JOHN HILL BURTON D.C.L., LL.D.
Author of 'A History of Scotland,' 'The Scot Abroad,' 'The Reign of Queen Anne,' &c.
A New Edition With a Memoir of the Author
William Blackwood and Sons Edinburgh and London MDCCCLXXXII All Rights reserved
The learned Author of 'THE BOOK-HUNTER,' very shortly before his death, gave his consent that the Work should be reprinted.
This has now been done from his own copy, with any slight additions or emendations which it, or the notes of literary friends, supplied, and in a form which, it is hoped, will be acceptable to all lovers of choice books.
A Memoir of Dr Burton, by his Widow, has been prefixed, and a copious Index added.
The portrait of the Author has been reproduced from a characteristic photograph, and etched by Mr W.B. Hole, A.R.S.A. The View in the Library, and the Vignettes of Craighouse and Dalmeny, have been drawn by Miss Rose Burton, and engraved by Miss E.P. Burton.
45 GEORGE STREET, EDINBURGH, May 1882.
THE AUTHOR'S ADVERTISEMENT TO THE SECOND EDITION.
The Author, in again laying his little book before the public, has taken advantage of some suggestions kindly contributed by the critics who reviewed the previous edition, and he has thus been enabled to correct a few inaccuracies which they have courteously characterised as mere errors of the press. Productions of this indefinite kind are apt to grow in the hands of an author; and in the course of his revision he was unable to resist the temptation to throw in a few additional touches here and there, as to which he can only hope that they will not deteriorate the volume in the eyes of those who thought well of it in its old shape.
PAGE MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR, i
Part I.—His Nature.
INTRODUCTORY, 1 A VISION OF MIGHTY BOOK-HUNTERS, 14 REMINISCENCES, 59 CLASSIFICATION, 62 THE PROWLER AND THE AUCTION-HAUNTER, 88
Part II.—His Functions.
THE HOBBY, 101 THE DESULTORY READER OR BOHEMIAN OF LITERATURE, 108 THE COLLECTOR AND THE SCHOLAR, 115 THE GLEANER AND HIS HARVEST, 124 PRETENDERS, 161 HIS ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE CREATION OF LIBRARIES, 168 THE PRESERVATION OF LITERATURE, 205 LIBRARIANS, 227 BIBLIOGRAPHIES, 233
Part III.—His Club.
CLUBS IN GENERAL, 243 THE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK CLUBS, 251 THE ROXBURGHE CLUB, 265 SOME BOOK-CLUB MEN, 283
Part IV.—Book-Club Literature.
GENERALITIES, 311 JOHN SPALDING, 330 ROBERT WODROW, 338 THE EARLY NORTHERN SAINTS, 352 SERMONS IN STONES, 404
List of Illustrations.
PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR, Frontispiece. THE AVENUE, CRAIGHOUSE, i CRAIGHOUSE, lix DALMENY CHURCHYARD, civ A NOOK IN THE AUTHOR'S LIBRARY, 1
MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR.
Parentage—Patons—Grandholm—Jersey—"Peninsular War"—School and schoolmasters—Flogging—College—Competition for bursaries—Home life—Aunt and grand-aunt—Holiday rambles—Letter.
John Hill Burton, the subject of this notice, was born on the 22d of August 1809, in the Gallowgate of Aberdeen. He was wont to style himself, as in his childhood he had heard himself described, "The last of the Gallowgate bairns;" the Gallowgate being an old part of Aberdeen devoted chiefly to humble trade, no one, in modern times at least, even distantly connected with gentility living there.
His father, William Kinninmont Burton, is believed to have been an only son, and no kith or kin of his were ever seen or heard of by his children. The only relic of their father's family possessed by them is a somewhat interesting miniature on ivory, well painted in the old-fashioned style, representing a not beautiful lady in antique head-dress and costume, and marked on the back "Mary Burton." William Kinninmont Burton held a commission in the army, though he had not been originally intended for a military life. He was, it is supposed, engaged in trade in London when the military enthusiasm, excited by the idea of an invasion of Great Britain by Napoleon, fired him, like so many other young men, into taking up arms as a volunteer. In the end of last century he came to Aberdeen as a lieutenant in a regiment of "Fencibles," or some such volunteer title, and there captivated the affections of a beautiful young lady, Miss Eliza Paton, a daughter of the laird of Grandholm, an estate four miles distant from Aberdeen. Of this lady and of her family a few words must be said.
So small was the value of land in Scotland in the beginning of the century, that it is safe to suppose the estate of Grandholm yielded less than one-third of its present rental. The circumstances and social position of the family were, besides, seriously lowered by the extraordinary character of the then laird. John Paton, grandfather of Dr Burton, was a man not devoid of talent, and of a strikingly handsome gentlemanly appearance and manner. He married, early in life, a beautiful Miss Lance, an Englishwoman, who, after bearing him ten children in about as many years, fell into a weak state of health, of mind as well as body. The laird nursed his wife devotedly for a long period of years, cherishing her to the exclusion of all other persons or interests. His children he regarded as the enemies of his adored wife, and consequently of himself, and his conduct to them from first to last was little less than brutal. When the enfeebled wife at last died, the husband's grief verged on madness.
He would not allow her body to be buried in the ordinary manner, but caused a tomb to be erected in a wood near the house of Grandholm, where the corpse was placed in an open coffin, and where the bereaved husband could go daily to bewail his loss. The distracted mourner rejected all attentions from children, relatives, or friends, yet apparently dreaded being left alone, for he advertised for a male companion or keeper to bear him company. The writer has often heard Dr Burton amuse himself and his audience by describing the extraordinary varieties of struggling humanity who applied for the situation. Ultimately, it is believed, none of them was selected, and the laird fled from his natural home, and from that time till his death lived chiefly in London, leaving his large young family to take care of themselves as they best could.
The three sons went successively to India or other foreign parts, and died there, one of them leaving a son, whose family are the present possessors of Grandholm.
Of the seven daughters—several of whom were very handsome—two only were married, namely, Eliza, who became Mrs Burton, mother of the historiographer; and Margaret, who espoused rather late in life a Dr Brown, and continued as a widow to inhabit an old house belonging to the Grandholm family in Old Aberdeen till June 1879, when she died at the age of ninety-eight.
The young family, thus deserted by their natural protector, fell chiefly under the authority of his eldest daughter, Mary—said, of all his children, to most resemble the laird himself.
Among this lady's nephews and nieces there linger strange traditions of the violence of her temper, and of the intensity of her loves and hates. It is hardly necessary to say that none of the females at least of the family received any particular education.
Mary was a woman of strong natural abilities, and of an excellent business faculty. She managed the very small resources left at her command with consummate skill, and in her later years made of Grandholm a hospitable, cheerful, old-fashioned home for those whom it pleased her to receive there. Her sister Eliza's marriage had not pleased her. There was much to justify her objection to it; William Burton, not then holding a commission, was entirely without pecuniary resources.
His strongest talent seems to have been for painting, and by such occupation as he could get in drawing and painting in London he was barely able to maintain himself. The old grandfather and his lieutenant, aunt Mary, have been described to the writer in the darkest colours as having constantly interposed between the true lovers, William Burton and his beloved Eliza Paton, who, in spite of all advice to the contrary, soon became his wife. What the laird of Grandholm and his daughter Mary did was no doubt done in the harshest manner, but their actions themselves seem hardly blamable. When William Burton found it impossible to maintain his wife in London, she was received again into her paternal home with her infant, William, John Hill Burton's elder brother. The wife, of course, earnestly and constantly desired to rejoin her husband. The father and sister declined to facilitate her doing so by paying the expense of her return journey, concluding that if her husband was unable to meet that outlay, he was not in a position to maintain her beside himself.
After some six or eight years of mutual longing for each other's society, separated by the distance of London from Aberdeen, William Burton succeeded in exchanging his position in the Fencibles for a lieutenancy in a line regiment under orders for India. There also he went unaccompanied by his wife. After brief service in India he had to return home in ill health. Then at last the husband and wife were reunited; first to live together for a time in Aberdeen—afterwards to go with their two sons to Jersey.
The eldest son, William, ten years older than John, afterwards went into the Indian army, and died in India, leaving a son and daughter.
John Hill Burton's earliest recollections dated from his stay with his parents in garrison in Jersey. This must have been about the year 1811 or 1812, when he was therefore two or three years old. He used to say he remembered the relieving of guard in Jersey; that he had an infantine recollection of a military guard-room by night; and remembered a "Lady Fanny," the wife, as he believed, of the colonel of the regiment, who showed some slight kindness towards him and other garrison children.
The greatest adventure of Dr Burton's unadventurous life occurred when he was returning with his parents from Jersey, in a troop-ship. The vessel was chased by a French privateer, and for some time the little family had reason to fear becoming inmates of a French prison. It was this incident which Dr Burton used in his later life to say entitled him to assert that he had been in the Peninsular War. The homeward journey from Jersey was to Aberdeen, which it is believed Lieutenant Burton and his family never left again till his death. His failing health obliged him to retire from active service on the half-pay of a lieutenant. His wife, from some writings to be hereafter mentioned, seems also to have enjoyed an allowance of L40 per annum from her father.
Besides William and John Hill, there were born in Aberdeen to William Burton and Eliza Paton three sons—two of whom died early, one of them being accidentally drowned in the Don at Grandholm—and one daughter. The surviving brother of Dr Burton is a retired medical officer of the East India Company. The sister, Mary, remains unmarried.
The little household established in Aberdeen about the year 1812 knew the woes of failing health and narrow means, part of the latter doled out to them by an unwilling hand. Lieutenant Burton's health continued to decline till his death, about the year 1819. His son John was then ten years old, and had begun his school education.
His recollections of schools and schoolmasters were vivid and picturesque. The one schoolmaster—almost the only teacher—to whom he acknowledged any obligation, was James Melvin. To him, he was wont to say, he owed his good Scotch knowledge of Latin; and he delighted even till the end of his life in dwelling on Dr Melvin's methods of teaching, and on the fine spirit of generous emulation and eagerness for knowledge which inspired his pupils.
Both before and after the time of his studies under Dr Melvin he had experience of schoolmasters of a different type. The tales of flogging under these pedagogues were so absolutely sickening, that Dr Burton's family used to beg him to stop his narrations to spare their feelings. He had beheld, though he had never undergone, the old-fashioned process of flogging by heezing up the culprit on the back of the school-porter, so as to bring his bare back close to the master's lash. The trembling victim, anticipating such punishment, used to be sent to summon the porter. He frequently returned with a half-sobbing message, "Please, sir, he says he's not in." The fiction did not lead to escape. Cromar was the name of the chief executioner in these scenes. Detested by his pupils, he was a victim to every sort of petty persecution from them, so that cruelty acted and reacted between him and them. On one memorable occasion he flogged John Burton with such violence as to cause to himself an internal rupture.
The offence which led to this unmeasured punishment was "looking impudent!"—and the look of supposed impudence was produced by a temporarily swollen lip; but the swollen lip was the effect of a single combat with a schoolfellow; and fighting was so rife, and so severely repressed, that it appeared less dangerous to meet the consequences of the supposed impertinent face than those of the battle. The unfortunate pupil of course continued to grimace, and the wretched schoolmaster to flog, till the pupil streamed with blood, and the master sat down from sheer exhaustion and an injury from which he never recovered.
Before John Hill Burton had completed his course at the grammar school he gained a bursary by competition, and began his studies at Marischal College. The open competition for bursaries at Aberdeen was a subject on which he delighted to talk, often with tears of enthusiasm in his eyes. The entire impartiality, the complete openness of these competitions to the whole world, the spectacle of high learning freely offered to whoever could by merit earn it, seemed to Dr Burton, to his life's end, as fine a subject of contemplation as any the world could offer. During his last illness, a friend, who knew his strong interest in his Alma Mater, presented him with Mr M'Lean's 'Life at a Northern University.' He read it with the utmost delight, often reading passages aloud with great emotion, on account of the vivid picture they presented of the scenes of his youth. It was a rough hard life that of an Aberdeen College student fifty or sixty years ago.
Mr M'Lean says of his fellow-students: "As the most of them came from the country—generally from the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland—they brought with them all their native roughness and coarseness of manners. The great majority of those who had spent their lives in town frequented the neighbouring university, where the entrance and other examinations were not nearly so severe. In general, the great bulk of the students were far behind in good manners, and that polish which a large town always gives. Their secluded habits when at college, and their intercourse only with their own number, prevented any improvement in this matter. On the whole, their conduct in the class, and their behaviour towards some of the professors, were anything but gentlemanly."
[Footnote 1: Marischal College. Mr M'Lean's descriptions refer to King's; but the two colleges, close together, must have been pretty similar in their manners and customs even before they were, as they now are, formally united.]
[Footnote 2: Life in a Northern University. By Neil M'Lean, author of 'Memoirs of Marshal Keith,' 'Romance of the Seal and Whale Fishing,' &c., &c. Glasgow; John S. Marr & Sons: London; Simpkin, Marshall, & Co. 1874.]
Another quotation from Mr M'Lean may be allowed, as embodying the descriptions often given by Dr Burton of the motley crew of competitors for the scholarships and bursaries dispensed by the university: "Gazing round the room, I noted that my competitors consisted of raw-boned red-haired Highlandmen, fresh from their native hills, with all their rusticity about them. All the northern counties had sent their quota to swell the number, and even the Orkney and Shetland Islands were represented. Many rosy-faced young fellows were also to be seen, who had left their country occupations for a little, and who, if unsuccessful"—i.e., in gaining a bursary—"would return to them, and work in their leisure hours at their favourite classics until another competition came round. Here and there were to be seen a few rather better dressed than the rest; whilst amongst the crowd the eye rested on many a studious, thin, cadaverous, hard-worked face, which made you look again, and feel in your heart that there sat a bursar. A more motley crowd, as respects age, dress, and features, could scarcely be found anywhere; and yet over all there was an intellectual, manly look, a look of innocence and unacquaintance with the low ways of the world."
[Footnote 3: Life in a Northern University.]
Among this motley crowd John Hill Burton was no model student. He took his full share of the rough sport so well described in the 'Northern University'—wrenched off door-knockers and house-bells, transplanted sign-boards, &c. He was but a schoolboy in years when he left school for college, and his mother was frequently obliged to provide him with a private tutor, not so much to assist him in his studies as to keep him from idleness during his hours at home. Home was, during these years, for a time sad, and was always quiet. During his father's lifetime it was diversified by frequent changes of abode within a very narrow circuit.
The writer has seen some half-dozen small houses, in a rather unlovely suburb of Aberdeen, all within sight of each other, which had successively been inhabited by Lieutenant Burton and his family; the poor invalid craving for the real change which might have benefited his health, and seeking relief, instead, in constant change of house. Mrs Burton was entitled to an abode at Grandholm as well as her sisters, and the little family went there occasionally, at least after Lieutenant Burton's death. The place, which is a rather interesting one, filled a considerable space in the affections of the children. Its inmates did not. Clearly sister Eliza never was forgiven for her unfortunate marriage. Affection for her husband and for his memory prevented her apologising for it, and her children were not of the sort to apologise for their existence. A series of petty slights, small unkindnesses, imbittered the mind of the poverty-stricken widow against her unmarried sisters, and her feeling was strongly inherited by her children.
A house in Old Aberdeen has been already mentioned as the abode of Mrs Margaret Brown, Dr Burton's last surviving aunt. This quaint old house had been purchased by Mrs Brown's grandmother, mother of the laird of Grandholm, and at the beginning of the century was inhabited by her maiden daughter Margaret, or, as she was oftener called, Peggy Paton. This lady lived to the age of ninety, and at her death left her house and fortune to her niece and name-daughter, Margaret Paton (Mrs Brown), who in her turn adopted a grand-niece, the daughter already mentioned of Dr Burton's eldest brother, William,—the same who, having nursed her aged aunt till her death, in the last year of his life so tenderly ministered to her uncle, the subject of this notice.
The second in the line of female owners of the old house, Peggy Paton, was, for the outer world, what George Eliot calls "a charicter"—one of those distinguishing features of country-town life which the march of improvement has swept away: a lady by birth, but owing little to schools or teachers, books or travel: a woman of strong natural understanding and some wit, who loved her nightly rubber at whist, could rap out an oath or a strong pleasantry, and whose quick estimates of men and things became proverbs with the younger generation.
For her inner circle Peggy Paton was a most motherly old maid. She it was who, when she found her niece Eliza would marry Lieutenant Burton, mediated between father and daughter, and arranged matters as well as might be in an affair in which her good sense found much to disapprove, and her heart much to excuse. Not only to her niece Margaret, her adopted daughter, but also to her other nieces at Grandholm, motherless by death, and fatherless by desertion, did she fill a mother's part as far as these robust virgins would permit her. Sister Eliza's rough little children, or rougher great boys, always found kindness in the house in the Old Town, first in their grand-aunt's time, and afterwards in that of her successor, Mrs Brown. David, Dr Burton's younger brother, was lovingly tended by them during part of the lingering illness of which he died, and the youngest of Eliza Paton's sons remained an inmate of Mrs Brown's house that he might continue his education in Aberdeen, when his mother removed to Edinburgh.
[Footnote 4: It may not be counted indelicate, as it refers to a period 120 years gone by, to mention that Peggy Paton once had a lover, and that this, her first lover, was no other than the son of that Moir of Stoneywood, whose correspondence is so frequently quoted in Dr Burton's 'History of Scotland.' The young man was Peggy's first cousin, the lairds of Grandholm and Stoneywood having married sisters—Mackenzie by name. The laird of Stoneywood is known to posterity by his ingenious achievement of ferrying the rebel army across the Dornoch Firth in small fishing-boats collected by Stoneywood all along the coast. On the defeat of the Pretender, and the suppression of the insurrection in 1746, Stoneywood's estate was confiscated, and he fled to the Continent. Family tradition adds that his escape was achieved by his disguising himself as a miller and swimming across the Don from Stoneywood to Grandholm, where the laird of Grandholm, who was of opposite politics, had removed the ferry-boat, and saw but did not denounce his kinsman. The houses of Grandholm and Stoneywood are exactly opposite each other on the two sides of the Don. Mrs Moir of Stoneywood did not immediately follow her husband, but remained with her friends to bring up her children, among them Miss Peggy's lover, who, soon after his engagement to her, joined his father on the Continent and there died.]
