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Tales of the Scottish Peasantry
Biographical Sketch of the Brothers Bethune

It has almost become proverbial that Scotland has supplied from her peasantry, the names of more men eminent in Science, Art, Literature, and especially in Song, than that furnished by the same class in any other country. Perhaps this may be accounted for variously. Some men have risen on the strength of their own inherent genius, if not to fortune in their lifetimes, at least to their names having become famous and immortal, and their works successful, after their death. To this class might be said to belong Burns, and, in a lesser degree Hogg, and a host of other minor celebrities. Some attribute the reason of the Scotsman's prominence on the long bead-roll of fame to his national characteristic, untiring industry and perseverance, which, with a fair share of education and common-sense, is bound, they say, in the long run to end in success. Such examples have generally risen from the peasantry, that class which has long proved the worthiest and most virtuous of our rural population, a class accounted the mainstay and backbone of our nationality before the days of Highland depopulation and political centralisation.

From parents possessed of superior mental and moral endowments belonging to this class, have sprung such types as Allan Cunninghame, the Messrs. Chambers, and, along with the highest personal genius, inherent and partially inherited, that almost crown of Scotland's literary glory, Thomas Carlyle, the greatness of whose life and work will only be seen and appreciated as time rolls on. Other two men more humble in their origin and less gifted in their genius, but equally great in the purity, nobility, and unspotted nature of their lives, and whose works are sufficiently meritorious to deserve a permanent record in the history of their country's literature, are Alexander and John Bethune, the authors of the following tales, whose names have become inseparably associated, and long familiarly known, as the Brothers Bethune.

Regarding their literary efforts, while some of it might have been due to the promptings of poverty, very much also was the result of their large-hearted benevolence, and real human interest they took in their fellow-beings, and in their laudable ambition to produce something that would be of more than a mere passing interest in the literary world. This interest we find to be an intelligent one. Their whole previous career, their training and education, or rather the want of it, was most unfavourable to the proper expression of their thoughts and ideas. But this did not lessen their value; they were familiar with the manners and customs of the class to which they belonged, and could trace the workings of their minds on a given subject from their earliest dawnings to full fruition; they knew their likes and dislikes, their prejudices, their virtues and their failings, and, knowing all this, could pourtray with graphic power, the result of long and laboured experience, the scene or idea they had conceived. What they wished to teach, above everything else, was truth, morality, and that self-dependence which was so very characteristic of their own lives. But they did not begin by prating to the people empty pious platitudes; they knew human nature too well to think they would swallow the pill unless it was gilded, so they first endeavoured to interest the people in their tales and stories, and allowed the lesson they meant to teach through them, to sink unconsciously into their minds. They believed it better to write a tale which would have the elements of some great truth or moral virtue in it, and which might be read by thousands, than to write a book full of valuable instruction, which might lie unlooked at on the bookseller's shelves. This was well illustrated in their own experience, for, while their tales were very popular, and gained them a little money, their volume on "Practical Economy," the joint labours, of both, while equally meritorious, was by no means so much sought after.

Alexander, the elder brother, was born at Upper Raukeillour, in the parish of Letham, "Fifeshire, in the month of July, 1804, and John, the younger, in August, 1811, in the same county, and in the parish of Moniemail, at a place called The Mount, once famous as the residence of Sir David Lyndsay. Both their parents were servants, and though they had always a severe struggle with poverty, they were noted for their general excellence of character, especially the mother, Alison Christie, who seems to have been a woman of superior mind and great independence of spirit, qualities inherited in a still stronger degree by her two sons. One who knew her well says: "She was altogether a rare character, auld Aily!—pious, but not austere; devout, but not bigoted; beneficent without ostentation, hospitable, kind-hearted, and generous even to a fault. She deserved (if ever woman on earth deserved it) the title of a 'Mother in Israel.' What a wonderful fund of humour she had too! had her lot been cast in a higher sphere of life, and her education been like her abilities, she would doubtless have been admired as an ornament of her sex. From her, if genius be hereditary, the poets must have derived the singular talent which they possessed." Of the father the same authority says that he was a worthy patriarch with the snows of eighty or ninety winters on his venerable head, and that from his precepts and example the sons derived much of that unbending integrity and noble independence which uniformly distinguished them.

In consequence of the poverty of the parents, the education of the sons was almost entirely of the home or domestic sort, and chiefly devolved upon the mother, who was henceforth to be responsible for their mental and moral training. Alexander was never more than four or five months at a school till he was about three-and-twenty, when he attended evening-classes for a short time, while John was but one day.

