British Fiction, 18001829

SCOTT, Sir Walter. Guy Mannering (1815)

Contemporary Reviews

La Belle Assemblée, n.s. 12 (Nov 1815): 236–37.

The influx of common place novels have been this year as abundant as ever; but a woeful dearth has taken place in the more excellent works of fiction. We are happy, therefore, whenever a real good novel falls in our way to notice it: for the sentimental trash which monthly issues form the press, our pages have no room, our sole aim being, while we amuse our fair readers, to improve their taste by recommending only to them works of excellence, morality, and instruction.

Guy Mannering, is one of those unexceptionable novels, in point of morality and amusement, which may be safely perused with pleasure by the eye of fancy and discernment; yet, like its predecessor, Waverley, it is rather in some parts too heavy and diffuse; like, as in Waverley, the author dwells too much on the manners of one particular country, which, to those who have never visited that country, renders many of the passing scenes uninteresting. The story is briefly this.

Guy Mannering, a young student of Oxford, travelling in the south-west of Scotland, is benighted and hospitably received at the house of Godfrey Bertram, Esq. Laird of Ellengowan. This Bertram is of an ancient family, but inherits from his ancestors no great portion of landed property. Just as Mannering enters the house, Mrs. Bertram is taken in labour, and the Oxonian, who pretends to some smattering in astrology, draws the horoscope of the new-born infant; whom, like the son of Dryden, he finds threatened with danger at three successive periods of his life. Those evil times for the young heir, are, however, at his fifth, his tenth, and twenty-first year. After performing this mummery, he leaves his predictions carefully sealed up, under an injunction that they shall not be opened till the ‘native’ had passed the first threatened period. He then mounts his horse, and is heard no more of for three-and-twenty years. Ellengowan is close to the sea, and affords a point for smugglers and gypsies, who are main agents to the plot. One of the gipsies, named Meg Merrilies, a fortune-teller, who sings ballads, seems the pivot on which the whole story turns, and this is one of those incidents out of nature which are scattered here and there in this novel.

Mr. Bertram has long been at peace both with the gipsies and smugglers, perhaps, indeed, there might be a little connivance with the latter: however, he becomes a magistrate, and of course, a persecutor against the sybil race, whom at last he succeeds in banishing his estate: on the day of their departure, he is met by them and receives a dreadful denunciation from Meg, which, like Guy Mannering’s astrological predictions, is accomplished: for on the day that Henry Bertram has completed his fifth year, he and his tutor are met by a gauger who is in pursuit of a gang of smugglers. The gauger hurries the child from its preceptor; the gauger is murdered by the smugglers, and the child carried away to Holland, through a rogueish attorney, who, in process of time, becomes the proprietor of the Bertram estate. The grief of Mrs. Bertram, at the loss of her son, kills her as she gives birth to a daughter; and, after seventeen years of poverty and obscurity, Mr. Bertram becomes totally ruined; his estate is purchased by the villainous attorney, and his daughter becomes a dependent on the bounty of Mannering, who, having acquired an handsome fortune in India, returns to visit the Laird of Ellengowan. He arrives at the critical moment of Mr. Bertram’s death, and the sale of all his household furniture.

During the absence of Mannering he had married a lady for love, by whom he has a daughter, and, jealous of his wife, he imagines that the attentions paid by one Ensign Brown to his daughter, were intended for her mother; he, therefore, fights a duel with him, and, as he imagines, mortally wounds the young Ensign; his wife soon after dies, and the Colonel returns to England with a sentimental daughter, and a conscience disturbed with the idea of having contributed to his wife’s death, and that of young Brown; he had, however, just before, cast the nativity of his wife, and found that she was to die in her thirty-ninth year, and this exactly coincided with the twenty-first year of the young Bertram. This discovers rather too easily to the reader that Brown and Henry Bertram is the same person: he, however, recovers, and by following Miss Julia to her different dwellings, he gives great uneasiness to her father as an anonymous suitor; for he does not at all suspect it is Brown. To remove at once his daughter from this dangerous admirer, and also to give an asylum to his adopted child, Miss Bertram, he desire to purchase Ellengowan, but is anticipated by the attorney, and the Colonel is forced to take up with a house he finds in the neighbourhood.

Mr. Brown follows Miss Mannering to her northern retreat, where she witnesses her father’s remorse for the death of the young Ensign, we must say, with rather too much sang froid.

After many escapes from the artifice of the at-[236/237]torney, and the violence of the smugglers, Bertram is restored to his estates through Meg Merrilies, while she, the attorney, and the smugglers, all die by one another’s hands. Young Bertram marries Miss Mannering, and his sister has also a lover to whom she gives her hand, the young Laird of Haslewood.

