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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 48

Chapter II. — The Stone Cut Out

Chapter II.

The Stone Cut Out.

Many persons, from different causes, never exercise their judgment upon what comes before them in the way of determining whether it be conclusive and holds. They are perhaps entertained with some things, and not so much with others; they like and they dislike; but whether that which is proposed to be made out be really made out or not—whether a matter be stated according to the real truth of the case, seems to the generality of the people merely a 'circumstance of no consideration at all.—Butler.

Have the Bible, that high and ultimate standard of appeal, perpetually in your eye; cultivate a growing acquaintance with this standard, it will keep all right and steady, and save you from being agitated by the ever varying winds of human doctrine and human speculation; your faith by hearing; your hearing by the Word of God. By pinning your creed to your minister, you change the heavenly institution for the earthly. . . Keep fast by your Bibles; try if you can to outstrip us in the wisdom of the Word of Christ.—Dr. Chalmers.

Let us now proceed with our attempt to elucidate the meaning of this passage by further applying to it the harmonising principle, which is commonly if not regularly, adopted in interpreting the meaning of the page 10 Image, but which, singularly enough, seems never to be thought of in reference to the "Stone." It is admitted that the several parts of the Image indicate certain special peculiarities of the nations they represent—that the gold the silver, the brass, and the iron, were really special and conspicuous characteristics of the nations they point to. If this be correct, what shall we say of the "Stone?" We have already seen the impropriety of supposing that it is merely a type of the Lord Jesus, or the spread of Christianity; that it is not consistent with common sense, much less is it logical to apply the passage to an individual; and that the only reasonable view in which to regard it is to look upon it as representing the rise and development of a national power, of one ethnic origin; a people of God's own selection, which He shall use for the manifestation of His glory. On this principle we shall require to discover a nation having some characteristic connection with a Stone.

If "gold" was the distinguishing characteristic of the first great prophetic empire, why should not "A Stone" be that of the last? If "gold" be "gold," in the one case, why should "a stone" be not "a stone" in the other? If gold be taken literally, why should we confine ourselves to spiritualise the stone? But it may be remarked, "A nation whose peculiar characteristic is an historical connection with a Stone is something so out-of-the-way, that on the very face of it the idea appears foolish to the degree of absurdity." Stay, reflecting friend, think once again—does not the very out-of-the-wayness of the fact, constitute it a more perfect peculiarity? "God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise." Let the person who feels disposed to characterise this argument as absurd or foolish, withhold his conclusion for a while, and thoughtfully and sincerely having divested his mind of all prejudice—which always incapacitates for honest research—peruse the following suggestions and facts of history; having done this, let him then with the truth laid open before him form his own conclusion.

It would be futile for us to look for this nation amongst those which were constituent parts of the empires of the past prefigured in the Image. It must have nothing in its constitution in common with them. It must be found as a nation whose origin and development has been altogether distinct from them, and whose history is quite of a different kind. For it was "cut out of the mountain without hands." It was not cut out by the political quarryman, or fashioned by the deplomatic mason. It has been under the superintendency of a Divine Master Mason throughout its whole career. It has never been counted amongst the limbs of the mighty Gentile image, nor numbered with his vassals. But it is evident that it must have been in course of formation during the ages in which the four empires existed, and terrified the world by the power of their arms, and the cruel nature of their ambitious designs.

There is a nation, and only one on the face of the wide world, which exactly answers to these requirements. This nation's history, from its earliest days, is connected inseparably with a singular stone, which is as it were rolled up within the folds of its scroll of history, and firmly page 11 linked to the most central facts of the national life. And while occupying this position it has been held in almost sacred veneration by priest, politician and peasant. That nation is the British! That stone is Jacob's pillow; or Britain's Coronation Stone!

Dean Stanley has written—"It is embedded in the heart of the English monarchy, an emblem of poetic, patriarchal, and heathen times." This process of embedding has been going on for a period of no less than 2460 years, during which time it has been used as the "throne seat." King Edward the First termed it "a precious relic," and the Dean of Westminster has asserted that "It is the one primeval monument which binds the whole empire together."

It is impossible to dispute the reality of the stone, and its long connection with the nation's history: and this makes it the more strange to contemplate—that a nation so far advanced in all the arts, sciences, and refinements of the world's most cultured age should continue to treasure up this ancient relic, which has no possible intrinsic value, and is absolutely devoid of either natural or artificial beauty. Even its mountings, its huge iron rings, tend to make it more uncouth. Its few chisel marks divest it of that natural rudeness which would impart to it a rough, rural interest. The great crack, which has almost parted in two its once solid mass, causes the student to feel still more surprised that it should be held in such veneration, and placed in the most important and honoured part of Westminster Abbey, where the coronation ceremony is always celebrated. It is while seated upon this old stone that all our monarchs are invested with the crown of authority and power. May it not be appropriately called "The foundation stone of the empire?"

It has been remarked that the story of this national stone is "very strange If True," to which the apt rejoinder was given, and still "more strange if not true." Strange, indeed, if not true, that it can be traced back through a consecutive line of historians, and historical events, which impose upon it a character applicable to no mythical story. Strange, it not true, that it is there to-day to speak for itself, and show what must really have been thought of it—the ugly Stone of Scone—when our ancestors placed it beneath the chair of royalty.

If a coronation stone were a requisite article in the august ceremony of inaugurating a monarch, we should have expected to see some piece of faultless and highly polished marble, and if any mountings were necessary, we should have looked for gold, possibly set with gems. But the British Coronation Stone is quite the reverse of all this. It is simply a block of partly dressed rough building stone with a great rift in it, and mounted with two uncouth iron rings. In every particular it is, to look at, one of the most unlikely stones to be selected for such a purpose. It is not even possessed of the rustic charm of a boulder whose unpolished roughness has been worn off by the mountain torrent for years rushing over it, gradually wearing it down to an uneven smoothness. Yet there it is occupying the most dignified position to which a stone could be appointed in the British realm.

page 12

Professor Ramsay, at the request of the Dean of Westminster, made an examination of it, and in his report said, "To my eye it appears that it had been prepared for building purposes but had never been used."

In his "Memorials of Westminster Abbey," Dean Stanley has written, "The chief object of attraction to this day to the innumerable visitors of the Abbey is probably that ancient Irish muniment of the Empire, known as the Coronation Stone.

There must, therefore, be something interesting, if not important in the history of this "precious relic" and "primeval monument," that it should thus be spoken of; for it has a history, curious, eventful and strange. The very Rev. Dean has devoted much attention to it; so has also the Rev. F. R. A. Glover, M.A. These both agree, with others, that the stone came to England from Ireland through Scotland. It has been called by different names. Its most ancient name in Ireland being "Lia Phail," or Fail, which has always clung to it. It wits known more recently in Ireland and Scotland as the "Stone of Destiny," but in England it has been chiefly known as "Jacob's Pillow" or "Pillar." For 2,400 years the following prophetic rune has been attached to it:—

"Cioniodh scuit saor an fine,
Man ha breag an Faisdine,
Mar a oh fuighid an Lia Fail,
Dlighid flaitheas do grabhail."

which Sir Walter Scott has translated from the Irish Celtic dialect:—

"Unless the fates have faithless grown,
And prophets voice be vain,
Where'er is found this wonderous stone,
The wanderers' race shall reign."

The meaning of the words which constitute the name of this stone are as peculiar as its history is singular. "Lia" is simply Irish for stone, but the word "Fail" or "Phail" is not Irish at all but purely Hebrew, and means "wonderful" or "marvellous," it is frequently used in the Hebrew Scriptures, and is translated into English by one of these two words. So that the earliest name we find applied to this rude, half-dressed Stone, in Ireland, is "The Stone Wonderful." And never throughout those 2,400 years during which it has been a Coronation Stone, has it lost the reverential regard which first invested it with so strange a name.

Ancient records tell us that a ship from the Mediterranean under the command of Simon Breg, Brug, Bercus, or Baruch, having become leaky, was compelled to put ashore on the coast of Spain for repairs. The king of the country, hearing it was a ship of "goodly store," came down upon her, and amongst other things carried off a precious stone. When the ship was ready to sail, the men of the vessel succeeded in regaining the stone, put to sea, and ultimately arrived in the north of Ireland. After which, on the marriage of the Princess Tephi and the King Eochaid, they were inducted into office upon this same stone. From that time 580 B.C. "Lia Fail" was the Coronation Stone of Ireland to page 13 Fergus I., by whom it was removed to Scotland when he was crowned King of the Scots at Iona, 530 A.D. It hence became the Coronation Stone of the Scottish Kings, until Edward I. carried it away to England, and since then it has been used in the same capacity. In 1837 Queen Victoria was placed in the chair which rests upon it and invested with the nation's diadem.

"It is thus," remarks the Very Rev. Dean, "embedded in the heart of the English monarchy, an element of poetic, patriarchal, heathen times, which like Araunah's rocky threshing-floor in the midst of the Temple of Solomon carries back our thoughts to races and customs now almost extinct—a link which unites Tara and Iona, and connects the charm of our complex civilisation with the forces of Mother Earth, the stocks and stones of savage nature."

