Page images

in proportion to the degree of its revelation as to the life of the human soul, second, in proportion to the perfection of form in which that revelation is expressed.

In like manner are there two modes of criticism. One which tries, by the highest standard of literary perfection the critic is capable of conceiving, each work which comes in his way; rejecting all that it is possible to reject, and reserving for toleration only what is capable of standing the severest test. It crushes to earth without mercy all the humble buds of Phantasy, all the plants that, though green and fruitful, are also a prey to insects, or have suffered by drouth. It weeds well the garden, and can. not believe, that the weed in its native soil, may be a pretty, graceful plant.

There is another mode which enters into the natural history of every thing that breathes and lives, which believes no impulse to be entirely in vain, which scrutinizes circumstances, motive and object before it condemns, and believes there is a beauty in each natural form, if its law and purpose be understood. It does not consider a literature merely as the garden of the nation, but as the growth of the entire region, with all its variety of mountain, forest, pasture, and tillage lands. Those who observe in this spirit will often experience, from some humble offering to the Muses, the delight felt by the naturalist in the grasses and lichens of some otherwise barren spot. These are the earliest and humblest efforts of nature, but to a discerning eye they indicate the entire range of her energies.

These two schools have each their dangers. The first tends to hypercriticism and pedantry, to a cold restriction on the unstudied action of a large and flowing life. In demanding that the stream should always flow transparent over golden sands, it tends to repress its careless majesty, its vigour, and its ferti. lizing power.

The other shares the usual perils of the genial and affectionate; it tends to indiscriminate indulgence and a leveling of the beautiful with what is merely tolerable. For indeed the vines need judicious pruning if they are to bring us the ruby wine.

In the golden age to which we are ever looking forward, these two tendencies will be harmonized. The highest sense of ful. filled excellence will be found to consist with the largest appre. ciation of every sign of life. The eye of man is fitted to range all around no less than to be lifted on high.

Meanwhile the spirit of the time, which is certainly seeking, though by many and strange ways, the greatest happiness for the greatest number, by discoveries which facilitate mental no less than bodily communication, till soon it will be almost as easy to get your thought printed or engraved on a thousand leaves as to drop it from the pen on one, and by the simultaneous bubbling up of rills of thought in a thousand hitnerto obscure and silent places, declares that the genial and generous tendency shall have the lead, at least for the present.

We are not ourselves at all concerned, lest excellent expression should cease because the power of speech to some extent becomes more general. The larger the wave and the more fish it sweeps along, the likelier that some fine ones should enrich the net. It has always been so. The great efforts of art belong to artistic regions, where the boys in the street draw sketches on the wall and torment melodies on rude flutes; shoals of sonneteers follow in the wake of the great poet. The electricity which flashes with the thunderbolts of Jove must first pervade the whole atmosphere.

How glad then are we to see that such men as Prince and Thom, if they are forced by poortith cauld' to sigh much in the long winter night, which brings them neither work nor pleasure, can also sing between.

Thom passed his boyhood in a factory, where, beside the disad. vantage of ceaseless toil and din, he describes himself as being under the worst moral influences. These, however, had no power to corrupt his native goodness and sweetness. One of the most remarkable things about him is his disposition to look on the bright side, and the light and gentle playfulness with which he enlivened, when possible, the darkest pages of his life.

The only teachers that found access to the Factory were some works of contemporary poets. These were great contemporaries for him. Scott, Byron, Moore, breathed full enough to fan a good blaze.—But still more important to the Scotsman and the craftsman were the teachings of those commemorated in the following passage which describes the first introduction of them to the literary world, and gives no unfair specimen both of his prose and his poetry :

“Nearer and dearer to hearts like ours was the Ettrick Shepherd, then in his full tide of song and story; but nearer and dearer still than he, or any living songster-to us dearer-was our ill-fated fellow-craftsman, Tannahill, who had just then taken himself from a neglecting world, while yet that world waxed mellow in his lay. Poor weaver chiel! What we owe to thee! Your“ Braes o' Balquidder,” and “Yon Burnside,” and “Gloomy Winter," and the “Minstrel's" wailing ditty, and the noble “Gleneifer." Oh! how they did ring above the rattling of a hundred shuttles! Let me again proclaim the debt we owe those Song Spirits, as they walked in melody from loom to loom, ministering to the low-hearted; and when the breast was filled with everything but hope and happiness, and all but scared, let only break forth the healthy and vigorous chorus "A man's a man for a’ that,” the fagged weaver brightens up. His very shuttle skytes boldly along, and clatters through in faithful time to the tune of his merrier shopmates !

"Who dare measure in doubt the restraining influences of these very Songs? To us they were all instead of sermons. Had one of us been bold enough to enter a church he must have been ejected for the sake of decency. His forlorn and curiously patched habiliinents would have contested the point of attraction with the ordinary eloquence of that period. So for all parties it was better that he kept to his garret, or wandered far “in the deep green wood." Church bells rang not for us. Poets were indeed our Priests. But for those, the last relic of our moral existence would have surely passed away! ."Song was the dew-drops that gathered during the long dark night of despondency, and were sure to glitter in the very first blink of the sun. * * * * To us Virtue, in whatever shape, came only in shadow, but even by that we saw her sweet proportions, and sometimes fain would have sought a kind acquaintance with her.--Thinking that the better features of humanity could not be ytterly defaced where song and melody were permitted to exist, and that where they were not all crushed, Hope and Mercy might yet bless the spot, some waxed bold, and for a time took leave of those who were called to "sing ayont the moon,” groping amidst the material around and stringing it up, ventured on a home-made lilt.—Short was the search to find a newly kindled love, or some old heart abreaking. Such was aye amongst us and not always unnoticed, nor as ye shall see, unsung.

"It was not enough that we merely chaunted, and listened; but some more ambitious, or idle if ye will, they in time would try a self-conceived song. Just as if some funny little boy, bolder than the rest, would creep into the room where laid Neil Gow's fiddle, and touch a note or two he could not name. How proud he is! how blest! for he had made a sound, and more, his playmates heard it, faith! Here I will introduce one of these early touches, not for any merit of its own, but it will show that we could sometimes bear and even seek for our minds a short residence, though not elegant at least sinless,-a fleeting visit of healthy things, though small they were in size and few in number. Spray from a gushing "linn," if it slackened not the thirst, it cooled the brow.

“The following ditty had its foundation in one of those luckless doings which ever and aye follow misguided attachments; and in our abode of freedom these were almost the only kind of attachments known; so they were all on the wrong side of durability or happiness.

Air—"Lass, gin you le me, tell me noo."
We'll meet in yon wood, 'neath a starless sky,

When wrestling leaves forsake ilk tree;
We mauna speak mair o'the days gane by,

Nor o’ friends that again we never maun see:
Nae weak word o’mine shall remembrance gie
Ovows that were made and were broken to me:
I'll seem in my silence to reckon them dead,
A'wither'd and lost as the leaves that we tread.

Alane ye maun meet me, when midnight is near,

By yon blighted auld bush that we fatally ken;
The voice that allured me, O! let me nae hear,

For my heart maun. beat to its music again.

In darkness we'll meet, and in silence remain,'

Ilk word now and look now, were mockful or vain;
Ae mute moment morne the dream that misled,
Syne sinder as cauld as the leaves that we tread.

“ This ditty was sung in the weaving shops, and when in the warbling of one who could lend a good voice to the occasion, and could coax the words and air into a sort of social understanding, then was it a song."

Thom had no furtherance for many years after this first appearance. It was hard work at all times to win bread; when work failed he was obliged to wander on foot elsewhere to procure it, losing his youngest child in a barn from the hardships endured one cold night of this untimely s flitting ;" his admirable wife too died prematurely from the same cause. At one time he was obliged to go with his little daughter and his flute, (on which he is an excellent performer,) into the streets as a mendicant, to procure bread for his family. This last seems to have been far more cruel than any hardship to the honest pride native to the Scotchman. But there is another side. Like Prince, he was happy, as men in a rank more favoured by fortune seldom are, in his choice of a wife. He had an equal friend, a refined love, a brave, gentle, and uncomplaining companion in every sorrow, and wrote from his own experience the following lines :


AIR "Gin a bodie meet a bodie.
They speak o' wyles in woman's smiles,

An' ruin in her e'e-
I ken they bring a pang at whiles

That's unco sair to dree;
But mind ye this, the half-ta’en kiss,

The first fond fa’in' tear,
Is, Heaven kens, fu' sweet amends

An' tints o' heaven here.

« PreviousContinue »