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Nether Lochaber
Chapter XXVII


The disappearance of the glories of Autumn, and the advent of Winter—Innovations and Innovators—New Version of the Scriptures—The Milkmaid and her Fairy Lover, translated from the Gaelic.

Ichabod! the glory is departed [November 1871]. The gorgeous autumnal hues, which were so beautiful when we penned our last, have already passed away. In the first fierce breath of winter the trees have shed their golden glories, while the few remaining leaves that still cling trembling to branch and bough, shrivelled up and blackened at their edges, present only that pallid, corpse-like hue that betokens approaching dissolution, making you sad and thoughtful as you gaze, and reminding you that everywhere, on all hands, last while it may, the end of all life is death. It is a sad lesson for the moment, doubtless, but a useful one; and even at its worst, when the thought bears heaviest upon us, the cloud presents its silver lining, and a gleam of gladness bursts upon the soul, in the recollection that as sure as all things are subject to decay and death, so sure are decay and death themselves but the vassals of a brighter life and more excellent glory. In one of our Scripture Paraphrases there is a very beautiful reference to the decay of nature at this season, and to the hope that gladdens us amidst all the desolation of the scene :—

"All nature dies, and lives again:
The flow'r that paints the field,
The trees that crown the mountain's brow,
And boughs and blossoms yield,

''Resign the honours of their form
At Winter's stormy blast,
And leave the naked leafless plain
A desolated waste.

"Yet soon reviving plants and flow'rs
Anew shall deck the plain;
 
The woods shall hear the voice of Spring,
And flourish green again!''

We have no patience with your innovators, whether in matters of Church or State. We do not deny, indeed, that certain innovations may he sometimes permissible, even if not absolutely necessary, that by their adoption things may be done more decently and in order; nor do we object even to a radical change in a given direction, when such a change has by common consent become imperative. We believe, in fact, in development and progress; only let that progress and development be slow and sure, that they may be lasting; gradual, that they may be graceful, and fall easily into their place, without unnecessary jostling or disturbance of the established order of things. Festina lente—hasten slowly— was the motto of the learned Erasmus, and quoad hoc it is ours also; and, if you care to know it, is our creed in affairs political and ecclesiastical. Some people, however, seem born to be innovators and nothing else, and the innovator, pure et simple, is surely a pest. He seems to have been born never to know peace himself, and never, as much as in him lies, to permit others a moment's rest or peace, or quiet either. Your thoroughbred, full-blooded innovator always reminds us of our first housekeeper —a very good woman in her way, too, but who had a perfect craze for shifting and reshifting, adjusting and readjusting, as well as dusting and redusting every article of furniture throughout the house, at all sorts of unseasonable hours, and when to ordinary mortals such labour seemed utterly uncalled for. When we were at home she went " at it" in out-of-the-way closets and bedrooms as much and as often as the immediate calls of the moment permitted. But when she got us away from home for a day or two, how she did enjoy it! How she did luxuriate in the power to innovate " at her own sweet will"—the quotation, hy the way, is rather inapt, for her temper was somewhat of the sourest. Sometimes when we came back after a day or two's absence, we could hardly believe it to be the same house, so great was the change in the place and position of everything. At last the thing became unbearable. One evening, on our return from a walk, we found our writing-table, at which we had been employed during the day, carefully placed in the darkest corner of the room, with its drawers, containing letters, paper, pens, &c., jammed up hard and fast against the wall, while books and manuscripts were most artistically arranged in pyramidal form, the ink-bottle representing the graceful entablature on the top of a book-case, where it must have cost her no small pains, and a great deal of stretching on tiptoe, even with the aid of a chair, to place them. The thing was too absurd for any one to be really angry ; but we pretended to be so, and at last peace was proclaimed, under a sort of compromise that she should arrange and readjust all the rest of the house at her pleasure, as often and as radically as she chose, but that that particular room, having been put to rights to our mutual satisfaction once for all, must in all time coming be let alone. This treaty being duly ratified, was upon the whole faithfully observed by the contracting parties. The mischief, however, with your thoroughbred innovator is that you can never completely satisfy him, his appetite for change is insatiable, he will make no compromise with you. Grant him all he asks to-day, and as sure as to-morrow comes, he is at it anew. If you gave him the whole world, and his own way everywhere and in everything, he would be in worse plight than the conqueror who wept because there were no more worlds to subdue, and fret himself to death that there were no more changes for him to elfect. The probability is that, rather than be idle, he would, in hunting phrase, "hark hack" upon his old track, and diligently undo all he had spent his life in doing, and without much regard to the consequences.

