Hugh Miller: Autobiography (7)

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On the fourth day after losing sight of the Hill of Cromarty, the Leith smack in which I sailed was slowly threading her way, in a morning of light airs and huge broken fog-wreaths, through the lower tracts of the Firth of Forth.  The islands and distant land looked dim and grey through the haze, like objects in an unfinished drawing; and at times some vast low-browed cloud from the sea applied the sponge as it rolled past, and blotted out half a county at a time; but the sun occasionally broke forth in partial glimpses of great beauty, and brought out into bold relief little bits of the landscape—now a town, and now an islet, and anon the blue summit of a hill.  A sunlit wreath rose from around the abrupt and rugged Bass as we passed; and my heart leaped within me as I saw, for the first time, that stern Patmos of the devout and brave of another age looming dark and high through the diluted mist, and enveloped for a moment as the cloud parted, in an amber-tinted glory.  There had been a little Presbyterian oasis of old in the neighbourhood of Cromarty, which, in the midst of the Highland and Moderate indifferency that characterized the greater part of the north of Scotland during the seventeenth century, had furnished the Bass with not a few of its most devoted victims. [89]  Mackilligen of Alness, Hogg of Kiltearn, and the Rosses of Tain and Kincardine, had been incarcerated in its dungeons; and, when labouring in the Cromarty quarries in early spring, I used to know that it was time to gather up my tools for the evening, when I saw the sun resting over the high-lying farm which formed the patrimony of another of its better-known victims—young Fraser of Brea.  And so I looked with a double interest on the bold sea-girt rock, and the sun-gilt cloud that rose over its scarred forehead, like that still brighter halo which glorifies it in the memories of the Scottish people.  Many a long-cherished association drew my thoughts to Edinburgh.  I was acquainted with Ramsay, and Fergusson, and the "Humphrey Clinker" of Smollett, and had read a description of the place in the "Marmion" and the earlier novels of Scott; and I was not yet too old to feel as if I were approaching a great magical city—like some of those in the "Arabian Nights"—that was even more intensely poetical than Nature itself.  I did somewhat chide the tantalizing mist, that, like a capricious showman, now raised one corner of its curtain, and anon another, and showed me the place at once very indistinctly, and only by bits at a time; and yet I know not that I could in reality have seen it to greater advantage, or after a mode more in harmony with my previous conceptions.  The water in the harbour was too low, during the first hour or two after our arrival, to float our vessel, and we remained tacking in the roadstead, watching for the signal from the pier-head which was to intimate to us when the tide had risen high enough for our admission; and so I had sufficient time given me to con over the features of the scene, as presented in detail.  At one time a flat reach of the New Town came full into view, along which, in the general dimness, the multitudinous chimneys stood up like stacks of corn in a field newly reaped; at another, the Castle loomed out dark in the cloud; then, as if suspended over the earth, the rugged summit of Arthur's Seat came strongly out, while its base still remained invisible in the wreath; and anon I caught a glimpse of the distant Pentlands, enveloped by a clear blue sky, and lighted up by the sun.  Leith, with its thicket of masts, and its tall round Tower, lay deep in shade in the foreground—a cold, dingy, ragged town, but so strongly relieved against the pale smoky grey of the background, that it seemed another little city of Zoar, entire in front of the burning.  And such was the strangely picturesque countenance with which I was favoured by the Scottish capital, when forming my earliest acquaintance with it, twenty-nine years ago.

    It was evening ere I reached it.  The fog of the early part of the day had rolled off, and every object stood out in clear light and shade under a bright sunshiny sky.  The workmen of the place—their labours just closed for the day—were passing in groups along the streets to their respective homes; but I was too much engaged in looking at the buildings and shops to look very discriminately at them; and it was not without some surprise that I found myself suddenly laid hold of by one of their number, a slim lad, in pale moleskin a good deal bespattered with paint.  My friend William Ross stood before me; and his welcome on the occasion was a very hearty one.  I had previously taken a hasty survey of my unlucky house in Leith, accompanied by a sharp, keen-looking, one-handed man of middle age, who kept the key, and acted, under the town-clerk, as general manager; and who, as I afterwards ascertained, was the immortal Peter M'Craw.  But I had seen nothing suited to put me greatly in conceit with my patrimony.  It formed the lowermost floor of an old black building, four stories in height, flanked by a damp narrow court along one of its sides, and that turned to the street its sharp-peaked, many-windowed gable.  The lower windows were covered up by dilapidated, weather-bleached shutters; in the upper, the comparatively fresh appearance of the rags that stuffed up holes where panes ought to have been, and a few very pale-coloured petticoats and very dark-coloured shirts fluttering in the wind, gave evident signs of habitation.  It cost my conductor's one hand an arduous wrench to lay open the lock of the outer door, in front of which he had first to dislodge a very dingy female, attired in an earth-coloured gown, that seemed as if starched with ashes; and as the rusty hinges creaked, and the door fell against the wall, we became sensible of a damp, unwholesome smell, like the breath of a charnel-house, which issued from the interior.  The place had been shut up for nearly two years; and so foul had the stagnant atmosphere become, that the candle which we brought with us to explore burned dim and yellow like a miner's lamp.  The floors, broken up in fifty different places, were littered with rotten straw; and in one of the corners there lay a damp heap, gathered up like the lair of some wild beast, on which some one seemed to have slept, mayhap months before.  The partitions were crazed and tottering; the walls blackened with smoke; broad patches of plaster had fallen from the ceilings, or still dangled from them, suspended by single hairs; and the bars of the grates, crusted with rust, had become red as foxtails.  Mr M'Craw nodded his head over the gathered heap of straw.  "Ah," he said—"got in again, I see!  The shutters must be looked to."  "I daresay," I remarked, looking disconsolately around me, "you don't find it very easy to get tenants for houses of this kind."  "Very easy!" said Mr M'Craw, with somewhat of a Highland twang, and, as I thought, with also a good deal of Highland hauteur—as was of course quite natural in so shrewd and extensive a house-agent, when dealing with the owner of a domicile that would not let, and who made foolish remarks—"No, nor easy at all, or it would not be locked up in this way: but if we took off the shutters you would soon get tenants enough."  "Oh, I suppose so; and I daresay it is as difficult to sell as to let such houses."  "Ay, and more," said Mr M'Craw: "it's all sellers, and no buyers, when we get this low."  "But do you not think," I perseveringly asked, "that some kind, charitable person might be found in the neighbourhood disposed to take it off my hands as a free gift!  It's terrible to be married for life to a baggage of a house like this, and made liable, like other husbands, for all its debts.  Is there no way of getting a divorce?"  "Don't know," he emphatically replied, with somewhat of a nasal snort; and we so parted; and I saw or heard no more of Peter M'Craw until many years after, when I found him celebrated in the well-known song by poor Gilfillan. [90]  And in the society of my friend I soon forgot my miserable house, and all the liabilities which it entailed.

    I was as entirely unacquainted with great towns at this time as the shepherd in Virgil; and, excited by what I saw, I sadly tasked my friend's peripatetic abilities, and, I fear, his patience also, in taking an admiring survey of all the more characteristic streets, and then in setting out for the top of Arthur's Seat—from which, this evening, I watched the sun set behind the distant Lomonds—that I might acquaint myself with the features of the surrounding country, and the effect of the city as a whole.  And amidst much confused and imperfect recollection of picturesque groups of ancient buildings, and magnificent assemblages of elegant modern ones, I carried away with me two vividly distinct ideas—first results, as a painter might perhaps say, of a "fresh eye," which no after survey has served to freshen or intensify.  I felt that I had seen, not one, but two cities—a city of the past and a city of the present—set down side by side, as if for purposes of comparison, with a picturesque valley drawn like a deep score between them, to mark off the line of division.  And such in reality seems to be the grand peculiarity of the Scottish capital—its distinguishing trait among the cities of the empire; though, of course, during the twenty-nine years that have elapsed since I first saw it, the more ancient of its two cities—greatly modernized in many parts—has become less uniformly and consistently antique in its aspect.  Regarded simply as matters of taste, I have found little to admire in the improvements that have so materially changed its aspect.  Of its older portions I used never to tire: I found I could walk among them as purely for the pleasure which accrued, as among the wild and picturesque of nature itself; whereas, one visit to the elegant streets and ample squares of the new city always proved sufficient to satisfy; and I certainly never felt the desire to return to any of them to saunter in quest of pleasure along the smooth, well-kept pavements.  I of course except Princes Street.  There the two cities stand ranged aide by side, as if for comparison; and the eye falls on the features of a natural scenery that would of itself be singularly pleasing even were both the cities away.  Next day I waited on the town-clerk, Mr Veitch, to see whether he could not suggest to me some way in which I might shake myself loose from my unfortunate property on the Coal-hill.  He received me civilly—told me that the property was not quite so desperate an investment as I seemed to think it, as at least the site, in which I had an interest with the other proprietors, was worth something, and as the little courtyard was exclusively my own; and that he thought he could get the whole disposed of for me, if I was prepared to accept of a small price.  And I was of course, as I told him, prepared to accept of a very small one.  Further, on learning that I was a stone-cutter, and unemployed, he kindly introduced me to one of his friends, a master builder, by whom I was engaged to work at a manor-house a few miles to the south of Edinburgh.  And procuring "lodgings" in a small cottage of but a single apartment, near the village of Niddry Mill, I commenced my labours as a hewer under the shade of the Niddry woods.

    There was a party of sixteen masons employed at Niddry, besides apprentices and labourers.  They were accomplished stone-cutters—skilful, especially in the cutting of mouldings, far above the average of the masons of the north country; and it was with some little solicitude that I set myself to labour beside them on mullions, and transoms, and labels, for our work was in the old English style—a style in which I had no previous practice.  I was diligent, however, and kept old John Fraser's principle in view (though, as Nature had been less liberal in imparting the necessary faculties, I could not cut so directly as he used to do on the required planes and curves inclosed in the stones); and I had the satisfaction of finding, when pay night came round, that the foreman, who had frequently stood beside me during the week to observe my modes of working, and the progress which I made, estimated my services at the same rate as he did those of the others.  I was by and by intrusted, too, like the best of them, with all the more difficult kinds of work required in the erection, and was at one time engaged for six weeks together in fashioning long, slim, deeply-moulded mullions, not one of which broke in my hands, though the stone on which I wrought was brittle and gritty, and but indifferently suited for the nicer purposes of the architect.  I soon found, however, that most of my brother workmen regarded me with undisguised hostility and dislike, and would have been better pleased had I, as they seemed to expect, from the northern locality in which I had been reared, broken down in the trial.  I was, they said, "a Highlander newly come to Scotland," and, if not chased northwards again, would carry home with me half the money of the country.  Some of the builders used to criticize very unfairly the workmanship of the stones which I hewed: they could not lay them, they said: and the hewers sometimes refused to assist me in carrying in or in turning the weightier blocks on which I wrought.  The foreman, however, a worthy, pious man, a member of a Secession congregation, stood my friend and encouraged me to persevere.  "Do not," he said, "suffer yourself to be driven from the work, and they will soon tire out, and leave you to pursue your own course.  I know exactly the nature of your offence: you do not drink with them or treat them; but they will soon cease to expect that you should; and when once they find that you are not to be coerced or driven off, they will let you alone."  As, however, from the abundance of employment—a consequence of the building mania—the men were masters and more at the time, the foreman could not take my part openly in opposition to them; but I was grateful for his kindness, and felt too thoroughly indignant at the mean fellows who could take such odds against an inoffensive stranger, to be much in danger of yielding to the combination.  It is only a weak man whom the wind deprives of his cloak: a man of the average strength is more in danger of losing it when assailed by the genial beams of a too kindly sun.

    I threw myself, as usual, for the compensatory pleasures, on my evening walks, but found the enclosed state of the district, and the fence of a rigorously-administered trespass-law, serious drawbacks; and ceased to wonder that a thoroughly cultivated country is, in most instances, so much less beloved by its people than a wild and open one.  Rights of proprietorship may exist equally in both; but there is an important sense in which the open country belongs to the proprietors and to the people too.  All that the heart and the intellect can derive from it may be alike free to peasant and aristocrat; whereas the cultivated and strictly fenced country belongs usually, in every sense, to only the proprietor; and as it is a much simpler and more obvious matter to love one's country as a scene of hills, and streams, and green fields, amid which Nature has often been enjoyed, than as a definite locality, in which certain laws and constitutional privileges exist, it is rather to be regretted than wondered at that there should be often less true patriotism in a country of just institutions and equal laws, whose soil has been so exclusively appropriated as to leave only the dusty high-roads to its people, than in wild open countries, in which the popular mind and affections are left free to embrace the soil, but whose institutions are partial and defective.  Were our beloved Monarch to regard such of the gentleman of her court as taboo their Glen Tilts, and shut up the passes of the Grampians, as a sort of disloyal Destructives of a peculiar type, who make it their vocation to divest her people of their patriotism, and who virtually teach them that a country no longer theirs is not worth the fighting for, it might be very safely concluded that she was but manifesting, in one other direction, the strong good sense which has ever distinguished her.  Though shut out, however, from the neighbouring fields and policies, the Niddry woods were open to me; and I have enjoyed many an agreeable saunter along a broad planted belt, with a grassy path in the midst, that forms their southern boundary, and through whose long vista I could see the sun sink over the picturesque ruins of Craigmillar Castle.  A few peculiarities in the natural history of the district showed me, that the two degrees of latitude which lay between me and the former scenes of my studies were not without their influence on both the animal and vegetable kingdoms.  The group of land-shells was different, in at least its proportions; and one well-marked mollusc—the large tortoiseshell helix [91] (helix aspersa), very abundant in this neighbourhood—I had never seen in the north at all.  I formed, too, my first acquaintance in this woody, bush-skirted walk, with the hedgehog [92] in its wild state—an animal which does not occur to the north of the Moray Firth.  I saw, besides, though the summer was of but the average warmth, the oak ripening its acorns—a rare occurrence among the Cromarty woods, where, in at least nine out of every ten seasons, the fruit merely forms and then drops off.  But my researches this season lay rather among fossils than among recent plants and animals.  I was now for the first time located on the Carboniferous System [93]: the stone at which I wrought was intercalated among the working coal-seams, and abounded in well-marked impressions of the more robust vegetables of the period—stigmaria, [94] sigillaria, [95] calamites, [96] and lepidodendra [97]; and as they greatly excited my curiosity I spent many an evening hour in the quarry in which they occurred, in tracing their forms in the rock; or, extending my walks to the neighbouring coal pits, I laid open with my hammer, in quest of organisms, the blocks of shale or stratified clay raised from beneath by the miner.  There existed at the time none of those popular digests of geological science which are now so common; and so I had to grope my way without guide or assistant, and wholly unfurnished with a vocabulary.  At length, however, by dint of patient labour, I came to form not very erroneous, though of course inadequate, conceptions of the ancient Coal Measure Flora: it was impossible to doubt that its numerous ferns were really such; and though I at first failed to trace the supposed analogies of its lepidodendra and calamites, it was at least evident that they were the bole-like stems of great plants, that had stood erect like trees.  A certain amount of fact, too, once acquired, enabled me to assimilate to the mass little snatches of information, derived from chance paragraphs and occasional articles in magazines and reviews, that, save for my previous acquaintance with the organisms to which they referred, would have told me nothing.  And so the vegetation of the Coal Measures began gradually to form within my mind's eye, where all had been blank before, as I had seen the spires and columns of Edinburgh forming amid the fog, on the morning of my arrival.

    I found, however, one of the earliest dreams of my youth curiously mingling with my restorations, or rather forming their groundwork.  I had read Gulliver at the proper age; and my imagination had become filled with the little men and women, and retained strong hold of at least one scene laid in the country of the very tall men—that in which the traveller, after wandering amid grass that rose twenty feet over his head, lost himself in a vast thicket of barely forty feet high.  I became the owner, in fancy, of a colony of Liliputians, that manned my eighteen-inch canoe, or tilled my apron-breadth of a garden; and, coupling with the men of Liliput the scene of Brobdignag, I had often set myself to imagine, when playing truant on the green slopes of the Hill, or among the swamps of the "Willows," how some of the vignette-like scenes by which I was surrounded would have appeared to creatures so minute.  I have imagined them threading their way through dark forests of bracken forty feet high—or admiring on the hill-side some enormous clubmoss that stretched out its green hairy arms for whole roods—or arrested at the edge of some dangerous morass, by hedges of gigantic horse-tail, that bore a-top, high over the bog, their many-windowed, club-like cones, and at every point shot forth their green verticillate leaves, huge as coach-wheels divested of the rim.  And while I thus dreamed for my Liliputian companions, I became for the time a Liliputian myself, examined the minute in Nature as if through a magnifying-glass, roamed in fancy under ferns that had shot up into trees, and saw the dark club-like heads of the equisetaceæ [98] stand up over the spiky branches, some six yards or so above head.  And now, strange to tell, I found I had just to fall back on my old juvenile imaginings, and to form my first approximate conceptions of the forests of the Coal Measures, by learning to look at our ferns, club-mosses, and equisetaceæ, with the eye of some wandering traveller of Liliput lost amid their entanglements.  When sauntering at sunset along the edge of a wood-embosomed stream that ran through the grounds, and beside which the horse-tail rose thick and rank in the danker hollows, and the bracken shot out its fronds from the drier banks, I had to sink in fancy as of old into a manikin of a few inches, and to see intertropical jungles in the tangled grasses and thickly-interlaced equisetaceæ, and tall trees in the brake and the lady-fern.  But many a wanting feature had to be supplied, and many an existing one altered.  Amid forests of arboraceous ferns, and of horse-tails tall as the masts of pinnaces, there stood up gigantic club-mosses, thicker than the body of a man, and from sixty to eighty feet in height, that mingled their foliage with strange monsters of the vegetable world, of types no longer recognisable among the existing forms—sculptured ullodendra, [99] bearing rectilinear stripes of sessile [100] cones along their sides—and ornately tatooed sigillaria, fluted like columns, and with vertical rows of leaves bristling over their stems and larger branches.  Such were some of the dreams in which I began at this period for the first time to indulge; nor have they, like the other dreams of youth, passed away.  The aged poet has not unfrequently to complain, that as he rises in years, his "visions float less palpably before him."  Those, on the contrary, which science conjures up, grow in distinctness, as, in the process of slow acquirement, form after form is evoked from out the obscurity of the past, and one restoration added to another.

    There were at this time several collier villages in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, which have since disappeared.  They were situated on what were called the "edge coals"—those steep seams of the Mid-Lothian Coal Basin which, lying low in the system, have got a more vertical tilt against the trap eminences of the south and west than the upper seams in the middle of the field, and which, as they could not be followed in their abrupt descent beyond a certain depth, are now regarded, for at least the practical purposes of the miner, and until the value of coal shall have risen considerably, as wrought out.  One of these villages, whose foundations can no longer be traced, occurred in the immediate vicinity of Niddry Mill.  It was a wretched assemblage of dingy, low-roofed, tile-covered hovels, each of which perfectly resembled all the others, and was inhabited by a rude and ignorant race of men, that still bore about them the soil and stain of recent slavery.  Curious as the fact may seem, all the older men of the village, though situated little more than four miles from Edinburgh, had been born slaves.  Nay, eighteen years later (in 1842), when Parliament issued a commission to inquire into the nature and results of female labour in the coal-pits of Scotland, there was a collier still living that had never been twenty miles from the Scottish capital, who could state to the Commissioners that both his father and grandfather had been slaves—that he himself had been born a slave—and that he had wrought for years in a pit in the neighbourhood of Musselburgh ere the colliers got their freedom.  Father and grandfather had been parishioners of the late Dr Carlyle of Inveresk.  They were contemporary with Chatham and Cowper, and Burke and Fox; and at a time when Granville Sharpe could have stepped forward and effectually protected the runaway negro who had taken refuge from the tyranny of his master in a British port, no man could have protected them from the Inveresk laird, their proprietor, had they dared to exercise the right, common to all Britons besides, of removing to some other locality, or of making choice of some other employment.  Strange enough, surely, that so entire a fragment of the barbarous past should have been thus dovetailed into the age not yet wholly passed away!  I regard it as one of the more singular circumstances of my life, that I should have conversed with Scotchmen who had been born slaves.  The collier women of this village—poor over-toiled creatures, who carried up all the coal from underground on their backs, by a long turnpike stair inserted in one of the shafts—continued to bear more of the marks of serfdom still about them than even the men.  How these poor women did labour, and how thoroughly, even at this time, were they characterized by the slave nature!  It has been estimated by a man who knew them well—Mr Robert Bald—that one of their ordinary day's work was equal to the carrying of a hundred weight from the level of the sea to the top of Ben Lomond.  They were marked by a peculiar type of mouth, by which I learned to distinguish them from all the other females of the country.  It was wide, open, thick-lipped, projecting equally above and below, and exactly resembled that which we find in the prints given of savages in their lowest and most degraded state, in such narratives of our modern voyagers as, for instance, the "Narrative of Captain Fitzroy's Second Voyage of the Beagle."  During, however, the lapse of the last twenty years this type of mouth seems to have disappeared in Scotland.  It was accompanied by traits of almost infantile weakness.  I have seen these collier women crying like children, when toiling under their load along the upper rounds of the wooden stair that traversed the shaft; and then returning, scarce a minute after, with the empty creel, singing with glee.  The collier houses were chiefly remarkable for being all alike, outside and in; all were equally dingy, dirty, naked, and uncomfortable.  I first learned to suspect, in this rude village, that the democratic watchword, "Liberty and Equality," is somewhat faulty in its philosophy.  Slavery and Equality would be nearer the mark.  Wherever there is liberty, the original differences between man and man begin to manifest themselves in their external circumstances, and the equality straightway ceases.  It is through slavery that equality, among at least the masses, is to be fully attained. [101]  I found but little intelligence in the neighbourhood, among even the villagers and country people, that stood on a higher platform than the colliers.  The fact may be variously accounted for; but so it is, that though there is almost always more than the average amount of knowledge and acquirement amongst the mechanics of large towns, the little hamlets and villages by which they are surrounded are usually inhabited by a class considerably below the average.  In M. Quetelet's interesting "Treatise on Man," we find a series of maps given, which, based on extensive statistical tables, exhibit by darker and lighter shadings the moral and intellectual character of the people in the various districts of the countries which they represent.  In one map, for instance, representative of the state of education in France, while certain well-taught provinces are represented by a bright tint, as if enjoying the light, there are others, in which great ignorance obtains, that exhibit a deep shade of blackness, as if a cloud rested over them; and the general aspect of the whole is that of a landscape seen from a hill-top in a day of dappled light and shadow.  There are certain minuter shadings, however, by which certain curious facts might be strikingly represented to the eye in this manner, for which statistical tables furnish no adequate basis, but which men who have seen a good deal of the people of a country might be able to give in a manner at least approximately correct.  In a shaded map representative of the intelligence of Scotland, I would be disposed—sinking the lapsed classes, or representing them merely by a few such dark spots as mottle the sun—to represent the large towns as centres of focal brightness; but each of these focal centres I would encircle with a halo of darkness considerably deeper in shade than the medium spaces beyond.  I found that in the tenebrious halo of the Scottish capital there existed, independently of the ignorance of the poor colliers, three distinct elements.  A considerable proportion of the villagers were farm-servants in the decline of life, who, unable any longer to procure, as in their days of unbroken strength regular engagements from the farmers of the district, supported themselves as occasional labourers.  And they, of course, were characterized by the ignorance of their class.  Another portion of the people were carters—employed mainly, in these times, ere the railways began, in supplying the Edinburgh coal-market, and in driving building materials into the city from the various quarries.  And carters as a class, like all who live much in the society of horses, are invariably ignorant and unintellectual.  A third, but greatly smaller portion than either of the other two, consisted of mechanics; but it was only mechanics of an inferior order, that remained outside the city to work for carters and labourers; the better skilled, and, as to a certain extent the terms are convertible, the more intelligent mechanics found employment and a home in Edinburgh.  The cottage in which I lodged was inhabited by an old farm-servant—a tall, large-bodied, small-headed man, who, in his journey through life, seemed to have picked up scarce an idea; and his wife, a woman turned of sixty, though a fine enough body in the main, and a careful manager, was not more intellectual.  They had but a single apartment in their humble dwelling, fenced off by a little bit of partition from the outer door—and I could fain have wished that they had two—but there was no choice of lodgings in the village, and I had just to content myself, as the working man always must in such circumstances, with the shelter I could get.  My bed was situated in the one end of the room, and my landlady's and her husband's in the other, with the passage by which we entered between; but decent old Peggy Russel had been accustomed to such arrangements all her life long, and seemed never once to think of the matter; and—as she had reached that period of life at which women of the humbler class assume the characteristics of the other sex, somewhat, I suppose, on the principle on which very ancient female birds put on male plumage—I in a short time ceased to think of it also.  It is not the less true, however, that the purposes of decency demand that much should be done, especially in the southern and midland districts of Scotland, for the dwellings of the poor.


 
CHAPTER XV.


See Inebriety, her wand she waves,
And lo! her pale; and lo! her purple slaves.—C
RABBE.


I WAS joined in the course of a few weeks, in Peggy Russel's one-roomed cottage, by another lodger—lodgers of the humbler class usually consociating together in pairs.  My new companion had lived for some time, ere my arrival at Niddry, in a neighbouring domicile, which, as he was what was termed a "quiet-living man," and as the inmates were turbulent and unsteady, he had, after bearing a good deal, been compelled to quit.  Like our foreman, he was a strict Seceder, [102] in full communion with his church.  Though merely a common labourer, with not more than half the wages of our skilled workman, I had observed, ere our acquaintance began, that no mason in the squad was more comfortably attired on week-days than he, or wore a better suit on Sunday; and so I had set him down, from the circumstance, as a decent man.  I now found that, like my uncle Sandy, he was a great reader of good books—an admirer even of the same old authors—deeply read like him, in Durham and Rutherford—and entertaining, too, a high respect for Baxter, Boston, old John Brown, and the Erskines.  In one respect, however, he differed from both my uncles: he had begun to question the excellence of religious Establishments; nay, to hold that the country might be none the worse were its ecclesiastical endowments taken away—a view which our foreman also entertained; whereas both Uncles Sandy and James were as little averse as the old divines themselves to a State-paid ministry, and desiderated only that it should be a good one.  There were two other Seceders engaged as masons at the work—more of the polemical and less of the devout type than the foreman or my new comrade the labourer; and they also used occasionally to speak, not merely of the doubtful usefulness, but—as they were stronger in their language than their more self-denying and more consistent co-religionists—of the positive worthlessness of Establishments.  The Voluntary controversy did not break out until about nine years after this time, when the Reform Bill gave vent to many a pent-up opinion and humour among that class to which it extended the franchise; but the materials of the war were evidently already accumulating among the intelligent Dissenters of Scotland; and from what I now saw, its first appearance in a somewhat formidable aspect failed to take me by surprise.  I must in justice add, that all the religion of our party was to be found among its Seceders.  Our other workmen were really wild fellows, most of whom never entered a church.  A decided reaction had already commenced within the Establishment, on the cold, elegant, unpopular Moderatism of the previous period—that Moderatism which had been so adequately represented in the Scottish capital by the theology of Blair and the ecclesiastical policy of Robertson; but it was chiefly among the middle and upper classes that the reaction had begun; and scarce any portion of the humbler people, lost to the Church during the course of the two preceding generations, had yet been recovered.  And so the working men of Edinburgh and its neighbourhood, at this time, were in large part either non-religious, or included within the Independent or Secession pale.

    John Wilson—for such was the name of my new comrade—was a truly good man—devout, conscientious, friendly—not highly intellectual, but a person of plain good sense, and by no means devoid of general information.  There was another labourer at the work, an unhappy little man, with whom I have often seen John engaged in mixing mortar, or carrying materials to the builders, but never without being struck by the contrast which they presented in character and appearance.  John was a plain, somewhat rustic-looking personage; and an injury which he had received from gunpowder in a quarry, that had destroyed the sight of one of his eyes, and considerably dimmed that of the other, had, of course, not served to improve his looks; but he always wore a cheerful, contented air; and, with all his homeliness, was a person pleasant to the sight.  His companion was a really handsome man—grey-haired, silvery whiskered, with an aristocratic cast of countenance, that would have done no discredit to a royal drawing-room, and an erect though somewhat petit figure, cast in a mould that, if set off more to advantage, would have been recognised as elegant.  But John Lindsay—for so he was called—bore always the stamp of misery on his striking features.  There lay between the poor little man and the Crawford peerage only a narrow chasm, represented by a missing marriage certificate; but he was never able to bridge the gulf across; and he had to toil on in unhappiness, in consequence, as a mason's labourer.  I have heard the call resounding from the walls twenty times a day—"John, Yearl Crafurd, bring us anither hod o' lime."

