The Queen’s Choir;
A REVERY IN ROSLIN WOODS
The Queen’s Choir;
A REVERY IN ROSLIN WOODS
“But for as much as some might think or seyne,
What nedis me, upon so little even,
To write all this! I answer thus againe:
That every wight has awin sweet or sore
Has most in mind; I can say you no more.”
THE KING’S QUAIR. [unnumbered page]
The Queen’s Choir.
“Mr. Oldbuck,” said the town-clerk, “the Provost understanding you were in town, begs on no account that you’ll quit it without seeing him; he wants to speak to ye about bringing the water frae the Fairwell-springs through a part o’ your lands.”
“What the deace!—have they nobody’s land but mine to cut and carve on?—I won’t consent, tell them.”
“And the Provost,” said the clerk, going on, without noticing the rebuff, “and the Council, wad be agreeable that ye should hae the auld stanes at Donagild’s Chapel, that ye was wussing to hae.”
“Eh!—what?—oho!that’s another story; well, well, I’ll call upon the Provost, and we’ll talk about it.”
“But ye maun speak your mind out forthwith, Monkbarns, if ye want the stanes; for Deacon Harlewalls thinks the carved through-stanes might be put with advantage on the front of the new Council-house—that is, the twa cross-legged figures, ane on ilka door-cheek; and the other staneabune the door. It will be very tastefu, the Deacon says, and just in the style of modern Gothic.”
“Lord deliver me from this Gothic generation!” exclaimed the Antiquary.
THE ANTIQUARY. [unnumbered page]
The Queen’s Choir.
“But for as much as some might think or seyne,
What nedis me, upon so little even,
To write all this? I answer thus againe:
That every wight his awin sweet or sore
Has most in mind; I can say you no more.”
THE KING’S QUAIR.
[illustration] THE Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity, founded, at Edinburgh, by Mary de Gueldres, the heroic Queen of James II., in 1462, is described by Rickman, in his “Essay on Ecclesiastical Architecture,” as consisting of “the Choir and Transepts of a small but very beautifully decorated composition, with the capitals of the piers enriched with foliage not exceeded in design or execution in any English Cathedral.”
This ancient structure—valuable alike as a fine example of native art, and as a historical monument associated with names distinguished in Scottish history—after standing for nearly four centuries, was demolished in 1848, notwithstanding the strongest remonstrances against so irrelevant and sacrilegious an act, in order to enlarge the area of the North Railway Station, and provide a siding for coal trucks! [unnumbered page]
The Lord Provost and Magistrates—by whom, as its guardians and trustees, the sale of this national monument was perpetrated, for the purpose of its demolition—conscious of the very questionable character of their proceedings, and not altogether callous to the just indignation with which posterity might be expected to visit such a mercenary deed, conditioned that the church should be rebuilt on another site, with the original materials; and having obtained plans and estimates for the same from an architect of reputation and long experience, and the requisite funds from the Railway Company, this purposed restoration was further guaranteed by an Act of Parliament. But, heedless of the “Minstrel’s Malison” on the demolition of “Dun-Edin’s Cross,” memorials and remonstrances have been presented in vain to their successors, urging the fulfilment of the compact which formed the final basis of acquiescence in the destruction of the fine old building; and posterity will now look in vain even for the site of this work of art, which one of the highest English authorities on the ecclesiastical architecture of the middle ages, pronounced to be unsurpassed in design or execution by the finest Cathedral of England!
O! be his tomb as lead to lead,
Upon its dull destroyer’s head!—
A minstrel’s malison is said.”
The Queen’s Choir;
A REVERY IN ROSLIN WOODS.
