Lord Erskine's Marriage at
Here read some seandal, but, I
Too bad to talk about;
And yet, in such a work as this,
The truth must all come out.
To contemplate fallen
greatness is very painful, and strongly conducive to lamentable tears—as ask
those who wept over the -ruins of Troy, of Carthage, of Tadmor, of Babylon ;
and the salt fountains that gush forth from the sternest eyes, are beauteous
to behold, because they tell of a sympathising heart, evidently situated in
the right place.
Those peregrinators who enter
into the village of Springfield, in the' parish of Gretna, in the county of
Dumfries, in that part of Great Britain denominated Scotland, would do well
to draw their handkerchiefs from their pockets, and give free vent to their
feelings when they contemplate that especial hostelrie ycleped " The King's
Head." Here, in good sooth, they will survey fallen greatness ;—and, to
survey fallen greatness, is a most overpowering thing, as we have just said.
The feeling, though a
complicated one, that then occupies the bosom, is mainly composed of that
passion which we call regret;—that is, that notwithstanding divers
afflicting sensations combine to rack the mind, still the particular one
called regret predominates far over the rest.
He who journeys forth into
the parched and barren waste, and looks upon the overturned columns or
mutilated sculptures of Thebes, experiences a strange depression of spirit
pass like a blight upon him : he comes eagerly up to the spot full of
curiosity, delight, and elation, full of self-gratulation and pleased
satisfaction, that he now stands over the city of his long cherished
desires, and full of that species of pride known to most travellers, which
they taste of, after having reached in safety the end of some arduous,
dangerous, or difficult undertaking, such as that of crossing an enemy's
country, or a dreary desert, abounding in wild beasts, and equally wild
strawberries. All these thrills of prospective joy belong to that which we
term anticipation; and anticipation is a bright picture, coloured from the
glowing palette of the imagination, and representing a scene to come, or
rather not to come ; for sweet anticipation generally terminates in
disappointment. Thus, when he looks upon the city, elate with anticipation,
it is not long ere this blight descends like a chilling vapour upon the
beauteous painting which he had before drawn; and then, the sight of
desolation spreading itself on every side, the decaying temples, the broken
statues, the effaced inscriptions, the corroded chiselings bereft of their
pristine sharpness, the rank weeds springing out of the tesselated marble
floors—all these circumstances together, speedily call up that multiplicity
of sorrowful feelings, the chiefest amongst which, as we said, is that same
Locke defines this to be, an
uneasiness of the mind upon the consideration' of some good or advantage
lost—in this instance, the prosperity of a great city or fine edifice—which
might have been enjoyed longer—as if the city or building had stood in
pristine glory,—or the sense of present evil:— that is, the sense of present
desolation where once there existed pomp, beauty, riches, happiness, or a
thriving population—all now lost.
The King's Head Inn stands in
the midst of the village of Springfield, and mine host is ycleped Alexander
Beattie, as the sign, blazoned forth over the door in glaring heraldic
achievement, will advertise the traveller. Simon Beatie at the tollgate'
spells his name with one t only; whereas Alexander of -the King's Head
employs two; and albeit those did without question originally both come from
the same clan, and both here disclaim fellowship in trade, neither the one
nor the other have considered it necessary to append to his advertisement
these especial words —"no connexion with persons of the same name."
This hostelrie is a glorious
ruin; we say ruin because, forsooth, since the alteration of the road the
tide of passengers and the ehannel of business have been turned aside into
another course, and hence the prosperity of former days has dwindled away to
a lamentable extent. It is not much now as a building, nor is the Colosseum
at Rome, being mueh out of good repair ; it is not what it is, but what it
has been : —it is "interesting from association."' Rare deeds will hallow a
paltry hut; and no place so mean but great exploits will consecrate.
In external appearance the
edifice is ordinary and humble ;—no lawn or parterre in front; no flowers
and sweet-smelling shrubs; no long carriage drive from the lodge up to the
steps, for it stands flush with the street; no grounds; no sentimental
walks; no trees to hang on. It forms the coin or angle of two streets; it is
entered from the principal one
THE KINO'S HEAD.
by a door in the centre of
the fa9ade; there is a sash window on each side of the door, whilst three
similar windows appear in the story above, ranged equidistant; the roof is
of slate, but the heart sinks when the eye surveys it, for with tears be it
recorded, the said roof is but sparingly adorned with chimneys. Hence, in
passing through Springfield, no pictures of profuse hospitality arise in the
imagination of the peregrinator; no visions of good cheer, or pleasant
fellowship, and no bright ideas of rich entertainment gladden his spirit.
The splendour of the interior
has faded, and passed away in an equal degree. On the left-hand at entering,
there is a kitchen, on the right-hand a parlour (wherein rare deeds have
been done, as we will reveal anon); over the kitchen is an apartment that
has suffered the general decay, and over the parlour an apartment that
formerly was the principal sitting-room, at that time well garnished with
comely furniture, but now desolate, and almost empty. Sic transit gloria—Capitis
Regis in agro Gretnaniensis.
Visitors to this shrine have
somewhat liberally amused themselves with writing, by means of certain
diamond rings, their names or those of their friends, mottoes, apophthegms,
and amatory verses. On one of the panes of the window in the apartment over
the kitchen appears the name and title of a noble baron of these realms, now
no more; and the same is seen also in the parlour, or room 011 the right of
the entrance. By the non-conformity of style in these two reputed
autographs, it is fair to conclude that they were not both traced by the
same hand; the villagers, howbeit, contemplate them with infinite
satisfaction, particularly the one down stairs, for there exist some
misgivings as to the authenticity of the other. We took facsimiles of both
on the spot: the apocryphal one stands thus : —
It was in the parlour below
that the august rite? betwixt this nobleman and Mistress Buck were
performed, as the loquacious hostess narrated to us; and it was on the glass
of this room that he amused himself with writing his name, after the
ceremony was over, ad ret memoriam, with the title duly prefixed. Every one
in the parish declares this last to be genuine beyond doubt, and no argument
to the contrary would ever shake the stability of their faith therein. The
following is the second fac-simile, as ecce signuvi:—
Now, we are particularly
modest in thrusting forward our opinion uninvited, or our judgment unasked;
nevertheless at this present, and under correction, we do impertinently hint
to the forgiving reader, that we have no very implicit belief in the
genuineness of either of these signatures.* It is not at all likely that the
noble baron would have amused himself after the execution, by scratching
these words on the window under any view of the affair; and even conceding
the fact that he really might have done so, the existence of the prefix,
"Lord," is enough in itself, to go no further, to suggest its spuriousness.
We did warily venture to express thus much to mine hostess at the time, even
as we stood surveying the window; but mine hostess at first laughed at our
simplicity, and then, when we persisted in our simplicity, she changed her
modulation, and became angered at our scepticism, wherefore we were enforced
to desist, seeing that she was determined to combat all our doubts, and to
have the last word—as what woman will not ?
The other windows of the
house, also, are profusely written upon ; some panes exhibiting mere names,
others apt mottoes, and yet others again'stanzas of verse, (we do not say
poetry,) expressive of the most impassioned sentiments; here a line ardent
with glorious anticipation, and there a couplet full of triumph and actual
possession. The following is a quatrain copied from the window over the
parlour on the right-hand side of the entrance :—
"Transporting hope to clasp
the charming Miss In her fair arms, to what unequalled bliss ; What joys I
tasted, when, from Gretna's shrine, I drew the maid, and swore she should be
After reading this, oh !
blush crimson shame thou spirit of Calliope, and all other spirits that have
glowed with the fire of poetry. This is what Jonathan would call " real
complete," nevertheless, it is not above all criticism. The first line
evidently is a burst of anticipation, replete with the fulness of a certain
success. The words, "In her fair arms," at the beginning of the second line,
are rather obscure, in so far that a lover does not clasp a lady in her
arms, but clasps her in his own; and the remainder of this line appears to
have been pressed into service more for the sake of the rhyme than for the
sake of the sense. It is certain, howbeit, that rhyme is a terrible plague
in writing verse; it fetters many a fine idea, and sorely cramps the,
imagination; and the best poets in all ages are agreed that rhyme is the
perfection of poetry, and that the sense does not half so much matter, if
the rhyme is pretty good. The last two lines bespeak triumph; he has won his
lady—she is his—the deed is done—his difficulties, his. anxieties, and his
troubles are over. There is much more sense here; and, best of all, the
rhymes are unexceptionable.
The above may be adduced as a
pretty fair specimen of the verse that adorns and enriches The King's Head
hostelrie; other out-pourings, equally fierce, albeit in cold prose, meet
the eye in every direction ; nor is it a despicable recreation either, to
look them over in pleasantry, and to laugh out at each.
