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ST. RONAN’S WELL.
A merry place, 'tis said, in days of yore;
INTRODUCTION TO ST. RONAN’S WELL.
The novel which follows is upon a plan different from any racters who are actually dangerous to society, a well-frequented other that the author has ever written, although it is perhaps watering place generally exhibits for the amusement of the the most legitimate which relates to this kind of light litera- company, and the perplexity and amazement of the more inlure.
experienced, a sprinkling of persons called by the newspaIt is intended, in a word-celebrare domestica facia-to give an pers eccentric characters-individuals, namely, who, either imitation of the shifting manners of our own time, and paint from some real derangement of their understanding, or, much scenes, the originals of which are daily passing round us, so more frequently, from an excess of vanity, are ambitious of disthat a minute's observation may compare the copies with the tinguishing themselves by some striking peculiarity in dress or originals. It must be confessed that this style of composition address, conversation or manners, and perhaps in all These was adopted by the author rather from the tempting circum. affectations are usually adopted, like Drawcansir's extravagan. stance of its offering some novelty in his compositions, and ces, to show they dare; and I must needs say, those who pro. avoiding worn-out characters and positions, than from the hope fers them are more frequently to be found among the English, of rivalling the many formidable competitors who have already than among the natives of either of the other two divisions of *on deserved honours in this department. The ladies, in par- the united kingdoms. The reason probably is, that the conticular, gifted by nature with keen powers of observation and sciousness of wealth, and a sturdy feeling of independence, light satire, have been so distinguished by these works of la. I whicha generally pervade the English nation, are, in a few indivi: lent, that, reckoning from the audioress of Evelina to lier of duals, perverted into absurdity, or at least peculiarity. The wilty Marriage, a catalogue might be made, including the brilliant Irishman, on the contrary, adapts his general behaviour to that and talented names of Edgeworth, Austin, Charlotte Smith, of the best society, or that which he thinks such; nor is it any and others, whose success seems to have appropriated this pro- part of the shrewd Scot's national character unnecessarily to vince of the novel as exclusively their own. It was therefore draw upon himself public attention. These rules, however, are with a sense of temerity that the author intruded upon a species not without their exceptions; for we find men of every country of composition which had been of late practised with such displaying the eccentric at these independent resorts of the gay tinguished success. This consciousness was lost, however, and the wealthy, where every one cnjoys the license of doing under the necessity of seeking for novelty, without which, it what is good in his own eyes. was much to be anprehended, such repeated incursions on his It scarce needed these obvious remarks to justify a novelist's part would rauscate the long indulgent public at the last. choice of a watering place as the scene of a fictitious narrative.
The scene chosen for the author's little drama of modem life Unquestionably, it affords every variety of character, mixed towas a mineral spring, such as are to be found in both divisions zether in a manner which cannot, without a breach of probaof britain, and which are supplied with the usual materials for bility, be supposed to exisi clsewhere ; neither can it be denied redeeming health, or driving away care. The invalid often finds that in the concourse which such miscellaneous collections of relief from his compluints, les from the healing virtues of the persons afford, events extremely different from those of the Spa itself, than because his system of ordinary life undergoes quiet routine of ordinary life may, and often do, take place. an entire change, in his being removed from his leger and ac- It is not, however, sufficient that a mine be in itself rich and count-books-trom his legal folios and progresses of title deeds easily accessible; it is necessary that the engineer who ex--from his counters and shelves,-- from whatever else forms the plores it should himself, in mining phrase, have an accurate main source of his constant anxiety at home, destroys his appe- knowledge of the country, and possess the skill necessary to tite, mars the custom of his exercise, deranges the digestive work it to advantage. In this respect, the author of St. Ronan's powers, and clogs up the springs of life. Thither, too, comes Well could not be termed fortunate. His habits of life had not the saunterer, anxious to get rid of that wearisome attendant led him much, of late years at least, into its general or bustling himself, and thither come hoth males and females, who, upon a scenes, nor had he mingled often in the society which enables different principle, desire to make themselves double.
