Recollections of Burns - Chapter
Ayr, gurgling, kissed his pebbled
Oerhung with wild woods thickning green:
The fragrant birch and hawthorn hoar
Twined, amorous, round the raptured scene.
The flowers sprang wanton to be
The birds sang love on every spray
Till, too, too soon, the glowing west
Proclaimed the speed of winged day.
To Mary in Heaven.
We were early on the road
together; the day, though somewhat gloomy, was mild and pleasant, and we
walked slowly onward, neither of us in the least disposed to hasten our
parting, by hastening our journey. We had discussed fifty different
topics, and were prepared to enter on fifty more, when we reached the
ancient burgh of Ayr, where our roads separated.
"I have taken an immense
liking to you, Mr Lindsay," said my companion, as he seated himself on the
parapet of the old bridge, "and have just bethought me of a scheme through
which I may enjoy your company for, at least, one night more. The Ayr is a
lovely river, and you tell me you have never explored it. We shall explore
it together this evening, for about ten miles, when we shall find
ourselves at the farm-house of Lochlea. You may depend on a hearty welcome
from my father, whom, by the way, I wish much to introduce you to, as a
man worth your knowing; and, as I have set my heart on the scheme, you are
surely too good-natured to disappoint me." Little risk of that, I thought:
I had, in fact, become thoroughly enamoured of the warm-hearted
benevolence, and fascinating conversation of my companion, and acquiesced
with the best good-will in the world.
We had threaded the course
of the river for several miles. It runs through a wild pastoral valley,
roughened by thickets of copsewood, and bounded, on either hand, by a line
of swelling, moory hills, with here and there a few irregular patches of
corn, and here and there some little nest-like cottage peeping out from
among the wood. The clouds, which, during the morning, had obscured the
entire face of the heavens, were breaking up their array, and the sun was
looking down, in twenty different places, through the openings, checkering
the landscape with a fantastic, though lovely carpeting of light and
shadow. Before us, then rose a thick wood, on a jutting promontory, that
looked blue and dark in the shade, as if it wore mourning; while the
sunlit stream beyond shone through the trunks and branches like a river of
fire. At length the clouds seemed to have melted in the bluefor there was
not a breath of wind to speed them awayand the sun, now hastening to the
west shone, in unbroken effulgence, over the wide extent of the dell,
lighting up stream and wood, and field and cottage, in one continuous
blaze of glory. We had walked on in silence for the last half hour; but I
could sometimes hear my companion muttering as he went; and when, in
passing through a thicket of hawthorn and honeysuckle, we started from its
perch a linnet that had been filling the air with its melody. I could hear
him exclaim, with a subdued tone of voice, "Bonny, bonny birdie! why
hasten frae me?I wadna skaith a feather o yer wing." He turned round to
me, and I could see that his eyes were swimming in moisture.
"Can he be other," he said,
"than a good and benevolent God, who gives us moments like these to enjoy?
Oh! my friend, without these Sabbaths of the soul, that come to refresh
and invigorate it, it would dry up within us! How exquisite," he
continued, "how entire the sympathy which exists between all that is good
and fair in external nature, and all of good and fair that dwells in our
own! And, oh, how the heart expands and lightens! The world is as a grave
to ita closely-covered graveand it shrinks and deadens, and contracts
all its holier and more joyous feelings under the cold, earth-like
pressure. But, amid the grand and lovely of natureamid these forms and
colours of richest beautythere is a disinterment, a resurrection of
sentiment; the pressure of our earthly part seems removed, and those
senses of the mind, if I may so speak, which serve to connect our
spirits with the invisible world around us, recover their proper tone, and
perform their proper office."
"Senses of the mind,"
I replied, repeating the phrase;
"the idea is new to me; but I think I catch your meaning."
"Yes; there arethere must
be such," he continued, with growing enthusiasm, "man is essentially a
religious creature--a looker beyond the grave, from the very constitution
of his mind; and the sceptic who denies it, is untrue not merely to the
Being who has made and who preserves him, but to the entire scope and bent
of his own nature besides. Wherever man iswhether he be a wanderer of the
wild forest or still wilder desert, a dweller in some lone isle of the
sea, or the tutored and full-minded denizen of some blessed land like our
ownwherever man is, there is religionhopes that look forward and upward
the belief in an unending existence, and a land of separate souls."
