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shakes its blue blossoms in the sunshine. VVhat ! a basket
— shall I call it — or rather a net of dense hair — of your
own elegant handy-work no doubt — lined with what would
seem to be either delicate light-blue satin or woven dew —
to receive — what think ye? Why, all the souvenirs —
there they go, one after another — like so many birds of
soft or bright plumage, not unwillingly dancing into the
cage. There goes the "Forget Me Not,'' — one of the
fairest flutterers of them all, a bird of beautiful plumage
and sweet song. Why so intent your eyes, my Caroline,
on the very first page of your first Christmas present?
Ha! Stephanoff's picture of the Bridal Morning! There
she sits, surveying in her mirror, which cannot well flatter,
what is so finely framed — that figure, with bashful pride,
which one about to rescue her to himself from an adoring
world will gaze upon, and scarcely dare to embrace, with
the trembling ecstasy of devoted passion. But hush, hush !
Thy cheek, alternately rosy-red and lily-pale, each flower
alike " love's proper hue," warns me to respect — to vene-
rate the unconcealable secret of innocent nature — so — so!
Not a word — not a look more, bright Caroline ! of the
" Forget Me Not" — or of the " Bridal Morning," except
that — now you have recovered from the confusion which
some youth or other might understand perfectly, but of
which the old man knows nothing — except that Mr. Fre-
deric Shoberl, the editor, is a pleasant gentleman, and Mr.
Ackermann, the publisher, a producer of many amiable
elegancies — many trifles that touch the heart, and not a
few more serious, though haply not more salutary works,
— for strong nourishment can be distilled from flowers;
and there is a spirit with which many of his literary friends
are imbued, reminding one of these lines of Wordsworth —

Tlie device
To each and all might well belong ;


It is tlic spirit of Paradise
Tliat prompts such works ; a spirit strong,
That gives to all tlie self-same bent,
When life is wise and innocent.

A large paper copy of the " Literary Souvenir," a
perfect gem, Caroline, and set, after my own fancy, in
silver and gold. Look at the " Duke and Duchess read-
ing Don Quixote" — an imagination of that fine genius,
the American Leslie ! Let but a few ripening suns roll
on, and thou thyself, the Grahame, wilt be as rich, as
rare, as royal, as queenlike a beauty, as she who, uncon-
sciously obeying the judgments, the feelings, and the fan-
cies, of her lofty and heroic lord, is there seen dreaming
with a smile of the doughty deeds of that inimitable crazed
whom Cervantes created. I, for one, know not whether
to raise up or run down the Spirit of Romance and

Mr. Alaric Watts it was who first called upon the other
Fine Arts to aid Poetry in beautifying all the souvenirs —
the happy name of his own " bright consummate" Annual
Flower — being, to our ear, the best expression of the aim
and meaning of them all. Himself an elegant writer —
elegance is the peculiar characteristic of his souvenirs;
but an elegance congenial with the truth, and simplicity,
and the force of nature. Here, my Caroline — into the
magic web it goes — bound in violet — for that is a colour
that is felt to be beautiful, whether

" By mossy stone, half hidden to the eye,"

or on the open and sunny bank, — all by its single self —
or easily distinguishable, unpresuming though it be, amid
the brightest bouquet that e'er bloomed on the bosom of

Love and Friendship are sisters, and there is their joint
" Ofl^ering,"— although Love, as usual, is shame-faced,
and conceals her name. Tlie editor, I have heard, is
Mr. Charles Knight, — and 1 believe it; taste, and sensi-
bility, and genius, have been brought to the work. It bears
dreamy j)erusal well — and is like a collection of musical
pieces, in which, by a certain rare felicity, the composi-
tions of harmonists, comparatively little known to fame,


successfully rival the strains of the most famous. Thus,
Southey's Grand Funeral Song for the Princess Charlotte
of Wales does not disincline us, at its close, to open
our ears to the pathetic elegies of Moultrie, — Pringle
and Praed touch the harp with a careless, but no unmas-
terly hand — and there is one song at least by Hervey, —

" Come touch the harp, my gentle one,"

" beautiful exceedingly," — at least so it would be, my
Caroline, if sung by thy voice when the fire was low, and
this study of mine, visited occasionally, even as at present
it is visited, by the best and fairest, " now in glimmer, and
now in gloom," echoed to that voice which some have
compared, in the variety of its thick-gushing richness, to
that of the nightingale — but which I do then most dearly
love to listen to, when, in its clear-singing and unornament-
ed risings and falls, without one single intermediate grace,
shake, or quaver, it doth, to my ears, still ready to catch
the tones that awaken ancient memories, most of all resem-
ble the song of Scotia's darling, the Linty, as, by the edge
of some birken shaw, it hymns onwards, beginning at the
hour of twilight, — its melody becoming still softer and
sweeter, as if beneath the mellowing dews — and then, as
if the bird wished to escape the eye of the Star of Eve,
soon about to rise, all of a sudden hushed — and the
songster itself dropped into the broomy brake, or flitted
away into the low edge-trees of the forest ! — There — let
me gently place the " Amulet" in a hand fair even as that
of the Lady of Ilkdale — " a phantom of delight," that will
look upon you, Caroline, almost like your own image in
a mirror, if you but allow the " Amulet" to open of its
own accord — for often and long have I gazed upon that
matchless elegance — if indeed elegance be not too feeble
a word for one so captivating in her conscious accom-
plishments of art, so far more captivating in her uncon-
scious graces of nature. Maiden like thyself is she —
thine elder sister, Caroline — though thou art an only child
— but the " Morning Walk" displays the easy dignity of
the high-born matron — the happy mother teaching, it may
be, her first-born son — the heir of an ancient and noble
house — to brush away, with his gladsome footsteps, the

36 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

dews from the flowers and grass of his own illustrious
father's wide-spread dennesnes !

A fine genius hast thou, Caroline, for painting; and
who of all the old masters, whose works line that long
gallery in the Castle, .surpasses in art or nature the works
of our own Lawrence, pride of his nation and of his age?
The gayest heart, my Caroline, when its gaiety is that of
innocence, is likewise often, when need is, the most grave;
and that such a heart is thine, I saw that night, with
solemn emotions, when, by thy mother's sick-bed, thy
head was bowed down in low sobbing prayers — therefore
will the " Amulet" be not the less, nay, far the more,
pleasant in thy privacy, because the word " Christian" is
on its fair title-page, a sacred word, not misapplied, for
a meek and unobtrusive religion breathes over its leaves
undying fragrance ; so that the " Amulet" may lie on the
couch of the room where friends meet in health and cheer-
fulness, — below the pillow of the room where sickness lies
afar from sorrow, and the patient feels that no medicine
is better for the weakness of the body than that which
soothes and tranquillises the soul.

Last of all — there is the bright-bound, beautiful " Bijou,"
— so brightly bound, that by pressing it to thy bosom, it
will impart very warmth, like a gently-burning fire. You
have been at Abbotsford, Caroline? Indeed I have a
notion that your image has been flitting before our great
romancer's eyes, during more than one of his dreams of
feminine firmness and force of character, that affects the
shade without shunning the sunshine, and by its compo-
sure in the calm, tells how bravely it would stand the
storm. There is Sir Walter and his family, all charac-
teristically figured in rustic guise by the genuis of VVilkie.
And the letter which gives the key to the picture, you will
delight in, as a perfect model of manly simplicity, — of that
dignified reserve with which a great and good man speaks
of himself, and those most near and dear to him, before
the world. You will find there, too, that fragment of
Coleridge's which you have more than once heard me
recite to you from memory — would that you could hear it
murmured in the music of his own most poetical voice, —
" The Wanderings of Cain." Yet why should his divine


genius deal so frequently in fragments? The Muse visits
his slumbers nightly, but seems to forsake him during
unfinished dreams. In " Christabelle," " that singularly
wild and original poem," as Byron rightly called it, mys-
tery is perhaps essential ; and there is a wonder that
ought never to be broken — a dim uncertain light, that is
" darkness visible," and should neither be farther bright-
ened nor obscured. But in the " Wanderings of Cain,"
the subject being Scriptural, and most ruefully and fatally
true, the heart demands that its emotions shall be set at
rest, and every thing told, how dreadful soever it may be,
that the poet foresaw in the agonies of his inspiration.
I fear Coleridge knows that he cannot conclude " The
Wanderings of Cain" according to the meaning of the
Bible, and, therefore, verily his lips are mute. But then,
what exquisite diction ! The imagery how simple, — yet
Oriental all, — and placing us, as it were, on the deserts
bordering on Paradise, at whose gales now flamed the
fiery sword of the Cherubim !

