Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

great distance from the spot, he first called, but, receiving no
answer, he went up to the spot, and behold it was the above-
mentioned young man, who had hung himself in the hay rope that
was tying down the rick.

"This was accounted a great wonder; and everyone said, if the
Devil had not assisted him, it was impossible the thing could
have been done; for, in general, these ropes are so brittle, being
made of green hay, that they will scarcely bear to be bound over
the rick. And, the more to horrify the good people of this
neighbourhood, the driver said, when he first came in view, he
could almost give his oath that he saw two people busily engaged
at the hay-rick going round it and round it, and he thought they
were dressing it.

"If this asseveration approximated at all to truth, it makes this
evident at least, that the unfortunate young man had hanged
himself after the man with the lambs came in view. He was,
however, quite dead when he cut him down. He had fastened two
of the old hay-ropes at the bottom of the rick on one side (indeed,
they are all fastened so when first laid on) so that he had nothing
to do but to loosen two of the ends on the other side. These he
had tied in a knot round his neck, and then slackening his knees,
and letting himself down gradually, till the hay-rope bore all his
weight, he had contrived to put an end to his existence in that
way. Now the fact is, that, if you try all the ropes that are thrown
over all the out-field hay-ricks in Scotland, there is not one
among a thousand of them will hang a colley dog; so that the
manner of this wretch's death was rather a singular circumstance.

"Early next morning, Mr. Anderson's servants went reluctantly
away, and, taking an old blanket with them for a winding sheet,
they rolled up the body of the deceased, first in his own plaid,
letting the hay-rope still remain about his neck, and then, rolling
the old blanket over all, they bore the loathed remains away to the
distance of three miles or so, on spokes, to the top of Cowan's-
Croft, at the very point where the Duke of Buccleuch's land, the
Laird of Drummelzier's, and Lord Napier's meet, and there they
buried him, with all that he had on and about him, silver knife
and fork and altogether. Thus far went tradition, and no one ever
disputed one jot of the disgusting oral tale.

"A nephew of that Mr. Anderson's who was with the hapless
youth that day he died says that, as far as he can gather from the
relations of friends that he remembers, and of that same uncle in
particular, it is one hundred and five years next month (that is
September, 1823) since that event happened; and I think it likely
that this gentleman's information is correct. But sundry other
people, much older than he, whom I have consulted, pretend that
it is six or seven years more. They say they have heard that Mr.
James Anderson was then a boy ten years of age; that he lived to
an old age, upwards of fourscore, and it is two and forty years
since he died. Whichever way it may be, it was about that period
some way: of that there is no doubt.

"It so happened that two young men, William Shiel and W.
Sword, were out on an adjoining height this summer, casting
peats, and it came into their heads to open this grave in the
wilderness, and see if there were any of the bones of the suicide
of former ages and centuries remaining. They did so, but opened
only one half of the grave, beginning at the head and about the
middle at the same time. It was not long till they came upon the
old blanket--I think, they said not much more than a foot from the
surface. They tore that open, and there was the hay-rope lying
stretched down alongst his breast, so fresh that they saw at first
sight that it was made of risp, a sort of long sword-grass that
grows about marshes and the sides of lakes. One of the young
men seized the rope and pulled by it, but the old enchantment of
the Devil remained--it would not break; and so he pulled and
pulled at it, till behold the body came up into a sitting posture,
with a broad blue bonnet on its head, and its plaid around it, all as
fresh as that day it was laid in! I never heard of a preservation so
wonderful, if it be true as was related to me, for still I have not
had the curiosity to go and view the body myself. The features
were all so plain that an acquaintance might easily have known
him. One of the lads gripped the face of the corpse with his finger
and thumb, and the cheeks felt quite soft and fleshy, but the
dimples remained and did not spring out again. He had fine
yellow hair, about nine inches long; but not a hair of it could they
pull out till they cut part of it off with a knife. They also cut off
some portions of his clothes, which were all quite fresh, and
distributed them among their acquaintances, sending a portion to
me, among the rest, to keep as natural curiosities. Several
gentlemen have in a manner forced me to give them fragments of
these enchanted garments: I have, however, retained a small
portion for you, which I send along with this, being a piece of his
plaid, and another of his waistcoat breast, which you will see are
still as fresh as that day they were laid in the grave.

"His broad blue bonnet was sent to Edinburgh several weeks ago,
to the great regret of some gentlemen connected with the land,
who wished to have it for a keep-sake. For my part, fond as I am
of blue bonnets, and broad ones in particular, I declare I durst not
have worn that one. There was nothing of the silver knife and
fork discovered, that I heard of, nor was it very likely it should;
but it would appear he had been very near run out of cash, which
I daresay had been the cause of his utter despair; for, on searching
his pockets, nothing was found but three old Scotch halfpennies.
These young men meeting with another shepherd afterwards, his
curiosity was so much excited that they went and digged up the
curious remains a second time, which was a pity, as it is likely
that by these exposures to the air, and the impossibility of burying
it up again as closely as it was before, the flesh will now fall to

The letter from which the above is an extract, is signed JAMES
HOGG, and dated from Altrive Lake, August 1st, 1823. It bears
the stamp of authenticity in every line; yet so often had I been
hoaxed by the ingenious fancies displayed in that Magazine, that
when this relation met my eye I did not believe it; but, from the
moment that I perused it, I half formed the resolution of
investigating these wonderful remains personally, if any such
existed; for, in the immediate vicinity of the scene, as I supposed,
I knew of more attractive metal than the dilapidated remains of
mouldering suicides.

Accordingly, having some business in Edinburgh in September
last, and being obliged to wait a few days for the arrival of a
friend from London, I took that opportunity to pay a visit to my
townsman and fellow collegian, Mr. L--t of C--d, advocate. I
mentioned to him Hogg's letter, asking him if the statement was
founded at all on truth. His answer was: "I suppose so. For my
part I never doubted the thing, having been told that there has
been a deal of talking about it up in the Forest for some time past.
But God knows! Hogg has imposed as ingenious lies on the
public ere now."

I said, if it was within reach, I should like exceedingly to visit
both the Shepherd and the Scotch mummy he had described. Mr.
L--t assented on the first proposal, saying he had no objections to
take a ride that length with me, and make the fellow produce his
credentials. That we would have a delightful jaunt through a
romantic and now classical country, and some good sport into the
bargain, provided he could procure a horse for me, from his
father-in-law, next day. He sent up to a Mr. L--w to inquire, who
returned for answer that there was an excellent pony at my
service, and that he himself would accompany us, being obliged
to attend a great sheep-fair at Thirlestane; and that he was certain
the Shepherd would be there likewise.

Mr. L--t said that was the very man we wanted to make our party
complete; and at an early hour next morning we started for the
ewe-fair of Thirlestane, taking Blackwood's Magazine for August
along with us. We rode through the ancient royal burgh of
Selkirk, halted and corned our horses at a romantic village, nigh
to some deep linns on the Ettrick, and reached the market ground
at Thirlestane-green a little before mid-day. We soon found
Hogg, standing near the foot of the market, as he called it, beside
a great drove of paulies, a species of stock that I never heard of
before. They were small sheep, striped on the backs with red
chalk. Mr. L--t introduced me to him as a great wool-stapler,
come to raise the price of that article; but he eyed me with
distrust, and, turning his back on us, answered: "I hae sell'd

I followed, and, shewing him the above-quoted letter, said I was
exceedingly curious to have a look of these singular remains he
had so ingeniously described; but he only answered me with the
remark that "It was a queer fancy for a wool-stapler to tak."

His two friends then requested him to accompany us to the spot,
and to take some of his shepherds with us to assist in raising the
body; but he spurned at the idea, saying: "Od bless ye, lad! I hae
ither matters to mind. I hae a' thae paulies to sell, an', a' yon
Highland stotts down on the green, every ane; an' then I hae ten
scores o' yowes to buy after, an', If I canna first sell my ain stock,
I canna buy nae ither body's. I hae mair ado than I can manage
the day, foreby ganging to houk up hunder-year-auld-banes."

Finding that we could make nothing of him, we left him with his
paulies, Highland stotts, grey jacket, and broad blue bonnet, to go
in search of some other guide. L--w soon found one, for he
seemed acquainted with every person in the fair. We got a fine
old shepherd, named W--m B--e, a great original, and a very
obliging and civil man, who asked no conditions but that we
should not speak of it, because he did not wish it to come to his
master's ears that he had been engaged in sic a profane thing. We
promised strict secrecy; and accompanied by another farmer, Mr.
S--t, and old B--e, we proceeded to the grave, which B--e
described as about a mile and a half distant from the market

We went into the shepherd's cot to get a drink of milk, when I
read to our guide Mr. Hogg's description, asking him if he
thought it correct. He said there was hardly a bit o't correct, for
the grave was not on the hill of Cowan's-Croft nor yet on the
point where three lairds' lands met, but on the top of a hill called
the Faw-Law, where there was no land that was not the Duke of
Buccleuch's within a quarter of a mile. He added that it was a
wonder how the poet could be mistaken there, who once herded
the very ground where the grave is, and saw both hills from his
own window. Mr. L--w testified great surprise at such a singular
blunder, as also how the body came not to be buried at the
meeting of three or four lairds' lands, which had always been
customary in the south of Scotland. Our guide said he had always
heard it reported that the Eltrive men, with Mr. David Anderson
at their head, had risen before day on the Monday morning, it
having been on the Sabbath day that the man put down himself;
and that they set out with the intention of burying him on
Cowan's-Croft, where the three marches met at a point. But, it
having been an invariable rule to bury such lost sinners before the
rising of the sun, these five men were overtaken by day-light, as
they passed the house of Berry-Knowe; and, by the time they
reached the top of the Faw-Law, the sun was beginning to skair
the east. On this they laid down the body, and digged a deep
grave with all expedition; but, when they had done, it was too
short, and, the body being stiff, it would not go down; on which
Mr. David Anderson, looking to the east and perceiving that the
sun would be up on them in a few minutes, set his foot on the
suicide's brow, and tramped down his head into the grave with his
iron-heeled shoe, until the nose and skull crashed again, and at
the same time uttered a terrible curse on the wretch who had
disgraced the family and given them all this trouble. This
anecdote, our guide said, he had heard when a boy, from the
mouth of Robert Laidlaw, one of the five men who buried the

We soon reached the spot, and I confess I felt a singular sensation
when I saw the grey stone standing at the head, and another at the
feet, and the one half of the grave manifestly new-digged, and
closed up again as had been described. I could still scarcely deem
the thing to be a reality, for the ground did not appear to be wet,
but a kind of dry rotten moss. On looking around, we found some
fragments of clothes, some teeth, and part of a pocket-book,
which had not been returned into the grave when the body had
been last raised, for it had been twice raised before this, but only
from the loins upward.

To work we fell with two spades, and soon cleared away the
whole of the covering. The part of the grave that had been opened
before was filled with mossy mortar, which impeded us
exceedingly, and entirely prevented a proper investigation of the
fore parts of the body. I will describe everything as I saw it before
our respectable witnesses, whose names I shall publish at large if
permitted. A number of the bones came up separately; for, with
the constant flow of liquid stuff into the deep grave, we could not
see to preserve them in their places. At length great loads of
coarse clothes, blanketing, plaiding, etc. appeared; we tried to lift
these regularly up, and, on doing so, part of a skeleton came up,
but no flesh, save a little that was hanging in dark flitters about
the spine, but which had no consistence; it was merely the
appearance of flesh without the substance. The head was wanting,
and, I being very anxious to possess the skull, the search was
renewed among the mortar and rags. We first found a part of the
scalp, with the long hair firm on it; which, on being cleaned, is
neither black nor fair, but a darkish dusk, the most common of
any other colour. Soon afterwards we found the skull, but it was
not complete. A spade had damaged it, and one of the temple
quarters was wanting. 1 am no phrenologist, not knowing one
organ from another, but 1 thought the skull of that wretched man
no study. If it was particular for anything, it was for a smooth,
almost perfect rotundity, with only a little protuberance above the
vent of the ear.

When we came to that part of the grave that had never been
opened before, the appearance of everything was quite different.
There the remains lay under a close vault of moss, and within a
vacant space; and I suppose, by the digging in the former part of
the grave, the part had been deepened, and drawn the moisture
away from this part, for here all was perfect. The breeches still
suited the thigh, the stocking the leg, and the garters were wrapt
as neatly and as firm below the knee as if they had been newly
tied. The shoes were all open in the seams, the hemp having
decayed, but the soles, upper leathers and wooden heels, which
were made of birch, were all as fresh as any of those we wore.
There was one thing I could not help remarking, that in the inside
of one of the shoes there was a layer of cow's dung, about one-
eighth of an inch thick, and in the hollow of the sole fully one-
fourth of an inch. It was firm, green, and fresh; and proved that he
had been working in a byre. His clothes were all of a singular
ancient cut, and no less singular in their texture. Their durability
certainly would have been prodigious; for in thickness,
coarseness, and strength, I never saw any cloth in the smallest
degree to equal them. His coat was a frock coat, of a yellowish
drab colour, with wide sleeves. It is tweeled, milled, and thicker
than a carpet. I cut off two of the skirts and brought them with
me. His vest was of striped serge, such as I have often seen worn
by country people. it was lined and backed with white stuff. The
breeches were a sort of striped plaiding, which I never saw worn,
but which our guide assured us was very common in the country
once, though, from the old clothes which he had seen remaining
of it, he judged that it could not be less than 200 years since it
was in fashion. His garters were of worsted, and striped with
black or blue; his stockings grey, and wanting the feet. I brought
samples of all along with me. I have likewise now got possession
of the bonnet, which puzzles me most of all. It is not conformable
with the rest of the dress. It is neither a broad bonnet nor a Border
bonnet; for there is an open behind, for tying, which no genuine
Border bonnet I am told ever had. It seems to have been a
Highland bonnet, worn in a flat way, like a scone on the crown,
such as is sometimes still seen in the West of Scotland. All the
limbs, from the loins to the toes, seemed perfect and entire, but
they could not bear handling. Before we got them returned again
into the grave they were shaken to pieces, except the thighs,
which continued to retain a kind of flabby form.

All his clothes that were sewed with linen yam were lying in
separate portions, the thread having rotten; but such as were
sewed with worsted remained perfectly firm and sound. Among
such a confusion, we had hard work to find out all his pockets,
and our guide supposed that, after all, we did not find above the
half of them. In his vest pocket was a long clasp-knife, very
sharp; the haft was thin, and the scales shone as if there had been
silver inside. Mr. Sc--t took it with him, and presented it to his
neighbour, Mr. R--n, of W--n L--e, who still has it in his
possession. We found a comb, a gimblet, a vial, a small neat
square board, a pair of plated knee-buckles, and several samples
of cloth of different kinds, rolled neatly up within one another. At
length, while we were busy on the search, Mr. L--t picked up a
leathern case, which seemed to have been wrapped round and
round by some ribbon, or cord, that had been rotten from it, for
the swaddling marks still remained. Both L--w and B--e called
out that "it was the tobacco spleuchan, and a well-filled ane too";
but, on opening it out, we found, to our great astonishment, that it
contained a printed pamphlet. We were all curious to see what
sort of a pamphlet such a person would read; what it could
contain that he seemed to have had such a care about. For the
slough in which it was rolled was fine chamois leather; what
colour it had been could not be known. But the pamphlet was
wrapped so close together, and so damp, rotten, and yellow that it
seemed one solid piece. We all concluded from some words that
we could make out that it was a religious tract, but that it would
be impossible to make anything of it. Mr. L--w remarked marked
that it was a great pity if a few sentences could not be made out,
for that it was a question what might be contained in that little
book; and then he requested Mr. L--t to give it to me, as he had so
many things of literature and law to attend to that he would never
think more of it. He replied that either of us were heartily
welcome to it, for that he had thought of returning it into the
grave, if he could have made out but a line or two, to have seen
what was its tendency.

"Grave, man!" exclaimed L--w, who speaks excellent strong
broad Scotch. "My truly, but ye grave weel! I wad esteem the
contents o' that spleuchan as the most precious treasure. I'll tell
you what it is, sir: I hae often wondered how it was that this
man's corpse has been miraculously preserved frae decay, a
hunder times langer than any other body's, or than ever a tanner's.
But now I could wager a guinea it has been for the preservation o'
that little book. And Lord kens what may be in't! It will maybe
reveal some mystery that mankind disna ken naething about yet."

"If there be any mysteries in it," returned the other, "it is not for
your handling, my dear friend, who are too much taken up about
mysteries already." And with these words he presented the
mysterious pamphlet to me. With very little trouble, save that of a
thorough drying, I unrolled it all with ease, and found the very
tract which I have here ventured to lay before the public, part of it
in small bad print, and the remainder in manuscript. The title
page is written and is as follows:



Fideli certa merces.

And, alongst the head, it is the same as given in the present
edition of the work. I altered the title to A Self-justified Sinner,
but my booksellers did not approve of it; and, there being a curse
pronounced by the writer on him that should dare to alter or
amend, I have let it stand as it is. Should it be thought to attach
discredit to any received principle of our Church, I am blameless.
The printed part ends at page 201 and the rest is in a fine old
hand, extremely small and close. I have ordered the printer to
procure a facsimile of it, to be bound in with the volume. [v.

With regard to the work itself, I dare not venture a judgment, for I
do not understand it. I believe no person, man or woman, will
ever peruse it with the same attention that I have done, and yet I
confess that I do not comprehend the writer's drift. It is certainly
impossible that these scenes could ever have occurred that he
describes as having himself transacted. I think it may be possible
that he had some hand in the death of his brother, and yet I am
disposed greatly to doubt it; and the numerous traditions, etc.
which remain of that event may be attributable to the work
having been printed and burnt, and of course the story known to
all the printers, with their families and gossips. That the young
Laird of Dalcastle came by a violent death, there remains no
doubt; but that this wretch slew him, there is to me a good deal.
However, allowing this to have been the case, I account all the
rest either dreaming or madness; or, as he says to Mr. Watson, a
religious parable, on purpose to illustrate something scarcely
tangible, but to which he seems to have attached great weight.
Were the relation at all consistent with reason, it corresponds so
minutely with traditionary facts that it could scarcely have missed
to have been received as authentic; but in this day, and with the
present generation, it will not go down that a man should be daily
tempted by the Devil, in the semblance of a fellow-creature; and
at length lured to self-destruction, in the hopes that this same
fiend and tormentor was to suffer and fall along with him. It was
a bold theme for an allegory, and would have suited that age well
had it been taken up by one fully qualified for the task, which this
writer was not. In short, we must either conceive him not only the
greatest fool, but the greatest wretch, on whom was ever stamped
the form of humanity; or, that he was a religious maniac, who
wrote and wrote about a deluded creature, till he arrived at that
height of madness that he believed himself the very object whom
he had been all along describing. And, in order to escape from an
ideal tormentor, committed that act for which, according to the
tenets he embraced, there was no remission, and which consigned
his memory and his name to everlasting detestation.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest