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The Fair Maid of Perth; Or, St. Valentine's Day, Page 2

Walter Scott


  In continuing the lucubrations of Chrystal Croftangry, it occurredthat, although the press had of late years teemed with works of variousdescriptions concerning the Scottish Gad, no attempt had hitherto beenmade to sketch their manners, as these might be supposed to haveexisted at the period when the statute book, as well as the page of thechronicler, begins to present constant evidence of the difficulties towhich the crown was exposed, while the haughty house of Douglas all butoverbalanced its authority on the Southern border, and the North wasat the same time torn in pieces by the yet untamed savageness of theHighland races, and the daring loftiness to which some of the remoterchieftains still carried their pretensions.

  The well authenticated fact of two powerful clans having deputed eachthirty champions to fight out a quarrel of old standing, in presence ofKing Robert III, his brother the Duke of Albany, and the whole court ofScotland, at Perth, in the year of grace 1396, seemed to mark withequal distinctness the rancour of these mountain feuds and the degradedcondition of the general government of the country; and it was fixedupon accordingly as the point on which the main incidents of a romanticnarrative might be made to hinge. The characters of Robert III,his ambitious brother, and his dissolute son seemed to offer someopportunities of interesting contrast; and the tragic fate of the heirof the throne, with its immediate consequences, might serve to completethe picture of cruelty and lawlessness.

  Two features of the story of this barrier battle on the Inch ofPerth--the flight of one of the appointed champions, and the recklessheroism of a townsman, that voluntarily offered for a small pieceof coin to supply his place in the mortal encounter--suggested theimaginary persons, on whom much of the novel is expended. The fugitiveCelt might have been easily dealt with, had a ludicrous style ofcolouring been adopted; but it appeared to the Author that there wouldbe more of novelty, as well as of serious interest, if he could succeedin gaining for him something of that sympathy which is incompatible withthe total absence of respect. Miss Baillie had drawn a coward bynature capable of acting as a hero under the strong impulse of filialaffection. It seemed not impossible to conceive the case of oneconstitutionally weak of nerve being supported by feelings of honour andof jealousy up to a certain point, and then suddenly giving way, undercircumstances to which the bravest heart could hardly refuse compassion.

  The controversy as to who really were the clans that figured in thebarbarous conflict of the Inch has been revived since the publication ofthe Fair Maid of Perth, and treated in particular at great length by Mr.Robert Mackay of Thurso, in his very curious History of the House andClan of Mackay. Without pretending to say that he has settled any partof the question in the affirmative, this gentleman certainly seems tohave quite succeeded in proving that his own worthy sept had no part inthe transaction. The Mackays were in that age seated, as they have sincecontinued to be, in the extreme north of the island; and their chief atthe time was a personage of such importance, that his name and properdesignation could not have been omitted in the early narratives of theoccurrence. He on one occasion brought four thousand of his clan to theaid of the royal banner against the Lord of the Isles. This historian isof opinion that the Clan Quhele of Wyntoun were the Camerons, who appearto have about that period been often designated as Macewans, and tohave gained much more recently the name of Cameron, i.e. Wrynose, from ablemish in the physiognomy of some heroic chief of the line of Lochiel.This view of the case is also adopted by Douglas in his Baronage, wherehe frequently mentions the bitter feuds between Clan Chattan and ClanKay, and identifies the latter sept in reference to the events of 1396,with the Camerons. It is perhaps impossible to clear up thoroughly thiscontroversy, little interesting in itself, at least to readers onthis side of Inverness. The names, as we have them in Wyntoun, are"Clanwhewyl" and "Clachinya," the latter probably not correctlytranscribed. In the Scoti Chronicon they are "Clanquhele" and "Clankay.Hector Boece writes Clanchattan" and "Clankay," in which he is followedby Leslie while Buchanan disdains to disfigure his page with theirGaelic designations at all, and merely describes them as two powerfulraces in the wild and lawless region beyond the Grampians. Out ofthis jumble what Sassenach can pretend dare lucem? The name Clanwheillappears so late as 1594, in an Act of James VI. Is it not possible thatit may be, after all, a mere corruption of Clan Lochiel?

  The reader may not be displeased to have Wyntoun's original rhymes [bk.ix. chap. xvii.]:

  A thousand and thre hundyr yere, Nynty and sex to mak all clere-- Of thre scor wyld Scottis men, Thretty agane thretty then, In felny bolnit of auld fed, [Boiled with the cruelty of an old feud] As thare forelderis ware slane to dede. Tha thre score ware clannys twa, Clahynnhe Qwhewyl and Clachinyha; Of thir twa kynnis ware tha men, Thretty agane thretty then; And thare thai had than chiftanys twa, Scha Ferqwharis' son wes ane of tha, The tother Cristy Johnesone. A selcouth thing be tha was done. At Sanct Johnestone besid the Freris, All thai entrit in barreris Wyth bow and ax, knyf and swerd, To deil amang thaim thare last werd. Thare thai laid on that time sa fast, Quha had the ware thare at the last I will noucht say; hot quha best had, He wes but dout bathe muth and mad. Fifty or ma ware slane that day, Sua few wyth lif than past away.

  The prior of Lochleven makes no mention either of the evasion of oneof the Gaelic champions, or of the gallantry of the Perth artisan, inoffering to take a share in the conflict. Both incidents, however,were introduced, no doubt from tradition, by the Continuator of Fordun[Bower], whose narrative is in these words:

  Anno Dom. millesimo trecentesimo nonagesimo sexto, magna pars borealisScotiae, trans Alpes, inquietata fuit per duos pestiferos Cateranos, eteorum sequaces, viz. Scheabeg et suos consanguinarios, qui Clankay, etCristi Jonsonem ac suos, qui Clanqwhele dicebantur; qui nullo pactovel tractatu pacificari poterant, nullaque arte regis vel gubernatorispoterant edomari, quoadusque nobilis et industriosus Dominus David deLindesay de Crawford, at Dominus Thomas comes Moraviae, diligentiam etvires apposuerunt, ac inter partes sic tractaverunt, ut coram dominorege certo die convenirent apud Perth, et alterutra pars eligeret deprogenie sua triginta personas adversus triginta de parte contraria,cum gladiis tantum, et arcubus et sagittis, absque deploidibus, velarmaturis aliis, praeter bipennes; et sic congredientes finem litiponerant, et terra pace potiretur. Utrique igitur parti summe placuitcontractus, et die lunae proximo ante festum Sancti Michaelis, apudNorth insulam de Perth, coram rege et gubernatore et innumerabilimultitudine comparentes, conflictum acerrimum inierunt; ubi de sexagintainterfecti sunt omnes, excepto uno ex parte Clankay et undecim exceptisex parte altera. Hoc etiam ibi accidit, quod omnes in procinctu belliconstituti, unus eorum locum diffugii considerans, inter omnes inamnem elabitur, et aquam de Thaya natando transgreditur; a millenisinsequitur, sed nusquam apprehenditur. Stant igitur partes attonitae,tanquam non ad conflictum progressuri, ob defectum evasi: noluit enimpars integrum habens numerum sociorum consentire, ut unus de suisdemeretur; nec potuit pars altera quocumque pretio alterum ad supplendumvicem fugientis inducere. Stupent igitur omnes haerentes, de damnofugitivi conquerentes. Et cum totum illud opus cessare putaretur, eccein medio prorupit unus stipulosus vernaculus, statura modicus, sedefferus, dicens: Ecce ego! quis me conducet intrare cum operariis istisad hunc ludum theatralem? Pro dimidia enim marca ludum experiar, ultrahoc petens, ut si vivus de palaestra evasero, victum a quocumque vestrumrecipiam dum vixero: quia, sicut dicitur, "Majorem caritatem nemo habet,quam ut animam suam ponat suis pro amicis." Quali mercede donabor, quianimam meam pro inimicis reipublicae et regni pono? Quod petiit, a regeet diversis magnatibus conceditur. Cum hoc arcus ejus extenditur, etprimo sagittam in partem contrariam transmittit, et unum interficit.Confestim hinc inde sagittae volitant, bipennes librant, gladiosvibrant, alterutro certant, et veluti carnifices boves in macello, sicinconsternate ad invicem se trucidant. Sed nec inter tantos repertusest vel unus, qui, tanquam vecors ant timidus, sive post tergum alteriusdeclinans, seips
um a tanta caede praetendit excusare. Iste tamen tyrosuperveniens finaliter illaesus exivit; et dehinc multo tempore Boreasquievit, nec ibidem fuit, ut supra, cateranorum excursus.

  The scene is heightened with many florid additions by Boece and Leslie,and the contending savages in Buchanan utter speeches after the mostapproved pattern of Livy.

  The devotion of the young chief of Clan Quhele's foster father andfoster brethren in the novel is a trait of clannish fidelity, of whichHighland story furnishes many examples. In the battle of Inverkeithing,between the Royalists and Oliver Cromwell's troops, a foster father andseven brave sons are known to have thus sacrificed themselves for SirHector Maclean of Duart; the old man, whenever one of his boys fell,thrusting forward another to fill his place at the right hand of thebeloved chief, with the very words adopted in the novel, "Another forHector!"

  Nay, the feeling could outlive generations. The late much lamentedGeneral Stewart of Garth, in his account of the battle of Killiecrankie,informs us that Lochiel was attended on the field by the son of hisfoster brother.

  "This faithful adherent followed him like his shadow, ready to assisthim with his sword, or cover him from the shot of the enemy. Suddenlythe chief missed his friend from his side, and, turning round to lookwhat had become of him, saw him lying on his back with his breastpierced by an arrow. He had hardly breath, before he expired, to tellLochiel that, seeing an enemy, a Highlander in General Mackay's army,aiming at him with a bow and arrow, he sprung behind him, and thussheltered him from instant death. This" observes the gallant DavidStewart, "is a species of duty not often practised, perhaps, by our aidede camps of the present day."--Sketches of the Highlanders, vol. i. p.65.

  I have only to add, that the Second Series of Chronicles of theCanongate, with the chapter introductory which precedes, appeared inMay, 1828, and had a favourable reception.

  ABBOTSFORD, Aug. 15, 1831.