Tales and Sketches (6)

Home Up Autobiography First Impressions Scenes and Legends The Betsey Leading Articles Miscellanea Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]


-VII.-

THE YOUNG SURGEON.

CHAPTER I.


It's no' in books, it's no' in lear,
To make us truly blest,
If Happiness has not her seat
And centre in the breast.

BURNS.


THERE is a little runnel in the neighbourhood of the town of——, which, rising amid the swamps of a mossy hollow, pursues its downward way along the bottom of a deep-wooded ravine; and so winding and circuitous is the course which, in the lapse of ages, it has worn for itself through a subsoil of stiff diluvial clay, that, ere a late proprietor lined its sides with garden-flowers and pathways covered with gravel, and then willed that it should be named the "Ladies' Walk," it was known to the townspeople as the Crook Burn.  It is a place of abrupt angles and sudden turns.  We see that when the little stream first leaped from its urn it must have had many a difficulty to encounter, and many an obstacle to overcome; but they have all been long since surmounted; and when in the heat of summer we hear it tinkling through the pebbles, with a sound so feeble that it hardly provokes the chirp of the robin, and see that, even where it spreads widest to the light, it presents a too narrow space for the gambols of the water-spider, we marvel how it could ever have scooped out for itself so capacious a bed.  But what will not centuries of perseverance accomplish!  The tallest trees that rise beside it—and there are few taller in the country—scarcely overtop its banks; and, as it approaches the parish burying-ground,—for it passes close beside the wall,—we may look down from the fields above on the topmost branches, and see the magpie sitting on her nest.  This little stream, so attenuated and thread-like during the droughts of July and August, and which after every heavier shower comes brawling from its recesses, reddened by a few handfuls of clay, has swept to the sea, in the long unreckoned succession of ages, a mass mighty enough to have furnished the materials of an Egyptian pyramid.

    In even the loneliest windings of the Crook Burn we find something to remind us of the world.  Every smoother trunk bears its inscription of dates and initials; and to one who has resided in the neighbouring town, and mingled freely with the inhabitants, there is scarcely a little cluster of characters he meets with that has not its story.  Human nature is a wonderful thing and interesting in even its humblest appearances to the creatures who partake of it; nor can the point from which one observes it be too near, or the observations themselves too minute.  It is perhaps best, however, when we have collected our materials, to combine and arrange them at some little distance.  We are always something more than mere observers,—we possess that which we contemplate, with all its predilections and all its antipathies,—and there is dimness or distortion in the mirror on which we catch the features of our neighbours, if the breath of passion has passed over it.  Do we not see that the little stream beside us gives us a faithful picture of what surrounds it only when it is at rest?  And it is well, if we desire to think correctly, and in the spirit of charity, of our brother men, that we should be at rest too.  For our own part, we love best to think of the dead when their graves are at our feet, and our feelings are chastened by the conviction that we ourselves are very soon to take our place beside them.  We love to think of the living, not amid the hum and bustle of the world, when the thoughts are hurried, and perhaps the sterner passions aroused, but in the solitude of some green retreat, by the side of some unfrequented stream, when drinking largely of the beauty and splendour of external things, and feeling that we ourselves are man,—in nature and destiny the being whom we contemplate.  There is nought of contempt in the smile to which we are provoked by the eccentricities of a creature so strange and wilful, nor of bitterness in the sorrow with which we regard his crimes.

    In passing one of the trees, a smooth-rinded ash, we see a few characters engraved on it, which at the first glance we deem Hebrew, but which we find, on examination, to belong to some less known alphabet of the East.  There hangs a story of these obscure characters, which, though little chequered by incident, has something very interesting in it.  It is of no distant date;—the characters, in all their minuter strokes, are still unfilled; but the hand that traced them, and the eye that softened in expression as it marked the progress of the work,—for they record the name of a lady-love,—are now mingled with the clods of the valley.

    Early in an autumn of the present century,—and we need not be more explicit, for names and dates are no way essential to what we have to relate,—a small tender entered the bay of——, and cast anchor in the roadstead, where she remained for nearly two months.  Our country had been at peace with all the world for years before, and the arts which accompany peace had extended their softening influence to our seamen, a class of men not much marked in the past, as a body at least,—though it had produced a Dampier and a Falconer,—for aught approaching to literary acquirement, or the refinement of their manners.  And the officers of this little vessel were no unfavourable specimens of the more cultivated class.  They were in general well read; and possessing, with the attainments, the manners of gentlemen, were soon on terms of intimacy with some of the more intelligent inhabitants of the place.  There was one among them, however, whose society was little courted.  He was a young and strikingly handsome man, with bright, speaking eyes, and a fine development of forehead; but the higher parts of his nature seemed more than balanced by the lower; and, though proud-spirited and honourable, he was evidently sinking into a hopeless degradation,—the slave of habits which strengthen with indulgence, and which already seemed too strong to be overcome.

    He accompanied, on two or three occasions, some of his brother officers when engaged in calling on their several acquaintances of the place.  The grosser traits of his character had become pretty generally known, and report had, as usual, rather aggravated than lessened them.  There was something whispered of a low intrigue in which he was said to have been engaged; something, too, of those disreputable habits of solitary indulgence in which the stimulating agent is recklessly and despairingly employed to satisfy for the moment the ever-recurring cravings of a depraved appetite, and which are regarded as precluding the hope of reform; and he seemed as if shunned by every one.  His high spirit, however, though it felt neglect, could support him under it.  He was a keen satirist, too, like almost all men of talent, who, thinking and feeling more correctly than they live, wreak on their neighbours the unhappiness of their own remorse; and he could thus neutralize the bitterness of his feelings by the bitterness of his thoughts.  But with every such help one cannot wholly dispense with the respect of others, unless one be possessed of one's own; and when a lady of the place, who on one occasion saw and pitied his chagrin, invited him to pass an evening at her house with a small party of friends, the feeling awakened by her kindness served to convince him that he was less indifferent than he could have wished to the coldness of the others.  His spirits rose in the company of which he was thus introduced; he exerted his powers of pleasing,—and they were of no ordinary description, for, to an imagination of much liveliness, he added warm feelings and an exquisite taste,—and, on rising to take his leave for the evening, his hostess, whose interest in him was heightened by pity, and whose years and character secured her from the fear of having her motives misconstrued, kindly urged him to repeat his visit every time he thought to could not better employ himself, or when he found it irksome or dangerous to be alone.  And her invitation was accepted in the spirit in which it was given.

    She soon became acquainted with his with his story.  He had lost his mother when very young, and had been bred up under the care of an elder brother, with an eye to the church; but his inclinations interfering as he grew up, the destination was altered, and he applied himself to the study of medicine.  He had passed through college in a way creditable to his talents, and on quitting it he seemed admirably fitted to rise in the profession which he had made choice of; for, to very superior acquirements, and much readiness of resource, he added a pleasing address and a soft, winning manner.  There seemed, however, to be something of a neutralizing quality in the moral constitution of the man.  He was honest, and high-spirited, and ready to oblige; but there was a morbid restlessness in his feelings which, languishing after excitement as its proper element, rendered him too indifferent to those ordinary concerns of life which seem so tame and little when regarded singly, but which prove of such mighty importance in the aggregate.  There was, besides, an unhappy egotism in the character, which led him to regard himself as extraordinary, the circumstances in which he was placed as common and therefore unsuited, and which, instead of exciting him to the course of legitimate exertion through which men of talent rise to their proper sphere, spent itself in making out ingenious cases of sorrow, and apologies for unhappiness, from very ordinary events, and a condition of life in which thousands attain to contentment.  One might almost suppose that that sense of the ludicrous—bestowed on the species undoubtedly for wise ends—which finds its proper vocation in detecting and exposing incongruities of this kind, could not be better employed than in setting such a man right.  It would have failed in its object, however; and certain it is, that geniuses of the very first order, who could have rendered us back our ridicule with fearful interest, have been of nearly the same disposition with the poor surgeon,—creatures made up of idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.  A similar turn was attended with unhappiness in Byron and Rousseau; and such is the power of true genius over the public mind, however fantastic its vagaries, that they had all Europe to sympathize with them.

    The poor surgeon experienced no such sympathy.  The circumstances, too, in which he had been reared were well-nigh as unfavourable as his disposition; nor had they at all improved as he grew up.  The love of a mother might have nursed the feelings of so delicate a mind, and fitted them for the world; for, as in dispositions of a romantic cast the affections are apt to wander after the unreal and the illusive, and to become chilled and crippled in the pursuit, it is well that they should be prepared for resting on real objects by the thousand kindlinesses of this first felt and tenderest relation.  But his mother he had lost in infancy.  His brother, though substantially kind, had a way of saying bitter things,—not unprovoked, perhaps,—which, once heard, were never forgotten.  He was now living among strangers, who, to a man of his temper, were likely to remain such,—without friends or patron, and apparently out of the reach of promotion.  And, to sum up the whole, he was a tender and elegant poet, for he had become skilful in the uncommunicable art, and had learned to give body to his emotions and colour to his thoughts; but, though exquisitely alive to the sweets of fame, he was of all poets the most obscure and nameless.  With a disposition so unfortunate in its peculiarities, with a groundwork, too, of strong animal passion in the character, he strove to escape from himself by means revolting to his better nature, and which ultimately more than doubled his unhappiness.  To a too active dislike of his brother men,—for he was infinitely more successful in finding enemies than friends,—there was now added a sickening disgust of himself.  Habit produced its visual effects; and he found he had raised to his assistance a demon which he could not lay, and which threatened to destroy him.

    We insert a finished little poem, the composition of this stage, in which he portrays his feelings, and which may serve to show, were any such proof needed, that gross habits and an elegant taste are by no means incompatible.


Fain would I seek in scenes more gay
    That pleasure others find,
And strive to drown in revelry
    The anguish of the mind.

But still, where'er I go, I bear
    The marks of inward pain;
The lines of misery and care
    Are written in my brain.

I cannot raise the cheerful song,
    Nor frolic with the free,
Nor mingle in the dance among
    The sons of mirth and glee.

For there's a spell upon my soul,
    A secret anguish there,
A grief which I cannot control,
    A deep, corroding care.

And do not ask me why I sigh,—
    Draw not the veil aside;
Though dark, 'tis fairer to the eye
    Than that which it would hide.


    The downward progress of the young surgeon, ere it received the ultimate check which restored him to more than the vantage-ground of his earliest years, was partially arrested by a circumstance more efficient in suspending the influence of the grosser habits than any other which occurs in the ordinary course of things.  When in some of the southern ports of England, he had formed an attachment for a young and beautiful lady, of great delicacy of sentiment and a highly cultivated mind, and succeeded in inspiring her with a corresponding regard.  Who is not acquainted with Dryden's story of Cymon?  It may be a harder matter, indeed, to unfix deeply-rooted habits than merely to polish the manners; but we are the creatures of motive; and there is no appetite, however unconquerable it may appear when opposed by only the dictates of judgment or conscience, but what yields to the influence of a passion more powerful than itself.  To the young surgeon his attachment for this lady proved for a time the guiding motive and the governing passion; the effect was a temporary reform, a kind of minor conversion, which, though the work of no undying spirit, seemed to renovate his whole moral nature; and had he resided in the neighbourhood of his lady-love, it is probable that, during at least the term of his courtship, all his grosser appetites would have slept.  But absence, though it rather strengthens than diminishes a true attachment, frequently lessons its moral efficiency, by forming, as it were, a craving void in the heart which old habits are usually called upon to fill.  The philosopher Rosseau solaced himself with his bottle when absent from his mistress; the poor fellow whose story I attempt to relate returned in a similar way to most of his earlier indulgences when separated from his.  And yet never was there lover more thoroughly attached, or whose affection had less of earth in it.  His love seemed rather an abstraction of the poet than based on the passions of the man; and, coloured by the taste and delicacy of his intellectual nature, it might be conceived of as a sort of religion exquisitely fervent in its worship, and abounding in gorgeous visions, the phantoms of a vigorous fancy, conjured up by a too credulous hope.  Nor did it lack its dedicatory inscriptions or its hymns.  Almost the only cheerful verses he ever wrote were his love ones; the others were filled with a kind of metaphysical grief—shall we call it?—common to our literature since the days of Byron and Shelley, but which seems to have been unknown to either Burns or Shakspeare.  The surgeon, however, was no mere imitator—no mere copyist of unfelt and impossible sorrow.  His pieces, like all the productions of the school to which they belonged, included nearly the usual amount of false thought and sentiment; but the feeling which had dictated them was not a false one.  Had he lived better, be would have written more cheerfully.  It is with the mind often as with the body.  It is not always in the main seat of disease that the symptoms proper to the disease are exhibited; nor does it need any very extensive acquaintance with our nature to know that real remorse often forms the groundwork of an apparently fictitious sorrow.

    Another poem, of somewhat the same stamp as the former, we may insert here.  It is in the handwriting of the young surgeon, among a collection of his pieces, but is marked "Anonymous."  We have never met with it elsewhere; and as it bears upon it the impress of this singular young man's mind, and is powerfully expressive of the gloom in which he loved to enshroud himself, and of the deep bitterness which is the only legitimate fruit of a life of sinful pleasure, we may shrewdly guess that it can be the production of no one else.  It is entitled


THE MOURNER.


                                              I do not sigh
That I catch not the glance of woman's eye:
I am weary of woman.  I know too well
How the pleasant smiles of the love-merchant sell
To waste one serious thought on her,
Though I've been, like others, a worshipper.
I do not sigh for the silken creature;
The tinge of good in her milky blood
Marks not her worth, but her feebler nature.

                                              I do not pine
That the treasures of India are not mine:
I have feasted on all that gold could buy,
I have drained the fount men call pleasure dry,
And I feel the after scorch of pain
On a lip that would not drink again.
Oh! wealth on me were only wasted;
I am far above the usurer's love.
And all other love on earth I've tasted.

                                              I do not weep
That apart from the noble my walk I keep;
That the name I bear shall never be set
'Mid the gems of Fame's sparkling coronet;
That I shall slink, with the meanest clay,
To a hasty grave as mean as they.
Oh! the choice of a sepulchre does not grieve me:
I have that within a name might win
And a tomb, if such things could deceive me.

                                              I do not groan
That I life's poison plant have known;
That in my spirit's drunkenness
I ate of its fruit of bitterness,
Nor knew, until it was too late,
The ills that on such banquet wait.
'Tis not for this I cherish sadness:
I've taught my heart to endure the smart
Produced by my youth's madness.

                                              But I do sigh,
And deeply, darkly pine, weep, groan,—and why?
Because with unclouded eye I see
Each turn in human destiny,
The knowledge of which will not depart,
But lingers and rankles in my heart;
Because it is my chance to know
That good and ill, that weal and woe,
Are words that N
OTHING mean below;
Because all earth can't buy a morrow,
Or draw from breath, or the vital breath,
Aught but uncertainty and sorrow.


    This strange poem he read to his elderly friend, with the evident purpose of eliciting some criticism.  While admitting its power, she protested against its false philosophy,—the result of a distorted vision, in its turn the result of a perverted life.  By way of attempting to strike out a healthier vein of sentiment, she begged him to furnish her with an answer.  With this request he complied; but the production, although with glimpses of true poetry, and with the same power over rhythm, has, as might be expected, the air of something made to order.  It is as follows:—


ANSWER TO THE MOURNER.


                                              I daily sigh
That I meet not the glance of my lady's eye.
I am weary of absence: I know too well
How lonely and tiresome the dull hours tell
Not to wish every moment to be with her
Of whom I have long been the worshipper.
Oh, how I long for the lovely creature!
The olive-bud, at the general Flood,
To the patriarch sailor was not sweeter.

                                              I often pine
That the gifts of fortune are not mine,
Yet covet not wealth from the wish to taste
The enervating sweets of thoughtless waste.
The slave of pleasure I scorn to be,
And the usurer's love has no charms for me.
I wish but an easy competence,
With a pound to lend to an needy friend,
But I care not for splendid affluence.

                                              I sometimes weep
That I with the lowly my walk must keep:
I would that my humble name were set
In the centre of Fame's bright coronet;
That my tomb might be decked with a gorgeous stone,
And the tears of the virtuous shed thereon.
Oh! the thoughts of death should never grieve me,
Could I stamp my name with a spotless fame,
And a garland of deathless roses weave me.

                                              I deeply groan
When I think on the follies my youth has known,—
When the still small voice of conscience brings
Before me the memory of bygone things,
And its softest whisper appals me more
Than the earthquake's crash or the thunder's roar;
And my sorrow is deeper, because I know
That neither from chance nor from ignorance,
But with open eyes, I have wandered so.

                                              I murmur not
That the volume of fate to man is shut,—
That he is forbidden with daring eye
Into its mysteries to pry.
Content with the knowledge God has given,
I seek not to fathom the plans of heaven;
I believe that good may be found below,
And that evil is tasted, alas! I know;
Yet I trust there's a balm for every woe,—
That the saddest night will have a morrow;
And I hope through faith to live after death,
In a world that knows nor sin nor sorrow.


    The truest answer to the mourner was, however, yet to come.

    It is not the least faulty among men that are most successful in interesting us in their welfare.  A ruin often awakens deeper emotions than the edifice, however noble, could have elicited when entire; and there is something in a broken and ruined character, if we can trace in it the lineaments of original beauty and power, that inspires us with similar feelings.  The friend of the young surgeon felt thus.  He was in truth a goodly ruin, in which she saw much to admire and much to regret; and, impressed by a serious and long-cherished belief in the restorative efficacy of religion, her pity for him was not unmixed with hope.  She had treated him on every occasion with the kindness of a mother; and now, with the affection and freedom proper to the character, she pressed on his consideration the important truths which she knew concerned him most deeply.  He listened with a submissive and respectful attention,—the effect, doubtless, of those feelings with which he must have regarded one so disinterestedly his friend; for the subject could not have been introduced to his notice under circumstances more favourable.  The sense of obligation had softened his heart; the respectful deference which he naturally paid to the sex and character of his friend prepared him rather to receive than to challenge the truths which she urged on his acceptance; the conviction that a heartfelt interest in his welfare furnished her only motive, checked that noiseless though fatal under-current of objection which can defeat in so many cases an end incontrovertibly good, by fixing on it the imputation of sinister design; and, above all, there was a plain earnestness in her manner, the result of a deep-seated belief, which, disdaining the niceties of metaphysical speculation, spoke more powerfully to his conscience than it could have done had it armed itself with half the arguments of the schools.  Rarely does more argument bring conviction to an ingenious mind, fertile in doubts and objections.  Conscience sleeps when the rational faculty contends for victory,—a thing it is seldom indifferent to; and a few perhaps ingenious sophisms prove the only fruits of the contest.

    The little vessel lay in ——, as I have said, for about two months, when she received orders to sail for the south of England.  A storm arose, and she was forced by stress of weather into Aberdeen.  From this place the surgeon first wrote to his friend.  His epistolary style, like his poetry, was characterized by an easy elegance; and there was no incident which he related, however trifling in itself, which did not borrow some degree of interest from his pen.  He relates, in one of his earlier letters, that, in a solitary ramble in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen, he came to a picturesque little bridge on the river Don.  He had rarely seen a prettier spot.  There were rocks and trees, and a deep, dark stream; and he stood admiring it till there passed a poor old beggar, of whom he inquired the name of the bridge.  "It is called," said the mendicant, "the brig of Don; but in my young days it was better known as the brig of Balgownie; and if you be a Scotchman perhaps you have heard of it, for there are many prophecies about it by Thomas the Rhymer."  "Ah," exclaimed the surgeon, "'Balgownie brig's black wa!'  And so I have been admiring, for its own sake, the far-famed scene of Byron's boyhood.  I cannot tell you," he adds, "what I felt on the occasion.  It was perhaps lucky for me that I had not much money in my pocket, but the little that I had made the old man happy."

