Jonathan Swift and Creichton's Memoirs

From John H. Thompson, The Martyr Graves of Scotland: being the travels of a country minister in his own country. Second series. Edinburgh: Johnstone, Hunter, & Co., 1877, pp. 180-83. Acknowledgments are due to Donald Cochrane of Dunedin, New Zealand, a descendant of the Lesmahagow Steels, for locating this work.

Chrichton, or Creichton, long survived the Revolution. In 1731 a small volume appeared, entitled, "The Memoirs of Capt. John Crichton. From his own Materials, drawn up and digested by Jonathan Swift, D.D., D.S.P.D." In the advertisement to the book it is stated, that when Dr Swift was at Sir Arthur Acheson's, at Markethill, Armagh – where he resided for six months as guest with a Mr Leslie, in 1730 – an old gentleman was recommended to him as a remarkable cavalier in the reigns of Charles II., James II., and William III.; who had behaved with great loyalty and bravery in Scotland during the troubles of those reigns, but was neglected by the Government, although he deserved great rewards from it. He was in poverty, and Swift made him a handsome present, and said, "Sir, this trifle cannot support you long, and your friends may grow tired of you; therefore I would have you contrive some honest means of getting a sum of money sufficient to put you into a way of life of supporting yourself with independency in your old age." Creichton answered, "I have tired all my friends, and cannot expect any such extraordinary favours." Swift replied, "Sir, I have heard much of your adventures; that they are fresh in your memory; you can tell them with great humour; and that you have taken memorandums of them in writing." Creichton said he had, but no one could understand them but himself. Swift rejoined, "Sir, get your manuscripts, read them to me, and tell me none but genuine stories, and then I will place them in order for you, prepare them for the press, and endeavour to get your a subscription among my friends, as you may do among your own."

Creichton soon waited upon Swift with his papers, and related many adventures to him. The dean was as good as his word. He "was so kind as to put" them "in order of time, to correct the style, and make a small book of them." A subscription was set on foot by the dean's interest and recommendation, and it brought in above two hundred pounds, and made the remaining part of Creichton's "life very happy and easy." Swift's pen is discernible all through the book, especially in its earlier portion, and it has the clearness and idiomatic vigour so characteristic of his writings. But here the merit of the book ends. Creichton was a soldier of the school of Falstaff, and his stories are often what Prince Henry would have called lies, "gross as a mountain, open, palpable." He says, "the rebels" at Drumclog were "eight or nine thousand strong," and that Sir Robert Hamilton was "a profligate who had spent all his patrimony." He makes their numbers at Bothwell Bridge fourteen thousand, while the bridge itself was "guarded with three thousand of the rebels." He invents the story, that the "rebels had set up a very large gallows in the middle of their camp, and prepared a cartful of new ropes at the foot of it, in order to hang up the king's soldiers." He commanded at Airdsmoss, there, he says, "the Royalists killed about sixty and took fourteen prisoners;" whereas there were only nine killed – the nine whose mortal remains lie under the monument – and five were taken prisoners.

These speciments of the exaggerations and inventions that abound in Creichton's "Memoirs" will show what belief should be given to his narrative of [David] Steel. It very plainly is manufactured, and told in the bouncing style of the rest of the book, and yet so as to keep out of sight the fact that Steel was killed by Creichton. The narrative is not without its value. It shows the light in which Creichton, and men like him, felt compelled to present their misdeeds to an aftertime. They would fain make out Steel and his fellow-sufferers to have been the very opposite of what they were – the salt of the earth. But truth has been too powerful for them. And it, unwittingly on the writer's part, lets us see that the stories that have come down to us from our fathers, of the lawlessness and wanton cruelty of the troopers in the service of the Government, must be true.

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