JOURNAL., Various Contributors (Jun., 1895), pp.330-335.

VERY great importance attaches to operations now being carried on at the well-known camp or fort of Birrens, Dumfriesshire, by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. In view of questions that have been raised regarding the nature and extent of the Roman occupation of Scotland, it was recently resolved by the Council of the Society to ask permission of the Duke of Buccleuch, on whose Queensberry estates Birrens is situated, and Sir Robert Jardine of Castlemilk, the proprietor of Burnswark, to grant permission to make excavations at both these places, so long believed to be sites of Roman strongholds that were closely connected with one another. The object of the Society is to determine, if possible, by researches conducted on the spot, the structure and origin of those remarkable works. The necessary permission was readily granted both by the Duke and Sir Robert, and a commencement has been made at Birrens. It would be premature as yet even to speculate as to the results. No startling discoveries have been made; but the original size and formation of the ramparts and trenches have been ascertained, the foundations of what were apparently buildings, laid bare, and enough accomplished to show that the field of investigation on which the Society has entered promises to be a highly interesting one. We trust to be able in our next number to state the progress that will then have been made.”

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“THE writings now being exhibited in cases in the department of manuscripts and in the Grenville library in the British Museum, are eminently rich in historical interest. Apart altogether from such unique treasures as are gathered in the sections containing early chronicles and poems, charters and illuminated parchments, and the originals of literary storehouses, such as the Percy Folio MS., the state papers and royal autographs contain not a few items particularly concerning Scotland and the Scots. There is a letter in the large bold hand of Louis XIV. containing the congratulations of that monarch on the birth in 1688 of a son to James II. – the little prince known to later history as the Pretender, about whose birth interested scandalmongers invented the romance of a warming-pan. Another letter to the Earl of Leicester in 1586 by James VI. regarding the “pretendit condemnation” of his mother, says – “As for my ouin pairt it is farr by my expectation or desairtis that youre countreymen in so using the mother shoulde have so small respect to the ofspring.” Graham of Claverhouse on 1 June, 1679, wrote an account of the battle of Drumclog which describes how the royal troops on coming in sight of the covenanters “found them drawen up in batell upon a most advantageous ground to which there was no coming but through mosses.” They “had set away all there wemen and shildring: they consisted of four bataillons of foot all well armed with fusese and pitchforks and thre squadrons of horse.” Then he goes on to explain in a straightforward fashion how the fusees and pitchforks came to have the best of it in the encounter. Reminiscences of the ’15 and the ’45 are numerous. One document neatly penned is a promise of the title of Earl to Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat – a coronet in the air which Simon’s head would have been safer without. In the Culloden time, in the flush of his victory, the Duke of Cumberland wrote a letter ascribing all the glory to the constancy and discipline of the men he led. “You know the readiness I always found in the troops to do all that I ordered and in return the love I have for them, and that I make my honour and reputation depend on them.” He wished to God the enemy had been worthy of them! So, in a sense other than Tom Campbell’s, proud Cumberland prances, insulting the slain.”

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“AS briefly recorded in our report of the closing meeting for the session of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the last paper read was a note by the Rev. J. Morrison, Elgin, corresponding member, on the recent discovery of a sculptured slab on the farm of Easterton of Roseisle, near Burghead. The principal value of this slab consists in its having incised on it what is probably an addition to our list of those mysterious symbols that are amongst the greatest puzzles of Scottish archaeology. On one side is a new variety of the “crescent”; beneath it the “crescent” with “sceptre,” then the “mirror,” and lastly the “comb” – all well cut. On the other side – before beginning work on which the sculptor had either designedly or accidentally inverted the stone – is the figure apparently of a goose with its bill resting on its back, and below it a fish. The treatment of both figures is remarkably vigorous and effective though simple in the extreme. The fish frequently appears on our sculptured stones, but this is among the very few instances of the other that have as yet been noted. It is said there is an ancient burial place in the neighbourhood of the spot where the slab was found. More information, however, as to this may yet be brought to light. It may be added that the slab is of sandstone, quarried apparently from the shore of the Moray Frith. Burghead is distant only about three miles, whose famous incised bulls are well known and whose fortifications were long thought to give it a Roman character, until the claims put forward on its behalf were shattered by the attack of our contributor Dr. James Macdonald – a noble instance of well-founded and successful scepticism. We should hope that this interesting relic of the past will be deposited in the National or other public museum, and thus assured a permanent and suitable place of protection against loss or destruction – the usual fate after a time of all such objects when left in private hands. Indeed, some of our best authorities are of the opinion that according to Scots law, which in this respect differs widely from English, all antiquities found in similar circumstances, whether treasure trove or not, belong to the Crown.

In a letter to the Scotsman of the 8th inst. The Earl of Southesk comments on the peculiarities of this stone. The bird and fish he regards as Scandinavian symbols cut or rubbed out by a Norseman’s hand; those on the other side as later – say from 450 to 600 A.D. – and the work of men probably half Celt, half Norseman, who treated the sacred emblems of the older race with scant respect. Still later, the slab had, he conjectures, been utilized for their own purposes “by some searoving or indigenous tribe ignorant of Christianity and persistent in the use of primitive implements and antiquated modes of burial.” For an explanation of the mysterious sculptures he refers to his Origins of Pictish Symbolism, in which he has advanced a theory that seeks to explain their meanings. Such are Lord Southesk’s views, which, however, he advances only tentatively. One difficulty in accepting them is the early date at which he supposes northmen to have visited our coasts. Their first recorded appearance is in A.D. 793, when they attacked the island of Lindisfarne. It will be also observed that he believes the slab had finally been used to form one of the sides of a prehistoric grave. The account of its discovery and the drawings sent him may warrant this conclusion. It is not likely his lordship has allowed himself to be misled. But accurate and precise information on this point, testified to by some competent observer who saw the stone dug out, should be put on record without delay. This, we hope, Mr. Morrison’s paper when published will be found to contain.”

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“FEW modern observances of ancient custom are so attractive to the antiquarian eye as the periodic riding of the marches celebrated by many historic burghs. The recent festivities of Hawick “Common Riding” and Lanark “Lanimer Day” were reminiscent of a time when a perambulation of burghal boundaries was a legal step which a community alive to the dangers of forceful or fraudulent encroachment was wise to take with such frequency as to keep the true traditional landmarks well in the memory of the townsmen. The pulpit has been complaining of some of the attendant saturnalia, which are, of course, no integral part of the ceremony, and at least some of which are without the immemorial sanction of past custom. It is the way of things for old features to die out and for new ones to creep into their place. The modern engrafts itself upon the antique. For instance, curds and cream at Hawick have become, with some, an essential of the procedure! In connection with perambulations it would seem to have once been a practice by no means uncommon for children to be whipped at a landmark, not for any harm they had done but as a salutary method of enforcing the recollection of the march-stone’s whereabouts! This curious and from the child’s point of view painful mnemonic aid was of wide applicability. Benvenuto Cellini in his unblushing but delightful autobiography records that when he was a small boy he and his father saw a lizard-like beast in the fire, whereupon the father gave the son a great box on the ear, causing him to weep and howl, as he naively says, with all his might. Then the affectionate parent gave the reason why, which was that Benvenuto might ever afterwards remember that what he had seen was a salamander. The habit of whipping under such circumstances was surely one more honoured in the breach than in the observance. It was well to let it die.”

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“GASTRONOMICS form an odd part of these march-riding ceremonies as now performed. They have already made good their place as traditional. Witness the observances at Linlithgow, where, after solemnly investing a Baron Baillie, and calling the roll of vassals, the provost, magistrates, and burgesses are fortified by a “customary dinner of salt fish and oatcake” – wholesome fairing, though maybe thirst-productive – for completing the perambulation of the bounds by defiling in state around the old Cross Well. ‘Tis pity that some one skilled in burgh records does not write a treatise in detail on these and such like usages, in which past and present meet.”

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“MR. WILLIAM HISLOP, LL.B., has done wisely to print his address to the Glasgow Juridical Society on The Influence of the House of Lords on Scottish Jurisprudence. It is too seldom that a lawyer turns from the drear task of examining case law for the mere professional purpose, to the loftier effort of attempting an estimate of the tendency of a series of decisions, or the instincts of a great tribunal. The busy practitioner has only exceptionally time for large views. He is the man at the wheel with his hand on the spokes, and the immediate course to look to – not his the function to peer through the telescope before and after, and study the charts. Mr. Hislop, however, has chosen a high theme for his lucubrations. To weigh critically the judicial value of the House of Lords to Scotland, to deduce from its decisions the essential sum of its contribution to our native law, and to strike a balance of legal profit and loss to this country accruing from the court of ultimate appeal – this is a fine historical subject, in the handling of which there is no displayed no small measure of that juridical insight and critical faculty requisite for a task so great. An appreciation of the work of two centuries, studded with great names, is a stout task for an hour’s paper, however comprehensive, but Mr. Hislop has certainly seized the salient facts of House of Lords history, quoad Scots law, since the year 1708, when by a very dubious decision – without any authoritative or statutory institution – the House successfully asserted right of review, regarding the competency of which our own Court of Session declined to express any opinion. The results constitute a singular anomaly. Practically a foreign tribunal, dominated by judges of whom until about 1830 only four had prepared themselves for Scottish appeals by systematic study of Scots law, its destined business was to check, clarify, control, and correct the Court of Session in the interpretation of Scots legal doctrine. The situation a priori was one of difficulty amounting to paradox. But facts rarely answer to a priori calculation, and Mr. Hislop’s conclusions from his survey are an emphatic tribute to the judicial spirit manifested, to the acumen, tact, and learning of the judges, and to the general wholesomeness and advantage of the influence of the House. The appellate jurisdiction, which had it been tyrannously administered must have caused disastrous friction, has, on the whole, been wisely and yet freely exercised. Mistakes – and serious mistakes – have within even quite recent times been made, but the net outcome has been a direct gain not only to Scots law, especially on commercial questions, but to that of England as well. “The influence of the House of Lords upon the law of Scotland has proved eminently beneficial”: this is the express verdict of its latest critic.”

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