TO THE SAME.
After passing the town of Dalkeith, and all along the skirts of the same lovely tract of scenery on the Esk, which I have already described to you, the road to A—d leads for several miles across a bare and sterile district, where the progress of cultivation has not yet been able to change much of the general aspect of the country. There are, however, here and there some beautiful little valleys cutting the desert — in one of which, by the side of a small mountain stream, whose banks are clothed everywhere with a most picturesque abundance of blooming furze, the old Castle of Borthwick is seen projecting its venerable Keep, unbroken apparently, and almost undecayed, over the few oaks which still seem to linger like so many frail faithful vassals around the relics of its grandeur. When I passed by this fine ruin, the air was calm and the sky unclouded, and the shadow of the square massy pile lay in all its clear breadth upon the blue stream below; but Turner has caught or created perhaps still more poetical accompaniments, and you may see it to at least as much advantage as I did, in his magnificent delineation.
Shortly after this the view becomes more contracted, and the road winds for some miles between the hills — while, upon the right, you have close by your side a modest little rivulet, increasing, however, every moment in breadth and boldness. This is the infant Gala Water — so celebrated in the pastoral poetry of Scotland — flowing on to mingle its tributary stream with the more celebrated Tweed. As you approach, with it, the great valley of that delightful river, the hills become more and more beautiful in their outlines, and where they dip into the narrow plain, their lower slopes are diversified with fine groupes of natural wood — hazel — ash — and birch, with here and there some drooping, mouldering oaks and pines, the scanty relics of that once mighty Forest, from which the whole district still takes its name. At last, the Gala makes a sudden turn, and instead of
The grace of forest-charms decayed,
And pastoral melancholy,
you have a rich and fertile vale, covered all over with nodding groves and luxuriant verdure, through which the Gala winds proudly towards the near end of its career. I crossed it at the thriving village of Galashiels, and pursued my journey for a mile or two on its right bank — being told, that I should thus save a considerable distance — for the usual road goes round about for the sake of a bridge, which, in the placid seasons of the Tweed, is quite unnecessary. I saw this far-famed river for the first time, with the turrets of its great poet's mansion immediately beyond it, and the bright foliage of his young larches reflected half-way over in its mirror.
You cannot imagine a more lovely river — it is as clear as the tiniest brook you ever saw, for I could count the white pebbles as I passed — and yet it is broad and deep, and above all extremely rapid; and although it rises sometimes to a much greater height, it seems to fill the whole of its bed magnificently. The ford of which I made use, is the same from which the house takes its name, and a few minutes brought me to its gates. Ere I came to it, however, I had time to see that it is a strange fantastic structure, built in total defiance of all those rules of uniformity to which the modern architects of Scotland are so much attached. It consists of one large tower, with several smaller ones clustering around it, all built of fine grey granite — their roofs diversified abundantly with all manner of antique chimney-tops, battlements, and turrets-the windows placed here and there with appropriate irregularity, both of dimension and position, — and the spaces between or above them not unfrequently occupied with saintly niches, and chivalrous coats-of-arms. Altogether it bears a close resemblance to some of our true old English manor-houses, in which the forms of religious and warlike architecture are blended together with no ungraceful mixture. But I have made a sketch with my pencil, which will give you a better notion of its exterior, than any written description. The interior is perfectly in character — but I dare say, you would turn the leaf were I to detain you any longer from the lord of the place, and I confess you are right in thinking him "metal more attractive."
I did not see Mr S—, however, immediately on my arrival; he had gone out with all his family, to shew the Abbey of Melrose to the Count von B—, and some other visitors. I was somewhat dusty in my apparel, (for the shandrydan had moved in clouds half the journey,) so I took the opportunity of making my toilet, and had not quite completed it, when I heard the trampling of their horses' feet beneath the window. But in a short time having finished my adonization, I descended, and was conducted to Mr. S—, whom I found by himself in his library. Nothing could be kinder than his reception of me, — and so simple and unassuming are his manners, that I was quite surprised, after a few minutes had elapsed, to find myself already almost at home in the company of one, whose presence I had approached with feelings so very different from those with which a man of my age and experience is accustomed to meet ordinary strangers. There is no kind of rank, which I should suppose it so difficult to bear with perfect ease, as the universally-honoured nobility of universally-honoured genius; but all this sits as lightly and naturally upon this great man, as ever a plumed casque did upon the head of one of his own graceful knights. Perhaps, after all, the very highest dignity may be more easily worn than some of the inferior degrees-as it has often been said of princes. My Lord Duke is commonly a much more homely person than the Squire of the Parish — or your little spick-and-span new Irish Baron. And, good heavens! what a difference between the pompous Apollo of some Cockney coterie, and the plain, manly, thorough-bred courtesy of a W— S—!
There was a large party at dinner, for the house was full of company, and much very amusing and delightful conversation passed on every side around me; but you will not wonder that I found comparatively little leisure either to bear or see much of anything besides my host. And as to his person, in the first place that was almost perfectly new to me, although I must have seen, I should suppose, some dozens of engravings of him before I ever came to Scotland. Never was any physiognomy treated with more scanty justice by the portrait-painters — and yet, after all, I must confess that the physiognomy is of a kind that scarcely falls within the limits of their art. I have never seen any face which disappointed me less than this, after I had become acquainted with it fully — yet, at the first glance, I certainly saw less than, but for the vile prints, I should have looked for — and I can easily believe that the feelings of the uninitiated — the uncranioscopical observer, might be little different from those of pure disappointment. It is not that there is deficiency of expression in any part of Mr. S—'s face, but the expression which is most prominent, is not of the kind which one who had known his works, and had heard nothing about his appearance, would be inclined to expect. The common language of his features expresses all manner of discernment and acuteness of intellect, and the utmost nerve and decision of character. He smiles frequently, and I never saw any smile which tells so eloquently the union of broad good humour, with the keenest perception of the ridiculous — but all this would scarcely be enough to satisfy one in the physiognomy of W— S—. And, indeed, in order to see much finer things in it, it is only necessary to have a little patience,
—And tarry for the hour,
When the Wizard shews his power;
The hour of might and mastery,
Which none may shew but only he.
In the course of conversation, he happened to quote a few lines from one of the old Border Ballads, and, looking round, I was quite astonished with the change which seemed to have passed over every feature in his countenance. His eyes seemed no longer to glance quick and grey from beneath his impending brows, but were fixed in their expanded eye-lids with a sober, solemn lustre. His mouth (the muscles about which are at all times wonderfully expressive,) instead of its usual language of mirth or benevolence, or shrewdness, was filled with a sad and pensive earnestness. The whole face was tinged with a glow that shewed its lines in new energy and transparence, and the thin hair parting backward displayed in tenfold majesty his Shakespearian pile of forehead. It was now that I recognized the true stamp of Nature on the Poet of Marmion — and looking back for a moment to the former expression of the same countenance, I could not choose but wonder at the facility with which one set of features could be made to speak things so different. But, after all, what are features unless they form the index to the mind? and how should the eyes of him who commands a thousand kinds of emotion, be themselves confined to beam only with the eloquence of a few?—
It was about the Lammas tide,
When husbandmen do win their hay;
The doughty Douglas he would ride
Into England to drive a prey.
I shall certainly never forget the fine heroic enthusiasm of look, with which he spoke these lines nor the grand melancholy roll of voice, which shewed with what a world of thoughts and feelings every fragment of the old legend was associated within his breast. It seemed as if one single cadence of the ancestral strain had been charm enough to transport his whole spirit back into the very pride and presence of the moment, when the White Lion of the Percies was stained and trampled under foot beside the bloody rushes of Otterbourne. The more than martial fervours of his kindled eye, were almost enough to give to the same lines the same magic in my ears; and I could half fancy that the portion of Scottish blood which is mingled in my veins, had begun to assert, by a more ardent throb, its right to partake in the triumphs of the same primitive allegiance.
While I was thus occupied, one of the most warlike of the Lochaber pibrochs began to be played in the neighbourhood of the room in which we were, and, looking towards the window, I saw a noble Highland piper parading to and fro upon the lawn, in front of the house — the plumes of his bonnet — the folds of his plaid — and the streamers of his bag-pipe, all floating majestically about him in the light evening breeze. You have seen this magnificent costume, so I need not trouble you either with its description or its eulogy; but I am quite sure you never saw it where its appearance harmonized so delightfully with all the accompaniments of the scene. It is true, that it was in the Lowlands — and that there are other streams upon which the shadow of the tartans might fall with more of the propriety of mere antiquarianism; than on the Tweed. But the Scotch are right in not now-a-days splitting too much the symbols of their nationality; as they have ceased to be an independent people, they do wisely in striving to be as much as possible an united people. But here, above all, whatever was truly Scottish could not fail to be truly appropriate in the presence of the great genius to whom whatever is Scottish in thought, in feeling, or in recollection, owes so large a share of its prolonged, or reanimated, or ennobled existence. The poet of Roderick Dhu, and — under favour — the poet of Fergus MacIvor, does well assuredly to have a piper among the retainers of his hospitable mansion. You remember, too, how he has himself described the feast of the Rhymer—
Nor lacked they, as they sat at dine,
The Music, nor the tale,
Nor goblets of the blood-red wine,
Nor mantling quaighs of ale.
After the Highlander had played some dozen of his tunes, he was summoned, according to the ancient custom, to receive the thanks of the company. He entered "more militari," without taking off his bonnet, and received a huge tass of aquavitae from the hand of his master, after which he withdrew again — the most perfeet solemnity all the while being displayed in his weather-beaten, but handsome and warlike Celtic lineaments. The inspiration of the generous fluid prompted one strain merrier than the rest, behind the door of the Hall, and then the piper was silent — his lungs, I dare say, consenting much more than his will, for he has all the appearance of being a fine enthusiast in the delights and dignity of his calling. So much for Roderick of Skye, for such I think is his style.
His performance seemed to diffuse, or rather to heighten, a charming flow of geniality over the whole of the party, but nowhere could I trace its influence so powerfully and so delightfully as in the Master of the Feast. The music of the hills had given a new tone to his fine spirits, and the easy playfulness with which he gave vent to their buoyancy, was the most delicious of contagions. Himself temperate in the extreme (some late ill health has made it necessary he should be so), he sent round his claret more speedily than even I could have wished — (you see 1 am determined to blunt the edge of all your sarcasms) — and I assure you we were all too well employed to think of measuring our bumpers. Do not suppose, however, that there is any thing like display or formal leading in Mr. S'—s conversation. On the contrary, every body seemed to speak the more that He was there to hear — and his presence seemed to be enough to make every body speak delightfully — as if it had been that some princely musician had tuned all the strings, and even under the sway of more vulgar fingers, they could not choose but discourse excellent music. His conversation, besides, is for the most part of such a kind, that all can take a lively part in it, although, indeed, none that I ever met with can equal himself. It does not appear as if he ever could be at a loss for a single moment for some new supply of that which constitutes its chief peculiarity, and its chief charm; the most keen perception, the most tenacious memory, and the most brilliant imagination, having been at work throughout the whole of his busy life, in filling his mind with a store of individual traits and anecdotes, serious and comic, individual and national, such as it is probable no man ever before possessed — and such, still more certainly, as no man of great original power ever before possessed in subservience to the purposes of inventive genius. A youth spent in wandering among the hills and valleys of his country, during which he became intensely familiar with all the lore of those grey-haired shepherds, among whom the traditions of warlike as well as of peaceful times find their securest dwelling-place — or in more equal converse with the relics of that old school of Scottish cavaliers, whose faith had nerved the arms of so many of his own race and kindred — such a boyhood and such a youth laid the foundation, and established the earliest and most lasting sympathies of a mind, which was destined, in after years, to erect upon this foundation, and improve upon these sympathies, in a way of which his young and thirsting spirit could have then contemplated but little. Through his manhood of active and honoured, and now for many years of glorious exertion, he has always lived in the world, and among the men of the world, partaking in all the pleasures and duties of society as fully as any of those who had nothing but such pleasures and such duties to attend to. Uniting, as never before they were united, the habits of an indefatigable student with those of an indefatigable observer — and doing all this with the easy and careless grace of one who is doing so, not to task, but to gratify his inclinations and his nature — is it to be wondered that the riches of his various acquisitions should furnish a never-failing source of admiration even to those who have known him longest, and who know him best? As for me, enthusiastic as I had always been in my worship of his genius — and well as his works had prepared me to find his conversation rich to overflowing in all the elements of instruction as well as of amusement — I confess the reality entirely surpassed all my anticipations, and I never despised the maxim "Nil admirari" so heartily as now.
I can now say what I believe very few of my friends can do, that I have conversed with almost all the illustrious poets our contemporaries — indeed, Lord Byron is the only exception that occurs to me. Surely I need not tell you that I met each and all of them with every disposition to be gratified — and now I cannot but derive great pleasure from being able to look back upon what I have so been privileged to witness, and comparing in my own mind their different styles of conversation. The most original and interesting, as might be supposed, in this point of view, are the same whose originality has been most conspicuous in other things — this great Poet of Scotland, and the great Poet of the Lakes. It is, indeed, a very striking thing, how much the conversation of each of these men harmonizes with the peculiar vein of his mind, as displayed in more elaborate shapes — how one and entire the impression is, which the totality of each of them is calculated to leave upon the mind of an honouring, but not a bigotted observer. In listening to Wordsworth, it is impossible to forget for a single moment that the author of "The Excursion" is before you. Poetry has been with him the pure sole business of life — he thinks of nothing else, and he speaks of nothing else — and where is the man who hears him, that would for a moment wish it to be otherwise? The deep sonorous voice in which he pours forth his soul upon the high secrets of his divine art — and those tender glimpses which he opens every now and then into the bosom of that lowly life, whose mysteries have been his perpetual inspirations — the sincere earnestness with which he details and expatiates — the innocent confidence which he feels in the heart that is submitted to his working — and the unquestioning command with which he seeks to fasten to him every soul that is capable of understanding his words — all these things are as they should be, in one that has lived the life of a hermit — musing, and meditating, and composing in the seclusion of a lonely cottage — loving and worshipping the Nature of Man, but partaking little in the pursuits, and knowing little of the habits, of the Men of the World. There is a noble simplicity in the warmth with which he discourses to all that approach him, on the subject of which he himself knows most, and on which he feels most — and of which he is wise enough to know that every one must be most anxious to hear him speak. His poetry is the poetry of external nature and profound feeling, and such is the hold which these high themes have taken of his intellect, that he seldom dreams of descending to the tone in which the ordinary conversation of men is pitched. Hour after hour his eloquence flows on, by his own simple fireside, or along the breezy slopes of his own mountains, in the same lofty strain as in his loftiest poems—
Of Man and Nature, and of human life,
His haunt and the main region of his song.
