Hugh MacDonald 1854 (This Edition 1910)
The town of Paisley is of considerable extent and importance, being the fifth in respect to magnitude in Scotland. In population it formerly ranked next to Glasgow and Edinburgh, but latterly it has been outstripped in the march of progression by Aberdeen and Dundee; the number of its inhabitants at the late census being 47,952, while those of the two latter towns were respectively 71,973 and 78,931. Paisley is finely situated on both sides of the White Cart, about seven miles to the south-west of Glasgow, and three miles above the junction of that stream with the Clyde. It covers, altogether, a surface of nearly two and a-half miles square. The main line of street, extending from the suburb of Williamsburgh in the east to Millerston in the west, is about two miles long; while several of the other main thoroughfares, such as Causeyside and George Street, are likewise of considerable length. The original portion of the town is chiefly built on a fine terracelike eminence, which runs in a direction westward of the Cart, and commands an extensive prospect of the surrounding country. By means of recent additions, however, it is now spread far and wide on both sides of this elevation. The new town, which lies on the opposite side of the river, was commenced by James, eighth Earl of Abercorn, so recently as 1779. Previously to that period the suburb of Seedhill, with Walneuk, Smithhills, and a few other contiguous streets, were the only portions of the burgh which existed on the east side of the Cart.
Although Paisley, under the name of Vanduara, was at an early period the site of an extensive Roman encampment—vestiges of which are still visible in some places— yet it seems, like its more extensive and wealthy neighbour, to have had an ecclesiastical origin. In the twelfth century, when Walter Stewart founded a monastery here, it appears there was not even a village in the neighbourhood; but that one gradually arose afterwards, for the accommodation of the retainers of the monks, and the numerous pilgrims attracted to the locality by the fame of its patron saint. Slowly increasing in extent, it was created a burgh of barony in 1488; although so lately even as 1695 the population only amounted to 2,200. Crawford, writing a few years subsequent to the latter date, says that in his time the town consisted of one principal street, about half-a-mile in length, running westward from the river, and having some lanes and wynds branching off in various directions. About the same period, Hamilton of Wishaw, whose curious and interesting work we have more than once had occasion to quote, thus briefly describes the town:—” Paisley is a very pleasant and wellbuilt little town, plentifully provided with all sorts of grain, fruits, coals, peats, fishes, and what else is proper for the comfortable use of man, or can be expected in any other place of the kingdom.” It was only after the Union that the manufacturing energies of the town began to be thoroughly developed, and the germs were laid of that prosperity which it has since attained. The manufactures of Paisley at first consisted principally of linen and muslin fabrics, in the production of which it ultimately gained considerable celebrity. This branch of textile manufacture was afterwards in a great measure superseded by the production of flax and cotton thread, in the preparation of which it acquired a high degree of excellence, and for which it still retains a wide-spread reputation. Silk and linen gauze, of great elegance and beauty, also formed, for many years, staple articles of produce in this enterprising community; but one of the more recent and import” nt additions to the departments of skilled industry in which her population has been engaged, is that of shawl weaving, in which, for variety and beauty of pattern and richness of colour, she is almost unrivalled. The weaving of tartans, and other textures of a similar nature denominated tweeds, has also, of late years, been successfully introduced; and, at the present time, there are many hundreds of artisans engaged in and around Paisley in the printing of shawls and plaids, principally composed of line woollen fabrics, and remarkable for the elegance of their designs, the brilliancy of their tints, and, above all, for their remarkable cheapness. This latter feature, indeed, has caused the elegant though less substantial printed shawl in a great measure to supersede that of the loom, which, from the complexity of the machinery necessary to its production, and the greater amount of labour which it requires, is necessarily much more expensive. Altogether, in manufacturing skill and taste, as well as in commercial enterprise, Paisley has continued to occupy a prominent position among the industrial centres of our country, and, in certain departments, has even manifested a superiority which is in the highest degree creditable to the productive capabilities of her population.
Nor has the pre-eminence of Paisley been entirely confined to the successful production of textile fabrics. The people of Paisley are generally admitted to possess a highly respectable intellectual status, and it is well known that the town has given birth to several individuals who have attained distinction in various departments of literature and art, whose names their country “Will not willingly let die.”
Among these are Alexander Wilson, author of “Watty and Meg,” and other poems of great merit, and also of a valuable work on the ornithology of America, famous alike for the vigorous eloquence of its descriptions and the striking fidelity of its pictorial illustrations; Robert Tannahill, with the single exception of Burns, the sweetest lyrical poet of Scotland; Professor Wilson, one of the most eloquent of our prose writers, and a poet of no mean powers; and Henning, the restorer of ancient Grecian art. Besides these, the undoubted heirs of fame, Paisley has produced a perfect host of minor bards, principally intelligent operatives, who have lightened the intervals of labour with literary study, and many of whose productions are highly creditable to their authors.
In general architectural appearance, the town of Paisley presents few features calling for particular attention from the tourist. Its streets are for the most part narrow and tortuous, while even its most handsome edifices suffer in effect from the contiguity of less imposing structures. Of late years a material improvement has been effected in the spacious area, which is bounded on one side by the County Buildings. This extensive pile, which is in the form of an ancient feudal castle, and to which large additions have recently been made, is situated on the west bank of the Cart, in the immediate vicinity of the Glasgow and Paisley Joint Railway Station, which has been built in a harmonising style of architecture. It was erected between 1818 and 1821, at an expense of about £28,000, and contains a court-house and offices for the transaction of various departments of public business, together with a chapel, jail, and house of correction. Immediately adjacent is the Government School of Design—a building which forms a standing proof of the necessity which existed at the period of its erection for such an institution. It is, indeed, one of the most ineffective specimens of design which, in a public edifice, we have yet witnessed. If architectural taste were a sin, the designer of this might well boast of clean hands. There are, however, several fine buildings in the vicinity, among which we may mention those forming the row facing the railway, a bankinghouse near the ancient “hole in the wa’,” and the readingroom establishment at the Cross, the hall of which is adorned by Fillans’ splendid bust of Professor Wilson.
The most interesting public building in Paisley, and, of course, one of the first to which we direct our attention, is the venerable and time-honoured Abbey Church, which was originally founded and munificently endowed, in 1160, by Walter, the High Steward of Scotland, the original progenitor of the royal Stuarts. The descendants of this nobleman afterwards, at various periods, bestowed liberal donations, both in money and lands, upon the establishment, until it ultimately became one of the most wealthy and influential in the kingdom. “Grey Paisley’s haughty lord” held undisputed sway over a wide extent of territory; while its ecclesiastics, of high and low degree, were accommodated in a style of splendour unsurpassed, even in the celebrated monasteries of Dunfermline and St Andrews, although these were specially patronised by royalty. Like their confreres of Melrose, “They wanted neither beef nor ale,” nor a bountiful supply of all those creature comforts which the produce or limited commerce of the country could afford. In the time of Edward L of England, according to Fordun, the Abbey was pillaged and burned to the ground by the invading Southrons, because the Abbot, with a genuine spirit of patriotism, refused to acknowledge the authority of the usurper. After the independence of the nation, however, had been firmly established on the memorable field of Bannockbum, the Abbey was rebuilt on a superior scale of magnificence, the church being not less than 265 feet in length, while both the nave and the transepts were furnished with lateral aisles. It was in the cathedral form, that of a cross, and was surmounted by a lofty steeple. The greater part of what now exists is supposed to have been erected in the fifteenth century, under the superintendence of Abbot Thomas Tarves, who died in 1459, and Abbot George Shaw, who bore sway over the brotherhood from 1472 to March, 1498. One of the architects seems, from an ancient inscription on the transept door of Melrose, to have been a John Murdo, who further seems to have been concerned in the erection of several other ecclesiastical edifices of importance. The inscription was originally as follows, although it is now much defaced—
“John Murdo sum tym callyt was I,
And born in Parys certainly,
And had in keping all mason werk
Of Santandrays, ye hye kirk
Of Glasgu, Melros, and Paslay,
Of Nyddsdall, and of Galway;
I pray to God and Mary bath,
And sweet St John, kep this haly kirk fra skalth.”
At this period the monastery was surrounded by gardens and orchards of great extent, which, with a park for fallow deer, were protected from lay intrusion by a high wall, upwards of a mile in circumference, erected by the aforementioned Abbot Shaw, as appears from an inscription on a stone which once formed part.of it, and which is now built into the side of a house in the vicinity. The words are as follows, with the exception of the fifth line, which has been totally effaced:—
“Thei callit ye Abbot Georg of Schawe
About yis Abbay gart mak this wawe,
A thousand four hundreth zheyr
Auchty and fyve, the date but veir;
Pray for his salvatioun
That made this noble foundacioun.” ,
How excellent in old Abbot Shaw to secure his vineyard and his deer-park, from which he would doubtless derive many a dainty venison pasty, and then to solicit the prayers of the faithful for this act of selfish prudence! To our “heretic” understanding, it would certainly appear that the bigging of the “wawe” would receive “its own exceeding great reward” in the protection which it afforded to the creature comforts of the monastic brotherhood. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the jolly old monk had other claims on the devotional sympathies of his neighbours, as otherwise we are afraid there would be but few beads counted on his behalf.
The Abbey of Paisley continued to flourish until the Reformation, when the establishment was overthrown, and a considerable portion of its architectural splendour destroyed. The nest was then to a great extent pulled down, and the rooks who had lived for centuries on the fat of the land were driven ignominiously from their ancient haunts. The last of the abbots was hanged, at Stirling, in 1571, for his adherence to the cause of Queen Mary. The revenues and rich endowments of the Abbey were at the same time secularised, and erected into a temporal lordship, which was bestowed, for what equivalent we have not learned, upon Lord Claud Hamilton, who was created Baron of Paisley, a title which, with a considerable portion of the monastic territory, is still preserved by the Abercorn family.
There are few finer specimens of Gothic architecture in Scotland than the ancient Abbey Church of Paisley. Although shorn of its original fair proportions, and denuded of many of its most delicate ornamental features, it still retains a sufficiency of both to impress the spectator with a vivid idea of its pristine beauty and magnificence. The western front presents an elevation of a singularly dignified and regular character. It is composed of a great central and two side compartments, separated and flanked by buttresses, the carvings of both door and windows being in an excellent state of preservation. The interior of the edifice, with its “long-drawn aisles and fretted vaults,” its massive pillars and its richly decorated windows, while it delights the eye, has a peculiarly solemnising influence on the mind. While standing in the nave, we cannot help repeating to ourselves Milton’s beautiful lines in “H Penserosa,”—
“Oh let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloysters pale,
And love the high embowed roof,;
With antique pillars massy proof.
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light:
There let the pealing organ blow
To the full-voiced quire below,
In service high and anthems clear,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear
Dissolve me into ecstasies,
And bring all heaven before my eyes.”
Of course we are not likely soon to hear the “kist of whistles” at work in the Abbey Church of Paisley, but we have frequently heard an excellent vocal band chanting the notes of praise within its walls, and the thrilling effect we shall not easily forget. On the present occasion all is silent, however, and we feel that there is an eloquence in the very stillness of the place which is more suggestive of sentimental emotion, and which touches a deeper chord in our bosom than the sweetest strains of the singer, or the most stirring appeals of the preacher. Was the reader ever alone in an old church? It is good for man to be occasionally alone; and in such a place as Paisley Abbey, with its gloomy aisles and solemn echoes, the pensive rambler will find as moving “sermons in stone” as ever Shakspere’s banished Duke found in the green solitudes of Arden.
To the south of the nave is Saint Mirren’s Aisle, a small chapel 24 feet square, which, in the palmy days of the Abbey, was specially dedicated to its patron saint. This is commonly called “the Sounding Aisle,” from a remarkable echo which it possesses, and which is caused by certain peculiarities in its construction. The noise produced when the person who attends us slams the door forcibly in closing it, is really startling. We must admit, however, that the effect falls far short of that described by Pennant, when he visited the spot in the early part of last century. Either the echo has got lazy in our day, or the good old man, as is not at all improbable, may have exercised more than the usual traveller’s license in his narrative of its reverberative feats. Nearly in the centre of the aisle is an altar tomb, on which is the recumbent figure of a woman with the hands folded as in prayer. The design and workmanship of this structure are of an elaborate and delicate description; and, according to tradition, it is said to have been erected to the memory of Marjory Bruce, daughter of the hero of Bannockburn, who rejoiced, while in life, in the somewhat unpoetical name of ” Queen Blearie.” Antiquarian research, however, can discover nothing to confirm the popular story, so that the monument, like many others, may be said to have survived the memory which a fond affection commissioned it to perpetuate. The “footprints” which we would fain leave behind us “on the sands of time” are ever, alas! being washed away by oblivion’s advancing tide. A lesson of humility may well be gleaned for the children of pride from the costly memento in St Mirren’s Aisle which has now “no tale to tell.” Go to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, though beauty, wealth, and a name among the great ones of earth, are hers, that “to this favour she must come at last.”
