Old Mortality, Complete eBook: Page2

Walter Scott (2006)


  As I may, without vanity, presume that the name and official descriptionprefixed to this Proem will secure it, from the sedate and reflectingpart of mankind, to whom only I would be understood to address myself,such attention as is due to the sedulous instructor of youth, and thecareful performer of my Sabbath duties, I will forbear to hold up acandle to the daylight, or to point out to the judicious thoserecommendations of my labours which they must necessarily anticipate fromthe perusal of the title-page. Nevertheless, I am not unaware, that, asEnvy always dogs Merit at the heels, there may be those who will whisper,that albeit my learning and good principles cannot (lauded be theheavens) be denied by any one, yet that my situation at Gandercleugh hathbeen more favourable to my acquisitions in learning than to theenlargement of my views of the ways and works of the present generation.To the which objection, if, peradventure, any such shall be started, myanswer shall be threefold:

  First, Gandercleugh is, as it were, the central part--the navel (_si fassit dicere_) of this our native realm of Scotland; so that men, fromevery corner thereof, when travelling on their concernments of business,either towards our metropolis of law, by which I mean Edinburgh, ortowards our metropolis and mart of gain, whereby I insinuate Glasgow, arefrequently led to make Gandercleugh their abiding stage and place of restfor the night. And it must be acknowledged by the most sceptical, that I,who have sat in the leathern armchair, on the left-hand side of the fire,in the common room of the Wallace Inn, winter and summer, for everyevening in my life, during forty years bypast, (the Christian Sabbathsonly excepted,) must have seen more of the manners and customs of varioustribes and people, than if I had sought them out by my own painful traveland bodily labour. Even so doth the tollman at the well-frequentedturnpike on the Wellbrae-head, sitting at his ease in his own dwelling,gather more receipt of custom, than if, moving forth upon the road, hewere to require a contribution from each person whom he chanced to meetin his journey, when, according to the vulgar adage, he might possibly begreeted with more kicks than halfpence.

  But, secondly, supposing it again urged, that Ithacus, the most wise ofthe Greeks, acquired his renown, as the Roman poet hath assured us, byvisiting states and men, I reply to the Zoilus who shall adhere to thisobjection, that, _de facto_, I have seen states and men also; for I havevisited the famous cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, the former twice, andthe latter three times, in the course of my earthly pilgrimage. And,moreover, I had the honour to sit in the General Assembly (meaning, as anauditor, in the galleries thereof,) and have heard as much goodlyspeaking on the law of patronage, as, with the fructification thereof inmine own understanding, hath made me be considered as an oracle upon thatdoctrine ever since my safe and happy return to Gandercleugh.

  Again,--and thirdly, If it be nevertheless pretended that my informationand knowledge of mankind, however extensive, and however painfullyacquired, by constant domestic enquiry, and by foreign travel, is,natheless, incompetent to the task of recording the pleasant narrativesof my Landlord, I will let these critics know, to their own eternal shameand confusion, as well as to the abashment and discomfiture of all whoshall rashly take up a song against me, that I am NOT the writer,redacter, or compiler, of the "Tales of my Landlord;" nor am I, in onesingle iota, answerable for their contents, more or less. And now, yegeneration of critics, who raise yourselves up as if it were brazenserpents, to hiss with your tongues, and to smite with your stings, bowyourselves down to your native dust, and acknowledge that yours have beenthe thoughts of ignorance, and the words of vain foolishness. Lo! ye arecaught in your own snare, and your own pit hath yawned for you. Turn,then, aside from the task that is too heavy for you; destroy not yourteeth by gnawing a file; waste not your strength by spurning against acastle wall; nor spend your breath in contending in swiftness with afleet steed; and let those weigh the "Tales of my Landlord," who shallbring with them the scales of candour cleansed from the rust of prejudiceby the hands of intelligent modesty. For these alone they were compiled,as will appear from a brief narrative which my zeal for truth compelledme to make supplementary to the present Proem.

  It is well known that my Landlord was a pleasing and a facetious man,acceptable unto all the parish of Gandercleugh, excepting only the Laird,the Exciseman, and those for whom he refused to draw liquor upon trust.Their causes of dislike I will touch separately, adding my own refutationthereof.

  His honour, the Laird, accused our Landlord, deceased, of havingencouraged, in various times and places, the destruction of hares,rabbits, fowls black and grey, partridges, moor-pouts, roe-deer, andother birds and quadrupeds, at unlawful seasons, and contrary to the lawsof this realm, which have secured, in their wisdom, the slaughter of suchanimals for the great of the earth, whom I have remarked to take anuncommon (though to me, an unintelligible) pleasure therein. Now, inhumble deference to his honour, and in justifiable defence of my frienddeceased, I reply to this charge, that howsoever the form of such animalsmight appear to be similar to those so protected by the law, yet it was amere _deceptio visus_; for what resembled hares were, in fact, hill-kids,and those partaking of the appearance of moor-fowl, were truly woodpigeons, and consumed and eaten _eo nomine_, and not otherwise.Again, the Exciseman pretended, that my deceased Landlord did encouragethat species of manufacture called distillation, without having anespecial permission from the Great, technically called a license, fordoing so. Now, I stand up to confront this falsehood; and in defiance ofhim, his gauging-stick, and pen and inkhorn, I tell him, that I neversaw, or tasted, a glass of unlawful aqua vitae in the house of myLandlord; nay, that, on the contrary, we needed not such devices, inrespect of a pleasing and somewhat seductive liquor, which was vended andconsumed at the Wallace Inn, under the name of mountain dew. If there isa penalty against manufacturing such a liquor, let him show me thestatute; and when he does, I'll tell him if I will obey it or no.Concerning those who came to my Landlord for liquor, and went thirstyaway, for lack of present coin, or future credit, I cannot but say it hasgrieved my bowels as if the case had been mine own. Nevertheless, myLandlord considered the necessities of a thirsty soul, and would permitthem, in extreme need, and when their soul was impoverished for lack ofmoisture, to drink to the full value of their watches and wearingapparel, exclusively of their inferior habiliments, which he wasuniformly inexorable in obliging them to retain, for the credit of thehouse. As to mine own part, I may well say, that he never refused me thatmodicum of refreshment with which I am wont to recruit nature after thefatigues of my school. It is true, I taught his five sons English andLatin, writing, book-keeping, with a tincture of mathematics, and that Iinstructed his daughter in psalmody. Nor do I remember me of any fee orhonorarium received from him on account of these my labours, except thecompotations aforesaid. Nevertheless this compensation suited my humourwell, since it is a hard sentence to bid a dry throat wait tillquarter-day.

  But, truly, were I to speak my simple conceit and belief, I think myLandlord was chiefly moved to waive in my behalf the usual requisition ofa symbol, or reckoning, from the pleasure he was wont to take in myconversation, which, though solid and edifying in the main, was, like awell-built palace, decorated with facetious narratives and devices,tending much to the enhancement and ornament thereof. And so pleased wasmy Landlord of the Wallace in his replies during such colloquies, thatthere was no district in Scotland, yea, and no peculiar, and, as it were,distinctive custom therein practised, but was discussed betwixt us;insomuch, that those who stood by were wont to say, it was worth a bottleof ale to hear us communicate with each other. And not a few travellers,from distant parts, as well as from the remote districts of our kingdom,were wont to mingle in the conversation, and to tell news that had beengathered in foreign lands, or preserved from oblivion in this our own.Now I chanced to have contracted for teaching the lower classes with ayoung person called Peter, or Patrick, Pattieson, who had been educatedfor our Holy Kirk, yea, had, by the license of presbytery, his voiceopened t
herein as a preacher, who delighted in the collection of oldentales and legends, and in garnishing them with the flowers of poesy,whereof he was a vain and frivolous professor. For he followed not theexample of those strong poets whom I proposed to him as a pattern, butformed versification of a flimsy and modern texture, to the compoundingwhereof was necessary small pains and less thought. And hence I have chidhim as being one of those who bring forward the fatal revolutionprophesied by Mr. Robert Carey, in his Vaticination on the Death of thecelebrated Dr. John Donne:

  Now thou art gone, and thy strict laws will be Too hard for libertines in poetry; Till verse (by thee refined) in this last age Turn ballad rhyme.

  I had also disputations with him touching his indulging rather a flowingand redundant than a concise and stately diction in his proseexercitations. But notwithstanding these symptoms of inferior taste, anda humour of contradicting his betters upon passages of dubiousconstruction in Latin authors, I did grievously lament when PeterPattieson was removed from me by death, even as if he had been theoffspring of my own loins. And in respect his papers had been left in mycare, (to answer funeral and death-bed expenses,) I conceived myselfentitled to dispose of one parcel thereof, entitled, "Tales of myLandlord," to one cunning in the trade (as it is called) of bookselling. He was a mirthful man, of small stature, cunning incounterfeiting of voices, and in making facetious tales and responses,and whom I have to laud for the truth of his dealings towards me.Now, therefore, the world may see the injustice that charges me withincapacity to write these narratives, seeing, that though I have provedthat I could have written them if I would, yet, not having done so, thecensure will deservedly fall, if at all due, upon the memory of Mr. PeterPattieson; whereas I must be justly entitled to the praise, when any isdue, seeing that, as the Dean of St. Patrick's wittily and logicallyexpresseth it,

  That without which a thing is not, Is Causa sine qua non.

  The work, therefore, is unto me as a child is to a parent; in the whichchild, if it proveth worthy, the parent hath honour and praise; but, ifotherwise, the disgrace will deservedly attach to itself alone.

  I have only further to intimate, that Mr. Peter Pattieson, in arrangingthese Tales for the press, hath more consulted his own fancy than theaccuracy of the narrative; nay, that he hath sometimes blended two orthree stories together for the mere grace of his plots. Of whichinfidelity, although I disapprove and enter my testimony against it, yetI have not taken upon me to correct the same, in respect it was the willof the deceased, that his manuscript should be submitted to the presswithout diminution or alteration. A fanciful nicety it was on the part ofmy deceased friend, who, if thinking wisely, ought rather to haveconjured me, by all the tender ties of our friendship and commonpursuits, to have carefully revised, altered, and augmented, at myjudgment and discretion. But the will of the dead must be scrupulouslyobeyed, even when we weep over their pertinacity and self-delusion. So,gentle reader, I bid you farewell, recommending you to such fare as themountains of your own country produce; and I will only farther premise,that each Tale is preceded by a short introduction, mentioning thepersons by whom, and the circumstances under which, the materials thereofwere collected. JEDEDIAH CLEISHBOTHAM.