    I found religion occupying a much humbler place among these workmen of the south of Scotland than that which I had used to see assigned to it in the north.  In my native district and the neighbouring counties, it still spoke with authority; and a man who stood up in its behalf in any society, unless very foolish or very inconsistent, always succeeded in silencing opposition, and making good its claims.  Here, however, the irreligious asserted their power as the majority, and carried matters with a high hand; and religion itself, existing as but dissent, not as an establishment, had to content itself with bare toleration.  Remonstrance, or even advice, was not permitted.  "Johnnie, boy," I have heard one of the rougher mechanics say, half in jest, half in earnest, to my companion, "if you set yourself to convert me, I'll brak your face;" and I have known another of them remark, with a patronizing air, that "kirks werena very bad things, after a';" that he "aye liked to be in a kirk, for the sake of decency, once a twelvemonth;" and that, as he "hadna been kirked for the last ten months, he was just only waiting for a rainy Sabbath, to lay in his stock o' divinity for the year."  Our new lodger, aware how little any interference with the religious concerns of others was tolerated in the place, seemed unable for some time to muster up resolution enough to broach in the family his favourite subject.  He retired every night, before going to bed, to his closet—the blue vault with all its stars—often the only closet of the devout lodger in a south-country cottage; but I saw that each evening, ere he went out, he used to look uneasily at the landlord and me, as if there lay some weight on his mind regarding us, of which he was afraid to rid himself, and which yet rendered him very uncomfortable.  "Well, John," I asked one evening, speaking direct, to his evident embarrassment; "what is it?"  John looked at old William the landlord, and then at me.  "Did we not think it right," he said, "that there should be evening worship in the family?"  Old William had not idea enough for conversation; he either signified acquiescence in whatever was said that pleased him, by an ever-recurring ay, ay, ay; or he grumbled out his dissent in a few explosive sounds, that conveyed his meaning rather in their character as tones than as vocables.  But there now mingled with the ordinary explosions the distinct enunciation, given with, for him, unwonted emphasis, that he "wasna for that."  I struck in, how ever, on the other side, and appealed to Peggy.  "I was sure," I said, "that Mrs Russel would see the propriety of John's proposal."  And Mrs Russel, as most women would have done in the circumstances, unless, indeed, very bad ones, did see the propriety of it; and from that evening forward the cottage had its family worship.  John's prayers were always very earnest and excellent, but sometimes just a little too long; and old William, who, I fear, did not greatly profit by them, used not unfrequently to fall asleep on his knees.  But though he sometimes stole to his bed when John chanced to be a little later in taking the book than usual, and got into a profound slumber ere the prayer began, he deferred to the majority, and gave us no active opposition.  He was not a vicious man: his intellect had slept through life, and he had as little religion as an old horse or dog; but he was quiet and honest, and, to the measure of his failing ability, a faithful worker in his humble employments.  His religious training, like that of his brother villagers, seemed to have been sadly neglected.  Had he gone to the parish church on Sunday, he would have heard a respectable moral essay read from the pulpit, and would, of course, have slept under it; but William, like most of his neighbours, preferred sleeping out the day at home, and never did go to the church; and as certainly as he went not to the teacher of religion, the teacher of religion never came to him.  During the ten months which I spent in the neighbourhood of Niddry Mill, I saw neither minister nor missionary.  But if the village furnished no advantageous ground on which to fight the battle of religious Establishments—seeing that the Establishment was of no manner of use there—it furnished ground quite as unsuitable for the class of Voluntaries who hold that the supply of religious instruction should, as in the case of all other commodities, be regulated by the demand.  Demand and supply were admirably well balanced in the village of Niddry: there was no religious instruction, and no wish or desire for it.

    The masons at Niddry House were paid fortnightly, on a Saturday night.  Wages were high—we received two pounds eight shillings for our two weeks' work; but scarce half-a-dozen in the squad could claim at settlement the full tale, as the Monday and Tuesday after pay-night were usually blank days, devoted by two-thirds of the whole to drinking and debauchery.  Not often have wages been more sadly misspent than by my poor work-fellows at Niddry, during this period of abundant and largely-remunerated employment.  On receiving their money, they set straightway off to Edinburgh, in parties of threes and fours; and until the evening of the following Monday or Tuesday I saw no more of them.  They would then come dropping in, pale, dirty, disconsolate-looking—almost always in the reactionary state of unhappiness which succeeds intoxication—(they themselves used to term it "the horrors")—and with their nervous system so shaken, that rarely until a day or two after did they recover their ordinary working ability.  Narratives of their adventures, however, would then begin to circulate through the squad—adventures commonly of the "Tom and Jerry" type; and always, the more extravagant they were, the more was the admiration which they excited.  On one occasion, I remember (for it was much spoken about as a manifestation of high spirit) that three of them, hiring a coach, drove out on the Sunday to visit Roslin and Hawthornden, and in this way spent their six pounds so much in the style of gentlemen, that they were able to get back to the mallet without a farthing on the evening of Monday.  And, as they were at work on Tuesday in consequence they succeeded, as they said, in saving the wages of a day usually lost, just by doing the thing so genteelly.  Edinburgh had in those times a not very efficient police, and, in some of its less reputable localities, must have been dangerous.  Burke found its West Port a fitting scene, for his horrid trade a good many years after; and from the stories of some of our bolder spirits, which, though mayhap exaggerated, had evidently their nucleus of truth, there was not a little of the violent and the lawless perpetrated in its viler haunts during the years of the speculation mania.  Four of our masons found, one Saturday evening, a country lad bound hand and foot on the floor of a dark inner room in one of the dens of the High Street; and such was the state of exhaustion to which he was reduced, mainly through the compression of an old apron wrapped tightly round his face, that though they set him loose, it was some time ere he could muster strength enough to crawl away.  He had been robbed by a bevy of women whom he had been foolish enough to treat; and on threatening to call in the watchman, they had fallen upon a way of keeping him quiet, which, save for the interference of my wild fellow-workmen, would soon have rendered him permanently so.  And such was but one of many stories of the kind.

    There was of course a considerable diversity of talent and acquirement among my more reckless associates at the work; and it was curious enough to mark their very various views regarding what constituted spirit or the want of it.  One weak lad used to tell us about a singularly spirited brother apprentice of his, who not only drank, kept loose company, and played all sorts of very mischievous practical jokes, but even occasionally stole, out of warehouses; which was of course a very dauntless thing, seeing that it brought him within wind of the gallows; whereas another of our wild workmen—a man of sense and intelligence—not unfrequently cut short the narratives of the weaker brother, by characterizing his spirited apprentice as a mean, graceless scamp, who, had he got his deservings, would have been hung like a dog.  I found that the intelligence which results from a fair school education, sharpened by a subsequent taste for reading, very much heightened in certain items the standard by which my comrades regulated their conduct.  Mere intelligence formed no guard amongst them against intemperance or licentiousness; but it did form a not ineffectual protection against what are peculiarly the mean vices—such as theft, and the grosser and more creeping forms of untruthfulness and dishonesty.  Of course, exceptional cases occur in all grades of society: there have been accomplished ladies of wealth and rank who have indulged in a propensity for stealing out of drapers' shops; and gentlemen of birth and education who could not be trusted in a library or a bookseller's back-room; and what sometimes occurs in the higher walks must be occasionally exemplified in the lower also; but, judging from what I have seen, I must hold it as a general rule, that a good intellectual education is a not inefficient protection against the meaner felonies, though not in any degree against the "pleasant vices."  The only adequate protection against both, equally, is the sort of education which my friend John Wilson the labourer exemplified—a kind of education not often acquired in schools, and not much more frequently possessed by schoolmasters than by any other class of professional men.

    The most remarkable man in our party was a young fellow of three-and-twenty—at least as much a blackguard as any of his companions, but possessed of great strength of character and intellect, and, with all his wildness, marked by very noble traits.  He was a strongly and not inelegantly formed man, of about six feet—dark-complexioned, and of a sullen cast of countenance, which, however, though he could, I doubt not, become quite as formidable as he looked, concealed in his ordinary moods much placidity of temper, and a rich vein of humour.  Charles — was the recognised hero of the squad; but he differed considerably from the men who admired him most.  Burns tells us that he "often courted the acquaintance of the part of mankind commonly known by the ordinary phrase of blackguards;" and that, "though disgraced by follies, nay, sometimes stained with guilt, he had yet found among them, in not a few instances, some of the noblest virtues—magnanimity, generosity, disinterested friendship, and even modesty."  I cannot say with the poet that I ever courted the acquaintance of blackguards; but though the labouring man may select his friends, he cannot choose his work-fellows; and so I have not unfrequently come in contact with blackguards, and have had opportunities of pretty thoroughly knowing them.  And my experience of the class has been very much the reverse of that of Burns.  I have usually found their virtues of a merely theatric cast, and their vices real; much assumed generosity in some instances, but a callousness of feeling, and meanness of spirit, lying concealed beneath.  In this poor fellow, however, I certainly did find a sample of the nobler variety of the genus.  Poor Charles did too decidedly belong to it.  He it was that projected the Sunday party to Roslin; and he it was that, pressing his way into the recesses of a disreputable house in the High Street, found the fast-bound wight choking in an apron, and, unloosing the cords, let him go.  No man of the party squandered his gains more recklessly than Charles, or had looser notions regarding the legitimacy of the uses to which he too often applied them.  And yet, notwithstanding, he was a generous-hearted fellow; and, under the influence of religious principle, would, like Burns himself, have made a very noble man.

