sisters, and the complete conviction on the
mind of the criminal that her sister had acted solely from high
principle, not from any want of feeling, which another small but
characteristic trait will further illustrate. A gentleman, a relation of
Mrs. Goldie's, who happened to be travelling in the North of England, on
coming to a small inn, was shown into the parlour by a female servant,
who, after cautiously shutting the door, said, 'Sir, I'm Nelly Walker's
sister.' Thus practically showing that she considered her sister as
better known by her high conduct than even herself by a different kind of

"Mrs. Goldie was extremely anxious to have a tombstone and an inscription
upon it erected in Irongray Churchyard; and if Sir Walter Scott will
condescend to write the last, a little subscription could be easily
raised in the immediate neighbourhood, and Mrs. Goldie's wish be thus

It is scarcely necessary to add that the request of Miss Goldie will be
most willingly complied with, and without the necessity of any tax on the
public.* Nor is there much occasion to repeat how much the author
conceives himself obliged to his unknown correspondent, who thus supplied
him with a theme affording such a pleasing view of the moral dignity of
virtue, though unaided by birth, beauty, or talent. If the picture has
suffered in the execution, it is from the failure of the author's powers
to present in detail the same simple and striking portrait exhibited in
Mrs. Goldie's letter.

Abbotsford, April 1, 1830.

* [Note B. Tombstone to Helen Walker.]


Although it would be impossible to add much to Mrs. Goldie's picturesque
and most interesting account of Helen Walker, the prototype of the
imaginary Jeanie Deans, the Editor may be pardoned for introducing two or
three anecdotes respecting that excellent person, which he has collected
from a volume entitled, /Sketches from Nature,/ by John M'Diarmid, a
gentleman who conducts an able provincial paper in the town of Dumfries.

Helen was the daughter of a small farmer in a place called Dalwhairn, in
the parish of Irongray; where, after the death of her father, she
continued, with the unassuming piety of a Scottish peasant, to support
her mother by her own unremitted labour and privations; a case so common,
that even yet, I am proud to say, few of my countrywomen would shrink
from the duty.

Helen Walker was held among her equals /pensy,/ that is, proud or
conceited; but the facts brought to prove this accusation seem only to
evince a strength of character superior to those around her. Thus it was
remarked, that when it thundered, she went with her work and her Bible to
the front of the cottage, alleging that the Almighty could smite in the
city as well as in the field.

Mr. M'Diarmid mentions more particularly the misfortune of her sister,
which he supposes to have taken place previous to 1736. Helen Walker,
declining every proposal of saving her relation's life at the expense of
truth, borrowed a sum of money sufficient for her journey, walked the
whole distance to London barefoot, and made her way to John Duke of
Argyle. She was heard to say, that, by the Almighty strength, she had
been enabled to meet the Duke at the most critical moment, which, if
lost, would have caused the inevitable forfeiture of her sister's life.

Isabella, or Tibby Walker, saved from the fate which impended over her,
was married by the person who had wronged her (named Waugh), and lived
happily for great part of a century, uniformly acknowledging the
extraordinary affection to which she owed her preservation.

Helen Walker died about the end of the year 1791, and her remains are
interred in the churchyard of her native parish of Irongray, in a
romantic cemetery on the banks of the Cairn. That a character so
distinguished for her undaunted love of virtue, lived and died in
poverty, if not want, serves only to show us how insignificant, in the
sight of Heaven, are our principal objects of ambition upon earth.


So down thy hill, romantic Ashbourn, glides
The Derby dilly, carrying six insides.

The times have changed in nothing more (we follow as we were wont the
manuscript of Peter Pattieson) than in the rapid conveyance of
intelligence and communication betwixt one part of Scotland and another.
It is not above twenty or thirty years, according to the evidence of many
credible witnesses now alive, since a little miserable horse-cart,
performing with difficulty a journey of thirty miles /per diem,/ carried
our mails from the capital of Scotland to its extremity. Nor was Scotland
much more deficient in these accommodations than our rich sister had been
about eighty years before. Fielding, in his Tom Jones, and Farquhar, in a
little farce called the Stage-Coach, have ridiculed the slowness of these
vehicles of public accommodation. According to the latter authority, the
highest bribe could only induce the coachman to promise to anticipate by
half-an-hour the usual time of his arrival at the Bull and Mouth.

But in both countries these ancient, slow, and sure modes of conveyance
are now alike unknown; mail-coach races against mail-coach, and
high-flyer against high-flyer, through the most remote districts of
Britain. And in our village alone, three post-coaches, and four coaches
with men armed, and in scarlet cassocks, thunder through the streets each
day, and rival in brilliancy and noise the invention of the celebrated

Demens, qui nimbos et non imitabile fulmen,
AEre et cornipedum pulsu, simularat, equorum.

Now and then, to complete the resemblance, and to correct the presumption
of the venturous charioteers, it does happen that the career of these
dashing rivals of Salmoneus meets with as undesirable and violent a
termination as that of their prototype. It is on such occasions that the
Insides and Outsides, to use the appropriate vehicular phrases, have
reason to rue the exchange of the slow and safe motion of the ancient
Fly-coaches, which, compared with the chariots of Mr. Palmer, so ill
deserve the name. The ancient vehicle used to settle quietly down, like a
ship scuttled and left to sink by the gradual influx of the waters, while
the modern is smashed to pieces with the velocity of the same vessel
hurled against breakers, or rather with the fury of a bomb bursting at
the conclusion of its career through the air. The late ingenious Mr.
Pennant, whose humour it was to set his face in stern opposition to these
speedy conveyances, had collected, I have heard, a formidable list of
such casualties, which, joined to the imposition of innkeepers, whose
charges the passengers had no time to dispute, the sauciness of the
coachman, and the uncontrolled and despotic authority of the tyrant
called the guard, held forth a picture of horror, to which murder, theft,
fraud, and peculation, lent all their dark colouring. But that which
gratifies the impatience of the human disposition will be practised in
the teeth of danger, and in defiance of admonition; and, in despite of
the Cambrian antiquary, mail-coaches not only roll their thunders round
the base of Penman-Maur and Cader-Idris, but

Frighted Skiddaw hears afar
The rattling of the unscythed car.

And perhaps the echoes of Ben Nevis may soon be awakened by the bugle,
not of a warlike chieftain, but of the guard of a mail-coach.

It was a fine summer day, and our little school had obtained a
half-holiday, by the intercession of a good-humoured visitor.*

* His honour Gilbert Goslinn of Gandercleugh; for I love to be precise in
matters of importance.--J. C.

I expected by the coach a new number of an interesting periodical
publication, and walked forward on the highway to meet it, with the
impatience which Cowper has described as actuating the resident in the
country when longing for intelligence from the mart of news.--

The grand debate,
The popular harangue,--the tart reply,--
The logic, and the wisdom, and the wit,
And the loud laugh,--I long to know them all;--
I burn to set the imprisoned wranglers free,
And give them voice and utterance again.

It was with such feelings that I eyed the approach of the new coach,
lately established on our road, and known by the name of the Somerset,
which, to say truth, possesses some interest for me, even when it conveys
no such important information. The distant tremulous sound of its wheels
was heard just as I gained the summit of the gentle ascent, called the
Goslin-brae, from which you command an extensive view down the valley of
the river Gander. The public road, which comes up the side of that
stream, and crosses it at a bridge about a quarter of a mile from the
place where I was standing, runs partly through enclosures and
plantations, and partly through open pasture land. It is a childish
amusement perhaps,--but my life has been spent with children, and why
should not my pleasures be like theirs?--childish as it is then, I must
own I have had great pleasure in watching the approach of the carriage,
where the openings of the road permit it to be seen. The gay glancing of
the equipage, its diminished and toy-like appearance at a distance,
contrasted with the rapidity of its motion, its appearance and
disappearance at intervals, and the progressively increasing sounds that
announce its nearer approach, have all to the idle and listless
spectator, who has nothing more important to attend to, something of
awakening interest. The ridicule may attach to me, which is flung upon
many an honest citizen, who watches from the window of his villa the
passage of the stage-coach; but it is a very natural source of amusement
notwithstanding, and many of those who join in the laugh are perhaps not
unused to resort to it in secret.

