THE ten years following his
retirement were spent by Professor Blackie in an activity by no means
abated, although it was more under his control. He had time for
correspondence, for reading, for constant comment in the pages of newspapers
and magazines on such questions as had long occupied his thoughts or anew
attracted them, for writing books, for lecturing, for visiting,—and all
these occupations increased upon his hands. Constantly his voice was
uplifted in the old war-cries against Tory and Radical alike, ringing
defiantly in the peace-loving groves of Oxford, appealing to the world in
the columns of the 'Times.' Perhaps his crusades were for the time
depreciated by reiteration, or by his indifference to the quality of the
ears to which they were proclaimed. A more elegant propaganda might have
propitiated Olympus; but his way was to deliver his message to all corners
in season and out of season.
He was busy during the winter after his
resignation with compiling his ' Wisdom of Goethe,' published by Messrs
Blackwood & Sons early in 1883, and dedicated to his friend Dr Walter C.
Smith. This little book was suggested by his experience of the failures made
by many young men for want of a clear understanding of their relations to
life, and he desired to bring to their notice the principles of "sound
thinking and noble living" which he himself had found in Goethe's
reflections. The selections were made to illuminate all the conditions of a
man's environment or development, and they were prefaced with an "Estimate
of the character of Goethe," partly biographical and partly apologetic.
Immediately after, he was much occupied with
meditation and correspondence upon a higher theme, that of the Hegelian
conception of the Divine Being, and this led his attention into the various
channels of religious doctrine. On that of Calvinism he corresponded with
his neighbour Professor Blaikie. No aspect of religious thought was more
distasteful to him, in spite of his patriotic pride in the men whose rugged
Calvinism strengthened them to heroic defence of their religious liberty. He
could not be got to admit that he was a sinner. He protested that he was
nothing of the sort. He detested the coarser forms of sin, his charity was
known of all men, his sincerity and courage were unassailable, and he rather
claimed for virtue such bluntness, inconsiderateness, and self-assertion as
constituted his admitted failings. To him they were part of the panoply with
which Providence had armed him for the battle of life. It was, however, as a
protest against the grovelling confessions of sin peculiar to sectarian
Calvinists, which failed to stimulate the sinner to walk uprightly, and were
apt to coexist with ways entirely consonant with their admissions, that he
emphasised this view of his own exemption. He abhorred, as all sane men must
abhor, cant, exaggeration, and censoriousness.
This winter was brightened to both Professor and
Mrs Blackie by the presence of a lively guest, the son of Mr James Archer
and the Professor's name-child. Jack Archer spent six months with them,
attending the College classes, and bringing the wholesome influences of
youth into their home.
The Professor was at Dalmeny when Lord Rosebery's second son was christened,
on January 22, and at the luncheon afterwards "the champagne was poured out
of an enormous beaker, into which three dozen bottles had been emptied,
leaving two-thirds of the hollow unfilled! The health of the boy was
proposed, and that of the host and hostess." He fired off the appropriate
sonnet at the banquet.
In March he was upholding the rights of Skye Crofters in the 'Scotsman,'
which attacked him more so, and whose personalities he ignored. The
Crofters' Commission was appointed in the spring, and he was keenly
interested in its members and plan of inquiry. The chairman, Lord Napier and
Ettrick, he esteemed highly, and he was pleased that Sheriff Nicolson, a
leal son of Skye, was included in the membership.
Towards the end of May he went to London,
staying with his brother-in-law, Dr George Wyld, for a fortnight. A
breakfast with Mr Gladstone on May, 31, not described in detail, and some
Homeric theatricals at Lady Freake's, were his chief social experiences.
In his study of the Land Laws affecting various
parts of the kingdom, he had become interested in their development in the
Channel Islands, and accepted an invitation to stay in Jersey with his
friend the Rev. Dr Nicolson, who wished him to give a lecture at St Heliers
on behalf of the organ fund for the Presbyterian Church there. He started
for the island on June 8, and spent nearly three weeks exploring and
enjoying this new field, delighted with all he learned, and commemorating in
his letters the "Flowers, Fruit, and Friendship" for which Jersey is
renowned. His lecture came off on 21. Its subject was "The Highlanders," and
he illustrated it with song and recitation. The Governor was present and
made a most sympathetic speech, and the proceeds handed to the organ fund
were £14. The famous "kail-runt" was bought a day or two before the lecture.
