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Nay, for if that moon could love a mortal,
Use, to charm him, (so to fit a fancy,)
All her magic, ('t is the old sweet mythos,)
She would turn a new side to her mortal,


Side unseen of herdsman, huntsman, steersman,

Blank to Zoroaster on his terrace,

Blind to Galileo on his turret,

Dumb to Homer, dumb to Keats, him, even !

Think, the wonder of the moonstruck mortal,

"When she turns round, comes again in heaven,

Opens out anew for worse or better ?

Proves she like some portent of an iceberg

Swimming full upon the ship it founders,

Hungry with huge teeth of splintered crystals ?

Proves she as the paved-work of a sapphire

Seen by Moses when he climbed the mountain ?

Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu

Climbed and saw the very God, the Highest,

Stand upon the paved-work of a sapphire.

Like the bodied heaven in his clearness

Shone the stone, the sapphire of that paved-work,

"When they ate and drank and saw God also !


What were seen ? None knows, none ever shall know.

Only this is sure, the sight were other,

Not the moon's same side, born late in Florence,

Dying now impoverished here in London.

God be thanked, the meanest of his creatures

Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with,

One to show a woman when he loves her.


This I say of me, but think of you, Love !

This to you, yourself my moon of poets !

Ah, but that 's the world's side, there 's the wonder

Thus they see you, praise you, think they know you.

There, in turn I stand with them and praise you.


Out of my own self, I dare to phrase it
But the best is when I glide from out them,
Cross a step or two of dubious twilight,
Come out on the other side, the novel
Silent silver lights, and darks undreamed of,
Where I hush and bless myself with silence.


O, their Rafael of the dear Madonnas,
0, their Dante of the dread Inferno,
Wrote one song and in my brain I sing it,
Drew one angel borne, see, on my bosom !



MAN is an ease-loving animal, with a lingering affec-
tion 'Cor Arcadian dales ; under the shadow of whose
trees shepherd boys are piping " as they would never grow
old." Human nature is a vagabond still, maugre the six
thousand years of it, and amuses itself with dreams of soci-
eties free and unrestrained. It is this vagabond feeling
in the blood which draws one so strongly to Shakespeare.
That sweet and liberal nature of his blossomed into all
wild human generosities. "As You Like It" is a vaga-
bond play ; and, verily, if there waved in any wind that
blows upon the earth a forest, peopled as Aj-den's was in
Shakespeare's imagination, with an exiled king drawing
the sweetest, humanest lessons from misfortune, a melan-
choly Jaques stretched by the river's brink, moralizing on
the bleeding deer, a fair Rosalind chanting her saucy
cuckoo song, fools like Touchstone (not like those of our
acquaintance, reader), and the whole place from centre to
circumference filled with mighty oak-bolls, all carven with
lovers' names ; I would, be my worldly prospects what they
may, pack up at once and join that vagabond company. For
there I should find more gallant courtesies, finer sentiments,
completer innocence and happiness, than I am like to dis-
cover here, although I search for them from shepherd's cot
to king's palace. Just to think how these people lived


Carelessly as the blossoming trees, happily as the singing
birds ; time measured only by the acorn's patter on the
fruitful soil. A world without debtor or creditor ; passing
rich, yet with never a doit in its purse ; with no sordid
cares, no regard for appearances ; nothing to occupy the
young but love-making; nothing to occupy the old but
listening to the " sermons in stones," and perusing the
musical wisdom which dwells in " running brooks." Ar-
den forest, alas ! is not rooted in the earth : it draws
sustenance from a poet's brain ; and the light asleep on
its leafy billows is that " that yet never was seen on sea or
shore." But one cannot help dreaming of such a place, and
striving to approach as nearly as possible to its sweet

I am quite alone here : England may have been invaded
and London sacked for aught I know. Several weeks
since, a newspaper, accidentally blown to my solitude, in-
formed me that the Great Eastern had been got under
weigh, and was then swinging at the Nore. There is great
joy, I perceive. Human nature stands astonished at itself;
felicitates itself on its remarkable talent, and will for
months to come purr complacently over its achievement in
magazines and reviews. A fine world, messieurs, that will
attain to heaven if in the power of steam. A very line
world ; yet for ah 1 that, I have withdrawn from it for a
time, and would rather not hear of its remarkable exploits.
In my present mood I do not value them that coil of vapor
on the brow of Blavin, which, as I gaze, smoulders into
nothing in the fire of sunrise.

