John Wilson.

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In Three Volumes, 12mo,




John Wilson was born at Paisley, in 1789. After going
through a preparatory course of study at the University of
Glasgow, he was entered a fellow-connnoner at Magdalen
College, Oxford ; and very soon obtained some portion of that
fame of which he was destined to participate so largely. Much
of his paternal property was lost by the failure of a mercantile
concern in which it had been embarked ; but enough remained
to purchase the elegancies of life : he bought the beautiful
estate of EUeray, on the lake of Winandermere — fit dwelling
for a poet — and continues to inhabit it, when his professional
duties permit his absence from Edinburgh. In 1812 he pub-
lished the Isle of Palms ; and the City of the Plague, in 1816.
In 1820, he became, under circumstances highly honourable to
him, a successful candidate for the Chair of Moral Philosopiiy,
in the University of the Scottish metropolis. He has since
published but little poetry : his prose tales — " The Trials of
Margaret Lindsay," "The Foresters," and "Lights and Sha-
dows of Scottish Life" — have, however, amply compensated
the world for his desertion of the Muses; and his contributions
to "Blackwood's Magazine," which are too strongly marked to


leave any doubt of their authorship, have established for him a
higli and enduring reputation. The conduct of this periodical
is so universally understood to be in the hands of the Professor,
that we may consider ourselves justified in describing him as
its editor. He has long upheld its supremacy : the best sup-
ported magazines of England have failed in compethig with it;
because there is no living writer whose talents are so versatile,
and consequently so fitted to deal with the varied topics upon
which iiis judgment or his fancy must be employed. His
learning is both profound and excursive; his criticism searching
and sound; his descriptions of scenery exquisitely true; his
paintings of human character and passion admirable; his wit
and humour delightful, when it does not degenerate into
"fun;" and no writer of modern times has written so many
deliciously eloquent passages which produce, if we may so
express ourselves, gushes of admiration. The mind of Wilson
is a remarkable blending of the kindly and the bitter: — his
praise is always full and hearty ; his censure almost unendura-
ble: he appears to have no control over his likings or dislikings:
— at times, pursues with almost superhuman wrath, and then,
again, becomes so generous and eloquent, that he absolutely
makes an author's character, and establishes his position by a
few sentences of approval. From all his criticisms there may
be gathered some evidence of a sound heart ; of a nature like
the Highland breezes — kern, but healthy ; often most invigo-
rating when most severe — but which may be safely encountered
only by those whose stamina is unquestionable. The personal
appearance of Professor Wilson is very remarkable: his frame
is, like his mind, powerful and robust. His complexion is
florid, and his features are finely marked ; the mouth is ex-
quisitely chiselled, the expression of his countenance is gentle
to a degree; but there is " a lurking devil" in his keen gray
eye, that gives a very intelligible hint to the observer. His
forehead is broad and high. To us, among all the great men
we have ever beheld — and they have not been few — there is
not one wiio so thoroughly extorts a mingled sensation of love
and fear.












Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1841, by Carey
AND Hart, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Eastern
District of Pennsylvania.

C. Sherman & Co. Printers,
ly St. James Street.

tr c? "? '^ ^-^ o ^V S

taxij.^ L-n,. x>j^i-\i-'.ci.±\.n. \^KJLjijjur\jai juAom





The writings of Professor Wilson are characterized by a
rich and genial flow of sentiment and language. His poetical
criticisms are almost always justified by the soundest princi-
ples. And his descriptions of natural scenery and woodland
pleasures, breathe the refreshment of fields and streams.

The present collection is offered to the public with the hope
of diffusing still more widely the enjoyment with which the
readers of Blackwood have long been familiar. It is intended
to be followed by the republication, in a similar form, from the
same magazine, of the elaborate critiques, by the same hand,
upon those great poets, ancient and modern, of whom little is
generally known beyond their names.











A midsummer-day's dream 169


poetry of the PRESENT DAY 328


ARIA 386



(Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1828.)

