Sunday, October 31, 2010

St. Swithin's Chair


ON Hallowmas Eve, ere ye boune ye to rest,
Ever beware that your couch be bless'd;
Sign it with cross, and sain it with bead,
Sing the Ave, and say the Creed.

For on Hallowmas Eve the Night-Hag will ride,
And all her nine-fold sweeping on by her side,
Whether the wind sing lowly or loud,
Sailing through moonshine, or swathed in the cloud.

The Lady she sat in St. Swithin's Chair,
The dew of the night had damp'd her hair ;
Her cheek was pale....but resolved and high
Was the word of her lip and the glance of her eye-
She muttered the spell of St. Swithin bold,
When his naked foot traced the midnight wold,
When he stopt the Hag as she rode the night,
And bade her descend, and her promise plight.

He that dare sit on St. Swithin's Chair,
When the Night-Hag wings the troubled air,
Questions three, when he speaks the spell,
He may ask, and she must tell.

The Baron has been with King Robert his liege,
These three long years, in battle and siege ;
News there are none of his weal or his wo,
And fain the Lady his fate would know.

She shudders and stops as the charm she speaks
Is it the moody owl that shrieks ?
Or is it that sound, between laughter and scream,
The voice of the Demon who haunts the stream ?

The moan of the wind sunk silent and low,
And the roaring torrent has ceased to flow;
The calm was more dreadful than raging storm,
When the cold grey mist brought the ghastly form !
From "Waverly Poetry: being the poems scattered through the Waverly novels" by Sir Walter Scott.  Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Caledonian Canal Opened

From The Edinburgh Annual Register, volume 18, as prepared by Sir Walter Scott:


Substance of the Twenty-second Report of the Commissioners appointed for carrying into Execution the purposes of an Act, passed in the 43d year of the reign of his late Majesty King George the Third, intituled, "An Act for granting to his Majesty the sum of Twenty Thousand Pounds, towards defraying the Expense of making an Inland Navigation from the Eastern to the Western Sea, by Inverness and Fort William, and for taking the necessary steps towards executing the same;"—and also for the purposes of an Act, passed in the 44th year of his said late Majesty, intituled, " An Act for making further Provision for making and maintaining an Inland Navigation, commonly called the Caledonian Canal, from the Eastern to the Western Sea, by Inverness and Fort William, in Scotland."
The Caledonian Canal was built by engineer Thomas Telford, and opened on October 30, 1822.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Strike, man, strike!"

"Raleigh is my name, most gracious Queen, the youngest son of a large but honourable family of Devonshire." (From "Kenilworth")
Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded on October 29, 1618.  His crime was treason; involvement in the Main Plot against King James I.  This plot was intended to be a coup d'etat that would install Catholic Arabella Stuart onto the throne.  Little was proven against Raleigh, other than a meeting with Lord Cobham Henry Brooke, who was a primary conspirator.  Wishing not to show fear at his impending death, Raleigh is said to have uttered the words in the title line to hurry his executioner.

Raleigh is associated with Elizabeth I of England, with whom he enjoyed a period of substantial favor, an later, disfavor.  Both characters are part of Walter Scott's "Kenilworth".  Scott focuses on Raleigh's period of favor in this passage:

'The Queen paused, and then said hastily, "You are very young to have fought so well, and to speak so well. But you must not escape your penance for turning back Masters. The poor man hath caught cold on the river for our order reached him when he was just returned from certain visits in London, and he held it matter of loyalty and conscience instantly to set forth again. So hark ye, Master Raleigh, see thou fail not to wear thy muddy cloak, in token of penitence, till our pleasure be further known. And here," she added, giving him a jewel of gold, in the form of a chess-man, "I give thee this to wear at the collar."

Raleigh, to whom nature had taught intuitively, as it were, those courtly arts which many scarce acquire from long experience, knelt, and, as he took from her hand the jewel, kissed the fingers which gave it. He knew, perhaps, better than almost any of the courtiers who surrounded her, how to mingle the devotion claimed by the Queen with the gallantry due to her personal beauty; and in this, his first attempt to unite them, he succeeded so well as at once to gratify Elizabeth's personal vanity and her love of power.'

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Battle of Corrichie

'The Earl of Huntley, incensed at the recall of the royal gift of 1548 in his favor, now conceived that the ruin of his house was resolved upon, and determined to take up arms. Ho summoned together his vassals, and menaced an attack upon the new Earl of Murray and the forces who escorted the sovereign's person.

The queen [Mary, Queen of Scots], in the meantime, proceeded to Darnoway, the principal messuage of the earldom of Murray; and having put her brother in possession of the honors and estates belonging to that great lordship, she summoned the neighboring barons and clans to join her array, and protect her against Huntley and his army. They brought their men to the queen accordingly, and the Earl of Murray led them against the Gordons, who were posted near Corrichie. Huntley had but seven or eight hundred men, but reckoned on his interest among the northern barons, who had ostensibly joined Murray, but who, in reality, neither loved his person nor were willing to endure his power.
The Earl of Murray drew up on a rising ground the small phalanx of southland men in whom he could confide, and commanded the northern clans, whose faith he doubted, to commence the attack on the Gordons, October 28, 1562. They did so, but with no desire of making a serious impression ; and recoiling from the charge came running back with their antagonist close behind them on Murray's band of spearmen, who received both fliers and pursuers with levelled lances. The onset of the Gordons, made in the Highland fashion, with drawn swords and disordered ranks, was unequal to the task of breaking so firm a battalion. The assailants retired in disorder; and the instant they did so the neighboring clans, who had begun the fight, anxious to secure the favor of the victors, turned their swords upon the repulsed party, and endeavored to atone for their former flight by making slaughter among those before whom they had just retreated.
The consequences of the loss of this battle of Corrichie were most disastrous to the family of Huntley. The earl himself, thrown from his horse, and too unwieldy to rise from the ground, was smothered in the retreat. His body, brought to town on a pair of panniers, was afterward produced in parliament, where a doom of forfeiture was pronounced against him. His son, Sir John Gordon, condemned to be beheaded, was butchered at Aberdeen by an unskilful executioner. The doom of forfeiture was pronounced against this powerful family, and was not reversed until the 19th of April, 1567. It was supposed that the Earl of Huntley's purpose, had he possessed himself of the queen's person, was to have united her in marriage with one of his sons; but as there is no evidence to prove such a charge, we cannot extend his guilt beyond his avowed designs against Murray, his feudal enemy.'

The text above is from "Scotland", by Sir Walter Scott, with a supplement by Mayo Hazeltine.  The Battle of Corrichie took place, according to Rampant Scotland, on October 28, 1562.  This clan battle pitted the Gordons of Clan Huntly against Stewart forces of the Earl of Moray, which were loyal to Mary Queen of Scots.  George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, died in captivity following the battle, and several members of the clan forfeited their estates as a result of their participation in the uprising.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Commissary Smollett and Cameron House

On October 27, 1773, the Johnson/Boswell Tour of the Western Isles, which we have been following intermittently, is winding down.  The duo visits Commissary Smollett's Cameron House (from "The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D."):

'...We were favoured with Sir James Colquhoun's coach to convey us in the evening to Cameron, the seat of Commissary Smollet. Our satisfaction of finding ourselves again in a comfortable carriage was very great. We had a pleasing conviction of the commodiousness of civilization, and heartily laughed at the ravings of those absurd visionaries who have attempted to persuade us of the superior advantages of a state of nature.

Mr Smollet was a man of considerable learning, with abundance of animal spirits; so that he was a very good companion for Dr Johnson, who said to me, 'We have had more solid talk here than at any place where we have been.'...'

On the banks of the Leven River, there is a column dedicated to Commissary Smollett that Samuel Johnson helped inscribe. 

Sir Walter Scott was familiar with Commissary Smollett, who died in 1775, perhaps mainly through Commissary's cousin, the author Tobias.  Scott published "Select Works of Tobias Smollett", adding his own Prefatory Memoir of the Life and Writings of Tobias Smollett".  Scott includes references to Cameron House and Commissary Smollett in this preface:

'Tobias Smollett (baptized Tobias-George) was born in 1721, in the old house of Dalquhurn, in the valley of Leven, in perhaps the most beautiful district in Britain. Its distinguished native has celebrated the vale of Leven, not only in the beautiful ode addressed to his parent stream, but in the expedition of Humphrey Clinker, where he mentions the home of his forefathers in the following enthusiastic, yet not exaggerated terms; "A veiy little above the source of the Leven, on the lake, stands the house of Cameron, belonging to Mr Smollett,* so embosomed in an oak wood that we did not see it till we were within fifty yards of the door. The lake approaches, on one side, to within six or seven yards of the window. It might have been placed in a higher situation, which would have afforded a more extensive prospect, and a drier atmosphere ; but this imperfection is not chargeable on the present proprietor, who purchased it ready built, rather than be at the trouble of repairing his own family house of Bonhill, which stands two miles from hence, on the Leven, so surrounded with plantations, that it used to be known by the name of the mavis (or thrush) nest. Above that house is a romantic glen, or cleft of a mountain, covered with hanging woods, having, at bottom, a stream of fine water, that forms a number of cascades in its descent to join the Leven, so that the scene is quite enchanting.
* The late Commissary Smollett '
Commissary (James) Smollett is introduced by Tobias into his own novel "The Expedition of Humphry Clinker", which Scott mentions in the passage above.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

George III Crowned

From "Redgauntlet":

'I have often heard,' said Darsie, 'that a female, supposed to be a man in disguise,--and yet, Lilias, you do not look very masculine,--had taken up the champion's gauntlet at the present king's coronation, and left in its place a gage of battle, with a paper, offering to accept the combat, provided a fair field should be allowed for it. I have hitherto considered it as an idle tale. I little thought how nearly I was interested in the actors of a scene so daring. How could you have courage to go through with it?'

On October 26, 1760, the first King that would rule during Sir Walter Scott's lifetime was crowned king of England and Ireland.  His father George II died the day before.  George William Frederick Hanover's reign lasted 60 years. 

Early in George's career, there were stories that Bonnie Prince Charlie returned to London, mostly to visit a mistress, but as Walter Scott portrays, as a last attempt to claim his throne.  "Redgauntlet" includes this note about George III's coronation:


In excuse of what may be considered as a violent infraction of probability in this chapter, the author is under the necessity of quoting a tradition which many persons may recollect having heard. It was always said, though with very little appearance of truth, that upon the Coronation of the late George III, when the champion of England, Dymock, or his representative, appeared in Westminster Hall, and in the language of chivalry solemnly wagered his body to defend in single combat the right of the young King to the crown of these realms, at the moment when he flung down his gauntlet as the gage of battle, an unknown female stepped from the crowd and lifted the pledge, leaving another gage in room of it, with a paper expressing, that if a fair field of combat should be allowed, a champion of rank and birth would appear with equal arms to dispute the claim of King George to the British kingdoms. The story is probably one of the numerous fictions which were circulated to keep up the spirits of a sinking faction, The incident was, however, possible, if it could be supposed to be attended by any motive adequate to the risk, and might be imagined to occur to a person of Redgauntlet's enthusiastic character. George III, it is said, had a police of his own, whose agency was so efficient, that the sovereign was able to tell his prime minister upon one occasion, to his great surprise, that the Pretender was in London. The prime minister began immediately to talk of measures to be taken, warrants to be procured, messengers and guards to be got in readiness. 'Pooh, pooh,' said the good-natured sovereign, since I have found him out, leave me alone to deal with him.'--'And what,' said the minister, 'is your Majesty's purpose, in so important a case?'--'To leave the young man to himself,' said George III; 'and when he tires he will go back again.' The truth of this story does not depend on that of the lifting of the gauntlet; and while the latter could be but an idle bravado, the former expresses George Ill's goodness of heart and soundness of policy.'

Monday, October 25, 2010

Geoffrey Chaucer

The father of English literature, as some consider him, died on October 25, 1400.  Chaucer's most famous work was his Canterbury Tales.  Sir Walter Scott certainly read his works, as he made several allusions (and references) to Chaucer in his correspondence with others.

One individual with whom Scott exchanged several letters was dramatist Joanna Baillie.  On December 12, 1811 Scott writes to Ms. Baillie of her work as a playwright: '...While I was watching my infant or rather embryo oaks you have been wandering under the shade of those celebrated by Pope and Denham or in a still earlier age by Surrey and Chaucer. How often have you visited the site of Hearnes oak and calld up the imaginary train of personages who fill the stage around it in representation?...'

Earlier, in a letter to William Clerk (September 30, 1792), Scott invokes Chaucer in a more analytical reference on the inhabitants of Hexham: '...Hard by the town is the field of battle where the forces of Queen Margaret were defeated by those of the House of York- a blow which the Red Rose never recovered during the civil wars. The spot where the Duke of Somerset and the northern nobility of the Lancastrian faction were executed after the battle, is still called Dukesfield. The inhabitants of this country speak an odd dialect of the Saxon, approaching nearly that of Chaucer, and have retained some customs peculiar to themselves. They are the descendants of the ancient Danes, chased into the fastnesses of Northumberland by the severity of William the Conqueror...'

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Elias Ashmole

On October 24, 1660, Samuel Pepys records in his diary visiting William Lilly's house, where he met Elias Ashmole and John Booker; astrologers all.  Per Pepys: '...I went to Mr. Greatorex, where I met him, and so to an alehouse, where I bought of him a drawing-pen; and he did show me the manner of the lamp-glasses, which carry the light a great way, good to read in bed by, and I intend to have one of them. So to Mr. Lilly’s with Mr. Spong, where well received, there being a club to-night among his friends. Among the rest Esquire Ashmole, who I found was a very ingenious gentleman. With him we two sang afterward in Mr. Lilly’s study. That done, we all pared; and I home by coach, taking Mr. Booker with me, who did tell me a great many fooleries, which may be done by nativities, and blaming Mr. Lilly for writing to please his friends and to keep in with the times (as he did formerly to his own dishonour), and not according to the rules of art, by which he could not well err, as he had done....'