And now, fairest, thou art released from that attitude
in which thou hast so long been standing, obedient to a
garrulous old man — nor yet " thinking his prattle to be
tedious," for too thoroughly good art thou, my Caroline,
to be wearied with any attention which thy high but
humble heart willingly pays to one who bears on his
forehead the authority of gray hairs.

Who now advances with the pink sash so broad — yet
not too broad — with timid though not downcast eyes, and
with footsteps so soft, as noiseless as their own shadows?
Thy sirname is of no moment now — but thy Christian
name is Mary — to my ear the mildest and most musical
and most melancholy of all. Thy poetical library is
already well stored — and so is thy poetical memory — for
the music of sweet verse never enters there but to abide
always — meeting with melodies within, perpetually in-
spired by a thoughtful spirit heeding all things in silent
wonder and love. Yes, Mary, the old man loves to hear
thy low sweet voice repeating some pure and plaintive
strain of Hemans, whose finest verse is steeped in sound
so exquisite, that it sinks with new and deeper meanings
into the heart — or some feeling and fanciful efiiision of

VOL. I. 4

38 Wilson's miscellaneous avritings.

the rich-minded Landon, wandering at eve, with sighs
and tears, amidst the scents of the orange-bloom, and the
moonlight glimmer that tames the myrtle bower. But at
present — I address thee as a small historian — and lo! here
are " The Tales of a Grandfather, being Stories taken from
Scottish History, humbly inscribed to Hugh Litllejohn !"

Hugh Littlojohn is about thine own age, Mary, — and
pleased should I be to see you and him reposing together
on this sofa, reading off one and the same book ! — one of
those three pretty little volumes ! Great, long, broad
quartos and folios, are not for little, short, narrow readers,
like Mary and Hugh. Were one of them, in an attempt to
push it out of its place on the shelf, to tumble upon your
heads, you would all three fall down, with the floor, into
the parlour below. But three such tiny volumes as these
you may carry in your bosom out to the green knolls,
when spring returns, and read them on your knees in the
sunshine. Only you would have to remember not to leave
them there all night; for on your return to look for them
in the morning, you would lift up your hands to see that
they had been stolen by the fairies, after their dance had
ceased on those yellow rings. Children though you be —
you, Mary and Hugh — yet it is natural for you to wish to
know something about the great grown-up people of the
world — how they behave and employ themselves in dif-
ferent countries — all enlightened, as you know, however
distant from one another, by the same sun. But more
especially you love — because you are children — to be told
all about the country in which you yourselves, and your
father and mother, and their father and mother, were born.
Dearly do your young eyes love to pore over the pages of
history, and your young ears to hear the darker passages
explained by one who knows every thing, because he is
old. Now, who do you think is the grandfather that tells
those tales — and who is Hugh Littlejohn to whom they
arc told ? Sir Walter Scott, Mary, is the grandfather, —
and Hugh Littlejohn is no other than dear, sweet, clever
Johnny Lockhart, whose health you and I, and all of us,
shall drink by and by in a glass of cowslip wine. Men are
often desperately wicked — as you who read your Bible
know — and that which is commonly called history, is but


a tale after all of tears and blood — and the lalc-tcllcr too
often cares little whether he is talking about the good or
the bad, vices or virtues, — na}', he too often takes part with
the bad against the good, and seems no more to hate sin
because it triumphs. But Sir Walter is too good, too wise
a man to do so — and as the people of Scotland have, for
many hundred years been, on the whole, an excellent peo-
ple, you will far oftener be glad than sorry in reading their
history as it is told here — and when you have finished all
the volumes and come to Finis, you will think — and there
will be no harm in thinking — that you would rather be —
what you are — a little Scottish girl, than even an English
one — although, now that the two kingdoms have so long
been united into one, Scottish and English girls are all
sisters; and so on, indeed, up to the very oldest old

Never, never ought the time to come when one's own
country is less beloved than any other land. Neither you,
Mary, nor Hugh, must ever be citizens of the world. Wil-
liam Tell, you have heard, was a glorious Swiss peasant,
who made all his countrymen free, and procured for them
liberty to live as they liked, without a great king, who
cared little about them, having it in his power to plague
and humble them in their beautilul little cottages up among
the mountains. Love always and honour his memory —
but love and honour still more the memory of Sir William
Wallace, because he did the same and more for Scot-
land. 1 declare — John with the lunch-tray I


(Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1828.)


We delight, as all the world has long well known, in
every kind of fishing, from the whale to the minnow; but
we also delight, as all the world now well knows, in every
kind of fowling, from the roc to the wren. Not that we
ever killed either a roc or a wren ; but what comes to the
same thing, we have, on two occasions, by design brought
down an eagle, and, on one occasion, accidentally levelled
a tom-tit. In short, we are considerable shakes of a shot;
and, should any one of our readers doubt the fact, his
scepticism will probably be removed by a perusal of the
following article.

There is a fine and beautiful alliance between all pastimes
pursued on flood and field and fell. The principles in hu-
man nature on which they are pursued, arc in all the same;
but those principles are subject to infinite modifications and
varieties, according to the difference of individual and na-
tional character. All such pastimes, whether followed
merely as pastimes, or as professions, or as the immediate
means of sustaining life, require sense, sagacity, and
knowledge of nature and nature's laws ; nor less, patience,
perseverence, courage even, and bodily strength or acti-
vity, while the spirit which animates and supports them is
a spirit of anxiety, doubt, fear, hope, joy, exultation, and
triumph, — in the heart of the young a fierce passion, — in
the heart of the old a passion still, but subdued and tamed


down, without, however, being much dulled or deadened,
by various experience of all the mysteries of the callins;,
and by the gradual subsiding of all impetuous impulses in
the frame of all mortal men beyond perhaps threescore,
when the blackest head will be becoming gray, the most
nervous knee less firmly knit, the most steely-springed in-
step less elastic, the keenest eye less of a far- keeker, and,
above all, the most boiling heart less like a cauldron or a
crater — yea, the whole man subject to some dimness or
decay, and, consequently, the whole duty of man like the
new edition of a book, from which many passages that
formed the chief glory of the cf/i^/o^jm^cf^w have been ex-
punged, and the whole character of the style corrected
indeed, without being improved, — just like the later editions
of the Pleasures of Imagination, which were written by
Akenside when he was about twenty-one, and altered by
liim at forty — to the exclusion or destruction of many most
splcndida vitia, by which process, the poem, in our hum-
ble opinion, was shorn of its brightest beams, and suffered
disastrous twilight and severe eclipse — perplexing critics.

Now, seeing that these pastimes are in number almost
infinite, and infinite the varieties of human character, pray
what is there at all surprising in your being madly fond of
shooting — and your brother Tom just as foolish about fish-
ing — and cousin Jack perfectly insane on fox-hunting —
while the old gentleman your father, in spite of wind and
weather, perennial gout and annual apoplexy, goes
a-coursing of the white-hipped hare on the bleak Yorkshire
wolds — and uncle Ben, as if just escaped from Bedlam or
St. Luke's, with Dr. Haslam at his heels, or with a ^cw
hundred yards' start of Dr. Warburton, is seen galloping,
in a Welsh wig and strange apparel, in the rear of a pack
of Lilliputian beagles, all barking as if they were as mad
as their master, supposed to be in chase of an invisible
animal that keeps eternally doubling in field and forest —
" still hoped for, never seen," and well christened by the
name of Escape?

Phrenology sets the question for ever at rest. All peo[)le
have thirty-three faculties. Now there are but twenty-four
letters in the alphabet — yet how many languages — some
six thousand we believe, each of which is susceptible of



many dialects! No wonder then that you might as well
try to count all the sands on the sea-shore as all the spe-
cies of sportsmen.

There is, therefore, nothing to prevent any man with a
large and sound dcvelopcmcnt from excelling, at once, in
rat-catching and deer-stalking — from being in short a uni-
versal genius in sports and j)astimes. Heaven has made
us such a man.

Yet there seems to be a natural course or progress in
pastimes. We do not speak now of marbles — or knuck-
ling down at taw — or trundling a hoop — or pall-lall — or
pitch and toss— or any other of the games of the school
playground. We restrict ourselves to what, somewhat
inaccurately {)erhaps, are called field-sports. Thus angling
seems the earliest of them all in the order of nature. There
the ncw-brceched urchin stands on the low bridge of the
little bit burnie ! and with crooked pin, baited with one un-
writhing ring of a dead worm, and attached to a yarn
thread, for he has not yet got into hair, «nd is years off
gut, his rod of the more willow or hazel wand, there will
lie stand during all his play-hours, as forgetful of his primer
as if the weary art of printing had never been invented,
day after day, week after week, month after month, in
mute, deep, earnest, j)assionate, hcart-mind-and-soul-
engrossing hope of some time or other catching a minnow
or a boardie ! A tug — a tug! with face ten times flushed
and pale by turns ere you could count ten, he at last has
strength, in the agitation of his fear and joy, to pull away
at the monster — and there he lies in his beauty among the
govvans on the greensward, for he has whappcd him right
over his head and far away, a fish a quarter of an ounce
in weight, and, at the very least, two inches long ! Off he
(lies, on wings of wind, to his father, mother, and sisters,
and brothers, and cousins, and all the neighbourhood, hold-
ing the fish aloft in both hands, still fearful of its escape,
and, like a genuine child of corruption, his eyes brighten
at the first blush of cold blood on his small fishy-fumy
fingers. He carries about with him, up stairs and down
stairs, his prey upon a plate ; he will not wash his hands
before dinner, for he exults in the silver scales adhering to
the thumb-nail that scooped the pin out of the baggy's


maw — and at night, " cabin'd, cribb'd, confined," ho is
overheard murmuring in his sleep, a thief, a robber, and a
murderer, in his yet infant dreams !

From that hour angling is no more a delightful day-
dream, haunted by the dim hopes of imaginary minnows,
but a reality — an art — a science — of which the flaxen-
headed school-boy feels himself to be master — a mystery
in which he has been initiated ; and off he goes now, all
alone, in the power of successful passion, to the distant
brook — brook a mile off — with fields, and hedges, and
single trees, and little groves, and a huge forest of six
acres, between and the house in which he is boarded or
was born ! There flows on the slender music of the sha-
dowy shallows — there pours the deeper din of the birch-
tree'd waterfall. The scared water-pyet flits away from
stone to stone, and dipping, disappears among the airy
bubbles, to him a new sight of joy and wonder. And oh!
how sweet the scent of the broom or furze, yellowing along
the braes, where leap the lambs, less happy than he, on
the knolls of sunshine! His grandfather has given him a
half-crown rod in two pieces — yes, his line is of hair
twisted — platted by his own soon-instructed little fingers.
By heavens, he is fishing with the fly ! and the Fates, who,
grim and grisly as they are painted to be by full-grown,
ungrateful, lying poets, smile like angels upon the paidler
in the brook, winnowing the air with their wings into
western breezes, while at the very first throw the yellow
trout ibrsakes his fastness beneath the bog-wood, and with
a lazy wallop, and then a sudden plunge, and then a race
like lightning, changes at once the child into the boy, and
shoots through his thrilling and aching heart the ecstasy
of a new life expanding in that glorious pastime, even as a
rainbow on a sudden brightens up the sky. Fortmia
favct fortibus — and with one long pull and strong pull, and
pull all together, Johnny lands a twelve-incher on the soft,
smooth, silvery sand of the only bay in all the burn where
such an exploit was possible, and dashing upon him like
an Osprey, soars up with him in his talons to the bank,
breaking his line as he hurries off to a spot of safety
twenty j-ards from the pool, and then flinging him down
on a heath-surrounded plat of sheep-nibbled verdure, lets

44 Wilson's miscellaneous wkitings.

him bounce about till he is tired, and lies gasping with un-
frequent and feeble motions, bright and beautiful, and glo-
rious with all his yellow light, and crimson lustre, spotted,
speckled, and starred in his scaly splendour, beneath a
sun that never shone before so dazzlingly ; but now the
radiance of the captive creature is dimmer and obscured,
for the eye of day winks and seems almost shut behind
that slow-sailing mass of clouds, composed in equal parts
of air, rain, and sunshine.

Springs, summers, autumns, winters, — each within itself
longer, by many times longer than the whole year of grown-
up life that slips at last through one's fingers like a knot-
less thread, — pass over the curled darling's brow; and
look at him now, a straight and strengthy stripling, in the
savage spirit of sport, springing over rock-ledge after rock-
ledge, nor heeding aught as he plashes knee-deep, or waist-

Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 34)