Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

sent to bring them up in the evening. The charge was somewhat exorbitant, but we closed with it at once. We entered the inn while our friend went round to the stable to bring the machine to the door; met the landlord on the stairs, sent an indignant broadside into him, which he received with the utmost coolness. The imperturbable man! he swallowed our shot like a sandbank, and was nothing the worse. The horse was now at the door, in a few moments our luggage was stowed away, and we were off. Through seventeen miles of black moorland we drove almost without beholding a single dwelling. Sometimes, although rarely, we had a glimpse of the sea. The chief object that broke the desolation, was a range of clumsy red hills, stretching away like a chain of gigantic dust-heaps. Their aspect was singularly dreary and depressing. They were mountain plebs. Lava hardens into grim precipice, bristles into jagged ridge, along which the rack drives, now hiding, now revealing it; but these had no beauty, no terror; ignoble from the beginning; dull offspring of primeval mud. About 7 P.M. we reached the village, left our things, still soaked in seawater, in one of the huts till FitzTartan could send for them, and struck off on foot for the three miles which we were told yet remained. By this time the country had improved in appearance. The hills were swelling and green; up these the road wound, fringed with ferns, mixed with the purple bells of the foxglove. A stream too, evidently escaped from some higher mountain tarn, came dashing along in a succession of tiny waterfalls. A quiet pastoral region, but so still, so deserted! Hardly a house, hardly a human being! After a while we reached the lake, half covered with water-lilies, and our footsteps startled a brood of wild-ducks on its breast. How lonely it looked in its dark hollow there, familiar to the cry of the wild bird, the sultry summercloud, the stars and meteors of the night-strange to human faces, and the sound of human voices. But what of our three miles? We have been walking for an hour and a half. Are we astray in the green wilder

To

ness? The idea is far from pleasant. Happily a youthful native came trotting along, and of him we inquired our way. The boy looked at us, and shook his head. We repeated the question, still the same shy puzzled look. A proffer of a shilling, however, quickened his apprehension, and returning with us a few paces, he pointed out a hill-road striking up through the moor. On asking the distance, he seemed put out for a moment, and then muttered, in his difficult English, "four mile." Nothing more could be procured in the way of information, so off went little Bare-legs, richer than ever he had been in his life, at a long swinging trot, which seemed his natural pace, and which, I suppose, he could sustain from sunrise to sunset. this hill-road we now addressed ourselves. It was sunset now. Up we went through the purple moor, and in a short time sighted a crimson tarn, bordered with long black rushes, and as we approached, a duck burst from its face on "squattering" wings, shaking the splendour into widening circles. Just then two girls came on the road with peats in their laps anxious for information, we paused-they, shy as heath hens, darted past, and, when fifty yards distant, suddenly wheeled round, and burst into shrieks of laughter, repeated and re-repeated. In no laugh ing mood we pursued our way. The road now began to dip, and we entered a glen plentifully covered with birchwood, a stream keeping us company from the tarn above. The sun was now down, and objects at a distance began to grow uncertain in the evening mist. The horrible idea that we had lost our way, and were doomed to encamp on the heather, grew upon us. On! on! We had walked six miles since our encounter with the false Bare-legs. Suddenly we heard a dog bark; that was a sign of humanity, and our spirits rose. Then we saw a troop of horses galloping along the bottom of the glen. Better and better. ""Twas an honest ghost, Horatio!" All at once we heard the sound of voices, and Fellowes declared he saw something moving on the road. The next moment Fitz-Tartan and a couple of

:

[blocks in formation]

