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  • 1922
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[Footnote 1: Robert Bruce was born in July, 1274. During the early part of his life he was sometimes to be found on the side of the English and sometimes on the side of the Scotch, but as he grew older his patriotic spirit was roused, and he threw himself heart and soul into the cause of his native land. As late as the year 1299, after the Scotch patriot Wallace had been defeated, Bruce was in favor with the English King Edward, but in February, 1306, occurred the event with which Scott’s narrative opens.]


[Footnote 2: The following interesting account of some of the incidents in the life of Bruce is abridged from Scott’s _Tales of a Grandfather_, a series of historical stories which Scott wrote for his little grandson.]

Robert the Bruce was a remarkably brave and strong man; there was no man in Scotland that was thought a match for him. He was very wise and prudent, and an excellent general; that is, he knew how to conduct an army, and place them in order for battle, as well or better than any great man of his time. He was generous, too, and courteous by nature; but he had some faults, which perhaps belonged as much to the fierce period in which he lived as to his own character. He was rash and passionate, and in his passion he was sometimes relentless and cruel.

Robert the Bruce had fixed his purpose to attempt once again to drive the English out of Scotland, and he desired to prevail upon Sir John the Red Comyn, who was his rival in his pretensions to the throne, to join with him in expelling the foreign enemy by their common efforts. With this purpose, Bruce posted down from London to Dumfries, on the borders of Scotland, and requested an interview with John Comyn. They met in the church of the Minorites in that town, before the high altar. What passed between them is not known with certainty; but they quarrelled, either concerning their mutual pretensions to the crown, or because Comyn refused to join Bruce in the proposed insurrection against the English; or, as many writers say, because Bruce charged Comyn with having betrayed to the English his purpose of rising up against King Edward. It is, however, certain that these two haughty barons came to high and abusive words, until at length Bruce, who I told you was extremely passionate, forgot the sacred character of the place in which they stood, and struck Comyn a blow with his dagger. Having done this rash deed, he instantly ran out of the church and called for his horse. Two gentlemen of the country, Lindesay and Kirkpatrick, friends of Bruce, were then in attendance on him. Seeing him pale, bloody, and in much agitation, they eagerly inquired what was the matter.

“I doubt,” said Bruce, “that I have slain the Red Comyn.”

“Do you leave such a matter in doubt?” said Kirkpatrick. “I will make sicker!”–that is, I will make certain.

Accordingly, he and his companion Lindesay rushed into the church, and made the matter certain with a vengeance, by despatching the wounded Comyn with their daggers. His uncle, Sir Robert Comyn, was slain at the same time.

This slaughter of Comyn was a rash and cruel action; and the historian of Bruce observes that it was followed by the displeasure of Heaven; for no man ever went through more misfortunes than Robert Bruce, although he at length rose to great honor.

After the deed was done, Bruce might be called desperate. He had committed an action which was sure to bring down upon him the vengeance of all Comyn’s relations, the resentment of the King of England, and the displeasure of the Church, on account of having slain his enemy within consecrated ground. He determined, therefore, to bid them all defiance at once, and to assert his pretensions to the throne of Scotland. He drew his own followers together, summoned to meet him such barons as still entertained hopes of the freedom of the country, and was crowned king at the Abbey of Scone, the usual place where the kings of Scotland assumed their authority.

The commencement of Bruce’s undertaking was most disastrous. He was crowned on the twenty-ninth of March, 1306. On the eighteenth of May he was excommunicated by the Pope, on account of the murder of Comyn within consecrated ground, a sentence which excluded him from all benefits of religion, and authorized any one to kill him. Finally, on the nineteenth of June, the new king was completely defeated near Methven by the English Earl of Pembroke. Robert’s horse was killed under him in the action, and he was for a moment a prisoner.

But he had fallen into the power of a Scottish knight, who, though he served in the English army, did not choose to be the instrument of putting Bruce into their hands, and allowed him to escape. The conquerors executed their prisoners with their usual cruelty.

[Illustration: BRUCE KILLS COMYN]

Bruce, with a few brave adherents, among whom was the young Lord of Douglas, who was afterward called the Good Lord James, retired into the Highland mountains, where they were chased from one place of refuge to another, often in great danger, and suffering many hardships. The Bruce’s wife, now Queen of Scotland, with several other ladies, accompanied her husband and his few followers during their wanderings. There was no other way of providing for them save by hunting and fishing. It was remarked that Douglas was the most active and successful in procuring for the unfortunate ladies such supplies as his dexterity in fishing or in killing deer could furnish to them.

Driven from one place in the Highlands to another, starved out of some districts, and forced from others by the opposition of the inhabitants, Bruce attempted to force his way into Lorn; but he was again defeated, through force of numbers, at a place called Dalry. He directed his men to retreat through a narrow pass, and placing himself last of the party, he fought with and slew such of the enemy as attempted to press hard on them. A father and two sons, called M’Androsser, all very strong men, when they saw Bruce thus protecting the retreat of his followers, made a vow that they would either kill this redoubted champion, or make him prisoner. The whole three rushed on the king at once. Bruce was on horseback, in the strait pass we have described, between a precipitous rock and a deep lake. He struck the first man who came up and seized his horse’s rein such a blow with his sword, as cut off his hand and freed the bridle. The man bled to death. The other brother had grasped Bruce in the meantime by the leg, and was attempting to throw him from horseback. The king, setting spurs to his horse, made the animal suddenly spring forward, so that the Highlander fell under the horse’s feet, and, as he was endeavoring to rise again, Bruce cleft his head in two with his sword. The father, seeing his two sons thus slain, flew desperately at the king, and grasped him by the mantle so close to his body that he could not have room to wield his long sword. But with the heavy pommel of that weapon, or, as others say, with an iron hammer which hung at his saddle-bow, the king struck his third assailant so dreadful a blow, that he dashed out his brains. Still, however, the Highlander kept his dying grasp on the king’s mantle; so that, to be freed of the dead body, Bruce was obliged to undo the brooch, or clasp, by which it was fastened, and leave that, and the mantle itself, behind him.

At last dangers increased so much around the brave King Robert, that he was obliged to separate himself from his queen and her ladies; for the winter was coming on, and it would be impossible for the women to endure this wandering life when the frost and snow should set in. So Bruce left his queen, with the Countess of Buchan and others, in the only castle which remained to him, which was called Kildrummie. The king also left his youngest brother, Nigel Bruce, to defend the castle against the English; and he himself, with his second brother Edward, who was a very brave man, but still more rash and passionate than Robert himself, went over to an island on the coast of Ireland, where Bruce and the few men who followed his fortunes passed the winter of 1306. In the meantime, ill luck seemed to pursue all his friends in Scotland. The castle of Kildrummie was taken by the English, and Nigel Bruce, a beautiful and brave youth, was cruelly put to death by the victors. The ladies who had attended on Robert’s queen, as well as the queen herself, and the Countess of Buchan, were thrown into strict confinement, and treated with the utmost severity.

It was about this time that an incident took place, which, although it rests only on tradition in families of the name of Bruce, is rendered probable by the manners of the times. After receiving the last unpleasing intelligence from Scotland, Bruce was lying one morning on his wretched bed, and deliberating with himself whether he had not better resign all thoughts of again attempting to make good his right to the Scottish crown, and, dismissing his followers, transport himself and his brothers to the Holy Land, and spend the rest of his life in fighting against the Saracens; by which he thought, perhaps, he might deserve the forgiveness of Heaven for the great sin of stabbing Comyn in the church at Dumfries. But then, on the other hand, he thought it would be both criminal and cowardly to give up his attempts to restore freedom to Scotland while there yet remained the least chance of his being successful in an undertaking, which, rightly considered, was much more his duty than to drive the infidels out of Palestine, though the superstition of his age might think otherwise.

While he was divided between these reflections, and doubtful of what he should do, Bruce was looking upward to the roof of the cabin in which he lay; and his eye was attracted by a spider, which, hanging at the end of a long thread of its own spinning, was endeavoring, as is the fashion of that creature, to swing itself from one beam in the roof to another, for the purpose of fixing the line on which it meant to stretch its web. The insect made the attempt again and again without success; at length Bruce counted that it had tried to carry its point six times, and been as often unable to do so. It came into his-head that he had himself fought just six battles against the English and their allies, and that the poor persevering spider was exactly in the same situation with himself, having made as many trials and been so often disappointed in what it aimed at. “Now,” thought Bruce, “as I have no means of knowing what is best to be done, I will be guided by the luck which shall attend this spider. If the insect shall make another effort to fix its thread, and shall be successful, I will venture a seventh time to try my fortune in Scotland; but if the spider shall fail, I will go to the wars in Palestine, and never return to my native country more.”

While Bruce was forming this resolution the spider made another exertion with all the force it could muster, and fairly succeeded in fastening its thread to the beam which it had so often in vain attempted to reach. Bruce, seeing the success of the spider, resolved to try his own fortune; and as he had never before gained a victory, so he never afterward sustained any considerable or decisive check or defeat. I have often met with people of the name of Bruce, so completely persuaded of the truth of this story, that they would not on any account kill a spider, because it was that insect which had shown the example of perseverance, and given a signal of good luck, to their great namesake.

Having determined to renew his efforts to obtain possession of Scotland, notwithstanding the smallness of the means which he had for accomplishing so great a purpose, the Bruce removed himself and his followers from Rachrin to the island of Arran, which lies in the mouth of the Clyde. The king landed and inquired of the first woman he met what armed men were in the island. She returned for answer that there had arrived there very lately a body of armed strangers, who had defeated an English officer, the governor of the castle of Brathwick, had killed him and most of his men, and were now amusing themselves with hunting about the island. The king, having caused himself to be guided to the woods which these strangers most frequented, there blew his horn repeatedly.

Now, the chief of the strangers who had taken the castle was James Douglas, one of the best of Bruce’s friends, and he was accompanied by some of the bravest of that patriotic band. When he heard Robert Bruce’s horn he knew the sound well, and cried out, that yonder was the king, he knew by his manner of blowing. So he and his companions hastened to meet King Robert, and there was great joy on both sides; while at the same time they could not help weeping when they considered their own forlorn condition, and the great loss that had taken place among their friends since they had last parted. But they were stout-hearted men, and looked forward to freeing their country in spite of all that had yet happened.

The Bruce was now within sight of Scotland, and not distant from his own family possessions, where the people were most likely to be attached to him. He began immediately to form plans with Douglas how they might best renew their enterprise against the English. The Douglas resolved to go disguised to his own country, and raise his followers in order to begin their enterprise by taking revenge on an English nobleman called Lord Clifford, upon whom Edward had conferred his estates, and who had taken up his residence in the castle of Douglas.

Bruce, on his part, opened a communication with the opposite coast of Carrick, by means of one of his followers called Cuthbert. This person had directions, that if he should find the countrymen in Carrick disposed to take up arms against the English he was to make a fire on a headland, or lofty cape, called Turnberry, on the coast of Ayrshire, opposite to the island of Arran. The appearance of a fire on this place was to be a signal for Bruce to put to sea with such men as he had, who were not more than three hundred in number, for the purpose of landing in Carrick and joining the insurgents.

Bruce and his men watched eagerly for the signal, but for some time in vain. At length a fire on Turnberry-head became visible, and the king and his followers merrily betook themselves to their ships and galleys, concluding their Carrick friends were all in arms and ready to join with them. They landed on the beach at midnight, where they found their spy Cuthbert alone in waiting for them with very bad news. Lord Percy, he said, was in the country with two or three hundred Englishmen, and had terrified the people so much, both by actions and threats, that none of them dared to think of rebelling against King Edward.

“Traitor!” said Bruce, “why, then, did you make the signal?”

“Alas,” replied Cuthbert, “the fire was not made by me, but by some other person, for what purpose I know not; but as soon as I saw it burning, I knew that you would come over, thinking it my signal, and therefore I came down to wait for you on the beach to tell you how the matter stood.”

King Robert’s first idea was to return to Arran after this disappointment; but his brother Edward refused to go back. He was, as I have told you, a man daring even to rashness. “I will not leave my native land,” he said, “now that I am so unexpectedly restored to it. I will give freedom to Scotland, or leave my carcass on the surface of the land which gave me birth.”

Bruce, also, after some hesitation, determined that since he had been thus brought to the mainland of Scotland, he would remain there, and take such adventure and fortune as Heaven should send him.

Accordingly, he began to skirmish with the English so successfully, as obliged the Lord Percy to quit Carrick. Bruce then dispersed his men upon various adventures against the enemy, in which they were generally successful. But then, on the other hand, the king, being left with small attendance, or sometimes almost alone, ran great risk of losing his life by treachery or by open violence.

At one time, a near relation of Bruce’s, in whom he entirely confided, was induced by the bribes of the English to attempt to put him to death. This villain, with his two sons, watched the king one morning, till he saw him separated from all his men, excepting a little boy, who waited on him as a page. The father had a sword in his hand, one of the sons had a sword and a spear, and the other had a sword and a battle-axe. Now, when the king saw them so well armed, when there were no enemies near, he began to call to mind some hints which had been given to him, that these men intended to murder him. He had no weapons excepting his sword; but his page had a bow and arrow. He took them both from the little boy, and bade him stand at a distance; “for,” said the king, “if I overcome these traitors, thou shalt have enough of weapons; but if I am slain by them, you may make your escape, and tell Douglas and my brother to revenge my death.” The boy was very sorry, for he loved his master; but he was obliged to do as he was bidden.

In the meantime the traitors came forward upon Bruce, that they might assault him at once. The king called out to them, and commanded them to come no nearer, upon peril of their lives; but the father answered with flattering words, pretending great kindness, and still continuing to approach his person. Then the king again called to them to stand. “Traitors,” said he, “ye have sold my life for English gold; but you shall die if you come one foot nearer to me.” With that he bent the page’s bow, and as the old conspirator continued to advance, he let the arrow fly at him. Bruce was an excellent archer; he aimed his arrow so well that it hit the father in the eye, and penetrated from that into his brain, so that he fell down dead. Then the two sons rushed on the king. One of them fetched a blow at him with an axe, but missed his stroke and stumbled, so that the king with his great sword cut him down before he could recover his feet. The remaining traitor ran on Bruce with his spear; but the king, with a sweep of his sword, cut the steel head off the villain’s weapon, and then killed him before he had time to draw his sword. Then the little page came running, very joyful of his master’s victory; and the king wiped his bloody sword, and, looking upon the dead bodies, said, “These might have been reputed three gallant men, if they could have resisted the temptation of covetousness.”

After the death of these three traitors, Robert the Bruce continued to keep himself concealed in his own earldom of Carrick, and in the neighboring country of Galloway, until he should have matters ready for a general attack upon the English. He was obliged, in the meantime, to keep very few men with him, both for the sake of secrecy, and from the difficulty of finding provisions. Now, many of the people of Galloway were unfriendly to Bruce. They had heard that he was in their country, having no more than sixty men with him; so they resolved to attack him by surprise, and for this purpose they got two hundred men together, and brought with them two or three bloodhounds. These animals were trained to chase a man by the scent of his footsteps, as foxhounds chase a fox, or as beagles and harriers chase a hare. Although the dog does not see the person whose trace he is put upon, he follows him over every step he has taken. At that time these bloodhounds, or sleuthhounds (so called from _slot_, or _sleut_, a word which signifies the scent left by an animal of chase), were used for the purpose of pursuing great criminals. The men of Galloway thought themselves secure, that if they missed taking Bruce, or killing him at the first onset, and if he should escape into the woods, they would find him out by means of these bloodhounds.

The good King Robert Bruce, who was always watchful and vigilant, had received some information of the intention of this party to come upon him suddenly and by night. Accordingly, he quartered his little troop of sixty men on the side of a deep and swift-running river, that had very steep and rocky banks. There was but one ford by which this river could be crossed in that neighborhood, and that ford was deep and narrow, so that two men could scarcely get through abreast; the ground on which they were to land on the side where the king was, was steep, and the path which led upward from the water’s edge to the top of the bank, extremely narrow and difficult.

Bruce caused his men to lie down to take some sleep, at a place about half a mile distant from the river, while he himself, with two attendants, went down to watch the ford, through which the enemy must needs pass before they could come to the place where King Robert’s men were lying. He stood for some time looking at the ford, and thinking how easily the enemy might be kept from passing there, provided it was bravely defended, when he heard at a distance the baying of a hound, which was always coming nearer and nearer. This was the bloodhound which was tracing the king’s steps to the ford where he had crossed, and the two hundred Galloway men were along with the animal, and guided by it. Bruce at first thought of going back to awaken his men; but then he reflected that it might be only some shepherd’s dog. “My men,” said he, “are sorely tired; I will not disturb their sleep for the yelping of a cur, till I know something more of the matter.”

So he stood and listened; and by and by, as the cry of the hound came nearer, he began to hear a trampling of horses, and the voices of men, and the ringing and clattering of armor, and then he was sure the enemy were coming to the river side. Then the king thought, “If I go back to give my men the alarm, these Galloway men will get through the ford without opposition; and that would be a pity, since it is a place so advantageous to make defence against them.” So he looked again at the steep path, and the deep river, and he thought that they gave him so much advantage, that he himself could defend the passage with his own hand, until his men came to assist him. His armor was so good and strong, that he had no fear of arrows, and therefore the combat was not so very unequal as it must have otherwise been. He therefore sent his followers to waken his men, and remained alone by the bank of the river.

In the meanwhile, the noise and trampling of the horses increased; and the moon being bright, Bruce beheld the glancing arms of about two hundred men, who came down to the opposite bank of the river. The men of Galloway, on their part, saw but one solitary figure guarding the ford, and the foremost of them plunged into the river without minding him. But as they could only pass the ford one by one, the Bruce, who stood high above them on the bank where they were to land, killed the foremost man with a thrust of his long spear, and with a second thrust stabbed the horse, which fell down, kicking and plunging in his agonies, on the narrow path, and so prevented the others who were following from getting out of the river. Bruce had thus an opportunity of dealing his blows at pleasure among them, while they could not strike at him again. In the confusion, five or six of the enemy were slain, or, having been borne down the current, were drowned in the river. The rest were terrified, and drew back.

But when the Galloway men looked again, and saw they were opposed by only one man, they themselves being so many, they cried out that their honor would be lost forever if they did not force their way; and encouraged each other, with loud cries, to plunge through and assault him. But by this time the king’s soldiers came up to his assistance, and the Galloway men retreated, and gave up their enterprise.

At another time King Robert and his foster brother were walking through a wood extremely weary and hungry. As they proceeded, however, in the hopes of coming to some habitation, they met in the midst of the forest with three men who looked like thieves or ruffians. They were well armed, and one of them bore a sheep on his back, which it seemed as if they had just stolen. They saluted the king civilly; and he, replying to their salutation, asked them where they were going. The men answered, they were seeking for Robert Bruce, for that they intended to join with him. The king answered, that if they would go with him he would conduct them where they would find the Scottish king. Then the man who had spoken changed countenance, and Bruce, who looked sharply at him, began to suspect that the ruffian guessed who he was, and that he and his companions had some design against his person, in order to gain the reward which had been offered for his life.

So he said to them, “My good friends, as we are not well acquainted with each other, you must go before us, and we will follow near to you.”

“You have no occasion to suspect any harm from us,” answered the man.

“Neither do I suspect any,” said Bruce; “but this is the way in which I choose to travel.”

The men did as he commanded, and thus they traveled till they came together to a waste and ruinous cottage, where the men proposed to dress some part of the sheep, which their companion was carrying. The king was glad to hear of food; but he insisted that there should be two fires kindled, one for himself and his foster brother at one end of the house, the other at the other end for their three companions. The men did as he desired. They broiled a quarter of mutton for themselves, and gave another to the king and his attendant. They were obliged to eat it without bread or salt; but as they were very hungry, they were glad to get food in any shape, and partook of it very heartily.

Then so heavy a drowsiness fell on King Robert, that, for all the danger he was in, he could not resist an inclination to sleep. But first, he desired his foster brother to watch while he slept, for he had great suspicion of their new acquaintances. His foster brother promised to keep awake, and did his best to keep his word. But the king had not long been asleep ere his foster brother fell into a deep slumber also, for he had undergone as much fatigue as the king. When the three villains saw the king and his attendant asleep, they made signs to each other, and rising up at once, drew their swords with the purpose to kill them both. But the king slept but lightly, and little noise as the traitors made in rising, he was awakened by it, and starting up, drew his sword, and went to meet them. At the same moment he pushed his foster brother with his foot, to awaken him, and he got on his feet; but ere he got his eyes to see clearly, one of the ruffians that were advancing to slay the king, killed him with a stroke of his sword. The king was now alone, one man against three, and in the greatest danger of his life; but his amazing strength, and the good armor which he wore, freed him once more from this great peril, and he killed the three men, one after another. He then left the cottage, very sorrowful for the death of his faithful foster brother, and took his direction toward the place where he had appointed his men to assemble. It was now near night, and the place of meeting being a farmhouse, he went boldly into it, where he found the mistress, an old true-hearted Scotswoman, sitting alone. Upon seeing a stranger enter, she asked him who and what he was. The king answered that he was a traveler journeying through the country.

“All travelers,” answered the good woman, “are welcome here, for the sake of one.”

“And who is that one,” said the king, “for whose sake you make all travelers welcome?”

“It is our rightful king, Robert the Bruce,” answered the mistress, “who is the lawful lord of this country; and although he is now pursued and hunted after with hounds and horns, I hope to live to see him king over all Scotland.”

“Since you love him so well, dame,” said the king, “know that you see him before you. I am Robert the Bruce.”


“You!” said the good woman, in great surprise; “and wherefore are you thus alone?–where are all your men?”

“I have none with me at this moment,” answered Bruce, “and therefore I must travel alone.”

“But that shall not be,” said the brave old dame, “for I have two stout sons, gallant and trusty men, who shall be your servants for life and death.”

So she brought her two sons, and though she well knew the dangers to which she exposed them, she made them swear fidelity to the king; and they afterward became high officers in his service.

Now, the loyal old woman was getting everything ready for the king’s supper, when suddenly there was a great trampling of horses heard round the house. They thought it must be some of the English, and the good wife called upon her sons to fight to the last for King Robert. But shortly after, they heard the voice of the good Lord James of Douglas, and of Edward Bruce, the king’s brother, who had come with a hundred and fifty horsemen to this farmhouse, according to the instructions that the king had left with them at parting.

Robert the Bruce was right joyful to meet his brother, and his faithful friend Lord James, and had no sooner found himself once more at the head of such a considerable body of followers, than forgetting hunger and weariness, he began to inquire where the enemy who had pursued them so long had taken up their abode for the night; “For,” said he, “as they must suppose us totally scattered and fled, it is likely that they will think themselves quite secure, and disperse themselves into distant quarters, and keep careless watch.”

“That is very true,” answered James of Douglas, “for I passed a village where there are two hundred of them quartered, who had placed no sentinels; and if you have a mind to make haste, we may surprise them this very night, and do them more mischief than they have been able to do us during all this day’s chase.”

Then there was nothing but mount and ride; and as the Scots came by surprise on the body of English whom Douglas had mentioned, and rushed suddenly into the village where they were quartered, they easily dispersed and cut them to pieces; thus, as Douglas had said, doing their pursuers more injury than they themselves had received during the long and severe pursuit of the preceding day.

The consequence of these successes of King Robert was, that soldiers came to join him on all sides, and that he obtained several victories, until at length the English were afraid to venture into the open country as formerly, unless when they could assemble themselves in considerable bodies. They thought it safer to lie still in the towns and castles which they had garrisoned, and wait till the King of England should once more come to their assistance with a powerful army.

When King Edward the First heard that Scotland was again in arms against him, he marched down to the Borders, with many threats of what he would do to avenge himself on Bruce and his party, whom he called rebels. But he was now old and feeble, and while he was making his preparations, he was taken very ill, and after lingering a long time, at length died on the sixth of July, 1307, at a place in Cumberland called Burgh upon the Sands, in full sight of Scotland, and not three miles from its frontier.

His hatred to that country was so inveterate that his thoughts of revenge seemed to occupy his mind on his death-bed. He made his son promise never to make peace with Scotland until the nation was subdued. He gave also very singular directions concerning the disposal of his dead body. He ordered that it should be boiled in a caldron till the flesh parted from the bones, and that then the bones should be wrapped up in a bull’s hide, and carried at the head of the English army, as often as the Scots attempted to recover their freedom. He thought that he had inflicted such distresses on the Scots, and invaded and defeated them so often, that his very dead bones would terrify them. His son, Edward the Second, did not choose to execute this strange injunction, but caused his father to be buried in Westminster Abbey, where his tomb is still to be seen, bearing for an inscription, _Here Lies the Hammer of the Scottish Nation_.

Edward the Second was neither so brave nor so wise as his father; on the contrary, he was a weak prince, fond of idle amusements and worthless favorites. It was lucky for Scotland that such was his disposition. He marched a little way into Scotland with the large army which Edward the First had collected, and went back again without fighting, which gave great encouragement to Bruce’s party.

Several of the Scottish nobility now took arms in different parts of the country, declared for King Robert, and fought against the English troops and garrisons. The most distinguished of these was the good Lord James of Douglas. Other great lords also were now exerting themselves to destroy the English. Among them was Sir Thomas Randolph, whose mother was a sister of King Robert.

While Robert Bruce was gradually getting possession of the country, and driving out the English, Edinburgh, the principal town of Scotland, remained, with its strong castle, in possession of the invaders. Sir Thomas Randolph was extremely desirous to gain this important place; but the castle is situated on a very steep and lofty rock, so that it is difficult or almost impossible even to get up to the foot of the walls, much more to climb over them.

So while Randolph was considering what was to be done, there came to him a Scottish gentleman named Francis, who had joined Bruce’s standard, and asked to speak with him in private. He then told Randolph that in his youth he had lived in the Castle of Edinburgh, and that his father had then been keeper of the fortress. It happened at that time that Francis was much in love with a lady who lived in a part of the town beneath the castle, which is called the Grassmarket. Now, as he could not get out of the castle by day to see his mistress, he had practiced a way of clambering by night down the castle rock on the south side, and returning at his pleasure; when he came to the foot of the wall, he made use of a ladder to get over it, as it was not very high at that point, those who built it having trusted to the steepness of the crag; and for the same reason, no watch was placed there. Francis had gone and come so frequently in this dangerous manner, that, though it was now long ago, he told Randolph he knew the road so well that he would undertake to guide a small party of men by night to the bottom of the wall; and as they might bring ladders with them, there would be no difficulty in scaling it. The great risk was, that of their being discovered by the watchmen while in the act of ascending the cliff, in which case every man of them must have perished.

Nevertheless, Randolph did not hesitate to attempt the adventure. He took with him only thirty men (you may be sure they were chosen for activity and courage), and came one dark night to the foot of the rock, which they began to ascend under the guidance of Francis, who went before them, upon his hands and feet, up one cliff, down another, and round another, where there was scarce room to support themselves. All the while, these thirty men were obliged to follow in a line, one after the other, by a path that was fitter for a cat than a man. The noise of a stone falling, or a word spoken from one to another, would have alarmed the watchmen. They were obliged, therefore, to move with the greatest precaution. When they were far up the crag, and near the foundation of the wall, they heard the guards going their rounds, to see that all was safe in and about the castle. Randolph and his party had nothing for it but to lie close and quiet, each man under the crag, as he happened to be placed, and trust that the guards would pass by without noticing them. And while they were waiting in breathless alarm they got a new cause of fright. One of the soldiers of the castle, willing to startle his comrades, suddenly threw a stone from the wall, and cried out, “Aha, I see you well!” The stone came thundering down over the heads of Randolph and his men, who naturally thought themselves discovered. If they had stirred, or made the slightest noise, they would have been entirely destroyed; for the soldiers above might have killed every man of them, merely by rolling down stones. But being courageous and chosen men, they remained quiet, and the English soldiers, who thought their comrade was merely playing them a trick (as, indeed, he had no other meaning in what he said) passed on without further examination.

Then Randolph and his men got up and came in haste to the foot of the wall, which was not above twice a man’s height in that place. They planted the ladders they had brought, and Francis mounted first to show them the way; Sir Andrew Grey, a brave knight, followed him, and Randolph himself was the third man who got over. Then the rest followed. When once they were within the walls, there was not so much to do, for the garrison were asleep and unarmed, excepting the watch, who were speedily destroyed. Thus was Edinburgh Castle taken in March, 1312.

It was not, however, only by the exertions of great and powerful barons, like Randolph and Douglas, that the freedom of Scotland was to be accomplished. The stout yeomanry and the bold peasantry of the land, who were as desirous to enjoy their cottages in honorable independence as the nobles were to reclaim their castles and estates from the English, contributed their full share in the efforts which were made to deliver the country from the invaders.

While Douglas, Randolph, and other true-hearted patriots, were taking castles and strongholds from the English, King Robert, who now had a considerable army under his command, marched through the country, dispersing such bodies of English as he met on the way.

Now when Sir Philip Mowbray, the governor of Stirling, came to London to tell the king that Stirling, the last Scottish town of importance which remained in possession of the English, was to be surrendered if it were not relieved by force of arms before midsummer, then all the English nobles called out it would be a sin and shame to permit the fair conquest which Edward the First had made to be forfeited to the Scots for want of fighting. It was, therefore, resolved, that the king should go himself to Scotland, with as great forces as he could possibly muster.


King Edward the Second, therefore, assembled one of the greatest armies which a King of England ever commanded. There were troops brought from all his dominions. Many brave soldiers from the French provinces which the King of England possessed in France–many Irish, many Welsh–and all the great English nobles and barons, with their followers, were assembled in one great army. The number was not less than one hundred thousand men.

King Robert the Bruce summoned all his nobles and barons to join him, when he heard of the great preparations which the King of England was making. They were not so numerous as the English by many thousand men. In fact, his whole army did not very much exceed thirty thousand, and they were much worse armed than the wealthy Englishmen; but then, Robert, who was at their head, was one of the most expert generals of the time; and the officers he had under him were his brother Edward, his nephew Randolph, his faithful follower the Douglas, and other brave and experienced leaders, who commanded the same men that had been accustomed to fight and gain victories under every disadvantage of situation and numbers.

The king, on his part, studied how he might supply, by address and stratagem, what he wanted in numbers and strength. He knew the superiority of the English, both in their heavy-armed cavalry, which were much better mounted and armed than that of the Scots, and in their archers, who were better trained than any others in the world. Both these advantages he resolved to provide against. With this purpose, he led his army down into a plain near Stirling, called the Park, near which, and beneath it, the English army must needs pass through a boggy country, broken with water courses, while the Scots occupied hard, dry ground. He then caused all the ground upon the front of his line of battle, where cavalry were likely to act, to be dug full of holes, about as deep as a man’s knee. They were filled with light brushwood, and the turf was laid on the top, so that it appeared a plain field, while in reality it was all full of these pits as a honeycomb is of holes. He also, it is said, caused steel spikes, called caltrops, to be scattered up and down in the plain, where the English cavalry were most likely to advance, trusting in that manner to lame and destroy their horses.

When the Scottish army was drawn up, the line stretched north and south. On the south, it was terminated by the banks of the brook called Bannockburn, which are so rocky, that no troops could attack them there. On the left, the Scottish line extended near to the town of Stirling. Bruce reviewed his troops very carefully; all the useless servants, drivers of carts, and such like, of whom there were very many, he ordered to go behind a great height, afterward, in memory of the event, called the Gillies’ hill, that is, the Servants’ hill. He then spoke to the soldiers, and expressed his determination to gain the victory, or to lose his life on the field of battle. He desired that all those who did not propose to fight to the last, should leave the field before the battle began, and that none should remain except those who were determined to take the issue of victory or death, as God should send it.

When the main body of his army was thus placed in order, the king posted Randolph, with a body of horse, near to the Church of Saint Ninian’s, commanding him to use the utmost diligence to prevent any succors from being thrown into Stirling Castle. He then despatched James of Douglas, and Sir Robert Keith, the Mareschal of the Scottish army, in order that they might survey, as nearly as they could, the English force, which was now approaching from Falkirk. They returned with information, that the approach of that vast host was one of the most beautiful and terrible sights which could be seen–that the whole country seemed covered with men-at-arms on horse and foot, that the number of standards, banners, and pennons (all flags of different kinds) made so gallant a show, that the bravest and most numerous host in Christendom might be alarmed to see King Edward moving against them.

It was upon the twenty-third of June (1314) the King of Scotland heard the news, that the English army were approaching Stirling. He drew out his army, therefore, in the order which he had before resolved on. After a short time, Bruce, who was looking out anxiously for the enemy, saw a body of English cavalry trying to get into Stirling from the eastward. This was the Lord Clifford, who, with a chosen body of eight hundred horse, had been detached to relieve the castle.

“See, Randolph,” said the king to his nephew, “there is a rose fallen from your chaplet.” By this he meant, that Randolph had lost some honor, by suffering the enemy to pass where he had been stationed to hinder them. Randolph made no reply, but rushed against Clifford with little more than half his number. The Scots were on foot. The English turned to charge them with their lances, and Randolph drew up his men in close order to receive the onset. He seemed to be in so much danger, that Douglas asked leave of the king to go and assist him. The king refused him permission.

“Let Randolph,” he said, “redeem his own fault; I cannot break the order of battle for his sake.” Still the danger appeared greater, and the English horse seemed entirely to encompass the small handful of Scottish infantry. “So please you,” said Douglas to the king, “my heart will not suffer me to stand idle and see Randolph perish–I must go to his assistance.” He rode off accordingly; but long before they had reached the place of combat, they saw the English horses galloping off, many with empty saddles.

“Halt!” said Douglas to his men, “Randolph has gained the day; since we were not soon enough to help him in the battle, do not let us lessen his glory by approaching the field.” Now, that was nobly done; especially as Douglas and Randolph were always contending which should rise highest in the good opinion of the king and the nation.

The van of the English army now came in sight, and a number of their bravest knights drew near to see what the Scots were doing. They saw King Robert dressed in his armor, and distinguished by a gold crown, which he wore over his helmet. He was not mounted on his great war-horse, because he did not expect to fight that evening. But he rode on a little pony up and down the ranks of his army, putting his men in order, and carried in his hand a sort of battle-axe made of steel. When the king saw the English horsemen draw near, he advanced a little before his own men, that he might look at them more nearly.

There was a knight among the English, called Sir Henry de Bohun, who thought this would be a good opportunity to gain great fame to himself, and put an end to the war, by killing King Robert. The king being poorly mounted, and having no lance, Bohun galloped on him suddenly and furiously, thinking, with his long spear, and his tall powerful horse, easily to bear him down to the ground. King Robert saw him, and permitted him to come very near, then suddenly turned his pony a little to one side, so that Sir Henry missed him with the lance-point, and was in the act of being carried past him by the career of his horse. But as he passed, King Robert rose up in his stirrups, and struck Sir Henry on the head with his battle-axe so terrible a blow, that it broke to pieces his iron helmet as if it had been a nutshell, and hurled him from his saddle. He was dead before he reached the ground. This gallant action was blamed by the Scottish leaders, who thought Bruce ought not to have exposed himself to so much danger, when the safety of the whole army depended on him. The king only kept looking at his weapon, which was injured by the force of the blow, and said, “I have broken my good battle-axe.”

The next morning, being the twenty-fourth of June, at break of day, the battle began in terrible earnest. The English as they advanced saw the Scots getting into line. The Abbot of Inchaffray walked through their ranks bare-footed, and exhorted them to fight for their freedom. They kneeled down as he passed, and prayed to Heaven for victory. King Edward, who saw this, called out, “They kneel down–they are asking forgiveness.”


“Yes,” said a celebrated English baron, called Ingelram de Umphraville, “but they ask it from God, not from us–these men will conquer, or die upon the field.”

The English king ordered his men to begin the battle. The archers then bent their bows, and began to shoot so closely together, that the arrows fell like flakes of snow on a Christmas day. They killed many of the Scots, and might, as at Falkirk, and other places, have decided the victory; but Bruce was prepared for them. He had in readiness a body of men-at-arms, well mounted, who rode at full gallop among the archers, and as they had no weapons save their bows and arrows, which they could not use when they were attacked hand to hand, they were cut down in great numbers by the Scottish horsemen and thrown into total confusion.

The fine English cavalry then advanced to support their archers, and to attack the Scottish line. But coming over the ground which was dug full of pits, the horses fell into these holes, and the riders lay tumbling about, without any means of defence, and unable to rise, from the weight of their armor. The Englishmen began to fall into general disorder; and the Scottish king, bringing up more of his forces, attacked and pressed them still more closely.

On a sudden, while the battle was obstinately maintained on both sides, an event happened which decided the victory. The servants and attendants on the Scottish camp had, as I told you, been sent behind the army to a place afterward called the Gillies’ hill. But when they saw that their masters were likely to gain the day, they rushed from their place of concealment with such weapons as they could get, that they might have their share in the victory and in the spoil. The English, seeing them come suddenly over the hill, mistook this disorderly rabble for a new army coming up to sustain the Scots, and, losing all heart, began to shift every man for himself. Edward himself left the field as fast as he could ride. A valiant knight, Sir Giles de Argentine, much renowned in the wars of Palestine, attended the king till he got him out of the press of the combat. But he would retreat no further. “It is not my custom,” he said, “to fly.” With that he took leave of the king, set spurs to his horse, and calling out his war-cry of Argentine! Argentine! he rushed into the thickest of the Scottish ranks, and was killed.

Edward first fled to Stirling Castle, and entreated admittance; but Sir Philip Mowbray, the governor, reminded the fugitive sovereign that he was obliged to surrender the castle next day, so Edward was fain to fly through the Torwood, closely pursued by Douglas with a body of cavalry. An odd circumstance happened during the chase, which showed how loosely some of the Scottish barons of that day held their political opinions: As Douglas was riding furiously after Edward, he met a Scottish knight, Sir Laurence Abernethy, with twenty horse. Sir Laurence had hitherto owned the English interest, and was bringing this band of followers to serve King Edward’s army. But learning from Douglas that the English king was entirely defeated, he changed sides on the spot, and was easily prevailed upon to join Douglas in pursuing the unfortunate Edward, with the very followers whom he had been leading to join his standard.

Douglas and Abernethy continued the chase, not giving King Edward time to alight from horseback even for an instant, and followed him as far as Dunbar, where the English had still a friend in the governor, Patrick, Earl of March. The earl received Edward in his forlorn condition, and furnished him with a fishing skiff, or small ship, in which he escaped to England, having entirely lost his fine army, and a great number of his bravest nobles.

The English never before or afterward, whether in France or Scotland, lost so dreadful a battle as that of Bannockburn, nor did the Scots ever gain one of the same importance. Many of the best and bravest of the English nobility and gentry lay dead on the field; a great many more were made prisoners; and the whole of King Edward’s immense army was dispersed or destroyed.

The English, after this great defeat, were no longer in a condition to support their pretensions to be masters of Scotland, or to continue, as they had done for nearly twenty years, to send armies into that country to overcome it. On the contrary, they became for a time scarce able to defend their own frontiers against King Robert and his soldiers.

Thus did Robert Bruce arise from the condition of an exile, hunted with bloodhounds like a stag or beast of prey, to the rank of an independent sovereign, universally acknowledged to be one of the wisest and bravest kings who then lived. The nation of Scotland was also raised once more from the situation of a distressed and conquered province to that of a free and independent state, governed by its own laws, and subject to its own princes; and although the country was after the Bruce’s death often subjected to great loss and distress, both by the hostility of the English, and by the unhappy civil wars among the Scots themselves, yet they never afterward lost the freedom for which Wallace had laid down his life, and which King Robert had recovered, not less by his wisdom than by his weapons. And therefore most just it is, that while the country of Scotland retains any recollection of its history, the memory of those brave warriors and faithful patriots should be remembered with honor and gratitude.[3]

[Footnote 3: Three years after the Battle of Bannockburn, Bruce went over into Ireland to assist in establishing his brother Edward as king of the island. The Irish defended themselves so vigorously that the Scotch were compelled to retire, leaving Edward dead upon the field. For a number of years, Robert the Bruce reigned gloriously over Scotland, but toward the end of his life he fell a victim to leprosy and was compelled to live for two years in his castle at Cardross on the beautiful banks of the River Clyde. During this illness, Edward the Second of England died, and his son Edward the Third, a mere youth, came to the throne. The boy king determined to retrieve the losses that his father had sustained, but was prevented by Douglas, Randolph, and other loyal Scotch leaders, who distinguished themselves by almost incredible deeds of valor. When the king was dying, he ordered that his heart should be taken from his body, embalmed and given to Douglas to be by him carried to Palestine and buried in Jerusalem. Douglas caused the heart to be enclosed in a silver case, and proud of the distinction the king had shown him, started with a number of followers for Palestine. When he arrived in Spain, however, he was diverted from his original purpose and led to join with King Alphonso in an attempt to drive the Saracens from Granada. In a bitter fight with the Moors, Douglas was killed, and after the battle, his body was found lying across the silver case, as if his last object had been to defend the heart of Bruce. No further attempt was made to carry Robert’s heart to Jerusalem, but it was returned to Scotland and buried in the monastery of Melrose.]



For Scotland’s and for freedom’s right The Bruce his part had played,
In five successive fields of fight Been conquered and dismayed;
Once more against the English host His band he led, and once more lost
The meed for which he fought;
And now from battle, faint and worn, The homeless fugitive forlorn
A hut’s lone shelter sought.

And cheerless was that resting place For him who claimed a throne:
His canopy, devoid of grace,
The rude, rough beams alone;
The heather couch his only bed,–
Yet well I ween had slumber fled
From couch of eider down!
Through darksome night till dawn of day, Absorbed in wakeful thought he lay
Of Scotland and her crown.

The sun rose brightly, and its gleam Fell on that hapless bed,
And tinged with light each shapeless beam Which roofed the lowly shed;
When, looking up with wistful eye, The Bruce beheld a spider try
His filmy thread to fling
From beam to beam of that rude cot: And well the insect’s toilsome lot
Taught Scotland’s future king.

Six times his gossamery thread
The wary spider threw;


In vain that filmy line was sped,
For powerless or untrue
Each aim appeared, and back recoiled The patient insect, six times foiled,
And yet unconquered still;
And soon the Bruce, with eager eye, Saw him prepare once more to try
His courage, strength, and skill.

One effort more, his seventh and last! The hero hailed the sign!
And on the wished-for beam hung fast That slender, silken line;
Slight as it was, his spirit caught The more than omen, for his thought
The lesson well could trace,
Which even “he who runs may read,” That Perseverance gains its meed,
And Patience wins the race.

* * * * *



It was upon an April morn,
While yet the frost lay hoar,
We heard Lord James’s bugle horn
Sound by the rocky shore.

Then down we went, a hundred
All in our dark array,
And flung our armor in the ships
That rode within the bay.

We spoke not as the shore grew less, But gazed in silence back,
Where the long billows swept away
The foam behind our track.

And aye the purple hues decayed
Upon the fading hill,
And but one heart in all that ship Was tranquil, cold, and still.

The good Lord Douglas paced the deck, And O, his face was wan!
Unlike the flush it used to wear
When in the battle-van.

“Come hither, come hither, my trusty knight, Sir Simon of the Lee;
There is a freit lies near my soul I fain would tell to thee.

“Thou know’st the words King Robert spoke Upon his dying day:
How he bade take his noble heart
And carry it far away;

“And lay it in the holy soil
Where once the Saviour trod,
Since he might not bear the blessed Cross, Nor strike one blow for God.

“Last night as in my bed I lay,
I dreamed a dreary dream:–
Methought I saw a Pilgrim stand
In the moonlight’s quivering beam.

“His robe was of the azure dye,
Snow-white his scattered hairs,
And even such a cross he bore
As good Saint Andrew bears.

“‘Why go ye forth, Lord James,’ he said, ‘With spear and belted brand?
Why do you take its dearest pledge From this our Scottish land?

“‘The sultry breeze of Galilee
Creeps through its groves of palm, The olives on the Holy Mount
Stand glittering in the calm.

“‘But ’tis not there that Scotland’s heart Shall rest by God’s decree,
Till the great angel calls the dead To rise from earth and sea!

“‘Lord James of Douglas, mark my rede! That heart shall pass once more
In fiery fight against the foe,
As it was wont of yore.

“‘And it shall pass beneath the Cross, And save King Robert’s vow;
But other hands shall bear it back, Not, James of Douglas, thou!’

“Now, by thy knightly faith, I pray, Sir Simon of the Lee,–
For truer friend had never man
Than thou hast been to me,–

“If ne’er upon the Holy Land
‘Tis mine in life to tread,
Bear thou to Scotland’s kindly earth The relics of her dead.”

The tear was in Sir Simon’s eye
As he wrung the warrior’s hand,– “Betide me weal, betide me woe,
I’ll hold by thy command.

“But if in battle-front, Lord James, ‘Tis ours once more to ride,
Nor force of man, nor craft of fiend, Shall cleave me from thy side!”

[Illustration: I SAW A PILGRIM STAND]

And aye we sailed and aye we sailed
Across the weary sea,
Until one morn the coast of Spain
Rose grimly on our lee.

And as we rounded to the port,
Beneath the watchtower’s wall,
We heard the clash of the atabals, And the trumpet’s wavering call.

“Why sounds yon Eastern music here
So wantonly and long,
And whose the crowd of armed men
That round yon standard throng?”

“The Moors have come from Africa
To spoil and waste and slay,
And King Alonzo of Castile
Must fight with them to-day.”

“Now shame it were,” cried good Lord James, “Shall never be said of me
That I and mine have turned aside
From the Cross in jeopardie!

“Have down, have down, my merry men all,– Have down unto the plain;
We’ll let the Scottish lion loose
Within the fields of Spain!”

“Now welcome to me, noble lord,
Thou and thy stalwart power;
Dear is the sight of a Christian knight, Who comes in such an hour!

“Is it for bond or faith you come,
Or yet for golden fee?
Or bring ye France’s lilies here,
Or the flower of Burgundie?”

“God greet thee well, thou valiant king, Thee and thy belted peers,–
Sir James of Douglas am I called,
And these are Scottish spears.

“We do not fight for bond or plight, Nor yet for golden fee;
But for the sake of our blessed Lord, Who died upon the tree.

“We bring our great King Robert’s heart Across the weltering wave.
To lay it in the holy soil
Hard by the Saviour’s grave.

“True pilgrims we, by land and sea,
Where danger bars the way;
And therefore are we here, Lord King, To ride with thee this day!”

The king has bent his stately head,
And the tears were in his eyne,– “God’s blessing on thee, noble knight,
For this brave thought of thine!”

“I know thy name full well, Lord James; And honored may I be,
That those who fought beside the Bruce Should fight this day for me!

“Take thou the leading of the van,
And charge the Moors amain;
There is not such a lance as thine In all the host of Spain!”

The Douglas turned towards us then,
O, but his glance was high!–
“There is not one of all my men
But is as bold as I.

“There is not one of my knights
But bears as true a spear,–
Then onward, Scottish gentlemen,
And think King Robert’s here!”

The trumpets blew, the cross-bolts flew, The arrows flashed like flame,
As spur in side, and spear in rest, Against the foe we came.

And many a bearded Saracen
Went down, both horse and man;
For through their ranks we rode like corn, So furiously we ran!

But in behind our path they closed,
Though fain to let us through,
For they were forty thousand men,
And we were wondrous few.

We might not see a lance’s length,
So dense was their array,
But the long fell sweep of the Scottish blade Still held them hard at bay.

“Make in! make in!” Lord Douglas cried,– “Make in, my brethren dear!
Sir William of Saint Clair is down; We may not leave him here!”

But thicker, thicker grew the swarm, And sharper shot the rain,
And the horses reared amid the press, But they would not charge again.

“Now Jesu help thee,” said Lord James, “Thou kind and true Saint Clair!
An’ if I may not bring thee off,
I’ll die beside thee there!”

Then in his stirrups up he stood,
So lionlike and bold,
And held the precious heart aloft
All in its case of gold.

He flung it from him, far ahead,
And never spake he more,
But–“Pass thou first, thou dauntless heart, As thou wert wont of yore!”

The roar of fight rose fiercer yet,
And heavier still the stour,
Till the spears of Spain came shivering in, And swept away the Moor.

“Now praised be God, the day is won! They fly o’er flood and fell,–
Why dost thou draw the rein so hard, Good knight, that fought so well?”

“O, ride ye on, Lord King!” he said, “And leave the dead to me,
For I must keep the dreariest watch That ever I shall dree!

“There lies, above his master’s heart, The Douglas, stark and grim;
And woe is me I should be here,
Not side by side with him!

“The world grows cold, my arm is old, And thin my lyart hair,
And all that I loved best on earth Is stretched before me there.

“O Bothwell banks! that bloom so bright Beneath the sun of May,
The heaviest cloud that ever blew
Is bound for you this day.

“And Scotland! thou mayst veil thy head In sorrow and in pain:
The sorest stroke upon thy brow
Hath fallen this day in Spain!

“We’ll bear them back unto our ship, We’ll bear them o’er the sea,
And lay them in the hallowed earth Within our own countrie.

[Illustration: HELD THE HEART ALOFT]

“And be thou strong of heart, Lord King, For this I tell thee sure,
The sod that drank the Douglas’ blood Shall never bear the Moor!”

The King he lighted from his horse,
He flung his brand away,
And took the Douglas by the hand,
So stately as he lay.

“God give thee rest, thou valiant soul! That fought so well for Spain;
I’d rather half my land were gone, So that thou wert here again!”

We bore the good Lord James away,
And the priceless heart we bore,
And heavily we steered our ship
Towards the Scottish shore.

No welcome greeted our return,
Nor clang of martial tread,
But all were dumb and hushed as death Before the mighty dead.

We laid our chief in Douglas Kirk,
The heart in fair Melrose;
And woful men were we that day,–
God grant their souls repose!



“Speak! speak! thou fearful guest!
Who with thy hollow breast
Still in rude armor drest,
Comest to daunt me!
Wrapt not in Eastern balms,
But with thy fleshless palms
Stretched, as if asking alms,
Why dost thou haunt me?”

Then, from those cavernous eyes
Pale flashes seemed to rise,
As when the northern skies
Gleam in December;
And, like the water’s flow
Under December’s snow,
Came a dull voice of woe
From the heart’s chamber.

“I was a Viking[1] old!
My deeds, though manifold,
No Skald[2] in song has told,
No Saga[3] taught thee!

[Footnote 1: _Vikings_ was the name given to the bold Norse seamen who in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries infested the northern seas. Tradition maintains that a band of these rovers discovered America centuries before Columbus.]

[Footnote 2: A skald was a Norse poet who celebrated in song the deeds of warriors.]

[Footnote 3: A saga is an ancient Scandinavian legend or tradition, relating mythical or historical events.]

“Take heed, that in thy verse
Thou dost the tale rehearse,
Else dread a dead man’s curse;
For this I sought thee.

“Far in the Northern Land,
By the wild Baltic’s strand,
I, with my childish hand,
Tamed the gerfalcon;[4]
And, with my skates fast-bound,
Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,
That the poor whimpering hound
Trembled to walk on.

[Footnote 4: A gerfalcon is a large falcon of Northern Europe.]

“Oft to his frozen lair
Tracked I the grisly bear,
While from my path the hare
Fled like a shadow;
Oft through the forest dark
Followed the werewolf’s[5] bark,
Until the soaring lark
Sang from the meadow.

[Footnote 5: According to a popular superstition, a werewolf is a man, who, at times, is transformed into a wolf. Such a wolf is much more savage than a real wolf, and is especially fond of human flesh. This superstition has at some time existed among almost all peoples.]

“But when I older grew,
Joining a corsair’s[6] crew,
O’er the dark sea I flew
With the marauders.
Wild was the life we led;
Many the souls that sped,

[Footnote 6: _Corsair_ is but another name for a pirate.]

[Illustration: I WAS A VIKING OLD]

Many the hearts that bled,
By our stern orders.

“Many a wassail-bout[7]
Wore the long Winter out;
Often our midnight shout
Set the cocks crowing,
As we the Berserk’s[8] tale
Measured in cups of ale,
Draining the oaken pail,
Filled to o’erflowing.

[Footnote 7: A wassail-bout is a drinking bout, or carouse.]

[Footnote 8: _Berserk_, or _Berserker_, was the name given in heathen times in Scandinavia to a wild warrior or champion. The Berserkers, it is said, had fits of madness, when they foamed at the mouth and howled like beasts, rushing into battle naked and defenseless. It was believed that at such times they were proof against wounds either from fire or from steel.]

“Once as I told in glee
Tales of the stormy sea,
Soft eyes did gaze on me,
Burning yet tender;
And as the white stars shine
On the dark Norway pine,
On that dark heart of mine
Fell their soft splendor.

“I wooed the blue-eyed maid,
Yielding, yet half afraid,
And in the forest’s shade
Our vows were plighted.
Under its loosened vest
Fluttered her little breast,
Like birds within their nest
By the hawk frighted.

“Bright in her father’s hall
Shields gleamed upon the wall,
Loud sang the minstrels all,
Chaunting his glory;
When of old Hildebrand
I asked his daughter’s hand,
Mute did the minstrels stand
To hear my story.

“While the brown ale he quaffed,
Loud then the champion laughed.
And as the wind-gusts waft
The sea-foam brightly,
So the loud laugh of scorn,
Out of those lips unshorn,
From the deep drinking-horn
Blew the foam lightly.

“She was a Prince’s child,
I but a Viking wild,
And though she blushed and smiled, I was discarded!
Should not the dove so white
Follow the sea-mew’s flight,
Why did they leave that night
Her nest unguarded?

“Scarce had I put to sea,
Bearing the maid with me,–
Fairest of all was she
Among the Norsemen!–
When on the white sea-strand,
Waving his armed hand,
Saw we old Hildebrand,
With twenty horsemen.

“Then launched they to the blast,
Bent like a reed each mast,
Yet we were gaining fast,
When the wind failed us;
And with a sudden flaw
Came round the gusty Skaw,[9]
So that our foe we saw
Laugh as he hailed us.

[Footnote 9: The Skaw is the most northerly point of Denmark.]

“And as to catch the gale
Round veered the flapping sail,
Death! was the helmsman’s hail,
Death without quarter!
Mid-ships with iron keel
Struck we her ribs of steel;
Down her black hulk did reel
Through the black water!

“As with his wings aslant,
Sails the fierce cormorant,
Seeking some rocky haunt,
With his prey laden,
So toward the open main,
Beating to sea again,
Through the wild hurricane
Bore I the maiden.

“Three weeks we westward bore,
And when the storm was o’er,
Cloud-like we saw the shore
Stretching to lee-ward;
There for my lady’s bower
Built I the lofty tower,[10]
Which, to this very hour,
Stands looking seaward.

[Footnote: 10. At Newport in Rhode Island is an old stone tower, which tradition says was built by the Norsemen when they visited this country. That is the tower to which Longfellow refers here.]


“There lived we many years;
Time dried the maiden’s tears;
She had forgot her fears,
She was a mother;
Death closed her mild blue eyes,
Under that tower she lies;
Ne’er shall the sun arise
On such another!

“Still grew my bosom then,
Still as a stagnant fen!
Hateful to me were men,
The sunlight hateful!
In the vast forest here,
Clad in my warlike gear,
Fell I upon my spear,
O, death was grateful!

“Thus, seamed with many scars
Bursting these prison bars,
Up to its native stars
My soul ascended!
There from the flowing bowl
Deep drinks the warrior’s soul,
_Skoal_![11] the Northland! _skoal_!” –Thus the tale ended.

[Footnote 11: _Skoal_ is the customary salutation in Scandinavia when a health is drunk.]

[Illustration: Round Tower at Newport]



I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris and he; I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three; “Good speed!” cried the watch as the gate-bolts undrew, “Speed!” echoed the wall to us galloping through. Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest, And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace,– Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place; I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight, Then shortened each stirrup and set the pique right, Rebuckled the check-strap, chained slacker the bit, Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.

‘T was a moonset at starting; but while we drew near Lokerem, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear; At Boom a great yellow star came out to see; At Duffeld ‘t was morning as plain as could be; And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime,– So Joris broke silence with “Yet there is time!” At Aerschot up leaped of a sudden the sun, And against him the cattle stood black every one. To stare through the midst at us galloping past; And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last, With resolute shoulders, each butting away The haze, as some blind river headland its spray; And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track; And one eye’s black intelligence,–ever that glance O’er its white edge at me, his own master, askance; And the thick heavy spume-flakes, which aye and anon His fierce lips shook upward in galloping on.

By Hasselt Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, “Stay spur! Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault’s not in her; We’ll remember at Aix,”–for one heard the quick wheeze Of her chest, saw the stretched neck, and staggering knees, And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank, As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.

So we were left galloping, Joris and I, Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky; The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh; ‘Neath our feet broke the brittle, bright stubble like chaff; Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white, And “Gallop,” gasped Joris, “for Aix is in sight!”

“How they’ll greet us!”–and all in a moment his roan Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone; And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate, With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim, And with circles of red for his eye-sockets’ rim.


Then I cast loose my buff-coat, each holster let fall, Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all, Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear, Called my Roland his pet name, my horse without peer,– Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, an noise, bad or good, Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.

And all I remember is friends flocking round. As I sate with his head ‘twixt my knees on the ground; And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine, As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine, Which (the burgesses voted by common consent) Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.

When we read this poem, the first question that comes to us is “What _was_ the ‘good news from Ghent?'” But we find on looking up the matter that the whole incident is a fanciful one; Browning simply imagined a very dramatic situation, and then wrote this stirring poem about it. And surely he has made it all seem very real to us. We feel the intense anxiety of the riders to reach Aix on time–for we are given to understand in the last line of the third stanza that Aix must learn the news by a certain hour; we feel the despair of the two who are forced to give up the attempt, and the increased sense of responsibility of the only remaining rider; and we fairly hold our breath in our fear that the gallant Roland will not stand the strain.

The towns mentioned are real places, all of them in Belgium.

Does the poem seem to you somewhat rough and jerky? It is a ballad, and that fact accounts in part for its style, for ballads are not usually smooth and perfect in structure.

But there is another reason for the jerkiness, if we may call it by so strong a name. Read the first two lines aloud, giving them plenty of swing. Do they not remind you of the galloping of a horse, with their regular rise and fall? A little poet might have attempted to write about this wild midnight ride in the same smooth, flowing style in which he would describe a lazy river slipping over the stones; but Browning was a great poet, and knew how to fit sound to sense. Other poets may excel him in writing of quiet, peaceful scenes, but no one who has ever written could put more dash and vigor into a poem than could Browning.

[Illustration: GHENT]



My father left his old home in Oneida County, New York, in June, 1839, a young man in his twenty-fourth year. The beauty and fertility of the Rock River valley, in Wisconsin, had been widely proclaimed by participants in the Black Hawk War and in the glowing reports of Government engineers. In fact, the latter declared it to be a very Canaan of promise. As a consequence, hundreds of young people, restless and ambitious, and very many older ones whom the panic of the late 30’s had separated from their business moorings, turned their thoughts and then their steps toward the new promised land.

When my father was rowed ashore from the steamer at Milwaukee, he could have taken up “government land” within the present limits of that city, but the bluffs and swamps of the future metropolis had no charms for him compared with the vision he had in mind of the Rock River country. So he crossed Milwaukee River on a ferry at the foot of Wisconsin Street, walked out on a sidewalk quavering on stilts until solid ground was reached at Third Street, and then struck the trail for the west.

[Footnote 1: From the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1907.]

Along the shore of Pewaukee Lake, the traveler met a wolf which bristled and snarled but at last surrendered the right of way before the superior bluff, which was put up against him, backed by a “big stick.” That night he stayed with a friend named Terry, who had come West the year before, and preempted a piece of land on the east shore rock, about seven miles above Watertown. The next morning he saw on the opposite bank a gently rising slope covered with stately maples and oaks; beneath were the grass and flowers of mid June, and the swift flowing river, clear as a spring brook, was in front, making the scene one of entrancing beauty. It was fully equal to his highest expectations, and he never rested until he had secured title to that particular block of land.

He at once prepared to build a log house, and, after a few days, the neighborhood was invited to the raising. Some men came eight and ten miles, and a big laugh went around when it was found that logs a foot and a half and two feet in diameter had been cut for the house. Four large ones were rolled together for a foundation, and then the inexperienced young man was told that for a house he needed to cut logs half as large, and they would return in a week and raise them. This they did, showing the kindly, helpful spirit of the early settlers.

In August my mother came and brought the household furniture from their Oneida County home, together with a year’s provisions. The trip from Milwaukee to their log house, nearly forty miles, took nearly three days by ox team. She was delighted and happy with the building and its surroundings, and never faltered in her love for that first home in the West. A barrel of pork was among the supplies she had brought, and people came as far as twenty miles to beg a little of it, so tired were they of fresh meat from the woods, and fish from the river; and they never went away empty-handed, as long as it lasted.

They came, as I have said, in 1839, and I the year following. There is a vague, misty period at the beginning of every life, as memory rises from mere nothingness to full strength, when it is not easy to say whether the things remembered may not have been heard from the lips of others. But I distinctly recall some very early events, and particularly the disturbance created by my year-old brother, two years younger than myself, when he screamed with pain one evening and held his bare foot up, twisted to one side.

My mother was ill in bed, and the terrified maid summoned my father from outside, with the story that the baby’s ankle was out of joint. He hurried in, gave it one look, and, being a hasty, impetuous man, he declared, “Yes, the child’s ankle is out of joint; I must go for a doctor;” and in another moment he would have been off on a seven-mile tramp through the dark to Watertown. But the mother, a level-headed woman, experienced in emergencies, called out from her bed, “Wait a minute; bring me the child and a candle;” and a minute later she had discovered a little sliver which pricked him when he set his foot down, and extricated it between thumb and finger. “There,” said she; “I don’t think you need walk to Water-town to-night.”

Indians were so numerous that I don’t remember when they first came out of the haze into my consciousness, but probably in my third year. They were Winnebago and Pottawatomi, the river being a common inheritance of both tribes. In the winter of 1839-40, about thirty families of the former tribe camped for several weeks opposite our home and were very sociable and friendly. Diligent hunters and trappers, they accumulated fully a hundred dollars worth of otter, beaver, bear, deer, and other skins. But a trader came up from Watertown in the spring and got the whole lot in exchange for a four-gallon keg of whisky. That was a wild night that followed. Some of the noisiest came over to our house, and when denied admittance threatened to knock the door down, but my father told them he had two guns ready for them, and they finally left. He afterwards said that he depended more on a heavy hickory club which he had on hand than on the guns–it could be fired faster.

An ugly squaw whose nose had been bitten off years before in a fight, stabbed her brother that night, because he refused her more whisky. He had, according to custom, been left on guard, and was entirely sober. The next day the Indians horrified my mother by declaring that they should cut the squaw into inch pieces if her brother died. They went down to Lake Koshkonong two days later, but he died the first day out. The squaw escaped and lived a lonely life for years after, being known up and down the river as “Old Mag.”

At any time of the year we were liable to receive visits from Indians passing to and fro between Lakes Horicon and Koshkonong. They would come into the house without ceremony further than staring into the windows before entering. Being used only to town life in the East, my mother was afraid of them, but she always carried a bold face and would never give them bread, which they always demanded, unless she could readily spare it.

One summer afternoon, when she had finished her housework and had sat down to sew, half a dozen Indians, male and female, suddenly bolted in and clamored for bread. She shook her head and told them she had none for them. When she came West she had brought yeast cakes which, by careful renewal, she kept in succession until the family home was broken up in 1880. Upon the afternoon referred to, she had a large pan of yeast cakes drying before the fireplace. Seeing them, the Indians scowled at her, called her a lying woman, and made a rush for the cakes, each one taking a huge bite. Those familiar with the article know how bitter is the mixture of raw meal, hops, and yeast, and so will not wonder that presently a look of horror came over the Indians’ faces and that then they sputtered the unsavory stuff out all over the newly scrubbed floor. My mother used to say that if they had killed her she could not have kept from laughing. They looked very angry at first, but finally concluded that they had not been poisoned and had only “sold” themselves, they huddled together and went out chattering and laughing, leaving my mother a good share of her day’s work to do over again.


One day I saw a big Indian shake her by the shoulder because she wouldn’t give him bread. She was ironing at the time, and threatened him with a hot flat iron till he hurried out. Another came in one warm summer afternoon, shut the door behind him, and leaned against it, glowering at her. For once she was thoroughly frightened. He had with him a tomahawk, having a hollow handle and head, that could be used as a pipe. However, her wits did not desert her. Seeing the cat sleeping peacefully in the corner, she cried, “How did that cat get in here!” and catching up the broom she chased pussy around till she reached the door, when seizing the heavy iron latch she pulled it wide open, sending Mr. Indian into the middle of the room; she then pushed the door back against the wall and set a chair against it. The Indian stood still for a minute, then uttered a grunt and took himself off, probably thinking she was too dangerous a person for him to attempt to bully.

The Indians used to offer for sale venison, fish, and maple sugar, but the line was always drawn on the latter, for it was commonly reported that they strained the sap through their blankets. And you should have seen their blankets! About 1846 a company of civilized Oneidas, some of whom my father had known in the East, camped near by and manufactured a large number of handsome and serviceable baskets. From wild berries they would make dyes that never faded, and print them on the baskets with stamps cut from potatoes. Some of their designs were quite artistic. A small basket and a rattle which they gave my year-old sister showed their good will.

I soon learned to have no fear of the tribesmen, although sometimes a fleet of fifty canoes would be in sight at once, passing down the river to Koshkonong; but the first Germans who came to our parts nearly scared the life out of me. Their heavy beards, long coats, broad-visored caps, and arm-long pipes, made me certain that nothing less than a fat boy of five would satisfy their appetites; and whenever they appeared I would hunt my mother. They had bought a considerable tract of land about five miles from our place, and always wanted to know of us the road thither. The result was just such a “jabber match” as could be expected where neither side knew the other’s tongue; but by pointing and motioning my mother was always able to direct them. Sometimes they wished to come in and make tea or coffee on our stove, and eat the luncheon of bread and meat that they had brought across the water. They would then always urge their food upon me, so I came to like their black bread very much and soon revised my first estimate of their character. All those people cut fine farms out of the heavy timber and died rich.

The first settlers were mostly Americans, from New York and New England; but before leaving the old farm we used to hear of English, Irish, Dutch, Norwegian, and Welsh settlements. The latter people enveloped and overflowed our own particular community and came to form a good portion of the population.

Besides the numerous nationalities on this front edge of advancing settlement, there were people of many and diverse individualities–the uneasy, the unlucky, the adventurous, the men without money but full of hope, the natural hunters, the trappers, the lovers of woods and solitudes, and occasionally one who had left his country for his country’s good; all these classes were represented. But on the whole the frontier’s people were an honest, kindly, generous class, ready to help in trouble or need of any kind.

If there was sickness, watchers by the bedside and harvesters in the field were promptly forthcoming. If a new house or barn was to be raised, every available man came. If a cow was mired, and such was often the case, her owner easily got all the help he wanted. Husking and logging and quilting bees were common, and in the autumn there were bees for candle-dipping, when the family supply of candles would be made for a year; and all such events would of course be followed by a supper, and perhaps a frolic. Visits among the women folk were all-day affairs; if the husbands were invited, it would be of an evening, and the call then would last till midnight with a supper at ten. There was a word of comfort and good cheer in those forest homes. I doubt if any child in modern palaces enjoys happier hours than were mine on winter evenings, when I rested on the broad stone hearth in front of the big fireplace, with its blazing four-foot log, the dog on one side and the cat on the other, while my father told stories that had to be repeated as the stock ran out, and I was gradually lulled to sleep by the soft thunder of my mother’s spinning wheel. What could be more luxurious for any youngster?

I remember that when I was about six I saw my first apple. Half of it came to me, and I absorbed it as if to the manor born. What a revelation it was to a lad who could be satisfied with choke-cherries and crab apples! In those times, when a visitor called it was common to bring out a dish of well-washed turnips, with plate and case knife, and he could slice them up or scrape them as he chose.

The woods abounded in wild fruits, which the women made the most of for the winter season. Berries, grapes, plums, and crab apples were all utilized. The latter were especially delicious for preserves. The boy who ate them raw off the tree could not get his face back into line the same day; but he would eat them. However, pumpkins were our main reliance for present and future pies and sauce; such pumpkins do not grow now in these latter days. There were two sugar bushes on our place, and a good supply of maple sugar was put up every spring. Many other dainties were added to our regular menu, and a boy with such a cook for a mother as I had, needed no sympathy from any one the whole world round.

The river was three hundred feet wide opposite our house, and about two feet deep, so teams could be driven across at ordinary stages, but foot passengers depended on our boat, a large “dugout.” I remember how beautiful it was, when first scooped out from a huge basswood log, clean, white, and sweet-smelling. Strangers and neighbors alike would call across, “Bring over the boat;” and if they were going from our side they would take it over and leave the job of hollering to us. At five years of age I could pole it around very nicely.

One day, when I was first trusted to go in the boat alone, a stranger called over, and as my father was busy, he told me to go after him. The man expressed much wonderment, and some hesitancy to trusting himself to the skill and strength of a bare-footed boy of five; but I assured him I was a veteran at the business. He finally got in very gingerly, and sat down flat on the bottom. All the way over he kept wondering at and praising my work until I was ready to melt with mingled embarrassment and delight. At the shore he asked me unctuously how much he should pay. “Oh, nothing,” I said. “But let me pay you. I’d be glad to,” said he. “Oh, no, we never take pay,” I replied, and dug my toes into the sand, not knowing how to get out of the scrape, yet well pleased at his high estimate of my service. All the time he was plunging down first into one pocket of his barn-door trousers and then the other, till at last he fished out an old “bungtown” cent, which with much graciousness and pomposity he pressed upon me, until my feeble refusals were overcome. I took the coin and scampered away so fast that I must have been invisible in the dust I raised. Showing it to my father, I was told that I ought not to have taken it; but I explained how helpless I had been, and repeated word for word what the man had said, and, unintentionally, somewhat copied his tone and manner. The twinkle in my father’s eye showed that he understood. That copper was my first-earned money; if it had only been put out at compound interest, I ought, if the mathematicians are right, to be now living in _otium cum dignitate_,[2] perhaps.

[Footnote 2: _Otium cum dignitate_ is a Latin expression meaning _ease with dignity_.]


Steve Peck was one of the most notable of the marked characters above hinted at. He was a roistering blade, who captained all the harumscarums of the section. Peck was a surveyor and had helped at the laying out of Milwaukee. Many were the stories told of his escapades, but space will not permit of their rehearsal here. He had selected a choice piece of land and built a good house; then he induced the daughter of an Aberdeen ex-merchant of aristocratic family but broken fortune, who had sought a new chance in the wilds of Wisconsin, to share them with him. But wife and children could not hold him to a settled life, and he sold out one day to a German immigrant, gave his wife a few dollars and disappeared, not to be seen or heard of in those parts again.

Another character was a man named Needham, who also was somewhat of a mystery. The women considered that he had been “crossed in love.” He affected a sombre style, rather imitating the manners and habits of the Indians. His cabin was near the river, and he was a constant hunter. Many times when playing by the shore I would become conscious of a strange, noiseless presence, and looking up would see Needham paddling by, swift and silent. It always gave me the shudders and sent me to the house. One day, on coming home from school, I saw a great platter of red meat on the table. I asked who had killed the beef; it was a practice to share the meat with the neighbors, whenever a large animal was killed, taking pay in kind. I was told it was not beef, and being unable to guess was at last informed that it was bear meat, which Mr. Needham had left. As he had killed the animal near where I hunted the cows every night, the news gave me a sensation.

Uncle Ben Piper, the only gray-haired man in the community, kept tavern and was an oracle on nearly all subjects. He was also postmaster, and a wash-stand drawer served as post office. It cost twenty-five cents in those times to pass a letter between Wisconsin and the East. Postage did not have to be prepaid, and I have known my father to go several days before he could raise the requisite cash to redeem a letter which he had heard awaited him in the wash-stand drawer, for Uncle Ben was not allowed to accept farm produce or even bank script for postage.

An Englishman named Pease, who lived near us, had “wheels.” He thought the Free Masons and the women were in league to end his life. Every night he ranged his gun and farm tools beside his bed, to help ward off the attack that he constantly expected. Nothing could induce him to eat any food that a woman had prepared. In changing “work” with my father, which often occurred, he would bring his own luncheon and eat it by the fire during mealtime. But after my sister was born, he refused to enter the house; he told the neighbors that “women were getting too thick up at Coe’s.” Pease had nicknames for all the settlers but one, and while very polite to their faces, he always applied his nicknames in their absence.

A man named Rugg lost caste with his neighbors because he dug and used a potato pit in an Indian mound from which he had thrown out a large number of human bones. Some of the bones were of gigantic size.

There were many good hunters among the settlers; the Smith brothers scorned to shoot a bird or squirrel except through the head. If there were sickness in the family of any neighbor, the Smiths saw that partridges, quail, or pigeons, properly shot, were supplied. Another Smith was a bee hunter, and a very successful one, too. Those were the days when the beautiful passenger pigeons at times seemed to fill the woods and the sky. Deer were very abundant; I have seen them eating hay with my father’s cows; and in the spring and fall seasons the river was covered with wild ducks and geese.

Two events in my seventh year left a strong impression upon me. The first was an address by a colored man named Lewis Washington, a runaway slave, who had a natural gift of oratory and made many speeches in this state. I was so curious to see a genuine black man that I got too close to him when he was in the convulsion of putting on his overcoat, and caught a considerable thump. No harm was done, but he apologized very earnestly. I have read that his campaigning of the state was quite effective.

The other occurrence was the visit to Watertown of Herr Dreisbach with his famous menagerie. Our indulgent father took my brother and myself and a neighbor’s daughter to see the “great instructive exhibition.” It took our ox-team three hours to make the seven miles, and the elephant’s footprints by the bridges, and other impedimenta of the great show, which we passed, carried our excitement, which had been cruelly growing for three weeks, well-nigh up to an exploding climax. I was told not to lose my ticket, or I could not get in; and when the ticket taker seized hold of it, I held on until he finally yelled angrily, “Let go, you little cuss!” whereupon my father came to his rescue. The show on the whole was very satisfactory, except for the color of Columbus, the fine old elephant, which for some reason, probably from the show bills on the barns, I had expected to be of a greenish tint. I also had supposed that the lion would drag his chariot at least half a mile, with the driver in heroic pose, instead of merely two cars’ length. Herr Dreisbach afterwards showed on Rock Prairie, in the open country, a few miles east of Janesville. People came from great distances to attend, even from as far as Baraboo, sometimes camping out two nights each way.

Our first public edifice was a log schoolhouse about twenty feet square. It was on the opposite side of the river, nearly a mile distant, but I began to attend school before I was fully five years old. One of the things I remember of one of my early teachers most distinctly is, that she used to hang a five-franc piece, tied with blue ribbon, around the neck of the scholar who had “left off at the head.” I was occasionally favored, but my mother’s satisfaction was greatly modified by her fear that I would lose the coin while taking it back the next day.

The teachers probably could not have passed a normal school examination, but they could do what our graduates now cannot do–that is, make and mend a quill pen. Those were all the pens we had, and many a time have I chased our geese to get a new quill. The teachers patiently guided our wobbling ideas from the alphabet to cube root. The lessons over, we were told to “toe the crack,” and “make obeisance,” and were then put through our paces in the field of general knowledge. I still remember, from their drilling, the country, territory, county, and town in which we lived; that James K. Polk was president, that George M. Dallas was vice-president, and that Henry Dodge was governor. What ancient history that now seems!


Near the school lived a family named Babcock, with four well-grown boys. One of them used often to come over at noon to see one of the teachers. One noon, on running to the schoolroom after something that I wanted, I was horrified to see my loved teacher struggling to prevent the young

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