1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Carter Allen

Walter Scott to Sir Thomas Lauder, 5 June 1829; The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, 1825-32 (1891) 711-13n.



My DEAR SIR THOMAS, — I received your kind letter and interesting communication yesterday, and hasten to reply. I am ashamed of the limited hospitality I was able to offer Mr. Lander, but circumstances permitted me no more. I was much pleased with his lively and intelligent manners, and hope he will live to be a comfort and a credit to Lady Lander and you.

I need not say I have the greatest interest in the MS. which you mention. In case it shall really prove an authentic document, there would not be the least difficulty in getting the Bannatyne Club to take, perhaps, 100 copies, or obtaining support enough so as, at the least, to preclude the possibility of loss to the ingenious Messrs. Hay Allan. But I think it indispensable that the original MS. should be sent for a month or so to the Register House under the charge of the Deputy Register, Mr. Thomson, that its antiquity be closely scrutinised by competent persons. The art of imitating ancient writing has got to a considerable perfection, and it has been the bane of Scottish literature, and disgrace of her antiquities, that we have manifested an eager propensity to believe without inquiry and propagate the errors which we adopt too hastily ourselves. The general proposition that the Lowlanders ever wore plaids is difficult to swallow. They were of twenty different races, and almost all distinctly different from the Scots Irish, who are the proper Scots, from which the Royal Family are descended. For instance, there is scarce a great family in the Lowlands of Scotland that is not to be traced to the Normans, the proudest as well as most civilised race in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Is it natural to think that holding the Scots in the contempt in which they did, they would have adopted their dress? If you will look at Bruce's speech to David I., as the historian Aelred tells the story, you will see he talks of the Scots as a British officer would do of Cherokees. Or take our country, the central and western part of the border: it was British, Welsh if you please, with the language and manners of that people who certainly wore no tartan. It is needless to prosecute this, though I could show, I think, that there is no period in Scottish History when the manners, language, or dress of the Highlanders were adopted in the Low Country. They brought them with them from Ireland, as you will see from the very curious prints in Derrick's picture of Ireland, where you see the chiefs and followers of the wild Irish in the ordinary Highland dress, tempore Queen Elizabeth. Besides this, where has slept this universal custom that nowhere, unless in this MS., is it even heard of? Lesley knew it not, though the work had been in his possession, and his attention must have been called to it when writing concerning the three races of Scots-Highlanders, Lowlanders, and Bordermen, and treating of their dress in particular. Andrew Borde knows nothing of it, nor the Frenchman who published the geographical work from which Pinkerton copied the prints of the Highlander and Lowlander, the former in a frieze plaid or mantle, while the Lowlander struts away in a cloak and trunk hose, liker his neighbour the Fleming. I will not state other objections, though so many occur, that the authenticity of the MS. being proved, I would rather suppose the author had been some tartan-weaver zealous for his craft, who wished to extend the use of tartan over the whole kingdom. I have been told, and believe till now, that the use of tartan was never general in Scotland (Lowlands) until the Union, when the detestation of that measure led it to be adopted as the national colour, and the ladies all affected tartan screens or mantles.

Now, a word to your own private ear, my dear Sir Thomas. I have understood that the Messrs. Hay Allan are young men of talent, great accomplishments, enthusiasm for Scottish manners, and an exaggerating imagination, which possibly deceives even themselves. I myself saw one of these gentlemen wear the Badge of High Constable of Scotland, which he could have no more right to wear than the Crown. Davidoff used also to amuse us with stories of knighthoods and orders which he saw them wear at Sir William Cummiug Gordon's. Now this is all very well, and I conceive people may fall into such dreaming habits easily enough, and be very agreeable and talented men in other respects, and may be very amusing companions in the country, but their authority as antiquaries must necessarily be a little apocryphal when the faith of MSS. rests upon their testimony. An old acquaintance of mine, Captain Watson of the navy, told me he knew these gentlemen's father, and had served with him; he was lieutenant, and of or about Captain Watson's age, between sixty I suppose, and seventy at present. Now what chance was there that either from age or situation lie should be receiving gifts from the young Chevalier of Highland Manuscripts.

All this, my dear Sir Thomas, you will make your own, but I cannot conceal from you my reasons, because I would wish you to know my real opinion. If it is an imitation, it is a very good one, but the title "Liber Vestiarium" is false Latin I should think not likely to occur to a Scotsman of Buchanan's age. Did you look at the watermark of the MS.? If the Manuscript be of undeniable antiquity, I consider it as a great curiosity, and most worthy to be published. But I believe nothing else than ocular inspection will satisfy most cautions antiquaries.... Yours, my dear Sir Thomas, always,

WALTER SCOTT.

EDINBURGH, 5 June 1829.