Guy Mannering Or the Astrologer — CompleteWalter Scott
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BY SIR WALTER SCOTT
'Tis said that words and signs have power O'er sprites in planetary hour; But scarce I praise their venturous part Who tamper with such dangerous art.
Lay of the Last Minstrel.
The Novel or Romance of Waverley made its way to the public slowly, ofcourse, at first, but afterwards with such accumulating popularity asto encourage the Author to a second attempt. He looked about for a nameand a subject; and the manner in which the novels were composed cannotbe better illustrated than by reciting the simple narrative on whichGuy Mannering was originally founded; but to which, in the progress ofthe work, the production ceased to bear any, even the most distantresemblance. The tale was originally told me by an old servant of myfather's, an excellent old Highlander, without a fault, unless apreference to mountain dew over less potent liquors be accounted one.He believed as firmly in the story as in any part of his creed.
A grave and elderly person, according to old John MacKinlay's account,while travelling in the wilder parts of Galloway, was benighted. Withdifficulty he found his way to a country seat, where, with thehospitality of the time and country, he was readily admitted. The ownerof the house, a gentleman of good fortune, was much struck by thereverend appearance of his guest, and apologised to him for a certaindegree of confusion which must unavoidably attend his reception, andcould not escape his eye. The lady of the house was, he said, confinedto her apartment, and on the point of making her husband a father forthe first time, though they had been ten years married. At such anemergency, the laird said, he feared his guest might meet with someapparent neglect.
'Not so, sir,' said the stranger; 'my wants are few, and easilysupplied, and I trust the present circumstances may even afford anopportunity of showing my gratitude for your hospitality. Let me onlyrequest that I may be informed of the exact minute of the birth; and Ihope to be able to put you in possession of some particulars which mayinfluence in an important manner the future prospects of the child nowabout to come into this busy and changeful world. I will not concealfrom you that I am skilful in understanding and interpreting themovements of those planetary bodies which exert their influences on thedestiny of mortals. It is a science which I do not practise, likeothers who call themselves astrologers, for hire or reward; for I havea competent estate, and only use the knowledge I possess for thebenefit of those in whom I feel an interest.' The laird bowed inrespect and gratitude, and the stranger was accommodated with anapartment which commanded an ample view of the astral regions.
The guest spent a part of the night in ascertaining the position of theheavenly bodies, and calculating their probable influence; until atlength the result of his observations induced him to send for thefather and conjure him in the most solemn manner to cause theassistants to retard the birth if practicable, were it but for fiveminutes. The answer declared this to be impossible; and almost in theinstant that the message was returned the father and his guest weremade acquainted with the birth of a boy.
The Astrologer on the morrow met the party who gathered around thebreakfast table with looks so grave and ominous as to alarm the fearsof the father, who had hitherto exulted in the prospects held out bythe birth of an heir to his ancient property, failing which event itmust have passed to a distant branch of the family. He hastened to drawthe stranger into a private room.
'I fear from your looks,' said the father, 'that you have bad tidingsto tell me of my young stranger; perhaps God will resume the blessingHe has bestowed ere he attains the age of manhood, or perhaps he isdestined to be unworthy of the affection which we are naturallydisposed to devote to our offspring?'
'Neither the one nor the other,' answered the stranger; 'unless myjudgment greatly err, the infant will survive the years of minority,and in temper and disposition will prove all that his parents can wish.But with much in his horoscope which promises many blessings, there isone evil influence strongly predominant, which threatens to subject himto an unhallowed and unhappy temptation about the time when he shallattain the age of twenty-one, which period, the constellationsintimate, will be the crisis of his fate. In what shape, or with whatpeculiar urgency, this temptation may beset him, my art cannotdiscover.'
'Your knowledge, then, can afford us no defence,' said the anxiousfather, 'against the threatened evil?'
'Pardon me,' answered the stranger, 'it can. The influence of theconstellations is powerful; but He who made the heavens is morepowerful than all, if His aid be invoked in sincerity and truth. Youought to dedicate this boy to the immediate service of his Maker, withas much sincerity as Samuel was devoted to the worship in the Temple byhis parents. You must regard him as a being separated from the rest ofthe world. In childhood, in boyhood, you must surround him with thepious and virtuous, and protect him to the utmost of your power fromthe sight or hearing of any crime, in word or action. He must beeducated in religious and moral principles of the strictestdescription. Let him not enter the world, lest he learn to partake ofits follies, or perhaps of its vices. In short, preserve him as far aspossible from all sin, save that of which too great a portion belongsto all the fallen race of Adam. With the approach of his twenty-firstbirthday comes the crisis of his fate. If he survive it, he will behappy and prosperous on earth, and a chosen vessel among those electedfor heaven. But if it be otherwise--' The Astrologer stopped, andsighed deeply.
'Sir,' replied the parent, still more alarmed than before, 'your wordsare so kind, your advice so serious, that I will pay the deepestattention to your behests; but can you not aid me farther in this mostimportant concern? Believe me, I will not be ungrateful.'
'I require and deserve no gratitude for doing a good action,' said thestranger, 'in especial for contributing all that lies in my power tosave from an abhorred fate the harmless infant to whom, under asingular conjunction of planets, last night gave life. There is myaddress; you may write to me from time to time concerning the progressof the boy in religious knowledge. If he be bred up as I advise, Ithink it will be best that he come to my house at the time when thefatal and decisive period approaches, that is, before he has attainedhis twenty-first year complete. If you send him such as I desire, Ihumbly trust that God will protect His own through whatever strongtemptation his fate may subject him to.' He then gave his host hisaddress, which was a country seat near a post town in the south ofEngland, and bid him an affectionate farewell.
The mysterious stranger departed, but his words remained impressed uponthe mind of the anxious parent. He lost his lady while his boy wasstill in infancy. This calamity, I think, had been predicted by theAstrologer; and thus his confidence, which, like most people of theperiod, he had freely given to the science, was riveted and confirmed.The utmost care, therefore, was taken to carry into effect the severeand almost ascetic plan of education which the sage had enjoined. Atutor of the strictest principles was employed to superintend theyouth's education; he was surrounded by domestics of the mostestablished character, and closely watched and looked after by theanxious father himself.
The years of infancy, childhood, and boyhood passed as the father couldhave wished. A young Nazarene could not have been bred up with morerigour. All that was evil was withheld from his observation: he onlyheard what was pure in precept, he only witnessed what was worthy inpractice.
But when the boy began to be lost in the youth, the attentive fathersaw cause for
alarm. Shades of sadness, which gradually assumed adarker character, began to over-cloud the young man's temper. Tears,which seemed involuntary, broken sleep, moonlight wanderings, and amelancholy for which he could assign no reason, seemed to threaten atonce his bodily health and the stability of his mind. The Astrologerwas consulted by letter, and returned for answer that this fitful stateof mind was but the commencement of his trial, and that the poor youthmust undergo more and more desperate struggles with the evil thatassailed him. There was no hope of remedy, save that he showedsteadiness of mind in the study of the Scriptures. 'He suffers,continued the letter of the sage,' from the awakening of those harpiesthe passions, which have slept with him, as with others, till theperiod of life which he has now attained. Better, far better, that theytorment him by ungrateful cravings than that he should have to repenthaving satiated them by criminal indulgence.'
The dispositions of the young man were so excellent that he combated,by reason and religion, the fits of gloom which at times overcast hismind, and it was not till he attained the commencement of histwenty-first year that they assumed a character which made his fathertremble for the consequences. It seemed as if the gloomiest and mosthideous of mental maladies was taking the form of religious despair.Still the youth was gentle, courteous, affectionate, and submissive tohis father's will, and resisted with all his power the dark suggestionswhich were breathed into his mind, as it seemed by some emanation ofthe Evil Principle, exhorting him, like the wicked wife of Job, tocurse God and die.
The time at length arrived when he was to perform what was then thoughta long and somewhat perilous journey, to the mansion of the earlyfriend who had calculated his nativity. His road lay through severalplaces of interest, and he enjoyed the amusement of travelling morethan he himself thought would have been possible. Thus he did not reachthe place of his destination till noon on the day preceding hisbirthday. It seemed as if he had been carried away with an unwontedtide of pleasurable sensation, so as to forget in some degree what hisfather had communicated concerning the purpose of his journey. Hehalted at length before a respectable but solitary old mansion, towhich he was directed as the abode of his father's friend.
The servants who came to take his horse told him he had been expectedfor two days. He was led into a study, where the stranger, now avenerable old man, who had been his father's guest, met him with ashade of displeasure, as well as gravity, on his brow. 'Young man,' hesaid, 'wherefore so slow on a journey of such importance?' 'I thought,'replied the guest, blushing and looking downward,' that there was noharm in travelling slowly and satisfying my curiosity, providing Icould reach your residence by this day; for such was my father'scharge.' 'You were to blame,' replied the sage, 'in lingering,considering that the avenger of blood was pressing on your footsteps.But you are come at last, and we will hope for the best, though theconflict in which you are to be engaged will be found more dreadful thelonger it is postponed. But first accept of such refreshments as naturerequires to satisfy, but not to pamper, the appetite.'
The old man led the way into a summer parlour, where a frugal meal wasplaced on the table. As they sat down to the board they were joined bya young lady about eighteen years of age, and so lovely that the sightof her carried off the feelings of the young stranger from thepeculiarity and mystery of his own lot, and riveted his attention toeverything she did or said. She spoke little and it was on the mostserious subjects. She played on the harpsichord at her father'scommand, but it was hymns with which she accompanied the instrument. Atlength, on a sign from the sage, she left the room, turning on theyoung stranger as she departed a look of inexpressible anxiety andinterest.
The old man then conducted the youth to his study, and conversed withhim upon the most important points of religion, to satisfy himself thathe could render a reason for the faith that was in him. During theexamination the youth, in spite of himself, felt his mind occasionallywander, and his recollections go in quest of the beautiful vision whohad shared their meal at noon. On such occasions the Astrologer lookedgrave, and shook his head at this relaxation of attention; yet, on thewhole, he was pleased with the youth's replies.
At sunset the young man was made to take the bath; and, having done so,he was directed to attire himself in a robe somewhat like that worn byArmenians, having his long hair combed down on his shoulders, and hisneck, hands, and feet bare. In this guise he was conducted into aremote chamber totally devoid of furniture, excepting a lamp, a chair,and a table, on which lay a Bible. 'Here,' said the Astrologer, 'I mustleave you alone to pass the most critical period of your life. If youcan, by recollection of the great truths of which we have spoken, repelthe attacks which will be made on your courage and your principles, youhave nothing to apprehend. But the trial will be severe and arduous.'His features then assumed a pathetic solemnity, the tears stood in hiseyes, and his voice faltered with emotion as he said, 'Dear child, atwhose coming into the world I foresaw this fatal trial, may God givethee grace to support it with firmness!'
The young man was left alone; and hardly did he find himself so, when,like a swarm of demons, the recollection of all his sins of omissionand commission, rendered even more terrible by the scrupulousness withwhich he had been educated, rushed on his mind, and, like furies armedwith fiery scourges, seemed determined to drive him to despair. As hecombated these horrible recollections with distracted feelings, butwith a resolved mind, he became aware that his arguments were answeredby the sophistry of another, and that the dispute was no longerconfined to his own thoughts. The Author of Evil was present in theroom with him in bodily shape, and, potent with spirits of a melancholycast, was impressing upon him the desperation of his state, and urgingsuicide as the readiest mode to put an end to his sinful career. Amidhis errors, the pleasure he had taken in prolonging his journeyunnecessarily, and the attention which he had bestowed on the beauty ofthe fair female when his thoughts ought to have been dedicated to thereligious discourse of her father, were set before him in the darkestcolours; and he was treated as one who, having sinned against light,was therefore deservedly left a prey to the Prince of Darkness.
As the fated and influential hour rolled on, the terrors of the hatefulPresence grew more confounding to the mortal senses of the victim, andthe knot of the accursed sophistry became more inextricable inappearance, at least to the prey whom its meshes surrounded. He had notpower to explain the assurance of pardon which he continued to assert,or to name the victorious name in which he trusted. But his faith didnot abandon him, though he lacked for a time the power of expressingit. 'Say what you will,' was his answer to the Tempter; 'I know thereis as much betwixt the two boards of this Book as can ensure meforgiveness for my transgressions and safety for my soul.' As he spoke,the clock, which announced the lapse of the fatal hour, was heard tostrike. The speech and intellectual powers of the youth were instantlyand fully restored; he burst forth into prayer, and expressed in themost glowing terms his reliance on the truth and on the Author of theGospel. The Demon retired, yelling and discomfited, and the old man,entering the apartment, with tears congratulated his guest on hisvictory in the fated struggle.
The young man was afterwards married to the beautiful maiden, the firstsight of whom had made such an impression on him, and they wereconsigned over at the close of the story to domestic happiness. Soended John MacKinlay's legend.
The Author of Waverley had imagined a possibility of framing aninteresting, and perhaps not an unedifying, tale out of the incidentsof the life of a doomed individual, whose efforts at good and virtuousconduct were to be for ever disappointed by the intervention, as itwere, of some malevolent being, and who was at last to come offvictorious from the fearful struggle. In short, something was meditatedupon a plan resembling the imaginative tale of Sintram and hisCompanions, by Mons. le Baron de la Motte Fouque, although, if it thenexisted, the author had not seen it.
The scheme projected may be traced in the three or four first chaptersof the work; but farther consideration induced the author to lay his
purpose aside. It appeared, on mature consideration, that astrology,though its influence was once received and admitted by Bacon himself,does not now retain influence over the general mind sufficient even toconstitute the mainspring of a romance. Besides, it occurred that to dojustice to such a subject would have required not only more talent thanthe Author could be conscious of possessing, but also involveddoctrines and discussions of a nature too serious for his purpose andfor the character of the narrative. In changing his plan, however,which was done in the course of printing, the early sheets retained thevestiges of the original tenor of the story, although they now hangupon it as an unnecessary and unnatural incumbrance. The cause of suchvestiges occurring is now explained and apologised for.
It is here worthy of observation that, while the astrological doctrineshave fallen into general contempt, and been supplanted by superstitionsof a more gross and far less beautiful character, they have, even inmodern days, retained some votaries.
One of the most remarkable believers in that forgotten and despisedscience was a late eminent professor of the art of legerdemain. Onewould have thought that a person of this description ought, from hisknowledge of the thousand ways in which human eyes could be deceived,to have been less than others subject to the fantasies of superstition.Perhaps the habitual use of those abstruse calculations by which, in amanner surprising to the artist himself, many tricks upon cards, etc.,are performed, induced this gentleman to study the combination of thestars and planets, with the expectation of obtaining propheticcommunications.
He constructed a scheme of his own nativity, calculated according tosuch rules of art as he could collect from the best astrologicalauthors. The result of the past he found agreeable to what had hithertobefallen him, but in the important prospect of the future a singulardifficulty occurred. There were two years during the course of which hecould by no means obtain any exact knowledge whether the subject of thescheme would be dead or alive. Anxious concerning so remarkable acircumstance, he gave the scheme to a brother astrologer, who was alsobaffled in the same manner. At one period he found the native, orsubject, was certainly alive; at another that he was unquestionablydead; but a space of two years extended between these two terms, duringwhich he could find no certainty as to his death or existence.
The astrologer marked the remarkable circumstance in his diary, andcontinued his exhibitions in various parts of the empire until theperiod was about to expire during which his existence had beenwarranted as actually ascertained. At last, while he was exhibiting toa numerous audience his usual tricks of legerdemain, the hands whoseactivity had so often baffled the closest observer suddenly lost theirpower, the cards dropped from them, and he sunk down a disabledparalytic. In this state the artist languished for two years, when hewas at length removed by death. It is said that the diary of thismodern astrologer will soon be given to the public.
The fact, if truly reported, is one of those singular coincidenceswhich occasionally appear, differing so widely from ordinarycalculation, yet without which irregularities human life would notpresent to mortals, looking into futurity, the abyss of impenetrabledarkness which it is the pleasure of the Creator it should offer tothem. Were everything to happen in the ordinary train of events, thefuture would be subject to the rules of arithmetic, like the chances ofgaming. But extraordinary events and wonderful runs of luck defy thecalculations of mankind and throw impenetrable darkness on futurecontingencies.
To the above anecdote, another, still more recent, may be here added.The author was lately honoured with a letter from a gentleman deeplyskilled in these mysteries, who kindly undertook to calculate thenativity of the writer of Guy Mannering, who might be supposed to befriendly to the divine art which he professed. But it was impossible tosupply data for the construction of a horoscope, had the native beenotherwise desirous of it, since all those who could supply the minutiaeof day, hour, and minute have been long removed from the mortal sphere.
Having thus given some account of the first idea, or rude sketch, ofthe story, which was soon departed from, the Author, in following outthe plan of the present edition, has to mention the prototypes of theprincipal characters in Guy Mannering.
Some circumstances of local situation gave the Author in his youth anopportunity of seeing a little, and hearing a great deal, about thatdegraded class who are called gipsies; who are in most cases a mixedrace between the ancient Egyptians who arrived in Europe about thebeginning of the fifteenth century and vagrants of European descent.
The individual gipsy upon whom the character of Meg Merrilies wasfounded was well known about the middle of the last century by the nameof Jean Gordon, an inhabitant of the village of Kirk Yetholm, in theCheviot Hills, adjoining to the English Border. The Author gave thepublic some account of this remarkable person in one of the earlynumbers of Blackwood's Magazine, to the following purpose:--
'My father remembered old Jean Gordon of Yetholm, who had great swayamong her tribe. She was quite a Meg Merrilies, and possessed thesavage virtue of fidelity in the same perfection. Having been oftenhospitably received at the farmhouse of Lochside, near Yetholm, she hadcarefully abstained from committing any depredations on the farmer'sproperty. But her sons (nine in number) had not, it seems, the samedelicacy, and stole a brood-sow from their kind entertainer. Jean wasmortified at this ungrateful conduct, and so much ashamed of it thatshe absented herself from Lochside for several years.
'It happened in course of time that, in consequence of some temporarypecuniary necessity, the goodman of Lochside was obliged to go toNewcastle to raise some money to pay his rent. He succeeded in hispurpose, but, returning through the mountains of Cheviot, he wasbenighted and lost his way.
'A light glimmering through the window of a large waste barn, which hadsurvived the farm-house to which it had once belonged, guided him to aplace of shelter; and when he knocked at the door it was opened by JeanGordon. Her very remarkable figure, for she was nearly six feet high,and her equally remarkable features and dress, rendered it impossibleto mistake her for a moment, though he had not seen her for years; andto meet with such a character in so solitary a place, and probably atno great distance from her clan, was a grievous surprise to the poorman, whose rent (to lose which would have been ruin) was about hisperson.
'Jean set up a loud shout of joyful recognition--
"Eh, sirs! the winsome gudeman of Lochside! Light down, light down; forye maunna gang farther the night, and a friend's house sae near." Thefarmer was obliged to dismount and accept of the gipsy's offer ofsupper and a bed. There was plenty of meat in the barn, however itmight be come by, and preparations were going on for a plentifulrepast, which the farmer, to the great increase of his anxiety,observed was calculated for ten or twelve guests, of the samedescription, probably, with his landlady.
'Jean left him in no doubt on the subject. She brought to hisrecollection the story of the stolen sow, and mentioned how much painand vexation it had given her. Like other philosophers, she remarkedthat the world grew worse daily; and, like other parents, that thebairns got out of her guiding, and neglected the old gipsy regulations,which commanded them to respect in their depredations the property oftheir benefactors. The end of all this was an inquiry what money thefarmer had about him; and an urgent request, or command, that he wouldmake her his purse-keeper, since the bairns, as she called her sons,would be soon home. The poor farmer made a virtue of necessity, toldhis story, and surrendered his gold to Jean's custody. She made him puta few shillings in his pocket, observing, it would excite suspicionshould he be found travelling altogether penniless.
'This arrangement being made, the farmer lay down on a sort ofshake-down, as the Scotch call it, or bed-clothes disposed upon somestraw, but, as will easily be believed, slept not.
'About midnight the gang returned, with various articles of plunder,and talked over their exploits in language which made the farmertremble. They were not long in discovering they had a guest, anddemanded of Jean whom she had got there.
"E'en the winsome gudeman of Lochside, poor body," replied Jean; "he'sbeen at Newcastle seeking for siller to pay his rent, honest man, butdeil-be-lickit he's been able to gather in, and sae he's gaun e'en hamewi' a toom purse and a sair heart."
"'That may be, Jean," replied one of the banditti, "but we maun ripehis pouches a bit, and see if the tale be true or no." Jean set up herthroat in exclamations against this breach of hospitality, but withoutproducing any change in their determination. The farmer soon heardtheir stifled whispers and light steps by his bedside, and understoodthey were rummaging his clothes. When they found the money which theprovidence of Jean Gordon had made him retain, they held a consultationif they should take it or no; but the smallness of the booty, and thevehemence of Jean's remonstrances, determined them in the negative.They caroused and went to rest. As soon as day dawned Jean roused herguest, produced his horse, which she had accommodated behind thehallan, and guided him for some miles, till he was on the highroad toLochside. She then restored his whole property; nor could his earnestentreaties prevail on her to accept so much as a single guinea.
'I have heard the old people at Jedburgh say, that all Jean's sons werecondemned to die there on the same day. It is said the jury wereequally divided, but that a friend to justice, who had slept during thewhole discussion, waked suddenly and gave his vote for condemnation inthe emphatic words, "Hang them a'!" Unanimity is not required in aScottish jury, so the verdict of guilty was returned. Jean was present,and only said, "The Lord help the innocent in a day like this!" Her owndeath was accompanied with circumstances of brutal outrage, of whichpoor Jean was in many respects wholly undeserving. She had, among otherdemerits, or merits, as the reader may choose to rank it, that of beinga stanch Jacobite. She chanced to be at Carlisle upon a fair ormarket-day, soon after the year 1746, where she gave vent to herpolitical partiality, to the great offence of the rabble of that city.Being zealous in their loyalty when there was no danger, in proportionto the tameness with which they had surrendered to the Highlanders in1745, the mob inflicted upon poor Jean Gordon no slighter penalty thanthat of ducking her to death in the Eden. It was an operation of sometime, for Jean was a stout woman, and, struggling with her murderers,often got her head above water; and, while she had voice left,continued to exclaim at such intervals, "Charlie yet! Charlie yet!"When a child, and among the scenes which she frequented, I have oftenheard these stories, and cried piteously for poor Jean Gordon.
'Before quitting the Border gipsies, I may mention that my grandfather,while riding over Charterhouse Moor, then a very extensive common, fellsuddenly among a large band of them, who were carousing in a hollow ofthe moor, surrounded by bushes. They instantly seized on his horse'sbridle with many shouts of welcome, exclaiming (for he was well knownto most of them) that they had often dined at his expense, and he mustnow stay and share their good cheer. My ancestor was, a little alarmed,for, like the goodman of Lochside, he had more money about his personthan he cared to risk in such society. However, being naturally a bold,lively-spirited man, he entered into the humour of the thing and satedown to the feast, which consisted of all the varieties of game,poultry, pigs, and so forth that could be collected by a wide andindiscriminate system of plunder. The dinner was a very merry one; butmy relative got a hint from some of the older gipsies to retire justwhen-- The mirth and fun grew fast and furious,
and, mounting his horse accordingly, he took a French leave of hisentertainers, but without experiencing the least breach of hospitality.I believe Jean Gordon was at this festival.'[Footnote: Blackwood'sMagazine, vol. I, p. 54]
Notwithstanding the failure of Jean's issue, for which
Weary fa' the waefu' wuddie,
a granddaughter survived her, whom I remember to have seen. That is, asDr. Johnson had a shadowy recollection of Queen Anne as a stately ladyin black, adorned with diamonds, so my memory is haunted by a solemnremembrance of a woman of more than female height, dressed in a longred cloak, who commenced acquaintance by giving me an apple, but whom,nevertheless, I looked on with as much awe as the future Doctor, HighChurch and Tory as he was doomed to be, could look upon the Queen. Iconceive this woman to have been Madge Gordon, of whom an impressiveaccount is given in the same article in which her mother Jean ismentioned, but not by the present writer:--
'The late Madge Gordon was at this time accounted the Queen of theYetholm clans. She was, we believe, a granddaughter of the celebratedJean Gordon, and was said to have much resembled her in appearance. Thefollowing account of her is extracted from the letter of a friend, whofor many years enjoyed frequent and favourable opportunities ofobserving the characteristic peculiarities of the Yetholmtribes:--"Madge Gordon was descended from the Faas by the mother'sside, and was married to a Young. She was a remarkable personage--of avery commanding presence and high stature, being nearly six feet high.She had a large aquiline nose, penetrating eyes, even in her old age,bushy hair, that hung around her shoulders from beneath a gipsy bonnetof straw, a short cloak of a peculiar fashion, and a long staff nearlyas tall as herself. I remember her well; every week she paid my fathera visit for her awmous when I was a little boy, and I looked upon Madgewith no common degree of awe and terror. When she spoke vehemently (forshe made loud complaints) she used to strike her staff upon the floorand throw herself into an attitude which it was impossible to regardwith indifference. She used to say that she could bring from theremotest parts of the island friends to revenge her quarrel while shesat motionless in her cottage; and she frequently boasted that therewas a time when she was of still more considerable importance, forthere were at her wedding fifty saddled asses, and unsaddled asseswithout number. If Jean Gordon was the prototype of the CHARACTER ofMeg Merrilies, I imagine Madge must have sat to the unknown author asthe representative of her PERSON."'[Footnote: Blackwood's Magazine,vol. I, p. 56.]
How far Blackwood's ingenious correspondent was right, how farmistaken, in his conjecture the reader has been informed.
To pass to a character of a very different description, DominieSampson,--the reader may easily suppose that a poor modest humblescholar who has won his way through the classics, yet has fallen toleeward in the voyage of life, is no uncommon personage in a countrywhere a certain portion of learning is easily attained by those who arewilling to suffer hunger and thirst in exchange for acquiring Greek andLatin. But there is a far more exact prototype of the worthy Dominie,upon which is founded the part which he performs in the romance, andwhich, for certain particular reasons, must be expressed very generally.
Such a preceptor as Mr. Sampson is supposed to have been was actuallytutor in the family of a gentleman of considerable property. The younglads, his pupils, grew up and went out in the world, but the tutorcontinued to reside in the family, no uncommon circumstance in Scotlandin former days, where food and shelter were readily afforded to humblefriends and dependents. The laird's predecessors had been imprudent, hehimself was passive and unfortunate. Death swept away his sons, whosesuccess in life might have balanced his own bad luck and incapacity.Debts increased and funds diminished, until ruin came. The estate wassold; and the old man was about to remove from the house of his fathersto go he knew not whither, when, like an old piece of furniture, which,left alone in its wonted corner, may hold together for a long while,but breaks to pieces on an attempt to move it, he fell down on his ownthreshold under a paralytic affection.
The tutor awakened as from a dream. He saw his patron dead, and thathis patron's only remaining child, an elderly woman, now neithergraceful nor beautiful, if she ever had been either the one or theother, had by this calamity become a homeless and penniless orphan. Headdressed her nearly in the words which Dominie Sampson uses to MissBertram, and professed his determination not to leave her. Accordingly,roused to the exercise of talents which had long slumbered, he opened alittle school and supported his patron's child for the rest of herlife, treating her with the same humble observance and devotedattention which he had used towards her in the days of her prosperity.
Such is the outline of Dominie Sampson's real story, in which there isneither romantic incident nor sentimental passion; but which, perhaps,from the rectitude and simplicity of character which it displays, mayinterest the heart and fill the eye of the reader as irresistibly as ifit respected distresses of a more dignified or refined character.
These preliminary notices concerning the tale of Guy Mannering and someof the characters introduced may save the author and reader in thepresent instance the trouble of writing and perusing a long string ofdetached notes.
I may add that the motto of this novel was taken from the Lay of theLast Minstrel, to evade the conclusions of those who began to thinkthat, as the author of Waverley never quoted the works of Sir WalterScott, he must have reason for doing so, and that the circumstancesmight argue an identity between them.
ABBOTSFORD, August 1, 1829.