He summed up the sevenfold interests of Jersey as "Potatoes, Cows, Cabbages,
Crabs, Oysters, the Norman - French Language, and its Land-tenure," and
strung his "Praise of Jersey" into rhyme to be sold for the benefit of the
organ. Every morning he studied the history and economy of the island; after
lunch he explored, and the evenings were spent in making a crowd of new
acquaintances. When he left on June 25, the pier was crowded with friends to
bid him farewell. "A whole bevy of handsome young ladies were on the pier
waiting to smile sadly and sweetly on the old gentleman as he left their
the most interesting excursion which he made during this time was to a
little village inland, where his half-brother Gregory had died many years
before, and in whose churchyard he had been buried.
On his return to town, he stayed—where he felt
most at home—with his friends Mr and Mrs Archer. A host of engagements
awaited him, new acquaintances to make, amongst them Sir Edwin Arnold; old
friends to visit, amongst them Mr Froude and Mr Browning. On June 30 he
lunched with the latter.
He was frank and free and
full of talk; altogether an agreeable, rational, intelligent,
sound-headed and sound- hearted man; with no poetical or other nonsense
about him; a manly, hard-hitting Englishman, as in his most effective
work he certainly appears.
A week later the two
A visit to Westminster Abbey brought him face to face with his ignorance of
the early kings and queens of England, and in the midst of the season's
diversions he set himself to read of their lives and vicissitudes. A
quotation from his letter of July 6 speaks of a call on "Tyndall and his
lady. We had a fine flow of hock and a more genial interflow of soul; and I
am going back again, so much have we learned to love one another—not at all
easy in this big Bustledom."
He was weary of London "crushes, vain,
uncomfortable, glittering parades."
A dinner at Lord Rosebery's took place on the
An old lady with
tremendous bushy curls of a ruddy tinge was before me, who turned out to
be Lady Aries- bury. At dinner, in a room resplendent with silver, I sat
beside a laughing, rattling girl from Vienna, dealing in the light,
negative badinage that is current amongst idle people in fashionable
circles. I told her she ought to study Goethe, and not to delight in
nonsense, however clever, and we parted on perfectly good terms,
exchanged cards and mottoes; hers, what you might have expected,
something to the tune of "Is life worth living?" which, whosoever asks,
being of sound liver, ought in my opinion to be shot.
A few days later he returned
to Scotland, and spent all August with Mrs Blackie at St Boswells. There he
occupied his morning hours with renewed study of the Land Laws, and that
from both points of view, as his correspondence with large landed
proprietors indicates. Macmillan had accepted an article on Jersey for the
October number of his Magazine, and this was part of his summer work. He was
anxious to extend his studies to Ireland, and an invitation to visit
Professor and Mrs Butcher at Killarney gave him the opportunity of partially
doing so on Irish soil. He returned to Edinburgh early in September to
prepare for this, and spent a few, days at Douglas Crescent, collecting
books on the subject, correcting proofs, and amongst other things at-
tending a midnight banquet on the occasion of the opening of the Edinburgh
I supped at 12.30, and
returned from the banquet at 4 A.M., very much surprised to find myself
toddling home at that hour of the morning, and going to bed when the
rest of the world had finished their first sleep. it was very pleasant,
Henry Irving altogether natural and agreeable and gentlemanly. The
speaking was short and good, and the songs excellent. Howard, who was in
the chair, asked me to propose the health of Miss Ellen Terry; but I,
with my usual good sense, devolved the matter on the Dean of Faculty,
who knew something about the girl, of whom I knew only a trifle more
than nothing. however, I didn't escape altogether, so at 3.30 in the
morning I sang "March, march, Ettrick and Teviotdale with great
applause. Wyndlmamn the elder was there, looking, as usual, like a
well-dressed, well-combed, and well-brushed Eton boy with smooth and
He recovered from this
nocturne in a twelve hours' sleep on board the Dublin boat, and reached his
destination on the 12th September. Here he gave himself up to study of the
new Land Acts for a week, and then drove to Kenmare to stay with Mr and Mrs
Trench, his hosts on a former visit; and from Kenmare he went to Dromore
Castle, where he had an opportunity of attending a meeting of the Land
Commissioners' Court. All he saw confirmed his earlier impressions, but he
found the "oppressors" very kindly hosts. His wanderings took him into
Galway, and he did not leave Ireland till the 10th of October.
Several important matters awaited his return.
Lord. Napier and Ettrick, in a letter dated July 8, had written :-
I hope you will give the
Crofters' Commission an opportunity of hearing you. On a subject to
which you have de- voted so much pains and so much love. Perhaps you
will attend its in Edinburgh by-and-by. I think of engaging the room at
the Parliament House in which the Scotch Privy Council administered the
Question, if it still exists I fear it does not, or they may have met in
the Tolbooth; but, at any rate, you will be prepared to give an account
of the faith that is in you—especially as to the evidence of that
consuetudinary right in the soil which you discover in the humble
clansmen of the past I am, at least, one who earnestly desires that the
benefits and enjoyments of property should be more widely diffused among
our countrymen than has hitherto been the case, believing that there is
no greater evil in a State than indigent intelligence.
The Professor's evidence, or
rather opinion, was given with much vivacity on October 24.
Another concern was the election of a Lord
Rector for the University of Edinburgh. This election was wont to be
conducted on political party lines, and the chosen candidates of the two
parties were Sir Stafford Northcote and Mr Trevelyan. A few of the students
desired to break the record of purely political elections, and requested
Professor Blackie to stand as an independent candidate. However admirable
their motive, it was regrettable that he acceded to this request, as party
spirit amongst the students was too strong to make his success possible, and
he was exposed not only to the reckless personalities of such an occasion,
but to inevitable defeat, and even to the accusation of having injured the
chance of the Liberal candidate. Sir Stafford Northcote was elected, and
made, as all know who saw and heard him during the Tercentenary functions of
the following spring, a dignified and charming representative of the
ended with a lecturing tour on the subject of the Crofters and the Land
Laws. When he expounded the matter at St Andrews, the Professors prudently
abstained from attendance The year 1884 was devoted, like its predecessors,
to the same question, and this study culminated towards its close in the
publication of his book entitled 'The Scottish Highlanders and the Land
Laws,' and dedicated to Mr John Bright.
His lecturing crusade began in January at
Manchester, where he preached "the gospel of just and fair laws," demanding,
"Is Mammon or Jehovah henceforth to be supremely worshipped in this land?"
Here he called on the Bishop of Manchester, a
fine, well-built, hearty, healthy, and rosy Scot : quite a blessing to the
city, and respected by all parties, except of course a few ceremonialists,
who prefer the dress of the Church on all occasions to the soul of the
Manchester he went to Birkenhead, to stay with his nephew, and to speak at
the annual meeting of Mrs Birt's "Sheltering Home for Destitute Children."
To go into the streets of
such a place as Liverpool [he ended], look upon the castaway weeds of
humanity, pluck them up, nurse them, put them into greenhouses, that is
a reverence which only those can practise who live in the most purified
atmosphere of the highest Christianity.
The months of early spring
passed in writing his forthcoming book, and in corresponding with members of
Parliament, with landlords and others, on the two subjects of Education in
the Highlands and the Land Laws.
On the 16th, 17th, and 18th of April 1885 he was
engaged with all the Edinburgh world in receiving and entertaining the
University's guests from all parts of Europe. Professor Donner from
Helsingfors stayed with him during that mernorable celebration of the
Tercentenary, whose lions were Robert Browning, Virchow, Pasteur, and Count
Professor liked his guest cordially, and approved his book on 'Scottish
Families in Finland and Sweden.' Another friend made and entertained was M.
Emile Laveleye, the Belgian statesman, who died recently. The Professor
contributed to the imposing service in St Giles', which inaugurated the
celebration, his own beautiful Hymn of Praise.
Towards the middle of May he was busy reading
the Report issued by the chairman of the Crofters' Commission, with hearty
appreciation of the evidence collected, and some demur at its apologetic
tone otherwise. On May 24 he went to London to stay with Mr and Mrs Archer.
His first object was to secure a publisher for the 'Scottish Highlanders,'
in which he had some difficulty; but eventually Messrs Chapman & Hall, who
had brought out a third edition of 'Altavona,' undertook to be its sponsors.
For three weeks of his stay in town he avoided
society, and refreshed his mind by reading the history of Whitehall, the
Temple, and the Tower, making frequent visits to each, and getting their
significance well fixed in his memory, as he had done that of Westminster
Abbey the year before. A touch of apprehension dictated this mood. He wrote
on 29 :
I am making very few
calls, as I am determined for some time to be master of my movements and
do some effective work while I am here, and surrounded by grand and
gracious influences. God knows how soon I may be cramped and cradled
He made two new acquaintances
in the early part of June, both of whom interested him greatly. One was Ni
Frederic Harrison, and the other Mr R. F. Horton of Lyndhurst Road,
Hampstead. The latter he learned to know while spending a few days with his
sister, Mrs Kennedy, in Hampstead. On June 8 he went to Lyndhurst Road
Church, " and heard the young prophet Horton, a prophet indeed learning and
force and polish and poetry and sense combined; the finest thing I have yet
set my eyes oil London ; a mail going a thousand miles to hear." After the
service he went to see the preacher in the vestry, and somewhat startled him
by kissing him, German fashion, on both cheeks. The acquaintance ripened
into hearty mutual regard, and was renewed from year to year.
A meeting of the Celtic Society, where he spoke
on the Land Laws; a boating expedition with Mr and Mrs Holman Hunt; a visit
to Mr Hunt's studio to see the "Triumph of the Innocents"; a lecture by
George MacDonald on "Wordsworth," when the Professor preached a
counteracting gospel according to Goethe; a reception and breakfast at the
Premier's, and many other interesting matters, occupied his time after the
middle of June.
28th he heard the debate in Parliament on the Crofters' Commissioners'
Report, and was by no means satisfied with its tone. On the 30th he spoke at
a great meeting in the city organised to draw attention to the matter; and
early in July he quitted the season's distractions for Scotland, and joined
Mrs Blackie at Peebles. Here he took to the History of the Borders, and to
walks no longer so extended as formerly; and on August 9 he went by train to
Oban, there to join Mr M'Farlane and his family on board the Santa Maria,
and to spend a delightful fortnight amongst the islands and lochs in a kind
of private crofter inquiry cruise. He spoke at meetings, prepared or
improvised, at Portree, Stornoway, and elsewhere; visited the place where
the fences were pulled down on August 13; indulged in much sympathetic
"sedition," and bade his host adieu on the 25th with real regret.
He was iii Edinburgh for a few days, but
returned to the North on September 2 for a round of meetings and visits,
amongst the latter to Dunrobin, Conan House, and Glen Tana He profited by
these to gain information from the proprietor's as well as from the
crofter's point of view. His book was now well forward, and on his return to
Edinburgh the manuscript was despatched to Messrs Chapman & Hall.
The most interesting incident of October was his
election as a member of the Executive Committee for establishing a British
School of Archeology in Athens. In November Mr Horton was in Edinburgh
lecturing at the Philosophical Institution, and dined with Professor and Mrs
Blackie. The concluding weeks of 1884 were employed in lecturing tours,
first in Scotland, and then at Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham, -on Burns,
on the Land Laws, and on "Beauty in Nature and Art." What leisure he had was
occupied in correcting proofs, and in writing on the philosophy of language.
At the end of the year he received the first
copies of 'The Scottish Highlanders and the Land Laws,' and despatched the
dedication volume to Mr John Bright about Christmas. Mr Bright wrote after
The whole story of the
past and present of the crofter class is not a little one of a
melancholy character, and their future is not easily perceived. Land
which is not fertile and a climate most uncertain offer little promise
of prosperity or of ordinary comfort to the people, and any possible
changes in the law will, I fear, not bring about the improvement which
you and I so much wish for. Whether any real good is done or not, you
have laid the case before the country in a book of much interest. I have
to thank you for the kind words in which you have connected my name with
your labours on behalf of your suffering people.
Letters poured in from
readers of the book who were on either side of the Crofter question. All
agreed in acknowledging the vigour with which it was written, the range of
study which formed its foundation. The latter has been indicated at the
various times to which each branch belonged. He summed it up in the Preface
It became manifest to me
that the special evils under which the Highlanders groaned were no
isolated phenomenon, but were merely the natural result of a general
one- sided and unjust body of Land Laws, of which the operation in the
remote Highlands, as in Ireland, had been intensified by local
peculiarities. I was accordingly forced to widen the sphere of my
studies, and to inquire systematically into the rural economics and
agrarian legislation in various countries of Europe, for the purpose of
contrast and comparison. Once put upon this scent, I found, by reaching
and by observation made on the spot, ample materials for important
inductions in Lome, in Florence, in Germany, and in the Channel Islands.
