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In the hush of the mountains, ye antlers, lie still —

Though your branches now toss in the storm of delight,

Like the arms of the |)ine on yon shelterless height.

One moment — thou briirht apparition! — delay!

Then melt o'er the crags, like the sun from the day.

* Poems, by John Wilson, vol. ii. p. 31.


Aloft on the weather-gleam, scorning the earth,
The wild spirit hung in majestical mirth :
In dalliance with danger, he bounded in bliss,
O'er the fathomless gloom of each moaning abyss;
O'er the grim rocks careering with prosperous motion,
Like a ship by herself in full sail o'er the ocean!
Then proudly he turn'd ere he sank to the dell,
And shook from his forehead a haughty farewell,
While his horns in a crescent of radiance shone,
Like a flag burning bright when the vessel is gone.

The ship of the desert hath pass'd on the wind,
And left the dark ocean of mountains behind !
But my spirit will travel wherever she flee.
And behold her in ])omp o'er the rim of the sea —
Her voyage pursue — till her anchor be cast
In some clifF-girdled haven of beauty at last.

What lonely magnificence stretches around !

Each sight how sublime ! and how awful each sound !

All hush'd and serene, as a region of dreams.

The mountains repose 'mid the roar of the streams,

Tlieir glens of black umbrage by cataracts riven,

But calm their blue tops in the beauty of heaven.

Here the glory of nature hath nothing to fear —

Ay ! Time the destroyer in power hath been here;

And the forest that hung on yon mountain so high.

Like a black thunder cloud on the arch of the sky.

Hath gone, like that cloud, when the tempest came by.

Deep sunk in the black moor, all worn and decay'd,

Where the floods have been raging, the limbs are display 'd

Of the pine-tree and oak sleepnig vast in the gloom.

The kings of tlie forest disturb'd in their tomb.

E'en now, in the pomp of their prime, I behold

O'erhanging the desert the forests of old !

So gorgeous their verdure, so solemn their shade.

Like the heavens above them, they never may fade.

The sunlight is on them — in silence they sleep —

A glimmering glow, like the breast of the deep,

When the billows scarce heave in the calmness of morn.

Down the pass of Glen-Etive the tempest is borne.

And the hill-side is swinging, and roars with a sound

In the heart of the forest embosom'd profound.

Till all in a moment the tumult is o'er.

And the mountain of thunder is still as the shore.

When the sea is at ebb; not a leaf nor a breath

To disturb the wild solitude, steadfast as death.

156 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

From his eyrie the eagle hath soar'd with a scream,
And I wake on the edge of the cliff from my dream ; —
Where now is the light of thy far-beaming brow 1
Fleet son of the wilderness! where art thou nowl
Again o'er yon crag thou retnrn'st to my sight,
Like the horns of tlie moon from a cloud of the night!
Serene in thy travel — as soul in a dream —
Thou needest no bridge o'er tlie rush of the stream.
With thy presence the pine-grove is iill'd, as with light,
And the caves, as thou passest, one moment are bright.
Through the arch of the rainbow that lies on the rock
'Mid the mist stealing up from tiie cataract's shock.
Thou fling'st thy bold beauty, exulting and free,
O'er a pit of grim blackness, that roars like the sea.

His voyage is o'er ! — As if struck by a spell,
He motionless stands in the hush of the dell,
There softly and slowly sinks down on his breast,
In the midst of his pastime enamour'd of rest.
A stream in a clear pool that ended its race —
A dancing ray chain'd to one sunshiny place —
A cloud by the winds to calm solitude driven —
A hurricane dead in the silence of heaven I

Fit couch of repose for a pilgrim like thee!

Magnificent prison enclosing the free !

With rock-wall encircled — with precipice crown'd.

Which, awoke by tlie sun, thou can'st clear at a bound.

'Mid the fern and the heather kind nature doth keep

One bright spot of green for her favourite's sleep;

And close to that covert, as clear as the skies

When their blue depths are cloudless, a little lake lies,

Where the creature at rest can his image behold

Looking up through the radiance, as bright and as bold !

How lonesome ! how wild ! yet tlie wildness is rife

With tlie stir of enjoyment — the spirit of life.

Tiie glad fish leaps up in the heart of the lake,

Whose depths, at the sullen plunge, sullenly quake !

Elate on the fern-branch the grasshopper sings,

And away in the midst of his roundelay springs ;

'Mid the flowers of the heath, not more bright than himself,

The wild-bee is busy, a musical elf —

Then starts from his labour, unwearied and gay,

And, circling the antlers, booms far, far away.

While high up the mountains, in silence remote,

Tiic cuckoo unseen is repeating his note,

And mellowing echo, on watch in the skies,

Like a voice from some loftier climate replies.


With wide-branchinnr antlers a guard to his breast,

There lies the wild creature, even stately in rest !

'Mid the grandeur of nature, composed and serene,

And proud in his lieart of the mountainous scene,

He litts his calm eye to the eagle and raven.

At noon sinking down on smooth wings to their haven,

As if in his soul the bold animal smiled

To his friends of the sky, the joint-heirs of the wild.

Yes! fierce looks thy nature, even hush'd in repose —
In the depth of the desert regardless of foes.
Thy bold antlers call on the hunter afar
With a haughty defiance to come to the war !
No outrage is war to a creature like thee !
The bugle-horn fills thy wild spirit with glee,
As thou bearest thy neck on the wings of the wind.
And the laggardly gaze-hound is toiling behind.
In the beams of thy forehead that glitter with death,
In feet that draw power from the touch of the heath, —
In the wide-raging torrent that lends thee its roar, —
In the cliff that once trod must be trodden no more, —
Thy trust — 'mid the dangers that threaten thy reign!
But what if the stag on the mountain be slain I
On the brink of the rock — lo ! he standeth at bay
Like a victor that falls at the close of the day —
While hunter and hound in their terror retreat
From the death that is spurn'd from his furious feet:
And his last cry of anger comes back from the skies.
As nature's fierce son in the wilderness dies.
High life of a hunter! he meets on the hill
The new waken'd daylight, so bright and so still ;
And feels, as the clouds of the morning unroll.
The silence, the splendour, ennoble his soul.
'Tis his o'er the mountains to stalk like a ghost,
Enshrouded with mist, in which nature is lost,
Till he lifts up his eyes, and flood, valley, and height.
In one moment all swim in an ocean of light;
While the sun, like a glorious banner unfurl'd.
Seems to wave o'er a new, more magnificent world.
'Tis his — by the mouth of some cavern his seat —
The lightning of heaven to hold at his feet,
While the thunder below him that growls from the cloud,
To him comes on echo more awfully loud.
When the clear depth of noontide, with glittering motion,
O'erflows the lone glens — an aerial ocean —
When the earth and the heavens, in union profound.
Lie blended in beauty that knows not a sound —

VOL. I. 14

158 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

As liis eyes in the sunshiny solitude close

'Neath a rock of the desert in dreaming repose,

He sees, in his slumbers, such visions of old

As his wild Gaelic songs to his infancy told ;

O'er the mountains a thousand plumed hunters are borne,

And he starts from his dreams at the blast of the horn.

Yes! child of the desert! fit quarry wert thou

For the hunter that came witli a crown on his brow, —

By princes attended with arrow and spear,

In their white-tented camp, for the warfare of deer.

In splendour the tents on the green summit stood.

And brightly they shone from the glade in the wood,

And, silently built by a magical speli.

The pyramid rose in the depth of the dell.

All mute was the palace of Lochy that day,

When the king and his nobles — a gallant array —

To Gleno or Glen-Etive came forth in their pride.

And a hundred fierce stags in their solitude died.

Not lonely and single they pass'd o'er the height —

But thousands swept by in their hurricane-flight ;

And bow'd to the dust in their tran)pling tread

Was the plumage on many a warrior's head.

" Fall down on your faces ! — tiie herd is at hand !"

And onwards they came like the sea o'er the sand ;

Like the snow from the mountain when loosen'd by rain,

And rolling along with a crash to the plain ;

Like a thunder-split oak-tree, that falls in one shock

With his hundred wide arms from the top of the rock,

Like the voice of the sky, when the black cloud is near,

So sudden, so loud, came the tempest of deer.

Wild mirth of the desert ! fit pastime for kings !

Which still the rude bard in his solitude sings.

Oh reign of magnificence ! vanish'd for ever!

Like music dried up in the bed of a river,

Whose course hath been changed ! yet my soul can survey

The clear cloudless morn of that glorious day.

Yes! the wide silent forest is loud as of yore.

And the far-ebbed grandeur rolls back to the shore.

I wake from my trance ! lo ! the sun is declining !
And the Black-mount afar in his lustre is shining, —
One soft golden gleam ere the twilight prevail !
Then down let me sink to the cot in the dale,
Where sings the fair maid to the viol so sweet.
Or the floor is alive with her white twinkling feet.
Down, down like a bird to the depth of the dell !
Vanish'd crratiire ! I bid thy fair im;ige farewell !


Nightfall — and we are once more at the Hut of the
Three Torrents. Small Amy is grown familiar now, and
almost without being asked, sings us the choicest of her
Gaelic airs — a few too of Lowland melody — all merry, yet
all sad — if in smiles begun, ending in a shower — or at least
a tender mist of tears. O thou constant attender at Drury
Lane, Covent Garden, or the Adelphi ! O critic to Clark
or Colburn, armed with the open-sesame of a free ticket !
Heard'st thou ever such a siren as this Celtic child? Did
we not always tell you that fairies were indeed realities of
the twilight or moonlight world ? And she is their Queen.
Hark ! What thunders of applause ! The waterfall at the
head of the great Corrie thunders encore with a hundred
echoes. O Lord, cockney, what think you now of an
oyster-shop in the Strand ? — But the songs are over, and
the small singer gone to her heather-bed. There is a
Highland moon ! The shield of an unfallen archangel.
There are not many stars — but these two — ay, that one
is sufficient to sustain the glory of the night. Be not
alarmed at that low, wide, solemn, and melancholy sound.
Runlets, torrents, rivers, lochs, and seas — reeds, heather,
forests caves, and cliffs — all are sound, sounding together
a choral anthem.

Gracious heavens ! what mistakes have people fallen into
when writing about solitude ! A man leaves a town for a
few months, and goes with his wife and family, and a tra-
velling library, into some solitary glen. Friends are per-
petually visiting him from afar, or the neighbouring gentry
leaving their cards, while his servant boy rides daily to the
post-village for his letters and newspapers. And call you
that solitude ? The whole world is with you morning,
noon, and night. But go by yourself, without book or
friend, and live a month in this hut at the head of Glenevis.
Go at dawn among the cliffs of yonder pine-forest, and
wait there till night hangs her moon-lamp in heaven.
Commune with your own soul, and be still. Let the
images of departed years rise, phantom-like, of their own
awful accord, from the darkness of your memory, and pass
away into the wood-gloom, or the mountain-mist — will
conscience dread such spectres? Will you quake before
them, and bow down your head on the mossy root of some

160 Wilson's miscellaneous avritincs.

old oak, and sob in the stern silence of the haunted place?
Thoughts, feelings, passions, spectral deeds will come
rushing around your lair, as with the sound of the wings
of innumerous birds — ay, many of them like birds of prey,
to gnaw your very heart. How many sacred duties un-
discharged ! How many glorious opportunities neglected !
How many base pleasures devoured ! How many sins
hugged ! How many wickednesses perpetrated ! The
desert looks more grim — the heaven lowers — and the sun,
like God's own eye, stares in upon your most secret
spirit !

But this is not the solitude of that beautiful young shep-
herdess-girl of the Hut of the Three Torrents. Her soul
is as clear, as calm as the pool, pictured at times by the
floating clouds that let fall their shadows through among
the overhanging birch-trees. What harm could she ever
do? What harm could she ever think ? She may have
wept, for there is sorrow williout sin ; may have wept even
at her prayers, for there is penitence free from all guilt,
and innocence itself often kneels in contrition. Down the
long glen she accompanies the stream to the house of God,
— sings her psalms, — and I'cturns wearied to her heather-
bed. She is, indeed, a solitary child ; the eagle and the
raven, and the red deer, see that she is so, — and echo
knows it when, from her airy cliff, she repeats the happy
creature's song. Her world is within this one glen, — for
all beyond has a dim character of imagination. In this
glen she may live all her days, — here be wooed, won,
v/edded, buried. Buried — said I? Oh, why think of
burial, when gazing on that resplendent head, that shakes
joy and beauty far and wide over the desert ? Interminable
tracts of the shining day await her, the lonely darling of
nature; nor dare time ever to eclipse the lustre of those
wild-beaming eyes ! Her beauty shall be immortal, like
that of her country's fairies ! So, flower of the wilder-
ness, I wave towards thee a joyful, — though an everlast-
ing farewell.

