Sivut kuvina



THOMAS CARLYLE, some time ago, lamented with a very sincere regret the lack of material for the study of English history, in the want of good and reliable portraits of historic characters. We can easily understand that regret: a genuine likeness would sometimes go far to solve a historical problem. By the aid of such insight as portraits would supply, the annalist might gather up something like a conception of the blended influences different families had exerted upon each other, whose blood had mingled together. How interesting such a collection might be made, we know from the interest that attaches to even the portraits of a single eminent individual, taken in the successive stages of life. Seen as passing through life's seven ages, we catch a glimpse, through the canvas of the painter, of the vicissitudes which time and circumstance exert upon man. We have not the fortune to possess such a gallery of the ancestors, by either the male or the female line, of the subject of this biography; but we are fortunate enough to possess in Hugh Miller's “Schools and Schoolmasters," what, in the want of such a gallery, may supply the gap its absence creates—the traditionary reminiscences of that ancestry for several generations. Judiciously enough, these traditions are not rendered unnecessarily prolix, while yet sufficient of incident and of character are reproduced, to enable us to form a very definite idea of the tributary human streams from which the Cromarty stone-mason sprang.

In fashionable and aristocratic biographies, one often meets some statement like the following; meant, no doubt, to overawe the plebeian mind, and gratify the pride of birth the family is one of very ancient date, having, it is believed, come into England with the Conqueror. Hugh Miller honestly tells us that his progenitors were a long line of seafaring men, skilful, adventurous sailors, who had coasted along the Scottish shores as early as the times of Sir Andrew Wood and the bold Bartons, and mayhap helped to man“that very monstrous shippe, the Great Michael, that cumbered all Scotland to get her to sea." These sea-kings appear to have been a worthy race; superior, we opine, to the shaggy northmen who accompanied Duke William to the conquest of England. But the buccaneers of the earlier period, who,“ by the splendour of God,” took seizin of the soil of the Saxon, were ennobled; while old John Feddes and his comrades, whether disappointed in love or otherwise, who did business on their own account in the Spanish Main, though quite as honest, were not quite so fortunate. We obtain a very penetrative glance into the basis of kindness on which the energetic characters of Hugh Miller's progenitors reposed, from the following story of his father's early life. His mother had consigned him to the care of an aunt married to a neighbouring farmer, that in the acquisition of agricultural tastes, he might be saved from the hereditary fate of the family, who, in its male members at least, had, during many generations, all of them made ocean their tomb. But destiny was not thus to be foiled; the family fate was not to be so avoided. Sent from the farm-house to drown a litter of puppies, the boy, after some intermittent fits of irresolution, took his way to his mother's house, arriving there in the dusk of the gloamin, with the doomed doggies tucked up in his kilt. The good woman in consternation at his appearance in such circumstances, exclaimed “O my unlucky boy!" “ Mother,” said the youth, "the little doggies, mother; I couldna drown the little doggies, and I brought them to you.” The unlucky boy having no ambition to become a model farmer, was ultimately sent to sea, and exhibited throughout a checkered, yet not unsuccessful career, the best qualities of a British sailor. The tender-hearted youth, “who couldna drown the doggies,” afterwards did very effective execution upon the Dutch off the Dogger-bank, on that day, memorable in the annais of British naval warfare, doing the work of two men.

Pressed into the service of his country without his consent, Miller is one evening found absent without leave, and the next glimpse we have of him, he is master of a craft that sails from his native Cromarty. Fortune smiles upon the shipmaster; he builds a new house beside the ancient cottage of his buccaneering grandsire, of more imposing proportions than satisfied the modest ambition of old John Feddes. The dangers of the sea are proverbial, both in song and story; and nowhere does adversity follow faster on the heels of fortune in individual instances, than on that element which has built up the greatness of Britain. Early in November, 1797, Miller's square-rigged sloop, which had lain for some days wind-bound in the port of Peterhead, left its moorings on the gloomy night of a gloomy day, and bore out to sea.

The breeze, which had lured the craft from her haven, speedily freshened into a gale, the gale into a hurricane; and despite the most herculean efforts, and the most skilful seamanship, his bark, the Friendship, next morning is in spales on the bar of Findhorn. His fortunes thus wrecked, Miller was on the eve of selling his house at a disadvantage, to provide himself with a new vessel, when a friend interposed and advanced the money required. The new sloop, though not quite equal to the lost one in point of size, was wholly built

« EdellinenJatka »