1762 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Richard Steele

Y. X., "A Genuine Anecdote of Sir Richard Steele" British Magazine 3 (October 1762) 546-47.



About the year 1726, Sir Richard Steele made a journey to Scotland, in company with several gentlemen of distinction. On their way, when near Annan, they observed a flock of sheep, and, at a little distance, their keep stretched on the ground with a book in his hand. Prompted by his usual desire of prying into human nature in every character, Sir Richard proposed to his companions a little conversation with the shepherd; on which they all rode up to him, and the knight enquired of him the name of the book in his hand. The shepherd immediately started on his feet, and told him the title of it. Pray what do you learn from this book, continued Sir Richard Steele? I learn from it the way to heaven, replied the other. Very well, added the knight, we are fellow-travellers, bound to the same place, and it will be very obliging if you will shew us the way thither. With all my heart, continued the countryman, if you will attend me to an eminence just at hand. To this proposal Sir Richard and his companions readily assented, and followed their guide to a rising ground, from whence they had a view of an antique tower, a few miles distant. The shepherd then turning to Sir Richard, you see, Sir, said he, yonder tower, the way to it lies straight by it, and is the only safe and certain way to future happiness. Amazed at the clownish oddity of the direction, Sir Richard enquired of him how that tower was called? To which the shepherd replied, — Sir, An't please your honour, the name of it is the Tower of Repentance.

This famous tower, as tradition reports, obtained its name from the superstitious devotion of a distant ancestor of Mr. S— of H—, who having committed some crime above the rate of ordinary penance, was directed by his ghostly father to expiate the guilt of it, by erecting this edifice to the memory of one of the saints; and from this incident the building has ever since been denominated the Tower of Repentance.

Y. X.

Selkirkshire, Aug. 30.