Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

John Stuart Blackie
Chapter XV. The Highlands and Islands 1866 - 1870

IT was early in November 1866 that, presiding at a meeting of the Working Alen's Club, at its Institute in the High Street of Edinburgh, Professor Blackie launched forth into an invective against the Reform Bill, which at that time was in process of incubation, and, charging somewhat unadvisedly down the vistas of "manhood suffrage" and "the ballot," flung a challenge in the ftces of their champions. This was reported in the 'Scotsman' of November 12 as follows:-

If you will appoint a night for a lecture, and set Blackie on the one side, and Bright, or Beales, or Jones, or M'Laren, or the honourable member, the late Lord Advocate, for whom I have a great respect, on the other side,—then with Aristotle in one pocket and Plato in the other, and a great deal of Scotch rummlegumption in the front battery, I think they will find me a sharp customer.

There is little doubt that the gauntlet was a mere rhetorical flourish, and that he expected no knight of reform to pick it up. He did not account himself a politician, and was seldom acquainted with the pros and cons of party questions. His opinions on these were evolved in the manner which he indicated himself—from classic precedent and his own consciousness. But reckless rhetoric in print is apt to rouse a Nemesis. The Scottish National Reform League played the part of the goddess, and inspired Mr Ernest Jones, then known as an able advocate of Manhood Suffrage, to respond to the challenge. The Professor, astounded to find himself the representative of a party, backed by the optimi, at whom he was as wont to fling his spear as at their political opponents, wriggled restlessly at first; but the ranks both of supporters and of foes closed round him, and he buckled on his armour in face of the inevitable. Mr Ernest Jones accepted all the terms of the original challenge, genially asking to be enlightened as to the fighting value of "rummlegumption." The Reform League instructed the secretary of the Working Men's Club to make the necessary arrangements, and it was finally settled to engage the Music Hall in George Street for the evenings of the 3d and 4th January 1867, when Democracy should on the first night he handled by the challenger, and on the second be supported by Mr Jones on precisely the same terms of ancient precedent as those used in the attack. Of course this gave an advantage to the first speaker, who could carefully prepare and execute his indictment, while the defence was perforce almost extempore; but Professor Blackie forwarded a copy of his address some days beforehand to Mr Jones, who proved to be a man of fine classical attainments, and to whom the subject in its modern application was fully familiar. At the festival of the "Blackie Brotherhood" Mr Alexander Nicolson sang a prophetic song of the bloodless encounter :-

"And so, when each has talked his span,
And thinks that he has floored his man,
The fight will close where it began,
And so will end the story.
Then here's to Blackie, and long live lie
To fight against Democratic;
And may we all be there to see,
And shout in the hour of his glory!

Chorus—Hey, John Bright, are ye talking yet,
And is your tongue awagging yet?
Here's our Blackie will mak mincemeat
Of you and your gang of reformers."

The hall was crowded with an audience eager for the fray. The knights combatant received an enthusiastic welcome, and each applauded the other's address with chivalrous enthusiasm. On the first evening Mr Dun, President of the Working Men's Club, and on the second Mr Duncan M'Laren, occupied the chair.

The Professor sought to establish the inevitable failure of The republican system from the examples of Greece, Rome, Venice, and France,—for the Second Empire was at that date dominant, over the betrayed Republic of the last country,—and he pointed to the corruption existing in the political atmosphere of New York iii support of his contention. His lecture lasted nearly three hours, and was heard with close attention, marked by vivacious cheering and hissing on the part of the audience. He bore the counter-demonstration with perfect good-humour, retorting at times on his opponents with the gibe that his wisest remarks were best hissed. On the next. evening Mr Jones proved easily enough that at all events Greece and Venice reached their culmination under republican rule. The lances clashed briskly, but neither was shivered,—"the fight did close where it began."

