The World's Greatest Books, Vol X
Part 2 out of 6
more and more a subject of uneasiness to Washington. On August 27 the
American force was defeated with great loss in the battle of Long
Island, and was withdrawn from the island by a masterly night retreat;
this led to the loss of New York and the Hudson River to the British.
Reverse followed reverse; Washington was driven by the British arms from
one point after another; many of the chief American cities were taken;
and on September 26, 1777, General Sir William Howe marched into
Philadelphia and thus occupied the capital of the confederacy. But
Washington still maintained his characteristic equanimity. "I hope," he
said, "that a little time will put our affairs in a more flourishing
This anticipation was soon to be fulfilled. General Burgoyne had been
advancing from the north with a large force of British and Hessian
troops, but was compelled by General Gates, with a superior American
force, to capitulate on October 17,1777. By this capitulation the
Americans gained a fine train of artillery, seven thousand stand of
arms, and a great quantity of clothing, tents, and military stores of
all kinds; and the surrender of Burgoyne struck dismay into the British
army on the Hudson River.
But the struggle for independence was still to continue for four years
of incessant military operations, and it was not until the surrender of
Yorktown, on October 19, 1781, by Lord Cornwallis, that Britain gave up
hope of reducing her rebel colonies. When the redoubts of Yorktown were
taken, Washington exclaimed, "The work is done, and well done!"
A general treaty of peace was signed in Paris on January 20, 1783; and
in March of that year Sir Guy Carleton informed Washington that he was
ordered to proclaim a cessation of hostilities by sea and land. On April
19, the anniversary of the battle of Lexington, thus completing the
eighth year of the war, Washington issued a general order to the army in
these terms--"The generous task for which we first flew to arms being
accomplished, the liberties of our country being fully acknowledged and
firmly secured, and the characters of those who have persevered through
every extremity of hardship, suffering, and danger, being immortalised
by the illustrious appellation of 'the patriot army,' nothing now
remains but for the actors of this mighty scene to preserve a perfect,
unvarying consistency of character through the very last act, to close
the drama with applause, and to retire from the military theatre with
the same approbation of angels and men which has crowned all their
former virtuous actions."
Writing, on June 8, to the Governors of the several States, he
said--"The great object for which I had the honour to hold an
appointment in the service of my country being accomplished, I am now
preparing to return to that domestic retirement which, it is well known,
I left with the greatest reluctance; a retirement for which I have never
ceased to sigh, through a long and painful absence, and in which, remote
from the noise and trouble of the world, I meditate to pass the
remainder of life in a state of undisturbed repose."
_The Years of Peace_
Washington returned to Mount Vernon on Christmas Eve, 1783, and busied
himself with the care of his estates. He had never ceased to be the
agriculturist; through all his campaigns he had kept himself informed of
the course of rural affairs at Mount Vernon. By means of maps on which
every field was laid down and numbered, he was enabled to give
directions for their several cultivation, and to receive accounts of
their several crops. No hurry of affairs prevented a correspondence with
his agent, and he exacted weekly reports. He now read much on
agriculture and gardening, and corresponded with the celebrated Arthur
Young, from whom he obtained seeds of all kinds, improved ploughs, plans
for laying out farmyards, and advice on various parts of rural economy.
His active day at Mount Vernon began some time before dawn. Much of his
correspondence was despatched before breakfast, which took place at
half-past seven. After breakfast he mounted his horse and rode off to
various parts of his estate; dined at half-past two; if there was no
company he would write until dark; and in the evening he read, or amused
himself with a game of whist.
The adoption of the Federal Constitution opened another epoch in the
life of Washington. Before the official forms of an election could be
carried into operation, a unanimous sentiment throughout the Union
pronounced him the nation's choice to fill the presidential chair. The
election took place, and Washington was chosen President for a term of
four years from March 4, 1788. An entry in his diary, on March 16,
says--"I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic
felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful
sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York with the
best disposition to render service to my country in obedience to its
call, but with less hope of answering its expectations."
The weight and influence of his name and character were deemed all
essential to complete his work; to set the new government in motion, and
conduct it through its first perils and trials. He undertook the task,
firm in the resolve in all things to act as his conscience told him was
"right as it respected his God, his country, and himself." For he knew
no divided fidelity, no separate obligation; his most sacred duty to
himself was his highest duty to his country and his God.
His death took place on December 14, 1799, at Mount Vernon.
The character of Washington may want some of the poetical elements which
dazzle and delight the multitude, but it possessed fewer inequalities
and a rarer union of virtues than perhaps ever fell to the lot of one
man. Prudence, firmness, sagacity, moderation, an overruling judgement,
an immovable justice, courage that never faltered, patience that never
wearied, truth that disdained all artifice, magnanimity without alloy.
* * * * *
Flavius Josephus was born in Jerusalem in 37 A.D. His father,
Matthias, was a priest, and his mother belonged to the
Asmonean princely family. So distinguished was he as a student
that, at the age of twenty-six, he was chosen delegate to
Nero. When the critical juncture arose for his nation, through
the rebellion excited by the cruelties of Gessius Florus, the
Roman procurator, Josephus was appointed governor of Galilee
The insurrection proved fatal, for Vespasian by his invasion
rendered resistance hopeless. Subsequently he lived in Rome,
and the date of his death is unknown. The works of this writer
are monumental. He wrote his vivid "Wars of the Jews" in both
Hebrew and Greek. His "Antiquities of the Jews" traces the
whole history of the race down to the outbreak of the great
war. Scaliger, one of the acutest of mediaeval critics,
declares that in his writings on the affairs of the Jews, and
even on those of foreign nations, Josephus deserves more
credit than all the Greek and Roman writers put together. His
fidelity and veracity are as universally admitted as his
direct and lucid style is generally admired. His account of
his own life and career is a masterpiece in this category of
literature, for it is written with blended modesty and
naivete. In many passages of this "Autobiography" he does not
hesitate to assume great credit for his own courage, probity,
and skill, but in each case the justification is manifest, for
he constantly refers to the tortuous and treacherous
machinations of his virulent enemies. The "Autobiography" is
from beginning to end a thrilling and wonderful romance of
real life, for the hairbreadth escapes of this extraordinary
man are among the most singular recitals in the whole world of
adventure. The whole story is unique, as was the noble
individuality of the man himself.
_I.--Priest of the Blood-Royal_
The family from which I, Flavius Josephus, am derived is not an ignoble
one, but hath descended all along from the priests. I am not only sprung
from a sacerdotal family in general, but from the first of the
twenty-four courses of the Jewish priests, and I am of the chief family
of that course also. With us, to be of the sacerdotal dignity is an
indication of the splendour of a family. But, further, by my mother I am
of the royal blood; for the children of Asmonaeus, from whom that family
was derived, had both the office of the high-priesthood and the dignity
of a king for a long time together.
My father Matthias, to whom I was born in the first year of the reign of
Gaius Caesar, was not only eminent in Jerusalem, our greatest city, on
account of his nobility, but had a higher commendation on account of his
righteousness. I was brought up with my brother Matthias. As a child I
gained a great reputation through my love for learning, and, when I was
about fourteen years of age, was frequently asked by the high-priests
and chief men of the city my opinion about the accurate understanding of
points of the law.
In my twenty-sixth year I took a voyage to Rome. My object was to plead
before Caesar the cause of certain excellent priests whom Felix, then
procurator of Judaea, had put in bonds on a trivial pretext. I was
desirous to procure deliverance for them, not only because they were of
my own friends, but because I heard that they sustained their piety
towards God under their afflictions, and that they simply subsisted on
figs and nuts.
Our voyage was an adventurous one, for the ship was wrecked in the
Adriatic Sea, and we that were in it, being about six hundred in number,
swam all night for our lives. I and about eighty others were saved by a
ship of Cyrene. When I had thus escaped, and was come to Puteoli, I
became acquainted with an actor named Alityrus, much beloved by Nero,
but a Jew by birth. Through his interest I became known to Poppaea,
Caesar's wife, and having, through her, procured the liberty of the
priests, besides receiving from her many presents, I returned to
Now I perceived that many innovations were begun, and that many were
cherishing hopes of a revolt from the Romans.
_II.--The Prelude to the Great Crisis_
So I retired to the inner court of the Temple. Yet I went out of the
Temple again, after Menahem and the chief members of the band of robbers
were put to death, and abode among the high-priests and the chief of the
Pharisees. But no small fear seized upon us when we saw the people in
arms, while we were not able to restrain the seditious. We hoped that
Gessius Floras would speedily arrive with great forces. But on his
arrival he was defeated with great loss.
The disgrace that fell upon him became the calamity of our whole nation,
for it elevated the hopes of conquering the Romans on the part of those
who desired war. But another cause of the revolt arose in Syria from the
cruel treatment of the Jews in many cities, where they showed not the
least disposition towards rebellion. About 13,000 were treacherously
slain in Scythopolis, and the Jews in Damascus underwent many miseries;
but of these events accounts are given in the books of the Jewish War.
I was now sent, together with two other priests, Joazar and Judas, by
the principal men of Jerusalem, to Galilee, to persuade the ill men
there to lay down their arms, and to teach them that it were better for
us all to wait to see what the Romans would do. I came into Galilee, and
found the people of Sepphoris in no small agony about their country, by
reason that the Galileans had resolved to plunder it, because of their
friendship with the Romans, and because they had made a league with
Cestius Gallus, the president of Syria. But I quieted their fears. Yet I
found the people of Tiberias ready to take arms, for there were three
factions in that city.
The first faction, with Julius Capellus for the head, was composed of
men of worth and gravity, and advised the city to continue in allegiance
to the Romans; the second faction, consisting of the most ignoble
persons, was determined for war. But as for Justus, the head of the
third faction, though he pretended to be doubtful about war, yet he was
really desirous of innovation, as supposing that he should gain power by
the change of affairs.
By his harangues Justus inflamed the minds of many of the people,
persuading them to take arms, and then he went out and set fire to the
villages that belonged to Gadara and Hippos, on the border of Tiberias,
and of the region of Scythopolis.
Gamala persevered in its allegiance to the Romans, under the persuasion
of Philip, the son of Jacimus, who was governor of the city under King
Agrippa. He reminded the people of the benefits the king had bestowed on
them, and pointed out how powerful the Romans were, and thus he
restrained the zeal of the citizens.
Now, as soon as I was come into Galilee, and had ascertained the state
of affairs, I wrote to the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem asking for their
direction. They replied that I should remain there; and that, if my
fellow-delegates were willing, I should join with them in the care of
Galilee. But these my colleagues, having gotten great riches from those
tithes which as priests were their dues, and were given to them,
determined to return to their own country. Yet when I desired them to
stay to settle public affairs, they complied, and we removed from
Sepphoris to Bethmanus, a village four furlongs from Tiberias, whence I
sent messengers to the senate of that city, asking that the principal
men should come to me.
_III.--Governor of Galilee_
When the chief men of Tiberias were come, I told them I was sent as a
legate from the people at Jerusalem, in order to persuade them to
destroy that house which Herod the tetrarch had built in Tiberias, and
which, contrary to our laws, contained the figures of living creatures.
