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far," has never been utterly forgetful of the loves and
friendships that charmed his youth. To be parted in
body is not to be estranged in soul — and many a dream —
and many a vision, sacred to memory's best affections,
may pass before the mind of one whose lips are silent.
" Out of sight out of mind," is rather the expression of a
doubt — of a fear — than of a belief or conviction. The
soul surely has eyes that can see the object it loves,
through all intervening darkness — and of those more espe-
cially dear it keeps within itself almost undimmed images,
on which, when they know it not, think it not, believe it
not, it often loves to gaze, as on a relic imperishable as it
is hallowed.

Hail! rising beautiful, and magnificent, through the mists
of morning — hail ! hail ! ye woods, groves, towers, and
temples, overshadowing that famous stream beloved by
all the Muses ! Through this midnight hush — methinks I
hear faint and far otf a sacred music, —

"Wlipre througfli the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault,
The pealing anthem swells the note of I"


How steeped in tiie beauty of moonlight are all those pale,
pillared ciiurches, courts and cloisters, shrines and altars,
with here and there a statue standing in the shade, or monu-
ment sacred to the memory of the pious — the immortal
dead ! Some great clock is striking from one of many
domes — from the majestic tower of St. Mary Magdalen —
and in the deepened hush that follows the solemn sound,
hark how the mingling waters of the Cherwell and the Isis
soften the severe silence of the holy night !

Remote from kindred, and from all the friendships that
were the native growth of the fair fields where our boy-
hood and our youth had roamed, and meditated, and
dreamed, those were yet years of high and lofty mood,
which held us in converse with the shades of great poets
and sages of old in Rhedicyna's hallowed groves, still,
serene, and solemn, as that Grecian Academe where
divine Plato, with all Hybla on his lips, discoursed such
excellent music, that this life seemed to the imagination
spiritualised — a dim reminiscence of some former state of
being. How sank then the Christmas service of that
beautiful liturgy into our hearts ! Not faithless we to the
simple worship that our forefathers had loved ; but con-
science told us there was no apostacy in the feelings that
rose within us when that deep organ 'gan to blow, that
choir of youthful voices so sweetly to join the diapason, —
our eyes fixed all the while on that divine picture over the
altar, of our Saviour

" Bearing his cross up rueful Calvary."

But "a change comes o'er the spirit of my dream."
How beautiful in the setting sunlight are these mountains
of soft crimson snow! The sun hath set, and even more
beautiful are the bright-starred nights of winter, than sum-
mer in all its glories beneath the broad moons of June !
Through the woods of Windermere, from cottage to cot-
tage, by coppice-pathways winding up to dwellings among
the hill-rocks, where the birch-trees cease to grow, —

" Nodding' their heads, heforc us go,
The merry minstrelsy."

They sing a salutation at every door, familiarly naming
old and young by their Christian names; and the eyes that


look upward from the vales to the hanging huts among
the plats and clitrs, see the shadows of the dancers ever
and anon crossing the light of the starlike window ; and
the merry music is heard like an echo dwelling in the sky !
across those humble thresholds often did we on Christmas
nights of yore — wandering through our solitary sylvan
haunts, under the branches of trees within whose hollow
trunk the squirrel slept — venture in, unasked, pcrha|)s,
but not unwelcome ; and in the kindly spirit of the season,
did our best to merrify the festival by tale or song. And
now that we behold them not, are all those woods, and
cliffs, and rivers, and tarns, and lakes, as beautiful as
when they softened and brightened beneath our living eyes
half-creating, as they gazed, the very paradise that thoy
worshipped! And are all those hearths as bright as of
yore, without the shadow of our figure? And the roofs,
do they ring as mirthfully, though our voice be forgotten?

But little cause have we to lament that that paradise is
now to us but as remembered poetry — poetry got by heart —
deeply engraven there — and to be read at any thoughtful
hour we choose — charged deeper and deeper still with old
memories and new inspirations. The soul's best happiness
is independent of time and place. Such accidents touch it
not — they " offer not even any show of violence, it being
a thing so majestical." And lo ! another new series of
Christmas festivals hastens been born! For there are
our own living flowers in our family garland ! And as
long as he, who gave them their bloom and their balm,
averts not from them or us the sunshine of his counte-
nance, content — oh ! far beyond content — would we be
with this, the most sacred of all religious festivals, were it
even to be holdcn by us far apart from them in some dun-
geon's depth !

Ay — well may we say — in gratitude, not in pride —
though, at such n sight, pride might be thought but a venial
sin within a father's heart, — " There is our Christmas
rose" — while a blush brightens the beauty of a face that
we will call " fair, not pale," and brighter and softer than
the leaves of any rose, the ringlets dance over her fore-
head to the breeze of joy, and bliss and innocence give
themselves vent in one of our own Scotia's pleasant but
pathetic songs !

24 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

But the heart hugs such treasures as these in secret,—
and if revealed at all to other eyes, it must be by but a
fleeting and a partial light. Few words are needed to
awaken, before parental eyes, the visions now stealing be-
fore mine — and, broken and all imperfect though these
efflisions may be, yet may they touch with pensive plea-
sure some simple hearts, that recognise the expression of
some of their own emotions, — similar, or the same, —
although life and its circumstances may have been diffe-
rent, — for in every single sentence, if it be but sincere, a
word or two may be found, that shall awaken some com-
plete reminiscence of joy, as the striking but of two notes
at once fills ear and heart with a well known-tune, and
gives it the full power of all the melody.

The lamp glimmers as it would expire, — the few embers
are red and low, — and those are the shadows of moonlight
on the walls. How deep a hush ! Let me go and hear
them breathing in their sleep, — and whisper — for it will not
disturb them — a prayer by the bedside of my children.
To-morrow is Christmas day — and thankful am I indeed
to Providence !


(Black wood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1828.)

A BANK of flowers is certainly one of the most gor-
geous sights beneath the sun ; but what is it to that
board of books? Our old eyes are dazzled with the
splendour, and are forced to seek relief and repose on
the mild moreen of those window-curtains, whose drapery
descends as simply as the garb of a modest quakeress.
Even then, all the colours of the rainbow continue
dancing on their orbs, and will permit them to see no-
thing in its true light. But now, the optical spectra
evanish — our sight becomes reconciled to the various
glitter — the too powerful blaze seems tamed down — the
lustre of the hues subside, and we can bear, without
winking, or placing our fingers before our face, to keep a
steady gaze on the bright confusion. Why, bookbinding
has become a beautiful art ! Chance it was that flung
together all those duodecimos, post-octavos, quartos, and
folios, of kid, calf, silk, satin, velvet, russia, morocco, —
white, gray, green, blue, yellow, violet, red, scarlet,
crimson — yet what painter, with the most glorious eye
for colour, ever with laborious study, cheered by fits of
sudden inspiration, pictured a board of fruits, although
worthy of the trees of Paradise, of more multifarious
splendour ?

Lovers are we, and have been nil our life long, of
charming, of divine Simplicity. But Simplicity is a
lady, not only of fine taste, but — would you believe it? —
of rich imagination. Often have we seen her gazing
with rapt spirit and tearful eyes on the setting sun, on
the sea, on cataracts, on regiments of cavalry, on an

VOL. I. 3

26 Wilson's miscellaiseous writings.

English county of groves, woods, gardens, orchards,
rivers, plains, noblemen's and gentlemen's old family-
mansions, steeple-towers, churches, abbeys, cathedrals.
We have seen Simplicity, like a nun at worship, reading
Isaiah, and Homer, and Dante, and Ariosto, and Tasso,
and Shakspeare, and Milton, and Maga. Simplicity
loves all the riches and splendour of the east and of the
west, the north and the south. Her hair she loves not
to adorn with many diamonds — one single solitary jewel
on her forehead, like a star. But pale pearls are here
and there interspersed among her locks, at once softening
and deepening their darkness; they lie like dewdrops or
buds of white roses, along the lilies of her breast; with
pearls of great price is her virgin zone bespangled — and,
as she lifts her snow-white hand, there is a twinkle of
radiance from a stone that " would ransom great kings
from captivity !"

You understand, then, that there is no reason in the
world, or in the nature of things, why Simplicity should
not stand with her arm in ours, leaning lovingly on our
shoulder — pressing fondly on our side — and admire with
us the mild, meek, soft, gentle, tender, dim, dazzling,
bold, fierce, fiery, corruscating, cometary, planetary,
lunar, solar, aurora borealis and lightning-like radiance
of that sea-green board, mad with the magnificence of
that myriad-minded multitude of —


But let Simplicity by and by turn her eyes towards
that opening door — for footsteps are on the stair — and
like hours are they coming — all dressed in white raiment,
as betits and bespeaks their innocence — a chosen band of
maidens, to receive from the hands of good old Father
Christopher — each an appro[)riate volume or volumes to
add to her little library, growing by degrees, year after
year, like a garden that the skilful florist extends with its
sloping banks towards the sunny south, — each spring
visiting a rarer, richer show of her own fairest and most
favourite flowers.

We are not a married man, like the writer of Christ-


mas Dreams — yet dearly do we love the young — yea the
young of all animals — the young swallows twittering from
their straw-built shed — the young lambs bleating on the
lea, the young bees, God bless them, on their first flight
away off to the heather — the young butterflies, who, born
in the morning, will die of old age ere night — the young
salmon-fry glorying in the gravel at the first feeling of
their fins — the young adders basking, ere they can bite,
in the sun, as yet unconscious, like sucking satirists, of
their stings — young pigs, pretty dears, all a-squeak with
their curled tails after prolific grum|)hy — young lions and
tigers, charming cubs, like very Christian children, nuz-
zling in their nurse's breast — young devils — if you will —
ere Satan hath sent them forth to Sin, who keeps a
fashionable boarding-school in Hades, and sends up into
the world above-ground only her finished scholars.

But lo ! North's fair family — all children of his old
age ! Yes, the offspring they are of his dearest — his
chosen — his faithful — his bosom-friends ! There, daugh-
ters of delight — there is a shower of kisses to bedew the
beloved heads of you all — and now be seated in a circle —
look all as grave as you possibly can for those struggling
smiles — no quizzing of our new Christmas wig — and
first, and before we begin to distribute,

" Pure hcaltliy children of the God of heaven,"

in your hearts as in ours, let there be a short silent

Now for business.

Emily Callander — oldest of the young — and tallest too
— for, in truth, thou art as a cedar — for thee have we
selected Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life, The Trials
of Margaret Lyndsay, and The Foresters. The first is
bound — as thy sweet eyes see — in variegated silk — too
ornamental as some might haply think — but not so thou —
for thou knowest that the barest field in all Scotland is not
without its little flowers — daisies, and gowans, and clover,
and primroses in their short vernal day — and that her
richest fields are all a glow as at evening the western
heavens. Margaret Lyndsay, you see, my love, is hound

28 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

in satin — but not of the riciicst sort — the colour is some-
thing qualvcrish — but we know you like that — and the
narrow ornaments round the sides you will find to be
either flowers or stars — for, in truth, flowers and stars
are not dissimilar — for they both have rays — but dew
brightens the one while the other it bedims into beauty.
The Foresters are bound in green linen — and these yellow
trees, emblazoned upon such a ground, as if autumn had
tinted them, have a good effect — have they not? — So,
sweetest and best — a kiss of thy forehead — sure a more
graceful curtsy was never seen — and it will make the
author, who is my very dear friend — whom I love more
than I can venture to express, and whom I have, on that
account, placed foremost now — and not for his mere
merits — proud and happy, too, to be told with what a
smile Emily Callander I'eceived his volumes — -works we
were going to say, but that is too prodigious a word for
such efl^usions — and one smile from her will to him be
worth all the chaff" and chatter of all the critics in Cock-

Margaret Wilson ! — thou rising star — let thine arms
drop from around the necks of these two sweet sup-
porters, and come gliding forth within touch of the old
man, that he may lay his withered hand upon the lovely
lustre of thy soft-braided hair. There — hold them fast to
your bosom — and let not one of all the five slip from
your embracing arms. Wordsworth's Works ! You re-
member — and never will forget — the mountains at the
head of Windermere — behind whose peaked summits the
sun sets — and Elleray — but why that haze within those
eyes? — "A few natural tears thou sheddest, but wipest
them soon" — at the sudden sound of that si)ell-like home
— so let that key remain untouched — ay, there is thy
bosom all filled with poetry ! with poetry ofien — " not of
this noisy world, but silent and divine," with happy hymns
for sunshine, and mournful elegies for moonlight — with
lyrics that might be set to such music as the lark sings
Jiigh in heaven — with odes that might be fitly chanted to
the sofiened voice of the waterfall — with ballads such as
Bessy Bell or Mary Gray might have sung "in their
bower on yonder green," — or Helen Irvine, as she "sat


upon the banks of Kirtle," — or thou thyself, sweeter
singer than them all, when willing — as I have seen thee
— to charm with change thy father's ear, after the Bride's
Maid's Chorus. But thou hast wept for Ruth — and for
Emmeline — and for that lovely creature,

" Her mute companion, as it lay,
In love and pity at her feet "

And I have seen thee shiver with delight, in the beauty of
the sudden apparition, when

"Came gliding in with lovely gleam,
Came gliding in serene and slow,
Soft and silent as a dream,
That solitary doe I"

Yes — thou mayest, unblamed, place such poetry on the
very same shelf, Margaret, with thy Bible ; for the word
of God itself is better understood by hearts softened and
sublimed by strains inspired into the souls of great poets
by devoutcst contemplation of his works. Therefore,

" with gentle hand
Touch, for there is a spirit in the leaves I"

Fanny Allardyce — do not make me fall in love with en-
vious eyes, by looking so on Margaret's bosom — full of
beautiful books — bound as they are in crimson — for that
is the light of setting suns; and although William Words-
worth be often but as a lowly pastoral poet piping in the
shade, yet as often is he like the blind John Milton, who
sung in his glorious darkness of Paradise — and the Courts of
Heaven. For here, for thee, my pensive Frances, are the
Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser, in five volumes, pre-
sented to me by my friend Mr. Pickering of London — and
he will not be displeased with me for transferring them to
the love of one who is in good truth " like the heavenly
Una with her milk-white lamb." You will find much —
and many things in the Fairy Queen, that even your al-
most fully expanded intellect and imagination will not yet



understand — yet little, and few thini^s that your heart
nevertheless will not feel — and not the less touchingly,
because love will be mixed with wonder, and pity given to
what is at once sorrowful and strange. You have already
read the Comus of Milton — and love and admire — and
would wish to kneel down at her feet — the lady whose
spotless innocence preserves her from the fiends of that
haunted wood. She and the Una of the Fairy Queen
might be sisters; nor, were such creatures as they ever
to walk over our earth, could they turn away their gracious
and benignant smiles from such a maiden as thou art — for
thou too art without spot or blemish — nor could force nor
fraud prevail against thee; for, true it is as words of holy
writ, that " a thousand liveried angels lacquey thee," and
that vice and wickedness could not live in an atmosphere
purified by the breath of innocence from such lips as thine !
Harriet Brisbane — thou hast a heroic spirit — yet a heart
formed for peace. And thou lookest, with that fine, high,
bold brow of thine, — yet perfectly feminine, — and with
those large hazel eyes, so mild, yet magnanimous, — and
that mass of nearly black hair, that, but for the Christmas
roses round it, would seem almost sullen — at least most
melancholy, — thou lookest, we say, like what thou indeed
art, a true descendant of now beatified spirits, who, in the
old days of persecution, sang hymns of rejoicing when tied
to the stake, and their bodies shrivelling in the fire. Dear
virgin martyr! take and keep for our sake, the exquisite
Roman tale of Valerius. There you will read how one,
whom I could fancy like thy very self, in face, figure, and
character, a virgin named Athanasia, touched at the soul
by the religion of Jesus, did disencumber herself of all the
beautiful and imaginative vanities of the old mythological
faith, and, fearless of the pitchy fire, and of the ravening
lion, did fold the cross unto her bosom, and became trans-
figured from innocence into i)iety. The tale will not make
these calm eyes of thine shed many, if any tears ; but ever
and anon as they follow the fortunes of her who hath Ibr-
saken the service of idols and false deities, to become a
priestess of the only one, living, and true God, they will
be uplifted "in thoughts that lie too deep for tears" — slowly
and solemnly, and most beautifully — to the lieaven of