The Professor's lecture was printed and widely circulated, and it won him a kudos amongst Conservatives which rather disconcerted him; for he was a born franc-tireur, and had a blushing consciousness of views upon land, upon the crofter question, and on other delicate matters about to see the light, which would divert the graciousness now radiating towards him.

In April 1867 he spoke oil same subject in Manchester, and Mr Ernest Jones paid him the compliment of attending oil platform, although the meeting was held under the auspices of a Conservative Association. Sad to tell, this courteous and able opponent died not long after.

In the preceding November, Professor Blackie had delivered two lectures on to the members of the Philosophical Institution, and he was invited to give these in London oil platform of the Royal Institution in May 1867. From Manchester he went to town to fulfil this engagement, and took up his quarters with Mr and Mrs Archer, as he had done two years before. But in the meantime his programme had been enlarged by all lecture on classical pronunciation in our Universities, with the title "Music of Speech in the Greek and Latin Languages." His listeners on the subject of Platonic Philosophy numbered amongst them the Duke of Argyll, Dr Hodgson, and Dr George Macdonald; but how ever brilliantly salted, he found the audience unsympathetic. He was confronted " with rows of parchment faces incapable alike of fun or fervour," and he compared their chilling reserve with the lively response to be got from rows of genial Scots in an Edinburgh hail. The evening lecture was delivered on May 3.

With a galaxy of well-dressed ladies in front, I determined to dash into them just as if I had been in my own classroom, and achieved a great success. Gladstone was there, sitting right opposite me, and it was a pleasure to see the severe lines of his face relax into wreathed smiles and expand into diffusive laughter at the manner in which I handled the Oxonians.

The Professor had much to say on a question which had engaged his interest nearly forty years before, and to bear on which he brought stores of scholarship, reason, and enthusiasm. He was conscious, too, of the indifference in England to the conclusions of a Scottish scholar, even the few accordant voices at Oxford and Cambridge being then apathetic as to practical reform ; and this consciousness lent a touch of defiance to his appeal for a common -sense pronunciation. The lecture was printed and disseminated.

When unburdened of these prelections, he gave himself up to social enjoyment dashed with research. On both counts he paid a visit to Harrow, his host there being Mr Farrar, now the Dean of Canterbury; but his hope of class- inspection was checked by the headmaster's non possurnus. He found the "Harrow Dons a very mild and polished and refined sort of people, and not at all formidable to a Scotch Professor."

After his return to Kensington

he dressed in white-choker, pomp, and walked up to the Duke of Argyll's house, where we dined at eight o'clock. The party was small and agreeable: John Bright, Dr M'Cosh, and Lord and Lady Amberley were the most interesting constituents. It is impossible to see Bright without liking him. There was ece1lent conversation after dinner about the prospects of the negroes, the female vote, Gladstone, Spurgeon, and what not. But of all, nothing pleased me so much as Lady Amberley, a piece of nature and grace combined.

The Theodore Martins introduced him to Mr Robert Browning, and he described his first call as follows :-

From Lord Strangford I shot across to Browning the poet. He received me with the greatest frankness, having known me of old from the Ăschylean correspondence I had with his wife. He showed me her Greek books all written over with commentary. He is an active, soldier- like, direct man, a contrast to the meditative ponderosity of Tennyson. The person and attitude in each case is a perfect index to the movement of the poetry. He has a tame owl with black staring eyes, which jumps about the 'room, and amused me very much. He told me all about his new poem, on which he has been working for years.

A short visit to Oxford divided his term in London, and there he added to his acquaintances the late Dr Appleton, Fellow of St John's, and afterwards editor of the 'Academy.'

We retired to his rooms after dinner, when I had an opportunity of hearing how ingeniously these gentlemen can justify the Athanasian Creed and other dogmatic pedantries.

From the argument he fled at last, leaving on his host the impression that he was affronted at the turn which it had taken. A letter followed him to London, in which Dr Appleton explained :-

I was afraid that you thought we were trying to en- tangle you in an Oxford word-juggle; and that, like the lion, you thought it best to burst the cords at once and be gone. So far as my opinion goes, the subjects upon which we were talking were far too important to allow of being treated in a sophistical way. At the same time, I am not a Ritualist, nor a Romaniser, nor an extreme Anglican. I am, like you, a Protestant ; but it appears to me that Protestantism, as a point of view, is unintelligible unless we regard the consolidation of doctrine and discipline under the auspices of Rome as its necessary and therefore Providential antecedent.

This to Professor Blackie!

The Rector of Lincoln College and Professor Max Muller furnished fresh and sympathetic talk, and after four days' hearty hospitality from the much-abused Oxford Dons, he returned to town. A visit to Norwich exhausted his southern programme, and at the end of May he joined his wife at Altnacraig. Here a letter reached him from Dr George Finlay, from which some sentences are worth quoting :-

I have found, as I advanced in reading the 'Iliad,' that your metre gained on me, and I am now a convert to your measure. You have more carats of pure Homeric gold than your predecessor Pope, but you have used red copper to work your metal, and by using silver as the alloy he makes a good show, and can put in more of the inferior material and look genuine. Your work is a great one, and exhausts the inquiry of Homer, in Homer.

The summer passed in hearty enjoyment of his Highland retreat, which already was become a place of pilgrimage for friendly pedestrians. He dislodged Greek and University reform from their accustomed niches, and refreshed his mind with the study of Gaelic and with the interest which his rambles in all directions stimulated in the names of places. The pleasant element of boy life was added now to the household, for he and Mrs Blackie had adopted Alexander Blackie, the son of his step-brother Gregory, whom in Gottingen days he had dubbed "the Pope."

The ample kith and kin of Wylds and Blackies contributed troops of guests all summer, and from the kith and kin of election came choice spirits, one by one, to season the table-talk with variety. But when the heats of August gave place to the mellow September weather, the impulse to movement stirred in him, and he started by steamer for Ballachulish. He had unwisely chosen a of boots on grounds of comfort., without due inspection of their soles. They lasted while he walked up Glencoe to King's House. Here he stayed over Sunday, and Monday being bright and clear, he determined to climb the Buchaillmore. Local opinion was against the adventure, and the landlord refused to supply him with a guide. The Ben was in the hands of the Sassenach deer-stalkers, and an interdict was upon it. But the Professor, if he feared God, certainly regarded not man, so, with the wonted stick in hand and a parting intimation to the gamekeeper that his name was John Stuart Blackie, and that he would answer in the Court of Session for his doings, he started for the top and won a cloudless view. Next day he climbed the Devil's Staircase to Kinloch-Leven, calling by the way on Campbell of Monzie, who entertained him with true Highland hospitality, and upon whose green home amongst the moors he was delivered of a sonnet.

Arrived at Fort William, he called upon the Fiscal, who, along with a hearty welcome and some glasses of excellent port, gave him the information that he had received instructions to have him prosecuted for climbing Buchailimore. Professor Tyndall was at Fort William, on his way to Oban, and joined him in a hearty laugh at the baffled deer-stalkers, whose attack expired in this letter. From Fort William he crossed the moor to Corpach, and after a night's rest started on a long tramp of twenty-three miles, broken at Glengarry for a talk with its chief, and at last reached Kinloch-Aylort, to discover at the little inn that one of his boots was falling to pieces, that the rain had begun, and that he was ten miles away from the nearest cobbler. No optimism could mend mend that boot nor overlook its yawning gaps; and when the sturdy handmaiden informed him that the coals were done and the peats soaking wet, and that he could not have a fire, he gave way to a brief despair. Here he was storm- stayed for two days, without fire and without books, and driven to the verge of his philosophy; but after a couple of tumblers of hot toddy, it proved equal to the emergency. Wrapped in his plaid, he walked to and fro to keep himself warm, wrote cheerful doggerel on the situation, and finally bought a thick woollen sock to draw over his dissolving boot, and so bind its fragments together.

