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MR. EDIToR,-You know my rambling propensities, but I do not think I ever told you of one of my idiosyncrasies. I have a passion for visiting graveyards, and collecting epitaphs. By me are a goodly number collected in various parts, some of them absurd, others profane, and others falsehoods, and very few fit for the serious department of the ‘Christian Spectator, whose prosperity and perpetuity all good men now desire. One of my old favourites, Sir Thomas Brown, rather abilious man—at least he was before he married a lady of “such symmetrical perfection to him, both in the graces of the body and the mind, that they seemed to come together by a kind of animal magnetism'—says, in his “Hydriotaphia, or Urn-burial,” that “restless inquietude for the diuturnity of our memory unto present considerations, seems a vanity almost out of date, and superannuated piece of folly.' And he adds, a little further on, “the sufficiency of Christian immortality frustrates all earthly glory, and the quality of either state after death makes a folly of posthumous memory. But man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing nativities and deaths with equal lustre, nor omitting ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature. Enoch and Elias, without either tomb or burial, in an anomalous state of being, are the great examples of perpetuity, in their long and living memory, in strict account being still on this side death, and having a late part yet to act upon this stage of earth.” Still, Sir Thomas and Mr. Editor, there are epitaphs worth preserving, and there are graves, resting-places of brave souls, over which it was fitting to place lasting memorials. Who is not glad that we know where Bunyan's ashes repose? and who would not solemnly pause before the shrine of Arnold? And so, too, of other great names; we desire to have some “frail memorial’ to indicate their sleeping-place in God's acre; aye, and even “uncouth rhymes with shapeless sculpWOL. IX, K
tures deckt, have a charm about them that influences us for the better as we pause to spell them out. We can hardly conceive of a good man laughing in a graveyard, nor of a child that would grow up to be a worthy man who could venture upon a game among the tombs. Memento mori comes from every green sod and every chiselled stone, and he who hears those words thoughtlessly is sadly deficient in the higher moral qualities.
Sitting in my chair I have lately had a long wander through some Scotch burial-places. I had no “Old Mortality’ to guide me, or to share with me my pious reverence and kindled enthusiasm. I have visited without leaving home the graves of the Covenanters of Scotland, and read with deep emotion the simple words that record their fate, and the unblushing (marble does not blush) falsehoods that are told of Sharp, and Lauderdale, and others of infamous and festering memory. You remember what Sir Walter Scott says about these tombs of ‘the unfortunate Covenanters who suffered by the sword, or by the executioner, during the reigns of the two last monarchs of the Stuart line. They are most numerous in the western districts of Ayr, Galloway, and Dumfries; but they are also to be found in other parts of Scotland, wherever the fugitives had fought, fallen, or suffered by military or civil execution. Their tombs are often apart from all human habitation, in the remote moors and wilds to which the wanderers had fled for concealment.’
You and your readers shall wander with me and visit the few remaining memorial stones of the old and holy Covenanters of Scotland. There is a curious book lying before me, intituled “An Theater of Mortality; or, a Collection of Funeral Inscriptions over Scotland; gathered from Edinburgh, Dundee, Stirling, Linlithgow, St. Andrews, Glasgow, Hadingtoun, Kirkaldy, Montrose, Couper, Inverness, Kinghorn, Kircudbright, Dumferling, Dumbritton, Dunbar, Elgine, Nairn, Fortrose, Dunkeld, Spynie, Urquhart, Tranent, Alloa, Falkirk, Kilsyth, Hamiltoun, Melross, and several other places elsewhere; all Englished by the Publisher. By Robert Monteith. Edinburgh, 1704.’ This R. Monteith, who put an M.A. after his name, must have been the veritable Old Mortality himself; the man Walter Scott could not understand, being of that ilk called Tories, defined by a wit to be men who, had they been consulted before creation, would have said, ‘Let Chaos be.’ Old Mortality used to wander in the “most lonely recesses of the mountains, and the moor-fowl shooter has often been surprised to find him busied in cleaning the moss from the grey stones, renewing with his chisel the half-defaced inscriptions, and repairing the emblems of death with which these simple monuments are usually adorned.’
So, Mr. Editor, we will take a pilgrimage to these hallowed shrines, and ere decay's effacing fingers finally obliterate these simple, but touching memorials, we will remove the “moss from the grey stone,' and reverently read how our forefathers believed, and spoke, and suffered.
“Of the three hundred grant but three
• Let us take the oldest epitaph we have been able to find. M'Crie, in his vindication of the Scottish Covenanters, says, “Such of them as escaped execution were transported, or rather sold as slaves to people of desolate and barbarous colonies. At Kilmarnock we read the following, and then we think of Charles II., who had himself signed the Covenant, and sworn to maintain it :—
‘Sacred to the memory of Thomas Finlay, John Cuthbertson, William Brown, Robert and James Anderson, natives of this parish, who were taken prisoners at Bothwell, June 22, 1679,” sentenced to transportation for life, and drowned on their passage near the Orkney Isles. Also of John—who suffered martyrdom, Dec. 15, 1682, at the Grassmarket, Edinburgh.
