Page images
PDF
EPUB

*

Such are the lines in which he eulogises the man of whom, according to his own testimony, the peasantry in the west of Scotland entertain the idea that he was a sort of fiend in human shape,-tall, muscular, and hideous in aspect, secured by infernal spells from the chance of perishing by any ordinary weapons, and mounted on a black charger, the special gift of Beelzebub *-that he was constantly accompanied by a band of desperadoes, vulgarly known by such eupho nious titles as “Hell's Tam,” or “ The Deil's Jock”-and that his whole time was occupied day and night hunting Covenanters upon the hills.

It is somewhat curious to find this impression of the peasantry and eulogy of the poet on the same page, recorded by the same pen, as if it required nothing better than his rhymes to reverse the national sentiment. Admit that the popular impression is exaggerated, it may still be presumed that it has a foundation in fact. And what kind of facts must they have been which even the grossest caricature could twist into such a portrait ? The fathers of these men knew too well what Claverhouse was, and must have had some good reason for transmitting such an impression to their

And it is not by the physiognomy of a portrait, nor by the testimony of partisan writers in an age when sycophancy was the best recommendation to royal favour, nor by the stanzas of a poet who assumes that it is madness, or something worse, under any circumstances, to call loyalty a crime,-it is not by any or by all of these that that impression is to be falsified. Despite this gentleman's deliverance, while he leaves broad facts unchallenged, we must believe that the popular estimate of Claverhouse is substantially correct. We question not his loyalty ; but we can conceive of circumstances in which loyalty is a crime-loyalty to the prince of darkness, e. 9.-loyalty to a king whose service is a degradation, and his reward disgrace : and the circum

sons.

stances of Claverhouse were precisely these. We deny not that even when hunting his defenceless countrymen, and to his dying day, he was brave. There was in the man a highsouled courage which made light of personal danger, and might have shone out worthily in less ignoble warfare. When he fought as a youth in the Netherlands, he appears to have given promise which was belied by the performance of his riper years. He may have had a gentlemanly education and superior parts,-statesmanlike as well as soldierlike capacity; but it only deepens his disgrace that he should have prostituted to such base purposes, these superior powers. For after all that may be said, there remains the damning fact that he became the slave of a lie-the lie that kings, do they what they may, have a Divine right to govern, and that their people are under a Divine obligation to obey. He was the unquestioning drudge of the vilest despotism that ever disgraced the British throne—the despotism of a debauchee. The superior powers which his eulogists attribute to him were employed in doing the work of the common hangman. The common hangman, did I say ? May the shades of his victims forgive me! The hangman's work is honourable compared with his. The hangman may be of some use to society, by ridding it of its pests. This man was the executioner, not of the criminal, but of the saints of the Most Highthe best and noblest of his country's sons and daughters. This paragon of chivalry--this “ last of Scots, and last of freemen" — this “lion-hearted warrior” led his troopers against an unarmed peasantry, men whoseonly crime was that, contrary to the bidding of a despot, they met to pray on mountain and moor. He made war on tender women and helpless babes. The castles he stormed were the cottages of a praying people, from the altars of whose hearths there rose to Heaven daily the morning and evening sacrifice. The trophies he left were ruined homesteads-wives gathering up the mangled remains of their husbands--children weeping round the body of their murdered sire. Call it chivalry if you will, when through the startled night the deep bay of the bloodhound mingling with the yell of his pursuers falls on the ear of the poor fugitive, fleeing through swamp and forest to that land of freedom that lies beneath the northern star ;-savage beasts in human and inhuman form, in hot pursuit of one defenceless man, who is guilty of a skin not coloured like their own. Call it loyalty, when one who bears the name of Christian and boasts of his free dom, delivers that trembling fugitive to his pursuers, because the laws of man require him thus to contravene the eternal laws of God. Call these things loyal and chivalrous; and when you thus call evil good, and darkness light, I admit that Scotland may never boast a braver chieftain than Dundee. But till then-till the eternal distinction between right and wrong has been obliterated—let this mau's memory rot; let the execrations of an outraged people follow the name of him who was a curse to his country, and a disgrace to his kind.