The language is very much the same as that of Waverley, it is chiefly composed of a dialect at once vulgar and uncouth: while an extravagance accompanies that of the higher characters in the story. The novel is, however, as we said before, one of a superior order, and to give our readers a specimen of its style, we have selected the following passages:—

The departure of the gipsies when the denunciation is given by Meg Merrilies, is thus described:—

‘It was in a hollow way, near the top of a steep ascent upon the verge of the Ellengowan estate, that Mr. Bertram met the gipsy procession. Four or five men formed the advanced guard, wrapped in long loose great coats, that hid their tall slender figures, as the large slouched hats, drawn over their brows, concealed their wild features, dark eyes, and swarthy faces. Two of them carried long fowling-pieces, on wore a broad sword without a sheath, and all had the highland dirk, though they did not wear that weapon openly or ostentatiously. Behind them followed the train of laden asses, and small carts, or tumblers, as they were called in that country, on which were laid the decrepid and the helpless, the aged and the infant part of the exiled community. The women, in their red cloaks and straw hats, the elder children with their bare heads and bare feet, and almost naked bodies, had the immediate care of the little caravan. The road was narrow, running between two broken banks of sand, and Mr Bertram’s servant rode forward, smacking his whip with an air of authority, and motioning to their drivers to allow free passage to their betters. His signal was unattended to. He then called to the men, who lounged idly on before, “Stand to your beast’s heads, and make room for the Laird to pass.”—“He shall have his share of the road,” answered a male gipsy, from under his slouched and large brimmed hat, and without raising his face, “and he shall have no more; the highway is as free to our cuddies as to his gelding.” ’

Meg Merrilies presenting herself, is amongst the best descriptions in the work.

‘She was standing upon one of those high banks, which, as we before noticed, overhung the road; so that she was placed considerably higher than Ellengowan, even though he was on horseback; and her tall figure, relieved against the clear blue sky, seemed almost of supernatural height. We have noticed, that there was in her general attire, or rather in her mode of adjusting it, somewhat of a foreign costume, artfully adopted perhaps from some traditional notions respecting the dress of her ancestors. On this occasion, she had a large piece of red cotton cloth rolled about her head in the form of a turban, from beneath which her dark eyes flashed with uncommon lustre. Her long and tangled black hair fell in elf locks from the folds of this singular head gear. Her attitude was that of a sybil in frenzy, and she stretched out, in her right hand, a sapling bough which seemed just pulled.’

All this, however descriptive, borders on the extravagant, and is unlike the modern gipsies of the present day; her denunciation is in the same style of mingled bombast, Scotch dialect, and vulgar prophecy.

‘ “Ride your ways, Laird of Ellengowan,—ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram!—This day have ye quenched seven smoking hearths.—See if the fire in your ain parlor burn the blyther for that.—Ye have riven the thack of seven cottar houses,—look if your ain roof-tree stand the faster.—Ye may stable your stirks in the shealings at Dunclough, see that the hare does not couch on the hearthstone of Ellengowan.—Ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram,—what do ye glowr after our folk for?—There’s thirty hearts there, that wad hae wanted bread ere ye had wanted sunkets, and spent their life blood ere ye had scratched your finger:—yes,—there’s thirty yonder, form the auld wife of an hundred, to the babe that was born last week, that ye have turned out of their bits of bields, to sleep with the tod and the black cock in the muirs! Ride your ways, Ellengowan. —Our bairns are hinging at our weary backs,—look that your braw cradle at haim be the fairer spread up,—not that I am wishing ill to little Harry, or to the babe that’s yet to be born;—God forbid, and make them kind to the poor, and better folk than their father:—and now, ride e’en your ways, for these are the last words ye’ll ever hear Meg Merrilies speak, and this is the last reise that I’ll ever cut in the bonny woods of Ellengowan.” ’

The above may be the dialect of the old highland crone, but is not the language generally held by the gipsy, who belongs to no one particular country more than another.

Notes: Format: 3 vols 12mo.

Critical Review, 5th ser. 1 (June 1815): 600–03.

This work is creditable to the talents of the author, be he whom he may. It revives the animated portraits of Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, and other novellists skilled in the intricacies of human nature. It displays superior claims to approbation; but we must lament, that it is too often written in language unintelligible to all, except the Scotch.

Lady Morgan, and the Edgeworths, have been warm advocates for their country; but their delineations are strictly national, without being enveloped in vernacular drapery. They are graceful in simplicity; admirable in pathos: they are true to nature; and arouse the approbation of sensibility.

With the exception of language, these are the pretensions of our anonymous author. His observations on life are prompt and comprehensive: his descriptions, minute and conclusive. In developing the mind of man, he traces it, as it were, throughout a labyrinth; and he may be styled the modern painter of life and manners.

We are not, however, aware that we can exclusively compliment the morality of the piece. It advocates duelling; encourages a taste for peeping into futurity—a taste by far too prevalent; and it is not over nice on religious topics. Guy Mannering is an Englishman, an Oxford scholar, who encounters a variety of adventures during a journey to the North. He eventually arrives at the residence of Godfrey Bertram, laird of Ellangowan. This noble Scot was of high descent; but his hereditary fortunes had been considerably decreased by occasional forfeitures to the crown. Here the mystic ceremonies begin. The lady of the laird is just about to present her husband with an heir; and Guy Mannering undertakes to cast the infant’s nativity. The operations of this prediction form a leading feature in the tale. To this, so far as relates to its morality, we professedly object; and the dangerous tendency of this lesson is impressively heightened by the introduction of a modern Hecate, y’cleped—MEG MERILIES [sic].

This mysterious personage, however, is merely denominated as the head of a gypsey clan—we introduce the mystic hag singing—

‘ “Canny moment, lucky fit;
Is the lady lighter yet?
Be it lad, or be it lass,
Sign wi’ cross ; and sain wi’ mass!” [600/601]

‘Her appearance made Mannering start. She was full six feet high, wore a man’s great coat over the rest of her dress, had in her hand a goodly sloe thorn cudgel, and in all points of her equipment, except her petticoats, seemed rather masculine than feminine; her dark elf locks shot out like the locks of a gorgon, between an old fashioned bonnet and a bongraie, heightening the singular effect of her strong and weather-beaten features, which they perfectly shaded, while her eyes had a wild roll that indicated something like real or affected insanity.’

Advancing to the laird, she demanded, in terms we cannot translate, who kept off the spells from his child; and then, without waiting a reply, repeated her song—

‘ “Trevoil, vervain, John’s wort, dill,
Hinders witches of their will;
Weel is them, that weel may,
Fast upon St. Andrew’s day.

‘ “Saint Bride and her brat,
Saint Culme and her cat,
Saint Michael and his spear,
Keeps the house frae relf and wear.” ’

Mannering enters into a controversy with Meg Merilies, whom he confounds with sententious scraps from Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Diocles, Aracenna, &c.—The scene ends with our astrologers presenting his host with a sealed paper, under a solemn charge that it be not opened for five years. This is the talisman of the infant’s future destiny; who is, however, lost almost as soon as born.

Possibly all this may be true to nature, as the Scotch have not yet thrown off their belief in witchcraft, and continue bigots to the influence of second sight. Many pages are devoted to the history of this clan of gypsies, who are a lawless marauding crew, very like our Norwood community. But the singularities of Meg Merilies are drawn with peculiar vigour. At moments the solemnities of her incantation approach to sublimity. There is an awful wildness about her manner and address, that gives an almost supernatural character to her eccentricity.

‘In a retreat of the gypseys, their rear was brought up by Meg Merilies, who halted, with a well grown sapling in her hand; and thus, addressed her persecutor as he passed her:

‘ “Ride your ways, laird of Ellangowan—ride your ways, [601/602] Godfrey Bertram! this day have ye quenched seven smoking hearths—see if the fire in your ain parlour burn the blither for that. Ye have riven the thack off seven cottages—look if your ain roof-tree stand the faster. Ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram; what do you glour after our folk for? There’s thirty hearts there, that wad hae wanted bread ere ye had wanted sunkets, and spent their life-blood ere ye had scratched a finger. Yes, there’s yonder, from the auld wife of an hundred, to the babe that was born last week, that ye have turned out to sleep with the tod and the black cock in the muirs! Ride your ways, Ellangowan. Our bairns are hinging at our weary backs—look that your braw c[ra]dle at hame be the fairer spread up—not that I am wishing ill to little Harry, or to the babe that’s yet to be born. God forbid—and make them kind to the poor, and better folk than their father. And now, ride e’en your ways, for these are the last words ye’ll ever hear Meg Merilies speak, and this is the last reise I’ll ever cut in the bony woods of Ellangowan.”’

So saying, she broke the sapling she held in her hand, and flung it into the road.

These descriptions are in the true spirit of witchcraft. The poetry proclaims the energy of W. Scott; and the general language of Meg Merilies breathes the inspiration of superhuman agency.

At another time certain travellers encountered a mischance at night in a snow storm. Their carriage was buried in the snow; the postillion proposed to reconnoitre a distant light which glimmered in their view; but one of the party undertakes the enquiry, and leaves his companion to await his return. Proceeding, he discovers the light to issue from a decayed castle: he approaches; and listens, with surprise, to the following rhapsody, from a female voice—

‘ “Wasted, weary, wherefore stay,
Wrestling thus with earth and clay?
From the body pass away;
Hark! the mass is singing.

