John Wilson.

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boding — and a fever took otf a third — but four certainly
died of the same hereditary complaint with the mother;
and not a voice was heard in the house. Gabriel Adam-
son did not desert the Broom ; and the farm-work was
still carried on, nobody could tell how. The servants,
to be sure, knew their duty, and often performed it with-
out orders. Sometimes the master put his hand to the
plough, but oftener he led the life of a shepherd, and was
by himself among the hills. He never smiled — and at
every meal, he still sat like a man about to be led to die.
But what will not retire away — recede — disappear from
the vision of the souls of us mortals ! Tenacious as we
are of our griefs, even more than of our joys, both elude
our grasp. We gaze after them with longing or self-
upbraiding aspirations for their return, but they are as
shadows, and like shadows evanish. Then human duties,
lowly though they may be, have their sanative and salu-
tary influence on our whole frame of being. Without
their performance conscience cannot be still ; with it, con-
science brings peace in extremity of evil. Then occupa-
tion kills grief, and industry abates all passion. No balm
for sorrow like the sweat of the brow poured into the fur-
rows of the earth, in the open air, and beneath the sun-
shine of heaven. These truths were felt by Gabriel
Adamson, the childless widower, long before they were
understood by him; and when two years had gone drea-
rily, ay, dismally, almost d(;spairingly, by — he began at
times to feel something like happiness when sitting among
his friends in the kirk, or at their firesides, or in the
labours of the field, or even on the market-day, among
this world's concerns. Thus, they who know him and


his sufferings, were pleased to recognise what might be
called resignation and its grave tranquillity, while stran-
gers discerned in him nothing more than a staid and
solemn demeanour, which might be natural to many a
man never severely tried, and otTered no interruption to
the cheerfulness that pervaded their ordinary life.

Gabriel Adamson had a cousin, a few years younger
than himself, who had also married when a girl, and when
little more than a girl had been left a widow. Her parents
were both dead, and she had lived for some years, as an
upper servant, or rather companion and friend, in the house
of a relation. As cousins, they had all their lives been
familiar and affectionate, and Alice Gray had frequently
lived for months at a time, at the Broom, taking care of
the children, and in all respects one of the family. Their
conditions were now almost equally desolate, and a deep
sympathy made them now more firmly attached than they
ever could have been in better days. Still, nothing at all
resembling love was in either of their hearts, nor did the
thought of marriage ever pass across their imaginations.
They found, however, increasing satisfaction in each other's
company ; and looks and words of sad and sober endear-
ment gradually bound them together in affection stronger
far than either could have believed. Their friends saw
and spoke of the attachment, and of its probable result,
long before they were aware of its full nature ; and nobody
was surprised, but, on the contrary, all were well pleased,
when it was understood that Gabriel Adamson and Alice
Gray were to be man and wire. There was something
almost mournful in their marriage — no rejoicing — no
merry-making — but yet visible symptoms of gratitude,
contentment, and peace. An air of cheerfulness was not
long of investing the melancholy Broom — ihe very swal-
lows twittered more gladly from the window-corners, and
there was joy in the cooing of the pigeons on the sunny
roof. The farm awoke through all its fields, and the
farm-servants once more sang and whistled at their work.
The wandering beggar, who remembered the charity of
other years, looked with no cold expression on her who
now dealt out his dole ; and as his old eyes were dimmed
with tears for the sake of those who were gone, gave a

VOL. r. 1.3

146 avilson's miscellaneous writings.

fervent blessing on the new mistress of the house, and
prayed that she might live for many years. The neigh-
bours, even they who had best loved the dead, came in
with cheerful countenances, and acknowledged in their
pensive hearts, that since change is the law of life, there
was no one, far or near, whom they could have borne to
see sitting in that chair but Alice Gray. Gabriel knew
their feelings from their looks, and his fireside blazed once
more with a cheerful lustre.

O, gentle reader, young perhaps, and inexperienced of
this world, wonder not at this so great change ! Thy
heart is full, perhaps, of a pure and holy affection, nor can
it die, even for an hour of sleep. May it never die but in
the grave ! Yet die it may, and leave thee blameless.
The time may come when that bosom, now thy elysium,
will awaken not, with all its heaving beauty, one single
passionate or adoring sigh. Those eyes, that now stream
agitation and bliss into thy throbbing heart, may, on some
not very distant day, be cold to thy imagination, as the
distant and unheeded stars. That voice, now thrilling
through every nerve, and expressive of paradise, may fall
on thy ear a disregarded sound. Other hopes, other fears,
other troubles, may possess thee wholly — and that more
than angel of heaven seem to fade away into a shape of
earth's most common clay. But here there was no change
— no forgetfulness — no oblivion — no unfaithfulness to a
holy trust. The widower still saw his Hannah, and all
his seven sweet children — now fair in life — now pale in
death. Sometimes, perhaps, the sight, the sound — their
smiles, and their voices, disturbed him, till his heart quaked
within him, and he wished that he too was dead. But God
it was who had removed them from our earth — and was it
possible to doubt that they were all in blessedness ! Shed
your tears over change from virtue to vice, happiness to
misery; but weep not for those still, sad, mysterious pro-
cesses by which gracious nature alleviates the adlictions
of our mortal lot, and enables us to endure the life which
the Lord our God has given us. Ere long, Gabriel Adam-
son and his wife could bear to speak of those who were
now no more seen ; when the phantoms rose before them
in the silence of the night, they all wore pleasant and


approving countenances, and the beautiful family often
came from heaven to visit their father in his dreams. He
did not wish, much less hope, in this life, for such happi-
ness as had once been his — nor did Alice Gray, even for
one hour, imagine that such happiness was in her power
to bestow. They knew each other's hearts — what they
had suffered and survived — and since the meridian of life
and joy was gone, they were contented with the pensive

Look, there is a pretty cottage — by name Leaside — one
that might almost do for a painter — just sufficiently shaded
by trees, and showing a new aspect every step you take,
and each new aspect beautiful. There is, it is true, neither
moss nor lichens, nor weather-stains on the roof — but all
is smooth, neat, trim, deep thatch, from rigging to eaves,
with a picturesque elevated window covered with the same
material, and all the walls white as snow. The whole
building is at all times as fresh as if just washed by a ver-
nal shower. Competence breathes from every lattice, and
that porch has been reared more for ornament than defence,
although, no doubt, it is useful both in March and Novem-
ber winds. Every field about it is like a garden, and yet
the garden is brightly conspicuous amidst all the surround-
ing cultivation. The hedgerows are all clipped, for they
have grown there for thirty years, at least, and the shears
were necessary to keep them down, from shutting out the
vista of the lovely vale. That is the dwelling of Adam
Airlie the elder. Happy old man ! This life has gone
uniformly well with liim and his ; yet, had it been other-
wise, there is a power in his spirit that would have sus-
tained the severest inflictions of Providence. His grati-
tude to God is something solemn and awful, and ever
accompanied with a profound sense of his utter unworthi-
ness of all the long-continued mercies vouchsafed to his
family. His own happiness, prolonged to extreme old
age, has not closed within his heart one source of pity or
atfection for his brethren of mankind. In his own guiltless
conscience, guiltless before man, he yet feels incessantly
the frailties of his nature, and is meek, humble, and peni-
tent as the greatest sinner. He, his wife, an old faithful
female servant, and a sweet grandaughter of twelve

