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My Schools and Schoolmasters

The following is from My Schools and Schoolmasters by Hugh Miller:

Chapter XIX

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

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

Burns

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

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

Ode to the Ness

Child of the lake! whose silvery gleam
  Cheers the rough desert, dark and lone, [Loch Ness]--
A brown, deep, sullen, restless stream,
  With ceaseless speed thou hurriest on.
And yet thy banks with flowers are gay;
  The sun laughs on thy troubled breast;
And o'er thy tides the zephyrs play,
  Though nought be thine of quiet rest.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter XX--Publication of poems--Newspaper criticisms--Walsh the lecturer--Enlarged circle of friends--Miss Dunbar of Boath


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