Hugh Miller: Autobiography (10)

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He who, with pocket hammer, smites the edge
Of luckless rock or prominent stone, disguised
In weather stains, or crusted o'er by nature
With her first growths—detaching by the stroke
A chip or splinter, to resolve his doubts;
And, with that ready answer satisfied,
The substance classes by some barbarous name,
And hurries on.—W

IN the course of my two visits to Miss Dunbar, I had several opportunities of examining the sand-wastes of Culbin, and of registering some of the peculiarities which distinguish the arenaceous sub-aerial formation from the arenaceous sub-aqueous one. Of the present surface of the earth, considerably more than six millions of square miles are occupied in Africa and Asia alone by sandy deserts. With but the interruption of the narrow valley of the Nile, an enormous zone of arid sand, full nine hundred miles across, stretches from the eastern coast of Africa to within a few days' journey of the Chinese frontier: it is a belt that girdles nearly half the globe;—a vast "ocean," according to the Moors, "without water." The sandy deserts of the rainless districts of Chili are also of great extent: and there are few countries in even the higher latitudes that have not their tracts of arenaceous waste. These sandy tracts, so common in the present scene of things, could not, I argued, be restricted to the recent geologic periods. They must have existed, like all the commoner phenomena of nature, under every succeeding system in which the sun shone, and the winds blew, and ocean-beds were upheaved to the air and the light, and the waves threw upon the shore, from arenaceous sea-bottoms, their accumulations of light sand. And I was now employed in acquainting myself with the marks by which I might be able to distinguish sub-aerial from sub-aqueous formations, among the ever-recurring sandstone beds of the geologic deposits. I have spent, when thus engaged, very delightful hours amid the waste. In pursuing one's education, it is always very pleasant to get into those forms that are not yet introduced into any school.

One of the peculiarities of the sub-aerial formation which I at this time detected struck me as curious. On approaching, among the sand-hills, an open level space, covered thickly over with water-rolled pebbles and gravel, I was surprised to see that, dry and hot as the day was elsewhere, the little open space seemed to have been subjected to a weighty dew or smart shower. The pebbles glistened bright in the sun, and bore the darkened hue of recent wet. On examination, however, I found that the rays were reflected, not from wetted, but from polished surfaces. The light grains of sand, dashed against the pebbles by the winds during a long series of years—grain after grain repeating its minute blow, where, mayhap, millions of grains had struck before—had at length given a resinous-looking, uneven polish to all their exposed portions, while the portions covered up retained the dull unglossy coat given them of old by the agencies of friction and water. I have not heard the peculiarity described as a characteristic of the arenaceous deserts ; but though it seems to have escaped notice, it will, I doubt not, be found to obtain wherever there are sands for the winds to waft along, and hard pebbles against which the grains may be propelled. In examining, many years after, a few specimens of silicified wood brought from the Egyptian desert, I at once recognised on their flinty surfaces the resinous-like gloss of the pebbles of Culbin; nor can I doubt that, if geology has its subaerial formations of consolidated sand, they will be found characterized by their polished pebbles. I marked several other peculiarities of the formation. In some of the abrupter sections laid open by the winds, tufts of the bent-grass (Arundo arenaria—common here, as in all sandy wastes) that had been buried up where they grew, might be distinctly traced, each upright in itself, but rising tuft above tuft in the steep angle of the hillock which they had originally covered. And though, from their dark colour, relieved against the lighter hue of the sand, they reminded me of the carbonaceous markings of sandstone of the Coal Measures, I recognised at least their arrangement as unique. It seems to be such an arrangement—sloping in the general line, but upright in each of the tufts—as could take place in only a sub-aerial formation. I observed further, that in frequent instances there occurred on the surface of the sand, around decaying tufts of the bent-grass, deeply-marked circles, as if drawn by a pair of compasses or a trainer—effects apparently of eddy winds whirling round, as on a pivot, the decayed plants; and yet further, that footprints, especially those of rabbits and birds, were not unfrequent in the waste. And as lines of stratification were, I found, distinctly preserved in the formation, I deemed it not improbable that, in cases in which high winds, had arisen immediately after tracts of wet weather, and covered with sand, rapidly dried on the heights, the damp beds in the hollows, both the circular markings and the footprints might remain fixed in the strata, to tell of their origin. I found in several places, in chasms scooped out by a recent gale, pieces of the ancient soil laid bare, which had been covered up by the sand-flood nearly two centuries before. In one of the openings the marks of the ancient furrows were still discernible ; in another, the thin stratum of ferruginous soil had apparently never been brought under the plough; and I found it charged with roots of the common brake (Pteris aquilina), in a perfect state of keeping, but black and brittle as coal. Beneath this layer of soil lay a thin deposit of the stratified gravel of what is now known as the later glacial period—the age of osars and moraines; and beneath all—for the underlying Old Red Sandstone of the district is not exposed amid the level wastes of Culbin—rested the boulder clay, the memorial of a time of submergence, when Scotland sat low in the sea as a wintry archipelago of islands, brushed by frequent icebergs, and when sub-arctic molluscs lived in her sounds and bays: A section of a few feet vertical extent presented me with four distinct periods. There was, first the period of the sand-flood, represented by the bar of pale sand; then, secondly, the period of cultivation and human occupancy, represented by the dark plough-furrowed belt of hardened soil; thirdly, there was the gravel; and, fourthly, the clay. And that shallow section exhausted the historic ages, and more; for the double band of gravel and clay belonged palpably to the geologic ages, ere man had appeared on our planet. There had been found in the locality, only a few years previous to this time, a considerable number of atone arrow-heads—some of them only partially finished, and some of them marred in the making, as if some fletcher [] of the stone age had carried on his work on the spot; and all these memorials of a time long anterior to the first beginnings of history in the island were restricted to the stratum of hardened mould.

    I carried on my researches in this-what I may term the chronological—direction, in connexion with the old coast-line, which, as I have already said, is finely developed in the neighbourhood of Cromarty on both sides of the Firth, and represented along the precipices of the Sutors by its line of deep caves, into which the sea never now enters. And it, too, pressed upon me the fact of the amazing antiquity of the globe.  I found that the caves hollowed by the surf—when the sea stood from fifteen to five-and-twenty feet above its present level, or, as I should perhaps rather say, when the land sat that much lower—were deeper, on the average, by about one-third, than those caves of the present coast-line that are still in the course of being hollowed by the waves.  And yet the waves have been breaking against the present coast-line during the whole of the historic period.  The ancient wall of Antoninus, which stretched between the Firths of Forth and Clyde, was built at its terminations with reference to the existing levels; and ere Cæsar landed in Britain, St Michael's Mount was connected with the mainland, as now, by a narrow neck of beach laid bare by the ebb, across which, according to Diodorous Siculus, [128] the Cornish miners used to drive, at low water, their carts laden with tin.  If the sea has stood for two thousand six hundred years against the present coastline—and no geologist would fix his estimate of the term lower—then must it have stood against the old line, ere it could have excavated caves one-third deeper than the modern ones, three thousand nine hundred years.  And both sums united more than exhaust the Hebrew chronology.  Yet what a mere beginning of geologic history does not the epoch of the old coast-line form!  It is but a starting-point from the recent period.  Not a single shell seems to have become extinct during the last six thousand years.  The organisms which I found deeply embedded in the soil beneath the old coast-line were exactly those which still live in our seas; and I have been since told by Mr Smith of Jordanhill, one of our highest authorities on the subject, that he detected only three shells of the period with which he was not familiar as existing forms, and that he subsequently met with all three, in his dredging expeditions, still alive.  The six thousand years of human history form but a portion of the geologic day that is passing over us: they do not extend into the yesterday of the globe, far less touch the myriads of ages spread out beyond.  Dr Chalmers had taught, more than a quarter of a century previous to this time, that the Scriptures do not fix the antiquity of the earth.  "If they fix anything," he said, "it is only the antiquity of the human species."  The Doctor, though not practically a geologist at the time, had shrewdly weighed both the evidence adduced and the scientific character of the men who adduced it, and arrived at a conclusion, in consequence, which may now be safely regarded as the final one.  I, on the other hand, who knew comparatively little about the standing of the geologists, or the weight which ought to attach to their testimony, based my findings regarding the vast antiquity of the earth on exactly the data on which they had founded theirs; and the more my acquaintance with the geologic deposits has since extended, the firmer have my convictions on the subject become, and the more pressing and inevitable have I felt the ever-growing demand for longer and yet longer periods for their formation.  As certainly as the sun is the centre of our system, must our earth have revolved around it for millions of years.  An American theologian, the author of a little book entitled the "Epoch of Creation," in doing me the honour of referring to my convictions on this subject, states, that I "betray indubitable tokens of being spell-bound to the extent of infatuation, by the foregone conclusion of" my "theory concerning the high antiquity of the earth, and the succession of animal and vegetable creations."  He adds further, in an eloquent sentence, a page and a half long, that had I first studied and credited my Bible, I would have failed to believe in successive creations and the geologic chronology.  I trust, however, I may say I did first study and believe my Bible.  But such is the structure of the human mind, that, save when blinded by passion or warped by prejudice, it must yield an involuntary consent to the force of evidence; and I can now no more refuse believing, in opposition to respectable theologians such as Mr Granville Penn, Professor Moses Stuart, and Mr Eleazer Lord, that the earth is of an antiquity incalculably vast, that I can refuse believing, in opposition to still more respectable theologians, such as St Augustine, Lactantius, and Turretine, than it has antipodes, and moves round the sun.  And further, of this, men such as the Messrs Penn, Stuart, and Lord may rest assured, that what I believe in this matter now, all theologians, even the weakest, will be content to believe fifty years hence.

    Sometimes a chance incident taught me an interesting geological lesson.  At the close of the year 1830, a tremendous hurricane from the south and west, unequalled in the north of Scotland, from at least the time of the great hurricane of Christmas 1806, blew down in a single hour four thousand full-grown trees on the Hill of Cromarty.  The vast gaps and avenues which it opened in the wood above could be seen from the town; and no sooner had it begun to take off than I set out for the scene of its ravages.  I had previously witnessed, from a sheltered hollow of the old coast-line the extraordinary appearance of the sea.  It would seem as if the very violence of the wind had kept down the waves.  It brushed off their tops as they were rising, and swept along the spray in one dense cloud, white as driving snow, that rose high into the air as it receded from the shore, and blotted out along the horizon the line between sky and water.  As I approached the wood, I met two poor little girls of from eight to ten years, coming running and crying along the road in a paroxysm of consternation; but, gathering heart on seeing me, they stood to tell that when the storm was at its worst they were in the midst of the falling trees.  Setting out for the Hill on the first rising of the wind, in the expectation of a rich harvest of withered boughs, they had reached one of its most exposed ridges just as the gale had attained to its extreme height, and the trees began to crash down around them.  Their little tear-bestained countenances still continued to show how extreme the agony of their terror had been.  They would run, they said, for a few paces in one direction, until some huge pine would come roaring down, and block up their path; when, turning with a shriek, they would run for a few paces in another; and then, terrified by a similar interruption, again strike off in a third.  At length, after passing nearly an hour in the extremest peril, and in at least all the fear which the circumstances justified, they succeeded in making their way unhurt to the outer skirts of the wood.  Bewick [129] would have found in the incident the subject of a vignette that would have told its own story.  In getting into the thick of the trees, I was struck by the extraordinary character of the scene presented.  In some places, greatly more than half their number lay stretched upon the ground.  On the more exposed prominences of the Hill, scarce a tree was left standing for acres together: they covered the slopes; tree stretched over tree like tiles on a roof, with here and there some shattered trunk whose top had been blown off, and carried by the hurricane some fifteen or twenty yards away, leaning in sad ruin over its fallen comrades.  What, however, formed the most striking, because less expected, parts of the scene, were the tall walls of turf that stood up everywhere among the fallen trees, like the ruins of dismantled cottages.  The granite gneiss of the Hill is covered by a thick deposit of the red boulder clay of the district, and the clay, in turn, by a thin layer of vegetable mould, interlaced in every direction by the tree roots, which, arrested in their downward progress by the stiff clay, are restricted to the upper layer.  And, save where here and there I found some tree snapped across in the midst, or divested of its top, all the others had yielded at the line between the boulder clay and the soil, and had torn up, as they fell, vast walls of the felted turf, from fifteen to twenty feet in length, by from ten to twelve feet in height.  There were quite enough of these walls standing up among the prostrate trees, to have formed a score of the eastern Sultan's ruined villages; and they imparted to the scene one of its strangest features.  I have mentioned in an early chapter that the Hill had its dense thickets, which, from the gloom that brooded in their recesses even at mid-day, were known to the boys of the neighbouring town as the "dungeons."  They had now fared, however, in this terrible overturn, like dungeons elsewhere in times of revolution, and were all swept away; and piles of prostrate trees—in some instances ten or twelve in a single heap—marked where they had stood.  In several localities, where they fell over swampy hollows, or where deep-seated springs came gushing to the light, I found the water partially dammed up, and saw that, were they to be left to cumber the ground as the debris of forests destroyed by hurricanes in the earlier ages of Scottish history would certainly have been left, the deep shade and the moisture could not have failed to induce a total change in the vegetation.  I marked, too, the fallen trees all lying one way, in the direction of the wind; and the thought at once struck me, that in this recent scene of devastation I had the origin of full one-half of our Scottish mosses exemplified.  Some of the mosses of the south date from the times of Roman invasion.  Their lower tiers of trunks bear the mark of the Roman axe; and in some instances, the sorely wasted axe itself—a narrow, oblong tool, somewhat resembling that of the American backwoodsman—has been found sticking in the buried stump.  Some of our other mosses are of still more modern origin: there exist Scottish mosses that seem to have been formed when Robert the Bruce felled the woods and wasted the country of John of Lorn.  But of the others, not a few have palpably owed their origin to violent hurricanes, such as the one which on this occasion ravaged the Hill of Cromarty.  The trees which form their lower stratum are broken across, or torn up by the roots, and their trunks all lie one way.  Much of the interest of a science such as geology must consist in the ability of making dead deposits represent living scenes; and from this hurricane I was enabled to conceive, pictorially, if I may so express myself, of the origin of those comparatively recent deposits of Scotland which, formed almost exclusively of vegetable matter, contain, with rude works of art, and occasionally remains of the early human inhabitants of the country, skeletons of the wolf, the bear, and the beaver, with horns of the bos primigenius [130] and bos longifrons, [131] and of a gigantic variety of red deer, unequalled in size by animals of the same species in these latter ages.

