Recollections of Ferguson
without aim and without end employ."CRABBE.
After the lapse of nine
months, I again returned to Edinburgh. During that period, I had been so
shut out from literature and the world, that I had heard nothing of my
friend the poet; and it was with a beating heart I left the vessel, on my
first leisure evening, to pay him a visit. It was about the middle of
July; the day had been close and sultry, and the heavens overcharged with
grey ponderous clouds; and, as I passed hurriedly along the walk which
leads from Leith to Edinburgh, I could hear the newly awakened thunder,
bellowing far in the south, peal after peal, like the artillery of two
hostile armies. I reached the door of the poets humble domicile, and had
raised my hand to the knocker, when I heard some one singing from within,
in a voice by far the most touchingly mournful I had ever listened to. The
tones struck on my heart; and a frightful suspicion crossed my mind, as I
let down the knocker, that the singer was no other than my friend. But in
what wretched circumstances! what fearful state of mind I shuddered as I
listened, and heard the strain waxing louder and yet more mournful, and
could distinguish that the words were those of a simple old ballad:
"O Martmas wind, when wilt thou
An shake the green leaves aff the tree?
O gentle death, when wilt thou come
An tak a life that wearies me?"
I could listen no longer,
but raised the latch and went in. The evening was gloomy, and the
apartment ill lighted; but I could see the singer, a spectral-looking
figure, sitting on a bed in the corner, with the bedclothes wrapped round
his shoulders, and a napkin deeply stained with blood on his head. An
elderly female, who stood beside him, was striving to soothe him, and
busied from time to time in adjusting the clothes, which were ever and
anon falling off, as hie nodded his head in time to the music. A young
girl of great beauty sat weeping at the bed-foot.
"O dearest Robert," said
the woman, "you will destroy your poor head; and Margaret your sister,
whom you used to love so much, will break her heart. Do lie down, dearest,
and take a little rest. Your head is fearfully gashed, and if the bandages
loose a second time, you will bleed to death. Do, dearest Robert, for your
poor old mother, to whom you were always so kind and dutiful a son till
nowfor your poor old mothers sake, do lie down."
The song ceased for a
moment, and the tears came bursting from my eyes as the tune changed, and
he again sang:--
"Omither dear, make ye my
For my heart its flichterin sair;
An, oh, gin Ive vexd ye, mither dear,
Ill never vex ye mair.
Ive staid arout the lang dark nicht,
I the sleet an the plashy rain;
But, mither dear, make ye my bed,
An Ill neer gang oot again."
"Dearest, dearest Robert,"
continued the poor, heart broken woman, "do lie downfor your poor old
mothers sake, do lie down."
"No, no," he exclaimed, in
a hurried voice, "not justnow, mother, not just now. Here is my
friend, Mr Lindsay come to see memy true friend, Mr Lindsay, the sailor
who has sailed all round and round the world; and I have much much to ask
him: A chair, Margaret, for Mr Lindsay I must be a preacher like John
Knox, you knowlike the great John Knox,the Reformer of a
nationand Mr Lindsay knows all about him. A chair, Margaret, for Mr
I am not ashamed to say it
was with tears, and in a voice faltering with emotion, that I apologized
to the poor woman for my intrusion at such a time. Were it otherwise, I
might well conclude my heart grown hard as a piece of the nether
"I had known Robert at
College," I said"had loved and respected him; and had now come to pay him
a visit, after an absence of several months, wholly unprepared for finding
him in his present condition." And it would seem that my tears pled for
me, and proved to the poor afflicted woman and her daughter, by far the
most efficient part of my apology.
"All my friends have left
me now, Mr Lindsay," said the unfortunate poet"they have all left me now;
they love this present world. We were all going down, down, down; there
was the roll of a river behind us; it came bursting over the high rocks,
roaring, rolling, foaming, down upon us; and, though the fog was thick and
dark belowfar below, in the place to which we were going--I could see the
red fire shining throughthe red, hot, unquenchable fire: and we were all
going down, down, down. Mother, mother, tell Mr Lindsay I am going to be
put on my trials to-morrow. Careless creature that I amlife is short, and
I have lost much time; but I am going to be put on my trials tomorrow, and
shall come forth a preacher of the word."