“Peace to the Church, her peace no friend invade,
The poetry, &c., are of modern date, the monument having been erected so recently as 1823, by “their native parishioners,’ ‘with feelings of attachment for the cause for which they suffered, and a sincere desire to perpetuate their memories.’ Of the same date is a veritable ancient one in the graveyard at Lanark; very simple, but very full of significance:—
“Heir lyes William Hervi, who suffered at the Cros of Lanerk, the 2 of March, 1682, aged 38, for his adherence to the word of God, and Scotland's Covenanted Work of Reformation.’
In another place, called Eaglesham, is a gravestone inscription of that same bad year 1682:—
*Here lies Gabriel Thomson, and Robert Lockhart, which were killed for owning the Covenanted . . . . . . (effaced) by a party of Highlandmen and dragoons, under the command of Ardencaple, May 1st, 1683.
These men did search through moor and moss,
Their blood did not long cry for vengeance! History has long since avenged these slaughtered saints, and placed them in the bead-roll of her honoured worthies, while the Stuarts have gone out like the snuff of a candle in a filthy stink, and Lauderdale, and Sharp, and Claverhouse, and their satellites, are fixed like fiends in the black niches of dark Hades.
Let us walk through the “High Churchyard, Glasgow, where, all honour to the proprietors of the Monkland Navigation, the ‘stone has been renewed, from which we copy the following:—
* In the famous battle of Bothwell Bridge, with the troops of Monmouth, Dalzell, and Claverhouse, against the heroic Covenanters, whom neither defeat nor punishment could subdue.
“At the Coal Basin, formerly the place of execution ;-Behind this stone lies James Nisbet, who suffered martyrdom at this place, June 5th, 1684; also James Lawson and Alexander Wood, who suffered martyrdom October 24, 1684, for their adherence to the word of God, and Scotland's Covenanted Work of Reformation. Here lye martyrs three Of memory, Who for the Covenant die; And witness is, 'Gainst all these nation's perjury.
Against the covenanted cause,
We need not criticise the grammar or the versification of these simple memorials; they tell their own tale concerning that noble army of martyrs, so many of whom have left no storied urn to record their heroism, we gladly select, to preserve these fast perishing inscriptions with eager thankfulness.
M'Crie mentions how oftentimes drums were ordered to be beat at the execution to drown the cries of the sufferers, and here, in the same Glasgow churchyard, is a corroborative memorial:—
“Here lies the corps of Robert Bunton, John Hart, Robert Scot, Matthew Patoun, John Richmond, James Johnston, Archibald Stewart, James Winning, and John Main, who suffered at the Cross of Glasgow, for their testimony to the Covenants and work of Reformation, because they durst not own the authority of the then tyrants, destroying the same between 1686 and 1688.
Years sixty-six and eighty-four,
These last two lineshavea clearring of the true metal; a drop of Scotch blood tingled in the veins of the humble bard who wrote them, and made him long for another foughten field, and another hand to hand grapple with perjured Lauderdale or bloody Claverhouse. In 1685 James II., the immoral pedant of abhorred memory, unfortunately became king of this unhappy country. Two epitaphs only remain to tell the tale that Macaulay has immortalized. James II. “hated the Puritan sects with a manifold hatred, theological and political, hereditary and personal. He regarded them as the foes of heaven; as the foes of all legitimate authority in Church and State; as his great-grandmother's foes, his grandfather's, his father's, and his mother's, his brother's, and his own. He who had complained so loudly of the laws against Papists, now declared himself unable to conceive how men could have the impudence to propose the repeal of the laws against the Puritans. He whose favourite theme had been the injustice of requiring civil functionaries to take religious tests, established in Scotland the most rigorous religious test that has ever been known in the empire. He who had expressed just indignation when the priests of his own faith were hanged and quartered, amused himself with hearing Covenanters shriek and seeing them writhe while their knees were beaten flat in the boots. In this mood he became king, and he immediately demanded and obtained from the obsequious estates of Scotland, as the surest pledge of their loyalty, the most sanguinary law that has ever in our islands been enacted against Protestant Nonconformity.’ Two epitaphs remain to illustrate Macaulay's words in the churchyard, Broomlands:—
‘Here lie the corpses of James Agie and John Park, who suffered at the Cross of Paisley, for refusing to take the oath of abjuration, February 3, 1685.
Stay, passenger, as thou goest by,
These stones were not set up at the time; they owe their origin to piety of a later date, and their erection is a testimony to the growing freedom of the times. Under this is carved:—
“This stone, with part of the bones and dust of the said martyrs, were removed from the common place of execution to this place, by order of John Storie, John Pattison, and John Cochran, magistrates in Paisley, in the year 1779.’
The other epitaph is, perhaps, more touching than even this on two young men—at “ten condemned, at two to die; their chariot of fire was waiting, and they were soon carried to the world to which Sharp and Lauderdale and James do still remain strangers; at least, such is our belief. Our readers have heard of the Bass Rock; many, perhaps, have been on it. Not far from the shore in the Firth of Forth, it rises, solitary, abrupt, and grand out of the old ocean waves. When Scotland's gaols were full of miserable victims, whose only