MY SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS.
Morrison and Gibb, Edinburgh, Printers to Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
MY SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS OR THE STORY OF MY EDUCATION.
BY HUGH MILLER,
AUTHOR OF 'THE OLD RED SANDSTONE,' 'FOOTPRINTS OF THE CREATOR,' ETC. ETC.
EDINBURGH: W. P. NIMMO, HAY, & MITCHELL. 1889.
CHAPTER I. PAGE
A sailor's early career—First marriage—Escape from shipwreck—Second Love—Traits of character, 1
Childhood and childish visions—A Father's death—Favourite books—Sketch of two maternal uncles, 20
Dawn of patriotism—Cromarty Grammar School—Prevalent amusements—Old Francie—Earliest geological researches, 40
Uncle Sandy as a Naturalist—Important discovery—Cromarty Sutors and their caves—Expedition to the 'Doocot'—Difficulties and dangers—Sensation produced, 62
A would-be patroness—Boyish games—First friendship—Visit to the Highlands—Geologizing in the Gruids—Ossian-worship, 85
Cousin George and Cousin William—Excursion with Cousin Walter—Painful accident—Family bereavements—Links between the present and the past, 107
Subscription school—Vacation delights—Forays and fears—Quarrel with the schoolmaster—Poetical revenge—Johnstone the forester, 129
Choice of a calling—Disappointment to relatives—Old Red Sandstone quarry—Depression and walking-sleep—Temptations of toil—Friendship with William Ross, 151
Life in the bothie—Mad Bell—Mournful history—Singular intimacy—Manners and customs of north-country masons, 173
Evening walks—Lines on a sun-dial—A haunted stream—Insect transformations—Jock Moghoal—Musings, 195
An antiquary in humble life—Poor Danie—Proficiency in porridge-making—Depressed health—A good omen—Close of apprenticeship, 219
Swimming the Conon—Click-Clack the carter—Loch Maree—Fitting up a barrack—Highland characteristics, 245
The Brothers Fraser—Flora of the Northern Hebrides—Diving in the Gareloch—Sabbaths in Flowerdale woods—Causes of Highland distress, 268
A cragsman's death—Providential escape—Property in Leith—First sight of Edinburgh—Peter M'Craw—Niddry Woods—Researches among the Coal Measures, 296
A worthy Seceder—The hero of the squad—Apology for fanaticism—Strikes—Recollections of the theatre, 321
Great fires in Edinburgh—Dr. Colquhoun—Dr. M'Crie—Return to the North—Stanzas written at sea—Geological dreams, 348
Religious phases—True centre of Christianity—Bearing of geology upon theological belief—Delicate health—A gipsy wedding, 373
Convalescence—Pursuit of algeology—Jock Gordon—Theory of idiocy—Mr. Stewart of Cromarty, 395
Stone-cutting at Inverness—A jilted lover—The Osars—Death of Uncle James—Farewell letter from William Ross, 416
Publication of poems—Newspaper criticisms—Walsh the lecturer—Enlarged circle of friends—Miss Dunbar of Boath, 435
Arenaceous formations—Antiquity of the earth—Tremendous hurricane—Loligo Vulgare—Researches amid the Lias—Interesting discoveries, 457
Religious controversies—Ecclesiastical dispute—Cholera—Preventive measures—Reform Bill, 474
Visitors in the churchyard—The Ladies' Walk—First interview—Friendship—Love—Second visit to Edinburgh—Linlithgow Bank—Favourable reception of "Scenes and Legends"—Marriage, 497
Married life at Cromarty—Ichthyolitic deposit of Old Red Sandstone—Correspondence with Agassiz and Murchison—Happy evenings—Death of eldest child, 522
Voluntary principle—Position of the Establishment—Letter to Lord Brougham—Invitation to Edinburgh—Editorship of the Witness—Introduction to Dr. Chalmers—Visit from an old friend—Removal to Edinburgh, 541
TO THE READER.
It is now nearly a hundred years since Goldsmith remarked, in his little educational treatise, that "few subjects have been more frequently written upon than the education of youth." And during the century which has well-nigh elapsed since he said so, there have been so many more additional works given to the world on this fertile topic, that their number has been at least doubled. Almost all the men who ever taught a few pupils, with a great many more who never taught any, deem themselves qualified to say something original on education; and perhaps few books of the kind have yet appeared, however mediocre their general tone, in which something worthy of being attended to has not actually been said. And yet, though I have read not a few volumes on the subject, and have dipped into a great many more, I never yet found in them the sort of direction or encouragement which, in working out my own education, I most needed. They insisted much on the various modes of teaching others, but said nothing—or, what amounted to the same thing, nothing to the purpose—on the best mode of teaching one's-self. And as my circumstances and position, at the time when I had most occasion to consult them, were those of by much the largest class of the people of this and every other civilized country—for I was one of the many millions who need to learn, and yet have no one to teach them—I could not help deeming the omission a serious one. I have since come to think, however, that a formal treatise on self-culture might fail to supply the want. Curiosity must be awakened ere it can be satisfied; nay, once awakened, it never fails in the end fully to satisfy itself; and it has occurred to me, that by simply laying before the working men of the country the "Story of my Education," I may succeed in first exciting their curiosity, and next, occasionally at least, in gratifying it also. They will find that by far the best schools I ever attended are schools open to them all—that the best teachers I ever had are (though severe in their discipline) always easy of access—and that the special form at which I was, if I may say so, most successful as a pupil, was a form to which I was drawn by a strong inclination, but at which I had less assistance from my brother men, or even from books, than at any of the others. There are few of the natural sciences which do not lie quite as open to the working men of Britain and America as Geology did to me.
My work, then, if I have not wholly failed in it, may be regarded as a sort of educational treatise, thrown into the narrative form, and addressed more especially to working men. They will find that a considerable portion of the scenes and incidents which it records read their lesson, whether of encouragement or warning, or throw their occasional lights on peculiarities of character or curious natural phenomena, to which their attention might be not unprofitably directed. Should it be found to possess an interest to any other class, it will be an interest chiefly derivable from the glimpses which it furnishes of the inner life of the Scottish people, and its bearing on what has been somewhat clumsily termed "the condition-of-the-country question." My sketches will, I trust, be recognised as true to fact and nature. And as I have never perused the autobiography of a working man of the more observant type, without being indebted to it for new facts and ideas respecting the circumstances and character of some portion of the people with which I had been less perfectly acquainted before, I can hope that, regarded simply as the memoir of a protracted journey through districts of society not yet very sedulously explored, and scenes which few readers have had an opportunity of observing for themselves, my story may be found to possess some of the interest which attaches to the narratives of travellers who see what is not often seen, and know, in consequence, what is not generally known. In a work cast into the autobiographic form, the writer has always much to apologize for. With himself for his subject, he usually tells not only more than he ought, but also, in not a few instances, more than he intends. For, as has been well remarked, whatever may be the character which a writer of his own Memoirs is desirous of assuming, he rarely fails to betray the real one. He has almost always his unintentional revelations, that exhibit peculiarities of which he is not conscious, and weaknesses which he has failed to recognise as such; and it will no doubt be seen that what is so generally done in works similar to mine, I have not escaped doing. But I cast myself full on the good-nature of the reader. My aims have, I trust, been honest ones; and should I in any degree succeed in rousing the humbler classes to the important work of self-culture and self-government, and in convincing the higher that there are instances in which working men have at least as legitimate a claim to their respect as to their pity, I shall not deem the ordinary penalties of the autobiographer a price too high for the accomplishment of ends so important.
MY SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS OR THE STORY OF MY EDUCATION.
"Ye gentlemen of England, Who live at home at ease, Oh, little do ye think upon The dangers of the seas."—OLD SONG.
Rather more than eighty years ago, a stout little boy, in his sixth or seventh year, was despatched from an old-fashioned farm-house in the upper part of the parish of Cromarty, to drown a litter of puppies in an adjacent pond. The commission seemed to be not in the least congenial. He sat down beside the pool, and began to cry over his charge; and finally, after wasting much time in a paroxysm of indecision and sorrow, instead of committing the puppies to the water, he tucked them up in his little kilt, and set out by a blind pathway which went winding through the stunted heath of the dreary Maolbuoy Common, in a direction opposite to that of the farm-house—his home for the two previous twelvemonths. After some doubtful wandering on the waste, he succeeded in reaching, before nightfall, the neighbouring seaport town, and presented himself, laden with his charge, at his mother's door. The poor woman—a sailor's widow, in very humble circumstances—raised her hands in astonishment: "Oh, my unlucky boy," she exclaimed, "what's this?—what brings you here?" "The little doggies, mither," said the boy; "I couldna drown the little doggies; and I took them to you." What afterwards befell the "little doggies," I know not; but trivial as the incident may seem, it exercised a marked influence on the circumstances and destiny of at least two generations of creatures higher in the scale than themselves. The boy, as he stubbornly refused to return to the farm-house, had to be sent on shipboard, agreeably to his wish, as a cabin-boy; and the writer of these chapters was born, in consequence, a sailor's son, and was rendered, as early as his fifth year, mainly dependent for his support on the sedulously plied but indifferently remunerated labours of his only surviving parent, at the time a sailor's widow.
The little boy of the farm-house we a descended from a long line of seafaring men,—skilful and adventurous sailors,—some of whom had coasted along the Scottish shores as early as the times of Sir Andrew Wood and the "bold Bartons," and mayhap helped to man that "verrie monstrous schippe the Great Michael," that "cumbered all Scotland to get her to sea." They had taken as naturally to the water as the Newfoundland dog or the duckling. That waste of life which is always so great in the naval profession had been more than usually so in the generation just passed away. Of the boy's two uncles, one had sailed round the world with Anson, and assisted in burning Paita, and in boarding the Manilla galleon; but on reaching the English coast he mysteriously disappeared, and was never more heard of. The other uncle, a remarkably handsome and powerful man,—or, to borrow the homely but not inexpressive language in which I have heard him described, "as pretty a fellow as ever stepped in shoe-leather,"—perished at sea in a storm; and several years after, the boy's father, when entering the Firth of Cromarty, was struck overboard, during a sudden gust, by the boom of his vessel, and, apparently stunned by the blow, never rose again. Shortly after, in the hope of screening her son from what seemed to be the hereditary fate, his mother had committed the boy to the charge of a sister, married to a farmer of the parish, and now the mistress of the farm-house of Ardavell; but the family death was not to be so avoided; and the arrangement terminated, as has been seen, in the transaction beside the pond.
In course of time the sailor boy, despite of hardship and rough usage, grew up into a singularly robust and active man, not above the middle size,—for his height never exceeded five feet eight inches,—but broad-shouldered, deep-chested, strong-limbed, and so compact of bone and muscle, that in a ship of the line, in which he afterwards sailed, there was not, among five hundred able-bodied seamen, a man who could lift so great a weight, or grapple with him on equal terms. His education had been but indifferently cared for at home: he had, however, been taught to read by a female cousin, a niece of his mother's, who, like her too, was both the daughter and the widow of a sailor; and for his cousin's only child, a girl somewhat younger than himself, he had contracted a boyish affection, which in a stronger form continued to retain possession of him after he grew up. In the leisure thrown on his-hands in long Indian and Chinese voyages, he learned to write; and profited so much by the instructions of a comrade, an intelligent and warm-hearted though reckless Irishman, that he became skilful enough to keep a log-book, and to take a reckoning with the necessary correctness,—accomplishments far from common at the time among ordinary sailors. He formed, too, a taste for reading. The recollection of his cousin's daughter may have influenced him, but he commenced life with a determination to rise in it,—made his first money by storing up instead of drinking his grog,—and, as was common in those times, drove a little trade with the natives of foreign parts in articles of curiosity and vertu, for which, I suspect, the custom-house dues were not always paid. With all his Scotch prudence, however, and with much kindliness of heart and placidity of temper there was some wild blood in his veins, derived, mayhap, from one or two buccaneering ancestors, that, when excited beyond the endurance point, became sufficiently formidable; and which, on at least one occasion, interfered very considerably with his plans and prospects.
On a protracted and tedious voyage in a large East Indiaman, he had, with the rest of the crew, been subjected to harsh usage by a stern, capricious captain; but, secure of relief on reaching port, he had borne uncomplainingly with it all. His comrade and quondam teacher, the Irishman, was, however, less patient; and for remonstrating with the tyrant, as one of a deputation of the seamen, in what was deemed a mutinous spirit, he was laid hold of, and was in the course of being ironed down to the deck under a tropical sun, when his quieter comrade, with his blood now heated to the boiling point, stepped aft, and with apparent calmness re-stated the grievance. The captain drew a loaded pistol from his belt; the sailor struck up his hand; and, as the bullet whistled through the rigging above, he grappled with him, and disarmed him in a trice. The crew rose, and in a few minutes the ship was all their own. But having failed to calculate on such a result, they knew not what to do with their charge; and, acting under the advice of their new leader, who felt to the full the embarrassing nature of the position, they were content simply to demand the redress of their grievances as their terms of surrender; when, untowardly for their claims, a ship of war hove in sight, much in want of men, and, bearing down on the Indiaman, the mutiny was at once suppressed, and the leading mutineers sent aboard the armed vessel, accompanied by a grave charge, and the worst possible of characters. Luckily for them, however, and especially luckily for the Irishman and his friend, the war-ship was so weakened by scurvy, at that time the untamed pest of the navy, that scarce two dozen of her crew could do duty aloft A fierce tropical tempest, too, which broke out not long after, pleaded powerfully in their favour; and the affair terminated in the ultimate promotion of the Irishman to the office of ship-schoolmaster, and of his Scotch comrade to the captaincy of the foretop.
My narrative abides with the latter. He remained for several years aboard a man-of-war, and, though not much in love with the service, did his duty in both storm and battle. He served in the action off the Dogger-Bank,—one of the last naval engagements fought ere the manoeuvre of breaking the line gave to British valour its due superiority, by rendering all our great sea-battles decisive; and a comrade who sailed in the same vessel, and from whom, when a boy, I have received kindness for my father's sake, has told me that, their ship being but indifferently manned at the time, and the extraordinary personal strength and activity of his friend well known, he had a station assigned him at his gun against two of the crew, and that during the action he actually outwrought them both. At length, however, the enemy drifted to leeward to refit; and when set to repair the gashed and severed rigging, such was his state of exhaustion, in consequence of the previous overstrain on every nerve and muscle, that he had scarce vigour enough left to raise the marlingspike employed in the work to the level of his face. Suddenly, when in this condition, a signal passed along the line, that the Dutch fleet, already refitted, was bearing down to renew the engagement. A thrill like that of an electric shock passed through the frame of the exhausted sailor; his fatigue at once left him; and, vigorous and strong as when the action first began, he found himself able, as before, to run out against his two comrades the one side of a four-and-twenty pounder. The instance is a curious one of the influence of that "spirit" which, according to the Wise King, enables a man to "sustain his infirmity."
It may be well not to inquire too curiously regarding the mode in which this effective sailor quitted the navy. The country had borrowed his services without consulting his will; and he, I suspect, reclaimed them on his own behalf without first asking leave. I have been told by my mother that he found the navy very intolerable;—the mutiny at the Nore had not yet meliorated the service to the common sailor. Among other hardships, he had been oftener than once under not only very harsh, but also very incompetent officers; and on one occasion, after toiling on the foreyard in a violent night-squall, with some of the best seamen aboard, in fruitless attempts to furl up the sail, he had to descend, cap in hand, at the risk of a flogging, and humbly implore the boy-lieutenant in charge that he should order the vessel's head to be laid in a certain direction. Luckily for him, the advice was taken by the young gentleman, and in a few minutes the sail was furled. He left his ship one fine morning, attired in his best, and having on his head a three-cornered hat, with tufts of lace at the corners, which I well remember, from the circumstance that it had long after to perform an important part in certain boyish masquerades at Christmas and the New Year; and as he had taken effective precautions for being reported missing in the evening, he got clear off.
Of some of the after-events of his life I retain such mere fragmentary recollections, dissociated from date and locality, as might be most readily seized on by the imagination of a child. At one time, when engaged in one of his Indian voyages, he was stationed during the night, accompanied by but a single comrade, in a small open boat, near one of the minor mouths of the Ganges; and he had just fallen asleep on the beams, when he was suddenly awakened by a violent motion, as if his skiff were capsizing. Starting up, he saw in the imperfect light a huge tiger, that had swam, apparently, from the neighbouring jungle, in the act of boarding the boat. So much was he taken aback, that though a loaded musket lay beside him, it was one of the loose beams, or foot-spars, used as fulcrums for the feet in rowing, that he laid hold of as a weapon; but such was the blow he dealt to the paws of the creature, as they rested on the gunwale, that it dropped off with a tremendous snarl, and he saw it no more. On another occasion, he was one of three men sent with despatches to some Indian port in a boat, which, oversetting in the open sea in a squall, left them for the greater part of three days only its upturned bottom for their resting-place. And so thickly during that time did the sharks congregate around them, that though a keg of rum, part of the boat's stores, floated for the first two days within a few yards of them, and they had neither meat nor drink, none of them, though they all swam well, dared attempt regaining it. They were at length relieved by a Spanish vessel, and treated with such kindness, that the subject of my narrative used ever after to speak well of the Spaniards, as a generous people, destined ultimately to rise. He was at one time so reduced by scurvy, in a vessel half of whose crew had been carried off by the disease, that, though still able to do duty on the tops, the pressure of his finger left for several seconds a dent in his thigh, as if the muscular flesh had become of the consistency of dough. At another time, when overtaken in a small vessel by a protracted tempest, in which "for many days neither sun nor moon appeared," he continued to retain his hold of the helm for twelve hours after every other man aboard was utterly prostrated and down, and succeeded, in consequence, in weathering the storm for them all. And after his death, a nephew of my mother's, a young man who had served his apprenticeship under him, was treated with great kindness on the Spanish Main, for his sake, by a West Indian captain, whose ship and crew he had saved, as the captain told the lad, by boarding them in a storm, at imminent risk to himself, and working their vessel into port, when, in circumstances of similar exhaustion, they were drifting full upon an iron-bound shore. Many of my other recollections of this manly sailor are equally fragmentary in their character; but there is a distinct bit of picture in them all, that strongly impressed the boyish fancy.
When not much turned of thirty, the sailor returned to his native town, with money enough, hardly earned, and carefully kept, to buy a fine large sloop, with which he engaged in the coasting trade; and shortly after he married his cousin's daughter. He found his cousin, who had supported herself in her widowhood by teaching a school, residing in a dingy, old-fashioned house, three rooms in length, but with the windows of its second story half-buried in the eaves, that had been left her by their mutual grandfather, old John Feddes, one of the last of the buccaneers. It had been built, I have every reason to believe, with Spanish gold; not, however, with a great deal of it, for, notwithstanding its six rooms, it was a rather humble erection, and had now fallen greatly into disrepair. It was fitted up with some of the sailor's money, and, after his marriage, became his home,—a home rendered all the happier by the presence of his cousin, now rising in years, and who, during her long widowhood, had sought and found consolation, amid her troubles and privations, where it was surest to be found. She was a meek-spirited, sincerely pious woman; and the sailor, during his more distant voyages,—for he sometimes traded with ports of the Baltic on the one hand, and with those of Ireland and the south of England on the other,—had the comfort of knowing that his wife, who had fallen into a state of health chronically delicate, was sedulously tended and cared for by a devoted mother. The happiness which he would have otherwise enjoyed was, however, marred in some degree by his wife's great delicacy of constitution, and ultimately blighted by two unhappy accidents.
