|European Letters, by T.W. Patton to
The Asheville Citizen:
Description of the Tour of the North Carolina Teachers, During the Summer of 1889
MELROSE ABBEY. [pages 17-21]
|*Note: Copy has been re-formatted. Original two column format has been abandoned and special fonts have been standardized.|
abbey inn, Me/rose, July 23, 1 889.
We mentioned yesterday some of the creature comforts of Scotland which struck us with peculiar force, and now must note another, although we fear it will secure us the criticism of some good friends at home, among them our esteemed brother Rankin, but we are too near to dear Jennie to hesitate to speak the truth, and say that we have exceedingly enjoyed the Scotch whiskey, and the way in which it is served.
After walking, riding, sight-seeing, eating, traveling and six pencing steadily from 5 a. m., we thought we felt the need of a quieting nightcap at midnight and upon asking our landlady if we could have a drop of whiskey, she of course said first, "Beg pardon," which they all say as a formula to secure the pleasure of a repetition of our dulcet tones, which being accomplished to our satisfaction, we are not shown to any bar with men drinking and treating all around us. As far as we have seen such ,1 thing is unknown; but she asks, "Will you have it in the drawing room or in your chamber," and on our reply, "Mary take the gentleman a glass of whiskey," and a sweet little lassie, with most bewitching cap of lace, brings to our door on a silver waiter an exquisite little decanter holding just enough, not a drop more, a tumbler and pitcher of water, and this is the way we Scotch take ours.
Let us assure you, however, that it was not the effect of this drink that caused us to intimate, as our last letter did, that the tones of the Abbey bell reached Edinburgh. A part of that epistle was written as we walked its streets, and part on the rough and jolting train which brought us here, which accounts for its rumbling character . No, the effect of the Scotch drink onus is undeniably good, and we will hold in still higher esteem our relative who used to prepare for St. Andrew's day by ordering a good supply of "Real old Monongahela Scotch whiskey," only we will consent to leave out the Monongahela.
A glance at yesterday's manuscript reminds us that we are inviting you to enter with us the good castle of Edinburgh, across its old draw-bridge, and through the portals where we touch the very hinges which supported its mighty gates, and look up into the dark slit, into which the ponderous portcullis was drawn, in readiness to drop at a moment's warning.
Over the entrance we notice the National Arms, apparently very ancient, and two sleeping hounds, the emblem of the Marquis of Gordon, who was governor of the castle in 1688, and in passing through the inner archway a retrospective glance gives us a quaint old window, composed of numerous panes, about 2x3 inches each, and lighting the chamber in which the Duke of Argyle was confined until his execution at Grass Market.
With eyes wide open with delight at all we see, and ears dinned to deafness by the guide whom we scornfully reject, we now reach and enter Queen Margaret's chapel (saint they call her here because of her holy life), a small building of masonry equally solid and ancient, having been erected early in the twelfth century, but now embellished (bad taste) with painted windows, presenting bad pictures of her Majesty, and her husband Malcolm, and their son David I. This rather detracts, we think, from the effect of this old shrine, which in itself affords a good example of the earliest Norman architecture.
Leaving this point, we pass a very old gun made of bars of iron, bound together with hoops of immense size and strength,
made in 1467, a label informs us, and then on to the crown room to look at the royal regalia which surrounds a crown said to have belonged to the immortal Bruce, and presents to our eyes a most brilliant display of diamonds, curiously wrought, especially one piece representing King George and the dragon; but diamonds could not long restrain us, and we enter Queen Mary's room in which she gave birth to King James, and we thought she could scarcely have chosen a more uncomfortable apartment for this grand chef d'ouvre. Not more than 10x10 feet, and with but one window in a deep embrasure to afford light and air. But it overlooked the bluff at its most tremendous point of sheer precipice and suited well for the body to be lowered in a basket to the hands of the Roman Catholic priests who waited to receive and baptize him, in spite of the covenanters.
From the castle we drive
to Colton Hill, which presents a
lovely view, but is styled by
our cabman appropriately, the
disgrace of Edinburgh, as its monuments
are unworthy the city or those to
whom they were erected.
Especially is this the case
with the Burns monument, which
we regret exceedingly having looked
But our temporary disappointment is more than made up when we reach the old palace of Holyrood, which her most gracious majesty, Queen Vic, under the influence of the everlasting and all-powerful sixpence, graciously invites us to enter.
Over the chief door we enjoy an old crown of stone of immense size, and doubtless of antique age. Passing hastily through the long picture gallery filled with uninteresting portraits of what the painters imagined to be the nations' sovereigns, we stop not longer than to note that here the Pretender used to give his dances, and passing through a room hung with rich old tapestry, we reach at last Queen Mary's audience chamber, in which she held her stormy interview with the intrepid Knox, and where, strange to say, we meet familiar faces, and receive greetings of Asheville friends, to-wit: Mrs. Frank Coxe and her son and daughter.
In this chamber is the bed of King Charles I, and we rather prefer for our use the one frpni which we have just risen. Also we see the ponderous and uncomfortable chairs of the same monarch, and thence we find entrance to Queen Mary's bed chamber. (We forgot to say that this story had been reached by way of the serpentine stairs of stone, of which we have often seen prints.)
The chamber has in it the bed of her majesty and| the quaint old table and work box, which 'held her instruments of femine work. Another, item of interest here is the first mirror ever! Used in Scotland, made of burnished steel, which really made us look handsome, and probably accounts for the glamour of beauty which surrounds the dames of those days.
Adjoining the bed chamber is a recess called a dining room, into which Mary's private stairway enters. It was up these stairs the assassins came to murder Rizzio, and, as the Queen was in the small apartment at the time, they must have passed within a few inches of her person. We can hardly see how she can be defended from having consented thereto.
Descending the stone stairs we now enter
Royal Chapel, or the abbey proper of
Holyrood, now in ruins, but kept in good
order and under careful
supervision to prevent vandalism. In
one corner we see the hidden door to Mary's private
stairs where the assassins of Rizzio
entered on their horrible work intent. This abbey was founded in 1128
by David I, it is said, but our recollection of dates is
not good, and the architecture,
especially the designing of
the main entrance, shows us
the style of the early English.
At this altar Queen Mary was married to Darnley, and here rest in the royal vault the remains of many men and women of high degree.
As you may judge, to have seen and enjoyed the matters related in these two letters have occupied most of the day, and at 4 p. m., we return to our excellent hotel, allow our ladies an opportunity to delight their souls by stopping in what we would call handsome and expensive stores, but here they are all shops, and so after dinner we catch a train for Melrose, and take a late view of this wonderful old abbey which we will attempt not to describe, but only to give ...
... you a faint impression of the effect it produces upon us, as at this moment we glance up from this line and view its massive sublimity.
July 24.—In a retrospect of yesterday we find no room for joke or jest, although many funny things strike us of the peculiarities of our entertainers, but our heart is full of the old ruinous Abbey of Melrose, to which we hasten our return, to complete the enjoyment cut short by the late twilight of Monday.
Not venturing upon an attempt at a description, which to us seems sacrilege, we thought to give some idea of the impression made upon ourselves, but this, too, is a difficult task. It is not so much our mind as the heart and affections that this wonderful production of past ages works upon, and we tremble at comparing what we are wont to call religion in ourselves with the years of devotion and patient toil of these old monks, as, without reward of men, they with their own hand produced these marvels of beauty as a token of their love to God, and what they believed to be His bride, the Catholic Church. But even an attempt to write our own feelings is met with the difficulty that every word that we indite seems to us most flat and commonplace.
How, then, can we hope to interest even slightly our dear, far away friends ? No, they must come themselves and stand on the pavement covering thousands of illustrious dead, over the very spot where lies the silver casket containing the great heart of King Robert the Bruce, which was brought back from Spain together with the body of his loving follower, the gallant Lord James of Douglass, and both placed near together under the east window of what must then have been their pride, the church of their delight.
Near by we stand upon the tomb of Michael Scott, the Wizard, and trace with our finder the dim outlines of the cross, said to have been produced by the streams of moonlight through the tra-ceried window at his head, a legend most appropriate, we think, to the great alchemist.
Nor is the record confined alone to prince and nobleman or men of high degree, as the world then considered them, but this tablet, which we hope you can reproduce, gives evidence of the genius of one John Morvo (now called Murdock), a master mason and an excellent workman, from whom we fancy that some of our good friends of that name both in Salisbury and Asheville may have descended, because be it remembered this master mason is not said to have been one of the monks to whom celibacy had charms, and our friends seem surely to have inherited his talent in stone work. The tablet reads in quaint old English characters:
SA GABS YE COMPASS EVEN ABOUT, SA TRUTH AND LAUTE DO BUT DOUTE. BEIIALDETO YE HENDE Q JOHN MOR VO.
In similar letters another tablet tells who John Morvo, Morrow or Murdock was as follows:
Near by we kneel upon the old kneeling stone of some sainted man and look at the horseshoes with which even then he thought to banish evil spirits, and we obeyed his injunction to "Pray for the soul of Peter the Treasurer," and also stand upon a slab covering one of our own ancestors, which is inscribed in "Memoire of guid dame Margaret Kerr."
The marvelous carving and tracery in stone which we see still preserving its fresh beauty all around us, fills us with admiration, almost we had said, awe— all of it is of such exquisite delicacy and endless variety.
Crowning one of the columns at a height that requires care to distinguish it, appears a most graceful feminine hand, holding a bunch of flowers worthy their holder. We were struck with the difficulty we had in finding this, even with ...
our guide's assistance, and then with the fascination it had for us when once our eye became educated to seek it out from among its surrounding beauties. We did not wonder that Sir Walter Scott had it reproduced to ornament his residence. Nor is it only the delicacy of its traceries which we note with wonder, but the stupendous magnitude of the work. A portion of the roof, which still stands, is composed of slabs of stone which we estimate to be at least ten inches in thickness and several feet in length, while jutting out from its lower edge is well preserved an image in stone of "The Pig and the Bagpipe," which, we suppose, showed the estimate put upon the national instrument by the old fathers, that its strains were identical with the squealing of a pig, in which opinion we concur. High up in the transept we are startled to see suspended two weighty stones threatening us with destruction. But the same cords which held them first will continue to do so; and besides, remember they are quite modern, being the weights that propel the clock, placed there only some 400 years ago and still faithfully warning men of the inevitable lapse of time.
An hour is as much as we can give this old abbey, so we cannot do more than glance fit its wonderful Triforium or passage in the body of its massive walls 'round which the choir boys used to march, their sweet chanting reaching the open air as they encompass the numerous windows. This is hard to explain and marvelous to behold.
And now we drive over a perfectly exquisite road along the peaceful banks of the Tweed and arrive at Abbottsford, the home of the Wizard of Scotland. The situation and surroundings of the mansion disappoint us, being very low and disagreeably damp. But all regret is removed upon entering and viewing the immense number of relics of inestimable value with which the great author surrounded himself and made his arduous labors joyous. We have no idea of giving you a dry catalogue of these, but merely mention a few which most pleased us.
The study, first entered, is our beau ideal of such a room, to which the student descended by a balcony and stairs from his chamber. In it are his"chair and small desk, the latter made of the wood of the Armada, and a handsomely inlaid chair, made of the wood of Robroyston, or the house in which Wallace was betrayed. Pacing the author was a portrait of his favorite, Rob Roy.
In the adjoining library we see a bust of Scott by Chantry, and, of course, beautiful in workmanship; a cabinet of valuable relics, among them the crucifix held by poor Queen Mary as she went to execution ; several trophies meanly captured from the great Napoleon at Waterloo; and a reminder of the dear Old North State in a purse embroidered by Flora McDonald, Rob Roy's purse, Helen McGregor's brooch, and many others.
Next, the drawing room, hung with papering of Chinese work and design, and surrounded with numerous portraits, of which we can only mention "Sir Walter and His Dogs," by Raeburn, and portraits of his mother, wife and daughters, and a most realistic painting ot the head of Queen Mary, taken immediately after it was severed from her lovely person, by Cawood, who obtained permission from Queen Elizabeth, to do his ghastly work.
The armory adjoining the drawing room has its walls literally covered with weapons of all kinds, ages and designs. Many of them historical such as the gun of Rob Roy, marked with his initials, his sword; an elegant case of daggers of King Charles; also the keys of Lock Leven castle, fished up out of its depth of waters; keys of the old Tolbooth; thumb screws, used as tortures in those cruel days. Also some most interesting pen sketches, such as Queen Elizabeth dancing; quite a ludicrous representation of her majesty renowned for her ruffs, and a pen scene of "The Feast of the Spurs," in which the highlanders' feast is blessed by the monk, but on the covers being raised, only a pair of spurs is seen, indicating an empty larder. One of the gallants (the story goes) hastens to the lowlands to refill the bill of fare, is captured, sentenced to death, but offered his liberty if he will marry "Mucklemouth Meg;" and the next sketch shows this scene, and well depicts the gallant's disgust ; but after reflection he preferred the embraces of his homely bride to those of a halte*-, and thus gave rise to the family of Scott, Sir Walter himself being a di- ...
rect descendant of this curious marriage.
In a word more we must cut short our description, by saying everything combined to carry out the thought, which good Sir Walter has inscribed around the beautifully carved ceiling of his entrance hall, in old English type:
A brisk drive brings us back to Melrose station to catch a fast train, which gives us a chance to enjoy an English railroad dinner at Leeds, and thence to Birmingham, where an hour's waiting" allows only a walk through its magnificent station, covering with its glass arches nearly fifteen acres of floor, as we estimate by counting our steps; its roof supported on eight lofty arches, framed of iron, each of one hundred feet span. How impressive and instructive, in one day to behold the stupendous work of the old monks of Melrose, and the equally stupendous station of to-day. Query: Which labor was calculated to do most practical good in time and eternity? Eternity alone can give the answer.
From Birmingham to Coventry, where we lodge at the Queen's hotel right royally, and will continue the story of our rambles in our next.