Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

THE

OLD BACHELOR

IN THE

OLD SCOTTISH VILLAGE.

CHAPTER I.

RETURN AND SETTLEMENT. It is a law of human nature that a man, however long he may have been abroad, and however comfortable his foreign residence may be, is yet drawn back by old affection to his native spot, there to spend the evening of his life. It is wisely ordained by God, in the constitution of our being, that this should be so, as the gentlest and best natural preparation for a man to die. Such an one as I have supposed comes back to the place of his boyhood, not doubting he shall be happy as of yore. He has abundance of wealth, let us say ; but where are the friends and companions of his childhood ? He loves the place still, and cannot leave it; but no where else could such a profound solemnizing sense of the vanity of human life, in itself, fall and dwell on his heart. This, mingled with the tender recollections of early boyhood, induces a state of mind, which, by resignation and the hope of meeting his longlost friends, fits a man more than any other mere natural influence for “shuffling off this mortal coil.” Graciously, then, has Providence implanted within us this desire of returning to the place of our childhood, especially in our declining years, that being thereby made to feel how valueless this world is in itself, and to yearn after those dear

A

ones who are gone before us, our own preparation for going hence also may be made with sweet composure. Such were the feelings that brought me home to my native Village, after a life of activity in various places elsewhere ; and such was my tender disappointment and regret when I did come back. But the perfect preparation to die, however much helped by these natural means, is still from God alone : May he grant it to me, of his grace!

One of my first visits was to the church-yard of my fathers. Ah! how glad was I to find things unchanged there, save that the graves of my kindred were all sunk to the hard green level of the natural earth. The old head-stone of the “Portioners” of our family, besidės being swayed and sunk to one side, was all over-grown with scurf, so that I could scarcely read the names of my grandfather and grandmother, and their numerous children, many of whom “died in infancy." My first thought was to have it replaced with a new stone, bearing my own father and mother's names, and the names of my brothers and sisters; but not being able to determine in my own mind what lapse of time is sufficient to give us a right to blot away the old generation from the eyes of men, and put the new in its stead, and as there was not room for both on the tomb-stone which I proposed, I came to the resolution of letting things remain just as they were, contented with having our burial-place marked out, however rudely. The truth is, I have no craving whatever for having the dear old family names stuck up on gaudy tablets, which in nine cases out of ten are meant to set forth the importance of the living, rather than be memorials of the dead. As for

cemeteries” in the Perela-Chaise style, where a man may do Hervey's Meditations in a Flower Garden, and among the Tombs, at one and the same time, I cannot away with them. And save us from utilitarianism, as well as vanity, in kirk-yards ! Why, the very next village burial-place to our own (I have been there, too, looking for the last resting-place of an early friend) has got a fine new wall round it. This might

your

[ocr errors]

pass; but the spirit of trim utility has invaded the interior also, and I was shocked to find that all the

graves

had been levelled, and the whole yard dug over, and sown out with new grass. The particular grave which I went to seek was,

of course, no more to be found. And the general effect of all this finical uniformity was, that the forcible lesson of our uncertain life, drawn from the varied and contrasted sizes of a hundred visible graves--the span-long infant seen lying by the full-grown man—was levelled down into one dull blank of vague and unimpressive conjecture. As for the epitaphs of our church-yards in general, whether in town or country, the less that is said of them the better. Where anything beyond the mere regis. try of names and dates is attempted, we have generally a wordy pomp of indiscriminate and fulsome eulogy. But we can hardly wonder that epitaphs in general are ill written, for this kind of composition is a very peculiar and difficult one.

It
may

almost be called a distinct Art. Its fine principle demands that sorrow and suffering, however strongly set forth, should yet be chastened and subdued to repose, and hope, and Christian peace. In its right spirit it is nearly allied to the Greek sculpture. In Wordsworth's Essay on Epitaphs, we have a delicately philosophical exposition of the principles which should guide the artist (why not call him so ?) in these most difficult compositions. If this literature of the heart were better understood, and more cultivated as an Art, how impressive might be the voice of instructed sorrow on our monumental stones. I do not hesitate to say this ; for though the pomp of mausoleums is anything but pleasing to me, I agree with Markland in thinking that inscriptions on them, by being well done, might help not a little the cause of pious instruction. In the middle of our kirk-yard stands the Parish Kirk, more than a century old. Apart, among its own coeval decayed trees at one extremity of the burying-ground, is a much more ancient and venerable building, “The Old Chapel,” the early worshipping-place of our fathers, but now a hoary mouldering ruin.

Dear old place! There it stands, losing its artificial lineaments, and fading away by assimilation into the natural landscape where it is, or rather almost is not. With what delicacy of feeling, and exquisite cadence of simple words, has Wordsworth described this gentle process of assimilation, in which Nature fashions the fragments of falling edifices, feathering them over with graceful fringes of green, and softening them down from the abrupt and ruined artificial into a continuation of her own mild, living, and eternal elements :

“ Dying insensibly away
From human thoughts and purposes,
It seemed, wall, window, roof, and tower,
To yield to some transforming power,
And blend with the surrounding trees."

But I leave our church-yard for the present.

And courage, now! I must not mope away all at once into the mere contemplative sentimentalist : So, let us have a little action. What shall it be? Well then, here is our old family mansion going to wreck ; let me rebuild it, and make a nice thing of it. So rebuild it I did, and I made a very nice thing of it indeed : For though it was in the Village, it was out of it too, being central and selfcontained in its own little domain of grounds. I was happy in all this work, and it graduated my fall from active to retired life, shading me nicely off as I came down. And now I lay down this general lesson-listen brother Bachelors : To no other class of men, perhaps, is happiness more shy and difficult of attainment, than to those who, after having passed a methodical and industrious life, retire with a competency to the perfect leisure of a country retreat. It may be recommended to all who look forward to this otium cum dignitate—this sort of poetical justice to their diligent youth and laborious manhood—that they ought to buy a place in the country which requires to be “ made," instead of indulging themselves at once with a finished property. The pleasing care of watching daily and yearly improvement, and of reporting progress, will let their spirits gently down from the extreme of healthful activity to the extreme of unemployed repose ; and then the consciousness of having

themselves comparatively fashioned the snuggery they are settled in, will secure them a zest in the enjoyment of it. Such calculations as these enter largely into the Art of Living, which is a very great art indeed.

My cottage, garden, and paddock, and all appurtenances, being tolerably complete, I took my only sister, elderly and unmarried, to keep house for me. I find we shall suit each other. Moreover, there are no nice distinctions of society here to annoy us; but all is frankness, cordiality, and ease. Unhappy the poor wight who claims to be in a sphere above his own native level, without having his claim distinctly allowed. His natural fellows, above whom he aspires to be, hate and laugh at him ; while his ambitious longings make him no less afraid and incapable of mixing cordially among them. He thus belongs to no order of men whatever, and loses the best enjoyment of human life, dwelling for ever in an amphibious border of doubt and mistrust. He is like Milton's lion in the Creation: his fore-parts are pawing to get free, and be up; while his hind-quarters stick fast in the clod. Sister Mary and I are not troubled with these social distresses. So, here we are pretty happy upon the whole.

But I am anticipating a little. For I ought first to mention, that in a good library I laid in one very fair stock of means for keeping ourselves self-contained and independent in our own enjoyment, should the spirit of exclusive circles ever invade this retired hamlet. And then I have my newspapers, too. And, as I am somewhat given to general remarks, I beg to say that no man can thoroughly enjoy the luxury of a newspaper except in his own house, in his own quiet room, and after such preparation of drawing the curtains, stirring the fire, &c., as Cowper describes so admirably. If he lives a retired life in the country, so much the better for his relish of the thing; and better still if he braces his nerves with a walk to the Post-office, and puts his own newspaper in his pocket. Hogarth's Politician would never have burnt a hole in his hat, in his absorbed intensity of enjoyment, elsewhere than by his own fire-side.

I have known some

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »