« AnteriorContinuar »
rose, is a perfect ruin. Melrose seems like a ruin arrested in the act of decay, but Dryburgh is old, very old, crumbling, fading. The ivy is most beautiful. There is an old, pointed gable standing, of which the ivy hides everything except a Catharine window of elegant form. Not a stone is in sight; it is all one mass of living green, broken only by this round window, through which the light, be it sunlight or moonlight, falls on shattered column and mossy stone and broken archway, and walls on which the busy fingers of relentless time are working, working still. I do not wonder that unlearned men are superstitious in these old lands. It is easy to think that in night, darkness and storm, these ruins are peopled with the pale ghosts of those who for centuries have found a resting-place beneath.
I entered the ruined abbey entirely alone, and a sudden shower coming on I took refuge in a sort of arbor, and sat and looked through the “tangled skeins of rain.” Before me rose a fragment of the ancient building-some arches, and above, a wall with some windows. This is St. Mary's aisle, and beneath the arches lie the mortal remains of Walter Scott; his wife; and at the feet of Scott, his "son-in-law, biographer and friend,” John Gibson Lockhart.
Soon the rain ended, and a guide, a thorough Scotchman, came with a party of visitors. It will be remembered that Washington Irving, in his story of his long-ago visit to Abbotsford, mentioned the ancient family of “Haig of Bemerside" — kept in their ancient home by the power of a prediction that “whatever betide, Haig shall be Haig of Bemerside.” Behind the tomb of Scott, a tablet in the wall bears an inscription, in Latin, stating that this is the burial-place of the “most ancient family” of Haig of Bemerside.
I asked the guide if the prediction was still being fulfilled. He told me that the last of the Haigs, of the male line, died some twenty-four years ago; that he remembered the funeral, and that when the body was placed in the ancient sepulcher there came a very loud clap of thunder, which many people believed to be an
He said that the name was now borne by a young man who had been adopted. The family were not rich, or, as he said, they "didna gather muckle gear.”
Sunset found me back in the inn at Melrose, and, on my asking the lass who got my supper where were the cakes that had given Scotland the name of the “land o' cakes,” she disappeared and returned again with veritable cakes of oatmeal — the first I ever saw, and which I found answered the description the girl gave me of Scotland, "She's little, but she's gude.” And so, with patriotism and oatmeal, I close these hurried impressions of first hours in Scotland.
THE LAND OF BURNS.
I previous letters I have mentioned that various old rhymes
nursery and otherwise, followed me all about in my travels. So it was when I first saw the Severn; so it was even at Banbury; and, going for the first time under that relic of old London, I thought at once of the line in “Naseby”: “Their coward heads predestined to rot on Temple Bar.” Likewise, on entering Scotland, certain lines that I read at school took possession of me like a familiar spirit:
“The memory of Burns: a name
Which calls, when brimmed her festal cup,
In silent sadness up.” It so happened that the first place I visited at Edinburgh was the Burns monument. In the stately monument itself, is Scotland's “glory” in glorifying the memory of her son; but enter and read the last of the letters of Burns, as they are framed and hung on the wall, and you will read the story of a “nation's shame.” Never has there seemed to me anything so heartbreaking aš that letter - the handwriting tremulous with pain and weakness — in which he begs the loan of ten pounds; a request, as he says, made only under the pressure of "cursed necessity," and in which he makes the pitiful confession, "The doctor says that low spirits is more than half my disease.” Well has it been said that Burns did not die, but simply perished.
But, on the other hand, go about Edinburgh-go anywhere in Scotland - and you will hardly be reminded that ever a poor, miserable exciseman died at Dumfries. In the national art gallery, is Flaxman's fine statue of Burns; on the wall is Nasmyth's portrait, the one with which Americans are most familiar; and so it is everywhere-in cheap prints, on canvas, in almost breathing marble, is preserved the manly face and form of Burns, now a national idol.
Of course, I went to Ayr, as I suppose every traveler does; and at Ayr I entered that little district which has come to be known, the world over, as distinctively “The land of Burns.” It is a small country. Burns was never as far from home as London in his life, and he was born, lived, wrote, suffered and died, within the space of one of our Western counties.
I reached Ayr in the decline of a September day, when the sun shone, but with that solemn and subdued brightness which seems peculiar to Scotland. I stopped at a hotel near the “Wallace tower"- not the one mentioned in Tam O'Shanter, but a new one which occupies the old site, and which displays a lantern-jawed statue of Sir William Wallace, by Thom, a self-taught sculptor, who afterwards; I am glad to say, wrought much better things.
It is a pleasant walk of two or three miles to the birthplace of Burns. In his time, the way was but a country road, but now for the greater part of the distance it is a sort of street, lined by the little parks of resident gentlemen, shut out from the thoroughfare by those high stone walls of which I have spoken in a previous letter as being necessary to the dignity and happiness of wealthy folks in this country. However, trees are not aristocratic or unsocial, even when growing in parks, and all along the road the huge beeches stretched their limbs over the walls and across the road, as if in protection to poor folks,“ tinklers,” tramps and dogs who might be toiling along the way.
In time, you get from between the walls and into a more open country, where there are pastures and fields and “out-door" woods. In passing, you catch a glimpse of the shining sea. I had forgotten that Ayr was a port. Burns was born in sight of the sea, but he rarely mentions the waves in his poetry; he was a thorough landsman, and his genius spoke of the sod, and not of the wandering and inconstant billows.
It has happened that I have seen many places of moment in the evening. I saw the grave of Shakspeare in the twilight, and it was nearly sunset when I came to the birthplace of Robert Burns. I saw, what thousands of my countrymen had seen before me, a long, low-walled, thatched cottage. Beside the open door, on one side, was a board, on which was stated, with what seemed to me a stupid provincial pride, that Robert Burns, the "Ayrshire” poet, was born in the house, and on the other side was this inscription: “J. Boyd, licensed to sell spirits, wines and ales.” The birthplace of Burns is, as it has been for many years, a dramshop. More than sixty years ago, John Philpot Curran, a man whose genius was akin to that of Burns, and whose great failing was, alas, the same, visited the cottage, and said this of it:
“Poor Burns! his cabin could not be passed un visited or unwept; to its two little thatched rooms – kitchen and sleeping-place-a slated sort of parlor is added, and it is now an ale-house. We found the keeper of it tipsy; he pointed to the corner, on one side of the fire, and with a most mal-apropos laugh, observed, “There is the spot where Robert Burns was born. The genius and the fate of the man were already heavy on my