Our national veneration for the stone is a stern fact, its existence in Westminster Abbey is no myth, and its history from Tara to the Abbey is incontestable. It becomes, then, the duty of every honest reader to enquire, How did this singular ungainly stone become invested with such undying interest, which has now extended over a period of more than 2,400 years, while the people who have held it in their possession, have passed through various phases of political and religious life, heathen, Catholic, Protestant; and even in the present age, when they are perhaps farthest from any inclination to bow down in veneration to superstitious objects, the stone is still held in its ancient esteem. Stanley sought to find an answer in the fact that Bishop Columba chose this Stone to rest his head upon when dying in his abbey at Iona. But what of its 1000 years' history from Tara to Iona? Why was it held in such mysterious regard, and named the wonderful Stone, about 1000 years before Columba lived? Whence came its Hebrew name "Phail," the "Wonderful?" How came the prophetic rune to be attached to it for all those years:—

"Where'er is found this wondrous stone,
The wanderers' race shall reign?"

It is indisputable that this forms a very prominent and distinctive feature of the British Nation. So much do the people feel interested in the ancient "pillar or witness" that 550 years ago it was thought of more value to the nation than the Royal regalia, Diamonds, Pearls, Emeralds, and Rubies. These articles, which are generally considered things worthy of an effort to retain when once possessed, were treated as things of a trifling importance compared with the broken, battered, uncomely stone, for which the Londoners were prepared to die rather than permit it to be removed from their city. As the Chronicles of Lanercost put it, "nevertheless the stone of Scone on which it was the custom of the Scottish kings to be set at their creation, the Londoners would on no account suffer it to be sent away." The old, valueless, ragged stone was thought worthy of dying for by our sturdy ancestors, whose patriotism was to their love of wealth as a river is to a streamlet.

From these fragments we can easily observe how thoroughly this 'Lia Fail"—this "wondrous stone"—this "Stone of Destiny," has become page 14 bound up in the history of the nation; and how strangely true it is that it has become a unique national treasure. The British nation might be well distinguished from all others by such a phase as "The Nation with the Stone."

Besides being thus historically connected with a real Stone, Britian is otherwise associated with a Stone figuratively. Since shortly after the Roman invasion, Britain has been represented by a small insulated rock, with Britannia sitting upon it. Turn up the reverse of one of our current pennies and the representation appears, though not so distinctly as it may be seen on more ancient coins. It was the Emperor Antoninus Pius who first seems to have given Britannia this position, the design being first found on a coin struck to commemorate his visit to and residence in the island, A.D. 160. The first money made by or for the people of Britain bore the same device.

Throughout the history of the fine arts Britannia has been thus personified, and as such has been perpetuated by the foremost of our poets. Our most celebrated dramatist in one of his brilliant pieces of word painting, though one of his earliest efforts, has acknowledged the appropriateness and beauty of the figure. To most of us the object of special attraction is the picture of Britannia sitting on the rock. But to Shakespeare, the rock on which she sits is also the theme of his eulogy. The thought that Britain is "A Stone set in the silver sea," which separates it from the contending world, is the richest gem in the speech of the dying old John of Gaunt—

Methinks I am a prophet new inspired!
. . . . . . .
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi paradise,
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious Stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or, as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England!
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Feared by their breed, and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds, as far from home,
For Christian service, and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre, in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world.
England bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious tide
Of watery Neptune.—King Richard II.

Another of our poets, impressed with the same idea, has written:—

"As on her sea-beat rock Britannia sat."

Hence that Britain is represented in history, the arts, and our national poetry, as a rock, or that the spirit of the genius of Britain is invariably page 15 personified as a female seated upon an insulated rock, is no fable, or creation of imagination, but a real fact. In one instance as long ago as 1720 years, and that by a Roman emperor.

These facts, coupled with some others, equally striking and singular in character, are surely sufficient to justify our effort to ascertain the distance to which this evidence will lead us in elucidating the sense of the grand prophetic panorama under consideration.

That Britain, in the present day, stands in the same relation to the world as did the great empires of the ages past, it is impossible to deny. Her power is the most important and wide-spread of all the "great powers." What is France? What is Germany? What Austria, Russia, Spain? What even is our fellow-blooded America compared to her? Each and all must own her superior. She hits but a little seat, a mere rock in the surging sea: but what nation can boast such an empire?

"See! from her sea-beat throne in awful March
Britannia towers: upon her laurel crest
The plumes majestic nod; behold she heaves
Her guardian shield, and, terrible in arms,
For battle shakes her adamantine spear;
Loud at her foot the British lion roars,
Frighting the nations."

Has not the nation which sprung from the "Stone Isle" already "become a great mountain and filled the whole earth?" But the world which owns England the greatest—"the chief among the nations," does not regard her as it did the empires of old. They were dreaded, hated, abhorred: while she is revered and honoured, may we not say loved? Her sway is courted by the weak, who invite her occupation and government of their lands. Her good esteem is coveted by the strong, who well know the latent power for protection or destruction which lies between her extended arms.