January 1829-September 1831

The Collected Letters, Volume 5


TC TO THE EDITOR OF THE DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY COURIER; 12 April 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18300412-TC-EDGC-01; CL 5:93-95.


12 April 1830

Mr Editor,— Some time last Autumn,1 a ‘Fatal Accident’ stood recorded in the Newspapers, of a young man having come by his death, at a place called Knockhill, near Ecclefechan, in this County, under somewhat singular circumstances. The young man, it appeared, had been engaged in some courtship with one of the maid-servants of the house; had come that night to see her, in the fashion common, or indeed universal with men of his station, in that quarter; was overheard by the Butler; was challenged, pursued; and refusing to answer any interrogatory, but hastening only to escape, was shot dead by him on the spot. No man who has lived three weeks in the South of Scotland can be ignorant that such visits occur nightly everywhere, and have occurred from time immemorial: it is a custom by many blamed, by some applauded: in the romantic spirit sometimes displayed in it; in the long journeyings and wistful waitings for an interview; in the faithfulness with which the rustic wooer, at all hazards, keeps his secret, which is also another's, Dr Currie traces, among our peasants, some resemblance to ‘the gallantry of a Spanish Cavalier.’2 In company with the Butler, so fatally watchful on this occasion, were two men to have assisted him in any defence, in any seizure: whether he knew the individual fugitive, then within some feet of his gun, is uncertain; that he guessed his errand there, is scarcely so: enough, the poor young man, who had refused to speak, fell to the ground, exclaiming only, ‘O lasses! lasses!’ and in few instants was no more.

‘Ready or not ready, no delay!
On to his Judge's Bar he must away.’

Last week I looked over your Circuit Intelligence, with some anxiety to see how this case had been disposed of; but unfortunately without effect; there was no notice of it there. Interesting trials enough we had; trials for attempting to shoot rabbits, for writing ‘marriage-lines,’ for stealing a pair of breeches; but for the ‘shedder of blood’ there was no trial. To none of his Majesty's Justiciars, it would seem, has any hint of that transaction been communicated. Whether it was ever so much as glanced at[,] much less, thoroughly sifted by any official personage, high or low, appears not from the record. Nowhere will the smallest hint or whisper of it.

May I ask, in the name of all that is wonderful, how this has been? Is it lawful, then, to put to death any individual whom you may find flirting with your maid, after ten at night? Nay, is it so lawful that no inquiry can be needed on the subject; but the whole matter may be hushed up into insignificance, with a few bows and shrugs? If we have an Act of Parliament to that purport, it is well: Only let us understand clearly how it runs. May any British subject, the poorest Cotter, keep his loaded gun for our rural Seladons,3 and shoot them with less ceremony than he dare do snipes? Or is it only men possessing certain ‘ploughgates of land’ that enjoy such a privilege? If so, might it not be well that they were bound to take out some Licence, and Game Certificate, first?4

Of your Public Prosecutor I know not even the name; the master of that Knockhill mansion,5 the unhappy creature his servant, are if possible still more unknown to me. Hatred of them, love of them, fear or hope of them, have I none. Neither say I, nor know I, whether in that act the wretched Homicide did right, or did wrong. But, in the name of God, let all official courtesies and Hole-and-Corner work be far from us, when ‘Man's blood’ is on our floor! Let the light in on it, the clear eye of Public Inquiry, or the spot will blacken there forever. Let the Law, thro' its Fifteen good men and true,6 speak forth an open verdict, that the muttered curses of a whole district may cease.7


12th April, 1830.