As the father was a servant, the family had to endure the inconvenience of frequent removals from place to place during the first seven or eight years of Alexander's life, but after the birth of the younger brother, John, they came to Woodmill, in the parish of Abdie. In 1813 they again removed to a place called Lochend, about a quarter of a mile distant, and here they continued to reside for the next twenty-four years. Alexander tells us that it was in consequence of his parents being, from ill-health and other causes, unable to apprentice him to any trade that he betook himself, at the age of fourteen, to the humble occupation of a labourer. No doubt digging drains and ditches is a prosaic as well as a toilsome occupation for a young literary genius, aspiring to climb Parnassus' heights; yet, through it all, he never flinched from the oneness of his purpose, but " still bore up and steer'd right onwards."

Several years were thus spent in struggles to relieve the circumstances of his parents, while those hours of leisure he could command were employed in reading such books as he could borrow in the neighbourhood, and in otherwise endeavouring to improve his mental faculties. Such were some of the hard and cruel toils of his early life, that he says, more than a year afterwards, his joints, on first attempting to move in the morning, creaked like machinery wanting oil.

Meanwhile, John, whom we formerly stated had only been one day at school, was sent when about eight years of age to herd two cows, which their father, as forester on the Woodmill estate, was then allowed to keep. This herding by the margin of "the waveless lake," as he loved to call the little Loch of Lindores, was little to his taste. But worse was to follow. During the winter of 1823-4, to assist in supporting himself, he broke stones, along with his brother Alexander, on the road between Lindores and Newburgh. He was still under thirteen years of age—in fact, quite a boy, and from the lack of motion necessary in such work, his legs and feet were sometimes almost frozen. But he had caught the spirit of independence, and would have suffered or encountered anything, so that he might enable them to get quit of some debt which had been incurred in consequence of their father's illness.

In March, 1824, he apprenticed himself for two years to a weaver in the village of Oollessie, about three miles distant from his home. At this business he very soon could earn as much as one-and-tenpence a-day, while Alexander could make little more than half that amount at stone-breaking. In order to make a provision for his aged father, Alexander determined to learn the business also. By an agreement with his master, John's engagement terminated sooner than the stipulated time. They then took a house as a work-shop, and with about ten pounds, that had been saved by the most "desperate economy,'' purchased looms and other articles appropriate to weaving] and at Martinmas, 1825, John commenced that business on his own account, with Alexander as an apprentice. But the commercial crash which immediately followed—1825-26—so utterly disappointed all their calculations, that they were again glad to resume their occupations as out-door labourers, the one at a shilling and the other at one shilling and twopence a-day. Some time after this, when trade recovered a little, their weaving-shop was required by the landlord for other purposes, and their weaving utensils, which had cost, what to them was quite a little fortune, was so much useless lumber.

In addition to the many hardships of boyhood and youth, John had to struggle with all the evils of an enfeebled constitution. From 1827 till his death, he was more or less troubled with dyspepsia, which in time developed into a complication of diseases, ending in consumption. Alexander attributes the commencement of his disorders to his remaining too long in the fresh water while bathing, and by over-exertion in the potato-harvest, taxing his bodily powers too severely before he had attained the full strength of manhood. In the winter of 1827, by working in wet drains, up to the knees in water and exposure to severe frost, the seeds of his future illness were sown. During the early months of 1828 he was laid up with a bad cold, upon recovering from which he was visibly much paler than before, and was ever after very subject to periodical attacks of hard, dry cough, which lasted for weeks and sometimes for months. Add to this the facts contained in the following extract from a letter of Alexander's, written during his illness, and we will probably see the true origin of that disease which terminated fatally in the case of both brothers:— "From 1814," he says, "to 1837 we, with the exception of one year, lived in a house which, for the greater part of that period was in such bad repair, that when it rained we had to place the most of the dishes that we possessed upon the top of the beds to intercept the water that oozed through the roof; and when the rain began to fall after we were sleeping, it was no uncommon thing for us to awake in the morning with the bedclothes partially wet about us. In winter, too, during a thaw, or a protracted fall of rain, the water came in under the foundation of the back wall, and flowed in a stream through the floor, nearly the whole length of the house, till it made its escape by the door. Nor was this the worst of it; in some places it formed pools of such extent, that my brother and myself, who slept at the further end of the house, were frequently obliged to lay stones and pieces of wood on them to enable us to reach our bed. We did not seem to suffer anything at the time, but I am now convinced that to the damp air with which we were so often surrounded, he (John) owed a part of that delicacy of the chest which at last consigned him to an early grave, while I am, perhaps, indebted to the same cause for a something of the same kind."