On the present occasion, however, fate had decreed that I should not
enjoy the consummation of the amusement by seeing the coach rattle past
me as I sat on the turf, and hearing the hoarse grating voice of the
guard as he skimmed forth for my grasp the expected packet, without the
carriage checking its course for an instant. I had seen the vehicle
thunder down the hill that leads to the bridge with more than its usual
impetuosity, glittering all the while by flashes from a cloudy tabernacle
of the dust which it had raised, and leaving a train behind it on the
road resembling a wreath of summer mist. But it did not appear on the top
of the nearer bank within the usual space of three minutes, which
frequent observation had enabled me to ascertain was the medium time for
crossing the bridge and mounting the ascent. When double that space had
elapsed, I became alarmed, and walked hastily forward. As I came in sight
of the bridge, the cause of delay was too manifest, for the Somerset had
made a summerset in good earnest, and overturned so completely, that it
was literally resting upon the ground, with the roof undermost, and the
four wheels in the air. The "exertions of the guard and coachman," both
of whom were gratefully commemorated in the newspapers, having succeeded
in disentangling the horses by cutting the harness, were now proceeding
to extricate the insides by a sort of summary and Caesarean process of
delivery, forcing the hinges from one of the doors which they could not
open otherwise. In this manner were two disconsolate damsels set at
liberty from the womb of the leathern conveniency. As they immediately
began to settle their clothes, which were a little deranged, as may be
presumed, I concluded they had received no injury, and did not venture to
obtrude my services at their toilette, for which, I understand, I have
since been reflected upon by the fair sufferers. The /outsides,/ who must
have been discharged from their elevated situation by a shock resembling
the springing of a mine, escaped, nevertheless, with the usual allowance
of scratches and bruises, excepting three, who, having been pitched into
the river Gander, were dimly seen contending with the tide like the
relics of AEneas's shipwreck,--

Rari apparent mantes in gurgite vasto.

I applied my poor exertions where they seemed to be most needed, and with
the assistance of one or two of the company who had escaped unhurt,
easily succeeded in fishing out two of the unfortunate passengers, who
were stout active young fellows; and, but for the preposterous length of
their greatcoats, and the equally fashionable latitude and longitude of
their Wellington trousers, would have required little assistance from any
one. The third was sickly and elderly, and might have perished but for
the efforts used to preserve him.

When the two greatcoated gentlemen had extricated themselves from the
river, and shaken their ears like huge water-dogs, a violent altercation
ensued betwixt them and the coachman and guard, concerning the cause of
their overthrow. In the course of the squabble, I observed that both my
new acquaintances belonged to the law, and that their professional
sharpness was likely to prove an overmatch for the surly and official
tone of the guardians of the vehicle. The dispute ended in the guard
assuring the passengers that they should have seats in a heavy coach
which would pass that spot in less than half-an-hour, provided it were
not full. Chance seemed to favour this arrangement, for when the expected
vehicle, arrived, there were only two places occupied in a carriage which
professed to carry six. The two ladies who had been disinterred out of
the fallen vehicle were readily admitted, but positive objections were
stated by those previously in possession to the admittance of the two
lawyers, whose wetted garments being much of the nature of well-soaked
sponges, there was every reason to believe they would refund a
considerable part of the water they had collected, to the inconvenience
of their fellow-passengers. On the other hand, the lawyers rejected a
seat on the roof, alleging that they had only taken that station for
pleasure for one stage, but were entitled in all respects to free egress
and regress from the interior, to which their contract positively
referred. After some altercation, in which something was said upon the
edict /Nautae caupones stabularii,/ the coach went off, leaving the
learned gentlemen to abide by their action of damages.

They immediately applied to me to guide them to the next village and the
best inn; and from the account I gave them of the Wallace Head, declared
they were much better pleased to stop there than to go forward upon the
terms of that impudent scoundrel the guard of the Somerset. All that they
now wanted was a lad to carry their travelling bags, who was easily
procured from an adjoining cottage; and they prepared to walk forward,
when they found there was another passenger in the same deserted
situation with themselves. This was the elderly and sickly-looking
person, who had been precipitated into the river along with the two young
lawyers. He, it seems, had been too modest to push his own plea against
the coachman when he saw that of his betters rejected, and now remained
behind with a look of timid anxiety, plainly intimating that he was
deficient in those means of recommendation which are necessary passports
to the hospitality of an inn.

I ventured to call the attention of the two dashing young blades, for
such they seemed, to the desolate condition of their fellow-traveller.
They took the hint with ready good-nature.

"O, true, Mr. Dunover," said one of the youngsters, "you must not remain
on the pave' here; you must go and have some dinner with us--Halkit and I
must have a post-chaise to go on, at all events, and we will set you down
wherever suits you best."

The poor man, for such his dress, as well as his diffidence, bespoke him,
made the sort of acknowledging bow by which says a Scotsman, "It's too
much honour for the like of me;" and followed humbly behind his gay
patrons, all three besprinkling the dusty road as they walked along with
the moisture of their drenched garments, and exhibiting the singular and
somewhat ridiculous appearance of three persons suffering from the
opposite extreme of humidity, while the summer sun was at its height, and
everything else around them had the expression of heat and drought. The
ridicule did not escape the young gentlemen themselves, and they had made
what might be received as one or two tolerable jests on the subject
before they had advanced far on their peregrination.

"We cannot complain, like Cowley," said one of them, "that Gideon's
fleece remains dry, while all around is moist; this is the reverse of the

"We ought to be received with gratitude in this good town; we bring a
supply of what they seem to need most," said Halkit.

"And distribute it with unparalleled generosity," replied his companion;
"performing the part of three water-carts for the benefit of their dusty

"We come before them, too," said Halkit, "in full professional force--
counsel and agent"--

"And client," said the young advocate, looking behind him; and then
added, lowering his voice, "that looks as if he had kept such dangerous
company too long."

It was, indeed, too true, that the humble follower of the gay young men
had the threadbare appearance of a worn-out litigant, and I could not but
smile at the conceit, though anxious to conceal my mirth from the object
of it.

When we arrived at the Wallace Inn, the elder of the Edinburgh gentlemen,
and whom I understood to be a barrister, insisted that I should remain
and take part of their dinner; and their inquiries and demands speedily
put my landlord and his whole family in motion to produce the best cheer
which the larder and cellar afforded, and proceed to cook it to the best
advantage, a science in which our entertainers seemed to be admirably
skilled. In other respects they were lively young men, in the hey-day of
youth and good spirits, playing the part which is common to the higher
classes of the law at Edinburgh, and which nearly resembles that of the
young Templars in the days of Steele and Addison. An air of giddy gaiety
mingled with the good sense, taste, and information which their
conversation exhibited; and it seemed to be their object to unite the
character of men of fashion and lovers of the polite arts. A fine
gentleman, bred up in the thorough idleness and inanity of pursuit, which
I understand is absolutely necessary to the character in perfection,
might in all probability have traced a tinge of professional pedantry
which marked the barrister in spite of his efforts, and something of
active bustle in his companion, and would certainly have detected more
than a fashionable mixture of information and animated interest in the
language of both. But to me, who had no pretensions to be so critical, my
companions seemed to form a very happy mixture of good-breeding and
liberal information, with a disposition to lively rattle, pun, and jest,
amusing to a grave man, because it is what he himself can least easily

The thin pale-faced man, whom their good-nature had brought into their
society, looked out of place as well as out of spirits; sate on the edge
of his seat, and kept the chair at two feet distance from the table; thus
incommoding himself considerably in conveying the victuals to his mouth,
as if by way of penance for partaking of them in the company of his
superiors. A short time after dinner, declining all entreaty to partake
of the wine, which circulated freely round, he informed himself of the
hour when the chaise had been ordered to attend; and saying he would be
in readiness, modestly withdrew from the apartment.

