Dryburgh Abbey – Great Britain And Ireland

Dryburgh lies amid the scenes in which Scott not only took such peculiar delight, but which furnished him themes both for his poems and romances, and which were rich in those old songs and narratives of border feats and raids which he has preserved in his Border Minstrelsy. Mel-rose, the Eildon Hills, the haunt of Thomas of Ercildoune, Jedburgh, Yetholm, the Cowden-knows, the Yarrow, and Ettrick, all lie on different sides within a circle of twenty miles, and most of them Much nearer. Smailholme Tower,, the scene of some of Scott’s youthful days, and of his ballad of “The Eve of St. John,” is also one of these. Grose tells us that “The ruins of Dryburgh Monastery are beautifully situated on a peninsula formed by the Tweed, ten-miles above Kelso, and three below Melrose, on the southwestern confine of the county of Berwick.”

The new Abbey of Dryburgh had the credit of being founded in 1150 by David I., who was fond of the reputation of being a founder of abbeys, Holyrood Abbey, Melrose Abbey, Kelso Abbey, Jedburgh Abbey, and others, having David I. stated as their founder. However it might be in other cases, and in some of them he was merely the restorer, the real founders of Dryburgh were Hugh de Morville, Lord of Lauderdale, and Constable of Scotland, and his wife, Beatrice de Beauchamp.

Edward II., in his invasion of Scotland in 1323, burned down Dryburgh Abbey, as he had done that of Melrose in the preceding year; and both these magnificent houses were restored principally at the cost of Robert Bruce. It was again destroyed by the English in 1544, by Sir George Bowes and Sir Brian Latoum, as Melrose was also. Among the most distinguished of its abbots we may mention Andrew Fordum, Bishop of Moray, and afterward Archbishop of St. Andrews, and Ambassador to France, and who held some of the most important offices under James IV. and James V. The favors conferred upon him were in proportion to his consequence in the state. Along with this abbey of Dryburgh, he held in commendam those of Pittenweem, Coldingham, and Dunfermline. He resigned Dry-burgh to James Ogilvie, of the family of Desk-ford. Ogilvie was also considerably employed in offices of diplomacy, both at London and Paris.

The Erskines seemed to keep firm hold of the Abbey of Dryburgh; and Adam Erskine, one of Abbot James’s successors, was, under George Buchanan, a sub-preceptor to James VI. This James I. of England dissolved the abbey in 1604, and conferred it and its lands, together with the abbeys and estates of Cambuskenneth and Inchmahorne, on John Erskine, Earl of Mar, who was made, on this occasion, also Baron of Cardross, which barony was composed of the property of these three monasteries. In this line, Dry-burgh descended to the Lords of Buchan. The Earls of Buchan, at one time, sold it to the Halliburtons of Mortoun, from whom it was purchased by Colonel Tod, whose heirs again sold it to the Earl of Buchan in 1786. This eccentric nobleman bequeathed it to his son, Sir David Erskine, at whose death in 1837 it reverted to the Buchan family.

Two monasteries in Ireland, the abbey of Druin-la-Croix in the County of Armagh, and the abbey of Woodburn in the county of Antrim, acknowledged Dryburgh as their mother. A copy of the Liber S. Maria; de Dryburgh is in the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh, containing all its ancient charters. Such are the main points of history connected with Dryburgh; but, when we open the ballad lore of the South of Scotland, we find this fine old place figuring repeatedly and prominently. .

Grose says: “The freestone of which the monastery of Dryburgh and the most elegant parts of the Abbey of Melrose were built, is one of a most beautiful color and texture, and has defied the influence of the weather for more than six centuries; nor is the sharpness of the sculpture in the least affected by the ravages of time. The quarry from which it was taken is still successfully worked at Dryburgh; and no stone in the island seems more perfectly adapted for the purpose of architecture, as it hardens by age, and is not subject to be corroded or decomposed by the weather, so that it might even be used for the cutting of bas-reliefs and of statues.”