I desired that they would give us leave to do so; but for a good while
they were unwilling, only being overcome by long persuasion. Then Jesus,
son of Sapphias, one of the leaders of sedition, anticipated us and set
the palace on fire, thinking that as some of the roofs were covered with
gold, he should gain much money thereby. These incendiaries also
plundered much furniture; then they slew all the Greeks who dwelt in
Tiberias, and as many others as were their enemies.
When I understood this state of things, I was greatly provoked, and went
down to Tiberias and took care of all the royal furniture that could be
recovered from such as had plundered it. Next I committed it to ten of
the chief senators. From thence I and my fellow-delegates went to
Gischala to John, to learn his designs, and soon discovered that he was
for innovations, for he wished me to give him authority to carry off the
corn that belonged to Caesar, and to lay it in the villages of Upper
Galilee. Though I refused, he corrupted my colleagues with money, and so
I, being out-voted, held my tongue. By various other cunning
contrivances which I could not prevent, John gained vast sums of money.
But when I had dismissed my fellow-delegates I took care to have arms
provided and the cities fortified. My first care was to keep Galilee in
peace, so I made friends of seventy of the principal men, and took them
on my journeys as companions, and set them to judge causes.
I was now about thirty years of age, in which time of life it is
difficult to escape from the calumnies of the envious. Yet did I
preserve every woman free from injury; I despised and refused presents;
nor would I take the tithes due to me as a priest. When I twice took
Sepphoris by force, and Tiberias four times, and Gadara once, and when I
had subdued and captured John, who had laid treacherous snares for me, I
did not punish with death either him or others. And on this account I
suppose it was that God, Who is never unacquainted with those that do as
they ought to do, delivered me still out of the hands of my enemies, and
afterwards preserved me when I fell into many perils.
At this time, when my abode was at Cana, a village of Galilee, John came
to Tiberias and stirred a revolt against me, so that my life was in
danger. I escaped only by fleeing down the lake in a ship to Taricheae,
whence I proceeded to Sepphoris. John returned to Gischala, where he
continued to cultivate bitter hatred against me. Through the
machinations of himself and Simon, a chief man in Gadara, all Galilee
was filled with rumours that their country was about to be betrayed by
me to the Romans.
Hereby I again incurred extreme peril, but I took a bold course. Dressed
in a black garment, with my sword hung at my neck, I went to face, in
the hippodrome, a multitude of the citizens of Taricheae, and addressed
them in such terms that, though some wished to kill me, these were
overcome by the rest.
Although the multitude returned to their homes, yet the robbers and
other authors of the tumult, afraid lest I might punish them, took six
hundred armed men and came to burn the house where I abode. Thinking it
ignoble to run away, I resolved to expose myself to danger; so I shut
myself up in an upper room, and asked that one of them should be sent up
to me, by whom I would send out to them money from the spoils I had
When they had sent in one of their boldest, I had him whipped severely,
and commanded one of his hands to be cut off and hung about his neck. In
this case he was put out, and those who had sent him, affrighted at the
supposition that I had more armed men about me than they had,
I dealt in like manner with Clitus, a young man of Tiberias, who was the
author of a fresh sedition in that city. Since I thought it not
agreeable to piety to put one of my own people to death, I called to
Clitus himself, and said to him, "Since thou deservest to lose both thy
hands for thine ingratitude to me, be thou thine own executioner, lest
by refusal to do so thou undergo a worse punishment."
When he earnestly begged me to spare one of his hands, it was with
difficulty that I granted it. So, in order to prevent the loss of both
his hands, he willingly took his sword and cut off his own left hand;
and this put an end to the sedition.
_IV.--The Failure of His Foes_
The people of Gamala wrote to me, asking that I would send them an armed
force, and also workmen to raise up the walls of their city, and I
acceded to each of their requests. I also built walls about many
villages and cities in Upper and Lower Galilee, besides laying up in
them much corn. But the hatred of John of Gischala grew more violent by
reason of my prosperity. He sent his brother Simon to Jerusalem with a
hundred armed men to induce the Sanhedrin to deprive me of my
commission; but this was not an easy thing to do, for Ananus, one of the
chief priests, demonstrated that many of the people bore witness that I
had acted like an excellent general.
Yet Ananus and some of his friends, corrupted by bribes, secretly agreed
to expel me out of Galilee, without making the rest of the citizens
acquainted with what they were doing. Accordingly they sent four men of
distinction down to Galilee to seek to supersede me in ruling the
These were to ask the people of Galilee what was their reason of their
love to me. If the people alleged that it was because I was born at
Jerusalem, that I was versed in the law, and that I was a priest, then
they were to reply that they also were natives of Jerusalem, that they
understood the law, and that two of them were priests. To Jonathan and
his companion were given 40,000 drachmae out of the public money, and a
large band of men was equipped with arms and money to accompany them.
But wonderful was what I saw in a dream that very night. It seemed to me
that a certain person stood by me, and said, "O Josephus, put away all
fear, for what now afflicts thee will render thee most happy, and thou
shalt overcome all difficulties! Be not cast down, but remember that
thou art to fight the Romans."
When I had seen this vision I arose, intending to go down to the plain
to meet a great multitude who, I knew, would be assembled, for my
friends, on my refusal had dispatched messengers all around to inform
the people of Galilee of my purpose to depart. And when the great
assembly of men, with their wives and children, saw me, they fell on
their faces weeping, and besought me not to leave them to be exposed to
When I heard this, and saw what sorrow affected the people, I was moved
with compassion, and promised that I would stay with them, thinking it
became me to undergo manifold hazards for the sake of so great a
multitude. So I ordered that five thousand of them should come to me
armed, and that the rest should depart to their own homes.
It was not long before Vespasian landed at Tyre, and King Agrippa with
him. How he then came into Galilee, and how he fought his first battle
with me near Taricheae, and how, after the capture of Jotapata, I was
taken alive and bound, and how I was afterward loosed, with all that was
done by me in the Jewish war, and during the siege of Jerusalem, I have
accurately related in the books concerning the "Wars of the Jews."
When the siege of Jotapata was over, and I was among the Romans, I was
kept with much care, by means of the great respect that Vespasian showed
me. After being freed from my bonds I went to Alexandria, where I
married. From thence I was sent, together with Titus, to the siege of
Jerusalem, and was frequently in danger of being put to death. For the
Jews desired to get me into their power to have me punished, and the
Romans, whenever they were beaten, thought it was through my treachery.
But Titus Caesar was well acquainted with the uncertain fortune of war,
and returned no answer to the soldiers' solicitation against me.
When Titus was going away to Rome he made choice of me to sail along
with him, and paid me great respect And when we were come to Rome I had
great care taken of me by Vespasian, for he gave me an apartment in his
When Vespasian was dead, Titus kept up the same kindness which his
father had shown me, and Domitian, who succeeded, still augmented his
respects to me; nay, Domitia, the wife of Caesar, continued to show me
* * * * *
JOHN GIBSON LOCKHART
Life of Sir Walter Scott
John Gibson Lockhart was born in Scotland in 1794. He received
part of his education at Glasgow, part at Oxford, and in 1816
he became an advocate at the Scotch bar. As one of the chief
supporters of Blackwood's Magazine, he began to exhibit that
sharp, bitter wit which was his most salient characteristic.
In 1820 he married the eldest daughter of Sir Walter Scott,
and for this reason, perhaps no one has been better qualified
to write the biography of the great novelist. Lockhart's "Life
of Sir Walter Scott" is a biography in the best sense of the
word--one which has been ranked even with Boswell's "Johnson."
It reveals to the reader the inmost personality of the man
himself, and no life from first to last could better afford
such complete revelation. Moreover, the "Life" was a labour of
love, Lockhart himself receiving not a fraction of its very
considerable proceeds, but resigning them absolutely to
Scott's creditors. Published in seven volumes in 1838, in
every respect it is the greatest of all Lockhart's books.
Lockhart died in 1854.
Sir Walter Scott was distantly connected with ancient families both on
his father's and his mother's side. His father, Walter Scott, a Writer
to the Signet in Edinburgh, was a handsome, hospitable, shrewd and
religious man, who married, in 1758, Anne, eldest daughter of Dr. John
Rutherford, professor of medicine in Edinburgh University. The Scotts
had twelve children, of whom only five survived early youth.
The subject of this biography was born on August 15, 1771, in a house at
the head of the College Wynd. He was a healthy child, but when eighteen
months old was affected with a fever which left a permanent lameness in
the right leg. With a view to curing this weakness he was sent to live
with his paternal grandfather, at the farm house of Sandy-Knowe near
Dryburgh Abbey, in the extreme south of Berwickshire.
Here, in the country air, he became a sturdy boy, and his mind was
stored with the old Broder tales and songs. In his fourth year he was
taken to London by sea, and thence to Bath, where he remained about a
year for the sake of the waters, became acquainted with the venerable
John Home, author of "Douglas," and was introduced by his uncle, Capt.
Robert Scott, to the delights of the theatre and "As You Like It."
From his eighth year Scott lived at his father's house in George Square,
Edinburgh. His lameness and solitary habits had made him a good reader,
and he used to read aloud to his mother, Pope's translation of Homer and
Allan Ramsay's "Evergreen;" his mother had the happiest of tempers and a
good love of poetry. In the same year he was sent to the High School,
Edinburgh, under the celebrated Dr. Adam, who made him sensible of the
beauties of the Latin poets.
After his school years, the lad, who had become delicate from rapid
growth, spent half a year with an aunt, Miss Janet Scott, at Kelso. He
had now awaked to the poetry of Shakespeare and of Spenser, and had
acquired an ample and indiscriminate appetite for reading of all kinds.
To this time at Kelso he also traced his earliest feeling for the
beauties of natural objects. The love of Nature, especially when
combined with ancient ruins, or remains of our forefathers' piety or
splendour, became his insatiable passion.
He was then sent to classes in the Faculty of Arts in Edinburgh
University; and in 1785 was articled to his father and entered upon the
wilderness of law. Though he disliked the drudgery of the office, he
loved his father and was ambitious, and the allowance which he received
afforded the pleasures of the circulating library and the theatre. His
reading had now extended to the great writers in French, Spanish and
Italian literature. Distant excursions on foot or on horseback formed
his favorite amusement, undertaken for the pleasure of seeing romantic
scenery and places distinguished by historic events.
In 1790, Scott determined, in accordance with his father's wishes, to
become an advocate, and assumed the gown on July 11, 1792. His personal
appearance at this time was engaging. He had a fresh, brilliant
complexion, his eyes were clear and radiant, and the noble expanse of
his brow gave dignity to his whole aspect. His smile was always
delightful, and there was a playful intermixture of tenderness and
gravity well calculated to fix a lady's eye. His figure, except for the
blemish in one limb, was eminently handsome, and much above the usual
stature; and the whole outline was that of extraordinary vigour, without
a touch of clumsiness.
_The Poet's Education_
I do not know when his first attachment began; its object was Margaret,
daughter of Sir John and Lady Jane Stuart Belcher, of Invermay. But
after Scott had for several years nourished the dream of union with this
lady, his hopes terminated in her being married to the late Sir William
Forbes, of Pitsligo, a gentleman of the highest character, who lived to
act the part of a generous friend to his rival throughout the distresses
of 1826 and 1827.
After being admitted an advocate, Scott undertook many excursions to
various parts of Scotland, gaining that intimate knowledge of the
country, and its people and traditions, which appears in his poems and
novels. Thus, he visited Northumberland, and made a close inspection of
the battle-field of Flodden, and on another journey studied the Saxon
cathedral of Hexam. During seven successive years he made raids, as he
called them, into the wild and inaccessible district of Liddesdale,
picking up the ancient "riding ballads" preserved among the descendants
of the moss-troopers. To these rambles he owed much of the materials of
his "Minstrelsy of the Border," and here he came to know Willie Elliot,
the original of Dandie Dinmont. Another expedition, into Galloway,
carried him into the scenery of Guy Mannering. Stirlingshire, Perthshire
and Forfarshire became familiar ground to him, and the scenery of Loch
Katrine especially was associated with many a merry expedition. His
first appearance as counsel in a criminal court was at the Jedburgh
assizes, where he helped a veteran poacher and sheep-stealer to escape
through the meshes of the law.
In June, 1795, Scott was appointed one of the curators of the Advocate's
Library and became an adept in the deciphering of old manuscript. His
highlands and border raids were constantly suggesting inquiries as to
ancient local history and legend, which could nowhere else have been
pursued with equal advantage.
In the same year, a rhymed translation of Burger's "Lenore," from his
pen, was shown by him to Miss Cranstoun, afterwards Countess of
Purgstall, who was delighted and astonished at it. "Upon my word," she
wrote in a letter to a friend, "Walter Scott is going to turn out a
poet--something of a cross I think between Burns and Gray." This lady
had the ballad elegantly printed in April, 1796, and Scott thus made his
first appearance as an author. In October, this translation, together
with that of the "Wild Huntsman," also from Burger, was published
anonymously in a thin quarto by Manners and Miller, of Edinburgh. The
little volume found warm favour: its free, masculine and lively style
revealing the hand of a poet.
In July, 1797, Scott set out on a tour to the English lakes, accompanied
by his brother John and Adam Fergusson, visiting Tweeddale, Carlisle,
Penrith, Ullswater and Windermere, and at length fixing their
headquarters at Gilsland, a peaceful and sequestered little watering
He was riding one day with Fergusson when they met, some miles away from
home, a young lady on horseback, whose appearance instantly struck both
of them so much, that they kept her in view until they had satisfied
themselves that she was staying in Gilsland. The same evening there was
a ball, at which Scott was introduced to Charlotte Margaret Carpenter.
Without the features of a regular beauty, she was rich in personal
attractions; a fairy-like form; a clear olive complexion; large, deep
eyes of Italian brown; a profusion of silken tresses, raven-black; her
address mingling the reserve of a pretty young Englishwoman with a
certain natural archness and gaiety that suited well her French accent.
A lovelier vision, as all who remember her youth have assured me, could
hardly be imagined, and from that hour the fate of the poet was fixed.
She was the daughter of Jean Charpentier, of Lyons, a devoted royalist,
who died in the beginning of the Revolution; Madame Charpentier had died
soon after bringing her children to London; and the Marquis of Downshire
had become their guardian. Miss Charpentier was now making a summer
excursion under the care of the lady who had superintended her
In an affectionate and dutiful letter Scott acquainted his mother with
his purpose of marriage, and Miss Carpenter remained at Carlisle until
her destiny was settled. The lady had a considerable private income,
amounting to about L500 a year; the difficulties presented by the
prudence and prejudices of family connections were soon overcome; and
the marriage took place in St. Mary's, Carlisle, on December 24, 1797.
Scott took his bride to a lodging in George Street, Edinburgh, the house
which he had taken not being quite ready, and the first fortnight
convinced her husband's family that she had the sterling qualities of a
Their house in South Castle Street, soon after exchanged for one in
North Castle Street, which he inhabited down to 1826, became the centre
of a highly agreeable circle; the evenings passed in a round of innocent
gaiety; and they and their friends were passionately fond of the
theatre. Perhaps nowhere else could have been formed a society on so
small a scale as that of Edinburgh at this time, including more of
vigorous intellect, varied information, elegant tastes, and real virtue,
affection and mutual confidence.
In the summer of 1798, Scott hired a cottage at Lasswade, on the Esk,
about six miles from Edinburgh, having a garden with a most beautiful
view. In this retreat they spent several happy summers, receiving the
visits of their chosen friends from the neighbouring city, and wandering
amidst some of the most romantic scenery of Scotland.
In February, 1799, a London Bookseller named Bell, brought out Scott's
version of Goethe's tragedy, "Goetz von Berlichingen of the Iron Hand,"
having purchased the copyright for twenty-five guineas. This was the
first publication that bore Scott's name. In March of that year he took
his wife to London, and met with some literary and fashionable society;
but his chief object was to examine the antiquities of the Tower and
Westminster, and to make researches among the manuscripts of the British
Museum. He found his "Goetz" favourably spoken of by the critics, but it
had not attracted general attention.
About this time Scott wrote a play entitled "House of Aspen" which,
having been read and commended by the celebrated actress, Mrs. Esten,
was put in rehearsal by Kemble for the stage. But the notion was
abandoned; and discovering the play thirty years after among his papers,
Scott sent it to the "Keepsake" of 1829.
His return to Scotland was hastened by the news of his father's death,
and his mother and sister spent the following summer and autumn in his
cottage at Lasswade. This summer produced his first serious attempt in
verse, "Glenfinlas," which was followed by the noble ballads, "Eve of
St. John," "The Grey Brother" and "Fire-King"; and it was in the course
of this autumn that he first visited Bothwell Castle, the seat of
Archibald, Lord Douglas, whose wife, and her companion, Lady Louisa
Stuart, were among his dearest friends through life.
During a visit to Kelso, before returning to Edinburgh for the winter,
Scott renewed an acquaintance with a classfellow of his boyhood, Mr.
James Ballantyne, who was now printer and editor of a weekly paper in
his native town. Scott showed him some of his poems, expressed his
wonder that his old friend did not try to get some bookseller's printing
and suggested a collection of old Border ballads. Ballantyne printed for
him a few specimens to show to the booksellers; and thus began an
experiment which changed the fortunes of both Scott and Ballantyne.
Soon after the commencement of the Winter Session, the office of
Sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire became vacant, and the Duke of Buccleuch
used his influence with Mr. Henry Dundas, afterwards Viscount Melville,
to procure it for Scott. The appointment to the Sheriff ship was made on
December 16, 1799. It brought him an annual salary of L300; the duties
of the office were far from heavy; the small pastoral territory was
largely the property of the Duke of Buccleuch; and Scott turned with
redoubled zeal to his project of editing the ballads, many of which
belong to this district. In this design he found able assistants in
Richard Heber and John Leyden. During the years 1800 and 1801, the
"Minstrelsy" formed his chief occupation.
The duties of the Sheriffship took him frequently to Ettrick Forest, and
on such occasions he took up his lodging at the little inn at
Clovenford, a favourite fishing station on the road from Edinburgh to
Selkirk. Here he was within a few miles of the values of Yarrow and
Ettrick. On one of his excursions here, penetrating beyond St Mary's
Lake, he found hospitality at the farmhouse of William Laidlaw, through
whom he came to know James Hogg, a brother poet hardly conscious of his
The first and second volumes of the "Minstrelsy" appeared in January,
1802, from the house of Cadell and Davies in the Strand, and formed
Scott's first introduction as an original writer to the English public.
Their reception greatly elated Ballantyne, the printer, who looked on
his connection with them as the most fortunate event in his life. The
great bookseller, Longman, repaired to Scotland soon after this, and
purchased the copyright of the "Minstrelsy," including the third volume;
and not long afterwards James Ballantyne set up as a printer in
Edinburgh, assisted by a liberal loan from Scott.
_Scott's Chief Poems_
The "Edinburgh Review" was begun in 1802, and Scott soon became a
contributor of critical articles for his friend Mr. Jeffrey, the elder.
His chief work was now on "Sir Tristram," a romance ascribed to Thomas
of Ercildoune; but "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" was making progress in
1803, when Scott made the acquaintance of Wordsworth and his sister,
under circumstances described by Dorothy Wordsworth in her Journal. In
the following May, he took a lease of the house of Ashestiel, with an
adjoining farm, on the southern bank of the Tweed, a few miles from
Selkirk; and in the same month "Sir Tristram" was published by Constable
of Edinburgh. Captain Robert Scott, his uncle, died in June, leaving him
the house of Rosebank near Kelso, which Scott sold for L5000.
"The Lay of the Last Minstrel" was published in the first week of 1805,
and its success at once decided that literature should form the main
business of Scott's life. Its design arose originally from the
suggestion of the lovely Countess of Dalkeith, who had heard a wild,
rude legend of Border _diablerie_, and sportively asked him to make it
the subject of a ballad. He cast about for a new variety of diction and
rhyme, and having happened to hear a recitation of Coleridge's
unpublished "Christabel" determined to adopt a similar cadence. The
division into cantos was suggested by one of his friends, after the
example of Spenser's "Faery Queen." The creation of the framework, the
conception of the ancient harper, came last of all. Thus did "The Lay of
the Last Minstrel" grow out of the "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border."
The publishers were Longman of London, and Constable of Edinburgh, and
the author's share of profits came to L769.
It was at this time that Scott took over a third share in Ballantyne's
business, a commercial tie which bound him for twenty years. Its
influence on his literary work and his fortunes was productive of much
good and not a little evil. Meanwhile, he entered with the zest of an
active partner into many publishing schemes, and exerted himself in the
interests of many authors less fortunate than himself.
With the desire of placing his financial position on a more substantial
basis, Scott had solicited the office of Clerk of Session; and after
some difficulties, during which he visited London and was received by
the Princess of Wales, he was installed in that position on March 8,
1806, and continued to discharge its duties with exemplary regularity
for twenty-five years.
The progress of "Marmion" was further interrupted by Scott's appointment
as secretary to a Commission for the improvement of Scottish
Jurisprudence, but the poems appeared at last in February, 1808. It
received only very qualified praise from Jeffrey, but I think it may be
considered on the whole Scott's greatest poem, and its popularity was
from the very first extraordinary.
In April of the same year William Miller of Albemarle Street published
Scott's great edition of Dryden, with a biography, in eighteen volumes;
and the editor's industry and critical judgement were the subject of a
laudatory article by Hallam in the "Edinburgh Review."
Scott was now engaged in a vast multiplicity of business. He was
preparing an edition of Swift for Constable, establishing his own
partner as a publisher in Edinburgh under the title of "John Ballantyne
and Co., Booksellers," and was projecting a new periodical of sound
constitutional principles, to be known as the "Quarterly Review,"
published by Murray in London and by Ballantyne in Edinburgh. In
connection with the latter enterprise Scott and Mrs. Scott went up to
London for two months in the Spring of 1809, and enjoyed the society of
Coleridge, Canning, Croker, and Ellis. The first "Quarterly" appeared
while he was in London, and contained three articles from his pen. At
this time also he prevailed on Henry Siddons, the nephew of Kemble, to
undertake the lease and management of the Edinburgh Theatre; and
purchasing a share himself, became an acting trustee, and for many years
took a lively concern in the Edinburgh company.
Early in May, 1810, "The Lady of the Lake" came out, like her two elder
sisters, in all the majesty of quarto, at the price of two guineas, the
author receiving two thousand guineas for the copyright. The whole
country rang with the praises of the poet, and crowds set off to view
the scenery of Loch Katrine. The critics were in full harmony with one
another and with the popular voice.
_The Waverley Novels_
On returning, in 1810, from an excursion to the Islands of the western
Scottish coast, where he had been collecting impressions for "The Lord
of the Isles," Scott was searching one morning for fishing-flies in an
old desk at Ashestiel, when he came across a forgotten manuscript,
written and abandoned five years before. It contained the first two
chapters of "Waverley." He submitted it to Ballantyne, whose opinion was
on the whole against completion of the novel, and it was again laid
Although his publishing venture had begun to wear a bad aspect, Scott
was now in receipt of L1300 a year as Clerk of Session, and when the
lease of Ashestiel ran out in May, 1811, he felt justified in
purchasing, for L4000, a farm on the banks of the Tweed above Galafoot.
This farm, then known as "Garty Holes," became "Abbotsford," so called
because these lands had belonged of old to the great Abbey of Melrose;
and in his own mind Scott became henceforth the "Laird of Abbotsford."
The last days at Ashestiel were marked by a friendly interchange of
letters with Lord Byron, whose "Childe Harold" had just come out, and
with correspondence with Johanna Baillie and with Crabbe. At Whitsuntide
the family, which included two boys and two girls, moved to their new
possession, and structural alterations on the farmhouse began.
The poem "Rokeby" appeared in January, 1813. A month or two later the
crisis in the war affected credit aniversally, and many publishing
firms, including that of the Ballantynes, were brought to extremity. The
difficulty was relieved for a time by the sale of copyrights and much of
the stock to Constable, on the understanding that the publishing concern
should be wound up as soon as possible. But Scott was preparing fresh
embarrassments for himself by the purchase of another parcel of land; a
yet more acute crisis in the Ballantyne firm forced him to borrow from
the Duke of Buccleuch; and when planning out his work for the purpose of
retrieving his position he determined to complete the fragment of
The offer of the post of poet-laureate was made to Scott at this time,
but holding already two lucrative offices in the gift of the Crown, he
declined the honour and suggested that it should be given to Southey,
which was accordingly done. The "Swift" in nineteen volumes, appeared in
July, 1814, and had a moderate success.
"Waverley," of which Scott was to receive half the profits, was
published by Constable in July, 1814, without the author's name, and its
great success with the public was assured from the first. None of
Scott's intimate friends ever had, or could have, the slightest doubt as
to its parentage, and when Mr. Jeffrey reviewed the book, doing justice
to its substantial merits, he was at no pains to conceal his conviction
of the authorship. With the single exception of the "Quarterly," the
critics hailed it as a work of original creative genius, one of the
masterpieces of prose fiction.
From a voyage to the Hebrides with the Commissioners of the Northern
Lighthouses, Scott returned in vigour to his desk at Abbotsford, where
he worked at "The Lord of the Isles" and "Guy Mannering." The poem
appeared in January and the novel in February, 1815. "The Lord of the
Isles" never reached the same popularity as the earlier poems had
enjoyed, but "Guy Mannering" was pronounced by acclamation to be fully
worthy of the honours of "Waverley." In March, Scott went to London with
his wife and daughter, met Byron almost daily in Murray's house, and was
presented to the Prince Regent, who was enchanted with Scott, as Scott
with him. A visit to Paris in July of the same year is commemorated in
"Paul's Letters to His Kinsfolk." Scott's reputation had as yet made
little way among the French, but the Duke of Wellington, then in Paris,
treated him with kindness and confidence, and a few eminent Frenchmen
vied with the enthusiastic Germans in their attentions to him.
"The Antiquary" came out early in 1816, and was its author's favourite
among all his novels. The "Tales of my Landlord," published by Murray
and Blackwood, appeared in December, and though anonymous was at once
recognized as Scott's. The four volumes included the "Black Dwarf" and
"Old Mortality." A month later followed a poem, "Harold the Dauntless."
The title of "Rob Roy" was suggested by Constable; and the novel was
published on the last day of 1817.
During this year the existing house of Abbotsford had been building, and
Scott had added to his estate the lands of Toftfield, at a price of
L10,000. He was then thought to be consolidating a large fortune, for
the annual profits of his novels alone had, for several years, been not
less than the cost of Toftfield.
Having been asked by the Ballantynes to contribute to the historical
department of the "Annual Register," I often had occasion now to visit
Scott in his house in Castle Street, where I usually found him working
in his "den," a small room behind the dining parlour, in company with
his dog, Maida. Besides his own huge elbow-chair, there were but two
others in the room, and one of these was reserved for his amanuensis, a
portrait of Claverhouse, over the chimneypiece, with a Highland target
on either side and broadswords and dirks disposed star-fashion round
them. A venerable cat, fat and sleek, watched the proceedings of his
toaster AND Maids with dignified equanimity.
The house of Abbotsford was not completed, and finally rid of carpenters
and upholsterers, until Christmas, 1824; but the first time I saw it was
in 1818, and from that time onwards Scott's hospitality was extended
freely not only to the proprietors and tenants of the surrounding
district, but to a never-ending succession of visitors who came to
Abbotsford as pilgrims. In the seven or eight brilliant seasons when his
prosperity was at its height, he entertained under his roof as many
persons of distinction in rank, in politics, in art, in literature, and
in science, as the most princely nobleman of his age ever did in the
like space of time. It is not beyond the mark to add that of the eminent
foreigners who visited our Island within this period, a moiety crossed
the Channel mainly in consequence of the interest in which his writings
had invested Scotland, and that the hope of beholding the man under his
own roof was the crowning motive with half that moiety. His rural
neighbours were assembled principally at two annual festivals of sport;
one was a solemn bout of salmon fishing for the neighbouring gentry,
presided over by the Sheriff; and the other was the "Abbotsford Hunt," a
coursing field on a large scale, including, with many of the young
gentry, all Scott's personal favourites among the yeomen and farmers of
the surrounding country.
Notwithstanding all his prodigious hospitality, his double official
duties as Sheriff and Clerk of Session, the labours and anxieties in
which the ill-directed and tottering firm of Ballantyne involved him,
the keen interest which he took in every detail of the adornment of the
house and estate of Abbotsford, and finally, notwithstanding obstinate
and agonizing attacks of internal cramp which were undermining his
constitution, Scott continued to produce rapidly the wonderful series of
the Waverley Novels. "The Bride of Lammermoor," "Legend of Montrose" and
"Ivanhoe" appeared in 1819, "The Monastery," "The Abbot" and
"Kenilworth" in 1820, "The Pirate" in 1821, "The Fortunes of Nigel" in
1822, "Peveril of the Peak," "Quentin Durward" and "St. Ronan's Well" in
1823, and "Redgauntlet" in 1824. His great literary reputation was
acknowledged by a baronetcy conferred in 1820, and by the most
flattering condescensions on the part of King George IV on his visit to
Edinburgh in 1822.
_The End of All_
Scott's Diary from November, 1825, shows dear forebodings of the
collapse of the houses of Constable and Ballantyne. In a time of
universal confidence and prosperity, the banks had supported them to an
extent quite unwarranted by their assets or their trade, and as soon as
the banks began to doubt and to enquire, their fall was a foregone
conclusion. In December, Scott borrowed L10,000 on the lands of
Abbotsford, and advanced that sum to the struggling houses; on January
16, 1826, their ruin, and Scott's with them, were complete. Scott
immediately placed his whole affairs in the hands of three trustees, and
by the 26th all his creditors had agreed to a private trust to which he
mortgaged all his future literary labours.
On March 15, he left for the last time his house in Castle Street; on
April 3; "Woodstock" was sold for the creditors' behoof, realising
L8228; on May 15, Lady Scott died, after a short illness, at Abbotsford.
"I think," writes Scott in his Diary, "my heart will break. Lonely,
aged, deprived of all my family--all but poor Anne; an impoverished,
embarrassed man, deprived of the sharer of my thoughts and counsels, who
could always talk down my sense of the calamitous apprehensions which
break the heart that must bear them alone. Even her foibles were of
service to me, by giving me things to think of beyond my weary
An expedition to Paris, in October, to gather materials for his "Life of
Napoleon." was a seasonable relief. On his return through London, the
King undertook that his son, Charles Scott, then at Oxford, should be
launched in the diplomatic service. The elder son, heir to the
baronetcy, was now with his regiment in Ireland.
The "Life of Buonaparte" was published in June, 1827, and secured high
praise from many, among whom was Goethe. It realised L18,000 for the
creditors, and had health been spared him, Scott must soon have freed
himself from all encumbrances. Before the close of 1829 he had published
also the "Chronicles of the Canongate," "Tales of a Grandfather," "The
Fair Maid of Perth" and "Anne of Geirstein," but he had been visited
also by several threatenings of apoplexy, and on February 15, 1830, was
prostrated by a serious attack. Recovering from this illness, Scott
resigned his office as Clerk of Session, and during the rest of the year
produced a great quantity of manuscript, including the "Letters on
Demonology and Witchcraft," and the series of "Tales of a Grandfather"
dealing with French history. April, 1831, brought with it a distinct
stroke of paralysis, yet both "Castle Dangerous" and "Count Robert of
Paris" were finished in the course of the year.
Sailing in October, in the "Barham," Sir Walter Scott visited Malta and
Naples, and came to Rome in April, 1832. In May he set out for home by
Venice, Munich and the Rhine, but his companions could hardly prevail on
him to look at the interesting objects by the way, and another serious
attack fell upon him at Nimeguen. He reached London on June 13, and on
July 7 was carried on board the steamer for Leith, and was at Abbotsford
by the 11th. Here the remains of his strength gradually declined, and
his mind was hopelessly obscured.
As I was dressing on the morning of September 17, a servant came to tell
me that his master had awoke in a state of composure and consciousness,
and wished to see me immediately. I found him entirely himself, though
in the last extreme of feebleness. "Lockhart," he said "I may have no
more than a minute to speak to you. My dear, be a good man--be
virtuous--be religious--be a good man. Nothing else will give you any
comfort when you come to lie here." He scarcely afterwards gave any sign
of consciousness, and breathed his last on September 21, in the presence
of all his children.
His funeral was unostentatious but the attendance was very great. He was
laid in the Abbey of Dryburgh, by the side of his wife, in the sepulchre
of his ancestors.
* * * * *
The Life of Robert Burns
John Gibson Lockhart was born, a son of the manse, at
Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire, on July 14, 1794. Receiving his
early education in Glasgow, he went, at sixteen, with a
scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. In 1816 he was called
to the Scottish Bar; but literature occupied him more than
law, and as early as 1819 he wrote the once popular "Peter's
Letters to his Kinsfolk." Next year he married Scott's eldest
daughter, Sophia. Lockhart was a leading contributor to the
early "Blackwood," where his fine translations of Spanish
ballads first appeared, and he edited the "Quarterly Review"
from 1825 to 1853. He died at Abbotsford on November 25, 1854,
and was buried at Scott's feet in Dryburgh Abbey. Lockhart's
forte was biography, and his "Life of Scott" ranks beside
Boswell's "Johnson." The "Life of Burns" was published first
in Constable's "Miscellany" in 1828, when the whole impression
was exhausted in six weeks. It passed through five editions
before the author's death. Though many lives of Burns have
appeared since, with details unknown to Lockhart, his
biography is in many respects the best we possess, and is
never likely to be superseded. Even Mr. Henley is "glad to
agree with Lockhart." It is this book that is the subject of
Carlyle's famous essay on Burns.
_I.--The Poet in the Making_
Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in a clay cottage at Alloway,
two miles south of Ayr, and near the "auld brig o' Doon." His father,
William Burnes, or Burness--for so he spelt his name--was from
Kincardineshire. When Robert was born he had the lease of a seven-acre
croft, and had intended to establish himself as a nurseryman. He was a
man of notable character and individuality, immortalised by his son as
"the saint, the father, and the husband" of "The Cottar's Saturday
Night." "I have met with few," said Burns, "who understood men, their
manners, and their ways, equal to my father." Agnes Brown, the poet's
mother, is described as a very sagacious woman, with an inexhaustible
store of ballads and traditionary tales, upon which she nourished
Robert's infant imagination, while her husband attended to "the
weightier matters of the law."
When Burns was between six and seven, his father removed to the farm of
Mount Oliphant, two miles from the Brig o' Doon. But the soil was poor,
and the factor--afterwards pictured in "The Twa Dogs"--so harsh and
unreasonable, that the tenant was glad to quit. In 1777 he removed about
ten miles to the larger and better farm of Lochlea, in the parish of
Tarbolton. Here, after a short interval of prosperity, some trouble
arose about the conditions of the lease. The dispute involved William
Burnes in ruin, and he died broken-hearted in February, 1784.
Meanwhile, at the age of six, Robert, with his brother Gilbert, was
learning to read, write, and sum under the direction of John Murdoch, an
itinerant teacher, who has left an interesting description of his pupil.
"Gilbert always appeared to me to possess a more lively imagination,"
says Murdoch, "and to be more of the wit, than Robert. I attempted to
teach them a little church-music. Here they were left far behind by all
the rest of the school. Robert's ear, in particular, was remarkably
dull, and his voice untunable. It was long before I could get them to
distinguish one tune from another. Robert's countenance was generally
grave and expressive of a serious, contemplative, and thoughtful mind.
Gilbert's face said, 'Mirth, with thee I mean to live;' and, certainly,
if any person who knew the two boys had been asked which of them was the
more likely to court the muses, he would never have guessed that Robert
had a propensity of that kind."
When Murdoch left the district, the father himself continued to instruct
the boys; but when Robert was about thirteen he and Gilbert were sent,
"week about, during a summer quarter," to the parish school of
Dalrymple. The good man could not pay two fees, or his two boys could
not be spared at the same time from the farm!
"We lived very poorly," says the poet. "I was a dexterous ploughman for
my age; and the next eldest to me was a brother [Gilbert], who could
drive the plough very well, and help me to thrash the corn. A
novel-writer might perhaps have viewed these scenes with some
satisfaction, but so did not I." Burns's person, inured to daily toil,
and continually exposed to every variety of weather, presented, before
the usual time, every characteristic of robust and vigorous manhood. He
says himself that he never feared a competitor in any species of rural
exertion; and Gilbert, a man of uncommon bodily strength, adds that
neither he, nor any labourer he ever saw at work, was equal to him,
either in the cornfield or on the thrashing-floor.
Before his sixteenth year Burns had read a large amount of literature.
But a collection of songs, he says significantly, "was my _vade mecum_.
I pored over them, driving my cart, or walking to labour, song by song,
verse by verse; carefully noticing the true, tender, or sublime from
affectation or fustian." It was about this date that he "first committed
the sin of rhyme." The subject was a "bewitching creature," a partner in
the harvest field, and the song was that beginning "Once I loved a
After this, though much occupied with labour and love, he found leisure
occasionally to clothe the various moods of his mind in verse. It was as
early as seventeen that he wrote the stanzas which open beautifully, "I
dream'd I lay where flowers were springing," and also the ballad, "My
father was a farmer upon the Carrick border," which, years afterwards,
he used to con over with delight, because of the faithfulness with which
it recalled to him the circumstances and feelings of his opening
manhood. These are the only two of his very early productions in which
there is nothing expressly about love. The rest were composed to
celebrate the charms of those rustic beauties who followed each other in
the domain of his fancy, or shared the capacious throne between them.
The excursions of the rural lover form the theme of almost all the songs
which Burns is known to have produced about this period; and such of
these juvenile performances as have been preserved are beautiful. They
show how powerfully his boyish fancy had been affected by the old rural
minstrelsy of his own country, and how easily his native taste caught
the secret of its charm.
In 1781, despairing of farming, he went to Irvine to learn flax-dressing
with a relative. He was diligent at first, but misfortune soon overtook
him. The shop where he was engaged caught fire, and he "was left, like a
true poet, not worth a sixpence." Gilbert Burns dates a serious change
in his character and conduct from this six months' residence in the
seaport town. "He contracted," he says, "some acquaintance of a freer
manner of thinking than he had been accustomed to, whose society
prepared him for overleaping the bounds of rigid virtue which had
hitherto restrained him."
He had certainly not come unscathed out of the society of those persons
of "liberal opinions" with whom he consorted in Irvine; and he expressly
attributes to their lessons the scrape into which he fell soon after "he
put his hand to plough again." He was compelled, according to the then
all but universal custom of rural parishes in Scotland, to do penance in
church, before the congregation, in consequence of the birth of an
illegitimate child. But not the amours, or the tavern, or drudging
manual labour could keep him long from his true calling. "Rhyme," he
says, "I had given up [on going to Irvine], but meeting with Fergusson's
'Scottish Poems,' I strung anew my wildly sounding lyre with emulating
vigour." It was probably this accidental meeting with Fergusson that in
a great measure finally determined the Scottish character of his poetry.
_II.--The Loves of a Peasant Poet_
Just before their father's death, Robert and Gilbert took the cold and
ungrateful farm of Mossgiel, in the parish of Mauchline, to which the
family now removed. The four years of Burns's connection with this place
were the most important of his life. It was then that his genius
developed its highest energies; on the works produced in these years his
fame was first established, and must ever continue mainly to rest; it
was then also that his personal character came out in all its brightest
lights, and in all but its darkest shadows; and indeed from the
commencement of this period the history of the man may be traced, step
by step, in his own immortal writings.
Burns now began to know that Nature had meant him for a poet; and
diligently, though as yet in secret, he laboured in what he felt to be
his destined vocation. He was never more productive than at this time,
when he wrote such skits on the kirk and its associates as "The Twa
Herds" (pastors), "Holy Willie's Prayer," "The Holy Fair," and "The
Ordination." "Hallowe'en," a descriptive poem, perhaps even more
exquisitely wrought than "The Holy Fair," also belongs to the Mossgiel
period, as does an even more notable effort.
Burns had often remarked to his brother that there was something
peculiarly venerable in the phrase, "Let us worship God," used by a
decent, sober head of a family introducing family worship. To this
sentiment we are indebted for "The Cottar's Saturday Night," the hint of
the plan and title of which were taken from Fergusson's "Farmer's
Ingle." It is, perhaps, of all Burns's pieces, the one whose exclusion
from the collection, were such a thing possible nowadays, would be the
most injurious, if not to the genius, at least to the character of the
man. In spite of many feeble lines and some heavy stanzas, it appears to
me that even his genius would suffer more in estimation by being
contemplated in the absence of this poem than of any other single
performance he has left us. Loftier flights he certainly has made, but
in these he remained but a short while on the wing, and effort is too
often perceptible; here the motion is easy, gentle, placidly undulating.
Burns's art had now reached its climax; but it is time to revert more
particularly to his personal history. In this his loves very nearly
occupy the chief place. That they were many, his songs prove; for in
those days he wrote no love-songs on imaginary heroines. "Mary Morison,"
"Behind yon hills where Lugar flows," and "On Cessnock banks there lives
a lass," belong to this date; and there are three or four inspired by
Mary Campbell--"Highland Mary"--the object of by far the deepest passion
Burns ever knew, a passion which he has immortalised in the noblest of
his elegiacs, "To Mary in Heaven."
Farming had, of course, to engage his attention as well as love-making,
but he was less successful in the one than in the other. The first year
of Mossgiel, from buying bad seed, the second from a late harvest, he
lost half his crops. In these circumstances, he thought of proceeding to
the West Indies. Presently he had further cause for contemplating an
escape from his native land. Among his "flames" was one Jean Armour, the
daughter of a mason in Mauchline, where she was the reigning toast. Jean
found herself "as ladies wish to be that love their lords." Burns's
worldly circumstances were in a most miserable state when he was
informed of her condition, and he was staggered. He saw nothing for it
but to fly the country at once.
Meanwhile, meeting Jean, he yielded to her tears, and gave her a written
acknowledgment of marriage, valid according to Scottish law. Her
father's wrath was not appeased thereby. Burns, confessing himself
unequal to the support of a family, proposed to go immediately to
Jamaica in search of better fortunes. He offered, if this were rejected,
to abandon his farm, already a hopeless concern, and earn at least bread
for his wife and children as a day labourer at home. But nothing would
satisfy Armour, who, in his indignation, made his daughter destroy the
written evidence of her "marriage."
_III.--Burns at His Zenith_
Such was his poverty that he could not satisfy the parish officers; and
the only alternative that presented itself to him was America or a gaol.
A situation was obtained for him in Jamaica, but he had no money to pay
his passage. It occurred to him that the money might be raised by
publishing his poems; and a first edition, printed at Kilmarnock in
1786, brought him nearly L20, out of which he paid for a steerage
passage from the Clyde. "My chest was on the road to Greenock," he
tells; "I had composed the last song I should ever measure in Caledonia,
'The gloomy night is gathering fast,' when a letter from Dr. Blacklock
to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes, by opening new prospects
to my poetic ambition."
Blacklock, the blind divine upon whom Johnson "looked with reverence,"
had read the newly published poems, and it was his praise of them that
directly prevented Burns from expatriating himself. "His opinion that I
would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh fired me so much that away I
posted for that city, without a single acquaintance, or a single letter
of introduction. The baneful star that had so long shed its blasting
influence in my zenith for once made a revolution to the nadir." In
Edinburgh, which Burns reached in November, 1786, he was introduced by
Blacklock to all the _literati_, and within a fortnight he was writing
to a friend: "I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as Thomas a
Kempis or John Bunyan; and you may expect to see my birthday inscribed
among the wonderful events in the Poor Robin and Aberdeen Almanacks,
along with the Black Monday and the Battle of Bothwell Bridge."
