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Title: My Schools and Schoolmasters - or The Story of my Education.
Author: Miller, Hugh, 1802-1856
Language: English
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MY SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS.


_Morrison and Gibb, Edinburgh,_
_Printers to Her Majesty's Stationery Office._


[Illustration: Hugh Miller]


MY SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS
OR
THE STORY OF MY EDUCATION.


BY HUGH MILLER,

AUTHOR OF 'THE OLD RED SANDSTONE,' 'FOOTPRINTS OF THE CREATOR,'
ETC. ETC.


[Illustration: Logo]


EDINBURGH:
W. P. NIMMO, HAY, & MITCHELL.
1889.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I.
                                                                   PAGE

A sailor's early career--First marriage--Escape from
shipwreck--Second Love--Traits of character,                          1


CHAPTER II.

Childhood and childish visions--A Father's death--Favourite
books--Sketch of two maternal uncles,                                20


CHAPTER III.

Dawn of patriotism--Cromarty Grammar School--Prevalent
amusements--Old Francie--Earliest geological researches,             40


CHAPTER IV.

Uncle Sandy as a Naturalist--Important discovery--Cromarty Sutors
and their caves--Expedition to the 'Doocot'--Difficulties and
dangers--Sensation produced,                                         62


CHAPTER V.

A would-be patroness--Boyish games--First friendship--Visit to the
Highlands--Geologizing in the Gruids--Ossian-worship,                85


CHAPTER VI.

Cousin George and Cousin William--Excursion with Cousin
Walter--Painful accident--Family bereavements--Links between
the present and the past,                                           107


CHAPTER VII.

Subscription school--Vacation delights--Forays and fears--Quarrel
with the schoolmaster--Poetical revenge--Johnstone the forester,    129


CHAPTER VIII.

Choice of a calling--Disappointment to relatives--Old Red Sandstone
quarry--Depression and walking-sleep--Temptations of
toil--Friendship with William Ross,                                 151


CHAPTER IX.

Life in the bothie--Mad Bell--Mournful history--Singular
intimacy--Manners and customs of north-country masons,              173


CHAPTER X.

Evening walks--Lines on a sun-dial--A haunted stream--Insect
transformations--Jock Moghoal--Musings,                             195


CHAPTER XI.

An antiquary in humble life--Poor Danie--Proficiency in
porridge-making--Depressed health--A good omen--Close of
apprenticeship,                                                     219


CHAPTER XII.

Swimming the Conon--Click-Clack the carter--Loch Maree--Fitting
up a barrack--Highland characteristics,                             245


CHAPTER XIII.

The Brothers Fraser--Flora of the Northern Hebrides--Diving in
the Gareloch--Sabbaths in Flowerdale woods--Causes of
Highland distress,                                                  268


CHAPTER XIV.

A cragsman's death--Providential escape--Property in Leith--First
sight of Edinburgh--Peter M'Craw--Niddry Woods--Researches
among the Coal Measures,                                            296


CHAPTER XV.

A worthy Seceder--The hero of the squad--Apology for
fanaticism--Strikes--Recollections of the theatre,                  321


CHAPTER XVI.

Great fires in Edinburgh--Dr. Colquhoun--Dr. M'Crie--Return to
the North--Stanzas written at sea--Geological dreams,               348


CHAPTER XVII.

Religious phases--True centre of Christianity--Bearing of geology
upon theological belief--Delicate health--A gipsy wedding,          373


CHAPTER XVIII.

Convalescence--Pursuit of algeology--Jock Gordon--Theory of
idiocy--Mr. Stewart of Cromarty,                                    395


CHAPTER XIX.

Stone-cutting at Inverness--A jilted lover--The _Osars_--Death
of Uncle James--Farewell letter from William Ross,                  416


CHAPTER XX.

Publication of poems--Newspaper criticisms--Walsh the
lecturer--Enlarged circle of friends--Miss Dunbar of Boath,         435


CHAPTER XXI.

Arenaceous formations--Antiquity of the earth--Tremendous
hurricane--_Loligo Vulgare_--Researches amid the
Lias--Interesting discoveries,                                      457


CHAPTER XXII.

Religious controversies--Ecclesiastical dispute--Cholera--Preventive
measures--Reform Bill,                                              474


CHAPTER XXIII.

Visitors in the churchyard--The Ladies' Walk--First
interview--Friendship--Love--Second visit to Edinburgh--Linlithgow
Bank--Favourable reception of "Scenes and Legends"--Marriage,       497


CHAPTER XXIV.

Married life at Cromarty--Ichthyolitic deposit of Old Red
Sandstone--Correspondence with Agassiz and Murchison--Happy
evenings--Death of eldest child,                                    522


CHAPTER XXV.

Voluntary principle--Position of the Establishment--Letter to
Lord Brougham--Invitation to Edinburgh--Editorship of the
_Witness_--Introduction to Dr. Chalmers--Visit from an old
friend--Removal to Edinburgh,                                       541



TO THE READER.


It is now nearly a hundred years since Goldsmith remarked, in his little
educational treatise, that "few subjects have been more frequently
written upon than the education of youth." And during the century which
has well-nigh elapsed since he said so, there have been so many more
additional works given to the world on this fertile topic, that their
number has been at least doubled. Almost all the men who ever taught a
few pupils, with a great many more who never taught any, deem themselves
qualified to say something original on education; and perhaps few books
of the kind have yet appeared, however mediocre their general tone, in
which something worthy of being attended to has not actually been said.
And yet, though I have read not a few volumes on the subject, and have
dipped into a great many more, I never yet found in them the sort of
direction or encouragement which, in working out my own education, I
most needed. They insisted much on the various modes of teaching others,
but said nothing--or, what amounted to the same thing, nothing to the
purpose--on the best mode of teaching one's-self. And as my
circumstances and position, at the time when I had most occasion to
consult them, were those of by much the largest class of the people of
this and every other civilized country--for I was one of the many
millions who need to learn, and yet have no one to teach them--I could
not help deeming the omission a serious one. I have since come to think,
however, that a formal treatise on self-culture might fail to supply
the want. Curiosity must be awakened ere it can be satisfied; nay, once
awakened, it never fails in the end fully to satisfy itself; and it has
occurred to me, that by simply laying before the working men of the
country the "Story of my Education," I may succeed in first exciting
their curiosity, and next, occasionally at least, in gratifying it also.
They will find that by far the best schools I ever attended are schools
open to them all--that the best teachers I ever had are (though severe
in their discipline) always easy of access--and that the special _form_
at which I was, if I may say so, most successful as a pupil, was a form
to which I was drawn by a strong inclination, but at which I had less
assistance from my brother men, or even from books, than at any of the
others. There are few of the natural sciences which do not lie quite as
open to the working men of Britain and America as Geology did to me.

My work, then, if I have not wholly failed in it, may be regarded as a
sort of educational treatise, thrown into the narrative form, and
addressed more especially to working men. They will find that a
considerable portion of the scenes and incidents which it records read
their lesson, whether of encouragement or warning, or throw their
occasional lights on peculiarities of character or curious natural
phenomena, to which their attention might be not unprofitably directed.
Should it be found to possess an interest to any other class, it will be
an interest chiefly derivable from the glimpses which it furnishes of
the inner life of the Scottish people, and its bearing on what has been
somewhat clumsily termed "the condition-of-the-country question." My
sketches will, I trust, be recognised as true to fact and nature. And as
I have never perused the autobiography of a working man of the more
observant type, without being indebted to it for new facts and ideas
respecting the circumstances and character of some portion of the people
with which I had been less perfectly acquainted before, I can hope that,
regarded simply as the memoir of a protracted journey through
_districts_ of society not yet very sedulously explored, and scenes
which few readers have had an opportunity of observing for themselves,
my story may be found to possess some of the interest which attaches to
the narratives of travellers who see what is not often seen, and know,
in consequence, what is not generally known. In a work cast into the
autobiographic form, the writer has always much to apologize for. With
himself for his subject, he usually tells not only more than he ought,
but also, in not a few instances, more than he intends. For, as has been
well remarked, whatever may be the character which a writer of his own
Memoirs is desirous of assuming, he rarely fails to betray the real one.
He has almost always his unintentional revelations, that exhibit
peculiarities of which he is not conscious, and weaknesses which he has
failed to recognise as such; and it will no doubt be seen that what is
so generally done in works similar to mine, I have not escaped doing.
But I cast myself full on the good-nature of the reader. My aims have, I
trust, been honest ones; and should I in any degree succeed in rousing
the humbler classes to the important work of self-culture and
self-government, and in convincing the higher that there are instances
in which working men have at least as legitimate a claim to their
respect as to their pity, I shall not deem the ordinary penalties of the
autobiographer a price too high for the accomplishment of ends so
important.



MY SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS
OR
THE STORY OF MY EDUCATION.



CHAPTER I.

    "Ye gentlemen of England,
       Who live at home at ease,
     Oh, little do ye think upon
       The dangers of the seas."--OLD SONG.


Rather more than eighty years ago, a stout little boy, in his sixth or
seventh year, was despatched from an old-fashioned farm-house in the
upper part of the parish of Cromarty, to drown a litter of puppies in an
adjacent pond. The commission seemed to be not in the least congenial.
He sat down beside the pool, and began to cry over his charge; and
finally, after wasting much time in a paroxysm of indecision and sorrow,
instead of committing the puppies to the water, he tucked them up in his
little kilt, and set out by a blind pathway which went winding through
the stunted heath of the dreary Maolbuoy Common, in a direction opposite
to that of the farm-house--his home for the two previous twelvemonths.
After some doubtful wandering on the waste, he succeeded in reaching,
before nightfall, the neighbouring seaport town, and presented himself,
laden with his charge, at his mother's door. The poor woman--a sailor's
widow, in very humble circumstances--raised her hands in astonishment:
"Oh, my unlucky boy," she exclaimed, "what's this?--what brings you
here?" "The little doggies, mither," said the boy; "I couldna drown the
little doggies; and I took them to you." What afterwards befell the
"little doggies," I know not; but trivial as the incident may seem, it
exercised a marked influence on the circumstances and destiny of at
least two generations of creatures higher in the scale than themselves.
The boy, as he stubbornly refused to return to the farm-house, had to be
sent on shipboard, agreeably to his wish, as a cabin-boy; and the writer
of these chapters was born, in consequence, a sailor's son, and was
rendered, as early as his fifth year, mainly dependent for his support
on the sedulously plied but indifferently remunerated labours of his
only surviving parent, at the time a sailor's widow.

The little boy of the farm-house we a descended from a long line of
seafaring men,--skilful and adventurous sailors,--some of whom had
coasted along the Scottish shores as early as the times of Sir Andrew
Wood and the "bold Bartons," and mayhap helped to man that "verrie
monstrous schippe the Great Michael," that "cumbered all Scotland to get
her to sea." They had taken as naturally to the water as the
Newfoundland dog or the duckling. That waste of life which is always so
great in the naval profession had been more than usually so in the
generation just passed away. Of the boy's two uncles, one had sailed
round the world with Anson, and assisted in burning Paita, and in
boarding the Manilla galleon; but on reaching the English coast he
mysteriously disappeared, and was never more heard of. The other uncle,
a remarkably handsome and powerful man,--or, to borrow the homely but
not inexpressive language in which I have heard him described, "as
_pretty_ a fellow as ever stepped in shoe-leather,"--perished at sea in
a storm; and several years after, the boy's father, when entering the
Firth of Cromarty, was struck overboard, during a sudden gust, by the
boom of his vessel, and, apparently stunned by the blow, never rose
again. Shortly after, in the hope of screening her son from what seemed
to be the hereditary fate, his mother had committed the boy to the
charge of a sister, married to a farmer of the parish, and now the
mistress of the farm-house of Ardavell; but the family death was not to
be so avoided; and the arrangement terminated, as has been seen, in the
transaction beside the pond.

In course of time the sailor boy, despite of hardship and rough usage,
grew up into a singularly robust and active man, not above the middle
size,--for his height never exceeded five feet eight inches,--but
broad-shouldered, deep-chested, strong-limbed, and so compact of bone
and muscle, that in a ship of the line, in which he afterwards sailed,
there was not, among five hundred able-bodied seamen, a man who could
lift so great a weight, or grapple with him on equal terms. His
education had been but indifferently cared for at home: he had, however,
been taught to read by a female cousin, a niece of his mother's, who,
like her too, was both the daughter and the widow of a sailor; and for
his cousin's only child, a girl somewhat younger than himself, he had
contracted a boyish affection, which in a stronger form continued to
retain possession of him after he grew up. In the leisure thrown on
his-hands in long Indian and Chinese voyages, he learned to write; and
profited so much by the instructions of a comrade, an intelligent and
warm-hearted though reckless Irishman, that he became skilful enough to
keep a log-book, and to take a reckoning with the necessary
correctness,--accomplishments far from common at the time among ordinary
sailors. He formed, too, a taste for reading. The recollection of his
cousin's daughter may have influenced him, but he commenced life with a
determination to rise in it,--made his first money by storing up instead
of drinking his grog,--and, as was common in those times, drove a little
trade with the natives of foreign parts in articles of curiosity and
vertu, for which, I suspect, the custom-house dues were not always paid.
With all his Scotch prudence, however, and with much kindliness of
heart and placidity of temper there was some wild blood in his veins,
derived, mayhap, from one or two buccaneering ancestors, that, when
excited beyond the endurance point, became sufficiently formidable; and
which, on at least one occasion, interfered very considerably with his
plans and prospects.

On a protracted and tedious voyage in a large East Indiaman, he had,
with the rest of the crew, been subjected to harsh usage by a stern,
capricious captain; but, secure of relief on reaching port, he had borne
uncomplainingly with it all. His comrade and quondam teacher, the
Irishman, was, however, less patient; and for remonstrating with the
tyrant, as one of a deputation of the seamen, in what was deemed a
mutinous spirit, he was laid hold of, and was in the course of being
ironed down to the deck under a tropical sun, when his quieter comrade,
with his blood now heated to the boiling point, stepped aft, and with
apparent calmness re-stated the grievance. The captain drew a loaded
pistol from his belt; the sailor struck up his hand; and, as the bullet
whistled through the rigging above, he grappled with him, and disarmed
him in a trice. The crew rose, and in a few minutes the ship was all
their own. But having failed to calculate on such a result, they knew
not what to do with their charge; and, acting under the advice of their
new leader, who felt to the full the embarrassing nature of the
position, they were content simply to demand the redress of their
grievances as their terms of surrender; when, untowardly for their
claims, a ship of war hove in sight, much in want of men, and, bearing
down on the Indiaman, the mutiny was at once suppressed, and the leading
mutineers sent aboard the armed vessel, accompanied by a grave charge,
and the worst possible of characters. Luckily for them, however, and
especially luckily for the Irishman and his friend, the war-ship was so
weakened by scurvy, at that time the untamed pest of the navy, that
scarce two dozen of her crew could do duty aloft A fierce tropical
tempest, too, which broke out not long after, pleaded powerfully in
their favour; and the affair terminated in the ultimate promotion of the
Irishman to the office of ship-schoolmaster, and of his Scotch comrade
to the captaincy of the foretop.

My narrative abides with the latter. He remained for several years
aboard a man-of-war, and, though not much in love with the service, did
his duty in both storm and battle. He served in the action off the
Dogger-Bank,--one of the last naval engagements fought ere the
manoeuvre of breaking the line gave to British valour its due
superiority, by rendering all our great sea-battles decisive; and a
comrade who sailed in the same vessel, and from whom, when a boy, I have
received kindness for my father's sake, has told me that, their ship
being but indifferently manned at the time, and the extraordinary
personal strength and activity of his friend well known, he had a
station assigned him at his gun against two of the crew, and that during
the action he actually outwrought them both. At length, however, the
enemy drifted to leeward to refit; and when set to repair the gashed and
severed rigging, such was his state of exhaustion, in consequence of the
previous overstrain on every nerve and muscle, that he had scarce vigour
enough left to raise the marlingspike employed in the work to the level
of his face. Suddenly, when in this condition, a signal passed along the
line, that the Dutch fleet, already refitted, was bearing down to renew
the engagement. A thrill like that of an electric shock passed through
the frame of the exhausted sailor; his fatigue at once left him; and,
vigorous and strong as when the action first began, he found himself
able, as before, to run out against his two comrades the one side of a
four-and-twenty pounder. The instance is a curious one of the influence
of that "spirit" which, according to the Wise King, enables a man to
"sustain his infirmity."

It may be well not to inquire too curiously regarding the mode in which
this effective sailor quitted the navy. The country had borrowed his
services without consulting his will; and he, I suspect, reclaimed them
on his own behalf without first asking leave. I have been told by my
mother that he found the navy very intolerable;--the mutiny at the Nore
had not yet meliorated the service to the common sailor. Among other
hardships, he had been oftener than once under not only very harsh, but
also very incompetent officers; and on one occasion, after toiling on
the foreyard in a violent night-squall, with some of the best seamen
aboard, in fruitless attempts to furl up the sail, he had to descend,
cap in hand, at the risk of a flogging, and humbly implore the
boy-lieutenant in charge that he should order the vessel's head to be
laid in a certain direction. Luckily for him, the advice was taken by
the young gentleman, and in a few minutes the sail was furled. He left
his ship one fine morning, attired in his best, and having on his head a
three-cornered hat, with tufts of lace at the corners, which I well
remember, from the circumstance that it had long after to perform an
important part in certain boyish masquerades at Christmas and the New
Year; and as he had taken effective precautions for being reported
missing in the evening, he got clear off.

Of some of the after-events of his life I retain such mere fragmentary
recollections, dissociated from date and locality, as might be most
readily seized on by the imagination of a child. At one time, when
engaged in one of his Indian voyages, he was stationed during the night,
accompanied by but a single comrade, in a small open boat, near one of
the minor mouths of the Ganges; and he had just fallen asleep on the
beams, when he was suddenly awakened by a violent motion, as if his
skiff were capsizing. Starting up, he saw in the imperfect light a huge
tiger, that had swam, apparently, from the neighbouring jungle, in the
act of boarding the boat. So much was he taken aback, that though a
loaded musket lay beside him, it was one of the loose beams, or
_foot-spars_, used as fulcrums for the feet in rowing, that he laid hold
of as a weapon; but such was the blow he dealt to the paws of the
creature, as they rested on the gunwale, that it dropped off with a
tremendous snarl, and he saw it no more. On another occasion, he was one
of three men sent with despatches to some Indian port in a boat, which,
oversetting in the open sea in a squall, left them for the greater part
of three days only its upturned bottom for their resting-place. And so
thickly during that time did the sharks congregate around them, that
though a keg of rum, part of the boat's stores, floated for the first
two days within a few yards of them, and they had neither meat nor
drink, none of them, though they all swam well, dared attempt regaining
it. They were at length relieved by a Spanish vessel, and treated with
such kindness, that the subject of my narrative used ever after to speak
well of the Spaniards, as a generous people, destined ultimately to
rise. He was at one time so reduced by scurvy, in a vessel half of whose
crew had been carried off by the disease, that, though still able to do
duty on the tops, the pressure of his finger left for several seconds a
dent in his thigh, as if the muscular flesh had become of the
consistency of dough. At another time, when overtaken in a small vessel
by a protracted tempest, in which "for many days neither sun nor moon
appeared," he continued to retain his hold of the helm for twelve hours
after every other man aboard was utterly prostrated and down, and
succeeded, in consequence, in weathering the storm for them all. And
after his death, a nephew of my mother's, a young man who had served his
apprenticeship under him, was treated with great kindness on the Spanish
Main, for his sake, by a West Indian captain, whose ship and crew he had
saved, as the captain told the lad, by boarding them in a storm, at
imminent risk to himself, and working their vessel into port, when, in
circumstances of similar exhaustion, they were drifting full upon an
iron-bound shore. Many of my other recollections of this manly sailor
are equally fragmentary in their character; but there is a distinct bit
of picture in them all, that strongly impressed the boyish fancy.

When not much turned of thirty, the sailor returned to his native town,
with money enough, hardly earned, and carefully kept, to buy a fine
large sloop, with which he engaged in the coasting trade; and shortly
after he married his cousin's daughter. He found his cousin, who had
supported herself in her widowhood by teaching a school, residing in a
dingy, old-fashioned house, three rooms in length, but with the windows
of its second story half-buried in the eaves, that had been left her by
their mutual grandfather, old John Feddes, one of the last of the
buccaneers. It had been built, I have every reason to believe, with
Spanish gold; not, however, with a great deal of it, for,
notwithstanding its six rooms, it was a rather humble erection, and had
now fallen greatly into disrepair. It was fitted up with some of the
sailor's money, and, after his marriage, became his home,--a home
rendered all the happier by the presence of his cousin, now rising in
years, and who, during her long widowhood, had sought and found
consolation, amid her troubles and privations, where it was surest to be
found. She was a meek-spirited, sincerely pious woman; and the sailor,
during his more distant voyages,--for he sometimes traded with ports of
the Baltic on the one hand, and with those of Ireland and the south of
England on the other,--had the comfort of knowing that his wife, who had
fallen into a state of health chronically delicate, was sedulously
tended and cared for by a devoted mother. The happiness which he would
have otherwise enjoyed was, however, marred in some degree by his wife's
great delicacy of constitution, and ultimately blighted by two unhappy
accidents.

He had not lost the nature which had been evinced at an early age beside
the pond: for a man who had often looked death in the face, he had
remained nicely tender of human life, and had often hazarded his own in
preserving that of others; and when accompanied, on one occasion, by his
wife and her mother to his vessel, just previous to sailing, he had
unfortunately to exert himself in her presence, in behalf of one of his
seamen, in a way that gave her constitution a shock from which it never
recovered. A clear frosty moonlight evening had set in; the pier-head
was glistening with new-formed ice; and one of the sailors, when engaged
in casting over a haulser which he had just loosed, missed footing on
the treacherous margin, and fell into the sea. The master knew his man
could not swim; a powerful seaward tide sweeps past the place with the
first hours of ebb; there was not a moment to be lost; and, hastily
throwing off his heavy greatcoat, he plunged after him, and in an
instant the strong current swept them both out of sight. He succeeded,
however, in laying hold of the half-drowned man, and, striking with him
from out the perilous tideway into an eddy, with a Herculean effort he
regained the quay. On reaching it, his wife lay insensible in the arms
of her mother; and as she was at the time in the delicate condition
incidental to married women, the natural consequence followed, and she
never recovered the shock, but lingered for more than a twelve-mouth,
the mere shadow of her former self; when a second event, as untoward as
the first, too violently shook the fast ebbing sands, and precipitated
her dissolution.

A prolonged tempest from the stormy north-east had swept the Moray Firth
of its shipping, and congregated the stormbound vessels by scores in the
noble harbour of Cromarty, when the wind chopped suddenly round, and
they all set out to sea,--the sloop of the master among the rest. The
other vessels kept the open Firth; but the master, thoroughly acquainted
with its navigation, and in the belief that the change of wind was but
temporary, went on hugging the land on the weather side, till, as he had
anticipated, the breeze set full into the old quarter, and increased
into a gale. And then, when all the rest of the fleet had no other
choice left them than just to scud back again, he struck out into the
Firth in a long tack, and, doubling Kinnaird's Head and the dreaded
Buchan Ness, succeeded in making good his voyage south. Next morning the
wind-bound vessels were crowding the harbour of refuge as before, and
only his sloop was amissing. The first war of the French Revolution had
broken out at the time; it was known there were several French
privateers hovering on the coast; and the report went abroad that the
missing sloop had been captured by the French. There was a
weather-brained tailor in the neighbourhood, who used to do very odd
things, especially, it was said, when the moon was at the full, and whom
the writer remembers from the circumstance that he fabricated for him
his first jacket, and that, though he succeeded in sewing on one sleeve
to the hole at the shoulder, where it ought to be, he committed the
slight mistake of sewing on the other sleeve to one of the pocket-holes.
Poor Andrew Fern had heard that his townsman's sloop had been captured
by a privateer, and, fidgety with impatience till he had communicated
the intelligence where he thought it would tell most effectively, he
called on the master's wife, to ask whether she had not heard that all
the wind-bound vessels had got back again save the master's, and to
wonder no one had yet told her that, if _his_ had not got back, it was
simply because it had been taken by the French. The tailor's
communication told more powerfully than he could have anticipated: in
less than a week after, the master's wife was dead; and long ere her
husband's return she was lying in the quiet family burying-place, in
which--so heavy were the drafts made by accident and violent death on
the family--the remains of none of the male members had been deposited
for more than a hundred years.

The mother, now left, by the death of her daughter, to a dreary
solitude, sought to relieve its tedium, during the absence of her
son-in-law when on his frequent voyages, by keeping, as she had done ere
his return from foreign parts, a humble school. It was attended by two
little girls, the children of a distant relation but very dear friend,
the wife of a tradesman of the place,--a woman, like herself, of sincere
though unpretending piety. Their similarity of character in this respect
could hardly be traced to their common ancestor. He was the last curate
of the neighbouring parish of Nigg; and, though not one of those
intolerant Episcopalian ministers that succeeded in rendering their
Church thoroughly hateful to the Scottish people,--for he was a simple,
easy man, of much good nature,--he was, if tradition speak true, as
little religious as any of them. In one of the earlier replies to that
curious work, "Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence Displayed," I find a
nonsensical passage from one of the curate's sermons, given as a set-off
against the Presbyterian nonsense adduced by the other side. "Mr. James
M'Kenzie, curate of Nigg in Ross," says the writer, "describing eternity
to his parishioners, told them that in that state they would be
immortalized, so that nothing could hurt them: a slash of a broadsword
could not hurt you, saith he; nay, a cannon-ball would play but _baff_
on you." Most of the curate's descendants were stanch Presbyterians, and
animated by a greatly stronger spirit than his; and there were none of
them stancher in their Presbyterianism than the two elderly women who
counted kin from him in the fourth degree, and who, on the basis of a
common faith, had become attached friends. The little girls were great
favourites with the schoolmistress; and when, as she rose in years, her
health began to fail, the elder of the two removed from her mother's
house, to live with, and take care of her; and the younger, who was now
shooting up into a pretty young woman, used, as before, to pass much of
her time with her sister and her old mistress.

Meanwhile the shipmaster was thriving. He purchased a site for a house
beside that of his buccaneering grandfather, and built for himself and
his aged relative a respectable dwelling, which cost him about four
hundred pounds, and entitled his son, the writer, to exercise the
franchise, on the passing, considerably more than thirty years after, of
the Reform Bill. The new house was, however, never to be inhabited by
its builder; for, ere it was fully finished, he was overtaken by a sad
calamity, that, to a man of less energy and determination, would have
been ruin, and in consequence of which he had to content himself with
the old house as before, and almost to begin the world anew. I have now
reached a point in my narrative at which, from my connexion with the two
little girls,--both of whom still live in the somewhat altered character
of women far advanced in life,--I can be as minute in its details as I
please; and the details of the misadventure which stripped the
shipmaster of the earnings of long years of carefulness and toil,
blended as they are with what an old critic might term a curious
_machinery_ of the supernatural, seem not unworthy of being given
unabridged.

Early in November 1797, two vessels--the one a smack in the London and
Inverness trade, the other the master's square-rigged sloop--lay
wind-bound for a few days on their passage north, in the port of
Peterhead. The weather, which had been stormy and unsettled, moderated
towards the evening of the fifth day of their detention; and the wind
chopping suddenly into the east, both vessels loosed from their
moorings, and, as a rather gloomy day was passing into still gloomier
night, they bore out to sea. The breeze soon freshened into a gale; the
gale swelled into a hurricane, accompanied by a thick snow-storm: and
when, early next morning, the smack opened the Firth, she was staggering
under her storm-jib, and a mainsail reefed to the cross. Whatever wind
may blow, there is always shelter within the Sutors; and she was soon
riding at anchor in the roadstead; but she had entered the bay alone;
and when day broke, and for a brief interval the driving snow-rack
cleared up towards the east, no second sail appeared in the offing.
"Poor Miller!" exclaimed the master of the smack; "if he does not enter
the Firth ere an hour, he will never enter it at all. Good sound vessel,
and better sailor never stepped between stem and stern; but last night
has, I fear, been too much for him. He should have been here long ere
now." The hour passed; the day itself wore heavily away in gloom and
tempest; and as not only the master, but also all the crew of the sloop,
were natives of the place, groups of the town's-folk might be seen, so
long as the daylight lasted, looking out into the storm from the salient
points of the old coast-line that, rising immediately behind the houses,
commands the Firth. But the sloop came not, and before they had retired
to their homes, a second night had fallen, dark and tempestuous as the
first.

Ere morning the weather moderated: a keen frost bound up the wind in its
icy fetters; and during the following day, though a heavy swell
continued to roll shorewards between the Sutors, and sent up its white
foam high against the cliffs, the surface of the sea had become glassy
and smooth. But the day wore on, and evening again fell; and even the
most sanguine relinquished all hope of ever again seeing the sloop or
her crew. There was grief in the master's dwelling,--grief in no degree
the less poignant from the circumstance that it was the tearless,
uncomplaining grief of rigid old age. Her two youthful friends and their
mother watched with the widow, now, as it seemed, left alone in the
world. The town-clock had struck the hour of midnight, and still she
remained as if fixed to her seat, absorbed in silent, stupifying sorrow,
when a heavy foot was heard pacing along the now silent street. It
passed, and anon returned; ceased for a moment nearly opposite the
window; then approached the door, where there was a second pause; and
then there succeeded a faltering knock, that struck on the very hearts
of the inmates within. One of the girls sprang up, and on undoing the
bolt, shrieked out, as the door fell open, "O mistress, here is Jack
Grant the mate!" Jack, a tall, powerful seaman, but apparently in a
state of utter exhaustion, staggered, rather than walked in, and flung
himself into a chair. "Jack," exclaimed the old woman, seizing him
convulsively by both his hands, "where's my cousin?--where's Hugh?" "The
master's safe and well," said Jack; "but the poor _Friendship_ lies in
_spales_ on the bar of Findhorn." "God be praised!" ejaculated the
widow. "Let the gear go!"

I have often heard Jack's story related in Jack's own words, at a period
of life when repetition never tires; but I am not sure that I can do it
the necessary justice now. "We left Peterhead," he said, "with about
half a cargo of coal,--for we had lightened ship a day or two
before,--and the gale freshened as the night came on. We made all tight,
however; and though the snow-drift was so blinding in the thick of the
shower that I could scarce see my hand before me, and though it soon
began to blow great guns, we had given the land a good offing, and the
hurricane blew the right way. Just as we were loosening from the quay, a
poor young woman, much knocked up, with a child in her arms, had come to
the vessel's side, and begged hard of master to take her aboard. She was
a soldier's wife, and was travelling to join her husband at Fort-George;
but she was already worn out and penniless, she said; and now, as a
snow-storm threatened to block up the roads, she could neither stay
where she was, nor pursue her journey. Her infant, too,--she was sure,
if she tried to force her way through the hills, it would perish in the
snow. The master, though unwilling to cumber us with a passenger in such
weather, was induced, out of pity for the poor destitute creature, to
take her aboard. And she was now with her child, all alone, below in the
cabin I was stationed a-head on the out-look beside the foresail
_horse_: the night had grown pitch dark; and the lamp in the binnacle
threw just light enough through the grey of the shower to show me the
master at the helm. He looked more anxious, I thought, than I had almost
ever seen him before, though I have been with him, mistress, in bad
weather; and all at once I saw he had got company, and strange company
too, for such a night: there was a woman moving round him, with a child
in her arms. I could see her as distinctly as ever I saw anything,--now
on the one side, now on the other,--at one time full in the light, at
another half lost in the darkness. That, I said to myself, must be the
soldier's wife and her child; but how in the name of wonder can the
master allow a woman to come on deck in such a night as this, when we
ourselves have just enough ado to keep footing? He takes no notice of
her neither, but keeps looking on, quite in his wont, at the binnacle.
'Master,' I said, stepping up to him, 'the woman had surely better go
below.' 'What woman, Jack?' said he; 'our passenger, you may be sure, is
nowhere else.' I looked round, mistress, and found he was quite alone,
and that the companion-head was hasped down. There came a cold sweat all
over me. 'Jack,' said the master, 'the night is getting worse, and the
roll of the waves heightening every moment. I'm convinced, too, our
cargo is shifting: as the last sea struck us, I could hear the coals
rattle below; and see how stiffly we heel to the larboard. Say nothing,
however, to the men, but have all your wits about you; and look,
meanwhile, to the boat-tackle and the oars. I have seen a boat live in
as bad a night as this.' As he spoke, a blue light from above glimmered
on the deck. We looked up, and saw a dead-fire sticking to the
cross-trees. 'It's all over with us now, master,' said I. 'Nay, man,'
replied the master, in his easy, humorous way, which I always like well
enough except in bad weather, and then I see his humour is served out
like his extra grog, to keep up hearts that have cause enough to get
low,--'Nay, man,' he said, 'we can't afford to let your grandmother
board us to-night. If you will insure _me_ against the shifting coal,
I'll be your guarantee against the dead-light. Why, it's as much a
natural appearance, man, as a flash of lightning. Away to your berth,
and keep up a good heart: we can't be far from Covesea now, where, when
once past the Skerries, the swell will take off; and then, in two short
hours, we may be snug within the Sutors.' I had scarcely reached my
berth a-head, mistress, when a heavy sea struck us on the starboard
quarter, almost throwing us on our beam-ends. I could hear the rushing
of the coals below, as they settled on the larboard side; and though the
master set us full before the wind, and gave instant orders to lighten
every stitch of sail,--and it was but little sail we had at the time to
lighten,--still the vessel did not rise, but lay unmanageable as a log,
with her gunwale in the water. On we drifted, however, along the south
coast, with little expectation save that every sea would send us to the
bottom; until, in the first grey of the morning, we found ourselves
among the breakers of the terrible bar of Findhorn. And shortly after,
the poor _Friendship_ took the ground right on the edge of the
quicksands, for she would neither stay nor wear; and as she beat hard
against the bottom, the surf came rolling over half-mast high.

"Just as we struck," continued Jack, "the master made a desperate effort
to get into the cabin. The vessel couldn't miss, we saw, to break up and
fill; and though there was little hope of any of us ever setting foot
ashore, he wished to give the poor woman below a chance with the rest.
All of us but himself, mistress, had got up into the shrouds, and so we
could see round us a bit; and he had just laid his hand on the
companion-hasp to undo the door, when I saw a tremendous sea coming
rolling towards us, like a moving wall, and shouted on him to hold fast.
He sprang to the weather back-stay, and laid hold. The sea came tumbling
on, and, breaking full twenty feet over his head, buried him for a
minute's space in the foam. We thought we should never see him more; but
when it cleared away, there was he still, with his iron grip on the
stay, though the fearful wave had water-logged the _Friendship_ from bow
to stem, and swept her companion-head as cleanly off by the deck as if
it had been cut with a saw. No human aid could avail the poor woman and
her baby. Master could hear the terrible choking noise of her dying
agony right under his feet, with but a two-inch plank between; and the
sounds have haunted him ever since. But even had he succeeded in getting
her on deck, she could not possibly have survived, mistress. For five
long hours we clung to the rigging, with the seas riding over us all the
time like wild horses; and though we could see, through the snow-drift
and the spray, crowds on the shore, and boats lying thick beside the
pier, none dared venture out to assist us, till near the close of the
day, when the wind fell with the falling tide, and we were brought
ashore, more dead than alive, by a volunteer crew from the harbour. The
unlucky _Friendship_ began to break up under us ere mid-day, and we saw
the corpse of the drowned woman, with the dead infant still in its arms,
come floating out through a hole in the side. But the surf soon tore
mother and child asunder, and we lost sight of them as they drifted away
to the west. Master would have crossed the Firth himself this morning to
relieve your mind, but being less worn out than any of us, he thought it
best to remain in charge of the wreck."

Such, in effect, was the narrative of Jack Grant, the mate. The master,
as I have said, had well-nigh to commence the world anew, and was on the
eve of selling his new house at a disadvantage, in order to make up the
sum necessary for providing himself with a new vessel, when a friend
interposed, and advanced him the balance required. He was assisted, too,
by a sister in Leith, who was in tolerably comfortable circumstances;
and so he got a new sloop, which, though not quite equal in size to the
one he had lost, was built wholly of oak, every plank and beam of which
he had superintended in the laying down, and a prime sailer to boot; and
so, though he had to satisfy himself with the accommodation of the old
domicile, with its little rooms and its small windows, and to let the
other house to a tenant, he began to thrive again as before. Meanwhile
his aged cousin was gradually sinking. The master was absent on one of
his longer voyages, and she too truly felt that she could not survive
till his return. She called to her bedside her two young friends, the
sisters, who had been unwearied in their attentions to her, and poured
out her blessing on them; first on the elder, and then on the younger.
"But as for you, Harriet," she added, addressing the latter, "there
waits for you one of the best blessings of this world also--the
blessings of a good husband: you will be a gainer in the end, even in
this life, through your kindness to the poor childless widow." The
prophecy was a true one: the old woman had shrewdly marked where the
eyes of her cousin had been falling of late; and in about a twelvemonth
after her death her young friend and pupil had become the master's wife.
There was a very considerable disparity between their ages,--the master
was forty-four, and his wife only eighteen,--but never was there a
happier marriage. The young wife was simple, confiding, and
affectionate; and the master of a soft and genial nature, with a large
amount of buoyant humour about him, and so equable of temper, that,
during six years of wedded life, his wife never saw him angry but once.
I have heard her speak of the exceptional instance, however, as too
terrible to be readily forgotten.

She had accompanied him on ship-board, during their first year of
married life, to the upper parts of the Cromarty Firth, where his sloop
was taking in a cargo of grain, and lay quietly embayed within two
hundred yards of the southern shore. His mate had gone away for the
night to the opposite side of the bay, to visit his parents, who resided
in that neighbourhood; and the remaining crew consisted of but two
seamen, both young and somewhat reckless men, and the ship-boy. Taking
the boy with them to keep the ship's boat afloat, and wait their return,
the two sailors went ashore, and, setting out for a distant
public-house, remained there drinking till a late hour. There was a
bright moon overhead, but the evening was chilly and frosty; and the
boy, cold, tired, and half-overcome by sleep, after waiting on till past
midnight, shoved off the boat, and, making his way to the vessel, got
straightway into his hammock and fell asleep. Shortly after, the two men
came to the shore much the worse of liquor; and, failing to make
themselves heard by the boy, they stripped off their clothes, and chilly
as the night was, swam aboard. The master and his wife had been for
hours snug in their bed, when they were awakened by the screams of the
boy: the drunken men were unmercifully bastinading him with a rope's end
apiece. The master, hastily rising, had to interfere in his behalf, and
with the air of a man who knew that remonstrance in the circumstances
would be of little avail, he sent them both off to their hammocks.
Scarcely, however, had he again got into bed, when he was a second time
aroused by the cries of the boy, uttered on this occasion in the shrill
tones of agony and terror; and, promptly springing up, now followed by
his wife, he found the two sailors again belabouring the boy, and that
one of them, in his blind fury, had laid hold of a rope-end, armed, as
is common on shipboard, with an iron thimble or ring, and that every
blow produced a wound. The poor boy was streaming over with blood. The
master, in the extremity of his indignation, lost command of himself.
Rushing in, the two men were in a moment dashed against the deck;--they
seemed powerless in his hands as children; and had not his wife,
although very unfit at the time for mingling in a fray, run in and laid
hold of him,--a movement which calmed him at once,--it was her serious
impression that, unarmed as he was, he would have killed them both upon
the spot. There are, I believe, few things more formidable than the
unwonted anger of a good-natured man.



CHAPTER II.

    "Three stormy nights and stormy days
       We tossed upon the raging main;
     And long we strove our barque to save,
       But all our striving was in vain."--LOWE.


I was born, the first child of this marriage, on the 10th day of October
1802, in the low, long house built by my great-grandfather the
buccaneer. My memory awoke early. I have recollections which date
several months ere the completion of my third year; but, like those of
the golden age of the world, they are chiefly of a mythologic character.
I remember, for instance, getting out unobserved one day to my father's
little garden, and seeing there a minute duckling covered with soft
yellow hair, growing out of the soil by its feet, and beside it a plant
that bore as its flowers a crop of little mussel shells of a deep red
colour. I know not what prodigy of the vegetable kingdom produced the
little duckling; but the plant with the shells must, I think, have been
a scarlet runner, and the shells themselves the papilionaceous blossoms.
I have a distinct recollection, too,--but it belongs to a later
period,--of seeing my ancestor, old John Feddes the buccaneer, though he
must have been dead at the time considerably more than half a century. I
had learned to take an interest in his story, as preserved and told in
the antique dwelling which he had built more than a hundred years
before. To forget a love disappointment, he had set out early in life
for the Spanish Main, where, after giving and receiving some hard blows,
he succeeded in filling a little bag with dollars and doubloons; and
then coming home, he found his old sweetheart a widow, and so much
inclined to listen to reason, that she ultimately became his wife. There
were some little circumstances in his history which must have laid hold
of my imagination; for I used over and over to demand its repetition;
and one of my first attempts at a work of art was to scrabble his
initials with my fingers, in red paint, on the house-door. One day, when
playing all alone at the stair-foot--for the inmates of the house had
gone out--something extraordinary had caught my eye on the landing-place
above; and looking up, there stood John Feddes--for I somehow
instinctively divined that it was none other than he--in the form of a
large, tall, very old man, attired in a light-blue greatcoat He seemed
to be steadfastly regarding me with apparent complacency; but I was
sadly frightened; and for years after, when passing through the dingy,
ill-lighted room out of which I inferred he had come, I used to feel not
at all sure that I might not tilt against old John in the dark.

I retain vivid recollections of the joy which used to light up the
household on my father's arrival; and I remember that I learned to
distinguish for myself his sloop when in the offing, by the two slim
stripes of white which ran along her sides, and her two square topsails.
I have my golden memories, too, of splendid toys that he used to bring
home with him,--among the rest, of a magnificent four-wheeled waggon of
painted tin, drawn by four wooden horses and a string; and of getting it
into a quiet corner, immediately on its being delivered over to me, and
there breaking up every wheel and horse, and the vehicle itself, into
their original bits, until not two of the pieces were left sticking
together. Further, I still remember my disappointment at not finding
something curious within at least the horses and the wheels; and as
unquestionably the main enjoyment derivable from such things is to be
had in the breaking of them, I sometimes wonder that our ingenious
toymen do not fall upon the way of at once extending their trade, and
adding to its philosophy, by putting some of their most brilliant things
where nature puts the nut-kernel,--inside. I shall advert to but one
other recollection of this period. I have a dreamlike memory of a busy
time, when men with gold lace on their breasts, and at least one
gentleman with golden epaulets on his shoulders, used to call at my
father's house, and fill my newly acquired pockets with coppers; and how
they wanted, it was said, to bring my father along with them, to help
them to sail their great vessel; but he preferred remaining, it was
added, with his own little one. A ship of war, under the guidance of an
unskilful pilot, had run aground on a shallow flat on the opposite side
of the Firth, known as the _Inches_; and as the flood of a stream tide
was at its height at the time, and straightway began to fall off, it was
found, after lightening her of her guns and the greater part of her
stores, that she still stuck fast. My father, whose sloop had been
pressed into the service, and was loaded to the gunwale with the
ordnance, had betrayed an unexpected knowledge of the points of a large
war-vessel; and the commander, entering into conversation with him, was
so impressed by his skill, that he placed his ship under his charge, and
had his confidence repaid by seeing her hauled off into deep water in a
single tide. Knowing the nature of the bottom,--a soft arenaceous mud,
which if beat for some time by the foot or hand, resolved itself into a
sort of quicksand, half-sludge, half-water, which, when covered by a
competent depth of sea, could offer no effectual resistance to a ship's
keel,--the master had set half the crew to run in a body from side to
side, till, by the motion generated in this way, the portion of the bank
immediately beneath was beaten soft; and then the other moiety of the
men, tugging hard on kedge and haulser, drew the vessel off a few feet
at a time, till at length, after not a few repetitions of the process,
she floated free. Of course, on a harder bottom the expedient would not
have availed; but so struck was the commander by its efficacy and
originality, and by the extent of the master's professional resources,
that he strongly recommended him to part with his sloop, and enter the
navy, where he thought he had influence enough, he said, to get him
placed in a proper position. But as the master's previous experience of
the service had been of a very disagreeable kind, and as his position,
as at once master and owner of the vessel he sailed, was at least an
independent one, he declined acting on the advice.

Such are some of my earlier recollections. But there was a time of
sterner memories at hand. The kelp trade had not yet attained to the
importance which it afterwards acquired, ere it fell before the first
approaches of Free Trade; and my father, in collecting a supply for the
Leith Glass Works, for which he occasionally acted both as agent and
shipmaster, used sometimes to spend whole months amid the Hebrides,
sailing from station to station, and purchasing here a few tons and
there a few hundredweights, until he had completed his cargo. In his
last kelp voyage he had been detained in this way from the close of
August till the end of October; and at length, deeply laden, he had
threaded his way round Cape Wrath, and through the Pentland and across
the Moray Firths, when a severe gale compelled him to seek shelter in
the harbour of Peterhead. From that port, on the 9th of November 1807,
he wrote my mother the last letter she ever received from him; for on
the day after he sailed from it there arose a terrible tempest, in which
many seamen perished, and he and his crew were never more heard of. His
sloop was last seen by a brother townsman and shipmaster, who, ere the
storm came on, had been fortunate enough to secure an asylum for his
barque in an English harbour on an exposed portion of the coast. Vessel
after vessel had been coming ashore during the day; and the beach was
strewed with wrecks and dead bodies; but he had marked his townsman's
sloop in the offing from mid-day till near evening, exhausting every
nautical shift and expedient to keep aloof from the shore; and at
length, as the night was falling, the skill and perseverance exerted
seemed successful; for, clearing a formidable headland that had lain on
the lee for hours, and was mottled with broken ships and drowned men,
the sloop was seen stretching out in a long tack into the open sea.
"Miller's seamanship has saved him once more!" said Matheson, the
Cromarty skipper, as, quitting his place of outlook, he returned to his
cabin; but the night fell tempestuous and wild, and no vestige of the
hapless sloop was ever after seen. It was supposed that, heavy laden,
and labouring in a mountainous sea, she must have started a plank and
foundered. And thus perished,--to borrow from the simple eulogium of his
seafaring friends, whom I heard long after condoling with my
mother,--"one of the best sailors that ever sailed the Moray Firth."

The fatal tempest, as it had prevailed chiefly on the eastern coasts of
England and the south of Scotland, was represented in the north by but a
few bleak, sullen days, in which, with little wind, a heavy ground-swell
came rolling in coastwards from the cast, and sent up its surf high
against the precipices of the Northern Sutor. There were no forebodings
in the master's dwelling; for his Peterhead letter--a brief but hopeful
missive--had been just received; and my mother was sitting, on the
evening after, beside the household fire, plying the cheerful needle,
when the house door, which had been left unfastened, fell open, and I
was despatched from her side to shut it. What follows must be regarded
as simply the recollection, though a very vivid one, of a boy who had
completed his fifth year only a mouth before. Day had not wholly
disappeared, but it was fast posting on to night, and a grey haze spread
a neutral tint of dimness over every more distant object, but left the
nearer ones comparatively distinct, when I saw at the open door, within
less than a yard of my breast, as plainly as ever I saw anything, a
dissevered hand and arm stretched towards me. Hand and arm were
apparently those of a female: they bore a livid and sodden appearance;
and directly fronting me, where the body ought to have been, there was
only blank, transparent space, through which I could see the dim forms
of the objects beyond. I was fearfully startled, and ran shrieking to my
mother, telling what I had seen; and the house-girl whom she next sent
to shut the door, apparently affected by my terror, also returned
frightened, and said that she too had seen the woman's hand; which,
however, did not seem to be the case. And finally, my mother going to
the door, saw nothing, though she appeared much impressed by the
extremeness of my terror and the minuteness of my description. I
communicate the story, as it lies fixed in my memory, without attempting
to explain it. The supposed apparition may have been merely a momentary
affection of the eye, of the nature described by Sir Walter Scott in his
"Demonology," and Sir David Brewster in his "Natural Magic." But if so,
the affection was one of which I experienced no after-return; and its
coincidence, in the case, with the probable time of my father's death,
seems at least curious.

There followed a dreary season, on which I still look back in memory, as
on a prospect which, sunshiny and sparkling for a time, has become
suddenly enveloped in cloud and storm. I remember my mother's long fits
of weeping, and the general gloom of the widowed household; and how,
after she had sent my two little sisters to bed,--for such had been the
increase of the family,--and her hands were set free for the evening,
she used to sit up late at night engaged as a seamstress, in making
pieces of dress for such of the neighbours as chose to employ her. My
father's new house lay untenanted at the time; and though his sloop had
been partially insured, the broker with whom he dealt was, it would
seem, on the verge of insolvency, and having raised objections to paying
the money, it was long ere any part of it could be realized. And so,
with all my mother's industry, the household would have fared out ill,
had it not been for the assistance lent her by her two brothers,
industrious, hard-working men, who lived with their aged parents, and an
unmarried sister, about a bow-shot away, and now not only advanced her
money as she needed it, but also took her second child, the elder of my
two sisters, a docile little girl of three years, to live with them. I
remember I used to go wandering disconsolately about the harbour at this
season, to examine the vessels which had come in during the night; and
that I oftener than once set my mother a-crying, by asking her why the
shipmasters who, when my father was alive, used to stroke my head and
slip halfpence into my pockets, never now took any notice of me, or gave
me anything? She well knew that the shipmasters--not an ungenerous class
of men--had simply failed to recognise their old comrade's child; but
the question was only too suggestive, notwithstanding, of both her own
loss and mine. I used, too, to climb, day after day, a grassy
protuberance of the old coast-line immediately behind my mother's house,
that commands a wide reach of the Moray Firth, and to look wistfully
out, long after every one else had ceased to hope, for the sloop with
the two stripes of white and the two square topsails. But months and
years passed by, and the white stripes and the square topsails I never
saw.

The antecedents of my father's life impressed me more powerfully during
my boyhood than at least aught I acquired at school; and I have
submitted them to the reader at considerable length, as not only curious
in themselves, but as forming a first chapter in the story of my
education. And the following stanzas, written at a time when, in opening
manhood, I was sowing my wild oats in verse, may serve to show that they
continued to stand out in bold relief on my memory, even after I had
grown up:--


      "Round Albyn's western shores, a lonely skiff
      Is coasting slow:--the adverse winds detain:
      And now she rounds secure the dreaded cliff,[1]
      Whose horrid ridge beats back the northern main;
      And now the whirling Pentland roars in rain
      Her stern beneath, for favouring breezes rise;
      The green isles fade, whitens the watery plain.
      O'er the vexed waves with meteor speed she flies.
    Till Moray's distant hills o'er the blue waves arise.

      Who guides that vessel's wanderings o'er the wave;
      A patient, hardy man, of thoughtful brow;
      Serene and warm of heart, and wisely brave,
      And sagely skill'd, when gurly breezes blow,
      To press through angry waves the adventurous prow.
      Age hath not quell'd his strength, nor quench'd desire
      Of generous deed, nor chill'd his bosom's glow;
      Yet to a better world his hopes aspire.
    Ah! this must sure be thee! All hail, my honoured Sire!

      Alas! thy latest voyage draws near a close,
      For Death broods voiceless in the darkening sky;
      Subsides the breeze; the untroubled waves repose;
      The scene is peaceful all. Can Death be nigh,
      When thus, mute and unarm'd, his vassals lie?
      Mark ye that cloud! There toils the imprisoned gale;
      E'en now it comes, with voice uplifted high;
      Resound the shores, harsh screams the rending sail,
    And roars th' amazed wave, and bursts the thunder peal!

      Three days the tempest raged; on Scotia's shore
      Wreck piled on wreck, and corse o'er corse was thrown;
      Her rugged cliffs were red with clotted gore;
      Her dark caves echoed back th' expiring moan;
      And luckless maidens mourned their lovers gone,
      And friendless orphans cried in vain for bread;
      And widow'd mothers wandered forth alone;--
      Restore, O wave, they cried,--restore our dead!
    And then the breast they bared, and beat th' unsheltered head.

      Of thee, my Sire, what mortal tongue can tell!
      No friendly bay thy shattered barque received;
      Ev'n when thy dust reposed in ocean cell,
      Strange baseless tales of hope thy friends deceived
      Which oft they doubted sad, or gay believed.
      At length, when deeper, darker, wax'd the gloom,
      Hopeless they grieved; but 'twas in vain they grieved:
      If God be truth, 'tis sure no voice of doom,
    That bids the accepted soul its robes of joy assume."


I had been sent, previous to my father's death, to a dame's school,
where I was taught to pronounce my letters to such effect in the old
Scottish mode, that still, when I attempt spelling a word aloud, which
is not often,--for I find the process a perilous one,--the _aa's_ and
_ee's_, and _uh's_ and _vaus_, return upon me and I have to translate
them with no little hesitation as I go along, into the more modish
sounds. A knowledge of the letters themselves I had already acquired by
studying the signposts of the place,--rare works of art, that excited my
utmost admiration, with jugs, and glasses, and bottles, and ships, and
loaves of bread upon them; all of which could, as the artists had
intended, be actually recognised. During my sixth year I spelt my way,
under the dame, through the Shorter Catechism, the Proverbs, and the New
Testament, and then entered upon her highest form, as a member of the
Bible class; but all the while the process of acquiring learning had
been a dark one, which I slowly mastered, in humble confidence in the
awful wisdom of the schoolmistress, not knowing whither it tended, when
at once my mind awoke to the meaning of that most delightful of all
narratives,--the story of Joseph. Was there ever such a discovery made
before! I actually found out for myself, that the art of reading is the
art of finding stories in books, and from that moment reading became one
of the most delightful of my amusements. I began by getting into a
corner at the dismissal of the school, and there conning over to myself
the new-found story of Joseph; nor did one perusal serve; the other
Scripture stories followed,--in especial, the story of Samson and the
Philistines, of David and Goliath, of the prophets Elijah and Elisha;
and after these came the New Testament stories and parables. Assisted by
my uncles, I began to collect a library in a box of birch-bark about
nine inches square, which I found quite large enough to contain a great
many immortal works,--Jack the Giant-Killer, and Jack and the
Bean-Stalk, and the Yellow Dwarf, and Blue Beard, and Sinbad the Sailor,
and Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, with
several others of resembling character. Those intolerable nuisances the
useful-knowledge books had not yet arisen, like tenebrious stars, on the
educational horizon, to darken the world, and shed their blighting
influence on the opening intellect of the "youth-hood;" and so, from my
rudimental books--books that made themselves truly such by their
thorough assimilation with the rudimental mind--I passed on, without
being conscious of break or line of division, to books on which the
learned are content to write commentaries and dissertations, but which I
found to be quite as nice children's books as any of the others. Old
Homer wrote admirably for little folk, especially in the Odyssey; a copy
of which,--in the only true translation extant,--for, judging from its
surpassing interest, and the wrath of critics, such I hold that of Pope
to be,--I found in the house of a neighbour. Next came the Iliad; not,
however, in a complete copy, but represented by four of the six volumes
of Bernard Lintot. With what power, and at how early an age, true genius
impresses! I saw, even at this immature period, that no other writer
could cast a javelin with half the force of Homer. The missiles went
whizzing athwart his pages; and I could see the momentary gleam of the
steel, ere it buried itself deep in brass and bull-hide. I next
succeeded in discovering for myself a child's book, of not less interest
than even the Iliad, which might, I was told, be read on Sabbaths, in a
magnificent old edition of the "Pilgrim's Progress," printed on coarse
whity-brown paper, and charged with numerous woodcuts, each of which
occupied an entire page, that, on principles of economy, bore
letter-press on the other side. And such delightful prints as these
were! It must have been some such volume that sat for its portrait to
Wordsworth, and which he so exquisitely describes as


    "Profuse in garniture of wooden cuts,
    Strange and uncouth; dire faces, figures dire,
    Sharp-knee'd, sharp elbow'd, and lean-ankled too,
    With long and ghastly shanks,--forms which, once seen,
    Could never be forgotten."


In process of time I had devoured, besides these genial works Robinson
Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Ambrose on Angels, the "judgment chapter" in
Howie's Scotch Worthies, Byron's Narrative, and the Adventures of Philip
Quarll, with a good many other adventures and voyages, real and
fictitious, part of a very miscellaneous collection of books made by my
father. It was a melancholy little library to which I had fallen heir.
Most of the missing volumes had been with the master aboard his vessel
when he perished. Of an early edition of Cook's Voyages, all the volumes
were now absent save the first; and a very tantalizing romance, in four
volumes,--Mrs. Ratcliff's "Mysteries of Udolpho," was represented by
only the earlier two. Small as the collection was, it contained some
rare books,--among the rest, a curious little volume, entitled "The
Miracles of Nature and Art," to which we find Dr. Johnson referring, in
one of the dialogues chronicled by Boswell, as scarce even in his day,
and which had been published, he said, some time in the seventeenth
century by a bookseller whose shop hung perched on Old London Bridge,
between sky and water. It contained, too, the only copy I ever saw of
the "Memoirs of a Protestant condemned to the Galleys of France for his
Religion,"--a work interesting from the circumstance that--though it
bore another name on its title-page--it had been translated from the
French for a few guineas by poor Goldsmith, in his days of obscure
literary drudgery, and exhibited the peculiar excellencies of his style.
The collection boasted, besides, of a curious old book, illustrated by
very uncouth plates, that detailed the perils and sufferings of an
English sailor who had spent his best years of life as a slave in
Morocco. It had its volumes of sound theology, too, and of stiff
controversy,--Flavel's Works, and Henry's Commentary, and Hutchinson on
the Lesser Prophets, and a very old treatise on the Revelation, with the
title-page away, and blind Jameson's volume on the Hierarchy, with first
editions of Naphthali, the Cloud of Witnesses, and the Hind let Loose.
But with these solid authors I did not venture to grapple until long
after this time. Of the works of fact and incident which it contained,
those of the voyagers were my especial favourites. I perused with
avidity the voyages of Anson, Drake, Raleigh, Dampier, and Captain Woods
Rogers; and my mind became so filled with conceptions of what was to be
seen and done in foreign parts, that I wished myself big enough to be a
sailor, that I might go and see coral islands and burning mountains, and
hunt wild beasts and fight battles. I have already made mention of my
two maternal uncles; and referred, at least incidentally, to their
mother, as the friend and relative of my fathers aged cousin, and, like
her, a great-grand-child of the last curate of Nigg. The curate's
youngest daughter had been courted and married by a somewhat wild young
farmer, of the clan Ross, but who was known, like the celebrated
Highland outlaw, from the colour of his hair, as Roy, or the Red. Donald
Roy was the best club-player in the district; and as King James's "Book
of Sports" was not deemed a very bad one in the semi-Celtic parish of
Nigg, the games in which Donald took part were usually played on the
Sabbath. About the time of the Revolution, however, he was laid hold of
by strong religious convictions, heralded, say the traditions of the
district, by events that approximated in character to the supernatural;
and Donald became the subject of a mighty change. There is a phase of
the religious character, which in the south of Scotland belongs to the
first two ages of Presbytery, but which disappeared ere its third
establishment under William of Nassau, that we find strikingly
exemplified in the Welches, Pedens, and Cargills of the times of the
persecution, and in which a sort of wild machinery of the supernatural
was added to the commoner aspects of a living Christianity. The men in
whom it was exhibited were seers of visions and dreamers of dreams; and,
standing on the very verge of the natural world, they looked far into
the world of spirits, and had at times their strange glimpses of the
distant and the future. To the north of the Grampians, as if born out of
due season, these seers pertain to a later age. They flourished chiefly
in the early part of the last century; for it is a not uninstructive
fact, that in the religious history of Scotland, the eighteenth century
of the Highland and semi-Highland districts of the north corresponded in
many of its traits to the seventeenth century of the Saxon-peopled
districts of the south; and Donald Roy was one of the most notable of
the class. The anecdotes regarding him which still float among the old
recollections of Ross-shire, if transferred to Peden or Welch, would be
found entirely in character with the strange stories that inlay the
biographies of these devoted men, and live so enduringly in the memory
of the Scottish people. Living, too, in an age in which, like the
Covenanters of a former century, the Highlander still retained his
weapons, and knew how to use them, Donald had, like the Patons,
Hackstons, and Balfours of the south, his dash of the warlike spirit;
and after assisting his minister, previous to the rebellion of 1745, in
what was known as the great religious revival of Nigg, he had to assist
him, shortly after, in pursuing a band of armed Caterans, that,
descending from the hills, swept the parish of its cattle. And coming up
with the outlaws in the gorge of a wild Highland glen, no man of his
party was more active in the fray that followed than old Donald, or
exerted himself to better effect in re-capturing the cattle. I need
scarce add, that he was an attached member of the Church of Scotland:
but he was not destined to die in her communion.

Donald's minister, John Balfour of Nigg--a man whose memory is still
honoured in the north--died in middle life, and an unpopular presentee
was obtruded on the people. The policy of Robertson prevailed at the
time; Gillespie had been deposed only four years previous, for refusing
to assist in the disputed settlement of Inverkeithing; and four of the
Nigg Presbytery, overawed by the stringency of the precedent, repaired
to the parish church to conduct the settlement of the obnoxious
licentiate, and introduce him to the parishioners. They found, however,
only an empty building; and, notwithstanding the ominous absence of the
people, they were proceeding in shame and sorrow with their work, when a
venerable man, far advanced in life, suddenly appeared before them, and,
solemnly protesting against the utter mockery of such a proceeding,
impressively declared, "that if they settled a man to the _walls_ of
that kirk, the blood of the parish of Nigg would be required at their
hands." Both Dr. Hetherington and Dr. Merle d'Aubigné record the event;
but neither of these accomplished historians seems to have been aware of
the peculiar emphasis which a scene that would have been striking in any
circumstances derived from the character of the protester--old Donald
Roy. The Presbytery, appalled, stopt short in the middle of its work;
nor was it resumed till an after day, when, at the command of the
Moderate majority of the Church--a command not unaccompanied by
significant reference to-the fate of Gillespie--the forced settlement
was consummated. Donald, who carried the entire parish with him,
continued to cling to the National Church for nearly ten years after,
much befriended by one of the most eminent and influential divines of
the north--Fraser of Alness--the author of a volume on Sanctification,
still regarded as a standard work by Scottish theologians. But as
neither the people nor their leader ever entered on any occasion the
parish church, or heard the obnoxious presentee, the Presbytery at
length refused to tolerate the irregularity by extending to them as
before the ordinary Church privileges; and so they were lost to the
Establishment, and became Seceders. And in the communion of that portion
of the Secession known as the Burghers, Donald died several years after,
at a patriarchal old age.

Among his other descendants, he had three grand-daughters, who were left
orphans at an early age by the death of both their parents, and whom
the old man, on their bereavement, had brought to his dwelling to live
with him. They had small portions apiece, derived from his son-in-law,
their father, which did not grow smaller under the care of Donald; and
as each of the three was married in succession out of his family, he
added to all his other kindnesses the gift of a gold ring. They had been
brought up under his eye sound in the faith; and Donald's ring had, in
each case, a mystic meaning;--they were to regard it, he told them, as
the wedding ring of their _other Husband_, the Head of the Church, and
to be faithful spouses to Him in their several households. Nor did the
injunction, nor the significant symbol with which it was accompanied,
prove idle in the end. They all brought the savour of sincere piety into
their families. The grand-daughter with whom the writer was more
directly connected, had been courted and married by an honest and
industrious but somewhat gay young tradesman, but she proved, under God,
the means of his conversion; and their children, of whom eight grew up
to be men and women, were reared in decent frugality, and the exercise
of honest principles carefully instilled. Her husband's family had, like
that of my paternal ancestors, been a seafaring one. His father, after
serving for many years on shipboard, passed the latter part of his life
as one of the armed boatmen that, during the last century, guarded the
coasts in behalf of the revenue; and his only brother, the boatman's
son, an adventurous young sailor had engaged in Admiral Vernon's
unfortunate expedition, and left his bones under the walls of
Carthagena; but he himself pursued the peaceful occupation of a
shoemaker, and, in carrying on his trade, usually employed a few
journeymen, and kept a few apprentices. In course of time the elder
daughters of the family married, and got households of their own; but
the two sons, my uncles, remained under the roof of their parents, and
at the time when my father perished, they were both in middle life. And,
deeming themselves called on to take his place in the work of
instruction and discipline, I owed to them much more of my real
education than to any of the teachers whose schools I afterwards
attended. They both bore a marked individuality of character, and were
much the reverse of commonplace or vulgar men.

My elder uncle, James, added to a clear head and much native sagacity, a
singularly retentive memory, and great thirst of information. He was a
harness-maker, and wrought for the farmers of an extensive district of
country; and as he never engaged either journeyman or apprentice, but
executed all his work with his own hands, his hours of labour, save that
he indulged in a brief pause as the twilight came on, and took a mile's
walk or so, were usually protracted from six o'clock in the morning till
ten at night. Such incessant occupation left him little time for
reading; but he often found some one to read beside him during the day;
and in the winter evenings his portable bench used to be brought from
his shop at the other end of the dwelling, into the family sitting-room,
and placed beside the circle round the hearth, where his brother
Alexander, my younger uncle, whose occupation left his evenings free,
would read aloud from some interesting volume for the general
benefit,--placing himself always at the opposite side of the bench, so
as to share in the light of the worker. Occasionally the family circle
would be widened by the accession of from two to three intelligent
neighbours, who would drop in to listen; and then the book, after a
space, would be laid aside, in order that its contents might be
discussed in conversation. In the summer months Uncle James always spent
some time in the country, in looking after and keeping in repair the
harness of the farmers for whom he wrought; and during his journeys and
twilight walks on these occasions there was not an old castle, or
hill-fort, or ancient encampment, or antique ecclesiastical edifice,
within twenty miles of the town, which he had not visited and examined
over and over again. He was a keen local antiquary; knew a good deal
about the architectural styles of the various ages, at a time when these
subjects were little studied or known; and possessed more traditionary
lore, picked up chiefly in his country journeys, than any man I ever
knew. What he once heard he never forgot; and the knowledge which he had
acquired he could communicate pleasingly and succinctly, in a style
which, had he been a writer of books, instead of merely a reader of
them, would have had the merit of being clear and terse, and more laden
with meaning than words. From his reputation for sagacity, his advice
used to be much sought after by the neighbours in every little
difficulty that came their way; and the counsel given was always shrewd
and honest. I never knew a man more entirely just in his dealings than
Uncle James, or who regarded every species of meanness with a more
thorough contempt. I soon learned to bring my story-books to his
workshop, and became, in a small way, one of his _readers_,--greatly
more, however, as may be supposed, on my own account than his. My books
were not yet of the kind which he would have chosen for himself; but he
took an interest in _my_ interest; and his explanations of all the hard
words saved me the trouble of turning over a dictionary. And when tired
of reading, I never failed to find rare delight in his anecdotes and
old-world stories, many of which were not to be found in books, and all
of which, without apparent effort on his own part, he could render
singularly amusing. Of these narratives, the larger part died with him;
but a portion of them I succeeded in preserving in a little traditionary
work published a few years after his death. I was much a favourite with
Uncle James,--even more, I am disposed to think, on my father's account
than on that of his sister, my mother. My father and he had been close
friends for years; and in the vigorous and energetic sailor he had found
his _beau-idéal_ of a man.

My Uncle Alexander was of a different cast from his brother both in
intellect and temperament; but he was characterized by the same strict
integrity; and his religious feelings, though quiet and unobtrusive,
were perhaps more deep. James was somewhat of a humorist, and fond of a
good joke. Alexander was grave and serious; and never, save on one
solitary occasion, did I know him even attempt a jest. On hearing an
intelligent but somewhat eccentric neighbour observe, that "all flesh is
grass," in a strictly physical sense, seeing that all the flesh of the
herbivorous animals is elaborated from vegetation, and all the flesh of
the carnivorous animals from that of the herbivorous ones, Uncle Sandy
remarked that, knowing, as he did, the piscivorous habits of the
Cromarty folk, he should surely make an exception in his generalization,
by admitting that in at least one village "all flesh is fish." My uncle
had acquired the trade of the cartwright, and was employed in a workshop
at Glasgow at the time the first war of the French Revolution broke out;
when, moved by some such spirit as possessed his uncle,--the victim of
Admiral Vernon's unlucky expedition,--or Old Donald Roy, when he buckled
himself to his Highland broadsword, and set out in pursuit of the
Caterans,--he entered the navy. And during the eventful period which
intervened between the commencement of the war and the peace of 1802,
there was little either suffered or achieved by his countrymen in which
he had not a share. He sailed with Nelson; witnessed the mutiny at the
Nore; fought under Admiral Duncan at Camperdown, and under Sir John
Borlase Warren at Loch Swilly; assisted in capturing the Généroux and
Guillaume Tell, two French ships of the line; was one of the seamen who,
in the Egyptian expedition, were drafted out of Lord Keith's fleet to
supply the lack of artillerymen in the army of Sir Ralph Abercromby; had
a share in the danger and glory of the landing in Egypt; and fought in
the battle of 13th March, and in that which deprived our country of one
of her most popular generals. He served, too, at the siege of
Alexandria. And then, as he succeeded in procuring his discharge during
the short peace of 1802, he returned home with a small sum of
hardly-earned prize-money, heartily sick of war and bloodshed. I was
asked not long ago by one of his few surviving comrades, whether my
uncle had ever told me that _their_ gun was the first landed in Egypt,
and the first dragged up the sand-bank immediately over the beach, and
how hot it grew under their hands, as, with a rapidity unsurpassed along
the line, they poured out in thick succession its iron discharges upon
the enemy. I had to reply in the negative. All my uncle's narratives
were narratives of what he had seen--not of what he had done; and when,
perusing, late in life, one of his favourite works--Dr. Keith's "Signs
of the Times"--he came to the chapter in which that excellent writer
describes the time of hot naval warfare which immediately followed the
breaking out of war, as the period in which the second vial was poured
out on the sea, and in which the waters "became as the blood of a dead
man, so that every living soul died in the sea," I saw him bend his head
in reverence as he remarked, "Prophecy, I find, gives to all our glories
but a single verse, and it is a verse of judgment." Uncle Sandy,
however, did not urge the peace principles which he had acquired amid
scenes of death and carnage, into any extravagant consequences; and on
the breaking out, in 1803, of the second war of the Revolution, when
Napoleon threatened invasion from Brest and Boulogne, he at once
shouldered his musket as a volunteer. He had not his brother's fluency
of speech; but his narratives of what he had seen were singularly
truthful and graphic; and his descriptions of foreign plants and
animals, and of the aspect of the distant regions which he had visited,
had all the careful minuteness of those of a Dampier. He had a decided
turn for natural history. My collection contains a murex, not unfrequent
in the Mediterranean, which he found time enough to transfer, during the
heat of the landing in Egypt, from the beach to his pocket; and the
first ammonite I ever saw was a specimen, which I still retain, that he
brought home with him from one of the Liassic deposits of England.

Early on the Sabbath evenings I used regularly to attend at my uncle's
with two of my maternal cousins, boys of about my own age, and latterly
with my two sisters, to be catechized, first on the Shorter Catechism,
and then on the Mother's Catechism of Willison. On Willison my uncles
always cross-examined us, to make sure that we understood the short and
simple questions; but, apparently regarding the questions of the Shorter
Catechism as seed sown for a future day, they were content with having
them well fixed in our memories. There was a Sabbath class taught in the
parish church at the time by one of the elders; but Sabbath-schools my
uncles regarded as merely compensatory institutions, highly creditable
to the teachers, but very discreditable indeed to the parents and
relatives of the taught; and so they of course never thought of sending
us there. Later in the evening, after a short twilight walk, for which
the sedentary occupation of my Uncle James formed an apology, but in
which my Uncle Alexander always shared, and which usually led them into
solitary woods, or along an unfrequented sea-shore, some of the old
divines were read; and I used to take my place in the circle, though, I
am afraid, not to much advantage. I occasionally caught a fact, or had
my attention arrested for a moment by a simile or metaphor; but the
trains of close argument, and the passages of dreary "application," were
always lost.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] Cape Wrath.



CHAPTER III.

    "At Wallace' name what Scottish blood
    But boils up in a spring-tide flood!
    Oft have our fearless fathers strode
        By Wallace' side,
    Still pressing onward, red wat shod,
        Or glorious died."--BURNS.


I first became thoroughly a Scot some time in my tenth year; and the
consciousness of country has remained tolerably strong within me ever
since. My uncle James had procured for me from a neighbour the loan of a
common stall-edition of Blind Harry's "Wallace," as modernized by
Hamilton; but after reading the first chapter,--a piece of dull
genealogy, broken into very rude rhyme,--I tossed the volume aside as
uninteresting; and only resumed it at the request of my uncle, who urged
that, simply for _his_ amusement and gratification, I should read some
three or four chapters more. Accordingly, the three or four chapters
more I did read;--I read "how Wallace killed young Selbie the
Constable's son;" "how Wallace fished in Irvine Water;" and "how Wallace
killed the Churl with his own staff in Ayr;" and then Uncle James told
me, in the quiet way in which he used to make a joke tell, that the book
seemed to be rather a rough sort of production, filled with accounts of
quarrels and bloodshed, and that I might read no more of it unless I
felt inclined. But I now did feel inclined very strongly, and read on
with increasing astonishment and delight. I was intoxicated with the
fiery narratives of the blind minstrel,--with his fierce breathings of
hot, intolerant patriotism, and his stories of astonishing prowess;
and, glorying in being a Scot, and the countryman of Wallace and the
Graham, I longed for a war with the Southron, that the wrongs and
sufferings of these noble heroes might yet be avenged. All I had
previously heard and read of the marvels of foreign parts, of the
glories of modern battles, seemed tame and commonplace, compared with
the incidents in the life of Wallace; and I never after vexed my mother
by wishing myself big enough to be a sailor. My Uncle Sandy, who had
some taste for the refinements of poetry, would fain have led me on from
the exploits of Wallace to the "Life of the Bruce," which, in the form
of a not very vigorous imitation of Dryden's "Virgil," by one Harvey,
was bound up in the same volume, and which my uncle deemed the
better-written life of the two. And so far as the mere amenities of
style were concerned, he was, I daresay, right. But I could not agree
with him. Harvey was by much too fine and too learned for me; and it was
not until some years after, when I was fortunate enough to pick up one
of the later editions of Barbour's "Bruce," that the Hero-King of
Scotland assumed his right place in my mind beside its Hero-Guardian.
There are stages of development in the immature youth of individuals,
that seem to correspond with stages of development in the immature youth
of nations; and the recollections of this early time enable me, in some
measure, to understand how it was that, for hundreds of years, Blind
Harry's "Wallace," with its rude and naked narrative, and its
exaggerated incident, should have been, according to Lord Hailes, the
Bible of the Scotch people.

I quitted the dame's school at the end of the first twelvemonth, after
mastering that grand acquirement of my life,--the art of holding
converse with books; and was transferred straightforth to the grammar
school of the parish, at which there attended at this time about a
hundred and twenty boys, with a class of about thirty individuals more,
much looked down upon by the others, and not deemed greatly worth the
counting, seeing that it consisted of only _lassies_. And here, too, the
early individual development seems nicely correspondent with an early
national one. In his depreciatory estimate of contemporary woman, the
boy is always a true savage. The old parish school of the place had been
nobly situated in a snug corner, between the parish churchyard and a
thick wood; and from the interesting centre which it formed, the boys,
when tired of making dragoon-horses of the erect head-stones, or of
leaping along the flat-laid memorials, from end to end of the
grave-yard, "without touching grass," could repair to the taller trees,
and rise in the world by climbing among them. As, however, they used to
encroach, on these latter occasions, upon the laird's pleasure-grounds,
the school had been removed ere my time to the sea-shore; where, though
there were neither tombstones nor trees, there were some balancing
advantages, of a kind which perhaps only boys of the old school could
have adequately appreciated. As the school-windows fronted the opening
of the Firth, not a vessel could enter the harbour that we did not see;
and, improving through our opportunities, there was perhaps no
educational institution in the kingdom in which all sorts of barques and
carvels, from the fishing yawl to the frigate, could be more correctly
drawn on the slate, or where any defect in hulk or rigging, in some
faulty delineation, was surer of being more justly and unsparingly
criticised. Further, the town, which drove a great trade in salted pork
at the time, had a killing-place not thirty yards from the school-door,
where from eighty to a hundred pigs used sometimes to die for the
general good in a single day; and it was a great matter to hear, at
occasional intervals, the roar of death outside rising high over the
general murmur within, or to be told by some comrade, returned from his
five minutes' leave of absence, that a hero of a pig had taken three
blows of the hatchet ere it fell, and that even after its subjection to
the sticking process, it had got hold of Jock Keddie's hand in its
mouth, and almost smashed his thumb. We learned, too, to know, from our
signal opportunities of observation, not only a good deal about
pig-anatomy,--especially about the detached edible parts of the animal,
such as the spleen and the pancreas, and at least one other very
palatable viscus besides,--but became knowing also about the _take_ and
curing of herrings. All the herring boats during the fishing season
passed our windows on their homeward way to the harbour; and, from their
depth in the water, we became skilful enough to predicate the number of
crans aboard of each with wonderful judgment and correctness. In days of
good general fishings, too, when the curing-yards proved too small to
accommodate the quantities brought ashore, the fish used to be laid in
glittering heaps opposite the school-house door; and an exciting scene,
that combined the bustle of the workshop with the confusion of the
crowded fair, would straightway spring up within twenty yards of the
forms at which we sat, greatly to our enjoyment, and, of course, not a
little to our instruction. We could see, simply by peering over book or
slate, the curers going about rousing their fish with salt, to
counteract the effects of the dog-day sun; bevies of young women
employed as gutters, and horridly incarnadined with blood and viscera,
squatting around the heaps, knife in hand, and plying with busy fingers
their well-paid labours, at the rate of sixpence per hour; relays of
heavily-laden fish-wives bringing ever and anon fresh heaps of herrings
in their creels; and outside of all, the coopers hammering as if for
life and death,--now tightening hoops, and now slackening them, and anon
caulking with bulrush the leaky seams. It is not every grammar school in
which such lessons are taught as those in which all were initiated, and
in which all became in some degree accomplished, in the grammar school
of Cromarty!

The building in which we met was a low, long, straw-thatched cottage,
open from gable to gable, with a mud floor below, and an unlathed roof
above; and stretching along the naked rafters, which, when the master
chanced to be absent for a few minutes, gave noble exercise in climbing,
there used frequently to lie a helm, or oar, or boathook, or even a
foresail,--the spoil of some hapless peat-boat from the opposite side of
the Firth. The Highland boatmen of Ross had carried on a trade in peats
for ages with the Saxons of the town; and as every boat owed a
long-derived perquisite of twenty peats to the grammar school, and as
payment was at times foolishly refused, the party of boys commissioned
by the master to exact it almost always succeeded, either by force or
stratagem, in securing and bringing along with them, in behalf of the
institution, some spar, or sail, or piece of rigging, which, until
redeemed by special treaty, and the payment of the peats, was stowed up
over the rafters. These peat-expeditions, which were intensely popular
in the school, gave noble exercise to the faculties. It was always a
great matter to see, just as the school met, some observant boy appear,
cap in hand, before the master, and intimate the fact of an arrival at
the shore, by the simple words, "Peat-boat, Sir." The master would then
proceed to name a party, more or less numerous, according to the
exigency; but it seemed to be matter of pretty correct calculation that,
in the cases in which the peat claim was disputed, it required about
twenty boys to bring home the twenty peats, or, lacking these, the
compensatory sail or spar. There were certain ill-conditioned boatmen
who almost always resisted, and who delighted to tell us--invariably,
too, in very bad English--that our perquisite was properly the hangman's
perquisite,[2] made over to us because we were _like him_; not
seeing--blockheads as they were!--that the very admission established in
full the rectitude of our claim, and gave to us, amid our dire perils
and faithful contendings, the strengthening consciousness of a just
quarrel. In dealing with these recusants, we used ordinarily to divide
our forces into two bodies, the larger portion of the party filling
their pockets with stones, and ranging themselves on some point of
vantage, such as the pier-head; and the smaller stealing down as near
the boat as possible, and mixing themselves up with the purchasers of
the peats. We then, after due warning, opened fire upon the boatmen;
and, when the pebbles were hopping about them like hailstones, the boys
below commonly succeeded in securing, under cover of the fire, the
desired boathook or oar. And such were the ordinary circumstances and
details of this piece of Spartan education; of which a townsman has told
me he was strongly reminded when boarding, on one occasion, under cover
of a well-sustained discharge of musketry, the vessel of an enemy that
had been stranded on the shores of Berbice.

The parish schoolmaster was a scholar and an honest man, and if a boy
really wished to learn, _he_ certainly could teach him. He had attended
the classes at Aberdeen during the same sessions as the late Dr. Mearns,
and in mathematics and the languages had disputed the prize with the
Doctor; but he had failed to get on equally well in the world; and now,
in middle life, though a licentiate of the Church, he had settled down
to be what he subsequently remained--the teacher of a parish school.
There were usually a few grown-up lads under his tuition--careful
sailors, that had stayed ashore during the winter quarter to study
navigation as a science,--or tall fellows, happy in the patronage of the
great, who, in the hope of being made excisemen, had come to school to
be initiated in the mysteries of gauging,--or grown young men, who, on
second thoughts, and somewhat late in the day, had recognised the Church
as their proper vocation; and these used to speak of the master's
acquirements and teaching ability in the very highest terms. He himself,
too, could appeal to the fact, that no teacher in the north had ever
sent more students to college, and that his better scholars almost
always got on well in life. But then, on the other hand, the pupils who
wished to do nothing--a description of individuals that comprised fully
two-thirds of all the younger ones--were not required to do much more
than they wished; and parents and guardians were loud in their
complaints that he was no suitable schoolmaster for them; though the
boys themselves usually thought him quite suitable enough.

He was in the habit of advising the parents or relations of those he
deemed his clever lads, to give them a classical education; and meeting
one day with Uncle James, he urged that I should be put on Latin. I was
a great reader, he said; and he found that when I missed a word in my
English tasks, I almost always substituted a synonym in the place of it.
And so, as Uncle James had arrived, on data of his own, at a similar
conclusion, I was transferred from the English to the Latin form, and,
with four other boys, fairly entered on the "Rudiments." I laboured with
tolerable diligence for a day or two; but there was no one to tell me
what the rules meant, or whether they really meant anything; and when I
got on as far as _penna_, a pen, and saw how the changes were rung on
one poor word, that did not seem to be of more importance in the old
language than in the modern one, I began miserably to flag, and to long
for my English reading, with its nice amusing stories, and its
picture-like descriptions. The Rudiments was by far the dullest book I
had ever seen. It embodied no thought that I could perceive,--it
certainly contained no narrative,--it was a perfect contrast to not only
the "Life and Adventures of Sir William Wallace," but to even the
Voyages of Cook and Anson. None of my class-fellows were by any means
bright;--they had been all set on Latin without advice of the master;
and yet, when he learned, which he soon did, to distinguish and call us
up to our tasks by the name of the "heavy class," I was, in most
instances, to be found at its nether end. Shortly after, however, when
we got a little farther on, it was seen that I had a decided turn for
translation. The master, good simple man that he was, always read to us
in English, as the school met, the piece of Latin given us as our task
for the day; and as my memory was strong enough to carry away the whole
translation in its order, I used to give him back in the evening, word
for word, his own rendering, which satisfied him on most occasions
tolerably well. There were none of us much looked after; and I soon
learned to bring books of amusement to the school with me, which, amid
the Babel confusion of the place, I contrived to read undetected. Some
of them, save in the language in which they were written, were identical
with the books proper to the place. I remember perusing by stealth in
this way, Dryden's "Virgil," and the "Ovid" of Dryden and his friends;
while Ovid's own "Ovid," and Virgil's own "Virgil," lay beside me,
sealed up in the fine old tongue, which I was thus throwing away my only
chance of acquiring.

One morning, having the master's English rendering of the day's task
well fixed in my memory, and no book of amusement to read, I began
gossiping with my nearest class-fellow, a very tall boy, who ultimately
shot up into a lad of six feet four, and who on most occasions sat
beside me, as lowest in the form save one. I told him about the tall
Wallace and his exploits; and so effectually succeeded in awakening his
curiosity, that I had to communicate to him, from beginning to end,
every adventure recorded by the blind minstrel. My story-telling
vocation once fairly ascertained, there was, I found, no stopping in my
course. I had to tell all the stories I ever heard or read; all my
father's adventures, so far as I knew them, and all my Uncle
Sandy's,--with the story of Gulliver, and Philip Quarll, and Robinson
Crusoe,--of Sinbad, and Ulysses, and Mrs. Radcliffe's heroine Emily,
with, of course, the love-passages left out; and at length, after weeks
and months of narrative, I found my available stock of acquired fact
and fiction fairly exhausted. The demand on the part of my
class-fellows was, however, as great and urgent as ever; and, setting
myself, in the extremity of the case, to try my ability of original
production, I began to dole out to them by the hour and the diet, long
extempore biographies, which proved wonderfully popular and successful.
My heroes were usually warriors like Wallace, and voyagers like
Gulliver, and dwellers in desolate islands like Robinson Crusoe; and
they had not unfrequently to seek shelter in huge deserted castles,
abounding in trap-doors and secret passages, like that of Udolpho. And
finally, after much destruction of giants and wild beasts, and frightful
encounters with magicians and savages, they almost invariably succeeded
in disentombing hidden treasures to an enormous amount, or in laying
open gold mines, and then passed a luxurious old age, like that of
Sinbad the Sailor, at peace with all mankind, in the midst of
confectionery and fruits. The master had a tolerably correct notion of
what was going on in the "heavy class;"--the stretched-out necks, and
the heads clustered together, always told their own special story when I
was engaged in telling mine; but, without hating the child, he spared
the rod, and simply did what he sometimes allowed himself to
do--bestowed a nickname upon me. I was the _Sennachie_, he said; and as
the Sennachie I might have been known so long as I remained under his
charge, had it not been that, priding himself upon his Gaelic, he used
to bestow upon the word the full Celtic pronunciation, which, agreeing
but ill with the Teutonic mouths of my school-fellows, militated against
its use; and so the name failed to take. With all my carelessness, I
continued to be a sort of favourite with the master; and, when at the
general English lesson, he used to address to me little quiet speeches,
vouchsafed to no other pupil, indicative of a certain literary ground
common to us, on which the others had not entered. "That, Sir," he has
said, after the class had just perused, in the school collection, a
_Tatler_ or _Spectator_,--"That, Sir, is a good paper;--it's an
_Addison_;" or, "That's one of Steele's, Sir;" and on finding in my
copy-book, on one occasion, a page filled with rhymes, which I had
headed "Poem on Care," he brought it to his desk, and, after reading it
carefully over, called me up, and with his closed penknife, which served
as a pointer, in the one hand, and the copy-book brought down to the
level of my eyes in the other, began his criticism. "That's bad grammar,
Sir," he said, resting the knife-handle on one of the lines; "and here's
an ill-spelt word; and there's another; and you have not at all attended
to the punctuation; but the general sense of the piece is good,--very
good indeed, Sir." And then he added, with a grim smile, "_Care_, Sir,
is, I daresay, as you remark, a very bad thing; but you may safely
bestow a little more of it on your spelling and your grammar."

The school, like almost all the other grammar-schools of the period in
Scotland, had its yearly cock-fight, preceded by two holidays and a
half, during which the boys occupied themselves in collecting and
bringing up their cocks. And such always was the array of fighting birds
mustered on the occasion, that the day of the festival, from morning
till night, used to be spent in fighting out the battle. For weeks after
it had passed, the school-floor would continue to retain its
deeply-stained blotches of blood, and the boys would be full of exciting
narratives regarding the glories of gallant birds, who had continued to
fight until both their eyes had been picked out, or who, in the moment
of victory, had dropped dead in the middle of the cock-pit. The yearly
fight was the relic of a barbarous age; and, in at least one of its
provisions, there seemed evidence that it was that of an intolerant age
also: every pupil at school, without exemption, had his name entered on
the subscription-list, as a cock-fighter, and was obliged to pay the
master at the rate of twopence per head, ostensibly for leave to bring
his birds to the pit; but, amid the growing humanities of a better
time, though the twopences continued to be exacted, it was no longer
imperative to bring the birds; and availing myself of the liberty I
never brought any. Nor, save for a few minutes, on two several
occasions, did I ever attend the fight. Had the combat been one among
the boys themselves, I would readily enough have done my part, by
meeting with any opponent of my years and standing; but I could not bear
to look at the bleeding birds. And so I continued to pay my yearly
sixpence, as a holder of three cocks,--the lowest sum deemed in any
degree genteel,--but remained simply a fictitious or paper cock-fighter,
and contributed in no degree to the success of the _head-stock_ or
leader, to whose party, in the general division of the school, it was my
lot to fall. Neither, I must add, did I learn to take an interest in the
sacrificial orgies of the adjoining slaughter-house. A few of the chosen
school-boys were permitted by the killers to exercise at times the
privilege of knocking down a pig, and even, on rare occasions, to essay
the sticking; but I turned with horror from both processes; and if I
drew near at all, it was only when some animal, scraped and cleaned, and
suspended from the beam, was in the course of being laid open by the
butcher's knife, that I might mark the forms of the viscera, and the
positions which they occupied. To my dislike of the annual cock-fight my
uncles must have contributed. They were loud in their denunciations of
the enormity; and on one occasion, when a neighbour was unlucky enough
to remark, in extenuation, that the practice had been handed down to us
by pious and excellent men, who seemed to see nothing wrong in it, I saw
the habitual respect for the old divines give way, for at least a
moment. Uncle Sandy hesitated under apparent excitement; but, quick and
fiery as lightning, Uncle James came to his rescue. "Yes, excellent
men!" said my uncle, "but the excellent men of a rude and barbarous age;
and, in some parts of their character, tinged by its barbarity. For the
cock-fight which these excellent men have bequeathed to us, they ought
to have been sent to Bridewell for a week, and fed upon bread and
water." Uncle James was, no doubt, over hasty, and felt so a minute
after; but the practice of fixing the foundations of ethics on a _They
themselves did it_, much after the manner in which the Schoolmen fixed
the foundations of their nonsensical philosophy on a "_He himself said
it_," is a practice which, though not yet exploded in even very pure
Churches, is always provoking, and not quite free from peril to the
worthies, whether dead or alive, in whose precedents the moral right is
made to rest. In the class of minds represented among the people by that
of Uncle James, for instance, it would be much easier to bring down even
the old divines, than to bring up cock-fighting.

My native town had possessed, for at least an age or two previous to
that of my boyhood, its sprinkling of intelligent, book-consulting
mechanics and tradesfolk; and as my acquaintance gradually extended
among their representatives and descendants, I was permitted to rummage,
in the pursuit of knowledge, delightful old chests and cupboards, filled
with tattered and dusty volumes. The moiety of my father's library which
remained to me consisted of about sixty several works; my uncle
possessed about a hundred and fifty more; and there was a literary
cabinet-maker in the neighbourhood, who had once actually composed a
poem of thirty lines on the Hill of Cromarty, whose collection of books,
chiefly poetical, amounted to from about eighty to a hundred. I used to
be often at nights in the workshop of the cabinet-maker, and was
sometimes privileged to hear him repeat his poem. There was not much
admiration of poets or poetry in the place; and my praise, though that
of a very young critic, had always the double merit of being both ample
and sincere. I knew the very rocks and trees which his description
embraced,--had heard the birds to which he referred, and seen the
flowers; and as the Hill had been of old a frequent scene of executions,
and had borne the gallows of the sheriffdom on its crest, nothing could
be more definite than the grave reference, in his opening line, to


    "The verdant rising of the _Gallow_-hill."


And so I thought a very great deal of his poem, and what I thought I
said; and he, on the other hand, evidently regarded me as a lad of
extraordinary taste and discernment for my years. There was another
mechanic in the neighbourhood,--a house-carpenter, who, though not a
poet, was deeply read in books of all kinds, from the plays of Farquhar
to the sermons of Flavel; and as both his father and grandfather--the
latter, by the way, a Porteous-mob man, and the former a personal friend
of poor Fergusson the poet--had also been readers and collectors of
books, he possessed a whole pressful of tattered, hard-working volumes,
some of them very curious ones; and to me he liberally extended, what
literary men always value, "the full freedom of the press." But of all
my occasional benefactors in this way, by far the greatest was poor old
Francie, the retired clerk and supercargo.

Francie was naturally a man of fair talent and active curiosity. Nor was
he by any means deficient in acquirement. He wrote and figured well, and
knew a good deal about at least the theory of business; and when
articled in early life to a Cromarty merchant and shopkeeper, it was
with tolerably fair prospects of getting on in the world. He had,
however, a certain infirmity of brain, which rendered both talent and
acquirement of but little avail, and that began to manifest itself very
early. While yet an apprentice, on ascertaining that the way was clear,
he used, though grown a tall lad, to bolt out from behind the counter
into the middle of a green directly opposite, and there, joining in the
sports of some group of youngsters, which the place rarely wanted, he
would play out half a game at marbles, or honey-pots, or hy-spy, and,
when he saw his master or a customer approaching, bolt back again The
thing was not deemed seemly; but Francie, when spoken to on the subject,
could speak as sensibly as any young person of his years. He needed
relaxation, he used to say, though he never suffered it to interfere
with his proper business; and where was there safer relaxation to be
found than among innocent children? This, of course, was eminently
rational, and even virtuous. And so, when his term of apprenticeship had
expired, Francie was despatched, not without hope of success, to
Newfoundland,--where he had relations extensively engaged in the fishing
trade,--to serve as one of their clerks. He was found to be a competent
clerk; but unluckily there was but little known of the interior of the
island at the time; and some of the places most distant from St. John's,
such as the Bay and River of Exploits, bore tempting names; and so,
after Francie had made many inquiries at the older inhabitants regarding
what was to be seen amid the scraggy brushwood and broken rocks of the
inner country, a morning came in which he was reported missing at the
office; and little else could be learned respecting him, than that at
early dawn he had been seen setting out for the woods, provided with
staff and knapsack. He returned in about a week, worn out and
half-starved. He had not been so successful as he had anticipated, he
said, in providing himself by the way with food, and so he had to turn
back ere he could reach the point on which he had previously determined;
but he was sure he would be happier in his next journey. It was palpably
unsafe to suffer him to remain exposed to the temptation of an
unexplored country; and as his friends and superiors at St. John's had
just laden a vessel with fish for the Italian market during Lent,
Francie was despatched with her as supercargo, to look after the sales,
in a land of which every footbreadth had been familiar to men for
thousands of years, and in which it was supposed he would have no
inducement to wander. Francie, however, had read much about Italy; and
finding, on landing at Leghorn, that he was within a short distance of
Pisa, he left ship and cargo to take care of themselves, and set out on
foot to see the famous hanging tower, and the great marble cathedral.
And tower and cathedral he did see: but it was meanwhile found that he
was not quite suited for a supercargo; and he had shortly after to
return to Scotland, where his friends succeeded in establishing him in
the capacity of clerk and overseer upon a small property in Forfarshire,
which was farmed by the proprietor on what was then the newly introduced
modern system. He was acquainted, however, with the classical
description of Glammis Castle, in the letters of the poet Gray; and
after visiting the castle, he set out to examine the ancient encampment
at Ardoch--the _Lindum_ of the Romans. Finally, all hopes of getting him
settled at a distance being given up by his friends, he had to fall back
upon Cromarty, where he was yet once more appointed to a clerkship. The
establishment with which he was now connected was a large hempen
manufactory; and it was his chief employment to register the quantities
of hemp given out to the spinners, and the number of hanks of yarn into
which they had converted it, when given in. He soon, however, began to
take long walks; and the old women, with their yarn, would be often
found accumulated, ere his return, by tens and dozens at his
office-door. At length, after taking a very long walk indeed, for it
stretched from near the opening to the head of the Cromarty Firth, a
distance of about twenty miles, and included in its survey the antique
tower of Kinkell and the old Castle of Craighouse, he was relieved from
the duties of his clerkship, and left to pursue his researches
undisturbed, on a small annuity, the gift of his friends. He was
considerably advanced in life ere I knew him, profoundly grave, and very
taciturn, and, though he never discussed politics, a mighty reader of
the newspapers. "Oh! this is terrible," I have heard him exclaim, when
on one occasion a snow storm had blocked up both the coast and the
Highland roads for a week together, and arrested the northward course
of the mails,--"It is terrible to be left in utter ignorance of the
public business of the country!"

Francie, whom every one called Mr. ---- to his face, and always Francie
when his back was turned, chiefly because it was known he was
punctilious on the point, and did not like the more familiar term, used
in the winter evenings to be a regular member of the circle that met
beside my Uncle James's work-table. And, chiefly through the influence,
in the first instance, of my uncles, I was permitted to visit him in his
own room--a privilege enjoyed by scarce any one else--and even invited
to borrow his books. His room--a dark and melancholy chamber, grey with
dust--always contained a number of curious but not very rare things,
which he had picked up in his walks--prettily coloured fungi--vegetable
monstrosities of the commoner kind, such as "fause craws' nests," and
flattened twigs of pine--and with these, as the representatives of
another department of natural science, fragments of semi-transparent
quartz or of glittering feldspar, and sheets of mica a little above the
ordinary size. But the charm of the apartment lay in its books. Francie
was a book-fancier, and lacked only the necessary wealth to be in the
possession of a very pretty collection. As it was, he had some curious
volumes; among others, a first-edition copy of the "Nineteen Years'
Travels of William Lithgow," with an ancient woodcut, representing the
said William in the background, with his head brushing the skies, and,
far in front, two of the tombs which covered the heroes of Ilium, barely
tall enough to reach half-way to his knee, and of the length, in
proportion to the size of the traveller, of ordinary octavo volumes. He
had black-letter books, too, on astrology, and on the planetary
properties of vegetables; and an ancient book on medicine, that
recommended as a cure for the toothache a bit of the jaw of a suicide,
well triturated; and, as an infallible remedy for the falling-sickness,
an ounce or two of the brains of a young man, carefully dried over the
fire. Better, however, than these, for at least my purpose, he had a
tolerably complete collection of the British essayists, from Addison to
Mackenzie, with the "Essays" and "Citizen of the World" of Goldsmith;
several interesting works of travels and voyages, translated from the
French; and translations from the German, of Lavater, Zimmerman, and
Klopstock. He had a good many of the minor poets too; and I was enabled
to cultivate, mainly from his collection, a tolerably adequate
acquaintance with the wits of the reign of Queen Anne. Poor Francie was
at bottom a kindly and honest man; but the more intimately one knew him,
the more did the weakness and brokenness of his intellect appear. His
mind was a labyrinth without a clue, in whose recesses there lay stored
up a vast amount of book-knowledge, that could never be found when
wanted, and was of no sort of use to himself, or any one else. I got
sufficiently into his confidence to be informed, under the seal of
strict secrecy, that he contemplated producing a great literary work,
whose special character he had not quite determined, but which was to be
begun a few years hence. And when death found him, at an age which did
not fall far short of the allotted threescore and ten, the great unknown
work was still an undefined idea, and had still to be begun.

There were several other branches of my education going on at this time
outside the pale of the school, in which, though I succeeded in amusing
myself, I was no trifler. The shores of Cromarty are strewed over with
water-rolled fragments of the primary rocks, derived chiefly from the
west during the ages of the boulder clay; and I soon learned to take a
deep interest in sauntering over the various pebble-beds when shaken up
by recent storms, and in learning to distinguish their numerous
components. But I was sadly in want of a vocabulary; and as, according
to Cowper, "the growth of what is excellent is slow," it was not until
long after that I bethought me of the obvious enough expedient of
representing the various species of simple rocks, by certain numerals,
and the compound ones by the numerals representative of each separate
component, ranged, as in vulgar fractions, along a medial line, with the
figures representative of the prevailing materials of the mass above,
and those representative of the materials in less proportions below.
Though, however, wholly deficient in the signs proper to represent what
I knew, I soon acquired a considerable quickness of eye in
distinguishing the various kinds of rock, and tolerably definite
conceptions of the generic character of the porphyries, granites,
gneisses, quartz-rocks, clay-slates, and mica-schists, which everywhere
strewed the beach. In the rocks of mechanical origin I was at this time
much less interested; but in individual, as in general history,
mineralogy almost always precedes geology. I was fortunate enough to
discover, one happy morning, among the lumber and debris of old John
Feddes's dark room, an antique-fashioned hammer, which had belonged, my
mother told me, to old John himself more than a hundred years before. It
was an uncouth sort of implement, with a handle of strong black oak, and
a short, compact head, square on the one face and oblong on the other.
And though it dealt rather an obtuse blow, the temper was excellent, and
the haft firmly set; and I went about with it, breaking into all manner
of stones, with great perseverance and success. I found, in a
large-grained granite, a few sheets of beautiful black mica, that, when
split exceedingly thin, and pasted between slips of mica of the ordinary
kind, made admirably-coloured eye-glasses, that converted the landscapes
around into richly-toned drawings in sepia; and numerous crystals of
garnet embedded in mica-schist, that were, I was sure, identical with
the stones set in a little gold brooch, the property of my mother. To
this last surmise, however, some of the neighbours to whom I showed my
prize demurred. The stones in my mother's brooch were precious stones,
they said; whereas what _I_ had found was merely a "stone upon the
shore." My friend the cabinet-maker went so far as to say that the
specimen was but a mass of plum-pudding stone, and its dark-coloured
enclosures simply the currants; but then, on the other hand, Uncle Sandy
took my view of the matter: the stone was not plum-pudding stone, he
said: he had often seen plum-pudding stone in England, and knew it to be
a sort of rough conglomerate of various components; whereas my stone was
composed of a finely-grained silvery substance, and the crystals which
it contained were, he was sure, gems like those in the brooch, and, so
far as he could judge, real garnets. This was a great decision; and,
much encouraged in consequence, I soon ascertained that garnets are by
no means rare among the pebbles of the Cromarty shore. Nay, so mixed up
are they with its sands even,--a consequence of the abundance of the
mineral among the primary rocks of Ross,--that after a heavy surf has
beaten the exposed beach of the neighbouring hill, there may be found on
it patches of comminuted garnet, from one to three square yards in
extent, that resemble, at a little distance, pieces of crimson
carpeting, and nearer at hand, sheets of crimson bead-work, and of which
almost every point and particle is a gem. From some unexplained
circumstance, connected apparently with the specific gravity of the
substance, it separates in this style from the general mass, on coasts
much beaten by the waves; but the garnets of these curious pavements,
though so exceedingly abundant, are in every instance exceedingly
minute. I never detected in them a fragment greatly larger than a
pin-head; but it was always with much delight that I used to fling
myself down on the shore beside some newly-discovered patch, and bethink
me, as I passed my fingers along the larger grains, of the heaps of gems
in Aladdin's cavern, or of Sinbad's valley of diamonds.

The Hill of Cromarty formed at this time at once my true school and
favourite play-ground; and if my master did wink at times harder than
master ought, when I was playing truant among its woods or on its
shores, it was, I believe, whether he thought so or no, all for the
best. My uncle Sandy had, as I have already said, been bred a
cartwright; but finding, on his return, after his seven years' service
on board a man-of-war, that the place had cartwrights enough for all the
employment, he applied himself to the humble but not unremunerative
profession of a sawyer, and used often to pitch his saw-pit, in the more
genial seasons of the year, among the woods of the hill. I remember, he
never failed setting it down in some pretty spot, sheltered from the
prevailing winds under the lee of some fern-covered rising ground or
some bosky thicket, and always in the near neighbourhood of a spring;
and it used to be one of my most delightful exercises to find out for
myself among the thick woods, in some holiday journey of exploration,
the place of a newly-formed pit. With the saw-pit as my baseline of
operations, and secure always of a share in Uncle Sandy's dinner, I used
to make excursions of discovery on every side,--now among the thicker
tracts of wood, which bore among the town-boys, from the twilight gloom
that ever rested in their recesses, the name of "the dungeons;" and anon
to the precipitous sea-shore, with its wild cliffs and caverns. The Hill
of Cromarty is one of a chain belonging to the great Ben Nevis line of
elevation; and, though it occurs in a sandstone district, is itself a
huge primary mass, upheaved of old from the abyss, and composed chiefly
of granitic gneiss and a red splintery horn-stone. It contains also
numerous veins and beds of hornblend rock and chlorite-schist, and of a
peculiar-looking granite, of which the quartz is white as milk, and the
feldspar red as blood. When still wet by the receding tide, these veins
and beds seem as if highly polished, and present a beautiful aspect; and
it was always with great delight that I used to pick my way among them,
hammer in hand, and fill my pockets with specimens.

There was one locality which I in especial loved. No path runs the way.
On the one side, an abrupt iron-tinged promontory, so remarkable for its
human-like profile, that it seems part of a half-buried sphinx,
protrudes into the deep green water. On the other--less prominent, for
even at full tide the traveller can wind between its base and the
sea--there rises a shattered and ruined precipice, seamed with blood-red
ironstone, that retains on its surface the bright metallic gleam, and
amid whose piles of loose and fractured rock one may still detect
fragments of stalactite. The stalactite is all that remains of a
spacious cavern, which once hollowed the precipice, but which, more than
a hundred years before, had tumbled down during a thunder-storm, when
filled with a flock of sheep, and penned up the poor creatures for ever.
The space between these headlands forms an irregular crescent of great
height, covered with wood a-top, and amid whose lichened crags, and on
whose steep slopes, the hawthorn, and bramble, and wild rasp, and rock
strawberry, take root, with many a scraggy shrub and sweet wild flower
besides; while along its base lie huge blocks of green hornblend, on a
rude pavement of granitic gneiss, traversed at one point, for many
yards, by a broad vein of milk-white quartz. The quartz vein formed my
central point of attraction in this wild paradise. The white stone,
thickly traversed by threads of purple and red, is a beautiful though
unworkable rock; and I soon ascertained that it is flanked by a vein of
feldspar broader than itself, of a brick-red tint, and the red stone
flanked, in turn, by a drab-coloured vein of the same mineral, in which
there occur in great abundance masses of a homogeneous mica,--mica not
existing in lamina, but, if I may use the term, as a sort of micaceous
felt. It would almost seem as if some gigantic experimenter of the old
world had set himself to separate into their simple mineral components
the granitic rocks of the hill, and that the three parallel veins were
the results of his labour. Such, however, was not the sort of idea which
they at this time suggested to me. I had read in Sir Walter Raleigh's
voyage to Guiana, the poetic description of that upper country in which
the knight's exploration of the river Corale terminated, and where, amid
lovely prospects of rich valleys, and wooded hills, and winding waters,
almost every rock bore on its surface the yellow gleam of gold. True,
according to the voyager, the precious metal was itself absent. But Sir
Walter, on afterwards showing "some of the stones to a Spaniard of the
Caraccas, was told by him they were _la madre de oro_, that is, the
mother of gold, and that the mine itself was further in the ground." And
though the quartz vein of the Cromarty Hill contained no metal more
precious than iron, and but little even of that, it was, I felt sure,
the "mother" of something very fine. As for silver, I was pretty certain
I had found the "mother" of _it_, if not, indeed, the precious metal
itself, in a cherty boulder, enclosing numerous cubes of rich galena;
and occasional masses of iron pyrites gave, as I thought, large promise
of gold. But though sometimes asked in humble irony, by the
farm-servants who came to load their carts with sea-weed along the
Cromarty beach, whether I was "getting siller in the stanes," I was so
unlucky as never to be able to answer their question in the affirmative.

FOOTNOTE:

[2] There may have been truth in the allegation; at least the hangman of
Inverness enjoyed, from time immemorial, a similar perquisite,--a peat
out of every creel brought to the burgh market.



CHAPTER IV.

    "Strange marble stones, here larger and there less,
    And of full various forms, which still increase
    In height and bulk by a continual drop.
    Which upon each distilling from the top,
    And falling still exactly on the crown.
    There break themselves to mists, which, trickling down.
    Crust into stone, and (but with leisure) swell
    The sides, and still advance the miracle."--CHARLES COTTON.


It is low water in the Firth of Cromarty during stream tides, between
six and seven o'clock in the evening; and my uncle Sandy, in returning
from his work at the close of the day, used not unfrequently, when,
according to the phrase of the place, "there was a tide in the water,"
to strike down the hillside, and spend a quiet hour in the ebb. I
delighted to accompany him on these occasions. There are professors of
Natural History that know less of living nature than was known by Uncle
Sandy; and I deemed it no small matter to have all the various
productions of the sea with which he was acquainted pointed out to me in
these walks, and to be in possession of his many curious anecdotes
regarding them.

He was a skilful crab and lobster fisher, and knew every hole and
cranny, along several miles of rocky shore, in which the creatures were
accustomed to shelter, with not a few of their own peculiarities of
character. Contrary to the view taken by some of our naturalists, such
as Agassiz, who hold that the crab--a genus comparatively recent in its
appearance in creation--is less embryotic in its character, and higher
in its standing, than the more ancient lobster, my uncle regarded the
lobster as a more highly developed and more intelligent animal than the
crab. The hole in which the lobster lodges has almost always two
openings, he has said, through one of which it sometimes contrives to
escape when the other is stormed by the fisher; whereas the crab is
usually content, like the "rat devoid of soul," with a hole of only one
opening; and, besides, gets so angry in most cases with his assailant,
as to become more bent on assault than escape, and so loses himself
through sheer loss of temper. And yet the crab has, he used to add, some
points of intelligence about him too. When, as sometimes happened, he
got hold, in his dark narrow recess in the rock, of some luckless digit,
my uncle showed me how that, after the first tremendous squeeze, he
began always to experiment upon what he had got, by alternately
slackening and straitening his grasp, as if to ascertain whether it had
life in it, or was merely a piece of dead matter; and that the only way
to escape him, on these trying occasions, was to let the finger lie
passively between his nippers, as if it were a bit of stick or tangle;
when, apparently deeming it such, he would be sure to let it go;
whereas, on the least attempt to withdraw it, he would at once straiten
his gripe, and not again relax it for mayhap half an hour. In dealing
with the lobster, on the other hand, the fisher had to beware that he
did not depend too much on the hold he had got of the creature, if it
was merely a hold of one of the great claws. For a moment it would
remain passive in his grasp; he would then be sensible of a slight
tremor in the captured limb, and mayhap hear a slight crackle; and,
_presto_, the captive would straightway be off like a dart through the
deep-water hole, and only the limb remain in the fisher's hand. My uncle
has, however, told me that lobsters do not always lose their limbs with
the necessary judgment. They throw them off when suddenly frightened,
without first waiting to consider whether the sacrifice of a pair of
legs is the best mode of obviating the danger. On firing a musket
immediately over a lobster just captured, he has seen it throw off both
its great claws in the sudden extremity of its terror, just as a
panic-struck soldier sometimes throws away his weapons. Such, in kind,
were the anecdotes of Uncle Sandy. He instructed me, too, how to find,
amid thickets of laminaria and fuci, the nest of the lump-fish, and
taught me to look well in its immediate neighbourhood for the male and
female fish, especially for the male; and showed me further, that the
hard-shelled spawn of this creature may, when well washed, be eaten raw,
and forms at least as palatable a viand in that state as the imported
caviare of Russia and the Caspian. There were instances in which the
common crow acted as a sort of jackal to us in our lump-fish
explorations. We would see him busied at the side of some fuci-covered
pool, screaming and cawing as if engaged in combating an enemy; and, on
going up to the place, we used to find the lump-fish he had killed fresh
and entire, but divested of the eyes, which we found, as a matter of
course, that the assailant, in order to make sure of victory, had taken
the precaution of picking out at an early stage of the contest.

Nor was it with merely the edible that we busied ourselves on these
journeys. The brilliant metallic _plumage_ of the sea mouse
(_Aphrodita_), steeped as in the dyes of the rainbow, excited our
admiration time after time; and still higher wonder used to be awakened
by a much rarer annelid, brown, and slender as a piece of rope-yarn, and
from thirty to forty feet in length, which no one save my uncle had ever
found along the Cromarty shores, and which, when broken in two, as
sometimes happened in the measuring, divided its vitality so equally
between the pieces, that each was fitted, we could not doubt, though
unable to repeat in the case the experiment of Spallanzani, to set up as
an independent existence, and carry on business for itself. The
annelids, too, that form for themselves tubular dwellings built up of
large grains of sand (_amphitrites_), always excited our interest. Two
hand-shaped tufts of golden-hued setæ--furnished, however, with greatly
more than the typical number of fingers--rise from the shoulders of
these creatures, and must, I suspect, be used as hands in the process of
building; at least the hands of the most practised builder could not set
stones with nicer skill than is exhibited by these worms in the setting
of the grains which compose their cylindrical dwellings--dwellings that,
from their form and structure, seem suited to remind the antiquary of
the round towers of Ireland, and, from the style of their masonry, of
old Cyclopean walls. Even the mason-wasps and bees are greatly inferior
workmen to these mason _amphitrites_. I was introduced also, in our ebb
excursions, to the cuttle-fish and the sea-hare, and shown how the one,
when pursued by an enemy, discharges a cloud of ink to conceal its
retreat, and that the other darkens the water around it with a lovely
purple pigment, which my uncle was pretty sure would make a rich dye,
like that extracted of old by the Tyrians from a whelk which he had
often seen on the beach near Alexandria. I learned, too, to cultivate an
acquaintance with some two or three species of doris, that carry their
arboraceous, tree-like lungs on their backs, as Macduff's soldiers
carried the boughs of Birnam wood to the Hill of Dunsinane; and I soon
acquired a sort of affection for certain shells, which bore, as I
supposed, a more exotic aspect than their neighbours. Among these were,
_Trochus Zizyphinus_, with its flame-like markings of crimson, on a
ground of paley-brown; _Patella pellucida_, with its lustrous rays of
vivid blue on its dark epidermis, that resemble the sparks of a firework
breaking against a cloud; and, above all, _Cypræa Europea_, a not rare
shell further to the north, but so little abundant in the Firth of
Cromarty, as to render the live animal, when once or twice in a season I
used to find it creeping on the laminaria at the extreme outer edge of
the tide-line, with its wide orange mantle flowing liberally around it,
somewhat of a prize. In short, the tract of sea-bottom laid dry by the
ebb formed an admirable school, and Uncle Sandy an excellent teacher,
under whom I was not in the least disposed to trifle; and when, long
after, I learned to detect old-marine bottoms far out of sight of the
sea--now amid the ancient forest-covered Silurians of central England,
and anon opening to the light on some hillside among the Mountain
Limestones of our own country--I have felt how very much I owed to his
instructions.

His facts wanted a vocabulary adequately fitted to represent them; but
though they "lacked a commodity of good names," they were all founded on
careful observation, and possessed that first element of
respectability--perfect originality: they were all acquired by himself.
I owed more, however, to the habit of observation which he assisted me
in forming, than even to his facts; and yet some of these were of high
value. He has shown me, for instance, that an immense granitic boulder
in the neighbourhood of the town, known for ages as the Clach Malloch,
or Cursed Stone, stands so exactly in the line of low water, that the
larger stream-tides of March and September lay dry its inner side, but
never its outer one;--round the outer side there are always from two to
four inches of water; and such had been the case for at least a hundred
years before, in his father's and grandfather's days--evidence enough of
itself, I have heard him say, that the relative levels of sea and land
were not altering; though during the lapsed century the waves had so
largely encroached on the low flat shores, that elderly men of his
acquaintance, long since passed away, had actually held the plough when
young where they had held the rudder when old. He used, too, to point
out to me the effect of certain winds upon the tides. A strong hasty
gale from the east, if coincident with a spring-tide, sent up the waves
high upon the beach, and cut away whole roods of the soil; but the gales
that usually kept larger tides from falling during ebb were prolonged
gales from the west. A series of these, even when not very high, left
not unfrequently from one to two feet water round the Clach Malloch,
during stream-tides, that would otherwise have laid its bottom bare--a
proof, he used to say, that the German Ocean, from its want of breadth,
could not be heaped up against our coasts to the same extent, by the
violence of a very powerful east wind, as the Atlantic by the force of a
comparatively moderate westerly one. It is not improbable that the
philosophy of the Drift Current, and of the apparently reactionary Gulf
Stream, may be embodied in this simple remark.

The woods on the lower slopes of the hill, when there was no access to
the zones covered save at low ebb by the sea, furnished me with
employment of another kind. I learned to look with interest on the
workings of certain insects, and to understand some of at least their
simpler instincts. The large Diadem Spider, which spins so strong a web,
that, in pressing my way through the furze thickets, I could hear its
white silken cords crack as they yielded before me, and which I found
skilled, like an ancient magician, in the strange art of rendering
itself invisible in the clearest light, was an especial favourite;
though its great size, and the wild stories I had read about the bite of
its cogener the tarantula, made me cultivate its acquaintance somewhat
at a distance. Often, however, have I stood beside its large web, when
the creature occupied its place in the centre, and, touching it with a
withered grass stalk, I have seen it sullenly swing on the lines "with
its hands," and then shake them with a motion so rapid, that--like
Carathis, the mother of the Caliph Vathek, who, when her hour of doom
had come, "glanced off in a rapid whirl, which rendered her
invisible"--the eye failed to see either web or insect for minutes
together. Nothing appeals more powerfully to the youthful fancy than
those coats, rings, and amulets of eastern lore, that conferred on their
possessors the gift of invisibility. I learned, too, to take an especial
interest in what, though they belong to a different family, are known as
the Water _Spiders_; and have watched them speeding by fits and starts,
like skaters on the ice, across the surface of some woodland spring or
streamlet--fearless walkers on the waters, that, with true faith in the
integrity of the implanted instinct, never made shipwreck in the eddy or
sank in the pool. It is to these little creatures that Wordsworth refers
in one of his sonnets on sleep:--


                  "O sleep, thou art to me
    A fly that up and down himself doth shove
    Upon a fretful rivulet; now _above_,
    Now _on_ the water, vexed with mockery."


As shown, however, to the poet himself on one occasion, somewhat to his
discomfort, by assuredly no mean authority--Mr. James Wilson--the
"vexed" "fly," though one of the hemipterous insects, never uses its
wings, and so never gets "_above_" the water. Among my other favourites
were the splendid dragon-flies, the crimson-speckled Burnet moths, and
the small azure butterflies, that, when fluttering among delicate
harebells and crimson-tipped daisies, used to suggest to me, long ere I
became acquainted with the pretty figure of Moore,[3] or even ere the
figure had been produced, the idea of flowers that had taken to flying.
The wild honey bees, too, in their several species, had peculiar charms
for me. There were the buff-coloured carders, that erected over their
honey-jars domes of moss; the lapidary red-tipped bees, that built amid
the recesses of ancient cairns, and in old dry stone walls, and were so
invincibly brave in defending their homesteads, that they never gave up
the quarrel till they died; and, above all, the yellow-zoned
humble-bees, that lodged deep in the ground along the dry sides of
grassy banks, and were usually wealthier in honey than any of their
cogeners, and existed in larger communities. But the herd-boys of the
parish, and the foxes of its woods and brakes, shared in my interest in
the wild honey bees, and, in the pursuit of something else than
knowledge, were ruthless robbers of their nests. I often observed, that
the fox, with all his reputed shrewdness, is not particularly knowing on
the subject of bees. He makes as dead a set on a wasp's nest as on that
of the carder or humble-bee, and gets, I doubt not, heartily stung for
his pains; for though, as shown by the marks of his teeth, left on
fragments of the paper combs scattered about, he attempts eating the
young wasps in the chrysalis state, the undevoured remains seem to argue
that he is but little pleased with them as food. There were occasions,
however, in which even the herd-boys met with only disappointment in
their bee-hunting excursions; and in one notable instance, the result of
the adventure used to be spoken of in school and elsewhere, under our
breath and in secret, as something very horrible. A party of boys had
stormed a humble-bees' nest on the side of the old chapel-brae, and,
digging inwards along the narrow winding earth passage, they at length
came to a grinning human skull, and saw the bees issuing thick from out
a round hole at its base--the _foramen magnum_. The wise little workers
had actually formed their nest within the hollow of the head, once
occupied by the busy brain; and their spoilers, more scrupulous than
Samson of old, who seems to have enjoyed the meat brought forth out of
the eater, and the sweetness extracted from the strong, left in very
great consternation their honey all to themselves.

One of my discoveries of this early period would have been deemed a not
unimportant one by the geologist. Among the woods of the hill, a short
half-mile from the town, there is a morass of comparatively small
extent, but considerable depth, which had been laid open by the bursting
of a waterspout on the uplands, and in which the dark peaty chasm
remained unclosed, though the event had happened ere my birth, until I
had become old and curious enough thoroughly to explore it. It was a
black miry ravine, some ten or twelve feet in depth. The bogs around
waved thick with silvery willows of small size; but sticking out from
the black sides of the ravine itself, and in some instances stretched
across it from side to side, lay the decayed remains of huge giants of
the vegetable world, that had flourished and died long ages ere, in at
least our northern part of the island, the course of history had begun.
There were oaks of enormous girth, into whose coal-black substance one
could dig as easily with a pickaxe as one digs into a bank of clay; and
at least one noble elm, which ran across the little stream that
trickled, rather than flowed, along the bottom of the hollow, and which
was in such a state of keeping, that I have scooped out of its trunk,
with the unassisted hand, a way for the water. I have found in the
ravine--which I learned very much to like as a scene of exploration,
though I never failed to quit it sadly bemired--handfuls of hazel-nuts,
of the ordinary size, but black as jet, with the cups of acorns, and
with twigs of birch that still retained almost unchanged their silvery
outer crust of bark, but whose ligneous interior existed as a mere pulp.
I have even laid open, in layers of a sort of unctuous clay, resembling
fuller's earth, leaves of oak, birch, and hazel, that had fluttered in
the wind thousands of years before; and there was one happy day in which
I succeeded in digging from out the very bottom of the excavation a huge
fragment of an extraordinary-looking deer's horn. It was a broad,
massive, strange-looking piece of bone, evidently old-fashioned in its
type; and so I brought it home in triumph to Uncle James, as the
antiquary of the family, assured that he could tell me all about it.
Uncle James paused in the middle of his work; and, taking the horn in
his hand, surveyed it leisurely on every side. "That is the horn, boy,"
he at length said, "of no deer that now lives in this country. We have
the red deer, and the fallow deer, and the roe; and none of them have
horns at all like that. I never saw an elk; but I am pretty sure this
broad, plank-like horn can be none other than the horn of an elk." My
uncle set aside his work; and, taking the horn in his hand, went out to
the shop of a cabinet-maker in the neighbourhood, where there used to
work from five to six journeymen. They all gathered round him to examine
it, and agreed in the decision that it was an entirely different sort of
horn from any borne by the existing deer of Scotland, and that this
surmise regarding it was probably just. And, apparently to enhance the
marvel, a neighbour, who was lounging in the shop at the time, remarked,
in a tone of sober gravity, that it had lain in the Moss of the Willows
"for perhaps half a century." There was positive anger in the tone of my
uncle's reply. "Half a century, Sir!!" he exclaimed; "was the elk a
native of Scotland half a century ago? There is no notice of the elk,
Sir, in British history. That horn must have lain in the Moss of the
Willows for thousands of years!" "Ah, ha, James, ah, ha," ejaculated the
neighbour, with a sceptical shake of the head; but as neither he nor any
one else dared meet my uncle on historical ground, the controversy took
end with the ejaculation. I soon added to the horn of the elk that of a
roe, and part of that of a red deer, found in the same ravine; and the
neighbours, impressed by Uncle James's view, used to bring strangers to
look at them. At length, unhappily, a relation settled in the south, who
had shown me kindness, took a fancy to them; and, smit by the charms of
a gorgeous paint-box which he had just sent me, I made them over to him
entire. They found their way to London, and were ultimately lodged in
the collection of some obscure virtuoso, whose locality or name I have
been unable to trace.

The Cromarty Sutors have their two lines of caves--an ancient line
hollowed by the waves many centuries ago, when the sea stood, in
relation to the land, from fifteen to thirty feet higher along our
shores than it does now; and a modern line, which the surf is still
engaged in scooping out. Many of the older caves are lined with
stalactites, deposited by springs that, filtering through the cracks and
fissures of the gneiss, find lime enough in their passage to acquire
what is known as a _petrifying_, though, in reality, only an incrusting
quality. And these stalactites, under the name of "white stones made by
the water," formed of old--as in that Cave of Slains specially mentioned
by Buchanan and the Chroniclers, and in those caverns of the Peak so
quaintly described by Cotton--one of the grand marvels of the place.
Almost all the old gazetteers sufficiently copious in their details to
mention Cromarty at all, refer to its "Dropping Cave" as a marvellous
marble-producing cavern; and this "Dropping Cave" is but one of many
that look out upon the sea from the precipices of the southern Sutor, in
whose dark recesses the drops ever tinkle, and the stony ceilings ever
grow. The wonder could not have been deemed a great or very rare one by
a man like the late Sir George Mackenzie of Coul, well known from his
travels in Iceland, and his experiments on the inflammability of the
diamond; but it so happened, that Sir George, curious to see the sort of
stones to which the old gazetteers referred, made application to the
minister of the parish for a set of specimens; and the minister
straightway deputed the commission, which he believed to be not a
difficult one, to one of his poorer parishioners, an old nailer, as a
means of putting a few shillings in his way.

It so happened, however, that the nailer had lost his wife by a sad
accident, only a few weeks before; and the story went abroad that the
poor woman was, as the townspeople expressed it, "coming back." She had
been very suddenly hurried out of the world. When going down the quay
after nightfall one evening, with a parcel of clean linen for a sailor,
her relative, she had missed footing on the pier edge, and,
half-brained, half-drowned, had been found in the morning, stone dead,
at the bottom of the harbour. And now, as if pressed by some unsettled
business, she used to be seen, it was said, hovering after nightfall
about her old dwelling, or sauntering along the neighbouring street;
nay, there were occasions, according to the general report, in which she
had even exchanged words with some of the neighbours, little to their
satisfaction. The words, however, seemed in every instance to have
wonderfully little to do with the affairs of another world. I remember
seeing the wife of a neighbour rush into my mother's one evening about
this time, speechless with terror, and declare, after an awful pause,
during which she had lain half-fainting in a chair, that she had just
seen Christy. She had been engaged, as the night was falling, but ere
darkness had quite set in, in piling up a load of brushwood for fuel
outside the door, when up started the spectre on the other side of the
heap, attired in the ordinary work-day garb of the deceased, and, in a
light and hurried tone, asked, as Christy might have done ere the fatal
accident, for a share of the brushwood. "Give me some of that _hag_,"
said the ghost; "you have plenty--I have none." It was not known whether
or no the nailer had seen the apparition; but it was pretty certain he
believed in it; and as the "Dropping Cave" is both dark and solitary,
and had forty years ago a bad name to boot--for the mermaid had been
observed disporting in front of it even at mid-day, and lights and
screams heard from it at nights--it must have been a rather formidable
place to a man living in the momentary expectation of a visit from a
dead wife. So far as could be ascertained--for the nailer himself was
rather close in the matter--he had not entered the cave at all. He
seemed, judging from the marks of scraping left along the sides for
about two or three feet from the narrow opening, to have taken his stand
outside, where the light was good, and the way of retreat clear, and to
have raked outwards to him, as far as he could reach, all that stuck to
the walls, including ropy slime and mouldy damp, but not one particle of
stalactite. It was, of course, seen that his specimens would not suit
Sir George; and the minister, in the extremity of the case, applied to
my uncles, though with some little unwillingness, as it was known that
no remuneration for their trouble could be offered to them. My uncles
were, however, delighted with the commission--it was all for the benefit
of science; and, providing themselves with torches and a hammer, they
set out for the caves. And I, of course, accompanied them--a very happy
boy--armed, like themselves, with hammer and torch, and prepared
devotedly to labour in behalf of science and Sir George.

I had never before seen the caves by torch-light; and though what I now
witnessed did not quite come up to what I had read regarding the Grotto
of Antiparos, or even the wonders of the Peak, it was unquestionably
both strange and fine. The celebrated Dropping Cave proved inferior--as
is not unfrequently the case with the celebrated--to a cave almost
entirely unknown, which opened among the rocks a little further to the
east; and yet even _it_ had its interest. It widened, as one entered,
into a twilight chamber, green with velvety mosses, that love the damp
and the shade; and terminated in a range of crystalline wells, fed by
the perpetual dropping, and hollowed in what seemed an altar-piece of
the deposited marble. And above, and along the sides, there depended
many a draped fold, and hung many a translucent icicle. The other cave,
however, we found to be of much greater extent, and of more varied
character. It is one of three caves of the old coast line, known as the
Doocot or Pigeon Caves, which open upon a piece of rocky beach, overhung
by a rudely semicircular range of gloomy precipices. The points of the
semicircle project on either side into deep water--into at least water
so much deeper than the fall of ordinary neaps, that it is only during
the ebb of stream tides that the place is accessible by land; and in
each of these bold promontories--the terminal horns of the
crescent--there is a cave of the present coast-line, deeply hollowed, in
which the sea stands from ten to twelve feet in depth when the tide is
at full, and in which the surf thunders, when gales blow hard from the
stormy north-east, with the roar of whole parks of artillery. The cave
in the western promontory, which bears among the townsfolk the name of
the "Puir Wife's Meal Kist," has its roof drilled by two small
perforations--the largest of them not a great deal wider than the
blow-hole of a porpoise--that open externally among the cliffs above;
and when, during storms from the sea, the huge waves come rolling ashore
like green moving walls, there are certain times of the tide in which
they shut up the mouth of the cave, and so compress the air within, that
it rushes upwards through the openings, roaring in its escape as if ten
whales were blowing at once, and rises from amid the crags overhead in
two white jets of vapour, distinctly visible, to the height of from
sixty to eighty feet. If there be critics who have deemed it one of the
extravagances of Goethe that he should have given life and motion, as in
his famous witch-scene in "Faust," to the Hartz crags, they would do
well to visit this bold headland during some winter tempest from the
east, and find his description perfectly sober and true:


    "See the giant crags, oh ho!
    How they snort and how they blow!"


Within, at the bottom of the crescent, and where the tide never reaches
when at the fullest, we found the large pigeon cave which we had come to
explore, hollowed for about a hundred and fifty feet in the line of a
fault. There runs across the opening the broken remains of a wall
erected by some monopolizing proprietor of the neighbouring lands, with
the intention of appropriating to himself the pigeons of the cavern; but
his day, even at this time, had been long gone by, and the wall had sunk
into a ruin. As we advanced, the cave caught the echoes of our
footsteps, and a flock of pigeons, startled from their nests, came
whizzing out, almost brushing us with their wings. The damp floor
sounded hollow to the tread; we saw the green mossy sides, which close
in the uncertain light, more than twenty feet overhead, furrowed by
ridges of stalactites, that became whiter and purer as they retired from
the vegetative influences; and marked that the last plant which appeared
as we wended our way inwards was a minute green moss, about half an inch
in length, which slanted outwards on the prominence of the sides, and
overlay myriads of similar sprigs of moss, long before converted into
stone, but which, faithful in death to the ruling law of their lives,
still pointed, like the others, to the free air and the light. And then,
in the deeper recesses of the cave, where the floor becomes covered with
uneven sheets of stalagmite, and where long spear-like icicles and
drapery-like foldings, pure as the marble of the sculptor, descend from
above, or hang pendent over the sides, we found in abundance magnificent
specimens for Sir George. The entire expedition was one of wondrous
interest; and I returned next day to school, big with description and
narrative, to excite, by truths more marvellous than fiction, the
curiosity of my class-fellows.

I had previously introduced them to the marvels of the hill; and during
our Saturday half-holidays, some of them had accompanied me in my
excursions to it. But it had failed, somehow, to catch their fancy. It
was too solitary, and too far from home, and, as a scene of amusement,
not at all equal to the town-links, where they could play at "shinty"
and "French and English," almost within _hail_ of their parents'
homesteads. The very tract along its flat, moory summit, over which,
according to tradition, Wallace had once driven before him in headlong
rout a strong body of English, and which was actually mottled with
sepulchral tumuli, still visible amid the heath, failed in any marked
degree to engage them; and though they liked well enough to hear about
the caves, they seemed to have no very great desire to see them. There
was, however, one little fellow, who sat in the Latin form--the member
of a class lower and brighter than the heavy one, though it was not
particularly bright either--who differed in this respect from all the
others. Though he was my junior by about a twelvemonth, and shorter by
about half a head, he was a diligent boy in even the Grammar School, in
which boys were so rarely diligent, and, for his years, a thoroughly
sensible one, without a grain of the dreamer in his composition. I
succeeded, however, notwithstanding his sobriety, in infecting him
thoroughly with my peculiar tastes, and learned to love him very much,
partly because he doubled my amusements by sharing in them, and partly,
I daresay--on the principle on which Mahomet preferred his old wife to
his young one--because "he believed in me." Devoted to him as Caliban in
the _Tempest_ to his friend Trinculo--


    "I showed him the best springs, I plucked him berries.
    And I with my long nails did dig him pig-nuts."


His curiosity on this occasion was largely excited by my description of
the Doocot Cave; and, setting out one morning to explore its wonders,
armed with John Feddes's hammer, in the benefits of which my friend was
permitted liberally to share, we failed, for that day at least, in
finding our way back.

It was on a pleasant spring morning that, with my little curious friend
beside me, I stood on the beach opposite the eastern promontory, that,
with its stern granitic wall, bars access for ten days out of every
fourteen to the wonders of the Doocot; and saw it stretching provokingly
out into the green water. It was hard to be disappointed, and the caves
so near. The tide was a low neap, and if we wanted a passage dry-shod,
it behoved us to wait for at least a week; but neither of us understood
the philosophy of neap-tides at the period. I was quite sure I had got
round at low water with my uncles not a great many days before, and we
both inferred, that if we but succeeded in getting round now, it would
be quite a pleasure to wait among the caves inside until such time as
the fall of the tide should lay bare a passage for our return. A narrow
and broken shelf runs along the promontory, on which, by the assistance
of the naked toe and the toe-nail, it is just possible to creep. We
succeeded in scrambling up to it; and then, crawling outwards on all
fours--the precipice, as we proceeded, beetling more and more formidable
from above, and the water becoming greener and deeper below--we reached
the outer point of the promontory; and then doubling the cape on a still
narrowing margin--the water, by a reverse process, becoming shallower
and less green as we advanced inwards--we found the ledge terminating
just where, after clearing the sea, it overhung the gravelly beach at an
elevation of nearly ten feet. Adown we both dropped, proud of our
success; up splashed the rattling gravel as we fell; and for at least
the whole coming week--though we were unaware of the extent of our good
luck at the time--the marvels of the Doocot Cave might be regarded as
solely and exclusively our own. For one short seven days--to borrow
emphasis from the phraseology of Carlyle--"they were our own, and no
other man's."

The first few hours were hours of sheer enjoyment The larger cave proved
a mine of marvels; and we found a great deal additional to wonder at on
the slopes beneath the precipices, and along the piece of rocky
sea-beach in front. We succeeded in discovering for ourselves, in
creeping, dwarf bushes, that told of the blighting influences of the
sea-spray; the pale yellow honeysuckle, that we had never seen before,
save in gardens and shrubberies; and on a deeply-shaded slope that
leaned against one of the steeper precipices, we detected the
sweet-scented woodroof of the flower-plot and parterre, with its pretty
verticillate leaves, that become the more odoriferous the more they are
crushed, and its white delicate flowers. There, too, immediately in the
opening of the deeper cave, where a small stream came pattering in
detached drops from the over-beetling precipice above, like the first
drops of a heavy thunder-shower, we found the hot, bitter scurvy grass,
with its minute cruciform flowers, which the great Captain Cook had
used in his voyages; above all, _there_ were the caves with their
pigeons--white, variegated, and blue--and their mysterious and gloomy
depths, in which plants hardened into stone, and water became marble. In
a short time we had broken off with our hammers whole pocketfuls of
stalactites and petrified moss. There were little pools at the side of
the cave, where we could see the work of congelation going on, as at the
commencement of an October frost, when the cold north wind ruffles, and
but barely ruffles, the surface of some mountain lochan or sluggish
moorland stream, and shows the newly-formed needles of ice projecting
mole-like from the shores into the water. So rapid was the course of
deposition, that there were cases in which the sides of the hollows
seemed growing almost in proportion as the water rose in them; the
springs, lipping over, deposited their minute crystals on the edges; and
the reservoirs deepened and became more capacious as their mounds were
built up by this curious masonry. The long telescopic prospect of the
sparkling sea, as viewed from the inner extremity of the cavern, while
all around was dark as midnight--the sudden gleam of the sea-gull, seen
for a moment from the recess, as it flitted past in the sunshine--the
black heaving bulk of the grampus, as it threw up its slender jets of
spray, and then, turning downwards, displayed its glossy back and vast
angular fin--even the pigeons, as they shot whizzing by, one moment
scarce visible in the gloom, the next radiant in the light--all acquired
a new interest, from the peculiarity of the _setting_ in which we saw
them. They formed a series of sun-gilt vignettes, framed in jet; and it
was long ere we tired of seeing and admiring in them much of the strange
and the beautiful. It did seem rather ominous, however, and perhaps
somewhat supernatural to boot, that about an hour after noon, the tide,
while there was yet a full fathom of water beneath the brow of the
promontory, ceased to fall, and then, after A quarter of an hour's
space, began actually to creep upwards on the beach. But just hoping
that there might be some mistake in the matter, which the evening tide
would scarce fail to rectify, we continued to amuse ourselves, and to
hope on. Hour after hour passed, lengthening as the shadows lengthened,
and yet the tide still rose. The sun had sunk behind the precipices, and
all was gloom along their bases, and double gloom in their caves; but
their rugged brows still caught the red glare of evening. The flush rose
higher and higher, chased by the shadows; and then, after lingering for
a moment on their crests of honeysuckle and juniper, passed away, and
the whole became sombre and grey. The sea-gull sprang upwards from where
he had floated on the ripple, and hied him slowly away to his lodge in
his deep-sea stack; the dusky cormorant flitted past, with heavier and
more frequent stroke, to his whitened shelf high on the precipice; the
pigeons came whizzing downwards from the uplands and the opposite land,
and disappeared amid the gloom of their caves; every creature that had
wings made use of them in speeding homewards; but neither my companion
nor myself had any; and there was no possibility of getting home without
them. We made desperate efforts to scale the precipices, and on two
several occasions succeeded in reaching mid-way shelves among the crags,
where the sparrowhawk and the raven build; but though we had climbed
well enough to render our return a matter of bare possibility, there was
no possibility whatever of getting farther up: the cliffs had never been
scaled before, and they were not destined to be scaled now. And so, as
the twilight deepened, and the precarious footing became every moment
more doubtful and precarious still, we had just to give up in despair.
"Wouldn't care for myself," said the poor little fellow, my companion,
bursting into tears, "if it were not for my mother; but what will my
mother say?" "Wouldn't care neither," said I, with a heavy heart; "but
it's just back water, and we'll get out at twall." We retreated together
into one of the shallower and drier caves, and, clearing a little spot
of its rough stones, and then groping along the rocks for the dry grass
that in the spring season hangs from them in withered tufts, we formed
for ourselves a most uncomfortable bed, and lay down in one another's
arms. For the last few hours mountainous piles of clouds had been rising
dark and stormy in the sea-mouth: they had flared portentously in the
setting sun, and had worn, with the decline of evening, almost every
meteoric tint of anger, from fiery red to a sombre thundrous brown, and
from sombre brown to doleful black. And we could now at least hear what
they portended, though we could no longer see. The rising wind began to
howl mournfully amid the cliffs, and the sea, hitherto so silent, to
beat heavily against the shore, and to boom, like distress-guns, from
the recesses of the two deep-sea caves. We could hear, too, the beating
rain, now heavier, now lighter, as the gusts swelled or sank; and the
intermittent patter of the streamlet over the deeper cave, now driving
against the precipices, now descending heavily on the stones.

My companion had only the real evils of the case to deal with, and so,
the hardness of our bed and the coldness of the night considered, he
slept tolerably well; but I was unlucky enough to have evils greatly
worse than the real ones to annoy me. The corpse of a drowned seaman had
been found on the beach about a month previous, some forty yards firm
where we lay. The hands and feet, miserably contracted, and corrugated
into deep folds at every joint, yet swollen to twice their proper size,
had been bleached as white as pieces of alumed sheep-skin; and where the
head should have been, there existed only a sad mass of rubbish. I had
examined the body, as young people are apt to do, a great deal too
curiously for my peace; and, though I had never done the poor nameless
seaman any harm, I could not have suffered more from him during that
melancholy night, had I been his murderer. Sleeping or waking, he was
continually before me. Every time I dropped into a doze, he would come
stalking up the beach from the spot where he had lain, with his stiff
white fingers, that stuck out like eagle's toes, and his pale, broken
pulp of a head, and attempt striking me; and then I would awaken with a
start, cling to my companion, and remember that the drowned sailor had
lain festering among the identical bunches of sea-weed that still rotted
on the beach not a stone-cast away. The near neighbourhood of a score of
living bandits would have inspired less horror than the recollection of
that one dead seaman.

Towards midnight the sky cleared and the wind fell, and the moon, in her
last quarter, rose red as a mass of heated iron out of the sea. We crept
down, in the uncertain light, over the rough slippery crags, to
ascertain whether the tide had not fallen sufficiently far to yield us a
passage; but we found the waves chafing among the rocks just where the
tide-line had rested twelve hours before, and a full fathom of sea
enclasping the base of the promontory. A glimmering idea of the real
nature of our situation at length crossed my mind. It was not
imprisonment for a tide to which we had consigned ourselves, it was
imprisonment for a week. There was little comfort in the thought,
arising, as it did, amid the chills and terrors of a dreary midnight;
and I looked wistfully on the sea as our only path of escape. There was
a vessel crossing the wake of the moon at the time, scarce half a mile
from the shore; and, assisted by my companion, I began to shout at the
top of my lungs, in the hope of being heard by the sailors. We saw her
dim bulk falling slowly athwart the red glittering belt of light that
had rendered her visible, and then disappearing in the murky blackness,
and just as we lost sight of her for ever, we could hear an indistinct
sound mingling with the dash of the waves--the shout, in reply, of the
startled helmsman. The vessel, as we afterwards learned, was a large
stone-lighter, deeply laden, and unfurnished with a boat; nor were her
crew at all sure that it would have been safe to attend to the midnight
voice from amid the rocks, even had they had the means of communication
with the shore. We waited on and on, however, now shouting by turns, and
now shouting together; but there was no second reply; and at length,
losing hope, we groped our way back to our comfortless bed, just as the
tide had again turned on the beach, and the waves began to roll upwards
higher and higher at every dash.

As the moon rose and brightened, the dead seaman became less
troublesome; and I had succeeded in dropping as soundly asleep as my
companion, when we were both aroused by a loud shout. We started up and
again crept downwards among the crags to the shore; and as we reached
the sea the shout was repeated. It was that of at least a dozen harsh
voices united. There was a brief pause, followed by another shout; and
then two boats, strongly manned, shot round the western promontory, and
the men, resting on their oars, turned towards the rock, and shouted yet
again. The whole town had been alarmed by the intelligence that two
little boys had straggled away in the morning to the rocks of the
southern Sutor, and had not found their way back. The precipices had
been a scene of frightful accidents from time immemorial, and it was at
once inferred that one other sad accident had been added to the number.
True, there were cases remembered of people having been tide-bound in
the Doocot Caves, and not much the worse in consequence; but as the
caves were inaccessible during neaps, we could not, it was said,
possibly be in them; and the sole remaining ground of hope was, that, as
had happened once before, only one of the two had been killed, and that
the survivor was lingering among the rocks, afraid to come home. And in
this belief, when the moon rose and the surf fell, the two boats had
been fitted out. It was late in the morning ere we reached Cromarty, but
a crowd on the beach awaited our arrival; and there were anxious-looking
lights glancing in the windows, thick and manifold; nay, such was the
interest elicited, that some enormously bad verses, in which the writer
described the incident a few days after, became popular enough to be
handed about in manuscript, and read at tea-parties by the _élite_ of
the town. Poor old Miss Bond, who kept the town boarding-school, got the
piece nicely dressed up, somewhat on the principle upon which Macpherson
translated Ossian; and at our first school-examination--proud and happy
day for the author!--it was recited with vast applause, by one of her
prettiest young ladies, before the assembled taste and fashion of
Cromarty.

FOOTNOTE:

[3]

    "The beautiful blue damsel flies,
    That fluttered round the jasmine steins,
    Like wingéd flowers or flying gems."

                             PARADISE AND THE PEEL.



CHAPTER V.

                                      "The wise
    Shook their white aged heads o'er me, and said.
    Of Such materials wretched men were made."--BYRON.


The report went abroad about this time, not without some foundation,
that Miss Bond purposed patronizing me. The copy of my verses which had
fallen into her hands--a genuine holograph--bore a-top a magnificent
view of the Doocot, in which horrid crags of burnt umber were perforated
by yawning caverns of Indian ink, and crested by a dense pine-forest of
sap-green; while vast waves blue on the one side and green on the other,
and bearing blotches of white lead a-top, rolled frightfully beneath.
And Miss Bond had concluded, it was said, that such a genius as that
evinced by the sketch and the "poem" for those sister arts of painting
and poesy in which she herself excelled, should not be left to waste
itself uncared for in the desert wilderness. She had published, shortly
before, a work, in two slim volumes, entitled, "Letters of a Village
Governess"--a curious kind of medley, little amenable to the ordinary
rules, but a genial book notwithstanding, with more heart than head
about it; and not a few of the incidents which it related had the merit
of being true. It was an unlucky merit for poor Miss Bond. She dated her
book from Fortrose, where she taught what was designated in the Almanac
as the boarding-school of the place, but which, according to Miss Bond's
own description, was the school of the "village governess." And as her
tales were found to be a kind of mosaics composed of droll bits of fact
picked up in the neighbourhood, Fortrose soon became considerably too
hot for her. She had drawn, under the over-transparent guise of the
niggardly Mrs. Flint, the skinflint wife of a "paper minister," who had
ruined at one fell blow her best silk dress, and a dozen of good eggs to
boot, by putting the eggs in her pocket when going out to a party, and
then stumbling over a stone. And, of course, Mrs. Skinflint and the Rev.
Mr. Skinflint, with all their blood-relations, could not be other than
greatly gratified to find the story furbished up in the printed form,
and set in fun. There were other stories as imprudent and as amusing--of
young ladies caught eavesdropping at their neighbours' windows; and of
gentlemen, ill at ease in their families, sitting soaking among vulgar
companions in the public-house; and so the authoress, shortly after the
appearance of her work, ceased to be the village governess of Fortrose,
and became the village governess of Cromarty.

It was on this occasion that I saw, for the first time, with mingled
admiration and awe, a human creature--not dead and gone, and merely a
printed name--that had actually published a book. Poor Miss Bond was a
kindly sort of person, fond of children, and mightily beloved by them in
turn; and, though keenly alive to the ludicrous, without a grain of
malice in her. I remember how, about this time, when, assisted by some
three or four boys more, I had succeeded in building a huge house, full
four feet long and three feet high, that contained us all, and a fire,
and a great deal of smoke to boot, Miss Bond the authoress came, and
looked in upon us, first through the little door, and then down through
the chimney, and gave us kind words, and seemed to enjoy our enjoyment
very much; and how we all deemed her visit one of the greatest events
that could possibly have taken place. She had been intimate with the
parents of Sir Walter Scott; and, on the appearance of Sir Walter's
first publication, the "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," she had
taken a fit of enthusiasm, and written to him; and, when in the cold
paroxysm, and inclined to think she had done something foolish, had
received from Sir Walter, then Mr. Scott, a characteristically
warm-hearted reply. She experienced much kindness at his hands ever
after; and when she herself became an author, she dedicated her book to
him. He now and then procured boarders for her; and when, after leaving
Cromarty for Edinburgh, she opened a school in the latter place, and got
on with but indifferent success, Sir Walter--though straggling with his
own difficulties at the time--sent her an enclosure of ten pounds, to
scare, as he said in his note, "the wolf from the door." But Miss Bond,
like the original of his own Jeanie Deans, was a "proud bodie;" and the
ten pounds were returned, with the intimation that the wolf had not yet
come to the door. Poor lady! I suspect he came to the door at last. Like
many other writers of books, her voyage through life skirted, for the
greater part of the way, the bleak lee-shore of necessity; and it cost
her not a little skilful steering at times to give the strand a
respectable offing. And in her solitary old age, she seemed to have got
fairly aground. There was an attempt made by some of her former pupils
to raise money enough to purchase for her a small annuity; but when the
design was in progress, I heard of her death. She illustrated in her
life the remark recorded by herself in her "Letters," as made by a
humble friend:--"It's no an easy thing, Mem, for a woman to go through
the world _without a head_," _i.e._, single and unprotected.

From some unexplained cause, Miss Bond's patronage never reached me. I
am sure the good lady intended giving me lessons in both drawing and
composition; for she had said it, and her heart was a kind one; but then
her time was too much occupied to admit of her devoting an occasional
hour to myself alone; and as for introducing me to her young-lady
classes, in my rough garments, ever greatly improved the wrong way by my
explorations in the ebb and the peat-moss, and frayed, at times, beyond
even my mother's ability of repair, by warping to the tops of great
trees, and by feats as a cragsman--that would have been a piece of
Jack-Cadeism, on which, then or now, no village governess could have
ventured. And so I was left to get on in verse and picture-making quite
in the wild way, without care or culture.

My schoolfellows liked my stories well enough--better at least, on most
occasions, than they did the lessons of the master; but, beyond the
common ground of enjoyment which these extempore compositions furnished
to both the "sennachie" and his auditors, our tracts of amusement lay
widely apart. I disliked, as I have said, the yearly cock-fight--found
no pleasure in cat-killing, or in teasing at nights, or on the street,
the cross-tempered, half-witted _eccentrics_ of the village--usually
kept aloof from the ordinary play-grounds, and very rarely mingled in
the old hereditary games. On the other hand, with the exception of my
little friend of the cave, who, even after that disastrous incident,
evinced a tendency to trust and follow me as implicitly as before, my
schoolmates cared as little for my amusements as I did for theirs; and,
having the majority on their side, they of course voted mine to be the
foolish ones. And certainly a run of ill-luck followed me in my sports
about this time, that did give some show of reason to their decision.

In the course of my book-hunting, I had fallen in with two old-fashioned
military treatises, part of the small library of a retired officer
lately deceased, of which the one entitled the "Military Medley,"
discussed the whole art of marshalling troops, and contained numerous
plans, neatly coloured, of battalions drawn up in all possible forms, to
meet all possible exigencies; while the other, which also abounded in
prints, treated of the noble science of fortification according to the
system of Vauban. I poured over both works with much perseverance; and,
regarding them as admirable toy-books, set myself to construct, on a
very small scale, some of the toys with which they specially dealt. The
sea-shore in the immediate neighbourhood of the town appeared to my
inexperienced eye an excellent field for the carrying on of a campaign.
The sea-sand I found quite coherent enough, when still moistened by the
waters of the receding tide, to stand up in the form of towers and
bastions, and long lines of rampart; and there was one of the commonest
of the Littorinidæ--_Littorina litoralis_, that in one of its varieties
is of a rich yellow colour, and in another of a bluish-green tint--which
supplied me with soldiers enough to execute all the evolutions figured
and described in the "Medley." The warmly-hued yellow shells represented
Britons in their scarlet--the more dingy ones, the French in their
uniforms of dirty blue; well-selected specimens of _Purpura lapillus_,
just tipped on their backs with a speck of paint, blue or red, from my
box, made capital dragoons; while a few dozens of the slender pyramidal
shells of _Turritella communis_ formed complete parks of artillery. With
such unlimited stores of the _matériel_ of war at my command, I was
enabled, more fortunate than Uncle Toby of old, to fight battles and
conduct retreats, assault and defend, build up fortifications, and then
batter them down again, at no expense at all; and the only drawback on
such a vast amount of advantage that I could at first perceive consisted
in the circumstance, that the shore was exceedingly open to observation,
and that my new amusements, when surveyed at a little distance, did
greatly resemble those of the very young children of the place, who used
to repair to the same arenaceous banks and shingle-beds, to bake
dirt-pies in the sand, or range lines of shells on little shelves of
stone, imitative of the crockery cupboard at home. Not only my
school-fellows, but also some of their parents, evidently arrived at the
conclusion that the two sets of amusements--mine and those of the little
children--were identical; for the elder folk said, that "in their time,
poor Francie had been such another boy, and every one saw what he had
come to;" while the younger, more energetic in their manifestations,
and more intolerant of folly, have even paused in their games of
marbles, or ceased spinning their tops, to hoot at me from a safe
distance. But the campaign went on; and I solaced myself by reflecting,
that neither the big folk nor the little folk could bring a battalion of
troops across a bridge of boats in the face of an enemy, or knew that a
regular fortification could be constructed on only a regular polygon.

I at length discovered however, that as a sea-shore is always a sloping
plane, and the Cromarty beach, in particular, a plane of a rather steep
slope, it afforded no proper site for a fortress fitted to stand a
protracted siege, seeing that, fortify the place as I might, it could be
easily commanded by batteries raised on the higher side. And so fixing
upon a grassy knoll among the woods, in the immediate neighbourhood of a
scaur of boulder clay, capped by a thick stratum of sand, as a much
better scene of operations, I took possession of the knoll somewhat
irregularly; and carrying to it large quantities of sand from the scaur,
converted it into the site of a magnificent stronghold. First I erected
an ancient castle, consisting of four towers built on a rectangular
base, and connected by straight curtains embrasured a-top. I then
surrounded the castle by outworks in the modern style, consisting of
greatly lower curtains than the ancient ones, flanked by numerous
bastions, and bristling with cannon of huge calibre, made of the jointed
stalks of the hemlock; while, in advance of these, I laid down ravelins,
horn-works, and tenailles. I was vastly delighted with my work: it
would, I was sure, be no easy matter to reduce such a fortress; but
observing an eminence in the immediate neighbourhood which could, I
thought, be occupied by a rather annoying battery, I was deliberating
how I might best take possession of it by a redoubt, when out started,
from behind a tree, the factor of the property on which I was
trespassing, and rated me soundly for spoiling the grass in a manner so
wantonly mischievous. Horn-work and half-moon, tower and bastion,
proved of no manner of effect in repelling an attack of a kind so little
anticipated. I did think that the factor, who was not only an
intelligent man, but had also seen much service in his day on the town
links, as the holder of a commission in the Cromarty volunteers, might
have perceived that I was labouring on scientific principles, and so
deem me worthy of some tolerance on that account; but I suppose he did
not; though, to be sure, his scold died out good-naturedly enough in the
end, and I saw him laugh as he turned away. But so it was, that in the
extremity of my mortification I gave up generalship and bastion-building
for the time; though, alas! my next amusement must have worn in the eyes
of my youthful compeers as suspicious an aspect as either.

My friend of the cave had lent me what I had never seen before--a fine
quarto edition of Anson's Voyages, containing the original prints (my
father's copy had only the maps); among the others, Mr. Brett's
elaborate delineation of that strangest of vessels, a proa of the
Ladrone Islands. I was much struck by the singularity of the
construction of a barque that, while its head and stern were exactly
alike, had sides that totally differed from each other, and that, with
the wind upon the beam, outsailed, it was said, all other vessels in the
world; and having the command of the little shop in which my Uncle Sandy
made occasional carts and wheelbarrows when unemployed abroad, I set
myself to construct a miniature proa, on the model given in the print,
and succeeded in fabricating a very extraordinary proa indeed. While its
lee side was perpendicular as a wall, its windward one, to which there
was an outrigger attached, resembled that of a flat-bottomed boat; head
and stern were exactly alike, so as to fit each for performing in turn
the part of either; a moveable yard, which supported the sail, had to be
shifted towards the end converted into the stern for the time, at each
tack; while the sail itself--a most uncouth-looking thing--formed a
scalene triangle. Such was the vessel--some eighteen inches long or
so--with which I startled from their propriety the mimic navigators of a
horse-pond in the neighbourhood--all very masterly critics in all sorts
of barques and barges known on the Scottish coast. According to
Campbell,


                "'Twas a thing beyond
    Description wretched: such a wherry,
    Perhaps, ne'er ventured on a pond,
             Or crossed a ferry."


And well did my fellows appreciate its extreme ludicrousness. It was
certainly rash to "venture" it on this especial "pond;" for, greatly to
the damage of the rigging, it was fairly pelted off, and I was sent to
test elsewhere its sailing qualities, which were, as I ascertained, not
very remarkable after all. And thus, after a manner so unworthy, were my
essays in strategy and barque-building received by a censorious age,
that judged ere it knew. Were I sentimental, which lucidly I am not, I
might well exclaim, in the very vein of Rousseau, Alas! it has been ever
the misfortune of my life that, save by a few friends, I have never been
understood!

I was evidently out-Francieing Francie; and the parents of my young
friend, who saw that I had acquired considerable influence over him, and
were afraid lest I should make another Francie of _him_, had become
naturally enough desirous to break off our intimacy, when there occurred
an unlucky accident, which served materially to assist them in the
design. My friend's father was the master of a large trading smack,
which, in war times, carried a few twelve-pounders, and was furnished
with a small magazine of powder and shot; and my friend having secured
for himself from the general stock, through the connivance of the
ship-boy, an entire cannon cartridge, containing some two or three
pounds of gunpowder, I was, of course, let into the secret, and invited
to share in the sport and the spoil We had a glorious day together in
his mother's garden: never before did such magnificent volcanoes break
forth out of mole-hills, or were plots of daisies and violets so
ruthlessly scorched and torn by the explosion of deep laid mines; and
though a few mishaps did happen to over-forward fingers, and to
eye-brows that were in the way, our amusements passed off innocuously on
the whole, and evening saw nearly the half of our precious store
unexhausted. It was garnered up by my friend in an unsuspected corner of
the garret in which he slept, and would have been safe, had he not been
seized, when going to bed, with a yearning desire to survey his treasure
by candle-light; when an unlucky spark from the flame exploded the
whole. He was so sadly burnt about the face and eyes as to be blind for
several days after; but, amid smoke and confusion, he gallantly bolted
his garret-door, and, while the inmates of the household, startled by
the shock and the noise, came rushing up stairs, sturdily refused to let
any of them in. Volumes of gunpowder reek issued from every crack and
cranny, and his mother and sisters were prodigiously alarmed. At length,
however, he capitulated--terms unknown; and I, next morning, heard with
horror and dismay of the accident. It had been matter of agreement
between us on the previous day, mainly in order to screen the fine
fellow of a ship-boy, that I should be regarded as the owner of the
powder; but here was a consequence on which I had not calculated; and
the strong desire to see my poor friend was dashed by the dread of being
held responsible by his parents and sisters for the accident. And so,
more than a week elapsed ere I could muster up courage enough to visit
him. I was coldly received by his mother, and, what vexed me to the
heart, coldly received by himself; and suspecting that he had been
making an ungenerous use of our late treaty, I took leave in high
dudgeon, and came away. My suspicions, however, wronged him: he had
stoutly denied, as I afterwards learned, that I had any share in the
powder; but his friends deeming the opportunity a good one for breaking
with me, had compelled him, very unwillingly, and after much
resistance, to give me up. And from this period more than two years
elapsed, though our hearts beat quick and high every time we
accidentally met, ere we exchanged a single word. On one occasion,
however, shortly after the accident, we did exchange letters. I wrote to
him from the school-form, when, of course, I ought to have been engaged
with my tasks, a stately epistle, in the style of the billets in the
"Female Quixote," which began, I remember, as follows:--"I once thought
I had a friend whom I could rely upon; but experience tells me he was
only nominal. For, had he been a real friend, no accident could have
interfered with, or arbitrary command annihilated, his affection," &c.,
&c. As I was rather an indifferent scribe at the time, one of the lads,
known as the "copperplate writers" of the class, made for me a fair copy
of my lucubration, full of all manner of elegant dashes, and in which
the spelling of every word was scrupulously tested by the dictionary.
And, in due course, I received a carefully engrossed note in reply, of
which the manual portion was performed by my old companion, but the
composition, as he afterwards told me, elaborated by some one else. It
assured me he was still my friend, but that there were "certain
circumstances" which would prevent us from meeting for the future on our
old terms. We were, however, destined to meet pretty often in the
future, notwithstanding; and narrowly missed going to the bottom
together many years after, in the Floating Manse, grown infirm in her
nether parts at the time, when he was the outed minister of Small Isles,
and I editor of the _Witness_ newspaper.

I had a maternal aunt long settled in the Highlands of Sutherland, who
was so much older than her sister, my mother, that, when nursing her
eldest boy, she had, when on a visit to the low country, assisted also
in nursing her. The boy had shot up into a very clever lad, who, having
gone to seek his fortune in the south, rose, through the several degrees
of clerkship in a mercantile firm, to be the head of a commercial house
of his own, which, though ultimately unsuccessful, seemed for some four
or five years to be in a fair way of thriving. For about three of these
the portion of the profits which fell to my cousin's share did not fall
short of fifteen hundred pounds per annum; and on visiting his parents
in their Highland home in the heyday of his prosperity, after an absence
of years, it was found that he had a great many friends in his native
district on whom he had not calculated, and of a class that had not been
greatly in the habit of visiting his mother's cottage, but who now came
to lunch, and dine, and take their wine with him, and who seemed to
value and admire him very much. My aunt, who was little accustomed to
receive high company, and found herself, like Martha of old, "cumbered
about much serving," urgently besought my mother, who was young and
active at the time, to visit and assist her; and, infinitely to my
delight, I was included in the invitation. The place was not much above
thirty miles from Cromarty; but then it was in the _true_ Highlands,
which I had never before seen, save on the distant horizon; and, to a
boy who had to walk all the way, even thirty miles, in an age when
railways were not, and ere even mail gigs had penetrated so far,
represented a journey of no inconsiderable distance. My mother, though
rather a delicate-looking woman, walked remarkably well; and early on
the evening of the second day, we reached together my aunt's cottage, in
the ancient Barony of Gruids. It was a low, long, dingy edifice of turf,
four or five rooms in length, but only one in height, that, lying along
a gentle acclivity, somewhat resembled at a distance a huge black snail
creeping up the hill. As the lower apartment was occupied by my uncle's
half-dozen milk-cows, the declination of the floor, consequent on the
nature of the site, proved of signal importance, from the free drainage
which it secured; the second apartment, reckoning upwards, which was of
considerable size, formed the sitting-room of the family, and had, in
the old Highland style, its fire full in the middle of the floor,
without back or sides; so that, like a bonfire kindled in the open air,
all the inmates could sit around it in a wide circle--the women
invariably ranged on the one side, and the men on the other; the
apartment beyond was partitioned into small and very dark bed-rooms;
while, further on still, there was a closet with a little window in it,
which was assigned to my mother and me; and beyond all lay what was
emphatically "the room," as it was built of stone, and had both window
and chimney, with chairs, and table, and chest of drawers, a large
box-bed, and a small but well-filled bookcase. And "the room" was, of
course, for the time, my cousin the merchant's apartment,--his dormitory
at night, and the hospitable refectory in which he entertained his
friends by day.

My aunt's family was one of solid worth. Her husband--a compactly-built,
stout-limbed, elderly Highlander, rather below the middle size, of grave
and somewhat melancholy aspect, but in reality of a temperament rather
cheerful than otherwise--had been somewhat wild in his young days. He
had been a good shot and a skilful angler, and had danced at bridals,
and, as was common in the Highlands at the time, at lykewakes; nay, on
one occasion he had succeeded in inducing a new-made widow to take the
floor in a strathspey, beside her husband's corpse when every one else
had failed to bring her up, by roguishly remarking, in her hearing, that
whoever else might have refused to dance at poor Donald's death wake, he
little thought it would have been she. But a great change had passed
over him; and he was now a staid, thoughtful, God-fearing man, much
respected in the Barony for honest worth and quiet unobtrusive
consistency of character. His wife had been brought, at an early age,
under the influence of Donald Roy's ring, and had, like her mother, been
the means of introducing the vitalities of religion into her household.
They had two other sons besides the merchant--both well-built, robust
men, somewhat taller than their father, and of such character, that one
of my Cromarty cousins, in making out his way, by dint of frequent and
sedulous inquiry, to their dwelling, found the general verdict of the
district embodied in the very bad English of a poor old woman, who,
after doing her best to direct him, certified her knowledge of the
household by remarking, "It's a goot mistress;--it's a goot
maister;--it's a goot, goot two lads." The elder of the two brothers
superintended, and partly wrought, his father's little farm; for the
father himself found employment enough in acting as a sort of humble
factor for the proprietor of the Barony, who lived at a distance, and
had no dwelling upon the land. The younger was a mason and slater, and
was usually employed, in the working seasons, at a distance; but in
winter, and, on this occasion, for a few weeks during the visit of his
brother the merchant, he resided with his father. Both were men of
marked individuality of character. The elder, Hugh, was an ingenious,
self-taught mechanic, who used in the long winter evenings to fashion a
number of curious little articles by the fireside--among the rest,
Highland snuff-mulls, with which he supplied all his friends; and he was
at this time engaged in building for his father a Highland barn, and, to
vary the work, fabricating for him a Highland plough. The younger,
George, who had wrought for a few years at his trade in the south of
Scotland, was a great reader, wrote very tolerable prose, and verse
which, if not poetry, to which he made no pretensions, was at least
quaintly-turned rhyme. He had, besides, a competent knowledge of
geometry, and was skilled in architectural drawing; and--strange
accomplishment for a Celt--he was an adept in the noble science of
self-defence. But George never sought out quarrels; and such was his
amount of bone and muscle, and such the expression of manly resolution
stamped on his countenance, that they never came in his way unsought.

At the close of the day, when the members of the household had assembled
in a wide circle round the fire, my uncle "took the Book," and I
witnessed, for the first time, family-worship conducted in Gaelic.
There was, I found, an interesting peculiarity in one portion of the
services which he conducted. He was, as I have said, an elderly man, and
had worshipped in his family ere Dr. Stewart's Gaelic translation of the
Scriptures had been introduced into the county; and as he possessed in
those days only the English Bible, while his domestics understood only
Gaelic, he had to acquire the art, not uncommon in Sutherland at the
time, of translating the English chapter for them, as he read, into
their native tongue; and this he had learned to do with such ready
fluency, that no one could have guessed it to be other than a Gaelic
work from which he was reading. Nor had the introduction of Dr.
Stewart's translation rendered the practice obsolete in his household.
His Gaelic was _Sutherlandshire_ Gaelic, whereas that of Dr. Stewart was
Argyleshire Gaelic. His family understood his rendering better, in
consequence, than that of the Doctor; and so he continued to translate
from his English Bible _ad aperturam libri_, many years after the Gaelic
edition had been spread over the country. The concluding evening prayer
was one of great solemnity and unction. I was unacquainted with the
language in which it was couched; but it was impossible to avoid being
struck, notwithstanding, with its wrestling earnestness and fervour. The
man who poured it forth evidently believed there was an unseen ear open
to it, and an all-seeing presence in the place, before whom every secret
thought lay exposed. The entire scene was a deeply impressive one; and
when I saw, in witnessing the celebration of high mass in a Popish
cathedral many years after, the altar suddenly enveloped in a dim and
picturesque obscurity, amid which the curling smoke of the incense
ascended, and heard the musically-modulated prayer sounding in the
distance from within the screen, my thoughts reverted to the rude
Highland cottage, where, amid solemnities not theatric, the red umbry
light of the fire fell with uncertain glimmer upon dark walls, and bare
black rafters, and kneeling forms, and a pale expanse of dense smoke,
that, filling the upper portion of the roof, overhung the floor like a
ceiling, and there arose amid the gloom the sounds of prayer truly
God-directed, and poured out from the depths of the heart; and I felt
that the stoled priest of the cathedral was merely an artist, though a
skilful one, but that in the "priest and father" of the cottage there
were the truth and reality from which the artist drew. No bolt was drawn
across the outer door as we retired for the night. The philosophic Biot,
when employed with his experiments on the second pendulum, resided for
several months in one of the smaller Shetland islands; and, fresh from
the troubles of France--his imagination bearing about with it, if I may
so speak, the stains of the guillotine--the state of trustful security
in which he found the simple inhabitants filled him with astonishment.
"Here, during the twenty-five years in which Europe has been devouring
herself," he exclaimed, "the door of the house I inhabit has remained
open day and night." The interior of Sutherland was at the time of my
visit in a similar condition. The door of my uncle's cottage,
unfurnished with lock or bar, opened, like that of the hermit in the
ballad, with a latch; but, unlike that of the hermit, it was not because
there were no stores within to demand the care of the master, but
because at that comparatively recent period the crime of theft was
unknown in the district.

I rose early next morning, when the dew was yet heavy on grass and
lichen, curious to explore a locality so new to me. The tract, though a
primary one, forms one of the tamer gneiss districts of Scotland; and I
found the nearer hills comparatively low and confluent, and the broad
valley in which lay my uncle's cottage, flat, open, and unpromising.
Still there were a few points to engage me; and the more I attached
myself to them, the more did their interest grow. The western slopes of
the valley are mottled by grassy tomhans--the moraines of some ancient
glacier, around and over which there rose, at this period, a low
widely-spreading wood of birch, hazel, and mountain ash--of hazel, with
its nuts fast filling at the time, and of mountain ash, with its berries
glowing bright in orange and scarlet. In looking adown the hollow, a
group of the green tomhans might be seen relieved against the blue hills
of Ross; in looking upwards, a solitary birch-covered hillock of similar
origin, but larger proportions, stood strongly out against the calm
waters of Loch Shin and the purple peaks of the distant Ben-Hope. In the
bottom of the valley, close beside my uncle's cottage, I marked several
low swellings of the rock beneath, rising above the general level; and,
ranged along these, there were groups of what seemed to be huge boulder
stones, save that they were less rounded and water-worn than ordinary
boulders, and were, what groups of boulders rarely are, all of one
quality. And on examination, I ascertained that some of their number,
which stood up like broken obelisks, tall, and comparatively narrow of
base, and all hoary with moss and lichen, were actually still connected
with the mass of rock below. They were the wasted upper portions of vast
dikes and veins of a grey, large-grained syenite, that traverse the
fundamental gneiss of the valley, and which I found veined, in turn, by
threads and seams of a white quartz, abounding in drusy cavities,
thickly lined along their sides with sprig crystals. Never had I seen
such lovely crystals on the shores of Cromarty, or anywhere else. They
were clear and transparent as the purest spring water, furnished each
with six sides, and sharpened a-top into six facets. Borrowing one of
Cousin George's hammers, I soon filled a little box with these gems,
which even my mother and aunt were content to admire, as what of old
used, they said, to be called Bristol diamonds, and set in silver
brooches and sleeve buttons. Further, within less than a hundred yards
of the cottage, I found a lively little stream, brown, but clear as a
cairngorm of the purest water, and abounding, as I soon ascertained, in
trout, lively and little like itself, and gaily speckled with scarlet.
It wound through a flat, dank meadow, never disturbed by the plough; for
it had been a burying-ground of old, and flat undressed stones lay thick
amid the rank grass. And in the lower corner, where the old turf-wall
had sunk into an inconspicuous mound, there stood a mighty tree, all
solitary, for its fellows had long before disappeared, and so
hollow-hearted in its corrupt old age, that though it still threw out
every season a mighty expanse of foliage, I was able to creep into a
little chamber in its trunk, from which I could look out through
circular openings where boughs once had been, and listen, when a sudden
shower came sweeping down the glen, to the pattering of the rain-drops
amid the leaves. The valley of the Gruids was perhaps not one of the
finest or most beautiful of Highland valleys, but it was a very
admirable place after all; and amid its woods, and its rocks, and its
tomhans, and at the side of its little trouting stream, the weeks passed
delightfully away.

My cousin William, the merchant, had, as I have said, many guests; but
they were all too grand to take any notice of me. There was, however,
one delightful man, who was said to know a great deal about rocks and
stones, that, having heard of my fine large crystals, desired to see
both them and the boy who had found them; and I was admitted to hear him
talk about granites, and marbles, and metallic veins, and the gems that
lie hid among the mountains in nooks and crannies. I am afraid I would
not now deem him a very accomplished mineralogist: I remember enough of
his conversation to conclude that he knew but little, and that little
not very correctly: but not before Werner or Hutton could I have bowed
down with a profounder reverence. He spoke of the marbles of Assynt--of
the petrifactions of Helmsdale and Brora--of shells and plants embedded
in solid rocks, and of forest trees converted into stone; and my ears
drank in knowledge eagerly, as those of the Queen of Sheba of old when
she listened to Solomon. But all too soon did the conversation change.
My cousin was mighty in Gaelic etymology, and so was the mineralogist;
and while my cousin held that the name of the Barony of Gruids was
derived from the great hollow tree, the mineralogist was quite as
certain that it was derived from its syenite, or, as he termed it, its
_granite_, which resembled, he remarked, from the whiteness of its
feldspar, a piece of curd. _Gruids_, said the one, means the place of
the great tree; _Gruids_, said the other, means the place of the curdled
stone. I do not remember how they settled the controversy; but it
terminated, by an easy transition, in a discussion respecting the
authenticity of Ossian--a subject on which they were both perfectly
agreed. There could exist no manner of doubt regarding the fact that the
poems given to the world by Macpherson had been sung in the Highlands by
Ossian, the son of Fingal, more than fourteen hundred years before. My
cousin was a devoted member of the Highland Society; and the Highland
Society, in these days, was very much engaged in ascertaining the right
cut of the philabeg, and in determining the chronology and true sequence
of events in the Ossianic age.

Happiness perfect and entire is, it is said, not to be enjoyed in this
sublunary state; and even in the Gruids, where there was so much to be
seen, heard, and found out, and where I was separated by more than
thirty miles from my Latin--for I had brought none of it from home with
me--this same Ossianic controversy rose like a Highland fog on my
horizon, to chill and darken my hours of enjoyment. My cousin possessed
everything that had been written on the subject, including a
considerable amount of manuscript of his own composition; and as Uncle
James had inspired him with the belief that I could master anything to
which in good earnest I set my mind, he had determined that it should be
no fault of his if I did not become mighty in the controversy regarding
the authenticity of Ossian. This was awful. I liked Blair's Dissertation
well enough, nor did I greatly quarrel with that of Kames; and as for
Sir Walter's critique in the _Edinburgh_, on the opposite side, I
thought it not only thoroughly sensible, but, as it furnished me with
arguments against the others, deeply interesting to boot. But then there
succeeded a vast ocean of dissertation, emitted by Highland gentlemen
and their friends, as the dragon in the Apocalypse emitted the great
flood which the earth swallowed up; and, when once fairly embarked upon
it, I could see no shore and find no bottom. And so at length, though
very unwillingly--for my cousin was very kind--I fairly mutinied and
struck work, just as he had begun to propose that, after mastering the
authenticity controversy, I should set myself to acquire Gaelic, in
order that I might be able to read Ossian in the original. My cousin was
not well pleased; but I did not choose to aggravate the case by giving
expression to the suspicion which, instead of lessening, has rather
grown upon me since, that as I possessed an English copy of the poems, I
had read the true Ossian in the original already. With Cousin George,
however, who, though strong on the authenticity side, liked a joke
rather better than he did Ossian, I was more free; and to him I ventured
to designate his brother's fine Gaelic copy of the poems, with a superb
head of the ancient bard affixed, as "The Poems of Ossian in Gaelic,
translated from the original English by their author." George looked
grim, and called me infidel, and then laughed, and said he would tell
his brother. But he didn't; and as I really liked the poems, especially
"_Temora_" and some of the smaller pieces, and could read them with more
real pleasure than the greater part of the Highlanders who believed in
them, I did not wholly lose credit with my cousin the merchant. He even
promised to present me with a finely bound edition of the "Elegant
Extracts," in three bulky octavo volumes, whenever I should have gained
my first prize at College; but I unluckily failed to qualify myself for
the gift; and my copy of the "Extracts" I had to purchase for myself ten
years after, at a book-stall, when working in the neighbourhood of
Edinburgh as a journeyman mason.

It is not every day one meets with so genuine a Highlander as my cousin
the merchant; and though he failed to inspire me with all his own
Ossianic faith and zeal, there were some of the little old Celtic
practices which he resuscitated _pro tempore_ in his father's household,
that I learned to like very much. He restored the genuine Highland
breakfasts; and, after hours spent in busy exploration outside, I found
I could as thoroughly admire the groaning table, with its cheese, and
its trout, and its cold meat, as even the immortal Lexicographer
himself. Some of the dishes, too, which he revived, were at least
curious. There was a supply of _gradden_-meal prepared--_i.e._, grain
dried in a pot over the fire, and then coarsely ground in a
handmill--which made cakes that, when they had hunger for their sauce,
could be eaten; and on more than one occasion I shared in a not
unpalatable sort of blood-pudding, enriched with butter, and well
seasoned with pepper and salt, the main ingredient of which was derived,
through a judicious use of the lancet, from the _yeld_ cattle of the
farm. The practice was an ancient, and by no means unphilosophic one. In
summer and early autumn there is plenty of grass in the Highlands; but,
of old at least, there used to be very little grain in it before the
beginning of October; and as the cattle could, in consequence, provide
themselves with a competent supply of blood from the grass, when their
masters, who could not eat grass, and had little else that they could
eat, were able to acquire very little, it was opportunely discovered
that, by making a division in this way of the all-essential fluid,
accumulated as a common stock, the circumstances of the cattle and their
owners could be in some degree equalized. With these peculiarly Highland
dishes there mingled others not less genuine--now and then a salmon from
the river, and a haunch of venison from the hill-side--which I relished
better still; and if all Highlanders live but as well in the present day
as I did during my stay with my aunt and cousins, they would be rather
unreasonable were they greatly to complain.

There were some of the other Highland restorations effected by my
cousin that pleased me much. He occasionally gathered at night around
the central Ha' fire a circle of the elderly men of the neighbourhood,
to repeat long-derived narratives of the old clan feuds of the district,
and wild Fingalian legends; and though, of course, ignorant of the
language in which the stories were conveyed, by taking my seat beside
Cousin George, and getting him to translate for me in an under tone, as
the narratives went on, I contrived to carry away with me at least as
much of the clan stories and legends as I ever after found use for. The
clan stories were waxing at the time rather dim and uncertain in
Sutherland. The county, through the influence of its good Earls and its
godly Lords Reay, had been early converted to Protestantism; and its
people had in consequence ceased to take liberties with the throats and
cattle of their neighbours, about a hundred years earlier than in any
other part of the Scotch Highlands. And as for the Fingalian legends,
they were, I found, very wild legends indeed. Some of them immortalized
wonderful hunters, who had excited the love of Fingal's lady, and whom
her angry and jealous husband had sent out to hunt monstrous wild boars
with poisonous bristles on their backs,--secure in this way of getting
rid of them. And some of them embalmed the misdeeds of spiritless
diminutive Fions, not very much above fifteen feet in height, who,
unlike their more active companions, could not leap across the Cromarty
or Dornoch Firths on their spears, and who, as was natural, were very
much despised by the women of the tribe. The pieces of fine sentiment
and brilliant description discovered by Macpherson seemed never to have
found their way into this northern district. But, told in fluent Gaelic,
in the great "Ha'," the wild legends served every necessary purpose
equally well. The "Ha'" in the autumn nights, as the days shortened and
the frosts set in, was a genial place; and so attached was my cousin to
its distinctive principle--the fire in the midst--as handed down from
the "days of other years," that in the plan of a new two-storied house
for his father, which he had procured from a London architect, one of
the nether rooms was actually designed in the circular form; and a
hearth like a millstone, placed in the centre, represented the place of
the fire. But there was, as I remarked to Cousin George, no
corresponding central hole in the room above, through which to let up
the smoke; and I questioned whether a nicely plastered apartment, round
as a band-box, with the fire in the middle, like the sun in the centre
of an Orrery, would have been quite like anything ever seen in the
Highlands before. The plan, however, was not destined to encounter
criticism, or give trouble in the execution of it.

On Sabbaths my cousin and his two brothers attended the parish church,
attired in the full Highland dress; and three handsome, well-formed men
they were; but my aunt, though mayhap not quite without the mother's
pride, did not greatly relish the exhibition; and oftener than once I
heard her say so to her sister my mother; though she, smitten by the
gallant appearance of her nephews, seemed inclined rather to take the
opposite side. My uncle, on the other hand, said nothing either for or
against the display. He had been a keen Highlander in his younger days;
and when the inhibition against wearing tartan and the philabeg had been
virtually removed, in consideration of the achievements of the "hardy
and dauntless men" who, according to Chatham, conquered for England "in
every quarter of the globe," he had celebrated the event in a
merrymaking, at which the dance was kept up from night till morning; but
though he retained, I suspect, his old partialities, he was now a
sobered man; and when I ventured to ask him, on one occasion, why he too
did not get a Sunday kilt, which, by the way, he would "_have set_,"
notwithstanding his years, as well as any of his sons, he merely replied
with a quiet "No, no; there's no fool like an old fool."



CHAPTER VI.

    "When they sawe the darksome night,
    They sat them downe and cryed."--BABES IN THE WOOD.


I spent the holidays of two other autumns in this delightful Highland
valley. On the second, as on the first occasion, I had accompanied my
mother, specially invited; but the third journey was an unsanctioned
undertaking of my own and a Cromarty cousin, my contemporary, to whom,
as he had never travelled the way, I had to act as protector and guide.
I reached my aunt's cottage without mishap or adventure of any kind; but
found, that during the twelvemonth which had just elapsed, great changes
had taken place in the circumstances of the household. My cousin George,
who had married in the interim, had gone to reside in a cottage of his
own; and I soon ascertained that my cousin William, who had been for
several months resident with his father, had not nearly so many visitors
as before; nor did presents of salmon and haunches of venison come at
all so often the way. Immediately after the final discomfiture of
Napoleon, an extensive course of speculation in which he had ventured to
engage had turned out so ill, that, instead of making him a fortune, as
at first seemed probable, it had landed him in the _Gazette_; and he was
now tiding over the difficulties of a time of settlement, six hundred
miles from the scene of disaster, in the hope of being soon enabled to
begin the world anew. He bore his losses with quiet magnanimity; and I
learned to know and like him better during his period of eclipse than in
the previous time, when summer friends had fluttered around him by
scores. He was a generous, warm-hearted man, who felt, with the force of
an implanted instinct not vouchsafed to all, that it is more blessed to
give than to receive; and it was doubtless a wise provision of nature,
and worthy, in this point of view, the special attention of moralists
and philosophers, that his old associates, the grand gentlemen, did not
now often come his way; seeing that his inability any longer to give
would cost him, in the circumstances, great pain.

I was much with my cousin George in his new dwelling. It was one of the
most delightful of Highland cottages, and George was happy in it, far
above the average lot of humanity, with his young wife. He had dared, in
opposition to the general voice of the district, to build it half-way up
the slope of a beautiful tomhan, that, waving with birch from base to
summit, rose regular as a pyramid from the bottom of the valley, and
commanded a wide view of Loch Shin on the one hand, with the moors and
mountains that lie beyond; and overlooked, on the other, with all the
richer portions of the Barony of Gruids, the church and picturesque
hamlet of Lairg. Half-hidden by the graceful birchen trees that sprang
up thick around, with their silvery boles and light foliage, it was
rather a nest than a house; and George, emancipated, by his reading, and
his residence for a time in the south, from at least the wilder beliefs
of the locality, failed to suffer, as had been predicted, for his
temerity; as the "good people," who, much to their credit, had made
choice of the place for themselves long before, never, to his knowledge,
paid him a visit. He had brought his share of the family library with
him; and it was a large share. He had mathematical instruments too, and
a colour-box, and the tools of his profession; in especial, large
hammers fitted to break great stones; and I was generously made free of
them all,--books, instruments, colour-box, and hammers. His cottage,
too, commanded, from its situation, a delightful variety of most
interesting objects. It had all the advantages of my uncle's domicile,
and a great many more.

The nearer shores of Loch Shin were scarce half a mile away; and there
was a low long promontory which shot out into the lake, that was covered
at that time by an ancient wood of doddered time-worn trees, and bore
amid its outer solitudes, where the waters circled round its terminal
apex, one of those towers of hoary eld--memorials, mayhap, of the
primeval stone-period in our island, to which the circular erections of
Glenelg and Dornadilla belong. It was formed of undressed stones of vast
size, uncemented by mortar; and through the thick walls ran winding
passages--the only covered portions of the building, for the inner area
had never been furnished with a roof--in which, when a sudden shower
descended, the loiterer amid the ruins could find shelter. It was a
fascinating place to a curious boy. Some of the old trees had become
mere whitened skeletons, that stretched forth their blasted arms to the
sky, and had so slight a hold of the soil, that I have overthrown them
with a delightful crash, by merely running against them; the heath rose
thick beneath, and it was a source of fearful joy to know that it
harboured snakes full three feet long; and though the loch itself is by
no means one of our finer Highland lochs, it furnished, to at least my
eye at this time, a delightful prospect in still October mornings, when
the light gossamer went sailing about in white filmy threads, and birch
and hazel, glorified by decay, served to embroider with gold the brown
hillsides which, standing up on either hand in their long vista of more
than twenty miles, form the barriers of the lake; and when the sun,
still struggling with a blue diluted haze, fell delicately on the smooth
surface, or twinkled for a moment on the silvery coats of the little
trout, as they sprang a few inches into the air, and then broke the
water into a series of concentric rings in their descent. When I last
passed the way, both the old wood and the old tower were gone; and for
the latter, which, though much a ruin, might have survived for ages, I
found only a long extent of dry-stone dike, and the wide ring formed by
the old foundation-stones, which had proved too massive to be removed. A
greatly more entire erection of the same age and style, known of old as
Dunaliscag--which stood on the Ross-shire side of the Dornoch Firth, and
within whose walls, forming, as it did, a sort of half-way stage, I
used, on these Sutherlandshire journeys, to eat my piece of cake with a
double relish--I found, on last passing the way, similarly represented.
Its grey venerable walls, and dark winding passages of many steps--even
the huge pear-shaped lintel, which had stretched over its little door,
and which, according to tradition, a great Fingalian lady had once
thrown across the Dornoch Firth from off the point of her spindle--had
all disappeared, and I saw instead, only a dry-stone wall. The men of
the present generation do certainly live in a most enlightened age--an
age in which every trace of the barbarism of our early ancestors is fast
disappearing; and were we but more zealous in immortalizing the public
benefactors who efface such dark memorials of the past as the tower of
Dunaliscag and the promontory of Loch Shin, it would be, doubtless, an
encouragement to others to speed us yet further on in the march of
improvement. It seems scarce fair that the enlightened destroyers of
Arthur's Oven or of the bas-relief known as Robin of Redesdale, or of
the Town-cross of Edinburgh, should enjoy all the celebrity attendant on
such acts, while the equally deserving iconoclasts of Dunaliscag and the
tower of Loch Shin should be suffered to die without their fame.

I remember spending one singularly delightful morning with Cousin George
beside the ancient tower. He pointed out to me, amid the heath, several
plants to which the old Highlanders used to attach occult
virtues,--plants that disenchanted bewitched cattle, not by their
administration as medicines to the sick animals, but by bringing them in
contact, as charms, with the injured milk; and plants which were used as
philters, either for procuring love, or exciting hatred. It was, he
showed me, the root of a species of orchis that was employed in making
the philters. While most of the radical fibres of the plant retain the
ordinary cylindrical form, two of their number are usually found
developed into starchy tubercles; but, belonging apparently to different
seasons, one of the two is of a dark colour, and of such gravity that it
sinks in water; while the other is light-coloured, and floats. And a
powder made of the light-coloured tubercle formed the main ingredient,
said my cousin, in the love philter; while a powder made of the
dark-coloured one excited, it was held, only antipathy and dislike. And
then George would speculate on the origin of a belief which could, as he
said, neither be suggested by reason, nor tested by experience. Living,
however, among a people with whom beliefs of the kind were still vital
and influential, he did not wholly escape their influence; and I saw
him, in one instance, administer to an ailing cow a little live trout,
simply because the traditions of the district assured him, that a trout
swallowed alive by the creature was the only specific in the case. Some
of his Highland stories were very curious. He communicated to me, for
example, beside the broken tower, a tradition illustrative of the Celtic
theory of dreaming, of which I have since often thought. Two young men
had been spending the early portion of a warm summer day in exactly such
a scene as that in which he communicated the anecdote. There was an
ancient ruin beside them, separated, however, from the mossy bank on
which they sat, by a slender runnel, across which there lay, immediately
over a miniature cascade, a few withered grass stalks. Overcome by the
heat of the day, one of the young men fell asleep; his companion watched
drowsily beside him; when all at once the watcher was aroused to
attention by seeing a little indistinct form, scarce larger than a
humble-bee, issue from the mouth of the sleeping man, and, leaping upon
the moss, move downwards to the runnel, which it crossed along the
withered grass stalks, and then disappeared amid the interstices of the
ruin. Alarmed by what he saw, the watcher hastily shook his companion by
the shoulder, and awoke him; though, with all his haste, the little
cloud-like creature, still more rapid in its movements, issued from the
interstice into which it had gone, and, flying across the runnel,
instead of creeping along the grass stalks and over the sward, as
before, it re-entered the mouth of the sleeper, just as he was in the
act of awakening. "What is the matter with you?" said the watcher,
greatly alarmed. "What ails you?" "Nothing ails me," replied the other;
"but you have robbed me of a most delightful dream. I dreamed I was
walking through a fine rich country, and came at length to the shores of
a noble river; and, just where the clear water went thundering down a
precipice, there was a bridge all of silver, which I crossed; and then,
entering a noble palace on the opposite side, I saw great heaps of gold
and jewels, and I was just going to load myself with treasure, when you
rudely awoke me, and I lost all." I know not what the asserters of the
clairvoyant faculty may think of the story; but I rather believe I have
occasionally seen them make use of anecdotes that did not rest on
evidence a great deal more solid than the Highland legend, and that
illustrated not much more clearly the philosophy of the phenomena with
which they profess to deal.

Of all my cousins, Cousin George was the one whose pursuits most nearly
resembled my own, and in whose society I most delighted to share. He did
sometimes borrow a day from his work, even after his marriage; but then,
according to the poet, it was


    "The love he bore to science was in fault."


The borrowed day was always spent in transferring to paper some
architectural design, or in working out some mathematical problem, or in
rendering some piece of Gaelic verse into English, or some piece of
English prose into Gaelic; and as he was a steady, careful man, the
appropriated day was never seriously missed. The winter, too, was all
his own, for, in those northern districts, masons are never employed
from a little after Hallowday, till the second, or even third month of
spring, a circumstance which I carefully noted at this time in its
bearing on the amusements of my cousin, and which afterwards weighed not
a little with me when I came to make choice of a profession for myself.
And George's winters were always ingeniously spent. He had a great
command of Gaelic, and a very tolerable command of English; and so a
translation of Bunyan's "Visions of Heaven and Hell," which he published
several years subsequent to this period, was not only well received by
his country folk of Sutherland and Ross, but was said by competent
judges to be really a not inadequate rendering of the meaning and spirit
of the noble old tinker of Elstow. I, of course, could be no authority
respecting the merits of a translation, the language of which I did not
understand; but living much amid the literature of a time when almost
every volume, whether the Virgil of a Dryden, or the Meditations of a
Hervey, was heralded by its sets of complimentary verses, and having a
deep interest in whatever Cousin George undertook and performed, I
addressed to him, in the old style, a few introductory stanzas, which,
to indulge me in the inexpressible luxury of seeing myself in print for
the first time, he benevolently threw into type. They survive to remind
me that my cousin's belief in Ossian did exert some little influence
over my phraseology when I addressed myself to him, and that, with the
rashness natural to immature youth, I had at this time the temerity to
term myself "poet."


    Yes, oft I've said, as oft I've seen
      The men who dwell its hills among,
    That Morven's land has ever been
      A land of valour, worth, and song.

    But Ignorance, of darkness dire,
      Has o'er that land a mantle spread;
    And all untuned and rude the lyre
      That sounds beneath its gloomy shade.

    With muse of calm untiring wing,
      Oh, be it thine, my friend, to show
    The Celtic swain how Saxons sing
      Of Hell's dire gloom and Heaven's glow

    So shall the meed of fame be thine,
      The glistening bay-wreath green and gay;
    Thy poet, too, though weak his line,
      Shall frame for thee th' approving lay.


Longing for some profession in which his proper work would give exercise
to the faculties which he most delighted to cultivate, my cousin
resolved on becoming candidate for a Gaelic Society school--a poor
enough sort of office then, as now; but which, by investing a little
money in cattle, by tilling a little croft, and by now and then emitting
from the press a Gaelic translation, might, he thought, be rendered
sufficiently remunerative to supply the very moderate wants of himself
and his little family. And so he set out for Edinburgh, amply furnished
with testimonials that meant more in his case than testimonials usually
mean, to stand an examination before a Committee of the Gaelic School
Society. Unluckily for his success, however, instead of bringing with
him his ordinary Sabbath-day suit of dark brown and blue (the kilt had
been assumed for but a few weeks, to please his brother William), he had
provided himself with a suit of tartan, as at once cheap and
respectable, and appeared before the Committee--if not in the garb, in
at least the many-coloured hues, of his clan--a robust manly Highlander,
apparently as well suited to enact the part of colour-serjeant to the
Forty-Second, as to teach children their letters. A grave member of the
Society, at that time in high repute for sanctity of character, but who
afterwards, becoming righteous overmuch, was loosened from his charge,
and straightway, spurning the ground, rose into an Irvingite angel, came
at once to the conclusion that no such type of man, encased in
clan-tartan, could possibly have the root of the matter in him; and so
he determined that Cousin George should be cast in the examination. But
then, as it could not be alleged with any decency that my cousin was
inadmissible on the score of his having too much tartan, it was agreed
that he should be declared inadmissible on the score of his having too
little Gaelic. And, of course, at this result the examinators arrived;
and George, ultimately to his advantage, was cast accordingly. I still
remember the astonishment evinced by a worthy catechist of the
north--himself a Gaelic teacher--on being told how my cousin had fared.
"George Munro not allowed to pass," he said, "for want of right Gaelic!
Why, he has more right Gaelic in his own self than all the Society's
teachers in this corner of Scotland put together. They are the
_curiousest_ people, some of these good gentlemen of the Edinburgh
Committees, that I ever heard of: they're just like our country
lawyers." It would, however, be far from fair to regard this
transaction, which took place, I may mention, so late as the year 1829,
as a specimen of the actings of either civic societies or country
lawyers. George's chief examinator on the occasion was the minister of
the Gaelic Chapel of the place, at that time one of the Society's
Committee for the year; and, not being a remarkably scrupulous man, he
seems to have stretched a point or two, in compliance with the pious
wishes and occult judgment of the Society's Secretary. But the anecdote
is not without its lesson. When devout Walter Taits set themselves
ingeniously to manoeuvre with the purest of intentions, and for what
they deem the best of purposes--when, founding their real grounds of
objection on one set of appearances, they found their ostensible grounds
of objection on another and entirely different set--they are always
exposed to the signal danger of--getting indevout Duncan M'Caigs to
assist them. Only two years from the period of my cousin's examination
before the Society, his reverend examinator received at the bar of the
High Court of Justiciary, in the character of a thief convicted of
eleven several acts of stealing, sentence of transportation for fourteen
years.

I had several interesting excursions with my cousin William. We found
ourselves one evening--on our way home from a mineral spring which he
had discovered among the hills--in a little lonely valley, which opened
transversely into that of the Gruids, and which, though its sides were
mottled with green furrow-marked patches, had not at the time a single
human habitation. At the upper end, however, there stood the ruins of a
narrow two-storied house, with one of its gables still entire from
foundation-stone to the shattered chimney-top, but with the other gable,
and the larger part of the front wall, laid prostrate along the sward.
My cousin, after bidding me remark the completeness of the solitude, and
that the eye could not command from the site of the ruin a single spot
where man had ever dwelt, told me that it had been the scene of the
strict seclusion, amounting almost to imprisonment, about eighty years
before, of a lady of high birth, over whom, in early youth, there had
settled a sad cloud of infamy. She had borne a child to one of the
menials of her father's house, which, with the assistance of her
paramour, she had murdered; and being too high for the law to reach in
these northern parts, at a time when the hereditary jurisdiction still
existed entire, and her father was the sole magistrate, possessed of the
power of life and death in the district, she was sent by her family to
wear out life in this lonely retreat, in which she remained secluded
from the world for more than half a century. And then, long after the
abolition of the local jurisdictions, and when her father and brother,
with the entire generation that knew of her crime, had passed away, she
was permitted to take up her abode in one of the seaport towns of the
north, where she was still remembered at this time as a crazy old lady,
invariably silent and sullen, that used to be seen in the twilight
flitting about the more retired lanes and closes, like an unhappy ghost.
The story, as told me in that solitary valley, just as the sun was
sinking over the hill beyond, powerfully impressed my fancy. Crabbe
would have delighted to tell it; and I now relate it, as it lies fast
wedged in my memory, mainly for the peculiar light which it casts on the
times of the hereditary jurisdictions. It forms an example of one of the
judicial banishments of an age that used, in ordinary cases, to save
itself all sorts of trouble of the kind, by hanging its victims. I may
add, that I saw a good deal of the neighbourhood at this time in the
company of my cousin, and gleaned, from my visits to shieling and
cottage, most of my conceptions of the state of the Northern Highlands,
ere the clearance system had depopulated the interior of the country,
and precipitated its poverty-stricken population upon the coasts.

There was, however, one of my excursions with Cousin William, that
turned out rather unfortunately. The river Shin has its bold
salmon-leap, which even yet, after several hundred pounds' worth of
gunpowder have been expended in sloping its angle of ascent, to
facilitate the passage of the fish, is a fine picturesque object, but
which at this time, when it presented all its original abruptness, was a
finer object still. Though distant about three miles from my uncle's
cottage, we could distinctly hear its roarings from beside his door,
when October nights were frosty and still; and as we had been told many
strange stories regarding it--stories about bold fishers who had
threaded their dangerous way between the overhanging rock and the water,
and who, striking outwards, had speared salmon through the foam of the
cataract as they leaped--stories, too, of skilful sportsmen, who, taking
their stand in the thick wood beyond, had shot the rising animals, as
one shoots a bird flying,--both my Cromarty cousin and myself were
extremely desirous to visit the scene of such feats and marvels; and
Cousin William obligingly agreed to act as our guide and instructor by
the way. He did look somewhat askance at our naked feet; and we heard
him remark, in an under tone, to his mother, that when he and his
brothers were boys, she never suffered _them_ to visit her Cromarty
relations unshod; but neither Cousin Walter nor myself had the
magnanimity to say, that _our_ mothers had also taken care to see us
shod; but that, deeming it lighter and cooler to walk barefoot, the good
women had no sooner turned their backs than we both agreed to fling our
shoes into a corner, and set out on our journey without them. The walk
to the salmon-leap was a thoroughly delightful one. We passed through
the woods of Achanie, famous for their nuts; startled, as we went, a
herd of roe deer; and found the leap itself far exceeded all
anticipation. The Shin becomes savagely wild in its lower reaches.
Rugged precipices of gneiss, with scattered bushes fast anchored in the
crevices, overhang the stream, which boils in many a dark pool, and
foams over many a steep rapid; and immediately beneath, where it threw
itself headlong, at this time, over the leap--for it now merely rushes
in snow adown a steep slope--there was a caldron, so awfully dark and
profound, that, according to the accounts of the district, it had no
bottom; and so vexed was it by a frightful whirlpool, that no one ever
fairly caught in its eddies had succeeded, it was said, in regaining the
shore. We saw, as we stood amid the scraggy trees of an overhanging
wood, the salmon leaping up by scores, most of them, however, to fall
back again into the pool--for only a very few stray fish that attempted
the cataract at its edges seemed to succeed in forcing their upward way;
we saw, too, on a shelf of the precipitous but wooded bank, the rude
hut, formed of undressed logs, where a solitary watcher used to take his
stand, to protect them from the spear and fowlingpiece of the poacher,
and which in stormy nights, when the cry of the kelpie mingled with the
roar of the flood, must have been a sublime lodge in the wilderness, in
which a poet might have delighted to dwell. I was excited by the scene;
and, when heedlessly leaping from a tall lichened stone into the long
heath below, my right foot came so heavily in contact with a sharp-edged
fragment of rock concealed in the moss, that I almost screamed aloud
with pain. I, however, suppressed the shriek, and, sitting down and
setting my teeth close, bore the pang, until it gradually moderated, and
my foot, to the ankle, seemed as if almost divested of feeling. In our
return, I halted as I walked, and lagged considerably behind my
companions; and during the whole evening the injured foot seemed as if
dead, save that it glowed with an intense heat. I was, however, at ease
enough to write a sublime piece of blank verse on the cataract; and,
proud of my production, I attempted reading it to Cousin William. But
William had taken lessons in recitation under the great Mr. Thelwall,
politician and elocutionist; and deeming it proper to set me right in
all the words which I mispronounced--three out of every four at least,
and not unfrequently the fourth word also--the reading of the piece
proved greatly stiffer and slower work than the writing of it; and,
somewhat to my mortification, my cousin declined giving me any definite
judgment on its merits, even when I had done. He insisted, however, on
the signal advantages of reading well. He had an acquaintance, he said,
a poet, who had taken lessons under Mr. Thelwall, and who, though his
verses, when he published, met with no great success, was so indebted to
his admirable elocution, as to be invariably successful when he read
them to his friends.

Next morning my injured foot was stiff and sore; and, after a few days
of suffering, it suppurated and discharged great quantities of blood and
matter. It was, however, fast getting well again, when, tired of
inaction, and stirred up by my cousin Walter, who wearied sadly of the
Highlands, I set out with him, contrary to all advice, on my homeward
journey, and, for the first six or eight miles, got on tolerably well.
My cousin, a stout, active lad, carried the bag of Highland
luxuries--cheese, and butter, and a full peck of nuts--with which we had
been laden by my aunt; and, by way of indemnity for taking both my share
of the burden and his own, he demanded of me one of my long extempore
stories, which, shortly after leaving my aunt's cottage, I accordingly
began. My stories, when I had cousin Walter for my companion, were
usually co-extensive with the journey to be performed: they became ten,
fifteen, or twenty miles long, agreeably to the measure of the road, and
the determination of the mile-stones; and what was at present required
was a story of about thirty miles in length, whose one end would touch
the Barony of Gruids, and the other the Cromarty Ferry. At the end,
however, of the first six or eight miles, my story broke suddenly down,
and my foot, after becoming very painful, began to bleed. The day, too,
had grown raw and unpleasant, and after twelve o'clock there came on a
thick wetting drizzle. I limped on silently in the rear, leaving at
every few paces a blotch of blood upon the road, until, in the parish of
Edderton, we both remembered that there was a short cut through the
hills, which two of our older cousins had taken during the previous
year, when on a similar journey; and as Walter deemed himself equal to
anything which his elder cousins could perform, and as I was exceedingly
desirous to get home as soon as possible, and by the shortest way, we
both struck up the hill-side, and soon found ourselves in a dreary
waste, without trace of human habitation.

Walter, however, pushed on bravely and in the right direction; and,
though my head was now becoming light, and my sight dim, I succeeded in
struggling after him, until, just as the night was falling, we reached a
heathy ridge, which commands the northern sea-board of the Cromarty
Firth, and saw the cultivated country and the sands of Nigg lying only a
few miles below. The sands are dangerous at certain hours of the tide,
and accidents frequently happen in the fords; but then there could, we
thought, be no fear of us; for though Walter could not swim, I could;
and as I was to lead the way, he of course would be safe, by simply
avoiding the places where I lost footing. The night fell rather thick
than dark, for there was a moon overhead, though it could not be seen
through the cloud; but, though Walter steered well, the downward way was
exceedingly rough and broken, and we had wandered from the path. I
retain a faint but painful recollection of a scraggy moor, and of dark
patches of planting, through which I had to grope onwards, stumbling as
I went; and then, that I began to feel as if I were merely dreaming, and
that the dream was a very horrible one, from which I could not awaken.
And finally, on reaching a little cleared spot on the edge of the
cultivated country, I dropped down as suddenly as if struck by a bullet,
and, after an ineffectual attempt to rise, fell fast asleep. Walter was
much frightened; but he succeeded in carrying me to a little rick of
dried grass which stood up in the middle of the clearing; and after
covering me well up with the grass, he laid himself down beside me.
Anxiety, however, kept him awake; and he was frightened, as he lay, to
hear the sounds of psalm-singing, in the old Gaelic style, coming
apparently from a neighbouring clump of wood. Walter believed in the
fairies; and, though psalmody was not one of the reputed accomplishments
of the "good people" in the low country, he did not know but that in the
Highlands the case might be different. Some considerable time after the
singing had ceased, there was a slow, heavy step heard approaching the
rick; an exclamation in Gaelic followed; and then a rough hard hand
grasped Walter by the naked heel. He started up, and found himself
confronted by an old, grey-headed man, the inmate of a cottage, which,
hidden in the neighbouring clump, had escaped his notice.

The old man, in the belief that we were gipsies, was at first disposed
to be angry at the liberty we had taken with his hayrick; but Walter's
simple story mollified him at once, and he expressed deep regret that
"poor boys, who had met with an accident," should have laid them down in
such a night under the open sky, and a house so near. "It was putting
disgrace," he said, "on a Christian land." I was assisted into his
cottage, whose only other inmate, an aged woman, the old Highlander's
wife, received us with great kindness and sympathy; and on Walter's
declaring our names and lineage, the hospitable regrets and regards of
both host and hostess waxed stronger and louder still. They knew our
maternal grandfather and grandmother, and remembered old Donald Roy; and
when my cousin named my father, there was a strongly-expressed burst of
sorrow and commiseration, that the son of a man whom they had seen so
"well to do in the world" should be in circumstances so deplorably
destitute. I was too ill to take much note of what passed. I only
remember, that of the food which they placed before me, I could partake
of only a few spoonfuls of milk; and that the old woman, as she washed
my feet, fell a-crying over me. I was, however, so greatly recruited by
a night's rest in their best bed, as to be fit in the morning to be
removed, in the old man's _rung_-cart, to the house of a relation in the
parish of Nigg, from which, after a second day's rest, I was conveyed in
another cart to the Cromarty Ferry. And thus terminated the last of my
boyish visits to the Highlands.

Both my grandfather and grandmother had come of long-lived races, and
Death did not often knock at the family door. But the time when the
latter "should cross the river," though she was some six or eight years
younger than her husband, came first; and so, according to Bunyan, she
"called for her children, and told them that her hour had come." She was
a quiet, retiring woman, and, though intimately acquainted with her
Bible, not in the least fitted to make a female Professor of Theology:
she could _live_ her religion better than _talk_ it; but she now
earnestly recommended to her family the great interests once more; and,
as its various members gathered round her bed, she besought one of her
daughters to read to her, in their hearing, that eighth chapter of the
Romans which declares that "there is now no condemnation to them which
are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the
Spirit." She repeated, in a sinking voice, the concluding verses,--"For
I am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels nor
principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor
height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us
from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." And, resting
in confidence on the hope which the passage so powerfully expresses, she
slept her last sleep, in simple trust that all would be well with her in
the morning of the general awakening. I retain her wedding-ring, the
gift of Donald Roy. It is a sorely-wasted fragment, worn through on one
of the sides, for she had toiled long and hard in her household, and the
breach in the circlet, with its general thinness, testify to the fact;
but its gold is still bright and pure; and, though not much of a
relic-monger, I would hesitate to exchange it for the Holy Coat of
Trèves, or for waggon-loads of the wood of the "true cross."

My grandmother's term of life had exceeded by several twelvemonths the
full threescore and ten; but when, only a few years after, Death next
visited the circle, it was on its youngest members that his hand was
laid. A deadly fever swept over the place, and my two sisters--the one
in her tenth, the other in her twelfth year--sank under it within a few
days of each other. Jean, the elder, who resided with my uncles, was a
pretty little girl, of fine intellect, and a great reader; Catherine,
the younger, was lively and affectionate, and a general favourite; and
their loss plunged the family in deep gloom. My uncles made little show
of grief, but they felt strongly: my mother for weeks and months wept
for her children, like Rachel of old, and refused to be comforted,
because they were not; but my grandfather, now in his eighty-fifth year,
seemed to be rendered wholly bankrupt in heart by their loss. As is
perhaps not uncommon in such cases, his warmer affections strode across
the generation of grown-up men and women--his sons and daughters--and
luxuriated among the children their descendants. The boys, his
grandsons, were too wild for him; but the two little girls--gentle and
affectionate--had seized on his whole heart; and now that they were
gone, it seemed as if he had nothing in the world left to care for. He
had been, up till this time, notwithstanding his great age, a hale and
active man. In 1803, when France threatened invasion, he was, though on
the verge of seventy, one of the first men in the place to apply for
arms as a volunteer; but now he drooped and gradually sunk, and longed
for the rest of the grave. "It is God's will," I heard him say about
this time, to a neighbour who congratulated him on his long term of life
and unbroken health--"It is God's will, but not my desire." And in
rather more than a twelvemonth after the death of my sisters, he was
seized by almost his only illness--for, for nearly seventy years he had
not been confined to bed for a single day--and was carried off in less
than a week. During the last few days, the fever under which he sank
mounted to his brain; and he talked in unbroken narrative of the events
of his past life. He began with his earliest recollections; described
the battle of Culloden as he had witnessed it from the Hill of Cromarty,
and the appearance of Duke William and the royal army as seen during a
subsequent visit to Inverness; ran over the after events of his
career--his marriage, his interviews with Donald Roy, his business
transactions with neighbouring proprietors, long dead at the time; and
finally, after reaching, in his oral history, his term of middle life,
he struck off into another track, and began laying down, with singular
coherency, the statements of doctrine in a theological work of the old
school, which he had been recently perusing. And finally, his mind
clearing as his end approached, he died in good hope. It is not
uninteresting to look back on two such generations of Scotchmen as those
to which my uncles and grandfather belonged. They differed very
considerably in some respects. My grandfather, with most of his
contemporaries of the same class, had a good deal of the Tory in his
composition. He stood by George III. in the early policy of his reign,
and by his adviser Lord Bute; reprobated Wilkes and Junius; and gravely
questioned whether Washington and his coadjutors, the American
Republicans, were other than bold rebels. My uncles, on the contrary,
were stanch Whigs, who looked upon Washington as perhaps the best and
greatest man of modern times--stood firm by the policy of Fox, as
opposed to that of Pitt--and held that the war with France, which
immediately succeeded the First Revolution, was, however thoroughly it
changed its character afterwards, one of unjustifiable aggression. But
however greatly my uncles and grandfather may have differed on these
points, they were equally honest men.

The rising generation can perhaps form no very adequate conception of
the number and singular interest of the links which serve to connect the
recollections of a man who has seen his fiftieth birth-day, with what to
them must appear a remote past. I have seen at least two men who fought
at Culloden--one on the side of the King, the other on that of the
Prince--and, with these, not a few who witnessed the battle from a
distance. I have conversed with an aged woman that had conversed, in
turn, with an aged man who had attained to mature manhood when the
persecutions of Charles and James were at their height, and remembered
the general regret excited by the death of Renwick. My eldest maternal
aunt--the mother of Cousin George--remembered old John Feddes--turned of
ninety at the time; and John's buccaneering expedition could not have
dated later than the year 1687. I have known many who remembered the
abolition of the hereditary jurisdictions; and have listened to stories
of executions which took place on the gallows-hills of burghs and
sheriffdoms, and of witch-burnings perpetrated on town Links and
baronial Laws. And I have felt a strange interest in these glimpses of a
past so unlike the present, when thus presented to the mind as personal
reminiscences, or as well-attested traditions, removed from the
original witnesses by but a single stage. All, for instance, which I
have yet read of witch-burnings has failed to impress me so strongly as
the recollections of an old lady who in 1722 was carried in her nurse's
arms--for she was almost an infant at the time--to witness a
witch-execution in the neighbourhood of Dornoch--the last which took
place in Scotland. The lady well remembered the awe-struck yet excited
crowd, the lighting of the fire, and the miserable appearance of the
poor fatuous creature whom it was kindled to consume, and who seemed to
be so little aware of her situation, that she held out her thin
shrivelled hands to warm them at the blaze. But what most impressed the
narrator--for it must have been a frightful incident in a sad
spectacle--was the circumstance that, when the charred remains of the
victim were sputtering and boiling amid the intense heat of the flames,
a cross gust of wind suddenly blew the smoke athwart the spectators, and
she felt in her attendant's arms as if in danger of being suffocated by
the horrible stench. I have heard described, too, by a man whose father
had witnessed the scene, an execution which took place, after a brief
and inadequate trial, on the burgh-gallows of Tain. The supposed
culprit, a Strathcarron Highlander, had been found lurking about the
place, noting, as was supposed, where the burghers kept their cattle,
and was hung as a spy; but they all, after the execution, came to deem
him innocent, from the circumstance that, when his dead body was
dangling in the wind, a white pigeon had come flying the way, and, as it
passed over, half-encircled the gibbet.

One of the two Culloden soldiers whom I remember was an old forester who
lived in a picturesque cottage among the woods of the Cromarty Hill; and
in his last illness, my uncles, whom I had always leave to accompany,
used not unfrequently to visit him. He had lived at the time his full
century, and a few months more: and I still vividly remember the large
gaunt face that used to stare from the bed as they entered, and the
huge, horny hand. He had been settled in life, previous to the year
1745, as the head gardener of a northern proprietor, and little dreamed
of being engaged in war; but the rebellion broke out; and as his master,
a stanch Whig, had volunteered to serve on behalf of his principles in
the royal army, his gardener, a "mighty man of his hands," went with
him. As his memory for the later events of his life was gone at this
time, its preceding forty years seemed a blank, from which not a single
recollection could be drawn; but well did he remember the battle, and
more vividly still, the succeeding atrocities of the troops of
Cumberland. He had accompanied the army, after its victory at Culloden,
to the camp at Fort-Augustus, and there witnessed scenes of cruelty and
spoliation of which the recollection, after the lapse of seventy years,
and in his extreme old age, had still power enough to set his Scotch
blood aboil. While scores of cottages were flaming in the distance, and
blood not unfrequently hissing on the embers, the men and women of the
army used to be engaged in racing in sacks, or upon Highland ponies; and
when the ponies were in request, the women, who must have sat for their
portraits in Hogarth's "March to Finchley," took their seats astride
like the men. Gold circulated and liquor flowed in abundance; and in a
few weeks there were about twenty thousand head of cattle brought in by
marauding parties of the soldiery from the crushed and impoverished
Highlanders; and groups of drovers from Yorkshire and the south of
Scotland--coarse vulgar men--used to come every day to share in the
spoil, by making purchases at greatly less than half-price.

My grandfather's recollections of Culloden were merely those of an
observant boy of fourteen, who had witnessed the battle from a distance.
The day, he has told me, was drizzly and thick; and on reaching the brow
of the Hill of Cromarty, where he found many of his townsfolk already
assembled, he could scarce see the opposite land. But the fog gradually
cleared away; first one hill-top came into view, and then another; till
at length the long range of coast, from the opening of the great
Caledonian valley to the promontory of Burgh-head, was dimly visible
through the haze. A little after noon there suddenly rose a round white
cloud from the Moor of Culloden, and then a second round white cloud
beside it. And then the two clouds mingled together, and went rolling
slantways on the wind towards the west; and he could hear the rattle of
the smaller fire-arms mingling with the roar of the artillery. And then,
in what seemed an exceedingly brief space of time, the cloud dissipated
and disappeared, the boom of the greater guns ceased, and a sharp
intermittent patter of musketry passed on towards Inverness. But the
battle was presented to the imagination, in these old personal
narratives, in many a diverse form. I have been told by an ancient
woman, who, on the day of the fight, was engaged in tending some sheep
on a solitary common near Munlochy, separated from the Moor of Culloden
by the Firth, and screened by a lofty hill, that she sat listening in
terror to the boom of the cannon; but that she was still more scared by
the continuous howling of her dog, who sat upright on his haunches all
the time the firing lasted, with his neck stretched out towards the
battle, and "looking as if he saw a spirit." Such are some of the
recollections which link the memories of a man who has lived his
half-century, to those of the preceding age, and which serve to remind
him how one generation of men after another break and disappear on the
shores of the eternal world, as wave after wave breaks in foam upon the
beach, when storms are rising, and the ground-swell sets in heavily from
the sea.



CHAPTER VII.

    "Whose elfin prowess scaled the orchard wall."--ROGERS.


Some of the wealthier tradesmen of the town, dissatisfied with the small
progress which their boys were making under the parish schoolmaster,
clubbed together and got a schoolmaster of their own; but, though a
rather clever young man, he proved an unsteady one, and, regular in his
irregularities, got diurnally drunk, on receiving the instalments of his
salary at term-days, as long as his money lasted. Getting rid of him,
they procured another--a licentiate of the Church--who for some time
promised well. He seemed steady and thoughtful, and withal a painstaking
teacher; but coming in contact with some zealous Baptists, they
succeeded in conjuring up such a cloud of doubt around him regarding the
propriety of infant baptism, that both his bodily and mental health
became affected by his perplexities, and he had to resign his charge.
And then, after a pause, during which the boys enjoyed a delightfully
long vacation, they got yet a third schoolmaster, also a licentiate, and
a person of a high, if not very consistent religious profession, who was
always getting into pecuniary difficulties, and always courting, though
with but little success, wealthy ladies, who, according to the poet, had
"acres of charms." To the subscription school I was transferred, at the
instance of Uncle James, who remained quite sure, notwithstanding the
experience of the past, that I was destined to be a scholar. And,
invariably fortunate in my opportunities of amusement, the transference
took place only a few weeks ere the better schoolmaster, losing health
and heart in a labyrinth of perplexity resigned his charge. I had
little more than time enough to look about me on the new forms, and to
renew, on a firmer foundation than ever, my friendship with my old
associate of the cave--who had been for the two previous years an inmate
of the subscription school, and was now less under maternal control than
before--when on came the long vacation; and for four happy months I had
nothing to do.

My amusements had undergone very little change: I was even fonder of the
shores and woods than ever, and better acquainted with the rocks and
caves. A very considerable change, however, had taken place in the
amusements of the school-fellows my contemporaries, who were now from
two to three years older than when I had been associated with them in
the parish school. Hy-spy had lost its charms; nor was there much of its
old interest for them in French and English; whereas my rock excursions
they came to regard as very interesting indeed. With the exception of my
friend of the cave, they cared little about rocks or stones; but they
all liked brambles, and sloes, and _craws-apples_, tolerably well, and
took great delight in assisting me to kindle fires in the caverns of the
old-coast line, at which we used to broil shell-fish and crabs, taken
among the crags and boulders of the ebb below, and roast potatoes,
transferred from the fields of the hill above. There was one cave, an
especial favourite with us, in which our fires used to blaze day after
day for weeks together. It is deeply hollowed in the base of a steep
ivy-mantled precipice of granitic gneiss, a full hundred feet in height;
and bears on its smoothed sides and roof, and along its uneven
bottom,--fretted into pot-like cavities, with large rounded pebbles in
them,--unequivocal evidence that the excavating agent to which it owed
its existence had been the wild surf of this exposed shore. But for more
than two thousand years wave had never reached it: the last general
elevation of the land had raised it beyond the reach of the highest
stream-tides; and when my gang and I took possession of its twilight
recesses, its stony sides were crusted with mosses and liverworts; and
a crop of pale, attenuated, sickly-looking weeds, on which the sun had
never looked in his strength, sprang thickly up over its floor. In the
remote past it had been used as a sort of garner and thrashing-place by
a farmer of the parish, named Marcus, who had succeeded in rearing crops
of bere and oats on two sloping plots at the foot of the cliffs in its
immediate neighbourhood; and it was known, from this circumstance, to my
uncles and the older inhabitants of the town, as Marcus's Cave. My
companions, however, had been chiefly drawn to it by a much more recent
association. A poor Highland pensioner--a sorely dilapidated relic of
the French-American War, who had fought under General Wolfe in his
day--had taken a great fancy to the cave, and would fain have made it
his home. He was ill at ease in his family;--his wife was a termagant,
and his daughter disreputable; and, desirous to quit their society
altogether, and live as a hermit among the rocks, he had made
application to the gentleman who tenanted the farm above, to be
permitted to fit up the cave for himself as a dwelling. So bad was his
English, however, that the gentleman failed to understand him; and his
request was, as he believed, rejected, while it was in reality only not
understood. Among the younger folk the cave came to be known, from the
incident, as "Rory Shingles' Cave;" and my companions were delighted to
believe that they were living in it as Rory would have lived, had his
petition been granted. In the wild half-savage life which we led, we did
contrive to provide for ourselves remarkably well. The rocky shores
supplied us with limpets, periwinkles, and crabs, and now and then a
lump-fish; the rugged slopes under the precipices, with hips, sloes, and
brambles; the broken fragments of wreck along the beach, and the wood
above, furnished abundance of fuel; and as there were fields not half a
mile away, I fear the more solid part of our diet consisted often of
potatoes which we had not planted, and of pease and beans which we had
not sown. One of our number contrived to bring away a pot unobserved
from his home; another succeeded in providing us with a pitcher; there
was a good spring not two hundred yards from the cave mouth, which
supplied us with water; and, thus possessed of not merely all that
nature requires, but a good deal more, we contrived to fare sumptuously
every day. It has been often remarked, that civilized man, when placed
in circumstances at all favourable, soon learns to assume the savage. I
shall not say that my companions or myself had been particularly
civilized in our previous state; but nothing could be more certain, than
that during our long vacation, we became very happy, and tolerably
perfect savages. The class which we attended was of a kind not opened in
any of our accredited schools, and it might be difficult to procure
testimonials in its behalf, easily procurable as these usually are; and
yet there were some of its lessons which might be conned with some
little advantage, by one desirous of cultivating the noble sentiment of
self-reliance, or the all-important habit of self-help. At the time,
however, they appeared quite pointless enough; and the moral, as in the
case of the continental apologue of Reynard the Fox, seemed always
omitted.

Our parties in these excursions used at times to swell out to ten or
twelve--at times to contract to two or three; but what they gained in
quantity they always lost in quality, and became mischievous with the
addition of every new member, in greatly more than the arithmetical
ratio. When most innocent, they consisted of only a brace of members--a
warm-hearted, intelligent boy from the south of Scotland, who boarded
with two elderly ladies of the place, and attended the subscription
school; and the acknowledged leader of the band, who, belonging to the
permanent irreducible staff of the establishment, was never off duty. We
used to be very happy, and not altogether irrational, in these little
skeleton parties. My new friend was a gentle, tasteful boy, fond of
poetry, and a writer of soft, simple verses in the old-fashioned
pastoral vein, which he never showed to any one save myself; and we
learned to love one another all the more, from the circumstance that I
was of a somewhat bold, self-relying temperament, and he of a clinging,
timid one. Two of the stanzas of a little pastoral, which he addressed
to me about a twelvemonth after this time, when permanently quitting the
north country for Edinburgh, still remain fixed in my memory; and I must
submit them to the reader, both as adequately representative of the many
others, their fellows, which have been lost, and of that juvenile poetry
in general which "is written," according to Sir Walter Scott, "rather
from the recollection of what has pleased the author in others, than
what has been suggested by his own imagination."


    "To you my poor sheep I resign,
      My colly, my crook, and my horn:
    To leave you, indeed, I repine,
      But I must away with the morn.
    New scenes shall evolve on my sight,
      The world and its follies be new;
    But ah! can such scenes of delight
      Ere arise, as I witnessed with you!"


Timid as he naturally was, he soon learned to abide in my company
terrors which most of my bolder companions shrank from encountering. I
was fond of lingering in the caves until long after nightfall,
especially in those seasons when the moon at full, or but a few days in
her wane, rose out of the sea as the evening wore on, to light up the
wild precipices of that solitary shore, and to render practicable our
ascending path to the hill above. And Finlay was almost the only one of
my band who dared to encounter with me the terrors of the darkness. Our
fire has often startled the benighted boatman as he came rowing round
some rocky promontory, and saw the red glare streaming seawards from the
cavern mouth, and partially lighting up the angry tumbling of the surf
beyond; and excise-cutters have oftener than once altered their tack in
middle Firth, and come bearing towards the coast, to determine whether
the wild rocks of Marcus were not becoming a haunt of smugglers.

Immediately beyond the granitic gneiss of the hill there is a subaqueous
deposit of the Lias formation, never yet explored by geologist, because
never yet laid bare by the ebb; though every heavier storm from the sea
tells of its existence, by tossing ashore fragments of its dark
bituminous shale. I soon ascertained that the shale is so largely
charged with inflammable matter as to burn with a strong flame, as if
steeped in tar or oil, and that I could repeat with it the common
experiment of producing gas by means of a tobacco-pipe luted with clay.
And, having read in Shakspere of a fuel termed "sea-coal," and unaware
at the time that the poet merely meant coal brought to London by sea, I
inferred that the inflammable shale cast up from the depths of the Firth
by the waves could not be other than the veritable "sea-coal" which
figured in the reminiscences of Dame Quickly; and so, assisted by
Finlay, who shared in the interest which I felt in the substance, as at
once classical and an original discovery, I used to collect it in large
quantities and convert it into smoky and troubled fires, that ever
filled our cavern with a horrible stench, and scented all the shore.
Though unaware of the fact at the time, it owed its inflammability, not
to vegetable, but to animal substance; the tar which used to boil in it
to the heat, like resin in a fagot of moss-fir, was as strange a mixture
as ever yet bubbled in witches' caldron--blood of pterodactyle and
grease of ichthyosaur--eye of belemnite and hood of nautilus; and we
learned to delight in its very smell, all oppressive as that was, as
something wild, strange, and inexplicable. Once or twice I seemed on the
eve of a discovery: in splitting the masses, I occasionally saw what
appeared to be fragments of shells embedded in its substance; and at
least once I laid open a mysterious-looking scroll or volute, existing
on the dark surface as a cream-coloured film; but though these organisms
raised a temporary wonder, it was not until a later period that I
learned to comprehend their true import, as the half-effaced but still
decipherable characters of a marvellous record of the grey,
dream-encircled past.

With the docile Finlay as my companion, and left to work out my own will
unchallenged, I was rarely or never mischievous. On the occasions,
however, in which my band swelled out to ten or a dozen, I often
experienced the ordinary evils of leadership, as known in all gangs and
parties, civil and ecclesiastical; and was sometimes led, in
consequence, to engage in enterprises which my better judgment
condemned. I fain wish that among the other "Confessions" with which our
literature is charged, we had the _bona fide_ "Confessions of a Leader,"
with examples of the cases in which, though he seems to overbear, he is
in reality overborne, and actually follows, though he appears to lead.
Honest Sir William Wallace, though seven feet high, and a hero, was at
once candid and humble enough to confess to the canons of Hexham, that,
his "soldiers being evil-disposed men," whom he could neither "justify
nor punish," he was able to protect women and Churchmen only so long as
they "abided in his sight." And, of course, other leaders, less tall and
less heroic, must not unfrequently find themselves, had they but
Wallace's magnanimity to confess the fact, in circumstances much akin to
those of Wallace. When bee-masters get hold of queen bees, they are
able, by controlling the movements of these natural leaders of hives, to
control the movements of the hives themselves; and not unfrequently in
Churches and States do there exist inconspicuous bee-masters, who, by
influencing or controlling the leader-bees, in reality influence and
control the movements of the entire body, politic or ecclesiastical,
over which these natural monarchs seem to preside. But truce with
apology. Partly in the character of leader--partly being my self led--I
succeeded about this time in getting one of my larger parties into a
tolerably serious scrape. We passed every day, on our way to the cave, a
fine large orchard, attached to the manor-house of the Cromarty estate;
and in ascending an adjacent hill over which our path lay, and which
commands a bird's-eye view of the trim-kept walks and well-laden trees,
there used not unfrequently to arise wild speculations among us
regarding the possibility and propriety of getting a supply of the
fruit, to serve as desserts to our meals of shell-fish and potatoes.
Weeks elapsed, however, and autumn was drawing on to its close, ere we
could quite make up our minds regarding the adventure, when at length I
agreed to lead; and, after arranging the plan of the expedition, we
broke into the orchard under the cloud of night, and carried away with
us whole pocketfuls of apples. They were all intolerably bad--sour,
hard, baking apples; for we had delayed the enterprise until the better
fruit had been pulled: but though they set our teeth on edge, and we
flung most of them into the sea, we had "snatched" in the foray, what
Gray well terms "a fearful joy," and had some thought of repeating it,
merely for the sake of the excitement induced and the risk encountered,
when out came the astounding fact, that one of our number had "peached,"
and, in the character of king's evidence, betrayed his companions.

The factor of the Cromarty property had an orphan nephew, who formed at
times a member of our gang, and who had taken a willing part in the
orchard foray. He had also engaged, however, in a second enterprise of a
similar kind wholly on his own account, of which we knew nothing. An
out-house pertaining to the dwelling in which he lodged, though itself
situated outside the orchard, was attached to another house inside the
walls, which was employed by the gardener as a store-place for his
apples; and finding an unsuspected crevice in the partition which
divided the two buildings, somewhat resembling that through which
Pyramus and Thisbe made love of old in the city of Babylon, our comrade,
straightway availing himself of so fair an opening, fell a-courting the
gardener's apples. Sharpening the end of a long stick, he began
harpooning, through the hole, the apple-heap below; and though the hole
was greatly too small for admitting the finer and larger specimens, and
they, in consequence, fell back, disengaged from the harpoon, in the
attempt to land them, he succeeded in getting a good many of the smaller
ones. Old John Clark the gardener--far advanced in life at the time, and
seeing too imperfectly to discover the crevice which opened high amid
the obscurity of the loft--was in a perfect maze regarding the evil
influence that was destroying his apples. The harpooned individuals lay
scattered over the floor by scores; but the agent that had dispersed and
perforated them remained for weeks together an inscrutable mystery to
John. At length, however, there came a luckless morning, in which our
quondam companion lost hold, when busy at work, of the pointed stick;
and when John next entered his storehouse, the guilty harpoon lay
stretched across the harpooned apples. The discovery was followed up;
the culprit detected; and, on being closeted with his uncle the factor,
he communicated not only the details of his own special adventure, but
the particulars of ours also. And early next day there was a message
sent us by a safe and secret messenger, to the effect that we would be
all put in prison in the course of the week.

We were terribly frightened; so much so, that the strong point of our
position--the double-dyed guilt of the factor's nephew--failed to occur
to any of us; and we looked for only instant incarceration. I still
remember the intense feeling of shame I used to experience every time I
crossed my mother's door for the street--the agonizing, all-engrossing
belief that every one was looking at and pointing me out--and the
terror, when in my uncles'--akin to that of the culprit who hears from
his box the footsteps of the returning jury--that, having learned of my
offence, they were preparing to denounce me as a disgrace to an honest
family, on which, in the memory of man, no stain had before rested. The
discipline was eminently wholesome, and I never forgot it. It did seem
somewhat strange, however, that no one appeared to know anything about
our misdemeanour: the factor kept our secret remarkably well; but we
inferred he was doing so in order to pounce upon us all the more
effectually; and, holding a hasty council in the cave, we resolved that,
quitting our homes for a few weeks, we should live among the rocks till
the storm that seemed rising should have blown by.

Marcus's Cave was too accessible and too well known; but my knowledge of
the locality enabled me to recommend to my lads two other caves in which
I thought we might be safe. The one opened in a thicket of furze, some
forty feet above the shore; and, though large enough within to contain
from fifteen to twenty men, it presented outside much the appearance of
a fox-earth, and was not known to half-a-dozen people in the country. It
was, however, damp and dark; and we found that we could not venture on
lighting a fire in it without danger of suffocation. It was pronounced
excellent, however, as a temporary place of concealment, were the search
for us to become very hot. The other cavern was wide and open; but it
was a wild, ghostly-looking place, scarcely once visited from one
twelvemonth's end to another: its floor was green with mould, and its
ridgy walls and roof bristled over with slim pale stalactites, which
looked like the pointed tags that roughen a dead-dress. It was certain,
too, that it was haunted. Marks of a cloven foot might be seen freshly
impressed on its floor, which had been produced either by a stray goat,
or by something worse; and the few boys to whom its existence and
character were known used to speak of it under their breath as "the
Devil's Cave." My lads did at first look round them as we entered, with
an awe-struck and disconsolate expression; but falling busily to work
among the cliffs, we collected large quantities of withered grass and
fern for bedding, and, selecting the drier and less exposed portions of
the floor, soon piled up for ourselves a row of little lairs, formed in
a sort of half-way style between that of the wild beast and the gipsy,
on which it would have been possible enough to sleep. We selected, too,
a place for our fire, gathered a little heap of fuel, and secreted in a
recess, for ready use, our Marcus' Cave pot and pitcher, and the lethal
weapons of the gang, which consisted of an old bayonet so corroded with
rust that it somewhat resembled a three-edged saw and an old horseman's
pistol tied fast to the stock by cobbler's ends, and with lock and
ramrod wanting. Evening surprised us in the middle of our preparations;
and as the shadows fell dark and thick, my lads began to look most
uncomfortably around them. At length they fairly struck work: there was
no use, they said, for being in the Devil's Cave so late--no use,
indeed, for being in it at all, until we were made sure the factor did
actually intend to imprison us; and, after delivering themselves to this
effect, they fairly bolted, leaving Finlay and myself to bring up the
rear at our leisure. My well-laid plan was, in short, found unworkable,
from the inferior quality of my materials. I returned home with a heavy
heart, somewhat grieved that I had not confided my scheme to only
Finlay, who could, I ascertained, do braver things, with all his
timidity, than the bolder boys, our occasional associates. And yet,
when, in passing homewards through the dark lonely woods of the Hill, I
bethought me of the still deeper solitude and gloom of the haunted cave
far below, and thought further, that at that very moment the mysterious
being with the cloven foot might be traversing its silent floor, I felt
my blood run cold, and at once leaped to the conclusion that, save for
the disgrace, a cave with an evil spirit in it could be not a great deal
better than a prison. Of the prison, however, we heard no more; though I
never forgot the grim but precious lesson read me by the factor's
threat; and from that time till the present--save now and then, by
inadvertently admitting into my newspaper a paragraph written in too
terse a style by some good man in the provinces, against some very bad
man his neighbour--I have not been fairly within wind of the law. I
would, however, seriously advise such of my young friends as may cast a
curious eye over these pages to avoid taking any such lesson as mine at
first-hand. One half-hour of the mental anguish which I at this time
experienced, when I thought of my mother and uncles, and the infamy of a
prison, would have vastly more than counterbalanced all that could have
been enjoyed from banqueting on apples, even had they been those of the
Hesperides or of Eden, instead of being, what they were in this case,
green masses of harsh acid, alike formidable to teeth and stomach. I
must add, in justice to my friend of the Doocot Cave, that, though an
occasional visitor at Marcus, he had prudently avoided getting into this
scrape.

Our long vacation came at length to an end, by the appointment of a
teacher to the subscription school; but the arrangement was not the most
profitable possible for the pupils. It was an ominous circumstance, that
we learned in a few days to designate the new master by a nickname, and
that the name stuck--a misfortune which almost never befalls the truly
superior man. He had, however, a certain dash of cleverness about him;
and observing that I was of potent influence among my school-fellows, he
set himself to determine the grounds on which my authority rested. Copy
and arithmetic books, in schools in which there was liberty, used in
those ancient times to be charged with curious revelations. In the
parish school, for instance, which excelled, as I have said, every other
school in the world in its knowledge of barques and carvels, it was not
uncommon to find a book which, when opened at the right end, presented
only copy-lines or arithmetical questions, that, when opened at the
wrong one, presented only ships and boats. And there were cases on
record in which, on the grand annual examination-day that heralded the
vacation, the worthy parish minister, by beginning to turn over the
leaves of some exhibited book at the reverse end, found himself engaged,
when expecting only the questions of Cocker, or the slip-lines of
Butterworth, amid whole fleets of smacks, frigates, and brigantines. My
new master, professionally acquainted with this secret property of
arithmetic and copy-books, laid hold of mine, and, bringing them to his
desk, found them charged with very extraordinary revelations indeed. The
blank spaces were occupied with deplorably scrabbled couplets and
stanzas, blent with occasional remarks in rude prose, that dealt chiefly
with natural phenomena. One note, for instance, which the master took
the trouble of deciphering, referred to the supposed _fact_, familiar as
a matter of sensation to boys located on the sea-coast, that during the
bathing season the water is warmer in windy days, when the waves break
high, than during dead calms; and accounted for it (I fear not very
philosophically) on the hypothesis that the "waves, by slapping against
each other, engender heat, as heat may be engendered by clapping the
hands." The master read on, evidently with much difficulty, and
apparently with considerable scepticism: he inferred that I had been
borrowing, not inventing: though where such prose and such verse could
have been borrowed, and, in especial, such grammar and such spelling,
even cleverer men than he might well have despaired of ever finding out.
And in order to test my powers, he proposed furnishing me with a theme
on which to write. "Let us see," he said, "let us see: the
dancing-school ball comes on here next week--bring me a poem on the
dancing-school ball." The subject did not promise a great deal; but,
setting myself to work in the evening, I produced half-a-dozen stanzas
on the ball, which were received as good, in evidence that I actually
could rhyme; and for some weeks after I was rather a favourite with the
new master.

I had, however, ere now become a wild insubordinate boy, and the only
school in which I could properly be taught was that world-wide school
which awaited me, in which Toil and Hardship are the severe but noble
teachers. I got into sad scrapes. Quarrelling, on one occasion, with a
boy of my own standing, we exchanged blows across the form; and when
called up for trial and punishment, the fault was found to attach so
equally to both sides, that the same number of _palmies_, well laid on,
were awarded to each. I bore mine, however, like a North American
Indian, whereas my antagonist began to howl and cry; and I could not
resist the temptation of saying to him in a whisper that unluckily
reached the ear of the master, "Ye big blubbering blockhead, take that
for a drubbing from me." I had of course to receive a few palmies
additional for the speech; but then, "who cared for that?" The master,
however, "cared" considerably more for the offence than I did for the
punishment. And in a subsequent quarrel with another boy--a stout and
somewhat desperate mulatto--I got into a worse scrape still, of which he
thought still worse. The mulatto, in his battles, which were many, had a
trick, when in danger of being over-matched, of drawing his knife; and
in our affair--the necessities of the fight seeming to require it--he
drew his knife upon me. To his horror and astonishment, however, instead
of running off, I immediately drew mine, and, quick as lightning,
stabbed him in the thigh. He roared out in fright and pain, and, though
more alarmed than hurt, never after drew knife upon a combatant. But the
value of the lesson which I gave was, like most other very valuable
things, inadequately appreciated; and it merely procured for me the
character of being a dangerous boy. I had certainly reached a dangerous
stage; but it was mainly myself that was in jeopardy. There is a
transition-time in which the strength and independence of the latent man
begin to mingle with the wilfulness and indiscretion of the mere boy,
which is more perilous than any other, in which many more downward
careers of recklessness and folly begin, that end in wreck and ruin,
than in all the other years of life which intervene between childhood
and old age. The growing lad should be wisely and tenderly dealt with at
this critical stage. The severity that would fain compel the implicit
submission yielded at an earlier period, would probably succeed, if his
character was a strong one, in insuring but his ruin. It is at this
transition-stage that boys run off to sea from parents and masters, or,
when tall enough, enlist in the army for soldiers. The strictly orthodox
parent, if more severe than wise, succeeds occasionally in driving,
during this crisis, his son into Popery or infidelity; and the sternly
moral one, in landing _his_ in utter profligacy. But, leniently and
judiciously dealt with, the dangerous period passes: in a few years at
most--in some instances in even a few months--the sobriety incidental to
a further development of character ensues, and the wild boy settles down
into a rational young man.

It so chanced, however, that in what proved the closing scene in my term
of school attendance, I was rather unfortunate than guilty. The class to
which I now belonged read an English lesson every afternoon, and had its
rounds of spelling; and in these last I acquitted myself but ill; partly
from the circumstance that I spelt only indifferently, but still more
from the further circumstance, that, retaining strongly fixed in my
memory the broad Scotch pronunciation acquired at the dames' school, I
had to carry on in my mind the double process of at once spelling the
required word, and of translating the old sounds of the letters of which
it was composed into the modern ones. Nor had I been taught to break the
words into syllables; and so, when required one evening to spell the
word "_awful_," with much deliberation--for I had to translate, as I
went on, the letters _a-w_ and _u_--I spelt it word for word, without
break or pause, as a-w-f-u-l. "No," said the master, "a-w, _aw_, f-u-l,
_awful_; spell again." This seemed preposterous spelling. It was
sticking in an _a_, as I thought, into the middle of the word, where, I
was sure, no _a_ had a right to be; and so I spelt it as at first. The
master recompensed my supposed contumacy with a sharp cut athwart the
ears with his tawse; and again demanding the spelling of the word, I yet
again spelt it as at first. But on receiving a second cut, I refused to
spell it any more; and, determined on overcoming my obstinacy, he laid
hold of me and attempted throwing me down. As wrestling, however, had
been one of our favourite Marcus' Cave exercises, and as few lads of my
inches wrestled better than I, the master, though a tall and tolerably
robust fellow, found the feat considerably more difficult than he could
have supposed. We swayed from side to side of the school-room, now
backwards, now forwards, and for a full minute it seemed to be rather a
moot point on which side the victory was to incline. At length, however,
I was tripped over a form; and as the master had to deal with me, not as
master usually deals with pupil, but as one combatant deals with
another, whom he has to beat into submission, I was mauled in a way that
filled me with aches and bruises for a full month thereafter. I greatly
fear that, had I met the fellow on a lonely road five years subsequent
to our encounter, when I had become strong enough to raise breast-high
the "great lifting stone of the Dropping Cave," he would have caught as
sound a thrashing as he ever gave to little boy or girl in his life; but
all I could do at this time was to take down my cap from off the pin,
when the affair had ended, and march straight out of school. And thus
terminated my school education. Before night I had avenged myself, in a
copy of satiric verses, entitled "The Pedagogue," which--as they had
some little cleverness in them, regarded as the work of a boy, and as
the known eccentricities of their subject gave me large
scope--occasioned a good deal of merriment in the place; and of the
verses a fair copy, written out by Finlay, was transmitted through the
Post-Office to the pedagogue himself. But the only notice he ever took
of them was incidentally, in a short speech made to the copyist a few
days after. "I _see_, Sir," he said,--"I _see_ you still associate with
that fellow Miller; perhaps he will make you a poet!" "I had thought,
Sir," said Finlay very quietly, in reply, "that poets were born--not
made."

As a specimen of the rhyme of this period, and as in some degree a
set-off against my drubbing, which remains till this day an unsettled
score, I submit my pasquinade to the reader:--


              THE PEDAGOGUE.

    With solemn mien and pious air,
      S--k--r attends each call of grace;
    Loud eloquence bedecks his prayer,
      And formal sanctity his face.

    All good; but turn the other side,
    And see the smirking beau displayed;
    The pompous strut, exalted air,
    And all that marks the fop, is there.

    In character we seldom see
    Traits so diverse meet and agree:
    Can the affected mincing trip,
    Exalted brow, and pride-pressed lip,
    In strange incongruous union meet,
    With all that stamps the hypocrite?
    We see they do: but let us scan
    Those secret springs which move the man.

    Though now he wields the knotty birch,
    His better hope lies in the Church:
    For this the sable robe he wears,
    For this in pious guise appears.
    But then, the weak will cannot hide
    Th' inherent vanity and pride;
    And thus he acts the coxcomb's part,
    As dearer to his poor vain heart:
    Nature's born fop! a saint by art!!
    But hold! he wears no fopling's dress
    Each seam, each thread, the eye can trace
    His garb all o'er;--the dye, though true,
    Time-blanch'd, displays a fainter hue:
    Dress forms the fopling's better part;
    Reconcile this, and prove your art.

    "Chill penury represses pride;"--
    A maxim by the wise denied;
    For 'tis alone tame plodding souls,
    Whose spirits bend when it controls,--
    Whose lives run on in one dull same,
    Plain honesty their highest aim.
    With him it merely can repress--
    Tailor o'er-cow'd--the pomp of dress;
    His spirit, unrepressed, can soar
    High as e'er folly rose before;
    Can fly pale study, learn'd debate,
    And ape proud fashion's idle state:
    Yet fails in that engaging grace
    That lights the practised courtier's face.
    His weak affected air we mark,
    And, smiling, view the would-be spark;
    Complete in every act and feature,--
    An ill-bred, silly, awkward creature.


My school-days fairly over, a life of toil frowned full in front of me;
but never yet was there a half-grown lad less willing to take up the man
and lay down the boy. My set of companions was fast breaking up;--my
friend of the Doocot Cave was on the eve of proceeding to an academy in
a neighbouring town; Finlay had received a call from the south, to
finish his education in a seminary on the banks of the Tweed; one
Marcus' Cave lad was preparing to go to sea; another to learn a trade; a
third to enter a shop; the time of dispersal was too evidently at hand;
and, taking counsel one day together, we resolved on constructing
something--we at first knew not what--that might serve as a monument to
recall to us in after years the memory of our early pastimes and
enjoyments. The common school-book story of the Persian shepherd, who,
when raised by his sovereign to high place in the empire, derived his
chief pleasure from contemplating, in a secret apartment, the pipe,
crook, and rude habiliments of his happier days, suggested to me that we
also should have our secret apartment, in which to store up, for future
contemplation, our bayonet and pistol, pot and pitcher; and I
recommended that we should set ourselves to dig a subterranean chamber
for that purpose among the woods of the Hill, accessible, like the
mysterious vaults of our story-books, by a trap-door. The proposal was
favourably received; and, selecting a solitary spot among the trees as a
proper site, and procuring spade and mattock, we began to dig.

Soon passing through the thin crust of vegetable mould, we found the red
boulder clay beneath exceedingly stiff and hard; but day after day saw
us perseveringly at work; and we succeeded in digging a huge square
pit, about six feet in length and breadth, and fully seven feet deep.
Fixing four upright posts in the corners, we lined our apartment with
slender spars nailed closely together; and we had prepared for giving it
a massive roof of beams formed of fallen trees, and strong enough to
bear a layer of earth and turf from a foot to a foot and a half in
depth, with a little opening for the trap-door; when we found, one
morning, on pressing onwards to the scene of our labours, that we were
doggedly tracked by a horde of boys considerably more numerous than our
own party. Their curiosity had been excited, like that of the Princess
Nekayah in Rasselas, by the tools which we carried, and by "seeing that
we had directed our walk every day to the same point;" and in vain, by
running and doubling, by scolding and remonstrating, did we now attempt
shaking them off. I saw that, were we to provoke a general _mélée_, we
could scarce expect to come off victors; but deeming myself fully a
match for their stoutest boy, I stepped out and challenged him to come
forward and fight me. He hesitated, looked foolish, and refused; but
said, he would readily fight with any of my party except myself. I
immediately named my friend of the Doocot Cave, who leaped out with a
bound to meet him; but the boy, as I had anticipated, refused to fight
him also; and, observing the proper effect produced, I ordered my lads
to march forward; and from an upper slope of the hill we had the
satisfaction of seeing that our pursuers, after lingering for a little
while on the spot on which we had left them, turned homewards, fairly
cowed, and pursued us no more. But, alas! on reaching our secret
chamber, we ascertained, by marks all too unequivocal, that it was to be
secret no longer. Some rude hand had torn down the wooden lining, and
cut two of the posts half through with a hatchet; and on returning
disconsolately to the town, we ascertained that Johnstone the forester
had just been there before us, declaring that some atrociously wicked
persons--for whose apprehension a proclamation was to be instantly
issued--had contrived a diabolical trap, which he had just discovered,
for maiming the cattle of the gentleman, his employer, who farmed the
Hill. Johnstone was an old Forty-Second man, who had followed Wellington
over the larger part of the Peninsula; but though he had witnessed the
storming and sack of San Sebastian, and a great many other bad things,
nothing had he ever seen on the Peninsula, or anywhere else, he said,
half so mischievous as the cattle-trap. We, of course, kept our own
secret; and as we all returned under the cloud of night, and with heavy
hearts filled up our excavation level with the soil, the threatened
proclamation was never issued. Johnstone, however--who had been watching
my motions for a considerable time before, and whom, as he was a
formidable fellow, very unlike any of the other foresters, I had been
sedulously watching in turn--had no hesitation in declaring that I, and
I only, could be the designer of the cattle-trap. I had acquainted
myself in books, he said, with the mode of entrapping by pitfalls wild
beasts in the forests abroad; and my trap for the Colonel's cattle was,
he was certain, a result of my book-acquired knowledge.

I was one day lounging in front of my mother's dwelling, when up came
Johnstone to address me. As the evidence regarding the excavation had
totally broken down, I was aware of no special offence at the time that
could have secured for me such a piece of attention, and inferred that
the old soldier was labouring under some mistake; but Johnstone's
address soon evinced that he was not in the least mistaken. "He wished
to be acquainted with me," he said. "It was all nonsense for us to be
bothering one another, when we had no cause to quarrel." He used
occasionally to eke out his pension, and his scanty allowance as
forester, by catching a basket of fish for himself from off the rocks of
the Hill; and he had just discovered a projecting rock at the foot of a
tall precipice, which would prove, he was sure, one of the best fishing
platforms in the Firth. But then, in the existing state, it was wholly
inaccessible. He was, however, of opinion, that it was possible to lay
it open by carrying a path adown the shelving face of the precipice. He
had seen Wellington address himself to quite as desperate-looking
matters in the Peninsula; and were I but to assist him, he was sure, he
said, we could construct between us the necessary path. The undertaking
was one wholly according to my own heart; and next morning Johnstone and
I were hard at work on the giddy brow of the precipice. It was topped by
a thick bed of boulder clay, itself--such was the steepness of the
slope--almost a precipice; but a series of deeply-cut steps led us
easily adown the bed of clay; and then a sloping shelf, which, with much
labour, we deepened and flattened, conducted us not unsafely some
five-and-twenty or thirty feet along the face of the precipice proper. A
second series of steps, painfully scooped out of the living rock, and
which passed within a few yards of a range of herons' nests perched on a
hitherto inaccessible platform, brought us down some five-and-twenty or
thirty feet more; but then we arrived at a sheer descent of about twenty
feet, at which Johnstone looked rather blank, though, on my suggesting a
ladder, he took heart again, and, cutting two slim taper trees in the
wood above, we flung them over the precipice into the sea; and then
fishing them up with a world of toil and trouble, we squared and bored
them upwards, and, cutting tenons for them in the hard gneiss, we placed
them against the rock front, and nailed over them a line of steps. The
precipice beneath sloped easily on to the fishing rock, and so a few
steps more completed our path. I never saw a man more delighted than
Johnstone. As being lighter and more active than he--for though not
greatly advanced in life, he was considerably debilitated by severe
wounds--I had to take some of the more perilous parts of the work on
myself. I had cut the tenons for the ladder with a rope round my waist,
and had recovered the trees flung into the sea by some adroit swimming;
and the old soldier became thoroughly impressed with the conviction that
my proper sphere was the army. I was already five feet three, he said;
in little more than a twelvemonth I would be five feet seven; and were I
then but to enlist, and to keep from the "drop drink"--a thing which he
never could do--I would, he was certain, rise to be a serjeant. In
brief, such were the terms on which Johnstone and I learned to live ever
after, that, had I constructed a _score_ of traps for the Colonel's
cattle, I believe he would have winked at them all. Poor fellow! he got
into difficulties a good many years after, and, on the accession of the
Whigs to power, mortgaged his pension, and emigrated to Canada. Deeming
the terms hard, however, as he well might, he first wrote a letter to
his old commander, the Duke of Wellington--I holding the pen for him--in
which, in the hope that their stringency might be relaxed in his behalf,
he stated both his services and his case. And promptly did the Duke
reply, in an essentially kind holograph epistle, in which, after stating
that he had no influence at the time with the Ministers of the Crown,
and no means of getting a relaxation of their terms in behalf of any
one, he "earnestly recommended William Johnstone, _first_, not to seek a
provision for himself in Canada, unless he were able-bodied, and fit to
provide for himself in circumstances of extreme hardship; and, _second_,
on no account to sell or mortgage his pension." But the advice was not
taken;--Johnstone did emigrate to Canada, and did mortgage his pension;
and I fear--though I failed to trace his after history--that he suffered
in consequence.



CHAPTER VIII.

    "Now, surely, thought I, there's enou
    To fill life's dusty way;
    And who will miss a poet's feet,
    Or wonder where he stray!
    So to the woods and wastes I'll go,
    And I will build an ozier bower;
    And sweetly there to me shall flow
    The meditative hour."--HENRY KIRKE WHITE.


Finlay was away; my friend of the Doocot Cave was away; my other
companions were all scattered abroad; my mother, after a long widowhood
of more than eleven years, had entered into a second marriage; and I
found myself standing face to face with a life of labour and restraint.
The prospect appeared dreary in the extreme. The necessity of ever
toiling from morning to night, and from one week's end to another, and
all for a little coarse food and homely raiment, seemed to be a dire
one; and fain would I have avoided it. But there was no escape; and so I
determined on being a mason. I remembered my Cousin George's long winter
holidays, and how delightfully he employed them; and, by making choice
of Cousin George's profession, I trusted to find, like him, large
compensation, in the amusements of one-half the year, for the toils of
the other half. Labour shall not wield over me, I said, a rod entirely
black, but a rod like one of Jacob's peeled wands, chequered white and
black alternately.

I however, did look, even at this time, notwithstanding the antecedents
of a sadly mis-spent boyhood, to something higher than mere amusement;
and, daring to believe that literature, and, mayhap, natural science,
were, after all, my proper vocations, I resolved that much of my leisure
time should be given to careful observation, and the study of our best
English authors. Both my uncles, especially James, were sorely vexed by
my determination to be a mason; they had expected to see me rising in
some one of the learned professions; yet here was I going to be a mere
operative mechanic, like one of themselves! I spent with them a serious
hour, in which they urged that, instead of entering as a mason's
apprentice, I should devote myself anew to my education. Though the
labour of their hands formed their only wealth, they would assist me,
they said, in getting through college; nay, if I preferred it, I might
meanwhile come and live with them: all they asked of me in return was
that I should give myself as sedulously to my lessons as, in the event
of my becoming a mason, I would have to give myself to my trade. I
demurred. The lads of my acquaintance, who were preparing for college
had an eye, I said, to some profession; they were qualifying themselves
to be lawyers, or medical men, or, in much larger part, were studying
for the Church; whereas I had no wish, and no peculiar fitness to be
either lawyer or doctor; and as for the Church, that was too serious a
direction to look in for one's bread, unless one could honestly regard
one's-self as _called_ to the Church's proper work; and I could not.
There, said my uncles, you are perfectly right: better be a poor
mason--better be anything honest, however humble--than an _uncalled_
minister. How very strong the hold taken of the mind in some cases by
hereditary convictions of which the ordinary conduct shows little
apparent trace! I had for the last few years been a wild boy--not
without my share of respect for Donald Roy's religion, but possessed of
none of Donald's seriousness; and yet here was his belief in this
special matter lying so strongly entrenched in the recesses of my mind,
that no consideration whatever could have induced me to outrage it by
obtruding my unworthiness on the Church. Though, mayhap, overstrained
in many of its older forms, I fain wish the conviction, in at least some
of its better modifications, were more general now. It might be well for
all the Protestant Churches practically to hold, with Uncles James and
Sandy, that true ministers cannot be manufactured out of ordinary
men--men ordinary in talent and character--in a given number of years,
and then passed by the imposition of hands into the sacred office; but
that, on the contrary, ministers, when real, are all special creations
of the grace of God. I may add, that in a belief of this kind, deeply
implanted in the popular mind of Scotland, the strength of our recent
Church controversy mainly lay.

Slowly and unwillingly my uncles at length consented that I should make
trial of a life of manual labour. The husband of one of my maternal
aunts was a mason, who, contracting for jobs on a small scale, usually
kept an apprentice or two, and employed a few journeymen. With him I
agreed to serve for the term of three years; and, getting a suit of
strong moleskin clothes, and a pair of heavy hob-nailed shoes, I waited
only for the breaking up of the winter frosts, to begin work in the
Cromarty quarries--jobbing masters in the north of Scotland usually
combining the profession of the quarrier with that of the mason. In the
beautiful poetic fragment from which I have chosen my motto, poor Kirke
White fondly indulges in the dream of a hermit life--quiet, meditative,
solitary, spent far away in deep woods, or amid wide-spread wastes,
where the very sounds that arose would be but the faint echoes of a
loneliness in which man was not--a "voice of the desert, never dumb."
The dream is that of a certain brief period of life between boyhood and
comparatively mature youth; and we find more traces of it in the poetry
of Kirke White than in that of almost any other poet; simply because he
wrote at the age in which it is natural to indulge in it, and because,
being less an imitator, and more original, than most juvenile poets, he
gave it as portion of the internal experience from which he drew. But
it is a dream not restricted to young poets: the ignorant, half-grown
lad, who learns, for the first time, "about the great rich gentleman who
advertises for a hermit," and wishes that he had but the necessary
qualification of beard to offer himself as a candidate, indulges in it
also; and I, too, in this transition stage, cherished it with all the
strength of a passion. It seems to spring out of a latent timidity in
the yet undeveloped mind, that shrinks from grappling with the stern
realities of life, amid the crowd and press of the busy world, and
o'ershaded by the formidable competition of men already practised in the
struggle. I have still before me the picture of the "lodge in some vast
wilderness" to which I could have fain retired, to lead all alone a life
quieter, but quite as wild, as my Marcus' Cave one; and the snugness and
comfort of the humble interior of my hermitage, during some boisterous
night of winter, when the gusty wind would be howling around the roof,
and the rain beating on the casement, but when, in the calm within, the
cheerful flame would roar in the chimney, and glance bright on rafter
and wall, still impress me as if the recollection were in reality that
of a scene witnessed, not of a mere vision conjured up by the fancy. But
it was all the idle dream of a truant lad, who would fain now, as on
former occasions, have avoided going to school--that best and noblest of
all schools, save the Christian one, in which honest Labour is the
teacher--in which the ability of being useful is imparted, and the
spirit of independence communicated, and the habit of persevering effort
acquired; and which is more moral than the schools in which only
philosophy is taught, and greatly more happy than the schools which
profess to teach only the art of enjoyment. Noble, upright, self-relying
Toil! Who that knows thy solid worth and value would be ashamed of thy
hard hands, and thy soiled vestments, and thy obscure tasks--thy humble
cottage, and hard couch, and homely fare! Save for thee and thy lessons,
man in society would everywhere sink into a sad compound of the fiend
and the wild beast; and this fallen world would be as certainly a moral
as a natural wilderness. But I little thought of the excellence of thy
character and of thy teachings, when, with a heavy heart, I set out
about this time, on a morning of early spring, to take my first lesson
from thee in a sandstone quarry.

I have elsewhere recorded the history of my few first days of toil; but
it is possible for two histories, of the same period and individual, to
be at once true to fact, and unlike each other in the scenes which they
describe, and the events which they record. The quarry in which I
commenced my life of labour was, as I have said, a sandstone one, and
exhibited in the section of the furze-covered bank which it presented, a
bar of deep red stone beneath, and a bar of pale red clay above. Both
deposits belonged to formations equally unknown, at the time, to the
geologist. The deep-red stone formed part of an upper member of the
Lower Old Red Sandstone; the pale red clay, which was much roughened by
rounded pebbles, and much cracked and fissured by the recent frosts, was
a bed of the boulder clay. Save for the wholesome restraint that
confined me for day after day to this spot, I should perhaps have paid
little attention to either. Mineralogy, in its first rudiments, had
early awakened my curiosity, just as it never fails to awaken, with its
gems and its metals, and its hard glittering rocks, of which tools may
be made, the curiosity of infant tribes and nations. But in unsightly
masses of mechanical origin, whether sandstone or clay, I could take no
interest; just as infant societies take no interest in such masses, and
so fail to know anything of geology; and it was not until I had learned
to detect among the ancient sandstone strata of this quarry exactly the
same phenomena as those which I used to witness in my walks with Uncle
Sandy in the ebb, that I was fairly excited to examine and inquire. It
was the necessity which made me a quarrier that taught me to be a
geologist. Further, I soon found that there was much to be enjoyed in a
life of labour. A taste for the beauties of natural scenery is of itself
a never-failing spring of delight; and there was scarce a day in which I
wrought in the open air, during this period, in which I did not
experience its soothing and exhilarating influence. Well has it been
said by the poet Keats, that "a thing of beauty is a joy for ever." I
owed much to the upper reaches of the Cromarty Firth, as seen, when we
sat down to our mid-day meal, from the gorge of the quarry, with their
numerous rippling currents, that, in the calm, resembled streamlets
winding through a meadow, and their distant grey promontories tipped
with villages that brightened in the sunshine; while, pale in the
background, the mighty hills, still streaked with snow, rose high over
bay and promontory, and gave dignity and power to the scene.

Still, however, with all my enjoyments, I had to suffer some of the
evils of excessive toil. Though now seventeen, I was still seven inches
short of my ultimate stature; and my frame, cast more at the time in the
mould of my mother than in that of the robust sailor, whose "back,"
according to the description of one of his comrades, "no one had ever
put to the ground," was slim and loosely knit; and I used to suffer much
from wandering pains in the joints, and an oppressive feeling about the
chest, as if crushed by some great weight. I became subject, too, to
frequent fits of extreme depression of spirits, which took almost the
form of a walking sleep--results, I believe, of excessive fatigue--and
during which my absence of mind was so extreme, that I lacked the
ability of protecting myself against accident, in cases the most simple
and ordinary. Besides other injuries, I lost at different times during
the first few months of my apprenticeship, when in these fits of partial
somnambulism, no fewer than seven of my finger-nails. But as I gathered
strength, my spirits became more equable; and not until many years
after, when my health failed for a time under over-exertion of another
kind, had I any renewed experience of the fits of walking sleep.

My master, an elderly man at the time--for, as he used not unfrequently
to tell his apprentices, he had been born on the same day and year as
George the Fourth, and so we could celebrate, if we pleased, both
birthdays together--was a person of plodding, persevering industry, who
wrought rather longer hours than was quite agreeable to one who wished
to have some time to himself; but he was, in the main, a good master. As
a builder, he made conscience of every stone he laid. It was remarked in
the place, that the walls built by Uncle David never bulged or fell; and
no apprentice or journeyman of his was permitted, on any plea, to make
"slight wark." Though by no means a bold or daring man, he was, from
sheer abstraction, when engrossed in his employment, more thoroughly
insensible to personal danger than almost any other individual I ever
knew. On one occasion, when an overloaded boat, in which he was carrying
stones from the quarry to the neighbouring town, was overtaken by a
series of rippling seas, and suddenly sank, leaving him standing on one
of the thwarts submerged to the throat, he merely said to his partner,
on seeing his favourite snuff-mull go floating past, "Od, Andro man,
just rax out your han' and tak' in my snuff-box." On another, when a
huge mass of the boulder clay came toppling down upon us in the quarry
with such momentum, that it bent a massive iron lever like a bow, and
crushed into minute fragments a strong wheelbarrow, Uncle David, who,
older and less active than any of the others, had been entangled in the
formidable debris, relieved all our minds by remarking, as we rushed
back, expecting to find him crushed as flat as a botanical preparation,
"Od, I draid, Andro man, we have lost our good barrow." He was at first
of opinion that I would do him little credit as a workman: in my absent
fits I was well-nigh as impervious to instruction as he himself was
insensible to danger; and I laboured under the further disadvantage of
knowing a little, as an amateur, of both hewing and building, from the
circumstance, that when the undertakings of my schoolboy days involved,
as they sometimes did, the erection of a house, I used always to be
selected as the mason of the party. And all that I had learned on these
occasions I had now to unlearn. In the course of a few months, however,
I did unlearn it all; and then, acquiring in less than a fortnight a
very considerable mastery over the mallet--for mine was one of the not
unfrequent cases in which the mechanical knock seems, after many an
abortive attempt, to be caught up at once--I astonished Uncle David one
morning by setting myself to compete with him, and by hewing nearly two
feet of pavement for his one. And on this occasion my aunt, his wife,
who had been no stranger to his previous complaints, was informed that
her "stupid nephew" was to turn out "a grand workman after all."

A life of toil has, however, its peculiar temptations. When overwrought,
and in my depressed moods, I learned to regard the ardent spirits of the
dram-shop as high luxuries: they gave lightness and energy to both body
and mind, and substituted for a state of dulness and gloom, one of
exhilaration and enjoyment. Usquebaugh was simply happiness doled out by
the glass, and sold by the gill. The drinking usages of the profession
in which I laboured were at this time many: when a foundation was laid,
the workmen were treated to drink; they were treated to drink when the
walls were levelled for laying the joists; they were treated to drink
when the building was finished; they were treated to drink when an
apprentice joined the squad; treated to drink when his "apron was
washed;" treated to drink when "his time was out;" and occasionally they
learned to treat one another to drink. In laying down the
foundation-stone of one of the larger houses built this year by Uncle
David and his partner, the workmen had a royal "founding-pint," and two
whole glasses of the whisky came to my share. A full-grown man would
not have deemed a gill of usquebaugh an overdose, but it was
considerably too much for me; and when the party broke up, and I got
home to my books, I found, as I opened the pages of a favourite author,
the letters dancing before my eyes, and that I could no longer master
the sense. I have the volume at present before me--a small edition of
the Essays of Bacon, a good deal worn at the corners by the friction of
the pocket; for of Bacon I never tired. The condition into which I had
brought myself was, I felt, one of degradation. I had sunk, by my own
act, for the time, to a lower level of intelligence than that on which
it was my privilege to be placed; and though the state could have been
no very favourable one for forming a resolution, I in that hour
determined that I should never again sacrifice my capacity of
intellectual enjoyment to a drinking usage; and, with God's help, I was
enabled to hold by the determination. Though never a strict abstainer, I
have wrought as an operative mason for whole twelvemonths together, in
which I did not consume half-a-dozen glasses of ardent spirits, or
partake of half-a-dozen draughts of fermented liquor. But I do see, in
looking back on this my first year of labour, a dangerous point, at
which, in the attempt to escape from the sense of depression and
fatigue, the craving appetite of the confirmed tippler might have been
formed.

The ordinary, long-wrought quarries of my native town have been opened
in the old coast-line along the southern shores of the Cromarty Firth,
and they contain no organisms. The beds occasionally display their
water-rippled surfaces, and occasionally their areas of ancient
desiccation, in which the polygonal partings still remain as when they
had cracked in the drying, untold ages before. But the rock contains
neither fish nor shell; and the mere mechanical processes of which it
gave evidence, though they served to raise strange questions in my mind,
failed to interest me so deeply as the wonderful organisms of other
creations would have done. We soon quitted these quarries, however, as
they proved more than usually difficult in the working at this time, for
a quarry situated on the northern shore of the Moray Firth, which had
been recently opened in an inferior member of the Lower Old Red
Sandstone, and which, as I subsequently ascertained, does in some of its
beds contain fossils. It was, however, not to the quarry itself that my
first-found organisms belonged. There lies in the Firth beyond, an
outlier of the Lias, which, like the Marcus' Cave one referred to in a
preceding chapter, strews the beach with its fragments after every storm
from the sea; and in a nodular mass of bluish-grey limestone derived
from this subaqueous bed I laid open my first-found ammonite. It was a
beautiful specimen, graceful in its curves as those of the Ionic volute,
and greatly more delicate in its sculpturing; and its bright
cream-coloured tint, dimly burnished by the prismatic hues of the
original pearl, contrasted exquisitely with the dark grey of the matrix
which enclosed it. I broke open many a similar nodule during our stay at
this delightful quarry, and there were few of them in which I did not
detect some organism of the ancient world--scales of fishes, groups of
shells, bits of decayed wood, and fragments of fern. At the dinner hour
I used to show my new-found specimens to the workmen; but though they
always took the trouble of looking at them, and wondered at times how
the shells and plants had "got into the stones," they seemed to regard
them as a sort of natural toys, which a mere lad might amuse himself in
looking after, but which were rather below the notice of grown-up people
like themselves. One workman, however, informed me, that things of a
kind I had not yet found--genuine thunderbolts--which in his father's
times were much sought for the cure of bewitched cattle--were to be
found in tolerable abundance on a reach of the beach about two miles
further to the west; and as, on quitting the quarry for the piece of
work on which we were to be next engaged, Uncle David gave us all a
half-holiday, I made use of it in visiting the tract of shore indicated
by the workman. And there, leaning against the granitic gneiss and
hornblend slate of the Hill of Eathie, I found a Liassic deposit,
amazingly rich in its organisms--not buried under the waves, as at
Marcus' shore, or as opposite our new quarry, but at one part underlying
a little grass-covered plain, and at another exposed for several hundred
yards together along the shore. Never yet did embryo geologist break
ground on a more promising field; and memorable in my existence was this
first of the many happy evenings that I have spent in exploring it.

The Hill of Eathie, like the Cromarty Sutors, belongs, as I have already
had occasion to mention, to what De Beaumont would term the Ben Nevis
system of hills--that latest of our Scottish mountain systems which,
running from south-west to north-east, in the line of the great
Caledonian valley, and in that of the valleys of the Nairn, Findhorn,
and Spey, uptilted in its course, when it arose, the Oolites of
Sutherland, and the Lias of Cromarty and Ross. The deposit which the
Hill of Eathie disturbed is exclusively a Liassic one. The upturned base
of the formation rests immediately against the Hill; and we may trace
the edges of the various overlying beds for several hundred feet
outwards, until, apparently near the top of the deposit, we lose them in
the sea. The various beds--all save the lowest, which consists of a blue
adhesive clay--are composed of a dark shale, consisting of
easily-separable laminæ, thin as sheets of pasteboard; and they are
curiously divided from each other by bands of fossiliferous limestone of
but from one to two feet thick. These Liassic beds, with their
separating bands, are a sort of boarded books; for as a series of
volumes reclining against a granite pedestal in the geologic library of
nature, I used to find pleasure in regarding them. The limestone bands,
elaborately marbled with lignite, ichthyolite, and shell, form the stiff
boarding; the pasteboard-like laminæ between--tens and hundreds of
thousands in number in even the slimmer volumes--compose the
closely-written leaves. I say closely written; for never yet did signs
or characters lie closer on page or scroll than do the organisms of the
Lias on the surface of these leaf-like laminæ. I can scarce hope to
communicate to the reader, after the lapse of so many years, an adequate
idea of the feeling of wonder which the marvels of this deposit excited
in my mind, wholly new as they were to me at the time. Even the fairy
lore of my first-formed library--that of the birchen box--had impressed
me less. The general tone of the colouring of these written leaves,
though dimmed by the action of untold centuries, is still very striking.
The ground is invariably of a deep neutral grey, verging on black; while
the flattened organisms, which present about the same degree of relief
as one sees in the figures of an embossed card, contrast with it in
tints that vary from opaque to silvery white, and from pale yellow to an
umbry or chestnut brown. Groups of ammonites appear as if drawn in white
chalk; clusters of a minute undescribed bivalve are still plated with
thin films of the silvery nacre; the mytilaceæ usually bear a warm tint
of yellowish brown, and must have been brilliant shells in their day;
gryphites and oysters are always of a dark grey, and plagiostomæ
ordinarily of a bluish or neutral tint. On some of the leaves curious
pieces of incident seem recorded. We see fleets of minute terebratulæ,
that appear to have been covered up by some sudden deposit from above,
when riding at their anchors; and whole argosies of ammonites, that
seemed to have been wrecked at once by some untoward accident, and sent
crushed and dead to the bottom. Assemblages of bright black plates, that
shine like pieces of Japan work, with numerous parallelogrammical scales
bristling with nail-like points, indicate where some armed fish of the
old ganoid order lay down and died; and groups of belemnites, that lie
like heaps of boarding-pikes thrown carelessly on a vessel's deck on the
surrender of the crew, tell where _skulls_ of cuttle-fishes of the
ancient type had ceased to trouble the waters. I need scarce add, that
these spear-like belemnites formed the supposed thunderbolts of the
deposit. Lying athwart some of the pages thus strangely inscribed we
occasionally find, like the dark hawthorn leaf in Bewick's well-known
vignette, slim-shaped leaves coloured in deep umber; and branches of
extinct pines, and fragments of strangely-fashioned ferns, form their
more ordinary garnishing. Page after page, for tens and hundreds of feet
together, repeat the same wonderful story. The great Alexandrian
library, with its tomes of ancient literature, the accumulation of long
ages, was but a meagre collection--not less puny in bulk than recent in
date--compared with this marvellous library of the Scotch Lias.

Who, after once spending even a few hours in such a school, could avoid
being a geologist? I had formerly found much pleasure among rocks and in
caves; but it was the wonders of the Eathie Lias that first gave
direction and aim to my curiosity. From being a mere child, that had
sought amusement in looking over the _pictures_ of the stony volume of
nature, I henceforth became a sober student desirous of reading and
knowing it as a book. The extreme beauty, however, of the Liassic
fossils made me pass over at this time, as of little interest, a
discovery which, if duly followed up, would have probably landed me full
in the midst of the Old Red Sandstone ichthyolites fully ten years ere I
learned to know them. In forming a temporary harbour, at which we boated
the stones we had been quarrying, I struck my pick into a slaty
sandstone bed, thickly mottled in the layers by carbonaceous markings.
They consisted, I saw, of thin rectilinear stems or leaves, much broken
and in a bad state of keeping, that at once suggested to me layers of
comminuted _Zostera marina_, such as I had often seen on the Cromarty
beach thrown up from the submarine meadows of the Firth beyond. But
then, with magnificent ammonites and belemnites, and large well-marked
lignites, to be had in abundance at Eathie just for the laying open and
the picking up, how could I think of giving myself to disinter what
seemed to be mere broken fragments of _Zostera_? Within, however, a few
feet of these carbonaceous markings there occurred one of those
platforms of violent death for which the Old Red Sandstone is so
remarkable--a platform strewed over with fossil remains of the firstborn
ganoids of creation, many of which still bore in their contorted
outlines evidence of sudden dissolution and the dying pang.

During the winter of this year--for winter at length came, and, my
labours over, three happy months were all my own--I had an opportunity
of seeing, deep in a wild Highland glen, the remains of one of our old
Scotch forests of the native pine. My cousin George, finding his pretty
Highland cottage on the birch-covered tomhan situated too far from his
ordinary scenes of employment, had removed to Cromarty; and when his
work had this year come to a close for the season, he made use of his
first leisure in visiting his father-in-law, an aged shepherd who
resided in the upper recesses of Strathcarron. He had invited me to
accompany him; and of the invitation I gladly availed myself. We struck
across the tract of wild hills which intervenes between the Cromarty and
Dornoch Firths, a few miles to the west of the village of Invergordon;
and after spending several hours in toiling across dreary moors,
unopened at the time by any public road, we took our noon-day
refreshment in an uninhabited valley, among broken cottage walls, with a
few furrowed patches stretching out around us, green amid the waste. One
of the best swordsmen in Ross had once lived there; but both he and his
race had been lost to Scotland in consequence of the compelled
emigration so common in the Highlands during the last two ages; and
Cousin George came strongly out against the lairds. The chill winter
night had fallen on the dark hills and alder-skirted river of
Strathcarron, as, turning from off the road that winds along the Kyle of
Dornoch, we entered its bleak gorge; and as the shepherd's dwelling lay
high up the valley, where the lofty sides approach so near, and rise so
abruptly, that for the whole winter quarter the sun never falls on the
stream below, we had still some ten or twelve miles of broken road
before us. The moon, in her first quarter, hung on the edge of the
hills, dimly revealing their rough outline; while in a recess of the
stream, far beneath, we could see the torch of some adventurous fisher,
now gleaming red on rock and water, now suddenly disappearing, eclipsed
by the overhanging brushwood. It was late ere we reached the shepherd's
cottage--a dark-raftered, dimly-lighted erection of turf and stone. The
weather for several weeks before had been rainy and close, and the
flocks of the inmate had been thinned by the common scourge of the
sheep-farmer at such seasons on damp, boggy farms. The beams were laden
with skins besmeared with blood, that dangled overhead to catch the
conservative influences of the smoke; and on a rude plank-table below,
there rose two tall pyramids of braxy-mutton, heaped up each on a
corn-riddle. The shepherd--a Highlander of large proportions, but hard,
and thin, and worn by the cares and toils of at least sixty winters--sat
moodily beside the fire. The state of his flocks was not cheering; and,
besides, he had seen a vision of late, he said, that filled his mind
with strange forebodings. He had gone out after nightfall on the
previous evening to a dank hollow, in which many of his flock had died.
The rain had ceased a few hours before, and a smart frost had set in,
and filled the whole valley with a wreath of silvery vapour, dimly
lighted by the thin fragment of a moon that appeared as if resting on
the hill-top. The wreath stretched out its grey folds beneath him--for
he had climbed half-way up the acclivity--when suddenly the figure of a
man, formed as of heated metal--the figure of what seemed to be a brazen
man brought to a red heat in a furnace--sprang up out of the darkness;
and, after stalking over the surface of the fog for a few brief seconds,
during which, however, it had traversed the greater part of the valley,
it as suddenly disappeared, leaving an evanescent trail of flame behind
it. There could be little doubt that the old shepherd had merely seen
one of those shooting lights that in mountain districts so frequently
startle the night traveller; but the apparition now filled his whole
mind, as one vouchsafed from the spiritual world, and of strange and
frightful portent:--


    "A meteor of the night of distant years,
    That flashed unnoticed, save by wrinkled eld,
    Musing at midnight upon prophecies."


I spent the greater part of the following day with my cousin in the
forest of Corrybhalgan, and saw two large herds of red deer on the
hills. The forest was but a shred of its former self; but the venerable
trees still rose thick and tall in some of the more inaccessible
hollows; and it was interesting to mark, where they encroached furthest
on the open waste, how thoroughly they lost the ordinary character of
the Scotch fir, and how, sending out from their short gnarled boles
immense branches, some two or three feet over the soil, they somewhat
resembled in their squat, dense proportions, and rounded contours,
gigantic bee-hives. It was of itself worth while undertaking a journey
to the Highlands, to witness these last remains of that arboreous
condition of our country to which the youngest of our geological
formations, the Peat Mosses, bear such significant witness; and which
still, largely existing as the condition of the northern countries of
continental Europe, "remains to attest," as Humboldt well remarks, "more
than even the records of history, the youthfulness of our civilisation."
I revisited at this time, before returning home, the Barony of Gruids;
but winter had not improved it: its humble features, divested of their
summer complexion, had assumed an expression of blank wretchedness; and
hundreds of its people, appalled at the time by a summons of ejection,
looked quite as depressed and miserable as its scenery.

Finlay and my friend of the Doocot Cave were no longer within reach;
but during this winter I was much in the company of a young man about
five years my senior, who was of the true stuff of which friends are
made, and to whom I became much attached. I had formed some acquaintance
with him about five years before, on his coming to the place from the
neighbouring parish of Nigg, to be apprenticed to a house-painter, who
lived a few doors from my mother's. But there was at first too great a
disparity between us for friendship; he was a tall lad, and I a wild
boy; and, though occasionally admitted into his sanctum--a damp little
room in an outhouse in which he slept, and in his leisure hours made
water-colour drawings and verses--it was but as an occasional visitor,
who, having a rude taste for literature and the fine arts, was just
worthy of being encouraged in this way. My year of toil had, however,
wrought wonders for me: it had converted me into a sober young man; and
William Ross now seemed to find scarce less pleasure in my company than
I did in his. Poor William! his name must be wholly unfamiliar to the
reader; and yet he had that in him which ought to have made it a known
one. He was a lad of genius--drew truthfully, had a nice sense of the
beautiful, and possessed the true poetic faculty; but he lacked health
and spirits, and was naturally of a melancholy temperament, and
diffident of himself. He was at this time a thin, pale lad, fair-haired,
with a clear waxen complexion, flat chest, and stooping figure; and
though he lasted considerably longer than could have been anticipated
from his appearance, in seven years after he was in his grave. He was
unfortunate in his parents; his mother, though of a devout family of the
old Scottish type, was an aberrant specimen;--she had fallen in early
youth, and had subsequently married an ignorant, half-imbecile labourer,
with whom she passed a life of poverty and unhappiness; and of this
unpromising marriage William was the eldest child. It was certainly not
from either parent he derived his genius. His maternal grandmother and
aunt were, however, excellent Christian women of superior intelligence,
who supported themselves by keeping a girls' school in the parish; and
William, who had been brought at an early age to live with them, and was
naturally a gentle-spirited, docile boy, had the advantage, in
consequence, of having that most important lesson of any education--the
lesson of a good example at home--set well before him. His boyhood had
been that of the poet: he had loved to indulge in his day-dreams in the
solitude of a deep wood beside his grandmother's cottage; and had
learned to write verses and draw landscapes in a rural locality in which
no one had ever written verses or drawn landscapes before. And finally,
as, in the north of Scotland, in those primitive times, the nearest
approach to an artist was a house-painter, William was despatched to
Cromarty, when he had grown tall enough for the work, to cultivate his
natural taste for the fine arts, in papering rooms and lobbies, and in
painting railings and wheel-barrows. There are, I believe, a few
instances on record of house-painters rising to be artists: the history
of the late Mr. William Bonnar, of the Royal Academy of Edinburgh,
furnishes one of these; but the fact that the cases are not more
numerous serves, I fear, to show how much oftener a turn for drawing is
a merely imitative, than an original, self-derived faculty. Almost all
the apprentices of our neighbour the house-painter had their turn for
drawing decided enough to influence their choice of a profession; and
what was so repeatedly the case in Cromarty must, I should think, have
been the case in many similar places; but of how few of these embryo
limners have the works appeared in even a provincial exhibition-room!

At the time my intimacy with William became most close, both his
grandmother and aunt were dead, and he was struggling with great
difficulty through the last year of his apprenticeship. As his master
supplied him with but food and lodging, his linen was becoming scant,
and his Sabbath suit shabby; and he was looking forward to the time
when he should be at liberty to work for himself, with all the anxiety
of the voyager who fears that his meagre stock of provisions and water
may wholly fail him ere he reaches port. I of course could not assist
him. I was an apprentice like himself, and had not the command of a
sixpence; nor, had the case been otherwise, would he in all probability
have consented to accept of my help; but he lacked spirits as much as
money, and in that particular my society did him good. We used to beat
over all manner of subjects together, especially poetry and the fine
arts; and though we often differed, our differences served only to knit
us the more. He, for instance, deemed the "Minstrel" of Beattie the most
perfect of English poems; but though he liked Dryden's "Virgil" well
enough, he could find no poetry whatever in the "Absalom and Ahithophel"
of Dry den; whereas I liked both the "Minstrel" and the "Ahithophel,"
and, indeed, could hardly say, unlike as they were in complexion and
character, which of the two I read oftenest or admired most. Again,
among the prose writers, Addison was his especial favourite, and Swift
he detested; whereas I liked Addison and Swift almost equally well, and
passed without sense of incongruity, from the Vision of Mirza, or the
paper on Westminster Abbey, to the true account of the death of
Partridge, or the Tale of a Tub. If, however, he could wonder at the
latitudinarian laxity of my taste, there was at least one special
department in which I could marvel quite as much at the incomprehensible
breadth of his. Nature had given me, in despite of the phrenologists,
who find music indicated by two large protuberances on the corners of my
forehead, a deplorably defective ear. My uncle Sandy, who was profoundly
skilled in psalmody, had done his best to make a singer of me; but he
was at length content to stop short, after a world of effort, when he
had, as he thought, brought me to distinguish St. George's from any
other psalm-tune. On the introduction, however, of a second tune into
the parish church that repeated the line at the end of the stanza, even
this poor fragment of ability deserted me; and to this day--though I
rather like the strains of the bagpipe in general, and have no objection
to drums in particular--doubts do occasionally come across me whether
there be in reality any such thing as tune. My friend William Ross was,
on the contrary, a born musician. When a little boy, he had constructed
for himself a fife and clarionet of young shoots of elder, on which he
succeeded in discoursing sweet music; and addressing himself at another
and later period to both the principles and practice of the science, he
became one of the best flute-players in the district. Notwithstanding my
dulness of ear, I do cherish a pleasing recollection of the sweet sounds
that used to issue from his little room in the outhouse, every milder
evening as I approached, and of the soothed and tranquil state in which
I ever found him on these occasions as I entered. I could not understand
his music, but I saw that, mentally at least, though, I fear, not
physically--for the respiratory organs were weak--it did him great good.

There was, however, one special province in which our tastes thoroughly
harmonized. We were both of us, if not alike favoured, at least equally
devoted, lovers of the wild and beautiful in nature; and many a
moonlight walk did we take together this winter among the woods and
rocks of the hill. It was once said of Thomson, by one who was himself
not at all morbidly poetic in his feelings, that "he could not have
viewed two candles burning but with a poetical eye." It might at least
be said of my friend, that he never saw a piece of fine or striking
scenery without being deeply moved by it. As for the mere candles, if
placed on a deal dresser or shop-counter, they might have failed to
touch him; but if burning in some _lyke_-wake beside the dead, or in
some vaulted crypt or lonely rock-cave, he also could not have looked
other than poetically on them. I have seen him awed into deep solemnity,
in our walks, by the rising moon, as it peered down upon us over the
hill, red and broad, and cloud-encircled, through the interstices of
some clump of dark firs; and have observed him become suddenly silent,
as, emerging from the moonlight woods, we looked into a rugged dell, and
saw far beneath, the slim rippling streamlet gleaming in the light, like
a narrow strip of the aurora borealis shot athwart a dark sky, when the
steep rough sides of the ravine, on either hand, were enveloped in
gloom. My friend's opportunities of general reading had not been equal
to my own, but he was acquainted with at least one class of books of
which I knew scarce anything;--he had carefully studied Hogarth's
"Analysis of Beauty," Fresnoy's "Art of Painting," Gessner's "Letters,"
the "Lectures of Sir Joshua Reynolds," and several other works of a
similar kind; and in all the questions of criticism that related to
external form, the effects of light and shade, and the influences of the
meteoric media, I found him a high authority. He had a fine eye for
detecting the peculiar features which gave individuality and character
to a landscape--those features, as he used to say, which the artist or
poet should seize and render prominent, while, at the same time, lest
they should be lost as in a mob, he softened down the others; and,
recognising him as a master in this department of characteristic
selection, I delighted to learn in his school--by far the best of its
kind I ever attended. I was able, however, in part to repay him, by
introducing him to many an interesting spot among the rocks, or to
retired dells and hollows in the woods, which, from his sedentary
habits, he would scarce ever have discovered for himself. I taught him
too, to light fires after nightfall in the caves, that we might watch
the effects of the strong lights and deep shadows in scenes so wild; and
I still vividly remember the delight he experienced, when, after
kindling up in the day-time a strong blaze at the mouth of the Doocot
Cave, which filled the recess within with smoke, we forced our way
inwards through the cloud, to mark the appearance of the sea and the
opposite land seen through a medium so dense, and saw, on turning round,
the landscape strangely enwrapped "in the dun hues of earthquake and
eclipse." We have visited, after nightfall, the glades of the
surrounding woods together, to listen to the night breeze, as it swept
sullenly along the pine-tops; and, after striking a light in the old
burial vault of a solitary churchyard, we have watched the ray falling
on the fissured walls and ropy damp and mould; or, on setting on fire a
few withered leaves, have seen the smoke curling slowly upwards, through
a square opening in the roof, into the dark sky. William's mind was not
of the scientific cast. He had, however, acquired some knowledge of the
mathematics, and some skill both in architecture and in the anatomy of
the human skeleton and muscles; while of perspective he perhaps knew
well-nigh as much as was known at the time. I remember he preferred the
Treatise on this art, of Ferguson the astronomer and mechanician, to any
other; and used to say that the twenty years spent by the philosopher as
a painter were fully redeemed, though they had produced no good
pictures, by his little work on Perspective alone. My friend had ere
this time given up the writing of verses very much, because he had
learned to know what verses ought to be, and failed to satisfy himself
with his own; and ere his death, I saw him resign in succession his
flute and pencil, and yield up all the hopes he had once cherished of
being known. But his weak health affected his spirits, and prostrated
the energies of a mind originally rather delicate than strong.



CHAPTER IX.

    "Others apart sat on a hill retired,
    In thoughts more elevate; and reasoned high
    Of Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate--
    Fixed fate, freewill, foreknowledge absolute;
    And found no end, in wandering mazes lost."--MILTON.


Spring came on, and brought with it its round of labour--quarrying,
building, and stone-cutting; but labour had now no terrors for me: I
wrought hard during the hours allotted to toil, and was content; and
read, wrote, or walked, during the hours that were properly my own, and
was happy. Early in May, however, we had finished all the work for which
my master had previously contracted; and as trade was unusually dull at
the time, he could procure no further contracts, and the squad was
thrown out of employment. I rushed to the woods and rocks, and got on
with my lessons in geology and natural science; but my master, who had
no lessons to learn, wearied sadly of doing nothing; and at length, very
unwillingly--for he had enacted the part of the employer, though on a
small scale, for a full quarter of a century--he set himself to procure
work as a journeyman. He had another apprentice at the time; and he,
availing himself of the opportunity which the old man's inability of
employing him furnished, quitted his service, and commenced work on his
own behalf--a step to which, though the position of a journeyman's
apprentice seemed rather an anomalous one, I could not see my way. And
so, as work turned up for both master and apprentice at a place about
twenty miles distant from Cromarty, I set out with him, to make trial,
for the first time, of the sort of life that is spent in bothies and
barracks. Our work was to consist, I was informed, of building and
hewing at an extensive farm-steading on the banks of the river Conon,
which one of the wealthier proprietors of the district was getting built
for himself, not on contract, but by the old mode of employing
operatives on day's wages; and my master was to be permitted to rate as
a full journeyman, though now considerably in his decline as a workman,
on condition that the services of his apprentice should be rated so much
lower than their actual value as to render master and man regarded as
one lot--a fair bargain to the employer, and somewhat more. The
arrangement was not quite a flattering one for me; but I acquiesced in
it without remark, and set out with my master for Conon-side.

The evening sun was gleaming delightfully as we neared the scene of our
labours, on the broad reaches of the Conon, and lighting up the fine
woods and noble hills beyond. It would, I knew, be happiness to toil for
some ten hours or so per day in so sweet a district, and then to find
the evening all my own; but on reaching the work, we were told that we
would require to set out in the morning for a place about four miles
further to the west, where there were a few workmen engaged in building
a jointure-house for the lady of a Ross-shire proprietor lately dead,
and which lay off the river in a rather unpromising direction. And so, a
little after sun-rise, we had to take the road with our tools slung
across our backs, and before six o'clock we reached the rising
jointure-house, and set to work. The country around was somewhat bare
and dreary--a scene of bogs and moors, overlooked by a range of tame
heathy hills; but in our immediate neighbourhood there was a picturesque
little scene--rather a vignette than a picture--that in some degree
redeemed the general deformity. Two meal-mills--the one small and old,
the other larger and more modern--were placed beside each other, on
ground so unequal, that, seen in front, the smaller seemed perched on
the top of the larger; a group of tall graceful larches rose immediately
beside the lower building, and hung their slim branches over the huge
wheel; while a few aged ash-trees that encircled the mill-pond, which,
in sending its waters down the hill, supplied both wheels in succession,
sprang up immediately beside the upper erection, and shot their branches
over its roof. On closing our labours for the evening, we repaired to
the old mansion-house, about half a mile away, in which the dowager lady
for whom we wrought still continued to reside, and where we expected to
be accommodated, like the other workmen, with beds for the night. We had
not been expected, however, and there were no beds provided for us; but
as the Highland carpenter who had engaged to execute the woodwork of the
new building had an entire bed to himself, we were told we might, if we
pleased, lie three a-bed with him. But though the carpenter was, I
daresay, a most respectable man, and a thorough Celt, I had observed
during the day that he was miserably affected by a certain skin disease,
which, as it was more prevalent in the past of Highland history than
even at this time, must have rendered his ancestors of old very
formidable, even without their broadswords; and so I determined on no
account to sleep with him. I gave my master fair warning, by telling him
what I had seen; but uncle David, always insensible to danger, conducted
himself on the occasion as in the sinking boat or under the falling
bank, and so went to bed with the carpenter; while I, stealing out, got
into the upper story of an out-house; and, flinging myself down in my
clothes on the floor, on a heap of straw, was soon fast asleep. I was,
however, not much accustomed at the time to so rough a bed: every time I
turned me in my lair, the strong, stiff straw rustled against my face;
and about midnight I awoke.

I rose to a little window which opened upon a dreary moor, and commanded
a view in the distance, of a ruinous chapel and solitary burying-ground,
famous in the traditions of the district as the chapel and
burying-ground of Gillie-christ. Dr. Johnson relates, in his "Journey,"
that when eating, on one occasion, his dinner in Skye to the music of
the bagpipe, he was informed by a gentleman, "that in some remote time,
the Macdonalds of Glengarry having been injured or offended by the
inhabitants of Culloden, and resolving to have justice, or vengeance,
they came to Culloden on a Sunday, when, finding their enemies at
worship, they shut them up in the church, which they set on fire; and
this, said he, is the tune that the piper played while they were
burning." Culloden, however, was not the scene of the atrocity: it was
the Mackenzies of Ord that their fellow-Christians and
brother-Churchmen, the Macdonalds of Glengarry, succeeded in converting
into animal charcoal, when the poor people were engaged, like good
Catholics, in attending mass; and in this old chapel of Gillie-christ
was the experiment performed. The Macdonalds, after setting fire to the
building, held fast the doors until the last of the Mackenzies of Ord
had perished in the flames; and then, pursued by the Mackenzies of
Brahan, they fled into their own country, to glory ever after in the
greatness of the feat. The evening was calm and still, but dark for the
season, for it was now near mid-summer; and every object had disappeared
in the gloom, save the outlines of a ridge of low hills that rose beyond
the moor; but I could determine where the chapel and churchyard lay; and
great was my astonishment to see a light flickering amid the
grave-stones and the ruins. At one time seen, at another hid, like the
revolving lantern of a lighthouse, it seemed to be passing round and
round the building; and, as I listened, I could hear distinctly what
appeared to be a continuous screaming of most unearthly sound,
proceeding from evidently the same spot as the twinkle of the light.
What could be the meaning of such an apparition, with such
accompaniments--the time of its appearance midnight--the place a
solitary burying-ground? I was in the Highlands: was there truth, after
all, in the many floating Highland stories of spectral dead-lights and
wild supernatural sounds, seen and heard by nights in lonely places of
sepulture, when some sudden death was near? I did feel my blood run
somewhat cold, for I had not yet passed the credulous time of life--and
had some thoughts of stealing down to my master's bedside, to be within
reach of the human voice, when I saw the light quitting the churchyard,
and coming downwards across the moor in a straight line, though tossed
about in the dead calm, in many a wave and flourish; and further, I
could ascertain, that what I had deemed a persistent screaming was in
reality a continuous singing, carried on at the pitch of a powerful
though somewhat cracked voice. In a moment after, one of the servant
girls of the mansion-house came rushing out half-dressed to the door of
an outer-building in which the workmen and the farm-servant lay, and
summoned them immediately to rise. Mad Bell had again broke out, she
said, and would set them on fire a second time.

The men rose, and, as they appeared at the door, I joined them; but on
striking out a few yards into the moor, we found the maniac already in
the custody of two men, who had seized and were dragging her towards her
cottage, a miserable hovel, about half a mile away. She never once spoke
to us, but continued singing, though in a lower and more subdued tone of
voice than before, a Gaelic song. We reached her hut, and, making use of
her own light, we entered. A chain of considerable length, attached by a
stopple in one of the Highland _couples_ of the erection, showed that
her neighbours had been compelled on former occasions to abridge her
liberty; and one of the men, in now making use of it, so wound it round
her person as to bind her down, instead of giving her the scope of the
apartment, to the damp uneven floor. A very damp and uneven floor it
was. There were crevices in the roof above, which gave free access to
the elements; and the turf walls, perilously bulged by the leakage in
several places, were green with mould. One of the masons and I
simultaneously interfered. It would never do, we said, to pin down a
human creature in that way to the damp earth. Why not give her what the
length of the chain permitted--the full range of the room? If we did
that, replied the man, she would be sure to set herself free before
morning, and we would just have to rise and bind her again. But we
resolved, we rejoined, whatever might happen, that she should _not_ be
tied down in that way to the filthy floor; and ultimately we succeeded
in carrying our point. The song ceased for a moment: the maniac turned
round, presenting full to the light the strongly-marked, energetic
features of a woman of about fifty-five; and, surveying us with a keen,
scrutinizing glance, altogether unlike that of the idiot, she
emphatically repeated the sacred text, "Blessed are the merciful, for
they shall obtain mercy." She then began singing, in a low, mournful
tone, an old Scotch ballad; and, as we left the cottage, we could hear
her voice gradually heightening as we retired, until it had at length
attained to its former pitch and wildness of tone.

Before daybreak the maniac succeeded in setting herself free; but the
paroxysm of the fit had meanwhile passed over; and when she visited me
next morning at the place where I was hewing--a little apart from the
other workmen, who were all engaged in building on the walls--save for
the strongly-marked features, I would scarce have recognised her. She
was neatly dressed, though her gown was neither fine nor new; her clean
white cap was nicely arranged; and her air seemed to be rather that of
the respectable tradesman's wife or daughter, than of the ordinary
country woman. For some little time she stood beside me without
speaking, and then somewhat abruptly asked,--"What makes _you_ work as a
mason?" I made some commonplace reply; but it failed to satisfy her.
"All your fellows are real masons," she said; "but you are merely in the
disguise of a mason; and I have come to consult you about the deep
matters of the soul." The matters she had come to inquire regarding were
really very deep indeed; she had, I found, carefully read Flavel's
"Treatise on the Soul of Man"--a volume which, fortunately for my
credit, I also had perused; and we were soon deep together in the rather
bad metaphysics promulgated on the subject by the Schoolmen, and
republished by the divine. It seemed clear, she said, that every human
soul was created--not transmitted--created, mayhap, at the time when it
began to be; but if so, how, or on what principle did it come under the
influence of the Fall? I merely remarked, in reply, that she was of
course acquainted with the views of the old theologians--_such as
Flavel_--men who really knew as much about such things as could be
known, and perhaps a little more: was she not satisfied with them? Not
dissatisfied, she said; but she wanted more light. Could a soul not
derived from our first parents be rendered vile simply by being put into
a body derived from them? One of the passages in Flavel, on this special
point, had luckily struck me, from its odd obscurity of expression, and
I was able to quote it in nearly the original words. You know, I
remarked, that a great authority on the question "declined confidently
to affirm that the moral infection came by way of physical agency, as a
rusty scabbard infects and defiles a bright sword when sheathed therein:
it might be," he thought, "by way of natural concomitancy, as Estius
will have it; or, to speak as Dr. Reynolds doth, by way of ineffable
resultancy and emanation." As this was perfectly unintelligible, it
seemed to satisfy my new friend. I added, however, that, like herself, I
was waiting for more light on the difficulty, and might set myself to it
in right earnest, when I found it fully demonstrated that the Creator
could not, or did not, make man equally the descendant in soul as in
body of the original progenitors of the race. I believed, with the great
Mr. Locke, that he could do it; nor was I aware he had anywhere said
that what he could do in the matter he had not done. Such was the first
of many strange conversations with the maniac, who, with all her sad
brokenness of mind, was one of the most intellectual women I ever knew.
Humble as were the circumstances in which I found her, her brother, who
was at this time about two years dead, had been one of the best-known
ministers of the Scottish Church in the Northern Highlands. To quote
from an affectionate notice by the editor of a little volume of his
sermons, published a few years ago--the Rev. Mr. Mackenzie of North
Leith--"he was a profound divine, an eloquent preacher, a
deeply-experienced Christian, and, withal, a classical scholar, a
popular poet, a man of original genius, and eminently a man of prayer."
And his poor sister Isabel, though grievously vexed at times by a dire
insanity, seemed to have received from nature powers mayhap not inferior
to his.

We were not always engaged with the old divines; Isabel's tenacious
memory was stored with the traditions of the district; and many an
anecdote could she tell of old chieftains, forgotten on the lands which
had once been their own, and of Highland poets, whose songs had been
sung for the last time. The story of the "Raid of Gillie-christ" has
been repeatedly in print since I first heard it from her: it forms the
basis of the late Sir Thomas Dick Lander's powerful tale of "Allan with
the Red Jacket;" and I have seen it in its more ordinary traditionary
dress, in the columns of the _Inverness Courier_. But at this time it
was new to me; and on no occasion could it have lost less by the
narrator. She was herself a Mackenzie; and her eyes flashed a wild fire
when she spoke of the barbarous and brutal Macdonalds, and of the
measured march and unfaltering notes of their piper outside the burning
chapel, when her perishing ancestors were shrieking in their agony
within. She was acquainted also with the resembling story of that Cave
of Eigg, in which a body of the Macdonalds themselves, consisting of
men, women, and children--the entire population of the island--had been
suffocated wholesale by the Macleods of Skye; and I have heard from her
more good sense on the subject of the Highland character "ere the gospel
changed it," as illustrated by these passages in their history, than
from some Highlanders sane enough on other matters, but carried away by
a too indiscriminating respect for the wild courage and half-instinctive
fidelity of the old race. The ancient Highlanders were bold, faithful
dogs, she has said, ready to die for their masters, and prepared to do,
at their bidding, like other dogs, the most cruel and wicked actions;
and as dogs often were they treated; nay, even still, after religion had
made them men (as if condemned to suffer for the sins of their parents),
they were frequently treated as dogs. The pious martyrs of the south had
contended in God's behalf; whereas the poor Highlanders of the north had
but contended in behalf of their chiefs; and so, while God had been kind
to the descendants of _His_ servants, the chiefs had been very unkind to
the descendants of theirs. From excellent sense, however, in these
conversations, my new companion used often to wander into deplorable
insanity. Her midnight visits to the old chapel of Gillie-christ were
made, she said, in order that she might consult her father in her
difficulties; and the good man, though often silent for nights together,
rarely failed to soothe and counsel her from the depths of his quiet
grave, on every occasion when her unhappiness became extreme. It was
acting on his advice, however, that she had set fire to a door that had
for a time excluded her from the burying-ground, and burnt it down. She
had been married in early life; and I have rarely heard anything wilder
or more ingenious than the account she gave of a quarrel with her
husband, that terminated in their separation.

After living happily with him for several years, she all at once, she
said, became most miserable, and everything in their household went on
ill. But though her husband seemed to have no true conception of the
cause of their new-born misery, she had. He used, from motives of
economy, to keep a pig, which, when converted into bacon, was always
useful in the family; and an occasional ham of the animal now and then
found its way to her brother's manse, as a sort of friendly
acknowledgment of the many good things received from him. One wretched
pig, however--a little black thing, only a few weeks old--which her
husband had purchased at a fair, was, she soon discovered, possessed by
an evil spirit, that had a strange power of quitting the animal to do
mischief in her dwelling, and an ability of not only rendering her
fearfully unhappy, but even of getting at times into her husband. The
husband himself, poor blinded man! could see nothing of all this; nor
would he believe _her_, who could and did see it; nor yet could she
convince him that it was decidedly his duty to get rid of the pig. She
was not satisfied that she herself had a clear right to kill the
creature: it was undoubtedly her husband's property, not hers; but could
she only succeed in placing it in circumstances in which it might be
free either to kill itself or not, and were it, in these circumstances,
to destroy itself, she was sure all the better divines would acquit her
of aught approaching to moral guilt in the transaction; and the relieved
household would be free from both the evil spirit and the little pig.
The mill-pond was situated immediately beside her dwelling: its steep
sides, which were walled with stone, were unscaleable by at least little
pigs; and among the aged ashes which sprang up immediately at its edge,
there was one that shot out a huge bough, like a bent arm, directly over
it, far beyond the stonework, so that the boys of the neighbourhood used
to take their seat on it, and fish for little trout that sometimes found
their way into the pond. On the projecting branch one day, when her
husband's back was turned, and there was no one to see or interfere, she
placed the pig. It stood for a while: there was no doubt, therefore, it
_could_ stand; but, unwilling to stand any longer, it
sprawled--slipped--fell--dropped into the water, in short--and
ultimately, as it could not make its way up the bank, was drowned. And
thus ended the pig. It would seem, however, as if the evil spirit had
got into her husband instead--so extreme was his indignation at the
transaction. He would accept of neither apology nor explanation; and,
unable of course to live any longer under the same roof with a man so
unreasonable, she took the opportunity, when he was quitting that part
of the country for employment at a distance, to remain behind in her old
cottage--the same in which she at that time resided. Such was the
maniac's account of her quarrel with her husband; and, when listening to
men chopping little familiar logic on one of the profoundest mysteries
of Revelation--a mystery which, once received as an article of faith,
serves to unlock many a difficulty, but which is itself wholly
irreducible by the human intellect--I have been sometimes involuntarily
led to think of her ingenious but not very sound argumentation on the
fall of the pig. It is dangerous to attempt explaining, in the
theological province, what in reality cannot be explained. Some weak
abortion of the human reason is always substituted, in the attempt, for
some profound mystery in the moral government of God; and men
ill-grounded in the faith are led to confound the palpable abortion with
the inscrutable mystery, and are injured in consequence.

I succeeded in getting a bed in the mansion-house, without, like Marsyas
of old, perilling my skin; and though there was but little of interest
in the immediate neighbourhood, and not much to be enjoyed within
doors--for I could procure neither books nor congenial
companionship--with the assistance of my pencil and sketch-book I got
over my leisure hours tolerably well. My new friend Isabel would have
given me as much of her conversation as I liked; for there was many a
point on which she had to consult me, and many a mystery to state, and
secret to communicate; but, though always interested in her company, I
was also always pained, and invariably quitted her, after each
lengthened _tête-à-tête_, in a state of low spirits, which I found it
difficult to shake off. There seems to be something peculiarly
unwholesome in the society of a strong-minded maniac; and so I contrived
as much as possible--not a little, at times, to her mortification--to
avoid her. For hours together, however, I have seen her perfectly sane;
and, on these occasions, she used to speak much about her brother, for
whom she entertained a high reverence, and gave me many anecdotes
regarding him, not uninteresting in themselves, which she told
remarkably well. Some of these my memory still retains. "There were two
classes of men," she has said, "for whom he had a special
regard--Christian men of consistent character; and men who, though they
made no profession of religion, were honest in their dealings, and of
kindly dispositions. And with people of this latter kind he used to have
a great deal of kindly intercourse, cheerful enough at times--for he
could both make a joke and take one--but which usually did his friends
good in the end. So long as my father and my mother lived, he used to
travel across the country once every year to pay them a visit; and he
was accompanied, on one of these journeys, by one of this less religious
class of his parishioners, who had, however, a great regard for him, and
whom he liked, in turn, for his blunt honesty, and obliging disposition.
They had baited for some time at a house in the outer skirts of my
brother's parish, where there was a child to baptize, and where, I fear,
Donald must have got an extra dram; for he was very argumentative all
the evening after; and finding he could not agree with my brother on any
one subject, he suffered him to shoot a-head for a few hundred yards,
and did not again come up with him, until, in passing through a thick
clump of natural wood, he found him standing, lost in thought, before a
singularly-shaped tree. Donald had never seen such a strange-looking
tree in all his days before. The lower part of it was twisted in and
out, and backwards and forwards, like an ill-made cork-screw; while the
higher shot straight upwards, direct as a line; and its taper top
seemed like a finger pointing at the sky. 'Come, tell me, Donald,' said
my brother, 'what you think this tree is like?' 'Indeed, I kenna, Mr.
Lachlan,' replied Donald; 'but if you let me take that straight bit aff
the tap o't, it will be gey an' like the _worm_ o' a whisky still.' 'But
I cannot want the straight bit,' said my brother; 'the very pith and
point of my comparison lies in the straight bit. One of the old fathers
would perhaps have said, Donald, that that tree resembled the course of
the Christian. His early progress has turns and twists in it, just like
the lower part of that tree; one temptation draws him to the
left--another to the right: his upward course is a crooked one; but it
is an upward course for all that; for he has, like the tree, the
principle of sky-directed growth within him: the disturbing influences
weaken as grace strengthens, and appetite and passion decay; and so the
early part of his career is not more like the warped and twisted trunk
of that tree, than his latter years resemble its taper top. He shoots
off heavenward in a straight line.'" Such is a specimen of the anecdotes
of this poor woman. I saw her once afterwards, though for only a short
time; when she told me that, though people could not understand _us_,
there was meaning in both her thoughts and in mine; and some years
subsequently, when I was engaged as a journeyman mason in the south of
Scotland, she walked twenty miles to pay my mother a visit, and stayed
with her for several days. Her death was a melancholy one. When fording
the river Conon in one of her wilder moods, she was swept away by the
stream and drowned, and her body cast upon the bank a day or two after.

Our work finished at this place, my master and I returned on a Saturday
evening to Conon-side, where we found twenty-four workmen crowded in a
rusty corn-kiln, open from gable to gable, and not above thirty feet in
length. A row of rude beds, formed of undressed slabs, ran along the
sides; and against one of the gables there blazed a line of fires, with
what are known as masons' setting-irons, stuck into the stonework
behind, for suspending over them the pots used in cooking the food of
the squad. The scene, as we entered, was one of wild confusion. A few of
the soberer workmen were engaged in "baking and firing" oaten cakes, and
a few more occupied, with equal sobriety, in cooking their evening
porridge; but in front of the building there was a wild party of
apprentices, who were riotously endeavouring to prevent a Highland
shepherd from driving his flock past them, by shaking their aprons at
the affrighted animals; and a party equally bent on amusement inside
were joining with burlesque vehemence in a song which one of the men,
justly proud of his musical talents, had just struck up. Suddenly the
song ceased, and with wild uproar a bevy of some eight or ten workmen
burst out into the green in full pursuit of a squat little fellow, who
had, they said, insulted the singer. The cry rose wild and high, "A
ramming! a ramming!" The little fellow was seized and thrown down; and
five men--one holding his head, and one stationed at each arm and
leg--proceeded to execute on his body the stern behests of barrack-law.
He was poised like an ancient battering-ram, and driven endlong against
the wall of the kiln,--that important part of his person coming in
violent contact with the masonry, "where," according to Butler, "a kick
hurts honour" very much. After the third blow, however, he was released,
and the interrupted song went on as before. I was astonished, and
somewhat dismayed, by this specimen of barrack-life; but, getting
quietly inside the building, I succeeded in cooking for my uncle and
myself some porridge over one of the unoccupied fires, and then stole
off, as early as I could, to my lair in a solitary hay-loft--for there
was no room for us in the barrack--where, by the judicious use of a
little sulphur and mercury, I succeeded in freeing my master from the
effects of the strange bed-fellowship which our recent misery had made,
and preserving myself from infection. The following Sabbath was a day
of quiet rest; and I commenced the labours of the week, disposed to
think that my lot, though rather a rough one, was not altogether
unendurable; and that, even were it worse than it was, it would be at
once wise and manly, seeing that winter would certainly come, cheerfully
to acquiesce in and bear up under it.

I had, in truth, entered a school altogether new--at times, as I have
just shown, a singularly noisy and uproarious one, for it was a school
without master or monitor; but its occasional lessons were,
notwithstanding, eminently worthy of being scanned. All know that there
exists such a thing as professional character. On some men, indeed,
nature imprints so strongly the stamp of individuality, that the feebler
stamp of circumstance and position fails to impress them. Such cases,
however, must always be regarded as exceptional. On the average masses
of mankind, the special employments which they pursue, or the kinds of
business which they transact, have the effect of moulding them into
distinct classes, each of which bears an artificially induced character
peculiarly its own. Clergymen, as such, differ from merchants and
soldiers, and all three from lawyers and physicians. Each of these
professions has long borne in our literature, and in common opinion, a
character so clearly appreciable by the public generally, that, when
truthfully reproduced in some new work of fiction, or exemplified by
some transaction in real life, it is at once recognised as marked by the
genuine class-traits and peculiarities. But the professional
characteristics descend much lower in the scale than is usually
supposed. There is scarce a trade or department of manual labour that
does not induce its own set of peculiarities--peculiarities which,
though less within the range of the observation of men in the habit of
recording what they remark, are not less real than those of the man of
physic or of law. The barber is as unlike the weaver, and the tailor as
unlike both, as the farmer is unlike the soldier, or as either farmer
or soldier is unlike the merchant, lawyer, or minister. And it is only
on the same sort of principle that all men, when seen from the top of a
lofty tower, whether they be tall or short, seem of the same stature,
that these differences escape the notice of men in the higher walks.

Between the workmen that pass sedentary lives within doors, such as
weavers and tailors, and those who labour in the open air, such as
masons and ploughmen, there exists a grand generic difference. Sedentary
mechanics are usually less contented than laborious ones; and as they
almost always work in parties, and as their comparatively light, though
often long and wearily-plied employments, do not so much strain their
respiratory organs but that they can keep up an interchange of idea when
at their toils, they are generally much better able to state their
grievances, and much more fluent in speculating on their causes. They
develop more freely than the laborious out-of-door workers of the
country, and present, as a class, a more intelligent aspect. On the
other hand, when the open-air worker does so overcome his difficulties
as to get fairly developed, he is usually of a fresher or more vigorous
type than the sedentary one. Burns, Hogg, Allan Cunningham, are the
literary representatives of the order; and it will be found that they
stand considerably in advance of the Thoms, Bloomfields, and Tannahills,
that represent the sedentary workmen. The silent, solitary, hard-toiled
men, if nature has put no better stuff in them than that of which
stump-orators and Chartist lecturers are made, remain silent, repressed
by their circumstances; but if of a higher grade, and if they once do
get their mouths fairly opened, they speak with power, and bear with
them into our literature the freshness of the green earth and the
freedom of the open sky.

The specific peculiarities induced by particular professions are not
less marked than the generic ones. How different, for instance, the
character of a sedentary tailor, as such, from that of the equally
sedentary barber! Two imperfectly-taught young lads, of not more than
the average intellect, are apprenticed, the one to the hair-dresser, the
other to the fashionable clothes-maker of a large village. The barber
has to entertain his familiar round of customers, when operating upon
their heads and beards. He must have no controversies with them; that
might be disagreeable, and might affect his command of the scissors or
razor; but he is expected to communicate to them all he knows of the
gossip of the place; and as each customer supplies him with a little, he
of course comes to know more than anybody else. And as his light and
easy work lays no stress on his respiration, in course of time he learns
to be a fast and fluent talker, with a great appetite for news, but
little given to dispute. He acquires, too, if his round of customers be
good, a courteous manner; and if they be in large proportion
Conservatives, he becomes, in all probability, a Conservative too. The
young tailor goes through an entirely different process. He learns to
regard dress as the most important of all earthly things--becomes
knowing in cuts and fashions--is taught to appreciate, in a way no other
individual can, the aspect of a button, or the pattern of a vest; and as
his work is cleanly, and does not soil his clothes, and as he can get
them more cheaply, and more perfectly in the fashion, than other
mechanics, the chances are ten to one that he turns out a beau. He
becomes great in that which he regards as of all things greatest--dress.
A young tailor may be known by the cut of his coat and the merits of his
pantaloons, among all other workmen; and as even fine clothes are not
enough of themselves, it is necessary that he should also have fine
manners; and not having such advantages of seeing polite society as his
neighbour the barber, his gentlemanly manners are always less fine than
grotesque. Hence more ridicule of tailors among working men than of any
other class of mechanics. And such--if nature has sent them from her
hand ordinary men, for the extraordinary rise above all the modifying
influences of profession--are the processes through which tailors and
hair-dressers put on then distinctive characters as such. A village
smith hears well-nigh as much gossip as a village barber; but he
develops into an entirely different sort of man. He is not bound to
please his customers by his talk; nor does his profession leave his
breath free enough to talk fluently or much; and so he listens in grim
and swarthy independence--strikes his iron while it is hot--and when,
after thrusting it into the fire, he bends himself to the bellows, he
drops, in rude phrase, a brief judicial remark, and again falls sturdily
to work. Again, the shoemaker may be deemed, in the merely mechanical
character of his profession, near of kin to the tailor. But such is not
the case. He has to work amid paste, wax, oil, and blacking, and
contracts a smell of leather. He cannot keep himself particularly clean;
and although a nicely-finished shoe be all well enough in its way, there
is not much about it on which conceit can build. No man can set up as a
beau on the strength of a prettily-shaped shoe; and so a beau the
shoemaker is not, but, on the contrary, a careless, manly fellow, who,
when not overmuch devoted to Saint Monday, gains usually, in his course
through life, a considerable amount of sense. Shoemakers are often in
large proportions intelligent men; and Bloomfield, the poet, Gifford the
critic and satirist, and Carey the missionary, must certainly be
regarded as thoroughly respectable contributions from the profession, to
the worlds of poetry, criticism, and religion.

The professional character of the mason varies a good deal in the
several provinces of Scotland, according to the various circumstances in
which he is placed. He is in general a blunt, manly, taciturn fellow,
who, without much of the Radical or Chartist about him, especially if
wages be good and employment abundant, rarely touches his hat to a
gentleman. His employment is less purely mechanical than many others: he
is not like a man ceaselessly engaged in pointing needles or fashioning
pin-heads. On the contrary, every stone he lays or hews demands the
exercise of a certain amount of judgment for itself; and so he cannot
wholly suffer his mind to fall asleep over his work. When engaged, too,
in erecting some fine building, he always experiences a degree of
interest in marking the effect of the design developing itself
piecemeal, and growing up under his hands; and so he rarely wearies of
what he is doing. Further, his profession has this advantage, that it
educates his sense of sight. Accustomed to ascertain the straightness of
lines at a glance, and to cast his eye along plane walls, or the
mouldings of entablatures or architraves, in order to determine the
rectitude of the masonry, he acquires a sort of mathematical precision
in determining the true bearings and position of objects, and is usually
found, when admitted into a rifle club, to equal, without previous
practice, its second-rate shots. He only falls short of its first-rate
ones, because, uninitiated by the experience of his profession in the
mystery of the parabolic curve, he fails, in taking aim, to make the
proper allowance for it. The mason is almost always a silent man: the
strain on his respiration is too great, when he is actively employed, to
leave the necessary freedom to the organs of speech; and so at least the
provincial builder or stone-cutter rarely or never becomes a democratic
orator. I have met with exceptional cases in the larger towns; but they
were the result of individual idiosyncrasies, developed in clubs and
taverns, and were not professional.

It is, however, with the character of our north-country masons that I
have at present chiefly to do. Living in small villages, or in cottages
in the country, they can very rarely procure employment in the
neighbourhood of their dwellings, and so they are usually content to
regard these as simply their homes for the winter and earlier spring
months, when they have nothing to do, and to remove for work to other
parts of the country, where bridges, or harbours, or farm-steadings are
in the course of building--to be subjected there to the influences of
what is known as the barrack, or rather bothy life. These barracks or
bothies are almost always of the most miserable description. I have
lived in hovels that were invariably flooded in wet weather by the
overflowings of neighbouring swamps, and through whose roofs I could
tell the hour at night, by marking from my bed the stars that were
passing over the openings along the ridge: I have resided in other
dwellings of rather higher pretensions, in which I have been awakened
during every heavier night-shower by the rain-drops splashing upon my
face where I lay a-bed. I remember that Uncle James, in urging me not to
become a mason, told me that a neighbouring laird, when asked why he
left a crazy old building standing behind a group of neat modern
offices, informed the querist that it was not altogether through bad
taste the hovel was spared, but from the circumstance that he found it
of great convenience every time his speculations brought a _drove of
pigs_ or _a squad of masons_ the way. And my after experience showed me
that the story might not be in the least apocryphal, and that masons had
reason at times for not touching their hats to gentlemen.

In these barracks the food is of the plainest and coarsest description:
oatmeal forms its staple, with milk, when milk can be had, which is not
always; and as the men have to cook by turns, with only half an hour or
so given them in which to light a fire, and prepare the meal for a dozen
or twenty associates, the cooking is invariably an exceedingly rough and
simple affair. I have known mason-parties engaged in the central
Highlands in building bridges, not unfrequently reduced, by a tract of
wet weather, that soaked their only fuel the turf, and rendered it
incombustible, to the extremity of eating their oatmeal raw, and merely
moistened by a little water, scooped by the hand from a neighbouring
brook. I have oftener than once seen our own supply of salt fail us; and
after relief had been afforded by a Highland smuggler--for there was
much smuggling in salt in those days, ere the repeal of the duties--I
have heard a complaint from a young fellow regarding the hardness of our
fare, at once checked by a comrade's asking him whether he was not an
ungrateful dog to grumble in that way, seeing that, after living on
fresh poultices for a week, we had actually that morning got porridge
with salt in it. One marked effect of the annual change which the
north-country mason has to undergo, from a life of domestic comfort to a
life of hardship in the bothy, if he has not passed middle life, is a
great apparent increase in his animal spirits. At home he is in all
probability a quiet, rather dull-looking personage, not much given to
laugh or joke; whereas in the bothy, if the squad be a large one, he
becomes wild, and a humorist--laughs much, and grows ingenious in
playing off pranks on his fellows. As in all other communities, there
are certain laws recognised in the barrack as useful for controlling at
least its younger members, the apprentices; but in the general tone of
merriment, even these lose their character, and, ceasing to be a terror
to evildoers, become in the execution mere occasions of mirth. I never,
in all my experience, saw a serious punishment inflicted. Shortly after
our arrival at Conon-side, my master, chancing to remark that he had not
wrought as a journeyman for twenty-five years before, was voted a
"ramming," for taking, as was said, such high ground with his brother
workmen; but, though sentence was immediately executed, they dealt
gently with the old man, who had good sense enough to acquiesce in the
whole as a joke. And yet, amid all this wild merriment and license,
there was not a workman who did not regret the comforts of his quiet
home, and long for the happiness which was, he felt, to be enjoyed only
there. It has been long known that gaiety is not solid enjoyment; but
that the gaiety should indicate little else than the want of solid
enjoyment, is a circumstance not always suspected. My experience of
barrack-life has enabled me to receive without hesitation what has been
said of the occasional merriment of slaves in America and elsewhere,
and fully to credit the often-repeated statement, that the abject serfs
of despotic Governments laugh more than the subjects of a free country.
Poor fellows! If the British people were as unhappy as slaves or serfs,
they would, I daresay, learn in time to be quite as merry. There are,
however, two circumstances that serve to prevent the bothy life of the
north-country mason from essentially injuring his character in the way
it almost never fails to injure that of the farm-servant. As he has to
calculate on being part of every winter, and almost every spring,
unemployed, he is compelled to practise a self-denying economy, the
effect of which, when not carried to the extreme of a miserly
narrowness, is always good; and Hallow-day returns him every season to
the humanizing influences of his home.



CHAPTER X.

    "The muse, nae poet ever fand her,
    Till by himsel' he learned to wander
    Adown some trottin' burn's meander,
            An' no think lang:
    Oh, sweet to muse, and pensive ponder
            A heartfelt sang!"--BURNS.


There are delightful walks in the immediate neighbourhood of Conon-side;
and as the workmen--engaged, as I have said, on day's wages--immediately
ceased working as the hour of six arrived, I had, during the summer
months, from three to four hours to myself every evening, in which to
enjoy them. The great hollow occupied by the waters of the Cromarty
Firth divides into two valleys at its upper end, just where the sea
ceases to flow. There is the valley of the Peffer, and the valley of the
Conon; and a tract of broken hills lies between, formed of the Great
Conglomerate base of the Old Red System. The conglomerate, always a
picturesque deposit, terminates some four or five miles higher up the
valley, in a range of rough precipices, as bold and abrupt, though they
front the interior of the country, as if they formed the terminal
barrier of some exposed sea-coast. A few straggling pines crest their
summits; and the noble woods of Brahan Castle, the ancient seat of the
Earls of Seaforth, sweep downwards from their base to the margin of the
Conon. On our own side of the river, the more immature but fresh and
thickly-clustered woods of Conon House rose along the banks; and I was
delighted to find among them a ruinous chapel and ancient
burying-ground, occupying, in a profoundly solitary corner, a little
green hillock, once an island of the river, but now left dry by the
gradual wear of the channel, and the consequent fall of the water to a
lower level. A few broken walls rose on the highest peak of the
eminence; the slope was occupied by the little mossy hillocks and sorely
lichened tombstones that mark the ancient grave-yard; and among the
tombs immediately beside the ruin there stood a rustic dial, with its
iron gnomon worn to an oxydized film, and green with weather-stains and
moss. And around this little lonely yard sprang the young wood, thick as
a hedge, but just open enough towards the west to admit, in slant lines
along the tombstones and the ruins, the red light of the setting sun.

I greatly enjoyed those evening walks. From Conon-side as a centre, a
radius of six miles commands many objects of interest; Strathpeffer,
with its mineral springs--Castle Leod, with its ancient trees, among the
rest, one of the largest Spanish chestnuts in Scotland--Knockferrel,
with its vitrified fort--the old tower of Fairburn--the old though
somewhat modernized tower of Kinkell--the Brahan policies, with the old
Castle of the Seaforths--the old Castle of Kilcoy--and the Druidic
circles of the moor of Redcastle. In succession I visited them all, with
many a sweet scene besides; but I found that my four hours, when the
visit involved, as it sometimes did, twelve miles' walking, left me
little enough time to examine and enjoy. A half-holiday every week would
be a mighty boon to the working man who has acquired a taste for the
quiet pleasures of intellect, and either cultivates an affection for
natural objects, or, according to the antiquary, "loves to look upon
what is old." My recollections of this rich tract of country, with its
woods, and towers, and noble river, seem as if bathed in the red light
of gorgeous sunsets. Its uneven plain of Old Red Sandstone leans, at a
few miles' distance, against dark Highland hills of schistose gneiss,
that, at the line where they join on to the green Lowlands, are low and
tame, but sweep upwards into an alpine region, where the old
Scandinavian flora of the country--that flora which alone flourished in
the times of its boulder clay--still maintains its place against the
Germanic invaders which cover the lower grounds, as the Celt of old used
to maintain exactly the same ground against the Saxon. And at the top of
a swelling moor, just beneath where the hills rise rugged and black,
stands the pale tall tower of Fairburn, that, seen in the gloamin', as I
have often seen it, seems a ghastly spectre of the past, looking from
out its solitude at the changes of the present. The freebooter, its
founder, had at first built it, for greater security, without a door,
and used to climb into it through the window of an upper story by a
ladder. But now unbroken peace brooded over its shattered ivy-bound
walls, and ploughed fields crept up year by year along the moory slope
on which it stood, until at length all became green, and the dark heath
disappeared. There is a poetic age in the life of most individuals, as
certainly as in the history of most nations; and a very happy age it is.
I had now fully entered on it; and enjoyed in my lonely walks along the
Conon, a happiness ample enough to compensate for many a long hour of
toil, and many a privation. I have quoted, as the motto of this chapter,
an exquisite verse from Burns. There is scarce another stanza in the
wide round of British literature that so faithfully describes the mood
which, regularly as the evening came, and after I had buried myself in
the thick woods, or reached some bosky recess of the river bank, used to
come stealing over me, and in which I have felt my heart and intellect
as thoroughly in keeping with the scene and hour as the still woodland
pool beside me, whose surface reflected in the calm every tree and rock
that rose around it, and every hue of the heavens above. And yet the
mood, though sweet, was also, as the poet expresses it, a pensive one:
it was steeped in the happy melancholy sung so truthfully by an elder
bard, who also must have entered deeply into the feeling.


    "When I goe musing all alone,
    Thinking of divers things foreknowne--
    When I builde castles in the air,
    Voide of sorrow and voide of care,
    Pleasing myself with phantasms sweet--
    Methinks the time runs very fleet;
      All my joyes to this are follie;--
      None soe sweet as melanchollie.

    "When to myself I sit and smile,
    With pleasing thoughts the time beguile,
    By a brook side or wood soe green,
    Unheard, unsought for, or unseen,
    A thousand pleasures doe me blesse,
    And crowne my soul with happiness
      All my joyes to this are follie;--
      None soe sweet as melanchollie."


When I remember how my happiness was enhanced by every little bird that
burst out into sudden song among the trees, and then as suddenly became
silent, or by every bright-scaled fish that went darting through the
topaz-coloured depths of the water, or rose for a moment over its calm
surface--how the blue sheets of hyacinths that carpeted the openings in
the wood delighted me, and every golden-tinted cloud that gleamed over
the setting sun, and threw its bright flush on the river, seemed to
inform the heart of a heaven beyond--I marvel, in looking over the
scraps of verse produced at the time, to find how little of the
sentiment in which I so luxuriated, or of the nature which I so enjoyed,
found their way into them. But what Wordsworth well terms "the
accomplishment of verse," given to but few, is as distinct from the
poetic faculty vouchsafed to many, as the ability of relishing exquisite
music is distinct from the power of producing it. Nay, there are cases
in which the "faculty" may be very high, and yet the "accomplishment"
comparatively low, or altogether wanting. I have been told by the late
Dr. Chalmers, whose Astronomical Discourses form one of the finest
philosophical poems in any language, that he never succeeded in
achieving a readable stanza; and Dr. Thomas Brown, whose metaphysics
glow with poetry, might, though he produced whole volumes of verse,
have said nearly the same thing of himself. But, like the Metaphysician,
who would scarce have published his verses unless he had thought them
good ones, my rhymes pleased me at this period, and for some time after,
wonderfully well: they came to be so associated in my mind with the
scenery amid which they were composed, and the mood which it rarely
failed of inducing, that though they neither breathed the mood nor
reflected the scenery, they always suggested both; on the principle, I
suppose, that a pewter spoon, bearing the London stamp, suggested to a
crew of poor weather-beaten sailors in one of the islands of the
Pacific, their far-distant home and its enjoyments. One of the pieces
suggested at this time I shall, however, venture on submitting to the
reader. The few simple thoughts which it embodies arose in the solitary
churchyard among the woods, beside the aged, lichen-incrusted
dial-stone.


      ON SEEING A SUN-DIAL IN A CHURCHYARD

    Grey dial-stone, I fain would know
      What motive placed thee here,
    Where darkly opes the frequent grave,
      And rests the frequent bier.
    Ah! bootless creeps the dusky shade,
      Slow o'er thy figured plain:
    When mortal life has passed away,
      Time counts his hours in vain.

    As sweeps the clouds o'er ocean's breast,
      When shrieks the wintry wind.
    So doubtful thoughts, grey dial-stone,
      Come sweeping o'er my mind.
    I think of what could place thee here,
      Of those beneath thee laid,
    And ponder if thou wert not raised
      In mockery o'er the dead.

    Nay, man, when on life's stage they fret.
      May mock his fellow-men!
    In sooth, their soberest freaks afford
      Rare food for mockery then.
    But ah! when passed their brief sojourn--
      When Heaven's dread doom is said--
    Beats there the human heart could pour
      Like mockeries o'er the dead?

    The fiend unblest, who still to harm
      Directs his felon power,
    May ope the book of grace to him
      Whose day of grace is o'er;
    But never sure could mortal man,
      Whate'er his age or clime,
    Thus raise in mockery o'er the dead,
      The stone that measures time.

    Grey dial-stone, I fain would know
      What motive placed thee here,
    Where sadness heaves the frequent sigh,
      And drops the frequent tear.
    Like thy carved plain, grey dial-stone,
      Grief's weary mourners be:
    Dark sorrow metes out time to them--
      Dark shade marks time on thee.

    I know it now: wert thou not placed
      To catch the eye of him
    To whom, through glistening tears, earth's gauds
      Worthless appear, and dim?
    We think of time when time has fled,
      The friend our tears deplore;
    The God whom pride-swollen hearts deny,
      Grief-humbled hearts adore.

    Grey stone, o'er thee the lazy night
      Passes untold away;
    Nor were it thine at noon to teach
      If failed the solar ray.
    In death's dark night, grey dial-stone,
      Cease all the works of men;
    In life, if Heaven withhold its aid,
      Bootless these works and vain.

    Grey dial-stone, while yet thy shade
      Points out those hours are mine--
    While yet at early morn I rise--
      And rest at day's decline--
    Would that the SUN that formèd thine,
      His bright rays beamed on me,
    That I, wise for the final day,
      Might measure time, like thee!


These were happy evenings--all the more happy from the circumstance that
I was still in heart and appetite a boy, and could relish as much as
ever, when their season came on, the wild raspberries of the Conon
woods--a very abundant fruit in that part of the country--and climb as
lightly as ever, to strip the guean-trees of their wild cherries. When
the river was low, I used to wade into its fords in quest of its pearl
muscles (_Unio Margaritiferus_); and, though not very successful in my
pearl-fishing, it was at least something to see how thickly the
individuals of this greatest of British fresh-water molluscs lay
scattered among the pebbles of the fords, or to mark them creeping
slowly along the bottom--when, in consequence of prolonged droughts, the
current had so moderated that they were in no danger of being swept
away--each on its large white foot, with its valves elevated over its
back, like the carpace of some tall tortoise. I found occasion at this
time to conclude, that the _Unio_ of our river-fords secretes pearls so
much more frequently than the _Unionidæ_ and _Anadonta_ of our still
pools and lakes, not from any specific peculiarity in the constitution
of the creature, but from the effects of the habitat which it is its
nature to choose. It receives in the fords and shallows of a rapid river
many a rough blow from sticks and pebbles carried down in times of
flood, and occasionally from the feet of the men and animals that cross
the stream during droughts; and the blows induce the morbid secretions
of which pearls are the result. There seems to exist no inherent cause
why _Anadon Cygnea_, with its beautiful silvery nacre--as bright often,
and always more delicate than that of _Unio Margaritiferus_--should not
be equally productive of pearls; but, secure from violence in its still
pools and lakes, and unexposed to the circumstances that provoke
abnormal secretions, it does not produce a single pearl for every
hundred that are ripened into value and beauty by the exposed
current-tossed _Unionidæ_ of our rapid mountain rivers. Would that
hardship and suffering bore always in a creature of a greatly higher
family similar results, and that the hard buffets dealt him by fortune
in the rough stream of life could be transmuted, by some blessed
internal predisposition of his nature, into pearls of great price.

It formed one of my standing enjoyments at this time to bathe, as the
sun was sinking behind the woods, in the deeper pools of the Conon--a
pleasure which, like all the more exciting pleasures of youth, bordered
on terror. Like that of the poet, when he "wantoned with the breakers,"
and the "freshening sea made them a terror," "'twas a pleasing fear."
But it was not current nor freshening eddy that rendered it such: I had
acquired, long before, a complete mastery over all my motions in the
water, and, setting out from the shores of the Bay of Cromarty, have
swam round vessels in the roadstead, when, among the many boys of a
seaport town, not more than one or two would venture to accompany me;
but the poetic age is ever a credulous one, as certainly in individuals
as in nations: the old fears of the supernatural may be modified and
etherealized, but they continue to influence it; and at this period the
Conon still took its place among the haunted streams of Scotland. There
was not a river in the Highlands that used, ere the erection of the
stately bridge in our neighbourhood, to sport more wantonly with human
life--an evidence, the ethnographer might perhaps say, of its purely
Celtic origin; and as Superstition has her figures as certainly as
Poesy, the perils of a wild mountain-born stream, flowing between
thinly-inhabited banks, were personified in the beliefs of the people by
a frightful goblin, that took a malignant delight in luring into its
pools, or overpowering in its fords, the benighted traveller. Its
goblin, the "water-wraith," used to appear as a tall woman dressed in
green, but distinguished chiefly by her withered, meagre countenance,
ever distorted by a malignant scowl. I knew all the various
fords--always dangerous ones--where of old she used to start, it was
said, out of the river, before the terrified traveller, to point at him,
as in derision, with her skinny finger, or to beckon him invitingly on;
and I was shown the very tree to which a poor Highlander had clung,
when, in crossing the river by night, he was seized by the goblin, and
from which, despite of his utmost exertions, though assisted by a young
lad, his companion, he was dragged into the middle of the current,
where he perished. And when, in swimming at sunset over some dark pool,
where the eye failed to mark or the foot to sound the distant bottom,
the twig of some sunken bush or tree has struck against me as I passed,
I have felt, with sudden start, as if touched by the cold, bloodless
fingers of the goblin.

The old chapel among the woods formed the scene, says tradition, of an
incident similar to that which Sir Walter Scott relates in his "Heart of
Mid-Lothian," when borrowing, as the motto of the chapter in which he
describes the preparations for the execution of Porteous, from an author
rarely quoted--the Kelpie. "The hour's come," so runs the extract, "but
not the man;"--nearly the same words which the same author employs in
his "Guy Mannering," in the cave scene between Meg Merrilies and Dirk
Hatteraick. "There is a tradition," he adds in the accompanying note,
"that while a little stream was swollen into a torrent by recent
showers, the discontented voice of the water-spirit was heard to
pronounce these words. At the same moment, a man urged on by his fate,
or, in Scottish language, _fey_, arrived at a gallop, and prepared to
cross the water. No remonstrance from the bystanders was of power to
stop him: he plunged into the stream, and perished." So far Sir Walter.
The Ross-shire story is fuller, and somewhat different in its details.
On a field in the near neighbourhood of the chapel, now laid out into
the gardens of Conon House, there was a party of Highlanders engaged in
an autumnal day at noon, some two or three centuries ago, in cutting
down their corn, when the boding voice of the wraith was heard rising
from the Conon beneath--"The hour's come, but not the man." Immediately
after, a courier on horseback was seen spurring down the hill in hot
haste, making directly for what is known as a "fause ford," that lies
across the stream just opposite the old building, in the form of a
rippling bar, which, indicating apparently, though very falsely, little
depth of water, is flanked by a deep black pool above and below. The
Highlanders sprang forward to warn him of his danger, and keep him back;
but he was unbelieving and in haste, and rode express, he said, on
business that would brook no delay; and as for the "fause ford," if it
could not be ridden, it could be swam; and, whether by riding or
swimming, he was resolved on getting across. Determined, however, on
saving him in his own despite, the Highlanders forced him from his
horse, and, thrusting him into the little chapel, locked him in; and
then, throwing open the door when the fatal hour had passed, they called
to him that he might now pursue his journey. But there was no reply, and
no one came forth; and on going in they found him lying cold and stiff,
with his face buried in the water of a small stone font. He had fallen,
apparently, in a fit, athwart the wall; and his predestined hour having
come, he was suffocated by the few pints of water in the projecting
font. At this time the stone font of the tradition--a rude trough,
little more than a foot in diameter either way--was still to be seen
among the ruins; and, like the veritable cannon in the Castle of
Udolpho, beside which, according to Annette, the ghost used to take its
stand, it imparted by its solid reality a degree of authenticity to the
story in this part of the country, which, if unfurnished with a "local
habitation," as in Sir Walter's note, it would have wanted. Such was one
of the many stories of the Conon with which I became acquainted at a
time when the beliefs they exemplified were by no means quite dead, and
of which I could think as tolerably serious realities, when, lying a-bed
all alone at midnight, the solitary inmate of a dreary barrack,
listening to the roar of the Conon.

Besides the long evenings, we had an hour to breakfast, and another to
dinner. Much of the breakfast hour was spent in cooking our food; but as
a bit of oaten cake and a draught of milk usually served us for the
mid-day meal, the greater part of the hour assigned to _it_ was
available for purposes of rest or amusement. And when the day was fine,
I used to spend it by the side of a mossy stream, within a few minutes'
walk of the work-shed, or in a neighbouring planting, beside a little
irregular lochan, fringed round with flags and rushes. The mossy stream,
black in its deeper pools, as if it were a rivulet of tar, contained a
good many trout, which had acquired a hue nearly as deep as its own, and
formed the very negroes of their race. They were usually of small
size--for the stream itself was small; and, though little countries
sometimes produce great men, little streams rarely produce great fish.
But on one occasion, towards the close of autumn, when a party of the
younger workmen set themselves, in a frolic, to sweep it with torch and
spear, they succeeded in capturing, in a dark alder-o'ershaded pool, a
monstrous individual, nearly three feet in length, and proportionally
bulky, with a snout bent over the lower jaw at its symphysis, like the
beak of a hawk, and as deeply tinged (though with more of brown in its
complexion) as the blackest coal-fish I ever saw. It must have been a
bull-trout, a visitor from the neighbouring river; but we all concluded
at the time, from the extreme dinginess of its coat, that it had lived
for years in its dark pool, a hermit apart from its fellows. I am not
now, however, altogether certain that the inference was a sound one.
Some fishes, like some men, have a wonderful ability of assuming the
colours that best suit their interests for the time. I have been unable
to determine whether the trout be one of these conformists; but it used
to strike me at this period as at least curious, that the fishes in even
the lower reaches of the dark little rivulet should differ so entirely
in hue from those of the greatly clearer Conon, into which its peaty
waters fall, and whose scaly denizens are of silvery brightness. No fish
seems to possess a more complete power over its dingy coat than a very
abundant one in the estuary of the Conon--the common flounder. Standing
on the bank, I have startled these creatures from off the patch of
bottom on which they lay--visible to only a very sharp eye--by pitching
a very small pebble right over them. Was the patch a pale one--for a
minute or so they carried its pale colour along with them into some
darker tract, where they remained distinctly visible from the contrast,
until, gradually acquiring the deeper hue, they again became
inconspicuous. But if startled back to the same pale patch from which
they had set out, I have then seen them visible for a minute or so, from
their over-dark tint, until, gradually losing it in turn, they paled
down, as at first, to the colour of the lighter ground. An old
Highlander, whose suit of tartan conformed to the general hue of the
heather, was invisible at a little distance, when traversing a moor, but
came full into view in crossing a green field or meadow: the suit given
by nature to the flounder, tinted apparently on the same principle of
concealment, exhibits a degree of adaptation to its varying
circumstances, which the tartan wanted. And it is certainly curious
enough to find, in one of our commonest fishes, a property which used to
be regarded as one of the standing marvels of the zoology of those
remote countries of which the chameleon is a native.

The pond in the piece of planting, though as unsightly a little patch of
water as might be, was, I found, a greatly richer study than the dark
rivulet. Mean and small as it was--not larger in area inside its fringe
of rushes than a fashionable drawing-room--its natural history would
have formed an interesting volume; and many a half-hour have I spent
beside it in the heat of the day, watching its numerous
inhabitants--insect, reptilian, and vermiferous. There were
two--apparently _three_--different species of libellula that used to
come and deposit their eggs in it--one of the two, that large kind of
dragon-fly (_Eshna grandis_), scarce smaller than one's
middle-finger--which is so beautifully coloured black and yellow, as if
adorned by the same taste one sees displayed in the chariots and
liveries of the fashionable world. The other fly was a greatly more
slender and smaller species or genus, rather _Agrion_; and it seemed
two, not one, from the circumstance, that about one-half the individuals
were beautifully variegated black and sky-blue, the other half black and
bright crimson. But the peculiarity was merely a sexual one: as if in
illustration of those fine analogies with which all nature is charged,
the sexes put on the _complementary_ colours, and are mutually
fascinating, not by resembling, but by _corresponding_ to, each other. I
learned in time to distinguish the disagreeable-looking larvæ of these
flies, both larger and smaller, with their six hairy legs, and their
grotesque formidable vizors, and found that they were the very pirates
of the water, as the splendid insects into which they were ultimately
developed were the very tyrants of the lower air. It was strange to see
the beautiful winged creature that sprang out of the pupa into which the
repulsive-looking pirate had been transformed, launch forth into its new
element, changed in everything save its nature, but still unchanged in
that, and rendering itself as formidable to the moth and the butterfly
as it had been before to the newt and the tadpole. There is, I daresay,
an analogy here also. It is in the first state of our own species, as
certainly as in that of the dragon-fly, that the character is fixed.
Further, I used to experience much interest in watching the progress of
the frog, in its earlier stages from the egg to the fish; then from the
fish to the reptile fish, with its fringed tail, and ventral and
pectoral _limbs_; and, last of all, from the reptile fish to the
complete reptile. I had not yet learned--nor was it anywhere known at
the time--that the history of the individual frog, through these
successive transformations, is a history in small of the animal creation
itself in its earlier stages--that in order of time the egg-like mollusc
had taken precedence of the fish, and the fish of the reptile; and that
an intermediate order of creatures had once abounded, in which, as in
the half-developed frog, the natures of both fish and reptile were
united. But, though unacquainted with this strange analogy, the
transformations were of themselves wonderful enough to fill for a time
my whole mind. I remember being struck one afternoon, after spending my
customary spare half hour beside the pond, and marking the peculiar
style of colouring in the yellow and black libellulidæ in the common
wasp, and in a yellow and black species of ichneumon fly, to detect in
some half-dozen gentlemen's carriages that were standing opposite our
work-shed--for the good old knight of Conon House had a dinner-party
that evening--exactly the same style of ornamental colouring. The
greater number of the vehicles were yellow and black--just as these were
the prevailing colours among the wasps and libellulidæ; but there was a
slight admixture of other colours among them too: there was at least one
that was black and green, or black and blue, I forget which; and another
black and brown. And so it was among the insects also: the same sort of
taste, both in colour and the arrangements of colour, and even in the
proportions of the various colours, seemed to have regulated the style
of ornament manifested in the carriages of the dinner party, and of the
insect visitors of the pond. Further, I thought I could detect a
considerable degree of resemblance in form between a chariot and an
insect. There was a great _abdominal_ body separated by a narrow isthmus
from a _thoracic_ coach-box, where the directing power was stationed;
while the wheels, poles, springs, and general framework on which the
vehicle rested, corresponded to the wings, limbs, and antennæ of the
insect. There was at least sufficient resemblance of form to justify
resemblance of colour; and here _was_ the actual resemblance of colour
which the resemblance of form justified. I remember that, in musing over
the coincidence, I learned to suspect, for the first time, that it might
be no mere coincidence after all; and that the fact embodied in the
remarkable text which informs us that the Creator made man in his own
image, might in reality lie at its foundation as the proper solution.
Man, spurred by his necessities, has discovered for himself mechanical
contrivances, which he has afterwards found anticipated as contrivances
of the Divine Mind, in some organism, animal or vegetable. In the same
way his sense of beauty in form or colour originates some pleasing
combination of lines or tints; and then he discovers that _it_ also has
been anticipated. He gets his chariot tastefully painted black and
yellow, and lo! the wasp that settles on its wheel, or the dragon-fly
that darts over it, he finds painted in exactly the same style. His
neighbour, indulging in a different taste, gets _his_ vehicle painted
black and blue, and lo! some lesser libellula or ichneumon fly comes
whizzing past, to justify his style of ornament also, but at the same
time to show that it, too, had existed ages before.

The evenings gradually closed in as the season waned--at first
abridging, and at length wholly interdicting, my evening walks; and
having no other place to which to retire, save the dark, gousty hay-loft
into which a light was never admitted, I had to seek the shelter of the
barrack, and succeeded usually in finding a seat within at least _sight_
of the fire. The place was greatly over-crowded; and, as in all
over-large companies, it had commonly its four or five groups of
talkers; each group furnished with a topic of its own. The elderly men
spoke about the state of the markets, and speculated, in especial, on
the price of oatmeal; the apprentices talked about lasses; while knots
of intermediate age discussed occasionally both markets and lasses too,
or spoke of old companions, their peculiarities and history, or
expatiated on the adventures of former work seasons, and the characters
of the neighbouring lairds. Politics proper I never heard. During the
whole season a newspaper never once entered the barrack door. At times a
song or story secured the attention of the whole barrack; and there was
in especial one story-teller whose powers of commanding attention were
very great. He was a middle-aged Highlander, not very skilful as a
workman, and but indifferently provided with English; and as there
usually attaches a nickname to persons in the humbler walks that are
marked by any eccentricity of character, he was better known among his
brother workmen as Jock Mo-ghoal, _i.e._ John my Darling, than by his
proper name. Of all Jock Mo-ghoal's stories Jock Mo-ghoal was himself
the hero; and certainly most wonderful was the invention of the man. As
recorded in his narratives, his life was one long epic poem, filled with
strange and startling adventure, and furnished with an extraordinary
machinery of the wild and supernatural; and though all knew that Jock
made imagination supply, in his histories, the place of memory, not even
Ulysses or Æneas--men who, unless very much indebted to their poets,
must have been of a similar turn--could have attracted more notice at
the courts of Alcinuous or Dido, than Jock in the barrack. The workmen
used, on the mornings after big greater narratives, to look one another
full in the face, and ask, with a smile rather incipient than fully
manifest, whether "Jock wasna perfectly wonderfu' last nicht?"

He had several times visited the south of Scotland, as one of a band of
Highland reapers, for employment in his proper profession very often
failed poor Jock; and these journeys formed the grand occasions of his
adventures. One of his narratives commenced, I remember, with a
frightful midnight scene in a solitary churchyard. Jock had lost his way
in the darkness; and, after stumbling among burial-mounds and
tombstones, he had toppled into an open grave, which was of a depth so
profound, that for some time he failed to escape from it, and merely
pulled down upon himself, in his attempts to climb its loose sides,
musty skulls, and great thigh-bones, and pieces of decayed coffins. At
length, however, he did succeed in getting out, just as a party of
unscrupulous resurrectionists were in the act of entering the
burying-ground; and they, naturally enough preferring an undecayed
subject that had the life in it to preserve it fresh, to dead corpses
the worse for the keeping, gave him chase; and it was with the extremest
difficulty that, after scudding over wild moors and through dark woods,
he at length escaped them by derning himself in a fox-earth. The season
of autumnal labour over, he visited Edinburgh on his way north; and was
passing along the High Street, when, seeing a Highland girl on the
opposite side with whom he was intimate, and whom he afterwards married,
he strode across to address her, and a chariot coming whirling along the
street at the time at full speed, he was struck by the pole and knocked
down. The blow had taken him full on the chest; but though the bone
seemed injured, and the integuments became frightfully swollen and
livid, he was able to get up; and, on asking to be shown the way to a
surgeon's shop, his acquaintance the girl brought him to an under-ground
room in one of the narrow lanes off the street, which, save for the
light of a great fire, would have been pitch dark at mid-day, and in
which he found a little wrinkled old woman, as yellow as the smoke that
filled the apartment. "Choose," said the hag, as she looked at the
injured part, "one of two things--a cure slow but sure, or sudden but
imperfect. Or shall I put back the hurt altogether till you get home?"
"That, that," said Jock; "if I were ance home I could bear it well
enouch." The hag began to pass her hand over the injured part, and to
mutter under her breath some potent charm; and as she muttered and
manipulated, the swelling gradually subsided, and the livid tints
blanched, till at length nought remained to tell of the recent accident
save a pale spot in the middle of the breast, surrounded by a
thread-like circle of blue. And now, she said, you are well for three
weeks; but be prepared for the fourth. Jock prosecuted his northward
journey, and encountered the usual amount of adventure by the way. He
was attacked by robbers, but, assistance coming up, he succeeded in
beating them off. He lost his way in a thick mist, but found shelter,
after many hours' wandering far among the hills, in a deserted
shepherd's shielin'. He was nearly buried in a sudden snow-storm that
broke out by night, but, getting into the middle of a cooped-up flock
of sheep, they kept him warm and comfortable amid the vast
drift-wreaths, till the light of morning enabled him to prosecute his
journey. At length he reached home, and was prosecuting his ordinary
avocations, when the third week came to a close; and he was on a lonely
moor at the very hour he had met with the accident on the High Street,
when he suddenly heard the distant rattle of a chariot, though not a
shadow of the vehicle was to be seen; the sounds came bearing down upon
him, heightening as they approached, and, when at the loudest, a violent
blow on the breast prostrated him on the moor. The stroke of the High
Street "had come back," just as the wise woman had said it would, though
with accompaniments that Jock had not anticipated. It was with
difficulty he reached his cottage that evening; and there elapsed fully
six weeks ere he was able to quit it again. Such, in its outlines, was
one of the marvellous narratives of Jock Mo-ghoal. He belonged to a
curious class, known by specimen, in, I suppose, almost every locality,
especially in the more primitive ones--for the smart ridicule common in
the artificial states of society greatly stunt their growth; and in our
literature--as represented by the Bobadils, Young Wildings, Caleb
Balderstons, and Baron Munchausens--they hold a prominent place. The
class is to be found of very general development among the vagabond
tribes. I have listened to wonderful personal narratives that had not a
word of truth in them, "from gipsies brown in summer glades that bask,"
as I took my seat beside their fire, in a wild rock-cave in the
neighbourhood of Rosemarkie, or at a later period in the cave of Marcus;
and in getting into conversation with individuals of the more thoroughly
lapsed classes of our large towns, I have found that a faculty of
extemporary fabrication was almost the only one which I could calculate
on finding among them in a state of vigorous activity. That in some
cases the propensity should be found co-existing with superior calibre
and acquirement, and with even a sense of honour by no means very
obtuse, must be regarded as one of the strange anomalies which so often
surprise and perplex the student of human character. As a misdirected
toe-nail, injured by pressure, sometimes turns round, and, re-entering
the flesh, vexes it into a sore, it would seem as if that noble
inventive faculty to which we owe the parable and the epic poem, were
liable, when constrained by self-love, to similar misdirections; and
certainly, when turned inwards upon its possessor, the moral character
festers or grows callous around it.

There was no one in the barrack with whom I cared much to converse, or
who, in turn, cared much to converse with me; and so I learned, on the
occasions when the company got dull, and broke up into groups, to retire
to the hay-loft where I slept, and pass there whole hours seated on my
chest. The loft was a vast apartment, some fifty or sixty feet in
length, with its naked rafters raised little more than a man's height
over the floor; but in the starlit nights, when the openings in the wall
assumed the character of square patches of darkness-visible stamped upon
utter darkness, it looked quite as well as any other unlighted place
that could not be seen; and in nights brightened by the moon, the pale
beams, which found access at openings and crevices, rendered its wide
area quite picturesque enough for ghosts to walk in. But I never saw
any; and the only sounds I heard were those made by the horses in the
stable below, champing and snorting over their food. They were, I doubt
not, happy enough in their dark stalls, because they were horses, and
had plenty to eat; and I was at times quite happy enough in the dark
loft above, because I was a man, and could think and imagine. It is, I
believe, Addison who remarks, that if all the thoughts which pass
through men's minds were to be made public, the great difference which
seems to exist between the thinking of the wise and of the unwise would
be a good deal reduced; seeing that it is a difference which does not
consist in their not having the same weak thoughts in common, but
merely in the prudence through which the wise suppress their foolish
ones. I still possess notes of the cogitations of these solitary
evenings, ample enough to show that they were extraordinary combinations
of the false and the true; but I at the same time hold them sufficiently
in memory to remember, that I scarce, if at all, distinguished between
what was false and true in them at the time. The literature of almost
every people has a corresponding early stage, in which fresh thinking is
mingled with little conceits, and in which the taste is usually false,
but the feeling true.

Let me present my young readers, from my notes, with the variously
compounded cogitations of one of these quiet evenings. What formed so
long ago one of my exercises may now form one of theirs, if they but set
themselves to separate the solid from the unsolid thinking contained in
my abstract.


                                MUSINGS.

     "I stood last summer on the summit of Tor-Achilty [a pyramidal hill
     about six miles from Conon side], and occupied, when there, the
     centre of a wide circle, about fifty miles in diameter. I can still
     call up its rough-edged sea of hills, with the clear blue firmament
     arching over, and the slant rays of the setting sun gleaming
     athwart. Yes, over that circular field, fifty miles across, the
     firmament closed all around at the horizon, as a watch-glass closes
     round the dial-plate of the watch. Sky and earth seemed
     co-extensive; and yet how incalculably vast their difference of
     area! Thousands of systems seemed but commensurate, to the eye,
     with a small district of earth fifty miles each way. But capacious
     as the human imagination has been deemed, can it conceive of an
     area of wider field? Mine cannot. My mind cannot take in more at a
     glance, if I may so speak, than is taken in by the eye. I cannot
     conceive of a wider area than that which the sight commands from
     the summit of a lofty eminence. I can pass in imagination through
     many such areas. I can add field to field _ad infinitum_; and thus
     conceive of infinite space, by conceiving of a space which can be
     infinitely added to; but all of space that I can take in at one
     process, is an area commensurate with that embraced at a glance by
     the eye. How, then, have I my conception of the earth as a
     whole--of the solar system as a whole--nay, of many systems as a
     whole? Just as I have my conceptions of a school-globe or of an
     Orrery--by diminution. It is through the diminution induced by
     distance that the sidereal heavens only co-extend, as seen from the
     top of Tor-Achilty, with a portion of the counties of Ross and
     Inverness. The apparent area is the same, but the colouring is
     different. Our ideas of greatness, then, are much less dependent on
     actual area than on what painters term aerial perspective. The
     dimness of distance, and the diminution of parts, are essential to
     right conceptions of great magnitude.

