Sunday, September 18th.
The town of Peebles is on the banks of the Tweed. After breakfast walked up the river to Neidpath Castle, about a mile and a half from the town. The castle stands upon a green hill, overlooking the Tweed, a strong square-towered edifice, neglected and desolate, though not in ruin, the garden overgrown with grass, and the high walls that fenced it broken down. The Tweed winds between green steeps, upon which, and close to the river side, large flocks of sheep pasturing; higher still are the grey mountains; but I need not describe the scene, for William has done it better than I could do in a sonnet which he wrote the same day; the five last lines, at least, of his poem will impart to you more of the feeling of the place than it would be possible for me to do: -
Degenerate Douglass! thou unworthy Lord
Whom mere despite of heart could so far please,
And love of havoc (for with such disease
Fame taxes him) that he could send forth word
To level with the dust a noble horde,
A brotherhood of venerable trees,
Leaving an ancient Dome and Towers like these
Beggar'd and outraged! Many hearts deplored
The fate of those old trees; and oft with pain
The Traveller at this day will stop and gaze
On wrongs which Nature scarcely seems to heed;
For shelter'd places, bosoms, nooks, and bays,
And the pure mountains, and the gentle Tweed,
And the green silent pastures yet remain.
I was spared any regret for the fallen woods when we were there, not then knowing the history of them. The soft low mountains, the castle, and the decayed pleasure-grounds, the scattered trees which have been left in different parts, and the road carried in a very beautiful line along the side of the hill, with the Tweed murmuring through the unfenced green pastures spotted with sheep, together composed an harmonious scene, and I wished for nothing that was not there. When we were with Mr. Scott he spoke of cheerful days he had spent in that castle not many years ago, when it was inhabited by Professor Ferguson and his family, whom the Duke of Queensberry, its churlish owner, forced to quit it. We discovered a very fine echo within a few yards of the building.
The town of Peebles looks very pretty from the road in returning: it is an old town, built of grey stone, the same as the castle. Well-dressed people were going to church. Sent the car before, and walked ourselves, and while going along the main street William was called aside in a mysterious manner by a person who gravely examined him - whether he was an Irishman or a foreigner, or what he was; I suppose our car was the occasion of suspicion at a time when every one was talking of the threatened invasion. We had a day's journey before us along the banks of the Tweed, a name which has been sweet to my ears almost as far back as I can remember anything. After the first mile or two our road was seldom far from the river, which flowed in gentleness, though perhaps never silent; the hills on either side high and sometimes stony, but excellent pasturage for sheep.
In some parts the vale was wholly of this pastoral character, in others we saw extensive tracts of corn ground, even spreading along whole hill-sides, and without visible fences, which is dreary in a flat country; but there is no dreariness on the banks of the Tweed, - the hills, whether smooth or stony, uncultivated or covered with ripe corn, had the same pensive softness. Near the corn tracts were large farm-houses, with many corn-stacks; the stacks and house and out-houses together, I recollect, in one or two places upon the hills, at a little distance, seemed almost as large as a small village or hamlet. It was a clear autumnal day, without wind, and, being Sunday, the business of the harvest was suspended, and all that we saw, and felt, and heard, combined to excite one sensation of pensive and still pleasure.
Passed by several old halls yet inhabited, and others in ruin; but I have hardly a sufficiently distinct recollection of any of them to be able to describe them, and I now at this distance of time regret that I did not take notes. In one very sweet part of the vale a gate crossed the road, which was opened by an old woman who lived in a cottage close to it; I said to her, 'You live in a very pretty place!' 'Yes,' she replied, 'the water of Tweed is a bonny water.' The lines of the hills are flowing and beautiful, the reaches of the vale long; in some places appear the remains of a forest, in others you will see as lovely a combination of forms as any traveller who goes in search of the picturesque need desire, and yet perhaps without a single tree; or at least if trees there are, they shall be very few, and he shall not care whether they are there or not.
The road took us through one long village, but I do not recollect any other; yet I think we never had a mile's length before us without a house, though seldom several cottages together. The loneliness of the scattered dwellings, the more stately edifices decaying or in ruin, or, if inhabited, not in their pride and freshness, aided the general effect of the gently varying scenes, which was that of tender pensiveness; no bursting torrents when we were there, but the murmuring of the river was heard distinctly, often blended with the bleating of sheep. In one place we saw a shepherd lying in the midst of a flock upon a sunny knoll, with his face towards the sky, - happy picture of shepherd life.
The transitions of this vale were all gentle except one, a scene of which a gentleman's house was the centre, standing low in the vale, the hills above it covered with gloomy fir plantations, and the appearance of the house itself, though it could scarcely be seen, was gloomy. There was an allegorical air - a person fond of Spenser will understand me - in this uncheerful spot, single in such a country,
'The house was hearsed about with a black wood.'
We have since heard that it was the residence of Lord Traquair, a Roman Catholic nobleman, of a decayed family.
We left the Tweed when we were within about a mile and a half or two miles of Clovenford, where we were to lodge. Turned up the side of a hill, and went along sheep-grounds till we reached the spot - a single stone house, without a tree near it or to be seen from it. On our mentioning Mr. Scott's name the woman of the house showed us all possible civility, but her slowness was really amusing. I should suppose it is a house little frequented, for there is no appearance of an inn. Mr. Scott, who she told me was a very clever gentleman, 'goes there in the fishing season;' but indeed Mr. Scott is respected everywhere: I believe that by favour of his name one might be hospitably entertained throughout all the borders of Scotland. We dined and drank tea - did not walk out, for there was no temptation; a confined barren prospect from the window.
At Clovenford, being so near to the Yarrow, we could not but think of the possibility of going thither, but came to the conclusion of reserving the pleasure for some future time, in consequence of which, after our return, William wrote the poem which I shall here transcribe: -
From Stirling Castle we had seen
The mazy Forth unravell'd,
Had trod the banks of Clyde and Tay,
And with the Tweed had travell'd.
And when we came to Clovenford,
Then said my winsome Marrow,
'Whate'er betide we'll turn aside
And see the Braes of Yarrow.'
'Let Yarrow Folk frae Selkirk Town,
Who have been buying, selling,
Go back to Yarrow: - 'tis their own,
Each Maiden to her dwelling.
On Yarrow's banks let herons feed,
Hares couch, and rabbits burrow,
But we will downwards with the Tweed,
Nor turn aside to Yarrow.
'There's Gala Water, Leader Haughs,
Both lying right before us;
And Dryburgh, where with chiming Tweed
The lintwhites sing in chorus.
There's pleasant Teviot Dale, a land
Made blithe with plough and harrow,
Why throw away a needful day,
To go in search of Yarrow?
'What's Yarrow but a river bare,
That glides the dark hills under?
There are a thousand such elsewhere,
As worthy of your wonder.'
Strange words they seem'd of slight and scorn,
My true-love sigh'd for sorrow,
And look'd me in the face to think
I thus could speak of Yarrow.
'Oh! green,' said I, 'are Yarrow's Holms,
And sweet is Yarrow flowing,
Fair hangs the apple frae the rock,
But we will leave it growing.
O'er hilly path and open Strath
We'll wander Scotland thorough,
But though so near we will not turn
Into the Dale of Yarrow.
'Let beeves and home-bred kine partake
The sweets of Burnmill Meadow,
The swan on still St. Mary's Lake
Float double, swan and shadow.
We will not see them, will not go,
To-day nor yet to-morrow;
Enough if in our hearts we know
There's such a place as Yarrow.
'Be Yarrow stream unseen, unknown,
It must, or we shall rue it,
We have a vision of our own,
Ah! why should we undo it?
The treasured dreams of times long past,
We'll keep them, 'winsome Marrow,'
For when we're there, although 'tis fair,
'Twill be another Yarrow.
'If care with freezing years should come,
And wandering seem but folly,
Should we be loth to stir from home,
And yet be melancholy,
Should life be dull and spirits low,
'Twill soothe us in our sorrow
That earth has something yet to show -
The bonny Holms of Yarrow.'
The next day we were to meet Mr. Scott, and again join the Tweed. I wish I could have given you a better idea of what we saw between Peebles and this place. I have most distinct recollections of the effect of the whole day's journey; but the objects are mostly melted together in my memory, and though I should recognise them if we revisit the place, I cannot call them out so as to represent them to you with distinctness. William, in attempting in verse to describe this part of the Tweed, says of it,
More pensive in sunshine
Than others in moonshine.
which perhaps may give you more power to conceive what it is than all I have said.
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