Awful gusts of wind from the S.W.; terrible splashes of rain on the window; and a sea not fitted to be crossed; so I must wend along the hard rocks of the coast in the face of the buffeting blast. But a man has no right to complain of evils into which he has deliberately plunged himself - evils, besides, that are amply compensated by all the pleasures of novelty and variety which a new country and new people supply.

From Arisaig he returned to Oban, by Moidart and Ardnamurchan, -"very pretty places in stormy weather."

Lectures on the "Names of Places" followed in autumn, and he paid a flying visit to London late in November, to speak at the Festival gathering of the Scottish Corporation.

He began the year 1868 with a reprint of his pamphlet on Educational Reform. It was sent to his friends in Parliament, at the Universities, and in the Public Schools. The correspondence which it entailed and the composition of students' songs seem to have been his chief extra-collegiate interests during the spring of that year. When the session ended, Mrs Blackie went to Altnacraig, leaving him in Edinburgh busy with an article for the 'North British Review,' on the Baroness Bunsen's biography of her husband. This article was a memoir in itself, and expressed the profound admiration which he felt for the wise friend of his student days in Rome, the only man who had been able directly to influence his character and conduct. When its proofs were corrected he followed his wife to Altnacraig, and resumed the study of Gaelic. But towards the end of June his restless feet led him hither and thither, -first to Mull, to find headquarters with Dr Cumming beside Loch Baa, and to explore thence all accessible bens and glens. He left the Parva Domus bent on a tour iii the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and after visits to friends in Inverness and Tam, he achieved his purpose. He met with hearty hospitality, meditated at Stennis with the inevitable sonnets for outcome, weathered storms, noted the teeming sea-bird colonies on the northern cliffs, twanged his lyre to the Old Man of Hoy, left his card on John o' Groat, and returned to Oban about the end of August. Here he stayed all September, working at the fascinating subject of place-names inspired by the Orcadian itinerary, and corresponding with Mr Isaac Taylor, the chief authority in such research.

When October came to a close he returned to Edinburgh, and the new session was inaugurated by a lecture on Aristotle and his golden mean. He was meditating a rational method of familiarising his class with Greek,—one which he had practised for Latin at Aberdeen, and on which he had to some extent experimented already. His good sense revolted now as ever against dull pedagogic systems, and demanded that Greek should be treated as a human language, capable of expressing human needs, moods, and conditions, and not confined to the uses of literature and science. A simple sentence of everyday greeting or news was turned into what Greek came handy to the class, was examined, corrected, and then committed to memory, and served as a foundation for the next day's experiment. This exercise preluded the morning's work, and has often been cited by his pupils as its most helpful portion. He now designed to expand it into conversation, and he busied himself during the winter in compiling a series of colloquies for this purpose. Besides this, he was occupied with the study of Aristotle, whose scheme of morals he compared with that of Socrates, and ultimately with that of Christ. The gospel of Utilitarianism was then vociferous, and confronted the antique gospels at almost every turn. Its quota of value had not yet been distilled from the mass, and for a time its pretensions were hostile to all that the spiritual enforced beyond the moral code. It is the limitation of human reformers that their insight and foresight are so engrossed with the positive conditions of life and circumstance that the power which shapes and reshapes escapes their ken, and their elaborate systems, embodying all that they are gifted to recognise, fall short altogether a generation later. Truths remain to be garnered by the wise, but the framework proves to be mere husk and envelope, and falls off before the Eternal Spirit, whose fan is in His hand.

It was natural that Professor Blackie, whose faith in that Eternal Spirit was the strongest motive power in all that he thought and concluded, should be repelled by the pressure of Utilitarianism on the current thought and conclusion of the time, and we find him at first showing an instinctive aversion to its dogmas. Forced by the insistence of the new apostles to face these dogmas, he gave them a certain amount of study, which seems to belong to the years 1869 and 1870.

These matters are mentioned at this point merely as an indication of the bent taken by his thoughts during those winters. Of immediate moment was his correspondence early in 1869 on the pronunciation of Greek. This was extended to the Public Schools as well as to the Universities, and letters from eminent French and German scholars scholars reached him in support of his views. To some of his correspondents he had mentioned his proposed 'Dialogues in Greek and English,' and he received hearty encouragement from the most widely informed amongst them. A few sentences may be quoted from Mr Matthew Arnold's letter on this point:-

I entirely go along with your views as to the use of conversation in teaching Greek and Latin. When I was in Germany I heard the work of the highest class of a gymnasium frequently conducted in Latin; neither our masters nor our pupils would have been capable of the performance, which was most creditable. When I came to hear other lessons expressly given to extemporaneous Latin, I listened with unmixed satisfaction and approval, and have felt ever since how much we should gain by having something of the kind. What you say of the necessity of speaking a thing, and not only reading it, is most true, and directly applies here. I observe that boys at Harrow have incipient exercises in Latin sentences, catch constructions and expressions, and so on. I am convinced that these exercises, which are felt to be very mediaeval and oppressive, would be quite lighted up by being made conversational. The object in view, that of teaching certain constructions, might be perfectly attained with the additional advantages of animating and interesting the boys, widening their vocabulary by giving them readiness in the use of it. I entirely wish you success, and remain always, dear Professor Blackie, very truly, yours, MATTHW ARNOLD.

From Dr Temple, then headmaster of Rugby, came a more guarded approval, admitting, however, "that conversation is a powerful instrument in teaching any language"; but several of the masters of Eton and Harrow expressed their cordial agreement with the addition of colloquial to clerical exercise.

In response to an invitation from the College of Preceptors, he went up to London in April to deliver a lecture upon the whole subject of the teaching of Greek and Latin, and this was printed in pamphlet form and spread abroad. He took advantage of the opportunity to revisit Harrow, and to visit Eton and Bradfield. This time he was admitted to all the classes at Harrow, and through the good offices of his genial host, Mr Oscar Browning, he gained an entrance to the classes at Eton. At Bradfield he was the guest of the headmaster, who sympathised with his reforms, and endeavoured to put them in practice. An attempt to interest the "kilted clergy" in his methods fell rather flat, these preoccupied personages excusing themselves with one consent. But correspondence brought to his knowledge the movement at Cambridge in favour of a rational pronunciation of Latin—a movement led by Professor Munro, and supported by the younger generation of scholars. A bright sojourn in London, his rushings hither and thither made easy by the Underground Railway, which he pronounced to be "the crowning luxury of the age," followed. his visitation of the schools.

His warm interest in the Highlands of Scotland had secured him the privilege of honorary membership of the Highland Society of London, and on May 4 he dined with their brotherhood at St James's Hall on strictly Caledonian fare, the piece de rÚsistance a full-blown haggis, and the conviviality assisted by Highland whisky and Highland snuff. A surprise visit to his friends at Sudbrooke Park followed the round of festivities in town, and on May 21 he went to Oxford to visit Professor Thorold Rogers. His host was a subject of interesting study.

Grandly and imperiously a Radical, with not a bit of toleration for anything connected with family or Church aristocracy. He flings his denunciations about so sharply that the clerical element everywhere naturally bristles into hostility against him. He is in Oxford, not of Oxford.

From Oxford he went to visit the 1)obells near Gloucester, and thence to Wales to pay some visits in Caermarthenshire. Here Welsh hospitality and the opportunity of learning something of the language delayed him at Dolaucothy a fortnight beyond the time which he had planned, and he wrote humorous apologies to his Penelope at Altnacraig to beg indulgence for her Ulysses, held in bondage to a kind Welsh Calypso who taught his stammering tongue to master her vocables. A short stay with the head of the Theological College at Lampeter brought this Welsh excursion to an end without further invasion of the Celtic Principality, but he carried away with him a warm recollection of the hosts and hostesses who had stayed his feet on its threshold.

He returned to Edinburgh by Liverpool, and found there a budget of letters from schoolmasters throughout the kingdom full of thanks for his lecture on the "Teaching of Languages." Along with these was one from Mr John Marshall, to whom he had awarded a travelling scholarship for one year, a prize which he gave to the best student in his Greek class. Mr Marshall wrote from G÷ttingen, where he was busied with the summer term much as the Professor had been forty years earlier. To the gain harvested in his Wanderjahre was due the form of this prize, and he encouraged all those of his students able to afford such all "extra" to seek the enlarging and qualifying uses of foreign travel.

By the middle of June he reached Altnacraig, and for about two months settled to its tranquillity and to the enjoyment of its shifting circle of guests. In his turret-study he devoted the mornings to Socrates and Aristotle, and to the company of the Seven Sages of Greece. The afternoons were spent upon the upland moors with the jocund Muse, who furnished him with rhyme and reason for his Students' Songs: at four o'clock he returned to the heather-cushioned cliff, where on sunny days the home-circle was trysted for tea. Visitors, native to the soil or pausing on the wing northwards, found their way to the chosen spot, and many a gleeful surprise welcomed his return from the moors, with his hands full of grass-of-Parnassus in July and of white heather in August. He knew the haunts of the white heather, and although liberal with his spoils, he would not betray their hiding- place. Amongst the guests might be found the Catholic Bishop of Argyle and The Isles, now Archbishop of Edinburgh—Dr Walter C. Smith, Dr MacGregor, Sir Noel Paton, Dr Robertson Smith,—men of all Christian creeds, but all of one Christian charity. Sometimes the little party took boat and crossed to the Lady's Rock or to Heather Island for tea, and the kettle was set on an improvised fire helped by dry kindling- wood from the house, and while it delayed to boil he read aloud some legend of the place, or some lay of St Columba, or perhaps some rattling lines of frolic or defiance which Musa Burschicosa had lilted on the moor.

It was about this time that Mr Kingdon Clifford came to Oban, one of a reading-pairty from Oxford, "a pale, thin, sinewy youngster," who learned to haunt Altnacraig. He was as nimble as the Professor, and understood many mysteries unknown to the older man, amongst them rope-dancing and unnumbered card-tricks. The readers no doubt read all day, for they rambled at night; and one memorable evening they left their impedimenta in the porch, hats, shoes, stockings, coats, and vests, - their money and watches loose in the pockets,—and disappeared on the moorland. The discovery of this deposit alarmed the Altnacraig household, which sat up till midnight without sign of their return. But in the morning the vestments had vanished, and they had tidings of the footsore wanderers, who had too rashly ventured over heather, bog, and rock with feet unshod, and had crawled back at the rate of a mile an hour

About the middle of August the blue hills of Mull drew the Professor across to Tusculumn beside Loch Baa. Here he spent a few days with Dr Cumming, and was taught to play bagatelle by Lord Cohn Campbell. A lecture at Tobermory divided his visit into two parts, and the latter half was given to a geological study of Loch Baa and its shores. This absence from Oban led to his missing ex-President Jefferson Davis, who was the occasion of some pleasant parties given by Mr Hutcheson on board the excursion steamers.

When he returned from Mull it was to find the proofs of 'Musa Burschicosa' at Altnacraig, and September was devoted to their correcting. The little book was published in October, and it was dedicated to the students of Edinburgh University, to whom he described the songs as the of spring of a pure spirit of enjoyment of life."

It is interesting to find appreciative letters from Mr Gladstone, Lord President Inglis, Sir Douglas Maclagan, himself a songster in the same bright vein, and Lord Neaves, noted for his lays of good- fellowship. Of the collection, the "Song of Good Greeks" and the "Song of Geology" were most liked. The latter had been submitted to Professors Tyndall and Ramsay for correction, and both had delighted in its vivacity. Professor Ramsay had taken much pains with its scientific terminology, and the stanzas represent the order of development known to geologists a generation ago. The poet himself looked upon this as one of his best efforts in rhyme.

At the beginning of the new session he was ailing, and had to be contented for a few weeks with his normal work. But the new year 1870 found him championing the cause of the lady students in the Edinburgh University, and protesting both in speech and letter against the shabby conduct of their opponents. He was busy, too, inviting fresh fellowship into the Blackie Brotherhood, of which, at the January celebration, Sir Alexander Grant and Mr Brodie the sculptor were made members.

The winter wore to an end, busy and convivial, as Edinburgh winters were then,—his studies on Socrates, Aristotle, and the Utilitarians taking shape iii his mind, while his summer impressions were being matured into convictions on the crofter question, on the value of the Gaelic language, and on subjects bound up with these, which were destined to bear practical fruit in due time.

By the end of April he was on the wing for London, halting at Manchester to greet an ardent reformer of classical pronunciation. He delivered four lectures on Socrates, Aristotle, Christianity, and Utilitarianism at afternoon meetings of the Royal Institution, as well as an evening lecture on "Mythology," in which he opposed the extravagance of the new school, whose leaders referred every polytheistic, heroic, or nursery myth to the episodes in the sun's diurnal course. Many pleasant social events made his prolonged stay in town memorable, and he referred to it in after years as the most interesting of all his visits to London.

He breakfasted twice with Mr Gladstone, made the acquaintance of Mr John Morley, Sir John Bowring, Mr J. A. Froude, and Mr Tom Taylor, and revisited the friends of earlier years, amongst them Carlyle, Dr Hodgson, and the Kinglakes. His headquarters were first with his brother-in-law, Mr Edward Wyld, at Holland Park, and then with Mr and Mrs Archer in Phillimore Gardens, but he paid flying visits to his relatives at Stepney and elsewhere. At Mr Gladstone's he met Dr Hawkins, the head of Oriel, who came to hear his lecture on Mythology.

Happily [he wrote] there was nothing against Oxford in the lecture, only a dash at Max Muller, of whom I spoke with the utmost respect and love.

He described a Sunday's adventures early in May

I went to hear Jowett in the forenoon at a Broad Church in Marylebone. The sermon was from Acts x. 34 and 35, a regular Broad Church text, as broad as the world, and by the learned preacher made to include the Vedic Hymns, Zoroaster, Buddha, Socrates, Plato, Epictetus, what not—very instructive. At the door of the church we shook hands with Jovett, "Ecce Homo," Talmud Deutsch, and other notabilities. Thereafter I lunched quietly with Mrs Gregory in her wee house at 21 Green Street, and at 3 pm. went with her to a conference of spiritualists, where, as a matter of course, the Pro, spoke —not on spirits, however, or ghosts, but on Agrarian Laws and the Division of Property! In the evening I went to hear Baboo Chunder Sen, who chose pretty much the same text, and enlarged in the fashionable style on Toleration, Charity, and no opinions in particular. He speaks fluently enough, but has little variety either in matter or manner, and will never be a great orator. I was introduced to him after sermon, and gave him a friendly invitation to Altnacraig.

On May 17 he took railway to Richmond, and

marched full speed up Richmond Hill, and when I got to the top saw the broad fields of infinite foliage spread out to the west, the silver Thames at my feet, and the royal trees of the Park on my left hand. I then entered through the open gate of Pembroke Lodge. You guess now that my object was to look on Lady Amberley's blithe face. They were out in the grounds; so I took a ramble, and in case of losing my game went along whistling "Cam' ye by Atholl?" which discovered the bird, and out they all came, Lady Russell, Lady Amberley, and her lord. I had a pleasant walk with them, and then a cup of tea within doors. Instead of passing the gay season here, they are going to Rodborough, near Stroud, to work," as she said—that is, to pursue their studies. I made full utterance to them on important subjects, and felt quite happy in their company. The weather is now splendid, the most glorious poetry of nature and of art-combined: such is London when you know how to use it, and take things quietly and piously.

The constant racket became fatiguing towards the end of May, and he went to Cambridge for a few days, an honoured guest at Trinity, where he met, under Mr Clark's auspices, all that was noteworthy in the University and the town. The reformation in Latin pronunciation effected by Professor Munro was of much moment to him, and he listened with delight to an oration by the Public Orator, voiced as he had advocated for forty years. Except this, Mrs Augusta Webster made most impression upon him, her aims and attainments in Greek exciting his interest: the acquaintance ripened to a pleasant correspondence and the gift of his 'Homer' to the poetess.

A visit to Bedford for the sake of John Bunyan, and a few days' quiet in Hampshire with relatives, restored him to his normal activity, and early in June he went to Marlborough College to visit Dr Bradley, and then to Gloucestershire to pay Mr and Mrs Dobell the visit which they had negotiated the summer before. It seems to have been a very pleasant one, and included an excursion of the trio to Rodborough to visit the Amberleys. Little inclined as was Professor Blackie to spend time on works of fiction, he found himself inspired during this visit to read 'Lothair,' which had just come out—rather for the sake of its author, into whose marvellously compacted character he hoped in some measure to penetrate, than for the sake of the story. But the book fascinated him, and he went steadily through its three volumes. He commented in a letter, dated June 15, as follows :-

I have finished 'Lothair,' and am most gratified with it, and greatly surprised too; for my prepossession was strong against the author. It is a wise and a true and a noble book. It is not only a picture of London life in high circles, but something far better; it is a wise solution of the most vexed religious and philosophical questions of the day. The theology is particularly good—perhaps I think so because it is substantially my own. In this work Disraeli has nobly vindicated the divine right of the Semitic element in the history of human culture without doing injustice to other elements. Hellenism and Hebraism here play their just parts.

Later in the year he made this opinion public in a letter addressed to the editor of the ' Scotsman,' and printed in its issue of November 1. This came under Disraeli's notice, and he expressed himself as highly gratified by so discerning an interpretation of the spirit of 'Lothair.' The letter was republished in Messrs Longrnan's "Notes on Books."

He was back at Altnacraig by June 22, and busied himself once more with the study of Gaelic, taking up 'Ossian' in the original, and corresponding with Highland ministers and school-masters about its translation. An occupation of lighter character was the composition of his 'Lays of the Highlands and Islands.' Some of his best poetical work is in this volume, which was not published till 1872, although most of its sonnets, songs, and lays were in existence already. The Orcadian excursion had supplied some of them; his visits to Mull had suggested nine of the best; Ben Cruachan, the Buchaillmore, King's House, Glencoe, Taynuilt, and Oban had each its rhymed recognition. These lay unsorted as yet, and when August came and the "spirit in his feet" grew restive, he took steamer to Iona, and settled at the Columba Inn for ten days, to penetrate into every nook amongst its harrows and every sand- strewn crescent on its shores. The Duke of Argyll's book on the holy island of Columba had just been published, and formed, with Adamnan's Life of the saint, his guide to all its shrines. He was much refreshed by this complete abandonment to the solitude and associations of Iona, and wrote the poems called "The Voyage" and "The Death of Columba" while under their spell. A Sunday ramble—after the hallowed sacramental service, held in the open air upon the spot where Jesus was first preached to Hebridean islanders— led him to the north side of Iona, and he climbed Dun Ee, whose wonderful outlook, which reaches to the cones of Cuchullin in Skye, inspired one of his noblest sonnets, ending—

Here rather follow me, and take thy stand
By the grey cairn that crowns the lone Dun Ee,
And let thy breezy worship be the grand
Old Bens and old grey knolls that compass thee,
The sky-blue waters and the snow-white sand,
And the quaint isles far-sown upon the sea.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus