« PreviousContinue »
SCOTT owed the first idea of “Guy Mannering” to a Galloway excise officer, Joseph Train, stationed at Newton-Stewart, who had published a book of poems and was collecting materials for a local history when their acquaintance began. But, from the hour of his correspondence with Walter Scott, he renounced every idea of authorship for himself, resolving, “that thenceforth his chief pursuit should be collecting whatever he thought would be most interesting to him.” A fellow-worker of Train's was easily persuaded to acquiesce in the abandonment of their original design. “Upon receiving Mr. Scott's letter," wrote Train, “I became still more zealous in the pursuit of ancient lore, and, being the first person who had attempted to collect old stories in that quarter with any view to publication, I became so noted, that even beggars, in the hope of reward, came frequently from afar to Newton-Stewart, to recite old ballads and relate old stories to me.” Train presently visited Scott both at Edinburgh and at Abbotsford. “A true affection," says Lockhart, "continued ever afterwards to be maintained between them; and this generous ally was, as the prefaces to the Waverley novels signify, one of the earliest confidants of that series of works, and certainly the most efficient of all the author's friends in furnishing him with materials for their composition."
Among these materials was a collection of anecdotes concerning the Galloway gipsies, and "a local story of an astrologer, who calling at a farm-house at the moment when the goodwife was in travail, had, it was said, predicted the future fortune of the child, almost in the words placed in the mouth of John M'Kinlay, in the Introduction to 'Guy Mannering.'” Scott told him, in reply, that the story of the astrologer reminded him of “one he had heard in his youth ; " that is to say, as the Introduction explains, from this M'Kinlay.
After Scott's death, Train recovered a rude Durham ballad, which, as Lockhart pointed out, contained a great deal more of the main fable of " Guy Mannering” than either his own written, or M‘Kinlay's oral, edition of the Gallovidian anecdote had conveyed. “ Possessing, as I do, numberless evidences of the haste with which Scott drew up his beautiful Prefaces and Introductions of 1829, 1830, and 1831,-I am strongly inclined," wrote Lockhart, “to think that he must in his boyhood have read the Durham
broadside or Chapbook itself-as well as heard the old servingman's Scottish version of it.”
This Durham ballad is one of the longest, and quite the most pedestrian, of its kind. Two or three stanzas are enough to declare its quality. The "astrologer" is, in this case, a “worthy lord” who was
"learned and wise
To know the Planets in the skies," and who takes shelter in a keeper's house, where, very much as in “Guy Mannering," a male-child is born. He leaves a mysterious cabinet as a gift to the new-born babe, which is not to be opened till the boy can write and read. When he is eleven years old, he begs the key ; and finds in it a chain of gold, and an ominous paper"in Greek and Latin it was writ.” The paper contains a prediction :
At seven years hence your fate will be,
In hopes their blessing to receive." The threatened fulfilment, and then the averting, of this prediction, is worked out in Part III. of the ballad. But what it lacks in interest, or in the effective use of what were very interesting materials, is to be found in a strange, true narrative, that of the ill-starred life of James Annesley, a story which a romancer might have invented. It was reprinted in the Gentleman's Magazine for July 1840, and upon its incidents the ballad was, it has been conjectured, partly built. At the birth of James Annesley, a stranger, Richard Fitzgerald, was the unexpected guest ; and, although he casts no horoscope for the babe, he returns from Hungary at a later stage in the story to help in the vain attempt to restore its heritage.
The boy was the child of Lord and Lady Altham of Dunmain, Wexford. After his birth, they separated, and the unlucky mother was driven from home, and reduced by poverty and disease to “ extreme imbecility of body and mind.” Meanwhile Lord Altham put the child into the hands of a woman of doubtful character, Juggy Landy, who lived in a cabin on the Dunmain estate. This Irish cabin was a wretched place, without any furniture except a pot, two or three trenchers, a couple of straw beds on the floor. It had only a bush to draw in and out for a door.” Thus strangely and inauspiciously was the boy reared under the care of a nurse, who, however unfortunate or guilty, appears to have lavished upon her young charge the most affectionate attention. From some unexplained cause, however, Juggy Landy incurred the displeasure of Lord Altham, who took the boy from her, and ordered his groom to “ horsewhip her," and " to set the dogs upon her," when she persisted in hovering about the premises to obtain a sight of her former charge.
“Lord Altham now removed with his son to Dublin, where he appears to have entered upon a career of the most dissipated and profligate conduct. We find him reduced to extreme pecuniary embarrassment, and his property became a prey to low and abandoned associates ; one of whom, a Miss Kennedy, he ultimately endeavoured to introduce to society as his wife. This worthless woman must have obtained great ascendency over his lordship, as she was enabled to drive James Annesley from his father's protection, and the poor boy became a houseless vagabond, wandering about the streets of Dublin, and procuring a scanty and precarious subsistence by running of errands and holding gentlemen's horses.
“Meantime Lord Altham's pecuniary difficulties had so increased as to induce him to endeavour to borrow money on his reversionary interest in the estates of the Earl of Anglesey, to whom he was heir-at-law. In this scheme he was joined by his brother, Captain Annesley, and they jointly succeeded in procuring several small sums of moriey. But as James Annesley would have proved an important legal impediment to these transactions, he was represented to some parties to be dead; and where his existence could not be denied, he was asserted to be the natural son of his Lord. ship and Juggy Landy.
“Lord Altham died in the year 1727, so miserably poor that he was actually buried at the public expense. His brother, Captain Annesley, attended the funeral as chief mourner, and assumed the title of Baron Altham, but when he claimed to have this title registered he was refused by the king-at-arms on account of his nephew being reported still alive, and for want of the honorary fees. Ultimately, however, by means which are stated to have been well known and obvious, he succeeded in procuring his registration.
“But there was another and a more sincere mourner at the funeral of Lord Altham than the successful inheritor of his title ; a poor boy of twelve years of age, half naked, bareheaded and barefooted, and wearing, as the most important part of his dress, an old yellow livery waistcoat,' followed at a humble distance, and wept over his father's grave. Young Annesley was speedily recognised by his uncle, who forcibly drove him from the place, but not before the boy had made himself known to several old servants of his father, who were attending the corpse of their late lord to the tomb.
“The usurper now commenced a series of attempts to obtain possession of his nephew's person, for the purpose of transporting him beyond seas, or otherwise ridding himself of so formidable a rival. For some time, however, these endeavours were frustrated, principally through the gallantry of a brave and kind-hearted butcher, named Purcel, who, having compassion upon the boy's destitute state, took him into his house and hospitably maintained him for a considerable time; and on one occasion, when he was assailed by a numerous party of his uncle's emissaries, Purcel placed the boy between his legs, and, stoutly defending him with his cudgel, resisted their utmost efforts, and succeeded in rescuing his young charge.”
After having escaped from many attempts of the same kind, Annesley was at length kidnapped in the streets of Dublin, dragged by his uncle and a party of hired ruffians to a boat, and carried on board a vessel in the river, which took him to America. There he remains thirteen years, and suffers untold miseries as a plantation slave ; is on one occasion stabbed and all but killed outright; and, in brief, has his health so far shattered, that his chances of surviving to maintain his claims at home are, as the sequel shows, greatly diminished. In the end he reaches home, and the usurping Lord Anglesey was all but persuaded to effect an arrangement with him, and give up the estates, when again his consistent ill-luck intervenes. The story thus pictures the incident :
"After his arrival in England, Annesley unfortunately occasioned the death of a man by the accidental discharge of a fowling-piece which he was in the act of carrying. Though there could not exist a doubt of his innocence from all intention of such a deed, the circumstance offered too good a chance to be lost sight of by his uncle, who employed an attorney named Gifford, and with his
i Vide “Green Breeks” in the General Introduction to the “ Waverley Novels." Surely Yellow Waistcoat was bis prototype.