He had not lost the nature which had been evinced at an early age beside the pond: for a man who had often looked death in the face, he had remained nicely tender of human life, and had often hazarded his own in preserving that of others; and when accompanied, on one occasion, by his wife and her mother to his vessel, just previous to sailing, he had unfortunately to exert himself in her presence, in behalf of one of his seamen, in a way that gave her constitution a shock from which it never recovered. A clear frosty moonlight evening had set in; the pier-head was glistening with new-formed ice; and one of the sailors, when engaged in casting over a haulser which he had just loosed, missed footing on the treacherous margin, and fell into the sea. The master knew his man could not swim; a powerful seaward tide sweeps past the place with the first hours of ebb; there was not a moment to be lost; and, hastily throwing off his heavy greatcoat, he plunged after him, and in an instant the strong current swept them both out of sight. He succeeded, however, in laying hold of the half-drowned man, and, striking with him from out the perilous tideway into an eddy, with a Herculean effort he regained the quay. On reaching it, his wife lay insensible in the arms of her mother; and as she was at the time in the delicate condition incidental to married women, the natural consequence followed, and she never recovered the shock, but lingered for more than a twelve-mouth, the mere shadow of her former self; when a second event, as untoward as the first, too violently shook the fast ebbing sands, and precipitated her dissolution.
A prolonged tempest from the stormy north-east had swept the Moray Firth of its shipping, and congregated the stormbound vessels by scores in the noble harbour of Cromarty, when the wind chopped suddenly round, and they all set out to sea,—the sloop of the master among the rest. The other vessels kept the open Firth; but the master, thoroughly acquainted with its navigation, and in the belief that the change of wind was but temporary, went on hugging the land on the weather side, till, as he had anticipated, the breeze set full into the old quarter, and increased into a gale. And then, when all the rest of the fleet had no other choice left them than just to scud back again, he struck out into the Firth in a long tack, and, doubling Kinnaird's Head and the dreaded Buchan Ness, succeeded in making good his voyage south. Next morning the wind-bound vessels were crowding the harbour of refuge as before, and only his sloop was amissing. The first war of the French Revolution had broken out at the time; it was known there were several French privateers hovering on the coast; and the report went abroad that the missing sloop had been captured by the French. There was a weather-brained tailor in the neighbourhood, who used to do very odd things, especially, it was said, when the moon was at the full, and whom the writer remembers from the circumstance that he fabricated for him his first jacket, and that, though he succeeded in sewing on one sleeve to the hole at the shoulder, where it ought to be, he committed the slight mistake of sewing on the other sleeve to one of the pocket-holes. Poor Andrew Fern had heard that his townsman's sloop had been captured by a privateer, and, fidgety with impatience till he had communicated the intelligence where he thought it would tell most effectively, he called on the master's wife, to ask whether she had not heard that all the wind-bound vessels had got back again save the master's, and to wonder no one had yet told her that, if his had not got back, it was simply because it had been taken by the French. The tailor's communication told more powerfully than he could have anticipated: in less than a week after, the master's wife was dead; and long ere her husband's return she was lying in the quiet family burying-place, in which—so heavy were the drafts made by accident and violent death on the family—the remains of none of the male members had been deposited for more than a hundred years.
The mother, now left, by the death of her daughter, to a dreary solitude, sought to relieve its tedium, during the absence of her son-in-law when on his frequent voyages, by keeping, as she had done ere his return from foreign parts, a humble school. It was attended by two little girls, the children of a distant relation but very dear friend, the wife of a tradesman of the place,—a woman, like herself, of sincere though unpretending piety. Their similarity of character in this respect could hardly be traced to their common ancestor. He was the last curate of the neighbouring parish of Nigg; and, though not one of those intolerant Episcopalian ministers that succeeded in rendering their Church thoroughly hateful to the Scottish people,—for he was a simple, easy man, of much good nature,—he was, if tradition speak true, as little religious as any of them. In one of the earlier replies to that curious work, "Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence Displayed," I find a nonsensical passage from one of the curate's sermons, given as a set-off against the Presbyterian nonsense adduced by the other side. "Mr. James M'Kenzie, curate of Nigg in Ross," says the writer, "describing eternity to his parishioners, told them that in that state they would be immortalized, so that nothing could hurt them: a slash of a broadsword could not hurt you, saith he; nay, a cannon-ball would play but baff on you." Most of the curate's descendants were stanch Presbyterians, and animated by a greatly stronger spirit than his; and there were none of them stancher in their Presbyterianism than the two elderly women who counted kin from him in the fourth degree, and who, on the basis of a common faith, had become attached friends. The little girls were great favourites with the schoolmistress; and when, as she rose in years, her health began to fail, the elder of the two removed from her mother's house, to live with, and take care of her; and the younger, who was now shooting up into a pretty young woman, used, as before, to pass much of her time with her sister and her old mistress.
Meanwhile the shipmaster was thriving. He purchased a site for a house beside that of his buccaneering grandfather, and built for himself and his aged relative a respectable dwelling, which cost him about four hundred pounds, and entitled his son, the writer, to exercise the franchise, on the passing, considerably more than thirty years after, of the Reform Bill. The new house was, however, never to be inhabited by its builder; for, ere it was fully finished, he was overtaken by a sad calamity, that, to a man of less energy and determination, would have been ruin, and in consequence of which he had to content himself with the old house as before, and almost to begin the world anew. I have now reached a point in my narrative at which, from my connexion with the two little girls,—both of whom still live in the somewhat altered character of women far advanced in life,—I can be as minute in its details as I please; and the details of the misadventure which stripped the shipmaster of the earnings of long years of carefulness and toil, blended as they are with what an old critic might term a curious machinery of the supernatural, seem not unworthy of being given unabridged.
Early in November 1797, two vessels—the one a smack in the London and Inverness trade, the other the master's square-rigged sloop—lay wind-bound for a few days on their passage north, in the port of Peterhead. The weather, which had been stormy and unsettled, moderated towards the evening of the fifth day of their detention; and the wind chopping suddenly into the east, both vessels loosed from their moorings, and, as a rather gloomy day was passing into still gloomier night, they bore out to sea. The breeze soon freshened into a gale; the gale swelled into a hurricane, accompanied by a thick snow-storm: and when, early next morning, the smack opened the Firth, she was staggering under her storm-jib, and a mainsail reefed to the cross. Whatever wind may blow, there is always shelter within the Sutors; and she was soon riding at anchor in the roadstead; but she had entered the bay alone; and when day broke, and for a brief interval the driving snow-rack cleared up towards the east, no second sail appeared in the offing. "Poor Miller!" exclaimed the master of the smack; "if he does not enter the Firth ere an hour, he will never enter it at all. Good sound vessel, and better sailor never stepped between stem and stern; but last night has, I fear, been too much for him. He should have been here long ere now." The hour passed; the day itself wore heavily away in gloom and tempest; and as not only the master, but also all the crew of the sloop, were natives of the place, groups of the town's-folk might be seen, so long as the daylight lasted, looking out into the storm from the salient points of the old coast-line that, rising immediately behind the houses, commands the Firth. But the sloop came not, and before they had retired to their homes, a second night had fallen, dark and tempestuous as the first.
Ere morning the weather moderated: a keen frost bound up the wind in its icy fetters; and during the following day, though a heavy swell continued to roll shorewards between the Sutors, and sent up its white foam high against the cliffs, the surface of the sea had become glassy and smooth. But the day wore on, and evening again fell; and even the most sanguine relinquished all hope of ever again seeing the sloop or her crew. There was grief in the master's dwelling,—grief in no degree the less poignant from the circumstance that it was the tearless, uncomplaining grief of rigid old age. Her two youthful friends and their mother watched with the widow, now, as it seemed, left alone in the world. The town-clock had struck the hour of midnight, and still she remained as if fixed to her seat, absorbed in silent, stupifying sorrow, when a heavy foot was heard pacing along the now silent street. It passed, and anon returned; ceased for a moment nearly opposite the window; then approached the door, where there was a second pause; and then there succeeded a faltering knock, that struck on the very hearts of the inmates within. One of the girls sprang up, and on undoing the bolt, shrieked out, as the door fell open, "O mistress, here is Jack Grant the mate!" Jack, a tall, powerful seaman, but apparently in a state of utter exhaustion, staggered, rather than walked in, and flung himself into a chair. "Jack," exclaimed the old woman, seizing him convulsively by both his hands, "where's my cousin?—where's Hugh?" "The master's safe and well," said Jack; "but the poor Friendship lies in spales on the bar of Findhorn." "God be praised!" ejaculated the widow. "Let the gear go!"
I have often heard Jack's story related in Jack's own words, at a period of life when repetition never tires; but I am not sure that I can do it the necessary justice now. "We left Peterhead," he said, "with about half a cargo of coal,—for we had lightened ship a day or two before,—and the gale freshened as the night came on. We made all tight, however; and though the snow-drift was so blinding in the thick of the shower that I could scarce see my hand before me, and though it soon began to blow great guns, we had given the land a good offing, and the hurricane blew the right way. Just as we were loosening from the quay, a poor young woman, much knocked up, with a child in her arms, had come to the vessel's side, and begged hard of master to take her aboard. She was a soldier's wife, and was travelling to join her husband at Fort-George; but she was already worn out and penniless, she said; and now, as a snow-storm threatened to block up the roads, she could neither stay where she was, nor pursue her journey. Her infant, too,—she was sure, if she tried to force her way through the hills, it would perish in the snow. The master, though unwilling to cumber us with a passenger in such weather, was induced, out of pity for the poor destitute creature, to take her aboard. And she was now with her child, all alone, below in the cabin I was stationed a-head on the out-look beside the foresail horse: the night had grown pitch dark; and the lamp in the binnacle threw just light enough through the grey of the shower to show me the master at the helm. He looked more anxious, I thought, than I had almost ever seen him before, though I have been with him, mistress, in bad weather; and all at once I saw he had got company, and strange company too, for such a night: there was a woman moving round him, with a child in her arms. I could see her as distinctly as ever I saw anything,—now on the one side, now on the other,—at one time full in the light, at another half lost in the darkness. That, I said to myself, must be the soldier's wife and her child; but how in the name of wonder can the master allow a woman to come on deck in such a night as this, when we ourselves have just enough ado to keep footing? He takes no notice of her neither, but keeps looking on, quite in his wont, at the binnacle. 'Master,' I said, stepping up to him, 'the woman had surely better go below.' 'What woman, Jack?' said he; 'our passenger, you may be sure, is nowhere else.' I looked round, mistress, and found he was quite alone, and that the companion-head was hasped down. There came a cold sweat all over me. 'Jack,' said the master, 'the night is getting worse, and the roll of the waves heightening every moment. I'm convinced, too, our cargo is shifting: as the last sea struck us, I could hear the coals rattle below; and see how stiffly we heel to the larboard. Say nothing, however, to the men, but have all your wits about you; and look, meanwhile, to the boat-tackle and the oars. I have seen a boat live in as bad a night as this.' As he spoke, a blue light from above glimmered on the deck. We looked up, and saw a dead-fire sticking to the cross-trees. 'It's all over with us now, master,' said I. 'Nay, man,' replied the master, in his easy, humorous way, which I always like well enough except in bad weather, and then I see his humour is served out like his extra grog, to keep up hearts that have cause enough to get low,—'Nay, man,' he said, 'we can't afford to let your grandmother board us to-night. If you will insure me against the shifting coal, I'll be your guarantee against the dead-light. Why, it's as much a natural appearance, man, as a flash of lightning. Away to your berth, and keep up a good heart: we can't be far from Covesea now, where, when once past the Skerries, the swell will take off; and then, in two short hours, we may be snug within the Sutors.' I had scarcely reached my berth a-head, mistress, when a heavy sea struck us on the starboard quarter, almost throwing us on our beam-ends. I could hear the rushing of the coals below, as they settled on the larboard side; and though the master set us full before the wind, and gave instant orders to lighten every stitch of sail,—and it was but little sail we had at the time to lighten,—still the vessel did not rise, but lay unmanageable as a log, with her gunwale in the water. On we drifted, however, along the south coast, with little expectation save that every sea would send us to the bottom; until, in the first grey of the morning, we found ourselves among the breakers of the terrible bar of Findhorn. And shortly after, the poor Friendship took the ground right on the edge of the quicksands, for she would neither stay nor wear; and as she beat hard against the bottom, the surf came rolling over half-mast high.
"Just as we struck," continued Jack, "the master made a desperate effort to get into the cabin. The vessel couldn't miss, we saw, to break up and fill; and though there was little hope of any of us ever setting foot ashore, he wished to give the poor woman below a chance with the rest. All of us but himself, mistress, had got up into the shrouds, and so we could see round us a bit; and he had just laid his hand on the companion-hasp to undo the door, when I saw a tremendous sea coming rolling towards us, like a moving wall, and shouted on him to hold fast. He sprang to the weather back-stay, and laid hold. The sea came tumbling on, and, breaking full twenty feet over his head, buried him for a minute's space in the foam. We thought we should never see him more; but when it cleared away, there was he still, with his iron grip on the stay, though the fearful wave had water-logged the Friendship from bow to stem, and swept her companion-head as cleanly off by the deck as if it had been cut with a saw. No human aid could avail the poor woman and her baby. Master could hear the terrible choking noise of her dying agony right under his feet, with but a two-inch plank between; and the sounds have haunted him ever since. But even had he succeeded in getting her on deck, she could not possibly have survived, mistress. For five long hours we clung to the rigging, with the seas riding over us all the time like wild horses; and though we could see, through the snow-drift and the spray, crowds on the shore, and boats lying thick beside the pier, none dared venture out to assist us, till near the close of the day, when the wind fell with the falling tide, and we were brought ashore, more dead than alive, by a volunteer crew from the harbour. The unlucky Friendship began to break up under us ere mid-day, and we saw the corpse of the drowned woman, with the dead infant still in its arms, come floating out through a hole in the side. But the surf soon tore mother and child asunder, and we lost sight of them as they drifted away to the west. Master would have crossed the Firth himself this morning to relieve your mind, but being less worn out than any of us, he thought it best to remain in charge of the wreck."
Such, in effect, was the narrative of Jack Grant, the mate. The master, as I have said, had well-nigh to commence the world anew, and was on the eve of selling his new house at a disadvantage, in order to make up the sum necessary for providing himself with a new vessel, when a friend interposed, and advanced him the balance required. He was assisted, too, by a sister in Leith, who was in tolerably comfortable circumstances; and so he got a new sloop, which, though not quite equal in size to the one he had lost, was built wholly of oak, every plank and beam of which he had superintended in the laying down, and a prime sailer to boot; and so, though he had to satisfy himself with the accommodation of the old domicile, with its little rooms and its small windows, and to let the other house to a tenant, he began to thrive again as before. Meanwhile his aged cousin was gradually sinking. The master was absent on one of his longer voyages, and she too truly felt that she could not survive till his return. She called to her bedside her two young friends, the sisters, who had been unwearied in their attentions to her, and poured out her blessing on them; first on the elder, and then on the younger. "But as for you, Harriet," she added, addressing the latter, "there waits for you one of the best blessings of this world also—the blessings of a good husband: you will be a gainer in the end, even in this life, through your kindness to the poor childless widow." The prophecy was a true one: the old woman had shrewdly marked where the eyes of her cousin had been falling of late; and in about a twelvemonth after her death her young friend and pupil had become the master's wife. There was a very considerable disparity between their ages,—the master was forty-four, and his wife only eighteen,—but never was there a happier marriage. The young wife was simple, confiding, and affectionate; and the master of a soft and genial nature, with a large amount of buoyant humour about him, and so equable of temper, that, during six years of wedded life, his wife never saw him angry but once. I have heard her speak of the exceptional instance, however, as too terrible to be readily forgotten.
She had accompanied him on ship-board, during their first year of married life, to the upper parts of the Cromarty Firth, where his sloop was taking in a cargo of grain, and lay quietly embayed within two hundred yards of the southern shore. His mate had gone away for the night to the opposite side of the bay, to visit his parents, who resided in that neighbourhood; and the remaining crew consisted of but two seamen, both young and somewhat reckless men, and the ship-boy. Taking the boy with them to keep the ship's boat afloat, and wait their return, the two sailors went ashore, and, setting out for a distant public-house, remained there drinking till a late hour. There was a bright moon overhead, but the evening was chilly and frosty; and the boy, cold, tired, and half-overcome by sleep, after waiting on till past midnight, shoved off the boat, and, making his way to the vessel, got straightway into his hammock and fell asleep. Shortly after, the two men came to the shore much the worse of liquor; and, failing to make themselves heard by the boy, they stripped off their clothes, and chilly as the night was, swam aboard. The master and his wife had been for hours snug in their bed, when they were awakened by the screams of the boy: the drunken men were unmercifully bastinading him with a rope's end apiece. The master, hastily rising, had to interfere in his behalf, and with the air of a man who knew that remonstrance in the circumstances would be of little avail, he sent them both off to their hammocks. Scarcely, however, had he again got into bed, when he was a second time aroused by the cries of the boy, uttered on this occasion in the shrill tones of agony and terror; and, promptly springing up, now followed by his wife, he found the two sailors again belabouring the boy, and that one of them, in his blind fury, had laid hold of a rope-end, armed, as is common on shipboard, with an iron thimble or ring, and that every blow produced a wound. The poor boy was streaming over with blood. The master, in the extremity of his indignation, lost command of himself. Rushing in, the two men were in a moment dashed against the deck;—they seemed powerless in his hands as children; and had not his wife, although very unfit at the time for mingling in a fray, run in and laid hold of him,—a movement which calmed him at once,—it was her serious impression that, unarmed as he was, he would have killed them both upon the spot. There are, I believe, few things more formidable than the unwonted anger of a good-natured man.
"Three stormy nights and stormy days We tossed upon the raging main; And long we strove our barque to save, But all our striving was in vain."—LOWE.
I was born, the first child of this marriage, on the 10th day of October 1802, in the low, long house built by my great-grandfather the buccaneer. My memory awoke early. I have recollections which date several months ere the completion of my third year; but, like those of the golden age of the world, they are chiefly of a mythologic character. I remember, for instance, getting out unobserved one day to my father's little garden, and seeing there a minute duckling covered with soft yellow hair, growing out of the soil by its feet, and beside it a plant that bore as its flowers a crop of little mussel shells of a deep red colour. I know not what prodigy of the vegetable kingdom produced the little duckling; but the plant with the shells must, I think, have been a scarlet runner, and the shells themselves the papilionaceous blossoms. I have a distinct recollection, too,—but it belongs to a later period,—of seeing my ancestor, old John Feddes the buccaneer, though he must have been dead at the time considerably more than half a century. I had learned to take an interest in his story, as preserved and told in the antique dwelling which he had built more than a hundred years before. To forget a love disappointment, he had set out early in life for the Spanish Main, where, after giving and receiving some hard blows, he succeeded in filling a little bag with dollars and doubloons; and then coming home, he found his old sweetheart a widow, and so much inclined to listen to reason, that she ultimately became his wife. There were some little circumstances in his history which must have laid hold of my imagination; for I used over and over to demand its repetition; and one of my first attempts at a work of art was to scrabble his initials with my fingers, in red paint, on the house-door. One day, when playing all alone at the stair-foot—for the inmates of the house had gone out—something extraordinary had caught my eye on the landing-place above; and looking up, there stood John Feddes—for I somehow instinctively divined that it was none other than he—in the form of a large, tall, very old man, attired in a light-blue greatcoat He seemed to be steadfastly regarding me with apparent complacency; but I was sadly frightened; and for years after, when passing through the dingy, ill-lighted room out of which I inferred he had come, I used to feel not at all sure that I might not tilt against old John in the dark.