the observer to "shoot folly as it flies." The consequence perThe soeiety of such places is regulated, liy their very nature, haps was, that the characters wanted that force and precision upon a scheme much more indulgent than 1hat which rules the which can only be given by a writer who is familiarly acquaint. world of fashion, and the narrow circles of rank in the metro- ed with his subject. The author, however, had the satisfac. polis. The titles of rank, birth, and fortune, are received at a tion to chronicle his testimony against the practice of gamwatering place without any very strict investigation, as ade bling, a vice which the devil has contrived to render all his quate to the purpose for which they are preferred ; and as the own, since it is deprived of whatever pleads an apology for situation infers a certain degree of intimacy and sociability for other vices, and is founded entirely on the cold blooded calcuthe time, so to whatever heights it may have been carried, it is lation of the most exclusive selfishness. The character of the not understood to imply any duration beyond the length of the traveller, meddling, self-important, and what the ladies call season. No intimacy can be supposed more close for the time, fussing, but yet generous and benevolent in his purposes, was and more transitory in its endurance, than that which is at partly taken from nature. The story, being entirely modern, tached to a watering place acquaintance. The novelist, there. cannot require much explanation, after what has been here gifore, who fixes upon such a scene for his tale, endeavours to ven, either in the shape of notes, or a more prolix introducdisplay a species of society, where the strongest contrast of tion. humorous characters and manners may be brought to bear on It may be remarked, that the English critics, in many instanand illustrate each other with less violation of probability, than ces, though none of great influence, pursued St. Ronan's Well could be supposed to attend the same miscellaneous assemblage with hue and cry, many of the fraternity giving it as their op! in any other situation.
nion that the author had exhausted himself, or, as the techniIn such scenes, too, are frequently mingled characters, not cal phrase expresses it, written himself out; and as an unusual merely ridiculous, but dangerous and hateful. The unprincipled tract of success too often provokes many persons to mark and kamester, the heartless fortune-hunter, all those who eke out exaggerate a slip when it does occur, the author was publicly their means of subsistence by pandering to the vices and follies accused, in proze and verse, of having committed a literary sulof the rich and zay, who drive, by their various arts, foibles cide in this unhappy attempt. The voices, therefore, were, into crimes, and imprudence into acts of ruinous madness, are for a time, against Saint Ronan's on the southern side of the to be found where their victims naturally resort, with the same Tweed. certainty that eagles are gathered together at the place of In the author's own country, it was otherwise. Many of the slaughter. By this the author takes a great advantage for tho characters were recognised as genuine Scottish portraits, and management of his story, particularly in its darker and more the good fortune which had hitherto attended the productions melancholy passages. The impostor, the gambler, all who live of the Author of Waverley, did not desert, notwithstanding the loose upon the skirts of society, or, like vermin, thrive by its ominous vaticinations of its censurers, this new attempt, al. corruptions, are to be found at such retreats, when they easily, though out of his ordinary style. and as a matter of course, mingle with those dupes, who might otherwise have escaped their snares. But besides those cha- 1st February, 1832.
VOL. IV.3 G
ST. RONAN’S WELL.
And therefore maketh sale.
place, seeming, as in the Swiss towns on the Alps, to
rise above each other towards the ruins of an old AN OLD-WORLD LANDLADY.
castle, which continued to occupy the crest of the But to make up my tale,
eminence, and the strength of which had doubtless She breweth good ale,
led the neighbourhood to assemble under its walls for protection. It must, indeed, have been a place of
formidable defence, for, on the side opposite to the ALTHOUGH few, if any, of the countries of Europe, town, its walls rose straight up from the verge of a have increased so rapidly in wealth and cultivation as tremendous and rocky precipice, whose base was Scotland during the last half century, Sultan Mah-washed by Saint Ronan's burn, as the brook was moud's owls might nevertheless have found in Cale entitled. On the southern side, where the declivity donia, at any term within that flourishing period, was less precipitous, the ground had been carefully their dowery of ruined villages. Accident or local levelled into successive terraces, which ascended to advantages have, in many instances, transferred the the summit of the hill, and were, or rather had been, inhabitants of ancient hamlets, from the situations connected by staircases of stone, rudely ornamented. which their predecessors chose with more respect to In peaceful periods these terraces had been occupied security than convenience, to those in which their in. by the gardens of the castle, and in times of siege creasing industry and commerce could more easily they added to its security, for each commanded the expand itself; and hence places which stand dis- one immediately below it, so that they could be tinguished in Scottish history, and which figure in separately and successively defended, and all were David M'Pherson's excellent historical map, can now exposed to the fire from the place itself—a massive only be discerned from the wild moor by the verdure square tower of the largest size, surrounded, as usual, which clothes their site, or at best, by a few scattered by lower buildings, and a high embattled wall. On ruins, resembling pinfolds, which mark the spot of the northern side arose a considerable mountain, of their former existence.
