I enjoyed this ride to Aberdeen more than any thing we had seen yet, the country is so wild and singular.
–Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s next journey in Scotland was by train to Aberdeen, on April 21, 1853. Passing Bannockburn, she is reminded of Robert Burns’ poem about the famous 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. She writes, in the first volume of Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands:

Nothing to be seen there but broad, silent meadows, through which the burn wimples its way. Here was the very Marathon of Scotland. I suppose we know more about it from the “Scots wha ha’ wi’ Wallace bled,” than we do from history; yet the real scene, as narrated by the historian, has a moral grandeur in it.

The chronicler tells us, that when on this occasion the Scots formed their line of battle, and a venerable abbot passed along, holding up the cross before them, the whole army fell upon their knees.

“These Scots will not fight,” said Edward, who was reconnoitring at a distance. “See! they are all on their knees now to beg for mercy.”

“They kneel,” said a lord who stood by, “but it is to God alone; trust me, those men will win or die.”

The bold lyric of Burns is but an inspired kind of version of the real address which Bruce is said to have made to his followers; and whoever reads it will see that its power lies not in appeal to brute force, but to the highest elements of our nature, the love of justice, the sense of honor, and to disinterestedness, self-sacrifice, courage unto death.

These things will live and form high and imperishable elements of our nature, when mankind have learned to develop them in other spheres than that of physical force. Burns’s lyric, therefore, has in it an element which may rouse the heart to noble endurance and devotion, even when the world shall learn war no more.

The Abbot of Inchaffray blesses the Scots soldiers before the Battle of BannockburnThe Abbot of Inchaffray blesses the Scots soldiers before the Battle of Bannockburn

Next, she passed by a famous castle that yet again recalls Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “The Lady of the Lake.”

We passed through the town of Stirling, whose castle, magnificently seated on a rocky throne, looks right worthy to have been the seat of Scotland’s court, as it was for many years. It brought to our minds all the last scenes of the Lady of the Lake, which are laid here with a minuteness of local description and allusion characteristic of Scott.

She also notes that nearby are the ruins of Cambuskenneth Abbey, another landmark featured in the poem.

Cambuskenneth AbbeyCambuskenneth Abbey

Excerpting again from Sunny Memories:

We passed by the town of Perth, the scene of the “Fair Maid’s” adventures. We had received an invitation to visit it, but for want of time were obliged to defer it till our return to Scotland.

Somewhere along here Mr. S. was quite excited by our proximity to Scone, the old crowning-place of the Scottish kings; however, the old castle is entirely demolished, and superseded by a modern mansion, the seat of the Earl of Mansfield.

The Fair Maid of Perth, first published in 1828, is yet another novel by Sir Walter Scott.

Glamis CastleGlamis Castle, described by Harriet Beecher Stowe: “Externally, the building is quaint and singular enough; tall and gaunt, crested with innumerable little pepper box turrets and conical towers, like an old French chateau.”

Before reaching Aberdeen, Harriet passed by Glamis Castle, noting “We could see but a glimpse of it from the road, but the very sound of the name was enough to stimulate our imagination.” Her thoughts turned to Scott and Shakespeare:

Walter Scott says, there is in the castle a secret chamber; the entrance to which, by the law of the family, can be known only to three persons at once—the lord of the castle, his heir apparent, and any third person whom they might choose to take into their confidence. See, now, the materials which the past gives to the novelist or poet in these old countries. These ancient castles are standing romances, made to the author’s hands. The castle started a talk upon Shakspeare, and how much of the tragedy he made up, and how much he found ready to his hand in tradition and history. It seems the story is all told in Holingshed’s Chronicles; but his fertile mind has added some of the most thrilling touches, such as the sleep walking of Lady Macbeth. It always seemed to me that this tragedy had more of the melancholy majesty and power of the Greek than any thing modern. The striking difference is, that while fate was the radical element of those, free will is not less distinctly the basis of this. Strangely enough, while it commences with a supernatural oracle, there is not a trace of fatalism in it; but through all, a clear, distinct recognition of moral responsibility, of the power to resist evil, and the guilt of yielding to it. The theology of Shakspeare is as remarkable as his poetry. A strong and clear sense of man’s moral responsibility and free agency, and of certain future retribution, runs through all his plays.

Next they came in sight of the sea:

In the afternoon we came in sight of the German Ocean. The free, bracing air from the sea, and the thought that it actually was the German Ocean, and that over the other side was Norway, within a day’s sail of us, gave it a strange, romantic charm.

“Suppose we just run over to Norway,” said one of us; and then came the idea, what we should do if we got over there, seeing none of us understood Norse.

The whole coast along here is wild and rock-bound; occasionally long points jut into the sea; the blue waves sparkle and dash against them in little jets of foam, and the sea birds dive and scream around them.

On one of these points, near the town of Stonehaven, are still seen the ruins of Dunottar Castle, bare and desolate, surrounded on all sides by the restless, moaning waves;

Dunnottar_CastleDunnottar Castle; Source: Wikipedia

Dunottar Castle was the scene of many notable events in Scottish history. As the website for this historic place describes:

William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II, all graced the Castle with their presence. Most famously though, it was at Dunnottar Castle that a small garrison held out against the might of Cromwell’s army for eight months and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels, the ‘Honours of Scotland’, from destruction.

Stowe’s reflections in Sunny Memories refer to a much darker chapter of the history of the castle,

a place justly held accursed as the scene of cruelties to the Covenanters, so appalling and brutal as to make the blood boil in the recital, even in this late day.

[. . .] In the reign of James [VII of Scotland and II of England], one hundred and sixty-seven prisoners, men, women, and children, for refusing the oath of supremacy, were arrested at their firesides: herded together like cattle; driven at the point of the bayonet, amid the gibes, jeers, and scoffs of soldiers, up to this dreary place, and thrust promiscuously into a dark vault in this castle; almost smothered in filth and mire; a prey to pestilent disease, and to every malignity which brutality could inflict, they died here unpitied. A few escaping down the rocks were recaptured, and subjected to shocking tortures.

A moss-grown gravestone, in the parish churchyard of Dunottar, shows the last resting-place of these sufferers. [. . .] It is well that such spots should be venerated as sacred shrines among the descendants of the Covenanters, to whom Scotland owes what she is, and all she may become.

Stowe also mentions Colonel David Barclay a Scottish Quaker who was the subject of a poem by another Quaker, John Greenleaf Whittier:

Leaving Stonehaven we passed, on a rising ground a little to our left, the house of the celebrated Barclay of Ury. It remains very much in its ancient condition, surrounded by a low stone wall, like the old fortified houses of Scotland.

Barclay of Ury was an old and distinguished soldier, who had fought under Gustavus Adolphus in Germany, and one of the earliest converts to the principles of the Friends in Scotland. As a Quaker, he became an object of hatred and abuse at the hands of the magistracy and populace; but he endured all these insults and injuries with the greatest patience and nobleness of soul.

“I find more satisfaction,” he said, “as well as honor, in being thus insulted for my religious principles, than when, a few years ago, it was usual for the magistrates, as I passed the city of Aberdeen, to meet me on the road and conduct me to public entertainment in their hall, and then escort me out again, to gain my favor.”

Whittier has celebrated this incident in his beautiful ballad, called “Barclay of Ury.” The son of this Barclay was the author of that Apology which bears his name, and is still a standard work among the Friends. The estate is still possessed by his descendants.

We end this post with a reference to Harriet’s husband, Calvin Stowe, who was reminded of yet another novel by (you guessed it!) Sir Walter Scott, A Legend of the Wars of Montrose (1819):

A little farther along towards Aberdeen, Mr. S. seemed to amuse himself very much with the idea, that we were coming near to Dugald Dalgetty’s estate of Drumthwacket, an historical remembrance which I take to be somewhat apocryphal.

Drumthwacket, which means “wooded hill” in Scottish Gaelic, is also the name of the official residence of the governor of New Jersey.