Monday, September 19th.
We rose early, and went to Melrose, six miles, before breakfast. After ascending a hill, descended, and overlooked a dell, on the opposite side of which was an old mansion, surrounded with trees and steep gardens, a curious and pleasing, yet melancholy spot; for the house and gardens were evidently going to decay, and the whole of the small dell, except near the house, was unenclosed and uncultivated, being a sheep-walk to the top of the hills. Descended to Gala Water, a pretty stream, but much smaller than the Tweed, into which the brook flows from the glen I have spoken of. Near the Gala is a large modern house, the situation very pleasant, but the old building which we had passed put to shame the fresh colouring and meagre outline of the new one. Went through a part of the village of Galashiels, pleasantly situated on the bank of the stream; a pretty place it once has been, but a manufactory is established there; and a townish bustle and ugly stone houses are fast taking place of the brown-roofed thatched cottages, of which a great number yet remain, partly overshadowed by trees.
Left the Gala, and, after crossing the open country, came again to the Tweed, and pursued our way as before near the river, perhaps for a mile or two, till we arrived at Melrose. The valley for this short space was not so pleasing as before, the hills more broken, and though the cultivation was general, yet the scene was not rich, while it had lost its pastoral simplicity. At Melrose the vale opens out wide; but the hills are high all round - single distinct risings. After breakfast we went out, intending to go to the Abbey, and in the street met Mr. Scott, who gave us a cordial greeting, and conducted us thither himself. He was here on his own ground, for he is familiar with all that is known of the authentic history of Melrose and the popular tales connected with it. He pointed out many pieces of beautiful sculpture in obscure corners which would have escaped our notice. The Abbey has been built of a pale red stone; that part which was first erected of a very durable kind, the sculptured flowers and leaves and other minute ornaments being as perfect in many places as when first wrought.
The ruin is of considerable extent, but unfortunately it is almost surrounded by insignificant houses, so that when you are close to it you see it entirely separated from many rural objects, and even when viewed from a distance the situation does not seem to be particularly happy, for the vale is broken and disturbed, and the Abbey at a distance from the river, so that you do not look upon them as companions of each other. And surely this is a national barbarism: within these beautiful walls is the ugliest church that was ever beheld - if it had been hewn out of the side of a hill it could not have been more dismal; there was no neatness, nor even decency, and it appeared to be so damp, and so completely excluded from fresh air, that it must be dangerous to sit in it; the floor is unpaved, and very rough. What a contrast to the beautiful and graceful order apparent in every part of the ancient design and workmanship!
Mr. Scott went with us into the gardens and orchards of a Mr. Riddel, from which we had a very sweet view of the Abbey through trees, the town being entirely excluded. Dined with Mr. Scott at the inn; he was now travelling to the assizes at Jedburgh in his character of Sheriff of Selkirk, and on that account, as well as for his own sake, he was treated with great respect, a small part of which was vouchsafed to us as his friends, though I could not persuade the woman to show me the beds, or to make any sort of promise till she was assured from the Sheriff himself that he had no objection to sleep in the same room with William.
Tuesday, September 20th.
Mr. Scott departed very early for Jedburgh, and we soon followed, intending to go by Dryburgh to Kelso. It was a fine morning. We went without breakfast, being told that there was a public-house at Dryburgh. The road was very pleasant, seldom out of sight of the Tweed for any length of time, though not often close to it. The valley is not so pleasantly defined as between Peebles and Clovenford, yet so soft and beautiful, and in many parts pastoral, but that peculiar and pensive simplicity which I have spoken of before was wanting, yet there was a fertility chequered with wildness which to many travellers would be more than a compensation. The reaches of the vale were shorter, the turnings more rapid, the banks often clothed with wood. In one place was a lofty scar, at another a green promontory, a small hill skirted by the river, the hill above irregular and green, and scattered over with trees.
We wished we could have brought the ruins of Melrose to that spot, and mentioned this to Mr. Scott, who told us that the monks had first fixed their abode there, and raised a temporary building of wood. The monastery of Melrose was founded by a colony from Rievaux Abbey in Yorkshire, which building it happens to resemble in the colour of the stone, and I think partly in the style of architecture, but is much smaller, that is, has been much smaller, for there is not at Rievaux any one single part of the ruin so large as the remains of the church at Melrose, though at Rievaux a far more extensive ruin remains. It is also much grander, and the situation at present much more beautiful, that ruin not having suffered like Melrose Abbey from the encroachments of a town. The architecture at Melrose is, I believe, superior in the exactness and taste of some of the minute ornamental parts; indeed, it is impossible to conceive anything more delicate than the workmanship, especially in the imitations of flowers.
We descended to Dryburgh after having gone a considerable way upon high ground. A heavy rain when we reached the village, and there was no public-house. A well-dressed, well-spoken woman courteously - shall I say charitably? - invited us into her cottage, and permitted us to make breakfast; she showed us into a neat parlour, furnished with prints, a mahogany table, and other things which I was surprised to see, for her husband was only a day-labourer, but she had been Lady Buchan's waiting-maid, which accounted for these luxuries and for a noticeable urbanity in her manners. All the cottages in this neighbourhood, if I am not mistaken, were covered with red tiles, and had chimneys.
After breakfast we set out in the rain to the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey, which are near Lord Buchan's house, and, like Bothwell Castle, appropriated to the pleasure of the owner. We rang a bell at the gate, and, instead of a porter, an old woman came to open it through a narrow side-alley cut in a thick plantation of evergreens. On entering, saw the thatch of her hut just above the trees, and it looked very pretty, but the poor creature herself was a figure to frighten a child, - bowed almost double, having a hooked nose and overhanging eyebrows, a complexion stained brown with smoke, and a cap that might have been worn for months and never washed. No doubt she had been cowering over her peat fire, for if she had emitted smoke by her breath and through every pore, the odour could not have been stronger. This ancient woman, by right of office, attended us to show off the curiosities, and she had her tale as perfect, though it was not quite so long a one, as the gentleman Swiss, whom I remember to have seen at Blenheim with his slender wand and dainty white clothes.
The house of Lord Buchan and the Abbey stand upon a large flat peninsula, a green holm almost covered with fruit-trees. The ruins of Dryburgh are much less extensive than those of Melrose, and greatly inferior both in the architecture and stone, which is much mouldered away. Lord Buchan has trained pear-trees along the walls, which are bordered with flowers and gravel walks, and he has made a pigeon-house, and a fine room in the ruin, ornamented with a curiously-assorted collection of busts of eminent men, in which lately a ball was given; yet, deducting for all these improvements, which are certainly much less offensive than you could imagine, it is a very sweet ruin, standing so enclosed in wood, which the towers overtop, that you cannot know that it is not in a state of natural desolation till you are close to it. The opposite bank of the Tweed is steep and woody, but unfortunately many of the trees are firs. The old woman followed us after the fashion of other guides, but being slower of foot than a younger person, it was not difficult to slip away from the scent of her poor smoke-dried body. She was sedulous in pointing out the curiosities, which, I doubt not, she had a firm belief were not to be surpassed in England or Scotland.
Having promised us a sight of the largest and oldest yew-tree ever seen, she conducted us to it; it was a goodly tree, but a mere dwarf compared with several of our own country - not to speak of the giant of Lorton. We returned to the cottage, and waited some time in hopes that the rain would abate, but it grew worse and worse, and we were obliged to give up our journey, to Kelso, taking the direct road to Jedburgh.
We had to ford the Tweed, a wide river at the crossing-place. It would have been impossible to drive the horse through, for he had not forgotten the fright at Connel Ferry, so we hired a man to lead us. After crossing the water, the road goes up the bank, and we had a beautiful view of the ruins of the Abbey, peering above the trees of the woody peninsula, which, in shape, resembles that formed by the Tees at Lickburn, but is considerably smaller. Lord Buchan's house is a very neat, modest building, and almost hidden by trees. It soon began to rain heavily. Crossing the Teviot by a stone bridge - the vale in that part very wide - there was a great deal of ripe corn, but a want of trees, and no appearance of richness. Arrived at Jedburgh half an hour before the Judges were expected out of Court to dinner.
We gave in our passport - the name of Mr. Scott, the Sheriff - and were very civilly treated, but there was no vacant room in the house except the Judge's sitting-room, and we wanted to have a fire, being exceedingly wet and cold. I was conducted into that room, on condition that I would give it up the moment the Judge came from Court. After I had put off my wet clothes I went up into a bedroom, and sat shivering there, till the people of the inn had procured lodgings for us in a private house.
We were received with hearty welcome by a good woman, who, though above seventy years old, moved about as briskly as if she was only seventeen. Those parts of the house which we were to occupy were neat and clean; she showed me every corner, and, before I had been ten minutes in the house, opened her very drawers that I might see what a stock of linen she had; then asked me how long we should stay, and said she wished we were come for three months. She was a most remarkable person; the alacrity with which she ran up-stairs when we rung the bell, and guessed at, and strove to prevent, our wants was surprising; she had a quick eye, and keen strong features, and a joyousness in her motions, like what used to be in old Molly when she was particularly elated. I found afterwards that she had been subject to fits of dejection and ill-health: we then conjectured that her overflowing gaiety and strength might in part be attributed to the same cause as her former dejection.
Her husband was deaf and infirm, and sat in a chair with scarcely the power to move a limb - an affecting contrast! The old woman said they had been a very hard-working pair; they had wrought like slaves at their trade - her husband had been a currier; and she told me how they had portioned off their daughters with money, and each a feather-bed, and that in their old age they had laid out the little they could spare in building and furnishing that house, and she added with pride that she had lived in her youth in the family of Lady Egerton, who was no high lady, and now was in the habit of coming to her house whenever she was at Jedburgh, and a hundred other things; for when she once began with Lady Egerton, she did not know how to stop, nor did I wish it, for she was very entertaining. Mr. Scott sat with us an hour or two, and repeated a part of the Lay of the Last Minstrel. When he was gone our hostess came to see if we wanted anything, and to wish us good-night. On all occasions her manners were governed by the same spirit: there was no withdrawing one's attention from her. We were so much interested that William, long afterwards, thought it worth while to express in verse the sensations which she had excited, and which then remained as vividly in his mind as at the moment when we lost sight of Jedburgh: -
Age! twine thy brows with fresh spring flowers,
And call a train of laughing Hours;
And bid them dance, and bid them sing,
And Thou, too, mingle in the Ring!
Take to thy heart a new delight!
If not, make merry in despite
That one should breathe who scorns thy power.
- But dance! for under Jedborough Tower
A Matron dwells who, tho' she bears
Our mortal complement of years,
Lives in the light of youthful glee,
And she will dance and sing with thee.
Nay! start not at that Figure - there!
Him who is rooted to his Chair!
Look at him, look again; for He
Hath long been of thy Family.
With legs that move not, if they can,
And useless arms, a Trunk of Man,
He sits, and with a vacant eye;
A Sight to make a Stranger sigh!
Deaf, drooping, such is now his doom;
His world is in that single room -
Is this a place for mirthful cheer?
Can merry-making enter here?
The joyous Woman is the Mate
Of him in that forlorn estate;
He breathes a subterraneous damp;
But bright as Vesper shines her lamp,
He is as mute as Jedborough Tower,
She jocund as it was of yore
With all its bravery on, in times
When all alive with merry chimes
Upon a sun-bright morn of May
It roused the Vale to holiday.
I praise thee, Matron! and thy due
Is praise, heroic praise and true.
With admiration I behold
Thy gladness unsubdued and bold:
Thy looks, thy gestures, all present
The picture of a life well spent;
This do I see, and something more,
A strength unthought of heretofore.
Delighted am I for thy sake,
And yet a higher joy partake:
Our human nature throws away
Its second twilight, and looks gay,
A Land of promise and of pride
Unfolding, wide as life is wide.
Ah! see her helpless Charge! enclosed
Within himself as seems, composed;
To fear of loss and hope of gain,
The strife of happiness and pain -
Utterly dead! yet in the guise
Of little Infants when their eyes
Begin to follow to and fro
The persons that before them go,
He tracks her motions, quick or slow.
Her buoyant spirits can prevail
Where common cheerfulness would fail.
She strikes upon him with the heat
Of July suns; he feels it sweet;
An animal delight, though dim!
'Tis all that now remains for him!
I look'd, I scann'd her o'er and o'er,
And, looking, wondered more and more:
When suddenly I seem'd to espy
A trouble in her strong black eye,
A remnant of uneasy light,
A flash of something over-bright!
Not long this mystery did detain
My thoughts. She told in pensive strain
That she had borne a heavy yoke,
Been stricken by a twofold stroke;
Ill health of body, and had pined
Beneath worse ailments of the mind.
So be it! - but let praise ascend
To Him who is our Lord and Friend!
Who from disease and suffering
As bad almost as Life can bring,
Hath call'd for thee a second Spring;
Repaid thee for that sore distress
By no untimely joyousness;
Which makes of thine a blissful state;
And cheers thy melancholy Mate!
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