Hugh Miller: Autobiography (4)

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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.—H
ENRY 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 misspent 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 there 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 if, 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 a 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 iudulge 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 journeymen 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 sunk, 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 knack 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 interior 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 newfound 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 time 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 granite gneiss and hornblend state 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 an 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 [52] f 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, [53] 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 [54] appear as if drawn in white chalk; clusters of a minute undescribed bivalve are still plated with thin films of the silvery nacre; the mytilacæ [55] usually bear a warm tint of yellowish brown, and must have been brilliant shells in their day; gryphites [56] and oysters are always of a dark grey, and plagiostomæ [57] ordinarily of a bluish or neutral tint. On some of the leaves curious pieces of incident seem recorded. We see fleets of minute terebratulæ, [58] 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 incident, 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 [59] 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 eaves; 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, [60] 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, [61] 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 these 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 outlines; 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 herd 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 housepainter, 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 Dryden; 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 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 his 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.—M
ILTON.


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 outhouse; 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-christi 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 an 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 Lauder'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 atone, 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 baptise, 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 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 end-long 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 their 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 evil-doers, 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!—B
URNS.


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 Fairbairn—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


G
REY 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 S
UN that formed thine,
    His bright rays beamed on me,
That I, wise for the final day,
    Might measure time, like thee!



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