Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

and had subsequently married an ignorant, half-imbecile labourer, with whom she passed a life of poverty and unhappiness; of this unpromising marriage William was the eldest child. From neither of his parents did he derive his genius. His maternal grandmother and aunt were, however, excellent christian women. With them William had lived from an early age.

His boyhood had been that of the poet; he had loved to indulge in day-dreams in the solitude of a deep wood beside his grandmother's cottage, had learned to write verses, and draw landscapes, as no one in that locality had written or drawn before; and, as the nearest approach to an artist in those primitive regions was a house-painter, William was despatched to Cromarty, to cultivate his taste for the fine arts, papering rooms and lobbies, and painting railings and wheel-barrows. The house-painter and the stone-mason having once fairly re-established old recognizances, the new friend went a long way to supply the gap which the breaking up of the band to which we have alluded, left in Hugh Miller's acquaintanceship. In their converse together, they beat over all the literature with which they were in common acquainted, and though the literary tastes of William were more circumscribed than the taste of Hugh, in the field of nature both perfectly harmonized. Many a moonlight walk had the friends together, visiting after nightfall the glades of the surrounding woods, listening to the night breeze as it swept sullenly along the pine tops. It is deeply interesting to note the marked difference in the kind of enjoyment which the youths drew from those lofty images of the sublime and the beautiful with which they were equally enamoured. Hugh Miller, full of hope, joy, and life, yearning for the large excitement the coming years would yield, already looks out upon nature as a companion with whom he is destined to enjoy at once a lengthened and most familiar intercourse. William Ross already carried about with him the consciousness that, in a very special manner, here there was for him no continuing city. The shadow of the cypress shed its sadness into his soul. The joy with which the contemplation of nature filled him, was overcast by the melancholy foreboding that soon her raptures would be for other eyes than his. And yet, ere William has gone to the silent land, as the German Salis has it, we shall meet him valiantly doing battle with labour against capital in the metropolis of our country.

CHAPTER IV.

THE BOTUY.

In nothing does Hugh Miller's freshness, strength, and perfect freedom from conventionalism, come more clearly out, than in the unreserved disclosure of all that was really interesting or peculiar in his early career: never do we detect any attempt to dress up

the

story of his life in a manner that would indicate a wish to leave some other than the actual impression facts would produce. That tendency to shun the homely for the grand (the besetting sin of so many writers), never once seduced him from his simplicity. His experiences of life were occasionally sufficiently humble, and occasionally brought him in contact with the most vicious forms social and domestic existence have assumed in modern times. The bothy may appear to some a very vulgar place, out of which it was by no means likely any man of genius or science should come, and where if unfortunate enough ever to have been, it might just be as well not to shock delicate nerves by saying anything of its rough ways. Hugh Miller had, however, undertaken to give the world a history of his “Schools and Schoolmasters," and had he confined himself to the genteel, we had probably never possessed his autobiography; his experiences of the conventionally genteel, especially in early life, being of the very slenderest kind. All honour to thee, brave one, for thy perfect unreserve on this matter ! Now that public attention is being gradually awakened to this colossal social wrong, by which nearly every usage of civilized life is held in abeyance, and man almost reverts to the savage state, thy views are worth a waggon-load of the grandiloquence of sentimental philanthropists, who find in talking about the grievances of labour a cheap mode of establishing a reputation as the poor man's friends. Of old, the workman required to be warned against demagogues of his own order: now he stands in nearly equal, if not greater danger from demagogues of the genteeler sort, who affecting a great interest in his wellbeing, are in point of fact only making his grievances, real or supposed, the rostrum from which to acquire the little passing personal notoriety they are silly enough to mistake for fame.

We left Hugh Miller enjoying his winter holidays with William Ross. The holiday season is now over. Winter with its moonlight walks and moody reveries is gone, and spring has come again, bringing with it its round of labour-quarrying, building, and stone-cutting. But before midsummer work has failed uncle David, his squad is thrown out of employment, and after a most vexatious interregnum, the old man, now during more than a quarter of a century an employer of labour, is reluctantly compelled to become a journeyman. Misery, it is said, makes man acquainted with strange bed-fellows, and this misfortune of his master, whom Hugh was too loyal to leave in the hour of adversity, first brought him into contact with that degrading form of social life known as the bothy system. It was at some twenty miles' distance on the Conon shore, one of those lovely spots where, as Heber has it, “every prospect pleases, and only man is vile," that he entered this new and noisy school. Despite the criticism of Foster, there is much if there be not even absolute truth in the poet's aphorism, “ the proper study of mankind is man;" and here certainly man might be studied to very great advantage by the competent student. In old and settled societies like our own, nearly all of character and peculiarity is either taken out of the mass of the population, or is veiled with so thick a crust of conventionalism that it is well nigh impossible to discover its original features. The liberalizing influence of travel springs mainly from its power to counteract this sinister result of an old civilization. The wanderer in foreign parts gets emancipated from the tyrannic power of custom, the edge is taken off his overweening admiration of the conventional, and he is enabled to contemplate his fellow-man without those accessories through which alone many deign to look at him at all. Very graphically has John Kitto described this influence. "Oh! how it has delighted me,” says Kitto, “to take a man distinguished from his brother man by a thousand outward circumstances, which make him appear at the first view almost

« EdellinenJatka »