by Sir Walter Scott
INTRODUCTION TO GUY MANNERING.
The Novel or Romance of WAVERLEY made its way to the public slowly, of course, at first, but afterwards with such accumulating popularity as to encourage the author to a second attempt. He looked about for a name and a subject; and the manner in which the novels were composed cannot be better illustrated than by reciting the simple narrative on which Guy Mannering was originally founded; but to which, in the progress of the work, the production ceased to bear any, even the most distant resemblance. The tale was originally told me by an old servant of my father's, an excellent old Highlander, without a fault, unless a preference to mountain-dew over less potent liquors be accounted one. He believed as firmly in the story, as in any part of his creed.
A grave and elderly person, according to old John MacKinlay's account, while travelling in the wilder parts of Galloway, was benighted. With difficulty he found his way to a country-seat, where, with the hospitality of the time and country, he was readily admitted. The owner of the house, a gentleman of good fortune, was much struck by the reverend appearance of his guest, and apologised to him for a certain degree of confusion which must unavoidably ,attend his reception, and could not escape his eye. she lady of the house was, he said, confined to her apartment, and on the point of making her husband a father for the first time, though they had been ten years married. At such an emergency, the Laird said, he feared his guest might meet with some apparent neglect.
"Not so, sir," said the stranger, "my wants are few, and easily supplied, and I trust the present circumstances may even afford an opportunity of showing my gratitude for your hospitality. Let me only request that I may be informed of the exact minute of the birth; and I hope to be able to put you in possession of some particulars, which may influence, in an important manner, the future prospects of the child now about to come into this busy and changeful world. I will not conceal from you that I am skilful in understanding and interpreting the movements of those planetary bodies which exert their influences on the destiny of mortals. It is a science which I do not practise, like others who call themselves astrologers, for hire or reward; for I have a competent estate, and only use the knowledge I possess for the benefit of those in whom I feel an interest." The Laird bowed in respect and gratitude, and the stranger was accommodated with an apartment which commanded an ample view of the astral regions.
The guest spent a part of the night in ascertaining the position of the heavenly bodies, and calculating their probable influence; until at length the result of his observations induced him to send for the father, and conjure him, in the most solemn manner, to cause the assistants to retard the birth, if practicable, were it but for five minutes. The answer declared this to be impossible; and almost in the instant that the message was returned, the father and his guest were made acquainted with the birth of a boy.
The Astrologer on the morrow met the party who gathered around the breakfast-table, with looks so grave and ominous, as to alarm the fears of the father, who had hitherto exulted in the prospects held out by the birth of an heir to his ancient property, failing which event it must have passed to a distant branch of the family. He hastened to draw the stranger into a private room.
"I fear from your looks," said the father, "that you have bad tidings to tell me of my young stranger; perhaps God will resume the blessing He has bestowed ere he attains the age of manhood, or perhaps he is destined to be unworthy of the affection which we are naturally disposed to devote to our offspring."
"Neither the one nor the other," answered the stranger;" unless my judgment greatly err, the infant will survive the years of minority, and in temper and disposition will prove all that his parents can wish. But with much in his horoscope which promises many blessings, there is one evil influence strongly predominant, which threatens to subject him to an unhallowed and unhappy temptation about the time when he shall attain the age of twenty-one, which period, the constellations intimate, will he the crisis of his fate. In what shape, or with what peculiar urgency, this temptation may beset him, my art cannot discover."
"Your knowledge, then, can afford us no defence," said the anxious father, "against the threatened evil?"
"Pardon me," answered the stranger, "it can. The influence of the constellations is powerful, but He, who made the heavens, is more powerful than all, if His aid be invoked in sincerity and truth. You ought to dedicate this boy to the immediate service of his Maker, with as much sincerity as Samuel was devoted to the worship in the Temple by his parents. You must regard him as a being separated from the rest of the world. In childhood, in boyhood, you must surround him with the pious and virtuous, and protect him, to the utmost of your power, from the sight or hearing of any crime, in word or action. He must be educated in religious and moral principles of the strictest description. Let him not enter the world, lest he learn to partake of its follies, or perhaps of its vices. In short, preserve him as far as possible from all sin, save that of which too great a portion belongs to all the fallen race of Adam. With the approach of his twenty-first birthday comes the crisis of his fate. If he survive it, he will be happy and prosperous on earth, and a chosen vessel among those elected for heaven. But if it be otherwise—"The Astrologer stopped, and sighed deeply.
"Sir," replied the parent, still more alarmed than before, "your words are so kind, your advice so serious, that I will pay the deepest attention to your behests; but can you not aid me further in this most important concern? Believe me, I will not be ungrateful."
"I require and deserve no gratitude for doing a good action," said the stranger, "in especial for contributing all that lies in my power to save from an abhorred fate the harmless infant to whom, under a singular conjunction of planets, last night gave life. There is my address; you may write to me from time to time concerning the progress of the boy in religious knowledge. If he be bred up as I advise, I think it will be best that he come to my house at the time when the fatal and decisive period approaches, that is, before he has attained his twenty-first year complete. If you send him such as I desire, I humbly trust that God will protect His own, through whatever strong temptation his fate may subject him to." He then gave his host his address, which was a country-seat near a post-town in the south of England, and bid him an affectionate farewell.
The mysterious stranger departed, but his words remained impressed upon the mind of the anxious parent. He lost his lady while his boy was still in infancy. This calamity, I think, had been predicted by the Astrologer; and thus his confidence, which, like most people of the period, he had freely given to the science, was riveted and confirmed. The utmost care, therefore, was taken to carry into effect the severe and almost ascetic plan of education which the sage had enjoined. A tutor of the strictest principles was employed to superintend the youth's education; he was surrounded by domestics of the most established character, and closely watched and looked after by the anxious father himself.
The years of infancy, childhood, and boyhood, passed as the father could have wished. A young Nazarene could not have been bred up with more rigour. All that was evil was withheld from his observation—he only heard what was pure in precept—he only witnessed what was worthy in practice.
But when the boy began to be lost in the youth, the attentive father saw cause for alarm. Shades of sadness, which gradually assumed a darker character, began to overcloud the young man's temper. Tears, which seemed involuntary, broken sleep, moonlight wanderings, and a melancholy for which he could assign no reason, seemed to threaten at once his bodily health, and the stability of his mind. The Astrologer was consulted by letter, and returned for answer, that this fitful state of mind was but the commencement of his trial, and that the poor youth must undergo more and more desperate struggles with the evil that assailed him. There was no hope of remedy, save that he showed steadiness of mind in the study of the Scriptures. "He suffers," continued the letter of the sage," from the awakening of those harpies, the passions, which have slept with him as with others, till the period of life which he has now attained. Better, far better, that they torment him by ungrateful cravings, than that he should have to repent having satiated them by criminal indulgence."
The dispositions of the young man were so excellent, that he combated, by reason and religion, the fits of gloom which at times overcast his mind, and it was not till he attained the commencement of his twenty-first year, that they assumed a character which made his father tremble for the consequences. It seemed as if the gloomiest and most hideous of mental maladies was taking the form of religious despair. Still the youth was gentle, courteous, affectionate, and submissive to his father's will, and resisted with all his power the dark suggestions which were breathed into his mind, as it seemed, by some emanation of the Evil Principle, exhorting him, like the wicked wife of job, to curse God and die.
The time at length arrived when be was to perform what was then thought a long and somewhat perilous journey, to the mansion of the early friend who had calculated his nativity. His road lay through several places of interest, and he enjoyed the amusement of travelling, more than he himself thought would have been possible. Thus he did not reach the place of his destination till noon, on the day preceding his birthday. It seemed as if he bad been carried away with an unwonted tide of pleasurable sensation, so as to forget, in some degree, what his father had communicated concerning the purpose of his journey. He halted at length before a respectable but solitary old mansion, to which he was directed as the abode of his father's friend.
The servants who came to take his horse told him he had been expected for two days. He was led into a study, where the stranger, now a venerable old man, who had been his father's guest, met him with a shade of displeasure, as well as gravity, on his brow. "Young man," he said, "wherefore so slow on a journey of such importance?"—"I thought," replied the guest, blushing and looking downward, "that there was no harm in travelling slowly, and satisfying my curiosity, providing I could reach your residence by this day; for such was my father's charge."—"You were to blame," replied the sage, "in lingering, considering that the avenger of blood was pressing on your footsteps. But you are come at last, and we will hope for the best, though the conflict in which you are to be engaged will be found more dreadful, the longer it is postponed. But first, accept of such refreshments as nature requires, to satisfy, but not to pamper, the appetite."
The old man led the way into a summer parlour, where a frugal meal was placed on the table. As they sat down to the board, they were joined by a young lady about eighteen years of age, and so lovely, that the sight of her carried off the feelings of the young stranger from the peculiarity and mystery of his own lot, and riveted his attention to everything she did or said. She spoke little, and it was on the most serious subjects. She played on the harpsichord at her father's command, but it was hymns with which she accompanied the instrument. At length, on a sign from the sage, she left the room, turning on the young stranger, as she departed, a look of inexpressible anxiety and interest.
The old man then conducted the youth to his study, and conversed with him upon the most important points of religion, to satisfy himself that he could render a reason for the faith that was in him. During the examination, the youth, in spite of himself, felt his mind occasionally wander, and his recollections go in quest of the beautiful vision who had shared their meal at noon. On such occasions, the Astrologer looked grave, and shook his head at this relaxation of attention; yet, upon the whole, he was pleased with the youth's replies.
At sunset the young man was made to take the bath; and, having done so, he was directed to attire himself in a robe, somewhat like that worn by Armenians, having his long hair combed down on his shoulders, and his neck, hands, and feet bare. In this guise, he was conducted into a remote chamber totally devoid of furniture, excepting a lamp, a chair, and a table, on which lay a Bible. "Here," said the Astrologer, "I must leave you alone, to pass the most critical period of your life. If you can, by recollection of the great truths of which we have spoken, repel the attacks which will be made on your courage and your principles, you have nothing to apprehend. But the trial will be severe and arduous." His features then assumed a pathetic solemnity, the tears stood in his eyes and his voice falterer with emotion as he said, "Dear child, at whose coming into the world I foresaw this fatal trial, may God give thee grace to support it with firmness!"
The young man was left alone; and hardly did he find himself so, when, like a swarm of demons, the recollection of all his sins of omission and commission, rendered even more terrible by the scrupulousness with which he had been educated, rushed on his mind, and, like furies armed with fiery scourges, seemed determined to drive him to despair. As he combated these horrible recollections with distracted feelings, but with a resolved mind, he became aware that his arguments were answered by the sophistry of another, and that the dispute was no longer confined to his own thoughts. The Author of Evil was present in the room with him in bodily shape, and, potent with spirits of a melancholy cast, was impressing upon him the desperation of his state, and urging suicide as the readiest mode to put an end to his sinful career. Amid his errors, the pleasure he had taken in prolonging his journey unnecessarily, and the attention which he had bestowed an the beauty of the fair female, when his thoughts ought to have been dedicated to the religious discourse of her father, were set before him in the darkest colours; and he was treated as one who, having sinned against light, was, therefore, deservedly left a prey to the Prince of Darkness.
As the fated and influential hour rolled on, the terrors of the hateful Presence grew more confounding to the mortal senses of the victim, and the knot of the accursed sophistry became more inextricable in appearance, at least to the prey whom its meshes surrounded. He had not power to explain the assurance of pardon which he continued to assert, or to name the victorious name in which he, trusted. But his faith did not abandon him, though he lacked for a time the power of expressing it. "Say what you will," was his answer to the Tempter; "I know there is as much betwixt the two boards of this Book as can insure me forgiveness for my transgressions, and safety for my soul." As he spoke, the clock, which announced the lapse of the fatal hour, was heard to strike. The speech and intellectual powers of the youth were instantly and fully restored; he burst forth into prayer, and expressed, in the most glowing terms, his reliance on the truth, and on the Author, of the gospel. The demon retired, yelling and discomfited, and the old man, entering the apartment, with tears congratulated his guest on his victory in the fated struggle.
The young man was afterwards married to the beautiful maiden, the first sight of whom had made such an impression on him, and they were consigned over at the close of the story to domestic happiness.—So ended John MacKinlay's legend.
The author of Waverley had imagined a possibility of framing an interesting, and perhaps not an unedifying, tale, out of the incidents of the life of a doomed individual, whose efforts at good and virtuous conduct were to be for ever disappointed by the intervention, as it were, of some malevolent being, and who was at last to come off victorious from the fearful struggle. In short, something was meditated upon a plan resembling the imaginative tale of Sintram and his Companions, by Mons. Le Baron de la Motte Fouque, although, if it then existed, the author had not seen it.
The scheme projected may be traced in the three or four first chapters of the work, but further consideration induced the author to lay his purpose aside. It appeared, on mature consideration, that Astrology, though its influence was once received and admitted by Bacon himself, does not now retain influence over the general mind sufficient even to constitute the mainspring of a romance. Besides, it occurred, that to do justice to such a subject would have required not only more talent than the author could be conscious of possessing, but also involved doctrines and discussions of a nature too serious for his purpose, and for the character of the narrative. In changing his plan, however, which wets done in the course of printing, the early sheets retained the vestiges of the original tenor of the story, although they now hang upon it as an unnecessary and unnatural encumbrance. The cause of such vestiges is now explained, and apologised for.
It is here worthy of observation, that while the astrological doctrines have fallen into general contempt, and been supplanted by superstitions of a more gross and far less beautiful character, they have, even in modern days, retained some votaries.
One of the most remarkable believers in that forgotten and despised science, was a late eminent professor of the art of legerdemain. One would have thought that a person of this description ought, from his knowledge of the thousand ways in which human eyes could be deceived, to have been less than others subject to the fantasies of superstition. Perhaps the habitual use of those abstruse calculations, by which, in a manner surprising to the artist himself, many tricks upon cards, etc., are performed, induced this gentleman to study the combination of the stars and planets, with the expectation of obtaining prophetic communications.
He constructed a scheme of his own nativity, calculated according to such rules of art as he could collect from the best astrological authors. The result of the past he found agreeable to what had hitherto befallen him, but in the important prospect of the future a singular difficulty occurred. There were two years, during the course of which he could by no means obtain any exact knowledge, whether the subject of the scheme would be dead or alive. Anxious concerning so remarkable a circumstance, he gave the scheme to a brother Astrologer, who was also baffled in the same manner. At one period he found the native, or subject, was certainly alive; at another, that he was unquestionably dead; but a space of two years extended between these two terms, during which he could find no certainty as to his death or existence.
The Astrologer marked the remarkable circumstance in his Diary, and continued his exhibitions in various parts of the empire until the period was about to expire, during which his existence had been warranted as actually ascertained. At last, while he was exhibiting to a numerous audience his usual tricks of legerdemain, the hands, whose activity had so often baffled the closest observer, suddenly lost their power, the cards dropped from them, and he sunk down a disabled paralytic. In this state the artist languished for two years, when he was at length removed by death. It is said that the Diary of this modern Astrologer will soon be given to the public.
The fact, if truly reported, is one of those singular coincidences which occasionally appear, differing so widely from ordinary calculation, yet without which irregularities, human life would not present to mortals, looking into futurity, the abyss of impenetrable darkness, which it is the pleasure of the Creator it should offer to them. Were everything to happen in the ordinary train of events, the future would be subject to the rules of arithmetic, like the chances of gaming. But extraordinary events, and wonderful runs of luck, defy the calculations ox mankind, and throw impenetrable darkness on future contingencies.
To the above anecdote, another, still more recent, may be here added. The author was lately honoured with a letter from a gentleman deeply skilled in these mysteries, who kindly undertook to calculate the nativity of the writer of Guy Mannering, who might be supposed to be friendly to the divine art which he professed. But it was impossible to supply data for the construction of a horoscope, had the native been otherwise desirous of it, since all those who could supply the minutiae of day, hour, and minute have been long removed from the mortal sphere.
Having thus given some account of the first idea, or rude sketch, of the story, which was soon departed from, the author, in following out the plan of the present edition, has to mention the prototypes of the principal characters in Guy Mannering.
Some circumstances of local situation gave the author, in his youth, an opportunity of seeing a little, and hearing a great deal, about that degraded class who are called gipsies; who are in most cases a mixed race, between the ancient Egyptians who arrived in Europe about the beginning of the fifteenth century, and vagrants of European descent.
The individual gipsy, upon whom the character of Meg Merrilies was. founded, was well known about the middle of the last century, by the name of Jean Gordon, an inhabitant of the village of Kirk Yetholm, in the Cheviot hills, adjoining to the English Border. The author gave the public some account of this remarkable person, in one of the early numbers of. Blackwood's Magazine, to the following purpose :-
"My father remembered old Jean Gordon of Yetholm, who had great sway among her tribe. She was quite a Meg Merrilies, and possessed the savage virtue of fidelity in the same perfection. Having been often hospitably received at the farm-house of Lochside, near Yetholm, she had carefully abstained from committing any depredations an the farmer's property. But her sons (nine in number) had not, it seems, the same delicacy, and stole a brood-sow from their kind entertainer. Jean was mortified at this ungrateful conduct, and so much ashamed of it, that she absented herself from Lochside for several years.
"It happened, in course of time, that in consequence Of some temporary pecuniary necessity, the Goodman of Lochside was obliged to go to Newcastle to raise some money to pay his rent. He succeeded in his purpose, but returning through the mountains of Cheviot, he was benighted and lost his way.
"A light, glimmering through the window of a large waste barn, which had survived the farm-house to which it had once belonged, guided him to a place of shelter; and when he knocked at the door, it was opened by Jean Gordon. Her very remarkable figure, for she was nearly six feet high, and her equally remarkable features and dress, rendered it impossible to mistake her for a moment, though he had not seen her for years; and to meet with such a character in so solitary a place, and probably at no great distance from her clan, was a grievous surprise to the poor man, whose rent (to lose which would have been ruin) was about his person.
"Jean set up a loud shout of joyful recognition—'Eh, sirs! the winsome Gudeman of Lochside! Light down, light down; for ye maunna gang farther the night, and a friend's house sae near.' The farmer was obliged to dismount, and accept of the gipsy's offer of supper and a bed. There was plenty of meat in the barn, however it might be come by, and preparations were going on for a plentiful repast, which the farmer, to the great increase of his anxiety, observed, was calculated for ten or twelve guests, of the same description, probably, with his landlady.