But he bore his honours in a manner worthy of himself. "The attentions
he received," says Dugald Stewart, "from all ranks and descriptions of
persons were such as would have turned any head but his own. I cannot
say that I could perceive any unfavourable effect which they left on his
mind." Scott, then a lad of fifteen, met him, and wrote a vivid
description of his appearance:
"His person was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish; a
sort of dignified plainness and simplicity, which received part of its
effect, perhaps, from one's knowledge of his extraordinary talents. His
features are represented in Mr. Nasmyth's picture, but to me it conveys
the idea that they are diminished as if seen in perspective. I think his
countenance was more massive than it looks in any of the portraits. I
would have taken the poet, had I not known what he was, for a very
sagacious country farmer of the old Scotch school--_i.e._, none of your
modern agriculturists, who keep labourers for their drudgery, but the
_douce gudeman_ who held his own plough. There was a strong expression
of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, I think,
indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large, and of a
dark cast, which glowed (I say literally _glowed_) when he spoke with
feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head,
though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time. His
conversation expressed perfect self-confidence, without the slightest
presumption. He was like a farmer dressed in his best to dine with the
laird. I do not speak in _malam partem_ when I say I never saw a man in
company with his superiors in station and information more perfectly
free from either the reality or the affectation of embarrassment. I was
told that his address to females was extremely deferential, and always
with a turn either to the pathetic or humorous, which engaged their
attention particularly. I have heard the late Duchess of Gordon remark
It needs no effort of imagination to conceive what the sensations of an
isolated set of scholars, almost all either clergymen or professors,
must have been in the presence of this big-boned, brawny stranger, with
his great flashing eyes, who had forced his way among them from the
plough-tail at a single stride; and it will always be a reflection in
their honour that they suffered no pedantic prejudices to interfere with
their reception of the poet.
Shortly after his arrival he arranged with Creech, the chief bookseller
in Edinburgh, to undertake a second edition of his poems. This was
published in March, 1787, the subscribers numbering over 1,500. Out of
money thus derived, he provided a tombstone for the neglected grave of
Robert Fergusson, his "elder brother in the muses," in the Canongate
churchyard. Then he decided to visit some of the classic scenes of
Scottish history and romance. He had as yet seen but a small part of his
own country, and this by no means among the most interesting, until,
indeed, his own poetry made it equal, on that score, to any other.
Various tours were, in fact, undertaken, the chief being, however, in
the Border district and in the Highlands. Usually he returned to
Edinburgh, partly to be near his jovial intimates, and partly because,
after the excitement attending his first appearance in the capital, he
found himself incapable of settling down contentedly in the humble
circle at Mossgiel.
_IV.--The Clarinda Romance_
During the winter of 1787--1788, he had a little romance with Mrs.
McLehose, the beautiful widow to whom he addressed the song, "Clarinda,
mistress of my soul," and a series of letters which present more
instances of bad taste, bombastic language, and fulsome sentiment than
could be produced from all his writings besides. It was the same lady
who inspired the lines which furnished Byron with a motto, and Scott
declared to be "worth a thousand romances ":
Had we never loved so kindly
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met--or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
At this time the publication of Johnson's "Scots Musical Museum" was
going on in Edinburgh; and Burns, being enlisted as a contributor,
furnished many of his best songs to that work. From his youth upwards he
had been an enthusiastic lover of the old minstrelsy and music of his
country; but he now studied both subjects with better opportunities and
appliances than he could have commanded previously; and it is from this
time that we must date his ambition to transmit his own poetry to
posterity, in eternal association with those exquisite airs which had
hitherto, in far too many instances, been married to verses that did not
deserve to be immortal. Later, beginning in 1792, he wrote about sixty
songs for George Thomson's collection, many of which, like "Auld Lang
Syne" and "Scots Wha Hae," are in the front rank of popularity. The
letters he addressed to Thomson are full of interesting detail of
various kinds. In one he writes:
"Until I am complete master of a tune in my own singing, such as it is,
I can never compose for it. My way is this. I consider the poetic
sentiment correspondent to my idea of the musical expression--then
choose my theme--compose one stanza. When that is composed, which is
generally the most difficult part of the business, I walk out, sit down
now and then, look out for objects in Nature round me that are in unison
or harmony with the cogitations of my fancy and workings of my bosom,
humming every now and then the air, with the verses I have framed. When
I feel my muse beginning to jade, I retire to the solitary fireside of
my study, and there commit my effusions to paper; swinging at intervals
on the hind legs of my elbow-chair, by way of calling forth my own
critical strictures, as my pen goes. Seriously this, at home, is almost
invariably my way."
But to return. During his second winter in Edinburgh, Burns met with a
hackney coach accident which kept him to the house for six weeks. While
in this state he learned from Mauchline that his intimacy with Jean
Armour had again exposed her to the reproaches of her family. The father
sternly turned her out of doors, and Burns had to arrange about a
shelter for her and his children in a friend's house. In the meantime,
through the influence of some sympathisers, he had been appointed an
officer of excise. "I have chosen this," he wrote, "after mature
deliberation. It is immediate bread, and, though poor in comparison of
the last eighteen months of my existence, 'tis luxury in comparison of
all my preceding life." However, when he settled finally with Creech
about his poems, he found himself with between L500 and L600; and he
retained his excise commission as a _dernier ressort_, to be used only
if a reverse of fortune rendered it necessary.
He decided now to exchange Mossgiel for Ellisland farm, about six miles
from Dumfries. As soon as he was able to leave Edinburgh, he had hurried
to Mossgiel and gone through a justice-of-peace marriage with Jean
Armour. Burns, with all his faults, was an honest and a high-spirited
man, and he loved the mother of his children. Had he hesitated to make
her his wife, he must have sunk into the callousness of a ruffian, or
that misery of miseries, the remorse of a poet.
Some months later he writes that his marriage "was not, perhaps, in
consequence of the attachment of romance, but I have no cause to repent
it. If I have not got polite tattle, modish manners, and fashionable
dress, I am not sickened and disgusted with the multiform curse of
boarding-school affectation; and I have got the handsomest figure, the
sweetest temper, the soundest constitution, and the kindest heart in the
country." It was during the honeymoon, as he calls it, that he wrote the
beautiful "O a' the airts the wind can blaw." He used to say that the
happiest period of his life was the first winter at Ellisland, with wife
and children around him. It was then that he wrote, among other songs,
"John Anderson, my Jo," "Tarn Glen," "My heart's in the Highlands," "Go
fetch to me a pint of wine," and "Willie brewed a peck o' maut."
But the "golden days" of Ellisland were short. Burns's farming
speculations once more failed, and he had to take up his excise
commission. "I am now," says he, "a poor rascally gauger, condemned to
gallop two hundred miles every week to inspect dirty ponds and yeasty
barrels." Both in prose and verse he has recorded the feelings with
which he first followed his new vocation, and his jests on the subject
are uniformly bitter. It was a vocation which exposed him to temptations
of the kind he was least likely to resist. His extraordinary
conversational powers led him into peril wherever he went. If he entered
an inn at midnight, after all the inmates were in bed, the news of his
arrival circulated from the cellar to the garret; and ere ten minutes
had elapsed, the landlord and all his guests were assembled round the
ingle; the largest punch-bowl was produced; and "Be ours this night--who
knows what comes to-morrow?" was the language of every eye in the circle
that welcomed him.
At home, too, lion-gazers from all quarters beset him; they ate and
drank at his cost, and often went away to criticise him and his fare, as
if they had done Burns and his black bowl great honour in condescending
to be entertained for a single evening with such company. Among others
who called on him was Captain Grose, the antiquary, and it is to this
acquaintance that we owe "Tam o' Shanter," which Burns believed to be
the best of all his productions.
_V.--Closing Years of the Poet's Life_
Towards the close of 1791 he gave up his farm, and procuring an excise
appointment to the Dumfries division, removed to the county town. His
moral course from this time was downwards. "In Dumfries," says Heron,
speaking from personal knowledge, "his dissipation became still more
deeply habitual. He was here exposed more than in the country to be
solicited to share the riot of the dissolute and idle." His intemperance
was, as Heron says, in fits; his aberrations were occasional, not
systematic; they were all to himself the sources of exquisite misery in
the retrospect; they were the aberrations of a man whose moral sense was
never deadened, of one who encountered more temptations from without and
from within than the immense majority of mankind, far from having to
contend against, are even able to imagine; of one, finally, who prayed
for pardon, where alone effectual pardon could be found.
In how far the "thoughtless follies" of the poet did actually hasten his
end, it is needless to conjecture. They had their share, unquestionably,
along with other influences which it would be inhuman to characterise as
mere follies. In these closing years of his life he had to struggle
constantly with pecuniary difficulties, than which nothing could have
been more likely to pour bitterness intolerable into the cup of his
existence. His lively imagination exaggerated to itself every real evil;
and this among, and perhaps above, all the rest; at least, in many of
his letters we find him alluding to the probability of his being
arrested for debts, which we now know to have been of very trivial
In 1795 he was greatly upset by the death, in his absence, of his
youngest child. Writing in January, 1796, he says: "I had scarcely begun
to recover from that shock, when I became myself the victim of a most
severe rheumatic fever, and long the die spun doubtful, until, after
many weeks of a sick-bed, it seems to have turned up life, and I am
beginning to crawl across my room, and once indeed have been before my
own door in the street."
But a few days after this Burns was so imprudent as to join a festive
circle at a tavern dinner, where he remained till about three in the
morning. The weather was severe, and he, being too much intoxicated,
took no precaution in thus exposing his debilitated frame to its
influence. It has been said that he fell asleep upon the snow on his way
home. The result was an acute return of his rheumatism, and his health
gradually got worse. He went to the Solway for sea-bathing, but came
back to Dumfries "visibly changed in his looks, being with difficulty
able to stand upright and reach his own door."
It soon became known that he was dying, and the anxiety, not of the rich
and the learned only, but of the mechanics and peasants, exceeded all
belief. Wherever two or three people stood together their talk was
solely of Burns. His good humour was unruffled, and his wit never
forsook him; but he repressed with a smile the hopes of his friends, and
told them he had lived long enough. The fever increased, and his
strength diminished, and he died on July 21, 1796. His funeral, attended
by ten or twelve thousand people, was an impressive and mournful sight.
The grave was at first covered by a plain tombstone; but a costly
mausoleum was subsequently erected on the most elevated site which the
churchyard presented. Thither the remains of the poet were solemnly
transferred on June 5, 1815.
It requires a graver audacity of hypocrisy than falls to the share of
most men to declaim against Burns's sensibility to the tangible cares
and toils of his earthly condition; there are more who venture on broad
denunciations of his sympathy with the joys of sense and passion.
That some men in every age will comfort themselves in the practice of
certain vices, by reference to particular passages both in the history
and in the poetry of Burns, there is all reason to fear; but surely the
general influence of both is calculated, and has been found, to produce
far different effects. The universal popularity which his writings have
all along enjoyed among one of the most virtuous of nations is of itself
a decisive circumstance.
On one point there can be no controversy; the poetry of Burns has had
most powerful influence in reviving and strengthening the national
feelings of his countrymen. Amidst penury and labour his youth fed on
the old minstrelsy and traditional glories of his nation, and his genius
divined that what he felt so deeply must belong to a spirit that might
lie smothered around him, but could not be extinguished. Burns "knew his
own worth, and reverenced the lyre." But he ever announced himself, as a
peasant, the representative of his class, the painter of their manners,
inspired by the same influences which ruled their bosoms; and whosoever
sympathised with his verse had his soul opened for the moment to the
whole family of man.
