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    Dryburgh Abbey, Sir Walter Scott’s Final Resting Place


    Dryburgh Abbey © 2006 Scotiana

    Under the shade of more than centenary cedars, on a loop of the River Tweed, amidst the beautiful ruins of Dryburgh Abbey, lies Sir Walter Scott, the beloved man and great Scottish writer who, having done so much to celebrate his country, finally died like the heroe of one of his novels, with courage and dignity. Since his death, on September 21st 1832, Scotland has done much to celebrate the memory of one of his most cherished sons.

    Scott Monument Edinburgh © 2007 Scotiana

    When you visit Edinburgh, you can’t fail to notice the huge Scott Monument which dominates Princes Street Gardens. It is one of the best known landmarks of the city. The monument is worth the climbing for, provided the weather is fine, one can get a magnificent panoramic view of Edinburgh from up there.

    Walter Scott Monument Edinburgh Wikipedia

    What we prefer, in this monument, is Sir John Steell’s white marble statue of Sir Walter Scott, showing him seated and wrapped in a shepherd’s plaid with his favourite deerhound Maida at his side. We’ll tell you more soon about this astonishing monument for it has a very interesting story to tell.

    Dryburgh Abbey Sir Walter Scott's grave © 2001 Scotiana

    After visiting Abbotsford, Sir Walter’s house, we could not go away without paying a last and silent tribute to the great man in front of his final resting place. True pilgrimage for us, amidst the pinkish-red hues of the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey! If Walter Scott had found and built in Abbotsford a most suitable place to live and write, he could not have chosen a better one than Dryburgh Abbey for his final rest. It is a strikingly romantic setting, quite in keeping with the character of the author of the Waverley novels. Indeed, the very picturesque ruins of the abbeys of Dryburgh and Melrose were among his favourite walks. Is he still haunting them… I wonder…

    Dryburgh Abbey, Sir Walter Scott's grave © 2006 Scotiana

    Anyway Sir Walter is resting here forever, in company of some members of his family, after they had been granted the privilege to be buried there by the Earl of Buchan in 1791. Lady Scott had been buried there in May 1826, six years before her husband, and they will be joined later by their son, Colonel Sir Walter Scott, in February 1847 and by John Gibson Lockhart, Sir Walter’s son-in-law, biographer, and friend,  in November 1854.

    Sir Walter Scott portrait 1822 Raeburn Source : Wikipedia

    ‘When the coffin was taken from the hearse, and again laid on the shoulders of the afflicted serving-men, one deep sob burst from a thousand lips.’

    (Lockhart – Life of Sir Walter Scott, 1837-38)

    Funeral can give you a good idea of a man’s popularity. I’ve found some contemporary articles about Sir Walter’s last hours and funeral. I can hardly add a word after reading these very interesting and moving documents. You feel as if you were there, back in time. And, if you happen to have immersed yourself in the pages of his voluminous Journal, it will ring a bell when you’ll read the names of the people who attended the funeral for many of them are mentioned in the Journal and under Sir Walter’s pen they’ve taken life…

    From The Literary Gazette :

    At half past one on Friday the 21st, Sir Walter Scott breathed his last, surrounded by all his descen- dants, and apparently almost without a struggle. During some two or three days after his arrival at Abbotsford, he appeared to feel with satisfaction that be was once more at home; was occasionally wheeled, for half an hour, up and down the library, armoury, or garden ; and even once or twice listened with apparent interest to a page of the Old Testament, or a favourite passage in Crabbe or Wordsworth ; but after this be fell rapidly into the same stupor that had hung over bim while he remained in London, and for full six weeks there had occurred hardly an interval of any thing approaching to collectedness. It was well that the curtain dropped when it did on a scene from which hope had all along been excluded.

    Scott's funeral procession

    Scott's funeral procession

    It was late in the day ere we reached Dryburgh. Some accident, it was observed, had caused the hearse to halt for several minutes on the summit of the hill at Bemerside – exactly where a prospect of remarkable richness opens, and where Sir Walter had always been accustomed to rein up his horse. The day was dark and lowering, and the wind high.

    (Lockhart – Life of Sir Walter Scott, 1837-38)

    From The Edinburgh Courant :

    Wednesday, the honoured remains of Sir Walter Scott were consigned to the tomb, amid the unfeigned regret of thousands. Never perhaps was the esteem in which this truly great man was held more conspicuously displayed than on this melancholy occasion. We understand that cards had been issued to nearly 300 persons, who almost all attended, it being deemed an honour to be present at the funeral obsequies of so distinguished a character. One o’clock was the hour fixed on for the time of meeting, and for about an hour afterwards carriages of different sorts, and gentlemen on horseback, continued to arrive from Edinburgh, Peebles, Selkirk, Galashiels, Melrose, Jedburgh, and other parts of the surrounding country. The company having partaken of refreshments, adjourned to the library, where they heard an eloquent and affecting prayer from Principal Baird ; and a little after two o’clock the melancholy procession, consisting of carriages, numerous other vehicles, and horsemen, began to move from Abbotsford, and proceeded through the towns of Darnick and Melrose, and by the Fly Bridge to Dryburgh Abbey. As the long funeral train passed through the villages and hamlets, one universal feeling of deep sorrow pervaded all classes. Groups of people were assembled at different parts of the road, and on elevated points from which a view could be obtained. Most of them were in mourning, and many standing uncovered.

    The decency, propriety and reverential silence which was observed gave a very impressive character to the scene. In passing through the towns, those respectful observances were still more striking. The streets at Melrose were lined on both sides with the inhabitants in mourning and uncovered. The shops of this and other towns were shut ; the sign boards were covered with black ; the aged and the lame came forth to pay their last tribute to departed worth ; and along the many miles of picturesque country which the procession had to traverse, the ensigns of sorrow were everywhere displayed ; these were the unbought and voluntary testimonies to the private virutes of the diseased from those among whom he had lived, and by whom he was best known. At Dryburgh Abbey the body, on being taken from the hearse, was borne by his own domestics to the grave, they having specially requested that no foreign hand should be allowed to touch the remains of a master so honoured and so beloved. The pall-bearers were :

    Major Sir Walter Scott.
    Right. Left.
    Chs. Scott Esq., J. G. Lockhart Esq.,
    Second son of deceased. Son-in-law of deooased.
    Chs. Scott Esq., Janii’S Scott, Esq.
    Nesbitt,Cousin. Nesbitt, cousin.
    Wm. Scott, Esq., Robert Rutherford, Esq.
    of Raeburn, Cousin, W. S., Cousin,
    Col. Russell, Hugh Scott Esq. of Ashieseel, Cousin, of Harden.
    Wm. Keilli, Esq., of Edinburgh.

    A grandson of Sir Walter Scott, a son of Mr Lockart, was also present.
    Sixty-two carriages, phaetons, and gigs followed the hearse – the black plumes of the latter and the cloaks of the mutes on horseback leading the procession, as it wound through picturesque roads and up and down the many hills on the route from Abbotsford to Dryburgh, were particularly striking; but when the body was taken out of the hearse at the great tree close to Sir David Erskine’s house, and time given for the party to collect – when the pall-bearers had taken their places, and the bearers moved on with the body, all with one consent uncovered – the Rev. Mr Williams, in his white surplice, leaning on the arm of Mr Robert Cadell, taking his place immeditaely after the chief mourner – the dark mass of friends who had left their carriages closing up behind ; When all these preliminaries were adjusted, and the mournful ceremony proceeded towards the Abbey, the whole effect was peculiarly impressive – the beauty of the scenery – the fine old ruin – the serene, though gloomy aspect of the heavens – the associations connected in no smal degree with the distinguished man, whose remains were about to be consigned to their places of rest, rendered the whole one of the most striking scenes it has been our lot to be an eye witness of.
    Before the body was committed to the earth, the English Burial Service was read by the Rev. J. Williams, rector of the Edinburgh Academy. A little past five in the afternoon, the last offices were performed. The effect of the scene was also at this time impressive, far beyond what any words can convey, and in considering the genius and intellectual powers of the deceased ; his wit, his eloquence, his fancy, we could not help thinking of his own beautiful words…
    “They sleep with him, who sleeps below.”
    The spot in which Sir Walter Scott is laid is in the north wing of the splendid ruin of Dryburgh Abbey, now, alas ! containing a more splendid ruin than itself. Here is laid the body of Lady Scott, and also that of his uncle. The situation is secluded and romantic, and quite congenial to all the ideas of the deceased.
    Among those present around the grave at the time of the interment, were Lord Melville and Napier, Sir W. Rae, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, Sir John Pringle, Sir John Hay, M. P., Sir David Erskine, Colonel O’Reilly, Colonel Scott, Major Riddel, Mr. Pringle of Whitbank, Mr. Pringle of Clifton, Mr Richardson, solicitor, London, Mr. Ogilvy of Ches- ter, M. Monypenny, W. S., Mr. Ihomas Thomson, advocate, Mr. W. Clerk, advocate, Mr. Urquhart, advocate, Mr. Smith, banker, Edinburgh, Mr. Bruoe of Langlea, Mr. Sprott of Jerviswood, tylr Scott of Simon, Mr. Fairholm of Chapel, Dr. Clarkson, Mr. R.Cadell, Edinburgh, Rev. Dr. Dickson. Edin- burgh, Mr. Reid, bis Majesty’s architect, & co.

    A great number of respectable persons went from Edinburgh, to be present at the funeral without having received cards of invitation to attend – from a spontaneous desire to show all the respect they could to the memory of the illustrious deceased.

    Dryburgh Abbey wood engraving

    So there, in solemn solitude,
    In that sequester’d spot
    Lies mingling with its kindred clay
    The dust of Walter Scott !
    Ah ! where is now the flashing eye
    That kindled up at Flodden field,
    That saw, in fancy. onsets fierce,
    And clashing spear and shield,

    The eager and untiring step,
    That urged the search for Border lore,
    To make old Scotland’s heroes known
    On every peopled shore,
    The wondrous spell that summon’d up
    The charging squadrons fierce and fast,
    And garnished every cottage wall
    With pictures of the past (..)

    (Extract of a poem found in The Gazetteer for Scotland)

    This morning I was listening to a series of interviews, dating back to 1954, of one of my favourite French writers, Jean Giono (1895-1970). How marvellous it would be, I said to myself, if we could hear, as well as on this radio recording, the long-forgotten voice of Sir Walter Scott…

    A bientôt. Mairiuna.

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