MRS. BALIOL ASSISTS MR. CROFTANGRY IN HIS LITERARY SPECULATIONS.
Such as I have described Mrs. Bethune Baliol, the reader will
easily believe that, when I thought of the miscellaneous nature
of my work, I rested upon the information she possessed, and her
communicative disposition, as one of the principal supports of my
enterprise. Indeed, she by no means disapproved of my proposed
publication, though expressing herself very doubtful how far she
could personally assist it--a doubt which might be, perhaps, set
down to a little ladylike coquetry, which required to be sued for
the boon she was not unwilling to grant. Or, perhaps, the good
old lady, conscious that her unusual term of years must soon draw
to a close, preferred bequeathing the materials in the shape of a
legacy, to subjecting them to the judgment of a critical public
during her lifetime.
Many a time I used, in our conversations of the Canongate, to
resume my request of assistance, from a sense that my friend was
the most valuable depository of Scottish traditions that was
probably now to be found. This was a subject on which my mind
was so much made up that, when I heard her carry her description
of manners so far back beyond her own time, and describe how
Fletcher of Salton spoke, how Graham of Claverhouse danced, what
were the jewels worn by the famous Duchess of Lauderdale, and how
she came by them, I could not help telling her I thought her some
fairy, who cheated us by retaining the appearance of a mortal of
our own day, when, in fact, she had witnessed the revolutions of
centuries. She was much diverted when I required her to take
some solemn oath that she had not danced at the balls given by
Mary of Este, when her unhappy husband occupied Holyrood in a
species of honourable banishment; [The Duke of York afterwards
James II., frequently resided in Holyrood House when his religion
rendered him an object of suspicion to the English Parliament.]
or asked whether she could not recollect Charles the Second when
he came to Scotland in 1650, and did not possess some slight
recollections of the bold usurper who drove him beyond the Forth.
"BEAU COUSIN," she said, laughing, "none of these do I remember
personally, but you must know there has been wonderfully little
change on my natural temper from youth to age. From which it
follows, cousin, that, being even now something too young in
spirit for the years which Time has marked me in his calendar, I
was, when a girl, a little too old for those of my own standing,
and as much inclined at that period to keep the society of elder
persons, as I am now disposed to admit the company of gay young
fellows of fifty or sixty like yourself, rather than collect
about me all the octogenarians. Now, although I do not actually
come from Elfland, and therefore cannot boast any personal
knowledge of the great personages you enquire about, yet I have
seen and heard those who knew them well, and who have given me as
distinct an account of them as I could give you myself of the
Empress Queen, or Frederick of Prussia; and I will frankly add,"
said she, laughing and offering her BONBONNIERE, "that I HAVE
heard so much of the years which immediately succeeded the
Revolution, that I sometimes am apt to confuse the vivid
descriptions fixed on my memory by the frequent and animated
recitation of others, for things which I myself have actually
witnessed. I caught myself but yesterday describing to Lord M--
the riding of the last Scottish Parliament, with as much
minuteness as if I had seen it, as my mother did, from the
balcony in front of Lord Moray's Lodging in the Canongate."
"I am sure you must have given Lord M-- a high treat."
"I treated him to a hearty laugh, I believe," she replied; "but
it is you, you vile seducer of youth, who lead me into such
follies. But I will be on my guard against my own weakness. I
do not well know if the Wandering Jew is supposed to have a wife,
but I should be sorry a decent middle-aged Scottish gentlewoman
should be suspected of identity with such a supernatural person."
"For all that, I must torture you a little more, MA BELLE
COUSINE, with my interrogatories; for how shall I ever turn
author unless on the strength of the information which you have
so often procured me on the ancient state of manners?"
"Stay, I cannot allow you to give your points of enquiry a name
so very venerable, if I am expected to answer them. Ancient is a
term for antediluvians. You may catechise me about the battle of
Flodden, or ask particulars about Bruce and Wallace, under
pretext of curiosity after ancient manners; and that last subject
would wake my Baliol blood, you know."
"Well, but, Mrs. Baliol, suppose we settle our era: you do not
call the accession of James the Sixth to the kingdom of Britain
"Umph! no, cousin; I think I could tell you more of that than
folk nowadays remember. For instance, that as James was trooping
towards England, bag and baggage, his journey was stopped near
Cockenzie by meeting the funeral of the Earl of Winton, the old
and faithful servant and follower of his ill-fated mother, poor
Mary! It was an ill omen for the INFARE, and so was seen of it,
cousin." [See Note 5.--Earl of Winton.]
I did not choose to prosecute this subject, well knowing Mrs.
Bethune Baliol did not like to be much pressed on the subject of
the Stewarts, whose misfortunes she pitied, the rather that her
father had espoused their cause. And yet her attachment to the
present dynasty being very sincere, and even ardent, more
especially as her family had served his late Majesty both in
peace and war, she experienced a little embarrassment in
reconciling her opinions respecting the exiled family with those
she entertained for the present. In fact, like many an old
Jacobite, she was contented to be somewhat inconsistent on the
subject, comforting herself that NOW everything stood as it ought
to do, and that there was no use in looking back narrowly on the
right or wrong of the matter half a century ago.
"The Highlands," I suggested, "should furnish you with ample
subjects of recollection. You have witnessed the complete change
of that primeval country, and have seen a race not far removed
from the earliest period of society melted down into the great
mass of civilization; and that could not happen without incidents
striking in themselves, and curious as chapters in the history of
the human race."
"It is very true," said Mrs. Baliol; "one would think it should
have struck the observers greatly, and yet it scarcely did so.
For me, I was no Highlander myself, and the Highland chiefs of
old, of whom I certainly knew several, had little in their
manners to distinguish them from the Lowland gentry, when they
mixed in society in Edinburgh, and assumed the Lowland dress.
Their peculiar character was for the clansmen at home; and you
must not imagine that they swaggered about in plaids and
broadswords at the Cross, or came to the Assembly Rooms in
bonnets and kilts."
"I remember," said I, "that Swift, in his Journal, tells Stella
he had dined in the house of a Scots nobleman, with two Highland
chiefs, whom he had found as well-bred men as he had ever met
with." [Extract of Journal to Stella.--"I dined to-day (12th
March 1712) with Lord Treasurer and two gentlemen of the
Highlands of Scotland, yet very polite men." SWIFT'S WORKS, VOL.
III. p.7. EDIN. 1824.]
"Very likely," said my friend. "The extremes of society approach
much more closely to each other than perhaps the Dean of Saint
Patrick's expected. The savage is always to a certain degree
polite. Besides, going always armed, and having a very
punctilious idea of their own gentility and consequence, they
usually behaved to each other and to the Lowlanders with a good
deal of formal politeness, which sometimes even procured them the
character of insincerity."
"Falsehood belongs to an early period of society, as well as the
deferential forms which we style politeness," I replied. "A
child does not see the least moral beauty in truth until he has
been flogged half a dozen times. It is so easy, and apparently
so natural, to deny what you cannot be easily convicted of, that
a savage as well as a child lies to excuse himself almost as
instinctively as he raises his hand to protect his head. The old
saying, 'Confess and be hanged,' carries much argument in it. I
observed a remark the other day in old Birrel. He mentions that
M'Gregor of Glenstrae and some of his people had surrendered
themselves to one of the Earls of Argyle, upon the express
condition that they should be conveyed safe into England. The
Maccallum Mhor of the day kept the word of promise, but it was
only to the ear. He indeed sent his captives to Berwick, where
they had an airing on the other side of the Tweed; but it was
under the custody of a strong guard, by whom they were brought
back to Edinburgh, and delivered to the executioner. This,
Birrel calls keeping a Highlandman's promise." [See Note 6.--
M'Gregor of Glenstrae.]
"Well," replied Mrs. Baliol, "I might add that many of the
Highland chiefs whom I knew in former days had been brought up in
France, which might improve their politeness, though perhaps it
did not amend their sincerity. But considering that, belonging
to the depressed and defeated faction in the state, they were
compelled sometimes to use dissimulation, you must set their
uniform fidelity to their friends; against their occasional
falsehood to their enemies, and then you will not judge poor John
Highlandman too severely. They were in a state of society where
bright lights are strongly contrasted with deep shadows."
"It is to that point I would bring you, MA BELLE COUSINE; and
therefore they are most proper subjects for composition."
"And you want to turn composer, my good friend, and set my old
tales to some popular tune? But there have been too many
composers, if that be the word, in the field before. The
Highlands WERE indeed a rich mine; but they have, I think, been
fairly wrought out, as a good tune is grinded into vulgarity when
it descends to the hurdy-gurdy and the barrel-organ."
"If it be really tune," I replied, "it will recover its better
qualities when it gets into the hands of better artists."
"Umph!" said Mrs. Baliol, tapping her box, "we are happy in our
own good opinion this evening, Mr. Croftangry. And so you think
you can restore the gloss to the tartan which it has lost by
being dragged through so many fingers?"
"With your assistance to procure materials, my dear lady, much, I
think, may be done."
"Well, I must do my best, I suppose, though all I know about the
Gael is but of little consequence. Indeed, I gathered it chiefly
from Donald MacLeish."
"And who might Donald MacLeish be?"
"Neither bard nor sennachie, I assure you, nor monk nor hermit,
the approved authorities for old traditions. Donald was as good
a postilion as ever drove a chaise and pair between Glencroe and
Inverary. I assure you, when I give you my Highland anecdotes,
you will hear much of Donald MacLeish. He was Alice Lambskin's
beau and mine through a long Highland tour."
"But when am I to possess these anecdotes? you answer me as
Harley did poor Prior--
'Let that be done which Mat doth say--
Yea, quoth the Earl, but not to-day.'"
"Well, MON BEAU COUSIN, if you begin to remind me of my cruelty,
I must remind you it has struck nine on the Abbey clock, and it
is time you were going home to Little Croftangry. For my promise
to assist your antiquarian researches, be assured I will one day
keep it to the utmost extent. It shall not be a Highlandman's
promise, as your old citizen calls it."
I by this time suspected the purpose of my friend's
procrastination; and it saddened my heart to reflect that I was
not to get the information which I desired, excepting in the
shape of a legacy. I found accordingly, in the packet
transmitted to me after the excellent lady's death, several
anecdotes respecting the Highlands, from which I have selected
that which follows, chiefly on account of its possessing great
power over the feelings of my critical housekeeper, Janet M'Evoy,
who wept most bitterly when I read it to her.
It is, however, but a very simple tale, and may have no interest
for persons beyond Janet's rank of life or understanding.