he thirteenth chief of Clan Donnachaidh, Alexander Robertson (1668 – 1749), is remembered today as “The Poet Chief”. At age 18 he abandoned his studies at St. Andrews University to assume the duties of chief following the death of his father. An ardent supporter of the Stuart family, he distinguished himself militarily in the Highland Rising in 1689 and was out in the 1715 and 1745 campaigns. Unfortunately, his loyalty to the losing Jacobite cause resulted in the confiscation of his estates and years of exile in France. Many of his poems exist today in a rare collection entitled “Struan’s Poems” published shortly after his death in 1749. Some of the surviving copies show evidence of pages having been snipped out...a Victorian reaction to the naughty subject matter for which he was well known. While not considered a great poet by critics of the day, a few of Struan’s works deserve recognition.
One such is “Farewell to the Hermitage”, a poem written to and for his beloved Hermitage just before leaving Scotland for his exile in France. Struan was fiercely loyal to the Jacobite cause, and thus references to “Murderers”, “Traitors”, “Wretch”, etc., described the British forces. The “worthiest Prince of human kind”, of course, refers to the Stuarts. In the poem, Struan personalizes the so-called “Silver Well” which supplied water to the Hermitage, referring to it as “Argentinus” and my “Lovely Fountain”. He drinks a toast to the well and the well toasts him back, adding a promise to “pour out arsenick” if any opponent tries to drink from it.
The well was re-discovered by clan members in 2003 and cleared of debris. Located downhill from a mica-bearing cliff, it once again flows with the silvery flecks for which it was named. The exact location of the Hermitage has never been found, having been burned to the ground by the British.
With this Diversity of View,
Oft have I wav’d my anxious Pain,
When from the Summit I pursue
The Rock, the River, Woods, or Plain
Lakes, Mountains, Meads, Fields fertile far and nigh,
Divert my gloomy thought, and court my wand’ring Eye.
Imagine then, thou bless’d Abode,
Ere while thy master’s fond Delight,
Where he was certain to unload
His Anguish ‘spite of lawless Might;
Think on the Woes our first Forefathers knew,
Thrust out of paradise, and such I feel for you.
And you, my pretty feather’d Quire,
Who sung each Morn your cheerful Lays,
Who could your Patron’s Soul inspire,
To join in your Creator’s Praise,
For whom will you rehearse your heav’nly Notes,
Erect your Gorges and distend your Throats?
A barb’rous unrelenting Throng
Cuts down your Bow’rs with ev’ry Tree,
Revenging your melodious Song,
Merely because you sung for me.
Soon from your native Mansions must you fly,
Be for your rightful Lord expell’d, as well as I.
Alas! That I should see and Age,
Which boundless Perjury has brought,
That I must leave to noisy Rage
The peaceful Labours of my Thought.
What Swain so void of Sympathy but grieves
To think my spotless Cell is made a Den of Thieves.
The Groves that Rapture to me gave,
Contemplating the Works above,
Must harbour now each filthy Slave
Compos’d of the Reverse of Love;
My solitary pure Recesses must
Suffer Rebellious Hate, and shelter Lust.
The Letcher on each flowry Brink
Will hear his fulsome Doxy sing;
The Traitors, too, with lab’ring think
How to withstand their native King;
Abominations of such deep Disgrace
As ne’er polluted yet this holy Place.
The thickets of yon shady brow,
Where the wildest Creatures freely rang’d
No more that Privilege allow,
So wonderfully Things are chang’d;
All must pour out their little Lives apace,
To feast the vilest Sons of human Race.
Methinks I see that harmless Crowd,
Viewing their Murderers around,
In dying Sighs and Groans aloud
Proclaim the Pain of every Wound;
Wishing him safe who ne’er could see them bleed,
Even to submit himself, whom they were born to feed.
And thou, my lovely Fountain, show,
For thou could’st well inspire the Swain,
And make his icy Bosom glow,
Or cool or quench his raging Pain,
Tell how the friendly Bushes strove to excel,
To rear a Shade for so divine a Well.
As I revere thy silver Streams,
Thy cooling Rills, thy murmuring Noise,
Where often, with a Health to James
Thou could’st revive our scanty Joys;
Be muddy still, if any Wretch begin
A Health to Tyrants, or Success to Sin.
Lo! Argentinus lifts his Head,
With Melancholy in his Look
Whither! O wither art thou fled
(he cries) from thy beloved Brook?
By this my Godhead, till they Face return,
I’ll pour out Arsenick or I’ll close my Urn.
Yet e’er we part, let’s once remind
Diviner Pow’rs, as heretofore,
The worthiest Prince of human Kind,
With all his Faithful to restore.
He quaff’d; with much ado he drank it up
So fast his gushing Eyes suppl’d the Cup.
Then I ! and straight the watry Sire
Sank down into the reedy ground;
Adieu, said he, I must retire,
Then utter’d with a broken Sound,
Since thou’rt, for acting justly, thus oppress’d,
Go, keep thy Fortitude, and hope the best.
And now the hellish Bands advance,
Bent to destroy whate’er they meet;
Lo! While the furious Horsemen prance,
Poor Peasants gasp beneath their Feet;
Yet Cruelty sits smiling on their Cheeks,
To hear the Orphan’s Cries and Widow’s Shrieks.
O Heav’ns! Let me revolve as far
If ever Ship so far could roll,
To freeze beneath the northern Star,
Or perish at the other Pole,
Ere I behold such an unnat’ral War,
Christians commit what Pagans would abhor.
What then remains, but that I go,
As Argentinus kindly bid,
Since there’s a Fate that rules below,
From whom there’s nothing can be hid?
That Fate can bear me Witness of my heart,
How I have lov’d this Land, how Loath I am to Part.
Retract not, O my Soul! I must
Perform what Destiny ordains;
In Providence I put my Trust,
Adieu to Woods, To Hills, to Plains.
Thou envy of the turbulently Great!
Farewell my sweet, my innocent Retreat!