Page images
PDF
EPUB

naturally arises, “Sombody's darling slumbers here.” Without presenting anything in the way of extreme antiquity, or even of that grotesque character which has made epitaphial literature quite lively reading, having no pretensions to great splendour or high historical associations, the burial ground of St. Michael's, Dumfries (the “Auld Kirkyard,” as it is familiarly spoken of), yet calls up recollections wide and deep peculiar to itself. For a provincial burial-place, it is unusually large and yet unusually crowded with memorials. It has been for centuries the grave of magistrates and burgesses, conveners and deacons, not to speak of old country families of repute like the Maxwells, Sharpes, and Fergusons. It is even hallowed as the grave of martyrs, one granite memorial, renewing the testimony of an earlier but humbler stone, recording that “near this spot were deposited the remains of William Grierson and William Welsh, who suffered unto death for their adherence to the principles of the Reformation, January 2, 1667. Also of James Kirk, shot on the Sands of Dumfries, 1685. “Rev. xii. 11." But magistrates and even martyrs are to be found in other churchyards. The special interest of St. Michael's, Dumfries, is its connection with the memory of Burns. The poet worshipped in the church, and in the ground adjoining his dust, and the dust of his wife and family, rests under the stately mausoleum designed by Turnerelli for the poet's admirers. Here, too, and not far distant, is the grave of Jessie Lewars (afterwards Mrs. Thomson) to be enrolled by fate “with native worth and spotless fame.” As a near neighbour in the street, and the daughter of a brother exciseman, Burns had addressed to her the song, “Here's a health to ane I lo'e dear,” and it is pleasing to remember that his closing sickness was soothed as far as it could be by her tender attention. John Lewars himself is buried not far off, as is John Bushby of the “ Election Ballads," and James Gracie, banker, that “man of worth "-helpful when help was most needed. More still. Within St. Michael's the graves are still to be seen of Gabriel Richardson, “Brewer Gabriel” of the epitaph, but known also as the father of Sir John Richardson, an intrepid Arctic voyager ; and of Colonel de

Peyster, “My honoured Colonel, deep I feel your interest in the poet's weal.” This officer of the Dumfries Volunteers survived Burns more than a quarter of a century, having been spared to the long age of ninety-six. With a reputation for severity, acquired in the American war, the colonel appears to have been in reality a modest, warm-hearted man. A few days before his death he wrote, and it has been appropriately placed on his monument :

Raise no vain structure o'er my grave,
One simple stone is all I crave,
To say, beneath a sinner lies,
Who died in hopes again to rise,
Through Christ alone to be forgiven,
And fitted for the joys of heaven.

It will thus be seen that Burns and his contemporaries furnish matter unusually attractive for the “Memorials;” nor can it be said that the industrious compiler, Mr. M‘Dowall, has in any case failed to set forth in an attractive way the most important facts necessary to be known of their personal history and the associations naturally called up by the mention of the poet or his friends. He is directly referred to or used in illustration between thirty and forty times :

All ask the cottage of his birth,

Gaze on the scenes he loved and sung,
And gather feelings not of earth,

His fields and streams among.

They linger by the Doon's low trees,

And pastoral Nith and wooded lyre,
And round thy sepulchres, Dumfries-

The poet's tomb is there.

The plan adopted to bring the “Memorials” into something like order is simple and natural, and wrought out in a way well suited to make the book useful for family or general reference. The work is divided into thirty-one chapters, each taken up with a separate walk or section, in which all the memorials of departed worth are passed under review, the inscriptions in many cases being given in full, and in all as much interesting collateral information presented as keeps the book from being a mere dull or monotonous chronicle of the tombs. He does not claim, nor was it well possible, even if desirable, to give the names of every member of the great company resting within the area of St. Michael's, but from his minuteness, and the care with which for years he is known to have passed through its quiet walks, it may be assumed that no family burial-place with any memorial or noteworthy member has been passed by unnoticed. The book has thus an interest for friends far distant and long absent distinct from relatives nearer who may wish to renew their memories by a personal visit to the graves, book in hand. Whenever, writes Mr. M'Dowall, the persons commented upon figured in history or were connected with important events, local or national, a brief biography or descriptive sketch has been given. To town councillors and trades, with the provosts and bailies, conveners and deacons-many of them heroes of John Mayne's “Siller Gun”

-considerable prominence has been given, as is the case also with those who bore rule in spiritual things, or ministered to the bodily health, or looked after the legal business of the lieges. The Latin epitaphs have in translation had the benefit of the rare scholarship of Dr. Cranstoun, rector of the Burgh Academy, whose “Catullus” and “Tibullus” most readers of old classics in an English dress are familiar with. In the tenth chapter the walk naturally leads our author to the cholera mound, and this in turn suggests an account of the grievous pestilence referred to in the inscription :—"In this cemetery, and chiefly within this enclosure, lie the mortal remains of more than 420 inhabitants of Dumfries who were suddenly swept away by the memorable invasion of Asiatic cholera A.D. 1832. That terrible pestilence entered the town on 15th September, and remained till 27th November, during which period it seized at least goo individuals, of whom 44 died in one day, and no more than 415 were reported as recovered. That the benefit of this solemn warning might not be lost to posterity, this monument was erected from collections made in several churches in this town." Among the oldest monuments in St. Michael's is one erected by "a grateful spouse and pious children” to commemorate the virtues of Francis Irving, merchant and magistrate, who died November, 1633. In addition to a Latin Inscription, the following lines have been added as expressing the personal opinion of the old citizen :

King James at first me Balive named
Drumfreis ost time me Provest clamed
God hast for me ane crowne reserved
For King and Countrie have I served.

We should not omit to mention that a fair index of names and subjects permits Mr. M‘Dowall's book to be turned up with the utmost readiness by all wishing to know what can be known about the work done while it was day by the now silent occupants of the old burying-place of St. Michael's, Dumfries.

DUMFRIES ROOD FAIR.

While nothing is easier to note than the mere market or trade aspect of fairs, there is a difficulty sometimes in accounting for the vitality of old customs, which has helped to raise certain gatherings of this kind almost to the dignity of national institutions. Fairs in Scotland have originated in various ways. In days when the Church was learned as well as powerful, she invariably flung her protecting arm round the little community gathered near the monastery or cathedral, and even conferred upon them special privileges in the way of trade, or exemption from dues. Glasgow and Paisley, Dunfermline and Brechin, all owe their fairs to the Church. Ayr and Stirling, again, with Perth and Inverness, are of civil or royal origin. A third class, such as Falkirk, Muir of Ord, and Carman, may more properly be set down as “trysts,” or markets originating from the ordinary necessities or conveniences of stock trading. Civil in origin, yet with a brotherhood of Grey Friars in their midst, and possessed at the same time of special “tryst” or market features, Dumfries Rood Fair may be said to present features belonging to all three classes. The gathering itself is of old date, in all probability coeval with the foundation of the burgh by William the Lion. His character of erection is not in existence, nor has any copy of it been seen in modern times. The usual form observed was for the sovereign to declare to all concerned that the town or "vil” described, had been raised to the dignity of a burgh, and possessed all the liberties enjoyed by the King's other burghs. The burgesses were freed from tolls throughout the kingdom, and a certain cohesion was given to their corporate existence, by a grant of lands contiguous to the town. Stated fairs as a rule were also permitted to be held in the course of the year, and toll and customs due to the burgh, fell to be collected at places set forth in the charter. A second charter of King Robert III., dated at Glasgow, 1395, confirms all previous

« PreviousContinue »