Literary Tours in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
The following is from Literary Tours in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland by D. T. Holmes, B.A.:
Chapter II--Music, Speeches, And Literature
Scotch a Reading Nation
I think it was Mr. Holyoake, the veteran lecturer, who, in a volume of reminiscences, declared he found the audiences in Scotland more intelligent than elsewhere. I cannot draw such comparisons, for I have not spoken often south of the Tweed; this I can say with assurance, however, that no one need hesitate to address an audience of Scotch peasants on a topic of literary interest. Predestination and such religious trifles may stir them to disrespectful heat, but pure literature invariably draws forth their cool and critical attention. Probably no nation has ever devoted so much attention to books, and, as the result of this characteristic, Scotland, considering its size and population, has produced far more than its proportion of eminent men. At the Reformation epoch, when the comforts of a Lowland cottage would be little in advance of those in a present-day Uist croft, writers like George Buchanan and his fellows of the Deliciæ Poetarum Scotorum made the excellence of Scotch scholarship known in every university of Europe. Buchanan was really a typical Caledonian man of genius--open-eyed, sagacious, patriotic, and cosmopolitan--and I can strongly recommend the occasional perusal of his Latin Psalms to all modern readers who wish to keep their feelings of reverence fresh and prevent their Latin quantities from getting amorphous.
Hardships of Students in Old Days
Those who think highly of the Scotch intellect, point with pride to the fact that for many a year the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, and the Archbishop of Canterbury all hailed from the North. For my own part, I am chiefly interested in cases where eminence has resulted from the cultivation of literature on a little oatmeal. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of chatting, over a cup of tea, with the suave old gentleman who combines the postmastership of Dunvegan with the office of factor to the Macleod of Macleod. He held me spell-bound for an afternoon as he narrated in graphic language the hardships of the Skye students in former times. Many a Skye youth, I was told, bent on studying the humanities at Aberdeen, would mount his sheltie, traverse thereon the rough roads of his misty island as far as Kyleakin, cross the ferry there, ride on east through the ben-shadowed track of Glen Moriston, and finally bear down on the streets of the Granite City. There the o'erlaboured sheltie would be sold to pay the matriculation fees.
Homer in Scalloway
Many little out-of-the-way townships in insular Scotland contain scholars who would find themselves quite at home among a set of college dons. In the course of my travels in Shetland I came to the tiny village of Scalloway, and while standing on the pier gazing alternately at the confusion of sea and island, and at the grim old ruined castle where Earl Patrick, the wicked viceroy, once resided, I heard a conversation on geology being carried on between a tall and brawny shopman and some sailors. The latter, who were on board a ship, shouted their replies over a few yards of water to the shopman, who was on the pier near me. I was interested in the men's talk, which had to do with the subsidence of the land at this part of the coast. One of the sailors alleged that his grandmother's cabbage-patch was now covered by the water on which his boat was floating. The big shopman, turning to me, quoted the well-known passage of Tennyson (everyone can repeat it) of the sea flowing where the tree used to grow. "O Earth, what changes thou hast seen." This quotation led to a literary talk in which he remarked that of all poets he preferred Homer. "What translator do you like best?" I enquired. "Blackie's," he replied, "as being the most faithful to the original. But I rarely read a translation, 'I prefer Homer in his own Greek.'" This remark made by one whose fingers were glistening with herring-scales, came to me as a pleasant surprise. Later on in the day, I visited his house and saw his fine library and his splendid selection of classical books. Not many teachers of my acquaintance have a better array of the editions of Homer. He was not one of your ignorant collectors who know only the outside of what they buy. He had read over the whole forty-eight books of the text again and again, and could discuss knotty passages in most interesting and original fashion. His memory was evidently an excellent one. He informed me that most of his reading was done in the early morning, and that he found five hours' sleep quite adequate. I have a most agreeable recollection of my interview with this self-taught scholar. I believe there are many like him in not a few outlandish nooks of Scotland,--men who read books not for any material advantages that result from their studies, but simply and solely for the intense pleasure that comes from communion with the masterminds of bygone generations.
Travel in remote districts of Britain reveals the fact that our provincials, whenever they have the chance, are a studious and thoughtful race. The isolation and monotony of life in many parts are bound to drive men to study and reflection if the means for these are at hand. Sisyphus himself had hardly less variety of occupation than some of our shepherds whose work on the hills involves long absences from social intercourse. To such men (whose life is suggestive of a repeating decimal) the access to an ell or two of good books often means mental salvation. Nothing is so melancholy as to find a countryman of brains who has never had the opportunity of cultivating his mind in such a way as to eliminate prejudice and widen the range of interest.
When Education Ends
I am sometimes inclined to think that many of our rural clergymen, intent on shielding their congregations from pestilent doctrine and latitudinarism, are actuated by much the same spirit as the Sultan Omar when he set fire to the great Library at Alexandria. The Bible is no doubt the best of books, and it may be that the Confession of Faith comes next: but when these have got their share, there still remains the religious duty of educating the intellect by a wide perusal of the inspired apostles of secular literature. A Highland teacher, who presided at one of the lectures in the north, expressed himself very appositely thus on the subject of education: "The supposition that education is over when a boy leaves school, is far too prevalent," he said. "Education properly considered comes to an end when the last breath of life is drawn. Edward Young in his Night Thoughts says: 'Were man to live coeval with the sun, the patriarch-pupil would be learning still.' Young was undoubtedly right: some of the most forceful and penetrating lessons of life are given to us long after we have cast our text-books into some dusty corner, never to be opened more. In our early days, we cannot choose our own teachers, and there is often a good deal of force and constraint. The delightful thing about our education in mature life is that we have the selection of our own masters. There is no compulsion whatever. I am convinced that for everyone of us there is some one author whose works will act as medicine for the mind and be an unfailing tonic in all conditions of the soul."
Object of Chapter
I intend to devote this chapter to a description of a few of the speeches delivered by some of the speakers at such literary evenings in various parts of the country. After I had said my say, I sometimes invited an expression of opinion. Almost invariably someone responded to the invitation, with the object of asking a question, expressing dissent, or intimating concurrence. I do not recollect a single meeting out of hundreds that could be called monotonous. It did not in the slightest detract from the interest of a meeting that many of the remarks erred on the score of irrelevancy. The attention never flagged from first to last, and it was no uncommon thing for the proceedings to last for over three hours. In giving typical speeches delivered by crofters, lairds, tradesmen, and clergymen, I mean to indicate to the reader the subjects that are of interest to our provincial population, their attitude to questions of literature and social life, and incidentally the great amount of humour that still exists in the world.
The free and unconventional character of these meetings was perhaps seen best of all in the musical part of the proceedings, which was always arranged locally. Usually the songs were well-known Highland or Lowland airs, in many cases so exquisitely rendered that it was quite evident there had been much previous preparation. When my opinion was asked beforehand, I invariably recommended national melodies. It was always a treat to get a Gaelic song or two well rendered. At Acharacle (a little place at the far end of Lochshiel) Mr. Rudd's piper gave some fine Highland tunes, which evoked great enthusiasm. Personally I prefer the pipes to every other instrument, for this reason, that even if I don't understand all the music, I can appreciate the scenic effects. The Acharacle piper was a fine specimen of the Celt, and his get-up was glorious:
Sometimes the phonograph formed part of the musical programme. I do not approve of this demoralising instrument except to a very limited extent. The cylinders usually gyrate with records of fatuous music-hall songs, unedifying coster-airs and farcical speeches. The vox humana interpreting national melodies is infinitely better. What vigour and illustrative expression the islanders can throw into their songs! I have but to shut my eyes to see the policeman of Staffin interpreting "The Bonnie House o' Airlie." When his big, manly voice threw out the terrible threat, "I'll no' leave a staunin' stane in Airlie," his eyes shot fire, his teeth gleamed, and his ponderous fist came thundering down on the table in front of him.
I still remember with infinite pleasure the strains of Mr. Cameron's Poolewe Choir, heard in Gairloch school-house. That energetic and complaisant conductor brought his clear-throated minstrels over to the meeting in a brake. It was a luxury to see them with their white robes and tartan sashes, while in front of them stood their genial leader clad in kilts. The Gaelic Mod, which is now a regular institution in the land, is bound to do splendid service towards keeping alive the fine old music of the North. The Poolewe Choir, I am happy to say, won much distinction at the Mods of both Inverness and Greenock. There is great need for choirs, and great need, also, for innocent songs of a secular character. Before I spoke to the people of Eigg, I requested the teacher to arrange, if possible, for a musical programme. The reply staggered me: "No man, woman, or child in this island would for a moment even dream of singing a worldly song. We are all converted here, except a few benighted Catholics. The vain, fleeting joys of this world are as dross to us. The missionary has a modulator, and he trains the young men and women in the sol-fa so that they may sing Sankey's hymns in all the parts." I was dreadfully floored by this answer, and could only mutter mechanically, "Dross," "Missionary,'" "Modulator," in a vain effort to seize the situation. Conversion I understood and approved of, but where, in the wee island of Eigg, were the vain, fleeting joys? There is no public-house in the place, and little temptation of any kind. The most disquieting item of all was the modulator: I have not seen one for a long time, and am not sorry, for there is nothing which so spoils the appearance of a wall nor anything so dismal as practising scales. A compromise was come to, and it was arranged that some Gaelic readings, containing a dash of religion, should take the place of songs, and give some variety to the evening's proceedings.
At some of the meetings there was perhaps an excess of realism. Bottom, in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," wishing to avoid excitement and fear among the ladies when he is acting the part of Pyramus, says: "Write me a prologue; and let the prologue seem to say, we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus is not killed indeed; and for the more better assurance tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver: this will put them out of fear." I thought of Bottom's extreme delicacy when I was present at a meeting in Tomatin not long ago. An outstanding feature of the evening's proceedings was the vividly dramatic rendering of the song, "Macpherson swore a feud," by the local postman. The latter, a big, burly man, was extremely formidable in his Highland attire. When he came to the verse dealing with the untimely decease of Macpherson, he whipped the dagger out of its sheath, flourished it as in act to kill, and terrified some of the lady visitors by his vivid suiting of the action to the word. They were as much astonished at the flash of the skian dhu as the Commons were when Burke threw a dagger on the floor of the House.
A musical treat is sometimes got in the most unexpected places. I was particularly struck with a children's glee-party in Jura (a rough island known chiefly for its sterile Paps). The bairns admirably rendered Ben Jonson's delightful ditty, "Drink to me only with thine eyes," and the Shakespearian song, "Where the bee sucks, there suck I." In such islands a musical teacher is a valuable asset. Let me add that all the libraries have been gratuitously supplied with fine collections of Scottish music.
