Recollections of Ferguson
At first, I thought the swankie didna
Again I glowrd, to hear him better still;
Bauld, slee, an sweet, his lines mair glorious grew,
Glowd round the heart, an glancd the soul out through.
I had seen both the Indies
and traversed the wide Pacific, ere I again set foot on the eastern coast
of Scotland. My uncle, the shipmaster, was dead, and I was still a common
sailor; but I was light-hearted and skilful in my profession, and as much
inclined to hope as ever. Besides, I had begun to doubt, and there cannot
be a more consoling doubt when one is unfortunate, whether a man may not
enjoy as much happiness in the lower walks of life as in the upper. In one
of my latter voyages, the vessel in which I sailed had lain for several
weeks at Boston, in North Americathen a scene of these fierce and angry
contentions which eventually separated the colonies from the mother
country; and when in this place, I had become acquainted, by the merest
accident in the world, with the brother of my friend, the poet. I was
passing through one of the meaner lanes, when Isaw my old
college friend, asI thought, looking out at me from the window of
a crazy wooden buildinga sort fencing academy, much frequented, I was
told, by the Federalists of Boston. I crossed the lane in two huge
"Mr Ferguson," I said, "Mr
Ferguson," for he was withdrawing his head, "do you not remember me?"
"Not quite sure," he
replied; "I have met with many sailors in my time; but I must just see."
He had stepped down to the
door ere I had discovered my mistake. He was a taller and stronger looking
man than my friend, and his senior apparently by six or eight years but
nothing could be more striking than the resemblanc which he bore to him
both in face and figure. I apologised.
"But have you not a
brother, a native of Edinburgh," I inquired, "who studied at St. Andrews
about four year ago?never before, certainly, did I see so remarkable a
"As that which I bear to
Robert?" he said. "Happy to hear it. Robert is a brother of whom a man may
well be proud, and I am glad to resemble him in any way. But you must go
in with me, and tell me all you know regarding him. He was a thin pale
slip of a boy when I left Scotlanda mighty reader, and fond of sauntering
into by-holes and corners; I scarcely knew what to make of him; but he has
made much of himself. His name has been blown far and wide within the last
He shewed me through a
large waste apartment, furnished with a few deal seats, and with here and
there, a fencing foil leaning against the wall, into a sort of closet at
the upper end, separated from the main room by a partition of undressed
slabs. There was a charcoal stove in the one corner, and a truckle bed in
the other; and a few shelves laden with books ran along the wall; there
was a small chest raised on a stool immediately below the window, to serve
as a writing desk, and another stool standing beside it. A few cooking
utensils scattered round the room, and a corner cupboard, completed the
entire furniture of the place.
"There is a certain limited
number born to be rich, Jack," said my new companion, "and I just dont
happen to be among them; but I have one stool for myself, you see, and,
now that I have unshipped my desk, another for a visitor, and so get on
I related briefly the story
of my intimacy with his brother; and we were soon on such terms as to be
in a fair way of emptying a bottle of rum together.
"You remind me of old
times," said my new acquaintance. "I am weary of these illiterate,
boisterous, longsided Americans, who talk only of politics and dollars.
And yet there are first-rate men among them, too. I met some years since
with a Philadelphia printer, whom I cannot help regarding as one of the
ablest, best informed men I ever conversed with. But there is nothing like
general knowledge among the average class, a mighty privilege of conceit,
"They are just in that
stage," I remarked, "in which it needs all the vigour of an able man to
bring his mind into anything like cultivation. There must be many more
facilities of improvement ere the mediocritist can develop himself. He is
in the egg still in America, and must sleep there till the next age.--But
when last heard you of your brother?"
"Why," he replied, "when
all the world heard of himwith the last number of Ruddimans Magazine.
Where can you have been bottled up from literature of late? Why, man,
Robert stands first among our Scotch poets."
"Ah! tis long since I have
anticipated something like that for him," I said; "but for the last two
years, I have seen only two books, Shakespeare and The Spectator. Pray, do
shew me some of the magazines."
The magazines were
produced; and I heard, for the first time, in a foreign land and from the
recitation of the poets brother, some of the most national and most
highly-finished of his productions. My eyes filled, and my heart wandered
to Scotland and her cottage homes, as, shutting the book, he repeated to
me, in a voice faltering with emotion, stanza after stanza of the
"Do you not see it?.. .do
you not see it all?" exclaimed my companion; "the wide smoky room, with
the bright turf fire, the blackened rafters shining above, the straw
wrought settle below, the farmer and the farmers wife, and auld grannie
and the bairns. Never was there a truer painting: and, oh, how it works on
a Scotch heart! But hear this other piece."
He read "Sandy and Willie."
"Far, far ahead of Ramsay,"
I exclaimed. "More imagination, more spirit, more intellect, and as much
truth and nature. Robert has gained his end already. Hurra for poor old
Scotland!these pieces must live for ever. But do repeat to me the
Farmers Ingle once more."
We read, one by one, all
the poems in the magazine, dwelling on each stanza, and expatiating on
every recollection of home which the images awakened. My companion was,
like his brother, a kind, open-hearted man, of superior intellect; much
less prone to despondency, however, and of a more equal temperament. Ere
we parted, which was not until next morning, he had communicated to me all
his plans for the future, and all his fondly-cherished hopes of returning
to Scotland with wealth enough to be of use to his friends. He seemed to
be one of those universal geniuses who do a thousand things well, but want
steadiness enough to turn any of them to good account. He shewed me a
treatise on the use of the sword which he had just prepared for the press,
and a series of letters on the stamp act, which had appeared, from time to
time, in one of the Boston newspapers, and in which he had taken part with
"I make a good many
dollars, in these stirring times," he said. "All the yankees seem to be of
opinion that they will be best heard across the water when they have got
arms in their hands, and have learned how to use them; and Iknow a
little of both the sword and the musket. But the warlike spirit is
frightful thirsty, somehow, and consumes a world of rum; and so I have not
yet begun to make rich."
He shared with me his
supper and bed for the night; and. after rising in the morning ere I
awoke, and writing a long letter for Robert, which he gave me in the hope
I might soon meet with him, he accompanied me to the vessel, then on the
eve of sailing, and, we parted, as it proved, for ever. I know nothing of
his after life, or how or where it terminated; but I have learned that,
shortly before the death of his gifted brother, his circumstances enabled
him to send hismother a small remittance for the use of the
family. He was evidently one of the kind-hearted, improvident few who can
share a very little, and, whose destiny it is to have only a very little
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