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mast-heads but a foot out of the foam — here what seemed

188 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

a beacon, and there a lighthouse, but on we bore, all sail
set, to the very sky-scrapers, with flags flying, and all the
ship of life manned by a crew of rebellious passions — and
Prudence, that old Palinurus, at the helm fast asleep, and
then, as if in his own doom prophetic of ours, overboard
amongst breakers !

For a moment, we thought of the great cataracts of
Scotbmd — Corra-Linn — Foyers — thousands of nameless
torrents tumbling over mountains to the sea — her mur-
muring forests and caves a-moaning for ever to the winds
and waves round the clifl'-bound coast of Cape Wrath !
But that was the voice of nature — dead in her thunders,
even as in the silence of thi; grave. This was the voice of
life — sublimer far — and smiling the soul with a sublimer
sympathy. Now, our whole being was indeed broad
awake — hitherto, in its deepest stirrings, it had been as
asleep. All those beautiful and delightful reveries vanished
away, as something too airy and indolent for the spirit — '
passive no more — but rejoicing in its strength, like a full-
fledged young eagle, leaping from the edge of its eyry,
fearlessly and at once, over the cliff, and away olfinto the
bosom of the storm !

Whither shall we look? Whither shall we fly? Deni-
zens of a new world — a new universe — chartered libertines,
as yet unblamed by conscience, who took part with the
passions, knowing not that even her own sacred light might
be obscured by the flapping of their demon-wings! And
why should conscience, even in that danger, have been
afraid ? It is not one of her duties to start at shadows.
God-given to the human breast, she suflers nut her state to
be troubled by crowds of vain apprehensions, or she would
fall in her fear. Even then, virtue had her sacred allies
in our heart. The love of that Nature on whose bosom we
had been bred — a sleeping spark of something like poetry
in our souls unextinguishable, and preservative of the in-
nocence it enlightened — reverence of the primitive simpli-
city of beloved Scotland's faith — the memory of the old,
holy, and heroic songs — the unforgolten blessing of a
mother's living lips, of a father's dying eyes — the ambi-
tion, neither low nor ignoble, of youth's aspiring hopes,
for, not altogether uncrowned had been our temples, even


with ihe Muses' wreath — a whisper of Hope, faint, far-off,
and uncertain, and haply even now unrealized its promise
— and far down buried, but instinct with spirit, beneath
them all, a life-deep love for her, that orphan-maid — so
human, yet so visionary — afar-off in the beauty of her
heaven-protected innocence, beneath the shadow of that
old castle, where by day the starlings looked down on her
loveliness, sole-sitting among the ruins, and for her the
wood-lark, Scotia's nightingale, did sing all night long —
a life-deep love, call it passion, pity, friendship, brotherly
affection, all united together by smiles, sighs, and tears —
songs sung as by an angel in the moonlight glen — prayers
in that oratory among the cliffs — the bliss of meetings and
of partings among the glimmering woods, sanctified by her
presence — of that long, last, eternal farewell !

Therefore, our spirit bore a charmed life into that world
of danger and death. That face to us was holy, though
then all alive in its loveliness — and, oh! that it should
ever have been dead — holy as the face of some figure —
some marble figure of a saint lying on a tomb. Its smile
was with us even when our eyes knew it not — its voice
as the dying close of music, when our ear was given to
other sounds less pensive and divine.

With all its senses in a transport our soul was now in
the mighty London ! Every single street-musician seemed
to us as an Orpheus. Each band of female singers, some
harping as they sung, and others, with light guitar riband-
bound to their graceful shoulders, to us were as the Muses
— each airy group very goddesses,

" Knit with the Graces and the Loves in dance,"

and leading on the hours along the illnminated atmosphere,
where each lamp was a star! The whole world seemed
houses, palaces, domes, theatres, and temples — and London
the universal name ! Yet there was often a shudder as
the stream of terrible enjoyment went roaring by — and
the faces of all those lost creatures — those daughters of
sin and sorrow — with fair but wan faces, hollow bright
eyes — and shrieks of laughter, appalled the heart that
wondered at their beauty, and then started to hear afar

190 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

ofT, and as in a whisper, the word " innocence," as if it
were the name of somclhinf!; sacred in another life and
another world ; for here guiU was in its glory and its urief,
women angels of light no more, but iiends of darkness,
hunting and hnnted to despair and death !