    Our story hastens abruptly to its conclusion.  Daring the following winter and the early part of spring, the little tender was employed in cruising in the English Channel and the neighbourhood of Jersey; and from the latter place most of the surgeon's letters to his friends were addressed.  They relate the progress of an interesting and highly-important change in a mind of no ordinary character.  There was an alteration effected in the very tone of his intellect; it seemed, if I may so express myself, as if strung less sharply than before, and more in accordance with the realities of life.  Even his love appeared as if changed into a less romantic but tenderer passion, that sought the welfare of its object even more than the object itself.  But it was in his moral nature—in those sentiments of the man which look forward and upward—that the metamorphosis seemed most complete.  When a powerful mind first becomes the subject of serious impressions, there is something in Christianity suited to take it by surprise.  When viewed at a distance, and with that slight degree of attention which the great bulk of mankind are contented to bestow on that religion which God revealed, there seems a complex obscurity in its peculiar doctrines which contrasts strongly with the simplicity of its morals.  It seems to lie as uncomfortably (if we may employ the metaphor) as some of the deductions of the higher sciences to what is termed the common sense of mankind.  It seems at first sight, for instance, no very rational inference that the whiteness of light is the effect of a harmonious mixture of colour, or that the earth is confined to its orbit by the operations of the same law which impels a falling pebble towards the ground.  And to the careless, because uninterested observer, such doctrines as the doctrine of the fall and the atonement appear rational in as slight a degree.  But when Deity himself interposes, when the heart is seriously affected, when the divine law holds up its mirror to the conscience, and we begin to examine the peculiar doctrines in a clearer light and from a nearer point of observation, they at once seem to change their character,—to assume so stupendous a massiveness of aspect, to discover a profundity so far beyond every depth of a merely human philosophy, to appear so wonderfully fitted to the nature and to the wants of man, that we are at once convinced their author can be no other than the adorable Being who gave light and gravitation to the universe which he willed to exist.  The young surgeon had a mind capacious enough to be impressed by this feeling of surprise.  He began to see, and to wonder he had missed seeing it before, that Christianity is in keeping, if we may so speak, with the other productions of its Author; that to a creature solely influenced by motive, no moral code, however perfect, can be efficient in directing or restraining, except through its connection with some heart-influencing belief; that it is essential to his nature as man that he meet with a corresponding nature in Deity, a human nature like his own, and that he must be conscious of owing to Him more than either his first origin or his subsequent support, or any of the minor gifts which he shares in common with the inferior animals, and which cost the Giver a less price than was paid on Calvary.  It is unnecessary to expatiate on the new or altered feelings which accompanied the change, or to record the process of a state of mind described by so many.  The surgeon, in his last letter to his friend, dwelt on these with an earnest, yet half-bashful delight, that, while it showed how much they engrossed him, showed also how new it was to him either to experience or describe them.

    The next she received regarding him recorded his death.  It was written at his dying request by a clergyman of Jersey.  He had passed a day, early in April, in the cabin of the little vessel, engaged with his books and his pen; towards evening he went on deck; and, stepping on the quay, missed his footing and fell backwards.  The spine sustained a mortal injury in the fall.  He was carried by the unskilful hands of sailors to lodgings in the town of St. Helier's, a distance of five miles.  During this long and painful transport, he was, as he afterwards said, conscious although speechless, and aware that, if he had been placed in an easier position, with his head better supported, he might have a chance of recovery.  Yet he never gave expression to a single murmur.  Besides the clergyman, he was fortunate enough to be assiduously attended by some excellent friends whom he had made on occasion of a former visit of his vessel to the same port.  These he kept employed in reading the Scriptures aloud by night and by day.  As he had formerly drunk deeply of the fount men call pleasure, he now drank insatiably at the pure Fount of Inspiration.  "It is necessary to stop," one of his kind attendants would say; "your fever is rising."  "It is only," he would reply with a smile, "the loss of a little blood after you leave."  He lingered thus for about four weeks in hopeless suffering, but in the full possession of all his mental faculties, till death came to his relief; and he departed full of the hope of a happy immortality.  The last tie that bound him to the world was his attachment to the lady whose name, so obscurely recorded, has introduced his story to the reader.  But as death neared, and the world receded, he became reconciled to the necessity of parting from even her.  His last request to the clergyman who attended him was, that, after his decease, he should write to his friend in——, and say, "that if, as he trusted, he entered, a sinner saved, into glory, he would have to bless her, as being, under God, the honoured instrument of mercy."

__________________________

 
-VIII.-

GEORGE ROSS, THE SCOTCH AGENT.


Men resemble the gods in nothing so much as in doing good to their fellow-creatures.—CICERO.


IN the letter in which Junius accuses the Duke of Grafton of having sold a patent-place in the collection of customs to one Mr. Hine, he informs the reader that the person employed by his grace in negotiating the business "was George Ross, the Scotch Agent, and worthy confidant of Lord Mansfield.  And no sale by the candle," he adds, "was ever conducted with greater formality."  Now, slight as this notice is, there is something in it sufficiently tangible for the imagination to lay hold of.  If the reader thinks of the Scotch Agent at all, he probably thinks of him as one of those convenient creatures so necessary to the practical statesman, whose merit does not consist more in their being ingenious in a great degree, than in their being honest in a very small one.  So mixed a thing is poor human nature, however, that, though the statement of Junius has never yet been fairly controverted, no possible estimate of character could be more unjust.  The Scotch Agent, whatever the nature of his services to the Duke of Grafton, was in reality a high-minded, and, what is more, a truly patriotic man; so good a person, indeed, that, in a period of political heats and animosities, his story, fairly told, might teach us a lesson of charity and moderation.  I wish I could transport the reader to where his portrait hangs, side by side with that of his friend the Lord Chief justice, in the drawing-room of Cromarty House.  The air of dignified benevolence impressed on the features of the handsome old man, with his gray hair curling round his temples, would secure a fair hearing for him from even the sturdiest of the class who hate their neighbours for the good of their country.  Besides, the very presence of the noble-looking lawyer, so much more like the Murray eulogized by Pope and Lyttleton than the Mansfield denounced by Junius, would of itself serve as a sort of guarantee for the honour of his friend.

    George Ross was the son of a petty proprietor of Easter-Ross, and succeeded, on the death of his father, to the few barren acres on which, for a century or two before, the family had been ingenious enough to live.  But he possessed, besides, what was more valuable than twenty such patrimonies, an untiring energy of disposition, based on a substratum of the soundest good sense; and, what was scarcely less important than either, ambition enough to turn his capacity of employment to the best account.  Ross-shire a century ago was no place for such a man; and as the only road to preferment at this period was the road that led south, George Ross, when very young, left his mother's cottage for England, where he spent nearly fifty years amongst statesmen and courtiers, and in the enjoyment of the friendship of such men as President Forbes and Lord Mansfield.  At length he returned, when an old, gray-headed man, to rank among the greatest capitalists and proprietors of the county, and purchased, with other lesser properties in the neighbourhood, the whole estate of Cromarty.  Perhaps he had come to rest him ere he died.  But there seems to be no such thing as changing one's natural bent, when confirmed by the habits of half a lifetime; and the energies of the Scotch Agent, now that they had gained him fortune and influence, were as little disposed to fall asleep as they had been forty years before.  As it was no longer necessary, however, that they should be employed on his own account, he gave them full scope in behalf of his poorer neighbours.  The country around him lay dead.  There were no manufactories, no trade, no knowledge of agriculture, no consciousness that matters were ill, and, consequently, no desire of making them better; and the Herculean task imposed upon himself by the Scotch Agent, now considerably turned of sixty, was to animate and revolutionize the whole.  And such was his statesman-like sagacity in developing the hitherto undiscovered resources of the country, joined to a high-minded zeal that could sow liberally in the hope of a late harvest for others to reap, that he fully succeeded.

    He first established in the town an extensive manufactory of hempen cloth, which has ever since employed about two hundred persons within its walls, and fully twice that number without.  He next built an ale brewery, which, at the time of its erection, was by far the largest in the north of Scotland.  He then furnished the town, at a great expense, with an excellent harbour, and set on foot a trade in pork which for the last thirty years has been carried on by the people of the place to an extent of from about fifteen to twenty thousand pounds annually. He set himself, too, to initiate his tenantry in the art of rearing wheat; and finding them wofully unwilling to become wiser on the subject, he tried the force of example, by taking an extensive farm under his own management and conducting it on the most approved principles of modern agriculture.  He established a nail and spade manufactory; brought women from England to instruct the young girls in the art of working lace; provided houses for the poor; presented the town with a neat, substantial building, the upper part of which serves for a council-room and the lower as a prison; and built for the accommodation of the poor Highlanders, who came thronging into the town to work on his land and in his manufactories, a handsome Gaelic chapel.  He built for his own residence an elegant house of hewn stone; surrounded it with pleasure-grounds, designed in the best style of the art; planted many hundred acres of the less improvable parts of his property; and laid open the hitherto scarcely accessible beauties of the hill of Cromarty by crossing and re-crossing it with well-nigh as many walks as there are veins in the human body.  He was proud of his exquisite landscapes, and of his own skill in heightening their beauty, and fully determined, he said, if he but lived long enough, to make Cromarty worth an Englishman's while coming all the way from London to see it.

    When Oscar fell asleep, says the old Irish bard, it was impossible to awaken him before his time except by cutting off one of his fingers or flinging a rock at his head; and woe to the poor man who disturbed him!  The Agent found it every whit as difficult to awaken a sleeping country, and in some respects almost as unsafe.  I am afraid human nature is nearly the same thing in the people that it is in their rulers, and that both are alike disposed to prefer the man who flatters them to the man who merely does them good.  George Ross was by no means the most popular of proprietors.  He disturbed old prejudices, and unfixed old habits.  The farmers thought it hard that they should have to break up their irregular map-like patches of land, divided from each other by little strips and corners not yet reclaimed from the waste, into awkward-looking rectangular fields, and that they durst no longer fasten their horses to the plough by the tail,—a piece of natural harness evidently formed for the express purpose.  The townspeople deemed the hempen manufactory unwholesome; and found that the English lace-women, who to a certainty were tea-drinkers, and even not very hostile, it was said, to gin, were in a fair way of teaching their pupils something more than the more weaving of lace.  What could be more heathenish, too, than the little temple covered with cockle-shell which the laird had just reared on a solitary corner of the hill, but which they soon sent spinning over the cliff into the sea, a downward journey of a hundred yards?  And then his odious pork trade!  There was no prevailing on the people to rear pigs for him; and so he had to build a range of offices, in an out-of-the-way nook of his lands, which he stocked with hordes of these animals, that he might rear them for himself.  The herds increased in size and number, and, voracious beyond calculation, almost occasioned a famine.  Even the great wealth of the speculatist proved insufficient to supply them with food, and the very keepers were in danger of being eaten alive.  The poor animals seemed departing from their very nature; for they became long and lank, and bony as the griffins of heraldry, until they looked more like race-horses than pigs; and as they descended with every ebb in huge droves to browse on the sea-weed, or delve for shell-fish among the pebbles, there was no lack of music befitting their condition when the large rock-crab revenged with his nippers on their lips the injuries inflicted on him with their teeth.  Now, all this formed a fine subject for joking to people who indulged in a half-Jewish dislike of the pig, and who could not guess that the pork trade was one day to pay the rents of half the widows' cottages in the country.  But no one could lie more open than George Ross to that species of ridicule which the men who see further than their neighbours, and look more to the advantage of others than to their own, cannot fail to encounter.  He was a worker in the dark, and at no slight expense; for, though all his many projects were ultimately found to be benefits conferred on his country, not one of them proved remunerative to himself.  But he seems to have known mankind too well to have expected a great deal from their gratitude, though on one occasion at least his patience gave way.

    The town in the course of years had so entirely marched to the west, that the town's cross came at length to be fairly left behind, with a hawthorn hedge on the one side and a garden fence on the other; and when the Agent had completed the house which was to serve as council-room and prison to the place, the cross was taken down from its stand of more than two centuries, and placed in front of the new building.  That people might the better remember the circumstance, there was a showy procession got up; healths were drunk beside the cross in the Agent's best wine, and not a little of his best crystal broken against it; and the evening terminated in a ball.  It so happened, however, through some cross chance, that, though all the gentility of the place were to be invited, three young men, who deemed themselves quite as genteel as the best of their neighbours, were passed over.  The dignified manager of the hemp manufactory had received no invitation, nor the clever superintendent of the nail-work, nor yet the spruce clerk of the brewery; and as they were all men of spirit, it so happened that during the very next night the cross was taken down from its new pedestal, broken into three pieces, and carried still further to the west, to an open space where four lanes met; and there it was found in the morning, the pieces piled over each other, and surrounded by a profusion of broken ale bottles.  The Agent was amazingly angry, —angrier, indeed, than his acquaintance had deemed him capable of becoming; and in the coarse of the day the town's crier went through the streets proclaiming a reward of ten pounds in hand, and a free room in Mr. Ross's new buildings for life, to any one who would give such information as might lead to the conviction of the offenders.

    In one of his walks a few days after, the Agent met with a poor, miserable-looking Highland woman, who had been picking a few withered sticks out of one of his hedges, and whose hands and clothes seemed torn by the thorns.  "Poor old creature," he said, as she dropped her courtesy in passing, "you must go to my manager, and tell him I have ordered you a barrel of coals.  And stay,—you are hungry: call at my house, in passing, and the servants will find you something to bring home with you."  The poor woman blessed him, and looked up hesitatingly-in his face.  She had never betrayed any one, she said; but his honour was so good a gentleman,—so very good a gentleman; and so she thought she had best tell him all she knew about the breaking of the cross.  She lived in a little garret over the room of Jamie Banks, the nailer; and having slept scarcely any all the night in which the cross was taken down,—for the weather was bitterly cold, and her bed-clothes very thin,—she could hear weighty footsteps traversing the streets till near morning, when the house door opened, and in came Jamie, with a tottering, unequal step, and disturbed the whole family by stumbling over a stool into his wife's washing-tub.  Besides, she had next day overheard his wife rating him for staying out to so untimeous an hour, and his remark, in reply, that she would do well to keep quiet, unless she wished to see him hanged.  This was the sort of clue the affair required; and, in following it up, the unlucky nailer was apprehended and examined; but it was found that, through a singular lapse of memory, he had forgotten every circumstance connected with the night in question, except that he had been in the very best company, and one of the happiest men in the world.

    Jamie Banks was decidedly the most eccentric man of his day, in at least one parish,—full of small wit and small roguery, and famous for a faculty of invention fertile enough to have served a poet.  On one occasion, when the gill of whiskey had risen to three halfpence in Cromarty, and could still be bought for a penny in Avoch, he had prevailed on a party of his acquaintance to accompany him to the latter place, that they might drink themselves rich on the strength of the old proverb; and as they actually effected a saving of two shillings in spending six, it was clear, he said, that, had not their money failed them, they would have made fortunes apiece.  Alas for the littleness of that great passion, the love of fame!  I have observed that the trades-people among whom one meets with most instances of eccentricity, are those whose shops, being places of general resort, furnish them with space enough on which to achieve a humble notoriety, by rendering themselves unlike everybody else.  To secure to Jamie Banks due leisure for recollection, he was committed to jail.

    He was sitting one evening beside the prison fire, with one of his neighbours and the jailer, and had risen to exclude the chill night air by drawing a curtain over the open-barred window of the apartment, when a man suddenly started from behind the wall outside, and discharged a large stone with tremendous force at his head.  The missile almost brushed his ear as it sung past, and, rebounding from the opposite wall, rolled along the floor.  "That maun be Rob Williamson," exclaimed Jamie, "wanting to keep me quiet.  Out, neebor Jonathan, an' after him."  Neebor Jonathan, an active young fellow, sprung to the door, caught the sounds of retreating footsteps as turned the gate, and, dashing after like a greyhound, succeeded in laying hold of the coat-skirts of Rob Williamson, as he strained onwards through the gate of the hemp manufactory.  He was immediately secured, and lodged in another apartment of the prison; and in the morning Jamie Banks was found to have recovered his memory.

    He had finished working, he said, on the evening after the ball, and was just putting on his coat preparatory to leaving the shop, when the superintendent called him into is his writing-room, where he found three persons sitting at table half covered with bottles.  Rob Williamson, the weaver, was one of these; the other two were the clerk of the brewery and the manager of the hemp manufactory; and they were all arguing together on some point of divinity.  The manager cleared a seat for him beside himself, and filled his glass thrice in succession, by way of making up for the time he had lost.  Nothing could be more untrue than that the manager was proud.  They then all began to speak about morals and Mr. Ross.  The clerk was certain that, with his harbour, and his piggery, and his heathen temples, and his lace-women, he would not leave a ray of morality in the place; and Rob was quite as sure was no friend to the gospel.  He a builder of Gaelic kirks, forsooth!  Had he not yesterday put up a popish dagon of a cross, and made the silly mason bodies worship it for the sake o' a dram?  And then, how common ale-drinking had become in the place!—in his young days they drank nothing but gin,—and what would their grandfathers have said to a whigmaleerie o' a ball!  "I sipped and listened," continued Jamie, "and thought that the time could not have been better spent at an elders' meeting in the kirk; and as the night wore later the conversation became still more edifying, until at length all the bottles were emptied, when we sallied out in a body, to imitate the old Reformers by breaking the cross.  'We may suffer, Jamie, for what we have done,' said Rob to me as we parted for the night; 'but, remember, it was duty, Jamie, it was duty; we have been testifying wi' our hands, an' when the hour o' trial comes we manna be slow in testifying wi' our tongues too.'  He wasna slack, the deceitfu' body!" concluded Jamie, "in trying to stop mine."  And thus closed the evidence.  The Agent was no vindictive man.  He dismissed his two managers and the clerk, to find for themselves a more indulgent master; but the services of Jamie Banks he still retained; and the first employment which he found for him after his release was the fashioning of four iron bars for the repair of the cross.

    The Agent, in the closing scene of his life, was destined to experience the unhappiness of blighted hope.  He had an only son, a weak and very obstinate young man, who, without intellect enough to appreciate his well-calculated schemes, and yet conceit enough to sit in judgment on them, was ever showing his spirit by opposing a sort of selfish nonsense, that aped the semblance of common sense, to the expansive and benevolent philosophy of his father.  But the old man bore patiently with his conceit and folly.  Like the great bulk of the class who attain to wealth and influence through their own exertions, he was anxiously ambitious to live in his posterity, and be the founder of a family; and he knew it was quite as much according to the nature of things that a fool might be the father, as that he should be the son, of a wise man.  He secured, therefore, his lands to his posterity by the law of entail; did all that education and example could do for the young man; and succeeded in getting him married to a sweet, amiable English woman, the daughter of a bishop.  But, alas! his precautions, and the hopes in which he indulged, proved equally vain.  The young man, only a few months after his marriage, was piqued, when at table, by some remark of his father regarding his mode of carving,—some slight allusion, it is said, to the maxim that little men cannot afford to neglect little matters,—and rising, with much apparent coolness, from beside his wife, he stepped into an adjoining room, and there blew out his brains with a pistol.  The stain of his blood may still be seen in two large brownish-coloured blotches on the floor.

    George Ross survived his son for several years; and he continued, though a sadder and a graver man, to busy himself with all his various speculations as before.  It was observed, however, that he seemed to care less than formerly for whatever was exclusively his own, for his fine house and his beautiful lands, and that he chiefly employed himself in maturing his several projects for the good of his country-folks.  Time at length began to set its seal on his labours, by  discovering their value; though not until death had first affixed his to the character of the wise and benevolent projector.  He died full of years and honour, mourned by the poor, and regretted by every one; and even those who had opposed his innovations with the warmest zeal were content to remember him, with all the others, as "the good laird."

__________________________

 
-IX.-

M'CULLOCH THE MECHANICIAN.


Anything may become nature to man; the rare thing is to find a nature that is truly natural.—ANON.


