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Chapter 5

GREYFRIARS.


IT was Queen Mary who threw open the gardens of the
Grey Friars: a new and semi-rural cemetery in those days,
although it has grown an antiquity in its turn and been
superseded by half-a-dozen others. The Friars must have
had a pleasant time on summer evenings; for their gardens
were situated to a wish, with the tall castle and the
tallest of the castle crags in front. Even now, it is
one of our famous Edinburgh points of view; and strangers
are led thither to see, by yet another instance, how
strangely the city lies upon her hills. The enclosure is
of an irregular shape; the double church of Old and New
Greyfriars stands on the level at the top; a few thorns
are dotted here and there, and the ground falls by
terrace and steep slope towards the north. The open
shows many slabs and table tombstones; and all round the
margin, the place is girt by an array of aristocratic
mausoleums appallingly adorned.

Setting aside the tombs of Roubiliac, which belong
to the heroic order of graveyard art, we Scotch stand, to
my fancy, highest among nations in the matter of grimly
illustrating death. We seem to love for their own sake
the emblems of time and the great change; and even around
country churches you will find a wonderful exhibition of
skulls, and crossbones, and noseless angels, and trumpets
pealing for the Judgment Day. Every mason was a
pedestrian Holbein: he had a deep consciousness of death,
and loved to put its terrors pithily before the
churchyard loiterer; he was brimful of rough hints upon
mortality, and any dead farmer was seized upon to be a
text. The classical examples of this art are in
Greyfriars. In their time, these were doubtless costly
monuments, and reckoned of a very elegant proportion by
contemporaries; and now, when the elegance is not so
apparent, the significance remains. You may perhaps look
with a smile on the profusion of Latin mottoes - some
crawling endwise up the shaft of a pillar, some issuing
on a scroll from angels' trumpets - on the emblematic
horrors, the figures rising headless from the grave, and
all the traditional ingenuities in which it pleased our
fathers to set forth their sorrow for the dead and their
sense of earthly mutability. But it is not a hearty sort
of mirth. Each ornament may have been executed by the
merriest apprentice, whistling as he plied the mallet;
but the original meaning of each, and the combined effect
of so many of them in this quiet enclosure, is serious to
the point of melancholy.

Round a great part of the circuit, houses of a low
class present their backs to the churchyard. Only a few
inches separate the living from the dead. Here, a window
is partly blocked up by the pediment of a tomb; there,
where the street falls far below the level of the graves,
a chimney has been trained up the back of a monument, and
a red pot looks vulgarly over from behind. A damp smell
of the graveyard finds its way into houses where workmen
sit at meat. Domestic life on a small scale goes forward
visibly at the windows. The very solitude and stillness
of the enclosure, which lies apart from the town's
traffic, serves to accentuate the contrast. As you walk
upon the graves, you see children scattering crumbs to
feed the sparrows; you hear people singing or washing
dishes, or the sound of tears and castigation; the linen
on a clothes-pole flaps against funereal sculpture; or
perhaps the cat slips over the lintel and descends on a
memorial urn. And as there is nothing else astir, these
incongruous sights and noises take hold on the attention
and exaggerate the sadness of the place.

Greyfriars is continually overrun by cats. I have
seen one afternoon, as many as thirteen of them seated on
the grass beside old Milne, the Master Builder, all sleek
and fat, and complacently blinking, as if they had fed
upon strange meats. Old Milne was chaunting with the
saints, as we may hope, and cared little for the company
about his grave; but I confess the spectacle had an ugly
side for me; and I was glad to step forward and raise my
eyes to where the Castle and the roofs of the Old Town,
and the spire of the Assembly Hall, stood deployed
against the sky with the colourless precision of
engraving. An open outlook is to be desired from a
churchyard, and a sight of the sky and some of the
world's beauty relieves a mind from morbid thoughts.

I shall never forget one visit. It was a grey,
dropping day; the grass was strung with rain-drops; and
the people in the houses kept hanging out their shirts
and petticoats and angrily taking them in again, as the
weather turned from wet to fair and back again. A grave-
digger, and a friend of his, a gardener from the country,
accompanied me into one after another of the cells and
little courtyards in which it gratified the wealthy of
old days to enclose their old bones from neighbourhood.
In one, under a sort of shrine, we found a forlorn human
effigy, very realistically executed down to the detail of
his ribbed stockings, and holding in his hand a ticket
with the date of his demise. He looked most pitiful and
ridiculous, shut up by himself in his aristocratic
precinct, like a bad old boy or an inferior forgotten
deity under a new dispensation; the burdocks grew
familiarly about his feet, the rain dripped all round
him; and the world maintained the most entire
indifference as to who he was or whither he had gone. In
another, a vaulted tomb, handsome externally but horrible
inside with damp and cobwebs, there were three mounds of
black earth and an uncovered thigh bone. This was the
place of interment, it appeared, of a family with whom
the gardener had been long in service. He was among old
acquaintances. 'This'll be Miss Marg'et's,' said he,
giving the bone a friendly kick. 'The auld - !' I have
always an uncomfortable feeling in a graveyard, at sight
of so many tombs to perpetuate memories best forgotten;
but I never had the impression so strongly as that day.
People had been at some expense in both these cases: to
provoke a melancholy feeling of derision in the one, and
an insulting epithet in the other. The proper
inscription for the most part of mankind, I began to
think, is the cynical jeer, CRAS TIBI. That, if
anything, will stop the mouth of a carper; since it both
admits the worst and carries the war triumphantly into
the enemy's camp.

Greyfriars is a place of many associations. There
was one window in a house at the lower end, now
demolished, which was pointed out to me by the
gravedigger as a spot of legendary interest. Burke, the
resurrection man, infamous for so many murders at five
shillings a-head, used to sit thereat, with pipe and
nightcap, to watch burials going forward on the green.
In a tomb higher up, which must then have been but newly
finished, John Knox, according to the same informant, had
taken refuge in a turmoil of the Reformation. Behind the
church is the haunted mausoleum of Sir George Mackenzie:
Bloody Mackenzie, Lord Advocate in the Covenanting
troubles and author of some pleasing sentiments on
toleration. Here, in the last century, an old Heriot's
Hospital boy once harboured from the pursuit of the
police. The Hospital is next door to Greyfriars - a
courtly building among lawns, where, on Founder's Day,
you may see a multitude of children playing Kiss-in-the-
Ring and Round the Mulberry-bush. Thus, when the
fugitive had managed to conceal himself in the tomb, his
old schoolmates had a hundred opportunities to bring him
food; and there he lay in safety till a ship was found to
smuggle him abroad. But his must have been indeed a
heart of brass, to lie all day and night alone with the
dead persecutor; and other lads were far from emulating
him in courage. When a man's soul is certainly in hell,
his body will scarce lie quiet in a tomb however costly;
some time or other the door must open, and the reprobate
come forth in the abhorred garments of the grave. It was
thought a high piece of prowess to knock at the Lord
Advocate's mausoleum and challenge him to appear.
'Bluidy Mackingie, come oot if ye dar'!' sang the fool-
hardy urchins. But Sir George had other affairs on hand;
and the author of an essay on toleration continues to
sleep peacefully among the many whom he so intolerantly
helped to slay.

For this INFELIX CAMPUS, as it is dubbed in one of
its own inscriptions - an inscription over which Dr.
Johnson passed a critical eye - is in many ways sacred to
the memory of the men whom Mackenzie persecuted. It was
here, on the flat tombstones, that the Covenant was
signed by an enthusiastic people. In the long arm of the
church-yard that extends to Lauriston, the prisoners from
Bothwell Bridge - fed on bread and water and guarded,
life for life, by vigilant marksmen - lay five months
looking for the scaffold or the plantations. And while
the good work was going forward in the Grassmarket,
idlers in Greyfriars might have heard the throb of the
military drums that drowned the voices of the martyrs.
Nor is this all: for down in the corner farthest from Sir
George, there stands a monument dedicated, in uncouth
Covenanting verse, to all who lost their lives in that
contention. There is no moorsman shot in a snow shower
beside Irongray or Co'monell; there is not one of the two
hundred who were drowned off the Orkneys; nor so much as
a poor, over-driven, Covenanting slave in the American
plantations; but can lay claim to a share in that
memorial, and, if such things interest just men among the
shades, can boast he has a monument on earth as well as
Julius Caesar or the Pharaohs. Where they may all lie, I
know not. Far-scattered bones, indeed! But if the
reader cares to learn how some of them - or some part of
some of them - found their way at length to such
honourable sepulture, let him listen to the words of one
who was their comrade in life and their apologist when
they were dead. Some of the insane controversial matter
I omit, as well as some digressions, but leave the rest
in Patrick Walker's language and orthography:-


'The never to be forgotten Mr. JAMES RENWICK TOLD
me, that he was Witness to their Public Murder at the
GALLOWLEE, between LEITH and EDINBURGH, when he saw the
Hangman hash and hagg off all their Five Heads, with
PATRICK FOREMAN'S Right Hand: Their Bodies were all
buried at the Gallows Foot; their Heads, with PATRICK'S
Hand, were brought and put upon five Pikes on the
PLEASAUNCE-PORT. . . . Mr. RENWICK told me also that it
was the first public Action that his Hand was at, to
conveen Friends, and lift their murthered Bodies, and
carried them to the West Churchyard of EDINBURGH,' - not
Greyfriars, this time, - 'and buried them there. Then
they came about the City . . . . and took down these Five
Heads and that Hand; and Day being come, they went
quickly up the PLEASAUNCE; and when they came to
LAURISTOUN Yards, upon the South-side of the City, they
durst not venture, being so light, to go and bury their
Heads with their Bodies, which they designed; it being
present Death, if any of them had been found. ALEXANDER
TWEEDIE, a Friend, being with them, who at that Time was
Gardner in these Yards, concluded to bury them in his
Yard, being in a Box (wrapped in Linen), where they lay
45 Years except 3 Days, being executed upon the 10th of
OCTOBER 1681, and found the 7th Day of OCTOBER 1726.
That Piece of Ground lay for some Years unlaboured; and
trenching it, the Gardner found them, which affrighted
him the Box was consumed. Mr. SCHAW, the Owner of these
Yards, caused lift them, and lay them upon a Table in his
Summer-house: Mr. SCHAW'S mother was so kind, as to cut
out a Linen-cloth, and cover them. They lay Twelve Days
there, where all had Access to see them. ALEXANDER
TWEEDIE, the foresaid Gardner, said, when dying, There
was a Treasure hid in his Yard, but neither Gold nor
Silver. DANIEL TWEEDIE, his Son, came along with me to
that Yard, and told me that his Father planted a white
Rose-bush above them, and farther down the Yard a red
Rose-bush, which were more fruitful than any other Bush
in the Yard. . . . Many came' - to see the heads - 'out
of Curiosity; yet I rejoiced to see so many concerned
grave Men and Women favouring the Dust of our Martyrs.
There were Six of us concluded to bury them upon the
Nineteenth Day of OCTOBER 1726, and every One of us to
acquaint Friends of the Day and Hour, being WEDNESDAY,
the Day of the Week on which most of them were executed,
and at 4 of the Clock at Night, being the Hour that most
of them went to their resting Graves. We caused make a
compleat Coffin for them in Black, with four Yards of
fine Linen, the way that our Martyrs Corps were managed.
. . . Accordingly we kept the aforesaid Day and Hour, and
doubled the Linen, and laid the Half of it below them,
their nether jaws being parted from their Heads; but
being young Men, their Teeth remained. All were Witness
to the Holes in each of their Heads, which the Hangman
broke with his Hammer; and according to the Bigness of
their Sculls, we laid the Jaws to them, and drew the
other Half of the Linen above them, and stufft the Coffin
with Shavings. Some prest hard to go thorow the chief
Parts of the City as was done at the Revolution; but this
we refused, considering that it looked airy and frothy,
to make such Show of them, and inconsistent with the
solid serious Observing of such an affecting, surprizing
unheard-of Dispensation: But took the ordinary Way of
other Burials from that Place, to wit, we went east the
Back of the Wall, and in at BRISTO-PORT, and down the Way
to the Head of the COWGATE, and turned up to the Church-
yard, where they were interred closs to the Martyrs Tomb,
with the greatest Multitude of People Old and Young, Men
and Women, Ministers and others, that ever I saw
together.'

And so there they were at last, in 'their resting
graves.' So long as men do their duty, even if it be
greatly in a misapprehension, they will be leading
pattern lives; and whether or not they come to lie beside
a martyrs' monument, we may be sure they will find a safe
haven somewhere in the providence of God. It is not well
to think of death, unless we temper the thought with that
of heroes who despised it. Upon what ground, is of small
account; if it be only the bishop who was burned for his
faith in the antipodes, his memory lightens the heart and
makes us walk undisturbed among graves. And so the
martyrs' monument is a wholesome, heartsome spot in the
field of the dead; and as we look upon it, a brave
influence comes to us from the land of those who have won
their discharge and, in another phrase of Patrick
Walker's, got 'cleanly off the stage.'

Robert Louis Stevenson

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