For those who do not know Aberdeen, it may be proper to say that Old Aberdeen is as entirely distinct from New Aberdeen as Edinburgh is from Leith—in a different way. The distance between them is somewhat greater, about two miles; and whereas New Aberdeen is a highly prosperous commercial city, as entirely devoid of beauty or interest as any city under the sun, Old Aberdeen is a sweet, still, little place, hardly more than a village in size, in appearance utterly unlike any other place in Scotland, resembling a little English cathedral town,—the towers and spires of college and cathedral beautifully seen through ancient trees from the windows of Miss Peggy Paton's old house, to which that managing lady added a wing, and which possessed a good flower and fruit garden, wherein grew plenty of gooseberries, ever Dr Burton's favourite fruit. His birthday, 22d August, was, during his mother's life, always celebrated by a family feast of them.
Such were the scenes and circumstances of Dr Burton's childhood and early youth. As he grew old enough to begin those long walks which to the end were the great pleasure of his life, he made acquaintance with the beautiful scenery of the Upper Dee and Don. In holiday time his mother used to give him a small sum of money, at most one pound, and allow him to travel as far as the amount would take him. His legs were almost always his only conveyance; throughout his life he entertained an aversion to either riding or driving. His temper was too impatient, too energetic, to allow him to enjoy progress without exertion. After railways existed he sometimes used them in aid of his walking power; but all horse vehicles were odious to him, partly by reason of an excessive tenderness for animals. He could not bear to see a horse whipped, or any living creature subjected to bodily pain.
Wonderful are the accounts the writer has heard of the duration of that holiday pound: how Dr Burton and sometimes a chosen companion would subsist day after day on twopence-worth of oatmeal, that by so doing they might travel the farther; or how, having improvidently finished their supply, they would walk some incredible distance without any food at all, till they reached either their home or the house of some friend.
In these holiday rambles Dr Burton made the acquaintance of several families either more or less related to him through his Grandholm kindred, or willing, in the old Scotch fashion, to extend hospitality to any wayfarer who needed it. In this way Dr Burton has described himself as the guest of Mrs Gordon at Abergeldie, who, as he said, made a request that when he came to visit her he would if possible arrive before midnight. Invercauld, Glenkindie, Tough, and many other country-houses, were visited in the same unceremonious way.
The letter here given was written to his mother during one of these holiday rambles, when its writer was about twenty, and describes some of the scenes of the wonderful flood of '29, so graphically described by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder. The Colonel H. was the son of Dr Burton's godfather, and a man of mature years at the time the Highlander and Dr Burton describe him as having "run away." The writer can offer no explanation of this rather amusing passage in the letter: it might either be a mere joke or refer to some family quarrel of the Colonel's.
"LAKEFIELD, 8th September 1829.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,—I have just arrived at Lakefield in the midst of determined and ceaseless rain. I expected of course to meet A.H. here, but it seems he ran away the other day, and will by this time be in Aberdeen. He wrote to Mrs Grant from Elgin, but she has not yet heard of his arrival in Aberdeen.
"In my way here I ran a risk of being violently used for his sake. As I was perambulating slowly the border of Loch Ness I met a tall, gaunt-looking man, who eyed me rather suspiciously, and stretched forth his hands in the attitude of one interrupting a stray sheep. I looked at the being in my turn, and began to be a little suspicious of his purpose, and to think of my dirk. The man approached nearer still in the attitude of making a spring. When he had come so close that I could hardly escape him, he roared out: 'Is't you 'at's the laad Colonel H. 'at's been runnan' awa'?' 'No,' said I, 'I am not.'
"The man continued to eye me rather suspiciously, and then went slowly away. I suppose he hoped to be rewarded for me. I have told you that I got rain. When I was proceeding to Huntly, as you are aware, in the coach, there came two or three heavy gusts of wind from the hills, carrying along with it a sort of soft drizzle, but nothing like rain, and the roads appeared dry. After I had passed Keith, however, the whole country had a drenched and draggled appearance, the burns were swollen, the corn was hanging like wet hair, the trees were drooping and black, and the country people themselves looked as if they had been held in water for the last six months. A heavy and unceasing rain came on. The clouds grew black and seemed to settle, everything had a ghastly and dismal appearance. I met a man, and asked him if it always rained here. 'Ou ay, sir,' replied he, 'it's the parish o' Rayne.' I was content with the answer, and asked nothing more. In a condition you may easily imagine, I reached Elgin and dried myself. The rain stopped, but the clouds did not clear. I went and visited the cathedral, and wandered about the ruins for an hour or two. It is a noble and beautiful building, but I will not begin to speak about it, as the post leaves in a few minutes. On Saturday afternoon I left Elgin for Forres, with the hope of better weather. During the walk I could hardly persuade myself I was out of Aberdeenshire, the country is so very like, but it is rather flatter. Next morning was clear and cloudless, and the sun shone bright over a country drenched and covered with water. I wished that day to reach Inverness, but a new difficulty appeared. I was told that the Findhorn was so swollen that no mortal man could get across. I saw the boatman going to his ferry-house, and I followed him to see how the matter stood. I soon came to a deep and rapid sweep of water, which appeared to spread far beyond two narrow banks which might have formerly bounded it. This I thought to be the Findhorn, but ere I went many paces farther another sight met my eyes—the real river itself dashing through the glen with an awful majesty, and carrying roots, trees, and herbage of every description hurriedly over its broad breast. In the midst of this scene of devastation appeared the ruins of a noble bridge, nothing but the piers remaining, and these dashing to pieces in the furious current. The stream I had seen at first was the river flowing down the road. The river fell in the evening, and I crossed the ferry. I had two days of most delightful weather, and yesterday evening I had a sunset and moonlight walk by the side of Loch Ness, among the most noble scenery I ever beheld. The sky was perfectly clear, and without a single cloud.
"I must now finish, as the post is going away. If you see Joseph [i.e., the late Joseph Robertson, a constant companion and attached friend], tell him I will write to him soon and have a deal to say to him, particularly of my discovering a sculptured stone in Elgin Cathedral. Notwithstanding the fineness of the evening, this day is determinedly rainy. If you see any of the H.'s, give Mrs Grant's compliments.—Adieu for the present; and I remain, my dear mother, your affectionate and dutiful son,
"J. HILL BURTON."
The writer has heard many farther details of the excursion of which this letter records the beginning. The temporary clearing up of the weather referred to was but a hollow truce in the tremendous elemental warfare of that memorable autumn. The flood described in the Findhorn was but a faint precursor of the wave sixty feet high, which, a week or two later, burst through the splendid girdle of rock which at Relugas confines that loveliest of Scotch rivers, and spread over the fertile plain beneath, changing it into a sea. At some points in Morayshire, the enormous overflow of the rivers broke down the banks which bound the ocean, and permanently changed the coast-line of the country. The most striking and extraordinary part of Sir Thomas Dick Lauder's description of this flood is an extract from the log of a sailing packet—a sea-going vessel—which directed its course over and about the plain of Moray, picking the inhabitants off the roofs of their houses, or such other elevations as they could reach.
Dr Burton had the good fortune to see the Fall of Foyers during this great flood, and had the temerity to cross its stream, which lay on his road, upon a remaining parapet of the fallen bridge!
Apprenticeship in lawyer's office—Grandfather's letter—J.H. Burton's letters to his mother, conveying first impressions of Edinburgh, and account of passing Civil Law trial.
On the completion of his studies, John Burton was apprenticed to a writer in Aberdeen. He has talked of this period as one of the most painful of his life. He was utterly unable to master the routine of office-work, or to submit to its restraints; and one of his most joyful days was that in which his indentures were, by mutual desire, cancelled.
A piece of yellow old paper was found in Dr Burton's desk when he died. It was a letter written some fifty-five years before, and had probably lain there during all these years. As it refers to this period of Dr Burton's life, it may be given. It seems fully to bear out the writer's conception of the unsympathising character of the intercourse between Mrs Burton and her family. No stronger incentive to exertion could have been offered to a man of Dr Burton's character, than the desire to falsify the implied prediction of such a missive. With a view to its effect in this way it had probably been given him by his mother. It is an entire letter, and the whole is here printed.
"GRANDHOLM, June 6th.
"DEAR ELIZA,—I have this day received a letter from my father, part of which I think it necessary to transcribe to you, as the best mode of giving you his meaning.
"'The account of John Burton's being in such an idle unemployed way displeases me much. I wish you, Mary, would speak to his mother on the subject; tell her I would have acquainted her with my displeasure before now, only, on account of her misfortune in her family [this must refer to the death of her son David], I deferred what I ought to have done. Why was he taken away from his attendance at Mr Winchester's office? Doctor Dauney said he could not be better than with him, as there was plenty of business, such as was going. Tell her that as I have neither funds nor inclination to support idle gentlemen, or rather vagabonds, I have given directions to Mr Alcock not to pay up her next half-year's annuity, till he hears from me on the subject, and until she gives you satisfactory accounts concerning her son's return to Mr Winchester's office or otherwise. Tell her not to write to me, but to act as is her duty.'"