148 Wilson's miscellaneous avritings.

years, now form the whole household. His three sons
have all prospered in the world. The eldest went abroad
when a mere boy, and many fears went with him, a bold,
adventurous, and somewhat reckless creature. But consi-
deration came to him in a foreign climate, and tamed down
his ardent mind to a thoughtful, not a selfish prudence.
Twenty years he lived in India — and what a blessed day
was the day of his return ! Yet in the prime of life, by
disease unbroken, and with a heart full to overflowing with
all its old sacred affections, he came back to his father's
lowly cottage, and wept as he crossed the threshold. His
parents needed not any of his wealth, but they were
blamelessly proud, nevertheless, of his honest acquisitions —
proud when he became a landholder in his native parish,
and employed the sons of his old companions, and some of
his old companions themselves, in the building of his unos-
tentatious mansion, or in cultivating the wild but not un-
lovely moor, which was dear to him for the sake of the
million remembrances that clothed the bare banks of its
lochs, and murmured in the little stream that ran among
the pastoral braes. The new mansion is a couple of miles
from his parental cottage ; but not a week, indeed seldom
half that time elapses, without a visit to that dear dwelling.
They likewise not unfrequently visit him — for his wife is
dear to them as a daughter of their own — and the ancient
couple delight in the noise and laughter of his pretty flock.
Yet the son understands perfectly well that aged people
love best their own roof — and that its familiar quiet is
every day dearer to their habituated affections. Therefore
he makes no parade of filial tenderness — forces nothing
new upon them — is glad to see the uninterrupted tenor of
their humble happiness ; and if they are proud of him,
which all the parish knows, so is there not a child within
its bounds that does not know, that Mr. Airlie, the rich
gentleman from India, loves his poor father and mother as
tenderly as if he had never left their roof; and is prouder
of them too, than if they were clothed in fine raiment, and
fared sumptuously every day. Mr. Airlie of the mount
has his own seat in the gallery of the kirk — his father, as
an elder, sits below the pulpit — but occasionally the pious
and proud son joins his mother in the pew, where he and


his brothers sat long ago ; and every Sabbath one or other
of his children takes its place beside the venerated matron.
The old man generally leaves the churchyard leaning on
his Gilbert's arm — and although the sight has long been
so common as to draw no attention, yet no doubt there is
always an under and unconscious pleasure in many a mind
witnessing the sacredness of the bond of blood. Now and
then the old matron is prevailed upon, when the weather is
bad and roads miry, to take a seat home in the carriage —
but the elder always prefers walking thither with his son,
and he is stout and hale, although upwards of threescore
and ten years.

Walter, the second son, is a captain in the navy, having
served for years before the mast. His mind is in his pro-
fession, and he is perpetually complaining of being unem-
ployed — a ship, is still the burden of his song. But when
at home — which he often is, for weeks together — he at-
taches himself to all the on-goings of rural lile, as devo-
tedly as if ci plougbor of thft soil instead of the sea. His
mother wonders, with tears in her eyes, why, having a
competency, he should still wish to provoke the dangers of
the deep; and beseeches him sometimes to become a far-
mer in his native vale. And perhaps more improbable
things have happened ; for the captain, it is said, has fallen
desperately in love with the daughter of the clergyman of
a neighbouring parish, and the doctor will not give his
consent to the marriage, unless he promise to live, if
allowed, on shore. The political state of Europe certainly
seems at present favourable to the consummation of the
wishes of all parties.

Of David, the third son, who has not heard, that has
heard any thing of the pulpit eloquence of Scotland ? —
Should his life be spared, there can be no doubt that he
will one day or other be moderator of the General Assem-
bly, perhaps professor of divinity in a college. Be that as
it may, a better Christian never expounded the truth of the
Gospel, although some folks pretend to say that he is not
evangelical. He is, however, beloved by the poor — the
orphan and the widow ; and his religion, powerful in the
kirk to a devoutly listening congregation, is so too at the
sick-bed, when only two or three are gathered around if,

150 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

and when ihe dying man feels how a fellow-creature can,
by scriptural aids, strengthen his trust in the mercy of

Every year, on each hirth-day of their sons, the old
people have a festival — in May, in August, and on Christ-
mas. The sailor alone looks disconsolate as a bachelor,
but that reproach will be wiped away before autumn; and
should God grant the cottagers a few more years, some
new faces will yet smile upon the holidays ; and there is
in their unwithered hearts warm love enough for all that
may join the party. We too — yes, gentle reader — we too
shallbe there — as we have often been during the last ten
years — and you yourself will judge from all you know of
us, if we have a heart to understand and enjoy such rare

Let us be ofTto the mountains, and endeavour to interest
our beloved reader, in a highland cottage — in any one,
taken at hap-hazard, from a hundred. You have been
roamin'^'' all day among tho mountains, and [jerliaps seen
no house except at a dwindling distance. Probably you
have wished not to see any house, but a ruined shiel-
ing — a deserted hut — or an unroofed and dilapidated shed
for the out-lying cattle of some remote farm. But now
the sun has inflamed all the western heaven, and darkness
will soon descend. There is a muteness in the desert
more stern and solemn than during unfadcd daylight.
List — the faint, far-off, subterranean sound of the bagpipe !
Some old soldier, probably, playing a gathering or a coro-
nach. The narrow dell widens and widens into a great
glen, in which you just discern the blue gleam of a loch.
The martial music is more distinctly heard — loud, fitful,
fierce, like the trampling of men in battle. Where is the
piper ? In a cave, or within the fairies' knoll ? At
the door of a hut. His eyes are extinguished by oph-
thalmia, and there he sits, fronting the sunlight, stone-
blind. Long silver hair flows down his broad shoulders,
and you perceive that when he rises, he will rear up a
stately bulk. The music stops, and you hear the bleating
of goats. There they come, dancing down the rocks, and
stare upon the stranger. The old soldier turns himself
towards the voice of the Sassenach, and with the bold


courtesy of the camp, bids him enter the hut. One
minute's view has sufficed to imprint the vision for ever on
the memory — a hut wliose turf-walls and roof are incor-
porated with the living mountain, and seem not the work
of man's hand, but the casual architecture of some convul-
sion — the tumbling down of fragments from the mountain
side by raging torrents, or a partial earthquake ; for all
the scenery about is torn to pieces — like the scattering of
some wide ruin. The imagination dreams of the earliest
days of our race, when men harboured, like the other
creatures, in places provided by nature. But even here,
there are visible traces of cultivation working in the spirit
of a mountainous region — a few glades of the purest ver-
dure opened out among the tall brackens, with a birch
tree or two dropped just where the eye of taste could have
wished, had the painter planted the sapling, instead of the
winds of heaven having wafted thither the seed — a small
croft of barley, surrounded by a cairn-like wall, made up
of stones cleared from the soil, and a patch of potato-
ground, neat almost as the garden that shows in a nook
its fruit-bushes, and a few flowers. All the blasts that
ever blew must be unavailing against the briary rock that
shelters the hut from the airt of storms ; and the smoke
may rise under its lee, unwavering on the windiest day.
There is sweetness in all the air, and the glen is noiseless,
except with the uncertain murmur of the now unswollen
waterfalls. That is the croak of the raven sitting on his
cliff half way up Benevis ; and hark, the last bellino-of the
red-deer, as the herd lies down in the mist among the last
ridge of heather, blending with the shrubless stones,
rocks, and cliffs that girdle the upper regions of the vast

Within the dimness of the hut you hear greetings in the
Gaelic tongue, in a female voice, and when the eye has by
and by become able to endure the smoke, it discerns the
household — the veteran's ancient dame — a young man
that may be his son, or rather his grandson, but whom
you soon know to be neither, with black, matted locks, the
keen eye, and the light limbs of the hunter — a young
married woman his wife, suckling a child, and yet with a
girlish look, as if, but one year before, her silken snood

152 Wilson's .miscellaneous writings.

had been untied — and a lassie of ten years, who had
brought home the goats, and now sits timidly in a nook
eyeing the stranger. The low growl of the huge, brindled
stag-hound had been hushed by a word, on your first
entrance, and the noble animal watches his master's eye,
which he obeys in his freedom throughout all the wild
bounds of the forest-chase. A napkin is taken out of an
old worm-eaten chest, and spread over a strangely carved
table, that seems to have belonged once to a place of pride ;
and the hungry and thirsty stranger scarcely knows which
most to admire, the broad bannocks of barley-meal, and
the huge roll of butter, or the giant bottle, whose mouth
exhales the strong savour of conquering Glenlivet. The
board is spread, why not fall to and eat'.' First be thanks
given to the great God of the wilderness. The blind man
holds up his hand and prays in a low chaunting voice, and
then breaks bread for the lips of the stranger. On such an
occasion is felt the sanctity of the meal shared by humcm
beings brought accidentally together — the salt is sacred —
and the hearth an altar.

No great travellers are we, yet have we seen something
of this habitable globe. The Highlands of Scotland is but
a small region, nor is its interior by any means so remote
as the interior of Africa. Yet is the life of man here far
indeed remote from the life of almost any man who sub-
scribes to this Magazine. The life of that very blind vete-
ran might, in better hands than ours, make an interesting
history. In his youth he had been a shepherd — a herds-
man — a hunter — something even of a poet. For thirty
years he had been a soldier — in many climates, and many
conflicts. Since first he bloodied his bayonet, how many
thousands on thousands of his commilitoncs had been
buried in heaps! Fhmg into trenches dug on the field of
battle ! How many famous captains had shone in the
blaze of their fame — faded into the light of common day —
died in obscurity, and been utterly forgotten ! What fierce
passions must have agitated the frame of that now calm
old man ! On what dreadful scenes of plunder, rape, and
murder, when forts and towns were taken by storm, must
those eyes, now withered into nothing, have glared with
all tlic fury of a victorious soldier, ragino; in the lust of


blood ! Now peace is with him foi* evermore. Nothing
to speak of the din of battle, but his own pipes wailing or
rawino- amon" the hollow of the mountains. In relation to
his campaigning career, his present life is as the life of
another state. The pageantry of war has all rolled off
and away for ever ; all its actions but phantoms now of a
dimly-remembered dream. He thinks of his former self, as
sergeant in the Black-watch, and almost thinks he beholds
another man. In his long — long blindness, he has created
another world to himself out of new voices — the voices of
new generations, and of torrents thundering all year-long
round about his hut. Almost all the savage has been
tamed within him, and an awful religion falls deeper and
deeper upon him, as he knows how he is nearing the
grave. Often his whole mind is dim, for he is exceedingly
old, and then he sees only fragments of his youthful life —
the last forty years are as if they had never been — and he
hears shouts and huzzas, that half a century ago rent the
air with victory. He can still chaunt, in a hoarse broken
voice, battle-hymns and dirges ; and thus strangely forget-
ful, and strangely tenacious of the past, linked to this life
by ties that only the mountaineer can know, and yet feel-
ing himself on the brink of the next. Old Blind Donald
Roy, the giant of the hut of the Three Torrents, will not
scruple to quaff the " strong waters," till his mind is
awakened — brightened — dimmed — darkened — and seem-
ingly extinguished in drunkenness like death, till the sun-
rise again smites him, as he lies in a heap among the
heather ; and then he lifts up, unashamed and remorseless,
that head, which with its long silvery hairs, a painter might
choose for the image of a saint about to become a martyr.
Were the supposition not somewhat odious, gentle
reader, we should for a moment suppose you to be a cock-
ney. No doubt you have been at Epping Hunt ; and a
good hunt it is, when Tims is Nimrod. Come hither,
then, with us, to the forest that surrounds the hut of the
Three Torrents. Let us leave old Donald asleep after a
debauch, and go with his son-in-law, Lewis of the light-
foot, and Maida the stag-hound, surnamed the Throttler,

Wfiere tlic hunter of deer and tlic warrior trod
To liis hills that encircle the sea."

154 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

Wc have been asccndina: mountain-ranffe after moun-
tain-range, before sunrise ; and lo ! night is gone, and
nature rejoices in the day through all her solitudes ! Still
as death, yet as life cheerful — and unspeakable grandeur
in the sudden revelation. Where is the wild-deer herd ? —
where, ask the keen eyes of Maida, is the forest of antlers 1
— Lewis of the light-foot bounds before, with his long gun
pointing towards the mists now gathered up to the summits
of Benevis. Not a word is heard, only our own panting

But here let us call in to our aid a poem written by one
who knows the Highlands well, — and will not grudge, we
hope, to sec his poetry among our prose ; we mean Pro-
fessor Wilson.


Magnificent creature ! .«o stately and bright !

In the pride of thy spirit pursuing tliy flight;

For what hath the child of tiie desert to dread,

Wafting up his own mountains that far-beaming head ;

Or borne like a whirlwind down on the vale .' —

Hail ! king of the wild and the beautiful! — hail!

Hail ! idol divine! whom nature hath borne

O'er a hundred hill-tops since the mists of the morn.

Whom the pilgrim lone wandering on mountain and moor,

As the vision glides hy him, may blameloss adore;

For the joy of the happy, the strength of the free,

Are spread in a garment of glory o'er thee.

Up! up to yon cliff! like a king to his throne !

O'er the black silent forest piled lofty and lone —

A throne which the eagle is glad to resign

Unto footsteps so fleet and so fearless as thine.

There the biigiit heather springs up in love of thy breast —

Lo! the clouds in the depth of the sky are at rest;

And the race of the wild winds is o'er on the hill !

Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 34)