Gabriela Cunninghame Graham
Gabriela Cunninghame Graham was wife of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, Don Roberto, 19th Laird of Ardoch. Despite being in the shadow of his renown she distinguished herself as one of the literary characters of her age. She was a friend of Wilde, Yeats and Shaw. She wrote many historical, biographical and topographical sketches, but is best known for her two-volume biography, Santa Teresa: Her Life and Times (1894).
Gabriela died at Ardoch in 1906. Her burial at Inchmahome Priory on the Lake of Menteith, as told colourfully and with some poetic licence by Don Roberto’s biographer, A F Tschiffely, describes a scene of great pathos:
“Throughout the night before the funeral, Don Roberto, assisted by an old tenant, dug the grave, a task he would let no one else perform. With only a lantern to give a flickering light, the two men worked almost ceaselessly, despite a wild wind and squalls of cold rain and sleet. The funeral was like a scene out of a Sir Walter Scott novel. When the coffin, borne by old servants and tenants from Gartmore… had been placed on a strange dark-coloured boat with a high prow and stern… the strange craft slowly headed for the island. From the shore, only Don Roberto was visible now, crouching at the high stern, his long hair fluttering as he steered the boat, out of the sides of which protruded oars which moved slowly and rhythmically, bringing to mind tales of old Viking chiefs.”
Gabriela’s poetry is now largely forgotten, but her poem, The Legacy, is itself a fitting legacy to her own life.
What shall I leave behind me, what?
Great fame, honour untarnished, brave renown?
No! yet these, too, lay in the lap of Time,
But Chance or Fate required them not!
Whene’r it be I lay me down
I would that some fain note of mine
May echo in another’s heart and fill it with its chime.
Some note that shows I lived as well as he,
That noontide flush was sweet to me,
The swelling bosoms of the clouds at eve,
The blush of rose, the fine young grass,
The little birds’ faint melody
When winter dies away to spring.
Some note to show I loved and suffered too like him,
Loved in much pain – sought God through sorrow dim,
But bright before me ever saw
The Glory of his Tainment trail o’er the darkened floor.
So shall I leave my legacy to men –
One feeble note – one only – then
Shall I die content;
And when the veil of Life is Rent,
Then shall the Darkness here turn to light.