‘ “From thee doff thy mortal weed,
Mary Mother be thy speed,
Saints to help thee at thy need;
Hark! the knell is ringing.

‘ “Fear not snow driving fast,
Sleet, or hail, or Ievin blast;
Soon the shroud shall lap the fast,
And the sleep be on the cast
That shall ne’er know waking. [602/603]

‘ “Haste thee, haste thee to begone,
Earth flits fast, and time draws on,
Gasp thy gasp, and groan thy groan.

‘The songstress paused; and was answered by two or three hollow groans, that seemed to proceed from the very agonies of the mortal strife.’

The gypsey, in order to procure a passage for the soul of the dying man, opened the door; and like Macbeth’s witches, vociferated

‘ “Open lock—end strife:
Come death; and pass life.” ’

The door was unbarred; and presented the form of Meg Merilies to the astonished traveller. He soon, however, became composed; for this was not his first encounter with the hag—who viewed him with a sort of ambiguous kindness. At the present moment, she feared the danger which awaited him, and resolved on protecting him. The banditti might arrive, and then his fate would be inevitable. To avert impending danger, she concealed him in an obscure corner of a dungeon, and proceeded to wake the corpse.

In this state he remained all night. Unseen himself, he beheld all that passed on the arrival of the banditti. His portmanteau was brought in—broke open—and the spoil divided. All night these wretches celebrated a carousal over the corpse: but the protegée of the hag escapes, through her contrivance in the morning; when the banditti sally forth to bury their dead companion.

At parting Meg Merilies gave him a greasy leather purse: he would have refused the present, but she awed him into an acceptance, and with hasty strides mysteriously disappeared.

This traveller, who appears under the assumed name of Brown, is, in reality, the young Bertram, whose nativity had been cast by Guy Mannering and who was carried off as it afterwards appears by smugglers. He undergoes a variety of fortune; becomes a lieutenant under Colonel Mannering, the astrologer; and is eventually recognized to be the long lost heir of the laird of Ellangowan.

The machinery incidental to this dénouement is full of the marvellous: it displays the potency of second light [sic], in the hag Meg Merilies, through whose sagacity, or rather preternatural capacity, the whole plot is wound up to a conclusion. Still we repeat, that the characters are drawn by the hand of a master.

Notes: Format: 3 vols 8vo; no price. Publisher: Longman & Co.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 77 (May 1815): 85–94.

Our general remarks on the genius which dictated the excellent romance of Waverley are equally applicable to this second production of the same artist; and our critical task on the present occasion, therefore, will be confined to a much narrower compass. In point of style, the two works evidently display the hand of the same master. They are at least a resemblance of each other, ‘qualem decet esse sororum;’ and, if the one never rises to the epic dignity which, in part, characterizes the other, the inferiority is only to he attributed to their different lots in life: Waverley having been placed among scenes of high national interest and importance, while Guy Mannering is confined to those of a domestic, and, in great part, of a low and vulgar character. Still the consummate observation of all the striking varieties of life and manners, the power of picturesque description which is not more conspicuously exerted in the [85/86] portraiture of lakes and mountains than of a cottage fire-side or a gipsey’s hovel, and the talent which confers the effect of reality on all that it presents to the imagination, are equally eminent in both; and, on a comparison of performances so alike and yet so different, it is impossible, we think, to say that the one is deserving, in a general manner, to be set up as an object of preference above the other.

In point of story, however, to novel-readers in general, Guy Mannering must possess a decided superiority over his elder brother; and if to our own feelings the case may be very different, this is a mere matter of taste. Yet one strong and glaring objection may be urged against the later production, arising from the circumstance to which it owes its second title. That circumstance is in itself much too unimportant to have been elevated to the dignity of a godfather; and, in one respect, it is lucky that this is the case, since, had it been rendered more prominent, its gross improbability,— or, to speak more correctly, its absolute moral impossibility,— would have justly condemned the bantling which had the misfortune to be named after it. If the anecdote which has been reported, of the calculation said to have been made by Dryden respecting his son’s nativity, and its accomplishment, be set up by the author of Guy Mannering as a justification of his own puerile fiction, we must reply that, even if we placed implicit reliance (which we certainly do not) on the credibility of the Dryden-story, we should, for that very reason, be so much the less inclined to admit that which is here related; since the improbability of the first event happening must increase, we know not how many millions of times, that of a similar fact ever again occurring. Moreover, the prediction in the novel, embracing a double set of contingencies, and extending to two individuals, is rendered even in itself more unlikely to meet its accomplishment than that of which our great poet is the reported author, in a ratio which, we believe, Demoivre’s highest numerical calculation of chances does not extend. On the other hand, if it should be alleged that this principle of calculation is not admissible into the regions of romance, we answer that we have no objection to enter into those favoured climes whenever we are fairly and legitimately summoned thither: but that, in a species of writing which founds its only claim to our favour on the reality of its pictures and images, the introduction of any thing that is diametrically contrary to all our ordinary principles of belief and action is as gross a violation of every rule of composition as the appendage of a fish’s tail to a woman’s head and shoulders, of the assemblage of any others the most discordant images single canvas. [86/87]