I retain vivid recollections of the joy which used to light up the household on my father's arrival; and I remember that I learned to distinguish for myself his sloop when in the offing, by the two slim stripes of white which ran along her sides, and her two square topsails. I have my golden memories, too, of splendid toys that he used to bring home with him,—among the rest, of a magnificent four-wheeled waggon of painted tin, drawn by four wooden horses and a string; and of getting it into a quiet corner, immediately on its being delivered over to me, and there breaking up every wheel and horse, and the vehicle itself, into their original bits, until not two of the pieces were left sticking together. Further, I still remember my disappointment at not finding something curious within at least the horses and the wheels; and as unquestionably the main enjoyment derivable from such things is to be had in the breaking of them, I sometimes wonder that our ingenious toymen do not fall upon the way of at once extending their trade, and adding to its philosophy, by putting some of their most brilliant things where nature puts the nut-kernel,—inside. I shall advert to but one other recollection of this period. I have a dreamlike memory of a busy time, when men with gold lace on their breasts, and at least one gentleman with golden epaulets on his shoulders, used to call at my father's house, and fill my newly acquired pockets with coppers; and how they wanted, it was said, to bring my father along with them, to help them to sail their great vessel; but he preferred remaining, it was added, with his own little one. A ship of war, under the guidance of an unskilful pilot, had run aground on a shallow flat on the opposite side of the Firth, known as the Inches; and as the flood of a stream tide was at its height at the time, and straightway began to fall off, it was found, after lightening her of her guns and the greater part of her stores, that she still stuck fast. My father, whose sloop had been pressed into the service, and was loaded to the gunwale with the ordnance, had betrayed an unexpected knowledge of the points of a large war-vessel; and the commander, entering into conversation with him, was so impressed by his skill, that he placed his ship under his charge, and had his confidence repaid by seeing her hauled off into deep water in a single tide. Knowing the nature of the bottom,—a soft arenaceous mud, which if beat for some time by the foot or hand, resolved itself into a sort of quicksand, half-sludge, half-water, which, when covered by a competent depth of sea, could offer no effectual resistance to a ship's keel,—the master had set half the crew to run in a body from side to side, till, by the motion generated in this way, the portion of the bank immediately beneath was beaten soft; and then the other moiety of the men, tugging hard on kedge and haulser, drew the vessel off a few feet at a time, till at length, after not a few repetitions of the process, she floated free. Of course, on a harder bottom the expedient would not have availed; but so struck was the commander by its efficacy and originality, and by the extent of the master's professional resources, that he strongly recommended him to part with his sloop, and enter the navy, where he thought he had influence enough, he said, to get him placed in a proper position. But as the master's previous experience of the service had been of a very disagreeable kind, and as his position, as at once master and owner of the vessel he sailed, was at least an independent one, he declined acting on the advice.
Such are some of my earlier recollections. But there was a time of sterner memories at hand. The kelp trade had not yet attained to the importance which it afterwards acquired, ere it fell before the first approaches of Free Trade; and my father, in collecting a supply for the Leith Glass Works, for which he occasionally acted both as agent and shipmaster, used sometimes to spend whole months amid the Hebrides, sailing from station to station, and purchasing here a few tons and there a few hundredweights, until he had completed his cargo. In his last kelp voyage he had been detained in this way from the close of August till the end of October; and at length, deeply laden, he had threaded his way round Cape Wrath, and through the Pentland and across the Moray Firths, when a severe gale compelled him to seek shelter in the harbour of Peterhead. From that port, on the 9th of November 1807, he wrote my mother the last letter she ever received from him; for on the day after he sailed from it there arose a terrible tempest, in which many seamen perished, and he and his crew were never more heard of. His sloop was last seen by a brother townsman and shipmaster, who, ere the storm came on, had been fortunate enough to secure an asylum for his barque in an English harbour on an exposed portion of the coast. Vessel after vessel had been coming ashore during the day; and the beach was strewed with wrecks and dead bodies; but he had marked his townsman's sloop in the offing from mid-day till near evening, exhausting every nautical shift and expedient to keep aloof from the shore; and at length, as the night was falling, the skill and perseverance exerted seemed successful; for, clearing a formidable headland that had lain on the lee for hours, and was mottled with broken ships and drowned men, the sloop was seen stretching out in a long tack into the open sea. "Miller's seamanship has saved him once more!" said Matheson, the Cromarty skipper, as, quitting his place of outlook, he returned to his cabin; but the night fell tempestuous and wild, and no vestige of the hapless sloop was ever after seen. It was supposed that, heavy laden, and labouring in a mountainous sea, she must have started a plank and foundered. And thus perished,—to borrow from the simple eulogium of his seafaring friends, whom I heard long after condoling with my mother,—"one of the best sailors that ever sailed the Moray Firth."
The fatal tempest, as it had prevailed chiefly on the eastern coasts of England and the south of Scotland, was represented in the north by but a few bleak, sullen days, in which, with little wind, a heavy ground-swell came rolling in coastwards from the cast, and sent up its surf high against the precipices of the Northern Sutor. There were no forebodings in the master's dwelling; for his Peterhead letter—a brief but hopeful missive—had been just received; and my mother was sitting, on the evening after, beside the household fire, plying the cheerful needle, when the house door, which had been left unfastened, fell open, and I was despatched from her side to shut it. What follows must be regarded as simply the recollection, though a very vivid one, of a boy who had completed his fifth year only a mouth before. Day had not wholly disappeared, but it was fast posting on to night, and a grey haze spread a neutral tint of dimness over every more distant object, but left the nearer ones comparatively distinct, when I saw at the open door, within less than a yard of my breast, as plainly as ever I saw anything, a dissevered hand and arm stretched towards me. Hand and arm were apparently those of a female: they bore a livid and sodden appearance; and directly fronting me, where the body ought to have been, there was only blank, transparent space, through which I could see the dim forms of the objects beyond. I was fearfully startled, and ran shrieking to my mother, telling what I had seen; and the house-girl whom she next sent to shut the door, apparently affected by my terror, also returned frightened, and said that she too had seen the woman's hand; which, however, did not seem to be the case. And finally, my mother going to the door, saw nothing, though she appeared much impressed by the extremeness of my terror and the minuteness of my description. I communicate the story, as it lies fixed in my memory, without attempting to explain it. The supposed apparition may have been merely a momentary affection of the eye, of the nature described by Sir Walter Scott in his "Demonology," and Sir David Brewster in his "Natural Magic." But if so, the affection was one of which I experienced no after-return; and its coincidence, in the case, with the probable time of my father's death, seems at least curious.
There followed a dreary season, on which I still look back in memory, as on a prospect which, sunshiny and sparkling for a time, has become suddenly enveloped in cloud and storm. I remember my mother's long fits of weeping, and the general gloom of the widowed household; and how, after she had sent my two little sisters to bed,—for such had been the increase of the family,—and her hands were set free for the evening, she used to sit up late at night engaged as a seamstress, in making pieces of dress for such of the neighbours as chose to employ her. My father's new house lay untenanted at the time; and though his sloop had been partially insured, the broker with whom he dealt was, it would seem, on the verge of insolvency, and having raised objections to paying the money, it was long ere any part of it could be realized. And so, with all my mother's industry, the household would have fared out ill, had it not been for the assistance lent her by her two brothers, industrious, hard-working men, who lived with their aged parents, and an unmarried sister, about a bow-shot away, and now not only advanced her money as she needed it, but also took her second child, the elder of my two sisters, a docile little girl of three years, to live with them. I remember I used to go wandering disconsolately about the harbour at this season, to examine the vessels which had come in during the night; and that I oftener than once set my mother a-crying, by asking her why the shipmasters who, when my father was alive, used to stroke my head and slip halfpence into my pockets, never now took any notice of me, or gave me anything? She well knew that the shipmasters—not an ungenerous class of men—had simply failed to recognise their old comrade's child; but the question was only too suggestive, notwithstanding, of both her own loss and mine. I used, too, to climb, day after day, a grassy protuberance of the old coast-line immediately behind my mother's house, that commands a wide reach of the Moray Firth, and to look wistfully out, long after every one else had ceased to hope, for the sloop with the two stripes of white and the two square topsails. But months and years passed by, and the white stripes and the square topsails I never saw.
The antecedents of my father's life impressed me more powerfully during my boyhood than at least aught I acquired at school; and I have submitted them to the reader at considerable length, as not only curious in themselves, but as forming a first chapter in the story of my education. And the following stanzas, written at a time when, in opening manhood, I was sowing my wild oats in verse, may serve to show that they continued to stand out in bold relief on my memory, even after I had grown up:—
"Round Albyn's western shores, a lonely skiff Is coasting slow:—the adverse winds detain: And now she rounds secure the dreaded cliff, Whose horrid ridge beats back the northern main; And now the whirling Pentland roars in rain Her stern beneath, for favouring breezes rise; The green isles fade, whitens the watery plain. O'er the vexed waves with meteor speed she flies. Till Moray's distant hills o'er the blue waves arise.
Who guides that vessel's wanderings o'er the wave; A patient, hardy man, of thoughtful brow; Serene and warm of heart, and wisely brave, And sagely skill'd, when gurly breezes blow, To press through angry waves the adventurous prow. Age hath not quell'd his strength, nor quench'd desire Of generous deed, nor chill'd his bosom's glow; Yet to a better world his hopes aspire. Ah! this must sure be thee! All hail, my honoured Sire!
Alas! thy latest voyage draws near a close, For Death broods voiceless in the darkening sky; Subsides the breeze; the untroubled waves repose; The scene is peaceful all. Can Death be nigh, When thus, mute and unarm'd, his vassals lie? Mark ye that cloud! There toils the imprisoned gale; E'en now it comes, with voice uplifted high; Resound the shores, harsh screams the rending sail, And roars th' amazed wave, and bursts the thunder peal!
Three days the tempest raged; on Scotia's shore Wreck piled on wreck, and corse o'er corse was thrown; Her rugged cliffs were red with clotted gore; Her dark caves echoed back th' expiring moan; And luckless maidens mourned their lovers gone, And friendless orphans cried in vain for bread; And widow'd mothers wandered forth alone;— Restore, O wave, they cried,—restore our dead! And then the breast they bared, and beat th' unsheltered head.
Of thee, my Sire, what mortal tongue can tell! No friendly bay thy shattered barque received; Ev'n when thy dust reposed in ocean cell, Strange baseless tales of hope thy friends deceived Which oft they doubted sad, or gay believed. At length, when deeper, darker, wax'd the gloom, Hopeless they grieved; but 'twas in vain they grieved: If God be truth, 'tis sure no voice of doom, That bids the accepted soul its robes of joy assume."
I had been sent, previous to my father's death, to a dame's school, where I was taught to pronounce my letters to such effect in the old Scottish mode, that still, when I attempt spelling a word aloud, which is not often,—for I find the process a perilous one,—the aa's and ee's, and uh's and vaus, return upon me and I have to translate them with no little hesitation as I go along, into the more modish sounds. A knowledge of the letters themselves I had already acquired by studying the signposts of the place,—rare works of art, that excited my utmost admiration, with jugs, and glasses, and bottles, and ships, and loaves of bread upon them; all of which could, as the artists had intended, be actually recognised. During my sixth year I spelt my way, under the dame, through the Shorter Catechism, the Proverbs, and the New Testament, and then entered upon her highest form, as a member of the Bible class; but all the while the process of acquiring learning had been a dark one, which I slowly mastered, in humble confidence in the awful wisdom of the schoolmistress, not knowing whither it tended, when at once my mind awoke to the meaning of that most delightful of all narratives,—the story of Joseph. Was there ever such a discovery made before! I actually found out for myself, that the art of reading is the art of finding stories in books, and from that moment reading became one of the most delightful of my amusements. I began by getting into a corner at the dismissal of the school, and there conning over to myself the new-found story of Joseph; nor did one perusal serve; the other Scripture stories followed,—in especial, the story of Samson and the Philistines, of David and Goliath, of the prophets Elijah and Elisha; and after these came the New Testament stories and parables. Assisted by my uncles, I began to collect a library in a box of birch-bark about nine inches square, which I found quite large enough to contain a great many immortal works,—Jack the Giant-Killer, and Jack and the Bean-Stalk, and the Yellow Dwarf, and Blue Beard, and Sinbad the Sailor, and Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, with several others of resembling character. Those intolerable nuisances the useful-knowledge books had not yet arisen, like tenebrious stars, on the educational horizon, to darken the world, and shed their blighting influence on the opening intellect of the "youth-hood;" and so, from my rudimental books—books that made themselves truly such by their thorough assimilation with the rudimental mind—I passed on, without being conscious of break or line of division, to books on which the learned are content to write commentaries and dissertations, but which I found to be quite as nice children's books as any of the others. Old Homer wrote admirably for little folk, especially in the Odyssey; a copy of which,—in the only true translation extant,—for, judging from its surpassing interest, and the wrath of critics, such I hold that of Pope to be,—I found in the house of a neighbour. Next came the Iliad; not, however, in a complete copy, but represented by four of the six volumes of Bernard Lintot. With what power, and at how early an age, true genius impresses! I saw, even at this immature period, that no other writer could cast a javelin with half the force of Homer. The missiles went whizzing athwart his pages; and I could see the momentary gleam of the steel, ere it buried itself deep in brass and bull-hide. I next succeeded in discovering for myself a child's book, of not less interest than even the Iliad, which might, I was told, be read on Sabbaths, in a magnificent old edition of the "Pilgrim's Progress," printed on coarse whity-brown paper, and charged with numerous woodcuts, each of which occupied an entire page, that, on principles of economy, bore letter-press on the other side. And such delightful prints as these were! It must have been some such volume that sat for its portrait to Wordsworth, and which he so exquisitely describes as
"Profuse in garniture of wooden cuts, Strange and uncouth; dire faces, figures dire, Sharp-knee'd, sharp elbow'd, and lean-ankled too, With long and ghastly shanks,—forms which, once seen, Could never be forgotten."
In process of time I had devoured, besides these genial works Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Ambrose on Angels, the "judgment chapter" in Howie's Scotch Worthies, Byron's Narrative, and the Adventures of Philip Quarll, with a good many other adventures and voyages, real and fictitious, part of a very miscellaneous collection of books made by my father. It was a melancholy little library to which I had fallen heir. Most of the missing volumes had been with the master aboard his vessel when he perished. Of an early edition of Cook's Voyages, all the volumes were now absent save the first; and a very tantalizing romance, in four volumes,—Mrs. Ratcliff's "Mysteries of Udolpho," was represented by only the earlier two. Small as the collection was, it contained some rare books,—among the rest, a curious little volume, entitled "The Miracles of Nature and Art," to which we find Dr. Johnson referring, in one of the dialogues chronicled by Boswell, as scarce even in his day, and which had been published, he said, some time in the seventeenth century by a bookseller whose shop hung perched on Old London Bridge, between sky and water. It contained, too, the only copy I ever saw of the "Memoirs of a Protestant condemned to the Galleys of France for his Religion,"—a work interesting from the circumstance that—though it bore another name on its title-page—it had been translated from the French for a few guineas by poor Goldsmith, in his days of obscure literary drudgery, and exhibited the peculiar excellencies of his style. The collection boasted, besides, of a curious old book, illustrated by very uncouth plates, that detailed the perils and sufferings of an English sailor who had spent his best years of life as a slave in Morocco. It had its volumes of sound theology, too, and of stiff controversy,—Flavel's Works, and Henry's Commentary, and Hutchinson on the Lesser Prophets, and a very old treatise on the Revelation, with the title-page away, and blind Jameson's volume on the Hierarchy, with first editions of Naphthali, the Cloud of Witnesses, and the Hind let Loose. But with these solid authors I did not venture to grapple until long after this time. Of the works of fact and incident which it contained, those of the voyagers were my especial favourites. I perused with avidity the voyages of Anson, Drake, Raleigh, Dampier, and Captain Woods Rogers; and my mind became so filled with conceptions of what was to be seen and done in foreign parts, that I wished myself big enough to be a sailor, that I might go and see coral islands and burning mountains, and hunt wild beasts and fight battles. I have already made mention of my two maternal uncles; and referred, at least incidentally, to their mother, as the friend and relative of my fathers aged cousin, and, like her, a great-grand-child of the last curate of Nigg. The curate's youngest daughter had been courted and married by a somewhat wild young farmer, of the clan Ross, but who was known, like the celebrated Highland outlaw, from the colour of his hair, as Roy, or the Red. Donald Roy was the best club-player in the district; and as King James's "Book of Sports" was not deemed a very bad one in the semi-Celtic parish of Nigg, the games in which Donald took part were usually played on the Sabbath. About the time of the Revolution, however, he was laid hold of by strong religious convictions, heralded, say the traditions of the district, by events that approximated in character to the supernatural; and Donald became the subject of a mighty change. There is a phase of the religious character, which in the south of Scotland belongs to the first two ages of Presbytery, but which disappeared ere its third establishment under William of Nassau, that we find strikingly exemplified in the Welches, Pedens, and Cargills of the times of the persecution, and in which a sort of wild machinery of the supernatural was added to the commoner aspects of a living Christianity. The men in whom it was exhibited were seers of visions and dreamers of dreams; and, standing on the very verge of the natural world, they looked far into the world of spirits, and had at times their strange glimpses of the distant and the future. To the north of the Grampians, as if born out of due season, these seers pertain to a later age. They flourished chiefly in the early part of the last century; for it is a not uninstructive fact, that in the religious history of Scotland, the eighteenth century of the Highland and semi-Highland districts of the north corresponded in many of its traits to the seventeenth century of the Saxon-peopled districts of the south; and Donald Roy was one of the most notable of the class. The anecdotes regarding him which still float among the old recollections of Ross-shire, if transferred to Peden or Welch, would be found entirely in character with the strange stories that inlay the biographies of these devoted men, and live so enduringly in the memory of the Scottish people. Living, too, in an age in which, like the Covenanters of a former century, the Highlander still retained his weapons, and knew how to use them, Donald had, like the Patons, Hackstons, and Balfours of the south, his dash of the warlike spirit; and after assisting his minister, previous to the rebellion of 1745, in what was known as the great religious revival of Nigg, he had to assist him, shortly after, in pursuing a band of armed Caterans, that, descending from the hills, swept the parish of its cattle. And coming up with the outlaws in the gorge of a wild Highland glen, no man of his party was more active in the fray that followed than old Donald, or exerted himself to better effect in re-capturing the cattle. I need scarce add, that he was an attached member of the Church of Scotland: but he was not destined to die in her communion.
Donald's minister, John Balfour of Nigg—a man whose memory is still honoured in the north—died in middle life, and an unpopular presentee was obtruded on the people. The policy of Robertson prevailed at the time; Gillespie had been deposed only four years previous, for refusing to assist in the disputed settlement of Inverkeithing; and four of the Nigg Presbytery, overawed by the stringency of the precedent, repaired to the parish church to conduct the settlement of the obnoxious licentiate, and introduce him to the parishioners. They found, however, only an empty building; and, notwithstanding the ominous absence of the people, they were proceeding in shame and sorrow with their work, when a venerable man, far advanced in life, suddenly appeared before them, and, solemnly protesting against the utter mockery of such a proceeding, impressively declared, "that if they settled a man to the walls of that kirk, the blood of the parish of Nigg would be required at their hands." Both Dr. Hetherington and Dr. Merle d'Aubigne record the event; but neither of these accomplished historians seems to have been aware of the peculiar emphasis which a scene that would have been striking in any circumstances derived from the character of the protester—old Donald Roy. The Presbytery, appalled, stopt short in the middle of its work; nor was it resumed till an after day, when, at the command of the Moderate majority of the Church—a command not unaccompanied by significant reference to-the fate of Gillespie—the forced settlement was consummated. Donald, who carried the entire parish with him, continued to cling to the National Church for nearly ten years after, much befriended by one of the most eminent and influential divines of the north—Fraser of Alness—the author of a volume on Sanctification, still regarded as a standard work by Scottish theologians. But as neither the people nor their leader ever entered on any occasion the parish church, or heard the obnoxious presentee, the Presbytery at length refused to tolerate the irregularity by extending to them as before the ordinary Church privileges; and so they were lost to the Establishment, and became Seceders. And in the communion of that portion of the Secession known as the Burghers, Donald died several years after, at a patriarchal old age.
Among his other descendants, he had three grand-daughters, who were left orphans at an early age by the death of both their parents, and whom the old man, on their bereavement, had brought to his dwelling to live with him. They had small portions apiece, derived from his son-in-law, their father, which did not grow smaller under the care of Donald; and as each of the three was married in succession out of his family, he added to all his other kindnesses the gift of a gold ring. They had been brought up under his eye sound in the faith; and Donald's ring had, in each case, a mystic meaning;—they were to regard it, he told them, as the wedding ring of their other Husband, the Head of the Church, and to be faithful spouses to Him in their several households. Nor did the injunction, nor the significant symbol with which it was accompanied, prove idle in the end. They all brought the savour of sincere piety into their families. The grand-daughter with whom the writer was more directly connected, had been courted and married by an honest and industrious but somewhat gay young tradesman, but she proved, under God, the means of his conversion; and their children, of whom eight grew up to be men and women, were reared in decent frugality, and the exercise of honest principles carefully instilled. Her husband's family had, like that of my paternal ancestors, been a seafaring one. His father, after serving for many years on shipboard, passed the latter part of his life as one of the armed boatmen that, during the last century, guarded the coasts in behalf of the revenue; and his only brother, the boatman's son, an adventurous young sailor had engaged in Admiral Vernon's unfortunate expedition, and left his bones under the walls of Carthagena; but he himself pursued the peaceful occupation of a shoemaker, and, in carrying on his trade, usually employed a few journeymen, and kept a few apprentices. In course of time the elder daughters of the family married, and got households of their own; but the two sons, my uncles, remained under the roof of their parents, and at the time when my father perished, they were both in middle life. And, deeming themselves called on to take his place in the work of instruction and discipline, I owed to them much more of my real education than to any of the teachers whose schools I afterwards attended. They both bore a marked individuality of character, and were much the reverse of commonplace or vulgar men.
My elder uncle, James, added to a clear head and much native sagacity, a singularly retentive memory, and great thirst of information. He was a harness-maker, and wrought for the farmers of an extensive district of country; and as he never engaged either journeyman or apprentice, but executed all his work with his own hands, his hours of labour, save that he indulged in a brief pause as the twilight came on, and took a mile's walk or so, were usually protracted from six o'clock in the morning till ten at night. Such incessant occupation left him little time for reading; but he often found some one to read beside him during the day; and in the winter evenings his portable bench used to be brought from his shop at the other end of the dwelling, into the family sitting-room, and placed beside the circle round the hearth, where his brother Alexander, my younger uncle, whose occupation left his evenings free, would read aloud from some interesting volume for the general benefit,—placing himself always at the opposite side of the bench, so as to share in the light of the worker. Occasionally the family circle would be widened by the accession of from two to three intelligent neighbours, who would drop in to listen; and then the book, after a space, would be laid aside, in order that its contents might be discussed in conversation. In the summer months Uncle James always spent some time in the country, in looking after and keeping in repair the harness of the farmers for whom he wrought; and during his journeys and twilight walks on these occasions there was not an old castle, or hill-fort, or ancient encampment, or antique ecclesiastical edifice, within twenty miles of the town, which he had not visited and examined over and over again. He was a keen local antiquary; knew a good deal about the architectural styles of the various ages, at a time when these subjects were little studied or known; and possessed more traditionary lore, picked up chiefly in his country journeys, than any man I ever knew. What he once heard he never forgot; and the knowledge which he had acquired he could communicate pleasingly and succinctly, in a style which, had he been a writer of books, instead of merely a reader of them, would have had the merit of being clear and terse, and more laden with meaning than words. From his reputation for sagacity, his advice used to be much sought after by the neighbours in every little difficulty that came their way; and the counsel given was always shrewd and honest. I never knew a man more entirely just in his dealings than Uncle James, or who regarded every species of meanness with a more thorough contempt. I soon learned to bring my story-books to his workshop, and became, in a small way, one of his readers,—greatly more, however, as may be supposed, on my own account than his. My books were not yet of the kind which he would have chosen for himself; but he took an interest in my interest; and his explanations of all the hard words saved me the trouble of turning over a dictionary. And when tired of reading, I never failed to find rare delight in his anecdotes and old-world stories, many of which were not to be found in books, and all of which, without apparent effort on his own part, he could render singularly amusing. Of these narratives, the larger part died with him; but a portion of them I succeeded in preserving in a little traditionary work published a few years after his death. I was much a favourite with Uncle James,—even more, I am disposed to think, on my father's account than on that of his sister, my mother. My father and he had been close friends for years; and in the vigorous and energetic sailor he had found his beau-ideal of a man.
My Uncle Alexander was of a different cast from his brother both in intellect and temperament; but he was characterized by the same strict integrity; and his religious feelings, though quiet and unobtrusive, were perhaps more deep. James was somewhat of a humorist, and fond of a good joke. Alexander was grave and serious; and never, save on one solitary occasion, did I know him even attempt a jest. On hearing an intelligent but somewhat eccentric neighbour observe, that "all flesh is grass," in a strictly physical sense, seeing that all the flesh of the herbivorous animals is elaborated from vegetation, and all the flesh of the carnivorous animals from that of the herbivorous ones, Uncle Sandy remarked that, knowing, as he did, the piscivorous habits of the Cromarty folk, he should surely make an exception in his generalization, by admitting that in at least one village "all flesh is fish." My uncle had acquired the trade of the cartwright, and was employed in a workshop at Glasgow at the time the first war of the French Revolution broke out; when, moved by some such spirit as possessed his uncle,—the victim of Admiral Vernon's unlucky expedition,—or Old Donald Roy, when he buckled himself to his Highland broadsword, and set out in pursuit of the Caterans,—he entered the navy. And during the eventful period which intervened between the commencement of the war and the peace of 1802, there was little either suffered or achieved by his countrymen in which he had not a share. He sailed with Nelson; witnessed the mutiny at the Nore; fought under Admiral Duncan at Camperdown, and under Sir John Borlase Warren at Loch Swilly; assisted in capturing the Generoux and Guillaume Tell, two French ships of the line; was one of the seamen who, in the Egyptian expedition, were drafted out of Lord Keith's fleet to supply the lack of artillerymen in the army of Sir Ralph Abercromby; had a share in the danger and glory of the landing in Egypt; and fought in the battle of 13th March, and in that which deprived our country of one of her most popular generals. He served, too, at the siege of Alexandria. And then, as he succeeded in procuring his discharge during the short peace of 1802, he returned home with a small sum of hardly-earned prize-money, heartily sick of war and bloodshed. I was asked not long ago by one of his few surviving comrades, whether my uncle had ever told me that their gun was the first landed in Egypt, and the first dragged up the sand-bank immediately over the beach, and how hot it grew under their hands, as, with a rapidity unsurpassed along the line, they poured out in thick succession its iron discharges upon the enemy. I had to reply in the negative. All my uncle's narratives were narratives of what he had seen—not of what he had done; and when, perusing, late in life, one of his favourite works—Dr. Keith's "Signs of the Times"—he came to the chapter in which that excellent writer describes the time of hot naval warfare which immediately followed the breaking out of war, as the period in which the second vial was poured out on the sea, and in which the waters "became as the blood of a dead man, so that every living soul died in the sea," I saw him bend his head in reverence as he remarked, "Prophecy, I find, gives to all our glories but a single verse, and it is a verse of judgment." Uncle Sandy, however, did not urge the peace principles which he had acquired amid scenes of death and carnage, into any extravagant consequences; and on the breaking out, in 1803, of the second war of the Revolution, when Napoleon threatened invasion from Brest and Boulogne, he at once shouldered his musket as a volunteer. He had not his brother's fluency of speech; but his narratives of what he had seen were singularly truthful and graphic; and his descriptions of foreign plants and animals, and of the aspect of the distant regions which he had visited, had all the careful minuteness of those of a Dampier. He had a decided turn for natural history. My collection contains a murex, not unfrequent in the Mediterranean, which he found time enough to transfer, during the heat of the landing in Egypt, from the beach to his pocket; and the first ammonite I ever saw was a specimen, which I still retain, that he brought home with him from one of the Liassic deposits of England.
Early on the Sabbath evenings I used regularly to attend at my uncle's with two of my maternal cousins, boys of about my own age, and latterly with my two sisters, to be catechized, first on the Shorter Catechism, and then on the Mother's Catechism of Willison. On Willison my uncles always cross-examined us, to make sure that we understood the short and simple questions; but, apparently regarding the questions of the Shorter Catechism as seed sown for a future day, they were content with having them well fixed in our memories. There was a Sabbath class taught in the parish church at the time by one of the elders; but Sabbath-schools my uncles regarded as merely compensatory institutions, highly creditable to the teachers, but very discreditable indeed to the parents and relatives of the taught; and so they of course never thought of sending us there. Later in the evening, after a short twilight walk, for which the sedentary occupation of my Uncle James formed an apology, but in which my Uncle Alexander always shared, and which usually led them into solitary woods, or along an unfrequented sea-shore, some of the old divines were read; and I used to take my place in the circle, though, I am afraid, not to much advantage. I occasionally caught a fact, or had my attention arrested for a moment by a simile or metaphor; but the trains of close argument, and the passages of dreary "application," were always lost.
 Cape Wrath.
"At Wallace' name what Scottish blood But boils up in a spring-tide flood! Oft have our fearless fathers strode By Wallace' side, Still pressing onward, red wat shod, Or glorious died."—BURNS.
I first became thoroughly a Scot some time in my tenth year; and the consciousness of country has remained tolerably strong within me ever since. My uncle James had procured for me from a neighbour the loan of a common stall-edition of Blind Harry's "Wallace," as modernized by Hamilton; but after reading the first chapter,—a piece of dull genealogy, broken into very rude rhyme,—I tossed the volume aside as uninteresting; and only resumed it at the request of my uncle, who urged that, simply for his amusement and gratification, I should read some three or four chapters more. Accordingly, the three or four chapters more I did read;—I read "how Wallace killed young Selbie the Constable's son;" "how Wallace fished in Irvine Water;" and "how Wallace killed the Churl with his own staff in Ayr;" and then Uncle James told me, in the quiet way in which he used to make a joke tell, that the book seemed to be rather a rough sort of production, filled with accounts of quarrels and bloodshed, and that I might read no more of it unless I felt inclined. But I now did feel inclined very strongly, and read on with increasing astonishment and delight. I was intoxicated with the fiery narratives of the blind minstrel,—with his fierce breathings of hot, intolerant patriotism, and his stories of astonishing prowess; and, glorying in being a Scot, and the countryman of Wallace and the Graham, I longed for a war with the Southron, that the wrongs and sufferings of these noble heroes might yet be avenged. All I had previously heard and read of the marvels of foreign parts, of the glories of modern battles, seemed tame and commonplace, compared with the incidents in the life of Wallace; and I never after vexed my mother by wishing myself big enough to be a sailor. My Uncle Sandy, who had some taste for the refinements of poetry, would fain have led me on from the exploits of Wallace to the "Life of the Bruce," which, in the form of a not very vigorous imitation of Dryden's "Virgil," by one Harvey, was bound up in the same volume, and which my uncle deemed the better-written life of the two. And so far as the mere amenities of style were concerned, he was, I daresay, right. But I could not agree with him. Harvey was by much too fine and too learned for me; and it was not until some years after, when I was fortunate enough to pick up one of the later editions of Barbour's "Bruce," that the Hero-King of Scotland assumed his right place in my mind beside its Hero-Guardian. There are stages of development in the immature youth of individuals, that seem to correspond with stages of development in the immature youth of nations; and the recollections of this early time enable me, in some measure, to understand how it was that, for hundreds of years, Blind Harry's "Wallace," with its rude and naked narrative, and its exaggerated incident, should have been, according to Lord Hailes, the Bible of the Scotch people.
I quitted the dame's school at the end of the first twelvemonth, after mastering that grand acquirement of my life,—the art of holding converse with books; and was transferred straightforth to the grammar school of the parish, at which there attended at this time about a hundred and twenty boys, with a class of about thirty individuals more, much looked down upon by the others, and not deemed greatly worth the counting, seeing that it consisted of only lassies. And here, too, the early individual development seems nicely correspondent with an early national one. In his depreciatory estimate of contemporary woman, the boy is always a true savage. The old parish school of the place had been nobly situated in a snug corner, between the parish churchyard and a thick wood; and from the interesting centre which it formed, the boys, when tired of making dragoon-horses of the erect head-stones, or of leaping along the flat-laid memorials, from end to end of the grave-yard, "without touching grass," could repair to the taller trees, and rise in the world by climbing among them. As, however, they used to encroach, on these latter occasions, upon the laird's pleasure-grounds, the school had been removed ere my time to the sea-shore; where, though there were neither tombstones nor trees, there were some balancing advantages, of a kind which perhaps only boys of the old school could have adequately appreciated. As the school-windows fronted the opening of the Firth, not a vessel could enter the harbour that we did not see; and, improving through our opportunities, there was perhaps no educational institution in the kingdom in which all sorts of barques and carvels, from the fishing yawl to the frigate, could be more correctly drawn on the slate, or where any defect in hulk or rigging, in some faulty delineation, was surer of being more justly and unsparingly criticised. Further, the town, which drove a great trade in salted pork at the time, had a killing-place not thirty yards from the school-door, where from eighty to a hundred pigs used sometimes to die for the general good in a single day; and it was a great matter to hear, at occasional intervals, the roar of death outside rising high over the general murmur within, or to be told by some comrade, returned from his five minutes' leave of absence, that a hero of a pig had taken three blows of the hatchet ere it fell, and that even after its subjection to the sticking process, it had got hold of Jock Keddie's hand in its mouth, and almost smashed his thumb. We learned, too, to know, from our signal opportunities of observation, not only a good deal about pig-anatomy,—especially about the detached edible parts of the animal, such as the spleen and the pancreas, and at least one other very palatable viscus besides,—but became knowing also about the take and curing of herrings. All the herring boats during the fishing season passed our windows on their homeward way to the harbour; and, from their depth in the water, we became skilful enough to predicate the number of crans aboard of each with wonderful judgment and correctness. In days of good general fishings, too, when the curing-yards proved too small to accommodate the quantities brought ashore, the fish used to be laid in glittering heaps opposite the school-house door; and an exciting scene, that combined the bustle of the workshop with the confusion of the crowded fair, would straightway spring up within twenty yards of the forms at which we sat, greatly to our enjoyment, and, of course, not a little to our instruction. We could see, simply by peering over book or slate, the curers going about rousing their fish with salt, to counteract the effects of the dog-day sun; bevies of young women employed as gutters, and horridly incarnadined with blood and viscera, squatting around the heaps, knife in hand, and plying with busy fingers their well-paid labours, at the rate of sixpence per hour; relays of heavily-laden fish-wives bringing ever and anon fresh heaps of herrings in their creels; and outside of all, the coopers hammering as if for life and death,—now tightening hoops, and now slackening them, and anon caulking with bulrush the leaky seams. It is not every grammar school in which such lessons are taught as those in which all were initiated, and in which all became in some degree accomplished, in the grammar school of Cromarty!
The building in which we met was a low, long, straw-thatched cottage, open from gable to gable, with a mud floor below, and an unlathed roof above; and stretching along the naked rafters, which, when the master chanced to be absent for a few minutes, gave noble exercise in climbing, there used frequently to lie a helm, or oar, or boathook, or even a foresail,—the spoil of some hapless peat-boat from the opposite side of the Firth. The Highland boatmen of Ross had carried on a trade in peats for ages with the Saxons of the town; and as every boat owed a long-derived perquisite of twenty peats to the grammar school, and as payment was at times foolishly refused, the party of boys commissioned by the master to exact it almost always succeeded, either by force or stratagem, in securing and bringing along with them, in behalf of the institution, some spar, or sail, or piece of rigging, which, until redeemed by special treaty, and the payment of the peats, was stowed up over the rafters. These peat-expeditions, which were intensely popular in the school, gave noble exercise to the faculties. It was always a great matter to see, just as the school met, some observant boy appear, cap in hand, before the master, and intimate the fact of an arrival at the shore, by the simple words, "Peat-boat, Sir." The master would then proceed to name a party, more or less numerous, according to the exigency; but it seemed to be matter of pretty correct calculation that, in the cases in which the peat claim was disputed, it required about twenty boys to bring home the twenty peats, or, lacking these, the compensatory sail or spar. There were certain ill-conditioned boatmen who almost always resisted, and who delighted to tell us—invariably, too, in very bad English—that our perquisite was properly the hangman's perquisite, made over to us because we were like him; not seeing—blockheads as they were!—that the very admission established in full the rectitude of our claim, and gave to us, amid our dire perils and faithful contendings, the strengthening consciousness of a just quarrel. In dealing with these recusants, we used ordinarily to divide our forces into two bodies, the larger portion of the party filling their pockets with stones, and ranging themselves on some point of vantage, such as the pier-head; and the smaller stealing down as near the boat as possible, and mixing themselves up with the purchasers of the peats. We then, after due warning, opened fire upon the boatmen; and, when the pebbles were hopping about them like hailstones, the boys below commonly succeeded in securing, under cover of the fire, the desired boathook or oar. And such were the ordinary circumstances and details of this piece of Spartan education; of which a townsman has told me he was strongly reminded when boarding, on one occasion, under cover of a well-sustained discharge of musketry, the vessel of an enemy that had been stranded on the shores of Berbice.
The parish schoolmaster was a scholar and an honest man, and if a boy really wished to learn, he certainly could teach him. He had attended the classes at Aberdeen during the same sessions as the late Dr. Mearns, and in mathematics and the languages had disputed the prize with the Doctor; but he had failed to get on equally well in the world; and now, in middle life, though a licentiate of the Church, he had settled down to be what he subsequently remained—the teacher of a parish school. There were usually a few grown-up lads under his tuition—careful sailors, that had stayed ashore during the winter quarter to study navigation as a science,—or tall fellows, happy in the patronage of the great, who, in the hope of being made excisemen, had come to school to be initiated in the mysteries of gauging,—or grown young men, who, on second thoughts, and somewhat late in the day, had recognised the Church as their proper vocation; and these used to speak of the master's acquirements and teaching ability in the very highest terms. He himself, too, could appeal to the fact, that no teacher in the north had ever sent more students to college, and that his better scholars almost always got on well in life. But then, on the other hand, the pupils who wished to do nothing—a description of individuals that comprised fully two-thirds of all the younger ones—were not required to do much more than they wished; and parents and guardians were loud in their complaints that he was no suitable schoolmaster for them; though the boys themselves usually thought him quite suitable enough.