Tales and Sketches (2)

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CHAPTER VI.


Speech without aim, and without end employ.

CRABBE.


Fergusson's statute by David Annand, the Royal Mile, Edinburgh.  Photo: Editor.


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 ballad,—


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 bed-foot.

    "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 longer.

    "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."


 
CHAPTER VII.


                                           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."


 
CHAPTER VIII.


O, thou, my elder brother in misfortune!—
By far my elder brother in the muses,—
With tears I pity thy unhappy fate!

BURNS.


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 hand.

    "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 over."

    I had covered my face with my hands, but the tears came bursting through my fingers.  The mother and sister of the poet sobbed aloud.

    "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.

__________________________
 

-II.-

RECOLLECTIONS OF BURNS.

CHAPTER I.


Wear we not graven on our hearts
The name of Robert Burns?

AMERICAN POET.


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 passage."

    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 nothing better."

    "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!  How?"

    "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 remember it."

    "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 said.

    "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 country!"

    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 Irvine."

    "And I," said the young man, rising and cordially grasping the proffered hand, "am a native of Ayr.  My name is Robert Burns."


 
CHAPTER II.


If friendless, low, we meet together,
Then, Sir, your hand,—my friend and brother.

DEDICATION TO G. HAMILTON.


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 lanes.

    "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 years ago."

    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 face.

    "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 of ale."

    "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 cheerful repast.

    "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 Calvinistic church."

    "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 deaths."

    "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 than mine."

    "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."


 
CHAPTER III.


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 day.

TO MARY IN HEAVEN.


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 office."

    "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 beside them.

    "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 me.

    "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 connection."

    "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."


 
CHAPTER IV.


From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs,
That makes her loved at home, revered abroad.

COTTER'S SATURDAY NIGHT.


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 instance"

    "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 circumstances."

    "Have I not heard you remark, father," said Gilbert, "that the change you describe has been very marked among the ministers of our church?"

    "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 stop.

    "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 his address.

    "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 pounds.



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