Goethe, in his memorable book, '* Truth and Poetry,"
informs his readers that in his youtli he loved to shelter
himself in the Scripture narratives, from the marching and
counter-marching of armies, the cannonading, retreating,
and fighting, that lay everywhere around him. He shut
his eyes, as it were, and a whole war-convulsed Europe


wheeled away into silence and distance, and in its place,
lo ! the patriarchs, with their tawny tents, their man-ser-
vants and maid-servants, and countless flocks in impercep-
tible procession whitening the Syrian plains. In this my
green solitude, I appreciate the full sweetness of the pas-
sage. Everything here is silent as the Bible plains them-
selves. I am cut off from former scenes and associates as
by the sullen Styx and the grim ferrying of Charon's boat.
The noise of the world does not touch me. I live too far
inland to hear the thunder of the reef. To this place no ,
postman comes, no tax-gatherer. This region never heard
the sound of the church-going bell. The land is pagan as
when the yellow-haired Norseman landed a thousand years
ago. I almost feel a pagan myself. Not using a notched
stick, I have lost all count of time, and don't know Satur-
day from Sunday. Civilization is like a soldier's stock; it
makes you carry your head a good deal higher, makes the
angels weep a little more at your fantastic tricks, and half
suffocates you the while. I have thrown it away, and
breathe freely. My bed is the heather, my mirror the
stream from the hills, my comb and brush the sea-breeze,
my watch the sun, my theatre the sunset, and my evening ser-
vice not without a rude natural religion in it watching
the pinnacles of the hills of Cuchullin sharpening in intense
purple against the pallid orange of the sky, or listening to
the melancholy voices of the sea-birds and the tide ; that
over, I am asleep till touched by the earliest splendor of
the dawn. I am, not without reason, hugely enamored of
my vagabond existence.

My bothy is situated on the shores of one of the lochs
that intersect Skye. The coast Ls bare and rocky, hollowed
into fantastic chambers : and when the tide is making, every
cavern murmurs like a sea-shell. The land, from frequent
rain green as emerald, rises into soft pastoral heights, and
about a mile inland soars suddenly up into peaks* of baa-


tard marble, white as the cloud under which the lark sings
at noon, bathed in rosy light at sunset. In front are the
Cuchullin hills and the monstrous peak of Blavin ; then
the green Strath runs narrowing out to sea, and the Island
of Rum, with a white cloud upon it, stretches like a gigan-
tic shadow across the entrance of the loch, and completes
the scene. Twice every twenty-four hours the Atlantic tide
sets in upon hollowed shores ; twice is the sea withdi awn,
leaving spaces of green sand on which mermaids with
.golden combs might sleek alluring tresses ; and black rocks,
heaped with brown dulse and tangle, and lovely ocean
blooms of purple and orange ; and bare islets, marked
at full of tide by a glimmer of pale-green amid the univer-
sal sparkle, where most the sea-fowl love to congregate.
To these islets, on favorable evenings, come the crows, and
sit in sable parliament ; business despatched, they start into
air as at a gun, and stream away through the sunset to
their roosting-place in the Armadale woods. The shore
supplies for me the place of books and companions. Of
course Blavin and Cuchullin hills are the chief attractions,
and I never weary watching them. In the morning they
wear a great white caftan of mist ; but that lifts away before
noon, and they stand with all their scars and passionate
torrent-lines bare to the blue heavens ; with perhaps a soli-
tary shoulder for a moment gleaming wet to the sunlight.
After a while a vapor begins to steam up from their abysses,
gathering itself into strange shapes, knotting and twisting
itself like smoke ; while above, the terrible crests are now
lost, now revealed, in a stream of flying rack. In an hour
a wall of rain, gray as granite, opaque as iron, stands^ up
from the sea to heaven. The loch is roughening before
the wind, and the islets, black dots a second ago, are
patches of roaring foam. You hear the fierce sound of
its coming. The lashing tempest sweeps over you, and
looking behind, up the long inland glen, you can see on


the birch woods, and on the sides of the hills, driven on the
wind, the white smoke of the rain. Though fierce as a
charge of Highland bayonets, these squalls are seldom of
long duration, and you bless them when you creep from
your shelter, for out comes the sun, and the birch woods
are twinkling, and more intensely flash the levels of the
sea, and at a stroke the clouds are scattered from the wet
brow of Blavin, and to the whole a new element is added,
the voice of the swollen stream as it rushes over a hun-
dred tiny cataracts, and roars river-broad into the sea, mak-
ing turbid the azure. Then I have my amusements in
this solitary place. The mountains are of course open, and
this morning at dawn a roe swept past me like the wind,
nose to the dewy ground, " tracking," they call it here.
Above all, I can wander on the ebbed beach. Hogg
speaks of that

" Undefined and mingled hum,
Voice of the desert, never dumb."

But far more than the murmuring and insecty air of the
moorland, does the wet chirk-chirking of the living shore
give one the idea of crowded and multitudinous life. Did
the reader ever hunt razor-fish ? not sport like tiger-
hunting, I admit ; yet it has its pleasures and excitements,
and can kill a forenoon for an idle man agreeably. On the
wet sands yonder the razor-fish are spouting like the foun-
tains at Versailles on a fete day. The sly fellow sinks on
discharging his watery feu de joie. If you are quickly
after him through the sand, you catch him, and then comes
the tug of war. Address and dexterity are required. If
you pull vigorously, he slips out of his sheath a " mother-
naked " mollusk, and escapes. If you do your spiriting
gently, you drag him up to light, a long, thin case, with a
white fishy bulb protruding at one end like a root, Rinse
him in sea-water, toss him into your basket, and plunge



after another watery flash. These razor-fish are excellent
eating, the people say ; and when used as bait, no fish that
swims the ocean stream, cod, whiting, haddock, flat skate
broad-shouldered, crimson bream, not the detested dog-
fish himself, this summer swarming in every loch and be-
cursed by every fisherman, can keep himself off the
hook, and in an hour your boat is laden with glittering
spoil. Then if you take your gun to the low islands,
and you can go dry-shod at ebb of tide, you have your
chance of sea-fowl. Gulls of all kinds are there, dookers
and divers of every description ; flocks of shy curlews,
and specimens of a hundred tribes, to which my limited
ornithological knowledge cannot furnish a name. The
Solan goose yonder falls from heaven into the water like
a meteor-stone. See the solitary scart, with long, narrow
wing and outstretched neck, shooting toward some distant
promontory ! Anon, high overhead, come wheeling a
covey of lovely sea-swallows. You fire ; one flutters down
never more to skim the horizon or to dip in the sea
sparkle. Lift it up; is it not beautiful? The wild keen
eye is closed, but you see the delicate slate-color of the
wings, and the long tail-feathers white as the creaming
foam. There is a stain of blood on the breast, hardly
brighter than the scarlet of its beak and feet. Lay it
down, for its companions are dashing round and round,
uttering harsh cries of rage and sorrow ; and had you the
heart, you could shoot them one by one. At ebb of tide
wild-looking children, from turf-cabins on the hillside, come
down to hunt shell-fish. Even now a troop is busy ; how
their shrill voices go the while ! Old Effie, I see, is out
to-day, quite a picturesque object with her white cap and
red shawl. With a tin can in 'one hand, an old reaping-
hook in the other, she goes poking among the tangle. Let
us see what sport she has had. She turns round at our
salutation, very old, old almost as the worn rocks around


She might ha\ e been the wife of Wordsworth's " Leech-
gatherer." Her can is sprawling with brown crabs ; and
opening her apron, she exhibits a large black and blue
lobster, a fellow such as she alone can capture. A queer
woman is Effie, and an awsome. She is familiar with
ghosts and apparitions. She can relate leg-ends that have
power over the superstitious blood, and with little coaxing
will sing those wild Gaelic songs of hers, of dead lights
on the sea, of fishing-boats going down in squalls, of un-
buried bodies tossing day and night upon the gray peaks
of the waves, and of girls that pray God to lay them by
the sides of their drowned lovers ; although for them should
never risa mass nor chant, and although their flesh should
be torn asunder by the wild fishes of the sea.

Rain is my enemy here, and at this writing I am suffer-
ing siege. For three days this rickety dwelling has stood
assault of wind and rain. Yesterday a blast breached the
door, and the tenement fluttered for a moment like an um-
brella caught in a gust. All seemed lost, but the door was
got to again, heavily barred across, and the enemy foiled.
An entrance, however, had been effected ; and that por-
tion of the attacking column which I had imprisoned by
my dexterous manoeuvre, maddening itself into whirlwind,
rushed up the chimney, scattering my turf fire as it went,
and so escaped. Since that time the windy columns have
retired to the gorges of the hills, where I hear them howl
at intervals ; and the only thing I am exposed to is the
musketry of the rain. How viciously the small shot pep-
pers the walls ! Here must I wait till the cloudy arma-
ment breaks up. One's own mind is a dull companion in
these circumstances. Sheridan, wont with his talk to
brighten the table more than the champagne ; whose mind
was a phosphorescent sea, dark in its rest, every movement
a flash of splendor, if cooped up here, begirt with this
murky atmosphere, would be dull as a Lincoln fen uneu-


livened by a single will-o'-the-wisp. Books are the only
refuge on a rainy day ; but in Skye Bothies books are rare
To me, however, the gods have proved kind, for in my sore
need I found on a shelf here two volumes of the old
Monthly Review, and have sauntered through these dingy
literary catacombs with considerable satisfaction. What a
strange set of old fogies the writers ! To read them is like
conversing with the antediluvians. Their opinions have
fallen into disuse long ago, and resemble to-day the rusty
armor and gimcracks of a curiosity-shop. These essays
and criticisms were thought brilliant, I suppose, when they
appeared last century, and authors praised therein con-
sidered themselves rather handsome flies, preserved in pure
critical amber for the inspection of posterity. The volumes
were published, I notice, from 1790 to 1792, and exhibit a
period of wonderful literary activity. Not to speak of
novels, histories, travels, farces, tragedies, upwards of two
hundred poems are brought to judgment. Plainly, these
Monthly Reviewers worked hard, and on the whole with
spirit and deftness. A proper sense of the importance of
their craft had these gentlemen ; they laid down the law
with great gravity, and from critical benches shook their
awful wigs on offenders. How it all looks now ! " Let us
indulge ourselves with another extract," quoth one, " and
contemplate once more the tear of grief before we are
called upon to witness the tear of rapture." Both tears
dried up long ago, as those that sparkled on a Pharaoh's
cheek. Hear this other, stern as Rhadamanthus ; behold
Duty steeling itself against human weakness ! " It grieves
us to wound a young man's feelings ; but our judgment
must not be biassed by any plea whatsoever. Why will
men apply for our opinion, when they know that we cannot
be silent, and that we will not lie ? " Listen to this prophet
in Israel, one who has not bent the knee to Baal, and say
if there is not a touch of hopeless pathos in him : " Fine


woixls do not make fine poems. Scarcely a month passes
in which we are not obliged to issue this decree. But in
these days of universal heresy, our decrees are no more
respected than the Bulls of the Bishop of Rome." O that
men would hoar, that they would incline their hearts to
wisdom ! The ghosts of the dim literary Hades are get-
ting tiresome, and as I look up, lo! the rain has ceased,
from sheer fatigue : great white vapors are rising from the
damp valleys ; and, better than all, pleasant as Blucher's
cannon on the evening of Waterloo, the sound of wheels
on the boggy ground ; and just when the stanched rain-
clouds are burning into a sullen red at sunset, I have a
visitor in my Bothy, and pleasant human intercourse.

Broadford Fair is a great event in the island. The little
town lies on the margin of a curving bay, and under the
shadow of a somewhat celebrated hill. On the crest of it
is a cairn of stones, the burying-place of an ancient Scan-
dinavian woman, tradition informs me, whose wish it was
to be laid high up there, that she might sleep right in the
pathway of the Norway wind. In a green glen, at its base,
stand the ruins of the House of Corrichatachin, where Bos-
well had his share of four bowls of punch, and went to bed
at five in the morning, and, awakening at noon with a severe
headache, saw Dr. Johnson burst in upon him with tLe
exclamation, " What, drunk yet!" "His tone of voice w.'js
not that of severe upbraiding," writes the penitent Bozzy,
" so I was relieved a little." Broadford is a post-town of
about a dozen houses, and is a place of great importance.
If Portree is the London of Skye, Broadford is its Man-
chester. The markets, held every three months or so, take
place on a patch of moorland about a mile from the village.
Not only are cattle sold and cash exchanged for the same,
but there a Skye farmer meets his relations, from the brother
of his blood to his cousin forty times removed. To these
meetings he is irawn, not only by his love of coin, but by


his love of kindred, and the Broadford Mail and tiie
Portree Advertiser lying yet in the womb of time by his
love of gossip also. The market is the Skyeman's ex-
change, his family gathering, and his newspaper. From
the deep sea of his solitude he comes up to breathe there,
and, refreshed, sinks again. This fair at Broadford I re-
solved to see. Starting early in the morning, my way for
the most part lay through a desolation where Nature seemed
deteriorated, and at her worst. Winter could not possibly
sadden the region ; no spring could quicken it into ^owc: s.
The hills wear but for ornament the white streak of the
torrent; the rocky soil clothes itself in heather to which
the purple never comes. Even man, the miracle-worker,
who transforms everything he touches, who has rescued a
fertile Holland from the waves, who has reared a marble
Venice from out salt lagunes and marshes, is defeated here.
A turf hut, with smoke issuing from the roof, and a patch
of sickly green around, which will ripen by November, is
all that he has won from Nature. Gradually, as I pro-
ceeded, the aspect of the country changed, began to ex-
hibit traces of cultivation ; and erelong the red hill with
the Norwegian woman's cairn a-top rose before me, sug-
gesting Broadford and the close of the journey. The roads
were filled with cattle, driven forward with oath and shout.
Every now and then, a dog-cart came skirring along, and
infinite the confusion, and loud the clamor of tongues, when
one or other plunged into a herd of sheep, or skittish
" three-year-olds." At the entrance to the fair, the horses
were taken out of the vehicles, and left, with a leathern
thong tied round tneir forelegs, to limp about in search of
breakfast. As you advance, on either side of the road
stand hordes of cattle, the wildest looking' creatures, black,
white, dun, and cream-colored, with fells of hair hanging
over their savage eyes, and graced with horns of prepos-
terous dimensions. Horses neighed from their stakes, the


owners looking out for customers. Sheep were there, too,
in restless masses, scattering hither and thither like quick-
silver, with dogs and men flying along their edges, excited
to the verge of insanity. What a hubbub of sound ! "What
lowing and neighing ! what bleating and barking ! It was
a novel sight, that rude, primeval traffic. Down in the
hollow ground tents had been knocked up since dawn ;
there potatoes were being cooked for drovers who had been
travelling all night; there, also, liquor could be had. To
these places, I observed, contracting parties invariably re-
paired to solemnize a bargain. Booths ranged along the
side of the road were plentifully furnished with confections,
ribbons, 'and cheap jewellery ; and as the morning wore on,
around these the girls swarmed thickly, as bees round sum-
mer flowers. The fair was running its full career of bar-
gain-making and consequent dram-drinking, rude flirtation,
and meeting of friend with friend, when up the middle of
the road, hustling the passengers, terrifying the cattle, came
three misguided young gentlemen medical students, I
opined engaged in botanical researches in these regions.
Evidently they had been "dwellers in tents." One of
them, gifted with a comic genius, his companions were
desperately solemn, at one point of the road, threw back
his coat, in emulation of Sambo when he brings down the
applauses of the threepenny gallery, and executed a shuffle
in front of a bewildered cow. Crummie backed and shied,
bent on retreat. He, agile as a cork, bobbed up and down
in her front, turn whither she would, with shouts and hideous
grimaces, his companions standing by the while like mutes
at a funeral. That feat accomplished, the trio staggered
on, amid the derision and scornful laughter of the Gael.
Lifting our eyes up out of the noise and confusion, there
were the solitary mountain-tops and the clear mirror of
Broadford Bay, the opposite coast sleeping green in it with
all its woods ; and lo ! the steamer from the South sliding


in, with her red funnel, breaking the reflection with a tract
of foam, and disturbing the far-off morning silence with the
thunder of her paddles. By noon, a considerable stroke of
business had been done. Hordes of bellowing cattle were
being driven off toward Broadford, and drovers were rush-
ing about in a wonderful manner, armed with tar-pot and
stick, smearing their peculiar mark upon the shaggy hides
of their purchases. Rough-looking customers enough, these
fellows, yet they want not means. Some of them, I am
told, came here this morning with five hundred pounds in
their pockot-books, and have spent every paper of it, and
this day three months they will return with as large a sum.
By three o'clock in the afternoon the place was deserted
by cattle, and fun and business gathered round the booths
and refreshment tents, the noise increasing every hour, and
towards evening deepening into brawl and general combat.
During the last few weeks I have had opportunity of wit-
nessing something of life as it passes in the Skye wilder-
nesses, and have been struck with its self-containedness, not
less than with its remoteness. A Skye family luus every-

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 4 of 66)