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In 1799, Joseph Train was ballotted for the Ayrshire militia, then about to be embodied in Ayr: and the stipulated time of service being either three years or during the war, he served till, in consequence of the peace of Amiens, the regiment was disbanded in the spring of 1802, unknown and unnoticed beyond the credit which his orderly conduct secured for him. He, however, still found leisure to indulge in his favourite studies, and to pay occasional court to the Muse. While stationed at Inverness, he had seen the announcement of Currie's edition of the Works of Burns-originally printed at Liverpool in 1800-and ambitious to possess a copy, he became a subscriber, resolving to save every sixpence he could spare for the purchase. The volumes having been duly forwarded to the bookseller, the colonel of the regiment, Sir David Hunter Blair, happening to enter the shop one day, took up the work, and, expressing a wish to have it, was astonished when informed that the copy, price £1 11s. 6d., was for one of his own men. Sir David inquired the name of the individual, and, on being informed, felt so much pleased, that he gave orders to have it bound in the best style, and delivered to Train free of expense.
Not satisfied with this mark of approbation, Sir David continued his kindness, convinced that the object of his attention was in every way worthy of it. He patronised the publication of a small volume of poems by Mr. Train, which appeared at Ayr in 1806, entitled Poetical Reveries, and which was favourably received by the public. In 1808 Sir David obtained for him an appointment in the Excise, and through the kindness of Mr. Gillies, his first supervisor, he was employed in Ayr district till 1810, when he was removed to Aberfeldy to assist in the suppression of illicit distillation, at that time carried on openly to a great extent in Breadalbane. The situation of the revenue officers employed for its suppression was very hazardous. Mr. Train narrowly escaped with his life from a party of smugglers, when wandering alone on the hills; but in March, 1811, he was appointed to Largs Ride, in Ayrshire.
Largs is a district of more than ordinary interest to the Scottish historian: and, rich in picturesque scenery, is highly calculated to inspire the pen of the poet. Mr. Train, in his boyish years, had become well acquainted with the middle portions of the county of Ayr, and his residence at Largs gave him a knowledge of the northern sections of it, which he had not formerly acquired. In 1813, he was transferred to Newton Stewart; and, as his survey extended over the greater part, not only of Upper and Lower Galloway, but also of a considerable part of Carrick, he found himself located in a circuit hitherto unexplored, and new to him in many particulars. "Few parts, even in the North Highlands of Scotland," he remarks in his MS. personal memoranda, "present a greater variety of savage scenery than that of the borders of Galloway and Ayrshire; and, with the
exception of the store-farmers, who are generally shrewd and intelligent, the people's simplicity corresponds entirely with the wildness of the country." In this pristine district, Mr. Train gathered many interesting traditions, illustrative of bygone days-of rites and superstitions at one period general over the country, but which, in later times, existed only where intercourse was limited and knowledge had been correspondingly slow in its progress. What use he designed to make of his gleanings appeared in 1814, by the publication of his Strains of the Mountain Muse, consisting chiefly of metrical tales, illustrative of traditions in Galloway and Ayrshire, accompanied by interesting notes. This little volume was destined to give a permanent direction to the future researches of the author.
The poems were printed at Edinburgh; and while in the press, Sir Walter Scott, having seen the announcement, and obtained a glance at the sheets from the publisher,' immediately wrote to the author, whose address he also procured, requesting him to add his name to the subscription list for several copies. Flattered by this compliment, Mr. Train made all haste to forward a copy to the distinguished poet, accompanied by a letter, thanking him for his kindness. To this Sir Walter replied as follows:
To Mr. Joseph Train, Newton Stewart, Galloway.
"SIR,-I received your volume with the inclosure, just as I am setting out on a pleasure voyage. I intend to make your book a companion of my tour, and I shall feel it a pleasant one, if the other poems, as I doubt not, bear a proportion of merit corresponding to Elcine de Aggart, in which I find only one faulty line. It is
'Or any whom they may refractory find.'
I wish you would revise something like this, as it would complete the picture of subjugation'They bring with them yokes for the neck of the hind.'
I don't mean that as a good line, but it may suggest one having a special and direct idea, instead of a vague and general one, as it stands at present.
"I am not at all acquainted with Galloway traditions and stories, and should be much obliged by any communication on these subjects. My return will be in about a month from this date, when my address is Abbotsford by Melrose.
An encouraging letter of this kind, from one occupying so high a place in the literature of his country as Sir Walter Scott-though then only known to the world by his poetical works-was well calculated to inspire a newly fledged author with the highest hopes of success. The poem alluded to affords a very fair specimen of the Mountain Muse.* Besides the foregoing, Mr. Train's volume contained "The Funeral of Sir Archibald the Wicked," " who died in 1710, and was notorious for the part which he took against the Covenanters.
I George Goldie, Prince's-street, Edinburgh, 8vo. 1814.
* Appendix, Note i, "Elcine de Aggart."
Among the notes
2 Of Culzean Castle, now the seat of his descendant, the Marquis of Ailsa.
appended to this poem, is one upon which Sir Walter Scott afterwards founded the tale of "Wandering Willie," in Redgauntlet, which historical novel did not appear till 1824.*
The other poems in the Mountain Muse were chiefly designed to illustrate the traditions and customs of a former age. "The Grave of Glenalmond" records the violent death of a soldier, after returning from foreign wars. "The Hag of the Heath" affords the author an opportunity of adverting to the popular superstitions of our forefathers, and of collecting in his notes a variety of interesting extracts. "Spunkie; or the Wan'er'd Wight, a Nocturnal Tale"-" The Peasant's Death"-" The Cabal of Witches"- "The Warlock Laird," &c., partake of the same character. Among the lyrical pieces, the song entitled "The Auld Thing O'er Again," as a picture of the warlike period at which it was written, is well worthy of preservation :
"Wi' drums and pipes the clachan rang,
I left my goats to wander wide;
I bicker'd down the mountain side.
Awa' I flang wi' cauld disdain,
To do the auld thing o'er again.
Ye barons bold, whose turrets rise
I trow the laddies ye may prize
Wha fight your battles far awa'.
The auld thing weel done o'er again.
Right far a fiel' I freely fought,
'Gainst mony an outlandish loon;
While I had pith to wield it roun',
Although I'm marching life's last stage,
Discharges a' my toil and pain,
The pleasant auld thing o'er again."
Such is a specimen of the contents of the little volume which gave rise to the long-continued intimacy and correspondence between the author
Appendix, Note ii,
"Grierson of Lagg."
1 The Laird of Fail. Many stories are told in Ayrshire of the magical powers of the Laird. The remains of his castle, in Tarbolton parish, still exist.
and Sir Walter Scott. Stimulated by the encouragement of his distinguished patron, Mr. Train became still more eager in the pursuit of ancient lore; and being amongst the first to collect old stories in Galloway, with a view to publication, he soon obtained such a reputation, to use his own words, that "even beggars, in the hope of reward, came frequently from afar to Newton Stewart to recite old ballads and relate old stories" to him. The next letter from Sir Walter was in acknowledgment of various entertaining traditions forwarded by Mr. Train, at the same time soliciting some information regarding the state of Turnberry Castle, the Poet being then engaged in composing the "Lord of the Isles." With what success Mr. Train set about the necessary inquiries, having undertaken a journey to the coast of Ayrshire for that purpose, appears from the notes appended to canto five of that magnificent Poem, wherein is given a description of Turnberry Castle, the landing of Robert the Bruce, and of the hospital founded by the deliverer of Scotland at King's Case, near Prestwick. Through the kindness of Mr. Hamilton, of Pinmore, Mr. Train procured from Colonel Fullerton, one of the mazers, or drinkinghorns, provided by the king for the use of the lepers, which he transmitted to Sir Walter. This interesting relic, much prized by the Baronet, was among the first of the many valuable antiquarian remains afterwards presented to him-the extensive collection of which now forms one of the chief attractions at Abbotsford. Much of the information communicated was wholly new to Scott. In reply, he says:-"Your information was extremely interesting and acceptable, particularly that which related to the supposed supernatural appearance of the fire, which I hope to make some use of. It gives a fine romantic colour to the whole story." To what purpose Sir Walter availed himself of the tradition, appears from the glowing description of the incident in the "Lord of the Isles:"
"Now ask you whence that wondrous light,
Whose fairy glow beguiled their sight?
It ne'er was known-yet grey-hair'd eild
A superstitious credence held,
That never did a mortal hand
Wake its broad glare on Carrick's strand;
Nay, and that on the self-same night
When Bruce cross'd o'er, still gleams the light;
Yearly it gleams o'er mount and moor,
And glittering wave, and crimson'd shore;
But whether beam celestial, lent
By heaven to aid the King's descent;
Or fire, hell-kindled from beneath,
To lure him to defeat and death,
or were it but some meteor strange
I know not, and it ne'er was known."
1 See the contents of "King Robert's Black Chest," in Hume's History of the House of Douglas, edition 1644, folio 206.
? Canto v, Stanza xviii; Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott, vol. iii, cap. x.
The "Lord of the Isles" was published in the end of December, 1814. In the course of the following month, Sir Walter wrote to Mr. Train, apologising for delaying to thank him for his "kind and liberal communications," and intimating a desire to befriend him, should it ever be in his power. "It would give me great pleasure," are the words of Sir Walter, "if at any time I could be of the least service to you. I do not mean as an author, for therein the patient has always to minister to himself; and I trust the success of your own labours will gratify you completely in that particular. But though I am not acquainted personally with any of the gentlemen of your board, it is possible I might have the means, or make them, of forwarding the prospects which you may entertain of advancement; at any rate, I should most willingly try, if you are pleased to give me the opportunity at any time."
The interest thus manifested by Sir Walter in one with whom he had only recently become acquainted, was exceedingly creditable to his feelings, and must have been highly flattering to the subject of his solicitude. Mr. Train, however, was not at this period in a position to benefit by his advances, having been only about seven years in the Excise, and of course not eligible to fill the situation of supervisor-the next step in the ladder of promotion. He had, besides, the interest of Sir David Hunter Blair in his favour, which was greatly strengthened in consequence of the Marquis of Queensberry's brother, the friend of Sir David, having been at the time appointed one of the commissioners of Excise. He was, therefore, not without influential patronage. I mention this, by no means in disparagement to Sir Walter Scott, but in justice to Mr. Train, to show that in his labours for the "great unknown," throughout a period of nearly eighteen years, he was actuated by no selfish or inercenary motive-"enthusiastic admiration of his transcendent genius" alone prompting to the toil. In reply, Mr. Train expresses his thanks for the friendly offer, stating the position in which he stood. Sir Walter afterwards called on Sir David Hunter Blair, at the Caledonian Hunt Club-rooms, in Edinburgh, and, inquiring into the early history of his correspondent, said, on parting, that "having taken him up as his protege, he would attend to his future advancement."
Not long after Mr. Train was located at Newton Stewart, he formed an intimacy with Captain James Denniston, author of Legends of Galloway,' and editor of the ancient ballad of Craignilder. In conjunction with this gentleman, he formed the plan of writing a history of ancient Galloway and the scheme was so far proceeded in, that printed queries were forwarded to every schoolmaster and parish clerk in the south of Scotland, as well as to several literary and antiquarian gentlemen with
1 Edinburgh, 1825, 8vo., pp. 294.