His enthusiasm is that of a secluded artist; but who is he that would not rejoice in being permitted to peep into the sanctity of such a seclusion — or that, being there, would wish for a moment to see the enthusiasm that has sanctified it, suspended or interrupted in its work? The large, dim, pensive eye, that dwells almost for ever upon the ground, and the smile of placid abstraction, that clothes his long, tremulous, melancholy lips, complete a picture of solemn, wrapped-up contemplative genius, to which, amid the dusty concussions of active men and common life, my mind reverts sometimes for repose, as to a fine calm stretch of verdure in the bosom of some dark and hoary forest of venerable trees, where no voice is heard but that of the sweeping wind, and far-off waters — what the Ettrick Shepherd finely calls
—Great Nature's hum,
Voice of the desert, never dumb.
S—, again, is the very poet of active life, and that life, in all its varieties, lies for ever stretched out before him, bright and expanded, as in the glass of a magician. Whatever subject be mentioned, he at once steals a beam from his mirror, and scatters such a flood of illustration upon it, that you feel as if it had always been mantled in palpable night before. Every remark gains, as it passes from his lips, the precision of a visible fact, and every incident flashes upon your imagination, as if your bodily eye, by some new gift of nature, had acquired the power of seeing the past as vividly as the present. To talk of exhausting his light of "gramourie" to one that witnessed its play of radiance, would sound as absurd as to talk of drying up the Nile. It streams alike copiously, alike fervently upon all things, like the light of heaven, which "shineth upon the evil and upon the good." The eye, and the voice, and the words, and the gestures, seem all alike to be the ready unconscious interpreters of some imperial spirit, that moves irresistibly their mingled energies from within. There is no effort — no semblance of effort — but everything comes out as is commanded — swift, clear, and radiant through the impartial medium. The heroes of the old times spring from their graves in panoply, and "drink the red wine through the helmet barred" before us; or
Shred their foemen's limbs away,
As lops the woodman's knife the spray—
—But they are honoured, not privileged — the humblest retainers quit the dust as full of life as they do — nay, their dogs and horses are partakers in the resurrection, like those of the Teutonic warriors in the Valhalla of Odin. It is no matter what period of his country's story passes in review. Bruce — Douglas — their Kingly Foe, in whose
—eye was set
Some spark of the Plantagenet.
James — Mary — Angus Montrose — Argyle — Dundee — these are all alike, not names, but realities — living, moving, breathing, feeling, speaking, looking realities — when he speaks of them. The grave loses half its potency when he calls. His own imagination is one majestic sepulchre, where the wizard lamp burns in never-dying splendour, and the charmed blood glows for ever in the cheeks of the embalmed, and every long sheathed sword is ready to leap from its scabbard, like the Tizona of the Cid in the vault of Cardeila.
Of all this more anon,
Next morning I got up pretty early, and walked for at least two hours before breakfast through the extensive young woods with which Mr. S— has already clothed the banks of the Tweed, in every direction about his mansion. Nothing can be more soft and beautiful than the whole of the surrounding scenery — there is scarcely a single house to be seen, and excepting on the rich low lands, close by the river, the country seems to be almost entirely in the hands of the shepherds. The green hills, however, all around the horizon, begin to be skirted with sweeping plantations of larch, pine, and oak; and the shelter which these will soon afford, must no doubt ere long give a more agricultural aspect to the face of Tweeddale. To say the truth, I do not think with much pleasure of the prospect of any such changes — I love to see tracts of countries, as well as races of men, preserving as much as possible of their old characteristics. There hovers at present over the most of this district a certain delicious atmosphere of pastoral loneliness, and I think there would be something like sacrilege in disturbing it, even by things that elsewhere would confer interest as well as ornament.
After a breakfast "a la fourchette," served up in the true style of old Scottish luxury, which a certain celebrated Novelist seems to take a particular pleasure in describing — a breakfast, namely, in which tea, coffee, chocolate, toast, and sweetmeats, officiated as little better than ornamental out-works to more solid and imposing fortifications of mutton-ham, hung-beef, and salmon killed over-night in the same spear and torch-light method, of which Dandie Dinmont was so accomplished a master — after doing all manner of justice to this interesting meal, I spent an hour with Mr. S— in his library, or rather in his closet; for, though its walls are quite covered with books, I believe the far more valuable part of his library is in Edinburgh. One end seemed to be devoted to books of Scots Law — which are necessary to him no doubt even here; for he is Chief Magistrate of the county — and, indeed, is known among the country people, who passionately love him, by no other name than that of "the Sherra." The other books, so far as I could see, were just what I should have expected to find Mr. S draw round him in his retirement — not the new and flashy productions of the day, but good plain copies of the old English Classics — above all, the historians and poets — together with a copious intermixture of black-letter romances, and Spanish ballads of chivalry, and several shelves entirely filled with the best collection I have ever seen of German Volksmarchen and Voikslieder. Among these, no doubt, his mind has found, at once, useful employment, and delightful relaxation.
We then mounted our horses, a numerous cavalcade, and rode to one of the three summits of the Eildon Hill, which rises out of the plain a little way behind A—d, and forms, in almost every point of view, a glorious back-ground to its towers and rising woods. We passed, before leaving Mr. S—'s territories, a deep dingle, quite covered with all manner of wild bushes, through which a little streamlet far below could, for the most part, be rather heard than seen. Mr. S— paused at the rustic bridge which led us over this ravine, and told me, that I was treading on classical ground — that here was the Huntly Burn, by whose side Thomas the Rhymer of old saw the Queen of Faery riding in her glory, and called to this hour by the shepherds, from that very circumstance, the Bogle or Goblin Burn. He then went on to repeat the fine words of the original "Prophesia Thomae de Ercildoune."
In a land as I was lent,
In the gryking of the day,
Ay alone as I went
In Huntly bankys me for to play:
I saw the throstyl and the jay,
The mavis moved of her sange,
The wodwale sang notes gay,
That all the wood about range;
In that longing as I lay
Underneath a derne tree,
I was aware of a ladye fair
Cam riding over a fair lee—
Her palfray was dappil graye,
Such one saw never none,
As the sun in somer's day,
All about that ladye shone, &c. &c.
I could not but express my delight to find, that the scene of so many romantic recollections was included within the domains of the great inheritor of the glories of "True Thomas," and promised to myself to pay a more leisurely visit to Huntly Bank and the Goblin Burn. From this we passed right up the hill, the ponies here being as perfectly independent as our own of turnpike ways, and as scornful of perpendicular ascents. I was not a little surprised, however, with Mr. S—'s horsemanship — for, in spite of the lameness in one of his legs, he manages his steed with the most complete mastery, and seems to be as much at home in the saddle, as any of his own rough-riding Deloraines or Lochinvars could have been. He is, indeed, a very strong man in all the rest of his frame — the breadth and massiness of his iron muscles being evidently cast in the same mould with those of the old "Wats of Harden," and "Bauld Rutherfuirds that were fow stout." We took several ditches that would have astonished nine-tenths of the Epsom racers, and he was always foremost at the leap. All around the top of the hill, there may be seen the remains of Roman walls and ditches, which seem to have been brought very low down in one direction, in order to inclose a fine well — and, indeed, the very peculiar outline of the Eildon leaves no doubt, that it was the "Trimontium" of antiquity. The transitory visits of a few Roman legions, however, did not seem to me to confer much additional interest on this noble mountain, from whose summits the scenes of so many Scottish and English battles may be seen. The name of every hill and every valley all around is poetical, and I felt, as I heard them pointed out one by one, as if so many old friends had been introduced to my acquaintance after a long absence, in which I had thought of them all a thousand times. To the left, at the foot of the hill, lies the picturesque village of Melrose, with the Abbots-Law, or Court-Mount, swelling close behind, and between it and the Tweed, the long grey arches of the magnificent Abbey itself. The river winds away for some miles among a rich succession of woods and lawns, at the end of which the fraternal towers of Dryburgh lift themselves from among their groves of elm.