Having thus freely represented what we consider to be the principal and indeed the only serious blemish in this highly picturesque and amusing work, we shall not tire our readers by attempting a frigid analysis of a story which, though of sufficient interest to keep awake the attention of the most habitual novel-reader, possesses no very superior claims to distinction on the ground of originality, and is besides of too complicated a nature to be abridged within reasonable limits. We rather conclude that we shall here perform our duty in a manner more acceptable to our readers, as well as more agreeable to ourselves, by laying before them some of the scenes and characters which are dispersed through the performance. The first portrait which we shall exhibit is that of the simple, honest, affectionate, and excentric being who filled the respectable office of chaplain in the family of the Laird of Ellangowan, and who acts a very conspicuous and always entertaining part in the drama before us:

‘Though we have said so much of the Laird himself, it still remains that we make the reader in some degree acquainted with his companion. This was Abel Sampson, commonly called, from his occupation as a pedagogue, Dominie Sampson. He was of low birth, but having evinced, even from his cradle, an uncommon seriousness of disposition, the poor parents were encouraged to hope, that their bairn, as they expressed it, “might wag his pow in a pulpit yet.” With an ambitious view to such a consummation, they pinched and pared, rose early and lay down late, eat dry bread and drank cold water, to secure to Abel the means of learning. Meantime, his tall ungainly figure, his taciturn and grave manners, and some grotesque habits of swinging his limbs, and screwing his visage while reciting his task, made poor Sampson the ridicule of all his school-companions. The same qualities secured him at college a plentiful share of the same sort of notice. Half the youthful mob “of the yards” used to assemble regularly to see Dominie Sampson, (for he had already attained that honourable title,) descend the stairs from the Greek class, with his Lexicon under his arm, his long mis-shapen legs sprawling abroad, and keeping awkward time to the play of his immense shoulder-blades, as they raised and depressed the loose and thread-bare black coat which was his constant and only wear. When he spoke, the efforts of the professor were totally inadequate to restrain the inextinguishable laughter of the students, and sometimes even to repress his own. The long sallow visage, the goggle eyes, the huge under-jaw, which appeared not to open and shut by an act of volition, but to be dropped and hoisted up again by some complicated machinery within the inner man, the harsh and dissonant voice, and the screech-owl notes to which it was exalted when he was exhorted to pronounce more distinctly, all added fresh subject for mirth to the torn-cloak and shattered shoe, which have afforded legitimate subjects of raillery against the poor scholar from Juvenal’s time downward. It was never known that Sampson either exhibited irritability at this ill [87/88] usage, or made the least attempt to retort upon his tormentors. He slunk from college by the most secret paths he could discover, and plunged himself into his miserable lodging, where, for eighteen-pence a-week, he was allowed the benefit of a straw mattress, and if his landlady was in good humour, permission to study his task by her fire. Under all these disadvantages, he obtained a competent knowledge of Greek and Latin, and some acquaintance with the sciences.

‘In progress of time, Abel Sampson, probationer of divinity, was admitted to the privileges of a preacher. But, alas! partly from his own bashfulness, partly owing to a strong disposition to risibility which pervaded the congregation upon his first attempt, he became totally incapable of proceeding in his intended discourse, gasped, grinned, hideously rolled his eyes till the congregation thought them flying out of his head, shut the Bible, stumbled down the pulpit-stairs, trampling upon the old women who generally take their station there, and was ever after designated as a “stickit minister.” And thus he wandered back to his own country, with blighted hopes and prospects, to share the poverty of his parents. As he had neither friend nor confidant, hardly even an acquaintance, no one had the means of observing closely, how Dominie Sampson bore a disappointment which supplied the whole town where it happened with a week’s sport. It would be endless even to mention the numerous jokes to which it gave birth, from a ballad, called “Sampson’s Riddle,” written upon the subject by a smart young student of humanity, to the sly hope of the principal, that the fugitive had not taken the college-gates along with him in his retreat.

‘To all appearance the equanimity of Sampson was unshaken. He sought to assist his parents by teaching a school, and soon had plenty of scholars, but very few fees. In fact, he taught the sons of farmers for what they chose to give him, and the poor for nothing; and, to the shame of the former be it spoken, the pedagogue’s gains never equalled those of a skilful ploughman. He wrote, however, a good hand, and added something to his pittance by copying accounts and writing letters for Ellangowan. By degrees, the Laird, who was much estranged from general society, became partial to that of Dominie Sampson. Conversation, it is true, was out of the question, but the Dominie was a good listener, and stirred the fire with some address. He attempted also to snuff the candles, but was unsuccessful, and relinquished that ambitious post of courtesy after having twice reduced the parlour to total darkness. So his civilities, in future, were confined to taking off his glass of ale in exactly the same time and measure with the Laird, and in uttering certain indistinct murmurs of acquiescence at the conclusion of the long and winding stories of Ellangowan.

‘Upon one of these occasions, he presented for the first time to Mannering his tall, gaunt, awkward, boney figure, attired in a thread-bare suit of black, with coloured handkerchief, not over clean, about his sinewy, scraggy neck, and his nether person arrayed in grey breeches, dark-blue stockings, clouted shoes, and small copper buckles.’ [88/89]

The description of the gipsies, whose community for a long time found harbour in the grounds of the good-natured Laird, and whose expulsion from them forms the æra from which flow all the misfortunes of his house and the strange adventures of his son, (which are the principal subjects of the novel,) is equally original and powerful: but it is difficult to select any passages that will bring the picture with sufficient force before the reader. The colouring bestowed on the terrible ‘Meg Merrilies,’ the most remarkable personage of this lawless groupe, is of a character more wildly sublime than any that is to be found in the most nearly corresponding features of Waverley. We cannot, however, restrain ourselves from quoting rather largely from that part of the history which relates to the mysterious disappearance of the little boy who becomes the hero of the succeeding adventures. The two additional persons introduced on this occasion are Frank Kennedy, the gauger, and Dirk Hatteraick, a Dutch smuggler; the latter of whom has long carried on his depredations on the coast in league with the gipsey-gang, under the imagined security of acquiescence from the Laird of Ellangowan. The origin of this extraordinary transaction is thus related:

‘There was, at this period, employed as a riding officer or supervisor, in that part of the country, a certain Francis Kennedy, already named in our narrative; a stout, resolute, and active man, who had made seizures to a great amount, and was proportionally hated, by those who had an interest in the fair-trade, as they called these contraband adventurers. This person was natural son to a gentleman of good family, owing to which circumstance, and to his being of a jolly convivial disposition, and singing a good song, he was admitted to the occasional society of the gentlemen of the country, and was a member of several of their clubs for practising athletic games, at which he was particularly expert.

‘At Ellangowan, Kennedy was a frequent and always an acceptable guest. His vivacity relieved Mr. Bertram of the trouble of thought, and the labour which it cost him to support a detailed communication of ideas; while the daring and dangerous exploits which he had undertaken in the discharge of his office, formed excellent conversation. To all these revenue-adventures did the Laird of Ellangowan seriously incline, and the amusement which he derived from his society formed an excellent reason for countenancing and assisting the narrator in the execution of his invidious and hazardous duty.

‘ “Frank Kennedy,” he said, “ was a gentleman, though on the wrong side of the blanket—he was connected with the family of Ellangowan through the house of Glengubble. The last Laird of Glengubble would have brought the estate into the Ellangowan line, but happening to go to Harrigate, he there met with Miss Jean Hadaway—by the bye, the Green Dragon at Harrigate is the best house of the two—but for Frank Kennedy, he’s in one sense a [89/90] gentleman born, and it’s a shame not to support him against these blackguard smugglers.”

‘After this league had taken place between judgement and execution, it chanced that Captain Dirk Hatteraick had landed a cargo of spirits, and other contraband goods, upon the beach not far from Ellangowan, and confiding in the indifference with which the Laird had formerly regarded similar infractions of the law, he was neither very anxious to conceal nor to expedite the transaction. The consequence was, that Mr. Frank Kennedy, armed with a warrant from Ellangowan, and supported by some of the Laird’s people who knew the country, and by a party of military, poured down upon the kegs, bales, and bags, and, after a desperate affray, in which severe wounds were given and received, succeeded in clapping the broad arrow upon the articles, and bearing them off in triumph to the next custom-house. Dirk Hatteraick vowed in Dutch, German, and English, a deep and full revenge, both against the gauger and his abettors; and all who knew him thought it likely he would keep his word.’

A few days afterward, Frank Kennedy was seen, one afternoon, gallopping up the avenue which led to the house of Ellangowan, where he ‘arrived in high spirits.’

‘ “For the love of life, Ellangowan,” he said, “get up to the castle! you’ll see that old fox Dirk Hatteraick, and his Majesty’s hounds in full cry after him.” So saying, he slung his horse’s bridle to a boy, and ran up the ascent to the old castle, followed by the Laird, and indeed by several others of the family, alarmed by the sound of guns from the sea, now distinctly heard.

‘On gaining that part of the ruins which commanded the most extensive outlook, they saw a lugger, with all her canvass crowded, standing across the bay, closely pursued by a sloop of war, that kept firing upon the chase from her bows, which the lugger returned with her stern-chasers. “They’re but at long bowls yet,” cried Kennedy, in great exultation, “but they will be closer by and bye.—D—n him, he’s starting his cargo! I see the good Nantz pitching overboard, keg after keg!—that’s a d—d ungenteel thing of Mr. Hatteraick, as I shall let him know by and bye.—Now, now! they’ve got the wind of hint!—that’s it, that’s it—hark to him! hark to him!—now, my dogs! now, my dogs!—hark to Ranger, hark!”

‘ “I think,” said the old gardener to one of the maids, “the gauger’s fie;” by which word the common people express those violent spirits which they think a presage of death.

‘Meantime the chase continued. The lugger, being piloted with great ability, and using every nautical shift to make her escape, had now reached, and was about to double, the head-land which formed the extreme point of land on the left side of the bay, when a ball having hit the yard in the slings, the main-sail fell upon the deck. The consequence of this accident appeared inevitable, but could not be seen by the spectators; for the vessel, which had just doubled the head-land, lost steerage, and fell out of their sight behind the promontory. The sloop of war crowded all sail to pursue, but she had [90/91] stood too close upon the cape, so that they were obliged to wear the vessel for fear of going ashore, and to make a large tack back into the bay, in order to recover sea-room enough to double the head-land.

‘ “They’ll lose her by——, cargo and lugger, one or both,” said Kennedy; “I must gallop away to the Point of Warroch, (this was the head-land so often mentioned,) and make them a signal where she has drifted to on the other side. Good bye for an hour, Ellangowan—get out the gallon punch-bowl, and plenty of lemons. I’ll stand for the French article by the time I come back, and we’ll drink the young Laird’s health in a bowl that would swim the collector’s yawl.” So saying, he mounted his horse, and gallopped off.

‘About a mile from the house, and upon the verge of the woods, which, as we have said, covered a promontory terminating in the cape called the Point of Warroch, Kennedy met young Harry Bertram, attended by his tutor, Dominie Sampson. He had often promised the child a ride upon his galloway; and, from singing, dancing, and playing Punch for his amusement, was a particular favourite. He no sooner came scampering up the path, than the boy loudly claimed his promise; and Kennedy, who saw no risque in indulging him, and wished to tease the Dominie, in whose visage he read a remonstrance, caught up Harry from the ground, placed him before him, and continued his route; Sampson’s “Peradventure, Master Kennedy”— being lost in the clatter of his horse’s feet. The pedagogue hesitated a moment whether he should go after them; but Kennedy being a person in full confidence of the family, and with whom he himself had no delight in associating, “being that he was addicted unto profane and scurrilous jests,” he continued his own walk at his own pace, till he reached the Place of Ellangowan.’

Soon after the disappearance of Kennedy with the child, the distant reports of cannon, ‘and, after an interval, a louder explosion, as of a vessel blown up,’ seem to announce to those who are on the watch the capture or destruction of the smuggler. The family then sit down quietly to dinner; and Dominie Sampson, being censured for leaving the boy to the care of the harum-scarum gauger, sallies forth again in quest of his stray sheep. At last, the Laird begins to participate in the fears which his lady had sometime before expressed for the child’s safety; and those anxieties are not lessened when one servant brings word ‘that Mr. Kennedy’s horse had come to stable-door alone, with the saddle turned round below its belly, and the reins of the bridle broken,’ and another returns after a fruitless search with intelligence that he had neither seen nor heard any thing of Kennedy and the young Laird, ‘only there was Dominie Sampson, gaun rampaging about, like mad, seeking for them.’

‘All was now bustle at Ellangowan. The Laird and his servants, male and female, hastened to the wood of Warroch. The tenants and cottagers in the neighbourhood lent their assistance, partly out of [91/92] zeal, partly from curiosity. Boats were manned to search the sea-shore, which, on the other side of the Point, rose into high and indented rocks. A vague suspicion was entertained, though too horrible to be expressed, that the child might have fallen from one of these cliffs.

‘The evening had begun to close when the parties entered the wood, and dispersed different ways in quest of the boy and his companion. The darkening of the atmosphere, and the hoarse sighs of the November wind through the naked trees, the rustling of the withered leaves which strewed the glades, the repeated halloos of the different parties, which often drew them together in expectation of meeting the objects of their search, gave a cast of dismal sublimity to the scene.—

‘The, agony of the father grew beyond concealment, yet it scarcely equalled the anguish of the tutor. “Would to God I had died for him!” the affectionate creature repeated in notes of the deepest distress.—

‘At this instant, a shout was heard from the beach, so loud, so shrill, so piercing, so different from every sound which the woods had that day rung to, that nobody hesitated a moment to believe that it conveyed tidings, and tidings of dreadful import. All hurried to the place, and, venturing without scruple upon paths, which, at another time, they would have shuddered to look at, descended towards, a clift of the rock, where one boat’s crew was already landed. “Here, sirs!—Here!—this way, for God’s sake!—this way!—this way!” was the reiterated cry. Ellangowan broke through the throng which had already assembled at the fatal spot, and beheld the object of their terror. It was the dead body of Kennedy. At first sight he seemed to have perished by a fall from the rocks, which there rose in a precipice of a hundred feet above the beach. The corpse was lying half in, half out of the water; the advancing tide, raising the arm and stirring the clothes, had given it at some distance the appearance of motion, so that those who first discovered the body thought that life remained. But every spark had been long extinguished.

‘ “My bairn! my bairn!” cried the distracted father, “where can he be?” A dozen mouths were opened to communicate hopes which no one felt. Some one at length mentioned—— the gypsies! In a moment Ellangowan had re-ascended the cliffs, flung himself upon the first horse he met, and rode furiously to the huts at Derncleugh. All was there dark and desolate; and, as he dismounted to make more minute search, he stumbled over fragments of furniture which had been thrown out of the cottages, and the broken wood and thatch which had been pulled down by his orders. At that moment the prophecy, or anathema, of Meg Merrilies fell heavy on his mind. “You have stripped the thatch from seven cottages,—see that the roof-tree of your own house stand the surer!”

‘ “Restore,” he cried, “restore my bairn! bring me back my son, and all shall be forgot and forgiven!” As he uttered these words in a sort of phrenzy, his eye caught a glimmering of light in one of the dismantled cottages—it was that in which Meg Merrilies former resided. The light, which seemed to proceed from fire, glimmered [92/93] not only through the window, but also through the rafters of the hut where the roofing had been torn off.

‘He flew to the place; the entrance was bolted; despair gave the miserable father the strength of ten men; he rushed against the door with such violence that it gave way before the momentum of his weight and force. The cottage was empty, but bore marks of recent habitation—there was fire on the hearth, a kettle, and some preparation for food. As he eagerly gazed around for something that might confirm his hope that his child yet lived, although in the power of those strange people, a man entered the hut.

‘It was his old gardener. “O Sir!” said the old man, “such a night as this I trusted never to live to see! —ye maun come to the Place directly!”

‘ “Is my boy found? is he alive? have ye found Harry Bertram? Andrew, have ye found Harry Bertram?”

‘ “No, Sir; but”—

‘ “Then he is kidnapped! I am sure of it, Andrew! as sure as that I tread upon earth! She has stolen him—and I will never stir from this place till I have tidings of my bairn!”

‘ “O, but ye maun come hame, Sir! ye maun come hame! —We have sent for the sheriff, and we’ll set a watch here a’ night, in case the gypsies return; but you —ye maun come hame, Sir—for my lady’s in the dead-thraw.”

‘Bertram turned a stupified and unmeaning eye on the messenger who uttered this calamitous news; and, repeating the words “in the dead-thraw!” as if he could not comprehend their meaning, suffered the old man to drag him towards his horse. During the ride home, he only said, “Wife and bairn, baith—mother and son, baith—sair, sair to abide!” ’

We have selected enough to display the undiminished powers both of description and pathos which are exhibited by the author in this performance; and to evince that, though bestowed on less dignified objects than those which form the leading features of Waverley, they are alike drawn from, and appeal to, the inmost recesses of the human heart.—The worthy Border-yeoman, Dandie Dinmont of Charlie’s hope, is another personage of no little dignity and merit in the drama; the pictures of manners and character in that class of society may rank with the most finished productions of the Dutch school, or of our national painter, Wilkie; and though we do not pretend to have seen anywhere his exact prototype, we have not the smallest doubt of the strict personal identity of Paulus Pleydell, Esquire, advocate at Edinburgh. The fastidious will probably object to the unsparing use of the Scotish [sic] dialect: but, though sometimes put to a stand by the terms of phraseology so unusual to us, we can willingly pardon even inconvenience for the sake of the additional reality which it bestows on the representation before us. [93/94]

Another novel by this writer, to be intitled the Antiquary, is said to be forthcoming; and the name of Mr. Walter Scott is again mentioned as the author, with increased confidence.

Notes: Format: 3 vols 12mo; price 1l. 1s. Boards. Publisher: Longman & Co.

 

Print | Close


© 2004 Project Director: Professor Peter Garside;
Research Associates: Dr Jacqueline Belanger, Dr Sharon Ragaz;
Database/Website Developer: Dr Anthony Mandal