As the remains of the abbey have since been carefully preserved, they present still much the same aspect as at Grose’s visit in 1797. When I visited this lovely ruin and lovely neighborhood in 1845, I walked from Melrose, a distance of between three and four miles. Leaving the Eildon Hills on my right, and following the course of the Tweed, I saw, as I progressed, Cowdenknowes, Bemerside, and other spots famous in border song. Issuing from a steep and woody lane, I came out on a broad bend of the river, with a wide strand of gravel and stones on this side, showing with what force the wintry torrents rushed along here. Opposite rose lofty and finely-wooded banks. Amid the trees on that side shone out a little temple of the Muses, where they are represented as consecrating James Thomson the poet. Farther off, on a hill, stands a gigantic statue of William Wallace, which was orginally intended for Burns; but, the stone being too large, it was thought by the eccentric Lord Buchan, who erected it, a pity to cut it down.

I was ferried over by two women, who were by no means sorry that the winds and floods had carried my Lord Buchan’s bridge away, as it restored their business of putting people over. I then ascended a lane from the ferry, and found myself in front of an apparently old castle gateway; but, from the Latin inscription over it, discovered that it was also erected by the same singular Lord Buchan, as the entrance to a pomarium, or, in plain English, an orchard, dedicated to his honored parents, who, I suppose, like our first parents, were particularly fond of apples. That his parents or himself might en-joy all the apples, he had under the Latin dedication, placed a simple English menace of steel traps and spring guns. I still advanced through a pleasant scene of trees and cottages, of rich grassy crofts, with cattle lying luxuriously in them, and amid a hush of repose, indicative of a monastic scene.

Having found a guide to the ruins, at a cottage near the river, I was led across a young orchard toward them, the two old gables and the fine circular window showing themselves above the foliage. I found the interior of the ruins carpeted by soft turf, and two rows of cedars growing in the church, marking where the aisle formerly ran. The cloisters and south transept were still entire, and displayed much fine workmanship. The great circular window is especially lovely, formed of five stars cut in stone, so that the open center between them forms a rose. The light seen through this charming window produced a fine effect. The chapter-house was also entire, the floor being now only of earth; and a circle was drawn in the center, where the remains of the founder and his lady lie. Here, again, however, the fantastic old Lord Buchan had interfered, and a statue of Locke, reading an open book, and pointing to his own forehead; one of Ingo Jones, and one of Newton, made you wonder what they were doing there. So totally without regard to fitness did this half-crazy nobleman put down his ornaments. The wonder is that his successor had not removed these, and some statues or busts which had as little business on the spot.

But the charm of the place in every sense was the grave of Scott. It was in the Lady aisle, and occupies two arches of it; and the adjoining space under the next arch is the burial place of the Erskines, as Scott’s burial-place was that of his ancestors, the Halliburtons. The whole, with the tier of small sectional Norman arches above, forms a glorious tomb much resembling one of the chapel tombs in Winchester Cathedral. Taken in connection with the fine ruins, and the finer natural scenery around, no spot can be supposed more suitable for the resting-place of the re-mains of the great minstrel and romancer, who so delighted in the natural, historic, and legendary charms of the neighborhood, and who added still greater ones to them himself.

Since my visit, a massive tomb, of Aberdeen granite, has been placed over the remains of Sir Walter and Lady Scott, and those of their eldest son. A railway also now makes the place much more accessible, the station for Drybrugh being at the village of Newtown, on the other side of the river. Near St. Boswell’s, opposite to Dryburgh, has also been lately erected a bridge over the Tweed, opening up the communication betwixt the north and south side of the river, and thus enabling the tourist to explore at great convenience the scenes of ancient loves and feuds, and the haunts of Scott. Here his dust lies amid the objects redolent of his fame; and within a few miles, near Makerstoun, a view may be obtained, from a hill, of Smailholme Tower, where the poet passed some of the years of his boyhood, and the memory of which he has perpetuated in one of the epistles which introduce each Canto of Marmon.