Fear cannot live in youth's bosom; and gay and glad
we penetrated, like a young bird that loves the sunshine of
the open sky, yet dreads not to drop down, or dart into
the black forest gloom — into the haunts where the old gray
grim Iniquity had, from time immemorial, established his
strongholds. The ruffian's scowl fell ofl' our face, like
darkness from a new-trimmed lamp, of which the oil failed
not — our eye, which neither grief nor guilt had clouded,
made that of the robber, the burgl;ir, and the murderer to
quail — convicts even then to conscience, and doomed to
die on the scaffold — curses and execrations passed by our
heads like blasts by the top of the strong young trees.
And will law, bloody penal law, quell crimes in such
hearts as these, or strike their hands with palsy? Shall
the hangman terrify, when conscience is a bugbear ? Other
ministers must disarm the murderers. Another light than
the torch in the iron grasp of criminal justice discovering
and dragging the felon from his haunt, must penetrate and
dispel the darkness, till it is as broad as day, and therein
wickedness can hatch and hide no more — the light of mercy,
and the jurisprudence of the New Testament. But on
reascending from the dolorous region into the blessed day,
there was the dome of St Paul's in heaven, or there the
holy Abbey, where sleep England's holiest dead, and the
Thames, with all his floating glories, moored or adrifling
with the tide down to the sea, like giants rejoicing to run
a race to the uttermost parts of the earth I

How dreamlike the flowings of the Isis by Godstow's ivied
ruin, where blossomed, bloomed, and perished in an hour,
Rosamunda — flower of the world ! How cheerful, as if
waked from a dream, glides on the famous stream by
Christ Church Cathedral grove ! How sweet by Iflley's
Saxon tower ! By Nuncham's lime-tree shade how serene
as peace! But here thou hast changed thy name and thy
nature into the sea-seeking Thames, alive and loud with
the tide that murmurs of the ocean-foam, and bridged mag-

A midsummek-day's dream. 191

nificently as becomes the river that makes glad the City
of the Kings who are the umpires of the whole world's
wars ! Down sailed our spirit^ along with the floating
standard of England, to the Norc. There her Fleet lay
moored, like a thunder-cloud whose lightning rules the
sea —

" Her march is o'er the mountain-wave,
Her home is on the deep !"

Wo to all the isle, when the sons of ocean walk their
decks in mutiny ! VVo to France and Spain and all the
banded naval powers of the world, when, calm as clouds,
the fleet bears down in white-winged line of battle, and
the foeman's crescent breaks into fragments, and melts
away, with all its struck flags, into fatal overthrow ! And
what, O London ! were the Tyre and Sidon, whose mer-
chants were princes — what were Tyre and Sidon to thee !
Even now the sun is rising, and the sun is setting, on thy
countless sails. We almost cease now to feel

"Of the old sea some reverential fear !"

The ocean obeys " the meteor-flag of England," even as its
ebbing and flowing obeys the planet.

But it is night, and lo ! the crowded theatre is ablaze
with beauty; and as Tragedy, " with solemn stole, comes
sweeping by," the piled-up multitude is all as hush as
death. Then first the " buried majesty of Denmark" —
though mimic all the scene — was awful and full of dread
to our young imagination, as if indeed " I'evisiting the
glimpses of the moon," on the old battlements of Elsineur
— the fine, pensive, high philosophy of the melancholy,
world-distracted Ilamlet, flowed as if from his own very
princely lips — the fair Ophelia, as she went singing and
scattering her flowers, was to us a new image of a purer
innocence, a more woful sorrow, than we knew before to
have ever had its birth or burial-i)lace on this earth. There
we saw the shadow of the mightiest Julius standing —
imperial still — before liis beloved Brutus in the tent; and
as he waved a majestic upbraiding, threatening, and warn-
ing, from the hand that had subdued the world, we heard
the Csesar say, " We will meet again at Philippi." There

192 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

we, too, as well as the Thane, heard a voice cry to all the
house, "sleep no more — Glammis hath murdered sleep —
and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more !" and in glided,
with stone eyes and bloodless lace, sleep-walking remorse,
in the form of a stately lady wringing her hands, and
groaning, " Out, damned spot," while the haunted felt in
her dream, that " not all the perfumes of Arabia could
sweeten that little hand !"

Then there was eloquence in the world, that is in
London, in those days ; or did the soul then half-create
the thunders she heard pealing from the lips of Burke,
and Pitt, and Fox, the great orators of England, and startle
at the flash of her own lightning? But the old pillars of
the social edifice then seemed to rock as to an earthquake,
and the lips of common men, in the general inspiration,
were often touched with fire. Even now we see their
flashing eyes, their knit brows, their clenched hand, their
outstretched arms — their " face inflamed" — even now we
hear their voices, flowing like majestic streams, or loud
as the headlong cataract — of those whom the world con-
sents to call great. We thought as we looked and listened,
of him who

"Wielded nt will llint fierce democracy,
Shook the arsenal, and fulmincd over Greece —
From Maccdon to Artaxerxes' throne ;"

nor felt that the son of Chatam was less than " the thun-
derer," as he stood proudly denouncing vengeance against
the legions of the tricolor, and prophesying the triumph of
the glorious Isle, " whose shores beat back the ocean's
foamy feet," and whose sons have ever been the true chil-
dren of Liberty.

The spirit of the world was then awakened by dreadful
outcries from too long" a sleep — and the alarum-bcU that
then kept tolling far and wide over the sky, though now
its iron tongue is at rest, or but trembling in that " hollow,"
so soon and so easy made to give forth its sullen music,
hangs still over the nations, who, under even the silence
of its shadow, shall sink no more into disgraceful slum-
bers. The ears of kings, and princes, and nobles, were
astounded ; and nil Europe groaned or gloried with the


Bourbon's in-vain-anointed head, was with the few fatal
words held up dissevered, "Behold the head of a tyrant!"
and the axe, that made no respect of persons, bit the fair
neck of Marie Antoinette, nathless all those glorious tresses
whose beauty had dazzled the world. Life was then
struck, over all its surface and all its depths, with a stormy
sunshine — dread alternations of brightness and blackness,
that made the soul to quake alike in its hopes and in its
fears. Who wished, then, to escape the contagion ? —
Not even the gentlest, the most fervent, the most devoted
lovers of domestic peace. They, too, joined the hymn of
thanksgiving — and one Pccan seemed to stun the sky. But
the very clouds ere long began to drop blood, and then
good men paused even to obey the stern voice of Justice,
in fear that the dewy voice of Mercy should never more
be heard on earth. Call it not a reaction — for that is a
paltry word — but thankful to the great God did men be-
come, when at last, standing silent on the desolate shore,
they saw the first ebb of that fiercely-flowing tide, and
knew that the sea was to return to its former limits, and
sweep away no more the peasant's hut and the prince's

That was a tim.e indeed, for men to speak, to whom
heaven had granted the gift of eloquence. And London
then held many eloquent, who, when the storm was hushed,
relapsed into men of common speech.

But poor, vain, and empty all, is the glory of great
orators, compared with that of poets and sages, or con-
querors. The poet and sage walk hand in hand together
through the moral and intellectual empire of mind — nor,
in the world's admiration, is the triumphal car of victory
unworthy of being placed near the Muses' bower. What
mighty ones have breathed the air of that great city —
have walked in inspiration along the banks of England's
metropolitan-river — have been inhumed in her burial-
places, humble or high, frequented by common and care-
less feet, or by footsteps treading reverentially, while the
visiter's eyes are fixed on marble image or monument,
sacred to virtue, to valour, or to genius, the memory of
the prime men of the earth ! These, London, are thy
guardian spirits — these thy tutelary gods. When the hor-

VOL. I. 17

194 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

rid howl of night — the howl of all those distracted pas-
sions is hushed — and the soul, relieved from the sorrow in
which it thinks of sin, when an eye or ear-witness to its
unhallowed orgies, lifts up its eyes to the stars so bright
and beautiful, so silent and so serene — then remembereth
she the names, the endowments, the achievements, of the
immortal dead. There — largest and most lustrous — that
star that " dwells apart" — is the image of Milton ! That
other, soft-burning, dewy, and almost twinkling star — now
seeming to shine out into intenser beauty, and now almost
dim, from no obscuring cloud or mist, but as if some inter-
nal spirit shaded the light for a moment, even as an angel
may veil his countenance with his wings — that is the star
of Spenser! And of all the bright people of the skies, to
fancy's gaze, thou, most lovely planet, art the very Fairy-
Queen !

Therefore, to us, enthusiasts then in poetry — and may
that enthusiasm survive even the season " of brightness in
the grass and glory in the flower," which has almost now
passed away — to us, who thought of poets as beings set
apart from the world which their lays illumined — how
solemn — how sacred — how sublime a delight — deaf and
blind to all the sights and sounds of the common day — to
look on the very house in which some great poet had
been born — lived — or died ! Were the house itself gone,
and some ordinary pile erected in its stead, still we saw
down into the old consecrated foundation ! Had the very
street been swept away — iis name and its dust — still the
air was holy — and more beautiful overhead the blue gleam
of the sky !

And in the midst of all that noisy world of the present,
that noisy and miserable world — in the midst of it and
pervading it — might not even our youthful eye see the
spirit of religion 1 And leel, even when most astounded
with sights and sounds of wickedness, that in life there
was still a mens divinior —

" Mens .-ij^itat niolcm ct niagno se corporc miscct."

Christianity spoke in Sabbath-bells, not "swinging slow
with sullen roar," like the curfew of old extinguishing the

A midsummer-day's dream. 195

household fires on all hearths; but, high up in the clearer
air, the belfry of tower and spire sent a sweet summons,
each over its own region, to families to repair again to the
house of God, where the fires of faith, hope, and charity,
might be rekindled on the altar of the religion of peace.
The sweet solemn faces of old men — of husbands and
fathers, and sons and brothers — the fair faces of matrons
and virgins — the gladsome faces of children —

" For piety is sweet to infant minds" —

were seen passing along the sobered streets, whose stones,
but a few hours ago, clanked to the mad rushing to and
fro of unhallowed feet, while the air, now so still, or mur-
muring but with happy voices, attuned to the spirit of the
day, was lately all astir with rage, riot, and blasphemy !

" Such ebb and flow must ever be,
Tlien wherefore should we mourn 1"

Sweet is the triumph of religion on the Sabbath-day, in
some solitary glen, to which come trooping from a hun-
dred braes, all the rural dwellers, disappearing, one small
family party after another, into the hushed kirk — now, as
the congregation has collected, exhaling to heaven, as a
flower-bank exhales its fragrance, the voice of psalms!
But there piety has only deepened peace! Here — though
yet the voice of the great city will not be hushed — and
there is heard ever a suppressed murmur — a sound — a
noise — a growl — dissatisfied with the Sabbath — here, the
power that descends from the sky upon men's hearts stilling
them against their wills into a sanctity so alien to their
usual life, is felt to have even a more sublime consecra-
tion ! " The still small voice" speaks, in the midst of all
that unrepressed stir, the more distinctly, because so un-
like the other sounds, with which it mingles not; that
there is another life, "not of this noisy world, but silent
and divine," is felt from the very disturbances that will not
lie at rest; and though hundreds of thousands heed it not,
the tolling of that great bell from (he cathedral strikes of
death and judgment. Yes, England! with all thy sins,

196 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

thou boldest, with fast devotion, to the faith, for which so
many of thy sainted sons did perish in the fires of perse-
cution. The smoke of those fierce faggots is dead — but,
as that inspired man prophesied, while he held up his
withered hand in the scorching flame — such a fire has
been kindled as lights all the land — centuries after his
martyred ashes were given to the heedless winds, — and
the names of Cranmer and Ridley are reverenced for
evermore !

High ministrations — solemn services of religion ! — in
which the Church of England, in its reverential awe, de-
lights — from the first hour in which we participated in the
holy rites, they breathed into our being the fiill, deep, divine
spirit of devotion, sanctifying, at burst or close of the
organ-peal, the chapel's ])illared shade! — How sweetly
rose our souls to heaven on the hymn of the young white-
robed choristers ! — How sunk they and swelled, rejoiced
and saddened, and when the thought of some of our own
peculiar sorrows also touched us, how they even wept,
over the worship of that beautiful liturgy, composed so
scripturally by pious men, to whom the language of the
Bible had been familiar almost as their mother tongue !
Of the great old English divines, so laden with heavenly
erudition, and who had brought all human wisdom and
human science to establish and to illustrate the religion of
the lowly Jesus, remembrance often crossed us like a sha-
dow, at each wide-murmured response. Apostles of a
later time, inspired by their own faith! Yet true still
were our hearts to the memory of that simpler service, nor
less divine — for blessed ever are all modes of worship in
which the human being seeks in sincerity to draw near to
God — that simpler service, so well suited to a simpler land,
in which we had from infancy been instructed, and which,
to preserve in its purity, had our own forefathers blcd.»la
the high cathedral,

"Where tliroiifrli tlio loiiff-drawn isle and frcttod vault,
The pealing aiitliem s\^clls tlie note of praise,"

we call to mind tlie low kirk and its psalms. The kirk
near the modest manse, in which our boyhood flew away

A midsummer-day's drkam. 197

— with its decent pews, little loft, and unambitious pulpit —
the friendly faces of the rural congregation — the grave
elders sitting in their place of honour — the pious preacher,
who to us had been a father! — Oh! many-toned are the
voices on the Sabbath, all praising and worshipping God !
List — list, in the hush of thy spirit, and all Christian lands
are sounding with one various hymn !

And then London, ere long, became to us — in all its
vaslness — even as our very home ! For all undisturbed
amidst the din, and murmuring internally, each with its
own peculiar character of domestic joys, with laughter and
with song — how many dwellings for us did open their
hospitable doors, and welcome us in, with blessings, be-
neath their social roofs ! Our presence brought a brighter
expression into their partial eyes; our mirth never seemed
otherwise than well-timed to them, nor yet did our melan-
choly — nor failed either to awaken congenial feelings in
the breasts of those to whom we were too undeservedly
dear — smiles went round the hearth or table circle to our
quaint ditty and talc of glee — and the tears have fallen,
when in the "parlour twilight" we sang

" One of those Scottish tunes so sad and slow,"

or told some one of those old, pathetic, traditionary stories,
that still, cloud-like, keep floating over all the hills of
Scotland ! Oh ! the great pleasure of friendships formed
in youth ! where chance awakens sympathy, accident
kindles affection — and fortune, blind and restless on her
revolving wheel, favours, as if she were some serene-eyed
and steadfast divinity, the purest passions of the soul ! As
one friendship was added to another — and base creed it is
— most shallow and fantastic — that would confine amity,
even in its dearest meaning — for how different is friend-
ship from love — to communicate but with some single
chosen one, excluding all our other brethren from approach
to the heart — although true it is, that some one, in our
greatest bale and our greatest bliss, will be more tenderly,
more profoundly, more gratefully embraced than all the
rest — as friendship was added to friendship, as family after
family, household after household, became each a new


198 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

part of our enlarged being, how delightful, almost every
successive day, to feel ou knowledge growing wider and
warmer of the virtues of the character of England ! Per-
haps some unconscious nationality had been brought with
us from our native braes — narrowing our range of feeling,
and inclining sometimes to unjust judgments and unkindly
thoughts. But all that was poor or bad in that prejudice,
soon melted away before the light of bold English eyes,
before the music of bold English speech. Sons and
daughters of the free ! As brothers and as sisters we
loved you soon — without suspicion, without reserve, with-
out jealousy, without envy of your many superior and sur-
passing endowments of nature, and accomplishments of art!
For, with all deduction on the score of inevitable human
fault and frailty, how high the morals of England, her
manners how becoming the children of such a birth !

The friends, too, whom in those sacred hours, we had
taken to our hearts, linked, along with other more human
ties, by the love of literature and poetry — and with whom
we had striven to enter

" Tlic cave obscure of old Pliilosopliy,"

and when starry midnight shone serenely over Oxford's
towers and temples, sighed — vainly sighed — with unsatisfied
longings and as|iiralions, that would not let us rest, to " un-
sphere the spirit of Plato" — they, too, were often with us
in the wide metropolis, where, wide as it is, dear friends
cannot almost be for a single day, but by some happy fortune
they meet ! How grasped — clasped were then our hands
and our hearts! flow all college recollections — cheerful
and full of glee — or high and of a solemn shade — came
over us from llic silence of those still retreats, in the noise
of the restless London ! Magdalen, Mcrtoun, Oriel, Christ-
Church, Trinity — how pleasant were your names!

Hundreds of morning, meridian, evening, midnight meet-
ings ! Each with its own — nor let us fear to declare it
beneath those sunny skies — with its blameless, at least not
sinful, charm. Now carried on a stream of endless, va-

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