Sunday, February 28, 2010

Second Letter of Malachi Malagrowther

Walter Scott's first letter under the pseudonym Malachi Malagrowther focused primarily on the economic issues inherent in England's proposed banking reforms in the aftermath of the Panic of 1925/26.  Specifically, Malagrowther argued against eliminating small Scottish banking notes (under L5), which provided the credit on which the Scottish economy ran.  The second Malagrowther letter was more a call to patriotism in resisting the changes.

"...Let every body of electors, from Dumfries to Dingwall, instruct its representative upon their own sentiments, and upon the conduct which they desire he should hold during this great national crisis; and let the Administration be aware, that if any of our members should desert the public cause on this occasion, they are not like to have the benefit of their implicit homage in the next Parliament..."

England's proposed uniformity in banking rules is viewed by Malagrowther as an intrusion on Scottish rights:

" not let us, like our ancestors at Falkirk, fall to jealousies among ourselves, when heart, and voice, and hand, should be united against the foreign enemy. I was about to erase the last word; but let it remain, with this explanation---that the purpose of this invasion of our rights is acknowledged to be kind and friendly; but as the measure is unauthorised by justice, conducted without regard to the faith of treaties, and contrary to our national privileges, we cannot but term the enterprise a hostile one. When Henry VIII. despatched a powerful invading army to compel the Scots to give the hand of their young Queen Mary to his son Edward, an old Scottish nobleman shrewdly observed, ``He might like the match well enough, but could not brook the mode of wooing.'' ...

Malagrowther points out to Ireland that she should unite with Scotland in opposition to the banking regulations:

"...Patrick, my warm-hearted and shrewd friend, how should you like this receipt for domestication, should it travel your way? You have your own griefs, and your own subjects of complaint,---are you willing to lose the power of expressing them with energy? You have only to join with the Ministry on this debate---you have only to show in what light reverence you are willing to hold the articles of an Union not much above a century old, and then you will have time to reflect at leisure upon the consequences of such an example. In such a case, when your turn comes (and come, be sure, it will,) you will have signed your own sentence. You will have given the fatal precedent to England of the annihilation of a solemn treaty of incorporating Union, and afforded the representatives of Scotland vindictive reasons for retaliating upon you the injury which you aided England in inflicting upon us. Whereas---step this way, Pat ---and see there is nobody listening---why should not you and we have a friendly understanding, and assist each other, as the weaker parties, against any aggressions, which may be made upon either of us, ``for uniformity's sake?''..."

And, Malagrowther reinforces aspects of his first letter, calling the legality of England's proposal into question:

"...I have stated in my former Letter, that the system respecting the currency, which is now about to be abrogated, has been practised in Scotland for about one hundred and thirty years, with the greatest advantage to the country and inhabitants. I have also shown from the Treaty of Union, that it cannot be altered, unless the preliminary is established to the conviction of Parliament, that the alteration is for the =evident advantage= of the subjects in Scotland. No advantage, evident or remote, has ever been hinted at, so far as Scotland is concerned: it has only been said, that it will be advantageous to England, to whose measures Scotland must be conformable, as a matter of course, though in the teeth of the article stipulated by our Commissioners, and acceded to by those of England, at the time of the Union. I have therefore gained my cause in any fair Court..."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Battle of Ancrum Moor

The Battle of Ancrum Moor occurred on February 27, 1545.  Sir Walter Scott coined the term "Wars of the Rough Wooing" for the 16th century wars between England and Scotland.  The wooing referred to Henry VIII's efforts to force a marriage between his son Edward, and Mary I of Scotland (Mary, Queen of Scots).  These wars ended with the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

Scott's great-grandfather, Sir Walter Scott (3rd Lord) of Buccleuch was part of the battle that day.  Buccleuch opposed Mary's marrying Edward, and was part of the Scottish forces, led by the Earl of Douglas at Ancrum Moor.

This battle was significant to Sir Walter Scott through his direct ancestral line.  In Scott's Journal, there is a reference to:

May 1.(1827) —Brought Andrew Shortreed to copy some things I want. Maxpopple came with us as far as Lessudden, and we stopped and made a pilgrimage to Fair Maiden Lilliard's Stone, which has been restored lately, to the credit of Mr. Walker of Muirhouselaw.

The rude inscription on the stone placed over the grave of this Border amazon, slain at Ancrum Moor, A.D. 1545, ran thus—

"Fair maiden Lilliard lies under this stane,
Little was her stature but great was her fame,
Upon the English louns she laid many thumps,
And when her legs were cuttet off she fought upon her stumps."

