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and all of them it is our intention to take — monthly
during the next ten years — by the nape of the neck — and
after exhibiting them in writhing contortions for a kw
minutes, to duck them — for evermore — into the Pool of

But tremble not — gentle reader — whoever you be — at
such denunciation of our wrath; for sure we are that no
friends of Maga can ever be brought under that ban.
Perhaps we may relent and spare even the dunces; for
our wrath is like that of a summer-wave, rising and falling
with a beautiful burst and break of foam, that frightens
not the seamew, nor even the child sporting on the shore.
And thou — thou art a poet — whatever be the order to
which thou mayest belong — and tlicre are many orders.


believe us, among the true sons of song. Mediocrity
indeed! Wlicre may that line be drawn? How many
ranks — degrees of glory — between William Shakspcare
and Allan Ramsay ! Between Allan Ramsay and the
humblest shepherd that ever tuned the rural pipe to love
on Scotia's pastoral hills ! Nature is not such a niggard
to her children — but scatters her blessed boons wide over
life. Each nook has its own native flower — each grove
its own songster — and methinks the daisy, " wee, modest,
crimson-tippit flower," is little less lovely than the impe-
rial rose; to our hearing, when the nightingale is mute,
most sweetly doth the linnet sing;

" One touch of Nature wakes the whole world of kin."

Surely touches of Nature arc not so rare as to be thought
miraculous; her harp gives-forth music to many a hand;
and though highest genius is the endowment but of a i'ew,
yet genius — that is, geniality — dwells in unnumbered
bosoms, and its breathings are heard wide over all the
world on a thousand airs. Its voice is always recognised
at last, let it whisper as humbly — as lowly as it may ;
and the brow that misses the laurel, or merits it not, may
be encircled with the holly or the broom, emblems both,
in their greenness, of immortality. 'Tis not much of the
divine spirit, after all, that is needed to give a name its
magic. One song — one verse of a song — has consecrated
a peasant's name, who cared not for fame the phantom ;
and unborn ages have wept over the pathos of some tune
which flowed almost unconsciously from the shepherd's
heart, at the " VVaukcn of the fauld," or when waiting b}
moonlight at the Trysting Thorn. Now, much of the
poetical literature of every people is of this character.
Is not Scotland full of it— and all Scottish hearts? Not
the work of intellect, surely — but the finer breath of the
spirit, passion-roused and fancy-fired by the hopes, joys,
and fears of this mortal life!

Surely this must be the spirit in which all poetry — high
or low, humble or ambitious — ought to be read; for only
in such a spirit can its spirit be fully, fixirly, and freely
felt ; and in any other mood, inspiration itself will be


90 Wilson's miscella>'^eous avritings.

wasted and thrown away on oven the most gifted mind.
True, that in states of society exceedingly cuhivated anil
refined — that is to say, artificial — \\ lien the most exquisite
and consummate skill of execution is necessarily aimed at,
and therefore expected, nothing short of the most faultless
perfection of style will secure lo any poet the highest
honours of his art — and at such a period did Horace deli-
ver his celebrated anathema against mediocre bards. But
poetry in the modern world has rarely been so tram-
melled; and genius and feeling have been allowed their
triumphs, in spile of the accompanying defects, deficien-
cies, and faults in taste. It is far better so ; and indeed
the cause of this lies deep in human nature, which seems
to have had depths opened up in it altogether unknown in
the world of old. The very perfection of the Greek
drama proves its inferiority to that of Shakspeare. His
materials are not in nature susceptible of being moulded
into such shapes and forms as were required on the Greek
stage. And as of Shakspeare, so in due degree, in the
cases of all true poets, down to those of even the lowest
order — all of them, without exception, have excelled, not
so much by the power of art as of nature, in whose free
spirit they had tlieir being as poets. An indefinable feel-
ing is excited by their productions — imjjcrfcct, mediocre
in execution, nay, even in design, as many of them are —
a feeling which rises but beneath the breath of genius,
and a certain proof, therefore, of its existence. So noble
— so sacred an achievement is it to give delight to the
spirit through its finer emotions ! So that glory is his
who so moves uy, and gratitude; though ho has done no
more than prcscuit to us a few new images, round wliicli,
by the mysterious constitution of our souls, wc can gather
some dearly-cherished thoughts and feelings, and, when
they are so gathered, know that they are for ever em-
balmed, as it were, in words which it was genius for the
first time to utter, and which, but for genius, could never
have been for our delight or our consolation.

Thus explained, mediocrity in poetry appears at once
to be a height to which, though many aspire, but icw
attain — and which can be reached only by genius. There
are at present in this island, hundreds, ay, thousands,


nay, millions, of writers in verse, who would disdain lo
accept the palm of mediocrity, who turn up their noses at
senior and junior Ops, and dream of nothing less than
being high Wranglers. Yet, among the ci -ttoXXoi will
they remain while they consume crops. It is not in them
lo beautify — or lo embalm beauty; and therefore, as Cow-
ley says, they " like beasts or common people die;" and
their Christian and sirnames get confused among a vast
multitude of the same sound, engraved on tombstones or
printed in directories. The moment a man mounts up on
the scale of mediocrity, he is safe from oblivion, and may
snap his fingers at time. A mediocre poet may be shortly
defined — a man of a million. In poetry, about a devil's
dozen of celestial spirits stand in the first order of the
seraphim or cherubim. The second and third orders con-
lain about fifty lesser angels — but all of them radiant
creatures, with wings. All " the rest," who have names
on earth and in heaven, in number about a hundred, arc
marshalled in the mediocre phalanx — and constitute the
main body of the immortals; and a pretty fellow for im-
pudence you would be, to refuse the gold guinea put into
the palm of your hand by Apollo enlisting you as a young
recruit into the battalion. VVe verily believe that the
numbers of the grenadier company — though there be no
positive law against it — will never go beyond the devil's
dozen — .so high is the standard to which the men must
come up, on their stocking-soles and with shaved heads.
The Light-bobs — now a smart company of fifty — may,
perhaps, on some future day, amount lo threescore — and
the battalion, it is probable, may yet reach the number of
those who died at Thermopylae But were Apollo lo con-
stitute us his recruiting sergeant, and allow us ten gallons
of Glenlivet on each jwet's head, we are free to confess
that the mountain-dew would not lie heavy on the land,
for we do not know above a couple of mediocre young
gentlemen to whom we' should offer the king's bounty —
and one of them, we believe, would go ofl^ in a huff, and
the other hesitate lo enlist into the service, for fear of
angering his mother.

We therefore love all poets, and all poetry ; and the
rank of the man havinsr once been ascertained — which is

92 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

done by the human race holding up its hand — we never
henceforth dream of making odious comparisons — but
enough for us to know from his uniform — green and gold
— from the stars on his breast, and the sun on his standard
— that such or such a hero belongs to the immortals. But
when the whole regiment deploys into line, on some grand
review day — hundreds of thousands of spectators glorying
in the sublime spectacle — Heavens ! what a rabble of
camp-followers ! Of gillies pretending to be real soldiers
— in green corduroys — with wooden muskets — and paper-
caps — treading down the heels of each other's shoes — or
marking time, like so many " hens on a het girdle," to a
band of instrumental music, consisting of three penny
trumpets, and six sonorous small-teeth combs, playing
" Hey tutie tatic^'' in a style far superior to that in which
it ever could have been skirled up to the

Scots Vv'lia had wi' Wallace blod,
Scots wham Bruce had aften led —

at the battle of Bannockburn.

Such being the nature of true poets and true poetry,
and such the light in which they are regarded by the race
whom they elevate — what, pray, it may be asked, did
Mr. Jeffrey mean, t'other day, by saying that all the poets
of this age are forgotten? There are ^c\s people whom
we love and admiie more than Mr. Jeffrey — though we
believe he does not know it ; but why will he, in his
elegant and graceful way, speak such nonsense? Scott,
Byron, Southey, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Moore, are, he
assures us, already all forgotten — or nearly so — fading
av/ay — mere specks on the distant horizon of men's
clouded memories! Why, our dear sir, you might just
us well aflirm that the stars are forgotten, because thou-
sands of coachfuls of people, coming and going to and
from evening parties, are not at the time aware that the
heavens are full of them — that shepherds are watching
by them on the hills — and sailors sailing by them on the
seas — and astronomers coimting them in observatories —
and occasionally discovering one that had been invisible
to the mole-eyes of men since the creation.

Yet in all the nonsense Mr. Jeffrey ever spoke, or may


speak, you always may find some grains of sense — for
who doubts his sagacity and his genius'? True it is that
much admiration do gaping people ejaculate for things
that are admirable, without knowing why or wherefore
they admire; their jaws get wearied — they begin to yawn
— they doze — they sleep — they snore, and the stars, which
arc the poetry of heaven, and poetry, which is the flower-
age as well as the herbage of earth — are of course forgot-
ten by their loud-nosed worshippers. But " millions of
spiritual creatures" are awake amid that snore ; they
forget not the stars of heaven nor the poets of earth.
They hear still the music of the celestial spheres and the
terrestrial singers. In their memories all the hymns have
an abiding place — while they live, think not

" That heaven can want spectators — God want praise !"

The distinction at which we have now pointed, seems
to us to be one which deserves to be attended to by those
who might be disposed to bow to the authority of the most
accomplished ex-edifor of the Edinburgh Review, and,
without thought, to adopt the shallow dictum which lately
dropped from his ingenious pen. Your great and good
living poets are indeed forgotten by thousands who are
incapable of remembering what they never felt nor un-
derstood, — the creations of inspired genius. All such de-
spicable idolaters drop away from their own superstitions ;
and soon cease to worship at shrines built only for those
who belong to the true religion. But the true religion
stands fast — such secession strengthens the established
faith — nor will the poets we have named — and others
little less illustrious — ever be forgotten, till Lethe bursts
its banks and overflows the globe.

Not one of our great or good living poets is forgotten
at this hour by Mr. JeftVey himself — nor any of those
critiques of his own either, in which he did noble justice
to some of them, and ignoble injustice to others, according
to the transient or permanent moods by which his taste,
feeling, and judgment were swayed. Nor are his critiques
themselves likely to be forgotten — soon or ever; for many
of them belong, we verily believe, to our philosophical

94 ^vILSo^''s miscellaneous writings.

literature. But they hold the tenure of their existence
by the existence of the poetry which they sought to illus-
trate or obscure; from the " golden urns of those Poets"
did he " draw light" — the light in which he is himself
conspicuous — and were it extinguished, his literary life
would be a blank. But if the name of Francis Jeffrey
will not be forgotten, till those of Scott, Crabbe, and
Wordsworth, and Byron and the rest are dark or dead,
he may be assured of immortality ; nor, without ingratitude,
can he assert present, or predict future oblivious doom
to luminaries, who, whatever be its own native lustre,
have certainly showered over his genius no small portion
of the brilliance with which it now burns.

Nothing that blockheads are so proud of as to retail
the paradoxes of some distinguished man. T'other even-
ing we allowed one to bother a company for some minutes
with a preachment of the above; and having got him
fairly to entangle himself in the net, out of which Mr.
Jeffrey would have nibbled himself in a moment, and
made his escape with all the agility of a squirrel, we
wrapt it so round his body from snout to tail, that he
literally seemed one bunch of small twine, and had not
left in him so much as the squeak of a mouse. On being
let out of the toils, he took his toddy in silence during the
rest of the evening, and prated no more about the oblivion
of Byron.

Two living poets, however, it seems there are, who,
according to Mr. Jeffrey, are never to be dead ones — two
who are unforgetable, and who owe their immortality —
to what think ye ? — their elegance ? That " Gracilis
Puer,^'' Samuel Rogers, is one of the dual number. His
perfect beauties will never be brought to decay in the eyes
of an enamoured world. lie is so polished, that time can
never take the shine out of him — so classically correct
are his charms, that to the end of time tiiey will be among
the principal Pleasures of Memory. Jacqueline, in her im-
mortal loveliness, seeming Juno, Minerva, and Venus all
in one, will shed in vain " tears such as angels weep"
over the weeds that have in truth " no business there," on
the forgotten grave of Childe Harold ! Very like a whale.
Thomas Campbell is the other pet-poet — " the last of all


the flock." Ay — he, we allow, is a star that will know no
setting; but of this we can assure the whole world, not ex-
ckiding Mr. Jeffrey, that were Mr. Campbell's soul deified,
and a star in the sky, and told by Apollo, who placed him
in the blue region, that Scott and Byron were both buried
somewhere between the Devil and the Deep Sea, he the
author of Lochiel's Warning, would either leap from
Heaven in disdain, or insist on their being instanter one
triple constellation. What to do with his friend Mr.
Rogers, it might not be easy for Mr. Campbell to imagine
or propose at such a critical juncture; but we think it
probable that he would hint to Apollo, on the appearance
of his Lordship and the Baronet, that the Banker, with a
(ew other pretty poets, might be permitted to scintillate
away to all eternity as their — tail.


(Blaclvwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1828.)

Trees are indeed the glory, the beauty, and the delight
of nature. The man who loves not trees — to look at them
— to lie under them — to climb up them, (once more a
schoolboy,) — would make no bones of murdering Mrs.
Jeffs. In what one imaginable attribute, that it ought to
possess, is a tree, pray, deficient'.' Light, shade, shelter,
coolness, freshness, music, all the colours of the rainbow,
dew and dreams dropping through their umbrageous twi-
light at eve or morn, — dropping direct, — soft, sweet, sooth-
ing, and restorative, from heaven. Without trees, how, in
the name of wonder, could we have had houses, ships,
bridges, easy-chairs, or coffins, or almost any single one
of the necessaries, conveniences, or comforts of life ?
Without trees, one man might have been born with a silver
spoon in his mouth, but not another with a wooden ladle.

Tree by itself tree, "such tents the patriarchs loved," —
Ipse nemus, — " the brotherhood of trees," — the grove, the
coppice, the wood, the forest, — dearly, and after a different
fashion, do we love you all ! — And love you all we shall,
while our dim eyes can catch the glimmer, our dull ears
the murmur, of the leaves, — or our imagination hear at
midnight, the far-off swing of old branches groaning in
the tempest. Oh ! is not merry also sylvan England l
And has not Scotland, too, her old pine forests, blackening
up her highland mountains? Are not many of her rivered
valleys not unadorned with woods, — her braes beautiful
with their birken shaws ? — And does not stately ash or
sycamore tower above the kirk-spire, in many a quiet glen,
overshadowing the humble house of God, " the dial-stone


aged and green," and all the deep-sunk, sinking, or upright
array of grave-stones, beneath which

"The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep ?"

We have the highest respect for the ghost of Dr. John-
son ; yet were we to meet it by moonlight, how should we
make it hang its head on the subject of Scottish trees !
Look there, you old, blind, blundering blockhead ! That
pine forest is twenty miles square ! Many million trees,
there, have at least five hundred arms each, six times as
thick as ever your body was, sir, when you were at your
very fattest in Bolt Court. As for their trunks — some
straight as cathedral pillars — some flung all awry in their
strength across cataracts — some without a twig till your
eye meets the hawk's nest diminished to a black-bird's,
and some overspread, from within a man's height of the
mossy sward, with fantastic branches, cone-covered, and
green as emerald — what say you, you great, big, lumber-
ing, unwieldy ghost you, to trunks like these? And are
not the forests of Scotland the most forgiving that ever
were self-sown, to suffer you to flit to and fro, haunting
unharmed their ancient umbrage? Yet — Doctor — you
were a fine old Tory every inch of you, for all that, my
boy — so come glimmering away with you into the gloom
after us — don't stumble over the roots — we smell a still at
work — and neither you nor I — shadow nor substance (but,
prithee, why so wan, good Doctor ? Prithee, why so wan ?)
can be much the worse, eh, of a caulker of Glenlivat ?

Every man of landed property, that lies fairly out of
arm's-length of a town, whether free or copyhold, be its
rental above or below forty shillings a-year, should be a
planter. Even an old bachelor, who has no right to be-
come the father of a child, is not only free, but in duty
bound to plant a tree. Unless his organ of philoprogeni-
tiveness be small indeed, as he looks at the young, lender
plants in his own nursery-garden, his heart will yearn to-
wards them with all the lonsiing and instinctive fondness
of a father. As he beholds them putting forth the tender
buds of hope, he will be careful to preserve them from all
blight, — he will " teach the young idea how to shoot," —

VOL. I. 9

98 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

and, according to their different natures, he will send them
to different places to complete their education, according
as they are ultimately intended for the church, the bar, or
the navy. The old gentleman will be surprised to see
how soon his young plants have grown as tall as himself,
even though he should be an extraordinary member of the
Six Feet Club. An oak sapling, of some five or six springs,
shall measure with him on his stocking-soles, — and a larch,
considerably younger, laugh to shake its pink cones far
over his wig. But they are all dutiful children, — never go
stravaiging from home after youthful follies, — and standing
together in beautiful bands, and in majestic masses, they
will not suffer the noonday sun to smite their father's head,
nor the winds of lieaven to " visit his face too roughly."

People are sometimes prevented from planting trees by
the slowness of their growth. What a mistake that is !
People might just as well be prevented from being wed,
because a man-child takes one-and-twenty years to get out
of his minority, and a woman-child, except in hot climates,
is rarely marriageable before fifteen. Not the least fear
in the world, that Tommy and Thomasine and the tree
will grow up fast enough — wither at the top — and die ! It
is a strange fear to feel — a strange complaint to utter —
that any one thing in this world, animate or inanimate, is
of too slow growth ; for the nearer to its perfection, the
nearer to its decay.

No man, who enjoys good health, at fifty, or even sixty,
would hesitate, if much in love, to take a wife, on the
ground that he could have no hope or chance of seeing
his numerous children all grown up into hobbledehoys and
Priscilla Tomboys. Get your children first, and let them
grow at their own leisure afterwards. In like manner, let
no man, bachelor or Benedict, be his age beyond the limit
of conversational confession, fear to lay out a nursery-
garden, — to fill it with young seedlings, — and thencefor-
ward, to keep planting away, up hill and down brae, all the
rest of his life.

Besides, in every stage, how interesting, both a wood
and sap tree, and a ffesh and blood child ! Look at pretty,
ten-year-old, rosy -cheeked, golden-haired Mary, gazing,
with all the blue brightness of her eyes, at that large dew-


drop, which the sun has let escape unmelted even on into
the meridian hours, on the topmost pink-bud, within which
the teeming leaf struggles to expand into beauty, — the
topmost pink-bud of that little lime-tree, but three winters
old, and half a spring ! — Hark ! that is Harry, at home on
a holiday, rustling like a roe in the coppicewood, in search
of the nest of the blackbird or mavis; — yet ten years ago
that rocky hill-side was unplanted, and " that bold boy, so
bright and beautiful," unborn. Who, then, — be his age
what it may, — ^would either linger, " with fond, reluctant,
amorous delay," to take unto himself a wife, for the pur-
pose of having children, or to enclose a waste for the
purpose of having trees '.'

At what time of life a human being, — man or woman,
— looks best, it might be hard to say. A virgin of eighteen,
straight and tall, bright, blooming, and balmy, seems, to
our old eyes, a very beautiful and delightful sight. In-
wardly we bless hei", and pray that she may be as happy
as she is innocent. So, too, is an oak tree, about the same
age, standing by itself, without a twig on its straight,
smooth, round, glossy, silver stem, for some few feet from
the ground, and then branching out into a stately flutter of
dark green leaves ; the shape being indistinct in its regular
but not formal over-fallings, and over-foldings, and over-
hangings, of light and shade. Such an oak tree is indeed
truly beautiful, with all its tenderness, gracefulness, and
delicacy, — ay, a delicacy almost seeming to be fragile, —
as if the cushat, whirring from its concealment, would
crush the new spring-shoots, sensitive almost as the gos-
samer, with which every twig is intertwined. Leaning on
our staff, we bless it, and call it even by that very virgin's
name ; and ever thenceforth behold Louisa lying in its
shade. — Gentle reader, what it is to be an old, dreamy,
visionary, prosing poet !

Good God ! let any one who accuses trees of laz' icss in
growing only keep out of sight of them for a Cew years ;
and then, returning home to them under cloud of night, all
at once open his eyes, of a fine, sunny, summer morning,
and ask them how they have been since he and they mu-
tually murmured farewell ! He will not recognise the face,
or the figure of a single tree. That sycamore, whose top-

100 wilson'8 miscellaneous writings.

shoot a cow, you know, browsed off, to the breaking of
your heart, some four or five years ago, is now as high as
the " riggin" of the cottage, and is murmuring with bees
among its blossoms quite like an old tree. What preco-
city ! That Wych elm, hidebound as it seemed of yore,
and with only one arm that it could hardly lift from its
side, is now a Briareus. Is that the larch you used to
hop over? — now almost fit to be a mast of one of the fairy
fleet on Windermere ! — you thought you would never have
forgotten the triangle of the three birches, — but you stare

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