Wonderful is the power of
love ! It makes more poets than anything else in this 'varsal world, and
everything else in the universe, either individually or collectively, all
together. It is not only the most sweet of all themes of him who writes
throughout his life, but it is generally the first prompter to him who had
never written before. Love and poetry are twins. They were conceived
together, they were born together, and, what is more, they have not been
separated since their birth, but, like Juno's swans, go coupled and
inseparable. The man who is in love, and the maiden too, are for the time
poetic; they burn with the poetic fire; they have only to express it in
suitable and polished language. It is but a gifted few that are poetic on
all subjects; but the most apathetic, the most dull, barbarous, heavy, or
insensible, can be aroused into the perception of the beautiful, and into
the consciousness of a refinement of sentiment high above the topics of
everyday life, when the celestial and softening spirit of that same love has
insinuated itself between the rugged folds of a heart, however sinewy. But
you shall have this assertion in another form :—
He who's in love, is, for the
time, a poet:
Hark well that line—'tis far from being wrong:
I ween there needs small argument to shew it,
For what is poetry, and what is love
They both are full of
passions fierce and strong, They both are heavenly gifts come from above ;
Love is an art which Cupid taught to Psyche, And poetry, they say, is ?
Now is this what it is to be
poetic :— It is to be all tenderness within you, Or else to be all sad and
all pathetie, And then to be all ardour and desire,
To breathe in lightning, have
a soul all sinew, Like steam in boilers—powder touehed by fire ; It is all
deadly love and lively passion, And then to feel all humbless and
And love is much like this,
ye will agree ;—
It is to be all meekness,
ardour, feeling, All charity, good-will, and goodly gree, Benevolence and
It is to trade in every
gentle dealing, And have a heart all sweet susceptibility, To have a tender
soul and tender mind, To wish, in fact, all good to all mankind.
Thomas Erskine, Baron Erskine
of Restormel, in the county of Cornwall, in England, was born into this
wicked world in the year 1750. He was a short time in the navy at his first
entrance into busy life ; but having little interest therein, and
(consequently) not much chance of promotion, he quitted it for the army; in
this profession, howbeit, he strove against equal difficulties and lack of
good patronage, wherefore, at the instigation of his mother, a lady of
strong mind and mature judgment, he left it after a few years' service, in
order to turn his thoughts to other things.
He fixed on the study of the
law, a field wherein his mind ranged more readily, and found a pursuit more
congenial with the nature and temperament of his disposition. He worked his
way rapidly, he strode on honourably, and in due course he became eminent.
At the age of twenty,
videlicet, in 1770, he wedded the amiable and accomplished Miss Moore ; he
became a widower in 1805, she being the mother of several children his
After that he led a bustling
and active life, astonishing the world by his triumphs of genius and. his
brilliancy of talent. An acute man, a first-rate lawyer, an ingenious
arguer, a specious reasoner, and an orator that claimed the willing
attention of his hearers, he at last rose to the exalted and honourable
office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.
Alas and well-way ! there is
no stability in human nature, no reliance, no confidence, no trust. Oh what
a fall was here !—honour, respect, high place, dignity—all, all, came
rushing down to the dust.
If it be the historians's
greatest delight to record mighty and noble achievements, so, also, it must
be his greatest affliction to tell of weaknesses and acts unwise, that the
heroes of his pages may have perpetrated; yet he who takes pen in hand for
the pleasure to be derived by discoursing on virtue, inflicts on his
impartiality the necessity of submitting to the pain of writing on the
errors of our nature.
Married his housekeeper—ye
powers !—but hush ! —hold your tongue.
The manner of it was this, to
wit,—hush, hush!— cannot it be evaded? Evaded? how Shall the just and
impartial chronicler record what he likes, and omit all that he chooses to
omit? There is no help. Besides, it is most certain that the account of the
famous parish, the subject of these memoirs, would in no wise be perfect if
we were to connive at the duty of our profession in this case, and more
especially that part of this parish yeleped Springfield, and of Springfield
the King's Head, and of the King's Head, the parlour down stairs, where the
execution took place.
The manner of it was this—but
stay— Henry Brougham, Baron Brougham and Vaux, of Brougham in the county of
Westmoreland, who is a great stickler pro rege, lege, et grege, has indited
these sequent words of him :—
"That his private character
was exempt from failings, can in no wise be affirmed;" but the little
blemishes in his private character, as Lord Kenyon used to say of this great
man, were only as " spots in the sun." And these "spots" did not appear
until latterly. "It must with sorrow be added," proceeds my Lord Brougham,'
" that, as the lustre of the luminary became more dim, the spots did not
contract in their dimensions. The usual course on such occasions, is to say,
Taceamus de his ; but History neither asserts her greatest privilege, [and
particularly the history of Gretna Green,] nor discharges her higher duties,
when, dazzled by brilliant genius, or astonished by splendid triumphs, or
even softened by amiable qualities, she abstains from marking those defects
which so often degrade the most sterling worth, and which the talents and
the affections that they accompany may sometimes seduce men to imitate."
Now, the manner of it was
this. They got into the carriage, together with their children, in order to
journey to Springfield ;—hush I do hold your tongue.
The universally besetting sin
in human nature — most sought after, most relished, and most dearly loved—is
the fondness for gossip and scandal; not, pcradventure, for the sake of
saying evil things of our neighbours, or for the sake of listening to
charges against their reputation, for we sometimes talk what is termed
scandal of our good friends without ceasing to love them, but for the sake
of a lively topic of conversation amongst those whose temperaments are not
grave enough for abstruse subjects, for the sake of exercising that inherent
quality called curiosity, whether it be in one sex or whether it be in the
other, and for the sake of imparting to our fellow gossips the knowledge we
possess of other folks' affairs. These motives are instigators strong-
enough in themselves, to say nothing of others perhaps not so harmless,
which, on the other hand, might be adduced. It is difficult to say, with.
precision, where news of our friends, strictly so understood, or " kind
inquiries" about them, given and received end, and where scandal begins. It
is just and fair to inquire how our friends speed in the world, as
manifesting sympathy and interest concerning them; but it is the abuse of
that sympathy and interest, the prying unnecessarily further than concerns
us, that then degenerates into "tittle-tattle." Who ever took a
tete-a-tete drive round the park, but such light gossip was the chief
amusement ? or, who ever met half a dozen intimates at a snug tea party,
(tea is a dreadful promoter of scandal,) but it was the reigning pastime all
the evening ? In such cases, it may be only a sympathetic talking of our
absent acquaintances; but the transition from that to actual tittle-tattle
is easy and pleasant to most people, not only of the female sex, (as some
have maliciously said,) but of the male sex also.
We have made these
observations on this dear passion, half thinking that the reader might
suppose we were going to give way to it ourselves; but we must intreat him
or her to recollect that the historian is not a scandal-monger, although he
shall discourse of events which befel, not in the remote ages of antiquity,
but even in days near unto those in which we live. The only difference
between history and written scandal appears to be this:—that the former
treats of achievements which befel in times long passed away, whereas the
latter touches on events which have happened almost within our own
Well! the manner of it was
this, to wit—they both got into the carriage, accompanied by their children,
in order to journey to Springfield; and that they might the more surely
escape observation, we are told by such rare chronicles as have made
especial note of this matter, and eke by such cotemporaries as are now
living and remember it, the noble baron laid aside his honours, and became a
plain man by assuming an alias—even that of "Mr. Thomas," and that name,
indeed, was returned to those who inquired whose carriage stopped the way.
Mr. Thomas passed unknown for
a space ; but deception will endure only for a season, and the truth will
eventually prevail. So it was here ; Mr. Thomas's doublet was soon peered
through, and the Lord Erskine was perceived withinside.
It even got about, through
the horribly libellous exertions of the gossips of the day, that he
travelled in woman's attire, for the purpose of preserving a more certain
incog. But this, most just reader, prithee do not believe, because it is not
true, as we have discovered by searching into the stores of rare archives:
it arose only out of a mistake or rather a misapprehension of appearances.
Pleasant is the office of the peace-maker; so also, is the office of him
that corrects and clears up a calumny. We pray you to abjure all credence in
this assertion; to eschew harbouring it in any wise; and to abhor the
mention of it, and the sinner who first set it abroach. Such a scandalous
report arose after this fashion,—namely, as my Lord journeyed in the
vehicle, together with Mistress Sarah Buck, the lady of his especial
election, and the two little pledges of his dearest affection ; he did, in
fatherly love, and that he might beguile the way, and amuse these, the said
little pledges, facetiously put upon his own head the bonnet of the
hereinbefore-mentioned Mistress Sarah Buck. Now this is the historical
relation of the fact, the clearing up the mystery, and the expungement of
all slur and detraction. Wherefore, it is grievous to reflect on the natural
depravity of human nature, that it should, out of a domestic and amiable
incident, concoct a tale of defamation and hurtful slander. The children
laughed and were pleased ; and mamma was pleased too, and patted their
little heads with her "awful-paws;" ay, and papa was pleased as well — so
they were all pleased, and, consequently, happy for the time, and,
consequently, content with their lot: and contentment with one's lot is
gratitude to God who assigned that lot to us; and as ingratitude is the
worst of sins, so gratitude, the contrary, becometh a positive virtue. And
yet this innocent and happy party did not, even at that moment, escape
calumny. But what says William Shakspere, comedian of Stratford-super-Avon,
in the county of Warwick?
Be thou as chaste as ice, as
pure as snow, Thou shalt not escape calumny."
Alas! then, for those who are
not like either one or the other.
They sped on their journey at
a fair pace, and for the reasons, somewhere before given, they are supposed
not to have seen one bit of Sohvay Moss. Arrived at Springfield by the old
road—for neither the present new one nor Gretna Hall were in existence —
they repaired to the King's Head hostel, and in that hostel, to the parlour
or sitting-room on the right-hand of the door at entering. Here they soon
achieved the first half of our motto on the title page, they " married in
haste:11 and let us add also, if it were for no other reason than to shew
how infallible this motto is, they shortly afterwards " repented at
leisure," but with that we have nothing to do.
This execution was not
unattended with certain strange circumstances, as -were authentically
related to us in the house by Dame Beattie.
"Here good sir," said she,
going into the middle of the room; "here it was that my Lord stood, together
with Miss Buck; here it was he pledged his allegiance, and gave up his heart
and his hand; here it was lie swore to love and to cherish and so forth; and
here it was he threw his cloak over his little ones that he had brought with
"He wore an ample travelling
cloak when he alighted down at the door," continued she ; " and he did not
take it off when he came into the house. It was gathered round his neck by,
a collar; and by flowing in long folds down to the ground, it served well to
cover his whole person. Under this he took his children during the ceremony,
in order, as I was told, that they should become his heirs."
"Surely then, he did this
bostelrie much honour by the visit."
"Surely you are right, good
sir, and the fame hereof has, in consequence, been much beholden unto him."
"But, oh ! sir, only think of
it—out upon your sex say I."
"Only think of what? Out upon
us, and wherefore?"
"Alas! the inconstancy of
man, the shallowness of his judgment, the instability of his resolution, and
the insecurity of his love."
"Indeed ! you don't mean all
that, I am sure."
"Indeed, sir, but I do
"And what then? I knew all
that before. I thought you had discovered something new."
"I trow not; for many a man
ere now has sworn one way to day, and gone another to-morrow."
"Very bad—very bad."
"And what is plighted faith,
or promises pledged, or oaths pronounced if they abide not?"
"Some poet says, (and poets
always say true,) that oaths are but words, and words but breath; now, words
are only heard for the moment, and leave no trace of the thing they were;
and breath is but as the idle zephyr of heaven, which bloweth where it
listeth, and which no eye can discern, and no art can render stable for a
"And such be the oaths and
promises of men."
"How so? How so? Even
allowing, Mistress Beattie, that poets always speak true, I will not say
that I always believe them; and albeit promises be made up, as they say, of
breath only, and so on, yet would I have a man not utter an airy and an
invisible promise, or an intangible oath, unless he has stability of purpose
such as will keep him well up to it ever after. True, words be but breath ;
but words are the issued coinage of the inward soul, and if that soul
thinketh one thing and speaketh another, that soul becometh a liar."
"Now that is what I like. But
he who makes a promise to-day, fully meaning to keep to it, yet afterwards
falls away, either through fickleness of temper or natural inconstancy, or
innate proneness to change,—that man is not a premeditated liar, but rather
a weak and frail creature in whom there is no dependancc."
"Most eloquently spoken: yet
what are you driving at, for verily I am lost? You say that man is
inconstant—fickle, without stability, reliance, or dependance ; not,
however, a premeditated liar—only a weak creature; a liar because he does
not keep his promise, yet a liar through omission and weakness, and not
depravity;—mighty fine, and doubtless passing true, but what then?"
"Why, Sir, you see that my
Lord came here of his own free will, through his own yearning and desire,
and of his pleasure wedded the lady of his election."
"Very good, and many others
have done the same."
"Just so ; and very good thus
far. But will you believe what came after?"
"I don't know."
"Why, he tried to get a
"A what? "
Of a truth, friend reader,
this was a good moral for those who marry in haste. At these words we were,
as some tender poet saith, "struck all of a heap." It was enough to ruin the
fair fabric of romance which the imagination of Gretna marriages is so ready
to build up; and enough to make a man pucker himself like a snail into his
shell, when he meets with anything that greatly offends him.
"I tell you what it is,
Mistress Beattie; I will incontinently sit down and write a book about
Gretna Green: and mark me, I will have a rare motto on the title-page."
"No doubt, Sir, many good
things besides on the title-page, might be put into it."
"Plenty of gossip, plenty of
tittle-tattle, plenty of scandal."
"This is what the world
loves, no matter where or how."
"The first half of the motto
shall contain the fact; the second shall set forth the moral."