It is unusual to commence the life of an author with an apology for the want of events to interest or amuse. The history of such an individual, say the biographers, is the history of his mind, and its productions; for, in his personal career, it is rare to find a literary man travelling out of the beaten road of life. It is possible that I too might have this excuse for dullness, were Pringle's claims to distinction founded only on his literary genius; but, in reality, he did not covet so much the admiration as the gratitude of his fellows. He was never, at any period of his life, a mere author. Literature, with him, was inseparably connected with the practical amelioration of the human race — it was the armour he assumed in the great struggle of civilisation. This was the case throughout his whole career, although more apparent to the public in the latter years of his life; when, owing to his double position as a literary man, and the Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, he formed the connecting link between the press and the sacred cause of freedom — or, if I may use the expression in a restricted sense — between the moral and intellectual world.
In this point of view, it becomes a curious and interesting task to trace the history of such an individual; and I only regret that, owing to circumstances which do not at present appear susceptible of explanation, it should have fallen into my hands. My intimacy, however, with the subject of this memoir, although not extending through a period of many years, enabled me fully to appreciate his character; and I sit down to embody in these pages such information as I have been able to collect — and which would otherwise be dissipated and lost, — with the conviction on my mind, that I perform a task as acceptable to the chivalrous and high-minded, as it will be grateful to the feelings of the good and pure.
The ancestors of Thomas Pringle were Border farmers, and appear, for several generations back, to have been men of great respectability and private worth. His grandfather, William Pringle of Blaiklaw, was something more than this. He was a genuine specimen of the Scottish farmer of the olden time, who, in our day, hardly exists, except in the pages of Sir Walter. He was himself the grandson of a William Pringle, who held the farm of Yair, probably, as it would appear, on a feudal tenure as a kinsman of the laird of Whytbank, and lived in an old tower, or peel, at the foot of the Craig-hill of Yair, on Tweedside.
In the fourth generation, the ancestral rudeness and severity of temper, had subsided into the calm, steady respectability of character which distinguished a class of men who have been long the boast of Scotland; and the father of Thomas Pringle possessed all the strength of mind of one parent, tempered by all the true piety and human-kindliness of the other.
Thomas himself was born at Blaiklaw, otherwise called Easterstead, on the 5th of January, 1789. — "I was the third child," says he, in an epistolary fragment found among his papers, "of a family of four sons and three daughters, which my father had by his first marriage. It is said that I was a remarkably healthy infant; but when I was only a few months old, I met with an accident in the nurse's arms, by which my right limb was dislocated at the hip-joint. The nurse, unfortunately, concealed the incident at the time; and, though it was speedily discovered that something was wrong with the limb, and I was carried to Kelso for medical advice, the nature of the injury was not ascertained until a very considerable period had elapsed, and it was no longer practicable to reduce the dislocation. I was thus rendered lame for life.
"My early reminiscences reach back to a period when I must have been about three years old, or little more. I remember of being carried to Kelso when about that age, and being tormented by doctors examining my limb, and making me wear a red morocco boot, with steel bandages to keep it in some prescribed position. These appliances were of no advantage, and were, ere long, superseded by a pair of crutches. The latter I soon learned to use with such ease and adroitness, that, during my boyhood and youth, (when I generally enjoyed robust health,) I felt but little incommoded by my lameness. Nanny Potts, the old nurse in whose hands the accident had happened to me, never forgave herself for being the unintentional cause of my misfortune, and to make amends, indulged me, so far as she could, in every caprice. I consequently ruled her with despotic sway, and soon became sufficiently wayward and, headstrong to require strict discipline on the part of my parents to prevent me from being quite spoiled.
"When I was about five years of age, I accompanied my two eldest brothers, William and John, daily to school. We rode, all three, on one stout galloway, the foremost guiding our steed, and the other two holding fast each by the jacket of the one before him. We carried our noon-tide meal, consisting usually of a barley bannock and a bottle of milk, in a wallet; and my crutches were slung, one on each side, to the pommel of the long padded saddle (called 'sodds') on which we sat. The road —."
The dislocation of his limb will be noted as an important link in the chain of his history. With great buoyancy of spirits, and a strong predilection for all the manly sports, it is not improbable that, in the rustic seclusion of Blaiklaw, the physical might have carried it over the moral creature, or at least divided the sway. As it was, the useless limb, which he was destined to drag laboriously about for the rest of his life, served as a check and a memento; and must often, even when his youthful glee was at its highest, have sent his thoughts back to himself. His wildness of spirit was thus early chastened, and, without losing his relish for the toilsome pleasures of his age, he grew up a cheerful and yet meditative boy. This was his only personal defect, and even this was, in a great degree, overmastered by the spirit within.
When wandering with him, in later years, among the gentle hills of Highgate, I rarely remembered that my buoyant-minded friend was on crutches; and the fact of his lameness was as little observable when scouring the deserts of South Africa, to rouse the wild elephant from his lair.
His piety when a child was somewhat remarkable, as it appears to have existed as something altogether extraneous from the outward forms and observances that are usually inculcated by religious parents. His old nurse relates, that when she returned to the house, after an absence on business, she frequently found the boy on his knees, engaged in fervent prayer; and yet at the same time she accuses him of having been "not half so keen of divinity on a Sunday, as of history on a week day." The good woman, it is true, was accustomed to inflict what she called divinity as a punishment, which may account for the little relish he had for it; but the extraordinary thing is, that the child was able to separate so completely the idea of religion from that of the books which inculcate it.
At six years of age he lost his excellent mother, who was a daughter of Mr. Thomas Haitlie, a Berwickshire farmer; and to the memory of this revered parent, although so early removed, he seems to have clung with extraordinary fondness. "His filial veneration seemed, indeed," says an intimate and early friend, "to increase with his distance from the time of his bereavement." So late as 1812, he thus expresses himself in one of his letters: — "I recollect her distinctly, and particularly all the circumstances connected with the last days of her life. How could I ever forget the last kind and solemn words, the farewell smile, the parting embrace of my mother — of such a mother!"
And, when that gentlest human friend
No more her anxious eye could bend
On me, by young affliction prest
More close to her maternal breast,
I deem'd she still beheld afar
My sorrows from some peaceful star;
In slumber heard her faintly speak,
And felt her kiss upon my cheek.
His earliest and favourite amusements were gardening, fishing, and working with mechanical tools. In the last-mentioned employment he exhibited considerable dexterity; and the same natural turn which enabled him to construct a fishing-rod out of a crutch, found exercise, in after years, in supplying his lonely African hut with at least substitutes for the conveniences of civilised life. Books, however, were his grand resource — fairy tales, ghost stories, narratives of adventure and vicissitude, but especially of battles. "O that I had a book full of battles!" cried he; and his old nurse, delighted that she could gratify the taste of her darling, and at the same time insinuate "divinity," hastened to put into his hands Bunyan's Holy War.
In his fourteenth year he was sent to the grammar school of Kelso, to learn the rudiments of Latin; and three years after he went to Edinburgh, to complete his studies at the university. Thither he was accompanied by Robert Story, a boy about his own age, now the Rev. Robert Story, minister of Roseneath, on the Clyde. The two lads lodged in the same room, where for a long time, amidst the novelties of a capital, they still continued to "remember their Creator in the days of their youth." They performed religious service regularly, as they had been accustomed to see it done at home, taking the duty alternately. The sabbath they kept holy, as they had been taught to do; avoiding so much as opening a book on that day which was not of a directly religious character. Pringle greatly admired Dr. M'Crie, and usually attended public worship at his meeting-house.
"Among the remembrances of the first evening we spent together," says his friend, "it may deserve notice, that, on comparing our attainments in literature, he mentioned with peculiar delight, Park's Travels, and Campbell's Pleasures of Hope; quoting that fine passage in the latter which ends with the line, 'And Freedom shrieked when Kosciuzko fell.' It must have seemed very unlikely, at that time, that a young man suffering from incurable lameness should become a traveller; but the congenial enthusiasm which the adventures of the African traveller awakened in his mind, peculiarly fitted him for assisting in laying the foundations of a new colony in the wilds of Southern Africa; while, in his admiration of Campbell's verse, may be traced the germinating love of freedom and abhorrence of oppression, which became the ruling passion and determining motive of his future life."
"My first impressions of his mind and heart," continues this same friend, "were deepened by every opportunity I had during a long friendship and confidential intercourse with him. His warmth of affection, his ingenuousness, and his integrity were, at the very commencement of our fellowship, as truly revealed to me in his sayings and doings, as if I had known him for years. There was such a reality in the beautiful 'morale' of his nature, that conveyed to you at once the impression of his being worthy of confidence and love. When at college, he was of studious habits, and attended diligently to the duties of his different classes; and although he did not make a brilliant figure, his appearance was altogether respectable, when examined by the Professor. He did not, however, although studious, extend, as he might have done, his classical knowledge. His readings during the hours not engaged in the preparation of the lessons of the day, consisted chiefly in the belles lettres of his mother tongue. He was much more conversant with English poetry and criticism at the time, than students of his standing generally were; and he had not been many months in town (Edinburgh), before he assisted in organising a small weekly club, where his general attainments were available, either in himself producing, or in criticising, an essay in prose or in verse, written by the members in turn. His habits were exceedingly correct, as his thoughts and feelings were most pure; while, amid the trials of an academic life, his devotional bias lost little of its power. During the whole session, alternately with his companion, he conducted worship in his apartment, after the fashion of devout Scottish families; thus reverently observing the practice of his fathers. On Sundays, he generally attended public worship in the meeting-house of Dr. M'Crie, the well-known biographer of Knox and Melvil. The session closed, he returned, with an increased admiration and love, to the scene of his nativity. I never knew any one who had a more intense delight in looking at nature. He seemed to find a life and loveliness in every thing, — to have a capacity of sympathy with all the varieties of beauty and grandeur. Although lame, he had a passion for ascending hills. The top of Hounam-law was to him especially consecrated ground, from which he could command such prospects of the traditionary country, of the legends of which he was now acquiring rapidly the knowledge. He reluctantly left the country for the succeeding term, during which his habits were but little changed. To the country again returning, he made many a pilgrimage to classical spots in Teviot Dale. One of these, to St. Mary's Loch, in which I accompanied him, formed the subject of a poem afterwards published in The Poetic Mirror, under the title of The Autumnal Excursion."
To this picture of his habits I may add, that he made numerous acquaintances, and more than the common number of friends; for his bland yet sprightly manners, and his kindliness of disposition, rendered more striking by the haughty scorn he evinced of every thing mean or base, attracted at once respect and affection wherever he went. One little instance of his hatred of oppression may be given; and the rather that it serves to distinguish the generous, yet passive and somewhat sulky, feeling, which is so common, from the active will and determination which was the peculiar character of his mind. When The Family Legend was about to be produced upon the Edinburgh stage, a report arose — and, though evidently without foundation, was believed — that the Edinburgh Reviewers and their numerous disciples had resolved, in order to vindicate the critical opinions of that celebrated work, to assemble in the theatre on the fateful night, and damn the play. Here was scope for the chivalry of Pringle. The drama, as an acting piece, was prejudged — its author was a woman. Others, more especially they who were forced to drag themselves through the business of life on crutches, may have been loud in their indignation: but our friend was active in his. Before the time came, he had organised a body of forty or fifty young men, armed with clubs, who, as soon as the doors were opened, rushed into the house, and took possession of the centre of the pit. Every murmur of disapprobation was drowned by a simultaneous shout from this formidable corps; and amidst their cheering, clapping, and ruffing, the sound of their leader's heavy crutches was heard as distinctly as the knocks of Addison's trunk-maker. To this circumstance was owing, in all probability, the fortunate career of a drama by no means worthy of the genius of Joanna Baillie.
It is stated in the Quarterly Review, that Pringle became a parochial schoolmaster, and afterwards devoted himself to literature as a profession. This is altogether a mistake. He never was a parochial schoolmaster, and never gave up a certainty for the uncertainties of literature. He had the usual difficulties in choosing a walk in life, and, owing to his lameness, more than the usual difficulties. He hesitated for some time between law and medicine; but, feeling a natural repugnancy at the idea of giving himself up to a study in which he felt no peculiar interest, but yet which must thenceforth become his fate through life, he came to no decision. It was necessary, however, to do something; and at length, when an opportunity presented itself, he entered, as a clerk, into the service of his Majesty's Commissioners on the Public Records of Scotland.
This is stated, even by his friend Mr. Story, to have been "the great practical error of his life — the rejection of the claims of each profession, and a too great confidence in the profitableness of literary employment of some kind or other." The employment he undertook, however, — that of copying the old records, — was rather mechanical than literary, and it was remunerated by a regular salary; while the Register Office seemed to present a fair enough prospect to one who would climb gradually into competence, and even distinction. He looked to literature as a means of eking out a salary necessarily small at the beginning; and, if he afterwards came to depend entirely upon this secondary means, it was only for a very brief space, and under the temptation of circumstances which seemed to render it the most prudent step he could take.
I am the more disposed to defend him from the charge of having chosen literature for a profession, as I conceive that such an imprudence would have been inconsistent with the usual correctness of his judgment. Pringle was never the victim of a truant and wandering disposition. His sufferings afterwards were for the sake of principle, and were submitted to from deliberate reflection, and not as the consequence of want of forethought. I have a very good right to express my opinion on this subject; and I can say, that the choice of literature as a profession, although in a few cases it may be the result of inevitable circumstances, arises nearly always either from disinclination to steady labour, or from sheer want of sense. If from the former of these two causes, the same idle habits are manifested even in literature itself; if from the latter, the same deficiency of judgment may be clearly traced throughout the entire history of the individual. A man is not idle because he is a literary man, but he is a literary man because he is idly inclined. He is not imprudent in the common occurrences of life because he is an author; but he is an author, because he is without prudence, to direct his actions. As for the gentleman-like independence with which the literary profession is invested by the imagination of lazy, thoughtless lads, this is a dream that authors very soon learn to smile at — if so bitter an affection of the muscles can be called a smile. An author is, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, a mere huckster, and haggles with the purchasers of his small wares like a shopkeeper. He degrades literature by his meanness in selling his very mind for money, and endeavours to persuade himself that it is literature which degrades him. If there be those who retain some respect for themselves and their calling, they are the most unhappy of the tribe. Their reputation may be widely spread, their name may be associated whereever it is heard with ideas of moral beauty, or intellectual power; but they are worse remunerated than the very scavengers of the press. They stalk through society with a lofty brow, and unblanching cheek, admired or envied by the unthinking; and in a few years sink and pass away — one dares not inquire whither.
"His employment," continues his friend, the Rev. Mr. Story, "unless when it occasionally gratified his antiquarian taste, was most repugnant to the natural bias of his mind, and altogether alien from those studies and mental exercises in which he especially delighted. He had, however, an ardent and enthusiastic temperament; and although often bodily exhaustion, after the daily labour of transcription, seemed to incapacitate him for every literary pursuit and enjoyment, he would, after a little interval of repose, with all the freshness of early morn, commence his reading or writing in prose or verse; and it was astonishing how the fruit would, from time to time, appear, in the various knowledge and information he would cast into the circulation of every literary party.
"The character of his daily occupation for several years, — his passionate love of nature and rural scenery, which he could but seldom gratify, — the dreamy tendency of his fancy, — the wanderings of his soul amid happier combinations of things, — may account for those feelings of a sombre description, to which, during this period, he was occasionally subject. The entire uncertainty of his future prospects, — the difficulty of fixing on any plan of life, from his unprofessional status, — the perils of a merely literary life, — the difficulties under which others were labouring, in whom he took a deep interest, — all conspired to render more frequent the attacks of depression alluded to. Notwithstanding all this, his private letters at this period are never without tokens of great buoyancy of spirit; and, after melancholy details, some lively stroke of wit or playful humour would at once originate an entirely different train of emotions."
In 1811, Pringle and a friend published a poem — I presume a satirical one — called The Institute, which obtained for them more "empty praise" than "solid pudding." "There's for you now!" he writes, after retailing some of the encomiums he had heard, "but alas! 'pecunia quaerenda primum laus post nummus;' I now long to see the solid pudding, for printers will not be paid with praise alone. But surely, my good fellow, there is some stuff in both our craniums capable of being beaten into something of higher temper and polish than The Institute!"
I am not well qualified to be the historian of what is called "religious experience;" but the details which I have gleaned here and there from Pringle's letters are not only exceedingly interesting, but must be gratifying and consolatory in a high degree to that numerous class of persons who suspect Christianity to be a dream, merely because they will not take the trouble of "learning to believe." His devotion, when a child and a boy, was, if I may be allowed to say so, a prejudice instilled into his mind by his parents; but when in riper years the intellectual world opened to his eyes, he was not satisfied with this inherited faith, but set himself boldly and earnestly to the task of inquiring into the basis on which it rested. In this he was joined by three other young men; two of them somewhat inclined to infidelity, and the other, his friend Story, a firm believer. What Pringle's inclinations were, will be gathered from the extract of a letter to Mr. Story.
"But I must tell you our plan of conducting this momentous investigation. We three have agreed to meet every Sunday evening, if possible — calmly and candidly to canvass the subject, and compare the results of our studies and meditations. Our reflections on the different heads are to be written down, considered, and commented upon by each, and then transmitted to you. It may readily strike you from this view, that I stand upon a very disadvantageous footing in the discussion; the prejudices (shall I call them so?) of our two friends being at present fully as much against Revelation as mine are in its favour, while they both possess deep-thinking, metaphysical heads, the very opposite of mine. Be mindful, therefore, my dear Story, how much depends upon you; and let no feeble, no sophistical arguments weigh against us, nor fancy nor affection induce us to waver. Aware as I am of the peculiar disadvantages under which I enter the lists, I have resolved to repair the defects of my armour as speedily and securely as possible, and to guard with double vigilance against every open or invidious assault of the enemy. But why should I employ such an invidious metaphor? While truth continues the only object of our research, error is equally the foe of all, and it is the duty of each of us to try to detect the fallacy of his own arguments, as well as of those of his opponents." — Oct. 28, 1811.
At this period he seems to have clung to religious hope, with almost a convulsive grasp. Subject to dyspepsia, his constitutional enemy — harassed by incessant labour, which swallowed up his time—
His high views abandoned, his good deeds undone,
Aweary of all that was under the sun,
his soul either indulged fondly, in the silent watches of the night, in anticipation of its future destiny, or his thoughts turned back for consolation to the vanished years of his boyhood — the earthly heaven of the disappointed and unhappy. A love of external nature was in him not a taste, but a passion; and hence in such moments of depression — when sometimes even the Eternal Gates seemed shut against him — the remembered voice of his native stream came back with a soothing sound upon his ear, and the hills, and dells, and woods, and waters of his beautiful and romantic country, ranging themselves round his pillow, formed a circle into which the Tempter durst not enter.
By this time his serious studies appear to have been nearly over, an earlier date being affixed to the tickets of lectures which he attended — on chemistry, logic, and metaphysics, Scottish law anatomy and surgery, &c. but still, amidst all his official labours, he found time enough to keep a watchful eye upon the progress of English literature. His account, given to a friend, of the debut of "a Mr. Wilson, a new recruit of the Lake bards," an individual destined one day to have not a little effect in turning the stream of his own history — is curious from its unconsciousness.
"I do not know," says he, "how to give you any idea of his poetry. It seems to be a kind of tissue of beautiful thoughts, and fine images, drawn out to great length — a sort of fairy picturing, such as you have sometimes visited in a dream of midsummer night, or viewed in the clouds of evening — a fantastic net-work, formed of the threads of gossamer, 'beams of moonlight,' and 'atoms of the rainbow fluttering round' — worked up withal, however, with so much of fine fancy and fine feeling, as could not fail to make him a general favourite, if he had somewhat more of forcible thinking, and condensed expression." This criticism was good at the time; but the victims who have writhed under the later pen of Mr. Wilson, will not accuse him of wanting either will or power.
In the course of the highly interesting correspondence from which these extracts are taken, I can trace distinctly the development of his mind, and the ripening of those energies for which he was destined to have so much occasion in after life. Both friends, it appears, were subject to the fits of morbid melancholy familiar to most young men of genius; and, in the earlier part of the series of letters, Pringle's complaints, although too well founded in that species of physical disease which re-acts so strangely and alarmingly on the mind, may be read without interest. Now, however, he acts as the monitor of his comrade; bringing forward, in his behalf, the lessons drawn from his own dark experience, describing, with a master-hand, the phenomena of the disease, and pointing out the remedy. The picture he gives of this harassing malady, which taboos the patient from all those social feelings which were before the atmosphere of his soul, and makes him, amidst the universal harmonies of nature, "a jarring and a dissonant thing," is admirable, both in its fancy and fidelity, but too long for insertion here. Whatever progress he may have made in his intellectual being, his every-day life now passed on, for a considerable space, absorbed in the monotonous duties of the Register Office.
In 1816, I find him a contributor to Albyn's Anthology, and the author of a piece in The Poetic Mirror, which was much praised by Scott, and which was the origin of his acquaintance with that great and good man. The nucleus of the article was a short descriptive poem, which he had addressed six years before to his friend Story; and it was now to appear as an imitation of the strains of the Wizard of the North: — the said wizard, however, (in whose hands it was placed for revision) declaring, that he wished the original notes had always been as fine as their echo. The poem, in this form, was published as An Epistle to R. S., which the Quarterly Review interpreted as an epistle to Robert Southey.
During this and the preceding year, Pringle had been busy with a project which was to bring before the public a rival to the superannuated Scots Magazine; and he had already engaged as contributors to the new periodical some of the most distinguished literati of Edinburgh. His object, as declared in his confidential letters, was simply to endeavour to eke out a scanty salary with the profits arising from the speculation; and he had no idea at this time of ever depending entirely upon literature for subsistence. When the scheme, however, became more matured; when a publisher was found; and when the fate of the work appeared to be placed beyond doubt by the talents and respectability of the contributors, a change took place in his views. His salary at the Register Office being small, and his situation of a nature which admitted of its being resumed at pleasure, he did not hesitate to relinquish the certain advantages he possessed, at least for a space of time long enough to give his new plan a trial; and, when fairly released from the trammels of business, he plunged into the severer labours of literature with his customary enthusiasm.
Early in the following year, 1817, the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine appeared, in which Pringle's most important contribution was an article on the Gipsies, the materials for which were chiefly furnished by Scott. This kindness on the part of the Minstrel (then the Great Unknown), was the more remarkable, as he had intended, before hearing of Pringle's undertaking, to make use of the papers for an article of his own in the Quarterly Review. It may be conceived that our friend was gratified in no common degree; particularly, as he remarks, "since Scott's kindness and attention throughout were spontaneously conferred, without any solicitation on my part." In the same number were papers by Mr. Lockhart, "a young advocate," Mr. Wilson, Mr. Neil, Mr. Cleghorn, the Rev. T. Wright, Dr. Brewster, James Hogg, and others.
About the same time, he undertook the editorship of The Edinburgh Star newspaper, for which, besides having the responsibility of providing the whole materials, and superintending the necessary arrangements, he wrote the leading article twice a week. This drudgery, together with that of the magazine, reduced him to what he calls "a lamentable state of slavery," — which was nothing lightened by a second magazine being soon upon his hands. The former periodical, falling into the hands of new proprietors, became Blackwood's Magazine; the latter was Constable's, of which he undertook the joint editorship.
It is not my purpose to go into the details of his dispute with Blackwood, which speedily led to a separation, and which drew upon him the enmity, or at least the abuse, of some of his former coadjutors. To revive such passages now would do no good, more especially since I cannot discover in his correspondence, even with his most confidential friends, the slightest token of animosity. The fact, I believe, is, that Pringle, who looked upon literature as something too high and holy to be mingled with the grossness of party politics, incautiously linked himself, at first, with men whose literary talents, although in some instances higher than his own, were subservient to their party passions. A connexion like this could not possibly be permanent; and the early separation which took place must have been advantageous to both parties.
"I am in a very strange and curious state," he writes, at this epoch, "but I cannot explain it except in generalities. I am supposed to be prosperous and getting forward in the world, and yet I am one of the poorest men I know. I have no regularity of hours, and am often out all night, and yet I am perfectly sober, and given to no dissipation. I am well known to half the people in Edinburgh, and might spend all my time in pleasant company if I chose, and yet have not a friend in it — at least a male friend. I am the editor of two magazines, which are direct rivals. I am supposed to be a bachelor, and to live in an attic four stories high, with a cat on my mantel-piece, and yet I have a house with a street door, and though not a wife in it, one ready to take there as soon as I am able."
The explanation of this enigma is, that Pringle had prepared for his marriage some months before, and on the 19th of July, when his affairs were, to all appearance, in a flourishing state, was married to Margaret, daughter of Mr. William Brown, an East Lothian farmer of great respectability. Then came the magazine feud, which turned his prospects topsy-turvy, and rendered it imprudent, had it been possible, to commence publicly his married life; and then came the calls for an additional income at the very moment when a diminution took place. Far from being startled, however, by the new difficulties of his situation, Pringle turned a dauntless look from his own fire-side upon the lowering clouds of the future, and thanked his God for the gift of a faithful friend, and devoted wife.
"I have now a prospect," writes he, "of more sedate and substantial happiness than I have ever previously enjoyed, if Providence grant us 'health, competence, and peace.' As to the first, I am happy to say, that I am, in better health at present than I have enjoyed for many years; the second depends upon the success of our magazine, which at present is going on very prosperously; the third I can confidently count upon at my own fireside, whatever may occur elsewhere. As to the other matters, I am perfectly aware that many people will say that I have taken a very inconsiderate and imprudent step; but even you, who know me too well to think I should be much influenced by mercenary motives, are too slightly and superficially acquainted with Margaret, to estimate the qualities which compensate to me a hundred-fold the want of fortune."
Soon after this he published the Autumnal Excursion, and other Poems, and still came the empty praise, with as little as ever of the solid pudding. He then relinquished the unprofitable editorship of The Star newspaper; and then — after this period of glorious hopes, of lofty yearnings, of gallant struggles — our history finds him once more, in January, 1819, on his accustomed seat in the Register Office.
No longer a youth of nineteen, as when he commenced his laborious duties under the Record Commissioners, but a man of the mature age of thirty; no longer a solitary individual, hanging loose upon society, and possessing the elastic power of adapting his expenses to his income, but the head of a family, holding a fixed rank in the circles of the town — he now found it impossible to live upon earnings so small, however certain.
"It is sufficient to say," writes he to a friend, "that my present occupation is inadequate to the support of my family in the most moderate way I can devise; I see little or no prospect of materially improving my circumstances in this country; and I have already incumbrances on my shoulders which threaten every day to become heavier, and at last to overwhelm me in hopeless debt. Now this is a state of life the most intolerable that can well be imagined, and which one must experience fully to estimate. It paralyses the very blood and heart of man and I cannot and will not endure it, while a prospect remains of extricating myself by any exertion, or sacrifice, that can be made with honour and a good conscience."
The other members of his father's house were at this moment suffering, in like manner, the vicissitudes of life; and it is no wonder that the thoughts of a man like Pringle, while meditating an escape for himself from so harassing a situation, should have been busy, at the same time, with the fate of those who were so dear to him. A plan at length suggested itself, which, as regarded himself, his fancy painted "couleur de rose," and which was irresistibly tempting, from the means it offered of re-uniting in one society the scattered members of the family. This was emigration. Southern Africa was fixed upon as their new country; application made, through Scott, to Lord Melville for a grant of land for his father and brother, and with a promptitude which characterised all his operations, the affair was brought to a conclusion, and the party prepared to cross the ocean in search of that competence and independence which adverse circumstances had denied to them at home.
"It may be proper here to notice, that I had two distinct objects in view in emigrating to the Cape. One of these was to collect again into one social circle, and establish in rural independence, my father's family, which untoward circumstances had broken up and begun to scatter over the world. To accomplish this, emigration to a new colony was indispensable. My father had been a respectable Roxburghshire farmer; and all his sons (five in number) had been bred to the same profession, except myself. The change of times, however, and the loss of capital, had completely overclouded their prospects in our native country; and, therefore, when the Government scheme of colonizing the unoccupied territory at the Cape was promulgated, I called their attention to that colony, and offered to accompany them, should they determine to proceed thither as settlers. After maturely weighing the advantages of the Cape, as compared with other British colonies, they made their election, and empowered me to apply on their behalf to the Colonial Department. As it was required by the Government plan that every party should comprise at least ten adult males, one family related to my wife, and two or three other respectable individuals, were associated with us. And thus our little band of twenty-four souls was made up; consisting of twelve men, including three farm servants, six women and six children.
"My personal views were different from those of my relatives. I had received a collegiate education; and had been employed for about a dozen years in the service of his Majesty's Commissioners on the Ancient Records of the Kingdom, in the office of my esteemed friend Mr. Thomson, Deputy Clerk-Register of Scotland. I had also been recently engaged to a certain extent in literary concerns; having been one of the original projectors and editors of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (then a liberal, though not a party journal); and afterwards of Constable's Magazine. My connection with these journals, however, had rather been prejudicial than otherwise to my views in life, and had given me, moreover, a decided aversion to literature, or at least to periodical literature, as a profession. Under these circumstances, I determined to embark my own fortunes with those of my relatives in the Government scheme of South-African colonization. But as neither my pecuniary circumstances nor my previous habits rendered it advisable for me to locate myself as an agricultural settler, I trusted to obtain, through the recommendation of powerful friends, some appointment suitable to my qualifications in the civil service of the colony, and probably in the newly settled district."
Here ends the first epoch of his history. Invested with the direction of the little band of emigrants, he proceeded to London to make the necessary arrangements; and in February, 1820, they set sail for the Cape of Good Hope. A song written by him, in his pilgrim-character, is now admitted into the selections of popular poetry, and more especially into those designed for youth:—
Our native land-our native vale
A long — a last adieu!
Farewell to bonny Teviotdale,
And Cheviot's mountains blue!