We have been led into these remarks by the recollection, when quoting the above verses of the Eighth Paraphrase, that there are at this moment some people busily bestirring themselves in the matter of a new translation of the Scriptures, to supersede the authorised version now in use. Now, we most solemnly protest against all this, as a most rash proposal, ill-advised, and utterly uncalled for. At present we object very much on the same principle that we should object to a painting by one of the old masters being cleansed and retouched by a modern E.A., however eminent in his own person, or on the same principle that we should feel tempted to kick the ladder from under the feet of a man we should detect white-washing a stately pile of the olden time, under the plea, forsooth, that in obliterating weather stains, and freely applying putty and paint, he was thereby improving, renovating, and beautifying the whole fabric. That there are verbal inaccuracies in our authorised version of the Scriptures is on all hands admitted; let these be rectified, if people please, and let the corrections so made, under adequate authority, appear in the form of marginal notes opposite the passage amended, but let the body of The Book stand as it is—intact. The edifice, as it exists, is too grand, and stately, and beautiful, and hallowed, not to suffer under the proposed remodelling, even in the most competent hands.

But to turn to a different theme. The following is a translation from the Gaelic, as literal as we could make it, with anything like due regard to the spirit and manner of the original. It is a fairy song, if song it can be called, from the manuscript volume referred to in a former communication. Fairy tales, both in prose and verse, were common with our Celtic forefathers, and, if we only examine them with sufficient care, Ave shall find that, underlying all their quaintness, there is always to be found a substratum of sound and healthy moral. It hears no title in the original, hut we may call it—

The Milkmaid and her FaiRy Lover.

Gaily the milkmaid came tripping along;
The echoes so loved her, they joined in her song;
The hare and the wild-roe that browsed in the glade,
The bird on the bough swinging high over-head—
They saw and they heard, but they feared not—they
 knew the milkmaid.

Abundant her tresses, bright golden their hue;
And soft as a dove's was her eye in its blue;
Elastic her footstep, and lightsome and free
As a fawn's when in gladness it skips o'er the lea—
Of the old and the young the delight, and the pride of Glentallon was she.

In secret she met with the Hunter in Green, 
Beside the lone fountain of Coirre-na-Sheen;
A gallant more gay ne'er did maiden behold,
His manner so gentle, his bearing so bold;
By his side freely dangled, and well could he wind it, a bugle of gold!

Full fondly he kissed her—she thought it no sin,
Though she knew not his name, nor his kith, nor his kin;
They plighted their troth by the fount's bubbling stream,
Where oft, it is said, when frail mortals but dream,
The fairies hold revel, and trippingly dance in the moon's mellow beam.

On the Eve of St. Agnes the maiden confessed,
As was .proper she should, all her sins to the priest;
When she left him, the blush in her check mantled high;
There was care in her step, and a tear in her eye.
Yet pure was the maiden and spotless, I ween, as a star in the blue of the sky.

Next day, by the fountain of Coirre-na-Sheen,
The milkmaid again met the
 Hunter in Green. 
As he kissed her she quietly slipped under his vest
A relic she long had worn next to her breast—
'Twas a relic in sooth the most sacred—a
 Cross that the holy St. Colomb had blessed.

And lo ! in the place of the Hunter in Green
('Twas all by the fountain of Coirre-na-Sheen),
A brown, withered twig, so elf twisted and dry,
Was all—'twas amazing—the maid could espy!
While the
 Cross, with a bright burning light round its edges, beside it did lie.

And the maid grasped the Cross, which devoutly she kissed,
And hid it again in the snow of her breast;
Homewards she turned her with pensive steps slowly,
But her heart was at peace—meek, submissive, and lowly,
As maid and as mother (the
 Cross at her breast) she passed a life holy.

Often still wake the echoes of Coirre-na-Sheen,
At the blast of thy bugle, O
 Hunter in GreenI 
Go get thee a mate from the green fairy knowe—
A cross-bearing maid dare not wed such as thou:
Let fairy wed fey, and let mortal wed mortal. Come,
 Annabel, stir up the fire till it blaze in a lowe!

The moral of the fairy song is instantly apparent. A young lady— miss or milkmaid—is not to hold clandestine appointments with any young gentleman, however lovahle and attractive, until at least she knows who and what he is, whence he cometh and whither he goeth. Having met and loved, however, she is instantly to consult those who are older and wiser than herself, and, under their friendly care and direction, she is to he sure that, on her own part and on that of her lover, all shall he pure and holy. The touch at the end is admirable. We must suppose a mother telling the story, herself and sons and daughters sitting round the fire, which, in the absorbing interest of the tale, has been for the time neglected. "Annabel," addressed at the close, we must fancy to be the eldest daughter, just entering upon womanhood. The whole moral of the story, flung obliquely at her head in the command to stir the fire and make it blaze, is exquisite, and we can fancy the gentle "Annabel" quietly smiling to herself the while—she also having a secret—as she cheerily obeys the maternal mandate.


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