At Acha, in the island of Coll, four sturdy farm-maidens, ruddy with health and robed in white, gave various English and Gaelic airs in admirable style. A divinity student sang a coster song (think of this in an island of craggy shores, gulls, wild-swans, and curlews!), and on being encored, he gave a "Cradle Lullaby," and by gently swaying a chair backwards and forwards on the platform, he strove to illustrate the movements of childhood's earliest receptacle.
A military gentleman--an ex-major--in proposing a vote of thanks, one evening, to the singers, said he had sung a song but once in his life, the occasion being his admission to the Royal Engineers, thirty years before. It was a standing law in that body that every novice should sing a song or drink a mixture consisting of whisky, ink, and cayenne pepper. He chose the former alternative, and at the end of the first verse the Royal Engineers had all left the room in a demoralised condition!
At one of the meetings in Argyleshire, I had the joy of speaking under the chairmanship of the glib and able Mr. Ainsworth, M.P. for that county. Among the votes of thanks was one for the chairman: it made a profound impression upon me, as much by its form as by its substance: "I hope, Mr. Ainsworth, that you will take better care of your health in future (hear, hear). No, no, you are not taking care of your health at all (laughter). We all expect you to be Prime Minister, and that is the reason we would like you not to roam about so much and undermine your constitution (cheers). You are always travelling. You are like the Wandering Jew. No! you are like a little bird on a bough. To-day, we see you on a tree near the door; to-morrow, we see you on a tree a hundred miles away" (great cheering). Mr. Ainsworth kindly promised that, in view of his destiny, he would cease to range around the country so indiscriminately.
Unfortunately, I have never met Mr. Galloway Weir, but I have heard much of the zeal of himself and his agents. The following story hinges on the fact that Weir and wire have the same pronunciation in Lewis. An old illiterate crofter came to record his vote by word of mouth, and told the polling sheriff: "I will vote for the right man, yes, yes, it's the right man I will be voting for this time." "That may be," said the sheriff, "but unless you will tell me his name, you can't vote." "Well, if you must know," said the old man, handing the sheriff a stocking-wire, "I will be voting for the man that has the same name as that."
The mention of that eminent politician brings to my mind the frequent references made at these meetings to the painful subject of rural depopulation. Everyone regrets the exodus of young men from the country to the town, a practice which depletes the rural villages and deprives the land of the strong arms that should find employment in working it. The ministers are not without hope that the rush city-wards may be checked by improving the conditions of country life, rendering it more attractive to the young, and enlisting the aid of Government in the scheme of small-holdings. Motives of health, morality, and patriotism, are all concerned in the fostering of a hardy peasantry. Everything that makes country life attractive to young men must operate to make them regret to quit it. I wish I could reproduce textually all the strong and astounding speeches I have heard in the Highlands on this subject of depopulation.
"We often hear," said a farmer, "that it's healthy men and women that make up the true wealth of a country, and if that is true, Scotland, for all its increase of riches, is every year growing poorer. How can the people left in the glens continue to propagate a hardy race, if all the young healthy bloods leave for the cities and settle there? I am afraid that both brain and brawn will continue to get feebler among us, unless the Government give some kind of inducement for the peopling of the land with bien, self-respecting men that have a bit land of their own. It's impossible to get farm-hands round Tayside nowadays, and it's not to be wondered at. Suppose a young man stays here, what prospect has he, what incentive has he to work? At the age of seventeen he has earned the highest wage he will ever earn. Thereafter his life is a slow, monotonous serfdom; he has no hope whatever of rising, he is doomed to live from hand to mouth all the years of his existence. But put before that young man the hope that he can become the owner of a morsel of land, however small, and you put life and pride into him. He will work in that case with intelligent purpose, knowing that every penny he saves is to be employed in making him a landed proprietor, and every detail of experience he gains will tell in the future for his direct benefit. Our young fellows don't really want to leave the land and go to die prematurely (as a great many of them do) in the slums of Glasgow and Edinburgh. They go to the cities because there is at least a chance of bettering their lot there, a chance which is entirely lacking at home. Some of them go away to the colonies and thrive as farmers there. I rejoice to hear of such success; but I rejoice with trembling when I think how much of Britain's best manhood has to leave her shores to till Transatlantic fields, while so much land at home remains unoccupied. By and by, if you want to see a good specimen of the Highlander, you will have to go to Canada. Sooner or later, and the sooner the better, the vigorous action of Government will be demanded to remedy the present iniquities of land-tenure, and to put a stop to the compulsory degradation of those who till the soil."
The present seems to be an opportune time for directing public attention to some remarkable changes that are taking place in the population of the rural districts of Scotland. A great deal of speaking and writing has been expended of late years in lamenting the depopulation of the country. Young fellows do not like the monotony of village and farm life: they prefer the stir and excitement of the cities. Such things are not to be wondered at. Town life has always had an attraction for those whose energy requires a wide scene of action. Energy and ambition go together, and it is the possessor of such qualities that makes the successful city man. The country does not give scope enough for their adequate display.
The railway train and the inventions of modern times are both answerable for a certain amount of depopulation. I believe the condition of farm-hands has been markedly improved of late years. They have now a shorter day, higher wages, better food, and superior house accommodation. Mechanical appliances have made farm-work lighter and more agreeable. The drudgery of the threshing flail is now unknown; the hook and the scythe have given way to the reaping-machine: in every way hand labour has been lightened. But it is precisely this machinery that lessens the need for large numbers of agricultural labourers. It is also notorious that shoemakers, tailors, and blacksmiths, are not so much required in the country as they used to be. Ready-made shoes and clothes are brought by rail from the city, and local tradesmen are reduced in numbers.
There seems to be in our day a competition among the Governments of the New World, which of them can lure away the greatest number of our peasantry. The latest candidate for our rural youth is the State of Virginia, the legislature of which has voted a large sum of money to pay the expenses of two delegates, who are at work in the East of Scotland, hunting for likely emigrants. These Virginian delegates--Mr. Koiner and Col. Talliafer--paid the passage-money of over a hundred stalwart lads from Lochtayside in the autumn of 1906.
No one who has the opportunity of travelling through Scotland can fail to be struck by the absolute frenzy for emigration that exists everywhere. There is a constant stream of emigrants from all our agricultural counties to the wide plains of Canada. That great colony is being "boomed" in a most energetic way. In Sutherlandshire, I saw a large van, with placards and specimens of Canadian produce, being driven through Strath Halladale, to tempt the crofters over the deep. I have also, at the railway stations in the North, beheld heart-rending scenes of parting as the young fellows said good-bye to their parents and friends:
 Such emigration has, of course, nothing to do with the systematic work instituted by Mr. William Quarrier of Bridge of Weir. That devout philanthropist occupied himself with the waifs and strays of Glasgow, taught them trades, and sent large numbers of them to the colonies to learn farming. One Saturday, in 1907, I saw a hundred and twenty of these lads, who were on Bridge of Weir platform waiting for the train. The scene was pathetic in the extreme--enough to melt a heart of nether millstone. Many of the lads were in tears as they answered the roll-call for the last time. In the afternoon they (and over two thousand emigrants) left the Clyde, amid sobs, cheers, and the waving of multitudinous handkerchiefs. These boys go, in the first instance, to Brockville, in the province of Ontario, whence they are distributed out among the Canadian farmers.
In most of the places I have visited, the school-house is the only available hall for public meetings. Now, a school-room, with its small, cramped seats, its lack of platform, and its defective ventilation, is not well adapted for large gatherings. No man likes to speak up to the waist in audience, under a low roof, and in stifling air. If less money were spent on needless church-building, every district in the Highlands might have its hall for purposes of recreation, reading, and lecturing. As it is, the churches should everywhere be used far more than they are for secular gatherings of an elevating kind. Religion suffers greatly from the closing of churches to concerts and lectures.
The kindness of local lairds is nowhere more pleasantly shown than in the giving of funds towards the creation of village halls and recreation rooms. The little village of Alness has a splendid Working Men's Club, furnished with everything requisite for pleasure and profit--smoking-room, billiard-room, and reading-room. This Club owes its existence to the generosity of Mr. Perrins--known everywhere for the excellence of his famous condiment--who has an estate in the vicinity. Kiltarlity and Beauly have, for similar instances of discreet bounty, permanent reason for blessing the name of Mr. Phipps. Other instances that occur to me are the spacious Dunbar Hall in Auldearn, due to the kindness of the family of which the genial Sir Frederick Dunbar, Bart., is the present representative, and the Astley Hall in Arisaig, named after the family so long associated with that charming West Highland village.
It must not be supposed that the natives do not thankfully welcome such work on their behalf. Many of the townships, it is true, have had libraries and halls for many a year, and have established these entirely on their own initiative; but outside help and enterprise stimulate local effort in a way often impossible otherwise, as the natives themselves admit. At Nethy Bridge, a fine hall, with club-room, has been recently erected, largely owing to the enthusiasm of a London lady resident in the vicinity. She was distressed to see the young fellows of the place loafing aimlessly about at night, and proceeded to organise some rational amusement for them. Her philanthropy has been greatly appreciated. At Kilmartin, the jubilee of Queen Victoria was signalized by the erection of the Poltalloch Victoria Hall--an enterprise in which laird and crofter alike willingly co-operated. It is in this hall that the Library is established. Mr. Dixon, the erudite historian of Gairloch, set aside the profits of his book to help in furnishing the reading-room at Poolewe, in Wester Ross.
When a rural community has a library and a place to meet in, a literary society is, as a rule, soon formed. Such a society, founded for an elevating and educational purpose, forms a common meeting-ground for all sects, schisms, and parties. I am aware that in most towns of any size there are such societies in connection with the special churches. In the Highlands it is better to eliminate the denominational element, for the very good reason that, the population being small, no one of the too numerous churches would furnish a representative enough roll of members. I was charmed to find that the little town of Portree, of which the population is not much more than eight hundred, has a fine literary society, established on the broad and rational lines I have indicated. As might be expected from the intellectual advancement and strong literary bent of the inhabitants, the lectures given and the subjects discussed at the meetings of the Portree society are of a more erudite nature than anywhere else in the West Highlands. Most of the Portree clergymen and professional men are on the list of members.
Very few city people pay much attention to the moon: in the country that luminary has to be constantly deferred to when arrangements are being made for social meetings, dances, or lectures. When many of the audience have to come six, or even ten miles by land or water, light is needed, and light from above is best. It increases a lecturer's pride to be told that the plashing of oars over there on the argent face of the waters is an indication that some of his audience are coming from the other side of the loch. At the conclusion of many of the lectures, I have seen half a dozen traps, boats, and bicycles speeding away merrily in different directions. But for the bright moon, the audience would have been limited to the immediate neighbourhood of the place of meeting.
It has often happened that my hotel was as much as seven miles from the lecture hall. As closed carriages are rare in certain districts, and as it frequently rains--when it is not snowing--in the West and North of Scotland, I had many good opportunities for gauging my powers of endurance. The road from Killin to Ardeonaig is a fair example of a Highland highway:--
The place of meeting at Ardeonaig was on the shores of Loch Tay, and the main road from Killin is high up and does not go near the water at this point. After alighting from the machine, I had to descend to the loch-side by a steep, miry, and circuitous road through a wood. As the "thin crescent of Diana," alluded to above, was not adequate to light my footsteps here, I struck some futile vestas, which the dripping leaves at once extinguished. Two elders, swinging lanterns and calling me by name, by and by divided the night in my vicinity. Their appearance was welcome, for the torrential rain had made the track one continuous slippery quagmire. The hospitality of the Ardeonaig minister speedily banished all recollection of the "sad night's sullenness." 
A more trying, because a longer, drive is that from Kilmun to Strachur, by way of Loch Eck. In the leafy month of June, nothing could be finer; but in a winter blizzard, one's appreciation of the glory of nature is somewhat less than rapturous. I mention the Strachur meeting because it was graced by the presence of a large contingent of local volunteers in civilian attire. The War Office ought to know that the inclement weather prevented these warriors appearing in their uniform.
 It is not often possible, in the islands, to get anything but a trap or open coach. In Lochranza, on a day of dreary, disheartening rain, I found on enquiry that there was no covered vehicle to be had except the hearse.
A Lecture in Islay
The westerly leg of Islay contains one or two places that have public libraries sent from Paisley: Portnahaven and Port Charlotte on the sea, and Gruinart inland and more to the north. It is a weird experience to drive along the shore road from Bridgend on a night of pitiless rain, and see the heavy mists broken every now and then by the far-reaching flash of the Portnahaven lighthouse. Equally weird is it to lecture in a school with no lamps (as happened at Port Charlotte). At eight o'clock I could see the faces of the audience well enough, but by and by the room became quite dark, and I seemed to be addressing an audience of silent and attentive ghosts. After I had finished, a Phantom arose in the far corner of the room and proposed a vote of thanks; and thereafter a Voice somewhere pronounced the benediction. Then there was a movement of feet, and the shadowy spectres trooped out into the night. The foolish virgins had no oil in their lamps; in Port Charlotte, there was neither oil nor lamps.
[Islay is yearly becoming better known. It is an undulating island, covered with rich meadow-land, the home of horses, sheep, and cattle. There should not be a hungry man within its circumference. Under the old lairds--the Campbells--there were 14,000 inhabitants, now there are 6000.]
Mental and Material Wealth
I never heard the difference between mental and material wealth more forcibly expressed than by an old Perthshire shoemaker. "Supposing," said he, "that I had fifty pounds in my pocket at the present moment. What a wild supposition, but good enough for an illustration! What inference would you draw from me having that sum of money? This, namely, that no other person in the universe has the same fifty pounds. The same pair of boots cannot be worn by two persons at the same time. The same guinea cannot be twice spent by the same man. It is different with spiritual things, and with works of art. Scores of people can simultaneously enjoy a great painting or a fine piece of music: my enjoyment does not interfere with yours, indeed, it is more than likely that my enjoyment will be greatly increased from knowing that other people are enjoying it as I am. Then again, you can't eat the same loaf of bread twice: but you can return a hundred times to the same song, poem, or picture, and like them better the hundredth time than the first. A pathetic old tune does not lose anything in being sung by generation after generation. It is always as good as new. Like the widow's cruise of oil, it can be used without being consumed. These facts show that works of art--good books, good poems, good music--are, in a certain sense, immortal and divine. A hundred years ago, our ancestors sang 'Bonnie Doon'; we, to-day, sing it with undiminished fervour; a hundred years after this, the song will be fresh. Aye, and a humorous American writer thinks some of us will hanker for it in heaven:
The Rev. Chairman of this meeting emphasised the shoemaker's remarks in the following admirable words: "I often wonder what is really the greatest thing ever done by a citizen of this country of ours, by a man of English speech. If we agree with our worthy shoemaker and his way of thinking, we shall not look at the big accumulation of guineas as an indication of greatness. Certain commercial men (who ought to know better) seem to think God has sent us into this lovely world for the sole purpose of piling up as much money as possible, and then, by death, leaving it to others to spend. That can hardly be considered our reasonable service. Life is not so low-pitched as that. The best work of man does not admit of being put into an equation with cash. The greatest feat, to my mind, an Englishman ever performed was the writing of Paradise Lost. How much did John Milton get in money for his incomparable epic during his lifetime? Five Pounds: and if he had got five million pounds, the recompense would have been absolutely inadequate. History, however, has indemnified Milton for the neglect and poverty he endured. He has shot up into stature while those of his contemporaries who bulked largest in the eyes of the world have dwindled and shrunk into insignificance in comparison with him. The witty, dissolute king, Charles II., is now seen to be a wretched pigmy: Milton, who died in blindness and political disgrace, is the real king of that era, overtopping all the rulers, cabals, and intriguers. So, too, in Scotland, Burns is the giant of his period. During Burns's life, the Earl of Dundas was to all intents and purposes king of the country. He could say to whomsoever he pleased, 'Friend, come up higher; be you a Sheriff, or Lord-Lieutenant, or Justice of the Peace.' Dundas is pretty well forgotten by this time: probably he will by and by be remembered solely by Burns's description of him: That slee, auld-farrant chiel Dundas. Kings and men of temporary renown do well to keep on good terms with the men of letters."
It is always a great treat to hear a working-man who has the power of utterance deliver a speech in a straightforward and unrhetorical way. There is always a pith and vigour about such deliverances quite unattainable in a formal harangue. The magnates of the little Fife villages are specially notorious for their gift of the gab: when Bailie M'Scales or Provost Cleaver gets up to speak, no one has any inclination to fall asleep.
A Highland Laird on Literature
Max O'Rell has told us that his chairmen sometimes took advantage of their position to push their claims for the Town Council. I have not had the time at my disposal curtailed by any such municipal oratory, though, occasionally, my remarks on literature have seemed to the chairmen to stand in need of supplementing. One gentleman, in proposing a vote of thanks, pulled a copy of Bacon out of his pocket and read the whole of the famous essay on Studies. Another managed to bring in a lengthy dissertation on radium! The following speech, delivered by a Highland laird of a poetical turn, is noteworthy: "I am very fond of poetry," he said, "and yet I turn with a very languid interest to the writings of modern poets like Watson and Davidson. The verses of these gifted singers are for others, not for me. The truth is, I don't want any more lyrics and such like sugar pellets. My brain is already stocked with a plenteous supply on which I browse in weal and woe, which I almost think I personally composed, and to which I have attached a great many emotions and extraneous incidents known to nobody but myself. My old poetic favourites have been lying in various corners of my brain for forty or fifty years; I know every turn, rhyme and rhythm of them; and as they have served my need and alleviated my sorrow so long, I do not intend to give them many fellow-lodgers more. I do not know at what particular time literary nausea sets in, but Solomon had it when he said that of the making of books there was no end. No doubt his father David had primed him well in boyhood in the Psalms, and Solomon, feeling (like many others since) that the paternal psaltery met all his need of literary stimulus, would turn wearily from the heaps of presentation copies of new verse sent by the rising poets of Judæa for their sovereign's inspection. When a new book came out, Charles Lamb re-read an old one,--an excellent practice and one which has the additional recommendation of economy. It is not an unpleasant thing to find yourself falling back on old favourites and losing interest in the current hour. I knew a happy old gentleman whose reading was confined to Walter Scott. Every evening the lamp was lighted in the trim snuggery, and the appropriate Waverley taken down from the shelf. For such a man to begin a new novel would have been as irksome as travelling in a foreign land."
I am bound to say that I have great sympathy with the sentiments I have quoted from the speech of this kilted critic. If it were possible to retain the elasticity and adjustableness of the mind till the end of life, new authors would perhaps fix our attention as much as the old. But only a limited number of articulate-speaking men, such as the omnivorous Professor Saintsbury of Edinburgh, preserve their appetite tireless and intact. The Professor, like a literary Livingstone, can grapple with the most arid and dusty libraries, and is the envy of all scholars; but, alas! the majority of us have to take something less than the whole of knowledge for our province.
It must not be supposed that all the remarks made at these meetings were like those I have quoted. An airy irrelevancy was quite as common as the serious note.
Varieties of Chairmen
I have had experience of hundreds of chairmen, and admired most of them. It is rather a painful thing to have one who is utterly unversed in speaking. I remember being introduced in the ante-room to the chairman of the evening, and, big bucolic giant as he was, he seemed fearfully perturbed. His hand trembled, his lips were ashy-gray, and his laugh was a nervous grin. "I am not much used to this sort of thing," said he, with a poor attempt at mirth and a furtive movement of his hand to his waistcoat pocket, where he had his introductory speech. "All you have to do is to introduce me," I hinted; "you needn't say much." On the platform he shook so much that the whole structure quivered. He rose, and was received with loud applause. Happily he did not read his speech, but simply pointed to me and said, "G-g-go on." He sank in his chair, while runnels of sweat coursed down his cheeks. I admired that chairman more than one in Caithness, who, after angling for the honour of taking the chair, grew so terrified towards the hour of meeting, that he went to bed and sent word he couldn't be present owing to flying pains in his leg! In country districts, reluctance to take the chair arises from a man's fear of making himself ridiculous; once he cuts a poor figure in public, discredit is for ever attached to his name.
Highlanders as a rule make excellent chairmen. The superior gifts of the Celtic mind, in imagination and wealth of florid expression, nowhere show themselves to better purpose than when compliments have to be paid. Then again, the kilt is very impressive on a brawny chairman's legs: it commands attention and respect at once. I have little knowledge of colloquial Gaelic, though I have studied the grammar, and have some skill in reading. A little Gaelic goes a long way in stirring the soul of a Highland audience. Often I have heard a kilted chairman quitting his English for a little and giving the audience a mellifluous Ossianic sentence or two. The effect was electric: eyes gleamed, breath came quick and fast, the souls of the hearers seemed to have tasted a tonic. Spoken Gaelic is akin to the elements: it has a mystic affinity with the winds that sough around the flanks of the mountains and along the surface of the lonely lochs. There is perhaps not much business precision about it, but for preaching, praying, and poetry, it is a splendid medium.
