Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Carlyle at his Wifes Grave
By John Swinton (18291901)
[Born in Saltoun, Haddingtonshire, Scotland, 1829. Died in New York, N. Y., 1901. John Swintons Travels. 1880.]
DRIVING through the lovely, fertile, finely-cultured farming lands of the Lothians, in the south of Scotland, and talking with the farmers, who are all apprehensive of the impending ruin from the glut of American grain and beef, and who are struggling under a rent of twenty to twenty-five dollars an acre against the products of the free soil of our Western plains, we reach the ancient town of Haddington, the birthplace of John Knox, on the outskirts of which stands the massive monument to his memory, in the shape of an academy built a few years ago by the contributions of the whole Presbyterian world.
Wandering around the quiet environs of the place, I am surprised at suddenly finding myself gazing upon the majestic, venerable, picturesque, ivy-clad ruins of a Gothic cathedral of the twelfth century, built by that remorseful monarch David I., whose splendid architectural achievements are yet to be found in so many parts of the land. The scene is impressive and inviting in the sunshine of this soft summer day, and the peaceful graveyard around the ruins is rich with the mortal relics of many generations. The rustic grave-digger is at work with his spade in a secluded quarter of the grounds, and glad enough, in his broad Scotch dialect, to welcome a stranger in his lonesome toil. The walls of the cathedral, with their grand Gothic window spaces, and the columns of the interior, stand as they were built seven centuries ago, but nearly all the roof is gone, and the sky is above you as you stand within the consecrated precincts. Here, says the grim sexton, is the grave of such-an-one, and there is the tombstone of such-another-one, and yonder is the monument of that great manabout whom he tells us a tale of weal or woe as we pass hither and thither among the mounds.
Inside the cathedral walls the grassy sod is dotted with tombstones, bearing names almost obliterated by time and tempest, and in an alcove of the wall itself is the vault with the recumbent marble mailed effigies of two knights or earls who were honored with a rhyming and drooling inscription from the royal hand of King James I. With pride the sexton showed the effigies, showing also other titled names that decorate the spot. And there, said he, while mooling along, as he pointed out a flagstone bearing two names, one of which was but a few years old, there is Mrs. Carlyles grave. The wife of Thomas Carlyle? I inquired. Ay, said he, ay, ay.
And Mr. Carlyle, said the sexton, comes here from London now and then to see this grave. He is a gaunt, shaggy, weird kind of old man, looking very old the last time he was here. He is eighty-six now, said I. Ay, he repeated, eighty-six, and comes here to this grave all the way from London. And I told the sexton that Carlyle was a great man, the greatest man of the age in books, and that his name was known all over the world; but the sexton thought there were other great men lying near at hand, though I told him their fame did not reach beyond the graveyard, and brought him back to talk of Carlyle. Mr. Carlyle himself, said the grave-digger softly, is to be brought here to be buried with his wife, ay. He comes here lonesome and alone, continued the grave-digger, when he visits the wifes grave. His niece keeps him company to the gate, but he leaves her there, and she stays there for him. The last time he was here I got a sight of him, and he was bowed down under his white hairs, and he took his way up by that ruined wall of the old cathedral, and round there and in here by the gateway, and he tottered up here to this spot.
Softly spake the grave-digger, and paused. Softer still, in the broad dialect of the Lothians, he proceeded: And he stood here a while in the grass, and then he kneeled down and stayed on his knees at the grave; then he bent over, and I saw him kiss the grounday, he kissed it again and again, and he kept kneeling, and it was a long time before he rose and tottered out of the cathedral, and wandered through the graveyard to the gate, where his niece stood waiting for him.
I almost shrink from putting on paper these words of the rustic grave-digger that day; but is not the scene one for art and poetry? And does it not show the rugged sham-destroyer of other days, he of the sanguinary blade and the loud artillery, in a finer light than that of any page of his hundred books?