TALES AND SKETCHES.
RECOLLECTIONS OF FERGUSSON.
Of Fergusson, the bauld and sloe.
Ed.—statue of the poet Robert Fergusson (1750-74) outside the Canongate Kirk on Edinburgh's Royal Mile.
Commissioned by The Friends of Robert Fergusson and
sculpted by David Annand, the bronze figure commemorates the
poet who died aged just 24 and who lies in Canongate Churchyard.
Fergusson was highly influential in writing poetry in the Scots
dialect. His verse was revered by Burns, who called him
"my elder brother in misfortune, by far my elder brother in the
Muse". Photo: Editor.
I HAVE, I believe, as little of the egotist in my
composition as most men; nor would I deem the story of my life, though
by no means unvaried by incident, of interest enough to repay the trouble
of either writing or perusing it were it the story of my one life only;
but, though an obscure man myself, I have been singularly fortunate in my
friends. The party-coloured tissue of my recollections is strangely
interwoven, if I may so speak, with pieces of the domestic history of men
whose names have become as familiar to our ears as that of our country
itself; and I have been induced to struggle with the delicacy which
renders one unwilling to speak much of one's self, and to overcome the
dread of exertion natural to a period of life greatly advanced, through a
desire of preserving to my countrymen a few notices, which would otherwise
be lost to them, of two of their greatest favourites. I could once
reckon among my dearest and most familiar friends, Robert Burns and Robert
It is now rather more than sixty years since I studied for a
few weeks at the University of St. Andrews. I was the son of very
poor parents, who resided in a seaport town on the west coast of Scotland.
My father was a house-carpenter,—a quiet, serious man, of industrious
habits and great simplicity of character, but miserably depressed in his
circumstances through a sickly habit of body. My mother was a
warm-hearted, excellent woman, endowed with no ordinary share of shrewd
good sense and sound feeling, and indefatigable in her exertions for my
father and the family. I was taught to read, at a very early age, by
an old woman in the neighbourhood,—such a person as Shenstone describes in
his "Schoolmistress,"—and, being naturally of a reflective turn, I had
begun, long ere I had attained my tenth year, to derive almost my sole
amusement from books. I read incessantly; and, after exhausting the
shelves of all the neighbours, and reading every variety of work that fell
in my way,—from the "Pilgrim's Progress" of Bunyan, and the "Gospel
Sonnets" of Erskine, to a "Treatise on Fortification" by Vauban, and the
"History of the Heavens" by the Abbé
Pluche,—I would have pined away for lack of my accustomed exercise, had
not a benevolent baronet in the neighbourhood, for whom my father
occasionally wrought, taken a fancy to me, and thrown open to my perusal a
large and well-selected library. Nor did his kindness terminate
until, after having secured to me all of learning that the parish
afforded, he had settled me, now in my seventeenth year, at the
Youth is the season of warm friendships and romantic wishes
and hopes. We say of the child in its first attempts to totter along
the wall, or when it has first learned to rise beside its mother's knee,
that it is yet too weak to stand alone; and we may employ the same
language in describing a young and ardent mind. It is, like the
child, too weak to stand alone, and anxiously seeks out some kindred mind
on which to lean. I had had my intimates at school, who, though of
no very superior cast, had served me, if I may so speak, as resting-places
when wearied with my studies, or when I had exhausted my lighter reading;
and now, at St. Andrews, where I knew no one, I began to experience the
unhappiness of an unsatisfied sociality. My school-fellows were
mostly stiff, illiterate lads, who, with a little bad Latin and worse
Greek, plumed themselves mightily on their scholarship, and I had little
inducement to form any intimacies among them; for of all men the ignorant
scholar is the least amusing. Among the students of the upper
classes, however, there was at least one individual with whom I longed to
be acquainted. He was apparently much about my own age, rather below
than above the middle size, and rather delicately than robustly formed;
but I have rarely seen a more elegant figure or more interesting face.
His features were small, and there was what might perhaps be deemed a too
feminine delicacy in the whole contour; but there was a broad and very
high expansion of forehead, which, even in those days, when we were
acquainted with only the phrenology taught by Plato, might be regarded as
the index of a capacious and powerful mind; and the brilliant light of his
large black eyes seemed to give earnest of its activity.
"Who, in the name of wonder, is that?" I inquired of a class
fellow, as this interesting-looking young man passed me for the first
"A clever but very unsettled fellow from Edinburgh," replied
the lad; "a capital linguist, for he gained our first bursary three years
ago; but our Professor says he is certain he will never do any good.
He cares nothing for the company of scholars like himself, and employs
himself—though he excels, I believe, in English composition—in writing
vulgar Scotch rhymes, like Allan Ramsay. His name is Robert
I felt from this moment a strong desire to rank among the
friends of one who cared nothing for the company of such men as my
class-fellow, and who, though acquainted with the literature of England
and Rome, could dwell with interest on the simple poetry of his native
There is no place in the neighbourhood of St. Andrews where a
leisure hour may be spent more agreeably than among the ruins of the
cathedral. I was not slow in discovering the eligibilities of the
spot, and it soon became one of my favourite haunts. One evening, a
few weeks after I had entered on my course at college, I had seated myself
among the ruins, in a little ivied nook fronting the setting sun, and was
deeply engaged with the melancholy Jaques in the forest of Ardennes, when,
on hearing a light footstep, I looked up, and saw the Edinburgh student,
whose appearance had so interested me, not four yards away. He was
busied with his pencil and his tablets, and muttering, as he went, in a
half-audible voice, what, from the inflection of the tones, seemed to be
verse. On seeing me, he started, and apologizing in a few hurried
but courteous words for what he termed the involuntary intrusion, would
have passed, but, on my rising and stepping up to him, he stood.
"I am afraid, Mr. Fergusson," I said, "'tis I who owe you
an apology; the ruins have long been yours, and I am but an intruder.
But you must pardon me; I have often heard of them in the west, where they
are hallowed, even more than they are here, from their connection with the
history of some of our noblest Reformers; and, besides, I see no place in
the neighbourhood where Shakspeare call be read to more advantage."
"Ah," said be, taking the volume out of my hand, "a reader of
Shakspeare and an admirer of Knox! I question whether the heresiarch
and the poet had much in common."
"Nay, now, Mr. Fergusson," I replied, "you are too true a Scot
to question that. They had much, very much, in common. Knox
was no rude Jack Cade, but a great and powerful-minded man; decidedly as
much so as any of the noble conceptions of the dramatist, his Cæsars,
Brutuses, or Othellos. Buchanan could have told you that he had even
much of the spirit of the poet in him, and wanted only the art. And
just remember how Milton speaks of him in his 'Areopagitica.' Had
the poet of 'Paradise Lost' thought regarding him as it has become
fashionable to think and speak now, he would hardly have apostrophized him
as Knox, the reformer of a nation;—a great man animated by the Spirit
"Pardon me," said the young man; "I am little acquainted with
the prose writings of Milton, and have, indeed, picked up most of my
opinions of Knox at second-hand. But I have read his merry
account of the murder of Beaton, and found nothing to alter my
preconceived notions of him from either the matter or manner of the
narrative. Now that I think of it, however, my opinion of Bacon
would be no very adequate one were it formed solely from the extract of
his history of Henry VII. given by Kames in his late publication.
Will you not extend you walk?"
We quitted the ruins together, and went sauntering along the
shore. There was a rich sunset glow on the water, and the hills that
rise on the opposite side of the Frith stretched their undulating line of
azure under a gorgeous canopy of crimson and gold. My companion
pointed to the scene. "These glorious clouds," he said, "are but
wreaths of vapour, and these lovely hills accumulations of earth and
stone. And it is thus with all the past,—with the past of our own
little histories, that borrows so much of its golden beauty from the
medium through which we survey it; with the past too of all history.
There is poetry in the remote; the bleak hill seems a darker firmament,
and the chill wreath of vapour a river of fire. And you, Sir, seem
to have contemplated the history of our stern Reformers through this
poetical medium, till you forget that the poetry was not in them, but in
that through which you surveyed them."
"Ah, Mr. Fergusson," I replied, "you must permit me to make a
distinction. I acquiesce fully in the justice of your remark: the
analogy, too, is nice and striking; but I would fain carry it a little
further. Every eye can see the beauty of the remote; but there is
beauty in the near, an interest at least, which every eye cannot see.
Each of the thousand little plants that spring up at our feet has an
interest and beauty to the botanist; the mineralogist would find something
to engage him in every little stone. And it is thus with the poetry
of life; all have a sense of it in the remote and the distant, but it is
only the men who stand high in the art, its men of profound science, that
can discover it in the near. The mediocre poet shares but the
commoner gift, and so he seeks his themes in ages or countries far removed
from his own; whilst the man of nobler powers, knowing that all nature is
instinct with poetry, seeks and finds it in the men and scenes in his
immediate neighbourhood. As to our Reformers"—
"Pardon me," said the young poet; "the remark strikes me,
and, ere we lose it in something else, I must furnish you with an
illustration. There is an acquaintance of mine, a lad much about my
own age, greatly addicted to the study of poetry. He has been making
verses all his life-long: he began ere he had learned to write them even;
and his judgment has been gradually overgrowing his earlier compositions,
as you see the advancing tide rising on the beach, and obliterating the
prints on the sand. Now, I have observed that in all his earlier
compositions he went far from home; he could not attempt a pastoral
without first transporting himself to the vales of Arcadia, or an ode to
Pity or Hope without losing the warm, living sentiment in the dead, cold
personification of the Greek. The Hope and Pity he addressed were,
not the undying attendants of human nature, but the shadowy spectres of a
remote age. Now, however, I feel that a change has come over me.
I seek for poetry among the fields and cottages of my own land.
I—a—a—the friend of whom I speak—But I interrupted your remark on the
"Nay," I replied, "if you go on so, I would much rather
listen than speak. I only meant to say that the Knoxes and Melvilles
of our country have been robbed of the admiration and sympathy of many a
kindred spirit, by the strangely erroneous notions that have been abroad
regarding them for at least the last two ages. Knox, I am convinced,
would have been as great as Jeremy Taylor, if not, even greater."
We sauntered along the shore till the evening had darkened
into night, lost in an agreeable interchange of thought. "Ah!" at
length exclaimed my companion, "I had almost forgotten my engagement, Mr.
Lindsay; but it must not part us. You are a stranger here, and I
must introduce you to some of my acquaintance. There are a few of
us—choice spirits, of course—who meet every Saturday evening at John
Hogg's; and I must just bring you to see them. There may be much
less wit than mirth among us; but you will find us all sober, when at the
gayest; and old John will be quite a study for you."
Say, ye red gowns, that aften here
Hae toasted cakes to Katie's beer,
Gin e'er thir days hae had their peer,
Sae blythe, sae daft!
Ye'll ne'er again in life's career
Sit half sae saft.
WE returned to town; and, after
threading a few of the narrower lanes, entered by a low door into a long
dark room, dimly lighted by a fire. A tall thin woman was employed
in skinning a bundle of dried fish at a table in a corner.
"Where's the gudeman, Kate?" said my companion, changing the
sweet pure English in which he had hitherto spoken for his mother tongue.
"John's ben in the spence," replied the woman. "Little
Andrew, the wratch, has been makin' a totum wi' his faither's a'e razor;
an' the puir man's trying to shave himsel' yonder, an' girnan like a
sheep's head on the tangs."
"O the wratch! the ill-deedie wratch!" said John, stalking
into the room in a towering passion, his face covered with suds and
scratches,—"I might as weel shave mysel' wi' a mussel shillet. Rob
Fergusson, man, is that you?"
" Wearie warld, John," said the poet, "for a' oor
"Philosophy!—it's but a snare, Rab,—just vanity an' vexation
o' speerit, as Solomon says. An' isna it clear heterodox besides?
Ye study an' study till your brains gang about like a whirligig; an' then,
like bairns in a boat that see the land sailin', ye think it's the solid
yearth that's turnin' roun'. An' this ye ca' philosophy; as if David hadna
tauld us that the warld sits coshly on the waters, an' canna be moved."
"Hoot, John," rejoined my companion; "it's no me, but Jamie
Brown, that differs wi' you on thae matters. I'm a Hoggonian, ye
ken. The auld Jews were, doubtless, gran' Christians; an' wherefore
no gude philosophers too? But it was cruel o' you to unkennel me
this mornin' afore six, an' I up sac lang at my studies the nitch afore."
"Ah, Rob, Rob!" said John,—"studying ill Tam Dun's
kirk. Ye'll be a minister, like a' the lave."
"Mindin' fast, John," rejoined the poet. "I was in your
kirk on Sabbath last, hearing worthy Mr. Corkindale. Whatever else
he may hae to fear, he's in nae danger a' 'thinking his his ain
thoughts,' honest man."
"In oor kirk!" said John; "ye're dune, then, wi' precentin'
in yer ain; an' troth, nae wonder. What could hae possessed ye to
gie up the puir chield's name i' the prayer, an' him sittin' at yer lug?"
I unacquainted with the circumstance to which he alluded, and
requested an explanation. "Oh, ye see," said John, "Rob, amang a'
the ither gifts that he misguides, has the gift o' a sweet voice; an'
naething less would ser' some o' oor professors than to hae him for their
precentor. They micht as weel hae thocht o' an organ,—it wad be just
as devout; but the soun's everything now, laddie, ye ken, an' the heart
naething. Weel, Rob, as ye may think, was less than pleased wi' the
job, ail' tauld them be could whistle better than sing; but it wasna that
they wanted, and sae it behoved him to tak' his seat in the box. An'
lest the folk should be no pleased wi' a'e key to a'e tune, he gied them,
for the first twa or three days, a hale bunch to each; an' there was never
sic singing in St. Andrews afore. Weel, but for a' that, it behoved
him still to precent, though he has got rid o' it at last; for what did he
do twa Sabbaths agane, but put up drunken Tam Moffat's name in the
prayer,—the very chield that was sittin' at his elbow, though the minister
couldna see him. An' when the puir stibbler was prayin' for the
reprobate as weel's he could, a'e half o' the kirk was needcessitated to
come oot, that they micht keep decent, an' the ither half to swallow their
pocket-napkins. But what think ye"—
"Hoot, John, now leave oot the moral," said the poet. "Here's
a' the lads."
Half-a-dozen young students entered as he spoke; and, after a
hearty greeting, and when he had introduced me to them one by one, as a
choice fellow of immense reading, the door was barred, and we sat down to
half-a-dozen of home-brewed, and a huge platter of dried fish. There
was much mirth, and no little humour. Fergusson sat at the head of
the table, and old John Hogg at the foot. I thought of Eastcheap,
and the revels of Prince Henry; but our Falstaff was an old Scotch Seceder,
and our Prince a gifted young fellow, who, owed all his influence over his
fellows to the force of his genius alone.
"Prythee, Hall," I said, "let us drink to Sir John."
"Why, yes," said the poet, "with all my heart. Not
quite so fine a fellow, though, 'bating his Scotch honesty. Half Sir
John's genius would have served for an epic poet,—half his courage for a
"His courage!" exclaimed one of the lads.
"Yes, Willie, his courage, man. Do you think a coward
could have run away with half the coolness? With a tithe of the
courage necessary for such a retreat, a man would have stood and fought
till he died. Sir John must have been a fine fellow in his youth."
"In mony a droll way may a man fa' on the drap drink,"
remarked John; "an' meikle ill, dootless, does it do in takin' aff the
edge o' the speerit,—the mair if the edge be a fine razor edge, an' no the
edge o' a whittle. I mind, about fifty years ago, when I was a slip
o' a callant,"—
"Losh, John! " exclaimed one of the lads, "hae ye been
feehtin wi' the cats? Sic a scrapit face!"
"Wheesht," said Fergusson; "we owe the illustration to that;
but dinna interrupt the story."
"Fifty years ago, when I was a slip o' a callant," continued
John, "unco curious, an' fond o' kennin everything, as callants will be,"—
"Hoot, John," said one of the students, interrupting him,
"can ye no cut short, man? Rob promised last Saturday to gie us,
'Fie, let us a' to the Bridal,' an' ye see the ale an' the nicht's baith
"The song, Rob, the Song!" exclaimed half-a-dozen voices at
once; and John's story was lost in the clamour.
"Nay, now," said the good-natured poet, "that's less than
kind; the auld man's stories are aye worth the hearing, an' he can relish
the auld-warld fisher song wi' the best o' ye. But we maun hae the
He struck up the old Scotch ditty, "Fie, let us a' to the
Bridal," which he sung with great power and brilliancy; for his voice was
a richly-modulated one, and there was a fullness of meaning imparted to
the words which wonderfully heightened the effect. "How strange it
is," he remarked to me when he had finished, "that our English neighbours
deny us humour! The songs of no country equal our Scotch ones in
that quality. Are you acquainted with 'The Gudewife of Auchtermuchty?'"
"Well," I replied; "but so are not the English. It
strikes me that, with the exception of Smollett's novels, all our Scotch
humour is locked up in our native tongue. No man can employ in works
of humour any language of which he is not a thorough master; and few of
our Scotch writers, with all their elegance, have attained the necessary
command of that colloquial English which Addison and Swift employed when
they were merry."
"A braw redd delivery," said John, addressing me. "Are
ye gaun to be a minister too?"
"Not quite sure yet," I replied.
"Ah," rejoined the old man, "'twas better for the Kirk when
the minister just made himsel' ready for it, au' then waited till he kent
whether it wanted him. There's young Rob Fergusson beside you,"—
"Setting oot for the Kirk," said the young poet, interrupting
him, "an' yet drinkin' ale on Saturday at e'en wi' old John Hogg."
"Weel, weel, laddie, it's easier for the best o' us to find
fault wi' ithers than to mend oorsels. Ye have the head, onyhow; but
Jamie Brown tells me it's a doctor ye're gaun to be, after a'."
"Nonsense, John Hogg; I wonder how a man o' your standing"—
"Nonsense, I grant you," said one of the students; "but true
enough for a' that, Bob. Ye see, John, Bob an' I were at the King's
Muirs last Saturday, and ca'ed at the pendicle, in the passing, for
a cup o' whey, when the gudewife tell't us there was ane o' the callants,
who had broken into the milk-house twa nichts afore, lying ill o' a
surfeit. 'Dangerous case,' said Bob; 'but let me see him. I
have studied to small purpose if I know nothing o' medicine, my good
woman.' Weel, the woman was just glad enough to bring him to the
bed-side; an' no wonder: ye never saw a wiser phiz in your lives,—Dr.
Dumpie's was naething till't; au', after he had sucked the head o' his
stick for ten minutes, an' fand the loon's pulse, an' asked mair questions
than the gudewife liked to answer, he prescribed. But, losh! sic a
prescription! A day's fasting an' twa ladles o' nettle kail was the
gist o't; but then there went mair Latin to the tail o' that than oor
neebour the doctor ever had to lose."