The sister here continues, "I hope Mary [Dr Burton's only sister, the youngest child of his mother] continues well, and that you will not fail to give me an answer to this, as you see it will be absolutely necessary to give attention to the subject. Barbara continues very unwell.—I remain yours sincerely, M. PATON."
Whether the threat conveyed in this letter was executed, the writer has now no means of knowing. The expression of it alone was cruel enough—the threat to starve a poor mother into forcing a son to continue a business utterly repugnant to him. Mrs Burton, however, did not protect herself by the sacrifice of her son. She believed in her son's powers, and acted on her belief in spite of all opposition; and she had her reward. She lived to see her son gaining fame in letters, and to find in him the utmost devotion a son can show to a mother. He never forgot or failed to acknowledge his obligations to her. These were undoubtedly great. She not only gave him, in part personally, his education, but when that was finished, and she hoped to find peace for her declining years in the little home she had prepared for herself, she sacrificed that also to her hope of her son's advancement—her faith in his talents and perseverance.
With the death of her husband, perhaps also on account of that of her father, and the loss of her two little sons, Mrs Burton's pecuniary position seems to have become somewhat easier. Whilst her son John was destined for business in Aberdeen, she had built a small house for her own occupation in the neighbourhood. When he set his mind on the higher walk of his profession, and desired to come to the Scotch Bar, the necessary expense could only be compassed by the devoted mother selling her newly built house, and casting in her lot with her son. She, her young daughter, and an Aberdeenshire maiden (so primitive in her ideas, that she conceived the only way of reaching Edinburgh from Warriston must be by wading the Water of Leith), followed John to Edinburgh, and took up their abode in a very small house on the north side of Warriston Crescent in the year 1831.
Dr Burton was no great letter-writer. After he began, as he said, to write for print, he considered it waste of time to write anything which was not to be printed, except in briefest form. His letters to his wife and family during absences on the Continent or elsewhere, seldom contained more than a bare itinerary, past and future, often referring them for particulars to the article in 'Blackwood,' which was to grow out of his travels.
His mother was naturally the recipient of the writing which came before the days of print,—before the days of penny postage also. Almost every letter contains a history of how his mother's last reached him, as well as how he hoped to have that which he is writing conveyed to her without paying the awful tax of postage.
The next letters here offered belong to the beginning of his Edinburgh life, and relate to a feat of mental exertion equal to his bodily performances. He was at the time living in lodgings, for the purpose of passing his legal examinations preparatory to coming to the Bar; but he may be allowed to give the history of this part of his life entirely in his own words.
"EDINBURGH, 3d Nov. 1830.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,—I have just arrived here, and as there is a friend of Mr Dauney's just about to set off for Aberdeen, I preferred letting you get a bit of a note or so to sending you a newspaper. Of course I have nothing to write you about but my own concerns. A delightful moonlight night for travelling, but the coach rather full: there were three nice children, with whom I contrived to amuse myself. All went on well till we came to Burntisland Ferry, where we had to proceed so far in an open boat. The sea poured in in a rather disagreeable manner; and while I thought every one was getting a good ducking but myself, a large miscreant of a wave contrived to escape every other passenger, and to settle right upon my shoulders. I have not yet secured a lodging in Edinburgh, but have been wandering through all the streets admiring. Of the Old Town I think far more than of the New, it is so majestic and magnificent, and am resolved, if I can, to live in it.
"I dined at Mr Dauney's to-day. He has requested me to stay with him till I can get lodgings conveniently, but I expect to be stowed away to-morrow. I delivered Mr Innes's parcel; and remain, my dear mother, your most affectionate son, J. HILL BURTON.
"P.S.—I would have written you a long letter, but do not wish to absent myself from table."
* * * * *
"11 KEIR STREET, EDINBURGH, Tuesday Evening, 9th Nov. 1830.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,—I take the opportunity of Mr Innes's parcel, which leaves this to-morrow afternoon, to give you a more succinct account of my affairs than you could derive from my laconic epistle of last week. I must, however, preface by requesting you to write me as soon as you conveniently can, either by Innes or L. Smith's conveyance, as I am anxious to hear the state of your cold, and how James is succeeding at school.
"When I dismounted from the coach I was peculiarly struck by the sight of magnificent streets, with scarcely a human being to be seen along them. I expected to have found them of that crowded description so often characteristic of a metropolis; but to one who is accustomed to see our grand mercantile thoroughfare, the paucity of perambulators in some of the streets of Edinburgh appears rather peculiar. Others I found at particular periods to be thickly inhabited. My first course was to direct my course through the rain to G.B.'s dwelling, where I found him reading a large Bible. He appears to have carried fanaticism to a ridiculous pitch, unworthy of his education and station in life. He put into my hands a tract (composed I am afraid by himself), with injunctions to read it. I intend to send it to you as a curiosity. His brother Charles, whom I best knew, used to be a clever and sensible boy, very well informed; I hope he, too, is not also among the prophets. How few steer a middle course! G.B. cannot do the most trifling act without connecting it with religion. It is a mere disease. Others never think of it at all. I think it is Dr Johnson who says something to this effect: '——was mad, and showed it by kneeling down and saying his prayers on the street. Now there are many men who are not mad, yet I am afraid are worse than poor ——, for they never pray at all.' But to return—I inquired at Mr B. if he could recommend me to any cheap and respectable lodging. After applying some thought to the subject, he began to recollect that he did know of one or two. With regard to one the address was rather imperfect, as he knew neither the name nor the number, but had a guess of the street. The other I discovered, and now occupy, although he gave me both a wrong name and wrong number.
"Immediately on leaving B.'s I went to Dauney, who appeared glad to see me, and kindly asked me to dine with him. He has a very handsome house. Mrs Dauney is a very agreeable person, and they have two children. He would not hear of my leaving him till I had got accommodated with good lodgings. The rooms I now occupy I did not enter till yesterday. They were inhabited by a person just about to leave them, and I had no recommendation to others so well situated. The person who keeps the lodgings is named M'Gregor. I have a room and closet, neat enough, for which I pay 8s. a-week, which includes coals. I could not have a place nearly so cheap in the New Town. The situation is delightful. It is behind the Old Town, and the windows look across towards it and the Castle, just as those in Union Terrace look towards Belmont Street. The view extends as far as the Firth of Forth.
"There are, moreover, other advantages. Heriot's Hospital and the old city wall are close by; and when I choose I may, in going to the New Town, pass through the West Port and the Grassmarket.
"I have been a good deal annoyed about my luggage, which has not yet been sent up, so that you may imagine some of my present drapery has been worn long enough.
"I directed a person, calling himself the Clyde Shipping Company's agent here, to get them sent up last Saturday, which was to be done 'pointedly.' I amused myself from day to day annoying the man, till at last his patience appeared determined to weather out mine, so I went to Leith to-day and saw after them myself—found the man had nothing to do whatever with the concern, and neither could nor did give directions. The clerk, after blessing himself the usual number of times, stated his opinion that it would have been better for both parties had they left his office some time ago, so I expect to see them early to-morrow. I will let you know of their safe arrival if before three. I read your poetry all over, but did I begin to remark on it here I would exceed the limits which a narration of facts has left me. It has afforded me much pleasure in the loneliness, which, of course, I feel a little at first. However, I cannot say it makes me at all sad. There is something independent and free in the idea that none of the vast multitude you are among cares more for your life or welfare than the breeze that passes. I begin my studies to-morrow, and if I behave properly will have a good deal to do.
[Footnote 5: Mrs Burton wrote verses well. She occasionally published in the 'Gentleman's Magazine.']
"By the way, I may here mention a somewhat important circumstance. The greater part of the entrance fee is paid immediately on passing the Civil Law trial, which you know I wished to do this spring. The whole fee is less than L300, and the part payable then is more than L200. The fees are to be raised, but the increase cannot be levied upon me; it only applies to those who have not commenced their studies at the period of raising. Speak to R. Alcock about this. I daily meet troops of Aberdonians. I dined on Friday last with a young man, Fordyce, and yesterday with Mr J. Jopp. I calculate I have about fifty fellow-citizens connected with law here....
"Wednesday, half-past two.—Just got my luggage—cost 8s. All right, save that your jars have bolted, and played the very deuce with some of my books, two waistcoats, and a pair of drawers.
"Hoping your cold is better, I remain, my dear mother, your affectionate and dutiful son,
"J. HILL BURTON."
* * * * *
"11 KEIR STREET, EDINBURGH, 20th Nov. 1830.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,—I have scarcely an instant's time to say a word or so in reply to yours.... It was not one of the jars which burst, but there was a general conspiracy among them all to slip out at the side of the paper.
"I do not board for anything, just get in a little bit of meat or anything I want, can take my own way, and am never annoyed. I breakfasted and dined last Sunday with Mr H. Constable, who is a very agreeable young fellow. He is the proprietor of the Miscellany. By the way, I find out that if I do not pass my Civil Law trial before 1832 I shall be compelled to pay L50 to a Widows' Fund. Too bad to make young fellows, who may never have a widow all their lives, pay so much. Determined, if I pay it, to get a widow immediately....
[Footnote 6: Probably a mistake. He was the brother of the proprietor.]
"Breakfasted to-day with the B.'s. At the theatre with Mellis day before yesterday. I hope Mary continues better.—Your affectionate son, J. HILL BURTON."
* * * * *
"11 KEIR STREET, EDINBURGH, 1st Dec. 1830.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,—I have got something to communicate with regard to my prospects of entering the Faculty, which will not be of the most agreeable nature. I was told from the proper authority (I have already mentioned to you) that a Widows' Fund subscription is to be charged against those who enter after 1st January 1832. I have consulted the Act of Parliament, and find it is leviable against those who enter after 1st January 1831. The last examination this year will be on Tuesday week,—the last for passing which L50 and an annual payment of L7 is not charged. Now for this examination I intend to prepare myself, unless you inform me immediately that the money, L213, cannot be obtained. See Mr Alcock immediately, and explain this, but tell it to no other person, as I should not like it to be known that I had failed. I expect to know your intentions at farthest by Monday, as I must then give warning to the Faculty. You must be expeditious, as I can assure you I shall be. The subject is not difficult, and I think I may be able to prepare myself for an ordinary examination. Should I find it impossible, I will still reserve to myself, even after you send the money, the power of withdrawing. The Widows' subscription (as the Act states) is repayable to those who are rejected or die before joining, and I presume the entry-money is so too. If it is not, I should insure my life.
"If you consent to my arrangements, you must send me a certificate of my age—an extract from the Register of Baptisms, or something of that sort. I suppose Cordiner can give it you....
"Should I not pass my Civil Law trial immediately, I will still have the satisfaction of passing at some early period, avoiding an additional L60 which it is intended will be imposed, and from which no advantage, either real or fortuitous, is to be expected. Now the Widows' Fund, you know, when one has a widow, will be a very good sort of thing—L80 per annum, I believe. So if any lady wishes me to marry her, she had better advise me by all means to join the scheme. I know of no way of making one's own by it just now but by marrying some old advocate's widow who is on the list.
"What you do, do quickly. Write me as soon as you can, and definitely, with bill for the money if possible—if not, a plain statement of its impossibility. I will work hard till I hear from you. How are you all? I am in good health, and remain, my dear mother, your affectionate and dutiful son, J. HILL BURTON."
* * * * *
"EDINBURGH, 4th December 1830.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,—I this morning received your and Mr Alcock's letters, enclosing a bill for L200 and order for L33, and having no opportunity to-morrow, I take this occasion to acknowledge receipt and return thanks. Tell Mr Alcock I am afraid I will never be able to repay him his kindness in procuring me this sum upon my very cavalier notice. With regard to yourself, you know, I suppose, we have a pretty long account together, and the balance somewhat against me, as it will always remain.
"I suppose you will have received my hurried note of last night. I thought you had entirely forgot my L20 amid the other weighty matters you had to settle for me. I am still preparing and covering the Civil Law with rapid strides, but to make one's self master of a subject so intricate in a fortnight is something of a consideration; however, I do not despair. I am doing my best, and if I do not use my utmost endeavour, after what has been done for me by others, I will allow you to call me anything you please.
"Still I beg you will not make yourself too sanguine of my success. In the meantime tell no one, not even Robertson, what I am attempting, that in the case of my being remitted to my studies (that is the term), it may not be generally known. I give in my name for examination on Monday next—it takes place on Tuesday fortnight. But I do not know when I will be acquainted with the issue. Do not be afraid that I will confuse or disturb myself much about it. You know I have been accustomed to such things, as eels are to be skinned.
"While writing, I have been interrupted by a porter who has come seething in with a large box. To open a parcel is a most interesting thing, and the imagination revels with pleasure over its uncertain contents; but the rich and varied stores of this have exceeded expectation. I am glad you sent the certificate of baptism. I do not consider it at all necessary to write by post, as this goes by a most careful hand; but should I not hear next week of your having received it, then I shall write by post. Perhaps I may enclose a receipt to Mr Alcock. He 'hinted,' it seems, 'the danger of placing so much money,' &c. I have not time to let my imagination run loose just now, or else I might have pictured to myself the thousand things which might be done with such a treasure; but I assure you I never should have thought of anything (as things now stand) but the intended destination of it, and of that I shall have enough to think. But you know the fable, or story rather, of the Priest and the Hostler. I have not time to tell it you now, but perhaps Robertson can furnish you with it....
"I remain, my dear mother, your sincerely affectionate son, J. HILL BURTON."
* * * * *
"EDINBURGH, 15th December 1830.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,—If you had not been in expectation of such an event, I might have commenced my letter after William's manner, with saying, 'You will be surprised to hear I have passed,' but as the matter stands, I must begin with—'I have the satisfaction of informing you, &c.' It is just about a quarter of an hour since I was examined, the time being deferred from yesterday to to-day. The questions were very easy, at least I thought them so, and I think I answered each. If there were any I did not answer, it was from abstracting my attention from the more trifling to the more difficult branches of the law. So far of my examinations are over; but you must hold in mind that if I do not pass my SCOTS Law trial in a year, the L50 must still be paid. One thing I have lost by preparation, the chance of gaining the prize in the Civil Law class. This is given by the greatest number of correct answers to one hundred questions. Ten of these have already been answered. I only accomplished seven of them, and consider I have forfeited my chance. Seven is a good proportion out of ten difficult questions; but as the person who gains the prize is seldom deficient by above two or three, I do not conceive I have a chance. You may now tell whom you please that I have passed, but need not be publishing it to all the world. Had I not passed, I should have been called a rash foolish fellow for attempting it; but as it is, it will be said I have done quite right. You may tell Robertson 'and them,' and Mrs Brown; and tell Mrs B. I will now have time to write her, and send a barrel of oysters.... Ask Robertson and Sim and Cordiner, and so on, to drink my health. I go to a party at Mr Constable's to-night, the only place (excepting Mr Dauney's) I have been engaged at since I arrived. I have had nothing whatever to interfere with my studies for this last fortnight. Tell James and Mary I can now have time to read their letters. On Saturday Mr G.B. called on me, asking me to attend a prayer-meeting, and finding I was busy, told me if I saw things in as clear a light as he did, I would see the vanity of attending to these earthly things. I trust, without irreligion, one may say he is mistaken. I write from Mr Constable's, which is near the Post-office. My dinner-hour is long past, and the post is just going, so I must bid you adieu. Write me soon, and inform me how you are pleased with the contents of this. My 'passage' only cost me 10s. of fee, and 2s. 6d. as fine for being absent from the Society. I hope you are all well, and remain, my dear mother, your affectionate and dutiful son, J. HILL BURTON."
* * * * *
"EDINBURGH, 17th December 1830.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,—I supposed you received my last letter, written somewhat hurriedly, but of which I suppose you were able to discover the principal fact. Since writing, I have been relaxing myself a little, and going about making a few calls, a thing I have neglected of late; but I beg you will not suppose this to be a hint that I am to grow idle. I intend, indeed, to be very busy all winter. I expect to hear from you soon, and to know what is doing in Aberdeen. I called upon Mrs H. to-night, who told me my grand-aunt had been very unwell lately. I trust this is a mistake; but not having heard from your quarter for some days, the fact may be so, without my having known it.... I just despatched the oysters, and I would wish that you could send to Mr Dyce, and inquire whether they have come free of expense, as I left money with the seller to pay the coach-hire. I have not sent you any, as they are rather dear—8s. 8d. for a barrel with two hundred. Now, I presume you might buy the same number in Aberdeen for about quarter the sum.
"I live here in a sort of honourable solitude—few acquaintances, and few annoyances; it is just the sort of life I like. I am to have one or two of the young men I know to spend Saturday evening with me, and to discuss your nice plum-cakes which I have just cut. Among them is a young Pole—a Count Lubienski, a very agreeable and intelligent gentleman—a class-fellow.
"I may now, by the way, give you the history of my discoveries with respect to the Widows' Fund, &c., which I presume have proved rather mysteriously annoying to you. When I first heard the report of the matter, I called on the librarian and requested information. He told me that those who did not pass before 1832, had to pay it. I then said it was due at passing the Civil Law trials, and so, &c.; and then the man shrugged his shoulders, and allowed I had convinced him it was only payable by those who did not pass their Civil Law trials before 1832, and I said no more about the matter. Dining, however, with Dauney on Tuesday fortnight last, I heard an observation which led me to a different conclusion, so I procured the Act as soon as might be, and saw how the matter lay.
"Presuming I had a whole month before me, I determined to try the thing, notwithstanding the shaking of heads of those to whom I was obliged to communicate it.
"Finding, on inquiry, that there would be no opportunity of being examined after the 14th, I will allow I was a little startled, but still stuck fast, and had a sort of feeling I would be able to pass, as I do not like setting about what I cannot perform.
"Proceeding in my labours, I gathered confidence, and when the day came thought it would be rather hard were I rejected. There were four examined at the same time, and being before myself, I had to stand their statements of the difficulty and minuteness of the questions, and they stared not a little when I told them I had studied the subject for a fortnight and two days; for previous to that time I had been engaged in the History of Roman Law at college, and had commenced with the Principles. After the first question I felt myself secure; yet I will allow I felt a little easy (i.e. relieved) when each of the examiners shook hands with me, and told me I had given perfect satisfaction.
"The librarian tells me some are rejected in the Civil Law trials, but none in the Scotch Law, for which I must next year be prepared. I hope the saving will counter-balance the trouble of raising the money. I believe I shall enclose you my acknowledgment for the L200 (the L13 goes to the library, or something of that sort, which, though rather apocryphal in my nomenclature, shows the destination of the money). Tell the children if they will write I will answer them soon, and enclose them something. Pray remember me to Mr Alcock, and repeat my sense of obligation to him. Tell Miss Seton I am now on the same shelf with her nephew. Remember me to the Misses Leith and all friends, Miss Johnstone and Mrs Wemyss, and all your not very extensive circle.... Write me soon; and I remain, my dear mother, your affectionate and dutiful son, J. HILL BURTON.
[Footnote 7: Dr Burton's youngest brother and sister.]
"P.S.—I understand that should I 'kick' before passing advocate, the money will be returned. This would not be the case, however, were I to prove fickle, so I must consider my steps taken, and all thoughts of the Aberdeen law as ended; however, I shall finish my apprenticeship in summer. Had I time, I should like to go a week or two to the Continent (Norway or so). J.H.B."
BEGINNING OF LITERARY LIFE.
Particulars regarding passing of Civil Law trial—Letters containing account of first years in Edinburgh and beginning of literary life—First marriage—Wife's death—Publications during married life and widowhood—Political Economy.
If genius is to be defined as the power of taking a great deal of trouble, Dr Burton certainly possessed genius. His most remarkable power was that of mental labour. It did not seem to fatigue or excite him. In his best years his capability for mental work was limited only by the need of food and sleep, and he could reduce these needs to a minimum, and apparently without any future reaction.
He has told the writer that he did not go to bed at all during the fortnight's preparation for his Civil Law trial, described in the last chapter, but worked continuously, day and night, living almost entirely on strong tea and coffee. After his examination was over, he felt no actual fatigue or discomfort. He went to bed at his usual hour, but slept till the night of the second day was falling, a period of wellnigh forty-eight hours. He sustained no injury to health, and became entitled to style himself Advocate.
He never had much practice at the bar; and the need of earning a livelihood first led him to literary publication.
The two letters next offered refer to the following years of his life, when the little family was reunited in Edinburgh. Their mother's absence on a visit to relations in Aberdeen gave occasion for the letters.
"3 HOWARD PLACE, SOUTH, 14th July 1833.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,—I take the opportunity of Spalding's going to Aberdeen to write you a few lines. James received the other day two letters—one from you, and one from Mary.
[Footnote 8: William Spalding, author of a History of English Literature and other works; a close friend till his too early death.]
"The latter mentioned you had sent a letter for me, which has not yet arrived. I hope to receive it soon, or that you will write me another, giving a more particular account of your health than the letters to James have stated.
"I am at all events glad to hear yourself say you are not worse, and hope that a little such exertion and variety as you must meet will tend to strengthen you. We have been going on just as usual; perhaps I have been a little more idle than usual during the past week, being the last of the session. I have had one or two friends in to dine, but did not give them very splendid entertainments. James is most particular in his care of the cat, and we both prowl about occasionally looking for gooseberries.
"I caught a hedgehog the other evening, which has been let loose in the garden. I have been unable to discover his place of abode, but we sometimes meet him taking an evening stroll through the walks. He is an object of great interest to the cat, whose curiosity, however, he seems decidedly to baffle....
"I am sorry to hear Robertson is unwell, but I suppose he is able to write, and he must really be at the trouble of sending me a letter before I can trouble myself farther about his trunks.
"I shall be engaged to-morrow and next day in the Justiciary Court, and shall be otherwise very busy during the rest of the month....
"By the way, could you ascertain anything about the next Circuit? You might perhaps send a note to Daniel (Alexander Daniel, Esq., advocate, Farquhar's Court, Upperkirkgate), asking him to call on you and see if he can get me a case or two....
"With kindest remembrances to grand-aunt and Mrs Brown.—My dear mother, your affectionate son,
"JOHN HILL BURTON."
The fondness for animals and for gooseberries were lifelong tastes. That for animals did not extend to taking much trouble about them; but Dr Burton had none of a student's nervousness about slight noises or interruptions. He would have thought a house dull without the sounds of birds or other pets in it, and one of his favourite amusements was to watch the ways of animals. He had examples, in his acquaintance among dogs and cats, of heart and conscience in the two species respectively, too trivial for notice here.
Dr Burton has stated in the letters previously quoted some of the studies which he pursued at college in Edinburgh. His contribution to Mrs Gordon's 'Life of Professor Wilson' furnishes a lively picture of college life and experience in Edinburgh. He attended the course of the late Sir William Hamilton, and gained some distinction in the study of moral philosophy and metaphysics, so much that his appointment as assistant and successor to Sir William was seriously considered by himself and others. Had he become Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, he would no doubt have discharged the duties of the situation well. At that time of his life, great versatility, along with extraordinary diligence, was the chief characteristic of his mind. In later years he did not pursue the study of mental science.
Before the period in Dr Burton's life which we have now reached, he had contributed many articles to the 'Aberdeen Magazine,' published by his kind old friend Lewis Smith. These were lately collected and republished by Mr Smith; but, to judge from such specimens as the writer has seen, they are not, on the whole, of a character to increase Dr Burton's present reputation. He seems to have tried his hand at every kind of composition—romance, drama, poetry. In the last mentioned he had most success. His sentimental verses are pretty. His romances are so much crowded with incident as to be almost unintelligible. He was true to his own peculiar taste in novels. If a novel was recommended to him he used to inquire, "Is there plenty of murder in it?" He disliked almost equally the philosophical novel, and the domestic or social novel. Of the former he used to say he preferred to read either philosophy or fiction; he could not endure them combined. To hear even a sentence of the best social or domestic novel read irritated him intolerably. He would ask, "How any one could feel interest in the talk of a set of ordinary silly people, such as one must meet with every day. It was bad enough to hear them talk when one could not help it."
Quantities of early works, never printed, are still preserved by his family. The habit of writing—not letter-writing—seems to have begun as soon as he could use a pen, and while his orthography—never a strong point—was excessively weak. "The Rosted Baron" remains a popular work in a small circle. It is a tale, crowded, as its title indicates, with blood and flames. The idea may have been taken from the burning of Frendraught. It was written when Dr Burton was quite a boy, and is now one of a heap of manuscripts in a childish hand on very yellow paper remaining in his repositories.
"3 HOWARD PLACE, SOUTH, 24th July 1833.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,— ... I was extremely glad to receive your letter by post this morning, showing me that you are able to go about, and that you are enjoying yourself as much as possible. James and I have been getting on very well and very comfortably.
[Footnote 9: Dr Burton's eight years younger brother.]
"I am obliged to delay our proposed jaunt till Monday next, as I find it impossible to get my work finished before Friday, the day I had fixed on. You are aware that I have long delayed an article on Criminal Trials for the 'Westminster Review.' I have now set about it seriously, and am resolved not to stir until it is finished, which I hope may be on Saturday. I have likewise some things to finish for Chambers before I go, and then I think I shall be able to enjoy a few days of a stravaig.... I got a slight interruption last night; just as the twilight came on, Alex. Smith came in. Now I had been living like a hermit for some time, and though he has been more than a fortnight returned I had not seen Smith for ten days. The matter was irresistible. We set to and got very jolly together. He complained of having low spirits, but they were soon elevated, and before he went away he was leaping over the chairs, and very anxious to leap out at the window. I received on Monday the enclosed letter from Miss H. to you, and wrote by way of answer that I should send it to Aberdeen intimating my intended visit. By the way, a circumstance of some consequence occurs to me at this moment. If you remain for three weeks in Aberdeen and then leave it, you will do so just about a fortnight (I think) before the Circuit. Might it not be as well to remain until that period, when I might attend the Circuit and bring you back? I do not know at this moment the day of the Circuit, but the newspapers will inform you.
"You may tell Robertson [the before mentioned 'Joseph'] that his clothes may rot where they are until he chooses to write to me himself about them. I suppose James will write you a household statement some time or other soon. If you wish to amuse yourself with reading the lives I wrote in the last number of the Biography, they are Archbishop Hamilton, Sir William Hamilton, Dr Robert Henry, Edward Henryson, J. Bonaventura Hepburn, Roger Hog, John Holybush, and Henry Home of Kames.... The gooseberries appear to dwindle as they ripen. I am afraid few will remain for you, but you will find a sufficient number where you are. I intend to walk to Dunkeld, and to take two days. Al. Smith may come a bit with us.... All my little stock of news is exhausted. Pray remember me to my grand-aunt, Mrs Brown, and my aunts; and I am, my dear mother, your affectionate son,
"JOHN HILL BURTON."
[Footnote 10: The Cyclopaedia of Universal Biography.]
This letter describes the beginning of the life of literary labour which John Hill Burton's was to the end. He would not have liked to see it described as labour. He even disliked the word work as applied to his own pursuits, and he did indeed work as easily as most men play. He was unconscious of his own powers of mental application: his mind worked with as much ease as his lungs breathed. The great bulk of his earlier writings must be quite irrecoverable now. He wrote school-books, specially a set of historical abridgments for the use of schools, under the name of Dr White; he also compiled much of the information in Oliver and Boyd's 'Almanac,' and almost all the letterpress of Billings's 'Ecclesiastical and Baronial Antiquities.'
Dr Burton's whole resources at this time were derived from his pen. He has described this mode of life as a somewhat anxious but by no means unhappy one. The anxiety lay in that in which all sorts of business share—the finding work, looking for employment. The employment once found was agreeable to him. He rapidly acquired a power of mastering almost any subject on which he had to write, though he always looked forward with hope to the time, which eventually came, when he might live securely on a fixed income, free to write from the fulness of his mind and not from outward pressure.
The house in Howard Place was carefully managed by his mother. On a life spent entirely in town proving unsuitable to her health, Dr Burton took for her a little cottage at Brunstane, which served as country quarters for the family for several years.
In 1844 Dr Burton married Isabella Lauder, daughter of Captain Lauder of Flatfield, in Perthshire. He then occupied a house in Scotland Street, and his mother and sister left him to reside in the little cottage called Liberton Bank. There his beloved and revered mother died, in 1848. His sister still lives in the cottage with a little flock of young relatives which her kindness has gathered around her.
Dr Burton's first appearance in independent authorship was in 1846, when he published his 'Life and Correspondence of David Hume.' This work at once gained for him a recognised position among men of letters.
In 1847 he published a volume containing the Lives of Simon Lord Lovat and Duncan Forbes of Culloden. This is an eminently readable work, as are all his minor productions. Literary persons did not consider its merits quite equal to the promise given in its predecessor. During these years much of the spare time left by the need of frequent publication was filled by the task of editing Mr Jeremy Bentham's literary remains, to which Dr Burton was joint editor along with Dr (afterwards Sir John), Bowring. He published, as a precursor to the greater work, one styled 'Benthamiana; an Introduction to the Works of Jeremy Bentham.'
In 1849 he wrote for Messrs Chambers a little book entitled 'Political and Social Economy: Its Practical Application.' May the writer here be permitted to state that she considers this small and little-noticed work the best of all her husband's productions? Though the subject is usually considered particularly dry, there is an ease, rapidity, firmness, and completeness in this little book, which carries the reader on in spite of himself or his prejudices.
The book was first published in two small paper-covered volumes. The writer by chance got possession of the first, which ended without even a full stop; she, then a young girl of not particularly studious habits, having read it, its arguments so filled her mind, that she could not rest till, out of her not over-abundant pocket-money, she had purchased the other volume. The author was then unknown to her. He was afterwards gratified by hearing this testimony to the value of a work which he himself did not esteem so highly as his others. It may not be counted impertinent to repeat it here, for this reason, that the little book in question was intended as a popular treatise, not addressed to the learned, but to the unlearned. It fulfils to perfection the idea of what such a treatise should be. There is in the style not the slightest approach to condescension, or that writing down to the meaner capacity which must always offend an adult student; while the first principles of the science discussed are stated with such lucidity, that his capacity must be mean indeed who cannot grasp them, and they are illustrated by statistics which will remain always interesting, even to the best informed. Probably the particular charm of the book arises from its having been written currente calamo. The information had been all previously stored in the author's mind before he ever thought of writing it. When he began to write, it poured forth without effort or any reference to authorities. The book was written in some marvellously short time,—the writer fears now to say how short. It was counted in days. It would have been quite contrary to Dr Burton's principles to boast of rapidity of composition. His greater works are monuments of industry. Dr Burton's information on economic subjects had probably been acquired during his studies and correspondence about the abolition of the Corn Laws. He was interim editor of the 'Scotsman' at an early period of the Corn-Law agitation, and during his editorship committed the journal to Anti-Corn-Law principles. He was at that time in correspondence with Mr Cobden, whom he visited in Lancashire, and who tried to induce him to remove to that part of the world for the purpose of editing an Anti-Corn-Law newspaper.
Mrs Burton was fond of society, and her husband had not then become positively averse to it. His acquaintance in Edinburgh gradually increased. It included Lord Jeffrey and his family, Lord Murray, who remained a fast friend during his life, and all the remaining members of the old Edinburgh circle.
About the year 1848, the writer first saw Dr Burton, accompanied by his wife, as guests at one of those late evening parties given by Mrs Jeffrey during the last years of her husband's life—a very faint reflection of the earlier hospitalities of Craigcrook and Moray Place.
In 1848 Dr Burton left Scotland Street for a house in Royal Crescent, better suited for occasional reception than the other. But in 1849 the heaviest blow of his life fell on him in the loss of his wife. His five married years had been a period of perfect domestic happiness. He found himself left with three infant daughters; their guide and his gone from him. He has described his sufferings at this time to the writer as fully realising to him the common phrase, "a broken heart." As each day passed, and each night returned, he rose and lay down with the feeling that his heart was broken. He of course shunned all society, and never again recovered any real zest for it. He sometimes thought of imitating his grandfather under like circumstances with a difference—he thought of flying, not to London, but to the backwoods of America, or some place where he should never see a white face, and becoming a "wild man," a savage—a personage of whom he always believed himself to share many of the characteristics. Only consideration for his little girls deterred him from such a course. Although an excessively affectionate parent, Dr Burton had no pleasure in the company of children, owing to his want of any system with them. He could not, according to the common phrase, "manage" children at all—a necessary art for any one who has much of their company. He secured the services of a former governess of his wife, a Miss Wade, as care-taker of his children; and, as soon as he could, removed from the house in Royal Crescent to a small one in Castle Street, and afterwards, from a wish to let his children amuse themselves with little gardens of their own, to one in Ann Street. He has told the writer's father, Cosmo Innes, then his most intimate friend, that the first relief to his oppressed spirits was obtained from the nearest realisation of the "wild man" life to be found within his own country. He took long walks in all weathers, sometimes walking all night as well as all day, at times with a companion, oftener with none. The late Alexander Russel, then editor of the 'Scotsman,' was his companion in some of these rambles, Joseph Robertson in others, and Cosmo Innes in others. It was Mr Russel who accompanied him in the run across Ireland, which took place about this time, and of which his printed sketch is one of the liveliest of his minor writings. His pace was so rapid, and his powers of walking so inexhaustible, that with the lapse of years it became more and more difficult to find a companion who could keep up with him. He has described to Mr Innes one particular walk taken alone to the waterfall called the Grey Mare's Tail. The whole excursion was performed in pitiless rain and wind, which gave the waterfall every advantage, and it was while battling with the elements in climbing the hill to view it that Dr Burton felt the first return of his natural elasticity of spirit. He soon found also the best medicine of all in hard work. The years between the death of his first wife and his second marriage were the most active of his literary life, at least in the line of periodical literature. He contributed regularly to 'Blackwood's Magazine,' besides other periodicals. In 1852 he published narratives from Criminal Trials in Scotland. In 1853 a 'Treatise on the Law of Bankruptcy in Scotland,' and in the same year his 'History of Scotland from the Revolution to the extinction of the last Jacobite Rebellion.'
SECOND STAGE OF LITERARY LIFE.
Appointed Secretary to the Prison Board—Second marriage—Daily life—Death of infant child—First volunteers—Removal to Craighouse.
In 1854 Dr Burton was appointed Secretary to the Prison Board, at a salary of L700 per annum, and was thus relieved of the necessity, which had pressed on him for more than twenty years, of maintaining himself by his pen. On his appointment to this office he removed from Ann Street to the house then 27 Lauriston Place, the site of which is now occupied by the Simpson Memorial Hospital. In 1854 the situation was half rural. The house stood in a good old-fashioned garden of its own, beyond which lay a field containing some old trees; and the house possessed good offices, stables, &c., which were soon adapted to a workshop for Dr Burton himself, and rabbit and pigeon houses for his children.
The productiveness of the garden was marred by incursions of rabbits,—not the children's pets, but wild rabbits, however incredible that may appear, now that the situation has got so entirely separated from the country by new buildings. At that time there was no building between Lauriston Place and Morningside.
Dr Burton, while a widower, had become a more and more frequent visitor at the house of Cosmo Innes in Inverleith Row. The writer does not recollect ever seeing him there along with other company—he preferred finding the family alone. She has met him occasionally in company in other houses—memorably in that of the late Mrs Cunningham, Lord Cunningham's widow—but never, so far as she can remember, in that of her father. He was at that time considered a good talker—his company was sought for the sake of his conversation. His defect in conversation was that he was a bad listener. His own part was well sustained. His enormous store of varied information poured forth naturally and easily, and was interspersed with a wonderful stock of lively anecdotes and jokes. But he always lacked that greatest power of the conversationalist, that subtle ready sympathy which draws forth the best powers of others.