IN the "Scots Magazine" for May 1789, there is a report by Captain Philip d'Auvergne, of the Narcissus frigate, on the practical utility of Kenneth M'Culloch's sea-compasses.  The captain, after an eighteen months' trial of their merits, compared with those of all the other kinds in use at the time, describes them as immensely superior, and earnestly recommends to the admiralty their general introduction into the navy.  In passing, on one occasion, through the Race of Alderney in the winter of 1787, there broke out a frightful storm; and so violent was the opposition of the wind and tide, that while his vessel was sailing at the rate of eleven miles on the surface, she was making scarce any headway by the land.  The sea rose tremendously, at once short, high, and irregular; and the motions of the vessel were so fearfully abrupt and violent that scarce a seaman aboard could stand on deck.  At a time so critical, when none of the compasses supplied from his majesty's stores would stand, but vacillated more than three points on each side of the pole, "it commanded," says the captain, "the admiration of the whole crew, winning the confidence of even the most timorous, to see how quickly and readily M'Culloch's steering compass recovered the vacillations communicated to it by the motion of the ship and the shocks of the sea, and how truly, in every brief interval of rest, it pointed to the pole."  It is further added, that on the captain's recommendation these compasses were tried on board the Andromeda, commanded at the time by Prince William Henry, our late king; and so satisfied was the prince of the utility of the invention, that he, too, became a strenuous advocate for their general introduction, and testified his regard for the ingenious inventor by appointing him his compass-maker.  M'Culloch, however, did not long survive the honour, dying a few years after; and we have been unable to trace with any degree of certainty the further history of his improved compass.  But, though only imperfectly informed regarding his various inventions,—and they are said to have been many, and singularly practical,—we are tolerably well acquainted with the story of his early life; and, as it furnishes a striking illustration of that instinct of genius, if we may so express ourselves, which leads the possessor to exactly the place in which his services may be of most value to the community, by rendering him useless and unhappy in every other, we think we cannot do better than communicate it to the reader.

    There stood, about forty years ago, on the northern side of the parish of Cromarty, an old farm-house,—one of those low, long, dark-looking erections of turf and stone which still survive in the remoter districts of Scotland, as if to show how little man may sometimes improve, in even a civilized country, on the first rude shelter which his necessities owed to his ingenuity.  A worn-out barrel, fixed slantwise in the ridge, served as a chimney for the better apartment,—the spare room of the domicile,—which was furnished also with a glazed window; but the smoke was suffered to escape from the others, and the light to enter them, as chance or accident might direct.  The eaves, overhung by stonecrop and bunches of the houseleek, drooped heavily over the small blind windows and low door; and a row of ancient elms, which rose from out the fence of a neglected garden, spread their gnarled and ponderous arms over the roof.  Such was the farm-house of Woodside, in which Kenneth M'Culloch, the son of the farmer, was born, some time in the early half of the last century.  The family from which he sprang—a race of honest, plodding tacksmen—had held the place from the proprietor of Cromarty for more than a hundred years; and it was deemed quite a matter of course that Kenneth, the eldest son, should succeed his father in the farm.  Never was there a time, in at least this part of the country, in which agriculture stood more in need of the services of original and inventive minds.  There was not a wheeled cart in the parish, nor a plough constructed on the modern principle.  There was no changing of seed to suit the varieties of soil, no green cropping, no rotatory system of production; and it seemed as if the main object of the farmer had been to raise the least possible amount of grain at the greatest possible expense of labour.  The farm of Woodside was primitive enough in its usages and nodes of tillage to have formed a study to the antiquary.  Towards autumn, when the fields vary most in colour, it resembled a rudely-executed chart of some large island, so irregular were the patches which composed it, and so broken on every side by a surrounding sea of brown, sterile moor, that here and there went winding into the interior in long river-like strips, or expanded within into friths and lakes.  In one corner there stood a heap of stones, in another a thicket of furze, here a piece of bog, there a broken bank of clay.  The implements, too, with which the fields were laboured were quite as uncouth in their appearance as the fields themselves.  There was the single-stilted plough, that did little more than scratch the surface; the wooden-toothed harrow, that did hardly so much; the cumbrous sledge,—no inconsiderable load of itself,—for carrying home the corn in harvest; and the basket-woven conical cart, with its rollers of wood, for bearing out the manure in spring.  With these, too, there was the usual misproportion to the extent and produce of the farm of lean, inefficient cattle,—four half-starved animals performing with incredible labour the work of one.  And yet, now that a singularly inventive mind had come into existence on this very farm, and though its attentions had been directed, as far as external influence could direct them, on the various employments of the farmer, the interests of husbandry were to be in no degree improved by the circumstance.  Nature, in the midst of her wisdom, seems to cherish a dash of the eccentric.  The ingenuity of the farmer's son was to be employed, not in facilitating the labours of the farmer, but in inventing binnacle-lamps which would yield an undiminished light amid the agitations of a tempest, and in constructing mariners' compasses on a new principle.  There are instances of a similar character furnished by the experience of almost every one.  In passing some years since over a dreary moor in the interior of the country, our curiosity was excited by a miniature mast, furnished, like that of a ship, with shrouds and yards, bearing a-top a gaudy pinnet, which we saw beside a little Highland cottage; and on inquiring regarding it at the door, we were informed that it was the work of the cottager's son, a lad who, though he had scarcely ever seen the sea, had taken a strange fancy to the life of a sailor, and who had left his father only a few weeks before to serve aboard a man-of-war.

    Kenneth's first employment was the tending of a flock of sheep, the property of his father; and wretchedly did he quit himself of the charge.  The farm is bounded on the eastern side by a deep, bosky ravine, through the bottom of which a scanty runnel rather trickles than flows; and when it was discovered on any occasion that Kenneth's flock had been left to take care of themselves, and of his father's corn to boot,—and such occasions were woefully frequent,—Kenneth himself was almost invariably to be found in this ravine.  He would sit for hours among the bushes, engaged with his knife in carving uncouth faces on the heads of walking-sticks, or in constructing little water-mills, or in making Lilliputian pumps of the dried stalks of the larger hemlock, and in raising the waters of the runnel to basins dug in the sides of the hollow.  Sometimes he quitted his charge altogether, and set out for a meal-mill about a quarter of a mile from the farm, where he would linger for half a day at a time watching the motion of the wheels.  His father complained that he could make nothing of him; "the boy," he said, "seemed to have nearly as much sense as other boys of his years, and yet for any one useful purpose he was nothing better than an idiot."  His mother, as is common with mothers, and who was naturally an easy, kind-hearted woman, had better hopes of him.  Kenneth, she affirmed, was only a little peculiar, and would turn out well after all.  He was growing up, however, without improving in the slightest; and when he became tall enough for the plough, he made a dead stand.  He would go and be a tradesman, he said, a mason or smith or house-carpenter,—anything his friends chose to make him,—but a farmer he would not be.  His father, after a fruitless struggle to overcome his obstinacy, carried him with him to an acquaintance in Cromarty, an ingenious cabinet-maker, named Donald Sandison; and, after candidly confessing that he was of no manner of use at home, and would, he was afraid, be of little use anywhere, he bound him by indenture to the mechanic for four years.

    Kenneth's new master—a shrewd, sagacious man, who had been actively engaged, it was said, in the Porteous mob about twenty years before—was one of the best workmen in his profession in the north of Scotland.  His scrutoires and wardrobes were in repute up to the close of the last century; and in the ancient art of wainscot carving he had no equal in the country.  He was an intelligent man, too, as well as a superior mechanic.  He was a general reader, as a little old-fashioned library in the possession of his grandson still remains to testify; and he had studied Paladio, in the antique translation of Godfrey Richards, and knew a little of Euclid.  With all his general intelligence, however, and all his skill, he failed to discover the latent capabilities of his apprentice.  Kenneth was dull and absent, and had no heart to his work; and though he seemed to understand the principles on which his master's various tools were used, and the articles of his trade constructed, as well at least as any workman in the shop, there were none among them who used the tools so awkwardly, or constructed the articles so ill.  An old botching carpenter who wrought in a little shop at the other end of the town was known to the boys of the place by the humorous appellation of "Spull [i. e. spoil] the Wood," and a lean-sided, ill-conditioned boat which he had built, as "the Wilful Murder."  Kenneth came to be regarded as a sort of second "Spull the Wood,"—as a fashioner of rickety tables, ill-fitted drawers, and chairs that, when sat upon, creaked like badly-tuned organs; and the boys, who were beginning to regard him as fair game, sometimes took the liberty of asking him whether he, too, was not going to build a boat?  Such, in short, were his deficiencies as a mechanic, that in the third year of his apprenticeship his master advised his father to take him home with him and let him to the plough; an advice, however, on which the farmer, warned by his previous experience, sturdily refused to act.

    It was remarked that Kenneth acquired more in the last year of his apprenticeship than in all the others.  His skill as a workman still ranked a little below the average ability; but then it was only a little below it.  He seemed, too, to enjoy more, and become less bashful and awkward.  His master on one occasion took him aboard a vessel in the harbour to repair some injury which her bulwarks had sustained in a storm; and Kenneth, for the first time in his life, was introduced to the mariner's compass.  The master, in after days, when his apprentice had become a great man, used to relate the circumstance with much complacency, and compare him, as he bent over the instrument in wonder and admiration, to a negro of the Kanga tribe worshipping the elephant's tooth.  On the close of his apprenticeship he left this part of the country for London, accompanied by his master's eldest son, a lad of rather thoughtless disposition, but, like his father, a first-rate workman.

    Kenneth soon began to experience the straits and hardships of the inferior mechanic.  His companion found little difficulty in procuring employment, and none at all in retaining it when once procured.  Kenneth, on the contrary, was tossed about from shop to shop, and from one establishment to another; and for a full twelvemonth, during the half of which he was wholly unemployed, he did not work for more than a fortnight together with any one master.  It would have fared worse with him than it did had it not been for his companion, Willie Sandison, who generously shared his earnings with him every time he stood in need of his assistance.  In about a year after they had gone to London, however, Willie, an honest and warm-hearted, but thoughtless lad, was inveigled into a bad, disreputable marriage, and lost, in consequence, his wonted ability to assist his companion.  We have seen one of Kenneth's letters to his old master, written about this time, in which he bewails Willie's mishap, and dwells gloomily on his own prospects.  How these first began to brighten we are unable to say, for there occurs about this period a wide gap in his story, which all our inquiries regarding him have not enabled us to fill; but in a second letter to his mother, now before us, which bears date 1772, just ten years after the other, there are the proofs of a surprising improvement in his circumstances and condition.

    He writes in high spirits.  Just before sitting down to his desk, he had heard from his old friend Willie, who had gone out to one of the colonies, where he was thriving, in spite of his wife.  He had heard, too, by the same post, from his mother, who had been so kind to him during his luckless boyhood; and the old woman was well.  He had, besides, been enabled to remove from his former lodging to a fine, airy house in Duke's Court, opposite St. Martin's Church, for which he had engaged, he said, to pay a rent of forty-two pounds per annum—a very considerable sum sixty-eight years ago; and he had entered into an advantageous contract with Catherine of Russia, for furnishing all the philosophical instruments of a new college then erecting in St. Petersburg, a contract which promised to secure about two years' profitable employment to himself and seven workmen.  In the ten years which had intervened between the dates of his two letters, Kenneth M'Culloch had become one of the most skilful and inventive mechanics, in London, perhaps in the world.  He rose gradually into affluence and celebrity, and for a considerable period before his death his gains were estimated at about a thousand a year.  His story, however, illustrates rather the wisdom of nature than that of Kenneth M'Culloch.  We think all the more highly of Franklin for being so excellent a printer, and of Burns for excelling all his companions in the labours of the field; nor did the shill or vigour with which they pursued their ordinary employments hinder the one from taking his place among the first philosophers and first statesmen of the age, nor prevent the other from achieving his wide-spread celebrity as at once the most original and most popular of modern poets.  Be it remembered, however, that there is a narrow and limited cast of genius, unlike that of either Burns or Franklin, which, though of incalculable value in its own sphere, is of no use whatever in any other; and to precipitate it on its proper object by the pressure of external circumstances, and the general inaptitude of its possessor for other pursuits, seems to be part of the wise economy of Providence.  Had Kenneth M'Culloch betaken himself to the plough, like his father and grandfather, he would have been, like them, the tacksman of Woodside, and nothing more; had he found his proper vocation in cabinet-making, he would have made tables and chairs for life, like his ingenious master Donald Sandison.

__________________________

 
-X.-

THE SCOTCH MERCHANT OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.

CHAPTER I.


Custom forms us all. Our thoughts, our morals, our most fixed beliefs, are consequences of our place of birth.—HILL.


IT is according to the fixed economy of human affairs that individuals should lead, and that masses should follow; for the adorable Being who wills that the lower order of minds should exist by myriads, and produces the higher so rarely, has willed, also, by inevitable consequence, that the many should be guided by the few.  On the other hand, it is not less in accordance with the dictates of His immutable justice, that the interests of the few should be subordinate to the more extended interests of the many.  The leading minds are to be regarded rather as formed for the masses, than the masses for them.  True it is, that, while the one principle acts with all the undeviating certainty of a natural law, the other operates partially and interruptedly, with all the doubtful efficiency of a moral one; and hence those long catalogues of crimes committed against the species by their natural leaders which so fill the pages of history.  We see man as the creature of destiny conforming unresistingly to the one law; as a free agent, accountable for all his actions, yielding an imperfect and occasional obedience to the other.  And yet his duty and his true interest, were he but wise enough to be convinced of it, are in every case the same.  The following chapters, as they contain the history of a mind of the higher order, that, in doing good, to others, conferred solid benefits on itself, may serve simply to illustrate this important truth.  They may serve, too, to show the numerous class whose better feelings are suffered to evaporate in idle longings for some merely conceivable field of exertion, that wide spheres of usefulness may be furnished by situations comparatively unpromising.  They may afford, besides, occasional glimpses of the beliefs, manners, and opinions of an age by no means remote from our own, but in many respects essentially different from it in spirit and character.

    The Lowlanders of the north of Scotland were beginning, about the year 1700, gradually to recover the effects of that state of miserable depression into which they had been plunged for the greater part of the previous century.  There was a slow awakening of the commercial spirit among the more enterprising class of minds, whose destiny it is to move in the van of society as the guides and pioneers of the rest.  The unfortunate expedition of Darien had dissipated well-nigh the entire capital of the country only a few years before, and ruined almost all the greater merchants in the large towns.  But the energies of the people, now that they were no longer borne down by the wretched despotism of the Stuarts, were not to be repressed by a single blow.  Almost every seaport and larger town had its beginnings of trade.  Younger sons of good family, who would have gone, only half a century before, to serve as mercenaries in the armies of the Continent, were learning to employ themselves as merchants at home.  And almost every small town had its shopkeeper, who, after passing the early part of his life as a farmer or mechanic, had set himself, in the altered state of the country, to acquire the habits of his new profession, and employed his former savings in trade.

    Among these last was James Forsyth, a native of the province of Moray.  He had spent the first thirty years of his life as a mason and builder.  His profession was a wandering one, and he had received from nature the ability of profiting by the opportunities of observation which it afforded.  He had marked the gradual introduction among the people of new tastes for the various articles of foreign produce and manufacture which were beginning to flow into the kingdom, and had seen how large a proportion the profits of the trader bore—as they always do in the infancy of trade—to the amount of capital employed.  Resigning, therefore, his old profession, he opened a small shop in the town of Cromarty, whose lucrative herring-fishery rendered it at this period one of the busiest little places in the north of Scotland.  And as he was at once steady and enterprising, rigidly just in his dealing's, and possessed of shrewd good sense, he had acquired, ere the year 1722, when his eldest son, William, the subject of the following memoir, was born to him, what at that period was deemed considerable wealth.  His marriage had taken place, somewhat late in life, little more than a twelvemonth before.

    William received from nature, what nature only can bestow, great force of character, and great kindliness of heart.  The town of Cromarty at the time—was singularly fortunate in its schoolmaster, Mr. David M'Culloch, a gentleman who terminated a long and very useful life, many years after, as the minister of a wild Highland parish in Perthshire; and William, who in infancy even had begun to manifest that restless curiosity which almost always characterizes the dawn of a superior intellect, was placed at a very early age under his care.  The school—one of Knox's strongholds of the Reformation—was situated in a retired wooden corner behind the houses, with the windows, which were half-buried in the thatch, opening to the old, time-worn Castle of Cromarty.  There could not be a more formidable spectre of the past than the old tower.  It had been from time immemorial the seat of the hereditary sheriffs of the district, whose powers at this period still remained entire; and its tall, narrow front of blind wall, its embattled turrets and hanging bartizans, seemed associated with the tyranny and violence of more than a thousand years.  But the low, mean-looking building at the foot of the hill was a masked battery raised against its authority, which was to burst open its dungeon-door, and to beat down its gallows.  There is a class—the true aristocracy of nature—which have but to arise from among the people that the people may be free; and the humble old school did its part in separating its due proportion of these from the mass.  Of two of the boys who sat at the same form with William Forsyth, one, the son of the town-clerk, afterwards represented the county in Parliament; and the other, of still humbler parentage, attracted, many years after, when librarian of the University of Edinburgh and Professor of Oriental Languages, the notice of the far-known Dr. Samuel Johnson.

    The scheme of tuition established in our Scotch schools of this period was exactly that which had been laid down by Knox and Craig, in the Book of Discipline, rather more than a century and a half before.  Times had altered, however; and, though still the best possible, perhaps, for minds of a superior order, it was no longer the best for intellects of the commoner class.  The scheme drawn up by our first reformers was stamped by the liberality of men who had learned from experience that tyranny and superstition derive their chief support from ignorance.  Almost all the knowledge which books could supply at the time was locked up in the learned languages.  It was appointed, therefore, "that young men who purposed to travill in some handicraft or other profitable exercise for the good of the commonwealth, should first devote ane certain time to grammar and the Latin tongue, and ane certain time to the other tongues and the study of philosophy."  But what may have been a wise and considerate act on the part of the ancestor, may degenerate into merely a foolish custom on the part of the descendant.  Ere the times of Mr. M'Culloch, we had got a literature of our own; and if useful knowledge be learning, men might have become learned through an acquaintance with English reading alone.  Our fathers, however, pursued the course which circumstances had rendered imperative in the days of their great-grandfathers, merely because their great-grandfathers had pursued it; and the few years which were spent in school by the poorer pupils of ordinary capacity, were absurdly frittered away in acquiring a little bad Latin and a very little worse Greek.  So strange did the half-learning of our common people, derived in this way, appear to our southern neighbours, that there are writers of the last century who, in describing a Scotch footman or mechanic, rarely omit making his knowledge of the classics an essential part of the character.  The barber in "Roderich Random" quotes Horace in the original; and Foote, in one of his farces, introduces a Scotch valet, who, when some one inquires of him whether he be a Latinist, indignantly exclaims, "Hoot awa, mart! a Scotchman and no understand Latin!"

    The school of Cromarty, like the other schools of the kingdom, produced its Latinists who caught fish and made shoes; and it is not much more than twenty years since the race became finally extinct.  I have heard stories of an old house-painter of the place, who, having survived most of his school-fellows and contemporaries, used to regret, among his other vanished pleasures, the pleasure he could once derive from an inexhaustible fund of Latin quotation, which the ignorance of a younger generation had rendered of little more value to him than the paper-money of an insolvent bank; and I remember an old cabinetmaker who was in the practice, when his sight began to fail him, of carrying his Latin New Testament with him to church, as it chanced to be printed in a clearer type than any of his English ones.  It is said, too, of a learned fisherman of the reign of Queen Anne, that, when employed one day among his tackle, he was accosted in Latin by the proprietor of Cromarty, who, accompanied by two gentlemen from England, was sauntering along the shore, and that, to the surprise of the strangers, he replied with considerable fluency in the same language.  William Forsyth was a Latinist, like most of his school-fellows; but the natural tone of his mind, and the extent of his information, were in keeping with the acquirement; and while there must have been something sufficiently grotesque and incongruous, as the satirists show us, in the association of a classic literature with humble employments and very ordinary modes of thought and expression, nothing, on the other hand, could have seemed less so than that an enterprising and liberal-minded merchant should have added sentiments of the gentleman the tastes and attainments of the scholar.


 
CHAPTER II.


The wise and active conquer difficulties by daring to to attempt them, Sloth and Folly shiver and shrink at sight of toil and hazard, and make the impossibility they fear.—ROWE.


WILLIAM FORSYTH in his sixteenth year quitted school, and was placed by his father in a counting-house in London, where he formed his first acquaintance with trade.  Circumstances, however, rendered the initiatory course a very brief one.  His father, James Forsyth, died suddenly in the following year, 1739; and, leaving London at the request of his widowed mother, whose family now consisted of two other sons and two daughters,—all of them, of course, younger than himself,—he entered on his father's business—it the early age of seventeen.  In one interesting instance I have found the recollection of his short stay in London incidentally connected with the high estimate of his character and acquirements formed by one of the shrewdest and most extensively informed of his mercantile acquaintance.  "I know," says a lady who has furnished me with some of the materials of these chapters, "that Mr. Forsyth must have spent some time in a London counting-house, from often having heard my father repeat, as a remark of the late Henry Davidson of Tulloch, that had the Cromarty merchant remained in the place where he received his first introduction to business, he would have been, what no Scotchman ever was, lord mayor of London."'  I need hardly add that the remark is at least half a century old.

    The town of Cromarty, at the time of Mr. Forsyth's settlement in it, was no longer the scene of busy trade which it had been twenty years before.  The herring-fishery of the place, at one time the most lucrative on the eastern coast of Scotland, had totally failed, and the great bulk of the inhabitants, who had owed to it their chief means of subsistence, had fallen into abject poverty.  They seemed fast sinking, too, into that first state of society in which there is scarce any division of labour.  The mechanics in the town caught their own fish, raised their own corn, tanned their own leather, and wore clothes which had employed no other manufacturers than their own families and their neighbour the weaver.  There was scarce any money in the district.  Even the neighbouring proprietors paid their tradesmen in kind; and a few bolls of malt or barley, or a few stones of flax or wool, settled the yearly account.  There could not, therefore, be a worse or more hopeless scene for the shopkeeper; and had William Forsyth restricted himself to the trade of his father, he must inevitably have sunk with the sinking fortunes of the place.  Young as he was, however, he had sagacity enough to perceive that Cromarty, though a bad field for the retail trader, might prove a very excellent one for the merchant.  Its valuable, though at this time neglected harbour, seemed suited to render it, what it afterwards became, the key of the adjacent country.  The neighbouring friths, too,—those of Dingwall, Dornoch, and Beauly, which wind far into the Highlands of Ross and Sutherland,—formed so many broad pathways leading into districts which had no other roads at that period; and the towns of Tain, Dornoch, Dingwall, Campbelton, and Fortrose, with the seats of numerous proprietors, are situated on their shores.  The bold and original plan of the young trader, therefore, was to render Cromarty a sort of depot for the whole; to furnish the shopkeepers of the several towns with the commodities in which they dealt, and to bring to the very doors of the proprietors the various foreign articles of comfort and luxury with, which commerce could alone supply them.  And, launching boldly into the speculation at a time when the whole country seemed asleep around him, he purchased a freighting-boat for the navigation of the three friths, and hired a large sloop for trading with Holland and the commercial towns of the south.

    The failure of the herring trade of the place had been occasioned by the disappearance of the herrings, which, after frequenting the Frith in immense shoals for a long series of years, had totally deserted it.  It is quite according to the nature of the fish, however, to resume their visits as suddenly and unexpectedly as they have broken them off, though not until after the lapse of so many seasons, perhaps, that the fishermen have ceased to watch for their appearance in their old haunts, or provide the tackle necessary for their capture; and in this way a number of years are sometimes suffered to pass, after the return of the fish, ere the old trade is re-established.  To guard against any such waste of opportunity on the part of his townspeople was the first care of William Forsyth, after creating, as it were, a new and busy trade for himself; and, representing the case to the more intelligent gentlemen of the district, and some of the wealthier merchants of Inverness, he succeeded in forming them into a society for the encouragement of the herring-fishery, which provided a yearly premium of twenty marks Scots for the first barrel of herrings caught every season in the Moray Frith.  The sum was small; but as money at the time was very valuable, it proved a sufficient inducement to the fishermen and trades-people of the place to fit out a few boats, about the beginning of autumn every year, to sweep over the various fishing-banks for the herrings; and there were few seasons in which some one crew or other did not catch enough to entitle them to the premium.  At length, however, their tackle wore out; and Mr. Forsyth, in pursuance of his scheme, provided himself, at some little expense, with a complete drift of nets, which were carried to sea each season by his boatmen, and the search kept up.  His exertions, however, could only merit success, without securing it.  The fish returned for a few seasons in considerable bodies, and several thousand barrels were caught; but they soon deserted the Frith as entirely as before; and more than a century elapsed from their first disappearance ere they revisited their old haunts with such regularity and in such numbers as to render the trade remunerative to either the curers or the fishermen.

    Unlike the herring speculation, however, the general trade of William Forsyth was eminently successful.  It was of of a miscellaneous character, as became the state of a country so poor and so thinly peopled, and in which, as there was scarce any division of labour, one merchant had to perform the work of many.  He supplied the proprietors with teas and wines and spiceries, with broadcloths, glass, delft-ware, Flemish tiles, and pieces of japanned cabinetwork; he furnished the blacksmith with iron from Sweden, the carpenter with tar and spars from Norway, and the farmer with flaxseed from Holland.  He found, too, in other countries markets for the produce of our own.  The exports of the north of Scotland at this period were mostly malt, wool, and salmon.  Almost all rents were paid in kind or in labour; the proprietors retaining in their own hands a portion of their estates, termed demesnes or mains, which was cultivated mostly by their tacksmen and feuars, as part of their proper service.  Each proprietor, too, had his storehouse or girnel,—a tall, narrow building, the strongbox of the time, which at the Martinmas of every year was filled from gable to gable with the grain-rents paid to him by his tenants, and the produce of his own farm.  His surplus cattle found their way south, under charge of the drovers of the period; but it proved a more difficult matter to dispose to advantage of his surplus corn, mostly barley, until some one, more skilful in speculation than the others, originated the scheme of converting it into malt, and exporting it into England and Flanders.  And to so great an extent was this trade carried on about the middle of the last century, that, in the town of Inverness, the English under Cumberland, in the long-remembered year of Culloden, found almost every second building a malt-barn.

    The town of Cromarty suffered much at this period, in at least the severer winters, from scarcity of fuel.  The mosses of the district were just exhausted; and as our proprietors had not yet betaken themselves to planting, there were no woods, except in some of the remoter recesses of the country, where the remains of some of the ancient forests were still suffered to survive.  Peats were occasionally brought to the town in boats from the opposite side of the Frith; but the supply was precarious and insufficient, and the inhabitants were content at times to purchase the heath of the neighbouring hill, in patches of an hundred square yards, and at times even to use for fuel the dried dung of their cattle.  "A Cromarty fire" a term used over the country to designate a fire just gone out; and some humorist of the period has represented a Cromarty farmer, in a phrase which became proverbial, as giving his daughter the key of the peat-chest, and bidding her take out a peat and a half that she might put on a good fire.  It was the part of Mr. Forsyth to divest the proverb of its edge, by opening up a trade with the northern ports of England, and introducing to the acquaintance of his townspeople the "black stones" of Newcastle, which have been used ever since as the staple fuel of the place.  To those who know how very dependent the inhabitants are on this useful fossil, there seems an intangible sort of strangeness in the fact that it is not yet a full century since Mr. Forsyth's sloop entered the bay with the first cargo of coal ever brought into it.  One almost expects to hear next of the man who first taught them to rear corn, or to break in, from their state of original wildness, the sheep and the cow.

    Mr. Forsyth had entered upon his twenty-fourth year, and had been rather more than six years engaged in business, when the rebellion broke out.  There was an end to all security for the time, and of course an end to trade; but even the least busy found enough to employ them in the perilous state of the country.  Bands of marauders, the very refuse of the Highlands,—for its better men had gone to the south with the rebel army,—went prowling over the Lowlands, making war with all alike, whether Jacobites or Hanoverians, who were rich enough to be robbed.  Mr. Forsyth's sloop, in one of her coasting voyages of this period, when laden with a cargo of government stores, was forced by stress of weather into the Dornoch Frith, where she was seized by a party of Highlanders, who held her for three days, in the name of the prince.  They did little else, however, than consume the master's sea-stock, and joke with the ship-boy, a young but very intelligent lad, who, for many years after, when Mr. Forsyth had himself become a ship-owner, was the master of his vessel.  He was named Robertson; and as there were several of the Robertsons of Struan among the party, he was soon on very excellent terms with them.  On one occasion, however, when rallying some of the Struans on their undertaking, he spoke of their leader as "the Pretender."  "Beware, my boy," said an elderly Highlander, "and do not again repeat that word.  There are men in the ship who, if they heard you, would perhaps take your life for it; for remember, we are not all Robertsons."  Another party of the marauders took possession of the town of Cromarty for a short time, and dealt after the same manner with the stores of townspeople, whether of food or clothing, as the other had done with the stores of the shipmaster.  But they were rather mischievous thieves than dangerous enemies; and except that they robbed a few of the women of their webs and yarn, and a few of the men of their shoes and bonnets, they left them no very grave cause to regret their visit.

    It so chanced, however, that Mr. Forsyth was brought more seriously into contact with the rebels than any of his townsmen.  The army of the prince, after the failure of the attempt on England, fell back on the Highlands; and a body of sixteen hundred king's troops, which had occupied Inverness, had retreated northwards, on their approach into the county of Sutherland.  They had crossed by the Ferry of Cromarty in the boats of the town's fishermen; and these, on landing on the northern side, they had broken up to prevent the pursuit of the rebels.  Scarcely had they been gone a day, however, when an agent of government, charged with a large sum of money, the arrears of their pay, arrived at Cromarty.  He had reached Inverness only to find it in possession of the rebels; and after a perilous journey over a tract of country where almost every second man had declared for the prince, he found at Cromarty his further progress northward arrested by the Frith.  In this dilemma, with the sea before him and the rebels behind, he applied to William Forsyth, and, communicating to him the nature and importance of his charge, solicited his assistance and advice.  Fortunately Mr. Forsyth's boat had been on one of her coasting voyages at the time the king's troops had broken up the others, and her return was now hourly expected.  Refreshments were hastily set before the half exhausted agent; and then hurrying him to the feet of the precipices which guard the entrance of the Frith, Mr. Forsyth watched with him among the cliffs until the boat came sweeping round the nearer headland.  The merchant hailed her in the passing, saw the agent and his charge safely embarked, and, after instructing the crew that they should proceed northwards, keeping as much as possible in the middle of the Frith until they had either come abreast of Sutherland or fallen in with a sloop-of-war then stationed near the mouth of the Spey, he returned home.  In the middle of the following night he was roused by a party of rebels, who, after interrogating him strictly regarding the agent and his charge, and ransacking his house and shop, carried him with them a prisoner to Inverness.  They soon found, however, that the treasure was irrecoverably beyond their reach, and that nothing was to be gained by the further detention of Mr. Forsyth.  He was liberated, therefore, after a day and night's imprisonment, just as the rebels had learned that the army of Cumberland had reached the Spey; and he returned to Cromarty in time enough to witness from the neighbourly hill the smoke of Culloden.  In afterlife he used sometimes to amuse his friends by a humorous detail of his sufferings in the cause of the king.


 
CHAPTER III.


So spake the Fiend; and with necessity
The tyrant's plea excused his devilish deeds.

MILTON.


BY far the most important event of the last century to the people of Scotland was the rebellion of 1745.  To use an illustration somewhat the worse for the wear, it resembled one of those violent hurricanes of the tropics which overturn trees and houses and strew the shores with wreck, but which more than compensate for the mischief they occasion by dissipating the deadly vapours of plague and pestilence, and restoring the community to health.  Previous to its suppression the people possessed only a nominal freedom.  The church for which they had done and suffered so much had now been re-established among them for nearly sixty years; and they were called, as elders, to take a part in its worship, and to deliberate in its courts.  The laws, too, especially those passed since the union, recognized them as free.  More depends, however, on the administration of law than on even the framing of it.  The old hereditary jurisdictions still remained entire; and the meanest sheriff or baron of Scotland, after holding a court composed of only himself and his clerk, might consign the freest of his vassals to his dungeon, or hang him up at his castle-door.  But the rebellion showed that more might be involved in this despotism of the chiefs and proprietors of the country than the oppression of individuals, and that the power which they possessed, through its means of calling out their vassals on their own behalf; to-day, might be employed in precipitating them against the government on the morrow.  In the year 1747, therefore, hereditary jurisdictions were abolished all over Scotland, and the power of judging in matters of life and death restricted to judges appointed and paid by the crown.  To decide on such matters of minor importance as are furnished by every locality, justices were appointed; and Mr. Forsyth's name was placed on the commission of the peace; a small matter, it may be thought, in the present day, but by no means an unimportant one ninety years ago, to either his townspeople or himself.

    Justices of the peace had been instituted about a century and a half before.  But the hereditary jurisdictions of the kingdom leaving them scarce any room for the exercise of their limited authority, the order fell into desuetude; and previous to its re-appointment, on the suppression of the rebellion, the administration of the law seems to have been divided, in at least the remoter provinces, between the hereditary judges and the church.  The session records of Cromarty during the establishment of Episcopacy are still extant, and they curiously exemplify the class of offences specially cognizable by the ecclesiastical courts.  They serve, too, to illustrate, in a manner sufficiently striking, the low tone of morals which obtained among the people.  Our great-great-grandfathers were not a whit wiser nor better nor happier than ourselves; and our great-great-grandmothers seem to have had quite the same passions as their descendants, with rather less ability to control them.  There were ladies of Cromarty, in the reign of Charles II., "maist horrible cussers," who accused one another of being "witches and witch getts, with all their folk afore them," for generations untold; gentlemen who had to "stand at the pillar" for unlading the boats of a smuggler at ten o'clock on a Sabbath night; "maist scandalous reprobates" who got drunk on Sundays, "and abused decent folk ganging till the kirk;" and "ill-conditioned royit loons who raisit disturbances and faught i' the scholars' loft" in the time of divine service.  Husbands and their wives do penance in the church in this reign for their domestic quarrels; boys are whipped by the beadle for returning from a journey on the Sabbath; men are set in the jougs for charging elders of rather doubtful character with being drunk; boatmen are fined for crossing the ferry with passengers "during church time;" and Presbyterian farmers are fined still more heavily for absenting themselves from church.  Meanwhile, when the session was thus employed, the sheriff was amusing himself in cutting off men's ears, starving them in his dungeon, or hanging them up by the neck on his gallows.  A few dark traditions, illustrative of the intolerable tyranny of the period, still survive; and it is not yet more than nine years since a quantity of human bones, found in digging on an eminence a little above the harbour, which in the reign of Charles is said to have been a frequent scene of executions, served as an attestation to their general truth.  It is said that the last person sentenced to death on the gallows-hill of Cromarty was a poor Highlander who had insulted the sheriff, and that, when in the act of mounting the ladder, he was pardoned at the request of the sheriff's lady.

    There is much of interest in catching occasional glimpses of a bygone state of society through the chance vistas of tradition.  They serve to show us, in the expressive language of Scripture, "the rock whence we were hewn, and the hole of the pit whence we were dug."  They serve, too, to dissipate those dreamy imaginings of the good and happiness of the past in which it seems an instinct of our nature to indulge, and enable us to correct the exaggerated estimates of that school of philosophy which sees most to admire in society the further it recedes from civilization.  I am enabled to furnish the reader with one of these chance glimpses.

    An old man who died about ten years ago, has told me that, when a boy, he was sent on one occasion to the manse of a neighbouring parish to bring back the horse of an elderly gentleman of the place, a retired officer, who had gone to visit the minister with the intention of remaining with him for a few days.  The officer was a silver-headed, erect old man, who had served as an ensign at the battle of Blenheim, and who, when he had retired on half pay about forty years after, was still a poor lieutenant.  His riding days were well-nigh over; and the boy overtook him long ere he had reached the manse, and just as he was joined by Mr. Forsyth, who had come riding up by a crossroad, and then slackened bridle to keep him company.  They entered into conversation.  Mr. Forsyth was curious in his inquiries, the old gentleman communicative, and the boy a good listener.  The old man spoke much of the allied army under Marlborough.  By far the strongest man in it, he said, was a gentleman from Ross-shire, Munro of Newmore.  He had seen him raise a piece of ordnance to his breast which Mackenzie of Fairburn, another proprietor of the same district, had succeeded in raising to his knee, but which no other man among more than eighty thousand could lift from off the ground.  Newmore was considerably advanced in life at the time,—perhaps turned of fifty; for he had arrived at mature manhood about the middle of the reign of Charles II.; and, being a singularly daring as well as an immensely powerful man, he had signalized himself in early life in the feuds of his native district.  Some of his lands bordered on those of Black Andrew Munro, the last Baron of Newtarbat, one of the most detestable wretches that ever abused the power of pit and gallows.  But as at least their nominal politics were the same, and as the baron, though by far the less powerful man, was in perhaps a corresponding degree the more powerful proprietor, they had never come to an open rupture.  Newmore, however, by venturing at times to screen some of the baron's vassals from his fury,—at times by taking part against him in the quarrel of some of the petty landholders, whom the tyrant never missed an occasion to oppress,—was by no means one of his favourites.  All the labours of the baron's demesnes were of course performed by his vassals as part of their proper service.  A late, wet harvest came on, and they were employed in cutting down his crops when their own lay rotting on the ground.  It is natural that in such circumstances they should have laboured unwillingly.  All their dread of the baron even, who remained among them in the fields, indulging in every caprice of a fierce and cruel temper, aggravated by irresponsible power, proved scarcely sufficient to keep them at work; and, to inspire them with deeper terror, an elderly female, who had been engaged during the night in reaping a little field of her own, and had come somewhat late in the morning, was actually stripped naked by the savage, and sent home again.  In the evening he was visited by Munro of Newmore, who came, accompanied by only a single servant, to expostulate with him on an act so atrocious and disgraceful.  Newmore was welcomed with a show of hospitality; the baron heard him patiently, and, calling for wine, they sat down and drank together.  It was only a few weeks before, however, that one of the neighbouring lairds, who had been treated with a similar show of kindness by the baron, had been stripped half naked at his table, when in a state of intoxication, and sent home with his legs tied under his horse's belly.  Newmore, therefore, kept warily on his guard.  He had left his horse ready saddled at the gate, and drank no more than he could master, which was quite as much, however, as would have overcome most men.  One after one the baron's retainers began to drop into the room, each on a separate pretence; and, as the fifth entered, Newmore, who had seemed as if yielding to the influence of the liquor, affected to fall asleep.  The retainers came clustering round him.  Two seized him by the arms, and two more essayed to fasten him to his chair; when up he sprang, dashed his four assailants from him as if they had been boys of ten summers, and, raising the fifth from off the floor, hurled him headlong against the baron, who fell prostrate before the weight and momentum of so unusual a missile.  In a minute after, Newmore had reached the gate, and, mounting his horse, rode away.  The baron died during the night, a victim to apoplexy, induced, it is said, by the fierce and vindictive passions awakened on this occasion; and a Gaelic proverb, still current in the Highlands of Ross-shire, shows with what feelings his poor vassals must have regarded the event.  Even to the present day, a Highlander will remark, when overborne by oppression, that "the same God still lives who killed Black Andrew Munro of Newtarbat."



[Next Page]

 


[Home] [Up] [Autobiography] [First Impressions] [Scenes and Legends] [The Betsey] [Leading Articles] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk