The Howff and its Tombstones.
To the Editor of the Dundee Advertiser.
Sir.- As Robt Jobson impugns my accuracy with reference to a so-called ancient tombstone in the Howff I am induced to bring the matter more minutely before your readers, and hope to convince them that my statement regarding the stone in question cannot be denied. Mr Jobson is evidently very much in earnest on the point, and seems to regard the little square stump in dispute as a sort of family monument, claiming a degree of antiquity to which that of the Capulets(sic) could not pretend. Does he adequately realise the period of time indicated by the figures 1042 ! Macbeth then sat on the Scottish, and Edward the Confessor, on the English throne; William the Conqueror did not "come over" till forty years later ; and four centuries had to elapse cre the invention of printing, the discovery of America, or the dawn of the Reformation. The date is so suggestive of primeval times that, in considering it, we almost feel as if we were going beyond the historic, and entering the geological era; and if it could only be established, the tombstone would deserve to take a rank among British fossils. It might then be surrounded with a massive railing, and pilgrim archaeologists would flock from all quarters, and contemplate with reverence an antiquity so venerable. But it is vain to suppose what is merely visionary; and I will now briefly state the case, that your readers may be prepared to form an opinion on its merits.
The stone in question is situated in the South-western((sic) The pillar is more to the North West) part of the Howff. It is a small square block, about 3 feet high and bears upon its four sides the following names and figures:- "William Renney - Janet Alison - Arthur Wemyss - Matildy Renney - 1042." In describing the antiquities of the Howff, I stated that this stone was an imposition regards the date, and that it was only placed there in 1807. In opposition to this, Mr Jobson kindly hints that I have been imposed upon myself, stoutly maintains the authenticity of the date, and affirms that the article is genuine, and originally stood in the St Clement's Churchyard, whence it was conveyed to the Howff on the latter being opened. To prove that this view is utterly groundless, I offer the following arguments:-
1. The date on the stone condemns itself ; for until within a short time of the Reformation dates were denoted by letters, not figures; and it was not until the reign of James V that the latter were so used in Scotland.
2. At the period indicated. A.D. 1042, the language spoken and written in England was pure Anglo-Saxon; that of the Lowlands of Scotland was somewhat analogous, and both were represented by peculiar characters, which it requires a man of Mr J. B. Lindsay's attainments to recognize and decypher(sic). But Mr Jobsons' monument is far in advance of its age. It gives us no puzzling heiroglyphics(sic), but an inscription in modern words, spelt with modern Roman letters, which the acquirements of a school-boy will suffice to muster. I do not overlook the imitation of the antique in the spelling of "Matildy;" but this, viewed in connection with the words generally, only confirms my statement.
3. Although it is not impossible to ascertain when the church was erected, Mr Thomson, from the best evidence which he can collect, doubts whether it proceeds that of Our Lady, which was built in 1194. At all events, there is not the slightest record of its existence at the alleged date of this tombstone, a century and a half earlier.
4. Dr Small, in his "Statistical Account of Dundee." published in 1793, never mentions the monument in question. It may be said that this did not come within the scope of his work, but its perusal will show that he carefully refers to the principal antiquities of our town, and being himself a zealous antiquary, he would certainly have noticed a relic so interesting had it then existed.
Thus far I have endeavoured to prove that stone No. 355 could not have been erected anywhere in the year 1042, and that its alleged date is antecedent to that of St Clement's Church, while we have reason to believe it was unknown in the Howff seventy years ago. As regards its real origin and date, my specific authority on these points is Mr James Thomson, from whose carefully compiled MS. "Book of the Howff" I, therefore, with the writers permission, make the following extract:-"There is a monument, No. 355, or rather a small stone which certainly
bears an older date [ than 1577 ],- so far back as the year 1042, with the names 'Arthur Wemyss.' &c., but the figures and letters are of so very modern a fashion, that the hoax, which--[the practical jokers are here designated], intended to perpetrate by bringing part of the step of a stair from the Vault, giving it a peculiar
kind of dressing, and placing it in the Howff for a tombstone in the year 1807, can can only impose upon those who willingly choose to be deceived." What does Mr Jobson say to that? For my own part, I cannot speak by experience of events which happened in the year 1807, but there are doubtless several in Dundee who, from actual knowledge, can confirm or else refute the statement.
Such then is the evidence for the prosecution of stone No. 355 as an arrant imposter. If any sound arguments in defence or exculpation can be produced, let us hear them. It is by no means sufficient to say, "the real facts of the case are as follows," because the eleventh century is long ago. Since then empires have fallen, cities have crumbled into dust, many generations of men have been swept away, and it cannot be taken for granted that this stumpy little stone has defied for eight hundred years the pitiless scythe of time.
Mr Jobson says, in concluding his letter, that "of course it is not necessary to bring forward proof from public records;" but, with due deference, I think, if he still believes in the antiquity of the monument, that this is the very thing that is necessary, the inherent evidence being all the other way. At the same time I suspect the task will be a vain one, since all the records in the world cannot prove that to be true which is impossible.-
Dundee 4th September, 1858.
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