olden times, there were certain fixed occasions when
labour and frolic went hand in handwhen professional
duty and kindhearted glee mutually kissed each other.
The "rockin mentioned by Burns
e'en we had a rockin
see in the dim and hazy distance of the past. It is only
under the refractive medium of vigorous recollection
that I can again bring up to view (as the Witch of Ender
did Samuel) those images that have been reposing, "
midst the wreck of things that were," for more than
fifty years. Yet my early boyhood was familiar with
these social senile and juvenile festivities. There
still sits Janet Smith, in her toy-mutch and
check-apron, projecting at intervals the well-filled
spindle into the distance. Beside her is Isabel Kirk,
elongating and twirling the yet unwound thread. Nanny
Nivison occupies a creepy on the further side of the
fire (making the third Fate !), with her shears. Around,
and on bedsides, are seated Lizzy Gibson, with her
favoured lad; Tam Kirkpatrick, with his jo jean on his
knee; Rob Paton the stirk-herd ; and your humble
servant. And "now the crack gaes round, and who so
wilful as to put it by?" The story of past times ; the
report of recent love-matches and miscarriages; the
gleeful song, bursting unbid from the young heart,
swelling forth in beauty and in brightness like the
waters from the rock of Meribah: the occasional female
remonstrance against certain welcome impertinences, in
shape of, "Come now, Tamnane o yer nonsense. "Will !
I say, be peaceable, and behave yersel afore folk. 'Od,
yell squeeze the very breath out o a body.
a social glass o' strunt,
They parted oft careering
On sic a night.
heard a lilting at our ewe-milking.
How few of the present generation have ever heard of
this "lilting, except in song. It is the gayest and
sunniest season of the year. The young lambs, in their
sportive whiteness, are coursing it, and bleating it,
responsive to their dams, on the hill above. The old
ewes on the plain are marching
labour much of man and dog
pen or fold. The response to the clear-toned bleat of
their woolly progeny is given, anon and anon, in a
short, broken, low bass. It is the raven conversing with
the jackdaw ! All is bustle, excitement, and badinage.
"Weer up that ewe, Jenny, lass. Wha kens but her woo may
yet be a blanket for you and ye ken wha to sleep in!
"Haud yer tongue, Tammie, and gang hame to yer books and
yer schoolin. Troth, it will be twa days ere the crews
dirty your kirk riggin!
wouf!hee, hee, hee!
hoch, hoch, hoch !there in they go,
they are, their horny heads wedged over each other, and
a trio of stout, well-made damsels, with petticoats tied
up a la breeches tugging away at their well-filled
"Troth, Jenny; that ewe will waur ye ; od, I think ye
hae gotten hand o the auld tup himsel. Hes as powerfu,
let me tell ye, as auld Francie,wham ye kissed sae snug
last nicht ayont the peat-mou.
"Troth, at weel, Tam, yere a fearfu liar. They wad be
fonder than I am o cock birds wha wad gie tippence for
the stite o a howlet."
"Howlet here, howlet there, Jenny, ye ken weel his auld
brass will buy you a new pan.
At this crisis the crack becomes general and inaudible
from its universality, mixed as it is with the bleating
of ewes, the barking of dogs, together with the singing
of herd-laddies and of your humble servant.
Harvest is a blithe time! May all the charms of "
Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on him who shall
first invent a reaping-machine! The best of all
reaping-machines is "the human arm divine," whether
brawny or muscular, or soft and rounded. The old woman
of sixty sits all year long at her domestic
occupationsyou would deem her incapable of any out-door
exertions; but, at the sound of the harvest-horn, she
renews her youth, and sallies forth into the
harvest-field, with hook over shoulder, and a heart
buoyant with the spirit of the season, to take her place
and drive her rig with the youngest there. The
half-grown boy and girl of fourteen are mingled up in
duty and in frolic, in jest and jibe, and jeer and
laugh, with the stoutest and the most matured. Mothers
and daughters, husbands and wives, and, above and beyond
all, "lads and lasses, lovers gay ! mix and mingle in
one united band, for honest labour and exquisite
enjoyment ; and when at last the joyous kirn is won
when the maiden of straw is borne aloft and in triumph,
to adorn for twelve months the wall of the farmers benwhen
the rich and cooling curds-and-cream have been ramhorn-spooned
into as many mouths as there are persons in the "toun
then comes the mighty and long-anticipated festival,
the roasted ox, the stewed sheep, the big pot enriched
with the cheering and elevating draught, the punch dealt
about in ladies and in jugs, the inspiring fiddle, the
maddening reel, and the Highland fling.
but remember such things were,
And were most dear to us!
harvest, too, had its soft and delicate tints,
resembling those of the grain harvest. As the upper
rainbow curves and glows with fainter colouring around
the interior and the brighter, so did the hay harvest of
yore anticipate and prefigure, as it were, the other.
The hay tedded to the sun; the bare-footed lass, her
locks floating in the breeze, her cheeks redolent of
youth, and her eyes of joy, scattering or collecting,
carting or ricking, the sweetly-scented meadow produce,
under a June sun and a blue sky!
feel as I have felt,
Or be what I have been !
favoured lover, namely, of that youthful purity, now in
its fourteenth summermyself as pure and all unthinking
of aught but affection the most intense, and feelings
the most soft and unaccountable.
little did thy mother think,
That day she cradled thee,
What lands thou hadst to travel in,
What death thou hadst to dee!
Jeanie Johnston! I have seen her, only a few weeks ago,
during the sittings of the General Assembly, sunk in
poverty, emaciated by disease, the wife of an old
soldier, himself disabled from work, tenanting a dark
hovel in Pipes Close, Castlehill of Edinburgh.
In the upper district of Dumfries-shirethe land of my
birth, and of all those early associations which cling
to me as the mistletoe to the oak, and which are equally
hallowed with that druidical excrescencethere are no
coals, but a superabundance of moss; consequently
peat-tires are very generally still, and were, at the
time of which I speak, universally, made use of; and a
peat-fire, on a cold, frosty night of winter. when every
star is glinting and goggling through the blue, or when
the tempest raves, and
no a star in a' the cary,
is by no
means to be despised. To be sure, it is short-livedbut
then it kindles soon ; it does not, it is true,
entertain us with fantastic and playful jets of
flamebut then its light is full, united, and steady;
the heat which it sends out on all sides is superior to
that of coals. Wood is sullen and sulky, whether in its
log or faggot form. It eats away into itself, in a
cancer ignition. But the blazing peat
bleezing ingle, and the clean hearthstane
very soul of cheerfulness and comfort. But then peats
must be prepared. They do not grow in hedges, nor
vegetate in meadows. They must be cut from the black and
consolidated moss ; and a peculiarly-constructed spade,
with a sharpe edge and crooked ear, must be made use of
for that purpose ; and into the field of operation must
be brought, at casting-time, the spademen, with their
spades ; and the barrowmen, and women, boys, and girls,
with their barrows; and the breakfast sowans, with their
creamy milk, cut and crossed into circles and squares;
and the dinner stew, with its sappy potatoes and gusty-onioned
mutton fragments ; and the rest at noon, with its active
sports and feats of agility; and, in particular, with
its jumps from the moss-brow into the soft, marshy
substance beneathand thereby hangs my tale, which shall
be as short and simple as possible.
One of the loveliest visions of my boyhood is Nancy
Morrison. She was a year or so older than me; but we
went and returned from school together. She was the only
daughter of a poor widow woman, who supported herself in
a romantic glen on the skirts of the Queensberry Hills,
by bleaching or whitening webs. In those days, the
alkalines and acids had not yet superieded the slower
progress of whitening green linen by soap-boiling,
trampling, and alternate drying in the sun, and wetting
with pure running water. Many is the time and oft that
Nanny and I have wielded the watering-pan, in this
fairy, sunny glen, all day long. Whilst the humble-bee
boomed past us, the mavis occupied the thorn-tree, and
the mother of Nanny employed herself in some more
laborious department of the same process, Nanny and I
have set us down on the greenswardin tenaci gramine
played at chucks, head him and cross him, or some
such amusement. At school, Nanny had ever a faithful
defender and avenger in me; and I have even purloined
apples and gooseberries from the castle gardenand all
for the love I bore "to my Nanny, oh !
I know not that any one has rightly described a first
love. It is not the love of man and woman, though that
be fervent and terrible; it is not the love of mere boy
and girlhood, though that be disinterested and
engrossing; but it is the love of the period of life
which unites the two. Is there a man whose blood is
warm within him who does not recollect it? Is there a
woman who has passed through the novitiate of fifteen,
who has not still a distinct impression of the feeling
of which I speak? It is not sexual, and yet it can only
exist betwixt the sexes. It is the sweetest delusion
under which the soul of a created being can pass. It is
modest, timid, retiring, bashful; yet, in absence of the
adoredin seclusion, in meditation, and in dreamsit is
bold, resolute, and determined. There is no plan, no
design, no right conception of cause, yet the effect
is sure and the bliss perfect. Oh, for one hourone
little hourfrom the thousands which I have idled,
sported, dreamed away in the company of my darling
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