Written by John McDiarmid and published by him at Dumfries in 1830. Sir Walter did indeed erect a memorial to Jeanie Deans and this can still be seen at Irongray Churchyard.


It is no longer doubted or denied, that Helen Walker, of the parish of Irongray, in the neighbourhood of Dumfries, was the prototype of the heroine who, under the fictitious name of Jeanie Deans, figures so conspicuously in the "Heart of Mid-Lothian." Her history, however humble, was in some respects eventful, and when stripped of all adventitious ornament, may be given very briefly, though few readers require to be informed that it has been expanded into an interesting and somewhat bulky novel, by the fertile genius of Sir Walter Scott.

From whence her parents came is not known, but it is generally believed that they were what are called "incomers" into the parish of Irongray, and were in no way connected with the Walkers of Clouden, a race alike distinguished for respectability and longevity, and who have flourished time out of mind upon the fertile and pleasant banks of the Cairn. Her father appears to have been a labouring man, and at his death his widow, who was then well stricken in years, became dependant for support on the industry of her daughters, Nelly and Tibby Walker. But this the former was far from viewing in the light of a hardship - she who was so rich in sisterly, could not be deficient in filial affection - and I have been informed by Elizabeth Grierson, housekeeper to Mr Stott, optician, Dumfries, who, when a "lassie," knew Helen well, that though sometimes constrained to dine on dry bread and water, rather than pinch her poor old mother, she consoled herself with the idea that a blessing flowed from her virtuous abstinence, and that " she was as clear in the complexion, and looked as like her meat and work, as the best of them."

The respectable female just named, who has herself passed the boundary line of three-score-and-ten, resided in her youth at a place called Dalwhairn, in Irongray, where her father cultivated a small farm. Helen Walker at this time, - that is, at least "sixty years since," - was much, as the phrase goes, about her father's house ; nursed her mother during her confinement, and even acted as the leading gossip at all the christenings; was respected as a conscientious auxiliary in harvest and uniformly invited to share the good things of rural life, when the mart happened to be killed, or a melder of corn was brought from the mill. Her conversational powers were of a high order, considering her humble situation in life; her language most correct, ornate, and pointed; her deportment sedate and dignified in the extreme. Many of the neighbours regarded her as "a little pensy body" - that is, conceited or proud; but at the same time they bore willing testimony to her exemplary conduct and unwearied attendance on the duties of religion. Wet or dry she appeared regularly at the parish church, and even when at home delighted in searching the Scriptures daily. On a small round table the "big ha' Bible" usually lay open, and though " household affairs would often call her hence," it was observed by her visitors that when she lacked leisure to read continuously, she sometimes glanced at a single verse, and then appeared to ponder the subject deeply.

A thunder-storm, which appalls most females, had on her quite an opposite effect. While the elemental war continued, it was her custom to repair to the door of her cottage, the knitting-gear in hand, and well-coned Bible open before her; and when questioned on the subject by her wondering neighbours, she replied, " That she was not afraid of thunder, and that the Almighty, if such were his divine pleasure, could smite in the city, as well as in the field." When out-door labour could not be procured, she supported herself by footing stockings - an operation which bears the same relation to the hosier's craft that the cobbler's does to the shoemaker's. It has been reported, too, that she sometimes taught children to read, but as no one about Clouden remembers this fact, I am inclined to regard it as somewhat apocryphal.

Helen, though a woman of small stature, had been rather well-favoured in her youth. On one occasion she told Elizabeth Grierson that she should not do as she had done, but "winnow the corn when the wind blew in the barn-door." By this she meant that she should not hold her head too high, by rejecting the offer of a husband when it came in her way; and when joked on the subject of matrimony herself, she confessed, though reluctantly, that she once had a sweetheart - a youth she esteemed, and by whom she imagined she was respected in turn; that her lover, at a fair time, overtook her on horseback, and that when she asked if he would take her up, answered gaily, "That I will, Helen, if ye' can ride an inch behind the tail." The levity of this answer offended her greatly, and from that moment she cast the recreant from her heart, and never, as she confessed, loved again.

I regret that I am unable to fix the exact date of the principal incident in Helen Walker's life. I believe, however, that it occurred a few years previous to the more lenient law anent child murder, which was passed in 1736. At this time her sister Tibby, who was considerably younger, and a comely girl, resided in the same cottage; and it is not improbable that their father, a worthy man, was also alive. Isabella was courted by a youth of the name of Waugh, who had the character of being rather wild, fell a victim to his snares, and became enceinte, though she obstinately denied the fact to the last. The neighbours, however, suspected that a child had been born, and repeatedly urged her to confess her fault. But she was deaf to their entreaties, and denied all knowledge of a dead infant, which was found shortly after in the Cairn, or Clouden. The circumstance was soon bruited abroad, and by the directions of the Rev. Mr Guthrie, of Irongray, the suspected person, and corpus delicti, was carried before the authorities for examination. The unnatural mother was committed to prison, and confined in what was called the "thief's hole," in the old jail of Dumfries - a grated room on the ground floor, whither her seducer sometimes repaired and conversed with her through the grating.

When the day of trial arrived, Helen was told that “a single word of her mouth would save her sister, and that she would have time to repent afterwards;" but trying as was the ordeal, harassing the alternative, nothing could shake her noble fortitude, her enduring and virtuous resolution. Sleep for nights fled from her pillow; most fervently she prayed for help and succour in the time of need ; often she wept till the tears refused to flow, and her heart seemed too large for her body; but still no arguments, however subtle - no entreaties, however agonizing - could induce her to offend her Maker by swerving from the truth.

Her sister was tried, condemned, and sentenced to be executed at the termination of the usual period of six weeks. The result is well known, and is truly as well as powerfully set forth in the novel. Immediately after the conviction, Helen Walker borrowed a sum of money, procured one or more letters of recommendation, and without any other guide than the public road, began to wend her way to the City of London - a journey which was then considered more formidable than a voyage to America is in our day. Over her best attire she threw a plaid and hood, walked barefooted the whole way, and completed the distance in fourteen days. Though her feet were "sorely blistered," her whole frame exhausted, and her spirits sadly jaded, she found it impossible to rest until she had inquired her way to the residence of John, Duke of Argyle.

As she arrived at the door, his Grace was just about to step into his carriage, and as the moment was too critical to be lost, the heroic pilgrim presented her petition, fell upon her knees, and urged its prayer with a degree of earnestness and natural eloquence, that more than realized the well-known saying of "snatching a grace beyond the reach of art." Here again the result is well known; a pardon was procured and dispatched to Scotland, and the pilgrim, after her purse had been replenished, returned home, gladdened and supported by the consoling thought, that she had done her duty without violating her conscience. Touching this great chapter in her history, she was always remarkably shy and reserved; but there is one person still alive who has heard her say, that it was through " the Almighty's strength" that she was enabled to meet the Duke at the most critical moment - a moment which, if lost, never might have been recalled in time to save her sister's life.

Tibby Walker, from the stain cast, on her good name, retired to England, and afterwards became united to the man that had wronged her, and with whom, as is believed, she lived happily for the greater part of half a century. Her sister resumed her quiet rural employments, and after a life of unsullied integrity, died in Nov. or Dec. 1791, at the age of nearly fourscore. My respectable friend, Mr Walker, found her residing as a cottier on the farm of Clouden, when he entered to it, upwards of forty years ago, was exceedingly kind to her when she became frail, and even laid her head in the grave. Up to the period of her last illness, she corresponded regularly with her sister, and received every year from her a cheese and "pepper-cake," portions of which she took great pleasure in presenting to her friends and neighbours. The exact spot in which she was interred was lately pointed out in Irongray church-yard - a romantic cemetery on the banks of the Cairn - and though, as a country woman said, there was nothing to distinguish it "but a stane ta'en aff the dyke," the public will be well pleased to hear that Sir Walter Scott intends to erect a suitable monument to her memory. Though subscriptions were tendered, he politely declined all aid, and has already, I believe, employed Mr Burn, architect, to design a monument which, in connection with the novel, will transmit her fame to a distant posterity, and in all probability render the spot so classical, that it will be visited by thousands on thousands in after generations.

The above narrative, though exceedingly hurried, is perfectly accurate in point of fact; and I have only farther to add, that the story of Helen Walker, alias Jeanie Deans, first became known to Sir Walter Scott through the attention of the late Mrs Commissary Goldie, as will be seen when he issues the new edition of the " Heart of Mid Lothian." On this branch of the subject I would willingly enlarge were I not afraid of invading the province, or rather the "vested rights," of one whom I should be sorry to offend in the smallest tittle