See New Stat. Account Scot., "Roxburgh," p. 244.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Border Woolen Industry - Kelso

On February 26, 1672, Philip van der Straten from Bruges was naturalized as a Scottish citizen.  He established the first mill for dressing and refining wool in Scotland.  The mill was situated in the Borderlands town of Kelso, which is a significant location for Walter Scott.

Scott lived in Kelso at the time he was collecting the border ballads that were published in "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border" (1802).  As pointed out in Edinburgh University's pamphlet (by David Kilpatrick) on Scott and Kelso, Scott frequently summered at his uncle's house "Rosebank", inheriting the estate in 1804.  In 1783, while living in Kelso to improve his health,  Scott attended Kelso Grammar School. Here he met his future publisher and printer; John and James Ballantyne.  Kelso was a part of the Scott family's life for generations.  Scott's father and grandfather had owned substantial property in Kelso as well.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Elizabeth I Excommunicated

"...The Popes also, by whom Elizabeth was justly regarded as the great prop of the Reformed religion, endeavoured to excite against her such of her subjects as still owned obedience to the See of Rome. At length, in 1570—71, Pius II., then the reigning Pope, published a bull, or sentence of excommunication, by which he deprived Queen Elizabeth (as far as his sentence could) of her hopes of heaven, and of her kingdom upon earth, excluded her from the privileges of Christians, and delivered her over as a criminal to whomsoever should step forth to vindicate the Church, by putting to death its greatest enemy. The zeal of the English Catholics was kindled by this sentence from the Head of their Church..."

As Walter Scott relates to his grandson, "Hugh Littlejohn" (Tales of a Grandfather), Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I, believing that Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic was the rightful sovereign.  The excommunication occurred on February 25, 1570.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Battle of Roslin

The Battle of Roslin (February 24, 1303) was one of the earliest skirmishes in the First War of Scottish Independence.  The battle involved, according to some sources (incl. the Clan Sinclair website), approximately 8,000 Scots, and up to 30,000 highly trained English troops.  The trigger for this altercation seems to be jealousy, on the part of Sir John Segrave, who served as Edward I of England's commander in Scotland.  The object of Segrave's desire was Lady Margaret Ramsay of Dalhousie, who had fallen in love with Sir Henry Sinclair of Rosslyn.

Segrave, based in Carlyle England, learned of Margaret's intention to marry Henry, and quickly obtained permission from Edward to invade Scotland.  A Cistercian prior known as Abernethy is said to have learned of Segrave's movements, and dispatched monks to warn various Scottish nobles.  Several significant Scottish leaders answered the call, including John Comyn, William Wallace, Henry Sinclair, and Simon Fraser, who was elected to lead the Scottish forces.  The battle ended with an absolute rout of the English, and Henry happily married Margaret.

Roslin Castle figures prominently in Walter Scott's "The Lay of the Last Minstrel":

"...With war and wonder all on flame,
To Roslin's bowers young Harold came,
Where, by sweet glen and greenwood tree,
He learn'd a milder minstrelsy;
Yet something of the Northern spell
Mix'd with the softer numbers well..."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys was born on February 23, 1633.  Pepys is best known for his diary, but he was also Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under Charles II and James II,  and a Member of Parliament in Charles II's Third Parliament.

Walter Scott reviewed "Pepys' Diary" for John Lockhart for the Quarterly Review.  This work took place in late 1825/early 1826, as reported in Scott's Journal:

December 27th (1825).—...Worked at Pepys in the evening, with the purpose of review for Lockhart.

Jedburgh, April 17 (1826).—Received £100 from John Lockhart, for review of Pepys...[Quarterly Review, No. 66, Pepys' Diary].

Monday, February 22, 2010

First Letter of Malachi Malagrowther

In 1826, Walter Scott undertook to write a series of letters under the pseudonym Malachi Malagrowther.  The Malagrowther letters railed against England's levelling of banking regulations in Scotland to conform with reforms being enacted in England as fallout to the Panic of 1825/26.  A draft of his first missive was submitted to James Ballantyne on February 19, 1826.  The letter was dated February 21, 1826, being published on the 22nd in Ballantyne's "Edinburgh Weekly Journal".  In this first letter, Malagrowther intimates that the Scottish banking system is fundamentally different from England's, that England's system promoted speculation in risky commodities to increase profits, and that the medicine required in England would be harmful to the sound Scotch system.

One of the main reforms proposed by England was to eliminate notes under L5.  Scott describes a country (Scotland) that relies on acceptance of these very notes for its functioning.  Scottish banks, argues Malagrowther, function since "...the notes, and especially the small notes, which they distribute, entirely supply the demand for a medium of currency; and that system has so completely expelled gold from the country of Scotland, that you never by chance espy a guinea there, unless in the purse of an accidental stranger, or in the coffers of these Banks themselves."

The strength of the Scottish banking system, Malagrowther indicates, rests on three main points.  First: "In Scotland, almost all Banking Companies consist of a considerable number of persons, many of them men of landed property, whose landed estates, with the burdens legally affecting them, may be learned from the records...".  In contrast: "In England...the number of the partners engaged in a banking concern cannot exceed five; and...yet no one can learn, without incalculable trouble, the real value of [the partners']  land..."  Essentially, Scott is arguing that Scottish banks are better capitalized, as a rule.

Malagrowther's second argument is that "the circulation of the Scottish bank-notes is free and unlimited; an advantage arising from the superior degree of credit...", while "those of the English Banking Companies seldom extend beyond a very limited horizon...Even the most creditable provincial notes never approach London in a free tide...".  Here Scott refers to trust in the system, which is stronger in Scotland due to it's verifiable source of wealth (landed estates). 

Malagrowther's third argument hits at the heart of the cause of the Banking Panic, which impacted English banks, not Scottish.  "...the profession of provincial Bankers in England is limited in its regular profits, and uncertain in its returns, to a degree unknown in Scotland; and is, therefore, more apt to be adopted in the south by men...who sink in mines or other hazardous speculations...".  One might add CDO's, and other derivative instruments in today's environment.

To support Malagrowther's arguments against standardization of banking regulation, Scott draws several analogies, designed to highlight that what is good in one situation may not fit another.  For example: "I will not insist farther on such topics, for I dare say, that these apparent enormities in principle are, in England, where they have operation, modified and corrected in practice by circumstances unknown to me; so that, in passing judgment on them, I may myself fall into the error I deprecate, of judging of foreign laws without being aware of all the premises. Neither do I mean that we should struggle with illiberality against any improvements which can be borrowed from English principle. I would only desire that such ameliorations were adopted, not merely because they are English, but because they are suited to be assimilated with the laws of Scotland, and lead, in short, to her evident utility [this phrasing derives from the Treaty of Union of 1707, which Malagrowhter references in the letter] , and this on the principle, that in transplanting a tree, little attention need be paid to the character of the climate and soil from which it is brought, although the greatest care must be taken that those of the situation to which it is transplanted are fitted to receive it. It would be no reason for planting mulberry-trees in Scotland, that they luxuriate in the south of England. There is sense in the old proverb, ``Ilk land has its ain lauch"."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sayings and Doings

Scott's Journal: February 21 (1828).—Last night after dinner I rested from my work, and read third part of [Theodore Hook's] Sayings and Doings, which shows great knowledge of life in a certain sphere, and very considerable powers of wit, which somewhat damages the effect of the tragic parts. But he is an able writer, and so much of his work is well said, that it will carry through what is manqué. I hope the same good fortune for other folks.

Theodore Hook was contemporary with Scott, living between 1788 and 1841.  He was gifted musically, as was his father, James Hook, who composed popular songs.  Theodor Hook's first major success occurred at age 16, when he composed (with his father) a comic opera - "The Soldier's Return".

Hook is remembered for authoring a Tory newspaper, titled "John Bull".  He also wrote fashionable novels, such as "Sayings and Doings".

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Orkney and the Shetlands Annexed by Scotland

On February 20, 1472, Scotland annexed the Orkney and Shetland Islands from Norway.  The annexation occurred due to Norwegian King Christian I pledging the islands against a dowry for his daughter's marriage to King James III.

Annexation, as passed by Parliament (on the date above), formalized the transfer of power from Earl William Sinclair to Scotland, in exchange for the castle and lands of Ravenscraig in Fife.  The Sinclairs had been Earls of Orkney since 1379, when Henry Sinclair, Baron of Roslin gained the title over two rival claimants.  Henry has been the subject of much recent attention over a possible voyage taken to the New World nearly a century before Columbus' visit.  Earl William built Roslin Chapel.

Walter Scott visited the Orkney Islands and the Shetlands as part of his trip with the Northern Lighthouse Service in 1814, using these islands as setting for "The Pirate".  The pirate character is taken from several real accounts of John Gow, who was executed in 1725 (covered by Daniel DeFoe).

