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“ At the close of the day when the hamlet was still,”
delivered with a gusto, perhaps only to be felt by a day-laboring mechanic, who had “nothing but his evenings to himself.” Methinks I still sympathize with the zest with which he dwelt on the pastoral images and dreams so rarely realized, when a chance holiday gave him the fresh-breathing fragrance of the living flower in lieu of the stale odor of the Indian weed : and philosophically I can now understand why poetry, with its lofty aspirations and sublime feelings, seemed to sound so gratefully to the ear from the lips of a “ squire of low degree.” There is something painful and humiliating to humanity in the abjectness of mind, that too often accompanies the sordid condition of the working classes; whereas it is soothing and consolatory to find the mind of the poor man rising superior to his estate, and compensating by intellectual enjoyment for the physical pains and privation that belong to his humble lot. Whatever raises him above the level of the ox in the garner, or the horse in the mill, ought to be acceptable to the pride, if not to the charity, of the fellow creature that calls him brother; for instance music and dancing, but against which innocent unbendings some of our magistracy persist in setting their faces, as if resolved that a low neighborhood should enjoy no dance but St. Vitus's, and no fiddle but the Scotch.
To these open-air pursuits, sailing was afterwards added, bringing me acquainted with the boatmen and fishermen of The Craig, a hardy race, rough and ready-witted, from whom per. chance was first derived my partiality for all marine bipeds and sea-craft, from Flag Admirals down to Jack Junk, the proud first-rate to the humble boatie that “ wins the bairns' bread." The Tay at Dundee is a broad noble river, with a raging tide, which, when it differs with a contrary wind, will get up "jars” (Anglicé waves) quite equal to those of a family manufacture. It was at least a good preparatory school for learning the rudiments of boat craft; whereof I acquired enough to be able at need to take the helm without either going too near the wind or too distant from the port. Not without some boyish pride I occasionally found myself intrusted with the guidance of
the Coach-Boat,—so called from its carrying the passengers by the Edinburgh Mail-particularly in a calm, when the utmost exertions of the crew, four old man-of-war's-men, were required at the oars. It not unfrequently happened, however, that “the laddie was unceremoniously ousted by the unanimous vote, and sometimes by the united strength, of the ladies, who invari. ably pitched upon the oldest old gentleman in the vessel to
Steer her up and haud her gaun.”
The consequence being the landing with all the baggage, some mile above or below the town—and a too late conviction, that the Elder Brethren of our Trinity House were not the best Pilots.
It was during one of these brief voyages, that I witnessed a serio-comic accident, at which the reader will smile or sigh according to his connexion with the Corporation of London. 1 forget on what unconscious pilgrimage it was bound, but amongst the other passengers one day, there was that stock-dove of a gourmand's affection, a fine lively turtle. Rich and rare as it was, it did not travel unprotected like Moore's heroine, but was under the care of a 'vigilant guardian, who seemed as jealous of the eyes that looked amorously at his charge, as if the latter had been a ward in Chancery. So far-namely, as far as the middle of the Tay-so good; when the spirit of mischief, or curiosity, or humanity, suggested the convenience of a sea-bath, and the refreshment the creature might derive from a taste of its native element. Accordingly, Testudo was lifted over the side, and indulged with a dip and a wallop in the wave, which actually revived it so powerfully, that from a playful flapping with its fore-fins it soon began to struggle most vigorously, like a giant refreshed with brine. In fact, it paddled with a power which, added to its weight, left no alternative to its guardian but to go with it, or without it. The event soon came off. The man tumbled backward into the boat, and the turtle plunged forward into the deep. There was a splash-a momentary glimpse of the broad back-shell—the waters closed, and all was over-or at least under! In vain one of the boatmen aimed a lunge with
his boat-hook, at the fatal spot in particular-in vain another made a blow with his oar at the Tay in general—whilst a third, in his confusion, heaved a coil of rope, as he would, could, should, might, or ought to have done to a drowning Christian. The Amphibious was beyond their reach, and no doubt, making westward and homeward with all its might, with an instinctive feeling that
“ The world was all before it where to choose
Its place of rest, and Providence its guide."
