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Landmarks of Romance


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No one can make a tour of our island without being reminded, by various landmarks, of themes that the novelists have failed to exhaust, or else have left untouched. Roughly, these instances may be classified into romances of valour, of passion, and of achievement, and of these the romances of bravery stand out first, especially when they throw glamour round a patriotic rebel.

Like King Arthur in chivalry or Alfred in nation-building, Robin Hood has always lived on the people's tongue. There may have been outlaws as reckless, marksmen as redoubtable, and bandits who compounded as gaily for their levies on the rich by impulsive benefactions to the needy. But none of them (save Rob Roy, of whom more presently) vie with Robin Hood in the knack of flouting authority and coming out on top. Besides a British fondness for good company and good fare, and a passion for the freedom of "the good greenwood," he excelled in the efficacy of his disguises, the boldness of his pranks, and an enviable prowess with the. quarter-staff and bow. He nursed no personal ambitions and, so far as we can learn, he never wronged a woman. Whenever he submitted to defeat in wrestling or any test of skill, he added the victor's scalp to his belt by enlisting him in his band of merry men and endowing him with the franchise of the forest and the countryside. But he made a greater capture when he took the fancy of the first of all poets, and many exploits on the part of Shakespeare's heroes appear to have found their source in the derring-do of this gay and taking rogue in Lincoln green.

There is an aristocracy even among outlaws, and Robin was an outlaw by heredity. His stock - reputed to be the Earls of Huntingdon - had been dispossessed for three generations back. Some have said it was popular hero-worship rather than royal favour that gave him his patent of nobility; but we know that he talked with his king on level terms, and when he fell from grace it was the queen who gained his pardon, with no blemish to her fame or his. Robin may not have been a flawless Galahad, but, at least, he was no philanderer like Lancelot. If he was no respecter of rank as such, he was a big brother to every wayfarer in distress; and his weakness for a rough-and-ready duel or a good fat purse makes the burden of many a hearty chorus that is still sung at the winter fireside or many a "harvest home."

There was a robustness about Robin's character that seems to indicate north country origin. A claim has been made out for Warwickshire, and Yorkshire is another of the chief contestants, like the seven cities about Homer, for the pride of giving him birth. But it was Sherwood Forest that he made his chief retreat, so Nottinghamshire may claim preference. At any rate, it would take a map of a considerable section of this island to follow his many escapades, and no man knew his England better. Not even Dick Turpin showed more agility in popping up unawares, in mastering a situation, or taking effectual cover a shire or two away. Robin has given his name to hills and caves, to oaks and crosses, from Somerset to the Whitby coast. More than one wayside well claims to have been the one where the curtal friar thrashed and soused him with a dexterity and thoroughness after his own heart. His "stride" in Derbyshire is a gap between a range of castellated crags on the road near Bakewell; and close at hand is the oldest yew in England (going back a couple of thousand years, they say), which may have supplied him with many a trusty bow. The finest of these memorials, however, is Robin Hood's Bay on the Yorkshire coast. The saddest is the grave (or the site of it) near Kirklees, near Wake-field, so that if Yorkshire is discounted as the shire of his birth, it lays emphatic claim to his burying-place. There, or so goes the legend, he was buried after being bled to death by a cruel kinswoman, a Cistercian prioress, and her motive was a dark one, view it how we may. But his memory is secured by many stirring ballads, as well as by "Piers Plowman" and "The Paston Letters," and a legion of evergreen tales and plays, from Ben Jonson's "Sad Shepherdess" to Sir Walter's "Ivanhoe" and "The Foresters" of Tennyson.

Robin's only rival in popular estimation was Rob Roy, and this pair, you may say, were the primates of outlawry north and south. Scott's novel of the name has set the bold Macgregor on a lasting pedestal that is unassailable, for dare-devilry or humour. Nor do any of the Waverley series lend themselves better for tracing the thread of adventure. It ranges from Chillingham Castle, in Northumberland, to "Mump's Ha'" in Carlisle, and in Glasgow from the Barony Kirk to the site of the old Tolbooth. But Rob's real world lay in the open - Loch Ard and the Clachan of Aberfoyle, the Water of Leven, and the lakes of Katrine and Lomond, with Rob's cavern-home not far off at Craig-royston, below Inversnaid. Finally, it is to Balquhidder, in Perthshire, that one makes pilgrimage to find his grave; and Wordsworth has worthily sung Rob's elegy.

We are now in the true country of reavers and rebels. The ruins of Dilston Castle, near Hexham, add a touch of history to a region closely linked with Scott, for he made it a scene in "Guy Mannering." It was near at hand, at Gilsland Spa, in the Irthing valley, that the novelist courted and won the fair Miss Charpentier, whose lineaments, with all her faults, were to help him in fashioning the finest of his heroines, Diana Vernon. Dilston was the seat of the Earl of Derwent-water, a hapless figure in the Jacobite rising of 1715, and it was from there, after the battle of Preston, that he was carried to the Tower and to his death, in spite of every appeal for a pardon. His colleague, the Earl of Nithsdale, was rescued by the address and boldness of his wife, but no such help availed the younger man. That luckless rising was the one dramatic chapter in the dingy reign of the first of the Georges, and Derwentwater's death the saddest of its episodes. He lives as a hero in Besant's novel, "Dorothy Forster," and also in a touching ballad of the time.

The revival of our roads in this reign of petrol is a reminder of the part that the wayside mechanician used to play in traffic before the era of railroads clattered in. It was at a blacksmith's shop under "Dick's Tree" in Eskdale where the smith was awakened one grey morn three centuries ago to knock the fetters off Kinmont Willie, another blithe adventurer in the Border record, after Buccleuch had released him from English keeping in Carlisle keep. At Sark churchyard, not far away, they show you a grave corresponding to Kinmont Willie's in everything but probability of date. But, considering the strenuous record of the man and his seven sons, it seems a small thing to deny him the privilege of living to be a hundred. One of the towers of Carlisle Castle, by the way, still bears the name of Queen Mary's Tower, for it was here that the unhappy Queen of Scots was immured for part of the term of. nineteen years when her cousin Queen Bess was making up her royal mind. A kinsman of Willie's, Johnnie Armstrong, no less famous for his freehanded ways, sallied out one fine, morning from his castle of Gilnockie, near Dumfries, with forty men, to brave the wrath of James V. Our hero failed, with his best endeavours, to melt the heart of the king, who had resolved to "stanch all theft and reving within his realm," and the whole band perished. A monument at Teviothead, and a ballad that Scott loved, are all that remain to-day of Johnnie and his band. On Eskside they show you a tower as Gilnockie, but the original one disappeared long ago, and the stones were used for building a local bridge.

The village blacksmith, be it said, has forged more links than he has broken, and here we come to the romances of elopement and the tender passion. Gretna Green is entitled to a niche in our archives, if only for the roaring trade in matrimony it drove a century ago. Even in our own period couples have dated the germ of their divorce to a Gretna ceremony, and it was only the other day that a batch of papers recording eleven hundred Gretna marriages was sold by auction at Sotheby's. During the war the village developed a gigantic factory of munitions, and only now is it re-emerging into the domain of romance. But, as luck will have it, the sleuth-hounds of research are rejecting the blacksmith legend. They are throwing cold water on his fiery furnace and stripping the "chestnuts" from his spreading tree. Is nothing sacred from these pestilent prowlers, and is the whole of our romantic lore to be turned into a fact-finders' anthem?

Gretna, of course, was only one of many places in the Border country where these fit-up marriages were celebrated. Sark, already mentioned, had its share. Coldstream-on-Tweed - famous as a burial-place of kings and queens, and for giving its name to a regiment of guards - had its toll-house at the Scottish end of the bridge, and this was another matrimonial agency.

A certain Tarn Blair who was ejected from a local incumbency for refusing to pray for William and Mary showed himself a ready adept at marrying humbler couples. And it was Cold-stream, quaintly enough, that saw the fugitive marriage of the man who in due course became Lord Chancellor Brougham, and some years later drew up the Marriage (Reform) Act of 1856. Nor was Brougham the only celebrated lawyer who married in haste like a runaway and then legislated at leisure like an oracle. Other law-givers who "met their doom" in this way were Lord Erskine and Lord Ellenborough - legal lords, like Brougham.

There is real romance associated with nearly all the ruined castles of our land, and around the coast and inland are caves which harboured fugitives of all kinds. Near Aberdour Bay on the north-east coast of Scotland and not far from the picturesque stump of tower known as Dundarg Castle is the celebrated Cave of Cowshaven, in a remote spot in the moors. Here the noted fourth and last Lord Pitsligo (1678-1762) was concealed, an outlaw for his share in the Jacobite rising of 1745.

The romance of capture appeals to all, and most of the shires have cases worth citing. But fate has been unkind to one of them, and this perhaps among the most popular of love romances we possess. The favourite story of the elopement of Dorothy Vernon with Sir John Manners, after he had lurked in her father's park for many days as a woodman, awaiting the golden opportunity, has given Haddon Hall a glamour all its own. This is quite apart from its value as a relic associated with "Peveril of the Peak," and possibly the best specimen we have of the pre-Tudor style of domestic architecture. But inquiry has undermined the pleasant fable of this escapade, and if the memory of Dorothy Vernon survives, it must be for her beauty and her charm of character, and not because she happened to be crossed in love.

There is a darker side to this particular chapter. In the Waterloo era England had no sooner packed off " Bony " to St. Helena, than it found an alternative target for its indignation in a corpulent lout named Abraham Thornton. This time it was not a butcher who had tried to tear up the map of Europe, but a butcher's son who was to tear out of the statute book a page that should have been cancelled long before. Thornton's trial will always remain a landmark in English criminal law. For the prosecution raked up an obsolete statute, and raised the crude old "appeal of murder" against a delinquent already acquitted. This plunge into the past and its dramatic sequel were too much for Chief Justice Ellenborough, and a couple of mouldy statutes had to be repealed which, as Crabb Robinson, the diarist, said, were enough to disgrace Turkey or Dahomey. The story of Thornton and his victim Mary Ashford is the familiar one of seduction with a tragic ending, and most parts of our island have some such legend of a maid betrayed. Mary's comeliness and good character were known throughout the district of Erdington and Langley, on the north side of Birmingham; and so was the gross record of the butcher's son. The occasion that brought them together was a village dance at a wayside tavern with the grim name of the Tyburn Arms, and it was the sequel in the small hours of the dark that led to all the trouble. When at half-past six next morning Mary's body was found in a pool near by, there were plenty of neighbours to come forward who had seen the pair together, and the circumstantial evidence was plentiful. But in those days legal evidence was badly handled and there were no organized police. In spite of admissions and his ugly reputation, Thornton put up an alibi which carried him through at the Warwick Assizes, and made him still more detested among his neighbours. Feeling grew so bitter that the dead girl's younger brother and her many friends made recourse to the obsolete "appeal of murder," and had the wrongdoer rearrested.

The reply was still more startling. The bull-necked delinquent produced a pair of gauntlets, drew one on, and threw down the other in court. As he did so he met the court's challenge with another, crying: "Not guilty, and I am ready to defend the same with my body." So far as we can learn the prosecution partly knew what was coming, but they were culpably ill-prepared. Counsel protested against the murderer of the sister invoking the law to take her brother's life. Young Ashford stood no chance physically in a duel, and as he declined the combat, Thornton was freed once more. He and his father proceeded to America and were lost to sight. All that remains of the brutal business is the old tavern where the dance took place, the Tyburn Arms, and Mary's weather-stained grave in the churchyard of Sutton Goldfield, which is all the sadder because it overstates the case. To these relics we may add, perhaps, a legal reform which might have been in arrears to-day if it had not been for that outburst of public opinion a century ago.

Now we come, with some relief, to the romance of achievement. Yorkshire, the big brother among counties, could fill a library with romantic lore, and Miss Braddon is only one of many novelists, Yorkshire-born, who have dipped into its boundless quarry of material. But none of them has developed the life-story of Blind Jack Metcalfe of Knaresborough, a sightless giant who conquered his disability in a hundred ways and scored success in all. Born of the labouring class in 1717, he fell a victim as a child to the scourge of that period - smallpox - and came out of it stone-blind. Yet he soon mastered every niche of Nidderdale, and actually earned a name for rescuing drowning people from its river. He learned the violin, and grew in request for local merry-makings. By the time he came to man's estate he was a veritable Hercules, well over six leet, broad of shoulder, and possessed of health and strength that were a byword. He was a formidable boxer and wrestler; he rode to hounds; arid he played bowls well, by trusting simply to his ear.

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Pictures for Landmarks of Romance

JEAN MACALPINE'S CLACHAN AT ABERFOYLE, ONE OF THE SCENES IN SCOTT'S
JEAN MACALPINE'S CLACHAN AT ABERFOYLE, ONE OF THE SCENES IN SCOTT'S "ROB ROY" >>>>
QUEEN MARY'S PRISON, LOCH LEVEN
QUEEN MARY'S PRISON, LOCH LEVEN >>>>
THE GRAVE OF ROB ROY AT BALQUHIDDER
THE GRAVE OF ROB ROY AT BALQUHIDDER >>>>
IN ROB ROY'S COUNTRY: TWO OF HIS CAVES BY THE BANKS OF LOCH LOMOND
IN ROB ROY'S COUNTRY: TWO OF HIS CAVES BY THE BANKS OF LOCH LOMOND >>>>
RECESS IN THE YORKSHIRE COAST NAMED AFTER A NATIONAL HERO: ROBIN HOOD'S BAY
RECESS IN THE YORKSHIRE COAST NAMED AFTER A NATIONAL HERO: ROBIN HOOD'S BAY >>>>
MEMORIES OF ROBIN HOOD IN NOTTINGHAMSHIRE AND DERBYSHIRE
MEMORIES OF ROBIN HOOD IN NOTTINGHAMSHIRE AND DERBYSHIRE >>>>
ROMANCE AND HISTORY PRESERVED FOR EVER IN THE WALLS OF HADDON HALL
ROMANCE AND HISTORY PRESERVED FOR EVER IN THE WALLS OF HADDON HALL >>>>
DOROTHY VERNON'S BRIDGE AT HADDON HALL
DOROTHY VERNON'S BRIDGE AT HADDON HALL >>>>
JOHNNIE ARMSTRONG'S MEMORIAL AT TEVIOTHEAD AND HIS FORT AT GILNOCKIE
JOHNNIE ARMSTRONG'S MEMORIAL AT TEVIOTHEAD AND HIS FORT AT GILNOCKIE >>>>
COLDSTREAM, JUST ACROSS THE TWEED, ONCE A GOAL FOR ELOPING COUPLES
COLDSTREAM, JUST ACROSS THE TWEED, ONCE A GOAL FOR ELOPING COUPLES >>>>
HOME OF A JACOBITE NOBLEMAN AND ANNIE LAURIE'S BIRTHPLACE
HOME OF A JACOBITE NOBLEMAN AND ANNIE LAURIE'S BIRTHPLACE >>>>
RUIN THAT WAS ONCE A RESIDENCE OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS
RUIN THAT WAS ONCE A RESIDENCE OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS >>>>

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