But this state of almost nervous torture was as brief as it was painful, and my faculties became suddenly clear. The service of outposts was a branch of soldiership, at that period, wholly unpractised by the British troops; but I had seen it already on its most perfect scale in the Prussian retreat, which I and my hussars had our share in covering. My first step was to warn my soldiers and the dragoons of the probability of attack, and my second to call for a favourite quadrille, in which I saw all our guests busily engaged before I left the chateau. My next was to repeat my Prussian lesson in reconnoitring all the avenues to the house. This, which ought to have been our first act on taking possession, had been neglected, in the common belief that the enemy were in full retreat. The gallant captain of dragoons prepared to take a gallop at the head of a party along the chaussee, and ascertain whether there were any symptoms of movement along the road. He mounted and was gone. Posting the dragoons in the farm-yard, I went to the front to make such preparations as the time might allow for the enemy. Like the greater number of the Flemish chateaux, it was approached by a long avenue lined with stately trees; but it wanted the customary canal, or the fosse, which, however detestable as an accompaniment to the grounds in peace, makes a tolerable protection in times of war, at least from marauding parties. All was firm, grand, and open, except where the garden walls and hedges of the lawn shut it in. As the avenue was the only approach accessible to cavalry, and as this was the force which would probably be used for a coup-de-main, if it were to be attempted at all, I set all hands to work to secure it. Wild as the night was, my men wielded the spade and mattock with good will; and we had completed a trench of some feet deep and wide, half across the road, when I caught the trampling of cavalry at a distance. My chagrin was irrepressible; the enemy would be upon us before we had got through our work, and we must be taken or fly. My men worked vigorously; but the cavalry were upon us—and to my utter astonishment and infinite relief, our labours produced a roar of laughter. The party were our dragoons, who had looked for the French advance in vain, and were now amusing themselves with our waste of toil. We forgave them their jest; they passed, and we prepared to follow to our quarters. But still the French officer's report haunted me; the precision of its terms, and the feasibility of the enterprise itself, struck with new force; and even after I had given the word to move, I halted the men, and climbing a little pleasure turret by the side of the avenue, gave a parting glance round the horizon. Nothing was to be seen. The night was dark as a dungeon, and I prepared to descend, when at that moment the distant sound of a trumpet broke on the air. I listened, and thought that I recognised the French call for cavalry to saddle and mount. I sprang down; every man piled his arms, took spade and mattock in hand once more, and in a few minutes the trench was completed across the road. Still no further notice of approaching troops was to be heard; and I heard a low, but rather provoking laugh among my company. Still I determined to persevere, and ordering some of the trees round us to be cut down, formed a rude species of chevaux-de-frise in front of our trench. It was scarcely finished, when the distant trampling of cavalry was heard in the lull of the gale. All were now convinced, and dispatching a notice to the dragoons to be ready, we stood to our arms. Giving the strictest orders that not a word should be spoken, nor a shot fired, I waited for the enemy. The trampling increased every moment, and it was evident that the body of cavalry must be large, though of its actual numbers we could form no conjecture. They suddenly stopped at the entrance of the avenue, and I was in fear that my trou-de-rat would be discovered; but the national impatience soon spared me this vexation. The cavalry, hearing nothing in the shape of resistance, and not relishing the pelting of the storm in the open country, rushed in without further search, and came pouring on at the gallop. The avenue was long, and the whole corps was already within it, when the leading squadrons came at full speed upon my rude fortifications. In they dashed, into the very heart of my chevaux-de-frise. Nothing could equal the confusion. Some sprang over the trees, but it was only to be flung into the trench; some even leaped the trench, but it was only to be met by our bayonets. The greater number, startled by the cries of their unlucky comrades in front, attempted to rein back; but found it impossible, from the weight of the squadrons still pushing on from behind. At this point, while they stood a struggling mass, wholly unable to move either backward or forward, I gave the word to fire, and poured in a volley with terrible execution. An ineffectual firing of pistols was their only return. Some of their officers now rushed to the front, with the usual gallantry of their character, called on their men to advance, and charged the trench; but this dash only filled it with falling men and horses. I gave them a second volley, which was followed by a howl of despair; the whole of their leading squadron was brought down—every shot had told. The mass still stood, evidently taken by surprise, and wholly unable to extricate themselves. I now ordered our dragoons to mount, take a circuit to the head of the avenue, and, if possible, close them in. In a few minutes, I heard the effect of my order in their galloping through the enclosures, and in the shout of a charge at the further end of the avenue. The staff and other officers in the chateau had hurried out at the sound of our firing, and some had come up to us, and others had joined the dragoons. A proposal was now sent by a general officer to the commandant of the brigade, to surrender, with a threat of being put to the sword in case of an instant's delay. The brave Frenchman was indignant at the proposal, and threatened to hang the bearer of it to the next tree. But the British camp had palpably been alarmed by this time. Bugles and trumpets were heard in every direction. Our dragoons had already shut up the avenue; and after some slight discussion, the advance of a few squadrons more, which came up at the gallop, proved the total impossibility of escape, and the affair was at an end. This night's melee had no rival in the campaign; it put into our hands twelve hundred of the best cavalry in the French army, and almost wholly stripped the enemy of the means of protecting his flanks, while it made a most brilliant figure in the Gazette—the true triumph of the British soldier.
To me, it was a restoration to life from the depths of despair. It may be perfectly true, that many a post has been surprised, and many an officer captured, without being objects of penalty, or even of public observation; but my case was different. My character as a soldier was essential to my existence. The eyes of many, at home and abroad, were on me; and the scorn of one, wherever she was, would have been fatal to me. But of those bitter extremes I say no more; my spirit was buoyant with a sense that I had done my duty in the most effective style. Nor was I left to my solitary sense on the subject. My return to the chateau was as triumphant as if I had gained a pitched battle at the head of a hundred thousand men. Our fair guests, who had spent the hour before in the terrors of instant capture, were boundless in their congratulations and expressions of gratitude. The officers, to whom my defence had made the entire difference between a French prison and liberty, spoke in the manliest and most cheering terms of my conduct. The scene of the struggle was visited during the next day by every officer of the army who could obtain a horse and an hour's leave; and the report which was forwarded to the commander-in-chief contained language which was regarded as a sure pledge of promotion.
Guiscard hurried over to join in the congratulation. He had been employed until a late hour in sending despatches to his court, relative to the growing problems of our politics with Prussia; and taking the first opportunity of throwing aside the envoy, he came at a gallop to shake hands with me. His impatience to see the ground scarcely suffered him to sit down at table; his toast to the brave British army was given, and we went out to traverse the avenue. After having inspected every corner of it with his keen military glance—"You will find my theory right," said he; "war is always a succession of mistakes. There never has been a battle fought, in which even the successful general could not point out a series of his own blunders, any one of which might have ruined him. The only distinction is, that there are brilliant mistakes and stupid ones. Yours was of the former order—the Frenchman's of the latter. If, instead of sending his whole brigade headlong down the road, like clowns at a fair, he had dismounted half a squadron of his dragoons, and sent them to fire into the casements of the chateau, while he kept the rest of his men in hand in the neighbourhood, he must have captured every soul of the party, and by this time had you all fast at the French headquarters; but he blundered, and he has paid the price of blundering." To my laughing reply, "that there was at least some merit in the steadiness of the men who beat him"—"Of course," was his answer. "The English steadiness is like the English fire, the grand cure for the English contempt of the tactician. Yours is an army of grenadiers; you are fit for nothing but assaults: but it must be owned that your troops of old managed that part of their business well, and I dare say that the art is not lost among you yet. Still, there are other matters to be thought of. Pray," said he, turning his keen eye on me, "can any one in the chateau tell how near is the French army to-night?" I acknowledged my ignorance. "I ask the question," said he, "because I think it by no means improbable, that they are at this moment marching down upon you. Not that they can afford to lose a brigade of cavalry a-night, and I therefore think you safe enough for the twelve hours to come; but I am far from answering for the next twenty-four. Dampierre commands them; I know him well—he is a bold and also a clever fellow; the loss of his cavalry last night will leave him no alternative but to attack you or to meet the guillotine. Those are fine times to make a general officer look about him. My last letters from the Rhine state that the two generals of the two covering armies on the frontier have been put under arrest, and that they are now both on their way to Paris, from which Custine and Beauharnais will never return with their heads on their shoulders."
I shuddered at this fate of brave men, overcome only by circumstances, and asked whether it was possible that such a system could last, or in any case could be endured by men with swords in their hands.
"It can, and will," was the reply. "Soldiers are the simplest race of mankind, when they come in contact with the cunning men of cities. An army, showy and even successful as it may be, is always an instrument and no more—a terrible instrument, I grant you, but as much in the hands of the civilian as one of your howitzers is in the hands of the men who load and fire it. At this moment sixty commissioners, ruffians and cut-throats to a man—fellows whom the true soldier abhors, and who are covered with blood from top to toe—are on their way from Paris to the headquarters of the fourteen armies of the republic. Woe be to the general who has a will of his own! Those fellows will arrest him in the midst of his own staff, carry him off in the presence of his army, and send him to give a popular holiday to the Parisians, by his execution within half an hour after his arrival. So much for the power of an army."
"But Frenchmen are human beings after all. Must not those horrors revolt human nature?" was my question, put with indignant sincerity. He looked at me with a quiet smile.
"You are romantic, Marston, but you are of an age that becomes romance. When you shall have lived as long as I have done, and seen as much of the world as myself, you will know that it is utterly selfish. It may be true, that some generous spirits are to be found here and there, some fond hearts to cling to, some noble natures which inspire an involuntary homage for their superiority; but you might as well expect to be lighted on your way by a succession of meteors. In the world, you will find that every man carries his lantern for himself; and that whether small or great his light, the first object is to guide his own steps, with not the slightest care whether yours may not be into the swamp—unless, indeed, he may have a particular object in bewildering you into the very heart of it. But now, to more pressing affairs than my honest and luckless philosophy. Get leave from your colonel to take a ride with me. I feel a sudden wish to know what Dampierre is doing; and a few hours, and as few leagues, may supply us with information on points which your brave countrymen seem so constitutionally to despise. But recollect that I am a Prussian."
We returned to the table, which was crowded with visitors, and spent an hour or two in great enjoyment; for what enjoyment can be higher than the conversation of minds willing to give and receive intellectual pleasure? And Guiscard was never more animated, easy, and abundant, in communicating that pleasure. He was a model of the most accomplished order of the continental gentleman. He had commenced life as a scholar; a disappointment in his affections drove him into the army. He discovered that he was made for the profession; and, combining the accomplished diplomatist with the almost chivalric soldier, he had rapidly risen to the highest rank of the royal staff. But he had the still rarer qualities of a sincere heart, and was a firm and willing friend.
The orderly now returned with the leave for which I had applied. The post was left in charge of the captain of dragoons; and Guiscard and I, without mentioning our purpose, rode out quietly, as if to enjoy the cool of the evening. It was well worth enjoying. The storm had gone down at daybreak, and been succeeded by a glowing sun; the fields flourished again, and if I had been disposed to forget the tremendous business which might be preparing for the morrow, I might have lingered long over the matchless luxuriance of the Flemish landscape. There certainly never was one which gave slighter evidence of the approach of two hostile armies. From the first hill which we ascended, the view, for leagues round, exhibited nothing but the rich tranquillity of a country wholly agricultural; soft uplands, covered with cattle grazing; ploughed fields, purpling in the twilight; clumps of trees sheltering villages, from which the smoke of the evening fires rose slowly on the almost breathless air, giving an impression of the comfort and plenty of the meal within; and at intervals, some huge old chateau, with its buttressed and richly-wrought architecture—those carvings and colourings which so strikingly convey the idea of a past age of quaint luxury and lavish wealth—rose from the centre of its beech grove, glaring against the sunset, as if it had been suddenly covered with a sheet of gold. All was peace, and the few peasants whom we met, as the night fell, were all in the same tale, that there had been no patrols in their neighbourhood of late, and that, with the exception of the attack on the "outposts of the English," they had not heard or seen any thing of the French for a month before.
The night had now fallen, and though calm, it was one of remarkable darkness. We passed village after village, but by this time all were fast asleep, and except the disturbance of the house-dogs as we rode by, not a sound was to be heard. I felt every inclination to take my share of "nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep," and proposed to my companion to turn our horses into the first farm-yard, and "borrow an hour" or two's rest from the farmer's hospitality, and clean straw.
"I agree with you," was the answer, "that Dampierre is clearly not on this road; but that is no reason why he may not be on some other. On considering the matter, I think that we have been wrong in looking for him here; for his national adroitness is much more likely to have tried a movement in any other direction. He may be marching on either the right or the left of the spot where we are standing. And if he is the officer which I believe him to be, he is trying this game at this moment."
"What then is to be done, but ride back to our quarters, unless we should prefer being cut off by his advance?" was my question.
"One thing is to be done," was the reply—"we must not let ourselves be laughed at; and if we return with nothing more for our night's work than the story that we slept in a Flemish barn, we shall be laughed at. So far as I am concerned, I care nothing for the sneers of ignorance; but, my young friend, your late conduct has inevitably made you an object of envy already; and the only way to pluck the sting out of envy, is by giving the envious some new service to think of."
We now agreed to separate, and examine the country to the right and left for an hour precisely, meeting at one of the villages in the road, if no advance of the enemy were discernible within that time. We parted, and I commenced as comfortless an expedition as it would be easy to imagine. The Flemish cross-roads, never very passable, were now deep in mire; the rivulets, of which they are generally the conduits, had been swelled by the storm of the night before; and I floundered on for nearly the appointed time, in the full perplexity of a stray traveller. I was on the point of returning, when I observed a sudden light rising above some farm-houses, about half a league off. The light rapidly strengthened, and I rode forward, in some degree guided by its illumination. But after blazing fiercely for a while, it sank as suddenly as it rose; and I was again left bewildered among hedges and ditches. But a loud hum of voices, followed by the sound of many footsteps, now convinced me that a large body of men were near; though whether peasants roused by the fire, or battalions, I was still unable to discover. While I stood under cover of a clump of trees by the roadside, the question was settled by the march of a patrol of cavalry, followed at brief intervals by squadrons and light troops intermixed. It was evident that Dampierre meditated a surprise of the British forces, and that the whole of his skirmishers were already in motion. How long this movement had continued, or how near the enemy might already have approached to the British camp, was entirely beyond my conjecture; and for the first few moments, the probability of the surprise, and the possibility of my being already so completely within the range of the French march as to preclude my bearing the intelligence in sufficient time, made the drops of anxiety and perturbation roll down my forehead. But every thing must be tried. I no longer attempted to wind my way back through the network of lanes; but, in the spirit of an English sportsman, took the country in a straight line towards the British quarters. My horse, a thorough English hunter, evidently preferred leaping the Flemish fences to wading his way through the swamps; and I had the honour of bringing the first information, and the happiness of finding that I had brought it just in the right time.
The camp was immediately under arms; every preparation was made in a silence which gave me a high conception of the capabilities of the British soldier for every species of service; and, without a sound among ten thousand men, we waited for the approach of the enemy.
Dampierre's manoeuvre had been a dashing one—conceived and managed with the skill of an able officer. His purpose had been to throw his main body into the rear of our position; and while he drew off our attention by a false attack on our front, avail himself of the confusion of a night attack to crush us. Whether the fighting qualities of the Englishman would not have made him repent of his plan under any circumstances, is no longer the question; but the surprise was now wholly his own. The first volley which we poured into his columns, as they crept up stealthily towards our line, was so heavy that it finished the battle. By the blaze of the musketry, we could see the French masses actually rolling back upon each other, staggering and shaken like landsmen at sea, or like any man in an earthquake. Our cavalry were now ordered to follow; but the enemy were too quick in making their escape; and the intersected nature of the country forbade any continued pursuit. A few shots from our howitzers, which ripped up the ground after them, were all that we could send as our parting present; and the engagement, which began in such silence and sternness, finished in roars of laughter from all our battalions.
Day broke, and the order was issued to follow the French general. The troops, animated by the prospect of coming to action at last, and utterly wearied with the idleness of the camp, received the intelligence with shouts; and the whole moved rapidly forward. Dampierre, before his march of the previous night, had provided for casualty, by forming an intrenched camp in the famous position of Famars. It was strong by nature, and he had added to its strength by covering it with fieldworks, and a powerful artillery. It was late in the day before we came within sight of it; and its strength, from the height of its glacis—the natural glacis made by a succession of sloping hills—was all displayed to full and formidable advantage. The troops, fatigued with the length of the march under the burning sun of one of the hottest days which I ever felt, were halted at the foot of the heights; and the plans of attack proposed were various enough to have perplexed the Aulic Council itself. Lines of circumvallation, or bombardment, or waiting the effect of famine, were successively urged. But the British style prevailed at last over the scientific. The Guards were ordered to head the column which was to storm the lines in front, and columns on the right and left were put in motion at the same instant. We rushed forward under a general discharge of the French artillery and musketry, and in a quarter of an hour the position was in our hands. The difficulty of its approach, and the broken nature of the ground in its rear, enabled the French general to make his retreat with the chief part of his forces. But our prize was well worth the trouble; for we brought back two thousand prisoners, and the whole artillery in position.
The war had now begun in earnest; and our advance was unintermitted. On the eighth day from the storm of Famars, we again came in sight of Dampierre. He was now the assailant; our army, which had never exceeded ten thousand men, (such was the military parsimony of those days,) with the Prussian troops, and some of the smaller German contingents, were now unwisely spread to cover a line of nearly thirty miles. The French general had seized the opportunity of retaliating his ill fortune upon the allied troops. At daybreak we were roused by the tidings that the French had broken through our weak extended line in several places, and had got into the rear of the whole army. The force of the enemy, its direction, or its object, were alike matters of total ignorance; and, for some hours, it was impossible to obtain any exact information.
It was in vain that we adopted all the usual expedients, of detaching officers, examining peasants, or judging of the progress of the engagement by the sound of the advancing or retreating fire. We had only to wait, drawn up ready for action, and take our chance of the result. Of all the contingencies of the field, none is more perplexing; but I had a personal source of anxiety to add to the general vexation. I had every reason to believe that my excellent friend, Guiscard, had either fallen into the hands of the enemy, or had been killed on the night when we separated. If either misfortune had occurred, it was solely in consequence of his zeal for my character, and the thought inexpressibly distressed me. I had made the most persevering enquiries for him, but without any success; or rather, with a painful gathering of facts, all which told against my feelings. His horse had been found straying through the country; his helmet had been also found; and a fragment of a sabre, in a spot evidently much trampled, and which, therefore, appeared to be the scene of the personal rencontre in which he had probably fallen. Every thing had been found but his body.
At length, the firing, which had continued with more or less steadiness during the day, approached our position and we were ordered to advance. The country was now a portion of an ancient forest, and it was difficult to see in front of us beyond a few hundred yards. As we made way, we could hear not only the musketry but the shouting of the troops engaged; as, growing constantly more impatient, we pressed on, a mounted officer came galloping towards us. Judge of my astonishment and delight when I saw Guiscard. As he reined up beside me—
"I have not a moment," said he, "to speak to you; you shall hear of my adventures by and by. I was in as much fear for you as you probably were for me. But now, tell me where I am to look for the officer in command of the column."
The general was soon found, and Guiscard communicated to him that the enemy had concentrated his chief force directly in front of us, where a Prussian column had been posted; that the Prussians had resisted vigorously several successive attacks; but that the force converging on it was too powerful, and that it must speedily retire. "Then let it retire," was the general's reply, "and we shall take their place."
"Pardon me, general," was the prompt suggestion of the pupil of a more experienced school; "but, if you will permit me, I shall ride back to my countrymen, inform them of your advance, and make them hold their position until you come out from the forest upon the enemy's flank."
His opinion was received, and he put spurs to his horse and was gone. We now moved with all speed to the right of our former direction; and after half an hour's toiling through the intricacies of a wood on which no axe seemed to have fallen since the Deluge, passed round the enemy, and came full upon their rear. A few volleys, thrown in upon them in this state of alarm, broke them; the Prussian fire in front, and our's in the rear, made their disorder irreparable. In this crisis, Dampierre rushed forward with a group of aides-de-camp to restore the engagement, striking the fugitives with his sabre, and desperately exposing his person to the balls which now fell thick as hail around him. For a while he seemed to bear a charmed life; but a rifleman of the Prussian hulans took a sure aim. He fired, and I saw the unfortunate general fall from his horse. He had died instantly. A more gallant death, and scarcely a more expeditious one, than awaited the unsuccessful generals of the merciless Republic. We buried him on the spot where he fell, with the honours due to a distinguished soldier. Before nightfall the French had retired in all quarters; and the remnant of the troops hurried across the Flemish frontier, utterly disheartened and ruined.
This engagement, which was known long after as the battle of the forest of Vicogne, cleared the Netherlands, raised the fame of the British troops to the highest pitch, and left in their hands four thousand prisoners.
The councils of the allied camp now assumed a bolder tone. France was before us. The popular enthusiasm had been cooled by time and calamity. Defeat had taught the nation the folly of supposing that it could contend single-handed with Europe; and the only obstacle to our march to Paris was the line of fortresses erected by Louis XIV. The most powerful of those fortresses lay in the road by which the British columns were advancing; and it was with a singular mixture of rejoicing and anxiety, of ardour and awe, that I saw, at the breaking of a brilliant morning, spread beneath me the strong city of Valenciennes.
IT IS NO FICTION.
"Oh! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."—Hamlet.
"I am wrapp'd in dismal thinkings."—SHAKSPEARE.
I have been a dreamer all my life. The earliest recollections of my childhood are of dreams of greatness. My boyhood's visions were peopled with warlike tumults. There were no spring mornings to my brain even in early youth; my heart was clouded with shadow, and sadness reigned when mirth and careless glee should have been pre-eminent. My manhood has been a fitful, feverish, and painful existence. I have outlived all whom I ever cared for; I have seen those whom I idolized lie before me cold and senseless; and now, with every event vividly impressed upon my memory, each tone of the voice of her I loved dropping like liquid fire into my brain, and drying up the tears that would weep away my anguish—feeling all this with intensity, and longing for the free air of heaven, I find myself alone—desolate—and HERE!!
Oh! the horror of this prison-solitude—the anxious watching for the pale morning after sleepless nights—the horrible nights when fantastic shapes are alone visible, mocking at and jeering me—when the only sounds I hear are the ravings of some wretched maniac, confined, like myself, because we have made for ourselves a world, and our imaginations have created a presiding divinity; and, should a laugh disturb the silence, it is the outbreak of a maddened spirit seeking relief from thought—a laugh frightful, because a mockery—sad in its boisterousness—"the laugh which laughs not."
For many weary years I have been pent up in this prison, pining for freedom, hoping for things which never existed, conjuring up anticipations of a brighter future, calling upon her who made
"The starlight of my boyhood,"
to look down upon me from her blest abode, and woo me back to calmness by one gentle word, one loving glance; and then sinking into hopeless, bitter despondency, when I remembered that she was gone, and that I should see her no more.
Sometimes I can think of her in her exquisite beauty, and my soul drinks in, as it were, the sweet and liquid tones of the voice which once spoke peace to me, and, fancying her again before me, I sink into an unquiet slumber, till some hideous dream oppresses me, and I see the fair brow of my "Julia" contracted, withered; and instead of her silvery voice of enchantment, a hissing sound escapes the lips I have worshipped. I rise, and try to approach, but she recedes. I awake—I start from my uneasy bed—I find this horrible picture, which bore the impress of reality, is but a dream. I awake to the consciousness that my beloved is dead, and that my eyes will gaze upon her beauty no more.
How few there are in this busy world who, when passing those abodes of wretchedness—"private madhouses"—can imagine the agony, the misery, the despair that dwells there! But to my history.
I was the only child of General Sir Frederick and Lady Charlotte B——. I was reared in luxury; the rude air was scarcely allowed to blow upon my delicate frame. I can remember now, though years have passed, and sorrow has bowed me—I can remember the happy days when my wearied head was pillowed on the bosom of my mother, and, after she had sung me to sleep with some wild melody, she would place me in my small luxurious cot, and watch over me with those deep-loving eyes, and be the first to comfort and re-assure me if uneasy dreams—for even then I was a dreamer—made me awake to sorrow. But my mother died. Even now I shudder at the recollection of the desolateness of my agony when I knew I had looked on her for the last time. Even now I can feel the coldness which crept over me as I laid my cheek to hers. My blood was frozen. I could not weep. Oh! tears would have been a relief, but they were denied me; and though I saw her taken from my embrace, and her beloved form laid in the vault, I could still gaze with speechless agony—but I wept not.
How I wished for the quiet of the grave; for even then there was a whirlwind within my bosom, and my sensitive heart shrank from holding converse with, or bestowing confidence on another as freely or unreservedly as I had done with the dear being whom I had lost.
Shortly after this event my father was ordered upon foreign service, and my childhood was passed among relatives who were strangers to me. It was a childhood without love. I remembered my mother, and none could supply her place. I could not trust in another as I had trusted in her. In my sorrows, real or imaginary, none other could comfort me. I longed for my childhood's resting-place, where I might again pillow my aching head, and sleep once more the calm sleep hallowed by a mother's matchless love.
At an early age I was sent to one of our great public schools, and there, although I endured some hardships, yet I experienced also something like the pleasures and pastimes of boyhood.
From having been a weakly, delicate child, I grew strong and active; but a gloom was ever upon me.
In my moments of relaxation I would join some of my companions in their games of play; but even then a dark phantom pursued me, and I would fancy a shadowless spirit was after me: if I ran it always followed me with its noiseless steps, and my constant fear was, that it would overtake me. This was madness—aye, I can see it now—it was madness coming upon me.
I frequently used to endeavour to dispel the illusion by reading; but if I raised my eyes from my book there was the figure, looking at me and sighing, and its lips would move to speak—but there was no sound.
I have sat for hours watching this bane of my existence. I have sat till my eyes were fixed from fright, and I have tried to move, but I felt chained to the spot, and the fetters that appeared to bind me, seemed of cold heavy steel, that fell on my whole body and paralyzed me. Then I could feel my heart growing dead, and yet throbbing with those dull, audible throbs, till at last I have shrieked in the agony of my horror, and only then would the dark being leave me—but it left me moody and mad.
I had one friend at school who would soothe me by gentle words, and tell me my fears were but fancy, and he would hold my hands until I slept, and lost, for a time at least, the phantom which pursued me.
That friend is dead. I have outlived him. Why should the madman live?
When I was about sixteen a new life opened to me. There came as a visitor to one of the ladies belonging to the establishment, a young and lovely girl. I first saw her at the private chapel belonging to the school. The moment I looked at her a gush of hitherto unknown pleasure came to my heart. I felt that I could love her.
