8th of December

The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St Romaric, abbot, 653.

Born. – Mary, Queen of Scots, 1542, Linlithgow; Queen Christina of Sweden, 1626; Johann George Von Zimmermann, celebrated author of treatise on Solitude, 1728, Brug, Switzerland.
Died. – Emperor Sigismund of Germany, 1437; Scaramouche, celebrated zany, 1694, Paris; Barthélemi d’Herbelot, distinguished orientalist, 1695, Paris; Thomas Corneille, dramatist, brother of Pierre, 1709, Andelys; Vitus Behring, navigator, 1741, Behring Island, off Kamtchatka.


In Mrs [Mary Wilson] Gordon’s Memoir of Christopher North, published towards the close of 1862, we meet with several curious illustrations of De Quincey’s singular character. 

De Quincey’s confirmed habit of taking opium, which, at one time, held complete mastery over his powerful intellect, caused him to be distinguished by the undesirable title of ‘the Opium Eater.’ He may be said to have given himself the appellation in the first instance, by his book, entitled The Confessions of an Opium Eater, in which he professes to describe his experience as such, vividly portraying the wretchedness and the ecstasies of those extraordinary conditions of mind and body, with which, from his constant use of the drug, he became familiar. In 1829, De Quincey made a protracted stay at Professor [John] Wilson’s house. In the later years of his life, he almost entirely shook off an indulgence which pain, in the first instance, had led him to acquire, and which use had made habitual, and, to some extent, necessary; but at the time of this visit, he was still a slave. Mrs Gordon thus describes his daily routine, on the occasion of his visit to her father, above referred to:

   ‘An ounce of laudanum per diem prostrated animal life in the early part of the day. It was no unfrequent sight to find him in his room lying upon the rug in front of the fire, his head resting upon a book, with his arms crossed over his breast, plunged in profound slumber. For several hours he would lie in this state, until the effects of the torpor had passed away. The time when he was most brilliant, was generally towards the early morning-hours; and then, more than once, in order to shew him off, my father arranged his supper-parties, so that, sitting till three or four in the morning, he brought Mr De Quincey to that point at which, in charm and power of conversation, he was so truly wonderful.’

A less painful and more amusing anecdote is told of that wordy, wandering manner, which renders his impassioned and beautiful prose sometimes tedious in the extreme. Being obliged, from delicacy of constitution, to be careful about his food, as Mrs Gordon tells us, he used to dine in his own room, and at his own hour. His invariable diet was ‘coffee, boiled rice and milk, and a piece of mutton from the loin.’ ‘The cook, who had an audience with him daily, received her instructions in silent awe, quite overpowered by his manner; for, had he been addressing a duchess, he could scarcely have spoken with more deference. He would couch his request in such terms as these: “Owing to dyspepsia afflicting my system, and the possibilities of any additional disarrangement of the stomach taking place, consequences incalculably distressing would arise; so much so, indeed, as to increase nervous irritation, and prevent me from attending to matters of overwhelming importance, if you do not remember to cut the mutton in a diagonal rather than in a longitudinal form.” The cook – a Scotchwoman – had great reverence for Mr De Quincey as a man of genius; but after one of these interviews, her patience was pretty well exhausted, and she would say: “Weel, I never heard the like o’ that in a’ my days; the body has an awfu’ sicht o’ words. If it had been my ain maister that was wanting his dinner, he would ha’ ordered a hale tablefu’ wi’ little mair than a waff o’ his haun, and here’s a’ this claver aboot a bit mutton nae bigger than a prin. Mr De Quinshey would mak’ a gran’ preacher, though I ‘m thining a hantle o’ the folk wouldna ken what he was driving at.” ’

The cook’s view of the opium-eater’s style was anything but superficial. During the last seventeen years of his life, De Quincey resided at the village of Lasswade, near Edinburgh. He died in the Scottish metropolis on 8th December 1859.

On this Day in Other Sources.

The 8th day of December, 1331, David, about the 8th year of his age, is solemnly crowned and anointed at Scone, by James Bane: [Arch]bishop of St. Andrews, having received order to do so, by a bull of Pope John XXII. This day, the young King, amongst others, knighted John Stewart, Earl of Angus, and Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray’s, son Earl Thomas, the worthy Governor. 

– Historical Works, pp.104-124.

The 8th of December, this same year, [1448,] the prisoners, viz. Sir Alexander Livingstone, once Governor of Scotland, Sir James Dundas, and Sir Robert Bruce of Clackmannan, are put to great fines, and condemned to perpetual prison, in the castle of Dumbarton; but Sir James Livingstone, the Governor’s eldest son, with his two cousins, Sir Robert Livingstone and Sir David, had sentence of death pronounced against them, and lost their heads on a scaffold at Edinburgh cross. For this tragedy, the commons exclaimed against the King and Earl of Douglas, with open mouth. 

– Historical Works, pp.166-189.

Amongst others that seemed worthy of attention was the famed sword of Sir William Wallace preserved at Dumbarton Castle. It so happened that there was in the writer’s hands at the moment exact drawings, to scale, with dimensions annexed, of the “twa-handed” weapon kept at Dumbarton. These, as stated in a letter to Sir Brooke Boothby at the time – that is, in 1814 – were made by Tobiss Smollett, grand-nephew of the celebrated author of that name, or, at all events, under his personal superintendence. These details were required for the guidance of the sculptor entrusted with the preparation of the colossal statue of Wallace still to be seen in the neighbourhood of Melrose. Tracings of these drawings were made and sent to Trieste, where Sir R. F. Burton was Consul, along with such further notes as seemed likely to be of use. 

For instance, the historian of Dumbartonshire, Mr J. Irving, writing on this subject, calls attention to the fact that at the present day there are many difficulties in the way of proving that this old weapon can rightly establish an ownership so illustrious. Still it appears that mention was made of the weapon so far back as the year 1505. When King James IV. visited Dumbarton the following entry of an item of expenditure was made in the books of the Lord Treasurer, under date 8th December:- 

          “For bynding of ane riding sword and rappeyer and binding of Wallass sword with cordis of silk, and new bilt and plomet, new skabbard, and new belt to the said sword, xxvj. sb.” 

– Scots Lore, pp.280-282.

During the preceding century the abduction of women and girls was no uncommon thing in Edinburgh. On the 8th December, 1608, Margaret Stewart, a widow, complained to the Privy Council that, as she was walking home from her booth to her dwelling-house, about eight in the evening, accompanied by her orphan granddaughter, then fourteen years of age, a young citizen named William Geddes beset her, with six men armed like himself, with swords, gauntlets, steel bonnets, and plate sleeves, and violently took the child from her, despite her tears and manifold supplications. 

For this Geddes was outlawed; and soon after the Privy Council was compelled to renew some old enactment concerning night-walkers, in the High Street and other thoroughfares, where they indulged in wild humours and committed heinous crimes. At this time – 1611 – the old system of lighting had ceased to exist; and after twilight the main street and those narrow steep alleys, like stone chasms, diverging from it, were all sunk in Cimerian gloom, into which no man ventured to penetrate without his sword and lantern. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.191-198.

McUre also dignifies Patrick Bell another provost of Glasgow (a brother apparently of Provost James Bell) with a knighthood, and says that Charles I. named him a commissioner for the treaty of Rippon;* also that he died of the plague in London in 1640. His knighthood is mythical, for when his son James Bell was served his heir general on 8th December, 1643 (Retours), the father is simply called “Patrick Bell, merchand, formerly provost of Glasgow.” If he had been Sir Patrick” he would undoubtedly have been called so. It is not easy to see how Charles I. could nominate him one of the Rippon commissioners, for they were appointed by the Scottish estates in opposition to the king! 

– Scots Lore, pp.141-148.

*  I wanted to find out more about the Treaty of Rippon (Ripon) and came across this interesting info on the Union of Scotland and England: 
“At the accession of James I., a Presbyterian king, the Puritan members of the Church of England hoped for some relief from obnoxious ceremonies; but their most reasonable requests were contemptuously rejected. He told them that they must conform, or he would harry them out of the land. Under Charles I., persecution more and more increased till the meeting of the Long Parliament, when the situation was reversed, and Laud was sent to the prison to which he had consigned so many conscientious men. The Scots, in defence of their despised and insulted worship, had invaded England, and when their Commissioners were treating with the king at Ripon, Commissioners from the Long Parliament arrived for a similar purpose. It was at this point that the Scots and English began to co-operate. In 1643 – a year after the civil war had begun – English Commissioners appeared at the General Assembly in Edinburgh and proposed a league between the two kingdoms. As the Scots desired a religious covenant also, the Solemn League and Covenant was subscribed by both nations. It was in consequence of this conjunction that Scottish Commissioners went to the Westminster Assembly – an English Council called by the Long Parliament to reform the English Church. We do not know what reforms the English divines might have made in the Church of England, nor what kind of polity or worship or discipline they would have established without the aid of the Scots, but we do know that it was in consequence of this treaty that the Scots gave up their ancient Book of Common Order and adopted the Westminster Directory. 
It may be well to review the situation at this juncture. The grand aim of the Court had been to reduce the Church of Scotland to the English pattern, and in this there was some progress made, for bishops had been established in Scotland for twenty-eight years.”
– ‘Christian worship: ten lectures delivered in the Union theological seminary, New York, in the autumn of 1896‘, Union Theological Seminary, pp.259-260.
8 Dec 1645  Gavin Bell prosecuted.*

Pride in Scottish History.

*  Commission to Sir Robert Drummond of Midhope. 
The estates of parliament, having taken into their consideration the motion and desire made in parliament for granting commission for trying and judging Gavin Bell, apprentice to John Thomson in Blackrig, who is committed and imprisoned as guilty of the vile and filthy crime of buggery, they have given and granted and hereby give and grant full power and commission to the provost and bailies of Linlithgow and Sir Robert Drummond of Midhope, knight, (or any three of them, the said Sir Robert Drummond being one of the three) to sit as justiciaries in that part within the tolbooth of Linlithgow for trying, processing and judging the said Gavin Bell anent the committing of the vile and filthy crime of buggery. With power to them to create and choose a clerk and other members of court necessary and to cause warn and summon an assize and inquest and witnesses and receive all other probation necessary and to do and exercise all other things requisite concerning the trying, processing and judging of the said Gavin Bell for the aforesaid filthy and vile crime of buggery as freely in all respects as the justice general and his deputes might do therein if the said delinquent were cited before them; as also with power to the said persons above-named as justices in that part aforesaid to put the sentence and doom to be given in the said matter to due execution, according to the tenor thereof, for the which the estates declare this act shall be a sufficient warrant.  
Charles I: Translation   
1645, 26 November, St Andrews, Parliament   
Parliamentary Register   
8 December 1645   
Procedure: commission for the trial of Gavin Bell.  


Born about 1672; died, 1720. 

Merchant in Glasgow. Treasurer of the City, 1707. Dean of Guild, 1717, 1718. “Mortified to this House 2,000 merks Scotts, the interest whereof to be given the poor yearly the eighth day of December; who died the 10th October, 1720, in the 49th year of his age.” 

– Memorial Catalogue, Gallery 1.

   “London, Decem. 1. Yesterday being St. Andrew’s Day (the Titular Saint of Scotland) the Natives of that Part of Great Britain wore the Cross of that Saint; and the Nobility of the Order of St. Andrew, or the Thistle, made their Appearance at Court in their Green Ribbans. We hear that his Majesty, who together with his Royal Highness the Prince, wore the Cross, is to create four new Knights of that Order. The Society of Scots Gentlemen, who meet here annually on this Day, had a Feast, as usually, and chose Mr. George Middleton their Master for the Year ensuing. The Knights of this Order used to meet, before the Union, at St. Andrew’s Town and Kirk. History is not certain when this Order began; but only, that the Scots have received St. Andrew for their Guardian ever since the 810, in the Reign of Hungus the Pict; when the said Hungus making War with Athlanstan King of England, saw in the Sky, the Night before the Battle, a bright Cross, like that on which St. Andrew suffered Martyrdom, and the Day proving successful to Hungus, he and his Confederate Achaius went bare-footed to the Kirk of St. Andrew’s, to return Thanks to GOD and his Apostle for their Victory; vowing, for themselves and their Posterity, always to use the said Cross in their Ensigns and Banners: Which has accordingly been observed by the Scots and Picts ever since; and hence, tis believed, the Order took its Rise.”  

– Caledonian Mercury, Tuesday 8th December, 1724. 

Treaty of Union Articles, 1700-1750.

In the same stair with Lady Maxwell lived Anne Dalrymple, Countess of James fifth Earl of Balcarres, who died in 1768, a lady who is said to have been the progenitrix of as many persons as ever any woman was in the same space of time, for Sir Bernard Burke records her as having eight children, and fifteen grandchildren. Her eldest daughter, Anne – and of all her family almost the only one remembered now – was the authoress of the sweet ballad of Auld Robin Gray, written to the ancient Scottish air called “The bridegroom greets when the sun gaes doon.” She was born on the 8th of December, 1750, and was married to Sir Andrew Barnard, Colonial Secretary at the Cape of Good Hope, and she died at Berkeley Square, London, in 1825, after surviving her husband eighteen years. The whole history of the ballad, and her authorship thereof, are too well known to require repetition here; but the first verse, as she wrote it, is invariably omitted now:- 

“When the sheep are in the fauld, and the kye a’ at hame,
When a’ the weary world to sleep are gane,
The waes o’ my heart fa’ in showers from my ee’
While my gudeman lies sound by me.”

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.274-282.

(The following letter will explain the third case without any comment.)

December 8, 1841.

     DEAR SIR, – In your descriptions of the inhuman treatment to which the poor Sutherlanders have been, and are still exposed, you have not hitherto represented the unhallowed proceedings which took place between five and six years ago, in the “Episcopal City of Dornoch,” when the parish church underwent an extensive repair, and considerable additions were made to it solely for the private convenience of the great Sutherland family, who defrayed the whole expense.  

     During the progress of these works, the church-yard, in which the inhabitants had buried their dead for time immemorial, presented the most revolting spectacle imaginable, being strewed with human bones, skulls, and pieces of coffins, &c., exhumed by the workmen employed in digging for the foundations of the new additions to the church, in levelling the church-yard, and forming new and enlarged walks.  

     These relics of mortality were permitted to remain exposed to view long after the mason-work was completed, and an entire coffin was actually suffered to remain on the surface for a fortnight; while the tomb-stones which indicated their resting place, bearing the endearing inscriptions of parents and children, were rudely thrown aside, and afterwards not replaced nor preserved, but used, it is said, in the formation of a new enclosure wall. It is true indeed, that one or two families of the aristocracy there threatened resistance, but their anger was appeased, if not their vanity gratified, by having their family tomb-stones fixed inside one of the entrance porches. The resident inhabitants of Dornoch, however, whose progenitors had been buried there for ages, were denied even the privilege of re-interring the remains exhumed by workmen brought from a distance who felt no sympathy for the lacerated feelings of the community, and refused to re-inter the human bones; alleging that their instructions were limited to be careful in preserving and delivering to the agent of the Duke, at Golspie, any ancient coins or other relics of antiquity that might be discovered in the course of the excavations. Matters continued in this painful position till a new church-yard was formed at a distance from the town, and where, ultimately, the surplus earth, &c., was removed from the old church-yard.  

     Whether it was that the inhabitants disliked the idea of being buried beyond the sound of the church bell, or apart from their relatives, or from whatever other cause, it is certain the dying made it a last special request that they should be buried in some of the neighbouring parishes, – and thus the new church-yard was likely to be so only in name. Ultimately, however, the death of a poor person at a distance presented an opportunity of providing at least one tenant, and since that period the objections to the new burying ground are not now so frequently made.  

     A stranger to the Sutherland tyrannical system of management may well exclaim in wonder and horror – Why did the inhabitants tolerate such unhallowed proceedings? – and why did the clergyman of the parish silently witness the barbarous treatment of the remains of his late parishioners? Those, however, who have perused your graphic account of the dreadful sufferings of the people, will be at no loss to discover from whence arises their apparent apathy.  

I am, &c.,


To Mr. Donald McLeod.

– Gloomy Memories, pp.67-70.

The following sentence appears in the Saturday Review of December 8, 1860, as Gaelic taken from this MS.:-  


The translation given is –  

     Be it on the conscience of every one in whom shall be the grace of the booklet with splendour that he gave a blessing on the soul of the misellus who wrote it.  

In this form I can make nothing whatever of the Gaelic, and not much of the English. There is not one word, except bendacht, which even looks like modern Gaelic, but the following sentence conveys as little meaning at first –  


The Gaelic, otherwise divided, looks better; the reader may puzzle out the other language for himself. Taking this to be phonetic spelling, it is not unlike modern Gaelic with one Latinised word, and would seem to be a formal gift of wood on a hilltop, and a blessing on somebody mentioned before.  


“To the Forchi (? the Farquhars). To every man to whom it may be said. The half of the wood on the high place to them. A blessing on the little soul of the poor little fellow before written.” 

– Popular Tales, Vol.4, pp.35-53.

   “PERTHSHIRE SOCIETY OF SOLICITORS AND THE JURISDICTION OF ENGLISH COURTS. – A meeting of the Perthshire Society of Solicitors was held in Perth yesterday – Mr A. Graham, Crieff, in the chair – at which the effects likely to result from the recent decision of the House of Lords in the case of [Orr] Ewing versus Ewing with reference to the jurisdiction sought to be exercised over domiciled Scotchmen and Scottish property were taken into consideration. A Committee was appointed to communicate and act along with other societies in opposing what is considered an innovation on the rights of Scotchmen under the Treaty of Union.”  

– Dundee Courier, Saturday 8th December, 1883. 

Treaty of Union Articles, 1875-1900.

A case, brought before the courts, Orr Ewing vs Ewing, brought to light the way in which Scottish court jurisdiction was being overshadowed and subverted by English Courts who, as per the Treaty of Union, has no jurisdiction within Scotland or on Scottish affairs whatsoever. This led to calls for enquiry into the situation which was more widespread than just this one case. The financial amount in this specific case was, of course, what highlighted it. The case itself is elaborated upon in the ‘London Evening Standard’ report of December 8th, 1883. 

   “The vexed question of the jurisdiction of the English Law Courts in Scotland, which was brought under the notice of the House of Commons last Session, has been raised afresh by judgments of the House of Lords and the Queen’s Bench Division, and is at this moment being discussed North of the Tweed with no little excitement and indignation. Mr EWING, a Glasgow merchant, who died four years ago, domiciled in Scotland, left by his will, drawn up in the Scotch form in 1873, a fortune of something like half a million of money to the charge of six executors, of whom Mr. A. ORR EWING, the member for Dumbartonshire, was one. The whole of his property, with the exception of assets amounting to twenty-five thousand pounds, was situated in Scotland, and the executors, having obtained letters of probate and administration in England in respect to the twenty-five thousand pounds, proceeded to take the necessary steps to transfer it to Scotland, and add it to the bulk of the estate to be administered. It happened, however, that a nephew of Mr. EWING’s, a beneficiary under the will, had left ten thousand pounds to an ‘infant,’ whose friends commenced an action in the Chancery Division for the purpose of securing the administration of the whole estate by the English Courts. The executors admitted jurisdiction not simply as regarded the ten thousand pounds, but in respect of the whole twenty-five thousand pounds situated in England. They, however, denied – and the contention seems, on the whole, in accordance with common sense – that the bulk of the estate, which has never been out of Scotland, could be dragged from the jurisdiction of the Scotch Courts and thrown into Chancery. This view of the case was taken by Mr. Justice MANISTY, who held that the Court had, at all events, a discretionary power as to the exercise of its jurisdiction; but, on appeal, a judgment to a contrary effect was secured, and this in turn has been sustained by the final decision of the House of Lords. Unless, therefore, the Scotch Courts make a stand in the matter, a course which it is in their power to take, and which they are strongly urged by public opinion North of the Border to adopt, the whole of Mr. EWING’s estate will be transferred to the English Court of Chancery. To Chancery lawyers the prospect may be pleasant enough; but it is not surprising that in Scotland it has led to an excited discussion and much antiquarian research into the terms of the Treaty of Union.”  

– London Evening Standard, Saturday 8th December, 1883. 

– Treaty of Union Articles,  1875-1900.