In October, 1829, John was engaged as a day labourer in the gardens and plantations on the estate of Inchrye. The following month Alexander, while blasting rock in a quarry was, by an explosion of gunpowder, carried a distance of nine or ten yards, and pitched into a cairn of stones, where he was so severely mangled, that recovery was doubtful. John now became, for the next four months, the sole bread-winner of the family, in addition to carefully nursing his brother at night till the danger was passed. Three years after, Alexander was a second time "subjected to nearly the same sort of discipline." On this occasion there were two of them employed about the blast when it exploded. The other man was killed, while he, though more fortunate, was found, when taken up, to be quite insensible, and sadly scorched and cut about the hands, head, and face.

During the periods of convalescence after these disasters, he amused himself with various efforts of literary composition, chiefly in verse. Alexander mentions a circumstance which tended greatly to quicken their taste for literature, and stimulate their ambition for literary pursuits, since which, both he arid his brother had been unceasing in their efforts of self-improvement. "When about the age of twenty-one, he made the acquaintance of a St. Andrews student, who, in order to procure the means of prosecuting his studies, had opened an evening school in one of the houses at Lochend. He was an excellent reciter of poetry, and had his mind well stored with a number of the best pieces from the best authors. With these he amused and delighted his hearers in his leisure time, the greater part of which was spent with the Bethunes. Alexander's first serious attempt to write a book, he attributes to the following incident, which we give in his own words.

"As it is sometimes curious to see what a trifling incident will give an impulse to the human mind, I may here be permitted to tell you what it was that first set me seriously to the task of writing a book.  A young lady, the daughter of a neighbouring laird, who farmed his own property, of about eighty acres, himself, had been in the habit of sometimes calling to inquire for my mother, who had been a servant in the family of her grandmother. From her she had learned that myself and my brother were much given to reading, and that we sometimes went a little farther, and made attempts at writing. We were accordingly favoured with the loan of a book called 'The Amethyst,' a sort of religious annual. . . . We were forthwith requested to furnish some verses for the succeeding number, which were to be forwarded by the said young lady to its editor. Without being greatly taken with the proposal, the verses were forwarded to our supposed patroness. About three weeks thereafter, being then employed breaking stones upon the public road, I was saluted by the young lady, who, after enquiring after the health of my father and mother, proceeded, with some embarrassment, to tell me that, after a great deal of consideration, she had come to the conclusion that it would be for my advantage to suppress the verses; but that she really felt vexed, as I might possibly feel vexed, at their not being sent, etc., etc. To this I replied that the thing had excited no expectations, and therefore could occasion no disappointment; and that I should be truly sorry for myself if I could be ' hurt' at such trifles. But while I said this to her, I said, or rather thought, to myself,—All very right, and only what might have been expected \ but, in time, we shall see if a smooth-faced girl is to have the power of determining whether I am to appear in print or not and from that hour I never lost sight of my purpose for a moment till the MS. of 'Tales and Sketches of the Scottish Peasantry' was complete."

Discouragements like these, however, instead of proving obstacles in the path of genius, act rather as an incentive to more determined perseverance, and, in the end, leads to greater success.

In 1833 it was agreed by the brothers that they should conjointly produce a small volume of Scriptural pieces, which was to have been entitled, "The Poetical Preacher," but owing to the repeated illness of the younger brother, and various other causes, the design was abandoned. John's contributions towards it were afterwards included in the volume of poems, with life prefixed, published after his death.

It may be observed that many of Alexander's first literary efforts, like those of his brother's, took the form of verse \ but though endowed with a fair share of the poetical faculty, he never by any means excelled in this line of composition to the same degree as he did in prose.

Up till this time both brothers had subjected themselves to a severe and continued course of self-culture, in which they resorted to some curious expedients. Of course this could only be done in the brief intervals snatched from their duties as bread-winners, in the walks to and from their work, or, while eating their humble meals. By sitting up late, and rising early, they had contrived to write a good deal, both in poetry and prose, but in such a secret manner that the fact was scarcely known beyond the family circle,

Holding the views of practical and social economy they did, it was quite natural they should wish to make a little money by their writings, as well as to have their ideas given to the world through some organ of the press that was seen and read by the public. They had hitherto been unable to accomplish this, and to overcome the difficulty, Alexander, in the month of May, 1835, addressed a long and very characteristic letter to one of the Messrs. Chambers, in which he gives many interesting particulars regarding himself, his position and education, his ideas of men and things in general, and his attempts at authorship, asking his influence and advice as to the best method of bringing them before the public. At this time he says he had as many verses—which he did not call poetry—as would make a small volume; prose essays, etc., that would fill another; while he could easily furnish a third, composed of tales or little novels. He confesses that, like Burns, he had early " some stirrings of ambition,',' chiefly to make his fellowmen at least less miserable. "But," he says, "in me those risings of the heart had no outlet. What could a labourer do with seven shillings, or seven-and-sixpence a week 1 My efforts I found were but a mockery of benevolence, and showed rather the will than the ability to relieve. I might indeed," he continues, " have wriggled myself into some sort of notice and earned higher wages—I might have got myself promoted to be foreman over a few ditchers and dykers, and by ' damning them to get on,' as is customary with such officials, I might have procured a little favour with their masters and a little money for myself." But he disdained to be a slave-driver. He could not learn a trade, as he saw no means of support during the apprenticeship. There was no prospect of ever being able to earn more than the very barest means of subsistence for himself and two parents, whose support depended wholly upon him and his brother John. It can scarcely be wondered at then, that he should turn his thoughts to writing. It appeared the only open door to him. Others had succeeded in the same way, and why not he? Hence this appeal to Mr. Chambers, and his anxiety to submit to him "a few of these unquenched snuffings of the midnight taper," that he might pass an opinion as to their merit, and the propriety of giving them to the public. He goes on to confess he is ambitious, but not merely of "getting on in the world." . . . ''I never looked," he says, "upon a fine coat as the alpha and omega of a man's ambition." He is quite aware the opinions he holds regarding society are heretical; he thinks them (the rich) "in many respects as ignorant as himself, and in most respects as selfish as one could well wish them to be." He "cannot imagine how roast beef and plum-pudding should make a man either clearer-headed or better-hearted than porridge and potatoes. The last, with the addition of some milk and much water, has been exclusively the fare of the present writer, and he has no wish to change it." . . . He adds, "There is nothing which I would not attempt, nor any difficulty from which I would shrink, with the prospect of being ultimately successful before me. I would not, however, travel the dirty road to public notice and fame which some have waddled over. I would prefer poverty and an obscure death, with an honest independence of thought and principle, to wealth and eminence procured by fawning upon the rich and flattering lordly patrons." The principle expressed in these two sentences was rigidly adhered to by both brothers throughout their brief career.

About three months after the date of this letter, "The Harvest Day," a tale of humble life, appeared in Chambers's Journal, No. 185. This is one of Alexander's finest compositions. It was quickly followed in No. 188 by "Hazleburn: A Story of Scottish Rural Life." These two were probably the first of his stories which appeared in print. Previous to this, however, he had sent through a friend some pieces to Blackwood, but there is no reason to suppose they were ever inserted. Afterwards the two brothel's contributed poetical and other productions of a varied nature to various periodicals.

In July, 1836, the MS. of "Tales and Sketches of the Scottish Peasantry" was taken to Edinburgh, and early in 1837 was published by Messrs. Fraser & Co. For the absolute copyright of this the author was to be allowed the price of fifty copies. Five of the pieces contained in this volume were written by John. Shortly after the appearance of "Tales and Sketches," very favourable notices appeared in the leading literary journals, and, among others, the Athencev/m and Spectator speak of them in terms of the most unqualified praise. Some of the critics, considering that the author was humbly born, self-educated, nursed in poverty, and struggling with adversity, termed the work a literary phenomenon.

In 1835, the year preceding that in which the MS. of their "Tales and Sketches" was sent to Edinburgh, it almost seemed as if the sun of prosperity was for once to shine upon the fates of these remarkable brothers. John obtained the situation of overseer at Inchrye, and an assistant also being required, Alexander accompanied his brother in that capacity. John's income during this period was 26 yearly, with some trifling perquisite—a larger sum than he ever earned at any former or later period of his life.. At the end of six months, however, the estate passed into other hands, and it was at once intimated to the overseer that his services would not be required longer than the year for which he was engaged. Thus soon were their brightening fortunes clouded. The house, also, at Lochend, in which they had lived for so many years, was situated on this property, and they soon received notice from the new proprietor that they must leave it. The brothers considered they were very harshly dealt with on this occasion, and determined to provide a home for their aged parents where they would not be subject to the whim or caprice of any landlord. For this purpose they selected about a quarter of an acre of ground on the Back-hill of Ormiston, better known as Mount Pleasant, immediately above the town of Newburgh. Having settled as to the amount of feu duty to be paid for the ground, a sufficient quantity of stones was procured, and then the brothers, with their own hands, commenced to build on the 26th July, 1837. Alexander tells us how they left home every morning before five o'clock, travelled three miles, and wrought till nearly half-past seven in the evening, with no more rest than was absolutely necessary to swallow their breakfast and dinner, said dinner consisting exclusively of bread, which they often ate from their pockets, working all the time. After the day's work was done they had to perform the return journey of three miles. This dreary task was repeated day after day, except during the space of less than a week, when they had the assistance of a regular mason. To ordinary mortals this self-imposed task would seem a cheerless one; but the vision of seeing their parents provided for in comfort during their declining years was sufficient to cheer them in their extraordinary exertions, and warm their hearts as they trudged wearily homewards after each day's toil. When they commenced the house they had only 30 in money, and two bolls of oatmeal. By the time it was finished, on the last day of September,—a little over two months—this was all expended, and they were glad again to engage in such work as they could find, in order to procure the daily necessaries of life for themselves and the family, and to provide a little money to defray the expenses of removing to their new home. This house which they had reared by such "desperate exertion and economy," is a substantial stone structure of two stories in height, and thirty-six feet in length by twenty in breadth; a sufficiently tangible monument to the filial affection and personal worth, as well as of the arduous toil of two poor peasant sons of genius, whose humble virtues and manly character ought to be their country's pride.

To this house they removed on the 9th November, 1837, and, during the following winter, which was so severe as to partly prevent them from engaging in their ordinary labour, they busied themselves with a revision of the MS. of their "Lectures on Practical Economy," which had been returned to them from Edinburgh for that purpose.

This little book is probably one of the most interesting productions of the Brothers Bethune. The lectures were written chiefly with the intention to benefit the homes and habits of the poor. To the usual charm and simplicity of their style, in this case was added, at least from the practical point of view, perfect knowledge of, and familiarity with their subject—a knowledge gained by dearly-bought experience extending from the cradle to the grave. Even the method of its production might aptly be considered as an illustration of the subject, as well as a literary curiosity. The lectures were first written upon brown paper bags ripped open, shreds of paper which had come to the house with tea, sugar, tobacco, etc.—in short, anything that would carry ink, while the authors had no better writing-desk than their knees. The whole of the writing, too, was done with two quills, which were more than half used-up to commence with. They had no books or authorities to consult on the subject save the one article on "Accumulation" in the Penny Cyclopaedia. Though a failure financially, it was very favourably spoken of by men eminent in the literature of the subject on which it treated; among others Dr. Thomas Murray, the lecturer on Political Economy, Maculloch, and George and Andrew Combe.

Another instance may be given here of their practical economy in the frugality of their habits. Alexander says, in his letter to Mr. Chambers, 1835, before quoted:—"As an evidence of how little I require for myself, it may be mentioned that the coat in which I now write has actually served me since the year 1827. During the whole of that time it has been on service every day, with the exception of about eight months, for which period, between accidents, smallpox, and other diseases, I was mostly confined to bed, or at least unable to wear it much."

Their little volume was well received by the press in general. The Edinburgh Chronicle says of it:—"The work is not only right in the main, but it is right in all its details. It embodies a system of practical philosophy. It does not profess to be a system of Political Economy, though, so far as it goes, its Political Economy is sound; but it is a system of social, domestic, personal, and practical economy. It unfolds the general framework and mechanism of society, particularly as respects the industrial classes. It explains the nature of social life and civil society; shows on what principles these depend, and how they may be improved; and how the great objects of human life—health, happiness, and independence—may be best promoted. And the task is performed in a manner so logical, in language so vigorous yet perspicuous, and in a spirit so bland and philanthropic, that while the work cannot but please the scholar, it is equally calculated not merely to please, but to interest and instruct the uneducated reader."

Their intention regarding this work was first to deliver the series of lectures in the surrounding towns and villages, and then when they had acquired, by this means, a certain amount of popularity, to sell the copy-right to a publisher. But they found the labour and irksomeness of committing them to memory intolerable, and were unable to overcome their natural diffidence sufficiently to enable them to appear as public teachers. The idea was reluctantly abandoned, and the MS. sent to Edinburgh, from which it was returned, as stated above, during the winter of 1838, shortly after they had entered their new home.

The authors had already taken considerable pains with their subject, and they now made such alterations and amendments as had been suggested to tliem by the friendly critics to whom it had been submitted, and again returned it to Edinburgh in the month of March.

In the meantime they had experienced their first family bereavement, by the death of their father, which took place, after a few days illness, on the 8th February. This was a great blow to both, especially to John, whose health for some time had been gradually getting more precarious. Nor is it astonishing that such was the case. His trifling savings were required to defray the funeral expenses of his father, and he was living through the severity of this severe winter, on oatmeal and potatoes, without any addition whatever, not even that of milk. So says Alexander, whose fare was doubtless as primitive and scanty. This pinching poverty and lack of generous nourishment, succeeded by a summer of drudgery must have told on even a stronger constitution than that of John Bethune's. In November he gave up all outdoor labour, and rather rashly resolved to trust to his pen for support in the future. For months he scarcely ever went out, so eager was he to succeed in his now undivided profession. But one evening at the end of January, 1839, he went to a meeting of the Newburgh Temperance Society, for which he had some time acted as Secretary. After sitting for two or three hours in a strongly heated room, he felt, on coming out to the open air, a tendency to shivering. It was a night of intense cold i had three miles to walk, and before he reached home, he had ught that fatal cold which paved the way for his dismission am the world.

In getting publishers for his writings, he was only partially successful. One disappointment succeeded another, till on the .h May, 1839, they received a letter, announcing the publication at last, of their lectures on Practical Economy, and stating that it was no favourite with the trade, as not one of the Edinburgh booksellers had subscribed for a single copy, and that it was not likely to sell in haste. Deeply mortified at the failure of a work, regarding which he was so sanguine of success, his health, which had been very indifferent for some months, now gave way, and, after an illness with many fitful intervals of improvement and relapse, he breathed his last on the 1st of September, 1839. Through all this illness, he was attended by Alexander, with a care and tenderness that could scarcely be surpassed, even by the love or self-devotion of woman. He left all his own labours that he might attend on his wants. He went with him to various places for change of air, supported him in his extreme weakness, and even put on his clothes in the morning to warm them for him ere he got out of bed. Alexander was inconsolable at the loss of his brother, part of his very existence seemed to have been wrenched from him. So great was his grief, that it cast a gloom over the whole remaining portion of his life, that nothing could altogether disspel. We find him in a letter to a friend thus lamenting his loss—"Seven months since he was laid to sleep in the dust, never again to be awakened, by spring, or summer, or any remaining season, till the mighty angel shall come forth, and near that time shall be no longer. . . . Every morning hen I awake, every night when I lie down, everything with which I am surrounded, and every moment which passes, brings him freshly to my remembrance. To me the rising sun shines on loneliness, and his setting beam writes in shadows the deep and sad conviction that my most valued, and almost my last friend, is gone."

He commenced to write a sketch of his brother's life, without the view to its future publication, and this served in a measure to -wean him from the melancholy which threatened to overwhelm him. He says if he himself were dead, there lives not one who could tell aught concerning his brother, "save that he lived poor, toiled bard, and died early," and further adds, " that our feelings and pursuits were almost the very same, that we never knew what it was to have separate interests for a single moment, that we had buffeted, or rather been buffeted, by fortune together from boyhood, that we had supped from the same table, sat by the same fire, and slept in the same bed, with very few interruptions, from the period of infancy, and that we were nearly the last of the name and the race to which we belonged." At the request of some friends, he agreed to prepare for publication, together with this life, a selection of John's poems. To him it was indeed a labour of love. He entered upon it with great zeal, spared no pains, working at it both night and day, excepting such times as enabled him to procure the necessaries of life, either by the drudgery of his ordinary toil, or by his literary labours. The principal object in making this attempt was to raise a few pounds, wherewith to place a stone over his brother's grave in Abdie churchyard.

When the "Life and Poems" was ready, it was sent for revision to a literary friend, who had performed the same kind office for the former works published by the Brothers Bethune. Five or six hundred copies of the book were subscribed for, and the remainder of the issue of seven hundred almost immediately sold on publication. The Athenceum, The Witness, and other papers spoke very favourably of it, while its reception by the public must have been highly gratifying to Alexander. Had a larger edition been printed, the result, from a pecuniary point of view, might have been pretty considerable. It passed into a second edition the following year, 1841, published by Wright and Albright, Bristol. As an introduction, a very appreciative extract is given of a letter from James Montgomery the poet. A good number of new poetical pieces have been added, and, had it not been that the publishers were dissuaded from it, by Mr. Montgomery in this same letter, they would have willingly enlarged the second edition to two volumes without the least scruple. This memoir of his brother secured for its author much sympathy and attention from many who were utter strangers to him, along with offers of assistance, all of which he firmly and consistently refused. When money was sent him he invariably returned it, and, while thanking his would-be benefactors, told them at the same time that he considered it the duty of every man to provide for his own necessity, as far as his ability would go.

