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National Library of Scotland 

Digitized by tine Internet Arciiive 

in 2010 witii funding from 

National Library of Scotland 

This Edinburgh Edition consists of 

one thousand and thirty-five copies 

all numbered 




Vol. I. of issue : Nov. 1894 




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18 94 

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R. L. S. 











First Collected Edition : Seeley and Co. , 

London, 1879. 

Originally published in the ' Portfolio ' 

{Seeley and Co.), 1878, with etchings by 

A. Brunet-Debaines after Sam Bough 

and W. E. Lockhart. 







Old Town : The Lands . 



The ParUament Close 



Legends .... 






New Town : Town and Country 



The Villa Quarters 



The Calton Hill . 



Winter and New Year . 



To the Pentland Hills . 




The ancient and famous metropolis of the North sits 
overlooking a windy estuary from the slope and 
summit of three hills. No situation could be more 
commanding for the head city of a kingdom ; none 
better chosen for noble prospects. From her tall 
precipice and terraced gardens she looks far and wide 
on the sea and broad champaigns. To the east you 
may catch at sunset the spark of the May light- 
house, where the Firth expands into the German 
Ocean ; and away to the west, over all the carse of 
Stirling you can see the first snows upon Ben 

But Edinburgh pays cruelly for her high seat in 
one of the vilest climates under heaven. She is 
liable to be beaten upon by all the winds that blow, 
to be drenched with rain, to be buried in cold sea 
fogs out of the east, and powdered with the snow as 
it comes flying southward from the Highland hills. 
The weather is raw and boisterous in winter, shifty 
and ungenial in summer, and a downright meteoro- 
logical purgatory in the spring. The dehcate die 



early, and I, as a survivor, among bleak winds and 
plumping rain, have been sometimes tempted to envy 
them their fate. For all w^ho love shelter and 
the blessings of the sun, who hate dark weather 
and perpetual tilting against squalls, there could 
scarcely be found a more unhomely and harassing 
place of residence. Many such aspire angrily after 
that Somewhere-else of the imagination, where all 
troubles are supposed to end. They lean over the 
great bridge which joins the New Town with the 
Old — that windiest spot, or high altar, in this north- 
ern temple of the winds — and watch the trains 
smoking out from under them and vanishing into the 
tunnel on a voyage to brighter skies. Happy the 
passengers who shake off the dust of Edinburgh, 
and have heard for the last time the cry of the east 
wind among her chimney -tops ! And yet the place 
establishes an interest in people's hearts ; go where 
they will, they find no city of the same distinction ; 
go where they will, they take a pride in their old 

Venice, it has been said, differs from all other cities 
in the sentiment which she inspires. The rest may 
have admirers ; she only, a famous fair one, counts 
lovers in her train. And indeed, even by her kindest 
friends, Edinburgh is not considered in a similar 
sense. These like her for many reasons, not any 
one of which is satisfactory in itself They like her 
whimsically, if you will, and somewhat as a virtuoso 
dotes upon his cabinet. Her attraction is romantic 
in the narrowest meaning of the term. Beautiful as 


she is, she is not so much beautiful as interesting. 
She is pre-eminently Gothic, and all the more so 
since she has set herself off with some Greek airs, 
and erected classic temples on her crags. In a word, 
and above all, she is a curiosity. The Palace of 
Holyrood has been left aside in the growth of Edin- 
burgh, and stands grey and silent in a workman's 
quarter and among breweries and gas-works. It is 
a house of many memories. Great people of yore, 
Idngs and queens, buffoons and grave ambassadors, 
played their stately farce for centuries in Holyrood. 
Wars have been plotted, dancing has lasted deep 
into the night, murder has been done in its chambers. 
There Prince Charlie held his phantom levees, and 
in a very gallant manner represented a fallen dynasty 
for some hours. Now, all these things of clay are 
mingled with the dust, the king's crown itself is 
shown for sixpence to the vulgar ; but the stone 
palace has outlived these changes. For fifty weeks 
together, it is no more than a show for tourists and 
a museum of old furniture ; but on the fifty-first, 
behold the palace reawakened and mimicking its 
past. The Lord Commissioner, a kind of stage 
sovereign, sits among stage courtiers ; a coach and 
six and clattering escort come and go before the gate; 
at night, the windows are lighted up, and its near 
neighbours, the workmen, may dance in their own 
houses to the palace music. And in this the palace 
is typical. There is a spark among the embers ; 
from time to time the old volcano smokes. Edin- 
burgh has but partly abdicated, and still wears, in 



parody, her metropolitan trappings. Half a capital 
and half a country town, the whole city leads a 
double existence ; it has long trances of the one and 
flashes of the other ; like the king of the Black Isles, 
it is half alive and half a monumental marble. There 
are armed men and cannon in the citadel overhead ; 
you may see the troops marshalled on the high 
parade ; and at night after the early winter evenfall, 
and in the morning before the laggard winter dawn, 
the wind carries abroad over Edinburgh the sound of 
drums and bugles. Grave judges sit bewigged in 
what was once the scene of imperial deliberations. 
Close by in the High Street perhaps the trumpets 
may sound about the stroke of noon ; and you see a 
troop of citizens in tawdry masquerade ; tabard above, 
heather-mixture trouser below, and the men them- 
selves trudging in the mud among unsympathetic 
bystanders. The grooms of a well-appointed circus 
tread the streets with a better presence. And yet 
these are the Heralds and Pursuivants of Scotland, 
who are about to proclaim a new law of the United 
Kingdom before two score boys, and thieves, and 
hackney-coachmen. Meanwhile, every hour the bell 
of the University rings out over the hum of the 
streets, and every hour a double tide of students, 
coming and going, fills the deep archways. And 
lastly, one night in the spring-time — or say one 
morning rather, at the peep of day — late folk may 
hear the voices of many men singing a psalm in 
unison from a church on one side of the old 
High Street ; and a little after, or perhaps a little 


before, the sound of many men singing a psalm in 
unison from another church on the opposite side of 
the way. There will be something in the words 
about the dew of Hermon, and how goodly it is to 
see brethren dwelling together in unity. And the 
late folk will tell themselves that all this singing 
denotes the conclusion of two yearly ecclesiastical 
parliaments — the parliaments of Churches which are 
brothers in many admirable virtues, but not specially 
like brothers in this particular of a tolerant and 
peaceful life. 

Again, meditative people will find a charm in a 
certain consonancy between the aspect of the city 
and its odd and stirring history. Few places, if any, 
offer a more barbaric display of contrasts to the eye. 
In the very midst stands one of the most satisfactory 
crags in nature — a Bass Rock upon dry land, rooted 
in a garden, shaken by passing trains, carrying a 
crown of battlements and turrets, and describing its 
warlike shadow over the liveliest and brightest 
thoroughfare of the new town. From their smoky 
beehives, ten stories high, the unwashed look down 
upon the open squares and gardens of the wealthy ; 
and gay people sunning themselves along Princes 
Street, with its mile of commercial palaces all be- 
flagged upon some great occasion, see, across a 
gardened valley set with statues, where the washings 
of the old town flutter in the breeze at its high win- 
dows. And then, upon all sides, what a clashing of 
architecture ! In this one valley, where the life of 
the town goes most busily forward, there may be 



seen, shown one above and behind another by the 
accidents of the ground, buildings in ahnost every 
style upon the globe. Egyptian and Greek temples, 
Venetian palaces and Gothic spires, are huddled one 
over another in a most admired disorder ; while, 
above all, the brute mass of the Castle and the sum- 
mit of Arthur's Seat look down upon these imitations 
with a becoming dignity, as the works of Nature may 
look down upon the monuments of Art. But Nature 
is a more indiscriminate patroness than we imagine, 
and in no way frightened of a strong effect. The 
birds roost as willingly among the Corinthian capitals 
as in the crannies of the crag ; the same atmosphere 
and daylight clothe the eternal rock and yesterday's 
imitation portico ; and as the soft northern sunshine 
throws out everything into a glorified distinctness — 
or easterly mists, coming up with the blue evening, 
fuse all these incongruous features into one, and the 
lamps begin to glitter along the street, and faint 
lights to burn in the high windows across the 
valley — the feeling grows upon you that this also is 
a piece of nature in the most intimate sense ; that 
this profusion of eccentricities, this dream in masonry 
and living rock, is not a drop-scene in a theatre, but 
a city in the world of every-day reality, connected 
by railway and telegraph-wire with all the capitals 
of Europe, and inhabited by citizens of the familiar 
type, who keep ledgers, and attend church, and have 
sold their immortal portion to a daily paper. By 
all the canons of romance, the place demands to 
be half deserted and leaning towards decay ; birds 


we might admit in profusion, the play of the sun 
and winds, and a few gipsies encamped in the chief 
thoroughfare ; but these citizens, with their cabs and 
tramways, their trains and posters, are altogether out 
of key. Chartered tourists, they make free with 
historic localities, and rear their young among the 
most picturesque sites with a grand human indiffer- 
ence. To see them thronging by, in their neat 
clothes and conscious moral rectitude, and with a 
little air of possession that verges on the absurd, is 
not the least striking feature of the place.^ 

And the story of the town is as eccentric as its 
appearance. For centuries it was a capital thatched 
with heather, and more than once, in the evil days 
of English invasion, it has gone up in flame to 
heaven, a beacon to ships at sea. It was the joust- 
ing-ground of jealous nobles, not only on Greenside 
or by the King's Stables, where set tournaments 
were fought to the sound of trumpets and under the 

^ These sentences have, I hear, given offence in my native town, and a 
proportionable pleasure to our rivals of Glasgow. I confess the news 
caused me both pain and merriment. May I remark, as a balm for 
wounded fellow-townsmen, that there is nothing deadly in my accusations.'' 
Small blame to them if they keep ledgers : 'tis an excellent business 
habit. Church -going is not, that ever I heard, a subject of reproach ; 
decency of linen is a mark of prosperous aifairs, and conscious moral 
rectitude one of the tokens of good living. It is not their fault if the 
city calls for something more specious by way of inhabitants. A man in 
a frock-coat looks out of place upon an Alp or Pyramid, although he has 
the virtues of a Peabody and the talents of a Bentham. And let them 
console themselves — they do as well as anybody else ; the population of 
(let us say) Chicago would cut quite as rueful a figure on the same 
romantic stage. To the Glasgow people I would say only one word, but 
that is of gold : / have not yet written a hook about Glasgow. 



authority of the royal presence, but in every alley 
where there was room to cross swords, and in the 
main street, where popular tumult under the Blue 
Blanket alternated with the brawls of outlandish 
clansmen and retainers. Down in the palace John 
Knox reproved his queen in the accents of modern 
democracy. In the town, in one of those little shops 
plastered like so many swallows' nests among the 
buttresses of the old Cathedral, that familiar autocrat, 
James vi., would gladly share a bottle of wine with 
George Heriot the goldsmith. Up on the Pent- 
land Hills, that so quietly look down on the Castle 
with the city lying in waves around it, those mad 
and dismal fanatics, the Sweet Singers, haggard from 
long exposure on the moors, sat day and night with 
' tearful psalms ' to see Edinburgh consumed with 
fire from heaven, like another Sodom or Gomorrah. 
There, in the Grassmarket, stiff-necked, covenanting 
heroes offered up the often unnecessary, but not less 
honourable, sacrifice of their lives, and bade eloquent 
farewell to sun, moon, and stars, and earthly friend- 
ships, or died silent to the roll of drums. Down by 
yon outlet rode Grahame of Claverhouse and his 
thirty dragoons, with the town beating to arms 
behind their horses' tails — a sorry handful thus riding 
for their lives, but with a man at the head who was 
to return in a different temper, make a dash that 
staggered Scotland to the heart, and die happily in 
the thick of fight. There Aikenhead was hanged for 
a piece of boyish incredulity ; there, a few years 
afterwards, David Hume ruined Philosophy and 



Faith, an undisturbed and well-reputed citizen ; and 
thither, in yet a few years more, Burns came from 
the plough-tail, as to an academy of gilt unbelief 
and artificial letters. There, when the great exodus 
was made across the valley, and the New Town 
began to spread abroad its draughty parallelograms 
and rear its long frontage on the opposing hill, there 
was such a flitting, such a change of domicile and 
dweller, as was never excelled in the history of 
cities : the cobbler succeeded the earl ; the beggar 
ensconced himself by the judge's chimney ; what 
had been a palace was used as a pauper refuge ; and 
great mansions were so parcelled out among the 
least and lowest in society, that the hearthstone of 
the old proprietor was thought large enough to be 
partitioned off into a bedroom by the new. 



The Old Town, it is pretended, is the chief charac- 
teristic, and, from a picturesque point of view, the 
liver-wing of Edinburgh. It is one of the most 
common forms of depreciation to throw cold water 
on the whole by adroit over-commendation of a part, 
since everything worth judging, whether it be a man, 
a work of art, or only a fine city, must be judged 
upon its merits as a whole. The Old Town depends 
for much of its effect on the new quarters that lie 



around it, on the sufficiency of its situation, and on 
the hills that back it up. If you were to set it some- 
where else by itself, it would look remarkably like 
Stirling in a bolder and loftier edition. The point 
is to see this embellished Stirling planted in the 
midst of a large, active, and fantastic modern city ; 
for there the two react in a picturesque sense, and 
the one is the making of the other. 

The Old Town occupies a slophig ridge or tail of 
diluvial matter, protected, in some subsidence of the 
waters, by the Castle cliifs which fortify it to the 
west. On the one side of it and the other the new 
towns of the south and of the north occupy their 
lower, broader, and more gentle hill-tops. Thus, the 
quarter of the Castle overtops the whole city and 
keeps an open view to sea and land. It dominates 
for miles on every side ; and people on the decks of 
ships, or ploughing in quiet country places over in 
Fife, can see the banner on the Castle battlements, 
and the smoke of the Old Town blowing abroad 
over the subjacent country. A city that is set upon 
a hill. It was, I suppose, from this distant aspect 
that she got her nickname of Auld Reekie. Per- 
haps it was given her by people who had never 
crossed her doors : day after day, from their various 
rustic Pisgahs, they had seen the pile of building on 
the hill-top, and the long plume of smoke over the 
plain ; so it appeared to them ; so it had appeared to 
their fathers tilling the same field ; and as that was 
all they knew of the place, it could be all expressed 
in these two words. 



Indeed, even on a nearer view, the Old Town is 
properly smoked ; and though it is well washed with 
rain all the year round, it has a grim and sooty aspect 
among its younger suburbs. It grew, under the law 
that regulates the growth of walled cities in pre- 
carious situations, not in extent, but in height and 
density. Public buildings were forced, wherever 
there was room for them, into the midst of thorough- 
fares ; thoroughfares were diminished into lanes ; 
houses sprang up story after story, neighbour mount- 
ing upon neighbour's shoulder, as in some Black 
Hole of Calcutta, until the population slept fourteen 
or fifteen deep in a vertical direction. The tallest of 
these lands, as they are locally termed, have long 
since been burnt out ; but to this day it is not un- 
common to see eight or ten windows at a flight; 
and the cliff of building which hangs imminent over 
Waverley Bridge would still put many natural pre- 
cipices to shame. The cellars are already high above 
the gazer's head, planted on the steep hill-side; as 
for the garret, all the furniture may be in the pawn- 
shop, but it commands a famous prospect to the 
Highland hills. The poor man may roost up there 
in the centre of Edinburgh, and yet have a peep of 
the green country from his window ; he shall see the 
quarters of the well-to-do fathoms underneath, with 
their broad squares and gardens ; he shall have 
nothing overhead but a few spires, the stone top- 
gallants of the city ; and perhaps the wind may reach 
him with a rustic pureness, and bring a smack of the 
sea, or of flowering lilacs in the spring. 



It is almost the correct literary sentiment to 
deplore the revolutionary improvements of Mr. 
Chambers and his following. It is easy to be a conser- 
vator of the discomforts of others ; indeed, it is only 
our good quaUties we find it irksome to conserve. 
Assuredly, in driving streets through the black 
labyrinth, a few curious old corners have been swept 
away, and some associations turned out of house and 
home. But what slices of sunlight, what breaths of 
clean air, have been let in ! And what a picturesque 
world remains untouched ! You go under dark 
arches, and down dark stairs and alleys. The way 
is so narrow that you can lay a hand on either wall ; 
so steep that, in greasy winter weather, the pave- 
ment is almost as treacherous as ice. Washing 
dangles above washing from the windows ; the 
houses bulge outwards upon flimsy brackets ; yovi 
see a bit of sculpture in a dark corner ; at the top of 
all, a gable and a few crowsteps are printed on the 
sky. Here, you come into a court where the 
children are at play and the grown people sit upon 
their doorsteps, and perhaps a church spire shows 
itself above the roofs. Here, in the narrowest of the 
entry, you find a great old mansion still erect, with 
some insignia of its former state — some scutcheon, 
some holy or courageous motto, on the lintel. The 
local antiquary points out where famous and well- 
born people had their lodging ; and as you look up, 
out pops the head of a slatternly woman from the 
countess's window. The Bedouins camp within 
Pharaoh's palace walls, and the old war-ship is given 


over to the rats. We are already a far way from the 
days when powdered heads were plentiful in these 
alleys, with jolly, port- wine faces underneath. Even 
in the chief thoroughfares Irish washings flutter at 
the windows, and the pavements are encumbered 
with loiterers. 

These loiterers are a true character of the scene. 
Some shrewd Scotch workmen may have paused on 
their way to a job, debating Church affairs and 
politics with their tools upon their arm. But the 
most part are of a different order — skulking jail-birds ; 
unkempt, bare-foot children ; big-mouthed, robust 
women, in a sort of uniform of striped flannel petti- 
coat and short tartan shawl : among these, a few 
supervising constables and a dismal sprinkling of 
mutineers and broken men from higher ranks in 
society, with some mark of better days upon them, 
like a brand. In a place no larger than Edinburgh, 
and where the traffic is mostly centred in five or six 
chief streets, the same face comes often under the 
notice of an idle stroller. In fact, from this point of 
view, Edinburgh is not so much a small city as the 
largest of small towns. It is scarce possible to avoid 
observing your neighbours ; and I never yet heard of 
any one who tried. It has been my fortune, in this 
anonymous accidental way, to watch more than one 
of these downward travellers for some stages on the 
road to ruin. One man must have been upwards of 
sixty before I first observed him, and he made then a 
decent, personable figure in broadcloth of the best. 
For three years he kept falling — grease coming and 



buttons going from the square-skirted coat, the face 
puffing and pimpling, the shoulders growing bowed, 
the hair falling scant and grey upon his head ; and 
the last that ever I saw of him, he was standing at 
the mouth of an entry with several men in moleskin, 
three parts drunk, and his old black raiment daubed 
with mud. I fancy that I still can hear him laugh. 
There was something heart-breaking in this gradual 
declension at so advanced an age ; you would have 
thought a man of sixty out of the reach of these 
calamities; you would have thought that he was 
niched by that time into a safe place in life, whence 
he could pass quietly and honourably into the 

One of the earliest marks of these degringolades 
is, that the victim begins to disappear from the New 
Town thoroughfares, and takes to the High Street, 
like a wounded animal to the woods. And such an 
one is the type of the quarter. It also has fallen 
socially. A scutcheon over the door somewhat jars 
in sentiment where there is a washing at every 
window. The old man, when I saw him last, wore 
the coat in which he had played the gentleman three 
years before ; and that was just what gave him so 
pre-eminent an air of wretchedness. 

It is true that the over-population was at least as 
dense in the epoch of lords and ladies, and that 
now-a-days some customs which made Edinburgh 
notorious of yore have been fortunately pretermitted. 
But an aggregation of comfort is not distasteful like 
an aggregation of the reverse. Nobody cares how 


many lords and ladies, and divines and lawyers, may 
have been crowded into these houses in the past — 
perhaps the more the merrier. The glasses clink 
around the china punch-bowl, some one touches the 
virginals, there are peacocks' feathers on the chimney, 
and the tapers burn clear and pale in the red firelight. 
That is not an ugly picture in itself, nor will it 
become ugly upon repetition. All the better if the 
like were going on in every second room ; the land 
would only look the more inviting. Times are 
changed. In one house, perhaps, two score families 
herd together ; and, perhaps, not one of them is 
wholly out of the reach of want. The great hotel is 
given over to discomfort from the foundation to the 
chimney-tops ; everywhere a pinching, narrow habit, 
scanty meals, and an air of sluttishness and dirt. In 
the first room there is a birth, in another a death, in 
a third a sordid drinking-bout, and the detective and 
the Bible-reader cross upon the stairs. High words 
are audible from dwelling to dwelling, and children 
have a strange experience from the first ; only a 
robust soul, you would think, could grow up in such 
conditions without hurt. And even if God tempers 
his dispensations to the young, and all the iU does 
not arise that our apprehensions may forecast, the 
sight of such a way of living is disquieting to people 
who are more happily circumstanced. Social in- 
equahty is nowhere more ostentatious than at 
Edinburgh. I have mentioned already how, to 
the stroller along Princes Street, the High Street 
callously exhibits its back garrets. It is true, there 

B 17 


is a garden between. And although nothing could 
be more glaring by way of contrast, sometimes the 
opposition is more immediate ; sometimes the thing 
lies in a nutshell, and tiiere is not so much as a blade 
of grass between the rich and poor. To look over 
the South Bridge and see the Cowgate below full of 
crying hawkers, is to view one rank of society from 
another in the twinkling of an eye. 

One night I went along the Cowgate after every 
one was abed but the policeman, and stopped by 
hazard before a tall land. The moon touched upon 
its chimneys, and shone blankly on the upper win- 
dows ; there was no light anywhere in the great bulk 
of building ; but as I stood there it seemed to me 
that I could hear quite a body of quiet sounds from 
the interior ; doubtless there were many clocks 
ticking, and people snoring on their backs. And 
thus, as I fancied, the dense life within made itself 
faintly audible in my ears, family after family con- 
tributing its quota to the general hum, and the whole 
pile beating in tune to its time-pieces, like a great 
disordered heart. Perhaps it was little more than a 
fancy altogether, but it was strangely impressive at 
the time, and gave me an imaginative measure of 
the disproportion between the quantity of living 
flesh and the trifling walls that separated and con- 
tained it. 

There was nothing fanciful, at least, but every 

circumstance of terror and reality, in the fall of the 

land in the High Street. The building had grown 

rotten to the core ; the entry underneath had sud- 



denly closed up so that the scavenger's barrow could 
not pass ; cracks and reverberations sounded through 
the house at night ; the inhabitants of the huge old 
human bee-hive discussed their peril when they 
encountered on the stair ; some had even left their 
dwellings in a panic of fear, and returned to them 
again in a fit of economy or self-respect ; when, in 
the black hours of a Sunday morning, the whole 
structure ran together with a hideous uproar and 
tumbled story upon story to the ground. The phy- 
sical shock was felt far and near ; and the moral 
shock travelled with the morning milkmaid into all 
the suburbs. The church-bells never sounded more 
dismally over Edinburgh than that grey forenoon. 
Death had made a brave harvest ; and, like Samson, 
by pulling down one roof destroyed many a home. 
None who saw it can have forgotten the aspect of 
the gable : here it was plastered, there papered, 
according to the rooms ; here the kettle still stood 
on the hob, high overhead ; and there a cheap picture 
of the Queen was pasted over the chimney. So, by 
this disaster, you had a glimpse into the life of thirty 
families, all suddenly cut off from the revolving 
years. The land had fallen ; and with the land 
how much ! Far in the country, people saw a gap 
in the city ranks, and the sun looked through be- 
tween the chimneys in an unwonted place. And 
all over the world, in London, in Canada, in New 
Zealand, fancy what a multitude of people could 
exclaim with truth : ^ The house that I was born in 

fell last night !' 





Time has wrought its changes most notably around 
the precinct of St. Giles's Church. The church itself, 
if it were not for the spire, would be unrecognisable ; 
the Krames are all gone, not a shop is left to shelter 
in its buttresses ; and zealous magistrates and a mis- 
guided architect have shorn the design of manhood, 
and left it poor, naked, and pitifully pretentious. As 
St. Giles's must have had in former days a rich and 
quaint appearance now forgotten, so the neighbour- 
hood was bustling, sunless, and romantic. It was 
here that the town was most overbuilt ; but the 
overbuilding has been all rooted out, and not only a 
free fairway left along the High Street, with an open 
space on either side of the church, but a great port- 
hole, knocked in the main line of the lands, gives an 
outlook to the north and the New Town. 

There is a silly story of a subterranean passage 
between the Castle and Holyrood, and a bold High- 
land piper who volunteered to explore its windings. 
He made his entrance by the upper end, playing a 
strathspey ; the curious footed it after him down 
the street, following his descent by the sound of the 
chanter from below ; until all of a sudden, about the 
level of St. Giles's, the music came abruptly to an 
end, and the people in the street stood at fault with 
hands uplifted. Whether he was choked with gases, 


or perished in a quag, or was removed bodily by the 
Evil One, remains a point of doubt ; but the piper 
has never again been seen or heard of from that day 
to this. Perhaps he wandered down into the land of 
Thomas the Rhymer, and some day, when it is least 
expected, may take a thought to revisit the sunlit 
upper world. That will be a strange moment for the 
cabmen on the stance beside St. Giles's, when they 
hear the drone of his pipes reascending from the 
bowels of the earth below their horses' feet. 

But it is not only pipers who have vanished, many 
a solid bidk of masonry has been hkewise spirited into 
the air. Here, for example, is the shape of a heart 
let into the causeway. This was tl>e site of the Tol- 
booth, the Heart of Midlothian, a place old in story 
and name-father to a noble book. The walls are now 
down in the dust ; there is no more squalor carceris 
for merry debtors, no more cage for the old, acknow- 
ledged prison-breaker; but the sun and the wind 
play freely over the foundations of the jail. Nor is 
this the only memorial that the pavement keeps of 
former days. The ancient burying-ground of Edin- 
burgh lay behind St. Giles's Church, running down- 
hill to the Cowgate and covering the site of the 
present Parliament House. It has disappeared as 
utterly as the prison or the Luckenbooths ; and for 
those ignorant of its history, I know only one token 
that remains. In the Parliament Close, trodden 
daily underfoot by advocates, two letters and a date 
mark the resting-place of the man who made Scot- 
land over again in his own image, the indefatigable, 



undissuadable John Knox. He sleeps within call of 
the church that so often echoed to his preaching. 

Hard by the reformer, a bandy-legged and gar- 
landed Charles Second, made of lead, bestrides a tun- 
bellied charger. The King has his back turned, and, 
as you look, seems to be trotting clumsily away from 
such a dangerous neighbour. Often, for hours to- 
gether, these two will be alone in the Close, for it 
lies out of the way of all but legal traffic. On one 
side the south wall of the church, on the other the 
arcades of the Parliament House, enclose this irregular 
bight of causeway and describe their shadows on it 
in the sun. At either end, from round St. Giles's 
buttresses, you command a look into the High Street 
with its motley passengers ; but the stream goes by, 
east and west, and leaves the Parliament Close to 
Charles the Second and the birds. Once in a while, 
a patient crowd may be seen loitering there all day, 
some eating fruit, some reading a newspaper ; and to 
judge by their quiet demeanour, you would think 
they were waiting for a distribution of soup-tickets. 
The fact is far otherwise ; within in the Justiciary 
Court a man is upon trial for his life, and these are 
some of the curious for whom the gallery was found 
too narrow. Towards afternoon, if the prisoner is 
vmpopular, there will be a round of hisses when he is 
brought forth. Once in a while, too, an advocate in 
wig and gown, hand upon mouth, full of pregnant 
nods, sweeps to and fro in the arcade listening to an 
agent ; and at certain regular hours a whole tide of 
lawyers hurries across the space. 



The Parliament Close has been the scene of mark- 
ing incidents in Scottish history. Thus, when the 
Bishops were ejected from the Convention in 1688, 
'all fourteen of them gathered together with pale 
faces and stood in a cloud in the Parliament Close : ' 
poor episcopal personages who were done with fair 
weather for life ! Some of the west-country Socie- 
tarians standing by, who would have ' rejoiced more 
than in great sums ' to be at their hanging, hustled 
them so rudely that they knocked their heads to- 
gether. It was not magnanimous behaviour to 
dethroned enemies ; but one, at least, of the Socie- 
tarians had groaned in the boots, and they had all 
seen their dear friends upon the scaffold. Again, at 
the ' woeful Union,' it was here that people crowded 
to escort their favourite from the last of Scottish 
parliaments: people flushed with nationality, as 
Boswell would have said, ready for riotous acts, and 
fresh from throwing stones at the author of Robin- 
S071 Crmoe as he looked out of window. 

One of the pious in the seventeenth century, going 
to pass his trials (examinations as we now say) for 
the Scottish Bar, beheld the Parliament Close open 
and had a vision of the mouth of Hell. This, and 
small wonder, was the means of his conversion. Nor 
was the vision unsuitable to the locality ; for after 
an hospital, what uglier piece is there in civilisation 
than a court of law? Hither come envy, malice, 
and all uncharitableness to wrestle it out in public 
tourney ; crimes, broken fortunes, severed households, 
the knave and his victim, gravitate to this low build- 



ing with the arcade. To how many has not St. 
Giles's bell told the first hour after ruin ? I think I 
see them pause to count the strokes, and wander on 
again into the moving High Street, stunned and 
sick at heart. 

A pair of swing doors gives admittance to a hall 
with a carved roof, hung with legal portraits, adorned 
with legal statuary, lighted by windows of painted 
glass, and warmed by three vast fires. This is the 
Salle des pas perdus of the Scottish Bar. Here, by 
a ferocious custom, idle youths must promenade from 
ten till two. From end to end, singly or in pairs 
or trios, the gowns and wigs go back and forward. 
Through a hum of talk and footfalls, the piphig tones 
of a Macer announce a fresh cause and call upon the 
names of those concerned. Intelligent men have 
been walking here daily for ten or twenty years 
without a rag of business or a shilling of reward. 
In process of time, they may perhaps be made the 
Sheriff-Substitute and Fountain of Justice at Lerwick 
or Tobermory. There is nothing required, you 
would say, but a little patience and a taste for exer- 
cise and bad air. To breathe dust and bombazine, 
to feed the mind on cackhng gossip, to hear three 
parts of a case and drink a glass of sherry, to long 
with indescribable longings for the hour when a man 
may slip out of his travesty and devote himself to 
golf for the rest of the afternoon, and to do this day 
by day and year after year, may seem so small a 
thing to the inexperienced ! But those who have 
made the experiment are of a different way of 


thinking, and count it the most arduous form of 

More swing doors open into pigeon-holes where 
Judges of the First Appeal sit singly, and halls of 
audience where the supreme Lords sit by three or 
four. Here, you may see Scott's place within the 
bar, where he wrote many a page of Waverley novels 
to the drone of judicial proceeding. You will hear 
a good deal of shrewdness, and, as their Lordships do 
not altogether disdain pleasantry, a fair proportion 
of dry fun. The broadest of broad Scotch is now 
banished from the bench ; but the courts still retain 
a certain national flavour. We have a solemn enjoy- 
able way of lingering on a case. We treat law as 
a fine art, and relish and digest a good distinction. 
There is no hurry : point after point must be rightly 
examined and reduced to principle ; judge after 
judge must utter forth his obite?^ dicta to delighted 

Besides the courts, there are installed under the 
same roof no less than three libraries : two of no 
mean order ; confused and semi-subterranean, full of 
stairs and galleries ; where you may see the most 
studious-looking wigs fishing out novels by lantern 
light, in the very place where the old Privy Council 
tortured Covenanters. As the Parliament House is 
built upon a slope, although it presents only one 
story to the north, it measures half-a-dozen at least 
upon the south ; and range after range of vaults 
extend below the libraries. Few places are more 
characteristic of this hilly capital. You descend one 



stone stair after another, and wander, by the flicker 
of a match, in a labyrinth of stone cellars. Now, 
you pass below the Outer Hall and hear overhead, 
brisk but ghostly, the interminable pattering of legal 
feet. Now, you come upon a strong door with a 
wicket : on the other side are the cells of the police 
office and the trap-stair that gives admittance to the 
dock in the Justiciary Court. Many a foot that has 
gone up there lightly enough, has been dead-heavy 
in the descent. Many a man's life has been argued 
away from him during long hours in the court above. 
But just now that tragic stage is empty and silent 
like a church on a week-day, with the bench all 
sheeted up and nothing moving but the sunbeams 
on the wall. A little farther and you strike upon 
a room, not empty like the rest, but crowded with 
productions from bygone criminal cases : a grim 
lumber : lethal weapons, poisoned organs in a jar, 
a door with a shot hole through the panel, behind 
which a man fell dead. I cannot fancy why they 
should preserve them, unless it were against the 
Judgment Day. At length, as you continue to 
descend, you see a peep of yellow gaslight and hear 
a jostling, whispering noise ahead ; next moment you 
turn a corner, and there, in a whitewashed passage, 
is a machinery belt industriously turning on its 
wheels. You would think the engine had grown 
there of its own accord, like a cellar fungus, and 
would soon spin itself out and fill the vaults from 
end to end with its mysterious labours. In truth, it 
is only some gear of the steam ventilator ; and you 


will find the engineers at hand, and may step out of 
their door into the sunlight. For all this while, you 
have not been descending towards the earth's centre, 
but only to the bottom of the hill and the founda- 
tions of the Parliament House ; low down, to be 
sure, but still under the open heaven and in a field 
of grass. The daylight shines garishly on the back 
windows of the Irish quarter; on broken shutters, 
wrj gables, old palsied houses on the brink of ruin, 
a crumbhng human pig-sty fit for human pigs. 
There are few signs of life, besides a scanty washing 
or a face at a window : the dwellers are abroad, but 
they will return at night and stagger to their pallets. 



The character of a place is often most perfectly 
expressed in its associations. An event strikes root 
and grows into a legend, when it has happened 
amongst congenial surroundings. Ugly actions, 
above all in ugly places, have the true romantic 
quality, and become an undying property of their 
scene. To a man hke Scott, the different appear- 
ances of nature seemed each to contain its own 
legend ready made, which it was his to call forth : in 
such or such a place, only such or such events ought 
with propriety to happen ; and in this spirit he made 
the Lady of the Lake for Ben Venue, the Heai^t of 



Midlothiaii for Edinburgh, and the Pirate, so in- 
differently written but so romantically conceived, for 
the desolate islands and roaring tideways of the 
North. The common run of mankind have, from 
generation to generation, an instinct almost as deli- 
cate as that of Scott ; but where he created new 
things, they only forget what is unsuitable among 
the old ; and by svu'vival of the fittest, a body of 
tradition becomes a work of art. So, in the low 
dens and high-flying garrets of Edinburgh, people 
may go back upon dark passages in the town's 
adventures, and chill their marrow with winter's tales 
about the fire : tales that are singularly apposite and 
characteristic, not only of the old life, but of the 
very constitution of built nature in that part, and 
singularly well qualified to add horror to horror, when 
the wind pipes around the tall lands, and hoots adown 
arched passages, and the far-spread wilderness of city 
lamps keeps quavering and flaring in the gusts. 

Here, it is the tale of Begbie the bank-porter, 
stricken to the heart at a blow and left in his blood 
within a step or two of the crowded High Street. 
There, people hush their voices over Burke and 
Hare ; over drugs and violated graves, and the 
resurrection-men smothering their victims with their 
knees. Here, again, the fame of Deacon Brodie is 
kept piously fresh. A great man in his day was the 
Deacon ; well seen in good society, crafty with his 
hands as a cabinet-maker, and one who could sing 
a song with taste. Many a citizen was proud to 
welcome the Deacon to supper, and dismissed him 


with regret at a timeous hour, who would have been 
vastly disconcerted had he known how soon, and in 
what guise, his visitor returned. Many stories are 
told of this redoubtable Edinburgh burglar, but the 
one I have in my mind most vividly gives the key of 
all the rest. A friend of Brodie's, nested some way 
towards heaven in one of these great lands, had told 
him of a projected visit to the country, and after- 
wards, detained by some affairs, put it off and stayed 
the night in town. The good man had lain some 
time awake ; it was far on in the small hours by the 
Tron bell ; when suddenly there came a creak, a jar, 
a faint light. Softly he clambered out of bed and 
up to a false window which looked upon another 
room, and there, by the glimmer of a thieves' lantern, 
was his good friend the Deacon in a mask. It is 
characteristic of the town and the town's manners 
that this little episode should have been quietly tided 
over, and quite a good time elapsed before a great 
robbery, an escape, a Bow Street runner, a cock-fight, 
an apprehension in a cupboard in Amsterdam, and 
a last step into the air off his own greatly improved 
gallows drop, brought the career of Deacon WilHam 
Brodie to an end. But still, by the mind's eye, he 
may be seen, a man harassed below a mountain of 
duplicity, slinking from a magistrate's supper-room 
to a thieves' ken, and pickeering among the closes 
by the flicker of a dark lamp. 

Or where the Deacon is out of favour, perhaps 
some memory lingers of the great plagues, and of 
fatal houses still unsafe to enter within the memory 



of man. For in time of pestilence the discipline had 
been sharp and sudden, and what we now call 
' stamping out contagion ' was carried on with deadly 
rigour. The officials, in their gowns of grey, with 
a white St. Andrew's cross on back and breast, and 
white cloth carried before them on a staff, perambu- 
lated the city, adding the terror of man's justice to 
the fear of God's visitation. The dead they buried 
on the Borough Muir ; the living who had concealed 
the sickness were drowned, if they were women, in 
the Quarry Holes, and if they were men, were 
hanged and gibbeted at their own doors; and 
wherever the evil had passed, furniture was destroyed 
and houses closed. And the most bogeyish part of 
the story is about such houses. Two generations 
back they still stood dark and empty ; people 
avoided them as they passed by ; the boldest school- 
boy only shouted through the key-hole and made 
off; for within, it was supposed, the plague lay 
ambushed like a basilisk, ready to flow forth and 
spread blain and pustule through the city. What a 
terrible next-door neighbour for superstitious citizens ! 
A rat scampering within would send a shudder 
through the stoutest heart. Here, if you like, was a 
sanitary parable, addressed by oiu* uncleanly fore- 
fathers to their own neglect. 

And then we have Major Weir ; for although even 
his house is now demolished, old Edinburgh cannot 
clear herself of his unholy memory. He and his 
sister lived together in an odour of sour piety. She 
was a marvellous spinster ; he had a rare gift of 



supplication, and was known among devout admirers 
by the name of Angelical Thomas. ' He was a tall, 
black man, and ordinarily looked down to the ground ; 
a grim countenance, and a big nose. His garb was 
still a cloak, and somewhat dark, and he never went 
without his staff.' How it came about that Angelical 
Thomas was burned in company with his staff, and 
his sister in gentler manner hanged, and whether 
these two were simply religious maniacs of the more 
furious order, or had real as well as imaginary sins 
upon their old-world shoulders, are points happily 
beyond the reach of our intention. At least, it is 
suitable enough that out of this superstitious city 
some such example should have been put forth : the 
outcome and fine flower of dark and vehement 
rehgion. And at least the facts struck the public 
fancy and brought forth a remarkable family of 
myths. It would appear that the Major's staff went 
upon his errands, and even ran before him with a 
lantern on dark nights. Gigantic females, 'sten- 
toriously laughing and gaping with tehees of 
laughter ' at unseasonable hours of night and morning, 
haunted the purlieus of his abode. His house fell 
under such a load of infamy that no one dared to 
sleep in it, until municipal improvement levelled the 
structure with the groimd. And my father has often 
been told in the nursery how the devil's coach, drawn 
by six coal-black horses with fiery eyes, would drive 
at night into the West Bow, and belated people 
might see the dead Major through the glasses. 

Another leojend is that of the two maiden sisters. 



A legend I am afraid it may be, in the most 
discreditable meaning of the term ; or perhaps some- 
thing worse — a mere yesterday's fiction. But it is a 
story of some vitality, and is worthy of a place in the 
Edinburgh calendar. This pair inhabited a single 
room ; from the facts, it must have been double- 
bedded ; and it may have been of some dimensions ; 
but when all is said, it was a single room. Here 
our two spinsters fell out — on some point of con- 
troversial divinity belike: but fell out so bitterly 
that there was never a word spoken between them, 
black or white, from that day forward. You would 
have thought they would separate : but no ; whether 
from lack of means, or the Scottish fear of scandal, 
they continued to keep house together wliere 
they were. A chalk line drawn upon the floor 
separated their two domains ; it bisected the door- 
way and the fireplace, so that each could go out and 
in, and do her cooking, without violating the territory 
of the other. So, for years, they co-existed in a hate- 
ful silence ; their meals, their ablutions, their friendly 
visitors, exposed to an unfriendly scrutiny ; and at 
night, in the dark watches, each could hear the 
breathing of her enemy. Never did four walls look 
down upon an uglier spectacle than these sisters 
rivalling in unsisterliness. Here is a canvas for 
Hawthorne to have turned into a cabinet picture — he 
had a » Puritanic vein, which would have fitted him 
to treat this Puritanic horror ; he could have shown 
them to us in their sicknesses and at their hideous 
twin devotions, thumbing a pair of great Bibles, or 


praying aloud for each other's penitence with mar- 
rowy emphasis ; now each, with kilted petticoat, at her 
own corner of the fire on some tempestuous evening ; 
now sitting each at her window, looking out upon 
the summer landscape sloping far below them towards 
the firth, and the field-paths where they had wandered 
hand in hand ; or, as age and infirmity grew upon 
them and prolonged their toilettes, and their hands 
began to tremble and their heads to nod involuntarily, 
growing only the more steeled in enmity with years ; 
until one fine day, at a word, a look, a visit, or the 
approach of death, their hearts would melt and the 
chalk boundary be overstepped for ever. 

Alas ! to those who know the ecclesiastical history 
of the race — the most perverse and melancholy in 
man's annals — this will seem only a figure of much 
that is typical of Scotland and her high-seated capital 
above the Forth — a figure so grimly realistic that it 
may pass with strangers for a caricature. We are 
wonderful patient haters for conscience' sake up here 
in the North. I spoke, in the first of these papers, 
of the Parliaments of the Established and Free 
Churches, and how they can hear each other singing 
psalms across the street. There is but a street 
between them in space, but a shadow between them 
in principle ; and yet there they sit, enchanted, and 
in damnatory accents pray for each other's growth in 
grace. It would be well if there were no more than 
two; but the sects in Scotland form a large family 
of sisters, and the chalk lines are thickly drawn, and 
run through the midst of many private homes. 


Edinburgh is a city of churches, as though it were 
a place of pilgrimage. You will see four within a 
stone-cast at the head of the West Bow. Some are 
crowded to the doors ; some are empty like nionu- 
ments ; and yet you will ever find new ones in the 
building. Hence that surprising clamour of church 
bells that suddenly breaks out upon the Sabbath 
morning, from Trinity and the sea-skirts to Morning- 
side on the borders of the hills. I have heard the 
chimes of Oxford playing their symphony in a 
golden autumn morning, and beautiful it was to hear. 
But in Edinburgh all manner of loud bells join, or 
rather disjoin, in one swelling, brutal babblement of 
noise. Now one overtakes another, and now lags 
behind it ; now five or six all strike on the pained 
tympanum at the same punctual instant of time, and 
make together a dismal chord of discord ; and now 
for a second all seem to have conspired to hold their 
peace. Indeed, there are not many uproars in this 
world more dismal than that of the Sabbath bells in 
Edinburgh : a harsh ecclesiastical tocsin ; the outcry 
of incongruous orthodoxies, calling on every separate 
conventicler to put up a protest, each in his 
own synagogue, against 'right-hand extremes and 
left-hand defections.' And surely there are few 
worse extremes than this extremity of zeal ; and few 
more deplorable defections than this disloyalty to 
Christian love. Shakespeare wrote a comedy of 
'Much Ado about Nothing.' The Scottish nation 
made a fantastic tragedy on the same subject. And 
it is for the success of this remarkable piece that 


these bells are sounded every Sabbath morning on 
the hills above the Forth. How many of them 
might rest silent in the steeple, how many of these 
ugly churches might be demolished and turned once 
more into useful building material, if people who 
think almost exactly the same thoughts about religion 
would condescend to worship God under the same 
roof ! But there are the chalk lines. And which is 
to pocket pride, and speak the foremost word ? 



It was Queen Mary who threw open the gardens of 
the Grey Friars: a new and semi-rural cemetery in 
those days, although it has grown an antiquity in its 
turn and been superseded by half-a-dozen others. 
The Friars must have had a pleasant time on summer 
evenings ; for their gardens were situated to a wish, 
with the tall castle and the tallest of the Castle crags 
in front. Even now, it is one of our famous Edin- 
burgh points of view ; and strangers are led thither 
to see, by yet another instance, how strangely the 
city lies upon her hills. The enclosure is of an 
irregular shape ; the double church of Old and New 
Greyfriars stands on the level at the top ; a few thorns 
are dotted here and there, and the ground falls by 
terrace and steep slope towards the north. The open 
shows many slabs and table tombstones ; and all 



round the margin, the place is girt by an array of 
aristocratic mausoleums appallingly adorned. 

Setting aside the tombs of Roubilliac, which belong 
to the heroic order of graveyard art, we Scots stand, 
to my fancy, highest among nations in the matter of 
grimly illustrating death. We seem to love for their 
own sake the emblems of time and the great change ; 
and even around country churches you will find a 
wonderful exhibition of skulls, and crossbones, and 
noseless angels, and trumpets pealing for the Judg- 
ment Day. Every mason was a pedestrian Holbein : 
he had a deep consciousness of death, and loved to 
put its terrors pithily before the churchyard loiterer ; 
he was brimful of rough hints upon mortality, and 
any dead farmer was seized upon to be a text. The 
classical examples of this art are in Greyfriars. In 
their time, these were doubtless costly monuments, 
and reckoned of a very elegant proportion by con- 
temporaries ; and now, when the elegance is not so 
apparent, the significance remains. You may perhaps 
look with a smile on the profusion of Latin mottoes 
— some crawling endwise up the shaft of a pillar, 
some issuing on a scroll from angels' trumpets — on 
the emblematic horrors, the figures rising headless 
from the grave, and all the traditional ingenuities in 
which it pleased our fathers to set forth their sorrow 
for the dead and their sense of earthly mutability. 
But it is not a hearty sort of mirth. Each ornament 
may have been executed by the merriest apprentice, 
whistling as he plied the mallet ; but the original 
meaning of each, and the combined effect of so many 


of them in this quiet enclosure, is serious to the 
point of melancholy. 

Round a great part of the circuit, houses of a low 
class present their backs to the churchyard. Only 
a few inches separate the liAdng from the dead. 
Here, a window is partly blocked up by the pedi- 
ment of a tomb ; there, where the street falls far 
below the level of the graves, a chimney has been 
trained up the back of a monument, and a red pot 
looks vulgarly over from behind. A damp smell of 
the graveyard finds its way into houses where work- 
men sit at meat. Domestic life on a small scale goes 
forward visibly at the windows. The very solitude 
and stillness of the enclosure, which lies apart from 
the town's traffic, serves to accentuate the contrast. 
As you walk upon the graves, you see children 
scattering crumbs to feed the sparrows; you hear 
people singing or washing dishes, or the sound of 
tears and castigation ; the linen on a clothes-pole flaps 
against funereal sculpture; or perhaps the cat slips 
over the lintel and descends on a memorial urn. And 
as there is nothing else astir, these incongruous 
sights and noises take hold on the attention and 
exaggerate the sadness of the place. 

Greyfriars is continually overrun by cats. I have 
seen one afternoon as many as thirteen of them 
seated on the grass beside old Milne, the Master 
Builder, all sleek and fat, and complacently blinking, 
as if they had fed upon strange meats. Old Milne 
was chanting with the saints, as we may hope, and 
cared little for the company about his grave ; but I 



confess the spectacle had an ugly side for me ; and I 
was glad to step forward and raise my eyes to where 
the Castle and the roofs of the Old Town, and the 
spire of the Assembly Hall, stood deployed against 
the sky with the colourless precision of engraving. 
An open outlook is to be desired from a churchyard, 
and a sight of the sky and some of the world's beauty 
relieves a mind from morbid thoughts. 

I shall never forget one visit. It was a grey, 
dropping day ; the grass was strung with rain-drops ; 
and the people in the houses kept hanging out their 
shirts and petticoats and angrily taking them in 
again, as the weather turned from wet to fair and 
back again. A gravedigger, and a friend of his, a 
gardener from the country, accompanied me into one 
after another of the cells and little courtyards in 
which it gratified the wealthy of old days to enclose 
their old bones from neighbourhood. In one, under a 
sort of shrine, we found a forlorn human effigy, very 
realistically executed down to the detail of his ribbed 
stockings, and holding in his hand a ticket with the 
date of his demise. He looked most pitiful and ridi- 
culous, shut up by himself in his aristocratic precinct, 
like a bad old boy or an inferior forgotten deity under 
a new dispensation ; the burdocks grew familiarly 
about his feet, the rain dripped all round him ; and 
the world maintained the most entire indiiFerence as 
to who he was or whither he had gone. In another, 
a vaulted tomb, handsome externally but horrible 
inside with damp and cobwebs, there were three 
mounds of black earth and an uncovered thigh-bone. 


This was the place of mterment, it appeared, of a 
family with whom the gardener had been long in 
service. He was among old acquaintances. * This '11 
be Miss Marg'et's,' said he, giving the bone a friendly 
kick. ' The aiild ! ' I have always an uncom- 
fortable feeling in a graveyard, at sight of so many 
tombs to perpetuate memories best forgotten ; but I 
never had the impression so strongly as that day. 
People had been at some expense in both these cases : 
to provoke a melancholy feeling of derision in the 
one, and an insulting epithet in the other. The 
proper inscription for the most part of mankind, I 
began to think, is the cynical jeer, eras tibi. That, 
if anything, will stop the mouth of a carper ; since it 
both admits the worst and carries the war triumph- 
antly into the enemy's camp. 

Greyfriars is a place of many associations. There 
was one window in a house at the lower end, now 
demolished, which was pointed out to me by the 
gravedigger as a spot of legendary interest. Burke, 
the resurrection-man, infamous for so many murders 
at five shillings a head, used to sit thereat, with pipe 
and nightcap, to watch burials going forward on the 
green. In a tomb higher up, which must then have 
been but newly finished, John Knox, according to 
the same informant, had taken refuge in a turmoil of 
the Reformation. Behind the church is the haunted 
mausoleum of Sir George Mackenzie : Bloody Mac- 
kenzie, Lord Advocate in the Covenanting troubles, 
and author of some pleasing sentiments on toleration. 
Here, in the last century, an old Heriot's Hospital 



boy once harboured from the pursuit of the police. 
The Hospital is next door to Greyfriars— a courtly 
building among lawns, where, on Founder's Day, you 
may see a multitude of children playing Kiss-in-the- 
Ring and Round the Mulberry-bush. Thus, when the 
fugitive had managed to conceal himself in the tomb, 
his old schoolmates had a hundred opportunities to 
bring him food ; and there he lay in safety till a ship 
was found to smuggle him abroad. But his must 
have been indeed a heart of brass, to lie all day and 
night alone with the dead persecutor ; and other lads 
were far from emulating him in courage. When a 
man's soul is certainly in hell, his body will scarce lie 
quiet in a tomb, however costly ; some time or other 
the door must open, and the reprobate come forth in 
the abhorred garments of the grave. It was thought 
a high piece of prowess to knock at the Lord 
Advocate's mausoleum and challenge him to appear. 
' Bluidy Mackenyie, come oot if ye daur ! ' sang the 
foolhardy urchins. But Sir George had other affairs 
on hand ; and the author of an essay on toleration 
continues to sleep peacefully among the many whom 
he so intolerantly helped to slay. 

For this infelix campus, as it is dubbed in one of 
its own inscriptions — an inscription over which Dr. 
Johnson passed a critical eye — is in many ways 
sacred to the memory of the men whom Mackenzie 
persecuted. It was here, on the flat tombstones, 
that the Covenant was signed by an enthusiastic 
people. In the long arm of the churchyard that 
extends to Lauriston, the prisoners from Bothwell 


Bridge — fed on bread and water, and guarded, life for 
life, by vigilant marksmen — lay five months looking- 
for the scaffold or the plantations. And while the 
good work was going forward in the Grassmarket, 
idlers in Greyfriars might have heard the throb of 
the military drums that drowned the voices of the 
martyrs. Nor is this all : for down in the corner 
farthest from Sir George, there stands a monument 
dedicated, in uncouth Covenanting verse, to all who 
lost their lives in that contention. There is no 
moorsman shot in a snow shower beside Irongray or 
Co'monell ; there is not one of the two hundred who 
were drowned off the Orkneys ; nor so much as a 
poor, over-driven, Covenanting slave in the American 
plantations ; but can lay claim to a share in that 
memorial, and, if such things interest just men 
among the shades, can boast he has a monument on 
earth as well as Julius Caesar or the Pharaohs. 
Where they may all lie, I know not. Far-scattered 
bones, indeed ! But if the reader cares to learn how 
some of them — or some part of some of them — found 
their way at length to such honourable sepulture, let 
him listen to the words of one who was their com- 
rade in life and their apologist when they were dead. 
Some of the insane controversial matter I omit, as 
well as some digressions, but leave the rest in 
Patrick Walker's language and orthography : — 

' The never to be forgotten Mr. James Renwick told me, that 
he was Witness to their Public Murder at the Gallowlee, 
between Leith and Edinburg-h, when he saw the Hangman hash 
and hagg off all their Five Heads, with Patrick Foremaiis 



Right Hand : Their Bodies were all buried at the Gallows 
Foot ; their Heads, with PatricJSs Hand, were brought and put 
upon five Pikes on the Pleasaunce-Port. . . . Mi*. Renwick told 
me also that it was the first public Action that his Hand was 
at, to conveen Friends, and lift their murthered Bodies, and 
carried them to the West Churchyard of Edinbicrg-h,'' — not 
Greyfriars, this time, — ' and buried them there. Then they 
came about the City . . . and took down these Five Heads 
and that Hand ; and Day being come, they went quickly up 
the Pleasaunce ; and when they came to Lauristoun Yards, 
upon the South-side of the City, they durst not venture, being 
so light, to go and bury their Heads with their Bodies, which 
they designed ; it being present Death, if any of them had 
been found. Alexander Tweedie, a Friend, being with them, 
who at that Time was Gardner in these Yards, concluded to 
bury them in his Yard, being in a Box (wrapped in Linen), 
where they lay 45 Years except 3 Days, being executed upon 
the 10th of October 1681, and found the 7th Day of October 
1726. That Piece of Ground lay for some Years unlaboured ; 
and trenching it, the Gardner found them, which affrighted 
him ; the Box was consumed. Mr. Schaw, the Owner of these 
Yards, caused lift them, and lay them upon a Table in his 
Summer-house : Mr. Scliaxefs mother was so kind, as to cut out 
a Linen-cloth, and cover them. They lay Twelve Days there, 
where all had Access to see them. Alexander Tweedie, the 
foresaid Gardner, said, when dying. There was a Treasure hid 
in his Yard, but neither Gold nor Silver. Daniel Tweedie, his 
Son, came along with me to that Yard, and told me that his 
Father planted a white Rose-bush above them, and farther 
down the Yard a red Rose-bush, which were more fruitful than 
any other Bush in the Yard, . . . Many came ' — to see the 
heads — ' out of Curiosity ; yet I rejoiced to see so many con- 
cerned grave Men and Women favouring the Dust of our 
Martyrs. There were Six of us concluded to bury them upon 
the Nineteenth Day of October 1726, and every One of us to 
acquaint Friends of the Day and Hour, being Wednesday, the 


Day of the Week on which most of them were executed, and at 
4 of the Clock at Night, being the Hour that most of them 
went to their resting Graves. We caused make a compleat 
Coffin for them in Black, with four Yards of fine Linen, the 
way that our Martyrs Corps were managed. . . . Accordingly 
we kept the aforesaid Day and Hour, and doubled the Linen, 
and laid the Half of it below them, their nether Jaws being 
parted from their Heads ; but being young Men, their Teeth 
remained. All were Witness to the Holes in each of their 
Heads, which the Hangman broke with his Hammer; and 
according to the Bigness of their Sculls, we laid the Jaws to 
them, and drew the other Half of the Linen above them, and 
stufft the Coffin with Shavings. Some prest hard to go thorow 
the chief Parts of the City as was done at the Revolution ; but 
this we refused, considering that it looked airy and frothy, to 
make such Show of them, and inconsistent with the solid 
serious Observing of such an affecting, surprizing unheard-of 
Dispensation : But took the ordinary Way of other Burials 
from that Place, to wit, we went east the Back of the Wall, 
and in at B?'isto-Port, and down the Way to the Head of the 
Cowgate, and turned up to the Church-yard, where they were 
interred closs to the Martyrs Tomb, with the greatest Multi- 
tude of People Old and Young, Men and Women, Ministers 
and others, that ever I saw together.' 

And so there they were at last, in * their resting 
graves.' So long as men do their duty, even if it be 
greatly in a misapprehension, they will be leading 
pattern lives ; and whether or not they come to lie 
beside a martyrs' monument, we may be sure they 
will find a safe haven somewhere in the providence 
of God. It is not well to think of death, unless we 
temper the thought with that of heroes who despised 
it. Upon what ground, is of small account ; if it be 



only the bishop who was burned for his faith in the 
antipodes, his memory hghtens the heart and makes 
us walk undisturbed among graves. And so the 
martyrs' monument is a wholesome heartsome spot 
in the field of the dead ; and as we look upon it, a 
brave influence comes to us from the land of those 
who have won their discharge, and, in another phrase 
of Patrick Walker's, got 'cleanly off the stage.' 