In Arran, a jovial chairman thus introduced me: "Before I left home, I thought of a great many nice things to say as a preface to the remarks of our friend from Paisley. (Here he coughed violently.) Unfortunately, I am unable to bestow these tit-bits on the audience owing to a kittlin' in my throat. Instead of saying what I meant to say, I think I had better tell you a story. A minister one Sunday had occasion to be highly displeased with the precentor, who broke down twice in quite a simple psalm-tune. 'Excuse me, minister,' said the precentor, 'but I've got a kittlin' in my throat this morning.' 'Kittlin'!' hissed the holy man in scornful wrath: 'it's mair like a big tom-cat.' Ladies and gentlemen, after these few and decidedly imperfect remarks, I resume my seat, merely expressing the hope that our friend will feel himself as much at home here as the deil did in the Court of Session."
Another chairman in an adjoining island, while engaged in tremulously reading his introductory speech, came to a sudden stop. An irreverent youth shouted, "Is that a blot?" After the laughter provoked by this query had subsided, the chairman said: "I feel to-night like a square pin in a round hole, or rather, like the Irishman who, when asked if he was dead, replied, 'No, I'm not dead, I'm only spacheless.'" Having said these words with a weird attempt at mirth, the chairman sat down too hurriedly, and struck his head so violently against the back of his chair, that the noise of the impact was heard in every part of the hall.
I may hint to anyone who lectures or preaches in the Highlands, not to adopt a patronising attitude or make it appear that he is talking down to the audience. Such a feature would be at once detected and deeply resented. A well-known Professor lectured to a Bute audience on Electricity, and out of ignorance, spoke in a very elementary way to the audience, defining the simplest terms, and interspersing a great many "you know's" and "you see's." The chairman, in proposing a vote of thanks, slyly remarked: "We have listened to-night to a very good discourse, and I'm only sorry there are so few young people here. Next time the Professor comes to speak to us, I hope to see all the school-children in the hall, for the lecture to-night was admirably adapted to their capacity."
Coming To the Point
A very loquacious lawyer proposed a vote of thanks to the chairman in the following fashion: "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "it is often a very difficult thing to come to the point. When I was at College, I consented once to write an essay on 'The Progress of America,' the subject being one of my own choosing. I wrote twenty-five pages of preliminary matter, and at the end of my writing, I found that Columbus was not landed. As my essay was to bring my hearers up-to-date on American progress, I became nettled at my failure to get Columbus ashore and went round canvassing among my friends to secure a substitute. No one would relieve me, so I was forced to slaughter an aunt. I was wired for, by arrangement, on the day before the meeting, and responded with great alacrity, knowing that there would be no funeral. Without wasting more words let me on this occasion come to the point, and ask you to accord to our worthy chairman a very hearty vote of thanks for the brilliant way in which he has kept us all in order this evening."
A minister of a western parish thought it his duty, in the course of his introductory speech, to make some jovial remarks on the subject of conscience and moral obligation. "A student of my acquaintance," said he, "went to Arrochar on Loch Long by excursion steamer. At mid-day, being thirsty, he drifted thoughtlessly into the hotel and asked for a cup of tea. With this beverage he washed over some dry biscuits he had brought with him from home. Imagine his surprise on being told that the cup of tea would cost him two shillings. Bang went not one sixpence but four! He looked at the maid and his breath came quick and fast; but he counted out the money nevertheless. Having occasion to visit the bathroom to cool his throbbing brow, he perceived a razor on a little shelf near the mirror there. At once he pocketed this razor and made off, whistling Scots Wha Hae. He had recouped himself for the overcharge on the cup of tea. Strange to say, every time he shaved with the stolen razor he feared some impending calamity. He knew enough Greek to be aware that Ajax committed suicide with the very sword that hero got from the enemy. Whenever the student disfigured his chin and reddened the lather with a new-made gash, he felt in his inmost soul that a Nemesis was being wrought out. By this simple tale, my friends, one may see the sovereign power of conscience, which, though dormant for a time, invariably asserts itself and flogs the culprit."
Compliment to Paisley
The following remarks made by a speaker at one of the meetings are worth citing: "I do not wish our Paisley friend," he said, "to go back to the banks of the Cart under the impression that we are not a very literary people up here in Ross-shire. On the contrary, we are clean gone on literature. Just look at our syllabus! One night we have a discussion on Shakespeare. Eh? What do you think of that? Shakespeare no less! Next night we deal with an equally great poet--Tannahill." (No doubt the speaker meant to compliment Paisley in thus comparing the author of Lear and Hamlet with the poet-laureate of the loom.) I have heard Milton's Paradise Lost and Pollok's Course of Time clashed together in the same ludicrous way. I was dreadfully nonplussed on one occasion by hearing a speaker strongly recommend the audience to give their days and nights to the study of Bunyan and M'Cheyne. "Bunyan by all means," said I to myself, "but who is M'Cheyne that one should be mindful of him and put him for importance alongside of the immortal tinker?"
Oratory at Salen
I shall never forget a vote of thanks proposed in my hearing by the excellent doctor of Salen, a pleasant little place situated on a V-shaped creek of Loch Sunart. I never expect to meet a more genial or more humorous man than the doctor, on this side of eternity. He knows the roads of gusty Ardnamurchan better than any other living man, and, night and day, by sun and by moon, in weather of clear blue, and under the eddying blinding flakes, he is ever on the move. He found time to come to the meeting and propose a vote of thanks to the donor of the library. Everyone listened intently to him as he stood there in his professional frock-coat,--a thin, wiry, twinkling-eyed gentleman. "If the donor by any chance," said he, looking at me, "should ever sail up Loch Sunart in his yacht, and land among the people of Salen, to whom his books have given such pleasure, I should advise him not to stand too near the edge of the pier, for fear some of the grateful natives might push him over into the loch, in order to have the pleasure of saving his life!" This unexpected sally convulsed the audience, and gave a gay and rollicking touch to the speeches that came after. Mr. M'Gregor, a farmer from Resipol, broad and brawny, rose to make a few remarks. The schoolhouse was very hot and close, but he disdained to throw off the thick and ample Highland cloak which he had on, and which he had worn all day at the Oban Cattle Show, and on the deck of the boat that had brought him thence. Mr. M'Gregor had been much struck by my remarks on the knights of King Arthur, and their custom of sitting at the Round Table, to avoid questions of precedence. He spoke to this effect: "I do not wish the lecturer to go back to Paisley under the impression that Salen is not a very bye-ordinary and consequential place. We have a fleet of yachts out there, the like of which is not to be seen between this and Manch-oo-ria. We have a blacksmith that can preach and quote Scripture as well as any D.D. in the land; my friend the grocer over there, will give you such bargains as you could never get in Sauchie-hall Street; and we have a choir here that might give the angels singing-lessons. I am a very modest man, but I would like to say just a word about this Round Table business. The lecturer says the Table was round so that every knight might be at the head of it. That's the theory, but what's the fact? I'll tell you. One of King Arthur's knights was an ancestor of mine, and his name was M'Greegor.  Now, wherever M'Greegor sat, that was always considered the head of the table." This contribution to Arthurian criticism was delivered with such force, faith, and genial glee, that no one, considering the powerful muscles of the speaker, was disposed to question it. (Mr. M'Gregor's eulogy of Salen did not comprise a reference to the local hotel, which is conducted on the Gothenburg system. It is comfortable and snug, but not whole-heartedly patronised by some of the natives, as they consider the system is an un-Celtic innovation, and believe further that every drink they take is written down in a big book with an alphabet on the edge of the leaves to facilitate reference).
 Judging from the number of clans that make a similar claim, we might fancy that all King Arthur's knights
Lecture in a Dungeon, Etc
I have an agreeable recollection of my stay in Saddell, on the coast of Kintyre, as the guest of Colonel Macleod, son of the never-to-be-forgotten Dr. Norman Macleod. The Colonel was born in 1820, was present at the Eglinton Tournament, and is, to-day, in spite of his eighty-eight years, hale in body, sound of wind, and perfectly clear in the intellect. He is a walking encyclopædia of all the social and political changes that have come about since the accession of Victoria. He is also an authority on live stock, and it is intensely amusing to see his horses scampering from the far-end of the field when they see him, in the hope of getting some of the bits of sugar he always carries in his pocket for their benefit.
The school-house being badly situated for the convenience of the people, the meeting was held in the dungeon of the old castle, a spacious and airy place quite near the beach. Altogether, I reckon this meeting as the drollest in all my experience. There were no windows in the overhanging vaulted roof, and the long stone stair leading to the ground above, was filled with the audience that could not get accommodation below. The aged Colonel presided over about one hundred prisoners, and humorously remarked that the table at which he was standing, was really a patent incubating apparatus, under which four dozen of Mrs. Macleod's chickens were coming to maturity. He hoped these embryo fowls would not interrupt the lecture by any unseemly remarks. At the risk of wearying the chickens, I spoke for an hour and a half, dealing in the course of my remarks (to be as apposite as possible) with the dungeon scene in "The Legend of Montrose," where Dugald Dalgetty squeezes the windpipe of the Duke of Argyll.
In one little village hall in Kintyre, I was much perturbed by some of the placards that had been placed on the walls. The hall had been used for evangelical purposes, and there, facing me, in yard-long type, was the dreadful command, Get right with God. To speak on Hood and his puns with those colossal letters burning their message into your soul, would need nerves of steel. I have not nerves of steel, and I felt dreadfully incommoded by the bill. For the space of five minutes I might occasionally forget it, and then, in the midst of some light and skittish quotation, my eye would light upon it, and the verses would come feebly and falteringly off the tongue. Vox faucibus haesit.
My narrative would be lacking in completeness if I did not frankly confess that I have sometimes met with humiliations of a kind to wring the heart and call forth a sigh. In one nook of the north I stayed in the manse of an excellent clergyman, an eloquent preacher, but austere and extremely devout. He took the chair at the lecture, which was very well attended. Before the meeting began I was told that a local gentleman wished to ask me an important question. This was good news for me, as I thought the inquirer might have some literary difficulty which it would be profitable to handle in the course of my remarks. The anxious enquirer proved to be the local hotel-keeper, who, in a deadly earnest whisper made the following request: "You have a big meeting," he said, "and it's not likely there will be such a number of people so near my hotel for many a long day. Would it be asking too much of you to finish up about half-past nine and give the audience time to sample some of my commodities before departing homewards? It's chiefly the minister I have to fear; for if he suspects I wish to do business, he'll prolong the vote of thanks till after the stroke of ten."
One of my compensations in wandering Scotland thorough has been the heartfelt but rather naïve way in which some of the provincials have expressed their gratitude. "I've paid half-a-crown for worse," said an old man of Ross to me, shaking me warmly by the hand and believing he was uttering a most delicate and hyperbolical compliment. (Now, during my remarks, I had noticed this man taking copious pinches of snuff to enable him, as I suspected, to sit out the meeting.) Another rustic, this time an Aberdonian, was impressed by the number of authors mentioned and the copious citations from their works. "Heavens!" he cried, "what a memory that man has! That's the kind of partner I should like to have at whist: he would never forget the cards that were out."
I know not whether to laugh or weep when I think of the occasion on which the following charmingly irrelevant remarks were made to me: "We are all proud of our village library and even prouder of the feeling that prompted such a gift. I am reminded," the speaker went on to say, "of a cousin of mine who got a present of exquisite fruit (preserved in wine) from a friend in a distant part of the country. He wrote to the donor saying, 'Your fruit is delicious: I like it very much; but I like even more the spirit in which it has been sent.'"
A Visit to the Borders
In order that these pages may fitly represent all the districts of Caledonia that I have traversed as an uncommercial traveller, I should like to give a short sketch of how I reached Tweedside by way of Lanark, at a season when the Glasgow people were beginning their Fair holidays. Winter, as I remarked, is the time I prefer for travelling, but untoward circumstances have now and again compelled me to be on the move when "mid-summer, like an army with banners, was marching through the mid-heavens."
I may say at once that it is a great trial to leave Glasgow at that particular date. The city pours forth its myriads at such a time. The stations are surging and heaving with throngs of men, women, and children, all in a hurry and all impatient. Families by tens and dozens are swarming about. How pathetic it is to see the father with one child in his arms and two clinging to his coat-tails, while the mother (poor bedraggled soul) is vainly striving to quieten a squalling fourth! Some children have lost their parents, and grope about underneath, nipping the legs of tourists to attract attention and get hold of the right father; others fall among bales of strawberries that were pulled yesterday in the fresh country air, but are now being trampled into gory pulp. Even in the fetid and dust-laden air, rendered almost unbearable by the hot sunlight that blazes through the overarching glass of the station roof, Cupid twangs his arrows, and soft eyes speak love to eyes that speak again. Suddenly the train arrives, and on the already crowded platform lands the human freight of twenty carriages--a fresh addition to the welter and confusion worse confounded. What a wealth of language one hears! Cyclists tinkle with bell and horn to secure the needed lane of passage. Porters, in desperate madness, throw wooden boxes down and rope-tied trunks of tin with little sympathy for injured knees and fiery corns. The train just in will shortly leave with a new load of passengers. A rush is made for the vacated seats: in tumbles the surging crowd without regard for the class of ticket they have purchased. A score of occupants per carriage is about the average; many swarm into the guard's van, where they are regaled with pandemoniac odours of ancient fish and decaying vegetables. The heavy train at length steams out into the open, and in an hour's time Lanark is reached. "God made the country and man made the town" is the involuntary reflection of the city man as he steps out of the train and breathes the fresh air of the hills.
From Lanark to Peebles, by road, is thirty miles. The track is excellent, and if the wind is not adversely strong the joy of cycling the distance is difficult to parallel.
On this route, no lumbering vehicles, laden with heavy merchandise, tear up the soil into ruts. No cab-drivers cast sarcastic remarks at you from their high perch. The only annoyance comes from the cast-off nail of a horse-shoe or the sharp splinter of a macadamised stone. The air is as fresh as on Creation's morn. Up hill and down again one can hurry on without ever touching the brake. For the first ten miles, the stately bulk of Tinto dominates the landscape. What a splendid range of scenery the eye could grasp from the high vantage-ground of its summit in clear weather! As one approaches the base of the big hill, the road turns sharply to the east, and you feel about your ears innumerable breezes that blow along from the little glens leading down from Tinto's breast. By and by, the clean, trim, little town of Biggar appears. (The inhabitants are proud of the fact that John Brown, author of the beautiful story, Rab and his Frien's, was a native of the town.) One notices the name of Gladstone prominent above the shops, and it is a fact that the ancestors of the Grand Old Man were, in the days of yore, denizens of those quiet hamlets. After a short rest here, we (for you are with me, ami lecteur) shoot on and pass the sleepy street of Broughton, lying clear and radiant in the slanting rays of the sun. Here is the ideal spot for a country clergyman in love with Hebrew roots and gardening and quiet contemplation. Soon we strike the tiny waters of the infant Tweed, prattling and gushing up and bubbling clear over its snow-white pebbles. Now the breeze of gloaming blows more snell. Away low in the west the sun begins to gather golden clouds in pomp around his setting. A gorgeous glimmer, gold and red, is thrown over the whole sky. Keeping close beside the ever-widening stream, we dash through little clachans on the bank, beneath long, over-arching avenues of trees, and past the gates of ivy-mantled homes of blessed outlook. Here a croquet party stops playing, for the grass is getting wet with evening dew, and there, in the river, and up to the knees in it, are half a dozen anglers sweeping the wave with their spurious fly. Peebles is not far off, and the quiet nooks of the high road are filled with pedestrians. The entrance to Peebles is exquisite. The long rows of trees, the situation of the road high above the river in the dell, combine to make an eerie blend of sound from sighing leaves and gurgling waters. An old Border peel, Needpath Castle, stands near the straggling outskirts of the town, and proves, by its choice situation on the knoll, that our cattle-reiving ancestors were quite alive to the advantages of a good view. It was a stirring quarter here in the days of the old Scotch kings. The deadly thrust of lance has reddened every burn in the wide Borderland. Every brae has had its gory bicker.
On this tournée I had the pleasure of giving a lecture on "Scotch Ballads," at a little village not more than half a mile from the birthplace of Dandie Dinmont. The place was full of sturdy, firm-knit Borderers, descendants of the dare-devil troopers who wrought such devastation along the Marches when the Stuarts reigned in Holyrood. Fresh, ruddy faces, coloured by breeze and sun; hard, keen, inquisitive looks; intelligence such as comes from knowledge of nature, hereditary quickness and good circulation of blood: all these could be instantly seen by glancing round the audience. (How insignificant a mere bookworm or scholar feels among a company of brawny Liddesdale farmers!) During the lecture, it was easy to note by the grim smile on their faces, their flashing eyes and the way they gripped their big sticks, that the old stirring rhymes of fight struck a sympathetic chord in their hearts. Now and again, during the address, one could see the lips of the listeners moving in soft repetition of the lines, as some typical quotations were being made.
It is not likely that there has been much change or influx of population in these districts for centuries. The alertness and intelligence of the natives must be to some extent an inheritance from the generations of strenuous clansmen whose blood flows in their veins. Life in a historical district is bound to have an ennobling effect on a man, especially if he feels knit to the past by lineal descent from the historical actors. A glamour of romance clings to hill and glen. The dalesman you meet on the highway can tell you all the lore of his parish, giving dates and citing illustrative lays. It is pleasant to find that the stories of the Borderland are still known where they first took birth, and that the local names, which to students instantly suggest delightful bits of rhyme, have also to those who dwell near them, a romance that is borrowed from the olden time. 
Anyone who has travelled in the shires that run along the Cheviots and the Tweed, will conclude that poetry and romance may ever find a home there. The hills, with their green pastoral slopes and abundant leafage, are a delight to the eye in fresh spring and tinted fall. The sound of the streams, as Ruskin has pointed out, is sweet and rhythmic to an extraordinary degree, combining with the sough of the winds to form an undersong of Nature's own melody. As the traveller drives or cycles along the roads, he now and again gets such impressive vistas of long-stretching waterways, wooded to the brink with graceful trees, as grave themselves on the memory for evermore. For rock, crag, and dashing linn, the northern Highlands are supreme; but in the green Borderland, there is a more sedate and proportioned beauty. Nature is none the less attractive for losing somewhat of her wildness and austerity.
 A favourite and appropriate book in this part of Scotland is Wilson's Tales of the Borders. There are not many farm-houses in the Lowlands of Scotland in which one does not find old copies, bound and unbound, of Wilson's Tales. Usually they show unmistakable evidence of having been frequently perused. One is bound to admit that the modern reader, if he spends an evening turning over these old pages, will find little reason to pride himself on the superiority of the popular reading of to-day. The short story, now in vogue, may be finely illustrated, and highly sensational, but its matter is certainly inferior, as a rule, to the general run of Wilson's stories. Wilson, in his humble way, was a gleaner in the field so richly harvested by Sir Walter Scott. The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border had called attention to the great stores of poetry and romance lingering among the peasantry of the Debateable Land. Wilson's Tales showed how much of the old spirit remained more than two centuries after the Union, and, in spite of all Christianity and an orderly Government had done for the softening of manners. Hogg, in speaking of his own countryside, said: "The poor people of these glens know no other entertainment in the long winter nights than repeating and listening to the feats of their ancestors recorded in songs which I believe to have been handed down from father to son for many generations." Wilson and his successors gathered up as much of the romantic material as they found available, and printed it for the delight of their generation.
In the agricultural lowlands of Scotland it is not rare to come upon little villages that seem entirely left behind by modern progress. Not long ago my work took me to Tarbolton, a quiet, uneven village in the heart of the queenly shire of Ayr. The railway company has treated the place very badly: a full fifteen minutes' drive is needed to reach the town from the station. It is as if the company said: "Make what you can of our line, ye insignificant Tarboltonians; our trains are in a hurry to get from Ayr to Muirkirk; be thankful if we set you down only three miles from your home." If it is not wet, the drive is a grand one. Five miles to the right, Mauchline shows its red complexion on the green hillside, and awakens lyric memories of Burns's imperishable mouse and share-torn gowan. Over the pasture lands on the right come freshening winds that hint of the heaving Firth not far away. The road pursued by the coach meanders among all that is best of rural and pastoral scenery, for coaly Annbank, defaced by the exhumed entrails of the earth, is happily on the rear. At a turn of the road, a majestic spire, that of Tarbolton Parish Church, suddenly stands before the view of the traveller, and suggests Eternity even when tolling the hours of Time. Soon the village is reached, and one is in a position to form an idea of eighteenth century Scotland. The main street is built with that irregularity so charmingly illustrative of the evolution of the builder's art. Old cots roofed with thatch take the mind back to the time when George I. was defending the faith and maltreating his wife. Side by side with such are trim two-storey houses with all modern elegancies.
I have a pleasant recollection of this interesting village, not merely from its associations with Burns (which Mr. T.F. Henderson in a dainty little book has recently recounted anew), but also from the fact that the natives keep alive the literary traditions of the place in quite a worthy way. The local baker has written a fluent volume of Essays dealing with village incidents and worthies, which proves, as Mr. Barrie says, that life in every stage, if truthfully portrayed, is intensely interesting, and that every window-blind is the curtain for some tragedy or comedy.
The Scotch Language
Very fine Scotch is still spoken in the rural districts of Ayrshire, and most of Burns's dialect words are in daily use, at least by the older generation. The Education Department has most wisely given encouragement to the study of Lowland Scotch, and I do not see why a special grant should not be given for special excellence in that department. Some national movement for a complete Dictionary of Modern Scotch with explanations in up-to-date philology ought to be organised.
During the lifetime of Sir Walter Scott, Dr. Jamieson published the famous Scottish Dictionary, which still holds the field as the most elaborate compendium of the Lowland dialects. Looked at in the light of modern science, the derivations are often absurd and fanciful. Jamieson's love for Gothic parallels led him constantly astray. Nevertheless, his dictionary, as amended by various revisers, remains a stately monument of industry and a necessary adjunct in the study of the Scotch language.
In our own day, Dr. Murray of Oxford has compiled an illuminating grammar of the language, indicating the various dialects of the Lowlands and their geographical areas. Local antiquarians have also written out lists of words special to particular counties. Dialect books, such as the entertaining Johnnie Gibb of Gushetneuk, as well as Mr. Barrie's delightful sketches, have put excellent specimens of provincial speech within the hands of a wide circle of readers. A good dictionary of modern Scotch, dealing with what has been written during the last two centuries, would be a very useful and a very interesting compendium. It would show that a great many expressive words employed by thirteenth century English writers are still in use on the Scotch side of the Border.
There is no denying the fact that book-English will soon push out the relics of the old Scotch tongue. Burns will soon be read by lexicon, even in the shire of Ayr. Men now write poetry in Scotch as boys at Eton and Harrow write Latin verses, the result in both cases being, as a rule, hideous and artificial doggrel. The little book, Wee Macgregor, written in what may be called the Scotch Cockney dialect, was a brave and amusing attempt to phonograph the talk of a Glasgow boy of the lower middle class. The unlovely speech employed by the author is, happily, quite unlike the careful and deliberate speech of the educated citizen of Glasgow or Paisley. The main differences between the educated Scot and the educated Englishman are that the vowel sounds of the former are pure and that r and h have a real value in most words where these letters occur.
It seems to me a very undesirable thing that a uniform system of pronunciation should be aimed at in every country of the British Isles. So long as clear and expressive enunciation of English is attained, intelligible differences of vocalisation, pitch, and even of vocabulary, are allowable, and at times positively charming. Monotony is the bane of life.
The above lines, written by some unknown poetaster, indicate that it is the book we read over and over again that has the greatest potency in our education. I quite agree with the author, and I love to behold the well-thumbed pocket-edition that speaks to the eye of much handling and frequent perusal. There are very few books worth reading once that are not worth reading oftener. Hobbes used to say that if he had read as much literature as the majority of men, he would have been as ignorant as they. In that remark what depths of meaning lie! The sage of Malmesbury attributed his success in philosophy to his habit of judicious selection--to the fact that he concentrated his attention on those authors who were likely to help the development of his powers. Selection is more required now than in Hobbes's time. Few men would care to read more than a hundred books through in a year, and yet there are twenty thousand volumes added annually to the shelves of the British Museum.
It has been my privilege, during the last three or four years, to examine with more or less care something like four hundred bookcases, containing works on all departments of literature. I am inclined to turn away in disgust if the Essayists are not patronised.
Those delightful Essayists! Happy is the man who has his shelves full of them--writers who talk sense with wanton heed and giddy cunning, who spread their souls out on paper, who disarm hostility by taking you completely into their confidence. Addison, with the roguish gleam in his eye as he is calculating the number of sponges in the cost of a lady's finery; Goldsmith, in his London garret, talking of the ludicrous escapades of the Man in Black; Lamb luxuriating in reminiscences of Old Benchers. All these splendid, unsystematic delights, mingled with the breezes of byegone summers and the sunsets of long ago! Old ghosts whisper you their secrets; you hear the brush of sweeping garments that have been moth-eaten these hundred years. Crowded streets of people appear before the eye of fancy--London in the days of Anne and the Georges. In the company of such wits, there are no slow-moving hours: you have in them friends who never need tire you, for should the slightest tedium intervene, you may, without offence, stop their flow of conversation. Our living intimates are prone to drynesses and huffs; but these old prattling wits ever welcome us with a smile of affability.
A Banff Theory
While speaking of Essayists, I ought to mention a peculiar Banffshire theorist who addressed me in the following words: "Give me an old set of Blackwood in the Kit North days, and I can easily forego your pinchbeck stories and propagandist novels of to-day. I put the most interesting period for reading at sixty years ago, and I think Scott must have known the charm of that number when he gave the alternative title to Waverley. It is pleasant to know how the world wagged when your grandfather was a ruddy egg-purloining rogue of five. When I read farther back than a century, I feel imagination flagging--the Merry Monarch is not much more to me than John the Baptist. But the men of the forties stand out clear and distinct. If I have never seen an out-and-out fiery Chartist, I have at least seen some smouldering specimens--men with much of the eloquence and a little of the enterprise of the original five-pointers. It may be that as I grow older, my most interesting historical period will move with me, keeping always at a distance of sixty years from the present, until, when I get within hail of the Psalmist's stint, I shall be most interested in childish things." These words rather staggered me, and set me thinking of geometrical loci. A man holding such views would find it difficult to obtain a bird's-eye view of history.
Goldsmith in Gaelic
If I had an adequate knowledge of Gaelic, combined with plenty of money and leisure, I should set myself the task of translating the whole of Goldsmith's Essays and Tales into that language, for the benefit of those who had no English. It would be a great feat if one could impress on the modern Celtic mind the conviction that piety and diversion are by no means incompatible. Goldsmith's Auburn introduces us to the most delightful prospect on earth: a simple village community, unacquainted with luxury and uncorrupted by vice. The inhabitants are full of health and joy--they till the soil and gain ample satisfaction for their unambitious wants. Life passes along bringing a pleasant succession of happy hours. After the labours of the day, the young people dance merrily on the green, and the old folk look on and regret that their own legs are too stiff to keep time to the fiddles. Certain Highland landlords might also read with advantage the exquisitely pathetic lines in which the poet pictures the desolation and ruin of the rural paradise, and perhaps conclude therefrom that, when glen and strath are depleted of their inhabitants, and these latter driven over the seas to seek a foothold in strange lands, it is the very heart's blood of Britain that is being drained away.
On the whole, probably no English writer has given such genuine delight as Goldsmith, and such genuine instruction too. Ineradicably frivolous, culpably negligent of the morrow, whimsically vain and living all his days from hand to mouth, he had the faculty of drawing upon himself the pity, and even the contempt, of his associates. But in the eyes of posterity, his happy-go-lucky life is amply redeemed by the work he has left behind him, for it is pure and good. His river of speech flows ever on shining like molten gold. No man of his time possessed the adroit knack of bright writing in a more eminent degree. The pawky humour of his side-hits, the blending of light and shade in the process of the narrative, the beauty and melody that can be noted even in the sound of the sentences, combine to delight the judgment, the ear, and the fancy. Though the Vicar of Wakefield is a prose production, it produces all the effect of a poem on the affections of the heart. Of it, properly speaking, it is as full as any volume of The Spectator; with humour it is flooded from beginning to end; and in those pathetic delineations of life which no one can read without being profoundly touched, there are few poems so rich.
In many (indeed most) houses I have visited, I see in the bookcase large publications in six or seven well-bound parts and as good as new, dealing with subjects of little interest to anyone who breathes the vital air of heaven. Such titles as Science for All, The Thames from its Source to the Sea, The Queens of England are among the commonest on the boards of the books I allude to. The presence of these editions indicates that the possessor at a certain period of his life was shy and could not say no to that limb of the Evil One--the book-canvasser. The latter individual is the forerunner of the colporteur, who will bring you, if you wish poetry, an edition of the works of Shakespeare which is peculiarly ill-adapted for holding in the hand and reading. The print is large, the page is in size like a miniature wall-map, and the illustrations are got up with an easy defiance of archeology. The annotations, though stolen, are distinguished for extreme futility. After you have begun the purchase of such a book, shame and chagrin drive you to attempt the study of it; but it is of no use, and on each occasion of the very regular advent of the colporteur, you are inclined to swear horribly, after which a period of extreme dejection supervenes when you recollect the many fine things you could purchase for the half-guinea periodically expended. The knowledge of human nature displayed by the man who books the order surpasses anything in the works of the analytical philosophers. Every artifice of attack is his, and he knows how to play on all the emotions so ably and exhaustively catalogued in the manuals of Professor Bain. I believe a gay and chaffing rejoinder is what he can least overcome. Suggest to him that you are far gone in poverty and offer to sell him a few of your own books. Frequent exercise will confirm your principles, until finally, when you see one of the book-canvassing tribe, you will foresee half an hour's innocent amusement.
Certain of the points he so feelingly brings before you may no doubt awaken a responsive echo in your own bosom. You are well aware, for example, that your knowledge of the Queens of England is culpably imperfect. You know you are never likely to go in steadily for the study of constitutional developments, and so are led to admit the reasonableness of tackling history from a lighter and more entertaining point of view. Again, as to the River Thames, one must really grant that a considerable amount of self-complacency and internal sunniness would result from the ability to contradict your friends as to the length in miles of some of its minor tributaries. In science, too, you are no Kepler or Linnaeus, and there is something satisfactory when pedants talk of orbits, planes, bulbs, or beetles, in being able to say that you have a big book at home that tells all about those things.
Many people buy books, not because they have a present need for them, but on the chance that at some time in the future such volumes as they see for sale will solve a doubt or answer a need. The precise doubt or the pressing need rarely arises. I met a Celt who had bought a copy of Josephus in most irritating type, in the hope that it would help him to confute a Roman Catholic on the Power of the Keys. Then again, people of a wavering and bird-witted type of mind are constantly changing the subject of their interest: this month they are attacked by the furor poeticus, next month it will be a furor botanicus or politicus. Each separate frenzy means expenditure. When Browning is the temporary subject of the mania, a host of expository books on that poet have to be purchased, all of which are duly consigned to the topmost shelves when the soreness of the fit is past. There is also a tendency to purchase, because on the chance opening of a book you light on something that pleases the whim of the moment. It is a thousand to one that when you have bought the book you will not find another item worth perusing in the entire contents. This tendency to buy a book in a panic may be neutralised by remembering the story (whether true or not) of Defoe, who is said to have boomed the languid sale of the dreary Drelincourt on Death by means of a spicy little ghost story as introduction! Buy in haste, repent at leisure.
It is a much pleasanter sight to my eyes to see a bookcase with second-hand books in it, for these are almost always bought to be read. In a teacher's house near Elgin, I recently saw a most remarkable collection--a veritable ragged regiment of books: single volumes of Plutarch, unexpurgated plays by Farquhar and Mrs. Behn, Civil War pamphlets, and rows of oddities. Mr. Forbes (the owner) was at one period of his life assistant in Falkirk, and every Saturday morning, rain or shine, he proceeded to the city of Glasgow, for no purpose but to roam through the dusty byeways and side streets in quest of bookstalls. He knew all the dealers by name, and they welcomed him, for he never left them without a purchase, however slight. It was a saying of his that while it took half-a-crown to purchase you two hours' amusement at a theatre, for a couple of shillings, or even less, you might divide out a whole Saturday most enjoyably in the old book-shops. He simply rioted in haggling over a threepenny piece. Even old Henderson feared him. This Henderson was a thirsty old bookseller who kept a shop at the corner of Cowcaddens and Ingram Street, and whose leading speciality was second-hand family Bibles, with the former genealogical leaf riven out and replaced by a clean sheet pasted in for the family of the next purchaser. To him, sitting enthroned on a pile of Bibles, Forbes, entering, spake: "Have you a copy of the Lives of the Twelve Cæsars?" "Aye, aye," said old Henderson, with a gracious smile; "thirteen if you like." The copy of Suetonius was produced, and "How much do you want for Suet.?" queried Forbes. "Half-a-crown," said old Henderson. "I'll give you ninepence," said Forbes. "Make it one-and-six," said the bookseller, rising from his Biblical throne, "and the book's yours." "I'll give you a shilling and a half of whisky," retorted Forbes. "Say a whole glass and the shilling, and we'll do business," quoth the vendor of volumes. This was agreed upon, and the two retired into the nearest dram-shop to conclude the bargain. Every Saturday evening, Forbes came home by the last train, carrying his bundle of volumes. He was careful to fumigate them for the purpose of destroying any microbes, and finally would sprinkle them with eau de Cologne to make them tolerable to the nose. On Sunday, he enjoyed the luxury of desultory reading.
Like Mr. Forbes, I enjoy a ramble among these old shops, and can say, as he said to me at parting:--
I have often been asked: "You who are so much on the move, who have had so much train-travelling to do, what books would you recommend for a long railway journey?" I do not know that one man's likes and dislikes in reading are of value save as showing his own limitations, yet there are certain books of which I never tire. I never leave home without the following books handy for perusal: (i.) The Odes of Horace, (ii.) The Sonnets of Shakespeare, (iii.) A French novel and a few copies of the Paris Matin, (iv.) A Greek book of some kind, (v.) Pope or Addison, (vi.) Some Victorian classic. The list is varied enough, and has furnished me with much of the material for my speaking.
The pleasant thing about Horace is that his odes are so short: you can read one in a few minutes--shut your eyes and enjoy the mental taste of it--try to repeat it, and, if you fail, consult the original--then, finally (as Pope and many others have done), endeavour to find modern parallels. Suppose, e.g., you are reading, as is likely, the first Ode of the first Book, you might find present-day resemblances like the following:--
Horace is thus fit for all times and conjunctures, and is the most modern of all the Latin writers--
The translation of Horace's Odes into modern speech is generally admitted to be one of the most difficult tasks to which a versifier can apply himself. And yet there is no task so often essayed. It is a common saying in France that, when a lawyer quits the bar and retires, he is certain to publish a new translation of Horace after a year or two's studious ease. M. Loubet, we know, is a zealous devotee of the Sabine bard. Not the least droll of Mr. Gladstone's many feats was the publication, shortly before his death, of a translation of Horace's Odes, a translation wholly worthless indeed, in spite of the writer's immense scholarship, but valuable as showing the fascination exercised by Horace over the most austere and ecclesiastical of minds. It seemed strange indeed to see the great statesman turn aside from his study of Butler and the Fathers of the Church, in order to put into English verse the gay, and often scandalous odes, of an old Pagan epicure. Mr. Morley, who revised the translation, must have smiled as he read the old man's rendering of--
It is a fact, I suppose, that poetic translations of Horace are rarely read, save by scholars, and the verdict is almost always unkind. Yet an excellent anthology could be compiled by selecting the happiest renderings of the most talented translators. Dryden's paraphrase of III., 29, has been uniformly praised, and was a great favourite of Thackeray's. Cowper's nimble wit and classic taste are seen in his translation of II, 10, an ode beautifully rendered also by Mr. William Watson. Sir Theodore Martin and Connington are always readable, Francis is uniformly insipid, and Professor Newman, with his metrical capers, absolutely absurd. Pope's "Imitations of Horace" are so brilliant, that no student of English literature can afford to neglect them. Pope's method of replacing ancient allusions by modern ones, was employed by Johnson in some magnificent renderings of Juvenal, and no doubt suggested to our Scotch vernacular poets a mode (still popular) of translating Horace into Doric speech. Our Scotch bards preferred, as a rule, to work on the Odes, and they succeeded best when they departed most widely from the Latin text.
The same blessed quality of brevity that attracts one in Horace is to me one of the recommendations of Shakespeare's Sonnets. I am glad the mystery of them is never likely to be discovered. From frequent perusal of them in the train, I know the majority by heart, but despair of finding any cryptogram in them.
The cord on which these exquisite beads of poetry are strung is of the most flimsy and frayed character. In other words, the characters are all bad, and the verses that laud them are of the utmost brilliancy and fascination. The poet himself supplies material that would justify us in stigmatising his friend as a heartless and dissipated rogue. He also lets us know that the pale-faced lady was an unwholesome and treacherous minx. Yet he addresses the one in language that would be too laudatory for Sir Galahad, and the other he idolises and insults by turns.
How strange it is that the poet, while lingering fondly over the doings of these two un-moral persons, should give utterance to some of the most impressive lines in English literature! Certain of the sonnets pierce the heart as with an arrow: such are those that deal, in broad and pathetic fashion, with the ceaseless flux of all things human, the grim realities of the grave, the ruthless sequence of earthly events, and the measureless melancholy of the reflecting mind. The effect produced is often like what we experience in reading Ecclesiastes or Omar Khayyam. "Golden lads and lasses must, like chimney-sweepers, turn to dust."
Though Shakespeare is dolefully impressed by the decay and destruction of all material things and by the evanescent nature of beauty, he has no doubt whatever of the immortality of the verses he is writing. He vaunts as boldly as ever Horace did--indeed, in words that suggest the Exegi monumentum ode--that his verses will outlast the proudest works of man. It is a sorry anti-climax to such a boast that the poet harps on the immortality of the dissolute youth as a consequence of the sonnets having an eternity of renown. Was there ever such a puzzling and unworthy association of ideas? The puzzle is rendered more perplexing still by the fact that Shakespeare took no pains to enlighten posterity as to the identity of the youth he praises, or even to supervise the publication of the sonnets. Thorpe's piratical edition was full of misprints, but Shakespeare, so far as we know, took no notice of it, and made no attempt, by giving the world a correct and authentic version, to secure what his verses declare him to be anxious to bring about, viz., the renown of his friend among generations to come. For us the youth still exists, no doubt, but not as an historical character. He takes his place among the creatures of the poets imagination, and is far more of a shadow or phantom than any one of them. 
If we suppose the sonnets to be connected with real life, it is not easy to understand why the radiant youth, "the world's fresh ornament," "only herald to the gaudy spring," etc., should need such an amount of persuasion to marry. Seventeen sonnets of great poetical beauty and felicitous language are devoted to this object. It is an exquisite treat to read them as works of art, but taken literally they are unspeakably absurd. No sane man would draw out such lengths of linked sweetness for the purpose named; nor would any youth, however credulous, take the sonnets at their face value. Shakespeare is merely practising his art, and we may be perfectly sure that these "sugared" sonnets (as Meres calls them), if they did circulate among the poet's private friends, were regarded as rhetorical exercises. They are intensely interesting, as showing the overpoweringly dramatic nature of Shakespeare's genius. Being impressed with the desirability of perpetuating beauty, he is driven to express the idea in the conventional form of a sonnet-sequence. The result is an exhaustiveness of treatment, a wealth of imaginative ornament, and a dramatic vividness of presentation that makes the reader marvel how so much could be made out of so little.
 Mr. Lee has collected an amount of evidence which seems to prove that T. T., i.e., Thomas Thorpe, who wrote the dedication, was not only a piratical publisher, but also a humourist. The dedication, read in the light of these observations, acquires a character of jocularity, and begetter means procurer or getter. Thorpe thus becomes what we know Curll to have been a century later, a printer of stolen copy, with a turn for cynical waggery. Mr. W. H., the begetter, accordingly, is not a glittering aristocrat, but an unscrupulous go-between, who has made free with somebody's escritoire, and handed the sonnets over to the gay T. T.!
There is one Greek book, of which I have gone through three or four copies by carrying it about in the pocket for my moments perdus. I refer to the Economist of Xenophon, a gem of a book, and one on which I have often lectured. The title is not an attractive one, but the body of the work is charming in the highest degree, and gives a better notion of ancient Greek life than any other book in existence. Ruskin, who had an unerring instinct for good literature, got two of his disciples to put the book into English, himself furnishing a preface of characteristic insight and brilliancy. He might well do such homage to the old Greek soldier, for the Economist contains teaching remarkably like what is to be found in certain of the chapters of Unto This Last. A reader cannot fail to be struck by the wonderful modernness of Xenophon's writing, his love for the country, his simple and genuine piety, his soldierly directness, and his practical common sense. Here is a delightful sidelight on Greek family life, written twenty-three centuries ago, but which might have been spoken yesterday: "My wife," says one of the characters, "often puts me on trial and takes me to task--When I am candid and tell her everything, I get on well enough, but if I hide or disguise anything, it goes hard with me, for I cannot make black seem white to her."
The Economist is an ideal volume for the country calm: it will not deliver up its best to you in the city; but if it is leisurely perused while hayrick fragrances are in the air, while butterflies are fluttering round the lawns, and while the flow of a clear-gushing brook chimes with your fancy and the quiet tone of the old Greek's musings, then (be sure) the mellow sweetness of the "Attic Bee" will be adequately enjoyed.
It is a great pity that life is so short, that there are only twenty-four hours in the day, and that, owing to the general scarcity of money among the intellectual portion of the community, the possession of free-will is a pathetic fallacy. Nobody, in these bonds of time and space, can do precisely what he would like to do. Mr. T. P. O'Connor once said that, if he were master of his fate, and his feet in every way clear, he would at once proceed to Athens and learn Greek. I can conceive no keener or greater joy than that: it is the wish of a genuine lover of letters. At the age of ten, I came upon an old copy of Pope's Homer, and have been in love with Greek literature ever since. The cares of this world, including rates and taxes, prevent me likewise from proceeding to the City of the Violet Crown, but there are plenty of cheap copies of Homer to be had in Scotland, and it is no disadvantage that some of them have the translation printed on the opposite page.
So many things have to be learned at school now, that Greek is being pushed out. In future, it will be a University subject solely. That is a great pity, for although there are fine translations of the Greek authors in English, these are not so much read as they ought to be. Greek itself would be much easier to learn if editors would write fewer and shorter notes. 
 Penalties of a really deterrent kind might at least be laid upon those gentlemen who write more than three pages of notes to one of the author's text:
French Literature and Journalism
I am always delighted to see French books on the shelves of a rural library. I notice Dowden's French Literature in many a Highland bookcase; and I am sure it will please that erudite and most excellent professor to know he has hundreds of students who never saw his face. Everybody should learn the French language: I don't know a better intellectual investment. French is rich in precisely those qualities that English lacks. It is not necessary, for proof of that statement, to read Gautier, Bourget, or Hugo. A daily paper from Paris supplies all the proof required.
I freely admit that the French newspaper seems, on first acquaintance, to be a wonderful and puzzling affair. It is never dull or tiresome, or glum. You may have your dearest susceptibilities wounded by it, but you won't fall asleep as you read its columns. Humour trickles from paragraph to paragraph; wit coruscates in the accounts of the most ordinary police cases; and abundant of dexterous literary workmanship is to be found in the leading articles. In spite of such admirable qualities, there is an element of frivolity, a lack of seriousness (I speak of the typical Boulevard sheet) that is at first rather shocking to a British reader. He finds grave subjects treated with a fineness of touch and a lucidity of reasoning at once charming and full of edification: but, lo! a pun trails accidentally off the journalist's pen, or an odd collocation of ideas jostle each other in his brain: the writer at once stops his instructive reasoning; he goes off the main line and careers bounding down some devious side-path of entertaining nonsense. Our home papers are almost uniformly staid; they are written conscientiously, laboriously, commendably. But, after all, the French are right in trying to inject as much entertainment as possible into the daily record of mundane things.
I regret to say that the majority of French newspapers do not give their readers a quite fair or accurate account of events happening outside of France. French topics, as is right, have the bulk of the space, and foreign events are usually treated in a very prejudiced and perfunctory way. The Frenchman's enthusiasm for home politics does not leave him much emotion to spare for the rest of the world. Political life with him is always more or less in a state of turmoil. There is usually some scandalous affaire afoot or impending, to which political import can easily be given. Many of the most talented editors, being members of the Chamber, import into their articles much of the heat and unreasoning vehemence engendered by the violence of direct debate. There has always been a feeling since the great Revolution that others might follow, and that one or other of the royal gentlemen of this or that disestablished race might, by some cyclone of popular or military sympathy, be blown back to power in Paris. Unluckily, there are far too many parties in France, far too many nicknames, badges, and shibboleths. The language of political discussion is bitter, and heated beyond anything the cooler Anglo-Saxon would tolerate. And yet, amid all such electric discharges of wordy rancour, the French nation goes on its way rejoicing, not a penny the worse, making wines, silks, and fashions, for an ungrateful world.
There is now, and always has been, a strange sympathy between France and Scotland. A Scot learns French, as a rule, easily. One of the striking differences between dialect Scotch and book English is precisely the peculiar French ingredients in the former. For three hundred years the two countries were allies, and the advantages to England may be gathered from the remark of King Henry V. in Shakespeare's play--
One French book that has solaced my leisure (in train, steamer, and trap), is that altogether delectable volume Gil Blas. It would be worth learning French to be able to read the book in the original. The characters are non-moral reprobates who lie, rob, and drink with the most unaffected sincerity. Vice loses all its grossness, and becomes intensely entertaining. The tone of the confessions is at once subtle and naïve, tragic and trivial, comic and pathetic. The humour is absolutely colossal: many English books, alleged to be humorous, do not contain, in their entire bulk, as much humour as a single chapter of this great work. For brilliancy of style it stands very high, and few authors, either in France or elsewhere, have attained such admirable clearness, precision, and pith. Read Gil Bias, say I, if you wish to appreciate the possibilities of the French tongue, and taste all the delicate flavour of its racy idiom.
Romance and Augustanism
There is a well-known text of Scripture, "In my father's house are many mansions" which, with a slight turn, might be applied to the House of Literature. There is room there for every pure and beautiful expression of human thought and emotion. Romance and Augustanism have both the right of entry.
I am glad to see that Alexander Pope, the cleverest of our English bards, is still a popular favourite wherever I go. It would be a pity if this were not so, for he is head of the guild of Queen Anne wits, and no one of them can rival his instinctive delicacy, careful workmanship, and crystalline lucidity. His skill in the coining of impressive aphoristic couplets is unrivalled: it is almost as good as a novel addition to truth to find an old maxim supplied with the winged words of such a consummate verbal artist. Pope is a writer who appeals directly to all readers, for he never hides poverty of thought in a cloud of vague words.
In Pope and his fellows we miss the lavish magnificence and unchartered freedom of the spacious times of great Elizabeth. Instead of Spenser's amazing luxuriance of matter and metre, we have a neat uniformity and trim array of couplets, which suggest the constant supervision of the pruning craftsman. Compared with the Elizabethans, Pope's time has less wealth but more careful mintage, less power but more husbanding of strength, fewer flights of imagination but finer flutterings of fancy, little humour but abundance of clear and sparkling wit. It is not a difficult task, by means of suitable selections, to bring home to an audience of crofters the salient differences between the poetry of Pope and of Spenser.
It is also easy to show to any audience that the quality which pleases to such a high degree in poems like the Highland Lass and Yarrow Revisited, there is a romantic charm and thrilling magic which Pope never could produce. A line or two from one of the poems cited has a far more potent effect over the affections of the heart than the gorgeous declamatory rhetoric of Eloisa and Abelard. But it would be foolish to suppose that because Pope has not the passion for nature nor the glow of self-oblivious benevolence, he has not highly educative and estimable features. He should not be censured for what he never meant to supply: we should rather strive to cultivate catholicity of taste by extracting from his poems the information and enjoyment they are so well able to furnish.
The Prologue of Pope's Satires is, of course, the best introduction to a systematic study of the works of this writer. That poem is the masterpiece of Pope's volume, and exemplifies better than any other piece the striking and brilliant qualities for which he is so famous. In perusing it, the reader soon discovers that he is in presence of a work which is the result of incessant and prolonged labour, and which, consequently, deserves patient study. The works of a great technical artist require such elaborate treatment if the force of their genius is to be adequately felt.
If any man proposes to stay a month among scenery of hill, mountain, and lake, I should advise him to slip a copy of Wordsworth into his pocket, and read therefrom an hour daily; not hurrying over the pages, but turning aside, now and again, to take in the glory of pinewood, heather, and linn. In no volume, ancient or modern, can a tired man find such soft and genial balm for his weariness as in the calm pages of the Rydal singer. The poet is at his best in the broad region of natural religion. He looks round on the beauties of the world with that solemn awe a man feels in the hallowed precincts of a mediæval temple. The grandeur and mystery of the world throw him into a kind of enchantment: his own soul and that of the universe touch and commune with each other. In his rapt verses we feel some of that mystic thrill felt by a devotee in the open sanctuary of the Almighty. No man ever interpreted Nature in such inspired strains as William Wordsworth. What supremely delights the lover of scenery is that this poet's muse can overwrap the exact and detailed knowledge of Nature with a superb mantle of idealistic glory. He saw and understood the harmony of Nature's forms and colours through all the seasons: at the quiet ingleside he meditated on what he had seen and heard, enshrined these in verse, and added to them the warmth of his own devout and sensitive soul. There is no exaggeration in Arnold's tribute:--
Of Wordsworth and his successor, Tennyson, it is impossible to speak save in terms of affectionate gratitude. God looked kindly on Britain when he sent two such men to minister to us. Tennyson did more than all the bishops of the Church of England to stifle crude infidelity and equally crude religious bigotry. There is not a single line he ever wrote of which in his last days he had need, from the point of view of truth and morality, to be ashamed. He increased the world's stock of happiness by poems which have been the solace of men and women in the hours of darkness and doubt, which have led men to rise to nobler things on the stepping-stones of their dead selves, and which, I am certain, his grateful fellow-countrymen will not willingly let die.
It is not the least of Tennyson's claims to our gratitude that his genius was sensitive alike to the beauties of Celtic and of Anglo-Saxon verse. It would be difficult to overpraise his masterly rendering of the "Battle of Brunanburh," a vigorous old poem he found in the Saxon Chronicle. Equally fine is his "Voyage of Maeldune," founded on a Celtic legend of the seventh century. Those who wish to know what is meant by Celtic glamour should read the last-named poem without delay.
Celt and Saxon
Between the literatures of the Celt and the Saxon there are, indeed, well-marked differences. The Anglo-Saxons were a set of enterprising pirates, who drove their keels over the misty ocean, came to Britain and took forcible possession of it, dispersing or enslaving the original possessors. They left a literature which is, in many respects, highly interesting, but is in the main devoid of sunshine, humour, and sprightliness. The old poem of "Beowulf," with its rough and sturdy verses, all splashed with brine, contains very few figures of speech: it is a poem, but not markedly poetical; it is solid and impressive, but not beautiful. Now, no one can read Celtic poetry, even in translation, without being powerfully struck by its refined beauty and mystic romance. The metaphors and similes are somewhat too abundant. The typical Anglo-Saxon has a firm grip of the world, but is not poetical enough; the Celt, on the other hand, is probably too much of a dreamer and a poet--he sits on the hill-side (forgetting sometimes to till it) and muses on fairies, second-sight, and enchantments. St. Paul used the right word in speaking to the old world Gaels, i.e., Galatians: "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" ([Greek: tis humas ebaskane?])
Combine these two races in the right proportion, and you get an admirable blend. It is not for me to say where the just man made perfect is to be found, the man in whom the elements--practical and poetical--are mixed in such exquisite proportion, that Nature might stand up and say, "There is a man." What is certain, is that there is a very pronounced strain of Celtic blood coursing through the veins of the average Scotch Lowlander. Few Scots have to rummage far among their ancestry before they find a piece of tartan: such mixture of genealogy probably accounts for much that is best in their composition.
The supposition that the Scotch race-combination is Celt and Saxon, and only that, is of course erroneous. There is a very marked Scandinavian element both in the east and the west of the country. In the year 1600 A.D., the Norse tongue was spoken all over the Long Island from the Butt of Lewis to Barra. Certainly, in Lewis and Skye, an enormous number of the place-names are Scandinavian, and date from a time when the sea-kings had dominion over the islands of the West. Many fascinating problems of ethnology continue to occupy the attention of investigators, and are not likely to be settled for a long time to come. One thing is abundantly clear, viz., that purity of race and speech does not exist in any county of Scotland: everywhere there is a mixture of blood and language.
[Mr. Tocher, a Peterhead gentleman, has adopted a special line of investigation. He has sent out schedules to every school in Scotland asking for detailed information as to the colour of the eyes and hair of the boys and girls. His desire is to connect pigmentation and race-origin. He believes it is still possible to get definite information, by such means, of the settlement and blending of Picts, Celts, Norsemen, and Anglo-Saxons.]