     "Of the various figures presented to me here, I seize strong hold
     of but one. I brood over the picture of the solar system conjured
     up. I conceive of the satellites as light shallops that continually
     sail round heavier vessels, and consider how much more of space
     they must traverse than the orbs to which they are attached. The
     entire system is presented to me as an Orrery of the apparent size
     of the area of landscape seen from the hill-top; but dimness and
     darkness prevent the diminution from communicating that appearance
     of littleness to the whole which would attach to it, were it, like
     an actual Orrery, sharply defined and clear. As the picture rises
     before me, the entire system seems to possess, what I suspect it
     wants, its atmosphere like that of the earth, which reflects the
     light of the sun in the different degrees of excessive
     brightness--noon-tide splendour, the fainter shades of evening, and
     grey twilight obscurity. This veil of light is thickest towards the
     centre of the system; for when the glance rests on its edges, the
     suns of other systems may be seen peeping through. I see Mercury
     sparkling to the sun, with its oceans of molten glass, and its
     fountains of liquid gold. I see the ice-mountains of Saturn, hoar
     through the twilight. I behold the earth rolling upon itself, from
     darkness to light, and from light to darkness. I see the clouds of
     winter settling over one part of it, with the nether mantle of snow
     shining through them; I see in another a brown, dusky waste of sand
     lighted up by the glow of summer. One ocean appears smooth as a
     mirror--another is black with tempest. I see the pyramid of shade
     which each of the planets casts from its darkened side into the
     space behind; and I perceive the stars twinkling through each
     opening, as through the angular doors of a pavilion.

     "Such is the scene seen at right angles with the plane in which the
     planets move; but what would be its aspect if I saw it in the line
     of the plane? What would be its appearance if I saw it edgewise?
     There arises in my mind one of those uncertainties which so
     frequently convince me that I am ignorant. I cannot complete my
     picture, for I do not know whether all the planets move in one
     plane. How determine the point? A ray of light breaks in. Huzza! I
     have found it. If the courses of the planets as seen in the heavens
     form parallel lines, then must they all move in one plane; and
     _vice versa_. But hold! That would be as seen from the sun--if the
     planets _could_ be seen from the sun. The earth is but one of their
     own number, and from it the point of view must be disadvantageous.
     The diurnal motion must perplex. But no. The apparent motion of
     the heavens need not disturb the observation. Let the course of the
     planets through the fixed stars, be marked, and though, from the
     peculiarity of the point of observation, their motion may at one
     time seem more rapid, and at another more slow, yet, if their plane
     be, as a workman would say, _out of twist_, their lines will seem
     parallel. Still in some doubt, however: I long for a glance at an
     Orrery, to determine the point; and then I remember that Ferguson,
     an untaught man like myself, had made more Orreries than any one
     else, and that mechanical contrivances of the kind were the natural
     recourse of a man unskilled in the higher geometry. But it would be
     better to be a mathematician than skilful in contriving Orreries. A
     man of the Newtonian cast of mind, and accomplished in the
     Newtonian learning, could solve the problem where I sat, without an
     Orrery.

     "From the thing contemplated, I pass to the consideration of the
     mind that contemplates. Oh! that wonderful Newton, respecting whom
     the Frenchman inquired whether he ate and slept like other men! I
     consider how one mind excels another; nay, how one man excels a
     thousand; and, by way of illustration, I bethink me of the mode of
     valuing diamonds. A single diamond that weighs fifty carats is
     deemed more valuable than two thousand diamonds, each of which only
     weighs one. My illustration refers exclusively to the native
     powers; but may it not, I ask, bear also on the acquisition of
     knowledge? Every new idea added to the stock already collected is a
     carat added to the diamond; for it is not only valuable in itself,
     but it also increases the value of all the others, by giving to
     each of them a new link of association.

     "The thought links itself on to another, mayhap less sound:--Do not
     the minds of men of exalted genius, such as Homer, Milton,
     Shakspere, seem to partake of some of the qualities of infinitude?
     Add a great many bricks together, and they form a pyramid as huge
     as the peak of Teneriffe. Add all the common minds together that
     the world ever produced, and the mind of a Shakspere towers over
     the whole, in all the grandeur of unapproachable infinity. That
     which is infinite admits of neither increase nor diminution. Is it
     not so with genius of a certain altitude? Homer, Milton, Shakspere,
     were perhaps men of equal powers. Homer was, it is said, a beggar;
     Shakspere an illiterate wool-comber; Milton skilled in all human
     learning. But they have all risen to an equal height. Learning has
     added nothing to the _illimitable_ genius of the one; nor has the
     want of it detracted from the _infinite_ powers of the others. But
     it is time that I go and prepare supper."


I visited the policies of Conon House a full quarter of a century after
this time--walked round the kiln, once our barrack--scaled the outside
stone-stair of the hay-loft, to stand for half a minute on the spot
where I used to spend whole hours seated on my chest, so long before;
and then enjoyed a quiet stroll among the woods of the Conon. The river
was big in flood: it was exactly such a river Conon as I had lost sight
of in the winter of 1821, and eddied past dark and heavy, sweeping over
bulwark and bank. The low-stemmed alders that rose on islet and mound
seemed shorn of half their trunks in the tide; here and there an elastic
branch bent to the current, and rose and bent again; and now a tuft of
withered heath came floating down, and now a soiled wreath of foam. How
vividly the past rose up before me!--boyish day-dreams, forgotten for
twenty years--the fossils of an early formation of mind, produced at a
period when the atmosphere of feeling was warmer than now, and the
immaturities of the mental kingdom grew rank and large, like the ancient
_cryptogamia_, and bore no specific resemblance to the productions of a
riper time. The season I had passed in the neighbourhood so long
before--the first I had anywhere spent among strangers--belonged to an
age when home is not a country, nor a province even, but simply a little
spot of earth, inhabited by friends and relatives; and the verses, long
forgotten, in which my joy had found vent when on the eve of returning
to that home, came chiming as freshly into my memory as if scarce a
month had passed since I had composed them beside the Conon. Here they
are, with all the green juvenility of the home-sickness still about
them--a true petrifaction of an extinct feeling:--


                 TO THE CONON.

    Conon, fair flowed thy mountain stream,
      Through blossom'd heath and ripening field.
    When, shrunk by summer's fervid beam,
      Thy peaceful waves I first beheld.
    Calmly they swept thy winding shore.
      When harvest's mirthful feast was nigh--
    When, breeze-borne, with thy hoarser roar
      Came mingling sweet the reapers' cry.

    But now I mark thy angry wave
      Rush headlong to the stormy sea;
    Wildly the blasts of winter rave,
      Sad rustling through the leafless tree
    Loose on its spray the alder leaf
      Hangs wavering, trembling, sear and brow
    And dark thy eddies whirl beneath,
      And white thy foam comes floating down.

    Thy banks with withered shrubs are spread;
      Thy fields confess stern winter's reign;
    And gleams yon thorn with berries red,
      Like banner on a ravaged plain.
    Hark! ceaseless groans the leafless wood;
      Hark! ceaseless roars thy stream below
    Ben-Vaichard's peaks are dark with cloud
      Ben-Weavis' crest is white with snow.

    And yet, though red thy stream comes down
      Though bleak th' encircling hills appear--
    Though field be bare, and forest brown,
      And winter rule the waning year--
    Unmoved I see each charm decay,
      Unmourn'd the sweets of autumn die;
    And fading flower and leafless spray
      Court all in vain the thoughtful sigh.

    Not that dull grief delights to see
      Vex'd Nature wear a kindred gloom;
    Not that she smiled in vain to me,
      When gaily prank'd in summer's bloom
    Nay, much I loved, at even-tide,
      Through Brahan's lonely woods to stray.
    To mark thy peaceful billows glide,
      And watch the sun's declining ray.

    But yet, though roll'd thy billows fair
      As e'er roll'd those of classic stream--
    Though green thy woods, now dark and bare,
      Bask'd beauteous in the western beam;
    To mark a scene that childhood loved,
      The anxious eye was turned in vain;
    Nor could I find the friend approved,
      That shared my joy or soothed my pain.

    Now winter reigns: these hills no more
      Shall sternly bound my anxious view
    Soon, bent my course to Croma's shore,
      Shall I yon winding path pursue.
    Fairer than _here_ gay summer's glow
      To me _there_ wintry storms shall seem
    Then blow, ye bitter breezes, blow,
      And lash the Conon's mountain stream.



CHAPTER XI.

    "The bounding pulse, the languid limb
      The changing spirit's rise and fall--
    We know that these were felt by him,
      For these are felt by all."--MONTGOMERY.


The apprenticeship of my friend William Ross had expired during the
working season of this year, when I was engaged at Conon-side; and he
was now living in his mother's cottage in the parish of Nigg, on the
Ross-shire side of the Cromarty Firth. And so, with the sea between us,
we could no longer meet every evening as before, or take long
night-walks among the woods. I crossed the Firth, however, and spent one
happy day in his society, in a little, low-roofed domicile, with a
furze-roughened ravine on the one side, and a dark fir-wood on the
other; and which, though picturesque and interesting as a cottage, must,
I fear, have been a very uncomfortable home. His father, whom I had not
before seen, was sitting beside the fire as I entered. In all except
expression he was wonderfully like my friend; and yet he was one of the
most vapid men I ever knew--a man literally without an idea, and almost
without a recollection or a fact. And my friend's mother, though she
showed a certain kindliness of disposition which her husband wanted, was
loquacious and weak. Had my quondam acquaintance, the vigorous-minded
maniac of Ord, seen William and his parents, she would have triumphantly
referred to them in evidence that Flavel and the Schoolmen were wholly
in the right in holding that souls are not "derived through parental
traduction."

My friend had much to show me: he had made an interesting series of
water-colour sketches of the old castles of the neighbourhood, and a
very elaborate set of drawings of what are known as the Runic obelisks
of Ross: he had made some first attempts, too, in oil-painting; but
though his drawing was, as usual, correct, there was a deadness and want
of transparency about his colouring, which characterized all his after
attempts in the same department, and which was, I suspect, the result of
some such deficiency in his perceptions of the harmonies of colour as
that which, in another department of sense, made me so insensible to the
harmonies of sound. His drawings of the obelisks were of singular
interest. Not only have the thirty years which have since elapsed
exerted their dilapidating effect on all the originals from which he
drew, but one of the number--the most entire of the group at that
time--has been since almost wholly destroyed; and so, what he was then
able to do, there can be no such opportunity of doing again. Further,
his representations of the sculptured ornaments, instead of being (what
those of artists too often are) mere picturesque approximations, were
true in every curve and line. He told me he had spent a fortnight in
tracing out the involved mathematical figures, curves, circles, and
right lines--on which the intricate fretwork of one of the obelisks was
formed, and in making separate drawings of each compartment, before
commencing his draught of the entire stone. And, looking with the eye of
the stone-cutter at his preliminary sketches, from the first meagre
lilies that formed the ground-work of some involved and difficult knot,
to the elaborate knot itself, I saw that, with such a series of drawings
before me, I myself could learn to cut Runic obelisks, in all the
integrity of the complex ancient style, in less than a fortnight. My
friend had formed some striking and original views regarding the
theology represented by symbol on these ancient stones--at that time
regarded as Runic, but now held to be rather of Celtic origin. In the
centre of each obelisk, on the more important and strongly relieved
side, there always occurs a large cross, rather of the Greek than of the
Roman type, and usually elaborately wrought into a fretwork, composed of
myriads of snakes, raised in some of the compartments over half-spheres
resembling apples. In one of the Ross-shire obelisks--that of Shadwick,
in the parish of Nigg--the cross is entirely composed of these
apple-like, snake-covered protuberances; and it was the belief of my
friend, that the original idea of the whole, and, indeed, the
fundamental idea of this school of sculpture, was exactly that so
emphatically laid down by Milton in the opening argument of his
poem--man's fall symbolized by the serpents and the apples, and the
great sign of his restoration, by the cross. But in order to indicate
that to the divine Man, the Restorer, the cross itself was a consequence
of the Fall, even it was covered over with symbols of the event, and, in
one curious specimen, built up of them. It was the snakes and apples
that had reared, _i.e._, rendered imperative, the cross. My friend
further remarked, that from this main idea a sort of fretwork had
originated, which seemed more modern in some of its specimens than the
elaborately-carved snakes, and strongly-relieved apples, but in which
the twistings of the one, and the circular outlines of the others might
be distinctly traced; and that it seemed ultimately to have passed from
a symbol into a mere ornament; as, in earlier instances, hieroglyphic
pictures had passed into mere arbitrary signs or characters. I know not
what may be thought of the theory of William Ross; but when, in
visiting, several years ago, the ancient ruins of Iona, I marked, on the
more ancient crosses, the snakes and apparent apples, and then saw how
the same combination of figures appeared as mere ornamental fretwork on
some of the later tombs, I regarded it as more probably the right one
than any of the others I have yet seen broached on the subject. I dined
with my friend this day on potatoes and salt, flanked by a jug of water;
nor were the potatoes by any means very good ones; but they formed the
only article of food in the household at the time. He had now dined and
breakfasted upon them, he said, for several weeks together; but though
not very strengthening, they kept in the spark of life; and he had saved
up money enough to carry him to the south of Scotland in the spring,
where he trusted to find employment. A poor friendless lad of genius,
diluting his thin consumptive blood on bad potatoes and water, and, at
the same time, anticipating the labours of our antiquarian societies by
his elaborate and truthful drawings of an interesting class of national
antiquities, must be regarded as a melancholy object of contemplation;
but such hapless geniuses there are in every age in which art is
cultivated, and literature has its admirers; and, shrinkingly modest and
retiring in their natures, the world rarely finds them out in time.

I found employment enough for my leisure during this winter in my books
and walks, and in my uncle James's workshop, which, now that Uncle James
had no longer to lecture me about my Latin, and my carelessness as a
scholar in general, was a very pleasant place, where a great deal of
sound remark and excellent information were always to be had. There was
another dwelling in the neighbourhood in which I sometimes spent a not
unpleasant hour. It was a damp underground room, inhabited by a poor old
woman, who had come to the town from a country parish in the previous
year, bringing with her a miserably deformed lad, her son, who, though
now turned of twenty, more resembled, save in his head and face, a boy
of ten, and who was so helpless a cripple, that he could not move from
off his seat. "Poor lame Danie," as he was termed, was, notwithstanding
the hard measure dealt him by nature, an even-tempered,
kindly-dispositioned lad, and was, in consequence, a great favourite
with the young people in the neighbourhood, especially with the humbly
taught young women, who--regarding him simply as an intelligence,
coupled with sympathies, that could write letters--used to find him
employment, which he liked not a little, as a sort of amanuensis and
adviser-general in their affairs of the heart. Richardson tells that he
learned to write his Pamela by the practice he acquired in writing
love-letters, when a very young lad, for half a score love-sick females,
who trusted and employed him. "Poor Danie," though he bore on a skeleton
body, wholly unfurnished with muscle, a brain of the average size and
activity, was not born to be a novelist; but he had the necessary
materials in abundance; and though secret enough to all his other
acquaintance, I, who cared not a great deal about the matter, might, I
found, have as many of his experiences as I pleased. I enjoyed among my
companions the reputation of being what they termed "close-minded;" and
Danie, satisfied, in some sort, that I deserved the character, seemed to
find it a relief to roll over upon my shoulders the great weight of
confidence which, rather liberally, as would seem, for his comfort, had
been laid upon his own. It is recorded of himself by Burns, that he
"felt as much pleasure in being in the secret of half the loves of the
parish of Tarbolton, as ever did statesman in knowing the intrigues of
half the Courts of Europe." And, writing to Dr. Moore, he adds, that it
was "with difficulty" his pen was "restrained from giving him a couple
of paragraphs on the love-adventures of his compeers, the humble inmates
of the farm-house and cottage." I, on the other hand, bore my
confidences soberly enough, and kept them safe and very close--regarding
myself as merely a sort of back-yard of mind, in which Danie might store
up at pleasure the precious commodities intrusted to his charge, which,
from want of stowage, it cumbered him to keep, but which were his
property, not mine. And though, I daresay, I could still fill more than
"a couple of paragraphs" with the love-affairs of townswomen, some of
whose daughters were courted and married ten years ago, I feel no
inclination whatever, after having kept their secrets so long, to begin
blabbing them now. Danie kept a draft-board, and used to take a pride in
beating all his neighbours; but in a short time he taught me--too
palpably to his chagrin--to beat himself; and finding the game a rather
engrossing one besides, and not caring to look on the woe-begone
expression that used to cloud the meek pale face of my poor
acquaintance, every time he found his men swept off the board, or cooped
up into a corner, I gave up drafts, the only game of the kind of which I
ever knew anything, and in the course of a few years succeeded in
unlearning pretty completely all the moves. It appeared wonderful that
the processes essential to life could have been carried on in so
miserable a piece of framework as the person of poor Danie: it was
simply a human skeleton bent double, and covered with a sallow skin. But
they were not carried on in it long. About eighteen months after the
first commencement of our acquaintance, when I was many miles away, he
was seized by a sudden illness, and died in a few hours. I have seen, in
even our better works of fiction, less interesting characters portrayed
than, poor gentle-spirited Danie, the love-depository of the young dames
of the village; and I learned a thing or two in his school.

It was not until after several weeks of the working season had passed,
that my master's great repugnance to doing nothing overcame his almost
equally great repugnance again to seek work as a journeyman. At length,
however, a life of inactivity became wholly intolerable to him; and,
applying to his former employer, he was engaged on the previous
terms--full wages for himself, and a very small allowance for his
apprentice, who was now, however, recognised as the readier and more
skilful stone-cutter of the two. In cutting mouldings of the more
difficult kinds, I had sometimes to take the old man under charge, and
give him lessons in the art, from which, however, he had become rather
too rigid in both mind and body greatly to profit. We both returned to
Conon-side, where there was a tall dome of hewn work to be erected over
the main archway of the steading at which we had been engaged during the
previous year; and, as few of the workmen had yet assembled on the
spot, we succeeded in establishing ourselves as inmates of the barrack,
leaving the hay-loft, with its inferior accommodation, to the later
comers. We constructed for ourselves a bed-frame of rough slabs, and
filled it with hay; placed our chests in front of it; and, as the rats
mustered by thousands in the place, suspended our sack of oatmeal by a
rope, from one of the naked rafters, at rather more than a man's height
over the floor. And, having both pot and pitcher, our household economy
was complete. Though resolved not to forego my evening walks, I had
determined to conform also to every practice of the barrack; and as the
workmen, drafted from various parts of the country, gradually increased
around us, and the place became crowded, I soon found myself engaged in
the rolicking barrack-life of the north-country mason. The rats were
somewhat troublesome. A comrade who slept in the bed immediately beside
ours had one of his ears bitten through one night as he lay asleep, and
remarked, that he supposed it would be his weasand they would attack
next time; and, on rising one morning, I found that the four brightly
plated jack-buttons to which my braces had been fastened had been fairly
cut from off my trousers, and carried away, to form, I doubt not, a
portion of some miser-hoard in the wall. But even the rats themselves
became a source of amusement to us, and imparted to our rude domicile,
in some little degree, the dignity of danger. It was not likely that
they would succeed in eating us all up, as they had done wicked Bishop
Hatto of old; but it was at least something that they had begun to try.

The dwellers in the hay-loft had not been admitted in the previous
season to the full privileges of the barrack, nor had they been required
to share in all its toils and duties. They had to provide their quota of
wood for the fire, and of water for general household purposes: but they
had not to take their turn of cooking and baking for the entire mess,
but were permitted, as convenience served, to cook and bake for
themselves. And so, till now, I had made cakes and porridge, with at
times an occasional mess of brose or _brochan_, for only my master and
myself--a happy arrangement, which, I daresay, saved me a few
_rammings_; seeing that, in at least my earlier efforts, I had been
rather unlucky as a cook, and not very fortunate as a baker. My
experience in the Cromarty caves had rendered me skilful in both boiling
and roasting potatoes, and in preparing shell-fish for the table,
whether molluscous or crustacean, according to the most approved
methods; but the exigencies of our wild life had never brought me fairly
in contact with the cerealia; and I had now to spoil a meal or two, in
each instance, ere my porridge became palatable, or my cakes crisp, or
my brose free and knotty, or my _brochan_ sufficiently smooth and void
of knots. My master, poor man, did grumble a little at first; but there
was a general disposition in the barrack to take part rather with his
apprentice than with himself; and after finding that the cases were to
be given against him, he ceased making complaints. My porridge was at
times, I must confess, very like leaven; but then, it was a standing
recipe in the barrack, that the cook should continue stirring the mess
and adding meal, until, from its first wild ebullitions in full boil, it
became silent over the fire; and so I could show that I had made my
porridge like leaven, quite according to rule. And as for my _brochan_,
I succeeded in proving that I had actually failed to satisfy, though I
had made two kinds of it at once in the same pot. I preferred this viand
when of a thicker consistency than usual, whereas my master liked it
thin enough to be drunk out of the bowl; but as it was I who had the
making of it, I used more instead of less meal than ordinary, and
unluckily, in my first experiment, mixed up the meal in a very small
bowl. It became a dense dough-like mass; and on emptying it into the
pot, instead of incorporating with the boiling water, it sank in a solid
cake to the bottom. In vain I stirred, and manipulated, and kept up the
fire. The stubborn mass refused to separate or dilute, and at length
burnt brown against the bottom of the pot--a hue which the gruel-like
fluid which floated over also assumed; and at length, in utter despair
of securing aught approaching to an average consistency for the whole,
and hearing my master's foot at the door, I took the pot from off the
fire, and dished up for supper a portion of the thinner mixture which it
contained, and which, in at least colour and consistency, not a little
resembled chocolate. The poor man ladled the stuff in utter dismay. "Od,
laddie," he said, "what ca' ye this? Ca' ye this _brochan_?" "Onything
ye like, master," I replied; "but there are two kinds in the pot, and it
will go hard if none of them please you." I then dished him a piece of
the cake, somewhat resembling in size and consistency a small brown
dumpling, which he of course found wholly inedible, and became angry.
But this bad earth of ours "is filled," according to Cowper, "with wrong
and outrage;" and the barrack laughed and took part with the defaulter.
Experience, however, that does so much for all, did a little for me. I
at length became a tolerably fair plain cook, and not a very bad baker;
and now, when the exigencies required that I should take my full share
in the duties of the barrack, I was found adequate to their proper
fulfilment. I made cakes and porridge of fully the average excellence;
and my brose and _brochan_ enjoyed at least the negative happiness of
escaping animadversion and comment.

Some of the inmates, however, who were exceedingly nice in their eating,
were great connoisseurs in porridge; and it was no easy matter to please
them. There existed unsettled differences--the results of a diversity of
tastes--regarding the time that should be given to the boiling of the
mess, respecting the proportion of salt that should be allotted to each
individual, and as to whether the process of "mealing," as it was
termed, should be a slow or a hasty one, and, of course, as in all
controversies of all kinds, the more the matters in dispute were
discussed, the more did they grow in importance. Occasionally the
disputants had their porridge made at the same time in the same pot:
there were, in especial, two of the workmen who differed upon the
degree-of-salt question, whose bickers were supplied from the same
general preparation; and as these had usually opposite complaints to
urge against the cooking, their objections served so completely to
neutralize each other, that they in no degree told against the cook. One
morning the cook--a wag and a favourite--in making porridge for both the
controversialists, made it so exceedingly fresh as to be but little
removed from a poultice; and, filling with the preparation in this state
the bicker of the salt-loving connoisseur, he then took a handful of
salt, and mixing it with the portion which remained in the pot, poured
into the bicker of the fresh man, porridge very much akin to a pickle.
Both entered the barrack sharply set for breakfast, and sat down each to
his meal; and both at the first spoonful dropped their spoons. "A
ramming to the cook!" cried the one--"he has given me porridge without
salt!" "A ramming to the cook!" roared out the other--"he has given me
porridge like brine!" "You see, lads," said the cook, stepping out into
the middle of the floor, with the air of a much-injured orator--"you
see, lads, what matters have come to at last: there is the very pot in
which I made in one mess the porridge in both their bickers. I don't
think we should bear this any longer; we have all had our turn of it,
though mine happens to be the worst; and I now move that these two
fellows be rammed." No sooner said than done. There was a terrible
struggling, and a burning sense of injustice; but no single man in the
barrack was match for half-a-dozen of the others. The disputants, too,
instead of making common cause together, were prepared to assist in
ramming each the other; and so rammed they both were. And at length,
when the details of the stratagem came out, the cook--by escaping for
half an hour into the neighbouring wood, and concealing himself there,
like some political exile under ban of the Government--succeeded in
escaping the merited punishment.

The cause of justice was never, I found, in greater danger in our little
community, than when a culprit succeeded in getting the laughers on his
side. I have said that I became a not very bad baker. Still less and
less sorely, as I improved in this useful art, did my cakes try the
failing teeth of my master, until at length they became crisp and nice;
and he began to find that my new accomplishment was working serious
effects upon the contents of his meal-chest. With a keenly whetted
appetite, and in vigorous health, I was eating a great deal of bread;
and, after a good deal of grumbling, he at length laid it down as law
that I should restrict myself for the future to two cakes per week. I at
once agreed; but the general barrack, to whose ears some of my master's
remonstrances had found their way, was dissatisfied; and it would
probably have overturned in conclave our agreement, and punished the old
man, my master, for the niggardly stringency of his terms, had I not
craved, by way of special favour, to be permitted to give them a week's
trial. One evening early in the week, when the old man had gone out, I
mixed up the better part of a peck of meal in a pot, and placing two of
the larger chests together in the same plane, kneaded it out into an
enormous cake, at least equal in area to an ordinary-sized Newcastle
grindstone. I then cut it up into about twenty pieces, and, forming a
vast semicircle of stones round the fire, raised the pieces to the heat
in a continuous row, some five or six feet in length. I had ample and
ready assistance vouchsafed me in the "firing"--half the barrack were
engaged in the work--when my master entered, and after scanning our
employment in utter astonishment--now glancing at the ring of meal which
still remained on the united chests, to testify to the huge proportions
of the disparted bannock, and now at the cones, squares, rhombs, and
trapeziums of cake that hardened to the heat in front of the fire, he
abruptly asked--"What's this, laddie?--are ye baking for a wadding?"
"Just baking one of the two cakes, master," I replied; "I don't think
we'll need the other one before Saturday night." A roar of laughter from
every corner of the barrack precluded reply; and in the laughter, after
an embarrassed pause, the poor man had the good sense to join. And
during the rest of the season I baked as often and as much as I pleased.
It is, I believe, Goldsmith who remarks, that "wit generally succeeds
more from being happily addressed, than from its native poignancy," and
that "a jest calculated to spread at a gaming table, may be received
with perfect indifference should it happen to drop in a mackerel-boat."
On Goldsmith's principle, the joke of what was termed, from the
well-known fairy tale, "the big bannock wi' the Malison," could have
perhaps succeeded in only a masons' barrack; but never there at least
could joke have been more successful.

As I had not yet ascertained that the Old Red Sandstone of the north of
Scotland is richly fossiliferous, Conon-side and its neighbourhood
furnished me with no very favourable field for geologic exploration. It
enabled me, however, to extend my acquaintance with the great
conglomerate base of the system, which forms here, as I have already
said, a sort of miniature Highlands, extending between the valleys of
the Conon and the Peffer, and which--remarkable for its picturesque
cliffs, abrupt eminences, and narrow steep-sided dells--bears in its
centre a pretty wood-skirted loch, into which the old Celtic prophet
Kenneth Ore, when, like Prospero, he relinquished his art, buried "deep
beyond plummet sound" the magic stone in which he was wont to see both
the distant and the future. Immediately over the pleasure-grounds of
Brahan, the rock forms exactly such cliffs as the landscape gardener
would make, if he could--cliffs with their rude prominent pebbles
breaking the light over every square foot of surface, and furnishing
footing, by their innumerable projections, to many a green tuft of moss,
and many a sweet little flower; while far below, among the deep woods,
there stand up enormous fragments of the same rock, that must have
rolled down in some remote age from the precipices above, and which,
mossy and hoar, and many of them ivy-bound, resemble artificial
ruins--obnoxious, however, to none of the disparaging associations which
the make-believe ruin is sure always to awaken. It was inexpressibly
pleasant to spend a quiet evening hour among these wild cliffs, and
imagine a time when the far distant sea beat against their bases; but
though their enclosed pebbles evidently owed their rounded form to the
attrition of water, the imagination seemed paralyzed when it attempted
calling up a still earlier time, when these solid rocks existed as but
loose sand and pebbles, tossed by waves or scattered by currents; and
when, for hundreds and thousands of square miles, the wild tract around
existed as an ancient ocean, skirted by unknown lands. I had not yet
collected enough of geologic fact to enable me to grapple with the
difficulties of a restoration of the more ancient time. There was a
later period, also, represented in the immediate neighbourhood by a
thick deposit of stratified sand, of which I knew as little as of the
conglomerate. We dug into it, in founding a thrashing-mill, for about
ten feet, but came to no bottom; and I could see that it formed the
subsoil of the valley all around the policies of Conon-side, and
underlay most of its fields and woods. It was white and pure, as if it
had been washed by the sea only a few weeks previous; but in vain did I
search its beds and layers for a fragment of shell by which to determine
its age. I can now, however, entertain little doubt that it belonged to
the boulder clay period of submergence, and that the fauna with which it
was associated bore the ordinary sub-arctic character. When this
stratified sand was deposited, the waves must have broken against the
conglomerate precipices of Brahan, and the sea have occupied, as firths
and sounds, the deep Highland valleys of the interior. And on such of
the hills of the country as had their heads above water at the time,
that interesting but somewhat meagre Alpine Flora must have flourished,
which we now find restricted to our higher mountain summits.

Once every six weeks I was permitted to visit Cromarty, and pass a
Sabbath there; but as my master usually accompanied me, and as the way
proved sufficiently long and weary to press upon his failing strength
and stiffening limbs, we had to restrict ourselves to the beaten road,
and saw but little. On, however, one occasion this season, I journeyed
alone, and spent so happy a day in finding my homeward road along blind
paths--that ran now along the rocky shores of the Cromarty Firth in its
upper reaches, now through brown, lonely moors, mottled with Danish
encampments, and now beside quiet, tomb-besprinkled burying-grounds, and
the broken walls of deserted churches--that its memory still lives
freshly in my mind, as one of the happiest of my life. I passed whole
hours among the ruins of Craighouse--a grey fantastic rag of a castle,
consisting of four heavily-arched stories of time-eaten stone, piled
over each other, and still bearing a-top its stone roof and its ornate
turrets and bartizans--


    "A ghastly prison, that eternally
    Hangs its blind visage out to the one sea."


It was said in these days to be haunted by its goblin--a
miserable-looking, grey-headed, grey-bearded, little old man, that might
be occasionally seen late in the evening, or early in the morning,
peering out through some arrow-slit or shot-hole at the chance
passenger. I remember getting the whole history of the goblin this day
from a sun-burnt herd-boy, whom I found tending his cattle under the
shadow of the old castle-wall. I began by asking him whose _apparition_
he thought it was that could continue to haunt a building, the very name
of whose last inhabitant had been long since forgotten. "_Oh, they're
saying_," was the reply, "it's the spirit of the man that was killed on
the foundation-stone, just after it was laid, and then built intil the
wa' by the masons, that he might _keep_ the castle by coming back again;
and _they're saying_ that a' the verra auld houses in the kintra had
murderit men builded intil them in that way, and that they have a' o'
them their bogle." I recognised in the boy's account of the matter an
old and widely-spread tradition, which, whatever may have been its
original basis of truth, seems to have so far influenced the buccaneers
of the 17th century, as to have become a reality in their hands. "If
time," says Sir Walter Scott, "did not permit the buccaneers to lavish
away their plunder in their usual debaucheries, they were wont to hide
it, with many superstitious solemnities, in the desert islands and
_keys_ which they frequented, and where much treasure, whose lawless
owners perished without reclaiming it, is still supposed to be
concealed. The most cruel of mankind are often the most superstitious;
and those pirates are said to have had recourse to a horrid ritual, in
order to secure an unearthly guardian to their treasures. They killed a
negro or Spaniard, and buried him with the treasure, believing that his
spirit would haunt the spot, and terrify away all intruders." There is a
figurative peculiarity in the language in which Joshua denounced the man
who should dare rebuild Jericho, that seems to point at some ancient
pagan rite of this kind. Nor does it seem improbable that a practice
which existed in times so little remote as those of the buccaneers, may
have first begun in the dark and cruel ages of human sacrifices. "Cursed
be the man before the Lord," said Joshua, "that riseth up and buildeth
this city of Jericho: _he shall lay the foundation thereof in his
firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it_."

The large-farm system had been already introduced into the part of the
country in which I at this time resided, on the richer and more level
lands; but many a Gaelic-speaking cottar and small tenant still lived on
the neighbouring moors and hill-sides. Though Highland in their surnames
and language, they bore a character considerably different from that of
the simpler Highlanders of the interior of Sutherland, or of a class I
had shortly afterwards an opportunity of studying--the Highlanders of
the western coast of Ross-shire. Doors were not left unbarred at night
in the neighbourhood; and there were wretched hovels among the moors,
very zealously watched and guarded indeed. There was much illicit
distillation and smuggling at this time among the Gaelic-speaking people
of the district; and it told upon their character with the usual
deteriorating effect. Many of the Highlanders, too, had wrought as
labourers at the Caledonian Canal, where they had come in contact with
south-country workmen, and had brought back with them a confident,
loquacious smartness, that, based on a ground-work of ignorance, which
it rendered active and obtrusive, had a bizarre and disagreeable effect,
and formed but an indifferent substitute for the diffident and taciturn
simplicity which it had supplanted. But I have ever found the people of
those border districts of the Highlands which join on to the low
country, or that inhabit districts much traversed by tourists, of a
comparatively inferior cast: the finer qualities of the Highland
character seem easily injured: the hospitality, the simplicity, the
unsuspecting honesty, disappear; and we find, instead, a people
rapacious, suspicious, and unscrupulous, considerably beneath the
Lowland average. In all the unopened districts of the remote Highlands
into which I have penetrated, I have found the people strongly engage my
sympathies and affections--much more strongly than in any part of the
Lowlands; whereas, on the contrary, in the deteriorated districts I have
been sensible of an involuntary revulsion of feeling, when in contact
with the altered race, of which, among the low-country Scotch or the
English, I have had no experience. I remember being impressed, in
reading, many years ago, one of Miss Ferrier's novels, with the truth of
a stroke that brought out very practically the ready susceptibility of
injury manifested by the Celtic character. Some visitors of condition
from the Highlands are represented as seeking out in one of our larger
towns of the south, a simple Highland lad, who had quitted a remote
northern district only a few months before; and when they find him, it
is as a prisoner in Bridewell.

Towards the end of September, my master, who had wholly failed in
overcoming his repugnance to labour as a mere journeyman, succeeded in
procuring a piece of work by contract, in a locality about fourteen
miles nearer our home than Conon-side, and I accompanied him to assist
in its completion. Our employment in our new scene of labour was of the
most disagreeable kind. Burns, who must have had a tolerably extensive
experience of the evils of hard work, specifies in his "Twa Dogs" three
kinds of labour in especial that give poor "cot-folk" "fash enough."


    "Trowth, Caesar, whiles they're fash'd eneugh;
    A cottar howkin' in a sheugh,
    Wi' dirty stanes biggin' a dyke.
    Baring a quarry, and sic like."


All very disagreeable employments, as I also can testify; and our work
here unfortunately combined the whole three. We were engaged in
rebuilding one of those old-fashioned walls of gentlemen's
pleasure-grounds known as "_ha has_," that line the sides of deep
ditches, and raise their tops to but the level of the sward; and as the
ditch in this special instance was a wet one, and as we had to clear it
of the old fallen materials, and to dig it out for our new line of
foundation, while at the same time we had to furnish ourselves with
additional materials from a neighbouring quarry, we had at once the
"baring of the quarry," the "howkin' in the sheugh," and the "biggin' of
the dyke wi' dirty stanes," to "fash" us. The last-named employment is
by far the most painful and trying. In most kinds of severe labour the
skin thickens, and the hand hardens, through a natural provision, to
suit the requirements of the task imposed, and yield the necessary
protection to the integuments below; but the "dirty stanes" of the
dyke-builder, when wet as well as dirty, try the reproductive powers of
the cuticle too severely, and wear it off, so that under the rough
friction the quick is laid bare. On this occasion, and on at least one
other, when engaged in building in a wet season in the Western
Highlands, I had all my fingers oozing blood at once; and those who
think that in such circumstances labour protracted throughout a long day
can be other than torture, would do well to try. How these poor hands of
mine burnt and beat at night at this time, as if an unhappy heart had
been stationed in every finger! and what cold chills used to run, sudden
as electric shocks, through the feverish frame!

My general health, too, had become far from strong. As I had been almost
entirely engaged in hewing for the two previous seasons, the dust of the
stone, inhaled at every breath, had exerted the usual weakening effects
on the lungs--those effects under which the life of the stone-cutter is
restricted to about forty-five years; but it was only now, when working
day after day with wet feet in a water-logged ditch, that I began to be
sensibly informed, by a dull, depressing pain in the chest, and a
blood-stained mucoidal substance, expectorated with difficulty, that I
had already caught harm from my employment, and that my term of life
might fall far short of the average one. I resolved, however, as the
last year of my apprenticeship was fast drawing to its close, to
complete, at all hazards, my engagement with my master. It had been
merely a verbal engagement, and I might have broken it without blame,
when, unable to furnish me with work in his character as a master-mason,
he had to transfer my labour to another; but I had determined not to
break it, all the more doggedly from the circumstance that my uncle
James, in a moment of irritation, had said at its commencement that he
feared I would no more persist in being a mason than I had done in being
a scholar; and so I wrought perseveringly on; and slowly and painfully,
rood after rood, the wall grew up under our hands. My poor master, who
suffered even more from chopped hands and bleeding fingers than I did,
was cross and fretful, and sometimes sought relief in finding fault with
his apprentice; but, sobered by my forebodings of an early death, I used
to make no reply; and the hasty, ill-tempered expressions in which he
gave vent virtually to but his sense of pain and discomfort, were almost
always followed by some conciliatory remark. Superstition takes a strong
hold of the mind in circumstances such as those in which I was at this
time placed. One day when on the top of a tall building, part of which
we were throwing down to supply us with materials for our work, I raised
up a broad slab of red micaceous sandstone, thin as a roofing slate, and
exceedingly fragile, and, holding it out at arm's length, dropped it
over the wall. I had been worse than usual all that morning, and much
depressed; and, ere the slab parted from my hand, I said--looking
forward to but a few months of life--I shall break up like that
sandstone slab, and perish as little known. But the sandstone slab did
not break up: a sudden breeze blew it aslant as it fell; it cleared the
rough heap of stones below, where I had anticipated it would have been
shivered to fragments; and, lighting on its edge, stuck upright like a
miniature obelisk, in the soft green sward beyond. None of the
Philosophies or the Logics would have sanctioned the inference which I
immediately drew; but that curious chapter in the history of human
belief which treats of signs and omens abounds in such postulates and
such conclusions. I at once inferred that recovery awaited me: I was "to
live and not die;" and felt lighter, during the few weeks I afterwards
toiled at this place, under the cheering influence of the conviction.

The tenant of the farm on which our work was situated, and who had been
both a great distiller and considerable fanner in his day, had become
bankrupt shortly before, and was on the eve of quitting the place, a
broken man. And his forlorn circumstances seemed stamped on almost every
field and out-house of his farm. The stone fences were ruinous; the
hedges gapped by the almost untended cattle; a considerable sprinkling
of corn-ears lay rotting on the lea; and here and there an entire sheaf,
that had fallen from the "leading-cart" at the close of harvest, might
be seen still lying among the stubble, fastened to the earth by the
germination of its grains. Some of the out-houses were miserable beyond
description. There was a square of modern offices, in which the cattle
and horses of the farm--appropriated by the landlord, at the time under
the law of hypothec--were tolerably well lodged; but the hovel in which
three of the farm-servants lived, and in which, for want of a better, my
master and I had to cook and sleep, was one of the most miserable
tumble-down erections I ever saw inhabited. It had formed part of an
ancient set of offices that had been condemned about fourteen years
before; but the proprietor of the place becoming insolvent, it had been
spared, in lack of a better, to accommodate the servants who wrought on
the farm; and it had now become not only a comfortless, but also a very
unsafe dwelling. It would have formed no bad subject, with its bulging
walls and gapped roof, that showed the bare ribs through the breaches,
for the pencil of my friend William Koss; but the cow or horse that had
no better shelter than that which it afforded could not be regarded as
other than indifferently lodged. Every heavier shower found its way
through the roof in torrents: I could even tell the hour of the night by
the stars which passed over the long opening that ran along the ridge
from gable to gable; and in stormy evenings I have paused at every ruder
blast, in the expectation of hearing the rafters crack and give way over
my head. The distiller had introduced upon his farm, on a small scale,
what has since been extensively known as the bothy system; and this
hovel was the bothy. There were, as I have said, but three farm-servants
who lived in it at the time--young, unmarried lads, extremely ignorant,
and of gay, reckless dispositions, whose care for their master's
interests might be read in the germinating sheaves that lay upon his
fields, and who usually spoke of him, when out of his hearing, as "the
old sinner." He too evidently cared nothing for them; and they detested
him, and regarded the ruin which had overtaken him, and which their own
recklessness and indifference to his welfare must have at least assisted
to secure, with open satisfaction. "It was ae comfort, anyhow," they
said, "that the blastit old sinner, after a' his near-goingness wi'
them, was now but a dyvour bankrupt." Bad enough certainly; and yet
natural enough, and, in a sense, proper enough too. The Christian divine
would have urged these men to return their master good for evil.
Cobbett, on the contrary, would have advised them to go out at nights a
rick-burning. The better advice will to a certainty not be taken by
ninety-nine out of every hundred of our bothy-men; for it is one of the
grand evils of the system, that it removes its victims beyond the
ennobling influences of religion; and, on the other hand, at least this
much may be said for the worse counsel, that the system costs the
country every year the price of a great many corn-ricks.

The three lads lived chiefly on brose, as the viand at all edible into
which their oatmeal could be most readily converted; and never baked or
made for themselves a dish of porridge or gruel, apparently to avoid
trouble, and that they might be as little as possible in the hated
bothy. I always lost sight of them in the evening; but towards midnight
their talk frequently awoke me as they were going to bed; and I heard
them tell of incidents that had befallen them at the neighbouring
farm-houses, or refer to blackguard bits of scandal which they had
picked up. Sometimes a fourth voice mingled in the dialogue. It was that
of a reckless poacher, who used to come in, always long after
nightfall, and fling himself down on a lair of straw in a corner of the
bothy; and usually ere day broke he was up and away. The grand enjoyment
of the three farm-lads--the enjoyment which seemed to counterbalance,
with its concentrated delights, the comfortless monotony of weeks--was a
rustic ball which took place once every month, and sometimes oftener, at
a public-house in the neighbouring village, and at which they used to
meet some of the farm-lasses of the locality, and dance and drink whisky
till morning. I know not how their money stood such frequent carousals;
but they were, I saw, bare of every necessary article of clothing,
especially of underclothing and linen; and I learned from their
occasional talk about justice-of-peace summonses, that the previous
term-day had left in the hands of their shoemakers and drapers unsettled
bills. But such matters were taken very lightly: the three lads, if not
happy, were at least merry; and the monthly ball, for which they
sacrificed so much, furnished not only its hours of pleasure while it
lasted, but also a week's talking in anticipation ere it came, and
another week's talking over its various incidents after it had passed.
And such was my experience of the bothy system in its first beginnings.
It has since so greatly increased, that there are now single counties in
Scotland in which there are from five to eight hundred farm-servants
exposed to its deteriorating influences; and the rustic population bids
fair in those districts fully to rival that of our large towns in
profligacy, and greatly to outrival them in coarseness. Were I a
statesman, I would, I think, be bold enough to try the efficacy of a tax
on bothies. It is long since Goldsmith wrote regarding a state of
society in which "wealth accumulates and men decay," and since Burns
looked with his accustomed sagacity on that change for the worse in the
character of our rural people which the large-farm system has
introduced. "A fertile improved country is West Lothian," we find the
latter poet remarking, in one of his journals, "but the more elegance
and luxury among the farmers, I always observe in equal proportion the
rudeness and stupidity of the peasantry. This remark I have made all
over the Lothians, Merse, Roxburgh, &c.; and for this, among other
reasons, I think that a man of romantic taste--'a man of feeling'--will
be better pleased with the poverty but intelligent minds of the
peasantry of Ayrshire (peasantry they all are, below the Justice of
Peace), than the opulence of a club of Merse farmers, when he at the
same time considers the Vandalism of their plough-folks." The
deteriorating effect of the large-farm system, remarked by the poet, is
inevitable. It is impossible that the modern farm-servant, in his
comparatively irresponsible situation, and with his fixed wages of
meagre amount, can be rendered as thoughtful and provident a person as
the small farmer of the last age, who, thrown on his own resources, had
to cultivate his fields and drive his bargains with his Martinmas and
Whitsunday settlement with the landlord full before him; and who often
succeeded in saving money, and in giving a classical education to some
promising son or nephew, which enabled the young man to rise to a higher
sphere of life. Farm-servants, as a class, _must_ be lower in the scale
than the old tenant-farmers, who wrought their little farms with their
own hands; but it is possible to elevate them far above the degraded
level of the bothy; and unless means be taken to check the spread of the
ruinous process of brute-making which the system involves, the Scottish
people will sink, to a certainty, in the agricultural districts, from
being one of the most provident, intelligent, and moral in Europe, to be
one of the most licentious, reckless, and ignorant.

Candle-light is a luxury in which no one ever thinks of indulging in a
barrack; and in a barrack such as ours at this time, riddled with gaps
and breaches, and filled with all manner of cold draughts, it was not
every night in which a candle would have burnt. And as our fuel, which
consisted of sorely decayed wood--the roofing of a dilapidated
out-house which we were pulling down--formed but a dull fire, it was
with difficulty I could read by its light. By spreading out my book,
however, within a foot or so of the embers, I was enabled, though
sometimes at the expense of a headache, to prosecute a new tract of
reading which had just opened to me, and in which, for a time, I found
much amusement. There was a vagabond pedlar who travelled at this time
the northern counties, widely known as Jack from Dover, but whose true
name was Alexander Knox, and who used to affirm that he was of the same
family as the great Reformer. The pedlar himself was, however, no
reformer. Once every six weeks or two months he got madly drunk, and not
only "perished the pack," as he used to say, but sometimes got into
prison to boot. There were, however, some kind relations in the south,
who always set him up again; and Jack from Dover, after a fortnight of
misery, used to appear with the ordinary bulk of merchandise at his
back, and continue thriving until he again got drunk. He had a turn for
buying and reading curious books, which, after mastering their contents,
he always sold again; and he learned to bring them, when of a kind which
no one else would purchase, to my mother, and recommend them as suitable
for me. Poor Jack was always conscientious in his recommendations. I
know not how he contrived to take the exact measure of my tastes in the
matter, but suitable for me they invariably were; and as his price
rarely exceeded a shilling per volume, and sometimes fell below a
sixpence, my mother always purchased, when she could, upon his judgment.
I owed to his discrimination my first copy of Bacon's "Wisdom of the
Ancients," "done into English by Sir Arthur Gorges," and a book to which
I had long after occasion to refer in my geological writings--Maillet's
"Telliamed"--one, of the earlier treatises on the development
hypothesis; and he had now procured for me a selection, in one volume,
of the Poems of Gawin Douglas and Will Dunbar, and another collection
in a larger volume, of "Ancient Scottish Poems," from the MSS. of George
Bannatyne. I had been previously almost wholly unacquainted with the
elder Scotch poets. My uncle James had introduced me, at a very early
age, to Burns and Ramsay, and I had found out Fergusson and Tannahill
for myself; but that school of Scotch literature which nourished between
the reigns of David the Second and James the Sixth had remained to me,
until now, well-nigh a _terra incognita_, and I found no little pleasure
in exploring the antique recesses which it opened up. Shortly after, I
read Ramsay's "Evergreen," the "King's Quair," and the true "Actes and
Deides of ye illuster and vailyeand campioun Shyr Wilham Wallace," not
modernized, as in my first copy, but in the tongue in which they had
been recited of old by Henry the Minstrel: I had previously gloated over
Harbour's Bruce; and thus my acquaintance with the old Scots poets, if
not very profound, became at least so respectable, that not until many
years after did I meet with an individual who knew them equally well.

The strange picturesque allegories of Douglas, and the terse sense and
racy humour of Dunbar, delighted me much. As I had to con my way slowly
amid the difficulties of a language which was no longer that spoken by
my country-folk, I felt as if I were creating the sense which I found;
it came gradually out like some fossil of the rock, from which I had
laboriously to chip away the enveloping matrix; and in hanging
admiringly over it, I thought I perceived how it was that some of my old
schoolfellows, who were prosecuting their education at college, were
always insisting on the great superiority of the old Greek and Roman
writers over the writers of our own country. I could not give them
credit for much critical discernment: they were indifferent enough, some
of them, to both verse and prose, and hardly knew in what poetry
consisted; and yet I believed them to be true to their perceptions when
they insisted on what they termed the high excellence of the ancients.
With my old schoolfellows, I now said, the process of perusal, when
reading an English work of classical standing, is so sudden, compared
with the slowness with which they imagine or understand, that they slide
over the surface of their author's numbers, or of his periods, without
acquiring a due sense of what lies beneath; whereas, in perusing the
works of a Greek or Latin author, they have just to do what I am doing
in deciphering the "Palice of Honour" or the "Goldin Terge,"--they have
to proceed slowly, and to render the language of their author into the
language of their own thinking. And so, losing scarce any of his meaning
in consequence, and not reflecting on the process through which they
have entered into it, they contrast the little which they gain from a
hurried perusal of a good English book, with the much which they gain
from the very leisurely perusal of a good Latin or Greek one; and term
_the little_ the poverty of modern writers, and _the much_ the fertility
of the ancients. Such was my theory, and it was at least not an
uncharitable one to my acquaintance. I was, however, arrested in the
middle of my studies by a day of soaking rain, which so saturated with
moisture the decayed spongy wood, our fuel, that, though I succeeded in
making with some difficulty such fires of it as sufficed to cook our
victuals, it defied my skill to make one by which I could read. At
length, however, this dreary season of labour--by far the gloomiest I
ever spent--came to a close, and I returned with my master to Cromarty
about Martinmas, our heavy job of work completed, and my term of
apprenticeship at a close.



CHAPTER XII.

    "Far let me wander down thy craggy shore,
     With rocks and trees bestrewn, dark Loch Maree."--SMALL.


The restorative powers of a constitution which at this time it took much
hard usage to injure, came vigorously into operation on my removal from
the wet ditch and the ruinous hovel; and ere the close of winter I had
got once more into my ordinary state of robust health. I read, wrote,
drew, corresponded with my friend William Ross (who had removed to
Edinburgh), re-examined the Eathie Lias, and re-explored the Eathie
Burn--a noble Old Red Sandstone ravine, remarkable for the wild
picturesqueness of its cliffs and the beauty of its cataracts. I spent,
too, many an evening in Uncle James's workshop, on better terms with
both my uncles than almost ever before--a consequence, in part, of the
sober complexion which, as the seasons passed, my mind was gradually
assuming, and in part, of the manner in which I had completed my
engagement with my master. "Act always," said Uncle James, "as you have
done in this matter. In all your dealings, give your neighbour the _cast
of the bauk_--'good measure, heaped up and running over'--and you will
not lose by it in the end." I certainly did not lose by faithfully
serving out my term of apprenticeship. It is not uninstructive to
observe how strangely the public are led at times to attach paramount
importance to what is in reality only subordinately important, and to
pass over the really paramount without thought or notice. The destiny in
life of the skilled mechanic is much more influenced, for instance, by
his second education--that of his apprenticeship--than by his
first--that of the school; and yet it is to the education of the school
that the importance is generally regarded as attaching, and we never
hear of the other. The careless, incompetent scholar has many
opportunities of recovering himself; the careless, incompetent
apprentice, who either fails to serve out his regular time, or who,
though he fulfils his term, is discharged an inferior workman, has very
few; and further, nothing can be more certain than that inferiority as a
workman bears much more disastrously on the condition of the mechanic
than inferiority as a scholar. Unable to maintain his place among
brother journeymen, or to render himself worthy of the average wages of
his craft, the ill-taught mechanic falls out of regular employment,
subsists precariously for a time on occasional jobs, and either, forming
idle habits, becomes a vagabond _tramper_, or, getting into the toils of
some rapacious task-master, becomes an enslaved _sweater_. For one
workman injured by neglect of his school-education, there are scores
ruined by neglect of their apprenticeship-education. Three-fourths of
the distress of the country's mechanics (of course not reckoning that of
the unhappy class who have to compete with machinery), and nine-tenths
of their vagabondism, will be found restricted to inferior workmen, who,
like Hogarth's "careless apprentice," neglected the opportunities of
their second term of education. The sagacious painter had a truer
insight into this matter than most of our modern educationists.

My friend of the Doocot Cave had been serving a short apprenticeship to
a grocer in London during the latter years in which I had been working
out mine as a stone-mason in the north country; and I now learned that
he had just returned to his native place, with the intention of setting
up in business for himself. To those who move in the upper walks, the
superiority in status of the village shop-keeper over the journeyman
mason may not be very perceptible; but, surveyed from the lower levels
of society, it is quite considerable enough to be seen; even Gulliver
could determine that the Emperor of Lilliput was taller by almost the
breadth of a nail than any of his Court; and, though extremely desirous
of renewing my acquaintanceship with my old friend, I was sensible
enough of his advantage over me in point of position, to feel that the
necessary advances should be made on his part, not on mine. I, however,
threw myself in his way, though after a manner so fastidiously proud and
jealous, that even yet, every time the recollection crosses me, it
provokes me to a smile. On learning that he was engaged at the quay in
superintending the landing of some goods, for, I suppose, his future
shop, I assumed the leathern apron, which I had thrown aside for the
winter at Martinmas, and stalked past him in my working dress--a
veritable operative mason--eyeing him steadfastly as I passed. He looked
at me for a moment; and then, without sign of recognition, turned
indifferently away. I failed taking into account that he had never seen
me girt with a leathern apron before--that, since we had last parted, I
had grown more than half a foot--and that a young man of nearly five
feet eleven inches, with an incipient whisker palpably visible on his
cheek, might be a different-looking sort of person from a smooth-chinned
stripling of little more than five feet three. And certainly my friend,
as I learned from him nearly three years after, failed on this occasion
to recognise me. But believing that he did, and that he did not choose
to reckon among his friends a humble working man, I returned to my home
very sad, and, I am afraid, not a little angry; and, locking up the
supposed slight in my breast, as of too delicate a nature to be
communicated to any one, for more than two years from this time I did
not again cross his path.

I was now my own master, and commenced work as a journeyman in behalf of
one of my maternal aunts--the aunt who had gone so many years before to
live with her aged relative, the cousin of my father, and the mother of
his first wife. Aunt Jenny had resided for many years after this time
with an aged widow lady, who had lived apart in quiet gentility on very
small means; and now that she was dead, my aunt saw her vocation gone,
and wished that she too could live apart, a life of humble independency,
supporting herself by her spinning-wheel, and by now and then knitting a
stocking. She feared, however, to encounter the formidable drain on her
means of a half-yearly room-rent; and, as there was a little bit of
ground at the head of the strip of garden left me by my father, which
bordered on a road that, communicating between town and country, bore,
as is common in the north of Scotland, the French name of the _Pays_, it
occurred to me that I might try my hand, as a skilled mechanic, in
erecting upon it a cottage for Aunt Jenny. Masons have, of course, more
in their power in the way of house-building than any other class of
mechanics. It was necessary, however, that there should be money
provided for the purchase of wood for the roof, and for the carting of
the necessary stones and mortar; and I had none. But Aunt Jenny had
saved a few pounds, and a very few proved sufficient; and so I built a
cottage in the _Pays_, of a single room and a closet, as my first job,
which, if not very elegant, or of large accommodation, came fully up to
Aunt Jenny's ideas of comfort, and which, for at least a quarter of a
century, has served her as a home. It was completed before Whitsunday,
and I then deliberated on setting myself to seek after employment of a
more remunerative kind, with just a little of the feeling to which we
owe one of the best-known elegiac poems in the language--the "Man was
made to Mourn" of Burns. "There is nothing that gives me a more
mortifying picture of human life," said the poet, "than a man seeking
work." The required work, however, came direct in my way without
solicitation, and exactly at the proper time. I was engaged to assist in
hewing a Gothic gateway among the woods of my old haunt, Conon-side; and
was then despatched, when the work was on the eve of being finished, to
provide materials for building a house on the western coast of
Ross-shire. My new master had found me engaged in the previous season,
amid the wild turmoil of the barrack, in studying practical geometry,
and had glanced approvingly over a series of architectural drawings
which I had just completed; and he now sought me out in consequence, and
placed me in charge of a small party which he despatched in advance of
his other workmen, and which I was instructed to increase, by employing
a labourer or two on arriving at the scene of our future employment.

We were to be accompanied by a carter from a neighbouring town; and on
the morning fixed for the commencement of our journey, his cart and
horse were early at Conon-side, to carry across the country the tools
required at our new job; but of himself we saw no trace; and about ten
o'clock we set off without him. Ascertaining, however, when about two
miles on our way, that we had left behind us a lever useful in the
setting of large stones, I bade my companion wait for me at the village
of Contin, where we expected meeting the carter; and, returning for the
tool, I quitted the high road on finding it, and, to save time, and
avoid a detour of about three miles, struck across the country direct on
the village. My way was, however, a very rough one; and in coming upon
the Conon, which it was necessary I should ford--for by avoiding the
detour I had missed the bridge--I found it tolerably heavy in flood.
Save for the iron lever which I carried, I would have selected, as my
point of crossing, one of the still deep pools, as much safer to a
vigorous swimmer than any of the apparent fords, with their powerful
currents, whirling eddies, and rough bottoms. But though the heroes of
antiquity--men such as Julius Cæesar and Horatius Cocles--could swim
across rivers and seas in heavy armour, the specific gravity of the
human subject in these latter ages of the world forbids such feats; and,
concluding that I had not levity enough in my framework to float across
the lever, I selected, with some hesitation, one of the better-looking
fords, and, with my trousers dangling from the iron beam on my shoulder,
entered the river. Such was the arrowy swiftness of the current,
however, that the water had scarce reached my middle when it began to
hollow out the stones and gravel from under my feet, and to bear me down
per force in a slanting direction. There was a foaming rapid just at
hand; and immediately beyond, a deep, dark pool, in which the chafed
current whirled around, as if exhausting the wrath aroused by its recent
treatment among rocks and stones, ere recovering its ordinary temper;
and had I lost footing, or been carried a little further down, I know
not how it might have fared with me in the wild foaming descent that lay
between the ford and the pool. Curiously enough, however, the one idea
which, in the excitement of the moment, filled my mind, was an intensely
ludicrous one. I would, of course, lose not only the lever in the
torrent, but my trousers also; and how was I ever to get home without
them? Where, in the name of wonder, should I get a kilt to borrow? I
have oftener than once experienced this strange sensation of the
ludicrous in circumstances with which a different feeling would have
harmonized better. Byron represents it as rising in extreme grief: it
is, however, I suspect, greatly more common in extreme danger; and all
the instances which the poet himself gives in his note--Sir Thomas More
on the scaffold, Anne Boleyn in the Tower, and those victims of the
French Revolution "with whom it became a fashion to leave some _mot_ as
a legacy"--were all jokers rather in circumstances of desperate and
hopeless peril than of sorrow. It is, however, in danger, us certainly
as in grief, a joyless sort of mirth.


    "That playfulness of sorrow ne'er beguiles;
    It smiles in bitterness: but still it smiles,
    And sometimes with the wisest and the best.
    Till even the scaffold echoes with their jest."


The feeling, however, though an inharmoniously toned, is not a
weakening one. I laughed in the stream, but I did not yield to it; and,
making a violent effort, when just on the edge of the rapid, I got into
stiller water, and succeeded in making my way to the opposite bank,
drenched to the arm-pits. It was in nearly the same reach of the Conon
that my poor friend the maniac of Ord lost her life a few days after.

I found my companion in charge of the cart with our tools, baiting at an
inn a little beyond Contin; but there was no sign of the carter; and we
were informed by the innkeeper, to whom he was well known, that we might
have to wait for him all day, and perhaps not see him at night.
Click-Clack--a name expressive of the carter's fluency as a talker, by
which he was oftener designated than by the one in the parish
register--might no doubt have purposed in the morning joining us at an
early hour, but that was when he was sober; and what his intention might
be now, said the innkeeper, when in all probability he was drunk, no
living man could say. This was rather startling intelligence to men who
had a long journey through a rough country before them; and my
comrade--a lad a year or two older than myself, but still an
apprentice--added to my dismay by telling me he had been sure from the
first there was something wrong with Click-Clack, and that his master
had secured his services, not from choice, but simply because, having
thoughtlessly become surety for him at a sale for the price of a horse,
and being left to pay for the animal, he had now employed him, in the
hope of getting himself reimbursed. I resolved, however, on waiting for
the carter until the last moment after which it would be possible for us
to reach our ultimate stage without perilously encroaching on the night;
and, taking it for granted that he would not very soon join us, I set
out for a neighbouring hill, which commands an extensive view, to take
note of the main features of a district with which I had formed, during
the two previous years, not a few interesting associations, and to dry
my wetted clothes in the breeze and the sun. The old tower of Fairburn
formed one of the most striking objects in the prospect; and the eye
expatiated beyond from where the gneiss region begins, on a tract of
broken hill and brown moor, uncheered by a single green field or human
dwelling. There are traditions that, in their very peculiarity, and
remoteness from the tract of ordinary intention, give evidence of their
truth; and I now called up a tradition, which I owed to my friend the
maniac, respecting the manner in which the Mackenzies of Fairburn and
the Chisholms of Strathglass had divided this barren tract between them.
It had lain, from the first settlement of the country, an unappropriated
waste, and neither proprietor could tell where his own lands terminated,
or those of his neighbour began; but finding that the want of a proper
line of demarcation led to quarrels between their herdsmen when baiting
in their summer shielings with their cattle, they agreed to have the
tract divided. The age of land-surveyors had not yet come; but,
selecting two old women of seventy-five, they sent them out at the same
hour, to meet among the hills, the one from Fairburn Tower, the other
from Erchless Castle, after first binding themselves to accept their
place of meeting as the point at which to set up the boundary-stone of
the two properties. The women, attended by a bevy of competent
witnesses, journeyed as if for life and death; but the Fairburn woman,
who was the laird's foster-mother, either more zealous or more active
than the Chisholm one, travelled nearly two miles for her one; and when
they came in sight of each other in the waste, it was far from the
fields of Fairburn, and comparatively at no great distance from those of
the Chisholm. It is not easy knowing why they should have regarded one
another in the light of enemies; but at a mile's distance their flagging
pace quickened into a run, and, meeting at a narrow rivulet, they would
fain have fought; but lacking, in their utter exhaustion, strength for
fighting and breath for scolding, they could only seat themselves on the
opposite banks, and _girn_ at one another across the stream. George
Cruikshank has had at times worse subjects for his pencil. It is, I
believe, Landor, in one of his "imaginary conversations," who makes a
Highland laird inform Adam Smith that, desirous to ascertain, in some
sort of conceivable degree, the size of his property, he had placed a
line of pipers around it, each at such a distance from his nearest
neighbour that he could barely catch the sound of his bagpipe; and that
from the number of pipers required he was able to form an approximate
estimate of the extent of his estate. And here, in a Highland tradition,
genuine at least as such, are we introduced to an expedient of the kind
scarce less ludicrous or inadequate than that which Landor must, in one
of his humorous moods, have merely imagined.

I returned to the inn at the hour from which, as I have said, it would
be possible for us, and not more than possible, to complete our day's
journey; and finding, as I had anticipated, no trace of Click-Clack, we
set off without him. Our way led us through long moory straths, with
here and there a blue lake and birch wood, and here and there a group of
dingy cottages and of irregular fields; but the general scenery was that
of the prevailing schistose gneiss of the Scotch Highlands, in which
rounded confluent hills stand up over long-withdrawing valleys, and
imposing rather from its bare and lonely expansiveness, than from aught
bold or striking in its features. The district had been opened up only a
few seasons previous by the Parliamentary road over which we travelled,
and was at that time little known to the tourist; and the thirty years
which have since passed have in some respects considerably changed it,
as they have done the Highlands generally. Most of the cottages, when I
last journeyed the way, were represented by but broken ruins, and the
fields by mossy patches that remained green amid the waste. I marked at
one spot an extraordinary group of oak-trees, in the last stage of
decay, which would have attracted notice from their great bulk and size
in even the forests of England. The largest of the group lay rotting
upon the ground--a black, doddered shell, fully six feet in diameter,
but hollow as a tar-barrel; while the others, some four or five in
number, stood up around it, totally divested of all their larger boughs,
but green with leaves, that, from the minuteness of the twigs on which
they grew, wrapped them around like close-fitting mantles. Their period
of "tree-ship"--to borrow a phrase from Cowper--must have extended far
into the obscure past of Highland history--to a time, I doubt not, when
not a few of the adjacent peat mosses still lived as forests, and when
some of the neighbouring clans--Frasers, Bissets, and Chisholms--had, at
least under the existing names (French and Saxon in their derivation),
not yet begun to be. Ere we reached the solitary inn of
Auchen-nasheen--a true Highland clachan of the ancient type, the night
had fallen dark and stormy for a night in June; and a grey mist which
had been descending for hours along the hills--blotting off their brown
summits bit by bit, as an artist might his pencilled hills with a piece
of India rubber, but which, methodical in its encroachments, had
preserved in its advances a perfect horizontality of line--had broken
into a heavy, continuous rain. As, however, the fair weather had lasted
us till we were within a mile of our journey's end, we were only
partially wet on our arrival, and soon succeeded in drying ourselves in
front of a noble turf fire. My comrade would fain have solaced himself,
after our weary journey, with something nice. He held that a Highland
inn should be able to furnish at least a bit of mutton-ham or a cut of
dried salmon, and ordered a few slices, first of ham, and then of
salmon; but his orders served merely to perplex the landlord and his
wife, whose stores seemed to consist of only oatmeal and whisky; and,
coming down in his expectations and demands, and intimating that he was
very hungry, and that anything edible would do, we heard the landlady
inform, with evident satisfaction, a red-armed wench, dressed in blue
plaiding, that "the lads would take porridge." The porridge was
accordingly prepared; and, when engaged in discussing this familiar
viand, a little before midnight--for we had arrived late--a tall
Highlander entered the inn, dropping like a mill-wheel. He was charged,
he said, with messages to the landlord, and to two mason lads in the
inn, from a forlorn carter with whom he had travelled about twenty
miles, but who, knocked up by the "drap drink" and a pair of bad shoes,
had been compelled to shelter for the night in a cottage about seven
miles short of Auchen-nasheen. The carter's message to the landlord was
simply to the effect that the two mason lads having stolen his horse and
cart, he instructed him to detain his property for him until he himself
should come up in the morning. As for his message to the lads, said the
Highlander, "it was no meikle worth gaun o'er again; but if we liked to
buckle on a' the Gaelic curses to a' the English ones, it would be
something like that."

We were awakened next morning by a tremendous hubbub in the adjoining
apartment. "It is Click-Clack the carter," said my comrade: "oh, what
shall we do?" We leaped up; and getting into our clothes in doubly-quick
time, set ourselves to reconnoitre through the crannies of a deal
partition, and saw the carter standing in the middle of the next room,
storming furiously, and the landlord, a smooth-spoken, little old man,
striving hard to conciliate him. Click-Clack was a rough-looking fellow,
turned of forty, of about five feet ten, with a black unshaven beard,
like a shoe-brush stuck under his nose, which was red as a coal, and
attired in a sadly-breached suit of Aberdeen grey, topped by a brimless
hat, that had been borrowed, apparently, from some obliging scare-crow.
I measured him in person and expression; and, deeming myself his match,
even unassisted by my comrade, on whose discretion I could calculate
with more certainty than on his valour, I entered the apartment, and
taxed him with gross dereliction of duty. He had left us to drive his
horse and cart for a whole day, and had broken, for the sake of his
wretched indulgence in the public-house, his engagement with our master;
and I would report him to a certainty. The carter turned upon me with
the fierceness of a wild beast; but, first catching his eye, as I would
that of a maniac, I set my face very near his, and he calmed down in a
moment. He could not help being late, he said: he had reached the inn at
Contin not an hour after we had left it; and it was really very hard to
have to travel a long day's journey in such bad shoes. We accepted his
apology; and, ordering the landlord to bring in half a mutchkin of
whisky, the storm blew by. The morning, like the previous night, had
been thick and rainy; but it gradually cleared up as the day rose; and
after breakfast we set out together along a broken footpath, never
before traversed by horse and cart. We passed a solitary lake, on whose
shores the only human dwelling was a dark turf shieling, at which,
however, Click-Clack ascertained there was whisky to be sold; and then
entered upon a tract of scenery wholly different in its composition and
character from that through which our journey had previously lain.

There runs along the west coast of Scotland, from the island of Rum to
the immediate neighbourhood of Cape Wrath, a formation, laid down by
Macculloch, in his Geological Map of the Kingdom, as Old Red Sandstone,
but which underlies formations deemed primary--two of these of quartz
rock, and a third of that unfossiliferous limestone in which the huge
Cave of Smoo is hollowed, and to which the Assynt marbles belong. The
system, which, taken as a whole--quartz-rock, lime, and
sandstone--corresponds bed for bed with the Lower Old Red of the east
coast, and is probably a highly metamorphic example of that great
deposit, exhibits its fullest development in Assynt, where all its four
component beds are present. In the tract on which we now entered, it
presents only two of these--the lower quartz-rock, and the underlying
red sandstone; but wherever any of its members appear, they present
unique features--marks of enormous denudation, and a bold style of
landscape altogether its own; and, in now entering upon it for the first
time, I was much impressed by its extraordinary character. Loch Maree,
one of the wildest of our Highland lakes, and at this time scarce at all
known to the tourist, owes to it all that is peculiar in its
appearance--its tall pyramidal quartz mountains, that rise at one
stride, steep, and well-nigh as naked as the old Pyramids, from nearly
the level of the sea, to heights on which at midsummer the snows of
winter gleam white in streaks and patches; and a picturesque sandstone
tract of precipitous hills, which flanks its western shore, and bore at
this period the remains of one of the old pine forests. A continuous
wall of gneiss mountains, that runs along the eastern side of the lake,
sinks sheer into its brown depths, save at one point, where a level
tract, half-encircled by precipices, is occupied by fields and
copsewood, and bears in the midst a white mansion-house; the blue
expanse of the lake greatly broadens in its lower reaches; and a group
of partially submerged hillocks, that resemble the forest-covered ones
on its western shores, but are of lower altitude, rise over its waters,
and form a miniature archipelago, grey with lichened stone, and bosky
with birch and hazel. Finding at the head of the loch that no horse and
cart had ever forced their way along its sides, we had to hire a boat
for the transport of at least cart and baggage; and when the boatmen
were getting ready for the voyage, which was, with the characteristic
dilatoriness of the district, a work of hours, we baited at the clachan
of _Kinlochewe_--a humble Highland inn, like that in which we had passed
the night. The name--that of an old farm which stretches out along the
_head_ or upper end of Loch Maree--has a remarkable etymology: it means
simply the head of _Loch Ewe_--the salt-water loch into which the waters
of Loch Maree empty themselves by a river little more than a mile in
length, and whose present _head_ is some sixteen or twenty miles distant
from the farm which bears its name. Ere that last elevation of the
land, however, to which our country owes the level marginal strip that
stretches between the present coast-line and the ancient one, the sea
must have found its way to the old farm. Loch Maree (Mary's Loch), a
name evidently of mediæval origin, would then have existed as a
prolongation of the marine Loch Ewe, and _Kinlochewe_ would have
actually been what the compound words signify--the head of Loch Ewe.
There seems to be reason for holding that, ere the latest elevation of
the land took place in our island, it had received its first human
inhabitants--rude savages, who employed tools and weapons of stone, and
fashioned canoes out of single logs of wood. Are we to accept
etymologies such as the instanced one--and there are several such in the
Highlands--as good, in evidence that these aboriginal savages were of
the Celtic race, and that Gaelic was spoken in Scotland at a time when
its strips of grassy links, and the sites of many of its seaport towns,
such as Leith, Greenock, Musselburgh, and Cromarty, existed as oozy
sea-beaches, covered twice every day by the waters of the ocean?

It was a delightful evening--still, breathless, clear--as we swept
slowly across the broad breast of Loch Maree; and the red light of the
sinking sun fell on many a sweet wild recess, amid the labyrinth of
islands purple with heath, and overhung by the birch and mountain-ash;
or slanted along the broken glades of the ancient forest; or lighted up
into a blush the pale stony faces of the tall pyramidal hills. A boat
bearing a wedding party was crossing the lake to the white house on the
opposite side, and a piper stationed in the bows, was discoursing sweet
music, that, softened by distance, and caught up by the echoes of the
rocks, resembled no strain I had ever heard from the bagpipe before.
Even the boatmen rested on their oars, and I had just enough of Gaelic
to know that they were remarking how very beautiful it was. "I wish,"
said my comrade, "you understood these men: they have a great many
curious stories about the loch, that I am sure you would like. See you
that large island? It is Island-Maree. There is, they tell me, an old
burying-ground on it, in which the Danes used to bury long ages ago, and
whose ancient tomb-stones no man can read. And yon other island beside
it is famous as the place in which the _good_ people meet every year to
make submission to their queen. There is, they say, a little loch in the
island, and another little island in the loch; and it is under a tree on
that inner island that the queen sits and gathers kain for the Evil One.
They tell me that, for certain, the fairies have not left this part of
the country yet." We landed, a little after sunset, at the point from
which our road led across the hills to the sea-side, but found that the
carter had not yet come up; and at length, despairing of his appearance,
and unable to carry off his cart and the luggage with us, as we had
succeeded in bringing off cart, horse, and luggage on the previous day,
we were preparing to take up our night's lodging under the shelter of an
overhanging crag, when we heard him coming soliloquizing through the
wood, in a manner worthy of his name, as if he were not one, but twenty
carters. "What a perfect shame of a country!" he exclaimed--"perfect
shame! Road for a horse, forsooth!--more like a turnpike stair. And not
a feed of corn for the poor beast; and not a public-house atween this
and Kinlochewe; and not a drop of whisky: perfect, perfect shame of a
country!" On his coming up in apparently very bad humour, we found him
disposed to transfer the shame of the country to our shoulders. What
sort of people were we, he asked, to travel in such a land without
whisky! Whisky, however, there was none to produce: there was no whisky
nearer, we told him, than the public-house at the sea-side, where we
proposed spending the night; and, of course, the sooner we got there the
better. And after assisting him to harness his horse, we set off in the
darkening twilight, amid the hills. Rough grey rocks, and little blue
lochans, edged with flags, and mottled in their season with
water-lilies, glimmered dim and uncertain in the imperfect light as we
passed; but ere we reached the inn of Flowerdale in Gairloch, every
object stood out clear, though cold, in the increscent light of morning;
and a few light streaks of cloud, poised in the east over the unrisen
sun, were gradually exchanging their gleam of pale bronze for a deep
flush of mingled blood and fire.

After the refreshment of a few hours' sleep and a tolerable breakfast,
we set out for the scene of our labours, which lay on the sea-shore,
about two miles further to the north and west; and were shown an
out-house--one of a square of dilapidated offices--which we might fit
up, we were told, for our barrack. The building had been originally what
is known on the north-western coast of Scotland, with its ever-weeping
climate, as a hay-barn; but it was now merely a roof-covered tank of
green stagnant water, about three-quarters of a foot in depth, which had
oozed through the walls from an over-gorged pond in the adjacent court,
that in a tract of recent rains had overflowed its banks, and not yet
subsided. Our new house did look exceedingly like a beaver-dam, with
this disadvantageous difference, that no expedient of diving could bring
us to better chambers on the other side of the wall. My comrade, setting
himself to sound the abyss with his stick, sung out in sailor style,
"three feet water in the hold." Click-Clack broke into a rage: "That a
dwelling for human creatures!" he said. "If I was to put my horse
intil't, poor beast! the very hoofs would rot off him in less than a
week. Are we eels or puddocks, that we are sent to live in a loch?"
Marking, however, a narrow portion of the ridge which dammed up the
waters of the neighbouring pool whence our domicile derived its supply,
I set myself to cut it across, and had soon the satisfaction of seeing
the general surface lowered fully a foot, and the floor of our future
dwelling laid bare. Click-Clack, gathering courage as he saw the waters
ebbing away, seized a shovel, and soon showed us the value of his many
years' practice in the labours of the stable; and then, despatching him
for a few cart-loads of a dry shell-sand from the shore, which I had
marked by the way as suitable for mixing with our lime, we had soon for
our tank of green water a fine white floor. "Man wants but little here
below," especially in a mason's barrack. There were two square openings
in the apartment, neither of them furnished with frame or glass; but the
one we filled up with stone, and an old unglazed frame, which, with the
assistance of a base and border of turf, I succeeded in fitting into the
other, gave at least an air of respectability to the place. Boulder
stones, capped with pieces of mossy turf, served us for seats; and we
had soon a comfortable peat fire blazing against the gable; but we were
still sadly in want of a bed: the fundamental damp of the floor was, we
saw, fast gaining on the sand; and it would be neither comfortable nor
safe to spread our dried grass and blankets over _it_. My comrade went
out to see whether the place did not furnish materials enough of any
kind to make a bedstead, and soon returned in triumph, dragging after
him a pair of harrows which he placed side by side in a snug corner
beside the fire, with of course the teeth downwards. A good Catholic,
prepared to win heaven for himself by a judicious use of sharp points,
might have preferred having them turned the other way; but my comrade
was an enlightened Protestant; and besides, like Goldsmith's sailor, he
loved to lie soft. The second piece of luck was mine. I found lying
unclaimed in the yard an old barn-door, which a recent gale had blown
from off its hinges; and by placing it above the harrows, and driving a
row of stakes around it into the floor, to keep the outer sleeper from
rolling off--for the wall served to secure the position of the inner
one--we succeeded in constructing, by our joint efforts, a luxurious
bed. There was but one serious drawback on its comforts: the roof
overhead was bad, and there was an obstinate drop, that used, during
every shower which fell in the season of sleep, to make a dead set at
my face, and try me at times with the water torture of the old story,
mayhap half a dozen times in the course of a single night.

Our barrack fairly fitted up, I set out with my comrade, whose knowledge
of Gaelic enabled him to act as my interpreter, to a neighbouring group
of cottages, to secure a labourer for the work of the morrow. The
evening was now beginning to darken; but there was still light enough to
show me that the little fields I passed through on my way resembled very
much those of Liliput, as described by Gulliver. They were, however,
though equally small, greatly more irregular, and had peculiarities,
too, altogether their own. The land had originally been stony; and as it
showed, according to the Highland phrase, its "bare bones through its
skin"--large bosses of the rock beneath coming here and there to the
surface--the Highlanders had gathered the stones in great pyramidal
heaps on the bare bosses; and so very numerous were these in some of the
fields, that they looked as if some malignant sorcerer had, in the time
of harvest, converted all their shocks into stone. On approaching the
cottage of our future labourer, I was attracted by a door of very
peculiar construction that lay against the wall. It had been brought
from the ancient pine forest on the western bank of Loch Maree, and was
formed of the roots of trees so curiously interlaced by nature, that
when cut out of the soil, which it had covered over like a piece of
network, it remained firmly together, and now formed a door which the
mere imitator of the rustic might in vain attempt to rival. We entered
the cottage, and plunging downwards two feet or so, found ourselves upon
the dunghill of the establishment, which in this part of the country
usually occupied at the time an ante-chamber which corresponded to that
occupied by the cattle a few years earlier, in the midland districts of
Sutherland. Groping in this foul outer chamber through a stifling
atmosphere of smoke, we came to an inner door raised to the level of
the soil outside, through which a red umbry gleam escaped into the
darkness; and, climbing into the inner apartment, we found ourselves in
the presence of the inmates of the mansion. The fire, as in the cottage
of my Sutherlandshire relative, was placed in the middle of the floor:
the master of the mansion, a red-haired, strongly-built Highlander, of
the middle size and age, with his son, a boy of twelve, sat on the one
side; his wife, who, though not much turned of thirty, had the haggard,
drooping cheeks, hollow eyes, and pale, sallow complexion of old age,
sat on the other. We broke our business to the Highlander through my
companion--for, save a few words caught up at school by the boy, there
was no English in the household--and found him disposed to entertain it
favourably. A large pot of potatoes hung suspended over the fire, under
a dense ceiling of smoke; and he hospitably invited us to wait supper,
which, as our dinner had consisted of but a piece of dry oaten cake, we
willingly did. As the conversation went on, I became conscious that it
turned upon myself, and that I was an object of profound commiseration
to the inmates of the cottage. "What," I inquired of my companion, "are
these kind people pitying me so very much for?" "For your want of
Gaelic, to be sure. How can a man get on in the world that wants
Gaelic?" "But do not they themselves," I asked, "want English?" "O yes,"
he said, "but what does that signify? What is the use of English in
Gairloch?" The potatoes, with a little ground salt, and much unbroken
hunger as sauce, ate remarkably well. Our host regretted that he had no
fish to offer us; but a tract of rough weather had kept him from sea,
and he had just exhausted his previous supply; and as for bread, he had
used up the last of his grain crop a little after Christmas, and had
been living, with his family, on potatoes, with fish when he could get
them, ever since.

Thirty years have now passed since I shared in the Highlander's evening
meal, and during the first twenty of these, the use of the
potatoe--unknown in the Highlands a century before--greatly increased. I
have been told by my maternal grandfather, that about the year 1740,
when he was a boy of about eight or nine years of age, the head-gardener
at Balnagown Castle used, in his occasional visits to Cromarty, to bring
him in his pocket, as great rarities, some three or four potatoes; and
that it was not until some fifteen or twenty years after this time that
he saw potatoes reared in fields in any part of the Northern Highlands.
But, once fairly employed as food, every season saw a greater breadth of
them laid down. In the North-western Highlands, in especial, the use of
these roots increased from the year 1801 to the year 1846 nearly a
hundredfold, and came at length to form, as in Ireland, not merely the
staple, but in some localities almost the only food of the people; and
when destroyed by disease in the latter year, famine immediately ensued
in both Ireland and the Highlands. A writer in the _Witness_, whose
letter had the effect of bringing that respectable paper under the eye
of Mr. Punch, represented the Irish famine as a direct judgment on the
Maynooth Endowment; while another writer, a member of the Peace
Association--whose letter did not find its way into the _Witness_,
though it reached the editor--challenged the decision on the ground that
the Scotch Highlanders, who were greatly opposed to Maynooth, suffered
from the infliction nearly as much as the Irish themselves, and that the
offence punished must have been surely some one of which both
Highlanders and Irish had been guilty in common. _He_, however, had
found out, he said, what the crime visited actually was. Both the Irish
and Highland famines were judgments upon the people for their great
homicidal efficiency as soldiers in the wars of the empire--an
efficiency which, as he truly remarked, was almost equally
characteristic of both nations. For my own part, I have been unable
hitherto to see the steps which conduct to such profound conclusions;
and am content simply to hold, that the superintending Providence who
communicated to man a calculating, foreseeing nature, does occasionally
get angry with him, and inflict judgments upon him, when, instead of
exercising his faculties, he sinks to a level lower than his own, and
becomes content, like some of the inferior animals, to live on a single
root.

There are two periods favourable to observation--an early and a late
one. A fresh eye detects external traits and peculiarities among a
people, seen for the first time, which disappear as they become
familiar; but it is not until after repeated opportunities of study, and
a prolonged acquaintanceship, that internal characteristics and
conditions begin to be rightly known. During the first fortnight of my
residence in this remote district, I was more impressed than at a later
stage by certain peculiarities of manner and appearance in the
inhabitants. Dr. Johnson remarked that he found fewer very tall or very
short men among the people of the Hebrides than in England: I was now
struck by a similar mediocrity of size among the Highlanders of Western
Ross; five-sixths of the grown men seemed to average between five feet
seven and five feet nine inches in height, and either tall or short men
I found comparatively rare. The Highlanders of the eastern coast were,
on the contrary, at that period, mayhap still, very various of
stature--some of them exceedingly diminutive, others of great bulk and
height; and, as might be seen in the congregations of the parish
churches removed by but a few miles, there were marked differences in
this respect between the people of contiguous districts--certain tracts
of plain or valley producing larger races than others. I was inclined to
believe at the time that the middle-sized Highlanders of the west coast
were a less mixed race than the unequally-sized Highlanders of the east:
I at least found corresponding inequalities among the higher-born
Highland families, that, as shown by their genealogies, blended the
Norman and Saxon with the Celtic blood; and as the unequally-sized
Highland race bordered on that Scandinavian one which fringes the
greater part of the eastern coast of Scotland, I inferred that there had
been a similar blending of blood among _them_. I have since seen, in
Gustav Kombst's Ethnographic Map of the British Islands, the difference
which I at this time but inferred, indicated by a different shade of
colour, and a different name. The Highlanders of the east coast Kombst
terms "Scandinavian-Gaelic;" those of the west,
"Gaelic-Scandinavian-Gaelic,"--names indicative, of course, of the
proportions in which he holds that they possess the Celtic blood.
Disparity of bulk and size appears to be one of the consequences of a
mixture of races; nor does the induced inequality seem restricted to the
physical framework. Minds of large calibre, and possessed of the kingly
faculty, come first into view, in our history, among the fused tribes,
just as of old it was the mixed marriages that first produced the
giants. The difference in size which I remarked in particular districts
of the Scandinavian-Gaelic region, separated, in some instances, by but
a ridge of hills or an expanse of moor, must have been a result of the
old clan divisions, and is said to have marked the clans themselves very
strongly. Some of them were of a greatly more robust, and some of a
slimmer type, than others.

I was struck by another peculiarity in the west coast Highlanders. I
found the men in general greatly better-looking than the women, and that
in middle life they bore their years much more lightly. The females
seemed old and haggard at a period when the males were still
comparatively fresh and robust. I am not sure whether the remark may not
in some degree apply to Highlanders generally. The "rugged form" and
"harsher features," which, according to Sir Walter, "mark the mountain
band," accord worse with the female than with the male countenance and
figure. But I at least found this discrepancy in the appearance of the
sexes greatly more marked on the west than on the eastern coast; and saw
only too much reason to conclude that it was owing in great part to the
disproportionately large share of crushing labour laid, in the
district, in accordance with the practice of a barbarous time, on the
weaker frame of the female. There is, however, a style of female
loveliness occasionally though rarely exemplified in the Highlands,
which far transcends the Saxon or Scandinavian type. It is manifested
usually in extreme youth--at least between the fourteenth and eighteenth
year; and its effect we find happily indicated by Wordsworth--who seems
to have met with a characteristic specimen--in his lines to a Highland
girl. He describes her as possessing as her "dower," "a very _shower_ of
beauty." Further, however, he describes her as very young.


    "Twice seven consenting years had shed
    Their utmost bounty on her head."


I was, besides, struck at this time by finding, that while almost all
the young lads under twenty with whom I came in contact had at least a
smattering of English, I found only a single Highlander turned of forty
with whom I could exchange a word. The exceptional Highlander was,
however, a curiosity in his way. He seemed to have a natural turn for
acquiring languages, and had derived his English, not from conversation,
but, in the midst of a Gaelic-speaking people, from the study of the
Scriptures in our common English version. His application of Bible
language to ordinary subjects told at times with rather ludicrous
effect. Upon inquiring of him, on one occasion, regarding a young man
whom he wished to employ as an extra labourer, he described him in
exactly the words in which David is described in the chapter that
records the combat with Goliath, as "but a youth, and ruddy, and of a
fair countenance;" and on asking where he thought we could get a few
loads of water-rolled pebbles for causewaying a floor, he directed us to
the bed of a neighbouring rivulet, where we might "choose us," he said,
"smooth stones out of the brook." He spoke with great deliberation,
translating evidently his Gaelic thinking, as he went on, into
scriptural English.



CHAPTER XIII.

                         "A man of glee
      With hair of glittering grey,
    As blythe a man as you could see
      On a spring holiday."--WORDSWORTH.


There existed at this time no geological map of Scotland. Macculloch's
did not appear until about six or seven years after (in 1829 or 1830),
and Sedgwick and Murchison's interesting sketch of the northern
formations[4] not until at least five years after (1828). And so, on
setting out on the morning after that of my arrival, to provide stones
for our future erection, I found myself in a _terra incognita_, new to
the quarrier, and unknown to the geologist. Most of the stratified
primary rocks make but indifferent building materials; and in the
immediate neighbourhood of our work I could find only one of the worst
of the class--the schistose gneiss. On consulting, however, the scenery
of the district, I marked that at a certain point both shores of the
open sea-loch on whose margin we were situated suddenly changed their
character. The abrupt rugged hills of gneiss that, viewed from an
eminence, resembled a tumbling sea, suddenly sank into low brown
promontories, unbroken by ravines, and whose eminences were mere flat
swellings; and in the hope of finding some change of formation
coincident with the change of scenery, I set out with my comrade for the
nearest point at which the broken outline passed into the rectilinear
or merely undulatory one. But though I did expect a change, it was not
without some degree of surprise that, immediately after passing the
point of junction, I found myself in a district of red sandstone. It was
a hard, compact, dark-coloured stone, but dressed readily to pick and
hammer, and made excellent corner-stones and ashlar; and it would have
furnished us with even hewn work for our building, had not our employer,
unacquainted, like every one else at the time, with the mineral
capabilities of the locality, brought his hewing stone in a sloop, at no
small expense, through the Caledonian Canal, from one of the quarries of
Moray--a circuitous voyage of more than two hundred miles.

Immediately beside where we opened our quarry, there was a little
solitary shieling: it was well-nigh such an edifice as I used to erect
when a boy--some eight or ten feet in length, and of so humble an
altitude, that, when standing erect in the midst, I could lay my hand on
the roof-tree. A heath-bed occupied one of the corners; a few grey
embers were smouldering in the middle of the floor; a pot lay beside
them, ready for use, half-filled with cockles and razor-fish, the spoils
of the morning ebb; and a cog of milk occupied a small shelf that
projected from the gable above. Such were the contents of the shieling.
Its only inmate, a lively little old man, sat outside, at once tending a
few cows grouped on the moor, and employed in stripping with a
pocket-knife, long slender filaments from off a piece of moss fir; and
as he wrought and watched, he crooned a Gaelic song, not very musically
mayhap, but, like the happy song of the humble-bee, there was perfect
content in every tone. He had a great many curious questions to ask in
his native Gaelic, of my comrade, regarding our employment and our
employer; and when satisfied, he began, I perceived, like the Highlander
of the previous evening, to express very profound commiseration for me.
"Is that man also pitying me?" I asked. "O yes, very much," was the
reply: "he does not at all see how you are to live in Gairloch without
Gaelic." I was reminded by the shieling and its happy inmate, of one of
my father's experiences, as communicated to me by Uncle James. In the
course of a protracted kelp voyage among the Hebrides, he had landed in
his boat, before entering one of the sounds of the Long Island, to
procure a pilot, but found in the fisherman's cottage on which he had
directed his course, only the fisherman's wife--a young creature of not
more than eighteen--engaged in nursing her child, and singing a Gaelic
song, in tones expressive of a light heart, till the rocks rang again. A
heath bed, a pot of baked clay, of native manufacture, fashioned by the
hand, and a heap of fish newly caught, seemed to constitute the only
wealth of the cottage; but its mistress was, notwithstanding, one of the
happiest of women; and deeply did she commiserate the poor sailors, and
earnestly wish for the return of her husband, that he might assist them
in their perplexity. The husband at length appeared. "Oh," he asked,
after the first greeting, "have you any salt?" "Plenty," said the
master; "and you, I see, from your supply of fresh fish, want it very
much; but come, pilot us through the sound, and you shall have as much
salt as you require." And so the vessel got a pilot, and the fisherman
got salt; but never did my father forget the light-hearted song of the
happy mistress of that poor Highland cottage. It was one of the palpable
characteristics of our Scottish Highlanders, for at least the first
thirty years of the century, that they were contented enough, as a
people, to find more to pity than to envy in the condition of their
neighbours; and I remember that at this time, and for years after, I
used to deem the trait a good one. I have now, however, my doubts on the
subject, and am not quite sure whether a content so general as to be
national may not, in certain circumstances, be rather a vice than a
virtue. It is certainly no virtue when it has the effect of arresting
either individuals or peoples in their course of development; and is
perilously allied to great suffering, when the men who exemplify it are
so thoroughly happy amid the mediocrities of the present, that they fail
to make provision for the contingencies of the future.

We were joined in about a fortnight by the other workmen from the Low
country, and I resigned my temporary charge (save that I still retained
the time-book in my master's behalf) into the hands of an ancient mason,
remarkable over the north of Scotland for his skill as an operative, and
who, though he was now turned of sixty, was still able to build and hew
considerably more than the youngest and most active man in the squad. He
was at this time the only survivor of three brothers, all masons, and
all not merely first-class workmen, but of a class to which, at least to
the north of the Grampians, only they themselves belonged, and very
considerably in advance of the first. And on the removal of the second
of the three brothers to the south of Scotland, it was found that, amid
the stone-cutters of Glasgow, David Fraser held relatively the same
place that he had done among those of the north. I have been told by Mr.
Kenneth Matheson--a gentleman well known as a master-builder in the west
of Scotland--that in erecting some hanging stairs of polished stone,
ornamented in front and at the outer edge by the common fillet and
torus, his ordinary workmen used to complete for him their one step
a-piece per day, and David Fraser his _three_ steps, finished equally
well. It is easily conceivable how, in the higher walks of art, one man
should excel a thousand--nay, how he should have neither competitor when
living, nor successor when dead. The English gentleman who, after the
death of Canova, asked a surviving brother of the sculptor whether he
purposed carrying on Canova's _business_, found that he had achieved in
the query an unintentional joke. But in the commoner avocations there
appear no such differences between man and man; and it may seem strange
how, in ordinary stone-cutting, one man could thus perform the work of
three. My acquaintance with old John Fraser showed me how very much the
ability depended on a natural faculty. John's strength had never been
above the average of that of Scotchmen, and it was now considerably
reduced; nor did his mallet deal more or heavier blows than that of the
common workman. He had, however, an extraordinary power of conceiving of
the finished piece of work, as lying within the rude stone from which it
was his business to disinter it; and while ordinary stone-cutters had to
repeat and re-repeat their lines and draughts, and had in this way
virtually to give to their work several surfaces in detail ere they
reached the true one, old John cut upon the true figure at once, and
made one surface serve for all. In building, too, he exercised a similar
power: he hammer-dressed his stones with fewer strokes than other
workmen, and in fitting the interspaces between stones already laid,
always picked from out of the heap at his feet the stone that exactly
fitted the place; while other operatives busied themselves in picking up
stones that were too small or too large; or, if they set themselves to
reduce the too large ones, reduced them too little or too much, and had
to fit and fit again. Whether building or hewing, John never seemed in a
hurry. He has been seen, when far advanced in life, working very
leisurely, as became his years, on the one side of a wall, and two stout
young fellows building against him on the other side--toiling,
apparently, twice harder than he, but the old man always contriving to
keep a little a-head of them both.

David Fraser I never saw; but as a hewer he was said considerably to
excel even his brother John. On hearing that it had been remarked among
a party of Edinburgh masons, that, though regarded as the first of
Glasgow stone-cutters, he would find in the eastern capital at least his
equals, he attired himself most uncouthly in a long-tailed coat of
tartan, and, looking to the life the untamed, untaught, conceited little
Celt, he presented himself on Monday morning, armed with a letter of
introduction from a Glasgow builder, before the foreman of an Edinburgh
squad of masons engaged upon one of the finer buildings at that time in
the course of erection. The letter specified neither his qualifications
nor his name: it had been written merely to secure for him the necessary
employment, and the necessary employment it did secure. The better
workmen of the party were engaged, on his arrival, in hewing columns,
each of which was deemed sufficient work for a week; and David was
asked, somewhat incredulously, by the foreman, "if he could hew?" "O
yes, _he thought_ he could hew." "Could he hew columns such as these!"
"O yes, _he thought_ he could hew columns such as these." A mass of
stone in which a possible column lay hid, was accordingly placed before
David, not under cover of the shed, which was already occupied by
workmen, but, agreeably to David's own request, directly in front of it,
where he might be seen by all, and where he straightway commenced a most
extraordinary course of antics. Buttoning his long tartan coat fast
around him, he would first look along the stone from the one end, anon
from the other, and then examine it in front and rear; or, quitting it
altogether for the time, he would take up his stand beside the other
workmen, and, after looking at them with great attention, return and
give it a few taps with the mallet, in a style evidently imitative of
theirs, but monstrously a caricature. The shed all that day resounded
with roars of laughter; and the only thoroughly grave man on the ground
was he who occasioned the mirth of all the others. Next morning David
again buttoned his coat; but he got on much better this day than the
former: he was less awkward and less idle, though not less observant
than before: and he succeeded ere evening in tracing, in workman-like
fashion, a few draughts along the future column. He was evidently
greatly improving. On the morning of Wednesday he threw off his coat;
and it was seen that, though by no means in a hurry, he was seriously at
work. There were no more jokes or laughter; and it was whispered in the
evening that the strange Highlander had made astonishing progress
during the day. By the middle of Thursday he had made up for his two
days' trifling, and was abreast of the other workmen; before night he
was far ahead of them; and ere the evening of Friday, when they had
still a full day's work on each of their columns, David's was completed
in a style that defied criticism; and, his tartan coat again buttoned
around him, he sat resting himself beside it. The foreman went out and
greeted him. "Well," he said, "you have beaten us all: you certainly
_can_ hew!" "Yes," said David; "I _thought_ I could hew columns. Did the
other men take much more than a week to learn?" "Come, come, _David
Fraser_," replied the foreman; "we all guess who you are: you have had
your joke out; and now, I suppose, we must give you your week's wages,
and let you away." "Yes," said David; "work waits for me in Glasgow; but
I just thought it might be well to know how you hewed on this east side
of the country."

John Fraser was a shrewd, sarcastic old man, much liked, however, by his
brother workmen; though his severe sayings--which, never accompanied by
any ill-nature, were always tolerated in the barrack--did both himself
and them occasional harm when repeated outside. To men who have to live
for months together on oatmeal and salt, the difference between porridge
with and porridge without milk is a very great difference indeed, both
in point of salutariness and comfort; and I had succeeded in securing,
on the ordinary terms, ere the arrival of John, what was termed a _set_
of skimmed milk from the wife of the gentleman at whose dwelling-house
we were engaged in working. The skimmed milk was, however, by no means
good: it was thin, blue, and sour; and we received it without complaint
only because we knew that, according to the poet, it was "better just
than want aye," and that there was no other dairy in that part of the
country. But old John was less prudent; and, taking the dairy-maid to
task in his quiet ironical style, he began by expressing wonder and
regret that a grand lady like her mistress should be unable to
distinguish the difference between milk and wine. The maid indignantly
denied the fact _in toto_: her mistress, she said, did know the
difference. "O no," replied John; "wine always gets better the longer it
is kept, and milk always the worse; but your mistress, not knowing the
difference, keeps her milk very long, in order to make it better, and
makes it so very bad in consequence, that there are some days we can
scarce eat it at all." The dairy-maid bridled up, and, communicating the
remark to her mistress, we were told next morning that we might go for
our milk to the next dairy, if we pleased, but that we would get none
from her. And so, for four months thereafter, we had to do penance for
the joke, on that not very luxurious viand "dry porridge." The pleasures
of the table had occupied but small space amid the very scanty
enjoyments of our barrack even before, and they were now so considerably
reduced, that I could have almost wished at meal-times that--like the
inhabitants of the moon, as described by Baron Munchausen--I could open
up a port-hole in my side, and lay in at once provisions enough for a
fortnight; but the infliction told considerably more on our
constitutions than on our appetites; and we all became subject to small
but very painful boils in the muscular parts of the body--a species of
disease which seems to be scarce less certainly attendant on the
exclusive use of oatmeal, than sea-scurvy on the exclusive use of salt
meat. Old John, however, though in a certain sense the author of our
calamity, escaped all censure, while a double portion fell to the share
of the gentleman's wife.

I never met a man possessed of a more thoroughly mathematical head than
this ancient mason. I know not that he ever saw a copy of Euclid; but
the principles of the work seemed to lie as self-evident truths in his
mind. In the ability, too, of drawing shrewd inferences from natural
phenomena, old John Fraser excelled all the other untaught men I ever
knew. Until my acquaintance with him commenced, I had been accustomed
to hear the removal of what was widely known in the north of Scotland as
"the travelled stone of Petty," attributed to supernatural agency. An
enormous boulder had been carried in the night-time by the fairies, it
was said, from its resting place on the sea-beach, into the middle of a
little bay--a journey of several hundred feet; but old John, though he
had not been on the spot at the time, at once inferred that it had been
carried, not by the fairies, but by a thick cake of ice, considerable
enough, when firmly clasped round it, to float it away. He had seen, he
told me, stones of considerable size floated off by ice on the shore
opposite his cottage, in the upper reaches of the Cromarty Firth: ice
was an agent that sometimes "walked off with great stones;" whereas he
had no evidence whatever that the fairies had any powers that way; and
so he accepted the agent which he knew, as the true one in the removal
of the travelled stone, and not the hypothetical agents of which he knew
nothing. Such was the natural philosophy of old John; and in this
special instance geologic science has since fully confirmed his
decision. He was chiefly a favourite among us, however, from his even
and cheerful temper, and his ability of telling humorous stories, that
used to set the barrack in a roar, and in which he never spared himself,
if the exhibition of a weakness or absurdity gave but point to the fun.
His narrative of a visit to Inverness, which he had made when an
apprentice lad, to see a sheep-stealer hung, and his description of the
terrors of a night-journey back, in which he fancied he saw men waving
in the wind on almost every tree, till on reaching his solitary barrack
he was utterly prostrated by the apparition of his own great-coat
suspended from a pin, has oftener than once convulsed us with laughter.
But John's humorous confessions, based as they always were on a strong
good sense, that always saw the early folly in its most ludicrous
aspect, never lowered him in our eyes. Of his wonderful skill as a
workman, much was incommunicable; but it was at least something to know
the principles on which he directed the operations of what a
phrenologist would perhaps term his extraordinary faculties of _form_
and _size_; and so I recognise old John as one of not the least useful
nor able of my many teachers. Some of his professional lessons were of a
kind which the south and east country masons would be the better for
knowing. In that rainy district of Scotland of which we at this time
occupied the central tract, rubble walls built in the ordinary style
leak like the bad roofs of other parts of the country; and
mansion-houses constructed within its precincts by qualified workmen
from Edinburgh and Glasgow have been found to admit the water in such
torrents as to be uninhabitable, until their more exposed walls had been
slated over like their roofs. Old John, however, always succeeded in
building water-tight walls. Departing from the ordinary rule of the
builder elsewhere, and which on the east coast of Scotland he himself
always respected, he slightly elevated the under beds of his stones,
instead of laying them, as usual, on the dead level; while along the
edges of their upper beds he struck off a small rude champer; and by
these simple contrivances, the rain, though driven with violence against
his work, coursed in streams along its face, without entering into the
interior and soaking through.

For about six weeks we had magnificent weather--clear, sunny skies, and
calm seas; and I greatly enjoyed my evening rambles amid the hills, or
along the sea-shore. I was struck, in these walks, by the amazing
abundance of the wild flowers which covered the natural meadows and
lower hill-slopes--an abundance, as I have since remarked, equally
characteristic of both the northern and western islands of Scotland. The
lower slopes of Gairloch, of western Sutherland, of Orkney, and of the
northern Hebrides generally--though, for the purposes of the
agriculturist, vegetation languishes, and wheat is never reared--are by
many degrees richer in wild flowers than the fat loamy meadows of
England. They resemble gaudy pieces of carpeting, as abundant in petals
as in leaves. Little of the rare is to be detected in these meadows,
save, perhaps, that in those of western Sutherland a few Alpine plants
may be found at a greatly lower level than elsewhere in Britain; but the
vast profusion of blossoms borne by species common to almost every other
part of the kingdom, imparts to them an apparently novel character. We
may detect, I am inclined to think, in this singular floral profusion,
the operation of a law not less influential in the animal than the
vegetable world, which, when hardship presses upon the life of the
individual shrub or quadruped, so as to threaten its vitality, renders
it fruitful on behalf of its species. I have seen the principle
strikingly exemplified in the common tobacco plant, when reared in a
northern country, in the open air. Year after year it continued to
degenerate, and to exhibit a smaller leaf and shorter stem, until the
successors of what in the first year of trial had been rigorous plants,
of some three to four feet in height, had in the sixth or eighth become
mere weeds, of scarce as many inches. But while the as yet undegenerate
plant had merely borne atop a few florets, which produced a small
quantity of exceedingly minute seeds, the stunted weed, its descendant,
was so thickly covered over in its season with its pale yellow bells, as
to present the appearance of a nosegay; and the seeds produced were not
only bulkier in the mass, but also individually of much greater size.
The tobacco had grown productive in proportion as it had degenerated. In
the common scurvy-grass, too--remarkable, with some other plants for
taking its place among both the productions of our Alpine heights and of
our sea-shores--it will be found that, in proportion as its habitat
proves ungenial, and its leaves and stems become dwarfish and thin, its
little white cruciform flowers increase, till, in localities where it
barely exists, as if on the edge of extinction, we find the entire plant
forming a dense bundle of seed vessels, each charged to the full with
seed. And in the gay meadows of Gairloch and Orkney, crowded with a
vegetation that approaches its northern limit of production, we detect
what seems to be the same principle chronically operative; and hence, it
would seem, their extraordinary gaiety. Their richly blossoming plants
are the poor productive _Irish_ of the vegetable world; for Doubleday
seems quite in the right in holding that the law extends to not only the
inferior animals, but to our own species also. The lean, ill-fed sow and
rabbit rear, it has been long known, a greatly more numerous progeny
than the same animals when well cared for and fat; and every horse and
cattle breeder knows that to over-feed his animals proves a sure mode of
rendering them sterile. The sheep, if tolerably well pastured, brings
forth only a single lamb at a birth; but if half-starved and lean, the
chances are that it may bring forth two or three. And so it is also with
the greatly higher human race. Place them in circumstances of
degradation and hardship so extreme as almost to threaten their
existence as individuals, and they increase, as if in behalf of the
species, with a rapidity without precedent in circumstances of greater
comfort. The aristocratic families of a country are continually running
out; and it requires frequent creations to keep up the House of Lords;
whereas our poorer people seem increasing in more than the arithmetical
ratio. In Skye, though fully two-thirds of the population emigrated
early in the latter half of the last century, a single generation had
scarce passed ere the gap was completely filled; and miserable Ireland,
as it existed ere the famine, would have been of itself sufficient, had
the human family no other breeding-place, to people in a few ages the
world. Here too, in close neighbourhood with the flower-covered meadows,
were there miserable cottages that were swarming with children--cottages
in which, for nearly the half of every twelvemonth, the cereals were
unknown as food, and whose over-toiled female inmates did all the
domestic work, and more than half the work of the little fields outside.

How exquisitely the sun sets in a clear, calm, summer evening over the
blue Hebrides! Within less than a mile of our barrack, there rose a
tall hill, whose bold summit commanded all the Western Isles, from Sleat
in Skye, to the Butt of the Lewis. To the south lay the trap islands; to
the north and west, the gneiss ones. They formed, however, seen from
this hill, one great group, which, just as the sun had sunk, and sea and
sky were so equally bathed in gold as to exhibit on the horizon no
dividing line, seemed in their transparent purple--darker or lighter
according to the distance--a group of lovely clouds, that, though
moveless in the calm, the first light breeze might sweep away. Even the
flat promontories of sandstone, which, like outstretched arms, enclosed
the outer reaches of the foreground--promontories edged with low red
cliffs, and covered with brown heath--used to borrow at these times,
from the soft yellow beam, a beauty not their own. Amid the inequalities
of the gneiss region within--a region more broken and precipitous, but
of humbler altitude, than the great gneiss tract of the midland
Highlands--the chequered light and shade lay, as the sun declined, in
strongly contrasted patches, that betrayed the abrupt inequalities of
the ground, and bore, when all around was warm, tinted, and bright, a
hue of cold neutral grey; while immediately over and beyond this rough
sombre base there rose two noble pyramids of red sandstone, about two
thousand feet in height, that used to flare to the setting sun in bright
crimson, and whose nearly horizontal strata, deeply scored along the
lines, like courses of ashlar in an ancient wall, added to the mural
effect communicated by their bare fronts and steep rectilinear outlines.
These tall pyramids form the terminal members, towards the south, of an
extraordinary group of sandstone hills, of denudation unique in the
British islands, to which I have already referred, and which extends
from the northern boundary of Assynt to near Applecross. But though I
formed at this time my first acquaintance with the group, it was not
until many years after that I had an opportunity of determining the
relations of their component beds to each other, and to the fundamental
rocks of the country.

At times my walks were directed along the sea-shore. Naturalists well
know how much the western coasts of Scotland differ in their productions
from its eastern ones; but it was a difference wholly new to me at this
time; and though my limited knowledge enabled me to detect it in but
comparatively few particulars, I found it no uninteresting task to trace
it for myself in even these few. I was first attracted by one of the
larger sea-weeds, _Himanthalia lorea_--with its cup-shaped disc and long
thong-like receptacles--which I found very abundant on the rocks here,
but which I had never seen in the upper reaches of the Moray Firth, and
which is by no means very common on any portion of the east coast. From
the sea-weeds I passed to the shells, among which I detected not only a
difference in the proportions in which the various species occurred, but
also species that were new to me--such as a shell, not rare in Gairloch,
_Nassa reticulata_, but rarely if ever seen in the Moray or Cromarty
Firths; and three other shells which I saw here for the first time,
_Trochus umbilicatus_, _Trochus magus_, and _Pecten niveus_.[5] I found,
too, that the common edible oyster, _ostrea edulis_, which on the east
coast lies always in comparatively deep water, is sometimes found in the
Gairloch, as, for instance, in the little bay opposite Flowerdale, in
beds laid bare by the ebb of stream-tides. It is always interesting to
come unexpectedly either upon a new species or a striking peculiarity in
an old one; and I deemed it a curious and suggestive fact that there
should be British shells still restricted to our western shores, and
that have not yet made their way into the German Ocean, along the coasts
of either extremity of the island. Are we to infer that they are shells
of more recent origin than the widely-diffused ones? or are they merely
feebler in their reproductive powers? and is the German Ocean, as some
of our geologists hold, a comparatively modern sea, into which only the
hardier mollusca of rapid increase have yet made their way? Further, I
found that the true fishes differ considerably in the group on the
opposite sides of the island. The haddock and whiting are greatly more
common on the east coast: the hake and horse mackerel very much more
abundant on the west. Even where the species are the same on both sides,
the varieties are different. The herring of the west coast is a short,
thick, richly-flavoured fish, greatly superior to the large lean variety
so abundant on the east; whereas the west-coast cod are large-headed,
thin-bodied, pale-coloured fishes, inferior, even in their best season,
to the darker-coloured, small-headed variety of the east. In no respect
do the two coasts differ more, or at least to the north of the
Grampians, than in the transparency of the water. The bottom is rarely
seen on the east coast at a depth of more than twenty feet, and not
often at more than twelve; whereas on the west I have seen it very
distinctly, during a tract of dry weather, at a depth of sixty or
seventy feet. The handles of the spears used in Gairloch in spearing
flat fish and the common edible crab (_Cancer Pagurus_), are sometimes
five-and-twenty feet in length--a length which might in vain be given to
spear-handles upon the east coast, seeing that there, at such a depth of
water, flat fish or crab was never yet seen from the surface.

Deceived by this transparency, I have plunged oftener than once over
head and ears, when bathing among the rocks, in pools where I had
confidently expected to find footing. From a rock that rose abrupt as a
wall from the low-water level of stream tides to a little above the line
of flood, I occasionally amused myself, when the evenings were calm, in
practising the Indian method of diving--that in which the diver carries
a weight with him, to facilitate his sinking, and keep him steadily at
the bottom. I used to select an oblong-shaped stone, of sixteen or
eighteen pounds' weight, but thin enough to be easily held in one hand;
and after grasping it fast, and quitting the rock edge, I would in a
second or two find myself on the grey pebble-strewed ooze beneath, some
twelve or fifteen feet from the surface, where I found I could steadily
remain, picking up any small objects I chanced to select, until, breath
failing, I quitted my hold of the stone. And then two or three seconds
more were always sufficient to bring me to the surface again. There are
many descriptions, in the works of the poets, of submarine scenery, but
it is always scenery such as may be seen by an eye looking down into the
water--not by an eye enveloped in it--and very different from that with
which I now became acquainted. I found that in these hasty trips to the
bottom I could distinguish masses and colours, but that I always failed
to determine outlines. The minuter objects--pebbles, shells, and the
smaller bunches of sea-weed--always assumed the circular form; the
larger, such as detached rocks, and patches of sand, appeared as if
described by irregular curves. The dingy gneiss rock rose behind and
over me like a dark cloud, thickly dotted with minute circular spots of
soiled white--the aspect assumed, as seen through the water, by the
numerous specimens of univalve shells (_Purpura lapillus_ and _Patella
vulgata_) with which it was speckled; beneath, the irregular floor
seemed covered by a carpet that somewhat resembled in the pattern a
piece of marbled paper, save that the circular or oval patches of which
it was composed, and which had as their nuclei, stones, rocks,
shell-fish, bunches of fuci, and fronds of laminaria, were greatly
larger. There spread around a misty groundwork of green intensely deep
along its horizon, but comparatively light overhead, in its middle sky,
which had always its prodigy--wonderful circlets of light, that went
widening outwards, and with whose delicate green there mingled
occasional flashes of pale crimson. Such was the striking though
somewhat meagre scenery of a sea-bottom in Gairloch, as seen by a human
eye submerged in from two to three fathoms of water.

There still continued to linger in this primitive district, at the time,
several curious arts and implements, that had long become obsolete in
most other parts of the Highlands, and of which the remains, if found in
England or the Low country, would have been regarded by the antiquary as
belonging to very remote periods. During the previous winter I had read
a little work descriptive of an ancient ship, supposed to be Danish,
which had been dug out of the silt of an English river, and which, among
other marks of antiquity, exhibited seams caulked with moss--a
peculiarity which had set at fault, it was said, the modern
ship-carpenter, in the chronology of his art, as he was unaware that
there had ever been a time when moss was used for such a purpose. On
visiting, however, a boat-yard at Gairloch, I found the Highland builder
engaged in laying a layer of dried moss, steeped in tar, along one of
his seams, and learned that such had been the practice of
boat-carpenters in that locality from time immemorial. I have said that
the little old Highlander of the solitary shieling, whom we met on first
commencing our quarrying labours beside his hut, was engaged in
stripping with a pocket-knife long slender filaments from off a piece of
moss-fir. He was employed in preparing these ligneous fibres for the
manufacture of a primitive kind of cordage, in large use among the
fishermen, and which possessed a strength and flexibility that could
scarce have been expected from materials of such venerable age and
rigidity as the roots and trunks of ancient trees, that had been locked
up in the peat-mosses of the district for mayhap a thousand years. Like
the ordinary cordage of the rope-maker, it consisted of three strands,
and was employed for haulsers, the cork-bauks of herring-nets, and the
lacing of sails. Most of the sails themselves were made, not of canvas,
but of a woollen stuff, the thread of which, greatly harder and stouter
than that of common plaid, had been spun on the distaff and spindle. As
hemp and flax must have been as rare commodities of old in the western
Highlands, and the Hebrides generally, as they both were thirty years
ago in Gairloch, whereas moss-fir must have been abundant, and sheep,
however coarse their fleeces, common enough, it seems not improbable
that the old Highland fleets that fought in the "Battle of the Bloody
Bay," or that, in troublous times, when Donald quarrelled with the king,
ravaged the coasts of Arran and Ayrshire, may been equipped with similar
sails and cordage. Scott describes the fleet of the "Lord of the Isles,"
in the days of the Bruce, as consisting of "proud galleys," "streamered
with silk and tricked with gold." I suspect he would have approved
himself a truer antiquary, though mayhap worse poet, had he described it
as composed of very rude carvels, caulked with moss, furnished with
sails of dun-coloured woollen stuff still redolent of the oil, and
rigged out with brown cordage formed of the twisted fibres of moss-fir.
The distaff and spindle was still, as I have said, in extensive use in
the district. In a scattered village in the neighbourhood of our
barrack, in which all the adult females were ceaselessly engaged in the
manufacture of yarn, there was not a single spinning-wheel. Nor, though
all its cottages had their little pieces of tillage, did it boast its
horse or plough. The cottars turned up the soil with the old Highland
implement, the _cass-chron_; and the necessary manure was carried to the
fields in spring, and the produce brought home in autumn, on the backs
of the women, in square wicker-work panniers, with slip-bottoms. How
these poor Highland women did toil! I have paused amid my labours under
the hot sun, to watch them as they passed, bending under their load of
peat or manure, and at the same time twirling the spindle as they crept
along, and drawing out the never-ending thread from the distaff stuck in
their girdles. Their appearance in most cases betrayed their life of
hardship. I scarce saw a Gairloch woman of the humbler class turned of
thirty, who was not thin, sallow, and prematurely old. The men, their
husbands and brothers, were by no means worn out with hard work. I have
seen them, time after time, sunning themselves on a mossy bank, when the
females were thus engaged; and used, with my brother-workmen--who were
themselves Celts, but of the industrious, hardworking type--to feel
sufficiently indignant at the lazy fellows. But the arrangement which
gave them rest, and their wives and sisters hard labour, seemed to be as
much the offspring of a remote age as the woollen sails and the moss-fir
cordage. Several other ancient practices and implements had at this time
just disappeared from the district. A good meal-mill of the modern
construction had superseded, not a generation before, several small
mills with horizontal water-wheels, of that rude antique type which
first supplanted the still more ancient handmill. These horizontal mills
still exist, however--at least they did so only two years ago--in the
gneiss region of Assynt. The antiquary sometimes forgets that, tested by
his special rules for determining periods, several ages may be found
contemporary in contiguous districts of the same country. I am old
enough to have seen the handmill at work in the north of Scotland; and
the traveller into the Highlands of western Sutherland might have
witnessed the horizontal mill in action only two years ago. But to the
remains of either, if dug out of the mosses or sand-hills of the
southern counties, we would assign an antiquity of centuries. In the
same way, the unglazed earthen pipkin, fashioned by the hand without the
assistance of the potter's wheel, is held to belong to the "bronze and
stone periods" of the antiquary; and yet my friend of the Doocot Cave,
when minister of Small Isles, found the remains of one of these pipkins
in the famous charnel cave of Eigg, which belonged to an age not earlier
than that of Mary, and more probably pertained to that of her son James;
and I have since learned, that in the southern portions of the Long
Island, this same hand-moulded pottery of the bronze period has been
fashioned for domestic use during the early part of the present century.
A chapter devoted to these lingering, or only recently departed, arts of
the primitive ages, would be a curious one; but I fear the time for
writing it is now well-nigh past. My few facts on the subject may serve
to show that, even as late as the year 1823, some three days' journey
into the Highlands might be regarded as analogous in some respects to a
journey into the past of some three or four centuries. But even since
that comparatively recent period the Highlands have greatly changed.

After some six or eight weeks of warm sunny days and lovely evenings,
there came on a dreary tract of rainy weather, with strong westerly
gales; and for three months together, while there was scarce a day that
had not its shower, some days had half-a-dozen. Gairloch occupies, as I
have said, exactly the focus of that great curve of annual rain which,
impinging on our western shores from the Atlantic, extends from the
north of Assynt to the south of Mull, and exhibits on the rain-gauge an
average of thirty-five yearly inches--an average very considerably above
the medium quantity that falls in any other part of Great Britain, save
a small tract at the Land's End, included in a southern curve of equal
fall. The rain-fall of this year, however, must have stood very
considerably above even this high average; and the corn crops of the
poor Highlanders soon began to testify to the fact. There had been a
larger than ordinary promise during the fine weather; but in the danker
hollows the lodged oats and barley now lay rotting on the ground, or, on
the more exposed heights, stood up, shorn of the ears, as mere naked
spikes of straw. The potatoes, too, had become soft and watery, and must
have formed but indifferent food to the poor Highlanders, condemned,
even in better seasons, to feed upon them during the greater part of the
year, and now thrown upon them almost exclusively by the failure of the
corn crop. The cottars of the neighbouring village were on other
accounts in more than usually depressed circumstances at the time. Each
family paid to the laird for its patch of corn-land, and the pasturage
of a wide upland moor, on which each kept three cows a-piece, a small
yearly rent of three pounds. The males were all fishermen as well as
crofters; and, small as the rent was, they derived their only means of
paying it from the sea--chiefly, indeed, from the herring
fishery--which, everywhere an uncertain and precarious source of supply,
is more so here than in most other places on the north-western coasts of
Scotland. And as for three years together the herring fishing had failed
in the Loch, they had been unable, term after term, to meet with the
laird, and were now three years in arrears. Fortunately for them, he was
a humane, sensible man, comfortable enough in his circumstances to have,
what Highland proprietors often have not, the complete command of his
own affairs; but they all felt that their cattle were their own only by
sufferance, and so long as he forbore urging his claims against them;
and they entertained but little hope of ultimate extrication. I saw
among these poor men much of that indolence of which the country has
heard not a little; and could not doubt, from the peculiar aspects in
which it presented itself, that it was, as I have said, a long-derived
hereditary indolence, in which their fathers and grandfathers had
indulged for centuries. But there was certainly little in their
circumstances to lead to the formation of new habits of industry. Even a
previously industrious people, were they to be located within the great
north-western curve of thirty-five inch rain, to raise corn and potatoes
for the autumnal storms to blast, and to fish in the laird's behalf
herrings that year after year refused to come to be caught, would, I
suspect, in a short time get nearly as indolent as themselves. And
certainly, judging from the contrast which my brother-workmen presented
to these Highlanders of the west coast, the indolence which we saw, and
for which my comrades had no tolerance whatever, could scarce be
described as inherently Celtic. I myself was the only genuine Lowlander
of our party. John Fraser, who, though turned of sixty, would have laid
or hewn stone for stone with the most diligent Saxon mason in Britain or
elsewhere, was a true Celt of the Scandinavian-Gaelic variety; and all
our other masons--Macdonalds, M'Leods, and Mackays, hard-working men,
who were content to toil from season to season, and all day long--were
true Celts also. But they had been bred on the eastern border of the
Highlands, in a sandstone district, where they had the opportunity of
acquiring a trade, and of securing in the working season regular
well-remunerated employment; and so they had developed into industrious,
skilled mechanics, of at least the ordinary efficiency. There are other
things much more deeply in fault as producing causes of the indolence of
the west-coast Highlander than his Celtic blood.

On finishing the dwelling-house upon which we had been engaged, nearly
one-half the workmen quitted the squad for the low country, and the
remainder removed to the neighbourhood of the inn at which we had spent
our first night, or rather morning, in the place, to build a kitchen and
store-room for the inn-keeper. Among the others, we lost the society of
Click-Clack, who had been a continual source of amusement and annoyance
to us in the barrack all the season long. We soon found that he was
regarded by the Highlanders in our neighbourhood with feelings of the
intensest horror and dread: they had learned somehow that he used to be
seen in the low country flitting suspiciously at nights about
churchyards, and was suspected of being a resurrectionist; and not one
of the ghouls or vampires of eastern story could have been more feared
or hated in the regions which they were believed to infest, than a
resurrectionist in the Western Highlands. Click-Clack had certainly a
trick of wandering about at nights; and not unfrequently did he bring,
on his return from some nocturnal ramble, dead bodies with him into the
barrack; but they were invariably the dead bodies of cod, gurnard, and
hake. I know not where his fishing-bank lay, or what bait he employed;
but I observed that almost all the fish which he caught were ready dried
and salted. Old John Fraser was not without suspicion that there were
occasional interferences on the part of the carter with the integrity of
our meal-barrel; and I have seen the old man smoothing the surface of
the meal just before quitting the barrack for his work, and inscribing
upon it with his knife-point the important moral injunction, "Thou shalt
not steal," in such a way as to render it impossible to break the
commandment within the precincts of the barrel, without, at the same
time, effacing some of its characters. And these once effaced,
Click-Clack, as he was no writer himself, and had no assistant or
confidant, could not have re-inscribed. Ere quitting us for the low
country, I bargained with him that he should carry my blanket in his
cart to Conon-side, and gave him a shilling and a dram in advance, as
pay for the service. He carried it, however, no further than the next
inn, where, pledging it for a second shilling and second dram, he left
me to relieve it as I passed. Poor Click-Clack, though one of the
cleverest of his class, was decidedly half-witted; and I may remark, as
at least curious, that though I have known idiocy in its unmixed state
united to great honesty, and capable of disinterested attachment, I
never yet knew one of the half-witted caste who was not selfish and a
rogue.

We were unlucky in our barracks this season. Ere completing our first
piece of work, we had to quit the hay-barn, our earliest dwelling, to
make way for the proprietor's hay, and to shelter in a cow-house, where,
as the place had no chimney, we were nearly suffocated by smoke; and we
now found the innkeeper, our new employer, speculating, like the
magistrates in Joe Miller, on the practicability of lodging us in a
building, the materials of which were to be used in erecting the one
which we were engaged to build. We did our best to solve the problem,
by hanging up at the end of the doomed hovel--which had been a
salt-store in its day, and was in damp weather ever sweating
salt-water--a hanging partition of mats, that somewhat resembled the
curtain of a barn-theatre; and, making our beds within, we began pulling
down piecemeal, as the materials were required, that part of the
erection which lay outside. We had very nearly unhoused ourselves ere
our work was finished; and the chill blasts of October, especially when
they blew in at the open end of our dwelling, rendered it as
uncomfortable as a shallow cave in an exposed rock-front. My boyish
experiences, however, among the rocks of Cromarty, constituted no bad
preparation for such a life, and I roughed it out at least as well as
any of my comrades. The day had so contracted, that night always fell
upon our unfinished labours, and I had no evening walks; but there was a
delightful gneiss island, of about thirty acres in extent, and nearly
two miles away, to which I used to be occasionally despatched to quarry
lintels and corner stones, and where work had all the charms of play;
and the quiet Sabbaths were all my own. So long as the laird and his
family were at the mansion-house of Flowerdale--at least four months of
every year--there was an English service in the parish church; but I had
come to the place this season before the laird, and now remained in it
after he had gone away, and there was no English service for me. And so
I usually spent my Sabbaths all alone in the noble Flowerdale woods, now
bright under their dark hillsides, in the autumnal tints, and remarkable
for the great height and bulk of their ash trees, and of a few detached
firs, that spoke, in their venerable massiveness, of former centuries.
The clear, calm mornings, when the gossamer went sailing in long grey
films along the retired glades of the wood, and the straggling sunlight
fell on the crimson and orange mushroom, as it sprang up amid the dank
grass, and under thickly-leaved boughs of scarlet and gold, I deemed
peculiarly delightful. For one who had neither home nor church, the
autumnal woods formed by much a preferable Sabbath haunt to a shallow
cave, dropping brine, unprovided with chair or table, and whose only
furniture consisted of two rude bedsteads of undressed slabs, that bore
atop two blankets a-piece, and a heap of straw. Sabbath-walking in
parties, and especially in the neighbourhood of our large towns, is
always a frivolous, and often a very bad thing; but lonely Sabbath-walks
in a rural district--walks such as the poet Graham describes--are not
necessarily bad; and the Sabbatarians who urge that in all cases, men,
when not in church on the Sabbath, ought to be in their dwellings, must
know very little indeed of the "huts where poor men lie." In the mason's
barrack, or the farm-servant's bothy, it is often impossible to enjoy
the quiet of the Sabbath: the circumstances necessary to its enjoyment
must be sought in the open air, amid the recesses of some thick wood, or
along the banks of some unfrequented river, or on the brown wastes of
some solitary moor.

We had completed all our work ere Hallowday, and, after a journey of
nearly three days, I found myself once more at home, with the leisure of
the long happy winter before me. I still look lack on the experiences of
this year with a feeling of interest. I had seen in my boyhood, in the
interior of Sutherland, the Highlanders living in that condition of
comparative comfort which they enjoyed from shortly after the
suppression of the rebellion of 1745, and the abolition of the
hereditary jurisdictions, till the beginning of the present century, and
in some localities for ten or twelve years later. And here again I saw
them in a condition--the effect mainly of the introduction of the
extensive sheep-farm system into the interior of the country--which has
since become general over almost the entire Highlands, and of which the
result may be seen in the annual famines. The population, formerly
spread pretty equally over the country, now exists as a miserable
selvedge, stretched along its shores, dependent in most cases on
precarious fisheries, that prove remunerative for a year or two, and
disastrous for mayhap half-a-dozen; and able barely to subsist when
most successful, a failure in the potato crop, or in the expected return
of the herring shoals, at once reduces them to starvation. The grand
difference between the circumstances of the people of the Highlands in
the better time and the worse may be summed up in the one important
vocable--_capital_. The Highlander was never wealthy: the inhabitants of
a wild mountainous district, formed of the primary rocks, never are. But
he possessed, on the average, his six, or eight, or ten head of cattle,
and his small flock of sheep; and when, as sometimes happened in the
high-lying districts, the corn-crop turned out a failure, the sale of a
few cattle or sheep more than served to clear scores with the landlord,
and enabled him to purchase his winter and spring supply of meal in the
Lowlands. He was thus a capitalist, and possessed the capitalist's
peculiar advantage of not "living from hand to mouth," but on an
accumulated fund, which always stood between him and absolute want,
though not between him and positive hardship, and which enabled him to
rest, during a year of scarcity, on his own resources, instead of
throwing himself on the charity of his Lowland neighbours. Nay, in what
were emphatically termed "the dear years" of the beginning of the
present and latter half of the past century, the humble people of the
Lowlands, especially our Lowland mechanics and labourers, suffered more
than the crofters and _small_ farmers of the Highlands, and this mainly
from the circumstance, that as the failure of the crops which induced
the scarcity was a corn failure, not a failure of grass and pasture, the
humbler Highlanders had sheep and cattle, which continued to supply them
with food and raiment; while the humbler Lowlanders, depending on corn
almost exclusively, and accustomed to deal with the draper for their
articles of clothing, were reduced by the high price of provisions to
great straits. There took place, however, about the beginning of the
century, a mighty change, coincident with, and, to a certain extent, an
effect of, the wars of the first French Revolution. The price of
provisions rose in England and the Lowlands, and with the price of
provisions, the rent of land. The Highland proprietor naturally enough
set himself to determine how his rental also was to be increased; and,
as a consequence of the conclusion at which he arrived, the sheep-farm
and clearance system began. Many thousand Highlanders, ejected from
their snug holdings, employed their little capital in emigrating to
Canada and the States; and there, in most cases, the little capital
increased, and a rude plenty continues to be enjoyed by their
descendants. Many thousands more, however, fell down upon the coasts of
the country, and, on moss-covered moors or bare promontories, ill suited
to repay the labours of the agriculturist, commenced a sort of
amphibious life as crofters and fishermen. And, located on an ungenial
soil, and prosecuting with but indifferent skill a precarious trade,
their little capital dribbled out of their hands, and they became the
poorest of men. Meanwhile, in some parts of the Highlands and Islands a
busy commerce sprang up, which employed--much to the profit of the
landlords--many thousands of the inhabitants. The kelp manufacture
rendered inhospitable islets and tracts of bleak rocky shore, rich in
sea-weed, of as much value to the proprietors as the best land in
Scotland; and, under the impetus given by full employment, and, if not
ample, at least remunerative pay, population increased. Suddenly,
however, Free Trade, in its first approaches, destroyed the trade in
kelp; and then the discovery of a cheap mode of manufacturing soda out
of common salt secured its ruin beyond the power of legislation to
retrieve. Both the people and landlords experienced in the kelp
districts the evils which a ruined commerce always leaves behind it. Old
Highland families disappeared from amid the aristocracy and landowners
of Scotland; and the population of extensive islands and sea-boards of
the country, from being no more than adequate, suddenly became
oppressively redundant. It required, however, another drop to make the
full cup run over. The potatoes had become, as I have shown, the staple
food of the Highlander; and when, in 1846, the potato-blight came on,
the people, most of them previously stripped of their little capitals,
and divested of their employment, were deprived of their food, and
ruined at a blow. The same stroke which did little more than slightly
impinge on the comforts of the people of the Lowlands, utterly
prostrated the Highlanders; and ever since, the sufferings of famine
have become chronic along the bleak shores and rugged islands of at
least the north-western portion of our country. Nor is it perhaps the
worst part of the evil that takes the form of clamorous want: so heavily
have the famines borne on a class which were not absolutely the poor
when they came on, that they are absolutely the poor now;--they have
dissipated the last remains of capital possessed by the _people_ of the
Highlands.

FOOTNOTES:

[4] Appended to their joint paper on the "Deposits contained between the
Scottish Primary Rocks and Oolitic Series," and interesting, as the
first published geological map of Scotland to the north of the Firths of
Forth and Clyde.

[5] There are only two of these exclusively west-coast shells,--_Trochus
umbilicatus_ and _Pecten niveus_. As neither of them has yet been
detected in any Tertiary formation, they are in all probability shells
of comparatively recent origin, that came into existence in some western
centre of creation; whereas specimens of _Trochus magus_ and _Nassa
reticulata_, which occasionally occur on the eastern coasts of the
kingdom, I have also found in a Pleistocene deposit. Thus the more
widely-spread shells seem to be also the shells of more ancient
standing.



CHAPTER XIV.

    "Edina! Scotia's darling seat!
    All hail thy palaces and towers!"--BURNS.


There had occurred a sad accident among the Cromarty rocks this season,
when I was labouring in Gairloch, which, from the circumstance that it
had nearly taken place in my own person about five years before, a good
deal impressed me on my return. A few hundred yards from the very bad
road which I had assisted old Johnstone of the Forty-Second in
constructing, there is a tall inaccessible precipice of ferruginous
gneiss, that from time immemorial down to this period had furnished a
secure nestling-place to a pair of ravens--the only birds of their
species that frequented the rocks of the Hill. Year after year,
regularly as the breeding season came round, the ravens used to make
their appearance, and enter on possession of their hereditary home: they
had done so for a hundred years, to a certainty--some said, for a much
longer time; and as there existed a tradition in the place that the nest
had once been robbed of its young birds by a bold climber, I paid it a
visit one morning, in order to determine whether I could not rob it too.
There was no getting up to it from below: the precipice, more
inaccessible for about a hundred feet from its base than a castle wall,
overhung the shore; but it seemed not impracticable from above; and,
coming gradually down upon it, availing myself, as I crept along, of
every little protuberance and hollow, I at length stood within six or
eight feet of the young birds. From that point, however, a smooth shelf,
without projection or cavity, descended at an angle of about forty to
the nest, and terminated abruptly, without ledge or margin, in the
overhanging precipice. Have I not, I asked, crept along a roof of even a
steeper slope than that of the shelf? Why not, in like manner, creep
along it to the nest, where there is firm footing? I had actually
stretched out my naked foot to take the first step, when I observed, as
the sun suddenly broke out from behind a cloud, that the light glistened
on the smooth surface. It was incrusted over by a thin layer of
chlorite, slippery as the mixture of soap and grease that the
ship-carpenter spreads over his slips on the morning of a launch. I at
once saw there was an element of danger in the way, on which I had at
first failed to calculate; and so, relinquishing the attempt as
hopeless, I returned by the path I had come, and thought no more of
robbing the raven's nest. It was, however, again attempted this season,
but with tragic results, by a young lad from Sutherland, named Mackay,
who had previously approved his skill as a cragsman in his native
county, and several times secured the reward given by an Agricultural
Society for the destruction of young birds of prey. As the incident was
related to me, he had approached the nest by the path which I had
selected; he had paused where I had paused, and even for a longer time;
and then, venturing forward, he no sooner committed himself to the
treacherous chlorite, than, losing footing as if on a steep sheet of
ice, he shot right over the precipice. Falling sheer for the first fifty
feet or so without touching the rock, he was then turned full round by a
protuberance against which he had glanced, and, descending for the lower
half of the way head foremost, and dashing with tremendous force among
the smooth sea-stones below, his brains were scattered over an area of
from ten to twelve square yards in extent. His only companion--an
ignorant Irish lad--had to gather up the fragments of his head in a
napkin.

I now felt that, save for the gleam of the sun on the glistening
chlorite--seen not a moment too soon--I should probably have been
substituted as the victim for poor Mackay, and that he, warned by my
fate, would in all likelihood have escaped. And though I knew it might
be asked, Why the interposition of a Providence to save _you_, when he
was left to perish? I _did_ feel that I did not owe my escape merely to
my acquaintance with chlorite and its properties. For the full
development of the moral instincts of our nature, one may lead a life by
much too quiet and too secure: a sprinkling in one's lot of sudden
perils and hair-breadth escapes is, I am convinced, more wholesome, if
positive superstition be avoided, than a total absence of danger. For my
own part, though I have, I trust, ever believed in the doctrine of a
particular Providence, it has been always some narrow escape that has
given me my best evidences of the vitality and strength of the belief
within. It has ever been the touch of danger that has rendered it
emotional. A few years after this time, when stooping forward to examine
an opening fissure in a rock front, at which I was engaged in quarrying,
a stone, detached from above by a sudden gust of wind, brushed so
closely past my head as to beat down the projecting front of my bonnet,
and then dented into a deep hollow the sward at my feet. There was
nothing that was not perfectly natural in the occurrence; but the gush
of acknowledgment that burst spontaneously from my heart would have set
at nought the scepticism which should have held that there was no
Providence in it. On another occasion, I paused for some time, when
examining a cave of the old-coast line, directly under its low-browed
roof of Old Red conglomerate, as little aware of the presence of danger
as if I had been standing under the dome of St. Paul's; but when I next
passed the way, the roof had fallen, and a mass, huge enough to have
given me at once death and burial, cumbered the spot which I had
occupied. On yet another occasion, I clambered a few yards down a
precipice, to examine some crab-apple trees, which, springing from a
turret-like projection of the rock, far from gardens and nurseries, had
every mark of being indigenous; and then, climbing up among the
branches, I shook them in a manner that must have exerted no small
leverage power on the outjet beneath, to possess myself of some of the
fruit, as the native apples of Scotland. On my descent, I marked,
without much thinking of the matter, an apparently recent crack running
between the outjet and the body of the precipice. I found, however,
cause enough to think of it on my return, scarce a month after; for then
both outjet and trees lay broken and fractured on the beach more than a
hundred feet below. With such momentum had even the slimmer twigs been
dashed against the sea-pebbles, that they stuck out from under more than
a hundred tons of fallen rock, divested of the bark on their under
sides, as if peeled by the hand. And what I felt on all these occasions
was, I believe, not more in accordance with the nature of man as an
instinct of the moral faculty, than in agreement with that provision of
the Divine Government under which a sparrow falleth not without
permission. There perhaps never was a time in which the doctrine of a
particular Providence was more questioned and doubted than in the
present; and yet the scepticism which obtains regarding it seems to be
very much a scepticism of effort, conjured up by toiling intellects, in
a quiet age, and among the easy classes; while the belief which,
partially and for the time, it overshadows, lies safely entrenched all
the while amid the fastnesses of the unalterable nature of man. When
danger comes to touch it, it will spring up in its old proportions; nay,
so indigenous is it to the human heart, that if it will not take its
_cultivated_ form as a belief in Providence, it will to a certainty take
to it its _wild_ form as a belief in Fate or Destiny. Of a doctrine so
fundamentally important that there can be no religion without it, God
himself seems to have taken care when he moulded the human heart.

The raven no longer builds among the rocks of the Hill of Cromarty; and
I saw many years ago its last pair of eagles. This last noble bird was a
not unfrequent visitor of the Sutors early in the present century. I
still remember scaring it from its perch on the southern side of the
hill, as day was drawing to a close, when the tall precipices amid which
it had lodged lay deep in the shade; and vividly recollect how
picturesquely it used to catch the red gleam of evening on its plumage
of warm brown, as, sailing outwards over the calm sea many hundred feet
below, it emerged from under the shadow of the cliffs into the sunshine.
Uncle James once shot a very large eagle beneath one of the loftiest
precipices of the southern Sutor; and, swimming out through the surf to
recover its body--for it had dropped dead into the sea--he kept its skin
for many years as a trophy.[6] But eagles are now no longer to lie seen
or shot on the Sutors or their neighbourhood. The badger, too--one of
perhaps the oldest inhabitants of the country, for it seems to have been
contemporary with the extinct elephants and hyænas of the Pleistocene
periods--has become greatly less common on their steep sides than in the
days of my boyhood; and both the fox and otter are less frequently seen.
It is not uninteresting to mark with the eye of the geologist, how
palpably in the course of a single lifetime--still nearly twenty years
short of the term fixed by the Psalmist--these wild animals have been
posting on in Scotland to that extinction which overtook, within its
precincts, during the human period, the bear, the beaver, and the wolf,
and of which the past history of the globe, as inscribed on its rocks,
furnishes so strong a record.

Winter passed in the usual pursuits; and I commenced the working season
of a new year by assisting my old master to inclose with a stone wall a
little bit of ground, which he had bought on speculation, but had failed
in getting feued out for buildings. My services, however, were
gratuitous--given merely to eke out the rather indifferent bargain that
the old man had been able to drive in his own behalf for my labours as
an apprentice; and when our job was finished, it became necessary that I
should look out for employment of a more profitable character. There was
not much doing in the north; but work promised to be abundant in the
great towns of the south: the disastrous building mania of 1824-25 had
just begun, and, after some little hesitation, I resolved on trying
whether I could not make my way as a mechanic among the stone-cutters of
Edinburgh perhaps the most skilful in their profession in the world. I
was, besides, desirous to get rid of a little property in Leith, which
had cost the family great annoyance, and not a little money, but from
which, so long as the nominal proprietor was a minor, we could not shake
ourselves loose. It was a house on the Coal-hill, or rather the
self-contained ground-floor of a house, which had fallen to my father
through the death of a relative, so immediately before his own death
that he had not entered upon possession. It was burdened with legacies
to the amount of nearly two hundred pounds; but then the yearly rent
amounted to twenty-four pounds; and my mother, acting on the advice of
friends, and deeming the investment a good one, had no sooner recovered
the insurance-money of my father's vessel from the underwriter, than she
handed the greater part of it to the legatees, and took possession of
the property in my behalf. Alas! never was there a more unfortunate
inheritance or worse investment. It had been let as a public-house and
tap-room, and had been the scene of a somewhat rough, and, I daresay,
not very respectable, but yet profitable trade; but no sooner had it
become mine than, in consequence of some alterations in the harbour, the
greater part of the shipping that used to lie at the Coal-hill removed
to a lower reach; the tap-room business suddenly fell off; and the rent
sank, during the course of one twelvemonth, from twenty-four to twelve
pounds. And then in its sear and wintry state, the unhappy house came to
be inhabited by a series of miserable tenants, who, though they
sanguinely engaged to pay the twelve pounds, never paid them. I still
remember the brief, curt letters from our agent, the late Mr. Veitch,
town-clerk of Leith, that never failed to fill my mother with terror and
dismay, and very much resembled, in at least the narrative parts,
jottings by the poet Crabbe, for some projected poem on the profligate
poor. Two of our tenants made moonlight flittings just on the eve of the
term; and though the little furniture which they left behind them was
duly rouped at the cross, such was the inevitable expense of the
transaction, that none of the proceeds of the sale reached Cromarty. The
house was next inhabited by a stout female, who kept a certain
description of lady-lodgers; and for the first half-year she paid the
rent most conscientiously; but the authorities interfering, there was
another house found for her and her ladies in the neighbourhood of the
Calton, and the rent of the second half-year remained unpaid. And as the
house lost, in consequence of her occupation, the modicum of character
which it had previously retained, it lay for five years wholly
untenanted, save by a mischievous spirit--the ghost, it was said, of a
murdered gentleman, whose throat had been cut in an inner apartment by
the ladies, and his body flung by night into the deep mud of the
harbour. The ghost was, however, at length detected by the police,
couching in the form of one of the ladies themselves, on a lair of straw
in the corner of one of the rooms, and exorcised into Bridewell; and
then the house came to be inhabited by a tenant who had both the will
and the ability to pay. One year's rent, however, had to be expended in
repairs; and ere the next year passed, the heritors of the parish were
rated for the erection of the magnificent parish church of North Leith,
then in course of building, with its tall and graceful spire and classic
portico; and as we had no one to state our case, our house was rated,
not according to its reduced, but according to its original value. And
so the entire rental of the second year, with several pounds additional
which I had to subtract from my hard-earned savings as a mason, were
appropriated in behalf of the ecclesiastical Establishment of the
country, by the builders of the church and spire. I had attained my
majority when lodging in the fragment of a salt storehouse in Gairloch;
and, competent in the eye of the law to dispose of the house on the
Coal-hill, I now hoped to find, if not a purchaser, at least some one
foolish enough to take it off my hands for nothing. I have since heard
and read a good deal about the atrocious landlords of the poorer and
less reputable sort of houses in our large towns, and have seen it
asserted that, being a bad and selfish kind of people, they ought to be
rigorously dealt with. And so, I daresay, they ought; but at the same
time I cannot forget, that I myself was one of these atrocious landlords
from my fifth till nearly my twenty-second year, and that I could not
possibly help it, and was very sorry for it.

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

It was evening ere I reached it. The fog of the early part of the day
had rolled off, and every object stood out in clear light and shade
under a bright sunshiny sky. The workmen of the place--their labours
just closed for the day--were passing in groups along the streets to
their respective homes; but I was too much engaged in looking at the
buildings and shops to look very discriminately at them; and it was not
without some surprise that I found myself suddenly laid hold of by one
of their number, a slim lad, in pale moleskin a good deal bespattered
with paint. My friend William Ross stood before me; and his welcome on
the occasion was a very hearty one. I had previously taken a hasty
survey of my unlucky house in Leith, accompanied by a sharp,
keen-looking, one-handed man of middle age, who kept the key, and acted,
under the town-clerk, as general manager; and who, as I afterwards
ascertained, was the immortal Peter M'Craw. But I had seen nothing
suited to put me greatly in conceit with my patrimony. It formed the
lowermost floor of an old black building, four stories in height,
flanked by a damp narrow court along one of its sides, and that turned
to the street its sharp-peaked, many-windowed gable. The lower windows
were covered up by dilapidated, weather-bleached shutters; in the upper,
the comparatively fresh appearance of the rags that stuffed up holes
where panes ought to have been, and a few very pale-coloured petticoats
and very dark-coloured shirts fluttering in the wind, gave evident signs
of habitation. It cost my conductor's one hand an arduous wrench to lay
open the lock of the outer door, in front of which he had first to
dislodge a very dingy female, attired in an earth-coloured gown, that
seemed as if starched with ashes; and as the rusty hinges creaked, and
the door fell against the wall, we became sensible of a damp,
unwholesome smell, like the breath of a charnel-house, which issued from
the interior. The place had been shut up for nearly two years; and so
foul had the stagnant atmosphere become, that the candle which we
brought with us to explore burned dim and yellow like a miner's lamp.
The floors, broken up in fifty different places, were littered with
rotten straw; and in one of the corners there lay a damp heap, gathered
up like the lair of some wild beast, on which some one seemed to have
slept, mayhap months before. The partitions were crazed and tottering;
the walls blackened with smoke; broad patches of plaster had fallen from
the ceilings, or still dangled from them, suspended by single hairs; and
the bars of the grates, crusted with rust, had become red as foxtails.
Mr. M'Craw nodded his head over the gathered heap of straw. "Ah," he
said--"got in again, I see! The shutters must be looked to." "I
daresay," I remarked, looking disconsolately around me, "you don't find
it very easy to get tenants for houses of this kind." "_Very_ easy!"
said Mr. M'Craw, with somewhat of a Highland twang, and, as I thought,
with also a good deal of Highland _hauteur_--as was of course quite
natural in so shrewd and extensive a house-agent, when dealing with the
owner of a domicile that would not let, and who made foolish
remarks--"No, nor easy at all, or it would not be locked up in this way:
but if we took off the shutters you would soon get tenants enough." "Oh,
I suppose so; and I daresay it is as difficult to sell as to let such
houses." "Ay, and more," said Mr. M'Craw: "it's all sellers, and no
buyers, when we get this low." "But do you not think," I perseveringly
asked, "that some kind, charitable person might be found in the
neighbourhood disposed to take it off my hands as a free gift! It's
terrible to be married for life to a baggage of a house like this, and
made liable, like other husbands, for all its debts. Is there no way of
getting a divorce?" "Don't know," he emphatically replied, with somewhat
of a nasal snort; and so we parted; and I saw or heard no more of Peter
M'Craw until many years after, when I found him celebrated in the
well-known song by poor Gilfillan.[7] And in the society of my friend I
soon forgot my miserable house, and all the liabilities which it
entailed.

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

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

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

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

There were at this time several collier villages in the neighbourhood of
Edinburgh, which have since disappeared. They were situated on what were
called the "edge-coals"--those steep seams of the Mid-Lothian Coal
Basin which, lying low in the system, have got a more vertical tilt
against the trap eminences of the south and west than the upper seams in
the middle of the field, and which, as they could not be followed in
their abrupt descent beyond a certain depth, are now regarded, for at
least the practical purposes of the miner, and until the value of coal
shall have risen considerably, as wrought out. One of these villages,
whose foundations can no longer be traced, occurred in the immediate
vicinity of Niddry Mill. It was a wretched assemblage of dingy,
low-roofed, tile-covered hovels, each of which perfectly resembled all
the others, and was inhabited by a rude and ignorant race of men, that
still bore about them the soil and stain of recent slavery. Curious as
the fact may seem, all the older men of that village, though situated
little more than four miles from Edinburgh, had been born slaves. Nay,
eighteen years later (in 1842), when Parliament issued a commission to
inquire into the nature and results of female labour in the coal-pits of
Scotland, there was a collier still living that had never been twenty
miles from the Scottish capital, who could state to the Commissioners
that both his father and grandfather had been slaves--that he himself
had been born a slave--and that he had wrought for years in a pit in the
neighbourhood of Musselburgh ere the colliers got their freedom. Father
and grandfather had been parishioners of the late Dr. Carlyle of
Inveresk. They were cotemporary with Chatham and Cowper, and Burke and
Fox; and at a time when Granville Sharpe could have stepped forward and
effectually protected the runaway negro who had taken refuge from the
tyranny of his master in a British port, no man could have protected
_them_ from the Inveresk laird, their proprietor, had they dared to
exercise the right, common to all Britons besides, of removing to some
other locality, or of making choice of some other employment. Strange
enough, surely, that so entire a fragment of the barbarous past should
have been thus dovetailed into the age not yet wholly passed away! I
regard it as one of the more singular circumstances of my life, that I
should have conversed with Scotchmen who had been born slaves. The
collier women of this village--poor over-toiled creatures, who carried
up all the coal from underground on their backs, by a long turnpike
stair inserted in one of the shafts--continued to bear more of the marks
of serfdom still about them than even the men. How these poor women did
labour, and how thoroughly, even at this time, were they characterized
by the slave nature! It has been estimated by a man who knew them
well--Mr. Robert Bald--that one of their ordinary day's work was equal
to the carrying of a hundredweight from the level of the sea to the top
of Ben Lomond. They were marked by a peculiar type of mouth, by which I
learned to distinguish them from all the other females of the country.
It was wide, open, thick-lipped, projecting equally above and below, and
exactly resembled that which we find in the prints given of savages in
their lowest and most degraded state, in such narratives of our modern
voyagers as, for instance, the "Narrative of Captain Fitzroy's Second
Voyage of the Beagle." During, however, the lapse of the last twenty
years this type of mouth seems to have disappeared in Scotland. It was
accompanied by traits of almost infantile weakness. I have seen these
collier women crying like children, when toiling under their load along
the upper rounds of the wooden stair that traversed the shaft; and then
returning, scarce a minute after, with the empty creel, singing with
glee. The collier houses were chiefly remarkable for being all alike,
outside and in; all were equally dingy, dirty, naked, and uncomfortable.
I first learned to suspect, in this rude village, that the democratic
watchword, "Liberty and Equality," is somewhat faulty in its philosophy.
Slavery and Equality would be nearer the mark. Wherever there is
liberty, the original differences between man and man begin to manifest
themselves in their external circumstances, and the equality
straightway ceases. It is through slavery that equality, among at least
the masses, is to be fully attained.[8]

I found but little intelligence in the neighbourhood, among even the
villagers and country people, that stood on a higher platform than the
colliers. The fact may be variously accounted for; but so it is, that
though there is almost always more than the average amount of knowledge
and acquirement amongst the mechanics of large towns, the little hamlets
and villages by which they are surrounded are usually inhabited by a
class considerably below the average. In M. Quetelet's interesting
"Treatise on Man," we find a series of maps given, which, based on
extensive statistical tables, exhibit by darker and lighter shadings the
moral and intellectual character of the people in the various districts
of the countries which they represent. In one map, for instance,
representative of the state of education in France, while certain
well-taught provinces are represented by a bright tint, as if enjoying
the light, there are others, in which great ignorance obtains, that
exhibit a deep shade of blackness, as if a cloud rested over them; and
the general aspect of the whole is that of a landscape seen from a
hill-top in a day of dappled light and shadow. There are certain minuter
shadings, however, by which certain curious facts might be strikingly
represented to the eye in this manner, for which statistical tables
furnish no adequate basis, but which men who have seen a good deal of
the people of a country might be able to give in a manner at least
approximately correct. In a shaded map representative of the
intelligence of Scotland, I would be disposed--sinking the lapsed
classes, or representing them merely by a few such dark spots as mottle
the sun--to represent the large towns as centres of focal brightness;
but each of these focal centres I would encircle with a halo of darkness
considerably deeper in shade than the medium spaces beyond. I found that
in the tenebrious halo of the Scottish capital there existed,
independently of the ignorance of the poor colliers, three distinct
elements. A considerable proportion of the villagers were farm-servants
in the decline of life, who, unable any longer to procure, as in their
days of unbroken strength, regular engagements from the farmers of the
district, supported themselves as occasional labourers. And they, of
course, were characterized by the ignorance of their class. Another
portion of the people were carters--employed mainly, in these times, ere
the railways began, in supplying the Edinburgh coal-market, and in
driving building materials into the city from the various quarries. And
carters as a class, like all who live much in the society of horses, are
invariably ignorant and unintellectual. A third, but greatly smaller
portion than either of the other two, consisted of mechanics; but it was
only mechanics of an inferior order, that remained outside the city to
work for carters and labourers: the better skilled, and, as to a certain
extent the terms are convertible, the more intelligent mechanics found
employment and a home in Edinburgh. The cottage in which I lodged was
inhabited by an old farm-servant--a tall, large-bodied, small-headed
man, who, in his journey through life, seemed to have picked up scarce
an idea; and his wife, a woman turned of sixty, though a fine enough
_body_ in the main, and a careful manager, was not more intellectual.
They had but a single apartment in their humble dwelling, fenced off by
a little bit of partition from the outer door--and I could fain have
wished that they had two--but there was no choice of lodgings in the
village, and I had just to content myself, as the working man always
must in such circumstances, with the shelter I could get. My bed was
situated in the one end of the room, and my landlady's and her husband's
in the other, with the passage by which we entered between; but decent
old Peggy Russel had been accustomed to such arrangements all her life
long, and seemed never once to think of the matter; and--as she had
reached that period of life at which women of the humbler class assume
the characteristics of the other sex, somewhat, I suppose, on the
principle on which very ancient female birds put on male plumage--I in a
short time ceased to think of it also. It is not the less true, however,
that the purposes of decency demand that much should be done, especially
in the southern and midland districts of Scotland, for the dwellings of
the poor.

FOOTNOTES:

[6] Uncle James would scarce have sanctioned, had he been consulted in
the matter, the use to which the carcase of his dead eagle was applied.
There lived in the place an eccentric, half-witted old woman, who, for
the small sum of one halfpenny, used to fall a-dancing on the street to
amuse children, and rejoiced in the euphonious though somewhat obscure
appellation of "Dribble Drone." Some young fellows, on seeing the eagle
divested of its skin, and looking remarkably clean and well-conditioned,
suggested that it should be sent to "Dribble;" and, accordingly, in the
character of a "great goose, the gift of a gentleman," it was landed at
her door. The gift was thankfully accepted. Dribble's cottage proved
odoriferous at dinner-time for the several following days; and when
asked, after a week had gone by, how she had relished the great goose
which the gentleman had seat, she replied, that it was "Unco sweet, but
oh! teuch, teuch!" For years after, the reply continued to be proverbial
in the place: and many a piece of over-hard stock-fish, and over-fresh
steak, used to be characterized as, "Like Dribble Drone's eagle, unco
sweet, but oh! teuch, teuch!"

[7] Well known as Gilfillan's song is among ourselves, it is much less
so to the south of the Border, and I present it to my English readers,
as a worthy representative, in these latter days, of those ludicrous
songs of our country in the olden time which are so admirably suited to
show, notwithstanding the gibe of Goldsmith,


    "That a Scot may have humour, I almost said wit."


                   THE TAX-GATHERER.

    Oh! do you ken Peter, the taxman an' writer?
      Ye're well aff wha ken naething 'bout him ava;
    They ca' him Inspector, or Poor's Rate Collector--
      My faith! he's weel kent in Leith, Peter M'Craw!
    He ca's and he comes again--haws, and he hums again--
      He's only ae hand, but it's as good as twa;
    He pu's't out and raxes, an' draws in the taxes,
      An' pouches the siller--shame! Peter M'Craw!

    He'll be at your door by daylight on a Monday,
      On Tyesday ye're favoured again wi' a ca';
    E'en a slee look he gied me at kirk the last Sunday,
      Whilk meant--"_Mind the preachin' an' Peter M'Craw._"
    He glowrs at my auld door as if he had made it;
      He keeks through the keyhole when I am awa';
    He'll syne read the auld stane, that tells a' wha read it,
      To "_Blisse God for a' giftes_,"[*]--but Peter M'Craw!

    His sma' papers neatly are 'ranged a' completely,
      That yours, for a wonder, 's the first on the raw!
    There's nae jinkin' Peter, nae antelope's fleeter;
      Nae _cuttin_' acquaintance wi' Peter M'Craw!
    'Twas just Friday e'enin', Auld Reekie I'd been in,
      I'd gatten a shillin'--I maybe gat twa;
    I thought to be happy wi' friends ower a drappie,
      When wha suld come papin--but Peter M'Craw?

    There's houp o' a ship though she's sair pressed wi' dangere,
      An' roun' her frail timmers the angry winds blaw;
    I've aften gat kindness unlocked for frae strangers,
      But wha need houp kindness frae Peter M'Craw?
    I've kent a man pardoned when just at the gallows--
      I've kent a chiel honest whase trade was the law!
    I've kent fortune's smile even fa' on gude fallows;
      But I ne'er kent exception wi' Peter M'Craw!

    Our toun, yince sae cheerie, is dowie an' eerie;
      Our shippies hae left us, our trade is awa';
    There's nae fair maids strayin', nae wee bairnies playin;
      Ye've muckle to answer for, Peter M'Craw!
    But what gude o' greevin' as lang's we are leevin'?
      My banes I'll soon lay within yon kirk-yard wa';
    There nae care shall press me, nae taxes distress me,
      For there I'll be free frae thee--Peter M'Craw!

    [*]A devout legend, common in the seventeenth century above the
entrance of houses.

[8] The act for manumitting our Scotch colliers was passed in the year
1775, forty-nine years prior to the date of my acquaintance with the
class at Niddry. But though it was only such colliers of the village as
were in their fiftieth year when I knew them (with, of course, all the
older ones), who had been born slaves, even its men of thirty had
actually, though not nominally, come into the world in a state of
bondage, in consequence of certain penalties attached to the
emancipating act, of which the poor ignorant workers under ground were
both too improvident and too little ingenious to keep clear. They were
set free, however, by a second act passed in 1799. The language of both
these acts, regarded as British ones of the latter half of the last
century, and as bearing reference to British subjects living within the
limits of the island, strikes with startling effect. "Whereas," says the
preamble of the older act--that of 1775--"by the statute law of
Scotland, as explained by the judges of the courts of law there, many
colliers, and coal-bearers, and salters, are in a state of _slavery or
bondage_, bound to the collieries or salt-works where they work _for
life, transferable with the collieries and salt-works_; and whereas the
emancipating," &c. &c. A passage in the preamble of the act of 1799 is
scarce less striking: it declares that, notwithstanding the former act,
"many colliers and coal-bearers _still continue in a state of bondage_"
in Scotland. The history of our Scotch colliers will be found a curious
and instructive one. Their slavery seems not to have been derived from
the ancient tunes of general serfship, but to have originated in
comparatively modern acts of the Scottish Parliament, and in decisions
of the Court of Session--in acts of a Parliament in which the poor
ignorant subterranean men of the country were, of course, wholly
unrepresented, and in decisions of a Court in which no agent of theirs
ever made appearance in their behalf.



CHAPTER XV.

    "See Inebriety, her wand she waves,
     And lo! her pale and lo! her purple slaves."--CRABBE.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding me incorrigible, I was at length left by my brother operatives
to be as peculiar as I pleased; and the working portion of the autumnal
months passed off pleasantly enough in hewing great stones under the
branching foliage of the elm and chestnut trees of Niddry Park. From the
circumstance, however, that the stones were so great, the previous trial
had been an embarrassing one; and, though too proud to confess that I
cared aught about the matter, I was now glad enough that it was fairly
over. Our modern Temperance Societies--institutions which at this time
had not begun to exist--have done much to shield sober working men from
combinations of the trying character to which, in the generation
well-nigh passed away, they were too often exposed. There are few
working parties which have not now their groups of enthusiastic
Teetotallers, that always band together against the drinkers, and
mutually assist and keep one another in countenance: and a breakwater is
thus formed in the middle of the stream, to protect from that grinding
oppression of the poor by the poor, which, let popular agitators declaim
on the other side as they may, is at once more trying and more general
than the oppression which they experience from the great and wealthy.
According to the striking figure of the wise old king, "it is like a
sweeping rain, which leaveth no food." Fanaticism in itself is not a
good thing; nor are there many quiet people who do not dislike
enthusiasm; and the members of new sects, whether they be religious
sects or no, are almost always enthusiasts, and in some degree
fanatical. A man can scarce become a vegetarian even without also
becoming in some measure intolerant of the still large and not very
disreputable class that eat beef with their greens, and herrings with
their potatoes; and the drinkers of water do say rather strong things of
the men who, had they been guests at the marriage in Cana of Galilee,
would have seen no great harm in partaking in moderation of the wine.
There is a somewhat intolerant fanaticism among the Teetotallers, just
as there is fanaticism amongst most other new sects; and yet,
recognising it simply as strength, and knowing what it has to contend
with, I am much disposed to tolerate it, whether _it_ tolerate me or no.
Human nature, with all its defects, is a wiser thing than the mere
common sense of the creatures whose nature it is; and we find in it
special provisions, as in the instincts of the humbler animals, for
overmastering the special difficulties with which it is its destiny to
contend. And the sort of fanaticism to which I refer seems to be one of
those provisions. A few Teetotallers of the average calibre and
strength, who take their stand against the majority in a party of wild
dissipated mechanics, would require a considerable amount of vigorous
fanaticism to make good their position; nor do I see in ordinary men, as
society at present exists, aught at once sufficiently potent in its
nature, and sufficiently general in its existence, to take its place and
do its work. It seems to subsist in the present imperfect state as a
wise provision, though, like other wise provisions, such as the horns of
the bull or the sting of the bee, it is misdirected at times, and does
harm.

Winter came on, and our weekly wages were lowered immediately after
Hallow-day, from twenty-four to fifteen shillings per week. This was
deemed too large a reduction; and, reckoning by the weekly hours during
which, on the average, we were still able to work--forty-two, as nearly
as I could calculate, instead of sixty--it _was_ too great a reduction
by about one shilling and ninepence. I would, however, in the
circumstances, have taken particular care not to strike work for an
advance. I knew that three-fourths of the masons about town--quite as
improvident as the masons of our own party--could not live on their
resources for a fortnight, and had no general fund to sustain them; and
further, that many of the master-builders were not very urgently
desirous to press on their work throughout the winter. And so, when, on
coming to the work-shed on the Monday morning after the close of our
first fortnight on the reduced scale, I found my comrades gathered in
front of it in a group, and learned that there was a grand strike all
over the district, I received the intelligence with as little of the
enthusiasm of the "independent associated mechanic" as possibly may be.
"You are in the right in your claims," I said to Charles; "but you have
taken a bad time for urging them, and will be beaten to a certainty. The
masters are much better prepared for a strike than you are. How, may I
ask, are you yourself provided with the sinews of war?" "Very ill
indeed," said Charles, scratching his head: "if the masters don't give
in before Saturday, it's all up with me; but never mind; let us have one
day's fun: there's to be a grand meeting at Bruntsfield Links; let us go
in as a deputation from the country masons, and make a speech about our
rights and duties; and then, if we see matters going very far wrong, we
can just step back again, and begin work to-morrow." "Bravely resolved,"
I said: "I shall go with you by all means, and take notes of your
speech." We marched into town, about sixteen in number; and, on joining
the crowd already assembled on the Links, were recognised, by the deep
red hue of our clothes and aprons, which differed considerably from that
borne by workers in the paler Edinburgh stone, as a reinforcement from a
distance, and were received with loud cheers. Charles, however, did not
make his speech: the meeting, which was about eight hundred strong,
seemed fully in the possession of a few crack orators, who spoke with a
fluency to which he could make no pretensions; and so he replied to the
various calls from among his comrades, of "Cha, Cha," by assuring them
that he could not catch the eye of the gentleman in the chair. The
meeting had, of course, neither chair nor chairman; and after a good
deal of idle speech-making, which seemed to satisfy the speakers
themselves remarkably well, but which at least some of their auditory
regarded as nonsense, we found that the only motion on which we could
harmoniously agree was a motion for an adjournment. And so we adjourned
till the evening, fixing as our place of meeting one of the humbler
halls of the city.

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

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

I may here mention, that this first year of the building mania was also
the first, in the present century, of those great _strikes_ among
workmen, of which the public has since heard and seen so much. Up till
this time, combination among operatives for the purpose of raising the
rate of wages had been a crime punishable by law; and though several
combinations and trade unions did exist, open strikes, which would have
been a too palpable manifestation of them to be tolerated, could scarce
be said ever to take place. I saw enough at the period to convince me,
that though the _right_ of combination, abstractly considered, is just
and proper, the strikes which would result from it as consequences would
be productive of much evil, and little good; and in an argument with my
friend William on the subject, I ventured to assure him that his
house-painter's union would never benefit the operative house-painters
as a class, and urged him to give up his clerkship. "There is a want," I
said, "of true leadership among our operatives in these combinations. It
is the wilder spirits that dictate the conditions; and, pitching their
demands high, they begin usually by enforcing acquiescence in them on
the quieter and more moderate among their companions. They are tyrants
to their fellows ere they come into collision with their masters, and
have thus an enemy in the camp, not unwilling to take advantage of their
seasons of weakness, and prepared to rejoice, though secretly mayhap, in
their defeats and reverses. And further, their discomfiture will be
always quite certain enough when seasons of depression come, from the
circumstance that, fixing their terms in prosperous times, they will fix
them with reference rather to their present power of enforcing them,
than to that medium line of fair and equal adjustment on which a
conscientious man could plant his foot and make a firm stand. Men such
as you, able and ready to work in behalf of these combinations, will of
course get the work to do, but you will have little or no power given
you in their direction: the direction will be apparently in the hands of
a few fluent _gabbers_; and yet even they will not be the actual
directors--they will be but the exponents and voices of the general
mediocre sentiment and inferior sense of the mass as a whole, and
acceptable only so long as they give utterance to that; and so,
ultimately, exceedingly little will be won in this way for working men.
It is well that they should be allowed to combine, seeing that
combination is permitted to those who employ them; but until the
majority of our working men of the south become very different from what
they now are--greatly wiser and greatly better--there will be more lost
than gained by their combinations. According to the circumstances of the
time and season, the current will be at one period running in their
favour against the masters, and at another in favour of the masters
against them: there will be a continual ebb and flow, like that of the
sea, but no general advance; and the sooner that the like of you and I
get out of the rough conflict and jostle of the tideway, and set
ourselves to labour apart on our own internal resources, it will be all
the better for us." William, however, did not give up his clerkship; and
I daresay the sort of treatment which I had received at the hands of my
fellow-workmen made me express myself rather strongly on the subject;
but the actual history of the numerous strikes and combinations which
have taken place during the quarter of a century and more which has
since intervened, is of a kind not in the least suited to modify my
views. There _is_ a want of judicious leadership among our working men;
and such of the autobiographies of the class as are able and interesting
enough to obtain a hearing of their authors show, I am inclined to
think, how this takes place. Combination is first brought to bear among
them against the men, their fellows, who have vigour enough of intellect
to think and act for themselves; and such always is the character of the
born leader: these true leaders are almost always forced into the
opposition; and thus separating between themselves and the men fitted by
nature to render them formidable, they fall under the direction of mere
chatterers and stump orators, which is in reality no direction at all.
The author of the "Working Man's Way in the World"--evidently a very
superior man--had, he tells us, to quit at one time his employment,
overborne by the senseless ridicule of his brother workmen. Somerville
states in his Autobiography, that, both as a labouring man and a
soldier, it was from the hands of his comrades that--save in one
memorable instance--he had experienced all the tyranny and oppression of
which he had been the victim. Nay, Benjamin Franklin himself was deemed
a much more ordinary man in the printing-house in Bartholomew Close,
where he was teased and laughed at as the _Water-American_, than in the
House of Representatives, the Royal Society, or the Court of France.
The great Printer, though recognised by accomplished politicians as a
profound statesman, and by men of solid science as "the most rational of
the philosophers," was regarded by his poor brother compositors as
merely an odd fellow, who did not conform to their drinking usages, and
whom it was therefore fair to tease and annoy as a contemner of the
_sacrament_ of the _chapel_.[9]

The life of my friend was, however, pitched on a better and higher tone
than that of most of his brother unionists. It was intellectual and
moral, and its happier hours were its hours of quiet self-improvement,
when, throwing himself on the resources within, he forgot for the time
the unions and combinations that entailed upon him much troublesome
occupation, but never did him any service. I regretted, however, to find
that a distrust of his own powers was still growing upon him, and
narrowing his circle of enjoyment. On asking him whether he still amused
himself with his flute, he turned, after replying with a brief "O no!"
to a comrade with whom he had lived for years, and quietly said to him,
by way of explaining the question, "Robert, I suppose you don't know I
was once a grand flute-player!" And sure enough Robert did not know. He
had given up, too, his water-colour drawing, in which his taste was
decidedly fine; and even in oils, with which he still occasionally
engaged himself, instead of casting himself full on nature, as at an
earlier period, he had become a copyist of the late Rev. Mr. Thomson of
Duddingstone, at that time in the full blow of his artistic reputation;
nor could I see that he copied him well. I urged and remonstrated, but
to no effect. "Ah, Miller," he has said, "what matters it how I amuse
myself? You have stamina in you, and will force your way; but I want
strength: the world will never hear of me." That overweening conceit
which seems but natural to the young man as a playful disposition to the
kitten, or a soft and timid one to the puppy, often assumes a
ridiculous, and oftener still an unamiable, aspect. And yet, though it
originates many very foolish things, it seems to be in itself, like the
fanaticism of the Teetotaller, a wise provision, which, were it not made
by nature, would leave most minds without spring enough to effect, with
the required energy, the movements necessary to launch them fairly into
busy or studious life. The sobered man of mature age who has learned
pretty correctly to take the measure of himself, has usually acquired
both habits and knowledge that assist him in urging his onward way, and
the moving force of necessity always presses him onward from behind; but
the exhilarating conviction of being born to superior parts, and to do
something astonishingly clever, seems necessary to the young man; and
when I see it manifesting itself, if not very foolishly or very
offensively, I usually think of my poor friend William Ross, who was
unfortunate enough wholly to want it; and extend to it a pretty ample
toleration. Ultimately my friend gave up painting, and restricted
himself to the ornamental parts of his profession, of which he became
very much a master. In finishing a ceiling in oils, upon which he had
represented in bold relief some of the ornately sculptured foliage of
the architect, the gentleman for whom he wrought (the son-in-law of a
distinguished artist, and himself an amateur), called on his wife to
admire the truthful and delicate shading of their house-painter. It was
astonishing, he said, and perhaps somewhat humiliating, to see the mere
mechanic trenching so decidedly on the province of the artist. Poor
William Ross, however, was no mere mechanic; and even artists might
have regarded his encroachments on their proper domain with more of
complacency than humiliation. One of the last pieces of work upon which
he was engaged was a gorgeously painted ceiling in the palace of some
Irish bishop, which he had been sent all the way from Glasgow to finish.

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

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

FOOTNOTE:

[9] The kind of club into which the compositors of a printing-house
always form themselves has from time immemorial been termed a _chapel_;
and the petty tricks by which Franklin was annoyed were said to be
played him by the chapel ghost. "My employer desiring," he says, "after
some weeks, to have me in the composing room, I left the pressmen. A new
_bien-venu_ for drink, being five shillings, was demanded of me by the
compositors. I thought it an imposition, as I had paid one to the
pressmen. The master thought so too, and forbade my paying it. I stood
out two or three weeks, was accordingly considered as an
_excommunicate_, and had so many little pieces of private malice
practised on me by mixing my sorts, transposing and breaking my matter,
&c. &c., if ever I stepped out of the room, and all ascribed to the
_chapel ghost_, which, they said, ever haunted those not regularly
admitted, that, notwithstanding my master's protection, I found myself
obliged to comply and pay the money."



CHAPTER XVI.

    "Let not this weak, unknowing hand,
     Presume thy bolts to throw."--POPE.


The great fires of the Parliament Close and the High Street were events
of this winter. A countryman, who had left town when the old spire of
the Tron Church was blazing like a torch, and the large group of
buildings nearly opposite the Cross still enveloped in flame from
ground-floor to roof-tree, passed our work-shed, a little after two
o'clock, and, telling us what he had seen, remarked that, if the
conflagration went on as it was doing, we would have, as our next
season's employment, the Old Town of Edinburgh to rebuild. And as the
evening closed over our labours, we went in to town in a body, to see
the fires that promised to do so much for us. The spire had burnt out,
and we could but catch between us and the darkened sky, the square
abrupt outline of the masonry a-top that had supported the wooden
broach, whence, only a few hours before, Fergusson's bell had descended
in a molten shower. The flames, too, in the upper group of buildings,
were restricted to the lower stories, and flared fitfully on the tall
forms and bright swords of the dragoons, drawn from the neighbouring
barracks, as they rode up and down the middle space, or gleamed athwart
the street on groups of wretched-looking women and ruffian men, who
seemed scanning with greedy eyes the still unremoved heaps of household
goods rescued from the burning tenements. The first figure that caught
my eye was a singularly ludicrous one. Removed from the burning mass but
by the thickness of a wall, there was a barber's shop brilliantly
lighted with gas, the uncurtained window of which permitted the
spectators outside to see whatever was going on in the interior. The
barber was as busily at work as if he were a hundred miles from the
scene of danger, though the engines at the time were playing against the
outside of his gable wall; and the immediate subject under his hands, as
my eye rested upon him, was an immensely fat old fellow, on whose round
bald forehead and ruddy cheeks the perspiration, occasioned by the
oven-like heat of the place, was standing out in huge drops, and whose
vast mouth, widely opened to accommodate the man of the razor, gave to
his countenance such an expression as I have sometimes seen in grotesque
Gothic heads of that age of art in which the ecclesiastical architect
began to make sport of his religion. The next object that presented
itself was, however, of a more sobering description. A poor working man,
laden with his favourite piece of furniture, a glass-fronted press or
cupboard, which he had succeeded in rescuing from his burning dwelling,
was emerging from one of the lanes, followed by his wife, when, striking
his foot against some obstacle in the way, or staggering from the too
great weight of his load, he tottered against a projecting corner, and
the glazed door was driven in with a crash. There was hopeless misery in
the wailing cry of his wife--"Oh, ruin, ruin!--_it's_ lost too!" Nor was
his own despairing response less sad:--"Ay, ay, puir lassie, its a' at
an end noo." Curious as it may seem, the wild excitement of the scene
had at first rather exhilarated than depressed my spirits; but the
incident of the glass cupboard served to awaken the proper feeling; and
as I came more into contact with the misery of the catastrophe, and
marked the groups of shivering houseless creatures that watched beside
the broken fragments of their stuff, I saw what a dire calamity a great
fire really is. Nearly two hundred families were already at this time
cast homeless into the streets. Shortly before quitting the scene of
the conflagration for the country, I passed along a common stair, which
led from the Parliament Close towards the Cowgate, through a tall old
domicile, eleven stories in height, and I afterwards remembered that the
passage was occupied by a smouldering oppressive vapour, which, from the
direction of the wind, could scarce have been derived from the adjacent
conflagration, though at the time, without thinking much of the
circumstance, I concluded it might have come creeping westwards on some
low cross current along the narrow lanes. In less than an hour after
that lofty tenement was wrapt in flames, from the ground story to more
than a hundred feet over its tallest chimneys, and about sixty
additional families, its tenants, were cast into the streets with the
others. My friend William Ross afterwards assured me, that never had he
witnessed anything equal in grandeur to this last of the conflagrations.
Directly over the sea of fire below, the low-browed clouds above seemed
as if charged with a sea of blood, that lightened and darkened by fits
as the flames rose and fell; and far and wide, tower and spire, and tall
house-top, glared out against a background of darkness, as if they had
been brought to a red heat by some great subterranean, earth-born fire,
that was fast rising to wrap the entire city in destruction. The old
church of St. Giles, he said, with the fantastic masonry of its pale
grey tower, bathed in crimson, and that of its dark rude walls suffused
in a bronzed umber, and with the red light gleaming inwards through its
huge mullioned windows, and flickering on its stone roof, formed one of
the most picturesque objects he had ever seen.[10]

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

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


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


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

The one-roomed cottage which I shared with its three other inmates, did
not present all the possible conveniences for study; but it had a little
table in a corner, at which I contrived to write a good deal; and my
book-shelf already exhibited from twenty to thirty volumes, picked up on
Saturday evenings at the book-stalls of the city, and which were all
accessions to my little library. I, besides, got a few volumes to read
from my friend William Ross, and a few more through my work-fellow Cha;
and so my rate of acquirement in book-knowledge, if not equal to that of
some former years, at least considerably exceeded what it had been in
the previous season, which I had spent in the Highlands, and during
which I had perused only three volumes--one of the three a slim volume
of slim poems, by a lady, and the other, that rather curious than
edifying work, "Presbyterian Eloquence Displayed." The cheap literature
had not yet been called into existence; and, without in the least
undervaluing its advantages, it was, I daresay, better on the whole as a
mental exercise, and greatly better in the provision which it made for
the future, that I should have to urge my way through the works of our
best writers in prose and verse--works which always made an impression
on the memory--than that I should have been engaged instead in picking
up odds and ends of information from loose essays, the hasty productions
of men too little vigorous, or too little at leisure, to impress upon
their writings the stamp of their own individuality. In quiet moonlight
nights I found it exceedingly pleasant to saunter all alone through the
Niddry woods. Moonlight gives to even leafless groves the charms of full
foliage, and conceals tameness of outline in a landscape. I found it
singularly agreeable, too, to listen, from a solitude so profound as
that which a short walk secured to me, to the distant bells of the city
ringing out, as the clock struck eight, the old curfew peal; and to
mark, from under the interlacing boughs of a long-arched vista, the
intermittent gleam of the Inchkeith light now brightening and now
fading, as the lanthorn revolved. In short, the winter passed not
unpleasantly away: I had now nothing to annoy me in the work-shed; and
my only serious care arose from my unlucky house in Leith, for which I
found myself summoned one morning, by an officer-looking man, to pay
nearly three pounds--the last instalment which I owed, I was told, as
one of the heritors of the place, for its fine new church. I must
confess I was wicked enough to wish on this occasion that the property
on the Coal-hill had been included in the judgment on the Musical
Festival. But shortly after, not less to my astonishment than delight, I
was informed by Mr. Veitch that he had at length found a purchaser for
my house; and, after getting myself served heir to my father before the
Court of the Canongate, and paying a large arrear of feu-duty to that
venerable corporation, in which I had to recognise my feudal superior, I
got myself as surely dissevered from the Coal-hill as paper and
parchment could do it, and pocketed, in virtue of the transaction, a
balance of about fifty pounds. As nearly as I could calculate on what
the property had cost us, from first to last, the _composition_ which it
paid was one of about five shillings in the pound. And such was the
concluding passage in the history of a legacy which threatened for a
time to be the ruin of the family. When I last passed along the
Coal-hill, I saw my umquhile house existing as a bit of dingy wall, a
single storey in height, and perforated by three narrow old-fashioned
doors, jealously boarded up, and apparently, as in the days when it was
mine, of no manner of use in the world. I trust, however, it is no
longer the positive mischief to its proprietor that it was to me.

The busy season had now fairly commenced: wages were fast mounting up to
the level of the former year, which they ultimately overtopped; and
employment had become very abundant. I found, however, that it might be
well for me to return home for a few months. The dust of the stone which
I had been hewing for the last two years had begun to affect my lungs,
as they had been affected in the last autumn of my apprenticeship, but
much more severely; and I was too palpably sinking in flesh and strength
to render it safe for me to encounter the consequences of another season
of hard work as a stone-cutter. From the stage of the malady at which I
had already arrived, poor workmen, unable to do what I did, throw
themselves loose from their employment, and sink in six or eight months
into the grave--some at an earlier, some at a later period of life; but
so general is the affection, that few of our Edinburgh stone-cutters
pass their fortieth year unscathed, and not one out of every fifty of
their number ever reaches his forty-fifth year. I accordingly engaged my
passage for the north in an Inverness sloop, and took leave of my few
friends--of the excellent foreman of the Niddry squad, and of Cha and
John Wilson, with both of whom, notwithstanding their opposite
characters, I had become very intimate. Among the rest, too, I took
leave of a paternal cousin settled in Leith, the wife of a
genial-hearted sailor, master of a now wholly obsolete type of vessel,
one of the old Leith and London smacks, with a huge single mast, massive
and tall as that of a frigate, and a mainsail of a quarter of an acre. I
had received much kindness from my cousin, who, besides her relationship
to my father, had been a contemporary and early friend of my mother's;
and my welcome from the master her husband--one of the best-natured men
I ever knew--used always to be one of the heartiest. And after parting
from Cousin Marshall, I mustered up resolution enough to call on yet
another cousin.

Cousin William, the eldest son of my Sutherlandshire aunt, had been for
some years settled in Edinburgh, first as an upper clerk and
manager--for, after his failure as a merchant he had to begin the world
anew; and now, in the speculation year, he had succeeded in establishing
a business for himself, which bore about it a hopeful and promising air
so long as the over-genial season lasted, but fell, with many a more
deeply-rooted establishment, in the tempest which followed. On quitting
the north, I had been charged with a letter for him by his father, which
I knew, however, to be wholly recommendatory of myself, and so I had
failed to deliver it. Cousin William, like Uncle James, had fully
expected that I was to make my way in life in some one of the learned
professions; and as his position--though, as the result unfortunately
showed, a not very secure one--was considerably in advance of mine, I
kept aloof from him, in the character of a poor relation, who was quite
as proud as he was poor, and in the belief that his new friends, of
whom, I understood, he had now well-nigh as many as before, would hold
that the cousinship of a mere working man did him little credit. He had
learned from home, however, that I was in Edinburgh, and had made not a
few ineffectual attempts to find me out, of which I had heard; and now,
on forming my resolution to return to the north, I waited upon him at
his rooms in Ambrose's Lodgings--at that time possessed of a sort of
classical interest, as the famous Blackwood Club, with Christopher North
at its head, used to meet in the hotel immediately below. Cousin William
had a warm heart, and received me with great kindness, though I had, of
course, to submit to the scold which I deserved; and as some young
friends were to look in upon him in the evening, he said, I had to do
what I would fain have avoided, perform penance, by waiting, on his
express invitation, to meet with them. They were, I ascertained, chiefly
students of medicine and divinity, in attendance at the classes of the
University, and not at all the formidable sort of persons I had feared
to meet; and finding nothing very unattainable in their conversation,
and as Cousin William made a dead set on me "to bring me out," I at
length ventured to mingle in it, and found my reading stand me in some
stead. There was a meeting, we were told, that evening, in the apartment
below, of the Blackwood Club. The night I spent with my cousin was, if
our information was correct, and the _Noctes_ not a mere myth, one of
the famous _Noctes Ambrosiance_; and fain would I have seen, for but a
moment, from some quiet corner, the men whose names fame had blown so
widely; but I have ever been unlucky in the curiosity--though I have
always strongly entertained it--which has the personal appearance of
celebrated men for its object. I had ere now several times lingered in
Castle Street of a Saturday evening, opposite the house of Sir Walter
Scott, in the hope of catching a glimpse of that great writer and genial
man, but had never been successful I could fain, too, have seen Hogg
(who at the time occasionally visited Edinburgh); with Jeffrey; old
Dugald Stewart, who still lived; _Delta_, and Professor Wilson: but I
quitted the place without seeing any of them; and ere I again returned
to the capital, ten years after, death had been busy in the high places,
and the greatest of their number was no longer to be seen. In short, Dr.
M'Crie was the only man whose name promises to live, of whose personal
appearance I was able to carry away with me at this time a distinct
image. Addison makes his _Spectator_ remark, rather in joke than
earnest, that "a reader seldom peruses a book with pleasure till he
knows whether the writer of it be a black or a fair man, of a mild or
choleric disposition, married or a bachelor, with other particulars of
the like nature, that conduce very much to the right understanding of an
author." I am inclined to say nearly as much, without being the least
in joke. I think I understand an author all the better for knowing
exactly how he looked. I would have to regard the massive vehemence of
the style of Chalmers as considerably less characteristic of the man,
had it been dissociated from the broad chest and mighty structure of
bone; and the warlike spirit which breathes, in a subdued but still very
palpable form, in the historical writings of the elder M'Crie, strikes
me as singularly in harmony with the military air of this Presbyterian
minister of the type of Knox and Melville. However theologians may
settle the meaning of the text, it is one of the grand lessons of his
writings, that such of the Churches of the Reformation as did _not_
"take the sword, perished by the sword."

I was accompanied to the vessel by my friend William Ross, from whom I,
alas! parted for the last time; and, when stepping aboard, Cousin
William, whom I had scarce expected to see, but who had snatched an hour
from business, and walked down all the way to Leith to bid me farewell,
came forward to grasp me by the hand. I am not much disposed to quarrel
with the pride of the working man, when according to Johnson and
Chalmers, it is a defensive, not an aggressive pride; but it does at
times lead him to be somewhat less than just to the better feelings of
the men who occupy places in the scale a little higher than his own.
Cousin William, from whom I had kept so jealously aloof, had a heart of
the finest water. His after course was rough and unprosperous. After the
general crash of 1825-26, he struggled on in London for some six or
eight years, in circumstances of great difficulty; and then, receiving
some surbodinate appointment in connexion with the Stipendiary
Magistracy of the West Indies, he sailed for Jamaica--where,
considerably turned of fifty at the time--he soon fell a victim to the
climate.

In my voyage north, I spent about half as many days on sea, between
Leith Roads and the Sutors of Cromarty, as the Cunard steamers now
spend in crossing the Atlantic. I had taken a cabin passage, not caring
to subject my weakened lungs to the exposure of a steerage one; but
during the seven days of thick, foggy mornings, clear moonlight nights,
and almost unbroken calms, both night and morning, in which we tided our
slow way north, I was much in the forecastle with the men, seeing how
sailors lived, and ascertaining what they were thinking about, and how.
We had rare narratives at nights--


    "Wonderful stories of battle and wreck,
    That were told by the men of the watch."


Some of the crew had been voyagers in their time to distant parts of the
world; and though no existence can be more monotonous than the every-day
life of the seaman, the profession has always its bits of striking
incident, that, when strung together, impart to it an air of interest
which its ordinary details sadly want, and which lures but to disappoint
the young lads of a romantic cast, who are led to make choice of it in
its presumed character as a continued series of stirring events and
exciting adventures. What, however, struck me as curious in the
narratives of my companions, was the large mixture of the supernatural
which they almost always exhibited. The story of Jack Grant the mate,
given in an early chapter, may be regarded as not inadequately
representative of the sailor stories which were told on deck and
forecastle, along at least the northern coasts of Scotland, nearly
thirty years later. That life of peril which casts the seaman much at
the mercy of every rough gale and lee-shore, and in which his
calculations regarding ultimate results must be always very doubtful,
has a strong tendency to render him superstitious. He is more removed,
too, than the landsman of his education and standing, from the influence
of general opinion, and the mayhap over-sceptical teaching of the Press;
and, as a consequence of their position and circumstances, I found, at
this period, seamen of the generation to which I myself belonged as firm
believers in wraiths, ghosts, and death-warnings, as the landward
contemporaries of my grandfather had been sixty years before. A series
of well-written nautical tales had appeared shortly previous to this
time in one of the metropolitan monthlies--the _London Magazine_, if I
rightly remember; and I was now interested to find in one of the
sailors' stories, the original of decidedly the best of their
number--"The Doomed Man." The author of the series--a Mr. Hamilton, it
was said, who afterwards became an Irvingite teacher, and grew too
scrupulous to exercise in fiction a very pleasing pen, though he
continued to employ, as a portrait-painter, a rather indifferent
pencil--had evidently sought such opportunities of listening to sailor's
stories as those on which I had at this time thrust myself. Very curious
materials for fiction may be found in this way by the _littérateur_. It
must be held that Sir Walter Scott was no incompetent judge of the
capabilities, for the purposes of the novelist, of a piece of narrative;
and yet we find him saying of the story told by a common sailor to his
friend William Clerk, which he records in the "Letters on Demonology and
Witchcraft," that "the tale, properly managed, might have made the
fortune of a romancer."

At times by day--for the sailors' stories were stories of the night--I
found interesting companionship in the society of a young student of
divinity, one of the passengers, who, though a lad of parts and
acquirements, did not deem it beneath him to converse on literary
subjects with a working man in pale moleskin, and with whom I did not
again meet until many years after, when we were both actively engaged in
prosecuting the same quarrel--he as one of the majority of the
Presbytery of Auchterarder, and I as editor of the leading newspaper of
the Non-Intrusion party. Perhaps the respected Free Church minister of
North Leith may be still able to call to memory--not, of course, the
subjects, but the _fact_, of our discussions on literature and the
belles-lettres at this time; and that, on asking me one morning whether
I had not been, according to Burns, "crooning to mysel'," when on deck
during the previous evening, what seemed from the cadence to be verse, I
ventured to submit to him, as my night's work, a few descriptive
stanzas. And, as forming in some sort a memorial of our voyage, and in
order that my friendly critic may be enabled, after the lapse of
considerably more than a quarter of a century, to review his judgment
respecting them, I now submit them to the reader:--


                   STANZAS WRITTEN AT SEA.

      Joy of the poet's soul, I court thy aid;
          *       *       *       *       *
      Around our vessel heaves the midnight wave;
      The cheerless moon sinks in the western sky;
      Reigns breezeless silence!--in her ocean cave
      The mermaid rests, while her fond lover nigh,
      Marks the pale star-beams as they fall from high.
      Gilding with tremulous light her couch of sleep.
      Why smile incred'lous? the rapt Muse's eye
      Through earth's dark caves, o'er heaven's fair plains, can sweep,
    Can range its hidden cell, where toils the unfathom'd deep.

      On ocean's craggy floor, beneath the shade
      Of bushy rock-weed tangled, dusk, and brown,
      She sees the wreck of founder'd vessel laid,
      In slimy silence, many a fathom down
      From where the star-beam trembles; o'er it thrown
      Are heap'd the treasures men have died to gain.
      And in sad mockery of the parting groan,
      That bubbled 'mid the wild unpitying main,
    Quick gushing o'er the bones, the restless tides complain.

      Gloomy and wide rolls the sepulchral sea,
      Grave of my kindred, of my sire the grave!
      Perchance, where now he sleeps, a space for me
      Is mark'd by Fate beneath the deep green wave.
      It well may he! Poor bosom, why dost heave
      Thus wild? Oh, many a care, troublous and dark.
      On earth attends thee still; the mermaid's cave
      Grief haunts not; sure 'twere pleasant there to mark,
    Serene, at noontide hour, the sailor's passing barque.

      Sure it were pleasant through the vasty deep,
      When on its bosom plays the golden beam.
      With headlong speed by bower and cave to sweep;
      When flame the waters round with emerald gleam--
      When, borne from high by tides and gales, the scream
      Of sea-mew softened falls--when bright and gay
      The crimson weeds, proud ocean's pendants, stream
      From trophied wrecks and rock-towers darkly grey--
    Through scenes so strangely fair 'twere pleasant, sure, to stray.

      Why this strange thought? If, in that ocean laid.
      The ear would cease to hear, the eye to see,
      Though sights and sounds like these circled my bed,
      Wakeless and heavy would my slumbers be:
      Though the mild soften'd sun-light beam'd on me
      (If a dull heap of bones retained my name,
      That bleach'd or blacken'd 'mid the wasteful sea),
      Its radiance all unseen, its golden beam
    In vain through coral groves or emerald roofs might stream.

      Yet dwells a spirit in this earthy frame
      Which Oceans cannot quench nor Time destroy;--
      A deathless, fadeless ray, a heavenly flame,
      That pure shall rise when fails each base alloy
      That earth instils, dark grief, or baseless joy:
      Then shall the ocean's secrets meet its sight;--
      For I do hold that happy souls enjoy
      A vast all-reaching range of angel-flight,
    From the fair source of day, even to the gates of night.

      Now night's dark veil is rent; on yonder land,
      That blue and distant rises o'er the main,
      I see the purple sky of morn expand,
      Scattering the gloom. Then cease my feeble strain:
      When darkness reign'd, thy whisperings soothed my pain--
      The pain by weariness and languor bred.
      But now my eyes shall greet a lovelier scene
      Than fancy pictured: from his dark green bed
    Soon shall the orb of day exalt his glorious head.


I found my two uncles, Cousin George, and several other friends and
relations, waiting for me on the Cromarty beach; and was soon as happy
among them as a man suffering a good deal from debility, but not much
from positive pain, could well be. When again, about ten years after
this time, I visited the south of Scotland, it was to receive the
instructions necessary to qualify me for a bank accountant; and when I
revisited it at a still later period, it was to undertake the management
of a metropolitan newspaper. In both these instances I mingled with a
different sort of persons from those with whom I had come in contact in
the years 1824-25. And, in now taking leave of the lower class, I may be
permitted to make a few general remarks regarding them.

It is a curious change which has taken place in this country during the
last hundred years. Up till the times of the Rebellion of 1745, and a
little later, it was its remoter provinces that formed its dangerous
portions; and the effective strongholds from which its advance-guards of
civilisation and good order gradually gained upon old anarchy and
barbarism, were its great towns. We are told by ecclesiastical
historians, that in Rome, after the age of Constantine, the term
villager (_Pagus_) came to be regarded as synonymous with heathen, from
the circumstance that the worshippers of the gods were then chiefly to
be found in remote country places; and we know that in Scotland the
Reformation pursued a course exactly resembling that of Christianity
itself in the old Roman world: it began in the larger and more
influential towns; and it was in the remoter country districts that the
displaced religion lingered longest, and found its most efficient
champions and allies. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, St. Andrews, Dundee,
were all Protestant, and sent out their well-taught burghers to serve in
the army of the Lords of the Congregation, when Huntly and Hamilton were
arming their vassals to contend for the obsolete faith. In a later age
the accessible Lowlands were imbued with an evangelistic
Presbyterianism, when the more mountainous and inaccessible provinces of
the country were still in a condition to furnish, in what was known as
the Highland Host, a dire instrument of persecution. Even as late as the
middle of the last century, "Sabbath," according to a popular writer,
"never got aboon the Pass of Killicrankie;" and the Stuarts, exiled for
their adherence to Popery, continued to found almost their sole hopes of
restoration on the swords of their co-religionists the Highlanders.
During the last hundred years, however, this old condition of matters
has been strangely reversed; and it is in the great towns that
_Paganism_ now chiefly prevails. In at least their lapsed classes--a
rapidly increasing proportion of their population--it is those cities of
our country which first caught the light of religion and learning, that
have become preeminently its dark parts; just, if I may employ the
comparison, as it is those portions of the moon which earliest receive
the light when she is in her increscent state, and shine like a thread
of silver in the deep blue of the heavens, that first become dark when
she falls into the wane.

It is mainly during the elapsed half of the present century that this
change for the worse has taken place in the large towns of Scotland. In
the year 1824 it was greatly less than half accomplished; but it was
fast going on; and I saw, partially at least, the processes in operation
through which it has been effected. The cities of the country have
increased their population during the past fifty years greatly beyond
the proportion of its rural districts--a result in part of the
revolutions which have taken place in the agricultural system of the
Lowlands, and of the clearances of the Highlands; and in part also of
that extraordinary development of the manufactures and trade of the
kingdom which the last two generations have witnessed. Of the wilder
Edinburgh mechanics with whom I formed at this time any acquaintance,
less than one-fourth were natives of the place. The others were mere
settlers in it, who had removed mostly from country districts and small
towns, in which they had been known, each by his own circle of
neighbourhood, and had lived, in consequence, under the wholesome
influence of public opinion. In Edinburgh--grown too large at the time
to permit men to know aught of their neighbours--they were set free from
this wholesome influence, and, unless when under the guidance of higher
principle, found themselves at liberty to do very much as they pleased.
And--with no _general_ opinion to control--cliques and parties of their
wilder spirits soon formed in their sheds and workshops a standard of
opinion of their own, and found only too effectual means of compelling
their weaker comrades to conform to it. And hence a great deal of wild
dissipation and profligacy, united, of course, to the inevitable
improvidence. And though dissipation and improvidence are quite
compatible with intelligence in the first generation, they are sure
always to part company from it in the second. The family of the unsteady
spendthrift workman is never a well-taught family. It is reared up in
ignorance; and, with evil example set before and around it, it almost
necessarily takes its place among the lapsed classes. In the third
generation the descent is of course still greater and more hopeless than
in the second. There is a type of even physical degradation already
manifesting itself in some of our large towns, especially among degraded
females, which is scarce less marked than that exhibited by the negro,
and which both my Edinburgh and Glasgow readers must have often remarked
on the respective High Streets of these cities. The features are
generally bloated and overcharged, the profile lines usually concave,
the complexion coarse and high, and the expression that of a dissipation
and sensuality become chronic and inherent. And how this
class--constitutionally degraded, and with the moral sense, in most
instances, utterly undeveloped and blind--are ever to be reclaimed, it
is difficult to see. The immigrant Irish form also a very appreciable
element in the degradation of our large towns. They are, however,
_pagans_, not of the new, but of the old type: and are chiefly
formidable from the squalid wretchedness of a physical character which
they have transferred from their mud cabins into our streets and lanes,
and from the course of ruinous competition into which they have entered
with the unskilled labourers of the country, and which has had the
effect of reducing our lowlier countrymen to a humbler level than they
perhaps ever occupied before. Meanwhile, this course of degradation is
going on, in all our larger towns, in an ever-increasing ratio; and all
that philanthropy and the Churches are doing to counteract it is but as
the discharge of a few squirts on a conflagration. It is, I fear,
preparing terrible convulsions for the future. When the dangerous
classes of a country were located in its remote districts, as in
Scotland in the early half of the last century, it was comparatively
easy to deal with them: but the _sans culottes_ of Paris in its First
Revolution, placed side by side with its executive Government, proved
very formidable indeed; nor is it, alas! very improbable that the
ever-growing masses of our large towns, broken loose from the sanction
of religion and morals, may yet terribly avenge on the upper classes and
the Churches of the country the indifferency with which they have been
suffered to sink.

I was informed by Cousin George, shortly after my arrival, that my old
friend of the Doocot Cave, after keeping shop as a grocer for two years,
had given up business, and gone to college to prepare himself for the
Church. He had just returned home, added George, after completing his
first session, and had expressed a strong desire to meet with me. His
mother, too, had joined in the invitation--would I not take tea with
them that evening?--and Cousin George had been asked to accompany me. I
demurred; but at length set out with George, and, after an interruption
in our intercourse of about five years, spent the evening with my old
friend. And for years after we were inseparable companions, who, when
living in the same neighbourhood, spent together almost every hour not
given to private study or inevitable occupation, and who, when separated
by distance, exchanged letters enough to fill volumes. We had parted
boys, and had now grown men; and for the first few weeks we took stock
of each other's acquirements and experiences, and the measure of each
other's calibre, with some little curiosity. The mind of my friend had
developed rather in a scientific than literary direction. He afterwards
carried away the first mathematical prize of his year at college, and
the second in natural philosophy; and he had, I now found, great
acuteness as a metaphysician, and no inconsiderable acquaintance with
the antagonistic positions of the schools of Hume and Reid. On the other
hand, my opportunities of observation had been perhaps greater than his,
and my acquaintance with men, and even with books, more extensive; and
in the interchange of idea which we carried on, both were gainers: he
occasionally picked up in our conversations a fact of which he had been
previously ignorant; and I, mayhap, learned to look more closely than
before at an argument. I introduced him to the Eathie Lias, and assisted
him in forming a small collection, which, ere he ultimately dissipated
it, contained some curious fossils--among the others, the second
specimen of _Pterichthys_ ever found; and he, in turn, was able to give
me a few geological notions, which, though quite crude enough--for
natural science was not taught at the university which he attended--I
found of use in the arrangement of my facts--now become considerable
enough to stand in need of those threads of theory without which large
accumulations of fact refuse to hang together in the memory. There was
one special hypothesis which he had heard broached, and the utter
improbability of which I was not yet geologist enough to detect, which
for a time filled my whole imagination. It had been said, he told me,
that the ancient world, in which my fossils, animal and vegetable, had
flourished and decayed--a world greatly older than that before the
Flood--had been tenanted by rational, responsible beings, for whom, as
for the race to which we ourselves belong, a resurrection and a day of
final judgment had awaited. But many thousands of years had elapsed
since that day--emphatically the _last_ to the Pre-Adamite race--had
come and gone. Of all the accountable creatures that had been summoned
to its bar, bone had been gathered to its bone, so that not a vestige of
the framework of their bodies occurred in the rocks or soils in which
they had been originally inhumed; and, in consequence, only the remains
of their irresponsible contemporaries, the inferior animals, and of the
vegetable productions of their fields and forests, were now to be found.
The dream filled for a time my whole imagination; but though poetry
might find ample footing on a hypothesis so suggestive and bold, I need
scarce say that it has itself no foundation in science. Man had _no_
responsible predecessor on earth. At the determined time, when his
appointed habitation was completely fitted for him, he came and took
possession of it; but the old geologic ages had been ages of
immaturity--_days_ whose work as a work of promise was "good," but not
yet "very good," nor yet ripened for the appearance of a moral agent,
whose nature it is to be a fellow-worker with the Creator in relation to
even the physical and the material. The planet which we inhabit seems to
have been prepared for man, and for man only.

Partly through my friend, but in part also from the circumstance that I
retained a measure of intimacy with such of my schoolfellows as had
subsequently prosecuted their education at college, I was acquainted,
during the later years in which I wrought as a mason, with a good many
university-taught lads; and I sometimes could not avoid comparing them
in my mind with working men of, as nearly as I could guess, the same
original calibre. I did not always find that general superiority on the
side of the scholar which the scholar himself usually took for granted.
What he had specially studied he knew, save in rare and exceptional
cases, better than the working man; but while the student had been
mastering his Greek and Latin, and expatiating in Natural Philosophy and
the Mathematics, the working man, if of an inquiring mind, had been
doing something else; and it is at least a fact, that all the great
readers of my acquaintance at this time--the men most extensively
acquainted with English literature--were not the men who had received
the classical education. On the other hand, in framing an argument, the
advantage lay with the scholars. In that common sense, however, which
reasons but does not argue, and which enables men to pick their stepping
prudently through the journey of life, I found that the classical
education gave no superiority whatever; nor did it appear to form so
fitting an introduction to the realities of business as that course of
dealing with things tangible and actual in which the working man has to
exercise his faculties, and from which he derives his experience. One
cause of the over-low estimate which the classical scholar so often
forms of the intelligence of that class of the people to which our
skilled mechanics belong, arises very much from the forwardness of a set
of blockheads who are always sure to obtrude themselves upon his notice,
and who come to be regarded by him as average specimens of their order.
I never yet knew a truly intelligent mechanic obtrusive. Men of the
stamp of my two uncles, and of my friend William Ross, never press
themselves on the notice of the classes above them. A minister newly
settled in a charge, for instance, often finds that it is the dolts of
his flock that first force themselves upon his acquaintance. I have
heard the late Mr. Stewart of Cromarty remark, that the humbler
dunderheads of the parish had all introduced themselves to his
acquaintance long ere he found out its clever fellows. And hence often
sad mistakes on the part of a clergyman in dealing with the people. It
seems never to strike him that there may be among them men of his own
calibre, and, in certain practical departments, even better taught than
he; and that this superior class is always sure to lead the others. And
in preaching down to the level of the men of humbler capacity, he fails
often to preach to men of any capacity at all, and is of no use. Some of
the clerical contemporaries of Mr. Stewart used to allege that, in
exercising his admirable faculties in the theological field, he
sometimes forgot to lower himself to his people, and so preached over
their heads. And at times, when they themselves came to occupy his
pulpit, as occasionally happened, they addressed to the congregation
sermons quite simple enough for even children to comprehend. I taught at
the time a class of boys in the Cromarty Sabbath-school, and invariably
found on these occasions, that while the memories of my pupils were
charged to the full with the striking thoughts and graphic illustrations
of the very elaborate discourses deemed too high for them, they
remembered of the very simple ones, specially lowered to suit narrow
capacities, not a single word or note. All the attempts at originating a
cheap literature that have failed, have been attempts pitched too low:
the higher-toned efforts have usually succeeded. If the writer of these
chapters has been in any degree successful in addressing himself as a
journalist to the Presbyterian people of Scotland, it has always been,
not by writing _down_ to them, but by doing his best on all occasions to
write _up_ to them. He has ever thought of them as represented by his
friend William, his uncles, and his Cousin George--by shrewd old John
Fraser, and his reckless though very intelligent acquaintance Cha; and
by addressing to them on every occasion as good sense and as solid
information as he could possibly muster, he has at times succeeded in
catching their ear, and perhaps, in some degree, in influencing their
judgment.

FOOTNOTE:

[10] The extreme picturesqueness of these fires--in part a consequence
of the great height and peculiar architecture of the buildings which
they destroyed--caught the nice eye of Sir Walter Scott. "I can
conceive," we find him saying, in one of his letters of the period, "no
sight more grand or terrible than to see these lofty buildings on fire
from top to bottom, vomiting out flames, like a volcano, from every
aperture, and finally crashing down one after another, into an abyss of
fire, which resembled nothing but hell; for there were vaults of wine
and spirits which set up huge jets of flames whenever they were called
into activity by the fall of these massive fragments. Between the corner
of the Parliament Square and the Tron Church, all is destroyed excepting
some new buildings at the lower extremity."



CHAPTER XVII.

    "Beware, Lorenzo, a slow, sudden death."--YOUNG.


There was one special subject which my friend, in our quiet evening
walks, used to urge seriously upon my attention. He had thrown up, under
strong religious impressions, what promised to be so good a business,
that in two years he had already saved money enough to meet the expenses
of a college course of education. And assuredly, never did man determine
on entering the ministry with views more thoroughly disinterested than
his. Patronage ruled supreme in the Scottish Establishment at the time;
and my friend had no influence and no patron; but he could not see his
way clear to join with the Evangelical Dissenters or the Secession; and
believing that the most important work on earth is the work of saving
souls, he had entered on his new course in the full conviction that, if
God had work for him of this high character to do, He would find him an
opportunity of doing it. And now, thoroughly in earnest, and as part of
the special employment to which he had devoted himself, he set himself
to press upon my attention the importance, in their personal bearing, of
religious concerns.

I was not unacquainted with the standard theology of the Scottish
Church. In the parish school I had, indeed, acquired no ideas on the
subject; and though I now hear a good deal said, chiefly with a
controversial bearing, about the excellent religious influence of our
parochial seminaries, I never knew any one who owed other than the
merest smattering of theological knowledge to these institutions, and
not a single individual who had ever derived from them any tincture,
even the slightest, of religious feeling. In truth, during almost the
whole of the last century, and for at least the first forty years of the
present, the people of Scotland were, with all their faults,
considerably more Christian than the larger part of their schoolmasters.
So far as I can remember, I carried in my memory from school only a
single remark at all theological in its character, and it was of a kind
suited rather to do harm than good. In reading in the class one Saturday
morning a portion of the Hundred and Nineteenth Psalm, I was told by the
master that that ethical poem was a sort of alphabetical acrostic--a
circumstance, he added, that accounted for its broken and inconsecutive
character as a composition. Chiefly, however, from the Sabbath-day
catechizings to which I had been subjected during boyhood by my uncles,
and latterly from the old divines, my Uncle Sandy's favourites, and from
the teachings of the pulpit, I had acquired a considerable amount of
religious knowledge. I had thought, too, a good deal about some of the
peculiar doctrines of Calvinism, in their character as abstruse
positions--such as the doctrine of the Divine decrees, and of man's
inability to assume the initiative in the work of his own conversion. I
had, besides, a great admiration of the Bible, especially of its
narrative and poetical parts; and could scarce give strong enough
expression to the contempt which I entertained for the vulgar and
tasteless sceptics who, with Paine at their head, could speak of it as a
weak or foolish book. Further, reared in a family circle, some of whose
members were habitually devout, and all of whom respected and stood up
for religion, and were imbued with the stirring ecclesiastical
traditions of their country, I felt that the religious side in any
quarrel had a sort of hereditary claim upon me. I believe I may venture
to say, that previous to this time I had never seen a religious man
badgered for his religion, and much in a minority, without openly taking
part with him; nor is it impossible that, in a time of trouble, I might
have almost deserved the character given by old John Howie to a rather
notable "gentleman sometimes called Burly," who, "although he was by
some reckoned none of the most religious," joined himself to the
suffering party, and was "always zealous and honest-hearted." And yet my
religion was a strangely incongruous thing. It took the form, in my
mind, of a mass of indigested theology, with here and there a prominent
point developed out of due proportion, from the circumstance that I had
thought upon it for myself; and while entangled, if I may so speak, amid
the recesses and under cover of the general chaotic mass, there
harboured no inconsiderable amount of superstition, there rested over it
the clouds of a dreary scepticism. I have sometimes, in looking back on
the doubts and questionings of this period, thought, and perhaps even
spoken of myself as an infidel. But an infidel I assuredly was not: my
belief was at least as real as my incredulity, and had, I am inclined to
think, a much deeper seat in my mind. But wavering between the two
extremes--now a believer, and anon a sceptic--the belief usually
exhibiting itself as a strongly-based instinct,--the scepticism as the
result of some intellectual process--I lived on for years in a sort of
uneasy see-saw condition, without any middle ground between the two
extremes, on which I could at once reason and believe.

That middle ground I now succeeded in finding. It is at once delicate
and dangerous to speak of one's own spiritual condition, or of the
emotional sentiments on which one's conclusions regarding it are often
so doubtfully founded. Egotism in the religious form is perhaps more
tolerated than in any other; but it is not on that account less perilous
to the egotist himself. There need be, however, less delicacy in
speaking of one's beliefs than of one's feelings; and I trust I need not
hesitate to say, that I was led to see at this time, through the
instrumentality of my friend, that my theologic system had previously
wanted a central object, to which the heart, as certainly as the
intellect, could attach itself; and that the true centre of an efficient
_Christianity_ is, as the name ought of itself to indicate, "the Word
made Flesh." Around this central sun of the Christian
system--appreciated, however, not as a _doctrine_ which is a mere
abstraction, but as a Divine Person--so truly Man, that the affections
of the human heart can lay hold upon Him, and so truly God, that the
mind, through faith, can at all times and in all places be brought into
direct contact with Him--all that is really religious takes its place in
a subsidiary and subordinate relation. I say subsidiary and subordinate.
The Divine Man is the great attractive centre, the sole gravitating
point of a system which owes to Him all its coherency, and which would
be but a chaos were He away. It seems to be the existence of the human
nature in this central and paramount object that imparts to
Christianity, in its subjective character, its peculiar power of
influencing and controlling the human mind. There may be men who,
through a peculiar idiosyncrasy of constitution, are capable of loving,
after a sort, a mere abstract God, unseen and inconceivable; though, as
shown by the air of sickly sentimentality borne by almost all that has
been said and written on the subject, the feeling in its true form must
be a very rare and exceptional one. In all my experience of men, I never
knew a genuine instance of it The love of an abstract God seems to be as
little natural to the ordinary human constitution as the love of an
abstract sun or planet. And so it will be found, that in all the
religions that have taken strong hold of the mind of man, the element of
a vigorous humanity has mingled, in the character of its gods, with the
theistic element. The gods of classic mythology were simply powerful men
set loose from the tyranny of the physical laws; and, in their purely
human character, as warm friends and deadly enemies, they were both
feared and loved. And so the belief which bowed at their shrines ruled
the old civilized world for many centuries. In the great ancient
mythologies of the East--Buddhism and Brahmanism--both very influential
forms of belief--we have the same elements, genuine humanity added to
god-like power. In the faith of the Moslem, the human character of the
man Mahommed, elevated to an all-potential viceregency in things sacred,
gives great strength to what without it would be but a weak theism.
Literally it is Allah's supreme prophet that maintains for Allah himself
a place in the Mahommedan mind. Again, in Popery we find an excess of
humanity scarce leas great than in the classical mythology itself, and
with nearly corresponding results. Though the Virgin Mother takes, as
queen of heaven, a first place in the scheme, and forms in that
character a greatly more interesting goddess than any of the old ones
who counselled Ulysses, or responded to the love of Anchises or of
Endymion, she has to share her empire with the minor saints, and to
recognise in them a host of rivals. But undoubtedly to this popular
element Popery owes not a little of its indomitable strength. In,
however, all these forms of religion, whether inherently false from the
beginning, or so overlaid in some after stage by the fictitious and the
untrue as to have their original substratum of truth covered up by error
and fable, there is such a want of coherency between the theistic and
human elements, that we always find them undergoing a process of
separation. We see the human element ever laying hold on the popular
mind, and there manifesting itself in the form of a vigorous
superstition; and the theistic element, on the other hand, recognised by
the cultivated intellect as the exclusive and only element, and
elaborated into a sort of natural theology, usually rational enough in
its propositions, but for any practical purpose always feeble and
inefficient. Such a separation of the two elements took place of old in
the ages of the classical mythology; and hence the very opposite
characters of the wild but genial and popular fables so exquisitely
adorned by the poets, and the rational but uninfluential doctrines
received by a select few from the philosophers. Such a separation took
place, too, in France in the latter half of the last century; and still
on the European Continent generally do we find this separation
represented by the assertors of a weak theism on the one hand, and of a
superstitious saint-worship on the other. In the false or corrupted
religions, the two indispensable elements of Divinity and Humanity
appear as if blended together by a mere mechanical process; and it is
their natural tendency to separate, through a sort of subsidence on the
part of the human element from the theistic one, as if from some lack of
the necessary affinities. In Christianity, on the other hand, when
existing in its integrity as the religion of the New Testament, the
union of the two elements is complete: it partakes of the nature, not of
a mechanical, but of a chemical mixture; and its great central
doctrine--the true Humanity and true Divinity of the Adorable
Saviour--is a truth equally receivable by at once the humblest and the
loftiest intellects. Poor dying children possessed of but a few simple
ideas, and men of the most robust intellects, such as the Chalmerses,
Fosters, and Halls of the Christian Church, find themselves equally able
to rest their salvation on the _man_ "Christ, who is over all, _God_
blessed for ever." Of this fundamental truth of the two natures, that
condensed enunciation of the gospel which forms the watchword of our
faith, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," is a
direct and palpable embodiment; and Christianity is but a mere name
without it.

I was impressed at this time by another very remarkable feature in the
religion of Christ in its subjective character. Kames, in his "Art of
Thinking," illustrates, by a curious story, one of his observations on
the "nature of man." "Nothing is more common," he says, "than love
converted into hatred; and we have seen instances of hatred converted
into love." And in exemplifying the remark, he relates his anecdote of
"Unnion and Valentine." Two English soldiers, who fought in the wars of
Queen Anne--the one a petty officer, the other a private sentinel--had
been friends and comrades for years; but, quarrelling in some love
affair, they became bitter enemies. The officer made an ungenerous use
of his authority, and so annoyed and persecuted the sentinel as almost
to fret him into madness; and he was frequently heard to say that he
would die to be avenged of him. Whole months were spent in the
infliction of injuries on the one side, and in the venting of complaints
on the other; when, in the midst of their mutual rage, they were both
selected, as men of tried courage, to share in some desperate attack,
which was, however, unsuccessful; and the officer, in the retreat, was
disabled, and struck down by a shot in the thigh. "Oh, Valentine! and
will you leave me here to perish?" he exclaimed, as his old comrade
rushed past him. The poor injured man immediately returned; and, in the
midst of a thick fire, bore off his wounded enemy to what seemed a place
of safety, when he was struck by a chance ball, and fell dead under his
burden. The officer, immediately forgetting his wound, rose up, tearing
his hair; and, throwing himself on the bleeding body, he cried, "Ah,
Valentine! and was it for me, who have so barbarously used thee, that
thou hast died? I will not live after thee." He was not by any means to
be forced from the corpse; but was removed with it bleeding in his arms,
and attended with tears by all his comrades, who knew of his harshness
to the deceased. When brought to a tent, his wounds were dressed by
force; but the next day, still calling on Valentine, and lamenting his
cruelties to him, he died in the pangs of remorse and despair.

This surely is a striking story; but the commonplace remark based upon
it by the philosopher is greatly less so. Men who have loved _do_ often
learn to hate the object of their affections; and men who have hated
sometimes learn to love: but the portion of the anecdote specially
worthy of remark appears to be that which, dwelling on the o'ermastering
remorse and sorrow of the rescued soldier, shows how effectually his
poor dead comrade had, by dying for him "while he was yet his enemy,"
"heaped coals of fire upon his head." And such seems to be one of the
leading principles on which, with a Divine adaptation to the heart of
man, the scheme of Redemption has been framed. The Saviour approved his
love, "in that while we were yet sinners, He died for us." There is an
inexpressibly great power in this principle; and many a deeply-stirred
heart has felt it to its core. The theologians have perhaps too
frequently dwelt on the Saviour's vicarious satisfaction for human sin
in its relation to the offended justice of the Father. How, or on what
principle, the Father was satisfied, I know not, and may never know. The
enunciation regarding vicarious satisfaction may be properly received in
faith as a _fact_, but, I suspect, not properly reasoned upon until we
shall be able to bring the moral sense of Deity, with its requirements,
within the limits of a small and trivial logic. But the thorough
adaptation of the scheme to man's nature is greatly more appreciable,
and lies fully within the reach of observation and experience. And how
thorough that adaptation is, all who have really looked at the matter
ought to be competent to say. Does an earthly priesthood, vested with
alleged powers to interpose between God and man, always originate an
ecclesiastical tyranny, which has the effect, in the end, of shutting up
the mass of men from their Maker?--here is there a High Priest passed
into the heavens--the only Priest whom the evangelistic Protestant
recognises as really such--to whom, in his character of Mediator between
God and man, all may apply, and before whom there need be felt none of
that abject prostration of the spirit and understanding which man always
experiences when he bends before the merely human priest. Is
self-righteousness the besetting infirmity of the religious man?--in the
scheme of vicarious righteousness it finds no footing. The
self-approving Pharisee must be content to renounce his own merits, ere
he can have part or lot in the fund of merit which alone avails; and yet
without personal righteousness he can have no evidence whatever that he
has an interest in the all-prevailing imputed righteousness. But it is
in the closing scene of life, when man's boasted virtues become so
intangible in his estimation that they elude his grasp, and sins and
shortcomings, little noted before, start up around him like spectres,
that the scheme of Redemption appears worthy of the infinite wisdom and
goodness of God, and when what the Saviour did and suffered seems of
efficacy enough to blot out the guilt of every offence. It is when the
minor lights of comfort are extinguished that the Sun of Righteousness
shines forth, and more than compensates for them all.

The opinions which I formed at this time on this matter of prime
importance I found no after occasion to alter or modify. On the
contrary, in passing from the subjective to the objective view, I have
seen the doctrine of the union of the two natures greatly confirmed. The
truths of geology appear destined to exercise in the future no
inconsiderable influence on natural theology; and with this especial
doctrine they seem very much in accordance. Of that long and stately
march of creation with which the records of the stony science bring us
acquainted, the distinguishing characteristic is progress. There appears
to have been a time when there existed on our planet only dead matter
unconnected with vitality; and then a time in which plants and animals
of a low order began to be, but in which even fishes, the humblest of
the vertebrata, were so rare and exceptionable, that they occupied a
scarce appreciable place in Nature. Then came an age of fishes huge of
size, and that to the peculiar ichthyic organization added certain
well-marked characteristics of the reptilian class immediately above
them. And then, after a time, during which the reptile had occupied a
place as inconspicuous as that occupied by the fish in the earlier
periods of animal life, an age of reptiles of vast bulk and high
standing was ushered in. And when, in the lapse of untold ages, _it_
also had passed away, there succeeded an age of great mammals.
Molluscs, fishes, reptiles, mammals, had each in succession their
periods of vast extent; and then there came a period that differed even
more, in the character of its master-existence, from any of these
creations, than they, with their many vitalities, had differed from the
previous inorganic period in which life had not yet begun to be. The
human period began--the period of a fellow-worker with God, created in
God's own image. The animal existences of the previous ages formed, if I
may so express myself, mere figures in the landscapes of the great
garden which they inhabited. Man, on the other hand, was placed in it to
"keep and to dress it;" and such has been the effect of his labours,
that they have altered and improved the face of whole continents. Our
globe, even as it might be seen from the moon, testifies, over its
surface, to that unique nature of man, unshared in by any of the
inferior animals, which renders him, in things physical and natural, a
fellow-worker with the Creator who first produced it. And of the
identity of at least his intellect with that of his Maker, and, of
consequence, of the integrity of the revelation which declares that he
was created in God's own image, we have direct evidence in his ability
of not only conceiving of God's contrivances, but even of reproducing
them; and this, not as a mere imitator, but as an original thinker. He
may occasionally borrow the principles of his contrivances from the
works of the Original Designer, but much more frequently, in studying
the works of the Original Designer does he discover in them the
principles of his own contrivances. He has not been an imitator: he has
merely been exercising, with resembling results, the resembling mind,
_i.e._, the mind made in the Divine image. But the existing scene of
things is not destined to be the last. High as it is, it is too low and
too imperfect to be regarded as God's finished work: it is merely one of
the _progressive_ dynasties; and Revelation and the implanted instincts
of our nature alike teach us to anticipate a glorious _terminal_
dynasty. In the first dawn of being, simple vitality was united to
matter: the vitality thus united became, in each succeeding period, of a
higher and yet higher order;--it was in succession the vitality of the
mollusc, of the fish, of the reptile, of the sagacious mammal, and,
finally, of responsible, immortal man, created in the image of God. What
is to be the next advance? Is there to be merely a repetition of the
past--an introduction a second time of "man made in the image of God?"
No! The geologist, in the tables of stone which form his records, finds
no example of dynasties once passed away again returning. There has been
no repetition of the dynasty of the fish--of the reptile--of the mammal.
The dynasty of the future is to have glorified man for its inhabitant;
but it is to be the dynasty--the "_kingdom_"--not of glorified man made
in the image of God, but of God himself in the form of man. In the
doctrine of the two natures, and in the further doctrine that the
terminal dynasty is to be peculiarly the dynasty of Him in whom the
natures are united, we find that required progression beyond which
progress cannot go. Creation and the Creator meet at one point, and in
one person. The long ascending line from dead matter to man has been, a
progress Godwards--not an asymptotical progress, but destined from the
beginning to furnish a point of union; and, occupying that point as true
God and true man, as Creator and created, we recognise the adorable
Monarch of all the Future. It is, as urged by the Apostle, the especial
glory of our race, that it should have furnished that point of contact
at which Godhead has united Himself, not to man only, but also, through
man, to His own Universe--to the Universe of Matter and of Mind.

I remained for several months in delicate and somewhat precarious
health. My lungs had received more serious injury than I had at first
supposed; and it seemed at one time rather doubtful whether the severe
mechanical irritation which had so fretted them that the air-passages
seemed overcharged with matter and stone-dust, might not pass into the
complaint which it stimulated, and become confirmed consumption.
Curiously enough, my comrades had told me in sober earnest--among the
rest, Cha, a man of sense and observation--that I would pay the forfeit
of my sobriety by being sooner affected than they by the stone-cutter's
malady: "a good _bouse_" gave, they said, a wholesome fillip to the
constitution, and "cleared the sulphur off the lungs;" and mine would
suffer for want of the medicine which kept theirs clean. I know not
whether there was virtue in their remedy: it seems just possible that
the shock given to the constitution by an overdose of strong drink may
in certain cases be medicinal in its effects; but they were certainly
not in error in their prediction. Among the hewers of the party I was
the first affected by the malady. I still remember the rather pensive
than sad feeling with which I used to contemplate, at this time, an
early death, and the intense love of nature that drew me, day after day,
to the beautiful scenery which surrounds my native town, and which I
loved all the more from the consciousness that my eyes might so soon
close upon it for ever. "It _is_ a pleasant thing to behold the sun."
Among my manuscripts--useless scraps of paper, to which, however, in
their character as fossils of the past epochs of my life, I cannot help
attaching an interest not at all in themselves--I find the mood
represented by only a few almost infantile verses, addressed to a docile
little girl of five years, my eldest sister by my mother's second
marriage, and my frequent companion, during my illness, in my short
walks.


                      TO JEANIE.

           Sister Jeanie, haste, we'll go
        To whare the white-starred gowans grow,
        Wi' the puddock flower o' gowden hue.
    The snaw-drap white and the bonny vi'let blue.

           Sister Jeanie, haste, we'll go
        To whare the blossomed lilacs grow--
        To whare the pine-tree, dark an' high,
    Is pointing its tap at the cloudless sky.

           Jeanie, mony a merry lay
        Is sung in the young-leaved woods to-day;
        Flits on light wing the dragon-flee,
    An' bums on the flowrie the big red-bee.

           Down the burnie wirks its way
        Aneath the bending birken spray,
        An' wimples roun' the green moss-stane,
    An' mourns. I kenna why, wi' a ceaseless mane.

           Jeanie, come; thy days o' play
        Wi' autumn-tide shall pass away;
        Sune shall these scenes, in darkness cast,
    Be ravaged wild by the wild winter blast.

           Though to thee a spring shall rise,
        An' scenes as fair salute thine eyes;
        An' though, through many a cludless day,
    My winsome Jean shall be heartsome and gay;

           He wha grasps thy little hand
        Nae langer at thy side shall stand,
        Nor o'er the flower-besprinkled brae
    Lead thee the low'nest and the bonniest way.

        Dost thou see yon yard sae green,
        Spreckled wi' mony a mossy stane?
        A few short weeks o' pain shall fly,
    An' asleep in that _bed_ shall thy puir brither lie.

        Then thy mither's tears awhile
        May chide thy joy an' damp thy smile;
        But sune ilk grief shall wear awa',
    And I'll be forgotten by ane an' by a'.

        Dinna think the thought is sad;
        Life vexed me aft, but this mak's glad:
        When cauld my heart and closed my e'e,
    Bonny shall the dreams o' my slumbers be.


At length, however, my constitution threw off the malady; though--as I
still occasionally feel--the organ affected never quite regained its
former vigour; and I began to experience the quiet but exquisite
enjoyment of the convalescent. After long and depressing illness, youth
itself appears to return with returning health; and it seems to be one
of the compensating provisions, that while men of robust constitution
and rigid organization get gradually old in their spirits and obtuse in
their feelings, the class that have to endure being many times sick have
the solace of being also many times young. The reduced and weakened
frame becomes as susceptible of the emotional as in tender and delicate
youth. I know not that I ever spent three happier months than the
autumnal months of this year, when gradually picking up flesh and
strength amid my old haunts, the woods and caves. My friend had left me
early in July for Aberdeen, where he had gone to prosecute his studies
under the eye of a tutor, one Mr. Duncan, whom he described to me in his
letters as perhaps the most deeply learned man he had ever seen. "You
may ask him a common question," said my friend, "without getting an
answer--for he has considerably more than the average absentness of the
great scholar about him; but if you inquire of him the state of any one
controversy ever agitated in the Church or the world, he will give it
you at once, with, if you please, all the arguments on both sides." The
trait struck me at the time as one of some mark; and I thought of it
many years after, when fame had blown the name of my friend's tutor
pretty widely as Dr. Duncan, Hebrew Professor in our Free Church
College, and one of the most profoundly learned of Orientalists. Though
separated, however, from my friend, I found a quiet pleasure in
following up, in my solitary walks, the views which his conversations
had suggested; and in a copy of verses, the production of this time,
which, with all their poverty and stiffness, please me as true, and as
representative of the convalescent feeling, I find direct reference to
the beliefs which he had laboured to instil. My verses are written in a
sort of metre which, in the hands of Collins, became flexible and
exquisitely poetic, and which in those of Kirke White is at least
pleasing, but of which we find poor enough specimens in the
"Anthologies" of Southey, and which perhaps no one so limited in his
metrical vocabulary, and so defective in his musical ear, as the writer
of these chapters, should ever have attempted.


                    SOLACE.

    No star of golden influence hailed the birth
    Of him who, all unknown and lonely, pours,
          As fails the light of eve,
          His pensive, artless song;
    Yea, those who mark out honour, ease, wealth, fame,
    As man's sole joys, shall find no joy in him;
          Yet of far nobler kind
          His silent pleasures prove.
    For not unmarked by him the ways of men;
    Nor yet to him the ample page unknown,
          Where, traced by Nature's hand,
          Is many a pleasing line.
    Oh! when the world's dull children bend the knee,
    Meanly obsequious, to some mortal god,
          It yields no vulgar joy
          Alone to stand aloof;
    Or when they jostle on wealth's crowded road,
    And swells the tumult on the breeze, 'tis sweet,
          Thoughtful, at length reclined,
          To list the wrathful hum.
    What though the weakly gay affect to scorn
    The loitering dreamer of life's darkest shade,
          Stingless the jeer, whose voice
          Comes from the erroneous path.
    Scorner, of all thy toils the end declare!
    If pleasure, pleasure comes uncalled, to cheer
          The haunts of him who spends
          His hours in quiet thought.
    And happier he who can repress desire,
    Than they who seldom mourn a thwarted wish;
          The vassals they of fate--
          The unbending conqueror he,
    And thou, blest Muse, though rudely strung thy lyre,
    Its tones can guile the dark and lonesome day--
          Can smooth the wrinkled brow,
          And dry the sorrowing tear.
    Thine many a bliss--oh, many a solace thine!
    By thee up-held, the soul asserts her throne,
          The chastened passions sleep,
          And dove-eyed Peace prevails.
    And thou, fair Hope! when other comforts fail--
    When night's thick mists descend--thy beacon flames,
          Till glow the dark clouds round
          With beams of promised bliss.
    Thou failest not, when, mute the soothing lyre,
    Lives thy unfading solace: sweet to raise
          Thy eye, O quiet Hope,
          And greet a friend in heaven!--
    A friend, a brother, one whose awful throne
    In holy fear heaven's mightiest sons approach:
          Man's heart to feel for man--
          To save him God's great power!
    Conqueror of death, joy of the accepted soul,
    Oh, wonders raise no doubt when told of thee!
          Thy way past finding out,
          Thy love, can tongue declare?
    Cheered by thy smile, Peace dwells amid the storm;
    Held by thy hand, the floods assail in vain;
          With grief is blent a joy,
          And beams the vault of death.


Passing, in one of my walks this autumn, the cave in which I used to
spend in boyhood so many happy hours with Finlay, I found it smoking, as
of old, with a huge fire, and occupied by a wilder and more careless
party than even my truant schoolfellows. It had been discovered and
appropriated by a band of gipsies, who, attracted by the soot-stains on
its roof and sides, and concluding that it had been inhabited by the
gipsies of other days, had without consulting factor or landlord, at
once entered upon possession, as the proper successors of its former
occupants. They were a savage party, with a good deal of the true gipsy
blood in them, but not without mixture of a broken-down class of
apparently British descent; and one of their women was purely Irish.
From what I had previously heard about gipsies, I was not prepared for a
mixture of this kind; but I found it pretty general, and ascertained
that at least one of the ways in which it had taken place was
exemplified by the case of the one Irish woman. Her gipsy husband had
served as a soldier, and had married her when in the army. I have been
always exceedingly curious to see man in his rude elements--to study him
as the savage, whether among the degraded classes of our own country,
or, as exhibited in the writings of travellers and voyagers, in his
aboriginal state; and I now did not hesitate to visit the gipsies, and
to spend not unfrequently an hour or two in their company. They at first
seemed jealous of me as a spy; but finding me inoffensive, and that I
did not bewray counsel, they came at length to recognise me as the
"quiet, sickly lad," and to chatter as freely in my presence as in that
of the other pitchers with ears, which they used to fabricate out of tin
by the dozen and the score, and the manufacture of which, with the
making of horn spoons, formed the main branch of business carried on in
the cave. I saw in these visits curious glimpses of gipsy life. I could
trust only to what I actually witnessed: what was told me could on no
occasion be believed; for never were there lies more gross and monstrous
than those of the gipsies; but even the lying formed of itself a
peculiar trait. I have never heard lying elsewhere that set all
probability so utterly at defiance--a consequence, in part, of their
recklessly venturing, like unskilful authors, to expatiate in walks of
invention over which their experience did not extend. On one occasion an
old gipsy woman, after pronouncing my malady consumption, prescribed for
me as an infallible remedy, raw parsley minced small and made up into
balls with fresh butter; but seeing, I suppose, from my manner, that I
lacked the necessary belief in her specific, she went on to say, that
she had derived her knowledge of such matters from her mother, one of
the most "skeely women that ever lived." Her mother, she said, had once
healed a lord's son of a grievous hurt in half a minute, after all the
English doctors had shown they could do nothing for him. His eye had
been struck out of its socket by a blow, and hung half-way down his
cheek; and though the doctors could of course return it to its place, it
refused to stick, always falling out again. Her mother, however, at once
understood the case; and, making a little slit at the back of the young
man's neck, she got hold of the end of a sinew, and pulling in the
dislodged orb at a tug, she made all tight by running a knot on the
controlling ligament, and so kept the eye in its place. And, save that
the young lord continued to squint a little, he was well at once. The
peculiar anatomy on which this invention was framed must have, of
course, resembled that of a wax-doll with winking eyes; but it did well
enough for the woman; and, having no character for truth to maintain,
she did not hesitate to build on it. On asking her whether she ever
attended church, she at once replied, "O yes, at one time very often. I
am the daughter of a minister--a _natural_ daughter, you know: my
father was the most powerful preacher in all the south, and I always
went to hear him." In about an hour after, however, forgetting her
extemporary sally, and the reverend character with which she had
insisted her sire, she spoke of him, in another equally palpable
invention, as the greatest "king of the gipsies" that the gipsies ever
had. Even the children had caught this habit of monstrous mendacity.
There was one of the boys of the band, considerably under twelve, who
could extemporize lying narratives by the hour, and seemed always
delighted to get a listener; and a little girl, younger still, who
"lisped in _fiction_, for the _fiction_ came." There were two things
that used to strike me as peculiar among these gipsies--a Hindu type of
head, small of size, but with a considerable fulness of forehead,
especially along the medial line, in the region, as the phrenologist
would perhaps say, of _individuality_ and _comparison_; and a singular
posture assumed by the elderly females of the tribe in squatting before
their fires, in which the elbow rested on the knees brought close
together, the chin on the palms, and the entire figure (somewhat
resembling in attitude a Mexican mummy) assumed an outlandish
appearance, that reminded me of some of the more grotesque sculptures of
Egypt and Hindustan. The peculiar type of head was derived, I doubt not,
from an ancestry originally different from that of the settled races of
the country; nor is it impossible that the peculiar position--unlike any
I have ever seen Scottish females assume--was also of foreign origin.

I have witnessed scenes among these gipsies, of which the author of the
"Jolly Beggars" might have made rare use, but which formed a sort of
materials that I lacked the special ability rightly to employ. It was
reported on one occasion that a marriage ceremony and wedding were to
take place in the cave, and I sauntered the way, in the hope of
ascertaining how its inmates contrived to do for themselves what of
course no clergyman could venture to do for them--seeing that, of the
parties to be united, the bridegroom might have already as many wives
living as "Peter Bell," and the bride as many husbands. A gipsy marriage
had taken place a few years previous in a cave near Rosemarkie. An old
male gipsy, possessed of the rare accomplishment of reading, had
half-read, half-spelled the English marriage-service to the young
couple, and the ceremony was deemed complete at its close. And I now
expected to witness something similar. In an opening in the wood above,
I encountered two very drunk gipsies, and saw the first-fruits of the
coming merriment. One of the two was an uncouth-looking monster,
sallow-skinned, flat-faced, round-shouldered, long and thinly limbed, at
least six feet two inches in height, and, from his strange
misproportions, he might have passed for seven feet any day, were it not
that his trousers, made for a much shorter man, and rising to the middle
of his calfless leg, gave him much the appearance of a big boy walking
on stilts. The boys of the place called him "Giant Grimbo;" while his
companion, a tight dapper little fellow, who always showed off a
compact, well-rounded leg in corduroy inexpressibles, they had learned
to distinguish as "Billy Breeches." The giant, who carried a bagpipe,
had broken down ere I came up with them; and now, sitting on the grass,
he was droning out in fitful blasts a diabolical music, to which Billy
Breeches was dancing; but, just as I passed, Billy also gave way, after
wasting an infinity of exertion in keeping erect; and, falling over the
prostrate musician, I could hear the bag groaning out its soul as he
pressed against it, in a lengthened melancholious squeal. I found the
cave bearing an aspect of more than ordinary picturesqueness. It had its
two fires, and its double portion of smoke, that went rolling out in the
calm like an inverted river; for it clung close to the roof, as if by a
reversed gravitation, and turned its foaming surface downwards. At the
one fire an old gipsy woman was engaged in baking oaten cakes; and a
great pot, that dispensed through the cave the savoury odour of unlucky
poultry out short in the middle of their days, and of hapless hares
destroyed without the game licence, depended over the other. An ass, the
common property of the tribe, stood meditating in the foreground; two
urchins, of about from ten to twelve years a-piece--wretchedly supplied
in the article of clothing--for the one, provided with only a pair of
tattered trousers, was naked from the waist upwards, and the other,
furnished with only a dilapidated jacket, was naked from the waist
downwards--were engaged in picking up fuel for the fire, still further
in front; a few of the ordinary inmates of the place lounged under cover
of the smoke, apparently in a mood not in the least busy; and on a couch
of dried fern sat evidently the central figure of the group, a young,
sparkling-eyed brunette, more than ordinarily marked by the Hindu
peculiarities of head and feature, and attended by a savage-looking
fellow of about twenty, dark as a mulatto, and with a profusion of long
flexible hair, black as jet, hanging down to his eyes, and clustering
about his cheeks and neck. These were, I ascertained, the bride and
bridegroom. The bride was engaged in sewing a cap--the bridegroom in
watching the progress of the work. I observed that the party, who were
less communicative than usual, seemed to regard me in the light of an
intruder. An elderly tinker, the father of the bride, grey as a leafless
thorn in winter, but still stalwart and strong, sat admiring a bit of
spelter of about a pound weight. It was gold, he said, or, as he
pronounced the word, "guild," which had been found in an old cairn, and
was of immense value, "for it was peer guild and that was the best o'
guild;" but if I pleased, he would sell it to me, a very great bargain.
I was engaged with some difficulty in declining the offer, when we were
interrupted by the sounds of the bagpipe. Giant Grimbo and Billy
Breeches had succeeded in regaining their feet, and were seen staggering
towards the cave. "Where's the whisky, Billy!" inquired the proprietor
of the gold, addressing himself to the man of the small clothes.
"Whisky!" said Billy, "ask Grimbo." "Where's the whisky, Grimbo?"
reiterated the tinker. "Whisky!" replied Grimbo, "Whisky!" and yet
again, after a pause and a hiccup, "Whisky!" "Ye confounded blacks!"
said the tinker, springing to his feet with an agility wonderful for an
age so advanced as his, "Have you drunk it all? But take that, Grimbo,"
he added, planting a blow full on the side of the giant's head, which
prostrated his vast length along the floor of the cave. "And take that,
Billy," he iterated, dealing such another blow to the shorter man, which
sent him right athwart his prostrate comrade. And then, turning to me,
he remarked with perfect coolness, "That, master, I call smart hitting."
"Honest lad," whispered one of the women immediately after, "it will be
a _reugh_ time wi' us here the nicht: you had just better be stepping
your ways." I had already begun to think so without prompting; and so,
taking my leave of the gipsies, I failed being, as I had proposed, one
of the witnesses of the wedding.

There is a sort of grotesque humour in scenes of the kind described,
that has charms for artists and authors of a particular class--some of
them men of broad sympathies and great genius; and hence, through their
representations, literary and pictorial, the ludicrous point of view has
come to be the conventional and ordinary one. And yet it is a sad enough
merriment, after all, that has for its subject a degradation so extreme.
I never knew a gipsy that seemed to possess a moral sense--a degree of
_Pariahism_ which has been reached by only one other class in the
country, and that a small one--the descendants of degraded females in
our large towns. An education in Scotland, however secular in its
character, always casts a certain amount of enlightenment on the
conscience; a home, however humble, whose inmates win their bread by
honest industry, has a similar effect; but in the peculiar walks in
which for generations there has been no education of any kind, or in
which bread has been the wages of infamy, the moral sense seems so
wholly obliterated, that there appears to survive nothing in the mind to
which the missionary or the moralist can appeal. It seems scarce
possible for a man to know even a very little of these classes, without
learning, in consequence, to respect honest labour, and even secular
knowledge, as at least the _second-best_ things, in their moral bearing
and influence, that can exist among a people.



CHAPTER XVIII.

    "For such is the flaw or the depth of the plan
    In the make of that wonderful creature called man,
    No two virtues, whatever relation they claim,
    Nor even two different shades of the same.
    Though like as was ever twin-brother to brother.
    Possessing the one shall imply you've the other."--BURNS.


During my period of convalescence, I amused myself in hewing for my
uncles, from an original design, an ornate dial-stone; and the
dial-stone still exists, to show that my skill as a stone-cutter rose
somewhat above the average of the profession in those parts of the
country in which it ranks highest. Gradually as I recovered health and
strength, little jobs came dropping in. I executed sculptured tablets in
a style not common in the north of Scotland; introduced into the
churchyards of the locality a better type of tombstone than had obtained
in them before, save, mayhap, at a very early period; distanced all my
competitors in the art of inscription-cutting; and at length found that,
without exposing my weakened lungs to the rough tear and wear to which
the ordinary stone-cutter must subject himself, I could live. I deemed
it an advantage, too, rather than the reverse, that my new branch of
employment brought me not unfrequently for a few days into country
districts sufficiently distant from home to present me with new fields
of observation, and to open up new tracts of inquiry. Sometimes I spent
half a week in a farm-house in the neighbourhood of some country
churchyard--sometimes I lodged in a village--oftener than once I
sheltered beside some gentleman's seat, where the august shadow of
lairdship lay heavy on society; and in this way I came to see and know
a good deal of the Scottish people, in their many-coloured aspects, of
which otherwise I might have remained ignorant. At times, too, on some
dusty cottage shelf I succeeded in picking up a rare book, or, what was
not less welcome, got a curious tradition from the cottager; or there
lay within the reach of an evening walk some interesting piece of
antiquity, or some rock-section, which I found it profitable to visit. A
solitary burying-ground, too, situated, as country burying-grounds
usually are, in some pleasant spot, and surrounded by its groups of
ancient trees, formed a much more delightful scene of labour than a
dusty work-shed, or some open area in a busy town; and altogether I
found my new mode of life a quiet and happy one. Nor, with all its
tranquillity, was it a sort of life in which the intellect was in any
great danger of falling asleep. There was scarce a locality in which new
game might not be started, that, in running down, kept the faculties in
full play. Let me exemplify by describing the courses of inquiry,
physical and metaphysical, which opened up to me when spending a few
days, first in the burying-ground of Kirkmichael, and next in the
churchyard of Nigg.

I have elsewhere somewhat fancifully described the ruinous chapel and
solitary grave-yard of Kirkmichael as lying on the sweep of a gentle
declivity, within a few yards of a flat sea-beach, so little exposed to
the winds, that it would seem as if "ocean muffled its waves in
approaching this field of the dead." And so the two vegetations--that of
the land and of the sea--undisturbed by the surf, which on opener coasts
prevents the growth of either along the upper littoral line, where the
waves beat heaviest, here meet and mingle, each encroaching for a little
way on the province of the other. And at meal-times, and when returning
homewards in the evening along the shore, it furnished me with amusement
enough to mark the character of the several plants of both floras that
thus meet and cross each other, and the appearances which they assume
when inhabiting each the other's province. On the side of the land,
beds of thrift, with its gay flowers the sea-pinks, occupied great
prominent cushions, that stood up like little islets amid the flowing
sea, and were covered over by salt water during stream-tides to the
depth of from eighteen inches to two feet. With these there occasionally
mingled spikes of the sea-lavender; and now and then, though more
rarely, a _sea-aster_, that might be seen raising above the calm surface
its composite flowers, with their bright yellow staminal pods, and their
pale purple petals. Far beyond, however, even the cushions of thrift, I
could trace the fleshy, jointed stems of the glass-wort, rising out of
the mud, but becoming diminutive and branchless as I followed them
downwards, till at depths where they must have been frequently swum over
by the young coal-fish and the flounder, they appeared as mere fleshy
spikes, scarce an inch in height, and then ceased. On the side of the
sea it was the various fucoids that rose highest along the beach: the
serrated focus barely met the salt-wort; but the bladder-bearing fucus
(_fucus nodosus_) mingled its brown fronds not unfrequently with the
crimson flowers of the thrift, and the vesicular fucus (_fucus
vesiculosus_) rose higher still, to enter into strange companionship
with the sea-side plantains and the common scurvy-grass. Green
enteromorpha of two species--_E. compressa_ and _E. intestinalis_--I
also found abundant along the edges of the thrift-beds; and it struck me
as curious at the time, that while most of the land-plants which had
thus descended beyond the sea-level were of the high dicotyledonous
division, the sea-weeds with which they mingled their leaves and
seed-vessels were low in their standing--fuci and enteromorpha--plants
at least not higher than their kindred cryptogamia, the lichens and
mosses of the land. Far beyond, in the outer reaches of the bay, where
land-plants never approached, there were meadows of a submarine
vegetation, of (for the sea) a comparatively high character. Their
numerous plants (_zostera marina_) had true roots, and true leaves, and
true flowers; and their spikes ripened amid the salt waters towards the
close of autumn, round white seeds, that, like many of the seeds of the
land, had their sugar and starch. But these plants kept far aloof, in
their green depths, from their cogeners the monocotyledons of the
terrestrial flora. It was merely the low _Fucaceæ_ and _Conferveæ_ of
the sea that I found meeting and mixing with the descending dicotyledons
of the land. I felt a good deal of interest in marking, about this time,
how certain belts of marine vegetation occurred on a vast boulder
situated in the neighbourhood of Cromarty, on the extreme line of the
ebb of spring-tides. I detected the various species ranged in zones,
just as on lofty hills the botanist finds his agricultural, moorland,
and alpine zones rising in succession the one over the other. At the
base of the huge mass, at a level to which the tide rarely falls, the
characteristic vegetable is the rough-stemmed tangle--_Laminaria
digitata_. In the zone immediately above the lowest, the prevailing
vegetable is the smooth-stemmed tangle--_Laminaria saccharina_. Higher
still there occurs a zone of the serrated fucus--_F. serratus_--blent
with another familiar fucus--_F. nodosus_. Then comes a yet higher zone
of _Fucus vesiculosus_; and higher still, a few scattered tufts of
_Fucus canaliculatus_; and then, as on lofty mountains that rise above
the line of perpetual snow, vegetation ceases, and the boulder presents
a round bald head, that rises over the surface after the first few hours
of ebb have passed. But far beyond its base, where the sea never falls,
green meadows of _zostera_ flourish in the depths of the water, where
they unfold their colourless flowers, unfurnished with petals, and ripen
their farinaceous seeds, that, wherever they rise to the surface, seem
very susceptible of frost. I have seen the shores strewed with a line of
green _zostera_, with its spikes charged with seed, after a smart
October frost, that had been coincident with the ebb of a low
spring-tide, had nipt its rectilinear fronds and flexible stems.

But what, it may be asked, was the bearing of all this observation? I
by no means saw its entire bearing at the time: I simply observed and
recorded, because I found it pleasant to observe and record. And yet one
of the wild dreams of Maillet in his _Telliamed_ had given a certain
degree of unity, and a certain definite direction, to my gleanings of
fact on the subject, which they would not have otherwise possessed. It
was held by this fanciful writer, that the vegetation of the land had
been derived originally from that of the ocean. "In a word," we find him
saying, "do not herbs, plants, roots, grains, and all of this kind that
the earth produces and nourishes, come from the sea? Is it not at least
natural to think so, since we are certain that all our habitable lands
came originally from the sea? Besides, in small islands far from the
Continent, which have appeared a few ages ago at most, and where it is
manifest that never any men had been, we find shrubs, herbs, and roots.
Now, you must be forced to own that either those productions owed their
origin to the sea, _or to a new creation, which is absurd_." And then
Maillet goes on to show, after a manner which--now that algaeology has
become a science--must be regarded as at least curious, that the plants
of the sea, though not so well developed as those of the land, are
really very much of the same nature. "The fishermen of Marseilles find
daily," he says, "in their nets, and among their fish, plants of a
hundred kinds, with their fruits still upon them; and though these
fruits are not so large nor so well nourished as those of our earth, yet
their species is in no other respects dubious. There they find clusters
of white and black grapes, peach-trees, pear-trees, prune-trees,
apple-trees, and all sorts of flowers." Such was the sort of wild fable
invented in a tract of natural science in which I found it of interest
to acquaint myself with the truth. I have since seen the extraordinary
vision of Maillet revived, first by Oken, and then by the author of the
"Vestiges of Creation;" and when, in grappling with some of the views
and statements of the latter writer, I set myself to write the chapter
of my little work which deals with this special hypothesis, I found that
I had in some sort studied in the school in which the education
necessary to its production was most thoroughly to be acquired. Had the
ingenious author of the "Vestiges" taken lessons for but a short time at
the same form, he would scarce have thought of reviving in those latter
ages the dream of Oken and Maillet. A knowledge of the facts would to a
certainty have protected him against the reproduction of the hypothesis.

The lesson at Nigg was of a more curious kind, though, mayhap, less
certainly conclusive in its bearings. The house of the proprietor of
Nigg bordered on the burying-ground. I was engaged in cutting an
inscription on the tombstone of his wife, recently dead; and a poor
idiot, who found his living in the kitchen, and to whom the deceased had
shown kindness; used to come every day to the churchyard, to sit beside
me, and jabber in broken expressions his grief. I was struck with the
extremeness of his idiocy: he manifested even more than the ordinary
inability of his class to deal with figures, for he could scarce tell
whether nature had furnished him with one head or with two; and no power
of education could have taught him to count his fingers. He was equally
defective, too, in the mechanical. Angus could not be got into trousers;
and the contrivance of the button remained a mystery which he was never
able to comprehend. And so he wore a large blue gown, like that of a
beadsman, which slipped over his head, and was bound by a belt round his
middle, with a stout woollen shirt underneath. But, though unacquainted
with the mystery of the button, there were mysteries of another kind
with which he seemed to have a most perfect acquaintance: Angus--always
a faithful attendant at church--was a great critic in sermons; nor was
it every preacher that satisfied him; and such was his imitative turn,
that he himself could preach by the hour, in the manner--so far at
least as voice and gesture went--of all the popular ministers of the
district. There was, however, rather a paucity of idea in his
discourses: in his more energetic passages, when he struck the book and
stamped with his foot, he usually iterated, in sonorous Gaelic--"The
wicked, the wicked, O wretches the wicked!" while a passage of a less
depreciatory character served him for setting off his middle tones and
his pathos. But that for which his character was chiefly remarkable was
an instinctive, foxlike cunning, that seemed to lie at its very basis--a
cunning which co-existed, however, with perfect honesty, and a devoted
attachment to his patron the proprietor.

The town of Cromarty had its poor imbecile man of quite a different
stamp. Jock Gordon had been, it was said, "like other people" till his
fourteenth year, when a severe attack of illness left him bankrupt in
both mind and body. He rose from his bed lame of a foot and hand, his
one side shrunken and nerveless, the one lobe of his brain apparently
inoperative, and with less than half his former energy and intellect;
not at all an idiot, however, though somewhat more helpless--the poor
mutilated fragment of a reasoning man. Among his other failings, he
stuttered lamentably. He became an inmate of the kitchen of Cromarty
House; and learned to run, or, I should rather say, to _limp_,
errands--for he had risen from the fever that ruined him to run no
more--with great fidelity and success. He was fond of church-going, of
reading good little books, and, notwithstanding his sad stutter, of
singing. During the day, he might be heard, as he hobbled along the
streets on business, "_singing in into himself_," as the children used
to say, in a low unvaried under-tone, somewhat resembling the humming of
a bee; but when night fell, the whole town heard him. He was no
patronizer of modern poets or composers. "There was a ship, and a ship
of fame," and "Death and the fair Lady," were his especial favourites;
and he could repeat the "Gosport Tragedy," and the "Babes in the Wood,"
from beginning to end. Sometimes he stuttered in the notes, and then
they lengthened on and on into a never-ending quaver that our first-rate
singers might have envied. Sometimes there was a sudden break--Jock had
been consulting the pocket in which he stored his bread; but no sooner
was his mouth half-cleared than he began again. In middle-life, however,
a great calamity overtook Jock. His patron, the occupant of Cromarty
House, quitted the country for France: Jock was left without occupation
or aliment; and the streets heard no more of his songs. He grew lank and
thin, and stuttered and limped more painfully than before, and was in
the last stage of privation and distress; when the benevolent proprietor
of Nigg, who resided half the year in a town-house in Cromarty, took
pity upon him, and introduced him to his kitchen. And in a few days Jock
was singing and limping errands with as much energy as ever. But the
time at length came when his new benefactor had to quit his house in
town for his seat in the country; and it behoved Jock to take temporary
leave of Cromarty, and follow him. And then the poor imbecile man of the
town-kitchen had, of course, to measure himself against his formidable
rival, the vigorous idiot of the country one.

On Jock's advent at Nigg--which had taken place a few weeks previous to
my engagement in the burying-ground of the parish--the character of
Angus seemed to dilate in energy and power. He repaired to the
churchyard with spade and pickaxe, and began digging a grave. It was a
grave, he said, for wicked Jock Gordon; and Jock, whether he thought it
or no, had come to Nigg, he added, only to be buried. Jock, however, was
not to be dislodged so; and Angus, professing sudden friendship for him,
gave expression to the magnanimous resolution, that he would not only
tolerate Jock, but also be very kind to him, and show him the place
where he kept all his money. He had lots of money, he said, which he had
hidden in a dike; but he would show the place to Jock Gordon--to poor
cripple Jock Gordon: he would show him the very hole, and Jock would get
it all. And so he brought Jock to the hole--a cavity in a turf-wall in
the neighbouring wood--and, taking care that his own way of retreat was
clear, he bade him insinuate his hand. No sooner had he done so,
however, than there issued forth from between his fingers a cloud of
wasps, of the variety so abundant in the north country, that build their
nests in earthy banks and old mole-hills; and poor Jock, ill fitted for
retreat in any sudden emergency, was stung within an inch of his life.
Angus returned in high glee, preaching about "wicked Jock Gordon, whom
the very wasps wouldn't let alone;" but though he pretended no further
friendship for a few days after, he again drew to him in apparent
kindness; and on the following Saturday, on Jock being despatched to a
neighbouring smithy with a sheep's head to singe, Angus volunteered his
services to show him the way.

Angus went trotting before; Jock came limping behind: the fields were
open and bare; the dwellings few and far between; and after having
passed, in about an hour's walking, half-a-dozen little hamlets, Jock
began to marvel exceedingly that there should be no sign of the smith's
shop. "Poor foolish Jock Gordon!" ejaculated Angus, quickening his trot
into a canter; "what does he know about carrying sheep's heads to the
smithy?" Jock laboured hard to keep up with his guide; quavering and
semi-quavering, as his breath served--for Jock always began to sing,
when in solitary places, after nightfall, as a protection against
ghosts. At length the daylight died entirely away, and he could only
learn from Angus that the smithy was further off than ever; and, to add
to his trouble and perplexity, the roughness of the ground showed him
that they were wandering from the road. First they went toiling athwart
what seemed an endless range of fields, separated from one another by
deep ditches and fences of stone; then they crossed over a dreary moor,
bristling with furze and sloe-thorn; then over a waste of bogs and
quagmires; then across a track of newly-ploughed land; and then they
entered a second wood. At length, after a miserable night's wandering,
day broke upon the two forlorn satyrs; and Jock found himself in a
strange country, with a long narrow lake in front and a wood behind. He
had wandered after his guide into the remote parish of Tarbet.

Tarbet abounded at that time in little muddy lakes, edged with
water-flags and reeds, and swarming with frogs and eels; and it was one
of the largest and deepest of these that now lay before Jock and his
guide. Angus tucked up his blue gown, as if to wade across. Jock would
have as soon thought of fording the German Ocean. "Oh, wicked Jock
Gordon!" exclaimed the fool, when he saw him hesitate; "the colonel's
waiting, poor man, for his head, and Jock will no' take it to the
smithy." He stepped into the water. Jock followed in sheer desperation;
and, after clearing the belt of reeds, both sank to the middle in the
mingled water and mud. Angus had at length accomplished the object of
his journey. Extricating himself in a moment--for he was lithe and
active--he snatched the sheep's head and trotters from Jock, and,
leaping ashore, left the poor man sticking fast. It was church-time ere
he reached, on his way back, the old Abbey of Fearn, still employed as a
Protestant place of worship; and as the sight of the gathering people
awakened his church-going propensity, he went in. He was in high
spirits--seemed, by the mouths he made, very much to admire the sermon,
and paraded the sheep's head and trotters through the passages and
gallery a score of times at least, like a monk of the order of St.
Francis exhibiting the relics of some favourite saint. In the evening he
found his way home, but learned, to his grief and astonishment, that
"wicked Jock Gordon" had got there shortly before him in a cart. The
poor man had remained sticking in the mud for three long hours after
Angus had left him, until at length the very frogs began to cultivate
his acquaintance, as they had done that of King Log of old; and in the
mud he would have been sticking still, had he not been extricated by a
farmer of Fearn, who, in coming to church, had taken the lake in his
way. He left Nigg, however, for Cromarty on the following day, convinced
that he was no match for his rival, and dubious how the next adventure
might terminate.

Such was the story which I found current in Nigg, when working in its
churchyard, with the hero of the adventure often beside me. It led me to
take special note of his class, and to collect facts respecting them, on
which I erected a sort of semi-metaphysical theory of human character,
which, though it would not now be regarded as by any means a novel one,
I had thought out for myself, and which possessed for me, in
consequence, the charm of originality. In these poor creatures, I thus
argued, we find, amid much general dilapidation and brokenness of mind,
certain instincts and peculiarities remaining entire. Here, in Angus,
for instance, there is that instinctive cunning which some of the lower
animals, such as the fox, possess, existing in a wonderful degree of
perfection. Pope himself, who "could not drink tea without a stratagem,"
could scarce have possessed a larger share of it. And yet how distinct
must not this sort of ingenuity be from the mechanical ingenuity! Angus
cannot fix a button in its hole. I even see him baffled by a tall
snuff-box, with a small quantity of snuff at its bottom, that lies
beyond the reach of his finger. He has not ingenuity enough to lay it on
its side, or to empty its snuff on his palm; but stretches and ever
stretches towards it the unavailing digit, and then gets angry to find
it elude his touch. There are other idiots, however, who have none of
Angus's cunning, in whom this mechanical ability is decidedly developed.
Many of the _crétins_ of the Alps are said to be remarkable for their
skill as artisans; and it is told of a Scotch idiot, who lived in a
cottage on the Maolbuie Common in the upper part of the Black Isle, and
in whom a similar mechanical ability existed, abstracted from ability of
almost every other kind, that, among other things, he fabricated, out of
a piece of rude metal, a large sacking needle. Angus is attached to his
patron, and mourns for the deceased lady; but he seems to have little
general regard for the species--simply courting for the time those from
whom he expects snuff. The Cromarty idiot, on the contrary, is obliging
and kindly to all, and bears a peculiar love to children; and, though
more an imbecile in some respects than even Angus, he has a turn for
dress, and can attire himself very neatly. In this last respect,
however, the Cromarty fool was excelled by an idiot of the last age,
known to the children of many a village and hamlet as Fool Charloch, who
used to go wandering about the country, adorned, somewhat in the style
of an Indian chief, with half a peacock's tail stuck in his cap. Yet
another idiot, a fierce and dangerous creature, seemed as invariably
malignant in his dispositions as the Cromarty one is benevolent, and
died in a prison, to which he was committed for killing a poor
half-witted associate. Yet another idiot of the north of Scotland had a
strange turn for the supernatural. He was a mutterer of charms, and a
watcher of omens, and possessed, it was said, the second sight. I
collected not a few other facts of a similar kind, and thus reasoned
regarding them:--

These idiots are imperfect men, from whose minds certain faculties have
been effaced, and other faculties left to exhibit themselves, all the
more prominently from the circumstances of their standing so much alone.
They resemble men who have lost their hands, but retain their feet, or
who have lost their sight or smell, but retain their taste and hearing.
But as the limbs and the senses, if they did not exist as separate parts
of the frame, could not be separately lost, so in the mind itself, or in
at least the organization through which the mind manifests itself,
there must also be separate parts, or they would not be thus found
isolated by Nature in her mutilated and abortive specimens. Those
metaphysicians who deal by the mind as if it were simply a general power
existing in _states_, must be scarce less in error than if they were to
regard the _senses_ as merely a general power existing in states,
instead of recognising them as distinct, independent powers, so various
often in their degree of development, that, from the full perfection of
any one of them, the perfection, or even the existence, of any of the
others cannot be predicated. If, for instance, it were--as some
physicians hold--the same general warmth of emotive power that glows in
benevolence and burns in resentment, the fierce, dangerous idiot that
killed his companion, and the kindly-dispositioned Cromarty one who
takes home pailfuls of water to the poor old women of the place, and
parts with his own toys to its children, would, instead of thus
exhibiting the opposite poles of character, at least so far resemble one
another, that the vindictive fool would at times be kindly and obliging,
and the benevolent one at times violent and resentful. But such is not
the case: the one is never madly savage--the other never genial and
kind; and so it seems legitimate to infer, that it is not a general
power or energy that acts through them in different states, but two
particular powers or energies, as unlike in their natures, and as
capable of acting apart, as seeing and hearing. Even powers which seem
to have so much in common, that the same words are sometimes made use of
in reference to both, may be as distinct as smelling and tasting. We
speak of the _cunning_ workman, and we speak of the _cunning_ man; and
refer to a certain faculty of contrivance manifested in dealing with
characters and affairs on the part of the one, and in dealing with
certain modifications of matter on the part of the other; but so
entirely different are the two faculties, and, further, so little
dependent are they, in at least their first elements, on intellect, that
we may find the cunning which manifests itself in affairs, existing, as
in Angus, totally dissociated from mechanical skill; and, on the other
hand, the cunning of the artisan, existing, as in the idiot of the
Maolbuie, totally dissociated from that of the diplomatist. In short,
regarding idiots as persons of fragmentary mind, in whom certain primary
mental elements may be found standing out in a state of great
entireness, and all the more striking in their relief from the
isolation, I came to view them as _bits of analysis_, if I may so
express myself, made to my hand by Nature, and from the study of which I
could conceive of the structure of minds of a more complete, and
therefore more complex character. As children learn the alphabet from
cards, each of which contains only a letter or two a-piece, printed
large, I held at this time, and, with a few modifications, hold still,
that those primary sentiments and propensities which form the basis of
character, may be found separately stamped in the same way on the
comparatively blank minds of the imbecile; and that the student of
mental philosophy might learn from them what may be regarded as the
alphabet of his science, much more truthfully than from those
metaphysicians who represent mind as a power not manifested in
contemporaneous and separable faculties, but as existing in consecutive
states.

Cromarty had been fortunate in its parish ministers. From the death of
its last curate, shortly after the Revolution, and, the consequent
return of its old "outed minister," who had resigned his living for
conscience' sake, twenty-eight years before, and now came to spend his
evening of life with his people, it had enjoyed the services of a series
of devout and popular men; and so the cause of the Establishment was
particularly strong in both town and parish. At the beginning of the
present century Cromarty had not its single Dissenter; and though a few
of what were known as "Haldane's people" might be found in it, some
eight or ten years later they failed in effecting a lodgment, and
ultimately quitted it for a neighbouring town. Almost all the Dissent
that has arisen in Scotland since the Revolution has been an effect of
Moderatism and forced settlements; and as the place had known neither,
its people continued to harbour within the Church of their fathers, nor
wished to change. A vacancy had occurred in the incumbency, during my
sojourn in the south, through the death of the incumbent, the respected
minister of my childhood and youth; and I found, on my return, a new
face in the pulpit. It was that of a remarkable man--the late Mr.
Stewart of Cromarty--one of at once the most original thinkers and
profound theologians I ever knew; though he has, alas! left as little
mark of his exquisite talent behind him, as those sweet singers of
former ages, the memory of whose enchanting notes has died, save as a
doubtful echo, with the generation that heard them. I sat, with few
interruptions, for sixteen years under his ministry; and for nearly
twelve of these enjoyed his confidence and friendship.

I never could press myself on the notice of superior men, however
desirous of forming their acquaintance; and have, in consequence, missed
opportunities innumerable of coming in friendly contact with persons
whom it would be at once a pleasure and an honour to know. And so, for
the first two years, or rather more, I was content to listen with
profound attention to the pulpit addresses of my new minister, and to
appear as a catechumen, when my turn came, at his diets of catechising.
He had been struck, however, as he afterwards told me, by my sustained
attention when at church; and, on making inquiry regarding me among his
friends, he was informed that I was a great reader, and, it was
believed, a writer of verse. And coming unwittingly out upon him one day
as he was passing, when quitting my work-place for the street, he
addressed me "Well, lad," he said, "it is your dinner hour: I hear I
have a poet among my people?" "I doubt it much," I replied. "Well," he
rejoined, "one may fall short of being a poet, and yet gain by
exercising one's tastes and talents in the poetic walk. The
accomplishment of verse is at least not a vulgar one." The conversation
went on as we passed together along the street; and he stood for a time
opposite the manse door. "I am forming," he said, "a small library for
our Sabbath-school scholars and teachers: most of the books are simple
enough little things; but it contains a few works of the intellectual
class. Call upon me this evening that we may look over them, and you may
perhaps find among them some volumes you would wish to read." I
accordingly waited upon him in the evening; and we had a long
conversation together. He was, I saw, curiously sounding me, and taking
my measure in all directions; or, as he himself afterwards used to
express it in his characteristic way, he was like a traveller who,
having come unexpectedly on a dark pool in a ford, dips down his staff,
to ascertain the depth of the water and the nature of the bottom. He
inquired regarding my reading, and found that in the belles-lettres,
especially in English literature, it was about as extensive as his own.
He next inquired respecting my acquaintance with the metaphysicians.
"Had I read Reid?" "Yes." "Brown?" "Yes." "_Hume?_" "Yes." "Ah! ha!
Hume!! By the way, has he not something very ingenious about miracles?
Do you remember his argument?" I stated the argument. "Ah, very
ingenious--most ingenious. And how would you answer that?" I said, "I
thought I could give an abstract of the reply of Campbell," and sketched
in outline the reverend Doctor's argument. "And do you deem that
satisfactory?" said the minister. "No, not at all," I replied. "No! no!
_that's_ not satisfactory." "But perfectly satisfactory," I rejoined,
"that such is the general partiality for the better side, that the worse
argument has been received as perfectly adequate for the last sixty
years." The minister's face gleamed with the broad fun that entered so
largely into his composition, and the conversation shifted into other
channels.

From that night forward I enjoyed perhaps more of his confidence and
conversation than any other man in his parish. Many an hour did he spend
beside me in the churchyard, and many a quiet tea did I enjoy in the
manse; and I learned to know how much solid worth and true wisdom lay
under the somewhat eccentric exterior of a man who sacrificed scarce
anything to the conventionalities. This, with the exception of Chalmers,
sublimest of Scottish preachers--for, little as he was known, I will
challenge for him that place--was a genial man, who, for the sake of a
joke, would sacrifice anything save principle; but, though marvellously
careless of maintaining intact the "gloss of the clerical enamel," never
was there sincerity more genuine than his, or a more thorough honesty.
Content to be in the right, he never thought of simulating it, and
sacrificed even less than he ought to appearances. I may mention, that
on coming to Edinburgh, I found the peculiar taste formed under the
ministrations of Mr. Stewart most thoroughly gratified under those of
Dr. Guthrie; and that in looking round the congregation, I saw, with
pleasure rather than surprise, that all Mr. Stewart's people resident in
Edinburgh had come to the same conclusion; for there--sitting in the
Doctor's pews--they all were. Certainly in fertility of illustration, in
soul-stirring, evangelistic doctrine, and in a general basis of rich
humour, the resemblance between the deceased and the living minister
seems complete; but genius is always unique; and while in breadth of
popular power Dr. Guthrie stands alone among living preachers, I have
never either heard or read argument in the analogical field that in
ingenuity or originality equalled that of Mr. Stewart.

That in which he specially excelled all the men I ever knew was the
power of detecting and establishing occult resemblances. He seemed able
to read off, as if by intuition--not by snatches and fragments, but as a
consecutive whole--that old revelation of type and symbol which God
first gave to man; and when privileged to listen to him, I have been
constrained to recognise, in the evident integrity of the reading, and
the profound and consistent theological system which the pictorial
record conveyed, a demonstration of the divinity of its origin, not less
powerful and convincing than the demonstrations of the other and more
familiar departments of the Christian evidences. Compared with other
theologians in this province, I have felt under his ministry as if, when
admitted to the company of some party of modern _savans_ employed in
deciphering a hieroglyphic covered obelisk of the desert, and here
successful in discovering the meaning of an insulated sign, and there of
a detached symbol, we had been suddenly joined by some sage of the olden
time, to whom the mysterious inscription was but a piece of common
language written in a familiar alphabet, and who could read off
fluently, and as a whole, what the others could but darkly guess at in
detached and broken parts. To this singular power of tracing analogies
there was added in Mr. Stewart an ability of originating the most vivid
illustrations. In some instances a sudden stroke produced a figure that
at once illuminated the subject-matter of his discourse, like the light
of a lanthorn flashed hastily upon a painted wall; in others he dwelt
upon an illustrative picture, finishing it with stroke after stroke,
until it filled the whole imagination, and sank deep into the memory. I
remember hearing him preach, on one occasion, on the return of the Jews
as a people to HIM whom they had rejected, and the effect which their
sudden conversion could not fail to have on the unbelieving and Gentile
world. Suddenly his language, from its high level of eloquent
simplicity, became that of metaphor, "When JOSEPH," he said, "shall
reveal himself to his _brethren_, the _whole house of Pharaoh shall hear
the weeping_." On another occasion I heard him dwell on that vast
profundity, characteristic of the scriptural revelation of God, which
ever deepens and broadens the longer and more thoroughly it is explored,
until at length the student--struck at first by its expansiveness, but
conceiving of it as if it were a mere _measured_ expansiveness--finds
that it partakes of the unlimited infinity of the Divine nature itself.
Naturally and simply, as if growing out of the subject, like a
berry-covered mistletoe out of the massy trunk of an oak, there sprung
up one of his more lengthened illustrations. A child bred up in the
interior of the country has been brought for the first time to the
sea-shore, and carried out into the middle of one of the noble firths
that indent so deeply our line of coast. And, on his return, he
describes to his father, with all a child's eagerness, the wonderful
expansiveness of the _ocean_ which he had seen. He went out, he tells
him, far amid the great waves and the rushing tides, until at length the
hills seemed diminished into mere hummocks, and the wide land itself
appeared along the waters but as a slim strip of blue. And then, when in
mid-sea, the sailors heaved the lead; and it went down, and down, and
down, and the long line slipped swiftly away, coil after coil, till, ere
the plummet rested on the ooze below, all was well-nigh expended. And
was it not the great sea, asks the boy, that was so vastly broad, and so
profoundly deep? Ah! my child, exclaims the father, you have not seen
aught of its greatness: you have sailed over merely one of its little
arms. Had it been out into the wide ocean that the seamen had carried
you, "you would have _seen_ no shore, and you would have _found_ no
bottom." In one rare quality of the orator Mr. Stewart stood alone among
his contemporaries. Pope refers to a strange power of creating love and
admiration by "just touching the brink of all we hate." And Burke, in
some of his nobler passages, happily exemplifies the thing. He
intensified the effect of his burning eloquence by the employment of
figures so homely--nay, almost so repulsive--that the man of lower
powers who ventured on their use would find them effective in but
lowering his subject, and ruining his cause. I need but refer, in
illustration, to the well-known figure of the disembowelled bird, which
occurs in the indignant denial that the character of the revolutionary
French in aught resembled that of the English. "We have not," says the
orator, "been drawn and trussed, in order that we may be filled, like
stuffed birds in a museum, with chaff, and rags, and paltry blurred
shreds of paper about the rights of man." Into this perilous but
singularly effective department, closed against even superior men, Mr.
Stewart could enter safely and at will. One of the last sermons I heard
him preach--a discourse of singular power--was on the "Sin-offering" of
the Jewish economy, as minutely described in Leviticus. He drew a
picture of the slaughtered animal, foul with dust and blood, and
streaming, in its impurity, to the sun, as it awaited the consuming fire
amid the uncleanness of ashes outside the camp--its throat gashed
across--its entrails laid open; a vile and horrid thing, which no one
could see without experiencing emotions of disgust, nor touch without
contracting defilement. The description appeared too painfully
vivid--its introduction too little in accordance with the rules of a
just taste. But the master in this difficult walk knew what he was
doing. And that, he said, pointing to the strongly-coloured picture he
had just completed--"And THAT IS SIN." By one stroke the intended effect
was produced, and the rising disgust and horror transferred from the
revolting material image to the great moral evil.

How could such a man pass from earth, and leave no trace behind him?
Mainly, I believe, from two several causes. As the minister of an
attached provincial congregation, a sense of duty, and the promptings of
a highly intellectual nature, to which exertion was enjoyment, led him
to study much and deeply; and he poured forth _viva voce_ his
full-volumed and ever-sparkling tide of eloquent idea, as freely and
richly as the nightingale, unconscious of a listener, pours forth her
melody in the shade. But, strangely diffident of his own powers, he
could not be made to believe that what so much impressed and delighted
the privileged few who surrounded him, was equally suited to impress
and delight the intellectual many outside; or that he was fitted to
speak through the press in tones which would compel the attention, not
merely of the religious, but also of the literary world. Further,
practising but little the art of elaborate composition, and master of a
spoken style more effective for the purposes of the pulpit than almost
any written one, save that of Chalmers, he failed, in all his attempts
in writing, to satisfy a fastidious taste, which he had suffered greatly
to outgrow his ability of production. And so he failed to leave any
adequate mark behind him. I find that for my stock of theological idea,
not directly derived from Scripture, I stand more indebted to two Scotch
theologians than to all other men of their profession and class. The one
of these was Thomas Chalmers--the other, Alexander Stewart: the one a
name known wherever the English language is spoken; while of the other
it is only remembered, and by comparatively a few, that the impression
did exist at the time of his death, that


    "A mighty spirit was eclipsed--a power
    Had passed from day to darkness, to whose hour
    Of light no likeness was bequeathed--no name."



CHAPTER XIX.

    "See yonder poor o'er-labour'd wight,
      So abject, mean, and vile,
    Who begs a brother of the earth
      To give him leave to toil;
    And see his lordly _fellow-worm_
      The poor petition spurn."--BURNS.


Work failed me about the end of June 1828; and, acting on the advice of
a friend who believed that my style of cutting inscriptions could not
fail to secure for me a good many little jobs in the churchyards of
Inverness, I visited that place, and inserted a brief advertisement in
one of the newspapers, soliciting employment. I ventured to characterize
my style of engraving as neat and _correct_; laying especial emphasis on
the correctness, as a quality not very common among the stone-cutters of
the north. It was not a Scotch, but an English mason, who, when engaged,
at the instance of a bereaved widower, in recording on his wife's
tombstone that a "virtuous woman is a _crown_ to her husband," corrupted
the text, in his simplicity, by substituting "5s." for the "_crown_."
But even Scotch masons do make odd enough mistakes at times, especially
in the provinces; and I felt it would be something gained could I but
get an opportunity of showing the Inverness public that I had at least
English enough to avoid the commoner errors. My verses, thought I, are
at least tolerably correct: could I not get some one or two copies
introduced into the poet's corner of the _Inverness Courier_ or
_Journal_, and thus show that I have literature enough to be trusted
with the cutting of an epitaph on a gravestone? I had a letter of
introduction from a friend in Cromarty to one of the ministers of the
place, himself an author, and a person of influence with the proprietors
of the _Courier_; and, calculating on some amount of literary sympathy
from a man accustomed to court the public through the medium of the
press, I thought I might just venture on stating the case to him. I
first, however, wrote a brief address, in octo-syllabic quatrains, to
the river which flows through the town, and gives to it its name;--a
composition which has, I find, more of the advertisement in it than is
quite seemly, but which would have perhaps expressed less confidence had
it been written less under the influence of a shrinking timidity, that
tried to reassure itself by words of comfort and encouragement.

I was informed that the minister's hour for receiving visitors of the
humbler class was between eleven and twelve at noon; and, with the
letter of introduction and my copy of verses in my pocket, I called at
the manse, and was shown into a little narrow ante-room, furnished with
two seats of deal that ran along the opposite walls. I found the place
occupied by some six or seven individuals--more than half their number
old withered women, in very shabby habiliments, who, as I soon learned
from a conversation which they kept up in a grave under-tone, about
weekly allowances, and the partialities of the session, were paupers.
The others were young men, who had apparently serious requests to prefer
anent marriage and baptism; for I saw that one of them was ever and anon
drawing from his breast-pocket a tattered copy of the Shorter Catechism,
and running over the questions; and I overheard another asking his
neighbour "who drew up the contract lines for him," and "where he had
got the whisky." The minister entered; and as he passed into the inner
room, we all rose. He stood for a moment in the doorway, and, beckoning
on one of the young men--him of the Catechism--they went in together,
and the door closed. They remained closeted together for about twenty
minutes or half an hour, and then the young man went out; and another
young man--he who had procured the contract lines and the whisky--took
his place. The interview in this second case, however, was much shorter
than the first; and a very few minutes served to despatch the business
of the third young man; and then the minister, coming to the doorway,
looked first at the old women and then at me, as if mentally determining
our respective claims to priority; and, mine at length prevailing--I
know not on what occult principle--I was beckoned in. I presented my
letter of introduction, which was graciously read; and though the nature
of the business did strike me as ludicrously out of keeping with the
place, and it did cost me some little trouble to suppress at one time a
burst of laughter, that would, of course, have been prodigiously
improper in the circumstances, I detailed to him in a few words my
little plan, and handed him my copy of verses. He read them aloud with
slow deliberation.


               ODE TO THE NESS.

    Child of the lake! whose silvery gleam
      Cheers the rough desert, dark and lone,[11]--
    A brown, deep, sullen, restless stream,
      With ceaseless speed thou hurriest on.
    And yet thy banks with flowers are gay;
      The sun laughs on thy troubled breast;
    And o'er thy tides the zephyrs play,
      Though nought be thine of quiet rest.[12]

    Stream of the lake! to him who strays,
      Lonely, thy winding marge along,
    Not fraught with lore of other days,
      And yet not all unblest in song--
    To him thou tell'st of busy men,
      Who madly waste their present day.
    Pursuing hopes, baseless as vain,
      While life, untasted, glides away.

    Stream of the lake! why hasten on?
      A boist'rous ocean spreads before,
    Where dash dark tides, and wild winds moan,
      And foam-wreaths skirt a cheerless shore,
    Nor bending flowers, nor waving fields,
      Nor aught of rest is there for thee;
    But rest to thee no pleasure yields;
      Then haste and join the stormy sea!

    Stream of the lake! of bloody men,
      Who thirst the guilty fight to try--
    Who seek for joy in mortal pain,
      Music in misery's thrilling cry--
    Thou tell'st: peace yields no joy to them,
      Nor harmless Pleasure's golden smile;
    Of evil deed the cheerless fame
      Is all the meed that crowns their toil.

    Not such would prove if Pleasure shone--
      Stream of the deep and peaceful lake!--
    His course, whom Hardship urges on,
      Through cheerless waste and thorny brake.
    For, ah! each pleasing scene he loves,
      And peace is all his heart's desire;
    And, ah! of scenes where Pleasure roves,
      And Peace, could gentle minstrel tire?

    Stream of the lake! for thee await
      The tempests of an angry main;
    A brighter hope, a happier fate,
      He boasts, whose present course is pain.
    Yes, even for him may death prepare
      A home of pleasure, peace, and love;
    Thus blessed by hope, little his care.
      Though rough his present course may prove.


The minister paused as he concluded, and looked puzzled. "Pretty well, I
daresay," he said; "but I do not now read poetry. You, however, use a
word that is not English--'Thy winding _marge_ along.' Marge!--What is
marge?" "You will find it in Johnson," I said. "Ah, but we must not use
all the words we find in Johnson." "But the poets make frequent use of
it." "What poets?" "Spenser." "Too old--too old; no authority now," said
the minister. "But the Wartons also use it." "I don't know the Wartons."
"It occurs also," I iterated, "in one of the most finished sonnets of
Henry Kirke White." "What sonnet?" "That to the river Trent.


    'Once more, O Trent! along thy pebbly marge,
      A pensive invalid, reduced and pale,
    From the close sick-room newly set at large,
      Woos to his woe-worn cheek the pleasant gale.'


It is, in short, one of the common English words of the poetic
vocabulary." Could a man in quest of patronage, and actually at the time
soliciting a favour, possibly contrive to say anything more imprudent?
And this, too, to a gentleman so much accustomed to be deferred to when
he took up his ground on the _Standards_, as sometimes to forget,
through the sheer force of habit, that he was not a standard himself! He
coloured to the eyes; and his condescending humility, which seemed, I
thought, rather too great for the occasion, and was of a kind which my
friend Mr. Stewart never used to exhibit, appeared somewhat ruffled. "I
have no acquaintance," he said, "with the editor of the _Courier_; we
take opposite sides on very important questions; and I cannot recommend
your verses to him; but call on Mr. ----; he is one of the proprietors;
and, with _my compliments_, state your case to him; he will be perhaps
able to assist you. Meanwhile, I wish you all success." The minister
hurried me out, and one of the withered old women was called in. "This,"
I said to myself, as I stepped into the street, "is the sort of
patronage which letters of introduction procure for one. I don't think
I'll seek any more of it."

Meeting on the street, however, with, two Cromarty friends, one of whom
was just going to call on the gentleman named by the minister, he
induced me to accompany him. The other said, as he took his separate
way, that having come to visit an old townsman settled in Inverness, a
man of some influence in the burgh, he would state my case to him; and
he was sure he would exert himself to procure me employment. I have
already referred to the remark of Burns. It is recorded by his brother
Gilbert, that the poet used often to say, "That he could not well
conceive a more mortifying picture of human life, than a man seeking
work;" and that the exquisite dirge, "Man was made to mourn," owes its
existence to the sentiment. The feeling is certainly a very depressing
one; and as on most other occasions work rather sought me than I the
work, I experienced more of it at this time than at any other period of
my life. I of course could hardly expect that people should die off and
require epitaphs merely to accommodate me. That demand of employment as
a right in all cases and circumstances, which the more extreme
"claims-of-labour men" do not scruple to urge, is the result of a sort
of indignant reaction on this feeling--a feeling which became poetry in
Burns and nonsense in the Communists; but which I experienced neither as
nonsense nor poetry, but simply as a depressing conviction that I was
one man too many in the world. The gentleman on whom I now called with
my friend was a person both of business habits and literary tastes; but
I saw that my poetic scheme rather damaged me in his estimation. The
English verse produced at this time in the far north was of a kind ill
fitted for the literary market, and usually published, or rather
printed--for published it never was--by that teasing subscription scheme
which so often robs men of good money, and gives them bad books in
exchange; and he seemed to set me down as one of the annoying
semi-beggar class;--rather a mistake, I should hope. He, however,
obligingly introduced me to a gentleman of literature and science, the
secretary of a society of the place, antiquarian and scientific in its
character, termed the "Northern Institution," and the honorary
conservator of its museum--an interesting miscellaneous collection which
I had previously seen, and in connexion with which I had formed my only
other scheme of getting into employment.

I wrote that old English hand which has been revived of late by the
general rage for the mediæval, but which at that time was one of the
lost arts, with much neatness; and could produce imitations of the
illuminated manuscripts that preceded our printed books, which even an
antiquary would have pronounced respectable. And, addressing the members
of the Northern Institution on the character and tendency of their
pursuits, in a somewhat lengthy piece of verse, written in what I least
intended to be the manner of Dryden, as exemplified in his middle-style
poems, such as the _Religio Laici_, I engrossed it in the old hand, and
now called on the Secretary, to request that he would present it at the
first meeting of the Society, which was to be held, I understood, in a
few days. The Secretary was busy at his desk; but he received me
politely, spoke approvingly of my work as an imitation of the old
manuscript, and obligingly, charged himself with its delivery at the
meeting: and so we parted for the time, not in the least aware that
there was a science which dealt with characters greatly more ancient
than those of the old manuscripts, and laden with profounder meanings,
in which we both took a deep interest, and regarding which we could have
exchanged facts and ideas with mutual pleasure and profit. The Secretary
of the Northern Institution at this time was Mr. George Anderson, the
well-known geologist, and joint author with his brother of the admirable
"Guide-Book to the Highlands," which bears their name. I never heard how
my address fared. It would, of course, have been tabled--looked at, I
suppose, for a few seconds by a member or two--and then set aside; and
it is probably still in the archives of the Institution, awaiting the
light of future ages, when its simulated antiquity shall have become
real. It was not written in a character to be read, nor, I fear, very
readable in any character; and so the members of the Institution must
have remained ignorant of all the wisdom I had found in their pursuits,
antiquarian and ethnological. The following forms an average specimen of
the production:--


                                "Tis yours to trace
    Each deep-fixed trait that marks the human race;
    And as the Egyptian priests, with mystery fraught,
    By signs, not words, of Sphynx, and Horus taught,
    So, 'mid your stores, by _things_, not books, ye scan
    The powers, scope, history, of the mind of man.
    Yon chequered wall displays the arms of war
    Of times remote, and nations distant far;
    Alas! the club and brand but serve to show
    How wide extends the reign of wrong and woe;
    And tores uncouth, and feathery circlets, tell
    In human hearts what gewgaw follies dwell.
    Yes! all that man has framed his image bears;
    And much of hate, and much of pride, appears.
      "Pleasant it is each diverse step to scan,
    By which the savage first assumes the man;
    To mark what feelings sway his softening breast,
    Or what strong passion triumphs o'er the rest.
    Narrow of heart, or free, or brave, or base,
    Ev'n in the infant we the man may trace;
    And from the rude ungainly sires may know
    Each striking trait the polished sons shall show.
    Dependent on what moods assume the reign,
    Science shall smile, or spread her stores in vain:
    As coward fears, or generous passions sway,
    Shall freedom reign, or heartless slaves obey.
      "Not unto chance must aught of power be given,--
    A country's genius is the gift of Heaven.
    What warms the poet's lays with generous fire,
    To which no toil can reach, no art aspire?
    Who taught the sage, with deepest wisdom fraught,
    While scarce one pupil grasps the ponderous thought?
    Nay, wherefore ask?--as Heaven the mind bestows,
    A Napier calculates and a Thomson glows.
    Now turn to where, beneath the city wall,
    The sun's fierce rays in unbroke splendour fall;
    Vacant and weak, there sits the idiot boy,
    Of pain scarce conscious, scarce alive to joy;
    A thousand busy sounds around him roar;
    Trade wields the tool, and Commerce plies the oar;
    But, all unheeding of the restless scene,
    Of toil he nothing knows, and nought of gain:
    The thoughts of common minds were strange to him,
    Ev'n as to such a Napier's thoughts would seem.
    Thus, as in men, in peopled states, we find
    Unequal powers, and varied tones of mind:
    Timid or dauntless, high of thought or low,
    O'erwhelmed with phlegm, or fraught with fire they glow
    And as the sculptor's art is better shown
    In Parian marble than in porous stone,
    Wreaths fresh or sear'd repay refinement's toil,
    As genius owns or dulness stamps the soil.
    Where isles of coral stud the southern main,
    And painted kings and cinctured warriors reign,
    Nations there are who native worth possess,--
    Whom every art shall court, each science bless:
    And tribes there are, heavy of heart and slow,
    On whom no coming age a change shall know."


There was, I suspect, a waste of effort in all this planning; but some
men seem destined to do things clumsily and ill, at many times the
expense which serves to secure success to the more adroit. I despatched
my Ode to the newspaper, accompanied by a letter of explanation; but it
fared as ill as my Address to the Institution; and a single line in
italics in the next number intimated that it was not to appear. And thus
both my schemes were, as they ought to be, knocked on the head. I have
not schemed any since. Strategy is, I fear, not my forte; and it is idle
to attempt doing in spite of nature what one has not been born to do
well. Besides, I began to be seriously dissatisfied with myself: there
seemed to be nothing absolutely wrong in a man who wanted honest
employment taking this way of showing he was capable of it; but I felt
the spirit within rise against it; and so I resolved to ask no more
favours of any one, even should poets' corners remain shut against me
for ever, or however little Institutions, literary or scientific, might
favour me with their notice. I strode along the streets, half an inch
taller on the strength of the resolution; and straightway, as if to
reward me for my magnanimity, an offer of employment came my way
unsolicited. I was addressed by the recruiting serjeant of a Highland
regiment, who asked me if I did not belong to the Aird? "No, not to the
Aird; to Cromarty," I replied. "Ah, to Cromarty--very fine place! But
would you not better bid adieu to Cromarty, and come along with me? We
have a capital grenadier company; and in our regiment a stout steady
man is always sure to get on." I thanked him, but declined his
invitation; and, with an apology on his part, which was not in the least
needed or expected, we parted.

Though verse and old English failed me, the simple statement made by my
Cromarty friend to my townsman located in Inverness, that I was a good
workman, and wanted work, procured me at once the cutting of an
inscription, and two little jobs in Cromarty besides, which I was to
execute on my return home. The Inverness job was soon completed; but I
had the near prospect of another; and as the little bit of the public
that came my way approved of my cutting, I trusted employment would flow
in apace. I lodged with a worthy old widow, conscientious and devout,
and ever doing her humble work consciously in the eye of the Great
Taskmaster--one of a class of persons not at all so numerous in the
world as might be desirable, but sufficiently common to render it rather
a marvel that some of our modern masters of fiction should never have
chanced--judging from their writings--to come in contact with any of
them. She had an only son, a working cabinetmaker, who used occasionally
to annoy her by his silly jokes at serious things, and who was courting
at this time a sweetheart who had five hundred pounds in the bank--an
immensely large sum to a man in his circumstances. He had urged his suit
with such apparent success, that the marriage-day was fixed and at hand,
and the house which he had engaged as his future residence fully
furnished. And it was his prospective brother-in-law who was to be my
new employer, so soon as the wedding should leave him leisure enough to
furnish epitaphs for two tombstones recently placed in the family
burying-ground. The wedding-day arrived; and, to be out of the way of
the bustle and the pageant, I retired to the house of a neighbour, a
carpenter, whom I had obliged by a few lessons in practical geometry and
architectural drawing. The carpenter was at the wedding; and, with the
whole house to myself, I was engaged in writing, when up flew the door,
and in rushed my pupil the carpenter. "What has happened?" I asked.
"Happened!" said the carpenter,--"Happened!! The bride's away with
another man!! The bridegroom has taken to his bed, and raves like a
madman; and his poor old mother--good honest woman--is crying like a
child. Do come and see what can be done." I accompanied him to my
landlady's, where I found the bridegroom in a paroxysm of mingled grief
and rage, congratulating himself on his escape, and bemoaning his
unhappy disappointment, by turns. He lay athwart the bed, which he told
me in the morning he had quitted for the last time; but as I entered, he
half rose, and, seizing on a pair of new shoes which had been prepared
for the bride, and lay on a table beside him, he hurled them against the
wall, first the one and then the other, until they came rebounding back
across the room; and then, with an exclamation that need not be
repeated, he dashed himself down again. I did my best to comfort his
poor mother, who seemed to feel very keenly the slight done to her son,
and to anticipate with dread the scandal and gossip of which it would
render her humble household the subject. She seemed sensible, however,
that he had made an escape, and at once acquiesced in my suggestion,
that all that should now be done would be to get every expense her son
had been at in his preparations for housekeeping and the wedding
transferred to the shoulders of the other party. And such an arrangement
could, I thought, be easily effected through the bride's brother, who
seemed to be a reasonable man, and who would be aware also that a suit
at law could be instituted in the case against his sister; though in any
such suit I held it might be best for both parties not to engage. And at
the old woman's request, I set out with the carpenter to wait on the
bride's brother, in order to see whether he was not prepared for some
such arrangement as I suggested, and, besides, able to furnish us with
some explanation of the extraordinary step taken by the bride.

We were overtaken, as we passed along the street, by a person who was,
he said, in search of us, and who now requested us to accompany him;
and, threading our way, under his guidance, through a few narrow lanes
that traverse the assemblage of houses on the west bank of the Ness, we
stopped at the door of an obscure alehouse. This, said our conductor, we
have found to be the retreat of the bride. He ushered us into a room
occupied by some eight or ten persons, drawn up on the opposite sides,
with a blank space between. On the one side sat the bride, a
high-coloured, buxom young girl, serene and erect as Britannia on the
halfpennies, and guarded by two stout fellows, masons or slaters
apparently, in their working dresses. They looked hard at the carpenter
and me as we entered, of course regarding us as the assailants against
whom they would have to maintain their prize. On the other side sat a
group of the bride's relatives--among the rest her brother--silent, and
all apparently very much grieved; while in the space between them there
stumped up and down a lame, sallow-complexioned oddity, in shabby black,
who seemed to be making a set oration, to which no one replied, about
the sacred claims of love, and the cruelty of interfering with the
affections of young people. Neither the carpenter nor myself felt any
inclination to debate with the orator, or fight with the guards, or yet
to interfere with the affections of the young lady; and so, calling out
the brother into another room, and expressing our regret at what had
happened, we stated our case, and found him, as we had expected, very
reasonable. We could not, however, treat for the absent bridegroom, nor
could he engage for his sister; and so we had to part without coming to
any agreement. There were points about the case which at first I could
not understand. My jilted acquaintance the cabinetmaker had not only
enjoyed the countenance of all his mistress's relatives, but he had been
also as well received by herself as lovers usually are: she had written
him kind letters, and accepted of his presents; and then, just as her
friends were sitting down to the marriage breakfast, she had eloped
with another man. The other man, however--a handsome fellow, but great
scamp--had a prior claim to her regards: he had been the lover of her
choice, though detested by her brother and all her friends, who were
sufficiently well acquainted with his character to know that he would
land her in ruin; and during his absence in the country, where he was
working as a slater, they had lent their influence and countenance to my
acquaintance the cabinetmaker, in order to get her married to a
comparatively safe man, out of the slater's reach. And, not very strong
of will, she had acquiesced in the arrangement. On the eve of the
marriage, however, the slater had come into town; and, exchanging
clothes with an acquaintance a Highland soldier, he had walked
unsuspected opposite her door, until, finding an opportunity of
conversing with her on the morning of the wedding-day, he had
represented her new lover as a silly, ill-shaped fellow, who had just
head enough to be mercenary, and himself as one of the most devoted and
disconsolate of lovers. And, his soft tongue and fine leg gaining the
day, she had left the marriage guests to enjoy their tea and toast
without her, and set off with him to the change-house. Ultimately the
affair ended ill for all parties. I lost my job, for I saw no more of
the bride's brother; the wrong-headed cabinetmaker, contrary to the
advice of his mother and her lodger, entered into a law-suit, in which
he got small damages and much vexation; and the slater and his mistress
broke out into such a course of dissipation after becoming man and wife,
that they and the five hundred pounds came to an end almost together.
Shortly after, my landlady and her son quitted the country for the
United States. So favourably had the poor woman impressed me as one of
the truly excellent, that I took a journey from Cromarty to Inverness--a
distance of nineteen miles--to bid her farewell; but I found, on my
arrival, her house shut up, and learned that she had left the place for
some sailing port on the west coast two days before. She was a humble
washerwoman; but I am convinced that in the other world, which she must
have entered long ere now, she ranks considerably higher!

I waited on in Inverness, in the hope that, according to Burns, "my
brothers of the earth would give me leave to toil;" but the hope was a
vain one, as I succeeded in procuring no second job. There was no lack,
however, of the sort of employment which I could cut out for myself; but
the remuneration--only now in the process of being realized, and that
very slowly--had to be deferred to a distant day. I had to give more
than twelve years' _credit_ to the pursuits that engaged me: and as my
capital was small, it was rather a trying matter to be "kept so long out
of my wages." There is a wonderful group of what are now termed _osars_,
in the immediate neighbourhood of Inverness--a group to which that Queen
of Scottish tomhans, the picturesque Tomnahuirich, belongs, and to the
examination of which I devoted several days. But I learned only to state
the difficulty which they form--not to solve it; and now that Agassiz
has promulgated his glacial theory, and that traces of the great ice
agencies have been detected all over Scotland, the mystery of the
_osars_ remains a mystery still. I succeeded, however, in determining at
this time, that they belong to a later period than the boulder clay,
which I found underlying the great gravel formation of which they form a
part, in a section near Loch Ness that had been laid open shortly
before, in excavating for the great Caledonian Canal. And as all, or
almost all, the shells of the boulder clay are of species that still
live, we may infer that the mysterious osars were formed not very long
ere the introduction upon our planet of the inquisitive little creature
that has been puzzling himself--hitherto at least with no satisfactory
result--in attempting to account for their origin. I examined, too, with
some care, the old coast-line, so well developed in this neighbourhood
as to form one of the features of its striking scenery, and which must
be regarded as the geological memorial and representative of those
latter ages of the world in which the human epoch impinged on the old
Pre-Adamite periods. The magistrates of the place were engaged at the
time in doing their duty, like sensible men, as they were, in what I
could not help thinking a somewhat barbarous instance. The neat, well
proportioned, very uninteresting jail-spire of the burgh, about which,
in its integrity, no one cares anything, had been shaken by an
earthquake, which took place in the year 1816, into one of the greatest
curiosities in the kingdom. The earthquake, which, for a Scotch one, had
been unprecedentedly severe, especially in the line of the great
Caledonian Valley, had, by a strange vorticose motion, twisted round the
spire, so that, at the transverse line of displacement, the _panes_ and
corners of the octagonal broach which its top formed overshot their
proper positions fully seven inches. The corners were carried into
nearly the middle of the _panes_, as if some gigantic hand, in
attempting to twirl round the building by the spire, as one twirls round
a spinning top by the stalk or bole, had, from some failure in the
coherency of the masonry, succeeded in turning round only the part of
which it had laid hold. Sir Charles Lyell figures, in his "Principles,"
similar shifts in stones of two obelisks in a Calabrian convent, and
subjoins the ingenious suggestion on the subject of Messrs. Darwin and
Mallet. And here was there a Scotch example of the same sort of
mysterious phenomena, not less curious than the Calabrian one, and
certainly unique in its character _as Scotch_, which, though the injured
building had already stood twelve years in its displaced condition, and
might stand for as many more as the hanging tower of Pisa, the
magistrates were laboriously effacing at the expense of the burgh. They
were completely successful too; and the jail spire was duly restored to
its state of original insignificance, as a fifth-rate piece of
ornamental masonry. But how very absurd, save, mayhap, here and there to
a geologist, must not these remarks appear!

But my criticisms on the magistracy, however foolish, were silent
criticisms, and did harm to no one. About the time, however, in which I
was indulging in them, I imprudently exposed myself, by one of those
impulsive acts of which men repent at their leisure, to criticisms not
silent, and of a kind that occasionally _do_ harm. I had been piqued by
the rejection of my verses on the Ness. True, I had no high opinion of
their merit, deeming them little more than equal to the average verses
of provincial prints; but then I had intimated my scheme of getting them
printed to a few Cromarty friends, and was now weak enough to be annoyed
at the thought that my townsfolk would regard me as an incompetent
blockhead, who could not write rhymes good enough for a newspaper. And
so I rashly determined on appealing to the public in a small volume. Had
I known as much as in an after period about newspaper affairs, and the
mode in which copies of verses are often dealt with by editors and their
assistants--fatigued with nonsense, and at once hopeless of finding
grain in the enormous heaps of chaff submitted to them, and too much
occupied to seek for it, even should they believe in its occurrence in
the form of single seeds sparsely scattered--I would have thought less
of the matter. As the case was, however, I hastily collected from among
my piles of manuscripts, some fifteen or twenty pieces in verse, written
chiefly during the preceding six years, and put them into the hands of
the printer of the _Inverness Courier_. It would have been a greatly
wiser act, as I soon came to see, had I put them into the fire instead;
but my choice of a printing-office secured to me at least one
advantage--it brought me acquainted with one of the ablest and most
accomplished of Scotch editors--the gentleman who now owns and still
conducts the _Courier_; and, besides, having once crossed the Rubicon, I
felt all my native obstinacy stirred up to make good a position for
myself, despite of failures and reverses on the further side. It is an
advantage in some cases to be committed. The clear large type of the
_Courier_ office did, however, show me many a blemish in my verse that
had escaped me before, and broke off associations which--curiously
linked with the manuscripts--had given to the stanzas and passages which
they contained charms of tone and colour not their own. I began to find,
too, that my humble accomplishment of verse was too narrow to contain my
thinking;--the thinking ability had been growing, but not the ability of
poetic expression; nay, much of the thinking seemed to be of a kind not
suited for poetic purposes at all;--and though it was of course far
better that I should come to know this in time, than that, like some,
even superior men, I should persist in wasting, in inefficient verse,
the hours in which vigorous prose might be produced, it was at least
quite mortifying enough to make the discovery with half a volume of
metre committed to type, and in the hands of the printer. Resolving,
however, that my humble name should not appear in the title-page, I went
on with my volume. My new friend the editor kindly inserted, from time
to time, copies of its verses in the columns of his paper, and strove to
excite some degree of interest and expectation regarding it; but my
recent discovery had thoroughly sobered me, and I awaited the
publication of my volume not much elated by the honour done me, and as
little sanguine respecting its ultimate success as well might be. And
ere I quitted Inverness, a sad bereavement, which greatly narrowed the
circle of my best-loved friends, threw very much into the background all
my thoughts regarding it.

On quitting Cromarty, I had left my uncle James labouring under an
attack of rheumatic fever; but though he had just entered his grand
climacteric, he was still a vigorous and active man, and I could not
doubt that he had strength of constitution enough to throw it off. He
had failed to rally, however; and after returning one evening from a
long exploratory walk, I found in my lodgings a note awaiting me,
intimating his death. The blow fell with stunning effect. Ever since the
death of my father, my two uncles had faithfully occupied his place;
and James, of a franker and less reserved temper than Alexander, and
more tolerant of my boyish follies, had, though I sincerely loved the
other, laid stronger hold on my affections. He was of a genial
disposition, too, that always remained sanguine in the cast of its hopes
and anticipations; and he had unwittingly flattered my vanity by taking
me pretty much at my own estimate--overweeningly high, of course, like
that of almost all young men, but mayhap necessary, in the character of
a force, to make headway in the face of obstruction and difficulty.
Uncle James, like _Le Balafré_ in the novel, would have "ventured his
nephew against the wight Wallace." I immediately set out for Cromarty;
and, curious as it may seem, found grief so companionable, that the four
hours which I spent by the way seemed hardly equal to one. I retained,
however, only a confused recollection of my journey, remembering little
more than that, when passing at midnight along the dreary Maolbuie, I
saw the moon in her wane, rising red and lightless out of the distant
sea; and that, lying, as it were, prostrate on the horizon, she reminded
me of some o'ermatched wrestler thrown helplessly on the ground.

On reaching home, I found my mother, late as the hour was, still up, and
engaged in making a dead-dress for the body. "There is a letter from the
south, with a black seal, awaiting you," she said; "I fear you have also
lost your friend William Ross." I opened the letter, and found her
surmise too well founded. It was a farewell letter, written in feeble
characters, but in no feeble spirit; and a brief postscript, added by a
comrade, intimated the death of the writer. "This," wrote the dying man,
with a hand fast forgetting its cunning, "is, to all human probability,
my last letter; but the thought gives me little trouble; for my hope of
salvation is in the blood of Jesus. Farewell, my sincerest friend!"
There is a provision through which nature sets limits to both physical
and mental suffering. A man partially stunned by a violent blow is
sometimes conscious that it is followed by other blows, rather from
seeing than from feeling them; his capacity of suffering has been
exhausted by the first; and the others that fall upon him, though they
may injure, fail to pain. And so also it is with strokes that fall on
the affections. In other circumstances, I would have grieved for the
death of my friend, but my mind was already occupied to the full by the
death of my uncle; and, though I _saw_ the new stroke, several days
elapsed ere _I could feel_ it. My friend, after half a lifetime of
decline, had sunk suddenly. A comrade who lived with him--a stout,
florid lad--had been seized by the same insidious malady as his own,
about a twelvemonth before; and, previously unacquainted with sickness,
in him the progress of the disease had been rapid, and his sufferings
were so great, that he was incapacitated for work several months ere his
death. But my poor friend, though sinking at the time, wrought for both:
he was able to prosecute his employments--which, according to Bacon,
"required rather the finger than the arm"--in even the latter stages of
his complaint; and after supporting and tending his dying comrade till
he sank, he himself suddenly broke down and died. And thus perished
unknown, and in the prime of his days, a man of sterling principle and
fine genius. I found employment enough for the few weeks which still
remained of the working season of this year, in hewing a tombstone for
my uncle James, on which I inscribed an epitaph of a few lines, that had
the merit of being true. It characterized the deceased--"James
Wright"--as "an honest, warm-hearted man, who had the happiness of
living without reproach, and of dying without fear."

FOOTNOTES:

[11] Loch Ness.

[12] This portrait of the Ness is, I fear, scarce true to the ordinary
character of the river. I had visited it during the previous winter, and
walked a few miles along its sides, when the tract of country through
which it flows lay bleached and verdureless, and steeped in the soaking
rain of weeks, and the stream itself, big in flood, roared from bank to
brae in its shallower reaches, or boiled sullen and turbid in many a
circling eddy in its darker pools. And my description somewhat
incongruously unites a sunlit summer landscape, rich in flower and
foliage, with the brown wintry river.



CHAPTER XX.

    "This while my notion's ta'en a sklent,
    To try my fate in guid black prent;
    But still the mair I'm that way bent,
           Something cries, Hoolie!
    I red you, honest man, tak tent;
           Ye'll shaw your folly."--BURNS.


My volume of verse passed but slowly through the press; and as I had
begun to look rather ruefully forward to its appearance, there was no
anxiety evinced on my part to urge it on. At length, however, all the
pieces were thrown into type; and I followed them up by a tail-piece in
prose, formed somewhat on the model of the preface of Pope--for I was a
great admirer, at the time, of the English written by the "wits of Queen
Anne"--in which I gave serious expression to the suspicion that, as a
writer of verse, I had mistaken my vocation.


     "It is more than possible," I said, "that I have completely failed
     in poetry. It may appear that, while grasping at originality of
     description and sentiment, and striving to attain propriety of
     expression, I have only been depicting common images, and embodying
     obvious thoughts, and this, too, in inelegant language. Yet even in
     this case, though disappointed, I shall not be without my sources
     of comfort. The pleasure which I enjoy in composing verses is quite
     independent of other men's opinions of them; and I expect to feel
     as happy as ever in this amusement, even though assured that others
     could find no pleasure in reading what I had found so much in
     writing. It is no small solace to reflect, that the fable of the
     dog and shadow cannot apply to me, since my predilection for poetry
     has not prevented me from acquiring the skill of at least the
     common mechanic. I am not more ignorant of masonry and architecture
     than many professors of these arts who never measured a stanza.
     There is also some satisfaction in reflecting that, unlike some
     would-be satirists I have not assailed private character; and
     that, though men may deride me as an unskilful poet, they cannot
     justly detest me as a bad or ill-natured man. Nay, I shall possibly
     have the pleasure of repaying those who may be merry at my expense,
     in their own coin. An ill-conditioned critic is always a more
     pitiable sort of person than an unsuccessful versifier; and the
     desire of showing one's own discernment at the expense of one's
     neighbour, a greatly worse thing than the simple wish, however
     divorced from the ability, of affording him harmless pleasure.
     Further, it would, I think, not be difficult to show that my
     mistake in supposing myself a poet is not a whit more ridiculous,
     and infinitely less mischievous, than many of those into which
     myriads of my fellow-men are falling every day. I have seen the
     vicious attempting to teach morals, and the weak to unfold
     mysteries. I have seen men set up for freethinkers who were born
     not to think at all. To conclude, there will surely be cause for
     self-gratulation in reflecting that, by becoming an author, I have
     only lost a few pounds, not gained the reputation of being a mean
     fellow, who had teased all his acquaintance until they had
     subscribed for a worthless book; and that the severest remark of
     the severest critic can only be, 'a certain anonymous rhymer is no
     poet.'"


As, notwithstanding the blank in the title-page, the authorship of my
volume would be known in Cromarty and its neighbourhood, I set myself to
see whether I could not, meanwhile, prepare for the press something
better suited to make an impression in my favour. In tossing the bar or
throwing the stone, the competitor who begins with a rather indifferent
cast is never very unfavourably judged if he immediately mend it by
giving a better; and I resolved on mending my cast, if I could, by
writing for the _Inverness Courier_--which was now open to me, through
the kindness of the editor--a series of carefully prepared letters on
some popular subject. In the days of Goldsmith, the herring-fishing
employed, as he tells us in one of his essays, "all Grub Street." In the
north of Scotland this fishery was a popular theme little more than
twenty years ago. The welfare of whole communities depended in no slight
degree on its success: it formed the basis of many a calculation, and
the subject of many an investment; and it was all the more suitable for
my purpose from the circumstance that there was no Grub Street in that
part of the world to employ itself about it. It was, in at least all
its better aspects, a fresh subject; and I deemed myself more thoroughly
acquainted with it than at least most of the men who were skilful
enough, as _littérateurs_, to communicate their knowledge in writing. I
knew the peculiarities of fishermen as a class, and the effects of this
special branch of their profession on their character: I had seen them
pursuing their employments amid the sublime of nature, and had
occasionally taken a share in their work; and, further, I was acquainted
with not a few antique traditions of the fishermen of other ages, in
which, as in the narratives of most seafaring men, there mingled with a
certain amount of real incident, curious snatches of the supernatural.
In short, the subject was one on which, as I knew a good deal regarding
it that was not generally known, I was in some degree qualified to
write; and so I occupied my leisure in casting my facts respecting it
into a series of letters, of which the first appeared in the _Courier_ a
fortnight after my volume of verse was laid on the tables of the north
country booksellers.

I had first gone out to sea to assist in catching herrings about ten
years before; and I now described, in one of my letters, as truthfully
as I could, those features of the scene to which I had been introduced
on that occasion, which had struck me as novel and peculiar. And what
had been strange to me proved equally so, I found, to the readers of the
_Courier_. My letters attracted attention, and were republished in my
behalf by the proprietors of the paper, "in consequence," said my friend
the editor, in a note which he kindly attached to the pamphlet which
they formed, "of the interest they had excited in the northern
counties."[13] Their modicum of success, lowly as was their subject,
compared with that of some of my more ambitious verses, taught me my
proper course. Let it be my business, I said, to know what is not
generally known;--let me qualify myself to stand as an interpreter
between nature and the public: while I strive to narrate as pleasingly
and describe as vividly as I can, let truth, not fiction, be my walk;
and if I succeed in uniting the novel to the true, in provinces of more
general interest than the very humble one in which I have now partially
succeeded, I shall succeed also in establishing myself in a position
which, if not lofty, will yield me at least more solid footing than that
to which I might attain as a mere _littérateur_ who, mayhap, pleased for
a little, but added nothing to the general fund. The resolution was, I
think, a good one; would that it had been better kept! The following
extracts may serve to show that, humble as my new subject may be deemed,
it gave considerable scope for description of a kind not often
associated with herrings, even when they employed all Grub Street:--


     "As the night gradually darkened, the sky assumed a dead and leaden
     hue: the sea, roughened by the rising breeze, reflected its deeper
     hues with an intensity approaching to black, and seemed a dark
     uneven pavement, that absorbed every ray of the remaining light. A
     calm silvery patch, some fifteen or twenty yards in extent, came
     moving slowly through the black. It seemed merely a patch of water
     coated with oil; but, obedient to some other moving power than that
     of either tide or wind, it sailed aslant our line of buoys, a
     stone-cast from our bows--lengthened itself along the line to
     thrice its former extent--paused as if for a moment--and then three
     of the buoys, after erecting themselves on their narrower base,
     with a sudden jerk slowly sank. 'One--two--three buoys!' exclaimed
     one of the fishermen, reckoning them as they disappeared;--'_there_
     are ten barrels for us secure.' A few moments were suffered to
     elapse: and then, unfixing the haulser from the stem, and bringing
     it aft to the stern, we commenced hauling. The nets approached the
     gunwale. The first three appeared, from the phosphoric light of the
     water, as if bursting into flames of a pale green colour. Here and
     there a herring glittered bright in the meshes, or went darting
     away through the pitchy darkness, visible for a moment by its own
     light. The fourth net was brighter than any of the others, and
     glittered through the waves while it was yet several fathoms away:
     the pale green seemed as if mingled with broken sheets of snow,
     that--flickering amid the mass of light--appeared, with every tug
     given by the fishermen, to shift, dissipate, and again form; and
     there streamed from it into the surrounding gloom myriads of green
     rays, an instant seen and then lost--the retreating fish that had
     avoided the meshes, but had lingered, until disturbed, beside their
     entangled companions. It contained a considerable body of herrings.
     As we raised them over the gunwale, they felt warm to the hand, for
     in the middle of a large shoal even the temperature of the water is
     raised--a fact well known to every herring fisherman; and in
     shaking them out of the meshes, the ear became sensible of a
     shrill, chirping sound, like that of the mouse, but much fainter--a
     ceaseless cheep, cheep, cheep, occasioned apparently--for no true
     fish is furnished with organs of sound--by a sudden escape from the
     air-bladder. The shoal, a small one, had spread over only three of
     the nets--the three whose buoys had so suddenly disappeared; and
     most of the others had but their mere sprinkling of fish, some
     dozen or two in a net; but so thickly had they lain in the
     fortunate three, that the entire haul consisted of rather more than
     twelve barrels.

                     *       *       *       *       *

     We started up about midnight, and saw an open sea, as before; but
     the scene had considerably changed since we had lain down. The
     breeze had died into a calm; the heavens, no longer dark and grey,
     were glowing with stars; and the sea, from the smoothness of the
     surface, appeared a second sky, as bright and starry as the other;
     with this difference, however, that all its stars seemed to be
     comets! the slightly tremulous motion of the surface elongated the
     reflected images, and gave to each its tail. There was no visible
     line of division at the horizon. Where the hills rose high along
     the coast, and appeared as if doubled by their undulating strip of
     shadow, what might be deemed a dense hank of cloud lay sleeping in
     the heavens, just where the upper and nether firmaments met; but
     its presence rendered the illusion none the less complete: the
     outline of the boat lay dark around us, like the fragment of some
     broken planet suspended in middle space, far from the earth and
     every star; and all around we saw extended the complete
     sphere--unhidden above from Orion to the Pole, and visible beneath
     from the Pole to Orion. Certainly sublime scenery possesses in
     itself no virtue potent enough to develop the faculties, or the
     mind of the fisherman would not have so long lain asleep. There is
     no profession whose recollections should rise into purer poetry
     than his; but if the mirror bear not its previous amalgam of taste
     and genius, what does it matter though the scene which sheds upon
     it its many-coloured light should be rich in grandeur and beauty?
     There is no corresponding image produced: the susceptibility of
     reflecting the landscape is never imparted by the landscape itself,
     whether to the mind or to the glass. There is no class of
     recollections more illusory than those which associate--as if they
     existed in the relation of cause and effect--some piece of striking
     scenery with some sudden development of the intellect or
     imagination. The eyes open, and there is an external beauty seen;
     but it is not the external beauty that has opened the eyes.

                     *       *       *       *       *

     "It was still a dead calm--calm to blackness; when, in about an
     hour after sunrise, what seemed light fitful airs began to play on
     the surface, imparting to it, in irregular patches, a tint of grey.
     First one patch would form, then a second beside it, then a third,
     and then for miles around, the surface, else so silvery, would seem
     frosted over with grey: the apparent breeze appeared as if
     propagating itself from one central point. In a few seconds after,
     all would be calm as at first; and then from some other centre the
     patches of grey would again form and widen, till the whole Firth
     seemed covered by them. A peculiar poppling noise, as if a
     thunder-shower was beating the surface with its multitudinous
     drops, rose around our boat; the water seemed sprinkled with an
     infinity of points of silver, that for an instant glittered to the
     sun, and then resigned their places to other quick glancing points,
     that in turn were succeeded by yet others. The herrings by
     millions, and thousands of millions, were at play around us,
     leaping a few inches into the air, and then falling and
     disappearing, to rise and leap again. Shoal rose beyond shoal, till
     the whole bank of Gulliam seemed beaten into foam, and the low
     poppling sounds were multiplied into a roar, like that of the wind
     through some tall wood, that might be heard in the calm for miles.
     And again, the shoals extending around us seemed to cover, for
     hundreds of square miles, the vast Moray Firth. But though they
     played beside our buoys by thousands, not a herring swam so low as
     the upper baulk of our drift. One of the fishermen took up a stone,
     and, flinging it right over our second buoy into the middle of the
     shoal, the fish disappeared from the surface for several fathoms
     around. 'Ah, there they go,' he exclaimed, 'if they go but low
     enough. Four years ago I startled thirty barrels of light fish into
     my drift just by throwing a stone among them.' I know not what
     effect the stone might have had on this occasion; but on hauling
     our nets for the third and last time, we found we had captured
     about eight barrels of fish; and then hoisting sail--for a light
     breeze from the east had sprung up--we made for the shore with a
     cargo of twenty barrels."


Meanwhile the newspaper critics of the south were giving expression to
all sorts of judgments on my verses. It was intimated in the title of
the volume that they had been "written in the leisure hours of a
journeyman mason;" and the intimation seemed to furnish most of my
reviewers with the proper cue for dealing with them. "The time has gone
by," said one, "when a literary mechanic used to be regarded as a
phenomenon: were a second Burns to spring up now, he would not be
entitled to so much praise as the first." "It is our duty to tell this
writer," said another, "that he will make more in a week by his trowel
than in half a century by his pen." "We are glad to understand," said a
third--very judiciously, however--"that our author has the good sense to
rely more on his chisel than on the Muses." The lessons taught were of a
sufficiently varied, but, on the whole, rather contradictory character.
By one writer I was told that I was a dull, correct fellow, who had
written a book in which there was nothing amusing and nothing absurd.
Another, however, cheered my forlorn spirits by assuring me that I was a
"man of genius, whose poems, with much that was faulty, contained also
much that was interesting." A third was sure I had "no chance whatever
of being known beyond the limits of my native place," and that my "book
exhibited none, or next to none, of those indications which sanction the
expectation of better things to come;" while a fourth, of a more
sanguine vein, found in my work the evidence of "gifts of Nature, which
the stimulus of encouragement, and the tempering lights of experience,
might hereafter develop, and direct to the achievement of something
truly wonderful." There were two names in particular that my little
volume used to suggest to the newspaper reviewers. The Tam o'Shanter and
Souter Johnnie of the ingenious Thorn were in course of being exhibited
at the time; and it was known that Thorn had wrought as a journeyman
mason: and there was a rather slim poet called Sillery, the author of
several forgotten volumes of verse, one of which had issued from the
press contemporaneously with mine, who, as he had a little money, and
was said to treat his literary friends very luxuriously, was praised
beyond measure by the newspaper critics, especially by those of the
Scottish capital. And Thom as a mason, and Sillery as a poet, were
placed repeatedly before me. One critic, who was sure I would never come
to anything, magnanimously remarked, however, that as he bore me no ill
will, he would be glad to find himself mistaken; nay, that it would give
him "unfeigned pleasure to learn I had attained to the well-merited fame
of even Mr. Thom himself." And another, after deprecating the undue
severity so often shown by the bred writer to the working man, and
asserting that the "journeyman mason" was in this instance,
notwithstanding his treatment, a man of fair parts, ended by remarking,
that it was of course not even every man of merit who could expect to
attain to the "high poetic eminence and celebrity of a Charles Doyne
Sillery."

All this, however, was criticism at a distance, and disturbed me but
little when engaged in toiling in the churchyard, or in enjoying my
quiet evening walks. But it became more formidable when, on one
occasion, it came to beard me in my den.

The place was visited by an itinerant lecturer on elocution--one Walsh,
who, as his art was not in great request among the quiet ladies and busy
gentlemen of Cromarty, failed to draw houses; till at length there
appeared one morning, placarded on post and pillar, an intimation to the
effect, that Mr. Walsh would that evening deliver an elaborate criticism
on the lately-published volume of "Poems written in the leisure hours of
a Journeyman Mason," and select from it a portion of his evening
readings. The intimation drew a good house; and, curious to know what
was awaiting me, I paid my shilling, with the others, and got into a
corner. First in the entertainment there came a wearisome dissertation
on harmonic inflections, double emphasis, the echoing words, and the
monotones. But, to borrow from Meg Dods, "Oh, what a style of language!"
The elocutionist, evidently an untaught and grossly ignorant man, had
not an idea of composition. Syntax, grammar, and good sense, were set
at nought in every sentence; but then, on the other hand, the
inflections were carefully maintained, and went rising and falling over
the nonsense beneath, like the wave of some shallow bay over a bottom of
mud and comminuted sea-weed. After the dissertation we were gratified by
a few recitations. "Lord Ullin's Daughter," the "Razor Seller," and "My
Name is Norval," were given in great force. And then came the critique.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the reviewer, "we cannot expect much from a
journeyman mason in the poetry line. Right poetry needs teaching. No man
can be a proper poet unless he be an elocutionist; for, unless he be an
elocutionist, how can he make his verses emphatic in the right places,
or manage the harmonic inflexes, or deal with the rhetorical pauses? And
now, ladies and gentlemen, I'll show you, from various passages in this
book, that the untaught journeyman mason who made it never took lessons
in elocution. I'll first read you a passage from a piece of verse called
the 'Death of Gardiner'--the person meant being the late Colonel
Gardiner, I suppose. The beginning of the piece is about the running
away of Johnnie Cope's men:"--


            *     *     *     *    *

    "Yet in that craven, dread-struck host,
      One val'rous heart beat keen and high;
    In that dark hour of shameful flight,
            One stayed behind to die!
    Deep gash'd by many a felon blow,
      He sleeps where fought the vanquish'd van--
    Of silver'd locks and furrow'd brow,
            A venerable man.
    E'en when his thousand warriors fled--
      Their low-born valour quail'd and gone--
    He--the meek leader of that band--
            Remained, and fought alone.
    He stood; fierce foemen throng'd around;
      The hollow death-groans of despair.
    The clashing sword, the cleaving axe,
            The murd'rous dirk were there.
    Valour more stark, or hands more strong,
      Ne'er urged the brand or launch'd the spear
    But what were these to that old man!
            God was his only fear.

    He stood where adverse thousands throng'd.
      And long that warrior fought and well;--
    Bravely he fought, firmly he stood,
            Till where he stood he fell.
    He fell--he breathed one patriot prayer.
      Then to his God his soul resign'd:
    Not leaving of earth's many sons
            A better man behind.
    His valour, his high scorn of death,
      To fame's proud meed no impulse owed;
    His was a pure, unsullied zeal,
            For Britain and for God.
    He fell--he died;--the savage foe
      Trod careless o'er the noble clay;
    Yet not in vain that champion fought,
            In that disastrous fray.
    On bigot creeds and felon swords
      Partial success may fondly smile,
    Till bleeds the patriot's honest heart,
            And flames the martyr's pile.
    Yet not in vain the patriot bleeds;
      Yet not in vain the martyr dies;
    From ashes mute, and voiceless blood,
            What stirring memories rise!
    The scoffer owns the bigot's creed,
      Though keen the secret gibe may be;
    The sceptic seeks the tyrant's dome.
            And bends the ready knee.
    But oh! in dark oppression's day.
      When flares the torch, when flames the sword.
    Who are the brave in freedom's cause?
            The men who fear the Lord."[14]


"Now, ladies and gentlemen," continued the critic, "this is very bad
poetry. I defy any elocutionist to read it satisfactorily with the
inflexes. And, besides, only see how full it is of tautology. Let us
take but one of the verses:--'He fell--he died!' To fall in battle
means, as we all know, to die in battle;--to die in battle is exactly
the same thing as to fall in battle. To say 'he fell--he died,' is
therefore just tantamount to saying that he fell, he fell, or that he
died, he died, and is bad poetry, and tautology. And this is one of the
effects of ignorance, and a want of right education." Here, however, a
low grumbling sound, gradually shaping itself into words, interrupted
the lecturer. There was a worthy old captain among the audience, who had
not given himself very much to the study of elocution or the
_belles-lettres_; he had been too much occupied in his younger days in
dealing at close quarters with the French under Howe and Nelson, to
leave him much time for the niceties of recitation or criticism. But the
brave old man bore a genial, generous heart; and the strictures of the
elocutionist, emitted, as all saw, in the presence of the assailed
author, jarred on his feelings. "It was not gentlemanly," he said, "to
attack in that way an inoffensive man: it was wrong. The poems were, he
was told, very good poems. He knew good judges that thought so; and
unprovoked remarks on them, such as those of the lecturer, ought not to
be permitted." The lecturer replied, and in glibness and fluency would
have been greatly an overmatch for the worthy captain; but a storm of
hisses backed the old veteran, and the critic gave way. As his remarks
were, he said, not to the taste of the audience--though he was taking
only the ordinary critical liberty--he would go on to the readings. And
with a few extracts, read without note or comment, the entertainment of
the evening concluded. There was nothing very formidable in the critique
of Walsh; but, having no great powers of face, I felt it rather
unpleasant to be stared at in my quiet corner by every one in the room,
and looked, I daresay, very much put out; and the sympathy and
condolence of such of my townsfolk as comforted me in the state of
supposed annihilation and nothingness to which his criticism had reduced
me, were just a little annoying. Poor Walsh, however, had he but known
what threatened him, would have been considerably less at ease than his
victim.

The cousin Walter introduced to the reader in an early chapter as the
companion of one of my Highland journeys, had grown up into a handsome
and very powerful young man. One might have guessed his stature at about
five feet ten or so, but it in reality somewhat exceeded six feet: he
had amazing length and strength of arm; and such was his structure of
bone, that, as he tucked up his sleeve to send a bowl along the town
links, or to fling the hammer or throw the stone, the knobbed
protuberances of the wrist, with the sinews rising sharp over them,
reminded one rather of the framework of a horse's leg, than of that of a
human arm. And Walter, though a fine, sweet-tempered fellow, had shown,
oftener than once or twice, that he could make a very formidable use of
his great strength. Some of the later instances had been rather
interesting in their kind. There had been a large Dutch transport, laden
with troops, forced by stress of weather into the bay shortly before,
and a handsome young soldier of the party--a native of Northern
Germany, named Wolf--had, I know not how, scraped acquaintance with
Walter. Wolf, who, like many of his country-folk, was a great reader,
and intimately acquainted, through German translations, with the
Waverley Novels, had taken all his ideas of Scotland and its people from
the descriptions of Scott; and in Walter, as handsome as he was robust,
he found the _beau-idéal_ of a Scottish hero. He was a man cast in
exactly the model of the Harry Bertrams, Halbert Glendinnings, and
Quentin Durwards of the novelist. For the short time the vessel lay in
the harbour, Wolf and Walter were inseparable. Walter knew a little,
mainly at second hand, through his cousin, about the heroes of Scott;
and Wolf delighted to converse with him in his broken English about
Balfour of Burley, Rob Roy, and Vich Ian Vohr: and ever and anon would
he urge him to exhibit before him some feat of strength or agility--a
call to which Walter was never slow to respond. There was a serjeant
among the troops--a Dutchman, regarded as their strongest man, who used
to pride himself much on his prowess; and who, on hearing Wolf's
description of Walter, expressed a wish to be introduced to him. Wolf
soon found the means of gratifying the serjeant. The strong Dutchman
stretched out his hand, and, on getting hold of Walter's, grasped it
very hard. Walter saw his design, and returned the grasp with such
overmastering firmness, that the hand became powerless within his. "Ah!"
exclaimed the Dutchman, in his broken English, shaking his fingers, and
blowing upon them, "me no try squeeze hand with you again; you very
_very_ strong man." Wolf for a minute after stood laughing and clapping
his hands, as if the victory were his, not Walter's. When at length the
day arrived on which the transport was to sail, the two friends seemed
as unwilling to part as if they had been attached for years. Walter
presented Wolf with a favourite snuff-box; Wolf gave Walter his fine
German pipe.

Before I had risen on the morning of the day succeeding that in which I
had been demolished by the elocutionist, Cousin Walter made his way to
my bedside, with a storm on his brow dark as midnight. "Is it true,
Hugh," he inquired, "that the lecturer Walsh ridiculed you and your
poems in the Council House last night?" "Oh, and what of that?" I said;
"who cares anything for the ridicule of a blockhead?" "Ay," said Walter,
"that's always your way; but _I_ care for it! Had I been there last
night, I would have sent the puppy through the window, to criticize
among the nettles in the yard. But there's no time lost: I shall wait on
him when it grows dark this evening, and give him a lesson in good
manners." "Not for your life, Walter!" I exclaimed. "Oh," said Walter,
"I shall give Walsh all manner of fair play." "Fair play!" I rejoined;
"you cannot give Walsh fair play; you are an overmatch for five Walshes.
If you meddle with him at all, you will kill the poor slim man at a
blow, and then not only will you be apprehended for manslaughter--mayhap
for murder--but it will also be said that I was mean enough to set you
on to do what I had not courage enough to do myself. You _must_ give up
all thoughts of meddling with Walsh." In short, I at length partially
succeeded in convincing Walter that he might do me a great mischief by
assaulting my critic; but so little confident was I of his seeing the
matter in its proper light, that when the lecturer, unable to get
audiences, quitted the place, and Walter had no longer opportunity of
avenging my cause, I felt a load of anxiety taken from off my mind.

There reached Cromarty shortly after, a criticism that differed
considerably from that of Walsh, and restored the shaken confidence of
some of my acquaintance. The other criticisms which had appeared in
newspapers, critical journals, and literary gazettes, had been evidently
the work of small men; and, feeble and commonplace in their style and
thinking, they carried with them no weight--for who cares anything for
the judgment, on one's writings, of men who themselves cannot write?
But here, at length, was there a critique eloquently and powerfully
written. It was, however, at least as extravagant in its praise as the
others in their censure. The friendly critic knew nothing of the author
he commended; but he had, I suppose, first seen the deprecatory
criticisms, and then glanced his eye over the volume which they
condemned; and finding it considerably better than it was said to be, he
had rushed into generous praise, and described it as really a great deal
better than it was. After an extravagantly high estimate of the powers
of its author, he went on to say--"Nor, in making these observations, do
we speak relatively, or desire to be understood as merely saying that
the poems before us are remarkable productions to emanate from a
'journeyman mason.' That this is indeed the case, no one who reads them
can doubt; but in characterizing the poetical talent they display, our
observations are meant to be quite absolute; and we aver, without fear
of contradiction, that the pieces contained in the humble volume before
us bear the stamp and impress of no ordinary genius; that they are
bespangled with gems of genuine poetry; and that their unpretending
author well deserves--what he will doubtless obtain--the countenance and
support of a discerning public. Nature is not an aristocrat To the
plough-boy following his team a-field--to the shepherd tending his
flocks in the wilderness--or to the rude cutter of stone, cramped over
his rough occupation in the wooden shed--she sometimes dispenses her
richest and rarest gifts as liberally as to the proud patrician, or the
titled representative of a long line of illustrious ancestry. She is no
respecter of persons; and all other distinctions yield to the title
which her favours confer. The names, be they ever so humble, which she
illustrates, need no other decoration to recommend them; and hence, even
that of our 'journeyman mason' may yet be destined to take its place
with those of men who, like him, first poured their 'wood-notes wild' in
the humblest and lowliest sphere of life, but, raised into deathless
song, have become familiar as household words to all who love and admire
the unsophisticated productions of native genius." The late Dr. James
Browne of Edinburgh, author of the "History of the Highlands," and
working Editor of the "Encyclopædia Britannica," was, as I afterwards
learned, the writer of this over-eulogistic, but certainly, in the
circumstances, generous critique.

Ultimately I found my circle of friends very considerably enlarged by
the publication of my Verses and Letters. Mr. Isaac Forsyth of Elgin,
the brother and biographer of the well-known Joseph Forsyth, whose
classical volume on Italy still holds its place as perhaps the best work
to which the traveller of taste in that country can commit himself,
exerted himself, as the most influential of north-country booksellers,
with disinterested kindness in my behalf. The late Sir Thomas Dick
Lauder, too, resident at that time at his seat of Relugas in Moray, lent
me, unsolicited, his influence; and, distinguished by his fine taste and
literary ability, he ventured to pledge both in my favour. I also
received much kindness from the late Miss Dunbar of Boath--a literary
lady of the high type of the last age, and acquainted in the best
literary circles, who, now late in life, admitted amid her select
friends one friend more, and cheered me with many a kind letter, and
invited my frequent visits to her hospitable mansion. If, in my course
as a working man, I never incurred pecuniary obligation, and never spent
a shilling for which I had not previously laboured, it was certainly not
from want of opportunity afforded me. Miss Dunbar meant what she said,
and oftener than once did she press her purse on my acceptance. I
received much kindness, too, from the late Principal Baird. The
venerable Principal, when on one of his Highland journeys--benevolently
undertaken in behalf of an educational scheme of the General Assembly,
in the service of which he travelled, after he was turned of seventy,
more than eight thousand miles--had perused my Verses and Letters; and,
expressing a strong desire to know their author, my friend the editor of
the _Courier_ despatched one of his apprentices to Cromarty, to say that
he thought the opportunity of meeting with such a man ought not to be
neglected. I accordingly went up to Inverness, and had an interview with
Dr. Baird. I had known him previously by name as one of the
correspondents of Burns, and the editor of the best edition of the poems
of Michael Bruce; and, though aware at the time that his estimate of
what I had done was by much too high, I yet felt flattered by his
notice. He urged me to quit the north for Edinburgh. The capital
furnished, he said, the proper field for a literary man in Scotland.
What between the employment furnished by the newspapers and the
magazines, he was sure I would effect a lodgment, and work my way up;
and until I gave the thing a fair trial, I would, of course, come and
live with him. I felt sincerely grateful for his kindness, but declined
the invitation. I did think it possible, that in some subordinate
capacity--as a concocter of paragraphs, or an abridger of Parliamentary
debates, or even as a writer of occasional articles--I might find more
remunerative employment than as a stone-mason. But though I might
acquaint myself in a large town, when occupied in this way, with the
world of books, I questioned whether I could enjoy equal opportunities
of acquainting myself with the occult and the new in natural science, as
when plying my labours in the provinces as a mechanic. And so I
determined that, instead of casting myself on an exhausting literary
occupation, in which I would have to draw incessantly on the stock of
fact and reflection which I had already accumulated, I should continue
for at least several years more to purchase independence by my labours
as a mason, and employ my leisure hours in adding to my fund, gleaned
from original observation, and in walks not previously trodden.

The venerable Principal set me upon a piece of literary taskwork, which,
save for his advice, I would never have thought of producing, and of
which these autobiographic chapters are the late but legitimate
offspring. "Literary men," he said, "are sometimes spoken of as
consisting of two classes--the educated and the uneducated; but they
must all alike have an education before they can become literary men;
and the less ordinary the mode in which the education has been acquired,
the more interesting always is the story of it. I wish you to write for
me an account of yours." I accordingly wrote an autobiographic sketch
for the Principal, which brought up my story till my return, in 1825,
from the south country to my home in the north, and which, though
greatly overladen with reflection and remark, has preserved for me both
the thoughts and incidents of an early time more freshly than if they
had been suffered to exist till now as mere recollections in the memory.
I next set myself to record, in a somewhat elaborate form, the
traditions of my native place and the surrounding district; and, taking
the work very leisurely, not as labour, but as amusement--for my
labours, as at an earlier period, continued to be those of the
stone-cutter--a bulky volume grew up under my hands. I had laid down for
myself two rules. There is no more fatal error into which a working man
of a literary turn can fall, than the mistake of deeming himself too
good for his humble employments; and yet it is a mistake as common as it
is fatal. I had already seen several poor wretched mechanics, who,
believing themselves to be poets, and regarding the manual occupation by
which they could alone live in independence as beneath them, had become
in consequence little better than mendicants--too good to work for their
bread, but not too good virtually to beg it; and, looking upon them as
beacons of warning, I determined that, with God's help, I should give
their error a wide offing, and never associate the ideas of meanness
with an honest calling, or deem myself too good to be independent. And,
in the second place, as I saw that the notice, and more especially the
hospitalities, of persons in the upper walks, seemed to exercise a
deteriorating effect on even strong-minded men in circumstances such as
mine, I resolved rather to avoid than court the attentions from this
class which were now beginning to come my way. Johnson describes his
"Ortogrul of Basra" as a thoughtful and meditative man; and yet he tells
us, that after he had seen the palace of the Vizier, and "admired the
walls hung with golden tapestry, and the floors covered with silken
carpets, he despised the simple neatness of his own little habitation."
And the lesson of the fiction is, I fear, too obviously exemplified in
the real history of one of the strongest-minded men of the last
age--Robert Burns. The poet seems to have left much of his early
complacency in his humble home behind him, in the splendid mansions of
the men who, while they failed worthily to patronize him, injured him by
their hospitalities. I found it more difficult, however, to hold by this
second resolution than by the first. As I was not large enough to be
made a lion of, the invitations which came my way were usually those of
real kindness; and the advances of kindness I found it impossible always
to repel; and so it happened that I did at times find myself in company
in which the working man might be deemed misplaced and in danger. On two
several occasions, for instance, after declining previous invitations
not a few, I had to spend a week at a time, as the guest of my respected
friend Miss Dunbar of Boath; and my native place was visited by few
superior men that I had not to meet at some hospitable board. But I
trust I may say, that the temptation failed to injure me; and that on
such occasions I returned to my obscure employments and lowly home,
grateful for the kindness I had received, but in no degree discontented
with my lot.

Miss Dunbar belonged, as I have said, to a type of literary lady now
well-nigh passed away, but of which we find frequent trace in the
epistolary literature of the last century. The class comes before us in
elegant and tasteful letters, indicative of minds imbued with
literature, though mayhap not ambitious of authorship, and that show
what ornaments their writers must have proved of the society to which
they belonged, and what delight they must have given to the circles in
which they more immediately moved. The Lady Russel, the Lady Luxborough,
the Countess of Pomfret, Mrs. Elizabeth Montague, &c. &c.,--names well
fixed in the epistolary literature of England, though unknown in the
walks of ordinary authorship--may be regarded as specimens of the class.
Even in the cases in which its members did become authoresses, and
produced songs and ballads instinct with genius, they seem to have had
but little of the author's ambition in them; and their songs, cast
carelessly upon the waters, have been found, after many days, preserved
rather by accident than design. The Lady Wardlaw, who produced the noble
ballad of "Hardyknute"--the Lady Ann Lindsay, who wrote "Auld Robin
Gray"--the Miss Blamire, whose "Nabob" is so charming a composition,
notwithstanding its unfortunately prosaic name--and the late Lady
Nairne, authoress of the "Land o' the Leal," "John Tod," and the "Laird
o' Cockpen"--are specimens of the class that fixed their names among the
poets with apparently as little effort or design as singing birds pour
forth their melodies.

The north had, in the last age, its interesting group of ladies of this
type, of whom the central figure might be regarded as the late Mrs.
Elizabeth Rose of Kilravock, the correspondent of Burns, and the cousin
and associate of Henry Mackenzie, the "Man of Feeling." Mrs. Rose seems
to have been a lady of a singularly fine mind--though a little touched,
mayhap, by the prevailing sentimentalism of the age. The Mistress of
Harley, Miss Walton, might have kept exactly such journals as hers; but
the talent which they exhibited was certainly of a high order; and the
feeling, though cast in a somewhat artificial mould, was, I doubt not,
sincere. Portions of these journals I had an opportunity of perusing
when on my visit to my friend Miss Dunbar; and there is a copy of one of
them now in my possession. Another member of this group was the late
Mrs. Grant of Laggan--at the time when it existed unbroken, the mistress
of a remote Highland manse, and known but to her personal friends by
those earlier letters which form the first half of her "Letters from the
Mountains," and which, in ease and freshness, greatly surpass aught
which she produced after she began her career of authorship. Not a few
of her letters, and several of her poems, were addressed to my friend
Miss Dunbar. Some of the other members of the group were greatly younger
than Mrs. Grant and the Lady of Kilravock. And of these, one of the most
accomplished was the late Lady Gordon Cumming of Altyre, known to
scientific men by her geologic labours among the ichthyolitic formations
of Moray, and mother of the famous lion-hunter, Mr. Gordon Cumming. My
friend Miss Dunbar was at this time considerably advanced in life, and
her health far from good. She possessed, however, a singular buoyancy of
spirits, which years and frequent illness had failed to depress; and her
interest and enjoyment in nature and in books remained as high as when,
long before, her friend Mrs. Grant had addressed her as


    "Helen, by every sympathy allied,
      By love of virtue and by love of song,
    Compassionate in youth and beauty's pride."


Her mind was imbued with literature, and stored with literary anecdote:
she conversed with elegance, giving interest to whatever she touched;
and, though she seemed never to have thought of authorship in her own
behalf, she wrote pleasingly and with great facility, in both prose and
verse. Her verses, usually of a humorous cast, ran trippingly off the
tongue, as if the words had dropped by some happy accident--for the
arrangement bore no mark of effort--into exactly the places where they
at once best brought out the writer's meaning, and addressed themselves
most pleasingly to the ear. The opening stanzas of a light _jeu
d'esprit_ on a young naval officer engaged in a lady-killing expedition
in Cromarty, dwell in my memory; and--first premising, by way of
explanation, that Miss Dunbar's brother, the late Baronet of Boath, was
a captain in the navy, and that the lady-killer was his first
lieutenant--I shall take the liberty of giving all I remember of the
piece, as a specimen of her easy style:--


        "In Cromarty Bay,
         As the 'Driver' snug lay,
    The Lieutenant would venture ashore
         And, a figure to cut,
         From the head to the foot
    He was fashion and finery all o'er.

         A hat richly laced,
         To the left side was placed,
    Which made him look martial and bold;
         His coat of true blue
         Was spick and span new.
    And the buttons were burnished with gold.

         His neckcloth well puffed.
         Which six handkerchiefs stuffed,
    And in colour with snow might have vied,
         Was put on with great care,
         As a bait for the fair,
    And the ends in a love-knot were tied," &c. &c.


I greatly enjoyed my visits to this genial-hearted and accomplished
lady. No chilling condescensions on her part measured out to me my
distance: Miss Dunbar took at once the common ground of literary tastes
and pursuits; and if I did not feel my inferiority there, she took care
that I should feel it nowhere else. There was but one point on which we
differed. While hospitably extending to me every facility for visiting
the objects of scientific interest in her neighbourhood--such as those
sand-wastes of Culbin in which an ancient barony finds burial, and the
geologic sections presented by the banks of the Findhorn--she was yet
desirous to fix me down to literature as my proper walk; and I, on the
other hand, was equally desirous of escaping into science.

FOOTNOTES:

[13] I am reminded by the editor of the _Courier_, in a very kind
critique on the present volume, of a passage in the history of my little
work which had escaped my memory. "It had come," he states, "to the
knowledge of Sir Walter Scott, who endeavoured to procure a copy after
the limited impression was exhausted."

[14] The following are the opening stanzas of the piece--quite as
obnoxious to criticism, I fear, as those selected by Walsh:--


    "Have ye not seen, on winter's eve,
      When snow-rack dimm'd the welkin's face.
    Borne wave-like, by the fitful breeze.
            The snow-wreath shifting place?
    Silent and slow as drifting wreath.
      Ere day, the clans from Preston Hill
    Moved downward to the vale beneath:--
            Dark was the scene and still!
    In stormy autumn day, when sad
      The boding peasant frets forlorn,
    Have ye not seen the mountain stream
            Bear down the standing corn?
    At dawn, when Preston bog was cross'd,
      Like mountain stream that bursts its banks.
    Charged wild those Celtic hearts of fire.
            On Cope's devoted ranks.
    Have ye not seen, from lonesome waste,
      The smoke-tower rising tall and slow,
    O'erlooking, like a stately tree,
            The russet plain below?
    And have ye mark'd that pillar'd wreath,
      When sudden struck by northern blast,
    Amid the low and stunted heath,
            In broken volumes cast?
    At sunrise, as by northern blast
      The pillar'd smoke is roll'd away.
    Fled all that cloud of Saxon war.
            In headlong disarray."
              *     *     *



CHAPTER XXI.

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


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

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

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

Sometimes a chance incident taught me an interesting geological lesson.
At the close of the year 1830, a tremendous hurricane from the south and
west, unequalled in the north of Scotland, from at least the time of the
great hurricane of Christmas 1806, blew down in a single hour four
thousand full-grown trees on the Hill of Cromarty. The vast gaps and
avenues which it opened in the wood above could be seen from the town;
and no sooner had it begun to take off than I set out for the scene of
its ravages. I had previously witnessed, from a sheltered hollow of the
old coast-line, the extraordinary appearance of the sea. It would seem
as if the very violence of the wind had kept down the waves. It brushed
off their tops as they were rising, and swept along the spray in one
dense cloud, white as driving snow, that rose high into the air as it
receded from the shore, and blotted out along the horizon the line
between sky and water. As I approached the wood, I met two poor little
girls of from eight to ten years, coming running and crying along the
road in a paroxysm of consternation; but, gathering heart on seeing me,
they stood to tell that when the storm was at its worst they were in the
midst of the falling trees. Setting out for the Hill on the first rising
of the wind, in the expectation of a rich harvest of withered boughs,
they had reached one of its most exposed ridges just as the gale had
attained to its extreme height, and the trees began to crash down around
them. Their little tear-bestained countenances still continued to show
how extreme the agony of their terror had been. They would run, they
said, for a few paces in one direction, until some huge pine would come
roaring down, and block up their path; when, turning with a shriek, they
would run for a few paces in another; and then, terrified by a similar
interruption, again strike off in a third. At length, after passing
nearly an hour in the extremest peril, and in at least all the fear
which the circumstances justified, they succeeded in making their way
unhurt to the outer skirts of the wood. Bewick would have found in the
incident the subject of a vignette that would have told its own story.
In getting into the thick of the trees, I was struck by the
extraordinary character of the scene presented. In some places, greatly
more than half their number lay stretched upon the ground. On the more
exposed prominences of the Hill, scarce a tree was left standing for
acres together: they covered the slopes; tree stretched over tree like
tiles on a roof, with here and there some shattered trunk whose top had
been blown off, and carried by the hurricane some fifteen or twenty
yards away, leaning in sad ruin over its fallen comrades. What, however,
formed the most striking, because less expected, parts of the scene,
were the tall walls of turf that stood up everywhere among the fallen
trees, like the ruins of dismantled cottages. The granitic gneiss of the
Hill is covered by a thick deposit of the red boulder clay of the
district, and the clay, in turn, by a thin layer of vegetable mould,
interlaced in every direction by the tree roots, which, arrested in
their downward progress by the stiff clay, are restricted to the upper
layer. And, save where here and there I found some tree snapped across
in the midst, or divested of its top, all the others had yielded at the
line between the boulder clay and the soil, and had torn up, as they
fell, vast walls of the felted turf, from fifteen to twenty feet in
length, by from ten to twelve feet in height. There were quite enough of
these walls standing up among the prostrate trees, to have formed a
score of the eastern Sultan's ruined villages; and they imparted to the
scene one of its strangest features. I have mentioned in an early
chapter, that the Hill had its dense thickets, which, from the gloom
that brooded in their recesses even at mid-day, were known to the boys
of the neighbouring town as the "dungeons." They had now fared, however,
in this terrible overturn, like dungeons elsewhere in times of
revolution, and were all swept away; and piles of prostrate trees--in
some instances ten or twelve in a single heap marked where they had
stood. In several localities, where they fell over swampy hollows, or
where deep-seated springs came gushing to the light, I found the water
partially dammed up, and saw that, were they to be left to cumber the
ground as the debris of forests destroyed by hurricanes in the earlier
ages of Scottish history would certainly have been left, the deep shade
and the moisture could not have failed to induce a total change in the
vegetation. I marked, too, the fallen trees all lying one way, in the
direction of the wind; and the thought at once struck me, that in this
recent scene of devastation I had the origin of full one-half of our
Scottish mosses exemplified. Some of the mosses of the south date from
the times of Roman invasion. Their lower tiers of trunks bear the mark
of the Roman axe; and in some instances, the sorely wasted axe itself--a
narrow, oblong tool, somewhat resembling that of the American
backwoodsman--has been found sticking in the buried stump Some of our
other mosses are of still more modern origin: there exist Scottish
mosses that seem to have been formed when Robert the Bruce felled the
woods and wasted the country of John of Lorn. But of the others, not a
few have palpably owed their origin to violent hurricanes, such as the
one which on this occasion ravaged the Hill of Cromarty. The trees which
form their lower stratum are broken across, or torn up by the roots,
_and their trunks all lie one way_. Much of the interest of a science
such as geology must consist in the ability of making dead deposits
represent living scenes; and from this hurricane I was enabled to
conceive, pictorially, if I may so express myself, of the origin of
those comparatively recent deposits of Scotland which, formed almost
exclusively of vegetable matter, contain, with rude works of art, and
occasionally remains of the early human inhabitants of the country,
skeletons of the wolf, the bear, and the beaver, with horns of the _bos
primigenius_ and _bos longifrons_, and of a gigantic variety of red
deer, unequalled in size by animals of the same species in these latter
ages. Occasionally I was enabled to vivify in this way even the ancient
deposits of the Lias, with their vast abundance of cephalopodous
mollusca--belemnites, ammonites, and nautili. My friend of the Cave had
become parish schoolmaster of Nigg; and his hospitable dwelling
furnished me with an excellent centre for exploring the geology of the
parish, especially its Liassic deposits at Shandwick, with their huge
gryphites and their numerous belemnites, of at least two species,
comparatively rare at Eathie--the _belemnite abreviatus_ and _belemnite
elongatus_. I had learned that these curious shells once formed part of
the internal framework of a mollusc more nearly akin to the
cuttle-fishes of the present day than aught else that now exists; and
the cuttle-fishes--not rare in at least one of their species (_loligo
vulgare_) in the Firth of Cromarty--I embraced every opportunity of
examining. I have seen from eighteen to twenty individuals of this
species enclosed at once in the inner chamber of one of our
salmon-wears. The greater number of these shoals I have ordinarily found
dead, and tinged with various shades of green, blue, and yellow--for it
is one of the characteristics of the creature to assume, when passing
into a state of decomposition, a succession of brilliant colours; but I
have seen from six to eight individuals of their number still alive in a
little pool beside the nets, and still retaining their original pink
tint, freckled with red. And these I have observed, as my shadow fell
across their little patch of water, darting from side to side in panic
terror within the narrow confines, emitting ink at almost every dart,
until the whole pool had become a deep solution of sepia. Some of my
most interesting recollections of the cuttle-fish are associated,
however, with the capture and dissection of a single specimen. The
creature, in swimming, darts through the water much in the manner that a
boy slides down an ice-crusted declivity, feet foremost;--the lower or
nether extremities go first, and the head behind: it follows its tail,
instead of being followed by it; and this curious peculiarity in its
mode of progression, though, of course, on the whole, the mode best
adapted to its conformation and instincts, sometimes proves fatal to it
in calm weather, when not a ripple breaks upon the pebbles, to warn that
the shore is near. An enemy appears: the creature ejects its cloud of
ink, like a sharp-shooter discharging his rifle ere he retreats; and
then, darting away, tail foremost, under cover of the cloud, it grounds
itself high upon the beach, and perishes there. I was walking, one very
calm day, along the Cromarty shore, a little to the west of the town,
when I heard a peculiar sound--a _squelch_, if I may employ such a
word--and saw that a large loligo, fully a foot and a half in length,
had thrown itself high and dry upon the beach. I laid hold of it by its
sheath or sack; and the loligo, in turn, laid hold of the pebbles,
apparently to render its abduction as difficult as possible, just as I
have seen a boy, when borne off against his will by a stronger than
himself, grasping fast to door-posts and furniture. The pebbles were
hard and smooth, but the creature raised them very readily with his
suckers. I subjected one of my hands to its grasp, and it seized fast
hold; but though the suckers were still employed, it made use of them on
a different principle. Around the circular rim of each there is a fringe
of minute thorns, hooked somewhat like those of the wild rose. In
clinging to the hard polished pebbles, these were overlapped by a fleshy
membrane, much in the manner that the cushions of a cat's paw overlap
its claws when the animal is in a state of tranquillity; and by means of
the projecting membrane, the hollow interior was rendered air-tight, and
the vacuum completed: but in dealing with the hand--a soft
substance--the thorns were laid bare, like the claws of a cat when
stretched out in anger, and at least a thousand minute prickles were
fixed in the skin at once. They failed to penetrate it, for they were
short, and individually not strong; but, acting together by hundreds,
they took at least a very firm hold.

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXII.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On one occasion I even became political enough to stand for a
councillorship. My friends, chiefly through the death of elderly voters
and the rise of younger men