I was carried away by the
enthusiasm of my companion, and felt, for the time, as if my mind had
become the mirror of his. There seems to obtain among men a species of
moral gravitation, analogous, in its principles, to that which regulates
and controls the movements of the planetary system. The larger and more
ponderous any body, the greater its attractive force, and the more
overpowering its influence over the lesser bodies which surround it. The
earth we inhabit carries the moon along with it in its course, and is
itself subject to the immensely more powerful influence of the sun. And it
is thus with character. It is a law of our nature, as certainly as of the
system we inhabit, that the inferior should yield to the superior, and the
lesser owe its guidance to the greater. I had hitherto wandered on through
life almost unconscious of the existence of this law, or if occasionally
rendered half aware of it, it was only through a feeling that some secret
influence was operating favourably in my behalf on the common minds around
me. I now felt, however, for the first time, that I had come in contact
with a mind immeasurably more powerful than my own; my thoughts seemed to
cast themselves into the very mouldmy sentiments to modulate themselves
by the very tone of his. And yet he was but a russet-clad peasantmy
junior by at least eight yearswho was returning from school to assist his
father, an humble tacksman, in the labours of the approaching harvest. But
the law of circumstance, so arbitrary in ruling the destinies of common
men, exerts but a feeble control over the children of genius. The prophet
went forth commissioned by Heaven to anoint a king over Israel, and the
choice fell upon a shepherd boy who was tending his fathers flocks in the
We had reached a lovely
bend of the stream. There was a semicircular inflection in the steep bank,
which waved over us, from base to summit, with hawthorn and hazel and
while one half looked blue and dark in the shade, the other was lighted up
with gorgeous and fiery splendour by the sun, now fast sinking in the
west. The effect seemed magical. A little grassy platform that stretched
between the hanging wood and the stream, was whitened over with clothes,
that looked like snow-wreaths in the hollow; and a young and beautiful
girl watched beside them.
"Mary Campbell!" exclaimed
my companion, and, in a moment, he was at her side, and had grasped both
of her hands in his. "How fortunate, how very fortunate I am;" he said; "I
could not have so much as hoped to have seen you to-night, and yet here
you are. This, Mr Lindsay is a loved friend of mine, whom I have known and
valued for years; ever, indeed, since we herded our sheep together under
the cover of one plaid. Dearest Mary, I have had sad forebodings regarding
you for the whole last month I was in Kirkoswald, and yet, after all my
foolish fears, here you are, ruddier and bonnier than ever."
She was, in truth, a
beautiful, sylph-like young womanone whom I would have looked at with
complacency in any circumstances; for who that admires the fair and the
lovely in nature--whether it be the wide-spread beauty of sky and earth,
or beauty in its minuter modifications, as we see it in the flowers that
spring up at our feet, or the butterfly that flutters over themwho, I
say, that admires the fair and lovely in nature can be indifferent to the
fairest and loveliest of all her productions? As the mistress, however, of
by far the strongest-minded man I ever knew, there was more of scrutiny in
my glance than usual, and I felt a deeper interest in her than mere beauty
could have awakened. She was, perhaps, rather below than above the middle
size; but formed in such admirable proportion that it seemed out of place
to think of size in reference to her at all. Who, in looking to the
Venus di Medicis, asks whether she be tall or short? The bust and neck
were so exquisitely moulded, that they reminded me of Burkes fanciful
remark, viz., that our ideas of beauty originate in our love of the sex,
and that we deem every object beautiful which is described by soft waving
lines, resembling those of the female neck and bosom. Her feet and arms,
which were both bare, had a statue-like symmetry and marble-like
whiteness; but it was on her expressive and lovely countenance, now
lighted up by the glow of joyous feeling, that nature seemed to have
exhausted her utmost skill. There was a fascinating mixture in the
expression of superior intelligence and child-like simplicity; a soft,
modest light dwelt in the blue eye; and in the entire contour and general
form of the features, there was a nearer approach to that union of the
straight and the rounded, which is found in its perfection in only the
Grecian face, than is at all common in our northern latitudes, among the
descendants of either the Celt or the Saxon. I felt, however, as I gazed,
that, when lovers meet, the presence of a third person, however much the
friend of either, must always be less than agreeable.