SOFT blew the autumn winds through Roslin woods, And bright the gowans gemmed the mossy braes; The Esk and Leith their drumly winter floods That seaward roared while winds were in the trees, Had turned to cadence with the whispering breeze; The golden harvests glinted far and near, And peace, by plenty dowered, Stood by to crown with joy the closing year. There had been heard afar the tramp of men, Gathering from many lands unto our own; The nations had been stirred, and rose amain Responsive to the gage of battle thrown Before the world with smiling welcome down; No mailed gauntlet, but the olive wreath For that brave battle-field Whereto were bid all crowned kings but Death. [unnumbered page] It seemed, in truth, a time that Peace might claim, If ever, as peculiarly her own; For people, waxing squeamish at the name Of glory, by which victory is known Only when won by misery, would disown Such blustering, braggart, cannon-mouth repute, And vowed for once to test A glorious world’s battle by its fruit. It was, in fact,—to quit circumlocution,— The year when London was for once the centre Round which the world revolved; a revolution, However, without power to make repent her Italian Naples, or Old Rome present her Time-tarnished triple crown amid the crowd, To let the daylight see To what it was the nations once had bowed. A time of smiling peace, much like the time Italian Naples has enjoyed of yore, When vines and olives of her sunny clime Stretched clustering from Vesuvius to the shore; As unexpectant of volcanic roar Of revolutionary fires long pent, As erst of smouldering rage Of fierce popular heat and discontent. E’en so it was in our peace-loving town, Ancient Edina, and her modern neighbour; The Pope well banned, the Clergy settled down In peace, like dancers from the fife and tabor, Well pleased to win the fruits of virtuous labour, When toesin-clang, and drum ecclesiastic, Summoned the lieges armed To battle in the tithe-war enthusiastic. [page 8] IT chanced in days of yore a pious Queen,— Pious at least according to the wont And fashion of her age, when faith was seen By help of carven shrine or sculptured font, Or like church-gift, where all might look upon’t, Rather than in heart-piety concealed,— Vowed Holy Trinity A gorgeous masonic pile to build. Nor vowed in vain: for such a pile arose As men of after-times and other creeds Have gazed on with the reverence which flows From innate love of beauty, such as breeds Devotion in the soul of him that treads The long-drawn aisles, where altar, tomb, and shrine, And bowering column, make Their solemn shadowy grandeur seem divine. A fane it was where sculpture’s curious wile, And all the grace of medieval art, Were richly blended in the ornate style Of that old century, whereof a part, Thus fossilized, lived on within the heart Of the succeeding centuries, as on Trustworthy chronicle In lasting characters of graven stone. An honest chronicle it was of facts, Such as fond lovers of those good old times Scarce look for record of ‘mid pious acts Of royal devotion; trail of shameless crimes, And follies wherewith now the Devil limes To catch weak mortals:—but no prurient taint Is to be dreamt of ‘neath The modish piety of ancient saint! [page 9]
It was, in truth, with its grotesque, and grave, And leering drollery, from corbel, boss, And capital, and gargoil; and with nave Shorn of its purposed graces; a most gross, Plain-spoken petrification of the loose And sensual guise of that old century’s faith Like motley mingling with The solemn shroud and smileless gaze of death. Yet had it, too, its looks of the divine And earnest faith, that held, in that old creed, Such place as golden chalice in the shrine Honoured to hold both bones of sainted dead, And paten, emblem of Christ’s living bread: Incongruousness which makes dead bones more crine, But leaves the shrine untouched To drink the chalice-flavour from God’s wine. A fitting shrine it was for that old Queen, As chantry, where to rest she might be laid, And,—so at least she willed it to have been,— Where daily mass and prayers should be made, For the soul’s safety of the Royal Dead; Strangest memorial of times long gone, When the third James was set To fill with baby limbs the Bruce’s throne. [page 10] Times which it must be owned yield meagre fruit To grace historian’s or poet’s page; When piety seemed withering at the root, And patriotism changed, to suit the age, To the blind selfishness of faction’s rage; And saintship’s name unblushingly accrued, The right divine of sin In crowned pre-eminence and shameless mood. When faith, nigh faithless grown, and truth a lie, Found substitute for war in courtly broils, Ere Bannockburn was sullied with the die Of patricidal death-blow such as soils Flodden’s devoted leader, in the toils Of that mean age dragged at a rabble’s heels, To dree his weary weird, A suppliant for such peace as penance deals. Though he no dastard follower in the rear Of nobler ages, but the gallantest Of royal knights, and noble harbinger Of the new dawn that lighted to its rest And tardy sepulchring, the worn-out vest Of faith eternal, which, with changing form, Unchanging, calmly broods Triumphant ‘mid the whirlwind and the storm. And so the ancient pile outlived its creed, Even as that creed itself outlived the faith That was its life-blood, as a buried seed With fructifying germ, that, in the death And rottenness around it, woke new breath Of life into the younger times beyond, And rose like lusty youth, Adust, as in the arena’s triumph crowned. [page 11] But yet unscathed the ancient pile lived on; Beneath, the Royal Foundress slept in peace; Above the monkish riddles carved in stone Slumbered likewise, unrecking of release From the groined ribs, that, like o’erarching trees, Embowered them, echoing back the psalmody Of homely worshippers, As wont when royal requiem pealed on high. True wisdom, certes, shows in hurling prone To dust, deserted, rotten, soulless forms Of ancient institutions, long out-grown Such infant swaddling-bands; and healthy storms Of popular ire, aroused to bold reforms, In revolutionary sweep, meseem Grand as the thunder’s shout Joyously answering the lightning’s gleam. I love to read of Harry’s Cromwell sweeping The cobwebs from the old monastic aisles; I venerate John Knox, albeit his threeping Cathedrals were no better than the piles Of old church rooks, roused such reforming broils ‘Mong the insensate mob as paled thy glory, Old Scotland; for fair fanes Leaving but shattered wreck and ruin hoary. Nor love I less thy bold Protector, England, Cromwell, the kingliest of uncrowned kings; Not, certes, for that either laid rude hand On noble shrines and royal sepulchrings; Aye, and fair queens, and kings divine, as things Worth only as being worthy; but because E’en such seemed mean when weighed Against the issue of a nobler cause. [page 12] A nation’s liberty, a people’s faith In jeopardy, and noble men endowed For such a strife, and struggling to the death For such:—were Truth’s own champions to be crowned, And turn with lean aesthetics to the crowd Of hungering watchers, bidding them disown God’s faith and liberty, And take for promised bread a sculptured stone? Nay, there are grander things than sculptured shrines; Nobler historic monuments than tombs; Deeds worthier heaven than regarding long-drawn lines Of marble shafts o’er-arched; and he that dooms The noblest of such to the dust, still comes Before his peers for judgment; let them be Noblest, or most debased, As suitethto the worth of his degree. So let their worth be weighed, who thus could weigh A shrine, so royally hung with ancient truth And bold historic picturings, ‘gainst the sway Of the hour’s bauble; ‘gainst the risk, forfooth, That this young Scotland, in his senile youth, Striding hot haste his hippogriff of steam, Should for some minutes’ hear Th’ impatient snorting of his iron team! Lest his new highway should for once diverge, If but a hair’s-breadth, from the perfect line Of its ideal beauty; or his large And full-blown bubble prematurely dwine, Or suddenly collapse, ere such moonshine As makes shareholders’ heaven, rule the tide, Which, taken at its flood, Leads to such fortune as the wise deride! [page 13] Certes, ‘twas nobly done! ‘twas brave indeed! For such mere mercenary, paltry end, To do what Wallace, at his utmost need, Or Bruce, when fearless, Scotland to defend, Had reckoned sacrilege, that scarce could lend Excuse in patriot-war’s necessity! So be the base-bred knaves Each scorned to meanness o’ his base degree. I scorn not blindly the triumphant swoop Of their steam eagles flying thus afar, And making time and space obedient stoop As subject vassals of their iron car; I scorn not man should triumph in the war Thus waged so bravely with material things, And speed electric thought Obedient courier on the lightnings’ wings. I love to see the world, in such a chase, Move on and leave the olden times behind; A victor in the victories of my race, I triumph in the glories of my kind; But more I prize the victories of the mind, Nor deem mechanic triumphs need efface All reverence for the past’s Exuberant artfulness and childlike grace. Nay rather, such should wake the enfranchised soul To view with grander scope her widening span; Teach her to emulate a prouder goal, Help her to consummate a nobler plan, And bind with stronger influence man to man, Soaring on such material wings sublime, And linking with the past The glorious freedom of the coming time. [page 14] God reigns, else were this world of ours a mart Where man would sell the birthright of the soul Hourly, for some poor mess of pottage; part, Like a spoilt child, with,—fling from him the whole Immeasurable future, for a dole Of gilded dross, like that mad railway stake;— So might and meanness meet, As in their turns the coming ages wake. So meanly levelled they that ancient shrine, With sneer and ribald laughter; for all sense Of old heroic nobleness, divine Self-consecrating, loyal reverence And filial piety, for paltry pence, Was bartered Judas-like; so they denied, Proud to abjure, all share In Scotland’s birthright of ancestral pride. Perchance it was no thing to wake a nation, From out its pleasant dream of dividends; Perchance, indeed, scarce worthy the vexation Owned by the few, for whose regrets amends,— In most bland promises at least,—expends Solatium wrung from out the sinning line, In graceful restoration Of the old century’s consecrated shrine. Perchance a thing so local scarcely merits The passing thought of aught beyond the pale Of the old city’s purlieus, that inherits Halo enough from time to give avail,— So might one think,—to such historic tale As should plead trumpet-tongued against the wrong Which severed links so fair, Entwined with royal legend, tale and song. [page 15] The unprofitable brawls of laic strife, And clerical defection from high-toned And reverent sympathies, wherein the life Of all true magnanimity is bound, May by the reverent soul be both disowned As most irreverent; while therein my lie Germs such as erst, when ripe, Have grown to history’s bloodiest tragedy. I seek not to arraign the age for meanness, As all unequalled; but if not the worst Alike for mercenary greed and leanness Of soul, most surely ‘tis not best or first, As self-complacent sages take on trust: Descrying in this wondrous railway-time A great world-epoch’s birth, Dawn of a future matchless and sublime. Discerning reverently the great and good, That, like God’s salt, preserves from putrefaction, Yet trace I in such coarse, irreverent mood And sneering triumphs, something of reaction Akin to what let loose Parisian faction In godless revel o’er the realm of France, Whirling the nation mad, In wild, blood-drunken bacchanalian dance. I think the deed itself, of desecration Of such a shrine, foredoomed for such a cause, Proof of an age devoid of veneration And that fine natural piety which awes The untutored peasant, and will bid him pause, Unbonneted, before the village sire Reverent as in the hush Of vesper anthems in cathedral choir: [page 16] Reverent as in the golden rubied blaze Of matin service, when the organ peals With its full-volumed hallelujah’s praise Through the o’er-arching vaults, then sudden stills, And the strange silence all their echoes fills With the rapt pause, on smiling Christmas morn, As beneath heaven’s vault, When unto us th’ incarnate God was born.
Not that mere veneration makes religion; Or that a taste for medieval art, Though consecrated solely to dethrone The spurious graftings from the genuine part Of ancient church-work, constitutes the heart, Or even indeed the outworks, of theology; Or that heaven may be gained By virtue of most chaste ecclesiology. Nor that the terrible unseen abyss Of the dread after-death may be bridged o’er By such an airy span of arch as this Which modern builders borrow from the hoar And obsolete chantry, stretched from shore to shore ‘Twixt earth and heaven; though with a pier between, And purgatorial toll, Church-built midway, for dues of venial sin. A stale device, though forged with curious art, Some modern monks are eager for redeeming; Men who mistake world’s childhood for a part Of its world-greatness; and with fancies teeming With admiration of its guileless dreaming, Aspire to wean all manhood from the soul, And lure the ages down To baby triumphs at their cradle-goal. [page 17] Rather than such emasculated faith As that half-monkish, ritualistic medley, Preached, wolf-like, by sleek doctors, from beneath The gowns of brave old Latimer and Ridley, Should supersede God’s truth, I’d witness gladly Pillar, and clustering groin, and carven choir, Bow to fanatic axe, And mad inconoclastic torch’s fire. But because pagan Greeks adored Apollo, And Medicean Venus, shall we spurn Their glorious art-bequests; or madly follow Reforming mobs, in their untutored, stern, Though righteous rage, that in the overturn Of shrines so long polluted by a lie, Triumphing, might believe Their doom a sacred debt to Deity. Truth to his altar! Beauty to her throne! The true and beautiful are both divine; A nobly wedded pair; when error prone Leaves them as innocent within God’s shrine In glorious harmony, as ‘neath the vine And fig-tree of their sinless paradise, Beauty and strength were joined In naked majesty and pure emprise. Beauty alone, from manly truth divorced, In sensuous, prurient, and unnatural; Truth without Beauty, likens law enforced Untempered by God’s mercy; brimming full, As thunder-cloud, of majesty a pall Of cloud unsunned, though heaven-born; so meseems, My country, thy stern faith, Yet lacking sunshine more than lightning-gleams. [page 18] For ‘twas an honest choice, in such divorce, Nay more, it was a noble instinct shown, When Truth and Beauty, severed by the force Of falsehood, seemed to leave for choice but one, Beauty or Truth, henceforth to bide alone As the soul’s ministry; ‘twas nobly done, Worthy of freemen; stern, Irreverent faith, through which true reverence shone. But this new-born inaptitude to prize Things once deemed worthy, aye of noblest worth Shown by their children,—though the legacies Of a great ancestry, from whence came forth Arts, learning, freedom, nay, the very birth Of the free faith which sanctifies alone Irreverent nobleness,— Seems foul as carcass whence the soul is flown: Seems like the sluggish heart in life’s decay Portending death; all longings for a goal Worthy such sires renounced for reckless play With demons of cupidity that roll Their snaky folds around the captive soul, And bind free wings, that heavenward would flee; So mirrors this mean act, The age’s picture and epitome.
So seemed it when, in Roslin’s leafy den, With its brave shrine above, its stream below, I watched the sere leaves mingling with the green, Touched by the glorious tints of autumn’s glow; And heard above the murmuring waters flow,— Musing, ‘mid joyous nature’s sweet repose, Of Europe’s peace once more Strangled in revolutionary throes; Of the proud palace-temple England reared, With its free altar, where the world might meet As brother-worshippers, and all, unfeared, Contend for bloodless laurels, and her great Charter of peace, already made a cheat; And nations’ hands unclasped, that seemed to join In a world’s brotherhood, Confederate ‘neath that luminous crystal shrine. Great nature lay around us hushed and still, Save for the stream that chafed the rocks, time-worn; Through the green spray there peeped the distant hill, With autumn’s reapers ‘mong the golden corn; And lightly on the scented breeze was borne The plaintive air wherewith a village maid Joined with the chaunting stream, Harmonious stealing through the leafy glade. With lightsome heart she sang of “Banks o’ Doon,” To the sweet murmurs of her native stream; A careless glee was in the plaintive tune, Sweet as child’s laugh through tears; while, like a dream Of long-forgiven strife, the sunset’s gleam Glowed on the ivied turrets overhead, And flung th’ embattled pile In lengthening shadows down the bosky glade. [page 20] High o’er the grassy slope it touched each spire, And pinnacle, and niche, and sculptured quoin, Till Roslin’s chapel, tipped with living fire, Seen through the foliage, seemed like that divine Vision, when Horeb desert’s leafy shrine Was with the visible gaze of God illumed, And the bush burned with fire, Blazing in heaven’s splendour unconsumed. What wonder, with th’ old Castle riven with scars Of Cromwell’s cannon; and deserted choir Still scathless: wreathed pillar, pendant stars, And all its marvellous masonry entire, Gleaming in that sweet autumn sunset’s fire; If some indignant thoughts should intervene Of spoilers free to dare The desecration of such glorious scene; Of an unspiritual age, to whom the tales And memories lingering round that storied scene Are idle jests, no more; whom nought avails The ‘Prentice Pillar, or the haunted glen, Or Drummond’s classic bower of Hawthornden, Or the wild legend of th’ unearthly glare When Roslin’s mailed dead Wake to give welcome to the doomed St. Clair. Of revolutions meaner, France, than thine, That secretly can sap a nation’s strength, And curdle all its life-blood, till it pine, And dwine, and blanch, and sicken; till at length The soulless changeling, grovelling in unstrength, Counts riches glory; virtue but a name; And debtor-victims doomed, Offer up to its golden god their shame! [page 21] Deeds worse than this, in spite of heaven’s frown, Have won men’s admiration by some greatness; Conquerors whose swords have mowed the nations down, Wade fearless through their fore, achieving fitness By such imperial purple for completeness Of their world-triumphs; but the crime is thine, My country; all the guilt, Without the glare to make it look divine. The age’s virtue lies in pulling down; Its very science tends to revolution Rather than building up; the golden throne Of Truth is coldly filled; and distribution Of frigid treatises makes restitution To the world’s Architect, for more divine Attributes all ignored, By proof of His mechanical design! What need for it of altar, church, or priest? What sense in sacred, sacramental rite, Symbol of triumph won, blood-purchased rest? Or fond memorial of that infinite Humility, by which One did requite, In love’s great sacrifice, the debt we owed; And bore on bloody cross, The world-redeeming agony of God? Throw down, with unclasped hands, these glorious fanes Wherein your fathers bowed the reverent knee; Toil till no consecrated shrine remains, Memorial of ancestral piety, To shame their recreant posterity Who build to Dolichenian Jove* instead, And blindly pay their vows On Mammon’s altar at their utmost need.
*Jupiter Dolicheneux, the patron of iron works. [page 22]
Yet shall it be so? From thy glorious height, My country,—where for ages thou’st maintained Thy freedom: like the eagle her free flight Amid the mountains,—must thou stoop enchained, Not captive-wise, but, sadder far, arraigned As base deserter of the frontier post From whence thy fathers looked On flying skirts of many a scattered host? Must thou,—long joyous in the foremost van Of the world’s freemen;—free by soul and sense; Unfettered as the winds that freely fan Thy mountain pines, as waves which foaming fence Thy natural ramparts;—own the influence Of soul-debasing slavery, and fall— Meanest of felon slaves— As thine own mercenary passions’ thrall? Shall every baffled wave, that slow retires From thy stern shore, cry shame upon the land Espoused in vain to freedom by such sires? And every breeze that blows hurl back the brand On their degenerate sons? Nay, take thy stand, My country, prouder than thy patriot few, Jealous in arms for Truth, Who drove benigher Beauty from their view. Take thou thy nobler place amid the free; Free to enjoy God’s beautiful and true; Discerning Truth in Beauty reverently; Beauty in Truth; till, on thy larger view, The long o’ershadowed past, in ever new And wondrous phases, breaks upon the sight, Luminous as the dawn That rays through silvery mists its mellowed light. [page 23] Take thou thy fearless stand, as once before In the world’s battle-van, for Truth austere, So now, for Truth and Beauty, as of yore Divinely wedded; learning to revere Faith’s free allegiance in the larger sphere Of the new centuries; and thence to see That by the soul alone Are nations to be glorious and free.
Thirty Copies Printed at the Press of THOMAS NELSON AND SONS,
Hope Park, Edinburgh,
ALLAN D. MACDONALD