Speech without aim, and without end employ.
Fergusson's statute by David Annand, the Royal Mile, Edinburgh.
AFTER the lapse of nine months, I again returned to
Edinburgh. During that period I had been so shut out from literature
and the world, that I had heard nothing of my friend the poet; and it was
with a beating heart I left the vessel, on my first leisure evening, to
pay him a visit. It was about the middle of July. The day had
been close and sultry, and the heavens overcharged with gray ponderous
clouds; and as I passed hurriedly along the walk which leads from Leith to
Edinburgh, I could hear the newly-awakened thunder, bellowing far in the
south, peal after heal, like the artillery of two hostile armies. I
reached the door of the poet's humble domicile, and had raised my hand to
the knocker, when I heard some one singing from within, in a voice by far
the most touchingly mournful I had ever listened to. The tones
struck on my heart; and a frightful suspicion crossed my mind, as I set
down the knocker, that the singer was no other than my friend. But
in what wretched circumstances! what fearful state of mind! I
shuddered as I listened, and heard the strain waxing louder and yet more
mournful, and could distinguish that the words were those of a simple old
O, Marti'mas wind! when wilt thou blaw,
An' shake the green leaves aff the tree?
O, gentle death! when wilt thou come,
An' tak a life that wearies me?
I could listen no longer, but raised the latch and went in.
The evening was gloomy, and the apartment ill-lighted; but I could see the
singer, a spectral-looking figure, sitting on a bed in the corner, with
the bed-clothes wrapped round his shoulders, and a napkin deeply stained
with blood on his head. An elderly female, who stood beside him, was
striving to soothe him, and busied from time to time in adjusting the
clothes, which were ever and anon falling off as he nodded his head in
time to the music. A young girl of great beauty sat weeping at the
"O, dearest Robert!" said the woman, "you will destroy your
poor head; and Margaret, your sister, whom you used to love so much, will
break her heart. Do lie down, dearest, and take a little rest.
Your head is fearfully gashed; and if the bandages loose a second time,
you will bleed to death. Do, dearest Robert! for your poor old
mother, to whom you were always so kind and dutiful a son till now,—for
your poor old mother's sake, do lie down."
The song ceased for a moment, and the tears came bursting
from my eyes as the tune changed, and he again sang,—
O, mither dear! make ye my bed,
For my heart it's flichterin' sair;
An' oh! gin I've vex'd ye, mither dear,
I'll never vex ye mair.
I've staid ar'out the lang dark nicht,
I' the sleet and the plashy rain;
But, mither dear, make ye my bed,
All, I'll ne'er gang out again.
"Dearest, dearest Robert!" continued the poor, heartbroken
woman, "do lie down,—for your poor old mother's sake, do lie down."
"No, no," he exclaimed, in a hurried voice, "not just now,
mother, not just now. Here is my friend Mr. Lindsay come to see
me,—my true friend, Mr. Lindsay the sailor, who has sailed all round and
round the world; and I have much, much to ask him. A chair,
Margaret, for Mr. Lindsay. I must be a preacher like John Knox, you
know,—like the great John Knox, the reformer of a nation,—and Mr. Lindsay
knows all about him. A chair, Margaret, for Mr. Lindsay."
I am not ashamed to say it was with tears, and in a voice
faltering with emotion, that I apologized to the poor woman for my
intrusion at such a time. Were it otherwise, I might well conclude
my heart grown hard as a piece of the nether millstone.
"I had known Robert at college," I said; "had loved and
respected him; and had now come to pay him a visit, after an absence for
several months, wholly unprepared for finding him in his present
condition." And it would seem that my tears plead for me, and proved
to the poor afflicted woman and her daughter by far the most efficient
part of my apology.
"All my friends have left me now, Mr. Lindsay," said the
unfortunate poet,—"they have all left me now; they love this present
world. We were all going down, down, down; there was the roll of a
river behind us; it came bursting over the high rocks, roaring, rolling,
foaming, down upon us ; and, though the fog was thick and dark below,—far
below, in the place to which we were going—I could see the red fire
shining through,—the red, hot, unquenchable fire; and we were all going
down, down, down. Mother, mother, tell Mr. Lindsay I am going to be
put on my trials to-morrow. Careless creature that I am! life is
short, and I have lost much time; but I am going to be put on my trials
to-morrow, and shall come forth a preacher of the Word."
The thunder, which had hitherto been muttering at a
distance,—each peal, however, nearer and louder than the preceding
one,—now began to roll overhead, and the lightning, as it passed the
window, to illumine every object within. The hapless poet stretched
out his thin, wasted arm, as if addressing a congregation from the pulpit.
"There were the flashings of lightning," he said, "and the
roll of thunder; and the trumpet waxed louder and louder. And around
the summit of the mountain were the foldings of thick clouds, and the
shadow fell brown and dark over the wide expanse of the desert. And
the wild beasts lay trembling in their dens. But, lo! where the sun
breaks through the opening of the cloud, there is the glitter of
tents,—the glitter of ten thousand tents,—that rise over the sandy waste
thick as waves of the sea. And there, there is the voice of the
dance, and of the revel, and the winding of horns, and the clash of
cymbals. Oh, sit nearer me, dearest mother, for the room is growing
dark, dark; and oh, my poor head!
The lady sat on the castle wa',
Looked owre baith dale and down,
And then she spied Gil-Morice head
Come steering through the town.
Do, dearest mother, put your cool hand on my brow, and do hold it fast ere
it part. How fearfully, oh, how fearfully it aches!—and oh, how it
thunders!" He sunk backward on the pillow, apparently exhausted.
"Gone, gone, gone," he muttered,—"my mind gone forever. But God's
will be done."
I rose to leave the room; for I could restrain my feelings no
"Stay, Mr. Lindsay," said the poet, in a feeble voice.
"I hear the rain dashing on the pavement; you must not go till it abates.
Would that you could pray beside me! But no; you are not like the
dissolute companions who have now all left me, but you are not yet fitted
for that; and, alas! I cannot pray for myself. Mother, mother, see
that there be prayers at my lykewake; for,—
Her Iykewalke, it was piously spent
In social prayer and praise,
Performed by judicious men,
Who stricken were in days;
And many a heavy, heavy heart,
Was in that mournful place,
And many a weary, weary thought
On her who slept in peace.
They will come all to my lykewake, mother, won't they? Yes, all,
though they have left me now. Yes, and they will come far to see my
grave. I was poor, very poor, you know, and they looked down upon me
and I was no son or cousin of theirs, and so they could do nothing for me.
Oh, but they might have looked less coldy! But they will all come to
my grave, mother; they will come all to my grave; and they will say,
'Would he were living now, to know how kind we are!' But they will
look as coldly as ever on the living poet beside them,—yes, till till they
have broken his heart; and then they will go to his grave too. O,
dearest mother! do lay your cool hand on my brow."
He lay silent and exhausted, and in a few minutes I could
hope, from the hardness of his breathing, that he had fallen asleep.
"How long," I inquired of his sister, in a low whisper, "has
Mr. Fergusson been so unwell; and what has injured his head?"
"Alas!" said the girl, "my brother has been unsettled in mind
for nearly the last six months. We first knew it one evening on his
coming home from the country, where he had been for a few days with a
friend. He burnt a large heap of papers that he had been employed on
for weeks before,—songs and poems that, his friends say, were the finest
things he ever wrote; but he burnt them all, for he was going to be a
preacher of the Word, he said, and it did not become a preacher of the
Word to be a writer of light rhymes. And O, sir! his mind has been
carried ever since; but he has been always gentle and affectionate, and
his sole delight has lain in reading the Bible. Good Dr. Erskine, of
the Gray-friars, often comes to our house, and sits with him for hours
together: for there are times when his mind seems stronger than ever; and
he sees wonderful things, that seem to hover, the minister says, between
the extravagance natural to his present sad condition, and the higher
flights of a philosophic genius. And we had hoped that he was
getting better; but O, sir! our hopes have had a sad ending. He went
out, a few evenings ago, to call on an old acquaintance; and, in
descending a stair, missed footing, and fell to the bottom; and his head
has been fearfully injured by the stones. He has been just as you
have seen him ever since; and oh! I much fear he cannot now recover.
Alas! my poor brother!—never, never was there a more affectionate heart."
A lowly muse!
She sings of reptiles yet in song unknown.
I RETURNED to the vessel with a heavy heart; and it
was nearly three months from this time ere I again set foot in Edinburgh.
Alas for my unfortunate friend! He was now an inmate of the asylum,
and on the verge of dissolution. I was thrown by accident, shortly
after my arrival at this time, into the company of one of his boon
companions. I had gone into a tavern with a brother sailor,—a
shrewd, honest skipper from the north country; and, finding the place
occupied by half-a-dozen young fellows, who were growing noisy over their
liquor, I would have immediately gone out again, had I not caught, in the
passing, a few words regarding my friend. And so, drawing to a
side-table, I sat down.
"Believe me," said one of the topers, a dissolute-looking
young man, "it's all over with Bob Fergusson,—all over; and I knew it from
the moment he grew religious. Had old Brown tried to convert me, I
would have broken his face."
"What Brown?" inquired one of his companions.
"Is that all you know?" rejoined the other. "Why, John
Brown, of Haddington, the Seceder. Bob was at Haddington last year
at the election; and one morning, when in the horrors, after holding a rum
night of it, who should he meet in the churchyard but old John Brown.
He writes, you know, a big book on the Bible. Well, he lectured Bob
at a pretty rate about election and the call, I suppose; and the poor
fellow has been mad ever since. Your health, Jamie. For my own
part, I'm a freewill man, and detest all cant and humbug."
"And what has come of Fergusson now?" asked one of the others.
"Oh, mad, sir, mad!" rejoined the toper,—"reading the Bible
all day, and cooped up in the asylum yonder. 'Twas I who brought him
to it. But, lads, the glass has been standing for the last
half-hour. 'Twas I and Jack Robinson who brought him to it, as I
say. He was getting wild; and so we got a sedan for him, and trumped
a story of an invitation for tea from a lady, and he came with us as
quietly as a lamb. But if you could have heard the shriek he gave
when the chair stopped, and he saw where we had brought him! I never
heard anything half so horrible; it rung in my ears for a week after; and
then, how the mad people in the upper rooms howled and gibbered in reply,
till the very roof echoed! People say he is getting better; but when
I last saw him he was as religious as ever, and spoke so much about heaven
that it was uncomfortable to hear him. Great loss to his friends,
after all the expense they have been at with his education."
"You seem to have been intimate with Mr. Fergusson," I said.
"Oh, intimate with Bob!" he rejoined; "we were hand and
glove, man. I have sat with him in Lucky Middlemass's almost every
evening for two years; and I have given him hints for some of the best
things in his book. 'Twas I who tumbled down the cage in the
Meadows, and began breaking the lamps.
Ye who oft finish care in Lethe's cup,—
Who love to swear and roar, and keep it up,
List to a brother's voice, whose solo delight
Is sleep all dap, and riot all the night.
"There's spirit for you! But Bob was never sound at
bottom; and I have told him so. 'Bob,' I have said,—'Bob, you're but
a hypocrite after all, man,—without half the spunk you pretend to.
Why don't you take a pattern by me, who fear nothing, and believe only the
agreeable? But, poor fellow, he had weak nerves and a church-going
propensity that did him no good; and you see the effects. 'Twas all
nonsense, Tom, of his throwing the squib into the Glassite meeting-house.
Between you and I, that was a cut far beyond him in his best days, poet as
he was. 'Twas I who did it, man; and never was there a cleaner row
in Auld Reekie."
"Heartless, contemptible puppy!" said my comrade the sailor,
as we left the room. "Your poor friend must be ill indeed if he be
but half as insane as his quondam companion. But he cannot: there is
no madness like that of the heart. What could have induced a man of
genius to associate with a thing so thoroughly despicable?"
"The same misery, Miller," I said, "that brings a man
acquainted with strange bed fellows."
O, thou, my elder brother in misfortune!—
By far my elder brother in the muses,—
With tears I pity thy unhappy fate!
THE asylum in which my unfortunate friend was
confined—at this time the only one in Edinburgh—was situated in an angle
of the city wall. It was a dismal-looking mansion, shut in on every
side by the neighbouring houses from the view of the surrounding country,
and so effectually covered up from the nearer street by a large building
in front that it seemed possible enough to pass a lifetime in Edinburgh
without coming to the knowledge of its existence. I shuddered as I
looked up to its blackened walls, thinly sprinkled with miserable-looking
windows barred with iron, and thought of it as a sort of burial-place of
dead minds. But it was a Golgotha which, with more than the horrors
of the grave, had neither its rest nor its silence. I was startled,
as I entered the cell of the hapless poet, by a shout of laughter from a
neighbouring room, which was answered from a dark recess behind me by a
fearfully-prolonged shriek and the clanking of chains. The mother
and sister of Fergusson were sitting beside his pallet, on a sort of stone
settle, which stood out from the wall; and the poet himself—weak and
exhausted and worn to a shadow, but apparently in his right mind—lay
extended on the straw. He made an attempt to rise as I entered; but
the effort was above his strength, and, again lying down, lie extended his
"This is kind, Mr. Lindsay," he said; "it is ill for me to be
alone in these days; and yet I have few visitors save my poor old mother
and Margaret. But who cares for the unhappy?
I sat down on the settle beside him, still retaining his
hand. "I have been at sea, and in foreign countries," I said, "since
I last saw you, Mr. Fergusson, and it was only this morning I returned;
but, believe me, there are many, many of your countrymen who sympathize
sincerely in your affliction, and take a warm interest in your recovery."
He sighed deeply. "Ah," he replied, "I know too well
the nature of that sympathy. You never find it at the bedside of the
sufferer; it evaporates in a few barren expressions of idle pity! and yet,
after all, it is but a paying the poet in kind. He calls so often on
the world to sympathize over fictitious misfortune that the feeling wears
out, and becomes a mere mood of the imagination; and with this light,
attenuated pity, of his own weaving, it regards his own real sorrows.
Dearest mother, the evening is damp and chill. Do gather the
bed-clothes around me, and sit on my feet: they are so very cold, and so
dead that they cannot be colder a week hence."
"O, Robert! why do you speak so?" said the poor woman, as she
gathered the clothes around him, and sat on his feet. "You know you
are coming home tomorrow."
"To-morrow!" he said; if I see to-morrow, I shall have
completed my twenty-fourth year,—a small part, surely, of the threescore
and ten; but what matters when 'tis past?"
"You were ever, my friend, of a melancholy temperament," I
said, "and too little disposed to hope. Indulge in brighter views of
the future, and all shall yet be well."
"I can now hope that it shall," he said. "Yes, all
shall be well with me, and that very soon. But oh, how this nature
of ours shrinks from dissolution!—yes, and all the lower natures too.
You remember, mother, the poor starling that was killed in the room beside
us? Oh, how it struggled with its ruthless enemy, and filled the
whole place with its shrieks of terror and agony! And yet, poor
little thing, it had been true, all life long, to the laws of its nature,
and had no sins to account for and no Judge to meet. There is a
shrinking of heart as I look before me; and yet I can hope that all shall
yet be well with me, and that very soon. Would that I had been wise
in time! Would that I had thought more and earlier of the things
which pertain to my eternal peace!—more of a living soul, and less of a
dying name! But oh! 'tis a glorious provision, through which a way
of return is opened up, even at the eleventh hour."
We sat around him in silence. An indescribable feeling
of awe pervaded my whole mind; and his sister was affected to tears.
"Margaret," he said, in a feeble voice,—"Margaret, you will
find my Bible in yonder little recess: 'tis all I have to leave you; but
keep it, dearest sister, and use it, and in times of sorrow and suffering,
that come to all, you will know how to prize the legacy of your poor
brother. Many, many books do well enough for life; but there is only
one of any value when we come to die.
"You have been a voyager of late, Mr. Lindsay," he continued,
"and I have been a voyager too. I have been journeying in darkness
and discomfort, amid strange unearthly shapes of dread and horror, with no
reason to direct, and no will to govern. Oh, the unspeakable
unhappiness of these wanderings!—these dreams of suspicion, and fear, and
hatred, in which shadow and substance, the true and the false, were so
wrought up and mingled together that they formed but one fantastic and
miserable whole. And oh, the unutterable horror of every momentary
return to a recollection of what I had been once, and a sense of what I
had become! Oh, when I awoke amid the terrors of the night; when I
turned me on the rustling straw, and heard the wild wail, and yet wilder
laugh; when I heard, and shuddered, and then felt the demon in all his
might coming over me, till I laughed and wailed with the others,—oh, the
misery! the utter misery! But 'tis over, my friend,—'tis all over. A
few, few tedious days—few, few weary nights—and all my sufferings shall be
I had covered my face with my hands, but the tears came
bursting through my fingers. The mother and sister of the poet
"Why sorrow for me, sirs?" he said; "why grieve for me?
I am well, quite well, and want for nothing. But 'tis cold, oh, 'tis
very cold, and the blood seems freezing at my heart. Ah, but there
is neither pain nor cold where I am going, and I trust it will be well
with my soul. Dearest, dearest mother, I always told you it would
come to this at last."
The keeper had entered, to intimate to us that the hour for
locking up the cells was already past; and we now rose to leave the place.
I stretched out my hand to my unfortunate friend. He took it in
silence; and his thin, attenuated fingers felt cold within my grasp, like
those of a corpse. His mother stooped down to embrace him.
"Oh, do not go yet, mother," he said,—"do not go yet,—do not
leave me. But it must be so, and I only distress you. Pray for
me, dearest mother, and oh, forgive me. I have been a grief and a
burden to you all life long; but I ever loved you, mother; and oh, you
have been kind, kind and forgiving; and now your task is over. May
God bless and reward you! Margaret, dearest Margaret, farewell!"
We parted, and, as it proved, forever. Robert Fergusson
expired during the night; and when the keeper entered the cell next
morning to prepare him for quitting the asylum, all that remained of this
most hapless of the children of genius was a pallid and wasted corpse,
that lay stiffening on the straw. I am now a very old man, and the
feelings wear out; but I find that my heart is even yet susceptible of
emotion, and that the source of tears is not yet dried up.
RECOLLECTIONS OF BURNS.
Wear we not graven on our hearts
The name of Robert Burns?
THE degrees shorten as we proceed from the lower to
the higher latitudes; the years seem to shorten in a much greater ratio as
we pass onward through life. We are almost disposed to question
whether the brief period of storms and foul weather that floats over us
with such dream-like rapidity, and the transient season of flowers and
sunshine that seems almost too short for enjoyment, be at all identical
with the long summers and still longer winters of our boyhood, when day
after day, and week after week, stretched away in dim perspective, till
lost in the obscurity of an almost inconceivable distance. Young as
I was, I had already passed the period of life when we wonder how it is
that the years should be described as short and fleeting; and it seemed as
if I had stood but yesterday beside the deathbed of the unfortunate
Fergusson, though the flowers of four summers and the snows of four winters
had been shed over his grave.
My prospects in life had begun to brighten. I served in
the capacity of mate in a large West India trader, the master of which, an
elderly man of considerable wealth, was on the eve of quitting the sea;
and the owners had already determined that I should succeed him in the
charge. But fate had ordered it otherwise. Our seas were
infested at this period by American privateers,— prime sailors and
strongly armed; and, when homeward bound from Jamaica with a valuable
cargo, we were attacked and captured, when within a day's sailing of
Ireland, by one of the most formidable of the class. Vain as
resistance might have been deemed,—for the force of the American was
altogether overpowering,—and though our master, poor old man! and three of
the crew, had fallen by the first broadside, we had yet stood stiffly by
our guns, and were only overmastered when, after falling foul of the
enemy, we were boarded by a party of thrice our strength and number.
The Americans, irritated by our resistance, proved on this occasion no
generous enemies: we were stripped and heavily ironed, and, two days
after, were set ashore on the wild shore of Connaught, without a single
change of dress, or a single sixpence to bear us by the way.
I was sitting, on the following night, beside the turf fire
of a hospitable Irish peasant, when a seafaring man, whom I had sailed
with about two years before, entered the cabin. The meeting was
equally unexpected on either side. My acquaintance was the master of
a smuggling lugger then on the coast; and, on acquainting him with the
details of my disaster and the state of destitution to which it had
reduced me, he kindly proposed that I should accompany him on his voyage
to the west coast of Scotland, for which he was then on the eve of
sailing. "You will run some little risk," he said, "as the companion
of a man who has now been thrice outlawed for firing on his Majesty's
flag; but I know your proud heart will prefer the danger of bad company,
at its worst, to the alternative of be, your way home." He judged
rightly. Before daybreak we had lost sight of land, and in four days
more we could discern the precipitous shores of Carrick, stretching in a
dark line along the horizon, and the hills of the interior rising thin and
blue behind, like a volume of clouds. A considerable part of our
cargo, which consisted mostly of tea and spirits, was consigned to an Ayr
trader, who had several agents in the remote parish of Kirkoswald, which
at this period afforded more facilities for carrying on the contraband
trade than any other on the western coast of Scotland, and in a rocky bay
of the parish we proposed unlading on the following night. It was
necessary, however, that the several agents, who were yet ignorant of our
arrival, should be prepared to meet with us; and, on volunteering my
service for the purpose, I was landed near the ruins of the ancient castle
of Turnberry, once the seat of Robert the Bruce.
I had accomplished my object. It was evening, and a
party of countrymen were sauntering among the cliffs, waiting for
nightfall and the appearance of the lugger. There are splendid
caverns on the coast of Kirkoswald; and, to while away the time, I had
descended to the shore by a broken and precipitous path, with a view of
exploring what are termed the Caves of Colzean, by far the finest in this
part of Scotland. The evening was of great beauty: the sea spread
out from the cliffs to the far horizon like the sea of gold and crystal
described by the Prophet, and its warm orange lines so harmonized with
those of the sky that, passing over the dimly-defined line of demarcation,
the whole upper and nether expanse seemed but one glorious firmament, with
the dark Ailsa, like a thunder-cloud, sleeping in the midst. The sun
was hastening to his setting, and threw his strong red light on the wall
of rock which, loftier and more imposing than the walls of even the mighty
Babylon, stretched onward along the beach, headland after headland, till
the last sank abruptly in the far distance, and only the wide ocean
stretched beyond. I passed along the insulated piles of cliff that
rise thick along the bases of the precipices—now in sunshine, now in
shadow—till I reached the opening of one of the largest caves. The
roof rose more than fifty feet over my head; a broad stream of light, that
seemed redder and more fiery from the surrounding gloom, slanted inwards;
and, as I paused in the opening, my shadow, lengthened and dark, fell
across the floor—a slim and narrow bar of black—till lost in the gloom of
the inner recess. There was a wild and uncommon beauty in the scene
that powerfully affected the imagination; and I stood admiring it, in that
delicious dreamy mood in which one can forget all but the present
enjoyment, when I was roused to a recollection of the business of the
evening by the sound of a footfall echoing from within. It seemed
approaching by a sort of cross passage in the rock; and, in a moment
after, a young man—one of the country people whom I had left among the
cliffs above—stood before me. He wore a broad Lowland bonnet, and
his plain homely suit of coarse russet seemed to bespeak him a peasant of
perhaps the poorest class; but as he emerged from the gloom, and the red
light fell full on his countenance, I saw an indescribable something in
the expression that in an instant awakened my curiosity. He was
rather above the middle size, of a frame the most muscular and compact I
have almost ever seen; and there was a blended mixture of elasticity and
firmness in his tread that, to one accustomed, as I had been, to estimate
the physical capabilities of men, gave evidence of a union of immense
personal strength with activity. My first idea regarding the
stranger—and I know not how it should have struck me—was that of a very
powerful frame, animated by a double portion of vitality. The red
light shone full on his face, and gave a ruddy tinge to the complexion,
which I afterwards found it wanted, for he was naturally of a darker hue
than common; but there was no mistaking the expression of the large
flashing eyes, the features that seemed so thoroughly cast in the mould of
thought, and the broad, full, perpendicular forehead. Such, at
least, was the impression on my mind, that I addressed him with more of
the courtesy which my earlier pursuits had rendered familiar to me, than
of the bluntness of my adopted profession. "This sweet evening," I
said, "is by far too fine for our lugger; I question whether, in these
calms, we need expect her before midnight. But 'tis well, since wait
we must, that 'tis in a place where the hours may pass so agreeably."
The stranger good-humouredly acquiesced in the remark; and we sat down
together on the dry, water-worn pebbles, mixed with fragments of broken
shells and minute pieces of wreck, that strewed the opening of the cave.
Was there ever a lovelier evening!" he exclaimed. "The
waters above the firmament seem all of a piece with the waters below.
And never, surely, was there a scene of wilder beauty. Only look
inwards, and see how the stream of red light seems bounded by the extreme
darkness, like a river by its banks, and how the reflection of the ripple
goes waving in golden curls along the roof!"
"I have been admiring the scene for the last half-hour," I
said. "Shakspeare speaks of a music that cannot be heard; and I have
not yet seen a place where one might better learn to comment on the
Both the thought and the phrase seemed new to him.
"A music that cannot be heard!" he repeated; and then, after
a momentary pause, "You allude to the fact," he, continued, "that sweet
music, and forms, such as these, of silent beauty and grandeur, awaken in
the mind emotions of nearly the same class. There is something truly
exquisite in the concert of to-night."
I muttered a simple assent.
"See!" he continued, "how finely these insulated piles of
rock, that rise in so many combinations of form along the beach, break and
diversify the red light; and how the glossy leaves of the ivy glisten in
the hollows of the precipices above! And then, how the sea spreads
away to the far horizon,—a glorious pavement of crimson and gold,—and how
the dark Ailsa rises in the midst, like the little cloud seen by the
prophet! The mind seems to enlarge, the heart to expand, in the
contemplation of so much of beauty and grandeur. The soul asserts
its due supremacy. And oh, 'tis surely well that we can escape from
those little cares of life which fetter down our thoughts, our hopes, our
wishes to the wants and the enjoyments of our animal existence, and that,
amid the grand and the sublime of nature, we may learn from the spirit
within us that we are better than the beasts that perish!"
I looked up to the animated countenance and flashing eyes of
my companion, and wondered what sort of a peasant it was I had met with.
"Wild and beautiful as the scene is," I said, "you will find, even among
those who arrogate to themselves the praise of wisdom and learning, men
who regard such scenes as more errors of nature. Burnett would have
told you that a Dutch landscape, without hill, rock, or valley, must be
the perfection of beauty, seeing that Paradise itself could have furnished
"I hold Milton as higher authority on the subject," said my
companion, "than all the philosophers who ever wrote. Beauty is a
tame, unvaried flat, where a man would know his country only by the
milestones! A very Dutch paradise, truly!"
"But would not some of your companions above," I asked, "deem
the scene as much an error of nature as Burnet himself? They could
pass over these stubborn rocks neither plough nor harrow."
"True," he replied; "there is a species of small wisdom in
the world that often constitutes the extremest of its folly,—a wisdom that
would change the entire nature of good, had it but the power, by
vainly endeavouring to render that good universal. It would convert
the entire earth into one vast corn-field, and then find that it had
ruined the species by its improvement."
"We of Scotland can hardly be ruined in that way for an age
to come," I said. "But I am not sure that I understand you.
Alter the very nature of good in the attempt to render it universal!
"I dare say you have seen a graduated scale," said my
companion, "exhibiting the various powers of the different musical
instruments, and observed how some of limited scope cross only a few of
the divisions, and how others stretch nearly from side to side. 'Tis
but a poor truism, perhaps, to say that similar differences in scope and
power obtain among men,—that there are minds who could not join in the
concert of to-night,—who could see neither beauty nor grandeur amid these
wild cliffs and caverns, or in that glorious expanse of sea and sky; and
that, on the other hand, there are minds so finely modulated— minds that
sweep so broadly across the scale of nature—that there is no object,
however minute, no breath of feeling, however faint, that does not awaken
their sweet vibrations: the snow-flake falling in the stream, the daisy of
the field, the conies of the rock, the hyssop of the wall. Now, the
vast and various frame of nature is adapted, not to the lesser, but to the
larger mind. It spreads on and around us in all its rich and
magnificent variety, and finds the full portraiture of its Proteus-like
beauty in the mirror of genius alone. Evident, however, as this may
seem, we find a sort of levelling principle in the inferior order of
minds, and which, in fact, constitutes one of their grand
characteristics,—a principle that would fain abridge the scale to their
own narrow capabilities, that would cut down the vastness of nature to
suit the littleness of their own conceptions and desires, and convert it
into one tame, uniform mediocre good, which would be good
but to themselves alone, and ultimately not even that."
"I think I can now understand you," I said. "You describe a
sort of swinish wisdom, that would convert the world into one vast stye.
For my own part, I have travelled far enough to know the value of a blue
hill, and would not willingly lose so much as one of these landmarks of
our mother land, by which kindly hearts in distant countries love to
"I dare say we are getting fanciful," rejoined my companion;
"but certainly, in man's schemes of improvement, both physical and moral,
there is commonly a littleness and want of adaptation to the general good
that almost always defeats his aims. He sees and understands but a
minute portion; it is always some partial good he would introduce; and
thus he but destroys the just proportions of a nicely-regulated system of
things, by exaggerating one of the parts. I passed of late through a
richly-cultivated district of country, in which the agricultural improver
had done his utmost. Never were there finer fields, more convenient
steadings, crops of richer promise, a better regulated system of
production. Corn and cattle had mightily improved; but what had man,
the lord of the soil, become? Is not the body better than food, and
life than raiment? If that decline for which all other things exist,
it surely matters little that all these other things prosper. And
here, though the corn, the cattle, the fields, the steadings had improved,
man had sunk. There are but two classes in the district; a few
cold-hearted speculators, who united what is worst in the character of the
landed proprietor and the merchant,—these were young gentleman farmers;
and a class of degraded helots, little superior to the cattle they
tended,—these were your farm-servants. And for two such extreme
classes—necessary result of such a state of thing—had this unfortunate
though highly eulogized district parted with a moral, intelligent,
high-minded peasantry,—the true boast and true riches of their country."
"I have, I think, observed something like what you describe,"
"I give," he replied, "but one instance of a thousand.
But mark how the sun's lower disk has just reached the line of the
horizon, and how the long level rule of light stretches to the very
innermost recess of the cave. It darkens as the orb sinks. And
see how the gauze-like shadows creep on from the sea, film after film; and
now they have reached the ivy that mantles round the castle of the Bruce.
Are you acquainted with Barbour?"
"Well," I said;—"a spirited, fine old fellow, who loved his
country, and did much for it. I could once repeat all his chosen
passages. Do you remember how he describes King Robert's rencounter
with the English knight?"
My companion sat up erect, and, clenching his fist, began
repeating the passage, with a power and animation that seemed to double
its inherent energy and force.
"Glorious old Barbour!" ejaculated he, when he had! finished
the description; "many a heart has beat all the higher, when the
bale-fires were blazing, through the tutorage of thy noble verses!
Blind Harry, too,—what has not his country owed to him!"
"Ah, they have long since been banished from our popular
literature," I said; "and yet Blind Henry's 'Wallace,' as Hailes tells us,
was at one time the very Bible of the Scotch. But love of country
seems to be old-fashioned among us; and we have become philosophic enough
to set up for citizens of the world."
"All cold pretense," rejoined my companion,—"an effect of
that small wisdom we have just been decrying. Cosmopolitism, as we
are accustomed to define it, can be no virtue of the present age, nor yet
of the next, nor perhaps for centuries to come. Even when it shall
have attained to its best, and when it may be most safely indulged in, it
is according to the nature of man that, instead of running counter to the
love of country, it should exist as but a wider diffusion of the feeling,
and form, as it were, a wider circle round it. It is absurdity
itself to oppose the love of our country to that or our race.
"Do I rightly understand you?" I said. "You look
forward to a time when the patriot may safely expand into the citizen of
the world; but in the present age he would do well, you think, to confine
his energies within the inner circle of the country."
"Decidedly," he rejoined. "Man should love his species at all
times; but it is ill with him if, in times like the present, he loves not
his country more. The spirit of war and aggression is yet abroad;
there are laws to be established, rights to be defended, invaders to be
repulsed, tyrants to be deposed. And who but the patriot is equal to
these things? We are not yet done with the Bruces, the Wallaces, the
Tells, the Washingtons,—yes, the Washingtons, whether they fight for or
against as,—we are not yet done with them. The cosmopolite is but a
puny abortion,—a birth ere the natural time,—that at once endangers the
life and betrays the weakness of the country that bears him. Would
that he were sleeping in his elements till his proper time! But we
are getting ashamed of our country, of our language, our manners, our
music, our literature; nor shall we have enough of the old spirit left us
to assert our liberties or fight our battles. Oh for some Barbour or
Blind Harry of the present day, to make us once more proud of our
I quoted the famous saying of Fletcher of Salton,—"Allow me
to make the songs of a country, and I will allow you to make its laws."
"But here," I said, "is our lugger stealing round Turnberry
Head. We shall soon part, perhaps for ever; and I would fain know
with whom I have spent an hour so agreeably, and have some name to
remember him, my own name is Matthew Lindsay. I am a native of
"And I," said the young man, rising and cordially grasping
the proffered hand, "am a native of Ayr. My name is Robert Burns."
If friendless, low, we meet together,
Then, Sir, your hand,—my friend and brother.
A LIGHT breeze had risen as the sun sank, and our
lugger, with all her sails set, came sweeping along the shore. She
had nearly gained the little bay in front of the cave, and the countrymen
from above, to the number of perhaps twenty, had descended to the beach,
when, all of a sudden, after a shrill whistle, and a brief half-minute of
commotion among the crew, she wore round and stood out to sea. I
turned to the south, and saw a square-rigged vessel shooting out from
behind one of the rocky headlands, and then bearing down in a long tack on
the smuggler. "The sharks are upon us," said one of the countrymen,
whose eyes had turned in the same direction; "we shall have no sport
to-night." We stood lining the beach in anxious curiosity. The
breeze freshened as the evening fell; and the lugger, as she lessened to
our sight, went leaning against the foam in a long bright furrow, that,
catching the last light of evening, shone like the milky-way amid the
blue. Occasionally we could see the flash and hear the booming of a
gun from the other vessel; but the night fell thick and dark; the waves,
too, began to lash against the rocks, drowning every feebler sound in a
continuous roaring, and every trace of both the chase and the chaser
disappeared. The party broke up, and I was left standing alone on
the beach, a little nearer home, but in every other respect in quite the
same circumstances as when landed by my American friends on the wild coast
of Connaught. "Another of Fortune's freaks!" I ejaculated; "but 'tis
well she can no longer surprise me."
A man stepped out in the darkness, as I spoke, from beside
one of the rocks. It was the peasant Burns, my acquaintance of the
earlier part of the evening.
"I have waited, Mr. Lindsay," he said, "to see whether some
of the country folks here, who have homes of their own to invite you to,
might not have brought you along with them. But I am afraid you must
just be content to pass the night with me. I can give you a share of
my bed and my supper; though both, I am aware, need many apologies."
I made a suitable acknowledgment, and we ascended the cliff together.
"I live, when at home, with my parents," said my companion, "in the inland
parish of Turbolton; but for the last two months I have attended school
here, and lodge with an old widow-woman in the village. To-morrow,
as harvest is fast approaching, I return to my father."
"And I," I replied, "shall have the pleasure of accompanying
you at least the early part of your journey, on my way to Irvine, where my
mother still lives."
We reached the village, and entered a little cottage, that
presented its gable to the street and its side to one of the narrower
"I must introduce you to my landlady," said my companion—"an
excellent, kind-hearted old woman, with a fund of honest Scotch pride and
shrewd good sense in her composition, and with the mother as strong in her
heart as ever, though she lost the last of her children more than twenty
We found the good woman sitting beside a small but very
cheerful fire. The hearth was newly swept, and the floor newly
sanded; and, directly fronting her, there was an empty chair, which seemed
to have been drawn to its place in the expectation of some one to fill it.
"You are going to leave me, Robert, my bairn," said the
woman, "an' I kenna how I sall ever get on without you. I have
almost forgotten, sin' you came to live with me that I have neither
children nor husband." On seeing me she stopped short.
"An acquaintance," said my companion, "whom I have made bold
to bring with me for the night; but you must not put yourself to any
trouble, mother; he is, I dare say, as much accustomed to plain fare as
myself. Only, however, we must get an additional pint of yill
from the clachan; you know this is my last evening with you, and
was to be a merry one, at any rate." The woman looked me full in the
"Matthew Lindsay!" she exclaimed, "can you have forgotten
your poor old aunt Margaret!" I grasped her hand.
"Dearest aunt, this is surely most unexpected! How
could I have so much as dreamed you were within a hundred miles of me?"
Mutual congratulation ensued.
"This," she said, turning to my companion, "is the nephew I
have so often told you about, and so often wished to bring you acquainted
with. He is, like yourself, a great reader and a great thinker, and
there is no need that your proud, kindly heart should be jealous of him;
for be has been ever quite as poor, and maybe the poorer of the two."
After still more of greeting and congratulation, the young man rose.
"The night is dark, mother," he said, "and the road to the
clachan a rough one. Besides, you and your kinsman will have much to
say to one another. I shall just slip out to the clachan for you;
and you shall both tell me, on my return, whether I am not a prime judge
"The kindest heart, Matthew, that ever lived," said my
relative, as he left the house. "Ever since he came to Kirkoswald he
has been both son and daughter to me, and I shall feel twice a widow when
he goes away."
"I am mistaken, aunt," I said, "if he be not the
strongest-minded man I ever saw. Be assured he stands high among the
aristocracy of nature, whatever may be thought of him in Kirkoswald.
There is a robustness of intellect, joined to an overmastering force of
character, about him, which I have never yet seen equalled, though I have
been intimate with at least one very superior mind, and with hundreds of
the class who pass for men of talent. I have been thinking, ever
since I met with him, of the William Tells and William Wallaces of
history, men who, in those times of trouble which unfix the foundations of
society, step out from their obscurity to rule the destiny of nations."
"I was ill about a month ago," said my relative,—"so very ill
that I thought I was to have done with the world altogether; and Robert
was both nurse and physician to me. He kindled my fire, too, every
morning, and sat up beside me sometimes for the greater part of the night.
What wonder I should love him as my own child? Had your cousin Henry
been spared to me, he would now have been much about Robert's age."
The conversation passed to other matters; and in about half
an hour my new friend entered the room, when we sat down to a homely but
"I have been engaged in argument for the last twenty minutes
with our parish schoolmaster," he said,—"a shrewd, sensible man, and a
prime scholar, but one of the most determined Calvinists I ever knew.
Now, there is something, Mr. Lindsay, in abstract Calvinism that
dissatisfies and distresses me; and yet, I must confess, there is so much
of good in the working of the system, that I would ill like to see it
supplanted by any other. I am convinced, for instance, there is
nothing so efficient in teaching the bulk of a people to think as a
"Ah, Robert," said my aunt, "it does meikle mair nor that.
Look, round you, my bairn, an' see if there be a kirk in which puir sinful
creatures have mair comfort in their sufferings, or mair hope in their
"Dear mother," said my companion, "I like well enough to
dispute with the schoolmaster, but I must have no dispute with you.
I know the heart is everything in these matters, and yours is much wiser
"There is something in abstract Calvinism," he continued,
"that distresses me. In almost all our researches, we arrive at an
ultimate barrier which interposes its wall of darkness between us and the
last grand truth in the series, which we had trusted was to prove a
master-key to the whole. We dwell in a sort of Goshen: there is
light in our immediate neighbourhood, and a more than Egyptian darkness
all around; and as every Hebrew must save known that the hedge of cloud
which he saw resting on the landscape was a boundary, not to things
themselves, but merely to his view of things,—for beyond there were cities
and plains and oceans and continents,—so we in like manner must know that
the barriers of which I speak exist only in relation to the faculties
which we employ, not to the objects on which we employ them. And
yet, notwithstanding this consciousness that we are necessarily and
irremediably the bound prisoners of ignorance, and that all the great
truths lie outside our prison, we can almost be content that in most cases
it should be so; not, however, with regard to those great unattainable
truths which lie in the track of Calvinism. They seem too important
to be wanted, and yet want them we must; and we beat our very heads
against the cruel barrier which separates us from them."
"I am afraid I hardly understand you," I said. "Do
assist me by some instance or illustration."
"You are acquainted," he replied, "with the Scripture
doctrine of predestination; and, in thinking over it in connection with
the destinies of man, it must have struck you that, however much it may
interfere with our fixed notions of the goodness of Deity, it is
thoroughly in accordance with the actual condition of our race. As
far as we can know of ourselves and the things around us, there seems,
through the will of Deity,—for to what else can we refer it?—a fixed,
invariable connection between what we term cause and effect. Nor do
we demand of any class of mere effects, in the inanimate or irrational
world, that they should regulate themselves otherwise than the causes
which produce them have determined. The roe and the tiger pursue,
unquestioned, the instincts of their several natures; the cork rises, and
the stone sinks; and no one thinks of calling either to account for
movements so opposite. But it is not so with the family of man; and
yet our minds, our bodies, our circumstances are but combinations of
effects, over the causes of which we have no control. We did not
choose a country for ourselves, nor yet a condition in life; nor did we
determine our modicum of intellect, or our amount of passion; we did not
impart its gravity to the weightier part of our nature, or give expansion
to the lighter; nor are our instincts of our own planting. How,
then, being thus as much the creatures of necessity as the denizens of the
wild and forest,—as thoroughly under the agency of fixed, unalterable
causes as the dead matter around us,—why are we yet the subjects of a
retributive system, and accountable for all our actions?"
"You quarrel with Calvinism," I said; "and seem one of the
most thoroughgoing necessitarians I ever knew."
"Not so," he replied. "Though my judgment cannot
disprove these conclusions, my heart cannot acquiesce in them; though I
see that I am as certainly the subject of laws that exist and operate
independent of my will as the dead matter around me, I feel, with a
certainty quite as great, that I am a free, accountable creature. It
is according to the scope of my entire reason that I should deem myself
bound; it is according to the constitution of my whole nature that I
should feel myself free. And in this consists the great, the fearful
problem,—a problem which both reason and revelation propound; but the
truths which can alone solve it seem to lie beyond the horizon of
darkness, and we vex ourselves in vain. 'Tis a sort of moral
asymptote; but its lines, instead of approaching through all space without
meeting, seem receding through all space and yet meet."
"Robert, my bairn," said my aunt, "I fear you are wasting
your strength on these mysteries, to your ain hurt. Did ye no see,
in the last storm, when ye staid out among the caves till cock-crow, that
the bigger and stronger the wave, the mair was it broken against the
rocks? It's just thus wi' the pride o' man's understand when he
measures it against the dark things o' God. An' yet, it's sae
ordered that the same wonderful truths which perplex an' cast down the
proud reason, should delight an' comfort the humble heart. I am a
lone, puir woman, Robert. Bairns and husband have gone down to the
grave, one by one; au' now, for twenty weary years, I have been childless
au' a widow. But trow yo that the puir lone woman wanted a guard,
an' a comforter, an' a provider, through a' the lang mirk nichts and a'
the cauld scarce winters o' these twenty years? No, my bairn; I kent
that Himsel' was wi' me. I kent it by the provision He made, an' the
care He took, an' the joy He gave. An' how, think you, did He
comfort me maist? Just by the blessed assurance that a' my trials
an' a' my sorrows were nae hasty chance matters, but dispensations for my
gude and the gude o' those He took to Himsel'; that, in the perfect love
and wisdom o' his nature, He had ordained frae the beginning."
"Ah, mother," said my friend, after a pause, "you understand
the doctrine far better than I do. There are, I find, no
contradictions in the Calvinism of the heart."
Ayr, gurgling, kissed his pebbled shore,
O'erhung with wild woods thick'nine green;
The fragrant birch and hawthorn hoar
Twined, amorous, round the raptured scene;
The flowers sprang wanton to be prest,
The birds sang love on every spray,
Till too, too soon, the glowing west
Proclaimed the speed of wingèd
WE, were early on the road together. The day,
though somewhat gloomy, was mild and pleasant; and we walked slowly
onward, neither of us in the least disposed to hasten our parting by
hastening our journey. We had discussed fifty different topics, and
were prepared to enter on fifty more, when we reached the ancient burgh of
Ayr, where our roads separated.
"I have taken an immense liking to you, Mr. Lindsay," said my
companion, as he seated himself on the parapet of the old bridge, "and
have just bethought me of a scheme through which I may enjoy your company
for at least one night more. The Ayr is a lovely river, and you tell
me you have never explored it. We shall explore it together this
evening for about ten miles, when we shall find ourselves at the
farm-house of Lochlea. You may depend on a hearty welcome from my
father, whom, by the way, I wish much to introduce to you, as a man worth
your knowing; and as I have set my heart on the scheme, you are surely too
good-natured to disappoint me." Little risk of that, I thought.
I had, in fact, become thoroughly enamoured of the warm-hearted
benevolence and fascinating conversation of my companion, and acquiesced
with the best good-will in the world.
We had threaded the course of the river for several miles.
It runs through a wild pastoral valley, roughened by thickets of copsewood,
and bounded on either hand by a line of swelling, moory hills, with here
and there a few irregular patches of corn, and here and there some little
neat-like cottage peeping out from among the wood. The clouds, which
during the morning had obscured the entire face of the heavens, were
breaking up their array, and the sun was looking down in twenty different
places through the openings, checkering the landscape with a fantastic
though lovely carpeting of light and shadow. Before us there rose a
thick wood, on a jutting promontory, that looked blue and dark in the
shade, as if it wore mourning; while the sunlit stream beyond shone
through the trunks and branches like a river of fire. At length the
clouds seemed to have melted in the blue,—for there was not a breath of
wind to speed them away, —and the sun, now hastening to the west, shone in
unbroken effulgence over the wide extent of the dell, lighting up stream
and wood and field and cottage in one continuous blaze of glory. We
had walked on in silence for the last half-hour; but I could sometimes
hear my companion muttering as he went; and when, in passing through a
thicket of hawthorn and honeysuckle, we started from its perch a linnet
that had been filling the air with its melody, I could hear him exclaim,
in a subdued tone of voice, "Bonny, bonny birdie! Wily hasten frae
me? I wadna skaith a feather o' yer wing." He turned round to
me, and I could see that his eyes were swimming in moisture.
"Can he be other," he said, "than a good and benevolent God
who gives us moments like these to enjoy? O, my friend! without
these sabbaths of the soul, that come to refresh and invigorate it, it
would dry up within us! How exquisite," he continued, "how entire,
the sympathy which exists between all that is good and fair in external
nature and all of good and fair that dwells in our own! And oh, how
the heart expands and lightens! The world is as a grave to it, a
closely-covered grave; and it shrinks and deadens and contracts all its
holier and more joyous feelings under the cold, earth-like pressure.
But amid the grand and lovely of nature,—amid these forms and colours of
richest beauty,—there is a disinterment, a resurrection, of sentiment; the
pressure of our earthly part seems removed; and those senses of the mind,
if I may so speak, which serve to connect our spirits with the invisible
world around us, recover their proper tone, and perform their proper
"Senses of the mind!" I said, repeating the phrase; the idea
is new to me; but I think I can catch your meaning."
"Yes; there are, there must be such," he continued, with
growing enthusiasm. "Man is essentially a religious creature, a
looker beyond the grave, from the very constitution of his mind; and the
sceptic who denies it is untrue not merely to the Being who has made and
who preserves him, but to the entire scope and bent of his own nature
besides. Wherever man is,—whether he be a wanderer of the wild
forest or still wilder desert,—a dweller in some lone isle of the sea, or
the tutored and full-minded denizen of some blessed land like our
own;—wherever man is, there is religion; hopes that look forward and
upward; the belief in an unending existence and a land of separate souls."
I was carried away by the enthusiasm of my companion, and
felt for the time as if my mind had become the mirror of his. There
seems to obtain among men a species of moral gravitation, analogous in its
principles to that which regulates and controls the movements of the
planetary system. The larger and more ponderous any body, the
greater its attractive force, and the more overpowering its influence over
the lesser bodies which surround it. The earth we inhabit carries
the moon along with it in its course, and is itself subject to the
immensely more powerful influence of the sun. And it is thus with
character. It is a law of our nature, as certainly as of the system
we inhabit, that the inferior should yield to the superior, and the lesser
owe its guidance to the greater. I had hitherto wandered on through
life almost unconscious of the existence of this law; or, if occasionally
rendered half aware of it, it was only through a feeling that some secret
influence was operating favourably in my behalf on the common minds around
me. I now felt, however, for the first time, that I had come in
contact with a mind immeasurably more powerful than my own. My
thoughts seemed to cast themselves into the very mould, my sentiments to
modulate themselves by the very tone, of his. And yet he was but a
russet-clad peasant,—my junior by at least eight years,—who was returning
from school to assist his father, an humble tacksman, in the labours, of
the approaching harvest. But the law of circumstance, so arbitrary
in ruling the destinies of common men, exerts but feeble control over the
children of genius. The prophet went forth commissioned by heaven to
anoint a king over Israel; and the choice fell on a shepherd-boy, who was
tending his father's flocks in the field.
We had reached a lovely bend of the stream. There was a
semicircular inflection in the steep bank, which waved over us, from base
to summit, with hawthorn and hazel; and while one half looked blue and
dark in the shade, the other was lighted up with gorgeous and fiery
splendour by the sun, now fast sinking in the west. The effect
seemed magical. A little glassy platform, that stretched between the
hanging wood and the stream, was whitened over with clothes, that looked
like snow-wreaths in the hollow; and a young and beautiful girl watched
"Mary Campbell!" exclaimed my companion; and in a moment he
was at her side, and had grasped both her hands in his. "How
fortunate, how very fortunate I am!" he said; "I could not have so much as
hoped to have seen you to-night, and yet here you are! This, Mr.
Lindsay, is a loved friend of mine, whom I have known and valued for
years,—ever, indeed, since we herded our sheep together under the cover of
one plaid. Dearest Mary, I have had sad forebodings regarding you
for the whole last month I was in Kirkoswald; and yet, after all my
foolish fears, here you are, ruddier and bonnier than ever."
She was, in truth, a beautiful, sylph-like young woman,—one
whom I would have looked at with complacency in any circumstances; for who
that admires the fair and lovely in nature, whether it be the wide-spread
beauty of sky and earth, or beauty in its minuter modifications, as we see
in the flowers that spring up at our feet, or the butterfly that flutters
over them,—who, I say, that admires the fair and lovely in nature, can be
indifferent to the fairest and loveliest of all her productions? As
the mistress, however, of by far the strongest-minded man I ever knew,
there was more of scrutiny in my glance than usual, and I felt a deeper
interest in her than mere beauty could have awakened. She was
perhaps rather below than above the middle size, but formed in such
admirable proportion that it seemed out of place to think of size in
reference to her at all. Who, in looking at the Venus do Medicis,
asks whether she be tall or short? The bust and neck were so
exquisitely moulded that they reminded me of Burke's fanciful remark, viz.
that our ideas of beauty originate in our love of the sex, and that we
deem every object beautiful which is described by soft waving lines,
resembling those of the female neck and bosom. Her feet and arms,
which were both bare, had a statue-like symmetry and marble-like
whiteness. But it was on her expressive and lovely countenance, now
lighted up by the glow of joyous feeling, that nature seemed to have
exhausted her utmost skill. There was a fascinating mixture in the
expression of superior intelligence and child-like simplicity; a soft,
modest light dwelt in the blue eye; and in the entire contour and general
form of the features there was a nearer approach to that union of the
straight and the rounded—which is found in its perfection in only the
Grecian face—than is at all common, in our northern latitudes, among the
descendants of either the Celt or the Saxon. I felt, however, as I
gazed, that, when lovers meet, the presence of a third person, however
much the friend of either, must always be less than agreeable.
"Mr. Burns," I said, "there is a beautiful eminence a few
hundred yards to the right, from which I am desirous to overlook the
windings of the stream. Do permit me to leave you for a short
half-hour, when I shall return; or, lest I weary you by my stay, 'twere
better, perhaps, you should join me there." My companion greeted the
proposal with a good-humoured smile of intelligence; and, plunging into
the wood, I left him with his Mary. The sun had just set ashe joined
"Have you ever been in love, Mr. Lindsay?" he said.
"No, never seriously," I replied. "I am perhaps not
naturally of the coolest temperament imaginable, but the same fortune that
has improved my mind in some little degree, and given me high notions of
the sex, has hitherto thrown me among only its less superior specimens.
I am now in my eight-and-twentieth year, and I have not yet met with a
woman whom I could love."
"Then you are yet a stranger," he rejoined, "to the greatest
happiness of which our nature is capable. I have enjoyed more
heartfelt pleasure in the company of the young woman I have just left,
than from every other source that has been opened to me from my childhood
till now. Love, my friend, is the fulfilling of the whole law."
"Mary Campbell, did you not call her?" I said. "She is,
I think, the loveliest creature I have ever seen; and I am much mistaken
in the expression of her beauty if her mind be not as lovely as her
person." "It is, it is!" he exclaimed,—"the intelligence of an
angel, with the simplicity of a child. Oh, the delight of being
thoroughly trusted, thoroughly beloved, by one of the loveliest, best,
purest-minded of all God's good creatures! to feel that heart boating
against my own, and to know that it beats for me only! Never have I
passed an evening with my Mary without returning to the world a better,
gentler, wiser man. Love, my friend, is the fulfilling of the whole
law. What are we without it?—poor, vile, selfish animals; our very
virtues themselves so exclusively virtues on our own behalf as to be
well-nigh as hateful as our vices. Nothing so opens and improves the
heart; nothing so widens the grasp of the affections; nothing half so
effectually brings us out of our crust of self, as a happy, well-regulated
love for a pure-minded, affectionate-hearted woman!"
"There is another kind of love of which we sailors see
somewhat," I said, "which is not so easily associated with good."
"Love!" he replied. "No, Mr. Lindsay, that is not the
name. Kind associates with kind in all nature; and love—humanizing,
heart-softening love—cannot be the companion of whatever is low, mean,
worthless, degrading,—the associate of ruthless dishonour, cunning,
treachery, and violent death. Even independent of its amount of evil
as a crime, or the evils still greater than itself which necessarily
accompany it, there is nothing that so petrifies the feeling as illicit
"Do you seriously think so?" I asked.
"Yes; and I see clearly how it should be so. Neither
sex is complete of itself; each was made for the other, that, like the two
halves of a hinge, they may become an entire whole when united. Only
think of the Scriptural phrase, "one flesh": it is of itself a
system of philosophy. Refinement and tenderness are of the woman;
strength and dignity of the man. Only observe the effects of a
thorough separation, whether originating in accident or caprice. You
will find the stronger sex lost in the rudenesses of partial barbarism;
the gentler wrapt up in some pitiful round of trivial and unmeaning
occupation,—dry-nursing puppies, or making pin-cushions for posterity.
But how much more pitiful are the effects when they meet amiss; when the
humanizing friend and companion of the man is converted into the light,
degraded toy of an idle hour, the object of a sordid appetite that lives
but for a moment, and then expires in loathing and disgust! The
better feelings are iced over at their source, chilled by the freezing and
deadening contact, where there is nothing to inspire confidence or solicit
esteem; and if these pass not through the first, the inner circle, that
circle within which the social affections are formed, and from whence they
emanate,—how can they possibly flow through the circles which lie beyond?
But here, Mr. Lindsay, is the farm of Lochlea; and yonder brown cottage,
beside the three elms, is the dwelling of my parents."
From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs,
That makes her loved at home, revered abroad.
THERE was a wide and cheerful circle this evening
round the hospitable hearth of Lochlea. The father of my friend—a
patriarchal-looking old man, with a countenance the most expressive I have
almost ever seen—sat beside the wall, on a large oaken settle, which also
served to accommodate a young man, an occasional visitor of the family,
dressed in rather shabby black, whom I at once set down as a probationer
of divinity. I had my own seat beside him. The brother of my
friend—a lad cast in nearly the same mould of form and feature, except
perhaps that his frame, though muscular and strongly set, seemed in the
main less formidably robust, and his countenance, though expressive, less
decidedly intellectual—sat at my side. My friend had drawn in his
seat beside his mother,—a well-formed, comely brunette, of about
thirty-eight, whom I might almost have mistaken for his older sister, and
two or three younger members of the family were grouped behind her.
The fire blazed cheerily within the wide and open chimney, and, throwing
its strong light on the faces and limbs of the circle, sent our shadows
flickering across the rafters and the wall behind. The conversation
was animated and rational, and every one contributed his share. But
I was chiefly interested in the remarks of the old man, for whom I already
felt a growing veneration, and in those of his wonderfully gifted son.
"Unquestionably, Mr. Burns," said the man in black,
addressing the farmer, "politeness is but a very shadow, as the poet hath
it, if the heart be wanting. I saw tonight, in a strictly polite
family, so marked a presumption of the lack of that natural affection of
which politeness is but the portraiture and semblance, that, truly, I have
been grieved in my heart ever since."
"Ah, Mr. Murdoch," said the farmer, "there is ever more
hypocrisy in the world than in the church, and that, too, among the class
of fine gentlemen and fine ladies who deny it most. But the
"You know the family, my worthy friend," continued Mr.
Murdoch; "it is a very pretty one, as we say vernacularly, being numerous,
and the sons highly genteel young men—the daughters not less so. A
neighbour of the same very polite character, coming on a visit when I was
among them, asked the father, in the course of the conversation to which I
was privy, how he meant to dispose of his sons; when the father replied
that he had not yet determined. The visitor said that, were he in
his place, seeing they were all well-educated young men, he would send
them abroad; to which the father objected the indubitable fact that many
young men lost their health in foreign countries, and very many their
lives. 'True,' did the visitor rejoin; 'but, as you have a number of
sons, it will be strange if some one of them does not live and make a
fortune.' Now, Mr. Burns, what will you, who know the feelings of
paternity, and the incalculable, and assuredly I may say invaluable value
of human souls, think when I add, that the father commended the hint, as
showing the wisdom of a shrewd man of the world!"
"Even the chief priests," said the old man, "pronounced it
unlawful to cast into the treasury the thirty pieces of silver, seeing it
was the price of blood; but the gentility of the present day is less
scrupulous. There is a laxity of principle among us, Mr. Murdoch,
that, if God restore us not, must end in the ruin of our country. I
say laxity of principle; for there have ever been evil manners among us,
and waifs in no inconsiderable number broken loose from the decencies of
society,—more, perhaps, in my early days than there are now. But our
principles, at least, were sound; and not only was there thus a
restorative and conservative spirit among us, but, what was of not less
importance, there was a broad gulf, like that in the parable, between the
two grand classes, the good and the evil,—a gulf which, when it secured
the better class from contamination, interposed no barrier to the
reformation and return of even the most vile and profligate, if repentant.
But this gulf has disappeared, and we are standing unconcernedly over it,
on a hollow and dangerous marsh of neutral ground, which, in the end, if
God open not our eyes, must assuredly give way under our feet."
"To what, father," inquired my friend, who sat listening with
the deepest and most respectful attention, "do you attribute the change?"
"Undoubtedly," replied the old man, "there have been many
causes at work; and though not impossible, it would certainly be no easy
task to trace them all to their several effects, and give to each its due
place and importance. But there is a deadly evil among us, though
you will hear of it from neither press nor pulpit, which I am disposed to
rank first in the number,—the affectation of gentility. It has a
threefold influence among us: it confounds the grand, eternal distinctions
of right and wrong, by erecting into a standard of conduct and opinion
that heterogeneous and artificial whole which constitutes the manners and
morals of the upper classes; it severs those ties of affection and
good-will which should bind the middle to the lowers orders, by disposing
the one to regard what-ever is below them with a too contemptuous
indifference, and by provoking a bitter and indignant, though natural
jealousy in the other, for being so regarded; and, finally, by leading
those who most entertain it into habits of expense,—torturing their means,
if I may so speak, on the rack of false opinion, disposing them to think,
in their blindness, that to be genteel is a first consideration, and to be
honest merely a secondary one,—it has the effect of so hardening their
hearts that, like those Carthagenians of whom we have been lately reading
in the volume Mr. Murdoch lent us, they offer up their very children,
souls and bodies, to the unreal, phantom-like necessities of their
"Have I not heard you remark, father," said Gilbert, "that
the change you describe has been very marked among the ministers of our
"Too marked and too striking," replied the old man; "and, in
affecting the respectability and usefulness of so important a class, it
has educed a cause of deterioration distinct from itself, and hardly less
formidable. There is an old proverb of our country, 'Better the head
of the commonalty than the tail of the gentry.' I have heard you
quote it, Robert, oftener than once, and admire its homely wisdom.
Now, it bears directly on what I have to remark: the ministers of our
church have moved but one step during the last sixty years; but that step
has been an all-important one. It has been from the best place in
relation to the people, to the worst in relation to aristocracy."
"Undoubtedly, worthy Mr. Burns," said Mr. Murdoch.
"There is great truth, according to mine own experience, in that which you
affirm. I may state, I trust without over-boasting or conceit, my
respected friend, that my learning is not inferior to that of our
neighbour the clergy-man;—it is not inferior in Latin, nor in Greek, nor
yet in French literature, Mr. Burns, and probable it is he would not much
court a competition; and yet, when I last waited at the Manse regarding a
necessary and essential certificate, Mr. Burns, he did not as much as ask
me to sit down."
"Ah," said Gilbert, who seemed the wit of the family, "he is
is a highly respectable man, Mr. Murdoch. He has a fine house, fine
furniture, fine carpets,—all that constitutes respectability, you know;
and his family is on visiting terms with that of the Laird. But his
credit is not so respectable, I hear."
"Gilbert," said the old man, with much seriousness, "it is
ill with a people when they can speak lightly of their clergymen.
There is still much of sterling worth and serious piety in the Church of
Scotland; and if the influence of its ministers be unfortunately less than
it was once, we must not cast the blame too exclusively on themselves.
Other causes have been in operation. The church eighty years ago was
the sole guide of opinion, and the only source of thought among us.
There was, indeed, but one way in which a man could learn to think.
His mind became the subject of some serious impression; he applied to his
Bible; and, in the contemplation of the most important of all concerns,
his newly-awakened faculties received their first exercise. All of
intelligence, all of moral good in him, all that rendered him worthy of
the name of man, he owed to the ennobling influence of his church; and is
it wonder that that influence should be all-powerful from this
circumstance alone? But a thorough change has taken place;—new
sources of intelligence have been opened up; we have our newspapers and
our magazines, and our volumes of miscellaneous reading; and it is now
possible enough for the most cultivated mind in a parish to be the least
moral and the least religious; and hence, necessarily, a diminished
influence in the church, independent of the character of its ministers."
I have dwelt too long, perhaps, on the conversation of the
elder Burns; but I feel much pleasure in thus developing, as it were, my
recollections of one whom his powerful-minded son has described—and this
after an acquaintance with our Henry M'Kenzies, Adam Smiths, and Dugald
Stewarts—as the man most thoroughly acquainted with the world he ever
knew. Never, at least, have I met with any one who exerted a more
wholesome influence, through the force of moral character, on those around
him. We sat down to a plain and homely supper. The slave
question had about this time begun to draw the attention of a few of the
more excellent and intelligent among the people, and the elder Burns
seemed deeply interested in it.
"This is but homely fare, Mr. Lindsay," he said, pointing to
the simple viands before us, "and the apologists of slavery among us would
tell you how inferior we are to the poor negroes, who fare so much better.
But surely 'man does not live by bread alone!' Our fathers who died
for Christ on the hill-side and the scaffold were noble men, and never,
never shall slavery produce such; and yet they toiled as hard, and fared
as meanly, as we their children."
I could feel, in the cottage of such a peasant, and seated
beside such men as his two sons, the full force of the remark. And
yet I have heard the miserable sophism of unprincipled power against which
it is directed—a sophism so insulting to the dignity of honest poverty—a
thousand times repeated.
Supper over, the family circle widened round the hearth; and
the old man, taking down a large clasped Bible, seated himself beside the
iron lamp which now lighted the apartment. There was deep silence
among us as he turned over the leaves. Never shall I forget his
appearance. He was tall and thin, and, though his frame was still
vigorous, considerably bent. His features were high and massy; the
complexion still retained much of the freshness of youth, and the eye all
its intelligence; but his locks were waxing thin and gray round his high,
thoughtful forehead, and the upper part of the head, which was elevated to
an unusual height, was bald. There was all expression of the deepest
seriousness on the countenance which the strong umbry shadows of the
apartment served to heighten; and when, laying his hand on the page, he
half-turned his face to the circle, and said, "Let us worship God," I was
impressed by a feeling of awe and reverence to which I had, alas! been a
stranger for years. I was affected, too, almost to tears, as I
joined in the psalm; for a thousand half-forgotten associations came
rushing upon me; and my heart seemed to swell and expand as, kneeling
beside him when he prayed, I listened to his solemn and fervent petition
that God might make manifest his power and goodness in the salvation of
man. Nor was the poor solitary wanderer of the deep forgotten.
On rising from our devotions, the old man grasped me by the
hand. "I am happy," he said, "that we should have met, Mr. Lindsay.
I feel an interest in you, and must take the friend and the old man's
privilege of giving you an advice. The sailor, of all men, stands
most in need of religion. His life is one of continued vicissitude,
of unexpected success or unlooked-for misfortune; he is ever passing from
danger to safety, and from safety to danger; his dependence is on the
ever-varying winds, his abode on the unstable waters. And the mind
takes a peculiar tone from what is peculiar in the circumstances.
With nothing stable in the real world around it on which it may rest, it
forms a resting-place for itself in some wild code of belief. It
peoples the elements with strange occult powers of good and evil, and does
them homage,—addressing its prayers to the genius of the winds and the
spirits of the waters. And thus it begets a religion for itself; for
what else is the professional superstition of the sailor?
Substitute, my friend, for this—shall I call it unavoidable
superstition?—this natural religion of the sea, the religion of the Bible.
Since you must be a believer in the supernatural, let your belief be true;
let your trust be on Him who faileth not, your anchor within the vail; and
all shall be well, be your destiny for this world what it may."
We parted for the night, and I saw him no more.
Next morning Robert accompanied me for several miles on my
way. I saw, for the last half-hour, that he had something to
communicate, and yet knew not how to set about it; and so I made a full
"You have something to tell me, Mr. Burns," I said.
"Need I assure you I am one you are in no danger from trusting?" He
blushed deeply, and I saw him, for the first time, hesitate and falter in
"Forgive me," he at length said; "believe me, Mr. Lindsay, I
would be the last in the world to hurt the feelings of a friend,—a—a—but
you have been left among us penniless, and I have a very little money
which I have no use for, none in the least. Will you not favour me
by accepting it as a loan?"
I felt the full and generous delicacy of the proposal, and,
with moistened eyes and a swelling heart, availed myself of his kindness.
The sum he tendered did not much exceed a guinea; but the yearly earnings
of the peasant Burns fell, at this period of his life, rather below eight