I saw her again and again. I have stood for hours by the house in which she was, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Sometimes I was successful—more frequently not—but it was something to hope for. Once I fancied that her eye fell upon me. Oh, how I was repaid by that one pure glance!
While she remained at ——, my life was one of bright and vivid fancy, and I was cheered by the angel Hope; but at length her visit came to a termination; yet, though I knew she had departed, I would go daily to my accustomed watching place, and gaze until I fancied the beautiful girl was again before me.
At the usual period my school days ended, and my college life began. I was entered at Christ Church, Oxford. I read hard, and obtained the highest honours. My fame was brilliant. I was talked of, and marked by my superiors as a rising man.
Shortly afterwards, I was returned as one of the members of a family borough in my native county, and my first speech in Parliament met with general applause. The world called me a fortunate man. Oh! they little knew the nights of horror I passed—the battling I had with my attendant phantom, which still pursued me, blighted me. But I was mad; and the excitement of madness was called energy.
How often I have laughed them to scorn, as I have sat alone with the dark spirit!
My sole ambition was that the girl whom I had seen and admired might hear of my career; and that, with honours crowded upon me, I might see her again, that I might place my laurel crown at her feet, lay bare my heart's best feelings, my undying love for her, and prove to her how entire was my devotion, how earnest my worship.
I saw many young and lovely girls; and I was told that mothers looked upon me as a desirable match—but I was true to my first love. I remembered her in the perfection of maiden beauty—I wished for none other; and to see her again was my sole hope in life.
After a season of unceasing gaiety and dissipation—sick of London and its vanities—I determined to travel, and for seven years I was absent from my native land.
I was recalled to attend the deathbed of my father. I had seen but little of him; he had no sympathy with me, and in heart we were strangers to each other. He was proud of my talents, and I was an only son; but he never bestowed any real affection on me. I honoured him because he was my parent; but I never loved him as I ought to have loved a father.
He died, and I succeeded to the baronetcy and estates; but I was already tired of life—wretched in the midst of my splendour. In a word—I was mad.
At the table of a friend I met a man a few years my senior, whom I had known at school. We renewed our acquaintance; and I accepted an invitation to dine at his house, to meet some old schoolfellows.
I consented to go, but not cheerfully, for a moody state of mind was coming over me. I can remember the struggle, the exertion it was to dress for the party. Twenty times I was tempted to send a message saying I was too unwell to go, but my better angel prevailed—and I went. To what an eventful period was that evening but the prelude!
My friend met and welcomed me with a cordiality which somewhat cheered me; but I had a weight on my spirits from which I could not rouse myself, and most reluctantly accompanied Sir Charles Tracey, with faltering steps and an aching heart and brow, into the inner drawing-room, to be introduced to his wife, Lady Tracey.
She was seated on a low ottoman, with her back to the door, reading. She arose as her husband presented me to her as his old friend, Sir Frederick B——. She turned towards me, and for a moment I was overpowered. I beheld before me the creature I had so long pined for—so earnestly searched for—whose memory I had so devotedly and entirely worshipped.
With exquisite grace she extended her hand to welcome her husband's guest, and as I held those small taper fingers in mine, thick coming fancies crowded upon me. I was again the schoolboy—the anxious, ardent schoolboy, longing even for a look from this lovely woman, whose hand I now held in mine.
Hot tears rushed into my eyes, and I bent over the fair hand to conceal them.
This momentary cloud passed away, and while seated by her, I forgot that we had ever been parted, and imagination peopled a world of love—a paradise of hope.
"But she in these fond feelings had no share."
The years which had passed, had changed her from a lovely girl into the more matured loveliness of the matron.
When I had last seen her, her hair, which was a rich and shining black, hung in natural and graceful curls over her beautiful and classically formed head. Now the thick and luxuriant mass was gathered into a knot behind, and laid in soft bands over her pure and polished brow.
Her eyes were of that deep full blue which is so rare, and were large and bright, and full of fire and spirit, which at times gave an appearance of haughtiness to her noble countenance; her throat, neck, and arms, were white as ivory, and formed in the most perfect mould; her height was commanding, and her figure exquisitely proportioned.
Before she spoke I could only look at her with wonder, that any thing so glorious could be earthly; but the instant she addressed me, a peculiar witchery played over her features and about her mouth; and my wonder was instantly changed into love and adoration, and I drank in with eagerness the silvery sweetness of her voice.
I fancied on this night that Lady Tracey bestowed more attention on me than on her other guests; for women have an intuitive tact in discovering when a man admires devotedly.
For that night I lost my dark phantom, I slept a sweet sleep, dreaming of things which could never be accomplished; and my waking vision, as wild and improbable, was that she might one day return my love.
I would not lose sight of my newly found treasure. I called at her residence. I was admitted. Again I gazed; and worshipped. Lady Tracey looked more lovely by daylight than with the full blaze of candle-light upon her beauty. There was a delicacy about her complexion no daylight could impair; but it spoke also of a delicacy of constitution which made me tremble as I gazed.
The fascination of her manner, the elegance of her movements, her light and airy tread, her musical voice, her bright but subdued laugh; all these combined made me idolize her.
There is but one sun in heaven: there was but one Julia to my eyes on earth. Her shadow had fallen on my heart, as the sun on an island far away from land in the lonely sea. It was filled with light and verdure, and all my best feelings were warmed to ripeness by her glowing smile.
We conversed together on poetry, music, history, the arts; and I discovered she possessed a refined and superior intellect. A sparkling tincture of satire mingled with her mention of men and things; but while she did this with perfect temper and gentleness, it gave a brilliancy to her conversation not to be described. She expressed a wish for a book which I had the happiness to possess; here was an opportunity for another visit. Again and again we met, and I was intoxicated with love; but I saw no reciprocal feeling on her part. She was the same gentle and charming being; but she bestowed no love upon the poor visionary who adored her.
On the days we met I was gay and happy; but on the intervening ones I was in despair. All my darkest thoughts came back upon me, fraught with even greater horrors. I tried to battle with my evil spirit, but I could not subdue it. It grasped me tightly in its fetters; and I had no respite until I was again in the presence of my Julia. The smallest sound of her voice, with its silvery sweetness, broke the sad chain which had bound me, and I was free to look—to love—to worship again. Oh, why did not these moments of rapture last for ever! This holy calm, like an enchanted circle, into which my spirit of evil dared not venture, why was it broken? Why did sickness, and sorrow, and madness—yes, furious, hopeless, desponding madness—darken those sunny days? Why did death come to her, and thick clouds to me?
The sky mocks me with its gemmed radiance. The stars shine on brightly; but they fail to give light and hope to me. I have gazed on them with her. I have seen her stand with her fair brow raised, and her lovely face bathed in moonlight; but, as the pale beams danced around her, to my eyes her own glory dimmed all other brightness.
The winds howl, and the trees wave to and fro in the tempest, and with every blast comes a shriek, as if Julia were in despair, and I arise to rush to her rescue; but the clanking chain of the maniac binds me. I try to break my bonds, but they clasp me; and my hideous companion, the phantom, jeers at me; and I hear the voice of my beloved receding further and further from me, till, with an agonized moan, it dies away in the distance.
And this the world calls fancy—the fantastic vision of a madman's brain!
There was never a voice like her voice; and though the winds rage tempestuously among the waving branches of the storm-tossed trees, I hear the liquid music of her accents above all, and I strain my eyes to catch a glimpse of her person, but there is nothing; and I crouch down again in my chains and my madness on my desolate bed, feeling how utterly—how entirely, I am alone.
An interruption occurred in our intercourse, in consequence of Sir Charles Tracey being obliged to go abroad, on business connected with the state. His lady accompanied him, and they were absent for some months. How I spent these months, I scarcely know. I avoided all society—I felt moody—wretched—despairing. I grew violent. Restraint became necessary. Then, indeed, I knew that I was mad. Life was a blank; and some weeks passed while this dark cloud was upon me.
At last, though my recovery had been a work of time, I was called convalescent, and the violence of my frenzy abated.
I heard with joy that Sir Charles and his lady had returned to town. I thought the hour would never come when I might set out on my visit.
I flew, rather than walked, to her residence. I felt startled and alarmed as I trode the streets; for I had not been out for months, and I fancied every one stared at me—that everyone knew I was mad; but the one darling hope of seeing her cheered me on.
At last I reached the house. I was admitted; and in a moment I was by the side of Julia. She was looking pale and ill, but very lovely.
I rushed towards her. I knelt by her side. I took her cold hand in mine, and kissed it ardently. A bright colour suffused her cheek. She endeavoured to withdraw her hand from my grasp; but the demon was within me. I held that pale, small, fragile hand firmly; and pressed it again and again to my lips, and my throbbing, bursting heart. I laughed aloud and wildly, and she looked at me fearfully. She had discovered my secret, and she saw that I was mad.
"You, too, have been ill?" she said.
The honied accents of that beloved voice fell on my ear like dew to the parched flower. I was calmed in a moment, and I endeavoured to look coldly on her who was life—light—all to me in this world.
I found she had been dangerously ill, and I felt, as I looked on her imperial loveliness, that she was not destined long for this world.
Daily I saw her. I could not see enough of one I loved so desperately; and I feigned calmness while I endured agony—but my madness ruined me at last.
One wretched day—I spoke to her of love. I told her of my devotion—my hopeless devotion for so many years. I knelt by her side—I passed my arm round her waist—and for one brief moment I rested my scorching, maddened brow upon her bosom. It was only a moment of reality—but an eternity of bliss in the recollection.
I strained her fragile form to my breast. I kissed her pale cheeks—her brow—her lips. She moved not. I found she had fainted. I thought she was dead, and my brain reeled.
I raised her beautiful form in my arms, and laid her gently on a couch.
She was like marble—so cold, and pale, and breathless. I called no one to my assistance—I was the madman—the desperate, heart-broken madman—and I saw before me the ruin I had wrought.
How long this lasted I cannot tell; I only know my feelings were worked to frenzy. I called upon her by name; I conjured her to look at me, to speak to me once—but once more.
I longed for tears to cool the burning heat of my brain. In my agony, I laughed and shrieked aloud; I could not control myself.
She opened her eyes, those large, bright, lustrous eyes, and looked, I thought, kindly on me. How those glances entered my soul!
"Speak to me, Julia, forgive me," I said. She smiled, and extended her hand. Her eyes were in a moment fixed and glassy. She tried to speak, when, O God! as her lips separated, the life-blood gushed from her heart, and the purple stream flowed over her neck and bosom.
I was paralyzed—I moved not—I looked on horror-stricken.
She made one movement with her hand, and then it fell lifeless by her side. She gave one deep sigh, and all was over. I saw that she was dead, but I wept not. I stood by, a miserable madman, my heart heaving with agony, but my eyes refusing to weep, and laughing that violent, horrible laugh, that mockery of mirth which belongs only to the maniac's ravings.
I stood by the couch—I bathed my burning forehead with her blood—I saw that beautiful being cold and motionless, her eyes closed, and the lofty brow damp with the dews of death. I saw this and yet lived on.
There was stillness, and gloom, and death, around me, but I was not alone. I felt that creeping consciousness that my evil spirit was near. I raised my eyes and saw the phantom—the dark and hideous one; my old companion as standing by me—muttering and mocking at my grief. I shrank from the fiend.
I drew closer to the loved form of her I adored. I took her cold hand and placed it on my burning brow. I can feel the death-like coldness now where that small hand lay. I closed my eyes and tried to pray; but fiendish shouts of laughter rang in my ears, and I felt that an evil spirit was by my side. My whole frame quivered with suppressed agony. I turned. I saw it move; and the shadowless hand was raised as if to touch the precious and costly form of her I loved. I can remember no more; all after for some time was gloom and misery. * * *
Wild spirits are dancing around me, bearing in their arms the dear form of my Julia. Sometimes her voice breaks the stillness of my chamber in the darkness of night, for I never sleep—my brain is too hot for sleep. Sometimes I am roused by feeling the softness of her light taper fingers on my brow, and then I start from my uneasy and wretched bed to look for her once more; but instead of her I see my dark spirit the demon, watching me with that untired eye, following me with that noiseless step, that shadowless form, and then falling on my bed, I bury my face in my pillow, and try to pray for peace, and for tears—but both are denied me.
The sun mocks me with his bright, clear, dancing beams speaking of life, and hope, and joy. It brings back the memory of that wretched day when I had killed by my burning passions the only woman I had ever loved.
She was, indeed, the sun of my gloom; and, without her, I am as a captive in a darkened cell, through the gratings of which thoughts of her stream in, and make a dim twilight—a sad satisfaction. Oh! if I were to be false to her, my soul would be a void; my memory, a curse; my heart, a heap of ashes.
I see again, with terrible reality, that graceful form—that regal face—dead, yet smiling—as I last saw her in that curtained chamber, with the sun shining in glory through the crimson drapery, and shedding a warm glow on the inanimate features.
Even now I see her. I see that last look of unsullied purity and fear. I feel again that warm blood, as it trickled down and fell on my hands and face, as I knelt before her. It fell on my forehead, and I know that it is eating in, deeper and deeper, towards my brain.
Her last words ring in my ears; her last smile is my beacon, my only ray of hope, luring me on towards a happier future.
There is a fire kindled within me that will dry up every thought but recollection of her; for every circumstance connected with her is impressed on my memory with a vivid distinctness.
Can it be?—the thought sometimes occurs to me, with a balmy and consoling power, like that fragrant wind from the Spicy Islands, which the mariner feels blowing cool upon his brow, as he lies becalmed, in the still noon, on the wide and desert sea? Can it be, that the devotion of a lifetime—such as my devotion has been—may be repaid by association in eternity?
May I dare to hope to live hereafter in the shadow of her glory? Shall we meet again in that bright land?
No—the vision is too joyous for the poor maniac, her murderer. I shall see her no more—we are separated for ever!
Hell—deep, deep hell—is the madman's portion; and heaven, that pure and distant clime, is thy resting-place for ever—thy radiant home—thy peaceful haven—my lost—my adored—my sainted Julia!
THE BURNS' FESTIVAL.
Scotland has of late years been exposed to perilous influences. Unused, from its older form of representation, to popular excitement, and stimulated by example from without, the nation threw itself headlong into the revolutionary current which swept the whole empire at the period of Parliamentary Reform, and, with characteristic fervour, seemed inclined to riot in the novel element. Whenever symptoms of such a disposition appear in the body politic, there is manifest danger that, in the new accession of power, the old and sacred landmarks may be disregarded, and little heed be given to the mutual dependence and common interests of every class of society. Thus agitated and disturbed, the Scottish people, once jealously national, and so proud of that nationality that it had passed into a byword throughout Europe, might have lost their cohesive power, loosened the cord which bound the social rods together, and formed themselves into separate sections with apparently hostile interests. Fortunately, however, there was a strong counteracting influence. Even when the storm was wildest, and the clash of conflicting opinions most discordant, it was impossible to eradicate from the minds of any order the vast and stirring memories of the past. New rights might, indeed, be claimed; but it was not alleged that there had been any abuse of the old. Nothing had occurred to weaken the esteem with which the lower ranks were accustomed to regard the ancient aristocracy of the country; and accordingly, throughout the whole of that protracted contest, fervid and determined as it was, there was less rancour shown than might have been expected in the course of so great a political change. As the excitement subsided, the kindly feeling, which never had been extinguished, began more palpably to revive. Before the epoch of agitation approached, we were a peaceful and a happy people. The peerage, the gentry, the yeomen, and the peasantry—all classes were bound together with the links of respect and of affection. The old hereditary attachment between the orders had not been broken. The poor man was proud of the noble, because the noble bore a name conspicuous in the annals of his country; because he was the descendant of those who had fought and died for Scotland, and who had identified their honourable renown with hers; because he was a man every way worthy to bear the titles so gloriously achieved; and, more than all perhaps, because he loved and venerated the poor. And for that love and veneration the noble had ample grounds. Ancient as his race might be, the yeomanry and peasantry of Scotland were yet as ancient in theirs. Not one step of honour could his fathers have gained without the help of the fathers of those who were now living upon his hereditary soil; and the old spell-words of the land were common to them both. Nor was there to be found in wide Europe a better or a braver race. They were industrious, faithful, loyal; they were attached without servility, independent without rudeness, and intelligent to a degree that excited the admiration and the wonder of the stranger. No wonder that the mere thought of estrangement, in such a society as this, should have stricken the bravest bosom with terror, and woe, and dismay! Yet so troublous was the aspect of Europe then, that such fear was not utterly unfelt; and it was the apprehension of that calamity, more than any other worldly cause, that dimmed the soul and darkened the spirit of that great and good man, Sir Walter Scott, in his declining years; for all his large affections were bound up and entwined with the interests of Scotland, and, had the sacrifice been required of him, he would gladly have laid down his life to avert from her the perils which he then foresaw.
These few remarks we cannot consider as inappropriate to our present subject. We have once more been joyful spectators of a truly national gathering. Once more we have seen Scotsmen, of every grade and degree, assemble together without a tinge of party purpose, to do honour to the memory of a poet who sprang from the ranks of the people, and who was heart and soul a Scotsman in his feelings, his inspiration, and, it may be, in his errors and his prejudices also. It was a stirring and exciting spectacle, such as no other country could have exhibited—to behold peer and senator, poet and historian and peasant—the great and the small, the lettered and the simple of the land—unite, after fifty years of silence, in deep and sincere homage to the genius of one humble man. Nor did they assemble there because his genius was greater than God, in his bounty, had bestowed upon others, but because he had used it for the glory and exaltation of his country; because he loved her with an ardour the most vivid and extreme; because he had shed the light entrusted to his charge both on the lofty dwelling and on the lowly hearth, but most brightly and cheeringly upon the latter, for that was his peculiar charge. We feel assured that the events of that day, and the sentiments which were then inspired and uttered, will produce a marked effect upon the disposition of the country at large. It seemed as if all classes had spontaneously assembled to join hands above the grave of Robert Burns, and then and there to renew the vow of enduring reconciliation and love.
We shall now proceed to give a short account of the proceedings of the day. In our climate, the state of the weather on public occasions is always regarded with anxiety; for enthusiasm, however warm, is apt to expire beneath a deluge of northern rain. On the previous evening the sky promised well. A brilliant sunset and a warm wind seemed security for a placid morrow; and although the glare of the great furnaces in the neighbourhood of Glasgow glowed somewhat ominously large as the night wore on, we retired to rest rather in hope than resignation. But dismal, indeed, was the prospect when we awoke. A vaporous grey mist had entirely usurped the heavens, and the plash of weary rain resounded through the pluvious metropolis of the west. Fortunately, we were not ignorant of the fact, that Glasgow is under the peculiar tutelage of the Pleiades; and accordingly we proceeded to the railway, trusting that matters might mend so soon as we lost sight of the stupendous chimney-stalk of St Rollox. Notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, and the early hour, every town, as we passed along, seemed in a state of the greatest excitement. There were bands of music, deputations of mason lodges, and the rival brotherhood of Odd Fellows, with hundreds of men and women, all clad in holiday attire, awaiting the arrival of the train at every station. It is a marvel to us, how half of these expectants could have found their way to Ayr. Carriage after carriage was linked to the already exorbitant train, until the engine groaned audibly, and almost refused to proceed. Still the rain continued to fall, and it was not until after we had left Irvine, and were rounding the margin of the bay towards Ayr, that the sky brightened up and disclosed the great panorama of the sea, with Ailsa and Arran looming in the distance, and steamers from every direction ploughing their way into the port. The streets of Ayr were swarming with people, and sounding with the crash of music. There were arches on the bridge, flags streaming from windows, and bells tolling from the steeples—symptoms of a jubilee as great as if Royalty had descended unawares, and the whole district had arisen to pay honour to its Queen. The inns were thronged to excess, and the waiters in absolute despair. What a multitude of salmon must have died to furnish that morning's meal! Yet every face looked bright and happy, as became those who had engaged in such a pilgrimage. Then the burst of music became louder and more frequent, as band after band, preceding the trades and other public bodies, filed past towards the rendezvous of the great Procession. This was on what is called the Low Green; and the admirable arrangements made by the committee of management—of which Mr Ballantine of Castlehill was convener, and Messrs Bone and Gray secretaries—were manifest. Mr Thwaites undertook the marshaling of the whole. Here, first, the grandeur of the National Festival was displayed, while the immense multitudes that had come trooping in from all quarters stood congregated in orderly muster, a mighty host, bound in unity by one soul, stretching far and wide from the towers of Ayr to the sea. Suddenly, at signal given, the Procession began to deploy, in admirable order, with streaming banners and crashes of music, and shouts from the accompanying thousands that rent the sky; and we were warned that it was time to proceed, if we wished to obtain a place upon the Platform erected on the banks of Doon.
A unit in the stream of population, we skirted the noble race-course, and reached the Platform just before the head of the Procession had arrived. It was erected in a magnificent situation. Behind was the monument of Burns, and the sweet habitation of Mr Auld, with old Alloway Kirk a little further off. Before it was the immense Pavilion erected for the banquet, all gay with flags and streamers. To the right, were the woods that fringe the romantic Doon, at that point concealed from sight; but not so the Old Bridge, which spans it, with its arch of triumphal evergreen. Every slope beyond was studded with groups of people, content to view the spectacle from afar. The Carrick hills reached far away beyond; and, on the other side, were the town and broad bay of Ayr, and Arran with all its mountains. But we had little leisure then to look around us. On the Platform were collected many of the Ladies and Gentlemen of the county—Sir David Hunter Blair; James Campbell, Esq. of Craigie; W. A. Cunninghame, Esq. of Fairlie; A. Boyle, Esq. of Shewalton, &c.; Archibald Hastie, Esq. M.P.; A. Buchanan, Esq., Charles Neaves, Esq. Mr Sheriff Campbell, Mr Sheriff Bell, Mr Carruthers, &c. &c.; some of the most distinguished of those who had come from afar, and conspicuous in front the surviving Kindred of Burns. There stood, with his beautiful Countess, the noble and manly Eglinton, preux chevalier of his day, and fitting representative of that ancient house of Montgomery, so famous in the annals and peerage of Scotland, and of France. There was the venerable and venerated Lord Justice-General Boyle, the President of the Scottish Courts, and chief magistrate of the land, with the snows of more than seventy winters lying lightly and gracefully upon his head. There stood Wilson, never more fitly in his place than here; for of the many who have interposed to shield the memory of Burns from detraction, he had spoken with the most generous spirit and collected purpose, and came now to rejoice in the common triumph. There, too, were Alison, the sound and strong historian; Chambers, whose delicate generosity to the relatives of Burns, independently of the services he has rendered to our national literature, made him one of the fittest spectators of the scene; and a host of other distinguished men, well and aptly representing the aristocracy and the learning of the country. Many strangers, too, had come to grace the festival; amongst whom, it may be allowed us to specify the names of Mrs S. C. Hall, the charming authoress, and her accomplished husband. We looked in vain for some whose presence there would have given an additional interest to the scene. We would fain have seen the poets of the sister countries represented by Wordsworth and Moore. That might not be; but their sympathies were not withheld.
Among that brilliant group, there stood an elderly female, dressed in deep black, and three men, all past the meridian of life, with quiet, thoughtful looks, and unpretending aspect. These were the sister and the sons of Burns. His sister!—and half a century has wellnigh gone past since the hot heart of the brother was stricken cold, and the manly music of his voice made dumb for ever! Was it too much to believe that, through these many long years of her earthly pilgrimage—sometimes, we fear, darkened by want and neglect—that sister had always clung to the memory of the departed dead, in the hope that the day would arrive when his genius should receive the homage of a new generation, to atone for the apathy and coldness of that which had passed away? What emotions must have thrilled the bosom of that venerable woman, as she gazed on the stirring spectacle before her, and saw her lingering hopes far more than thoroughly realized! What a glorious welcome, too, for the sons to their native land! They had left it—not quite as the poor man does—but with heavy difficulties before them. They had wrestled their way onwards through half the journey of life, and now, on their return, they were greeted with a welcome which it were almost worth the struggles of a life to obtain. All this they owed to their father; and honoured among the honourable that day were the lineage and kindred of Burns.
Beneath and around the Platform there were thousands already congregated. If any one had wished to paint the character of the Scottish peasantry in its loftiest and most endearing light, the subjects were there before him. Old patriarchal men, on whose venerable temples time had bleached the white locks of age to the softness of those of infancy, stood leaning upon their grandchildren, proud, and yet wondering at the honours which were that day paid to him, whom, long, long ago, reaching away through the vista of memory, they remembered to have seen in their youth. So familiarized were they with his image, and the glorious language he had uttered, that they had almost forgotten the greatness and universality of his fame; and now, when brought forth from their cottages in the far glens and muirlands of the south, they could scarcely believe that the great, and gifted, and beautiful of the land, had come together for no other purpose than to celebrate the genius of their old companion. But they were proud, as they well might be; for it was a privilege even to have beheld him, and in that homage they recognised and felt the tribute that was paid to their order. The instinctive decency of Scottish feeling had accorded to these men a fitting and conspicuous place. Around them were the women of their families of all ages—from the matron in her coif to the bashful maiden with the snood—and even children; for few were left at home on that day of general jubilee. These, and a vast concourse of strangers, already occupied the ground.
Meanwhile the Procession had wound its enormous length from Ayr along a road almost choked up with spectators. Every wall and gate had its burden, and numerous Flibbertigibbets sat perched upon the branches of the trees. The solitary constable of the burgh was not present to preserve order, or, if he was, his apparition was totally unrequired. The old bell of Alloway Kirk was set in motion as the head of the column appeared, and continued ringing until all were past. The whole land was alive. Each road and lane poured forth its separate concourse to swell the ranks of the great Procession. The weather, after one heavy final shower, cleared up; or, if not clear, resolved itself into that indescribable mixture of sunshine and cloud which sets off the beauties of the undulating landscape so well, light alternating with shadow, and, on the ridges of the distant hills, contending radiance and gloom.
On they went, with banners flying and a perfect storm of music, across the new Bridge of Doon, deploying along the road on the opposite side of the river, and finally recrossing by the old bridge, from which they filed past in front of the Platform. The order of the Procession was as follows:—
BAND OF THE 87TH FUSILIERS. Provost, Magistrates, Town-Council, and Trades of Ayr.
FIVE BAGPIPERS IN HIGHLAND COSTUME.
FARMERS AND SHEPHERDS.
Dalrymple Burns's Club, with banners and music. Motto, "Firm."
KILWINNING BAND. Kilwinning Mother Lodge of Freemasons.
CUMNOCK BAND. London Newmilns Lodge.
