Galwegian Localities and Personages Which Have Been Supposed to Be Alluded to in the Novel
AN OLD English proverb says, that more know Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows; and the influence of the adage seems to extend to works composed under the influence of an idle or foolish planet. Many corresponding circumstances are detected by readers, of which the author did not suspect the existence. He must, however, regard it as a great compliment, that, in detailing incidents purely imaginary, he has been so fortunate in approximating reality as to remind his readers of actual occurrences. It is therefore with pleasure he notices some pieces of local history and tradition, which have been supposed to coincide with the fictitious persons, incidents, and scenery of Guy Mannering.
The prototype of Dirk Hatteraick is considered as having been a Dutch skipper called Yawkins. This man was well known on the coast of Galloway and Dumfriesshire, as sole proprietor and master of a Buckkar, or smuggling lugger, called The Black Prince. Being distinguished by his nautical skill and intrepidity, his vessel was frequently freighted, and his own services employed, by French, Dutch, Manx, and Scottish smuggling companies.
A person well known by the name of Buckkar-Tea, from having been a noted smuggler of that article, and also by that of Bogle-Bush, the place of his residence, assured my kind informant, Mr. Train, that he had frequently seen upwards of two hundred Lingtow-men assemble at one time, and go off into the interior of the country, fully laden with contraband goods.
In those halcyon days of the free trade, the fixed price for carrying a box of tea, or bale of tobacco, from the coast of Galloway to Edinburgh, was fifteen shillings, and a man with two horses carried four such packages. The trade was entirely destroyed by Mr. Pitts celebrated commutation law, which, by reducing the duties upon excisable articles, enabled the lawful dealer to compete with the smuggler. The statute was called in Galloway and Dumfriesshire, by those who had thriven upon the contraband trade, the burning and starving act.
Sure of such active assistance on shore, Yawkins demeaned himself so boldly, that his mere name was a terror to the officers of the revenue. He availed himself of the fears which his presence inspired on one particular night, when, happening to be ashore with a considerable quantity of goods in his sole custody, a strong party of excisemen came down on him. Far from shunning the attack, Yawkins sprung forward, shouting, Come on, my lads! Yawkins is before you. The revenue officers were intimidated, and relinquished their prize, though defended only by the courage and address of a single man. On his proper element, Yawkins was equally successful. On one occasion, he was landing his cargo at the Manxmans Lake, near Kirkcudbright, when two revenue cutters (the Pigmy and the Dwarf) hove in sight at once on different tacks, the one coming round by the Isles of Fleet, the other between the Point of Rueberry and the Muckle Ron. The dauntless free-trader instantly weighed anchor, and bore down right between the luggers, so close that he tossed his hat on the deck of the one, and his wig on that of the other, hoisted a cask to his maintop, to show his occupation, and bore away under an extraordinary pressure of canvas, without receiving injury. To account for these and other hair-breadth escapes, popular superstition alleged that Yawkins insured his celebrated buckkar by compounding with the devil for one-tenth of his crew every voyage. How they arranged the separation of the stock and tithes, is left to our conjecture. The buckkar was perhaps called The Black Prince in honour of the formidable insurer.
The Black Prince used to discharge her cargo at Luce, Balcarry, and elsewhere on the coast; but her owners favourite landing-places were at the entrance of the Dee and the Cree, near the old castle of Rueberry, about six miles below Kirkcudbright. There is a cave of large dimensions in the vicinity of Rueberry, which, from its being frequently used by Yawkins, and his supposed connexion with the smugglers on the shore, is now called Dirk Hatteraicks cave. Strangers who visit this place, the scenery of which is highly romantic, are also shown, under the name of the Gaugers Loup, a tremendous precipice, being the same, it is asserted, from which Kennedy was precipitated.
Meg Merrilies is in Galloway considered as having had her origin in the traditions concerning the celebrated Flora Marshal, one of the royal consorts of Willie Marshal, more commonly called the Caird of Barullion, King of the Gipsies of the Western Lowlands. That potentate was himself deserving of notice, from the following peculiarities. He was born in the parish of Kirkmichael, about the year 1671; and as he died at Kirkcudbright, November 23, 1792, he must then have been in the one hundred and twentieth year of his age. It cannot be said that this unusually long lease of existence was noted by any peculiar excellence of conduct or habits of life. Willie had been pressed or enlisted seven times, and had deserted as often; besides three times running away from the naval service. He had been seventeen times lawfully married; and besides such a reasonably large share of matrimonial comforts, was, after his hundredth year, the avowed father of four children, by less legitimate affections. He subsisted, in his extreme old age, by a pension from the present Earl of Selkirks grandfather. Will Marshal is buried in Kirkcudbright church, where his monument is still shown, decorated with a scutcheon suitably blazoned with two tups horns and two cutty spoons.
In his youth he occasionally took an evening walk on the highway, with the purpose of assisting travellers by relieving them of the weight of their purses. On one occasion, the Caird of Barullion robbed the Laird of Bargally, at a place between Carsphairn and Dalmellington. His purpose was not achieved without a severe struggle, in which the gipsy lost his bonnet, and was obliged to escape, leaving it on the road. A respectable farmer happened to be the next passenger, and seeing the bonnet, alighted, took it up, and rather imprudently put it on his own head. At this instant, Bargally came up with some assistants, and recognizing the bonnet, charged the farmer of Bantoberick with having robbed him, and took him into custody. There being some likeness between the parties, Bargally persisted in his charge, and though the respectability of the farmers character was proved or admitted, his trial before the Circuit Court came on accordingly. The fatal bonnet lay on the table of the Court; Bargally swore that it was the identical article worn by the man who robbed him; and he and others likewise deponed that they had found the accused on the spot where the crime was committed, with the bonnet on his head. The case looked gloomily for the prisoner, and the opinion of the judge seemed unfavourable. But there was a person in Court who knew well both who did, and who did not, commit the crime. This was the Caird of Barullion, who, thrusting himself up to the bar, near the place where Bargally was standing, suddenly seized on the bonnet, put it on his head, and looking the Laird full in the face, asked him, with a voice which attracted the attention of the Court and crowded audience,Look at me, sir, and tell me, by the oath you have swornAm not I the man who robbed you between Carsphairn and Dalmellington? Bargally replied, in great astonishment, By heaven! you are the very man.You see what sort of memory this gentleman has, said the volunteer pleader: he swears to the bonnet, whatever features are under it. If you yourself, my Lord, will put it on your head, he will be willing to swear that your Lordship was the party who robbed him between Carsphairn and Dalmellington. The tenant of Bantoberick was unanimously acquitted, and thus Willie Marshal ingeniously contrived to save an innocent man from danger without incurring any himself, since Bargallys evidence must have seemed to every one too fluctuating to be relied upon.
While the King of the Gipsies was thus laudably occupied, his royal consort, Flora, contrived, it is said, to steal the hood from the Judges gown; for which offence, combined with her presumptive guilt as a gipsy, she was banished to New England, whence she never returned.
Now I cannot grant that the idea of Meg Merrilies was, in the first concoction of the character, derived from Flora Marshal, seeing I have already said she was identified with Jean Gordon, and as I have not the Laird of Bargallys apology for charging the same fact on two several individuals. Yet I am quite content that Meg should be considered as a representative of her sect and class in generalFlora, as well as others.
The other instances in which my Gallovidian readers have obliged me, by assigning to
A local habitation and a name,
shall also be sanctioned so far as the Author may be entitled to do so. I think the facetious Joe Miller records a case pretty much in point; where the keeper of a Museum, while showing, as he said, the very sword with which Balaam was about to kill his ass, was interrupted by one of the visitors, who reminded him that Balaam was not possessed of a sword, but only wished for one. True, sir, replied the ready-witted cicerone; but this is the very sword he wished for. The author, in application of this story, has only to add that, though ignorant of the coincidence between the fictions of the tale and some real circumstances, he is contented to believe he must unconsciously have thought or dreamed of the last, while engaged in the composition of Guy Mannering.