Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

up his mind to take £10,000 for it.

Ah! 'tis only a button, wanting the eye. He tosses it away, attempting a careless whistle to hide his mortification.

Perge, puer!

And merrily carols the “ Farmer's Boy,” stumbling over the dun clods with his raking harrows, which ever and anon in their jumping hitch send off thin uffs of stour adown the wind ! And blithely chants the damsel

carrying the seed to the white-sheeted sower, earnestly, measuredly stalking along, scattering the hopeful corn, like a thin white dust in the windy light, over the brown upland! And the whooping and laughing of children rings in the clear air, as they gather the early tussilago in the dry furrows, or seek the striped snail-cups on the broomy braes, and the first primroses by the mossy roots of the aged thorn! And every bush is rough with buds! And sweet are the glimmerings of green light through the waving willows by the water-courses ! And merrily do the mazy midges dance in the glinting vistas! And all the opening year is full of the beauty of promise !"

CHAPTER VIII.

VISIT

TO

EDINBURGH. A man never looks more sheepish than when he has taken a tender leave of his friends two or three times the same day, failing to get a seat on every successive coach as it passes, and has to come back again, and back again, with his carpet bags, under the gaze of the whole neighbours round. Sympathy dies, and “farewell” becomes ludicrous, under such an iteration. My advice to such a one is, to get down on his hands and knees, and push on in this posture of a dromedary, with all his bags and bundles laid over his back like pack-saddles, rather than turn back again the fifth or sixth time. Such was my own serio-comic predicament, one day about the middle of April, on my proposed way to visit Edinburgh. Whether or not I would have done the dromedary in the evening, I do not take it upon me precisely to say. It was luckier for me that I got off by the last coach of the day.

I had not seen Edinburgh for twenty long years. Many cities of the earth had I seen in that time; but beyond them all to me now was “ mine own romantic town,” as well in its own immediate beauty, as in the fine range of scenery, far and near, which it commands.

Walking one morning towards the Mound from the west end of Princes Street, close by the railing on the garden side, I caught glimpses from time to time of the marble-like beauties of the Institution, seen through the pensile waving foliage of the young trees in the fresh morning. The whiteness of sculptured pillars seen through the greenness of leaves ! The perfection of Art seen through the tenderest Joveliness of Nature ! How graceful! How beautiful! Yet I am forced to say of Edinburgh, with all its architectural distinctions, that there is a want of imposing grandeur about it. The New Town is surpassingly fair ; but there is far too much of regularity, division, and dissipation of effect about it, for commanding greatness. The only vast and overawing feature of the City is the backbone of the Old Town, from the Castle down to Holyrood, seen from the Calton with all its evening lights, or in the smokeless air of the clear morning. Such a far grouping of the most irregular and daring piles, in every form of jags on the enormous spine, is absolutely tremendous. Arthur's Seat deserves especial notice. I have seen no hill so perfect of beauty. It is like a vase-look at it from all points, and you have the same unique symmetry of form. The suffusion of sunny air on its lofty shoulders on a clear April day, and the ethereal blue of the heavens above its grey rocks, are exquisite.

Extending my walks for miles around and beyond the suburbs, I was struck with the character of the folk as harsh, dry, and ungenial, almost to repulsiveness. I believe we may say generally, that the country people who live within two or three miles of a large city have less character about them-less intelligence on the one hand,

and less amiable simplicity on the other than any other class of society. They have neither city cultivation nor rural kindness. The multitude of strangers whom they daily see passing by, and the suspicion of prowlers from the near city, while they want the defence which the city yields, make them distrustful and churlish, and altogether so inhospitable that they will scarcely give you a draught of water, or answer you a simple question. The very children seem affected by the same unfortunate situation. They are never seen playing at games that belong either to town or country. Those boards threatening prosecution to trespassers, which meet the eye at every corner of a field or plantation within six miles of the city, restrict the wandering feet of these unhappy youngsters, whether in quest of daisies or snail-cups, and cramp the free play of their young hearts with the ever anxious fear of offence.

The “ Modern Athenians” are a people of great intelligence; but somewhat sharp and narrow, and, from the prevailing forensic practice of the place, added to the national love of ratiocination, altogether too dialectic. The English beat them hollow in the art of conversation. Of course, I speak generally. I do not mean, for instance,

that such a man as Lord Jeffrey, with his copiousness of fancy and feeling, fresh-drawn from the eloquent vigour of the present day, yet softened and chastened down with the lingering amenities of the old regime of manner, is inferior to any Southron in this great art.

To glance rapidly from subject to subject—when the theme has run considerably far from its starting point, not to call it back by any violent logical precision, but to pass easily into some collateral topic-not to bend and turn the flow of talk for the purpose of getting launched on it some prepared witticism-not to hold the stream of discourse back by anecdotes and stories, save to give it rich momentary pauses, and a consequent brisker circulation—to draw out others rather than to display one's-self—such are some of the best qualifications, negative and positive, of an accomplished talker. From the disputatious habits of the Scotch, I repeat, they

to say

are, generally speaking, not the most pleasant men in conversation. I might generalise this remark still farther, and say that, upon the whole, logicians are not happy in the ordinary colloquies of life. On the same principle it is that the Latin language, which is of an elaborate, balanced, antithetical, and stately construction, admirably fitted for declamation and argument, is not easy and rapid enough for comedy. I speak under favour of Horace and Terence, who are fellows certainly glib and supple to admiration, while their compeers are turning the salient corners of wit like crocodiles, or three-ringed armadilloes. Even with all the wonders which Nature can do in such cases, we can scarcely conceive a courtship carried on in the Latin tongue. One of the most accomplished of our moderns in conversation was Sheridan. His peculiar skill lay in the power of bending, without in the least degree seeming to bend, the conversation for the purpose of adapting it to some of his polished witticisms, which he had always in store in his quiver. He has got credit, at least, for consummate tact in this respect; though the very circumstance that he has got credit for it proves that his art was perceived, and, therefore, not altogether perfect. Perfect, indeed, such an art can never be, as no determined twist in talk can take place without instantly hurting a most instinctive sense in cultivated men. Johnson's sturdy powers of talk are well known, but at times he must have been an intolerable bore. For reach and variety, Burke was fully his match. Sharpe and Mackintosh shone well in conversation. In high rapt imaginative monologue, Coleridge was more like an angel than one of the sons of men : Never, of the dwellers on earth, was there such an ethereal inhabitant of that splendid border-land, composite of sun and morning mist, and peopled with myriad gleams of beautiful and heroic shapes, which lies between the province of distinct poetry and the philosophy of Plato. As one who unites the sharpest logical precision with the

most discursive ease, De Quincey, the celebrated Opium-Eater, is a great master of talk. He is lively with the lively, but wo be to the disputatious opponent who thinks to cover

D

anything like a dogmatic retreat beneath a cloud of loose dispersed no-meanings! He may flutter away to the uttermost twig of the many-branched tree of discourse ; still the mild, though terrible, “But-” of De Quincey has him back again to the very first fork of the matter where he diverged, and a logical tenpenny nail driven mercilessly through his ear, and nailing him to the main trunk, ends the affair. One of the most rapid, comprehensive, and yet minute talkers in ancient or modern times, was Buonaparte. I say minute, only in the sense in which a master of epic poetry is minute and graphic. He seized on such small things as are symbolical, or symptomatic, or representative of vast and eternal elements. He had the sublime art of settling generic distinctions by simple specific things. With what imperatorial grandeur did Napoleon advance up at once to the very heart of his subject-matter; strip away its disguises and weaknesses to right and left; and bring to light at once, and lay bare at his feet, the very unsophisticated, elementary question itself! All great characters have a uniqueness and totality about them. How completely the same were the style of Buonaparte's battles, and the style of his talk! To pour the whole column of his might into the central point of his opponent, to stagger his very heart, and then cut him off in detail,—such were the simple and sublime tactics of this great fighter and great talker.

Perhaps in no city of the world are there fewer oddities of incident and character to be met with than in Edinburgh. The habits of domestic life are so strict, the fortunes

generally are so limited, well-defined, and exactly lived up to, and the legal acumen of the place is so sharp and prevailing, that humorists and queer impostors cannot do there at all. In London, again, there is a boundless profusion of wealth. Thousands of the possessors of it have grown rich without education ; they are not admitted into what is called good society ; but, feeling their own independence, they are therefore the more determined to snap their fingers at the smooth usages of the world, and show the value of their money, and get at least some sort of enjoy.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »