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Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life
The Poor Scholar


The vernal weather, that had come 60 early in the year, as to induce a fear that it would not be lasting, seemed, contrary to that foreboding of change, to become every day more mild and genial; and the spirit of beauty, that had at first ventured out over the bosom of the earth with timid footsteps, was now blending itself more boldly with the deep verdure of the ground, and the life of the budding trees. Something in the air, and in the great, wide, blue, bending arch of the unclouded sky, called upon the heart to come forth from the seclusion of parlour or study, and partake of the cheerfulness of nature.

We had made some short excursions together up the lonely glens, and over the moors, and also through the more thickly inhabited field-farms of his Parish, arid now the old Minister proposed that we should pay a visit to a solitary Hut near the head of a dell, which, although not very remote from the Manse, we had not yet seen. And I was anxious that we should do so, as, from his conversation, I understood that we should see there a family—if so a widow and her one son could be called—that would repay us by the interest we could not fail to feel in their character, for the time and toil spent on reaching their secluded and guarded dwelling.

“The poor widow woman,” said the minister, “who lives in the Hut called Braehead, has as noble a soul as ever tenanted a human bosom. One earthly hope alone has she now—but I fear it never will be fulfilled. She is the widow of a common cottar who lived and died in the hut which she and her son now inhabit. Her husband was a man of little education, but intelligent, even ingenious, simple, laborious, and pious. His duties lay all within a narrow circle, and his temptations, it maybe said, were few. Such as they were, he discharged the one and withstood the other. Nor is there any reason to think, that, had they both been greater, lie would have been found wanting. He was contented with meal and water all his days ; and so fond of work, that he seemed to love the summer chiefly for the length of its labouring days. He had a slight genius for mechanics; and, during the long winter evenings, he made many articles of curious workmanship, the sale of which added a little to the earnings of his severer toil. The same love of industry excited him from morning to night; but he had also stronger, tenderer, and dearer .motives; for if his wife and their one pretty boy should outlive him, he hoped, that, though left poor, they would not be left in penury, but enabled to lead, without any additional hardships, the usual life, at least, of the widow and the orphans of honest hard-working men Few thought much about Abraham Blane while he lived, except that he w as an industrious and blameless man; but, on his death, it was felt that there had been something far more valuable in his character; and now I myself, who knew him well, was pleasingly surprised to know that he had left his widow’ and boy a small independence. Then the memory of his long summer days, and long winter nights, all ceaselessly employed in some kind of manual labour, dignified the lowly and stedfast virtue of the unpretending and conscientious man.

“The widow of this humble-hearted and simple-minded man, whom we shall tins forenoon visit, you will remember, perhaps, although then neither she nor her husband were much known in the parish, as the wife of the basket-maker. Her father had been a clergyman—but his stipend was one of the smallest in Scotland, and he died in extreme poverty. This, his only daughter, who had many fine feelings and deep thoughts in her young innocent and simple heart, was forced to become a menial servant in a farm house. There subduing her heart to her situation, she married that inoffensive and good man ; and all her life lias been—maid, wife, and widow,—the humblest among the humble. But you shall soon have an opportunity of seeing what sense, what feeling, what knowledge, and what piety, may all live together, without their .owner suspecting them, in the souI of the lonely widow of a Scottish cottar; for except that she is .pious, she thinks not .that she possesses any .other treasure.and.even her piety she regarded like .a true Christian, as a gift bestowed.

“But .well worthy .of esteem, and, to speak in the language of .this world’s fancies, of admiration, as .you will think this poor solitary widow) perhaps you will •think such feelings bestowed even more .deservedly on her only son. He is now .a boy only of sixteen .years of age, but, in my limited experience of life, never knew I such another. From his veriest infancy he showed a singular capacity (for learning} at seven years. of age he could read, .write, and was even an arithmetician. He seized upon books with the same avidity, with whiqh children, in general, seize upon playthings. He soon caught .glimmerings of the meaning even of .other languages; and, before lie was ten years old, .there were in his mind clear dawnings of the, scholar, and indications not to be doubted of genius and intellectual power. His father was dead—'but this mother, who was .no common woman, however common her lot, saw with pure delight, and with strong maternal pride, that God had given her an. extraordinary child to bless her solitary-hut. She-vowed to dedicate him to .the ministry, and that all her husband bad .left should be spent upon him, to the Last farthing, to qualify him to be a preacher of God’s word. Such ambition, if sometimes misplaced, is almost always necessarily honourable. Here it was justified by the excelling talents of the boy—by his zeal for knowledge —which was like a fever in his blood—and by a childish piety, of which the simple, and eloquent, and beautiful expression has more than once made me shed tears. But let us leave the manse, and walk to Braehead. The sunshine is precious at this early season; let us enjoy it while it smiles!”

We crossed a few fields—a few coppice woods—an extensive sheep pasture, and then found ourselves on the edge of a moorland. Keeping the shelving heather ridge of hills above us, we gently descended into a narrow rushy glen, without any thing that could be called a stream, but here and there crossed and intersected by various runlets. Soon all cultivation ceased, and no houses were to be seen. Had the glen been a long one, it would have seemed desolate, but on turning round a little green mount that ran almost across it, we saw at once an end to our walk, and one Hut, with a peat-stack close to it, and one or two elder, or, as we call them in Scotland, bourtrie-bushes, at the low gable-end. A little smoke seemed to tinge the air over the roof uncertainly—but except in that, there was nothing to tell that the hut was inhabited. A few sheep lying near it, and a single cow of the small hill-breed, seemed to appertain to the hut, and a circular wall behind it apparently enclosed a garden. We sat down together on one of those large mossy stones that often lie among the smooth green pastoral hills, like the relics of some building utterly decayed—and my venerable friend, whose solemn voice was indeed pleasant in this quiet solitude, continued the simple history of the Poor Scholar.

“At school he soon outstripped all the other boys, but no desire of superiority over his companions seemed to actuate him—it was the pure native love of knowledge. Gentle as a lamb, but happy as a lark, the very wildest of them all loved Isaac Plane. He procured a Hebrew Bible and a Greek Testament, both of which he taught himself to read. It was more than affecting—it was sublime and awful to see the solitary boy sitting by himself on the braes shedding tears over the mysteries of the Christian faith. His mother’s heart burned within her towards her son; and if it was pride, you will allow that was pride of a divine origin. She appeared with him in the kirk every Sabbath, dressed not ostentatiously, but still in a way that showed she intended him not for a life of manual labour. Perhaps at first some half thought that she was too proud of him; but that was a suggestion not to be cherished, for all acknowledged that he was sure to prove an honour to the parish in which he was born. She often brought him to the Manse, and earth did not contain a happier creature than her, when her boy answered all my questions, and modestly made his own simple, yet wise remarks on the sacred subjects gradually unfolding before his understanding and his heart.

<e Before he was twelve years of age he went to College—and his mother accompanied him to pass the winter in the city. Two small rooms she took near the Cathedral, and while he was at the classes, or reading alone, she was not idle, but strove to make a small sum to help to defray their winter expences. To her that retired cell was a heaven when she looked upon her pious and studious boy. His genius was soon conspicuous; for four winters he pursued his Studies in the University—returning always in summer to this hut, the door of which during their absence was closed. He made many friends, and frequently, during the three last summers, visitors came to pass a day at Braehead, in a rank of life far above his own. But in Scotland, thank God, talent, and learning, and genius, and virtue, when found in the poorest hut, go not without their admiration and their reward. Young as he is, he has had pupils of his own —his mother’s little property has not been lessened at this hour by his education—and besides contributing to the support of her and himself,-he has brought neater furniture into that lonely Hut, and there has he a library, limited in the number but rich in the choice of books, such as contain food for years of silent thought to the Poor Scholar—if years indeed are to be his on earth.”

We rose to proceed onwards to the Hut, across one smooth level of greenest herbage, and up one intervening knowe a little lower than the mount on which it stood. Why, thought I, has the old Man always spoken of the Poor Scholar, as if he had been speaking of one now dead? Can it be, from the hints he has dropped, that this youth, so richly endowed, is under the doom of death, and the fountain of- all those clear and fresh gushing thoughts about to be sealed? I asked, as we walked along, if Isaac Blaue seemed marked out to be one of those sweet flowers “no sooner blown than blasted,” and who perish away like the creatures of a dream? The old Man made answer that it was even so—that he had been unable to attend College last winter—and that it was to be feared he was now far advanced in a hopeless decline. Simple is he still as a very child—but with a sublime sense of duty to God and man—of profound affection and humanity never to be appeased towards all the brethren of our race. Each month—each week—each day has seemed visibly to bring him new stores of silent feeling and thought—and even now, boy as he is, he is fit for the Ministry. But he has no hopes of living to that day—nor have I. The deep spirit of his piety is now blended with a sure prescience of an early death. Expect, therefore, to see him pale—emaciated—and sitting in the hut like a beautiful and blessed ghost.”

We entered die Hut, but no one was in the room The clock ticked solitarily—and on a table, beside a nearly extinguished peat fire, lay the open Bible, and a small volume, which, on lifting it up, I found to be a Greek Testament. “They have gone out to walk, or to sit down for an hour in the warm sunshine,” said the old Man.—“Let us sit down and wait-their return. It will not be long.” A long, low sigh was heard in the silence, proceeding, as it seemed, from a small room adjoining that in which we were sitting, and of which the door was left half-open. The Minister looked into that room, and, after along earnest gaze, stept softly back to me again, with a solemn face, and taking me by the hand, whispered to me to come with him to that door, which he gently moved. On a low bed lay the Poor Scholar, dressed as he had been for the day, stretched out in a stillness too motionless anti profound for sleep, and with his fixed face up to heaven. We saw that he was dead. His mother was kneeling, with her face on the bed, and covered with both her hands. Then she lifted up her eyes and said, “O Merciful Redeemer, who wrought that miracle on the child of the Widow of Nain, comfort me, comfort me, in this my sore distress! I know that my Son is never to rise again until the great Judgment-day. But not the less do I bless thy holy name—for thou didst die to sa\ e us sinners!”

She arose from her knees, and, still blind to every other object, went up to his breast. “I thought thee lovelier, when alive, than any of the sons of the children of men—but that smik is beyond the power of a mother’s heart to sustain.” And stooping down, she kissed his lips, and cheeks, and eyes, and forehead, with a hundred soft, streaming, and murmuring kisses, and then stood up in her solitary hut, alone and childless, with a long mortal sigh, *n which all earthly feelings seemed breathed out, and all earthly ties broken. Her eyes wandered towards the door, and fixed themselves with a ghastly and unconscious gaze for a few moments on the grey locks and withered countenance of the old holy Man, bent towards her with a pitying and benignant air, and stooped, too, in the posture of devotion. She soon recognized the best friend of her Son, and leaving the bed on which his body lay, she came out into the room, and said, “You have come to me at a time when your presence was sorely needed. Had you been here but a few minutes sooner, you would have seen my Isaac die!”

Unconsciously we were all seated; and the Widow turning fervently to her venerated friend, said, “ He was reading the Bible—he felt faint—and s&'d feebly, a Mother, attend me to my bed, and when I lie down, put your arm over my breast and kiss me.” I did just as he told me; and on wiping away a tear or two vainly shed by me on my dear boy ’s face, I saw that his eyes, though open, moved not, and that the lids were fixed. He had gone to another world. See— Sir L there is the Bible lying open at the place he was reading—God preserve My Soul from repining—only a few minutes ago:”

The Minister took the Bible on his knees, and laying his fight hand, without selection; on part of one oŁ the pages that Iay open, he‘ read aloud the following verses:

“Blessd are the poof in Spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.'

"Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted:”

The Mother's heart seemed to be deeply blest for a while by these words': She gave a grateful smile to the old man; and sat silent, moving her lips. At length she again broke forth:

“Oh! Death, ‘Whatever may have been our thoughts or fears; ever comes unexpectedly at last! My Soft often—often told me, that he was dying, and I saw that it was so ever since Christmas. But how could I prevent hope from entering my heart? His sweet happy voice—the calmness of his prayers-his smiles, that never left his face whenever he looked of spoke to me—his studies still pursued as anxiously as ever—the interest he took in any little incident of our retired life—all forced me t'd believe at times that he was hot yet destined to die. But why think oft all these things now? Yes! I will always think of them, till I join him and my husband in Heaven?"

It seemed now as if the Widow hall only noticed me for the first time. Her soul hall been so engrossed with its passion of grief, and with the felt sympathy and compassion of my venerable friend. She asked me if I had known her son; and I answered, that if I had, I could hot have sat there so composedly, but that I was no stranger to his Incomparable excellence, and felt indeed for her grievous loss. She listened to my words, but did not seem to hear them, and once more addressed the old Man. “He suffered much sickness, my poor boy. For although it was a consumption, that is not always an easy death. But soon as the sickness .and the racking pain gave way to our united prayers, God and our Saviour made us happy, and sure he spake then as never mortal spake, kindling into a happiness that was beautiful to see, when I beheld his face marked by dissolution, and knew even in those inspired moments, for I can call them nothing else, that ere long the dust was to lie on those lips now flowing over with heavenly music!”

We sat for some hours in the Widow’s Hut, and the Minister several times prayed with her, at her own request. On rising to depart, he said that he would send up one of her dearest friends to pass the night with her, and help her to do the last offices to her son. But she replied that she wished to be left alone for that day and night, and would expect her friend in the morning. We went towards the outer door, and she, m a sort of sudden stupor, let us depart without any farewell words, and retired into the room where her son was lying. Casting back our eyes, before our departure, we saw her steal into the bed beside the dead body, and drawing the head gently into her bosom, she lay down with him in her arms, and as if they had in that manner fallen asleep.


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