Elias Ashmole was an antiquary, politician, and founding member of the Royal Society, as well as being an astrologer.  Ashmole's name lives on at Oxford University, to which he bequeathed a collection of antiquities, stipulating that a museum be built to house them.  That museum was named in his honor, the Ashmolean Museum (

As told on Edinburgh University's Walter Scott archive, Sir Walter Scott relied on his "Antiquities of Berkshire" for the tale Amy Robsart and Cumnor Hall that he employed as source material for "Kenilworth"(

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Auld Alliance

John Balliol has come down in history as a puppet king of England's Edward I.  Little positive is said of his short reign (1292 - 1296).  Sir Walter Scott writes disparagingly of Balliol's recognition from King Edward: 'Upon examining the claims of the candidates, the right of succession to the throne of Scotland was found to lie chiefly betwixt Robert Bruce, the Lord of Annandale, and John Baliol, who was the Lord of Galloway. Both were great and powerful barons; both were of Norman descent, and had great estates in England as well as Scotland; lastly, both were descended from the Scottish royal family, and each by a daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of William the Lion. Edward, upon due consideration, declared Baliol to be King of Scotland, as being son of Margaret, the eldest of the two sisters. But he declared that the kingdom was always to be held under him as the Lord Paramount, or sovereign thereof. John Baliol closed the disgraceful scene by doing homage to the King of England, and acknowledging that he was his liege vassal and subject. This remarkable event took place on 20th November, 1292.

Soon after this remarkable, and to Scotland most shameful transaction, King Edward began to show to Baliol that it was not his purpose to be satisfied with a bare acknowledgment of his right of sovereignty, but that he was determined to exercise it with severity on every possible occasion. He did this, no doubt, on purpose to provoke the dependent King to some act of resistance, which should give him a pretext for depriving him of the kingdom altogether as a disobedient subject, and taking it under his own government in his usurped character of Lord Paramount.'
With all of Balliol's failings as a king, he can claim responsibility for one of the most important and enduring alliances in Scotland's history; the Auld Alliance with France.  In a treaty dated October 23, 1295, Balliol and Philip IV of France promised each other mutual aid against the English.  The agreement lasted 265 years, until the Treaty of Edinburgh (July 5, 1560).  As early as 1346, the Auld Alliance provided King David II a reason to invade England, which led to his capture at the Battle of Neville's Cross.   During this time, the treaty was invoked six times in military action against the British.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Tour Reaches Oban

On October 22, 1773, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell are nearing the end of their trek to the western reaches of Scotland.  Leaving Mull that day, they reach Oban to discover that people are reading of their tour in the newspaper, though the paper is far behind actual events.  From "The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D": 'We bade adieu to Lochbuy, and to our very kind conductor. Sir Allan M'Lean, on the shore of Mull, and then got into the ferry-boat, the bottom of which was strewed with branches of trees or bushes, upon which we sat. We had a good day and a fine passage, and in the evening landed at Oban, where we found a tolerable inn. After having been so long confined at different times in islands, from which it was always uncertain when we could get away, it was  comfortable to be now on the  main land, and to know that, if in health, we might get to any place in Scotland or England in a certain number of days.

Here we discovered from the conjectures which were formed, that the people on the main land were intirely ignorant of our motions; for in a Glasgow news-paper we found a paragraph, which, as it contains a just and well-turned compliment to my illustrious friend, I shall insert:
We are well assured that Dr Johnson is confined by tempestuous weather to the isle of Sky; it being unsafe to venture, in a small boat upon such a stormy surge as is very common there at this time of the year. Such a philosopher, detained on an almost barren island, resembles a whale left upon the strand. The latter will be welcome to every body, on account of his oil, his bone, etc. and the other will charm his companions, and the rude inhabitants, with his superior knowledge and wisdom, calm resignation, and unbounded benevolence.'

Sir Walter Scott visited Oban in September 1814.  Son-in-law John Lockhart describes their visit in his "The Life of Sir Walter Scott": 'The isle of Kerrera is now in sight, forming the bay of Oban. Beyond lie the varied and magnificent summits of the chain of mountains bordering Loch Linn he, as well as those between Loch Awe and Loch Etive, over which the summit of Ben Cruachan is proudly prominent Walk on deck, admiring this romantic prospect until ten ; then below, and turn in.'

While in Skye, earlier on their tour, Johnson and Boswell had met Flora MacDonald who helped Charles Stuart escape following the '45.  Oban shared in that history, as well.  Continuing with Lockhart: 'When the affair of 1745 was in agitation, it was expected by the south-western clans that Charles Edward would have landed near Oban, instead of which he disembarked at Loch-nan-augh, in Arisaig. Stuart of Appin sent information of his landing to MacDougall, who gave orders to his brother to hold the clan in readiness to rise, and went himself to consult with the chamberlain of the Earl of Breadalbane, who was also in the secret. He found this person indisposed to rise, alleging that Charles had disappointed them both in the place of landing, and the support he had promised. MacDougall then resolved to play cautious, and went to visit the Duke of Argyle, then residing at Roseneath, probably without any determined purpose as to his future proceedings. While he was waiting the Duke's leisure, he saw a horseman arriving at full gallop, and shortly after, the Duke entering the apartment where MacDougall was, with a map in his hand, requested him, after friendly salutations, to point out Loch-nan-augh on that map. MacDougall instantly saw that the secret of Charles's landing had transpired, and resolved to make a merit of being the first who should give details. The persuasions of the Duke determined him to remain quiet, and the reward was the restoration of the little state of Dunolly, lost by his father in 1715. This gentleman lived to a very advanced stage of life, and was succeeded by Peter MacDougall, Esq. now of Dunolly. I had these particulars respecting the restoration of the estate from a near relation of the family, whom we met at Dunstaffnage.'

Thursday, October 21, 2010


‘Admiral Collingwood, was to break in upon the enemy about the twelfth ship from the rear, and Nelson himself determined to bear down on the centre.  The effect of these manoeuvers must of course be a close and general action; for the rest, Nelson knew he could trust to the determination of his officers and seamen. ..With such dispositions on either side, the two gallant fleets met on the memorable 21st of October.  Admiral Collingwood, who led the van, went down on the enemy with all sails set. ..Nelson run his vessel , the Victory, on board the French Redoubtable…’
On October 21, 1805, the British Royal Navy under Horatio Nelson met Napoleon's fleet, which was led by Admiral Villeneuve.  In this, the Battle of Trafalgar, the British scored a resounding victory.  As Walter Scott describes in his "The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte", Nelson's partner, Admiral Collingwood sailed the Royal Sovereign to attack the line of the French fleet from the windward, while Nelson approached from the leeward in the Victory.  Horatio Nelson, though victorious, died of a gunshot wound during the battle.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Christopher Wren

'It is not my purpose to inform my readers how the manuscripts of that eminent antiquary, the Rev. J. A. Rochecliffe, D. D., came into my possession. There are many ways in which such things happen, and it is enough to say they were rescued from an unworthy fate, and that they were honestly come by. As for the authenticity of the anecdotes which I have gleaned from the writings of this excellent person, and put together with my own unrivalled facility, the name of Doctor Rochecliffe will warrant accuracy, wherever that name happens to be known.