"Jean left him in no doubt on the subject. She brought to his recollection the story of the stolen sow, and mentioned how much pain and vexation it had given her. Like other philosophers, she remarked that the world grew worse daily; and, like other parents, that the bairns got out of her guiding, and neglected the old gipsy regulations, which commanded them to respect, in their depredations, the property of their benefactors. The end of all this was, an inquiry what money the farmer had about him; and an urgent request, or command, that he would make her his purse-keeper, since the bairns, as she called her sons, would be soon home. The poor farmer made a virtue of necessity, told his story, and surrendered his gold to Jean's custody. She made him put a few shillings in his pocket, observing it would excite— suspicion should he be found travelling altogether penniless.
"This arrangement being made, the farmer lay down on a sort of shake-down, as the Scotch call it, or bed-clothes disposed upon some straw, but, as will easily be believed, slept not.
"About midnight the gang returned, with various articles of plunder, and talked over their exploits in language which made the farmer tremble. They were not long in discovering they had a guest, and demanded of Jean whom she had got there.
"'E'en the winsome Gudeman of Lochside, poor body,' replied Jean; 'he's been at Newcastle seeking siller to pay his rent, honest man, but deil-be-lickit he's been able to gather in, and sae he's gaun e'en hame wi' a toom purse and a sair heart.'
"'That may be, Jean,' replied one of the banditti, 'but we maun ripe his pouches a bit, and see if the tale be true or no.' Jean set up her throat in exclamations against this breach of hospitality, but without producing any change in their determination. The farmer soon heard their stifled whispers and light steps by his bedside, and understood they were rummaging his clothes. When they found the money which the providence of Jean Gordon had made him retain, they held a consultation if they should take it or no; but the smallness of. the booty, and the vehemence of Jean's remonstrances, determined them in the negative. They caroused and went to rest. As soon as day dawned, Jean roused her guest, produced his horse, which she had accommodated behind the hallan, and guided him for some miles, till he was on the high-road to Lochside. She then restored his whole property; nor could his earnest entreaties prevail on her to accept so much as a single guinea.
"I have heard the old people at Jedburgh say, that all Jean's sons were condemned to die there on the same day. It is said the jury were equally divided, but that a friend to justice, who had slept during the whole discussion, waked suddenly, and gave his vote for condemnation, in the emphatic words, 'Hang them a'!' Unanimity is not required in a Scottish jury, so the verdict of guilty was returned. Jean was present, and only said, 'The Lord help the innocent in a day like this!' Her own death was accompanied with circumstances of brutal outrage, of which poor Jean was in many respects wholly undeserving. She had, among other demerits, or merits, as the reader may choose to rank it, that of being a staunch Jacobite. She chanced to be at Carlisle upon a fair or market-day, soon after the year 1746, where she gave vent to her political partiality, to the great offence of the rabble of that city. Being zealous in their loyalty, when there was no danger, in proportion to the tameness with which they had surrendered to the Highlanders in 1745, the mob inflicted upon poor Jean Gordon no slighter penalty than that of ducking her to death in the Eden. It was an operation of some time, for Jean was a stout woman, and, struggling with her murderers, often got her head above water; and, while she had voice left, continued to exclaim at such intervals, 'Charlie yet! Charlie yet!' When a child, and among the scenes which she frequented, I have often heard these stories, and cried piteously for poor Jean Gordon.
"Before quitting the Border gipsies, I may mention, that my grandfather, while riding over Charterhouse moor, then a very extensive common, fell suddenly among a large band of them, who were carousing in a hollow of the moor, surrounded by bushes. They instantly seized on his horse's bridle with many shouts of welcome, exclaiming—(for he was well known to most of them) that they had often dined at his expense, and he must now stay and share their good cheer. My ancestor was a little alarmed, for, like the Goodman of Lochside, he had more money about his person than he cared to risk in such society. However, being naturally a bold lively-spirited man, he entered into the humour of the thing, and sat down to the feast, which consisted of all the varieties of game, poultry, pigs, and so forth, that—could be collected by a wide and indiscriminate system of plunder. The dinner was a very merry one; but my relative got a hint from some of the older gipsies to retire just when—
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious,
and, mounting his horse accordingly, he took a French leave of his entertainers, but without experiencing the least breach of hospitality. I believe Jean Gordon was at this festival"— (Blackwood's Magazine, vol. i. p. 54.)
Notwithstanding the failure of Jean's issue, for which,
Weary fa' the waefu' wuddie,
a granddaughter survived her whom I remember to have seen. That is, as Dr. Johnson had a shadowy recollection of Queen Anne, as a stately lady in black, adorned with diamonds, so my memory is haunted by a solemn remembrance of a woman of more than female height, dressed in a long red cloak, who commenced acquaintance by giving me an apple, but whom, nevertheless, I looked on with as much awe as the future Doctor, High Church and Tory as he was doomed to be, could look upon the Queen. I conceive this woman to have been Madge Gordon, of whom an impressive account is given in the same article in which her mother Jean is mentioned, but not by the present writer.—
"The late Madge Gordon was at this time accounted the Queen of the Yetholm clans. She was, we believe, a granddaughter of the celebrated Jean Gordon, and was said to have much resembled her in appearance. The following account of her is extracted from the letter of a friend, who for many years enjoyed frequent and favourable opportunities of observing the characteristic peculiarities of the Yetholm tribes.—'Madge Gordon was descended from the Faas by the mother's side, and was married to a Young. She was a remarkable personage of a very commanding presence, and high stature, being nearly six feet high. She had a large aquiline nose-penetrating eyes, even in her old age-bushy hair, that hung around her shoulders from beneath a gipsy bonnet of straw-a short cloak of a peculiar fashion, and a long staff nearly as tall as herself. I remember her well;—every week she paid my father a visit for her awmous, when I was a little boy, and I looked upon Madge with no common degree of awe, and terror. When she spoke vehemently (for she made loud complaints), she used to strike her staff upon the floor, and throw herself into an attitude which it was impossible to regard with indifference. She used to say that she could bring from the remotest parts of the island, friends to revenge her quarrel, while she sat motionless in her cottage; and she frequently boasted that there was a time when she was of still more considerable importance, for there were at her wedding fifty saddled asses, and unsaddled asses with. out number. If Jean Gordon was the prototype of the character of Meg Merrilies, I imagine Madge must have sat to the unknown author as the representative of her person.' "—(Blackwood's Magazine, vol. i. p. 56.)
How far Blackwood's ingenious correspondent was right, how far mistaken in his conjecture, the reader has been informed.
To pass to a character of a very different description, Dominie Sampson, the reader may easily suppose that a poor, modest, humble scholar, who has won his way through the classics, yet has fallen to leeward in the voyage of life, is no uncommon personage in a country, where a certain portion of learning is easily attained by those who are willing to suffer hunger and thirst in exchange for acquiring Greek and Latin. But there is a far more exact prototype of the worthy Dominie, upon which is founded the part which he performs in the romance, and which, for certain particular reasons, must be expressed very generally.
Such a preceptor as Mr. Sampson is supposed to have been, was actually tutor in the family of a gentleman of considerable property. The young lads, his pupils, grew up and went out in the world, but the tutor continued to reside in the family, no uncommon circumstance in Scotland (in former days), where food and shelter were readily afforded to humble friends and dependants. The Laird's predecessors had been imprudent, he himself was passive and unfortunate. Death swept away his sons, whose success in life might have balanced his own bad luck and incapacity. Debts increased and funds diminished, until ruin came. The estate was sold; and the old man was about to remove from the house of his fathers, to go he knew not whither, when, like an old piece of furniture, which, left alone in its wonted corner, may hold together for a long while, but breaks to pieces on an attempt to move it, he fell down on his own threshold under a paralytic affection.
The tutor awakened as from a dream. He saw his patron dead, and that his patron's only remaining child, an elderly woman, now neither graceful nor beautiful, if she had ever been either the one or the other, had by this calamity become a homeless and penniless orphan. He addressed her nearly in the words which Dominie Sampson uses to Miss Bertram, and professed his determination not to leave her. Accordingly, roused to the exercise of talents which had long slumbered, he opened a little school, and supported his patron's child for the rest of her life, treating her with the same humble observance and devoted attention which he had used towards her in the days of her prosperity.
Such is the outline of Dominie Sampson's real story, in which there is neither romantic incident nor sentimental passion; but which, perhaps, from the rectitude and simplicity of character which it displays, may interest the heart and fill the eye of the reader as irresistibly as if it respected distresses of a more dignified or refined character.
These preliminary notices concerning the tale of Guy Mannering, and some of the characters introduced, may save the author and reader, in the present instance, the trouble of writing and perusing a long string of detached notes.
He could not deny, that looking round upon the dreary region, and seeing nothing but bleak fields, and naked trees, hills obscured by fogs, and flats covered with inundations, he did for some time suffer melancholy to prevail on him, and wished himself again safe at home—Travels of Will Marvel, Idler, No. 49.
It was in the beginning of the month of November, 17—, when a young English gentleman, who had just left the university of Oxford, made use of the liberty afforded him, to visit some parts of the north of England; and curiosity extended his tour into the adjacent frontier of the sister country. He had visited, on the day that opens our history, some monastic ruins in the county of Dumfries, and spent much of the day in making drawings of them from different points; so that, on mounting his horse to resume his journey, the brief and gloomy twilight of the season had already commenced. His way lay through a wide tract of black moss, extending for miles on each side and before him. Little eminences arose like islands on its surface, bearing here and there patches of corn, which even at this season was green, and sometimes a but, or farm-house, shaded by a willow or two, and surrounded by large elder bushes. These insulated dwellings communicated with each other by winding passages through the moss, impassable by any but the natives themselves. The public road, however, was tolerably well made and safe, so that the prospect of being benighted brought with it no real danger. Still it is uncomfortable to travel, alone and in the dark, through an unknown country; and there are few ordinary occasions upon which Fancy frets herself so much as in a situation like that of Mannering.
