BIRTH, BOYHOOD, AND YOUTH.
DAVID MACBETH MOIR was born at Musselburgh on the 5th of January 1798. His parents were respectable citizens, He was the second of four children. His father died in 1817, and his mother in 1842. It is a very common belief that intellectual qualities come by the mother's side. Whether or not the belief be well founded, it is a fact that our poet's mother was a woman of good understanding and general refinement, and of sound taste in matters of literature; so much so, that, in the earlier part of his poetical course, young Moir was in the habit of consulting her about his pieces in manuscript, and had confidence in her judgment to the last. As she encouraged him in all his studies, it is pleasing to know that she lived to enjoy what is dearest to a mother's heart — the fame of her son.
Our poet got the first rudiments of his education at a school of minor note in Musselburgh. He was then entered at the Grammar School, which at that time was taught by Mr. Taylor, and had a high character. During his attendance of about six years at this seminary, young Moir learned the Latin, Greek, and French languages, and the elements of geometry and algebra. He was a cheerful, active, and diligent scholar, and always stood high in his classes. In after years, however, he used to say that his scholarship was but shallow, and that the disadvantage of his own deficiency made him all the more careful in giving his children a better education. Taylor was a perfect model of the old Tory and Loyalist, Moir was a favourite and admiring disciple; and so, perhaps, the boy insensibly caught from his master's well-known political character notions which gradually strengthened into that Conservatism of Church and State which was one of the steadfast principles of his manhood.
Attentive scholar though he was, we may be sure that a nature such as Moir's, simple and healthy, would rejoice in all manner of innocent sports. Gardening, and painting in water-colours, were the private recreations that he loved most; but in all the games of gregarious boyhood he took a robust and hearty share. Skating was his special delight, and bold and graceful was he at that beautiful play. In reference to his early amusements he writes thus, in a little essay entitled School Recollections, published in Friendship's Offering of 1829: — "What delight in life have we ever experienced more exquisite than that which flowed in upon us from the teacher's 'bene, bene,' our own self-approbation, and release from the tasks of the day — the green fields around us wherein to ramble, the stream beside us wherein to angle, the world of games and pastimes 'before us, where to choose?' Words are inadequate to express the thrill of transport with which, on the rush made from the school-house door, the hat is waved in air, and the shout sent forth. With these and similar thoughts in my mind, I strayed down to the banks of the river, and came upon a favourite scene of our boyish sports. Some of the very bushes I recognised as our old lurking-places of hunt-the-hare; and on the old fantastic beech-tree I discovered the very bough from which we were accustomed to suspend our swings. The fresh green plat by the bank of the stream lay before me. It was there that we played at leap-frog, or gathered dandelions for our tame rabbits; and at its western extremity were still extant the relics of the deal-seat, at which we used to assemble on autumn evenings to have our round of stories. Many a witching tale and wondrous tradition has there been told; many a marvel of figures that 'revisited the glimpses of the moon;' many a recital of heroic and chivalrous enterprise, accomplished ere warriors dwindled down to the mere pigmy strength of mortals. Sapped by the wind and rain, the planks lay in a sorely decayed and rotten state, looking in their messiness like signposts of desolation, mementoes of terrestrial instability. Traces of the knife were still here and there visible upon the trunks of the supporting trees; and with little difficulty I could decipher some well-remembered initials. 'Cold were the hands that carved them there.'"
We see, in these circumstances of Moir's free and happy boyhood, the very best food on which the poetic spirit within him could be feeding; and the locality in which he grew up, so rich in picturesque old character, beauties of scenery, and historic associations, was full of promptings to genius. The ancient burgh, with its quaint old-world usages; the Roman Bridge; remnants of hermitages, chapels, and shrines; fabulous wells of virtue suburbs of seafaring veterans, grey with the awe of hair-breadth 'scapes; " houses of antique fame, embowered in the depths of venerable trees; crumbling castles and bloody old battle-fields; the sunny slopes of Inveresk, and the sweep of view from its crowning summit — Craigmillar, and Arthur's Seat, and Edinburgh hanging high in the west; the far-off Ochils, so soft and graceful, melting into sky; Inchkeith and Bass in the waters; villas and towns gleaming away on the bending shore; Esk from its inland woods; the multitudinous sea, with its ever-changing aspects of storm and calm, of terror and beauty — how impressive must all this have been to the thoughtful and enthusiastic boy who had his "home and haunt" in the midst of it.
Moir was now thirteen years old, when Dr. Stewart, a medical practitioner in Musselburgh, a man of talent and worth, and very successful in his business, having known the boy for some time, and liked him greatly, got him as an apprentice. The term was four years; but the indenture bore that, in the last winter of his service, David was to be free to attend college, in the pursuit of his medical studies. Thus was his professional life determined. He entered upon his new duties with his usual cheerful zeal, to the special satisfaction of his kind-hearted master, who treated him more as a personal friend than an apprentice. The following anecdote, communicated by his brother, Mr. Hugh Moir, refers to the first or second year of his apprenticeship: — "Late on a Saturday night, in the depth of winter, an alarm having been given that the body of a poor man, who had accidentally fallen into the mill-stream, had been found at the Sea-mill, I accompanied my brother David to the place to which the body had been conveyed after it was taken out of the water. Two other medical men, besides himself, tried the usual means of resuscitation, and persevered in their humane efforts till every one present saw the case to be utterly hopeless. A cart was then ordered, and the body was sent to the house where it was ascertained the man had lodged. My brother and I returned home. About midnight I was surprised on being awakened by him, with the request that I should accompany him to the house to which the body had been taken. It was at a considerable distance, and in a dirty narrow close at the west end of the town. Off we went accordingly. On entering my brother desired a candle to be lighted, and I having accompanied him into the little room, we found the body covered with a sheet, and a plate of salt laid upon the breast. Withdrawing the sheet, David anxiously passed his hand over the body, to ascertain if any warmth still existed. It was evidently on his part a 'hoping against hope.' He was satisfied, however, after having done this; and the sheet having been carefully replaced over the corpse, we went home. That he had even the shadow of a shade of hope in this visit, I do not imagine; I attribute it solely to a nervous anxiety for his own self-satisfaction." A characteristic anecdote, indicating that keen conscientiousness of practical duty which was the primary foundation of Moir's character, and that nervous sensibility which belongs to the poetical temperament.
Business first, literary recreation next — and poetry the prime of it; such was the key-note on which Moir pitched his life, and kept it to the end. Business has not been neglected: the recreation now begins. Our author's first poetical attempt bears the date of 1812, when he was in his fifteenth year. The lines are correct and neat, but altogether imitative, being after the manner of Pope's first verses: genius, even the most original, is always imitative at first. Soon after this, he made his way with two short prose essays into The Cheap Magazine, a small Haddington publication. Of the anxieties connected with this, his first public appearance as an author, he sometimes spoke in after years, playfully describing the restless impatience with which he went out into the street to await the arrival of the stage-coach by which the magazine was sent, and the rapture with which he "saw himself actually in print."
In the last winter of his apprenticeship, young Moir attended Edinburgh College. Every Monday morning he walked up to his classes, and he returned home every Saturday night to spend the Sabbath in the family circle. "During the week," says his brother Hugh, "he lodged in a small room in Shakespeare Square. In the evenings he was in the habit of attending Carfrae's sale-rooms, where the best part of his small weekly allowance of pocket-money was expended on books. I remember the pride with which, every Saturday night, he showed us his weekly purchases. His economy and contentedness were admirable, mental improvement being his great aim. Occasionally he indulged in a visit to the theatre, to see the performances of Mrs. Siddons and Miss O'Neill, John Kemble and Edmund Kean, which made a very powerful impression upon his mind." At the conclusion of his apprenticeship he attended college regularly, and got his diploma as a surgeon in the spring of 1816, when he was only eighteen years of age. It was his purpose to enter the medical department of the army; but the battle of Waterloo had now put military matters on a different footing, and so the purpose was given up. He returned home, and spent the summer in literary pursuits, contributing occasionally to The Scots Magazine, and taking an active part in a debating society, which he had instituted under the title of "The Musselburgh Forum." Of this society he was secretary; and so pleased were the members with his services, that, at the end of their session, they unanimously voted him a silver medal, suitably inscribed, Toward the close of the same year he ventured on a small anonymous publication, entitled The Bombardment of Algiers, and other Poems. The edition was distributed almost wholly among his friends. The performance was not without promise; but, as the public have no sympathy with "very good, considering," it won no fame.
One important attribute is noticeable in all our young poet's early rhymes — namely, what Wordsworth calls "the accomplishment of verse," in easy play. Whether it be an original faculty, or how "the accomplishment" may come, it is difficult to determine; but certain it is, that men essentially and by nature great poets have wanted it, and, wanting it, have missed poetic fame. Take Jeremy Taylor, for example, whose mind was as a rich virgin soil, unconscious of the plough, casting up its enormous prodigality of abundance, trees of stature like the cedars of Lebanon, jungles of tangled bloom, and monstrous weeds — still "weeds of glorious feature" — "Wild above rule or art." Strange that such a nature, with all its teeming foison of poetry, did not burst out into rhythmical measures. He tried it, but his overt poetry is pitiful prose. Compared with his own unmeasured prose, flashing its lights from myriad points, it is Ariel pegged in the entrails of the knotted oak, to Ariel "playing in the plighted clouds."
In 1817 our young surgeon joined Dr. Brown of Musselburgh, as a partner in his medical practice. The practice was an extensive one, and the toil was great. Moir's father, however, was just dead, and his mother was left to "the battle of life;" and so the well-principled young man, ever ready for honest work, took the new toil upon him all the more zealously, in order to help her. "Many a time," says his brother Charles, "have I heard my mother, who was a woman of a strong mind, record with a tearful eye the struggles of that period, and the noble bearing of her son David, who carried her successfully through all her difficulties." Nor, amidst these grave responsibilities, was literature forgotten. Moir was now acquainted with Mr. Thomas Pringle, author of The Autumnal Excursion, and one of the editors of Constable's Edinburgh Magazine, and became a frequent contributor, both in prose and verse, to that publication. Business and literary exercises so laborious drew upon young Moir's hours of sleep. "When the duties of the day were over," says his brother Charles — "and it was always nine or ten o'clock in the evening before he could count on that — after supper the candle was lighted in his bed-room, and the work of the desk began. Having shared the same room with him for many years in my early life, the routine of those nights is as fresh in my mind as if it had been but yesterday. With that tender care for others, which was the distinguishing feature of his character, he used to persuade me to retire to rest; and many a time have I awoke, when the night was far spent, and wondered to find him still at his books and pen."
Under all these labours Moir grew up to manhood, well knit of body and firm of health. "I am far from being delicate," thus he writes in 1828 to Dr. Macnish of Glasgow: "I have not been confined fourteen days to bed for the last twenty years — a pretty good sign that my constitution is not naturally a very tender one. So far from it, I am much more known in the town of Musselburgh, among the 'profanum vulgus,' for my gymnastic proficiency than for any mental capabilities; and many could give evidence to my prowess in leaping, running, swimming, and skating, who never dreamt that I 'penned a sonnet when I should engross.'" All very good; but, as in the case of Burns and other men of genius, the general frame may be robust, and yet the nervous system tremblingly delicate. To Macnish, the very same year, we find our poet confessing thus: — "You ask me if I am ever subject to hypochondria. For several years past the tone of my mind has been much more equable, and though, like all the rest of the 'irritabile genus,' liable to ups and downs, I have become a callous enough, dull enough, plodding man of the world. From eighteen to twenty-one I lived in such a state of nervous excitement, that the very idea of encountering a strange face, or making a call at a house where I was not thoroughly familiar, was a torture that called on me for an ejaculation to Heaven for support; but the years which have been blunting my sensibilities have brought with them the not to be despised benefit of more commonplace nerves. As a printed specimen of my having been hipped, I need only refer you to 'Despondency, a Reverie,' in my volume, a piece no notice of which has ever been taken, so far as I have seen, but which, notwithstanding ('meipso judice'), is one of the most deeply poetical pieces I have ever produced. Perhaps you know, and have experienced, as well as myself, that employment of the mind is the best method of dispelling vapours, and that without bodily exercise, nay, fatigue, a man of thought and reflection is apt to become jaundiced in his perceptions and feelings. Often at the time have I found it a horrid annoyance to be obliged to break through my trains of thought, and mix with the great Babel of the world; but I have had reason to be thankful for it afterwards; I have no doubt that my health has often been preserved by such rude interferences with my meditations."
Constituted thus of the practical and the contemplative, of the robust and the keenly susceptible, we have in young Moir that duality of nature which makes a complete man.
MR. MOIR'S strict attention to his professional business may be guessed from the fact, that between 1817, when he joined Dr. Brown, and 1828, when he made a run to Glasgow and Northumberland, he did not sleep a night out of Musselburgh. No fagging, however, could keep down his literary spirit. He was now stepping out upon the bolder arena of Blackwood's Magazine. William Blackwood, a man of rare sagacity, intelligence, courage, and persevering energy, saw at once the value of his new contributor, and kept him at work. Animated by such appreciation, Moir's mind seems to have been in a state of great exaltation at this time. Pensive tenderness to-day, frolicsome humour to-morrow — ready was he for both. A few friends about Musselburgh, who knew the fun with which he had enlivened a manuscript Magazine, projected and kept, up in their circle mainly by himself, might not have been surprised to learn that the best of the jeux-d'esprit with which young Maga was now crackling — such as "The Eve of St. Jerry," "The Auncient Waggonere," "Billy Routing," &c, — were let off by Moir; but the body of his admirers will be surprised to learn it now for the first time. Maginn has generally got the credit of Moir's squibs. Our poet kept his incognito for a while, even with Mr. Blackwood, communicating his serious and his jocose pieces as if from two different parties — though, to say the truth, the sagacious publisher scented the identity of authorship from the very first. In all his play of sparrow-shot, sharp and decisive was the skill with which our humorist hit the folly as it flew. A queer refrain for a queer song was quite a knack with him. "Have you never observed," thus, on an after day, writes to him his friend, Mr. Robert Chambers, with his usual curious ingenuity, "that songs appear all the more acceptable to the popular mouth when they are a little daft-like? Honest Captain Gray always joins me in this idea. A kind of rant, or 'drant,' 'aut alliocunque nomine gaudeat,' often fixes itself on the public, when capital, sensible verses have no chance. Is it because we sing only (generally speaking) when we are in a frivolous, capersome humour, and don't care about what comes uppermost? If not this, hang me if I can tell what it is!" You have touched the soul of Oddity, O! clever master of the Popular Rhymes. With or without a reason, Moir could embody it.
An occasional short essay in prose varied our author's contributions to Blackwood. These essays were but slight, and attracted little notice. His comic vein of poetry intermitted — his serious one ran freely on. His grave verses were stamped with the signature of the Greek letter [Delta]; hence the title of "Delta" usually given to Moir in the literary world. "The Pyramid" and "The Triangle" were playful variations by his friends. The popularity of Delta's soft and beautiful pieces was very great, especially among the young, and helped well to fix Blackwood in the hearts of the rising generation. The reading of poetry is a passion with a great proportion of young people, and the magazine which has it abundantly is their delight: as they advance in life, they may care less for poetry, still they go on with the series of their magazine, clinging to it as their first love: and its continued poetry, the while, is attracting another generation of young readers. This, by the way, as a hint to editors.
Delta at length became personally known to Mr. Blackwood, and, through him, to several of the leading writers in the Magazine — Professor Wilson among others. This acquaintanceship with the Professor gradually ripened into a friendship not to be dissolved but at the grave's mouth. In the multiform nature of Wilson, his mastery over the hearts of ingenuous youth was one of his finest characteristics. It was often won in this peculiar way: — An essay is submitted to him as Professor, Editor, or Friend, by some worthy young man. Mr. Wilson does not like it, and says so in general terms. The youth is not satisfied, and, in the tone of one rather injured, begs to know specific faults. The generous Aristarch, never dealing haughtily with a young worth, instantly sits down, and begins by conveying, in the most fearless terms of praise, his sense of that worth; but, this done, we be to the luckless piece of prose or "numerous verse!" Down goes the scalpel with the most minute savagery of dissection, and the whole tissues and ramifications of fault are laid naked and bare. The young man is astonished; but his spirit is of the right sort; he never forgets the lesson; and, with bands of filial affection stronger than hooks of steel, he is knit for life to the man who has dealt with him thus. Many a heart will recognise this peculiar style of the great nature I speak of. The severe service was once done to Delta; he was the young man to profit by it: the friendship was all the firmer.
In 1823, Mr. Galt the novelist came to live at Esk-grove, in the immediate neighbourhood of Musselburgh, and a friendly intercourse was established between Mr. Moir and him. "He was then in his forty-fourth year," says Delta, in his after Memoir of Galt, "of herculean frame, and in the full vigour of health. His height might be about six feet one or two, and he evinced a tendency to corpulency. His hair, which was jet black, had not yet become grizzled; his eyes were small but piercing; his nose almost straight; long upper lip, and finely rounded chin. At an early period of life Mr. Galt had suffered from smallpox; but the marks of its ravages were by no means severe, and, instead of impairing, lent a peculiar interest to his manly and striking countenance. He was seldom or never seen without spectacles; but we are uncertain whether the use of these arose from natural shortsightedness, or from the severity of his studies. In conversation, Mr. Galt's manner was somewhat measured and solemn, yet full of animation, and characterised by a peculiar benignity and sweetness. Except when questioned, he was not particularly communicative, and in mixed company was silent and reserved. His answers, however, always conveyed the results of a keen and discriminative judgment, and of an eye that allowed not the ongoings of the world to pass unobserved or unimproved." Such was the confidence reposed by Galt in Moir, that when afterwards hurried off to America before he could get his Last of the Lairds finished, he left two or three of the concluding chapters, involving, of course, the winding-up, that all-important part of a novel, to be completed by his friend Delta. He himself did not see the finale till a year or two afterwards, and laughed heartily at the ingenious way in which his substitute had disposed of some of his characters.
Moir's professional duties were widening every year; but his self-imposed literary work, far from slackening on that account, only increased the more in vigour and extent. The more he did, the more he seemed able to do. Besides his regular contributions of grave poetry to Blackwood, bearing the usual signature of [Delta], he was now pouring forth in the all manner of jocularities in prose and verse — familiar letters and rhyming epistles from O'Doherty; mock-heroic specimens of translations from Horace; Christmas carols by the fancy contributors, Mullion and the rest; ironical imitations of living poets; Cockney love-songs; puns and parodies; freaks and fantasias endless — all little wotted of by the world as coming from him. The concentrated pungency of the very gall of wit is reserved for such satiric masters as Swift; but Moir could always be sprightly, sharp, and clever.
Toward the close of 1824, our author published his Legend of Genevieve, with other Tales and Poems. Several of the pieces were new, but the body of the volume was composed of selections from his contributions to the magazines. The publication was well received by the press, and increased Delta's poetical reputation: but the sale was not extensive. The fact that he continued singing monthly in Blackwood gave the book a sort of fractional and incidental character; and the public, progressive in their sympathy with every fresh outpouring, did not care much for a single isolated volume belonging mainly to the past.
In 1827 Mr. Blackwood introduced me to Mr. Moir; and much about the same time Dr. Macnish, author of The Anatomy and still better known by his literary nom-de-guerre, "The Modern Pythagorean," became acquainted with him also. Macnish's talent and sagacity and shrewdness, combined with the manliest simplicity and warm-heartedness, and the tags of oddity and fringes of whimsicality which hung all about the native movement of his mind, in the regions of the quaint and queer, made him a perfect delight to Delta; and they loved one another like brothers. An improved edition of The Anatomy of Drunkenness was dedicated to Moir.
The Autobiography of Mansie Wauch began in 1824, and the series ran on for the three following years. So popular was it in Scotland, that I know districts where country clubs, waiting impatiently for the Magazine, met monthly, so soon as it was issued, and had Mansie read aloud by one of their number, amidst explosions of congregated laughter. The work was published, with fresh additions, in a volume in 1828, and its success as a book more than sustained its first popularity as a serial. Not only in Scotland, but in England and America also, Mansie is now a standard classic of humour — giving Moir, for all time to come, a uniqueness of fame as a novelist. The fame is deserved. Wide and deep and true is the mirror held up by broad-fronted Burns in the very face of Scottish nature and life; and yet he has almost completely missed those many peculiar features of the national character and manners which are brought out so inimitably in Mansie Wauch. Mansie himself is perfect as a portraiture. What an exquisite compound of conceit, cowardice, gossiping silliness, pawkiness, candour, kindly alfections, and good Christian principle — the whole amalgam, with no violent contrasts, with no gross exaggerations, beautifully blent down into verisimilitude, presenting to us a unique hero at once ludicrous and loveable. And how admirably in keeping with the central autobiographer are the characters and scenes which revolve around his needle. Totally different is the whole delineation from the broad, strong, national characteristics, rough and ready, hit off by Burns; but yet equally true to nature, and thoroughly Scottish. In some of Gall's best Scotch novels we find characters of the same pawky class with Mansie; but Mansie beats them all in compactness and completeness, and has elevations of ideality about him which Galt could not reach. The immortal tailor remains an original.
In the spring of 1826 we find Andrew Picken, an ingenious young man, belonging to the neighbourhood of Musselburgh, consulting Moir about some poetry in manuscript which he wished to publish. Moir gave him considerate advice, and Picken acknowledged it thus: — "I have considered your observations; and it is but a poor compliment to say that I fully acquiesce in their justice, and that, as a necessary consequence, I will not throw myself upon the mercy of the world as an author, with all the faults of inexperience on my head. I will defer the hazard till I am better provided for it; and perhaps, in doing so, I may hereafter leave myself less to blush for, when I look back upon my early lucubrations." Whether or not this sensible resolution was fully kept I do not know, nor am I acquainted with the various stages of Picken's history; but we find him very soon afterwards in London as a literary adventurer. The Dominie's Legacy was his chief publication. It has no little merit, and gave its author considerable reputation. During a series of years, Picken's applications to Moir for literary help, in one scheme after another, were manifold and painful. In 1833 (the year after Galt's general health gave way) he writes to Delta thus: — "As to Galt's health, I don't think it nearly so bad as he does himself, or as is given out, now that I have got used to his complaints. Depend upon it, he will last a considerable time yet, and write a great deal more, but not, I fear, to the increase of his reputation. One thing I have always envied in our admired friend — his remarkable activity of mind, and the capacity of mental labour in the midst of bodily infirmity. I have sometimes also been inclined to envy his indomitable self-confidence, which carries him straight on through everything; but this happy trait has brought with it its peculiar evils. The observation of his character, I confess, has interested and amused me; and I have much to say of him, when time is expedient. His chief failing is that he will always be great. You are well off, not to depend on literature as it has been of late. I can hardly wonder at Galt's being rather shamefaced about it, and the sort of reputation it brings even to such as he. I have tried to get out of it, and back to mercantile life, but cannot. There's infatuation and poverty in it." Poor Picken! he could not, and did not get out of it. He died very soon thereafter, with the galling harness on his back. One warning more to young men, enforced with all the solemnities of suffering, sorrow, and death!
The following excerpts from some of Moir's letters about this time, may be taken as so far illustrative of his opinions, character, and life: — To MACNISH, 17th August 1827. — "In the development of a story, it is necessary — at least with myself it is so — to have some real facts as grappling-irons wherewith to cling to the memory. The finest imagination cannot possibly invent circumstances which will bear even on the writer's mind — not to say the reader's — with the cogency of facts. Recollect this in getting up a story, and you will assuredly find that I am right." [Thanks to this practical wisdom for the life-like realities of Mansie.] To the same, 11th January 1828. — "Your precis of the relative merits of Cyril Thornton and The Subaltern is judicious. Gleig is a writer of considerable feeling, shrewd common-sense, and extensive observation; but he is deficient in imagination. He never startles, surprises, or hurries us on. We read and are pleased and interested, and we lay down his book with the consciousness that he is a good fellow and a sensible writer. In Cyril Thornton the interest is of a higher kind. There are dashes of melancholy, indicative of the lofty imaginative tone of the author's mind; and in his pictures of human society and manners, we find many of those slight delicate touches of humour and pathosfor to me both appear only opposite grades in the same scale of sensibility — which show the man of refined feeling and genius. With Captain Hamilton I have met several times, and admire him much. Unfortunately he has an impediment in speech, highly detrimental to his graces as a social companion; but his fine animated countenance, which reminds you of Byron's heroes, and especially his black, quick, piercing eye, betokens the penetration and vigour of his mind. Gleig I have never seen. He was in town about a month ago, and I was invited to meet Lockhart and him, but could not accept the invitation." To a Female Friend, November 1828. — "I have been bothered with a fearful round of invitations of late; so much so that I was afraid of going home, in the dread of fresh cards lying for me. Apropos of dissipation, allow me to refer you to Dr. Macnish's book for an account of the melancholy of men of genius. Perhaps to that title I have little claim; and it has been more than once altogether denied me before now. Be that as it may, an opportunity is now suggested of expressing my opinion on a very important subject. To this world's cares I have been by no means a stranger; but, thank God, the degradation of subduing them by application to the solace of stimulants never once entered my heart — I trust it will break before it submits to that. No, no; such a remedy I loathe, hate, abominate, and despise. The only remedy from sorrow which I would ask, is a reciprocal sympathy, and to live in some quiet retirement, away from the silly bustle of the world." To the Same, 23d June 1828. — "I am not aware that I am much given up to superstitious feelings; but it is not a little curious that, when I awoke last New-Year's morning. it was strongly impressed upon my heart that this was to be the most eventful year of my life-in what shape, of course, I could not decipher; but either for joy or wo." To the Same, 11th February 1829. — "I had the other day a most friendly and handsome offer from Mr. Blackwood, of the editorship of the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture. He also strongly recommended me to settle as a medical practitioner in Edinburgh, where himself and his friends would exert themselves in getting me into practice. From the present situation of my affairs, however, I thought it prudent, after weighing the matter well, to decline the offered kindness." To the same, 29th March 1829. — "We are all here totally engrossed (speaking in a public sense) with the Catholic question. We have had a meeting to petition against concessions, at which Mr. Aitchison of Linkfield was elected president, and myself secretary."
The advice to Moir to remove to Edinburgh was often renewed by Mr. Blackwood, and also by his sons: their confidence in his professional ability, and their sanguine hopes of his success in the wider field proposed, a desire also to have him nearer them, made them very urgent in the matter. Dr. Abercrombie, one of Moir's most cordial friends, pressed him with the same advice, and offered him his zealous support in event of his coming to Edinburgh. Moir was too wise in the business of life to be guided by mere sentiment and feeling in a deliberation of this kind; still "man does not live by bread alone," and I have no doubt that our poet's unwillingness to leave the rural scenes of his early days, and his desire to live and die among his own people — a desire very strong in natures such as his — had their share in determining him to remain where he was. A motive higher and better still had sway in the case. "We have strong grounds for believing," says Blackwood's Magazine, "that a higher and better motive induced him to refrain from abandoning the scene of his early labours, and permanently joining, in the metropolis of Scotland, that social circle which contained many of his dearest friends. He could not bring himself to forsake his practice in a locality where the poor had a claim upon him. During the terrible visitations of the cholera, which were unusually, and, indeed, unprecedentedly severe in the parish to which he belonged, Moir was night and day in attendance upon the sufferers. He undertook, with more than the enthusiasm of youth, a toil and risk which he might well have been excused delegating to other hands; and often has the morning found him watching by the bed of seine poor inmate of a cottage whom the arrow of the pestilence had stricken. That any man with the brilliant prospects which were undoubtedly presented to Moir, and certainly within his reach, should nevertheless have preferred the hard and laborious life of a country practitioner, must appear inexplicable to those who did not know the tenderness of his heart and the exquisite sympathy of his nature. Of his profession be took a high estimate. He regarded it less as the means of securing a competency for himself, than as an art which he was privileged to practise for the good of his fellow-men, and for the alleviation of their sufferings; and numerous are the instances which might be cited, though untold by himself, of sacrifices which he made, and dangers which he incurred, in carrying aid and consolation to those who had no other claim upon him except their common humanity. His, indeed, was a life far more devoted to the service of others than to his own personal aggrandisement."
Moir's New-Year's morning dream of 1828 was thus far fulfilled, that his heart was finally engaged that year. On the 8th of June 1829 he was married at Carham church, Northumberland, to Miss Catherine E. Bell of Leith. The match was one of the purest love on both sides; and to both parties, now united, it proved the crowning blessing of their life. The following Poetry starts with an appropriate inscription to C. E. M. It may seem too soon to dash Epithalamium with Dirge; but it serves at least to recall the exquisite beauty of those lines, pathetic in Prophecy, but rendered still more touching by Event:
Accept these trifles, lovely and beloved;
And haply, in the days of future years,
While the far past to memory reappears,
Thou may'st retrace these tablets, not unmoved,
Catherine! whose holy constancy was proved
By all that deepest tries, and most endears.
Macnish and Moir were now in close correspondence with each other; but their letters refer mainly to their contributions to the Annuals, Fraser's Magazine, and the Edinburgh Literary Gazette, and have little general interest. Macnish did not like this system of miscellaneous authorship, and hung back in the harness; but Delta, though he felt the drudgery of it very heavy, continued to cheer on his reluctant companion, and fagged away himself. His services to the Edinburgh Literary Gazette were considered so important that, in the end of July 1829, he was presented by the proprietors with a handsome silver jug, in token of their gratitude.
In April 1830 Moir writes thus to Macnish: — "About ten days ago I was highly gratified by a volunteer visit from Dr. Bowring. His note said that, being in Edinburgh, he was much moved toward me, and that [Delta] had claims upon him not to be gainsaid. He was accompanied by a Mr. Johnston, the writer of the leading article ('A Visit to Berzelius') in the last number of Brewster's Journal, and who has been his fellow-traveller in Sweden. I was quite delighted with Bowring. He is one of the finest-looking men I ever saw, and full of information, communicativeness, and eloquence. I regretted much that his visit was necessarily so short: he could not dine with us, being engaged to the Professor's, and obliged to set off to the north in a day or two. He is editor of The Westminster Review. Are you aware that I am now a father? I suspect not. Well, then, let me inform you that on the 6th of April Mrs. Moir presented me with a lovely little daughter. I expect nothing less than a sonnet from you on the occasion. Both mother and child are doing well, which has made me very happy. About a fortnight ago, a young sculptor, Ritchie, a pupil of Thorwaldsen, who has recently come from Rome, and who resides here, asked me to sit for my bust — a condescension to which I gracefully submitted. It is now finished, and elf for the Exhibition, which opens next week. All who saw it in the studio were highly pleased with it. Ritchie is altogether a most promising young person, and likely to carry sculpture to a loftier pitch than has yet been done by any Scotchman. Musselburgh claims him for a native."
Sculpture is the most permanently idealising, and therefore the most difficult and the finest of all the Fine Arts. Rejecting extrinsic circumstances, it seizes on the master feature of the world-and that is the godlike form of man; while by a still severer selection it loves to take him in the heroic ages of deified heroes, when the " lords of the world" were even more than " demigods of fame," giving us the incarnation of human beauty in the upspringing Messenger of Jove (O rare Thorwaldsen!) or the sun-lighted limbs of the far-darting Apollo, as "He walks the impalpable and burning sky." Having chosen the spirit and form of man, in their noblest development, as the subject proper of its creations, by a still austerer taste it rejects, even in its most terrible representations, every violence and exaggeration, dealing only with essential and elementary expressions, even of the fiercest passion: it approves "The depth and not the tumult of the soul." Like its sister muse of Greek dramatic poetry, it loves to soften down even the harshest catastrophes into grace and repose, as the most permanent and affecting expression of human being. The regions of Beauty, and Peace, and Rest, are its chosen regions. To him who has lost a sweet young sister, what a soul-soothing remembrancer is a marble bust of her, so passionless and spiritual of beauty, in the silence of his moonlit chamber. Such were Delta's notions of sculpture: painting he liked, but his love of sculpture was quite a passion. Many a time have I visited Ritchie's studio with him, and seen him enjoy the severely beautiful. Ritchie's bust of our poet did not strike beholders, as a strong likeness; but, to a thoughtful eye, the resemblance came gradually out from its chaste reserve. A long look at the dead face of my friend, on that Sabbath morning after his dissolution, as he lay in his fixed serenity, thin, and purged fine, and spiritualised by coming through the fiery furnace, set far off and relieved against "the azure of eternity," made me see how truly like him was the marble bust.
In 1830 appeared Weeds and Wild-Flowers, a posthumous volume of prose and poetry by Alexander Balfour, the ingenious and amiable author of Campbell, or the Scottish Probationer; Characters omitted in Crabbe's Parish Register, &c. Moir had been for years on a friendly footing with Balfour, giving him literary counsel and medical help down the long decline of his palsied life, and now he wrote a memoir, and prefixed it to the volume, and edited the collection for the behoof of Mr. Balfour's family.
Out of harmony with his usual political connections, and greatly to the surprise of most of his friends, who knew his principles to be essentially Conservative, Mr. Moir came out in the spring of 1831 as a zealous advocate of the Reform Bill. In a letter to Macnish he explains his view of the matter thus: — "You have become a Reformer, have you? Well, so have I; and not only that, but Secretary to the Reform Committee, in which capacity I have had correspondence with Jeffrey and Lord Rosebery. We were last night brilliantly illuminated, and all went off as smack and smooth as a Quaker meeting. It is absurd to deny the necessity of reform. When a House of Commons could pass a detestable Catholic Bill against the constitution of the country, and the petitions of nineteen-twentieths of its inhabitants, it was quite time that an end should be put to such a delusive mockery of representation."
In the beginning of May of the same year, our author published his Outlines of the Ancient History of Medicine, being a View of the Progress of the Healing Art among the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabians. In his Life of Macnish, in 1838, he gives us the following statement regarding this medical history: — "It was undertaken at the suggestion of my distinguished and excellent friend, Mr. Galt, and was half intended as one of the volumes of Colburn and Bentley's National Library. On the abandonment of the plan, from an anterior application by one of the publishers to another medical author, the first division of my book was brought out under the title of the Ancient History of Medicine. In a subsequent division, it was my intention to have brought down this view of the medical sciences from the Dark Ages to the middle of last century; and then, in a third, to have completed my survey of the subject, by commencing with the nosologies of Sauvages and Cullen, and concluding with an exhibition of the present state of our professional knowledge." These second and third divisions were never written. The Outlines were well received by the Faculty, and added considerably to Moir's reputation among them.
In October 1831 Moir was presented with the freedom of his native burgh; and a few days thereafter he makes the following announcement to his friend Macnish: — "would you believe it? I have been elected a member of our Town council; so you must be on your good behaviour when you next visit the 'Honest Town,' or I will lay you by the heels."
Cholera was now upon us. One of its first points of attack in Scotland was Musselburgh, January 1832. The attack was a virulent and mortal one. Moir faced the new and terrible foe with unflinching courage and sleepless zeal — his humane exertions for the poor being quite extraordinary. He had no preconceived theory of the propagation of the disease; but a careful practical investigation of its mode of attack convinced him of its purely contagious character. Being medical secretary of the Board of Health at Musselburgh, the inquiries which he had to answer from all parts of the country, as to the prevention and treatment of the malady, were innumerable; and almost in self-defence, in order to answer if possible once for all, he hurriedly threw together his Practical Observations on Malignant Cholera. The pamphlet flew through the country like wildfire, and a second edition was called for a few days after the publication of the first. Our author followed the it up with Proofs of the Contagion of Malignant Cholera. Even those who differed from him acknowledged these two productions to be among the most masterly that had appeared on his side of the question. The second visitation of cholera in 1848-9 only confirmed Moir in his doctrine of contagion.
In the autumn of 1832 Delta attended the meeting of the British Association at Oxford, and visited Cheltenham and London. While in London, Mr. Fraser, the publisher, got him to sit to Maclise for a full-length etching which afterwards appeared, with a short biographical notice, in Fraser's Magazine. He visited Coleridge, then resident at Highgate with the Gillmans. His interview with "the old man eloquent" is thus described in a note in his Life of Macnish: — "Notwithstanding the very delicate state of his health, which confined him to bed, my reception by the poet-philosopher was at once kind and flattering. During two hours of divine monologue, Mr. Coleridge gave me, in his own glowing language, the history of much of his early life, and recited some of his juvenile compositions, in a manner which was very characteristic and very striking. Unfortunately — l say unfortunately, for the subject was perhaps much above my unsophisticated comprehension — I put some questions to him relative to his peculiar speculations in philosophy, and shortly found myself lost in intricacies which, although sprinkled with the honey of Hybla, were not more easily threaded than those of the Cretan Labyrinth. In one of his conversations, I see, Mr. Coleridge imputes some imitations of his more remarkable compositions (to which I plead guilty) to Dr. Maginn, a much abler man. They were dashed off, twenty years ago, in no unkind spirit; and it is pleasing to know that the author of Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner felt this." Chalmers, we know, was as much bewildered as Moir in the theosophic infinitude of the Highgate philosophy; nor could Carlyle, as we learn from his Life of John Sterling, pretend to gauge and measure those wastes of moonshine.
Moir's main object, in his visit to the south, was to see his friend Galt, who was now residing at Brompton, broken down in health. "When we parted, seven years before," says Delta, "he was in the prime and vigour of manhood — his eye glowing with health, and his step full of elasticity. Before me now sat the drooping figure of one old before his time, crippled in his movements, and evidently but half-resigned to this premature curtailment of his mental and bodily exertions. In the treatment of his complaints he had been subjected to much acute pain, and at times his sensations from his ailments were of the most unpleasant kind; yet, when free from these, his eye lightened up with all its wonted vivacity, and his mind evinced all its subtlety, knowledge, and observation. Indeed, he confessed to occasional states of feeling, in which his powers of fancy, intellect, and combination, were much brighter than they ever were in the days of his best health but these states were unnatural, and could only be looked upon as the results of disease, and as originating in a too excitable condition of the nervous system. As a proof of this, they were invariably followed by a corresponding languor and depression; the sunbright glimpses which had been vouchsafed seemed only to serve the unhappy purpose of rendering the encompassing gloom more palpable." Galt's disease was an affection of the spine, drawing on paralysis. He never wholly recovered from it.
In the beginning of 1833 we find Dr. Brown retired from business, and Mr. Moir now senior, with a junior partner in the practice. Under a consequent increase of his professional responsibility and work, Delta's literary exercises for a while were considerably abridged. In all the public business of his native town, however. he took an enlarged active share. Wherever he was a member of any club or committee, he was sure to be made secretary — such were his talents for business, his willingness to oblige, his readiness to work. With all classes of people in the place, humble and high, he held friendly intercourse. To youthful merit, struggling forward, ever was he ready to lend a helping hand. Mr. Ritchie, the sculptor, whose genius and virtue have now raised him to distinction, will thank us for the following instance, so characteristic of his late friend: — we take it from one of Delta's letters to Macnish in the end of 1833: — "Ritchie tells me that his purpose in going to Glasgow is to get back his things from the Exhibition, all of which are unsold. Do something for him, and prevent this. I know you can do it if you like, and it will cost you but little trouble, while you will be conferring a real benefit upon him. The statue of Wallace is valued at only £25. Get Motherwell to put a paragraph in the Courier and Herald, stating the circumstance of Ritchie having arrived to take away his works, and recommending that a subscription be entered into at the New Exchange for purchasing the Wallace to stand as an appropriate ornament in that building. How soon could fifty half-guineas be thus raised! You may put down my name for one. Get him to do this, and you will really oblige me. If it succeed, I will give 'You all the credit of having done a service to the Fine Arts, through one of their most deserving and least encouraged cultivators." Here is no mere sentimentalism of friendship; here is sound practical help. Such was the way with Macbeth Moir.
In one of his letters to Delta, Thomas Hood, who was then very unwell, says: — "But for this last shake, I should have indulged hopes of revisiting Edinburgh, and of course Musselburgh. But I am more sedentary than ever — some would say chairy of myself — so that sitting for my bust lately seemed hardly beyond my usual still habits. Luckily, I have always been a domestic bird, and am therefore not so wretched from being incapable of passage. Still I should prefer health and locomotion — riding here and there, to and fro, as you do, because others were ill and I was not. How you must enjoy walking to set a broken leg!" Any toil of the day were better than poor Hood's mortal ail; yet hear Moir himself as to those medical rides and walks: thus writes he to Macnish: — "Our business has ramified itself so much in all directions of the compass -Save the north, where we are bounded by the sea — that on an average I have sixteen or eighteen miles' daily riding; nor can this be commenced before three or four hours of pedestrian exercise has been hurried through. I seldom get from horseback till five o'clock; and by half-past six I must be out to the evening rounds, which never terminate till after nine. Add to this the medical casualties occurring between sunset and sunrise, and you will see how much can be reasonably set down to the score of my leisure." To weary work like this what an aggravation must literary labour have been; and yet what a solace too. Coleridge found poetry "its own exceeding great reward." Delta must have found it still more so. Many a "senate" of midnight storms must he have "deceived" with his thick-coming melodious fancies. The night-wind, that slung the hail against his face, only lent fresh vigour to his heart, inditing its "Hymn to the Night-Wind." Toil, and trouble, and sorrow, he turned them all into song — so tuneful was his nature.
In the spring of 1834 we find Mr. Galt in lodgings in Hill Street, Edinburgh, superintending the publication of his Literary Miscellanies, before proceeding to Greenock, where he meant to take up his abode. "I frequently saw him at this time," says Delta, "and more than once drove out with him for a few miles to the
country. He was now much thinner, and after a sleepless night his features were hollow and haggard; but, when he engaged in conversation, his eye lighted up as in earlier days, and he became not only placid, but cheerful. There was still the same wakeful industry; his writing materials were ever before him; and around lay the half-finished tale, the outlines of the projected essay, the notes for a new edition, or the recovered manuscript of a former year. To behold any fellow-mortal so circumstanced could not but awaken feelings of melancholy — how much more so when that individual was John Galt! The lodgings taken for Mr. Galt were in Hill Street, and his friend Mr. Blackwood resided in Ainslie Place, probably not more than a hundred yards off; yet, strange to say, although they had not seen each other for years, it was destined that they were never to see each other again — for Mr. Blackwood was then laid on that sick-bed from which he was not to rise. Day after day my professional duties, as well as my friendship, led me to visit each; and it afforded me a melancholy pleasure to carry from the one invalid to the other the courtesies of mutual regard, and the kindest wishes for restored health." It was a characteristic of the late Mr. Blackwood, that his sagacity in detecting the weak points of a story was prompt and unerring; and the natural boldness of the man led him to give the strongest expression to all his opinions. He had laid daring hands on the very crest itself of "The Black Hussar of Literature;" and it was not at all likely that a humbler knight of the pen, like Galt, should escape his interference. Conflict and coldness had been betwixt the two stout-hearted men accordingly. All the more touching now was the renewal of their mutual respect and esteem; and to both of them it must have deepened the satisfaction, that they had such a man as Moir for their inter-running messenger of the reconciling charities. Mr. Blackwood died in the end of autumn; Mr. Galt lingered on for years, dying by inches.
About the close of the year 1834 we find Moir writing to Macnish thus: — "An old Indian sergeant, John Gordon, has a son in the Glasgow Infirmary, by name Walter Gordon, who, by his own account, poor fellow, must be in a bad way from dropsical disease — probably symptomatic of diseased chest. The old man called upon me last night, to ask me to write any friend in Glasgow to visit his son, and advance him as much as would bring him down by the canal. Do this for me. A few shillings will be all that is required. Let me have a note of it along with Gordon, and I will remit it to you immediately."
In the same letter Moir says to Macnish — "I do not think I told you that Mr. Blackwood left me one of the executors for his family — indeed, the only one out of the circle of his relatives." This simple statement sufficiently indicates the general confidence which Mr. Blackwood reposed in Mr. Moir's judgment and virtue. He had found him more than a sound literary adviser, and called him to the sacred office of family guardianship. The sons of Mr. Blackwood, who inherited many of their father's eminent qualities, were not the men to let go their father's friends; and successive years only knit them more closely to Mr. Moir and his family.
The following is the last excerpt to be given from Moir's correspondence with Macnish: — "2d February 1835. — Professor Wilson dines with me on Friday, and remains all night. I saw him last week — fierce as a tiger, and bold as a lion. He has had his hands full of work lately, at the Speculative Society dinner, the Celtic Ball, The Peebleian Society, &c.; and next week he is croupier at the public dinner to Lord Ramsay and Mr. Learmonth. Lord Ramsay is likely to turn out one of our Scottish stars. He has read much, thought well, and has an admirable facility in expressing himself. I met him last week it a private dinner-party, and altogether liked his mode of conducting himself. His feelings are quite Scottish, notwithstanding his Oxford education; and he seems one of the very few now extant of the Scottish nobility who carry in their hearts the old national predilections."
The year 1835 closed on the new-made grave of the Ettrick Shepherd. Delta's personal and epistolary intercourse with him had been limited; but, as brother poets of Blackwood, singing harmoniously together, their regard for one another had always been strong. Hogg had indited and addressed the following verses to his fair-haired kinsman of the lyre: they are published here for the first time:
TO [Delta], ON HIS BIRTHDAY.
The infant year with clouds was crowned,
And storms defaced the early morn,
While hoarse the tempest growled around,
As thou, the child of song, wert born.
The blood-red sun, with brazen rim,
Scowled angry o'er the eastern main;
The wild blast sting thy cradle hymn,
As it swept along the wintry plain.
What thoughts were thine, when first thy ear
Did list this music of the sky?
Did thy young bosom shrink with fear,
And tremble as the storm went by?
'Tis said — and gossips hold the tale,
Which to deny were mortal wrong—
Upon the world thy infant wail
Came piping in a note of song.
Suit and service of the heart, simple and sweet! The deeper was Delta's regret when the Shepherd was taken away. "All! surely nothing dies but something mourns." But when the Poet of the peculiar wilderness — the very Genius of its hills and streams — departs, what does not mourn? Snow-storms may fall winter after winter on Ettrick or Yarrow; but centuries won't give us such another Shepherd's Calendar, to keep white and deep the immortal drift. "The Green Silent People" may still linger on the dim heart of Eld; but the last laureate of the fairies is gone for ever, and mortal man shall never again see and sing them, as they flit among the moonlit ferns of the southern slope, "Or dance their ringlets to the whistling wind." Lads and lasses may still be young and blithe on those hills, but Yarrow and Ettrick are no more Yarrow and Ettrick to the generation that knew thee, O Shepherd; or rather, they are more so than ever, in their native character of lonely sorrow — something deeper and far beyond
The grace of forest charms decayed,
And pastoral melancholy.
Much about the same time died William Motherwell, author of "Jeanie Morison," and Michael Scott, author of Tom Cringle's Log and The Cruise of the Midge — like his famous namesake, also a magician. Motherwell and I sat side by side at the public dinner given to Hogg at Peebles the preceding season. One short year, and both of them are now in the dust. Michael Scott's literary career was a brief but striking one. Totally unsuspected in his power, out be burst, late in life, as Waller said of Denham, "like the Irish Rebellion, threescore thousand strong." He had been a mercantile man in the West lndies, cruising about much, but never a professional seaman. Blackwood and Wilson were amazed that a man of the west, whom they wotted not of, could pour such brilliant broadsides down the columns of Maga. Scott had been at school with Wilson; and now, either in audacious waggery, or in modest desire to give a trail of himself, that he might be hunted down to his due fame, he ventured, in the Magazine, within the charmed ring of schoolboy reminiscences, and brought out some peculiar point to the Professor's recollection. "Aut Michael aut Diabolus," said Wilson. The Wizard was caught. Yet such was the rare modesty of the man, in keeping his manhood to himself, that the Glasgow people were never altogether sure about the authorship of Tom Cringle; and Michael Scott slid into his grave without the public ever seeming to be aware of it. Delta admired Motherwell's ballads. Of Michael Scott he says: — "Lockhart, in a note in the Quarterly, had taken occasion to designate the chapters of Tom Cringle as the most brilliant that had ever adorned the pages of a Magazine; and Coleridge, in his Table Talk, had pronounced them most excellent; but although the reading public seemed unanimously to concur in these plaudits, he from whose mind those grand imaginings emanated was allowed to remain a mere name, without any local habitation. We hope that this stigma will be removed by some friend of the late Michael Scott, and that the justice may be paid to his memory which was denied to himself. We love Marryat, and admire Cooper; but Michael is the master-spirit of the sea."
Our esteemed friend, Dr. Macnish, died on the 16th of January 1837, in the thirty-fifth year of his age — "in the bloom of his fame," says Delta, "as well as of his professional usefulness; a man who could not be known without being beloved, and whom Scotland may well be proud to number among her gifted children. To none beyond the circle of his own hearth could his death be a greater bereavement than to me; for, from the day of our introduction together, we had continued to pour our hearts into each other, and I loved him, as David loved Jonathan, with almost more than a brother's love." Delta collected his friend's fugitive pieces, and published them with a Life of Macnish. The melange is one of great merit. The Life itself is written in a fine spirit, and the style is flowing and easy; but, as a whole, it is somewhat diffuse and loose of texture.
It may here be mentioned, without particularising dates or order of appearance, that Delta contributed Memoirs of the late Mr. Rennie of Phantassie, and Sir John Sinclair, to the of Agriculture, and wrote a biographical sketch of Admiral Sir David Milne.
In February 1838 Mr. and Mrs. Moir lost two beautiful children — Charles Bell, aged four and a half years, and William Blackwood, aged fifteen months. Another fine boy, David Macbeth Moir, was cut off the following year. "The desolation among my little ones," said the bereaved father in a letter to myself, "has proved to me a very staggering blow." "The shaft flow thrice, and thrice his peace was slain."
"Death is a stern teacher," says he in another letter, written some months afterwards, " but I am now a subdued disciple."
Mr. Galt died on the 11th of April 1839, and was buried in the family burying-ground in the new churchyard of Greenock. "No one," says Delta, in the Memoir of his friend, published two years afterwards, "was more unselfish in pecuniary matters; and although his income was always laboriously won, it was ever open-heartedly spent. In all with whom he became acquainted he inspired a feeling of attachment; and, even when at the height of his literary reputation and worldly success, he was as unaffected and sincere as his own Micah Balwhidder. Mr. Galt was not only a man of untiring industry, but of strong and original powers. These were, of course, less shown in his earlier works of research — as his lives of Wolsey and West; or of observation — as his Commercial Travels and Letters from the Levant. Many people could have written these, acute, intelligent, and meritorious as they are; but who could have supplied The Legatees, The Annals, or The Provost? In these his natural genius, for the first time, found 'ample room and verge enough;' and on these it has left its peculiar impress. His conception was strong and vivid, his fancy graphic and picturesque, and his judgment generally acute. But he was not always free from prejudices, and occasionally allowed these to warp his reasoning powers; nor was his taste to be depended on. But however imperfect in some particulars his mind might be, there is no denying that it was framed in a large mould: in its designs and its accomplishments it was great; and though in the latter it might occasionally fail, the failure was never a puny, but always a splendid one."
"A few days ago" — thus writes Moir to me, in the autumn of 1839 — "I had a visit from Mr. Warren, the author of the Physician's Diary. He has an enthusiastic temperament and a warm heart, and is really a fine fellow. He is now immersed in law pursuits; and, as with many others, so with him, his first work is likely to be his greatest and his best. It was truly a hit. It has extended his reputation, not only through France and Germany, but, as a lady from Moscow informed me, to the most northern extremities of Europe. The instant his separate tales came out in Blackwood, translators both at St. Petersburg and Moscow were at their tasks; and all the theatres strove which to be first to have him on the stage."
Early in 1843 Delta circulated privately, and then published, his Domestic Verses. To myself he thus wrote on the subject: — "To you, who seem perfectly to appreciate those little poems, their causes, and the feelings that engendered them, I need say nothing. Selfishness, probably — in a view in which Thomas Carlyle might regard that word — might be the immediate object of their collection. If so, I trust that the aim was a very sinless one, as the sympathy was to be circumscribed by the bounds of personal friendship; and I hoped that those who knew me best would not be the least inclined to overlook their effects on my heart and imagination. In succession, however, I received letters from Wordsworth, Mrs. Southey, Lockhart, Trench, Tennyson, White, Warren, Dickens, Montgomery, Whewell, Ferrier, and many others, which left me no grounds for refusing to make my little book a publication. Above all, a letter from Lord Jeffrey — so extraordinary in its contents and praises — took away from me all excuse, and I have acceded to the request of the Blackwoods to throw my private feelings upon the 'mare magnum' of public opinion. To the Domestic Verses I have appended a dozen or fourteen lyrics of an elegiac character, so as to extend the brochure to a hundred and fifty or a hundred and eighty pages. At all events, it will be a reminiscence of me in the minds of my literary friends." Hood was one of those who wrote to Moir in reference to the Domestic Verses. He says — "I am a confirmed invalid for the rest of my life; and, like Dogberry, 'I have had my losses too.' All such losses time may amend — except that of my health. But, in spite of that conviction, I am no hypochondriac, and make the best approach I can to what is called 'enjoying bad health.' It has concerned me to find that, in the same interval, you have not been without your afflictions. But, in all domestic bereavements, I comfort myself with the belief that love, in its pure sense, is as immortal as the soul itself — not given to us in vain; but to form a part of that eternal happiness which would not be complete without it. It has pleased God hitherto to spare me trials of the kind. I have one son and one daughter — good, clever, and affectionate; and I feel strongly that my domestic happiness has kept me so long alive." Mr. Barry Cornwall wrote thus: — "Your verses are very touching and sincere. The second poem (to 'Casa') gave me much pain, for it made fresh to me a great loss which I sustained some years ago, and one that I am obliged to try not to think of — even now. I wish to God that we could love our children moderately; but they twine themselves round our hearts so closely, that we forget what tender things they really are, and rest all our hopes upon them."
In 1844 Mr. Moir was elected a member of the kirk-session of Inveresk. During the remainder of his life he discharged the office with exemplary fidelity. He had a profound veneration for the Church of Scotland, as one of the greatest of our national blessings; and was ever ready, side by side with his able and esteemed Pastor and friend, Mr. Beveridge, to take part in any public meeting, the object of which was to strengthen the Establishment.
In this same year, 1844, we find Mr. Moir suffering from some internal inflammation. With his usual disregard of self, and sensitive dislike to have the attention of strangers directed to him, he had very imprudently sat a whole right in his wet clothes by the bedside of a patient. The illness thus brought on was of the severest character, and gave his nervous system a shock from which he never wholly recovered.
Delta was present at the Burns Festival at Ayr, in the autumn of 1844. He took no part in the proceedings of the day, though he was specially invited to attend; but he did ample duty on the occasion by his commemorative poem, published in Blackwood. It is a noble piece, and will carry the duty down through all time. There is a point of reference to it in the following extract of a letter, written by him to myself a month or two thereafter: — "My days, and sometimes my nights, are absorbed in professional hurry; and often for a week at a time I cannot answer a single letter — my only opportunity for reading at these times being a book in my phaeton. With the exception of the lines to Burns, and another little piece, I do not remember another product of my muse for the last twelve months. Apropos of the lines to Burns, they have been popular probably beyond any other thing that I have ever written, and have been republished in fifty different quarters. I was quite startled by your notice of Sterling's death. I never had heard of his illness, and his death was a wrench to my humanity. Poor fellow! I quite agree with you in your estimate of his powers. He seemed to write more from effort than impulse — he has more rhetoric than inspiration — and is deficient in nature and tenderness."
The following letter was addressed to the Rev. William B. Cunningham, Free Church minister, Prestonpans, on the loss of his son, a fine boy, whom Mr. Moir had attended in his illness:
"MUSSELBURGH, 8th January 1845.
MY DEAR SIR, — Allow me to return you my very best thanks for the handsome and most acceptable present you have made me of Adam Smith's Baskerville's Milton — one of the greatest of our authors, in the finest specimen of typography — and which must have been pored over by the veritable eyes of the great founder of political economy.
"The gift has only one drawback: Would, so far as our weak eyes can see, that it had been ordained that I should receive it from other hands than yours. This was not to be, and for wise purposes, although we see them not. The loss and the grief are to those who are left behind: to him these cannot be. Yet a little while, and the end cometh to us also; and we, who would detain those we love, ourselves almost as quickly go.
"Please also to return my best thanks to Mrs. Cunningham for her kind memorial to me of my dear departed little friend. I shall read it with the attention and care which I have no doubt it deserves, and hope to derive from it many bettering influences.
"Speaking from sad experience, a long time must yet elapse ere you and she will be able to look back on your deprivation with philosophic and unimpassioned minds, or be able to dissever the what must be from the what might have been. But when that time does come, you will find that the lamentation for an innocent child is a thornless sorrow, and that the steadfast faith, through the Redeemer, of meeting him again, and for ever, can lend a joy to grief.
"Believe me, my dear Sir, ever most truly and affectionately yours,
D. M. MOIR."
In a memorandum addressed to Mr. Moir's son-in-law, Dr. Scott of Musselburgh, in connection with the transmission of this letter, Mr. Cunningham thus speaks of Mr. Moir's style and manner in the chamber of sickness: — "In our late brief talk about a life so even and tranquil as that of our beloved friend, Delta, I reminded you of what I had previously mentioned regarding the lively and lasting impressions made on my own mind by the peculiar brightness and precision of his medical intellect. Though I have frequently had the happiness of knowing members of your profession, who have united manifold accomplishments of mind with general excellence in medical knowledge and practice, I cannot at this moment recall any instance of so great power of graphic delineation of disease and method of treatment as that which he possessed. As free from pedantic minuteness and false emphasis as from dry, barren generalities of statement, he had in no small measure the happy talent of investing his most severe details with an interest borrowed from his spirit of picturesque and pleasant observation. Occasionally his explanations of the origin of disagreeable sensations, and the modes of their ready removal, were so simple, direct, and vivid, as almost to suggest the fancy that the practised eye of the poet or painter had usurped the function of the scientific observer. And thus an interest peculiarly charming and which was felt in many a sickroom — the blended result of the most beautiful and rigid science in discerning the order of the facts, and of imaginative genius in their impressive exhibition — was associated with his briefest and most familiar conversations of a strictly professional kind. Allow me to add that, in reflecting, as I now earnestly reflect, on the warm, unbroken, familiar friendship which, during sixteen years of mingled joy and sorrow within the domestic circles of both of us, I had the precious privilege to enjoy, I am more and more impressed by the spirit of serene beauty which pervaded big whole character."
Mr. Moir writes to me thus in 1845: — "12th April — After all, how precarious a thing is literary fame! Things to which I have bent the whole force of my mind, and which are worth remembering — if any things that I have done are at all worth remembering — have attracted but a very doubtful share of applause from critics; while things dashed off, like Mansie as mere sportive freaks, and which for years and years I have hesitated to acknowledge, have been out of sight my most popular productions. When does Gilfillan's volume come out? He is a powerful and eloquent writer; but he loses his authority somewhat by a tone of exaggeration — mighty things and mean being too much mingled. The fault, however, is one of exuberance, not of sterility, and will soften down by years and experience. Charles Mackay has a volume of poems in the press at Edinburgh. Aytoun is to me by far the greatest Scottish poet of promise. His ballad, 'The Burial March of Dundee,' is magnificent. I would almost as soon be the author of it as of 'Lochiel's Warning,' and I do not see how I could readily say more. Some ballads in last Fraser appear to me to smack of him. Of course you are aware that he is the author of the Book of Comic Ballads, published recently by Orr of London. Theodore Martin had a hand in them, but I believe they are principally Aytoun's. Martin I have met. He seems a shrewd, clever fellow. Mrs. Moir and her little baby are going on very well. Could you believe it? — five sons and five daughters to have been born to us! Yet such is the fact. And something curious connected with the dates of birth is, that Elizabeth. our eldest child, has the same birthday as our youngest one; both daughters, and exactly half a generation between." 21st October. — "Robert Chambers has been residing in Musselburgh during the summer, and I have seen a good deal of him. He is a very excellent person, unaffected, sincere, and warm-hearted, of strong natural talents. and possessing a memory for dates and circumstances quite astounding. The range of his information is wide, and few are to be met with who have such a competent amount of knowledge on such a variety of subjects, literary and scientific."
A sore mishap befell Mr. Moir in the beginning of summer, 1846. He was on his way, with a small party of friends in a phaeton, to visit Borthwick Castle, when the horse took fright and ran off and at last went smash with the vehicle over a low wall. The party were dashed out upon the ground. None of them, however, was much hurt, except Mr. Moir himself, who received a severe injury in one of his hip-joints. It confined him for months, and made him lame for life. His general health was impaired, and he was a good deal dispirited; but he bore up, and resumed his professional duties as speedily as possible. In November following, though still weak, and suffering much pain in his limb, he took a share in the proceedings at the inaugural opening of the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution. Archbishop Whately, Professor Wilson, Professor Nichol, Mr. Macaulay, and other distinguished men, were present. Mr. Moir's part in the programme was to propose Mr. Macaulay's health. He was introduced to Macaulay in the course of the evening.
Early in 1847 Delta writes to me thus: — "I am still very lame from the effects of my accident, and am, I fear, never likely to be again a sound man. 'Transeat!' It cannot be helped; and I endeavour to follow the advice of St. Paul, and be contented with whatever may cast up. I have no wish to live a day longer than the last one in which I can be useful to my fellow-creatures." The following letter to his accomplished friend, Mrs. Alexander, formerly of Dalkeith, but now resident in England, is a characteristic one:
"MUSSELBURGH, 17th March 1847.
DEAR MRS. ALEXANDER, — I was much pleased on hearing from you about a fortnight ago, and resisted my first impulse of making Elizabeth answer you, in the hope that, in the course of a day or two, I might myself find time to do so. Such, however, has not been the case. Since the commencement of this year, we have had such an inundation of sickness over an area of some sixteen by twenty miles, that it has been barely overtakeable — if there be such a word. Indeed, my weekly journeyings (for I have had the curiosity to sum up for a few weeks) have been on the average two hundred and twenty miles — taking no account whatever of my pedestrian peregrinations. The consequence is that, when evening comes, instead of being able for any study, I am fit for nothing but bed; for my lameness is still much greater than I could wish, and, I am afraid, not more likely to be ever got entirely rid of. This to me, who must necessarily walk much, is a sad drawback; but I trust I may come to 'The years that bring the philosophic mind.' I am delighted to learn that at Exeter you have found out and resumed intercourse with the friends of other days — although to some minds (my own, for instance,) such reunions have almost as much in them of pain as of pleasure; for, as Maturin says, 'Of joys long past how painful the remembrance!' and one cannot help contrasting the what they were then with what they are now.
"You allude to the opening of the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution. I cannot help thinking that the managers did me a great, and certainly an unexpected honour, in asking me to take such a prominent part in that celebration. And it was a gratifying thing, indeed, to find myself associated with such distinguished men as I found seated on either side of me. But as to the matter of a speech, alack-a-day! I was really very unwell at the time — as thin as a whipping-post, and daily forced to have recourse to the warm bath, from the pain in my limb; so, though something like a speech was prepared, and duly committed, such was my exhaustion and nervousness, that all I could manage, without the risk of literally breaking down, was the mere commencement and the ending — the middle, or body, being still as good as manuscript. Be this as it may, however, Mr. Macaulay, who was sitting two from me, leaned over afterwards, and courteously thanked me for the (as he said) undeserved kind things I had been pleased to say of him. His own speech was a magnificent one, both in matter and delivery.
"I am glad to say that all my many little ones have been keeping remarkably well during this severe winter, as has also Mrs. Moir — whose inexhaustible attention and devotion to me, by night and by day, through three months of suffering and confinement to bed, make me humbly feel myself a poor creature in comparison. Elizabeth still continues to go three days weekly to Edinburgh, and has made very considerable advances in Italian, German, and French. She also draws well; and so pleased is her music-teacher with her progress, that, to her consternation, he is publishing a set of Scottish airs with a dedication to his pupil. Robert is attending Greek, Latin, and mathematics at college, and German with Dr. Nachot, and is going on very well. He must soon now turn his mind to the business of life. There is the church, and medicine. I should almost like the former for him, but fear his bent is toward the latter. He shall have his will. Catherine, Anne Mary, and Jane, are all attending school. The first shows rather a musical bias, having of her own accord picked up some tunes on the piano. Anne Mary shows the same devotion to reading; morning, noon, and night, nothing but a book — a book! Her health, however, is keeping good, and she is full of life and animation. The little Professor John Wilson is healthy and strong; and Emily is running about, and chatting like a magpie: there is no truth in phrenology, if she be deficient in the organ of language. So you see we are, taken in the lump, a very astonishing family! Elizabeth will write you soon, my sheet being filled.
Believe me, dear Mrs. Alexander, ever most truly yours,
"D. M. MOIR."
As all Mr. Moir's children then in life are named in this letter, it may be mentioned that another son was born on the 5th of August following, and called Oswald. This was the last of the family. Eleven children in all blest the poet's marriage — those who were prematurely cut off having, in the sanctities of sorrow, lent their due share in the blessing to father and mother; for,
'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all.
We notice, too, in the letter just quoted, a confession of that pensive tenderness of feeling, in reverting to scenes of early life, which runs through all Delta's poetry, giving it to many readers a sort of conventional sameness. The incidental acknowledgment in the letter shows that it was no mere poetic formula with him, but a true living vein. In a branch of the same vein, he loves to chasten the beauty and joy of the present with thoughts of coming decay and death. This was in him not that affected sadness of youth, touched on the quick by Wordsworth with such an exquisite probe—
In youth we love the darksome lawn,
Brushed by the owlet's wing;
Then, twilight is preferred to dawn,
And autumn to the spring:
Sad fancies do we then affect,
In luxury of disrespect
To our own prodigal excess
Of too familiar happiness.
In Delta, rather, it was that true manhood, so full of reverential trembling sensibilities toward the mysterious fountains and issues of our being — that noble-heartedness spoken of by Jean Paul Richter: — "Nothing recalls the close of life to a noble-hearted young man so much as precisely the happiest and fairest hours which he passes. Gottreich, in the midst of the united beauty and fragrance of the flowers of joy, even with the morning star of life above him, could not but think on the time when the same should appear to him as the evening star, warning him of sleep."
Charles Dickens presided at the opening of the Glasgow Athenaeum in the end of 1847. Sheriff Alison, Professors Aytoun and Gregory, Colonel Mure of Caldwell, George Combe, and Robert Chambers, were among the speakers. The distinguished guests of the evening were proposed., and Delta, who was present, was enthusiastically called upon to reply. He did so accordingly. Speaking of the intellectual triumphs of Scotland, he said: — "Poetry raised Robert Burns from the plough, Allan Cunningham from the quarry, and James Hogg from the shepherds shieling. Lord Campbell was born in a parish manse, so was Sir David Wilkie; and in every town and village in Scotland you will find that men have risen from the humblest ranks of life. About sixty years ago there could have been pointed out, on the streets of Edinburgh, three boys, of whom one was the future Lord Jeffrey, the prince of critics; another, Lord Brougham, the most extraordinary man that has sat on the woolsack since the days of Bacon; and the third, a greater than either, the author of Marmion and Waverley — the man who, to use the words of Thomas Campbell, 'has more completely conquered Europe by his pen than ever Napoleon did by his sword.'" Moir was not indifferent to applause; but his best joy of the evening must have been his meeting with Dickens — such was their cordial regard for one another.
In 1848 Mr. Moir was appointed to represent the burgh of Annan in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The office and honour were conferred upon him every succeeding year, during the remainder of his life. The following are passages from some of his letters of 1848: — To DAVID VEDDER, 15th January. — "Very many thanks for The Pictorial Gift-Book, and the kind note by which it was accompanied. It is a very beautiful volume, both in pictorial embellishment and poetical illustration, and I have derived much pleasure from it. Your own case I understand to be one very similar to my own. In early youth I had many aspiring feelings to dedicate my life to literature, and to literature alone; but I thank God — seeing what I have seen in Galt, in Hogg, in Hood, and other friends — that I had resolution to resolve on a profession, and to make poetry my crutch, and not my staff. I have, in consequence, lost the name which, probably, with due exertion, I might have acquired; but I have gained many domestic blessings which more than counterbalance it, and I can yet turn to my pen, in my short intervals of occasional relaxation, with as much zest as in my days of romantic adolescence. I am delighted to see that a similar frame of mind is your own; and that, from the roughnesses and the prose of life, you have also an elysium, 'by Fancy's fingers drest,' into which you can on occasions retire. That this may ever remain to you, and that everything good may attend you and yours, is my very sincere wish." To Myself, April 2. — "These are strange times, France is on the edge of a volcano. It is delightful to think that the demonstrations at Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, and Manchester, only prove how sound our own country is at the core. Not a human being within the verge of respectability had anything to do with these abortive outbreaks — thanks to our own true religion! And a curse on the heads of all the pseudo-philosophers, who would so fain mislead the vain, the presumptuous, and the ignorant! As to the stuff uttered by clever lunatics like Emerson, the thing is to be deplored. But wherever such men unhinge a belief, they must in some degree answer at the bar of conscience for the consequences. I have had an opportunity more than once of conversing with Lord Jeffrey regarding Emerson, and was pleased to find that we were at one in our opinion. Depend upon it, whenever a writer is obscure, he is weak; and when you do come to a hidden meaning, it is not worth knowing. I spent a delightful hour with Dickens about a mouth ago. He is a genius of the right stamp, fresh and clear." To Mrs. Alexander, 12th August. — "What a little time brings forth! You may indeed wonder at knowing that poor Elizabeth is a married wife, and that I have a son-in-law. Under other circumstances I might have boggled; but, if a separation was to take place, it could not be in a gentler form-as she was still to be our neighbour — almost one of our family, and as her interests in life were still to continue one with our own. Of the honour, integrity, talent, and sound moral and religious principles of her husband, I had long been convinced, from these having been put to the test on many trying occasions, and never found wanting; and, excepting on the score of her youth, I could not have, and had no objections. A year of probation alone was required of them; and, at its expiry, they were united — I trust, to be long happy in each other, and to spend lives of usefulness and virtue. The kindness that has been shown, and the attentions that have been heaped upon them, have been altogether extraordinary, and have been a source of wonder no less than of gratitude to her mother and myself. You will be sorry to learn that I am still lame from the effects of my accident, and now likely ever to remain so. But I am thankful to say I suffer little pain, although the defect in my locomotive powers is a sad drag on me professionally. No doubt, 'for some sin to this sorrow was I doomed;' but I repine not, for I have many blessings still, for all of which, I trust, I have a grateful heart. Mrs. Moir has, for the last two years, enjoyed very good health — indeed, has been less ailing than for many years before; and all our eight children frisk in happiness about us, and we love them all so much that it is impossible to love one of them more than another. Robert has made choice of the medical profession, and last winter commenced his curriculum at the University. He has grown a great big fellow, and for several seasons has rejoiced in a long coat, that badge of manhood and earnest wish of those who know not manhood's cares. Last week Mrs. Moir and I, after seven years' meditation on the subject, at length effected our escape from the trammels of home for two days and a half. But you can have no idea what can be done in two days and a half, by those who are in a hurry. We did wonders. Leaving Edinburgh at mid-day, we dined at Penrith, and slept at Keswick; spent the following day in seeing the Lakes, from Derwentwater to Windermere (without seeing Wordsworth); and, on the third, found a long round home by Kendal and Carlisle, Newcastle and Berwick — a distance of two hundred and seventy miles — between sunrise and sunset; leaving ourselves in doubt, when we had got home to bed, whether the sense of toil or of pleasure predominated. However, we saw much to remember and to think of — and of this not the least was the tomb of Southey, from which we brought home with us grass and wild-flowers. As the extent of our medical practice still remains undiminished, little leisure falls, (happily, it may be,) to my lot. That leisure I always devote to literature. My present task is a collected edition of Mrs. Hemans' works, with notes, which will appear before the end of the year, in a companion form with the single-volume editions of Scott, Byron, Wordsworth and Crabbe. You are probably aware that the copyright of her poems belongs to the Blackwoods, for whom, some years ago, I edited the edition in seven volumes." To Myself, 13th August. — "Professor Wilson, Douglas Cheape, and Stephens, dined with me ten days ago. The Professor remained all night; and I had a long two-handed crack with him after all had left us. He retains all his original vigour. In spite of my wish to the contrary, I have, during the last three years, been drawn into several societies — the Medico-Chirurgical, the Harveian, the Antiquarian, and the Highland." Moir was also a member of the Musselburgh Golf Club. To the same, 19th November. — "I see you are all against me on the cholera question; but, unless I am a monomaniac, depend upon it you are all wrong. Every fact which has occurred since the new eruption forms a link in the chain of my evidence. To all the localities where cholera has appeared, the traces of its importation are nearly demonstrable; nor one whit less evident is its spread from one part of these localities to another by contact. Many thousand human lives, however, must, I fear, be sacrificed to the demon of the air ere the real truth be acknowledged and acted on. I bide my time."
In this "nation of shopkeepers," as Napoleon termed us, the purely literary man is looked upon as a sort of adventurer, and has no recognised status in society. The loose irregular lives of too many of our "wits" of bygone generations, when it was thought that there could scarcely be spirit and genius without waywardness and unholy liberties — a folly of estimate which poor Burns was not altogether free from — have certainly not helped to mend the matter. Still, if a literary man behave properly, he will find himself in England no mere nomadic outcast. To make no exacting assertion of the claims of literature, on the one hand, and steadily to take his stand by it, on the other, as a worthy calling, and his sole fortune, is, for the literary man, to do right, and to take sufficient rank. And go where he will, in out-of-the-way places and odd corners of the country, he will always find something of personal affection, in people whom he has never seen before, mixed up with his public reputation. This is the best part of it, and may well make him happy. Such, in an interesting comparison of notes between Dickens and Moir in 1848, was stated by the former to be a rule and result of his professional life of literature. Like everything about him, the rule is a manful one, and the result honourable. It was the way with Moir, who was composite of business and letters, to take his place in general company as an ordinary professional person. If he was addressed, however, as a man of literature, and had additional attention paid to him as such, he never disclaimed the character and the honour. Unlike a certain set of gentlemen authors, who affect to be above their pursuit, he was too sincere for that. His rule was the same manful rule as that of Dickens; and the result was equally honourable. Men like these, who hold the key of the c human heart, may fear little, indeed, to take their stand upon literature.
In July of this same year (1848), the amateur company of players, of which Dickens was manager, played in Edinburgh, in furtherance of a scheme for the benefit of that veteran of the drama, Sheridan Knowles. Moir, be sure, was present. Writing to Dickens thereafter, on this and other topics, he says: — "Of theatricals, although a fond admirer, I do not pretend to be a great judge; but, so far as gratification went, I must say that I never sat to representations better sustained. To do Falstaff up to a reader's imagination, I should suppose, is utterly impossible; but Mr. Lemon was anything but a failure. Even Pistol has become so much an individual picture in every man's mind, that he also is perhaps better as a 'Yarrow Unvisited.' Yet George Cruikshank did him well; although not up to his Caniphor, which was reality itself. Pardon me for saying that I never saw Slender represented before. Scarcely behind you was Costello's Dr. Caius, than which it would be difficult to conceive anything better. It was past 'two o'clock in the morning' before my sides recovered from the scena between the two S's. — Some days after you left Scotland, I had the happiness of meeting George Cruikshank at dinner with Professor Wilson, the Sheriff, Blackwood, and Jay from America. Although I have had some pleasant letters from Cruikshank, I never had an opportunity before of taking his hand. We are very apt to form erroneous notions of the personal appearance of men who have particularly interested us, and in spite of ourselves the mind will — must, I fancy — form an ideal portrait; but with me fancy and fact met in Cruikshank: the reality was exactly what I had expected. Could this be from the perfect truth and originality, which he has imparted to his creations, being only reflections of himself? We were friends in ten minutes; and he gave me some curious and most interesting details of his early life and progress. 'The Drunkard,' and 'The Drunkard's Children,' I had both admired and shuddered over; but I must say, in spite of this, that the only thing in him I was not prepared to meet with was — the Tee-totaller. — You mention your enjoyment of Foster's Goldsmith. It is indeed a well-written and most interesting book, and gives us everything regarding Oliver that we could wish — perhaps more, sometimes; for, before reading the actual history of the man, I had so mixed up Goldsmith with the exquisite associations of 'The Vicar of Wakefield,' 'The Traveller,' and 'The Deserted Village,' that all were blent together. How such a harum-scarum should have had his mind in such subjection as to write like an angel, while he often not only talked but acted like poor Poll, must ever remain a mystery. Even Mr. Foster has not sufficiently solved it. Not one oddity of his person or circumstances has Goldsmith imparted to his writings, which, for taste and purity, are equalled by nothing in the English tongue, save the poetry of Campbell and the prose of Irving."
Being somewhat unwell in 1849, the author of Mansie took a "June jaunt" into the Highlands with Professor Wilson, Mr. Henry Glassford Bell, and one or two other friends. Thus he writes to his wife from Kinloch-Rannoch: — "The Professor has just returned (seven o'clock) from a long day's fishing, and we dine at eight. He has brought home seven dozen of trouts. Mr. Bell has not yet returned, so we do not know his sport: we have bets about the numbers that can be taken in one day. The Professor and myself went to the parish church yesterday, and I was quite pleased to see such a devout and respectable congregation. Among the audience were Robertson of Struan and Lord Mexborough, in kilts. The scenery about us here is rich and beautiful, and the people all so decent-looking, sober, contented, and happy. The young lads in the evening put the stone, and the little girls dance in rings, so that one is almost inclined to sigh when he thinks of the strife, envy, and bustle of the great world. It is easy to account, from what I see around me, for the intense love with which a Highlander regards his native district. We have been rowing to-day for several hours on Loch Rannoch, and certainly everything around is magnificent."
Toward the end of July, Moir writes to me thus: "About a month ago I was for some days in the Highlands with Professor Wilson and another friend or two. Our headquarters were at Kinloch-Rannoch, at the foot of Schehallion. The change from my gin-horse circle was most exhilarating. The Professor was in great force, and up to the waist in water, day after day, for six or eight hours, fishing. We had also some good sailing, and many new sources for pleasant recollection were opened up to me. Before I set out, I felt worn out and unwell, without any complaint; but I had in a great measure given up eating and sleeping, without both of which no man can thrive. I am happy to say that the change has much benefited me, short although it was, and I feel again very much myself. Wilson never was finer than in his new series (Dies Boreales). He is now busy with No. III. Of course, these papers will want the piquancy which the Noctes possessed, in personal and political allusions; but they cannot fail to charm every one who has the least idea of high writing and fine Christian philosophy. The Thunder criticism in No. II. is exquisite, and some of the descriptions could have been written by no one else. Elizabeth begs to be kindly remembered to you. She has a fine baby, on looking at which I am reminded of my own curious position as a grandfather. I fear I must now be struck off the list of young poets."
Yet how happy was he all the while, central in his double web of family ties! He had a strength round about him more than the munition of rocks!
Moir had been introduced at Mr. Blackwood's to Mrs. Hemans, when she was last in Edinburgh. By all the tuneful sisterhood he was looked to as a favourite brother. Misses Corbett, (of The Odd Volume,) Mrs. Gordon of Campbeltoune, Miss Camilla Toulmin, Miss Catherine Sinclair, Mrs. Mary Howitt, Mrs. S. C. Hall, Mrs. Caroline Southey, and others, were among his correspondents and friends. In the end of 1849 he received a copy of a new novel, entitled, Passages in the Life of Mrs. Margaret Maitland of Sunnyside, with a modest note, intimating that the author had been a patient of his own, when a little girl, and that his special kindness to her had dwelt so vividly in her mind, that she was now emboldened to ask his friendly attention to this, her first attempt in literature. An intimation of this kind, added to the merit of the work, could not fail to draw a letter of encouragement from Delta. "I have to render many thanks," says the accomplished author in reply, "for your very kind letter and gentle judgment of the book I troubled you with. I think young writers would not wince as they do before the veiled censors of the press, if the generous kindliness of encouragement were given to them more frequently by the masters of their craft. There is just one little matter, on which I hope you will suffer me to say a word in defence — that is, in respect to the class ministerial, and their perhaps too prominent position in these humble pages of mine. I know more of ministers than I do of any other class of men. Almost all the society in which I have found pleasure has been clerical; and it has become natural for me to regard them, not as abstract persons at all, but rather as the intelligent, agreeable companions which, I fancy, they generally are. Besides, it seems to me that, in an artistic point of view, the class is one of the most interesting; and I think, if one may judge from their practice, Mr. Galt and Professor Wilson both agree with me. The ministers of Scotland have a standing-ground of their own, so distinct, and at the same time so broad, that, as I fancy, there is a peculiar attraction about their position; and I have nowhere seen character so well developed and contrasted as in a country presbytery in the south of Scotland of which I have some knowledge. The general vigour and respectable intellectual gifts, displaying themselves in so many diverse forms, the simplicities and the good sense, the strength and the weakness, peculiar to them as a class — I think there is much interest and a considerable charm in these; and I shall be glad to be permitted, when I can catch the tone of my original, to draw one of my good friends now and then. It is no doubt a great drawback, that it is impossible to do that without bringing in the polemics of the time; but I think that now the different parties in the Church can afford in all good-humour to throw these paper pellets at each other, and may give and take without offence. I must crave your forbearance for saying so much on this subject. There is another prominent fault in the book, which I perceive you notice; it is my want of power to paint men. But I think that this failing is common to most feminine writers, and that the shadowy angels who represent ideal womanhood, in the books of our brethren who write novels, make us the more excusable. I shall be most happy, with many thanks, to accept your kind invitation in summer. We expect all of us to be in Edinburgh in the end of May, if no unknown obstacle intervenes. I cannot fancy any greater enjoyment than the one you are so good as to promise me; and I must again try to thank you for writing to me so long and kind a letter, when your hands were so full. In this place, where literature means the Times and the Economist, we have no such happy chance as the listeners in your Philosophical Institution; but we shall be able to read, I trust, if not to hear." So ready was Moir, in his generous nature, to turn literary civilities into personal friendship.
"My lyric, 'Disenchantment,'" says Delta, in a letter to myself, in 1850, "has had the honour to be rendered into exquisite Latin verse by Dr. Humphreys, forming the leading specimen in his Lyra Latina. Alas for poor Wordsworth! But in the flesh all die. In spirit none has a surer immortality on earth than he. Save a paper on the Roman Antiquities of this neighbourhood, which cost me some research and labour, and which, on being read before the Antiquaries, took me an hour and forty minutes, I have had little leisure for literature these three or four months back; and am so tired when I get my professional matters for the day through, that I am fit for nothing but a pilgrimage to the Land of Nod. I am become, however, a famous dreamer, and the romance which has departed from the external world forms a gold leaf to my dreams."
Moir delighted in antiquarian studies; but the occupation of his time otherwise left him no leisure to pursue them far. The section on the Antiquities of the Parish of Inveresk, in the new edition of The Statistical Account of Scotland, was supplied by him. His paper, referred to in the preceding paragraph, as read before the Antiquarian Society, was an elaborate inquiry into the evidences of Inveresk being the site of a Roman colonia and oppidum. After incidentally describing the earlier discoveries made at Inveresk and its immediate neighbourhood, including the remarkable altar found in 1565, dedicated Apolini Granno, which attracted the attention of Queen Elizabeth and Cecil, as well as of our Scottish Queen, and was afterwards described by Napier of Merchiston, Mr. Moir proceeded to notice various recent discoveries in the same vicinity. In the course of his communication, he exhibited the contents of a Roman cinerary urn, recently dug up near the churchyard, and also laid upon the table a very fine fragment of embossed Samian ware, found in digging a grave of unusual depth near the church, and which was now presented to the Society by its owner, Mr. Ritchie, the sculptor. After citing much interesting evidence in proof of the importance of Inveresk as a Roman station and town, Mr. Moir referred to the accounts of sepulchral urns, and other supposed Roman relies, found at Currie, near Borthwick Castle, and usually brought forward as proofs of Currie's correspondence with Curia, the first stage in the Fifth Iter of Richard of Cirencester. These, however, he showed to be, nearly all of them, not Roman, but British remains; and he then adduced sundry arguments, leading, as he thought, to the identification of the more important station and colony of lnveresk with the Roman Curia. An interesting discussion followed, Mr. D. Laing, Mr. Robert Chambers, Mr. Wilson, and other members, taking part in it. The supposed Roman origin of the present old bridge at Musselburgh was specially discussed; the general opinion being that there was no evidence in its character or masonry to distinguish it from other works of the same date as that assigned to it in the Maitland MSS., namely, about 1520, when it was either rebuilt or so completely repaired, by Lady Janet Hepburn, as to obliterate every trace of Roman workmanship. It appeared, however, from evidence brought forward by Mr. Moir, that until a comparatively recent period it had only two arches, a third having been added on the east side of the Esk; and this was corroborated by a curious contemporary bird's-eye view of the Battle of Pinkie, exhibited by Mr. Laing to the meeting, representing the bridge with only two arches.
In spring 1851 Mr. Moir delivered a course of Six Lectures, at the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, on the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century. My able friend, Dr. Samuel Brown, the chemist, himself a brother lecturer at the Institution, gave me the following account of Moir's appearance in his new capacity: — "I accompanied Delta and the Directors of the Institution to the platform, on the occasion of his first lecture. His welcome by one of the largest audiences ever gathered within the hall was hearty and long drawn out, there being many present who loved the sight of a man so dear as the author of 'Casa Wappy' and other familiar strains. Then the author of Mansie Wauch was an object of kindly interest to hundreds who had never seen him before. He read his lecture like a diffident person going through a manuscript work in a company of friends, without oratory, and without effect at all commensurate with the quiet eloquence of the written discourse. Yet there was a sweet and strong charm in the whole affair, the very spirit of good-humour, simplicity, and manliness. It was the prelection of a true British poet and a British gentleman. At the same time, the identical discourse, nobly rendered by Wilson, would have told ten times as well. The passages his own manner was peculiarly suited to were those of sly humour, which he gave with real zest, chuckling over them himself as he came upon them, and carrying the crowd away with him in his little whirlpools of laughter. He concluded, as he began, somewhat abruptly. In short, he showed himself not an orator, but a poet; always remembering that, as a poet, he could not fail to display himself in the secondary character of an eloquent judge of poetry. If this distinction had been borne in mind, his Lectures would have been more satisfactory to those who demand too much of a man; and, as it was, they were highly popular with the majority."
Moir, at this time, was in a very nervous and delicate state of health; and his more intimate friends, who were aware of the fact, and accompanied him to the lecture-room, were not a little uneasy as to how he should get through his task. Their fears, however, were disappointed. He gathered strength as the course proceeded, and, along with strength, confidence and case; and though his power of popular delivery was not what it would have been, had he been in his usual good health, still the broad result, from matter and manner taken together, was amply sufficient. Messrs Blackwood heard the lectures delivered, and, estimating them highly, made arrangements with the author for their immediate publication. This estimate was fully borne out by the press and the public. The volume has been successful.
It is somewhere remarked by Humboldt, that, under the southern hemisphere by night, you are struck with this peculiarity of the heavens, that the stars are very much in clusters, and that between these clusters are vast ebon belts of starless firmament. Similar is the general aspect of the literary heavens. Great men appear in clusters; and wide and black are the intervening belts of time, starred with few or no luminaries of genius. The age of Pericles in Greece showed us one of the most glorious clusters of great men in art and literature. So did the Roman Augustan age. So did the age of the Medici family in Italy. So did the age of Louis XIV. in France. So did the close of the last century in Germany. In our own country, multitudinous was the constellation of genius which glorified the time of Elizabeth. The opening up of the treasures of the Scriptures to the renewed heart of reformed England; the spirit-stirring examples of martyrdom, and the heroic struggles of such men as Luther, whose very words, to say nothing of his conduct, "were half-battles;" the discovery of the New World, with all its stupendous revelations, impressing Europe only the more deeply that its greatness was not yet fully measured, and calling forth a spirit of enterprise corresponding with the boundlessness of its field; the knowledge of the wisdom of antiquity, now, for the first time, beginning to be generally disclosed to the moderns by translations from the classics; the chivalrous loyalty which the circumstances of the Virgin Queen demanded on the part of her subjects, refined especially by the dangers which, as a Protestant princess, she had undergone, and heightened by the contrasted deliverance which her reign began to secure to the new and widely-embraced faith of the nation, — such were some of the remarkable influences which stamped the stamp of originality and greatness on the Englishmen of Elizabeth's age, vigorous all of them as "giants refreshed with wine." There was Bacon, whose "knowledge," to use his own expression, was indeed "power," whose words were things — the seeds of modern wisdom — the texts of modern dissertations — the rules of modern philosophy, statesmanship, and general conduct; the myriad-minded Shakespeare; Spenser, the greatest master in ancient or modern times of the diffusive picturesque; Jonson's learned sock; the vehement tread of Marlow's buskin, hurrying by in his unhallowed lust of power; those "two noble kinsmen," Beaumont and Fletcher; Sidney, the young in years but old in fame, "whose life was a perfect poem; " Raleigh, of fine and chivalric presence, and in his attainments "a most universal man;" and "the rest." The reign of Queen Anne has often been styled the British Augustan age, in virtue of the literature which distinguished it. The first half of the present century — now the bygone half — yields, in the power of British talent and genius, to no age of the world. The poetry of the era has been peculiarly abundant, varied, and vigorous. Over the vast field of this poetry, Moir, with his large-hearted sympathy, fine sensibilities, and sound judgment and taste, expatiates well. The general canons of criticism laid down are clear and just, and his estimates of the various poets of the age are upon the whole discriminating and fair. His exposition is often eloquent, always distinct, and always picturesque and lively. And thus has he added the reputation of a critic to his fame as a novelist and poet.
Our author's correspondence was now about to close. The following are passages from some of his last letters: — TO GEORGE GILFILLAN, 28th April 1851. — "Very many thanks for your Bards of the Bible, which I yesterday for the second time made my Sunday reading. It is your best work, and is equally extraordinary for its intellectual and its imaginative energy. Allow me to say that sometimes its contrasts and comparisons are not a little startling and will appear most so to readers who have been accustomed only to the tame prosaic level of our theological writers. My favourite passages yesterday were the chapter on the characteristics of Hebrew Poetry, which overflows with eloquence; the passage, in that on the Poetry of Job, on the question, What is Truth? (which is worthy of Jeremy Taylor); and the remarks on Poetry and Science, where you are at first favourable, then antagonistic to my opinions. I was not aware, until after the publication of my Lectures, that Hugh Miller had some months ago devoted a paper in The Witness to the subject; and I doubt not, therefore, that he thinks he has a crow to pluck with me regarding it. I must still continue, however, to differ from you both, in so far as poetry prefers the indefinite to the distinct." To Mrs. ALEXANDER, 26th May — "That my opinions, as expressed in the last section of my Lectures on Poetry, may not find favour in many eyes, I am quite aware; but regarding all my tuneful brethren I have written just as I felt and probably often erroneously. I have had very pleasant letters regarding them from Mr. Macaulay, Professor Wilson, Barry Cornwall, Charles Dickens, Thomas Aird, Professor Trench, George Gilfillan, and
other literary friends, and the book is taking well with the public. I trust that you continue stronger, and able to enjoy alike the beauties of nature and the delights of intellectual intercourse in your neighbourhood. We have had rather a backward spring, but now everything is in great beauty; the wheat is almost in ear, mint has been long calling out for lamb, asparagus is on the decline, and gooseberries exhibit themselves under canopies of pie-crust. I am glad to say that we are all well. Elizabeth is now the mother of two little daughters, which make me alike rejoice and mourn in the capacity of grandpapa. Robert is one of the house-surgeons to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and I hope, in the course of another year, when his age permits, will be able to take the degree of M.D. The other four girls and two boys are all getting on like olive plants, and form a pleasant circle round our daily table — overflowing with affection to us, and to one another. My only dread, in looking at them, is in case of anything occurring to myself or their mother. Although my removal might more distinctly and immediately interfere with their worldly comforts, that of the other would much more seriously, in reference to what John Knox termed 'the godly upbringing.'"
In July 1851 appeared the "Lament of Selim," Delta's last contribution to Blackwood's Magazine. From first to last, he contributed three hundred and seventy articles, in prose and verse, to that periodical.
From notes supplied by Mr. Moir's family, we get the following closer view of his inner life: — His chief time for study was after the house was shut up for the night, and when all was quiet around him. He could then with some degree of comfort sit down in his library to read and write. Even then, however, from the uncertainties of his profession, he was never altogether sure of his own time. Often did he remark that, whether it was the contrariety of human nature, or his own peculiar sensitiveness to interruption at such a time, he was most liable to be broken in upon when he was most deeply engaged in writing. His professional duties were so harassing that they would have disheartened the most of men from engaging in literature; but he liked literature too well to give it up entirely, and always seemed happiest when his mind was employed in it. He was often heard to say that he required more sleep than was generally allowed to mankind, consequently he never was an early riser. His frequent professional work during the night made him less so. Up to the year 1846, seven o'clock was his usual hour for rising. He liked breakfast immediately, and took it in his dressing-gown and slippers, when professional avocations did not require haste. He then went again to his library, and did literary work until nine. Thereafter he dressed, and was ready for the business of the day at half-past nine. From the year 1846, however, when he met with that unfortunate accident, he seldom or never rose to breakfast; his day's exertions were now so severe to him, and his nights were often so sleepless, from pain in his limb, that he required this indulgence. He breakfasted now at eight, and read his papers in bed; then rose and dressed, and came down stairs to his day's labours so fresh and cheerful that those who knew the restlessness and suffering of his nights could not but wonder to see him. The time when he had to write his Lectures on Poetry happened to be the season of the year when sickness of every kind is most common, so that, until ten or eleven o'clock at night, he seldom got pen put to paper. On going to his bed-room, sometimes at three in the morning, his mind was so engrossed with his subject that it used to be five and six o'clock before sleep would visit him. This, however, he never allowed to interfere with his breakfast hour, and his time for rising to begin his professional duties.
While still a very young man, Mr. Moir joined the communion-table, and was never afterwards a season absent from it. He never thought he had spent any one day of his life well if he had not read a portion of Scripture; and, on the Sabbath, he never read less than three chapters, either before leaving his room in the morning, or during the day. As a married man, and the head of a family, he had family worship regularly every night. He was most strict in his observance of the Sabbath, making a point of being at church himself at least once a-day, and causing his family and his servants to attend both services. In the afternoon, between dinner and tea, he used to take his two youngest children, one on each knee, and tell them stories from the Bible. After tea, the elder children read aloud from the Scriptures, and he explained difficulties of meaning as they occurred. Their lessons in the Catechism and Psalm-book were also carefully attended to. He was partial to some of the books of the Old Testament, especially the Psalms, and has often been observed quite overcome when any striking or affecting passage was read.
Mr. Charles Moir, the poet's brother, gives us the following memoranda: — "Having occasionally staid at my brother's for a week at a time, I noticed that he always took books with him to read in his carriage, when he had any distance to go. An hour or two in the afternoon was also, if possible, devoted to reading. By this means he left himself more time for composition in the evening. After dinner the younger children hung about his chair, their arms round his neck, and he amused them with some funny story, or puzzled them with some curious 'guess.' The youngsters were then sent away, and the conversation took a more serious turn: new books were discussed, new paintings and engravings were criticised, public affairs were touched on. He then went to his library, and there wrote, unless called out professionally, until nine o'clock. At that hour precisely, the bell rung for family worship. This he conducted, with his assembled household, in the most solemn and reverential manner. After supper, he usually took another hour or two at his desk before retiring to rest.
"David always appeared to me to be peculiarly a 'home' man. Everything about his home was dear to him. Without alluding to his great love for his wife and children, his house, his garden, nay, every tree in it, seemed to have for him an affectionate interest. The very gooseberry-bushes had each its littIe history. 'This one,' he would say to me, 'was planted by poor Charlie — all these smaller ones were slips taken from it; that one there was wee Willie's' — and so on — every spot bearing some secret charm for him, every shrub and flower having its own place in the home affections: they all 'took root in love.'
"In my brother's character I often noticed one failing. When he saw anything in the conduct of any person that displeased him, or where there was on his own part a dislike, he was apt to express himself far too strongly — in a manner quite disproportioned, as I thought, to the nature of the offence. Counterbalancing this, however, was his eager and earnest desire to make immediate and ample reparation when he found that he had done the slightest injustice to any one; and he did it in such a way that he generally bound the individual more closely to him than ever. — One more trait of his character, and I have done: I mean his delight to serve others, whether by good word or deed. There was no end of his painstaking in trying to benefit a friend. Letters were written — personal application was made — no stone was left unturned, when the object was good, and the person to be helped worthy. Unreservedly did he ask for others what his sensitive nature would have shrunk from asking for himself, or for any one of his own family."
LAST ILLNESS, AND DEATH.
We now go down toward the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
On the forenoon of Sabbath, the 22d. of June 1851, Mr. Moir, in dismounting from his horse at the door of a patient, accidentally hurt his weak limb, and gave himself a severe wrench in trying to save it. He suffered much pain in returning home; nevertheless, he went to church in the afternoon, it being his turn to officiate as elder at the plate. On getting back to his house, he was obliged to go to bed. On Monday, he ventured out in his carriage to see a patient at Granton. Mrs. Moir went with him. On his way home he spoke of the general state of his health in a desponding manner, and said to her, "Catherine, I am resigned to the Almighty's will, whensoever it may please Him to call me. I have been trying, for some time past, to live every day as if it were to be my last." On Tuesday he was very unwell, and complained of severe pain all along his leg. A swelling showed itself above the hip-joint. It was eased by warm fomentations, and his relatives had hope that it was simply the effect of a muscular strain. All the week he continued much in the same state, one while in bed, and another while going about his professional duties; now pretty well and cheerful, now shivering in the midst of heat, sick and faint and depressed in spirit. A piece of plate was to be presented to Mr. Beveridge, minister of Inveresk, by the people of his parish and congregation, in testimony of their esteem and gratitude, and Mr. Moir was named to deliver the address on making the presentation. This was a duty quite to his mind and heart, and accordingly he delivered an admirable address in the Town-hall, under the chairmanship of the Provost of Musselburgh. Finding himself no better, he set out on Tuesday the 1st of July, with Mrs. Moir and their little boy, John Wilson, to try what a short release from professional cares and change of scene might do for him. They made Ayr in the afternoon. All the night following, he was feverish and restless. A short drive on Wednesday to show Mrs. Moir and his son the cottage where Burns was born, and the other objects of interest in that celebrated locality, was more than enough for him. On getting back to the inn he was seized with a violent spasm, and had nearly fallen. So much alarmed was his wife that she begged to have medical help for him; but he refused decisively: — "No, Catherine," he said; "if a doctor were here, he would order me to bed, and I should never rise again. My constitution is making a desperate effort to relieve itself; but, lay me on a bed of sickness, and it is all over with me in this life. You must get me home to-morrow." During the night, however, he had some refreshing sleep, and next day he rose so much recruited that he made up his mind to go on to Dumfries in the afternoon. There he would spend Friday with a friend, and return home to Musselburgh oil Saturday.
The scene changes to Dumfries. Toward nine o'clock on Thursday evening, Mr. Moir is walking gently down by the side of the Nith, a little below the town, with his wife and son, and myself, enjoying the varied beauties of the place, in the richest light of a July sunset. "Oh me, there's that spasm again!" suddenly he exclaimed, pressing his stomach with his hand; and I saw his face collapse, as if he had been struck through with a musket-ball. We retraced our steps, but very slowly, for his suffering was great. With his usual sensitiveness about having the attention of strangers drawn to him, he would not allow a chaise to be got; but he was thankful to rest for a while on a stone seat at the head of one of the stairs in the Dock-wall. "It will soon pass off," he said, "as it did at Ayr." It did not pass off, however, and we got him back to the King's Arms Inn with great difficulty, and put to bed. His eldest son, Mr. Robert Moir, one of the house-surgeons of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, having taken presage from a note written to him by his mother from Ayr, was now come; and Dr. Blacklock was called in. They proceeded to treat the case as one of peritonitis. The symptoms became more alarming, and Dr. Browne of the Crichton Institution, a personal friend of Mr. Moir, was brought at midnight. He concurred with Dr. Blacklock in thinking the patient in great danger, and young Moir went off to Edinburgh for Dr. Christison.
I had retired during the application of leeches; but Drs. Blacklock and Browne came for me. Their patient, they said, was sinking fast, and they thought it was my duty to lose no time in making Mrs. Moir aware of it. In the brief absence of the medical men, Mr. Moir said to his wife — "Catherine, my hours are numbered: I feel that I am not to be long with you. But do not let me distress you, or I will say no more. Look at me, my wife, and see I am perfectly resigned to the will of an All-wise Providence. Have faith: God will protect you and our children." He then calmly explained his wishes regarding his sons, and how the family were to be provided for. By this time the medical men and myself were back to the inn, and, while they took charge of their patient, I did my heavy-hearted message to his faithful wife. l was then allowed to see Mr. Moir. "I am going to die," he said as he shook me by the hand, but I am quite resigned — quite resigned. I have contemplated this for some time back."
In the forenoon I was again permitted to see him. He had rallied wonderfully. Mrs. Moir and I sponged his arms and hands, in order to cool and soothe him. "Come," said I, "I know where the true seat of refreshment lies: bend your arm — so;" and, holding the sponge high, I rained the water with a long fall down into the hollow of his arm. He sighed with pleasure. His eye was heavy with opium; but a touch of gentle humour lighted it up, as he said to me (with a peculiar protracted emphasis on the "Ah!" expressive of half-quizzical wonder), "Ah! you do it on scientific principles."
Dumfries was full of mournful anxiety and inquiries when it became known, as it very soon did, that Delta was lying so ill amongst us; and the medical men were all on the alert to lend help, if necessary. Dr. William Scott volunteered to relieve Dr. Blacklock the following night, and administer the opiates. I asked Mr. Moir if he had no objection to this. He seemed unwilling to give so much trouble; but I said to him there was not one of all his professional brethren in Dumfries but would be thankful to spring forward to his help. The tear started in his eye, and his voice faltered, as he replied, — "What am I, poor sinner, that everybody should be so kind to me!" Dr. Scott's service was accepted accordingly. Dr. Christison was now come; and, after a consultation, some hope was entertained.
To the poor patient, however, the night was a restless one; and on Saturday morning he was exhausted and weak. Dr. Scott of Musselburgh, his partner and son-in-law, had come during the night, stayed two or three hours with him, and gone off with Dr. Christison early in the morning. His daughter, Mrs. Scott, was also come; and she remained with him to the last. His younger daughters, Catherine and Anne Mary, arrived with their uncle, Mr. Charles Moir, and the. Rev. Mr Beveridge of Inveresk. By-and-by his friend, Mr. John Blackwood of Edinburgh, came also. His morning and the early part of his forenoon were spent in the sacred privacies of family love, he himself praying with his wife and children, and Mrs. Scott reading to him from the Bible. Mr. Beveridge's visit was peculiarly acceptable. With him he joined in religious duties, serenely calm of mind, repeatedly expressing perfect resignation to the will of God; and so composed did he continue throughout the forenoon — so peaceful, so happy — and with so much of his usual tone and look did he say at parting, "I am delighted to have seen you to-day," that his pastor went away at noon with the hope that the danger was over.
In the afternoon Mr. Moir became more restless than ever, and complained of a pain on one side so agonising that he durst not draw his breath. A mustard blister was applied, and gave him a little relief. But a deep sinking was now visible. Mr. Blackwood and I were hastily summoned. On entering his chamber, I saw that Death was there. The dying man's brother and his children were on his left, hanging about him; on his right was his wife, true to her sleepless watch of love, and he was patting her on the cheek and chin, faintly exclaiming, "My wife!" His eye was glazing fast; but he saw Mr. Blackwood and myself, and beckoned us to draw near. He took me by the hand, and bade me farewell. I could only say to him, as I bent over him, "Our Blessed Lord will take care of you." He pressed my hand fervently, in token of his faith and hope. Then upon my head he laid his right hand, and gave me his blessing, his hand rising and falling at every clause of the blessing, as he pronounced it with a solemnity and fulness which I am not likely to forget. Of Mr. Blackwood he inquired after the health of one of his brothers who had been unwell, and expressed himself thankful on learning that he was better. He then gave Mr. Blackwood his blessing also, and bade him farewell for time. After renewed expressions of affection to his brother and family, now putting his hand upon the heads of his children, and now upon the head of his wife, he prayed his blessing upon his little ones at home, "Jeanie, and Emy, and Osy" — so he fondly styled them — and on his other brother, and all his absent friends; and he specially begged his daughter Elizabeth to convey his blessing to her husband, who as a partner had given him the greatest satisfaction and comfort, and had proved himself a most worthy son-in-law. "And now may the Lord my God," thus he prayed aloud, naming every syllable with a long-drawn-out solemnity, "not separate between my soul and my body, till He has made a final and eternal separation between my soul and sin: for the sake of my Redeemer!" His sufferings became more and more severe. Dr. Browne and Dr. Blacklock, who had been to him like brothers, did everything in their power to alleviate them, administering a little chloroform internally from time to time. Most thankfully did he bless them for their kindness. He died at two o'clock on Sabbath morning, the 6th of July.
At the request of the inhabitants of Musselburgh, the funeral was a public one. A special meeting of the Town-Council had been held, when it was resolved to attend in a body; and they instructed their clerk to address a letter of condolence to the bereaved family. The funeral took place on Thursday the 10th of July. It was attended by upwards of four hundred people. During the procession to the churchyard of Inveresk, the shops of the town were all shut, and the bells tolled mournfully. The procession was headed by the Provost, Magistrates, and Town-Councillors of Musselburgh, and the Kirk-Session of Inveresk. In the body of the procession, besides the immediate relatives and friends of the deceased, were the Very Rev. Principal Lee; Professors Wilson, Alison, Christison, and Aytoun; many of the clergy of Edinburgh, Musselburgh, and the country round; the Hon. Mr. Coventry; Messrs Blackwood; Sheriff Gordon; Mr. Robert Chambers; Mr. Gordon, of the Church of Scotland's Education Committee Mr. Hugh Miller; Dr. James Simson; and other eminent men.
And there, in the quiet churchyard of Inveresk, sleeps the dust of David Macbeth Moir, with the dust of his three little boys, whom he loved so dearly, and lamented so touchingly.
"The glory dies not, and the grief is past."
Delta was tall, well formed, and erect. The development of his head was not peculiar in any way, but good upon the whole; and he carried it with a manly elevation. His hair was light, almost inclined to be sandy; and he usually wore it short. His features were regular and handsome; but he had rather too much colour, not in the cheeks merely, but diffused over the whole face. His eyes were grey-blue, mild withal, but ready to twinkle sharp. When the sense of the ludicrous was full upon him, he had a way of raising his eyebrows, as people do in wonder; and there was a moist confused ferment in his eyes, glaring in the very riot and delirium of over-boiling fun. This was one of the strongest expressions of his nature; but, with the high moral powers ever watchful and dominant to chasten and subdue, it was not much indulged in. His usual tone of voice had a considerate kindliness in it, which was very pleasant to the ear. In the way of beating down excuses, in order to have the visit of a friend prolonged, he was quite oldfashioned in his overbearing cordiality.
With these few remarks on Moir's personal appearance and manner, the office of his biographer, strictly speaking, ceases. His character ought to stand developed in the preceding pages. At all events, I am little disposed to sit in critical judgment, and pronounce a general verdict on any brother mortal. Still, it may be profitable for biographer and reader to take note together of some of the master features in the delineation before them.
Physic, like law, is a jealous wife, and suffers no dalliance with the Muses. Well balanced, therefore, must that man's mind be, sound his self-regulatiug judgment, severe his subordinating self-denial, sleepless his industry, who can achieve medical success and literary success at one and the same time. Such a man was Macbeth Moir. He won his professional way, in spite of the common distrust of the literary character, with no advantage of birth or fortune to help him — in his native place, too, where, proverbially, a prophet has no honour. A man of conduct he must have been, in the largest sense of that term. "It is a great compliment, both to yourself," says William Howitt, in a letter to Delta in 1838, "and the people you live amongst, that literature is not made to punish you in your profession. All medical men are terribly afraid of having a literary character, or of writing at all, except on some single professional subject. Your example proves that medical men may be devoted to their professional duties as well as distinguished in literature, and that there may be a public wise enough to see that." Let general society take the lesson; and let young men especially, if they find themselves ambitious of the double distinction which Delta carried off, be well aware that it is a difficult and rare one, and learn from him how to win it.
Moir's nature and life were simple, clear, and practical. Speculative and theoretical people found no favour in his eyes; the mystic and his mysticism he could not away with. A grave sense of the responsibility and the dignity of duty, a spirit of cheerful alacrity in discharging it, and principle to persevere to the end, were leading qualities of the man. All this we find in his history.
"The amiable Delta" has been a common phrase for a series of years. Let the phrase have its just meaning, and it is a good one. It were a grievous mistake, however, to suppose that Moir was a mere soft-eyed sentimentalist. The record of his life tells otherwise. In his resentment he could, at times, be even unreasonably sharp. At all times he could be angry, when it was well for him to be angry; and his anger could deepen and darken into indignation. The natural rule and measure of his spirit, however, was to be kind and brotherly, not in temper merely, but in active service of help. In the "quarrels of authors," alike from his native disposition and his law of self-respect, he never mixed; and throughout the wide "republic of letters" no man envied him, all men loved him. Galt and Macnish, Dickens and Hood, gave him the confidence of their hearts. Jeffrey regretted that he had not known him longer. Wilson bowed his manly head, laden with sorrow, over his closing grave. " A fine melodious nature," said Carlyle of him, when he heard of his death. "Well, he has lived and died in honour," wrote Gilfillan to me, on the same sad occasion: "Peace be to his fine and holy dust! How I regret that I never met with him! Yet it is very pleasing for me now to remember that we were on terms of good-will and friendship ere he went his eternal way." "We take farewell," says the beautiful tribute to his memory in BIackwood's Magazine, "of the gentlest and kindest being, of the most true and single-hearted man, that we may ever hope to meet with in the course of this earthly pilgrimage."
Professional reputation is a desirable thing, and literary honour is not to be despised; but all distinctions fade away as comparatively cheap, to those who had the privilege of knowing Mr. Moir in "the mild majesty of private life." Constituted and composed of so many harmonious excellencies, the Christian gentleman, in the bosom of his beautiful family, was the consummation of them all.
When Moir complained to me, after his severe accident in 1846, that he was a good deal depressed in spirit, I advised him, by way of gentle and pleasant recreation, to be preparing a general edition of his poetry for ultimate publication. Some months thereafter he told me that he had set about it, selecting and revising such pieces as he thought had "a chance of living" when he himself was gone. After his death, it was discovered that he had made but little progress. Probably he found a difficult task in what I had recommended as a recreation, gentle and pleasant. So hurriedly, in his snatches of leisure, had he written for the periodicals, that, besides issuing much slight imperfect matter, he had in his better poems repeated himself to a great extent. To publish the whole even of these better poems together, was out of the question — for, when a man has said a thing distinctly and well once, why say it again? and to reject good pieces, merely because they were very like other good ones that he had written, required a degree of self-denial such as few poets are masters of.
To execute the selection and publication which Delta himself did not live to accomplish, became the natural desire of his relatives and literary friends; and, at their special request, I undertook the office. Professor Wilson had given it to me as his judgment, that the selection should be a narrow and severe one. It has been made on the following five-fold principle: — In the first place, Delta's own exquisite selection of 1843, comprising "Domestic Verses " and "Elegiac Effusions," has not been touched: it leads off our poetical publication. In the second place, all decidedly inferior matter, and all slight hasty sketches, with touches of good poetry in them, but yet not poems, properly so called, have been set aside as inadmissible. From Moir's hurried life, and that longing for present publication, overmastering a patient regard and provision for the nobler praise of futurity, which was a feature of his character, his crude pieces are far too numerous. In the third place, poems of tolerable merit, superseded, however, by after poems, finished and fine, which have obviously taken birth and shape from the inferior predecessors, have also been set aside. This, too, is a pretty numerous class. In the Genevieve volume, for instance, I had marked for adoption a very fair sketch, entitled "Solitude;" but a closer revision showed me that it was the mere rudimentary literal body from which was afterwards formed Delta's highest imaginative piece, "The Deserted Churchyard." How fortunate for an author's fame, when he does not publish such first substances at all, but lets them dwell in his own mind till the literal is slowly crystallised into the ideal; and how much afterregret does he miss! Save for such critical instruction as we are here drawing from it, the poem of "Solitude" is now useless: I would no more think of publishing it in the same selection with "The Deserted Churchyard," than I would of presenting a bit of half-crystallised carbon side by side with "The Mountain of Light." Contrary to rigour, however, in this third rule of selection, I have admitted "Winter Wild," though it is obviously but the first cast of "The Snow," which is later and better: I had some hesitation about it; but both the poems are so very picturesque, that I have not pushed the principle. In the fourth place, of dozens of poems equally good, but all of precisely the same strain of sentiment, mournfully reverting to the happy days of boyhood, wailing for desolate and disconsolate love, or symbolising man's fading life by the decay of the year, all I could reasonably do was to admit two or three of the best. Scattered over the periodical publications of thirty years, such iterations might be borne with, though not worthy of a poet like Delta; but brought into one collection, they could only tire the reader. In the fifth place, some long pieces, put together without symmetry, cumbrous and ineffective, and at all events useless without the sternest reconstruction, have been kept back.
In Delta's earlier strains there are generally fancy, and feeling, and musical rhythm, but not much thought. His love of poetry, however, never suffered abatement, and, as "a maker," he was improving to the very last. To unfaded freshness of heart he was adding riper thought: such was one of the prime blessings of his pure nature and life. Reserve and patience were what he wanted in order to be a greater name in song than he is; but let us so far for this blame his profession, which gave him no hope of a continuity of time at his disposal. Had he had more leisure, instead of writing more verse, he would have written less.
The great poets of old, of whom Homer and Virgil are worthy representatives, still keep the World of Letters right by common sense and common feeling. Prose on all manner of stilts, and Prose masquerading under all the obscurities of mysticism, has outgone even the most furious exaggerations of Verse in distorting eras of literature. But aye the common sense of Homer and Virgil reassert their supremacy, and the great soul of the Literary World is kept right. Thanks to Shakespeare for the same sort of general service. In all the wildest imaginative flights of his "Tempest" and "Midsummer Nights' Dream," for instance, not the slightest veil of mysticism or obscurity interposes betwixt his meaning and the soul of his reader. All honour, then, to common sense, as the foundation, not only of the practical business of life, but of the most ideal poetry itself. Poetry must be more than common sense, but it must be that at least. Moir's whole structure of character and authorship rests on this sure foundation. Good sound sense, and simple healthy feeling, excited and exalted though these may be, never fail him. He draws from nature, and from himself direct. The movement of his mind is his own; it is never mistaken for another man's. Many of his poems, too, have all the vitality of the earnest and the actual, having sprung forth from the heated "nidus" of his daily practical spirit. He wrote his bold "Shadow of a Truth," for instance, to help his other determined efforts against Catholic Emancipation. "The Fowler" is the genuine, vivid reproduction of an actual incident in his boyhood — an incident so deeply impressed upon his mind and heart as to have kept him all his days thereafter from taking the life of bird or beast: had he "shot the albatross," not more could he have been frightened from future cruelty. Such poems as these have a life of life as real as any of the poems of Burns.
In our author's varied verse we find descriptive power, fancy delicate and graceful, picturesqueness and imaginative grandeur, pensive tenderness, holy beauty, heart-subduing pathos.
As a sample of Moir's descriptive power, take the morning scene by the sea, in the poem of "The Fowler" just alluded to. Desolate, spectral, drear, the scene is a most impressive one.
And thus dips Delta his forefinger in dew, and, stooping down to the spangled meadow, limns us off the fresh morning in a few light touches:—
'Twas the flush of dawn; on the dewy lawn
Shone out the purpling day;
The lark on high sang down from the sky,
The thrush from the chestnut spray;
On the lakelet blue the water-coot
Oared forth with her sable young;
While at its edge, from reed and sedge,
The fisher-hern upsprung;
In peaceful pride, by Esk's green side,
The shy deer strayed through Roslin glen;
And the hill-fox to the Roman camp
Stole up from Hawthornden.
How soft and clear this little bit of painting Campbell's rapid sketch of the morning, in "Gertrude of Wyoming," is scarcely finer. True to his stealthy, momentary, morning appearances, the fox is in both of them.
Here is another sweet image of the summer morning:—
The cushat stood amidst the topmost boughs
Of the tall tree, his white-ringed neck aslant,
Down through the leaves to see his brooding mate.
A common writer would have given us the cushat as sitting on the top of the tree. The poet knows better: true to nature in a minute but peculiar characteristic, his cushat "stood," and not on the top, but "amidst the topmost boughs."
Once upon a time, when I was fishing on the Tweed, between Old Melrose and Dryburgh, I saw, after a thunder-storm, a slip of dewy sunlight streaming down through a wild rose-bush, on the bank, all a-blush with roses. I thought it the sweetest sight I had ever seen in nature. Some years afterwards, I lighted on "The Eglantine," by Delta, in Blackwood's and came to the following lovely lines:—
At length the rent battalia cleared away—
The tempest-cloven clouds; and sudden fell
A streak of joyful sunshine: on a bush
Of wild-rose fell its beauty. All was dark
Around it still, and dismal; but the beam
(Like Hope sent down to re-illume Despair)
Burned on the bush, displaying every leaf,
And bud, and blossom, with such perfect light
And exquisite splendour, that since then my heart
Hath doomed it Nature's favourite, and mine eyes
Fall on it never, but that thought recurs,
And memories of the bypast, sad and sweet.
"What!" I exclaimed, "has our triangular friend really got hold of my rose-bush?" So fine-eyed was Delta to all the physiognomies of Mother Earth and the Seasons.
And young of heart was he to the last. The best of his "Poems on Flowers " were his latest productions. Graceful and beautiful exceedingly, "The Birth of the Flowers" is one of Delta's masterpieces. The Genius of the Air is thus delicately touched off:—
Eye could not gaze on shape so bright,
Which from its atmosphere of light,
And love, and beauty, shed around,
From every winnow of her wings,
Upon the fainting air perfumes
Sweeter than Thought's imaginings;
And at each silent bend of grace,
The Dreamer's raptured eve could trace
(Far richer than the peacock's plumes)
A rainbow shadow on the ground,
As if from out Elysium's bowers,
From brightest gold to deepest blue,
Blossoms of every form and hue
Had fallen to earth in radiant showers.
Vainly would human words convey
Spiritual music, or portray
Seraphic loveliness — the grace
Flowing like glory from that face,—
Which, as 'twas said of Una's, made,
Where'er the sinless virgin strayed,
A sunshine in the shady place.
The snowdrop was her brow; the rose
Her cheek; her clear, full, gentle eye
The violet, in its deepest dye;
The lily of the Nile her nose;
Before the crimson of her lips
Carnations waned in dim eclipse;
And downward o'er her shoulders, white
As Sharon's rose in fullest blow,
Her floating tresses took delight
To curl in hyacinthine flow.
Her vesture seemed as from the blooms
Of all the circling seasons wove,
With magic warp, in fairy looms,
And tissued with the woof of love.
The birth of the universal Daisy might touch the ghost of Chaucer with delight:
First heavenward, with refulgent smile,
She glanced, then earthward turned; the while
From out her lap she scattered round
Its riches of all scents and hues—
Scarlets and saffrons, pinks and blues,
And sowed with living gems the ground.
The rose to eastern plains she gave;
The lily to the western wave;
The violet to the south; and forth
The thistle to the hardy north.
Then, in triumphant ecstasy,
Glancing across wide earth her eye,
She flung abroad her arms in air,
And daisies sprung up everywhere!
But we have another full tribute to the Daisy from Delta. Honour to the "Gold-headed Cane:" two of the finest poems on the Daisy, since Chaucer's many exquisite touches of affection for the flower, are by Dr. Mason Good and Dr. Moir of Musselburgh.
And now for picturesqueness: — In its combination of the literal graphic and the graphic imaginative, "The Old Seaport" is a first-rate piece. The dim old port itself, with its sombre sea and sky, is a bit of daguerreotype — desolate, dusty, grey. Imagination, by simple natural links of association, glances over far seas and into foreign lands. And then we are recalled to the old seaport, and the piece is closed — round and complete. What an immense power Poetry has beyond Painting in such matters! Hosts of artists could do us the old town itself admirably on canvass; but our poet's imaginative bringing-in of foreign scenes and perils, by rapid touches, lies beyond the faculty of the brush.
In the "Stanzas for the Burns Festival" we have burly picturesque power, intertissued with generous appreciation, and all the moral softnesses of charity and love. It is one of Delta's best pieces.
"The Deserted Churchyard" has already been specially named. In its ideal abstractions and solemn imagery it is worthy of Collins.
In all the poetry of true love there is nothing more affectionately tender than "Mine Own." The very soul of voluptuous tenderness breathes through "The Song of the South." What cheerful tenderness in "The Highlander's Return!" What homely touching tenderness in the "Rustic Lad's Lament in the Town!" What downcast pensive tenderness, what holy beauty, in "The Contadina" — who might have been the mother of our Saviour!
And now for the rarest of all poetic merit — heart-subduing pathos. The "Domestic Verses" themselves are a complete "Worship of Sorrow." The simple, sobbing, wailing pathos of "Casa Wappy" has drawn more tears of mothers than any other dirge of our day. Poem we are loth to call it: such things are not made by the brain: they are the spilth of the human heart — that wonderful fountain, fed from the living veins of Heaven, and welling over. Danae and her babe in the little ark, on the midnight waste of waters, and all the other "scrolls" of "the tender-hearted pure Simonides," yield and do obeisance to "Casa Wappy." Tears are the truest of critics. What need of farther exposition? Justly did the late Lord Jeffrey, writing to Moir, say of the "Domestic Verses" — "I cannot resist the impulse of thanking you, with all my heart, for the deep gratification you have afforded me, and the soothing, and, I hope, bettering emotions which you have excited. I am sure that what you have written is more genuine pathos than anything almost I have ever read in verse, and is so tender and true, so sweet and natural as to make all lower recommendations indifferent."
In the great company of our Scottish Masters of Song — Thomas of Ercildoune, Henryson, Dunbar, Douglas, Lindsay, Buchanan, Drummond, Thomson, Ramsay, Fergusson, Armstrong, Beattie, Home, Blair, Burns, Scott, Leyden, Grahame, Campbell, Wilson, Hogg, Cunningham, Pollok, Motherwell, Tennant, and the rest — Moir now takes his honoured place.
"For this man bears an everlasting name."