December 2023
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Notes about “The Antiquary” by Sir Walter Scott…

Dear readers,

Autumn is back with its  gorgeous colours and shorter days. A good time for fireside reading and for me to go on with my promise to Sir Walter Scott to read all his books. A promise that seems to  be well on its way though I still feel  like the climber at the foot of the Himalayas ;-). I’ve just finished reading The Black Dwarf and will soon begin Old Mortality (‘Tales of my Landlord’, 1st series, 1816) but today, the subject of my post is  The Antiquary.

The Antiquary is the third of the ‘Waverley Novels’.  I follow the chronological order in my reading.  The book was published in 1816 in three volumes, still anynomously, by  Archibald Constable and Co. in Edinburgh and a few days later  in London by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown. Sir Walter then lived in Abbotsford and was in urgent need to earn money to  face the cost of massive expansions to this house which he would later  describe as ‘a sort of romance in Architecture’ and ‘a kind of Conundrum Castle to be sure’ 😉

This book which contains 45 chapters is as exciting or more so than the first two books I read: Waverley and Guy Mannering. I’ve much enjoyed it. It allowed me to travel back in time and rediscover places in Scotland in a different way: the Abbey of Arbroath and its neighbourhood for example.

Charles S. Olcott The Country of Sir Walter Scott Cassell edition 1913

The Country of Sir Walter Scott by Charles.S.Olcott is my favourite reference book as far as Sir Walter’s Scott novels are concerned. It contains mines of information about the author and the places and characters appearing in his novels. The pages devoted to The Antiquary are to be found in chapter 10.


The Waverley Novels The Antiquary Routledge

Like Alice in Alice in Wonderland,  I do love books with illustrations for What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?” That’s why I much enjoy the  ancient editions of a book. They often contain lovely illustrations that give life to a story.

Below are illustrations of two emblematic scenes of The Antiquary.


The Antiquary – Sir Arthur and Miss Wardour by J. MacWhirter

“Sir Arthur and his daughter had set out, according to their first proposal, to return to Knockwinnock by the turnpike road; but when they reached the head of the loaning, as it was called, or great lane, which on one side made a sort of avenue to the house of Monkbarns, they discerned, a little way before them, Lovel, who seemed to linger on the way as if to give him an opportunity to join them. Miss Wardour immediately proposed to her father that they should take another direction; and, as the weather was fine, walk home by the sands, which, stretching below a picturesque ridge of rocks, afforded at almost all times a pleasanter passage between Knockwinnock and Monkbarns than the high-road.”

(The Antiquary – Chapter 7)

The Antiquary – Sir Walter Scott 1893 -Taking refuge – Illustration


The sense of reprieve from approaching and apparently inevitable death, had its usual effect. The father and daughter threw themselves into each other’s arms, kissed and wept for joy, although their escape was connected with the prospect of passing a tempestuous night upon a precipitous ledge of rock, which scarce afforded footing for the four shivering beings, who now, like the sea-fowl around them, clung there in hopes of some shelter from the devouring element which raged beneath. The spray of the billows, which attained in fearful succession the foot of the precipice, overflowing the beach on which they so lately stood, flew as high as their place of temporary refuge; and the stunning sound with which they dashed against the rocks beneath, seemed as if they still demanded the fugitives in accents of thunder as their destined prey. It was a summer night, doubtless; yet the probability was slender, that a frame so delicate as that of Miss Wardour should survive till morning the drenching of the spray; and the dashing of the rain, which now burst in full violence, accompanied with deep and heavy gusts of wind, added to the constrained and perilous circumstances of their situation. (The Antiquary – Chapter 7)

The Antiquary was Scott’s own favourite of his novels, and his book proved to be very popular from the first day of its publication. Sir Herbert John Clifford Grierson, the great Scottish literary critic, born in Lerwick (Shetland) in 1866, educated in Aberdeen and who lived for many years in Edinburgh  wrote that “Not many, apart from Shakespeare, could write scenes in which truth and poetry, realism and romance, are more wonderfully presented.” This literary critic was indeed the author of several books* about Sir Walter Scott.

The Antiquary Sir Walter Scott J M Dent & Co Edited Ernest Rhys

The Antiquary Sir Walter Scott J M Dent & Co Edited Ernest Rhys


Scott wrote in an advertisement to the novel that his purpose in writing it, similar to that of his novels Waverley and Guy Mannering, was to document Scottish life of a certain period, in this case the last decade of the 18th century. The action can be located in July and August 1794. It is, in short, a novel of manners, and its theme is the influence of the past on the present. In tone it is predominantly comic, though the humour is offset with episodes of melodrama and pathos.

Two central characters in The Antiquary :

Jonathan Oldbuck, the Antiquary, Laird of Monkbarns/Edie Ochiltree, the mendicant. Both characters constantly interact in the novel…

The book centres on the character of Jonathan Oldbuck, the Antiquary, Laird of Monkbarns: an amateur historian, archaeologist and collector of items of dubious antiquity. He is the eponymous character who gives the book its title, a rugged though loveable character in spite of his blatant mysogyny.

At the opening of the story, while taking a coach from Edinburgh to Fairport, Oldbuck meets William Lovel (later Lord Geraldin, Earl of Glenallan), the romantic hero of the novel.  Soon, the two become friends. Oldbuck invites Lovel to visit him at Monkbarns, the old mansion situated not far from the abbey of Fairport (i.e Arbroath).  There he lives with his spinster sister Miss Griselda, his young niece Mary MacIntyre and later in the story, his nephew, Captain Hector MacIntyre who will be seriously wounded during a duel with Lovel.

Edie Ochiltree is a licensed mendicant, a central character, haut en couleurs, very likeable and full of humour and wisdom.

Frontispiece to The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott 1893

In the above illustration, Oldbuck shows Lovel an historical landmark situated (or he thinks so) on his property. Note the old man which is listening to them, discreetly… there is much humour in this scene and quite an irresistible dialogue between Oldbuck and Edie Ochiltree, a licensed mendicant which is certainly one of the most appreciated characters in the book.

“You must know,” [Mr Oldbuck said], “our Scottish antiquaries have been greatly divided about the local situation of the final conflict between Agricola and the Caledonians; some contend for Ardoch in Strathallan, some for Innerpeffry, some for the Raedykes in the Mearns, and some are for carrying the scene of action as far north as Blair in Athole. Now, after all this discussion,” continued the old gentleman, with one of his slyest and most complacent looks, “what would you think, Mr. Lovel,—I say, what would you think,—if the memorable scene of conflict should happen to be on the very spot called the Kaim of Kinprunes, the property of the obscure and humble individual who now speaks to you?” Then, having paused a little, to suffer his guest to digest a communication so important, he resumed his disquisition in a higher tone. “Yes, my good friend, I am indeed greatly deceived if this place does not correspond with all the marks of that celebrated place of action.” (…)  (The Antiquary – Chapter 4)


“Yes, my dear friend, from this stance it is probable—nay, it is nearly certain, that Julius Agricola beheld what our Beaumont has so admirably described!—From this very Praetorium”—

A voice from behind interrupted his ecstatic description—“Praetorian here, Praetorian there, I mind the bigging o’t.”

Both at once turned round, Lovel with surprise, and Oldbuck with mingled surprise and indignation, at so uncivil an interruption. An auditor had stolen upon them, unseen and unheard, amid the energy of the Antiquary’s enthusiastic declamation, and the attentive civility of Lovel. He had the exterior appearance of a mendicant. A slouched hat of huge dimensions; a long white beard which mingled with his grizzled hair; an aged but strongly marked and expressive countenance, hardened, by climate and exposure, to a right brick-dust complexion; a long blue gown, with a pewter badge on the right arm; two or three wallets, or bags, slung across his shoulder, for holding the different kinds of meal, when he received his charity in kind from those who were but a degree richer than himself:—all these marked at once a beggar by profession, and one of that privileged class which are called in Scotland the King’s Bedesmen, or, vulgarly, Blue-Gowns.

“What is that you say, Edie?” said Oldbuck, hoping, perhaps, that his ears had betrayed their duty—“what were you speaking about!”

“About this bit bourock, your honour,” answered the undaunted Edie; “I mind the bigging o’t.”

“The devil you do! Why, you old fool, it was here before you were born, and will be after you are hanged, man!”

“Hanged or drowned, here or awa, dead or alive, I mind the bigging o’t.”

(The Antiquary – Chapter 4)


Edie Ochiltree Visits Miss Wardour

“Bid him stay there—I’ll come down to the parlour, and speak with him at the window.”

She came down accordingly, and found the mendicant half-seated, half-reclining, upon the bench beside the window. Edie Ochiltree, old man and beggar as he was, had apparently some internal consciousness of the favourable, impressions connected with his tall form, commanding features, and long white beard and hair. It used to be remarked of him, that he was seldom seen but in a posture which showed these personal attributes to advantage. At present, as he lay half-reclined, with his wrinkled yet ruddy cheek, and keen grey eye turned up towards the sky, his staff and bag laid beside him, and a cast of homely wisdom and sarcastic irony in the expression of his countenance, while he gazed for a moment around the court-yard, and then resumed his former look upward, he might have been taken by an artist as the model of an old philosopher of the Cynic school, musing upon the frivolity of mortal pursuits, and the precarious tenure of human possessions, and looking up to the source from which aught permanently good can alone be derived.

(The Antiquary – chapter 12)

Abbotsford Garden Edie Ochiltree statue © 2007 Scotiana

Next to the Antiquary himself, old Edie Ochiltree is the character who is chiefly responsible for the pleasant flavour of this book. He is a mendicant whom it is a real pleasure to meet. His amiable nature, his sly good humour, and his genuine friendliness win your affection in the beginning and hold it to the very end. He is a picture drawn from real life, though it is probable that old Andrew Gemmels, his prototype, did not possess the many endearing qualities with which the novelist invested Edie.

The ‘blue gowns’ of the south of Scotland were a class of licensed beggars, known as the ‘King’s Bedesmen.’ The number of them was supposed to be the same as the years of the King’s life, so it was necessary to initiate a new member of the aristocracy of paupers every year. At every royal birthday each bedesman received a new light-blue cloak or gown and a pewter badge, together with a purse containing as many pennies as the years of the King’s life. Their sole duty was to pray for long life for the King, which, considering that the older the sovereign the larger the purse, they might very cheerfully do. In return, all laws against beggars were suspended in their favour, and the ‘blue gowns’ went about from house to house, fairly assured of food and lodging and seemingly free from care.

The service of the ‘blue gown’ to the community is best set forth in the words of Edie Ochiltree, who apparently considered himself a public benefactor:— (..)

Here’s the gravestone of Andrew Gemmel,s the famous  Gentleman Beggar who lived in the Scottish Borders. It is situated in Roxburgh Parish Churchyard. Andrew Gemmel served as a model for the character of Edie Ochiltree in The Antiquary. Gemmels died at the age of 106 after spending his early life as a soldier and then as a wandering beggar. He is depicted with his stick, bag and dog. Below is the reverse side of the stone.

Andrew Gemmels gravestone in Roxburgh graveyard

Andrew Gemmels was well known throughout the Border country of Scotland for more than half a century as a professional beggar or ‘gaberlunzie.’ He had been a soldier in his youth and maintained his erect military carriage even in old age. He was very tall and carried a walking-stick almost as high as himself. His features were strongly intellectual, but marked by a certain fierceness and austerity of expression, the result of his long and peculiar contact with all sorts of hard experiences. Scott, who had often met him, comments upon his remarkable gracefulness. With his striking attitudes he would have made a fine model for an artist. One of his chief assets was an unusual power of sarcasm, coupled with a keen wit, the fear of which often gained for him favours which might otherwise have been denied. He was full of reminiscences of the wars and of adventures in foreign lands, which he told in a droll fashion, coupled with a shrewd wit, that always made him an entertaining visitor. He wandered about the country at pleasure, demanding entertainment as a right, which was accorded usually without question His preference as to sleeping quarters was the stable or some outbuilding where cattle were kept. He never burdened anybody, usually appearing at the same place only once or twice a year. He always had money—frequently more than those of whom he begged. When a certain parsimonious gentleman expressed regret that he had no silver in his pocket or he would have given him sixpence, Andrew promptly replied, ‘I can give you change for a note, laird.’ In later years he travelled about on his own horse, a very good one, and carried a gold watch. He died at the age of a hundred and six years, leaving enough wealth to enrich a nephew, who became a considerable landholder. His tombstone in Roxburgh Churchyard, near Kelso, contains a quaint carved figure of the mendicant, above which are the words, ‘Behold the end o’ it.’ This refers to an incident related by a writer in the ‘Edinburgh Magazine’ in 1817, the year after the publication of the novel.”

(The Country of Sir Walter Scott by Charles.S.Olcott 1913)

Other important characters in the novel :

  • Sir Arthur Wardour, of Knockwinnock Castle
  • Isabella Wardour, his daughter
  • Herman Dousterswivel, a charlatan
  • Elspeth Mucklebackit, of the Craigburnfoot
  • Saunders Mucklebackit, her son
  • Joscelind, Countess of Glenallan
  • William, Earl of Glenallan, her son
  • Eveline Neville, his late wife

Sir Walter Scott/the antiquary


Portrait of Washington Irving by John Wesley Jarvis from 1809

In his book The Country of Sir Walter Scott, Charles S. Olcott tells us about an experience the American author shared with Sir Walter during an excursion in the country which made him think that there was much of Sir Walter in Jonathan Oldbuck.

Scott stopped at the cottage of a labourer on his estate to examine some tongs that had been dug up in the Roman camp near by. ‘As he stood regarding the relic,’ says Irving, ‘turning it round and round, and making comments on it, half grave, half comic, with the cottage group around him, all joining occasionally in the colloquy, the inimitable character of Monkbarns was again brought to mind and I seemed to see before me that prince of antiquarians and humourists, holding forth to his unlearned and unbelieving neighbours.’ There was something peculiarly delightful about Scott’s antiquarianism.

Abbotsford Entrance Hall © 2001

The discovery of anything ancient, whether a ruined castle, a broadsword or sporran from the Highlands, or a scrap of some old ballad, gave him the greatest pleasure, and nothing afforded his friends more enjoyment than to be able to present him with such relics and curiosities as they knew he would appreciate. A casual walk through the Entrance Hall and Armory of Abbotsford, where hundreds of helmets, suits of armour, swords, guns, pistols, and curiosities of infinite variety are displayed, is enough to suggest to any one that Sir Walter himself was the real Jonathan Oldbuck of ‘The Antiquary.’ A glance at the Library, with its collection of twenty thousand rare old volumes, is enough to prove that Scott, like Monkbarns, was not only an antiquary but a bibliophile as well. Who but a genuine enthusiast could have written that chapter in which the worthy Mr. Oldbuck exhibits the treasures of his sanctum sanctorum to Mr. Lovel?

(The Country of Sir Walter Scott by Charles.S.Olcott 1913)


Among the original Scottish places connected with The Antiquary

Fairport = Arbroath

St Ruth’s Abbey = Arbroath Abbey.

Arbroath Abbey is situated in the Scottish town of Arbroath, in the Councial Area of Angus. It lies on the North Sea coast some 16 miles (25.7 km) north-east of Dundee and 45 miles (72.4 km) south-west of Aberdeen.

This abbey was founded in 1178 by King William the Lion for a group of Tironensian Benedictine monks from Kelso Abbey.

The ruins of Arbroath Abbey © 2015 Scotiana

The Antiquary – The ruins of St Ruth by J. Moyr Smith


To study the scenery of ‘The Antiquary,’ we went to Arbroath, a town on the east coast of Scotland, which traces its beginnings back to the twelfth century. This is the original of Fairport, and we found all of the scenery of the novel in the immediate neighbourhood. In the midst of a shower which threatened destruction to all photographic attempts, we made our first visit to the ruins of the Abbey of St. Thomas, the original of St. Ruth’s. It was a disappointment to find this ruin in the heart of the city, instead of a ‘wild, sequestered spot,’ where a ‘pure and profound lake’ discharged itself into a ‘huddling and tumultuous brook.’ But the Wizard always reserved the right to transplant his ruined castles and abbeys to suit his taste, and he was quite justified in transferring St. Ruth’s to more romantic surroundings, particularly as there is a deep ravine known as Seaton Den, on the coast north of Arbroath, which answers every requirement.  (The Country of Sir Walter Scott by Charles.S.Olcott 1913)

walter scott antiquary illustration sir arthur

Monkbarns/ Hospitalfied





Monkbarns, the home of Jonathan Oldbuck, is closely associated with the history of the abbey. When the fame of that establishment had spread throughout Scotland and England, there were many pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket. Many of these pilgrims arrived sick and exhausted. To provide for them, a rude hospital was ordered built, about two miles away from the abbey, on lands now occupied by a handsome building known as Hospitalfield. In Scott’s day this house was very much less pretentious and might well have corresponded with his description of an ‘irregular and old-fashioned building, some part of which had belonged to a grange, or solitary farmhouse, inhabited by the bailiff, or steward of the monastery, when the place was in possession of the monks. It was here that the community stored up the grain which they received as ground-rent from their vassals; … and hence, as the present proprietor loved to tell, came the name of Monkbarns.” Readers of ‘The Antiquary’ will remember the altercation between Oldbuck and his sister when the latter was requested to make a bed ready for Mr. Lovel. ‘”A bed? The Lord preserve us!” ejaculated Grizel. “Why, what’s the matter now? Are there not beds and rooms enough in the house? Was it not an ancient hospitium {154} in which, I am warranted to say, beds were nightly made down for a score of pilgrims?”‘

The property has a beautiful situation and is otherwise so desirable that it passed from the monks into private hands centuries ago. It finally came into the possession of Patrick Allan-Fraser, who made such extensive additions that whatever is left of the original building owned by the monks is completely covered up. This public-spirited gentleman, who died in 1890, left the estate in trust for the benefit and encouragement of young men who desired to study painting, sculpture, wood-carving, architecture, or engraving, and the house is now occupied by teachers and students. It has an art gallery containing some valuable paintings, sculptures, and wood-carvings, and a library of old documents and rare folios that would delight the soul of Jonathan Oldbuck himself.

The property has a beautiful situation and is otherwise so desirable that it passed from the monks into private hands centuries ago. It finally came into the possession of Patrick Allan-Fraser, who made such extensive additions that whatever is left of the original building owned by the monks is completely covered up. This public-spirited gentleman, who died in 1890, left the estate in trust for the benefit and encouragement of young men who desired to study painting, sculpture, wood-carving, architecture, or engraving, and the house is now occupied by teachers and students. It has an art gallery containing some valuable paintings, sculptures, and wood-carvings, and a library of old documents and rare folios that would delight the soul of Jonathan Oldbuck himself.

(The Country of Sir Walter Scott by Charles.S.Olcott 1913)

Cleaning the Antiquary Sanctum Sanctorum at Monkbarns

Cleaning the Antiquary Sanctum Sanctorum at Monkbarns

Mr. Oldbuck had by this time attained the top of the winding stair which led to his own apartment, and opening a door, and pushing aside a piece of tapestry with which it was covered, his first exclamation was, “What are you about here, you sluts?” A dirty barefooted chambermaid threw down her duster, detected in the heinous fact of arranging the sanctum sanctorum, and fled out of an opposite door from the face of her incensed master. A genteel-looking young woman, who was superintending the operation, stood her ground, but with some timidity.

“Indeed, uncle, your room was not fit to be seen, and I just came to see that Jenny laid everything down where she took it up.”

“And how dare you, or Jenny either, presume to meddle with my private matters?” (Mr. Oldbuck hated puttting to rights as much as Dr. Orkborne, or any other professed student.) “Go, sew your sampler, you monkey, and do not let me find you here again, as you value your ears.—I assure you, Mr. Lovel, that the last inroad of these pretended friends to cleanliness was almost as fatal to my collection as Hudibras’s visit to that of Sidrophel; and I have ever since missed

Knockwhinnock Castle = Ethie Castle

Ethie Castle - Scotland - Source: Trip Advisor

Ethie Castle – Scotland – Source: Trip Advisor


Ethie Castle dates from around 1300 when a sandstone keep was built by the Abbot and Monks of Arbroath Abbey.

After passing through the de Maxwell family, the lands reverted to the Abbot of Arbroath, who later became the Cardinal and Chancellor of Scotland. In about 1530, the castle was remodelled around a courtyard in order to entertain King James V. After Cardinal Beaton’s infamous murder in St Andrews, it is reputed that the monks of Arbroath concealed their treasury of church vessels, plates and vestments in the walls of Ethie for safekeeping.

The castle was bought in 1665 by the Carnegie family, who later became the Earls of Northesk. It remained with them until 1928. The 7th Earl was Vice Admiral and commanded with Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. As a tribute, the Earl was entitled to incorporate Trafalgar in his arms and it can still be seen in a dormer at Ethie. It was this Earl who modernised the castle to form a substantial country residence and much of his influence is still found in the castle.

Sir Walter Scott, a friend of the 8th Earl, often stayed at Ethie. During one of his visits he wrote the novel “The Antiquary”, where Ethie is reputedly depicted as the legendary Castle of Knockwhinnock with the central character based upon a neighbour during that period.

In recent years the castle has been carefully restored and maintained to form a magnificent home of great character and historic importance.

(The Country of Sir Walter Scott by Charles.S.Olcott 1913)

 Á propos de The Antiquary:

In her famous novel To the Lighthouse, Virginia  Woolf mentions Sir Walter Scott and several passages of The Antiquary:

To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf Benediction Classics 2017

In To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Ramsey glances at her husband:

He was reading something that moved him very much … He was tossing the pages over. He was acting it – perhaps he was thinking himself the person in the book. She wondered what book it was. Oh, it was one of old Sir Walter’s she saw, adjusting the shade of her lamp so that the light fell on her knitting. For Charles Tansley had been saying (she looked up as if she expected to hear the crash of books on the floor above) – had been saying that people don’t read Scott any more. Then her husband thought, “That’s what they’ll say of me;” so he went and got one of those books … It fortified him. He clean forgot all the little rubs and digs of the evening… and his being so irritable with his wife and so touchy and minding when they passed his books over as if they didn’t exist at all …[Scott’s] feeling for straight forward simple things, these fishermen, the poor old crazed creature in Mucklebackit’s cottage [in The Antiquary] made him feel so vigorous, so relieved of something that he felt roused and triumphant and could not choke back his tears. Raising the book a little to hide his face he let them fall and shook his head from side to side and forgot himself completely (but not one or two reflections about morality and French novels and English novels and Scott’s hands being tied but his view perhaps being as true as the other view), forgot his own bothers and failures completely in poor Steenie’s drowning and Mucklebackit’s sorrow (that was Scott at his best) and the astonishing delight and feeling of vigor that it gave him. Well, let them improve upon that, he thought as he finished the chapter … The whole of life did not consist in going to bed with a woman, he thought, returning to Scott and Balzac, to the English novel and the French novel.

Bonne lecture et à bientôt.

(Next time I will introduce The Black Dwarf, the first story contained in the 1st series of Tales of My Landlord. Tales of my Landlord is a series of novels by Sir Walter Scott.  It form a subset of the so-called ‘Waverley Novels’. There are four series of stories.)

I love very much the following video of Abbotsford by David Wheater. It’s quite interesting and very well documented.  It contains old pictures of the place.

It rings a bell!



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