But I dwell too long on the conversation of this evening.
I feel, however, a deep interest in recalling it to memory. The
education of Fergusson was of a twofold character: he studied in the
schools, and among the people; but it was in the latter tract alone that
he acquired the materials of all his better poetry; and I feel as if, for
at least one brief evening, I was admitted to the privileges of a
class-fellow, and sat with him on the same form. The company broke
up a little after ten; and I did not again hear of John Hogg till I read
his elegy, about four years after, among the poems of my friend. It
is by no means one of the happiest pieces in the volume, nor, it strikes
me, highly characteristic; but I have often perused it with interest very
independent of its merits.
But he is weak;—both man and boy
Has been an idler in the land.
I WAS attempting to listen, on the evening of the
following Sunday, to a dull, listless discourse,—one of the discourses so
common at this period, in which there was fine writing without genius, and
fine religion without Christianity,—when a person who had just taken his
place beside me tapped me on the shoulder, and thrust a letter into my
hand. It was my newly-acquired friend of the previous evening; and
we shook hands heartily under the pew.
"That letter has just been handed me by an acquaintance from
your part of the country," he whispered; "I trust it contains nothing
I raised it to the light; and, on ascertaining that it was
sealed and edged with black, rose and quitted the church, followed by my
friend. It intimated, in two brief lines, that my patron, the
baronet, hall been killed by a fall from his horse a few evenings before;
and that, dying intestate, the allowance which had hitherto enabled me to
prosecute my studies necessarily dropped. I crumpled up the paper in
"You have learned something very unpleasant," said
"Pardon me, I have no wish to intrude; but, if at all agreeable, I would
fain spend the evening with you."
My heart filled, and, grasping his hand, I briefly intimated
the purport of my communication; and we walked out together in the
direction of the ruins.
"It is perhaps as hard, Mr. Fergusson," I said, "to fall from
one's hopes as from the place to which they pointed. I was
ambitious,—too ambitious it may be,—to rise from that level on which man
acts the part of a machine, and tasks merely his body, to that higher
level on which he performs the part of a rational creature, and employs
only his mind. But that ambition need influence me no longer.
My poor mother, too,—I had trusted to be of use to her."
"Ah! my friend," said Fergusson, "I can tell you of a case
quite as hopeless as your own—perhaps more so. But it will make you
deem my sympathy the result of mere selfishness. In scarce any
respect do our circumstances differ."
We had reached the ruins. The evening was calm and mild
as when I had walked out on the preceding one; but the hour was earlier,
and the sun hung higher over the hill. A newly-formed grave occupied
the level spot in front of the little ivied corner.
"Let us seat ourselves here," said my companion, "and I will
tell you a story,—I am afraid a rather tame one; for there is nothing of
adventure in it, and nothing of incident; but it may at least show you
that I am not unfitted to be your friend. It is now nearly two years
since I lost my father. He was no common man,—common neither in
intellect nor in sentiment,—but, though he once fondly hoped it should be
otherwise,—for in early youth he indulged in all the dreams of the
poet,—he now fills a grave as nameless as the one before us. He was
a native of Aberdeenshire, but held lately an inferior situation in the
office of the British Linen Company in Edinburgh, where I was born.
Ever since I remember him, he had awakened too fully to the realities of
life, and they pressed too hard on his spirits to leave him space for the
indulgence of his earlier fancies; but he could dream for his children,
though not for himself; or, as I should perhaps rather say, his children
fell heir to all his more juvenile hopes of fortune and influence and
space in the world's eye; and, for himself, he indulged in hopes of a
later growth and firmer texture, which pointed from the present scene of
things to the future. I have an only brother, my senior by several
years, a lad of much energy, both physical and mental; in brief, one of
those mixtures of reflection and activity which seemed best formed for
rising in the world. My father deemed him most fitted for commerce,
and had influence enough to get him introduced into the counting-house of
a respectable Edinburgh merchant. I was always of a graver turn,—in
part, perhaps, the effect of less robust health,—and me he intended for
the church. I have been a dreamer, Mr. Lindsay, from my earliest
years,—prone to melancholy, and fond of books and of solitude; and the
peculiarities of this temperament the sanguine old man, though no mean
judge of character, had mistaken for a serious and reflective disposition.
You are acquainted with literature, and know something, from books at
least, of the lives of literary men. Judge, then, of his prospect of
usefulness in any profession, who has lived ever since he knew himself
among the poets. My hopes from my earliest years have been hopes of
celebrity as a writer; not of wealth, or of influence, or of accomplishing
any of the thousand aims which furnish the great bulk of mankind with
motives. You will laugh at me. There is something so
emphatically shadowy and unreal in the object of this ambition, that even
the full attainment of it provokes a smile. For who does not know
How vain that second life in others' breath,—
The estate which wits inherit after death!
And what can be more fraught with the ludicrous than a union of this
shadowy ambition with mediocre parts and attainments ? But I
"It is now rather more than three years since I entered the
classes here. I competed for a bursary, and was fortunate enough to
secure one. Believe me, Mr. Lindsay, I am little ambitious of the
fame of mere scholarship, and yet I cannot express to you the triumph of
that day. I had seen my poor father labouring far, far beyond his
strength, for my brother and myself,—closely engaged during the day with
his duties in the bank, and copying, at night in a lawyer's office.
I had seen, with a throbbing heart, his tall wasted frame becoming
tremulous and bent, and the gray hair thinning on his temples; and now I
felt that I could ease him of at least part of the burden. In the
excitement of the moment, I could hope that I was destined to rise in the
world,—to gain a name in it, and something more. You know how a
slight success grows in importance when we can deem it the earnest of
future good fortune. I met, too, with a kind and influential friend
in one of the professors, the late Dr. Wilkie,—alas! good, benevolent man!
you may see his tomb yonder beside the wall; and on my return from St.
Andrews at the close of the session, I found my father on his deathbed.
My brother Henry, who had been unfortunate, and, I am afraid, something
worse, had quitted the counting-house, and entered aboard of a man-of-war
as a common sailor; and the poor old man, whose heart had been bound up in
him, never held up his head after.
"On the evening of my father's funeral I could have lain down
and died. I never before felt how thoroughly I am unfitted for the
world, how totally I want strength. My father, I have said, had
intended me for the church; and in my progress onward from class to class,
and from school to college, I had thought but little of each particular
step as it engaged me for the time, and nothing of the ultimate objects to
which it led. All my more vigorous aspirations were directed to a
remote future and an unsubstantial shadow. But I had witnessed
beside my father's bed what had led me seriously to reflect on the
ostensible aim for which I lived and studied; and the more carefully I
weighed myself in the balance, the more did I find myself wanting.
You have heard of Mr. Brown of the Secession, the author of the
'Dictionary of the Bible.' He was an old acquaintance of my
father's, and, on hearing of his illness, had come all the way from
Haddington to see him. I felt, for the first time, as, kneeling
beside his bed, I heard my father's breathings becoming every moment
shorter and more difficult, and listened to the prayers of the clergyman,
that I had no business in the church. And thus I still continue to
feel. 'Twere an easy matter to produce such things as pass for
sermons among us, and to go respectably enough through the more routine of
the profession; but I cannot help feeling that, though I might do all this
and more, my duty as a clergyman would be still left undone. I want
singleness of aim,—I want earnestness of heart. I cannot teach men
effectually how to live well; I cannot show them, with aught of
confidence, how they may die safe. I cannot enter the church without
acting the part of a hypocrite; and the miserable part of a hypocrite it
shall never be mine to act. Heaven help me! I am too little of
a practical moralist myself to attempt teaching morals to others.
"But I must conclude my story, if story it may be called.
I saw my poor mother and my little sister deprived, by my father's death,
of their sole stay, and strove to exert myself in their behalf. In
the daytime I copied in a lawyer's office; my nights were spent among the
poets. You will deem it the very madness of vanity, Mr. Lindsay, but
I could not live without my dreams of literary eminence. I felt that
life would be a blank waste without them; and I feel so still. Do
not laugh at my weakness, when I say I would rather live in the memory of
my country than enjoy her fairest lands, that I dread a nameless grave
many times more than the grave itself. But I am afraid the life of
the literary aspirant is rarely a happy one; and I, alas! am one of the
weakest of the class. It is of importance that the means of living
be not disjoined from the end for which we live; and I feel that in my
case the disunion is complete. The wants and evils of life are
around me; but the energies through which those should be provided for,
and these warded off, are otherwise employed. I am like a man
pressing onward through a hot and bloody fight, his breast open to every
blow, and tremblingly alive to the sense of injury and the feeling of
pain, but totally unprepared either to attack or defend. And then
those miserable depressions of spirit, to which all men who draw largely
on their imagination are so subject, and that wavering irregularity of
effort which seems so unavoidably the effect of pursuing a distant and
doubtful aim, and which proves so hostile to the formation of every better
habit,—alas! to a steady morality itself. But I weary you, Mr.
Lindsay; besides, my story is told. I am groping onward, I know not
whither; and in a few months hence, when my last session shall have
closed, I shall be exactly where you are at present."
He ceased speaking, and there was a pause of several minutes.
I felt soothed and gratified. There was a sweet melancholy music in
the tones of his voice that sunk to my very heart; and the confidence he
reposed in me flattered my pride. "How was it," I at length said,
"that you were the gayest in the party of last night?"
"I do not know that I can better answer you," he replied,
"than by telling you a singular dream which I had about the time of my
father's death. I dreamed that I had suddenly quitted the world, and
was journeying, by a long and dreary passage, to the place of final
punishment. A blue, dismal light glimmered along the lower wall of
the vault, and from the darkness above, where there flickered a thousand
undefined shapes,—things without form or outline,—I could hear
deeply-drawn sighs, and long hollow groans, and convulsive sobbings, and
the prolonged moanings of an unceasing anguish. I was aware,
however, though I know not how, that these were but the expressions of a
lesser misery, and that the seats of severer torment were still before me.
I went on and on, and the vault widened; and the light increased and the
sounds changed. There were loud laughters and low mutterings, in the
tone of ridicule; and shouts of triumph and exultation; and, in brief, all
the thousand mingled tones of a gay and joyous revel. Can these, I
exclaimed, be the sounds of misery when at the deepest? 'Bethink
thee,' said a shadowy form beside me,—'bethink thee if it be so on earth.'
And as I remembered that it was so, and bethought me of the mad revels of
shipwrecked seamen and of plague-stricken cities, I awoke. But on
this subject you must spare me."
"Forgive me," I said; "to-morrow I leave college, and not
with the less reluctance that I must part from you. But I shall yet
find you occupying a place among the literati of our country, and
shall remember with pride that you were my friend."
He sighed deeply—"My hopes rise and fall with my spirits," he
said; "and to-night I am melancholy. Do you ever go to buffets with
yourself, Mr. Lindsay? Do you ever mock, in your sadder moods, the
hopes which render you happiest when you are gay? Ah! 'tis bitter
warfare when a man contends with Hope!—when he sees her, with little aid
from the personifying influence, as a thing distinct from himself,—a lying
spirit that comes to flatter and deceive him. It is thus I see her
See'st thou that grave?—does mortal know
Aught of the dust that lies below?
'Tis foul, 'tis damp, 'tis void of form,—
A bed where winds the loathsome worm!
A little heap, mould'ring and brown,
Like that on flowerlees meadow thrown
By mossy stream, when winter reigns
O'er leafless woods and wasted plains:
And yet, that brown, damp, formless heap
Once glowed with feelings keen and deep;
Once eyed the light, once heard each sound
Of earth, air, wave, that murmurs round.
But now, ah! now, the name it bore—
Sex, age, or form—is known no more.
This, this alone, O Hope! I know,
That once the dust that lies below
Was, like myself, of human race,
And made this world its dwelling-place.
Ah! this, when earth has swept away
The myriads of life's present day,
Though bright the visions raised by thee,
Will all my fame, my history be!
We quitted the ruins, and returned to town.
"Have you yet formed," inquired my companion, " any plan for
"I quit St. Andrews," I replied, "to-morrow morning. I
have an uncle, the master of a West Indiaman now in the Clyde. Some
years ago I had a fancy for the life of a sailor, which has evaporated,
however, with many of my other boyish fancies and predilections; but I am
strong and active, and it strikes me there is less competition on sea at
present than on land. A man of tolerable steadiness and intelligence
has a better chance of rising as a sailor than as a mechanic. I
shall set out therefore with my uncle on his first voyage."
At first I thought the swankie didna ill,—
Again I glowr''d, to hear him better still;
Bauld, slee, an' sweet, his lines more glorious grew,
Glowed round the heart, an' glanced the soul out through.
I HAD seen both the Indies and traversed the wide
Pacific ere I again set foot on the eastern coast of Scotland. My
uncle, the shipmaster, was dead, and I was still a common sailor; but I
was light-hearted and skilful in my profession, and as much inclined to
hope as ever. Besides, I had begun to doubt—and there cannot be a
more consoling doubt when one is unfortunate —whether a man may not enjoy
as much happiness in the lower walks of life as in the upper. In one
of my later voyages, the vessel in which I sailed had lain for several
weeks in Boston in North America, then a scene of those fierce and angry
contentions which eventually separated the colonies from the mother
country; and when in this place, I had become acquainted, by the merest
accident in the world, with the brother of my friend the poet. I was
passing through one of the meaner lanes, when I saw my old friend, as I
thought, looking out at me from the window of a crazy-looking building,—a
sort of fencing academy, much frequented, I was told, by the Federalists
of Boston. I crossed the lane in two huge strides.
"Mr. Fergusson," I said,—"Mr. Fergusson,"—for he was
withdrawing his head,—"do you not remember me?"
"Not quite sure," he replied; "I have met with many sailors
in my time; but I must just see."
He had stepped down to the door ere I had discovered my
mistake. He was a taller and stronger-looking man than my friend,
and his senior, apparently, by six or eight years; but nothing could be
more striking than the resemblance which he bore to him, both in face and
figure. I apologized.
"But have you not a brother, a native of Edinburgh," I
inquired, "who studied at St. Andrews about four years ago? Never
before, certainly, did I see so remarkable a likeness."
"As that which I bear Robert?" lie said. "Happy to hear
it. Robert is a brother of whom a man may well be proud, and I am
glad to resemble him in any way. But you must go in with me, and
tell me all you know regarding him. He was a thin, pale slip of a
boy when I left Scotland,—a mighty reader, and fond of sauntering into
by-holes and corners; I scarcely knew what to make of him; but he has made
much of himself. His name has been blown far and wide within the
last two years."
He showed me through a large waste apartment, furnished with
a few deal seats, and with here and there a fencing foil leaning against
the wall, into a sort of closet at the upper end, separated from the main
room by a partition of undressed slabs. There was a charcoal stove
in one corner, and a truckle-bed in the other. A few shelves laden
with books ran along the wall. There was a small chest raised on a
stool immediately below the window, to serve as a writing-desk, and
another stool standing beside it. A few cooking utensils, scattered
round the room, and a corner cupboard, completed the entire furniture of
"There is a certain limited number born to be rich, Jack,"
said my new companion, "and I just don't happen to be among them; but I
have one stool for myself, you see, and, now that I have unshipped my
desk, another for a visitor, and so get on well enough."
I related briefly the story of my intimacy with his brother,
and we were soon on such terms as to be in a fair way of emptying a bottle
of rum together.
"You remind me of old times," said my new acquaintance.
"I am weary of these illiterate, boisterous, long-sided Americans, who
talk only of politics and dollars. And yet there are first-rate men
among them too. I met, some years since, with a Philadelphia
printer, whom I cannot help regarding as one of the ablest, best-informed
men I ever conversed with. But there is nothing like general
knowledge among the average class,—a mighty privilege of conceit,
"They are just in that stage," I remarked, in which it needs
all the vigour of an able man to bring his mind into anything like
cultivation. There must be many more facilities of improvement ere
the mediocritist can develop himself. He is in the egg still in
America, and must sleep there till the next age.—But when last heard you
of your brother?"
"Why," he replied, "when all the world heard of him,—with the
last number of 'Ruddiman's Magazine.' Where can you have been
bottled up from literature of late? Why, man, Robert stands first
among our Scotch poets."
"Ah! 'tis long since I have anticipated something like that
for him," I said; but for the last two years I have seen only two
books,—Shakspeare and the 'Spectator.' Pray, do show me some of the
The magazines were produced; and I heard for the first time,
in a foreign land, and from the recitation of the poet's brother, some of
the most national and most highly-finished of his productions. My
eyes filled, and my heart wandered to Scotland and her cottage homes, as,
shutting the book, he repeated to me, in a voice faltering with emotion,
stanza after stanza of the "Farmer's Ingle."
"Do you not see it?—do you not see it all?" exclaimed my
companion; "the wide smoky room, with the bright turf-fire, the blackened
rafters shining above, the straw-wrought settle below, the farmer and the
farmer's wife, and auld grannie and the bairns. Never was there
truer painting; and oh, how it works on a Scotch heart! But hear
this other piece."
He read "Sandy and Willie."
"Far, far ahead of Ramsay," I exclaimed,—"more imagination,
more spirit, more intellect, and as much truth and nature. Robert
has gained his end already. Hurrah for poor old Scotland!—these
pieces must live for ever. But do repeat to me the 'Farmer's Ingle'
We read, one by one, all the poems in the Magazine, dwelling
on each stanza, and expatiating on every recollection of home which the
images awakened. My companion was, like his brother, a kind,
open-hearted man, of superior intellect; much less prone to despondency,
however, and of a more equal temperament. Ere we parted, which was
not until next morning, be had communicated to me all his plans for the
future, and all his fondly-cherished hopes of returning to Scotland with
wealth enough to be of use to his friends. He seemed to be one of
those universal geniuses who do a thousand things well, but want
steadiness enough to turn any of them to good account. He showed a
treatise on the use of the sword, which he had just prepared for the
press, and a series of letters on the Stamp Act, which had appeared from
time to time in one or the Boston newspapers, and in which he had taken
part with the Americans.
"I make a good many dollars in these stirring times," he
said. "All the Yankees seem to be of opinion that they will be best
heard across the water when they have got arms in their hands, and have
learned how to use them; and I know a little of both the sword and the
musket. But the warlike spirit is frightfully thirsty, somehow, and
consumes a world of rum; and so I have not yet begun to make rich."
He shared with me his supper and bed for the night; and,
after rising in the morning ere I awoke, and writing a long letter for
Robert, which be gave me in the hope I might soon meet with him, he
accompanied me to the vessel, then on the eve of sailing, and we parted,
as it proved, for ever. I know nothing of his after-life, or how or
where it terminated; but I have learned that, shortly before the death of
his gifted brother, his circumstances enabled him to send his mother a
small remittance for the use of the family. He was evidently one of
the kind-hearted, improvident few who can share a very little, and whose
destiny it is to have only a very little to share.
O, Fergusson! thy glorious parts
Ill suited law's dry, musty arts!
My curse upon your whunstane hearts,
Ye Embrugh gentry!
The tithe o' what ye waste at cartes
Wad stowed his pantry!
I VISITED Edinburgh for the first time in the latter
part of the autumn of 1773, about two months after I had sailed from
Boston. It was on a fine calm morning,—one of those clear sunshiny
mornings of October when the gossamer goes sailing about in long cottony
threads, so light and fleecy that they seem the skeleton remains of
extinct cloudlets, and when the distant hills, with their covering of gray
frost-rime, seem, through the clear close atmosphere, as if chiselled in
marble. The still was rising over the town through a deep blood-coloured
haze,—the smoke of a thousand fires; and the huge fantastic piles of
masonry that stretched along the ridge looked dim and spectral through the
cloud, like the ghosts of an army of giants. I felt half a foot
taller as I strode on towards the town. It was Edinburgh I was
approaching,—the scene of so many proud associations to a lover of
Scotland; and I was going to meet, as an early friend, one of the first of
Scottish poets. I entered the town. There was a book-stall in
a corner of the street, and I turned aside for half a minute to glance my
eye over the books.
"Fergusson's Poems!" I exclaimed, taking up a little volume.
"I was not aware they had appeared in a separate form. How do you
"Just like a' the ither booksellers," said the man who kept
the stall,—"that's nane o' the buiks that come doun in a hurry,—just for
the marked selling price." I threw down the money.
"Could you tell me anything of the writer?" I said. "I
have a letter for him from America."
"Oh, that'll be frae his brother Henry, I'll wad; a clever
chield too, but ower fond o' the drap drink, maybe, like Rob himsel'.
Baith o' them fine humane chields though, without a grain o' pride.
Rob takes a stan' wi' me sometimes o' half an hour at a time, an' we
clatter ower the buiks; an', if I'm no mista'en, yon's him just
yonder,—the thin, pale slip o' a lad wi' the broad brow. Ay, an'
he's just comin' this way."
"Anything new to-day, Thomas?" said the young man, coming up
to the stall. "I want a cheap second-hand copy of Ramsay's
'Evergreen'; and, like a good man as you are, you must just try and find
it for me."
Though considerably altered,—for he was taller and thinner
than when at college, and his complexion had assumed a deep sallow hue,—I
recognized him at once, and presented him with the letter.
"Ah!, from brother Henry," he said, breaking it open, and
glancing his eye over the contents. "What! old college chum, Mr.
Lindsay!" he exclaimed, turning to me. "Yes, sure enough; how
happy I am we should have met! Come this way;—let us get out of the
We passed hurriedly through the Canongate and along the front
of Holyrood House, and were' soon in the King's Park, which seemed this
morning as if left to ourselves.
"Dear me, and this is you yourself! and we have again met,
Mr. Lindsay!" said Fergusson: "I thought we were never to meet more.
Nothing, for a long time, has made me half so glad. And so you have
been a sailor for the last four years. Do let us sit down here in
the warm sunshine, beside St. Anthony's Well; and tell me all your story,
and how you happened to meet with brother Henry."
We sat down, and I briefly related, at his bidding, all that
had befallen me since we had parted at St. Andrews, and how I was still a
common sailor; but, in the main, perhaps, not less happy than many who
commanded a fleet.
"Ah, you have been a fortunate fellow," he said; "you have
seen much and enjoyed much; and I have been rusting in unhappiness at
home. Would that I had gone to sea along with you!"
"Nay, now, that won't do," I replied. "But you are
merely taking Bacon's method of blunting the edge of envy. You have
scarcely yet attained the years of mature manhood, and yet your name has
gone abroad over the whole length and breadth of the land, and over many
other lands besides. I have cried over your poems three thousand
miles away, and felt all the prouder of my country for the sake of my
friend. And yet you would fain persuade me that you wish the charm
reversed, and that you were just such an obscure salt-water man as
"You remember," said my companion, "the story of the
half-man, half-marble prince of the Arabian tale. One part was a
living creature, one part a stone; but the parts were incorporated, and
the mixture was misery. I am just such a poor unhappy creature as
the enchanted prince of the story."
"You surprise and distress me," I rejoined. "Have you
not accomplished all you so fondly purposed, realized even your warmest
wishes? And this, too, in early life. Your most sanguine hopes
pointed but to a name, which you yourself perhaps was never to hear, but
which was to dwell on men's tongues when the grave had closed over you.
And now the name is gained, and you live to enjoy it. I see the
living part of your lot, and it seems instinct with happiness; but in
what does the dead, the stony part, consist?"
He shook his head, and looked up mournfully into my face.
There was a pause of a few seconds. "You, Mr. Lindsay," he at length
replied,—"you, who are of an equable, steady temperament, can know little
from experience of the unhappiness of a man who lives only in extremes,
who is either madly gay or miserably depressed. Try and realize the
feelings of one whose mind is like a broken harp,—all the medium tones
gone, and only the higher and lower left; of one, too, whose circumstances
seem of a piece with his mind, who can enjoy the exercise of his better
powers, and yet can only live by the monotonous drudgery of copying page
after page in a clerk's office; of one who is continually either groping
his way amid a chill melancholy fog of nervous depression, or carried
headlong by a wild gayety to all which his better judgment would instruct
him to avoid; of one who, when he indulges most in the pride of superior
intellect, cannot away with the thought that that intellect is on the eve
of breaking up, and that he must yet rate infinitely lower in the scale of
rationality than any of the nameless thousands who carry on the ordinary
concerns of life around him."
I was grieved and astonished, and knew not what to answer.
"You are in a gloomy mood to-day," I at length said; "you are immersed in
one of the fogs you describe, and all the surrounding objects take a tinge
of darkness from the medium through which you survey them. Come,
now, you must make an exertion, and shake off your melancholy. I
have told you all my story as I best could, and you must tell me all yours
"Well," he replied, "I shall, though it mayn't be the best
way in the world of dissipating my melancholy. I think I must have
told you, when at college, that I had a maternal uncle of considerable
wealth, and, as the world goes, respectability, who resided in
Aberdeenshire. He was placed on what one may term the table-land of
society; and my poor mother, whose recollections of him were limited to a
period when there is warmth in the feelings of the most ordinary minds,
had hoped that be would willingly exert his influence in my behalf.
Much, doubtless, depends on one's setting out in life; and it would have
been something to have been enabled to step into it from a level like that
occupied by my relative. I paid him a visit shortly after leaving
college, and met with apparent kindness. But I can see beyond the
surface, Mr. Lindsay, and I soon saw that my uncle was entirely a
different man from the brother whom my mother remembered. He had
risen, by a course of slow industry, from comparative poverty, and his
feelings had worn out by the process. The character was
case-hardened all over; and the polish it bore—for I have rarely met a
smoother man—seemed no improvement. He was, in brief, one of the
class content to dwell for ever in more decencies, with consciences made
up of the conventional moralities, who think by precedent, bow to public
opinion as their god, and estimate merit by its weight in guineas."
"And so your visit," I said, "was a very brief one?"
"You distress me," he replied. "It should have been so;
but it was not. But what could I do? Ever since my father's
death I had been taught to consider this man as my natural guardian, and I
was now unwilling to part with my last hope. But this is not all.
Under much apparent activity, my friend, there is a substratum of
apathetical indolence in my disposition: I move rapidly when in motion;
but when at rest, there is a dull inertness in the character, which the
will, when unassisted by passion, is too feeble to overcome. Poor,
weak creature that I am! I had set down by my uncle's fireside, and
felt unwilling to rise. Pity me, my friend,—I deserve your pity; but
oh! do not despise me!"
"Forgive me, Mr. Fergusson," I said; "I have given you pain,
but surely most unwittingly."
"I am ever a fool," he continued. "But my story lags; and,
surely, there is little in it on which it were pleasure to dwell. I
sat at this man's table for six months, and saw, day after day, his manner
towards me becoming more constrained, and his politeness more cold; and
yet I staid on, till at last my clothes were worn threadbare, and he began
to feel that the shabbiness of the nephew affected the respectability of
the uncle. His friend the soap-boiler, and his friend the
oil-merchant, and his friend the manager of the hemp manufactory, with
their wives and daughters,—all people of high standing in the
world,—occasionally honoured his table with their presence; and how could
he be other than ashamed of mine? It vexes me that I cannot even yet
be cool on the subject: it vexes me that a creature so sordid should have
so much power to move me; but I cannot, I cannot master my feelings.
He—he told me,—and with whom should the blame rest, but with the weak,
spiritless thing who lingered on in mean, bitter dependence, to hear what
he had to tell?—he told me that all his friends were respectable, and that
my appearance was no longer that of a person whom he could wish to see at
his table, or introduce to any one as his nephew. And I had staid to
hear all this!
"I can hardly tell you how I got home. I travelled,
stage after stage, along the rough dusty roads, with a weak and feverish
body, and almost despairing mind. On meeting with my mother, I could
have laid my head on her bosom and cried like a child. I took to my
bed in a high fever, and trusted that all my troubles were soon to
terminate; but when the die was cast, it turned up life. I resumed
my old miserable employments,—for what could I else?—and, that I might be
less unhappy in the prosecution of them, my old amusements too. I
copied during the day in a clerk's office that I might live, and wrote
during the night that I might be known. And I have in part, perhaps,
attained my object. I have pursued and caught hold of the shadow on
which my heart had been so long set; and if it prove empty and intangible
and unsatisfactory, like every other shadow, the blame surely must rest
with the pursuer, not with the thing pursued. I weary you, Mr.
Lindsay; but one word more. There are hours when the mind, weakened
by exertion or by the teasing monotony of an employment which tasks
without exercising it, can no longer exert its powers, and when, feeling
that sociality is a law of our nature, we seek the society of our
fellow-men. With a creature so much the short of impulse as I am, it
is of these hours of weakness that conscience takes most note. God
help me! I have been told that life is short; but it stretches on
and on and on before me; and I know not how it is to be passed through."
My spirits had so sunk during this singular conversation that
I had no heart to reply.
"You are silent, Mr. Lindsay," said the poet; "I have made
you as melancholy as myself; but look around you, and say if ever you have
seen a lovelier spot. See how richly the yellow sunshine slants
along the green sides of Arthur's Seat; and how the thin blue smoke, that
has come floating from the town, fills the bottom of yonder grassy dell as
if it were a little lake! Mark, too, how boldly the cliffs stand out
along its sides, each with its little patch of shadow. And here,
beside us, is St. Anthony's Well, so famous in song, coming gushing out to
the sunshine, and then gliding away through the grass like a snake.
Had the Deity purposed that man should be miserable, he would surely never
have placed him in so fair a world. Perhaps much of our unhappiness
originates in our mistaking our proper scope, and thus setting out from
the first with a false aim."
"Unquestionably," I replied. "There is no man who has
not some part to perform; and if it be a great and uncommon part, and the
powers which fit him for it proportionably great and uncommon, nature
would be in error could he slight it with impunity. See! there is a
wild bee bending the flower beside you. Even that little Creature
has a capacity of happiness and misery: it derives its sense of pleasure
from whatever runs in the line of its instincts, its experience of
unhappiness from whatever thwarts and opposes them; and can it be supposed
that so wise a law should regulate the instincts of only inferior
creatures? No, my friend; it is surely a law of our nature also."
"And have you not something else to infer?" said the poet.
"Yes," I replied; "that you are occupied differently from
what the scope and constitution of your mind demand,—differently both in
your hours of enjoyment and of relaxation. But do take heart; you
will yet find your proper place, and all shall be well."
"Alas! no, my friend," said he, rising from the sward.
"I could once entertain such a hope, but I cannot now. My mind is no
longer what it was to me in my happier days, a sort of terra incognita
without bounds or limits. I can see over and beyond it, and have
fallen from all my hopes regarding it. It is not so much the gloom
of present circumstances that disheartens me as a depressing knowledge of
myself,—an abiding conviction that I am a weak dreamer, unfitted for every
occupation of life, and not less so for the greater employments of
literature than for any of the others. I feel that I am a little man
and a little poet, with barely vigour enough to make one half-effort at a
time, but wholly devoid of the sustaining will—that highest faculty of the
highest order of minds—which can direct a thousand vigorous efforts to the
accomplishment of one important object. Would that I could exchange
my half-celebrity—and it can never be other than a half-celebrity—for a
temper as equable and a fortitude as unshrinking as yours! But I
weary you with my complaints: I am a very coward; and you will deem me as
selfish as I am weak."
We parted. The poet, sadly and unwillingly, went to
copy deeds in the office of the commissary-clerk; and I, almost reconciled
to obscurity and hard labour, to assist in unlading a Baltic trader in the
harbour of Leith.