"Jack," said the barrister to his companion, "I remember that poor
fellow's face; you spoke more truly than you were aware of; he really is
one of my clients, poor man."

"Poor man!" echoed Halkit--"I suppose you mean he is your one and only

"That's not my fault, Jack," replied the other, whose name I discovered
was Hardie. "You are to give me all your business, you know; and if you
have none, the learned gentleman here knows nothing can come of nothing."

"You seem to have brought something to nothing though, in the case of
that honest man. He looks as if he were just about to honour with his
residence the Heart of Mid-Lothian."

"You are mistaken--he is just delivered from it.--Our friend here looks
for an explanation. Pray, Mr. Pattieson, have you been in Edinburgh?"

I answered in the affirmative.

"Then you must have passed, occasionally at least, though probably not so
faithfully as I am doomed to do, through a narrow intricate passage,
leading out of the north-west corner of the Parliament Square, and
passing by a high and antique building with turrets and iron grates,

Making good the saying odd,
'Near the church and far from God'"--

Mr. Halkit broke in upon his learned counsel, to contribute his moiety to
the riddle--"Having at the door the sign of the Red man"--

"And being on the whole," resumed the counsellor interrupting his friend
in his turn, "a sort of place where misfortune is happily confounded with
guilt, where all who are in wish to get out"--

"And where none who have the good luck to be out, wish to get in," added
his companion.

"I conceive you, gentlemen," replied I; "you mean the prison."

"The prison," added the young lawyer--"You have hit it--the very reverend
Tolbooth itself; and let me tell you, you are obliged to us for
describing it with so much modesty and brevity; for with whatever
amplifications we might have chosen to decorate the subject, you lay
entirely at our mercy, since the Fathers Conscript of our city have
decreed that the venerable edifice itself shall not remain in existence
to confirm or to confute its."

"Then the Tolbooth of Edinburgh is called the Heart of Mid-Lothian?" said

"So termed and reputed, I assure you."

"I think," said I, with the bashful diffidence with which a man lets slip
a pun in presence of his superiors, "the metropolitan county may, in that
case, be said to have a sad heart."

"Right as my glove, Mr. Pattieson," added Mr. Hardie; "and a close heart,
and a hard heart--Keep it up, Jack."

"And a wicked heart, and a poor heart," answered Halkit, doing his best.

"And yet it may be called in some sort a strong heart, and a high heart,"
rejoined the advocate. "You see I can put you both out of heart."

"I have played all my hearts," said the younger gentleman.

"Then we'll have another lead," answered his companion.--"And as to the
old and condemned Tolbooth, what pity the same honour cannot be done to
it as has been done to many of its inmates. Why should not the Tolbooth
have its 'Last Speech, Confession, and Dying Words?' The old stones would
be just as conscious of the honour as many a poor devil who has dangled
like a tassel at the west end of it, while the hawkers were shouting a
confession the culprit had never heard of."

"I am afraid," said I, "if I might presume to give my opinion, it would
be a tale of unvaried sorrow and guilt."

"Not entirely, my friend," said Hardie; "a prison is a world within
itself, and has its own business, griefs, and joys, peculiar to its
circle. Its inmates are sometimes short-lived, but so are soldiers on
service; they are poor relatively to the world without, but there are
degrees of wealth and poverty among them, and so some are relatively rich
also. They cannot stir abroad, but neither can the garrison of a besieged
fort, or the crew of a ship at sea; and they are not under a dispensation
quite so desperate as either, for they may have as much food as they have
money to buy, and are not obliged to work, whether they have food or

"But what variety of incident," said I (not without a secret view to my
present task), "could possibly be derived from such a work as you are
pleased to talk of?"

"Infinite," replied the young advocate. "Whatever of guilt, crime,
imposture, folly, unheard-of misfortunes, and unlooked-for change of
fortune, can be found to chequer life, my Last Speech of the Tolbooth
should illustrate with examples sufficient to gorge even the public's
all-devouring appetite for the wonderful and horrible. The inventor of
fictitious narratives has to rack his brains for means to diversify his
tale, and after all can hardly hit upon characters or incidents which
have not been used again and again, until they are familiar to the eye of
the reader, so that the development, /enle'vement,/ the desperate wound
of which the hero never dies, the burning fever from which the heroine is
sure to recover, become a mere matter of course. I join with my honest
friend Crabbe, and have an unlucky propensity to hope, when hope is lost,
and to rely upon the cork-jacket, which carries the heroes of romance
safe through all the billows of affliction." He then declaimed the
following passage, rather with too much than too little emphasis:--

Much have I feared, but am no more afraid,
When some chaste beauty by some wretch betrayed,
Is drawn away with such distracted speed,
That she anticipates a dreadful deed.
Not so do I--Let solid walls impound
The captive fair, and dig a moat around;
Let there be brazen locks and bars of steel,
And keepers cruel, such as never feel;
With not a single note the purse supply,
And when she begs, let men and maids deny;
Be windows there from which she dare not fall,
And help so distant, 'tis in vain to call;
Still means of freedom will some Power devise,
And from the baffled ruffian snatch his prize.

"The end of uncertainty," he concluded, "is the death of interest; and
hence it happens that no one now reads novels."

"Hear him, ye gods!" returned his companion. "I assure you, Mr.
Pattieson, you will hardly visit this learned gentleman, but you are
likely to find the new novel most in repute lying on his table,--snugly
intrenched, however, beneath Stair's Institutes, or an open volume of
Morrison's Decisions."

"Do I deny it?" said the hopeful jurisconsult, "or wherefore should I,
since it is well known these Delilahs seduce my wisers and my betters?
May they not be found lurking amidst the multiplied memorials of our most
distinguished counsel, and even peeping from under the cushion of a
judge's arm-chair? Our seniors at the bar, within the bar, and even on
the bench, read novels; and, if not belied, some of them have written
novels into the bargain. I only say, that I read from habit and from
indolence, not from real interest; that, like ancient Pistol devouring
his leek, I read and swear till I get to the end of the narrative. But
not so in the real records of human vagaries--not so in the State Trials,
or in the Books of Adjournal, where every now and then you read new pages
of the human heart, and turns of fortune far beyond what the boldest
novelist ever attempted to produce from the coinage of his brain."

"And for such narratives," I asked, "you suppose the History of the
Prison of Edinburgh might afford appropriate materials?"

"In a degree unusually ample, my dear sir," said Hardie--"Fill your
glass, however, in the meanwhile. Was it not for many years the place in
which the Scottish parliament met? Was it not James's place of refuge,
when the mob, inflamed by a seditious preacher, broke, forth, on him with
the cries of 'The sword of the Lord and of Gideon--bring forth the wicked
Haman?' Since that time how many hearts have throbbed within these walls,
as the tolling of the neighbouring bell announced to them how fast the
sands of their life were ebbing; how many must have sunk at the sound--
how many were supported by stubborn pride and dogged resolution--how many
by the consolations of religion? Have there not been some, who, looking
back on the motives of their crimes, were scarce able to understand how
they should have had such temptation as to seduce them from virtue; and
have there not, perhaps, been others, who, sensible of their innocence,
were divided between indignation at the undeserved doom which they were
to undergo, consciousness that they had not deserved it, and racking
anxiety to discover some way in which they might yet vindicate
themselves? Do you suppose any of these deep, powerful, and agitating
feelings, can be recorded and perused without exciting a corresponding
depth of deep, powerful, and agitating interest?--Oh! do but wait till I
publish the /Causes Ce'le'bres/ of Caledonia, and you will find no want
of a novel or a tragedy for some time to come. The true thing will
triumph over the brightest inventions of the most ardent imagination.
/Magna est veritas, et praevalebit./"

"I have understood," said I, encouraged by the affability of my rattling
entertainer, "that less of this interest must attach to Scottish
jurisprudence than to that of any other country. The general morality of
our people, their sober and prudent habits"----

"Secure them," said the barrister, "against any great increase of
professional thieves and depredators, but not against wild and wayward
starts of fancy and passion, producing crimes of an extraordinary
description, which are precisely those to the detail of which we listen
with thrilling interest. England has been much longer a highly civilised
country; her subjects have been very strictly amenable to laws
administered without fear or favour, a complete division of labour has
taken place among her subjects, and the very thieves and robbers form a
distinct class in society, subdivided among themselves according to the
subject of the depredations, and the mode in which they carry them on,
acting upon regular habits and principles, which can be calculated and
anticipated at Bow Street, Hatton Garden, or the Old Bailey. Our sister
kingdom is like a cultivated field,--the farmer expects that, in spite of
all his care, a certain number of weeds will rise with the corn, and can
tell you beforehand their names and appearance. But Scotland is like one
of her own Highland glens, and the moralist who reads the records of her
criminal jurisprudence, will find as many curious anomalous facts in the
history of mind, as the botanist will detect rare specimens among her
dingles and cliffs."

"And that's all the good you have obtained from three perusals of the
Commentaries on Scottish Criminal Jurisprudence?" said his companion. "I
suppose the learned author very little thinks that the facts which his
erudition and acuteness have accumulated for the illustration of legal
doctrines, might be so arranged as to form a sort of appendix to the
half-bound and slip-shod volumes of the circulating library."

"I'll bet you a pint of claret," said the elder lawyer, "that he will not
feel sore at the comparison. But as we say at the bar, 'I beg I may not
be interrupted;' I have much more to say, upon my Scottish collection of
/Causes Ce'le'bres./ You will please recollect the scope and motive given
for the contrivance and execution of many extraordinary and daring
crimes, by the long civil dissensions of Scotland--by the hereditary
jurisdictions, which, until 1748, rested the investigation of crises in
judges, ignorant, partial, or interested--by the habits of the gentry,
shut up in their distant and solitary mansion-houses, nursing their
revengeful Passions just to keep their blood from stagnating--not to
mention that amiable national qualification, called the /perfervidum
ingenium Scotorum,/ which our lawyers join in alleging as a reason for
the severity of some of our enactments. When I come to treat of matters
so mysterious, deep, and dangerous, as these circumstances have given
rise to, the blood of each reader shall be curdled, and his epidermis
crisped into goose skin.--But, hist!--here comes the landlord, with
tidings, I suppose, that the chaise is ready."

It was no such thing--the tidings bore, that no chaise could be had that
evening, for Sir Peter Plyem had carried forward my landlord's two pairs
of horses that morning to the ancient royal borough of Bubbleburgh, to
look after his interest there. But as Bubbleburgh is only one of a set of
five boroughs which club their shares for a member of parliament, Sir
Peter's adversary had judiciously watched his departure, in order to
commence a canvass in the no less royal borough of Bitem, which, as all
the world knows, lies at the very termination of Sir Peter's avenue, and
has been held in leading-strings by him and his ancestors for time
immemorial. Now Sir Peter was thus placed in the situation of an
ambitious monarch, who, after having commenced a daring inroad into his
enemy's territories, is suddenly recalled by an invasion of his own
hereditary dominions. He was obliged in consequence to return from the
half-won borough of Bubbleburgh, to look after the half-lost borough of
Bitem, and the two pairs of horses which had carried him that morning to
Bubbleburgh were now forcibly detained to transport him, his agent, his
valet, his jester, and his hard-drinker, across the country to Bitem. The
cause of this detention, which to me was of as little consequence as it
may be to the reader, was important enough to my companions to reconcile
them to the delay. Like eagles, they smelled the battle afar off, ordered
a magnum of claret and beds at the Wallace, and entered at full career
into the Bubbleburgh and Bitem politics, with all the probable "Petitions
and complaints" to which they were likely to give rise.

In the midst of an anxious, animated, and, to me, most unintelligible
discussion, concerning provosts, bailies, deacons, sets of boroughs,
leets, town-clerks, burgesses resident and non-resident, all of a sudden
the lawyer recollected himself. "Poor Dunover, we must not forget him;"
and the landlord was despatched in quest of the /pauvre honteux,/ with an
earnestly civil invitation to him for the rest of the evening. I could
not help asking the young gentlemen if they knew the history of this poor
man; and the counsellor applied himself to his pocket to recover the
memorial or brief from which he had stated his cause.

"He has been a candidate for our /remedium miserabile,/" said Mr. Hardie,
"commonly called a /cessio bonorum./ As there are divines who have
doubted the eternity of future punishments, so the Scotch lawyers seem to
have thought that the crime of poverty might be atoned for by something
short of perpetual imprisonment. After a month's confinement, you must
know, a prisoner for debt is entitled, on a sufficient statement to our
Supreme Court, setting forth the amount of his funds, and the nature of
his misfortunes, and surrendering all his effects to his creditors, to
claim to be discharged from prison."

"I had heard," I replied, "of such a humane regulation."

"Yes," said Halkit, "and the beauty of it is, as the foreign fellow said,
you may get the /cessio,/ when the /bonorums/ are all spent--But what,
are you puzzling in your pockets to seek your only memorial among old
play-bills, letters requesting a meeting of the Faculty, rules of the
Speculative Society,* syllabus' of lectures--all the miscellaneous
contents of a young advocate's pocket, which contains everything but
briefs and bank-notes?

* [A well-known debating club in Edinburgh.]

Can you not state a case of /cessio/ without your memorial? Why, it is
done every Saturday. The events follow each other as regularly as
clock-work, and one form of condescendence might suit every one of them."

"This is very unlike the variety of distress which this gentleman stated
to fall under the consideration of your judges," said I.

"True," replied Halkit; "but Hardie spoke of criminal jurisprudence, and
this business is purely civil. I could plead a /cessio/ myself without
the inspiring honours of a gown and three-tailed periwig--Listen.--My
client was bred a journeyman weaver--made some little money--took a farm
--(for conducting a farm, like driving a gig, comes by nature)--late
severe times--induced to sign bills with a friend, for which he received
no value--landlord sequestrates--creditors accept a composition--pursuer
sets up a public-house--fails a second time--is incarcerated for a debt
of ten pounds seven shillings and sixpence--his debts amount to blank--
his losses to blank--his funds to blank--leaving a balance of blank in
his favour. There is no opposition; your lordships will please grant
commission to take his oath."

Hardie now renounced this ineffectual search, in which there was perhaps
a little affectation, and told us the tale of poor Dunover's distresses,
with a tone in which a degree of feeling, which he seemed ashamed of as
unprofessional, mingled with his attempts at wit, and did him more
honour. It was one of those tales which seem to argue a sort of ill-luck
or fatality attached to the hero. A well-informed, industrious, and
blameless, but poor and bashful man, had in vain essayed all the usual
means by which others acquire independence, yet had never succeeded
beyond the attainment of bare subsistence. During a brief gleam of hope,
rather than of actual prosperity, he had added a wife and family to his
cares, but the dawn was speedily overcast. Everything retrograded with
him towards the verge of the miry Slough of Despond, which yawns for
insolvent debtors; and after catching at each twig, and experiencing the
protracted agony of feeling them one by one elude his grasp, he actually
sunk into the miry pit whence he had been extricated by the professional
exertions of Hardie.

"And, I suppose, now you have dragged this poor devil ashore, you will
leave him half naked on the beach to provide for himself?" said Halkit.
"Hark ye,"--and he whispered something in his ear, of which the
penetrating and insinuating words, "Interest with my Lord," alone reached

"It is /pessimi exempli,/" said Hardie, laughing, "to provide for a
ruined client; but I was thinking of what you mention, provided it can be
managed--But hush! here he comes."

The recent relation of the poor man's misfortunes had given him, I was
pleased to observe, a claim to the attention and respect of the young
men, who treated him with great civility, and gradually engaged him in a
conversation, which, much to my satisfaction, again turned upon the
/Causes Ce'le'bres/ of Scotland. Imboldened by the kindness with which he
was treated, Mr. Dunover began to contribute his share to the amusement
of the evening. Jails, like other places, have their ancient traditions,
known only to the inhabitants, and handed down from one set of the
melancholy lodgers to the next who occupy their cells. Some of these,
which Dunover mentioned, were interesting, and served to illustrate the
narratives of remarkable trials, which Hardie had at his finger-ends, and
which his companion was also well skilled in. This sort of conversation
passed away the evening till the early hour when Mr. Dunover chose to
retire to rest, and I also retreated to take down memorandums of what I
had learned, in order to add another narrative to those which it had been
my chief amusement to collect, and to write out in detail. The two young
men ordered a broiled bone, Madeira negus, and a pack of cards, and
commenced a game at picquet.

Next morning the travellers left Gandercleugh. I afterwards learned from
the papers that both have been since engaged in the great political cause
of Bubbleburgh and Bitem, a summary case, and entitled to particular
despatch; but which, it is thought, nevertheless, may outlast the
duration of the parliament to which the contest refers. Mr. Halkit, as
the newspapers informed me, acts as agent or solicitor; and Mr. Hardie
opened for Sir Peter Plyem with singular ability, and to such good
purpose, that I understand he has since had fewer play-bills and more
briefs in his pocket. And both the young gentlemen deserve their good
fortune; for I learned from Dunover, who called on me some weeks
afterwards, and communicated the intelligence with tears in his eyes,
that their interest had availed to obtain him a small office for the
decent maintenance of his family; and that, after a train of constant and
uninterrupted misfortune, he could trace a dawn of prosperity to his
having the good fortune to be flung from the top of a mail-coach into the
river Gander, in company with an advocate and a writer to the Signet. The
reader will not perhaps deem himself equally obliged to the accident,
since it brings upon him the following narrative, founded upon the
conversation of the evening.



Whoe'er's been at Paris must needs know the Gre've,
The fatal retreat of the unfortunate brave,
Where honour and justice most oddly contribute,
To ease heroes' pains by an halter and gibbet.

There death breaks the shackles which force had put on,
And the hangman completes what the judge but began;
There the squire of the poet, and knight of the post,
Find their pains no more baulked, and their hopes no more

In former times, England had her Tyburn, to which the devoted victims of
justice were conducted in solemn procession up what is now called Oxford
Street. In Edinburgh, a large open street, or rather oblong square,
surrounded by high houses, called the Grassmarket, was used for the same
melancholy purpose. It was not ill chosen for such a scene, being of
considerable extent, and therefore fit to accommodate a great number of
spectators, such as are usually assembled by this melancholy spectacle.
On the other hand, few of the houses which surround it were, even in
early times, inhabited by persons of fashion; so that those likely to be
offended or over deeply affected by such unpleasant exhibitions were not
in the way of having their quiet disturbed by them. The houses in the
Grassmarket are, generally speaking, of a mean description; yet the place
is not without some features of grandeur, being overhung by the southern
side of the huge rock on which the Castle stands, and by the moss-grown
battlements and turreted walls of that ancient fortress.

It was the custom, until within these thirty years or thereabouts, to use
this esplanade for the scene of public executions. The fatal day was
announced to the public by the appearance of a huge black gallows-tree
towards the eastern end of the Grassmarket. This ill-omened apparition
was of great height, with a scaffold surrounding it, and a double ladder
placed against it, for the ascent of the unhappy criminal and
executioner. As this apparatus was always arranged before dawn, it seemed
as if the gallows had grown out of the earth in the course of one night,
like the production of some foul demon; and I well remember the fright
with which the schoolboys, when I was one of their number, used to regard
these ominous signs of deadly preparation. On the night after the
execution the gallows again disappeared, and was conveyed in silence and
darkness to the place where it was usually deposited, which was one of
the vaults under the Parliament House, or courts of justice. This mode of
execution is now exchanged for one similar to that in front of Newgate,--
with what beneficial effect is uncertain. The mental sufferings of the
convict are indeed shortened. He no longer stalks between the attendant
clergymen, dressed in his grave-clothes, through a considerable part of
the city, looking like a moving and walking corpse, while yet an
inhabitant of this world; but, as the ultimate purpose of punishment has
in view the prevention of crimes, it may at least be doubted, whether, in
abridging the melancholy ceremony, we have not in part diminished that
appalling effect upon the spectators which is the useful end of all such
inflictions, and in consideration of which alone, unless in very
particular cases, capital sentences can be altogether justified.

On the 7th day of September 1736, these ominous preparations for
execution were descried in the place we have described, and at an early
hour the space around began to be occupied by several groups, who gazed
on the scaffold and gibbet with a stern and vindictive show of
satisfaction very seldom testified by the populace, whose good nature, in
most cases, forgets the crime of the condemned person, and dwells only on
his misery. But the act of which the expected culprit had been convicted
was of a description calculated nearly and closely to awaken and irritate
the resentful feelings of the multitude. The tale is well known; yet it
is necessary to recapitulate its leading circumstances, for the better
understanding what is to follow; and the narrative may prove long, but I
trust not uninteresting even to those who have heard its general issue.
At any rate, some detail is necessary, in order to render intelligible
the subsequent events of our narrative.

Contraband trade, though it strikes at the root of legitimate government,
by encroaching on its revenues,--though it injures the fair trader, and
debauches the mind of those engaged in it,--is not usually looked upon,
either by the vulgar or by their betters, in a very heinous point of
view. On the contrary, in those countries where it prevails, the
cleverest, boldest, and most intelligent of the peasantry, are uniformly
engaged in illicit transactions, and very often with the sanction of the
farmers and inferior gentry. Smuggling was almost universal in Scotland
in the reigns of George I. and II.; for the people, unaccustomed to
imposts, and regarding them as an unjust aggression upon their ancient
liberties, made no scruple to elude them whenever it was possible to do

The county of Fife, bounded by two firths on the south and north, and by
the sea on the east, and having a number of small seaports, was long
famed for maintaining successfully a contraband trade; and, as there were
many seafaring men residing there, who had been pirates and buccaneers in
their youth, there were not wanting a sufficient number of daring men to
carry it on. Among these, a fellow called Andrew Wilson, originally a
baker in the village of Pathhead, was particularly obnoxious to the
revenue officers. He was possessed of great personal strength, courage,
and cunning,--was perfectly acquainted with the coast, and capable of
conducting the most desperate enterprises. On several occasions he
succeeded in baffling the pursuit and researches of the king's officers;
but he became so much the object of their suspicions and watchful
attention, that at length he was totally ruined by repeated seizures. The
man became desperate. He considered himself as robbed and plundered; and
took it into his head that he had a right to make reprisals, as he could
find opportunity. Where the heart is prepared for evil, opportunity is
seldom long wanting. This Wilson learned that the Collector of the
Customs at Kirkcaldy had come to Pittenweem, in the course of his
official round of duty, with a considerable sum of public money in his
custody. As the amount was greatly within the value of the goods which
had been seized from him, Wilson felt no scruple of conscience in
resolving to reimburse himself for his losses, at the expense of the
Collector and the revenue. He associated with himself one Robertson, and
two other idle young men, whom, having been concerned in the same illicit
trade, he persuaded to view the transaction in the same justifiable light
in which he himself considered it. They watched the motions of the
Collector; they broke forcibly into the house where he lodged,--Wilson,
with two of his associates, entering the Collector's apartment, while
Robertson, the fourth, kept watch at the door with a drawn cutlass in his
hand. The officer of the customs, conceiving his life in danger, escaped
out of his bedroom window, and fled in his shirt, so that the plunderers,
with much ease, possessed themselves of about two hundred pounds of
public money. The robbery was committed in a very audacious manner, for
several persons were passing in the street at the time. But Robertson,
representing the noise they heard as a dispute or fray betwixt the
Collector and the people of the house, the worthy citizens of Pittenweem
felt themselves no way called on to interfere in behalf of the obnoxious
revenue officer; so, satisfying themselves with this very superficial
account of the matter, like the Levite in the parable, they passed on the
opposite side of the way. An alarm was at length given, military were
called in, the depredators were pursued, the booty recovered, and Wilson
and Robertson tried and condemned to death, chiefly on the evidence of an

Many thought that, in consideration of the men's erroneous opinion of the
nature of the action they had committed, justice might have been
satisfied with a less forfeiture than that of two lives. On the other
hand, from the audacity of the fact, a severe example was judged
necessary; and such was the opinion of the Government. When it became
apparent that the sentence of death was to be executed, files, and other
implements necessary for their escape, were transmitted secretly to the
culprits by a friend from without. By these means they sawed a bar out of
one of the prison-windows, and might have made their escape, but for the
obstinacy of Wilson, who, as he was daringly resolute, was doggedly
pertinacious of his opinion. His comrade, Robertson, a young and slender
man, proposed to make the experiment of passing the foremost through the
gap they had made, and enlarging it from the outside, if necessary, to
allow Wilson free passage. Wilson, however, insisted on making the first
experiment, and being a robust and lusty man, he not only found it
impossible to get through betwixt the bars, but, by his struggles, he
jammed himself so fast, that he was unable to draw his body back again.
In these circumstances discovery became unavoidable, and sufficient
precautions were taken by the jailor to prevent any repetition of the
same attempt. Robertson uttered not a word of reflection on his companion
for the consequences of his obstinacy; but it appeared from the sequel,
that Wilson's mind was deeply impressed with the recollection that, but
for him, his comrade, over whose mind he exercised considerable
influence, would not have engaged in the criminal enterprise which had
terminated thus fatally; and that now he had become his destroyer a
second time, since, but for his obstinacy, Robertson might have effected
his escape. Minds like Wilson's, even when exercised in evil practices,
sometimes retain the power of thinking and resolving with enthusiastic
generosity. His whole thoughts were now bent on the possibility of saving
Robertson's life, without the least respect to his own. The resolution
which he adopted, and the manner in which he carried it into effect, were
striking and unusual.

Adjacent to the tolbooth or city jail of Edinburgh, is one of three
churches into which the cathedral of St. Giles is now divided, called,
from its vicinity, the Tolbooth Church. It was the custom that criminals
under sentence of death were brought to this church, with a sufficient
guard, to hear and join in public worship on the Sabbath before
execution. It was supposed that the hearts of these unfortunate persons,
however hardened before against feelings of devotion, could not but be
accessible to them upon uniting their thoughts and voices, for the last
time, along with their fellow-mortals, in addressing their Creator. And
to the rest of the congregation, it was thought it could not but be
impressive and affecting, to find their devotions mingling with those,
who, sent by the doom of an earthly tribunal to appear where the whole
earth is judged, might be considered as beings trembling on the verge of
eternity. The practice, however edifying, has been discontinued, in
consequence of the incident we are about to detail.

The clergyman, whose duty it was to officiate in the Tolbooth Church, had
concluded an affecting discourse, part of which was particularly directed
to the unfortunate men, Wilson and Robertson, who were in the pew set
apart for the persons in their unhappy situation, each secured betwixt
two soldiers of the city guard. The clergyman had reminded them, that the
next congregation they must join would be that of the just, or of the
unjust; that the psalms they now heard must be exchanged, in the space of
two brief days, for eternal hallelujahs, or eternal lamentations; and
that this fearful alternative must depend upon the state to which they
might be able to bring their minds before the moment of awful
preparation: that they should not despair on account of the suddenness of
the summons, but rather to feel this comfort in their misery, that,
though all who now lifted the voice, or bent the knee in conjunction with
them, lay under the same sentence of certain death, /they/ only had the
advantage of knowing the precise moment at which it should be executed
upon them. "Therefore," urged the good man, his voice trembling with
emotion, "redeem the time, my unhappy brethren, which is yet left; and
remember, that, with the grace of Him to whom space and time are but as
nothing, salvation may yet be assured, even in the pittance of delay
which the laws of your country afford you."

Robertson was observed to weep at these words; but Wilson seemed as one
whose brain had not entirely received their meaning, or whose thoughts
were deeply impressed with some different subject;--an expression so
natural to a person in his situation, that it excited neither suspicion
nor surprise.

The benediction was pronounced as usual, and the congregation was
dismissed, many lingering to indulge their curiosity with a more fixed
look at the two criminals, who now, as well as their guards, rose up, as
if to depart when the crowd should permit them. A murmur of compassion
was heard to pervade the spectators, the more general, perhaps, on
account of the alleviating circumstances of the case; when all at once,
Wilson, who, as we have already noticed, was a very strong man, seized
two of the soldiers, one with each hand, and calling at the same time to
his companion, "Run, Geordie, run!" threw himself on a third, and
fastened his teeth on the collar of his coat. Robertson stood for a
second as if thunderstruck, and unable to avail himself of the
opportunity of escape; but the cry of "Run, run!" being echoed from many
around, whose feelings surprised them into a very natural interest in his
behalf, he shook off the grasp of the remaining soldier, threw himself
over the pew, mixed with the dispersing congregation, none of whom felt
inclined to stop a poor wretch taking his last chance for his life,
gained the door of the church, and was lost to all pursuit.

The generous intrepidity which Wilson had displayed on this occasion
augmented the feeling of compassion which attended his fate. The public,
where their own prejudices are not concerned, are easily engaged on the
side of disinterestedness and humanity, admired Wilson's behaviour, and
rejoiced in Robertson's escape. This general feeling was so great, that
it excited a vague report that Wilson would be rescued at the place of
execution, either by the mob or by some of his old associates, or by some
second extraordinary and unexpected exertion of strength and courage on
his own part. The magistrates thought it their duty to provide against
the possibility of disturbance. They ordered out, for protection of the
execution of the sentence, the greater part of their own City Guard,
under the command of Captain Porteous, a man whose name became too
memorable from the melancholy circumstances of the day, and subsequent
events. It may be necessary to say a word about this person, and the
corps which he commanded. But the subject is of importance sufficient to
deserve another chapter.


And thou, great god of aquavitae!
Wha sways the empire of this city
(When fou we're sometimes capernoity),

Be thou prepared,
To save us frae that black banditti,

The City Guard!
Fergusson's /Daft Days./

Captain John Porteous, a name memorable in the traditions of Edinburgh,
as well as in the records of criminal jurisprudence, was the son of a
citizen of Edinburgh, who endeavoured to breed him up to his own
mechanical trade of a tailor. The youth, however, had a wild and
irreclaimable propensity to dissipation, which finally sent him to serve
in the corps long maintained in the service of the States of Holland, and
called the Scotch Dutch. Here he learned military discipline; and,
returning afterwards, in the course of an idle and wandering life, to his
native city, his services were required by the magistrates of Edinburgh
in the disturbed year 1715, for disciplining their City Guard, in which
he shortly afterwards received a captain's commission. It was only by his
military skill and an alert and resolute character as an officer of
police, that he merited this promotion, for he is said to have been a man
of profligate habits, an unnatural son, and a brutal husband. He was,
however, useful in his station, and his harsh and fierce habits rendered
him formidable to rioters or disturbers of the public peace.

The corps in which he held his command is, or perhaps we should rather
say /was,/ a body of about one hundred and twenty soldiers divided into
three companies, and regularly armed, clothed, and embodied. They were
chiefly veterans who enlisted in this cogs, having the benefit of working
at their trades when they were off duty. These men had the charge of
preserving public order, repressing riots and street robberies, acting,
in short, as an armed police, and attending on all public occasions where
confusion or popular disturbance might be expected.*

* The Lord Provost was ex-officio commander and colonel of the corps,
which might be increased to three hundred men when the times required it.
No other drum but theirs was allowed to sound on the High Street between
the Luckenbooths and the Netherbow.

Poor Fergusson, whose irregularities sometimes led him into unpleasant
rencontres with these military conservators of public order, and who
mentions them so often that he may be termed their poet laureate,* thus
admonishes his readers, warned doubtless by his own experience:--

* [Robert Fergusson, the Scottish Poet, born 1750, died 1774.]

"Gude folk, as ye come frae the fair,
Bide yont frae this black squad:
There's nae sic savages elsewhere
Allowed to wear cockad."

In fact, the soldiers of the City Guard, being, as we have said, in
general discharged veterans, who had strength enough remaining for this
municipal duty, and being, moreover, for the greater part, Highlanders,
were neither by birth, education, nor former habits, trained to endure
with much patience the insults of the rabble, or the provoking petulance
of truant schoolboys, and idle debauchees of all descriptions, with whom
their occupation brought them into contact. On the contrary, the tempers
of the poor old fellows were soured by the indignities with which the mob
distinguished them on many occasions, and frequently might have required
the soothing strains of the poet we have just quoted--

"O soldiers! for your ain dear sakes,
For Scotland's love, the Land o' Cakes,
Gie not her bairns sic deadly paiks,
Nor be sae rude,
Wi' firelock or Lochaber-axe,
As spill their bluid!"

On all occasions when a holiday licensed some riot and irregularity, a
skirmish with these veterans was a favourite recreation with the rabble
of Edinburgh. These pages may perhaps see the light when many have in
fresh recollection such onsets as we allude to. But the venerable corps,
with whom the contention was held, may now be considered as totally
extinct. Of late the gradual diminution of these civic soldiers reminds
one of the abatement of King Lear's hundred knights. The edicts of each
succeeding set of magistrates have, like those of Goneril and Regan,
diminished this venerable band with the similar question, "What need we
five-and-twenty?--ten?--or five?" And it is now nearly come to, "What
need one?" A spectre may indeed here and there still be seen, of an old
grey-headed and grey-bearded Highlander, with war-worn features, but bent
double by age; dressed in an old fashioned cocked-hat, bound with white
tape instead of silver lace; and in coat, waistcoat, and breeches, of a
muddy-coloured red, bearing in his withered hand an ancient weapon,
called a Lochaber-axe; a long pole, namely, with an axe at the extremity,
and a hook at the back of the hatchet.*

* This hook was to enable the bearer of the Lochaber-axe to scale a
gateway, by grappling the top of the door, and swinging himself up by the
staff of his weapon.

Such a phantom of former days still creeps, I have been informed, round
the statue of Charles the Second, in the Parliament Square, as if the
image of a Stuart were the last refuge for any memorial of our ancient
manners; and one or two others are supposed to glide around the door of
the guardhouse assigned to them in the Luckenbooths, when their ancient
refuge in the High Street was laid low.*

* This ancient corps is now entirely disbanded. Their last march to do
duty at Hallowfair had something in it affecting. Their drums and fifes
had been wont on better days to play, on this joyous occasion, the lively
tune of "Jockey to the fair;" but on his final occasion the afflicted
veterans moved slowly to the dirge of

"The last time I came ower the muir."

But the fate of manuscripts bequeathed to friends and executors is so
uncertain, that the narrative containing these frail memorials of the old
Town Guard of Edinburgh, who, with their grim and valiant corporal, John
Dhu (the fiercest-looking fellow I ever saw), were, in my boyhood, the
alternate terror and derision of the petulant brood of the High School,
may, perhaps, only come to light when all memory of the institution has
faded away, and then serve as an illustration of Kay's caricatures, who
has preserved the features of some of their heroes. In the preceding
generation, when there was a perpetual alarm for the plots and activity
of the Jacobites, some pains were taken by the magistrates of Edinburgh
to keep this corps, though composed always of such materials as we have
noticed, in a more effective state than was afterwards judged necessary,
when their most dangerous service was to skirmish with the rabble on the
king's birthday. They were, therefore, more the objects of hatred, and
less that of scorn, than they were afterwards accounted.

To Captain John Porteous, the honour of his command and of his corps
seems to have been a matter of high interest and importance. He was
exceedingly incensed against Wilson for the affront which he construed
him to have put upon his soldiers, in the effort he made for the
liberation of his companion, and expressed himself most ardently on the
subject. He was no less indignant at the report, that there was an
intention to rescue Wilson himself from the gallows, and uttered many
threats and imprecations upon that subject, which were afterwards
remembered to his disadvantage. In fact, if a good deal of determination
and promptitude rendered Porteous, in one respect, fit to command guards
designed to suppress popular commotion, he seems, on the other, to have
been disqualified for a charge so delicate, by a hot and surly temper,
always too ready to come to blows and violence; a character void of
principle; and a disposition to regard the rabble, who seldom failed to
regale him and his soldiers with some marks of their displeasure, as
declared enemies, upon whom it was natural and justifiable that he should
seek opportunities of vengeance. Being, however, the most active and
trustworthy among the captains of the City Guard, he was the person to
whom the magistrates confided the command of the soldiers appointed to
keep the peace at the time of Wilson's execution. He was ordered to guard
the gallows and scaffold, with about eighty men, all the disposable force
that could be spare for that duty.

But the magistrates took farther precautions, which affected Porteous's
pride very deeply. They requested the assistance of part of a regular
infantry regiment, not to attend upon the execution, but to remain drawn
up on the principal street of the city, during the time that it went
forward, in order to intimidate the multitude, in case they should be
disposed to be unruly, with a display of force which could not be
resisted without desperation. It may sound ridiculous in our ears,
considering the fallen state of this ancient civic corps, that its
officer should have felt punctiliously jealous of its honour. Yet so it
was. Captain Porteous resented, as an indignity, the introducing the
Welsh Fusileers within the city, and drawing them up in the street where
no drums but his own were allowed to be sounded without the special
command or permission of the magistrates. As he could not show his
ill-humour to his patrons the magistrates, it increased his indignation
and his desire to be revenged on the unfortunate criminal Wilson, and all
who favoured him. These internal emotions of jealousy and rage wrought a
change on the man's mien and bearing, visible to all who saw him on the
fatal morning when Wilson was appointed to suffer. Porteous's ordinary
appearance was rather favourable. He was about the middle size, stout,
and well made, having a military air, and yet rather a gentle and mild
countenance. His complexion was brown, his face somewhat fretted with the
sears of the smallpox, his eyes rather languid than keen or fierce. On
the present occasion, however, it seemed to those who saw him as if he
were agitated by some evil demon. His step was irregular, his voice
hollow and broken, his countenance pale, his eyes staring and wild, his
speech imperfect and confused, and his whole appearance so disordered,
that many remarked he seemed to be /fey,/ a Scottish expression, meaning
the state of those who are driven on to their impending fate by the
strong impulse of some irresistible necessity.

One part of his conduct was truly diabolical, if indeed it has not been
exaggerated by the general prejudice entertained against his memory. When
Wilson, the unhappy criminal, was delivered to him by the keeper of the
prison, in order that he might be conducted to the place of execution,
Porteous, not satisfied with the usual precautions to prevent escape,
ordered him to be manacled. This might be justifiable from the character
and bodily strength of the malefactor, as well as from the apprehensions
so generally entertained of an expected rescue. But the handcuffs which
were produced being found too small for the wrists of a man so big-boned
as Wilson, Porteous proceeded with his own hands, and by great exertion
of strength, to force them till they clasped together, to the exquisite
torture of the unhappy criminal. Wilson remonstrated against such
barbarous usage, declaring that the pain distracted his thoughts from the
subjects of meditation proper to his unhappy condition.

"It signifies little," replied Captain Porteous; "your pain will soon be
at an end."

"Your cruelty is great," answered the sufferer. "You know not how soon
you yourself may have occasion to ask the mercy which you are now
refusing to a fellow-creature. May God forgive you!"

These words, long afterwards quoted and remembered, were all that passed
between Porteous and his prisoner; but as they took air, and became known
to the people, they greatly increased the popular compassion for Wilson,
and excited a proportionate degree of indignation against Porteous;
against whom, as strict, and even violent in the discharge of his
unpopular office, the common people had some real, and many imaginary
causes of complaint.

When the painful procession was completed, and Wilson, with the escort,
had arrived at the scaffold in the Grassmarket, there appeared no signs
of that attempt to rescue him which had occasioned such precautions. The
multitude, in general, looked on with deeper interest than at ordinary
executions; and there might be seen, on the countenances of many, a stern
and indignant expression, like that with which the ancient Cameronians
might be supposed to witness the execution of their brethren, who
glorified the Covenant on the same occasion, and at the same spot. But
there was no attempt at violence. Wilson himself seemed disposed to
hasten over the space that divided time from eternity. The devotions
proper and usual on such occasions were no sooner finished than he
submitted to his fate, and the sentence of the law was fulfilled.

He had been suspended on the gibbet so long as to be totally deprived of
life, when at once, as if occasioned by some newly received impulse,
there arose a tumult among the multitude. Many stones were thrown at
Porteous and his guards; some mischief was done; and the mob continued to
press forward with whoops, shrieks, howls, and exclamations. A young
fellow, with a sailor's cap slouched over his face, sprung on the
scaffold, and cut the rope by which the criminal was suspended. Others
approached to carry off the body, either to secure for it a decent grave,
or to try, perhaps, some means of resuscitation. Captain Porteous was
wrought, by this appearance of insurrection against his authority, into a
rage so headlong as made him forget, that, the sentence having been fully
executed, it was his duty not to engage in hostilities with the misguided
multitude, but to draw off his men as fast as possible. He sprung from
the scaffold, snatched a musket from one of his soldiers, commanded the
party to give fire, and, as several eye-witnesses concurred in swearing,
set them the example, by discharging his piece, and shooting a man dead
on the spot. Several soldiers obeyed his command or followed his example;
six or seven persons were slain, and a great many were hurt and wounded.

After this act of violence, the Captain proceeded to withdraw his men
towards their guard-house in the High Street. The mob were not so much
intimidated as incensed by what had been done. They pursued the soldiers
with execrations, accompanied by volleys of stones. As they pressed on
them, the rearmost soldiers turned, and again fired with fatal aim and
execution. It is not accurately known whether Porteous commanded this
second act of violence; but of course the odium of the whole transactions
of the fatal day attached to him, and to him alone. He arrived at the
guard-house, dismissed his soldiers, and went to make his report to the
magistrates concerning the unfortunate events of the day.

Apparently by this time Captain Porteous had began to doubt the propriety
of his own conduct, and the reception he met with from the magistrates
was such as to make him still more anxious to gloss it over. He denied
that he had given orders to fire; he denied he had fired with his own
hand; he even produced the fusee which he carried as an officer for
examination; it was found still loaded. Of three cartridges which he was
seen to put in his pouch that morning, two were still there; a white
handkerchief was thrust into the muzzle of the piece, and re-turned
unsoiled or blackened. To the defence founded on these circumstances it
was answered, that Porteous had not used his own piece, but had been seen
to take one from a soldier. Among the many who had been killed and
wounded by the unhappy fire, there were several of better rank; for even
the humanity of such soldiers as fired over the heads of the mere rabble
around the scaffold, proved in some instances fatal to persons who were
stationed in windows, or observed the melancholy scene from a distance.
The voice of public indignation was loud and general; and, ere men's
tempers had time to cool, the trial of Captain Porteous took place before
the High Court of Justiciary. After a long and patient hearing, the jury
had the difficult duty of balancing the positive evidence of many
persons, and those of respectability, who deposed positively to the
prisoner's commanding his soldiers to fire, and himself firing his piece,
of which some swore that they saw the smoke and flash, and beheld a man
drop at whom it was pointed, with the negative testimony of others, who,
though well stationed for seeing what had passed, neither heard Porteous
give orders to fire, nor saw him fire himself; but, on the contrary,
averred that the first shot was fired by a soldier who stood close by
him. A great part of his defence was also founded on the turbulence of
the mob, which witnesses, according to their feelings, their
predilections, and their opportunities of observation, represented
differently; some describing as a formidable riot, what others
represented as a trifling disturbance such as always used to take place
on the like occasions, when the executioner of the law, and the men
commissioned to protect him in his task, were generally exposed to some
indignities. The verdict of the jury sufficiently shows how the evidence
preponderated in their minds. It declared that John Porteous fired a gun
among the people assembled at the execution; that he gave orders to his
soldiers to fire, by which many persons were killed and wounded; but, at
the same time, that the prisoner and his guard had been wounded and
beaten, by stones thrown at them by the multitude. Upon this verdict, the
Lords of Justiciary passed sentence of death against Captain John
Porteous, adjudging him, in the common form, to be hanged on a gibbet at
the common place of execution, on Wednesday, 8th September 1736, and all
his movable property to be forfeited to the king's use, according to the
Scottish law in cases of wilful murder.*

* The signatures affixed to the death-warrant of Captain Porteous were--
Andrew Fletcher of Milton, Lord Justice-Clerk.
Sir James Mackenzie, Lord Royston.
David Erskine, Lord Dun.
Sir Walter Pringle, Lord Newhall.
Sir Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto.


"The hour's come, but not the man."*

* There is a tradition, that while a little stream was swollen into a
torrent by recent showers, the discontented voice of the Water Spirit was
heard to pronounce these words. At the some moment a man, urged on by his
fate, or, in Scottish language, /fey,/ arrived at a gallop, and prepared
to cross the water. No remonstrance from the bystanders was of power to
stop him--he plunged into the stream, and perished.


On the day when the unhappy Porteous was expected to suffer the sentence


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