Of our doughty deeds of supper I will not sing, nor state how the toddy-jugs were drained. Rather let me tell of those who sat with us at the board-the elder Fitz-Tartan, and Father M'Crimmon, then living in the house. Fitz-Tartan, senior, was a man past eighty, but fresh and hale for his years. His figure was slight and wiry, his face a fresh pink, his hair like snow. Age, though it had bowed him somewhat, had not been able to steal the fire from his eye, nor the vigour from his limbs. He entered the army at an early age; carried colours in Ireland before the century came in; was with Moore at Coruña; followed Wellington through the Peninsular battles; was with the 42d at Quatre Bras, and hurt there when the brazen cuirassiers came charging through the tall ryegrass; and finally, stood at Waterloo in a square that crumbled before the artillery and cavalry charges of Napoleon-crumbled, but never flinched. It was strange to think that the old man across the table breathed the same air with Marie Antoinette; saw the black cloud of the French Revolution torn to pieces with its own lightnings, the eagles of Napoleon flying from Madrid to Moscow, Wellington's victorious career- all that wondrous time which our fathers and grandfathers saw, which has become history now, wearing the air of antiquity almost. We look upon the ground out yonder from Brussels that witnessed the struggle; but what the insensate soil, the woods, the monument, to the living eye in which was pictured the fierce strife? to the face that was grimed with the veritable battle-smoke? to the voice that mingled in that last cheer, when the whole English_line moved forward at sunset? FitzTartan was an Isle-man of the old school; penetrated through every drop of blood with pride of birth, and

with an honour keen like a second conscience. He had all the faults incidental to such a character. He was stubborn as the gnarled trunk of the oak, full of prejudices which our enlightenment laughs at, but which we need not despise, for with our knowledge and our science well will it be for us if we go to our graves with as stainless a name. He was quick and hasty of temper, and contradiction brought fire from him like steel from flint. Short and fierce were his gusts of passion. I have seen him of an evening, with quivering hands and kindling eye, send a volley of oaths into a careless servant, and the next moment almost the reverent white head was bowed on his chair as he knelt at evening prayer. Of these faults, however, this evening we saw nothing. The old gentleman was kind and hospitable; full of talk, but his talk seemed to us of old-world things. On Lords Palmerston and Derby he was silent; he was eloquent on Mr Pitt and Mr Fox. He talked of the French Revolution and the actors thereof as contemporaries. Of the good Queen Victoria (for History is sure to call her that) he said nothing. His heart was with his memory in the older days when George III. was king, and not an old king neither.

Father M'Crimmon was a tall man, being in height considerably above six feet. He was thin, like his own island where the soil is washed away by the rain, leaving bare the rock. His face was mountainously bony, with great pits and hollows in it. His eyes were grey, and had that depth of melancholy in them which is so often observed in men of his order. In heart he was simple as a child; in discourse slow, measured and stately. was something in his appearance that suggested the silence and solitude of the wilderness; of hours lonely to the heart, and bare spaces lonely to the eye. Although of another, and-as I think, else I should not profess it-a purer faith, I respected him at first, and loved him almost when I came to know him. Was it wonderful that his aspect was sorrowful, that it wore often a

There

His

wistful look, as if he had lost something which could never be regained, and that for evermore the sunshine was stolen from his smile? He was by his profession cut off from all the sweet ties of human nature, from all love of wife or child. people were widely scattered: across the black moor, far up the hollow glens blustering with winds, or dimmed with the grey rain-cloud. Thither the grim man followed them, officiating on rare festival occasions of marriage and christening; his face bright, not like a window ruddy with a fire within, rather a wintry pane tinged by the setting sun-a brief splendour that warms not, and but divides the long cold day that has already passed from the long cold night to come. More frequently he was engaged dispensing alms, giving advice in disaster, waiting by the low pallets of the feverstricken, listening to the confession of long-hoarded guilt, comforting the dark spirit as it passes to its audit. It is not with viands like these you furnish forth life's banquet; not on materials like these you rear brilliant spirits and gay manners. He who looks constantly on death and suffering, and the unspiritual influences of hopeless poverty, becomes infected with congenial gloom. Yet cold and cheerless as may be his life, he has his reward; for in his wanderings through the glens there is not an eye but brightens at his approach, not a mourner but feels he has a sharer in his sorrow; and when the tall, bony, seldom-smiling man is borne at last to his grave, round many a fireside will tears fall and prayers be said for the good priest M'Crimmon. All night sitting there, we talked of strange

"Far-off unhappy things,

And battles long ago,'

blood-crusted clan quarrels, bitter wrongs and terrible revenges; of wraiths and bodings, and pale deathlights burning on the rocks. The conversation was straightforward and earnest, conducted with perfect faith in the subject matter; and I listened, I am not ashamed to confess, with a curious and not altogether unpleasant thrill of the blood. For, I suppose,

however sceptical as to ghosts the intellect may be, the blood is ever a believer as it runs chill through the veins. A new world and order of things seemed to gather round us as we sat there. One was carried away from all that makes up the presentthe policy of Napoleon III., Mr Tennyson's poems, Disraeli's sarcasms, the Atlantic Telegraph, its chances of success, the universal babblement of scandal and personal talk-and brought face to face with tradition; with the ongoings of men who lived in solitary places, whose ears were constantly filled with the sough of the wind, the clash of the wave of the rock; whose eyes were ever open on the flinty cliff, and the floating forms of mists, and the dead silence of white sky dipping down far off on the dead silence of black moor. One was taken at once from the city streets to the houseless wilderness; from the smoky sky to the blue desert of air stretching from mountain range to mountain range, with the poised eagle hanging in the midst stationary as a lamp. Perhaps it was the faith of the speakers that impressed me most. To them the stories were much a matter of course; the supernatural atmosphere had become so familiar to them, that it had been emptied of all its wonder and the greater part of its terror. Of this I am quite sure, that a ghost story, told in the pit of a theatre or at Vauxhall, or walking through a lighted London street swarming with human life, is quite a different thing from a ghost story told, as I heard it, in a lone Highland dwelling, cut off from every human habitation by eight miles of gusty wind, the sea within a hundred feet of the walls, the tumble of the big wave, and the rattle of the pebbles, as it washes away back again, distinctly heard where you sit, and the talkers making the whole matter "stuff o' the conscience." Very different! You laugh in the theatre, and call the narrator an ass; in the other case you listen silently, with a scalp creeping as if there were life in it, and the blood streaming coldly down the back.

Young Fitz-Tartan awoke me next morning. As I came down stairs,

he told me had it not been Sunday he would have roused me with a performance on the bagpipes. Heaven forfend! I never felt so sincere a Sabbatarian. He led me some little distance to a favourable point of rock, and lo! across a sea, sleek as satin, rose a range of hills, clear

against the morning, jagged and notched like an old sword-blade. "Yonder," said he, pointing, "beyond the black mass in front, just beneath that cloud crumbling into a dim dust of rain, lies Lake Coruisken. I'll take you to see it one of these days."

OBJECTIONABLE BOOKS.

THIRTY or forty years ago the education of the people had not attained even to the rank of an open question. Its supporters considered it a hobbyhorse, on which it was very pleasant and very safe to take an airing. Its opponents looked on it as a wild hyena, which it was very desirable to keep in its cage. The faculties of reading and writing were held forth, as in the days of Jack Cade, to be very dangerous to the common weal, though the personages who entertained the belief were entirely changed. The Clerk of Chatham,-if like his predecessor in Henry the Sixth's time he had founded a ragged school, instead of being hanged by the populace for the unpardonable crime of teaching little boys their syntax, would have run the risk of being suspended in a less unpleasant, but still very painful form, by his ecclesiastical superior, if he had diffused an undiscriminating knowledge of verbs and nouns. The alphabet was closely connected, in some minds, with revolutionary tendencies; and bitterest of all taunts against the advocates of national enlightenment were the names of teacher," "dominie," " pedagogue," "schoolmaster." But this abhorrence of nominatives was not limited to any political or religious side into which Church and State were divided. Sagacious Tories and wise Churchmen very soon saw the gain that would result to their cause by the dispersion of the darkness which lay upon the public mind. Cautious Whiggery and narrow-minded sectarianism, whether in the Church or out of it, dreaded the effects of secular enlightenment, and fell away on that question from their leaders in

66

ordinary affairs. And even the people themselves-the poorer classes, and the hitherto neglected crowds of towns-were hostile to the movement. They would not become learned on compulsion; they would stand up for the freedom of the subject; and looked on dirt and bad grammar as in some way indissolubly connected with Magna Charta and the Battle of Waterloo. The apostles of the movement were driven to strange expedients to disarm their opponents: they had to persuade the timorous among the squires and clergy that the establishment of schools would do no harm, and the labouring population of villages and farms that it would do no good. "My dear sir," they said to the first, "why should the villagers be more disobedient if they happen to be able to spell words of two syllables?" My dear John Smith," they said to the others, "your children will be as dull and stupid as ever; they needn't learn more than to write their names. That won't hinder them from getting fourpence a-week for frightening away, the crows."

66

As the case got further argued, it was seen that the alarm was limited to the half-educated class, who were afraid of being overtaken in the race, with so very slender an advantage at starting. The farmer, who apparently produced his enormous signature with the aid of his turnip-hoe, was agen all them newfangled notions of teaching of little boys a good text-hand." The shopkeeper "couldn't a-bear them new chaps, that was so particular about a letter or two more or less." Higher in the scale, the superficial boarding-school miss, who had forgotten her half

[ocr errors]

year's French, and recitations from the Elegant Extracts, but retained a balmy recollection of the Parisian Marquis who had indoctrinated her in the correct pronunciation of "Stratford-atte-Bow," a lady, who had buried all her accomplishments in the drawing-room of a village surgeon or market-town attorney, was shocked at the idea of the lower orders knowing as much as their betters. "If Jem Bustle, our gardener's son, goes to school and learns to read and write, how can you expect him to show proper respect to his superiors?" However, in the course of time, Jem Bustle's son-young Jack Bustle, he is now a flourishing apothecary at Sydney-did learn to read and write, and was as respectful to his superiors as ever; and gradually it was found, that though the boys could amuse themselves with nice books, and astonish their mothers' eyes with slatefuls of the most portentous proportions-with calculations in sixteen columns, to show what would be the size and weight of a hill composed ofthe gold necessary to pay off the national debt they neither snared rabbits nor broke fences a bit more than before. It was perceived by all sensible men, that as the stream was fairly over its embankment, all that was wanted was to guide it into proper channels -to convert it from a devastating Mississippi into a fertilising Nile. First in every good work where she discovers that the work is real, and the aim good, was the Church. Parishes become jealous of each other's schools, and vied in the care they bestowed on the rising generation. At first the expectations were stretched a little too high. Too much was attempted, considering the present time and the future prospects of the rustic scholars. If some ambitious lady-teachers did not try to introduce Shakespeare and the musical glasses, they dwelt, at all events, too long on subjects with no practical bearing on the condition of the pupils. The distances of fixed stars, and geography as known to the Greeks and Romans, were no further valuable than all knowledge must be, compared to ignorance; and the benevolent design was laid aside of creating in every village a circle of Madame

Daciers and Mrs Somervilles. "Teach them the Catechism," said the good old rector to his assistants in the school, "and the history of their own country; we will let them know their duty to God and the king; also,"-for he was a most sensible man, the good old rector,-"I will give prizes to the girl who boils the mealiest potato, and finishes the neatest pocket-handkerchief." For it was now discovered that the most utilitarian of clergymen and the most imaginative of poets had come to the same conclusion

"Oh teach the orphan boy to read,

Or teach the orphan girl to sew."

The old apathy which characterised the national mind on the subject was thrown off at once. Whether this was in some degree aided by the furious rebound against do nothingness, which ended in the spasmodic energy of the Tractarian fever, it is difficult to say; but the fact is incontestable, that the question of general education was accepted as settled. Treaties, alliances, compromises were made; but the Nation came nobly forward in its universal character of mistress and mother of us all, and devoted many hundred thousands a-year to the great task of teaching her whole population how to live and how to die.

There can be but few places at the present time where the poorest of the poor has not the opportunity of acquiring at least the rudiments of learning. What more do any of us acquire at schools of far higher pretension? Eton, Harrow, Westminster, furnish little more than the instruments by which knowledge is attained; rough stones, or even partially-chiselled blocks, to be hereafter used in the erection of a temple of science, if the neophyte has a turn for that style of architecture, but quite as frequently laid aside as unfitted to build a park-wall, or chopped up into little bits to mend the road to the kennel. Yet the veriest Squire Western, who has once faithfully learned the ingenuous arts, or the mightiest Nimrod who has come, however unformed, from the hands of Arnold or Moberley, smacks of the

« AnteriorContinua »