A short distance to the south-east of the Abbey is the suburb of Seedhill, where, on the 6th of July, 1776, Alexander Wilson, the poet and ornithologist, was born. To this locality we now wend our way. The house, as we are informed, was demolished a few years since, and another has since been erected in its stead, which is at once pointed out to us, on inquiry, by a gash old weaver. The edifice is a plain two-storied one, and has a small tablet of marble prominently inserted on its front, with the following inscription:
“This Tablet was erected, in 1841, by David Anderson, Perth, to mark the birthplace of Alexander Wilson, Paisley poet and American ornithologist.”
In the immediate vicinity of the house, the Cart is precipitated over a rugged range of rocks, the projecting portions of which are well known to the juvenility of Paisley as “the Hammils.” This was a favourite haunt of the poet in his early years, as indeed it still is with the boys of the neighbourhood, who, in the bathing season, according to our weaver friend, may be seen “ploutering about in the foamy water, or clustering around the craigs like as many eemocks.” Our friend, who, to our surprise, remembers Wilson, says “he was a tall, thin, swanky fallow; and that he never took kindly to the loom.” Of the latter fact we were well aware from the poet’s own writings. In “Groans from the Loom,” a composition which he indited when about to desert the shuttle for the pack, he bitterly sings,—
“Good gods! shall a mortal with legs
So low uncomplaining be brought,
Go hung, like a scarecrow, in rags,
And live o’er a seat-tree on nought?”
It is well for the world that Wilson was not content to “Creep through life a plain day-plodding weaver.” Had he taken kindly to the loom, the feathered tribes of the vast American forests had yet in all probability remained comparative strangers to us. The galling spur of poverty was required to send him forth on his noble mission. The lap of ease is not often the cradle of genius. Had the loom been more remunerative, or had the pack never been lost, the name of Wilson had not now been a familiar word on both sides of the Atlantic.
The poetry of Wilson is characterised by merit of no ordinary description, and evinces considerable fertility of fancy, keenness of satire, with a tendency to coarseness, and a masculine vigour of intellect. With the exception of the inimitable ” Watty and Meg,” and the “Loss of the Pack,” however, his poetical productions have never attained anything like an extensive popularity.
After lingering in conversation with our new acquaintance for a considerable time, we retrace our steps to the Cross, and proceed along the High Street, in a westerly direction, to visit the birthplace of Tannahill. By the way we pass the house in which the author of the ” Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life,” the sweet singer of the “Isle of Palms,” and the “old man eloquent” of Blackwood’s inimitable Magazine, first saw the light. His father, as is generally known, was a respectable Paisley merchant, and the house in which his gifted son was born, is situated on the south side of the thoroughfare along which we are passing. It is situated a short distance from a more pretending edifice which stands a little off the line of High Street, between the points where the latter is joined by the New Street and by Storie Street. The more noticeable structure to which we allude, and which is railed in and screened by shrubbery, was afterwards occupied by Wilson’s father, and it was in it that the young poet’s earliest years were spent. An old and esteemed friend of ours still remembers seeing the yellow-haired boy spinning his “peerie” on the pavement in front of the house, among the neebor callants. Like other boys, too, he was a rambler in the country around, a seeker of bird’s nests, and a gatherer of blaeberries and blackboyds. This we learned from his own lips several years ago, during an interview which we had with him, when we were somewhat surprised to perceive how vividly he remembered the various scenes in the neighbourhood of his native town, more especially as he had been removed from the locality at a comparatively early age, and except during occasional visits, “few and far between,” was absent from it almost ever after.
About a quarter of a mile to the westward of John Wilson’s birthplace is Castle Street, in which Robert Tannahill made his entree into existence. The edifice is a lowly one-storied biggin’, and having undergone considerable alteration, is now occupied by a cowfeeder. The poet’s father was a decent and intelligent hand-loom weaver; and at the period of Robert’s birth, one end of the building formed the residence of the family, while the other was occupied as a loom-shop. While the poet was still an infant, his father, who seems to have been an industrious and thrifty individual, erected a cottage, with part of his savings, in an adjoining street. To this, when he was little more than twelve months old, the future bard, with the rest of the family, was removed; and here, with the exception of a brief stay in England, he continued to reside until the period of his death. The life of Tannahill presents but few salient features. Having learned reading, writing, and the elements of arithmetic—the poor man’s scanty curriculum in those days—he was apprenticed to the hand-loom weaving at an early age. In his calling, which was at that period a more remunerative one than it is in our day, he was assiduous and attentive, and consequently he soon became an expert workman. His spare hours were principally devoted to reading and study, or to the converse of a few congenial friends; while on Saturday afternoons he was in the habit, either alone or with a chosen companion, of strolling amid the romantic scenery in the neighbourhood of his native town. His favourite haunts, on these occasions, during which he enriched his memory with those images of natural beauty with which his verse is so richly adorned, were the braes of Gleniffer, Stanley green shaw, with its castle “old and grey,” and the woods of Craigielee, or Ferguslie, all of which he has celebrated in never-dying song. It is this entwining of local scenery, indeed, into the structure of his compositions, that has rendered Tannahill par excellence the poet of Paisley. Of numerous poets the town can boast, but no other has stamped his name so generally and so ineffaceable as he has done, on the prominent features of the surrounding country. The nook is still pointed out where the poet’s loom was situated, and where for so many years he wrought. This also was the place where the greater portion of his poetry was composed, as it is well known that the visitations of his muse most frequently occurred while his hands were busily plying the shuttle. Genius was never with him made an excuse for idleness. His was an honest and industrious poverty, for which he needed not to hang his head. His earnings were at all times amply sufficient for his simple wants, and he could truly and proudly say—
“Tho’ humble my lot, not ignoble’s my state,
Let me still be contented though poor,
What Destiny brings be resigned to my fate,
Though Misfortune should knock at my door.”
Unfortunately, the contentment which he has here expressed, was not at all times experienced. Like most other children of genius, he was throughout life liable to fits of gloomy despondency. His poetry and his letters afford abundant proof of his constitutional proneness to mental depression. Considered as a “shadow of the coming event,” how affecting is the following passage, which occurs in an epistle to his friend Scadlock, so early as 1804:—
“But ere a few short summers gae,
Your friend will meet his kindred clay;
For fell disease tugs at my breast,
To hurry me away.”
Ultimately, in 1810, his health, which had never been of a very robust description, sank under the pressure of his dark imaginings. His body became emaciated, his eyes hollow, and his expressive countenance pallid and careworn. At the same time the wanderings of his mind were rendered obvious, by the incoherent nature of certain poetical effusions which he attempted, and by his jealousy of those whom in his “right mind” he best loved.
The shadow of a starless night, was thrown
Over the earth, in which he moved alone.”
His melancholy fate is too well known to require our recapitulation of its sad particulars. He now rests amid his kindred in the West Relief [now Castlehead] Churchyard of Paisley. The spot is unmarked by even the simplest memorial. Without guidance, a stranger, however willing to do reverence to the dust of the departed poet, would be unable to find its whereabout. The sod has sunk to the common level, and the grass is as thickly matted as if it had never been disturbed by the implements of the sexton. The memory of Tannahill, however, is still green in the hearts of his townsmen. Many of the older inhabitants, among whom is the poet’s younger brother, Mr Matthew Tannahill, a highly respectable and intelligent individual, now well advanced in years, still affectionately remember his person, and many of the incidents of his life. The poet’s watch, purchased by the first money which he saved from his earnings as a journeyman weaver, is in the possession of his brother; one individual religiously preserves a portion of his loom, while several fondly cherish scraps of his handwriting and his songs, much as they are appreciated over the length and breadth of the land, are doubly endeared to the people of Paisley, from their association with scenes which to them have the charm of familiarity.
With regard to the position which the name of Tannahill is destined to occupy among the bards of his country, a few words must suffice. As a song-writer, in which character his superiority alone consists, he can only be compared with Burns, the great master of the lyre. To him alone is he inferior. Strength and vigour are the prevailing characteristics of the Ayrshire peasant—simplicity and tenderness of the Paisley artisan. The former wrung his imagery in a great measure from his own large and burning heart; the latter gathered his principally from the woods and fields. The one touches our feelings; the other pleases our fancy. In the love songs of Burns, the woman is always in bold relief; in those of Tannahill, she is half-hidden among flowers. In “My Nannie O,” and “Mary Morrison,” we never lose sight of the heroines; in “Jessie the Flower of Dumblane,” and “Gloomy Winter’s noo awa’,” the bonnie lasses are but as lay figures, which the fancy of the poet busks with bud and bloom. The lover revels in Burns; the sentimentalist finds his delight in Tannahill. Variety and power are on the side of the former; sweetness and delicacy on that of the latter. In different walks both are true to the living nature; and the constitution of Scottish hearts must undergo a radical change ere the lays of either can cease to be heard with pleasure, in cottage and in hall,
“From Maidenkirk to John o’ Groat’s.”
One of the most recent and most striking architectural additions to Paisley is the Neilson Testimonial, an extensive and stately edifice, which crowns the western and highest extremity of the ridge on which the more ancient portion of the town is situated. The site of this handsome structure, designed by Charles Wilson, Esq. of this City, was formerly a bowling-green, and was remarkable for the extent and beauty of the landscape which it commanded. The establishment has been erected in accordance with the will of the late Mr John Neilson, a grocer of the town, who bequeathed at his death, which happened a few years since, the sum of £20,000, for the purpose of educating, and, if necessary, clothing and feeding poor children belonging to the community. A moiety of this munificent bequest, as we were informed, has been expended on the building, which, however much it may contribute to the adornment of the town, is reckoned a “leetle too grand” for the occasion by many of the long-headed natives, for the especial benefit of whose children it was designed. We have no desire, however, to “scaud our tongue wi’ ither folk’s kail,” and other towns besides Paisley have fallen into the error of sacrificing the useful to the ornamental, and erecting a palace where a poor-house would have been more to the purpose.
Leaving this magnificent “Testimonial,” and proceeding a little farther to the westward, we arrive at the Cemetery of Paisley—a spacious and most lovely “city of the dead,” extending altogether to about forty imperial acres, on both sides of a beautiful green hill. It is intersected by several miles of gravelled walks, neatly trimmed and adorned with a profusion of shrubs and flowering plants. A considerable number of hardy trees also lend additional beauty to the locality, while a variety of tasteful monuments and headstones mark the last resting-places of the departed. In one corner of the grounds, we observe an obelisk, erected to the memory of two individuals who suffered for their adherence to the principles of the Solemn League and Covenant, in the days of the Second Charles. On the front of the pedestal is the following inscription:—
“Here lie the Corpses of James Algie and John Park, who suffered at the Cross of Paisley for refusing the Oath of Abjuration, Feb. 3, 1685.
Stay, passenger, as thou goest by,
And take a look where these do lie.
Who, for the love they bore to truth,
Were deprived of their life and youth.
Though laws made then caused many die,
Judges and ‘sizers were not free;
He that to them did these delate
The greater count he hath to make;
Yet no excuse to them can be.
At ten condemned, at two to die.
So cruel did their rage become,
To stop their speech caused beat the drum;
This may a standing witness be
‘Twixt Presbytrie and Prelacy.”
The remains of these martyrs, as we learn from another inscription, were originally deposited in the Gallowgreen; but on the occasion of that spot being built upon in 1779, they were removed by the authorities and reinterred here. The present monument was erected by contributions from various denominations of Christians in 1835. On the west side of the obelisk is the following beautiful and appropriate quotation from Cowper:—
“Their blood was shed
In confirmation of the noblest claim—
Our claim to feed upon immortal truth,
To walk with God, to be divinely free,
To soar and to anticipate the skies;
Yet few remember them—they lived unknown,
Till persecution dragged them into fame,
And chased them up to heaven.”
We now proceed to the summit of the eminence, along which there is a splendid avenue, fringed with shrubbery and handsome rows of trees. Near this we are shown the grave of William Finlay, a poet of considerable merit and no limited local fame; but whose “last low bed of earth” is unmarked even by the simplest headstone. Here also lies our old friend James King, a poet of no mean power, and who was for many years the esteemed companion, and afterwards the correspondent of Tannahill. His narrow bed, however, we fail to discover, although we assisted at his obsequies, probably from the same lack of a funereal index. This neglect, however, is scarcely to be wondered at, when we consider that Wilson and Tannahill are in this respect still unhonoured in the town of their birth. We understand that sites have been selected at the east and west extremities of the avenue we have alluded to, and that money has even been collected for the purpose of erecting monuments respectively to the memory of the authors of “Watty and Meg” and of ” Jessie the Flower of Dumblane.” There is no immediate indication, however, we regret to say, of these laudable schemes being carried into effect. Paisley, which is so apt to boast of her genius, and with good reason too, must still he under the reproach of ingratitude to the memories of those who have so widely enlarged her fame, and so richly invested her scenery with the charms of sentimental association. Let us hope that this defect in her noble Cemetery may speedily be remedied.
“Not as a record he lacketh a stone!
Pay a light debt to the singer we’ve known;
Proof, that our love for his name hath not flown
With the frame perishing,
That we are cherishing
Feelings akin to the lost poet’s own.”
No place certainly could be selected more appropriate for the erection of a monument to Tannahill, than the brow of the Paisley Pere la Chase. It commands a series of the most lovely, varied, and comprehensive landscapes that we have ever witnessed. Scotland, rich as she is in material beauty, can boast few such. Some idea of their interest may be formed, when we state, that included within their range is almost the entire “land of Tannahill,” that is to say, the principal scenes alluded to in his songs. Looking northward, we have almost at our feet the spot where once waved the “bonnie wood of Craigielee,” not occupied by the gas-work (as Philip Ramsay asserts), which is considerably to the east of it, but now denuded of its leafy covering and given over to the plough.
“Far ben its dark green planting’s shade,
Nae cushat croodles amorously,
Nae mavis down its bughted glade
Gars echo ring frae tree to tree.”
The “Spunkie howe,” the “Whinny knowe,” still covered with whins, Kebbuckston farm, where the famous wedding was held, and Ferguslie wood, are all in the immediate vicinity; while beyond are the wide-spreading and fertile haughs of Clyde, with the burgh of Renfrew, and our own smoky City, with Tennant’s giant towering over it; and in the distance, to the left, are the Kilpatrick range and the misty mountain tops, where
“Sweet amidst her native hills,
Obscurely bloomed the Jeanie,”
whose unsophisticated charms won the admiration of the susceptible poet.
Turning “to the right about” as the drill-sergeant has it, and looking from this picture unto that, the scene is equally fair, although not quite so spacious. To the right are the Newton woods, just as they were when the bard marked the laverock fanning the “snaw-white cluds,” on the departure of gloomy winter, some half century ago. Then immediately in front are the Gleniffer braes, with the dark firs still crowning the stey rocky hill, and the “dusky glen,” where in the gloaming “the planting taps” are still “tinged wi’ gowd,” as in the days o’ langsyne. A little nearer are the “auld castle turrets” of Stanley, but an intervening knowe half hides them from our gaze. To the left is Craigie-linn, a delicious little subject for some of our landscape limners—and virgin, so far as we are aware —with Glenkilloch’s sunny brae beyond. In short, the entire features of the fine song of “Gloomy Winter’s noo awa” are spread as in a picture before the spectator. We would advise our youthful readers, however, to think twice before they address their sweethearts in the words of the poet,—
“Come, my lassie, let us stray,
O’er Glenkilloch’s sunny brae,
Blythely spend the gowden day
‘Mang joys that never wcarie 0.”
In Tannahill’s day the braes were free to all; now they are strictly tabooed, and it would be rather an awkward contretemps to have one’s hinnied whisperings interrupted by the growl of a surly gamekeeper, or to have an action of damages appended to the “joys that never wearie.”
We have now glanced at two sides of the picture which is seen from this “coigne of vantage,” but there is still another over which we must cast an eye. Looking to the westward, a beautiful tract of country is seen terminating in a fine range of gently undulating hills. In the foreground is the village of Elderslie, the birth-place of the great Caledonian patriot, at whose name
“What Scottish blood But boila up in a spring-tide flood”
of love for the land whose independence he so nobly struggled to secure! Beyond are seen the villages of Johnstone and Kilbarchan—the latter of which has long been celebrated as the birthplace of the famous piper Habby Simson, an effigy of whom, with his drones over the wrong shoulder, still graces the parish steeple. Every one acquainted with Scottish song will doubtless remember the favourable mention made of Habby, by no less a personage than Maggie Lauder,—
“Weel hae you play’d your part, quo’ Meg,
Your cheeks are like the crimson;
There’s nane in Scotland plays sae weel
Since we lost Habby Simson.”
Altogether, as we dare say our readers will admit, even after the imperfect enumeration we have given, there are few points of vision in Scotland, from whence at a glance so many objects of sentimental interest may be seen as from the brow of the Paisley Cemetery, while, even to the merest student of material beauty, it would amply repay a summer day’s walk.
A number of the walks round Paisley are of the most delightful description. Within the compass of an hour’s stroll, in almost any direction, her denizens can command nearly every variety of scenery—including fertile fields, green flowery knolls, heath-covered braes, romantic glens, shadowy woods, clear gushing streamlets murmuring on their way, and silent rivers moving solemnly and slow on their funeral marches to the insatiate sea,—in short, almost all the shows and forms of natural beauty which the eye of the poet or the painter could desire. Nor are the inhabitants devoid of urban sources of enjoyment, intellectual or recreative. The Paisley “bodies” are eminently social, or we might even say clannish. Social and literary coteries are more common among them than in any other community with which we are acquainted. We were lately, through the kindness of a friend, invited to an annual potato and herring dinner at Renfrew, in connection with a club which was instituted upwards of half a century ago. The following account of the origin of the club, and probably from the pen of a member, appeared in the Edinburgh Chronicle of August 31, 1844:—
“It so happened that on a Saturday in autumn, fortysix years ago, six or eight weavers took their weekly walk down the banks of the Cart, and up the side of the Clyde. By the time they reached the ancient burgh of Renfrew, they felt inclined for some rest and refreshment. They entered an humble public-house to have their wants supplied, but the landlady had nothing in the shape of food to offer them except a meal of potatoes and herrings, which stood ready cooked beside the fire. The homeliness of the fare was rather a recommendation than otherwise, and so well did the company relish the refreshment and the unsophisticated simplicity with which it was served, that they there and then formed themselves into a club, elected a preses and convener, and resolved to return annually, at the same period of the year, and dine on herring and potatoes. Since that time to this the club has been kept up, and the members have attended with great regularity—some of the original members, who still survive, never having been once absent from the dinner. All the original members of the club were weavers, and for a number of years all who attended it continued in the same rank. But, by-and-by, some of them got up to be merchants and manufacturers; and twenty years ago the herring and potato dinner was attended by thirty-six individuals, and not a tradesman amongst them, the meeting being composed of manufacturers, merchants, bankers, lawyers, etc. The same frugal bill of fare is still adhered to, for the sake of the pleasing associations therewith connected, and to keep in remembrance the ‘days of langsyne,’ when the members were glad to have plenty of such humble viands as good herring and potatoes. The cost of the feast is sixpence! The bond of union among the members is not sensual indulgence, but sociality; and simple natural tastes are cherished by the exclusion of all expensive luxuries from the board.
“After the dinner, the glass and toast, the speech and song, go round; and it is expected that every person present will give something in the shape of a toast, speech, or song, to keep up the hilarity of the meeting. It is needless to say, though the ‘mirth and fun’ is seldom either fast or furious, ‘the feast of reason and the flow of soul’ make the time fleet past with speedy wing, and render the herring and potato dinner day one of the brightest in the year to every member of the club.”
To borrow the words of the immortal Gilpin, when next they discuss their feast of tubers and “Glasgow magistrates,” “may we be there to see,” or perhaps we should rather say to pree, for the mere sight of the wholesome and savoury viands would prove but a Barmecide treat.
The studiously inclined among the working classes of Paisley are well supplied with the means and appliances of intellectual culture. The Mechanics’* and Artisans’ Institutions afford, for an extremely moderate subscription, abundance of newspapers, periodicals, and books, with accommodation for harmless amusements, such as billiards and draughts. Such privileges, if properly appreciated and taken advantage of, as it is to be hoped they are, must ultimately have a highly beneficial influence on the character of the population.
Somewhat tired with our devious wanderings—for however willing the spirit may be, the flesh is apt under lengthened exertion to become weak—we are fain, as twilight is thickening into night, in company with a friend or two, to seek the shelter of a friendly “howf” for rest and a modicum of needful refreshment. “A wee drap frae the Saucel” has a decidedly magical influence on both heart and tongue, and certainly sets time a-skipping with astonishing velocity. It seems as if we had scarcely sat down when the ear-piercing whistle of the “last train” warns us to depart. There is a shaking of hands, a slamming of carriage doors, a brief rush through the darkness, and we are once more pushing our way through the bustling streets of our “ain toun.”
This extract comes from “Rambles Around Glasgow” by Hugh MacDonald, published in 1910. From Stephen Clancy’s private collection of local history books.