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of the intensity of the superstition still lingering in this form in the
land. The logic of the depositors probably suggests, that the spiritual
guardians of the fountain, though amenable to flattery and propitiation
by gift, are not really well informed about the market value of worldly
chattels, and are easily put off with rubbish.

A historical inquiry into the worship or consecration of wells and
other waters would be interesting. In countries near the tropics, where
sandy deserts prevail, a well must ever have been a thing of momentous
importance; and we find among the tribes of Israel the digging down a
well spoken of as the climax of reckless, heartless, and awful
destructiveness. To find, however, how in watery Ireland and Scotland a
mere dribblet of the element so generally abounding should have been an
object of veneration for centuries, we must look to something beyond
physical wants and their supply.

The principal cause of the sanctification of springs must, of course, be
explained by the first of Christian ordinances. The spring close by the
dwelling or cell of the saint - the spring on account of which he
probably selected the centre of his mission - had not only washed the
forefathers of the district from the stain of primeval heathenism, but
had applied the visible sign by which all, from generation to
generation, had been admitted into the bosom of the Church. This might
seem to afford a cause sufficient in itself for the effect, yet it
appears to have been aided by other causes more recondite and
mysterious. Notwithstanding all the trash talked about Druids and other
persons of this kind, we know extremely little of the heathenism of the
British Isles. The little that we do know is learned from the meagre
notices which the biographers of the saints have furnished of that
which the saints superseded. It is not their function to commemorate
the abominations of heathenism; they would rather bury it in eternal
oblivion - _premat nox alta_ - but they cannot entirely tell the triumphs
of their spiritual heroes without some reference, however faint, to the
conquered enemies.

The earliest recorded conflicts between the new and the old creed are
connected with fountains. In one page of the Life of Columba we find the
saint, on a child being brought to him for baptism, in a desert place
where no water was, striking the rock like Moses, and drawing forth a
rill, which remained in perennial existence - a fountain surrounded by a
special sanctity. In the next page he deals with a well in the hands of
the Magi. They had put a demon of theirs into it to such effect, that
any unfortunate person washing himself in the well or drinking of its
water, was forthwith stricken with paralysis, or leprosy, or blindness
of an eye, or some other corporeal calamity. The malignant powers with
which they had inspired this formidable well spread far around the fear
of the Magi, and consequently their influence. But the Christian
missionaries were to show a power of a different kind - a power of
beneficence, excelling and destroying the power of malignity. The
process adopted is fully described. The saint, after a suitable
invocation, washed his hands and feet in the water, and then drank of it
with his disciples. The Magi looked on with a malignant smile to see
the accursed well produce its usual effect; but the saint and his
followers came away uninjured: the demon was driven out of the well, and
it became ever afterwards a holy fountain, curing many of their
infirmities. Another miracle, bearing against the Magi, introduces us to
one of their number by name, and gives a little of his domestic history.
His name is Broichan, and he is tutor to Brud, king of the Picts, with
whom he dwells on the banks of the Ness. It might have relieved the mind
of the historical inquirer to be told that Brud built for himself the
remarkable vitrified fort of Craig-Phadric, which rises high above the
Ness, and to be informed of the manner in which its calcined rampart was
constructed; but nothing is said on the subject, and Craig-Phadric
stands on its own isolated merits, still to be guessed at, without one
tangible word out of record or history to help any theory about its
object or construction home to a conclusion. One is free, however, to
imagine Brud, the heathen king of the Picts, living on the scarped top
of the hill, in a lodging of wattled or wooden houses, surrounded by a
rampart of stones fused by fire, as the only cement then known. Such we
may suppose to have been the "domus regia," whence the saint walked out
in a very bad humour to the river Ness, from the pebbles of which he
selected one white stone, to be turned to an important use. Broichan,
the Magus, had in his possession a female slave from Ireland. Columba,
who seems to have held with him such intercourse as a missionary to the
Chocktaws might have with a great medicine-man, desired that the Magus
should manumit the woman, for what reason we are not distinctly told;
but it is easy to suppose strong grounds for intervention when a
Christian missionary finds a woman, of his own country and creed, the
slave of a heathen priest. Columba's request was refused. Losing
patience, he had resort to threats; and at length, driven to his
ultimatum, he denounced death to Broichan if the slave were not released
before his own return to Ireland. Columba told his disciples to expect
two messengers to come from the king to tell of the sudden and critical
illness of Broichan. The messengers rushed in immediately after to claim
the saint's intervention. Broichan had been suddenly stricken by an
angel sent for the purpose; and as if he had been taking his dram in a
modern gin-palace, we are told that the drinking-glass, or glass
drinking-vessel, "vitrea bibera," which he was conveying to his lips,
was smashed in pieces, and he himself seized with deadly sickness.
Columba sends the consecrated pebble, with a prescription that the water
in which it is dipped is to be drunk. If, before he drinks, Broichan
releases his slave, he is to recover; if not, he dies. The Magus
complies, and is saved. The consecrated stone, which had the quality of
floating in water like a nut, was afterwards, as we are told, preserved
in the treasury of the king of the Picts. It has been lost to the world,
along with the saint's white robe and his consecrated banner, both of
which performed miracles after his death. But the sanitary influence
attributed to the water in which consecrated stones have been dipped, is
a superstition scarcely yet uprooted in Scotland.

Sermons in Stones.

One of the clubs has lately deviated from the printing of letterpress,
which is the established function of clubs, into pictorial art. As it
threatens to repeat the act on a larger scale, it is proposed to take a
glance at the result already afforded, in order that it may be seen
whether it is a failure, or a success opening up a new vein for club
enterprise. In distributing a set of pictorial prints among its members,
the club in question may be supposed to have invaded the art-unions: but
its course is in another direction, since its pictures are entirely
subservient to archæology. The innovator in question is the Spalding
Club, which has already distributed among its adherents a collection of
portraits of the sculptured stones in Scotland, and now proposes to do
the same by the early architectural remains of the north. In giving
effect to such a design, it will produce something like Dugdale's
Monasticon and the great English county histories.

If that which is to be done shall rival that which the club has
achieved, it will be worthy of all honour. No one can open the book of
The Sculptured Stones without being almost overwhelmed with astonishment
at the reflection that they are not monuments excavated in Egypt, or
Syria, or Mexico, but have stood before the light of day in village
churchyards, or in marketplaces, or by waysides throughout our own
country. As you pass on, the eye becomes almost tired with the endless
succession of grim and ghastly human figures - of distorted limbs - of
preternatural beasts, birds, and fishes - of dragons, centaurs, and
intertwined snakes - of uncouth vehicles, and warlike instruments, and
mystic-looking symbols - of chains of interlaced knots and complex
zigzags, all so crowding on each other that the tired eye feels as if it
had run through a procession of Temptations of St Anthony or Faust
Sabbaths. When this field of investigation and speculation is surveyed
in all its affluence, one is not surprised to find that it has been
taken in hand by a race of bold guessers, who, by the skilful appliance
of a jingling jargon of Asiatic, Celtic, and classical phraseology, make
nonsense sound like learning too deep to be fathomed. So, while
Rusticus will point out to you "the auld-fashioned standin' stane" - on
which he tells you that there are plain to be seen a cocked hat, a pair
of spectacles, a comb, a looking-glass, a sow with a long snout, and a
man driving a gig, - Mr Urban will describe to you "a hieroglyphed
monolith" in the terms following: -

"The Buddhist triad is conspicuously symbolised by what the peasantry
call a pair of spectacles. It consists of two circles, of which the one,
having its radius 1-3/4 inch wider than the other, is evidently Buddha,
the spiritual or divine intellectual essence of the world, or the
efficient underived source of all; the other is Dharma, the material
essence of the world - the plastic derivative cause. The ligamen
connecting them together, completes the sacred triad with the Sangha
derived from and composed of the two others. Here, therefore, is
symbolised the collective energy of spirit and matter in the state of
action, or the embryotic creation, the type and sum of all specific
forms, spontaneously evolved from the union of Buddha and Dharma. The
crescent, likened by the vulgar-minded peasantry to a cocked hat, is the
embodiment of the all-pervading celestial influence; and the decorated
sceptres or sacred wands of office, laid across it at the mystic angle
of forty-five degrees, represent the comprehensive discipline and
cosmopolite authority of the conquering Sarsaswete. The figure of the
elephant - undoubted evidence of the oriental origin of this
monoglyph - represents the embryo of organised matter; while in the
chariot of the sun the never-dying Inis na Bhfiodhlhadth threads the
sacred labyrinth, waving a branch of the Mimosa serisha, which has been
dipped in a sacred river, and dried beneath the influence of Osiris. The
figures called a comb and a looking-glass are the lingal emblems of the
sacred Phallic worship. The whole hierograph thus combines, in an
extremely simple and instructive unity, the symbolisation of Apis,
Osiris, Uphon, and Isis, Phallos, Pater Æther, and Mater Terra, Lingam
and Yoni, Vishnu, Brama, and Sarsaswete, with their Saktes, Yang and
Yiri, Padwadevi, Viltzli-pultzli, Baal, Dhanandarah, Sulivahna and Mumbo

The honest transcripts in the club book clear away a great deal of that
unknown which is so convertible into the magnificent. It was extremely
perplexing to understand that the elephant was profusely represented
upon memorials familiar to the eyes of the inhabitants of Scotland, at a
period, if we might credit some theories, anterior to the time when
Roman soldiers were appalled in the Punic war by the sudden apparition
of unknown animals of monstrous size and preternatural strength. The
whole flood of oriental theory was let loose by this evidence of
familiarity with the usages of Hindostan. But it is pretty evident,
when we inspect him closely, that the animal, though a strange beast of
some peculiar conventional type, is no elephant. That spiral winding-up
of his snout, which passed for a trunk, is a characteristic refuge of
embryo art, repeated upon other parts of the animal. It is necessitated
by the difficulty which a primitive artist feels in bringing out the
form of an extremity, whatever it may be - snout, horn, or hoof. He finds
that the easiest termination he can make is a whirl, and he makes it
accordingly. Thus the noses, the tails, the feet of the characteristic
monster of the sculptured stones, all end in a whirl, as the final
letter of an accomplished and dashing penman ends in a flourish. The
same difficulty is met in repeated instances on these stones by another
ingenious resource. Animals are united or twined together by noses or
tails, to enable the artist to escape the difficulty of executing the
extremities of each separately.

There is a propensity to believe that whatever is old must have
something holy and mysterious about it. It is difficult to suppose that,
in making an ornament, men who would be so venerable, were they alive
now, as our ancestors of many centuries ago, can have been in the
slightest degree affected by the pomps and vanities of this wicked
world. Hence there is never a quaint Gothic decoration, floral or
animal, but it must be symbolic of some great mystery. So the
reticulated and geometrical tracery on the sculptured stones has been
invested with mythic attributes, under such names as "the Runic Knot."
It has been counted symbolical of a mysterious worship or creed, and has
been associated with Druids and other respectable, but not very
palpable, personages.[83]

[Footnote 83: It would not be difficult to trace a resemblance between
some of the exceedingly elaborate sculpture of the New Zealanders and
that of the sculptured stones, especially in the instance of the very
handsome country-house of the chief Rangihaetita, represented in Mr
Angas's New Zealanders Illustrated. Its name, by the way, in the native
Maori, is Kai Tangata, or Eat-man House - so called, doubtless, in
commemoration of the many jolly feasts held in it, on missionaries and
others coming within Wordsworth's description of

"A being not too wise and good
For human nature's daily food."]

Good theories are such a rarity in the antiquarian world, that it is a
luxury to find one which, in reference to this sort of decoration,
merits that character. The buildings, both ecclesiastical and civil, of
the early Christians of the North were, as we have seen, made of wattles
or wicker-ware. The skill, therefore, of the architectural decorator
took the direction of the variations in basket-work. We know that in the
Gothic age those forms which were found the most endurable and graceful
in which stone could be placed upon stone, became also the ruling forms
which guided the carver and the painter; so that all wood-work,
metal-work, seal-cutting, illumination of books, and the like, repeated
the ornaments of Gothic architecture. It would only, then, be a
prototype of an established phenomenon were it to be found that the
sculptor of an earlier age adopted the decorations developed by the
skillful platting of withes or wattles; and accordingly, this is just
the character of the platted ornaments so prevalent on the sculptured
stones.[84] But, however these may have been suggested, they show the
work of the undoubted artist, and furnish, as the advertisements say, "a
varied assortment of the most elegant and attractive patterns."

[Footnote 84: See "An Attempt to Explain the Origin and Meaning of the
Early Interlaced Ornamentation found on the Ancient Sculptured Stones of
Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, by Gilbert J. French of Bolton."
Privately printed.]

Every one who in future attempts to unravel the mystery of these
primitive sculptures must not only in gratitude but in common justice
pay homage to the services of Mr John Stuart, the secretary of the
Antiquaries' Society of Scotland, to whose learning and zeal he owes the
collective means of examining them. It will interest many to know that
Mr Stuart has been at work again, and has a second collection of
transcripts, in some respects even more instructive than the first.
These will show, for instance, the point of junction between the
sculptures of the East and of the West, which, in their extreme special
features, are widely unlike each other.

In the mean time, as the reader is perhaps tired of all this talk about
books, and I would fain part with him in good humour, I venture to take
him on an imaginary ramble in the wilds of Argyllshire, in search of
specimens of ancient native sculpture, that he may have an opportunity
of noticing how much has yet to be gleaned off this stony field. So we
are off together, on a fresh summer morning, along the banks of the
Crinan Canal, until we reach the road which turns southward to Loch Swin
and Taivalich. After ascending so far, we strike off by a scarcely
discernible track, and climb upwards among the curiously broken
mountains of South Knapdale. When we are high enough up we look on the
other side of the first ridge, and see the brown heather dappled with
tiny lakes, looking like molten silver dropped into their hollows; while
far below, one of the countless branches of Loch Swin winds through a
narrow inlet, among rocks cushioned to the water's edge with deep green
foliage. We are not to descend to the region of lake and woodland,
betrayed by this glimpse, but to keep the wilder upland; and at last, in
a secluded hollow near the small tarn called Lochcolissor, we reach a
deserted village - a collection of roofless stone houses, looking, if one
judged from mere externals, as if they might in their early days have
given shelter to Columba or Oran. In the centre of this group of
domestic ruins is an affluent fountain of the clearest water. Standing
over it is the object of our search - a tall, grey, profusely-lichened
stone. At first it seems amorphous, as geologists say; but a closer view
discloses on the one side a cross incised, on the other a network of
floral decorations in relief. To trace these in their completeness, it
would be necessary to accomplish the not easy task of removing the
coating of lichen; and, by the way, if adepts in the cryptogamic
department of botany shall succeed in finding a test of the precise age
of those lichens, which they believe they have proved to be the growth
of centuries, a key of the most valuable kind will be obtained for
discovering the age of stone monuments.[85]

[Footnote 85: Any one who desires to see the extent to which science can
find employment in this arid-looking corner of organic life, may look at
a "Memoir on the Spermogones and Pycnides of Filamentous, Fruticulose,
and Foliaceous Lichens," by Dr William Lauder Lindsay, in the 22d volume
of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.]

Turn now in another direction. At the head of Loch Fyne, near Dunderar,
the grim tower of the Macnaughtons - which, from some decorations on it,
looks hugely like as if it had been built in the seventeenth century
with the stones of an old church - we find a tuft of trees with a dyke
round it, called Kilmorich. It is a graveyard evidently, though it may
not have been recently opened; the surface is uneven, and several rough
stones, which may have been placed there at any time, stick through the
earth. These, after a deliberate inspection, are found to have nothing
of a sculptural character. But a small piece of rounded stone appears
above the grass, and a little grubbing discloses a font, faintly
decorated with some primitive fluting, on which a stone-mason would look
with much scorn, and a scratching of a galley, the symbol of the Argyll
family, or some other of the races descended from ancient sea-kings.
This gives encouragement, and a sharper glance around betrays a
singular-looking rounded headstone, in which are two crescent-shaped
holes. There are corresponding holes on the portion under the sod, which
thus completes the rounded head of an ancient Scoto-Irish cross. The
next point is to find the shaft - it lies not far off, deep in the turf.
And when we take the grass and moss from its face, it discloses some
extremely curious quadrilateral decorations, quite peculiar, and not in
conformity with any type of form which would enable its date to be
guessed at within a century or two of the reality.

Passing through the rich woods of Ardkinglas, in a few miles we reach
the burying-ground, called of old Kilmaglas, but now the well-kept
churchyard, in which stands the modern church of Strachur. There are
many who will remember the white house glimmering through the trees, and
lament that memory is now all that it contains for them. Here are
several curious specimens of sculpture. Some stones, not of the oldest
type, have the crossed sword, symbolical alike of the warrior character
of the dead and the religion of peace in which he rests. There is one
with a figure in full chain-armour; and others, again, of an older date,
ornamented with the geometric reticulations already discussed.
Descending a few miles farther, in the small fertile delta of the
Lachlan, and overshadowed almost by the old square castle of the
M'Lachlans, there is a bushy enclosure which may be identified as the
old burial-place of Kilmory. A large block of hewn stone, with a square
hole in it, sets one in search of the cross of which it was the socket.
This is found in the grass, sadly mutilated, but can be recognised by
the stumps of the branches which once exfoliated into its circular head.
Beside it lies a flat stone, on which a sword is surrounded by graceful
floral sculpture.

Let us cross over again to the valley perforated by Loch Crinan.
Northward of the canal there is a remarkable alluvial district, through
which, although it seems crowded with steep mountain summits, one can
travel over many a mile of level turf. From this soil the hills and
rocks rise with extreme abruptness, in ridges at the border of the
plain, and in isolated peaks here and there throughout its flat alluvial
surface. Conspicuous, in a minor degree, is a great barrow like a
pyramid, with a chamber roofed with long stones in its centre. Near it
is one of those circles of rough stones called Druidical, and farther on
there is another, and then another; some of them tall pillars, others
merely peeping above ground. They literally people the plain. This must
have been a busy neighbourhood, whatever sort of work it may have been
that went on around these untooled fragments of the living rock, which
have so distracted our antiquaries in later centuries. If they were the
means or the object of any kind of heathen worship, then the existence
close beside them of the vestiges of early Christianity may be set down
as an illustration of the well-known historical opinion, that the first
Christian missionaries, instead of breaking the idols and reviling the
superstitions of those whom they went to convert, professed to bring a
new sanctity to their sacred places, and endeavoured to turn their
impure faith, with the least possible violence, into the path of purity.

Our next trial is at Kilmichael, about three miles from Loch Gilp. The
churchyard is extremely fruitful in sculptured stones of various
kinds - some floral, others geometrical, with wild beasts, monsters, and
human figures. One of them was pointed out as the tomb of a member of
the house of Campbell, who bore the name of Thomas, and was a great
bard, and lived in London and other great cities - Thomas Campbell, in
short. It seems to be true that his ancestors were buried in Kilmichael
churchyard, but my informant seemed to struggle with an idea that the
stone covered with the sculpture of a far-past century had been really
raised to his honour. The next generation will probably assert this as a
fact. The genesis of such traditions is curious. The stone called Rob
Roy's tomb, which lies beside an ancient font in the churchyard of
Balquhidder, is a sculptured stone raised for some one who had probably
died in wealth and honour hundreds of years before Rob stole cattle.

By a slight ascent westward of the alluvial plain we reach Kilmartin, a
village with a large modern church. Its graveyard is graced with many
sculptured stones - twenty-five may be counted, conspicuous for their
rich carving and excellent preservation. On one or two of the latest in
date, there are knightly figures clad in chain-mail. A local antiquary
could probably trace these home to some worshipful families in the
neighbourhood, but there are others beyond the infancy of the oldest
authentic pedigrees. While the stones in the eastern counties are all of
extremely remote antiquity, offering no link of connection with later
times, these Highland specimens seem to carry their peculiarities with
modified variations through several centuries into times comparatively

Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter : etc. → online text (page 31 of 33)