It was shortly after the appointment of Claverhouse that the battles of Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge were fought. These are so well known that we may properly pass them by without notice, especially as our time requires us to hurry as rapidly as possible over the events which fol. lowed.

Their history during the next nine years may be summed up in few words. It was the history, for the most part, of unbridled tyranny on the one hand, and of tortures and martyrdoms, borne with courage which bordered almost on frenzy, on the other. The western moors were converted into the hunting-ground of a brutal soldiery-their prey, the best of Scotland's sons and daughters,—their sport to embitter the last moments of their victims with unfeeling taunts and jeers. The reports of their muskets echoing among the mountains, or patches of blood on the moor, told to the hiders or dwellers there, that another victim had fallen, and another brave heart was still. Fiercer and fiercer waxed the persecution, while the persecuted, weakened by their own divisions and by the banishment or execution of their friends, could only betake themselves into deeper solitudes, where they might evade the pursuit and defy the power of their enemies; or remain at home, giving no public manifestation of their principles, but waiting and praying for the dawn of a brighter day. Bearded men, in dress which spoke of the dens and caves in which they had their dwelling-with gaunt visage, on which the lines of fierce and unconquerable resolution were deeply tracedtheir fiery eyes gleaming with supernatural light, as if they bordered on a glorious madness,-men of this stamp, with Bibles in their bosom and swords by their side, peopled the western wilds. Solitudes in which no sound had been heard save the solitary cry of the curlew or the plover, or the occasional bay of the shepherd's dog, or the bleating of his sheep, or the moaning of the wind around the mountain

cairn, or the hissing of the stream as it rolled over the grey 1 pebbles of the moor, were startled by the sound of prayer

issuing from unseen cavern or dark ravine, where earnest wrestlers were pleading with God for the deliverance of a down-trodden country; or rendered vocal with their psalms of praise. Sometimes they met by day, in armed conventicle, but in smaller numbers than formerly, and with stricter precautions ; most frequently under cover of the night. And as the stars were beaming overhead, silent witnesses of their devotion and their wrongs, and the night winds sighing round the mountain, or howling through the rugged glen, furnished fitting chorus to their song of praise, and wafted its echoes far across the moorland, or bore them in circling strains to heaven, the associations and the scene would give new fervour to their song, and raise their preacher to a sublimer reach of thought, and a grander power of utterance; and their eyes would flash with new fire, and their hearts beat with new courage, as he dwelt on their sufferings and struggles, and pointing then, as he sometimes did, to the surrounding hills and overarching stars, exhorted them to trust in Him of whose faithfulness those mountains and stars were symbols—the friend of the oppressed, and the judge of the oppressor—the faithful, covenantkeeping God.

Hunted as they were, their spirits were not broken. The fierceness of the persecution, while it drove them into deeper solitudes, led them to entrench themselves more fiercely in their unconquerable

courage, and to assume a sterner attitude of defiance. Having nothing to lose, which they cared much to retain-a life of privation, not very enviable, being all that was left to some of them,—they were regardless of their persecutor's fury as a bear robbed of her whelps. Driven from the abodes of men, they soared into closer communion with God.' Their habits gave a devotional tinge to all their thoughts, and caused them to flow in a loftier channel. Their speech became weird-like and unearthly in its tone, like that of men who live in babitual recognition of the unseen. Their preachers especially, breathed a loftier inspiration, and became more prophetic in their utterances. Events which men call ordinary, were- -fanatically, some would say—say, rather, with a truer insight ascribed to Divine interposition. When a thick mist suddenly descending concealed Alexander Peden from his pursuers, “the Lord had let doon a lap of his cloak to screen puir auld Sandie.” When, on a mountain, twelve men who lay in wait rescued a company of prisoners from the Government troops,

“ You may

thank this mountain for your escape," said the Royalist officer ; " Say, rather, the

« PreviousContinue »