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Wilson's Border Tales
Recollections of Ferguson
Chapter 7


A lonely muse!
She sings of reptiles yet in song unknown.

I returned to the vessel with a heavy heart; and it was nearly three months from this time, ere I again set foot in Edinburgh. Alas! for my unfortunate friend! He was now an inmate of the asylum, and on the verge of dissolution. I was thrown, by accident, shortly after my arrival at this time, into the company of one of his boon companions. I had gone into a tavern with a brother sailor—a shrewd, honest skipper, from the north country and, finding the place occupied by half a dozen young fellows, who were growing noisy over their liquor, I would have immediately gone out again, had I not caught, in the passing; a few words regarding my friend. And so, drawing to a side-table, I sat down.

"Believe me," said one of the topers, a dissolute-looking young man, "it’s all over with Bob Ferguson—all over and I knew it from the moment he grew religious. Had old Brown tried to convert me, I would have broken his face." -

"What Brown?" inquired one of his companions.

"Is that all you know?" rejoined the other. "Why, John Brown of Haddington, the Seceder. Bob was at Haddington last year, at the election; and, one morning, when in the horrors, after holding a rum night of it, who should he meet in the churchyard but old John Brown?—he writes, you know, a big book on the Bible. Well, he lectured Bob at a pretty rate, about election and the call, I suppose; and the poor fellow has been mad ever since. Your health, Jamie. For my own part, I’m a free will man, and detest all cant and humbug."

"And what has come of Ferguson now?" asked one of the others.

"Oh, mad, sir, mad," rejoined the toper—"reading the Bible all day, and cooped up in the asylum yonder. ‘Twas I who brought him to it.—But, lads, the glass has been standing for the last half-hour.—’Twas I and Jack Robinson who brought him to it, as I say. He was getting wild; and so we got a sedan for him, and trumped up a story of an invitation for tea from a lady, and he came with us as quietly as a lamb. But, if you could have heard the shriek he gave when the chair stopped, and he saw where we had brought him! I never heard anything half so horrible—it rung in my ears for a week after; and then, how the mad people in the upper rooms howled and gibbered in reply, till the very roof echoed! People say he is getting better; but, when I last saw him, he was as religious as ever, and spoke so much about heaven that it was uncomfortable to hear him. Great loss to his friends, after all the expense they have been at with his education."

"You seem to have been intimate with Mr Ferguson," I said.

"Oh, intimate with Bob!" he rejoined; "we were hand and glove, man. I have sat with him, in Lucky Middlemass’s, almost every evening, for two years; and I have given him hints for some of the best things in his book. ‘Twas I who tumbled down the cage in the meadows, and began breaking the lamps

‘Ye who oft finish care in Lethe’s cup,
Who love to swear, and roar, and keep it up,
List to a brother’s voice, whose sole delight
Is sleep all day, and riot all the night.’

There’s spirit for you! But Bob was never sound at bottom; and I have told him so. ‘Bob’ I have said, ‘Bob, you’re but a hypocrite after all, man—without half the spunk you pretend to. Why don’t you take a pattern by me, who fear nothing and believe only the agreeable? But, poor fellow, he had weak nerves, and a church-going propensity, that did him no good; and you see the effects. ‘Twas all nonsense, Tom, of his throwing the squib into the Glassite meeting-house. Between you and I, that was a cut far beyond him in his best days, poet as he was. ‘Twas I who did it, man, and never was there a cleaner row in auld Reekie."

"Heartless, contemptible puppy!" said my comrade, the sailor, as we left the room. "Your poor friend must be ill, indeed, if he be but half as insane as his quondam companion. But he cannot; there is no madness like that of the heart. What could have induced a man of genius to associate with a thing so thoroughly despicable?"

"The same misery, Miller," I said, "that brings a man acquainted with strange bedfellows."


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