With his history the reading part of the world are well acquainted ; and we might refer the tyro to honest Anthony A Wood, who looked up to him as one of the pillars of High Church, and bestows on him an exemplary character in the Athenae Oxonienses, although the Doctor was educated at Cambridge, England's other eye.'
The character Doctor Rochecliffe, which appears in Sir Walter Scott's "Woodstock, or the Cavalier" (text above), connects today's subject, Sir Christopher Wren, with Walter Scott.  Christopher Wren was born on October 20, 1632. 
The architect Wren is best known for his redesign of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.  The connection to the Rochecliffe character comes through a friend of Wren's uncle, Bishop Matthew Wren, who led the effort to rebuild St. Paul's after it had been damaged by Puritans.  As related by Lucy Phillimore in "Christopher Wren": 'Bishop Wren held firmly to his trust in Monk's loyalty, though many things might well have shaken his confidence.  In the curious life of Dr. John Barwick, one of the king's most faithful agents, from whom Sir Walter Scott may have taken many of the features of the indefatigable plotter 'Dr. Rochecliffe' it is said that he (Dr. Barwick) 'often heard the Right Reverend Bishop of Ely promise himself all he could wish from the General's fidelity.'   '

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sir Thomas Browne

'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 these 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 upon his mind, that, like Prospero, he mentally relinquished his art, and resolved, neither in jest nor earnest, again to practise judicial astrology.' ...'

The text above is from Walter Scott's "Guy Mannering, or the Astrologer".  The reference for today is to Sir Thomas Browne, who was born and died on the same day (October 19), seventy-seven years apart.  Browne was born in 1605, not long after James I took the throne of England.  His thinking was influenced, in part, by Francis Bacon, who Scott also includes in his text.  Browne lived well past the Restoration, passing in 1682.

His first publication was Religio Medici (1643), which discussed his Christian faith, and delved into arcane subjects such as alchemy and astrology.  This work was very influential, not only in its own time, but current with Walter Scott, with such literary figures as Lamb and Coleridge.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thomas Phillips

Portraitist Thomas Phillips was born this day (October 18) in 1770, approximately one year before Walter Scott.  He lived roughly 13 years past Scott's death.

Phillips, from Warwickshire, painted glass windows early in his career.  By the early 19th century, he had found a niche in portrait painting.  His subjects included several poets, including Byron, Coleridge, and Campbell.  Of course, one of his subjects was Walter Scott himself (probably in 1815).  In addition to the author, Phillips produced several portraits of Scott characters, including Rebecca from Ivanhoe, and Flora MacIvor from Waverley. 

According to John Lockhart, Phillips' portrait of Scott 'caught a true expression not hit upon by any of his brethren---a smile of gentle enthusiasm' .  An etching of the portrait can be viewed at:, and a fuller biography of Phillips is found at Edinburgh University's Walter Scott archive:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Battle of Neville's Cross

From Walter Scott's "Tales of a Grandfather: being the History of Scotland, from the earliest...":

'Edward the Third being absent in France, and in the act of besieging Calais, David was induced, by the pressing and urgent counsels of the French King, to renew the war, and profit by the King's absence from England. The young King of Scotland raised, accordingly, a large army, and entering England on the west frontier, he marched eastward towards Durham, harassing and wasting the country with great severity; the Scots boasting, that, now the King and his nobles were absent, there were none in England to oppose them, save priests and base mechanics.

But they were greatly deceived. The lords of the northern counties of England, together with the Archbishop of York, assembled a gallant army. They defeated the vanguard of the Scots, and came upon the main body by surprise. The English army, in which there were many ecclesiastics, bore, as their standard, a crucifix, displayed amid the banners of the nobility. The Scots had taken post among some enclosures, which greatly embarrassed their movements, and their ranks remaining stationary, were, as on former occasions, destroyed by the English arrows. Here Sir John Grahame offered his services to disperse the bowmen, if he were intrusted with a body of cavalry. But although this was the movement which decided the battle of Bannockburn, Grahame could not obtain the means of attempting it. In the mean time the Scottish army fell fast'into disorder. The King himself fought bravely in the midst of his nobles and was twice wounded with arrows. At length he was captured by John Copland, a Northumberland gentleman; the same who was made prisoner at Dunbar. He did not secure his royal captive without resistance; for in the struggle, the King dashed out two of Copland's teeth with his dagger. The left wing of the Scottish army continued fighting long after the rest were routed, and at length made a safe retreat. It was commanded by the Steward of Scotland and the Earl of March. Very many of the Scottish nobility were slain ; very many made prisoners. The King himself was led in triumph through the streets of London, and committed to the Tower a close prisoner. This battle was fought at Neville's Cross, near Durham, on 17th October, 1346.'
The Battle of Neville's Cross was part of the Second War of Scottish Independence, following, among others, Dupplin Moor, and Halidon Hill, and leading to Berwick.  King David II was captured at Neville's Cross, and held until his ransom with the Treaty of Berwick.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

James II of Scotland Born

'Robert Grahame,

That killed our king, God give him shame.
James I. had two sons ; but one dying in infancy, he left behind him only James II., who in his childhood succeeded to his father's throne. The late king had five daughters, who were married, four of them into noble families abroad, while the youngest was wedded to the earl of Angus.'

As Sir Walter Scott tells us in his "The History of Scotland", the future James II of Scotland inherited his father's throne at an early age.  James was born on October 16, 1430, and was coronated following his father's assassination on February 21, 1437.  James II was 7 years old at the time.

James' reign, which began with the violent murder of his father, was itself marred by a murder which James himself committed.  Fifteen years after his father's death, nearly to the day (February 22, 1452), James slew William, the 8th Earl of Douglas (son of James the 7th Earl and Beatrice Sinclair) at Stirling Castle.  William traveled to Stirling when James offered safe conduct so that the two could repair their relations.  The main dispute concerned an alliance William made with Alexander Lindsay.  William refused to dissolve the alliance, and James stabbed him numerous times before throwing him out a castle window.  As Scott conjectures:

'...But the reader may demand, what could be the purpose of James, if not to rid himself of his turbulent subject by death. If we are to substitute conjecture where certainty is not to be had, we may suggest the probability that the king had determined to arrest Douglas in case he was found intractable, and to detain him a hostage for the quiet demeanour of his family, until his league with the northern earls was broken, and the height of his dangerous power was in some degree diminished. There might be in this device some part of the policy, as well as the unscrupulous breach of faith, which characterised the politics of such a statesman as Crichton; and considering the vehement character of James II. and the stubborn and presumptuous disposition of the earl, it is easy to conceive how, in a personal interview betwixt two such hot and passionate spirits, the intended purpose of arrest should have been changed for one of a more bloody and decisive character.'

Friday, October 15, 2010


One of the great poets of all time, the Roman Virgil was born (named Publius Vergilius Maro) on October 15, 70BCE.  Virgil is best known for his Aeneid.  Aside from his linguistic skills, Virgil was also considered somewhat of a magus, as commented on in the notes to Walter Scott's "The Lay of the Last Minstrel", Canto VI:

'...The arts of subjecting the daemons were manifold; sometimes the fiends were actually swindled by the magicians, as in the case of the bargain betwixt one of their number and the poet Virgil. The classic reader will doubtless be curious to peruse this anecdote.

" Virgilius was at scole at Tolenton, where he stodyed dyligently, for he was of great understandynge. Upon a tyme, the scolers had lycense to go to play and sporte them in the fyldes, after the usaunce of the holde tyme. And there was also Virgilius therbye, also walkynge amonge the hylles alle about. It fortuned he spyed a great hole in the syde of a great hyll, wherein he went so depe, that he culde not see no more lyght; and then he went a lytell farther therin, and than he saw some lyght agayne, and than he went fourth streyghte, and within a lytyll wyle after he harde a voyce that called " Virgilius ! Virgilius !" and loked aboute, and he colde nat see no body. Than sayd he (i. e. the voice), " Virgilius, see ye not the lyttyll bourde lyinge bysyde you there markd with that word ?" Than answerd Virgilius, " I see that borde well anough." The voyce sayd, " Doo awaye that borde, and lette me out there atte." Than answered Virgilius to the voyce that was under the lytell borde, and sayd, " Who art thou that calles me so ?" Than answered the Devyll, " I am a devyll conjured out of the body of a certeyne man, and banysshed here tyll the day of judgemend, without that I be delyvered by the handes of men. Thus, Virgilius, I pray the, delyvere me out of this payn, and I shall shewe unto the many bokes of nygromancy, and how thou shalt come by it lyghtly, and know the practise therein, that no man in the scyence of negromancye shall passe the. And moreover, I shall shewe and enforme the so, that thou shalt have alle thy desyre, wherby mythinke it is a great gyfte for so lytyll a doynge. For ye may also thus all your power frendys helpe, and make ryche your ennemyes." Thorough that great promyse was Virgilius tempted; he badde the fynd show the bokes to him, that he might have and occupy them at his wyll, and so the fynde shewed hym. And than Virgilius pulled open a bourde, and there was a lytell hole, and therat wrang the devyll out lyke a yeel, and cam and stode by fore Virgilius lyke a bygge man; wherof Virgilius was astonied and marveyled greatly therof, that so great a man myght come out at so lytell a hole. Than sayd Virgilius, " Shulde ye well passe into the hole that ye cam out of?" " Yea, I shall well," sayd the devyll. " I holde the best plegge that I have that ye shall not do it." " Well," sayd the devyll, " therto I consent." And than the devyll wrange himselfe into the lytell hole ageyne; and as he was therein, Virgilius kyverd the hole ageyn with the bourde close, and so was the devyll begyled, and myght nat there come out agen, but abydeth shytte styll therin. Than called the devyll dredefully to Virgilius, and sayd, " What have ye done, Virgilius ?" Virgilius answerd, " Abyde there styll to your day apoynted ;" and fro thens forth abydeth he there. And so Virgilius became very connynge in the practyse of the blacke scyence."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Edward Bruce Killed in Battle of Faughart

'The Scottish chivalry;—
—With foot in stirrup, hand on mane,
Fierce Edward Bruce can scarce restrain
His own keen heart, his eager train,
Until the archers gain'd the plain ;
Then, "Mount, ye gallants free!"...'
The Bruces were known for their military skill, as Scott portrays in his poem "The Lord of the Isles".  The younger brother of Robert the Bruce helped his brother in Scotland, and was present at the Battle of Bannockburn.
A year after Bannockburn, the Bruces launched a campaign in Ireland to wrest it from English control, and open up war on two fronts against the British.  In part, their invasion was invited by the O'Neill King of Tir Eoghain, who later swore fealty to Edward Bruce.  Bruce was crowned King of Ireland in May 1318. The war was ongoing five months later, when the Battle of Faughart occurred.  Bruce's forces suffered a terrible defeat, with Edward losing his life, on October 14, 1318.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


On October 13, 1773, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell are still enjoying their trip to Scotland's Western Isles.  On that day, they ready to sail to the Isle of Mull.

Wednesday, 13th October

Col called me up, with intelligence that it was a good day for a passage to Mull; and just as we rose, a sailor from the vessel arrived for us. We got all ready with dispatch. Dr Johnson was displeased at my bustling, and walking quickly up and down. He said, 'It does not hasten us a bit. It is getting on horseback in a ship. All boys do it; and you are longer a boy than others.' He himself has no alertness, or whatever it may be called; so he may dislike it, as Oderunt hilarem tristes.

Sir Walter Scott visited Mull on his trip to the Northen Lights with Robert Stevenson in 1814.  As related in "Scott in Mull and Iona (Sir Walter Scott) ", published in Scotland Magazine (Issue 30), 'Next stop was Mull itself, and the party landed at Torloisk where Scott and a companion landed to visit an acquaintance of the poet, Mrs Maclean Clephane. But paying calls on the islands was not without hazards in those days, as Scott noted. They landed in mist, could see no house and followed a cart-track in hope. After Scott and his companion being thoroughly soaked by falling in a burn, they stumbled on the house, “in darkness, dirt and rain.” The Light-House Commissioners’ vessel then passed down the Sound of Mull, Scott observing and commenting on the sights of antiquarian interest which were passed, till they arrived at Tobermory, the little capital of an island which had a population of more than 10,000 at that time; today it is about one-quarter of that number. Scott had noted the massive build up of population on Iona, the subdivision of holdings, and “the danger of a famine in case of a year of scarcity.” The same was the case in Mull.'

Mull was an integral part of Scott's poem "The Lord of the Isles", published after Scott's Northern Lights trip in 1815:


With Bruce and Ronald hides the tale.
To favouring winds they gave the sail,
Till Mull's dark headlands scarce they knew,
And Ardnamurchan's hills were blue.
But then the squalls blew close and hard,
And, fain to strike the galley's yard,

And take them to the oar,
With these rude seas, in weary plight,
They strove the livelong day and night,
Nor till the dawning had a sight,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Columbus Lands in America

"Friday October 12

The Santa Maria, Columbus's flagship

The vessels were hove to, waiting for daylight; and on Friday they arrived at a small island of the Lucayos, called, in the language of the Indians, Guanahani. Presently they saw naked people. The Admiral went on shore in the armed boat, and Martin Alonso Pinzon, and Vicente Yanez, his brother, who was captain of the NiƱa. The Admiral took the royal standard, and the captains went with two banners of the green cross, which the Admiral took in all the ships as a sign, with an F and a Y and a crown over each letter, one on one side of the cross and the other on the other.

Having landed, they saw trees very green, and much water, and fruits of diverse kinds. The Admiral called to the two captains, and to the others who leaped on shore, and to Rodrigo Escovedo, secretary of the whole fleet, and to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, and said that they should bear faithful testimony that he, in presence of all, had taken, as he now took, possession of the said island for the King and for the Queen his Lords, making the declarations that are required, as is now largely set forth in the testimonies which were then made in writing."
Christopher Columbus landed on San Salvador on October 12, 1492, as described in the entry from his ship's journal above.  Columbus was certainly not the first European to land in what is now America (it is believed that earlier visitors include Prince Henry Sinclair), but his legacy endures. 
Sir Walter Scott did not write about Columbus, but he was instrumental in helping Washington Irving get published in Great Britain, interceding with his own publisher John Murray on Irving's behalf.  Irving wrote "History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus" in 1828.  Scott's intervention came earlier, when Irving was attempting to sell "The Sketch Book" to various British publishers.  Irving tells of Scott's service to him in the preface to the revised version of "The Sketch Book", published in 1896.  Ultimately, John Murray took on "The Sketch Book".
'This [a discouraging letter from publisher John Murray] was disheartening, and might have deterred me from any further prosecution of the matter, had the question of republication in Great Britain rested entirely with me; but I apprehended the appearance of a spurious edition. I now thought of Mr. Archibald Constable as publisher, having been treated by him with much hospitality during a visit to Edinburgh; but first I determined to submit my work to Sir Walter (then Mr.) Scott, being encouraged to do so by the cordial reception I had experienced from him at Abbotsford a few years previously, and by the favorable opinion he had expressed to others of my earlier writings. I accordingly sent him the printed numbers of the SketchBook in a parcel by coach, and at the same time wrote to him, hinting that since I had had the pleasure of partaking of his hospitality, a reverse had taken place in my affairs which made the successful exercise of my pen all-important to me; I begged him, therefore, to look over the literary articles I had forwarded to him, and, if he thought they would bear European republication, to ascertain whether Mr. Constable would be inclined to be the publisher.

The parcel containing my work went by coach to Scott's address in Edinburgh; the letter went by mail to his residence in the country. By the very first post I received a reply, before he had seen my work.

" I was down at Kelso," said he, " when your letter reached Abbotsford. I am now on my way to town, and will converse with Constable, and do all in my power to forward your views — I assure you nothing will give me more pleasure."

The hint, however, about a reverse of fortune had struck the quick apprehension of Scott, and, with that practical and efficient good will which belonged to his nature, he had already devised a way of aiding me.

A weekly periodical, he went on to inform me, was about to be set up in Edinburgh, supported by the most respectable talents, and amply furnished with all the necessary information. The appointment of the editor, for which ample funds were provided, would be five hundred pounds sterling a year, with the reasonable prospect of further advantages. This situation, being apparently at his disposal, he frankly offered to me. The work, he over, he intimated, was to have somewhat of a political bearing, and he expressed an apprehension that the tone it was desired to adopt might not suit me. " Yet I risk the question," added he, " because I know no man so well qualified for this important task, and perhaps because it will necessarily bring you to Edinburgh. If my proposal does not suit, you need only keep the matter secret, and there is no harm done. ' And for my love I pray you wrong me not.' If, on the contrary, you think it could be made to suit you, let me know as soon as possible, addressing Castle Street, Edinburgh."

In a postscript, written from Edinburgh, he adds, "I am just come here, and have glanced over the Sketch-Book. It is positively beautiful, and increases my desire to crimp you, if it be possible. Some difficulties there always are in managing such a matter, especially at the outset ; but we will obviate them as much as we possibly can."


At this juncture Scott arrived in London. I called to him for help, as I was sticking in the mire, and, more propitious than Hercules, he put his own shoulder to the wheel. Through his favorable representations, Murray was quickly induced to undertake the future publication of the work which he had previously declined. A further edition of the first volume was struck off and the second volume was put to press, and from that time Murray became my publisher, conducting himself in all his dealings with that fair, open, and liberal spirit which had obtained for him the well-merited appellation of the Prince of Booksellers.

Thus, under the kind and cordial auspices of Sir Walter Scott, I began my literary career in Europe; and I feel that I am but discharging, in a trifling degree, my debt of gratitude to the memory of that golden-hearted man in acknowledging my obligations to him.— But who of his literary contemporaries ever applied to him for aid or counsel that did not experience the most prompt, generous, and effectual assistance!'

Monday, October 11, 2010

George II and Caroline Coronated

On October 11, 1727, George August of Hanover and Caroline of Ansbach became King and Queen of Great Britain.  George was on the throne during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.  Sir Walter Scott set his "The Heart of Midlothian" during George's reign, with volume I opening with the Porteous Riots.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Edinburgh Review

On October 10, 1802, the Edinburgh Review was born.  Sir Walter Scott made several contributions to this publication, which are availabe in "The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, Bart."  Included in this work is a biographry of John Leyden, which includes the following discussion:

'In December, 1802, Leyden was summoned to join the Christmas fleet of Indiamen, in consequence of his appointment as assistant-surgeon on the Madras establishment. It was sufficiently understood that his medical character was only assumed to bring him within the compass of Mr. Dundas's patronage, and that his talents should be employed in India with reference to his literary researches. He was, however, pro forma, nominated to the Madras hospital. While awaiting this call, he bent his whole energies to the study of the Oriental languages, and amused his hours of leisure by adding to the Scenes of Infancy many of those passages addressed to his friends, and bearing particular reference to his own situation on the eve of departure from Scotland ; which, flowing warm from the heart, constitute the principal charm of that impressive poem. Mr. Ballantyne, of Kelso, an early and intimate friend of Leyden, had just then established in Edinburgh his press, which has since been so distinguished. To the critical skill of a valued and learned friend, and to the friendly, as well as professional care of Mr. Ballantyne, Leyden committed this last memorial of his love to his native land. The last sheets reached him before he left Britain, no more to return.

Upon examining these, it would appear that he imagined his critical friends had exercised, with more rigour than mercy, the prerogative of retrenchment with which he had invested them. He complains of these alterations in a letter, which is no bad picture of his manner in conversation. It is dated from the Isle of Wight, where he states himself to be " like a weathercock, veering about with every wind," expecting and hoping every moment when the boatswain's whistle should pipe all hands on board, and that he may be off from the old island for ever in fifteen minutes." I fancy," he continues, " you expect to receive a waggonload, at least, of thanks for Tour midwife skill, in swaddling my bantling so tight, that 1 fear it will be strangled in the growth ever after. On the contrary, I have in my own mind been triumphing famously over you, and your razor-witted, hair-splitting, intellectual associate, whose tastes I do not pretend to think any thing like equal to my own, though, before I left Scotland, I thought them amazingly acute ; but I fancy there is something in a London atmosphere, which greatly brightens the understanding, and furbishes the taste. This is all the vengeance you have unfortunately left in my power ; for 1 sincerely am of opinion, that you ought to have adopted the alterations in the first sheet, which 1 think most indubitably better than those you have retained. The verses you excluded were certainly the most original in all the second canto, and certainly the next best to the Spectre Ship, in the whole poem: and 1 defy you and , and the whole Edinburgh Review, to impeach their originality. ...'

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Vrouw Maria

Just two months after Walter Scott's birth, the Dutch merchant ship Vrouw Maria sank (October 9, 1771).  The Vrouw Maria was carrying several works of art purchased by Catherine the Great, in addition to some basic commodities. 

The Vrouw Maria, which has recently been located, has not inspired ghost tales like the story of The Flying Dutchman.  Of the Flying Dutchman, Sir Walter Scott wrote in his poem "Rokeby" that 'She is distinguished from earthly vessels by bearing a press of sail when other vessels are unable, from stress of weather, to show an inch of canvas.'

Friday, October 8, 2010

HMS Barham

[October 8, London.]—The King has located me on board the Barham, with my suite, consisting of my eldest son, youngest daughter, and perhaps my daughter-in-law, which, with poor Charles, will make a goodly tail. I fancy the head of this tail cuts a poor figure, scarce able to stir about.

On this day in 1831, Sir Walter Scott is in London, aboard the HMS Barham.  Originally a 74 gun ship, the Barham was reduced to 50 guns in 1826.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

History of My Own Time

On October 7, 1773, Johnson and Boswell are waiting for a break in the weather to sail to Mull ("
The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D
").  Johnson is well equiped for a long siege: 'Captain M'Lean joined us this morning at breakfast. There came on a dreadful storm of wind and rain, which continued all day, and rather increased at night. The wind was directly against our getting to Mull. We were in a strange state of abstraction from the world: we could neither hear from our friends, nor write to them. Col had brought Daille On the Fathers, Lucas On Happiness, and More's Dialogues, from the Reverend Mr M'Lean's, and Burnet's History of his own Times, from Captain M'Lean's; and he had of his own some books of farming, and Gregory's Geometry. Dr Johnson read a good deal of Burnet, and of Gregory, and I observed he made some geometrical notes in the end of his pocket-book. I read a little of Young's Six Weeks Tour through the Southern Counties; and Ovid's Epistles, which I had bought at Inverness, and which helped to solace many a weary hour.

We were to have gone with Dr Johnson this morning to see the mine; but were prevented by the storm. While it was raging, he said, 'We may be glad we are not damnati ad metalla.'

Like Samuel Johnson, Walter Scott read voraciously.  Bishop of Salisbury Gilbert Burnet's work was published in 1724 (vol 1) and 1734 (vol 2).  From "Notes and Queries (Fifth Series, Volume Seventh) - 1877)" comes this note concerning one of Walter Scott's influences: 'With reference to the extract from p. 263, the following passage from Peveril of the Peak conclusively proves, I think, that Sir Walter Scott must have seen this curiously annotated copy of Burnet. Charles II., it will be remembered, takes the Duke of Buckingham to task for anticipating him in his lawless pursuit of Alice Bridgenorth :—

"' It is harder,' said the King, in the same subdued tone, which both preserved through the rest of the conversation, ' that a wench's bright eyes can make a nobleman forget the decencies due to his sovereign's privacy.' ' May I presume to ask your Majesty what decencies are those ?' said the Duke."

Hugh A. Kennedy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Earl Percy

October 6 [1827].—Left Ravensworth this morning, and travelled as far as Whittingham with Marquis of Lothian. Arrived at Alnwick to dinner, where I was very kindly received. The Duke is a handsome man, who will be corpulent if he does not continue to take hard exercise. The Duchess very pretty and lively, but her liveliness is of that kind which shows at once it is connected with thorough principle, and is not liable to be influenced by fashionable caprice. The habits of the family are early and regular; I conceive they may be termed formal and old-fashioned by such visitors as claim to be the pink of the mode. The Castle is a fine old pile, with various courts and towers, and the entrance is magnificent. It wants, however, the splendid feature of a keep. The inside fitting up is an attempt at Gothic, but the taste is meagre and poor, and done over with too much gilding. It was done half a century ago, when this kind of taste was ill-understood. I found here the Bishop of [Gloucester], etc. etc.

On October 6, 1827, Sir Walter Scott is visiting Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland.  The Percy surname was granted by act of Parliament in 1750 to his grandfather, Hugh Smithson, when he married Elizabeth Seymour, who was Baroness Percy by birth.  Hugh Smithson the 1st had, among his children, a son James, who provided for what became the Smithsonian Institution, and as son Hugh, who fathered the Hugh that Scott knew.  Percy was a Tory politician, who served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, beginning a little more than a year after Scott's Journal entry.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Leibniz and Clarke

On October 5, 1773, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson were still enjoying their sojourn in the Western Isles.  From Boswell's "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides": 'After breakfast, Dr Johnson and I, and Joseph, mounted horses, and Col and the captain walked with us about a short mile across the island. We paid a visit to the Reverend Mr Hector M'Lean. His parish consists of the islands of Col and Tyr-yi. He was about seventy-seven years of age, a decent ecclesiastick, dressed in a full suit of black clothes, and a black wig. He appeared like a Dutch pastor, or one of the assembly of divines at Westminster. Dr Johnson observed to me afterwards, 'that he was a fine old man, and was as well-dressed, and had as much dignity in his appearance as the dean of a cathedral'. We were told, that he had a valuable library, though but poor accomodation for it, being obliged to keep his books in large chests. It was curious to see him and Dr Johnson together. Neither of them heard very distinctly; so each of them talked in his own way, and at the same time. Mr M'Lean said, he had a confutation of Bayle, by Leibnitz. JOHNSON. 'A confutation of Bayle, sir! What part of Bayle do you mean? The greatest part of his writings is not confutable: it is historical and critical.' Mr M'Lean said, 'the irreligious part'; and proceeded to talk of Leibnitz's controversy with Clarke, calling Leibnitz a great man. JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, Leibnitz persisted in affirming that Newton called space sensorium numinis, notwithstanding he was corrected, and desired to observe that Newton's words were quasisensorium numinis. No, sir, Leibnitz was as paltry a fellow as I know. Out of respect to Queen Caroline, who patronized him, Clarke treated him too well.'...'

The discussion that the Johnson party is holding alludes to Huguenot philosopher Pierre Bayle's discussion of the problem of evil, with the issue boiling down to: if God is almighty, then He is able to prevent evil; if God is all-good, then He is willing to prevent evil; but there is evil; therefore, God is either unable or unwilling to prevent evil.  British philosopher Samuel Clarke was slightly later than Bayle and the German Gottfried Leibniz.