Short and painful as were his years, Burns has left behind him a volume
in which there is inspiration for every fancy and music for every mood;
which lives, and will live in strength and vigour, "to soothe," as a
generous lover of genius has said, "the sorrows of how many a lover, to
inflame the patriotism of how many a soldier, to fan the fires of how
many a genius, to disperse the gloom of solitude, appease the agonies of
pain, encourage virtue, and show vice its ugliness." In this volume,
centuries hence as now, wherever a Scotsman may wander he will find the
dearest consolation of his exile.
* * * * *
Martin Luther, "the monk who shook the world," was born Nov.
10, 1483, at Eisleben, in Germany. In 1507 he was ordained a
priest, and became popular almost immediately as a preacher. A
visit to Rome shocked him, and in revolt against the practice
of raising money by the sale of indulgences, he began his
career as a reformer. In 1518 he was summoned to Rome to
answer for his opinions, which now included a total denial of
the right of the Pope to forgive sins. He proceeded to attack
the whole doctrinal system of the Roman Catholic Church. For
this he was denounced in a papal bull and his writings were
condemned to be burned. In 1525 he married an escaped nun.
That Luther was a true child of his age may be seen in the
selections made from his "Table Talk." His shrewdness, humour,
plain bold speech, and his change of belief from an infallible
Church to an infallible Bible there appear, as also do his
narrowness of knowledge, asperity of temper, and
susceptibility to superstition. He must be judged by the mind
of his times, not by modern standards. We give some of his
strong opinions that have not borne the wear and tear of later
ages; but they are more than balanced by teaching what is
beautiful, as well as true. Luther died on February 18, 1546.
_God's Word and Book_
That the Bible is God's word and book I prove thus. Infinite potentates
have raged against it, and sought to destroy and uproot it--King
Alexander the Great, the princes of Egypt and Babylon, the monarchs of
Persia, of Greece, and of Rome, the Emperors Julius and Augustus--but
they nothing prevailed; they are all gone and vanished, while the book
remains and will remain. Who has thus helped it? Who has thus protected
it against such mighty forces? No one, surely, but God Himself, who is
the Master of all things.
The Holy Scriptures are full of divine gifts and virtues. The books of
the heathen taught nothing of faith, hope, or charity; they present no
idea of these things; they contemplate only the present, and that which
man, with the use of his material reason, can grasp and comprehend. Look
not therein for aught of hope and trust in God. But see how the Psalms
and the Book of Job treat of faith, hope, resignation, and prayer; in a
word, the Holy Scripture is the highest and best of books, abounding in
comfort under all afflictions and trials. It teaches us to see, to feel,
to grasp, and to comprehend faith, hope, and charity far otherwise than
mere human reason can, and when evil oppresses us it teaches how these
virtues throw light upon the darkness.
The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure or limit to
the fever for writing. The Bible is now buried under so many
commentaries that the text is nothing regarded. I could wish all my
books were buried nine ells deep in the ground by reason of the ill
example they will give. I would not have those who read my books, in
these stormy times, devote one moment to them that they would otherwise
have consecrated to the Bible itself.
_God's Dealing with Us_
How should God deal with us? Good days we cannot bear, evil we cannot
endure. Gives He riches unto us--then we are proud, so that no man can
live by us in peace; nay, we will be carried on heads and shoulders, and
will be adored as gods. Gives He poverty to us--then are we dismayed,
impatient, and murmur against Him.
God only, and not wealth, maintains the world; riches merely make people
proud and lazy. Great wealth cannot still hunger, but rather occasions
more dearth, for where rich people are there things are always dear.
Moreover, money makes no man right merry, but much rather pensive and
full of sorrow; for riches, says Christ, are thorns that prick people.
Yet is the world so made that it sets therein all its joy and felicity,
and we are such unthankful slovens that we give God not so much as a
_Deo Gratias_, though we receive of Him overflowing benefits, merely out
of His goodness and mercy. No man can estimate the great charge God is
at only in maintaining birds and such creatures, comparatively nothing
worth. I am persuaded that it costs Him yearly more to maintain only the
sparrows than the revenue of the French king amounts to.
_Points from "Popedom"_
I much marvel that the pope extols his church at Rome as the chief,
whereas the church at Jerusalem is the mother; for there Christian
doctrine was first revealed. Next was the church at Antioch, whence the
Christians have their name. Thirdly, was the church at Alexandria; and
still before the Romish were the churches of the Galatians, of the
Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians. Is it so great a matter that St.
Peter was at Rome? Which, however, has never yet been proved, nor ever
will be, whereas our blessed Saviour Christ Himself was at Jerusalem,
where all the articles of our Christian faith were made.
Prayer in popedom is mere tongue-threshing; not prayer but a work of
obedience. Hence the confused sea of howling and babbling in cells and
monasteries, where they read and sing the psalms and collects without
any spiritual devotion. Though I had done no more but only freed people
from that torment, they might well give me thanks for it.
Kings and princes coin money only out of metals, but the pope coins
money out of everything--indulgences, ceremonials, dispensations,
pardons; 'tis all fish comes to his net. 'Tis only baptism escapes him,
for children come into the world without clothes to be stolen or teeth
to be drawn.
I will not presume to criticise too closely the writings of the fathers,
seeing they are received of the church and have great applause, but
whoso reads Chrysostom will find he digresses from the chief points, and
proceeds on other matters, saying nothing, or very little, of that which
pertains to the business. St. Jerome wrote upon Matthew, upon the
Epistles to the Galatians, and Titus, but, alas, very coldly. Ambrose
wrote six books upon the first book of Moses, but they are very poor.
We must read the fathers cautiously, and lay them in the gold balance,
for they often stumbled and went astray. Gregory expounds the five
pounds mentioned in the Gospel, which the husbandman gave to his servant
to put to use, to be the five senses, which the beasts also possess. The
two pounds he construes to be the reason and understanding. Faithful
Christians should heed only the embassy of our blessed Saviour Christ,
and what He says.
None of the fathers of the church made mention of original sin until
Augustine came, who made a difference between original and actual sin,
namely, that original sin is to covet, to lust, and to desire, which is
the root and cause of actual sin.
_Hints for Preachers_
The good preacher should know when to make an end. A preacher that will
speak everything that comes into his mind is like a maid that goes to
market, and, meeting another maid, makes a stand, and they hold together
I would not have preachers in their sermons use Hebrew, Greek, or
foreign languages, for in the church we ought to speak as we use to do
at home, the plain mother tongue, which everyone is acquainted with. It
may be allowed in courtiers, lawyers, advocates, etc., to use quaint,
curious words. St. Paul never used such high and stately words as
Demosthenes and Cicero used.
Ambition is the rankest poison to the church when it possesses
preachers. It is a consuming fire.
When I preach I sink myself deep down. I regard neither doctors nor
magistrates, of whom are here in this church above forty; but I have an
eye to the multitude of young people, children, and servants, of whom
are more than two thousand. I preach to those. Will not the rest hear
It is said Occasion has a forelock, but it is bald behind. Our Lord has
taught this by the course of nature. A farmer must sow his barley and
oats about Easter; if he defer it till Michaelmas it were too late. When
apples are ripe they must be plucked from the tree or they are spoiled.
Procrastination is as bad as over-hastiness. There is my servant Wolf,
when four or five birds fall upon the bird-net he will not draw it; but
says, "Oh, I will stay until more come." Then they all fly away, and he
Occasion is a great matter. Terence says well, "I came in time, which is
the chief thing of all." Julius Caesar understood Occasion; Pompey and
Hannibal did not. Boys at school understand it not, therefore they must
have fathers and masters, with the rod, to hold them thereto, that they
neglect not time and lose it. Many a young fellow has a school stipend
for six or seven years, during which he ought diligently to study, but
he thinks, "Oh, I have time enough yet." But I say, "No, fellow; what
little Jack learns not great John learns not." Occasion salutes thee,
and reaches out her forelock to thee, saying, "Here I am, take hold of
me." Thou thinkest she will come again. Then says she, "Well, seeing
thou wilt not take hold of my top, take hold of my tail," and therewith
she flings away.
Whereto serve or profit such superfluity, such show, such ostentation,
such extraordinary luxurious kind of life as is now come upon us? If
Adam were to return to earth, and see our mode of living, our food,
drink, and dress, how would he marvel. He would say: "Surely this is not
the world I was in?" For Adam drank water, ate fruit from the trees,
and, if he had any house at all, 'twas a hut supported by four wooden
forks; he had no knife or iron, and he wore simply a coat of skin. Now
we spend immense sums in eating and drinking, now we raise sumptuous
palaces, and decorate them with a luxury beyond all comparison. The
ancient Israelites lived in great moderation and quiet. Boaz says: "Dip
thy bread in vinegar and refresh thyself therewith."
_Ministers and Matrimony_
I advise in everything that ministers interfere not in matrimonial
questions. First, because we have enough to do in our own office;
secondly, because these affairs concern not the church, but are temporal
things, pertaining to temporal magistrates; thirdly, because such cases
are in a manner innumerable; they are very high, broad, and deep, and
produce many offences, which may tend to the shame and dishonour of the
Gospel. Moreover, we are therein ill dealt with--they draw us into the
business, and then, if the issue is evil, the blame is laid altogether
upon us. Therefore, we will leave them to the lawyers and magistrates.
Philip Melancthon showing Luther a letter from Augsburg wherein he was
informed that a very learned divine, a papist of that city, was
converted, and had received the Gospel, Luther said, "I like best those
that do not fall off suddenly, but ponder the case with considerate
discretion, compare together the writing and arguments of both parties,
and lay them on the gold balance, and in God's fear search after the
upright truth; and of such fit people are made, able to stand in
controversy. Such a man was St. Paul, who at first was a strict Pharisee
and man of works, who stiffly and earnestly defended the law; but
afterwards preached Christ in the best and purest manner against the
whole nation of the Jews."
As all people feel they must die, each seeks immortality here on earth,
that he may be had in everlasting remembrance. Some great princes and
kings seek it by raising great columns of stone and high pyramids, great
churches, costly and glorious palaces and castles. Soldiers hunt after
praise and honour by obtaining famous victories. The learned seek an
everlasting name by writing books. With these and such like things
people think to be immortal. But as to the true everlasting and
incorruptible honour and eternity of God, no man thinks or looks after
When two goats meet on a narrow bridge over deep waters how do they
behave? Neither of them can turn back again, and neither can pass the
other because the bridge is too narrow. If they should thrust one
another they might both fall into the water and be drowned. Nature,
then, has taught them that if one lays himself down and permits the
other to go over him both remain without hurt. Even so, people should
endure to be trod upon rather than to fall into discord with one
_Strong Opinions Outworn by Time_
I should have no compassion on witches; I would burn all of them. We
read in the old law that the priests threw the first stone at such
malefactors. Our ordinary sins offend and anger God. What then must be
His wrath against witchcraft, which we may justly designate high treason
against divine majesty, a revolt against the infinite power of God. The
maladies I suffer are not natural but devils' spells.
Luther, taking up a caterpillar, said: "'Tis an emblem of the devil in
its crawling, and bears his colours in its changing hue."
The devil plagues and torments us in the place where we are most tender
and weak. In Paradise he fell not upon Adam, but upon Eve. It commonly
rains where it was wet enough before.
The anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought
not to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to
faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason they are all the
more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest
enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things.
I always loved music. A schoolmaster ought to have skill in music, or I
would not regard him; neither should we ordain young men as preachers
unless they have been well exercised in music.
Erasmus of Rotterdam is the vilest miscreant that ever disgraced the
earth. He made several attempts to draw me into his snares, and I should
have been in danger but that God lent me special aid. Erasmus was
poisoned at Rome and at Venice with epicurean doctrines. His chief
doctrine is that we must carry ourselves according to the time, or, as
the proverb goes, hang the cloak according to the wind. I hold Erasmus
to be Christ's most bitter enemy.
I never work better than when I am inspired by anger. When I am angry I
can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is
quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and
When the abbot throws the dice, the whole convent will play.
When men blaspheme we should pray and be silent, and not carry wood to
When Jesus Christ utters a word, He opens His mouth so wide that it
embraces all heaven and earth, even though that word be but in a
When I lay sucking at my mother's breast I had no notion how I should
afterwards eat, drink, and live. Even so we on the earth have no idea
what the life to come will be.
The two sins, hatred and pride, deck and trim themselves out as the
devil clothed himself in the Godhead. Hatred will be godlike; pride will
be truth. These two are right deadly sins; hatred is killing, pride is
A scorpion thinks that when his head lies hid under a leaf he cannot be
seen; even so the hypocrites and false saints think, when they have
hoisted up one or two good works, all their sins therewith are covered
Luther, holding a rose in his hand, said, "'Tis a magnificent work of
God. Could a man make but one such rose as this he would be thought
worthy of all honour, but the manifold gifts of God lose their value in
our eyes from their very infinity."
* * * * *
Honore Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, was born at Bignon,
near Nemours, on March 9, 1749, and died at Paris on April 2,
1791. His father was a most eccentric and tyrannical
representative of the French aristocracy, and Honore, a
younger son, inherited something of his violent temperament,
but was endowed with real genius. Entering the army, young
Mirabeau soon displayed an erratic disposition by eloping with
the young wife of an aged nobleman. He fled to Holland, but
was captured and imprisoned. Being at length liberated, he
turned to literature and politics, and soon gained celebrity
in both. His magnificent oratorical powers brought him rapidly
to the front in the period immediately anterior to the
outbreak of the Revolution. Mirabeau's "Memoirs, by Himself,
his Father, his Uncle, and his Adopted Son," published in
eight volumes in 1834, contain no original writings by
Mirabeau himself, except in the shape of extracts from his
speeches, letters, and pamphlets. The following epitome has
been prepared from the French text.
The Marquis of Mirabeau, father of Honore Gabriel, the subject of these
memoirs, was endowed with a mind of great power, rendered fruitful by
the best education. He had, however, become independent at too early an
age, and this had brought into play his natural inordinate vanity.
Honore Gabriel, since so famous under the name of the Count of Mirabeau,
was the fifth child of the marquis. Destined to be the most turbulent
and active of youths, as well as the most eloquent of men and the
greatest orator of his day, Gabriel was born with one foot twisted and
his tongue tied, in addition to which his size and strength were
extraordinary, and already two molars were formed in his jaw. At the age
of three the boy nearly lost his life from small-pox, and was thus
disfigured greatly for life; while the other children were, like the
parents, gifted with wonderful beauty.
Young Gabriel was a most precocious child, and he received an excellent
education. At the age of seven he was confirmed by a cardinal, but his
childhood was difficult of control, and chastisement from his father and
tutor was continual. His inquisitiveness was irrepressible. He relates
that at the family supper after his confirmation, "they explained to me
that God could not make contradictions--for instance, a stick with only
one end. I asked whether a stick which had but one end was not a
miracle. My grandmother never forgave me."
Placed under the kindly teaching of the Abbe Choquart in a military
school of high repute in Paris, Gabriel made marvellously rapid
progress, assiduously exercising his memory, which afterwards became a
prodigious repository of the most diversified knowledge.
On July 10, 1767, Gabriel entered the army, joining the Marquis of
Lambert's regiment. The young volunteer, who was now eighteen, behaved
well, and speedily gave evidence of the military talents he afterwards
displayed. But a quarrel arose over a love affair, which led to harsh
punishment by his colonel. The incident was bitterly resented by his
father, who condemned him without hearing his side of the matter, and
actually procured his imprisonment in the fortress of the Isle of Rhe.
When the young soldier came out of prison he unwittingly offended an
officer at Rochelle, who had been dismissed the service. The result was
a duel, in which the aggressor was wounded. Gabriel was appointed to
service in Corsica, with the rank of second-lieutenant, and here he
distinguished himself by his zeal, his military talents, and his
Young Mirabeau was, in September, 1770, transferred to Limousin, in west
Central France. Such was his energy that he was called "the hurricane."
Now began a series of troubles caused by bitter quarrels between his
parents, who were openly at variance. Each sought to gain an adherent in
their son, who was condemned to witness the wickedness and folly of both
in their ungovernable passion. The effect on the character of the young
count was deplorable.
Then ensued a singular episode. The marquis had determined that Gabriel
should marry before the age of twenty-three, and had fixed on Mary Emily
de Covet, only daughter of the Marquis de Marignane, eighteen years of
age, for his son's bride. She was plain, yet attractive, with a sweet
smile, fine eyes, and beautiful hair, and was gay, lively, sensible,
mild, and very amiable. Having been neglected by her father and
ill-treated by her mother, she showed no disinclination to marriage, and
in 1772 young Mirabeau obtained the hand of the wealthy heiress.
No sooner was the young count married than every attempt was made to
ruin him. He received no property with his bride, and his avaricious
father refused to advance him any money for necessary expenses. His
father-in-law offered to lend him 60,000 livres, but his father's
consent was indispensable, and this was sternly refused. Mirabeau,
harassed by creditors, was dragged into lawsuits, and his embarrassments
only set his father entirely against him. The marquis actually procured
a _lettre de cachet_, obliging his son to leave the home he had set up,
and to confine himself to the little town of Manosque.
Here domestic sorrow and the most painful circumstances assailed the
young exile. But these did not prevent him from pursuing serious studies
and composing his first work, the "Essay on Despotism." Misfortunes
accumulated. Chastising with a horsewhip a baron who grossly insulted
him, the count was again imprisoned, this time in the Chateau d'If, a
gloomy citadel on a barren rock near Marseilles.
On May 25, 1770, Mirabeau was transferred to the Castle of Joux, near
Pontarlier, where, on June 11, 1775, festivities were held, as at other
places, to honour the coronation of Louis XVI. Here Mirabeau enjoyed a
sort of half freedom, being allowed to visit in Pontarlier, and the
event ensued which, it must sorrowfully be owned, tarnished his name. In
a word, we see Mirabeau "ruin himself," by a fatal intimacy with the
young wife of the aged Marquis of Monnier. The two fled to Dijon, where
Mirabeau surrendered himself at the castle.
He was released after a short time and went on to Geneva, nearly
perishing in a storm on the lake. Returning to Pontarlier, he was joined
by Sophie Monnier, and the two left for Holland, and arrived at
Amsterdam on October 7, 1776. Mirabeau was naturally obliged to draw his
principal means of subsistence from his literary labours, and this,
perhaps, had been his motive for choosing Holland as his residence, for
at that period the Dutch booksellers entered largely into literary
Mirabeau and Sophie Monnier were arrested at Amsterdam on May 14, 1777.
Both were brought to France. She was placed in a convent at
Monilmontant, and Mirabeau was deposited on June 7 in the donjon of
Vincennes, and was subjected to every sort of privation, remaining in
confinement for forty-two months. His release marked the end of his
private life; his public and political life was about to begin.
_II.--Into Political Life_
The "Essay on Despotism" had been the first sign of Mirabeau's political
vocation, and the most singular instance, perhaps, of a war audaciously
declared against despotism by a young man bearing its yoke. The keynote
is that though the _natural_ man may not be inclined to despotism, the
_social_ man assuredly is disposed to be a despot. This spirit,
maintains Mirabeau, exists even in republics.
In 1784 Mirabeau visited England. One of his motives was to collect
materials for his "Considerations on the Order of Cincinnatus," a
treatise dealing with Washington and American independence. He was
greatly delighted with English scenery. "It is here," he says, "that
nature is improved, not forced. All tells me that here the people are
something; that every man enjoys the development and free exercise of
his faculties, and that I am in another order of things."
But he proceeds: "I am not an enthusiast in favour of England, and I now
know sufficient of that country to tell you that if its constitution is
the best known, the application of this constitution is the worst
possible; and that if the Englishman is as a social man the most free in
the world, the English people are the least free of any."
He resided in England from August to February, 1785. During that brief
period he began to write his "History of Geneva," and he showed his
versatility by composing for a young refugee clergyman a sermon on the
immortality of the soul. By the gift of this sermon he drew the exiled
preacher from poverty, for it was the means of obtaining for him a
Mirabeau sent forth from Paris several most able pamphlets on banking
and on share companies. These were written with energy and often with
violence. As they attacked many private interests they aroused against
their author much hatred, insult, and calumny. He was accused of
venality, though he was attacking and driving to despair powerful
stock-jobbers, who would have paid him magnificently for silence, could
he have been bought.
In July, 1785, Mirabeau went to Berlin. It is a singular fact that in
his various journeys some accident always befel him. On the way to
Berlin an attempt was made to assassinate him by some unknown enemies,
but he safely reached the German capital. King Frederick the Great, now
very aged, no longer received foreigners, yet he replied to a letter
from Mirabeau and fixed a day for seeing him at Potsdam.
Mirabeau informed the king that he had come to seek permission to study
the great military manoeuvres, and that he hoped to push on to Russia.
During this period he worked like a labourer all day at his writings.
Part of his time he spent at supper parties of the most tiresome
etiquette. The same laborious habits attended him everywhere, in prison
and in freedom, in his own country and in other lands. It was in Germany
that he conceived the idea of his treatise on "The Reform of the Jews,"
which is acknowledged to be one of his best works.
Frederick the Great died on August 17, 1786. Feeling that he could do
nothing useful, Mirabeau resolved at the close of 1786 to quit Berlin.
He was urged also by a special motive in which he took pride, and which
he thus described in a letter: "My heart has not grown old, and if my
enthusiasm is damped, it is not extinguished. I have fully experienced
this to-day. I consider one of the best days of my life that on which I
received an account of the convocation of the notables, which no doubt
will not long precede that of the National Assembly. In this I see a new
order of things which may regenerate the monarchy. I should deem myself
a thousand times honoured in being even the junior secretary of this
assembly, of which I had the happiness of giving the first idea."
Mirabeau was prodigiously occupied at Berlin. He often did not retire to
rest till one in the morning, but regularly rose at five, even in the
midst of severe winter. Without anything on but a simple quilted
dressing-gown, without stockings or waistcoat, he worked away without
even calling up his servant to light a fire. Besides his correspondence
in cypher, which occupied him much, he worked assiduously at his
"Prussian Monarchy," which was published in 1788.
On departing from Berlin the count wrote a most eloquent letter of
counsel to King Frederick William, appealing to him to cultivate peace,
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