"Mr Burns," I said, "there
is a beautiful eminence a few hundred yards to the right, from which I am
desirous to overlook the windings of the stream. Do permit me to leave you
for a short half hour, when I shall return; or, lest I weary you by my
stay, twere better, perhaps, you should join me there." My companion
greeted the proposal with a good-humoured smile of intelligence; and,
plunging into the wood, I left him with his Mary. The sun had just set as
he joined me.
"Have you ever been in
love, Mr Lindsay?" he said.
"No, never seriously," I
replied. "I am, perhaps, not naturally of the coolest temperament
imaginable; but the same fortune that has improved my mind in some little
degree, and given me high notions of the sex, has hitherto thrown me among
only its less superior specimens. I am now in my eight-and-twentieth year,
and I have not yet met with a woman whom I could love."
"Then you are yet a
stranger," he rejoined, "to the greatest happiness of which our nature is
capable. I have enjoyed more heartfelt pleasure in the company of the
young woman I have just left than from every other source that has been
opened to me from my childhood till now. Love, my friend, is the
fulfilling of the whole law!"
"Mary Campbell did you not
call her?" I said. "She is, I think, the loveliest creature I have ever
seen; and I am much mistaken in the expression of her beauty, if her mind
be not as lovely as her person."
"It is, it is," he
exclaimed"the intelligence of an angel with the simplicity of a child.
Oh, the delight of being thoroughly trusted, thoroughly beloved by one of
the loveliest, best, purest-minded of all Gods good creatures! To feel
that heart beating against my own, and to know that it beats for me only!
Never have I passed an evening with my Mary without returning to the world
a better, gentler, wiser man. Love, my friend, is the fulfilling of the
whole law. What are we without it?poor, vile, selfish animals; our very
virtues themselves so exclusively virtues on our own behalf as to be well
nigh as hateful as our vices. Nothing so opens and improves the heart,
nothing so widens the grasp of the affections, nothing half so effectually
brings us out of our crust of self, as a happy, well-regulated love for a
pure-minded, affectionate-hearted woman."
"There is another kind of
love of which we sailors see somewhat," I said, "which is not so easily
associated with good."
"Love!" he replied"no, Mr
Lindsay, that is not the name. Kind associates with kind in all nature;
and lovehumanizing, heart-softening lovecannot be the companion of
whatever is low, mean, worthless, degradingthe associate of ruthless
dishonour, cunning, treachery, and violent death. Even, independent of its
amount of evil as a crime, or the evils still greater than itself which
necessarily accompany it, there is nothing that so petrifies the feeling
as illicit connection."
"Do you seriously think
so?" I asked.
"Yes, and I see clearly how
it should be so. Neither sex is complete of itselfeach was made for the
other, that like the two halves of a hinge, they may become an entire
whole when united. Only think of the Scriptural phrase one fleshitis of itself a system of philosophy. Refinement and tenderness are of
the woman, strength and dignity of the man. Only observe the effects of a
thorough separation, whether originating in accident or caprice. You will
find the stronger sex lost in the rudeness of partial barbarism; the
gentler wrapt up in some pitiful round of trivial and unmeaning
occupationdry-nursing puppies, or making pincushions for posterity. But
how much more pitiful are the effects when they meet amisswhen the
humanizing friend and companion of the man is converted into the light,
degraded toy of an idle hour; the object of a sordid appetite that lives
but for a moment, and then expires in loathing and disgust! The better
feelings are iced over at their source, chilled by the freezing and
deadening contactwhere there is nothing to inspire confidence or solicit
esteem; and, if these pass not through the first, the inner circlethat
circle within which the social affections are formed, and from whence they
emanatehow can they possibly flow through the circles which lie beyond?
But here, Mr Lindsay, is the farm of Lochlea, and yonder brown cottage,
beside the three elms, is the dwelling of my parents."
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