—Dryborough, where with chiming
Tweed The lintwhites sing in chorus.
The back-ground on this side consists, among other fine hills, of the Colding Knowes, so celebrated in Border song — on the other side, there is Ruberslaw, and the Carter, and Dunyon; and farther off, the Cheviots — and all between the beautiful windings of the Teviot. Right before my eye, Mr. S— pointed out a small round tower, perched upon some irregular crags, at the distance of some few miles — Smaylholm Tower, — the scene of the Eve of St John, and, what is still better, the scene of the early youth of the Poet himself. It was here, he told me, that in years of feebleness, which afforded little hope of the vigorous manhood which has followed them, he was entrusted to the care of some ancient female relations, who, in watching by his side, were never weary of chaunting, to the sad music of the Border, the scattered relics of that Minstrelsy of Love and War, which he himself has since gathered and preserved with so pious veneration. The situation of the Tower must be charming. I remember of no poet whose infancy was passed in so poetical a scene. But he has touched all this most gracefully himself:
He passed the court-gate, and he oped the tower-grate,
And he mounted the narrow stair,
To the bartizan seat, where with maids that on her wait,
He found his Lady fair.
That Lady sat in mournful mood,
Looked over hill and vale,
O'er Tweed's fair flood, and Mertoun's wood,
And all down Tevioldale.
Turning again to the left, Mr. S— pointed out to me an opening in the hills, where the Leader comes down to mingle with the Tweed — by whose side the remains of the Rhymer's old castle are yet, I believe, to be seen; although, in conformity with one of the Rhymer's own prophecies, the hall is deserted, and the land has passed to other blood. The whole scene has been embraced by Mr. S— himself, in the opening of one of his finest ballads:—
When seven years more were come and gone,
Was war through Scotland spread;
And Ruberslaw shewed high Dunyon
His beacon blazing red.
Then all by bonny Colding Know,
Pitched pallions took their room;
And crested helms and spears a-rowe,
Glanced gaily through the broom.
The Leader, rolling to the Tweed,
Resounds the enzenzie;
They roused the deer from Caddenhead,
To distant Torwoodlee.
The feast was spread in Ercildoune,
In Learmont's high and ancient hall;
And there were knights of high renown,
And ladies laced in pall, &c. &c.
But if I were to quote all the poetry connected with the scenes among which I now stood — in truth, my letter might easily become a volume.
After we had fairly descended the hill, we found that much more time had passed than we had thought of — and with me, indeed, I know not that time ever passed more delightfully — so we made haste and returned at a high trot — the chiding echoes of the dinner-bell coming to us long ere we reached A—d,
Swinging slow with sullen roar.
The evening passed as charmingly as the preceding. The younger part of the company danced reels to the music of the bag-pipe, and I believe I would have been tempted to join them, but for some little twitches I had in my left foot. Indeed, I still fear the good cheer of the North is about to be paid for in the usual way; but Heaven send the reckoning may not be a long one. At all events, I am glad the fit did not overtake me in the country, for I should have been sorry to give my company to anybody but Mr. Oman during the visitation.
Another morning was devoted to visiting, under the same best of all Cicerones, the two famous ruins of Melrose and Dryburgh, which I had seen from a distance, when on the top of the Eildon. The Abbey of Melrose has been so often the subject of the pencil of exquisite artists — and of late, above all, so much justice has been done to its beauties by Mr. Blore, that I need not trouble you with any description of its general effect. The glorious Oriel Window, on which the moon is made to stream in the Lay of the Last Minstrel, is almost as familiar to you as if yourself had seen it — and so, indeed, must be the whole of the, most striking outlines of this venerable pile. But there is one thing about it of which you can have no idea — at least, I had none till I came to the spot — I mean the unrivalled richness and minuteness of all the decorations. Everywhere, without and within, the doors and windows are surrounded with specimens of sculpture, at once so delicately conceived, and so beautifully executed, that it would be quite ridiculous to compare them with any thing I ever saw, even in the most magnificent remains of Gothic architecture in England or Normandy. There is one cloister, in particular, along the whole length of which there runs a cornice of flowers and plants, entirely unrivalled, to my mind, by any thing elsewhere extant — I do not say in Gothic architecture merely, but in any architecture whatever. Roses, and lilies, and thistles, and ferns, and heaths, in all their varieties, and oak-leaves and ash-leaves, and a thousand beautiful shapes besides, are chiselled with such inimitable truth, and such grace of nature, that the finest botanist in the world could not desire a better hortus siccus, so far as they go. The wildest productions of the forest, and the most delicate ones of the garden, are represented with equal fidelity and equal taste — and they are all arranged and combined in such a way, that it is evident they were placed there under the eye of some most skilful admirer of all the beauties of external Nature. Nay, there is a human hand in another part, holding a garland loosely in the fingers, which, were it cut off, and placed among the Elgin Marbles, would, I am quite sure, be kissed by the cognoscenti as one of the finest of them all. Nothing can be more simply — more genuinely easy — more full of expression. It would shame the whole gallery of the Boisserees. And yet all this was the work of an age, which the long-headed Presbyterians round about are pleased to talk of in a tone of contempt, scarcely compatible even with pity. Alas! how easy it is to be satisfied with ourselves, when there is no capacity to understand the works of others.
The ruin has been sadly disfigured in former times, by the patch-work repairs of some disciples of the Covenant, who fitted up part of the nave for a place of worship, long after the arches that supported the original roof had given way in that quarter. Such was the perfection of their barbarity, that they sprung new arches in the midst of this exquisite church, entirely devoid, not only of correspondence with that which they were meant to repair, but of conformity with any of the most simple rules of the art — rude clumsy circles, deforming with their sacrilegious intrusion, one of the most airy canopies of stone that was ever hung on high by the hand of human skill — memorable trophies of the triumph of self-complacent ignorance. Surely it was beneath the shadow of some such outrage as this, that the bones of John Knox would have found their most grateful repose! But the Presbyterians have now removed from the precincts of the old sanctuary; and the miserable little kirk they have erected at the distance of a few fields, does not disturb the impression of its awful beauty. The Abbey itself stands on the ground of the Duke of Buccleuch, who has enclosed it carefully, so that what yet remains is likely to remain long as beautiful as it is.
It must have been, in its perfect days, a building of prodigious extent — for even the church (of which only a part is standing) stretches over a larger space than that of Tintern — and there is no question, the accommodations of the lordly Abbot and his brethren must have been in a suitable style of magnificence. All about the wall and outskirts of the place, may yet be seen scattered knots of garden-flowers, springing up among the tall grass — and the old apple-trees that cluster the village around, are equally the relics of monastic cultivation. The long flat burial-ground to the east and south, receives the shadows of the shattered pillars and arches, as quietly as it did when all their beauty was entire — it is the only accompaniment of the scene, which remains in use and appearance such as it ever was. Within, too, the ancient families of the Forest still preserve the same resting-places, to which the piety of their fore-fathers established their right. Kers, Scotts, Pringles, Elliots, — they all sleep here each in their own antique aisle — the same venerable escutcheon carved or molten above the dust of every succeeding generation.
After I had seen as much of this grand Abbey as one visit would admit of, we mounted our horses again, and rode to Dryburgh, (a distance of four or five miles only,) all the way keeping close to the windings of the Tweed. This edifice stands on a peninsula, the river making a circuit almost quite round its precincts, and behind its towers the whole slope of the hills is covered with oaks, pines, and elms, that shed a solemn gloom upon the ruin — quite different from the soft, undisturbed, unshaded loveliness of Melrose. We passed the river by means of a bridge of chain-work, very elegant in itself, I dare say, but not quite in taste so near such a scene as Dryburgh. — The bridge is one of the many devices of the Earl of B—, who is proprietor of the ground, and indeed has his seat close to the Abbey-walls. A huge colossal statue of Sir William Wallace, executed in staring red free-stone, is another of his devices. This monument of the Earl's patriotism is perched very magnificently on the brink of a rock above the river — and must undoubtedly appear a very grand and appropriate thing in the eyes of Cockney visitants; but my admiration, small as it originally was, suffered much further diminution, when I was informed that the base of the statue is made to serve as a pot-house, where a rhyming cobler, one of the noble Lord's many protegees, vends odes, elegies, and whisky, for his own behoof, and the few remaining copies of that charming collection, "the Anonymous and Fugitive Pieces of the Right Honourable the Earl of Buchan," for behoof of his patron.
The ruins are in themselves very superb — although not to be compared in any respect with those I had just been seeing; and the Earl is virtuoso enough to keep them in the main in excellent order. But I confess, the way in which he has ornamented certain parts of them, was enough to weaken not a little the serious impression which the general view of the whole produced upon my mind. In the midst of one of the desolate courts of the Abbey, he has constructed a spruce little flower-garden, with trim gravel-walks and box-wood edgings; — a few jargonelle pear-trees display their well-clipped branches, nailed in regular lines upon the mouldering walls around, and in the midst of them a tall sign-post lifts its head, and (whether it lies or not I cannot say,) proclaims to all whom it may concern, the presence of a less inviting crop — "Mantraps and spring-guns set in these premises." A large bust is placed at one extremity of this cultivated spot, which, at first, I took it for granted, must be Faunus, or Pomona, or Priapus, at the least; but, on drawing near, I recognized at once the fine features of the noble proprietor himself, hewn by some village Phidias, with a measure of resemblance alike honorable to the charms of the subject, and the skill of the artist. A long inscription around the pedestal of the bust, informs us in plain Latin, (but I have forgot the precise words,) that "The great Author of our being sends now and then bright spirits among mankind, to vindicate his own power, and the dignity of our nature from the scoffs of the impious." I wish I had taken a memorandum of the "ipsissima verba." After wandering through all the labyrinth of towers and courts, the attendant conducted us into an immense vault, which has been set apart in the true Dilettanti taste, for the reception of plaster-of-Paris casts of some others of these bright spirits. The sober religious light of the place did not at first enable me to recognize what busts they were, but a sudden gleam of sunshine, which occurred very fortunately, soon discovered to me another edition of the same features which I had just been admiring "sub dio." Lord B— occupies the central niche in this
—temple, where the great
Are honoured by the nations.
On his right hand he has Homer, and on his left Mr. Watt of Birmingham, the inventor of the steam- engine. Maeonides again is supported by General Washington, and Mr. Watt by Sir Philip Sidney. Shakespeare — Count Rumford — Dr. Matthew Baillie — Charles James Fox — Socrates — Cicero — and Provost Creech of Edinburgh — follow on the left; while on the right, the "series Heroum" is continued with equal propriety by the Author of the Seasons — Lord Nelson — Julius Caesar — Benjamin Franklin — Mozart — John Knox — Michael Angelo — Aristotle — and a rueful caricature of the Ettrick Shepherd — bearing abundant marks of the agony with which that excellent but unsophisticated person must, no doubt, have submitted to the clammy application of the Savoyard cast-maker. There are some dozens more of worthies dead and living, who partake in the same honours; and altogether the effect of the chalky congregation is s impressive a thing as need be.
In riding back, I received from Mr. S— a good deal of interesting antiquarian information concerning these great religious establishments, of which there is such an uncommon quantity in this district of Scotland — for these two I have spoken of are only the last links of a complete chain of similar buildings, which stretches all along the banks of the Tweed from the border of England. That these rich ecclesiastical foundations were, in their origin, the pure products of piety, I have little doubt; but I as little question, that, in after times, they were found to be eminently useful in a more worldly point of view, and therefore protected and enriched by the munificence of many successive monarchs, in whose character piety formed but a slender ingredient. The sanctity of the soil, set apart for the support of the Ministers of Religion, was reverenced by the rudest foes that came to seek spoil in Scotland, and it is easy to see what wisdom there was in investing as large a portion as possible of the frontier soil with this protecting character. The internal state of the country, moreover, during those lawless times of baronial feuds, may have rendered the kings of Scotland fond of conferring as many of their richest fiefs as they could with safety on the less turbulent churchmen — a body, on whose general attachment to the cause of loyalty and order, they might always think themselves entitled to depend. As it was, I have no doubt the cultivation of the country throve much more uniformly under the superintendence of the monks and abbots of Kelso, Jedburgh, Dryburgh, and Melrose, than it would have done in any other hands which the times could furnish — and you know these holy men were commonly bound by their tenures to supply the king's banner, either in offensive or defensive warfare, with the full proportion of soldiers which the value of their lands might seem to render fitting. The rich abbeys of Northumberland, probably, owed their wealth to similar views of policy — and, perhaps, those on the Wye, and elsewhere along the march of our own principality, may be accounted for in the same way.
After various attempts, I have at last succeeded in making what I am inclined to think a very fair sketch of the head of Mr. W— S—. I send you a copy of it in pen and ink, on the other side of my sheet, and would hope you may consider it worthy of a double postage. I have made various drawings of him, both in more solemn and more ludicrous moods; but I think the expression of this comes nearest to the habitual character of his face. Study it well for a few minutes, and then listen to a few of my remarks on the organization of this remarkable man.
In the general form, so very high and conical, and, above all, in the manner in which the forehead goes into the top of the head, there is something which at once tells you that here is the lofty enthusiasm, and passionate veneration for greatness, which must enter into the composition. of every illustrious poet. In these respects, S— bears some resemblance to the busts of Shakespeare — but a much more close resemblance to, those of the great Corneille; and surely Corneille was one of the most favoured of all poets, in regard to all that constitutes the true poetic soaring of conception. No minor poet ever approaches to this conformation; it is reserved for "Earth's giant sons" alone. It is lower down, however, that the most peculiar parts of the organization are to be found — or rather those parts, the position of which close beneath these symbols of high poetical impetus, gives to the whole head its peculiar and characteristic expression. The developement of the organ of imitation is prodigious, and the contiguous organ of pleasantry is scarcely less remarkable. This again leads off the swell into that of imagination, on which the upper region rests, as on a firm and capacious basis. I do not think the head is so long from stem to stern as Lord Byron's, which probably indicates some inferiority in point of profound feeling. Like Lord Byron's, however, the head is in general well brought out in every quarter, and there is a freedom in the air with which it sits upon his shoulders, which shews that Nature is strong in all the different regions — or, in other words, that a natural balance subsists among the various parts of his organization. I have noticed, on the other hand, that people whose strength lies chiefly in one direction, have, for the most part, a stiff and constrained way of holding their heads. Wordsworth, for instance, has the back part of his head — the seat of the personal feelings — small and little expanded, and the consequence is, that there is nothing to weigh against the prodigious mass of mere musing in front — so that his head falls forward in any thing but a graceful way; while, on the other hand, the deficiency of grave enthusiasm allows the self-love in the hinder parts of Mr. Jeffrey's head, to push forward his chin in a style that produces a puny sort of effect. Tom Moore has no want of enthusiasm, but it is not quite placed as it should be — or, at least, with him also the sinciput predominates in an irresistible degree. Now Scott and Byron are distinguished from all these by a fine secure swing of the head, as if they were prepared at all points. Lord Byron's head, however, is, I think, still more complete all throughout, than that of Mr. Scott. The forehead is defective in much that Scott's possesses, but it is very fine upwards, and the top of the head is wonderfully capacious. The back part, in both of their heads, is manly and gallant looking. Had they not been lame, (by the way, what a singular coincidence that is!) I have no doubt that they would both have been soldiers — and the world would have wanted Marmion and the Corsair. Lord Byron's head is, without doubt, the finest in our time — I think it is better, on the whole, than either Napoleon's, or Goethe's, or Canova's, or Wordsworth's. The chin, lips, and neck are beautiful — in the most noble style of antique beauty, — and the nose is not unworthy of keeping them in company — and yet that of Wordsworth is more perpendicular, and belongs still more strictly to the same class which the ancients, having exaggerated it into the ideal — attributed to Jupiter. It is better shaped in the ridge, than any nose of modern times I have seen; it comes down so straight from the forehead, that the eyes are thrown quite back into the head, as in the loftiest antique. Coleridge has a grand head, but very ill balanced, and the features of the face are coarse — although, to be sure, nothing can surpass the depth of meaning in his eyes, and the unutterable dreamy luxury in his lips. Thomas Campbell again, has a poor skull upwards, compared with what one might have looked for in him; but the lower part of the forehead is exquisite, and the features are extremely good, though tiny. They seem to me to be indicative of a most morbid degree of sensibility — the lips, in particular, are uncommonly delicate, and the eyes are wonderfully expressive of poetical habits of feeling. His brow speaks him to be born with a turn of composition truly lyrical, and perhaps he should not have cared to aim at other things. An uncommon perception of sweetness and refinement sits upon the whole of his physiognomy, but his face like his mind seems also to glow ever and anon with the greater fires of patriotism and public glory. He should have been a patriotic lyrical poet, and his lays would not have failed to be sung,
Mid the festal city's blaze,
When the wine-cup shines in light.
Indeed, why do I say he should have been? he has been, and Hohenlinden, and Ye Mariners of England, and the Battle of the Baltic, will never be forgotten as long as the British Jack is hoisted by the hands of freemen. I have already said something about the head of the author of the Isle of Palms — and that of the Ettrick Shepherd. They are both fine in their several ways. That of Wilson is full of the marks of genuine enthusiasm, and lower down of intense perception, and love of localities — which last feature, by the way, may perhaps account for his wild delight in rambling. I have heard that in his early youth, he proposed to go out to Africa, in quest of the Joliba, and was dissuaded only by the representations made to him on the subject of his remarkably fair and florid complexion — but I believe he has since walked over every hill and valley in the three kingdoms — having angling and versifying, no doubt, for his usual occupations, but finding room every now and then, by way of interlude, for astonishing the fairs and wakes all over these islands, by his miraculous feats in leaping, wrestling, and singlestick. As for the Ettrick Shepherd, I am told that when Spurzheim was here, he never had his paws off him — and some cranioscopical young ladies of Edinburgh are said still to practise in the same way upon the good-humoured owner of so many fine bumps. I hear Mathews has borrowed for his "At Home," a saying which originally belongs to the Ettrick Shepherd. When Dr Spurzheim, (or as the Northern Reviewers very improperly christened him in the routs of Edinburgh, Dousterswivel,) — when the Doctor first began to feel out the marks of genius in the cranium of the pastoral poet, it was with some little difficulty that Mr. Hogg could be made to understand the drift of his curiosity. After hearing the Doctor's own story — "My dear fellow," quoth the Shepherd, "if a few knots and swells make a skull of genius, I've seen mony a saft chield get a swapping organization in five minutes at Selkirk tryst."
Since I have found my way once more into the subject of Craniology, I may as well tell you that I totally disagree with you, in regard to your remarks upon my notion of the Farnese Hercules. I do not think your eye has been sufficiently trained in the inspection of living skulls; you must not venture as yet upon the antique, in which there is always some allowance to be made for the proper and necessary exaggeration of artists, that knew well enough whet was right, but knew also that things should be broadly told, which are meant for the distant eye. The Theseus is another statue of a hero of somewhat the same kind, and, on looking into these things more leisurely, I am inclined to think you will find in it also confirmation of all that I said. In this town, there is at the Drawing Academy, a cast of this Elgin Marble, which I saw only yesterday, and I am never weary of seeing any copy, however faint, of that glorious original. The most remarkable thing about the organization of the Theseus, however, is, that the front part of the head is higher than the back part, which is a circumstance that very seldom occurs in Nature. I am not sure whether the form, even of this part of the Theseus, has not been defaced by the weather, and I think that in the cast there is some look of a joining, as if the upper hemisphere of the head had been found separate, and afterwards united to the statue. This is a profound and delicate question, and, as I pass through London, I shall certainly endeavour to have a committee of craniologists summoned together to enquire into the fact — as one upon which the most important conclusions may depend. My own poor opinion is, that the sculptor probably did make the front part of the head higher than, or, at least, equally high with, the back parts. In most human heads, the point of will is the highest part — and from thence there is a slope more or less coming down to the forehead. In the Apollo Belvidere the slope is not much, and the line which it describes is convex and swelling. Now, in the Hercules Farnesee, making allowance for the irregularities of the hair, there is no slope, but a level. If you look down on the top of the head of the Hercules, you will find it a very long one. The forehead is far pushed out — the middle is large — and the animal faculties are copious. The head of the Apollo, on the contrary, is far from being long in the same proportion — and it is singular how little the forehead is expanded, when considered in relation to the rest of the head. But I think the ancients had a notion that a small forehead expresses youth.
But the animal faculties, even of the Hercules himself, are quite Lilliputian compared with those of a late hotel-keeper in this town, of whom a bust was taken after his death, by particular request of my friend W—. This man's head (his name was Macculloch,) is shaped exactly like a jelly-bag, the animal propensities, below and behind, having apparently drawn down to them the whole of the juices, from which his organization above ought to have been supplied. His ears can scarcely be seen for the masses of luxurious prominence among which they are buried, and no mad bull was ever thicker just above the nape of the neck. I think it is much to be regretted, that such a person should have died in the prime of life — he must have been a fine living symbol of the Epicureanism — not of the garden — but of the kitchen and the cellar. His forehead is low and retreating, his nose short, and snubbed up at the end — the nostrils purfled and swelled out as they were not the receptacles of air, but apertures made expressly for blowing out the fumes of wine — perhaps tobacco — and his throat looks as if it were never intended to be otherwise than gorged with good cheer. Altogether he bears considerable resemblance to some of the fine old toping satyrs I have seen on antique vases. I am told this man was of great use to Edinburgh, by introducing many most striking improvements in all departments of the profession wherein Nature had fitted him so eminently to excel. There was no such thing as a dinner well set down in a Northern tavern, till this great genius's jelly-bag head was set to work, and now I confess the North appears to me to be in all these respects treading fast on the kibes of the South. I think there is no question, the tavern-keepers of Scotland ought to canonize Macculloch as their patron saint, and put up his effigy over their doors, as time out of mind the tobacconists have placed over theirs that of the celebrated Negro, who smoked in one day the weight of his own body in segars.
I know not how many days I might have lingered in the delightful society of A—d, had it not been that I had promised W— to be back in Edinburgh by a particular day at dinner, and I was the less willing to break my engagement, as I understood Mr. S— was to come to town in the course of a week, so that I should not be compelled to take my final leave of him at his own seat. I quitted, however, with not a little reluctance, the immediate scene of so much pleasure — and the land of so many noble recollections. The morning, too, on which I departed, was cold and misty; the vapours seemed unwilling to melt about the hill-tops; and I forded the darkened waters of the Tweed in assuredly a very pensive mood. Muffled in my cloak above the ears, I witnessed rather than directed the motions of the shandrydan, and arrived in Auld Reekie, after a ride of more than thirty miles, almost without having escaped, for a single second, from the same cloud of reverie in which I had begun the journey.
The character of the eminent man whom I had been seeing, and the influence which his writings have produced upon his country, were, as might be supposed, the main ingredients of all my meditation. After having conversed with Mr. S—, and so become familiar with the features of his countenance, and the tones of his voice, it seemed to me as if I had been furnished with a new key to the whole purpose of his intellectual labours, and was, for the first time, in situation to look at the life and genius of the man with an eye of knowledge. It is wonderful how the mere seeing of such a person gives concentration, and compactness, and distinctness to one's ideas on all subjects connected with him; I speak for myself — to my mind, one of the best commentaries upon the meaning of any author, is a good image of his face — and, of course, the reality is far more precious than any image can be.
You have often told me that W— S— has been excelled by several other poets of his time, in regularity and beauty of composition; and so far I have agreed, and do still agree with you. But I think there can be no doubt, that, far more than any other poet, or any other author of his time, he is entitled to claim credit for the extent and importance of the class of ideas to which he has drawn the public attention; and if it be so, what small matters all his deficiencies or irregularities are, when put in the balance against such praise as this. At a time when the literature of Scotland — and of England too — was becoming every day more and more destitute of command over every thing but the mere speculative understanding of men — this great genius seems to have been raised up to counteract, in the wisest and best of all ways, this unfortunate tendency of his age, by re-awakening the sympathies of his countrymen for the more energetic characters and passions of their forefathers.
In so doing he employed, indeed, with the skill and power of a true master, and a true philosopher, what constitutes the only effectual means of neutralizing that barren spirit of lethargy into which the progress of civilization is in all countries so apt to lull the feelings and imaginations of mankind. The period during which most of his works were produced, was one of mighty struggles and commotions throughout all Europe, and the experience of that eventful period is sufficient to prove, that the greatest political anxieties, and the most important international struggles, can exert little awakening influence upon the character and genius of a peoples if the private life of its citizens at home remains limited and monotonous, and confines their personal experience and the range of their thoughts. The rational matter-of-fact way in which all great public concerns are now-a-days carried forward, is sufficient to throw a damp upon the most stirring imagination. Wars are begun and concluded more in reliance upon the strength of money, than on the strength of minds and of men — votes, and supplies, and estimates, and regular business-like dispatches, and daily papers, take away among them the greater part of that magnificent indistinctness, through which, in former times, the great games of warfare and statesmanship used alike to be regarded by those whose interests were at stake. Very little room is left for enthusiasm, when people are perpetually perplexed in their contemplations of great actions and great men, by the congratulating pettinesses of the well disposed on one side, and the carping mneannesses of the envious, and the malevolent, and the little-minded, on the other. The circle within which men's thoughts move, becomes every day a narrower one — and they learn to travel to all their conclusions, not over the free and generous ranges of principle and feeling, but along the plain, hard, dusty high — way of calculation. Now, a poet like Walter Scott, by enquiring into and representing the modes of life in earlier times, employs the imagination of his countrymen, as a means of making them go through the personal experience of their ancestry, and of making them acquainted with the various courses of thought and emotion, by which their forefathers had their genius and characters drawn out — things to which, by the mechanical arrangements of modern life and society, we have been rendered too much strangers. Other poets, such as Byron, have attempted an analogous operation, by carrying us into foreign countries, where society is still comparatively young — but their method is by no means so happy or so complete as Scott's, because the people among whom they seek to interest us, have national characters totally different from our own — whereas those whose minds he exhibits as a stimulus to ours, are felt at once to be great kindred originals, of which our every-day experience shews us copies, faint indeed, but capable of being worked into stronger resemblance. If other poets should afterwards seek and collect their materials from the same field, they may perhaps be able to produce more finished compositions, but the honour of being the Patriarch of the National Poetry of Scotland, must always remain in the possession of Walter Scott. Nay, whatever direction the genius of his countrymen may take in future years, the benefit of his writings must ever be experienced in the great resuscitation of slumbering elements, which they save produced in the national mind. Perhaps the two earliest of his poems, the Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion, are the most valuable, because they are the most impregnated with the peculiar spirit of Scottish antiquity. In his subsequent poems, be made too much use of the common materials and machinery employed in the popular novels of that day, and descended so far as to hinge too much of their interest upon the common resources of an artfully constructed fable. In like manner, in those prose Tales — which I no more doubt to be his than the poems he has published with his name — in that delightful series of works, which have proved their author to be the nearest kinsman the creative intellect of Shakespeare has ever had — the best are those, the interest of which is most directly and historically national — Waverley and Old Mortality. The whole will go down together, so long as any national character survives in Scotland — and themselves will, I nothing question, prolong the existence of national character there more effectu, ally, than any other stimulus its waning strength is ever likely to meet with. But I think the two I have mentioned, will always be considered as the brightest jewels in this ample crown of unquenched and unquenchable radiance. What Shakespeare has done for the civil wars of the two Roses, and the manifestations of national mind produced by the influence of the old baronial feuds — what the more than dramatic Clarendon has done for the great period of contest between the two majestic sets of principles, upon whose union, matured and tempered, the modern constitution of England is founded — the same service has been rendered by the author of these Tales, (whosoever he may be,) to the most interesting times in the history of the national mind of Scotland — the times, when all the various elements of her character, religious and political, were exhibited in their most lively fermentation of sharpness and vigour. As for the complaints which have been made of unfairness and partiality, in the views which he has given of the various parties — I think they are not only exaggerated, but altogether absurd. It is, indeed, very easy to see to which side the Poet's own early prejudices have given his mind a leaning-but I think it is no less easy to see that the romance of his predilections has been tempered and chastened by as fine a mixture of sober reflection and generous candour, as ever entered into the composition of any man of high and enthusiastic feeling. There is too much chivalry about the man, to allow of his treating his foes unfairly; and had be been really disposed to injure any set of men, he had weapons enough at his disposal, very different from any which even his detractors can accuse him of having employed. But enough of such fooleries; they are only fit for those who have uttered them — a set of persons, by the way, who might have been expected to bear a little innocent ridicule with a little more Christian equanimity, after so ample experience of the "Cachinno monstrarier."
Altogether, it must be allowed that the situation of Scotland, as to literature, is a very peculiar one. No large crop of indigenous literature sprung out of its own feelings at the time when the kindred spirit of England was in that way so prolific. The poets it produced in the former times were almost all emigrants, and took up the common stock of ideas that were floating in England; — or at least their works, like those of Thomson, had no relation to their own country in particular, or its modes of feeling. It is a difficult question how two countries, standing in the relation of England and Scotland, should manage with their respective talents and histories. It cannot be doubted that there is a very considerable difference in their national genius — and indeed, the Scots seem to resemble the English much more in their power of thought than in their turn of character. Their first remarkable exhibition of talent was entirely in the line of thought — Hume — Smith, and the rest of that school are examples. The Scots dialect never having been a written language, at least to any important extent, and there being no literary monuments belonging exclusively to Scotland, of course the associations of the literary men were formed on English models and on English works. Now, after two nations have been long separate in their interests, and have respectively nourished their own turn of thinking — they may at last come to be united in their interests, but their associations cannot be so pliable, nor can they be so easily amalgamated. An union of national interests "quoad" external power relates chiefly to the future — whereas, associations respect the past. And here was an unfortunate circumstance of separation between the Scots literati and the mass of the Scottish people. — The essence of all nationality, however, is a peculiar way of thinking, and conceiving, which may be applied to subjects not belonging to the history of one's own country, although it certainly is always most in place when exhibited in conjunction with the scenery and accompaniments of Home. In Scotland, there are many things that must conspire to wean men from the past — the disuse of their old dialect — the unpleasant nature of some of the events that have befallen them — the neighbourhood of triumphant and eclipsing England, which, like an immense magnet, absolutely draws the needles from the smaller ones — the Reformation, above all, which, among them, was conducted in a way peculiarly unfortunate, causing all the old religious associations to be considered as detestable and sinful; and gradually sinking into oblivion a great many ancient ideas of another class, which were entwined with these, and which were shaken off also as a matter of necessity, "ne pars sincera trahatur."
Puritanism, by its excessive exclusiveness, always brings along with it a nakedness and barrenness of mind in relation to all human attachments, and the temporal concerns of life. But human nature, in despite of puritanism, can never be utterly extinguished. It still demands some human things for our affections to lean upon — some thoughts to be dear to our imaginations, and which we may join our countrymen in loving — for common attachments widely diffused, must always tend to civilize and improve human nature, and awaken generous and social habits of feeling. Shakespeare observes in Coriolanus, that, during the time of war, citizens always feel more benevolent towards each other; and the reason, no doubt is, that war reminds them in what respects their interests and feelings concur. Puritanism weighs too hard upon human nature, and does not tend to draw out its best aspect. It makes every man too much the arbiter of his opinions and their champion — hence too much self-love. It makes him look with too much jealousy and anxiety upon his neighbours, as persons in error, or capable of leading him into error — or as differing in their convictions from those at which he himself has had the happiness to arrive. Hence a want of cheerfulness, confidence, and settled good nature. — Lastly, puritanism leaves a man alone to face and fight the devil upon the strength of his own virtue and judgment, which, I dare say, Colonel Harrison himself would feel to be as much as he was able for. Puritans confine their imaginations entirely to the Scriptures, and cut themselves off from the early Romish legends of saints — the true mythology of Christianity — the only part of it, at least, which poetry and the other fine arts can, without too great a breach of reverence, mould and adapt to their own purposes. Some of them surely are exquisite in beauty, and afford room for all manner of play of fancy. I speak, you will remember, entirely with an eye to literature. Whatever may be the orthodox opinions on these subjects, why should poetry refuse to invest them with preternatural attributes, or to take advantage of the fine poetical situations which sometimes occur in those old histories?
Again, although the history of Scotland has not been throughout filled with splendid or remarkable events, fitted to shew off the national character in the most luminous and imposing points of view, yet few persons will refuse to consider the Scots as a nation remarkable-most remarkable — for natural endowments. It would be difficult to say in what elements adapted to make a nation shine in literature they are at all deficient. Now, when the character of a nation has once fully developed itself in events or in literature, its posterity are too apt to consider its former achievements or writings as an adequate expression or symbol of what exists in themselves, and so to remain contented without making any farther exertions — and this, I take it is one of the main causes of what appears externally in the history of nations, to be barrenness, degeneracy, and exhaustion of intellectual power, — so that it may perhaps be one of the advantages which Scotland possesses over England and many other countries, that she has not yet created any sufficient monuments of that "mightiness for good or ill" that is within her.
If a remainder of her true harvest is yet to be reaped — if any considerable body of her yet unexpended force is now to make its appearance in literature, it will do so under the most favourable circumstances, and with all appliances to boot, which the present state of intellectual cultivation in Europe can furnish, both in the way of experience, and as objects for examination and reflection. The folly of slighting and concealing what remains concealed within herself, is one of the worst and most pernicious that can beset a country, in the situation wherein Scotland stands. Although, perhaps, it is not now the cue of Scotland to dwell very much on her own past history, (which that of England has thrown too much into the shade,) yet she should observe what fine things have been made even of this department, by the great genius of whom I have spoken above — and learn to consider her own national character as a mine of intellectual wealth, which remains in a great measure unexplored. While she looks back upon the history of England, as upon that of the country to which she has suspended and rendered subordinate her fortunes, yet she should by no means regard English literature, as an expression of her mind, or as superseding the examination of what intellectual resources remain unemployed within her own domains of peculiar possession.
The most remarkable literary characters which Scotland produced last century, shewed merely (as I have already said) the force of her intellect, as applied to matters of reasoning. The generation of Hume, Smith, &c., left matters of feeling very much unexplored, and probably considered Poetry merely as an elegant and tasteful appendage to the other branches of literature, with which they themselves were more conversant. Their disquisitions on morals were meant to be the vehicles of ingenious theories — not of convictions of sentiment. They employed, therefore, even in them, only the national intellect, and not the national modes of feeling.
The Scottish literati of the present day have inherited the ideas of these men, and acted upon them in a great measure — with scarcely more than the one splendid exception of Walter Scott. While all the rest were contenting themselves with exercising and displaying their speculative acuteness, this man had the wisdom — whether by the impulse of Nature, or from reflection, I know not — to grapple boldly with the feelings of his countrymen. The habits of self-love, so much pampered and indulged by the other style, must have opposed some resistance to the influence of works such as his — I mean their more solid, and serious, and abiding influence upon the characters and minds of those who read them; but these are only wreaths of snow, whose cold flakes are made to be melted when the sun shines fairly upon them. His works are altogether the most remarkable phenomenon in this age of wonders — produced among a people, whose taste had been well nigh weaned from all those ranges of feeling, on which their main inspiration and main power depend — they have of themselves been sufficient to create a more than passionate return of faith and homage to those deserted elements of greatness, in all the better part of his countrymen. I consider him, and his countrymen should do so, as having been the sole saviour of all the richer and warmer spirit of literature in Scotland. He is, indeed, the "Facillime Princeps" of all her poets, past and present, and I more than question the likelihood of his having hereafter any "Brother near the throne."
I should like to see a really fine portrait of Mr. S—, representing him in his library — or rather in his armoury at A—d, musing, within sight of the silver Tweed, upon some grand evocation of the national genius of his country. By the way, I should have told you what a fine picturesque place this armoury is — how its roof is loaded with fac-similes of the best decorations of Melrose — how its windows glow with the rich achievements of all the old families of Border renown — how its walls are covered with hauberks, jacks, actons, bills, brands, claymores, targets, and every weapon of foray warfare. — But I must not come back to my descriptions.
P.S. If any of my remarks appear short and ill-tempered, be pleased to remember that they have been written under all the irritation of a foot swelling and reddening every hour into more decided "Podagra." I feel that I am fairly in for a fit. I have at least a week of my sofa before me — so, instead of claret, and the writing of wordy epistles, I must e'en do the best I can with a sip of water-gruel, and the old luxury of conning over Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. Once more adieu! — "A stout heart to a stiff brae," as we say in Scotland; which, being interpreted, signifies
"Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito."