Archive for August, 2009

Rob Roy in Northumberland

Aberfoyle on the edge of the Scottish Highlands is the setting for, perhaps, the most memorable scenes in Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, the action of which happens during Jacobite rising of 1715. What is sometimes forgotten is that much of the novel takes place in Northumberland and that, almost in spite of its title, it is really about the English supporters of the old pretender, James Stewart. Indeed it is the battle of Preston that Diana Vernon’s father takes part in, rather than Sheriffmuir.   Scott’s account of the English rising is accomplished as follows:

“…. it was judged proper that I should accompany a detachment of Highlanders, who, under Brigadier MacIntosh of Borlum, crossed the Firth of Forth, traversed the low country of Scotland, and united themselves on the Borders with the English insurgents.  I had hardly joined our English friends, when I became sensible that our cause was lost. Our numbers diminished instead of increasing, nor were we joined by any except of our own persuasion. The Tories of the High Church remained in general undecided, and at length we were cooped up by a superior force in the little town of Preston. We defended ourselves resolutely for one day. On the next, the hearts of our leaders failed, and they resolved to surrender at discretion.”

The novel deals at length with the atmosphere in Northumberland at the beginning of the eighteenth century. With the exception of Robert Campbell, ‘Rob Roy’ himself, the principal characters are fictional and, in drawing attention to Rob Roy’s acquaintanceship with Northumberland Scott extends what we think we know about him. As one character in the novel puts it:

“Campbell is a very extensive dealer in cattle, and has often occasion to send great droves into Northumberland; and, when driving such a trade, he would be a great fool to embroil himself with our Northumbrian thieves”.

In Rob Roy Francis Osbaldistone is the son of a rich London merchant, whose father summons him to return from Bordeaux. However, Frank declines an invitation to enter the family business, and he is banished to Osbaldistone Hall, the Northumberland home of the head of the clan, Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone and his six sons. Illustrations in early editions of the novel are almost unanimous in suggesting that Osbaldistone Hall was Chillingham Castle.  Skene, who investigated the scenery in the Waverley Novels, does not mention it, but in The Country of Sir Walter Scott [1913] Charles S Olcott brooks no alternative to Chillingham. This view also appears to be held by William Mathie Parker, the eminent literary topographer, in his preface to the Everyman edition of 1962.

Chillingham Castle: The Courtyard

Chillingham Castle: The Courtyard

Scott was familiar with the setting of the novel, having visited Northumberland in the summer of 1791 and having seen Chillingham Castle, the seat of the Earl of Tankersville, on which he may have based Osbaldistone Hall, for, like the description of the hall, Chillingham looked something like ‘the inside of a convent or of one of the older and less splendid colleges of Oxford.’

However, in In The Border Country [1906] William Shillinglaw Crockett, identifies Biddlestone Hall as one of three possibilities, the other two being Chillingham and Naworth. Naworth is, of course, in the wrong place, but it is situated at Lanercost in Cumberland, with which Scott would have become familiar during his courtship of his wife, Charlotte Carpenter. As in other instances it is probably an amalgam of sites that the author, as he is perfectly entitled to, pretends is a single place.   It was in The Encyclopaedia Britannica [1884] that it was suggested that Biddlestone Hall might well have been the house that Scott had in mind, and, in his notable essay on “The Middle Marches” [1913], G.M.Trevelyan, the distinguished historian who was bred in Northumberland, takes it for granted that it was Biddlestone Hall: “… these steep slippery banks of Alwyn and Usway were hunted by Diana and the Osbaldistone pack; and these passages of the hills were threaded by Andrew Fairservice and his friends the smugglers, and his enemies the Jacobites.” In another passage he is quite definite about it:

“Walter Scott, from his encircling Cheviot Ridge, threw a few lines and phrases at our English streams, –Coquet and Rede picked crumbs from the table he spread for Ettrick and Teviot and Yarrow. Also he gave us Diana Vernon; her hunt upon the mountainside was above Biddlestone Hall, where spurs of the English Cheviots, green, round and steep in that district, overlook the Coquet, as it breaks from the hills and spreads down over the plain towards Rothbury.”

In a long note to the 1914 Oxford edition of Rob Roy, C.B.Wheeler argues the case for Biddlestone.   His arguments are credible, but not conclusive. He begins by pointing out that Frank must diverge from the Great North Road to reach Osbaldistone Hall, and that the turn for Chillingham at Alnwick is too far from Darlington. It would probably be just as difficult to reach Biddlestone as to reach Chillingham. However, Scott has Campbell say that he has business in Rothbury which makes Biddlestone more likely.

Wheeler is altogether more persuasive in drawing attention to the situation of the house. The following passage in Rob Roy surely refers to Biddlestone rather than to Chillingham since Chillingham is not situated in a glen, but in open country, some distance from the foot of the Cheviot Hills:

“The streams now more properly deserved the name, for, instead of slumbering stagnant among reeds and willows, they brawled along beneath the shade of natural copsewood; were now hurried down declivities, and now purled more leisurely, but still in active motion, through little lonely valleys, which, opening on the road from time to time, seemed to invite the traveller to explore their recesses. The Cheviots rose before me in frowning majesty; not, indeed, with the sublime variety of rock and cliff which characterizes mountains of the primary class but huge, round-headed, and clothed with a dark robe of russet, gaining, by their extent and desolate appearance, an influence upon the imagination, as a desert district possessing a character of its own. …The abode of my fathers, which I was now approaching, was situated in a glen, or narrow valley, which ran up among those hills.”

Wheeler is most convincing when he draws attention to Frank Osbaldistone’s flight to Scotland accompanied by Andrew Fairservice. We learn from Diana Vernon that Scotland is visible from the vicinity of Osbaldistone Hall:

“Casting her eyes around, to see that no one was near us, she drew up her horse beneath a few birch-trees, which screened us from the rest of the hunting-field:

‘Do you see yon peaked, brown, heathy hill, having something like a whitish speck upon the side?’

‘Terminating that long ridge of broken moorish uplands? — I see it distinctly.’

‘That whitish speck is a rock called Hawkesmore Crag, and Hawkesmore Crag is in Scotland.’

‘Indeed! I did not think we had been so near Scotland.’

‘It is so, I assure you, and your horse will carry you there in two hours.’

‘I shall hardly give him the trouble; why, the distance must be eighteen miles as the crow flies.’ ”

It is altogether more likely that one might catch a glimpse of Scotland from Biddlestone (which sounds like Osbaldistone) than from Chillingham. Frank makes his way northwards as follows:

Andrew Fairservice. From an old Postcard

Andrew Fairservice. From an old Postcard

“Extricating ourselves by short cuts, known to Andrew, from the numerous stony lanes and by-paths which intersected each other in the vicinity of the Hall, we reached the open heath and riding swiftly across it, took our course among the barren hills which divide England from Scotland on what are called the Middle Marches.”

The key phrase here is “the Middle Marches” which is the name given to the border between England and Scotland between the Cheviot and Peel Fell, including the head of Coquetdale and Carter Bar. The way from Chillingham into Scotland would be by the Eastern Marches.

Biddlestone Hall was for long the seat of the Selbys who were granted the estate by Edward I.  It was a pele tower, which was later extended so that there was a small courtyard.

“The building afforded little to interest a stranger, had I been disposed to consider it attentively; the sides of the quadrangle were of various architecture, and with their stone-shafted latticed windows, projecting turrets, and massive architraves, resembled the inside of a convent, or of one of the older and less splendid colleges of Oxford.”

This sounds rather like Chillingham but if it was Biddlestone Scott must have based Osbaldistone Hall on the old house, since it was rebuilt in a different style after a disastrous fire in 1796. When A.G. Bradley, author of The Romance of Northumberland [1908], in which there is an enthusiastic account of Biddlestone Hall, visited Coquetdale the house was still in the hands of the Selbys who finally sold it in 1914.  In Upper Coquetdale [1903] David Dippie Dixon points out that, in addition to appearing in Rob Roy, Biddlestone Hall appears in a ballad by James Hogg describing a raid by the Kerrs of Cessford in 1549:

“Ride light ride light, my kinsmen true

Till since the daylight close her ee’

If we can pass the Biddleston Tower,

A harried warden there shall be.”

The Selbys, like the Osbaldistones, were Catholics and, very likely, Jacobites. One indication that the Selbys may have been the model for the Osbaldistones is that when Scott knew Biddlestone Thomas Selby had a family consisting of seven sons which is reminiscent of the six Osbaldistones, and, two generations earlier, Ephraim Selby who, together with his steward, joined the real rising at Plainfield outside Rothbury in 1715 had five brothers. What is not known is if or when Scott visited Biddlestone, but it may have been when he was in the Cheviots in 1791. Scott spent his twentieth birthday at Langleeford six miles from Wooler with his uncle, Robert Scott. In a letter to William Clerk he wrote “…. Flodden, Otterburn, Chevy Chase, Ford, Coupland Chillingham and many another scene of blood are within a forenoon’s ride.” It is this reference which has persuaded editors that Chillingham may well have been “Osbaldistone Hall”, but Scott could equally well have visited Biddlestone en route to Otterburn, or at the beginning of this trip when he entered Northumberland by ‘a pass in the Cheviots’. There is a local tradition that he visited the Rose and Thistle in Alwinton. Scott also traversed Northumberland when he visited Hexham in 1792.

There is further evidence in a letter which Scott wrote to Robert Surtees (1779-1834) in which he thanks him for sending ‘anecdotes of the Selbys’. It was Surtees who played a trick on Scott by sending him a Border ballad, which he, Surtees, had composed himself, which was subsequently published in the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. However, there is no reason to suppose that Surtees, a distinguished antiquarian, who later regretted his practical joke, supplied Scott with false information about Biddlestone.  It suggests an important connection between Scott and Coquetdale.  Incidentally Surtees was also the author of “Lord Derwentwater’s Farewell”, said to have been written by Derwentwater, the most famous Northumbrian Jacobite, on the eve of his execution. James Hogg published it in his Relics of Jacobite Poetry.

A further curiosity in the neighbourhood is the occurrence of a Rob Roy’s Cave at Holystone. No one locally seems to be quite sure how it got its name. Perhaps it was from the veritable Rob Roy who must have traversed the district as a cattle dealer following one of the several drove roads, which traverse the county. However, it is unlikely that the real Rob Roy would have found it necessary to hide in Northumberland, or that he would have been well enough known there to give his name to a cave. It is rather more likely that it was the novel that gave rise to the name – just the kind of label that the Victorians would attach to this rather inaccessible cave. There are, indeed, two passages in the novel where Rob Roy hangs about in the vicinity of Rothbury.

The landscape of Northumberland may be less well known than the scenery about Aberfoyle but it adds considerable interest to Rob Roy.

Louis Stott

Further Notes:

William Ruddick Sir WaIter Scott’s Northumberland in Scott and His Influence Edited J .H.Alexander and David Hewitt 1983 draws attention to the following points:

1. “In addition to re-creating its character in 1715 on the eve of the first Jacobite rebellion, [Scott] also dashed off a lengthy introduction to Border Antiquities (written in 1817) in which he vividly dramatises the earlier history of the lawless Middle Marches through which Frank and Andrew Fairservice take flight along moorland tracks known only to smugglers; latter day degenerate descendants of the Border Reivers of Tudor Times.

2. Andrew Fairservice’s cottage is in the traditional style of the area

Ruddick also draws attention to the parallels with Macaulay Vol. 1 pp 285-6; with Swinburne; and with John Buchan’s Island of Sheep

Comments (3) »

Scottish Literary Calendar: 12. December


            Now mirk December’s dowie face
Glours our the rigs wi’ sour grimace,
While, thro’ his minimum of space,
The bleer-ey’d sun
Wi’ blinkin light and stealing pace,
His race doth run.

Robert Fergusson The Daft Days

1|12|1887  First appearance of A Study in Scarlet by Conan Doyle . Ref:  0701.01(LS)

**2|12|1822 David Masson, biographer of Milton and Drummond of Hawthornden, is born, Aberdeen . Ref:   0702.01(LS)**

2|12|1956  Janice Galloway, novelist,  born Ardrossan, Ayrshire. Her first novel will be the highly praised The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1990).  Ref:   0702.02(LS)

**3|12|1894  Death from a cerebral haemorrhage of Robert Louis Stevenson, in Samoa. The Samoans call him ‘Tusitala’, the story-teller.   Ref:   0703.01(LS)**

**4|12|1795 Thomas Carlyle, eminent historian, born Ecclefechan, Dumfries-shire.  Ref:   0704.01(LS)**

5|12|1824 Walter Chalmers Smith, hymn-writer and poet, known as ‘Orwell’, is born in Aberdeen.  Ref:   0705.01(LS)

6|12|1905 William Sharp, the novelist and poet, who adopted the name ‘Fiona Macleod’ (whom he regarded as an almost totally separate person), dies.  Ref:   0706.01(LS)

6|12|1934 Forrest Wilson, author of Super Gran and other children’s novels, is born, Renfrew.  Ref:   0706.02(LS)

7|12|1837  Robert Nicholl, Perthshire poet dies, aged 33 years. A prominent obelisk commemorates him in his native place, Tullybelton.  Ref:   0707.01(LS)

7|12|1947  Ann Fine, novelist, including children’s novels, such as Madame Doubtfire, is born in Leicestershire.   Ref:   0707.01(LS)

**8|12|1859  Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859), opium-addict and critic, long resident in Midlothian and in Glasgow, dies at Mavis Bank, Lasswade, near Edinburgh.   Ref:   0708.01(LS)**

9|12|1931 Ian McIntyre, journalist, broadcaster and biographer of Burns, born, Banchory.  Ref:   0709.01(LS)

10|12|1824 George MacDonald, novelist and teller of fairy tales, born Huntly, Aberdeenshire.  Ref:   0710.01(LS)

**10|12|1907 Rumer Godden, novelist (Back Narcissus), who lived in Dumfries-shire, is born, Kent.   Ref:   0710.01(LS)**

11|12|1781 Sir David Brewster, scientist and editor of the Edinburgh Encylopaedia born.   Ref:   0711.01(LS)

12|12|1889 (Rev) Edward Bradley, author of the spoof, Travels in Tartanland, dies . Ref:   0712.01(LS)

13|12|1585 William Drummond, poet,  is born at Hawthornden of which estate he becomes laird in 1610. He will be  the first great Scottish poet to write in English.  Ref:   0713.01(LS)

14|12|1756  First performance of the tragedy Douglas by (Reverend) John Home, in Edinburgh. It calls forth the cry, by a member of the audience, “Whaur’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?”. Ref:   0714.01(LS)

14|12|1895 John MacNair Reid (1895-1954), novelist and poet, born Glasgow.  Ref:   0714.02(LS)

15|12|1791  Robert Burns writes thefamous letter to Mrs. Maclehose beginning “I have some merit, my ever dearest of women, in attracting and securing the heart of Clarinda”. Ref:   0715.01(LS)

15|12|1981 Claud Cockburn, journalist and subversive, great-grandson of Lord Cockburn, dies, Cork.  Ref:   0715.02(LS)

16|12|1766 James Grainger, Berwickshire-born poet and critic, dies . Ref:   0716.01(LS)

16|12|1788 Robert Cadell, the publisher who persuaded J.M.W. Turner to illustrate Scott’s works, is born.   Ref:   0716.02(LS)

17|12|1945  Release of the quintessentially Scottish movie, I Know Where I’m Going, script by the Hungarian film-maker, Emeric Pressburger.  Ref:   0717.01(LS)

17|12|1957  Dorothy L. Sayers, author of  detective stories, including Five Red Herrings, set in Galloway, dies.  Ref:   0717.01(LS)

18|12|1904  Albert Mackie, historian, born Brunswick Road, Edinburgh . Ref:   0718.01(LS)

19|12|1818 Mary Brunton, novelist, dies in Edinburgh of a fever, aged 40.  Ref:   0719.01(LS)

19|12|1832 Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850), critic, elected Member of Parliament for Edinburgh.  Ref:   0719.02(LS)

19|12|1923 Gordon Jackson, the actor who appeared in several notable films made from  famous  Scottish books, including Whisky Galore (1949) and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), is born.   Ref:   0719.03(LS)

20|12|1883  Oscar Wilde lectures in Edinburgh on ‘The Value of Art in Modern Life’. Ref:   0720.01(LS)

21|12|1835  Sir John Sinclair, editor of The Statistical Account of Scotland, dies . Ref:   0721.01(LS)

21|12|1892  Rebecca West (Cicily Isabel Fairfield), novelist, is born, Edinburgh.  Ref:   0721.02(LS)

21|12|1968  James Kennaway, author of Tunes of Glory, dies.  Ref:   0721.03(LS)

22|12|1930 Neil Munro, journalist, novelist and poet, dies. His last years were spent living in Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde.  Ref:   0722.01(LS)

23|12|1812 Samuel Smiles, biographer, born 2.0723.01(LS)

23|12|1856 Hugh Miller, author and geologist, commits suicide.   Ref:   0723.02(LS)

23|12|1955  Carol Ann Duffy, poet, winner of the Whitbread Prize 1993, and the first woman Poet Laureate born, Glasgow .  Ref:   0723.03(LS)

24|12|1889 Charles MacKay, Perth-born journalist and songwriter, who lived at one time at Soroba House, Oban, dies.   Ref:   0724.01(LS)

24|12|1907  The ‘Daft Days’ begin (and end on Hansel Monday, the first Monday of the New Year). ‘The Daft Days’ are the subject of a poem by Robert Fergusson,  which gave Neil Munro the title for his novel of that name, published in 1907.  Ref:   0724.02(LS)

25|12|1665 Lady Grizel Baillie, songwriter, born . Ref:   0725.01(LS)

25|12|1801 William Wilson (1801-60), Perthshire-born poet and Poughkeepsie publisher, isborn at Crieff.  Ref:   0725.02(LS)

25|12|1904 J.B.Selkirk [James Brown] (1832-04), poet, dies . Ref:   0725.03(LS)

26|12|1780 Mary Somerville, notable as a nineteenth century writer on scientific subjects, born, Jedburgh.   Ref:   0726.01(LS)

26|12|1947 Liz Lochhead, poet,  born Motherwell, Lanarkshire. Her collections of poetry will include Bagpipe Muzak (1991); her plays will include Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (1987).  Ref:   0726.01(LS)

27|12|1800 Hugh Blair, poet and critic, dies. He was a leading supporter of James MacPherson’s ‘Ossianic’ poetry.  Ref:   0727.01(LS)

27|12|1904  First performance of Peter Pan by James Barrie.  Ref:   0727.01(LS)


28|12|1835 Archibald Geikie, geologist and miscellaneous writer, is born.  Ref:   0728.01(LS)

**28|12|1859  Thomas Babington Macaulay, historian and MP, dies.  Ref:   0728.01(LS)**

28|12|1908 Alastair Dunnett, newspaper editor, born . Ref:   0728.01(LS)

28|12|1934 Alasdair Gray, artist/novelist, born, Glasgow;  . Ref:   0728.01(LS)

29|12|1822 John Francis Campbell, public servant and folklorist, born,  Islay.   Ref:   0729.01(LS)

30|12|1973  Dorothy E. Stevenson (1892-1973), novelist-daughter of RLS’s cousin David, dies, Moffat.  . Ref:   0730.01(LS)

*31|12|1830 Alexander Smith, poet and author of A Summer In Skye born, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.  Ref:   0731.01(LS)*

31|12|1868 James David Forbes, author and notable British Alpine traveller, dies.   Ref:   0731.02(LS)

Calendar for A Scottish Literary Year: 57 entries                                 Updated: 150898

Leave a comment »

The ‘Scottishness’ of Herman Melville

Was Herman Melville Scottish? Well, possibly, but not sufficiently to qualify for Scotland i.e. his grandfather was American – very American, since he was a leading participant in the Boston Tea Party.
“On his father’s side he is of Scottish extraction, and is descended in the fourth degree from Thomas Melville, minister of Scoonie parish, Leven, Fife…” (could there be a connection here with RLS?)
Thomas Melville’s seventh child Alan Melville (b. 7 Dec 1727) went to America in 1748. He died in Boston, Mass on 2nd January 1760, leaving a son, Thomas Melville, the author’s grandfather. Thomas Melvill[e] (1751-1832) visited his relatives in Scotland in 1772, and was presented with the freedom of [?] Leven. The author’s father, Alan Melvill[e], married a Dutchwoman, and may also have visited Scotland. HM travelled to Scotland in 1856, visiting Abbotsford, Perth and Stirling (a serious omission from my  Literary Landmarks of Stirling and Clackmannan). He inquired about Scoonie, but could not find out much about it. In any case he had damaged the bridge of his nose and was not inclined to look anyone up because he looked like a prize-fighter. Melville’s father died young (when HM was 12), so he had a ‘Dutch’ upbringing, although his grandfather was appointed his guardian.
The Melvilles of Raith were the relatives visited by Thomas Melville. It is through this family that HM is sometimes connected with the court of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Comments (3) »

The Fairy Minister and Puss-in-Boots

The Rev Mr Kirk of Aberfoyle was carried away by the Fairies in 1692

People of Peace! a peaceful man,
Well worthy of your love was he,
Who, while roaring Garry ran
Red with the lifeblood of Dundee
When coats were turning, crowns were falling,
Wandered along his valley still,
And heard their mystic voices calling
From fairy knowe and haunted hill.

Andrew Lang Ban and Arriere Ban 1894

Little connected with the remarkable Reverend Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle is without interest. For example, the history of Bibliotheque de Carabas, the imprint under which the Andrew Lang version of Kirk’s famous book, The Secret Commonwealth, first appeared provides a connection between Robert Kirk and Puss-in-Boots. It is a modest connection, but it is both interesting and intriguing.

Charles Perrault lived from 1628 until 1703, and was thus a contemporary of Kirk’s, and it was he who first set down the story of the resourceful cat, the precursor of ‘Top Cat’, who managed, by appealing to his master’s vanity and pretentiousness, to pass his master off as the Marquis de Carabas in which guise he won the hand of the King of France’s daughter. We can suppose that it was this connection with the world of fairy tales which induced Alfred Nutt to dub a series of somewhat abstruse books ‘The Bibliotheque de Carabas’.

Andrew Lang’s famous Victorian edition of Robert Kirk’s Secret Commonwealth was the eighth and probably the most important book in the series. Alfred Nutt, who had inherited from his father the publishing firm of David Nutt, and who might nowadays be perceived as having a rather unfortunate surname, was an early pillar of the Folklore Society. The first book in ‘The Bibliotheque de Carabas’, The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche (1887), carried a discourse on the fable by Andrew Lang who was the general editor of the series. Andrew Lang (1844- 1912), folklorist, poet, novelist and historian was a pivotal literary figure of his time. The intention of the series, was to show the universality of certain themes in folklore, a subject to which Lang returned in his introduction to The Secret Commonwealth.

These volumes were crown octavo books, ‘printed on hand-made paper with wide margins and uncut edges, done up in Japanese vellum wrappers’ (Nutt). Cupid and Psyche was an edition of only sixty copies, just fifty of which were to be sold to the public. A few copies carried a poem by Stevenson addressed to Lang.

In response Lang dedicated The Secret Commonwealth to the exiled author in a an amusing and undeservedly neglected dialect poem alluding to Stevenson’s lifelong interest in the supernatural:

To Robert Louis Stevenson
O Louis! you that like them maist
Ye’re far frae kelpie, wraith and ghaist,
And fairy dames, no unco’ chaste,
And haunted cell.
Among a heathen clan ye’re placed,
That kens na hell!

That Lang should think of Stevenson in connection with Kirk is understandable. Whether Stevenson knew of his intention is not clear. In a letter which has survived Lang asked Stevenson whether Nutt had sent him a copy of The Secret Commonwealth, but, unfortunately, there is no specific answer to his question in RLS’s known letters, although the two authors were at that time, half a world apart, contemplating a literary collaboration, and constantly in touch.

However, if he did not, it is a remarkable coincidence that, in the same year, Stevenson was thinking of the Trossachs, when on 6th June, 1893, he wrote a letter to Sidney Colvin about Callander. There is no direct evidence that Robert Louis Stevenson ever visited Aberfoyle, or knew of its Fairy Minister, but the intriguing resonances of these remote connections are typical of the unresolved questions which there are about Robert Kirk.

Comments (2) »