Stones of Remembrance: The Dream

A little indulgence, if I may, while suggesting this small memorial as part of our occasional remarks on stones …


Linlithgow is an ancient burgh and contains many historic sites. For example, this was where James Stewart, the 1st Earl of Moray was  assassinated on 23 January 1570 by James Hamilton– an assassination notable not only for the planning and audacity, but for the fact Moray was shot.  On a more benign note, Linlithgow Palace, although still impressive in its decine, was a renaissance glory in its prime, and Sir Walter Scott makes mention of it in  Marmion:

Of all the palaces so fair
Built for the royal dwelling
In Scotland, far beyond compare,
Linlithgow is excelling

But let us turn to our stone …


On what is now Friar’s Brae, above the houses of Priory Road, a wall stands and embedded in it  is a stone plaque which reads ‘WJD The Dream   1888’. It is not so very legible now, but during my childhood, most children of the area knew exactly where it was. The Dream was the name of a grey horse owned by Mr W. J. Drybrough, and the feat the stone recalls occurred on a run of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt of 8th December 1888. Let us turn to  Chapter X of the publication ‘The History of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt by James H. Ruhterford, W.S., for an account of the proceedings.

It was in this run that Mr W. J. Drybrough, riding his horse The Dream, leaped the Preston march-wall, a performance so remarkable that it deserves description, and “Croppie Boy” shall tell the tale as he told it at the time. “But what is this in front? The Preston march-dyke, a wall like the side of a house, built with mortar and with square, uncompromising coping stones on top. There is no disgrace in turning from this obstacle, for it is all but utterly unjumpable, so we go round. But the well-known rider of the grey means to have a whet at it, and with three mighty bounds the horse, with 16 st. on top of him, launched clear over nearly six feet of solid masonry. On the other side is a drop, measured next day, of fourteen feet some odd inches, so of course they fall—in fact, the horse’s hind legs never touched the ground, but he landed on his fore legs and head and rolled over, sending his rider prospecting, but on the right side of the fence—no mean feat early in the day before the first gloss is off horse and man, and when the performance is towards the close of a hard day [as this was], the merit is enhanced … It should be added perhaps, that when coming down to the wall, Mr Drybrough called out to a man who was sitting or standing upon it, “What’s on the other side?”, that The Dream, who never hesitated an instant, was in the air before his owner received the reply, “Ye canna jump here,” and that after their fall horse and rider picked themselves up at once, and went on to the finish.

I should add, that during my childhood, there were several accounts which were at odds to this: the horse fell and died, the rider was thrown and died, both horse and rider perished. And it was a given understanding that, at midnight on the date every year, the phantom pair would reappear to attempt the jump once more. To date, I have not put this supernatural theory to the test.



A curious gift from abroad

In the summer, as people take trips here and there, it is common for gifts to be bought or acquired for friends and family. These may be symbolic or sentimental. They may be expensive purchases, or a beautifully wave-smoothed stone from a beach.  They may be welcomed or merely accepted  with civility. Few, however, may have received a gift as gruesomely splendid as that sent to Walter Scott by Lord Byron.

It consisted of an ornate silver urn. The contents, however, were rather more towards the gothic leanings than the romantic, for the urn contained human bones, which Byron was convinced were of Ancient Greeks – ‘Attic bones’. Scott, however, did not appear in any way repulsed, but received the gift with his usual grace and turn of phrase, recalling

I was to play the part of Diomed, in the Iliad, for Byron sent me, some time after, a large sepulchral vase of silver. It was full of dead men’s bones, and had inscriptions on two sides of the base. One ran thus:—‘The bones contained in this urn were found in certain ancient sepulchres within the land walls of Athens, in the month of February, 1811.’ The other face bears the lines of Juvenal:

Expende—quot libras in duce summo invenies. —Mors sola fatetur quantula hominum corpuscula.” Juv. x.39

To these I have added a third inscription, in these words—‘The gift of Lord Byron to Walter Scott.


We do not recommend that this is a suitable gift to recall travels, and the authors indicate that they will decline any similar presentations.

Plans are afoot, come wind, come weet

Looking out on a particularly dismal Easter Sunday this year, the occasional driving rain reminds me that some 420 years ago, similar weather was about to play an important part in one of the most audacious acts – and there are many to count – ever undertaken on the Scottish Borders.

But let the scene be set …

On the 17th March 1596, a day of truce was set between the English Middle March, which was under the Wardenship of Thomas Scrope and the Keeper of Liddesdale (Walter Scott of Buccleuch), to try to settle a matter of “redress and delivery” regarding an “offender” wanted by Buccleuch. Neither Scrope nor Buccleuch were present in person, it seems.

The matter had been delayed, according to Scrope because Buccleuch also wanted the “accessarie” handed over, but this was a man who whom Buccleuch “bore malice”, and so the process had been delayed and postponed. On the 17th March, however, the meeting was set, but Buccleuch refused to keep to the terms of truce. Buccleuch had good reason.

That was the day that William Armstrong of Kinmont also known as Will of Kynmonth, was taken and brought into Scrope’s jurisdiction. Scrope was at pains to explain his own men’s actions, knowing that the contentious matter of Border Truce could render the taking of a man, protected under laws of a Truce Day an illegal act. He stated that Armstrong had broken the truce himself, and therefore it was right that he should be punished; that he was an enemy of the Wardenship (something which should not be argued, but he was still under the laws of Truce); that his followers had committed recent raids; that Buccleuch’s jurisdiction and protection did not apply to Kinmont, as he lived outwith the bounds of Liddesdale; and where he was taken was ‘beyond the limits’ of Buccleuch’s ‘charge’ …  Scrope knew what had occurred was contentious:


How Kynmont was taken will appear by the copy of the attestation by his takers, which if true, it is held that Kynmont did thereby breake th’assurance that daye taken, and for his offences ought to be delivered to the officer against whom he had offended, to be punished according to discreation.” Another reason for detaining him is his notorious enmity to this office, and the many outrages lately done by his followers. He appertains not to Buccleuch, but dwells out of his office, and was also taken beyond the limits of his charge, so Buccleuch makes the matter a mere pretext to defer justice and do “further indignities.”
The above day for redress and delivery was the 17th of this month—which night Kynmont was taken and brought here, where I detain him, thinking it best to do so till good security be given for better behaviour of him and his in time coming, and recompense of damages lately done to the people here.

So wrote Scrope to Burghley, on the 18th March 1596. He could not have dreamt, during his most restless nights (of which we must suspect there were many), what was already being plotted against him.

Remaining an infidel

On 24th  January 24, 1799, MJ ‘Monk’ Lewis wrote to Scott, having written previously regarding certain ballads, namely ‘Glenfinlas’ and ‘The Eve of St John’. Lewis, as in previous correspondence, remarked on several aspects of Scott’s poetical style, including words which, in his consideration, did not rhyme. Having evidently discussed the matter with an acquaintance, Lewis wrote this to Scott.

I must not omit telling you, for your own comfort,

and that of all such person as are wicked enough to

make bad rhymes, that Mr Smythe (a very clever

man at Cambridge) took great pains the other day

to convince me, not merely that a bad rhyme might

pass, but that occasionally a bad rhyme was better

than a good one!!!!!! I need not tell you that he left

me as great an infidel on this subject as he found me.

Ever yours,

(Signed) M. G. Lewis

‘Tis 200 years since

A little diversion into the realms of modern life, I fear. Those of a more delicate constitution may wish to steel their nerves, as we tread the causewaystones of George IV Bridge.

May we encourage any gentle reader to make their way, if possible, to the National Library of Scotland, where the MS of Waverley is now on display, along with associated documents. A visual representation is also available through this internet sorcery, at http://www.nls.uk/exhibitions/treasures

Collecting ballads: Don’t forget your screwdriver

Francis James Child is a name well-known to ballad singers and scholars alike; William Macmath less so. However had the latter not given up his summer holidays in the months of July and August, 1890, Child’s seminal ballad collection “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads” would not have had the benefit of several transcriptions of ballad manuscripts used in the preparation of Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802)


One small bookcase in the Library, which contains Ballads, can only be opened by the use of a screw driver. No wonder, therefore, that David Laing and Thomas Carlyle could do nothing. Writing letters of of no avail. Personal presence is required, to sit down before the place, and pointing say in effect, but more politely, I must have that book out, please get the screw driver, as I can’t go away without seeing the volume.”

Macmath – Child, in Montgomerie, “Macmath and the Scott Ballad Manuscripts”, Studies in Scottish Literature, no. 1, July 1963.

Etiquette for the dead

When one considers that the among other more recognisable epithets, the French once referred to Scotland as ” The Land of Phantoms”, we should, perhaps, not be so taken aback by a tale such as follows. In his introduction to the ferocious ballad Young Benjie, our friend Sir Walter notes the following:

In former times, a man and his wife lived in a solitary cottage, on one of the extensive border fells. One day, the husband died suddenly; and his wife, who was equally afraid of staying alone by the corpse, or leaving the dead body by itself, repeatedly went to the door, and looked anxiously over the lonely moor, for the sight of some person approaching. In her confusion and alarm, she accidentally left the door ajar, when the corpse suddenly started up, and sat in the bed, frowning and grinning at her frightfully. She sat alone, crying bitterly, unable to avoid the fascination of the dead man’s eye, and too much terrified to break the sullen silence, till a Catholic priest, passing over the wild, entered the cottage. He first set the door quite open, then put his little finger in his mouth, and said the paternoster backwards, when the horrid look of the corpse relaxed, it fell back on the bed, and behaved itself as a dead man ought to do.

It is refreshing to note that the dead should abide by certain standards of etiquette, among which list, not terrifying one’s wife should be the primary concern. Behaving oneself properly, at least according to the renowned Sir Walter, continues beyond one’s last breath.

We should add that readers of a gentle disposition should not seek out Young Benjie without having a stalwart companion by their side: what that steadfast supporter may be is left to their own discretion. This ballad, despite its charming title, is notable for the following: murder, a reanimated corpse, and a brutal revenge.