    Occasionally I was enabled to vivify in this way even the ancient deposits of the Lias, with their vast abundance of cephalopodous mollusca—belemnites, ammonites, and nautili.  My friend of the Cave had become parish schoolmaster of Nigg; and his hospitable dwelling furnished me with an excellent centre for exploring the geology of the parish, especially its Liassic deposits at Shandwick, with their huge gryphites and their numerous belemnites, of at least two species, comparatively rare at Eathie—the belemnite abreviatus and belemnite elongatus.  I had learned that these curious shells once formed part of the internal framework of a mollusc more nearly akin to the cuttle-fishes of the present day than aught else that now exists; and the cuttlefishes—not rare in at least one of their species (loligo vulgare) in the Firth of Cromarty—I embraced every opportunity of examining.  I have seen from eighteen to twenty individuals of this species enclosed at once in the inner chamber of one of our salmon-wears.  The greater number of those shoals I have ordinarily found dead, and tinged with various shades of green, blue, and yellow,—for it is one of the characteristics of the creature to assume, when passing into a state of decomposition, a succession of brilliant colours; but I have seen from six to eight individuals of their number still alive in a little pool beside the nets, and still retaining their original pink tint, freckled with red.  And these I have observed, as my shadow fell across their little patch of water, darting from side to side in panic terror within the narrow confines, emitting ink at almost every dart, until the whole pool had become a deep solution of sepia.  Some of my most interesting recollections of the cuttle-fish are associated, however, with the capture and dissection of a single specimen.  The creature, in swimming, darts through the water much in the manner that a boy slides down an ice-crusted declivity, feet foremost;—the lower or nether extremities go first, and the head behind; it follows its tail, instead of being followed by it: and this curious peculiarity in its mode of progression, though, of course, on the whole, the mode best adapted to its conformation and instincts, sometimes proves fatal to it in calm weather, when not a ripple breaks upon the pebbles, to warn that the shore is near.  An enemy appears: the creature ejects its cloud of ink, like a sharp-shooter discharging his rifle ere he retreats; and then, darting away, tail foremost, under cover of the cloud, it grounds itself high upon the beach, and perishes there.  I was walking, one very calm day, along the Cromarty shore, a little to the west of the town, when I heard a peculiar sound—a squelch, if I may employ such a word—and saw that a large loligo, fully a foot and a half in length, had thrown itself high and dry upon the beach.  I laid hold of it by its sheath or sack; and the loligo, in turn, laid hold of the pebbles, apparently to render its abduction as difficult as possible, just as I have seen a boy, when borne off against his will by a stronger than himself, grasping fast to door-posts and furniture.  The pebbles were hard and smooth, but the creature raised them very readily with his suckers.  I subjected one of my hands to its grasp, and it seized fast hold; but though the suckers were still employed, it made use of them on a different principle.  Around the circular rim of each there is a fringe of minute thorns, hooked somewhat like those of the wild rose.  In clinging to the hard polished pebbles, these were overlapped by a fleshy membrane, much in the manner that the cushions of a cat's paw overlap its claws when the animal is in a state of tranquillity; and by means of the projecting membrane, the hollow interior was rendered air-tight, and the vacuum completed: but in dealing with the hand—a soft substance-the thorns were laid bare, like the claws of a cat when stretched out in anger, and at least a thousand minute prickles were fixed in the skin at once.  They failed to penetrate it, for they were short, and individually not strong; but, acting together by hundreds, they took at least a very firm hold.

    What follows may be deemed barbarous; but the men who gulp down at a sitting half-a-hundred live oysters to gratify their taste, may surely forgive me the destruction of a single mollusc to gratify my curiosity!  I cut open the sack of the creature with a sharp penknife, and laid bare the viscera.  What a sight for Harvey, when prosecuting, in the earlier stages, his grand discovery of the circulation!  There, in the centre, was the yellow muscular heart, propelling into the transparent, tubular arteries, the yellow blood.  Beat—beat—beat:—I could see the whole as in a glass model; and all I lacked were powers of vision nice enough to enable me to detect the fluid passing through the minuter arterial branches, and then returning by the veins to the two other hearts of the creature; for, strange to say, it is furnished with three.  There in the midst I saw the yellow heart, and, lying altogether detached from it, two other deep-coloured hearts at the sides.  I cut a little deeper.  There was the gizzard-like stomach, filled with fragments of minute mussel and crab shells; and there, inserted in the spongy, conical, yellowish-coloured liver, and somewhat resembling in form a Florence flask, was the ink-bag distended, with its deep dark sepia—the identical pigment sold under that name in our colour shops, and so extensively used in landscape drawing by the limner.  I then dissected and laid open the circular or ring—like brain that surrounds the creature's parrot-like beak, as if its thinking part had no other vocation than simply to take care of the mouth and its pertinents—almost the sole employment, however, of not a few brains of a considerably higher order.  I next laid open the huge eyes.  They were curious organs, more simple in their structure than those of the true fishes, but admirably adapted, I doubt not, for the purposes of seeing.  A camera obscura may be described as consisting of two parts—a lens in front, and a darkened chamber behind; but in the eyes of fishes, as in the brute and human eye, we find a third part added; there is a lens in the middle, a darkened chamber be hind, and a lighted chamber, or rather vestibule, in front.  Now, this lighted vestibule—the cornea—is wanting in the eye of the cuttle-fish.  The lens is placed in front, and the darkened chamber behind.  The construction of the organ is that of a common camera obscura.  I found something worthy of remark, too, on the peculiar style in which the chamber is darkened.  In the higher animals it may be described as a chamber hung with black velvet—the pigmentum nigrum which covers it is of the deepest black; but in the cuttle-fish it is a chamber hung with velvet, not of a black, but of a dark purple hue—the pigmentum nigrum is of a purplish red colour.  There is something interesting in marking this first departure from an invariable condition of eyes of the more perfect structure, and in then tracing the peculiarity downwards through almost every shade of colour, to the emerald-like eye-specks of the pecten, and the still more rudimentary red eye-specks of the star-fish.  After examining the eyes, I next laid open, in all its length, from the neck to the point of the sack, the dorsal bone of the creature—its internal shell, I should rather say, for bone it has none.  The form of the shell in this species is that of a feather equally developed in the web on both sides.  It gives rigidity to the body, and furnishes the muscles with a fulcrum; and we find it composed, like all other shells, of a mixture of animal matter and carbonate of lime.  Such was the lesson taught me in a single walk; and I have recorded it at some length.  The subject of it, the loligo, has been described by some of our more distinguished naturalists, such as Kirby in his Bridgewater Treatise, as "one of the most wonderful works of the Creator"; and the reader will perhaps remember how fraught with importance to natural science an incident similar to the one related proved in the life of the youthful Cuvier.  It was when passing his twenty second year on the sea-coast, near Fiquainville, that this greatest of modern naturalists was led, by finding a cuttle-fish stranded on the beach, which he afterwards dissected, to study the anatomy and character of the mollusca.  To me, however, the lesson served merely to vivify the dead deposits of the Oolitic system, as represented by the Lias of Cromarty and Ross.  The middle and later ages of the great secondary division were peculiarly ages of the cephalopodous molluscs: their belemnites, ammonites, nautili, [132] baculites, hamites, turrilites, and scaphites, belonged to the great natural class—singularly rich in its extinct orders and genera, though comparatively poor in its existing ones—which we find represented by the cuttle-fish; and when engaged in disinterring the remains of the earlier-born members of the family—ammonites, belemnites, and nautili—from amid the shales of Eathie or the mud-stones of Shandwick, the incident of the loligo has enabled me to conceive of them, not as mere dead remains, but as the living inhabitants of primæval seas, stirred by the diurnal tides, and lighted up by the sun.

    When pursuing my researches amid the deposits of the Lias, I was conducted to an interesting discovery.  There are two great systems [133] of hills in the north of Scotland—an older and a newer—that bisect each other like the furrows of a field that had first been ploughed across and then diagonally.  The diagonal furrows, as the last drawn, are still very entire.  The great Caledonian Valley, open from sea to sea, is the most remarkable of these; but the parallel valleys of the Nairn, of the Findhorn, and of the Spey, are all well-defined furrows; nor are the mountain ridges which separate them leas definitely ranged in continuous lines.  The ridges and furrows of the earlier ploughing are, on the contrary, as might be anticipated, broken and interrupted: the effacing plough has passed over them: and yet there are certain localities in which we find the fragments of this earlier system sufficiently entire to form one of the main features of the landscape.  In passing though the upper reaches of the Moray Firth, and along the Caledonian Valley, the cross furrows may be seen branching off to the west, and existing as the valleys of Loch Fleet, of the Dornoch Firth, of the Firth of Cromarty, of the Bay of Munlochy, of the Firth of Beauly, and, as we enter the Highlands proper, as Glen Urquhart, Glen Morrison, Glen Garry, Loch Arkaig, and Loch Ell.  The diagonal system—represented by the great valley itself, and known as the system of Ben Nevis and the Ord of Caithness in our own country, and, according, to De Beamount, as that of Mount Pilate and Cot[e d'Or on the Continent—was upheaved after the close of the Oolitic ages.  It was not until at least the period of the Weald that its "hills had been formed and its mountains brought forth;" and in the line of the Moray Firth the Lias and Oolite lie uptilted, at steep angles, against the sides of its long ranges of precipice.  It is not so easy determining the age of the older system.  No formation occurs in the north of Scotland between the Lias and the Old Red Sandstone; the vast Carboniferous, Permian, and Triassic deposits are represented by a wide gap; and all that can be said regarding the older hills is, that they disturbed and bore up with them the Old Red Sandstone; but that as there lay at their bases, at the time of their upheaval, no more modern rock to be disturbed, it seems impossible definitely to fix their era.  Neither does there appear among their estuaries or valleys any trace of the Oolite deposits.  Existing, in all probability, during even the times of the Lias, as the sub-aerial framework of Oolitic Scotland—as the framework on which the Oolitic vegetables grew—no deposit of the system could of course have taken place over them.  I had not yet, however, formed any very definite idea regarding the two systems, or ascertained that they belonged apparently to a different time; and finding the Lias upheaved against the steeper sides of the Moray Firth—one of the huge furrows of the more modern system—I repeatedly sought to find it uptilted also against the shores of the Cromarty Firth—one of the furrows of the greatly more ancient one.  I had, however, prosecuted the search in a somewhat desultory manner; and as in the autumn of 1830 a pause of a few days took place in my professional labours between the completing of one piece of work and the commencement of another, I resolved on devoting the time to a thorough survey of the Cromarty Firth, in the hope of detecting the Lias.  I began my search at the granitic gneiss of the Hill, and, proceeding westwards, passed in succession, in the ascending order, over the uptilted beds of the lower Old Red Sandstone, from the Great Conglomerate base of the system, till I reached the middle member of the deposit, which consists, in this locality, of alternate beds of limestone, sandstone, and stratified clay, and which we find represented in Caithness by the extensively developed flag-stones.  And then, the rock disappearing, I passed over a pebbly beach mottled with boulders; and in a little bay not half a mile distant from the town, I again found the rock laid bare.

    I had long before observed that the rock rose to the surface in this little bay; I had even employed, when a boy, pieces of its stratified clay as slate-pencil; but I had yet failed minutely to examine it.  I was now, however, struck by its resemblance, in all save colour, to the Lias.  The strata lay at a low angle: they were composed of an argillaceous shale, and abounded in limestone nodules; and, save that both shale and nodules bore, instead of the deep Liassic grey, an olivaceous tint, I might have almost supposed I had fallen on a continuation of some of the Eathie beds.  I laid open a nodule with a blow of the hammer, and my heart leaped up when I saw that it enclosed an organism.  A dark, ill-defined, bituminous mass occupied the centre; but I could distinguish what seemed to be spines and small ichthyic cones projecting from its edges; and when I subjected them to the scrutiny of the glass, unlike those mere chance resemblances which sometimes deceive for a moment the eye, the more distinct and unequivocal did their forms become.  I laid open a second nodule.  It contained a group of glittering rhomboidal scales, with a few cerebral plates, and a jaw bristling with teeth.  A third nodule also supplied its organism, in a well-defined ichthyolite, covered with minute, finely-striated scales, and furnished with a sharp spine on the anterior edge of every fin.  I eagerly wrought on, and disinterred, in the course of a single tide, specimens enough to cover a museum table; and it was with intense delight that, as the ripple of the advancing tide was rising against the pebbles, and covering up the ichthyolitic beds, I carried them to the higher slopes of the beach, and, seated on a boulder, began carefully to examine them in detail with a common botanist's microscope.  But not a plate, spine, or scale, could I detect among their organisms, identical with the ichthyic remains of the Lias.  I had got amid the remains of an entirely different and incalculably more ancient creation.  My new-found organisms represented, not the first, but merely the second age of vertebrate existence on our planet; but as the remains of the earlier age exist as the mere detached teeth and spines of placoids, [134] which, though they give full evidence of the existence of the fishes to which they belong, throw scarce any light on their structure, it is from the ganoids of this second age that the palmontologist can with certainty know under what peculiarities of form, and associated with what varieties of mechanism, vertebral life existed in the earlier ages of the world.  In my new-found deposit—to which I soon added, however, within the limits of the parish, some six or eight deposits more, all charged with the same ichthyic remains—I found I had work enough before me for the patient study of years.


They lay aside their private cares,
To mend the Kirk and State affairs;
They'll talk o' patronage and priests,
Wi' kindling fury in their breasts;
Or tell what new taxation 's comin',
An' ferlie at the folk in Lon'on.—B

WE had, as I have already stated, no Dissenters in the parish of Cromarty.  What were known as the Haldanes' people, had tried to effect a lodgment among us in the town, but without success: in the course of several years they failed to acquire more than six or eight members; and these were not of the more solid people, but marked as an eccentric class, fond of argument, and possessed by a rage for the novel and the extreme.  The leading teachers of the party were a retired English merchant, and an ex-blacksmith, who, quitting the forge in middle life, had pursued the ordinary studies to no very great effect, and become a preacher.  And both were, I believe, good men, but by no means prudent missionaries.  They said very strong things against the Church of Scotland, in a place where the Church of Scotland was much respected; and it was observed, that while they did not do a great deal to convert the irreligious to Christianity, they were exceedingly zealous in their endeavours to make the religious Baptists.  Much to my annoyance in my younger days, they used to waylay Uncle Sandy on his return from the Hill, on evenings when I had gone to get some lessons from him regarding sand-worms, or razor-fish, or the sea-hare, and engage him in long controversies about infant baptism and Church Establishments.  The matters which they discussed were greatly too high for me, nor was I by any means an attentive listener, but I picked up enough to know that Uncle Sandy, though a man of slow speech, held stiffly to the Establishment scheme of Knox, and the defence of Presbyterianism; and it did not require any particularly nice perceptive powers to observe that both his antagonists and himself used at times to get pretty warm, and to talk tolerably loud—louder, at least, than was at all necessary in the quiet evening woods.  I remember, too, that in urging him to quit the National Church for theirs, they usually employed language borrowed from the Revelations; and that, calling his Church Babylon, they bade him come out of her, that he might not be a partaker of her plagues.  Uncle Sandy had seen too much of the world, and read and heard too much of controversy, to be out of measure shocked by the phrase; but with a decent farmer of the parish the hard words of the proselytizers did them a mischief.  The retired merchant had urged him to quit the Establishment; and the farmer had replied by asking, in his simplicity, whether he thought he ought to leave his church to sink in that way?  "Yes," exclaimed the merchant, with great emphasis; "leave her to sink to her place—the lowest hell!"  This was terrible: the decent farmer opened his huge eyes at hearing what he deemed a bold blasphemy.  The Church of which the Baptist spoke was, in Cromarty at least, the Church of the outed [135] Mr Hugh Anderson, who gave up his all in the time of the
persecution, for conscience' sake; it was the Church of Mr Gordon, whose ministry had been so signally countenanced during the period of the great revival; [136] it was the Church of devout Mr Monro, and of worthy Mr Smith, and of many a godly elder and God-fearing member who had held by Christ the Head; and yet here was it denounced as a Church whose true place was hell.  The farmer turned away, sick of the controversy; and the imprudent speech of the retired merchant flew like wildfire over the parish.  "Surely," says Bacon, "princes have need, in tender matters and ticklish times, to beware what they say, especially in those short speeches which fly about like darts, and are thought to be shot out of their secret intentions."  Princes are, however, not the only men who would do well to beware of short speeches.  The short speech of the merchant ruined the Baptist cause in Cromarty; and the two missionaries might, on its delivery, have just done, if they but knew the position to which it reduced them, what they were content to do a few years after—pack up their movables and quit the place.

    Having for years no antagonists to contend with outside the pale of the Establishment, it was of course natural that we should find opponents within.  But during the incumbency of Mr Smith—the minister of the parish for the first one-and-twenty years of my life—even these were wanting; and we passed a very quiet time, undisturbed by controversy of any kind, political or ecclesiastical.  Nor were the first few years of Mr Stewart's incumbency less quiet.  The Catholic Relief Bill was a pebble cast into the pool, but a very minute one; and the ripple which it raised caused scarce any agitation.  Mr Stewart did not see his way clearly through all the difficulties of the measure; but, influenced in part by some of his brethren in the neighbourhood, he at length made up his mind to petition against it; and to his petition, praying that no concessions should be made to the Papists, greatly more than nineteen-twentieths of the male parishioners affixed their names.  The few individuals who kept aloof were chiefly lads of an extra-liberal turn, devoid, like most extreme politicians, of the ordinary ecclesiastical sympathies of their country-folk; and as I cultivated no acquaintance with them, and was more ecclesiastical than political in my leanings, I had the satisfaction of finding myself standing, in opposition to all my friends, on the Catholic Relief measure, in a respectable minority of one.  Even Uncle Sandy, after some little demur, and an explosion against the Irish Establishment, set off and signed the petition.  I failed, however, to see that I was in the wrong.  With the two great facts of the Irish Union and the Irish Church before me, I could not petition against Roman Catholic Emancipation.  I felt, too, that were I myself a Roman Catholic, I would listen to no Protestant argument until what I held to be justice had first been done me.  I would have at once inferred that a religion associated with what I deemed injustice was a false, not a true, religion; and, on the strength of the inference, would have rejected it without further inquiry; and could I fail to believe that what I myself would have done in the circumstances, many Roman Catholics were actually doing?  And believing I could defend my position, which was certainly not an obtrusive one, and was at times assailed in conversation by my friends, in a way that showed, as I thought, they did not understand it, I sat down and wrote an elaborate letter on the subject, addressed to the editor of the Inverness Courier; in which, as I afterwards found, I was happy enough to anticipate in some points the line taken up, in his famous emancipation speech, by a man whom I had early learned to recognise as the greatest and wisest of Scottish ministers—the late Dr Chalmers.  On glancing over my letter, however, and then looking round me on the good men among my townsfolk—including my uncle and my minister—with whom it would have the effect of placing me in a more decided antagonism than any mere refusal to sign their petition, I resolved, instead of dropping it into the post office, to drop it into the fire, which I accordingly did; and so the matter took end; and what I had to say in my own defence, and in that of emancipation, was in consequence never said.

    This, however, was but the mere shadow of a controversy; it was merely a possible controversy, strangled in the birth.  But some three years after, the parish was agitated by a dire ecclesiastical dispute, which set us all together by the ears.  The place had not only its parish church, but also its Gaelic chapel, which, though on the ordinary foundation of a chapel of ease, was endowed, and under the patronage of the crown.  It had been built about sixty years previous, by a benevolent proprietor of the lands of Cromarty—"George Ross, the Scotch agent"—whom Junius ironically described as the "trusted friend and worthy confidant of Lord Mansfield;" and who, whatever the satirist may have thought of either, was in reality a man worthy the friendship of the accomplished and philosophic lawyer.  Cromarty, originally a Lowland settlement, had had from the Reformation down till the latter quarter of the last century no Gaelic place of worship.  On the breaking up of the feudal system, however, the Highlanders began to drop into the place in quest of employment; and George Ross, affected by their uncared for religious condition, built for them, at his own expense, a chapel, and had influence
enough to get an endowment for its minister from the Government.  Government retained the patronage in its own hands; and as the Highlanders consisted of but labourers and farm servants, and the workers in a hempen manufactory, and had no manner of influence, their wishes were not always consulted in the choice of a minister.  About the time of Mr Stewart's appointment, through the late Sir Robert Peel, who had courteously yielded to the wishes of the English congregation, the Gaelic people had got a minister presented to them whom they would scarcely have chosen for themselves, but who had, notwithstanding, popular points about him.  Though not of high talent, he was frank and genial, and visited often, and conversed much; and at length the Highlanders came to regard him as the very beau-idéal of a minister.  He and Mr Stewart belonged to the antagonist parties in the Church.  Mr Stewart took his place in the old Presbyterian section, under Chalmers and Thomson; while the Gaelic minister held by Drs Inglis and Cook: and so thoroughly were their respective congregations influenced by their views, that at the Disruption in 1843, while considerably more than nine-tenths of the English-speaking parishioners closed their connexion with the State, and became Free Churchmen, at least an equal proportion of the chapel Highlanders clung to the Establishment.  Curiously enough, however, there arose a controversy between the congregations at this time, in which each seemed, in relation to the general question at issue, to take the part proper to the other.

    I do not think the English congregation were in any degree jealous of the Gaelic one.  The English contained the élite of the place—all its men of property and influence, from its merchants and heritors, down to the humblest of the class that afterwards became its ten-pound franchise-holders; whereas the Gaelic people were, as I have said, simply poor labourers and weavers: and if the sense of superiority did at times show itself on the more potent side, it was only among the lowlier people of the English congregation.  When, on a certain occasion, a stranger fell asleep in the middle of one of Mr Stewart's best sermons, and snored louder than was seemly, an individual beside him was heard muttering, in a low whisper, that the man ought to be sent up to "the Gaelic," for he was not fit to be among them; and there might be a few other similar manifestations; but the parties were not on a sufficiently equal level to enact the part of those rival congregations that are for ever bemoaning the shortcomings each of the other, and that in their days of fasting and humiliation have the sins of their neighbours at least as strongly before them as their own.  But if the English congregation were not jealous of the Gaelic one, the Gaelic one, as was perhaps natural in their circumstances, were, I am afraid, jealous of the English: they were poor people, they used sometimes to say, but their souls were as precious as those of richer folk, and they were surely as well entitled to have their just rights as the English people—axioms which, I believe, no one in the other congregation disputed, or even canvassed at all.  We were, however, all roused one morning to consider the case, by learning that on the previous day the minister of the Gaelic chapel had petitioned the Presbytery of the district, either to be assigned a parish within the bounds of the parish of Cromarty, or to have the charge erected into a collegiate one, and his half of it, of course, rendered co-ordinate with Mr Stewart's.

    The English people were at once very angry, and very much alarmed.  As the two congregations were scattered all over the same piece of territory, it would be impossible to cut it up into two parishes, without separating between a portion of Mr Stewart's people and their minister, and making them the parishioners of a man whom they had not yet learned to like; and, on the other hand, by erecting the charge into a collegiate one, the minister whom they had not yet learned to like would acquire as real a jurisdiction over them as that possessed by the minister of their choice.  Or—as the case was somewhat quaintly stated by one of themselves—by the one alternative "the Gaelic man would become whole minister to the half of them, and by the other, half minister to the whole of them."  And so they determined on making a vigorous resistance.  Mr Stewart himself, too, liked the move of his neighbour the Gaelic minister exceedingly ill.  He was not desirous, he said, to have a colleague thrust upon him in his charge, to keep him right on Moderate principles—a benefit for which he had not bargained when he accepted the presentation; nor yet, as the other alternative, did he wish to see his living child, the parish, divided into two, and the half of it given to the strange claimant that was not its parent.  There was another account, too, on which he disliked the movement: the two great parties in the Church were equally represented at this time in the Presbytery;—they had their three members a-piece; and he, of course, saw that the introduction of the Gaelic minister into it would have the effect of casting the balance in favour of Moderatism.  And so, as both minister and people were equally in earnest, counter petitions were soon got up, praying the Presbytery, as a first step in the process, that copies of the Gaelic minister's document should be served upon them.  The Presbytery decided, in terms of their prayer, that copies should be served; and the Gaelic minister, on the somewhat extreme ground that the people had no right to appear in the business at all, appealed to the General Assembly.  And so the people had next to petition that venerable court in behalf of what they deemed their imperilled rights; while the Gaelic congregation, under the full impression that their overbearing English neighbours were treating them "as if they had no souls," got up a counter petition, virtually to the effect that the parish might be either cut in two, and the half of it given to their minister, or that he might be at least made second minister to every man in it.  The minister, however, finding at the General Assembly that the ecclesiastical party on whose support he had relied were opposed in toto to the erection of chapels of ease into regular charges, and that the peculiarities of the case were such as to cut off all chance of his being supported by their opponents, fell from his appeal, and the case was never called in Court.  Some of our Cromarty fisher-folk, who were staunch on the English side, though they could not quite see the merits, had rather a different version of the business.  "The Gaelic man had no sooner entered the Kirk o' the General Assembly," they said, "than the maister of the Assembly rose, and, speaking very rough, said, 'Ye contrarious rascal, what tak's you here?  What are ye aye troubling that decent lad Mr Stewart for?  I'm sure he's no meddling wi' you!  Get about your business, ye contrarious rascal!' "

    I took an active part in this controversy; wrote petitions and statements for my brother parishioners, with paragraphs for the local newspapers, and a long letter for the Caledonian Mercury, in reply to a tissue of misrepresentation which appeared in that print, from the pen of one of the Gaelic minister's legal agents; and, finally, I replied to a pamphlet by the same hand, which, though miserable as a piece of writing—for it resembled no other composition ever produced, save, mayhap, a very badly-written law paper—contained statements which I deemed it necessary to meet.  And such were my first attempts in the rough field of ecclesiastical controversy—a field into which inclination would never have led me, but which has certainly lain very much in my way, and in which I have spent many a laborious hour.  My first pieces were rather stiffly written, somewhat on the perilous model of Junius; but as it was hardly possible to write as ill as my opponent, I could appeal to even his friends whether it was quite right of him to call me illiterate and untaught, in prose so much worse than my own.  Chiefly by getting the laughers now and then on my side, I succeeded in making him angry; and he replied to my jokes by calling names—a phrase, by the way, which, forgetting his Watts' Hymns, and failing to consult his Johnson, he characterized as not English.  I was, he said, a "shallow, pretending ninny; " an "impudent illiterate lad;" "a fanatic" and a "frantic person;" the "low underling of a faction," and "Peter the Hermit;" and, finally, as the sum-total of the whole he assured me that I stood in his "estimation the most ignoble and despised in the whole range of the human species."  This was frightful! but I not only outlived it all, but learned, I fear, after in this way first tasting blood, to experience a rather too keen delight in the anger of an antagonist.  I may add, that when, some two or three years after the period of this controversy, the General Assembly admitted what were known as the Parliamentary ministers, and the ministers of chapels of ease, to a seat in the church courts, neither my townsman nor myself saw aught to challenge in the arrangement.  It contained none of the elements which had provoked our hostility in the Cromarty chapel case: it did not make over the people of one minister to the charge of another, whom they would never have chosen for themselves; but, without encroaching on popular rights, equalized, on the Presbyterian scheme, the standing of ministers and the claims of congregations.

    The next matter which engaged my townsfolk was a considerably more serious one.  When, in 1831, cholera first threatened the shores of Britain, the Bay of Cromarty was appointed by Government one of the quarantine ports; and we became familiar with the sight, at first deemed sufficiently startling, of fleets of vessels lying in the upper roadstead, with the yellow flag waving from their mast-tops.  The disease, however, failed to find its way ashore; and, when, in the summer of the following year, it was introduced into the north of Scotland, it went stalking around the town and parish for several months, without visiting either.  It greatly more than decimated the villages of Portmahomak and Inver, and bore heavily on the parishes of Nigg and Urquhart, with the towns of Inverness, Nairn, Avoch, Dingwall, and Rosemarkie; in fine, the quarantine seaport town that seemed at first to be most in danger from the disease, appeared latterly to be almost the only place of any size in the locality exempted from its ravages.  It approached, however, alarmingly near.  The opening of the Cromarty Firth is little more than a mile across; a glass of the ordinary power enables one to count every pane in the windows of the dwellings that mottle its northern shore, and to distinguish their inhabitants; and yet among these dwellings cholera was raging; and we could see, in at least one instance, a dead body borne forth by two persons on a hand-barrow, and buried in a neighbouring sand-bank.  Stories, too, of the sad fate of individuals with whom the townsfolk were acquainted, and who had resided in well-known localities, told among them with powerful effect.  Such was the general panic in the infected places, that the bodies of the dead were no longer carried to the churchyard, but huddled up in solitary holes and corners; and the pictures suggested to the fancy, of familiar faces lying uncoffined in the ground beside some lonely wood, or in some dark morass or heathy moor, were fraught to many with a terror stronger than that of death.  We knew that the corpse of a young robust fisherman, who used occasionally to act as one of the Cromarty ferrymen, and with whose appearance, in consequence, every one was familiar, lay festering in a sand-bank; that the iron frame of a brawny blacksmith was decomposing in a mossy hole beside a thorn-bush; that half the inhabitants of the little fishing village of Inver were strewn in shallow furrows along the arid waste which surrounded their dwellings; that houses divested of their tenants, and become foul dens of contagion, had been set on fire and burnt to the ground; and that around the infected fishing-hamlets of Hilton and Balintore the country-people had drawn a sort of barriére sanitaire, and cooped up within the limits of their respective villages the wretched inhabitants.  And in the general consternation—a consternation much more extreme than that evinced when the disease actually visited the place—it was asked by the townsfolk whether they ought not so long as the place remained uninfected to draw a similar cordon round themselves.  A public meeting was accordingly held, to deliberate on the best means of shutting themselves in; and at the meeting almost all the adult male inhabitants attended, with the exception of the gentlemen in the commission of the peace, and the town officials, who, though quite prepared to wink hard at our irregularities, failed to see that, on any grounds tenable in the eye of the law, they themselves could take a share in them.

    Our meeting at first threatened to be stormy.  The extra Liberals, who, in the previous ecclesiastical struggle, had taken part to a man with the Gaelic people, as they did, in the subsequent church controversy, with the Court of Session, began by an attack on the Town Justices.  We might all see now, said a Liberal writer lad who addressed us, how little these people were our friends.  Now when the place was threatened by the pestilence, they would do nothing for us; they would not even so much as countenance our meeting; we saw there was not one of them present; in short, they cared nothing at all about us, or whether we died or lived.  But he and his friends would stand by us to the last; nay, while the magistrates were evidently afraid, with all their wealth, to move in the matter, terrified, no doubt, by the prosecutions for damages which might be instituted against them were they to stop the highways, and turn back travellers, he himself, though far from rich, would be our security against all legal processes whatever.  This, of course, was very noble; all the more noble from the circumstance that the speaker could not, as the Gazette informed us, meet his own actual liabilities at the time, and was yet fully prepared, notwithstanding, to meet all our possible ones.  Up started, however, almost ere he had done speaking, a friend of the Justices, and made so angry a speech in their defence, that the meeting threatened to fall into two parties, and explode in a squabble.  I rose in the extremity, and, though unhappily no orator, addressed my townsfolk in a few homely sentences.  Cholera, I reminded them, was too evidently of neither party; and the magistrates were, I was sure, nearly as much frightened as we are.  But they really could do nothing for us.  In matters of life and death, however, when laws and magistrates failed to protect quiet people, the people were justified in asserting the natural right to protect themselves; and, whatever laws and lawyers might urge to the contrary, that right was now ours.  In a neighbouring county, the inhabitants of certain infected villages were already fairly shut up amid their dwellings by the country folk around, who could themselves show a clean bill of health; and we, if in the circumstances of these villagers, would very possibly be treated after the same manner.  And what remained to us in our actual circumstances was just to anticipate the process of being ourselves bottled in, by bottling the country out.  The town, situated on a promontory, and approachable at only a few points, could easily be guarded; and instead of squabbling about the merits of Justices of the Peace—very likely somewhat Conservative in their leanings—or of spirited Reformers who would like very well to be Justices of the Peace also, and would doubtless make very excellent ones, I thought it would be far better for us immediately to form ourselves into a Defence Association, and proceed to regulate our watches and set our guards.  My short speech was remarkably well received.  There was a poor man immediately beside me, who was in great dread of cholera, and who actually proved one of its first victims in the place—for in little more than a week after he was in his grave—who backed me by an especially vigorous Hear, hear! and the answering Hear, hears, of the meeting bore down all reply.  We accordingly at once formed our Defence Association; and ere midnight our rounds and stations were marked out, and our watches set.  All power passed at once out of the hands of the magistrates; but the worthy men themselves said very little about it; and we had the satisfaction of knowing that their families—especially their wives and daughters—were very friendly indeed both to the Association and the temporary suspension of the law, and that, on both their own account and ours, they wished us all manner of success.

    We kept guard for several days.  All vagabonds and trampers were turned back without remorse; but there was a respectable class of travellers from whom there was less danger to be apprehended; and with these we found it somewhat difficult to deal.  I would have admitted them at once; but the majority of the Association demurred;—to do that would be, according to Corporal Trim, to "set one man greatly over the head of another;" and it was ultimately agreed that, instead of at once admitting them, they should be first brought into a wooden building fitted up for the purpose, and thoroughly fumigated with sulphur and chloride of lime.  I know not with whom the expedient first originated: it was said to have been suggested by some medical man who knew a great deal about cholera.  And though, for my own part, I could not see how the demon of the disease was to be expelled by the steam of a little sulphur and chloride, as the evil spirit in Tobit was expelled by the smoke of the fish's liver, it seemed to satisfy the Association wonderfully well; and a stranger well smoked came to be regarded as safe.  There was a day at hand which promised an unusual amount of smoking.  The agitation of the Reform Bill had commenced;—a great court of appeal was on that day to hold at Cromarty; and it was known that both a Whig and Tory party from Inverness, in which Cholera was raging at the time, would to a certainty attend it.  What, it was asked, were we to do with the politicians—the formidable bankers, factors, and lawyers—who would form, we knew, the Inverness cavalcade?  Individually, the question seemed to be asked, under a sort of foreboding terror, that calculated consequences; but when the Association came to ask it collectively and to answer it in a body, it was in a bold tone, that set fear at defiance.  And so it was resolved, nem. con., that the Inverness politicians should be smoked like the others.  My turn to mount guard had come round on the previous night at twelve o'clock; but I had calculated on being off the station ere the Inverness people came up.  Unluckily, however, instead of being appointed a simple sentry, I was made officer for the night.  It was the duty assigned to me to walk round the several posts, and see that the various sentinels were keeping a smart outlook, which I did very faithfully; but when the term of my watch had expired, I found no relieving officer coming up to take my place.  The prudent man appointed on the occasion was, I feared, tiding over the coming difficulty in some quiet corner; but I continued my rounds, maugre the suspicion, in the hope of his appearance.  And as I approached one of the most important stations—that on the great highway which connects the town of Cromarty with Kessock Ferry, there was the Whig portion of the Inverness cavalcade just coming up.  The newly appointed sentinel stood aside, to let his officer deal with the Whig gentlemen, as, of course, best became both their quality and his official standing.  I would rather have been elsewhere; but I at once brought the procession to a stand.  A man of high spirit and influence—a banker, and very much a Whig—at once addressed me with a stern
"By what authority, Sir?"  By the authority, I replied, of five hundred able-bodied men in the neighbouring town, associated for the protection of themselves and their families.  "Protection against what?"  "Protection against the pestilence;—you come from an infected place."  "Do you know what you are doing, Sir?" said the banker fiercely.  "Yes; doing what the law cannot do for us, but what we have determined to do for ourselves."  The banker grew pale with anger; and he was afterwards heard to say, that had he had a pistol at the time, he would have shot upon the spot the man who stopped him; but not having a pistol, he could not shoot me; and so I sent him and his party away under an escort, to be smoked.  And as they were somewhat obstreperous by the way, and knocked the hat of one of the guards over his nose, they got, in the fumigating process, as I was sorry to learn, a double portion of the sulphur and the chloride; and came into court, to contend with the Tories, gasping for breath.  I was aware I acted on this occasion a very foolish part;—I ought to a certainty to have run away on the approach of the Inverness cavalcade; but the running away would have involved, according to Rochester, an amount of moral courage which I did not possess.  I fear, too, I must admit, that the rough tones of the banker's address stirred up what had long lain quietly enough in my veins—some of the wild buccaneering blood of John Feddes and the old seafaring Millers; and so I weakly remained at my post, and did what the Association deemed my duty.  I trust the banker did not recognise me, and that now, after the lapse of more than twenty years, he will be inclined to extend to me his forgiveness.  I take this late opportunity of humbly begging his pardon, and of assuring him, that at the very time I brought him to bay I was heartily at one with him in his politics.  But then my townsfolk, being much frightened, were perfectly impartial in smoking Whigs and Tories all alike; and I could bethink me of no eligible mode of exempting my friends from a process of fumigation which was, I daresay, very unpleasant, and in whose virtues my faith was assuredly not strong.

