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Nether Lochaber
Chapter VIII


A Wet February—Good Time Coming—Sir Walter Scott—Mr. Gladstone—Death of Sir David Brewster.

One swallow doesn't make a summer, says the proverb, and unless one fine day (the 19th) makes a spring, we haven't for the last six weeks [February 1870] and more had a single hour of a character to be disassociated from one of the wettest and wildest winters on record. No sooner has one storm died away, less from any voluntary cessation on its part than from sheer exhaustion of its forces, than, after a slushy, sludgy interregnum of brief duration, it has been succeeded in every instance by another and another still of equal or greater violence and fury, so that of quiet or calm we have known little, and of sun or moon or stars we have seen hardly the briefest glimpse since Old New Year's Day. "When Foote, the incomparable comedian (Johnson said of him that (the dog was irresistible"), after acquiring and dissipating several fortunes, Avas at last lucky enough to be able to set up his carriage in a more dashing style than ever, he selected as his motto, and emblematical of his career, the words Iterum, Iterum, Iterumque ! (Again, and Again, and Again!) It has struck us that if the Meteorological Society Avere to apply to the Herald's College for a crest and armorial bearings to be displayed on the title-page of their volume of "Transactions" for the first quarter of the current year, we, should they do us the honour to consult us, would suggest a cloud-cumulus, rain-surcharged, proper on the shield, with Aquarius and the "watery" Hyades as supporters; Eolus ordering "a fresh hand to the bellows" as a crest, and the Iterum, Itervm, Iterumque of Foote's chariot as a motto of singular appropriateness and meaning. How delighted, by the way, must our amphibious friend Mr. Symons be in the midst of all this rainfall! His crest again should be a man's head on a fish's body in an overflowed meadow, natant, and his supporters an anemometer and rain-gauge proper ! It is needless to say that anything like spring work is with us not only in a very backward state, but has hardly been commenced. Before the end of February we had our own corn seed and potatoes in the ground last year. If we get them down this year any time during the next month, it will be earlier than the weather at the date of the present writing promises. Our ornithological studies extend over a greater number of years than we care at this moment very accurately to count; but never have we known our wild-birds so listless and loveless on Shrovetide Eve as they are this season. Except an occasional carol from the wren, who has a soul as big as that of his namesake Sir Christopher, who built the dome of St. Paul's (the wren also, by the way, is a dome-builder), and an irregular strophe at rare intervals from the redbreast, our woods are songless, and of nidification there is not a sign. Meliora sperare, nevertheless, is sound philosophy. Let us hope for better things : He is faithful that promised that while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease. Scott has few finer passages than the following, which we are fond of repeating in such a season as this. It occurs in his epistle to William Stewart Eose, introductory to the first canto of Marmion,and, though very beautiful, is seldom quoted :—

"No longer Autumn's glowing red
Upon our Forest hills is shed;
No more, beneath the evening born,
Fair Tweed reflects their purple gleam;
Away hath passed the heather bell
That bloomed so rich on Needpath fell;
Sallow his brow, and russet bare
Are now the sister-heights of Yair.
The sheep, before the pinching heaven,
To sheltered dale and down are driven,
Where yet some faded herbage pines
And yet a watery sunbeam shines:
In meek despondency they eye
The wither'd sward And wintry skv,
And far beneath their summer hill
Stray sadly by Glenkinnon's rill:
The shepherd shifts his mantle's fold,
And wraps him closer from the cold;
His dogs no merry circles wheel,
But, shivering, follow at his heel;
A cowering glance they often cast,
As deeper moans the gathering blast.
"My imps, though hardy, bold, and wild,
As best befits the mountain child,
Feel the sad influence of the hour,
And wail the daisy's vanished flower;
Their summer gambols tell, and mourn,
And anxious ask—Will spring return,
And birds and lambs agaiu he gay,
And blossoms clothe the hawthorn spray?
"Yes, prattlers, yes. The daisy's flower
Again shall paint your summer bower;
Again the haw thorn shall supply
The garlands you delight to tie;
The lambs upon the lea shall bound,
The wild birds carol to the round;
And while you frolic light as they,
Too short shall seem the summer day."

On her rich roll of worthies, Scotland has but few names of whom she has more reason to be proud than that of Walter Scott. If we had even said not one, an objector might perhaps find the assertion more difficult to disprove than he wots of. Nor has the star of his marvellous power and influence for good set or been extinguished; it has only been clouded for a season by the intervention of exhalations of the "earth, earthy"—exhalations that the growth of a healthier and holier taste is already dissipating, and the Wizard's star shall reappear in undiminished lustre, and young and old will clap their hands and rejoice in its purity and power. Some years ago arose a school of poetry that flared and flickered for a season, and found admirers on the same mysterious principle, we suppose, that Antoinetta Bourignon and Joanna Southcott found followers. It was happily styled the "spasmodic" school; and it died and disappeared—the best thing it could do. A new school has succeeded, that may be called the sensuous, and, we had almost said, the lascivious, and with a strong tendency to the reproduction in modern guise of all that was worst and best in the ancient Greek drama. Of this school, Mr. Swinburne is, facile princeps, the chief. It also will last but for a season, and will die and disappear ignominiously, as did its predecessor. There is yet another school, that has existed for some time longer—full of missy ism, sentimentalism, and languid goodyism—"too good for banning, too bad for a blessing." It also is slowly dwindling, and dwining, and dying, and must soon expire, leaving people hardly any better or worse than it fdund them. And so with the novels of the day, with their "sensations," their seductions, murders, and unspeakable horrors, worse than were mingled in the bubbling cauldron of the witches in Macbeth: their day is doomed; for purer taste, banished but for a moment, must reappear—is already reappearing—and people, awakening as if from a dream, will once again consent to quench their thirst at healthier fountains, and to wander in less questionable bye-paths. The poetry and novels of Scott will then resume their attraction and reassert their influence and power; and whithersoever he leads, no parent need be ashamed to follow, or feel obliged in the interests of morality to forbid and forego the companionship of wife or children through scenes where there is everything to delight and nothing to offend. It is well that in the world of poetry and fiction, as in social and political affairs, the maxim holds true that—

"Res nolunt diu male adminietrari."

Of Mr. Gladstone, the politician, there are many more enthusiastic admirers than ourselves, though we would not willingly he supposed to yield to any one in our ardent admiration of his ripe scholarship and unrivalled eloquence; hut we shall think better of him while we live, and have a kindlier and warmer interest in all he says and does, on account of his recent eulogium on the character and writings of Sir Walter Scott.

And who can speak of Scott, or think of Abbotsford and Melrose and the classic Tweed at the present moment, without also thinking of Allerly and Sir David Brewster, one of the greatest men of science that Scotland has ever produced; and greater far, as sometimes happens in such cases, out of it than in it, for during ,full forty years, wherever, throughout the habitable parts of the earth, science had lit her lamp and could count her votaries, however humble, there the name of David Brewster was familiar as a household word, and his discoveries known and applauded. He was the first really distinguished man of letters and science we ever knew, and it was while writing one of the earlier chapters of this work, on a subject in which he felt the keenest interest, and in connection with which we had occasion to mention his name, that the grand old man, venerable in honours and in years, was breathing his last, with a Christian resignation to the Divine will, and a Christian's joyful faith in the Divine mercy and goodness. Passing through the valley of death, he feared no evil, for his Lord and Saviour sustained his steps. Through the first Lady Brewster (nbe Macpherson), to whom we had the honour of being known before we had yet seen her distinguished husband, we were fortunate enough to be admitted, at the very beginning of our curriculum at college, to a degree of familiarity with the Principal of our University, that our relative positions would not otherwise have warranted, and which we have the satisfaction to remember we had sense enough to value highly and to be proud of even at that early age. It was by his practised Land that the instrument was adjusted through which we had our first view of two of the most beautiful sights that the telescope reveals to us—Jupiter with his belts and retinue of attendant moons, and Saturn with his rings; and very patient and good-natured and kindly were his replies to our eager questionings with regard to the nature of the wonders then first opened to our gaze. Sir David, if forced into it, could fight, and never turned his back on an assailant. If you hit him, he hit again, and he always hit severely; but he was, notwithstanding, a man of kindest heart and most amiable disposition, and it would be difficult to meet with any one more cheerful or courteous or pleasant within the circle of his own family and in his daily intercourse with his acquaintances and friends. Requiescat in pace: he was in truth a great man. Not often does it happen that in the same country, and within so short a time of each other, two such stars so large and lustrous as Faraday and Brewster have disappeared from the firmament of science. A century may elapse ere the thrones they have left vacant shall again be adequately filled. There is something extremely beautiful and affecting in one of Sir David Brewster's last utterances upon earth. On the morning of his death, Sir James Simpson, standing by his bedside, remarked that it had been given to him to show forth much of God's great and marvellous works; and the dying, philosopher solemnly and quietly replied, "Yes, I have found them to be great and marvellous, and I have found and felt them to be His."


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