He was invaluable at a dull dinner-table, furnishing the whole frais de la conversation himself; but he never probably appeared to quite such advantage as in the family party at 15 Inverleith Row. His long walks with Mr Innes, sometimes on a Saturday, often on a Sunday, generally ended by his accepting the proffered invitation to dinner on his return. As he was the only guest, nothing could be more suitable or delightful than his amusing the whole circle during the whole time of his stay; and he has himself stated that his attention was first drawn to a shy and particularly silent girl by her irresistible outbursts of laughter at his stories, which outbursts in their turn encouraged him to pour forth story after story of his vast repertory in that sort.
On the 3d of August 1855 John Hill Burton married Katharine Innes as his second wife. He had by that time become accustomed to combine office with literary work, and, with the extraordinary activity and adaptability of his intellect, found them helpful to each other. About the time of his second marriage he conceived the project of his complete 'History of Scotland,' and directed his studies and investigations towards its execution, continuing, as his manner was, to throw off slight foretastes of his greater work as articles for 'Blackwood,' &c. His mode of life at that time was to repair to the office of the Prison Board, in George Street, about eleven. He remained there till four, and made it matter of conscience neither to do any ex-official writing, nor to receive ex-official visits during these hours. He gave his undivided attention to the duties of his office, but has often said that these made him a better historian than he could have been without them. He conceived it highly useful for every literary man, but especially for a historian, to get acquainted with official forms and business. He has himself expressed this opinion fully in his printed works. Returning from his office to dinner at five, he would, after dinner, and after a little family chat in the drawing-room, retire to the library for twenty minutes or half an hour's perusal of a novel as mental rest. His taste in novels has been already described. Although he would read only those called exciting, they did not apparently excite him, for he read them as slowly as if he was learning them by heart. He would return to the drawing-room to drink a large cup of extremely strong tea, then again retire to the library to commence his day of literary work about eight in the evening. He would read or write without cessation, and without the least appearance of fatigue or excitement, till one or two in the morning.
Always an excellent sleeper, he would go to bed and to sleep till nine or ten of the same morning, seldom joining the family breakfast, but breakfasting by himself immediately before going to his office.
In Lauriston Place three more children were born to Dr Burton, a son and two daughters. When the elder of the two little girls was hardly a year old the whole nursery sickened, first of measles, then of hooping-cough. Little Rose, the baby, being recommended change of air, the family went to South Queensferry, and there the baby died, and was buried in Dalmeny churchyard. Some earlier associations had attached both Dr Burton and his wife to the neighbourhood; and during his latter years Dr Burton frequently alluded to this little baby, the only child he lost, being laid there,—and expressed a wish that when their time came, his wife and he should lie there also. His wish was carried out in his own case.
In July of the following year the first company of volunteers formed in Scotland exercised in the field at 27 Lauriston Place. Dr Burton sympathised strongly in the volunteer movement, and joined the Advocates' corps. Though never seriously apprehensive of an invasion of our coasts, he considered it proper that we should increase our military strength while foreign nations were so enormously augmenting theirs. He drilled regularly with the volunteers while they continued to assemble in his field, and until an accident had temporarily lamed him. He marched past the Queen on the brilliant sunny day of the first great Volunteer Review in the Queen's Park in 1860, his wife looking on in the company of his old friend Sir John Kincaid, then an Inspector of Prisons.
27 Lauriston Place was considered sufficiently rural to obviate the necessity of going to the country, and during the six years of its occupancy the family seldom left it. Dr Burton gave his wife a little pony-carriage, by means of which sea-bathing could be had, when desired, from Lauriston Place.
During the year 1860, the new buildings in the neighbourhood spoiled the situation of the house, so as to render it hardly habitable. The field where the volunteers had drilled was built upon almost up to the windows of the house. To escape these disagreeables, a cottage at Lochgoilhead was taken for August and September, and much enjoyed by the whole family. A complete removal was also determined on for the following Whitsuntide.
An old house near the Braid Hills had been a childish haunt of his wife's, and it had been a childish dream of hers to repair that house, then a ruin, and live in it. The situation of the place seemed, and seems to her, the finest in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, and the house was a historical one of no small interest.
The greatest part of it had been built in the year Queen Mary married Darnley (1565), but part of the building was very much older; a subterranean passage especially, of considerable length, well arched, too narrow for a sally-port, unaccountable therefore by any other theory, Dr Burton always believed as old as the Romans. Craighouse had been besieged by Queen Mary's son in person, and had stood the siege and resisted the king. The then laird of Craighouse, whose name was Kincaid, ran away with a widow, who was a royal ward, and married her in spite of the king; whether with or without the lady's own consent no record condescends to specify. The laird was afterwards nearly ruined by a fine, of which a part consisted of a favourite nag, which it would appear King Jamie had been personally acquainted with and coveted.
[Footnote 11: See Pitcairn's Criminal Trials.]
The distance of Craighouse from the town was not great—nothing as a walk to such walkers as Dr Burton and all his family; but it was enough to interfere seriously with evening engagements. Once home from business, it was an effort to return again to the town to dine or attend any sort of social gathering. The thing was not impossible, but its difficulty served as too good an excuse for Dr Burton's increasing unsociability. For a time, while some of the old circle still survived, Dr Burton saw them with pleasure at his own table, but he too early adopted a determination—which no one should ever adopt—to make no new friends. Almost all his old friends predeceased him, and he found himself thrown entirely on the society of his own family.
But to return. From a romantic wish to give his wife what he imagined she desired, Dr Burton returned from Lochgoilhead, leaving his family there, took all the steps for obtaining a lease of Craighouse in their absence, and on their return presented his wife, as her birthday gift, with the keys of Craighouse—a huge bunch of antique keys, some of them with picturesque old handles. Mrs Burton and all her family loved their beautiful home as much as any home ever was loved. They occupied it for seventeen years.
During the exceptionally severe winter of 1860-61, the most essential repairs were executed on the old house, and the family moved into it in March.
The 5th of March was long kept by them as a festival—the anniversary of the day on which they drove out to take possession of Craighouse in a spring snowstorm. They had resolved to get possession before the snowdrops, with which the beautiful avenue was carpeted, should be over; and they did—but the snowdrops were buried in snow.
THIRD STAGE OF LITERARY LIFE.
Craighouse—Birth and marriages—Office and literary work—"Perth days"—Captain Speke—Library—Athenaeum—Historiographership—Unsociability and Hospitality—St Albans—Strasburg—London—Stories, jokes, and nonsense-verses.
At Craighouse a second son was born to Dr Burton; his seventh and youngest child. There also his eldest and his third daughters married; the younger, Matilda Lauder, in June 1877, becoming the wife of William Lennox Cleland, of Adelaide, South Australia; the elder, Isabella Jessie, that of James Rodger, M.D., of Aberdeen, in April 1878.
The whole of the period at Craighouse was one of active literary as well as official life. Dr Burton walked daily to the Office of Prisons, no longer to perform the duty of secretary, but that of manager, at the same salary he had enjoyed as secretary. The transference of the principal part of the duty to London altered his position but slightly. Both before and after this change a monthly visit to the General Prison at Perth was part of his duty. His wife occasionally accompanied him in these excursions, and by experience can judge of the fatigue, or rather the exertion without fatigue, which he underwent in them. At home Dr Burton was never an early riser, but in travelling he willingly performed a first stage before breakfast.
On his "Perth days," in going from Craighouse he was obliged to be astir by four in the morning. His wife usually drove him to the railway station in time to catch a train starting at six. Sometimes he would consent to be met again on the arrival of the latest return train at night and driven home; generally he preferred walking home, after a call at his office, to see if anything there required his attention. He thus arrived at Perth by breakfast-time; spent the whole day in passing from cell to cell of the many hundred prisoners there confined, interrogating each of them, and taking notes of anything requiring notice; and reached home not till nearly midnight, yet never appearing at all fatigued. Latterly he gave up this great effort and did not return till the following day, sleeping in a hotel at Perth on the occasions of his official visits.
In 1867 he published the first four volumes of his 'History of Scotland, from Agricola's Invasion to the Revolution of 1688,' and in 1870 other three volumes, completing the work, and, together with the portion published in 1853, forming a complete narrative of Scotch history from the earliest times down to the suppression of the Jacobite insurrection of '45.
As offshoots from his great work, he published, first in 'Blackwood's Magazine,' and then, with some additions, in volume shape, two pleasant books—the 'Book-Hunter' and the 'Scot Abroad,'—besides many other slighter works. During these years he was often obliged to refuse his pen for fugitive writing, from unwillingness to interrupt his more serious tasks.
The following is a note declining, very characteristically, an application of the kind from his valued friend, Mr Russel, editor of the 'Scotsman':—
"11th August 1862.
"MY DEAR RUSSEL,—What am I expected to do with the Cat Stane? Not to review it, I hope. I have had a sniff of it already in the proceedings of the Antiquarian Society. It is a brilliant specimen of the pedantic pottering of the learned body which enables me to append to my name the A.S.S., fraudulently inverted into S.S.A. Such twaddle always excites me into feverishness. I haven't nerve for it.