IRVINE BAND. Troon Navigation Lodge. Girvan Masons. St James's, Tarbolton. St John's, Ayr. Thistle and Rose, Stevenston. St John's, Largs. Glasgow Star.
ST ANDREW'S BAND. Royal Arch, Maybole. St Paul's, Ayr. St Andrew's, Ayr. St John's, Girvan. St James's, Kilmarnock. St Peter's, Galston. St John's, New Cumnock. Junior or Knights Templars, Maybole.
SALTCOATS BAND. St John's, Dalry.
KILBARCHAN BAND. St John's, Greenock. Shoemakers as follows:— Champion. British Prince and attendants. Indian Prince and Train.
CATRINE BAND. King Crispin and Train. Souter Johnie, in character. Highland Chieftains.
GREENOCK BAND. Lodge of Odd Fellows.
BAND. Robert Burns's Lodge, Beith.
AYR BAND. Banks of Ayr Lodge of Odd Fellows. Sir T. Makdougall Brisbane Lodge, Largs. Ancient Order of Foresters, Glasgow. Captain mounted, with Bow and Arrows.
KILMARNOCK BAND. Kilmarnock Burns's Lodge of Foresters. Weavers from Maybole.
MAYBOLE BAND. Tailors of Maybole.
MAUCHLINE BAND. Boxmakers of Mauchline, with large Scotch Thistle, carried shoulder-high by Four men, and Banner, inscribed,
"I turn'd my weeder-clips aside, And spared the Symbol dear."
The Party were on the Establishment of Messrs W. and A. Smith. The Thistle grew near to Mossgiel.
Caledonian Union Odd Fellows, Dunlop. (Deputations of the Magistracy joined in the Procession from Dumbarton, Dunlop, Maybole, and Irvine.)
The effect of the Procession as seen from the Platform almost baffles the power of description. The wailing of the bagpipes and the crash of the bands were heard from the bosom of deep wood-thicket behind, long before the ranks became visible. At length, among the trees that skirted the opposite banks, there was a glittering of lances, and a lifting of banners, and a dark-growing line of men, in closest order, marching as if to battle. Gradually it flowed on, in continuous stream, file succeeding to file without gap or intermission, until the head of the column appeared recrossing by the Old Bridge, and winding up the road towards the Platform; and still new banners rose up behind, and fresh strains of music burst forth amidst the leafy screen. And now they reached the platform: lance and flag were lowered in honour of those who stood bareheaded above, and deafening were the cheers that ushered in the arrival of the national pageant. The spectacle was most imposing, and must have conveyed to the minds of the strangers present a vivid impression of the energy and enthusiasm so deeply implanted in the Scottish character, and always so irresistibly manifested at the touching of a national chord. The most interesting part of the Procession by far was the array of Farmers and Shepherds, the flower of the west-country yeomanry, attired in the graceful plaid. Of that same breed of men, of tall and compact mould and hardy sinew, was Robert Burns; nor is it possible to imagine any thing more animated than the appearance of those stalwart sons of the soil, as they lingered for a moment before the platform, and looked with wistful eyes at the sons of the Poet, if haply they might trace in their lineaments some resemblance to the features of him whom, from their infancy, they had learned to love. Then came the Freemasons, and King Crispin with his train, and the Archers, and much more of old Scottish device, until there seemed no end to the flowing tide of population, all keen, and joyful, and exultant. But the full burst of enthusiasm was reserved for the close. In the rear of all appeared an enormous Thistle borne shoulder high; and no sooner was the national emblem in sight, than a universal and long-continued cheer burst forth from the many thousands who were now congregated in the plain beyond. Alas, for that thistle! Though Burns, as the inscription bore,
"Had turn'd his weeder-clips aside, And spared the symbol dear,"
such was not the fate of the offspring plant. Scarcely had it reached the platform, when Christopher North violently possessed himself of one branch, the Lord Justice-General seized upon another, and in the twinkling of an eye it was torn into fragments, and its rough leaves and rougher flowers displayed upon manly bosoms, from which it would have been difficult to wrest them again. So closed the Procession—but not the gathering. Deafening were the cheers which followed for Burns—for his Sons—for Professor Wilson—for Lord Eglinton; until the last remnant of reserve gave way, and a torrent of people swept forward to obtain, if possible, a pressure of their hands that were gladly and gratefully held forth. Descending from the Platform, we entered the meadow-ground beyond, where the multitude were now assembled. One of the bands struck up the beautiful air—"Ye banks and braes o' bonny Doon;" and immediately the People, as if actuated by one common impulse, took up the strain, and a loftier swell of music never rose beneath the cope of heaven. We thought of the fine lines of Elliott—
"To other words, while forest echoes ring, 'Ye banks and braes o' bonny Doon,' they sing; And far below, the drover, with a start Awaking, listens to the well-known strain, Which brings Schehallion's shadow to his heart, And Scotia's loveliest vales: then sleeps again, And dreams on Loxley's banks of Dunsinane."
Few could abstain from tears as the last glorious note died solemnly away into the skies. We looked down from the top of the pavilion-stairs upon the vast multitude beneath. There could not have been less than 80,000 souls collected upon the ground. Of all that mighty mass, not one man had thrown discredit upon the harmony and order of the day. Every face glowed with happiness and congratulation, as if conscious that a good work had been done, and that the nation had at length discharged the duty which she owed to one of her most gifted sons.
The company began to enter the Pavilion almost immediately after the close of the Procession, and the chair was taken about two o'clock. The Pavilion was erected in a field of twenty-two acres, adjoining to the Monument, and was a magnificent building. It measured not less than 120 feet by 110, forming nearly a perfect square. The roof, supported by two rows of pillars, was covered with waterproof felt, and the building inside was lined with white cloth, festooned with crimson. In the centre of the roof was a radiation of the same colours. The tables and seats were arranged in parallel lines from the head to the foot of the apartment, rising with a gentle inclination from the middle on both sides. At each end there was an elevated table for the Chairman, Croupier, and their respective supporters; and on the two remaining sides of the square there were vis-a-vis galleries for the instrumental band and glee-singers, a pianoforte for the accompaniment to Mr Templeton being placed in front of the latter, at which Mr Blewitt took his station. Mr Templeton, between the speeches, sang, with great power and sweetness, appropriate songs from Burns; and Mr Blewitt's performance was admirable. Mr Wilson came from Paris to the Festival; but unfortunately was prevented by severe illness from delighting the assembly with his exquisite strains. The hall was lighted by twenty-two glass windows, shaded with white cloth. The chairman and croupier's seats were of oak, made of the rafters of Alloway Kirk; and several splendid silver vases decorated their tables. The hall was seated to accommodate 2000 persons, and was entirely filled, although not inconveniently crowded.
The distinguishing feature of the pavilion was the number of ladies who were present. A great room exclusively filled with men, is at best a dull and sombre spectacle; and so far from social, that it always conveys to us a gross idea of selfishness. The mere scenic effect on this occasion was immensely heightened by the adoption of the polite rule; nor can it be doubted that the tone of the meeting underwent a similar improvement.
The Chairman, the Right Hon. the Earl of Eglinton, was supported on the right by Robert Burns, Esq., late of the Stamps and Taxes, Somerset House, London, eldest son of the poet; Major Burns, youngest son of the poet; Miss Begg, niece of the poet; Henry Glassford Bell, Esq., Sheriff-Substitute of Lanarkshire; Rev. Mr Cuthill, Ayr; Mr Robert Burns Begg, teacher, Kinross, nephew of the poet; Miss Begg, the younger niece of the poet; Mr and Mrs Thomson of Dumfries, (the latter the Jessie Lewars of the bard, who tended his deathbed;)—on the left, by Colonel Burns, second son of the poet; Mrs Begg, sister of the poet; Sir John M'Neill, Bart., late Plenipotentiary to the Court of Persia; the Right Hon. Lord Justice-General; the Countess of Eglinton; Sir D. H. Blair, Bart., of Blairquhan. The Croupier, Professor Wilson, was supported on the right by Archibald Alison, Esq., Sheriff of Lanarkshire, and author of the History of Europe; Colonel Mure of Caldwell, author of Travels in Greece; William E. Aytoun, Esq., Advocate; A. Hastie, Esq., M.P. for Paisley; Jas. Oswald, Esq., M.P. for Glasgow;—on the left by Sir James Campbell, Glasgow; Provost Miller, Ayr; James Ballantine, Esq. of Castlehill; Charles Mackay, Esq., London; James Campbell, Esq. of Craigie.
The Rev. Mr CUTHILL of Ayr asked the blessing.
The Earl of EGLINTON, after the usual loyal toasts, rose and spoke as follows:—Ladies and gentlemen, The subject of the toast which I have now the honour to bring before your notice, is one of such paramount importance on this occasion, and is so deeply interesting, not only to those whom I am addressing, but to all to whom genius is dear, that I could have wished that it had been committed to more worthy hands; more especially when I see the great assemblage collected here—the distinguished persons who grace our board to-day. It is only because I conceive that my official position renders me the most formal and fitting, though most inefficient, mouthpiece of the inhabitants of this county, that I have ventured to present myself before you on this occasion, and to undertake the onerous, though most gratifying, duty of proposing, in such an assemblage, the thrilling toast—"The Memory of Burns." This is not a meeting for the purpose of recreation and amusement—it is not a banquet at which a certain number of toasts are placed on paper, which must be received with due marks of approbation—it is the enthusiastic desire of a whole people to pay honour to their greatest countryman. It is the spontaneous outpouring of a nation's feeling towards the illustrious dead, and the wish to extend the hand of welcome and of friendship to those whom he has left behind. Here on the very spot where the Poet first drew breath, on the very ground which his genius has hallowed, beside the Old Kirk which his verse has immortalized, beneath the monument which an admiring and repentant people have raised to his memory, we meet after the lapse of years, to pay our homage at the shrine of genius. The master mind who has sung the "Isle of Palms"—who has revelled in the immortal "Noctes"—and who has already done that justice to the memory of Burns which a brother poet alone can do—Christopher himself is here, anxious to pay his tribute of admiration to a kindred spirit. The historian who has depicted, with a Gibbon's hand, the eventful period of the French empire, and the glorious victories of Wellington, is here—a Clio, as it were, offering a garland to Erato. The distinguished head of the Scottish bench is here. In short, every town and every district, every class and every age, has come forward to pay homage to their poet. The honest lads whom he so praised, and whose greatest boast it is that they belong to the land of Burns, are here. The fair lasses whom he so loved and sung, have flocked hither to justify, by their loveliness, their poet's words. While the descendant of those who dwelt in the "Castle o' Montgomerie," feels himself only too highly honoured by being permitted to propose the memory of him who wandered then unknown along the banks of Fail. How little could the pious old man who dwelt in yon humble cottage, when he read the "big ha' bible"—"his lyart haffets wearing thin and bare"—have guessed that the infant prattling on his knee was to be the pride and admiration of his country; that that infant was to be enrolled a chief among the poetic band; that he was to take his place as one of the brightest planets that glitter round the mighty sun of the Bard of Avon! In originality second to none, in the fervent expression of deep feeling, and in the keen perception of the beauties of nature, equal to any who ever reveled in the bright fairyland of poesy, well may we rejoice that Burns is our own—well may we rejoice that no other land can claim to be the birthplace of our Homer except the hallowed spot on which we stand! Oh! that he could have foreseen the futurity of fame he has created to himself—oh! that he could have foreseen this day, when the poet and the historian, the manly and the fair, the peer and the peasant, vie with each other in paying their tribute of admiration to the untaught but mighty genius whom we hail as the first of Scottish poets! It might have alleviated the dreary days of his sojourn at Mossgiel—it might have lightened the last hours of his pilgrimage upon earth. And well does he deserve such homage. He who portrayed the "Cottar's Saturday Night" in strains that are unrivaled in simplicity, and yet fervour—in solemnity, and in truth—He who breathed forth the patriotic words which tell of the glories of Wallace, and immortalize alike the poet and the hero—He who culled inspiration from the modest daisy, and yet thundered forth the heroic strains of "The Song of Death"—He who murmured words which appear the very incarnation of poetry and of love, and yet hurled forth the bitterest shafts of satire—a Poet by the hand of nature, despising, as it were, the rules of art, and yet triumphing over those very rules which he set at nought—at whose name every Scottish heart beats high—whose name has become a household word in the cottage as in the palace—to whom shall we pay our homage, of whom shall we be proud, if it is not our own immortal Burns? But I feel that I am detaining you too long. I feel that, in the presence of a Wilson and an Alison, I am not a fit person to dilate upon the genius of Burns. I am but an admirer of the poet like yourselves. There are those present who are brother poets and kindred geniuses—men who, like Burns, have gained for themselves a glorious immortality. To them will I commit the grateful task of more fully displaying before you, decked out by their eloquence, the excellences of the poet, the genius of the man, and to welcome his sons to the land of their father: and I will only ask you, in their presence—on the ground which his genius has rendered sacred—on the "banks and braes o' bonny Doon"—to join with me in drinking an overflowing bumper, and giving it every expression of enthusiasm which you can, to "The Memory of Burns!"
Mr ROBERT BURNS rose along with his brothers, and was received with enthusiastic cheering. He said—My lord, ladies, and gentlemen, Of course it cannot be expected, at a meeting such as the present, that the sons of Burns should expatiate on the merits and genius of their deceased father. Around them are an immense number of admirers, who, by their presence here this day, bear a sufficient testimony to the opinion in which they hold his memory, and the high esteem in which they hold his genius. In the language of the late Sir Christopher Wren, though very differently applied, the sons of Burns can say, that to obtain a living testimony to their father's genius they have only to look around them. I beg, in name of my aunt, brothers, and myself, to return our heartfelt and grateful thanks for the honour that has this day been paid to my father's memory.
PROFESSOR WILSON then rose and said—Were this Festival but to commemorate the genius of Burns, and it were asked, what need now for such commemoration, since his fame is coextensive with the literature of the land, and enshrined in every household? I might answer, that although admiration of the poet be wide as the world, yet we, his compatriots, to whom he is especially dear, rejoice to see the universal sentiment concentered in one great assemblage of his own people: that we meet in thousands and tens of thousands to honour him, who delights each single one of us at his own hearth. But this commemoration expresses, too, if not a profounder, a more tender sentiment; for it is to welcome his sons to the land he has illustrated, so that we may at once indulge our national pride in a great name, and gratify in filial hearts the most pious of affections. There was, in former times, a custom of crowning great poets. No such ovation honoured our bard, though he too tasted of human applause, felt its delights, and knew the trials that attend it. Which would Burns himself have preferred, a celebration like this in his lifetime, or fifty years after his death? I venture to say, he would have preferred the posthumous as the finer incense. The honour and its object are then seen in juster proportion; for death confers an elevation which the candid soul of the poet would have considered, and such honour he would rather have reserved for his manes, than have encountered it with his living infirmities. And could he have foreseen the day, when they for whom at times he was sorely troubled, should, after many years of separation, return to the hut where himself was born, and near it, within the shadow of his monument, be welcomed for his sake by the lords and ladies of the land; and—dearer thought still to his manly breast—by the children and the children's children of people of his own degree, whose hearts he sought to thrill by his first voice of inspiration; surely had the Vision been sweeter to his soul than even that immortal one, in which the Genius of the Land bound the holly round his head, the lyric crown that it will wear for ever.
Of his three Sons sitting here, one only can remember their father's face—those large lustrous eyes of his, so full of many meanings, as they darkened in thought, melted in melancholy, or kindled in mirth, but never turned on his children, or on their excellent mother, but with one of tender or intense affection. That son may even on this day have remembrance of his father's head, with its dark clusters not unmixed with gray, and those eyes closed, lying upon the bed of death. Nor, should it for a moment placidly appear, is such image unsuitable to this festival. For in bidding welcome to his sons to their father's land, I feel that, while you have conferred on me a high honour, you have likewise imposed on me a solemn duty; and, however inadequately I may discharge it, I trust that in nought shall I do any violence to the spirit either of humanity or of truth.
I shall speak reverently of Burns's character in hearing of his sons; but not even in their hearing must I forget what is due always to established judgment of the everlasting right. Like all other mortal beings; he had his faults—great even in the eyes of men—grievous in the eyes of Heaven. Never are they to be thought of without sorrow, were it but for the misery with which he himself repented them. But as there is a moral in every man's life, even in its outward condition imperfectly understood, how much more affecting when we read it in confessions wrung out by remorse from the greatly gifted, the gloriously endowed! But it is not his faults that are remembered here—assuredly not these we meet to honour. To deny error to be error, or to extenuate its blame, that makes the outrage upon sacred truth; but to forget that it exists, or if not wholly so, to think of it along with that under-current of melancholy emotion at all times accompanying our meditations on the mixed characters of men—that is not only allowable, but it is ordered—it is a privilege dear to humanity—and well indeed might he tremble for himself who should in this be deaf to the voice of nature crying from the tomb.
And mark how graciously in this does time aid the inclinations of charity! Its shadows soften what they may not hide. In the distance, discordances that once jarred painfully on our ears are now undistinguishable—lost in the music sweet and solemn, that comes from afar with the sound of a great man's name. It is consolatory to see, that the faults of them whom their people honour grow fainter and fainter in the national memory, while their virtues wax brighter and more bright; and if injustice have been done to them in life, (and who now shall dare to deny that cruelest injustice was done to Burns?) each succeeding generation becomes more and more dutiful to the dead—desirous to repair the wrong by profounder homage. As it is by his virtues that man may best hope to live in the memory of man, is there not something unnatural, something monstrous, in seeking to eternize here below, that of which the proper doom is obscurity and oblivion? How beneficent thus becomes the power of example! The good that men do then indeed "lives after them"—all that was ethereal in their being alone survives—and thus ought our cherished memories of our best men—and Burns was among our best—to be invested with all consistent excellences; for far better may their virtues instruct us by the love which they inspire, than ever could their vices by aversion.