I then read all the books and pamphlets I could procure on rural economy
and on the Land Laws, both from the legal and the economical point of
view; and I crowned my studies with a careful perusal of the Report of
the late Royal Commission on the condition of the crofters and cottars
in the highlands and Islands.
An interesting feature of the
book is the Testimonia Sapienturn, which follows the Preface, and which
records the convictions of the wise of all ages, from Job and Aristotle to
St Paul, Shakespeare, Laveleve, and Sismondi, on the tyranny of land
monopolists. The book is divided into three parts—the Scottish Highlanders,
the Land Laws, and the Crofters' Commission. Its treatment of each is
forcible and instructive. Perhaps the whole loses interest from a certain
discursiveness, which had become a mental habit, due to overmuch lecturing;
but it remains a valuable contribution to informative literature on the
subjects with which it deals.
Early in 1885 Altnacraig was let for a lease of
five years, subsequently extended, which relieved Professor and Mrs Blackie
from expense and anxiety regarding their West Highland home. The first
quarter of the new year was devoted to activities become normal —lectures,
speeches as chairman of meetings, usually those of working men, and articles
for magazines. It is impossible to overtake them all, and their record would
be but dull reiteration—not that they were dull, but that they resembled
each other, and followed in each other's wake. Two articles contributed to
the Pupil -Teachers' Monthly' deserve notice, however, as in them he
reopened his campaign on the learning and teaching of languages prosecuted
through his remaining years, and sharing their devotion with the
pronunciation of Greek and the gospel of a Scottish Scotland. In these
articles he advocated, as of old, the living practice of the tongue and the
ear in acquiring a language, as taught by the method of nature; and the
further cultivation of each language philologically.
From the first of May to the middle of June he
was in and about London as usual, returning to Edinburgh by Oxford and
Liverpool. This holiday was more given up to personal enjoyment than even
formerly, and it is needless to repeat the tale of its visits and banquets.
The most interesting of the former was a stay with Lord Lytton at Knebworth,
which he described in a letter dated June 10:
I never was in such a
grand house or slept in such a grand bed. The bedroom was wonderful for
a poor Scotch professor - all panelled and carved, and studded with
various armorial bearings and rare old portraits, including Edmund
Spenser. The room was called Hampden's room, from some old tradition of
his lodging here. Somehow the Earl has a great notion of the Pro.,
saying that I had taught him long ago the proper method of studying
Greek, and that my translation of Ęschylus is the only one that contains
real poetry. Perhaps this is true, and, at all events, is very agreeable
to Oldie. In the drawing- room, by particular request, I sang the
"Quaker's Wife" and the "Bonnie House o' Airlie," and this morning I
wrote a poem in the guest-book.
"Oldie" was a domestic
rendering of the old Adam. In Oxford he staved with Mr and Mrs Ritchie, and
was made much of.
summer was spent in various places—Yarrow, Peebles, Dumfriesshire—and in
autumn he was back in Douglas Crescent, preparing lectures, contributing
to-Air Reid's 'Why I am a Liberal,' and writing in the 'Scotsman' on a
burning subject, the Disestablishment of the Church of Scotland. His
attitude towards this question is constantly misrepresented. He had no
sympathy with the Disestablishment party. Their reasons did not seem to him
to he of importance, and he deemed the Church of Scotland associated in the
national life with the preservation of the national liberties. Had there
been in that Church the menace to Protestantism which has appeared in the
Anglican system, no one would have more stoutly demanded its destruction as
an organisation. He admitted that the Church of God has nothing to do with
externals, and that even were the Scottish Church deprived of its loaves and
fishes, it would survive, a spiritual body. But it displeased him that there
should be an outcry against an institution which presented a noble front to
the world of workers for the truth.
In November he lectured at Kelso on Goethe to an
enthusiastic audience, going thence to Airdrie on a like errand. When he
returned to Edinburgh, it was to resume a study of the lessons taught by
history concerning the connection between Church and State, on which he
lectured twice in December to the members of the Philosophical Institution.
