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about the close of August 1843. A brilliant morning-alas ! only too brilliant, as it proved-saw me making my way by a provincial coach through a somewhat out-of-the-way part of Fife, towards the ancient house of Balcarres, near which I was set down early in the forenoon. It was gratifying to find the place worthy of a poet, and of an ancient and noble family. Seated on the southern slope of the county, about three miles from the coast, it commands a view of great extent and beauty, including nearly the whole expanse of the Firth of Forth and the opposite Lothians. Among the objects which the eye takes in by a short sweep are the sea-rock immense of the Bass, the undulating range of the Lammermoor Hills, and royal Edinburgh, the lofty terraces of which, though above twenty miles off, can here be seen gleaming like an illumination under the reflection of the evening sun. The house was formerly a plain old mansion, possessed of little attraction beyond its commanding position in the midst of a park full of old wood; but of late years it has been altered and decorated into a very fair example of what is, I believe, called the Tudor style of architecture, the principal part of the interior being, however, left in its original state. A little to the eastward are ‘Balcarres Craig' and • Den'-objects which add more picturesque beauty to the landscape than all that twenty. Capability Browns' could confer. Such is Balcarres, once the seat of the line of earls taking their title from it, of one of whom our authoress was a daughter, but now belonging by purchase to a younger branch of the family, while the main line is settled at Haigh Hall, in Lancashire. I could have sauntered half a day with pleasure among the woods and cliffs, but was soon admonished by a heavy shower to seek the interior of the mansion.
The kind intervention of a friend of the proprietor enabled me, in his own absence, to see all that was to be seen there under the auspices of the servants. But, before proceeding further, it seems necessary that I should state some of those particulars respecting the authoress of Auld Robin Gray, on which the interest of the place, in
the eye of an ordinary individual, may be said to depend. A common Peerage would describe Lady Anne Lindsay as the eldest daughter of James, fifth Earl of Balcarres. It would tell how she was born in 1750, became the wife of Andrew Barnard, Esq., and died in Berkeley Square, London, in 1825, without children, and then it would consider its duty at an end. To one who has some feeling for old names and events, something more is needed. It seems worthy of notice, for instance, that Lady Anne's father fought for the Chevalier at Sheriffmuir, and that her grandfather was the leading political person on James's side in Scotland at the Revolution. Her mother died in 1820, and it is curious to consider how that old lady linked the present generation to one which we cannot but consider as remote. Her aunt by marriage was the wife of the Earl of Argyle, executed in 1685. The parents of our poetess had married when the one was sixty and the other under twenty, and they had eleven children, eight of whom were sons— a family of soldiers, as General Stewart of Garth has described them, and distinguished by their gallant conduct in every quarter of the world. It fell to the lot of the mother to rear her numerous progeny with straitened means, and she performed the duty with a prudence, skill, and high feeling, which left nothing to be desired. Anne, in her girlish days, lived much with her grandmother, Lady Dalrymple of Castleton, in Edinburgh, where she enjoyed the society then graced by a circle of authors who have even since had scarcely a parallel in Scotland. It must not be supposed that Lady Anne was one of those ordinary persons who are sometimes found to strike out one good piece, while every other effort, if they make any at all, is mediocre. Her memoirs and letters, of which some specimens have been printed, shew that she was an unusually clever and acute person, who, had her modesty permitted, or her destiny demanded, might have graced any walk in elegant literature. It was at the close of the year 1771, when left solitary at Balcarres, in consequence of her
sister Lady Margaret Fordyce's marriage, that she composed the ballad of Auld Robin Gray, the name of which she took from the cow-herd at the home-farm-a simple swain, of whom I now found there is no tradition left. A friend of the family, Sophy Johnstone by name, an eccentric masculine person, a sort of rough version of Diana Vernon, was in the custom of singing a certain homely song about a silly bridegroom—a favourite subject of ridicule to our Doric muse—the air of which had a great charm for Lady Anne. 'I longed,' says her lady. ship, 'to sing old Sophy's air to different words, and to give to its plaintive tones some little history of virtuous distress in humble life, such as might suit it. While attempting to effect this in my closet, I called to my little sister, now Lady Hardwicke, who was the only person near me : “ I have been writing a ballad, my dear-I am oppressing my heroine with many misfortunes—I have already sent her Jamie to sea, and broken her father's arm, and made her mother fall sick, and given her Auld Robin Gray for a lover, but I wish to load her with a fifth sorrow in the four lines, poor thing ! help me to one, I pray.” “Steal the cow, sister Anne !” said the little Elizabeth [Elizabeth was at this time only eight years old). The cow was immediately lifted by me, and the song completed. The public very soon obtained possession of the composition ; it got into collections of songs; it was the rage for several years; but the authoress never clainned or acknowledged it, conceiving that a literary reputation would only make her an object of jealousy to her friends. But the honours of the song were not yet exhausted. Not only was the present superior air composed for it by a worthy clergyman-Mr Leeves of Wrington—but ‘it had a romance composed to it by a man of eminence; was the subject of a play, of an opera, and of a pantomime ; was sung by the united armies in America, acted by Punch, and danced by dogs in the street. The authorship and even the age of the song were, meanwhile, a mystery to the public. Many thought it a production of days gone by, though this a matter-of-fact Edinburgh writer disputed, on the ground
that, in old times in Scotland, where the pound was only twenty-pence, no one would have thought of making a crown into such a sum by a sea-voyage. A few suspected Lady Anne Lindsay, and I found, on conversing with old people at Balcarres, that, in that district, no doubt on the point was ever entertained. To arrive at an authoritative conclusion, the Antiquarian Society commissioned their secretary to make inquiry of Lady Anne herself, who, feeling offended by the way in which he put his questions, dismissed him unsatisfied. Finally, a gentleman advertised a reward of twenty guineas to any one who should ascertain the point beyond dispute; a plan which also failed. It is rather remarkable that Lady Anne retained her secret above fifty years, only disclosing it to Sir Walter Scott in 1823, in consequence of his quoting in the Pirate a verse of a second part of Auld Robin Gray, which her ladyship had written some years after the first, but which had the usual bad fate of sequels and continuations.
I may now enter Balcarres House, and, taking the gentle reader along with me, endeavour to make him participate in the pleasure which I had in inspecting it. I shall not, however, detain him with Colonel Lindsay's handsome new drawing-room and library, though from the window of the latter there is one of the most beautiful peeps of wood-confined landscape-disclosing Kilconquhar church and lake, which I have ever anywhere seen. The dining-room is metal more attractive, for it is old, and characteristic of old times, even to the furniture. It is, however, chiefly curious for a ceiling of decorative stucco-work in compartments, presenting in the centre the arms of James I. of Great Britain—and thus indicating its age as between 1603 and 1625—while, in others, the busts of four heroes of antiquity appear in high relief, mailed and helmeted, with their names inscribed thus : DAVID REX-HECTOR TRO.—Josve Dux-ALEXAND. Rex. How often has the company of this banquet-hall been changed, excepting these ancient effigies only! How often has our playful poetess sat under them! Familiar must they have been to the eyes of all her predecessors, back to the very first Lord Balcarres, so created at the coronation of King Charles in Holyrood. And there they still are, likely to look down on many future scions of the gentle-natured race of Balcarres, who, in their turn, must pass away, leaving still these eternal guests sole-remaining. I was most earnest, as may be supposed, in my inquiries for the chambers which the tradition of the hou connected more particularly with Lady Anne, and was led to a long winding or turnpikestair, which ascends from the original, but now superseded entrance-hall, and gives access to all the older portion of the mansion. Two flights of this stair conduct us to a floor in which there is a moderate-sized bedroom, usually called Oliver Cromwell's Room, from his having once occupied it, and which now appears remarkable only for the great thickness of wall disclosed by the opening of its single window. This, according to the best accounts, was the apartment of the authoress of Robin Gray, but probably only was so when she revisited the house in later life, during the proprietorship of her brother ; for in one
· of her letters she speaks of having had a more elevated retreat in her younger days—in the same staircase, however-being thus lodged appropriately for an intellectual labourer
• Where Contemplation roosted near the sky.' • Residingshe says, 'in the solitude of the country, without other sources of entertainment than what I could draw from myself, I used to mount up to my little closet in the high winding staircase, which commanded the sea, the lake, the rock, the birds, the beach, and with my pen in my hand, and a few envelopes of old letters—which too often vanished afterwards--scribble away poetically and in prose, till I made myself an artificial happiness.' Unluckily, amidst the alterations of the house, this sanctum of our poetess has been destroyed.
Having seen all that was pointed out to observation within doors, I was next led to the wood-screened ruins