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    Chapter 5

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    Chapter 5
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    GREYFRIARS.

    IT was Queen Mary who threw open the gardens of the
    Grey Friars: a new and semi-rural cemetery in those days,
    although it has grown an antiquity in its turn and been
    superseded by half-a-dozen others. The Friars must have
    had a pleasant time on summer evenings; for their gardens
    were situated to a wish, with the tall castle and the
    tallest of the castle crags in front. Even now, it is
    one of our famous Edinburgh points of view; and strangers
    are led thither to see, by yet another instance, how
    strangely the city lies upon her hills. The enclosure is
    of an irregular shape; the double church of Old and New
    Greyfriars stands on the level at the top; a few thorns
    are dotted here and there, and the ground falls by
    terrace and steep slope towards the north. The open
    shows many slabs and table tombstones; and all round the
    margin, the place is girt by an array of aristocratic
    mausoleums appallingly adorned.

    Setting aside the tombs of Roubiliac, which belong
    to the heroic order of graveyard art, we Scotch stand, to
    my fancy, highest among nations in the matter of grimly
    illustrating death. We seem to love for their own sake
    the emblems of time and the great change; and even around
    country churches you will find a wonderful exhibition of
    skulls, and crossbones, and noseless angels, and trumpets
    pealing for the Judgment Day. Every mason was a
    pedestrian Holbein: he had a deep consciousness of death,
    and loved to put its terrors pithily before the
    churchyard loiterer; he was brimful of rough hints upon
    mortality, and any dead farmer was seized upon to be a
    text. The classical examples of this art are in
    Greyfriars. In their time, these were doubtless costly
    monuments, and reckoned of a very elegant proportion by
    contemporaries; and now, when the elegance is not so
    apparent, the significance remains. You may perhaps look
    with a smile on the profusion of Latin mottoes - some
    crawling endwise up the shaft of a pillar, some issuing
    on a scroll from angels' trumpets - on the emblematic
    horrors, the figures rising headless from the grave, and
    all the traditional ingenuities in which it pleased our
    fathers to set forth their sorrow for the dead and their
    sense of earthly mutability. But it is not a hearty sort
    of mirth. Each ornament may have been executed by the
    merriest apprentice, whistling as he plied the mallet;
    but the original meaning of each, and the combined effect
    of so many of them in this quiet enclosure, is serious to
    the point of melancholy.

    Round a great part of the circuit, houses of a low
    class present their backs to the churchyard. Only a few
    inches separate the living from the dead. Here, a window
    is partly blocked up by the pediment of a tomb; there,
    where the street falls far below the level of the graves,
    a chimney has been trained up the back of a monument, and
    a red pot looks vulgarly over from behind. A damp smell
    of the graveyard finds its way into houses where workmen
    sit at meat. Domestic life on a small scale goes forward
    visibly at the windows. The very solitude and stillness
    of the enclosure, which lies apart from the town's
    traffic, serves to accentuate the contrast. As you walk
    upon the graves, you see children scattering crumbs to
    feed the sparrows; you hear people singing or washing
    dishes, or the sound of tears and castigation; the linen
    on a clothes-pole flaps against funereal sculpture; or
    perhaps the cat slips over the lintel and descends on a
    memorial urn. And as there is nothing else astir, these
    incongruous sights and noises take hold on the attention
    and exaggerate the sadness of the place.

    Greyfriars is continually overrun by cats. I have
    seen one afternoon, as many as thirteen of them seated on
    the grass beside old Milne, the Master Builder, all sleek
    and fat, and complacently blinking, as if they had fed
    upon strange meats. Old Milne was chaunting with the
    saints, as we may hope, and cared little for the company
    about his grave; but I confess the spectacle had an ugly
    side for me; and I was glad to step forward and raise my
    eyes to where the Castle and the roofs of the Old Town,
    and the spire of the Assembly Hall, stood deployed
    against the sky with the colourless precision of
    engraving. An open outlook is to be desired from a
    churchyard, and a sight of the sky and some of the
    world's beauty relieves a mind from morbid thoughts.

    I shall never forget one visit. It was a grey,
    dropping day; the grass was strung with rain-drops; and
    the people in the houses kept hanging out their shirts
    and petticoats and angrily taking them in again, as the
    weather turned from wet to fair and back again. A grave-
    digger, and a friend of his, a gardener from the country,
    accompanied me into one after another of the cells and
    little courtyards in which it gratified the wealthy of
    old days to enclose their old bones from neighbourhood.
    In one, under a sort of shrine, we found a forlorn human
    effigy, very realistically executed down to the detail of
    his ribbed stockings, and holding in his hand a ticket
    with the date of his demise. He looked most pitiful and
    ridiculous, shut up by himself in his aristocratic
    precinct, like a bad old boy or an inferior forgotten
    deity under a new dispensation; the burdocks grew
    familiarly about his feet, the rain dripped all round
    him; and the world maintained the most entire
    indifference as to who he was or whither he had gone. In
    another, a vaulted tomb, handsome externally but horrible
    inside with damp and cobwebs, there were three mounds of
    black earth and an uncovered thigh bone. This was the
    place of interment, it appeared, of a family with whom
    the gardener had been long in service. He was among old
    acquaintances. 'This'll be Miss Marg'et's,' said he,
    giving the bone a friendly kick. 'The auld - !' I have
    always an uncomfortable feeling in a graveyard, at sight
    of so many tombs to perpetuate memories best forgotten;
    but I never had the impression so strongly as that day.
    People had been at some expense in both these cases: to
    provoke a melancholy feeling of derision in the one, and
    an insulting epithet in the other. The proper
    inscription for the most part of mankind, I began to
    think, is the cynical jeer, CRAS TIBI. That, if
    anything, will stop the mouth of a carper; since it both
    admits the worst and carries the war triumphantly into
    the enemy's camp.

    Greyfriars is a place of many associations. There
    was one window in a house at the lower end, now
    demolished, which was pointed out to me by the
    gravedigger as a spot of legendary interest. Burke, the
    resurrection man, infamous for so many murders at five
    shillings a-head, used to sit thereat, with pipe and
    nightcap, to watch burials going forward on the green.
    In a tomb higher up, which must then have been but newly
    finished, John Knox, according to the same informant, had
    taken refuge in a turmoil of the Reformation. Behind the
    church is the haunted mausoleum of Sir George Mackenzie:
    Bloody Mackenzie, Lord Advocate in the Covenanting
    troubles and author of some pleasing sentiments on
    toleration. Here, in the last century, an old Heriot's
    Hospital boy once harboured from the pursuit of the
    police. The Hospital is next door to Greyfriars - a
    courtly building among lawns, where, on Founder's Day,
    you may see a multitude of children playing Kiss-in-the-
    Ring and Round the Mulberry-bush. Thus, when the
    fugitive had managed to conceal himself in the tomb, his
    old schoolmates had a hundred opportunities to bring him
    food; and there he lay in safety till a ship was found to
    smuggle him abroad. But his must have been indeed a
    heart of brass, to lie all day and night alone with the
    dead persecutor; and other lads were far from emulating
    him in courage. When a man's soul is certainly in hell,
    his body will scarce lie quiet in a tomb however costly;
    some time or other the door must open, and the reprobate
    come forth in the abhorred garments of the grave. It was
    thought a high piece of prowess to knock at the Lord
    Advocate's mausoleum and challenge him to appear.
    'Bluidy Mackingie, come oot if ye dar'!' sang the fool-
    hardy urchins. But Sir George had other affairs on hand;
    and the author of an essay on toleration continues to
    sleep peacefully among the many whom he so intolerantly
    helped to slay.

    For this INFELIX CAMPUS, as it is dubbed in one of
    its own inscriptions - an inscription over which Dr.
    Johnson passed a critical eye - is in many ways sacred to
    the memory of the men whom Mackenzie persecuted. It was
    here, on the flat tombstones, that the Covenant was
    signed by an enthusiastic people. In the long arm of the
    church-yard that extends to Lauriston, the prisoners from
    Bothwell Bridge - fed on bread and water and guarded,
    life for life, by vigilant marksmen - lay five months
    looking for the scaffold or the plantations. And while
    the good work was going forward in the Grassmarket,
    idlers in Greyfriars might have heard the throb of the
    military drums that drowned the voices of the martyrs.
    Nor is this all: for down in the corner farthest from Sir
    George, there stands a monument dedicated, in uncouth
    Covenanting verse, to all who lost their lives in that
    contention. There is no moorsman shot in a snow shower
    beside Irongray or Co'monell; there is not one of the two
    hundred who were drowned off the Orkneys; nor so much as
    a poor, over-driven, Covenanting slave in the American
    plantations; but can lay claim to a share in that
    memorial, and, if such things interest just men among the
    shades, can boast he has a monument on earth as well as
    Julius Caesar or the Pharaohs. Where they may all lie, I
    know not. Far-scattered bones, indeed! But if the
    reader cares to learn how some of them - or some part of
    some of them - found their way at length to such
    honourable sepulture, let him listen to the words of one
    who was their comrade in life and their apologist when
    they were dead. Some of the insane controversial matter
    I omit, as well as some digressions, but leave the rest
    in Patrick Walker's language and orthography:-

    'The never to be forgotten Mr. JAMES RENWICK TOLD
    me, that he was Witness to their Public Murder at the
    GALLOWLEE, between LEITH and EDINBURGH, when he saw the
    Hangman hash and hagg off all their Five Heads, with
    PATRICK FOREMAN'S Right Hand: Their Bodies were all
    buried at the Gallows Foot; their Heads, with PATRICK'S
    Hand, were brought and put upon five Pikes on the
    PLEASAUNCE-PORT. . . . Mr. RENWICK told me also that it
    was the first public Action that his Hand was at, to
    conveen Friends, and lift their murthered Bodies, and
    carried them to the West Churchyard of EDINBURGH,' - not
    Greyfriars, this time, - 'and buried them there. Then
    they came about the City . . . . and took down these Five
    Heads and that Hand; and Day being come, they went
    quickly up the PLEASAUNCE; and when they came to
    LAURISTOUN Yards, upon the South-side of the City, they
    durst not venture, being so light, to go and bury their
    Heads with their Bodies, which they designed; it being
    present Death, if any of them had been found. ALEXANDER
    TWEEDIE, a Friend, being with them, who at that Time was
    Gardner in these Yards, concluded to bury them in his
    Yard, being in a Box (wrapped in Linen), where they lay
    45 Years except 3 Days, being executed upon the 10th of
    OCTOBER 1681, and found the 7th Day of OCTOBER 1726.
    That Piece of Ground lay for some Years unlaboured; and
    trenching it, the Gardner found them, which affrighted
    him the Box was consumed. Mr. SCHAW, the Owner of these
    Yards, caused lift them, and lay them upon a Table in his
    Summer-house: Mr. SCHAW'S mother was so kind, as to cut
    out a Linen-cloth, and cover them. They lay Twelve Days
    there, where all had Access to see them. ALEXANDER
    TWEEDIE, the foresaid Gardner, said, when dying, There
    was a Treasure hid in his Yard, but neither Gold nor
    Silver. DANIEL TWEEDIE, his Son, came along with me to
    that Yard, and told me that his Father planted a white
    Rose-bush above them, and farther down the Yard a red
    Rose-bush, which were more fruitful than any other Bush
    in the Yard. . . . Many came' - to see the heads - 'out
    of Curiosity; yet I rejoiced to see so many concerned
    grave Men and Women favouring the Dust of our Martyrs.
    There were Six of us concluded to bury them upon the
    Nineteenth Day of OCTOBER 1726, and every One of us to
    acquaint Friends of the Day and Hour, being WEDNESDAY,
    the Day of the Week on which most of them were executed,
    and at 4 of the Clock at Night, being the Hour that most
    of them went to their resting Graves. We caused make a
    compleat Coffin for them in Black, with four Yards of
    fine Linen, the way that our Martyrs Corps were managed.
    . . . Accordingly we kept the aforesaid Day and Hour, and
    doubled the Linen, and laid the Half of it below them,
    their nether jaws being parted from their Heads; but
    being young Men, their Teeth remained. All were Witness
    to the Holes in each of their Heads, which the Hangman
    broke with his Hammer; and according to the Bigness of
    their Sculls, we laid the Jaws to them, and drew the
    other Half of the Linen above them, and stufft the Coffin
    with Shavings. Some prest hard to go thorow the chief
    Parts of the City as was done at the Revolution; but this
    we refused, considering that it looked airy and frothy,
    to make such Show of them, and inconsistent with the
    solid serious Observing of such an affecting, surprizing
    unheard-of Dispensation: But took the ordinary Way of
    other Burials from that Place, to wit, we went east the
    Back of the Wall, and in at BRISTO-PORT, and down the Way
    to the Head of the COWGATE, and turned up to the Church-
    yard, where they were interred closs to the Martyrs Tomb,
    with the greatest Multitude of People Old and Young, Men
    and Women, Ministers and others, that ever I saw
    together.'

    And so there they were at last, in 'their resting
    graves.' So long as men do their duty, even if it be
    greatly in a misapprehension, they will be leading
    pattern lives; and whether or not they come to lie beside
    a martyrs' monument, we may be sure they will find a safe
    haven somewhere in the providence of God. It is not well
    to think of death, unless we temper the thought with that
    of heroes who despised it. Upon what ground, is of small
    account; if it be only the bishop who was burned for his
    faith in the antipodes, his memory lightens the heart and
    makes us walk undisturbed among graves. And so the
    martyrs' monument is a wholesome, heartsome spot in the
    field of the dead; and as we look upon it, a brave
    influence comes to us from the land of those who have won
    their discharge and, in another phrase of Patrick
    Walker's, got 'cleanly off the stage.'
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