Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/188

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and if the king did not accompany it in person, the command was given to some nobleman of high rank. In most cases, the nobles were by far too power- ful to fear the most energetic measures of a government which, receiving as yet no support from the people, depended upon themselves for its very existence. Feeling their inability to punish the real criminals, the king and his ministers frequently wreaked their vengeance on some unfortunate individual, who, though far less guilty than his feudal lord, was too feeble to oppose the ministers of the law. In such cases, the wretched criminal was prevailed upon by intimidation, perhaps in many cases where the necessary proof of guilt could not be adduced, to " come in the king's will," a phrase meaning to submit without condition to the royal mercy, or the jury were terrified into a verdict, the nature of which no one can doubt, by the threats of the king's advocate to prosecute them for wilful error, if they did not comply. No one who has looked into the publication of the "Criminal Trials, and other Proceedings before the High Court of Justiciary," by Mr Robert Pitcairn, will accuse us of over-colouring the picture which we have now drawn. "In truth," (to quote the words of an admirable review of that work, supposed to be one of the last critiques from the pen of Sir Walter Scott,) " no reader of these volumes whatever his previous acquaintance with Scottish history may have been, will contemplate without absolute wonder the view of society which they unveil ; or find it easy to com- prehend how a system, subject to such severe concussions in every part, con- trived, nevertheless, to hold itself together. The whole nation would seem to have spent their time, as one malefactor expressed it, ' in drinking deep and taking deadly revenge for slight offences.' " 5 That the judges themselves, if not exposed to the fury of the more lawless part of their countrymen from the un- popular nature of their office, were not at least exempted from it by its sacred character, the subsequent part of this sketch will sufficiently show.

Setting out of the question the calamitous nature of Sir Richard Maitland's malady, and his country's loss from being deprived of his more active services, his blindness may be supposed to have contributed much to his peace of mind. The transactions of this unhappy period, the murder of Darnley, the queen's marriage with Bothwell, and all the subsequent events of the different regencies, are too well known to require notice here. But although the venerable knight did not engage in these transactions, he was not spared the pain of having his lands ravaged, and his property forcibly kept from him. His lands of Blythe were overrun by the border robbers, 6 as we know by his poem, entitled " The Blind Baronis Comfort," in which he consoles himself for his wrongs, and puns upon the name :

Blynd man, be blylli, althocht that thow be vrrangit ; Thocht Btylhe be herreit, tak no melancholic.

Happy indeed must have been the man who, dismissing from his mind the mis- fortunes of his lot, could devote it to the pursuits of literature ; and who, esti- mating the good things of this world at their real value, could at the same time cultivate the temper here exhibited.

It seems to have been about the same time that the king's party took posses- sion of the castle of Lethington, which had been the temporary abode of the

s See Quarterly Review, No. 88, p. 470.

8 This was not the first time that his property had been destroyed or carried off. " Wpoun the xiiij day" of September, 1549, " the Inglismen past out of Haddingtoun, and brunt it and Leidingtoun, and passed away without any battell, for the pest and hunger was rycht evil] amangis tham, quha mjcht remajne na langer thairin." Diurnal of Occurrents in Scotland, printed by the Bannatyne and Maitland Clubs, p. 48.