    In gradually forming my acquaintance with him, I was at first struck by the circumstance that he never joined in the clumsy ridicule with which I used to be assailed by the other workmen.  When left, too, on one occasion, in consequence of a tacit combination against me, to roll up a large stone to the sort of block-bench, or siege, as it is technically termed, on which the mass had to be hewn, and as I was slowly succeeding in doing, through dint of very violent effort, what some two or three men usually united to do, Charles stepped out to assist me; and the combination at once broke down.  Unlike the others, too, who, while they never scrupled to take odds against me, seemed sufficiently chary in coming in contact with me singly, he learned to seek me out in our intervals of labour, and to converse on subjects upon which we felt a common interest.  He was not only an excellent operative mechanic, but possessed also of considerable architectural skill; and in this special province we found an interchange of idea not unprofitable.  He had a turn, too, for reading, though he was by no means extensively read; and liked to converse about books.  Nor, though the faculty had been but little cultivated, was he devoid of an eye for the curious in nature.  On directing his attention, one morning, to a well-marked impression of lepidodendron, which delicately fretted with its lozenge-shaped network one of the planes of the stone before me, he began to describe, with a minuteness of observation not common among working men, certain strange forms which had attracted his notice when employed among the grey flagstones of Forfarshire.  I long after recognised in his description that strange crustacean of the Middle Old Red Sandstone of Scotland, the Pterygotus [103]—an organism which was wholly unknown at this time to geologists, and which is but partially known still; and I saw in 1838, on the publication, in its first edition, of the "Elements" of Sir Charles Lyell, what he meant to indicate, by a rude sketch which he drew on the stone before us, and which, to the base of a semi-ellipsis, somewhat resembling a horse-shoe, united an angular prolongation not very unlike the iron stem of a pointing trowel drawn from the handle.  He had evidently seen, long ere it had been detected by the scientific eye, that strange ichthyolite of the Old Red system, the Cephalaspis. [104]  His story, though he used to tell it with great humour, and no little dramatic effect, was in reality a very sad one.  He had quarrelled, when quite a lad, with one of his fellow-workman, and was unfortunate enough, in the pugilistic encounter which followed, to break his jawbone, and otherwise so severely injure him, that for some time his recovery seemed doubtful.  Flying, pursued by the officers of the law, he was, after a few days' hiding, apprehended, lodged in jail, tried at the High Court of Justiciary, and ultimately sentenced to three months' imprisonment.  And these three months he had to spend—for such was the wretched arrangement of the time—in the worst society in the world.  In sketching, as he sometimes did, for the general amusement, the characters of the various prisoners with whom he had associated—from the sneaking pick-pocket and the murderous ruffian, to the simple Highland smuggler, who had converted his grain into whisky, with scarce intelligence enough to see that there was aught morally wrong in the transaction—he sought only to be as graphic and humorous as he could, and always with complete success.  But there attached to his narratives an unintentional moral; and I cannot yet call them up without feeling indignant at that detestable practice of promiscuous imprisonment which so long obtained in our country, and which had the effect of converting its jails into such complete criminal-manufacturing institutions, that, had the honest men of the community risen and dealt by them as the Lord-George Gordon mob dealt with Newgate, I hardly think they would have been acting out of character.  Poor Charles had a nobility in his nature which saved him from being contaminated by what was worst in his meaner associates; but he was none the better for his imprisonment, and he quitted jail, of course, a marked man; and his after career was, I fear, all the more reckless in consequence of the stain imparted at this time to his character.  He was as decidedly a leader among his brother workmen as I myself had been, when sowing my wild oats, among my schoolfellows; but society in its settled state, and in a country such as ours, allows no such scope to the man as it does to the boy; and so his leadership, dangerous both to himself and his associates, had chiefly as the scene of its trophies the grosser and more lawless haunts of vice and dissipation.  His course through life was a sad, and, I fear, a brief one.  When that sudden crash in the commercial world took place, in which the speculation mania of 1824-25 terminated, he was, with thousands more, thrown out of employment, and, having saved not a farthing of his earnings, he was compelled, under the pressure of actual want, to enlist as a soldier into one of the regiments of the line, bound for one of the intertropical colonies.  And there, as his old comrades lost all trace of him, he too probably fell a victim, in an insalubrious climate, to old habits and new rum.

    Finding me incorrigible, I was at length left by my brother operatives to be as peculiar as I pleased; and the working portion of the autumnal months passed off pleasantly enough in hewing great stones under the branching foliage of the elm and chestnut trees of Niddry Park.  From the circumstances, however, that the stones were so great, the previous trial had been an embarrassing one; and, though too proud to confess that I cared aught about the matter, I was now glad enough that it was fairly over.  Our modern Temperance Societies—institutions which at this time had not begun to exist—have done much to shield sober working men from combinations of the trying character to which, in the generation well-nigh passed away, they were too often exposed.  There are few working parties which have not now their groups of enthusiastic Teetotallers, that always band together against the drinkers, and mutually assist and keep one another in countenance: and a breakwater, is thus formed in the middle of the stream, to protect from that grinding oppression of the poor by the poor, which, let popular agitators declaim on the other side as they may, is at once more trying and more general than the oppression which they experience from the great and wealthy.  According to the striking figure of the wise old king, "it is like a sweeping rain, which leaveth no food."  Fanaticism in itself is not a good thing; nor are there many quiet people who do not dislike enthusiasm; and the members of new sects, whether they be religious sects or no, are almost always enthusiasts, and in some degree fanatical.  A man can scarce become a vegetarian even without also becoming in some measure intolerant of the still large and not very disreputable class that eat beef with their greens, and herrings with their potatoes; and the drinkers of water do say rather strong things of the men who, had they been guests at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, would have seen no great harm in partaking in moderation of the wine.  There is a somewhat intolerant fanaticism among the Teetotallers, just as there is fanaticism amongst most other new sects; and yet, recognising it simply as strength, and knowing what it has to contend with, I am much disposed to tolerate it, whether it tolerate me or no.  Human nature, with all its defects, is a wiser thing than the mere common sense of the creatures whose nature it is; and we find in it special provisions, as in the instincts of the humbler animals, for overmastering the special difficulties with which it is its destiny to contend.  And the sort of fanaticism to which I refer seems to be one of those provisions.  A few Teetotallers of the average calibre and strength, who take their stand against the majority in a party of wild dissipated mechanics, would require a considerable amount of vigorous fanaticism to make good their position; nor do I see in ordinary men, as society at present exists, aught at once sufficiently potent in its nature, and sufficiently general in its existence, to take its place and do its work.  It seems to subsist in the present imperfect state as a wise provision, though, like other wise provisions, such as the horns of the bull or the sting of the bee, it is misdirected at times, and does harm.
 
    Winter came on, and our weekly wages were lowered immediately after Hallow-day, from twenty-four to fifteen shillings per week.  This was deemed too large a reduction; and, reckoning by the weekly hours during which, on the average, we were still able to work—forty-two, as nearly as I could calculate, instead of sixty—it was too great a reduction by about one shilling and ninepence.  I would, however, in the circumstances, have taken particular care not to strike work for an advance.  I knew that three-fourths of the masons about town—quite as improvident as the masons of our own party—could not live on their resources for a fortnight, and had no general fund to sustain them; and further, that many of the master-builders were not very urgently desirous to press on their work throughout the winter.  And so, when, on coming to the work-shed on the Monday morning after the close of our first fortnight on the reduced scale, I found my comrades gathered in front of it in a group, and learned that there was a grand strike all over the district, I received the intelligence with as little of the enthusiasm of the "independent associated mechanic" as possibly may be.  "You are in the right in your claims," I said to Charles; "but you have taken a bad time for urging them, and will be beaten to a certainty.  The masters are much better prepared for a strike than you are.  How, may I ask, are you yourself provided with the sinews of war?"  "Very ill indeed," said Charles, scratching his head; "if the masters don't give in before Saturday, it's all up with me; but never mind; let us have one day's fun: there's to be a grand meeting at Brunts-field Links; let us go in as a deputation from the country masons, and make a speech about our rights and duties; and then, if we see matters going very far wrong, we can just step back again, and begin work to-morrow."  "Bravely resolved," I said: "I shall go with you by all means, and take notes of your speech."  We marched into town, about sixteen in number; and, on joining the crowd already assembled on the Links, were recognised, by the deep red hue of our clothes and aprons, which differed considerably from that borne by workers in the paler Edinburgh stone, as a reinforcement from a distance, and were received with loud cheers.  Charles, however, did not make his speech: the meeting which was about eight hundred strong, seemed fully in the possession of a few crack orators, who spoke with a fluency to which he could make no pretensions; and so he replied to the various calls from among his comrades of "Cha, Cha," by assuring them that he could not catch the eye of the gentleman in the chair.  The meeting had, of course, neither chair nor chairman; and after a good deal of idle speech-making which seemed to satisfy the speakers themselves remarkably well, but which at least some of their auditory regarded as nonsense, we found that the only motion on which we could harmoniously agree was a motion for an adjournment.  And so we adjourned till the evening, fixing as our place of meeting one of the humbler halls of the city.

    My comrades proposed that we should pass the time until the hour of meeting in a public-house; and, desirous of securing a glimpse of the sort of enjoyment for which they sacrificed so much, I accompanied them.  Passing not a few more inviting-looking places, we entered a low tavern in the upper part of the Canongate, kept in an old half-ruinous building, which has since disappeared.  We passed on through a narrow passage to a low-roofed room in the centre of the erection, into which the light of day never penetrated, and in which the gas was burning dimly in a close sluggish atmosphere, rendered still more stifling by tobacco-smoke, and a strong smell of ardent spirits.  In the middle of the crazy floor there was a trap-door which lay open at the time; and a wild combination of sounds, in which the yelping of a dog, and a few gruff voices that seemed cheering him on, were most noticeable, rose from the apartment below.  It was customary at this time for dram-shops to keep badgers housed in long narrow boxes, and for working men to keep dogs; and it was part of the ordinary sport of such places to set the dogs to unhouse the badgers.  The wild sport Scott describes in his "Guy Mannering," as pursued by Dandy Dinmont and his associates among the Cheviots, was extensively practised twenty-nine years ago amid the dingier haunts of the High Street and the Canongate.  Our party, like most others, had its dog—a repulsive-looking brute, with an earth-directed eye, as if he carried about with him an evil conscience; and my companions were desirous of getting his earthing ability tested upon the badger of the establishment; but on summoning the tavern-keeper, we were told that the party below had got the start of us: their dog was as we might hear, "just drawing the badger; and before our dog could be permitted to draw him, the poor brute would require to get an hour's rest."  I need scarce say that the hour was spent in hard drinking in that stagnant atmosphere; and we then all descended through the trap-door, by means of a ladder, into a bare-walled dungeon, dark and damp, and where the pestiferous air smelt like that of a burial vault.  The scene which followed was exceedingly repulsive and brutal—nearly as much so as some of the scenes furnished by those otter hunts in which the aristocracy of the country delight occasionally to indulge.  Amid shouts and yells, the badger, with the blood of his recent conflict still fresh upon him, was again drawn to the box mouth; and the party returning satisfied to the apartment above, again betook themselves to hard drinking.  In a short time the liquor began to tell, not first, as might be supposed, on our younger men, who were mostly tall, vigorous fellows, in the first flush of their full strength, but on a few of the middle-aged workmen, whose constitutions seemed undermined by a previous course of dissipation and debauchery.  The conversation became very loud, very involved, and, though highly seasoned with emphatic oaths, very insipid; and leaving with Cha—who seemed somewhat uneasy that my eye should be upon their meeting in its hour of weakness—money enough to clear off my share of the reckoning, I stole out to the King's Park, and passed an hour to better purpose among the trap rocks than I could possibly have spent it beside the trap-door.  Of that tavern party, I am not aware that a single individual save the writer is now living: its very dog did not live out half his days.  His owner was alarmed one morning, shortly after this time, by the intelligence that a dozen of sheep had been worried during the night on a neighbouring farm, and that a dog very like his had been seen prowling about the fold; but in order to determine the point, he would be visited, it was added, in the course of the day, by the shepherd and a law-officer.  The dog meanwhile, however, conscious of guilt—for dogs do seem to have consciences in such matters—was nowhere to be found, though, after the lapse of nearly a week, he again appeared at the work; and his master, slipping a rope round his neck, brought him to a deserted coal-pit half-filled with water, that opened in an adjacent field, and, flinging him in, left the authorities no clue by which to establish his identity with the robber and assassin of the fold.

    I had now quite enough of the strike; and, instead of attending the evening meeting, passed the night with my friend William Ross.  Curious to know, however, whether my absence had been observed by my brother workmen, I asked Cha, when we next met, "what he thought of our meeting?"  "Gude sake!" he replied, "let that flee stick to the wa'!  We got upon the skuff [105] after you left us, and grew deaf to time and so not one of us has seen the meeting yet."  I learned, however, that, though somewhat reduced in numbers, it had been very spirited and energetic, and had resolved on nailing the colours to the mast; but in a few mornings subsequent, several of the squads returned to work on their master's terms, and all broke down in about a week after.  Contrary to what I should have expected from my previous knowledge of him, I found that my friend William Ross took a warm interest in strikes and combinations, and was much surprised at the apathy which I manifested on this occasion; nay, that he himself, as he told me, actually officiated as clerk for a combined society of housepainters, and entertained sanguine hopes regarding the happy influence which the principle of union was yet to exercise on the status and comfort of the working man.  There are no problems more difficult than those which speculative men sometimes attempt solving, when they set themselves to predict how certain given characters would act in certain given circumstances.  In what spirit, it has been asked, would Socrates have listened to the address of Paul on Mars Hill, had he lived a few ages later? and what sort of a statesman would Robert Burns have made?  I cannot answer either question; but this I know, that from my intimate acquaintance with the retiring, unobtrusive character of my friend in early life, I should have predicted that he would have taken no interest whatever in strikes or combinations; and I was now surprised to find the case otherwise.  And he, on the other hand, equally intimate with my comparatively wild boyhood, and my influence among my schoolfellows, would have predicted that I should have taken a very warm interest in such combinations, mayhap as a ringleader; at all events, as an energetic, influential member; and he was now not a little astonished to see me keeping aloof from them, as things of no account or value.  I believe, however, we were both acting in character.  Lacking my obstinacy, he had in some degree yielded on first coming to the capital, to the tyranny of his brother workmen; and, becoming one of themselves, and identifying his interest with theirs, his talents and acquirements had recommended him to an office of trust among them; whereas I, stubbornly battling, like Harry of the Wynd, "for my own hand," would not stir a finger in assertion of the alleged rights of fellows who had no respect for the rights which were indisputably mine.

    I may here mention, that this first year of the building mania was also, the first in the present century, of those great strikes among workmen, of which the public has since heard and seen so much.  Up till this time, combination among operatives for the purpose of raising the rate of wages had been a crime punishable by law; and though several combinations and trade unions did exist, open strikes, which would have been a too palpable manifestation of them to be tolerated, could scarce be said ever to take place.  I saw enough at the period to convince me, that though the right of combination, abstractly considered, is just and proper, the strikes which would result from it as consequences would be productive of much evil, and little good; and in an argument with my friend William on the subject, I ventured to assure him that his house-painter's union would never benefit the operative house-painters as a class, and urged him to give up his clerkship.  "There is a want," I said, "of true leadership among our operatives in these combinations.  It is the wilder spirits that dictate the conditions; and, pitching their demands high, they begin usually by enforcing acquiescence in them on the quieter and more moderate among their companions.  They are tyrants to their fellows ere they come into collision with their masters, and have thus an enemy in the camp, not unwilling to take advantage of their seasons of weakness, and prepared to rejoice, though secretly mayhap, in their defeats and reverses.  And further, their discomfiture will be always quite certain enough when seasons of depression come, from the circumstance that, fixing their terms in prosperous times, they will fix them with reference rather to their present power of enforcing them, than to that medium line of fair and equal adjustment on which a conscientious man could plant his foot and make a firm stand.  Men such as you, able and ready to work in behalf of these combinations, will of course get the work to do, but you will have little or no power given you in their direction; the direction will be apparently in the hands of a few fluent gabbers; and yet even they will not be the actual directors—they will be but the exponents and voices of the general mediocre sentiment and inferior sense of the mass as a whole, and acceptable only so long as they give utterance to that; and so, ultimately, exceedingly little will be won in this way for working men.  It is well that they should be allowed to combine, seeing that combination is permitted to those who employ them; but until the majority of our working men of the south become very different from what they now are—greatly wiser and greatly better—there will be more lost than gained by their combinations.  According to the circumstances of the time and season, the current will be at one period running in their favour against the masters, and at another in favour of the masters against them; there will be a continual ebb and flow, like that of the sea, but no general advance; and the sooner that the like of you and I get out of the rough conflict and jostle of the tideway, and set ourselves to labour apart on our own internal resources, it will be all the better for us."  William, however, did not give up his clerkship; and I daresay the sort of treatment which I had received at the hands of my fellow-workmen made me express myself rather strongly on the subject; but the actual history of the numerous strikes and combinations which have taken place during the quarter of a century and more which has since intervened, is of a kind not in the least suited to modify my views.  There is a want of judicious leadership among our working men; and such of the autobiographies of the class as are able and interesting enough to obtain a hearing for their authors show, I am inclined to think, how this takes place.  Combination is first brought to bear among them against the men, their fellows, who have vigour enough of intellect to think and act for themselves; and such always is the character of the born leader; these true leaders are almost always forced into the opposition; and thus separating between themselves and the men fitted by nature to render them formidable, they fall under the direction of mere chatterers and stump orators, which is in reality no direction at all.  The author of the "Working Man's Way in the World"—evidently a very superior man—had, he tells us, to quit at one time his employment, overborne by the senseless ridicule of his brother workmen.  Somerville states in his Autobiography, that, both as a labouring man and a soldier, it was from the hands of his comrades that—save in one memorable instance—he had experienced all the tyranny and oppression of which he had been the victim.  Nay, Benjamin Franklin himself was deemed a much more ordinary man in the printing-house in Bartholomew Close, where he was teased and laughed at as the Water-American, than in the House of Representatives, the Royal Society, or the Court of France.  The great Printer, though recognised by accomplished politicians as a profound statesman, and by men of solid science as "the most rational of the philosophers," was regarded by his poor brother compositors as merely an odd fellow, who did not conform to their drinking usages, and whom it was therefore fair to tease and annoy as a contemner of the sacrament of the chapel. [106]  The life of my friend was, however, pitched on a better and higher tone than that of most of his brother unionists.  It was intellectual and moral, and its happier hours were its hours of quiet self-improvement, when, throwing himself on the resources within, he forgot for the time the unions and combinations that entailed upon him much troublesome occupation, but never did him any service.  I regretted, however, to find that a distrust of his own powers was still growing upon him, and narrowing his circle of enjoyment.  On asking him whether he still amused himself with his flute, he turned, after replying with a brief "O no!" to a comrade with whom he had lived for years, and quietly said to him, by way of explaining the question, "Robert, I suppose you don't know I was once a grand flute-player!"  And sure enough Robert did not know.  He had given up, too, his water-colour drawing, in which his taste was decidedly fine; and even in oils, with which he still occasionally engaged himself, instead of casting himself full on nature, as at an earlier period, he had become a copyist of the late Rev. Mr Thomson of Duddingstone, at that time in the full glow of his artistic reputation; nor could I see that he copied him well.  I urged and remonstrated but to no effect.  "Ah, Miller," he has said, "what matters it how I amuse myself?  You have stamina in you, and will force your way; but I want strength: the world will never hear of me."  That overweening conceit which seems but natural to the young man as a playful disposition to the kitten, or a soft and timid one to the puppy, often assumes a ridiculous, and oftener still an unamiable, aspect.  And yet, though it originates many very foolish things, it seems to be in itself, like the fanaticism of the Teetotallers, a wise provision, which, were it not made by nature, would leave most minds without spring enough to effect, with the required energy, the movements necessary to launch them fairly into busy or studious life.  The sobered man of mature age who has learned pretty correctly to take the measure of himself, has usually acquired both habits and knowledge that assist him in urging his onward way, and the moving force of necessity always presses him onward from behind; but the exhilarating conviction of being born to superior parts, and to do something astonishingly clever, seems necessary to the young man; and when I see it manifesting itself, if not very foolishly or very offensively, I usually think of my poor friend William Ross, who was unfortunate enough wholly to want it; and extend to it a pretty ample toleration.  Ultimately my friend gave up painting, and restricted himself to the ornamental parts of his profession, of which he became very much a master.  In finishing a ceiling in oils, upon which be had represented in bold relief some of the ornately sculptured foliage of the architect, the gentleman for whom he wrought (the son-in-law of a distinguished artist, and himself an amateur), called on his wife to admire the truthful and delicate shading of their house-painter.  It was astonishing, he said, and perhaps somewhat humiliating to see the mere mechanic trenching so decidedly on the province of the artist.  Poor William Ross, however, was no mere mechanic; and even artists might have regarded his encroachments on their proper domain with more of complacency than humiliation.  One of the last pieces of work upon which he was engaged was a gorgeously painted ceiling in the palace of some Irish Bishop, which he had been sent all the way from Glasgow to finish.

    Every society, however homely, has its picturesque points, nor did even that of the rather commonplace hamlet in which I resided at this time wholly want them.  There was a decaying cottage a few doors away, that had for its inmate a cross-tempered old crone, who strove hard to set up as a witch, but broke down from sheer want of the necessary capital.  She had been one of the underground workers at Niddry in her time; and, being as little intelligent as most of the other collier-women of the neighbourhood, she had not the necessary witch-lore to adapt her pretensions to the capacity of belief which obtained in the district.  And so the general estimate formed regarding her was that to which our landlady occasionally gave expression.  "Donnart auld bodie," Peggy used to say; "though she threaps hersel' a witch she's nae mair witch than I am: she's only just trying in her feckless auld age, to make folk stand in her reverence."  Old Alie was, however, a curiosity in her way—quite malignant enough to be a real witch, and fitted, if with a few more advantages of acquirement, she had been antedated an age or two, to become as hopeful a candidate for a tar-barrel as most of her class.  Her next-door neighbour was also an old woman, and well-nigh as poor as the crone; but she was an easy-tempered genial sort of person, who wished harm to no one; and the expression of content that dwelt on her round fresh face, which, after the wear of more than seventy winters, still retained its modicum of colour, contrasted strongly with the fierce wretchedness that gleamed from the sharp and sallow features of the witch.  It was evident that the two old women, though placed externally in almost the same circumstances, had essentially a very different lot assigned to them, and enjoyed existence in a very unequal degree.  The placid old woman kept a solitary lodger—"Davie the apprentice"—a wayward, eccentric lad, much about my own age, though in but the second "year of his time," who used to fret even her temper, and who, after making trial of I know not how many other professions, now began to find that his genius did not lie to the mallet.  Davie was stage-mad; but for the stage nature seemed to have fitted him rather indifferently: she had given him a squat ungainly figure, an inexpressive face, a voice that in its intonations somewhat resembled the grating of a carpenter's saw; and, withal, no very nice conception of either comic or serious character; but he could recite in the "big bow-wow-style," and think and dream of only plays and play-actors.  To Davie the world and its concerns seemed unworthy of a moment's care, and the stage appeared the only great reality.  He was engaged, when I first made his acquaintance, in writing a play, with which he had already filled a whole quire of foolscap, without, however, having quite entered upon the plot; and he read to me some of the scenes in tones of such energy that the whole village heard.  Though written in the kind of verse which Dr Young believed to be the language of angels, his play was sad stuff; and when he paused for my approbation, I ventured to suggest an alteration in one of the speeches.  "There, Sir," said Davie, in the vein of Cambyses, "take the pen; let me see, Sir, how you would turn it."  I accordingly took the pen, and re-wrote the speech.  "Hum," said Davie, as he ran his eye along the lines, "that, Sir, is mere poetry.  What, think you, could the great Kean make of feeble stuff like that?  Let me tell you, Sir, you have no notion whatever of stage effect."  I, of course, at once acquiesced; and Davie, mollified by my submission, read to me yet another scene.  Cha, however, of whom he stood a good deal in awe, used to tease him not a little about his play.  I have heard him inquire sedulously about the development of the story and the management of the characters, and whether he was writing the several parts with a due eye to the capabilities of the leading actors of the day; and Davie, not quite sure, apparently, whether Cha was in joke or earnest, was usually on these occasions very chary of reply.

    Davie, had he but the means of securing access, would have walked in every night to the city to attend the playhouse; and it quite astonished him, he used to say, that I, who really knew something of the drama, and had four shillings a day, did not nightly at least devote one of the four to purchase perfect happiness and a seat in the shilling gallery.  On some two, or at most three occasions, I did attend the playhouse, accompanied by Cha and a few of the other workmen; but though I had been greatly delighted, when a boy, by the acting of a company of strollers that had visited Cromarty, and converted the Council House Hall into a theatre, the greatly better acting of the Edinburgh company failed to satisfy me now.  The few plays, however, which I saw enacted chanced to be of a rather mediocre character, and gave no scope for the exhibition of nice histrionic talent; nor were any of the great actors of the south on the Edinburgh boards at the time.  The stage scenery, too, though quite fine enough of its kind, had, I found, altogether a different effect upon me from the one which it had been elaborated to produce.  In perusing our fine old dramas, it was the truth of nature that the vividly-drawn scenes and figures, and the happily-portrayed characters, always suggested; whereas the painted canvas, and the respectable but yet too palpable acting, served but to unrealize what I saw, and to remind me that I was merely in a theatre.  Further, I deemed it too large a price to devote a whole evening to see some play acted which, mayhap, as a composition I would not have deemed worth the reading; and so the temptation of play-going failed to tempt me; and latterly, when my comrades set out for the playhouse, I stayed at home.  Whatever the nature of the process through which they have gone, a considerable proportion of the more intelligent mechanics of the present generation seem to have landed in conclusions similar to the one at which I at this time arrived.  At least, for every dozen of the class that frequented the theatre thirty years ago, there is scarce one that frequents it now.  I have said that the scenery of the stage made no very favourable impression upon me.  Some parts of it must however, have made a considerably stronger one than I could have supposed at the time.  Fourteen years after, when the whole seemed to have passed out of memory, I was lying ill of smallpox, which, though a good deal modified apparently by the vaccination of a long anterior period, was accompanied by such a degree of fever, that for two days together one delirious image continued to succeed another in the troubled sensorium, as scene succeeds scene in the box of an itinerant showman.  As is not uncommon, however, in such cases, though ill enough to be haunted by the images, I was yet well enough to know that they were idle unrealities, the mere effects of indisposition; and even sufficiently collected to take an interest in watching them as they arose, and in striving to determine whether they were linked, together by the ordinary associative ties.  I found, however, that they were wholly independent of each other.  Curious to know whether the will exerted any power over them, I set myself to try whether I could not conjure up a death's-head as one of the series; but what rose instead was a cheerful parlour fire, bearing-atop a tea-kettle, and as the picture faded and then vanished, it was succeeded by a gorgeous cataract, in which the white foam, at first strongly relieved against the dark rock over which it fell, soon exhibited a deep tinge of sulphurous blue, and then came dashing down in one frightful sheet of blood.  The great singularity of the vision served to freshen recollection, and I detected in the strange cataract every line and tint of the water-fall in the incantation scene in "Der Freischütz" which I had witnessed in the Theatre Royal of Edinburgh, with certainly no very particular interest, so long before.  There are, I suspect, provinces in the philosophy of mind into which the metaphysicians have not yet entered.  Of that accessible storehouse in which the memories of past events lie arranged and taped up, they appear to know a good deal; but of a mysterious cabinet of daguerreotype pictures, of which, though fast locked up on ordinary occasions, disease sometimes flings the door ajar, they seem to know nothing.


 
CHAPTER XVI.


Let not this weak, unknowing hand,
Presume thy bolts to throw.—P
OPE.


THE great fires of the Parliament Close and the High Street were events of this winter.  A countryman, who had left town when the old spire of the Tron Church was blazing like a torch, and the large group of buildings nearly opposite the Cross still enveloped in flame from ground-floor to roof-tree, passed our work-shed, a little after two o'clock, and, telling us what he had seen, remarked that, if the conflagration went on as it was doing, we would have, as our next season's employment, the Old Town of Edinburgh to rebuild.  And as the evening closed over our labours, we went in to town in a body, to see the fires that promised to do so much for us.  The spire had burnt out, and we could but catch between us and the darkened sky, the square abrupt outline of the masonry a-top that had supported the wooden broach, whence only a few hours before, Fergusson's bell had descended in a molten shower.  The flames, too, in the upper group of buildings, were restricted to the lower stories, and flared fitfully on the tall forma and bright swords of the dragoons, drawn from the neighbouring barracks, as they rode up and down the middle space, or gleamed athwart the street on groups of wretched-looking women and ruffian men, who seemed scanning with greedy eyes the still unremoved heaps of household goods rescued from the burning tenements.  The first figure that caught my eye was a singularly ludicrous one.  Removed from the burning mass but by the thickness of a wall, there was a barber's shop brilliantly lighted with gas, the uncurtained window of which permitted the spectators outside to see whatever was going on in the interior.  The barber was as busily at work as if he were a hundred miles from the scene of danger, though the engines at the time were playing against the outside of his gable wall; and the immediate subject under his hands, as my eye rested upon him, was an immensely fat old fellow, on whose round bald forehead and ruddy cheeks the perspiration, occasioned by the oven-like heat of the place, was standing out in huge drops, and whose vast mouth, widely opened to accommodate the man of the razor, gave to his countenance such an expression as I have sometimes seen in grotesque Gothic heads of that age of art in which the ecclesiastical architect began to make sport of his religion.  The next object that presented itself was, however, of a more sobering description.  A poor working man, laden with his favourite piece of furniture, a glass-fronted press or cupboard, which he had succeeded in rescuing from his burning dwelling, was emerging from one of the lanes, followed by his wife, when, striking his foot against some obstacle in the way, or staggering from the too great weight of his load, he tottered against a projecting corner, and the glazed door was driven in with a crash.  There was hopeless misery in the wailing cry of his wife—"Oh, ruin, ruin!—it's lost too!"  Nor was his own despairing response less sad:—"Ay, ay, puir lassie, its a' at an end noo."  Curious as it may seem, the wild excitement of the scene had at first rather exhilarated than depressed my spirits; but the incident of the glass cupboard served to awaken the proper feeling; and as I came more into contact with the misery of the catastrophe, and marked the groups of shivering houseless creatures that watched beside the broken fragments of their stuff, I saw what a dire calamity a great fire really is.  Nearly two hundred families were already at this time cast homeless into the streets.  Shortly before quitting the scene of the conflagration for the country, I passed along a common stair, which led from the Parliament Close towards the Cowgate, through a tall old domicile, eleven stories in height, and I afterwards remembered that the passage was occupied by a smouldering oppressive vapour, which, from the direction of the wind, could scarce have been derived from the adjacent conflagration, though at the time, without thinking much of the circumstances, I concluded it might have come creeping westwards on some low cross current along the narrow lanes.  In less than an hour after that lofty tenement was wrapt in flames, from the ground story to more than a hundred feet over its tallest chimneys, and about sixty additional families, its tenants, were cast into the streets with the others.  My friend William Ross afterwards assured me, that never had he witnessed anything equal in grandeur to this last of the conflagrations.  Directly over the sea of fire below, the low-browed clouds above seemed as if charged with a sea of blood, that lightened and darkened by fits as the flames rose and fell; and far and wide, tower and spire, and tall house-top, glared out against a background of darkness, as if they had been brought to a red heat by some great subterranean, earth-born fire, that was fast rising to wrap the entire city in destruction.  The old church of St Giles, he said, with the fantastic masonry of its pale grey tower, bathed in crimson, and that of its dark rude walls suffused in a bronzed umber, and with the red light gleaming inwards through its huge mullioned windows, and flickering on its stone roof, formed one of the most picturesque objects he had ever seen. [107]

    I sometimes heard old Dr Colquhoun of Leith preach.  There were fewer authors among the clergy in those days than now; and I felt a special interest in a living divine who had written so good a book, that my uncle Sandy—no mean judge in such matters—had assigned to it a place in his little theological library, among the writings of the great divines of other ages.  The old man's preaching days, ere the winter of 1824, were well-nigh done; he could scarce make himself heard over half the area of his large, hulking chapel, which was, however; always less than half filled; but, though the feeble tones teasingly strained the ear, I liked to listen to his quaintly attired but usually very solid theology, and found, as I thought, more matter in his discourses than in those of men who spoke louder and in a flashier style.  The worthy man, however, did me a mischief at this time.  There had been a great Musical Festival held in Edinburgh about three weeks previous to the conflagration, at which oratorios were performed in the ordinary pagan style, in which amateurs play at devotion, without ever professing to feel it; and the Doctor, in his first sermon after the great fires, gave serious expression to the conviction, that they were judgments sent upon Edinburgh, to avenge the profanity of its Musical Festival.  Edinburgh had sinned, he said, and Edinburgh was now punished; and it was according to the Divine economy, he added, that judgments administered exactly after the manner of the infliction which we had just witnessed should fall upon cities and kingdoms.  I liked the reasoning very ill.  I knew only two ways in which God's judgments could be determined to be really such—either through direct revelation from God himself, or in those cases in which they take place so much in accordance with His fixed laws, and in such relation to the offence or crime visited in them by punishment, that man, simply by the exercise of his rational faculties, and reasoning from cause to effect, as is his nature, can determine them for himself.  And the great Edinburgh fires had come under neither category.  God did not reveal that He had punished the tradesmen and mechanics of the High Street for the musical sins of the lawyers and landowners of Abercromby Place and Charlotte Square; nor could any natural relation be established between the oratorios in the Parliament House or the concerts in the Theatre Royal, and the conflagrations opposite the Cross or at the top of the Tron Church steeple.  All that could be proven in the case were the facts of the festival and of the fires; and the further fact, that, so far as could be ascertained, there was no visible connexion between them, and that it was not the people who had joined in the one that had suffered from the others.  And the Doctor's argument seemed to be the perilous loose one, that as God had sometimes of old visited cities and nations with judgments which had no apparent connexion with the sins punished, and which could not be recognised as judgments had not He himself told that such they were, the Edinburgh fires, of which He had told nothing, might be properly regarded—seeing that they had in the same way no connexion with the oratorios, and had wrought no mischief to the people who had patronized the oratorios—as special judgments on the oratorios.  The good old Papist had said, "I believe because it is impossible."  What the Doctor in this instance seemed to say was, "I believe because it is not in the least likely."  If, I argued, Dr Colquhoun's own house and library had been burnt, he would no doubt very properly have deemed the infliction a great trial to himself; but on what principle could he have further held that it was not only a trial to himself, but also a judgment on his neighbour?  If we must now believe that the falling of the tower of Siloam was a special visitation of the sins of the poor men whom it crushed, how, or on what grounds, are we to believe that it was a special visitation on the sins of the men whom it did not in the least injure?  I fear I remembered Dr Colquhoun's remarks on the fire better than aught else I ever heard from him; nay, I must add, that nothing had I ever found in the writings of the sceptics that had a worse effect on my mind; and I now mention the circumstance to show how sober in applications of the kind, in an age like the present, a theologian should be.  It was some time ere I forgot the ill savour of that dead fly; and it was to beliefs of a serious and very important class that it served for a time to impart its own doubtful character.

    But from the minister whose chapel I oftenest attended, I was little in danger of having my beliefs unsettled by reasoning, of this stumbling cast.  "Be sure," said both my uncles, as I was quitting Cromarty for the south, "be sure you go and hear Dr. M'Crie." [108]   And so Dr M'Crie I did go and hear; and not once or twice, but often.  The biographer of Knox—to employ the language in which Wordsworth describes the humble hero of the "Excursion"—


                                                          was a man
Whom no one could have passed without remark.


And on first attending his church, I found that I had unwittingly seen him before, and that without remark I had not passed him.  I had extended one of my usual evenings walks, shortly after commencing work at Niddry, in the direction of the southern suburb of Edinburgh, and was sauntering through one of the green lanes of Liberton, when I met a gentleman whose appearance at once struck me.  He was a singularly erect, spare, tall man, and bore about him an air which, neither wholly clerical nor wholly military, seemed to be a curious compound of both.  The countenance was pale, and the expression, as I thought, somewhat melancholy; but an air of sedate power sat so palpably on every feature, that I stood arrested as he passed, and for half a minute or so remained looking after him.  He wore, over a suit of black, a brown great-coat, with the neck a good deal whitened by powder, and the rim of the hat behind, which was slightly turned up, bore a similar stain.  "There is mark about that old-fashioned man," I said to myself: "who or what can he be?"  Curiously enough, the apparent combination of the military and the clerical in his gait and air suggested to me Sir Richard Steele's story, in the "Tatler," of the old officer, who acting in the double capacity of major and chaplain to his regiment, challenged a young man for blasphemy, and after disarming, would not take him to mercy until he had first begged pardon of God upon his knees on the duelling ground, for the irreverence with which he had treated His name.  My curiosity regarding the stranger gentleman was soon gratified.  Next Sabbath I attended the Doctor's chapel, and saw the tall, spare, clerico-military looking man in the pulpit.  I have a good deal of faith in the military air, when, in the character of a natural trait, I find it strongly marking men who never served in the army.  I have not yet seen it borne by a civilian who had not in him at least the elements of the soldier; nor can I doubt that, had Dr M'Crie been a Scotch covenanter of the times of Charles II., the insurgents at Bothwell would have had what they sadly wanted—a general.  The shrewd sense of his discourses had great charms for me; and, though not a flashy, nor, in the ordinary sense of the term, even an eloquent preacher, there were none of the other Edinburgh clergy his contemporaries to whom I found I could listen with greater profit or satisfaction.  A simple incident which occurred during my first morning attendance at his chapel, strongly impressed me with a sense of his sagacity.  There was a great deal of coughing in the place, the effect of a recent change of weather; and the Doctor, whose voice was not a strong one, and who seemed somewhat annoyed by the ruthless interruptions, stopping suddenly short in the middle of his argument, made a dead pause.  When people are taken greatly by surprise they cease to cough—a circumstance on which he had evidently calculated.  Every eye was now turned towards him, and for a full minute so dead was the silence, that one might have heard a pin drop.  "I see, my friends," said the Doctor, resuming speech, with a suppressed smile "I see you can be all quiet enough when I am quiet."  There was not a little genuine strategy in the rebuke; and as cough lies a good deal more under the influences of the will than most coughers suppose, such was its effect, that during the rest of the day there was not a tithe of the previous coughing.



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