He once received an anonymous letter containing fifteen pounds, which he was merely to acknowledge receipt-of through his publishers; he did so, but informed his unknown friend that the money was lodged in the bank subject to his order. Mr. Bethune was never able to ascertain the name of this kind and generous friend, but we believe it was Mr. H. F. Chorley, the author of "Music and Manners" and other works, who, with the assistance of some friends, contributed the money and transmitted it through the publishers, Messrs. A. & C. Black. Those who became interested in him, and wished to befriend him, in any way, were obliged to confine their efforts to promoting the sale of his books, a means of relief which ho evidently considered did not infringe the stern principle of his independence. So jealous was he of this feeling of independence and self-respect, that he was sometimes afraid his friends were making a demand for his books, as a pretext for bestowing their own benevolence upon an author, who had too much of the "pride of poverty" in his disposition to accept it in any other form.

The following is an instance of his almost Quixotic honesty in money matters. A friend who had, succeeded in disposing among his acquaintances of about 100 copies of his brother's "Life and Poems" at four shillings each, sent him the money, which he at the time accepted, partly to relieve the wants of his mother, who was now so ill as to require almost his whole care and attention night and day. The price mentioned in the prospectus, and 'for which the book usually sold, was three shillings, at which rate the 100 copies would have realised fifteen pounds. The difference between this and twenty-two pounds, the sum sent by his friend, he afterwards returned, determined not to use one farthing of what he considered did not exclusively belong to him.

Notwithstanding the painful minuteness of the narrative of John's long and tedious illness, this affectionate memoir is full of interest. It presents to us a vivid picture of the peasant class of Scotland, and of peasant life at that time. It traces their own early education, or rather the want of it, their efforts of self-improvement under the most unpromising circumstances, learning to read, write, and spell almost when they had reached manhood, then making their acquaintance with such volumes as may be considered heirlooms in the family of every Scottish peasant, such as the "Cloud of Witnesses," "The Scots Worthies," "The History of Bruce and Wallace," and the "Poems of Burns." Subsequently it details all the difficulties, struggles, latent and secretly cherished ambitions, and wonderful efforts of self-denial practised through years of grinding poverty and toil. The marvel is that so much industry, good sense, sobriety, and other virtues that adorn their spotless lives had no more seeming result from a worldly point of view. They were born poor, and poverty and misfortune haunted them through life, None of their undertakings seemed to prosper, accident, disease, and death again and again interfered with the execution of their plans, and at last carried them both off, partly victims to the injudicious over-exertions of their early life, and partly to the continued, and perhaps unavoidable hardships of their maturer years, just as their case was beginning to attract the universal sympathy and respect of the public.

The favourable reception accorded to Alexander's life of his brother was marred by another melancholy bereavement, the death of his mother, which occurred on the 21st December. During the whole of her illness, her son attended and watched over her with the most affectionate and self-denying care, and he states that for nearly five months his clothes had never been off except to change his shirt. After repeatedly taxing his powers to such an extreme, it is little wonder that he died early.

The successive deaths, at short intervals, of so many near relations, united with the other hardships of his lot, left him very dejected in spirit. He says his mother's death was the annihilation of the last shred of that little world of domestic affection, in the midst of which he was once happy, and among the remaining ruins of which he still wished to dwell. But all was now over, the last, green spot around which memory, imagination and fancy were alike fain to linger, had for ever disappeared, and an unvariegated desert remained behind. Though poverty and sorrow had almost broken his spirit, still he laboured on with the usual unflagging industry, and there were even seasons in his life when he could reflect upon his departed friends with a melancholy interest which had more in it of pleasure than of pain. But we find that while formerly he wrote with greater hopefulness regarding his prospects in the future, now hope had ceased to gild that future for him, and he shrank from the very idea of making any change in his situation, even when it appeared to be for the better. One such change he did make about this time, 1841, but it was unsatisfactory, and he never ventured another. Mrs. Hill, the wife of the Inspector of Prisons in Scotland, having read his brother's "Life and Poems,'' became interested in the author, and procured for him what she conceived would be a comfortable situation in the Glasgow Bridewell. He accepted it without having any very sanguine expectations regarding it, but on getting there he learned he would have to officiate for a year or two as a turnkey in order to master the science of "prison discipline," after which he might have a chance of promotion by being appointed a jailor in some county town with a salary of forty or fifty pounds a year. He was disappointed when he found the duties he was expected to perform were those of a turnkey, and with that consideration for others which characterised all his actions, he resolved, for the sake of his patroness, to remain for a few months, and then beg to be allowed to retire from a situation for which he considered himself unqualified. But little over a week had passed, after entering upon his duties, when he caught a bad cold, and, fearing the effects would be similar as in his brother's case two years previously, he wrote a note resigning his situation, and returned home, most of the way on foot. From the effects of this wild goose chase, as he called it, he did not recover for three or four months. Of all conceivable occupations, it was the least adapted to a man of the habits and character of Alexander Bethune.

Mrs. Hill, however, still continued to interest herself in his behalf, and next endeavoured to procure for him a post as teacher or librarian in the Forth Penitentiary. A long and interesting correspondence passed between them in which he embodies some of his views in regard to prison discipline. Nothing ever came out of the Perth affair, so that his ambition to become a moral teacher of some sort or other was still ungratified.

In 1842 he published a memoir of his grandmother, Annie Macdonald, the sale of which fully answered his expectations, and brought him about twenty pounds. In the month of July of the same year he paid a visit of eight or ten days to Aberdeenshire, to see his friend and future biographer, Mr. William M'Combie, a kindred spirit with himself, and the author of "Hours of Thought" and "Moral Agency." He walked on foot the greater part of the way, going and returning. This same year, at the end of the harvest, he paid another visit to Edinburgh to make arrangements for the publication of the "Scottish Peasant's Fireside." This volume appeared in February, 1843, and was published by Adam and Charles Black, who took the whole risk, and allowed the author half of the clear profits that might arise from the sale. While it was passing through the press in the end of 1842, he was attacked by fever, from which he never properly recovered. By a gradual transition, the disease developed into that of pulmonary consumption. He removed to the little village of Kennoway for change of air, but derived no advantage from it.

In one of the periods of his partial convalescence, an offer was made to him, which he conditionally accepted, of the editorship of the Dumfries Standard, a paper about to be started in the Non-intrusion interest in Dumfries. This was almost the only flash of fortune's lamp that had brightened his worldly path, and seemed as if it was the one gleam of comfort, specially sent to cheer the struggling spirit in its journey to the great beyond. The salary was to have been 100 a year, not a large one, certainly, for an editor, but vast indeed to one whose former resources were so limited, and whose habits and mode of life were so economical. Bat alas! it never was destined to be more than a prospect. It is questionable, even had he recovered sufficiently, whether he would have found the employment so congenial to one of his temperament as he anticipated. Even poor Hugh Miller himself, upon whose recommendation he was selected, found the self-same task a hard one indeed, and in the end sank under it.

After his return from Kennoway, he became gradually weaker, and soon ceased all attempts at writing. He had, during this period, relaxed a little his principles of independence, and allowed some English friends and others to minister to his comfort. He only permitted this in one or two cases, and from those whose friendship he highly valued, and accompanied by the proviso that he would either repay the money, or devote it to the relief of others, if ever he should be able to resume his labours. One of those friends was a Quaker lady in England, who had formerly sought to assist him, and who had since been one of his most regular and welcome correspondents. Several medical gentlemen, also, belonging to Bristol, through one of their number, tendered him their professional advice, offered to supply him with money, and even undertook the whole responsibility of having him removed to enjoy the benefits of some milder and more equable climate— such as that of Bute—which it was supposed would be favourable to the recovery of his health. His rapidly increasing weakness, however, prevented this from being carried into effect. There is thus some slight satisfaction in the reflection that during his last illness, he lacked no comfort, and was nursed with great care and tenderness by his surviving aunt, Mrs. Ferguson. After a few months lingering illness, he died on Tuesday, the 13th June, and was buried on the following Saturday.

He had expressed his desire to be laid in the same grave as his brother, but owing to some carelessness, another had been opened, into which the body was placed. But this so dissatisfied his aunt, that she had it disinterred, and put, according to his desire, into his brother's grave. The monument erected by Alexander to his brother John, is a square stone pillar about seven feet high, with a cornice surmounted by a vase. On the north side has been put the following inscription :—

In the same grave
with John, rest the remains of
his brother,
the last member of a worthy family,
who died, June 13th, 1843,
AGED 38.


This monument now marks the burial place of the whole family, and may with truth be said to be "the graves of an household." Charles Kingsley, himself a nobleman among men, says—"This spot and the house they built, will become a pilgrim's station, only second to Burns's grave, whenever the meaning of worth and worship shall become rightly understood among us." Many may learn a lesson of great usefulness to themselves, and those around them, from the simple story of the lives of John and Alexander Bethune.

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