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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,