me more to enjoy communion with the soul of Nature; and this because the soul of each, and the link uniting both, was poetry.

At school I learned comparatively little; and although I generally had my lessons as well as any of my class-mates, I took less delight in Cornelius Nepos, or Mair's Introduction, than I did in weaving long yarns, and recounting them across the table to my companions. Not Sir Walter Scott, nor Hartley Coleridge, I verily believe, ever indulged more in the practice of story-telling. The romances I daily constructed were endless. They were spun out of my brain with the utmost ease, and I have often since wondered that I did not turn out, in after days, as inveterate a novel-writer as I have been a novel-reader, and that almost the first tale I have ever told in print is this story of my own life. Besides boring all my co-mates with these narratives of robbers, witches, smugglers, genii, and so forth, I fell into a habit of composing them internally, for whole days together. I had begun the cognate practice of day-dreaming long before. There was a puddle near my father's house, overhung with nettles and weeds, which, when I was a mere child of five, was a favourite haunt of mine. I hung over it for hours, and peopled it and its dirty shores with imaginary beings and fictitious incidents. It was an Atlantic to me, that puddle. And how often have I retired voluntarily, yet not sulkily, from companions whom I loved, and sports which I deeply relished, to my own musings in the silent autumn fields between the hedges, to a stealthy brook near the house, overhung with trees, and choked with sedge, or to the willows by the watercourses of the river! I have carried my book there, and revelled uncounted hours, sighing, or weeping, or smiling in secret over its pages. I passed my time sometimes still more sweetly alone, with no book, chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy, going through imaginary adventures, carving out a hundred different plans of life, projecting literary works, making verses, generally à la Hudibras,

timing my thoughts always to the motions of a large stick which I carried with me to my solitude, speaking to myself aloud, and not unfrequently, like Mirza, "overheard in my soliloquies," and bearing the shame accordingly in blushes, which yet rekindle at the thought. The consequeiice was, as with Edwin, in the Minstrel

"The neighbours shook their heads, yet bless'd the lad;

Some deem'd me wondrous wise, and some did deem me mad."

A "remote laddie" was a frequent expression used by the worthy old wives, as they saw the "lone enthusiast " sitting silent for hours on the solitary stile, and gazing himself away at the mountains which were glowing in the afternoon sun, or heard him repeating to himself, with ardent cheek and burning eyes, passages from Ossian; or met him in a deep plantation, plunging as if pursued, and he was pursued, by fancy as by fire,-farther and farther on into the woody wilderness. At that time my own thoughts were dearer to me than natural scenery,—I had little delight in it till my mind had been roused to a certain pitch; but whenever I reached the climax of one of my darling novels, or finished satisfactorily one of my internal compositions, I turned round and saw the mountains and the heavens in a new light, and felt, although as yet obscurely, that it was thy light, O Imagination, bride of my being! Yes, Imagination, thou hast been at once the angel and the demon of my existence, and still thy fairy hands are spreading their gauzy veil between me and the universe, and I may almost say with Schiller, "the Beautiful still is the God of the Earth!" When thy torch ceases to burn, and to show me all things from the sun to my own shadow, let my earthly life too expire, for hitherto I have fed on phantasy, and with any coarser pabulum cannot away!

I remember, as one of the principal eras in my intellectual life, my introduction to the Waverley Novels. This was in my tenth year. Previous to that period, Ossian, Addison,

[ocr errors]

and Milton were my favourite authors in Belles Lettres, and large passages from them had indented themselves on my memory. Of Shakspere, I had only read two or three plays— Macbeth," and the "Merry Wives of Windsor." I had read, besides, an odd volume of Dryden's plays, including "Cleomenes," and "Amphitryon ;" and some scattered comedies, such as "A Wonder-a Woman keeps a Secret," and the "Provoked Wife," constituted all the rest of my dramatic lore. Of novels, I had only read the Vicar of Wakefield, Joseph Andrews, Philip Quarles, Robinson Crusoe, and Evelina. In my circle, novels were looked upon as splendid sins, and it was by stealth that I had procured some even of the above. With the Pilgrim's Progress, indeed, I had been long permitted and urged to make acquaintance, and of it I had become passionately fond, to the point of fixing all its localities in a solitary road in the neighbourhood, and there travelling oft in imagination after its pilgrims. But when I was sent on a holiday excursion to a friend who lived in a distant town, I found in the library Sir Walter Scott's novels; and greedily, and with an ecstasy I cannot fully describe, did I enter, at the bidding of the magician, into that wondrous world of blended romance and reality. I had precisely the feeling which I experienced afterwards, when I found myself in the centre of a great evening city, with its crowds of human beings, revealed by lamps, which. seemed hanging from a sky of enchantment—all real men and women, but seemingly transfigured and glorified in an unearthly light. And then the scenery and the characters were Scotch! The light of transcendent genius had fallen suddenly on my own every-day walks, and the people I met in them. I felt at once carried back to my own valley, and borne away to a land beyond the wing of dreams. The first five I laid my hands on were the Monastery, Waverley, the Abbot, the Fortunes of Nigel, and Ivanhoe. The Monastery, reckoned by many the worst of the series, was the first I read; and hence I continue, I fear, to love it better than some

of his prouder and more popular fictions. I love still that lone valley of Glendearg, and that deeper and more haunted solitude of Corri-nan-shian-love to follow the Sub-Prior Eustace, with beating heart, down the wizard glen—to trace the desperate Halbert, rushing, like one possessed by the fiend, up the valley to invoke the White Lady—to see Henry Warden, coming like a spirit across the moors to meet him, more terrific in his loneliness than the White Lady in hers—to watch the twain stopping for breath on the ridges above the Castle of Avenel—or starting as Christie of the Clinthill shakes his ashen lance over them—or witnessing the graphic but brutal scene between Julian and his paramour. I bow my head before the sorrows of the brokenhearted Edward—I tremble at the black brows of Morayand thrill to the bone as I see Catherine trying to unloosen the visor of her seducer, dead on the battle-field, and hear her crying, "Christie of the Clinthill, Rowley, Hutcheon, ye were constant to him at the feast, but ye fled from him at the fray, false villains as ye are!" while a dying voice near exclaims, "Not I, by Heaven!" being Christie's own, and his last. I love even Piercie Shafton; and have a great regard for the Miller's daughter. This love and wonder I need not say were increased mightily as each new miracle of the series broke on me afterwards, at slow intervals; for the apparitions of Waverley Novels, after I returned to the manse, were few and far between. Some six months afterwards, I procured Rob Roy, which, when I was reading, my father gently took from me, and deposited in his desk. In a day or two, however, I surprised him with his desk halfopen, devouring it as a sweet morsel in secret. He saw he was discovered, smiled-the dear old man !—and gave me it back to finish at my leisure. I remember also, the same summer, writing to a friend in a far off city, to send me Guy Mannering, by the carrier who reached our village each Saturday. The first evening the book did not arrive, and I returned home as full of the bitterness and blackness of


disappointment as I ever was in my life. The next Saturday night, I went with a beating heart to the carrier's; found, O joy the parcel; tore it open; began to read, on the road, the first of the three small, dusky, crumbling volumes, and continued till interrupted by bed-time. The next day was the Sabbath, when no novels, of course, could be perused in a Presbyterian house; and my readers can conceive how I eyed, with fidgety impatience, the precious volumes which I durst not open-how I sighed and smacked my lips, and said for once, "When will the Sabbath be over!" and how on Monday, by earliest summer dawn, I was up and out with little Harry Bertram, amidst the sunny fields of Galloway. Many years elapsed ere I obtained my wish to read all the works of the Master, and many a wish I breathed in solitude, and in vain, for a complete set; and many a reprimand I got from true and tender lips for my excessive exultation when a stray volume did find its way to our dwelling; and not a few, as they saw me carrying it to a quiet nook to peruse, shook their heads, and entertained the sentiment, if they could not utter the words—

"Of such materials wretched men are made;

And such a truant boy, will end in woe."

But I cared not. I cherished then, and cherish still, love to Scott as one of my first literary benefactors; and now regularly read over all his better novels-all, indeed, except Anne of Geierstein and Count Robert of Paris-once a year, and often regret that I had not the whole to begin anew, and that I had not enjoyed the luxury of reading more of the series "in life's morning march, when my bosom was young," to the murmur of the blue streams of my birthplace, and of the warm careering blood of my boyhood.

My readers must not, from the above little incident, imagine that I disregarded the Sabbath or its services. On the contrary, that was to me one of the happiest days of the week. After breakfast and prayers were over, my father retired to his study to prepare for his public work; and I,

« VorigeDoorgaan »