    When engaged, however, in keeping up our cordon with apparent success, cholera entered the place in a way on which it was impossible we could have calculated.  A Cromarty fisherman had died of the disease at Wick rather more than a month previous, and the clothes known to have been in contact with the body were burnt by the Wick authorities in the open air.  He had, however, a brother on the spot, who had stealthily appropriated some of the better pieces of dress; and these he brought home with him in a chest; though such was the dread with which he regarded them that for more than four weeks he suffered the chest to lie beside him unopened.  At length, in an evil hour, the pieces of dress were taken out, and, like the "goodly Babylonish garment" which wrought the destruction of Achan and the discomfiture of the camp, they led, in the first instance, to the death of the poor imprudent fisherman, and to that of not a few of his townsfolk immediately after.  He himself was seized by cholera on the following day; in less than two days more he was dead and buried; and the disease went creeping about the streets and lanes for weeks after—here striking down a strong man in the full vigour of middle life—there shortening, apparently by but a few months, the span of some worn-out creature, already on the verge of the grave.  The visitation had its wildly picturesque accompaniments.  Pitch and tar were kept burning during the night in the openings of the infected lanes; and the unsteady light flickered with ghastly effect on house and wall, and tall chimney-top, and on the flitting figures of the watchers.  By day, the frequent coffins, borne to the grave by but a few bearers, and the frequent smoke that rose outside the place from fires kindled to consume the clothes of the infected, had their sad and startling effect; a migration, too, of a considerable portion of the fisher population to the caves of the hill, in which they continued to reside till the disease left the town, formed a striking accompaniment of the visitation; and yet, curiously enough, as the danger seemed to increase the consternation lessened, and there was much less fear among the people when the disease was actually ravaging the place, than when it was merely stalking within sight around it.  We soon became familiar, too, with its direst horrors, and even learned to regard them as comparatively ordinary and commonplace.  I had read, about two years before, the passage in Southey's "Colloquies," in which Sir Thomas More is made to remark that modern Englishmen have no guarantee whatever, in these latter times, that their shores shall not be visited, as of old, by devastating plagues.  "As touching the pestilence," says Sir Thomas (or rather the poet in his name), "you fancy yourselves secure because the plague had not appeared among you for the last hundred and fifty years—a portion of time which, long as it may seem, compared with the brief term of mortal existence, is as nothing in the physical history of the globe.  The importation of that scourge is as possible now as it was in former times; and were it once imported, do you suppose it would rage with less violence among the crowded population of your metropolis than it did before the fire?  What," he adds, "if the sweating sickness, emphatically called the English disease, were to show itself again?  Can any cause be assigned why it is not as likely to break out in the nineteenth century as in the fifteenth?"  And, striking as the passage is, I remembered perusing it with that incredulous feeling, natural to men in a quiet time, which leads them to draw so broad a line between the experience of history, if of a comparatively remote age, or of a distant place, and their own personal experience.  In the loose sense of the sophist, it was contrary to my experience that Britain should become the seat of any such fatal and widely devastating disease as used to ravage it of old.  And yet, now that I saw as terrible and unwonted an infliction as either the plague or the sweating sickness decimating our towns and villages, and the terrible scenes described by De Foe and Patrick Walker fully rivalled, the feeling with which I came to regard it was one, not of strangeness, but of familiarity.

    When thus unsuccessfully employed in keeping watch and ward against our insidious enemy, the Reform Bill for Scotland passed the House of Lords, and became the law of the land.  I had watched with interest the growth of the popular element in the country—had seen it gradually strengthening, from the despotic times of Liverpool and Castlereagh, through the middle period of Canning and Goderich, down till even Wellington and Peel, men of iron as they were, had to yield to the pressure from without, and to repeal first the Test and Corporation Acts, and next to carry, against their own convictions, the great Roman Catholic Emancipation measure.  The people, during a season of undisturbed peace, favourable to the growth of opinion, were becoming more decidedly a power in the country than they had ever been before; and of course, as one of the people, and in the belief, too, that the influence of the many would be less selfishly exerted than that of the few, I was pleased that it should be so, and looked forward to better days.  For myself personally I expected nothing.  I had early come to see that toil, physical or intellectual, was to be my portion throughout life, and that through no possible improvement in the government of the country, could I be exempted from labouring for my bread.  From State patronage I never expected anything, and I have received from it about as much as I ever expected.

    I was employed in labouring pretty hard for my bread one fine evening in the summer of 1830—engaged in hewing with bare breast and arms, in the neighbourhood of the harbour of Cromarty, a large tombstone, which, on the following day, was to be carried across the ferry to a churchyard on the opposite side of the Firth.  A group of French fishermen, who had gathered round me, were looking curiously at my mode of working, and, as I thought, somewhat curiously at myself, as if speculating on the physical powers of a man with whom there was at least a possibility of their having one day to deal.  They formed part of the crew of one of those powerfully-manned French luggers which visit our northern coasts every year, ostensibly with the design of prosecuting the herring fishery, but which, supported mainly by large Government bounties, and in but small part by their fishing speculations, are in reality kept up by the State as a means of rearing sailors for the French navy.  Their lugger—an uncouth-looking vessel, representative rather of the navigation of three centuries ago than of that of the present day—lay stranded in the harbour beside us; and, their work over for the day, they seemed as quiet and silent as the calm evening whose stillness they were enjoying; when the letter carrier of the place came up to where I was working, and handed me, all damp from the press, a copy of the Inverness Courier, which I owed to the kindness of its editor.  I was at once attracted by the heading, in capitals, of its leading article "Revolution in France—Flight of Charles X."—and pointed it out to the Frenchmen.  None of them understood English; but they could here and there catch the meaning of the more important words, and, exclaiming " Revolution en France ! !Fuite de Charles X. ! !"—they clustered round it in a state of the extremest excitement, gabbling faster and louder than thrice as many Englishmen could have done in any circumstances.  At length, however, their resolution seemed taken: curiously enough, their lugger bore the name of "Charles X.;" and one of them, laying hold of a large lump of chalk, repaired to the vessel's stern, and by covering over the white-lead letters with the chalk, effaced the royal name.  Charles was virtually declared by the little bit of France that sailed in the lugger, to be no longer king; and the incident struck me, trivial as it may seem, as significantly illustrative of the extreme slightness of that hold which the rulers of modern France possess on the affections of their people.  I returned to my home as the evening darkened, more moved by this unexpected revolution than by any other political event of my time—brimful of hope for the cause of freedom all over the civilized world, and, in especial—misled by a sort of analogical experience—sanguine in my expectations for France.  It had had, like our own country, its first stormy revolution, in which its monarch had lost his head; and then its Cromwell, and then its Restoration, and its easy, luxurious king, who, like Charles II., had died in possession of the throne, and who had been succeeded by a weak bigot brother, the very counterpart of James VII.  And now, after a comparatively orderly revolution like that of 1688, the bigot had been dethroned, and the head of another branch of the royal family called in to enact the part of William III.  The historical parallel seemed complete; and could I doubt that what would next follow would be a long period of progressive improvement, in which the French people would come to enjoy, as entirely as those of Britain, a well-regulated freedom, under which revolutions would be unnecessary, mayhap impossible?  Was it not evident, too, that the success of the French in their noble struggle would immediately act with beneficial effect on the popular cause in our own country and everywhere else, and greatly quicken the progress of reform?

    And so I continued to watch with interest the course of the Reform Bill, and was delighted to see it, after a passage singularly stormy and precarious, at length safely moored in port.  In some of the measures, too, to which it subsequently led, I greatly delighted, especially in the emancipation of our negro slaves in the colonies.  Nor could I join many of my personal friends in their denunciation of that appropriation measure, as it was termed—also an effect of the altered constituency—which suppressed the Irish bishoprics.  As I ventured to tell my minister, who took the other side—if a Protestant Church failed after enjoying for three hundred years the benefits of a large endowment, and every advantage of position which the statute book could confer, to erect herself into the Church of the many, it was high time to commence dealing with her in her true character—as the Church of the few.  At home, however, within the narrow precincts of my native town, there were effects of the measure which, though comparatively trifling, I liked considerably worse than the suppression of the bishoprics.  It broke up the townsfolk into two portions—the one consisting of elderly or middle-aged men, who had been in the commission of the peace ere the passing of the bill, and who now, as it erected the town into a parliamentary burgh, became our magistrates, in virtue of the support of a majority of the voters; and a younger and weaker, but clever and very active party, few of whom were yet in the commission of the peace, and who, after standing unsuccessfully for the magistracy, became the leaders of a patriotic opposition, which succeeded in rendering the seat of justice a rather uneasy one in Cromarty.  The younger men were staunch Liberals, but great Moderates—the elder, sound Evangelicals, but decidedly Conservative in their leanings; and as I held ecclesiastically by the one party, and secularly by the other, I found my position, on the whole, a rather anomalous one.  Both parties got involved in law-suits.  When the Whig Members of Parliament for the county and burgh came the way, they might be seen going about the streets arm-in-arm with the young Whigs, which was, of course, a signal honour; and during the heat of a contested election, young Whiggism, to show itself grateful, succeeded in running off with a Conservative voter, whom it had caught in his cups, and got itself involved in a law-suit in consequence, which cost it several hundred pounds.  The Conservatives, on the other hand, also got entangled in an expensive law-suit.  The town had its annual fair, at which from fifty to a hundred children used to buy gingerbread, and which had held for many years at the eastern end of the town links.  Through, however, some unexplained piece of strategy on the part of the young Liberals, a market-day came round, on which the gingerbread women took their stand on a green a little above the harbour; and, of course, where the gingerbread was, there the children were gathered together; and the magistrates, astonished, visited the spot in order to ascertain, if possible, the philosophy of the change.  They found the ground occupied by a talkative pedlar, who stood up strongly for the young Liberals and the new aide.  The magistrates straightway demanded the production of his license.  The pedlar had none.  And so he was apprehended and summarily tried, on a charge of contravening the statute 55 Geo. III. cap. 71; and, being found guilty of hawking without a license, he was committed to prison.  The pedlar, backed, it was understood, by the young Liberals, raised an action for wrongous imprisonment ; and, on the ground that the day on which he had sold his goods was a fair or market-day, on which anybody might sell anything, the magistrates were cast in damages.  I liked the law-suits very ill, and held that the young Liberals would have been more wisely employed in making money by their shops and professions—secure that the coveted honours would ultimately get into the wake of the good bank-accounts—than that they should be engaged either in scattering their own means in courts of law, or in impinging on the means of their neighbours.  And ultimately I found my proper political position as a supporter in all ecclesiastical and municipal matters of my Conservative townsmen, and a supporter in almost all the national ones of the Whigs; whom, however, I always liked better, and deemed more virtuous, when they were out of office than when they were in.

    On one occasion I even became political enough to stand for a councillorship.  My friends, chiefly through the death of elderly voters and the rise of younger men, few of whom were Conservative, felt themselves getting weak in the place; and fearing that they could not otherwise secure a majority at the Council board, they urged me to stand for one of the vacancies, which I accordingly did, and carried my election by a swimming majority.  And in duly attending the first meeting of Council, I heard an eloquent speech from a gentleman in the opposition, directed against the individuals who, as he finely expressed it, "were wielding the destinies of his native town;" and saw, as the only serious piece of business before the meeting, the Councillors clubbing pennies a-piece, in order to defray, in the utter lack of town funds, the expense of a ninepenny postage.  And then, with, I fear, a very inadequate sense of the responsibilities of my new office, I stayed away from the Council board, and did nothing whatever in its behalf, with astonishing perseverance and success, for three years together.  And thus began and terminated my municipal career—a career which, I must confess, failed to secure for me the thanks of my constituency; but then, on the other hand, I am not aware that the worthy people ever seriously complained.  There was absolutely nothing to do in the councilship; and, unlike some of my brother office-bearers, the requisite nothing I did, quietly and considerately, and very much at my leisure, without any unnecessary display of stumporatory, or of anything else.


Days passed; an' now my patient steps
That maiden's walks attend;
My vows had reach'd that maiden's ear,
Ay, an' she ca'd me friend.
An' I was bless'd as bless'd can be;
The fond, daft dreamer Hope
Ne'er dream'd o' happier days than mine,
Or joys o' ampler scope.—H

I USED, as I have said, to have occasional visitors when working in the churchyard.  My minister has stood beside me for hours together, discussing every sort of subject, from the misdeeds of the Moderate divines—whom he liked all the worse for being brethren of his own cloth—to the views of Isaac Taylor on the corruptions of Christianity or the possibilities of the future state.  Strangers, too, occasionally came the way, desirous of being introduced to the natural curiosities of the district, more especially to its geology; and I remember first meeting in the churchyard in this way, the late Sir Thomas Dick Lauder; and of having the opportunity afforded me of questioning, mallet in hand, the present distinguished Professor of Humanity in the Edinburgh University, [137] respecting the nature of the cohesive agent in the non-calcareous sandstone which I was engaged in hewing.  I had sometimes a different, but not less interesting, class of visitors.  The town had its small but very choice circle of accomplished intellectual ladies, who, earlier in the century, would have been perhaps described as members of the bluestocking sisterhood; but the advancing intelligence of the age had rendered the phrase obsolete; and they simply took their place as well-informed, sensible women, whose acquaintance with the best authors was regarded as in no degree disqualifying them from their proper duties as wives or daughters.  And my circle of acquaintance included the entire class.  I used to meet them at delightful tea-parties, and sometimes borrowed a day from my work to conduct them through the picturesque burn of Eathie, or the wild scenes of Cromarty Hill, or to introduce them to the fossiliferous deposits of the Lias or the Old Red Sandstone.  And not unfrequently their evening walks used to terminate where I wrought, in the old chapel of St Regulus, or in the parish burying-ground, beside a sweet wooded dell known as the "Ladies' Walk;" and my labours for the day closed in what I always very much relished—a conversation on the last good book, or on some new organism, recently disinterred, of the Secondary or Palæozoic period.

    I had been hewing, about this time, in the upper part of my uncle's garden, and had just closed my work for the evening, when I was visited by one of my lady friends, accompanied by a stranger lady, who had come to see a curious old dial-stone which I had dug out of the earth long before, when a boy, and which had originally belonged to the ancient Castle-garden of Cromarty.  I was standing with them beside the dial, which I had placed in my uncle's garden, and remarking, that as it exhibited in its structure no little mathematical skill, it had probably been cut under the eye of the eccentric but accomplished Sir Thomas Urquhart; when a third lady, greatly younger than the others, and whom I had never seen before, came hurriedly tripping down the garden-walk, and, addressing the other two apparently quite in a flurry—"O, come, come away," she said, "I have been seeking you ever so long."  "Is this you, L—?" was the staid reply: "Why, what now?—you have run yourself out of breath."  The young lady was, I saw, very pretty; and though in her nineteenth year at the time, her light and somewhat petite figure, and the waxen clearness of her complexion, which resembled rather that of a fair child than of a grown woman, made her look from three to four years younger.  And as if in some degree still a child, her two lady friends seemed to regard her.  She stayed with them scarce a minute ere she tripped off again; nor did I observe that she favoured me with a single glance.  But what else could be expected by an ungainly, dust-besprinkled mechanic in his shirt sleeves, and with a leathern apron before him?  Nor did the mechanic expect aught else; and when informed long after, by one whose testimony was conclusive on the point, that he had been pointed out to the young lady by some such distinguished name as "the Cromarty Poet," and that she had come up to her friends somewhat in a flurry, simply that she might have a nearer look of him, he received the intelligence somewhat with surprise.  All the first interviews in all the novels I ever read are of a more romantic and less homely cast than the special interview just related; but I know not a more curious one.

    Only a few evenings after, I met the same young lady, in circumstances of which the writer of a tale might have made a little more.  I was sauntering, just as the sun was sinking, along one of my favourite walks on the Hill—a tree-skirted glade—now looking out through the openings on the ever fresh beauties of the Cromarty Firth, with its promontories, and bays, and long lines of winding shore, and anon marking how redly the slant light fell through intersticial gaps on pale lichened trunks and huge boughs, in the deeper recesses of the wood—when I found myself unexpectedly in the presence of the young lady of the previous evening.  She was sauntering through the wood as leisurely as myself—now and then dipping into a rather bulky volume which she carried, that had not in the least the look of a novel, and which, as I subsequently ascertained, was an elaborate essay on Causation.  We, of course, passed each other on our several ways without sign of recognition.  Quickening her pace, however, she was soon out of sight; and I just thought, on one or two occasions afterwards, of the apparition that had been presented as she passed, as much in keeping with the adjuncts—the picturesque forest and the gorgeous sunset.  It would not be easy, I thought, were the large book but away, to furnish a very lovely scene with a more suitable figure.  Shortly after, I began to meet the young lady at the charming tea-parties of the place.  Her father, a worthy man, who, from unfortunate speculations in business, had met with severe losses, was at this time several years dead; and his widow had come to reside in Cromarty, on a somewhat limited income, derived from property of her own.  Liberally assisted, however, by relations in England, she had been enabled to send her daughter to Edinburgh, where the young lady received all the advantages which a first-rate education could confer.  By some lucky chance, she was there boarded, with a few other ladies, in early womanhood, in the family of Mr George Thomson, the well-known correspondent of Burns; and passed under his roof some of her happiest years.  Mr Thomson—himself an enthusiast in art—strove to inoculate the youthful inmates of his house with the same fervour, and to develop whatever seeds of taste or genius might be found in them; and, characterized till the close of a life extended far beyond the ordinary term, by the fine chivalrous manners of the thorough gentleman of the old school, his influence over his young friends was very great, and his endeavours, in at least some of the instances, very successful.  And in none, perhaps, was he more so than in the case of the young lady of my narrative.  From Edinburgh she went to reside with the friends in England to whose kindness she had been so largely indebted; and with them she might have permanently remained, to enjoy the advantages of superior position.  She was at an age, however, which rarely occupies itself in adjusting the balance of temporal advantage; and her only brother having been admitted, through the interest of her friends, as a pupil into Christ's Hospital, she preferred returning to her widowed mother, left solitary in consequence, though with the prospect of being obliged to add to her resources by taking a few of the children of the town as day-pupils.

    Her claim to take her place in the intellectual circle of the burgh was soon recognised.  I found that, misled by the extreme youthfulness of her appearance, and a marked juvenility of manner, I had greatly mistaken the young lady.  That she should be accomplished in the ordinary sense of the term—that she should draw, play, and sing well—would be what I should have expected; but I was not prepared to find that, mere girl as she seemed, she should have a decided turn, not for the lighter, but the severer walks of literature, and should have already acquired the ability of giving expression to her thoughts in a style formed on the best English models, and not in the least like that of a young lady.  The original shyness wore away, and we became great friends.  I was nearly ten years her senior, and had read a great many more books than she; and, finding me a sort of dictionary of fact, ready of access, and with explanatory notes attached, that became long or short just as she pleased to draw them out by her queries, she had, in the course of her amateur studies, frequent occasion to consult me.  There were, she saw, several ladies of her acquaintance, who used occasionally to converse with me in the churchyard; but in order to make assurance doubly sure respecting the perfect propriety of such a proceeding on her part, she took the laudable precaution of stating the case to her mother's landlord, a thoroughly sensible man, one of the magistrates of the burgh, and an elder of the kirk; and he at once certified that there was no lady of the place who might not converse, without remark, as often and as long as she pleased with me.  And so, fully justified, both by the example of her friends—all very judicious women, some of them only a few years older than herself—and by the deliberate judgment of a very sensible man, the magistrate and elder—my young lady friend learned to visit me in the churchyard, just like the other ladies; and, latterly at least, considerably oftener than any of them.  We used to converse on all manner of subjects connected with the belles-lettres and the philosophy of mind, with, so far as I can at present remember, only one marked exception.  On that mysterious affection which sometimes springs up between persons of the opposite sexes when thrown much together—though occasionally discussed by the metaphysicians and much sung by the poets—we by no chance ever touched.  Love formed the one solitary subject which, from some curious contingency, invariably escaped us.

    And yet, latterly at least, I had begun to think about it a good deal.  Nature had not fashioned me one of the sort of people who fall in love at first sight.  I had even made up my mind to live a bachelor life, without being very much impressed by the magnitude of the sacrifice; but I daresay it did mean something, that in my solitary walks for the preceding fourteen or fifteen years, a female companion often walked in fancy by my side, with whom I exchanged many a thought, and gave expression to many a feeling, and to whom I pointed out many a beauty in the landscape, and communicated many a curious fact, and whose understanding was as vigorous as her taste was faultless and her feelings exquisite.  One of the English essayists—the elder Moore—has drawn a very perfect personage of this airy character (not, however, of the softer, but of the masculine sex), under the name of the "maid's husband;" and described him as one of the most formidable rivals that the ordinary lover of flesh and blood can possibly encounter.  My day-dream lady—a person that may be termed with equal propriety the "bachelor's wife,"—has not been so distinctly recognised; but she occupies a large place in our literature, as the mistress of all the poets who ever wrote on love without actually experiencing it, from the days of Cowley down to those of Henry Kirke White; and her presence serves always to intimate a heart capable of occupation, but still unoccupied.  I find the bachelor's wife delicately drawn in one of the posthumous poems of poor Alexander Bethune, as a "fair being"—the frequent subject of his day-dreams—

                     Whose soft voice
Should be the sweetest music to his ear,
Awakening all the chords of harmony;
Whose eye should speak a language to his soul,
More eloquent than aught which Greece or Rome
Could boast of in its best and happiest days;
Whose smile should be his rich reward for toil;
Whose pure transparent cheek, when press'd to his,
Should calm the fever of his troubled thoughts,
And woo his spirit to those fields Elysian—
The paradise which strong affection guards.

It may be always predicated of these bachelor's wives, that they never closely resemble in their lineaments any living woman: poor Bethune's would not have exhibited a single feature of any of his fair neighbours, the lasses of Upper Rankeillour or Newburgh.  Were the case otherwise, the dream maiden would be greatly in danger of being displaced by the real one whom she resembled; and it was a most significant event, which notwithstanding my experience, I learned by and bye to understand, that about this time my old companion, the "bachelor's wife," utterly forsook me, and that a vision of my young friend took her place.  I can honestly aver, that I entertained not a single hope that the feeling should be mutual.  On whatever other head my vanity may have flattered me, it certainly never did so on the score of personal appearance.  My personal strength was, I knew, considerably above the average of that of my fellows, and at this time my activity also; but I was perfectly conscious that, on the other hand, my good looks rather fell below than rose above the medial line.  And so, while I suspected, as I well might, that, as in the famous fairy story, "Beauty" had made a conquest of the "Beast," I had not the most distant expectation that the "Beast" would in turn, make a conquest of "Beauty."  My young friend had, I knew, several admirers—men who were younger and dressed better, and who, as they had all chosen the liberal professions, had fairer prospects than I; and as for the item of good looks, had she set her affections on even the least likely of them, I could have addressed him, with perfect sincerity, in the works of the old ballad:

Nae wonder, nae wonder, Gil Morrice,
    My lady lo'es ye weel:
The fairest part o' my body
    Is blacker than thy heel.

Strange to say, however, much about the time that I made my discovery, my young friend succeeded in making a discovery also;—the maid's husband shared on her part the same fate as the bachelor's wife did on mine; and her visits to the churchyard suddenly ceased.

    A twelvemonth had passed ere we succeeded in finding all this out; but the young lady's mother had seen the danger somewhat earlier; and deeming, as was quite right and proper, an operative mason no very fitting mate for her daughter, my opportunities of meeting my friend at conversazione or tea party had become few.  I, however, took my usual evening walk through the woods of the Hill; and as my friend's avocations set her free at the same delightful hour, and as she also was a walker on the Hill, we did sometimes meet, and witness together, from amid the deeper solitudes of its bosky slopes, the sun sinking behind the distant Ben Nevis.  These were very happy evenings; the hour we passed together always seemed exceedingly short; but, to make amends for its briefness, there were at length few working days in the milder season of which it did not form the terminal one;—from the circumstance, of course, that the similarity of our tastes for natural scenery led us always into the same lonely walks about the same delicious sun-set hour.  For months together, even during this second stage of our friendship, there was one interesting subject on which we never talked.  At length, however, we came to a mutual understanding.  It was settled that we should remain for three years more in Scotland on the existing terms; and if during that time there should open to me no suitable field of exertion at home, we should then quit the country for America, and share together in a strange land whatever fate might be in store for us.  My young friend was considerably more sanguine than I.  I had laid faithfully before her those defects of character which rendered me a rather inefficient man-at-arms for contending in my own behalf in the battle of life.  Inured to labour, and to the hardships of the bothie and the barrack, I believed that in the backwoods, where I would have to lift my axe on great trees, I might get on with my clearing and my crops like most of my neighbours; but then the backwoods would, I feared, be no place for her; and as for effectually pushing my way in the long-peopled portions of the United States, among one of the most vigorous an energetic races in the world, I could not see that I was in the least fitted for that.  She, however, thought otherwise.  The tender passion is always a strangely exaggerative one.  Lodged in the male mind, it gives to the object on which it rests all that is excellent in woman, and in the female mind imparts to its object all that is noble in man; and my friend had come to regard me as fitted by nature either to head an army or lead a college, and to deem it one of the weaknesses of my character, that I myself could not take an equally favourable view.  There was, however, one profession of which, measuring myself as carefully as I could, I deemed myself capable: I saw men whom I regarded as not my superiors in natural talent, and even possessed of no greater command of the pen, occupying respectable places in the periodical literature of the day, as the editors of Scotch newspapers, provincial, and even metropolitian, and deriving from their labours incomes of from one to three hundred pounds per annum; and were my abilities, such as they were, to be fairly set by sample before the public, and so brought into the literary market, they might, I thought, possibly lead to my engagement as a newspaper editor.  And so, as a first step in the process, I resolved on publishing my volume of traditional history—a work on which I had bestowed considerable care, and which, regarded as a specimen of what I could do as a litterateur, would, I believed, show not inadequately my ability of treating at least those lighter subjects with which newspaper editors are occasionally called on to deal.

    Nearly two of the three twelvemonths passed by, however, and I was still an operative mason.  With all my solicitude, I could not give myself heartily to seek work of the kind which I saw newspaper editors had at that time to do.  It might be quite well enough, I thought, for the lawyer to be a special pleader.  With special pleadings equally extreme on the opposite sides of a case, and a qualified judge to hold the balance between, the cause of truth and justice might be even more thoroughly served than if the antagonist agents were to set themselves to be as impartial and equal-handed as the magistrate himself.  But I could not extend the same tolerance to the special pleading of the newspaper editor.  I saw that, to many of the readers of his paper, the editor did not hold the place of a law-agent, but of a judge: it was his part to submit to them, therefore, not ingenious pleadings, but, to the best of his judgment, honest decisions.  And not only did no place present itself for me in the editorial field, but I really could see no place in it that, with the views which I entertained on this head, I would not scruple to occupy.  I saw no party cause for which I could honestly plead.  My ecclesiastical friends had, with a few exceptions, cast themselves into the Conservative ranks; and there I could not follow them.  The Liberals, on the other hand, being in office at the time, had become at least as like their old opponents as their former selves, and I could by no means defend all that they were doing.  In Radicalism I had no faith; and Chartism—with my recollection of the kind of treatment which I had received from the workmen of the south still strongly impressed on my mind—I thoroughly detested.  And so I began seriously to think of the backwoods of America.  But there was another destiny in store for me.  My native town, up till this time, though a place of considerable trade, was unfurnished with a branch bank; but on the representation of some of its more extensive traders, and of the proprietors of the neighbouring lands, the Commercial Bank of Scotland had agreed to make it the scene of one of its agencies, and arranged with a sagacious and successful merchant and ship-owner of the place to act as its agent.  It had fixed, too, on a young man as its accountant, at the suggestion of a neighbouring proprietor; and I heard of the projected bank simply as a piece of news of interest to the town and its neighbourhood, but, of course, without special bearing on any concern of mine.  Receiving, however, one winter morning, an invitation to breakfast with the future agent—Mr Ross—I was not a little surprised, after we had taken a quiet cup of tea together, and beaten over half-a-dozen several subjects, to be offered by him the accountantship of the branch bank.  After a pause of a full half-minute, I said that the walk was one in which I had no experience whatever—that even the little knowledge of figures which I had acquired at school had been suffered to fade and get dim in my mind from want of practice—and that I feared I would make but a very indifferent accountant.  I shall undertake for you, said Mr Ross, and do my best to assist you.  All you have to do at present is just to signify your acceptance of the offer made.  I referred to the young man who, I understood, had been already nominated accountant.  Mr Ross stated that, being wholly a stranger to him, and as the office was one of great trust, he had, as the responsible party, sought the security of a guarantee, which the gentleman who had recommended the young man declined to give; and so his recommendation had fallen to the ground.  "But I can give you no guarantee," I said.  "From you," rejoined Mr Ross, "none shall ever be asked."  And such was one of the more special Providences of my life; for why should I give it a humbler name?

    In a few days after, I had taken leave of my young friend in good hope, and was tossing in an old and somewhat crazy coasting vessel, on my way to the parent bank at Edinburgh, to receive there the instructions necessary to the branch accountant.  I had wrought as an operative mason, including my term of apprenticeship, for fifteen years—no inconsiderable portion of the more active part of a man's life; but the time was not altogether lost.  I enjoyed in these years fully the average amount of happiness, and learned to know more of the Scottish people than is generally known.  Let me add—for it seems to be very much the fashion of the time to draw dolorous pictures of the condition of the labouring classes—that from the close of the first year in which I wrought as a journeyman, up till I took final leave of the mallet and chisel, I never knew what it was to want a shilling; that my two uncles, my grandfather, and the mason with whom I served my apprenticeship—all working men—had had a similar experience; and that it was the experience of my father also.  I cannot doubt that deserving mechanics may, in exceptional cases, be exposed to want; but I can as little doubt that the cases are exceptional, and that much of the suffering of the class is a consequence either of improvidence on the part of the competently skilled, or of a course of trifling during the term of apprenticeship—quite as common as trifling at school—that always lands those who indulge in it in the hapless position of the inferior workman.  I trust I may further add, that I was an honest mechanic.  It was one of the maxims of Uncle James, that as the Jews, restricted by law to their forty stripes, always fell short of the legal number by one, lest they should by any accident exceed it, so a working man, in order to balance any disturbing element of selfishness in his disposition, should bring his charges for work done, slightly but sensibly within what he deemed the proper mark, and so give, as he used to express himself, his "customers the cast of the baulk."  I do think I acted up to the maxim; and that, without injuring my brother workmen by lowering their prices, I never yet charged an employer for a piece of work that, fairly measured and valued, would not be rated at a slightly higher sum than that at which it stood in my account.

    I had quitted Cromarty for the south late in November, and landed at Leith on a bleak December morning, just in time to escape a tremendous storm of wind and rain from the west, which, had it caught the smack in which I sailed on the Firth, would have driven us all back to Fraserburgh, and, as the vessel was hardly sea-worthy at the time, perhaps a great deal further.  The passage had been stormy; and a very noble, but rather unsocial fellow-passenger—a fine specimen of the golden eagle—had been sea-sick, and evidently very uncomfortable, for the greater part of the way.  The eagle must have been accustomed to motion a great deal more rapid than that of the vessel, but it was motion of a different kind; and so he fared as persons do who never feel a qualm when hurried along a railway at the rate of forty miles an hour, but who yet get very squeamish in a tossing boat, that creeps through a rough sea at a speed not exceeding, in the same period of time, from four to five knots.  The day preceding the storm was leaden-hued and sombre, and so calm, that though the little wind there was blew the right way, it carried us on, from the first light of morning, when we found ourselves abreast of the Bass, to only near Inchkeith; for when night fell, we saw the May light twinkling dimly far astern, and that of the Inch rising bright and high right a-head.  I spent the great part of the day on deck, marking, as they came into view, the various objects—hill, and island, and seaport town, of which I had lost sight nearly ten years before; feeling the while, not without some craven shrinkings, that having got to the end, in the journey of life, of one very definite stage, with its peculiar scenery and sets of objects, I was just on the eve of entering upon another stage, in which the scenery and objects would be all unfamiliar and new.  I was now two years turned of thirty; and though I could not hold that any very great amount of natural endowment was essentially necessary to the bank accountant, I knew that most men turned of thirty might in vain attempt acquiring the ability even of heading a pin with the necessary adroitness, and that I might fail, on the same principle, to pass muster as an accountant.  I determined, however, obstinately to set myself to acquire, whatever might be the result; and entered Edinburgh in something like spirits on the strength of the resolution.  I had transmitted the manuscript of my legendary work, several months before, to Sir Thomas Dick Lauder; and as he was now on terms, in its behalf, with Mr Adam Black, the well-known publisher, I took the liberty of waiting on him, to see how the negotiation was speeding.  He received me with great kindness; hospitably urged that I should live with him, so long as I resided in Edinburgh, in his noble mansion, the Grange House; and, as an inducement, introduced me to his library, full charged with the best editions of the best authors, and enriched with many a rare volume and curious manuscript.  "Here," he said, "Robertson the historian penned his last work—the Disquisition; and here," opening the door of an adjoining room, "he died."  I, of course, declined the invitation.  The Grange House, with its books, and its pictures, and its hospitable master, so rich in anecdote, and so full of the literary sympathies, would have been no place for a poor pupil-accountant, too sure that he was to be stupid, but not the less determined on being busy.  Besides, on calling immediately after at the bank, I found that I would have to quit Edinburgh on the morrow for some country agency, in which I might be initiated into the system of book-keeping proper to a branch bank, and where the business transacted would be of a kind similar to what might be expected in Cromarty.  Sir Thomas, however, kindly got Mr Black to meet me at dinner; and, in the course of the evening, that enterprising bookseller agreed to undertake the publication of my work, on terms which the nameless author of a volume somewhat local in its character, and very local in its name, might well regard as liberal.

    Linlithgow was the place fixed on by the parent bank as the scene of my initiation into the mysteries of branch banking; and, taking my passage in one of the track-boats which at that time plied on the Canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow, I reached the fine old burgh as the brief winter day was coming to a close, and was seated next morning at my desk, not a hundred yards from the spot on which Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh had taken his stand when he shot the good Regent.  I was, as I had anticipated, very stupid; and must have looked, I suppose, even more obtuse than I actually was: for my temporary superior the agent, having gone to Edinburgh a few days after my arrival, gave expression, in the head bank, to the conviction that it would be in vain attempting making "yon man" an accountant.  Altogether deficient in the cleverness that can promptly master isolated details, when in ignorance of their bearing on the general scheme to which they belong, I could literally do nothing until I had got a hold of the system; which, locked up in the ponderous tomes of the agency, for some little time eluded my grasp.  At length, however, it gradually unrolled itself before me in all its nice proportions, as one of perhaps the completest forms of "book-keeping" which the wit of man has yet devised; and I then found that the details which, when I had approached them as if from the outside, had repulsed and beaten me back, could, like the outworks of a fortress, be commanded from the centre with the utmost ease.  Just as I had reached this stage, the regular accountant of the branch was called away to an appointment in one of the joint stock banks of England; and the agent, again going into Edinburgh, on business, left me for the greater part of a day in direction of the agency.  Little more than a fortnight had elapsed since he had given his unfavourable verdict; and he was now asked how, in the absence of the accountant, he could have got away from his charge.  He had left me in the office, he said.  "What! the Incompetent?"  "O, that," he replied, "is all a mistake; the Incompetent has already mastered our system."  The mechanical ability, however, came but slowly; and I never acquired the facility, in running up columns of summations, of the early-taught accountant; though, making up by diligence what I wanted in speed, I found, after my first few weeks of labour in Linlithgow, that I could give as of old an occasional hour to literature and geology.  The proof-sheets of my book began to drop in upon me, demanding revision; and to a quarry in the neighbourhood of the town, rich in the organisms of the Mountain Limestone, and over-flown by a bed of basalt [138] so regularly columnar, that one of the legends of the district attributed its formation to the "ancient Pechts," [139] I was able to devote, not without profit, the evenings of several Saturdays.  I formed at this time, my first acquaintance with the Palæozoic [140] shells, as they occur in the rock—an acquaintance which has since been extended in some measure through the Silurian deposits, Upper and Lower; and these shells, though marked, in the immensely extended ages of the division to which they belong, by specific, and even generic variety, I have found exhibiting throughout a unique family type or pattern, as entirely different from the family type of the Secondary shells as both are different from the family types of the Tertiary and the existing ones.  Each of the three great periods of creation had its own peculiar fashion; and after having acquainted myself with the fashions of the second and third periods, I was now peculiarly interested in the acquaintance which I was enabled to commence with that of the first and earliest also.  I found, too, in a bed of trap beside the Edinburgh road, scarce half a mile to the east of the town, numerous pieces of carbonized lignite, which still retained the woody structure—probably the broken remains of some forest of the Carboniferous period, enveloped in some ancient lava bed, that had rolled over its shrubs and trees, annihilating all save the fragments of charcoal, which, locked up in its viscid recesses, had resisted the agency that dissipated the more exposed embers into gas.  I had found, in like manner, when residing at Conon-side and Inverness, fragments of charcoal locked up in the glossy vesicular stone of the old vitrified forts of Craig Phadrig and Knock Farril, and existing as the sole representatives of the vast masses of fuel which must have been employed in fusing the ponderous walls of these unique fortalices.  And I was now interested to find exactly the same phenomena among the vitrified rocks of the Coal Measures.  Brief as the days were, I had always a twilight hour to myself in Linlithgow; and as the evenings were fine for the season, the old Royal Park of the place, with its noble church, its massive palace, and its sweet lake, still mottled by the hereditary swans whose progenitors had sailed over its waters in the days when James IV. worshipped in the spectre aisle, formed a delightful place of retreat, little frequented by the inhabitants of the town, but only all the more my own in consequence; and in which I used to feel the fatigue of the day's figuring and calculation drop away into the cool breezy air, like cobwebs from an unfolded banner, as I climbed among the ruins, or sauntered along the grassy shores of the loch.  My stay at Linlithgow was somewhat prolonged, by the removal, first of the accountant of the branch, and then of its agent, who was called south to undertake the management of a newly-erected English bank; but I lost nothing by the delay.  An admirable man of business, one of the officials of the parent bank in Edinburgh (now its agent in Kirkcaldy, and recently provost of the place), was sent temporarily to conduct the business of the agency; and I saw, under him, how a comparative stranger arrived at his conclusions respecting the standing and solvency of the various customers with whom, in behalf of the parent institute, he was called on to deal.  And, finally, my brief term of apprenticeship expired—about two months in all—I returned to Cromarty; and, as the opening of the agency there waited only my arrival, straightway commenced my new course as an accountant.  My minister, when he first saw me seated at the desk, pronounced me "at length fairly caught;" and I must confess I did feel as if my latter days were destined to differ from my earlier ones, well nigh as much as those of Peter of old, who, when he was "young, girded himself, and walked whither he would, but who, when old, was girded by others, and carried whither he would not."

    Two long years had to pass from this time ere my young friend and I could be united—for such were the terms on which she had to secure the consent of her mother; but, with our union in the vista, we could meet more freely than before; and the time passed not unpleasantly away.  For the first six months of my new employment, I found myself unable to make my old use of the leisure hours which, I found, I could still command.  There was nothing very intellectual, in the higher sense of the term, in recording the bank's transactions, or in summing up columns of figures, or in doing business over the counter; and yet the fatigue induced was a fatigue not of sinew and muscle, but of nerve and brain, which, if it did not quite disqualify me for my former intellectual amusements, at least greatly disinclined me towards them, and rendered me a considerably more indolent sort of person than either before or since.  It is asserted by artists of discriminating eye, that the human hand bears an expression stamped upon it by the general character, as surely as the human face; and I certainly used to be struck, during this transition period, by the relaxed and idle expression that had on the sudden been assumed by mine.  And the slackened hands represented, I too surely felt, a slackened mind.  The unintellectual toils of the labouring man have been occasionally represented as less favourable to mental cultivation than the semi-intellectual employments of that class immediately above him, to which our clerks, shopmen, and humbler accountants belong; but it will be found that exactly the reverse is the case, and that, though a certain conventional gentility of manner and appearance on the side of the somewhat higher class may serve to conceal the fact, it is on the part of the labouring man that the real advantage lies.  The mercantile accountant or law-clerk, bent over his desk, his faculties concentrated on his columns of figures, or on the pages which he has been carefully engrossing, and unable to proceed one step in his work without devoting to it all his attention, is in greatly less favourable circumstances than the ploughman or operative mechanic, whose mind is free though his body labours, and who thus finds, in the very rudeness of his employments, a compensation for their humble and laborious character.  And it will be found that the humbler of the two classes is much more largely represented in our literature than the class by one degree less humble.  Ranged against the poor clerk of Nottingham, Henry Kirke White, and the still more hapless Edinburgh engrossing clerk, Robert Fergusson, with a very few others, we find in our literature a numerous and vigorous phalanx, composed of men such as the Ayrshire Ploughman, the Ettrick Shepherd, the Fifeshire Foresters, the sailors Dampier and Falconer—Bunyan, Bloomfield, Ramsay, Tannahill, Alexander Wilson, John Clare, Allan Cunningham, and Ebenezer Elliot.  And I was taught at his time to recognise the simple principle on which the greater advantages lie on the side of the humbler class.  Gradually, however, as I became more inured to sedentary life, my mind recovered its spring, and my old ability returned of employing my leisure hours, as before in intellectual exertion.  Meanwhile my legendary volume issued from the press, and was, with a few exceptions, very favourably received by the critics.  Leigh Hunt gave it a kind and genial notice in his Journal; it was characterized by Robert Chambers not less favourably in his; and Dr Hetherington, the future historian of the Church of Scotland and of the Westminster Assembly of Divines—at that time a licentiate of the Church—made it the subject of an elaborate and very friendly critique in the Presbyterian Review.  Nor was I less gratified by the terms in which it was spoken of by the late Baron Hume, the nephew and residuary legatee of the historian—himself very much a critic of the old school—in a note to a north-country friend.  He described it as a work "written in an English style which" he "had begun to regard as one of the lost arts."  But it attained to no great popularity.  For being popular, its subjects were too local, and its treatment of them perhaps too quiet.  My publishers tell me, however, that it not only continues to sell, but moves off considerably better in its later editions that it did on its first appearance.

    The branch bank furnished me with an entirely new and curious field of observation, and formed a very admirable school.  For the cultivation of a shrewd common sense, a bank office is one of perhaps the best schools in the world.  Mere cleverness serves often only to befool its possessor.  He gets entangled among his own ingenuities, and is caught as in a net.  But ingenuities, plausibilities, special pleadings, all that make the stump-orator great, must be brushed aside by the banker.  The question with him comes always to be a sternly naked one:—Is, or is not, Mr — a person fit to be trusted with the bank's money?  Is his sense of monetary obligations nice, or obtuse?  Is his judgment good, or to the contrary?  Are his speculations sound or precarious?  What are his resources?—what his liabilities?  Is he facile in lending the sue of his name?  Does he float on wind bills, as boys swim on bladders? or is his paper representative of only real business transactions?  Such are the topics which, in the recesses of his own mind, the banker is called on to discuss; and he must discuss them, not merely plausibly or ingeniously, but solidly and truly; seeing that error, however illustrated or adorned, or however capable of being brilliantly defended in speech or pamphlet, is sure always with him to take the form of pecuniary loss.  My superior in the agency—Mr Ross, a good and honourable-minded man, of sense and experience—was admirably fitted for calculations of this kind; and I learned, both in his behalf, and from the pleasure which I derived from the exercise, to take no little interest in them also.  It was agreeable to mark the moral effects of a well-conducted agency such as his.  However humbly honesty and good sense may be rated in the great world generally, they always, when united, bear premium in a judiciously managed bank office.  It was interesting enough, too, to see quiet silent men, like "honest Farmer Flamburgh," getting wealthy, mainly because, though void of display, they were not wanting in integrity and judgment; and clever unscrupulous fellows, like "Ephraim Jenkinson," who "spoke to good purposes," becoming poor, very much because, with all their smartness, they lacked sense and principle.  It was worthy of being noted, too, that in looking around from my peculiar point of view on the agricultural classes, I found the farmers, on really good farms, usually thriving, if not themselves in fault, however high their rents; and that, on the other hand, farmers on sterile farms were not thriving, however moderate the demands of the landlord.  It was more melancholy, but not less instructive, to learn, from authorities whose evidence could not be questioned—bills paid by small instalments, or lying under protest—that the small-farm system, so excellent in a past age, was getting rather unsuited for the energetic competition of the present one; and that the small farmers—a comparatively comfortable class some sixty or eighty years before, who used to give dowries to their daughters, and leave well-stocked farms to their sons—were falling into straitened circumstances, and becoming, however respectable elsewhere, not very good men in the bank.  It was interesting, too, to mark the character and capabilities of the various branches of trade carried on in the place—how the business of its shopkeepers fell always into a very few hands, leaving to the greater number, possessed, apparently, of the same advantages as their thriving compeers, only a mere show of custom—how precarious in its nature the fishing trade always is, especially the herring fishery, not more from the uncertainty of the fishings themselves, than from the fluctuations of the markets—and how in the pork trade of the place a judicious use of the bank's money enabled the curers to trade virtually on a doubled capital, and to realize, with the deduction of the bank discounts, doubled profits.  In a few months my acquaintance with the character and circumstances of the business men of the district became tolerably extensive, and essentially correct; and on two several occasions, when my superior left me for a time to conduct the entire business of the agency, I was fortunate enough not to discount for him a single bad bill.  The implicit confidence reposed in me by so good and sagacious a man was certainly quite enough of itself to set me on my metal.  There was, however, at least one item in my calculations in which I almost always found myself incorrect: I found I could predict every bankruptcy in the district; but I usually fell short from ten to eighteen months of the period in which the event actually took place.  I could pretty nearly determine the time when the difficulties and entanglements which I saw ought to have produced their proper effects, and landed in failure; but I missed taking into account the desperate efforts which men of energetic temperament make in such circumstances, and which, to the signal injury of their friends and the loss of their creditors, succeed usually in staving off the catastrophe for a season.  In short, the school of the branch bank was a very admirable school; and I profited so much by its teachings, that when questions connected with banking are forced on the notice of the public, and my brother editors have to apply for articles on the subject to literary bankers, I find I can write my banking articles for myself.

    The seasons passed by; the two years of probation came to a close, like all that had gone before; and after a long, and, in its earlier stages, anxious courtship of in all five years, I received from the hand of Mr Ross that of my young friend, in her mother's house, and was united to her by my minister, Mr Stewart.  And then, setting out, immediately after the ceremony, for the southern side of the Moray Firth, we spent two happy days together in Elgin; and, under the guidance of one of the most respected citizens of the place, my kind friend Mr Isaac Forsyth, visited the more interesting objects connected with the town or its neighbourhood.  He introduced us to the Elgin Cathedral;—to the veritable John Shanks, the eccentric keeper of the building, who could never hear of the Wolf of Badenoch, who had burnt it four hundred years before, without flying into a rage, and becoming what the dead man would have deemed libellous;—to the font, too, under a dripping vault of ribbed stone, in which an insane mother used to sing to sleep the poor infant, who, afterwards becoming Lieutenant-General Anderson, built for poor paupers like his mother, and poor children such as he himself had once been, the princely institution which bears his name.  And then, after passing from the stone font to the institution itself, with its happy children, and its very unhappy old men and women, Mr Forsyth conveyed us to the pastoral, semi-Highland valley of Pluscardine, with its beautiful wood-embosomed priory—one of perhaps the finest and most symmetrical specimens of the unornamented Gothic of the times of Alexander II. to be seen anywhere in Scotland.  Finally, after passing a delightful evening at his hospitable board, and meeting, among other guests, my friend Mr Patrick Duff—the author of the "Geology of Moray"—I returned with my young wife to Cromarty, and found her mother, Mr Ross, Mr Stewart, and a party of friends, waiting for us in the house which my father had built for himself forty years before, but which it had been his destiny never to inhabit.  It formed our home for the three following years.  The subjoined verses—prose, I suspect, rather than poetry, for the mood in which they were written was too earnest a one to be imaginative—I introduce, as representative of my feelings at this time: they were written previous to my marriage, on one of the blank pages of a pocket-Bible, with which I presented my future wife:


YDIA, since ill by sordid gift
    Were love like mine express'd,
Take Heaven's best boon, this Sacred Book,
    From him who loves thee best.
Love strong as that I bear to thee
    Were sure unaptly told
By dying flowers, or lifeless gems,
    Or soul-ensnaring gold.

I know 'twas He who formed this heart
    Who seeks this heart to guide;
For why?—He bids me love thee more
    Than all on earth beside. [141]
Yes, Lydia, bids me cleave to thee,
    As long this heart has cleaved:
Would, dearest, that His other laws
    Were half so well received!

Full many a change, my only love,
    On human life attends;
And at the cold sepulchral stone
    Th' uncertain vista ends.
How best to bear each various change,
    Should weal or woe befall,
To love, live, die, this Sacred Book,
    Lydia, it tells us all.

Oh, much-loved, our coming day
    To us is all unknown,
But sure we stand a broader mark
    Than they who stand alone.
One knows it all: not His an eye,
    Like ours, obscured and dim;
And knowing us, He gives this book,
    That we may know of Him.

His words, my love, are gracious words,
    And gracious thoughts express:
He cares e'en for each little bird
    That wings the blue abyss.
Of coming wants and woes He thought,
    Ere want or woe began;
And took to him a human heart,
    That He might feel for man.

Then oh! my first, my only love,
    The kindliest, dearest, best!
On Him may all our hopes repose,—
    On Him our wishes rest.
His be the future's doubtful day,
    Let joy or grief befall:
In life or death, in weal or woe,
    Our God, our guide, our all.

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