Sir Walter Scott includes reference to Leibniz in "The Edinburgh Annual Register, volume 1", which he published.  The references are to Leibniz' calculus, Leibniz being a mathematician as well as a philosopher: '...This singular coincidence in the two methods (Isaac Newton and Leibniz developing a similar calculus) gave origin to a most violent controversy between the British and continental mathematicians.  Some of the younger British mathematicians accused Leibnitz of having stolen his method from Newton; Leibnitz complained of this to the Royal Society, of which Sir Isaac Newton was president...'.  The outcome of Leibniz' complaint was that Newton felt the accusations were well founded.  The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence itself concerns Leibniz' thinking on relational space, in a dispute in which Newton and Clarke favored a concept of absolute space.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

'The question introduced a contradiction on the part of the host, who contended that three and one made four, not six; and this again produced a retort from the Ratisbon trader.  Other clamours rose at the same time, and were at length with difficulty silenced by the stanzas of a chorus song of mirth and good fellowship, which the friar, now become somewhat oblivious of the order of Saint Francis, thundered forth with better good-will than he ever sung a canticle of King David...'

Saint Francis is referenced twice in the pages of Walter Scott's "Anne of Geierstien" (one above).  Blessings of the animals continue to this day in Catholic churches on Saint Francis's feast day.  Saint Francis actually died on October 3, 1226.  On October 4, Francis's body was carried in a procession through his home town of Assisi, where all could view his stigmata.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Robert Barclay

Robert Barclay, the author of "An Apology for the True Christian Divinity", died on October 3, 1690.  Barclay is known for his view that all people can be illuminated by the inner light of Christ.  Like fellow Quaker George Fox, Barclay had an influence on Sir Walter Scott's ancestors.  From the 1843 edition of "Rob Roy" published by Robert Cadell:

'There is yet another link betwixt the author and the simple-minded and excellent Society of Friends, through a proselyte of much more importance than Walter Scott of Raeburn. The celebrated John Swinton, of Swinton, sixth baron in descent of that ancient and once powerful family, was, with Sir William Lockhart of Lee, the person whom Cromwell chiefly trusted in the management of the Scottish affairs during his usurpation. After the Restoration, Swinton was devoted as a victim to the new order of things, and was brought down in the same vessel which conveyed the Marquis of Argyle to Edinburgh, where that nobleman was tried and executed. Swinton was destined to the same fate. He had assumed the habit, and entered into the Society of the Quakers, and appeared as one of their number before the Parliament of Scotland. He renounced all legal defense, though several pleas were open to him, and answered, in conformity to the principles of his sect, that at the time these crimes were imputed to him, he was in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity; but that God Almighty having since called him to the light, he saw and acknowledged these errors, and did not refuse to pay the forfeit of them, even though, in the judgment of the Parliament, it should extend to life itself.

Respect to fallen greatness, and to the patience and calm resignation with which a man once in high power expressed himself under such a change of fortune, found Swinton friends; family connexions, and some interested considerations of Middleton the Commissioner, joined to procure his safety, and he was dismissed, but after a long imprisonment, and much dilapidation of his estates. It is said, that Swinton's admonitions, while confined in the Castle of Edinburgh, had a considerable share in converting to the tenets of the Friends Colonel David Barclay, then lying there in the garrison. This was the father of Robert Barclay, author of the celebrated Apology for the Quakers. It may be observed among the inconsistencies of human nature, that Kirkton, Wodrow, and other Presbyterian authors, who have detailed the sufferings of their own sect for non-conformity with the established church, censure the government of the time for not exerting the civil power against the peaceful enthusiasts we have treated of, and some express particular chagrin at the escape of Swinton. Whatever might be his motives for assuming the tenets of the Friends, the old man retained them faithfully till the close of his life.

Jean Swinton, grand-daughter of Sir John Swinton, son of Judge Swinton, as the Quaker was usually termed, was mother of Anne Rutherford, the author's mother.'

Saturday, October 2, 2010


On October 2, 1773, Johnson and Boswell's tour of the Western Isles is still situated at Skye.  Boswell records an observation on the state of emigration from Skye: '...Mrs M'Kinnon told me, that last year when a ship sailed from Portree for America, the people onshore were almost distracted when they saw their relations go off; they lay down on the ground, tumbled, and tore the grass with their teeth. This year there was not a tear shed. The people on shore seemed to think that they would soon follow. This indifference is a mortal sign for the country...'

Walter Scott also published a book on the Western Isles, which was based on letters written by John MacCulloch, a Scottish geologist, to Walter Scott.  "The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland" was published in 1824, based on correspondence between the years 1811 - 1821.  Included, is this description of the Portree area:

'The coast-line of Sky is almost every where rocky, and, very commonly, rude and wild. From Strathaird, all the way round by the west to Portree, it is, with a few exceptions in the lochs, a continued range of cliffs, ofteu rising to three, four, or even to six hundred feet; in a few cases, exceeding even this height. The remainder is rarely very high; but it is every where rocky, and interspersed with headlands and small bays or sinuosities. The rivers are of no note; and, excepting Coruisk, Loch Creich, and Loch Colmkill, there are no lakes that deserve a much higher name than pools. Loch na Caplich is the only one of those that is worthy of notice; and it is rendered so by containing that rare plant the Eriocaulon, known, as a British plant, here only, till I found it in Coll.

The north-east coast, from Portree, is a perfect storehouse of geology. It is not very good seamanship, I admit, to put all the ballast in one boat and all the sail in another; but having nearly foundered under the weight of my last literary and scientific cargo, I have determined to throw all the lumber overboard now, and to carry all the sail I can. Perhaps you may think me overmasted, and in want of a reef now and then; and I will therefore throw you in a hundred weight of ballast at present, as a great favour.'

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bannatyne Manuscript

The month of October began in 1568 with the publication of the Bannatyne Manuscript, by George Bannatyne.  This work presented a collection of Middle (15th and 16th century) Scots poetry.  Sir Walter Scott, honoring Bannatyne, later formed the Bannatyne Club to publish Scottish works.  In 1829, the club published "Memorials of George Bannatyne (1545 - 1608)", which included Scott's own "Memoir of George Bannatyne", which begins:




By Sir Walter Scott, Bart.

THE pious care with which fome of our affociates have fearched out every particular which Time has fpared
refpecting the honoured Patron under whofe name our Inftitution is formed, has been materially aided by the difcovery of George Bannatyne's " Memoriall Buik," in the poffeffion of his defcendant, Sir James Foulis of Woodhall, Baronet, who has obligingly lent it for that purpofe. The refult of the enquiry does not indeed throw much light on his perfonal charader, or the incidents of his life, but yet conveys to the Members of the Bannatyne Club 1 fome information which cannot but be acceptable. It is interefting to learn, that the indefatigable preferver of Scottifh literature was by birth, education, and fortune, above the middling clafs of fociety; and ftill of greater confequence to know, that in an age of inveterate feuds and bloody violence, the
outrages of the time did not reach the lover of the Mufes, by whofe unwearied exertions fo much of the ancient Scottifh poetry has been preferved from oblivion...'