We have been rather happy in our description of a
Highland hut; if you think not, attem])t a better, and its
miserable inferiority to the above of ours, will at once be
obvious to the author. It is diflicult to say wherein lies


the difficulty of description. Most people are fond of rural
sights and rural sounds; and yet most people, when they
take a pen into their hand, make sad work of it. We
suspect that the delight they feel is of a vague and general
kind ; and that when they come to describe in words,
either their feelings, or the objects which have excited
them, they experience an unexpected and painful surprise,
that that should be so difficult which they had unthinkingly
imagined must be so very easy. Now, to describe feelings
is never easy to a mind of ordinary habits, for such minds
have seldom analyzed their feelings in thoughts. That is
a rare practice. To describe external objects, one by one,
is no doubt easy ; and accordingly it is often done very
well. But to produce a picture in words, there must be a
principle of selection, and that principle cannot be com-
prehended without much reflection on the mode in which
external objects operate on the mind. Sometimes a happy
genius, and sometimes a strong passion, vivifies a whole
scene in a single line. But the observer of nature, who
has neither genius, nor passion, nor metaphysics, can do
little or nothing, but enumerate. That he may do with
great accuracy, for he may be a noticing and sharp-sighted
person. Not a feature of a landscape shall escape him —
each sentence of his description shall contain a natural and
true image, and ordinary people like himself will think it
admirable. Yet shall it be altogether worthless, while one
stanza of Burns wafts you into the very heart of paradise.
From the eye of a poetical lover of nature, in process of
time, every thing unimpressive falls of itself away, and is
really not visible. All the component parts of every new
scene range themselves before his fancy, according to a
scale of natural subordination. He scarcely can look at a
scene amiss; its character is revealed to his gifted — or
rather say his practised eye; and he reads the physiognomy
of the earth as rapidly and unerringly as, in the intercourse
of life, the intelligent read the characters of men's minds
in their countenances. Poor describers are so, often, from
faintness of conception ; but not always so. A man may
have a strong and vivid conception, and yet be unable so
to select qualities, as to bring the object they compose
before the eyes of others. This is the commonest case ;


162 Wilson's miscellaneous m'ritings.

for people of weak or dim conception, feel no inclination
to become either poets or painters. They are your

But without intensity of emotion accompanying the per-
ception of the objects of external nature, no very popular
picture in poetry can be painted. It will not do merely
to feel a certain calm, equable pleasure, in looking upon
them, and to transfuse a portion of that spirit into your
descriptions; for the transfused spirit will be necessarily
fainter than the faint original emotion. You must either
feel, or have felt, transporledly ; and under the power of
feeling, all objects will be in glitter or gloom. Even in the
calmest and most subdued tone of the true poet there is
passion. However near the earth, he is still on the wing.
This is remarkably the case with Wordsworth. In his
very simplest poems — and some of them are too simple
perhaps — there are always touches, traits, glimpses of
genuine feeling — a feeling of fondness, or affection, or joy,
or beauty. If you do not enjoy his descriptions, de{)end
upon it, that nine times out of ten the fault is your own,
and that your power of emotion is inadequate. In most
cases familiarity breeds contempt, but not if the creation
be the subject. Wordsworth cannot bring himself to dis-
like a nettle — or a dock — or a mushroom ; and we bet
you a set, that he will make a better poem on a goose-
berry-bush, than you will do on the great Persian syca-
more, which is about seventy feet in circumference.

Now the delight — the emotion of which we have been
prosing away, presupposes knowledge. Knowledge 6f
what ? Knowledge of this beautiful round green earth.
Do you suppose that Wordsworth is not a good naturalist,
entomologist, botanist, agriculturist, and shepherd '/ That
he is, to a dead certainty. Now that keeps him from
talking nonsense. There is not one mistake — one blunder,
about any natural object, in all his poetry. What could
have given him power to gather up all that rich and deep
knowledge of insensate things ? The love of beauty —
wonder — and admiration — and the adoring soul of poetry.
His thoughts are " never unstable nor desert him quite,"
because the objects to which they cleave are lasting as the
laws of external nature — immortal as the soul of man.


When the Lyrical Ballads are obsolete, it will be about time
for this world to shut up shop.

Look sharply into the writings of clever men, who have
failed to delight, although they may have given pleasure.
They were in general ignoramuses, at least on the subjects
in which they had but this partial success. How many
thousands and tens of thousands have written pastorals?
Humble life, in Britain, has been written about, within
these fifty years, in one form or another, by as many
persons as are now in Edinburgh, Leith, and suburbs —
about 150,000. Now, perhaps not above a dozen of all
these have written any thing that will live. Goldsmith,
Cowper, Crabbe, Wordsworth, Scott, Burns, Ramsay,
Hogg, Cunninghame, Bloomfield, Clare, and the author of
Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life, — all these writers,
either by their birth or habits of life, knew intimately their
subject, from " turret to foundation-stone." Hence one
and all of thetn, according to the measure of his power,
has turned his knowledge to account, and enlarged, it may
be said, the nation's knowledge of its own character. We
shall write a leading article on each of them, considered
solely as painters of the poor.

Without trenching on the subject of these future leading
articles, we may here observe, that it is curious to remark
the difference between the elTect on a mind of genius, of
absolute personal experience, and of that kind of experi-
ence which is merely intimate, constant and extended ob-
servation, under favourable circumstances. Burns, Hogg,
Cunninghame, and Clare, were absolute peasants, or shep-
herds, or masons — and in all their works there is, inde-
pendently of their higher or lower genius, of which we do
not now speak, a souietJting, that he who does not feel it
as perpetually as one hears an accent, must be a block-
head. Only by men so born such works could have been
so conceived and executed. Most of the others were " in
a manner born" among the same objects ; but only " in a
manner ;" and the consequence is, that there is an ideal
spirit in all their creations, often very beautiful, but some-
times leading away from truth ; and we desidei-ate that
intense reality which we behold with our own eyes in life.

164 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

Accordingly, whatever rank such writings may hold in the
literature of a country, wc douht if they ever will be domes-
ticated by the firesides of that peasantry, whose character
and occupation it is their ambition to describe.

If this article be getting tedious, (and if it had not been
doing so, we should not have shoved it away to the other
side of the table for these last two hours, while we dis-
cussed twin-tumblers,) any reader of common sense knows
how to make it short enough. Shut the magazine, —
stretch out your pretty little feet, my dear, — lean back
your head, — don't mind though the comb fall out, and let
your auburn tresses salute the floor behind the sofa, — shut
your eyes, and your mouth also, and may you dream of
your lover! Mayhap he is not far off, but come gliding
into the room, and breathes a faint fond kiss over thy
forehead. He blesses this long, sleepy leading article ;
and, at every unawakening kiss, means to become a sub-
scriber, — yea, a contributor.

Meanwhile, we are oiT to Westmoreland to speak of
cottages. Often and often have wo determined to accept
Mr. Blackwood's very gentlemanly offer of five hundred
for a Guide to the Lakes. Gray the poet touched some of
the scenes there with a pencil of light ; but his are but
sketches, and few in number. Old West was not a little of
an enthusiast, and something more of an antiquary. But
we suspect he was shortsighted, and wore spectacles. He
had a fancy too that there were only a few points, or sta-
tions, from which a country could be satisfactorily looked
at ; and during all the intervening distances, the worthy
priest whistled as he went for want of thought. His style,
like a beetle, wheels its drowsy flight, and each paragraph
reads like a bit of a sermon. Besides, the whole character
of the country is greatly changed, — and that for the better,
— since his time, notwithstanding the disappearance of
some old familiar faces. The captain who " rambled for
a fortnight," was a half-pay coxcomb, and ought never to
have had his name printed any where but in the army list.
He would fain be thought too a man of gallantry, and con-
fabulates with every shepherdess he meets, as if she had
been a Manchester spinning-jenny. It was lucky for him


that some Rowland Long did not kick him out of the
county. Then came poor Green, — a man of taste, feeling,
and genius, — but as ignorant of the art of bookmaking, as
if he had lived before the invention of printing. But his
work is a mine, and out of it a Grub Street journeyman
might manufacture a guide without leaving the sound of
Bow-bell. He was followed by Mr. Wordsworth, who,
instead of a guide, presented the world with a treatise on
the picturesque, the sublime, and the beautiful. It is need-
less to say, that his treatise overflows with fine and true
thoughts and observations ; nor does any man living better
understand, or more deeply feel, the characteristic qualities
of the scenery of Westmoreland. Yet it is somewhat
heavy, even as a philosophical essay. For a guide, Mr.
Wordsworth lakes up a formidable position, — namely, on
a cloud floating midway between the Great Gable and
Scawfell. As maps are not uncommon, bird's-eye views

Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 34)