Never shall I forget, whilst capable of reminiscences, the face of that mourning mate thus suddenly bereaved of his turtle! The unfortunate shepherd, Ding-dong, in Rabelais, could hardly have looked more utterly and unutterably dozed, crazed, mizmazed, and flabbergasted, when his whole flock and stock of golden-fleeced sheep suicidally sheepwashed themselves to death, by wilfully leaping overboard ! He said little in words, but more eloquently clapped his hands to his waistcoat, as if the loss, as the nurses say, had literally “flown to his stomach.” And truly, after promising it both callipash and callipee, with the delicious green fat to boot, what cold comfort could well be colder than the miserable chilling reflection that there was
“ Cauld kail in Aberdeen ?"
My first acquaintance with the press—a memorable event in an author's experience—took place in Scotland. Amongst the temporary sojourners at our boarding house, there came a legal antiquarian who had been sent for from Edinburgh, expressly to make some unprofitable researches amongst the mustiest of the civic records. It was my humor to think, that in Political as well as Domestic Economy, it must be better to sweep the Present than to dust the Past; and certain new brooms were recommended to the Town Council in a quizzing letter, which the then editor of the Dundee Advertiser or Chronicle thought fit to favor with a prominent place in his columns. “ 'Tis pleasant sure," sings Lord Byron, " to see one's self in print," and according to the popular notion I ought to have been quite up in my stirrups, if not standing on the saddle, at thus seeing myself, for the first strange time, set up in type. Memory recalls, however, but a very moderate share of exaltation, which was totally eclipsed, moreover, by the exuberant transports of an accessary before the fact, whom, methinks, I still see in my mind's
eye, rushing out of the printing-office with the wet sheet steaming in his hand, and fluttering all along the High Street, to announce breathlessly that “ we were in.” But G. was an indifferent scholar, even in English, and therefore thought the more highly of this literary feat. It was this defective education, and the want of a proper vent for his abundant love of nonsense in prose or verse, that probably led to the wound he subsequently inflicted on his own throat, but which was luckily remedied by “a stitch in time.” The failure of a tragedy is very apt to produce some
thing like a comedy, and few afterpieces have amused me more than the behavior of this Amicus Redivivus, when, thus drama. tising the saying of “cut and come again,” he made what ought to have been a posthumous appearance amongst his friends. In fact, and he was ludicrously alive to it, he had placed himself for all his supplementary days in a false position. Like the old man in the fable, after formally calling upon Death to execute a general release, he had quietly resumed his fardel, which he bore about with exactly the uneasy ridiculous air of a would-be fine gentleman, who is sensitively conscious that he is carrying a bundle. For the sake of our native sentimentalists who pro. fess dying for love, as well as the foreign romanticists who affect a love for dying, it may not be amiss to give a slight sketch of the bearing of a traveller who had gone through half the jour. ney. I had been absent some months, and was consequently ignorant of the affair, when lo! on my return to the town, the very first person
who accosted me in the market-place was our felo-de-se; and truly, no Bashful Man, “ with all his blushing honors thick upon him,” in the presence of a damp stranger, could have been more divertingly sheepish, and awkwardly backward in coming forward as to manner and address. Indeed, something of the embarrassment of a fresh introduction might naturally be felt by an individual, thus beginning again, as the lawyers say, de novo, and renewing ties he had virtually cast off. The guilty hand was as dubiously extended to me as if it had been a dyer's,-its fellow meanwhile performing sundry involuntary motions and manipulations about his cravat, as if nervously mistrusting the correctness of the ties or the stability of a buckle, As for his face, there was a foolish, deprecatory smile upon it that would have puzzled the pencil of Wilkie; and even Liston himself could scarcely have parodied the indescribable croak with which, conscious of an unlucky notoriety, he inquired " if I had heard "-here, a short husky cough—"of anything particular ?"
“ Not a word,” was the answer.
“ Then you don't know "-(more fidgetting about the neck, the smile rather sillier, the voice more guttural, and the cough worse than ever)—" then you don't know”—but, like Macbeth's