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The Antiquary is about several characters including an antiquary: an amateur historian, archaeologist and collector of items of dubious antiquity. He is the eponymous character and for all practical purposes the hero, though the characters of Lovel and Isabella Wardour provide the conventional love interest.
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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2018
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I knew Anselmo. He was shrewd and prudent,
Wisdom and cunning had their shares of him;
But he was shrewish as a wayward child,
And pleased again by toys which childhood please;
As—-book of fables, graced with print of wood,
Or else the jingling of a rusty medal,
Or the rare melody of some old ditty,
That first was sung to please King Pepin’s cradle
The present work completes a series of fictitious narratives, intended to illustrate the manners of Scotland at three different periods. Waverley embraced the age of our fathers, Guy Mannering that of our own youth, and the Antiquary refers to the last ten years of the eighteenth century. I have, in the two last narratives especially, sought my principal personages in the class of society who are the last to feel the influence of that general polish which assimilates to each other the manners of different nations. Among the same class I have placed some of the scenes in which I have endeavoured to illustrate the operation of the higher and more violent passions; both because the lower orders are less restrained by the habit of suppressing their feelings, and because I agree, with my friend Wordsworth, that they seldom fail to express them in the strongest and most powerful language. This is, I think, peculiarly the case with the peasantry of my own country, a class with whom I have long been familiar. The antique force and simplicity of their language, often tinctured with the Oriental eloquence of Scripture, in the mouths of those of an elevated understanding, give pathos to their grief, and dignity to their resentment.
I have been more solicitous to describe manners minutely than to arrange in any case an artificial and combined narrative, and have but to regret that I felt myself unable to unite these two requisites of a good Novel.
The knavery of the adept in the following sheets may appear forced and improbable; but we have had very late instances of the force of superstitious credulity to a much greater extent, and the reader may be assured, that this part of the narrative is founded on a fact of actual occurrence.
I have now only to express my gratitude to the Public for the distinguished reception which, they have given to works, that have little more than some truth of colouring to recommend them, and to take my respectful leave, as one who is not likely again to solicit their favour.
To the above advertisement, which was prefixed to the first edition of the Antiquary, it is necessary in the present edition to add a few words, transferred from the Introduction to the Chronicles of the Canongate, respecting the character of Jonathan Oldbuck.
“I may here state generally, that although I have deemed historical personages free subjects of delineation, I have never on any occasion violated the respect due to private life. It was indeed impossible that traits proper to persons, both living and dead, with whom I have had intercourse in society, should not have risen to my pen in such works as Waverley, and those which followed it. But I have always studied to generalise the portraits, so that they should still seem, on the whole, the productions of fancy, though possessing some resemblance to real individuals. Yet I must own my attempts have not in this last particular been uniformly successful. There are men whose characters are so peculiarly marked, that the delineation of some leading and principal feature, inevitably places the whole person before you in his individuality. Thus the character of Jonathan Oldbuck in the Antiquary, was partly founded on that of an old friend of my youth, to whom I am indebted for introducing me to Shakspeare, and other invaluable favours; but I thought I had so completely disguised the likeness, that it could not be recognised by any one now alive. I was mistaken, however, and indeed had endangered what I desired should be considered as a secret; for I afterwards learned that a highly respectable gentleman, one of the few surviving friends of my father, and an acute critic, had said, upon the appearance of the work, that he was now convinced who was the author of it, as he recognised, in the Antiquary, traces of the character of a very intimate friend* of my father’s family.”
* [The late George Constable of Wallace Craigie, near Dundee.]
I have only farther to request the reader not to suppose that my late respected friend resembled Mr. Oldbuck, either in his pedigree, or the history imputed to the ideal personage. There is not a single incident in the Novel which is borrowed from his real circumstances, excepting the fact that he resided in an old house near a flourishing seaport, and that the author chanced to witness a scene betwixt him and the female proprietor of a stage-coach, very similar to that which commences the history of the Antiquary. An excellent temper, with a slight degree of subacid humour; learning, wit, and drollery, the more poignant that they were a little marked by the peculiarities of an old bachelor; a soundness of thought, rendered more forcible by an occasional quaintness of expression, were, the author conceives, the only qualities in which the creature of his imagination resembled his benevolent and excellent old friend.
The prominent part performed by the Beggar in the following narrative, induces the author to prefix a few remarks of that character, as it formerly existed in Scotland, though it is now scarcely to be traced.
Many of the old Scottish mendicants were by no means to be confounded with the utterly degraded class of beings who now practise that wandering trade. Such of them as were in the habit of travelling through a particular district, were usually well received both in the farmer’s ha’, and in the kitchens of the country gentlemen. Martin, author of the Reliquiae Divi Sancti Andreae, written in 1683, gives the following account of one class of this order of men in the seventeenth century, in terms which would induce an antiquary like Mr. Oldbuck to regret its extinction. He conceives them to be descended from the ancient bards, and proceeds:—-“They are called by others, and by themselves, Jockies, who go about begging; and use still to recite the Sloggorne (gathering-words or war-cries) of most of the true ancient surnames of Scotland, from old experience and observation. Some of them I have discoursed, and found to have reason and discretion. One of them told me there were not now above twelve of them in the whole isle; but he remembered when they abounded, so as at one time he was one of five that usually met at St. Andrews.”
The race of Jockies (of the above description) has, I suppose, been long extinct in Scotland; but the old remembered beggar, even in my own time, like the Baccoch, or travelling cripple of Ireland, was expected to merit his quarters by something beyond an exposition of his distresses. He was often a talkative, facetious fellow, prompt at repartee, and not withheld from exercising his powers that way by any respect of persons, his patched cloak giving him the privilege of the ancient jester. To be a gude crack, that is, to possess talents for conversation, was essential to the trade of a “puir body” of the more esteemed class; and Burns, who delighted in the amusement their discourse afforded, seems to have looked forward with gloomy firmness to the possibility of himself becoming one day or other a member of their itinerant society. In his poetical works, it is alluded to so often, as perhaps to indicate that he considered the consummation as not utterly impossible. Thus in the fine dedication of his works to Gavin Hamilton, he says,—
And when I downa yoke a naig,
Then, Lord be thankit, I can beg.
Again, in his Epistle to Davie, a brother Poet, he states, that in their closing career—
The last o’t, the warst o’t,
Is only just to beg.
And after having remarked, that
To lie in kilns and barns at e’en,
When banes are crazed and blude is thin,
Is doubtless great distress; the bard reckons up, with true poetical spirit, the free enjoyment of the beauties of nature, which might counterbalance the hardship and uncertainty of the life, even of a mendicant. In one of his prose letters, to which I have lost the reference, he details this idea yet more seriously, and dwells upon it, as not ill adapted to his habits and powers.
As the life of a Scottish mendicant of the eighteenth century seems to have been contemplated without much horror by Robert Burns, the author can hardly have erred in giving to Edie Ochiltree something of poetical character and personal dignity, above the more abject of his miserable calling. The class had, intact, some privileges. A lodging, such as it was, was readily granted to them in some of the out-houses, and the usual awmous (alms) of a handful of meal (called a gowpen) was scarce denied by the poorest cottager. The mendicant disposed these, according to their different quality, in various bags around his person, and thus carried about with him the principal part of his sustenance, which he literally received for the asking. At the houses of the gentry, his cheer was mended by scraps of broken meat, and perhaps a Scottish “twalpenny,” or English penny, which was expended in snuff or whiskey. In fact, these indolent peripatetics suffered much less real hardship and want of food, than the poor peasants from whom they received alms.
If, in addition to his personal qualifications, the mendicant chanced to be a King’s Bedesman, or Blue-Gown, he belonged, in virtue thereof, to the aristocracy of his order, and was esteemed a parson of great importance.
These Bedesmen are an order of paupers to whom the Kings of Scotland were in the custom of distributing a certain alms, in conformity with the ordinances of the Catholic Church, and who were expected in return to pray for the royal welfare and that of the state. This order is still kept up. Their number is equal to the number of years which his Majesty has lived; and one Blue-Gown additional is put on the roll for every returning royal birth-day. On the same auspicious era, each Bedesman receives a new cloak, or gown of coarse cloth, the colour light blue, with a pewter badge, which confers on them the general privilege of asking alms through all Scotland,—all laws against sorning, masterful beggary, and every other species of mendicity, being suspended in favour of this privileged class. With his cloak, each receives a leathern purse, containing as many shillings Scots (videlicet, pennies sterling) as the sovereign is years old; the zeal of their intercession for the king’s long life receiving, it is to be supposed, a great stimulus from their own present and increasing interest in the object of their prayers. On the same occasion one of the Royal Chaplains preaches a sermon to the Bedesmen, who (as one of the reverend gentlemen expressed himself) are the most impatient and inattentive audience in the world. Something of this may arise from a feeling on the part of the Bedesmen, that they are paid for their own devotions, not for listening to those of others. Or, more probably, it arises from impatience, natural, though indecorous in men bearing so venerable a character, to arrive at the conclusion of the ceremonial of the royal birth-day, which, so far as they are concerned, ends in a lusty breakfast of bread and ale; the whole moral and religious exhibition terminating in the advice of Johnson’s “Hermit hoar” to his proselyte,
Come, my lad, and drink some beer.
Of the charity bestowed on these aged Bedesmen in money and clothing, there are many records in the Treasurer’s accompts. The following extract, kindly supplied by Mr. Macdonald of the Register House, may interest those whose taste is akin to that of Jonathan Oldbuck of Monkbarns.
In the Account of Sir Robert Melvill of Murdocarney,
Treasurer-Depute of King James VI., there are the following Payments:—
“Item, to Mr. Peter Young, Elimosinar, twentie four gownis of blew
clayth, to be gevin to xxiiij auld men, according to the yeiris of his
hienes age, extending to viii xx viii elnis clayth; price of the elne
xxiiij s. Inde, ij cj li. xij s.
“Item, for sextene elnis bukrum to the saidis gownis, price of the elne x
s. Inde, viij li.
“Item, twentie four pursis, and in ilk purse twentie four schelling
Inde, xxciij li. xvj s.
“Item, the price of ilk purse iiij d. Inde, viij s.
“Item, for making of the saidis gownis viij li.”
In the Account of John, Earl of Mar, Great Treasurer of Scotland, and of
Sir Gideon Murray of Enbank, Treasurer-Depute, the Blue-Gowns also appear
“Item, to James Murray, merchant, for fyftene scoir sex elnis and aine
half elne of blew claith to be gownis to fyftie ane aigeit men, according
to the yeiris of his Majesteis age, at xl s. the elne
Inde, vj c xiij li.
“Item, to workmen for careing the blewis to James Aikman, tailyeour, his
hous xiij s. iiij d.
“Item, for sex elnis and ane half of harden to the saidis gownis, at vj
s. viij d. the elne Inde, xliij s. iiij d.
“Item, to the said workmen for careing of the gownis fra the said James
Aikman’s hous to the palace of Halyrudehous xviij s.
“Item, for making the saidis fyftie ane gownis, at xij s. the peice
Inde, xxx li. xij s.
“Item, for fyftie ane pursis to the said puire menlj s.
“Item, to Sir Peter Young, li s. to be put in everie ane of the saidis
ljpursis to the said poore men j cxxxl jj s.
“Item, to the said Sir Peter, to buy breid and drink to the said puir men
vj li. xiij s. iiij d.
“Item, to the said Sir Peter, to be delt amang uther puire folk j cli.
“Item, upoun the last day of Junii to Doctor Young, Deane of Winchester,
Elimozinar Deput to his Majestic, twentie fyve pund sterling, to be gevin
to the puir be the way in his Majesteis progress Inde, iij c li.”
I have only to add, that although the institution of King’s Bedesmen still subsists, they are now seldom to be seen on the streets of Edinburgh, of which their peculiar dress made them rather a characteristic feature.
Having thus given an account of the genus and species to which Edie Ochiltree appertains, the author may add, that the individual he had in his eye was Andrew Gemmells, an old mendicant of the character described, who was many years since well known, and must still be remembered, in the vales of Gala, Tweed, Ettrick, Yarrow, and the adjoining country.
The author has in his youth repeatedly seen and conversed with Andrew, but cannot recollect whether he held the rank of Blue-Gown. He was a remarkably fine old figure, very tall, and maintaining a soldierlike or military manner and address. His features were intelligent, with a powerful expression of sarcasm. His motions were always so graceful, that he might almost have been suspected of having studied them; for he might, on any occasion, have, served as a model for an artist, so remarkably striking were his ordinary attitudes. Andrew Gemmells had little of the cant of his calling; his wants were food and shelter, or a trifle of money, which he always claimed, and seemed to receive as his due. He, sung a good song, told a good story, and could crack a severe jest with all the acumen of Shakespeare’s jesters, though without using, like them, the cloak of insanity. It was some fear of Andrew’s satire, as much as a feeling of kindness or charity, which secured him the general good reception which he enjoyed everywhere. In fact, a jest of Andrew Gemmells, especially at the expense of a person of consequence, flew round the circle which he frequented, as surely as the bon-mot of a man of established character for wit glides through the fashionable world, Many of his good things are held in remembrance, but are generally too local and personal to be introduced here.
Andrew had a character peculiar to himself among his tribe for aught I ever heard. He was ready and willing to play at cards or dice with any one who desired such amusement. This was more in the character of the Irish itinerant gambler, called in that country a “carrow,” than of the Scottish beggar. But the late Reverend Doctor Robert Douglas, minister of Galashiels, assured the author, that the last time he saw Andrew Gemmells, he was engaged in a game at brag with a gentleman of fortune, distinction, and birth. To preserve the due gradations of rank, the party was made at an open window of the chateau, the laird sitting on his chair in the inside, the beggar on a stool in the yard; and they played on the window-sill. The stake was a considerable parcel of silver. The author expressing some surprise, Dr. Douglas observed, that the laird was no doubt a humourist or original; but that many decent persons in those times would, like him, have thought there was nothing extraordinary in passing an hour, either in card-playing or conversation, with Andrew Gemmells.
This singular mendicant had generally, or was supposed to have, much money about his person, as would have been thought the value of his life among modern foot-pads. On one occasion, a country gentleman, generally esteemed a very narrow man, happening to meet Andrew, expressed great regret that he had no silver in his pocket, or he would have given him sixpence.—“I can give you change for a note, laird,” replied Andrew.
Like most who have arisen to the head of their profession, the modern degradation which mendicity has undergone was often the subject of Andrew’s lamentations. As a trade, he said, it was forty pounds a-year worse since he had first practised it. On another occasion he observed, begging was in modern times scarcely the profession of a gentleman; and that, if he had twenty sons, he would not easily be induced to breed one of them up in his own line. When or where this laudator temporis acti closed his wanderings, the author never heard with certainty; but most probably, as Burns says,
—he died a cadger-powny’s death,
At some dike side.
The author may add another picture of the same kind as Edie Ochiltree and Andrew Gemmells; considering these illustrations as a sort of gallery, open to the reception of anything which may elucidate former manners, or amuse the reader.
The author’s contemporaries at the university of Edinburgh will probably remember the thin, wasted form of a venerable old Bedesman, who stood by the Potterrow-Port, now demolished, and, without speaking a syllable, gently inclined his head, and offered his hat, but with the least possible degree of urgency, towards each individual who passed. This man gained, by silence and the extenuated and wasted appearance of a palmer from a remote country, the same tribute which was yielded to Andrew Gemmells’ sarcastic humour and stately deportment. He was understood to be able to maintain a son a student in the theological classes of the University, at the gate of which the father was a mendicant. The young man was modest and inclined to learning, so that a student of the same age, and whose parents where rather of the lower order, moved by seeing him excluded from the society of other scholars when the secret of his birth was suspected, endeavoured to console him by offering him some occasional civilities. The old mendicant was grateful for this attention to his son, and one day, as the friendly student passed, he stooped forward more than usual, as if to intercept his passage. The scholar drew out a halfpenny, which he concluded was the beggar’s object, when he was surprised to receive his thanks for the kindness he had shown to Jemmie, and at the same time a cordial invitation to dine with them next Saturday, “on a shoulder of mutton and potatoes,” adding, “ye’ll put on your clean sark, as I have company.” The student was strongly tempted to accept this hospitable proposal, as many in his place would probably have done; but, as the motive might have been capable of misrepresentation, he thought it most prudent, considering the character and circumstances of the old man, to decline the invitation.
Such are a few traits of Scottish mendicity, designed to throw light on a Novel in which a character of that description plays a prominent part. We conclude, that we have vindicated Edie Ochiltree’s right to the importance assigned him; and have shown, that we have known one beggar take a hand at cards with a person of distinction, and another give dinner parties.
I know not if it be worth while to observe, that the Antiquary,* was not so well received on its first appearance as either of its predecessors, though in course of time it rose to equal, and, with some readers, superior popularity.
* Note A. Mottoes.
“THE ANTIQUARY” was begun in 1815; the bargain for its publication by Constable was made in the October of that year. On December 22 Scott wrote to Morritt: “I shall set myself seriously to ‘The Antiquary,’ of which I have only a very general sketch at present; but when once I get my pen to the paper it will walk fast enough. I am sometimes tempted to leave it alone, and try whether it will not write as well without the assistance of my head as with it,—a hopeful prospect for the reader!’” It is amazing enough that he even constructed “a general sketch,” for to such sketches he confesses that he never could keep constant. “I have generally written to the middle of one of these novels without having the least idea how it was to end,—in short, in the hab nab at a venture style of composition” (Journal, Feb. 24, 1828). Yet it is almost impossible but that the plot of “The Antiquary” should have been duly considered. Scott must have known from the first who Lovel was to turn out to be, and must have recognised in the hapless bride of Lord Glenallan the object of the Antiquary’s solitary and unfortunate passion. To introduce another Wandering Heir immediately after the Harry Bertram of “Guy Mannering” was rather audacious. But that old favourite, the Lost Heir, is nearly certain to be popular. For the Antiquary’s immortal sorrow Scott had a model in his own experience. “What a romance to tell!—and told, I fear, it will one day be. And then my three years of dreaming and my two years of wakening will be chronicled doubtless. But the dead will feel no pain.” The dead, as Aristotle says, if they care for such things at all, care no more than we do for what has passed in a dream.
The general sketch probably began to take full shape about the last day of 1815. On December 29 Scott wrote to Ballantyne:—
I’ve done, thank’God, with the long yarns
Of the most prosy of Apostles—Paul, 1
And now advance, sweet heathen of Monkbarns,
Step out, old quizz, as fast as I can scrawl.
In “The Antiquary” Scott had a subject thoroughly to his mind. He had been an antiquary from his childhood. His earliest pence had been devoted to that collection of printed ballads which is still at Abbotsford. These he mentions in the unfinished fragment of his “Reliquiae Trotcosienses,” in much the same words as in his manuscript note on one of the seven volumes.
“This little collection of Stall tracts and ballads was formed by me, when a boy, from the baskets of the travelling pedlars. Until put into its present decent binding it had such charms for the servants that it was repeatedly, and with difficulty, recovered from their clutches. It contains most of the pieces that were popular about thirty years since, and, I dare say, many that could not now be procured for any price (1810).”
Nor did he collect only—
“The rare melody of some old ditties
That first were sung to please King Pepin’s cradle.
“Walter had soon begun to gather out-of-the-way things of all sorts. He had more books than shelves [sic]; a small painted cabinet with Scotch and Roman coins in it, and so forth. A claymore and Lochaber axe, given him by old Invernahyle, mounted guard on a little print of Prince Charlie; and Broughton’s Saucer was hooked up on the wall below it.” He had entered literature through the ruined gateway of archleology, in the “Border Minstrelsy,” and his last project was an edition of Perrault’s “Contes de Ma Mere l’Oie.” As pleasant to him as the purchase of new lands like Turn Again, bought dearly, as in Monkbarns’s case, from “bonnet lauds,” was a fresh acquisition of an old book or of old armour. Yet, with all his enthusiasm, he did not please the antiquaries of his own day. George Chalmers, in Constable’s “Life and Correspondence” (i. 431), sneers at his want of learning. “His notes are loose and unlearned, as they generally are.” Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, his friend in life, disported himself in jealous and ribald mockery of Scott’s archaeological knowledge, when Scott was dead. In a letter of the enigmatic Thomas Allen, or James Stuart Hay, father of John Sobieski and Charles Edward Stuart, this mysterious person avers that he never knew Scott’s opinion to be held as of any value by antiquaries (1829). They probably missed in him “a sort of pettifogging intimacy with dates, names, and trifling matters of fact,—a tiresome and frivolous accuracy of memory” which Sir Arthur Wardour reproves in Monkbarns. Scott, in brief, was not as Dry-as-dust; all the dead bones that he touches come to life. He was as great an archeologist as a poet can be, and, with Virgil, was the greatest antiquary among poets. Like Monkbarns, he was not incapable of being beguiled. As Oldbuck bought the bodle from the pedlar at the price of a rare coin, so Scott took Surtees’s “Barthram’s Dirge,” and his Latin legend of the tourney with the spectre knight, for genuine antiquities. No Edie Ochiltree ever revealed to him the truth about these forgeries, and the spectre knight, with the ballad of “Anthony Featherstonhaugh,” hold their own in “Marmion,” to assure the world that this antiquary was gullible when the sleight was practised by a friend. “Non est tanti,” he would have said, had he learned the truth; for he was ever conscious of the humorous side of the study of the mouldering past. “I do not know anything which relieves the mind so much from the sullens as a trifling discourse about antiquarian oldwomanries. It is like knitting a stocking,—diverting the mind without occupying it.” (“Journal,” March 9, 1828).
Begun about Jan. 1, 1816, “The Antiquary” was published before May 16, 1816, when Scott writes to say that he has sent Mr. Morritt the novel “some time since.” “It is not so interesting as its predecessors; the period does not admit of so much romantic situation. But it has been more fortunate than any of them in the sale, for six thousand went off in the first six days, and it is now at press again.” The Preface of the first edition ends with the melancholy statement that the author “takes his respectful leave, as one who is not likely again to solicit favour.” Apparently Scott had already determined not to announce his next novels (“The Black Dwarf” and “Old Mortality”) as “by the Author of Waverley.” Mr. Constable, in the biography of his father, says (iii. 84): “Even before the publication of ‘The Antiquary,’ John Ballantyne had been impowered by the Author to negotiate with Mr. Murray and Mr. Blackwood for the first series of the ‘Tales of my Landlord.’” The note of withdrawal from the stage, in the first edition of “The Antiquary,” was probably only a part of another experiment on public sagacity. As Lockhart says, Mr. Murray and Mr. Blackwood thought that the consequent absence of the Author of “Waverley’s” name from the “Tales of my Landlord” would “check very much the first success of the book;” but they risked this, “to disturb Constable’s tenure.”
Scott’s temporary desertion of Constable in the “Tales of my Landlord” may have had various motives. There was a slight grudge against Constable, born of some complications of the Ballantynes’ affairs. Perhaps the mere amusement of the experiment on public sagacity was one of the more powerful reasons for the change. In our day Lord Lytton and Mr. Trollope made similar trials of their popularity when anonymous, the former author with the greater success. The idea of these masquerades and veils of the incognito appears to have bewitched Constable. William Godwin was writing for him his novel “Mandeville,” and Godwin had obviously been counselled to try a disguise. He says (Jan. 30, 1816) “I have amused my imagination a thousand times since last we parted with the masquerade you devised for me. The world is full of wonder. An old favourite is always reviewed with coldness. . . . ‘Pooh,’ they say; ‘Godwin has worn his pen to the stump!’ . . . But let me once be equipped with a significant mask and an unknown character from your masquerade shop, and admitted to figure in with the ‘Last Minstrel,’ the ‘Lady of the Lake,’ and ‘Guy Mannering’ in the Scottish carnival, Gods! how the boys and girls will admire me! ‘Here is a new wonder!’ they will say. ‘Ah, this is something like! Here is Godwin beaten on his own ground. . . Here is for once a Scottish writer that they cannot say has anything of the Scotchman about him.’”
However, Mr. Godwin did not don the mask and domino. “Mandeville” came out about the same time as “Rob Roy;” but the “craziness of the public” for the Author of “Waverley” was not changed into a passion for the father-in-law of Shelley.
“‘The Antiquary,’ after a little pause of hesitation, attained popularity not inferior to ‘Guy Mannering,’ and though the author appears for a moment to have shared the doubts which he read in the countenance of James Ballantyne, it certainly was, in the sequel, his chief favourite among all his novels.’”
As Scott said to Terry, “If a man will paint from nature, he will be likely to amuse those who are daily looking at it.” The years which saw the first appearance of “Guy Mannering” also witnessed that of “Emma.” By the singular chance, or law, which links great authors closely in time, giving us novelists in pairs, Miss Austen was “drawing from nature” at the very moment when Scott was wedding nature with romance. How generously and wisely he admired her is familiar, and it may, to some, seem curious that he never deliberately set himself to a picture of ordinary life, free from the intrusion of the unusual, of the heroic. Once, looking down at the village which lies on the Tweed, opposite Melrose, he remarked that under its roofs tragedies and tales were doubtless being lived. ‘I undertake to say there is some real romance at this moment going on down there, that, if it could have justice done to it, would be well worth all the fiction that was ever spun out of human brains.’ But the example he gave was terrible,—“anything more dreadful was never conceived by Crabbe;” yet, adds Lockhart, “it would never have entered into his head to elaborate such a tale.” He could not dwell in the unbroken gloom dear to some modern malingerers. But he could easily have made a tale of common Scotch life, dark with the sorrow of Mucklebackit, and bright with the mirth of Cuddie Headrigg. There was, however, this difficulty,—that Scott cared not to write a story of a single class. “From the peer to the ploughman,” all society mingles in each of his novels. A fiction of middle-class life did not allure him, and he was not at the best, but at his worst, as Sydney Smith observed, in the light talk of society. He could admire Miss Austen, and read her novels again and again; but had he attempted to follow her, by way of variety, then inevitably wild as well as disciplined humour would have kept breaking in, and his fancy would have wandered like the old knights of Arthur’s Court, “at adventure.” “St. Ronan’s Well” proved the truth of all this. Thus it happens that, in “The Antiquary,” with all his sympathy for the people, with all his knowledge of them, he does not confine himself to their cottages. As Lockhart says, in his admirable piece of criticism, he preferred to choose topics in which he could display “his highest art, that of skilful contrast.”
Even the tragic romance of “Waverley” does not set off its Macwheebles and Callum Begs better than the oddities of Jonathan Oldbuck and his circle are relieved, on the one hand by the stately gloom of the Glenallans, on the other by the stern affliction of the poor fisherman, who, when discovered repairing “the auld black bitch of a boat,” in which his boy had been lost, and congratulated by his visitors on being capable of the exertion, makes answer, “And what would you have me to do, unless I wanted to see four children starve, because one is drowned? It ‘s weel with you gentles, that can sit in the house with handkerchers at your een, when ye lose a friend; but the like o’ us maun to our work again, if our hearts were beating as hard as ony hammer.” And to his work again Scott had to go when he lost the partner of his life.
The simple unsought charm which Lockhart notes in “The Antiquary” may have passed away in later works, when what had been the amusement of happy days became the task of sadness. But this magic “The Antiquary” keeps perhaps beyond all its companions,—the magic of pleasant memories and friendly associations. The sketches of the epoch of expected invasion, with its patriotic musters and volunteer drillings, are pictures out of that part in the author’s life which, with his early Highland wanderings (“Waverley”) and his Liddesdale raids (“Guy Mannering”), was most dear to him. In “Redgauntlet,” again, he makes, as Alan Fairford, a return on his youth and his home, and in “Rob Roy” he revives his Highland recollections, his Highland lairds of “the blawing, bleezing stories.” None of the rest of the tales are so intimate in their connection with Scott’s own personal history. “The Antiquary” has always, therefore, been held in the very first rank of his novels.
As far as plot goes, though Godwin denied that it had any story, “The Antiquary” may be placed among the most careful. The underplot of the Glenallans, gloomy almost beyond endurance, is very ingeniously made to unravel the mystery of Lovel. The other side-narrative, that of Dousterswivel, is the weak point of the whole; but this Scott justifies by “very late instances of the force of superstitious credulity, to a much greater extent.” Some occurrence of the hour may have suggested the knavish adept with his divining-rod. But facts are never a real excuse for the morally incredible, or all but incredible, in fiction. On the wealth and vraisemblance and variety of character it were superfluous to dilate. As in Shakspeare, there is not even a minor person but lives and is of flesh and blood, if we except, perhaps, Dousterswivel and Sir Arthur Wardour. Sir Arthur is only Sir Robert Hazlewood over again, with a slightly different folly and a somewhat more amiable nature. Lovel’s place, as usual, is among the shades of heroes, and his love-affair is far less moving, far more summarily treated, than that of Jenny Caxon. The skilful contrasts are perhaps most remarkable when we compare Elspeth of the Burnfoot with the gossiping old women in the post-office at Fairport,—a town studied perhaps from Arbroath. It was the opinion of Sydney Smith that every one of the novels, before “The Fortunes of Nigel,” contained a Meg Merrilies and a Dominie Sampson. He may have recognized a male Meg in Edie Ochiltree,—the invaluable character who is always behind a wall, always overhears everything, and holds the threads of the plot. Or he may have been hypercritical enough to think that Elspeth of the Burnfoot is the Meg of the romance. Few will agree with him that Meg Merrilies, in either of these cases, is “good, but good too often.”
The supposed “originals” of certain persons in the tale have been topics of discussion. The character of Oldbuck, like most characters in fiction, is a combination of traits observed in various persons. Scott says, in a note to the Ashiestiel fragment of Autobiography, that Mr. George Constable, an old friend of his father’s, “had many of those peculiarities of character which long afterwards I tried to develop in the character of Jonathan Oldbuck.” Sir Walter, when a child, made Mr. Constable’s acquaintance at Prestonpans in 1777, where he explored the battle-field “under the learned guidance of Dalgetty.” Mr. Constable first introduced him to Shakspeare’s plays, and gave him his first German dictionary. Other traits may have been suggested by John Clerk of Eldin, whose grandfather was the hero of the story “Praetorian here, Praetorian there, I made it wi’ a flaughter spade.” Lockhart is no doubt right in thinking that Oldbuck is partly a caricature of Oldbuck’s creator,—Sir Walter indeed frankly accepted the kinship; and the book which he began on his own collection he proposed to style “Reliquim Trotcosienses; or, the Gabions of Jonathan Oldbuck.”
Another person who added a few points to Oldbuck was “Sandy Gordon,” author of the “Itinerarium Septentrionale” (1726), the very folio which Monkbarns carried in the dilatory coach to Queensferry. Gordon had been a student in the University of Aberdeen; he was an amateur in many arts, but antiquarianism was his favourite hobby. He was an acquaintance of Sir John Clerk of Eldin, the hero of the Praetorium. The words of Gordon in his “Itinerarium,” where he describes the battle of the Grampians, have supplied, or suggested, the speech of Monkbarns at the Kaim of Kinprunes. The great question was, Where is the Mons Grampius of Tacitus? Dismissing Camden’s Grantsbain, because he does not know where it is, Gordon says, “As for our Scotch Antiquaries, they are so divided that some will have it to be in the shire of Angus, or in the Mearns, some at the Blair of Athol in Perthshire, or Ardoch in Strathallan, and others at Inverpeffery.” Gordon votes for Strathern, “half a mile short of the Kirk of Comrie.” This spot is both at the foot of the Montes Grampii, “and boasts a Roman camp capable of holding an army fit to encounter so formidable a number as thirty thousand Caledonians. . . . Here is the Porta Decumana, opposite the Prcetoria, together with the dextra and sinistra gates,” all discovered by Sandy Gordon. “Moreover, the situation of the ground is so very exact with the description given by Tacitus, that in all my travels through Britain I never beheld anything with more pleasure. . . . Nor is it difficult, in viewing this ground, to say where the Covinarii, or Charioteers, stood. In fine, to an Antiquary, this is a ravishing scene.” He adds the argument “that Galgacus’s name still remains on this ground, for the moor on which the camp stood is called to this day Galdachan, or Galgachan Rosmoor.” All this lore Gordon illustrates by an immense chart of a camp, and a picture of very small Montes Grampii, about the size and shape of buns. The plate is dedicated to his excellency General Wade.
In another point Monkbapns borrows from Gordon. Sandy has a plate (page 20) of “The Roman Sacellum of Mars Signifer, vulgarly called ‘Arthur’s Oon.’ With regard to its shape, it is not unlike the famous Pantheon at Rome before the noble Portico was added to it by Marcus Agrippa.” Gordon agrees with Stukeley in attributing Arthur’s Oon to Agricola, and here Monkbarns and Lovel adopt almost his words. “Time has left Julius Agricola’s very name on the place; . . . and if ever those initial letters J. A. M. P. M. P. T., mentioned by Sir Robert Sibbald, were engraven on a stone in this building, it may not be reckoned altogether absurd that they should bear this reading, JULIUS AGRICOLA MAGNUS PIETATIS MONUMENTUM POSUIT TEMPLUM; but this my reader may either accept or reject as he pleases. However, I think it may be as probably received as that inscription on Caligula’s Pharos in Holland, which having these following letters, C. C. P. F., is read Caius Caligula Pharum Fecit.” “This,” Monkbarns adds, “has ever been recorded as a sound exposition.”
The character of Edie Ochiltree, Scott himself avers to have been suggested by Andrew Gemmells, pleasantly described in the Introduction. Mr. Chambers, in “Illustrations of the Author of ‘Waverley,” clears up a point doubtful in Scott’s memory, by saying that Geimells really was a Blue-Gown. He rode a horse of his own, and at races was a bookmaker. He once dropped at Rutherford, in Teviotdale, a clue of yarn containing twenty guineas. Like Edie Ochiltree, he had served at Fontenoy. He died at Roxburgh Newton in 1793, at the age of one hundred and five, according to his own reckoning. “His wealth was the means of enriching a nephew in Ayrshire, who is now (1825) a considerable landholder there, and belongs to a respectable class of society.”
An old Irus of similar character patrolled Teviotdale, while Andrew Gemmells was attached to Ettrick and Yarrow. This was Blind Willie Craw. Willie was the Society Journal of Hawick, and levied blackmail on the inhabitants. He is thus described by Mr. Grieve, in the Diary already quoted: “He lived at Branxholme Town, in a free house set apart for the gamekeeper, and for many a year carried all the bread from Hawick used in my father’s family. He came in that way at breakfast-time, and got a wallet which he put it in, and returned at dinner-time with the ‘bawbee rows’ and two loaves. He laid the town of Hawick under contribution for bawbees, and he knew the history of every individual, and went rhyming through the town from door to door; and as he knew something against every one which they would rather wish should not be rehearsed, a bawbee put a stop to the paragraph which they wished suppressed. Willie Craw was the son of a gamekeeper of the duke’s, and enjoyed a free house at Branxholme Town as long as he lived.”
Had Burns ever betaken himself to the gaberlunzie’s life, which he speaks of in one of his poems as “the last o’t, the worst o’t,” he would have proved a much more formidable satirist than poor Willie Craw, the last of the “blind crowders.” Burns wrote, of course, in a spirit of reckless humour; but he could not, even in sport, have alluded to the life as “suited to his habits and powers,” had gaberlunzies been mere mendicants. In Herd’s collection of Ballads is one on the ancient Scottish beggar:—
In Scotland there lived a humble beggar,
He had nor house, nor hald, nor hame;
But he was well liked by ilk a body,
And they gave him sunkets to rax his wame.
A sieve fu’ o’ meal, a handfu’ o’ groats,
A dad o’ a bannock, or pudding bree,
Cauld porridge, or the lickings o’ plates,
Wad make him as blythe as a body could be.
The dress and trade of the beggar are said to have been adopted by James V. in his adventures, and tradition attributes to him a song, “The Gaberlunzie Man.”
One of Edie’s most charming traits is his readiness to “fight for his dish, like the laird for his land,” when a French invasion was expected. Scott places the date of “The False Alarm,” when he himself rode a hundred miles to join his regiment, on Feb. 2, 1804.
Lockhart gives it as an event of 1805 (vol. ii. p. 275). The occasion gave great pleasure to Scott, on account of the patriotism and courage displayed by all classes. “Me no muckle to fight for?” says Edie. “Isna there the country to fight for, and the burns I gang dandering beside, and the hearths o’ the gudewives that gie me my bit bread, and the bits o’ weans that come toddling to play wi’ me when I come about a landward town?” Edie had fought at Fontenoy, and was of the old school. Scott would have been less pleased with a recruit from St. Boswells, on the Tweed. This man was a shoemaker, John Younger, a very intelligent and worthy person, famous as an angler and writer on angling, who has left an account of the “False Alarm” in his memoirs. His view was that the people, unlike Edie, had nothing to fight for, that only the rich had any reason to be patriotic, that the French had no quarrel with the poor. In fact, Mr. Younger was a cosmopolitan democrat, and sneered at the old Border glories of the warlike days. Probably, however, he would have done his duty, had the enemy landed, and, like Edie, might have remembered the “burns he dandered beside,” always with a fishingrod in his hand.
The Editor cannot resist the temptation to add that the patriotic
lady mentioned in Scott’s note, who “would rather have seen her son
dead on that hearth than hear that he had been a horse’s length
behind his companions,” was his paternal great-grandmother, Mrs.
John Lang. Her husband, who died shortly afterwards, so that she was
a widow when Scott conversed with her, chanced to be chief
magistrate of Selkirk. His family was aroused late one night by the
sound of a carriage hurrying down the steep and narrow street. Lord
Napier was bringing, probably from Hawick, the tidings that the
beacons were ablaze. The town-bell was instantly rung, the
inhabitants met in the marketplace, where Scott’s statue now stands,
and the whole force, with one solitary exception, armed and marched
to Dalkeith. According to the gentleman whose horse and arms were
sent on to meet him, it was intended, if the French proved
victorious, that the population of the Border towns should abandon
their homes and retire to the hills.
No characters in the “Antiquary,” except Monkbarns and Edie Ochiltree, seem to have been borrowed from notable originals. The frauds of Dousterswivel, Scott says, are rendered plausible by “very late instances of the force of superstitious credulity to a much greater extent.” He can hardly be referring to the career of Cagliostro, but he may have had in his memory some unsuccessful mining speculations by Charles Earl of Traquair, who sought for lead and found little or none in Traquair hills. The old “Statistical Account of Scotland” (vol. xii. p. 370) says nothing about imposture, and merely remarks that “the noble family of Traquair have made several attempts to discover lead mines, and have found quantities of the ore of that metal, though not adequate to indemnify the expenses of working, and have therefore given up the attempt.” This was published in 1794, so twenty years had passed when “The Antiquary” was written. If there was here an “instance of superstitious credulity,” it was not “a very late instance.” The divining, or “dowsing,” rod of Dousterswivel still keeps its place in mining superstition and in the search for wells.
With “The Antiquary” most contemporary reviews of the novels lose their
interest. Their author had firmly established his position, at least till
“The Monastery” caused some murmurings. Even the “Quarterly Review” was
infinitely more genial in its reception of “The Antiquary” than of “Guy
Mannering.” The critic only grumbled at Lovel’s feverish dreams, which,
he thought, showed an intention to introduce the marvellous. He
complained of “the dark dialect of Anglified Erse,” but found comfort in
the glossary appended. The “Edinburgh Review” pronounced the chapter on
the escape from the tide to be “I the very best description we have ever
met, inverse or in prose, in ancient or in modern writing.” No reviewer
seems to have noticed that the sun is made to set in the sea, on the east
coast of Scotland. The “Edinburgh,” however, declared that the Antiquary,
“at least in so far as he is an Antiquary,” was the chief blemish on the
book. The “sweet heathen of Monkbarns” has not suffered from this
disparagement. The “British Critic” pledged its reputation that Scott was
the author. If an argument were wanted, “it would be that which has been
applied to prove the authenticity of the last book of the Iliad,—that
Homer must have written it, because no one else could.” Alas! that
argument does not convince German critics.
Go call a coach, and let a coach be called,
And let the man who calleth be the caller;
And in his calling let him nothing call,
But Coach! Coach! Coach! O for a coach, ye gods!
It was early on a fine summer’s day, near the end of the eighteenth century, when a young man, of genteel appearance, journeying towards the north-east of Scotland, provided himself with a ticket in one of those public carriages which travel between Edinburgh and the Queensferry, at which place, as the name implies, and as is well known to all my northern readers, there is a passage-boat for crossing the Firth of Forth. The coach was calculated to carry six regular passengers, besides such interlopers as the coachman could pick up by the way, and intrude upon those who were legally in possession. The tickets, which conferred right to a seat in this vehicle, of little ease, were dispensed by a sharp-looking old dame, with a pair of spectacles on a very thin nose, who inhabited a “laigh shop,” anglice, a cellar, opening to the High Street by a straight and steep stair, at the bottom of which she sold tape, thread, needles, skeins of worsted, coarse linen cloth, and such feminine gear, to those who had the courage and skill to descend to the profundity of her dwelling, without falling headlong themselves, or throwing down any of the numerous articles which, piled on each side of the descent, indicated the profession of the trader below.
The written hand-bill, which, pasted on a projecting board, announced that the Queensferry Diligence, or Hawes Fly, departed precisely at twelve o’clock on Tuesday, the fifteenth July 17—, in order to secure for travellers the opportunity of passing the Firth with the flood-tide, lied on the present occasion like a bulletin; for although that hour was pealed from Saint Giles’s steeple, and repeated by the Tron, no coach appeared upon the appointed stand. It is true, only two tickets had been taken out, and possibly the lady of the subterranean mansion might have an understanding with her Automedon, that, in such cases, a little space was to be allowed for the chance of filling up the vacant places—or the said Automedon might have been attending a funeral, and be delayed by the necessity of stripping his vehicle of its lugubrious trappings—or he might have staid to take a half-mutchkin extraordinary with his crony the hostler—or—in short, he did not make his appearance.
The young gentleman, who began to grow somewhat impatient, was now joined by a companion in this petty misery of human life—the person who had taken out the other place. He who is bent upon a journey is usually easily to be distinguished from his fellow-citizens. The boots, the great-coat, the umbrella, the little bundle in his hand, the hat pulled over his resolved brows, the determined importance of his pace, his brief answers to the salutations of lounging acquaintances, are all marks by which the experienced traveller in mail-coach or diligence can distinguish, at a distance, the companion of his future journey, as he pushes onward to the place of rendezvous. It is then that, with worldly wisdom, the first comer hastens to secure the best berth in the coach for himself, and to make the most convenient arrangement for his baggage before the arrival of his competitors. Our youth, who was gifted with little prudence, of any sort, and who was, moreover, by the absence of the coach, deprived of the power of availing himself of his priority of choice, amused himself, instead, by speculating upon the occupation and character of the personage who was now come to the coach office.
He was a good-looking man of the age of sixty, perhaps older,—but his hale complexion and firm step announced that years had not impaired his strength or health. His countenance was of the true Scottish cast, strongly marked, and rather harsh in features, with a shrewd and penetrating eye, and a countenance in which habitual gravity was enlivened by a cast of ironical humour. His dress was uniform, and of a colour becoming his age and gravity; a wig, well dressed and powdered, surmounted by a slouched hat, had something of a professional air. He might be a clergyman, yet his appearance was more that of a man of the world than usually belongs to the kirk of Scotland, and his first ejaculation put the matter beyond question.
He arrived with a hurried pace, and, casting an alarmed glance towards the dial-plate of the church, then looking at the place where the coach should have been, exclaimed, “Deil’s in it—I am too late after all!”
The young man relieved his anxiety, by telling him the coach had not yet appeared. The old gentleman, apparently conscious of his own want of punctuality, did not at first feel courageous enough to censure that of the coachman. He took a parcel, containing apparently a large folio, from a little boy who followed him, and, patting him on the head, bid him go back and tell Mr. B——, that if he had known he was to have had so much time, he would have put another word or two to their bargain,—then told the boy to mind his business, and he would be as thriving a lad as ever dusted a duodecimo. The boy lingered, perhaps in hopes of a penny to buy marbles; but none was forthcoming. Our senior leaned his little bundle upon one of the posts at the head of the staircase, and, facing the traveller who had first arrived, waited in silence for about five minutes the arrival of the expected diligence.
At length, after one or two impatient glances at the progress of the minute-hand of the clock, having compared it with his own watch, a huge and antique gold repeater, and having twitched about his features to give due emphasis to one or two peevish pshaws, he hailed the old lady of the cavern.
“Good woman,—what the d—l is her name?—Mrs. Macleuchar!”
Mrs. Macleuchar, aware that she had a defensive part to sustain in the encounter which was to follow, was in no hurry to hasten the discussion by returning a ready answer.
“Mrs. Macleuchar,—Good woman” (with an elevated voice)—then apart, “Old doited hag, she’s as deaf as a post—I say, Mrs. Macleuchar!”
“I am just serving a customer.—Indeed, hinny, it will no be a bodle cheaper than I tell ye.”
“Woman,” reiterated the traveller, “do you think we can stand here all day till you have cheated that poor servant wench out of her half-year’s fee and bountith?”
“Cheated!” retorted Mrs. Macleuchar, eager to take up the quarrel upon a defensible ground; “I scorn your words, sir: you are an uncivil person, and I desire you will not stand there, to slander me at my ain stair-head.”
“The woman,” said the senior, looking with an arch glance at his destined travelling companion, “does not understand the words of action.—Woman,” again turning to the vault, “I arraign not thy character, but I desire to know what is become of thy coach?”
“What’s your wull?” answered Mrs. Macleuchar, relapsing into deafness.
“We have taken places, ma’am,” said the younger stranger, “in your diligence for Queensferry”——“Which should have been half-way on the road before now,” continued the elder and more impatient traveller, rising in wrath as he spoke: “and now in all likelihood we shall miss the tide, and I have business of importance on the other side—and your cursed coach”—
“The coach?—Gude guide us, gentlemen, is it no on the stand yet?” answered the old lady, her shrill tone of expostulation sinking into a kind of apologetic whine. “Is it the coach ye hae been waiting for?”
“What else could have kept us broiling in the sun by the side of the gutter here, you—you faithless woman, eh?”
Mrs. Macleuchar now ascended her trap stair (for such it might be called, though constructed of stone), until her nose came upon a level with the pavement; then, after wiping her spectacles to look for that which she well knew was not to be found, she exclaimed, with well-feigned astonishment, “Gude guide us—saw ever onybody the like o’ that?”
“Yes, you abominable woman,” vociferated the traveller, “many have seen the like of it, and all will see the like of it that have anything to do with your trolloping sex;” then pacing with great indignation before the door of the shop, still as he passed and repassed, like a vessel who gives her broadside as she comes abreast of a hostile fortress, he shot down complaints, threats, and reproaches, on the embarrassed Mrs. Macleuchar. He would take a post-chaise—he would call a hackney coach—he would take four horses—he must—he would be on the north side, to-day—and all the expense of his journey, besides damages, direct and consequential, arising from delay, should be accumulated on the devoted head of Mrs. Macleuchar.
There, was something so comic in his pettish resentment, that the younger traveller, who was in no such pressing hurry to depart, could not help being amused with it, especially as it was obvious, that every now and then the old gentleman, though very angry, could not help laughing at his own vehemence. But when Mrs. Macleuchar began also to join in the laughter, he quickly put a stop to her ill-timed merriment.
“Woman,” said he, “is that advertisement thine?” showing a bit of crumpled printed paper: “Does it not set forth, that, God willing, as you hypocritically express it, the Hawes Fly, or Queensferry Diligence, would set forth to-day at twelve o’clock; and is it not, thou falsest of creatures, now a quarter past twelve, and no such fly or diligence to be seen?—Dost thou know the consequence of seducing the lieges by false reports?—dost thou know it might be brought under the statute of leasing-making? Answer—and for once in thy long, useless, and evil life, let it be in the words of truth and sincerity,—hast thou such a coach?—is it in rerum natura?—or is this base annunciation a mere swindle on the incautious to beguile them of their time, their patience, and three shillings of sterling money of this realm?—Hast thou, I say, such a coach? ay or no?”
“O dear, yes, sir; the neighbours ken the diligence weel, green picked oat wi’ red—three yellow wheels and a black ane.”
“Woman, thy special description will not serve—it may be only a lie with a circumstance.”
“O, man, man!” said the overwhelmed Mrs. Macleuchar, totally exhausted at having been so long the butt of his rhetoric, “take back your three shillings, and make me quit o’ ye.”
“Not so fast, not so fast, woman—Will three shillings transport me to Queensferry, agreeably to thy treacherous program?—or will it requite the damage I may sustain by leaving my business undone, or repay the expenses which I must disburse if I am obliged to tarry a day at the South Ferry for lack of tide?—Will it hire, I say, a pinnace, for which alone the regular price is five shillings?”
Here his argument was cut short by a lumbering noise, which proved to be the advance of the expected vehicle, pressing forward with all the dispatch to which the broken-winded jades that drew it could possibly be urged. With ineffable pleasure, Mrs. Macleuchar saw her tormentor deposited in the leathern convenience; but still, as it was driving off, his head thrust out of the window reminded her, in words drowned amid the rumbling of the wheels, that, if the diligence did not attain the Ferry in time to save the flood-tide, she, Mrs. Macleuchar, should be held responsible for all the consequences that might ensue.
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