The Bride of LammermoorWalter Scott
Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer and David Widger
THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
by Sir Walter Scott
INTRODUCTION TO THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
THE Author, on a former occasion, declined giving the real sourcefrom which he drew the tragic subject of this history, because, thoughoccurring at a distant period, it might possibly be unpleasing to thefeelings of the descendants of the parties. But as he finds an accountof the circumstances given in the Notes to Law's Memorials, by hisingenious friend, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Esq., and also indicatedin his reprint of the Rev. Mr. Symson's poems appended to the LargeDescription of Galloway, as the original of the Bride of Lammermoor, theAuthor feels himself now at liberty to tell the tale as he had it fromconnexions of his own, who lived very near the period, and were closelyrelated to the family of the bride.
It is well known that the family of Dalrymple, which has produced,within the space of two centuries, as many men of talent, civil andmilitary, and of literary, political, and professional eminence, as anyhouse in Scotland, first rose into distinction in the person of JamesDalrymple, one of the most eminent lawyers that ever lived, though thelabours of his powerful mind were unhappily exercised on a subject solimited as Scottish jurisprudence, on which he has composed an admirablework.
He married Margaret, daughter to Ross of Balneel, with whom he obtaineda considerable estate. She was an able, politic, and high-minded woman,so successful in what she undertook, that the vulgar, no way partial toher husband or her family, imputed her success to necromancy. Accordingto the popular belief, this Dame Margaret purchased the temporalprosperity of her family from the Master whom she served under asingular condition, which is thus narrated by the historian of hergrandson, the great Earl of Stair: "She lived to a great age, and ather death desired that she might not be put under ground, but that hercoffin should stand upright on one end of it, promising that while sheremained in that situation the Dalrymples should continue to flourish.What was the old lady's motive for the request, or whether she reallymade such a promise, I shall not take upon me to determine; butit's certain her coffin stands upright in the isle of the church ofKirklistown, the burial-place belonging to the family." The talentsof this accomplished race were sufficient to have accounted forthe dignities which many members of the family attained, without anysupernatural assistance. But their extraordinary prosperity was attendedby some equally singular family misfortunes, of which that which befelltheir eldest daughter was at once unaccountable and melancholy.
Miss Janet Dalrymple, daughter of the first Lord Stair and Dame MargaretRoss, had engaged herself without the knowledge of her parents to theLord Rutherford, who was not acceptable to them either on account of hispolitical principles or his want of fortune. The young couple brokea piece of gold together, and pledged their troth in the most solemnmanner; and it is said the young lady imprecated dreadful evils onherself should she break her plighted faith. Shortly after, a suitorwho was favoured by Lord Stair, and still more so by his lady, paid hisaddresses to Miss Dalrymple. The young lady refused the proposal, andbeing pressed on the subject, confessed her secret engagement. LadyStair, a woman accustomed to universal submission, for even her husbanddid not dare to contradict her, treated this objection as a trifle, andinsisted upon her daughter yielding her consent to marry the new suitor,David Dunbar, son and heir to David Dunbar of Baldoon, in Wigtonshire.The first lover, a man of very high spirit, then interfered by letter,and insisted on the right he had acquired by his troth plighted with theyoung lady. Lady Stair sent him for answer, that her daughter, sensibleof her undutiful behaviour in entering into a contract unsanctioned byher parents, had retracted her unlawful vow, and now refused to fulfilher engagement with him.
The lover, in return, declined positively to receive such an answer fromany one but his mistress in person and as she had to deal with a manwho was both of a most determined character and of too high conditionto be trifled with, Lady Stair was obliged to consent to an interviewbetween Lord Rutherford and her daughter. But she took care to bepresent in person, and argued the point with the disappointed andincensed lover with pertinacity equal to his own. She particularlyinsisted on the Levitical law, which declares that a woman shall befree of a vow which her parents dissent from. This is the passage ofScripture she founded on:
"If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soulwith a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to allthat proceedeth out of his mouth.
"If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond,being in her father's house in her youth; And her father hear her vow,and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shallhold his peace at her: then all her vows shall stand, and every bondwherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand.
"But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not anyof her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shallstand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowedher."--Numbers xxx. 2-5.
While the mother insisted on these topics, the lover in vain conjuredthe daughter to declare her own opinion and feelings. She remainedtotally overwhelmed, as it seemed--mute, pale, and motionless as astatue. Only at her mother's command, sternly uttered, she summonedstrength enough to restore to her plighted suitor the piece of brokengold which was the emblem of her troth. On this he burst forth into atremendous passion, took leave of the mother with maledictions, and ashe left the apartment, turned back to say to his weak, if not fickle,mistresss: "For you, madam, you will be a world's wonder"; a phrase bywhich some remarkable degree of calamity is usually implied. He wentabroad, and returned not again. If the last Lord Rutherford was theunfortunate party, he must have been the third who bore that title, andwho died in 1685.
The marriage betwixt Janet Dalrymple and David Dunbar of Baldoon nowwent forward, the bride showing no repugnance, but being absolutelypassive in everything her mother commanded or advised. On the day of themarriage, which, as was then usual, was celebrated by a great assemblageof friends and relations, she was the same--sad, silent, and resigned,as it seemed, to her destiny. A lady, very nearly connected with thefamily, told the Author that she had conversed on the subject with oneof the brothers of the bride, a mere lad at the time, who had riddenbefore his sister to church. He said her hand, which lay on his as sheheld her arm around his waist, was as cold and damp as marble. But,full of his new dress and the part he acted in the procession, thecircumstance, which he long afterwards remembered with bitter sorrow andcompunction, made no impression on him at the time.
The bridal feast was followed by dancing. The bride and bridegroomretired as usual, when of a sudden the most wild and piercing cries wereheard from the nuptial chamber. It was then the custom, to prevent anycoarse pleasantry which old times perhaps admitted, that the key ofthe nuptial chamber should be entrusted to the bridesman. He was calledupon, but refused at first to give it up, till the shrieks became sohideous that he was compelled to hasten with others to learn thecause. On opening the door, they found the bridegroom lying across thethreshold, dreadfully wounded, and streaming with blood. The bridewas then sought for. She was found in the corner of the large chimney,having no covering save her shift, and that dabbled in gore. There shesat grinning at them, mopping and mowing, as I heard the expressionused; in a word, absolutely insane. The only words she spoke were, "Takup your bonny bridegroom." She survived this horrible scene little morethan a fortnight, having been married on the 24th of August, and dyingon the 12th of September 1669.
The unfortunate Baldoon recovered from his wounds, but sternlyprohibited all inquiries respecting the manner in which he had receivedthem. "If a lady," he said, "asked him any question upon the sub
ject,he would neither answer her nor speak to her again while he lived; ifa gentleman, he would consider it as a mortal affront, and demandsatisfaction as having received such." He did not very long survive thedreadful catastrophe, having met with a fatal injury by a fall from hishorse, as he rode between Leith and Holyrood House, of which he died thenext day, 28th March 1682. Thus a few years removed all the principalactors in this frightful tragedy.
Various reports went abroad on this mysterious affair, many of them veryinaccurate, though they could hardly be said to be exaggerated. Itwas difficult at that time to become acquainted with the history of aScottish family above the lower rank; and strange things sometimes tookplace there, into which even the law did not scrupulously inquire.
The credulous Mr. Law says, generally, that the Lord President Stair hada daughter, who, "being married, the night she was bride in, was takenfrom her bridegroom and harled through the house (by spirits, we aregiven to understand) and afterward died. Another daughter," he says,"was supposed to be possessed with an evil spirit."
My friend, Mr. Sharpe, gives another edition of the tale. Accordingto his information, ti was the bridegroom who wounded the bride. Themarriage, according to this account, had been against her mother'sinclination, who had given her consent in these ominous words: "Weel,you may marry him, but sair shall you repent it."
I find still another account darkly insinuated in some highly scurrilousand abusive verses, of which I have an original copy. They are docketedas being written "Upon the late Viscount Stair and his family, by SirWilliam Hamilton of Whitelaw. The marginals by William Dunlop, writer inEdinburgh, a son of the Laird of Househill, and nephew to the said SirWilliam Hamilton." There was a bitter and personal quarrel and rivalrybetwixt the author of this libel, a name which it richly deserves, andLord President Stair; and the lampoon, which is written with much moremalice than art, bears the following motto:
Stair's neck, mind, wife, songs, grandson, and the rest, Are wry, false,witch, pests, parricide, possessed.
This malignant satirist, who calls up all the misfortunes of the family,does not forget the fatal bridal of Baldoon. He seems, though his versesare as obscure as unpoetical, to intimate that the violence done to thebridegroom was by the intervention of the foul fiend, to whom the younglady had resigned herself, in case she should break her contract withher first lover. His hypothesis is inconsistent with the account givenin the note upon Law's Memorials, but easily reconcilable to the familytradition.
In all Stair's offspring we no difference know, They do the females as the males bestow; So he of one of his daughters' marriages gave the ward, Like a true vassal, to Glenluce's Laird; He knew what she did to her master plight, If she her faith to Rutherfurd should slight, Which, like his own, for greed he broke outright. Nick did Baldoon's posterior right deride, And, as first substitute, did seize the bride; Whate'er he to his mistress did or said, He threw the bridegroom from the nuptial bed, Into the chimney did so his rival maul, His bruised bones ne'er were cured but by the fall.
One of the marginal notes ascribed to William Dunlop applies to theabove lines. "She had betrothed herself to Lord Rutherfoord under horridimprecations, and afterwards married Baldoon, his nevoy, and her motherwas the cause of her breach of faith."
The same tragedy is alluded to in the following couplet and note:
What train of curses that base brood pursues, When the young nephew wedsold uncle's spouse.
The note on the word "uncle" explains it as meaning "Rutherfoord, whoshould have married the Lady Baldoon, was Baldoon's uncle." The poetryof this satire on Lord Stair and his family was, as already noticed,written by Sir William Hamilton of Whitelaw, a rival of Lord Stairfor the situation of President of the Court of Session a person muchinferior to that great lawyer in talents, and equally ill-treated by thecalumny or just satire of his contemporaries as an unjust and partialjudge. Some of the notes are by that curious and laborious antiquary,Robert Milne, who, as a virulent Jacobite, willingly lent a hand toblacken the family of Stair.
Another poet of the period, with a very different purpose, has leftan elegy, in which he darkly hints at and bemoans the fate of theill-starred young person, whose very uncommon calamity Whitelaw, Dunlop,and Milne thought a fitting subject for buffoonery and ribaldry. Thisbard of milder mood was Andrew Symson, before the Revolution ministerof Kirkinner, in Galloway, and after his expulsion as an Episcopalianfollowing the humble occupation of a printer in Edinburgh. He furnishedthe family of Baldoon, with which he appears to have been intimate, withan elegy on the tragic event in their family. In this piece he treatsthe mournful occasion of the bride's death with mysterious solemnity.
The verses bear this title, "On the unexpected death of the virtuousLady Mrs. Janet Dalrymple, Lady Baldoon, younger," and afford us theprecise dates of the catastrophe, which could not otherwise have beeneasily ascertained. "Nupta August 12. Domum Ducta August 24. ObiitSeptember 12. Sepult. September 30, 1669." The form of the elegy isa dialogue betwixt a passenger and a domestic servant. The first,recollecting that he had passed that way lately, and seen all aroundenlivened by the appearances of mirth and festivity, is desirous to knowwhat had changed so gay a scene into mourning. We preserve the reply ofthe servant as a specimen of Mr. Symson's verses, which are not of thefirst quality:
Sir, 'tis truth you've told. We did enjoy great mirth; but now, ah me! Our joyful song's turn'd to an elegie. A virtuous lady, not long since a bride, Was to a hopeful plant by marriage tied, And brought home hither. We did all rejoice, Even for her sake. But presently our voice Was turn'd to mourning for that little time That she'd enjoy: she waned in her prime, For Atropus, with her impartial knife, Soon cut her thread, and therewithal her life; And for the time we may it well remember, It being in unfortunate September; . Where we must leave her till the resurrection. 'Tis then the Saints enjoy their full perfection.
Mr. Symson also poured forth his elegiac strains upon the fate ofthe widowed bridegroom, on which subject, after a long and querulouseffusion, the poet arrives at the sound conclusion, that if Baldoon hadwalked on foot, which it seems was his general custom, he would haveescaped perishing by a fall from horseback. As the work in which itoccurs is so scarce as almost to be unique, and as it gives us the mostfull account of one of the actors in this tragic tale which we haverehearsed, we will, at the risk of being tedious, insert some shortspecimens of Mr. Symson's composition. It is entitled:
"A Funeral Elegie, occasioned by the sad and much lamented death of thatworthily respected, and very much accomplished gentleman, David Dunbar,younger, of Baldoon, only son and apparent heir to the right worshipfulSir David Dunbar of Baldoon, Knight Baronet. He departed this life onMarch 28, 1682, having received a bruise by a fall, as he was ridingthe day preceding betwixt Leith and Holyrood House; and was honourablyinterred in the Abbey Church of Holyrood House, on April 4, 1682."
Men might, and very justly too, conclude Me guilty of the worst ingratitude, Should I be silent, or should I forbear At this sad accident to shed a tear; A tear! said I? ah! that's a petit thing, A very lean, slight, slender offering, Too mean, I'm sure, for me, wherewith t'attend The unexpected funeral of my friend: A glass of briny tears charged up to th' brim. Would be too few for me to shed for him.
The poet proceeds to state his intimacy with the deceased, and theconstancy of the young man's attendance on public worship, whichwas regular, and had such effect upon two or three other that wereinfluenced by his example:
So that my Muse 'gainst Priscian avers, He, only he, WERE my parishioners; Yea, and my only hearers.
He then describes the deceased in person and manners, from which itappears that more accomplishments were expected in the composition of afine gentleman in ancient than modern times:
His body, though not very large or tall, Was sprightly, active,
yea and strong withal. His constitution was, if right I've guess'd, Blood mixt with choler, said to be the best. In's gesture, converse, speech, discourse, attire, He practis'd that which wise men still admire, Commend, and recommend. What's that? you'll say. 'Tis this: he ever choos'd the middle way 'Twixt both th' extremes. Amost in ev'ry thing He did the like, 'tis worth our noticing: Sparing, yet not a niggard; liberal, And yet not lavish or a prodigal, As knowing when to spend and when to spare; And that's a lesson which not many are Acquainted with. He bashful was, yet daring When he saw cause, and yet therein not sparing; Familiar, yet not common, for he knew To condescend, and keep his distance too. He us'd, and that most commonly, to go On foot; I wish that he had still done so. Th' affairs of court were unto him well known; And yet meanwhile he slighted not his own. He knew full well how to behave at court, And yet but seldom did thereto resort; But lov'd the country life, choos'd to inure Himself to past'rage and agriculture; Proving, improving, ditching, trenching, draining, Viewing, reviewing, and by those means gaining; Planting, transplanting, levelling, erecting Walls, chambers, houses, terraces; projecting Now this, now that device, this draught, that measure, That might advance his profit with his pleasure. Quick in his bargains, honest in commerce, Just in his dealings, being much adverse From quirks of law, still ready to refer His cause t' an honest country arbiter. He was acquainted with cosmography, Arithmetic, and modern history; With architecture and such arts as these, Which I may call specifick sciences Fit for a gentleman; and surely he That knows them not, at least in some degree, May brook the title, but he wants the thing, Is but a shadow scarce worth noticing. He learned the French, be't spoken to his praise, In very little more than fourty days.
Then comes the full burst of woe, in which, instead of saying muchhimself, the poet informs us what the ancients would have said on suchan occasion:
A heathen poet, at the news, no doubt, Would have exclaimed, and furiously cry'd out Against the fates, the destinies and starrs, What! this the effect of planetarie warrs! We might have seen him rage and rave, yea worse, 'Tis very like we might have heard him curse The year, the month, the day, the hour, the place, The company, the wager, and the race; Decry all recreations, with the names Of Isthmian, Pythian, and Olympick games; Exclaim against them all both old and new, Both the Nemaean and the Lethaean too: Adjudge all persons, under highest pain, Always to walk on foot, and then again Order all horses to be hough'd, that we Might never more the like adventure see.
Supposing our readers have had enough of Mr. Symson's woe, and findingnothing more in his poem worthy of transcription, we return to thetragic story.
It is needless to point out to the intelligent reader that thewitchcraft of the mother consisted only in the ascendency of a powerfulmind over a weak and melancholy one, and that the harshness with whichshe exercised her superiority in a case of delicacy had driven herdaughter first to despair, then to frenzy. Accordingly, the Authorhas endeavoured to explain the tragic tale on this principle. Whateverresemblance Lady Ashton may be supposed to possess to the celebratedDame Margaret Ross, the reader must not suppose that there was any ideaof tracing the portrait of the first Lord Viscount Stair in the trickyand mean-spirited Sir William Ashton. Lord Stair, whatever might be hismoral qualities, was certainly one of the first statesmen and lawyers ofhis age.
The imaginary castle of Wolf's Crag has been identified by some lover oflocality with that of Fast Castle. The Author is not competent to judgeof the resemblance betwixt the real and imaginary scenes, having neverseen Fast Castle except from the sea. But fortalices of this descriptionare found occupying, like ospreys' nests, projecting rocks, orpromontories, in many parts of the eastern coast of Scotland, and theposition of Fast Castle seems certainly to resemble that of Wolf'sCrag as much as any other, while its vicinity to the mountain ridge ofLammermoor renders the assimilation a probable one.
We have only to add, that the death of the unfortunate bridegroom bya fall from horseback has been in the novel transferred to the no lessunfortunate lover.