It is as much a matter of course to decry the New 
Town as to exalt the Old ; and the most celebrated 
authorities have picked out this quarter as the very 
emblem of what is condemnable in architecture. 
Much may be said, much indeed has been said, upon 
the text; but to the unsophisticated, who call any- 
thing pleasing if it only pleases them, the New Town 
of Edinburgh seems, in itself, not only gay and airy, 
but highly picturesque. An old skipper, invincibly 
ignorant of all theories of the sublime and beautiful, 
once propounded as his most radiant notion for Para- 
dise : ' The New Town of Edinburgh, with the wind 
the matter of a point free.' He has now gone to that 
sphere where all good tars are promised pleasant 
weather in the song, and perhaps his thoughts fl.y 
somewhat higher. But there are bright and tem- 
perate days — with soft air coming from the inland 


hills, military music sounding bravely from the hollow 
of the gardens, the flags all waving on the palaces of 
Princes Street — when I have seen the town through 
a sort of glory, and shaken hands in sentiment with 
the old sailor. And indeed, for a man who has been 
much tumbled round Orcadian skerries, what scene 
could be more agreeable to witness ? On such a day, 
the valley wears a surprising air of festival. It seems 
(I do not know how else to put my meaning) as if it 
were a trifle too good to be true. It is what Paris 
ought to be. It has the scenic quality that would 
best set off a life of unthinking, open-air diversion. 
It was meant by nature for the realisation of the 
society of comic operas. And you can imagine, if 
the climate were but towardly, how all the world and 
his wife would flock into these gardens in the cool of 
the evening, to hear cheerful music, to sip pleasant 
drinks, to see the moon rise from behind Arthur's 
Seat and shine upon the spires and monuments and 
the green tree-tops in the valley. Alas ! and the 
next morning the rain is splashing on the window, 
and the passengers flee along Princes Street before 
the galloping squalls. 

It cannot be denied that the original design was 
faulty and short-sighted, and did not fully profit by 
the capabilities of the situation. The architect was 
essentially a town bird, and he laid out the modern 
city with a view to street scenery, and to street 
scenery alone. The country did not enter into his 
plan ; he had never lifted his eyes to the hills. If he 
had so chosen, every street upon the northern slope 



might have been a noble terrace and commanded an 
extensive and beautiful view. But the space has 
been too closely built ; many of the houses front the 
wrong way, intent, like the Man with the Muck- 
Rake, on what is not worth observation, and standing 
discourteously back-foremost in the ranks ; and, in a 
word, it is too often only from attic windows, or here 
and there at a crossing, that you can get a look 
beyond the city upon its diversified surroundings. 
But perhaps it is all the more surprising, to come 
suddenly on a corner, and see a perspective of a mile 
or more of falling street, and beyond that woods and 
villas, and a blue arm of the sea, and the hills upon 
the farther side. 

Fergusson, our Edinburgh poet, Burns's model, 
once saw a butterfly at the Town Cross ; and the 
sight inspired him with a worthless little ode. This 
painted countryman, the dandy of the rose garden, 
looked far abroad in such a humming neighbourhood ; 
and you can fancy what moral considerations a youth- 
ful poet would supply. But the incident, in a fanciful 
sort of way, is characteristic of the place. Into no 
other city does the sight of the country enter so far ; 
if you do not meet a butterfly, you shall certainly 
catch a glimpse of far-away trees upon your walk ; 
and the place is full of theatre tricks in the way 
of scenery. You peep under an arch, you descend 
stairs that look as if they would land you in a cellar, 
you turn to the back- window of a grimy tenement in 
a lane : — and behold ! you are face-to-face with dis- 
tant and bright prospects. You turn a corner, and 


there is the sun going down into the Highland hills. 
You look down an alley, and see ships tacking for 
the Baltic. 

For the country people to see Edinburgh on her 
hill-tops, is one thing ; it is another for the citizen, 
from the thick of his affairs, to overlook the country. 
It should be a genial and ameliorating influence in 
life ; it should prompt good thoughts and remind him 
of Nature's unconcern : that he can watch from day 
to day, as he trots ofliceward, how the Spring green 
brightens in the wood or the field grows black under 
a moving ploughshare. I have been tempted, in this 
connection, to deplore the slender faculties of the 
human race, with its penny- whistle of a voice, its dull 
ears, and its narrow range of sight. If you could see 
as people are to see in heaven, if you had eyes such 
as you can fancy for a superior race, if you could 
take clear note of the objects of vision, not only a 
few yards, but a few miles from where you stand : — 
think how agreeably your sight would be entertained, 
how pleasantly your thoughts would be diversified, as 
you walked the Edinburgh streets ! For you might 
pause, in some business perplexity, in the midst of the 
city traffic, and perhaps catch the eye of a shepherd 
as he sat down to breathe upon a heathery shoulder 
of the Pentlands ; or perhaps some urchin, clambering 
in a country elm, would put aside the leaves and 
show you his flushed and rustic visage ; or a fisher 
racing seawards, with the tiller under his elbow, and 
the sail sounding in the wind, would fling you a 
salutation from between Anst'er and the May. 



To be old is not the same thing as to be pictur- 
esque ; nor because the Old Town bears a strange 
physiognomy, does it at all follow that the New 
Town shall look commonplace. Indeed, apart from 
antique houses, it is curious how much description 
would apply commonly to either. The same sudden 
accidents of ground, a similar dominating site above 
the plain, and the same superposition of one rank of 
society over another, are to be observed in both. 
Thus, the broad and comely approach to Princes 
Street from the east, lined with hotels and public 
offices, makes a leap over the gorge of the Low 
Calton ; if you cast a glance over the parapet, you 
look direct into that sunless and disreputable con- 
fluent of Leith Street ; and the same tall houses open 
upon both thoroughfares. This is only the New Town 
passing overhead above its own cellars ; walking, so 
to speak, over its own children, as is the way of cities 
and the human race. But at the Dean Bridge you 
may behold a spectacle of a more novel order. The 
river runs at the bottom of a deep valley, among 
rocks and between gardens ; the crest of either bank 
is occupied by some of the most commodious streets 
and crescents in the modern city ; and a handsome 
bridge unites the two summits. Over this, every 
afternoon, private carriages go spinning by, and ladies 
with card-cases pass to and fro about the duties of 
society. And yet down below you may still see, with 
its mills and foaming weir, the little rural village of 
Dean. Modern improvement has gone overhead on 
its high-level viaduct; and the extended city has 


cleanly overleapt, and left unaltered, what was once 
the summer retreat of its comfortable citizens. Every 
town embraces hamlets in its growth ; Edinburgh 
herself has embraced a good few ; but it is strange to 
see one still surviving — and to see it some hundreds 
of feet below your path. Is it Torre del Greco that 
is built above buried Herculaneum ? Herculaneum 
was dead at least ; but the sun still shines upon the 
roofs of Dean ; the smoke still rises thriftily from its 
chimneys ; the dusty miller comes to his door, looks 
at the gurgling water, hearkens to the turning wheel 
and the birds about the shed, and perhaps whistles 
an air of his own to enrich the symphony — for all the 
world as if Edinburgh were still the old Edinburgh 
on the Castle Hill, and Dean were still the quietest 
of hamlets buried a mile or so in the green country. 

It is not so long ago since magisterial David Hume 
lent the authority of his example to the exodus from 
the Old Town, and took up his new abode in a street 
which is still (so oddly may a jest become perpetu- 
ated) known as Saint David Street. Nor is the town 
so large but a holiday schoolboy may harry a bird's 
nest within half a mile of his own door. There are 
places that still smell of the plough in memory's 
nostrils. Here, one had heard a blackbird on a haw- 
thorn ; there, another was taken on summer evenings 
to eat strawberries and cream ; and you have seen a 
waving wheatfield on the site of your present resi- 
dence. The memories of an Edinburgh boy are but 
partly memories of the town. I look back with 
delight on many an escalade of garden walls ; many 
D 49 


a ramble among lilacs full of piping birds ; many an 
exploration in obscure quarters that were neither 
town nor country ; and I think that both for my 
companions and myself, there was a special interest, 
a point of romance, and a sentiment as of foreign 
travel, when we hit in our excursions on the butt- 
end of some former hamlet, and found a few rustic 
cottages imbedded among streets and squares. The 
tunnel to the Scotland Street Station, the sight of the 
trains shooting out of its dark maw with the two 
guards upon the brake, the thought of its length and 
the many ponderous edifices and open thoroughfares 
above, were certainly things of paramount impressive- 
ness to a young mind. It was a subterranean passage, 
although of a larger bore than we were accustomed 
to in Ains worth's novels ; and these two words, 
' subterranean passage,' were in themselves an irresis- 
tible attraction, and seemed to bring us nearer in 
spirit to the heroes we loved and the black rascals we 
secretly aspired to imitate. To scale the Castle 
Kock from West Princes Street Gardens, and lay a 
triumphal hand against the rampart itself, was to 
taste a high order of romantic pleasure. And there 
are other sights and exploits which crowd back upon 
my mind under a very strong illumination of remem- 
bered pleasure. But the effect of not one of them 
all will compare with the discoverer's joy, and the 
sense of old Time and his slow changes on the face 
of this earth, with which I explored such corners as 
Canonmills or Water Lane, or the nugget of cottages 
at Broughton Market. They were more rural than 



the open country, and gave a greater impression of 
antiquity than the oldest land upon the High Street. 
They too, hke Fergusson's butterfly, had a quaint 
air of having wandered far from their own place ; 
they looked abashed and homely, with their gables 
and their creeping plants, their outside stairs and 
running mill-streams ; there were corners that smelt 
like the end of the country garden where I spent my 
Aprils ; and the people stood to gossip at their doors, 
as they might have done in Colinton or Cramond. 

In a great measure we may, and shall, eradicate 
this haunting flavour of the country. The last elm is 
dead in Elm Row ; and the villas and the workmen's 
quarters spread apace on all the borders of the city. 
We can cut down the trees ; we can bury the grass 
under dead paving-stones ; we can drive brisk streets 
through all our sleepy quarters ; and we may forget 
the stories and the playgrounds of our boyhood. But 
we have some possessions that not even the infuriate 
zeal of builders can utterly abolish and destroy. No- 
thing can abolish the hills, unless it be a cataclysm of 
nature, which shall subvert Edinburgh Castle itself and 
lay all her florid structures in the dust. And as long 
as we have the hills and the Firth, we have a famous 
heritage to leave our children. Our windows, at no 
expense to us, are mostly artfully stained to repre- 
sent a landscape. And when the Spring comes round, 
and the hawthorn begins to flower, and the meadows 
to smell of young grass, even in the thickest of our 
streets, the country hill-tops find out a young man's 
eyes, and set his heart beating for travel and pure air. 





Mr. Ruskin's denunciation of the New Town of 
Edinburgh includes, as I have heard it repeated, 
nearly all the stone and lime we have to show. Many 
however find a grand air and something settled and 
imposing in the better parts ; and upon many, as I 
have said, the confusion of styles induces an agree- 
able stimulation of the mind. But upon the subject 
of our recent villa architecture I am frankly ready to 
mingle my tears with Mr. Ruskin's, and it is a subject 
which makes one envious of his large declamatory 
and controversial eloquence. 

Day by day, one new villa, one new object of 
offence, is added to another ; all around Newington 
and Morningside, the dismallest structures keep 
springing up like mushrooms ; the pleasant hills are 
loaded with them, each impudently squatted in its 
garden, each roofed and carrying chimneys like a 
house. And yet a glance of an eye discovers their 
true character. They are not houses ; for they were 
not designed with a view to human habitation, and 
the internal arrangements are, as they tell me, fantas- 
tically unsuited to the needs of man. They are not 
buildings ; for you can scarcely say a thing is built 
where every measurement is in clamant disproportion 
with its neighbour. They belong to no style of art, 
only to a form of business much to be regretted. 


Why should it be cheaper to erect a structure 
where the size of the windows bears no rational 
relation to the size of the front ? Is there any profit 
in a misplaced chimney-stalk ? Does a hard-working, 
greedy builder gain more on a monstrosity than on 
a decent cottage of equal plainness ? Frankly, we 
should say, No. Bricks may be omitted, and green 
timber employed, in the construction of even a very 
elegant design ; and there is no reason why a chimney 
should be made to vent, because it is so situated as 
to look comely from without. On the other hand, 
there is a noble way of being ugly : a high aspiring 
fiasco like the fall of Lucifer. There are daring and 
gaudy buildings that manage to be offensive, with- 
out being contemptible ; and we know that ' fools 
rush in where angels fear to tread.' But to aim at 
making a commonplace villa, and to make it in- 
sufferably ugly in each particular ; to attempt the 
homeliest achievement and to attain the bottom of 
derided failure ; not to have any theory but profit, and 
yet, at an equal expense, to outstrip all competitors 
in the art of conceiving and rendering permanent de- 
formity ; and to do all this in what is, by nature, one 
of the most agreeable neighbourhoods in Britain : — 
what are we to say, but that this also is a distinction, 
hard to earn, although not greatly worshipful ? 

Indifferent buildings give pain to the sensitive; 
but these things offend the plainest taste. It is a 
danger which threatens the amenity of the town ; 
and as this eruption keeps spreading on our borders, 
we have ever the farther to walk among unpleasant 


sights, before we gain the country air. If the popu- 
lation of Edinburgh were a hving, autonomous body, 
it would arise like one man and make night hideous 
with arson ; the builders and their accomplices would 
be driven to work, like the Jews of yore, with the 
trowel in one hand and the defensive cutlass in the 
other ; and as soon as one of these masonic wonders 
had been consummated, right-minded iconoclasts 
should fall thereon and make an end of it at once. 

Possibly these words may meet the eye of a builder 
or two. It is no use asking them to employ an 
architect ; for that would be to touch them in a 
delicate quarter, and its use w^ould largely depend on 
what architect they were minded to call in. But let 
them get any architect in the world to point out 
any reasonably well-proportioned villa, not his own 
design ; and let them reproduce that model to satiety. 



The east of new Edinburgh is guarded by a craggy 
hill, of no great elevation, which the town embraces. 
The old London road runs on one side of it ; while 
the New Approach, leaving it on the other hand, 
completes the circuit. You mount by stairs in a 
cutting of the rock to find yourself in a field of 
monuments. Dugald Stewart has the honours of 
situation and architecture ; Burns is memorialised 



lower down upon a spur ; Lord Nelson, as befits a 
sailor, gives his name to the topgallant of the Calton 
Hill. This latter erection has been differently and 
yet, in both cases, aptly compared to a telescope and 
a butter-churn : comparisons apart, it ranks among 
the vilest of men's handiworks. But the chief feature 
is an unfinished range of columns, ' the Modern Ruin ' 
as it has been called, an imposing object from far and 
near, and giving Edinburgh, even from the sea, that 
false air of a Modern Athens which has earned for 
her so many slighting speeches. It was meant to 
be a National Monument ; and its present state is a 
very suitable monument to certain national charac- 
teristics. The old Observatory — a quaint brown 
building on the edge of the steep — and the new 
Observatory — a classical edifice with a dome — occupy 
the central portion of the summit. All these are 
scattered on a green turf, browsed over by some sheep. 
The scene suggests reflections on fame and on 
man's injustice to the dead. You see Dugald 
Stewart rather more handsomely commemorated 
than Burns. Immediately below, in the Canongate 
churchyard, lies Robert Fergusson, Burns's master in 
his art, who died insane while yet a stripling ; and if 
Dugald Stewart has been somewhat too boisterously 
acclaimed, the Edinburgh poet, on the other hand, 
is most unrighteously forgotten. The votaries of 
Burns, a crew too common in all ranks in Scotland, 
and more remarkable for number than discretion, 
eagerly suppress all mention of the lad who handed 
to him the poetic impulse, and, up to the time when 



he grew famous, continued to influence him in his 
manner and the choice of subjects. Burns himself 
not only acknowledged his debt in a fragment of 
autobiography, but erected a tomb over the grave in 
Canongate churchyard. This was worthy of an 
artist, but it was done in vain ; and although I think 
I have read nearly all the biographies of Burns, I 
cannot remember one in which the modesty of nature 
was not violated, or where Fergusson was not sacri- 
ficed to the credit of his follower's originality. There 
is a kind of gaping admiration that would fain roll 
Shakespeare and Bacon into one, to have a bigger 
thing to gape at ; and a class of men who cannot 
edit one author without disparaging all others. They 
are indeed mistaken if they think to please the great 
originals ; and whoever puts Fergusson right with 
fame cannot do better than dedicate his labours to 
the memory of Burns, who will be the best delighted 
of the dead. 

Of all places for a view, this Calton Hill is 
perhaps the best ; since you can see the Castle, 
which you lose from the Castle, and Arthur's Seat, 
which you cannot see from Arthur's Seat. It is 
the place to stroll on one of those days of sun- 
shine and east wind which are so common in our 
more than temperate summer. The breeze comes 
off the sea, with a little of the freshness, and that 
touch of chill, peculiar to the quarter, which is de- 
lightful to certain very ruddy organisations and 
greatly the reverse to the majority of mankind. It 
brings mth it a faint, floating haze, a cunning de- 


colouriser, although not thick enough to obscure 
outhnes near at hand. But the haze Hes more 
thickly to windward at the far end of Musselburgh 
Bay ; and over the links of Aberlady and Berwick 
Law and the hump of the Bass Rock it assumes 
the aspect of a bank of thin sea fog. 

Immediately underneath upon the south, you 
command the yards of the High School, and the 
towers and courts of the new Jail — a large place, 
castellated to the extent of foll}?^, standing by itself 
on the edge of a steep cliff, and often joyfully hailed 
by tourists as the Castle. In the one, you may 
perhaps see female prisoners taking exercise like a 
string of nuns ; in the other, schoolboys running at 
play and their shadows keeping step with them. 
From the bottom of the valley, a gigantic chimney 
rises almost to the level of the eye, a taller and a 
shapelier edifice than Nelson's Monument. Look a 
little farther, and there is Holyrood Palace, with its 
Gothic frontal and ruined abbey, and the red sentry 
pacing smartly to and fro before the door like a 
mechanical figure in a panorama. By way of an 
outpost, you can single out the little peak-roofed 
lodge, over which Bizzio's murderers made their 
escape, and where Queen Mary herself, according to 
gossip, bathed in white wine to entertain her loveli- 
ness. Behind and overhead, lie the Queen's Park, 
from Muschat's Cairn to Dumbiedykes, St. Mar- 
garet's Loch, and the long wall of Salisbury Crags ; 
and thence, by knoll and rocky bulwark and precipi- 
tous slope, the eye rises to the top of Arthur's Seat, 



a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold 
design. This upon your left. Upon the right, the 
roofs and spires of the Old Town climb one above 
another to where the citadel prints its broad bulk 
and jagged crown of bastions on the western sky. — 
Perhaps it is now one in the afternoon ; and at the 
same instant of time, a ball rises to the summit of 
Nelson's flagstaff close at hand, and, far away, a puff 
of smoke followed by a report bursts from the half- 
moon battery at the Castle. This is the time-gun 
by which people set their watches, as far as the sea 
coast or in hill farms upon the Pentlands. — To com- 
plete the view, the eye enfilades Princes Street, black 
with traffic, and has a broad look over the valley 
between the Old Town and the New : here, full of 
railway trains and stepped over by the high North 
Bridge upon its many columns, and there, green 
with trees and gardens. 

On the north, the Calton Hill is neither so abrupt 
in itself nor has it so exceptional an outlook ; and 
yet even here it commands a striking prospect. A 
gully separates it from the New Town. This is 
Greenside, where witches were burned and tourna- 
ments held in former days. Down that almost pre- 
cipitous bank, Bothwell launched his horse, and so 
first, as they say, attracted the bright eyes of Mary. 
It is now tessellated with sheets and blankets out to 
dry, and the sound of people beating carpets is rarely 
absent. Beyond all this, the suburbs run out to 
Leith ; Leith camps on the seaside with her forest 
of masts ; Leith Roads are full of ships at anchor ; 


the sun picks out the white pharos upon Inehkeith 
Island ; the Firth extends on either hand from the 
Ferry to the May ; the towns of Fifeshire sit, each 
in its bank of blowing smoke, along the opposite 
coast ; and the hills enclose the view, except to the 
farthest east, where the haze of the horizon rests 
upon the open sea. There Hes the road to Norway ; 
a dear road for Sir Patrick Spens and his Scots 
Lords ; and yonder smoke on the hither side of 
Largo Law is Aberdour, from whence they sailed to 
seek a queen for Scotland. 

' O lang, lang, may the ladies sit, 
Wi' their fans into their hand. 
Or e'er they see Sir Patrick Spens 
Come saihng to the land ! ' 

The sight of the sea, even from a city, will bring 
thoughts of storm and sea disaster. The sailors' 
wives of Leith and the fisherwomen of Cockenzie, 
not sitting languorously with fans, but crowding to 
the tail of the harbour with a shawl about their ears, 
may still look vainly for brave Scotsmen who will 
return no more, or boats that have gone on their last 
fishing. Since Sir Patrick sailed from Aberdour, 
what a multitude have gone down in the North Sea ! 
Yonder is Auldhame, where the London smack went 
ashore and wreckers cut the rings from ladies' 
fingers ; and a few miles round Fife Ness is the fatal 
Inchcape, now a star of guidance ; and the lee shore 
to the west of the Inchcape is that Forfarshire coast 
where Mucklebackit sorrowed for his son. 



These are the main features of the scene roughly 
sketched. How they are all tilted by the inclination 
of the ground, how each stands out in delicate rehef 
against the rest, what manifold detail, and play of 
sun and shadow, animate and accentuate the picture, 
is a matter for a person on the spot, and turning 
swiftly on his heels, to grasp and bind together in 
one comprehensive look. It is the character of 
such a prospect, to be full of change and of things 
moving. The multiplicity embarrasses the eye ; and 
the mind, among so much, suffers itself to grow 
absorbed with single points. You remark a tree in 
a hedgerow, or follow a cart alpng a country road. 
You turn to the city, and see children, dwarfed by 
distance into pigmies, at play about suburban door- 
steps ; you have a glimpse upon a thoroughfare 
where people are densely moving ; you note ridge 
after ridge of chimney-stacks running downhill one 
behind another, and church spires rising bravely 
from the sea of roofs. At one of the innumerable 
windows, you watch a figure moving ; on one of the 
multitude of roofs, you watch clambering chimney- 
sweeps. The wind takes a run and scatters the 
smoke ; bells are heard, far and near, faint and loud, 
to tell the hour ; or perhaps a bird goes dipping 
evenly over the housetops, like a gull across the 
waves. And here you are in the meantime, on 
this pastoral hillside, among nibbling sheep and 
looked upon by monumental buildings. 

Return thither on some clear, dark, moonless 
night, with a ring of frost in the air, and only a star 


or two set sparsely in the vault of heaven ; and you 
will find a sight as stimulating as the hoariest 
summit of the Alps. The solitude seems perfect ; 
the patient astronomer, flat on his back under the 
Observatory dome and spying heaven's secrets, is 
your only neighbour; and yet from all round you 
there come up the dull hum of the city, the tramp 
of countless people marching out of time, the rattle 
of carriages and the continuous jingle of the tram- 
way bells. An hour or so before, the gas was 
turned on ; lampHghters scoured the city ; in every 
house, from kitchen to attic, the windows kindled 
and gleamed forth into the dusk. And so now, 
although the town lies blue and darkling on her 
hills, innumerable spots of the bright element shine 
far and near along the pavements and upon the high 
fa9ades. Moving lights of the railway pass and 
repass below the stationary lights upon the bridge. 
Lights burn in the Jail. Lights burn high up in 
the tall lands and on the Castle turrets ; they burn 
low down in Greenside or along the Park. They 
run out one beyond the other into the dark country. 
They walk in a procession down to Leith, and shine 
singly far along Leith Pier. Thus, the plan of the 
city and her suburbs is mapped out upon the ground 
of blackness, as when a child pricks a drawing full of 
pinholes and exposes it before a candle; not the 
darkest night of winter can conceal her high station 
and fanciful design ; every evening in the year she 
proceeds to illuminate herself in honour of her own 
beauty ; and as if to complete the scheme — or rather 



as if some prodigal Pharaoh were beginning to 
extend to the adjacent sea and country — half-way 
over to Fife, there is an outpost of light upon Inch- 
keith, and far to seaward, yet another on the May. 

And while you are looking, across upon the Castle 
Hill, the drums and bugles begin to recall the scat- 
tered garrison ; the air thrills with the sound ; the 
bugles sing aloud ; and the last rising flourish 
mounts and melts into the darkness like a star: a 
martial swan-song, fitly rounding in the labours of 
the day. 



The Scots dialect is singularly rich in terms of 
reproach against the winter wind. Snell, blae, 
nirly, and scowthering, are four of these significant 
vocables ; they are all words that carry a shiver with 
them ; and for my part as I see them aligned before 
me on the page, I am persuaded that a big wind 
comes tearing over the Firth from Burntisland and 
the northern hills ; I think I can hear it howl in the 
chimney, and as I set my face northwards, feel its 
smarting kisses on my cheek. Even in the names 
of places there is often a desolate, inhospitable 
sound ; and I remember two from the near neigh- 
bourhood of Edinburgh, Cauldhame and Blaw-weary, 
that would promise but starving comfort to their 
inhabitants. The inclemency of heaven, which has 


thus endowed the language of Scotland with words, 
has also largely modified the spirit of its poetry. 
Both poverty and a northern climate teach men the 
love of the hearth and the sentiment of the family ; 
and the latter, in its own right, inclines a poet to the 
praise of strong waters. In Scotland, all our singers 
have a stave or two for blazing fires and stout pota- 
tions : — to get indoors out of the wind and to 
swallow something hot to the stomach, are benefits 
so easily appreciated where they dwelt ! 

And this is not only so in country districts where 
the shepherd must wade in the snow all day after his 
flock, but in Edinburgh itself, and nowhere more 
apparently stated than in the works of our Edin- 
burgh poet, Fergusson. He was a delicate youth, I 
take it, and willingly slunk from the robustious 
winter to an inn fireside. Love was absent from 
his life, or only present, if you prefer, in such a form 
that even the least serious of Burns's amourettes was 
ennobling by comparison; and so there is nothing 
to temper the sentiment of in-door revelry which 
pervades the poor boy's verses. Although it is 
characteristic of his native town, and the manners of 
its youth to the present day, this spirit has perhaps 
done something to restrict his popularity. He recalls 
a supper-party pleasantry with something akin to 
tenderness ; and sounds the praises of the act of 
drinking as if it were virtuous, or at least witty, in 
itself. The kindly jar, the warm atmosphere of 
tavern parlours, and the revelry of lawyers' clerks, 
do not offer by themselves the materials of a rich 


existence. It was not choice, so much as an ex- 
ternal fate, that kept Fergusson in this round of 
sordid pleasures. A Scot of poetic temperament, 
and without religious exaltation, drops as if by 
nature into the public-house. The picture may not 
be pleasing ; but what else is a man to do in this 
dog's weather ? 

To none but those who have themselves suffered 
the thing in the body, can the gloom and depression of 
our Edinburgh winters be brought home. For some 
constitutions there is something almost physically 
disgusting in the bleak ugliness of easterly weather ; 
the wind wearies, the sickly sky depresses them ; and 
they turn back from their walk to avoid the aspect 
of the unrefulgent sun going down among perturbed 
and pallid mists. The days are so short that a man 
does much of his business, and certainly all his 
pleasure, by the haggard glare of gas lamps. The 
roads are as heavy as a fallow. People go by, 
so drenched and draggle-tailed that I have often 
wondered how they found the heart to undress. 
And meantime the wind whistles through the town 
as if it were an open meadow ; and if you lie awake 
all night, you hear it shrieking and raving overhead 
with a noise of shipwrecks and of falling houses. In 
a word, life is so unsightly that there are times when 
the heart turns sick in a man's inside ; and the look 
of a tavern, or the thought of the warm, fire-lit study, 
is hke the touch of land to one who has been long 
struggling with the seas. 

As the weather hardens towards frost, the world 


begins to improve for Edinburgh people. We enjoy 
superb, sub-arctic sunsets, with the profile of the city 
stamped in indigo upon a sky of luminous green. 
The wind may still be cold, but there is a briskness 
in the air that stirs good blood. People do not all 
look equally sour and downcast. They fall into two 
divisions : one, the knight of the blue face and hollow 
paunch, whom Winter has gotten by the vitals ; the 
other well lined with New-year's fare, conscious of 
the touch of cold on his periphery, but stepping 
through it by the glow of his internal fires. Such an 
one I remember, triply cased in grease, whom no 
extremity of temperature could vanquish. ' Well,' 
would be his jovial salutation, * here 's a sneezer ! ' 
And the look of these warm fellows is tonic, and 
upholds their drooping fellow-townsmen. There is 
yet another class who do not depend on corporal 
advantages, but support the winter in virtue of a 
brave and merry heart. One shivering evening, cold 
enough for frost but with too high a wind, and a little 
past sundown, when the lamps were beginning to 
enlarge their circles in the growing dusk, a brace of 
barefoot lassies were seen coming eastward in the 
teeth of the wind. If the one was as much as nine, 
the other was certainly not more than seven. They 
were miserably clad ; and the pavement was so cold, 
you would have thought no one could lay a naked 
foot on it unflinching. Yet they came along 
waltzing, if you please, while the elder sang a tune 
to give them music. The person who saw this, and 
whose heart was full of bitterness at the moment, 

E 65 


pocketed a reproof which has been of use to him 
ever since, and which he now hands on, with his 
good wishes, to the reader. 

At length, Edinburgh, with her satelhte hills and 
all the sloping country, is sheeted up in white. If 
it has happened in the dark hours, nurses pluck their 
children out of bed and run with them to some 
commanding window, whence they may see the 
change that has been worked upon earth's face. ' A' 
the hills are covered wi' snaw,' they sing, 'and 
Winter 's noo come fairly ! ' And the children, 
marvelling at the silence and the white landscape, 
find a spell appropriate to the season in the words. 
The reverberation of the snow increases the pale day- 
light, and brings all objects nearer the eye. The 
Pentlands are smooth and glittering, with here and 
there the black ribbon of a dry-stone dyke, and here 
and there, if there be wind, a cloud of blowing snow 
upon a shoulder. The Firth seems a leaden creek, 
that a man might almost jump across, between well- 
powdered Lothian and well-powdered Fife. And 
the effect is not, as in other cities, a thing of half 
a day ; the streets are soon trodden black, but the 
country keeps its virgin white ; and you have only 
to lift your eyes and look over miles of country snow. 
An indescribable cheerfulness breathes about the 
city ; and the well-fed heart sits lightly and beats 
gaily in the bosom. It is New-year's weather. 

New-year's Day, the great national festival, is a 
time of family expansions and of deep carousal. 
Sometimes, by a sore stroke of fate for this Calvinistic 


people, the year's anniversary falls upon a Sunday, 
when the public-houses are inexorably closed, when 
singing and even whistling is banished from our 
homes and highways, and the oldest toper feels called 
upon to go to church. Thus pulled about as if 
between two loyalties, the Scots have to decide 
many nice cases of conscience, and ride the marches 
narrowly between the weekly and the annual 
observance. A party of convivial musicians, next 
door to a friend of mine, hung suspended in this 
manner on the brink of their diversions. From ten 
o'clock on Sunday night my friend heard them 
tuning their instruments ; and as the hour of liberty 
drew near, each must have had his music open, his 
bow in readiness across the fiddle, his foot already 
raised to mark the time, and his nerves braced for 
execution ; for hardly had the twelfth stroke sounded 
from the earliest steeple, before they had launched 
forth into a secular bravura. 

Currant-loaf is now popular eating in all house- 
holds. For weeks before the great morning, confec- 
tioners display stacks of Scots bun — a dense, black 
substance, inimical to life — and full moons of short- 
bread adorned with mottoes of peel or sugar-plum, 
in honour of the season and the family affections. 
'Frae Auld Reekie,' 'A guid New Year to ye a',' 
' For the Auld Folk at Hame,' are among the most 
favoured of these devices. Can you not see the 
carrier, after half-a-day's journey on pinching hill- 
roads, draw up before a cottage in Teviotdale, or 
perhaps in Manor Glen among the rowans, and the 



old people receiving the parcel with moist eyes and 
a prayer for Jock or Jean in the city ? For at this 
season, on the threshold of another year of calamity 
and stubborn conflict, men feel a need to draw 
closer the links that unite them ; they reckon the 
number of their friends, Hke allies before a war ; and 
the prayers grow longer in the morning as the absent 
are recommended by name into God's keeping. 

On the day itself, the shops are all shut as on a 
Sunday ; only taverns, toyshops, and other holiday 
magazines, keep open doors. Every one looks for 
his handsel. The postman and the lamplighters have 
left, at every house in their districts, a copy of 
vernacular verses, asking and thanking in a breath ; 
and it is characteristic of Scotland that these 
verses may have sometimes a touch of reality in 
detail of sentiment and a measure of strength in the 
handhng. All over the town, you may see com- 
forter 'd schoolboys hasting to squander their half- 
crowns. There are an infinity of visits to be paid ; 
all the world is in the street, except the daintier 
classes ; the sacramental greeting is heard upon all 
sides ; Auld Lang Syne is m-uch in people's mouths ; 
and whisky and shortbread are staple articles of 
consumption. From an early hour a stranger wiU be 
impressed by the number of drunken men ; and by 
afternoon drunkenness has spread to the women. 
With some classes of society, it is as much a matter 
of duty to drink hard on New-year's Day as to go to 
church on Sunday. Some have been saving their 
wages for perhaps a month to do the season honour. 


Many carry a whisky-bottle in their pocket, which 
they will press with embarrassing effusion on a per- 
fect stranger. It is not expedient to risk one's body 
in a cab, or not, at least, until after a prolonged study 
of the driver. The streets, which are thronged from 
end to end, become a place for delicate pilotage. 
Singly or arm-in-arm, some speechless, others noisy 
and quarrelsome, the votaries of the New Year go 
meandering in and out and cannoning one against 
another ; and now and again, one falls, and lies as he 
has fallen. Before night, so many have gone to bed, 
or the police office, that the streets seem almost 
clearer. And as guisards and Jii^st-footers are now 
not much seen except in country places, when once 
the New Year has been rung in and proclaimed at 
the Tron railings, the festivities begin to find their 
way in-doors and something like quiet returns upon 
the town. But think, in these piled lands, of all the 
senseless snorers, all the broken heads and empty 
pockets ! 

Of old, Edinburgh University was the scene of 
heroic snowballing ; and one riot obtained the epic 
honours of military intervention. But the great 
generation, I am afraid, is at an end ; and even 
during my own college days, the spirit appreciably 
declined. Skating and sliding, on the other hand, 
are honoured more and more ; and curling, being a 
creature of the national genius, is little likely to 
be disregarded. The patriotism that leads a man 
to eat Scotch bun will scarce desert him at the 
curling-pond. Edinburgh, with its long steep 



pavements, is the proper home of sHders ; many 
a happy urchin can shde the whole way to 
school ; and the profession of errand-boy is trans- 
formed into a hohday amusement. As for skating, 
there is scarce any city so handsomely provided, 
Duddingston Loch lies under the abrupt southern 
side of Arthur's Seat ; in summer a shield of blue, 
with swans sailing from the reeds ; in winter a field 
of ringing ice. The village church sits above it on a 
green promontory ; and the village smoke rises from 
among goodly trees. At the church gates is the 
historical Jougs, a place of penance for the neck of 
detected sinners, and the historical louphig-on stane, 
from which Dutch-built lairds and farmers climbed 
into the saddle. Here Prince Charlie slept before 
the battle of Prestonpans ; and here Deacon Brodie, 
or one of his gang, stole a plough coulter before the 
burglary in Chessel's Court. On the opposite side of 
the loch, the ground rises to Craigmillar Castle, a 
place friendly to Stuart Mariolaters. It is worth a 
climb, even in summer, to look down upon the loch 
from Arthur's Seat ; but it is tenfold more so on a 
day of skating. The surface is thick with people 
moving easily and swiftly and leaning over at a 
thousand graceful inclinations ; the crowd opens and 
closes, and keeps moving through itself like water ; 
and the ice rings to half a mile away, with the flying 
steel. As night draws on, the single figures melt 
into the dusk, until only an obscure stir and coming 
and going of black clusters is visible upon the loch. 
A little longer, and the first torch is kindled and 


begins to flit rapidly across the ice in a ring of 
yellow reflection, and this is followed by another 
and another, until the whole field is full of skimming 



On three sides of Edinburgh, the country slopes 
downward from the city, here to the sea, there to the 
fat farms of Haddington, there to the mineral fields 
of Linlithgow. On the south alone it keeps rising, 
until it not only out-tops the Castle, but looks down 
on Arthur's Seat. The character of the neighbour- 
hood is pretty strongly marked by a scarcity of 
hedges ; by many stone walls of varying height ; by 
a fair amount of timber, some of it well grown, but 
apt to be of a bushy, northern profile and poor in 
foliage ; by here and there a little river, Esk or Leith 
or Almond, busily journeying in the bottom of its 
glen ; and from almost every point, by a peep of the 
sea or the hills. There is no lack of variety, and yet 
most of the elements are common to all parts ; and 
the southern district is alone distinguished by con- 
siderable summits and a wide view. 

From Boroughmuirhead, where the Scottish army 
encamped before Flodden, the road descends a long 
hill, at the bottom of which, and just as it is prepar- 
ing to mount up on the other side, it passes a toll-bar 



and issues at once into the open country. Even as 
I write these words, they are becoming antiquated in 
the progress of events, and the chisels are tinkling 
on a new row of houses. The builders have at 
length adventured beyond the toll which held them in 
respect so long, and proceed to career in these fresh 
pastures like a herd of colts turned loose. As Lord 
Beaconsfield proposed to hang an architect by way 
of stimulation, a man, looking on these doomed 
meads, imagines a similar example to deter the 
builders ; for it seems as if it must come to an open 
fight at last to preserve a corner of green country 
unbedevilled. And here, appropriately enough, there 
stood in old days a crow-haunted gibbet, with two 
bodies hanged in chains. I used to be shown, when 
a child, a flat stone in the roadway to which the 
gibbet had been fixed. People of a willing fancy 
were persuaded, and sought to persuade others, that 
this stone was never dry. And no wonder, they 
would add, for the two men had only stolen four- 
pence between them. 

For about two miles the road climbs upwards, 
a long hot walk in summer time. You reach the 
summit at a place where four ways meet, beside the 
toll of Fairmilehead. The spot is breezy and agree- 
able both in name and aspect. The hills are close 
by across a valley : Kirk Yetton, with its long, 
upright scars visible as far as Fife, and AUermuir 
the tallest on this side: with wood and tilled field 
running high up on their borders, and haunches all 
moulded into innumerable glens and shelvings and 


variegated with heather and fern. The air comes 
briskly and sweetly off the hills, pure from the ele- 
vation, and rustically scented by the upland plants ; 
and even at the toll, you may hear the curlew calling 
on its mate. At certain seasons, when the gulls 
desert their surfy forelands, the birds of sea and 
mountain hunt and scream together in the same field 
by Fairmilehead. The winged, wild things inter- 
mix their wheelings, the sea-birds skim the tree-tops 
and fish among the furrows of the plough. These 
little craft of air are at home in all the world, so 
long as they cruise in their own element ; and like 
sailors, ask but food and water from the shores they 

Below, over a stream, the road passes Bow Bridge, 
now a dairy-farm, but once a distillery of whisky. 
It chanced, some time in the past century, that the 
distiller was on terms of good-fellowship with the 
visiting officer of excise. The latter was of an easy, 
friendly disposition and a master of convivial arts. 
Now and again, he had to walk out of Edinburgh to 
measure the distiller's stock ; and although it was 
agreeable to find his business lead him in a friend's 
direction, it was unfortunate that the friend should 
be a loser by his visits. Accordingly, when he got 
about the level of Fairmilehead, the gauger would 
take his flute, without which he never travelled, from 
his pocket, fit it together, and set manfully to play- 
ing, as if for his own delectation and inspired by the 
beauty of the scene. His favourite air, it seems, was 
' Over the hills and far away.' At the first note, the 



distiller pricked his ears. A flute at Fairmilehead ? 
and playing * Over the hills and far away ' ? This 
must be his friendly enemy, the gauger. Instantly, 
horses were harnessed, and sundry barrels of whisky 
were got upon a cart, driven at a gallop round Hill- 
end, and buried in the mossy glen behind Kirk 
Yetton. In the same breath, you may be sure, a fat 
fowl was put to the fire, and the whitest napery pre- 
pared for the back parlour. A little after, the gauger, 
having had his fill of music for the moment, came 
strolling down with the most innocent air imagin- 
able, and found the good people at Bow Bridge 
taken entirely unawares by his arrival, but none the 
less glad to see him. The distiller's liquor and the 
ganger's flute would combine to speed the moments 
of digestion ; and when both were somewhat mellow, 
they would wind up the evening with ' Over the 
hills and far away ' to an accompaniment of knowing 
glances. And at least there is a smuggling story, 
with original and half-idyllic features. 

A little farther, the road to the right passes an 
upright stone in a field. The country people call it 
General Kay's monument. According to them, an 
officer of that name had perished there in battle at 
some indistinct period before the beginning of history. 
The date is reassuring ; for I think cautious writers 
are silent on the General's exploits. But the stone 
is connected with one of those remarkable tenures of 
land which linger on into the modern world from 
Feudalism. Whenever the reigning sovereign passes 
by, a certain landed proprietor is held bound to climb 



on to the top, trumpet in hand, and sound a flourish 
according to the measure of his knowledge in that 
art. Happily for a respectable family, crowned heads 
have no great business in the Pentland Hills. But 
the story lends a character of comicality to the 
stone ; and the passer-by will sometimes chuckle to 

The district is dear to the superstitious. Hard by, 
at the back gate of Comiston, a belated carter beheld 
a lady in white, ' with the most beautiful, clear shoes 
upon her feet,' who looked upon him in a very 
ghastly manner and then vanished ; and just in front 
is the Hunters' Tryst, once a roadside inn, and not 
so long ago haunted by the devil in person. Satan 
led the inhabitants a pitiful existence. He shook 
tlie four corners of the building with lamentable 
outcries, beat at the doors and windows, overthrew 
crockery in the dead hours of the morning, and 
danced unholy dances on the roof. Every kind of 
spiritual disinfectant was put in requisition ; chosen 
ministers were summoned out of Edinburgh and 
prayed by the hour ; pious neighbours sat up all 
night making a noise of psalmody ; but Satan minded 
them no more than the wind about the hill- tops ; 
and it was only after years of persecution, that he 
left the Hunters' Tryst in peace to occupy himself 
with the remainder of mankind. What with General 
Kay, and the white lady, and this singular visitation, 
the neighbourhood offers great facilities to the makers 
of sun-myths ; and without exactly casting in one's 
lot with that disenchanting school of writers, one 



cannot help hearing a good deal of the winter wind 
in the last story. ' That nicht,' says Burns, in one 
of his happiest moments, — 

' That nicht a child might understand 
The deil had business on his hand.' 

And if people sit up all night in lone places on 
the hills, with Bibles and tremulous psalms, they 
will be apt to hear some of the most fiendish noises 
in the world : the wind will beat on doors and 
dance upon roofs for them, and make the hills howl 
around their cottage with a clamour like the Judg- 
ment Day. 

The road goes down through another valley, and 
then finally begins to scale the main slope of the 
Pentlands. A bouquet of old trees stands round a 
white farmhouse ; and from a neighbouring dell you 
can see smoke rising and leaves ruffling in the breeze. 
Straight above, the hills climb a thousand feet into 
the air. The neighbourhood, about the time of 
lambs, is clamorous with the bleating of flocks ; and 
you will be awakened, in the grey of early summer 
mornings, by the barking of a dog or the voice of 
a shepherd shouting to the echoes. This, with the 
hamlet lying behind unseen, is Swanston. 

The place in the dell is immediately connected 
with the city. Long ago, this sheltered field was 
purchased by the Edinburgh magistrates for the sake 
of the springs that rise or gather there. After they 
had built their water-house and laid their pipes, it 
occurred to them that the place was suitable for 


junketing. Once entertained, with jovial magistrates 
and public funds, the idea led speedily to accom- 
plishment ; and Edinburgh could soon boast of a 
municipal Pleasure House. The dell was turned 
into a garden ; and on the knoll that shelters it from 
the plain and the sea winds, they built a cottage 
looldng to the hills. They brought crockets and 
gargoyles from old St. Giles's, which they were then 
restoring, and disposed them on the gables and over 
the door and about the garden ; and the quarry 
which had supplied them with building material, 
they draped with clematis and carpeted with beds of 
roses. So much for the pleasure of the eye ; for 
creature comfort, they made a capacious cellar in the 
hillside and fitted it with bins of the hewn stone. 
In process of time, the trees grew higher and gave 
shade to the cottage, and the evergreens sprang up 
and turned the dell into a thicket. There, purple 
magistrates relaxed themselves from the pursuit of 
municipal ambition ; cocked hats paraded soberly 
about the garden and in and out among the holhes ; 
authoritative canes drew ciphering upon the path ; 
and at night, from high up on the hills> a shepherd 
saw lighted windows through the foliage and heard 
the voice of city dignitaries raised in song. 

The farm is older. It was first a grange of White- 
kirk Abbey, tilled and inhabited by rosy friars. 
Thence, after the Reformation, it passed into the 
hands of a true-blue Protestant family. During the 
Covenanting troubles, when a night conventicle was 
held upon the Pentlands, the farm doors stood hos- 


pitably open till the morning ; the dresser was laden 
with cheese and bannocks, milk and brandy ; and 
the worshippers kept slipping down from the hill 
between two exercises, as couples visit the supper- 
room between two dances of a modern ball. In the 
Forty-Five, some foraging Highlanders from Prince 
Charlie's army fell upon Swanston in the dawn. 
The great-grandfather of the late farmer was then 
a little child ; him they awakened by plucking the 
blankets from his bed, and he remembered, when he 
was an old man, their truculent looks and uncouth 
speech. The churn stood full of cream in the dairy, 
and with this they made their brose in high delight. 
' It was braw brose,' said one of them. At last, they 
made off, laden like camels with their booty; and 
Swanston Farm has lain out of the way of history 
from that time forward. I do not know what may 
be yet in store for it. On dark days, when the mist 
runs low upon the hill, the house has a gloomy air as 
if suitable for private tragedy. But in hot July, you 
can fancy nothing more perfect than the garden, laid 
out in alleys and arbours and bright old-fashioned 
flower-plots, and ending in a miniature ravine, all 
trellis-work and moss and tinkling waterfall, and 
housed from the sun under fathoms of broad 

The hamlet behind is one of the least considerable 
of hamlets, and consists of a few cottages on a green 
beside a burn. Some of them (a strange thing in 
Scotland) are models of internal neatness ; the beds 
adorned with patchwork, the shelves arrayed with 


willow-pattern plates, the floors and tables bright 
with scrubbing or pipeclay, and the very kettle 
polished like silver. It is the sign of a contented 
old age in country places, where there is little matter 
for gossip and no street sights. Housework becomes 
an art; and at evening, when the cottage interior 
shines and twinkles in the glow of the fire, the house- 
wife folds her hands and contemplates her finished 
picture ; the snow and the wind may do their worst, 
she has made herself a pleasant corner in the world. 
The city might be a thousand miles away : and yet 
it was from close by that Mr. Bough painted the 
distant view of Edinburgh which has been engraved 
for this collection : ^ and you have only to look at the 
cut, to see how near it is at hand. But hills and 
hill people are not easily sophisticated ; and if you 
walk out here on a summer Sunday, it is as like 
as not the shepherd may set his dogs upon you. 
But keep an unmoved countenance ; they look for- 
midable at the charge, but their hearts are in the 
right place; and they will only bark and sprawl 
about you on the grass, unmindful of their master's 

Kirk Yetton forms the north-eastern angle of the 
range ; thence, the Pentlands trend off to south 
and west. From the summit you look over a great 
expanse of champaign sloping to the sea and behold 
a large variety of distant hills. There are the hills 
of Fife, the hills of Peebles, the Lammermoors and 
the Ochils, more or less mountainous in outline, more 

^ Reference to an etching in original edition. 



or less blue with distance. Of the Pentlands them- 
selves, you see a field of wild heathery peaks with a 
pond gleaming in the midst ; and to that side the 
view is as desolate as if you were looking into 
Galloway or Applecross. To turn to the other, is 
like a piece of travel. Far out in the lowlands 
Edinburgh shows herself, making a great smoke on 
clear days and spreading her suburbs about her 
for miles ; the Castle rises darkly in the midst ; 
and close by, Arthur's Seat makes a bold figure in 
the landscape. All around, cultivated fields, and 
woods, and smoking villages, and white country 
roads, diversify the uneven surface of the land. 
Trains crawl slowly abroad upon the railway lines ; 
little ships are tacking in the Firth ; the shadow 
of a mountainous cloud, as large as a parish, travels 
before the wind ; the wind itself ruffles the wood 
and standing corn, aiid sends pulses of varying 
colour across the landscape. So you sit, like Jupiter 
on Olympus, and look down from afar upon men's 
life. The city is as silent as a city of the dead : from 
all its humming thoroughfares, not a voice, not a 
footfall, reaches you upon the hill. The sea surf, the 
cries of ploughmen, the streams and the mill-wheels, 
the birds and the wind, keep up an animated concert 
through the plain ; from farm to farm, dogs and 
crowing cocks contend together in defiance ; and yet 
from this Olympian station, except for the whisper- 
ing rumour of a train, the world has fallen into a 
dead silence and the business of town and country 
grown voiceless in your ears. A crying hill-bird, the 


bleat of a sheep, a wind singing in the dry grass, 
seem not so much to interrupt, as to accompany, the 
stillness ; but to the spiritual ear, the whole scene 
makes a music at once human and rural, and dis- 
courses pleasant reflections on the destiny of man. 
The spiry habitable city, ships, the divided fields, and 
browsing herds, and the straight highways, tell 
visibly of man's active and comfortable ways ; and 
you may be never §o laggard and never so unim- 
pressionable, but there is something in the view that 
spirits up your blood and puts you in the vein for 
cheerful labour. 

Immediately below is Fairmilehead, a spot of roof 
and a smoking chimney, where two roads, no thicker 
than packthread, intersect beside a hanging wood. 
If you are fanciful, you will be reminded of the 
ganger in the story. And the thought of this old 
exciseman, who once lipped and fingered on his pipe 
and uttered clear notes from it in the mountain air, 
and the words of the song he affected, carry your 
mind ' Over the hills and far away ' to distant 
countries ; and you have a vision of Edinburgh, not, 
as you see her, in the midst of a little neighbourhood, 
but as a boss upon the round world with all Europe 
and the deep sea for her surroundings. For every 
place is a centre to the earth, whence highways 
radiate or ships set sail for foreign ports ; the limit 
of a parish is not more imaginary than the frontier 
of an empire ; and as a man sitting at home in his 
cabinet and swiftly writing books, so a city sends 
abroad an influence and a portrait of herself. There 
F 8i 


is no Edinburgh emigrant, far or near, from China to 
Peru, but he or she carries some Hvely pictures of 
the mind, some sunset behind the Castle chfFs, some 
snow scene, some maze of city lamps, indelible in the 
memory and delightful to study in the intervals of 
toil. For any such, if this book fall in their way, 
here are a few more home pictures It would be 
pleasant, if they should recognise a house where they 
had dwelt, or a walk that they had taken. 



First Collected Edition: Ohatto and Windus, 

London, 1887. 
Originally published : 

I. Cornhill Magazine, May 18S2. 
II. ' The New Amphion, being the Book of the 
Edinburgh University Union Fancy Fair,' 
Edinburgh, 1886. 
III. Longman's Magazine, May 1884. 
V. Edinburgh University Magazine, March 

VI. Longman's Magazine, April 1887. 
VII. Scribner's Magazine, May 1877. 
IX. Contemporary Review, May 1887. 
X. Gornhill Magazine, April 1882. 
XI. Gornhill Magazine, August 1882. 
XII. English Illustrated Magazine, February 

XIII, Magazine of Art, May 1882. 
XV, Longman's Magazine, November 1883. 
XVI. Longmans Magazine, December 1884. 







The Foreigner at Home 



Some College Memories 



Old Mortality . 



A College Magazine 



An Old Scots Gardener 






The Manse 



Memoirs of an Islet 



Thomas Stevenson 



Talk and Talkers, I. . 



Talk and Talkers, II. . 



The Character of Dogs 


XIII. A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured 225 




XIV. A Gossip on a Novel of Dumas's . 235 

XV. A Gossip on Romance . . 248 

XVI. A Humble Remonstrance . . 267 







XS'. 'Ludgate Hiir 

ivithin sight of Cape Race 



' This is no' my ain house ; 
I ken by the biggin' o't. ' 

A Scotsman may tramp the better part of Europe 
and the United States, and never again receive so 
vivid an impression of foreign travel and strange 
lands and manners as on his first excursion into 
England. The change from a hilly to a level 
country strikes him with delighted wonder. Along 
the flat horizon there arise the frequent venerable 
towers of churches. He sees at the end of airy 
vistas the revolution of the windmill sails. He 
may go where he pleases in the future; he may 
see Alps, and Pyramids, and lions ; but it will 
be hard to beat the pleasure of that moment. 
There are, indeed, few merrier spectacles than that 
of many windmills bickering together in a fresh 
breeze over a woody country ; their halting alacrity 
of movement, their pleasant busyness, making 
bread all day with uncouth gesticulations, their air, 
gigantically human, as of a creature half alive, put a 
spirit of romance into the tamest landscape. When 
the Scottish child sees them first he falls immediately 



in love ; and from that time forward windmills keep 
turning in his dreams. And so, in their degree, with 
every feature of the life and landscape. The warm, 
habitable age of towns and hamlets, the green, 
settled, ancient look of the country ; the lush hedge- 
rows, stiles, and privy pathways in the fields ; the 
sluggish, brimming rivers ; chalk and smock-frocks ; 
chimes of bells and the rapid, pertly-sounding English 
speech — they are all new to the curiosity ; they are 
all set to English airs in the child's story that he tells 
himself at night. The sharp edge of novelty wears 
off; the feeling is blunted, but I doubt whether it is 
ever killed. Rather it keeps returning, ever the more I 
rarely and strangely, and even in scenes to which you 
have been long accustomed suddenly awakes and 
gives a relish to enjoyment or heightens the sense of 

One thing especially continues unfamiliar to the 
Scotsman's eye — the domestic architecture, the look 
of streets and buildings ; the quaint, venerable age of 
many, and the thin walls and warm colouring of all. 
We have, in Scotland, far fewer ancient buildings, 
above all in country places ; and those that we have 
are all of hewn or harled masonry. Wood has been 
sparingly used in their construction ; the window- 
frames are sunken in the wall, not flat to the front, 
as in England; the roofs are steeper- pitched ; even 
a hill farm will have a massy, square, cold and 
permanent appearance. English houses, in compari- 
son, have the look of cardboard toys, such as a puff 
might shatter. And to this the Scotsman never 


becomes used. His eye can never rest consciously 
on one of these brick houses — rickles of brick, as he 
might call them — or on one of these flat-chested 
streets, but he is instantly reminded where he is, and 
instantly travels back in fancy to his home. ' This is 
no' my ain house ; I ken by the biggin' o't.' And yet 
perhaps it is his own, bought with his own money, the 
key of it long polished in his pocket ; but it has not 
yet been, and never will be, thoroughly adopted by his 
imagination ; nor does he cease to remember that, in 
the whole length and breadth of his native country, 
there was no building even distantly resembling it. 

But it is not alone in scenery and architecture that 
we count England foreign. The constitution of 
society, the very pillars of the empire, surprise and 
even pain us. The dull, neglected peasant, sunk in 
matter, insolent, gross and servile, makes a startling 
contrast with our own long-legged, long-headed, 
thoughtful, Bible-quoting ploughman. A week or 
two in such a place as Suffolk leaves the Scotsman 
gasping. It seems incredible that within the boun- 
daries of his own island a class should have been thus 
forgotten. Even the educated and intelUgent, who 
hold our own opinions and speak in our own words, 
yet seem to hold them with a difference or from 
another reason, and to speak on all things with less 
interest and conviction. The first shock of Enghsh 
society is like a cold plunge. It is possible that the 
Scot comes looking for too much, and to be sure his 
first experiment will be in the wrong direction. Yet 
surely his complaint is grounded ; surely the speech 



of Englishmen is too often lacking in generous 
ardour, the better part of the man too often withheld 
from the social commerce, and the contact of mind 
with mind evaded as with terror. A Scottish 
peasant wiU talk more liberally out of his own 
experience. He will not put you by with conversa- 
tional counters and small jests ; he will give you the 
best of himself, like one interested in life and man's 
chief end. A Scotsman is vain, interested in himself 
and others, eager for sympathy, setting forth his 
thoughts and experience in the best Ught. The 
egoism of the Englishman is self-contained. He 
does not seek to proselytise. He takes no interest 
in Scotland or the Scots, and, what is the un- 
kindest cut of all, he does not care to justify his 
indifference. Give him the wages of going on and 
being an EngHshman, that is all he asks ; and in the 
meantime, while you continue to associate, he would 
not be reminded of your baser origin. Compared 
with the grand, tree-Hke self-sufficiency of his 
demeanour, the vanity and curiosity of the Scot seem 
uneasy, vulgar, and immodest. That you should 
continually try to establish human and serious 
relations, that you should actually feel an interest in 
John Bull, and desire and invite a return of interest 
from him, may argue something more awake and 
lively in your mind, but it still puts you in the 
attitude of a suitor and a poor relation. Thus even 
the lowest class of the educated English towers over 
a Scotsman by the head and shoulders. 

Different indeed is the atmosphere in which Scot- 


tish and English youth begin to look about them, 
come to themselves in life, and gather up those 
first apprehensions which are the material of future 
thought and, to a great extent, the rule of future 
conduct. I have been to school in both countries, 
and I found, in the boys of the North, something at 
once rougher and more tender, at once more reserve 
and more expansion, a greater habitual distance 
chequered by glimpses of a nearer intimacy, and 
on the whole wider extremes of temperament and 
sensibility. The boy of the South seems more 
wholesome, but less thoughtful ; he gives himself to 
games as to a business, striving to excel, but is not 
readily transported by imagination ; the type remains 
with me as cleaner in mind and body, more active, 
fonder of eating, endowed with a lesser and a less 
romantic sense of life and of the future, and more 
immersed in present circumstances. And certainly, 
for one thing, English boys are younger for their age. 
Sabbath observance makes a series of grim, and 
perhaps serviceable, pauses in the tenor of Scottish 
boyhood — days of great stillness and solitude for the 
rebellious mind, when in the dearth of books and 
play, and in the intervals of studying the Shorter 
Catechism, the intellect and senses prey upon and 
test each other. The typical English Sunday, with 
the huge midday dinner and the plethoric afternoon, 
leads perhaps to different results. About the very 
cradle of the Scot there goes a hum of metaphysical 
divinity ; and the whole of two divergent systems is 
summed up, not merely speciously, in the two first 



questions of the rival catechisms, the English tritely 
inquiring, 'What is your name?' the Scottish 
striking at the very roots of life with, ' What is the 
chief end of man ?' and answering nobly, if obscurely, 
'To glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.' I do 
not wish to make an idol of the Shorter Catechism ; 
but the fact of such a question being asked opens to 
us Scots a great field of speculation ; and the fact 
that it is asked of all of us, from the peer to the 
ploughboy, binds us more nearly together. No 
Englishman of Byron's age, character, and history, 
would have had patience for long theological discus- 
sions on the way to fight for Greece ; but the daft 
Gordon blood and the Aberdonian school-days kept 
their influence to the end. We have spoken of the 
material conditions ; nor need much more be said of 
these : of the land lying everywhere more exposed, 
of the wind always louder and bleaker, of the black, 
roaring winters, of the gloom of high -lying, old stone 
cities, imminent on the windy seaboard ; compared 
with the level streets, the warm colouring of the 
brick, the domestic quaintness of the architecture, 
among which English children begin to grow up and 
come to themselves in life. As the stage of the 
University approaches, the contrast becomes more 
express. The English lad goes to Oxford or 
Cambridge ; there, in an ideal world of gardens, to 
lead a semi-scenic life, costumed, disciplined, and 
drilled by proctors. Nor is this to be regarded 
merely as a stage of education ; it is a piece of 
privilege besides, and a step that separates him 


further from the bulk of his compatriots. At an 
earlier age the Scottish lad begins his greatly differ- 
ent experience of crowded class-rooms, of a gaunt 
quadrangle, of a bell hourly booming over the traffic 
of the city to recall him from the public-house where 
he has been lunching, or the streets where he has 
been wandering fancy-free. His college life has Uttle 
of restraint, and nothing of necessary gentility. He 
will find no quiet clique of the exclusive, studious 
and cultured ; no rotten borough of the arts. All 
classes rub shoulders on the greasy benches. The 
raffish young gentleman in gloves must measure his 
scholarship with the plain, clownish laddie from the 
parish school. They separate, at the session's end, 
one to smoke cigars about a watering-place, the other 
to resume the labours of the field beside his peasant 
family. The first muster of a college class in Scot- 
land is a scene of curious and painful interest ; so 
many lads, fresh from the heather, hang round the 
stove in cloddish embarrassment, ruffled by the pre- 
sence of their smarter comrades, and afraid of the 
sound of their own rustic voices. It was in these 
early days, I think, that Professor Blackie won the 
affection of his pupils, putting these uncouth, um- 
brageous students at their ease with ready human 
geniality. Thus, at least, we have a healthy 
democratic atmosphere to breathe in while at work ; 
even when there is no cordiality there is always a 
juxtaposition of the different classes, and in the 
competition of study the intellectual power of each 
is plainly demonstrated to the other. Our tasks 



ended, we of the North go forth as freemen into the 
humming, lamplit city. At five o'clock you may see 
the last of us hiving from the college gates, in the 
glare of the shop-windows, under the green glimmer 
of the winter sunset. The frost tingles in our blood ; 
no proctor lies in wait to intercept us ; till the bell 
sounds again, we are the masters of the world; 
and some portion of our lives is always Saturday, 
la trSve de JDieu. 

Nor must we omit the sense of the nature of his 
country and his covmtry's history gradually growing 
in the child's mind from story and from observation. 
A Scottish child hears much of shipwreck, outlying 
iron skerries, pitiless breakers, and great sea-lights; 
much of heathery mountains, wild clans, and hunted 
Covenanters. Breaths come to him in song of the 
distant Cheviots and the ring of foraying hoofs. He 
glories in his hard-fisted forefathers, of the iron girdle 
and the handful of oatmeal, who rode so swiftly and 
lived so sparely on their raids. Poverty, ill-luck, 
enterprise, and constant resolution are the fibres of 
the legend of his country's history. The heroes and 
kings of Scotland have been tragically fated; the 
most marking incidents in Scottish history — Flodden, 
Darien, or the Forty-five — were still either failures 
or defeats ; and the fall of Wallace and the repeated 
reverses of the Bruce combine with the very small- 
ness of the country to teach rather a moral than a 
material criterion for life. Britain is altogether small, 
the mere taproot of her extended empire ; Scotland, 
again, which alone the Scottish boy adopts in his 


imagination, is but a little part of that, and avowedly 
cold, sterile, and unpopulous. It is not so for nothing. 
I once seemed to have perceived in an American boy 
a greater readiness of sympathy for lands that are 
great, and rich, and growing, like his own. It proved 
to be quite otherwise r a mere dumb piece of boyish 
romance, that I had lacked penetration to divine. 
But the error serves the purpose of my argument ; 
for I am sure, at least, that the heart of young Scot- 
land will be always touched more nearly by paucity 
of number and Spartan poverty of life. 

So we may argue, and yet the difference is not 
explained. That Shorter Catechism which I took as 
being so typical of Scotland, was yet composed in the 
city of Westminster. The division of races is more 
sharply marked within the borders of Scotland itself 
than between the countries. Galloway and Buchan, 
Lothian and Lochaber, are like foreign parts ; yet 
you may choose a man from any of them, and, ten to 
one, he shall prove to have the headmark of a Scot. 
A century and a half ago the Highlander wore a 
different costume, spoke a different language, wor- 
shipped in another church, held different morals, 
and obeyed a different social constitution from his 
fellow-countrymen either of the south or north. 
Even the English, it is recorded, did not loathe the 
Highlander and the Highland costume as they were 
loathed by the remainder of the Scots. Yet the 
Highlander felt himself a Scot. He would willingly 
raid into the Scottish lowlands ; but his courage 
failed him at the border, and he regarded England as 
G 97 


a perilous, unhomely land. When the Black Watch, 
after years of foreign service, returned to Scotland, 
veterans leaped out and kissed the earth at Port- 
patrick. They had been in Ireland, stationed among 
men of their own race and language, where they were 
well liked and treated with affection ; but it was the 
soil of Galloway that they kissed, at the extreme end 
of the hostile lowlands, among a people who did not 
understand their speech, and who had hated, harried, 
and hanged them since the dawn of history. Last, 
and perhaps most curious, the sons of chieftains were 
often educated on the continent of Europe. They 
went abroad speaking Gaelic ; they returned speaking, 
not English, but the broad dialect of Scotland. Now, 
what idea had they in their minds when they thus, 
in thought, identified themselves with their ancestral 
enemies ? What was the sense in which they were 
Scottish and not English, or Scottish and not Irish ? 
Can a bare name be thus influential on the minds 
and affections of men, and a political aggregation 
blind them to the nature of facts ? The story of the 
Austrian Empire would seem to answer No ; the far 
more galling business of Ireland chnches the negative 
from nearer home. Is it common education, common 
morals, a common language, or a common faith, that 
join men into nations ? There were practically none 
of these in the case we are considering. 

The fact remains : in spite of the difference of 

blood and language, the Lowlander feels himself the 

sentimental countryman of the Highlander. When 

they meet abroad they fall upon each other's necks 



in spirit ; even at home there is a kind of clannish 
intimacy in their talk. But from his compatriot in 
the south the Lowlander stands consciously apart. 
He has had a different training ; he obeys different 
laws ; he makes his will in other terms, is otherwise 
divorced and married ; his eyes are not at home in an 
English landscape or with English houses ; his ear 
continues to remark the English speech ; and even 
though his tongue acquire the Southern knack, he 
will still have a strong Scots accent of the mind. 



I AM asked to write something (it is not specifically 
stated what) to the profit and glory of my Alma 
Mater ; ^ and the fact is I seem to be in very nearly 
the same case with those who addressed me, for while 
T am willing enough to write something, I know not 
what to write. Only one point I see, that if I am to 
write at all, it should be of the University itself and 
my own days under its shadow ; of the things that 
are still the same and of those that are already 
changed : such talk, in short, as would pass naturally 
between a student of to-day and one of yesterday, 
supposing them to meet and grow confidential. 

The generations pass away swiftly enough on the 
high seas of life ; more swiftly still in the little 
bubbUng backwater of the quadrangle ; so that we 
see there, on a scale startlingly diminished, the flight 
of time and the succession of men. I looked for my 
name the other day in last year's case-book of the 
Speculative. Naturally enough I looked for it near 
the end ; it was not there, nor yet in the next column, 

1 For the ' Book ' of the Edinburgh University Union Fancy Fair^ 



so that I began to think it had been dropped at 
press ; and when at last I found it, mounted on the 
shoulders of so many successors, and looking in that 
posture like the name of a man of ninety, I was con- 
scious of some of the dignity of years. This kind of 
dignity of temporal precession is likely, with prolonged 
life, to become more familiar, possibly less welcome ; 
but I felt it strongly then, it is strongly on me now, 
and I am the more emboldened to speak with my 
successors in the tone of a parent and a praiser of 
things past. 

For, indeed, that which they attend is but a fallen 
University ; it has doubtless some remains of good, 
for human institutions decline by gradual stages ; but 
decline, in spite of all seeming embellishments, it 
does ; and, what is perhaps more singular, began to do 
so when I ceased to be a student. Thus, by an odd 
chance, I had the very last of the very best of Alma 
Mater ; the same thing, I hear (which makes it the 
more strange), had previously happened to my father ; 
and if they are good and do not die, something not 
at all unsimilar will be found in time to have befallen 
my successors of to-day. Of the specific points of 
change, of advantage in the past, of shortcoming in 
the present, I must own that, on a near examination, 
they look wondrous cloudy. The chief and far the 
most lamentable change is the absence of a certain 
lean, ugly, idle, unpopular student, whose presence 
was for me the gist and heart of the whole matter ; 
whose changing humours, fine occasional purposes of 
good, flinching acceptance of evil, shiverings on wet, 



east- windy, morning journeys up to class, infinite 
yawnings during lecture and unquenchable gusto in 
the delights of truantry, made up the sunshine and 
shadow of my college life. You cannot fancy what 
you missed in missing him ; his virtues, I make sure, 
are inconceivable to his successors, just as they were 
apparently concealed from his contemporaries, for I 
was practically alone in the pleasure I had in his 
society. Poor soul, I remember how much he was 
cast down at times, and how life (which had not yet 
begun) seemed to be already at an end, and hope 
quite dead, and misfortune and dishonour, like phy- 
sical presences, dogging him as he went. And it 
may be worth while to add that these clouds rolled 
away in their season, and that all clouds roll away at 
last, and the troubles of youth in particular are things 
but of a moment. So this student, whom I have in 
my eye, took his full share of these concerns, and that 
very largely by his own fault ; but he still clung to 
his fortune, and in the midst of much misconduct, 
kept on in his own way learning how to work ; and 
at last, to his wonder, escaped out of the stage of 
studentship not openly shamed ; leaving behind him 
the University of Edinburgh shorn of a good deal of 
its interest for myself. 

But while he is (in more senses than one) the first 
person, he is by no means the only one whom I regret, 
or whom the students of to-day, if they knew what 
they had lost, would regret also. They have still 
Tait, to be sure — long may they have him ! — and 
they have still Tait's class-room, cupola and all ; but 



think of what a different place it was when this youth 
of mine (at least on roll days) would be present on 
the benches, and, at the near end of the platform, 
Lindsay senior ^ was airing his robust old age. It is 
possible my sucpessors may have never even heard of 
Old Lindsay ; but when he went, a link snapped with 
the last century. He had something of a rustic air, 
sturdy and fresh and plain ; he spoke with a ripe east- 
country accent, which I used to admire ; his reminis- 
cences were all of journeys on foot or highways busy 
with post-chaises — a Scotland before steam ; he had 
seen the coal fire on the Isle of May, and he regaled 
me with tales of my own grandfather. Thus he was 
for me a mirror of things perished ; it was only in his 
memory that I could see the huge shock of flames of 
the May beacon stream to leeward, and the watchers, 
as they fed the fire, lay hold unscorched of the wind- 
ward bars of the furnace ; it was only thus that I 
could see my grandfather driving swiftly in a gig 
along the seaboard road from Pittenweem to Crail, 
and for all his business hurry, drawing up to speak 
good-humouredly with those he met. And now, in 
his turn, Lindsay is gone also ; inhabits only the 
memories of other men, till these shall follow him ; 
and figures in my reminiscences as my grandfather 
figured in his. 

To-day, again, they have Professor Butcher, and I 
hear he has a prodigious deal of Greek ; and they 
have Professor Chrystal, who is a man filled with the 
mathematics. And doubtless these are set-offs. But 

1 Professor Tait's laboratory assistant. 


they cannot change the fact that Professor Blackie 
has retired, and that Professor Kelland is dead. No 
man's education is complete or truly liberal who knew 
not Kelland. There were unutterable lessons in the 
mere sight of that frail old clerical gentleman, lively 
as a boy, kind like a fairy godfather, and keeping 
perfect order in his class by the spell of that very 
kindness. I have heard him drift into reminiscences 
in class-time, though not for long, and give us 
glimpses of old-world hfe in out-of-the-way English 
parishes when he was young ; thus playing the same 
part as Lindsay — the part of the surviving memory, 
signalling out of the dark backward and abysm of 
time the images of perished things. But it was a 
part that scarce became him ; he somehow lacked the 
means : for all his silver hair and worn face, he was 
not truly old ; and he had too much of the unrest 
and petulant fire of youth, and too much invincible 
innocence of mind, to play the veteran well. The 
time to measure him best, to taste (in the old phrase) 
his gracious nature, was when he received his class 
at home. What a pretty simplicity would he then 
show, trying to amuse us like children with toys ; 
and what an engaging nervousness of manner, as 
fearing that his efforts might not succeed ! Truly, 
he made us all feel like children, and like children 
embarrassed, but at the same time filled with sym- 
pathy for the conscientious, troubled elder-boy who 
was working so hard to entertain us. A theorist has 
held the view that there is no feature in man so tell- 
tale as his spectacles ; that the mouth may be com- 


pressed and the brow smoothed artificially, but the 
sheen of the barnacles is diagnostic. And truly it 
must have been thus with Kelland ; for as I still 
fancy I behold him frisking actively about the plat- 
form, pointer in hand, that which I seem to see most 
clearly is the way his glasses glittered with affection. 
I never knew but one other man who had (if you will 
permit the phrase) so kind a spectacle, and that was 
Dr. Appleton.^ But the light in his case was tem- 
pered and passive ; in Kelland's it danced, and 
changed, and flashed vivaciously among the students, 
like a perpetual challenge to goodwill. 

I cannot say so much about Professor Blackie, for 
a good reason. Kelland's class I attended, once even 
gained there a certificate of merit, the only distinc- 
tion of my University career. But although I am 
the holder of a certificate of attendance in the pro- 
fessor's own hand, I cannot remember to have been 
present in the Greek class above a dozen times. 
Professor Blackie was even kind enough to remark 
(more than once) while in the very act of writing the 
document above referred to, that he did not know 
my face. Indeed, I denied myself many opportuni- 
ties ; acting upon an extensive and highly rational 
system of truantry, which cost me a great deal of 
trouble to put in exercise — perhaps as much as would 
have taught me Greek — and sent me forth into the 
world and the profession of letters with the merest 
shadow of an education. But they say it is always 

^ Charles Edward Appleton^ D.C.L.^ Fellow of St. John's College, 
Oxford, founder and first editor of the Academy : born 1841, died 1879. 


a good thing to have taken pains, and that success 
is its own reward, whatever be its nature ; so that, 
perhaps, even upon this I should plume myself, that 
no one ever played the truant with more deliberate 
care, and none ever had more certificates for less 
education. One consequence, however, of my system 
is that I have much less to say of Professor Blackie 
than I had of Professor Kelland ; and as he is still 
alive, and will long, I hope, continue to be so, it will 
not surprise you very much that I have no intention 
of saying it. 

Meanwhile, how many others have gone — Jenkin, 
Hodgson, and I know not who besides ; and of that 
tide of students that used to throng the arch and 
blacken the quadrangle, how many are scattered into 
the remotest parts of the earth, and how many more 
have lain down beside their fathers in their ' resting- 
graves ' ! And again, how many of these last have 
not found their way there, all too early, through the 
stress of education ! That was one thing, at least, 
from which my truantry protected me. I am sorry 
indeed that I have no Greek, but I should be sorrier 
still if I were dead ; nor do I know the name of that 
branch of knowledge which is worth acquiring at the 
price of a brain fever. There are many sordid 
tragedies in the life of the student, above all if he be 
poor, or drunken, or both ; but nothing more moves 
a wise man's pity than the case of the lad who is in 
too much hurry to be learned. And so, for the sake 
of a moral at the end, I will call up one more figure, 
and have done. A student, ambitious of success 
1 06 



by that hot, intemperate manner of study that 
now grows so common, read night and day for an 
examination. As he went on, the task became more 
easy to him, sleep was more easily banished, his 
brain grew hot and clear and more capacious, the 
necessary knowledge daily fuller and more orderly. 
It came to the eve of the trial, and he watched all 
night in his high chamber, reviewing what he knew, 
and already secure of success. His window looked 
eastward, and being (as I said) high up, and the 
house itself standing on a hill, commanded a view 
over dwindling suburbs to a country horizon. At 
last my student drew up his blind, and still in quite 
a jocund humour, looked abroad. Day was breaking, 
the east was tinging with strange fires, the clouds 
breaking up for the coming of the sun ; and at the 
sight, nameless terror seized upon his mind. He was 
sane, his senses were undisturbed ; he saw clearly, 
and knew what he was seeing, and knew that it was 
normal ; but he could neither bear to see it nor find 
the strength to look away, and fled in panic from his 
chamber into the enclosure of the street. In the cool 
air and silence, and among the sleeping houses, his 
strength was renewed. Nothing troubled him but 
the memory of what had passed, and an abject fear 
of its return. 

' Gallo canente, spes redit, 
Aegris salus refunditur, 
Lapsis fides revertitur/ 

as they sang of old in Portugal in the Morning 
Office. But to him that good hour of cockcrow, 



and the changes of the dawn, had brought panic, 
and lasting doubt, and such terror as he still shook 
to think of. He dared not return to his lodging ; he 
could not eat ; he sat down, he rose up, he wandered ; 
the city woke about him with its cheerful bustle, the 
sun chmbed overhead ; and still he grew but the 
more absorbed in the distress of his recollection and 
the fear of his past fear. At the appointed hour he 
came to the door of the place of examination ; but 
when he was asked, he had forgotten his name. 
Seeing him so disordered, they had not the heart 
to send hiin away, but gave him a paper and ad- 
mitted him, still nameless, to the Hall. Vain kind- 
ness, vain efforts. He could only sit in a still 
growing horror, writing nothing, ignorant of all, 
his mind filled with a single memory of the breaking 
day and his own intolerable fear. And that same 
night he was tossing in a brain fever. 

People are afraid of war and wounds and dentists, 
all with excellent reason ; but these are not to 
be compared with such chaotic terrors of the mind 
as fell on this young man. We all have by our 
bedsides the box of the Merchant Abudah, thank 
God, securely enough shut ; but when a young 
man sacrifices sleep to labour, let him have a care, 
for he is playing with the lock. 

1 08 


There is a certain graveyard, looked upon on the 
one side by a prison, on the other by the windows of 
a quiet hotel ; below, under a steep cliff, it beholds 
the traffic of many lines of rail, and the scream of the 
engine and the shock of meeting buffers mount to it 
all day long. The aisles are lined with the enclosed 
sepulchres of families, door beyond door, like houses 
in a street ; and in the morning the shadows of the 
prison turrets, and of many tall memorials, fall upon 
the graves. There, in the hot fits of youth, I came 
to be unhappy. Pleasant incidents are woven with 
my memory of the place. I here made friends with 
a certain plain old gentleman, a visitor on sunny 
mornings, gravely cheerful, who, with one eye upon 
the place that awaited him, chirped about his youth 
like winter sparrows ; a beautiful housemaid of the 
hotel once, for some days together, dumbly flirted 
with me from a window and kept my wild heart 
flying ; and once — she possibly remembers — the wise 
Eugenia followed me to that austere enclosure. Her 



hair came down, and in the shelter of a tomb my 
trembUng fingers helped her to repair the braid. 
But for the most part 1 went there solitary, and, 
with irrevocable emotion, pored on the names of 
the forgotten. Name after name, and to each the 
conventional attributions and the idle dates : a 
regiment of the unknown that had been the joy 
of mothers, and had thrilled with the illusions of 
youth, and at last, in the dim sick-room, wrestled 
with the pangs of old mortality. In that whole 
crew of the silenced there was but one of whom 
my fancy had received a picture ; and he, with 
his comely, florid countenance, bewigged and 
habited in scarlet, and in his day combining fame 
and popularity, stood forth, like a taunt, among 
that company of phantom appellations. It was 
possible, then, to leave behind us something more 
explicit than these severe, monotonous, and lying 
epitaphs ; and the thing left, the memory of a 
painted picture and what we call the immortality 
of a name, was hardly more desirable than mere 
oblivion. Even David Hume, as he lay composed 
beneath that ' circular idea,' was fainter than a 
dream ; and when the housemaid, broom in hand, 
smiled and beckoned from the open window, the 
fame of that bewigged philosopher melted like a 
raindrop in the sea. 

And yet in soberness I cared as little for the 

housemaid as for David Hume. The interests of 

youth are rarely frank ; his passions, like Noah's 

dove, come home to roost. The fire, sensibility, 



and volume of his own nature, that is all that he 
has learned to recognise. The tumultuary and 
grey tide of life, the empire of routine, the un- 
rejoicing faces of his elders, fill him with con- 
temptuous surprise; there also he seems to walk 
among the tombs of spirits : and it is only in the 
course of years, and after much rubbing with his 
fellow-men, that he begins by glimpses to see 
himself from without and his fellows from within : 
to know his own for one among the thousand 
undenoted countenances of the city street, and to 
divine in others the throb of human agony and hope. 
In the meantime he will avoid the hospital doors, 
the pale faces, the cripple, the sweet whiff of 
chloroform — for there, on the most thoughtless, 
the pains of others are burned home ; but he will 
continue to walk, in a divine self-pity, the aisles of 
the forgotten graveyard. The length of man's hfe, 
which is endless to the brave and busy, is scorned 
by his ambitious thought. He cannot bear to have 
come for so little, and to go again so wholly. He 
cannot bear, above all, in that brief scene, to be still 
idle, and by way of cure, neglects the little that he 
has to do. The parable of the talent is the brief 
epitome of youth. To believe in immortality is one 
thing, but it is first needful to believe in life. 
Denunciatory preachers seem not to suspect that 
they may be taken gravely and in evil part; that 
young men may come to think of time as of a 
moment, and with the pride of Satan wave back the 
inadequate gift. Yet here is a true peril ; this it is 



that sets them to pace the graveyard alleys and to 
read, with strange extremes of pity and derision, the 
memorials of the dead. 

Books were the proper remedy ; books of vivid 
human import, forcing upon their minds the issues, 
pleasures, busyness, importance and immediacy of 
that life in which they stand; books of smiling or 
heroic temper, to excite or to console ; books of 
a large design, shadowing the complexity of that 
game of consequences to which we all sit down, the 
hanger-back not least. But the average sermon flees 
the point, disporting itself in that eternity of which 
we know, and need to know, so little ; avoiding the 
bright, crowded, and momentous fields of life where 
destiny awaits us. Upon the average book a writer 
may be silent ; he may set it down to his ill-hap that 
when his own youth was in the acrid fermentation, 
he should have fallen and fed upon the cheerless 
fields of Obermann. Yet to Mr. IMatthew Arnold, 
who led him to these pastures, he still bears a grudge. 
The day is perhaps not far off when people will 
begin to count Moll Flanders, ay, or The Countr-y 
Wife, more wholesome and more pious diet than 
these guide-books to consistent egoism. 

But the most inhuman of boys soon wearies of the 
inhumanity of Obermann. And even while I still 
continued to be a haunter of the graveyard, I began 
insensibly to turn my attention to the grave-diggers, 
and was weaned out of myself to observe the conduct 
of visitors. This was dayspring, indeed, to a lad in 
such great darkness. Not that I began to see men, 



or to try to see them, from within, nor to learn 
charity and modesty and justice from the sight ; but 
still stared at them externally from the prison win- 
dows of my affectation. Once I remember to have 
observed two working women with a baby halt- 
ing by a grave ; there was something monumental 
in the grouping, one upright carrying the child, the 
other with bowed face crouching by her side. A 
wreath of immortelles under a glass dome had thus 
attracted them ; and, drawing near, T overheard their 
judgment on that wonder : ' Eh ! what extrava- 
gance ! ' To a youth afflicted with the callosity of 
sentiment, this quaint and pregnant saying appeared 
merely base. 

My acquaintance with grave-diggers, considering 
its length, was unremarkable. One, indeed, whom 
I found plying his spade in the red evening, high 
above Allan Water and in the shadow of Dun- 
blane Cathedral, told me of his acquaintance with 
the birds that still attended on his labours; how 
some would even perch about him, waiting for their 
prey ; and, in a true Sexton's Calendar, how the 
species varied with the season of the year. But 
this was the very poetry of the profession. The 
others whom I knew were somewhat dry. A faint 
flavour of the gardener hung about them, but 
sophisticated and disbloomed. They had engage- 
ments to keep, not alone with the deliberate series 
of the seasons, but with mankind's clocks and hour- 
long measurement of time. And thus there was no 
leisure for the relishing pinch, or the hour-long 
H 113 


gossip, foot on spade. They were men wrapped up 
in their grim business ; they liked well to open long- 
closed family vaults, blowing in the key and throw- 
ing wide the grating ; and they carried in their minds 
a calendar of names and dates. It would be ' in fifty- 
twa' that such a tomb was last opened, for 'Miss 
Jemimy.' It was thus they spoke of their past 
patients — familiarly but not without respect, like old 
family servants. Here is indeed a servant, whom 
we forget that we possess ; who does not wait at 
the bright table, or run at the bell's summons, but 
patiently smokes his pipe beside the mortuary fire, 
and in his faithful memory notches the burials of 
our race. To suspect Shakespeare in his maturity 
of a superficial touch savours of paradox ; yet he was 
surely in error when he attributed insensibility to 
the digger of the grave. But perhaps it is on Hamlet 
that the charge should He ; or perhaps the EngUsh 
sexton differs from the Scottish. The 'goodman 
delvei-,' reckoning up his years of office, might have 
at least suggested other thoughts. It is a pride 
common among sextons. A cabinet-maker does 
not count his cabinets, nor even an author his 
volumes, save when they stare upon him from the 
shelves ; but the grave-digger numbers his graves. 
He would indeed be something different from human 
if his solitary open-air and tragic labours left not 
a broad mark upon his mind. There in his tranquil 
aisle, apart from city clamour, among the cats and 
robins and the ancient effigies and legends of the 
tomb, he waits the continual passage of his con- 


temporaries, falling like minute drops into eternity. 
As they fall, he counts them ; and this enumeration, 
which was at first perhaps appalling to his soul, in 
the process of years and by the kindly influence 
of habit grows to be his pride and pleasure. There 
are many common stories telling how he piques 
himself on crowded cemeteries. But I will rather tell 
of the old grave-digger of Monkton, to whose un- 
sufFering bedside the minister was summoned. He 
dwelt in a cottage built into the wall of the church- 
yard ; and through a bull's-eye pane above his bed he 
could see, as he lay dying, the rank grasses and the 
upright and recumbent stones. Dr. Laurie was, I 
think, a Moderate ; 'tis certain, at least, that he took 
a very Roman view of deathbed dispositions ; for he 
told the old man that he had lived beyond man's 
natural years, that his life had been easy and re- 
putable, that his family had all grown up and been 
a credit to his care, and that it now behoved him 
un regretfully to gird his loins and follow the 
majority. The grave-digger heard him out; then 
he raised himself up on one elbow, and with the 
other hand pointed through the window to the 
scene of his lifelong labours. 'Doctor,' he said, 
* I hae laid three hunner and fower-score in that 
kirkyaird ; an it had been His wull,' indicating 
Heaven, ' I would hae likit weel to hae made out 
the fower hunner.' But it was not to be ; this 
tragedian of the fifth act had now another part 
to play ; and the time had come when others were 
to gird and carry him. 




I would fain strike a note that should be more 
heroical; but the ground of all youth's suffering, 
solitude, hysteria, and haunting of the grave, is 
nothing else than naked, ignorant selfishness. It 
is himself that he sees dead ; those are his virtues 
that are forgotten ; his is the vague epitaph. Pity 
him but the more, if pity be your cue ; for where 
a man is all pride, vanity, and personal aspiration, 
he goes through fire unshielded. In every part and 
corner of our life, to lose oneself is to be gainer ; to 
forget oneself is to be happy ; and this poor laugh- 
able and tragic fool has not yet learned the rudi- 
ments ; himself, giant Prometheus, is still ironed on 
the peaks of Caucasus. But by and by his truant 
interests will leave that tortured body, slip abroad, 
and gather flowers. Then shall death appear before 
him in an altered guise ; no longer as a doom 
peculiar to himself, whether fate's crowning in- 
justice or his own last vengeance upon those who 
fail to value him ; but now as a power that wounds 
him far more tenderly, not without solemn com- 
pensations, taking and giving, bereaving and yet 
storing up. 

The first step for all is to learn to the dregs our 
own ignoble fallibility. When we have fallen through 
story after story of our vanity and aspiration, and 
sit rueful among the ruins, then it is that we begin 
to measure the stature of our friends : how they 
stand between us and our own contempt, beheving 


in our best; how, linking us with others, and still 
spreading wide the influential circle, they weave us 
in and in with the fabric of contemporary life ; and 
to what petty size they dwarf the virtues and the 
vices that appeared gigantic in our youth. So that 
at the last, when such a pin falls out — when there 
vanishes in ths least breath of time one of those 
rich magazines of life on which we drew for our 
supply — when he who had first dawned upon us 
as a face among the faces of the city, and, still 
growing, came to bulk on our regard with those 
clear features of the loved and living man, falls in 
a breath to memory and shadow, there falls along 
with him a whole wing of the palace of our life. 

One such face I now remember ; one such blank 
some half a dozen of us labour to dissemble. In his 
youth he was most beautiful in person, most serene 
and genial by disposition ; full of racy words and 
quaint thoughts. Laughter attended on his coming. 
He had the air of a great gentleman, jovial and royal 
with his equals, and to the poorest student gentle 
and attentive. Power seemed to reside in him ex- 
haustless ; we saw him stoop to play with us, but 
held him marked for higher destinies ; we loved his 
notice ; and I have rarely had my pride more grati- 
fied than when he sat at my father's table, my 
acknowledged friend. So he walked among us, both 
hands full of gifts, carrying with nonchalance the 
seeds of a most influential life. 



The powers and the ground of friendship is a 
mystery; but, looking back, I can discern that, in 
part, we loved the thing he was, for some shadow 
of what he was to be. For with all his beauty, 
power, breeding, urbanity, and mirth, there was in 
those days something soulless in our friend. He 
would astonish us by sallies, witty, innocent, and in- 
humane ; and by a misapplied Johnsonian pleasantry 
demoUsh honest sentiment. I can still see and hear 
him, as he went his way along the lampht streets, 
La ci da7'em la mano on his lips, a noble figure of a 
youth, but following vanity and incredulous of good ; 
and sure enough, somewhere on the high seas of life, 
with his health, his hopes, his patrimony and his 
self-respect, miserably went down. 

From this disaster, like a spent swimmer, he came 
desperately ashore, bankrupt of money and con- 
sideration ; creeping to the family he had deserted ; 
with broken wing, never more to rise. But in his 
face there was a light of knowledge that was new to 
it. Of the wounds of his body he was never healed ; 
died of them gradually, with clear-eyed resignation ; 
of his wounded pride, we knew only from his silence. 
He returned to that city where he had lorded it in 
his ambitious youth ; lived there alone, seeing few ; 
striving to retrieve the irretrievable; at times still 
grappling with that mortal frailty that had brought 
him down ; still joying in his friend's successes ; his 
laugh still ready, but with a kindlier music ; and over 
all his thoughts the shadow of that unalterable law 
which he had disavowed and which had brought him 


low. Lastly, when his bodily evils had quite dis- 
abled him, he lay a great while dying, still without 
complaint, still finding interests ; to his last step 
gentle, urbane, and with the will to smile. 

The tale of this great failure is, to those who 
remained true to him, the tale of a success. In his 
youth he took thought for no one but himself; 
when he came ashore again, his whole armada lost, 
he seemed to think of none but others. Such was 
his tenderness for others, such his instinct of fine 
courtesy and pride, that of that impure passion of 
remorse he never breathed a syllable; even regret 
was rare with him and pointed with a jest. You 
would not have dreamed, if you had known him 
then, that this was that great failure, that beacon 
to young men, over whose fall a whole society had 
hissed and pointed fingers. Often have we gone to 
him, red-hot with our own hopeful sorrows, raihng 
on the rose-leaves in our princely bed of life, and 
he would patiently give ear and wisely counsel ; 
and it was only upon some return of our own 
thoughts that we were reminded what manner of 
man this was to whom we disembosomed : a man, 
by his own fault, ruined; shut out of the garden 
of his gifts ; his whole city of hope both ploughed 
and salted; silently awaiting the deliverer. Then 
something took us by the throat ; and to see him 
there, so gentle, patient, brave, and pious, oppressed 
but not cast down, sorrow was so swallowed up in 
admiration that we could not dare to pity him. 
Even if the old fault flashed out again, it but awoke 



our wonder that, in that lost battle, he should have 
still the energy to fight. He had gone to ruin with 
a kind of kingly abandon, like one who conde- 
scended ; but once ruined, with the lights all out, 
he fought as for a kingdom. Most men, finding 
themselves the authors of their own disgrace, rail 
the louder against God or destiny. Most men, 
when they repent, obhge their friends to share the 
bitterness of that repentance. But he had held an 
inquest and passed sentence : mene, mene ; and con- 
demned himself to smiling silence. He had given 
trouble enough ; had earned misfortune amply, and 
forgone the right to murmur. 

Thus was our old comrade, like Samson, careless 
in his days of strength ; but on the coming of 
adversity, and when that strength was gone that 
had betrayed him — ' for our strength is weakness ' — 
he began to blossom and bring forth. Well, now 
he is out of the fight: the burden that he bore 
thrown down before the great deliverer. We 

' in the vast cathedral leave him ; 
God accept him, 
Christ receive him ! ' 


If we go now and look on these innumerable 
epitaphs, the pathos and the irony are strangely fled. 
They do not stand merely to the dead, these foolish 
monuments ; they are pillars and legends set up to 
glorify the difficult but not desperate life of man. 
This ground is hallowed by the heroes of defeat. 



I see the indifferent pass before my friend's last 
resting-place ; pause, with a shrug of pity, marvelling 
that so rich an argosy had sunk. A pity, now 
that he is done with suffering, a pity most uncalled 
for, and an ignorant wonder. Before those who 
loved him, his memory shines like a reproach ; they 
honour him for silent lessons ; they cherish his ex- 
ample ; and, in what remains before them of their 
toil, fear to be unworthy of the dead. For this 
proud man was one of those who prospered in the 
valley of humiliation ; — of whom Bunyan wrote that, 
'Though Christian had the hard hap to meet in the 
valley with Apollyon, yet I must tell you, that 
in former times men have met with angels here, 
have found pearls here, and have in this place found 
the words of life.' 



All through my boyhood and youth I was known 
and pointed out for the pattern of an idler ; and 
yet I was always busy on my own private end, 
which was to learn to write. I kept always two 
books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in. 
As I walked, my mind was busy fitting what I 
saw with appropriate words ; when I sat by the 
roadside, I would either read, or a pencil and a 
penny version-book would be in my hand, to note 
down the features of the scene or commemorate 
some halting stanzas. Thus I lived with words. 
And what I thus wrote was for no ulterior use, it 
was written consciously for practice. It was not 
so much that I wished to be an author (though I 
Avished that too) as that I had vowed that I would 
learn to write. That was a proficiency that tempted 
me ; and I practised to acquire it, as men learn to 
whittle, in a wager with myself. Description was 
the principal field of my exercise ; for to any one 
with senses there is always something worth describ- 
ing, and town and country are but one continuous 



subject. But I worked in other ways also ; often 
accompanied my walks with dramatic dialogues, in 
which I played many parts ; and often exercised 
myself in writing down conversations from memory. 
This was all excellent, no doubt ; so were the 
diaries I sometimes tried to keep, but always and 
very speedily discarded, finding them a school of 
posturing and melancholy self-deception. And yet 
this was not the most efficient part of my training. 
Good though it was, it only taught me (so far as 
I have learned them at all) the lower and less 
intellectual elements of the art, the choice of the 
essential note and the right word : things that to a 
happier constitution had perhaps come by nature. 
And regarded as training, it had one grave defect ; 
for it set me no standard of achievement. So that 
there was perhaps more profit, as there was certainly 
more effort, in my secret labours at home. When- 
ever I read a book or a passage that particularly 
pleased me, in which a thing was said or an effect 
rendered with propriety, in which there was either 
some conspicuous force or some happy distinction 
in the style, I must sit down at once and set myself 
to ape that quality. I was unsuccessful, and I 
knew it ; and tried again, and was again unsuccessful, 
and always unsuccessful; but at least in these vain 
bouts I got some practice in rhythm, in harmony, 
in construction and the co-ordination of parts. I 
have thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to 
Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Sir Thomas Browne, to 
Defoe, to Hawthorne, to Montaigne, to Baudelaire, 



and to Obermann, I remember one of these mon- 
key tricks, which was called The Vanity of Morals : 
it was to have had a second part, The Vanity of 
Knowledge ; and as I had neither morality nor 
scholarship, the names were apt; but the second 
part was never attempted, and the first part was 
written (which is my reason for recalling it, ghost- 
like, from its ashes) no less than three times : first 
in the manner of Hazlitt, second in the manner of 
Ruskin, who had cast on me a passing spell, and 
third, in a laborious pasticcio of Sir Thomas Browne. 
So with my other works : Cain, an epic, was (save 
the mark !) an imitation of Sordello : Robin Hood, 
a tale in verse, took an eclectic middle course 
among the fields of Keats, Chaucer, and Morris : 
in Monmouth, a tragedy, I reclined on the bosom 
of Mr. Swinburne ; in my innumerable gouty-footed 
lyrics, I followed many masters ; in the first draft 
of The Kings Pardon, a tragedy, I was on the 
trail of no less a man than John Webster ; in 
the second draft of the same piece, with staggering 
versatility, I had shifted my allegiance to Congreve, 
and of course conceived my fable in a less serious 
vein — for it was not Congreve's verse, it was his 
exquisite prose, that I admired and sought to copy. 
Even at the age of thirteen I had tried to do justice 
to the inhabitants of the famous city of Peebles 
in the style of the Book of Snobs. So I might go 
on for ever, through all my abortive novels, and 
down to my later plays, of which I think more 
tenderly, for they were not only conceived at first 

A college: magazine 

under the bracing influence of old Dumas, but have 
met with resurrections : one, strangely bettered by 
another hand, came on the stage itself and was 
played by bodily actors ; the other, originally known 
as Semiramis : a Tragedy, I have observed on book- 
stalls under the alias of Prince Otto. But enough 
has been said to show by what arts of impersonation, 
and in what purely ventriloquial efforts I first saw 
my words on paper. 

That, like it or not, is the way to learn to write ; 
whether I have profited or not, that is the way. 
It was so Keats learned, and there was never a 
finer temperament for literature than Keats's; it 
was so, if we could trace it out, that all men have 
learned, and that is why a revival of letters is always 
accompanied or heralded by a cast back to earlier 
and fresher models. Perhaps I hear some one cry 
out : ' But this is not the way to be original ! ' It 
is not; nor is there any way but to be born so. 
Nor yet, if you are born original, is there anything 
in this training that shall clip the wings of your 
originality. There can be none more original than 
Montaigne, neither could any be more unlike Cicero ; 
yet no craftsman can fail to see how much the 
one must have tried in his time to imitate the other. 
Burns is the very type of a prime force in letters : 
he was of all men the most imitative. Shakespeare 
himself, the imperial, proceeds directly from a school. 
It is only from a school that we can expect to have 
good writers ; it is almost invariably from a school 
that great writers, these lawless exceptions, issue. 



Nor is there anything here that should astonish the 
considerate. Before he can tell what cadences he 
truly prefers, the student should have tried all that are 
possible ; before he can choose and preserve a fitting 
key of language, he should long have practised the 
literary scales ; and it is only after years of such 
gymnastic that he can sit down at last, legions of 
words swarming to his call, dozens of turns of phrase 
simultaneously bidding for his choice, and he him- 
self knowing what he wants to do and (within the 
narrow limit of a man's ability) able to do it. 

And it is the great point of these imitations that 
there still shines beyond the student's reach his 
inimitable model. Let him try as he please, he is 
still sure of failure ; and it is a very old and a very 
true saying that failure is the only highroad to 
success. I must have had some disposition to learn ; 
for I clear-sightedly condemned my own perform- 
ances. I liked doing them indeed ; but when they 
were done, I could see they were rubbish. In 
consequence, I very rarely showed them even to 
my friends ; and such friends as I chose to be my 
confidants I must have chosen well, for they had 
the friendliness to be quite plain with me. ' Padding,' 
said one. Another wrote : ' I cannot understand 
why you do lyrics so badly.' No more could I ! 
Thrice I put myself in the way of a more authori- 
tative rebuff, by sending a paper to a magazine. 
These were returned; and I was not surprised or 
even pained. If they had not been looked at, as 
(like all amateurs) I suspected was the case, there 


was no good in repeating the experiment; if they 
had been looked at — well, then I had not yet learned 
to write, and I must keep on learning and living. 
Lastly, I had a piece of good fortune which is the 
occasion of this paper, and by which 1 was able to 
see my literature in print, and to measure experi- 
mentally how far I stood from the favour of the 


The Speculative Society is a body of some anti- 
quity, and has counted among its members Scott, 
Brougham, Jeffrey, Horner, Benjamin Constant, 
Robert Emmet, and many a legal and local celebrity 
besides. By an accident, variously explained, it has 
its rooms in the very buildings of the University of 
Edinburgh : a hall, Turkey-carpeted, hung with 
pictures, looking, when lighted up at night with fire 
and candle, like some goodly dining-room ; a passage- 
like library, walled with books in their wire cages ; 
and a corridor with a fireplace, benches, a table, many 
prints of famous members, and a mural tablet to the 
virtues of a former secretary. Here a member can 
warm himself and loaf and read ; here, in defiance of 
Senatus-consults, he can smoke. The Senatus looks 
askance at these privileges ; looks even with a some- 
what vinegar aspect on the whole society ; which 
argues a lack of proportion in the learned mind, for 
the world, we may be sure, will prize far higher this 
haunt of dead lions than all the living dogs of the 



I sat one December morning in the library of the 
Speculative ; a very humble-minded youth, though 
it was a virtue I never had much credit for ; yet 
proud of my privileges as a member of the Spec. ; 
proud of the pipe I was smoking in the teeth of the 
Senatus ; and, in particular, proud of being in the 
next room to three very distinguished students, who 
were then conversing beside the corridor fire. One 
of these has now his name on the back of several 
volumes, and his voice, I learn, is influential in the 
law courts. Of the death of the second, you have 
just been reading what I had to say. And the third 
also has escaped out of that battle of life in which he 
fought so hard, it may be so unwisely. They were 
all three, as I have said, notable students ; but this 
was the most conspicuous. Wealthy, handsome, 
ambitious, adventurous, diplomatic, a reader of Balzac, 
and of all men that I have known, the most like to 
one of Balzac's characters, he led a life, and was 
attended by an ill fortune, that could be properly set 
forth only in the Comedie Huviaine. He had then 
his eye on Parliament ; and soon after the time of 
which I write, he made a showy speech at a political 
dinner, was cried up to heaven next day in the 
Courant, and the day after was dashed lower than 
earth with a charge of plagiarism in the Scotsman. 
Report would have it (I daresay very wrongly) that 
he was betrayed by one in whom he particularly 
trusted, and that the author of the charge had learned 
its truth from his own lips. Thus, at least, he was 
up one day on a pinnacle, admired and envied by all ; 


and the next, though still but a boy, he was publicly 
disgraced. The blow would have broken a less finely 
tempered spirit ; and even him I suppose it rendered 
reckless ; for he took flight to London, and there, in 
a fast club, disposed of the bulk of his considerable 
patrimony in the space of one winter. For years 
thereafter he lived I know not how ; always well 
dressed, always in good hotels and good society, 
always with empty pockets. The charm of his manner 
may have stood him in good stead ; but though my 
own manners are very agreeable, I have never found 
in them a source of livelihood ; and to explain the 
miracle of his continued existence, I must fall back 
upon the theory of the philosopher, that in his case, 
as in all of the same kind, 'there was a suffering 
relative in the background.' From this genteel 
eclipse he reappeared upon the scene, and presently 
sought me out in the character of a generous editor. 
It is in this part that I best remember him ; tall, 
slender, with a not ungraceful stoop ; looking quite 
Uke a refined gentleman, and quite like an urbane 
adventurer ; smiling with an engaging ambiguity ; 
cocking at you one peaked eyebrow with a great 
appearance of finesse ; speaking low and sweet and 
thick, with a touch of burr ; telling strange tales with 
singular deliberation and, to a patient listener, excel- 
lent effect. After all these ups and downs, he seemed 
still, like the rich student that he was of yore, to 
breathe of money ; seemed still perfectly sure of him- 
self and certain of his end. Yet he was then upon 
the brink of his last overthrow. He had set himself 
I 129 


to found the strangest thing in our society : one of 
those periodical sheets from which men suppose 
themselves to learn opinions ; in which young gentle- 
men from the Universities are encouraged, at so much 
a line, to garble facts, insult foreign nations, and 
calumniate private individuals ; and which are now 
the source of glory, so that if a man's name be often 
enough printed there, he becomes a kind of demigod ; 
and people will pardon him when he talks back 
and forth, as they do for Mr. Gladstone ; and crowd 
him to suffocation on railway platforms, as they did 
the other day to General Boulanger ; and buy his 
literary works, as I hope you have just done for me. 
Our fathers, when they were upon some great enter- 
prise, would sacrifice a Hfe ; building, it may be, a 
favourite slave into the foundations of their palace. 
It was with his own life that my companion disarmed 
the envy of the gods. He fought his paper single- 
handed ; trusting no one, for he was something of a 
cynic ; up early and down late, for he was nothing of 
a sluggard ; daily ear-wigging influential men, for he 
was a master of ingratiation. In that slender and 
silken fellow there must have been a rare vein of 
courage, that he should thus have died at his employ- 
ment; and doubtless ambition spoke loudly in his 
ear, and doubtless love also, for it seems there was a 
marriage in his view had he succeeded. But he died, 
and his paper died after him ; and of all this grace, 
and tact, and courage, it must seem to our bhnd 
eyes as if there had come Hterally nothing. 

These three students sat, as I was saying, in the 


corridor, under the mural tablet that records the 
virtues of Macbean, the former secretary. We would 
often smile at that ineloquent memorial, and thought 
it a poor thing to come into the world at all and leave 
no more behind one than Macbean. And yet of 
these three, two are gone and have left less ; and 
this book, perhaps, when it is old and foxy, and some 
one picks it up in a corner of a book-shop, and glances 
through it, smiling at the old, graceless turns of 
speech, and perhaps for the love of Alma Mater 
(which may be still extant and flourishing) buys it, 
not without haggling, for some pence — this book 
may alone preserve a memory of James Walter 
Ferrier and Robert Glasgow Brown. 

Their thoughts ran very differently on that 
December morning ; they were all on fire with 
ambition ; and when they had called me in to them, 
and made me a sharer in their design, I too became 
drunken with pride and hope. We were to found a 
University magazine. A pair of little, active brothers 
— Livingstone by name, great skippers on the foot, 
great rubbers of the hands, who kept a book-shop 
over against the University building — had been 
debauched to play the part of publishers. We four 
were to be conjunct editors, and, what was the main 
point of the concern, to print our own works ; while, 
by every rule of arithmetic — that flatterer of credu- 
lity — the adventure must succeed and bring great 
profit. Well, well : it was a bright vision. I went 
home that morning walking upon air. To have been 
chosen by these three distinguished students was to 



me the most unspeakable advance ; it was my first 
draught of consideration ; it reconciled me to myself 
and to my fellow-men ; and as I steered round the 
railings at the Tron, I could not withhold my lips 
from smiling publicly. Yet, in the bottom of my 
heart, I knew that magazine would be a grim fiasco ; 
I knew it would not be worth reading ; I knew, even 
if it were, that nobody would read it ; and I kept 
wondering how I should be able, upon my com- 
pact income of twelve pounds per annum, payable 
monthly, to meet my share in the expense. It was a 
comfortable thought to me that I had a father. 

The magazine appeared, in a yellow cover, which 
was the best part of it, for at least it was unassuming ; 
it ran four months in undisturbed obscurity, and died 
without a gasp. The first number was edited by all 
four of us with prodigious bustle; the second fell 
principally into the hands of Ferrier and me ; the 
third I edited alone ; and it has long been a solemn 
question who it was that edited the fourth. It would 
perhaps be still more difficult to say who read it. 
Poor yellow sheet, that looked so hopefully in the 
Livingstones' window ! Poor, harmless paper, that 
might have gone to print a Shakespeare on, and was 
instead so clumsily defaced with nonsense ! And, 
shall I say. Poor Editors ? I cannot pity myself, to 
whom it was all pure gain. It was no news to me, 
but only the wholesome confirmation of my judg- 
ment, when the magazine struggled into half-birth, 
and instantly sickened and subsided into night. I 
had sent a copy to the lady with whom my heart was 


at that time somewhat engaged, and who did all that 
in her lay to break it; and she, with some tact, 
passed over the gift and my cherished contributions 
in silence. I will not say that I was pleased at this ; 
but I will tell her now, if by any chance she takes up 
the work of her former servant, that I thought the 
better of her taste. I cleared the decks after this lost 
engagement ; had the necessary interview with my 
father, which passed off not amiss ; paid over my 
share of the expense to the two little, active brothers, 
who rubbed their hands as much, but methought 
skipped rather less than formerly, having perhaps, 
these two also, embarked upon the enterprise with 
some graceful illusions ; and then, reviewing the 
whole episode, I told myself that the time was not 
yet ripe, nor the man ready ; and to work I went 
again with my penny version-books, having fallen 
back in one day from the printed author to the 
manuscript student. 


From this defunct periodical I am going to reprint 
one of my own papers. The poor little piece is all 
tail-foremost. I have done my best to straighten its 
array, I have pruned it fearlessly, and it remains in- 
vertebrate and wordy. No self-respecting magazine 
would print the thing ; and here you behold it in a 
bound volume, not for any worth of its own, but for 
the sake of the man whom it purports dimly to 
represent and some of whose sayings it preserves ; 
so that in this volume of Memories and Portraits, 



Robert Young, the Swanston gardener, may stand 
alongside of John Todd, the Swanston shepherd. 
Not that John and Robert drew very close together 
in their lives ; for John was rough — he smelt of the 
windy brae ; and Robert was gentle, and smacked of 
the garden in the hollow. Perhaps it is to my shame 
that I liked John the better of the two ; he had grit 
and dash, and that salt of the old Adam that pleases 
men with any savage inheritance of blood ; and he 
was a wayfarer besides, and took my gipsy fancy. 
But however that may be, and however Robert's 
profile may be blurred in the boyish sketch that 
follows, he was a man of a most quaint and beautiful 
nature, whom, if it were possible to recast a piece 
of work so old, I should like well to draw again 
with a maturer touch. And as I think of hina and 
of John, I wonder in what other country two such 
men would be found dwelling together, in a hamlet 
of some twenty cottages, in the woody fold of a 
green hill. 



I THINK I might almost have said the last : some- 
where, indeed, in the uttermost glens of the Lammer- 
muir or among the south-western hills there may yet 
linger a decrepit representative of this bygone good 
fellowship ; but as far as actual experience goes, I 
have only met one man in my life who might fitly be 
quoted in the same breath with Andrew Fairservice, 
— though without his vices. He was a man whose 
very presence could impart a savour of quaint anti- 
quity to the baldest and most modern flower-plots. 
There was a dignity about his tall, stooping form, and 
an earnestness in his wrinkled face, that recalled 
Don Quixote ; but a Don Quixote who had come 
through the training of the Covenant, and been 
nourished in his youth on Walkers Lives and The 
Hind let Loose. 

Now, as I could not bear to let such a man pass 
away with no sketch preserved of his old-fashioned 
virtues, 1 hope the reader will take this as an excuse 
for the present paper, and judge as kindly as he can 
the infirmities of my description. To me, who find 
it so difficult to tell the little that 1 know, he stands 

135 . 


essentially as a genius loci. It is impossible to 
separate his spare form and old straw hat from the 
garden in the lap of the hill, with its rocks overgrown 
with clematis, its shadowy walks, and the splendid 
breadth of champaign that one saw from the north- 
west corner. The garden and gardener seem part 
and parcel of each other. When I take him from 
his right surroundings and try to make him appear 
for me on paper, he looks unreal and phantasmal : 
the best that I can say may convey some notion to 
those that never saw him, but to me it will be ever 

The first time that I saw him, I fancy Robert was 
pretty old already : he had certainly begun to use his 
years as a stalking-horse. Latterly he was beyond 
all the impudencies of logic, considering a reference 
to the parish register worth all the reasons in the 
world. ' / am old and well stricken in yearsj he was 
wont to say ; and I never found any one bold enough 
to answer the argument. Apart from this vantage 
that he kept over all who were not yet octogenarian, 
he had some other drawbacks as a gardener. He 
shrank the very place he cultivated. The dignity 
and reduced gentility of his appearance made the 
small garden cut a sorry figure. He was full of tales 
of greater situations in his younger days. He spoke 
of castles and parks with a humbUng familiarity. He 
told of places where under-gardeners had trembled at 
his looks, where there were meres and swanneries, 
labyrinths of walk and wildernesses of sad shrubbery 
in his control, till you could not help feehng that it 


was condescension on his part to dress your humbler 
garden plots. You were thrown at once into an 
invidious position. You felt that you were profiting 
by the needs of dignity, and that his poverty and 
not his will consented to your vulgar rule. Involun- 
tarily you compared yourself with the swineherd that 
made Alfred watch his cakes, or some bloated citizen 
who may have given his sons and his condescension 
to the fallen Dionysius. Nor were the disagreeables 
purely fanciful and metaphysical, for the sway that 
he exercised over your feelings he extended to your 
garden, and, through the garden, to your diet. He 
would trim a hedge, throw away a favourite plant, or 
fill the most favoured and fertile section of the garden 
with a vegetable that none of us could eat, in supreme 
contempt for our opinion. If you asked him to send 
you in one of your own artichokes, ' That I wull, 
mem,' he would say, 'with pleesure, for it is mair 
blessed to give than to receive.' Ay, and even when, 
by extra twisting of the screw, we prevailed on him 
to prefer our commands to his own inclination, and 
he went away, stately and sad, professing that ' our 
wull was his pleasure,' but yet reminding us that 
he would do it ' with feelins,' — even then, I say, the 
triumphant master felt humbled in his triumph, felt 
that he ruled on sufferance only, that he was taking 
a mean advantage of the other's low estate, and that 
the whole scene had been one of those ' slights that 
patient merit of the unworthy takes.' 

In flowers his taste was old-fashioned and catholic ; 
affecting sunflowers and dahlias, wallflowers and 



roses, and holding in supreme aversion whatsoever 
was fantastic, new-fashioned, or wild. There was one 
exception to this sweeping ban. Foxgloves, though 
undoubtedly guilty on the last count, he not only 
spared, but loved ; and when the shrubbery was 
being thinned, he stayed his hand and dexterously 
manipulated his bill in order to save every stately 
stem. In boyhood, as he told me once, speaking in 
that tone that only actors and the old-fashioned 
common folk can use nowadays, his heart grew 
^yroud' within him when he came on a burn-course 
among the braes of Manor that shone purple with 
their graceful trophies ; and not all his apprenticeship 
and practice for so many years of precise gardening 
had banished these boyish recollections from his heart. 
Indeed, he was a man keenly alive to the beauty of 
all that was bygone. He abounded in old stories of 
his boyhood, and kept pious account of all his former 
pleasures ; and when he went (on a holiday) to visit 
one of the fabled great places of the earth where he 
had served before, he came back full of little pre- 
Raphaelite reminiscences that showed real passion 
for the past, such as might have shaken hands with 
Hazlitt or Jean-Jacques. 

But however his sympathy with his old feelings 
might affect his liking for the foxgloves, the very 
truth was that he scorned all flowers together. They 
were but garnishings, childish toys, trifling ornaments 
for ladies' chimney-shelves. It was towards his 
cauliflowers and peas and cabbage that his heart grew 
warm. His preference for the more useful growths 


was such that cabbages were found invading the 
flower-plots, and an outpost of savoys was once 
discovered in the centre of the lawn. He would 
prelect over some thriving plant with wonderful 
enthusiasm, piling reminiscence on reminiscence of 
former and perhaps yet finer specimens. Yet even 
then he did not let the credit leave himself He had, 
indeed, raised 'fine7^ o' them ' ; but it seemed that no 
one else had been favoured with a like success. All 
other gardeners, in fact, were mere foils to his own 
superior attainments ; and he would recount, with 
perfect soberness of voice and visage, how so-and-so 
had wondered, and such another could scarcely give 
credit to his eyes. Nor was it with his rivals only 
that he parted praise and blame. If you remarked 
how well a plant was looking, he would gravely 
touch his hat and thank you with solemn unction ; 
all credit in the matter falling to him. If, on the 
other hand, you called his attention to some back- 
going vegetable, he would quote Scripture: 'Paul 
may plant, and Apollos may water \ aU blame being 
left to Providence, on the score of deficient rain or 
untimely frosts. 

There was one thing in the garden that shared his 
preference with his favourite cabbages and rhubarb, 
and that other was the bee-hive. Their sound, their 
industry, perhaps their sweet product also, had taken 
hold of his imagination and heart, whether by way of 
memory or no I cannot say, although perhaps the 
bees too were linked to him by some recollection of 
Manor braes and his country childhood. Neverthe- 



less, he was too chary of his personal safety or (let 
me rather say) his personal dignity to mingle in any 
active office towards them. But he could stand by 
while one of the contemned rivals did the work for 
him, and protest that it was quite safe in spite of 
his own considerate distance and the cries of the 
distressed assistant. In regard to bees, he was rather 
a man of word than deed, and some of his most 
striking sentences had the bees for text. ' l^hey are 
mdeed wonderju creatures, mem,'' he said once. 
' They just mind me o' what the Queen of Sheha said 
to Solomon — andji think she said it wi a sigh, — " The 
half of it hath not been told unto me.'" ' 

As far as the Bible goes, he was deeply read. 
Like the old Covenanters, of whom he was the 
worthy representative, his mouth was full of sacred 
quotations ; it was the book that he had studied 
most and thought upon most deeply. To many 
people in his station the Bible, and perhaps Burns, 
are the only books of any vital literary merit that 
they read, feeding themselves, for the rest, on the 
draff of country newspapers, and the very instruc- 
tive but not very palatable pabulum of some cheap 
educational series. This was Robert's position. All 
day long he had dreamed of the Hebrew stories, and 
his head had been full of Hebrew poetry and Gospel 
ethics ; until they had struck deep root into his 
heart, and the very expressions had become a part of 
him ; so that he rarely spoke without some antique 
idiom or Scripture mannerism that gave a raciness 
to the merest trivialities of talk. But the influence 


of the Bible did not stop here. There was more 
in Robert than quaint phrase and ready store of 
reference. He was imbued with a spirit of peace 
and love : he interposed between man and wife : he 
threw himself between the angry, touching his hat 
the while with all the ceremony of an usher: he 
protected the birds from everybody but himself, 
seeing, I suppose, a great difference between official 
execution and wanton sport. His mistress telling 
him one day to put some ferns into his master's 
particular corner, and adding, 'Though, indeed, 
Robert, he doesn't deserve them, for he wouldn't 
help me to gather them,' ' Eh, memj replied Robert, 
' but I wouldna say that, for I think he 's just a 
most deservin gentleman.' Again, two of our friends, 
who were on intimate terms, and accustomed to 
use language to each other somewhat without the 
bounds of the parliamentary, happened to differ 
about the position of a seat in the garden. The 
discussion, as was usual when these two were at it, 
soon waxed tolerably insulting on both sides. Every 
one accustomed to such controversies several times 
a day was quietly enjoying this prize-fight of some- 
what abusive wit — every one but Robert, to whom 
the perfect good faith of the whole quarrel seemed 
unquestionable, and who, after having waited till his 
conscience would suffer him to wait no more, and till 
he expected every moment that the disputants would 
fall to blows, cut suddenly in with tones of almost 
tearful entreaty : ' Eh, hut, gentlemen, I wad hae nae 
mair words about it!' One thing was noticeable 



about Robert's religion : it was neither dogmatic nor 
sectarian. He never expatiated (at least in my 
hearing) on the doctrines of his creed, and he never 
condemned anybody else. I have no doubt that he 
held all Roman Catholics, Atheists, and Mahometans 
as considerably out of it ; I don't believe he had any 
sympathy for Prelacy; and the natural feelings of 
man have made him a little sore about Free- 
Churchism ; but at least, he never talked about these 
views, never grew controversially noisy, and never 
openly aspersed the belief or practice of anybody. 
Now all this is not generally characteristic of Scots 
piety ; Scots sects being churches militant with a 
vengeance, and Scots believers perpetual crusaders 
the one against the other, and missionaries the one 
to the other. Perliaps Robert's originally tender 
heart was what made the difference ; or, perhaps, his 
solitary and pleasant labour among fruits and flowers 
had taught him a more sunshiny creed than those 
whose work is among the tares of fallen humanity ; 
and the soft influences of the garden had entered 
deep into his spirit, 

' Annihilating all that 's made 
To a green thought in a green shade.' 

But I could go on for ever chronicling his golden 
sayings or telling of his innocent and living piety. 
I had meant to tell of his cottage, with the German 
pipe hung reverently above the fire, and the shell box 
that he had made for his son, and of which he would 
say pathetically : ' He was I'eal pleased wi it at firsts 


but I think he 's got a kind d" tired o' it now ' — the son 
being then a man of about fort)^ But I will let all 
these pass. ' 'Tis more significant : he 's dead. ' The 
earth, that he had digged so much in his life, was 
dug out by another for himself ; and the flowers that 
he had tended drew their life still from him, but in 
a new and nearer way. A bird flew about the open 
grave, as if it too wished to honour the obsequies of 
one who had so often quoted Scripture in favour 
of its kind : ' Are not two sparrows sold for one 
farthing? and yet not one of them falleth to the 

Yes, he is dead. But the kings did not rise in the 
place of death to greet him ' with taunting proverbs ' 
as they rose to greet the haughty Babylonian ; for in 
his life he was lowly, and a peacemaker and a servant 
of God. 



To leave home in early life is to be stunned and 
quickened with novelties ; but to leave it when years 
have come only casts a more endearing light upon 
the past. As in those composite photographs of Mr. 
Galton's, the image of each new sitter brings out but 
the more clearly the central features of the race ; when 
once youth has flown, each new impression only 
deepens the sense of nationality and the desire of 
native places. So may some cadet of Royal Ecossais 
or the Albany Regiment, as he mounted guard about 
French citadels, so may some officer marching his 
company of the Scots-Dutch among the polders, have 
felt the soft rains of the Hebrides upon his brow, or 
started in the ranks at the remembered aroma of 
peat-smoke. And the rivers of home are dear in 
particular to all men. This is as old as Naaman, who 
was jealous for Abana and Pharpar ; it is confined to 
no race nor country, for I know one of Scottish blood 
but a child of Suffolk, whose fancy still lingers about 
the Ulied lowland waters of that shire. But the 
streams of Scotland are incomparable in themselves 
— or I am only the more Scottish to suppose so — and 


their sound and colour dwell for ever in the memory. 
How often and willingly do I not look again in 
fancy on Tummel, or Manor, or the talking Airdle, 
or Dee swirling in its Lynn ; on the bright burn of 
Kinnaird, or the golden burn that pours and sulks in 
the den behind Kingussie ! I think shame to leave 
out one of these enchantresses, but the list would 
grow too long if I remembered all ; only I may not 
forget Allan Water, nor birch-wetting Rogie, nor 
yet Almond ; nor, for all its pollutions, that Water 
of Leith of the many and well-named mills — Bell's 
Mills, and Canon Mills, and Silver Mills ; nor Red- 
ford Burn of pleasant memories ; nor yet, for all its 
smallness, that nameless trickle that springs in the 
green bosom of AUermuir, and is fed from Halker- 
side with a perennial teacupful, and threads the moss 
under the Shearer's Knowe, and makes one pool 
there, overhung by a rock, where I loved to sit and 
make bad verses, and is then kidnapped in its infancy 
by subterranean pipes for the service of the sea- 
beholding city in the plain. From many points in the 
moss you may see at one glance its whole course and 
that of all its tributaries ; the geographer of this 
Lilliput may visit all its corners without sitting 
down, and not yet begin to be breathed ; Shearer's 
Knowe and Halkerside are but names of adjacent 
cantons on a single shoulder of a hill, as names are 
squandered (it would seem to the inexpert, in 
superfluity) upon these upland sheep walks ; a bucket 
would receive the whole discharge of the toy river ; 
it would take it an appreciable time to fill your 
K 145 


morning bath ; for the most part, besides, it soaks 
unseen through the moss ; and yet for the sake of 
auld lang syne, and the figure of a certain genius loci, 
I am condemned to linger a while in fancy by its 
shores ; and if the nymph (who cannot be above a 
span in stature) will but inspire my pen, I would 
gladly carry the reader along with me. 

John Todd, when I knew him, was already 'the 
oldest herd on the Pentlands,' and had been all his 
days faithful to that curlew-scattering, sheep-collect- 
ing life. He remembered the droving days, when 
the drove-roads, that now lie green and solitary 
through the heather, were thronged thoroughfares. 
He had himself often marched flocks into England, 
sleeping on the hillsides with his caravan ; and by his 
account it was a rough business, not without danger. 
The drove-roads lay apart from habitation ; the 
drovers met in the wilderness, as to-day the deep-sea 
fishers meet off the banks in the solitude of the 
Atlantic ; and in the one as in the other case rough 
habits and fist-law were the rule. Crimes were com- 
mitted, sheep filched, and drovers robbed and beaten ; 
most of which offences had a moorland burial, and 
were never heard of in the courts of justice. John, 
in those days, was at least once attacked, — by two 
men after his watch, — and at least once, betrayed by 
his habitual anger, fell under the danger of the law 
and was clapped into some rustic prison-house, the 
doors of which he burst in the night and was no more 
heard of in that quarter. When I knew him, his 
life had fallen in quieter places, and he had no cares 


beyond the dulness of his dogs and the inroads of 
pedestrians from town. But for a man of his pro- 
pensity to wrath these were enough ; he knew neither 
rest nor peace, except by snatches ; in the grey of 
the summer morning, and already from far up the 
hill, he would wake the ' toun ' with the sound of his 
shoutings ; and in the lambing- time his cries were 
not yet silenced late at night. This wrathful voice 
of a man unseen might be said to haunt that quarter 
of the Pentlands, an audible bogie ; and no doubt it 
added to the fear in which men stood of John a touch 
of something legendary. For my own part, he was 
at first my enemy, and I, in my character of a 
rambling boy, his natural abhorrence. It was long 
before I saw him near at hand, knowing him only 
by some sudden blast of bellowing from far above, 
bidding me 'c'way oot amang the sheep.' The 
quietest recesses of the hill harboured this ogre ; I 
skulked in my favourite wilderness like a Cameronian 
of the Killing Time, and John Todd was my Claver- 
house, and his dogs my questing dragoons. Little 
by little we dropped into civilities ; his hail at sight 
of me began to have less of the ring of a war-slogan ; 
soon, we never met but he produced his snuff-box, 
which was with him, like the calumet with the Red 
Indian, a part of the heraldry of peace; and at length, 
in the ripeness of time, we grew to be a pair of friends, 
and when I lived alone in these parts in the winter, 
it was a settled thing for John to 'give me a cry ' 
over the garden wall as he set forth upon his evening 
round, and for me to overtake and bear him company. 



That dread voice of his that shook the hills when 
he was angry, fell in ordinary talk very pleasantly 
upon the ear, with a kind of honeyed, friendly whine, 
not far off singing, that was eminently Scottish. He 
laughed not very often, and when he did, with a 
sudden, loud haw-haw, hearty but somehow joyless, 
like an echo from a rock. His face was permanently 
set and coloured ; ruddy and stiff with weathering ; 
more like a picture than a face ; yet with a certain 
strain and a threat of latent anger in the expression, 
like that of a man trained too fine and harassed with 
perpetual vigilance. He spoke in the richest dialect 
of Scots I ever heard ; the words in themselves were 
a pleasure and often a surprise to me, so that 1 often 
came back from one of our patrols with new acqui- 
sitions; and this vocabulary he would handle like 
a master, stalking a little before me, 'beard on 
shoulder,' the plaid hanging loosely about him, the 
yellow staff clapped under his arm, and guiding 
me uphill by that devious, tactical ascent which 
seems peculiar to men of his trade. I might count 
him with the best talkers ; only that talking Scots 
and talking English seem incomparable acts. He 
touched on nothing at least but he adorned it ; when 
he narrated, the scene was before you ; when he 
spoke (as he did mostly) of his own antique business, 
the thing took on a colour of romance and curiosity 
that was surprising. The clans of sheep with their 
particular territories on the hill, and how, in the 
yearly killings and purchases, each must be pro- 
portionally thinned and strengthened ; the midnight 


busyness of animals, the signs of the weather, the 
cares of the snowy season, the exquisite stupidity of 
sheep, the exquisite cunning of dogs : all these he 
could present so humanly, and with so much old 
experience and living gusto, that weariness was 
excluded. And in the midst he would suddenly 
straighten his bowed back, the stick would fly abroad 
in demonstration, and the sharp thunder of his voice 
roll out a long itinerary for the dogs, so that you saw 
at last the use of that great wealth of names for 
every knowe and howe upon the hillside; and the 
dogs, having hearkened with lowered tails and raised 
faces, would run up their flags again to the mast-head 
and spread themselves upon the indicated circuit. It 
used to fill me with wonder how they could follow 
and retain so long a story. But John denied these 
creatures all intelligence; they were the constant 
butt of his passion and contempt ; it was just possible 
to work with the like of them, he said,— not more 
than possible. And then he would expand upon the 
subject of the really good dogs that he had known, 
and the one really good dog that he had himself pos- 
sessed. He had been oflered forty pounds for it ; but 
a good collie was worth more than that, more than 
anything, to a 'herd'; he did the herd's work for 
him. ' As for the like of them ! ' he would cry, and 
scornfully indicate the scouring tails of his assistants. 
Once — I translate John's Lallan, for I cannot do 
it justice, being born Britannis in montibus, indeed, 
but alas ! inerudito saeculo — once, in the days of his 
good dog, he had bought some sheep in Edinburgh, 



and on the way out, the road being crowded, two 
were lost. This was a reproach to John, and a slur 
upon the dog ; and both were alive to their mis- 
fortune. Word came, after some days, that a farmer 
about Braid had found a pair of sheep ; and thither 
went John and the dog to ask for restitution. But | 
the farmer was a hard man and stood upon his rights. 
' How were they marked ? ' he asked ; and since John 
had bought right and left from many sellers, and 
had no notion of the marks — ' Very well,' said the 
farmer, ' then it 's only right that I should keep them.' 
— 'Well,' said John, 'it's a fact that I canna tell 
the sheep ; but if my dog can, will ye let me have 
them ? ' The farmer was honest as well as hard, and 
besides I daresay he had little fear of the ordeal ; so 
he had all the sheep upon his farm into one large 
park, and turned John's dog into their midst. That 
hairy man of business knew his errand well ; he knew 
that John and he had bought two sheep and (to their 
shame) lost them about Boroughmuirhead ; he knew 
besides (the Lord knows how, unless by listening) 
that they were come to Braid for their recovery ; 
and without pause or blunder singled out, first one 
and then another, the two waifs. It was that after- 
noon the forty pounds were offered and refused. 
And the shepherd and his dog — what do I say ? the 
true shepherd and his man — set off together by 
Fairmilehead in jocund humour, and ' smiled to ither ' 
all the way home, with the two recovered ones before 
them. So far, so good ; but intelligence may be 
abused. The dog, as he is by little man's inferior in 


mind, is only by little his superior in virtue; and 
John had another collie tale of quite a different 
complexion. At the foot of the moss behind Kirk 
Yetton (Caer Ketton, wise men say) there is a scrog 
of low wood and a pool with a dam for washing sheep. 
John was one day lying under a bush in the scrog, 
when he was aware of a colHe on the far hillside 
skulking down through the deepest of the heather 
with obtrusive stealth. He knew the dog ; knew 
him for a clever, rising practitioner from quite a 
distant farm ; one whom perhaps he had coveted as 
he saw him masterfully steering flocks to market. 
But what did the practitioner so far from home ? and 
why this guilty and secret manoeuvring towards the 
pool ? — for it was towards the pool that he was head- 
ing. John lay the closer under his bush, and presently 
saw the dog come forth upon the margin, look all 
about to see if he were anywhere observed, plunge 
in and repeatedly wash himself over head and ears, 
and then (but now openly, and with tail in air) strike 
homeward over the hills. That same night word was 
sent his master, and the rising practitioner, shaken 
up from where he lay, all innocence before the fire, 
was had out to a dykeside and promptly shot ; for 
alas ! he was that foulest of criminals under trust, 
a sheep-eater ; and it was from the maculation of 
sheep's blood that he had come so far to cleanse him- 
self in the pool behind Kirk Yetton. 

A trade that touches nature, one that hes at the 
foundations of life, in which we have all had ancestors 
employed, so that on a hint of it ancestral memories 



revive, lends itself to literary use, vocal or written. 
The fortune of a tale lies not alone in the skill of 
hiin that writes, but as much, perhaps, in the inherited 
experience of him who reads ; and when I hear with 
a particular thrill of things that I have never done 
or seen, it is one of that innumerable army of my 
ancestors rejoicing in past deeds. Thus novels begin 
to touch, not the fine dilettante, but the gross mass of 
mankind, when they leave off to speak of parlours 
and shades of manner and still-born niceties of motive, 
and begin to deal with fighting, sailoring, adventure, 
death or childbirth ; and thus ancient out-door crafts 
and occupations, whether Mr. Hardy wields the 
shepherd's crook or Count Tolstoi swings the scythe, 
lift romance into a near neighbourhood with epic. 
These aged things have on them the dew of man's 
morning ; they lie near, not so much to us, the semi- 
artificial flowerets, as to the trunk and aboriginal 
taproot of the race. A thousand interests spring up 
in the process of the ages, and a thousand perish ; 
that is now an eccentricity or a lost art which was 
once the fashion of an empire ; and those only are 
perennial matters that rouse us to-day, and that 
roused men in all epochs of the past. There is a 
certain critic, not indeed of execution but of matter, 
whom I dare be known to set before the best : a 
certain low-browed, hairy gentleman, at first a percher 
in the fork of trees, next (as they relate) a dweller in 
caves, and whom I think I see squatting in cave- 
mouths, of a pleasant afternoon, to munch his berries 
— his wife, that accomplished lady, squatting by his 


side : his name I never heard, but he is often described 
as Probably Arboreal, which may serve for recog- 
nition. Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at 
the top of all sits Probably Arboreal ; in all our veins 
there run some minims of his old, wild, tree-top 
blood ; our civilised nerves still tingle with his rude 
terrors and pleasures ; and to that which would have 
moved our common ancestor, all must obediently 

We have not so far to chmb to come to shepherds ; 
and it may be I had one for an ascendant who has 
largely moulded me. But yet I think I owe my 
taste for that hillside business rather to the art and 
interest of John Todd. He it was that made it live 
for me, as the artist can make all things live. It was 
through him the simple strategy of massing sheep 
upon a snowy evening, with its attendant scampering 
of earnest, shaggy aides-de-camp, was an affair that 
I never wearied of seeing, and that I never weary of 
recalling to mind ; the shadow of the night darkening 
on the hills, inscrutable black blots of snow-shower 
moving here and there like night already come, 
huddles of yellow sheep and dartings of black dogs 
upon the snow, a bitter air that took you by the 
throat, unearthly harpings of the wind along the 
moors ; and for centre-piece to all these features and 
influences, John winding up the brae, keeping his 
captain's eye upon all sides, and breaking, ever and 
again, into a spasm of bellowing that seemed to make 
the evening bleaker. It is thus that I still see him 
in my mind's eye, perched on a hump of the declivity 



not far from Halkerside, his staff in airy flourish, his 
great voice taking hold upon the hills and echoing 
terror to the lowlands ; I, meanwhile, standing some- 
what back, until the fit should be over, and, with a 
pinch of snufF, my friend relapse into his easy, even 




I HAVE named, among many rivers that make music 
in my memory, that dirty Water of Leith. Often 
and often I desire to look upon it again ; and the 
choice of a point of view is easy to me. It should 
be at a certain water-door, embowered in shrubbery. 
The river is there dammed back for the service of the 
flour-mill just below, so that it lies deep and darkling, 
and the sand slopes into brown obscurity with a glint 
of gold ; and it has but newly been recruited by the 
borrowings of the snuff-mill just above, and these, 
tumbling merrily in, shake the pool to its black heart, 
fill it with drowsy eddies, and set the curded froth of 
many other mills solemnly steering to and fro upon 
the surface. Or so it was when I was young; for 
change, and the masons, and the pruning-knife, have 
been busy ; and if I could hope to repeat a cherished 
experience, it must be on many and impossible con- 
ditions. I must choose, as well as the point of view, 
a certain moment in my growth, so that the scale 
may be exaggerated, and the trees on the steep 
opposite side may seem to climb to heaven, and the 
sand by the water-door, where I am standing, seem 



as low as Styx. And I must choose the season also, 
so that the valley may be brimmed like a cup with 
sunshine and the songs of birds ; — and the year of 
grace, so that when I turn to leave the river-side 
I may find the old manse and its inhabitants un- 

It was a place in that time like no other : the: 
garden cut into provinces by a great hedge of beech, 
and overlooked by the church and the terrace of the 
churchyard, where the tombstones were thick, and 
after nightfall ' spunkies ' might be seen to dance, at 
least by children ; flower-plots lying warm in sun- 
shine ; laurels and the great yew making elsewhere 
a pleasing horror of shade ; the smell of water rising 
from all round, with an added tang of paper-mills ; 
the sound of water everywhere, and the sound of 
mills — the wheel and the dam singing their alternate 
strain ; the birds on every bush and from every 
corner of the overhanging woods pealing out their 
notes until the air throbbed with them ; and in the 
midst of this, the manse. I see it, by the standard 
of my childish stature, as a great and roomy house. 
In truth, it was not so large as I supposed, nor yet 
so convenient, and, standing where it did, it is diffi- 
cult to suppose that it was healthful. Yet a large 
family of stalwart sons and tall daughters was housed 
and reared, and came to man and womanhood in that 
nest of little chambers ; so that the face of the earth 
was peppered with the children of the manse, and 
letters with outlandish stamps became familiar to the 
local postman, and the walls of the little chambers 


brightened with the wonders of the East. The 
dullest could see this was a house that had a pair of 
hands in divers foreign places : a well-beloved house 
— its image fondly dwelt on by many travellers. 

Here lived an ancestor of mine, who was a herd of 
men. I read him, judging with older criticism the 
report of childish observation, as a man of singular 
simplicity of nature ; unemotional, and hating the 
display of what he felt ; standing contented on the 
old ways ; a lover of his life and innocent habits to 
the end. We children admired him : partly for his 
beautiful face and silver hair, for none more than 
children are concerned for beauty, and above all for 
beauty in the old ; partly for the solemn light in 
which we beheld him once a week, the observed of 
all observers, in the pulpit. But his strictness and 
distance, the effect, I now fancy, of old age, slow 
blood, and settled habit, oppressed us with a kind of 
terror. When not abroad, he sat much alone, writing 
sermons or letters to his scattered family in a dark 
and cold room with a library of bloodless books— or 
so they seemed in those days, although I have some 
of them now on my own shelves and like well enough 
to read them ; and these lonely hours wrapped him 
in the greater gloom for our imaginations. But the 
study had a redeeming grace in many Indian pictures, 
gaudily coloured and dear to young eyes. I cannot 
depict (for I have no such passions now) the greed 
with which I beheld them ; and when I was once 
sent in to say a psalm to my grandfather, I went, 
quaking indeed with fear, but at the same time glow- 



ing with hope that, if I said it well, he might reward 
me with an Indian picture. 

' Thy foot He '11 not let slide, nor will 
He slumber that thee keeps/ 

it ran : a strange conglomerate of the unpronounce- 
able, a sad model to set in childhood before one who 
was himself to be a versifier, and a task in recitation 
that really merited reward. And I must suppose the 
old man thought so too, and was either touched or 
amused by the performance ; for he took me in his 
arms with most unwonted tenderness, and kissed me, 
and gave me a little kindly sermon for my psalm ; so 
that, for that day, we were clerk and parson. I was 
struck by this reception into so tender a surprise that 
I forgot my disappointment. And indeed the hope 
was one of those that childhood forges for a pastime, 
and with no design upon reality. Nothing was more 
unlikely than that my grandfather should strip him- 
self of one of those pictures, love-gifts and reminders 
of his absent sons ; nothing more unlikely than that 
he should bestow it upon me. He had no idea of 
spoiling children, leaving all that to my aunt ; he had 
fared hard himself, and blubbered under the rod in 
the last century ; and his ways were still Spartan for 
the young. The last word I heard upon his lips was 
in this Spartan key. He had over- walked in the teeth 
of an east wind, and was now near the end of his 
many days. He sat by the dining-room fire, with 
his white hair, pale face, and bloodshot eyes, a some- 
what awful figure ; and my aunt had given him a 


dose of our good old Scots medicine, Dr. Gregory's 
powder. Now that remedy, as the work of a near 
kinsman of Rob Roy himself, may have a savour of 
romance for the imagination ; but it comes uncouthly 
to the palate. The old gentleman had taken it with 
a wry face ; and that being accomplished, sat with 
perfect simplicity, like a child's, munching a ' barley- 
sugar kiss.' But when my aunt, having the canister 
open in her hands, proposed to let me share in the 
sweets, he interfered at once. I had had no Gregory; 
then I should have no barley-sugar kiss : so he 
decided with a touch of irritation. And just then 
the phaeton coming opportunely to the kitchen 
door — for such was our unlordly fashion — I was 
taken for the last time from the presence of my 

Now I often wonder what I have inherited from 
this old minister. I must suppose, indeed, that he 
was fond of preaching sermons, and so am I, though 
I never heard it maintained that either of us loved 
to hear them. He sought health in his youth in the 
Isle of Wight, and I have sought it in both hemi- 
spheres ; but whereas he found and kept it, I am still 
on the quest. He was a great lover of Shakespeare, 
whom he read aloud, I have been told, with taste; 
well, I love my Shakespeare also, and am persuaded 
I can read him well, though I own I never have been 
told so. He made embroidery, designing his own 
patterns ; and in that kind of work I never made 
anything but a kettle-holder in Berlin wool, and an 
odd garter of knitting, which was as black as the 



chimney before I had done with it. He loved port, 
and nuts, and porter ; and so do I, but they agreed 
better with my grandfather, which seems to me a 
breach of contract. He had chalk-stones in his 
fingers ; and these, in good time, I may possibly 
inherit, but I would much rather have inherited his 
noble presence. Try as I please, I cannot join my- 
self on with the reverend doctor ; and all the while, 
no doubt, and even as I write the phrase, he moves 
in my blood, and whispers words to me, and sits 
efficient in the very knot and centre of my being. 
In his garden, as I played there, I learned the love of 
mills — or had I an ancestor a miller? — and a kindness 
for the neighbourhood of graves, as homely things 
not without their poetry — or had I an ancestor a 
sexton ? But what of the garden where he played 
himself? — for that, too, was a scene of m)^ education. 
Some part of me played there in the eighteenth 
century, and ran races under the green avenue at 
Pilrig ; some part of me trudged up Leith Walk, 
which was still a country place, and sat on the High 
School benches, and was thrashed, perhaps, by Dr. 
Adam. The house where I spent my youth was not 
yet thought upon ; but we made holiday parties 
among the cornfields on its site, and ate strawberries 
and cream near by at a gardener's. All this I had 
forgotten ; only my grandfather remembered and 
once reminded me. I have forgotten, too, how we 
grew up, and took orders, and went to our first 
Ayrshire parish, and fell in love with and married a 
daughter of Burns's Dr. Smith — ' Smith opens out 
1 60 


his cauld harangues.' I have forgotten, but I was 
there all the same, and heard stories of Burns at first 

And there is a thing stranger than all that ; for 
this homunculus or part-man of mine that walked 
about the eighteenth century with Dr. Balfour in his 
youth, was in the way of meeting other hoviunculi 
or part-men, in the persons of my other ancestors. 
These were of a lower order, and doubtless we looked 
down upon them duly. But as I went to college 
with Dr. Balfour, I may have seen the lamp and oil 
man taking down the shutters from his shop beside 
the Tron ; — we may have had a rabbit-hutch or a 
bookshelf made for us by a certain carpenter in 1 
know not what wynd of the old smoky city ; or, 
upon some holiday excursion, we may have looked 
into the windows of a cottage in a flower-garden^ and 
seen a certain weaver plying his shuttle. And these 
were all kinsmen of mine upon the other side ; and 
from the eyes of the lamp and oil man one-half of my 
unborn father, and one-quarter of myself, looked out 
upon us as we went by to college. Nothing of aU 
this would cross the mind of the young student, as 
he posted up the Bridges with trim, stockinged legs, 
in that city of cocked hats and good Scots still 
unadulterated. It would not cross his mind that he 
should have a daughter; and the lamp and oil man, 
just then beginning, by a not unnatural metastasis, 
to bloom into a lighthouse-engineer, should have a 
grandson ; and that these two, in the fulness of time, 
should wed ; and some portion of that student him- 
L i6i 


self should survive yet a year or two longer in the 
person of their child. 

But our ancestral adventures are beyond even the 
arithmetic of fancy ; and it is the chief recommenda- 
tion of long pedigrees, that we can follow backward 
the careers of our homunculi and be reminded of 
our antenatal lives. Our conscious years are but a 
moment in the history of the elements that build us. 
Are you a bank-clerk, and do you live at Peckham ? 
It was not always so. And though to-day I am only 
a man of letters, either tradition errs or I was present 
when there landed at St. Andrews a French barber- 
surgeon, to tend the health and the beard of the 
great Cardinal Beaton ; I have shaken a spear in 
the Debateable Land and shouted the slogan of the 
Elliots ; I was present when a skipper, plying from 
Dundee, smuggled Jacobites to France after the '15 ; 
I was in a West India merchant's office, perhaps next 
door to Bailie Nicol Jarvie's, and managed the 
business of a plantation in St. Kitt's ; I was with my 
engineer-grandfather (the son-in-law of the lamp and 
oil man) when he sailed north about Scotland on the 
famous cruise that gave us the Filiate and the Lord 
of the Isles ; I was with him, too, on the Bell Rock, 
in the fog, when the Smeaton had drifted from her 
moorings, and the Aberdeen men, pick in hand, had 
seized upon the only boats, and he must stoop and 
lap sea- water before his tongue could utter audible 
words ; and once more with him when the Bell Rock 
beacon took a ' thrawe,' and his workmen fled into 
the tower, then nearly finished, and he sat unmoved 


reading in his Bible — or affecting to read — till one 
after another slunk back with confusion of counten- 
ance to their engineer. Yes, parts of me have seen 
life, and met adventures, and sometimes met them 
well. And away in the still cloudier past, the threads 
that make me up can be traced by fancy into the 
bosoms of thousands and millions of ascendants : 
Picts who rallied round Macbeth and the old (and 
highly preferable) system of descent by females, 
fleers from before the legions of Agricola, marchers 
in Pannonian morasses, star-gazers on Chaldsean 
plateaus ; and, furthest of all, what face is this that 
fancy can see peering through the disparted branches ? 
What sleeper in green tree-tops, what muncher of 
nuts, concludes my pedigree ? Probably arboreal in 
his habits. . . . 

And I know not which is the more strange, 
that I should carry about with me some fibres 
of my minister-grandfather ; or that in him, as he 
sat in his cool study, grave, reverend, contented 
gentleman, there was an aboriginal frisking of the 
blood that was not his ; tree-top memories, like un- 
developed negatives, lay dormant in his mind ; tree- 
top instincts awoke and were trod down ; and 
Probably Arboreal (scarce to be distinguished from 
a monkey) gambolled and chattered in the brain 
of the old divine. 



The little isle of Earraid lies close in to the south- 
west corner of the Ross of Mull : the sound of lona 
on one side, across which you may see the isle and 
church of Columba ; the open sea to the other, 
where you shall be able to mark on a clear, surfy 
day the breakers running white on many sunken 
rocks. I first saw it, or first remember seeing it, 
framed in the round bull's-eye of a cabin port, the 
sea lying smooth along its shores like the waters of 
a lake, the colourless, clear light of the early morn- 
ing making plain its heathery and rocky hummocks. 
There stood upon it, in those days, a single rude 
house of uncemented stones, approached by a pier of 
wreckwood. It must have been very early, for it was 
then summer, and in summer, in that latitude, day 
scarcely withdraws ; but even at that hour the house 
was making a sweet smoke of peats which came to 
me over the bay, and the bare-legged daughters of 
the cotter were wading by the pier. The same day 
we visited the shores of the isle in the ship's boats ; 
rowed deep into Fiddler's Hole, sounding as we went; 


and, having taken stock of all possible accommoda- 
tion, pitched on the northern inlet as the scene 
of operations. For it was no accident that had 
brought the lighthouse steamer to anchor in the 
Bay of Earraid. Fifteen miles away to seaward, a 
certain black rock stood environed by the Atlantic 
rollers, the outpost of the Torran reefs. Here was a 
tower to be built, and a star lighted, for the conduct 
of seamen. But as the rock was small, and hard of 
access, and far from land, the work would be one of 
years ; and my father was now looking for a shore 
station, where the stones might be quarried and 
dressed, the men live, and the tender, with some 
degree of safety, lie at anchor. 

I saw Earraid next from the stern-thwart of an 
lona lugger, Sam Bough and I sitting there cheek 
by jowl, with our feet upon our baggage, in a 
beautiful, clear, northern summer eve. And behold ! 
there was now a pier of stone, there were rows of 
sheds, railways, travelling- cranes, a street of cottages, 
an iron house for the resident engineer, wooden 
bothies for the men, a stage where the courses of 
the tower were put together experimentally, and 
behind the settlement a great gash in the hillside 
where granite was quarried. In the bay, the 
steamer lay at her moorings. All day long there 
hung about the place the music of chinking tools : 
and even in the dead of night, the watchman carried 
his lantern to and fro, in the dark settlement, and 
could light the pipe of any midnight muser. It was, 
above all, strange to see Earraid on the Sunday, 



when the sound of the tools ceased and there fell a 
crystal quiet. All about the green compound men 
would be sauntering in their Sunday's best, walking 
with those lax joints of the reposing toiler, thought- 
fully smoking, talking small, as if in honour of the 
stillness, or hearkening to the wailing of the gulls. 
And it was strange to see our Sabbath services, held, 
as they were, in one of the bothies, with Mr. Brebner 
reading at a table, and the congregation perched 
about in the double tier of sleeping-bunks ; and to 
hear the singing of the psalms, 'the chapters,' the 
inevitable Spurgeon's sermon, and the old, eloquent 
lighthouse prayer. 

In fine weather, when by the spy-glass on the hill 
the sea was observed to run low upon the reef, there 
would be a sound of preparation in the very early 
morning ; and before the sun had risen from behind 
Ben More, the tender would steam out of the bay. 
Over fifteen sea-miles of the great blue Atlantic 
rollers she ploughed her way, trailing at her tail 
a brace of wallowing stone-lighters. The open 
ocean widened upon either board, and the hills of 
the mainland began to go down on the horizon, 
before she came to her unhomely destination, and 
lay-to at last where the rock clapped its black head 
above the swell, with the tall iron barrack on its 
spider legs, and the truncated tower, and the cranes 
waving their arms, and the smoke of the engine-fire 
rising in the mid-sea. An ugly reef is this of the 
Dhu Heartach; no pleasant assemblage of shelves, 
and pools, and creeks, about which a child might 


play for a whole summer without weariness, like the 
Bell Rock or the Skerryvore, but one oval nodule of 
black-trap, sparsely bedabbled with an inconspicuous 
fucus, and alive in every crevice with a dingy insect 
between a slater and a bug. No other life was there 
but that of sea-birds, and of the sea itself, that here 
ran like a mill-race, and growled about the outer reef 
for ever, and ever and again, in the calmest weather, 
roared and spouted on the rock itself. Times were 
different upon Dhu Heartach when it blew, and the 
night fell dark, and the neighbour hghts of Skerryvore 
and Rhu-val were quenched in fog, and the men sat 
prisoned high up in their iron drum, that then re- 
sounded with the lashing of the sprays. Fear sat 
with them in their sea-beleaguered dwelling ; and the 
colour changed in anxious faces when some greater 
billow struck the barrack, and its pillars quivered 
and sprang under the blow. It was then that the 
foreman builder, Mr. Goodwillie, whom I see before 
me still in his rock-habit of undecipherable rags, 
would get his fiddle down and strike up human 
minstrelsy amid the music of the storm. But it 
was in sunshine only that I saw Dhu Heartach ; 
and it was in sunshine, or the yet lovelier summer 
afterglow, that the steamer would return to Earraid, 
ploughing an enchanted sea; the obedient lighters, 
relieved of their deck cargo, riding in her wake more 
quietly ; and the steersman upon each, as she rose on 
the long swell, standing tall and dark against the 
shining west. 




But it was in Earraid itself that I delighted chiefly. 
The lighthouse settlement scarce encroached beyond 
its fences ; over the top of the first brae the ground 
was all virgin, the world all shut out, the face of 
things unchanged by any of man's doings. Here 
was no living presence, save for the limpets on 
the rocks, for some old, grey, rain-beaten ram that 
I might rouse out of a ferny den betwixt two 
boulders, or for the haunting and the piping of 
the gulls. It was older than man ; it was found 
so by incoming Celts, and seafaring Norsemen, 
and Columba's priests. The earthy savour of the 
bog plants, the rude disorder of the boulders, the 
inimitable seaside brightness of the air, the brine 
and the iodine, the lap of the billows among the 
weedy reefs, the sudden springing up of a great 
run of dashing surf along the sea-front of the 
isle, — all that I saw and felt my predecessors must 
have seen and felt with scarce a difference. I 
steeped myself in open air and in past ages. 

' Delightful would it be to me to be in Uchd Ailkm 

On the pinnacle of a rock, 
That I might often see 

The face of the ocean ; 
That I might hear the song of the wonderful birds. 

Source of happiness ; 
That I might hear the thunder of the crowding waves 

Upon the rocks : 
At times at work without compulsion — 

This would be delightful ; 



At times plucking dulse from the rocks ; 
At times at fishing.' 

So, about the next island of lona, sang Columba 
himself twelve hundred years before. And so might 
I have sung of Earraid. 

And all the while I was aware that this life of sea- 
bathing and sun-burning was for me but a holiday. 
In that year cannon were roaring for days together 
on French battle-fields ; and I would sit in my isle 
(I call it mine, after the use of lovers) and think upon 
the war, and the loudness of these far-away battles, 
and the pain of the men's wounds, and the weariness 
of their marching. And I would think too of that 
other war which is as old as mankind, and is indeed 
the life of man : the unsparing war, the grinding 
slavery of competition; the toil of seventy years, 
dear-bought bread, precarious honour, the perils and 
pitfalls, and the poor rewards. It was a long look 
forward; the future summoned me as with trumpet 
calls, it warned me back as with a voice of weeping 
and beseeching ; and I thrilled and trembled on the 
brink of life, like a childish bather on the beach. 

There was another young man on Earraid in these 
days, and we were much together, bathing, clamber- 
ing on the boulders, trying to sail a boat and spinning 
round instead in the oily whirlpools of the roost. 
But the most part of the time we spoke of the great 
uncharted desert of our futures ; wondering together 
what should there befall us ; hearing with surprise 
the sound ofour own voices in the empty vestibule 
of youth. As far, and as hard, as it seemed then to 



look forward to the grave, so far it seems now to look 
backward upon these emotions ; so hard to recall 
justly that loath submission, as of the sacrificial bull, 
with which we stooped our necks under the yoke of 
destiny. I met my old companion but the other day ; 
I cannot tell of course what he was thinking ; but, 
upon my part, I was wondering to see us both so 
much at home, and so composed and sedentary in 
the world ; and how much we had gained, and how 
much we had lost, to attain to that composure ; 
and which had been upon the whole our best estate : 
when we sat there prating sensibly like men of some 
experience, or when we shared our timorous and 
hopeful counsels in a western islet. 





The death of Thomas Stevenson will mean not very 
much to the general reader. His service to mankind 
took on forms of which the public knows little and 
understands less. He came seldom to London, 
and then only as a task, remaining always a stranger 
and a convinced provincial ; putting up for years at 
the same hotel where his father had gone before 
him ; faithful for long to the same restaurant, the 
same church, and the same theatre, chosen simply 
for propinquity ; steadfastly refusing to dine out. He 
had a circle of his own, indeed, at home ; few men 
were more beloved in Edinburgh, where he breathed 
an air that pleased him ; and wherever he went, in 
railway carriages or hotel smoking-rooms, his strange, 
humorous vein of talk, and his transparent honesty, 
raised him up friends and admirers. But to the 
general public and the world of London, except about 
the parliamentary committee-rooms, he remained 
unknown. All the time, his lights were in every 
part of the world, guiding the mariner ; his firm were 



consulting engineers to the Indian, the New Zealand, 
and the Japanese Lighthouse Boards, so that Edin- 
burgh was a world-centre for that branch of applied 
science ; in Germany, he had been called ' the Nestor 
of lighthouse illumination '; even in France, where 
his claims were long denied, he was at last, on the 
occasion of the late Exposition, recognised and 
medalled. And to show by one instance the inverted 
nature of his reputation, comparatively small at home, 
yet filling the world, a friend of mine was this winter 
on a visit to the Spanish main, and was asked by a 
Peruvian if he 'knew Mr. Stevenson the author, 
because his works were much esteemed in Peru.' 
My friend supposed the reference was to the writer 
of tales ; but the Peruvian had never heard of Dr. 
Jekyll ; what he had in his eye, what was esteemed 
in Peru, were the volumes of the engineer. 

Thomas Stevenson was born at Edinburgh in the 
year 1818 ; the grandson of Thomas Smith, first 
engineer to the Board of Northern Lights ; son of 
Robert Stevenson, brother of Alan and David ; so 
that his nephew, David Alan Stevenson, joined with 
him at the time of his death in the engineership, 
is the sixth of the family who has held, successively 
or conjointly, that office. The Bell Rock, his father's 
great triumph, was finished before he was born ; but 
he served under his brother Alan in the building of 
Skerry vore, the noblest of all extant deep-sea lights ; 
and, in conjunction with his brother David, he added 
two — the Chickens and Dhu Heartach — to that 
small number of man's extreme outposts in the ocean. 


Of shore lights, the two brothers last named erected 
no fewer than twenty-seven ; of beacons,^ about 
twenty -five. Many harbours were successfully carried 
out : one, the harbour of Wick, the chief disaster of 
my father's life, was a failure ; the sea proved too 
strong for man's arts ; and after expedients hitherto 
unthought of, and on a scale hyper-cyclopean, the 
work must be deserted, and now stands a ruin in that 
bleak, God-forsaken bay, ten miles from Jc^n-o'- 
Groat's. In the improvement of rivers the brothers 
were likewise in a large way of practice over both 
England and Scotland, nor had any British engineer 
anything approaching their experience. 

It was about this nucleus of his professional labours 
that all my father's scientific inquiries and inventions 
centred ; these proceeded from, and acted back upon, 
his daily business. Thus it was as a harbour engineer 
that he became interested in the propagation and 
reduction of waves ; a difficult subject, in regard to 
which he has left behind him much suggestive matter 
and some valuable approximate results. Storms were 
his sworn adversaries, and it was through the study 
of storms that he approached that of meteorology at 
large. Many who knew him not otherwise, knew — 
perhaps have in their gardens — his louvre-boarded 
screen for instruments. But the great achievement 
of his life was, of course, in optics as applied to light- 
house illumination. Fresnel had done much ; Fresnel 

^ In Dr. Murray's admirable new dictionary, I have remarked a flaw 
sub voce Beacon. In its express, technical sense, a beacon may be defined 
as ^ a founded, artificial sea-mark, not lighted.' 


had settled the fixed light apparatus on a principle 
that still seems unimprovable ; and when Thomas 
Stevenson stepped in and brought to a comparable 
perfection the revolving light, a not unnatural jealousy 
and much painful controversy rose in France. It 
had its hour ; and, as I have told already, even in 
France it has blown by. Had it not, it would have 
mattered the less, since all through his life my father 
contii^ed to justify his claim by fresh advances. 
New apparatus for lights in new situations was con- 
tinually being designed with the same unwearied 
search after perfection, the same nice ingenuity of 
means ; and though the holophotal revolving light 
perhaps still remains his most elegant contrivance, it 
is difficult to give it the palm over the much later 
condensing system, with its thousand possible modi- 
fications. The number and the value of these 
improvements entitle their author to the name of one 
of mankind's benefactors. In all parts of the world 
a safer landfall awaits the mariner. Two things must 
be said : and, first, that Thomas Stevenson was no 
mathematician. Natural shrewdness, a sentiment of 
optical laws, and a great intensity of consideration, 
led him to just conclusions ; but to calculate the 
necessary formulae for the instruments he had con- 
ceived was often beyond him, and he must fall back 
on the help of others, notably on that of his cousin 
and lifelong intimate friend, emeritus Professor Swan,^ 
of St. Andrews, and his later friend. Professor P. G. 

^ William Swan, LL. D. , Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Univer- 
sity of St. Andrews, 1859-80 : born 1818, died 1894. 


Tait. It is a curious enough circumstance, and a 
great encouragement to others, that a man so ill 
equipped should have succeeded in one of the most 
abstract and arduous walks of applied science. The 
second remark is one that applies to the whole family, 
and only particularly to Thomas Stevenson from the 
great number and importance of his inventions : 
holding as the Stevensons did a Government appoint- 
ment, they regarded their original work as something 
due already to the nation, and none of them has ever 
taken out a patent. It is another cause of the com- 
parative obscurity of the name : for a patent not only 
brings in money, it infallibly spreads reputation ; and 
my father's instruments enter anonymously into a 
hundred light-rooms, and are passed anonymously 
over in a hundred reports, where the least consider- 
able patent would stand out and tell its author's 

But the life-work of Thomas Stevenson remains ; 
what we have lost, what we now rather try to recall, 
is the friend and companion. He was a man of a 
somewhat antique strain : with a blended sternness 
and softness that was wholly Scottish, and at first 
somewhat bewildering ; with a profound essential 
melancholy of disposition and (what often accom- 
panies it) the most humorous geniality in company ; 
shrewd and childish ; passionately attached, passion- 
ately prejudiced ; a man of many extremes, many 
faults of temper, and no very stable foothold for 
himself among life's troubles. Yet he was a wise 
adviser; many men, and these not inconsiderable, 



took counsel with him habitually. ' I sat at his feet,' 
writes one of these, ' when I asked his advice, and 
when the broad brow was set in thought and the firm 
mouth said his say, I always knew that no man could 
add to the worth of the conclusion.' He had excel- 
lent taste, though whimsical and partial; collected old 
furniture and delighted specially in simflowers long 
before the days of Mr. Oscar Wilde ; took a lasting 
pleasure in prints and pictures ; was a devout admirer 
of Thomson of Duddingston at a time when few 
shared the taste ; and though he read little, was 
constant to his favourite books. He had never any 
Greek ; Latin he happily re-taught himself after he 
had left school, where he was a mere consistent idler : 
happily, I say, for Lactantius, Vossius, and Cardinal 
Bona were his chief authors. The first he must have 
read for twenty years uninterruptedly, keeping it near 
him in his study, and carrying it in his bag on journeys. 
Another old theologian, Brown of Wamphray, was 
often in his hands. When he was indisposed, he had 
two books, Guy Mannering and The Parent's Assis- 
tant, of which he never wearied. He was a strong 
Conservative, or, as he preferred to call himself, a 
Tory ; except in so far as his views were modified by 
a hot-headed chivalrous sentiment for women. He 
was actually in favour of a marriage law under which 
any woman might have a divorce for the asking, 
and no man on any ground whatever ; and the same 
sentiment found another expression in a Magdalen 
Mission in Edinburgh, founded and largely supported 
by himself. This was but one of the many channels 


of his public generosity ; his private was equally un- 
strained. The Church of Scotland, of which he held 
the doctrines (though in a sense of his own) and to 
which he bore a clansman's loyalty, profited often 
by his time and money ; and though, from a morbid 
sense of his own unworthiness, he would never 
consent to be an office-bearer, his advice was often 
sought, and he served the Church on many com- 
mittees. What he perhaps valued highest in his 
work were his contributions to the defence of Chris- 
tianity ; one of which, in particular, was praised by 
Hutchison Stirling and reprinted at the request of 
Professor Crawford. 

His sense of his own unworthiness I have called 
morbid ; morbid, too, were his sense of the fleeting- 
ness of life and his concern for death. He had never 
accepted the conditions of man's life or his own 
character ; and his inmost thoughts were ever tinged 
with the Celtic melancholy. Cases of conscience 
were sometimes grievous to him, and that delicate 
employment of a scientific witness cost him many 
qualms. But he found respite from these trouble- 
some humours in his work, in his lifelong study of 
natural science, in the society of those he loved, and 
in his daily walks, which now would carry him far 
into the country with some congenial friend, and 
now keep him dangling about the town from one old 
book-shop to another, and scraping romantic acquaint- 
ance with every dog that passed. His talk, com- 
pounded of so much sterling sense and so much 
freakish humour, and clothed in language so apt, 

M 177 


droll, and emphatic, was a perpetual delight to all 
who knew him before the clouds began to settle on 
his mind. His use of language was both just and 
picturesque ; and when at the beginning of his illness 
he began to feel the ebbing of this power, it was 
strange and painful to hear him reject one word after 
another as inadequate, and at length desist from the 
search and leave his phrase unfinished rather than 
finish it without propriety. It was perhaps another 
Celtic trait that his affections and emotions, passionate 
as these were, and liable to passionate ups and downs, 
found the most eloquent expression both in words 
and gestures. Love, anger, and indignation shone 
through him and broke forth in imagery, like what 
we read of Southern races. For all these emotional 
extremes, and in spite of the melancholy ground of 
his character, he had upon the whole a happy life ; 
nor was he less fortunate in his death, which at the 
last came to him unaware. 



Sir, we had a good talk. — Johnson. 

As we must account for every idle word, so we must for every idle 
silence. — Fkanklin. 

There can be no fairer ambition than to excel in 
talk ; to be affable, gay, ready, clear and welcome ; 
to have a fact, a thought, or an illustration, pat to 
every subject; and not only to cheer the flight of 
time among our intimates, but bear our part in that 
great international congress, always sitting, where 
public wrongs are first declared, public errors first 
corrected, and the course of public opinion shaped, 
day by day, a little nearer to the right. No measure 
comes before Parliament but it has been long ago 
prepared by the grand jury of the talkers ; no book 
is written that has not been largely composed by 
their assistance. Literature in many of its branches 
is no other than the shadow of good talk ; but the 
imitation falls far short of the original in life, freedom, 
and effect. There are always two to a talk, giving 
and taking, comparing experience and according 



conclusions. Talk is fluid, tentative, continually ' in 
further search and progress'; while written words 
remain fixed, become idols even to the writer, found 
wooden dogmatisms, and preserve flies of obvious 
error in the amber of the truth. Last and chief, 
while literature, gagged with linsey-woolsey, can only 
deal with a fraction of the life of man, talk goes fancy 
free and niay call a spade a spade. Talk has none 
of the freezing immunities of the pulpit. It cannot, 
even if it would, become merely aesthetic or merely 
classical like literature. A jest intervenes, the solemn 
humbug is dissolved in laughter, and speech runs 
forth out of the contemporary groove into the open 
fields of nature, cheery and cheering, like school- 
boys out of school. And it is in talk alone that we 
can learn our period and ourselves. In short, the 
first duty of a man is to speak ; that is his chief 
business in this world ; and talk, which is the har- 
monious speech of two or more, is by far the most 
accessible of pleasures. It costs nothing in money ; 
it is all profit ; it completes our education, founds 
and fosters our friendships, and can be enjoyed at 
any age and in almost any state of health. 

The spice of life is battle ; the friendliest relations 
are still a kind of contest ; and if we would not 
forego all that is valuable in our lot, we must con- 
tinually face some other person, eye to eye, and 
wrestle a fall whether in love or enmity. It is still 
by force of body, or power of character or intellect, 
that we attain to worthy pleasures. Men and 
women contend for each other in the lists of love, 
1 80 


like rival mesmerists ; the active and adi'oit decide 
their challenges in the sports of the body ; and 
the sedentary sit down to chess or conversation. 
All sluggish and pacific pleasures are, to the same 
degree, solitary and selfish ; and every durable bond 
between human beings is founded in or heightened 
by some element of competition. Now, the relation 
that has the least root in matter is undoubtedly that 
airy one of friendship ; and hence, I suppose, it is 
that good talk most commonly arises among friends. 
Talk is, indeed, both the scene and instrument of 
friendship. It is in talk alone that the friends can 
measure strength, and enjoy that amicable counter- 
assertion of personality which is the gauge of rela- 
tions and the sport of life. 

A good talk is not to be had for the asking. 
Humours must first be accorded in a kind of overture 
or prologue; hour, company, and circumstance be 
suited ; and then, at a fit juncture, the subject, the 
quarry of two heated minds, spring up like a deer 
out of the wood. Not that the talker has any of 
the hunter's pride, though he has all and more than 
all his ardour. The genuine artist follows the stream 
of conversation as an angler follows the windings of 
a brook, not dallying where he fails to 'kill.' He 
trusts implicitly to hazard ; and he is rewarded by 
continual variety, continual pleasure, and those 
changing prospects of the truth that are the best of 
education. There is nothing in a subject, so called, 
that we should regard it as an idol, or follow it 
beyond the promptings of desire. Indeed, there are 



few subjects ; and so far as they are truly talkable, 
more than the half of them may be reduced to 
three : that I am I, that you are you, and that there 
are other people dimly understood to be not quite 
the same as either. Wherever talk may range, it 
still runs half the time on these eternal lines. The 
theme being set, each plays on himself as on an 
instrument; asserts and justifies himself; ransacks 
his brain for instances and opinions, and brings them 
forth new-minted, to his own surprise and the admira- 
tion of his adversary. All natural talk is a festival 
of ostentation ; and by the laws of the game each 
accepts and fans the vanity of the other. It is ,from 
that reason that we venture to lay ourselves so open, 
that we dare to be so warmly eloquent, and that we 
swell in each other's eyes to such a vast proportion. 
For talkers, once launched, begin to overflow the 
limits of their ordinary selves, tower up to the 
height of their secret pretensions, and give them- 
selves out for the heroes, brave, pious, musical, and 
wise, that in their most shining moments they aspire 
to be. So they weave for themselves with words 
and for a while inhabit a palace of delights, temple 
at once and theatre, where they fill the round of the 
world's dignities, and feast with the gods, exulting 
in Kudos. And when the talk is over, each goes 
his way, still flushed with vanity and admiration, 
still trailing clouds of glory ; each decHnes from the 
height of his ideal orgie, not in a moment, but by 
slow declension. I remember, in the entr'acte of an 
afternoon performance, coming forth into the sun- 


shine in a beautiful green, gardened corner of a 
romantic city ; and as I sat and smoked, the music 
moving in my blood, I seemed to sit there and 
evaporate The Flying Dutchman (for it was that I 
had been hearing) with a wonderful sense of life, 
warmth, well-being and pride ; and the noises of 
the city, voices, bells, and marching feet, fell together 
in my ears like a symphonious orchestra. In the 
same way, the excitement of a good talk lives for 
a long while after in the blood, the heart still hot 
within you, the brain still simmering, and the phy- 
sical earth swimming around you with the colours 
of the sunset. 

Natural talk, like ploughing, should turn up a 
laige surface of life, rather than dig mines into 
geological strata. Masses of experience, anecdote, 
incident, cross-lights, quotation, historical instances, 
the whole flotsam and jetsam of two minds forced 
in and in upon the matter in hand from every point 
of the compass, and from every degree of mental 
elevation and abasement — these are the materia] with 
wiiich talk is fortified, the food on which the talkers 
thrive. Such argument as is proper to the exercise 
shDuld still be brief and seizing. Talk should pro- 
ceed by instances ; by the apposite, not the exposi- 
toiy. It should keep close along the lines of 
hunanity, near the bosoms and businesses of men, 
at the level where history, fiction, and experience 
intersect and illuminate each other. I am I, and 
you are you, with all my heart ; but conceive how 
these lean propositions change and brighten when, 



instead of words, the actual you and I sit cheek by 
jowl, the spirit housed in the live body, and the very 
clothes uttering voices to corroborate the story in 
the face. Not less surprising is the change when 
we leave off to speak of generalities — the bad, the 
good, the miser, and all the characters of Theophras- 
tus — and call up other men, by anecdote or instance, 
in their very trick and feature ; or, trading on a 
common knowledge, toss each other famous names, 
still glowing with the hues of life. Communication 
is no longer by words, but by the instancing of whole 
biographies, epics, systems of philosophy, and epochs 
of history, in bulk. That which is understood 
excels that which is spoken in quantity and quality 
alike ; ideas thus figured and personified, change 
hands, as we may say, like coin ; and the speakers 
imply without effort the most obscure and intricate 
thoughts. Strangers who have a large common 
ground of reading will, for this reason, come the 
sooner to the grapple of genuine converse. If 
they know Othello and Napoleon, Consuelo and 
Clarissa Harlowe, Vautrin and Steenie Steenson, 
they can leave generalities and begin at once to 
speak by figures. 

Conduct and art are the two subjects that arise 
most frequently and that embrace the widest range 
of facts. A few pleasures bear discussion for their 
own sake, but only those which are most social or 
most radically human ; and even these can only be 
discussed among their devotees. A technicality is 
always welcome to the expert, whether in athletics, 


art, or law ; I have heard the best kind of talk on 
technicalities from such rare and happy persons as 
both know and love their business. No human 
being ever spoke of scenery for above two minutes 
at a time, which makes me suspect we hear too 
much of it in literatiu'e. The weather is regarded 
as the very nadir and scoff of conversational topics. 
And yet the weather, the dramatic element in 
scenery, is far more tractable in language, and far 
more human both in import and suggestion than 
the stable features of the landscape. Sailors and 
shepherds, and the people generally of coast and 
mountain, talk well of it ; and it is often excitingly 
presented in literature. But the tendency of all 
living talk draws it back and back into the common 
focus of humanity. Talk is a creature of the street 
and market-place, feeding on gossip ; and its last 
resort is still in a discussion on morals. That is the 
heroic form of gossip ; heroic in virtue of its high 
pretensions ; but still gossip, because it turns on 
personalities. You can keep no men long, nor 
Scotsmen at all, off moral or theological discussion. 
These are to all the world what law is to lawyers ; 
they are everybody's technicalities ; the medium 
through which all consider life, and the dialect in 
which they express their judgments. I knew three 
young men who walked together daily for some 
two months in a solemn and beautiful forest and in 
cloudless summer weather ; daily they talked with 
unabated zest, and yet scarce wandered that whole 
time beyond two subjects — theology and love. And 



perhaps neither a court of love nor an assembly of 
divines would have granted their premisses or wel- 
comed their conclusions. 

Conclusions, indeed, are not often reached by talk 
any more than by private thinking. That is not the 
profit. The profit is in the exercise, and above all 
in the experience ; for when we reason at large on 
any subject, we review our state and history in life. 
From time to time, however, and specially, I think, 
in talking art, talk becomes effective, conquering 
like war, widening the boundaries of knowledge like 
an exploration. A point arises ; the question takes 
a problematical, a baffling, yet a likely air ; the 
talkers begin to feel lively presentiments of some 
conclusion near at hand ; towards this they strive 
with emulous ardour, each by his own path, and 
struggling for first utterance ; and then one leaps 
upon the summit of that matter with a shout, and 
almost at the same moment the other is beside him ; 
and behold they are agreed. Like enough, the 
progress is illusory, a mere cat's cradle having been 
wound and unwound out of words. But the sense 
of joint discovery is none the less giddy and inspirit- 
ing. And in the life of the talker such triumphs, 
though imaginary, are neither few nor far apart; 
they are attained with speed and pleasure, in the 
hour of mirth ; and by the nature of the process, 
they are always woi'thily shared. 

There is a certain attitude, combative at once and 
deferential, eager to fight yet most averse to quarrel, 
which marks out at once the talkable man. It is 


not eloquence, not fairness, not obstinacy, but a 
certain proportion of all of these, that I love to 
encounter in my amicable adversaries. They must 
not be pontiffs holding doctrine, but huntsmen 
questing after elements of truth. Neither must 
they be boys to be instructed, but fellow-teachers 
with whom I may wrangle and agree on equal terms. 
We must reach some solution, some shadow of 
consent ; for without that, eager talk becomes a 
torture. But we do not wish to reach it cheaply, 
or quickly, or without the tussle and effort wherein 
pleasure lies. 

The very best talker, with me, is one whom I shall 
call Spring-Heel'd Jack. I say so, because I never 
knew any one who mingled so largely the possible 
ingredients of converse. In the Spanish proverb, 
the fourth man necessary to compound a salad is 
a madman to mix it : Jack is that madman. I 
know not which is more remarkable : the insane 
lucidity of his conclusions, the humorous eloquence 
of his language, or his power of method, bringing the 
whole of life into the focus of the subject treated, 
mixing the conversational salad like a drunken god. 
He doubles like the serpent, changes and flashes like 
the shaken kaleidoscope, transmigrates bodily into 
the views of others, and so, in the twinkling of an 
eye and with a heady rapture, turns questions inside 
out and flings them empty before you on the 
ground, like a triumphant conjuror. It is my 
common practice when a piece of conduct puzzles 
me, to attack it in the presence of Jack with such 



grossness, such partiality, and such wearing iteration, 
as at length shall spur him up in its defence. In a 
moment he transmigrates, dons the required char- 
acter, and with moonstruck philosophy justifies the 
act in question. I can fancy nothing to compare 
with the vigour of these impersonations, the strange 
scale of language, flying from Shakespeare to Kant, 
and from Kant to Major Dyngwell — 

'As fast as a musician scatters sounds 
Out of an instrument — ' 

the sudden, sweeping generalisations, the absurd 
irrelevant particularities, the wit, wisdom, folly, 
humour, eloquence, and bathos, each startling in 
its kind, and yet all luminous in the admired dis- 
order of their combination. A talker of a different 
calibre, though belonging to the same school, is 
Burly. Burly is a man of a great presence ; he 
commands a larger atmosphere, gives the impression 
of a grosser mass of character than most men. It 
has been said of him that his presence could be 
felt in a room you entered blindfold ; and the same, 
I think, has been said of other powerful constitu- 
tions condemned to much physical inaction. There 
is something boisterous and piratic in Burly 's 
manner of talk which suits well enough with this 
impression. He will roar you down, he will bury his 
face in his hands, he will undergo passions of revolt 
and agony ; and meanwhile his attitude of mind 
is really both conciliatory and receptive ; and after 
Pistol has been out-Pistol'd, and the welkin rung 


for hours, yoa begin to perceive a certain subsidence 
in these spring torrents, points of agreement issue, 
and you end arm-in-arm, and in a glow of mutual 
admiration. The outcry only serves to make your 
final union the more unexpected and precious. 
Throughout there has been perfect sincerity, perfect 
intelligence, a desire to hear although not always 
to listen, and an unaffected eagerness to meet 
concessions. You have, with Burly, none of the 
dangers that attend debate with Spring-Heel'd Jack ; 
who may at any moment turn his powers of trans- 
migration on yourself, create for you a view you 
never held, and then furiously fall on you for holding 
it. These, at least, are my two favourites, and both 
are loud, copious, intolerant talkers. This argues 
that I myself am in the same category ; for if we 
love talking at all, we love a bright, fierce adversary, 
who will hold his ground, foot by foot, in much our 
own manner, sell his attention dearly, and give us 
our full measure of the dust and exertion of battle. 
Both these men can be beat from a position, but 
it takes six hours to do it; a high and hard ad- 
venture, worth attempting. With both you can 
pass days in an enchanted country of the mind, 
with people, scenery, and manners of its own ; live 
a life apart, more arduous, active, and glowing than 
any real existence ; and come forth again when the 
talk is over, as out of a theatre or a dream, to find 
the east wind still blowing and the chimney-pots 
of the old battered city still around you. Jack has 
the far finer mind, Burly the far more honest ; Jack 



gives us the animated poetry. Burly the romantic 
prose, of similar themes ; the one glances high like 
a meteor and makes a light in darkness ; the other, 
with many changing hues of fire, burns at the sea- 
level, like a conflagration ; but both have the same 
humour and artistic interests, the same unquenched 
ardour in pursuit, the same gusts of talk and 
thunderclaps of contradiction. 

Cockshot^ is a different article, but vastly enter- 
taining, and has been meat and drink to me for many 
a long evening. His manner is dry, brisk, and perti- 
nacious, and the choice of words not much. The 
point about him is his extraordinary readiness and 
spirit. You can propound nothing but he has either 
a theory about it ready-made, or will have one in- 
stantly on the stocks, and proceed to lay its timbers 
and launch it in your presence. 'Let me see,' he 
will say. ' Give me a moment. I should have some 
theory for that.' A bhther spectacle than the vigour 
with which he sets about the task, it were hard to 
fancy. He is possessed by a demoniac energy, weld- 
ing the elements for his life, and bending ideas, as 
an athlete bends a horse-shoe, with a visible and lively 
effort. He has, in theorising, a compass, an art; 
what I would call the synthetic gusto ; something of 
a Herbert Spencer, who should see the fun of the 
thing. You are not bound, and no more is he, to 
place your faith in these brand-new opinions. But 
some of them are right enough, durable even for life ; 
and the poorest serve for a cock-shy — as when idle 

^ The late Professor Fleeming Jenkin. 


people, after picnics, float a bottle on a pond and 
have an hour's diversion ere it sinks. Whichever 
they are, serious opinions or humours of the moment, 
he still defends his ventures with indefatigable wit 
and spirit, hitting savagely himself, but taking punish- 
ment like a man. He knows and never forgets that 
people talk, first of all, for the sake of talking ; con- 
ducts himself in the ring, to use the old slang, like 
a thorough 'glutton,' and honestly enjoys a telling 
facer from his adversary. Cockshot is bottled effer- 
vescency, the sworn foe of sleep. Three-in-the- 
morning Cockshot, says a victim. His talk is like 
the driest of all imaginable dry champagnes. Sleight 
of hand and inimitable quickness are the qualities by 
which he lives. Athelred, on the other hand, presents 
you with the spectacle of a sincere and somewhat 
slow nature thinking aloud. He is the most unready 
man I ever knew to shine in conversation. You may 
see him sometimes wrestle with a refractory jest for 
a minute or two together, and perhaps fail to throw 
it in the end. And there is something singularly 
engaging, often instructive, in the simplicity with 
which he thus exposes the process as well as the 
result, the works as well as the dial of the clock. 
Withal he has his hours of inspiration. Apt words 
come to him as if by accident, and, coming from 
deeper down, they smack the more personally, they 
have the more of fine old crusted humanity, rich in 
sediment and humour. There are sayings of his in 
which he has stamped himself into the very grain of 
the language ; you would think he must have worn 



the words next his skin, and slept with them. Yet 
it is not as a sayer of particular good things that 
Athelred is most to be regarded, rather as the stalwart 
woodman of thought. I have pulled on a light cord 
often enough, while he has been wielding the broad- 
axe ; and between us, on this unequal division, many 
a specious fallacy has fallen. I have known him to 
battle the same question night after night for years, 
keeping it in the reign of talk, constantly applying 
it and re-applying it to life with humorous or grave 
intention, and all the while never hurrying, nor flag- 
ging, nor taking an unfair advantage of the facts. 
Jack at a given moment, when arising, as it were, 
from the tripod, can be more radiantly just to those 
from whom he differs ; but then the tenor of his 
thoughts is even calumnious ; while Athelred, slower 
to forge excuses, is yet slower to condemn, and sits 
over the welter of the world, vacillating but still 
judicial, and still faithfully contending with his 

Both the last talkers deal much in points of conduct 
and religion studied in the ' dry light ' of prose. In- 
directly and as if against his will the same elements 
from time to time appear in the troubled and poetic 
talk of Opalstein.i His various and exotic knowledge, 
complete although unready sympathies, and fine, full, 
discriminative flow of language, fit him out to be the 
best of talkers ; so perhaps he is with some, not quite 
with me — proocime accessit, I should say. He sings 
the praises of the earth and the arts, flowers and 

1 The late John Addington Symonds. 


jewels, wine and music, in a moonlight, serenading 
manner, as to the light guitar ; even wisdom comes 
from his tongue like singing ; no one is, indeed, more 
tuneful in the upper notes. But even while he sings 
the song of the Sirens, he still hearkens to the bark- 
ing of the Sphinx. Jarring Byronic notes interrupt 
the flow of his Horatian humours. His mirth has 
something of the tragedy of the world for its perpetual 
background ; and he feasts like Don Giovanni to a 
double orchestra, one lightly sounding for the dance, 
one pealing Beethoven in the distance. He is not 
truly reconciled either with life or with himself; and 
this instant war in his members sometimes divides 
the man's attention. He does not always, perhaps 
not often, frankly surrender himself in conversation. 
He brings into the talk other thoughts than those 
which he expresses ; you are conscious that he keeps 
an eye on something else, that he does not shake off 
the world, nor quite forget himself Hence arise 
occasional disappointments ; even an occasional un- 
fairness for his companions, who find themselves one 
day giving too much, and the next, when they are 
wary out of season, giving perhaps too little. Purcel 
is in another class from any I have mentioned. He 
is no debater, but appears in conversation, as occa- 
sion rises, in two distinct characters, one of which 
I admire and fear, and the other love. In the first, 
he is radiantly civil and rather silent, sits on a high, 
courtly hill-top, and from that vantage-ground drops 
you his remarks like favours. He seems not to share 
in our sublunary contentions ; he wears no sign of 
N 193 


interest ; when on a sudden there falls m a crystal of 
wit, so polished that the dull do not perceive it, but 
so right that the sensitive are silenced. True talk 
should have more body and blood, should be louder, 
vainer, and more declaratory of the man ; the true 
talker should not hold so steady an advantage over 
whom he speaks with ; and that is one reason out 
of a score why I prefer my Purcel in his second 
character, when he unbends into a strain of graceful 
gossip, singing like the fireside kettle. In these 
moods he has an elegant homeliness that rings of 
the true Queen Anne. I know another person who 
attains, in his moments, to the insolence of a Restora- 
tion comedy, speaking, I declare, as Congreve wrote ; 
but that is a sport of nature, and scarce falls under 
the rubric, for there is none, alas ! to give him 

One last remark occurs : It is the mark of genuine 
conversation that the sayings can scarce be quoted 
with their full effect beyond the circle of common 
friends. To have their proper weight they should 
appear in a biography, and with the portrait of the 
speaker. Good talk is dramatic ; it is like an im- 
promptu piece of acting where each should represent 
himself to the greatest advantage ; and that is the 
best kind of talk where each speaker is most fully 
and candidly himself, and where, if you were to shift 
the speeches round from one to another, there would 
be the greatest loss in significance and perspicuity. 
It is for this reason that talk depends so wholly 
on our company. We should like to introduce 


Falstaff and Mercutio, or FalstafF and Sir Toby ; but 
FalstafF in talk with Cordelia seems even painful. 
Most of us, by the Protean quality of man, can talk 
to some degree with all ; but the true talk, that 
strikes out all the slumbering best of us, comes only 
with the peculiar brethren of our spirits, is founded 
as deep as love in the constitution of our being, and 
is a thing to relish with all our energy, while yet we 
have it, and to be grateful for for ever. 




In the last paper there was perhaps too much about 
mere debate ; and there was nothing said at all 
about that kind of talk which is merely luminous 
and restful, a higher power of silence, the quiet of 
the evening shared by ruminating friends. There 
is something, aside from personal preference, to be 
alleged in support of this omission. Those who 
are no chimney-corn erers, who rejoice in the social 
thunderstorm, have a ground in reason for their 
choice. They get little rest indeed ; but restfulness 
is a quality for cattle ; the virtues are all active, life 
is alert, and it is in repose that men prepare them- 
selves for evil. On the other hand, they are bruised 
into a knowledge of themselves and others ; they 
have in a high degree the fencer's pleasure in dex- 
terity displayed and proved ; what they get they get 
upon life's terms, paying for it as they go ; and once 
the talk is launched, they are assured of honest 
dealing from an adversary eager like themselves. 

^ This sequel was called forth by an excellent article in The Spectator. 


The aboriginal man within us, the cave-dweller, still 
lusty as when he fought tooth and nail for roots and 
berries, scents this kind of equal battle from afar ; it 
is like his old primeval days upon the crags, a return 
to the sincerity of savage life from the comfortable 
fictions of the civilised. And if it be delightful to 
the Old Man, it is none the less profitable to his 
younger brother, the conscientious gentleman, I 
feel never quite sure of your urbane and smiling 
coteries ; I fear they indulge a man's vanities in 
silence, suffer him to encroach, encourage him on 
to be an ass, and send him forth again, not merely 
contemned for the moment, but radically more con- 
temptible than when he entered. But if I have a 
flushed, blustering fellow for my opposite, bent on 
carrying a point, my vanity is sure to have its ears 
rubbed, once at least, in the course of the debate. 
He will not spare me when we differ ; he will not 
fear to demonstrate my folly to my face. 

For many natures there is not much charm in the 
still, chambered society, the circle of bland counten- 
ances, the digestive silence, the admired remark, the 
flutter of affectionate approval. They demand more 
atmosphere and exercise ; ' a gale upon their spirits,' 
as our pious ancestors would phrase it ; to have their 
wits well .breathed in an uproarious Valhalla. And 
I suspect that the choice, given their character and 
faults, is one to be defended. The purely wise are 
silenced by facts ; they talk in a clear atmosphere, 
problems lying around them like a view in nature ; 
if they can be shown to be somewhat in the wrong, 



they digest the reproof like a thrashing, and make 
better intellectual blood. They stand corrected by 
a whisper ; a word or a glance reminds them of the 
great eternal law. But it is not so with all. Others 
in conversation seek rather contact with their fellow- 
men than increase of knowledge or clarity of thought. 
The drama, not the philosophy, of life is the sphere of 
their intellectual activity. Even when they pursue 
truth, they desire as much as possible of what we 
may call human scenery along the road they follow. 
They dwell in the heart of life ; the blood sounding 
in their ears, their eyes laying hold of what delights 
them with a brutal avidity that makes them blind to 
all besides, their interest riveted on people, living, 
loving, talking, tangible people. To a man of this 
description, the sphere of argument seems very pale 
and ghostly. By a strong expression, a perturbed 
countenance, floods of tears, an insult which his 
conscience obliges him to swallow, he is brought 
round to knowledge which no syllogism would have 
conveyed to him. His own experience is so vivid, 
he is so superlatively conscious of himself, that if, 
day after day, he is allowed to hector and hear 
nothing but approving echoes, he will lose his hold 
on the soberness of things and take himself in 
earnest for a god. Talk might be to such an one 
the very way of moral ruin ; the school where he 
might learn to be at once intolerable and ridiculous. 
This character is perhaps commoner than philoso- 
phers suppose. And for persons of that stamp to 
learn much by conversation, they must speak with 


their superiors, not in intellect, for that is a superi- 
ority that must be proved, but in station. If they 
cannot find a friend to bully them for their good, 
they must find either an old man, a woman, or 
some one so far below them in the artificial 
order of society, that courtesy may be particularly 

The best teachers are the aged. To the old our 
mouths are always partly closed ; we must swallow 
our obvious retorts and listen. They sit above our 
heads, on life's raised dais, and appeal at once to our 
respect and pity. A flavour of the old school, a 
touch of something different in their manner — which 
is freer and rounder, if they come of what is called 
a good family, and often more timid and precise if 
they are of the middle class — serves, in these days, 
to accentuate the difference of age and add a dis- 
tinction to grey hairs. But their superiority is 
founded more deeply than by outward marks or 
gestures. They are before us in the march of man ; 
they have more or less solved the irking problem ; 
they have battled through the equinox of life ; in 
good and evil they have held their course ; and 
now, without open shame, they near the crown and 
harbour. It may be we have been struck with one 
of fortune's darts ; we can scarce be civil, so cruelly 
is our spirit tossed. Yet long before we were so 
much as thought upon, the like calamity befell the 
old man or woman that now, with pleasant humour, 
rallies us upon our inattention, sitting composed in 
the holy evening of man's life, in the clear shining 



after rain. We grow ashamed of our distresses, new 
and hot and coarse, hke villainous roadside brandy ; 
we see life in aerial perspective, under the heavens 
of faith ; and out of the worst, in the mere presence 
of contented elders, look forward and take patience. 
Fear shrinks before them ' like a thing reproved,' 
not the flitting and ineffectual fear of death, but the 
instant, dwelling terror of the responsibilities and 
revenges of life. Their speech, indeed, is timid ; 
they report lions in the path ; they counsel a meti- 
culous footing; but their serene, marred faces are 
more eloquent and tell another story. Where they 
have gone, we will go also, not very greatly fearing ; 
what they have endured unbroken, we also, God 
helping us, will make a shift to bear. 

Not only is the presence of the aged in itself 
remedial, but their minds are stored with antidotes, 
wisdom's simples, plain considerations overlooked by 
youth. They have matter to communicate, be they 
never so stupid. Their talk is not merely literature, 
it is great literature ; classic in virtue of the speaker's 
detachment, studded, hke a book of travel, with 
things we should not otherwise have learnt. In 
virtue, I have said, of the speaker's detachment, — 
and this is why, of two old men, the one who is not 
your father speaks to you with the more sensible 
authority; for in the paternal relation the oldest 
have lively interests and remain still young. Thus 
I have known two young men great friends; each 
swore by the other's father ; the father of each swore 
by the other lad ; and yet each pair, of parent and 


child, were perpetually by the ears. This is typical : 
it reads like the germ of some kindly comedy. 

The old appear in conversation in two characters : 
the critically silent and the garrulous anecdotic. 
The last is perhaps what we look for ; it is perhaps 
the more instructive. An old gentleman, well on in 
years, sits handsomely and naturally in the bow- 
window of his age, scanning experience with reverted 
eye; and, chirping and smiling, communicates the 
accidents and reads the lesson of his long career. 
Opinions are strengthened, indeed, but they are also 
weeded out in the course of years. What remains 
steadily present to the eye of the retired veteran in 
his hermitage, what still ministers to his content, 
what still quickens his old honest heart — these are 
' the real long-lived things ' that Whitman tells us 
to prefer. Where youth agrees with age, not where 
they differ, wisdom lies ; and it is when the young 
disciple finds his heart to beat in tune with his grey- 
bearded teacher's that a lesson may be learned. I 
have known one old gentleman, whom I may name, 
for he is now gathered to his stock — Hobert Hunter, 
Sheriff of Dumbarton, and author of an excellent 
law-book still re-edited and republished. Whether 
he was originally big or little is more than I can 
guess. When I knew him he was all fallen away 
and fallen in ; crooked and shrunken ; buckled into 
a stiff waistcoat for support ; troubled by ailments, 
which kept him hobbling in and out of the room ; 
one foot gouty ; a wig for decency, not for deception, 
on his head ; close shaved, except under his chin — 



and for that he never failed to apologise, for it went 
sore against the traditions of his life. You can 
imagine how he would fare in a novel by Miss Mather ; 
yet this rag of a Chelsea veteran lived to his last 
year in the plenitude of all that is best in man, 
brimming with human kindness, and staunch as a 
Roman soldier under his manifold infirmities. You 
could not say that he had lost his memory, for he 
would repeat Shakespeare and Webster and Jeremy 
Taylor and Burke by the page together ; but the 
parchment was filled up, there was no room for fresh 
inscriptions, and he was capable of repeating the same 
anecdote on many successive visits. His voice sur- 
vived in its full power, and he took a pride in using 
it. On his last voyage as Commissioner of Light- 
houses, he hailed a ship at sea and made himself 
clearly audible without a speaking-trumpet, ruffling 
the while with a proper vanity in his achievement. 
He had a habit of eking out his words with interro- 
gative hems, whicli was puzzling and a little weari- 
some, suited ill with his appearance, and seemed a 
survival from some former stage of bodily portliness. 
Of yore, when he was a great pedestrian and no 
enemy to good claret, he may have pointed with 
these minute-guns his allocutions to the bench. His 
humour was perfectly equable, set beyond the reach 
of fate ; gout, rheumatism, stone and gravel might 
have combined their forces against that frail taber- 
nacle, but when I came round on Sunday evening, 
he would lay aside Jeremy Taylor's Life of Christ 
and greet me with the same open brow, the same 


kind formality of manner. His opinions and sym- 
pathies dated the man ahuost to a decade. He had 
begun life, under his mother's influence, as an admirer 
of Junius, but on maturer knowledge had transferred 
his admiration to Burke. He cautioned me, with 
entire gravity, to be punctilious in writing English ; 
never to forget that I was a Scotsman, that English 
was a foreign tongue, and that if I attempted the 
colloquial, I should certainly be shamed : the remark 
was apposite, I suppose, in the days of David Hume. 
Scott was too new for him ; he had known the author 
— known him, too, for a Tory ; and to the genuine 
classic a contemporary is always something of a 
trouble. He had the old, serious love of the play ; 
had even, as he was proud to tell, played a certain 
part in the history of Shakespearian revivals, for he 
had successfully pressed on Murray, of the old Edin- 
burgh Theatre, the idea of producing Shakespeare's 
fairy pieces with great scenic display. A Moderate 
in religion, he was much struck in the last years of 
his life by a conversation with two young lads, 
revivalists. ' H'm,' he would say — ' new to me. T 
have had — h'm — no such experience.' It struck him, 
not with pain, rather with a solemn philosophic 
interest, that he, a Christian as he hoped, and a 
Christian of so old a standing, should hear these 
young fellows talking of his own subject, his own 
weapons that he had fought the battle of life with, — 
'and — h'm — not understand.' In this wise and 
graceful attitude he did justice to himself and others, 
reposed unshaken in his old beliefs, and recognised 



their limits without anger or alarm. His last recorded 
remark, on the last night of his life, was after he had 
been arguing against Calvinism with his minister and 
was interrupted by an intolerable pang. 'After all,' 
he said, 'of all the 'isms, I know none so bad as 
rheumatism.' My own last sight of him was some 
time before, when we dined together at an inn ; he 
had been on circuit, for he stuck to his duties like a 
chief part of his existence ; and I remember it as the 
only occasion on which he ever soiled his hps with 
slang — a thing he loathed. We were both Roberts ; 
and as we took our places at table, he addressed me 
with a twinkle : ' We are just what you would call 
two bob.' He offered me port, I remember, as the 
proper milk of youth ; spoke of 'twenty-shilling 
notes ' ; and throughout the meal was full of old- 
world pleasantry and quaintness, like an ancient boy 
on a holiday. But what I recall chiefly was his con- 
fession that he had never read Othello to an end. 
Shakespeare was his continual study. He loved 
nothing better than to display his knowledge and 
memory by adducing parallel passages from Shake- ' 
speare, passages where the same word was employed, 
or the same idea differently treated. But Othello 
had beaten him. 'That noble gentleman and that 
noble lady — h'm — too painful for me.' The same 
night the hoardings were covered with posters, ' Bur- 
lesque of Othello,'' and the contrast blazed up in my 
mind like a bonfire. An unforg-ettable look it g-ave 
me into that kind man's soul. His acquaintance 
was indeed a liberal and pious education. All the 


humanities were taught in that bare dining-room 
beside his gouty footstool. He was a piece of good 
advice ; he was himself the instance that pointed and 
adorned his various talk. Nor could a young man 
have found elsewhere a place so set apart from envy, 
fear, discontent, or any of the passions that debase ; 
a life so honest and composed ; a soul Uke an ancient 
violin, so subdued to harmony, responding to a touch 
in music — as in that dining-room, with Mr. Hunter 
chatting at the eleventh hour, under the shadow of 
eternity, fearless and gentle. 

The second class of old people are not anecdotic ; 
they are rather hearers than talkers, listening to the 
young with an amused and critical attention. To 
have this sort of intercourse to perfection, I think 
we must go to old ladies. Women are better hearers 
than men, to begin with ; they learn, I fear in 
anguish, to bear with the tedious and infantile vanity 
of the other sex; and we will take more from a 
woman than even from the oldest man in the way of 
biting comment. Biting comment is the chief part, 
whether for profit or amusement, in this business. 
The old lady that I have in my eye is a very caustic 
speaker, her tongue, after years of practice, in 
absolute command, whether for silence or attack. If 
she chance to dislike you, you will be tempted to 
curse the maUgnity of age. But if you chance to 
please even shghtly, you will be listened to with a 
particular laughing grace of sympathy, and from 
time to time chastised, as if in play, with a parasol 
as heavy as a pole-axe. It requires a singular art, as 



well as the vantage-ground of age, to deal these 
stunning corrections among the coxcombs of the 
young. The pill is disguised in sugar of wit ; it is 
administered as a compliment — if you had not pleased, 
you would not have been censured ; it is a personal 
affair — a hyphen, a trait d'union, between you and 
your censor ; age's philandering, for her pleasure and 
your good. Incontestably the young man feels very 
much of a fool ; but he must be a perfect Malvolio, 
sick with self-love, if he cannot take an open buffet 
and still smile. The correction of silence is what 
kills ; when you know you have transgressed, and 
your friend says nothing and avoids your eye. If a 
man were made of gutta-percha, his heart would 
quail at such a moment. But when the word is out, 
the worst is over ; and a fellow with any good- 
humour at all may pass through a perfect hail of 
witty criticism, every bare place on his soul hit to 
the quick with a shrewd missile, and reappear, as if 
after a dive, tingling with a fine moral reaction, and 
ready, with a shrinking readiness, one-third loath, for 
a repetition of the discipline. 

There are few women, not well sunned and ripened, 
and perhaps toughened, who can thus stand apart 
from a man and say the true thing with a kind of 
genial cruelty. Still there are some — and I doubt if 
there be any man who can return the compliment. 
The class of man represented by Vernon Whitford 
in The Egoist says, indeed, the true thing, but he 
says it stockishly. Vernon is a noble fellow, and 
makes, by the way, a noble and instructive contrast 


to Daniel Deronda ; his conduct is the conduct of a 
man of honour ; but we agree with him, against our 
consciences, when he remorsefully considers 'its 
astonishing dryness.' He is the best of men, but the 
best of women manage to combine all that and some- 
thing more. Their very faults assist them ; they are 
helped even by the falseness of their position in hfe. 
They can retire into the fortified camp of the pro- 
prieties. They can touch a subject and suppress it. 
The most adroit employ a somewhat elaborate reserve 
as a means to be frank, much as they wear gloves 
when they shake hands. But a man has the full 
responsibility of his freedom, cannot evade a ques- 
tion, can scarce be silent without rudeness, must 
answer for his words upon the moment, and is not 
seldom left face to face with a damning choice, be- 
tween the more or less dishonourable wriggling of 
Deronda and the downright woodenness of Vernon 

But the superiority of women is perpetually 
menaced ; they do not sit throned on infirmities hke 
the old ; they are suitors as well as sovereigns ; their 
vanity is engaged, their affections are too apt to 
follow ; and hence much of the talk between the 
sexes degenerates into something unworthy of the 
name. The desire to please, to shine with a certain 
softness of lustre and to draw a fascinating picture 
of oneself, banishes from conversation all that is 
sterling and most of what is humorous. As soon 
as a strong current of mutual admiration begins to 
flow, the human interest triumphs entirely over the 



intellectual, and the commerce of words, consciously 
or not, becomes secondary to the commercing of eyes. 
But even where this ridiculous danger is avoided, 
and a man and woman converse equally and honestly, 
something in their nature or their education falsifies 
the strain. An instinct prompts them to agree ; and 
where that is impossible, to agree to differ. Should 
they neglect the warning, at the first suspicion of an 
argument, they find themselves in different hemi- 
spheres. About any point of business or conduct, 
any actual affair demanding settlement, a woman 
will speak and listen, hear and answer arguments, 
not only with natural wisdom, but with candour and 
logical honesty. But if the subject of debate be 
something in the air, an abstraction, an excuse for 
talk, a logical Aunt Sally, then may the male debater 
instantly abandon hope ; he may employ reason, 
adduce facts, be supple, be smiling, be angry, all shall 
avail him nothing ; what the woman said first, that 
(unless she has forgotten it) she will repeat at the 
end. Hence, at the very junctures when a talk 
between men grows brighter and quicker and begins 
to promise to bear fruit, talk between the sexes is 
menaced with dissolution. The point of difference, 
the point of interest, is evaded by the brilliant 
woman, under a shower of irrelevant conversational 
rockets ; it is bridged by the discreet woman with 
a rustle of silk, as she passes smoothly forward to 
the nearest point of safety. And this sort of presti- 
digitation, juggling the dangerous topic out of sight 
until it can be reintroduced with safety in an altered 


shape, is a piece of tactics among the true drawing- 
room queens. 

The drawing-room is, indeed, an artificial place ; it 
is so by our choice and for our sins. The subjection 
of women ; the ideal imposed upon them from the 
cradle, and worn, like a hair-shirt, with so much 
constancy ; their motherly, superior tenderness to 
man's vanity and self-importance ; their managing 
arts — the arts of a civilised slave among good-natured 
barbarians — are all painful ingredients and all help 
to falsify relations. It is not till we get clear of that 
amusing artificial scene that genuine relations are 
founded, or ideas honestly compared. In the garden, 
on the road or the hillside, or tete-a-Ute and apart 
from interruptions, occasions arise when we may 
learn much from any single woman ; and nowhere 
more often than in married life. Marriage is one 
long conversation, chequered by disputes. The 
disputes are valueless ; they but ingrain the differ- 
ence ; the heroic heart of woman prompting her at 
once to nail her colours to the mast. But in the 
intervals, almost unconsciously and with no desire to 
shine, the whole material of life is turned over and 
over, ideas are struck out and shared, the two persons 
more and more adapt their notions one to suit the 
other, and in process of time, without sound of 
trumpet, they conduct each other into new worlds 
of thought. 




The civilisation, the manners, and the morals of dog- 
kind are to a great extent subordinated to those of 
his ancestral master, man. This animal, in many 
ways so superior, has accepted a position of inferi- 
ority, shares the domestic life, and humours the 
caprices of the tyrant. But the potentate, like the 
British in India, pays small regard to the character 
of his wilhng client, judges him with listless glances, 
and condemns him in a byword. Listless have been 
the looks of his admirers, who have exhausted idle 
terms of praise, and buried the poor soul below 
exaggerations. And yet more idle and, if possible, 
more unintelhgent has been the attitude of his 
express detractors ; those who are very fond of dogs, 
*but in their proper place'; who say 'poo',* fellow, 
poo' fellow,' and are themselves far poorer ; who whet 
the knife of the vivisectionist or heat his oven ; who 
are not ashamed to admire 'the creature's instinct'; 
and flying far beyond folly, have dared to resuscitate 
the theory of animal machines. The ' dog's instinct ' 
and the ' automaton-dog,' in this age of psychology 
and science, sound like -strange anachronisms. An 



automaton he certainly is ; a machine working in- 
dependently of his control, the heart like the mill- 
wheel, keeping all in motion, and the consciousness, 
like a person shut in the mill garret, enjoying the 
view out of the window and shaken by the thunder 
of the stones ; an automaton in one corner of which 
a living spirit is confined : an automaton like man. 
Instinct again he certainly possesses. Inherited 
aptitudes are his, inherited frailties. Some things he 
at once views and understands, as though he were 
awakened from a sleep, as though he came ' trailing 
clouds of glory.' But with him, as with man, the 
field of instinct is limited ; its utterances are obscure 
and occasional ; and about the far larger part of life 
both the dog and his master must conduct their 
steps by deduction and observation. 

The leading distinction between dog and man, 
after and perhaps before the different duration of 
their lives, is that the one can speak and that the 
other cannot. The absence of the power of speech 
confines the dog in the development of his intellect. 
It hinders him from many speculations, for words 
are the beginning of metaphysic. At the same blow 
it saves him from many superstitions, and his silence 
has won for him a higher name for virtue than his 
conduct justifies. The faults of the dog are many. 
He is vainer than man, singularly greedy of notice, 
singularly intolerant of ridicule, suspicious like the 
deaf, jealous to the degree of frenzy, and radically 
devoid of truth. The day of an intelligent small dog 
is passed in the manufacture and the laborious com- 

21 I 


miinication of falsehood ; he hes with his tail, he lies 
with his eye, he lies with his protesting paw ; and 
when he rattles his dish or scratches at the door his 
purpose is other than appears. But he has some 
apology to offer for the vice. Many of the signs 
which form his dialect have come to bear an arbitrary 
meaning, clearly understood both by his master and 
himself; yet when a new want arises he must either 
invent a new vehicle of meaning or wrest an old one 
to a different purpose ; and this necessity frequently 
recurring miust tend to lessen his idea of the sanctity 
of symbols. Meanwhile the dog is clear in his own 
conscience, and draws, with a human nicety, the 
distinction between formal and essential truth. Of 
his punning perversions, his legitimate dexterity 
with symbols, he is even vain ; but when he has told 
and been detected in a he, there is not a hair upon 
his body but confesses guilt. To a dog of gentle- 
manly feeUng, theft and falsehood are disgraceful 
vices. The canine, like the human, gentleman 
demands in his misdemeanours Montaigne's '^je ne 
sais quoi de genereuoo.' He is never more than half 
ashamed of having barked or bitten ; and for those 
faults into which he has been led by the desire to 
shine before a lady of his race, he retains, even under 
physical correction, a share of pride. But to be 
caught lying, if he understands it, instantly un- 
curls his fleece. 

Just as among dull observers he preserves a name 
for truth, the dog has been credited with modesty. 
It is amazing how the use of language blunts the 



faculties of man — that because vainglory finds no 
vent in words, creatures supplied with eyes have 
been unable to detect a fault so gross and obvious. 
If a small spoiled dog were suddenly to be endowed 
with speech, he would prate interminably, and still 
about himself; when we had friends, we should be 
forced to lock him in a garret ; and what with his 
whining jealousies and his foible for falsehood, in a 
year's time he would have gone far to weary out 
our love. I was about to compare him to Sir 
Willoughby Patterne, but the Patternes have a 
manlier sense of their own merits ; and the parallel, 
besides, is ready. Hans Christian Andersen, as we 
behold him in his startling memoirs, thriUing from 
top to toe with an excruciating vanity, and scouting 
even along the street for shadows of offence — here 
was the talking dog. 

It is just this rage for consideration that has 
betrayed the dog into his satellite position as the 
friend of man. The cat, an animal of franker 
appetites, preserves his independence. But the 
dog, with one eye ever on the audience, has been 
wheedled into slavery, and praised and patted into 
the renunciation of his nature. Once he ceased 
hunting and became man's plate-licker, the Rubicon 
was crossed. Thenceforth he was a gentleman of 
leisure ; and except the few whom we keep working, 
the whole race grew more and more self-conscious, 
mannered, and affected. The number of things that 
a small dog does naturally is strangely small. En- 
joying better spirits and not crushed under material 



cares, he is far more theatrical than average man. 
His whole life, if he be a dog of any pretension 
to gallantry, is spent in a vain show, and in the 
hot pursuit of admiration. Take out your puppy 
for a walk, and you will find the little ball of fur 
clumsy, stupid, bewildered, but natural. Let but 
a few months pass, and when you repeat the pro- 
cess you will find nature buried in convention. 
He will do nothing plainly ; but the simplest pro- 
cesses of our material life will all be bent into the 
forms of an elaborate and mysterious etiquette. 
Instinct, says the fool, has awakened. But it is not 
so. Some dogs — some, at the very least — if they 
be kept separate from others, remain quite natural ; 
and these, when at length they meet with a com- 
panion of experience, and have the game explained 
to them, distinguish themselves by the severity of 
their devotion to its rules. I wish I were allowed 
to tell a story which would radiantly illuminate the 
point ; but men, like dogs, have an elaborate and 
mysterious etiquette. It is their bond of sympathy 
that both are the children of convention. 

The person, man or dog, who has a conscience 
is eternally condemned to some degree of humbug ; 
the sense of the law in their members fatally pre- 
cipitates either towards a frozen and affected bearing. 
And the converse is true ; and in the elaborate and 
conscious manners of the dog, moral opinions and the 
love of the ideal stand confessed. To follow for 
ten minutes in the street some swaggering, canine 
cavalier is to receive a lesson in dramatic art and 


the cultured conduct of the body ; in every act and 
gesture you see hhn true to a refined conception ; 
and the dullest cur, beholding him, pricks up his ear 
and proceeds to imitate and parody that charming 
ease. For to be a high-mannered and high-minded 
gentleman, careless, affable, and gay, is the inborn 
pretension of the dog. The large dog, so much 
lazier, so much more weighed upon with matter, so 
majestic in repose, so beautiful in effort, is born with 
the dramatic means to wholly represent the part. 
And it is more pathetic and perhaps more instructive 
to consider the small dog in his conscientious and 
imperfect efforts to outdo Sir Philip Sidney. For 
the ideal of the dog is feudal and reHgious ; the ever- 
present polytheism, the whip-bearing Olympus of 
mankind, rules them on the one hand ; on the other, 
their singular difference of size and strength among 
themselves effectually prevents the appearance of the 
democratic notion. Or we might more exactly com- 
pare their society to the curious spectacle presented 
by a school — ushers, monitors, and big and little 
boys — qualified by one circumstance, the introduc- 
tion of the other sex. In each we should observe 
a somewhat similar tension of manner, and some- 
what similar points of honour. In each the larger 
animal keeps a contemptuous good humour ; in 
each the smaller annoys him with wasp-like im- 
pudence, certain of practical immunity ; in each we 
shall find a double life producing double characters, 
and an excursive and noisy heroism combined with 
a fair amount of practical timidity. I have known 



dogs, and I have known school heroes that, set aside 
the fur, could hardly have been told apart ; and if 
we desire to understand the chivalry of old, we must 
turn to the school playfields or the dungheap where 
the dogs are trooping. 

Woman, with the dog, has been long enfranchised. 
Incessant massacre of female innocents has changed 
the proportions of the sexes and perverted their rela- 
tions. Thus, when we regard the manners of the 
dog, we see a romantic and monogamous animal, 
once perhaps as delicate as the cat, at war with im- 
possible conditions. Man has much to answer for ; 
and the part he plays is yet more damnable and 
parlous than Corin's in the eyes of Touchstone. But 
his intervention has at least created an imperial situ- 
ation for the rare surviving ladies. In that society 
they reign without a rival : conscious queens ; and 
in the only instance of a canine wife-beater that has 
ever fallen under my notice, the criminal was some- 
what excused by the circumstances of his story. He 
is a little, very alert, well-bred, intelligent Skye, as 
black as a hat, with a wet bramble for a nose and 
two cairngorms for eyes. To the human observer 
he is decidedly well-looking ; but to the ladies of 
his race he seems abhorrent. A thorough elaborate 
gentleman, of the plume and sword-knot order, he 
was born with a nice sense of gallantry to women. 
He took at their hands the most outrageous treat- 
ment ; I have heard him bleating like a sheep, I 
have seen him streaming blood, and his ear tattered 
like a regimental banner ; and yet he would scorn 


to make reprisals. Nay more, when a human lady 
upraised the contumelious whip against the very 
dame who had been so cruelly misusing him, my 
little great-heart gave but one hoarse cry and fell 
upon the tyrant tooth and nail. This is the tale 
of a soul's tragedy. After three years of unavailing 
chivalry, he suddenly, in one hour, threw off the 
yoke of obligation ; had he been Shakespeare he 
would then have written T'roilus and Cressida to 
brand the offending sex ; but being only a little 
dog, he began to bite them. The surprise of the 
ladies whom he attacked indicated the monstrosity 
of his offence ; but he had fairly beaten off his better 
angel, fairly committed moral suicide; for almost 
in the same hour, throwing aside the last rags of 
decency, he proceeded to attack the aged also. The 
fact is worth remark, showing, as it does, that ethical 
laws are common both to dogs and men ; and that 
with both a single deliberate violation of the con- 
science loosens all. 'But while the lamp holds on 
to burn,' says the paraphrase, 'the greatest sinner 
may return.' I have been cheered to see symp- 
toms of effectual penitence in my sweet ruffian ; 
and by the handling that he accepted uncomplain- 
ingly the other day from an indignant fair one, I 
begin to hope the period of Sturm und Drang is 

All these little gentlemen are subtle casuists. 
The duty to the female dog is plain ; but where 
competing duties rise, down they will sit and study 
them out, like Jesuit confessors. I knew another 



little Skye, somewhat plain in manner and appear- 
ance, but a creature compact of amiability and solid 
wisdom. His family going abroad for a winter, he 
was received for that period by an uncle in the same 
city. The winter over, his own family home again, 
and his own house (of which he was very proud) 
reopened, he found himself in a dilemma between 
two conflicting duties of loyalty and gratitude. 
His old friends were not to be neglected, but it 
seemed hardly decent to desert the new. This was 
how he solved the problem. Every morning, as soon 
as the door was opened, off posted Coolin to his 
uncle's, visited the children in the nursery, saluted 
the whole family, and was back at home in time for 
breakfast and his bit of fish. Nor was this done 
without a sacrifice on his part, sharply felt ; for he 
had to forgo the particular honour and jewel of 
his day — his morning's walk with my father. And, 
perhaps from this cause, he gradually wearied of and 
relaxed the practice, and at length returned entirely 
to his ancient habits. But the same decision served 
him in another and more distressing case of divided 
duty, which happened not long after. He was not 
at all a kitchen dog, but the cook had nursed him 
with unusual kindness during the distemper ; and 
though he did not adore her as he adored my father 
— although (born snob) he was critically conscious 
of her position as ' only a servant ' — he still cherished 
for her a special gratitude. Well, the cook left, and 
retired some streets away to lodgings of her own ; 
and there was Coolin in precisely the same situation 


with any young gentleman who has had the m- 
estimable benefit of a faithful nurse. The canine 
conscience did not solve the problem with a pound 
of tea at Christmas. No longer content to pay a 
flying visit, it was the whole forenoon that he dedi- 
cated to his solitary friend. And so, day by day, 
he continued to comfort her solitude until (for 
some reason which I could never understand and 
cannot approve) he was kept locked up to break 
him of the graceful habit. Here, it is not the 
similarity, it is the difference, that is worthy of 
remark ; the clearly marked degrees of gratitude 
and the proportional duration of his visits. Any- 
thing further removed from instinct it were hard 
to fancy ; and one is even stirred to a certain im- 
patience with a character so destitute of spontaneity, 
so passionless in justice, and so priggishly obedient 
to the voice of reason. 

There are not many dogs like this good Coolin, 
and not many people. But the type is one well 
marked, both in the human and the canine family. 
Gallantry was not his aim, but a solid and somewhat 
oppressive respectabihty. He was a sworn foe to the 
unusual and the conspicuous, a praiser of the golden 
mean, a kind of city uncle modified by Cheeryble. 
And as he was precise and conscientious in all the 
steps of his own blameless course, he looked for 
the same precision and an even greater gravity in the 
bearing of his deity, my father. It was no sinecure 
to be Coohn's idol : he was exacting like a rigid 
parent; and at every sign of levity in the man 



whom he respected, he announced loudly the death 
of virtue and the proximate fall of the pillars of 
the earth. 

I have called him a snob ; but all dogs are so, 
though in varying degrees. It is hard to follow 
their snobbery among themselves ; for though I 
think we can perceive distinctions of rank, we cannot 
grasp what is the criterion. Thus in Edinburgh, 
in a good part of the town, there were several 
distinct societies or clubs that met in the morning 
to — the phrase is technical — to ' rake the backets ' 
in a troop. A friend of mine, the inaster of three 
dogs, was one day surprised to observe that they 
had left one club and joined another ; but whether 
it was a rise or a fall, and the result of an invitation 
or an expulsion, was more than he could guess. 
And this illustrates pointedly our ignorance of the 
real life of dogs, their social ambitions and their 
social hierarchies. At least, in their dealings with 
men they are not only conscious of sex, but of the 
difference of station. And that in the most snobbish 
manner ; for the poor man's dog is not offended by 
the notice of the rich, and keeps all his ugly feeling 
for those poorer or more ragged than his master. 
And again, for every station they have an ideal of 
behaviour, to which the master, under pain of 
derogation, will do wisely to conform. How often 
has not a cold glance of an eye informed me that 
my dog was disappointed ; and how much more 
gladly would he not have taken a beating than 
to be thus wounded in the seat of piety ! 


I knew one disrespectable dog. He was far liker 
a cat ; eared little or nothing for men, with whom 
he merely co-existed as we do with cattle, and was 
entirely devoted to the art of poaching. A house 
would not hold him, and to hve in a town was what 
he refused. He led, I believe, a hfe of troubled but 
genuine pleasure, and perished beyond all question 
in a trap. But this w^as an exception, a marked 
reversion to the ancestral type ; Hke the hairy human 
infant. The true dog of the nineteenth century, to 
judge by the remainder of my fairly large acquaint- 
ance, is in love with respectabihty. A street-dog 
was once adopted by a lady. While still an Arab, 
he had done as Arabs do, gambolling in the mud, 
charging into butchers' stalls, a cat-hunter, a sturdy 
beggar, a common rogue and vagabond ; but with 
his rise into society he laid aside these inconsistent 
pleasures. He stole no more ; he hunted no more 
cats ; and, conscious of his collar, he ignored his 
old companions. Yet the canine upper class was 
never brought to recognise the upstart, and from 
that hour, except for human countenance, he was 
alone. Friendless, shorn of his sports and the habits 
of a lifetime, he still Hved in a glory of happiness, 
content with his acquired respectabihty, and with 
no care but to support it solemnly. Are we to 
condemn or praise this self-made dog ? We praise 
his human brother. And thus to conquer vicious 
habits is as rare with dogs as with men. With the 
more part, for all their scruple-mongering and moral 
thought, the vices that are born with them remain 



invincible throughout ; and they Hve all their years, 
glorying in their virtues, but still the slaves of 
their defects. Thus the sage Coolin was a thief 
to the last ; among a thousand peccadilloes, a whole 
goose and a whole cold leg of mutton lay upon 
his conscience ; but Woggs,^ whose soul's shipwreck 
in the matter of gallantry 1 have recounted above, 
hag only twice been known to steal, and has often 
nobly conquered the temptation. The eighth is his 
favourite commandment. There is something pain- 
fully human in these unequal virtues and mortal 
frailties of the best. Still more painful is the 
bearing of those ' stammering professors ' in the 
house of sickness and under the terror of death. 
It is beyond a doubt to me that, somehow or other, 
the dog connects together, or confounds, the un- 
easiness of sickness and the consciousness of guilt. 
To the pains of the body he often adds the tortures 
of the conscience ; and at these times his haggard 
protestations form, in regard to the human death- 
bed, a dreadful parody or parallel. 

I once supposed that I had found an inverse 
relation between the double etiquette which dogs 
obey ; and that those who were most addicted to the 
showy street life among other dogs were less careful 
in the practice of home virtues for the tyrant man. 
But the female dog, that mass of carneying affecta- 

1 Walter, Watty, Woggy, Woggs, Wogg, and lastly Bogue ; under 
which last name he fell in battle some twelve months ago. Glory was 
his aim^ and he attained it ; for his icon, by the hand of Caldecott, now 
lies among the treasures of the nation at the British Museum. 



tions, shines equally in either sphere ; rules her rough 
posse of attendant swains with unwear5dng tact and 
gusto ; and with her master and mistress pushes the 
arts of insinuation to their crowning point. The 
attention of man and the regard of other dogs flatter 
(it would thus appear) the same sensibility ; but 
perhaps, if we could read the canine heart, they 
would be found to flatter it in very different degrees. 
Dogs live with man as courtiers round a monarch, 
steeped in the flattery of his notice and enriched 
with sinecures. To push their favour in this world 
of pickings and caresses is, perhaps, the business of 
their lives ; and their joys may lie outside. I am in 
despair at our persistent ignorance. I read in the 
lives of our companions the same processes of reason, 
the same antique and fatal conflicts of the right 
against the wrong, and of unbitted nature with too 
rigid custom ; I see them with our weaknesses, vain, 
false, inconstant against appetite, and with our one 
stalk of virtue, devoted to the dream of an ideal ; 
and yet as they hurry by me on the street with tail 
in air, or come singly to solicit my regard, I must 
own the secret purport of their lives is still inscrut- 
able to man. Is man the friend, or is he the patron 
only ? Have they indeed forgotten nature's voice ? 
or are those moments snatched from courtiership 
when they touched noses with the tinker's mongrel, 
the brief reward and pleasure of their artificial lives ? 
Doubtless, when man shares with his dog the toils 
of a profession and the pleasures of an art, as with 
the shepherd or the poacher, the affection warms and 



strengthens till it fills the soul. But doubtless, also, 
the masters are, in many cases, the object of a merely 
interested cultus, sitting aloft like Louis Quatorze, 
giving and receiving flattery and favour; and the 
dogs, like the majority of men, have but forgone 
their true existence and become the dupes of their 




These words will be familiar to all students of 
Skelt's Juvenile Drama. That national monument, 
after having changed its name to Park's, to Webb's, 
to Kedington's, and last of all to Pollock's, has now 
become, for the most part, a memory. Some of its 
pillars, like Stonehenge, are still afoot, the rest clean 
vanished. It may be the Museum numbers a full 
set; and Mr. lonides perhaps, or else her gracious 
Majesty, may boast their great collections ; but to 
the plain private person they are become, like 
Raphaels, unattainable. I have, at different times, 
possessed Aladdin, The Red Rover, The Blind Boy, 
The Old Oak Chest, The Wood JDcBmon, Jack 
Sheppard, The Miller and his Men, Der Freischutz, 
The Smuggler, The Forest of Bondy, Robin Hood, 
The Waterman, Richard I., My Poll and my 
Partner Joe, The Inchcape Bell (imperfect), and 
Three- Fingered Jack, the Terror of Jamaica ; and 
I have assisted others in the illumination of The 
Maid of the Inn and The Battle of Waterloo. In 
this roll-call of stirring names you read the evidences 
p 225 


of a happy childhood ; and though not half of them 
are still to be procured of any living stationer, in the 
mind of their once happy owner all survive, kaleido- 
scopes of changing pictures, echoes of the past. 

There stands, I fancy, to this day (but now how 
fallen !) a certain stationer's shop at a corner of the 
wide thoroughfare that joins the city of my child- 
hood with the sea. When, upon any Saturday, we 
made a party to behold the ships, we passed that 
corner ; and since in those days I loved a ship as a 
man loves Burgundy or daybreak, this of itself had 
been enough to hallow it. But there was more than 
that. In the Leith Walk window, all the year 
round, there stood displayed a theatre in working 
order, with a ' forest set,' a ' combat,' and a few 
' robbers carousing ' in the slides ; and below and 
about, dearer tenfold to me ! the plays themselves, 
those budgets of romance, lay tumbled one upon 
another. Long and often have I lingered there with 
empty pockets. One figure, we shall say, was 
visible in the first plate of characters, bearded, pistol 
in hand, or drawing to his ear the clothyard arrow ; 
I would spell the name : was it Macaire, or Long 
Tom Coffin, or GrindofF, 2d dress ? O, how I 
would long to see the rest ! how — if the name by 
chance were hidden — I would wonder in what play 
he figured, and what immortal legend justified his 
attitude and strange apparel ! And then to go 
within, to announce yourself as an intending pur- 
chaser, and, closely watched, be suffered to undo 
those bundles and breathlessly devour those pages 


of gesticulating villains, epileptic combats, bosky 
forests, palaces and war-ships, frowning fortresses 
and prison vaults — it was a giddy joy. That shop, 
which was dark and smelt of Bibles, was a loadstone 
rock for all that bore the name of boy. They could 
not pass it by, nor, having entered, leave it. It was 
a place besieged; the shopmen, like the Jews re- 
building Salem, had a double task. They kept us 
at the stick's end, frowned us down, snatched each 
play out of our hand ere we were trusted with 
another ; and, incredible as it may sound, used to 
demand of us upon our entrance, like banditti, if 
we came with money or with empty hand. Old Mr. 
Smith himself, worn out with my eternal vacillation, 
once swept the treasures from before me, with the 
cry : ' I do not believe, child, that you are an intend- 
ing purchaser at all ! ' These were the dragons of 
the garden ; but for such joys of paradise we could 
have faced the Terror of Jamaica himself Every 
sheet we fingered was another lightning glance into 
obscure, delicious story ; it was like wallowing in 
the raw stuff of story-books. 1 know nothing to 
compare with it save now and then in dreams, when 
I am privileged to read in certain unwrit stories 
of adventure, from which I awake to find the world 
all vanity. The crux of Buridan's donkey was as 
nothing to the uncertainty of the boy as he handled 
and lingered and doated on these bundles of delight ; 
there was a physical pleasure in the sight and touch 
of them which he would jealously prolong; and 
when at length the deed was done, the play selected, 



and the impatient shopman had brushed the rest 
into the grey portfoho, and the boy was forth again, 
a little late for dinner, the lamps springing into light 
in the blue winter's even, and The Miller, or The 
Rover, or some kindred drama clutched against his 
side — on what gay feet he ran, and how he laughed 
aloud in exultation ! I can hear that laughter still. 
Out of all the years of my life, I can recall but one 
home-coming to compare with these, and that was 
on the night when I brought back with me the 
Arabian Entej^tainments in the fat, old, double- 
columned volume with the prints. I was just well 
into the story of the Hunchback, I remember, when 
my clergyman-grandfather (a man we counted pretty 
stiff) came in behind me. I grew blind with terror. 
But instead of ordering the book away, he said he 
envied me. Ah, well he might ! 

The purchase and the first half-hour at home, that 
was the summit. Thenceforth the interest declined 
by little and little. The fable, as set forth in the 
play-book, proved to be unworthy of the scenes 
and characters : what fable would not ? Such 
passages as 'Scene 6. The Hermitage. Night set 
scene. Place back of scene 1, No. 2, at back of 
stage and hermitage. Fig. 2, out of set piece, R. H. 
in a slanting direction ' — such passages, I say, though 
very practical, are hardly to be called good reading. 
Indeed, as literature, these dramas did not much 
appeal to me. I forget the very outline of the plots. 
Of The Blmd Boy, beyond the fact that he was a 
most injured prince, and once, I think, abducted, I 


know nothing. And The Old Oak Chest, what was 
it all about? that proscript (1st dress), that pro- 
digious number of banditti, that old woman with the 
broom, and the magnificent kitchen in the third act 
(was it in the third ?) — they are all fallen in a deli- 
quium, swim faintly in my brain, and mix and vanish. 
I cannot deny that joy attended the illumination ; 
nor can I quite forgive that child who, wilfully for- 
going pleasure, stoops to 'twopence coloured.' 
With crimson lake (hark to the sound of it — crimson 
lake ! — the horns of elf-land are not richer on the 
ear) — with crimson lake and Prussian blue a certain 
purple is to be compounded which, for cloaks 
especially, Titian could not equal. The latter 
colour with gamboge, a hated name although an 
exquisite pigment, supplied a green of such a 
savoury greenness that to-day my heart regrets it. 
Nor can I recall without a tender weakness the very 
aspect of the water where I dipped my brush. Yes, 
there was pleasure in the painting. But when all 
was painted, it is needless to deny it, all was spoiled. 
You might, indeed, set up a scene or two to look at ; 
but to cut the figures out was simply sacrilege ; nor 
could any child twice court the tedium, the worry, 
and the long-drawn disenchantment of an actual 
performance. Two days after the purchase the 
honey had been sucked. Parents used to complain ; 
they thought I wearied of my play. It was not so : 
no more than a person can be said to have wearied 
of his dinner when he leaves the bones and dishes ; 
I had got the marrow of it and said grace. 



Then was the time to turn to the back of the 
play-book and to study that enticing double file of 
names, where poetry, for the true child of Skelt, 
reigned happy and glorious like her Majesty the 
Queen. Much as I have travelled in these realms of 
gold, I have yet seen, upon that map or abstract, 
names of El Dorados that still haunt the ear of 
memory, and are still but names. The Floating 
Beacon — why was that denied me ? or The Wreck 
Ashoi^el Siocteen- String Jack, whom I did not 
even guess to be a highwayman, troubled me awake 
and haunted my slumbers ; and there is one sequence 
of three from that enchanted calendar that I still at 
times recall, like a loved verse of poetry ; Lodoiska, 
Silver Palace, Echo of WestminsterBridge. Names, 
bare names, are surely more to children than we 
poor, grown-up, obliterated fools remember. 

The name of Skelt itself has always seemed a part 
and parcel of the charm of his productions. It may 
be different with the rose, but the attraction of this 
paper drama sensibly declined when Webb had crept 
into the rubric : a poor cuckoo, flaunting in Skelt 's 
nest. And now we have reached Pollock, sounding 
deeper gulfs. Indeed, this name of Skelt appears so 
stagey and piratic, that I will adopt it boldly to 
design these qualities. Skeltery, then, is a quality of 
much art. It is even to be found, with reverence be 
it said, among the works of nature. The stagey is 
its generic name ; but it is an old, insular, home- 
bred staginess ; not French, domestically British ; 
not of to-day, but smacking of O. Smith, Fitzball, 


and the great age of melodrama : a peculiar fragrance 
haunting it ; uttering its unimportant message in a 
tone of voice that has the charm of fresh antiquity. 
I will not insist upon the art of Skelt's purveyors. 
These wonderful characters that once so thrilled our 
soul with their bold attitude, array of deadly engines 
and incomparable costume, to-day look somewhat 
pallidly ; the extreme hard favour of the heroine 
strikes me, I had almost said with pain ; the villain's 
scowl no longer thrills me like a trumpet ; and the 
scenes themselves, those once unparalleled landscapes, 
seem the eiforts of a prentice hand. So much of 
fault we find ; but on the other side the impartial 
critic rejoices to remark the presence of a great unity 
of gusto ; of those direct clap-trap appeals, which a 
man is dead and buriable when he fails to answer ; 
of the footlight glamour, the ready-made, bare-faced, 
transpontine picturesque, a thing not one with cold 
reality, but how much dearer to the mind ! 

The scenery of Skeltdom — or, shall we say, the 
kingdom of Transpontus ? — had a prevailing charac- 
ter. Whether it set forth Poland as in The Blind 
Boy, or Bohemia with The Miller and his Men, or 
Italy with The Old Oak Chest, still it was Trans- 
pontus. A botanist could tell it by the plants. 
The hollyhock was all-pervasive, running wild in 
deserts ; the dock was common, and the bending 
reed ; and overshadowing these were poplar, palm, 
potato tree, and Quercus Skeltica — brave growths. 
The caves were all embo welled in the Surrey side 
formation ; the soil was all betrodden by the light 



pump of T. P. Cooke. Skelt, to be sure, had yet 
another, an oriental string: he held the gorgeous 
East in fee ; and in the new quarter of Hyeres, say, 
in the garden of the Hotel des lies d'Or, you may 
behold these blessed visions realised. But on these 
I will not dwell ; they were an outwork ; it was in 
the occidental scenery that Skelt was all himself. It 
had a strong flavour of England; it was a sort of 
indigestion of England and drop-scenes, and I am 
bound to say was charming. How the roads 
wander, how the castle sits upon the hill, how the 
sun eradiates from behind the cloud, and how the 
congregated clouds themselves uproU, as stiff as 
bolsters I Here is the cottage interior, the usual 
first flat, with the cloak upon the nail, the rosaries 
of onions, the gun and powder-horn and corner-cup- 
board ; here is the inn (this drama must be nautical, 
I foresee Captain Luff and Bold Bob Bowsprit) 
with the red curtain, pipes, spittoons, and eight-day 
clock ; and there again is that impressive dungeon 
with the chains, which was so dull to colour. 
England, the hedgerow elms, the thin brick houses, 
windmills, glimpses of the navigable Thames — 
England, when at last I came to visit it, was only 
Skelt made evident : to cross the border was, for the 
Scotsman, to come home to Skelt; there was the 
inn-sign and there the horse-trough, all foreshadowed 
in the faithful Skelt. If, at the ripe age of fourteen 
years, I bought a certain cudgel, got a friend to load 
it, and thenceforward walked the tame ways of the 
earth my own ideal, radiating pure romance — still I 


was but a puppet in the hand of Skelt ; the original 
of that regretted bludgeon, and surely the antitype 
of all the bludgeon kind, greatly improved from 
Cruikshank, had adorned the hand of Jonathan 
Wild, pi. 1. *This is mastering me,' as Whitman 
cries, upon some lesser provocation. What am 1 ? 
what are life, art, letters, the world, but what my 
Skelt has made them ? He stamped himself upon 
my immaturity. The world was plain before I 
knew him, a poor penny world ; but soon it was all 
coloured with romance. If I go to the theatre to 
see a good old melodrama, 'tis but Skelt a little 
faded. If I visit a bold scene in nature, Skelt 
would have been bolder; there had been certainly 
a castle on that mountain, and the hollow tree — that 
set piece — I seem to miss it in the foreground. 
Indeed, out of this cut-and-dry, dull, swaggering, 
obtrusive and infantile art, I seem to have learned 
the very spirit of my life's enjoyment ; met there the 
shadows of the characters I was to read about and 
love in a late future ; got the romance of Der Frei- 
schutz long ere I was to hear of Weber or the mighty 
Formes ; acquired a gallery of scenes and characters 
with which, in the silent theatre of the brain, I 
might enact all novels and romances ; and took 
from these rude cuts an enduring and transforming 
pleasure. Reader — and yourself? 

A word of moral : it appears that B. Pollock, 
late J. Redington, No. 73 Hoxton Street, not only 
publishes twenty- three of these old stage favourites, 
but owns the necessary plates and displays a modest 



readiness to issue other thirty-three. If you love 
art, folly, or the bright eyes of children, speed to 
Pollock's or to Clarke's of Garrick Street. In 
Pollock's list of publicanda I perceive a pair of my 
ancient aspirations : Wreck Ashore and Siocteen- 
String Jack ; and I cherish the behef that w^hen 
these shall see once more the light of day, B. Pollock 
will remember this apologist. But, indeed, I have 
a dream at times that is not all a dream. I seem 
to myself to wander in a ghostly street — E. W., I 
think, the postal district — close below the fool's cap 
of St. Paul's, and yet within easy hearing of the 
echo of the Abbey Bridge. There in a dim shop, 
low in the roof, and smelling strong of glue and 
footlights, I find myself in quaking treaty with great 
Skelt himself, the aboriginal, all dusty from the 
tomb. I buy, with what a choking heart — I buy 
them all, all but the pantomimes ; I pay my mental 
money, and go forth ; and lo ! the packets are dust. 




The books that we re-read the oftenest are not 
always those that we admire the most ; we choose 
and we revisit them for many and various reasons, 
as we choose and revisit human friends. One or 
two of Scott's novels, Shakespeare, Moliere, Mon- 
taigne, The Egoist, and the Vicomte de Bragelonne, 
form the inner circle of my intimates. Behind these 
comes a good troop of dear acquaintances ; The 
Pilgrims Progress in the front rank, The Bible 
in Spain not far behind. There are besides a 
certain number that look at me with reproach as 
I pass them by on my shelves : books that I once 
thumbed and studied : houses which were once 
like home to me, but where I now rarely visit. 
I am on these sad terms (and blush to confess it) 
with Wordsworth, Horace, Burns, and Hazlitt. 
Last of all, there is the class of book that has its 
hour of brilliancy — glows, sings, charms, and then 
fades again into insignificance until the fit return. 
Chief of those who thus smile and frown on me 
by turns, I must name Virgil and Herrick, who, 
were they but 

' Their sometime selves throughout the year/ 



must have stood in the first company with the six 
names of my continual Hterary intimates. To these 
six, incongruous as they seem, I have long been 
faithful, and hope to be faithful to the day of death. 
I have never read the whole of Montaigne, but I 
do not like to be long without reading some of him, 
and my delight in what I do read never lessens. 
Of Shakespeare I have read all but Richard III., 
Henry VI., Titus Andronicus, and All's Well that 
Ends Well; and these, having already made all 
suitable endeavour, I now know that I shall never 
read — to make up for which unfaithfulness I could 
read much of the rest for ever. Of Moliere — 
surely the next greatest name of Christendom — I 
could tell a very similar story ; but in a little 
corner of a little essay these princes are too much 
out of place, and I prefer to pay my fealty and 
pass on. How often I have read Guy Mannering, 
Rob Roy, or Redgauntlet, I have no means of guess- 
ing, having begun young. But it is either four or 
five times that I have read The Egoist, and either 
five or six that I have read the Vicomte de Brage- 

Some, who would accept the others, may wonder 
that I should have spent so much of this brief life 
of ours over a work so little famous as the last. 
And, indeed, I am surprised myself; not at my 
own devotion, but the coldness of the world. 
My acquaintance with the Vicomte began, somewhat 
indirectly, in the year of grace 1863, when I had 
the advantage of studying certain illustrated dessert 


plates in a hotel at Nice. The name of dArtagnan 
in the legends I already saluted like an old friend, 
for I had met it the year before in a work of 
Miss Yonge's. My first perusal was in one of 
those pirated editions that swarmed at that time 
out of Brussels, and ran to such a troop of neat 
and dwarfish volumes. I understood but little of 
the merits of the book ; my strongest memory is 
of the execution of d'Eymeric and Lyodot — a 
strange testimony to the dulness of a boy, who could 
enjoy the rough-and-tumble in the Place de Grdve, 
and forget dArtagnan's visits to the two finan- 
ciers. My next reading was in winter-time, when I 
lived alone upon the Pentlands. I would return in 
the early night from one of my patrols with the 
shepherd; a friendly face would meet me in the 
door, a friendly retriever scurry upstairs to fetch 
my slippers ; and I would sit down with the Vicomte 
for a long, silent, solitary lamp-lit evening by the 
fire. And yet I know not why I call it silent, 
when it was enlivened with such a clatter of 
horse-shoes, and such a rattle of musketry, and 
such a stir of talk ; or why I call those evenings 
solitary in which I gained so many friends. I 
would rise from my book and pull the blind aside, 
and see the snow and the glittering hollies chequer 
a Scottish garden, and the winter moonlight brighten 
the white hills. Thence I would turn again to that 
crowded and sunny field of life in which it was 
so easy to forget myself, my cares, and my surround- 
ings : a place busy as a city, bright as a theatre, 



thronged with memorable faces, and sounding with 
dehgbtful speech. I carried the thread of that epic 
into my slumbers, I woke with it unbroken, I 
rejoiced to plunge into the book again at breakfast, 
it was with a pang that I must lay it down and 
turn to my own labours ; for no part of the world 
has ever seemed to me so charming as these pages, 
and not even my friends are quite so real, perhaps 
quite so dear, as d'Artagnan. 

Since then I have been going to and fro at very 
brief intervals in my favourite book ; and I have 
now just risen from my last (let me call it my 
fifth) perusal, having liked it better and admired 
it more seriously than ever. Perhaps I have a sense 
of ownership, being so well known in these six 
volumes. Perhaps I think that dArtagnan delights 
to have me read of him, and I^ouis Quatorze is 
gratified, and Fouquet throws me a look, and 
Aramis, although he knows I do not love him, yet 
plays to me with his best graces, as to an old patron 
of the show. Perhaps, if I am not careful, some- 
thing may befall me like what befell George iv. 
about the battle of Waterloo, and I may come 
to fancy the Vicovite one of the first, and Heaven 
knows the best, of my own works. At least I avow 
myself a partisan ; and when I compare the popu- 
larity of the Vicomte with that of Monte Crista, 
or its own elder brother, the Trois 3Iousquetaires, 
I confess I am both pained and puzzled. 

To those who have already made acquaintance 
with the titular hero in the pages of Vingt Ans 


Apres, perhaps the name may act as a deterrent. 
A man might well stand back if he supposed he 
were to follow, for six volumes, so well-conducted, 
so fine-spoken, and withal so dreary a cavalier 
as Bragelonne. But the fear is idle. I may be 
said to have passed the best years of my hfe in 
these six volumes, and my acquaintance with Raoul 
has never gone beyond a bow ; and when he, who 
has so long pretended to be aUve, is at last suffered 
to pretend to be dead, I am sometimes reminded 
of a saying in an earlier volume : ' Enfin, dit Miss 
Stewart,' — and it was of Bragelonne she spoke — 
' enfin il a fait quelquechose : cest, ma foi! hien 
heureuoD.' I am reminded of it, as I say ; and the 
next moment, when Athos dies of his death, and 
my dear dArtagnan bursts into his storm of sob- 
bing, I can but deplore my flippancy. 

Or perhaps it is La Valliere that the reader of 
Vingt Ans Apres is inclined to flee. Well, he 
is right there too, though not so right. Louise 
is no success. Her creator has spared no pains ; 
she is well-meant, not ill-designed, sometimes has 
a word that rings out true ; sometimes, if only 
for a breath, she may even engage our sympathies. 
But I have never envied the King his triumph. 
And so far from pitying Bragelonne for his defeat, 
I could wish him no worse (not for lack of malice, 
but imagination) than to be wedded to that lady. 
Madame enchants me ; I can forgive that royal 
minx her most serious offences ; I can thrill and 
soften with the King on that memorable occasion 



when he goes to upbraid and remains to flirt; and 
when it comes to the ' Allons, aimez-moi done,' it 
is my heart that melts in the bosom of de Guiche. 
Not so with Louise. Readers cannot fail to have 
remarked that what an author tells us of the beauty 
or the charm of his creatures goes for nought ; 
that we know instantly better; that the heroine 
cannot open her mouth but what, all in a moment, 
the fine phrases of preparation fall from round her 
like the robes from Cinderella, and she stands before 
us, self-betrayed, as a poor, ugly, sickly wench, or 
perhaps a strapping market-woman. Authors, at 
least, know it well ; a heroine will too often start 
the trick of ' getting ugly ' ; and no disease is more 
difficult to cure. I said authors ; but indeed I had 
a side eye to one author in particular, with whose 
works I am very well acquainted, though I cannot 
read them, and who has spent many vigils in this 
cause, sitting beside his ailing puppets and (like 
a magician) wearying his art to restore them to 
youth and beauty. There are others who ride 
too high for these misfortunes. Who doubts the 
loveliness of Rosalind ? Arden itself was not more 
lovely. Who ever questioned the perennial charm of 
Rose Jocelyn, Lucy Desborough, or Clara Middle- 
ton ? fair women with fair names, the daughters 
of George Meredith. Ehzabeth Bennet has but to 
speak, and I am at her knees. Ah ! these are the 
creators of desirable women. They would never 
have fallen in the mud with Dumas and poor 
La Valliere. It is my only consolation that not 


one of all of them, except the first, could have 
plucked at the moustache of dArtagnan. 

Or perhaps, again, a portion of readers stumble 
at the threshold. In so vast a mansion there were 
sure to be back stairs and kitchen offices where no 
one would delight to linger ; but it was at least un- 
happy that the vestibule should be so badly lighted ; 
and until, in the seventeenth chapter, dArtagnan 
sets oif to seek his friends, I must confess, the book 
goes heavily enough. But, from thenceforward, 
what a feast is spread ! Monk kidnapped ; dArtagnan 
enriched ; Mazarin's death ; the ever delectable 
adventure of Belle Isle, wherein Aramis outwits 
dArtagnan, with its epilogue (vol. v. chap, xxviii.), 
where d'Artagnan regains the moral superiority ; the 
love adventures at Fontainebleau, with St. Aignan's 
story of the dryad and the business of de Guiche, 
de Wardes, and Manicamp ; Aramis made general 
of the Jesuits; Aramis at the Bastille; the night 
talk in the forest of Senart ; Belle Isle again, with 
the death of Porthos ; and last, but not least, the 
taming of dArtagnan the untamable, under the lash 
of the young King. What other novel has such 
epic variety and nobility of incident? often, if you 
will, impossible ; often of the order of an Arabian 
story ; and yet all based in human nature. For if 
you come to that, what novel has more human 
nature? not studied with the microscope, but seen 
largely, in plain daylight, with the natural eye ? 
What novel has more good sense, and gaiety, and 
wit, and unflagging, admirable hterary skill ? Good 
Q 241 


souls, I suppose, must sometimes read it in the 
blackguard travesty of a translation. But there is 
no style so untranslatable ; light as a whipped trifle, 
strong as silk ; wordy like a village tale ; pat like 
a general's despatch ; with every fault, yet never 
tedious ; with no merit, yet inimitably right. And, 
once more, to make an end of commendations, what 
novel is inspired with a more unstrained or a more 
wholesome morality ? 

Yes ; in spite of Miss Yonge, who introduced me 
to the name of dArtagnan only to dissuade me 
from a nearer knowledge of the man, I have to add 
morality. There is no quite good book without a 
good morality ; but the world is wide, and so are 
morals. Out of two people who have dipped into 
Sir Richard Burton's Thousand and One Nights, 
one shall have been offended by the animal details ; 
another to whom these were harmless, perhaps even 
pleasing, shall yet have been shocked in his turn by 
the rascality and cruelty of all the characters. Of 
two readers, again, one shall have been pained by 
the morality of a religious memoir, one by that of 
the Vicomte de Bragelonne. And the point is that 
neither need be wrong. We shall always shock each 
other both in life and art ; we cannot get the sun 
into our pictures, nor the abstract right (if there be 
such a thing) into our books ; enough if, in the one, 
there glimmer some hint of the great light that blinds 
us from heaven ; enough if, in the other, there shine, 
even upon foul details, a spirit of magnanimity. I 
would scarce send to the Vicomte a reader who was 


in quest of what we may call puritan morality. The 
ventripotent mulatto, the great eater, worker, earner 
and waster, the man of much and witty laughter, the 
man of the great heart and, alas ! of the doubtful 
honesty, is a figure not yet clearly set before the 
world ; he still awaits a sober and yet genial portrait ; 
but with whatever art that may be touched, and 
whatever indulgence, it will not be the portrait of 
a precisian. Dumas was certainly not thinking of 
himself, but of Planchet, when he put into the 
mouth of d'Artagnan's old servant this excellent 
profession : '^ Monsieur, J etais une de ces bonnes pdtes 
dliommes que Dieu a faits pour sanwier 'pendant un 
certain temps et pour trouver bonjies toutes choses 
qui accompagnent leur sejour sur la terre.' He was 
thinking, as I say, of Planchet, to whom the words 
are aptly fitted ; but they were fitted also to 
Planchet 's creator; and perhaps this struck him as 
he wrote, for observe what follows: ^UArtagnan 
s'assit alors pres de la fenetre, et, cette pMlosophie de 
Planchet lui ay ant paru solide, il y reva.' In a man 
who finds all things good, you will scarce expect 
much zeal for negative virtues : the active alone wiU 
have a charm for him; abstinence, however wise, 
however kind, will always seem to such a judge 
entirely mean and partly impious. So with Dumas. 
Chastity is not near his heart ; nor yet, to his own 
sore cost, that virtue of frugality which is the armour 
of the artist. Now, in the Vicomte, he had much 
to do with the contest of Fouquet and Colbert. 
Historic justice should be all upon the side of 



Colbert, of official honesty, and fiscal competence. 
And Dumas knew it well : three times at least he 
shows his knowledge ; once it is but flashed upon us, 
and received with the laughter of Fouquet himself, 
in the jesting controversy in the gardens of Saint 
Mande ; once it is touched on by Aramis in the 
forest of Senart ; in the end, it is set before us 
clearly in one dignified speech of the triumphant 
Colbert. But in Fouquet, the waster, the lover of 
good cheer and wit and art, the swift transactor of 
much business, ' Vhomme de bruit, Vhomme de plaisif% 
riiomme qui nest que parceque les autres sontj Dumas 
saw something of himself and drew the figure the 
more tenderly. It is to me even touching to see 
how he insists on Fouquet 's honour ; not seeing, you 
might think, that unflawed honour is impossible to 
spendthrifts ; but rather, perhaps, in the light of his 
own fife, seeing it too well, and clinging the more 
to what was left. Honour can survive a wound ; it 
can live and thrive without a member. The man 
rebounds from his disgrace ; he begins fresh founda- 
tions on the ruins of the old ; and when his sword is 
broken, he will do valiantly with his dagger. So it 
is with Fouquet in the book ; so it was with Dumas 
on the battlefield of life. 

To chng to what is left of any damaged quality 
is virtue in the man ; but perhaps to sing its praises 
is scarcely to be called morality in the writer. And 
it is elsewhere, it is in the character of dArtagnan, 
that we must look for that spirit of morality, which 
is one of the chief merits of the book, makes one of 


the main joys of its perusal, and sets it high above 
more popular rivals. Athos, with the coming of 
years, has declined too much into the preacher, and 
the preacher of a sapless creed ; but dArtagnan has 
mellowed into a man so witty, rough, kind, and 
upright, that he takes the heart by storm. There is 
nothing of the copy-book about his virtues, nothing 
of the drawing-room in his fine, natural civiUty ; he 
will sail near the wind ; he is no district visitor — no 
Wesley or Robespierre ; his conscience is void of all 
refinement whether for good or evil ; but the whole 
man rings true like a good sovereign. Readers who 
have approached the Kicomte, not across country, 
but by the legitimate, five-volumed avenue of the 
Mousquetaires and Vingt Ans Apres, will not have 
forgotten dArtagnan's ungentlemanly and perfectly 
improbable trick upon Milady. What a pleasure it 
is, then, what a reward, and how agreeable a lesson, 
to see the old captain humble himself to the son 
of the man whom he had personated ! Here, and 
throughout, if I am to choose virtues for myself or 
my friends, let me choose the virtues of dArtagnan. 
I do not say there is no character as well drawn in 
Shakespeare ; I do say there is none that I love so 
wholly. There are many spiritual eyes that seem 
to spy upon our actions — eyes of the dead and 
the absent, whom we imagine to behold us in our 
most private hours, and whom we fear and scruple to 
offend : our witnesses and judges. And among these, 
even if you should think me childish, I must count 
my dArtagnan — not dArtagnan of the memoirs 



whom Thackeray pretended to prefer — a preference, I 
take the freedom of saying, m which he stands alone ; 
not the d'Artagnan of flesh and blood, but him of 
the ink and paper ; not Nature's, but Dumas's. And 
this is the particular crown and triumph of the artist 
— not to be true merely, but to be lovable ; not 
simply to convince, but to enchant. 

There is yet another point in the Vicomte which I 
find incomparable. I can recall no other work of the 
imagination in which the end of life is represented 
with so nice a tact. I was asked the other day if 
Dumas ever made me either laugh or cry. Well, 
in this my late fifth reading of the Vicomte, I did 
laugh once at the small Coquehn de Vohere busi- 
ness, and was perhaps a thought surprised at having 
done so : to make up for it I smiled continually. 
But for tears, I do not know. If you put a pistol 
to my throat, I must own the tale trips upon a 
very airy foot — within a measurable distance of un- 
reality ; and for those who like the big guns to be 
discharged and the great passions to appear authen- 
tically, it may even seem inadequate from first to 
last. Not so to me ; I cannot count that a poor 
dinner, or a poor book, where I meet with those 
I love ; and, above all, in this last volume, I find 
a singular charm of spirit. It breathes a pleasant 
and a tonic sadness, always brave, never hysterical. 
Upon the crowded, noisy life of this long tale, 
evening gradually falls ; and the lights are extin- 
guished, and the heroes pass away one by one. 
One by one they go, and not a regret embitters 


their departure; the young succeed them in their 
places, Louis Quatorze is swelling larger and shining 
broader, another generation and another France 
dawn on the horizon ; but for us and these old 
men whom we have loved so long, the inevitable 
end draws ^ear, and is welcome. To read this 
well is to anticipate experience. Ah, if only when 
these hours of the long shadows fall for us in reality 
and not in figure, we may hope to face them with 
a mind as quiet. 

But my paper is running out ; the siege-guns are 
firing on the Dutch frontier ; and I must say adieu 
for the fifth time to my old comrade fallen on the 
field of glory. Adieu — rather au revoirf Yet a 
sixth time, dearest d'Artagnan, we shall kidnap 
Monk and take horse together for Belle Isle. 


. XV 

In anything fit to be called by the name of read- 
ing, the process itself should be absorbing and volup- 
tuous ; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean 
out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our 
mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of 
images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought. 
The words, if the book be eloquent, should run 
thenceforward in our ears like the noise of breakers, 
and the story, if it be a story, repeat itself in a 
thousand coloured pictures to the eye. It was for 
this last pleasure that we read so closely, and loved 
our books so dearly, in the bright, troubled period of 
boyhood. Eloquence and thought, character and con- 
versation, were but obstacles to brush aside as we 
dug blithely after a certain sort of incident, like 
a pig for truffles. For my part, I liked a story to 
begin with an old wayside inn where, ' towards the 
close of the year 17 — ,' several gentlemen in three- 
cocked hats were playing bowls. A friend of mine 
preferred the Malabar coast in a storm, with a ship 
beating to windward, and a scowhng fellow of Her- 


culean proportions striding along the beach ; he, to 
be sure, was a pirate. This was further afield than 
my home-keeping fancy loved to travel, and de- 
signed altogether for a larger canvas than the tales 
that I affected. Give me a highwayman and I was 
full to the^ brim ; a Jacobite would do, but the 
highwayman was my favourite dish. I can stiU 
hear that merry clatter of the hoofs along the moon- 
lit lane ; night and the coming of day are still 
related in my mind with the doings of John Rann 
or Jerry Abershaw ; and the words ' post-chaise,' the 
'great North road,' ' ostler,' and 'nag' still sound in 
my ears like poetry. One and all, at least, and each 
with his particular fancy, we read story-books in 
childhood, not for eloquence or character or thought, 
but for some quality of the brute incident. That 
quality was not mere bloodshed or wonder. Although 
each of these was welcome in its place, the charm 
for the sake of which we read depended on some- 
thing different from either. My elders used to read 
novels aloud ; and I can still remember four different 
passages which I heard, before I was ten, with 
the same keen and lasting pleasure. One I dis- 
covered long afterwards to be the admirable opening 
of What will He Do with It : it was no wonder I 
was pleased with that. The other three still remain 
unidentified. One is a little vague ; it was about a 
dark, tall house at night, and people groping on 
the stairs by the light that escaped from the open 
door of a sickroom. In another, a lover left a ball, 
and went walking in a cool, dewy park, whence 



he could watch the Hghted windows and the figures 
of the dancers as they moved. This was the most 
sentimental impression I think I had yet received, 
for a child is somewhat deaf to the sentimental. In 
the last, a poet, who had been tragically wrangling 
with his wife, walked forth on the sea-beach on 
a tempestuous night and witnessed the horrors of 
a wreck.^ Different as they are, all these early 
favourites have a common note — they have all a 
touch of the romantic. 

Drama is the poetry of conduct, romance the 
poetry of circumstance. The pleasure that we take 
in life is of two sorts — the active and the passive. 
Now we are conscious of a great command over our 
destiny ; anon we are lifted up by circumstance, as by 
a breaking wave, and dashed we know not how into 
the future. Now we are pleased by our conduct, anon 
merely pleased by our surroundings. It would be 
hard to say which of these modes of satisfaction is 
the more effective, but the latter is surely the more 
constant. Conduct is three parts of life, they say ; 
but I think they put it high. There is a vast deal 
in life and letters both which is not immoral, but 
simply non-moral ; which either does not regard the 
human will at all, or deals with it in obvious and 
healthy relations ; where the interest turns, not upon 
what a man shall choose to do, but on how he man- 
ages to do it ; not on the passionate slips and hesita- 

^ Since traced by many obliging correspondents to the gallery of 
Charles Kingsley. 



tions of the conscience, but on the problems of the 
body and of the practical intelligence, in clean, open- 
air adventure, the shock of arms or the diplomacy of 
life. With such material as this it is impossible to 
build a play, for the serious theatre exists solely 
on moral grounds, and is a standing proof of the 
dissemination of the human conscience. But it is 
possible to build, upon this ground, the most joyous 
of verses, and the most lively, beautiful, and buoyant 

One thing in life calls for another ; there is a 
fitness in events and places. The sight of a pleasant 
arbour puts it in our mind to sit there. One place 
suggests work, another idleness, a third early rising 
and long rambles in the dew. The effect of night, 
of any flowing water, of lighted cities, of the peep of 
day, of ships, of the open ocean, calls up in the 
mind an army of anonymous desires and pleasures. 
Something, we feel, should happen; we know not 
what, yet we proceed in quest of it. And many of 
the happiest hours of life fleet by us in this vain 
attendance on the genius of the place and moment. 
It is thus that tracts of young fir, and low rocks 
that reach into deep soundings, particularly torture 
and delight me. Something must have happened 
in such places, and perhaps ages back, to members 
of my race ; and when I was a child I tried in vain 
to invent appropriate games for them, as I still 
try, just as vainly, to fit them with the proper 
story. Some places speak distinctly. Certain dank 
gardens cry aloud for a murder ; certain old houses 



demand to be haunted ; certain coasts are set apart 
for shipwreck. Other spots again seem to abide 
their destiny, suggestive and impenetrable, ' miching 
mallecho.' The inn at Burford Bridge, with its 
arbours and green garden and silent, eddying river 
— though it is known already as the place where 
Keats wrote some of his Endymion and Nelson 
parted from his Emma — still seems to wait the 
coming of the appropriate legend. Within these 
ivied walls, behind these old green shutters, some 
further business smoulders, waiting for its hour. 
The old Hawes Inn at the Queen's Ferry makes 
a similar call upon my fancy. There it stands, 
apart from the town, beside the pier, in a climate 
of its own, half inland, half marine — in front, the 
ferry bubbhng with the tide and the guardship 
swinging to her anchor; behind, the old garden 
with the trees. Americans seek it already for the 
sake of Lovel and Oldbuck, who dined there at 
the beginning of the Antiqicary. But you need 
not tell me — that is not all ; there is some story, 
unrecorded or not yet complete, which must ex- 
press the meaning of that inn more fully. So it 
is with names and faces; so it is with incidents 
that are idle and inconclusive in themselves ; and 
yet seem like the beginning of some quaint romance, 
which the all-careless author leaves untold. How 
many of these romances have we not seen determine 
at their birth ; how many people have met us with 
a look of meaning in their eye, and sunk at once 
into trivial acquaintances ; to how many places 


have we not drawn near, with express intimations 
— ' here my destiny awaits me ' — and we have but 
dined there and passed on ! I have hved both at 
the Hawes and Burford in a perpetual flutter, on 
the heels, as it seemed, of some adventure that 
should justify the place ; but though the feeling had 
me to bed at night and called me again at morning 
in one unbroken round of pleasure and suspense, 
nothing befell me in either worth remark. The 
man or the hour had not yet come ; but some 
day, I think, a boat shall put off from the Queen's 
Ferry, fraught with a dear cargo, and some frosty 
night a horseman, on a tragic errand, rattle with 
his whip upon the green shutters of the inn at 

Now, this is one of the natural appetites with 
which any lively literature has to count. The desire 
for knowledge, I had almost added the desire for 
meat, is not more deeply seated than this demand 
for fit and striking incident. The dullest of clowns 
tells, or tries to tell, himself a story, as the feeblest 
of children uses invention in his play ; and even as 
the imaginative grown person, joining in the game, 
at once enriches it with many delightful circum- 
stances, the great creative writer shows us the 
realisation and the apotheosis of the day-dreams of 
common men. His stories may be nourished with 
the realities of life, but their true mark is to satisfy 

1 Since the above was written I have tried to launch the boat with my 
own hands in Kidnapped. Some day, perhaps^ I may try a rattle at the 


the nameless longings of the reader, and to obey 
the ideal laws of the day-dream. The right kind 
of thing should fall out in the right kind of place ; 
the right kind of thing should follow ; and not only 
the characters talk aptly and think naturally, but all 
the circumstances in a tale answer one to another 
like notes in music. The threads of a story come 
from time to time together and make a picture in 
the web ; the characters fall from time to time into 
some attitude to each other or to nature, which 
stamps the story home like an illustration. Crusoe 
recoiling from the footprint, Achilles shouting over 
against the Trojans, Ulysses bending the great bow. 
Christian running with his fingers in his ears, — these 
are each culminating moments in the legend, and 
each has been printed on the mind's eye for ever. 
Other things we may forget ; we may forget the 
words, although they are beautiful ; we may forget 
the author's comment, although perhaps it was in- 
genious and true ; but these epoch-making scenes, 
which put the last mark of truth upon a story, and 
fill up, at one blow, our capacity for sympathetic 
pleasure, we so adopt into the very bosom of our 
inind that neither time nor tide can efface or weaken 
the impression. This, then, is the plastic part of 
literature : to embody character, thought, or emotion 
in some act or attitude that shall be remarkably 
striking to the mind's eye. This is the highest and 
hardest thing to do in words ; the thing which, once 
accomplished, equally delights the schoolboy and 
the sage, and makes, in its own right, the quality of 


epics. Compared with this, all other purposes in 
literature, except the purely lyrical or the purely 
philosophic, are bastard in nature, facile of execution, 
and feeble in result. It is one thing to write about 
the inn at Burford, or to describe scenery with the 
word-painters ; it is quite another to seize on the 
heart of the suggestion and make a country famous 
with a legend. It is one thing to remark and to 
dissect, with the most cutting logic, the complica- 
tions of life, and of the human spirit; it is quite 
another to give them body and blood in the story 
of Ajax or of Hamlet. The first is literature, but 
the second is something besides, for it is likewise 

English people of the present day are apt, I know 
not why, to look somewhat down on incident, and 
reserve their admiration for the clink of teaspoons 
and the accents of the curate. It is thought clever 
to write a novel with no story at all, or at least with 
a very dull one. Reduced even to the lowest terms, 
a certain interest can be communicated by the art of 
narrative ; a sense of human kinship stirred ; and a 
kind of monotonous fitness, comparable to the words 
and air of Sandy s 31ull, preserved among the infini- 
tesimal occurrences recorded. Some people work, 
in this manner, with even a strong touch. Mr. 
TroUope's inimitable clergymen naturally arise to the 
mind in this connection. But even Mr. Trollope 
does not confine himself to chronichng small beer. 
Mr. Crawley's collision with the Bishop's wife, Mr. 
Melnotte dallying in the deserted banquet-room, are 



typical incidents, epically conceived, fitly embodying 
a crisis. Or again look at Thackeray. If Rawdon 
Crawley's blow were not delivered, Vanity Fair 
would cease to be a work of art. That scene is the 
chief ganglion of the tale ; and the discharge of 
energy from Rawdon 's fist is the reward and conso- 
lation of the reader. The end of Esmond is a yet 
wider excursion from the author's customary fields ; 
the scene at Castlewood is pure Dumas ; the great 
and wily English borrower has here borrowed from 
the great, unblushing French thief; as usual, he has 
borrowed admirably well, and the breaking of the 
sword rounds off the best of all his books with a 
manly, martial note. But perhaps nothing can more 
strongly illustrate the necessity for marking incident 
than to compare the living fame of Robinson Crusoe 
with the discredit of Clarissa Harlox^e. Clarissa is 
a book of a far more startling import, worked out, 
on a great canvas, with inimitable courage and un- 
flagging art. It contains wit, character, passion, plot, 
conversations full of spirit and insight, letters spark- 
ling with unstrained humanity ; and if the death of 
the heroine be somewhat frigid and artificial, the last 
days of the hero strike the only note of what we now 
call Byronism, between the Elizabethans and Byron 
himself. And yet a little story of a shipwrecked 
sailor, with not a tenth part of the style nor a 
thousandth part of the wisdom, exploring none of 
the arcana of humanity and deprived of the perennial 
interest of love, goes on from edition to edition, ever 
young, while Clarissa lies upon the shelves unread, 


A friend of mine, a Welsh blacksmith, was twenty- 
five years old and could neither read nor write, when 
he heard a chapter of Robinson read aloud in a farm 
kitchen. Up to that moment he had sat content, 
huddled in his ignorance, but he left that farm 
another man. There were day-dreams, it appeared, 
divine day-dreams, written and printed and bound, 
and to be bought for money and enjoyed at pleasure. 
Down he sat that day, painfully learned to read 
Welsh, and returned to borrow the book. It had 
been lost, nor could he find another copy but one 
that was in Enghsh. Down he sat once more, 
learned English, and at length, and with entire 
dehght, read Robinson. It is like the story of a 
love-chase. If he had heard a letter from Clarissa, 
would he have been fired with the same chivalrous 
ardour ? I wonder. Yet Clarissa has every quality 
that can be shown in prose, one alone excepted — 
pictorial or picture-making romance. While Robin- 
son depends, for the most part and with the over- 
whelming majority of its readers, on the charm of 

In the highest achievements of the art of words, 
the dramatic and the pictorial, the moral and romantic 
interest, rise and fall together by a common and 
organic law. Situation is animated with passion, 
passion clothed upon with situation. Neither exists 
for itself, but each inheres indissolubly with the 
other. This is high art ; and not only the highest 
art possible in words, but the highest art of all, since 
it combines the greatest mass and diversity of the 

R 257 


elements of truth and pleasure. Such are epics, and 
the few prose tales that have the epic weight. But 
as from a school of works, aping the creative, incident 
and romance are ruthlessly discarded, so may char- 
acter and drama be omitted or subordinated to 
romance. There is one book, for example, more 
generally loved than Shakespeare, that captivates in 
childhood, and still delights in age — I mean the 
Arabian Nights — where you shall look in vain for 
moral or for intellectual interest. No human face or 
voice greets us among that wooden crowd of kings 
and genies, sorcerers and beggarmen. Adventure, 
on the most naked terms, furnishes forth the enter- 
tainment and is found enough. Dumas approaches 
perhaps nearest of any modern to these Arabian 
authors in the purely material charm of some of his 
romances. The early part of Monte Crista, down to 
the finding of the treasure, is a piece of perfect story- 
telling ; the man never breathed who shared these 
moving incidents without a tremor ; and yet Faria 
is a thing of packthread and Dantes little more than 
a name. The sequel is one long-drawn error, gloomy, 
bloody, unnatural, and dull ; but as for these early 
chapters, I do not believe there is another volume 
extant where you can breathe the same unmingled 
atmosphere of romance. It is very thin and light, 
to be sure, as on a high mountain ; but it is brisk 
and clear and sunny in proportion. I saw the other 
day, with envy, an old and very clever lady setting 
forth on a second or third voyage into Monte Crista. 
Here are stories which poAverfully affect the reader, 


which can be reperused at any age, and where the 
characters are no more than puppets. The bony fist 
of the showman visibly propels them ; their springs 
are an open secret ; their faces are of wood, their 
bellies filled with bran ; and yet we thriUingly partake 
of their adventures. And the point may be illus- 
trated still further. The last interview between 
Lucy and Richard Feverel is pure drama ; more 
than that, it is the strongest scene, since Shakespeare, 
in the English tongue. Their first meeting by the 
river, on the other hand, is pure romance ; it has 
nothing to do with character ; it might happen to 
any other boy and maiden, and be none the less 
delightful for the change. And yet I think he would 
be a bold man who should choose between these 
passages. Thus, in the same book, we may have 
two scenes, each capital in its order : in the one, 
human passion, deep calling unto deep, shall utter 
its genuine voice ; in the second, according circum- 
stances, Hke instruments in tune, shall build up a 
trivial but desirable incident, such as we love to pre- 
figure for ourselves ; and in the end, in spite of the 
critics, we may hesitate to give the preference to 
either. The one may ask more genius — 1 do not say 
it does ; but at least the other dwells as clearly 
in the memory. 

True romantic art, again, makes a romance of all 
things. It reaches into the highest abstraction of 
the ideal ; it does not refuse the most pedestrian 
realism. Robinson Crusoe is as reahstic as it is 
romantic ; both qualities are pushed to an extreme, 



and neither suffers. Nor does romance depend upon 
the material importance of the incidents. To deal 
with strong and deadly elements, banditti, pirates, 
war and murder, is to conjure with great names, and, 
in the event of failure, to double the disgrace. The 
arrival of Haydn and Consuelo at the Canon's villa 
is a very trifling incident ; yet we may read a dozen 
boisterous stories from beginning to end, and not 
receive so fresh and stirring an impression of adven- 
ture. It was the scene of Crusoe at the wreck, if I 
remember rightly, that so bewitched my blacksmith. 
Nor is the fact surprising. Every single article the 
castaway recovers from the hulk is 'a joy for ever ' 
to the man who reads of them. They are the things 
that should be found, and the bare enumeration stirs 
the blood. I found a glinmier of the same interest 
the other day in a new book. The Sailoi^'s Sweet- 
heart, by Mr. Clark Russell. The whole business of 
the brig Mornifig Star is very rightly felt and 
spiritedly written ; but the clothes, the books, and 
the money satisfy the reader's mind like things to 
eat. We are dealing here with the old cut-and-dry, 
legitimate interest of treasure-trove. But even 
treasure-trove can be made dull. There are few 
people who have not groaned under the plethora of 
goods that fell to the lot of the Swiss Family Robin- 
son, that dreary family. They found article after 
article, creature after creature, from milk-kine to 
pieces of ordnance, a whole consignment; but no 
informing taste had presided over the selection, there 
was no smack or relish in the invoice; and these 


riches left the fancy cold. The box of goods in 
Verne's Mysterious Island is another case in point : 
there was no gusto and no glamour about that ; it 
might have come from a shop. But the two-hundred 
and seventy-eight Australian sovereigns on board the 
Morning Star fell upon me like a surprise that I had 
expected ; whole vistas of secondary stories, besides 
the one in hand, radiated forth from that discovery, 
as they radiate from a striking particular in life ; and 
I was made for the moment as happy as a reader has 
the right to be. 

To come at all at the nature of this quality of 
romance, we must bear in mind the pecuharity of 
our attitude to any art. No art produces illusion ; 
in the theatre we never forget that we are in the 
theatre ; and while we read a story, we sit wavering 
between two minds, now merely clapping our hands 
at the merit of the performance, now condescending 
to take an active part in fancy with the characters. 
This last is the triumph of romantic story-telling : 
when the reader consciously plays at being the hero, 
the scene is a good scene. Now in character-studies 
the pleasure that we take is critical ; we watch, we 
approve, we smile at incongruities, we are moved to 
sudden heats of sympathy with courage, suffering, or 
virtue. But the characters are still themselves, they 
are not us ; the more clearly they are depicted, the 
more widely do they stand away from us, the more 
imperiously do they thrust us back into our place as 
a spectator. I cannot identify myself with Rawdon 
Crawley or with Eugene de Rastignac, for I have 



scarce a hope or fear in common with them. It is 
not character but incident that woos us out of our 
reserve. Something happens as we desire to have it 
happen to ourselves ; some situation, that we have 
long dallied with in fancy, is realised in the story 
with enticing and appropriate details. Then we 
forget the characters ; then we push the hero aside ; 
then we plunge into the tale in our own person and 
bathe in fresh experience ; and then, and then only, 
do we say we have been reading a romance. It is 
not only pleasurable things that we imagine in our 
day-dreams ; there are lights in which we are willing 
to contemplate even the idea of our own death ; 
ways in which it seems as if it would amuse us 
to be cheated, wounded, or calumniated. It is thus 
possible to construct a story, even of tragic import, 
in which every incident, detail, and trick of circum- 
stance shall be welcome to the reader's thoughts. 
Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the 
child ; it is there that he changes the atmosphere 
and tenor of his life ; and when the game so 
chimes with his fancy that he can join in it with 
all his heart, when it pleases him with every turn, 
when he loves to recall it and dwells upon its 
recollection with entire delight, fiction is called 

Walter Scott is out and away the king of the 
romantics. The Lady of the Lake has no indisput- 
able claim to be a poem beyond the inherent fitness 
and desirability of the tale. It is just such a story as 
a man would make up for himself, walking, in the 


best health and temper, through just such scenes as 
it is laid in. Hence it is that a charm dwells unde- 
finable among these slovenly verses, as the unseen 
cuckoo fills the mountains with his note ; hence, even 
after we have flung the book aside, the scenery and 
adventures remain present to the mind, a new and 
green possession, not unworthy of that beautiful 
name. The Lady of the Lake, or that direct, romantic 
opening — one of the most spirited and poetical in 
literature — ' The stag at eve had drunk his fill.' The 
same strength and the same weaknesses adorn and 
disfigure the novels. In that ill-written, ragged 
book. The Pirate, the figure of Cleveland — cast up 
by the sea on the resounding foreland of Dunross- 
ness — moving, with the blood on his hands and the 
Spanish words on his tongue, among the simple 
islanders — singing a serenade under the window of his 
Shetland mistress — is conceived in the very highest 
manner of romantic invention. The words of his 
song, ' Through groves of palm,' sung in such a 
scene and by such a lover, clinch, as in a nutshell, 
the emphatic contrast upon which the tale is 

In Guy Mannering, again, every incident is 
dehghtful to the imagination ; and the scene when 
Harry Bertram lands at Ellangowan is a model 
instance of romantic method. 

' " I remember the tune well," he says, " though I 
cannot guess what should at present so strongly 
recall it to my memory." He took his flageolet from 
his pocket and played a simple melody. Apparently 



the tune awoke the corresponding associations of 
a damsel. . . . She immediately took up the 
song — 

' '■ Are these the Hnks of Forth, she said ; 
Or are they the crooks of Dee, 
Or the bonny woods of Warroch Head 
That I so fain would see ?" 

'"By heaven!' said Bertram, "it is the very 

On this quotation two remarks fall to be made. 
First, as an instance of modern feeling for romance, 
this famous touch of the flageolet and the old song 
is selected by Miss Braddon for omission. Miss 
Braddon's idea of a story, Hke Mrs. Todgers's idea 
of a wooden leg, were something strange to have 
expounded. As a matter of personal experience, 
Meg's appearance to old Mr. Bertram on the road, 
the ruins of Derncleugh, the scene of the flageolet, 
and the Dominie's recognition of Harry, are the four 
strong notes that continue to ring in the mind after 
the book is laid aside. The second point is still 
more curious. The reader will observe a mark of 
excision in the passage as quoted by me. Well, here 
is how it runs in the original : ' a damsel, who, close 
behind a fine spring about half-way down the descent, 
and which had once supplied the castle with water, 
was engaged in bleaching linen.' A man who gave 
in such copy would be discharged from the staff" of 
a daily paper. Scott has forgotten to prepare the 
reader for the presence of the ' damsel'; he has for- 
gotten to mention the spring and its relation to 


the ruin ; and now, face to face with his omission, 
instead of trying back and starting fair, crams all this 
matter, tail foremost, into a single shambling sentence. 
It is not merely bad English, or bad style; it is 
abominably bad narrative besides. 

Certainly the contrast is remarkable ; and it is one 
that throws a strong light upon the subject of this 
paper. For here we have a man of the finest creative 
instinct touching with perfect certainty and charm 
the romantic junctures of his story ; and we find him 
utterly careless, almost, it would seem, incapable, in 
the technical matter of style, and not only frequently 
weak, but frequently wrong in points of drama. 
In character parts, indeed, and particularly in the 
Scots, he was delicate, strong, and truthful ; but the 
trite, obliterated features of too many of his heroes 
have already wearied three generations of readers. 
At times his characters will speak with something far 
beyond propriety — with a true heroic note ; but on 
the next page they will be wading wearily forward 
with an ungrammatical and undramatic rigmarole of 
words. The man who could conceive and write the 
character of Elspeth of the Craigburnfoot, as Scott 
has conceived and written it, had not only splendid 
romantic but splendid tragic gifts. How comes it, 
then, that he could so often fob us off with languid, 
inarticulate twaddle ? It seems to me that the ex- 
planation is to be found in the very quahty of his 
surprising merits. As his books are play to the 
reader, so were they play to him. He was a great 
day-dreamer, a seer of fit and beautiful and humorous 



visions, but hardly a great artist. He conjured up 
the romantic with delight, but had hardly patience 
to describe it. Of the pleasures of his art he 
tasted fully ; but of its cares and scruples and 
distresses never man knew less. 



We have recently enjoyed a quite peculiar pleasure: 
hearing, in some detail, the opinions, about the art 
they practise, of Mr. Walter Besant and Mr. Heniy 
James ; two men certainly of very different cahbre : 
Mr. James so precise of outline, so cunning of fence, 
so scrupulous of finish, and Mr. Besant so genial, so 
friendly, with so persuasive and humorous a vein of 
whim : Mr. James the very type of the deliberate 
artist, Mr. Besant the impersonation of good-nature.^ 
That such doctors should differ will excite no great 
surprise ; but one point in which they seem to agree 
fills me, I confess, with wonder. For they are both 
content to talk about the ' art of fiction ' ; and Mr. 
Besant, waxing exceedingly bold, goes on to oppose 
this so-called 'art of fiction ' to the 'art of poetry.' 
By the art of poetry he can mean nothing but the 

^ This papei% which does not otherwise fit the present volume, is 
reprinted here as the proper continuation of the last. — R. L. S. 

- '^The Art of Fiction/ by Walter Besant; a lecture delivered at the 
Royal Institution, April 25, 1884. 'The Art of Fiction/ by Henry 
James ; Longman's Magazine, September 1884. 



art of verse, an art of handicraft, and only compar- 
able with the art of prose. For that heat and height 
of sane emotion which we agree to call by the name 
of poetry is but a libertine and vagrant quality ; 
present, at times, in any art, more often absent from 
them all ; too seldom present in the prose novel, too 
frequently absent from the ode and epic. Fiction 
is in the same case : it is no substantive art, but 
an element which enters largely into all the arts 
but architecture. Homer, Wordsworth, Phidias, 
Hogarth, and Salvini, all deal in fiction ; and yet I 
do not suppose that either Hogarth or Salvini, to 
mention but these two, entered in any degree into 
the scope of Mr. Besant's interesting lecture or Mr. 
James's charming essay. The art of fiction, then, 
regarded as a definition, is both too ample and too 
scanty. Let me suggest another; let me suggest 
that what both Mr. James and Mr. Besant had in 
view was neither more nor less than the art of 

But Mr. Besant is anxious to speak solely of ' the 
modern English novel,' the stay and bread-winner of 
Mr. Mudie ; and in the author of the most pleasing 
novel on that roll. All So7^ts and Conditions of Men, 
the desire is natural enough. I can conceive then, 
that he would hasten to propose two additions, and 
read thus : the art oi fictitious narrative in prose. 

Now the fact of the existence of the modern 

English novel is not to be denied ; materially, with 

its three volumes, leaded type, and gilded lettering, 

it is easily distinguishable from other forms of litera- 



ture ; but to talk at all fruitfully of any branch of 
art, it is needful to build our definitions on some 
more fundamental ground than binding. Why, then, 
are we to add ' in prose ' ? The Odyssey appears to 
me the best of romances ; The Lady of the Lake to 
stand high in the second order ; and Chaucer's tales 
and prologues to contain more of the matter and art 
of the modern English novel than the whole treasury 
of Mr. Mudie. Whether a narrative be written in 
blank verse or the Spenserian stanza, in the long 
period of Gibbon or the chipped phrase of Charles 
Reade, the principles of the art of narrative must be 
equally observed. The choice of a noble and swell- 
ing style in prose affects the problem of narration 
in the same way, if not to the same degree, as the 
choice of measured verse ; for both imply a closer 
synthesis of events, a higher key of dialogue, and a 
more picked and stately strain of words. If you are 
to refuse D071 Juan, it is hard to see why you should 
include Zanoni or (to bracket works of very different 
value) The Scarlet Letter ; and by what discrimina- 
tion are you to open your doors to The Pilgrims 
Progress and close them on The Faery Queeni 
To bring things closer home, I will here propound 
to Mr. Besant a conundrum. A narrative called 
Paradise Lost was written in English verse by one 
John Milton ; what was it then ? It was next 
translated by Chateaubriand into French prose ; 
and what was it then ? Lastly, the French trans- 
lation was, by some inspired compatriot of George 
Gilfillan (and of mine) turned bodily into an English 



novel ; and, in the name of clearness, what was it 

But, once more, why should we add ' fictitious ' ? 
The reason why is obvious. The reason why not, if 
something more recondite, does not want for weight. 
The art of narrative, in fact, is the same, whether it 
is applied to the selection and illustration of a real 
series of events or of an imaginary series. Boswell's 
Life of Johnson, a work of cunning and inimitable 
art, owes its success to the same technical manoeuvres 
as (let us say) Tom Jones : the clear conception of 
certain characters of man, the choice and presenta- 
tion of certain incidents out of a great number that 
offered, and the invention (yes, invention) and pre- 
servation of a certain key in dialogue. In which 
these things are done with the more art — in which 
with the greater air of nature — readers will differ- 
ently judge. Boswell's is, indeed, a very special 
case, and almost a generic ; but it is not only in 
Boswell, it is in every biography with any salt of 
life, it is in every history where events and men, 
rather than ideas, are presented — in Tacitus, in 
Carlyle, in Michelet, in Macaulay — that the novelist 
will find many of his own methods most conspicu- 
ously and adroitly handled. He will find besides 
that he, who is free — who has the right to invent 
or steal a missing incident, who has the right, more 
precious still, of wholesale omission — is frequently 
defeated, and, with all his advantages, leaves a less 
strong impression of reality and passion. Mr. James 
utters his mind with a becoming fervour on the 


sanctity of truth to the novelist ; on a more careful 
examination truth will seem a word of very debate- 
able propriety, not only for the labours of the 
novelist, but for those of the historian. No art — to 
use the daring phrase of Mr. James — can success- 
fully ' compete with life ' ; and the art that seeks to 
do so is condemned to perish montibus aviis. Life 
goes before us, infinite in complication ; attended by 
the most various and surprising meteors ; appealing 
at once to the eye, to the ear, to the mind — the seat 
of wonder ; to the touch — so thrillingly delicate ; and 
to the belly — so imperious when starved. It com- 
bines and employs in its manifestation the method 
and material, not of one art only, but of all the arts. 
Music is but an arbitrary trifling with a few of life's 
majestic chords ; painting is but a shadow of its 
pageantry of light and colour ; literature does but 
drily indicate that wealth of incident, of moral obli- 
gation, of virtue, vice, action, rapture, and agony, 
with which it teems. To 'compete with hfe,' whose 
sun we cannot look upon, whose passions and diseases 
waste and slay us — to compete with the flavour of 
wine, the beauty of the dawn, the scorching of fire, 
the bitterness of death and separation — here is, 
indeed, a projected escalade of heaA^en ; here are, 
indeed, labours for a Hercules in a dress coat, armed 
with a pen and a dictionary to depict the passions, 
armed with a tube of superior flake-white to paint 
the portrait of the insufferable sun. No art is true 
in this sense : none can ' compete with life ' : not 
even history, built indeed of indisputable facts, but 



these facts robbed of their vivacity and sting; so 
that even when we read of the sack of a city or the 
fall of an empire, we are surprised, and justly com- 
mend the author's talent, if our pulse be quickened. 
And mark, for a last differentia, that this quickening 
of the pulse is, in almost every case, purely agree- 
able ; that these phantom reproductions of experi- 
ence, even at their most acute, convey decided 
pleasure ; while experience itself, in the cockpit of 
life, can torture and slay. 

What, then, is the object, what the method, of an 
art, and what the source of its power ? The whole 
secret is that no art does ' compete with life.' Man's 
one method, whether he reasons or creates, is to 
half-shut his eyes against the dazzle and confusion 
of reality. The arts, like arithmetic and geometry, 
turn away their eyes from the gross, coloured and 
mobile nature at our feet, and regard instead a 
certain figmentary abstraction. Geometry will tell 
us of a circle, a thing never seen in nature ; asked 
about a green circle or an iron circle, it lays its hand 
upon its mouth. So with the arts. Painting, rue- 
fully comparing sunshine and flake-white, gives up 
truth of colour, as it had already given up relief 
and movement; and instead of vying with nature, 
arranges a scheme of harmonious tints. Literature, 
above all in its most typical mood, the mood of 
narrative, similarly flees the direct challenge and 
pursues instead an independent and creative aim. 
So far as it imitates at all, it imitates not life but 
speech : not the facts of human destiny, but the 


emphasis and the suppressions with which the human 
actor tells of them. The real art that dealt with life 
directly was that of the first men who told their 
stories round the savage camp-fire. Our art is occu- 
pied, and bound to be occupied, not so much in 
making stories true as in making them typical ; not 
so much in capturing the lineaments of each fact, as 
in marshalling all of them towards a common end. 
For the welter of impressions, all forcible but all 
discrete, which life presents, it substitutes a certain 
artificial series of impressions, all indeed most feebly 
represented, but all aiming at the same effect, all 
eloquent of the same idea, all chiming together like 
consonant notes in music or like the graduated tints 
in a good picture. From all its chapters, from all its 
pages, from all its sentences, the well-written novel 
echoes and re-echoes its one creative and controlling 
thought ; to this must every incident and character 
contribute ; the style must have been pitched in 
unison with this ; and if there is anywhere a word 
that looks another way, the book would be stronger, 
clearer, and (I had almost said) fuller without it. 
Life is monstrous, infinite, illogical, abrupt and 
poignant ; a work of art, in comparison, is neat, 
finite, self-contained, rational, flowing and emascu- 
late. Life imposes by brute energy, like inarticulate 
thunder ; art catches the ear, among the far louder 
noises of experience, like an air artificially made by 
a discreet musician. A proposition of geometry 
does not compete with life ; and a proposition of 
geometry is a fair and luminous parallel for a work 
s 273 


of art. Both are reasonable, both untrue to the 
crude fact ; both inhere in nature, neither represents 
it. The novel, which is a work of art, exists, not 
by its resemblances to life, which are forced and 
material, as a shoe must still consist of leather, but 
by its immeasurable difference from life, a difference 
which is designed and significant, and is both the 
method and the meaning of the work. 

The life of man is not the subject of novels, but 
the inexhaustible magazine from which subjects are 
to be selected ; the name of these is legion ; and 
with each new subject — for here again I must differ 
by the whole width of heaven from Mr. James — the 
true artist will vary his method and change the point 
of attack. That which was in one case an excel- 
lence, will become a defect in another ; what was 
the making of one book, will in the next be im- 
pertinent or dull. First each novel, and then each 
class of novels, exists by and for itself. I will take, 
for instance, three main classes, which are fairly 
distinct : first, the novel of adventure, which ap- 
peals to certain almost sensual and quite illogical 
tendencies in man ; second, the novel of character, 
which appeals to our intellectual appreciation of 
man's foibles and mingled and inconstant motives ; 
and third, the dramatic novel, which deals with the 
same stuff as the serious theatre, and appeals to 
our emotional nature and moral judgment. 

And first for the novel of adventure. Mr. James 
refers, with singular generosity of praise, to a little 
book about a quest for hidden treasure ; but he lets 


fall, by the way, some rather startling words. In 
this book he misses what he calls the 'immense 
luxury ' of being able to quarrel with his author. 
The luxury, to most of us, is to lay by our judg- 
ment, to be submerged by the tale as by a billow, 
and only to awake, and begin to distinguish and find 
fault, when the piece is over and the volume laid 
aside. Still more remarkable is Mr. James's reason. 
He cannot criticise the author as he goes, ' because,' 
says he, comparing it with another work, */ have 
beeU' a child, hut I have never been on a quest for 
buried treasure.' Here is, indeed, a wilful paradox ; 
for if he has never been on a quest for buried 
treasure, it can be demonstrated that he has never 
been a child. There never was a child (unless 
Master James) but has hunted gold, and been a 
pirate, and a military commander, and a bandit of 
the mountains ; but has fought, and suifered ship- 
wreck and prison, and imbrued its little hands in 
gore, and gallantly retrieved the lost battle, and 
triumphantly protected innocence and beauty. Else- 
where in his essay Mr. James has protested with 
excellent reason against too narrow a conception of 
experience ; for the born artist, he contends, the 
' faintest hints of life ' are converted into revelations ; 
and it will be found true, I believe, in a majority 
of cases, that the artist writes with more gusto and 
effect of those things which he has only wished to 
do, than of those which he has done. Desire is a 
wonderful telescope, and Pisgah the best observatory. 
Now, while it is true that neither Mr. James nor 



the author of the work in question has ever, in the 
fleshly sense, gone questing after gold, it is probable 
that both have ardently desired and fondly imagined 
the details of such a life in youthful day-dreams ; 
and the author, counting upon that, and well aware 
(cunning and low-minded man !) that this class of 
interest, having been frequently treated, finds a 
readily accessible and beaten road to the sympathies 
of the reader, addressed himself throughout to the 
building up and circumstantiation of this boyish 
dream. Character to the boy is a sealed book ; for 
him, a pirate is a beard, a pair of wide trousers and 
a liberal complement of pistols. The author, for the 
sake of circumstantiation and because he was himself 
more or less grown up, admitted character, within 
certain limits, into his design ; but only within 
certain limits. Had the same puppets figured in a 
scheme of another sort, they had been drawn to very 
diJfferent purpose ; for in this elementary novel of 
adventure, the characters need to be presented with 
but one class of qualities — the warlike and formid- 
able. So as they appear insidious in deceit and fatal 
in the combat, they have served their end. Danger 
is the matter with which this class of novel deals ; 
fear, the passion with which it idly trifles ; and the 
characters are portrayed only so far as they realise 
the sense of danger and provoke the sympathy of 
fear. To add more traits, to be too clever, to start 
the hare of moral or intellectual interest while we 
are running the fox of material interest, is not to 
enrich but to stultify your tale. The stupid reader 


will only be offended, and the clever reader lose the 

The novel of character has this difference from all 
others : that it requires no coherency of plot, and for 
this reason, as in the case of Gil Bias, it is some- 
times called the novel of adventure. It turns on 
the humours of the persons represented ; these are, 
to be sure, embodied in incidents, but the incidents 
themselves, being tributary, need not march in a 
progression ; and the characters may be statically 
shown. As they enter, so they may go out ; they 
must be consistent, but thfey need not grow. Here 
Mr. James will recognise the note of much of his 
own work : he treats, for the most part, the statics 
of character, studying it at rest or only gently 
moved ; and, with his usual deUcate and just artistic 
instinct, he avoids those stronger passions which 
would deform the attitudes he loves to study, and 
change his sitters from the humourists of ordinary life 
to the brute forces and bare types of more emotional 
moments. In his recent Author of Beltraffio, so 
just in conception, so nimble and neat in workman- 
ship, strong passion is indeed employed ; but observe 
that it is not displayed. Even in the heroine the 
working of the passion is suppressed ; and the great 
struggle, the true tragedy, the scene a faire, passes 
unseen behind the panels of a locked door. The 
delectable invention of the young visitor is intro- 
duced, consciously or not, to this end : that Mr. 
James, true to his method, might avoid the scene of 
passion. I trust no reader will suppose me guilty of 



undervaluing this little masterpiece. I mean merely 
that it belongs to one marked class of novel, and 
that it would have been very differently conceived 
and treated had it belonged to that other marked 
class, of w^hich I now^ proceed to speak. 

I take pleasure in calling the dramatic novel by 
that name, because it enables me to point out by the 
way a strange and pecuharly English misconception. 
It is sometimes supposed that the drama consists of 
incident. It consists of passion, which gives the 
actor his opportunity ; and that passion must pro- 
gressively increase, or the actor, as the piece pro- 
ceeded, would be unable to carry the audience from 
a lower to a higher pitch of interest and emotion. 
A good serious play must therefore be founded on 
one of the passionate cruces of life, where duty and 
inchnation come nobly to the grapple ; and the same 
is true of what I call, for that reason, the dramatic 
novel. I wiU instance a few worthy specimens, all 
of our own day and language : Meredith's Rhoda 
Fleming, that wonderful and painful book, long out 
of print,^ and hunted for at bookstalls like an Aldine; 
Hardy's Pai?^ of Blue Eyes ; and two of Charles 
Reade's, Griffith Gaunt and The Double Marriage, 
originally called White Lies, and founded (by an 
accident quaintly favourable to my nomenclature) on 
a play by Maquet, the partner of the great Dumas. 
In this kind of novel the closed door of The Author 
of Beltraffio must be broken open ; passion must 
appear upon the scene and utter its last word ; 

1 Now no longer so^ thank Heaven ! 


passion is the be-all and the end-all, the plot and the 
solution, the protagonist and the deus eoc machind in 
one. The characters may come anyhow upon the 
stage : we do not care ; the point is, that, before 
they leave it, they shall become transfigured and 
raised out of themselves by passion. It may be part 
of the design to draw them with detail ; to depict a 
full-length character, and then behold it melt and 
change in the furnace of emotion. But there is no 
obhgation of the sort ; nice portraiture is not re- 
quired ; and we are content to accept mere abstract 
types, so they be strongly and sincerely moved. 
A novel of this class may be even great, and yet 
contain no individual figure ; it may be great, because 
it displays the workings of the perturbed heart and 
the impersonal utterance of passion ; and with an 
artist of the second class it is, indeed, even more 
likely to be great, when the issue has thus been 
narrowed and the whole force of the writer's mind 
directed to passion alone. Cleverness again, which 
has its fair field in the novel of character, is debarred 
all entry upon this more solemn theatre. A far- 
fetched motive, an ingenious evasion of the issue, a 
witty instead of a passionate turn, offend us like an 
insincerity. All should be plain, all straightforward 
to the end. Hence it is that, in Rhoda Fleming, 
Mrs. Lovel raises such resentment in the reader ; her 
motives are too flimsy, her ways are too equivocal, 
for the weight and strength of her surroundings. 
Hence the hot indignation of the reader when 
Balzac, after having begun the Duchesse de Langeais 



in terms of strong if somewhat swollen passion, cuts 
the knot by the derangement of the hero's clock. 
Such personages and incidents belong to the novel 
of character ; they are out of place in the high 
society of the passions ; when the passions are intro- 
duced in art at their full height, we look to see them, 
not baffled and impotently striving, as in life, but 
towering above circumstance and acting substitutes 
for fate. 

And here I can imagine Mr. James, with his lucid 
sense, to intervene. To much of what I have said 
he would apparently demur ; in much he would, 
somewhat impatiently, acquiesce. It may be true ; 
but it is not what he desired to say or to hear said. 
He spoke of the finished picture and its worth when 
done ; I, of the brushes, the palette, and the north 
light. He uttered his views in the tone and for 
the ear of good society ; I, with the emphasis and 
technicalities of the obtrusive student. But the 
point, I may reply, is not merely to amuse the 
public, but to offer helpful advice to the young 
writer. And the young writer wiU not so much be 
helped by genial pictures of what an art may aspire 
to at its highest, as by a true idea of what it must 
be on the lowest terms. The best that we can say 
to him is this : Let him choose a motive, whether of 
character or passion ; carefully construct his plot so 
that every incident is an illustration of the motive, 
and every property employed shall bear to it a near 
relation of congruity or contrast ; avoid a sub-plot, 
unless, as sometimes in Shakespeare, the sub-plot be 


a reversion or complement of the main intrigue ; 
suffer not his style to flag below the level of the 
argument; pitch the key of conversation, not with 
any thought of how men talk in parlours, but with 
a single eye to the degree of passion he may be 
called on to express ; and allow neither himself in 
the narrative, nor any character in the course of the 
dialogue, to utter one sentence that is not part and 
parcel of the business of the story or the discussion 
of the problem involved. Let him not regret if this 
shortens his book ; it will be better so ; for to add 
irrelevant matter is not to lengthen but to bury. 
Let him not mind if he miss a thousand qualities, so 
that he keeps unflaggingly in pursuit of the one he 
has chosen. Let him not care particularly if he 
miss the tone of conversation, the pungent material 
detail of the day's manners, the reproduction of the 
atmosphere and the environment. These elements 
are not essential : a novel may be excellent, and yet 
have none of them ; a passion or a character is so 
much the better depicted as it rises clearer from 
material circumstance. In this age of the particular, 
let him remember the ages of the abstract, the great 
books of the past, the brave men that lived before 
Shakespeare and before Balzac. And as the root of 
the whole matter, let him bear in mind that his novel 
is not a transcript of life, to be judged by its exacti- 
tude ; but a simplification of some side or point of 
life, to stand or fall by its significant simplicity. 
For although, in great men, working upon great 
motives, what we observe and admire is often their 



complexity, yet underneath appearances the truth 
remains unchanged : that simplification was their 
method, and that simplicity is their excellence. 


Since the above was written another novelist has 
entered repeatedly the lists of theory : one well 
worthy of mention, Mr. W. D. Howells ; and none 
ever couched a lance with narrower convictions. 
His own work and those of his pupils and masters 
singly occupy his mind ; he is the bondslave, the 
zealot of his school ; he dreams of an advance in art 
like what there is in science ; he thinks of past things 
as radically dead ; he thinks a form can be outlived : 
a strange immersion in his own history ; a strange 
forgetfulness of the history of the race ! Meanwhile, 
by a glance at his own works (could he see them 
with the eager eyes of his readers) much of this 
illusion would be dispelled. For while he holds all 
the poor little orthodoxies of the day — no poorer and 
no smaller than those of yesterday or to-morrow, 
poor and small, indeed, only so far as they are ex- 
clusive — the living quality of much that he has done 
is of a contrary, 1 had almost said of a heretical, 
complexion. A man, as I read him, of an originally 
strong romantic bent — a certain glow of romance 
still resides in many of his books, and lends them 
their distinction. As by accident he runs out and 
revels in the exceptional ; and it is then, as often as 
not, that his reader rejoices—justly, as I contend. 


For in all this excessive eagerness to be centrally 
human, is there not one central human thing that 
Mr. Howells is too often tempted to neglect: I 
mean himself? A poet, a finished artist, a man in 
love with the appearances of life, a cunning reader 
of the mind, he has other passions and aspirations 
than those he loves to draw. And why should he 
suppress himself and do such reverence to the 
Lemuel Barkers ? The obvious is not of necessity 
the normal ; fashion rules and deforms ; the majority 
fall tamely into the contemporary shape, and thus 
attain, in the eyes of the true observer, only a higher 
power of insignificance ; and the danger is lest, in 
seeking to draw the normal, a man should draw the 
null, and write the novel of society instead of the 
romance of man. 





First collected {with other Essays) in 'Across 
the Plains': Ghatto and Windus, 1892. 

Originally published : 

I. Scrihner's Magazine, October 1 888. 
II. Ibid., November 1888. 

III. Ibid., January 1888. 

IV. Ibid., March 1888. 

V. Ibid., February 1888. 




I. Random Memories 

I. The Coast of Fife . . .289 

II. Random Memories 

II. The Education of an Engineer . 304 

III. A Chapter on Dreams . . .317 

IV. Beggars ..... 335 
V. The Lantern-Bearers . . . 348 




Many writers have vigorously described the pains of 
the first day or the first night at school ; to a boy of 
any enterprise, I believe, they are more often agree- 
ably exciting. Misery — or at least misery unreHeved 
— is confined to another period, to the days of sus- 
pense and the ' dreadful looking-for ' of departure ; 
when the old Hfe is running to an end, and the new 
life, with its new interests, not yet begun ; and to 
the pain of an imminent parting, there is added the 
unrest of a state of conscious pre-existence. The 
area railings, the beloved shop-window, the smell of 
semi-suburban tanpits, the song of the church-bells 
upon a Sunday, the thin, high voices of compatriot 
children in a playing-field — what a sudden, what an 
over-powering pathos breathes to him from each 
familiar circumstance ! The assaults of sorrow come 
not from within, as it seems to him, but from with- 
out. I was proud and glad to go to school ; had I 
been let alone, I could have borne up like any hero ; 
but there was around me, in all my native town, a 

T 289 


conspiracy of lamentation : ' Poor little boy, he is 
going away — unkind little boy, he is going to leave 
us ' ; so the unspoken burthen followed me as I went, 
with yearning and reproach. And at length, one 
melancholy afternoon in the early autumn, and at 
a place where it seems to me, looking back, it must 
be always autumn and generally Sunday, there came 
suddenly upon the face of all I saw — the long empty 
road, the lines of the tall houses, the church upon the 
hill, the woody hillside garden — a look of such a 
piercing sadness that my heart died ; and seating 
myself on a door-step, I shed tears of miserable 
sympathy. A benevolent cat cumbered me the 
while with consolations — we two were alone in all 
that was visible of the London Koad : two poor waifs 
who had each tasted sorrow — and she fawned upon 
the weeper, and gambolled for his entertainment, 
watching the effect, it seemed, with motherly eyes. 

For the sake of the cat, God bless her ! I confessed 
at home the story of my weakness ; and so it comes 
about that I owed a certain journey, and the reader 
owes the present paper, to a cat in the London Road. 
It was judged, if I had thus brimmed over on 
the public highway, some change of scene was (in 
the medical sense) indicated ; my father at the time 
was visiting the harbour hghts of Scotland ; and it 
was decided that he should take me along with him 
around a portion of the shores of Fife ; my first 
professional tour, my first journey in the complete 
character of man, without the help of petticoats. 

The Kingdom of Fife (that royal province) may 


be observed by the curious on the map, occupying 
a tongue of land between the firths of Forth and 
Tay. It may be continually seen from many parts 
of Edinburgh (among the rest, from the windows of 
my father's house) dying away into the distance and 
the easterly haar with one smoky seaside town 
beyond another, or in winter printing on the grey 
heaven some ghttering hill-tops. It has no beauty 
to recommend it, being a low, sea-salted, wind- vexed 
promontory ; trees very rare, except (as common on 
the east coast) along the dens of rivers ; the fields 
well cultivated, I understand, but not lovely to the 
eye. It is of the coast I speak : the interior may be 
the garden of Eden. History broods over that part 
of the world like the easterly haar. Even on the 
map, its long row of GaeUc place-names bear testi- 
mony to an old and settled race. Of these little 
towns, posted along the shore as close as sedges, each 
with its bit of harbour, its old weather-beaten church 
or public building, its flavour of decayed prosperity 
and decaying fish, not one but has its legend, quaint 
or tragic : Dunfermline, in whose royal towers the 
king may be stiU observed (in the ballad) drinking 
the blood-red wine ; somnolent Inverkeithing, once 
the quarantine of Leith ; Aberdour, hard by the mon- 
astic islet of Inchcolm, hard by Donibristle where the 
' bonny face was spoiled ' ; Burntisland where, when 
Paul Jones was off the coast, the Reverend Mr. 
Shirra had a table carried between tidemarks, and 
publicly prayed against the rover at the pitch of his 
voice and his broad lowland dialect; Kinghorn, 



where Alexander 'brak's neckbane' and left Scot- 
land to the Enghsh wars; Kirkcaldy, where the 
witches once prevailed extremely and sank tall ships 
and honest mariners in the North Sea; Dysart, 
famous— well, famous at least to me for the Dutch 
ships that lay in its harbour, painted hke toys and 
with pots of flowers and cages of song-birds in the 
cabin windows, and for one particular Dutch skipper 
who would sit all day in slippers on the break of the 
poop, smoking a long German pipe ; Wemyss (pro- 
nounce Weems) with its bat-haunted caves, where 
the Chevaher Johnstone, on his flight from Culloden, 
passed a night of superstitious terrors; Leven, a 
bald, quite modern place, sacred to summer visitors, 
whence there has gone but yesterday the tall figure 
and the white locks of the last Enghshman in Delhi, 
my uncle Dr. Balfour, who was still walking his 
hospital rounds while the troopers from Meerut 
clattered and cried ' Deen Deen ' along the streets 
of the imperial city, and Willoughby mustered his 
handful of heroes at the magazine, and the nameless 
brave one in the telegraph office was perhaps already 
fingering his last despatch ; and just a little beyond 
Leven, Largo Law and the smoke of Largo town 
mounting about its feet, the town of Alexander 
Selkirk, better known under the name of Robinson 
Crusoe. So on, the list might be pursued (only for 
private reasons, which the reader will shortly have 
an opportunity to guess) by St. Monans, and 
Pittenweem, and the two Anstruthers, and Cellar- 
dyke, and Crail, where Primate Sharpe was once a 


humble and innocent country minister: on to the 
heel of the land, to Fife Ness, overlooked by a sea- 
wood of matted elders and the quaint old mansion 
of Balcomie, itself overlooking but the breach or the 
quiescence of the deep — the Carr Rock beacon rising 
close in front, and as night draws in, the star of the 
Inchcape reef springing up on the one hand, and the 
star of the May Island on the other, and farther off 
yet a third and a greater on the craggy foreland of 
St. Abb's. And but a httle way round the corner 
of the land, imminent itself above the sea, stands 
the gem of the province and the light of medigeval 
Scotland, St. Andrews, where the great Cardinal 
Beaton held garrison against the world, and the 
second of the name and title perished (as you may 
read in Knox's jeering narrative) under the knives 
of true-blue Protestants, and to this day (after so 
many centuries) the current voice of the professor is 
not hushed. 

Here it was that my first tour of inspection began, 
early on a bleak easterly morning. There was a 
crashing run of sea upon the shore, I recollect, and 
my father and the man of the harbour hght must 
sometimes raise their voices to be audible. Perhaps 
it is from this circumstance, that I always imagine 
St. Andrews to be an ineffectual seat of learning, and 
the sound of the east wind and the bursting surf to 
linger in its drowsy class-rooms and confound the 
utterance of the professor, until teacher and taught 
are alike drowned in oblivion, and only the sea-gull 
beats on the windows and the draught of the sea-air 



rustles in the pages of the open lecture. But upon 
all this, and the romance of St. Andrews in general, 
the reader must consult the works of Mr. Andrew 
Lang ; who has written of it but the other day in his 
dainty prose and with his incommunicable humour, 
and long ago, in one of his best poems, with grace 
and local truth and a note of unaffected pathos. 
]Mr. Lang knows all about the romance, I say, and 
the educational advantages, but I doubt if he had 
turned his attention to the harbour lights ; and it 
may be news even to him, that in the year 1863 their 
case was pitiable. Hanging about with the east 
wind humming in my teeth, and my hands (I make 
no doubt) in my pockets, I looked for the first time 
upon that tragi-comedy of the visiting engineer 
which I have seen so often re-enacted on a more 
important stage. Eighty years ago, I find my 
grandfather writing : 'It is the most painful thing 
that can occur to me to have a correspondence of 
this kind with any of the keepers, and when I come 
to the Light House, instead of having the satisfac- 
tion to meet them with approbation and welcome 
their Family, it is distressing when one is obliged to 
put on a most angry countenance and demeanour." 
This painful obligation has been hereditary in my 
race. I have myself, on a perfectly amateur and 
unauthorised inspection of Turnberry Point, bent 
my brows upon the keeper on the question of storm- 
panes ; and felt a keen pang of self-reproach, when 
we went downstairs again and I found he was making 
a coffin for his infant child ; and then regained my 


equanimity with the thought that I had done the 
iTian a service, and when the proper inspector came, 
he would be readier with his panes. The human 
race is perhaps credited with more duphcity than it 
deserves. The visitation of a Hghthouse at least is a 
business of the most transparent nature. As soon 
as the boat grates on the shore, and the keepers step 
forward in their uniformed coats, the very slouch of 
the fellows' shoulders tells their story, and the engi- 
neer may begin at once to assume his ' angry coun- 
tenance.' Certainly the brass of the handrail will 
be clouded; and if the brass be not immaculate, 
certainly all will be to match — the reflectors scratched, 
the spare lamp unready, the storm-panes in the 
storehouse. If a hght is not rather more than mid- 
dling good, it will be radically bad. Mediocrity 
(except in hterature) appears to be unattainable by 
man. But of course the unfortunate of St. Andrews 
was only an amateur, he was not in the Service, he 
had no uniform coat, he was, I believe, a plumber 
by his trade and stood (in the mediaeval phrase) quite 
out of the danger of my father ; but he had a painful 
interview for all that, and perspired extremely. 

From St. Andrews, we drove over Magus Muir. 
My father had announced we were ' to post,' and the 
phrase called up in my hopeful mind visions of top- 
boots and the pictures in Rowlandson's Dance of 
Death ; but it was only a jinghng cab that came to 
the inn door, such as I had driven in a thousand 
times at the low price of one shilling on the streets 
of Edinburgh. Beyond this disappointment, I re- 



member nothing of that drive. It is a road I have 
often travelled, and of not one of these jomiieys do 
I remember any single trait. The fact has not been 
suffered to encroach on the truth of the imagination. 
I still see Magus Muir two hundred years ago : a 
desert place, quite unenclosed ; in the midst, the 
primate's carriage fleeing at the gallop ; the assassins 
loose-reined in pursuit, Burley Balfour, pistol in 
hand, among the first. No scene of history has ever 
written itself so deeply on my mind ; not because 
Balfour, that questionable zealot, was an ancestral 
cousin of my own ; not because of the pleadings of 
the victim and his daughter ; not even because of 
the live bum-bee that flew out of Sharpe's 'bacco- 
box, thus clearly indicating his complicity with 
Satan ; nor merely because, as it was after all a crime 
of a fine religious flavour, it figured in Sunday books 
and afforded a grateful relief from Ministei^ing Chil- 
dren or the Me})ioirs of Wlrs. Katherine Winslowe. 
The figure that always fixed my attention is that of 
Hackston of Rathillet, sitting in the saddle with his 
cloak about his mouth, and through all that long, 
bungling, vociferous hurly-burly, revolving privately 
a case of conscience. He would take no hand in the 
deed, because he had a private spite against the 
victim, and ' that action ' must be sulhed with no 
suggestion of a worldly motive ; on the other hand, 
* that action ' in itself was highly justified, he had 
cast in liis lot with ' the actors,' and he must stay 
there, inactive, but pubhcly sharing the responsi- 
bihty. 'You are a gentleman — you will protect 


me!' cried the wounded old man, crawling towards 
tiim. ' I will never lay a hand on you,' said Hack- 
ston, and put his cloak about his mouth. It is an 
old temptation with me to pluck away that cloak 
and see the face — to open that bosom and to read 
the heart. With incomplete romances about Hack- 
ston, the drawers of my youth were lumbered. I 
read him up in every printed book that I could lay 
my hands on. I even dug among the Wodrow 
manuscripts, sitting shame-faced in the very room 
where my hero had been tortured two centuries 
before, and keenly conscious of my youth in the 
midst of other and (as I fondly thought) more gifted 
students. All was vain : that he had passed a 
riotous nonage, that he was a zealot, that he twice 
displayed (compared with his grotesque companions) 
some tincture of soldierly resolution and even of 
mihtary common sense, and that he figured memor- 
ably in the scene on Magus Muir, so much and no 
more could I make out. But whenever I cast my 
eyes backward, it is to see him like a landmark on 
the plains of history, sitting with his cloak about his 
mouth, inscrutable. How small a thing creates an 
immortahty ! I do not think he can have been a 
man entirely commonplace ; but had he not thrown 
his cloak about his mouth, or had the witnesses 
forgot to chronicle the action, he would not thus 
have haunted the imagination of my boyhood, and 
to-day he would scarce delay me for a paragraph. 
An incident, at once romantic and dramatic, which 
at once awakes the judgment and makes a picture 



for the eye, how Httle do we reahse its perdurable 
power ! Perhaps no one does so but the author, just 
as none but lie appreciates the influence of jinghng 
words ; so that he looks on upon life, with some- 
thing of a covert smile, seeing people led by what 
they fancy to be thoughts and what are really the 
accustomed artifices of his own trade, or roused by 
what they take to be principles and are really pictur- 
esque effects. In a pleasant book about a school- 
class club. Colonel Fergusson has recently told a 
httle anecdote. A ' Philosophical Society ' was 
formed by soixie Academy boys — among them. 
Colonel Fergusson himself, Fleeming Jenkin, and 
Andrew Wilson, the Christian Buddhist and author 
of The Abode of Snow. Before these learned pundits, 
one member laid the following ingenious problem : 
*What would be the result of putting a pound of 
potassium in a pot of porter V 'I should think there 
would be a number of interesting bi-products,' said a 
smatterer at my elbow ; but for me the tale itself has 
a bi-product, and stands as a type of much that is 
most human. For this inquirer, who conceived him- 
self to burn with a zeal entirely chemical, was really 
immersed in a design of a quite different nature : un- 
consciously to his own recently breeched intelligence, 
he was engaged in hterature. Putting, pound, potas- 
sium, pot, porter ; initial p, mediant t — that was his 
idea, poor little boy ! So with pohtics and that which 
excites men in the present, so with history and that 
which rouses them in the past : there he, at the root 
of what appears, most serious unsuspected elements. 


The triple town of Anstruther Wester, Anstruther 
Easter, and Cellardyke, all three Royal Burghs — or 
two Royal Burghs and a less distinguished suburb, I 
forget wliich — Ues continuously along the seaside, 
and boasts of either two or three separate parish 
churches, and either two or three separate harbours. 
These ambiguities are painful ; but the fact is (al- 
though it argues me uncultured), I am but poorly 
posted up on Cellardyke. My business lay in the 
two Anstruthers. A tricklet of a stream divides 
them, spanned by a bridge ; and over the bridge at 
the time of my knowledge, the celebrated Shell 
House stood outpost on the west. This had been 
the residence of an agreeable eccentric ; during his 
fond tenancy, he had illustrated the outer walls, as 
high (if I remember rightly) as the roof, with elabo- 
rate patterns and pictures, and snatches of verse in 
the vein of ea^egi monumentum ; shells and pebbles, 
artfully contrasted and conjoined, had been his 
medium ; and I hke to think of him standing back 
upon the bridge, when all was finished, drinking in 
the general effect, and (hke Gibbon) already lament- 
ing his employment. 

The same bridge saw another sight in the seven- 
teenth century. Mr. Thomson, the * curat ' of 
Anstruther Easter, was a man highly obnoxious to 
the devout : in the first place, because he was a 
' cm-at '; in the second place, because he was a person 
of irregular and scandalous life ; and in the third 
place, because he was generally suspected of deaHngs 
with the Enemy of Man. These three disquahfica- 



tions, in the popular literature of the time, go hand 
in hand ; but the end of Mr. Thomson was a thing 
quite by itself, and in the proper phrase, a manifest 
judgment. He had been at a friend's house in 
Anstruther Wester, where (and elsewhere, I suspect) 
he had partaken of the bottle ; indeed, to put the 
thing in our cold modern way, the reverend gentle- 
man was on the brink of delirium tremens. It was a 
dark night, it seems ; a little lassie came carrying a 
lantern to fetch the curate home; and away they 
went down the street of Anstruther Wester, the 
lantern swinging a bit in the child's hand, the barred 
lustre tossing up and down along the front of slum- 
bering houses, and Mr. Thomson not altogether 
steady on his legs nor (to all appearance) easy in his 
mind. The pair had reached the middle of the 
bridge when (as I conceive the scene) the poor tippler 
started in some baseless fear and looked behind him ; 
the child, already shaken by the minister's strange 
behaviour, started also ; in so doing she would jerk 
the lantern ; and for the space of a moment the 
hghts and the shadows would be all confounded. 
Then it was that to the unhinged toper and the 
twittering child, a huge bulk of blackness seemed to 
sweep down, to pass them close by as they stood 
upon the bridge, and to vanish on the farther side in 
the general darkness of the night. ' Plainly the devil 
come for Mr. Thomson !' thought the child. What 
Mr. Thomson thought himself, we have no ground of 
knowledge ; but he fell upon his knees in the midst 
of the bridge like a man praying. On the rest of 


the journey to the manse, history is silent ; but when 
they came to the door, the poor caitiff, taking the 
lantern from the child, looked upon her with so lost 
a countenance that her httle courage died within her, 
and she fled home screaming to her parents. Not a 
soul would venture out ; all that night, the minister 
dwelt alone with his terrors in the manse ; and when 
the day dawned, and men made bold to go about the 
streets, they found the devil had come indeed for 
Mr. Thomson. 

This manse of Anstruther Easter has another and 
a more cheerful association. It was early in the 
morning, about a century before the days of Mr. 
Thomson, that his predecessor was called out of bed 
to welcome a Grandee of Spain, the Duke of Medina 
Sidonia, just landed in the harbour underneath. But 
sure there was never seen a more decayed grandee ; 
sure there was never a duke welcomed from a stranger 
place of exile. Half-way between Orkney and Shet- 
land there lies a certain isle ; on the one hand the 
Atlantic, on the other the North Sea, bombard its 
pillared cliffs; sore-eyed, short-hving, inbred fishers 
and their families herd in its few huts ; in the grave- 
yard pieces of wreck- wood stand for monuments ; 
there is nowhere a more inhospitable spot. Belle- 
Isle-en-Mer — Fair-Isle-at-Sea — that is a name that 
has always rung in my mind's ear hke music ; but 
the only ' Fair Isle ' on which I ever set my foot was 
this unhomely, rugged turret-top of submarine sierras. 
Here, when his ship was broken, my lord Duke joy- 
fully got ashore ; here for long months he and certain 



of his men were harboured ; and it was from this 
dm-ance that he landed at last to be welcomed (as 
well as such a papist deserved, no doubt) by the 
godly incumbent of Anstruther Easter ; and after the 
Fair Isle, what a fine city must that have appeared ! 
and after the island diet, what a hospitable spot the 
minister's table ! And yet he must have Uved on 
friendly terms with his outlandish hosts. For to this 
day there still survives a reHc of the long winter 
evenings when the sailors of the great Armada 
crouched about the hearths of the Fair- 1 slanders, the 
planks of their own lost galleon perhaps hghting up 
the scene, and the gale and the surf that beat about 
the coast contributing their melancholy voices. All 
the folk of the north isles are great artificers of knit- 
ting : the Fair- Islanders alone dye their fabrics in the 
Spanish manner. To this day, gloves and nightcaps, 
innocently decorated, may be seen for sale in the 
Shetland warehouse at Edinburgh, or on the Fair 
Isle itself in the catechist's house ; and to this day, 
they tell the story of the Duke of Medina Sidonia's 

It would seem as if the Fair Isle had some attrac- 
tion for 'persons of quahty.' When I landed there 
myself, an elderly gentleman, unshaved, poorly at- 
tired, his shoulders wrapped in a plaid, was seen 
walking to and fro, with a book in his hand, upon 
the beach. He paid no heed to om- arrival, which 
we thought a strange thing in itself ; but when one 
of the officers of the Pharos, passing narrowly by 
him, observed his book to be a Greek Testament, our 


wonder and interest took a higher flight The cate- 
chist was cross-examined ; he said the gentleman had 
been put across some time before in Mr. Bruce of 
Sumburgh's schooner, the only Mnk between the Fair 
Isle and the rest of the world ; and that he held ser- 
vices and was doing 'good.' So much came ghbly 
enough ; but when pressed a little further, the cate- 
chist displayed embarrassment. A singular diffidence 
appeared upon his face : ' They tell me,' said he, in 
low tones, ' that he 's a lord.' And a lord he was ; a 
peer of the realm pacing that inhospitable beach 
with his Greek Testament, and his plaid about his 
shoulders, set upon doing good, as he understood it, 
worthy man ! And his grandson, a good-looking 
little boy, much better dressed than the lordly evan- 
gehst, and speaking with a silken English accent very 
foreign to the scene, accompanied me for a while in 
my exploration of the island. I suppose this little 
fellow is now my lord, and wonder how much he 
remembers of the Fair Isle. Perhaps not much ; for 
he seemed to accept very quietly his savage situation ; 
and under such guidance, it is hke that this was not 
his first nor yet his last adventure. 




Anstruther is a place sacred to the Muse ; she 
mspu'ed (really to a considerable extent) Tennant's 
vernacular poem Anster Fair ; and I have there 
waited upon her myself with much devotion. This 
was when I came as a young man to glean engineer- 
ing experience from the building of the breakwater. 
What I gleaned, I am sure I do not know ; but 
indeed I had already my own private determination 
to be an author ; I loved the art of words and the 
appearances of hfe ; and travellers, and headers, and 
rubble, and polished ashlar, and pie?^res perdues, and 
even the thrilling question of the string-course, inter- 
ested me only (if they interested me at all) as pro- 
perties for some possible romance or as words to add 
to my vocabulary. To grow a little catholic is the 
compensation of years ; youth is one-eyed ; and in 
those days, though I haunted the breakwater by day, 
and even loved the place for the sake of the sun- 
shine, the thrilling seaside air, the wash of waves on 
the sea-face, the green glimmer of the divers' helmets 


far below, and the musical chinking of the masons, 
my one genuine preoccupation lay elsewhere, and my 
only industry was in the hours when I was not on 
duty. I lodged with a certain Baihe Brown, a car- 
penter by trade ; and there, as soon as dinner was 
despatched, in a chamber scented with dry rose- 
leaves, drew in my chair to the table and proceeded 
to pour forth literature, at such a speed, and with 
such intimations of early death and immortahty, as I 
now look back upon with wonder. Then it was that 
I wrote Voces Fidelium, a series of dramatic mono- 
logues in verse ; then that I indited the bulk of a 
covenanting novel — like so many others, never 
finished. Late I sat into the night, toiling (as I 
thought) under the very dart of death, toiling to leave 
a memory behind me. I feel moved to thrust aside 
the curtain of the years, to hail that poor feverish 
idiot, to bid him go to bed and clap Voces Fidelium 
on the fire before he goes ; so clear does he appear 
before me, sitting there between his candles in the 
rose-scented room and the late night ; so ridiculous a 
picture (to my elderly wisdom) does the fool present ! 
But he was driven to his bed at last without miracu- 
lous intervention ; and the manner of his driving sets 
the last touch upon this eminently youthful business. 
The weather was then so warm that I must keep the 
windows open ; the night without was populous with 
moths. As the late darkness deepened, my hterary 
tapers beaconed forth more brightly ; thicker and 
thicker came the dusty night-fliers, to gyrate for one 
briUiant instant round the flame and fall in agonies 
u 305 


upon my paper. Flesh and blood could not endure 
the spectacle ; to capture immortality was doubtless 
a noble enterprise, but not to capture it at such a 
cost of suffering ; and out would go the candles, and 
off would I go to bed in the darkness, raging to 
think that the blow might fall on the morrow, and 
there was Voces Fidelium still incomplete. Well, 
the moths are all gone, and Voces Fidelium along 
with them ; only the fool is still on hand and prac- 
tises new folhes. 

Only one thing in connection with the harbour 
tempted me, and that was the diving, an experience 
I burned to taste of But this was not to be, at least 
in Anstruther ; and the subject involves a change of 
scene to the sub-arctic town of Wick. You can 
never have dwelt in a country more unsightly than 
that part of Caithness, the land faintly swelHng, 
faintly falling, not a tree, not a hedgerow, the fields 
divided by single slate stones set upon their edge, the 
wind always singing in your ears and (down the long 
road that led nowhere) thrumming in the telegraph 
wires. Only as you approached the coast was there 
anything to stir the heart. The plateau broke down 
to the North Sea in formidable chffs, the tall out- 
stacks rose hke pillars ringed about with surf, the 
coves were over-brimmed with clamorous froth, the 
sea-birds screamed, the wind sang in the thyme on 
the chff s edge ; here and there, small ancient castles 
toppled on the brim ; here and there, it was possible 
to dip into a dell of shelter, where you might he and 
tell yom'self you were a little warm, and hear (near 


at hand) the whin-pods bursting in the afternoon 
sun, and (farther off) the rumour of the turbulent 
sea. As for Wick itself, it is one of the meanest of 
man's towns, and situate certainly on the baldest of 
God's bays. It hves for herring, and a strange sight 
it is to see (of an afternoon) the heights of Pulteney 
blackened by seaward-looking fishers, as when a city 
crowds to a review — or, as when bees have swarmed, 
the ground is horrible with lumps and clusters ; and 
a strange sight, and a beautiful, to see the fleet put 
silently out against a rising moon, the sea-line rough 
as a wood with sails, and ever and again and one 
after another, a boat flitting swiftly by the silver 
disk. This mass of fishers, this great fleet of boats, 
is out of all proportion to the town itself ; and the 
oars are manned and the nets hauled by immigrants 
from the Long Island (as we call the outer Hebrides), 
who come for that season only, and depart again, if 
' the take ' be poor, leaving debts behind them. In 
a bad year, the end of the herring-fishery is therefore 
an exciting time ; fights are common, riots often 
possible ; an apple knocked from a child's hand was 
once the signal for something like a war ; and even 
when I was there, a gunboat lay in the bay to assist 
the authorities. To contrary interests, it should be 
observed, the curse of Babel is here added ; the Lews 
men are GaeHc speakers, those of Caithness have 
adopted Enghsh ; an odd ckcumstance, if you reflect 
that both must be largely Norsemen by descent. I re- 
member seeing one of the strongest instances of this 
division : a thing hke a Punch-and-Judy box erected 



on the flat grave -stones of the churchyard ; from the 
hutch or proscenium — I know not what to call it — 
an eldritch -looking preacher laying down the law in 
Gaelic about some one of the name of Powl, whom I 
at last divined to be the apostle to the Gentiles ; a 
large congregation of the Lews men very devoutly 
listening ; and on the outskirts of the crowd, some of 
the town's children (to whom the whole affair was 
Greek and Hebrew) profanely playing tigg. The 
same descent, the same country, the same narrow 
sect of the same rehgion, and aU these bonds made 
very largely nugatory by an accidental difference of 
dialect ! 

Into the bay of Wick stretched the dark length 
of the unfinished breakwater, in its cage of open 
staging ; the travellers (like frames of churches) over- 
plumbing all ; and away at the extreme end, the 
divers toiling unseen on the foundation. On a 
platform of loose planks, the assistants turned their 
air-mills ; a stone might be swinging between wind 
and water ; underneath the swell ran gaily ; and from 
time to time, a mailed dragon with a window-glass 
snout came dripping up the ladder. Youth is a 
blessed season after all ; my stay at Wick was in the 
year of Voces Fidelium and the rose-leaf room at 
Bailie Brown's ; and already I did not care two 
straws for literary glory. Posthumous ambition 
perhaps requires an atmosphere of roses ; and the 
more rugged excitant of Wick east winds had made 
another boy of me. To go down in the diving-dress, 
that was my absorbing fancy; and with the coun- 


tenance of a certain handsome scamp of a diver. Bob 
Bain by name, I gratified the whim. 

It was grey, harsh, easterly weather, the swell 
ran pretty high, and out in the open there were 
' skipper's daughters,' when I found myself at last on 
the diver's platform, twenty pounds of lead upon 
each foot and my whole person swollen with ply 
and ply of woollen underclothing. One moment, 
the salt wind was whisthng round my night-capped 
head ; the next, I was crushed almost double under 
the weight of the helmet. As that intolerable bur- 
then was laid upon me, I could have found it in my 
heart (only for shame's sake) to cry off from the 
whole enterprise. But it was too late. The attend- 
ants began to turn the hurdy-gurdy, and the air to 
whistle through the tube ; some one screwed in the 
barred window of the vizor ; and I was cut off in a 
moment from my fellow-men ; standing there in 
their midst, but quite divorced from intercourse : a 
creature deaf and dumb, pathetically looking forth 
upon them from a climate of his own. Except that 
I could move and feel, I was like a man fallen in 
a catalepsy. But time was scarce given me to realise 
my isolation ; the weights were hung upon my back 
and breast, the signal-rope was thrust into my un- 
resisting hand; and setting a twenty-pound foot 
upon the ladder, I began ponderously to descend. 

Some twenty rounds below the platform, twilight 
fell. Looking up, I saw a low green heaven mottled 
with vanishing bells of white ; looking around, ex- 
cept for the weedy spokes and shafts of the ladder, 



nothing but a green gloaming, somewhat opaque but 
very restful and delicious. Thirty rounds lower, I 
stepped off on the pierres perdues of the foundation ; 
a dumb helmeted figure took me by the hand, and 
made a gesture (as I read it) of encouragement ; and 
looking in at the creature's window, I beheld the face 
of Bain. There we were, hand to hand and (when it 
pleased us) eye to eye ; and either might have burst 
himself with shouting, and not a whisper come to his 
companion's hearing. Each, in his own little world 
of air, stood incommunicably separate. 

Bob had told me ere this a little tale, a five 
minutes' drama at the bottom of the sea, which at 
that moment possibly shot across my mind. He was 
down with another, settUng a stone of the sea-wall. 
They had it well adjusted. Bob gave the signal, the 
scissors were slipped, the stone set home ; and it was 
time to turn to something else. But still his com- 
panion remained bowed over the block like a mourner 
on a tomb, or only raised himself to make absurd 
contortions and mysterious signs unknown to the 
vocabulary of the diver. There, then, these two stood 
for a while, like the dead and the living ; till there * 
flashed a fortunate thought into Bob's mind, and he 
stooped, peered through the window of that other 
world, and beheld the face of its inhabitant wet with 
streaming tears. Ah ! the man was in pain ! And 
Bob, glancing downward, saw what was the trouble : 
the block had been lowered on the foot of that un- 
fortunate — he was caught alive at the bottom of the 
sea under fifteen tons of rock. 


That two men should handle a stone so heavy, 
even swinging in the scissors, may appear strange to 
the inexpert. These must bear in mind the great 
density of the water of the sea, and the surprising 
results of transplantation to that medium. To under- 
stand a little what these are, and how a man's weight, 
so far from being an encumbrance, is the very 
ground of his agility, was the chief lesson of my sub- 
marine experience. The knowledge came upon me 
by degrees. As I began to go forward with the hand 
of my estranged companion, a world of tumbled 
stones was visible, pillared with the weedy uprights 
of the staging ; overhead, a flat roof of green : a 
little in front, the sea-wall, like an unfinished ram- 
part. And presently in our upward progress. Bob 
motioned me to leap upon a stone ; I looked to 
see if he were possibly in earnest, and he only signed 
to me the more imperiously. Now the block stood 
six feet high ; it would have been quite a leap to me 
unencumbered ; with the breast and back weights, 
and the twenty pounds upon each foot, and the 
staggering load of the helmet, the thing was out 
of reason. I laughed aloud in my tomb ; and to 
prove to Bob how far he was astray, I gave a little 
impulse from my toes. Up I soared hke a bird, my 
companion soaring at my side. As high as to the 
stone, and then higher, I pursued my impotent and 
empty flight. Even when the strong arm of Bob 
had checked my shoulders, my heels continued their 
ascent ; so that I blew out side- ways like an autumn 
leaf, and must be hauled in, hand over hand, as 



sailors haul in the slack of a sail, and propped upon 
my feet again like an intoxicated sparrow. Yet a 
httle higher on the foundation, and we began to be 
affected by the bottom of the swell, running there like 
a strong breeze of wind. Or so I must suppose ; 
for, safe in my cushion of air, I was conscious of no 
impact ; only swayed idly hke a weed, and was now 
borne helplessly abroad, and now swiftly — and yet 
with dream-like gentleness — impelled against my 
guide. So does a child's balloon divagate upon the 
currents of the air, and touch and shde off again 
from every obstacle. So must have ineffectually 
swung, so resented then- inefficiency, those light 
crowds that followed the Star of Hades, and uttered 
exiguous voices in the land beyond Cocytus. 

There was something strangely exasperating, as 
well as strangely wearying, in these uncommanded 
evolutions. It is bitter to return to infancy, to be 
supported, and dkected, and perpetually set upon 
your feet, by the hand of some one else. The air 
besides, as it is supphed to you by the busy millers 
on the platform, closes the eustachian tubes and keeps 
the neophyte perpetually swallowing, till his throat 
is grown so dry that he can swallow no longer. And 
for all these reasons — although I had a fine, dizzy, 
muddle-headed joy in my surroundings, and longed, 
and tried, and always failed, to lay hands on the fish 
that darted here and there about me, swift as 
humming-birds— yet I fancy I was rather relieved 
than otherwise when Bain brought me back to the 
ladder and signed to me to mount. And there was 



one more experience before me even then. Of a 
sudden, my ascending head passed into the trough of 
a swell. Out of the green, I shot at once into a 
glory of rosy, almost of sanguine light — the mul- 
titudinous seas incarnadined, the heaven above a 
vault of crimson. And then the glory faded into 
the hard, ugly daylight of a Caithness autumn, with 
a low sky, a grey sea, and a whistling wind. 

Bob Bain had five shilHngs for his trouble, and I 
had done what I desired. It was one of the best 
things I got from my education as an engineer : of 
which however, as a way of life, I wish to speak with 
sympathy. It takes a man into the open air; it 
keeps him hanging about harbour-sides, which is the 
richest form of idling ; it carries him to wild islands ; 
it gives him a taste of the genial dangers of the sea ; 
it supplies him with dexterities to exercise ; it makes 
demands upon his ingenuity ; it will go far to cure 
him of any taste (if ever he had one) for the miser- 
able life of cities. And when it has done so, it 
carries him back and shuts him in an office ! From 
the roaring skerry and the wet thwart of the tossing 
boat, he passes to the stool and desk ; and with a 
memory fuU of ships, and seas, and perilous head- 
lands, and the shining pharos, he must apply his 
long-sighted eyes to the pretty niceties of drawing, 
or measure his inaccurate mind with several pages of 
consecutive figures. He is a wise youth, to be sure, 
who can balance one part of genuine hfe against two 
parts of drudgery between four walls, and for the 
sake of the one, manfully accept the other. 

-1 T -7 


Wick was scarce an eligible place of stay. But 
how much better it was to hang in the cold wind 
upon the pier, to go down with Bob Bain among the 
roots of the staging, to be all day in a boat coiling 
a wet rope and shouting orders — not always very 
wise — than to be warm and dry, and dull, and dead- 
aUve, in the most comfortable office. And Wick 
itself had in those days a note of originality. It may 
have still, but I misdoubt it much. The old minister 
of Keiss would not preach, in these degenerate times, 
for an hour and a half upon the clock. The gipsies 
must be gone from their cavern ; where you might 
see, from the mouth, the women tending their fire, hke 
Meg Merrilies, and the men sleeping off their coarse 
potations ; and where in winter gales, the surf would 
beleaguer them closely, bursting in their very door. A 
traveller to-day upon the Thurso coach would scarce 
observe a little cloud of smoke among the moorlands, 
and be told, quite openly, it marked a private still. 
He would not indeed make that journey, for there is 
now no Thurso coach. And even if he could, one 
httle thing that happened to me could never happen 
to him, or not with the same trenchancy of contrast. 

We had been upon the road all evening ; the 
coach-top was crowded with Lews fishers going 
home, scarce anything but Gaelic had sounded in 
my ears ; and our way had lain throughout over 
a moorish country very northern to behold. Latish 
at night, though it was still broad day in our sub- 
arctic latitude, we came down upon the shores of the 
roaring Pentland Firth, that grave of mariners ; on 


one hand, the chfFs of Dimnet Head ran seaward ; 
in front was the httle bare white town of Castleton, 
its streets full of blowing sand ; nothing beyond, but 
the North Islands, the great deep, and the perennial 
ice-fields of the Pole. And here, in the last imagin- 
able place, there sprang up young outlandish voices 
and a chatter of some foreign speech ; and I saw, 
pursuing the coach with its load of Hebridean fishers 
— as they had pursued vetturini up the passes of the 
Apennines or perhaps along the grotto under Virgil's 
tomb — two little dark-eyed, white-toothed Italian 
vagabonds, of twelve to fourteen years of age, one 
with a hurdy-gurdy, the other with a cage of white 
mice. The coach passed on, and their small Italian 
chatter died in the distance ; and I was left to marvel 
how they had wandered into that country, and how 
they fared in it, and what they thought of it, and 
when (if ever) they should see again the silver wind- 
breaks run among the olives, and the stone-pine 
stand guard upon Etruscan sepulchres. 

Upon any American, the strangeness of this in- 
cident is somewhat lost. For as far back as he goes 
in his own land, he will find some alien camping 
there; the Cornish miner, the French or Mexican 
half-blood, the negro in the South, these are deep in 
the woods and far among the mountains. But in an 
old, cold, and rugged country such as mine, the days of 
immigration are long at an end ; and away up there, 
which was at that time far beyond the northern- 
most extreme of railways, hard upon the shore of 
that ill-omened strait of whirlpools, in a land of 



moors where no stranger came, unless it should be 
a sportsman to shoot grouse or an antiquary to de- 
cipher runes, the presence of these small pedestrians 
struck the mind as though a bird-of-paradise had 
risen from the heather or an albatross come fishing 
in the bay of Wick. They were as strange to their 
surroundings as my lordly evangehst or the old 
Spanish grandee on the Fair Isle. 



The past is all of one texture —whether feigned or 
suffered — whether acted out in three dimensions, or 
only witnessed in that small theatre of the brain 
which we keep brightly hghted all night long, after 
the jets are down, and darkness and sleep reign un- 
disturbed in the remainder of the body. There is no 
distinction on the face of our experiences; one is 
vivid indeed, and one dull, and one pleasant, and 
another agonising to remember ; but which of them 
is what we call true, and which a dream, there is not 
one hair to prove. The past stands on a precarious 
footing ; another straw split in the field of meta- 
physic, and behold us robbed of it. There is scarce 
a family that can count four generations but lays a 
claim to some dormant title or some castle and estate : 
a claim not prosecutable in any court of law, but 
flattering to the fancy and a great alleviation of idle 
hom's. A man's claim to his own past is yet less 
vahd. A paper might turn up (in proper story-book 
fashion) in the secret drawer of an old ebony secre- 
tary, and restore your family to its ancient honours, 
and reinstate mine in a certain West Indian islet 



(not far from St. Kitt's, as beloved tradition hummed 
in my young ears) which was once ours, and is now 
unjustly some one else's, and for that matter (in the 
state of the sugar trade) is not worth anything to 
anybody. I do not say that these revolutions are 
likely ; only no man can deny that they are possible ; 
and the past, on the other hand, is lost for ever : our 
old days and deeds, our old selves, too, and the very 
world in which these scenes were acted, all brought 
down to the same faint residuum as a last night's 
dream, to some incontinuous images, and an echo 
in the chambers of the brain. Not an hom', not a 
mood, not a glance of the eye, can we revoke ; it is 
all gone, past conjuring. And yet conceive us robbed 
of it, conceive that httle thread of memory that we 
trail behind us broken at the pocket's edge ; and in 
what naked nuUity should we be left ! for we only 
guide ourselves, and only know ourselves, by these 
air-painted pictures of the past. 

Upon these grounds, there are some among us 
who claim to have lived longer and more richly than 
their neighbours; when they lay asleep they claim 
they were still active; and among the treasures of 
memory that all men review for their amusement, 
these count in no second place the harvests of their 
dreams. There is one of this kind whom I have in 
my eye, and whose case is perhaps unusual enough 
to be described. He was from a child an ardent and 
uncomfortable dreamer. When he had a touch of 
fever at night, and the room swelled and shrank, and 
his clothes, hanging on a nail, now loomed up instant 
, 318 


to the bigness of a church, and now drew away into 
a horror of infinite distance and infinite littleness, the 
poor soul was very well aware of what must follow, 
and struggled hard against the approaches of that 
slumber which was the beginning of sorrows. But 
his struggles were in vain ; sooner or later the night- 
hag would have him by the throat, and pluck him, 
strangling and screaming, from his sleep. His dreams 
were at times commonplace enough, at times very 
strange : at times they were almost formless, he 
would be haunted, for instance, by nothing more 
definite than a certain hue of brown, which he did 
not mind in the least while he was awake, but feared 
and loathed while he was dreaming ; at times, again, 
they took on every detail of circumstance, as when 
once he supposed he must swallow the populous 
world, and awoke screaming with the horror of the 
thought. The two chief troubles of his very narrow 
existence — the practical and everyday trouble of 
school tasks and the ultimate and airy one of hell 
and judgment — were often confounded together into 
one appaUing nightmare. He seemed to himself to 
stand before the Great White Throne ; he was called 
on, poor Httle devil, to recite some form of words, on 
which his destiny depended ; his tongue stuck, his 
memory was blank, hell gaped for him ; and he would 
awake, clinging to the curtain-rod with his knees to 
his chin. 

These were extremely poor experiences, on the 
whole ; and at that time of fife my dreamer would 
have very willingly parted with his power of dreams. 

319 ^ 


But presently, in the course of his growth, the cries 
and physical contortions passed away, seemingly for 
ever ; his visions were still for the most part miser- 
able, but they were more constantly supported ; and 
he would awake with no more extreme symptom 
than a flying heart, a freezing scalp, cold sweats, and 
the speechless midnight fear. His dreams, too, as 
befitted a mind better stocked with particulars, 
became more circumstantial, and had more the air 
and continuity of life. The look of the world begin- 
ning to take hold on his attention, scenery came to 
play a part in his sleeping as well as in his waking 
thoughts, so that he would take long, uneventful 
journeys and see strange towns and beautiful places 
as he lay in bed. And, what is more significant, an 
odd taste that he had for the Georgian costume and 
for stories laid in that period of English history, 
began to rule the features of his dreams ; so that he 
masqueraded there in a three-cornered hat, and was 
much engaged with Jacobite conspiracy between the 
hour for bed and that for breakfast. About the same 
time, he began to read in his dreams — tales, for the 
most part, and for the most part after the manner of 
G. P. R. James, but so incredibly more vivid and 
moving than any printed book, that he has ever since 
been malcontent with Hterature. 

And then, while he was yet a student, there came 
to him a dream-adventure which he has no anxiety 
to repeat ; he began, that is to say, to dream in 
sequence and thus to lead a double hfe — one of the 
day, one of the night — one that he had every reason 


to believe was the true one, another that he had no 
means of proving to be false. I should have said he 
studied, or was by way of studying, at Edinburgh 
College, which (it may be supposed) was how I came 
to know him. Well, in his dream-life, he passed a 
long day m the surgical theatre, his heart in his 
mouth, his teeth on edge, seeing monstrous mal- 
formations and the abhorred dexterity of surgeons. 
In a heavy, rainy, foggy evening he came forth into 
the South Bridge, turned up the High Street, and 
entered the door of a tall land, at the top of which 
he supposed himself to lodge. All night long, in his 
wet clothes, he climbed the stairs, stair after stair in 
endless series, and at every second flight a flaring 
lamp with a reflector. AU night long, he brushed by 
single persons passing downward — beggarly women 
of the street, great, weary, muddy labom'ers, poor 
scarecrows of men, pale parodies of women — but all 
drowsy and weary Uke himself, and all single, and all 
brushing against him as they passed. In the end, 
out of a northern window, he would see day begin- 
ning to whiten over the Firth, give up the ascent, 
turn to descend, and in a breath be back again upon 
the streets, in his wet clothes, in the wet, haggard 
dawn, trudging to another day of monstrosities and 
operations. Time went quicker in the life of dreams, 
some seven hours (as near as he can guess) to one ; 
and it went, besides, more intensely, so that the 
gloom of these fancied experiences clouded the day, 
and he had not shaken off" their shadow ere it was 
time to he down and to renew them. I cannot tell 


how long it was that he endured this discipUne ; but 
it was long enough to leave a great black blot upon 
his memory, long enough to send him, trembhng for 
his reason, to the doors of a certain doctor ; where- 
upon with a simple draught he was restored to the 
common lot of man. 

The poor gentleman has since been troubled by 
nothing of the sort ; indeed, his nights were for some 
while like other men's, now blank, now chequered 
with dreams, and these sometimes charming, some- 
times appalhng, but except for an occasional vivid- 
ness, of no extraordinary kind. I will just note one 
of these occasions, ere I pass on to what makes my 
dreamer truly interesting. It seemed to him that he 
was in the first floor of a rough hill-farm. The room 
showed some poor efforts at gentihty, a carpet on 
the floor, a piano, I think, against the wall ; but, for 
all these refinements, there was no mistaking he was 
in a moorland place, among hillside people, and set 
in miles of heather. He looked down from the 
window vipon a bare farmyard, that seemed to have 
been long disused. A great, uneasy stillness lay 
upon the world. There was no sign of the farm-folk 
or of any live stock, save for an old, brown, curly 
dog of the retriever breed, who sat close in against 
the waU of the house and seemed to be dozing. 
Something about this dog disquieted the di'eamer ; 
it was quite a nameless feehng, for the beast looked 
right enough — indeed, he was so old and dull and 
dusty and broken-down, that he should rather have 
awakened pity; and yet the conviction came and 

.^2 2 


grew upon the dreamer that this was no proper dog 
at all, but something heUish. A great many dozing 
summer flies hummed about the yard ; and presently 
the dog thrust forth his paw, caught a fly in his open 
palm, carried it to his mouth like an ape, and looking 
suddenly up at the dreamer in the window, winked 
to him with one eye. The dream went on, it matters 
not how it went ; it was a good dream as dreams go ; 
but there was nothing in the sequel worthy of that 
devihsh brown dog. And the point of interest for 
me hes partly in that very fact : that having found 
so singular an incident, my imperfect dreamer should 
prove unable to carry the tale to a fit end and fall 
back on indescribable noises and indiscriminate 
horrors. It would be different now ; he knows his 
business better ! 

For, to approach at last the point : This honest 
fellow had long been in the custom of setting himself 
to sleep with tales, and so had his father before him ; 
but these were irresponsible inventions, told for the 
teller's pleasure, with no eye to the crass public or 
the thwart reviewer : tales where a thread might be 
dropped, or one adventure quitted for another, on 
fancy's least suggestion. So that the little people 
who manage man's internal theatre had not as yet 
received a very rigorous training ; and played upon 
their stage like children who should have shpped 
into the house and found it empty, rather than like 
driUed actors performing a set piece to a huge hall 
of faces. But presently my dreamer began to turn 
his former amusement of story-teUing to (what is 



called) account ; by which I mean that he began to 
write and sell his tales. Here was he, and here were 
the little people who did that part of his business, in 
quite new conditions. The stories must now be 
trimmed and pared and set upon all-fours, they must 
run from a beginning to an end and fit (after a 
manner) with the laws of life ; the pleasure, in one 
word, had become a business ; and that not only for 
the dreamer, but for the little people of his theatre. 
These understood the change as well as he. When 
he lay down to prepare himself for sleep, he no 
longer sought amusement, but printable and profit- 
able tales ; and after he had dozed off in his box- 
seat, his little people continued their evolutions with 
the same mercantile designs. All other forms of 
dream deserted him but two : he still occasionally 
reads the most deMghtful books, he still visits at 
times the most deUghtful places ; and it is perhaps 
worthy of note that to these same places, and to 
one in particular, he returns at intervals of months 
and years, finding new field-paths, visiting new 
neighbours, beholding that happy valley under new 
effects of noon and dawn and sunset. But all the 
rest of the family of visions is quite lost to him : the 
common, mangled version of yesterday's affairs, the 
raw-head-and-bloody-bones nightmare, rumoured to 
be the child of toasted cheese — these and their hke 
are gone ; and, for the most part, whether awake or 
asleep, he is simply occupied — he or his httle people 
— in consciously making stories for the market. This 
dreamer (like many other persons) has encountered 


some trifling vicissitudes of fortune. When the bank 
begins to send letters and the butcher to hnger at 
the back gate, he sets to belabouring his brains after 
a story, for that is his readiest money- winner ; and, 
behold ! at once the little people begin to bestir 
themselves in the same quest, and labour all night 
long, and all night long set before him truncheons 
of tales upon their lighted theatre. No fear of his 
being frightened now ; the flying heart and the frozen 
scalp are things bygone ; applause, growing applause, 
growing interest, growing exultation in his own 
cleverness (for he takes all the credit), and at last a 
jubilant leap to wakefulness, with the cry, ' I have 
it, that 'U do ! ' upon his Ups : with such and similar 
emotions he sits at these nocturnal di'amas, with 
such outbreaks, like Claudius in the play, he scatters 
the performance in the midst. Often enough the 
waking is a disappointment : he has been too deep 
asleep, as I explain the thing ; drowsiness has gained 
his little people, they have gone stumbhng and 
maundering through their parts ; and the play, to 
the awakened mind, is seen to be a tissue of ab- 
surdities. And yet how often have these sleepless 
Brownies done him honest service, and given him, as 
he sat idly taking his pleasure in the boxes, better 
tales than he could fashion for himself. 

Here is one, exactly as it came to him. It seemed 
he was the son of a very rich and wicked man, the 
owner of broad acres and a most damnable temper. 
The dreamer (and that was the son) had lived much 
abroad, on purpose to avoid his parent ; and when 



at length he returned to England, it was to find him 
married again to a young wife, who was supposed to 
suffer cruelly and to loathe her yoke. Because of 
this marriage (as the dreamer indistinctly understood) 
it was desirable for father and son to have a meeting ; 
and yet both being proud and both angry, neither 
would condescend upon a visit. Meet they did 
accordingly, in a desolate, sandy country by the 
sea ; and there they quarrelled, and the son, stung 
by some intolerable insult, struck down the father 
dead. No suspicion was aroused ; the dead man 
was found and buried, and the dreamer succeeded 
to the broad estates, and found himself installed 
under the same roof with his father's widow, for 
whom no provision had been made. These two 
lived very much alone, as people may after a be- 
reavement, sat down to table together, shared the 
long evenings, and grew daily better friends ; until 
it seemed to him of a sudden that she was prying 
about dangerous matters, that she had conceived a 
notion of his guilt, that she watched him and tried 
him with questions. He drew back from her 
company as men draw back from a precipice 
suddenly discovered ; and yet so strong was the 
attraction that he would drift again and again into 
the old intimacy, and again and again be startled 
back by some suggestive question or some inexpH- 
cable meaning in her eye. So they lived at cross 
purposes, a hfe full of broken dialogue, challenging 
glances, and suppressed passion ; until, one day, 
he saw the woman slipping from the house in a 


veil, followed her to the station, followed her in 
the train to the seaside country, and out over the 
sandhills to the very place where the murder was 
done. There she began to grope among the bents, 
he watching her, flat upon his face ; and presently 
she had something in her hand — I cannot remember 
what it was, but it was deadly evidence against the 
dreamer — and as she held it up to look at it, perhaps 
from the shock of the discovery, her foot slipped, and 
she hung at some peril on the brink of the tall sand- 
wreaths. He had no thought but to spring up and 
rescue her ; and there they stood face to face, she 
with that deadly matter openly in her hand — his 
very presence on the spot another link of proof 
It was plain she was about to speak, but this was 
more than he could bear — he could bear to be lost, 
but not to talk of it with his destroyer ; and he cut 
her short with trivial conversation. Arm in arm, 
they returned together to the train, talking he knew 
not what, made the journey back in the same 
carriage, sat down to dinner, and passed the evening 
in the drawing-room as in the past. But suspense 
and fear drummed in the dreamer's bosom. ' She has 
not denounced me yet ' — so his thoughts ran : ' when 
will she denounce me? Will it be to-morrow?' 
And it was not to-morrow, nor the next day, nor the 
next ; and their Hfe settled back on the old terms, 
only that she seemed kinder than before, and that, 
as for him, the burthen of his suspense and wonder 
grew daily more unbearable, so that he wasted away 
like a man with a disease. Once, indeed, he broke 



all bounds of decency, seized an occasion when she 
was abroad, ransacked her room, and at last, hidden 
away among her jewels, found the damning evidence. 
There he stood, holding this thing, which was his 
life, in the hollow of his hand, and marveUing at her 
inconsequent behaviour, that she should seek, and 
keep, and yet not use it ; and then the door opened, 
and behold herself So, once more, they stood, eye 
to eye, with the evidence between them ; and once 
more she raised to him a face brimming with some 
communication ; and once more he shied away from 
speech and cut her off. But before he left the 
room, which he had turned upside down, he laid 
back his death-warrant where he had found it ; and 
at that, her face lighted up. The next thing he 
heard, she was explaining to her maid, with some 
ingenious falsehood, the disorder of her things. 
Flesh and blood could bear the strain no longer; 
and I think it was the next morning (though chrono- 
logy is always hazy in the theatre of the mind) 
that he burst from his reserve. They had been 
breakfasting together in one corner of a great, par- 
queted, sparely -furnished room of many windows ; 
all the time of the meal she had tortured him with 
sly allusions ; and no sooner were the servants gone, j 
and these two protagonists alone together, than he m 
leaped to his feet. She too sprang up, with a pale ^ 
face; with a pale face, she heard him as he raved 
out his complaint: Why did she torture him so? 
she knew all, she knew he was no enemy to her ; why 
did she not denounce him at once? what signified 


her whole behaviour ? why did she torture him ? 
and yet again, why did she torture him ? And when 
he had done, she fell upon her knees, and with out- 
stretched hands : ' Do you not understand ? ' she 
cried. ' I love you ! ' 

Hereupon, with a pang of wonder and mercantile 
delight the dreamer awoke. His mercantile delight was 
not of long endurance ; for it soon became plain that in 
this spirited tale there were unmarketable elements ; 
which is just the reason why you have it here so briefly 
told. But his wonder has still kept growing ; and I 
think the reader's will also, if he consider it ripely. 
For now he sees why I speak of the little people as of 
substantive inventors and performers. To the end they 
had kept their secret. I will go bail for the dreamer 
(having excellent grounds for valuing his candour) 
that he had no guess whatever at the motive of the 
woman — the hinge of the whole well-invented plot 
— until the instant of that highly dramatic declara- 
tion. It was not his tale ; it was the little people's ! 
And observe : not only was the secret kept, the 
story was told with really guileful craftsmanship. 
The conduct of both actors is (in the cant phrase) 
psychologically correct, and the emotion aptly gradu- 
ated up to the surprising climax. I am awake now, 
and I know this trade ; and yet I cannot better it. 
I am awake, and I live by this business ; and yet 
I could not outdo— could not perhaps equal — that 
crafty artifice (as of some old, experienced carpenter 
of plays, some Dennery or Sardou) by which the 
same situation is twice presented and the two actors 



twice brought face to face over the evidence, only 
once it is in her hand, once in his— and these in their 
due order, the least dramatic first. The more I 
think of it, the more I am moved to press upon the 
world my question : Who are the Little People ? 
They are near connections of the di'eamer's, beyond 
doubt ; they share in his financial worries and have 
an eye to the bank-book ; they share plainly in his 
training ; they have plainly learned like him to build 
the scheme of a considerate story and to arrange 
emotion in progTCSsive order ; only I think they have 
more talent ; and one thing is beyond doubt, they 
can tell him a story piece by piece, like a serial, and 
keep him all the while in ignorance of where they 
aim. Who are they, then ? and who is the dreamer ? 
Well, as regards the di-eamer, I can answer that, 
for he is no less a person than myself ;— as I might 
have told you from the beginning, only that the 
critics murmur over my consistent egotism ; — and 
as I am positively forced to tell you now, or I could 
advance but httle further with my story. And for 
the Little People, what shall I say they are but just 
my Brownies, God bless them ! who do one-half 
my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in 
all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when 
I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for 
myself. That part which is done while I am sleeping 
is the Brownies' part beyond contention ; but that 
which is done when I am up and about is by no 
means necessarily mine, since all goes to show the 
Brownies have a hand in it even then. Here is a 



doubt that much concerns my conscience. For my- 
self — what I call I, my conscious ego, the denizen 
of the pineal gland unless he has changed his resi- 
dence since Descartes, the man with the conscience 
and the variable bank-account, the man with the 
hat and the boots, and the privilege of voting and 
not carrying his candidate at the general elections — 
I am sometimes tempted to suppose he is no story- 
teller at all, but a creature as matter of fact as any 
cheesemonger or any cheese, and a realist bemired 
up to the ears in actuality ; so that, by that account, 
the whole of my published fiction should be the single- 
handed product of some Brownie, some Familiar, some 
unseen collaborator, whom I keep locked in a back 
garret, while I get all the praise and he but a share 
(which I cannot prevent him getting) of the pudding. 
I am an excellent adviser, something hke Moliere's 
servant ; I pull back and I cut down ; and I dress 
the whole in the best words and sentences that I 
can find and make ; I hold the pen, too ; and I do the 
sitting at the table, which is about the worst of it ; 
and when all is done, I make up the manuscript 
and pay for the registration ; so that, on the whole, 
I have some claim to share, though not so largely as 
I do, in the profits of our common enterprise. 

I can but give an instance or so of what part is 
done sleeping and what part awake, and leave the 
reader to share what laurels there are, at his own nod, 
between myself and my collaborators ; and to do this 
I will first take a book that a number of persons 
have been polite enough to read, The Strange Case 



of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I had long been 
trying to write a story on this subject, to find a 
body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man's double 
being which must at times come in upon and over- 
whelm the mind of every thinking creature. I had 
even written one. The Travelling Companion, which 
was returned by an editor on the plea that it was 
a work of genius and indecent, and which I burned 
the other day on the ground that it was not a work 
of genius, and that Jekyll had supplanted it. Then 
came one of those financial fluctuations to which 
(with an elegant modesty) I have hitherto referred in 
the third person. For two days I went about racking 
my brains for a plot of any sort ; and on the second 
night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a 
scene afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued 
for some crime, took the powder and underwent the 
change in the presence of his pursuers. All the rest 
was made awake, and consciously, although I think 
I can trace in much of it the manner of my Brownies. 
The meaning of the tale is therefore mine, and had 
long pre-existed in my garden of Adonis, and tried 
one body after another in vain ; indeed, I do most of 
the morahty, worse luck ! and my Brownies have not 
a rudiment of what we call a conscience. Mine, too, 
is the setting, mine the characters. All that was 
given me was the matter of three scenes, and the 
central idea of a voluntary change becoming in- 
voluntary. WiU it be thought ungenerous, after I 
have been so hberally ladhng out praise to my un- 
seen collaborators, if I here toss them over, bound 


hand and foot, into the arena of the critics ? For 
the business of the powders, which so many have 
censured, is, I am reheved to say, not mine at all but 
the Brownies'. Of another tale, in case the reader 
should have glanced at it, I may say a word : the 
not very defensible story of Olalla. Here the court, 
the mother, the mother's niche, Olalla, Olalla's 
chamber, the meetings on the stair, the broken 
window, the ugly scene of the bite, were all given 
me in bulk and detail as I have tried to write them ; 
to this I added only the external scenery (for in my 
dream I never was beyond the court), the portrait, 
the characters of Felipe and the priest, the moral, 
such as it is, and the last pages, such as, alas ! they 
are. And I may even say that in this case the moral 
itself was given me ; for it arose immediately on a 
comparison of the mother and the daughter, and 
from the hideous trick of atavism in the first. Some- 
times a parabohc sense is still more undeniably 
present in a dream ; sometimes I cannot but suppose 
my Brownies have been aping Bunyan, and yet in 
no case mth what would possibly be called a moral 
in a tract ; never with the ethical narrowness ; con- 
veying hints instead of life's larger limitations and 
that sort of sense which we seem to perceive in the 
arabesque of time and space. 

For the most part, it will be seen, my Brownies 
are somewhat fantastic, hke their stories hot and hot, 
full of passion and the picturesque, ahve with ani- 
mating incident ; and they have no prejudice against 
the supernatural But the other day they gave me a 


surprise, entertaining me with a love-story, a little 
April comedy, which I ought certainly to hand over 
to the author of A Chance Acquaintance, for he could 
write it as it should be written, and I am sure 
(although I mean to try) that I cannot. — But who 
would have supposed that a Brownie of mine should 
invent a tale for Mr. Howells ? 


In a pleasant, airy, uphill country, it was my fortune 
when I was young to make the acquaintance of a 
certain beggar, I call him beggar, though he usually 
allowed his coat and his shoes (which were open- 
mouthed, indeed) to beg for him. He was the wreck 
of an athletic man, tall, gaunt, and bronzed ; far gone 
in consumption, with that disquieting smile of the 
mortally stricken on his face ; but still active afoot, 
still with the brisk mihtary carriage, the ready 
military salute. Three ways led through this piece 
of country ; and as I was inconstant in my choice, 
I beheve he must often have awaited me in vain. 
But often enough, he caught me ; often enough, 
from some place of ambush by the roadside, he 
would spring suddenly forth in the regulation attitude, 
and launching at once into his inconsequential talk, 
fall into step with me upon my farther course. ' A 
fine morning, sir, though perhaps a trifle inclining to 
rain. I hope I see you well, sir. Why, no, sir, I don't 
feel as hearty myself as I could wish, but I am keeping 
about my ordinary. I am pleased to meet you on the 

"^ 335 


road, sir. I assure you I quite look forward to one 
of our little conversations. ' He loved the sound of 
bis own voice inordinately, and though (with some- 
thing too off-hand to caU servihty) he would always 
hasten to agree with anything you said, yet he 
could never suffer you to say it to an end. By what 
transition he slid to his favourite subject I have 
no memory ; but we had never been long together on 
the way before he was deahng, in a very military 
manner, with the Enghsh poets. ' SheUey was a 
fine poet, sir, though a trifle atheistical in his opinions. 
His Queen Mab, sir, is quite an atheistical work. 
Scott, sh', is not so poetical a writer. With the works 
of Shakespeare I am not so weU acquainted, but he 
was a fine poet. Keats — John Keats, sir — he was a 
very fine poet.' With such references, such trivial 
criticism, such loving parade of his own knowledge, 
he would beguile the road, striding forward up-hill, 
his staff now clapped to the ribs of his deep, resonant 
chest, now swinging in the ak with the remembered 
jauntiness of the private soldier ; and all the while 
his toes looking out of his boots, and his shirt looking 
out of his elbows, and death looking out of his smile, 
and his big, crazy frame shaken by accesses of cough. 
He would often go the whole way home with me : 
often to borrow a book, and that book always a poet 
Off he would march, to continue his mendicant 
rounds, with the volume shpped into the pocket of 
his ragged coat ; and although he would sometimes 
keep it quite a while, yet it came always back again 
at last, not much the worse for its travels into beggar- 


dom. And in this way, doubtless, his knowledge 
grew and his ghb, random criticism took a wider 
range. But my hbrary was not the first he had 
drawn upon : at our first encounter, he was already 
brimful of Shelley and the atheistical Queen Mab, 
and 'Keats — John Keats, sir.' And I have often 
wondered how he canne by these acquirements ; just 
as I often wondered how he fell to be a beggar. He 
had served through the Mutiny — of which (like so 
many people) he could tell practically nothing beyond 
the names of places, and that it was 'difficult work, sir,' 
and very hot, or that so-and-so was ' a very fine com- 
mander, sir.' He was far too smart a man to have 
remained a private ; in the nature of things, he must 
have won his stripes. And yet here he was, without a 
pension. When I touched on this problem, he would 
content himself with diffidently offisring me advice. 
'A man should be very careful when he is young, 
sir. If you '11 excuse me saying so, a spirited young 
gentleman like yourself, sir, should be very careful. 
I was perhaps a trifle incHned to atheistical opinions 
myself' For (perhaps with a deeper wisdom than we 
are inclined in these days to admit) he plainly 
bracketed agnosticism with beer and skittles. 

Keats- — John Keats, sir — and Shelley were his 
favourite bards. I cannot remember if I tried him 
with Bossetti ; but I know his taste to a hair, and if 
ever I did, he must have doted on that author. 
What took him was a richness in the speech ; he 
loved the exotic, the unexpected word ; the moving 
cadence of a phrase ; a vague sense of emotion (about 
Y ZZ7 


nothing) in the very letters of the alphabet : the 
romance of language. -His honest head was very 
nearly empty, his intellect like a child's ; and when 
he read his favourite authors, he can almost never 
have understood what he was reading. Yet the taste 
was not only genuine, it was exclusive ; I tried in 
vain to offer him novels ; he would none of them, he 
cared for nothing but romantic language that he 
could not understand. The case may be commoner 
than we suppose. I am reminded of a lad who was 
laid in the next cot to a friend of mine in a pubhc 
hospital, and who was no sooner installed than he 
sent out {perhaps with his last pence) for a cheap 
Shakespeare. My friend pricked up his ears ; fell at 
once in talk with his new neighbour, and was ready, 
when the book arrived, to make a singular discovery. 
For this lover of great Uterature understood not one 
sentence out of twelve, and his favourite part was 
that of which he understood the least — the inimitable, 
mouth-filling rodomontade of the ghost in Hamlet. 
It was a bright day in hospital when my friend 
expounded the sense of this beloved jargon : a task 
for which I am wiUing to believe my friend was very 
fit, though I can never regard it as an easy one. I 
know indeed a point or two, on which I would gladly 
question Mr. Shakespeare, that lover of big words, 
could he revisit the ghmpses of the moon, or could I 
myself chmb backward to the spacious days of EHza- 
beth. But in the second case, I should most hkely 
pretermit these questionings, and take my place 
instead in the pit at the Blackfriars, to hear the actor 


in his favourite part, playing up to Mr. Burbage, and 
rolling out — as I seem to hear him — with a pon- 
derous gusto — 

' Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd.' 

What a pleasant chance, if we could go there in a 
party ! and what a surprise for Mr, Burbage, when 
the ghost received the honours of the evening ! 

As for my old soldier, like Mr. Burbage and Mr. 
Shakespeare, he is long since dead ; and now hes 
buried, I suppose, and nameless and quite forgotten, 
in some poor city graveyard. ^ — ^But not for me, you 
brave heart, have you been buried ! For me, yovi 
are still afoot, tasting the sun and air, and striding 
southward. By the groves of Comiston and beside 
the Hermitage of Braid, by the Hunters' Tryst, and 
where the curlews and plovers cry around Fairmile- 
head, I see and hear you, stalwartly carrying your 
deadly sickness, cheerfully discoursing of uncompre- 
hended poets. 


The thought of the old soldier recalls that of 
another tramp, his counterpart. This was a little, 
lean, and fiery man, with the eyes of a dog and the 
face of a gypsy ; whom I found one morning en- 
camped with his wife and children and his grinder's 
wheel, beside the burn of Kinnaird. To this beloved 
dell I went, at that time, daily ; and daily the knife- 
grinder and I (for as long as his tent continued 
pleasantly to interrupt my little wilderness) sat on 
two stones, and smoked, and plucked grass and talked 


to the tune of the brown water. His childi-en were 
mere whelps, they fought and bit among the fern 
like vermin. His wife was a mere squaw ; I saw her 
gather brush and tend the kettle, but she never 
ventured to address her lord while I was present. 
The tent was a mere gypsy hovel, hke a sty for pigs. 
But the grinder himself had the fine self-sufficiency 
and grave pohteness of the hunter and the savage ; he 
did me the honours of this dell, which had been 
mine but the day before, took me far into the secrets 
of his life, and used me (I am proud to remember) as 
a friend. 

Like nay old soldier, he was far gone in the national 
complaint. Unlike him, he had a vulgar taste in 
letters ; scarce flying higher than the story papers ; 
probably finding no difference, certainly seeking none, 
between Tannahill and Burns ; his noblest thoughts, 
whether of poetry or music, adequately embodied in 
that somewhat obvious ditty, 

' Will ye gang, lassie, gang 
To the braes o' Balquhidder :' 

— which is indeed apt to echo in the ears of Scottish 
children, and to him, in view of his experience, must 
have found a special directness of address. But if he 
had no fine sense of poetry in letters, he felt with a 
deep joy the poetry of life. You should have heard 
him speak of what he loved ; of the tent pitched 
beside the talking water ; of the stars overheard at 
night ; of the blest return of morning, the peep of 
day over the moors, the awaking birds among the 
birches ; how he abhorred the long winter shut in 


cities ; and with what dehght, at the return of the 
spring, he once more pitched his camp in the living 
out-of-doors. But we were a pair of tramps ; and to 
you, who are doubtless sedentary and a consistent 
first-class passenger in hfe, he would scarce have laid 
himself so open ; — to you, he might have been con- 
tent to tell his story of a ghost — that of a buccaneer 
with his pistols as he lived — whom he had once en- 
countered in a seaside cave near Buckie ; and that 
would have been enough, for that would have shown 
you the mettle of the man. Here was a piece of 
experience sohdly and hvingly built up in words, 
here was a story created, teres atque rotundus. 

And to think of the old soldier, that lover of the 
literary bards ! He had visited stranger spots than 
any seaside cave ; encountered men more terrible 
than any spirit ; done and dared and suffered in that 
incredible, unsung epic of the Mutiny War ; played 
his part with the field force of Delhi, beleaguering 
and beleaguered ; shared in that enduring, savage 
anger and contempt of death and decency that, for 
long months together, bedevil'd and inspired the 
army ; was hurled to and fro in the battle-smoke of 
the assault; was there, perhaps, where Nicholson 
fell ; was there when the attacking column, with hell 
upon every side, found the soldier's enemy — strong 
drink, and the Hves of tens of thousands trembled in 
the scale, and the fate of the flag of England stag- 
gered. And of all this he had no more to say than 
* hot work, sir,' or ' the army suffered a great deal, 
sir,' or, ' I believe General Wilson, sir, was not very 



highly thought of m the papers.' His Hfe was naught 
to him, the vivid pages of experience quite blank : in 
words his pleasure lay — melodious, agitated words — 
printed words, about that which he had never seen 
and was connatally incapable of comprehending. 
We have here two temperaments face to face ; both 
untrained, unsophisticated, surprised (we may say) in 
the egg ; both boldly charactered : — that of the artist, 
the lover and artificer of words ; that of the maker, 
the seeer, the lover and forger of experience. If the 
one had a daughter and the other had a son, and 
these married, might not some illustrious wiiter 
count descent from the beggar-soldier and the needy 
knife-grinder ? 


Every one hves by selling something, whatever be 
his right to it. The burglar sells at the same time 
his own skill and courage and my silver plate (the 
whole at the most inoderate figure) to a Jew receiver. 
The bandit sells the traveller an article of prime 
necessity : that traveller's life. And as for the old 
soldier, who stands for central mark to my capricious 
figures of eight, he dealt in a specialty ; for he was 
the only beggar in the world who ever gave me plea- 
sure for my money. He had learned a school of 
manners in the barracks and had the sense to cling 
to it, accosting strangers with a regimental freedom, 
thanking patrons with a merely regimental difference, 
sparing you at once the tragedy of his position and 
the embarrassment of yours. There was not one 
hint about him of the beggar's emphasis, the outburst 


of revolting gratitude, the rant and cant, the ' God 
bless you, Kind, Kind gentleman,' which insults the 
smallness of your alms by disproportionate vehemence, 
which is so notably false, which would be so unbear- 
able if it were true. I am sometimes tempted to 
suppose this reading of the beggar's part, a survival 
of the old days when Shakespeare was intoned upon 
the stage and mourners keened beside the death-bed ; 
to think that we cannot now accept these strong 
emotions unless they be uttered in the just note of 
life ; nor (save in the pulpit) endure these gross con- 
ventions. They wound us, I am tempted to say, like 
mockery ; the high voice of keening (as it yet Hngers 
on) strikes in the face of sorrow like a buffet ; and 
the rant and cant of the staled beggar stirs in us a 
shudder of disgust. But the fact disproves these 
amateur opinions. The beggar lives by his know- 
ledge of the average man. He knows what he is 
about when he bandages his head, and hires and 
drugs a babe, and poisons Hfe with Poor Mary Ann 
or Long, long ago ; he knows what he is about when 
he loads the critical ear and sickens the nice con- 
science with intolerable thanks ; they know what 
they are about, he and his crew, when they pervade 
the slums of cities, ghastly parodies of suffering, 
hateful parodies of gratitude. This trade can scarce 
be called an imposition ; it has been so blown upon 
with exposures ; it flaunts its fraudulence so nakedly. 
We pay them as we pay those who show us, in huge 
exaggeration, the monsters of our drinking-water; 
or those who daily predict the fall of Britain. We 



pay them for the pain they inflict, pay them, and 
wince, and hurry on. And truly there is nothing 
that can shake the conscience like a beggar's thanks ; 
and that pohty in which such protestations can be 
purchased for a shilling, seems no scene for an honest 

Are there, then, we may be asked, no genuine 
beggars ? And the answer is. Not one. My old 
soldier was a humbug hke the rest ; his ragged boots 
were, in the stage phrase, properties ; whole boots 
were given him again and again, and always gladly 
accepted ; and the next day, there he was on the 
road as usual, with toes exposed. His boots were 
his method ; they were the man's trade ; without his 
boots he would have starved ; he did not Mve by 
charity, but by appeahng to a gross taste in the 
public, which loves the hmelight on the actor's face, 
and the toes out of the beggar's boots. There is a 
true poverty, which no one sees : a false and merely 
mimetic poverty, which usurps its place and dress, 
and hves and above all drinks, on the fruits of the 
usurpation. The true poverty does not go into the 
streets ; the banker may rest assured, he has never 
put a penny in its hand. The self-respecting poor 
beg from each other ; never from the rich. To live 
in the frock-coated ranks of Ufe, to hear canting 
scenes of gratitude rehearsed for twopence, a man 
might suppose that giving was a thing gone out of 
fashion ; yet it goes forward on a scale so great as to 
fill me with surprise. In the houses of the working 
classes, all day long there will be a foot upon tlie 


stair ; all day long there will be a knocking at the 
doors ; beggars come, beggars go, without stint, 
hardly with intermission, from morning till night; 
and meanwhile, in the same city and but a few streets 
off, the castles of the rich stand unsummoned. Get 
the tale of any honest tramp, you will find it was 
always the poor who helped him ; get the truth from 
any workman who has met misfortunes, it was always 
next door that he would go for help, or only with 
such exceptions as are said to prove a rule ; look at 
the course of the mimetic beggar, it is through the 
poor quarters that he trails his passage, showing his 
bandages to every window, piercing even to the attics 
with his nasal song. Here is a remarkable state of 
things in our Christian commonwealths, that the poor 
only should be asked to give. 


There is a pleasant tale of some worthless, phrasing 
Frenchman, who was taxed with ingratitude : ' // 
faut savoir garder Vindependance du cceurj cried he. 
I own I feel with him. Gratitude without famiharity, 
ffratitude otherwise than as a nameless element in a 
friendship, is a thing so near to hatred that I do not 
care to spht the difference. Until 1 find a man who 
is pleased to receive obligations, I shall continue to 
question the tact of those who are eager to confer 
them. What an art it is, to give, even to our nearest 
friends ! and what a test of manners, to receive ! 
How, upon either side, we smuggle away the obliga- 
tion, blushing for each other ; how bluff and dull we 



make the giver ; how hasty, how falsely cheerful, the 
receiver ! And yet an act of such difficulty and dis- 
tress between near friends, it is supposed we can 
perform to a total stranger and leave the man trans- 
fixed with grateful emotions. The last thing you 
can do to a man is to burthen him with an obliga- 
tion, and it is what we propose to begin with ! But 
let us not be deceived : unless he is totally degraded 
to his trade, anger jars in his inside, and he grates his 
teeth at our gratuity. 

We should wipe two words from our vocabulary : 
gratitude and charity. In real hfe, help is given out 
of friendship, or it is not valued ; it is received from 
the hand of friendship, or it is resented. We are all 
too proud to take a naked gift : we must seem to 
pay it, if in nothing else, then with the delights of 
our society. Here, then, is the pitiful fix of the rich 
man ; here is that needle's eye in which he stuck 
akeady in the days of Christ, and still sticks to-day, 
firmer, if possible, than ever : that he has the money 
and lacks the love which should make his money 
acceptable. Here and now, just as of old in Pales- 
tine, he has the rich to dinner, it is with the rich that 
he takes his pleasure : and when his turn comes to 
be charitable, he looks in vain for a recipient. His 
friends are not poor, they do not want ; the poor are 
not his friends, they will not take. To whom is he 
to give ? Where to find — note this phrase — the 
Deserving Poor? Charity is (what they call) cen- 
tralised ; offices are hired ; societies founded, with 
secretaries paid or unpaid : the hunt of the Deserving 


Poor goes merrily forward. I think it will take 
more than a merely hmnan secretary to disinter that 
character. What ! a class that is to be in want from 
no fault of its own, and yet greedily eager to receive 
from strangers ; and to be quite respectable, and at 
the same time quite devoid of self-respect ; and play 
the most delicate part of friendship, and yet never be 
seen ; and wear the form of man, and yet fly in the 
face of all the laws of human nature : — and all this, 
in the hope of getting a belly-god Burgess through a 
needle's eye ! Oh, let him stick, by all means : and 
let his polity tumble in the dust ; and let his epitaph 
and all his literature (of which my own works begin 
to form no inconsiderable part) be abolished even 
from the history of man ! For a fool of this mon- 
strosity of dulness, there can be no salvation : and 
the fool who looked for the elixir of life was an angel 
of reason to the fool who looks for the Deserving 
Poor ! 

And yet there is one course which the unfortunate 
gentleman may take. He may subscribe to pay the 
taxes. There were the true charity, impartial and 
impersonal, cumbering none with obhgation, helping 
all. There were a destination for loveless gifts ; 
there were the way to reach the pocket of the deserv- 
ing poor, and yet save the time of secretaries ! But, 
alas ! there is no colour of romance in such a course ; 
and people nowhere demand the picturesque so much 
as in their virtues. 



These boys congregated every autumn about a 
certain easterly fisher-village, where they tasted in a 
high degree the glory of existence. The place was 
created seemingly on purpose for the diversion of 
young gentlemen. A street or two of houses, mostly 
red and many of them tiled ; a number of fine trees 
clustered about the manse and the kirkyard, and 
turning the chief street into a shady alley ; many 
little gardens more than usually bright with flowers ; 
nets a-drying, and fisher- wives scolding in the back- 
ward parts ; a smell of fish, a genial smell of sea- 
weed ; whiffs of blowing sand at the street-corners ; 
shops with golf-balls and bottled lolhpops ; another 
shop with penny pickwicks (that remarkable cigar) 
and the London Journal, dear to me for its starthng 
pictures, and a few novels, dear for their suggestive 
names : such, as well as memory serves me, were 
the ingredients of the town. These, you are to con- 
ceive posted on a spit between two sandy bays, and 
sparsely flanked with villas — enough for the boys to 
lodge in with their subsidiary parents, not enough 


(not yet enough) to cocknify the scene : a haven in 
the rocks in front : in front of that, a file of grey 
islets : to the left, endless hnks and sand wreaths, a 
wilderness of hiding-holes, ahve with popping rabbits 
and soaring gulls : to the right, a range of seaward 
crags, one rugged brow beyond another ; the ruins 
of a mighty and ancient fortress on the brink of one ; 
coves between — now charmed into sunshine quiet, 
now whistling with wind and clamorous with burst- 
ing surges ; the dens and sheltered hollows redolent 
of thyme and southernwood, the air at the cliff's 
edge brisk and clean and pungent of the sea — in 
front of all, the Bass Rock, tilted seaward like a 
doubtful bather, the surf ringing it with white, the 
solan-geese hanging round its summit like a great 
and glittering smoke. This choice piece of seaboard 
was sacred, besides, to the wrecker ; and the Bass, in 
the eye of fancy, still flew the colours of King James ; 
and in the ear of fancy the arches of Tantallon still 
rang with horse-shoe iron, and echoed to the com- 
mands of Bell-the-Cat. 

There was nothing to mar your days, if you were 
a boy summering in that part, but the embarrassment 
of pleasure. You might golf if you wanted ; but 
I seem to have been better employed. You might 
secrete yourself in the Lady's Walk, a certain sun- 
less dingle of elders, all mossed over by the damp 
as green as grass, and dotted here and there by the 
stream-side with roofless walls, the cold homes of 
anchorites. To fit themselves for life, and with a 
special eye to acquire the art of smoking, it was even 



common for the boys to harbour there ; and you 
might have seen a smgle penny pickwick, honestly 
shared in lengths with a blunt knife, bestrew the 
glen with these apprentices. Again, you might join 
our fishing parties, where we sat perched as thick as 
solan-geese, a covey of little anglers, boy and girl, 
angling over each other's heads, to the ixiuch entangle- 
ment of lines and loss of podleys and consequent 
shrill recrimination — shrill as the geese themselves. 
Indeed, had that been all, you might have done this 
often ; but though fishing be a fine pastime, the 
podley is scarce to be regarded as a dainty for the 
table ; and it was a point of honour that a boy 
should eat all that he had taken. Or again, you 
might climb the Law, where the whale's jawbone 
stood landmark in the buzzing wind, and behold the 
face of many counties, and the smoke and spires of 
many towns, and the sails of distant ships. You 
might bathe, now in the flaws of fine weather, that 
we pathetically call our summer, now in a gale of 
wind, with the sand scourging yom* bare hide, your 
clothes thrashing abroad from underneath their 
guardian stone, the froth of the great breakers cast- 
ing you headlong ere it had drowned your knees. 
Or you might explore the tidal rocks, above all in 
the ebb of springs, when the very roots of the hills 
were for the nonce discovered ; following my leader 
from one group to another, gToping in slippery tangle 
for the wreck of ships, wading in pools after the 
abominable creatures of the sea, and ever with an 
eye cast backward on the march of the tide and the 


menaced line of your retreat. And then you might 
go Crusoeing, a word that covers all extempore eat- 
ing in the open air : digging perhaps a house under 
the margin of the Unks, kindling a lire of the sea- 
ware, and cooking apples there — if they were truly 
apples, for I sometimes suppose the merchant must 
have played us off with some inferior and quite local 
fruit, capable of resolving, in the neighbourhood of 
fire, into mere sand and smoke and iodine ; or perhaps 
pushing to Tantallon, you might lunch on sandwiches 
and visions in the grassy court, while the wind 
hummed in the crumbhng turrets ; or clambering 
along the coast, eat geans ^ (the worst, I must sup- 
pose, in Christendom) from an adventurous gean- 
tree that had taken root under a cliff, where it was 
shaken with an ague of east wind, and sUvered after 
gales with salt, and grew so foreign among its bleak 
surroundings that to eat of its produce was an 
adventure in itself 

There are mingled some dismal memories with 
so many that were joyous. Of the fisher- wife, for 
instance, who had cut her throat at Canty Bay ; and 
of how I ran with the other children to the top of 
the Quadrant, and beheld a posse of silent people 
escorting a cart, and on the cart, bound in a chair, her 
throat bandaged, and the bandage all bloody — horror ! 
— the fisher-wife herself, who continued thenceforth 
to hag-ride my thoughts, and even to-day (as I recall 
the scene) darkens dayhght. She was lodged in the 
little old jail in the chief street ; but whether or no 

1 Wild cherries. 


she died there, with a wise terror of the worst, I 
never inquired. She had been tipphng ; it was but 
a dingy tragedy ; and it seems strange and hard that, 
after all these years, the poor crazy sinner should 
be still pilloried on her cart m the scrap-book of my 
memory. Nor shall I readily forget a certain house 
in the Quadrant where a visitor died, and a dark old 
woman continued to dwell alone with the dead body ; 
nor how this old woman conceived a hatred to myself 
and one of my cousins, and in the dread hour of the 
dusk, as we were clambering on the garden-walls, 
opened a window in that house of mortality and 
cursed us in a shrill voice and with a marrowy choice 
of language. It was a pair of very colourless urchins 
that fled down the lane from this remarkable experi- 
ence ! But I recall with a more doubtful sentiment, 
compounded out of fear and exultation, the coil of 
equinoctial tempests ; trumpeting squalls, scouring 
flaws of rain ; the boats with their reefed lugsails 
scudding for the harbour mouth, where danger lay, 
for it was hard to make when the wind had any east 
in it ; the wives clustered with blowing shawls at 
the pier-head, where (if fate was against them) they 
might see boat and husband and sons — their whole 
wealth and their whole family — engulfed under their 
eyes ; and (what I saw but once) a troop of neigh- 
bours forcing such an unfortunate homeward, and 
she squalling and batthng in their midst, a figure 
scarcely human, a tragic Meenad. 

These are things that I recall with interest; but 
what my memory dwells upon the most, I have been 


all this while withholding. It was a sport peculiar 
to the place, and indeed to a week or so of our two 
months' hohday there. Maybe it still flourishes in its 
native spot ; for boys and their pastimes are swayed 
by periodic forces inscrutable to man ; so that tops 
and marbles reappear in their due season, regular like 
the sun and moon ; and the harmless art of knuckle- 
bones has seen the fall of the Roman empire and the 
rise of the United States. It may still flourish in its 
native spot, but nowhere else, I am persuaded ; for I 
tried myself to introduce it on Tweedside, and was 
defeated lamentably ; its charm being quite local, 
Hke a country wine that cannot be exported. 

The idle manner of it was this : — 

Toward the end of September, when school-time 
was drawing near and the nights were already black, 
we would begin to sally from our respective villas, 
each equipped with a tin bull's-eye lantern. The 
thing was so well known that it had worn a rut in 
the commerce of Great Britain ; and the grocers, 
about the due time, began to garnish their windows 
with our particular brand of luminary. We wore 
them buckled to the waist upon a cricket belt, and 
over them, such was the rigour of the game, a 
buttoned top-coat. They smelled noisomely of 
bhstered tin ; they never burned aright, though 
they would always burn our fingers ; their use was 
naught ; the pleasure of them merely fanciful ; and 
yet a boy with a bull's-eye under his top-coat asked 
for nothing more. The fishermen used lanterns 
about their boats, and it was from them, I suppose, 

z 353 


that we had got the hint ; but theirs were not bull's- 
eyes, nor did we ever play at being fishermen. The 
police carried them at their belts, and we had plainly 
copied them in that ; yet we did not pretend to be^ 
policemen. Burglars, indeed, we may have had 
some haunting thoughts of; and we had certainly an 
eye to past ages when lanterns were more common, 
and to certain story-books in which we had found 
them to figure very largely. But take it for all in 
aU, the pleasure of the thing was substantive ; and 
to be a boy with a bull's-eye under his top-coat was 
good enough for us. 

When two of these asses met, there would be an 
anxious ' Have you got your lantern ?' and a gratified 
' Yes ! ' That was the shibboleth, and very needful 
too ; for, as it was the rule to keep our glory con- 
tained, none could recognise a lantern-bearer, unless 
(hke the polecat) by the smell. Four or five would 
sometimes chmb into the belly of a ten-man lugger, 
with nothing but the thwarts above them — for the 
cabin was usually locked, or choose out some hollow 
of the links where the wind might whistle overhead. 
There the coats would be unbuttoned and the bull's- 
eyes discovered ; and in the chequering gUmmer, 
under the huge windy hall of the night, and cheered 
by a rich steam of toasting tinware, these fortunate 
young gentlemen would crouch together in the cold 
sand of the links or on the scaly bilges of the fishing- 
boat, and dehght themselves with inappropriate talk. 
Woe is me that I may not give some specimens — 
some of their foresights of life, or deep inquiries into 


the rudiments of man and nature, these were so fiery 
and so innocent, they were so richly silly, so romanti- 
cally young. But the talk, at any rate, was but a 
condiment ; and these gatherings themselves only 
accidents in the career of the lantern-bearer. The 
essence of this bliss was to walk by yourself in the 
black night ; the shde shut, the top-coat buttoned ; 
not a ray escaping, whether to conduct your footsteps 
or to make your glory pubhc : a mere pillar of dark- 
ness in the dark ; and all the while, deep down in 
the privacy of your fool's heart, to know you had a 
bull's-eye at your belt, and to exult and sing over 
the knowledge. 


It is said that a poet has died young in the breast 
of the most stohd. It may be contended, rather, 
that this (somewhat minor) bard in almost every case 
survives, and is the spice of life to his possessor. 
Justice is not done to the versatihty and the un- 
plumbed childishness of man's imagination. His life 
from without may seem but a rude mound of mud ; 
there will be some golden chamber at the heart of it, 
in which he dwells dehghted ; and for as dark as his 
pathway seems to the observer, he will have some 
kind of a bull's-eye at his belt. 

It would be hard to pick out a career more cheer- 
less than that of Dancer, the miser, as he figures in 
the ' Old Bailey Reports,' a prey to the most sordid 
persecutions, the butt of his neighbourhood, betrayed 



by his hired man, his house beleaguered by the impish 
school-boy, and he himself grinding and fuming and 
impotently fleeing to the law against these pin-pricks. 
You marvel at first that any one should wilhngiy 
prolong a life so destitute of charm and dignity ; and 
then you call to memory that had he chosen, had he 
ceased to be a miser, he could have been freed at 
once from these trials, and might have built himself 
a castle and gone escorted by a squadron. For the 
love of more recondite joys, which we cannot esti- 
mate, which, it may be, we should envy, the man 
had wiUingly forgone both comfort and consideration. 
' His mind to him a kingdom was ; ' and sure enough, 
digging into that mind, which seems at first a dust- 
heap, we unearth some priceless jewels. For Dancer 
must have had the love of power and the disdain of 
using it, a noble character in itself ; disdain of many 
pleasures, a chief part of what is commonly called 
wisdom ; disdain of the inevitable end, that finest 
trait of mankind ; scorn of men's opinions, another 
element of virtue ; and at the back of all, a con- 
science just like yours and mine, whining like a cur, 
swindling like a thimble-rigger, but still pointing 
(there or thereabout) to some conventional standard. 
Here were a cabinet portrait to which Hawthorne 
perhaps had done justice ; and yet not Hawthorne 
either, for he Avas mildly minded, and it lay not in 
him to create for us that throb of the miser's pulse, 
his fretful energy of gusto, his vast arms of ambition 
clutching in he knows not what : insatiable, insane, 
a god with a muck-rake. Thus, at least, looking in 


the bosom of the miser, consideration detects the 
poet in the full tide of life, with more, indeed, of the 
poetic fire than usually goes to epics; and tracing 
that mean man about his cold hearth, and to and 
fro in his discomfortable house, spies within him a 
blazing bonfire of dehght And so with others, who 
do not five by bread alone, but by some cherished 
and perhaps fantastic pleasure ; who are meat sales- 
men to the external eye, and possibly to themselves 
are Shakespeares, Napoleons, or Beethovens ; who 
have not one virtue to rub against another in the 
field of active life, and yet perhaps, in the life of 
contemplation, sit with the saints. We see them 
on the street, and we can count their buttons ; but 
heaven knows in what they pride themselves ! heaven 
knows where they have set their treasure ! 

There is one fable that touches very near the 
quick of life : the fable of the monk who passed into 
the woods, heard a bird break into song, hearkened 
for a trill or two, and found himself on his return a 
stranger at his convent gates ; for he had been absent 
fifty years, and of all his comrades there survived 
but one to recognise him. It is not only in the 
woods that this enchanter carols, though perhaps he 
is native there. He sings in the most doleful places. 
The miser hears him and chuckles, and the days are 
moments. With no more apparatus than an ill- 
smeUing lantern I have evoked him on the naked 
Hnks. All life that is not merely mechanical is spun 
out of two strands : seeking for that bird and hearing 
him. And it is just this that makes life so hard to 



value, and the delight of each so incommunicable. 
And just a knowledge of this, and a remembrance of 
those fortunate hours in which the bird has sung to 
us, that fills us with such wonder when we tm-n the 
pages of the reaUst There, to be sure, we find a 
picture of hfe in so far as it consists of mud and of 
old iron, cheap desires and cheap fears, that which 
we are ashamed to remember and that which we are 
careless whether we forget ; but of the note of that 
time-devouring nightingale we hear no news. 

The case of these writers of romance is most 
obscure. They have been boys and youths ; they 
have lingered outside the window of the beloved, 
who was then most probably wi'iting to some one 
else ; they have sat before a sheet of paper, and felt 
themselves mere continents of congested poetry, not 
one hne of which would flow ; they have walked 
alone in the woods, they have walked in cities under 
the countless lamps ; they have been to sea, they 
have hated, they have feared, they have longed to 
knife a man, and maybe done it ; the wild taste of 
life has stung their palate. Or, if you deny them 
all the rest, one pleasure at least they have tasted to 
the full — their books are there to prove it — the keen 
pleasure of successful literary composition. And yet 
they fiU the globe with volumes, whose cleverness 
inspires me with despairing admiration, and whose 
consistent falsity to all I care to call existence, with 
despairing wrath. If I had no better hope than to 
continue to revolve among the dreary and petty 
businesses, and to be moved by the paltry hopes and 


fears with which they suiTOund and animate their 
heroes, I declare I would die now. But there has 
never an hour of mine gone quite so dully yet ; if it 
were spent waiting at a railway junction, I would 
have some scattering thoughts, I could count some 
grains of memory, compared to which the whole of 
one of these romances seems but dross. 

These writers would retort, if I take them 
properly, that this was very true; that it was the 
same with themselves and other persons of (what 
they call) the artistic temperament ; that in this we 
were exceptional, and should apparently be ashamed 
of ourselves; but that our works must deal ex- 
clusively with (what they call) the average man, 
who was a prodigious dull fellow, and quite dead to 
aU but the paltriest considerations. I accept the 
issue. We can only know others by ourselves. 
The artistic temperament (a plague on the expres- 
sion !) does not make us different from our fellow- 
men, or it would make us incapable of writing 
novels; and the average man (a murrain on the 
word!) is just like you and me, or he would not 
be average. It was Whitman who stamped a kind 
of Birmingham sacredness upon the latter phrase ; 
but Whitman knew very well, and showed very 
nobly, that the average man was full of joys and 
full of poetry of his own. And this harping on 
life's dulness and man's meanness is a loud profession 
of incompetence ; it is one of two things : the cry 
of the bhnd eye, / cannot see, or the complaint of 
the dumb tongue, / cannot utter. To draw a hfe 



without de%hts is to prove I have not reahsed it. 
To picture a man without some sort of poetry — 
well, it goes near to prove my case, for it shows an 
author may have httle enough. To see Dancer only 
as a dirty, old, smaU-minded, impotently fuming 
man, in a dirty house, besieged by Harrow boys, 
and probably beset by small attorneys, is to show 
myself as keen an observer as . . . the Harrow 
boys. But these young gentlemen (with a more 
becoming modesty) were content to pluck Dancer 
by the coat-tails; they did not suppose they had 
surprised his secret or could put him Hvmg in a 
book : and it is there my error would have lain. 
Or say that in the same romance — I continue to 
call these books romances, in the hope of giving 
pain — say that in the same romance, which now 
begins really to take shape, I should leave to speak 
of Dancer, and follow instead the Harrow boys; 
and say that I came on some such business as that 
of my lantern-bearers on the links; and described 
the boys as very cold, spat upon by flurries of rain, 
and drearily surrounded, all of which they were; 
and their talk as silly and indecent, which it certainly 
was. I might upon these hues, and had I Zola's 
genius, turn out, in a page or so, a gem of hterary 
art, render the lantern-hght with the touches of a 
master, and lay on the indecency with the ungrudg- 
ing hand of love; and when all was done, what a 
triumph would my picture be of shallowness and 
dulness ! how it would have missed the point ! how 
it would have belied the boys ! To the ear of the 


stenographer, the talk is merely silly and indecent; 
but ask the boys themselves, and they are discussing 
(as it is highly proper they should) the possibilities 
of existence. To the eye of the observer they are 
wet and cold and drearily surrounded ; but ask them- 
selves, and they are in the heaven of a recondite 
pleasure, the ground of which is an ill-smelling 


For, to repeat, the ground of a man's joy is often 
hard to hit. It may hinge at times upon a mere 
accessory, like the lantern ; it may reside, like 
Dancer's, in the mysterious inwards of psychology. 
It may consist with perpetual failure, and find 
exercise in the continued chase. It has so little 
bond with externals (such as the observer scribbles 
in his note-book) that it may even touch them not ; 
and the man's true life, for which he consents to 
hve, lie altogether in the field of fancy. The clergy- 
man, in his spare hours, may be winning battles, 
the farmer saihng ships, the banker reaping triumph 
in the arts : all leading another life, plying another 
trade from that they chose ; like the poet's house- 
builder, who, after all, is cased in stone, 

' By his fireside, as impotent fancy prompts, 
Rebuilds it to his liking.' 

In such a case the poetry runs underground. The 
observer (poor soul, with his documents !) is all 
abroad. For to look at the man is but to court 



deception. We shall see the trunk from which he 
draws his nourishment ; but he himself is above and 
abroad in the green dome of foliage, hummed through 
by winds and nested in by nightingales. And the 
true reaHsm were that of the poets, to chmb up after 
him Hke a squirrel, and catch some glimpse of the 
heaven for which he lives. And the true reahsm, 
always and everywhere, is that of the poets : to find 
out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond 

For to miss the joy is to miss aU. In the joy of 
the actors hes the sense of any action. That is the 
explanation, that the excuse. To one who has not 
the secret of the lanterns, the scene upon the links 
is meaningless. And hence the haunting and truly 
spectral unreaHty of reahstic books. Hence, when 
we read the English realists, the incredulous wonder 
with which we observe the hero's constancy under 
the submerging tide of dulness, and how he bears 
up with his jibbing sweetheart, and endures the 
chatter of idiot girls, and stands by his whole un- 
featured wilderness of an existence, instead of seek- 
ing relief in drink or foreign travel. Hence in the 
French, in that meat-market of middle-aged sensu- 
ality, the disgusted surprise with which we see the 
hero drift sidelong, and practically quite untempted, 
into every description of misconduct and dishonour. 
In each, we miss the personal poetry, the enchanted 
atmosphere, that rainbow work of fancy that clothes 
what is naked and seems to ennoble what is base ; in 
each, hfe falls dead like dough, instead of soaring 


away like a balloon into the colours of the sunset ; 
each is true, each inconceivable ; for no man hves 
in external truth, among salts and acids, but in the 
warm, phantasmagoric chamber of his brain, with 
the painted windows and the storied walls. 

Of this falsity we have had a recent example from 
a man who knows far better — Tolstoi's Powers of 
Darkness. Here is a piece full of force and truth, 
yet quite untrue. For before Mikita was led into 
so dire a situation he was tempted, and temptations 
are beautiful at least in part ; and a work which 
dwells on the ughness of crime and gives no hint 
of any lovehness in the temptation, sins against the 
modesty of life, and even when Tolstoi writes it, 
sinks to melodrama. The peasants are not under- 
stood ; they saw their life in fairer colours ; even 
the deaf girl was clothed in poetry for Mikita, or 
he had never fallen. And so, once again, even an 
Old Bailey melodrama, without some brightness of 
poetry and lustre of existence, falls into the incon- 
ceivable and ranks with fairy tales. 


In nobler books we are moved with something 
like the emotions of hfe ; and this emotion is very 
variously provoked. We are so moved when Levine 
labours on the field, when Andre sinks beyond 
emotion, when Richard Feverel and Lucy Des- 
borough meet beside the river, when Antony, * not 
cowardly, puts off his helmet,' when Kent has infinite 


pity on the dying Lear, when, in DostoiefFsky's 
Despised and Rejected, the uncomplaining hero drains 
his cup of suffering and virtue. These are notes 
that please the great heart of man. Not only love, and 
the fields, and the bright face of danger, but sacrifice 
and death and unmerited suffering humbly supported, 
touch in us the vein of the poetic. We love to think 
of them, we long to try them, we are humbly hope- 
ftd that we may prove heroes also. 

We have heard, perhaps, too much of lesser 
matters. Here is the door, here is the open air. 
Itur in antiquam silvam. 





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