Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of John Brown > Text of Queen Mary's Child-Garden

An essay by John Brown

Queen Mary's Child-Garden

Title:     Queen Mary's Child-Garden
Author: John Brown [More Titles by Brown]

If any one wants a pleasure that is sure to please, one over which he needn't growl the sardonic beatitude of the great Dean, let him, when the Mercury is at "Fair," take the nine A.M. train to the North and a return-ticket for Callander, and when he arrives at Stirling, let him ask the most obliging and knowing of station-masters to telegraph to "the Dreadnought" for a carriage to be in waiting. When passing Dunblane Cathedral, let him resolve to write to the _Scotsman_, advising the removal of a couple of shabby trees which obstruct the view of that beautiful triple end window which Mr. Ruskin and everybody else admires, and by the time he has written this letter in his mind, and turned the sentences to it, he will find himself at Callander and the carriage all ready. Giving the order for the _Port of Monteith_, he will rattle through this hard-featured, and to our eye comfortless village, lying ugly amid so much grandeur and beauty, and let him stop on the crown of the bridge, and fill his eyes with the perfection of the view up the Pass of Leny--the Teith lying diffuse and asleep, as if its heart were in the Highlands and it were loath to go, the noble Ben Ledi imaged in its broad stream. Then let him make his way across a bit of pleasant moorland--flushed with maidenhair and white with cotton grass, and fragrant with the _Orchis conopsia_, well deserving its epithet _odoratissima_.

He will see from the turn of the hill-side the Blair of Drummond waving with corn and shadowed with rich woods, where eighty years ago there was a black peat-moss; and far off, on the horizon, Damyat and the Touch Fells; and at his side the little loch of Ruskie, in which he may see five Highland cattle, three tawny brown and two brindled, standing in the still water--themselves as still, all except their switching tails and winking ears--the perfect images of quiet enjoyment. By this time he will have come in sight of the Lake of Monteith, set in its woods, with its magical shadows and soft gleams. There is a loveliness, a gentleness and peace about it more like "lone St. Mary's Lake," or Derwent Water, than of any of its sister lochs. It is lovely rather than beautiful, and is a sort of gentle prelude, in the _minor_ key, to the coming glories and intenser charms of Loch Ard and the true Highlands beyond.

You are now at the Port, and have passed the secluded and cheerful manse, and the parish kirk with its graves, close to the lake, and the proud aisle of the Grahams of Gartmore washed by its waves. Across the road is the modest little inn, a Fisher's Tryst. On the unruffled water lie several islets, plump with rich foliage, brooding like great birds of calm. You somehow think of them as on, not in the lake, or like clouds lying in a nether sky--"like ships waiting for the wind." You get a coble, and a _yauld_ old Celt, its master, and are rowed across to _Inchmahome, the Isle of Rest_. Here you find on landing huge Spanish chestnuts, one lying dead, others standing stark and peeled, like gigantic antlers, and others flourishing in their _viridis senectus_, and in a thicket of wood you see the remains of a monastery of great beauty, the design and workmanship exquisite. You wander through the ruins, overgrown with ferns and Spanish filberts, and old fruit-trees, and at the corner of the old monkish garden you come upon one of the strangest and most touching sights you ever saw--an oval space of about 18 feet by 12, with the remains of a double row of boxwood all round, the plants of box being about fourteen feet high, and eight or nine inches in diameter, healthy, but plainly of great age.

What is this? it is called in the guide-books Queen Mary's Bower; but besides its being plainly not in the least a bower, what could the little Queen, then five years old, and "fancy free," do with a bower? It is plainly, as was, we believe, first suggested by our keen-sighted and diagnostic Professor of Clinical Surgery,[1] _the Child-Queen's Garden_, with her little walk, and its rows of boxwood, left to themselves for three hundred years. Yes, without doubt, "here is that first garden of her simpleness." Fancy the little, lovely royal child, with her four Marys, her playfellows, her child maids of honor, with their little hands and feet, and their innocent and happy eyes, pattering about that garden all that time ago, laughing, and running, and gardening as only children do and can. As is well known, Mary was placed by her mother in this Isle of Rest before sailing from the Clyde for France. There is something "that tirls the heartstrings a' to the life" in standing and looking on this unmistakable living relic of that strange and pathetic old time. Were we Mr. Tennyson, we would write an Idyll of that child Queen, in that garden of hers, eating her bread and honey--getting her teaching from the holy men, the monks of old, and running off in wild mirth to her garden and her flowers, all unconscious of the black, lowering thunder-cloud on Ben Lomond's shoulder.

[Footnote 1: The same seeing eye and understanding mind, when they were eighteen years of age, discovered and published the Solvent of Caoutchouc, for which a patent was taken out afterwards by the famous Mackintosh. If the young discoverer had secured the patent, he might have made a fortune as large as his present reputation--I don't suppose he much regrets that he didn't.]

"Oh, blessed vision! happy child!
Thou art so exquisitely wild;
I think of thee with many fears
Of what may be thy lot in future years.
I thought of times when Pain might be thy guest,
Lord of thy house and hospitality.
And Grief, uneasy lover! never rest
But when she sat within the touch of thee.
What hast thou to do with sorrow,
Or the injuries of to-morrow?"

You have ample time to linger there amid

"The gleams, the shadows, and the peace profound,"

and get your mind informed with quietness and beauty, and fed with thoughts of other years, and of her whose story, like Helen of Troy's, will continue to move the hearts of men as long as the gray hills stand round about that gentle lake, and are mirrored at evening in its depths. You may do and enjoy all this, and be in Princes Street by nine P.M.; and we wish we were as sure of many things as of your saying, "Yes, this _is_ a pleasure that has pleased, and will please again; this was something expected which did not disappoint."

* * * * *

There is another garden of Queen Mary's, which may still be seen, and which has been left to itself like that in the Isle of Rest. It is in the grounds at Chatsworth, and is moated, walled round, and raised about fifteen feet above the park. Here the Queen, when a prisoner under the charge of "Old Bess of Hardwake," was allowed to walk without any guard. How different the two! and how different she who took her pleasure in them!

Lines written on the steps of a small moated garden at
Chatsworth, called


"The moated bower is wild and drear,
And sad the dark yew's shade;
The flowers which bloom in silence here,
In silence also fade.

"The woodbine and the light wild rose
Float o'er the broken wall;
And here the mournful nightshade blows,
To note the garden's fall.

"Where once a princess wept her woes,
The bird of night complains;
And sighing trees the tale disclose
They learnt from Mary's strains.

"A. H."

[The end]
John Brown's essay: Queen Mary's Child-Garden