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Letters of Malachi Malagrowther

Whoever doubts that a literary figure can influence economic policy need look no further than the "Letters of Malachi Malagrowther".  On February 19, 1826, Walter Scott is preparing the first of these letters for publication.  From his journal:

February 19 (1826).—Finished my letter (Malachi Malagrowther) this morning, and sent it to James B., who is to call with the result this forenoon...

The letters were published on three dates in 1826 (February 22, March 1, and March 8).  Scott's fictional author was purported to be the grandson of Mungo Malagrowther, a character in "The Fortunes of Nigel".

The Malagrowther letters were written to influence public opinion against a proposed reform to the banking system proposed by the British Government.  Among the reforms, issuance of currency notes under £5 would be forbidden.

Scott was vehemently opposed to this measure, as it would effectively reduce the money supply, leading he believed to a depression.  In Scotland at the time, little gold and silver circulated.  Circulation of paper money (credit) enabled the system to function.

Ultimately, the government abandoned its proposal.  Sir Walter Scott is honored for his role in support of Scottish banking by having his portrait on the Bank of Scotland £5 note.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

HRE Frederick II's truce with Sultan al-Kamil

On February 18, 1229, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II signed a ten year truce with Sultan al Kamil.  The truce occurred during the sixth crusade, which had begun in 1228 with the objective of regaining Jerusalem from Egyptian control.

Frederick had sent troops to support the fifth crusade, which ended in failure for the HRE.  In 1225, Frederick married Yolonde of Jerusalem, thus gaining a claim to the throne of that city, and direct motivation to crusade.  Frederick left for the Holy Land in 1227, but turned back before reaching there.  As a result, Pope Gregory IX excommunicated him for breaking his crusader vow.  In 1228, Frederick set off again.  He found little support in the way of troops along the way, due to his excommunicated status.
Frederick realized that with his small retinue, his best chances lay in negotiation with al-Kamil.  Taking this tack, he was able to convince al Kamil, who was preoccupied with a Syrian rebellion of his own, to commit to a truce.  This truce enabled Frederick to regain Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Sidon, Jaffa and Nazareth.

One can imagine that Walter Scott would have been interested in Frederick as a supporter of poetry.  He was patron for the Sicilian School, which helped develop the Italian language, prior to Dante and Saint Francis of Assisi.  Scott covers Frederick in his role as King of Sicily, in "Tales of a Grandfather".

"The Emperor Frederick II. had been heir to the pretensions of the imperial house of Suabia to both the Sicilies ; in other words, to those territories now belonging to the kingdom of Naples. But over these kingdoms the Popes had always asserted a right of homage, similar to that which King John surrendered to the church in England. Upon the death of Frederick, these Italian and Sicilian dominions were usurped by his natural son, called Manfroy, to the prejudice of the emperor's nephew and lawful heir, a youth named Conradin."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Last Covenanter Executed

"But I remembered," said Jeanie, "my worthy fathers tales of a winter evening, how he was confined with the blessed martyr, Mr. James Renwick, who lifted up the fallen standard of the true reformed Kirk of Scotland, after the worthy and renowned Daniel Cameron, our last blessed banner-man, had fallen among the swords of the wicked at Airsmoss, and how the very hearts of the wicked malefactors and murderers, whom they were confined withal, were melted like wax at the sound of their doctrine: and I bethought mysell, that the same help that was wi' them in their strait, wad be wi' me in mine, an I could but watch the Lord's time and opportunity for delivering my feet from their snare; and I minded the Scripture of the blessed Psalmist, whilk he insisteth on, as weel in the forty-second as in the forty-third psalm—'Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.'"

The text above is from Scott's "The Heart of Midlothian".  In it, James Renwick is referenced.  Renwick was hanged to death on February 17, 1688, the last Covenanter to officially be executed.

Renwick had studied religion at the University of Edinburgh about 1675.  While there he became a follower of Richard Cameron.  He was ultimately ordained in Holland.  Returning to Scotland, he roamed the country, preaching anti-English, Cameronian sermons, and ultimately became a wanted man.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sir William Gell

February 16.(1831)—Sir William Gell called and took me out to-night to a bookseller whose stock was worth looking over.

The above is from Scott's Journal.

William Gell is known as an archeaologist and antiquarian.  He published "Topography of Troy", and other works - many on Greece and Italy.  In addition to Walter Scott, his list of friends included Thomas Moore, William Drummond, and Lord Byron.  Scott stayed at Gell's house in Naples, when he visited that city in 1832.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Ettrick Shepherd advises with the Wizard of the North

February 15 (1826).—...Poor James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, came to advise with me about his affairs,—he is sinking under the times; having no assistance to give him, my advice, I fear, will be of little service. I am sorry for him if that would help him, especially as, by his own account, a couple of hundred pounds would carry him on.

From Scott's Journal.

Like Scott, James Hogg was caught up in the financial meltdown of 1825/26.  Hogg had debt outstanding, though not to the same extent as Scott.  In a letter dated March 19, 1826, Hogg writes to William Blackwood about getting work published in Maga, a Tory publication.

"...I would send you plenty of things to Maga provided they were either inserted or returned which they never are.  Worse encouragement cannot be than that...I think it is high time you were beginning some publication of mine to liquidate my debt...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saint Valentine's Day

"...Tomorrow is St. Valentine's Day, when every bird chooses her mate; but you will not see the linnet pair with the sparrow hawk, nor the Robin Redbreast with the kite. My father was an honest burgher of Perth, and could use his needle as well as I can. Did there come war to the gates of our fair burgh, down went needles, thread, and shamoy leather, and out came the good head piece and target from the dark nook, and the long lance from above the chimney. Show me a day that either he or I was absent when the provost made his musters! Thus we have led our lives, my girl, working to win our bread, and fighting to defend it. I will have no son in law that thinks himself better than me; and for these lords and knights, I trust thou wilt always remember thou art too low to be their lawful love, and too high to be their unlawful loon. And now lay by thy work, lass, for it is holytide eve, and it becomes us to go to the evening service, and pray that Heaven may send thee a good Valentine tomorrow." 

The above is from "The Fair Maid of Perth, or St. Valentine's Day".

Named after the Bishop of Terni, who was martyred in the 3rd century, Valentine's Day became associated with romantic love, and the selection of partners, through to the influence of such authors as Chaucer.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Massacre at Glencoe

The massacre of the MacDonald clan by Campbell forces occurred on February 13, 1694.  The massacre was formally ordered by the Earl of Stair, but John Prebble points out that this incident can be viewed as part of a long civil war between  Clans Donald and Campbell.  At least 38 MacDonalds died in the slayings, which began at 5AM while the MacDonalds were sleeping.

Walter Scott covers the massacre in "The Lyrics and Ballads of Sir Walter Scott".  Here, Scott references Thomas Babington Macaulay, who attempts to justify King William III's character for his ordering the "extirpation of
that sept of thieves" (article four of the King's instructions to the commander-in-chief).  Also John Paget's refutation.

' O Tell me, Harper, wherefore flow
Thy wayward notes of wail and woe,
Far down the desert of Glencoe,
Where none may list their melody ?
Say, harp'st thou to the mists that fly,
Or to the dun-deer glancing by,
Or to the eagle, that from high
Screams chorus to thy minstrelsy ?' —
' No, not to these, for they have rest,—
The mist-wreath has the mountain-crest,
The stag his lair, the erne her nest,
Abode of lone security.
But those for whom I pour the lay,
Not wild-wood deep, nor mountain grey,
Not this deep dell, that shrouds from day,
Could screen from treach'rous cruelty.
'Their flag was furl'd, and mute their drum,
The very household dogs were dumb,
Unwont to bay at guests that come
In guise of hospitality.
His blithest notes the piper plied,
Her gayest snood the maiden tied,
The dame her distaff flung aside,
To tend her kindly housewifery.
' The hand that mingled in the meal
At midnight drew the felon steel,
And gave the host's kind breast to feel
Meed for his hospitality !
The friendly hearth which warm'd that hand
At midnight arm'd it with the brand
That bade destruction's flames expand
Their red and fearful blazonry.
'Then woman's shriek was heard in vain,
Nor infancy's unpitied plain,
More than the warrior's groan, could gain
Respite from ruthless butchery !
The winter wind that whistled shrill,
The snows that night that cloked the hill,
Though wild and pitiless, had still
Far more than Southern clemency.
' Long have my harp's best notes been gone, Few are its strings, and faint their tone, They can but sound in desert lone
Their grey-hair'd master's misery. Were each grey hair a minstrel string, Each chord should imprecations fling, Till startled Scotland loud should ring,
" Revenge for blood and treachery !"'

Friday, February 12, 2010

William and Mary

February 12, 1688 represented the end of the Glorious Revolution (of 1688) that led to the abdication of the English throne by James II.  William, Prince of Orange called a convention to select a new leader.  On the 12th of February, the convention decided: William of Orange and Mary, James' daughter, and William's wife, would become King William III and Queen Mary II of England.

Walter Scott writes of this change of power in his "Tales of a Grandfather."

"...The Convention, in the meantime, almost entirely freed from opposition within their own assembly, proceeded to determine the great national question arising out of the change of government. Two letters being presented to them, one from King James, the other on the part of the Prince of Orange, they opened and read the letter with much reverence, while they passed over with little notice that of his father-in-law, intimating by this that they no longer regarded him as a sovereign.

This was made still more manifest by their vote respecting the state of the nation, which was much more decisive than that of the English Convention. The Scots Whigs had no Tories to consult with, and were of course at no trouble in choosing between the terms of abdication or forfeiture. They openly declared that James had assumed the throne without taking the oaths appointed by law ; that he had proceeded to innovate upon the constitution of the kingdom, with the purpose of converting a limited monarchy to a despotic authority ; they added, that he had employed the power thus illegally assumed, for violating the laws and liberties, and altering the religion of Scotland ; and in doing so, had Forfeited his right to the Crown, and the throne had become vacant..."

The forfeiture, in strict law, would have extended to all James's immediate issue, as in the case of treason in a subject; but as this would have injured the right of the Princess-of Orange, the effects of the declaration were limited to King James's infant son, and to his future children. In imitation of England, the crown of Scotland was settled upon the Prince and Princess of Orange, and the survivor of them ; after whose decease, and failing heirs of their body, the Princess Anne and her heirs were called to the succession.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


The man whose definition of life is famous to most - "I think therefore I am" - died on February 11, 1650.  His demise seems to have been accelerated by a change of climate, and the demands of a queen.  Rene Descartes was 53 when he passed.

Descartes claimed to be a devout Catholic, but his philosophy was attacked by other Catholics, including Blaise Pascal.  To escape from his enemies, he accepted an offer from Queen Christina of Sweden, to move to Stockholm.  Christina sought his instruction at an early hour each morning; 5AM.  Combined with a disagreeable climate, this may have been too much for his already frail state.  Descartes had an influence on Christina, it seems, as she abdicated her throne and converted to Catholicism after his death.

Walter Scott published "The Edinburgh Annual Register"; volume 14 containing a discussion of what was purported to be Descartes' head being displayed to the Royal Institute of France's Academy of Sciences.

"On the 30th of April, M. Cuvier presented to the Academy the head of Descartes, which M. Berzelius, Secretary of the Academy of Stockholm, had purchased, at a public sale, in Sweden, and which he had been eager to transmit to the native country of that truly great man..."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Robert the Bruce and John Comyn

On February 10, 1306, during the Scottish Wars of Independence, John Comyn and Robert the Bruce met at Greyfriars Church in Dumfries.  This conference of two claimants to the Scottish throne resulted in Comyn's death, stabbed before the high altar.

Scott's version of this event comes from his "Tales of a Grandfather":

“Robert the Bruce had fixed his purpose, as I told you, to attempt once again to drive the English out of Scotland, and he desired to prevail upon Sir John the Red Comyn, who was his rival in his pretensions to the throne, to join with him in expelling the foreign enemy by their common efforts. With this purpose, Bruce posted down from London to Dumfries, on the borders of Scotland, and requested an interview with John Comyn. They met in the church of the Minorites in that town, before the high altar.  What passed betwixt them is not known with certainty ; but they quarrelled, either concerning their mutual pretensions to the crown, or because Comyn refused to join Bruce in the proposed insurrection against the English ; or, as many writers say, because Bruce charged Comyn with having betrayed to the English his purpose of rising up against King Edward. It is, however, certain that these two haughty barons came to high and abusive words, until at length Bruce, who, I told you, was extremely passionate, forgot the sacred character of the place in which they stood, and struck Comyn a blow with his dagger. Having done this rash deed, he instantly ran out of the church and called for his horse. Two gentlemen of the country, Lindesay and Kirkpatrick, friends of Bruce, were then in attendance on him. Seeing him pale, bloody, and in much agitation, they eagerly inquired what was the matter.

" I doubt," said Bruce, " that I have slain the Red Comyn."
" Do you leave such a matter in doubt!" said Kirkpatrick.
" I will make sicker !" — that is, I will make certain.

Accordingly, he and his companion Lindesay rushed into the church, aud made the matter certain with a vengeance, by despatching the wounded Comyn with their daggers. His uncle. Sir Robert Comyn, was slain at the same time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

John Thomson

"...Visited the Exhibition on my way home from the Court. The new rooms are most splendid, and several good pictures. The Institution has subsisted but five years, and it is astonishing how much superior the worst of the present collection are to the teaboard-looking things which first appeared. John Thomson, of Duddingston, has far the finest picture in the Exhibition, of a large size—subject Dunluce, a ruinous castle of the Antrim family, near the Giant's Causeway, with one of those terrible seas and skies which only Thomson can paint..."
From Scott's Journal for February 9, 1826

John Thomson was born about seven years after Walter Scott.  He was born to a minister, and followed in his father's footsteps, becoming minister of Duddingston Kirk, near Edinburgh.  From an early age, he showed a proclivity for painting landscapes, such as Walter Scott appreciated.  Many of these were the Ayrshire landscapes he grew up with.

Scott and Thomson probably met around 1793 when Thomson enrolled at Edinburgh University.  Many years later (around 1826), Thomson collaborated with Joseph Turner producing engravings for Scott's "Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland".

Monday, February 8, 2010

Beheading at Fotherinhay Castle

On February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was executed for treason; attempting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth of England.  Mary was the daughter of James V, becoming heir to the throne when an infant.  She married Francis II of France at age 16.  Scott covers her imprisonment at Lochleven Castle, and subsequent flight to England in "The Abbot".  A fuller discussion of her life, and her brave comportment during her ultimate execution, is contained in "Tales of a Grandfather".

"...When the Queen was seated in the fatal chair, she heard the death warrant read by Beale...She implored the mercy of Heaven, after the form prescribed by her own church.  She then prepared herself for execution, taking off such parts of her dress as might interfere with the deadly blow...She quietly chid her maids, who were unable to withhold their cries of lamentation, and reminded them she had engaged for their silence.  Last of all, Mary laid her head on the block, which the executioner severed from her body with two strokes of his axe..."

The image of the mound on which Fotheringhay Castle stood is courtesy of the Marie Stuart Society.  The plaque on the fence is a memorial to Mary Stuart.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe lived and wrote contemporaneously with Walter Scott.  Mrs. Radcliffe, as she published her name, wrote of the supernatural, though with reasoned understanding of its evidence.  Radcliffe wrote some of the earliest gothic novels, being best known for "The Mysteries of Udolfo".  Regarding her writing, Ann said: "Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakes the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them. I apprehend that neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor Mr. Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one; and there lies the great difference between horror and terror, but in uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreader evil. "(from

"A Sicilian Romance" was Radcliffe's second novel, which Walter Scott regarded as the first English poetical novel.  Scott wrote a short biography of Ann Radcliffe in his "Biographical Memoirs of Eminent Novelists, and Other Distinguished Persons".  Speaking of Radcliffe's early works, Scott wrote that:

"...Mrs. Radcliffe's genius was more advantageously displayed in the Sicilian Romance which appeared in 1790...This work displays the exuberance and fertility of imagination, which was the author's principal characteristic..."

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Don't let poor Nellie starve

These words from Charles II of England to his brother James concerning Nell Gwynn were possibly his last.  He died on February 6, 1685.  The date February 6, was doubly significant in Charles' life, as it was on February 6, 1649 that the Covenanter Parliament of Scotland proclaimed Charles king of Great Britain.

The Merrie Monarch married the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza.  Catherine bore no children.  Charles had 7 through 5 different mistresses, including 2 by Nell Gwynn, who he was concerned about in his dying words.

On his death bed, Charles confessed to a Catholic priest.  Charles was secretly Catholic, publicly accepting Protestantism.  Charles introduced a Royal Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 to try and foster religious tolerance, but the English Parliament forced him to withdraw it.  In 1679, a supposed Popish Plot was reported by Titus Oates, a man who flitted between many faiths.  The purported plan involved murdering Charles, so that his brother, the avowed Catholic James would accede to the throne.

The plot proved fictitious, but had to be dealt with seriously.  It is against this backdrop that Scott's "Peveril of the Peak" is set.  Another of Charles' mistresses, Louise Duchess of Portsmouth figures here:

"As blithe a peer," said Smith, "as ever turned night to day. Nay, it
shall be an overflowing bumper, an you will; and I will drink it _super
naculum_.--And how stands the great Madam?"[*]

[*] The Duchess of Portsmouth, Charles II.'s favourite mistress; very
unpopular at the time of the Popish Plot, as well from her
religion as her country, being a Frenchwoman and a Catholic.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Passing a Gift from Goethe to Scott

Thomas Carlyle died on February 5, 1881.  Carlyle, and his absorption in "great men, heroic leaders" was covered in an earlier post.  He sent at least two letters to Walter Scott.  On April 13, 1828, he notified Scott that he had received a letter from Goethe that contained the poet's thanks for a copy of Scott's Life of Napoleon, and two medals intended as a gift for Scott.  The medals contained images of Goethe himself.  Carlyle makes clear he would like to meet Scott, and offers to bring or send the medals to him.  Scott did not reply.

Carlyle's second letter, on May 23, 1828, references the earlier letter, and the fact that it had not been answered.  Goethe comments in an advertisement to "The Life of Napoleon":

"Walter Scott passed his childhood among the stirring scenes of the American War, and was a youth of 17 or 18 when the French Revolution broke out.  Now well advanced in the fifties, having all along been favorably placed for observation, he proposes to lay before us his views and recollections of the important events through which he has lived..."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Old Pretender Departs

James Stuart's arrived from France at Peterhead in Scotland to lead the uprising of 1715 on December 22,1715.  Approximately 6 weeks later, on February 4, 1716, he was exiting from Montrose.  The Old Pretender found life different in France when he returned, as Louis XIV had died while he was away.  Stuart ended up in Rome, thanks to Pope Clement XI.  Here he established his Roman Jacobite Court.

Scott refers to this court in Waverly:

"...Footnote: Where the Chevalier St. George, or, as he was termed,
the Old Pretender, held his exiled court, as his situation compelled him
to shift his place of residence..."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tulip Mania

The most recognized symbol of an economic bubble is probably the tulip.  Tulip mania struck in the late 1630's, and reached a peak on February 3rd, 1637.  A freefall in tulip prices ensued, impacting other asset prices, and ushering in a period of economic depression. 

In Scott's day, the Panic of 1825/6 was the leading economic crisis.  Scott himself, deeply extended in debt to fund his building of Abbotsford, was caught in its wake.  During the fall of 1825, son-in-law Lockhart brought Scott reports of publisher Archibald Constable's bankers having closed his account.  On January 16, 1826 he heard that Hurst and Robinson, who were Constable's London correspondents, had dishonored one of Constable's bills.  As Constable went down, so did Scott.

Scott's answer to his bancruptcy was to implement some fiscal austerity, and to work even harder than he had previously.  The novel "Woodstock" was written at this time, as well as continued work on "The Life of Napoleon".  Scott worked the rest of his life to wind down his obligations.

The panic itself is interesting historically, representing the first instance of a bank functioning as a central bank.  The Bank of England, though technically private, with the agreement of the government, effectively increased liquidity.  The BOE increased money in circulation and funded various banks to help stave off bank runs.  These efforts were instrumental in resolving the panic, and have been employed by central banks since that time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


The Purification of the Virgin occurs on February 2nd, which coincides with the Februation, or purification, of the people in pagan Rome.  The term candlemas derives from the blessing of the candles which occurs on this day.

Scott uses Candlemas as a time reference in, among other works, "Old Mortality":

"For," said Harrison to himself, "the carles have little eneugh gear at

ony rate, and if I call in the red-coats and take away what little they
have, how is my worshipful lady to get her rents paid at Candlemas, which
is but a difficult matter to bring round even in the best of times?"

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bell Rock Lighthouse

During the summer of 1814, Walter Scott took a trip around Scotland with the Commissioners of the Northern Lights, including Robert Stevenson, grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson; the Surveyor-Viceroy.  Among the sites seen was Bell Rock Lighthouse (photo at right is by Don Carter), which lies about 12 miles off the coast of Angus, Scotland in the German Ocean; the North Sea.  Built between 1807 and 1810, it was first lit on February 1, 1811.

Scott kept a journal of the trip, published as "Northern Lights or a Voyage in the Lighthouse Yacht to Nova Zembla and the Lord where in the summer of 1814". The journal includes his description of seeing Bell Rock Lighthouse for the first time:

“Its dimensions are well known; but no description can give the idea of this slight, solitary, round tower, trembling amid the billows, and fifteen miles from Arbroath, the nearest shore. The fitting up within is not only handsome, but elegant. All work of wood (almost) is wainscot; all hammer-work brass; in short, exquisitely fitted up.”

On the morning that Scott saw Bell Rock Lighthouse, he was asked to sign the Visitor's Book.  In it, he left his "Pharos Loquitur":

'Far on the bosom of the deep,

0'er these wild shelves my watch I keep;
A ruddy gem of changeful light,
Bound on the dusky brow of Night;
The seaman bids my lustre hail,
And scorns to strike his tim'rous sail'