These lectures were published by Messrs Macmillan in England, and by Messrs
Scribner in America, in the form of a small volume entitled What does
Impartial history [he
sums up] offers no countenance to the notion that Established Churches,
when well flanked by dissent, and in an age when the spiritual ruler has
ceased to make the arm of the State the tool of intolerance, are
contrary either to piety or policy. Christianity, of course, stands in
no need of an Established Church; religion existed three hundred years
in the Church without any State connection, and may exist again; but
Christianity does above all things abhor the stirring up of strife
betwixt Church and Church from motives of jealousy, envy, or greed.
Perhaps the "impartial
history" is too profoundly complicated to be mastered in a study of some
four months' duration.
He turned from the subject with relief to the preparation of notes on
"Scottish Song," on "Jacobite Songs," and on "Robert Burns," and spent three
weeks of January 1886 in an English lecturing tour—at Leicester, Birmingham,
Wolverhampton, Walsall, Kendal, Carlisle, and Newcastle—from which he
returned triumphantly on January 28. In February he lectured in Edinburgh on
"Scottish Song." It was about this time that he made the acquaintance of our
delightful Scottish singer Madame Annie Grey, and a hearty friendship ensued
between the two staunch patriots. It was Professor Blackie's influence which
strengthened Madame Annie Grey's devotion to Scottish song, and led her to
sacrifice all openings in other directions. It became a habit for both to
co-operate several times a year—the Professor as lecturer and Madame Grey as
illustrator—in expounding to Scottish audiences the infinite range and charm
of their native music.
A correspondence with Mr Ruskin on kingship, virginal womanhood, household
womanhood, and good workmanship, made the early months of this year
interesting. The Professor sent him his little book on Church and State,
acknowledged as "wise and helpful."
An event which gave him great pleasure was the
appointment of his valued friend and old student, Dr Donaldson, to be
Principal of the University of St Andrews. He was busy, too, with an
enthusiastic review of Sir Theodore Martin's translation of 'Faust' for the
'Nineteenth Century,' as well as with a correspondence concerning Greek
accents as illustrated by ancient writers on music, with Professor Monro,
who agreed with him that the accents had been put to indicate a certain
amount of emphasis, although he doubted whether it was given with more force
than in French, endorsing his opinion with the testimony that accentual
poetry is common in modern but not in ancient Greek.
During this winter the Professor had shown some
hospitality to two Greek students from Smyrna, Constantine and Elias
Simitopoulos, with the pleasant consequences of a warm acknowledgment from
their family, accompanied by gifts of honey, sweetmeats, and little antique
figures. In Greece, and wherever modern Greeks resided, his name was become
a household word. Many years had elapsed since his first efforts to
reinstate modern Greek in its true heredity had been welcomed in Athens, and
all his utterances oil subject were eagerly pitl1ishecl and perused there,
so that during' the last score of his years he received constant
acknowledgments from Greeks of their gratitude and veneration, and these
were amongst the most valued of the tributes showered upon him.
Towards the end of May he went to London to stay
with the Archers. He had selected from the overflow of his songs and sonnets
a certain number for publication. These he called 'Messis Vite,' or
'Gleanings from a Happy Life,' because they included the expression of his
cheerful and reverent wisdom, as well as allusion to the many persons who
had made life interesting to him, and the Scottish "traditions, shrines, and
melodies," to the celebration of which he was increasingly devoted. He
dedicated the volume" To the Students of the Scottish Universities," because
"there is not a little in it that owed its inspiration to the contagion of
fresh young minds, and to the leisure for cultivating the Muse afforded me
by the usage of what, in Scotland at least, I cannot but regard as the
happiest of all human avocations, the profession of an Academical teacher."
Messrs Macmillan accepted the book, and it was published in October.
His publisher secured, he set himself to drain
the cup of London enjoyment, as he liked it, mixed with pleasure and profit
in due proportion. He was present in the House of Commons on that eventful
1st of June when Mr Gladstone's Irish Bill was rejected, and made the
acquaintance of many members, whom he sought to interest in his new war-cry
of "Home Rule for Scotland." It is characteristic that as the pleasant dream
of restoring a Parliament in Edinburgh more and more bedazzled his patriotic
imagination, he deserted the Irish cause and became a notable Unionist.