The thunder which had
hitherto been muttering at a distanceeach peal, however, nearer and
louder than the preceding onenow began to roll over-head, and the
lightning, as it passed the window, to illumine every object within. The
hapless poet stretched out his thin wasted arm, as if addressing a
congregation from the pulpit:
"There was the flashing of
lightning," he said, "and the rolling of thunder; and the trumpet waxed
louder and louder. And around the summit of the mountain were the foldings
of thick clouds, and the shadow fell brown and dark over the wide expanse
of the desert. And the wild beasts lay trembling in their dens. But, lo!
where the sun breaks through the opening of the cloud, there is the
glitter of tentsthe glitter of ten thousand tents that rise over the
sandy waste, thick as waves of the sea. And there is the voice of the
dance, and of the revel, and the winding of horns, and the clash of
cymbals. Oh, sit nearer me, dearest mother, for the room is growing dark,
dark; and, oh, my poor head!
The lady sat on the castle wa,
Looked owre baith dale and down,
And then she spied Gil-Morice head
Come steering through the town.
Do, dearest mother, put
your cool hand on my brow, and do hold it fast ere it part. How
fearfully--oh, how fearfully it aches!and oh, how it thunders!" He sunk
backward on the pillow, apparently exhausted "Gone, gone, gone," he
muttered; "my mind gone for ever. But Gods will be done."
I rose to leave the room;
for I could restrain my feelings no longer.
"Stay, Mr Lindsay," said
the poet, in a feeble voice; "I hear the rain dashing on the pavement; you
must not go till it abates. Would that you could pray beside me!--but,
no--you are not like the dissolute companions who have now all left me,
but you are not yet fitted for that; and, alas! I cannot pray for myself.
Mother, mother, see that there be prayers at my lykewake: for
Her lykewake, it was piously spent
In social prayer and praise,
Performed, by judicious men,
Who stricken were in days.
And many a heavy, heavy heart
Was in that mournful place;
And many a weary, weary thought
On her who slept in peace.
They will come all to my
lykewake, mother, wont they?... yes, all, though they have left me now.
Yes, and they will come far to see my grave. I was poor, very poor, you
know and they looked down upon me; and I was no son or cousin of theirs,
and so they could do nothing for me. Oh, but they might have looked less
coldly! But they will all come to my grave, mother; they will come all to
my grave; and they will say Would he were living now to know how kind we
are! But they will look as coldly as ever on the living poet beside
themyes, till they have broken his heart; and then they will go to his
grave too. O dearest mother, do lay your cool hand on my brow."
He lay silent and
exhausted, and, in a few minutes, I could hope, from the hardness of his
breathing, that he had fallen asleep.
"How long," I inquired of
his sister, in a low whisper, "has Mr Ferguson been so unwell, and what
has injured his head?
"Alas!" said the girl, "my
brother has been unsettled in mind for nearly the last six months. We
first knew it one evening on his coming home from the country, where he
had been for a few days with a friend. He burnt a large heap of papers
that he had been employed on for weeks beforesongs and poems that his
friends say were the finest things he ever wrote; but he burnt them all,
for he was going to be a preacher of the word, he said, and it did not
become a preacher of the word to be a writer of light rhymes. And, O sir!
his mind has been wrong ever since; but he has been always gentle and
affectionate, and his sole delight has lain in reading the Bible. Good Dr
Erskine, of the Greyfriars, often comes to our house, and sits with him
for hours together, for there are times when his mind seems stronger than
ever, and he says wonderful things, that seem to hover, the minister says,
between the extravagance natural to his present sad condition, and the
higher flights of a philosophic genius. And we had hoped that he was
getting better; but, O sir, our hopes have had a sad ending. He went out,
a few evenings ago, to call on an old acquaintance; and, in descending a
stair, missed his footing, and fell to the bottom; and his head has been
fearfully injured by the stones. He has been just as you have seen him
ever since; and, oh! I much fear he cannot now recover. Alas! my poor
brother!never, never was there a more affectionate heart."
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