heavens ! Thou, too, take — thou high-souled daughter of
a high-souled sire — tliis other book, bound in brightest
scarlet — for you have heard, thai a blind man once said,
that he conceived scarlet to be like the sound of a trumpet,
— and all emblazoned vviih the arms of adverse nations,
Specimens of Spanish Ballads, celebrating the exploits of
the Campeador, and other heroes, against the Saracens ;
and all the high and wild warfare that, for centuries, made
the rivers run red with mingled Castilian and Moorish
blood. The old Spanish ballads are like fragments of fine
bold martial music, in their own tongue; but Mr. Lock-
liart is a poet "of strength and state;" and in his noble
verses, your eyes dazzle at the brightness of the Spanish
sword, tempered in the Ebro, and can scarce endure the
flashing of the Moorish scymitar. You read his ballads
in the same mood of mind with which you hear the music-
band of a regiment of cavalry — say the Scots Grays —
hundreds of heroes following on — on — on — with their glit-
tering casques, and each with a sabre, erst red perchance
at Waterloo, in his strong right hand.

Aha, Jane! my pretty little rosy-cheeked, dark-eyed,
curly-pated Jane — can you control no longer the impa-
tience, which, for this last half hour, you have not attempted
to conceal ] And are you there unbeckoned upon my
knee, and, with uplifted frock, ready to receive into your
lap your destined prize? There, thou imp — thou elf — thou
fairy — there is a Christmas-Box for thee, on which thou
wilt stare out thine eyes — having first filled them many
times and oft — now with sighing, and now with laughing
tears. You remember that I gave you last year the nicest
of all little books, about the strangest and most curious
pranky little beings that ever were born — " Fairy Legends
of the South of Ireland ;" and do you know that the Christ-
mas-Box is from the same gentleman — you know his name
— T. Crofion Croker ; and that it is published by that Mr.
Ainsworth, now a bookseller in London, who carried you
in his arms into the boat, you remember, and kept you
there all the time we were sailing about on the lake? but
he is a faithless man, and cannot be your husband, as he
said he would, for he has married a beautiful wife of his
own; and — only think of his impudence! — sent you this

32 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

Christmas-Box to purchase your forgiveness. I assure you
it is the nicest book for a child like you that ever was;
for, do you know, that you are in your teens now, and,
for a young child, are getting quite an old v/oman. Only
look at that picture (the book you will find is full of de-
lightful pictures) of the Enchanted Ass ! Saw you ever
any thing so funny? Read the story about it, and you
will die of laughing. But, fond as thou art of laughter,
and fun and noise — yet art thou, too, my most merry mad-
cap, at times, like all the happiest, not disinclined to gentle
weeping — therefore, read the story of " Little Willie Bell,"
— and then lay it down and think upon it — and weep and
wonder if the " pale boy with the long curled hair," was
indeed a ghost ! Whether, child, there be any ghosts or
no, it is not for me — old man as I am — to say ; but if there
be, they visit us not unpermitted, and you, my innocent,
need not be afraid, were something you thought a ghost
to draw the curtains of your little bed at night, and look in
upon you, with a pale pale face, and all dressed in white,
even like the clothes in which people are buried. For it is
only to the bad that dreadful ghosts appear, sometimes, it
is said, driving them mad by glaring on them with their
eyes, and pointing to wounds, all streaming with blood, in
their side or breast ; but the ghosts that glide before the
eyes of the good, whether they are shut in sleep, or open
in what we call a waking dream, are the gentlest beings
that ever walked beneath the light of the moon and stars
— and it would make your heart to sing within you, were
your eyes to fall on their faces — pale though they might
be — as upon the faces of angels, who were once Christians
on earth, sent, to bless the slumbers of little pious children,
from heaven. After " Little Willie Bell," thou must read
"The Fairy and the Peach Tree," written by Mr. Ains-
worth himself — and you will know from it — what you
were too young and too much in love with him that long-
ago summer to know — that he is a truly good man, and, I
will add, Jane, a writer of fine fancy and true feeling. —
What, off and away to the window without a single kiss
— to hold u[) the pretty pictures, one after another in the
sunshine !

Caroline Graham ! Nay — Caroline, no far-off fiirtation


behind backs with such an old quiz as Christopher North.
There you are — bounding stately up from your afTcctedly-
humble bending down, like a tall harebell, that, depressed
more than seemed natural with a weight of dew, among
whose sweets the bees are murmuring, all of a sudden lifts
itself up from the greensward, and, to the passing zephyr,

Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 34)