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the Act states) is repayable to those who are rejected or die
before joining, and I presume the entry-money is so too. If it is
_not_, I should insure my life.

"If you consent to my arrangements, you must send me a certificate
of my age - an extract from the Register of Baptisms, or something
of that sort. I suppose Cordiner can give it you....

"Should I not pass my Civil Law trial immediately, I will still
have the satisfaction of passing at some early period, avoiding an
additional £60 which it is intended will be imposed, and from which
no advantage, either real or fortuitous, is to be expected. Now the
Widows' Fund, you know, when one has a widow, will be a very good
sort of thing - £80 per annum, I believe. So if any lady wishes me
to marry her, she had better advise me by all means to join the
scheme. I know of no way of making one's own by it just now but by
marrying some old advocate's widow who is on the list.

"What you do, do quickly. Write me as soon as you can, and
_definitely_, with bill for the money if possible - if not, a plain
statement of its impossibility. I will work hard till I hear from
you. How are you all? I am in good health, and remain, my dear
mother, your affectionate and dutiful son, J. HILL BURTON."

* * * * *

"EDINBURGH, _4th December 1830_.

"MY DEAR MOTHER, - I this morning received your and Mr Alcock's
letters, enclosing a bill for £200 and order for £33, and having no
opportunity to-morrow, I take this occasion to acknowledge receipt
and return thanks. Tell Mr Alcock I am afraid I will never be able
to repay him his kindness in procuring me this sum upon my very
cavalier notice. With regard to yourself, you know, I suppose, we
have a pretty long account together, and the balance somewhat
against me, as it will always remain.

"I suppose you will have received my hurried note of last night. I
thought you had entirely forgot my £20 amid the other weighty
matters you had to settle for me. I am still preparing and covering
the Civil Law with rapid strides, but to make one's self master of
a subject so intricate in a fortnight is something of a
consideration; however, I do not despair. I am doing my best, and
if I do not use my utmost endeavour, after what has been done for
me by others, I will allow you to call me anything you please.

"Still I beg you will not make yourself too sanguine of my success.
In the meantime tell _no one_, not even Robertson, what I am
attempting, that in the case of my being remitted to my studies
(that is the term), it may not be generally known. I give in my
name for examination on Monday next - it takes place on Tuesday
fortnight. But I do not know when I will be acquainted with the
issue. Do not be afraid that I will confuse or disturb myself much
about it. You know I have been accustomed to such things, as eels
are to be skinned.

"While writing, I have been interrupted by a porter who has come
seething in with a large box. To open a parcel is a most
interesting thing, and the imagination revels with pleasure over
its uncertain contents; but the rich and varied stores of this have
exceeded expectation. I am glad you sent the certificate of
baptism. I do not consider it at all necessary to write by post, as
this goes by a most careful hand; but should I not hear next week
of your having received it, then I _shall_ write by post. Perhaps I
may enclose a receipt to Mr Alcock. He 'hinted,' it seems, 'the
danger of placing so much money,' &c. I have not time to let my
imagination run loose just now, or else I might have pictured to
myself the thousand things which might be done with such a
treasure; but I assure you I never should have thought of anything
(as things now stand) but the intended destination of it, and of
_that_ I shall have enough to think. But you know the fable, or
story rather, of the Priest and the Hostler. I have not time to
tell it you now, but perhaps Robertson can furnish you with it....

"I remain, my dear mother, your sincerely affectionate son, J. HILL
BURTON."

* * * * *

"EDINBURGH, _15th December 1830_.

"MY DEAR MOTHER, - If you had not been in expectation of such an
event, I might have commenced my letter after William's manner,
with saying, 'You will be surprised to hear I have passed,' but as
the matter stands, I must begin with - 'I have the satisfaction of
informing you, &c.' It is just about a quarter of an hour since I
was examined, the time being deferred from yesterday to to-day. The
questions were very easy, at least I thought them so, and I think I
answered each. If there were any I did not answer, it was from
abstracting my attention from the more trifling to the more
difficult branches of the law. So far of my examinations are over;
but you must hold in mind that if I do not pass my SCOTS Law trial
in a year, the £50 must still be paid. One thing I have lost by
preparation, the chance of gaining the prize in the Civil Law
class. This is given by the greatest number of correct answers to
one hundred questions. Ten of these have already been answered. _I_
only accomplished _seven_ of them, and consider I have forfeited my
chance. Seven is a good proportion out of ten difficult questions;
but as the person who gains the prize is seldom deficient by above
two or three, I do not conceive I have a chance. You may now tell
whom you please that I have passed, but need not be publishing it
to all the world. Had I _not_ passed, I should have been called a
rash foolish fellow for attempting it; but as it is, it will be
said I have done quite right. You may tell Robertson 'and them,'
and Mrs Brown; and tell Mrs B. I will now have time to write her,
and send a barrel of oysters.... Ask Robertson and Sim and
Cordiner, and so on, to drink my health. I go to a party at Mr
Constable's to-night, the only place (excepting Mr Dauney's) I have
been engaged at since I arrived. I have had nothing whatever to
interfere with my studies for this last fortnight. Tell James and
Mary I can now have time to read their letters. On Saturday Mr G.B.
called on me, asking me to attend a prayer-meeting, and finding I
was busy, told me if I saw things in as clear a light as he did, I
would see the vanity of attending to these earthly things. I trust,
without irreligion, one may say he is mistaken. I write from Mr
Constable's, which is near the Post-office. My dinner-hour is long
past, and the post is just going, so I must bid you adieu. Write me
soon, and inform me how you are pleased with the contents of this.
My 'passage' only cost me 10s. of fee, and 2s. 6d. as fine for
being absent from the Society. I hope you are all well, and remain,
my dear mother, your affectionate and dutiful son, J. HILL BURTON."

* * * * *

"EDINBURGH, _17th December 1830_.

"MY DEAR MOTHER, - I supposed you received my last letter, written
somewhat hurriedly, but of which I suppose you were able to
discover the principal fact. Since writing, I have been relaxing
myself a little, and going about making a few calls, a thing I have
neglected of late; but I beg you will not suppose this to be a hint
that I am to grow idle. I intend, indeed, to be very busy all
winter. I expect to hear from you soon, and to know what is doing
in Aberdeen. I called upon Mrs H. to-night, who told me my
grand-aunt had been very unwell lately. I trust this is a mistake;
but not having heard from your quarter for some days, the fact may
be so, without my having known it.... I just despatched the
oysters, and I would wish that you could send to Mr Dyce, and
inquire whether they have come free of expense, as I left money
with the seller to pay the coach-hire. I have not sent you any, as
they are rather dear - 8s. 8d. for a barrel with two hundred. Now, I
presume you might buy the same number in Aberdeen for about quarter
the sum.

"I live here in a sort of honourable solitude - few acquaintances,
and few annoyances; it is just the sort of life I like. I am to
have one or two of the young men I know to spend Saturday evening
with me, and to discuss your nice plum-cakes which I have just cut.
Among them is a young Pole - a Count Lubienski, a very agreeable and
intelligent gentleman - a class-fellow.

"I may now, by the way, give you the history of my discoveries with
respect to the Widows' Fund, &c., which I presume have proved
rather mysteriously annoying to you. When I first heard the report
of the matter, I called on the librarian and requested information.
He told me that those who did not pass before 1832, had to pay it.
_I_ then said it was due at passing the Civil Law trials, and so,
&c.; and then the man shrugged his shoulders, and allowed I had
convinced him it was only payable by those who did not pass their
_Civil Law_ trials before 1832, and I said no more about the
matter. Dining, however, with Dauney on Tuesday fortnight last, I
heard an observation which led me to a different conclusion, so I
procured the Act as soon as might be, and saw how the matter lay.

"Presuming I had a whole month before me, I determined to try the
thing, notwithstanding the shaking of heads of those to whom I was
_obliged_ to communicate it.

"Finding, on inquiry, that there would be no opportunity of being
examined after the 14th, I will allow I was a little startled, but
still stuck fast, and had a sort of feeling I would be able to
pass, as I do not like setting about what I cannot perform.

"Proceeding in my labours, I gathered confidence, and when the day
came thought it would be rather hard were I rejected. There were
four examined at the same time, and being before myself, I had to
stand their statements of the difficulty and minuteness of the
questions, and they stared not a little when I told them I had
studied the subject for a fortnight and two days; for previous to
that time I had been engaged in the _History_ of Roman Law at
college, and had commenced with the Principles. After the first
question I felt myself secure; yet I will allow I felt a little
easy (_i.e. relieved_) when each of the examiners shook hands with
me, and told me I had given perfect satisfaction.

"The librarian tells me some are rejected in the Civil Law trials,
but _none_ in the Scotch Law, for which I must next year be
prepared. I hope the saving will counter-balance the trouble of
raising the money. I believe I shall enclose you my acknowledgment
for the £200 (the £13 goes to the library, or something of that
sort, which, though rather apocryphal in my nomenclature, shows the
destination of the money). Tell the children[7] if they will write
I will answer them soon, and enclose them something. Pray remember
me to Mr Alcock, and repeat my sense of obligation to him. Tell
Miss Seton I am now on the same shelf with her nephew. Remember me
to the Misses Leith and all friends, Miss Johnstone and Mrs Wemyss,
and all your not very extensive circle.... Write me soon; and I
remain, my dear mother, your affectionate and dutiful son, J. HILL
BURTON.

[Footnote 7: Dr Burton's youngest brother and sister.]

"_P.S._ - I understand that should I 'kick' before passing advocate,
the money will be returned. This would not be the case, however,
were I to prove fickle, so I must consider my steps taken, and all
thoughts of the Aberdeen law as ended; however, I shall finish my
apprenticeship in summer. Had I time, I should like to go a week or
two to the Continent (Norway or so). J.H.B."




CHAPTER III.

BEGINNING OF LITERARY LIFE.

_Particulars regarding passing of Civil Law trial - Letters containing
account of first years in Edinburgh and beginning of literary
life - First marriage - Wife's death - Publications during married life and
widowhood - Political Economy._


If genius is to be defined as the power of taking a great deal of
trouble, Dr Burton certainly possessed genius. His most remarkable power
was that of mental labour. It did not seem to fatigue or excite him. In
his best years his capability for mental work was limited only by the
need of food and sleep, and he could reduce these needs to a minimum,
and apparently without any future reaction.

He has told the writer that he did not go to bed at all during the
fortnight's preparation for his Civil Law trial, described in the last
chapter, but worked continuously, day and night, living almost entirely
on strong tea and coffee. After his examination was over, he felt no
actual fatigue or discomfort. He went to bed at his usual hour, but
slept till the night of the second day was falling, a period of wellnigh
forty-eight hours. He sustained no injury to health, and became entitled
to style himself Advocate.

He never had much practice at the bar; and the need of earning a
livelihood first led him to literary publication.

The two letters next offered refer to the following years of his life,
when the little family was reunited in Edinburgh. Their mother's absence
on a visit to relations in Aberdeen gave occasion for the letters.

"3 HOWARD PLACE, SOUTH,
_14th July 1833_.

"MY DEAR MOTHER, - I take the opportunity of Spalding's[8] going to
Aberdeen to write you a few lines. James received the other day two
letters - one from you, and one from Mary.

[Footnote 8: William Spalding, author of a History of English
Literature and other works; a close friend till his too early
death.]

"The latter mentioned you had sent a letter for me, which has not
yet arrived. I hope to receive it soon, or that you will write me
another, giving a more particular account of your health than the
letters to James have stated.

"I am at all events glad to hear yourself say you are not worse,
and hope that a little such exertion and variety as you must meet
will tend to strengthen you. We have been going on just as usual;
perhaps I have been a little more idle than usual during the past
week, being the last of the session. I have had one or two friends
in to dine, but did not give them very splendid entertainments.
James is most particular in his care of the cat, and we both prowl
about occasionally looking for gooseberries.

"I caught a hedgehog the other evening, which has been let loose in
the garden. I have been unable to discover his place of abode, but
we sometimes meet him taking an evening stroll through the walks.
He is an object of great interest to the cat, whose curiosity,
however, he seems decidedly to baffle....

"I am sorry to hear Robertson is unwell, but I suppose he is able
to write, and he must really be at the trouble of sending me a
letter before I can trouble myself farther about his trunks.

"I shall be engaged to-morrow and next day in the Justiciary Court,
and shall be otherwise very busy during the rest of the month....

"By the way, could you ascertain anything about the next Circuit?
You might perhaps send a note to Daniel (Alexander Daniel, Esq.,
advocate, Farquhar's Court, Upperkirkgate), asking him to call on
you and see if he can get me a case or two....

"With kindest remembrances to grand-aunt and Mrs Brown. - My dear
mother, your affectionate son,

"JOHN HILL BURTON."

The fondness for animals and for gooseberries were lifelong tastes. That
for animals did not extend to taking much trouble about them; but Dr
Burton had none of a student's nervousness about slight noises or
interruptions. He would have thought a house dull without the sounds of
birds or other pets in it, and one of his favourite amusements was to
watch the ways of animals. He had examples, in his acquaintance among
dogs and cats, of heart and conscience in the two species respectively,
too trivial for notice here.

Dr Burton has stated in the letters previously quoted some of the
studies which he pursued at college in Edinburgh. His contribution to
Mrs Gordon's 'Life of Professor Wilson' furnishes a lively picture of
college life and experience in Edinburgh. He attended the course of the
late Sir William Hamilton, and gained some distinction in the study of
moral philosophy and metaphysics, so much that his appointment as
assistant and successor to Sir William was seriously considered by
himself and others. Had he become Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, he
would no doubt have discharged the duties of the situation well. At that
time of his life, great versatility, along with extraordinary diligence,
was the chief characteristic of his mind. In later years he did not
pursue the study of mental science.

Before the period in Dr Burton's life which we have now reached, he had
contributed many articles to the 'Aberdeen Magazine,' published by his
kind old friend Lewis Smith. These were lately collected and republished
by Mr Smith; but, to judge from such specimens as the writer has seen,
they are not, on the whole, of a character to increase Dr Burton's
present reputation. He seems to have tried his hand at every kind of
composition - romance, drama, poetry. In the last mentioned he had most
success. His sentimental verses are pretty. His romances are so much
crowded with incident as to be almost unintelligible. He was true to his
own peculiar taste in novels. If a novel was recommended to him he used
to inquire, "Is there plenty of murder in it?" He disliked almost
equally the philosophical novel, and the domestic or social novel. Of
the former he used to say he preferred to read _either_ philosophy or
fiction; he could not endure them combined. To hear even a sentence of
the best social or domestic novel read irritated him intolerably. He
would ask, "How any one could feel interest in the talk of a set of
ordinary silly people, such as one must meet with every day. It was bad
enough to hear them talk when one could not help it."

Quantities of early works, never printed, are still preserved by his
family. The habit of writing - _not_ letter-writing - seems to have begun
as soon as he could use a pen, and while his orthography - never a strong
point - was excessively weak. "The Rosted Baron" remains a popular work
in a small circle. It is a tale, crowded, as its title indicates, with
blood and flames. The idea may have been taken from the burning of
Frendraught. It was written when Dr Burton was quite a boy, and is now
one of a heap of manuscripts in a childish hand on very yellow paper
remaining in his repositories.

"3 HOWARD PLACE, SOUTH,
_24th July 1833_.

"MY DEAR MOTHER, - ... I was extremely glad to receive your letter
by post this morning, showing me that you are able to go about, and
that you are enjoying yourself as much as possible. James[9] and I
have been getting on very well and very comfortably.

[Footnote 9: Dr Burton's eight years younger brother.]

"I am obliged to delay our proposed jaunt till Monday next, as I
find it impossible to get my work finished before Friday, the day I
had fixed on. You are aware that I have long delayed an article on
Criminal Trials for the 'Westminster Review.' I have now set about
it seriously, and am resolved not to stir until it is finished,
which I hope may be on Saturday. I have likewise some things to
finish for Chambers before I go, and then I think I shall be able
to enjoy a few days of a stravaig.... I got a slight interruption
last night; just as the twilight came on, Alex. Smith came in. Now
I had been living like a hermit for some time, and though he has
been more than a fortnight returned I had not seen Smith for ten
days. The matter was irresistible. We set to and got very jolly
together. He complained of having low spirits, but they were soon
elevated, and before he went away he was leaping over the chairs,
and very anxious to leap out at the window. I received on Monday
the enclosed letter from Miss H. to you, and wrote by way of answer
that I should send it to Aberdeen intimating my intended visit. By
the way, a circumstance of some consequence occurs to me at this
moment. If you remain for three weeks in Aberdeen and then leave
it, you will do so just about a fortnight (I think) before the
Circuit. Might it not be as well to remain until that period, when
I might attend the Circuit and bring you back? I do not know at
this moment the day of the Circuit, but the newspapers will inform
you.

"You may tell Robertson [the before mentioned 'Joseph'] that his
clothes may rot where they are until he chooses to write to me
himself about them. I suppose James will write you a household
statement some time or other soon. If you wish to amuse yourself
with reading the lives I wrote in the last number of the
Biography,[10] they are Archbishop Hamilton, Sir William Hamilton,
Dr Robert Henry, Edward Henryson, J. Bonaventura Hepburn, Roger
Hog, John Holybush, and Henry Home of Kames.... The gooseberries
appear to dwindle as they ripen. I am afraid few will remain for
you, but you will find a sufficient number where you are. I intend
to _walk_ to Dunkeld, and to take two days. Al. Smith may come a
bit with us.... All my little stock of news is exhausted. Pray
remember me to my grand-aunt, Mrs Brown, and my aunts; and I am, my
dear mother, your affectionate son,

"JOHN HILL BURTON."

[Footnote 10: The Cyclopædia of Universal Biography.]

This letter describes the beginning of the life of literary labour
which John Hill Burton's was to the end. He would not have liked to see
it described as labour. He even disliked the word work as applied to his
own pursuits, and he did indeed work as easily as most men play. He was
unconscious of his own powers of mental application: his mind worked
with as much ease as his lungs breathed. The great bulk of his earlier
writings must be quite irrecoverable now. He wrote school-books,
specially a set of historical abridgments for the use of schools, under
the name of Dr White; he also compiled much of the information in Oliver
and Boyd's 'Almanac,' and almost all the letterpress of Billings's
'Ecclesiastical and Baronial Antiquities.'

Dr Burton's whole resources at this time were derived from his pen. He
has described this mode of life as a somewhat anxious but by no means
unhappy one. The anxiety lay in that in which all sorts of business
share - the finding work, looking for employment. The employment once
found was agreeable to him. He rapidly acquired a power of mastering
almost any subject on which he had to write, though he always looked
forward with hope to the time, which eventually came, when he might live
securely on a fixed income, free to write from the fulness of his mind
and not from outward pressure.

The house in Howard Place was carefully managed by his mother. On a life
spent entirely in town proving unsuitable to her health, Dr Burton took
for her a little cottage at Brunstane, which served as country quarters
for the family for several years.

In 1844 Dr Burton married Isabella Lauder, daughter of Captain Lauder of
Flatfield, in Perthshire. He then occupied a house in Scotland Street,
and his mother and sister left him to reside in the little cottage
called Liberton Bank. There his beloved and revered mother died, in
1848. His sister still lives in the cottage with a little flock of young
relatives which her kindness has gathered around her.

Dr Burton's first appearance in independent authorship was in 1846, when
he published his 'Life and Correspondence of David Hume.' This work at
once gained for him a recognised position among men of letters.



Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter : etc. → online text (page 3 of 33)