Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sir Walter Scott's Stories

April, 1807. Mr. Scott, the author of the 'Lay,' told us some curious border histories. We were much pleased with the conclusion of the history of Wat Tynlin. When he was grown old and blind, one of the agents of the Lady of Branksome, in her absence, called upon him for the rent of a small tower which he inhabited; part of which is standing to this day.

Wat, incensed, replied he never had paid rent, nor would at that age. At last he delivered his bow to the steward, and said he would pay the rent to the man who could draw that bow; the bow was certainly tried, but we will hope that the lady would never have obliged such a man to pay his rent. However, certain it is that some vain attempts were made to draw his bow, and that Wat never paid his rent.

Mr. Scott spoke of one story which might make an excellent ballad, but he said he could not write it, as to do it justice much humour, a quality he never possessed* was required. Scott of Harden, one of his ancestors, was a famous border thief, and at one time, when he had either spoiled the neighbouring English of all their cattle or had frightened them all away, he began to fear that from disuse he might become less expert at the honourable trade he pursued; and to keep his hand in, amused himself with driving the cattle of one of his own countrymen and neighbours, Murray of Elibank, an ancestor of the present Lady Elibank.

Murray soon found means of revenging himself, and brought Scott, his followers, his cattle, &c., &c., all prisoners to Elibank Castle. On the walls was sitting his wife, who, perceiving the train that followed him, asked what he meant to do with Scott. ' "Why, hang him, to be sure,' was the answer. The more prudent wife exclaimed, ‘What! hang such a winsome mannie as Harden, when we have three such sorry damsels at home?'

Murray was persuaded by his wife, and sending for one of his daughters, whose ugly face and immense mouth had acquired her the name of Mag o' mouth Murray, proposed to Scott to marry her, leaving him no other alternative but a halter. The unfortunate
prisoner most ungallantly refused the lady; and the tradition says that it was not till the rope was tied to the tree, and he began to feel it tighten, that be repented.

He was married, and sorrowfully bent his steps homewards, taking with him his ugly wife.

* (Note by Miss Wynn.)— When in 1816 Scott published Paul's ‘Letters to his Kinsfolk,’ in which the attempts at humour so entirely failed, I lamented his having forgotten this declaration. Now, in 1824, when he is considered as the undoubted, though unacknowledged, author of so many admirable novels, containing more humour, than could probably be found in all the other authors of this century collected together, I wonder at his having made it. I see that when I tell this story nobody believes me, and I feel I should doubt my own recollection if the above had not been written on the very day that I saw Scott, in 1807.

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