The Colonial and Indian Exhibition was a feature
of that season, and interested him far more than the preceding displays. He
visited it some twelve times. He saw 'Faust' from the gallery of the Lyceum,
but found its presentment of the great story distorted. He made a study of
the National Gallery with his usual energy. Amongst social doings, a
luncheon-party with Lord Rosebery best merits allusion. He described it in a
letter written on June 7 :-
We had a very pleasant
party at Lansdowne House last Saturday. A little circular parlour with a
dome above, and a little round table in the middle with a few chosen
guests, numbering eight in all, including mine host and hostess; Lord
and Lady Aberdeen; Ferguson of Novar, a square -browed Scot with a
bright open face; Drummond, the scientific religiomst of the hour, tall
and handsome; Villiers of the Foreign Office, and Calcraft of the Board
Three weeks of town proved
enough, and he got home in time to snatch a glimpse of Oliver Wendell
Holmes, who was that summer in Scotland.
Mrs }3lackie and he made Moffat their summer
quarters, and this set him once more on the track of the Covenanters, his
gleanings from local sites and traditions being utilised in a lecture on
"Scottish Nationality" delivered in August to a Moffat audience. This, a
special lecture devoted to Peden the Prophet, and the series on Scottish
songs, served for three autumn campaigns—two of them in England, one in
Forfarshire. He found local singers in most places, who helped to illustrate
his musical discourses: on one occasion that year, when he was lecturing at
Renton on the Jacobites, the chairman proved equal to "Cain' ye by Athole"
and "The wee German Lairdie."
An interesting guest was with him towards the
end of the year, Prince Krapotkin, staying during the fortnight necessary
for his appearances at the Philosophical Institution. His host was absent in
Yorkshire for part of this time, being much lionised, from which fate he was
glad to get home to such familiar occupations as the frequent letter to the
' Scotsman,' when an old subject budded and broke into a new blossom of
thought. Thus he was denouncing the study of Latin and Greek in December,
and asserting the sufficiency of any modern language both as mental exercise
and as equipment for life. He certainly underrated the importance of the
classics to literary style, as many a scholar proceeded to intimate by
The year 1887
began with a lecture on "Burns" in Edinburgh, and with the intimation from a
Rabbi in New York that his beautiful psalm—
High and lowly,"
been included in the Jewish Hymnal there. February was made interesting by a
visit from Professor Rhys, and by a prolonged correspondence with the Bishop
of St Andrews on the Christian Hierarchy, a matter on which the Professor
and the Prelate were by no means of one mind. Lectures and lay sermons
occupied March and April, and by the end of May he was in London, his
solitary journey having been tempered by the singing of Scottish songs a
great part: of the way. He had new acquaintances to see—amongst them Dr A.
C. Mackenzie, who set some of his ballads to music, and Miss Agnes Smith,
the well-known Hellenist and traveller. Mrs Blackie was at Harrogate with a
friend. His stay in town was bisected by a visit to Professor Rhys in
Oxford. The first part was devoted to Loftie's 'History of London,' with
verifying rambles; and the second included, amongst other festivities, a
view of the Jubilee procession from the windows of the Baroness Burdett
Coutts's house, when he was recognised by the crowd and cheered. A dinner at
the Mansion House and a garden-party at Dollis Hill belong to the second
part of his season in London. Of the latter Mr Gladstone wrote on June 19:
The constant influx of
visitors prevented me from having a moment with you yesterday, except to
congratulate you on your perpetual youth. I write to perform a duty and
secure a pleasure. I have read your volume of poems ['Messis Vitae'], or
the greater part of it, with wonder at its elasticity and freshness, and
admiration of its healthy and joyous tone, as well as memory power.
There are two or three iconoclastic lines on p. 16 which I am wicked
enough to wish to cut out of the good company in which they stand.
The passage alluded to occurs
in the sonnet called " Christ and Christendom," a noble repulse of modern
show and sham, of ritualism too versus pure worship,—a protest in advance of
what is becoming the test of true religion, "What would He say?"
Of the year 1887 there is little more to record.
The summer was happily spent in the manse of Selkirk, and already he was
reading up the life of Burns for his contribution to the "Great Writers"
series, published in February of the following year.