How beautiful are all the subdivisions of time diversi-
fying the dream of human life, as it glides away between
earth and heaven ! And why should moralists mourn over
that mutability that gives the chief charm to all that passes
so transitorily before our eyes, leaving image upon image
fairer and dearer far than even the realities, still visible,
and it may be for ever, in the waters of memory sleeping
within the heart? Memory never awakes but along with
imagination, and therefore it is

" That she can give us back the dead,
Even in the loveliest looks they wore I"

The years, the months, the weeks, the days, the nights,
the hours, the minutes, the moments, each is in itself a
different living, and peopled, and haunted world. One life
is a thousand lives, and each individual, as he fully renews
the past, reappears in a thousand characters, yet all of
them bearing a mysterious identity not to be misunderstood,
and all of them, while every passion has been shifting and
dying away, and reascending into power, still under the
dominion of the same unchanging conscience, that feels
and knows that it is from God.

Oh ! who can complain of the shortness of human life,
that can retravel all the windings and wanderings, and
mazes that his feet have trodden since the farthest back

VOL. I. 2

14 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

hour at which memory pauses, bafiled and blindfolded, as
she vainly tries to penetrate and illumine the palpable,
the impervious darkness that shrouds the kw first for
ever-forgotten years of our wonderful being? Long, long,
long ago seems it to be indeed, when we remember it, the
time we first pulled the primroses on the sunny braes,
wondering, in our first blissful emotions of beauty, at the
leaves with a softness all their own, a yellowness nowhere
else so vivid, " the bright consummate flower," so starlike to
our awakened imagination among the lowly grass — lovely,
indeed, to our admiring eyes, as any one of all the stars that,
in their turn, did seem themselves like flowers in the blue
fields of heaven ! — long, long, long ago, the time when we
danced along, hand in hand with our golden-haired sister,
whom all that looked on loved ! — long, long, long ago, the
day on which she died — the hour, so far more dismal than
any hour that can now darken us on this earth, when she —
her coffin — and that velvet pall descended — and descended
— slowly, slowly into the horrid clay, and we were borne
deathlike, and wishing to die, out of the churchyard, that,
from that moment, we thought we could enter never more !
And oh! what a multitudinous being must ours have been,
when, before our boyhood was gone, we could have forgot-
ten her buried face! Or at the dream of it, dashed off a tear,
and away, with a bounding heart, in the midst of a cloud
of playmates, breaking into fragments on the hill-side, and
hurrying round the shores of those wild moorland lochs,
in vain hope to surprise the heron, that slowly uplifted his
blue bulk, and floated away, regardless of our shouts, to
the old castle woods ! It is all like a reminiscence of some
other stale of existence ! Then, after all the joys and sor-
rows of those few years, which we now call transitory, but
which our boyhood felt as if they would be endless — as if
they would endure ior ever — arose upon us the glorious
dawning of another new life — Youth ! with its insupportable
sunshine, and its magnificent storms ! transitory, too, we
now know, and well deserving the name of dream ! But
while it lasted, long, various, and agonizing, while, unable
to sustain "the beauty still more beauteous" of the eyes
that first revealed to us the light of love, we hurried away
from the parting hour, and, looking up to the moon and


Stars, hugged the very heavens to our heart. Yet life had
not yet nearly reached its meridian, journeying up the
sunbright firmament. How long hung it there exulting,
when " it flamed on the forehead of the noontide sky !"
Let not the time be computed by the lights and shadows
of the years, but by the innumerable array of visionary
thoughts, that kept deploying, as if from one eternity into
another — now in dark sullen masses, now in long array,
brightened as if with spear-points, and standards, and
moving along through chasm, abyss, and forest, and over
the summits of the highest mountains, to the sound of
ethereal music, now warlike and tempestuous — now, as
" from flutes and soft recorders," accompanying, not
pajans of victory, but hymns of peace. That life, too,
seems, now that it is gone, to have been of a thousand
years. Is it gone? Its skirts are yet hovering on the
horizon — and is there yet another life destined for us?
That life which we fear to face, — age, old age ! Four
dreams within a dream, and then we may awake in
heaven !

At dead of night — and it is now the dead of night — how
the heart often quakes on a sudden at the silent resur-
rection of buried thoughts !

"Thoughts that like phantoms trackless come and go !"

Perhaps the sunshine of some one single Sabbath of more
exceeding holiness comes first glimmering, and then
brightening upon us, with the very same religious sanc-
tity that filled all the air at the tolling of the kirk-bell,
when all the parish was hushed, and the voice of streams
heard more distinctly among the banks and braes, — and
then, all at once, a thunder-storm that many years be-
fore, or many years after, drove us, when walking alone
over the mountains, into a shieling, will seem to succeed,
and we behold the same threatening aspect of the hea-
vens that then quailed our beating hearts, and frowned
down our eyelids before the lightning began to flash, and
the black rain to deluge all the glens. No need now for
any eflbrt of thought. The images rise of themselves — in-
dependently of our volition — as if another being, stud3ring
the working of our minds, conjured up the phantasmagoria

16 Wilson's jiiscellaxeous writings.

before us, who are beholding it with love, with wonder, or
wiih fear. Darkness and silence have a power of sorcery
over the past; and the soul has then, too, often restored
to it feelings and thoughts that it had lost — and is made
to know that nothing which it once experiences ever
perishes, but that all things spiritual possess a principle
of immortal life.

Why linger on the shadowy wall some of those phan-
tasmagoria — returning after they have disappeared — and
reluctant to pass away into their former oblivion ? Why
shoot others athwart the gloom, quick as spectral figures
seen hurrying among mountains during a great storm?
Why do some glare and threaten — why others fade away
with a melancholy smile — why that one — look ! look ! a
figure all in white, and with while roses in its hair,
comes forward through the haze, beautifying into dis-
tincter form and face, till its pale, beseeching hands
almost touch my bosom — and then, in a moment it is
as nothing !

But now the room is disenchanted — and feebly my lamp
is glimmering, about to leave me to the light of the moon
and stars. There is it trimmed again — and the sudden
increase of lustre cheers the heart within me like a fes-
tal strain — and to-morrow — to-morrow is IVIerry Christ-
mas, and when its night descends, there will be mirth
and music, and the light sound of the merry-twinkling
feet within these now so melancholy walls, and sleep
now reigning over all the house — save this one room —
will be banished far over the sea — and Morning will be
reluctant to allow her light to break up the innocent

Were every Christmas of which we have been present
at the celebration, painted according to nature — what a
gallery of pictures! True, that a sameness wou'd per-
vade them all — but only that kind of sameness that
pervades the nocturnal heavens, — one clear night being
always, to common eyes, so like another, — for w hat hath
any night to be proud of but one moon and some thousand
stars — a vault " darkly, deeply, beautifully blue," here
a few braided, and there a few castellated clouds? Yet
no two nights ever bore more than a family resemblance
to each other before the studious and in.'itructed eye of him


who has long communed with Nature, and is familiar with
every smile and frown on her changeful, but not capri-
cious countenance. Even so with the annual festivals
of the heart. Then our thoughts are the stars that illu-
mine those skies — on ourselves it depends whether they
shall be black as Erebus or brighter than any Aurora.

My father's house ! How it is ringing, like a grove in
spring, with the din of creatures happier, a thousand limes
happier, than all the birds in the world ! It is the Christ-
mas holidays — Christmas day itself — Christmas night —
and joy intensifies love in every bosom. Never before
were we brothers and sisters so dear to one another —
never before had our hearts so yearned towards the au-
thors of our being — our blissful being ! There they sit
— silent in all that outcry — composed in all that disarray,
' — still in all that tumult — yet, as one or other flying imp
sweeps round the chair, a father's hand will playfully try
to catch a prisoner, — a mother's gentler touch on some
sylph's disordered cymar be felt almost as a reproof, and,
for a moment, slacken the fairy-flight. One old game
treads on the heels of another — twenty within the hour,
— and many a new game never heard of before nor since,
struck out by the collision of kindred spirits in their glee,
the transitory fancies of genius inventive through very
delight. Then, all at once, there is a hush, profound as
ever falls on some little plat within a forest, when the
moon drops behind the mountain, and the small green-
robed people of peace at once cease their pastime and
evanish. For she — the silver tongued — is about to sing
an old ballad, words and air both hundreds of years old,
— and sing she doth, while tears begin to fall, with a voice
too mournfully beautiful long to breathe below, — and, ere
another Christmas shall come with the falling snows,
doomed to be mute on earth — but to be hymning in

Of that house — to our eyes the fairest of earthly dwell-
ings — with its old ivied turrets, and orchard-garden,
bright alike with fruit and flowers, not one stone re-
mains ! The very brook that washed its foundations has
vanished along with them, — and a crowd of other build-
ings, wliolly without character, has long stood, where here

18 avilson's miscellaneous wkitings.

a single tree, and there a grove, did once render so lovely
that small demesne! Which, how could we, who thought
it the very heart of paradise, even for one moment have
believed was soon to be blotted out from being, and we our-
selves, then so linked in love that the band which bound us
all together was, in its gentle pressure, felt not nor under-
stood, to be scattered far and abroad, like so many leaves,
that after one wild parting rustle are separated by roaring
wind-eddies, and brouj^ht tofiether no more ! The old
abbey, — it still survives, — and there, in that corner of
the burial-ground, below that part of the wall which was
least in ruins, and which we often climbed to reach the
starlings' and martins' nests — there, in hopes of a joyful
resurrection, lie the loved and venerated, — for whom, even
now that so many long, long, grief-deadening years have
fled, I feel, in this hushed and holy hour, as if it were im-
piety so utterly to have ceased to weep — so seldom to re-
member ! — and then, with a powerlessness of sympathy
to keep pace with youth's frantic grief — the floods we all
wept together — at no long interval — on those pale and
smiling faces, as they lay in their cofRns, most beautiful
and most dreadful to behold !

" Childish ! childish !" methinks I hear some world-
wise thinker cry. But has not one of the wisest of spirits
said "The child is father of the man?" And if so, ought
the man ever to lose sight of any single one of those dear,
dim, delightful remembrances, far off and remote, of ob-
jects whether alive or dead, — whether instinct with love
and intelligence, or but of the insensate sod, that once
were to him all his being, — so blended was that being
then, with all it saw and heard on this musical and lus-
trous earth, that, as it bounded along in bliss, it was but
as the same creation with the grass, the flowers, the streams,
the trees, the clouds, the sky, and its days and nights,
— all of them bound together by one invisible chain, —
a green, bright, murmuring, shadowy, floating, sunny and
starry world, — of which the enraptured creature that en-
joyed it was felt to be the very centre, — and the very
soul !

Then came a new series of Christmasses, celebrated,
one year in this family, another year in that, — none


present l)ut those whom the delightful Elia, alias Charles
Lamb, calleth the "old familiar faees ;" something in all
features, and all tones of voiee, and all manners, betoken-
ing origin from one root, — relations all, happy, and with
no reason either to be ashamed or proud of their neither
high nor humble birth — their lot being cast within that
pleasant realm, " the golden mean," where the dwellings
are connecting links between the hut and hall, fair edifices
resembling manse or mansion-house, according as the
atmosphere expands or contracts their dimensions, in
which competence is next-door neighbour to wealth, and
both of them within the daily walk of contentment.

Merry Christmasses they were indeed — one lady al-
ways presiding, with a figure that once had been the
stateliest among the stately, but then somewhat bent,
without being bowed bown, beneath an easy weight of
most venerable years. Sweet was her tremulous voice
to all lier grandchildren's ears ! Nor did those solemn
eyes, bedimmed into a pathetic beaut}^ in any degree
restrain the glee that sparkled in orbs thai had as yet
shed not many tears, but tears of \n\y or of joy. Dearly
she loved all those mortal creatures whom she was soon
about to leave ; but she sal in sunshine even within the
shadow of death ; and the " voice that called her home"
had so long been whispering in her ear, that its accents
had become dear to her, and consolatory every word
that was heard in the silence, as from another world.

Whether we were indeed all so witty as we thought
ourselves — uncles, aunts, nephews, cousins, and " the
rest," it might be presumptuous in us, who were consi-
dered by ourselves and some few others the most amusing
of the whole set, at this distance of time to decide — espe-
cially in the affirmative; but how the roof did ring with
sally, pun, retort, and repartee ! Ay, with pun — a species
of impertinence for which we have therefore a kindness
even to this day. Had incomparable Thomas Hood had
the good fortune to have been born a cousin of ours, how
with that fine fancy of his would he have shone at those
Christmas festivals, eclipsing us all ! Our family, through
all its difTerent branches, has ever been famous for bad
voices, but good ears ; and we think we hear ourselves —

20 milson's miscellaneous writings.

all those uncles and aunts, nephews, and nieces, and cou-
sins — singing now ! Easy is it to " warble melody" as to
breathe air. But, oh ! we hope harmony is the most diffi-
cult of all things to people in general, for to us it was im-
possible ; and what attempts ours used to be at seconds !
Yet the most woful failures were rapturously encored ; and
ere the night was dune, we spoke with most extraordinary
voices indeed, every one hoarser than another, till at last,
w.'dUing home with a fair cousin, there was nothing left for
if but a tender glance of the eye — a tender pressure of the
hand — for cousins are not altogether sisters, and although
partaking of that dearest character, possessing, it may be,
some peculiar and appropriate charms of their own; as
didst thou, Emily the " Wild-cap !" — That soubriquet all
forgotten now — for now thou art a matron, gentle as a
dove, and smiling on an only daughter, almost woman-
grown — fair and frolicsome in her innocence as thou thy-
self wert of yore, when the gravest and wisest withstood
not tiie witchery of thy dancings, thy singings, and thy
showering smiles !

On rolled suns and seasons — the old died — the elderly
became old — and the young, one after another, were
wafted joyously away on the wings of hope, like birds,
almost as soon as they can fly, ungratefully forsaking their
nests, and the groves in whose safe shadow they first
essayed their pinions ; or like pinnaces, that, after having
for a few days trimmed their snow-white sails in the land-
locked bay, close to whose shores of silvery sand had
grown the trees that furnished timber both for hull and
mast, slip their tiny cables on some summer day, and
gathering every breeze that blows, go dcuicing over the
waves in sunshine, and melt far off into the main ! Or,
haply, some were like fair young trees, transplanted during
no favourable season, and never to take root in another
soil, but soon leaf and branch to wither beneath the tropic
sun, and die almost unheeded by those who knew not how
beautiful they were beneath the dews and mists of their
own native clime. Vain images! and therefore chosen by
fancy not too painfully to touch the heart! For some
hearts grow cold and forbidding in selfish cares — some,
warm as ever in their own generous glow, were touched by


the chill of Fortune's frowns, that are ever worst to bear
when suddenly succeeding her smiles — some, to rid them-
selves of pamful regrets, took refuge in forgetfulness, and
closed their eyes to the past — duty banished some abroad,
and duty imprisoned others at home — estrangements there
were, at first unconscious and unintended, yet ere long,
though causeless, complete — changes were wrought insen-
sibly, invisibly, even in the innermost nature of those, who
being friends knew no guile, yet came thereby at last to be
friends no more — unrequited love broke some bonds — re-
quited love relaxed others — the death of one altered the
conditions of many — and so — year after year — the Christ-
mas meeting was interrupted — deferred — till finally it
ceased, with one accord, unrenewed and un renewable.
For when some things cease — for a time — that time turns
out to be for ever. Survivors of those happy circles !
wherever ye be — should these im[)erfect remembrances of
days of old chance, in some thoughtful pause of life's busy
turmoil, for a moment to meet your eyes, let there be
towards the inditer a few throbs of revived affection in
your hearts — for his, though " absent long and distant

Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 34)