which the descent that lay between the eminence on The little village of St. Ronan's, though it had which the Castle was situated seemed a detached pot yet fallen into the state of entire oblivion we portion, and which had been improved and deepened have described, was, about twenty years since, fast by three successive huge trenches. Another very verging towards it. The situation had something in deep trench was drawn in front of the main entrance it so romantic, that it provoked the pencil of every from the east, where the principal gateway formed passing lourist; and we will endeavour therefore, to the termination of the street, which, as we have describe it in language which can scarcely be less noticed, ascended from the village, and this last deintelligible than some of their sketches, avoiding, fence completed the fortifications of the tower. however for reasons which seem to us of weight, to In the ancient gardens of the Castle, and upon all give any more exact indication of the site, than that sides of it excepting the western, which was preciit is on the southern side of the Forth, and not above pitous, large old trees had found 'root, mantling the thirty miles distant from the English frontier. rock and the ancient and ruinous walls with their
A river of considerable magnitude pours its dusky verdure, and increasing the effect of the shatstreams through a narrow vale, varying in breadth tered pile which towered up from the centre. from two miles to a fourth of that distance, and which, Seated on the threshold of this ancient pile, where being composed of rich alluvial soil, is, and has long the "proud porter" had in former days "rear'd been, enclosed, tolerably well inhabited, and cul- | himself,'* a stranger had a complete and commandtivated with all the skill of Scottish agriculture. j ing view of the decayed village, the houses of which, Either side of this valley is bounded by a chain of to a fanciful imagination, might seem as if they had hills, which, on the right in particular, may be almost been suddenly arrested in hurrying down the pretermed mountains. Little brooks arising in these cipitous hill, and fixed as if by magic in the whimridges, and finding their way to the river, offer each sical arrangement which they now presented. It its own little vale to the industry of the cultivator. was like a sudden pause in one of Amphion's countrySome of them bear fine large trees, which have as dances, when the huts which were to form the future yet escaped the axe, and upon the sides of most there Thebes were jigging it to his lute. But, with such an are scattered patches and fringes of natural copse- observer, the melancholy excited by the desolate wood, above and around which the banks of the appearance of the village soon overcame all the stream arise, somewhat desolate in the colder lighter frolics of the imagination. Originally conmonths, but in summer glowing with dark purple structed on the humble plan used in the building of heath, or with the golden lustre of the broom and Scotch cottages about a century ago, the greater gorse. This is a sort of scenery peculiar to those part of them had been long deserted; and their fallen countries, which abound, like Scotland, in hills and in roofs, blackened gables, and ruinous walls, showed streams, and where the traveller is ever and anon Desolation's triumph over Poverty. On some huts discovering in some intricate and unexpected recess, the rafters, varnished with soot, were still standing, a simple and silvan beauty, which pleases him the in whole or in part, like skeletons, and a few, wholly more, that it seems to be peculiarly his own property or partially covered with thatch, seemed still inas the first discoverer.
habited, though scarce habitable; for the smoke of In one of these recesses, and so near its opening the peal-fires, which prepared the humble meal of the as to command the prospect of the river, the broader indwellers, stole upwards, not only from the chimvalley, and the opposite chain of hills, stood, and, neys, its regular vent, but from various other crevices unless neglect and desertion have completed their in the roofs. Nature, in the mean while, always work, still stands, the ancient and decayed village of changing, but renewing as she changes, was supplySt. Ronan's. The site was singularly picturesque, as ing, by the power of vegetation, the fallen and decaythe straggling street of the village ran up a very steep ing marks of human labour. Small pollards, which hill, on the side of which were clustered, as it were, had been formerly planted around the little gardens, upon little terraces, the cottages which composed the • See the old Ballad of King Estmere, in PERCY'S Reliques.