As the light grew faint and more faint, and the morass appeared blacker and blacker, our traveller questioned more closely each chance passenger on his distance from the village of Kippletringan, where he proposed to quarter for the night. His queries were usually answered by a counter-challenge respecting the place from whence he came. While sufficient daylight remained to show the dress and appearance of a gentleman, these cross interrogatories were usually put in the form of a case supposed, as, "Ye'll hae been at the auld abbey o' Halycross, sir? there's mony English gentlemen, gang to see that."—Or, "Your honour will be come frae the house o' Pouderloupat?" But when the voice of the querist alone was distinguishable, the response usually was, "Where are ye coming frae at sic a time o' night as the like o' this?"—or, "Ye'll no be o' this country, freend?" The answers, when obtained, were neither very reconcilable to each other, nor accurate in the information which they afforded. Kippletringan was distant at first "a gey bit"; [* Considerable distance] then the "gey bit" was more accurately described as "ablins [* Perhaps] three mile"; then the "three mile" diminished into "like a mile and a bittock "; then extended themselves into "four mile or thereawa"; and, lastly, a female voice, having hushed a waiting infant which the spokeswoman carried in her arms, assured Guy Mannering, "It was a weary lang gate yet to Kippletringan, and unco heavy road for foot passengers." The poor hack upon which Mannering was mounted was probably of opinion that it suited him as ill as the female respondent; for he began to flag very much, answered each application of the spur with a groan, and stumbled at every stone (and they were not few) which lay in his road.
Mannering now grew impatient. He was occasionally betrayed into a deceitful hope that the end of his journey was near, by the apparition of a twinkling light or two; but, as he came up, he was disappointed to find that the gleams proceeded from some of those farm-houses which occasionally ornamented the surface of the extensive bog. At length, to complete his perplexity, he arrived at a place where the road divided into two. If there had been light to consult the relics of a finger-post which stood there, it would have been of little avail, as, according to the good custom of North Britain, the inscription had been defaced shortly after its erection. Our adventurer was therefore compelled, like a knight-errant of old, to trust to the sagacity of his horse, which, without any demur, chose the left-hand path, and seemed to proceed at a somewhat livelier pace than before, affording thereby a hope that he knew he was drawing near to his quarters for the evening. This hope, however, was not speedily accomplished, and Mannering, whose impatience made every furlong seem three, began to think that Kippletringan was actually retreating before him in proportion to his advance.
It was now very cloudy, although the stars, from time to time, shed a twinkling and uncertain light. Hitherto nothing had broken the silence around him, but the deep cry of the bog-blitter, or bull-of-the-bog, a large species of bittern; and the sighs of the wind as it passed along the dreary morass. To these was now joined the distant roar of the ocean, towards which the traveller seemed to be fast approaching. This was no circumstance to make his mind easy. Many of the roads in that country lay along the sea-beach, and were liable to be flooded by the tides, which rise with great height,—and advance with extreme rapidity. Others were intersected with creeks and small inlets, which it was only safe to pass at particular times of the tide. Neither circumstance would have suited a dark night, a fatigued horse, and a traveller ignorant of his road. Mannering resolved, therefore, definitely to halt for the night at the first inhabited place, however poor, he might chance to reach, unless he could procure a guide to this unlucky village of Kippletringan.—
A miserable hut gave him an opportunity to execute his purpose. He found out the door with no small difficulty, and for some time knocked without producing any other answer than a duet between a female and a cur-dog, the latter yelping as if he would have barked his heart out, the other screaming in chorus. By degrees the human tones predominated; but the angry bark of the cur being at the instant changed into a howl, it is probable something more than fair strength of lungs had contributed to the ascendency.
"Sorrow be in your thrapple [*Throat] then these were the first articulate words,—"will ye no let me hear what the man wants, wi' your yaffing?" [* Barking]
"Am I far from Kippletringan, good dame?"
"Frae Kippletringan!!!" in an exalted tone of wonder, which we can but faintly express by three points of admiration; "Ow, man! ye should hae hadden eassel to Kippletringan—ye maun gae back as far as the Whaap, and haud the Whaap [*The Hope, often pronounced Whaap, is the sheltered part or hollow of the hill Hoff, howff, haaf, and haven, are all modifications of the same word.] till ye come to Ballenloan, and then—"
"This will never do, good dame! my horse is almost quite knocked up —can you not give me a night's lodgings?"
"Troth can I no—I am a lone woman, for James he's awa to Drumshourloch fair with the year-aulds, and I daurna for my life open the door to ony o' your gang-there-out sort o' bodies."
"But what must I do then, good dame? for I can't sleep here upon the road all night."
"Troth, I kenna, unless ye like to gae down and speer [*Ask] for quarters at the Place. I'se warrant they'll tak ye in, whether ye be gentle or semple."
"Simple enough, to be wandering here at such a time of night," thought Mannering, who was ignorant of the meaning of the phrase; "but how shall I get to the place, as you call it?"
"Ye maun haud wessel by the end o' the loan, and take tent o' the jaw-hole."
"Oh, if ye get to eassel and wessel [*Eastward and Westward] again, I am undone!—Is there nobody that could guide me to this place? I will pay him handsomely."
The ward pay operated like magic. "Jock, ye villain," exclaimed the voice from the interior, "are ye lying routing there, and a. young gentleman seeking the way to the Place? Get up, ye fause loon, [*Young fellow] and show him the way down the muckle loaning. —He'll show you the way, sir, and I'se warrant ye'll be weel put up; for they never turn awa naebody frae the door; and ye'll be come in the canny moment, I'm thinking, for the Laird's servant— that's no to say his body-servant, but the helper like—rade express by this e'en to fetch the houdie, [*Midwife] and he just staid the drinking o' twa pints o' tippenny, to tell us how my leddy was ta'en wi' her pains."
"Perhaps," said Mannering, "at such a time a stranger's arrival might be inconvenient?"
"Hout, na, ye needna be blate about that; their house is muckle eneugh, and clecking [*Hatching time] time's aye canty time."
By this time Jock had found his way into all the intricacies of a tattered doublet, and more tattered pair of breeches, and sallied forth, a great white-headed, bare-legged, lubberly boy of twelve years old, so exhibited by the glimpse of a rush-light, which his half-naked mother held in such a manner as to get a peep at the stranger, without greatly exposing herself to view in return. Jock moved on westward, by the end of the house, leading Mannering's horse by the bridle, and piloting, with some dexterity, along the little path which bordered the formidable jaw-hole, whose vicinity the stranger was made sensible of by means of more organs than one. His guide then dragged the weary hack along a broken and stony cart-track, next over a ploughed field, then broke down a slap, [*A gap] as he called it, in a dry-stone fence, and lugged the unresisting animal through the breach, about a rood of the simple masonry giving way in the splutter with which he passed. Finally, he led the way, through a wicket, into something which had still the air of an avenue, though many of the trees were felled. The roar of the ocean was now near and full, and the moon, which began to make her appearance, gleamed on a turreted and apparently a ruined mansion, of considerable extent. Mannering fixed his eyes upon it with a disconsolate sensation.
"Why, my little fellow," he said, "this is a ruin, not a house?"
"Ah, but the lairds lived there langsyne—that's Ellangowan Auld Place; there's a hantle bogles [*Ghosts] about it—but ye needna be feared—I never saw ony mysell, and we're just at the door o' the New Place."
Accordingly, leaving the ruins on the right, a few steps brought the traveller in front of a modern house of moderate size, at which his guide rapped with great importance. Mannering told his circumstances to the servant; and the gentleman of the house, who heard his tale from the parlour, stepped forward, and welcomed the stranger hospitably to Ellangowan. The boy, made happy with half a crown, was dismissed to his cottage, the weary horse was conducted to a stall, and Mannering found himself in a few minutes seated by a comfortable supper, for which his cold ride gave him a hearty appetite.
—Comes me cranking in, And cuts me from the best of all my land, A huge half-moon, a monstrous cantle out. Henry IV. Part I
The company in the parlour at Ellangowan consisted of the Laird, and a sort of person who might be the village schoolmaster, or perhaps the minister's assistant; his appearance was too shabby to indicate the minister, considering he was on a visit to the Laird.
The Laird himself was one of those second-rate sort of persons, that are to be found frequently in rural situations. Fielding has described one class as feras consumere nati; but the love of field-sports indicates a certain activity of mind, which had forsaken Mr. Bertram, if ever he possessed it. A good-humoured listlessness of countenance formed the only remarkable expression of his features, although they were rather handsome than otherwise. In fact, his physiognomy indicated the inanity of character which pervaded his life. I will give the reader some insight into his state and conversation, before he has finished a long lecture to Mannering, upon the propriety and comfort of wrapping his stirrup-irons round with a wisp of straw when he had occasion to ride in a chill evening.
Godfrey Bertram, of Ellangowan, succeeded to a long pedigree, and a short rent-roll, like many lairds of that period. His list of forefathers ascended so high, that they were lost in the barbarous ages of Galwegian independence; so that his genealogical tree, besides the Christian and crusading names of Godfreys, and Gilberts, and Dennises, and Rolands, without end, bore heathen fruit of yet darker ages,—Arths, and Knarths, and Donagilds, and Hanlons. In truth, they had been formerly the stormy chiefs of a desert, but extensive domain, and the heads of a numerous tribe, called Mac-Dingawaie, though they afterwards adopted the Norman surname of Bertram. They had made war, raised rebellions, been defeated, beheaded, and hanged, as became a family of importance, for many centuries. But they had gradually lost ground in the world, and, from being themselves the heads of treason and traitorous conspiracies, the Bertrams, or Mac-Dingawaies, of Ellangowan, had sunk into subordinate accomplices. Their most fatal exhibitions in this capacity took place in the seventeenth century, when the foul fiend possessed them with a spirit of contradiction, which uniformly involved them in controversy with the ruling powers. They reversed the conduct of the celebrated Vicar of Bray, and adhered as tenaciously to the weaker side, as that worthy divine to the stronger. And truly, like him, they had their reward.
Allan Bertram of Ellangowan, who flourished tempore Caroli primi was, says my authority, Sir Robert Douglas, in his Scottish Baronage (see the title Ellangowan), "a steady loyalist, and full of zeal for the cause of his sacred majesty, in which he united with the great Marquis of Montrose, and other truly zealous and honourable patriots, and sustained great losses in that behalf. He had the honour of knighthood conferred upon him by his most sacred majesty, and was sequestrated as a malignant by the parliament, 1642, and afterwards as a resolutioner, in the year 1648."—These two cross-grained epithets of malignant and resolutioner cost poor Sir Allan one half of the family estate. His son Dennis Bertram married a daughter of an eminent fanatic, who had a seat in the council of state, and saved by that union the remainder of the family property. But, as ill chance would have it, he became enamoured of the lady's principles as well as of her charms, and my author gives him this character: "He was a man of eminent parts and resolution, for which reason he was chosen by the western counties one of the committee of noblemen and gentlemen, to report their griefs to the privy council of Charles II, anent the coming in of the Highland host in 1678." For undertaking this patriotic task he underwent a fine, to pay which he was obliged to mortgage half of the remaining moiety of his paternal property. This loss he might have recovered by dint of severe economy, but on the breaking out of Argyle's rebellion, Dennis Bertram was again suspected by government, apprehended, sent to Dunnottar Castle on the coast of the Mearns, and there broke his neck in an attempt to escape from a subterranean habitation, called the Whigs' Vault, in which he was confined with some eighty of the same persuasion. The apprizer, therefore (as the holder of a mortgage was then called), entered upon possession, and, in the language of Hotspur, "came me cranking in," and cut the family out of another monstrous cantle of their remaining property.
Donohoe Bertram, with somewhat of an Irish name, and somewhat of an Irish temper, succeeded to the diminished property of Ellangowan. He turned out of doors the Rev. Aaron Macbriar, his mother's chaplain (it is said they quarrelled about the good graces of a milkmaid), drank himself daily drunk with brimming healths to the king, council, and bishops; held orgies with the Laird of Lagg, Theophilus Oglethorpe, and Sir James Turner; and lastly, took his gray gelding, and joined Clavers at Killiecrankie. At the skirmish of Dunkeld, 1689, he was shot dead by a Cameronian with a silver button (being supposed to have proof from the Evil One against lead and steel), and his grave is still called, the Wicked Laird's Lair.
His son, Lewis, had more prudence than seems usually to have belonged to the family. He nursed what property was yet left to him; for Donohoe's excesses, as well as fines and forfeitures, had made another inroad upon the estate. And although even he did not escape the fatality which induced the Lairds of Ellangowan to interfere with politics, he had yet the prudence, ere he went out with Lord Kenmore In 1715, to convey his estate to trustees, in order to parry pains and penalties, in case the Earl of Mar could not put down the Protestant succession. But Scylla and Charybdis —a word to the wise—he only saved his estate at expense of a lawsuit, which again subdivided the family property. He was, however, a man of resolution. He sold part of the lands, evacuated the old castle, where the family lived in their decadence, as a mouse (said an old farmer) lives under a firlot. Pulling down part of these venerable ruins, he built with the stones a narrow house of three stories high, with a front like a grenadier's cap, having in the very centre a round window, like the single eye of a Cyclops, two windows on each side, and a door in the middle, leading to a parlour and withdrawing room, full of all manner of cross lights.
This was the New Place of Ellangowan, in which we left our hero, better amused perhaps than our readers, and to this Lewis Bertram retreated, full of projects for re-establishing the prosperity of his family. He took some land into his own hand, rented some from neighbouring proprietors, bought and sold Highland cattle and Cheviot sheep, rode to fairs and trysts, fought hard bargains, and held necessity at the stairs end as well as he might. But what he gained in purse, he lost in honour, for such agricultural and commercial negotiations were very ill looked upon by his brother lairds, who minded nothing but cock-fighting, hunting, coursing, and horse-racing, with now and then the alternation of a desperate duel. The occupations which he followed encroached, in their opinion, upon the article of Ellangowan's gentry, and he found it necessary gradually to estrange himself from their society, and sink into what was then a very ambiguous character, a gentleman farmer. In the midst of his schemes death claimed his tribute, and the scanty remains of a large property descended upon Godfrey Bertram, the present possessor, his only son.
The danger of the father's speculations was soon seen. Deprived of Laird Lewis's personal and active superintendence, all his undertakings miscarried, and became either abortive or perilous. Without a single spark of energy to meet or repel these misfortunes, Godfrey put his faith in the activity of another. He kept neither hunters, nor hounds, nor any other southern preliminaries to ruin; but, as has been observed of his countrymen, he kept a man of business, who answered the purpose equally well. Under this gentleman's supervision small debts grew into large, interests were accumulated upon capitals, movable bonds became heritable, and law charges were heaped upon all; though Ellangowan possessed so little the spirit of a litigant, that he was on two occasions charged to make payment of the expenses of a long lawsuit, although he had never before heard that he had such cases in court. Meanwhile his neighbours predicted his final ruin. Those of the higher rank, with some malignity, accounted him already a degraded brother. The lower classes, seeing nothing enviable in his situation, marked his embarrassments with more compassion. He was even a kind of favourite with them, and upon the division of a common, or the holding of a black-fishing, or poaching court, or any similar occasion, when they conceived themselves, oppressed by the gentry, they were in the habit of saying to each other, "Ah, if Ellangowan, honest man, had his ain that his forebears had afore him, he wadna see the puir folk trodden down this gait." Meanwhile, this general good opinion never prevented their taking the advantage of him on all possible occasions, turning their cattle into his parks, stealing his wood, shooting his game, and so forth, "for the laird, honest man, he'll never find it,—he never minds what a puir body does."—Pedlars, gipsies, tinkers, vagrants of all descriptions, roosted about his outhouses, or harboured in his kitchen; and the laird, who was "nae nice body," but a thorough gossip, like most weak men, found recompense for his hospitality in the pleasure of questioning them on the news of the country-side.
A circumstance arrested Ellangowan's progress on the high-road to ruin. This was his marriage with a lady who had a portion of about four thousand pounds. Nobody in the neighbourhood could conceive why she married him, and endowed him with her wealth, unless because he had a tall, handsome figure, a good set of features, a genteel address, and the most perfect good-humour. It might be some additional consideration, that she was herself at the reflecting age of twenty-eight, and had no near relations to control her actions or choice.
It was in this lady's behalf (confined for the first time after her marriage) that the speedy and active express, mentioned by the old dame of the cottage, had been despatched to Kippletringan on the night of Mannering's arrival.
Though we have said so much of the Laird himself, it still remains that we make the reader in some degree acquainted with his companion. This was Abel Sampson, commonly called, from his occupation as a pedagogue, Dominie Sampson. He was of low birth, but having evinced, even from his cradle, an uncommon seriousness of disposition, the poor parents were encouraged to hope that their bairn, as they expressed it, "might wag his pow [* Head] in a pulpit yet."
With an ambitious view to such consummation, they pinched and pared, rose early and lay down late, ate dry bread and drank cold water, to secure to Abel the means of learning. Meantime, his tall, ungainly, figure, his taciturn and grave manners, and some grotesque habits of swinging his limbs, and screwing his visage, while reciting his task, made poor Sampson the ridicule of all his school-companions. The same qualities secured him at Glasgow college a plentiful share of the same sort of notice. Half the youthful mob "of the yards" used to assemble regularly to see Dominie Sampson (for he had already attained that honourable title) descend the stairs from the Greek class, with his Lexicon under his arm, his long misshapen legs sprawling abroad, and keeping awkward time to the play of his immense shoulder-blades, as they raised and depressed the loose and threadbare black coat which was his constant and only wear. When he spoke, the efforts of the professor (professor of divinity, though he was) were totally inadequate to restrain the inextinguishable laughter of the students, and sometimes even to repress his own. The long, sallow visage, the goggle eyes, the huge under-jaw, which appeared not to open and shut by an act of volition, but to be dropped and hoisted up again by some complicated machinery within the inner man,—the harsh and dissonant voice. and the screech-owl notes to which it was exalted when he was exhorted to pronounce more distinctly,— all added fresh subject for mirth to the torn cloak and shattered shoe, which have afforded legitimate subjects of raillery against the poor scholar, from Juvenal's time downward. It was never known that Sampson either exhibited irritability at this ill usage, or made the least attempt to retort upon his tormentors. He slunk from college by the most secret paths he could discover, and plunged himself into his miserable lodgings, where, for eighteenpence a week, he was allowed the benefit of a straw mattress, and, if his landlady was in good humour, permission to study his task by her fire. Under all these disadvantages, he obtained a competent knowledge of Greek and Latin, and some acquaintance with the sciences.
In progress of time, Abel Sampson, probationer of divinity, was admitted to the privileges of a preacher. But, alas! partly from his own bashfulness, partly owing to a strong and obvious disposition to risibility which pervaded the congregation upon his first attempt, he became totally incapable of proceeding in his intended discourse, gasped, grinned, hideously rolled his eyes till the congregation thought them flying out of his head, shut the Bible, stumbled down the pulpit-stairs, trampling upon the old women who generally take their station there, and was ever after designated as a "stickit minister." And thus he wandered back to his own country, with blighted hopes and prospects, to share the poverty of his parents. As he had neither friend nor confidant, hardly even an acquaintance, no one had the means of observing closely how Dominie Sampson bore a disappointment which supplied the whole town with a week's sport. It would be endless even to mention the numerous jokes to which it gave birth, from a ballad, called "Sampson's Riddle," written upon the subject by a smart young student of humanity, to the sly hope of the Principal, that the fugitive had not, in imitation of his mighty namesake, taken the college gates along with him in his retreat.
To all appearance, the equanimity of Sampson was unshaken. He sought to assist his parents by teaching a school, and soon had plenty of scholars, but very few fees. In fact, he taught the sons of farmers for what they chose to give him and the poor for nothing; and, to the shame of the former be it spoken, the pedagogue's gains never equalled those of a skilful ploughman. He wrote, however, a good hand, and added something to his pittance by copying accounts and writing letters for Ellangowan. By degrees, the Laird, who was much estranged from general society, became partial to that of Dominie Sampson. Conversation, it is true, was out of the question, but the Dominie was a good listener, and stirred the fire with some address. He attempted even to snuff the candies, but was unsuccessful, and relinquished that ambitious post of courtesy after having twice reduced the parlour to total darkness. So his civilities, thereafter, were confined to taking off his glass of ale in exactly the same time and measure with the Laird, and in uttering certain indistinct murmurs of acquiescence at the conclusion of the long and winding stories of Ellangowan.
On one of these occasions, he presented for the first tine to Mannering his tall, gaunt, awkward, bony figure, attired in a threadbare suit of blacks with a coloured handkerchief, not over clean, about his sinewy, scraggy neck, and his nether person arrayed in gray breeches, dark-blue stockings, clouted shoes, and small copper buckles.
Such is a brief outline of the lives and fortunes of those two persons, in whose society Mannering now found himself comfortably seated.
Do not the hist'ries of all ages Relate miraculous presages, Of strange turns in the world's affairs, Foreseen by Astrologers, Sooth-sayers, Chaldeans learned Genethliacs, And some that have writ almanacks? Hudibras.
The circumstances of the landlady were pleaded to Mannering, first, as an apology for her not appearing to welcome her guest, and for those deficiencies in his entertainment which her attention might have supplied, and then as an excuse for pressing an extra bottle of good wine.
"I cannot weel sleep," said the Laird, with the anxious feelings of a father in such a predicament, "till I hear she's gatten ower with it—and if you, sir, are not very sleepry, and would do me and the Dominie the honour to sit up wi' us, I am sure we shall not detain you very late. Luckie Howatson is very expeditious;—there was ance a lass that was in that way—she did not live far from hereabouts—ye needna shake your head and groan, Dominie—I am sure the kirk dues were a' weel paid, and what can man do mair?—it was laid till her ere she had a sark ower her head; and the man that she since wadded does not think her a pin the waur for the misfortune.—They live, Mr. Mannering, by the shore-side, at Annan, and a mair decent, orderly couple, with six as fine bairns as ye would wish to see plash in a salt-water dub; and little curlie Godfrey—that's the eldest, the come o' will, as I may say —he's on board an excise yacht—I hae a cousin at the board of excise—that's 'Commissioner Bertram; he got his commissionership in the great contest for the county, that ye must have heard of, for it was appealed to the House of Commons—now I should have voted there for the Laird of Balruddery; but ye see my father was a Jacobite, and out with Kenmore, so he never took the oaths; and I ken not weel how it was, but all that I could do and say, they keepit me off the roll, though my agent, that had a vote upon my estate, ranked as a good vote for auld Sir Thomas Kittlecourt. But, to return to what I was saying, Luckie Howatson is very. expeditious, for this lass—"
Here the—desultory and long-winded narrative of the Laird was interrupted by the voice of someone ascending the stairs from the kitchen story, and singing at full pitch of voice. The high notes were too shrill for a man, the low seemed too deep for a woman. The words, as far as Mannering could distinguish them, seemed to run thus:—
Canny moment, lucky fit; Is the lady lighter yet? Be it lad, or be it lass, Sign wi' cross, and sain wi' mass.
"It's Meg Merrilies, the gipsy, as sure as I am a sinner," said Mr. Bertram. The Dominie groaned deeply, uncrossed his legs, drew in the huge splay foot which his former posture had extended, placed it perpendicularly, and stretched the other limb over it instead, puffing out between whiles huge volumes of tobacco smoke. "What needs ye groan, Dominie? I am sure Meg's sangs do nae ill."
"Nor good neither," answered Dominie Sampson, in a voice whose untuneable harshness corresponded with the awkwardness of his figure. They were the first words which Mannering had heard him speak; and as he had been watching with some curiosity, when this eating, drinking, moving, and smoking automaton would perform the part of speaking, he was a good deal diverted with the harsh timber tones which issued from him. But at this moment the door opened, and Meg Merrilies entered.
Her appearance made Mannering start. She was full six feet high, wore a man's greatcoat over the rest of her dress, had in her hand a goodly sloe-thorn cudgel, and in all points of equipment, except her petticoats, seemed rather masculine than feminine. Her dark elf-locks shot out like the snakes of the gorgon, between an old-fashioned bonnet called a bongrace, heightening the singular effect of her strong and weather-beaten features, which they partly shadowed, while her eye had a wild roll that indicated something like real or affected insanity.
"Aweel, Ellangowan," she said, "wad it no hae been a bonnie thing, an the leddy had been brought-to-bed, and me at the fair o' Drumshourloch, no kenning, nor dreaming a word about it? Wha was to hae keepit awa the worriecows, [* goblins] I trow? Ay, and the elves and gyre-carlings [* Witches] frae the bonny bairn, grace be wi' it? Ay, or 'said Saint Colme's charm for its sake, the dear?" And without waiting an answer she began to sing.
Trefoil, vervain, John's-wort, dill, Hinders witches of their will; Weel is them, that weel may Fast upon St. Andrew's day.
Saint Bride and her brat, Saint Colme and his cat, Saint Michael and his spear, Keep the house frae reif and wear.
This charm she sung to a wild tune, in a high and shrill voice, and, cutting three capers with such strength and agility, as almost to touch the roof of the room, concluded, "And now, Laird, will ye no order me a tass o' brandy?"
"That you shall have, Meg—Sit down yont there at the door, and tell us what news ye have heard at the fair o' Drumshourloch."
"Troth, Laird, and there was muckle want o' you, and the like b' you; for there was a whin bonnie lasses there, forbye mysell, and deil ane to gie them hansels."
"Weel, Meg, and how mony gipsies were sent to the tolbooth?"
"Troth, but three, Laird, for there were nae mair in the fair, bye mysell, as I said before, and I e'en gae them leg-bail, for there's nae case in dealing wi' quarrelsome fowk. And there's Dunbog has warned the Red Rotten and John Young aff his grunds—black be his cast! [*Fate] he's nae gentleman, nor drap's bluid o' gentleman, wad grudge twa gangrel [*Vagrant] pair bodies the shelter o' a waste house, and the thristles by the roadside for a bit cuddy,. [*Donkey] and the bits o' rotten birk [*Birch] to boil their drap parritch wi'. Weel, there's ane abune a'—but we'll see if the red cock craw not in his bonnie barn-yard ae morning before day-dawing."
"Hush! Meg, hush! hush that's not safe talk."
"What does she mean?" said Mannering to Sampson, in an undertone.
"Fire-raising," answered the laconic Dominie.
"Who, or what is she, in the name of wonder?"
"Harlot, thief, witch, and gipsy." Answered Sampson again.
"Oh, troth, Laird," continued Meg, during this by-talk, "it's but to the like o' you ane can open their heart; ye see, they say Dunbog is nae mair a gentleman than the blunker that's biggit [*Built] the bonnie house down in the howm. But the like o' you, Laird, that's a real gentleman for sae mony hundred years, and never hunds puir fowk aff your grund as if they were mad tykes, [*Dogs] nane o' our fowk wad stir your gear [*Property] if ye had as mony capons as there's leaves on the trysting-tree.—And now some o' ye maun lay down your watch, and tell me the very minute o' the hour the wean's born, and I'll spae its fortune."
"Ay, but, Meg, we shall not want your assistance, for here's a student from Oxford that kens much better than you how to spae its fortune—he does it by the stars."
"Certainly, sir," said Mannering, entering into the simple humour of his landlord, "I will calculate his nativity according to the rule of the Triplicities, as recommended by Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Diocles, and Avicenna. Or I will begin ab hora questionis, as Haly, Messahala, Ganwehis, and Guido Bonatus, have recommended."
One of Sampson's great recommendations to the favour of Mr. Bertram was, that he never detected the most gross attempt at imposition, so that the Laird, whose humble efforts at jocularity were chiefly confined to what were then called-bites and bams, since denominated hoaxes and quizzes, had the fairest possible subject of wit in the unsuspecting Dominie. It is true, he never laughed, or joined in the laugh which his own simplicity afforded —nay, it is said, he never laughed but once in his life and on that memorable occasion his landlady miscarried, partly through surprise at the event itself, and partly from terror at the-hideous grimaces which attended this unusual cachinnation. The only effect which the discovery of such impositions produced upon this saturnine personage was, to extort an ejaculation of "Prodigious!" or "Very facetious!" pronounced syllabically, but without moving a muscle of his own countenance.
On the present occasion, he turned a gaunt and ghastly stare upon the youthful astrologer, and seemed to doubt if he had rightly understood his answer to his patron.
"I am afraid, sir," said Mannering, turning towards him, "you may be one of those unhappy persons, who, their dim eyes being unable to penetrate the starry spheres, and to discern therein the decrees of heaven at a distance, have their hearts barred against conviction by prejudice and misprision."
"Truly," said Sampson, "I opine with Sir Isaac Newton, Knight, and umwhile [*Late] master of his Majesty's mint, that the (pretended) science of astrology is altogether vain, frivolous, and unsatisfactory." And here he reposed his oracular jaws.
"Really," resumed the traveller, "I am sorry to see a gentleman of your learning and gravity labouring under such strange blindness and delusion. Will you place the brief, the modern, and, as I may say, the vernacular name of Isaac Newton, in opposition to the grave and sonorous authorities of Dariot, Bonatus, Ptolemy, Haly, Eztler, Dieterick, Naibob, Harfurt, Zael, Taustettor, Agrippa, Duretus, Maginus, Origen, and Argol? Do not Christians and Heathens, and Jews and Gentiles, and poets and philosophers, unite in allowing the starry influences?"
"Communis error—it is a general mistake," answered the inflexible Dominie Sampson.
"Not so," replied the young Englishman; it is a general and well-grounded belief."
"It is the resource of cheaters, knaves, and cozeners," said Sampson.
"Abusus non tollit usum. The abuse of anything doth not abrogate the lawful use thereof."
During this discussion, Ellangowan was somewhat like a woodcock caught in his own springe. He turned his face alternately from the one spokesman to the other, and began, from the gravity with which Mannering plied his adversary, and the learning which he displayed in the controversy, to give him credit for. being half serious. As for Meg, she fixed her bewildered eyes upon the astrologer, overpowered by a jargon more mysterious than her own.
Mannering pressed his advantage, and ran over all the hard terms of art which a tenacious memory supplied, and which, from circumstances hereafter to be noticed, had been familiar to him in early youth.
Signs and planets, in aspects sextuple, quartile, trine, conjoined or opposite; houses of heaven, with their cusps, hours, and minutes; Almuten, Alinochoden, Anabibazon, Catahibazon, a thousand terms of equal sound and significance, poured thick and threefold upon the unshrinking Dominie, whose stubborn incredulity bore him out against the pelting of this pitiless storm.
At length, the joyful annunciation that the lady had presented her husband with a fine boy, and was (of course) as well as could be expected, broke off this intercourse. Mr. Bertram hastened to the lady's apartment, Meg Merrilies descended to the kitchen to secure her share of the groaning malt, [*The groaning malt mentioned in the text was the ale brewed for the purpose of being drunk after the lady or goodwife's safe delivery. The ken-no has a more ancient source, and perhaps the custom may he derived from the secret rites of the Bona Dea. A large and rich cheese was made by the women of the family, with great affectation of secrecy, for the refreshment of the gossips who were to attend at the canny minute This was the ken-no, so called because its existence was secret (that is, presumed to be so) from all the males of the family, but especially from the husband and master. He was, accordingly, expected to conduct himself as if he knew of no such preparation, to act as if desirous to press the female guests to refreshments, and to seem surprised at their obstinate refusal. But the instant his back was turned ken-no was produced, and after all had eaten their fill, with a proper accompaniment of the groaning malt, the remainder was divided among the gossips, each carrying a large portion home with the same affectation of great secrecy.] and the "ken-no," and Mannering, after looking at his watch, and noting, with great exactness, the hour and minute of the birth, requested, with becoming gravity, that the Dominie would conduct him to some place where he might have a view of the heavenly bodies.
The schoolmaster, without further answer, rose and threw open a door half sashed with glass, which led to an old-fashioned terrace-walk, behind the modern house, communicating with the platform on which the ruins of the ancient castle were situated The wind had arisen, and swept before it the clouds which had formerly obscured the sky. The moon was high, and at the full, and all the lesser satellites of heaven shone forth in cloudless effulgence. The scene which their light presented to Mannering was in the highest degree unexpected and striking.
We have observed, that in the latter part of his journey our traveller approached the seashore, without being aware how nearly. He now perceived that the ruins of Ellangowan castle were situated upon a promontory, or projection of rock, which formed one side of a small and placid bay on the seashore. The modern mansion was placed lower, though closely adjoining, and the ground behind it descended to the sea by a small swelling green bank, divided into levels by natural terraces, on which grew some old trees, and terminating upon the white sand. The other side of the bay, opposite to the old castle, was a sloping and varied promontory, covered chiefly with copsewood, which on that favoured coast grows almost within water-mark. A fisherman's cottage peeped from among the trees. Even at this dead hour of night there were lights moving upon the shore, probably occasioned by the unloading a smuggling lugger from the Isle of Man, which was lying in the bay. On the light from the sashed door of the house being observed, a halloo from the vessel, of "Ware hawk! Douse the glim!" [*Put out the light] alarmed those who were on shore, and the lights instantly disappeared.
It was one hour after midnight, and the prospect around was lovely. The gray old towers of the ruin, partly entire, partly broken, here bearing the, rusty weather-stains of ages, and there partially mantled with ivy, stretched along the verge of the dark rock which rose on Mannering's right hand. In his front was the quiet bay, whose little waves, crisping and sparkling to the moonbeams, rolled successively along its surface, and dashed with a soft and murmuring ripple against the silvery beach. To the left the woods advanced far into the ocean, waving in the moonlight along ground of an undulating and varied form, and presenting those varieties of light and shade, and that interesting combination of glade and thicket, upon which the eye delights to rest, charmed with what it sees, yet curious to pierce still deeper into the intricacies of the woodland scenery. Above rolled the planets, each, by its own liquid orbit of light, distinguished from the inferior or more distant stars. So strangely can imagination deceive even those :by whose volition it has been excited, that Mannering, while gazing upon these brilliant bodies, was half inclined to believe in the influence ascribed to them by, superstition over human events. But Mannering was a youthful lover, and might perhaps be influenced by the feelings so exquisitely expressed by a modern poet
For fable is Love's world, his home, his birth-place—Delightedly dwells he 'mong fays, and talismans, And spirits, and delightedly believes Divinities, being himself divine. The intelligible forms of ancient poets, The fair humanities of old religion, The power, the beauty, and the majesty, That had their haunts in dale, or piny mountains, Or forest, by slow stream, or pebbly spring Or chasms of wat'ry depths—all these have vanish'd; They live no longer in the faith of reason! But still the heart doth need a language, still Doth the old instinct bring back the old names. And to yon starry world they now are gone, Spirits or gods, that used to shave this earth With man as with their friend, and to the lover Yonder they move, from yonder visible sky Shoot influence down; and even at this day 'Tis Jupiter who brings whate'er is great, And Venus who brings everything that's fair.
Such musings soon gave way to others. "Alas!" he muttered, "my good old tutor, who used to enter so deep into the controversy between Heydon and Chambers on the subject of astrology, he would have looked upon the scene with other eyes, and would have seriously endeavoured to discover from the respective positions of these luminaries their probable effects on the destiny of the new-born infant, as if the courses or emanations of the stars superseded, or, at least, were co-ordinate with, Divine Providence. Well, rest be with him! he instilled into me enough of knowledge for erecting a scheme of nativity, and therefore will I presently go about it." So saying, and having noted the position of the principal planetary bodies, Guy Mannering returned to the house. The Laird met him in the parlour, and acquainting him, with great glee, that the boy was a fine healthy little fellow, seemed rather disposed to press further conviviality. He admitted, however, Mannering's plea of weariness, and, conducting him to his sleeping apartment, left him to repose for the evening.
—Come and see! trust thine own eyes, A fearful sign stands in the house of life, An enemy; a fiend lurks close behind ... The radiance of thy planet—O be warned! Coleridge, from Schiller.
The belief in astrology was almost universal in the middle of the seventeenth century; it began to waver and become doubtful towards the close of that period, and in the beginning of the eighteenth the art fell into general disrepute, and even under general ridicule. Yet it still retained many partisans even in the seats of learning. Grave and studious men were loath to relinquish the calculations which had early become the principal objects of their studies, and felt reluctant to descend from the predominating height to which a supposed insight into futurity, by the power of consulting abstract influences and conjunctions, had exalted them over the rest of mankind.
Among those who cherished this imaginary privilege with undoubting faith, was an old clergyman, with whom Mannering was placed during his youth. He wasted his eves in observing the stars, and his brains in calculations upon their various combinations. His pupil, in early youth, naturally caught some portion of his enthusiasm, and laboured for a time to make himself master of the technical process of astrological research; so that, before he became convinced of its absurdity, William Lilly himself would have allowed him "a curious fancy and piercing judgment in resolving a question of nativity."
On the present occasion, he arose as early in the morning as the shortness of the day permitted, and proceeded to calculate the nativity of the young heir of Ellangowan. He undertook the task secundum artem, as well to keep up appearances, as from a sort of curiosity to know whether he yet remembered, and could practise, the imaginary science. He accordingly erected his scheme, or figure of heaven, divided into its twelve houses, placed the planets therein according to the Ephemeris, and rectified their position to the hour and moment of the nativity. Without troubling our readers with the general prognostications which judicial astrology would have inferred from these circumstances, in this diagram there was one significator, which pressed remarkably upon our astrologers attention. Mars having dignity in the cusp of the twelfth house, threatened captivity, or sudden and violent death, to the native; and Mannering having recourse to those further rules by which diviners pretend to ascertain the vehemency of this evil direction, observed from the result, that three periods would be particularly hazardous—his fifth—his tenth—his twenty-first year.
It was somewhat remarkable, that Mannering had once before tried a similar piece of foolery, at the instance of Sophia Wellwood, the young lady to whom he was attached, and that a similar conjunction of planetary influence threatened her with death, or imprisonment, in her thirty-ninth year. She was at this time eighteen; so that, according to the result of the scheme in both cases, the same year threatened her with the same misfortune that was presaged to the native or infant, whom that night had introduced into the world. Struck with this coincidence, Mannering repeated his calculations; and the result approximated the events predicted, until, at length, the same month, and day of the month, seemed assigned as the period of peril to both.
It will be readily believed, that, in mentioning this circumstance, we lay no weight whatever upon the pretended information thus conveyed. But it often happens, such is our natural love for the marvellous, that we willingly contribute our own efforts to beguile our better judgments. Whether the coincidence which I have mentioned was really one of those singular chances, which sometimes happen against all ordinary calculations; or whether Mannering, bewildered amid the arithmetical labyrinth and technical jargon of astrology, had insensibly twice followed the same clew to guide him out of the maze; or whether his imagination, seduced by some point of apparent resemblance, lent its aid to make the similitude between the two operations more exactly accurate than it might otherwise have been, it is impossible to guess; but the impression upon his mind, that the results exactly corresponded, was vividly and undelibly strong.
He could not help feeling surprise at a coincidence so singular and unexpected. "Does the devil mingle in the dance, to avenge himself for our trifling with an art said to be of magical origin? Or is it possible, as Bacon and Sir Thomas Browne admit, that there is some truth in a sober and regulated astrology, and that the influence of the stars is not to be denied, though the due application of it, by the knaves—who pretend to practise the art, is greatly to be suspected?"—A moment's consideration of the subject induced him to dismiss this opinion as fantastical, and only sanctioned by those learned men. Either because they durst not at once shock the universal prejudices of their age, or because they themselves were not altogether freed from the contagious influence of a prevailing superstition. Yet the result of his calculations in these two instances left so unpleasing an impression on his mind, that, like Prospero, he mentally relinquished his art, and resolved, neither in jest nor earnest, ever again to practise judicial astrology.
He hesitated a good deal what he should say to the Laird of Ellangowan, concerning the horoscope of his first-born; and, at length, resolved plainly to tell him the judgment which he had formed, at the same time acquainting him—with the futility of the rules of art on which he had proceeded. With this resolution he walked out upon the terrace.
If the view of the scene around Ellangowan had been pleasing by moonlight, it lost none of its beauty by the light of the morning sun. The land, even in the month of November, smiled under its influence. A steep, but regular ascent, led from the terrace to the neighbouring eminence, and conducted Mannering to the front of the old castle. It consisted of two massive round towers, projecting, deeply and darkly, at the extreme angles of a curtain, or flat wall, which united them, and thus protecting the main entrance, that opened through a lofty arch in the centre of the curtain into the inner court of the castle. The arms of the family, carved in freestone, frowned over the gateway, and the portal showed the spaces arranged by the architect for lowering the portcullis, and raising the drawbridge. A rude farm-gate, made of young fir-trees nailed together, now formed the only safeguard of this once formidable entrance. The esplanade in front of the castle commanded a noble prospect.
The dreary scene of desolation, through which Mannering's road had lain on the preceding evening, was excluded from the view by some rising ground, and the landscape showed a pleasing alternation of hill and dale, intersected by a river, which was in some places visible, and hidden in others, where it rolled betwixt deep and wooded banks. The spire of a church, and the appearance of some houses, indicated the situation of a village at the place where the stream had its junction with the ocean. The vales seemed well cultivated, the little enclosures into which they were divided skirting the bottom of the hills, and sometimes carrying their lines of straggling hedge-rows a little way up the ascent. Above these were green pastures, tenanted chiefly by herds of black cattle, then the staple commodity of the country—, whose distant low gave no unpleasing animation to the landscape. The remoter hills were of a sterner character, and, at still greater distance, swelled into mountains of dark heath, bordering the horizon with a screen which gave a defined and limited boundary to the cultivated country, and added, at the same time, the pleasing idea, that it was sequestered and solitary. The sea-coast, which Mannering now saw in its extent, corresponded in variety and beauty with the inland view. In some places it rose into tall rocks, frequently crowned with the ruins of old buildings, towers, or beacons, which, according to tradition, were placed within sight of each other, that, in times of invasion or civil war, they might. communicate by signal for mutual defence and protection. Ellangowan castle was by far the most extensive and important of these ruins, and asserted, from size and situation, the superiority which its founders were said once to have possessed among the chiefs and nobles of the district. In other places, the shore was of a more gentle description, indented with small bays, where the land sloped smoothly down, or sent into the sea promontories covered with wood.
A scene so different from what last night's journey had presaged, produced a proportional effect upon Mannering. Beneath his eye lay the modern house; an awkward mansion, indeed, in point of architecture, but well situated, and with a warm, pleasant exposure.—How happily, thought our hero, would life glide on in such a retirement! On the one hand, the striking remnants of ancient grandeur, with the secret consciousness of family pride which they inspire; on the other, enough of modern elegance and comfort to satisfy every moderate wish. Here then, and with thee Sophia!—
We shall not pursue a lover's day-dream any farther. Mannering stood a minute with his arms folded, and then turned to the ruined castle.
On entering the gateway, he found that the rude magnificence of the inner court amply corresponded with the grandeur of the exterior. On the one side ran a range of windows lofty and large, divided by carved mullions of stone, which had once lighted the great hall of the castle; on the other, were various buildings of different heights and dates, yet so united as to present to the eye a certain general effect of uniformity of front. The doors and windows were ornamented with projections exhibiting rude specimens of sculpture and tracery, partly entire and partly broken down, partly covered by ivy and trailing plants, which grew luxuriantly among the ruins. That end of the court which faced the entrance had also been formerly closed by a range of buildings; but owing, it was said, to its having been battered by the ships of the Parliament under Deane, during the long civil war, this part of the castle was much more ruinous than the rest, and exhibited a great chasm, through which Mannering could observe the sea, and the little vessel (an armed lugger) which retained her station in the centre of the bay. [*The outline of the above description, as far as the supposed ruins are concerned, will be found somewhat to resemble the noble remains of Carlaverock castle, six or seven miles from Dumfries, and near to Lochar-moss.]
While Mannering was gazing round the ruins, he heard from the interior of an apartment on the left hand the voice of the gipsy he had seen on the preceding evening. He soon found an aperture, through which he could observe her without being himself visible; and could not help feeling, that her figure, her employment, and her situation, conveyed the exact impression of an ancient sibyl.
She sat upon a broken corner-stone in the angle of a paved apartment, part of which she had swept clean to afford a smooth space for the evolutions of her spindle. A strong sunbeam, through a lofty and narrow window, fell upon her wild dress and features, and afforded her light for her occupation; the rest of the apartment was very gloomy. Equipt in a habit which mingled the national dress of the Scottish common people with something of an Eastern costume, she spun a thread, drawn from wool of three different colours, black, white, and gray, by assistance of those ancient implements of house-wifely, now almost banished from the land, the distaff and spindle. As she spun, she sung what seemed to be a charm. Mannering, after in vain attempting to make himself master of the exact words of her song, afterwards attempted the following paraphrase of what, from a few intelligible phrases, he concluded to be its purport.
Twist ye, twine ye! even so Mingle shades of joy and woe, Hope, and fear, and peace, and strife, In the thread of human life.
While the mystic twist is spinning, And the infant's life beginning, Dimly seen through twilight bending, Lo, what varied shapes attending!
Passions wild, and Follies vain, Pleasures soon exchanged for pain Doubt, and Jealousy and Fear, In the magic dance appear.
Now they wax, and now they dwindle, Whirling with the whirling spindle. Twist ye, twine ye! even so Mingle human bliss and woe.
Ere our translator, or rather our free imitator, had arranged these stanzas in his head, and while he was yet hammering out a rhyme for dwindle, the task of the sibyl was accomplished, or her wool was expended. She took the spindle, now charged with her labours, and, undoing the thread gradually, measured it, by casting it over her elbow, and bringing each loop round between her forefinger and thumb. When she had measured it out, she muttered to herself—"A hank, but not a haill ane—the full years o' three scare and ten, but thrice broken, and thrice to oop (ie. to unite); he'll be a lucky lad an he win through wi't."
Our hero was about to speak to the prophetess, when a voice, hoarse as the waves with which it mingled, halloo'd twice, and with increasing impatience—"Meg, Meg Merrilies!—Gipsy—hag—tousand deyvils!"
"I am coming, I am coming, Captain," answered Meg; and in a moment or two the impatient commander whom she addressed made his appearance from the broken part of the ruins.